Category Archives: Admin

The Voice (no, not the tv show)

This is an excerpt from the ongoing draft of my memoir. All rights reserved.

Nine years ago, I got my heart broken. I cried. A lot.

Of everything that happened around then, one of the clearest moments I remember of the time, about 2 months after, is a bit of a weird story.

Some of my friends valiantly tried to cheer me up, but nothing really worked. We heard about a Christmas karaoke night at a British pub downtown. One of my friends came from out of town and practically had to drag me there. She knew I liked to sing, so I guess she thought it was worth my going so my mind would be preoccupied for a night. It became time to pick something to sing. She had chosen ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses, but as you probably imagine, I wasn’t feeling especially festive.

I chose one of my favorite Killers songs, ‘Spaceman’. No pun intended, I killed it, you know, the way kids today talk about killing it and doing a grand job. For a few years, I was obsessed with the Killers. When I discovered them, they were Americans who, honestly, were the closest thing we could get to a British synthpop band at the time.

Singing temporarily numbed my pain because, ultimately, I am and have always been a natural singer. There is something magical that happens within me when I open my mouth and a song comes out, whether it was when I sang lead on ‘O Holy Night’ in a high school performance or this night in a pub in Washington. It is a gift. Just one I never got to use the way it was intended. But that’s for another chapter of my memoir.

I hadn’t sung in public in ages, and yet the words came out easily, as if I had stepped out of my choir class in high school. I sing in the car. I sing in the shower. I sing at my computer during the workday while Spotify or a CD runs. Compared to most people who would find it a distraction, I am actually a more productive and much happier worker when music is on versus when it’s not. Three years ago, on a tour bus trip on the west coast of Ireland, I sang along to a Script song without thinking anyone would be listening to me. Some of my fellow riders applauded me. Three thousand miles away from home, that was quite funny.

What is it about singing that I find so wonderful? I have always known that the emotions of a song, packed into a song’s lyrics, melody, and other music of its make-up, speak directly to me. Further, this happens at a somewhat frightening level with certain songs for me, where I can actually feel my body tingling and vibrating, connecting to the song’s own sonic wavelengths. What a freaky thing to happen.

I have been reflecting more on this, trying to physically analyze what it is about these particular songs that are causing this physiological reaction. (I trained as a biologist at university, what can I say?) Is it the words? Is it the melody? The melody of the verse, or of the chorus? Is it a chord change? Is it the anthemic soaring of a song, either musically or lyrically, that wonderfully feel good quality that is instantly palpable to all but deathly difficult to write? It could be any or all of these things together in one song.

I’ve been trying to put a list together of these ‘triggering’ songs. The Beatles’ ‘I Should Have Known Better’ was one of the seminal moments of my life when I felt like I’d been slapped in the face and that what I was listening to was something truly amazing. It’s still amazing 32 years later.

“We’re just waiting, looking skyward”: Interviewing Andy McCluskey of OMD

Andy McCluskey (OMD) interview
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

It’s been a few interesting months since I last posted here, to say the least. I’m choosing to focus on the positives. I can’t remember who it was who first said to me, “God only gives us what we can handle.” That’s the explanation some people give on why some of us have been “blessed” with infirmities, illnesses, and other trials in our lives, while other people appear to have gotten away scot-free, unfettered by the things that have brought the rest of us afflicted so many tears. At the time I was given this religious chestnut, I was a convinced atheist.

Even if you’re not religious, I think you can still apply this as true somewhere in your own life. Be honest. There must be at least a few things that have happened to you over the years that seem…a bit too weird and too odd to simply be coincidental. Within 4 days in September, I saw two artists from Merseyside, both who use capital letters in their names: OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) and BANNERS. That, in itself, isn’t so strange for me, since I like a whole lot of English and Northern bands. Then things took an interesting turn…

I’d been working on something for a few weeks through normal press channels. That is, normal for someone who had run an internationally-read music Web site for nearly a decade. Things had stalled, and it looks like I was going nowhere fast. I wracked my brain about how else I could take the bull by the horns and do something that might change the situation for the better. I took a chance, not at the high school dance, but at the merch desk of the OMD show. I left the venue and tried to put it out of my head. I’d exhausted all the ideas I had. If nothing came of it, that was okay. The important thing was that I tried.

A common question that people have asked me over the years is, “How did you land that interview with Artist X?” This is how it happens most of the time. As the writer or editor, you put in a request, and then you wait, sometimes for a long time. It is a combination of behind the scenes machinations and sheer luck as to whether your request is granted. Annoyingly, sometimes you think you’ve bagged a fantastic interview and you spend an inordinate time preparing for it, only to be cancelled on because of the dreaded unforeseen circumstances. Neil Hannon and Tim Rice-Oxley, I’m still waiting…

Last month, I was given the wonderful opportunity to interview OMD cofounder Andy McCluskey. To call the band electronic and synth pioneers of the late ’70s and ’80s is describing their influence mildly. In the way that acknowledging pop in 2019 would have been very different if the Beatles had never existed, the electronic artists hotting up the charts these days owe OMD and the acts who followed them a great debt. I’m a fan of electronic music running the gamut from the experimental to the overtly, commercially poppy, so this was a Big Thing Indeed.

OMD is celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, so the focus of my interview with Andy was the special anniversary box set the band released last month. When a band of their kind of stature reaches a major milestone like this, there is an incredible amount of history, experiences, and music that can be revisited. Having been given most of the box set’s contents ahead time so that I could do the appropriate research for my interview, I was impressed by what Andy and Paul Humphreys decided to include. Instead of taking the far easier route to produce something quickly to sell their fans, they chose to curate and offer up a lot of cool stuff in a massive, beautiful package. By doing this, it shows how much OMD respect the nerdy electronic music fans who make up their core fan base. “Nerdy” is not derogatory. When music is important to you, you pay attention to detail.

Needless to say, Andy has done a lot of interviews over the years, even surprising me in 2013 in answering the TGTF Quickfire Questions. So you can imagine it was quite daunting to put together a list of questions that would let him shine and in a different way. One of the greatest compliments I got years ago following an interview in Denmark was “that was great, it was like talking to a therapist.” While Andy didn’t phrase it quite in that manner (ha!), he did appreciate the preparation I did, and I think you can read in the extended feature I developed that he felt comfortable in being candid with me about their career. Mission accomplished.

Part 1: I get Andy’s overview of the box set, a studio story about baking, and his thoughts on the immensely interesting unreleased tracks disc. I also got an unexpected singing lesson!
Part 2: Andy considers the two full audio recordings (1983 vs. 2011) included in the box set, how special live performances are to him, and their crazy first appearance on Top of the Pops. He also lets me in on the early lives of “Pandora’s Box” and “Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc).”
Part 3: Andy talks about how the band gained maturity in their live performances in the ’80s and the singles collection and the genesis of 40th single “Don’t Go.” He also considers what the 20-year old version of Andy McCluskey might be thinking about of all of this. Which is more funny now, as his son dressed up as him at 19-20 for Halloween.

photo of Andy McCluskey and bass at Gateshead Sage,
13 May 2013, by Martin Sharman for TGTF (my live review)

“The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark.”

It’s been over a year since I’ve been on here, so I thought I should start with an update of sorts to explain my absence before going back into posting analyses.

1. My 2013 Macbook decided to give up the ghost mid-November 2018. I was working one Saturday afternoon and POOF!, the screen became unresponsive. Multiple attempts to resuscitate and change hard drives were to no avail. My brother is expected to visit later this year and will try to revive it. Fingers crossed.

Having suffered major laptop problems in the past, I hadn’t been keeping too much on the hard drive, so it wasn’t a huge loss. Well, until I realized some of my music discovery spreadsheets had only been saved on the hard drive. All those hours of hard work are now lost to the ether.

2. At the time of the Great Macbook Failure, I was also sick as a dog with an undiagnosable cough. I was sick for over a month. I was even absolutely miserable during a birthday trip to Glasgow and Sheffield in late November into early December. Thank goodness I went to visit some of my loveliest friends. I ate amazing food everywhere, finally went to the famous York Christmas market on a weekend, went to two holiday-themed etsy markets, and got to see Ben Lomond in the distance on my birthday, from a pier on a sunny day in Luss no less. Check out my cover photo on Twitter.

3. I got a new laptop at New Year’s. It’s an Acer running Windows 10. So speedy after I upgraded the RAM and hard drive, but the monitor is pretty crap. It’s way too bright, and the monitor problem is a known flaw that I misjudged as something I could cope with. I feel like I’m getting a suntan every time I open the lid. To cope with it, I have to decrease the brightness so my gorgeous photo of the Yorkshire countryside that I’m using at the background looks dark, dull, and sad. Needless to say, I don’t use it as much as the Macbook.

The new laptop has a CD / DVD player, very uncommon among Windows laptops these days. I have been hooking up the laptop to my tv with an HDMI cable so I can watch YouTube on the bigger screen. This has been an odd game-changer. I never considered watching a video I’d otherwise watch on my phone on a much larger screen. Given how bad my laptop monitor is, anything significant like a concert or interview looks infinitely better on my tv than on the laptop.

4. Given the problem with my laptop and some other things going on personally, I decided to turn TGTF to dormant as of 5 April 2019. Going forward and except under special circumstances, we will not be posting any new content. I was a music blogger and editor for over 10 years, and it was time to focus my energies in a different direction. More information on my decision can be read here.

5. Thanks to the kindness of a young velvet rope minder Saturday 4 May at Liverpool Sound City 2019, I met and excitedly chatted with Andy McCluskey of OMD. He was every bit as lovely as I imagined he would be. I am the same age as ‘Electricity’, give or take a few months. I thanked him for everything he has done to bring synthesizers to the mainstream and congratulated him on their 40th anniversary. When he found out how old I was, he gave me a huge hug for my birthday this year. It’s hard to imagine anything else will happen before December 31 to top this moment for me.

6. The following week, Liverpool FC won the Champions League in Madrid, beating Tottenham Spurs. Take that, Harry Kane! After our painful defeat in the 2018 final, this was the result we needed. Go Reds!

7. I started a new job in May. Hooray! I have now been there for 2 months, and I can say without question that putting TGTF on ice could be the best decision I have made this year. Jobs are like juggling acts as it is. But trying to get onboarded at a new place, getting things organized the way you want them, *and* continue with new content at TGTF at the level I would have wanted, and at the same time, would have been impossible.

Right, seven bullet points are plenty. On with the show!