RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: A Few That I Forgot To Mention And Now I Remembered Them, So I’m Mentioning Them Now

You may not have read my previous, recent, posts about some of my favourite albums through my life. If you haven’t, well done. You’re one of the cool kids. Here I will recount a few life favourites that I forgot to mention at the time. Each of these albums has a particular person from my past tied to the memories they evoke, one person per album, which in itself makes them kind of special.

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Pop Will Eat Itself: Dos Dedos Mis Amigos – Any of their albums really, they were one of my favourite bands for a few years in the mid-90s. But it’s Dos Dedos Mis Amigos that stands above them all. A new direction, supposedly influenced by Clint Mansell’s friendship with Trent Reznor (he provided backing vocals on NIN’s The Fragile), this saw a previously upbeat, generally happy, positive band move away from samples and towards a more industrial sound. Lyrical themes became darker. Everything about it is what I needed in my early teens. I’d heard of the band through friends, but not really heard them until Donkey Kong Country came out on Super Nintendo… it shipped with a CD called Go Ape! which a friend leant me. As far as compilations go that was a key one for shaping my musical listening for a while thereafter. Radiohead’s Creep was on there, and PWEI’s Everything’s Cool – still two of my favourite songs. The whole album is solid, telling tales of a dystopian nature. It deserves to be heard. Until I learned Spanish some 10 years later, I thought the name meant “We’re Dead My Friends”.

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The Wonder Stuff: Hup! – Around the same time as Dos Dedos, I was heavily into The Wonder Stuff. Someone gave me a copy of this on tape (such was the way back then), highlighted a few of his favourite tracks, and left me to fall in love with it. A greatest hits compilation, this has songs from across their career and highlights everything that was right with them. From crowd pleasers such as Dizzy (with Vic Reeves), to darker songs like On The Ropes, and my favourite, Unbearable, this works better as a full album than many singles collections. Every time I listen to this it takes me right back to playing Stunt Race FX (again on Super Nintendo) for which this was my chosen soundtrack.

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Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: 0.522 – When I stumbled upon this album in Strawberry Fields, the record shop on Rickmansworth High Street, it had a Strawberry Fields price label of £15.99 (CDs were really expensive in the first half of the 1990s). Next to it was a publishers label “Pay no more than £5.22 for this CD”. A minor argument ensued. I won. I went home with this great collection of songs. The band got their break by supporting The Wonder Stuff (who were from the same town) on tour, and this here is a compilation of B-Sides and rarities, including the rather excellent killyourremix, a remix of their most famous song Kill Your Television. Not their best album, but the one I’m most glad I picked up at the time. They also have two bassists, which is mental.

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Supergrass: I Should Coco – I haven’t heard this in years. I never really liked the direction the band took after this album, but as a debut this is superb. 70s stylings (my mum once said they reminded her of Supertramp, but that may have just been the name) in both their look and their sound, there’s a rawness in the recording that many bands in the 90s were erasing with shimmery production. Great songs help make this a classic.

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Suede: Coming Up – I was never a massive Suede fan, but I always enjoyed their songs when I heard them. I had a very close friend when I was 16, and I remember calling her once and we’d both picked up this album. We were both listening to it. We’d pressed play at the exact same time… I’ve always believed we’re all intrinsically linked, and this event served as proof enough. The song still pricks the hairs on the back of my neck. The band had made their name by this point, and the confidence that comes with that is apparent in the songs on offer here.

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Ash: 1977 – This is a strange one, in a way. I kind of don’t like it much. But I love it. I can’t explain exactly what I mean by that. There are some fantastic songs on here, especially the singles, but really I bought it primarily because the band shares my name..! I still have my leaver’s book from school, where a couple of the girls signed it to “Ash, The Boy From Mars”. These are the memories that make us. I have plenty of other bittersweet memories tied to this album, because everyone associated it with me.

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Feeder: Polythene – When I was 16 fell into my first serious relationship. Her dad was the minister of the local Baptist church and, perhaps inevitably, got called away for work. The family moved to Bristol and we were, at the time, in deep enough to give the long distance thing a go. It didn’t work out, but for a time I’d get the National Express bus from London Victoria on a Friday after School/work and head to Bristol – a two-and-a-half hour journey (plus the hour or to to get to Victoria in the first place). I spent a chunk of my earnings from my after-school job (that I’d inherited from her!) on a Sony CD Walkman. It didn’t even have any skip protection, and the batteries lasted roughly one way there, but it didn’t matter. I had a wallet of my favourite albums, and this was one that was always there. Even now I listen to it, and I remember that crazy guy that sat next to me on one trip, talking to me the whole way there while I had my earphones in listening to this album on repeat. 22 years ago.

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Stereophonics: Word Gets Around – I was torn between this album (their first) and its follow-up, Performance and Cocktails. Both are perfect albums, but this one wins on timing. I saw Stereophonics play in 1997, supporting Skunk Anansie, around the time this was released, and they were fantastic. I knew a couple of their songs from Kerrang! cover CDs, and between that and the gig it was enough to sell me on the band.

I’m going to stop there. I could go on, almost literally, forever writing about my favourite albums. It’s criminal that in recent years my main listening time has been spent in the car. While I wrote this I took the time to listen to a bit of each album, loud and on headphones, like I used to. That’s about as close as seems possible these days to revisit those carefree days when I could lie back on my bed with my latest album purchase and just be alone with the music. And therein lies the magic of an album. A song can bring together a large group of people to a shared emotional experience, but so few people listen to albums that they can become your own, with your own, private, associations.

Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic to discuss your favourite albums and what they mean to you.

Review: Bulletstorm Full Clip Edition (PlayStation 4)

2019 sees me trying to be more conscientious about my video gaming. For one I’m trying to throw less money as the hobby; money that is ultimately wasted on games I didn’t really want. Tied to this, I’m also trying to make the most of my subscriptions to Xbox Gold and PlayStation Plus and play the monthly games each service gives me. Finally, I’m making a concerted effort to play through each game I start. Unless I’m really finding one boring.

Bulletstorm is a fun game that came to PS+ a couple of months ago. A first person shooter combining Gears of War’s meathead puppets, Enslaved’s lush green, broken world and Project Gotham Racing’s kudos system, it works hard to carve out its own niche in a crowded genre. Very much a product of its time (releasing originally on Windows, Xbox 360 and PS3), its age is starting to show. Eight years is, after all, a long time in video games.

That said, the graphics are really quite nice, eschewing the popular grey/brown palettes of the time for a more colourful game world that sets itself apart. Shades of Gears of War and Unreal are apparent in character design – no surprise given that this game was developed by People Can Fly and Epic, who are responsible for those titles.

It’s a shame that you can’t explore further this into world, but you are funnelled along an almost completely linear path. Very seldom will you have a chance to stray from the path, perhaps ducking under an obstacle into a “hidden” room containing a collectible item, then back to the straight and narrow to continue your quest.

Enemies are a lot of fun to kill, and in several different ways. The primary method of dispatch is, naturally, shooting. The usual variety of weapons (or fun revisions of them) can be gathered and used to separate limbs and heads from their owners. Each weapon has an unlockable Charge Mode that has limited ammo and causes serious damage, in a way replacing the grenades that other similar games may give you.

The real fun, however, doesn’t come from the guns, but rather from your leash – a powerful item that throws out an energy whip to yank your foes towards you, or into a multitude of environmental items. Exposed rebar, spiked cacti, fan blades… there are a great many disasters awaiting your enemies as you leash them to their doom. Failing that, a good kick will send them, in slow motion, over the edge of a building, to plummet to the ground. Performing such stylish murders earns you points that can be spent at certain droppoints to upgrade the Charge Shot capabilities of each weapon, or to top up your ammo.

Two favourite weapons of mine are the Headhunter – a sniper rifle that grants you control over its bullets, chasing down enemies as they scramble away from the shot, and the Penetrator – a rail gun of sorts that fires drills that send enemies spinning through the air and can pin a line of them to a wall like a kebab. Charge Shots for both allow a certain amount of post-contact control to send the projectile onto the next enemy; in the case of the Headhunter it is especially satisfying to use the bullet to carry your target over to his friends before detonating the bullet like a remote bomb.

Each weapon has its own series of associated skill shots – rewarding the player with bonus skill points to spend later. These range from landing headshots, to taking down multiple enemies with one shot, onto one of my favourite gruesome deaths – Gag Reflex, which you score by taking out an assailant’s throat.

All in all what we have here is a stylish game with well-polished gunplay and some interesting bosses. These bosses are, typically, huge monsters with clear weak points, and take an awful lot of bullets to take down. The change of pace can be somewhat jarring, but the fights are great fun. Weak points can be exposed using the leash to rip away armour protecting them, or battered away with enough ammo. One particularly enjoyable fight sees you take control of a robot dinosaur that was previously stalking you, and taking down wave after wave of enemies, like your very own episode of Godzilla.

It’s not a particularly difficult game (at least on normal difficulty); as was becoming standard by then, you have no health bar or armour pickups – instead when you are close to death your HUD warns you to seek cover, where your health will automatically regenerate over a couple of seconds. Your basic weapon, an assault rifle, refills a portion of its ammo when emptied either at the end of a wave of enemies, or immediately during a boss fight, so you cannot run out of ammo at a critical moment.

Droppoints are plentiful, and ammo for most weapons cheap enough you’ll never be low in any case, but it’s fun to conserve ammo by using your leash and the sole of your boot to bring about the bad guys’ ends. You’ll also use droppoints to choose which three weapons you want to carry, assigned to Left, Up and Rught on the D-pad. You’d think this would add a layer of strategy, choosing the right weapon for an upcoming fight, but I have found myself playing almost exclusively with pistol, assault rifle and sniper rifle, and having no trouble progressing.

If you missed out on this game 8 years ago, or a few weeks ago on PS+, it’s still priced as a budget title, at around €40 on PlayStation and Xbox stores, cheaper in physical stores, and €10 on Steam. Even at €40 it’s a good price for a great game, but wait for a sale if you like, I’ve already got it. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it, despite having played it through previously, several years ago.

What Do You Want To Do When You Get Older?

I can’t be the only one who got into his late 30s before deciding it’s time to tackle this big question? To this point I’ve not known the answer. Instead of pursuing a vocation or a career, I’ve settled for a string of customer service jobs – in several areas of insurance and, most recently, on London Underground stations – and for the past 5 years I’ve been quite happily unemployed, a househusband and latterly a stay-at-home dad. Recently I’ve been thinking of this question, and considering several answers.

It may sound,in the surface, like a contradiction in terms, but I exist on this fine line lazy and hard-working. That is to say: when I have something in mind that I consider suitably important, or enjoyable, I am quite content to while away hours, days and weeks to perfecting it. But anything else, I’d rather not do. I played guitar for hours every day until I was happy with my skill level with the instrument (though in recent months I’ve been thinking I’d like to take it further now). When I work on a piece of art I can put tens of hours into making as good as it can be, to push myself to the limits of my talent.

For some years I’ve considered a career as an artist. Trying to tap into the tourist market of Amsterdam with my line-art cityscapes makes quite a lot of sense, as I’m sure there is a market for just such posters and postcards. I spend hours drawing the images, but then don’t put in the time and legwork to make it happen.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a comic, to follow 2014’s doomed Deathridge. The latter saw some small success when I self-published, with the majority of reviewers praising it, and a select few readers giving positive feedback always. But I lost heart with the few bad reviews – partly because I knew I could, and should, have done better. I rushed the comic to meet some imaginary, arbitrary deadline, just to push myself unnecessarily. It was stupid, and a shame that I let something so daft get in the way of making the comic perfect. So the new idea would have to be special, really push myself to breaking point with my drawing and writing. And if, after all that, it’s not good, then I know for sure that it’s not something I should pursue.

Both of the above artistic endeavours are still feasible. They can both be worked on in my spare time, using the iPad Pro I bought precisely because it would enable me to sit and draw wherever I am. But they’re just not clicking right now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to get stuck into either one.

Which leads, in a roundabout manner, to my latest self-improvement avenue.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing and recording a new album. Really this idea came about a couple of years ago the last time I started a band, and we discussed a desire to record some songs. As is always the way, the band got nowhere and came to nothing, so once again I am thinking of recording all parts myself. Which is always fun. I learned a lot in 2015 when I wrote and recorded a song every week as that year’s creative project, and hope I can put that knowledge to use to record a better album than I did that year.

At the weekend I received a call from a guitarist, with whom I’d started my first band in Amsterdam, a little over 3 years ago. He told me he’s come to the realisation he’s getting older (52 this year), and only has one chance to do something with his music other than play alone in a room. He wants to get a band together, write some songs, and record them. So he has something to leave behind.

This final sentiment has been turning over in my head for some days. For my whole life I’ve not been too concerned about leaving anything behind. We’re here, then we’re not, and that’s ok. But not I have a young son, and everything looks different. I said yes to the band, naturally, as I crave to play with others again after a few months without it. It’s actually most of two years since I played in a room with a full band.

Thinking of recording this band-to-be, I realised I have much of the equipment required to mix the album myself, and save many many euros in the process, but of course it needs to be fantastically good, with a professional finish. I’m not at that standard, but I’m certain I could be.

So after that long, pointless message, I come to the point – I am considering a new career, that of Audio Engineer. I am reading up on it all, and at this point you must understand it is little more than a thought. Inspired by a story my wife told me a while back about a man who didn’t want to pay thousands to have his house renovated, he instead paid a few thousand to complete a course, became qualified, and did it himself. And now he runs his own company, getting paid to do it for other people.

I suppose my thinking is, simply, that with the right learning I can mix, perhaps also record, our band, and make the record myself, saving paying someone to do it for us. Then, maybe, the skills will be ingrained enough that I can make a bit of pocket money from it.

Sure, I know it’s not the kind of job that will grant me a sizeable income, but if I can turn it into something to be proud of then that will be nice.

When I imagine my son at school, being asked “what does your daddy do?”, I am sure I’d rather he say “he records bands and makes records” than “he plays PlayStation”.

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: Early On

I thought I’d finish this series with a list of important albums from my very early years, albums released before or in the few years after my birth, that have stuck with me throughout. My parents’ music for the most part. Again, the criteria for this list is that these albums meant something at the time, and I still listen to and enjoy them to this day.

HighwayToHell

AC/DC: Highway to Hell – Some are quick to dismiss AC/DC, stating that “every album sounds the same”. Whilst this isn’t entirely accurate, they certainly play to their strengths, with a rock solid rhythm section fixed to a simple, but powerful, 4:4 groove. Even if you feel that way, there ought to be one album in your collection, and I was torn between this and it’s follow up, Back In Black. This album wins because… well I prefer it. This is the first of four that come from my stepdad’s record collection that I was allowed supervised access too from around age 14.

AbbeyRoad

The Beatles: Abbey Road – There are many Beatles albums that could have appeared here, but I went with my long-standing favourite. From the opening Come Together through Octopus’s Garden and on to George Harrison’s beautiful Here Comes The Sun, this is a divisive album, for reasons I don’t quite understand. It’s a far cry from their earlier rock n roll works, but shows their writing at some of its best, with something for everyone yet not sounding like it’s spread thin.

Remasters

Led Zeppelin: Remasters – Essentially a Greatest Hits package, there are so many classic songs spread across these two discs that it’s hard not to recommend. I inherited this one when my stepdad moved in and handed me all the duplicates between his and my mum’s collections, and I listened to it on repeat for weeks. The songs are laid out essentially in order of release, and so act as a journey through the band’s output. There are other compilations out there (Mothership is another strong one), and whilst this doesn’t replace the fact that you should listen to all of their albums, this as a stand-alone collection has it all.

Sabbath

Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – Again, I could have chosen any of this band’s first five albums but I settled on the fifth out of simple preference. Plenty of fine songs on here, it’s the title track that stands out for me above all others and part of my early influence to learn to play guitar.

DarkSide

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon – Once again there are a multitude of options for this band, so I went with the one that had the biggest impact in my younger years. This one is the start of my mum’s influence – she is a big fan of Pink Floyd, her favourite album being Meddle. If I had to pick a very favourite it would be Wish You Were Here, or for their older stuff the compilation Relics. Whatever you listen to, you can’t go much wrong. They produced many fine albums in their two decades.

MisplacedChildhood

Marillion: Misplaced Childhood – Another of my mum’s, this one is special on a few levels. For a start, that kid on the cover looks remarkably like I did as a child with his ginger bowl cut, but it’s also one of several Marillion albums my parents listened to when I was young. The first side of the record flows beautifully from song to song, including the massive hit Kayleigh, after which my sister (and quite a few other girls of 1986) was named. My best friend at school, Ben, is the nephew of their bassist, as fact that I found out later in life (after I met Ben funnily enough), which added to the mystique of the album for me. We used one of his amps at a gig.

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Genesis: Invisible Touch – Many fans may consider this a weak entry in Genesis’ library, but for me it’s the one I most remembered from childhood. It has several great songs, a great sound, and I still enjoy it from time to time today.

Breakfast

Supertramp: Breakfast In America – this one is a classic, one that many of today’s kids want to get hold of as soon as they get their first Crosley record ruiner. It’s for good reason – Supertramp had a unique sound, great songs, and don’t sound nearly as dated as a lot of bands from the time. Superb.

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Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue – Or the one with Mr Blue Sky on. Plenty to love here, a band not dissimilar to Supertramp, of their time but timeless. Mr Blue Sky was the subject of an exam I took during my Music GCSE, in which I had to break it down and describe its various sections. I passed with flying colours.

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Motörhead: Ace of Spades – Released the year I was born, Motörhead we’re still quite relevant as I grew up. This album, despite the title track being probably their most recognised, is special because it was recorded in my home town of Rickmansworth, at Jackson Studios. I learned this on reading Mick Wall’s excellent biography of Metallica, Enter Night, in which he recounts Lars’ Ulrich’s story of travelling Europe following bands, and popping in to see Motörhead rehearsing there! Pretty cool for a small town outside London previously famous as a hub of the Grand Union Canal.

There you have a selection of music from around my birth year that remains relevant to me today. I hope you enjoyed it.

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The 10s

Bringing this exciting series up to date, let’s have a look at some of my favourite albums of the last few years. Well actually, the decade is almost over isn’t it..!

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Frank Turner: England Keep My Bones – Once upon a time I was reminiscing with a friend about the time we saw Million Dead in London. The Garage, Islington was my favourite venue. Large enough to cram a good few people in, yet small enough to give an intimate show, and then the bands themselves would sell merchandise afterwards. I’ll always remember the singer’s kindness when I was embarrassed to be buying an XL t-shirt from him. “Oh,” said my friend, “you know he’s making solo albums now?” Well, I wasn’t aware, but I went right out and bought his then latest album. As the title may suggest, the entire album is about England and his love for his country. A departure from Million Dead, this is a folksy affair. Some powerful choruses punctuate a fine collection of songs.

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Jamie Lenman: Muscle Memory – A few years ago my wife and I were guests at a Humanist wedding in the woods, and we were certain we recognised one of the guests. He was regaling others with his book of Doctor Who sketches and stories, his distinctive dress fitting well with the setting. A few weeks later, when the couple returned from honeymoon we asked who was this man? “Oh that’s my cousin, Jamie Lenman.” Jamie Lenman was once the singer of one of my wife’s favourite bands from the 00s, Reuben. We sought out his new solo album, and fell hard for one half of it. You see this is an album of two parts – disc two is a folksy affair not similar to Frank Turner above though with a distinctly American flavour, whereas disc one goes all out angry, buzzing metal. The first half is not to my taste honestly, it’s a bit…. simple as metal goes. But the second half is truly sublime, with fantastic use of harmony. A secret Easter egg exists, which is in itself quite genius – the final tracks of both sides can be combined, on top of each other, to make a third song! Here it is:

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Muse: The 2nd Law – Prior to The 2nd Law, I had but one Muse album, The Origin of Symmetry. Whilst a fantastic album, it never quite encouraged me to get into the band. Then, in a whim, I purchased The 2nd Law, one of only two albums I’ve bought through iTunes! An instant hit, I loved it. Powerful songs with a strong message of hope, the Queen influence (that some people seem so offended by) is clear, and a reason why this one stands out for me. Well-produced and with fantastic playing from the band throughout, this one deserves its place on this list.

Opera

Queen: A Night At The Opera – As I mentioned on a previous post regarding Queen’s Greatest Hits, I hadn’t really heard any of Queens albums besides the two Greatest Hits compilations for years, despite considering myself a huge fan based on them. When a friend at work encouraged me to dig deeper into their library, he loaned me the albums Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera. It was the latter that stuck first, though it took a while. Less of an album and more a collection of songs, it took several attempts at listening to the whole thing before the songs started to make sense together. But once they did – oh boy is this a fine one! The album contains Bohemian Rhapsody, probably the first song Joe Bloggs would think of when you say “Queen”, but there are even finer pieces of songmanship on display here.

Lulu

Metallica: Lulu – Just kidding, this is shit.

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Slaves: Are You Satisfied? – Until recently, a friend and I used to swap CDs for Christmas, and there was usually a bit of a reason behind each choice. In 2015 he gave me this one. That year I wrote and recorded a song every week, primarily punk songs, and he felt that Slaves sounded an awful lot like me. They kind of do, I see where he was coming from. Thoroughly English, with great hooks. I was less impressed by their next two albums, but this one is great.

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Queens of the Stone Age: Like Clockwork – Having not cared so much for the two albums after Songs for the Deaf, this one took a while too. The slower tempo threw me off at first, but I slowly began to feel the groove, until finally this became my favourite of their albums. Sometimes it’s worth giving something a chance over an extended period.

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Blur: The Magic Whip – This one came out of the blue one day, when a friend mentioned a new single on Twitter. Blur’s first album since they disbanded 12 years previously, it had to be worth a listen. It sure was – the single Go Out was fantastic, and a great choice for first single. Blur haven’t release two albums that sound alike, and they continue the trend here. Not strangers to dark subject matter, this album is particularly dreary at times, which fits with the general social unease at the time of its release. One of their strongest efforts and well worth the wait.

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Royal Blood: Royal Blood – A year and a half ago, as one band ended, and another rose from the ashes (myself and the guitarist), we started to write and record some songs. I played bass, he played guitar, and it was good. As he was writing the majority of the songs, he introduced me to a number of his influences to get me in the right mindset – Electric Wizard, Sleep, and Royal Blood. I knew already of a few two piece bands that had managed to create a full band sound – White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, and Slaves, but Royal Blood have something special. Watch them live, you’ll see them get lost in what they’re doing. It’s great.

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Daft Punk: Random Access Memories – Here we end on what is easily my favourite album of this decade. Beautifully produced, it’s a joy to listen to. I had a vague interest in some of their earlier albums, so when I picked this one up I expected to kind of enjoy it – instead I realised immediately that this album had been tailor made for me. Eliciting a strong emotional response with each and every song, this has become a staple part of my testing repertoire for new audio equipment. I listen to it any time I’m struggling to decide on what to listen to, or any time in need a lift. It never fails me.

That’s it then, you’re now up to date with a good selection of my favourite albums from various stages in my life, albums that remain in regular play in our house. I’ll finish up with one more post – of albums from my very early life, and before it, the albums of my parents that have stuck with me through my life.

Look me up in Twitter to continue the conversation – @BitlandComic

Gigs

I haven’t been to a “proper” gig in a long time, for various reasons. But once upon a time I went to gigs all the time. Mainly small, local ones without proper tickets, but for those that did give tickets I still have them all in an album. Here they are!

SoccerSix

The Music Industry Soccer Six (Mile End Stadium, London, 12 May 1996) – Not exactly a gig, this was a day-long six-a-side football tournament, starting many of our favourite bands of the time. Highlights included Blur vs Oasis (at the height of that nonsense), and our pitch invasion as Apollo 440 were crowned champions. The security staff were, I suppose thankfully, quite good humoured about it. I remember getting close to the bands before being tackled to the ground by the most muscular woman I’d ever seen. Great fun!

PUSA

The Presidents of the United States Of America (Brixton Academy, London, 8 July 1996) – I mentioned this on a previous article – this was my first ever “proper” gig, and my first night out in London. First In was Kula Shaker, a band famous at the time for their single Tattva. They put on a blinding show, fantastic musicianship throughout. PUSA followed, with a considerably stripped down sound in comparison to their support, but they were the reason we were there. Playing all our favourites from their first album and a few sneaky peeks at the upcoming sequel, I came home with a vinyl copy of Peaches with Video Killed The Radio Star on the B-side. It spent the entire show in the back of my trousers, as I had no other way to look after it. Peachy!

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Metallica (Earls Court, London, 12 October 1996) – to pay for this ticket, which was most of two weeks pay at the time, I had to sell my Oasis Knebworth ticket. Whilst that show went on to be a legendary gig with a record number of participants, I don’t regret my decision. The Load tour, we captured in the DVD set Cunning Stunts, this was Metallica at their best. Unlike the cool kids, I actually loved Load, and the Black Album before it, as well as their early albums – and here I was punching the air and singing along to many of their very best songs! Corrosion of Conformity supported, and earned a new fan that night.

Reef

Reef (Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 4 March 1997) – Supported by Number One Cup (sorry lads, I don’t remember you at all!) and Feeder (one of my favourite, then-unknown to the world, bands), this is probably the weakest gig I’ve been to, overall. I don’t know if it was the venue. I only went there once, but it’s a large, well-known venue so I can’t imagine that was the problem. So let’s blame the band. Despite having one of the greatest albums of the year, Reef just weren’t on it that night. Or I wasn’t. Interesting aside: my sister met her husband at this venue when they both worked behind the bar, some years later.

SkunkAnansie

Skunk Anansie (The Colosseum, Watford, 7th March 1997) – Yes, I know the date is different on the ticket. Unfortunately, Skin suffered a throat infection and couldn’t sing in November, so they moved the gig. What would have become my last gig as a 15 year old – one week before my birthday – became my second as a 16 year old. Whatever that means. Support came from Stereophonics (like Feeder, few people know the band at the time, but as a collector of magazine cover CDs, I knew a couple of their songs), and Gravity Kills (again I knew one or two of theirs thanks to Kerrang! and Metal Hammer. Both support acts were superb, but couldn’t hold a candle to the headliners. Already one of my favourite bands in my mid-teens, this show is possibly the best gig I ever went to. Watford Colosseum is small enough to keep you close to the bands, and the sound in there was immense. It’s no surprise that they chose this venue to record the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings a few years later!

Blur

Blur (Wembley Arena, London, 11 December 1999) – It’s no surprise to people that know me, I was quite the Blur fan. Their album Parklife was one of the first that got me into music proper, and indeed was the second CD album that I ever bought with my own money! This gig appears on DVD (titled The Singles Night) in the 21 box set, which also contains other live DVDs, remixes versions of all their albums in CD, and other goodies for fans (I have it of course!). The support act was some DJ or other. I was indifferent to his thing, but he ended up more or less booed off the stage, which is a shame. People can be cruel. Blur were on top form, and it was fantastic to finally see them live! We pushed up to the front and screamed along to the songs, all of the singles through their career. Some of the live recordings were released on disc 2 of their Greatest Hits album in 2000. This gig had a happier ending than most. Rather than spilling out onto the street with everyone else, we found ourselves backstage and at the aftershow party. The story as I heard it was that my then-girlfriend’s dad was an attorney and he’d represented Blur’s Chauffeur in some case or other. As thanks, he’d secured us passes to meet the band!! The bar was backstage and downstairs, and we waited patiently as various crew members came in, waiting for the band. They came in one by one, we said hello, then after what seemed like forever we found ourselves standing next to Damon Albarn and Phil Daniels. Unfortunately my girlfriend got sick at the wrong time (like seriously sick, she was in bed for a week, and I for the week after that!), and ran off to make pavement pizza. I took the initiative and interrupted their conversation, shaking Damon and Albarn’s hands. “I’m Ash, I’m a great fan, thanks for the show, now I’ve got to go!” I can still see Damon’s bemused face as I turned to follow her as he said “Ok, bye Ash!” and got back to the conversation that he wanted to be having.

BlurGuest

BHG

Bloodhound Gang (Astoria, London, 21 June 2000) – Bloodhound Gang were, at this time, enjoying their five minutes of fame thanks to their album Hooray For Boobies, and more prominently the singles The Bad Touch and The Ballad of Chasey Lain. My friend Ben and I were already big fans. After hearing Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny on a Kerrang! cover CD, I had bought their first two albums and listened to them to death. They were supported here by a band called Tung (not to be confused for the English folk band, Tunng). A rapcore band not dissimilar to Rage Against the Machine, as soon as they started to play the crowd went crazy! We got caught up in the mosh and stayed there for the rest of the evening, pressed against the barrier for the main act. I left that show drenched in sweat, with a black eye from being kicked by a crowd surfer, soaked in wine and whiskey that had been poured on us by the bassist, Evil Jared, at various tones through the show, buzzing like never before. Their show included the fattest guy in the audience being covered in jelly, with pretty girls called up to lick it off, another being given several cartons of vindaloo to eat through the show, culminating in being offered money to take Jimmy Pop’s fingers down the throat and puke on the singer’s shirt…. it was disgusting, and yet SO MUCH FUN! Never before had a gig felt so much like a private party. I came home from the show with a Bloodhound Gang hoodie that became my favourite item of clothing – I still have it – and a condom with packaging emblazoned with the name of one of their songs Yummy Down on This! There’s also a blurry, out-of-focus photo of me behind the band in Kerrang!’s review of the show, after the photographers were pulled on stage to take a photo of the audience.

Oasis

Oasis (Wembley Stadium, 22 July 2000) – One of the last gigs at the Stadium before they knocked it down and rebuilt it, Oasis were supported by The Happy Mondays, which was nice. Well past their prime in terms of album releases, this was at least a fantastic, powerful show. The “fans” did their best to ruin it, strutting around in their stupid hats, desperate to all look the same, pissing in bottles and throwing them into the crowd. But get past that and it was a good show.

Deconstruction

Deconstruction Tour (London Arena, 28 May 2001) – This was something special. Ten bands, ten hours, £15. When you consider that the Oasis ticket above cost £27.50, this was a bargain of a show. Besides the bands, there were skateboarding and BMX displays in between. Some of our favourite bands played this show, but one of the main things I remember from it was the inclusive nature of it. There was every kind of “punk”, split off in their groups. We were skaters, there were “proper” punks with their colourful Mohawks and tartan, safety pin and piercings types, skinheads in their Ben Shermans and Doc Martens…. it was a posers paradise! Pennywise came on last and towards the end of their set they announced that the venue had a problem with their selling of merchandise, wanting a cut of the profits. That’s not right, they said, we’re here for you, not for them. We were told to leave early and the bands would be selling their merch on the streets – hurry before the police came! We were naturally pretty exhausted by then, and with a trek home to the extremities of the Metropolitan line we didn’t want to miss the last train, so we went and bought our t-shirts. It was a good feeling, seeing a band actually stand by their principles and sacrifice an audience for the final songs for their cause. The following year Deconstruction was part of Download Festival and cost £120.

PoisonTheWell

Poison The Well (The Garage, London, 27 August 2003) – I went to this one not knowing the band, or their support, but came home with two new CDs and two new favourites. Whilst Poison The Well haven’t been on my radar for years now, their “special guest” went to release my album of the year in 2017. Thrice. Their twin guitar work left me in awe, and a lifelong fan. They’ve since stripped their sound back, and perhaps are better for it, their latest album being my favourite so far.

MillionDead

Million Dead (The Garage, London, 2 December 2003) – Support for this show came from Jarcrew and Minus – two great bands whose albums I bought soon after. This gig was a few weeks after I’d moved out of my mum’s house into a cottage with my best friend Ben and his girlfriend after they’d come back from University, and this gig was an outing for the housemates. We were there, of course, for Million Dead, who did it disappoint. After the show I went to buy one of their t-shirts from the band themselves, which is always a bonus, having the chance to thank them and declare your love!

Metallica03

Metallica (Earls Court, London, 19 Dec 2003) – Supported by Godsmack, this show left me feeling somewhat hollow. Another housemates outing (I may have forced them to buy tickets), I was disappointed by Metallica’s performance. Perhaps I was comparing it to the 1996 show, when they (and I) were much younger, or perhaps it was because we couldn’t help laughing at Rob Trujillo’s crabwalk, this just wasn’t as good a gig as I hoped it would be. It didn’t help that St Anger was a weak album, or that the band’s reputation with me had been forever tarnished by the Napster debacle. I’ve seen videos of their shows since, and even now they display ample energy and drive, so I guess I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this one.

GreenDay

Green Day (National Bowl, Milton Keynes, 19 June 2005) – The last big gig I went to, I had formed a strong preference for smaller venues by this time. Still, this was a fantastic show! Support from Hard-Fi (who we missed), Taking Back Sunday (who were great), and Jimmy Eat World (who were excellent). Green Day put on an amazing show, engaging with the audience and giving a strong performance throughout. Despite the huge size of the venue, and the fact we were standing some way back from the stage, we felt part of something special – something not every band can achieve. As the sun went down and they closed with two of their slower numbers – Wake Me Up When September Ends and Good Riddance, I had that unmistakeable feeling of a perfect gig. I then had to drive home, dropping of friends over a vast area, finally home and in bed at 2am. I then had to be in a London for a 9am medical exam to secure a new job. I passed, somehow.

That’s it, my entire collection of gig tickets. A treasured possession, it’s been fun to look back on the good times that they represent.

Want to chat about your best gigs? Perhaps, by some “it’s a small world” coincidence you were even at one of these shows? Then find me on Twitter @BitlandComic

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: The 00s

Moving on into adulthood, this list is of albums that had an impact on me during the 2000s, also known as my 20s. Again, the basic criteria of this list is that the albums meant something to me during this period, and I still listen to them today. This one has been more difficult, because there is less music from this period of time and my life that remains with me. A lot of it is hard to listen to now; either cheesy, or very much stuck in its time, or simply haven’t had the lasting effect that music from my teens has had.

RustInPeace

Megadeth: Rust In Peace – Ok, so this first pick is from 1990. But this list isn’t about that, it’s about when the album hit me. In this case 2004. As you’ll know from my previous two posts I am quite a fan of metal, but somehow Megadeth had passed me by. I know why. The first songs I heard of theirs were 99 Ways To Die from The Beavis and Butthead Experience, and Vortex from Cryptic Writings, though I heard it on a cover CD from Metal Hammer or Kerrang! magazines. I didn’t care for either song, finding the guitar work to be fantastic, but I couldn’t get past the guy’s voice. Well, someone convinced me to listen to Rust In Peace, and I was quickly hooked. So much so that for my 30th birthday I bought myself a Dave Mustaine signature guitar bearing the artwork.

MashallMathersLP

Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP – I first heard this one in the car on the way to Alton Towers. It was a long drive from home to there, 2 ½ hours or more, and I sat in the front where I took over the stereo. Someone had copied this album onto cassette for the journey and we listened to it repeatedly. Having recently experienced the (rough) end of a relationship with all kinds of nastiness thrown about, certain songs on here provided a much-needed catharsis. It still resonates today, and I consider it one of the most honest, open recordings of all time.

Boobies

Bloodhound Gang: Hooray For Boobies – Another one from 2000, I was one of the few people who already new the band. I had their first two albums, and worshipped Jimmy Pop Ali and his lyrical wit. A group of us went to see the band in London in the Summer; an experience like no other. Besides the fantastic show, and the creepy weird girl grabbing at me during Kiss Me Where It Smells Funny, I left the venue at the end and wrung out my shirt. A black eye, crushed ribs, and covered in whiskey and wine that Evil Jared the bassist had poured on us as we moshed against the barrier. What a night. I’m also in the photo Kerrang! used to illustrate their review. It’s blurry and everyone says “you can’t see it’s you,” but what does that matter? It’s someone wearing my clothes and standing where I was at the front…. so it’s me. Hooray!

AmericanIdiot

Green Day: American Idiot – The last great Green Day album if you ask me. Which you didn’t, but you are reading this so… Forget all the “punk rock opera” nonsense and what you have here is Green Day at their finest, with some truly great songs and the fine hooks that make their music so fun. I saw them at Milton Keynes bowl on the tour for this album (support from Hard-Fi, Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World – the latter two were favourites of mine at the time). We drove there listening to Gorillaz. Fantastic day! Got home at 2am and had to be in London at 9am for a medical exam in advance of my new job at London Underground! Worth it!

SongsForTheDeaf

Queens of the Stone Age: Songs For The Deaf – Of course I’d heard of Queens of the Stone Age by 2002, but I wasn’t familiar with their music. I used to visit Watford’s Virgin Megastore and raid their 6 for £30 section every couple of weeks, once finding the previous album to this – Rated R. It grew very quickly on me, and led me to this one, that was at the time their new album. Once again an album full of great songs, somewhat ruined by the loudness wars (though at the time I didn’t know better, and wish I still didn’t), but great songs nonetheless. Each of their albums has taken a bit of time to get into, but not this one.

RearViewMirror

Pearl Jam: Rearviewmirror – Yeah, Pearl Jam were a thing when I was younger. Somehow they passed me by, probably because I was quickly drawn to harder things, so when I found this Greatest Hits collection in a shop, it made sense to give it a go. It’s really really good. Unlike many Greatest Hits albums, there’s a strong case for this one actually having a lot of the band’s best songs. And two CDs of them too!

BrightLights

Anti-Flag: The Bright Lights of America – A while back I got back into punk in quite a big way, helped by the fantastic Ant-Flag. Underground Network, Mobilize and The Terror State came out in 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively and are well worth a look for genre fans. It was 2008’s The Bright Lights that really got under my skin. Boldly standing against injustices in the world, particularly in the titular nation, over catchy guitar music. There’s not much wrong with it.

Cash

Johnny Cash: American IV Subtitled The Man Comes Around, I first heard the titular song of this album at the beginning of 2004’s pretty decent Dawn of the Dead remake, and naturally had to hear the rest of the album. It was in fact my introduction to the music of Johnny Cash. This album is perhaps best known for its cover versions of Hurt and Personal Jesus, but if those are all you know, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The Beatles are also covered, in In My Life, and some more traditional Cash songs including Give My Love to Rose and I Hung My Head. This album sounds to me like a love song to his own life. Full of anguished, soul-crushing emotion, tinged with regret at the passing of time, this is one to feel as much as hear. Yeah, I went there.

DreamOn

Scala: Dream On – Most people know this choir from their haunting rendition of Radiohead’s Creep. In a roundabout way, so do I – though I haven’t seen that film, but it was used again in an episode of The Simpsons that parodied the film. Immediately looking up who covered it, I discovered this album. It’s beautiful. A woman’s choir, singing popular songs with piano backing. Naturally a great album for relaxing to, there are some great highlights here where the choir really brings the choruses to life (no duh). Creep isn’t here, unless you got the bonus disc version which has a live recording, but a better Radiohead song is, in Exit Music (For A Film). It’ll make the hairs on your neck stand up as the song ramps up to its crescendo.

Well that was the noughties for me. There was, of course, a lot of other stuff I was listening to at the time, but it doesn’t make this list because I don’t listen to it any more. Early Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park… yeah, not today, thanks.

What do you think of my list? Do you have one of your own? Find me on Twitter to chat – @BitlandComics