The Zaw Towers Review of 2012

2012 was a very very special year for me. Not only did I turn the big four zero, but I managed to do so much to celebrate that coming of age year. I saw one moment fulfilled that I didn't think possible, one that I made possible and several visits to the Olympic and Paralympic Games all in the same year, as well as updating my hi-fi and AV rig, and also keeping things going in work and personal lives. So all was very special indeed - so what did make this year so wonderfully rewarding? Well here you're going to find out...

Best Single/Track of 2012 - "Sun Moon and Stars" - The Floe
When The Floe were reduced from a foursome to just the two (Sarah and Liz) you'd think that would have been hard to get over. But instead the band went for a different direction and their limited edition EP "Simple Pleasures" demonstrated it - a more sparse sound with often just a piano and vocals, and that just worked beautifully. This is the closing track off the EP and the one for me that has the most feeling, it has all the hallmarks of a wonderful love song and Sarah's soft yet powerful voice which just pierces the piano playing with effortless grace. The EP has sold out, but their "Simple Pleasures Live" album is your next best bet to sample this wonderful song.

Also recommended:
"Beyond Magnetic EP" - Metallica - The band had just too many tracks recorded for their "Death Magnetic" album and so rather than make it a double, some tracks were held back and first released as a limited vinyl EP for Record Store Day. The CD version followed and showed that these tracks weren't just cast offs - they would fit perfectly on any Metallica release. "Just A Bullet Away" is the highlight of the four for me.
"Laura" - Bat For Lashes - When I first heard this track it just made me fall in love with Bat For Lashes all over again, with Natasha Khan's voice just beautifully melting along with a piano backing. It builds up in each chorus and has some gentle orchestration to help it along to give it that feeling of a sad song but with a flourish of hope at the end. And when you listen to it late at night, it just adds so much when you hear it.
"Survival" - Muse - You might think this is a little bit passé with it being used so much during the Olympic Games, but I defy anyone who was there not to have listened to it, watched the accompanying video and been ready to back the athletes with unwavering support. It was the sort of song that Queen would have written in their peak had Freddue Mercury still been around, it just had that epic feel for me.
"Sixteen Saltines " - Jack White - Rousing, rocking and a tale all about how many crackers that his daughter wanted, this provided Jack to be more rocking and also a little bit more bluesy in part with his solo work. With the single though it feels like multiple Jacks all rocking against each other, and it just sounds perfect in its execution. Three minutes or so of rock pop joy.

Best Album of 2012 - "2:54" - 2:54
Deciding on my favourite album this year was a tough decision, but consistency won in the end, and for that you have to look no further than the band fronted by Colette and Hannah Thurlow - 2:54. Their brooding rock reminded me of all the best bits of late 1980s shoegazing indie without the pretentiousness that some of the bands had back then. "Sugar" just has some sheer drive and "Creeping" also shows massively what the band are capable of - large soundspaces, ethereal vocals and a whole mood captured. There's also a maturity amongst the band in the tightness of their playing which just adds wonderfully to the whole thing.

Also recommended:
"III" - Jamie Hartman - A Ben's Brother album in all but name, Jamie decided to be solo for this release. What hadn't changed was the songwriting, the feel good factor when you listen to most of the songs (notably "Girlwise" which brings you on an up and should be listened to during a hot Summer's day) and a surprisingly lengthy soulful cover of a Bob Dylan classic. There's also a beautifully melodic feel to all the tracks too, well worth checking out.
"Wonky" - Orbital - This is definitely Orbital back to their best and the sort of electronica which made us all fall in love with them in the first place. It sounds effortless as well as massive at the same time, and the sheer genius that is "Stringy Acid" merges wonderfully well into the dark "Beelzedub", with the closing track "Where Is It Going?" surmising all that is brilliant about the band in under a six minute period. One to dance the night away to I reckon.
"Can You Hear Me, Mutha?" - Hey, Rube! - Merge together one of the Industrial music pioneers Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire and team him with Steve Cobby, and the result is one album of an intriguing mix of genres of beats, disco, dub and laid back chill out. The mellowness of "Kamikazee Peloton" complete with vocals from Mallinder just melts into the night well, and the disco-led "Mengi Dem Disco Leggi" just has a bass line that won't leave you once you listen. Great fun.
"Black Traffic " - Skunk Anansie - Their first comeback release "Wonderlustre" was a little weak, but none of that here, oh no. This is much more like the original era Skunk Anansie in every way - tight coherent playing, plenty of rock and Skin on vocal form. Listening to "Sad Sad Sad" just has that raw drive and power that you want them to have, and on more reflective tracks like "Drowning" just gives space for that vocal to pierce the atmosphere like a knife. Maybe full on rock next time, but still massively listenable.

Best Concert of 2012 - Paul Weller, Roundhouse, London
I didn't do that many gigs this year, but the ones I did were brilliant. And best of all was this one, which myself and The Love In My Heart massively enjoyed. Paul and band played the whole of the new album "Sonik Kicks" in track order, then did a brilliantly laid back acoustic set before coming back on and rocking with some of his solo stuff and even an old Jam classic just to tease the critics a bit. The band played wonderfully tight with Steve Cradock being a perfect foil, and Weller himself looked like he was enjoying the occasion, grinning like a Cheshire Cat as he belted out another great song. For feel good factor and atmosphere, it was bang on, added massively by a close to two hour plus set. Excellent.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
The Human League, Apollo, Manchester
- Had I not seen Weller play so well, this would have won! And whoever was their sound engineer for the Apollo, could the venue please employ him full time? Because for once the sound in there was spot on, with Phil, Susan Ann and Joanne belting out a plethora of classics from the thirty five years the band have been together. The Love and I were very happy bunnies, and almost everyone dancing in the aisles despite it being an all seated gig. The smiles on the faces, the musicality with drums, keyboards and guitars, and the great songs one after the other, plus a lengthy set. Excellent all round.
Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Barbican, York - The second year on the trot that The Love and I made a trip to York to see Jools and the folks, and well worth it. Marc Almond had to pull out guesting but Roland Gift replaced him and got the feel good factor in there with some of his own Fine Young Cannibals classics performed so well. Ruby Turner did her big soul numbers near the end with the band all smiling the way through, and the atmosphere at the end was simply magical with the legend that is Rico Rodriguez getting everyone to "Enjoy Yourself" and leading things wonderfully. Happy times.
Gary Numan, Coal Exchange, Cardiff - It was the first time in twelve years I'd been to a gig in Cardiff, but my friend and I decided that seeing Gary Numan was a must, and it proved to be an inspired decision. In a wonderful little venue Numan and band played really well, did almost a two hour set, and really surprised many fans with a choice of songs on the set list played. He even got the support band Officers to play with him too, a nice touch. The sound was also spot on too, and so you could really pay testament to the great playing by his band as well - excellent all round.
2:54, Soup Kitchen, Manchester - Proving that the band sounded just as good live as they do on record, playing in such a small venue which wasn't even full goes to show that there's a lot of people who need convincing how good they are. Live they are really tight, have the right sound to fill a room and don't faff around, which I always appreciate. And a killer version of the Addamski and Seal classic thrown in to boot just to get everyone bopping around on a late Thursday night as well. Excellent!

Best Film of 2012 - The Muppets
I freely admit that I was quite cynical before seeing this at the cinema, purely because I love the original TV show and the characters so much and making it overly musical might have been a bit too full on. However, it actually worked well because the likes of Jason Segel realised what was good about the Muppets in the first place and harnessed all of that into a thoroughly enjoyable romp as Kermit gets everyone together again for a telethon to save the Muppet Theatre, and gave an opportunity to introduce the new character Walter too. The too cute nod to the "Mah Na Mah Na" song was icing on the cake and just invoked the old memories for a lot of us. And if it's got today's kids into the characters then I for one will be very happy indeed.

Best TV Programme of 2012 - The Last Leg
Channel 4's coverage of the Paralympic Games was excellent, but setting it apart was the excellent comedy show "The Last Leg" which took a humourous look at events during the games, and had the feature "is it OK?" that answered the questions you might have been afraid to ask about the sports and the athletes taking part. Hosted by Adam Hills with Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe (themselves all disabled in some way) their irreverent humour and good natured banter meant that it was a case of it was OK to take the mickey out of yourselves and treat the athletes who came on like true heroes rather than just disabled. It broke down many barriers for a lot of people and for that alone it should be praised massively. Fair play too for Adam for taking the losing bet properly and getting his prosthetic leg painted with the Union flag!

Best Sporting Moment of 2012 - Manchester City Winning The Premier League
Although I went to a fair number of Olympic events, I didn't see any Great Britain golds, or else they might have featured. However, if you wanted sheer drama, suspense and highs to lows and highs again, being at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday 13th May was the place to be. It was all going so well at 1-0 up until QPR first equalised and took the lead, and with Manchester United winning their game 1-0, and with stoppage time left, the title seemed destined for Old Trafford. We didn't leave and were rewarded when Edin Džeko scored an equaliser, and then with literally seconds left, Mario Balotelli got it through to Sergio Agüero - and cue pandemonium everywhere. I must have hugged virtually everyone in the East Stand that afternoon as we won the title and seeing them lift it was brilliant, a dream come true for me as a life long City fan and season ticket holder. My pics of the fateful day are here, and the parade the day after here - relive those happy memories!

Best Personal And Overall Olympic Moments of 2012 - Seeing the Athletics at the Olympic Stadium, and Super Saturday
It would be remiss of me not to mention the Olympics in their own right this year with them being held at home. In the end I managed to see quite a bit, including football at Old Trafford, Wembley and Newcastle, beach volleyball at Horse Guards' Parade, tennis at Wimbledon, volleyball at Earls Court. But to be able to go the Olympic Stadium and see the athletics was just the stuff of dreams for me. I managed to get literally the night before a ticket for the morning session and was rewarded with some decathlon action, Mo Farah starting off what would be a winning 5000m title charge (he qualified in the heats), a British record in the women's hammer throw, and a Saudi Arabian woman making athletics history in the 800 metres.

That was brilliant enough but I wish I'd have been there on Saturday 4th August for Super Saturday, with in the space of forty minutes Jessica Ennis wrapping up the heptathlon with an 800m win to savour, Greg Rutherford surprising everyone and claiming a brilliant long jump win, and then Mo Farah along with his training partner Galen Rupp showing the Africans how to do middle distance running properly, with a blistering finish to break them all and get the gold medal. I'd recorded the session on BBC One and playing it back now just made you realise how bloody brilliant the whole Olympics were as a feel good factor for this country.

Best male personality of 2012 - Bradley Wiggins
In any other year he would have easily won BBC Sports Personality of the Year due to his exploits in becoming the first British man ever to win the Tour de France, and that alone deserved a massive amount of praise, but then just a week later taking it to the roads of London and winning the Olympic road race in such convincing fashion showed just how brilliant he is. Add to that a super cool persona and a man who idolises the likes of Paul Weller (no bad thing in my book) and you've pretty much got someone who everyone can relate to, not out of touch, but humble and true to his roots. His quote after the Tour about drawing the raffle numbers out was a classic moment!

Best female personality of 2012 - Jessica Ennis
Okay, so there were other British athletes who got more gold medals, but in terms of how she conducted herself, how the national pressure was under her as the true Golden Girl of the Games and she delivered massively was all testament to just what a wonderful person and athlete she is. You never saw her getting big headed, always respecting and thanking those who had supported her along the way, and breaking a hurdles record in the first event set the scene to get the gold and start off a magical forty minutes or so in the Olympic Stadium that will remain with everyone. And in the Team GB's "Don't Stop Me Now" video, who wouldn't want to play basketball with her too?

Personal moments of 2012 - Seeing the Monaco Grand Prix and my 40th birthday
My 40th birthday proved to be not just a day, but a whole month. The Love In My Heart took me away in a lovely hotel, we went to the Black Sheep Brewery and had a wonderful meal in the evening together, followed by a visit to Fountains Abbey the day after. I did a meal with family and then saw Manchester City win the league the day after that - a pretty excellent few days all round. Everyone got me gift vouchers for Richer Sounds and so I was able to upgrade my AV rig with a new AV receiver and Blu-ray player, so everything now sounds up to date and most tip top.

But later that month I fulfilled an ambition that I really wanted to do most of all - and The Love In My Heart and I went off to Nice for a few days, and that included two days in Monaco at the most iconic F1 race of them all, the Monaco Grand Prix - and with full hospitality on both days. They were brilliant and hearing the engines for the first time during qualifying with a beer in hand and a smile on my face is something that I'll never forget - and sharing that with the woman I love so much was even more special. It went by so quickly but at the same time being there made you realise just how brilliant the drivers are to be able to get the car driven so fast through the narrow streets. If you ever get the chance as an F1 fan, I implore you to go - maybe my pics might give you an incentive! And it was wonderful too to really see that so close up too, and even The Love who isn't an F1 fan was pretty impressed.