Category Archives: Music Making

arts review of 2010

Here’s a list of cultural things I loved this year. Please feel free to stick yours in the comments (or a link to wherever you’ve published yours).

Although it was an OK year for culture generally, I think it was weak for music. So much over-complex, expensively echoing indie stuff – and glitchier R&B things with similar indulgence issues – that was hyped up through the year, left me cold. Several acts I love forgot to bring the songs. Also I suppose I inevitably feel detached – antagonistic even – because I had Love Is Not Rescue out there and because I didn’t travel overseas as much as usual, so got a less international feel for the year’s music. That said, looking back through previous years, this year’s Top 10 albums is as strong as any. Also, great telly and books. These moved me more, especially after I had my phone stolen, because I rediscovered reading.


1. Gill Sandell – Tarry Awhile
2. Pulled Apart By Horses – Pulled Apart By Horses
3. Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
4. The Xcerts – Scatterbrain
5. Thirty Pounds Of Bone – Method
6. Lianne Hall – Crossing Wires
7. Grasscut – 1 Inch ½ Mile
8. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
9. Bellowhead – Hedonism
10. Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Honorary mentions (this would be my 11-20): Far, Seashell Radio, Napoleon IIIrd, Frightened Rabbit, Corinne Bailey Rae, Grinderman, Lissie, James Yuill, Gil Scott-Heron, Gypo Buggane, plus Springsteen’s remastered Darkness boxset and the private one-copy-only compilation album Songs In The Jim Of Bob that everyone made for Jim Bob’s birthday, which was incredible.

Songs (not on albums listed above)

1. Tom Williams & The Boat – ‘In Love’
2. Caribou – ‘Odessa’
3. Isy Suttie – ‘Pearl and Dave’
4. Kate Nash – ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt’
5. Kanye West ft. Pusha T – ‘Runaway’
6. Frank Turner – ‘I Still Believe’
7. Robyn – ‘Hang With Me’
8. Tinie Tempah – ‘Pass Out’
9. New Pornographers – ‘Your Hands (Together)’
10. Eminem/Rihanna – ‘Love The Way You Lie’

Also nods to: I Am Arrows, Mavis Staples, Anna Madeleine, Robyn again for ‘Dancing On My Own’, LCD Soundsystem, Tim Minchin, Emily Barker, The Fall, The Hold Steady, Warpaint and She Makes War.

Special props here to Jon Boden’s Folk Song A Day project, where he’s released a new recording of a traditional song every single day since June. Without picking one out, the average standard is phenomenal. He’s basically on a one-man crusade to broaden people’s understanding of ‘folk’, which is important.

Books (not necessarily first published this year)

1. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
2. Jim Bob – Storage Stories
3. Kirkman, Adlard, Rathburn – The Walking Dead books 1-8
4. Various – Dark Mountain volume #1
5. Stewart Lee – How I Escaped My Certain Fate
6. Paul Auster – Invisible
7. going back through the collected works of Geoff Dyer
8. Stephen Fry – Fry Chronicle
9. China Miéville – Iron Council
10. Malcolm Gladwell – What The Dog Saw and other adventures


My favourite film by far was Inception which I saw twice at the cinema (which I almost never do). I also got a lot from American: The Bill Hicks Story and Four Lions. But I simply didn’t see enough of the big films out this year to make a list. After even just those three, I’m struggling to name anything.


1. The Walking Dead
2. Tremé
3. The Trip
4. Miranda
5. Daily Show
6. How Earth Made Us
7. Sherlock (episode 1)
8. Wonders Of The Solar System
9. Caprica
10. Have I Got News For You

Gigs (watched)

My lamest year of gig-going for a decade; not for quality but for the few shows I actually attended. Properly gutted about this looking back – a wasted year. I have 10+ potentially great shows still listed in my diary from the past 12 months, where I just stayed home, or had something else to do that wasn’t worth the effort. 2011 will be about showing up… Meanwhile 2010’s best were:

1. Midwinter Picnic 2 at Brighton West Hill Hall (Dry The River, Singing Adams’ debut, Thirty Pounds, Tom White, Ben Marwood, Lianne Hall, many others)
2. Fonda 500, David Ford and Ingie with a live samba band at Mannifest 2010
3. Kathryn Williams at Queen Elizabeth Hall
4. Jim Bob + Isy Suttie at The Garage
5. Ultrasound at The Lexington
6. nine-hour ‘gong pooja’ at Florence House, Seaford, apart from the post-gong silence spoiled by snoring hippies
7. 65DaysOfStatic at Two Thousand Trees festival
8. Robyn Hitchcock at Brighton Komedia
9. Motel and others at Andrew Rayner’s 40th birthday party
10. Fever Fever, Something Beginning With L, Local Girls, Lily Rae at Brixton Windmill

Gigs (played) – rated according to my experience, not (particularly) whether I was any good (though of course that does have an effect). I don’t think my ‘best’ performance is in this list. So hard to tell, anyway.

1. Dartington College – playing an immense Steinway
2. Two Thousand Trees Festival
3. Several gigs on the Love Is Not Rescue tour, especially Newcastle, Bristol, Winchester, Glasgow, Cotherstone, Brighton, London. Memorable in the best way.
4. Hoodrats at SXSC Festival in Winchester
5. Marcus Brigstocke’s Greens benefit at Brighton Theatre Royal
6. Dublin with Frank Turner (Belfast was pretty class too)
7. Hoodrats at Lexapalooza where the music rescued an awful day*
8. Spoonhenge in Mr Spoons’ back garden with Mick Thomas
9. Uncivilisation Festival – for head-fuck conversations as much as anything
10. Bury Fringe Festival with Jim Bob
* sorry, clumsy phrasing: not Lexapalooza itself, which is always lush. I meant I had a stressful day elsewhere and missed 95% of the festival.

Visual Art

1. my Henry Moore walk
2. Brian Eno – 77 Million Paintings at Fabrica / Speaker Sound Flower Installation at Marlborough House
3. David Nash at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
4. Surreal Friends at Pallant House, Chichester
5. Decode at the V&A

Words, not music

1. Fiona Shaw  – ‘The Waste Land’ at Wilton’s Music Hall
2. Neil MacGregor – A History Of The World In 100 Objects (Radio 4)
3. Collings & Herrin Podcast
4. Just A Minute (Radio 4)
5. Private Eye
6. Johann Hari’s columns
7. Pecha Kucha on ‘The Nature Of Reality’ at Fabrica, Brighton Festival
8. Chimene Suleyman at War In The Park
9. Now Show into Any Questions on Saturday (Radio 4)
10. Vinay Gupta and Dougald Hine across social media


January 2011: Unjazz piano recitals – a call for venues/hosts

November sees my final bunch of Love Is Not Rescue gigs with the ‘Words Fail Me’ tour. (If you’re a promoter up for doing a gig on that tour, please contact asap)

Then this coming winter ‘between records’ I’ll (finally) release the improvised piano album Unjazz which I’ve worked on for the past year. It’s done and will be compiled/mastered in the next few weeks. So in January 2011 I want to book a run of small & unusual ‘recital’ shows to perform improvised piano live.

Are you interested in putting on one of these gigs? I’m looking for peoples’ homes, small arts or community centres, unusual spaces, village halls, church halls, galleries, whatever.

The dates are: Tues 18 Jan –  Mon 7 Feb.

The rules are:

1. I just need a real, good, in-tune piano.
2. I want the tour to be as freeconomy as possible: especially if you can feed me / put me up, the fee will be ‘much lower’ than normal. If you have a lovely idea for a recital but you’re concerned about cost, please get in touch anyway – I primarily want to have some fun playing in a different way.
3. Gigs without PAs / unamplified pianos are totally fine, preferable even.
4. I don’t expect a big audience! This will be an hour’s improvised recital, then max 3-4 actual T-T songs at the end to say ‘thanks for listening’. Also, I can’t imagine Unjazz getting big reviews or many Radio 1/XFM plays! There will be a nice poster though, with your gig included, that I can send you some copies of.
5. Either private parties or public gigs are fine.

So that’s the score. Got a possible recital for me? email:

Thanks a lot. x

New fambly member: introducing Songnostic

Announcing the birth of a younger sister to BlognosticSongnostic is my new blog specifically about songwriting and music-schmindustry related topics.

I’ve been trying out posts for a few weeks, partly because more and more often I’m being asked to get involved with workshops, which I really enjoy. I want somewhere to chuck down the ideas that arise from those – and also thoughts that may be useful to other people trying to write songs or make music.

I know Blognostic is feeling a little nervous about this new addition but I’m hoping if anything it’ll be easier to write non-music blog entries for Blognostic, as they’ll be a bit less tangled with my music making.

Anyhoo, I’d appreciate any comments or criticism – already worrying that it’s too po-faced and ‘sensible’ for me. I’d especially appreciate your comments if you’re a songwriter yourself and also if you know of other blogs about songwriting that I can link to, because I’ve struggled to find any that aren’t horrifically corporatist.

That link again: SONGNOSTIC

Cheers. x

Can you help make my ‘book burning’ video?

I need your help to make my new video for ‘Words Fail Me’, which comes out as a single in September. The video is about book burning, so we’re organising a few book burnings across the world and we’ll be filming them for the vid. I’m really looking forward to it and I’ve got my books to burn in a pile already.

But what we need from you is your own bit of book burning footage to drop in. So, would you be up for filming yourself setting fire to a book (presumably one you hate) to be included in the video? You can be alone or do it with friends, drunk, sober, in a forest, by the sea, on the estate or in your house. What you need to do is pick one – or some – books you’d really love to burn. Then we need three key shots to drop into the video – but anything you film will be fantastic. These shots are:

1. you walking along, all dressed up for the book burning party, carrying the book – or books – you’re going to burn. You ignore the camera and just walk along, a group or solo, whatever.

2. a portrait shot of you just looking at the camera, being still, just looking at the camera. If there’s lots of you, can we have a portrait of each of you and maybe a team shot?

3. the money shot – burn those books. as much footage as possible of you, in whatever way you’ve decided to do it. saucepans are fine. barbecues are fine. a massive fire in a wood is fine. industrial furnaces, however you like.

The deadline is June 10 end of June (we’re editing first week of July) and if you set fire to a book and send me footage, I guarantee you’ll be included in the final video with your name in the end credits (if you want): so get burning, then email and we’ll sort out how to get the footage to us.

Thank you so much, I can’t wait, it’s going to be my best video ever. xxx

The cuckoo lyric: how I messed up the words on ‘Nintendo’ and only realised this week.

Damnit. The lyric was always: “Your words come quiet, single file. / On one long roll of paper (in) Kerouac style.” That’s what it was meant to be, what I originally wrote and what was taped on the demo version.

But somehow in the album recording sessions, on this particular vocal take I randomly sang: “On one long roll of paper and Kerouac smiles,” and then somehow in my brain, that slipped into place like a big-arsed cuckoo and became what the lyric was. When we mixed, that was clearly the best vocal take and I pushed aside a nagging feeling something was odd about the words. Already by then I’d got too close – forgotten meanings and lost perspective – and I didn’t think about it again, even once I started singing the song live. I was singing the replacement lyric instead of the original one.

I only realised my mistake last week, during one of the final few shows of my UK tour, when something clicked back into place and I found myself acutely aware that all this time I’d been clinging to the wrong words. It was a particular shock because, for me anyway, they were drastically weaker words.

It’s a subtle difference and almost certainly you don’t give a fuck either way, especially since the sentence doesn’t remotely affect the underlying premise of the song. But for me the previous version was much, much better. “Kerouac smiles” conjures the dead poet looking down, in some way approving of the work – which is patently ridiculous and nothing like I’d want to say. It’s a bogus phrase too, slushy and romantic, at a point in the song where I’m trying to keep descriptively cool. “In Kerouac style” is simpler, sticks to the point and focuses on that image of a long roll of paper, which is what I wanted to get across.

So how did I get it wrong, and for so long? I have no fucking idea. What do I do about it now? Nothing – it’s too late. Sometimes, writing songs, that’s just how it goes. I’ll sing the correct version of ‘Nintendo’ from now on and, like a typo gone to press, hopefully nobody will notice.

Can you help?

Hey hey, I hope you’re well. I don’t normally post music-related mail outs here but it’s not like I put out a record every day, so here’s the ‘call for help’ email I just sent to my mailing list. If you can do anything, email

Obviously in my house it’s album time: LOVE IS NOT RESCUE is out in 2 weeks, the ‘Nintendo’ single is out to download on Monday and my UK tour starts this weekend. But before life goes nuts, this is an extra email to ask for your support – please can you help me spread the word about all of this mess? There are a few simple things that you could do if you feel like it that will make a real difference:

1. Just talk about it. You know, if you’re coming to a gig or like the album, or if you don’t. Every time you mention it online or to your friends, or stick the CD on when there’s people around, or discuss it on a forum or add a song to a Spotify playlist, you’re doing me a big favour. Promo means nothing compared to real people connecting other real people to the music they’re into.

2. if you’re going to buy LOVE IS NOT RESCUE and come to a gig, please pre-order the music and buy tickets in advance.

you can get ‘Nintendo’ from 7Digital here:
or get the exclusive 4 track iTunes EP version of ‘Nintendo’ here:

and links to UK tour tickets are here:
it’s ace, most gigs on this tour are doing much better than the last few tours and a couple may even sell out, so thank you very much if you’ve already bought tickets. I promise I WILL NOT go back to the same cities and play the same album again later on. This is your only chance to hear LOVE IS NOT RESCUE in this format in these towns.

3. Please don’t illegally download or fileshare it. I know it’s been leaked and is out there, it’s easy, God I know, weirdly I even feel guilty for asking. But please don’t. Go and buy the motherfucker and maybe I’ll be able to make some more.

4. Tell me your favourite loo. Seriously, if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m tweeting photos of every loo I go in (!) in museums, houses, venues, wherever. I’m using the hashtag #loo2010. So what’s the best loo near you? If I can get there, I’ll snap it with a credit for the tip-off. And one day you’ll be in a big coffeetable picture book.

5. Posters and flyers. We’re sending out beautiful golden A2 posters & flyers this weekend to lovely people around the UK who always help me by sticking them up in record shops, cafes, wherever. Do you want to join us? You’ll get as few or many posters/flyers as you need. Just reply or email – with your postal address – and we’ll send you a pack. Thank you so much.

I hope that’s cool, most of all, come and say hello if we’re in the same room. See you out there.
Chris xxx


Foundation & Empire

In Isaac Asimov‘s seminal ‘Foundation’ series of sci-fi novels, he postulates the fictional science of ‘psychohistory‘ by which the close observation of mass groups of people – and how they respond to circumstances – can allow you to predict and even manipulate major societal events. The galactic empire is nearing collapse, so a group of visionary scientists set up a Foundation, aiming to manipulate people using their pioneering science, to ultimately reduce the length of the ‘period of chaos’ between the empire collapsing and the rise of the next civilisation.

For a couple of months, it’s kept popping into my head that Google reminds me of the Foundation. Yep, it’s sci-fi, sorry, but think about the overwhelming complexities and depths of data-mining being done at Google right now, as we’re simultaneously on the cusp of monumental shifts in civilisation worldwide. They can track how a disease spreads for example way faster than government medical strategists. You can be damn sure Google are tracking societal trends and responses to major events faster and in more nuanced ways than we can imagine as outsiders. I wonder if they’re getting close to psychohistory.

Also, we’re going to need something to help the survivors rebuild some form of global network, however formal or anarchic.

Anyway, I’d been thinking about this stuff then unnervingly last week I read in a Wired piece that Hal Varian, one of the Google top boffs, is a huge fan of Asimov’s Foundation series, so there’s even consciousness to the connection. Cripes.

Then on Friday I went to the launch in Oxford of the Dark Mountain project. I’ll write about it in detail for the Morning Star column this week [updated – link] but basically it’s a new post-eco manifesto and ongoing arts project called ‘Uncivilisation’. It seems to be aiming to connect the culture we make to a post-civilisation reality, instead of tying it to the current structures and heirachies we seem to be obsessed with protecting, despite their desperate lack of worth. So far, so comfortably chiming with my views.

It’s curated by environmental writer, activist and former deputy editor of the Ecologist Paul Kingsnorth and blogger and former BBC journalist Dougald Hine, who I mistakenly called ‘Dougal’ in all my tweets. The launch was an understated affair involving me and Sam Get Cape in the garden round the back of the Isis Tavern. They’d made a limited initial pamphlet run of their Uncivilisation manifesto, which is beautifully presented. The garden was lush in the dusk and the people were bookish and folksy. Oxford folkscene doyenne Tim Healey read poetry, which was all well chosen and thought-provoking.

Oh my fucking god, even as I type this, I’ve smacked into a massive conspiracy theory wall that neatly ties in: Tim Healey is Denis Healey’s son and Denis is a founder member of the Bilderberg Group, the secretive annual global gathering of super-powerful investors and government financial types who are, they say, aiming to improve the world by pooling their expertise. Conspiracy theorists the world over tie them to the Skull & Bones and Illuminati conspiracies. How extraordinarily lame that I didn’t make the connection at the time. And fuck me for not thinking to ask Tim A) what he thought about the Bilderberg Group and B) whether he saw a connection of intention between their efforts and Dark Mountain. Christ on a bike! I’m laughing but I’ve really scared myself. Gotta get on that…

Anyway, (I’d already written this bit, feels a bit passé now…) as Paul and Dougald explained their ideas for the proposed movement, it jolted me back to the Google / Foundation thing and then another image from sci-fi: the artilleryman in War Of The Worlds. The Martians have almost defeated humankind and an artilleryman claims to be building a new civilisation underground. Of course, really he’s just dug a 12 foot hole to hide in. So you’ve got a hopeful and a sceptical response, both from sci-fi. I described these onstage, trying to encourage people to actually do something with the Dark Mountain ideas – but I’m not sure a single person in the room took it in. They seemed to enjoy my songs but nobody particularly connected with anything I said. It felt like literary book-launch schmooze rather than a gathering storm, though that’s no bad thing because people can’t begin to wrap themselves in a manifesto til they’ve actually read it.

Halfway through Get Cape’s excellent set, I clocked I had almost no chance of getting home. It was 11.15pm and I was miles from the centre of Oxford. I walked back alone along the banks of the Isis, past the barges, where there are no lights and bats flew all around me. I couldn’t hurry, despite having no hotel room booked, because I felt spaced out by the event. I love that shit, especially fantasising about the collapse to come – easy when one can’t actually imagine the human suffering involved.

And somehow the first cab that drove by stopped; took me to the Oxford Tube; the bus got diverted along the Bayswater Road in a way that actually made it quicker; I got to Victoria with 2 minutes to spare and made it breathless onto the Brighton train. There’s even another story from that train journey home but that’ll have to wait.