This year’s Festive Fifteen, my annual round-up of the best new songs I have had the pleasure of hearing this year, is the product of a multitude of influences. I discovered three of the artists at the wonderful Green Man Festival in Wales. Five tracks reached my ears courtesy of the ever-wonderful BBC Radio 6 (6 Music if you must). Only three were record shop recommendations, probably the smallest total in my decade of Festive Fifteens, and a sure sign that I am not spending enough time in those educational establishments. But that is balanced by the fact that I have enjoyed live shows by more than half of the featured artists – a very healthy state of affairs.
I had a litter picker for my birthday – the grabber thing that means you don’t have to bend down to pick things up. It’s not a sign of premature ageing (I’m still in my late youth, you know), but Ms Markontour had noted the rising frequency with which I come through the front door grumbling about all the mess in our street and decided to provide me with the means to do something about it. Today I tried it out for the first time and now Bakers Avenue is going to win Britain’s Cleanest Street!
Just above the Peak District village of Castleton there lurks a very large cave. So large, in fact, that it would take several days of crawling in the dark if one were foolhardy enough to try and traverse its entire thirteen mile extent. Those, like markontour, who regard such exploits as very much for other people to enjoy, can nevertheless experience some of the beauty of the caves from the relative safety of an entrance known as The Devil’s Arse.
Gruff Rhys is an artist who specialises in creating something new, unique and wonderful at least once a year. Markontour and other fans of the band which brought him to indie-fame were distraught when the Super Furry Animals went on hiatus in 2010, but left to his own devices Gruff Rhys ventured off in all kinds of interesting directions. Last night we had the pleasure of seeing him in his latest incarnation, a seer of dystopia, performing his new album, Babelsberg, in front of a rapt Oxford audience.
Peterloo, Mike Leigh’s masterful new film, is a dramatic account of the massacre by drunken Yeomanry of unarmed families meeting in Manchester in August 2019, to call for working class men to have the right to vote. It was a formative moment in modern British history and, as the historian E.P. Thompson put it “Within two days of Peterloo, all England knew of the event”, yet it is barely know about today. Leigh’s film ought to do something to redress the balance.
The Leyton Marshes, part of the Lea Valley which flows down from the Chiltern Hills all the way through London to disgorge into the Thames near Poplar, is a rare haven for wildlife and tranquility in the great metropolis in which markontour lives. Indeed, the beauty of the Lea Valley’s parks, canal and marshes is the main reason we moved to Walthamstow fifteen years ago. Yet now it is threatened by a badly conceived development put forward by the very authority that was created to protect it. It has to be stopped.
This year marks the centenary of the first performance of Holsts’ epic symphony, ‘The Planets’, and a few Saturday’s ago I was lucky enough to enjoy a celebratory performance at the London Barbican. It was magical experience, giving this amazing work new life and, courtesy of Professor Brian Cox’s enthusiastic presence, introducing the latest scientific thinking to a piece of music whose creation owed more to astrology than astronomy.