The Zaw Towers Review of 2010

2010 was a year of change and yet at the same time a year of stability. Work is still not always certain, especially with the cuts going on, and the Government changed to be a coalition to condemn us to five years of Tory rule. However, on a personal side, it was definitely a case of me remaining upbeat and happy and with plenty of things to keep me occupied during the year including many trips out and about, lots of good music to listen to, gigs to go to and even better, lots of moments shared with very special people. What more could be nicer, methinks?

Best Single/Track of 2010 - "The Space In Between" - How To Destroy Angels
Nine Inch Nails might be on hiatus, but that doesn't mean that Trent Reznor is keeping himself quiet. Oh no. He's instead teamed up with his wife Mariqueen Maandig along with Atticus Ross and came out with a brooding self-titled EP, and the lead track with its accompanying brooding video showed that Trent could still pull off some thought provoking music that allowed you to feel every word that Mariqueen said, but with a softness and lightness on top of all the heavy intensity. A real triumph of content and style.

Also recommended:
"This Pretty Face" - Amy Macdonald - The highlight of her second album "A Curious Thing" and when released as a single had everyone wanting it to be a lovely sunny day whilst listening to it. It also has a great underlying subject matter in the lyrics that deserves repeated listening along with some gorgeous acoustic guitar from Amy herself.
"Sudden Death" - Megadeth - Granted, Dave Mustaine wrote this especially for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, and with good reason, but as a standalone piece of rock and metal it's bloody epic. Lots of killer riffs in the opening intro, a chugging hard bass and lead line that underpins the main song, and then the instrumental bit near the end with lots of drama and just even more epic feel. Rock is back.
"Heathen Child" - Grinderman - The genius that is Nick Cave was at work again this year with the more bluesier feel of Grinderman, and the album did not disappoint, and neither did this, the lead off single. Lots of dirty guitar and low down Cave vocal really setting it all off rather well, and even had the quiet bit / loud bit, reminiscent of classic Pixies at the same time. Stunning stuff and shows he still has it in bucket loads.
"You Run Away" - Barenaked Ladies - The band really opened up their hearts and souls in this track, especially as it was mainly written about Steven Page's departure from the band and their efforts to try and be there and to do the right thing. It has a build up from a quiet beginning to a rocking ending and how they tried to be his brother, but he ran away for cover.

Best Album of 2010 - "No Looking Back" - The Floe
From the moment I saw them supporting Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, I was hooked on them (and their previous guise of Aloneme) and this, their debut as The Floe, had everything that a good indie pop album should have - catchy melodies, really good uplifting song writing and above all else a beautiful angelic voice to round it all off. The opening track "I Hope You Know" sets things off beautifully with its message of hope, and in the middle there's a gorgeous piano-led cover of "(Love is Like a) Heatwave" which is beautifully simple and emotional all at the same time. It's got so much going for it that it's hard just to pick out particular tracks, but it really remains a favourite here in the Towers, that's for sure.

Also recommended:
"The Antiquated and the Arcane" - 3 Daft Monkeys - It's nice to see a band develop and evolve themselves, and certainly here 3 Daft Monkeys have progressed very nicely. There's much more of a folk and slightly less of a world music feel about it, but that just allows for more breathing room for the acoustic guitar and the excellent fiddle work of Athene Roberts to really flow through the whole album. "She Said" is a brilliant folk song that'll have you humming along, and "Days of the Dance" lends itself nicely to some world-inspired dance as well, and a nice touch to have a local Cornish primary school to sing on the end track too.
"Leave Your Sleep" - Natalie Merchant - Natalie really went back to basics in a way with this release, as the whole theme was children's nursery rhymes and songs re-interpreted by Natalie herself. Some of her own piano playing is beautiful to set the scene for a few of the songs, and there's a real feel of joyous fun as well as bedtime storytelling. "Maggie and Milly and Molly and May" is as good as anything she did in 10000 Maniacs, and "Equestrienne" will have you imagining Natalie on a horse riding around, so good is the story telling. And the two CD set is well worth it to get the complete experience here.
"The Silent World of Hector Mann" - Duke Special - Two albums and an EP formed "The Stage, A Book and The Silver Screen" box set, but you could get them all individually too. This was the best of the threesome, a nod to the old silent movies of the likes of Harold Lloyd and plenty of throwback to those moments with the likes of "Wanda, Darling of the Jockey Club" with its skiffle beat, the gorgeously emotive "Tango Tangle" full of classical tango-type movement, and "The Prop Man" having a beautifully innocent movement, almost like someone was on the edge of a building in those classic silent movies. Genius at work.
"Warp Riders" - The Sword - The third album from this progressive doom metal lot, and one which sounds a little darker than previous outings, and all the better for it. There's a definite theme of time and space in it all, notably on the two "Chromancer" tracks, with "II: Nemesis" not being out of place on any early Black Sabbath album. It's got that real feel of exploration and needs repeated listening to get the most out of it. Shame that the drummer left the band this year, as they were a tight knit unit as this release shows.

Best Concert of 2010 - Swing Out Sister, Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush, London
It was hard to choose from so many good gigs I went to, but this one just edges it. It felt like a small intimate gig and the venue lent itself nicely to feeling that way. The stage was small but it made the whole event feel more special, and for two hours, the band gave us a perfect mix of nostalgia from their back catalogue to their more recent output including lovely tracks from their "Beautiful Mess" album. It felt special, notably as you could see how much the band were enjoying themselves and how much they wanted to just keep on playing. Having Gina Foster with them for vocals really worked well again, and both her and Corrine Drewery really put the cherries on top of a very nicely served cake of excellent laid back music. And The Biscuits In My Cheesecake was with me, and she loved it too, which made it just a bit more special.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
Duke Special, St Phillips' Church, Salford
- Another great Duke Special gig in a rather different setting, yet perfect to showcase the box set of releases this year, with both "The Silent World of Hector Mann" and "Songs From Mother Courage and her Children" getting a full airing. The church lent itself superbly to some lovely acoustics for them, and they were able to bring forth an evocative and memorable set. Sat in the pews with a bottle of Hobgoblin and seeing the band do their thing in a laid back and music hall style with some old silent movie slides during Hector Mann? Perfect, just perfect, and I really want to see them again soon.
Nouvelle Vague, Academy 3, Manchester - This was the most surprising in terms of excellent gigs, but moving from Academy 2 to 3 made it feel a lot more intimate, and especially as it meant the band could really give their laid back bossa nova tinge to the songs that they would cover. Melanie Pain's encouragement of everyone to sing the end of "God Save The Queen" punk style was a brilliant moment, and her and Nadeah's duet during "Just Can't Get Enough" just made everyone smile. It was a "you had to be there moment" for lots of their songs, and my friend and I left with massive smiles on faces.
Weird Al Yankovic, Kentish Town HMV Forum, London - Weird Al's never toured the UK so when the chance came to see the master of parody at work I simply had to be there, and it was well worth the wait. Plenty of costume changes to suit the songs at breakneck speed, but hearing the likes of "Smells Like Nirvana", "White and Nerdy" and best of all "The Saga Begins" complete with all the band dressed as stormtroopers showed that not only was he the master of parody, but that he and his band could rock pretty well and put on a show with lots of fun and that made us all smile.
Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, The Lowry, Salford - The thought of punk songs done in their folk style might not have immediately appealed to some, but seeing them live showed just how much fun it was. Although my friend and I saw them live twice this year, this was the better gig because the set list was a bit more of what I wanted to hear, notably Sham 69's "Hurry Up Harry" as part of the encore as well which is always good to sing along to. It was good to see him off The Young Ones show that musically he's just as good as he is funny. And The Floe were supporting too, so win win there.

Best Theatre Show of 2010 - Dinasour Planet, Kings Arms, Salford
A musical bit of theatre with dinasours, the demolition of Peterborough and performed by two people, surely that can't work can it? Actually, it did and what's more it did so very well as MJ Hibbett and Steve Hewitt showed a small but appreciative audience. It had all the hallmarks of comedy and musical but plenty of neat songs including "Please Don't Eat Us" along with plenty of dinasours who end up talking like pirates in the end. It may sound a little twee but in fact the pure enthusiasm for the subject matter along with the humour throughout really made everyone feel happy despite the freezing weather outside.

Best Film of 2010 - Toy Story 3
This film made plenty of grown men cry with its ending, and I have to say I'm along with many of them. It had a beautifully shot beginning which was all in owner Andy's imagination about the adventures of the toys, and from the moment the toys end up in the day care centre by mistake it's a rip-roaring adventure to not only try and get free but also work as a team, with Buzz and Woody being the lead partners and doing their thing once again. It's laugh a minute for adults and kids alike, and even though a little scary in parts for the little ones has some beautifully heart-warming moments that make you go "Awwww". And as for the ending, well see for yourself but it ends the whole thing in a perfect way if you ask me.

Best DVD of 2010 - Bill Bailey Dandelion Mind
Bill shows exactly why he's still one of the funniest people to see on tour and why I've always tried to see him live where possible. A punk lament because of John Lydon doing a butter advert? Check. A killer version of Gary Numan's "Cars" on Iranian type instruments? Check. Plenty of musical interludes about surreal subjects such as the Tesco checkout laser scanner? Oh yes. I wish I'd have seen this show live of course, but the DVD is the next best thing, let me tell you. And of course watching it will make you understand the whole cult of what is the "oud" - watch for yourself and find out!

Best TV Programme of 2010 - Ashes To Ashes (final series)
The second series had gone off the rails slightly, but there's no doubt that the final series of Ashes to Ashes really did hit back in a massive way, with tons of 80s nods and outfits, and the addition of the Jim Keats character adding mystique and an added dimension to the whole story (brilliantly played by Daniel Mays I should add). The final episode really did answer all the questions about who Gene Hunt was, yet it showed that even then he was still the man to be reckoned with. Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes' chemistry worked wonders on screen, and the ending made you smile as at least almost everyone had a happy(ish) ending. Fire up the Quattro one last time for this brilliant series.

Best Sporting Moment of 2010 - England Retain The Ashes
Winning the Ashes on home soil is one thing, but managing to at least retain it Down Under is another matter entirely, and to win there shows true signs of a cricket team's greatness. After battling back superbly to get a draw in the First Test, the Second Test showed guile and skill with a magnificent batting and bowling performance to win by an innings. It wobbled in the Third Test with a loss, but in the Fourth Test bowling Australia out for a mere 98 on Boxing Day was special, not to mention scoring over 500 and then bowling the Aussies out to win by an innings again, and thereby retaining the Ashes. Winning the series with anything but defeat in the final test in the new year would ice the cake nicely, but still hats off to Andrew Strauss and co for proving their mettle.

Best male personality of 2010 - Mo Farah
Being able to win a distance race at a major athletics event like the European Championships is one thing, and even without Kenyans in the field, the distance races are competitive. Farah judged his season to perfection and had himself honed perfectly for the event. No one expected what would happen over the next few days as first of all he landed the 10,000 metres title in supreme style, and then after qualifying for the 5,000 metres final, put on an excellent performance to land that one as well and do the double in the distance events, which even at this level only some of the greats would manage to achieve. Let's hope that bodes well for the athletics future too.

Best female personality of 2010 - Amy Williams
A Winter Olympics gold medal winner for the UK is as rare as hens' teeth, and so when Amy Williams started to make inroads during the skeleton bob event, the public started to take notice, especially as she headed into an early lead after the first run with a track record. She held it well after the second, broke the course record after the third run as well and then kept her form brilliantly to win the gold medal. She came across as a really personable woman as well who seemed to just take it all in her stride. Let's hope her gold medal inspires others to go for it in winter sports.

Personal moments of 2010 - Continuing With Lots of Love, and passing PRINCE2 Practitioner
It's been another year where my relationship with The Biscuits In My Cheesecake has been strengthened in terms of togetherness. When I look back at the year so many of the wonderful moments that I had were with her, whether they be braving the cold in Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, walking around the Abbey in Whitby and all the lovely little shops, having a romantic weekend in a really posh hotel together and just plenty more besides. It made me realise more than ever how lucky I am to have her, and how much I want to make sure that I do the right thing by her too. I've realised also how much it means to me to have someone to love, and that's a very special thing. You know how you are, and you know more than ever how much I love you x

And added to that, I finally got to do the PRINCE2 courses. I did the Foundation in Spring and then the Practitioner in the Summer and was ever so pleased to have passed the examination. I don't know what the future will hold in terms fo work wise events, but at least I know that I will be at least able to have a better chance in the future should I need to be able to. So if you're an employer and want someone with project skills, I'm your man - officially.