The Zaw Towers Review of 2007

2007 was a real year of rediscovery for me - I hit the live music bug in a big way, I went to more places within this country and enjoyed myself thoroughly, and even did a whole tour of following one artist and doing their merchandise, as well as have an absolutely fantastic time in Cornwall. In many ways it's been a defining year for myself and here's what made the year just that little bit more special.

Best Single of 2007 - "Paint The Sky EP" - Donna Marie
From the moment I first saw her live back in June, I knew that Donna Marie was a talent waiting to get the break for the big time, and the four tracks that are this EP are amongst the most played of anything this year. There's the gorgeous slide guitar on the lovely "Holiday From Myself", the raw acoustic lusciousness of "Make You Mine" (still my favourite), the great second verse of "Sinking Deep" and the title track at the end with an almost defiant uplifting feeling that it gives you. There's so many so-so singer songwriters out there, but she isn't one of them - and if she makes it in 2008 I will be one of the happiest people. There's still some copies left of this at her Myspace page so go and buy it. Now.

Also recommended:
"Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Sparkly EP" - Pete Green
- Three tracks on 7" vinyl, like all good indie singles often are. The title track of the EP is a lovely uplifting number and it's even bettered by the great football song "The Ballad of Phil Jevons" on side B, that just defines Pete's twock feel (twee plus rock = twock, you know)
"Mr Rock and Roll" - Amy Macdonald - The sound of the summer for me with a beautifully breezy guitar, some gorgeous Celtic vocals from Amy and a wonderfully uplifting feel that got you in a good mood no matter what. And bloody catchy, like all good pop songs should be.
"The Lesson of the Smiths" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators - My favourite track off last year's "We Validate" album with censored and uncensored versions here - and a double A side with "The Gay Train". Even a Smiths cover on here and the band posing doing tributes to Smiths covers on the sleeves - and still great live, too!
"Survivalism" - Nine Inch Nails - There's something so raw and immediate about this NIN track that it immediately got your attention and kicked you up the backside to listen to it. A pounding verse and full on chorus makes it classic NIN, and it being used in an episode of CSI gave it much more credibility, too.

Best Album of 2007 - "White Chalk" - PJ Harvey
It's a departure from her previous work, and an incredibly brave move to have an album mainly led by a quietly played piano for the most part, but its complete beauty is in that sparsness. There's a feel of loneliness yet belonging, desperation yet solitude, and a rawness of emotion that is hard to pinpoint exactly, but it's there on so many levels. Despite the overall feeling of sadness, there's much beauty to be had here, and the songs hit you and blend in such a lovely way that it's a comfortable feeling of sadness within that just makes this album work on so many levels. From the pounding pianos of "The Devil" through to the epic closer of "The Mountain" which ends with almost a scream, it's an emotional journey and a half that deserves plenty of listening and critical acclaim.

Also recommended:
"Learn To Sing Like A Star" - Kristin Hersh - It was welcome to see Kristin back making some beautiful acoustic lusciousness, and together with the added strings of the McCarricks, this is an album that sees Kristin in quite a reflective mode without losing her unique identity and the softly flowing feel of "Nerve Endings", the soft beauty of "Vertigo" along with the raw emotion of "Day Glo" proves why she's still a cut above the rest when it comes to female indie guitar players and songwriters.
"Favourite Worst Nightmare" - Arctic Monkeys - 2007 was a year of many bands proving that they could get over the hurdle of "difficult second album" and this was one of them. A full on assault of powerful rock without losing their Sheffield steel, and hardly any choruses to speak of (a really brave move and should be praised) it really kicked in all the right places, and lead single "Brianstorm" showed this album off at their finest.
"A Weekend In The City" - Bloc Party - In many "end of the year" debates, people either love or loathe this album. I'm in with the former category, another example of the second album syndrome passed with flying colours. "The Prayer" set the tone for what was to come, a much more deeply involving album and subjects matter much closer to the band, such as the excellently brooding "Disappear Here" and "I Still Remember".
"A Million Ukeleles" - MJ Hibbett - MJ's solo album, and as the title suggests, it features the ukelele. But it shows that he's lost none of his edge of writing great observational indie pop tunes, such as the fantastic "Hell on Earth" which is all about how rubbish Birmingham New Street station is, and "Control Alt Del" a song about those three keys on a PC keyboard. And you have to love the REM-esque mandolin on the title track.

Best Concert of 2007 - Kristin Hersh - Manchester Academy 3
I saw Kristin live three times in the space of a week, and while both Nottingham and Sheffield were great evenings, it was the atmosphere at the Academy 3 that nailed it for me. Everyone who was there, including the many fans I met along the way, just were there for the right reasons, the crowd banter with Kristin before "Gazebo Tree" made everyone smile, and despite several of the band with her having colds, they pulled out all the stops and Kristin was on mercurial form. Hearing the likes of "Day Glo" and "In Shock" from "Learn To Sing Like A Star" played with such immediacy, and even throwing in old classics like "Your Ghost" and "The Letter" just made it a memorable night. And indeed it was captured on camera, which you can have a look at and download if you wish to do so. It brings back happy memories for me, that's for sure. And isn't that what a gig should be about?

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
PJ Harvey - Manchester Bridgewater Hall
- Despite the big stage, PJ made the stage her own with a small intimate square with all her instruments around, and as well as premiering a fair few songs from "White Chalk" which showed their emotional content even then, there was a smattering of her whole back catalogue including my personal highlight "Dress" which sounded so raw with just the guitar that it made me feel very special that I'd managed to get a ticket for it. Next time she tours, I am there.
Donna Marie - Trof Bar, Fallowfield, Manchester - One balmy night in June and I'd seen the England under 21s lose 13-12 on penalties, went straight out to Trof, and after seeing a few acoustic artists, on comes Donna Marie and completely wipes the floor with everyone. From the rawness of "Make You Mine" that made me fall in love with it to the gentle wistfulness of "Like A Hollywood Film" this showed me just how much promise she had, and I simply had to buy her EP there and then.
I'm From Barcelona - Manchester Academy 3 - In fact, I enjoyed the band live so much back in January that I went back to see them when they toured again in September and it was even better. From Emmanuel crowd surfing on top of a lilo to the audience with their kazoos joining in with the band on stage, it had so much feel good factor that you couldn't help but leave the venue with a smile on your face and your hair full of paper confetti thrown from the stage!
The Wedding Present - Manchester Academy 1 - I regretted when I was younger never seeing The Wedding Present live, so when they were doing their George Best 20th anniversary tour, I just had to be there. From them playing that whole album in its entirety to classic singles such as "Brassneck", "Kennedy" and "Flying Saucer" it showed that people of my age (and there were plenty of us) could still go mental and enjoy their blistering live guitars with David Gedge on awesome form.

Best Film of 2007 - Control
Absolutely no contest this one to be perfectly honest. Being a massive Joy Division fan, any film that was going to be a tribute to them needed the right mix to do it justice, and basing the story on Deborah Curtis' acclaimed book was the right thing to do. Anton Corbijn's black and white cinematography showed the bleakness and greyness of late 1970s England to a tee, and all the actors who played the band gave excellent live performances themselves as Joy Division. Sam Curtis is absolutely superb as Ian Curtis, as is Samantha Morton as Deborah and Anna Maria Lara as Annik Horore. I'd also like to say that Joe Anderson's Hooky is amazingly spot on, and the whole thing is a triumph of talent over budgets (it cost less than £4 million to make!)

Best DVD of 2007 - The Henry Rollins Show Season 1 (Region 1)
Last year saw the first series (or season if you're in the US) of Henry Rollins doing a rather different sort of show, that would integrate his spoken word delivery of performance, excellent intelligent interviews with a variety of people, some exclusive musical performances and lots of interesting stuff covered. The fact that it was a show that made you think and not just a chat show was the perfect thing for the Independent Film Channel, and now as the series is on DVD, you can watch all twenty episodes and see for yourself just how timeless the programme's style is. There's lots of good interviews, and I just wish the extra exclusive musical performances could have been crammed on. But three discs and over 500 minutes or so is excellent value - order yourself a copy now.

Best TV Programme of 2007 - Life On Mars
What this series started off last year, it finished this year with some absolutely great writing, story lines that were believable for its time and some great acting. John Simm was once again magnificent as Sam Tyler, Philip Glenister's Gene Hunt is perhaps the best acted role of all year, and add to that Liz White's feminine touch playing Annie Cartwright, and you had television gold all there in a nutshell. The ending may have been deliberately confusing, but that was the point: to provoke thought and make you wonder what actually happened. The filming around Manchester made it much more believable and the fact that it refrenced many happenings as well just gave everything that bit more credibility. Whilst it was a shame the series had to end, I was glad that it did so on a high and didn't drag on, and we've got Ashes to Ashes to look forward to next year - here's hoping!

Best Sporting Moment of 2007 - Jamie Murray and Jelena Jankovic at Wimbledon
Another year of underachievement from many sports - the England team not qualifying for Euro 2008, the rugby team making it to the World Cup final against the odds, the cricket team losing the Ashes 5-0, the one shining light happened on the last Sunday of Wimbledon. Whilst the media attention had focussed on Andy Murray for most of the year seeing his rise up the rankings, who'd have thought that the first British winner at Wimbledon for 20 years would be his brother Jamie? He partnered the lovely Jelena Jankovic and their chemistry on court not only won a host of admirers for their skill, but also a glut of rumours that the two of them were actually dating. Regardless, it was a real surprise to see them play so well and everyone was wanting them to win the mixed doubles title in the end, and Jamie's brother Andy led the applause for him as he claimed the holy grail of a Wimbledon title. Let's hope they can defend the title if they can next year.

Best male personality of 2007 - Kevin Rudd
Not like me to give any awards to political figures, but in this case I'm going to make a rare exception, because he actually backed up a pledge he made during his election campaign. Under the old regime, Australia, much to the disappointment of the world and indeed the Australian people, had failed to ratify the Kyoto protocol to help stop global warming, and it was seen as a disappointment that they didn't come on board. One of the keys of Rudd's campaign was that he was going to sign the country up once he got in power, and once elected, the very first thing he did was sign off all the necessary paperwork that meant Australia is now backing Kyoto. In doing that it isolates America as the only major country not to and also a rare showing of delivering what you promised, so thumbs up to him.

Best female personality of 2007 - Jane Tomlinson
Not often I give a posthumous award either, but in this case I simply had to make an exception. Jane, despite her own cancer, gave so much time and effort into raising money for others and made so many of us including me feel very humbled at her achievements. Her epic bike ride across America the previous year had shown so much courage, drive and determination, and despite not being able to do any serious athletic challenges this year, she was recognised with a deserved CBE in the Queen's Birthday honours. It was a crying shame that she wasn't able to collect it herself but her memory, her dedication and her determination live on in all our hearts and that's something we should all be inspired from.

Personal moment of 2007: Doing a whole gig tour
One of the things I've always wanted to is to do all the dates of a tour, whether it be a band or solo artist. And between 30th October and 1st November, I did that, and how! I did Glasgow, Manchester and then Bristol following the MJ Hibbett "A Million Ukeleles" tour, which was basically MJ and Pete Green each night doing lovely acoustic sets (and MJ also doing a set with the ukelele) and local support each night. The intimacy of each gig and also the fact that you felt really homely inside at each one just added to the whole sense of adventure, and it was an absolute honour and pleasure to handle the merch sales for MJ and Pete and be able to sell some CDs, vinyl and t-shirts for them both - something I suggested I could do after seeing two Kristin Hersh fans do the same thing on her European tour. And it also meant I got to see Glasgow for the first time, and spend time on trains with lovely people. I even got a bit trigger happy with the camera, as you can see!