Review Of 2016
From Words
posted on December 19th, 2016

Ding dong merrily on high… here we go, it’s time for all my favourites of the #BestYearEver (TM) in one ridiculous list. Beware, this is a longer slog and gets more boring, nerdier and minutiae-obsessed even than previous years…

ALBUMS
Yet another ferocious year for new recordings; in 2016 I gave 55 albums scores of 8/10 or better, just slightly more than last year. Two artists in this list were also in 2015’s Top 20 – Esmé Patterson and O’Hooley & Tidow – perhaps marking the increase in mid-level songwriting artists who need to release an album every year as part of surviving but still keep the quality up. Anyway, here’s my Top 20.

1. Beyoncé – Lemonade
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
3. The Furrow Collective – Wild Hog
4. Kiran Leonard – Grapefruit
5. David Bowie – Blackstar
6. Shirley Collins – Lodestar
7. Petrol Girls – Talk Of Violence
8. Esmé Patterson – We Were Wild
9. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
10. Skinny Girl Diet – Heavy Flow
11. Steve Mason – Meet The Humans
12. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
13. Gill Sandell – Songs Of Our Years
14. Jess Morgan – Edison Gloriette
15. A Tribe Called Quest – We’ve Got It From Here… Thankyou 4 Your Service
16. Steven James Adams – Old Magick
17. Solange – A Place At The Table
18. O’Hooley & Tidow – Shadows
19. Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack
20. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

Honourable mentions: Goat, Sad Song Co, Against Me!, Mairearad Green, Megson, Savages, The Lemon Twigs (thanks Jim), Paul Goodwin, Kaela Rowan, Teleman and Nuala Kennedy. Also, Jim Bob’s tour CD Jim Bob Sings Again would’ve featured, probably quite high up, except I participated in it, so it is excluded. Ditto Non Canon’s excellent (potentially career re-defining) self-titled debut album. Normally Gill Sandell’s albums get excluded under those rules, so it’s rather nice that, as recompense for not singing on her new one because I was ill that day or there was a train strike or something, it was eligible (and of course is brilliant so gets included).

SONGS

1. Frightened Rabbit – Get Out
2. Deerful – Better
3. Beyoncé – Formation
4. Aimee Mann – Can’t You Tell?
5. SIA – Cheap Thrills
6. Petrol Girls – Touch Me Again
7. Jon Boden – I Want To Dance With Somebody
8. Esmé Patterson – Wantin Ain’t Gettin
9. Kate Tempest – Europe Is Lost
10. Ellie Goulding – Army
11. Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater – By The Tides
12. Chrissy Barnacle – Witches
13. Emma Pollock – Parks & Recreation
14. Michael Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World
15. Charlie Tophill – Cheap Wine

GIGS (WATCHED)
Similar to 2015, it was a slow start for live shows; occasionally frustrating, missing more bands I like, with some major band / big show let-downs to be honest (not named here, no negatives). I think I’m getting too analytical and judgemental of live shows now to chill out and and enjoy them. Worst of all, nowadays I always notice when the snare drum is being strengthened or there are pads or supportive tape bits or whatever, which alters the experience (even if sometimes that’s OK). Too often I envy the resources thrown at a show – then sneer at the result. Still, there were some ace nights out.

1. Bellowhead, The Dome, Brighton
2. Kiran Leonard, The Albert, Brighton
3. Shellac, Koko, London
4. Dream Wife, Photo Shop, Great Escape, Brighton
5. Moderat, The Dome, Brighton
6. Chrissy Barnacle, Conroy’s Basement, Dundee
7. Helen Chambers, Black Swan, York
8. Skinny Girl Diet, Green Door Store, Great Escape, Brighton
9. Roxanne De Bastion, Latest Music Bar, Brighton
10. The Vega Bodegas, Le Pub, Newport
11. Luke Sital-Singh, Raygun Party, Great Escape, Brighton
12. Grace Petrie, Caroline Of Brunswick, Brighton
13. The Private Sector, Latest Music Bar, Brighton
14. Jack Harris, Latest Music Bar, Brighton
15. Paper Rifles, Conroy’s Basement, Dundee
16. Non Canon, St Pancras Old Church, London and a couple of times on tour
17. Nia Wyn, St Pancras Old Church, London
18. Matt McKee, Café Kino, Bristol
19. insane live variety show, Tarandang Mahabon, Chiang Mai
20. Chastity Belt, Green Door Store, Great Escape, Brighton

Honourable mentions: Withered Hand in Edinburgh (band sounded amazing but we had to go after three songs), Mara Simpson at the Marwood (ditto, caught four songs), also Quiet Loner, Polly Garter, Jam Tarts Choir at Union Chapel, Salter Cane twice, EFA Supertramp and The Self Help Group were all storming.

Again Jim Bob gets unfairly left out. Some of his solo sets on our Jim Bob Sings Again tour were easily in my Top 10, probably Top 5, outstanding, jubilant sets – but because I joined him onstage for a bit of his show he’s ineligible. No, not exactly a route to getting hired more often as accompanist.

EDIT: I’ve made a 60 track Spotify playlist of artists listed in the first three categories above. Only artists not on Spotify are missing. Enjoy.

GIGS (PLAYED)

I’ll blog about my ambivalent feelings around gigging at the moment, once I can articulate them better. I only played 75 shows this year (might sound like quite a few but it’s a low gig count for an ‘album year’, which 2016 was for me). The usual note about this category: it’s not about size of gig, or ‘coolness’ of gig, or audience, or even how well I perform; it’s – selfishly – purely about how much I enjoy being onstage, which is itself ridiculously subjective and nuanced. It can be about tiny precious moments during a set, more than the thing as a whole.

1. St Pancras Old Church, London – 9 Green Songs album launch
2. PTIS Amphitheatre, PTIS, Thailand, solo
3. Apple Festival, Cloughjordon Eco Village, Ireland, two short solo sets
4. Stereo, Glasgow, solo and Jim Bob accompanist
5. The Bedford, Balham, short solo set
6. The Haunt, Brighton, solo and Jim Bob accompanist
7. Café Kino, Bristol, solo
8. Madeleine & Doug’s wedding, Glasgow, three songs
9. Sheffield, Eten Café, solo and panel discussion
10. Stephen & Lizzy’s apartment, PTIS, four songs
11. 100 Club, London, solo and Jim Bob accompanist
12. Golden Slippers at Blacks Club, Soho, London, solo
13. Portland Arms, Cambridge, solo and Jim Bob accompanist
14. PTIS Auditiorium, Thailand, A.A. Milne show (2nd set)
15. Summerhall, Edinburgh, solo, opening for Withered Hand
16. The Black Swan, York, solo
17. School assembly, PTIS Auditorium, Thailand, just 7 Hearts
18. The Workhouse, Southwell, A Ballad For Southwell debut
19. The Brudenell Games Room, Leeds, solo
20. Glossop Labour Club, solo

MUSIC ON SMALL SCREENS
This is a noticeable step down from this category in 2015, which at the time felt like an important (growing) part of my year’s cultural enjoyment. This year I caught fewer festival sets on telly, so the category feels more like a bolt-on.

1. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos live on BBC2
2. all the Prince music re-appears online
3. Laura Marling at 6Music Festival
4. Patti Smith does A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall at the Nobel Ceremony
5. Jim Bob – The Only Living Boy In New Cross at Indie Daze on YouTube
6. Beyoncé – Formation video
7. Savages at 6Music Festival
8. Lady Leshurr at Glastonbury Festival
9. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at Reading Festival
10. Amanda Riley Facebook Live show

FILM

1. Son Of Saul
2. Spotlight
3. I, Daniel Blake
4. Hypernormalisation
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
6. Dheepan
7. Beyoncé: Lemonade
8. The Girl With All The Gifts
9. Green Room
10. Bridge Of Spies (or Slow West if Bridge Of Spies doesn’t count as 2016)

still to see:
Arrival
Moana
Nocturnal Animals

TV

1. Fleabag
2. Planet Earth II
3. Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle
4. Better Call Saul
5. Trapped
6. Imagine: One Night In 2012
7. The Story of China with Michael Wood
8. The Crown
9. Stranger Things
10. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I’ve been pondering what to do with the BOOKS category. I’m finally back to reading all the time (which fell away badly in recent years) partly as an escape from social media. But (as with anyone I guess) it’s mostly old books and just a handful of new ones. This is made more complex by the wait for affordable paperbacks; so books that are new to paperback have already floated around for nine months, been awarded prizes / reviewed etc. the previous year (when I couldn’t afford them). Anyway, here’s my solution for now – a split category; let’s see if this lasts into the future…

NEW BOOKS

1. Paul Kingsnorth – Beast
2. Benjamin Myers – Turning Blue
3. Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run
4. Dark Mountain #9
5. Teju Cole – Known And Strange Things
6. Rupi Kaur – Milk And Honey
7. Ball, Parkin, Mills – 100 Fishponds Road: Life & Death in a Victorian Workhouse (thanks Kev)
8. Morris & Hazeley – the Ladybird Books For Grown-ups
9. Charles Foster – Being A Beast
10. Sophia Blackwell – The Fire-Eater’s Lover

OLDER BOOKS

1. Nayyirah Waheed – Salt
2. John Le Carré – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
3. Leo Tolstóy – Twenty-Three Tales
4. Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Beautiful Struggle
5. Colin Ward – Cotters & Squatters
6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Americanah
7. Justin Pollard – Alfred The Great: The Man Who Made England
8. Warsan Shire – Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth
9. Dark Mountain #3 and #4
10. Naomi Klein – This Changes Everything

ART
Even in a very rich cultural year, without question the most powerful single arts experience I had in 2016 was vrLab at The Old Market, my first serious dive into convincing VR. In particular, after a bunch of dizzy, brilliant, nauseating games (and one horrid moment of Bono), 40 minutes playing on Google Tiltbrush, a virtual art toolkit, moved me beyond measure. I already blogged about this. Sculpting paint in mid-air has re-shaped my understanding of the possibilities for art: it felt to me like LSD; like going to see a film in 1895; and the memories are firmly real, rather than ‘virtual’.

All of which is to say; vrLAB isn’t just #1 in my ART experiences, it’s #1 of the whole list.

Apart from that, it wasn’t a great year for me – I definitely didn’t get to enough exhibitions and often the ones I chose were the wrong decisions. Often I’ll try to visit regional galleries and art shows and this year I went to mostly duff ones! Here’s my list.

1. vrLAB at The Old Market, Hove
2. Visuals and lighting design for the Moderat show, The Dome, Brighton
3. Siam – Through The Lens of John Thomson, Museum Of Culture, Chiang Mai
4. Sam Hewitt at Dynamite Gallery
5. Gem Fletcher’s Instagram feed of (mainly Getty) photographers and sessions
6. Not Vital at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
7. Shardcore’s ‘map portraits’ series
8. Nona Faustine nudes in slave trading sites (Bust magazine)
9. Clement Valla’s Postcards From Google Earth
10. Pure Evil ‘Hollywood Vampires’ at 99 Mary Street, Sheffield

PODCASTS / TALK RADIO

1. West Wing Weekly
2. Longform Podcast
3. Kermode & Mayo’s Film Show (Wittertainment)
4. Slate Political Gabfest
= 6. Simon Mayo interviews Bruce Springsteen
= 6. Bruce Springsteen’s Desert Island Discs
7. SongExploder
8. Vitriola
9. In Our Time
10. Slate Culture Gabfest
11. Adam Buxton’s Podcast
12. Soul Music
13. Whistlestop
14. How To Write A Tune Podcast
15. Tr*mpcast with Jacob Weisberg
16. Curator Podcast
17. Akiha Den Den
18. Planet Money
19. This American Life
20. Fresh Air

LIVE NON-MUSIC (TALKS/COMEDY/THEATRE/SPORT)

1. Kevin Bacon at Re-Imagining Challenging History, Cardiff
2. Lydia Nicholas at DOTS Conference, Brighton
3. Nina Lyon at Faber Social: Unleash The Beast, London
4. Con Traas at The Apple Festival, Cloughjordan Eco Village, Eire
5. The Failure Café at Re-Imagining Challenging History, Cardiff
6. Imriel Morgan, Mila Laine, Satia Sa Dias at Radio//Future Sounds, Brighton
7. Tora Colwill at Pecha Kucha Night, Brighton
8. Dan Shute at DOTS Conference, Brighton
9. Scott Burfiend mini beast show-and-tell on the Traidhos Farm, PTIS, Thailand
10. Paul Kingsnorth at Faber Social: Unleash The Beast, London
11. Crystal Palace v Norwich relegation battle, Selhurst Park, London
12. Attila The Stockbroker at The Bedford, Balham
13. Paul Cree excerpt from The C/D Borderline at The Bedford, Balham
14. Mel White & Niall Cahir at SpeakEatsy, Cloughjordan Eco Village, Ireland
15. John Gordillo at The Stand, Edinburgh
16. Museum At Night tour of the Workhouse, Southwell
17. Nicky Gattenby at SheSaysBrighton night for Brighton Housing Trust
18. Bethany Black at The Stand, Edinburgh
19. Stephen Bourne at Re-Imagining Challenging History, Cardiff
20. Storytellers at The Workhouse, Southwell

ESSAYS, BLOGGING, SHARED THOUGHT

1. Nick McKenzie (chief reporter), Richard Baker, Michael Bachelard & Daniel Quinlan – The Bribe Factory, Unaoil: The Company That Bribed The World, The Age

2. Wesley Morris – Last Taboo, Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality, New York Times Magazine

3. Vinay Gupta – Tell Me Who You Are, Medium and his Twitter feed (@leashless) late at night when he’s upset

4. Ben Taub – The Shadow Doctors, The New Yorker

5. Ryan Garrett’s thesis on leafcutter ants (except I may have read something entirely different about leaf cutter ants and wrongly believed it was Ryan’s thesis – and now I can’t find it. But anyway)

6. Ella Risbridger in The Pool and on Twitter (@missellabell)

7. Sarah Crowder – Obsessive, Compulsive and Disorderly, Gut Feelings Zine

8. Derek Wileman’s history research into workhouse stories

9. Mark Edmundson – On Shit: Profanity as Weltanschauung, LA Review Of Books

10. Jeffrey Stern – An Enemy Of The Kremlin Dies In London, The Atlantic

FOOD
Overwhelming Thai influence this year, for obvious reasons, with a lot of gratitude to Alex, Stephen & Lizzy, Alan & Mary and Ryan. Very excited to be going back early in 2017 – and it’ll be fascinating to see if the same region hits as hard a second year running.

1. Dinner with the hill farmers, Huay Sai – duck omelette, greens, rice, chard soup
2. The Four Seasons, Mae Rim – posh Thai dinner
3. Terre A Terre, Brighton – vegetarian
4. David’s Kitchen, Chiang Mai – pumpkin soup, grilled ravioli, dessert
5. Carlito Burrito, Brighton – takeaway halloumi burrito with mole negro
6. The Crown, Hastings – gnocchi (thanks Tom and Sarah)
7. Anchan Restaurant, Chiang Mai – all vegetarian
8. The Forge Bakehouse, Sheffield – baked eggs and mushrooms, cardamom bun
9. Alex Soulsby’s omelette
10. Avenue, Glasgow – baked eggs, smashed avocado and chili flakes
11. my new year’s day chestnut pie
12. Bincho Yakitori, Brighton – Asian fusion and grill
13. Moksha Café, Brighton – blueberry pancakes, eggs florentine, homemade hash browns
14. Wolfhouse Gallery Kitchen, Morecambe Bay – halapeno hash (would’ve placed higher but for the wasps)
15. The Clink, Cardiff – dinner made and served by inmate trainees
16. The Bake, Byker, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne – Lebanese taster menu
17. The Baked Potato Shop, Edinburgh
18. my homemade pea soup
19. Sala Café, Mae Rim – Thai basil, egg salad sandwiches
20. Tierra Kitchen, Lyme Regis – vegetarian

DRINK

1. bottle of red wine in emergency care package from Stephen & Lizzy Mclroy, Huay Sai
2. woodneck Latin American with laser thermometre, Amid Giants And Idols, Lyme Regis
3. my dry martini, the Benj Murray method
4. black filter coffee, Avenue, Glasgow
5. dry martini, The Townhouse, Falmouth
6. dark rice whisky with Ryan and the hill farmers, Huay Sai
7. Cloven Hoof dark spiced rum with Barry (thank you @lageraemia)
8. first filter of the morning, Espressini, Falmouth (she was making it for herself)
9. Wild Rock gravel pit 2013 malvek, David’s Kitchen, Chiang Mai
10. Alex Soulsby’s dirty vodka martini, Chiang Mai
11. house blend long black and ‘dopper’ from Restr8to Lab, Chiang Mai
12. V60 filter blend, 200 Degrees, Nottingham

And finally a new super-nerdy category. COFFEE BEANS – I managed to try 39 bags of different coffee beans, from (roughly, I think) 22 roasters. Here are my favourites. It’s way too Brighton-centric but I’ll try to fix that next year. I didn’t do any mail ordering; all these were bought in person or supplied by promoters on tour (I added a note to my rider for some of my gigs, asking promoters to buy their best local roaster beans – I paid for them, they weren’t part of the actual rider!).

1. Ethiopia Sidamo Guji 1 natural – Ethiopian Coffee Co. stall, South Bank, London
2. El Salvador Finca Patagonia – Smallbatch, Brighton
3. Kenya Karatina AA – Coffee At 33, Brighton
4. Ethiopia Wote: lot 1 washed Yirgacheffe 1800-2000m – Avenue, Glasgow
5. Brazil Fazenda Sao Silvestre beans – Smallbatch, Brighton
6. Colombia La Espada Y El Guamo – Smallbatch, Brighton
7. Peru Jaen Province – Redroaster, Brighton
8. Kenya Iyego – Red Bank, Lake District
9. Kenya Thiriku Karagha, Nyeri, Presuming Ed, Brighton
10. Papua New Guinea Lamari, Redroaster, Brighton
11. (and best blend) Prototype Espresso Blend – Atkinsons, Lancaster

Blimey, now you’re free to go. Link me to your charts if you do them… xx

 

 

 

 

 

  1. 12:32 pm on 12/28/16

    Dear Chris, since you asked, here is a link to my top 10’s for 2016.

    http://www.therockclubuk.com/index.php/top-tens/2772-helen-s-top-tens-2016

    Best wishes for the new year to you.

    Helen Minnes
    Dublin, Ireland.

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