The Zaw Towers Review of 2009

2009 really was a year of stability and one that I spent a lot of time enjoying, even if the situation at work still isn't 100% certain at the moment. I went to lots of nice places, had plenty of great times with friends and family, and also was able to really cement a gorgeous relationship with the woman I love. I know, I'm really lucky aren't I? Here's what really floated by proverbial boat in the final year of the decade. It doesn't feel like ten years ago since me and friends were seeing the Manic Street Preachers in the Millennium Stadium, but there you go. So here's what's what:

Best Single/Track of 2009 - "Flooding" - Kristin Hersh
When I saw Kristin perform this track live, it was emotional even then with an acoustic guitar. Fast forward a few months and her release of this from her website saw her in even more emotional fettle, playing it solo with a piano. Beautifully mellow and yet haunting all at the same time, you can almost hear her breaking down during the song as she performs it. When you consider she'd miscarraiged shortly before recording, it really is a woman letting everything go on record. Immensely powerful and one that you won't want to leave without a tear in the eye yourself.

Also recommended:
"Fire" - Kasabian - One of the great songs of the summer, it chugs along with a guitar riff that everyone learns in about five minutes and sings along to, and on top of that, it just adds so much dirty guitar in there. One of those songs that grows on you over time and then just can't escape out of your head either.
"Daniel" - Bat For Lashes - Moody, haunting and an absolute gem. When you listen to this you can't help but feel affected somehow by it, it's that powerful. The word ethereal springs to mind, imagine if you will a cross between Kate Bush and the Cocteau Twins and you're there, but the vocal is just so wonderfully haunting that it draws you in like no other.
"Being Happy Doesn't Make You Stupid" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators
Absolute classic song, this one. It has plenty of reference to comic books, and how just because you feel like being happy all the time doesn't mean that you're completely daft. It also has one of the greatest lines on pop song history with the iconic hook of "Hey there, emo boy, give us all a smile" which when sung live really does feel like anthemic, all in a good way.
"Crying Lightning" - Arctic Monkeys - The third Arctic Monkeys album is definitely one not for the casual fan, and I do praise them for that. An indication for what was to come was the excellent opening single, which sounds a little bit more sinister, but it adds to the feel that way. And vocally, it's much better than anything off the first two albums as well. So there.

Best Re-Release Single of 2009 - "Killing in the Name" - Rage Against The Machine
What started out as an Internet campaign to get X Factor off the Christmas Number One spot turned into a debate about real music, and for that alone it was a refreshing change. Of course the song's not lost any of its power since its 1992 release and still brings people to go for it at many a rock night up and down the country. It has a powerful message contained within, Tom Morello's excellent solo and of course those end lines which really did stick two fingers up to Simon Cowell, and for that reason alone it just had to feature here at the end of the year. Christmas Number One was well deserved, and if people have discovered the band on the back of it, then good.

Best Album of 2009 - "Never Cry Another Tear" - Bad Lieutenant
New Order are dead, long live Bad Lieutenant. A NO album in all but name, with Barney and Phil providing most of its backbone and even Stephen on the drums occasionally, it's all the good things about the guitar based indie albums New Order used to do in the 1980s, only smarter, sweeter and catchier. "Sink Or Swim" is the perfect example of this, lots of lovely layered guitars and Barney sounding vocally on even finer form than usual. And on "Summer Days", Jake Evans' vocal underpins a rather warm and summery anthemic song, especially with those driving guitars. Well worth checking out live, too, if my friend's glowing report is anything to go by.

Also recommended:
"World Painted Blood" - Slayer - A welcome return to form for the thrash masters, methinks. The title track and album opener is the closest thing to epic thrash that you'll hear all this year, and it's even rather melodic too. Classic Slayer fans won't be disappointed with the full on speed of "Psychopathy Red" or the really aggressive "Hate Worldwide" which really does come at you at a full breakneck pace, and gives you lots of incentive for really going for it (as if you need any!)
"Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators - another cracking release from the band, when you consider that you've got the catchy singles such as "Do The Indie Kid", "It Only Works Because You're Here", the single above and "My Boss Was In An Indie Band Once" you know you're on a winner, but there is the epic "Leicester's Trying To Tell Me Something" which is so heartfelt about all the gig venues closing in that city that it draws you in and well - get hold of this if you can - it'll be well worth your dosh.
"Invaders Must Die" - Prodigy - Isn't it great that The Prodigy are still cranking up the volume to eleven and showing that dance music can somehow mix the elements of rock and come up with a powerful package. You really need to jump around the room to the title track, "Take Me To The Hospital" and my standout track "World's On Fire" which even has bits of The Breeders' "I Just Wanna Get Along" - wonder if Liam Howlett's a bit of a Kim Deal fan on the quiet?
"Battling Giants" - Ben's Brother - Second album even better than the first? Check. Great songwriting? Check. Catchy numbers? Check. Yes, all the elements were there and the rather warm feeling of most of the spring was taken up by this excellent album, and judging by the crowd when I saw them live this year, definitely one that gives you such a nice uplifting feeling even if the songs are mainly about love and lost love. All good clean fun and well worth another listen.

Best Concert of 2009 - Kraftwerk - Manchester Velodrome
The fact that so many great gigs this year I went to was going to make the decision difficult. That was until I went to see Kraftwerk. In stiflingly hot conditions, the band did a two hour set that was inspirational and perspirational in equal measures, with the undoubted highlight being "Tour de France" and its various étapes, with the British cycling team going round the velodrome as the band played. And of course not forgetting the 3D effects later on which had to be viewed with the glasses to be believed, as the likes of "Vitamin" and "Numbers" really benefitted from the effects and the playing. For me, hearing the likes of "Showroom Dummies", "Home Computer" and "The Model" in such an excellent live setting with great sound really made this such a wonderful gig. In fact if I ever re-visit my top ten, this one is going in, that's how bloody good it was.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
Duke Special - Deaf Institute, Manchester
- I saw Duke Special twice this year, but this was the best of the two gigs. Crammed into the upstairs main room to see him and the band perform a really warm lovely set with some great songs and lovelier singalongs really added to the whole feel of the gig, and then for the encore off he went downstairs to the bar there where his piano was waiting, and everyone crowded around it as he played some really warm stuff from that too. It was a gorgeously beautiful evening of music and he even answered my request for a song with "No, not f**ing Sesame Tree". Bless. Just a special gig this one, and had Kraftwerk not been so good this would have won easily.
Paul Weller - Victoria Theatre, Halifax - Must admit I went to this one mainly because of The Biscuits In My Cheesecake, but it was the right decision. For two hours he and the band rocked and played lots of stuff old and new in a stripped down stage that needed no trickery. I really respected him for that, and on top there were gorgeous versions of "Wild Wood", the classic Jam number "Start" and a full on "Echoes Round The Sun" too which just added to the feeling. I'm now attempting to convince The Biscuits that we should go to see him at the Royal Albert Hall..
Seth Lakeman, Academy 2, Manchester - Going on tour without a new album would seem daft, but Seth Lakeman knows full well that fans will appreciate new stuff and especially if they're getting a sneak peek of the new album to come next year. He and the band provided a really tight set and it was one to savour, and "Kitty Jay" on solo violin even sounded more intense than ever. Out of the new stuff, "Hearts and Minds" came across as the best of them, very Levellers-esque. My friend who came with me said the sound engineer was the best she'd ever heard at a Seth gig, and I have to agree, the whole gig was crystal clear and excellent.
Skunk Anansie - Academy 1, Manchester - My friend and I had been waiting for years for Skunk Anansie to reform and show all these indie pop kids how proper rocking needed to be done, and my they didn't disappoint one little bit. Skin was all over the place bounding around and even crowd surfing to the mixing desk and back, and the band were really really tight as they went through the back catalogue, with the anthemic "Little Baby Swastikka" at the end giving everyone a final excuse to go for it mental style, as if they needed any incentive, and "Selling Jesus" at the start just showed what we'd all been missing all these years. Hurrah!

Best Theatre Show of 2009 - Breakfast At Tiffany's, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
A theatre production of what's become a classic film was always one to draw comparisons between anyone and Audrey Hepburn, but the production of the show concentrated more on the original book than the glitzy film, and for that alone deserves praise. On top of that, there's also the fact that in Joseph Cross the theatre unearthed a talent all the way from the USA and allowed him to flourish. Anna Friel is good as Holly Golightly, even if it's hard to think of her in blonde hair as opposed of course to the legend that is Audrey. The ending like the book is a rather sad one, and the emotions carried at the end really do make it a special production. My advice? Read the book first.

Best Film of 2009 - Up
So you think that Pixar can't still cut it? Think again. This was a more than welcome return to the sort of stuff Pixar does best in its films - an excellent story with many an up and down turn and also a real feeling of togetherness and bonding between the main characters. On top of all that, the twists such as the explorer who was the idol of the main character Carl being rather evil was a surprise. However, it also has one of the most beautifully emotional sequences since Jessie told her story in Toy Story 2, where it showed Carl meeting his wife, growing up with her and being so in love as explorers together, and then seeing his sadness as she passes away before they can go to Paradise Falls - if that doesn't make you cry, nothing will, it's beautiful.

Best DVD of 2009 - Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death
The Wallace and Gromit short premiered last Christmas Day and I knew that I had to have it on DVD, as it was such a wonderful piece of storytelling. The DVD doesn't skimp on anything either - it has the wonderful half hour of story that's so much fun and especially with all the little 70s tributes like the Bake-o-Lite girl being based on the old Nimble ads (ask your Mum if you're not sure), and lots of little extras such as the making of the film, trailers for other related Aardman stuff, and best of all the voice commentary of the film which really gives you plenty of detail into why everything was put in that way. Excellent, and a bargain at around a fiver if you want it.

Best TV Programme of 2009 - Micro Men
As a standalone drama, it would have been an excellent piece of work, but add to the fact that it's actually based in real events in the 1980s concerning both Acorn and Sinclair goes to show just how much the computer industry even then was pretty cut throat. It has some excellent acting performances too - Martin Freeman is excellent as Chris Curry of Acorn, but even better is Alexander Armstrong as Sir Clive Sinclair, has him to a tee, not just facially either but in the way that he would act, portraying him as a determined, single minded flawed genius. The end sequence where Clive drives off in his Sinclair C5 with computer trucks around him is pure genius and good humour too - and well worth a watch again sometime.

Best Sporting Moment of 2009 - England's Women Cricketers Rule The World
As much as the men did brilliantly to get back the Ashes, and have just thrashed South Africa in Durban, it was the vastly under-rated performance of the England women which deserve tons of praise. In this year, they retained the Ashes against Australia, having won it last time out, they won the ICC World Twenty20 at Lord's and showed the men how to play the 20-over game, with a full crowd backing the girls to do the business, but also there was the fact that earlier in the year they'd gone over to Australia and played in the World Cup, and not only pretty much thrashed everyone, but went on to win the final and again do what the men couldn't do. Why they didn't win "Team of the Year" at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards is beyond me!

Best male personality of 2009 - Jenson Button
From not having a drive at the end of 2009 to becoming World Champion less than a year later, just how it all happened was the stuff of fairytales. Ross Brawn buys the old Honda team, rebrands it Brawn GP, and for the first five or six races the car and the drivers are unstoppable, and even when the other teams catch up, they are still up there competing. Button's wins were pure class, but it was that battling back through the field in Brazil with a series of attacking overtaking that F1 these days doesn't normally see that put the whole drive into perspective, and when Martin Brundle says that it was a champion's drive, you can't really argue. Again, why the hell he didn't get BBC Sports Personality of the Year was a complete injustice.

Best female personality of 2009 - Jessica Ennis
Comebacks were the theme in sport this year, and after missing the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Jessica took the long road to battle back and get fit in time for the 2009 World Athletics Championships. And wow, didn't she just come back? Her first day performance was one of the best athletics performances ever, and just pure grit and determination with personal bests falling, and in the second day keeping up that advantage and in the end a strong 800 metres meant she won by a pretty big margin indeed, not necessarily the case in the heptathlon. Her real passion and pride showed through and if every British athlete could apply themselves like her, then we'd be much better for it.

Personal moment of 2009 - Still Being In Love and Keeping My Job
With all the restructuring at work, it was always a case of where I'd fit in, and I at least managed to keep where I was and be able to offer some form of continuation of service, even if there's other redundancies planned which aren't so great. But the best moment of all has been to remain in love with a beautiful, funny and intelligent woman who can also be such a girl, but in a good way. I can honestly hand on heart say that The Biscuits In My Cheesecake is absolutely lovely, and when I look back over the year, spending a week in Cornwall and showing her all the places I love meant that she fell in love with them too (especially St Ives and Sennen Cove as well as the Minack Theatre) and doing lots of lovely things together just made the year so lovely. Awww. I am so lucky, and you know who you are, and you know that I love you lots and lots.