Top 10 influential records list (in life order).
Prince Buster – FABulous Greatest Hits
I had a lot of exposure to 60s music through my dad while growing up, and while ska was something I quite liked, it wasn’t till I heard the 1998 re-release of ‘Whine and Grine’ that I felt like I really ‘owned’ a song. My dad used to tape the original versions of recently re-released songs off his records for me, things like ‘Boys of Summer’ by Don Henley. ‘Whine and Grine’ was one such song and I vividly remember watching Prince Buster singing it live on Top of the Pops. Going back to the original version years later there are some questionable lyrics, to say the least… ‘Whine and Grine’ features on the expanded CD version of ‘FABulous Greatest Hits’, which adds seminal Buster tunes such as ‘Madness’, ‘One Step Beyond’ and ‘Enjoy Yourself’ to the original package.
Sum 41 – All Killer, No Filler
In 2001 I was 14. I was disenfranchised and unmotivated at school, but with nowhere to focus my energy. I had a trumpet but wasn’t motivated to practise the dull concert pieces required for my Grade 5 in the instrument. I owned a guitar I couldn’t play, a Hondo Les Paul copy passed to me by my dad, who used to have it strung upside down to play left-handed. When I came into possession of it I don’t think it even had any strings. Music wasn’t a huge personal thing for me – I had a few CD compilations bought as Christmas presents, one album I had bought myself (‘Left of the Middle’ by Natalie Imbruglia - which is still ace, by the way) and a penchant for 60s ska and rocksteady. My friends were starting to get into rock music and had played me a band called Blink-182, who were fun enough. Then one night on the radio I head a song come in with the line “I don’t wanna waste my time, become another casualty of society, I’ll never fall in line, become another victim of this conformity”. This is me! I hate everything too! I clicked Record+Play on my tape deck and recorded the second half of the song, but had no idea who it was. For ages I carried that cassette around playing the second half of the song, labelled ‘I Don’t Wanna Waste My Time’ – Blink 182. No idea why I thought it was by them, it just sounded roughly like them. I found out it was Sum 41 eventually and grabbed ‘All Killer No Filler’ as soon as it came out. I joined my first band, learnt rudimentary guitar chords, and bought the official tab book of the album so I could teach myself the songs. ‘Fat Lip’ changed my life.
The Clash – London Calling
The Clash are the biggest influence on me musically and personally – from their sound to their experimentation, their intensity to their politics. Oddly, I’ve always been attracted to later-period Clash more than the earlier punkier stuff (save ‘Safe European Home’). Punk was the first genre that woke me up to be in a band, but it wasn’t my first love (ska and rocksteady) and wasn’t the music I grew up surrounded by (60s soul and surf guitar instrumentals). I first got ‘London Calling’ on CD in 2002 and it is still my favourite album – and what I consider as The Clash’s greatest achievement. It imprinted on me an appreciation of moulding together different sounds, genres, influences and moods.
Metallica – Master Of Puppets
‘Master of Puppets’ was really influential on my guitar playing. Jimi Hendrix is the pinnacle of guitar playing for me, but his wildly improvisational style was at slight odds with my preference for playing rhythm guitar and my appreciation of economical, precise technique. My earliest memorable exposure to guitar playing was through my dad’s love of The Shadows, and Hank Marvin’s laser-focussed precision on his lead breaks, and his understanding of how to sync his solos with the turns and changes in the rhythm section. This is something I found to be replicated in Hetfield and Hammett’s twin guitar attack – except this time with added fury. The chugging, individually downstroked and muted rhythm guitar parts are the stars here – the two intro riffs of the title track, the lumbering majesty of ‘Leper Messiah’ – and rather than exhibit flashy wankfests in the vein of Vai or Satriani, Kirk Hammett’s leads weave and bounce along in their wake, complementing the tumble and squall of Hetfield’s thundering riffs on the likes of ‘Battery’ and ‘Orion’.
Against Me! – Reinventing Axl Rose
I got into Against Me! at university in 2005, when I formed a band with some other new students and our singer Andy suggested covering ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong’. Listening to the record it didn’t click with me initially – I preferred the slightly less scrappy sound of their most recently released album, ‘Searching For A Former Clarity’. Over time I grew to love the scrappiness. It felt ramshackle, it felt alive, it felt REAL. The impassioned screaming of Laura Jane Grace about the music scene in ‘We Laugh At Danger’ and ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’ was a mission statement for my future musical endeavours. Even more important was the use of an acoustic guitar as a weapon of fury. To me, acoustic guitars were the calling card of the indie pop whiner. Against Me! claimed them back and used them to play shows in laundromats.
King Tubby – Declaration Of Dub
My own songwriting tends to be pretty wordy. Dub Reggae is the antithesis of this; emphasising the feel of a song, creating a thick, heady atmosphere, jarring the listener by dropping in samples, sound effects and snatches of guitar and vocals. It is a wonderful deconstruction of the traditional song format, something especially highlighted on ‘Declaration of Dub’ through the magnificent title track. Here, King Tubby strips back the Abyssinian’s ‘Declaration of Rights’ to its stark underbelly of bass and drums, utilizing reverb and delay to unsettle your stomach. The economy of dub music has always chimed with me as a great innovation. In a Jamaican music market dominated by throwaway singles, studio time was at a premium while new cuts were demanded for the dancehall sometimes daily. Taking one riddim (rhythm track) and versioning it through deejay, dub, instrumental and various vocal tracks simply cut down the workload. The creativity displayed by King Tubby has long influenced my own choices in recording and production of recordings for my various bands, those old dub traits of riffs dropping in and out on a whim and a pervading layer of reverb, remaining ever-present.
Bomb The Music Industry! – Goodbye Cool World
Bomb The Music Industry! were a complete revelation to me. I was sat on a beach in Bournemouth with one headphone in, talking to a girlfriend while this record started, only half listening. I finished talking and stuck the other ear in, just in time for the start of ‘Even Winning Feels Bad’. I had downloaded the record after a guy on an Against Me! community board had a label that was printing a super nice UK exclusive ‘mint swirl’ variant of the LP. I liked the look of it enough to listen to this band I’d never heard of, hoping they would be good enough to justify a purchase. “There’s a song tonight that I don’t wanna sing…”. It’s a scratchy, shouty guy with an acoustic guitar. Yeah, sounds about right. Then descending twin harmony guitars, panned to one ear each, cuts my head in half before lurching into the bounciest synth riff ever, smashing into my brain. BTMI! rightly get lauded for their incredible DIY ethic and attitude and it had a huge influence on me – I could make records in my bedroom, I could put out my music online for free – and it would never have happened if this record was not so deliriously, winnably brilliant.
Billy Bragg – The Internationale
Billy Bragg got me over (some) of my crippling confidence issues. Getting on stage with a band is fine, because you are a mini-army and your mates have your back if things are going south. You have people to moan about bad gigs with. After the first incarnation of my former band Bandit The Panther broke up, I went into hibernation. I was on the dole, living at my parents while my then girlfriend went to live in Ireland for a bit and I ended up spending a lot of time at home writing and recording. Bomb the Music Industry! had shown me that I could record and release music on my own. My head wasn’t happy with prospect of playing alone though. I had been into Billy Bragg for a while and liked a lot of his lyricism and style. However, it was watching the bonus DVD that came with the 2006 re-release of ‘The Internationale’, showing Bragg in 1988 playing his style of fast, lyrically intricate folk-punk to a crowd in the old Soviet Union that kicked me into gear. People were reacting to one guy playing solo – but it was someone playing upbeat, angry intense music, rather than the usual insipid acoustic dross you’d usually find down the local. Playing solo has taught me so much about performing and connecting with a crowd, when you don’t have other people onstage with you to rely on.
Sophie Porter – Self Titled EP
Norwich’s Sophie Porter only released one solo EP in 2012, before joining a few other bands, notably Ducking Punches. The EP is great. Sophie’s songwriting and voice covers a lot of emotional ground fantastically – check out ‘Staples’ for something especially sad, angry and raw. This EP is notable for me for two reasons. First, it nicely sums up the UK acoustic punk scene around 2011–2014, full of fantastic troubadours playing shows in kitchens, shouting incisive socio-political lyrics over furious acoustic strumming. It’s a scene I loved being a part of and Sophie Porter’s EP is one of the first records that springs to mind from that period (notable nods to ‘Anchors Up’ by Emma Hallows, ‘Damsel’ by Damsel, ‘Just Another Plea For A Better Tomorrow’ by Ash Victim and ‘From The First Chord’ by Lets Go Nowhere). However, Sophie gets the nod as it was released by Aaahh!!! Real Records. It was the first time I was aware of the label, meeting head man Ian a little later. Having a record out on an indie label was always a big goal for me and so far Aaah!!! Real have made me a happy guy by releasing several Bandit The Panther records, as well as my 2016 EP ‘Osbourne Heights’.
Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel Of Love
Displaying emotion doesn’t come naturally to me, aside from a tendency to wallow in self-loathing. I find positivity a difficult thing to approach – after hearing a demo of ‘I’m Not Alright, Not Really’, for what became the Osbourne Heights EP, my mum looked at me and said ‘this is really sad’. I managed to bum out my own mum by writing songs! ‘Tunnel of Love’ encouraged me to turn the light on myself a bit more and to explore more romantic and personal themes. Bruce Springsteen writes about the breakup of his marriage, what it means to question yourself and be vulnerable. Songs like ‘When You’re Alone’ and ‘Walk Like A Man’ speak to me, acknowledging that other people have same fears and worries I do and noting that sometimes you just have to be honest about what’s going on in your head.
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