Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Islands – Mike Oldfield [#643]

One lesson to learn when curating a large collection of music is to make regular backups. Last week I had to make an emergency restore of my Mac’s OS which meant having to resort to a backup from the iCloud. Unfortunately, this meant that only the files I’ve managed to upload via my very slow 21st Century rural broadband or those matched via iTunes are currently available for me to listen to. Indeed, today’s album, Islands, is not available on iTunes and my iCloud library does not have the files uploaded, which is a shame. Fortunately, I did manage to listen and pencil together a brief draft of observations for today’s entry but it means there may be a slight decline in posting regularity for the next couple of weeks. Please stay with me though!

Good old “x for £xx” deals. If it wasn’t for “x CDs for £xx” deals my music library would probably have been very sparse and I’d have a lot of money.  I first obtained Oldfield’s Islands on CD during a 3 for £20 deal at the Virgin Megastore in Liverpool (now Claus Ohlson) in the early nineties, I think I was still at school.

When Islands was released, computer graphics were, by today’s standards, a little bit shit. But that didn’t stop artists like Mike Oldfield from using visual media to add to their output. So when I came across the music video that accompanied this album, Wind Chimes, I was blown away. “WOW!” I would say, “Look at the detail on that vector graphic!” something I would struggle to recreate on my Commodore 64 even if I had the right programme to do something like that.

So a career in computer graphics passed me by because the technology I had to hand was insufficient to help tease me towards such an occupation. The self-realisation that already older people are often better at things than you is a big train not to miss.

The Wind Chimes is the long piece in this album and is riven with melodies, rhythms and motifs with a heavy eastern and international influences pretty much like most Avante Garde and artistic music of the time (see also the African influences in Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe). The other tracks are songs performed by the likes of Bonny “Total Eclipse” Tyler and Kevin “Nick Drake” Ayres. Also, curiously, Yes alumni Geoff Downes and Enigma’s Micheal Cretu also assisted with the production which just sends chills down my spine as trying to visualise the way my music tastes are connected is what inspired this whole project in the first place.

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Incantations – Mike Oldfield [#629]

Incantations_(Mike_Oldfield_album_-_cover_art)Incantations is Oldfield’s fourth album following Ommadawn and precedes Exposed. Musically, this album features themes and motifs that are repeatedly used throughout the four sides accompanied by Oldfield’s stylistically familiar circle of fifths.  Through his guitar wankery, his use of choral and a folksy solo by his singer du jour, Steeleye Span’s Maddy Prior (doing a really good impression of Renaissance’s Annie Haslam), the whole album just screams Mike Oldfield.

Incantations requires a good set of headphones, a good red wine and a badly earthed hi-fi for that true middle-class seventies dad experience. It is sadly too minimalist for casual listens and, like most of Oldfield’s work, definitely requires the listener’s full attention to appreciate fully.

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Hergest Ridge – Mike Oldfield [#582]

Hergestridgecover.jpgOldfield’s second album takes inspiration from a delightfully picturesque area of Herefordshire where Oldfield was living while attempting to escape the media attention gained from the success of his first album.

Until about 2000, I had only been brave enough to listen to the extract of Hergest Ridge that featured on the Complete Mike Oldfield box set having been advised by an elder sibling that “It isn’t much cop”. Still, as with all things in life, your siblings sagely advice can be similar to the type of sage that sits at the back of one’s parent’s kitchen cupboard in that Sharwoods bottle that dates from the 1970s, out of date and a matter of preferential taste.

To be fair, they were kind of right because even after a delayed listening, Hergest Ridge just doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of Tubular Bells or later works such as Islands or AmarokIt’s a very reflective or poignant work, perhaps one that is for good listening to when reading broadsheet newspapers while ensconced in one’s garret. Sure, it is Oldfield’s “difficult second album” but it shows off the young Oldfield’s developing talent and has some beautiful recurring melodies that also crop up in later works.

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Heaven’s Open – Mike Oldfield [#577]

Mike_oldfield_heavens_open_album_coverLong term followers of this blog may remember my joy at Amarok, when that came out I was overjoyed, but when Heaven’s Open came out the following year, I was ecstatic. Here was Oldfield singing pop songs, angry ones at that, and doing a whole side of his multi-instrument magic. Awesome.

Of course, this was in the days before the internet. When music news and gossip was gleaned from NME and Melody Maker, both publications that I avoided because I didn’t want to be seen to be a desparate hipster, and, of course, because I wanted to happily stay in my musical comfort zone with Yes, Mike Oldfield and the Tubes. So I was unable to learn until much later that this was Oldfield’s last album on the Virgin label and a great big “Fuck You” to Richard Branson, although if you listen carefully to the lyrics of the songs, it’s fairly obvious.

With five singles tracks, including the non-hit title track, Heaven’s Open and a massive 20 minute opus much akin to Amarok, the album is totally out of character compared to later and earlier works. Even Oldfield’s temporary rebranding of himself (to Michael rather than Mike) gives the whole album and uneasy feel. However you can hear the development of stylistic motifs from both Islands and Amarok and the birth of riffs and styles that would cross over to Tubular Bells II.

 

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Glittering Prize: 81/92 – Simple Minds [#526]

Glitteringprize8192It’s 1992. School has finished. University has begun. Trudging the city streets of a rain soaked Sheffield is a tall fair haired male with a Sony Walkman. On the Walkman is a copy of this album.

That man was me.I’d embarked on a new phase of life. University. And with university as a young 19 year old male came new people, new experiences and, best of all, new music. Because, of course, a new phase in a new city meant new shops. Shops that didn’t feature in Liverpool. Or if they did, not on the scale they did in Sheffield or the Meadowhall.

And there, on Fargate, opening to much fanfare and huzzah, a Virgin Megastore, the size of which I’d not seen before; within, a selection of cassettes as broad and as vast as the selection of pastries in Greggs the Bakers.

I bought Glittering Prize:81/92 on cassette from the Virgin Megastore on Fargate, Sheffield using an opening day discount voucher given to me at the student union during Freshers week. So began many years of listening. I still have the cassette, granted with nothing to play it on, but it is still in my belonging.

As “best of” compilations go, this was an excellent introduction to the band for me. Of course I was already familiar with the band having heard their work on the radio while I was growing up, but there were a number of songs I was unfamiliar with. Later investigations into other Simple Minds works proved to me that this album was probably the best choice to listen to the band as a beginner. Other albums were difficult to digest and I never really explored beyond Glittering Prize.

However, considering the number of times I’ve listened to the album over the years, it has fallen relatively out of aural favour since obtaining it on MP3 in 2009. Yet everytime I hear a song from it, I’m there, in nineties Sheffield, walking around the ruins of an ancient cutlery empire on my way into town or into University.

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Galore – Kirsty MacColl [#508]

KirstygaloreThere was a fleeting moment when I thought relatives of Kirsty MacColl lived in my street when I was growing up. Instead it turned out Andrea McCann wasn’t related, but just happened that she looked a little bit like her. If you squinted.

This is another relationship legacy album, inherited when my previous wife and I split the MP3 library. I’ve never really been a fan of MacColl but I’ve always know who she was and enjoyed Christmas when she would grace my screens with the Pogues. Indeed, my knowledge of her sound is not limited to that song and, this album being MacColl’s best of album, this album features many of her top hits that were present in the charts during my childhood.

As a time machine, this album works, transporting me back to a time of paper rounds, Saturday’s working in Halfords and Christmases visiting Flannagan’s Apple for the  Guinness.

And so we reach G. A world of compilations and best ofs (eg Greatest Hits) and Gothic music by far the largest group of albums alphabetically. Sorry if you’re expecting me to get to L by Christmas….

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Album #72 = Angel’s Egg – Gong

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 19.51.48Angel’s Egg – Gong (1973)

Take one impressionable teenager. Play them The Flying Teapot Radio Gnome Part 1. Sit back and wait.

I bought this in on CD in 1990 after having my mind blown by The Flying Teapot. Gong are kind of like Bonzo Dog Doo Dah band meets King Crimson. Jazz, with bizarre fantasy world inspired lyrics and a hell of a lot of jazz influence.

Several years later I was at Sheffield Hallam University and Gong were playing at the Nelson Mandela building (now demolished). Of course I was too shy to go and see them by myself and regret that I never had the balls to do so. I would probably have given up on them there and then.

French band, Gong’s second Radio Gnome but fifth album tells the story of Zero, the hero, and his continuing exploits on the planet Gong with the Pot Head Pixies. Yes, you guessed it, this album is heavily drug inspired. Perfect for your spotty teenager in the early to mid nineties at a time of naive mysticism and pre-millennial optimism. Great stuff, if only for a song about vaginas.

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