The Zaw Towers Review of 2014

2014 for me was a definite mood of change, with The Love In My Heart really settling well into her new job, and me actively looking for another one after a few events had happened in my current work place that didn't exactly fill me with happiness. I think too that the crucial thing was that I had plenty of great moments to enjoy outside of work, whether it be a good gig, or even a really nice moment with friends and family. And this year brought home again the importance of all that. So what did float the boat for me during this time?

Best Single/Track of 2014 - "Watch The Bitch Blow" - Pop Will Eat Itself
When I heard that PWEI were releasing their EP via PledgeMusic, it simply had to be supported as a fan of the band. What I didn't expect was the finest song that the mark 2 version of the band were going to make thus far, with a killer guitar riff courtesy of The Buzzard, some really to the point vocals from Mary Byker and Graham Crabb, and a real sense of meaning and anger throughout, channeled through the choruses which wanted you to belt it out. It proved to be a really popular release and one which on repeated listen really does have that hookability as well. A modern day PWEI classic, definitely.

Also recommended:
"All The Way From Birmingham" - Vix and Her MsChiefs - The lead track from their debut "Live At Magic Garden" EP, it sees the former Fuzzbox singer and her band go all Americana, with a gorgeous little ditty about meeting someone and travelling from Birmingham to see them. Key line at the end, with a place name not that far from Brum (such as Tipton in the single release!) which just adds some lovely warmth to it. Can't wait to hear their second EP in 2015.
"Eez-eh" - Kasabian - Maybe a more marked departure than some of their other singles, being a bit more electronic, but no less catchy because of it. Nice too that Leicester and Manchester would pronounce "easy" the same. Underneath the lyrics are quite passionate about how there's too much power in the wrong hands which maybe aren't noticed as you'd be bouncing around the room to this. A mass of funky drums and a killer bass line which sets the whole tune off to a tee too.
"The Answers 77" - The God Adrenalin - So good to see Rus Harrison back and making some quality tunes, years on from The Cygnet Ring, a band I admired lots. This opening single has a really gorgeous synth line underneath it all, and the initial moody darkness giving its way to light before then heading back to another killer chorus line. Pop sensibilities are still here by the bucket loads, so I’m intrigued to when an album is going to come out…
"Shell Shocked" - Ronika - Mix some classic 80s synths and disco pop sensibiliies, add together a gorgeous female vocal and you've pretty much got this track in a nut shell, a glorious slice of pop that came across especially well live as she and her band supported The Human League on their tour. Veronica Sampson's gorgeous bass line for the choruses and some sparkly synth lines really hooks you in wonderfully well, and her album "Selectadisc" is definitely well worth a listen also.

Best Album of 2014 - "Wishing Tree" - Little Sparrow
The beautiful vocals of Katie Ware throughout the album, notably on the opener "Polly", along with some gorgeous string instruments as backing, shows a real understanding of folk but with some beautiful pop sensibilities, and the title track would make any fan of PJ Harvey and Seth Lakeman equally proud if either of them had made it. It simply is a stunning debut album and one which has accompanied me a lot on many a late night or long train journey, and shows plenty of maturity and intelligence in its songwriting and arranging, with more hidden depths being uncovered on each listen. If you've not already bought it, it's about time that you really did, so please do.

Also recommended:
"World Peace is None of Your Business" - Morrissey - It's a shame that the dispute with a new record label caused the album to be withdrawn pretty quickly, as the addition of Gustavo Manzur to his band added a new foil for songwiting, perhaps giving it a bit more of a pop sensibility, with "Staircase at the University" a beautiful and shimmering track. Mind you, the brooding epic "I'm Not A Man" is also a favourite of mine, along with the title track that could well be a sequel to "America is Not The World." There's plenty to please the old diehards and new fans alike and possibly his finest record for some time.
"Natalie Merchant" - Natalie Merchant - Natalie's first original work for some considerable time shows her in a much more stripped back folk feel, but still maintaining the songwriting that propelled her to success. The dark brooding "Black Sheep" with Natalie's vocals on top form is a real shining example from the album, with her voice allowed to soar majestically over the backing, and the soft gentle pace of "Maggie Said" just inviting you to listen intently. It took some time to grow on me, but then you're hooked into a gorgeous feel throughout.
"Word of Mouth" - Seth Lakeman - Going back to almost more basics this time around, with plenty of new tales about Devon and Cornwall, the more immediate feel really did have feet stomping along with the live sets that he played. It was fascinating to hear on the deluxe edition the people behind the stories, such as Rowena Cade of the Minack Theatre on "Labour She Calls Home" for example, whilst the booming bass of "The Courier" really carried the somewhat slightly sinister feel of Dartmoor in the track, and "Last Rider" having a great foot stomping chorus too. Definitely back on form with this one.
"The Take off and Landing of Everything" - Elbow - Whilst some may have accused them of sticking with a formula which has worked best for them, this album goes deeper than you think, with real life events such as Guy Garvey's split from his long term girlfriend drawing inspiration for especially the opener "This Blue World" and the slow drawing out of "New York Morning" before its triumphant chorus and singalong moment showing that in terms of songwriting, well up to their usual standards.

Best Concert of 2014 - Clint Mansell, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
Haivng admired Clint's work as a member of PWEI before him then becoming an acclaimed film composer, I was intrigued to see how him with band would interpret the many film scores he had made. It was a really spot on setting to hear the film scores from the likes of Pi, Moon, and Requiem for a Dream brought to life in a dramatic way that filled the room with sonic beauty, and added depth to the Last Night soundtrack before being a triumphant finale with The Wrestler and the superb "Death is the Road To Awe" from The Fountain. Having his parents there and Mary Anne Hobbs introduce her friend to proceedings made it all more intimate and beautiful, and one of those moments I'll cherish in years to come when I look back.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
3 Daft Monkeys - Performance Centre, University of Falmouth
- For years, as much as I adore 3 Daft Monkeys, I always wanted to see them in their home county of Cornwall. The chance arose as part of their "Carn to Cove" tour to do just that, and despite the not full audience at the Performance Centre, the band played a storming set with plenty of their recent songs and some old classics enjoyed massively by everyone, and having two of my favourite tracks as the first two was somewhat wonderful - and a few weeks later they were ace at Bury Met too.
The Wonder Stuff (acoustic) - O2 Academy 2, Birmingham - Miles, Erica and Dan had played a few nights prior to Birmingham with a complaint of the crowd talking whilst they performed. No chance of this on their home turf, with Mark Morriss formerly of The Bluetones as excellent support, before the three of them played many singles, album tracks and fan favourites with the crowd singing along and enjoying proceedings wonderfully well. Highlight for me was "Cartoon Boyfriend" (Erica's not a fan of said song, so a treat!) along with the likes of "Red Berry Joy Town" and a storming version of "Golden Green" complete with banjo.
Seth Lakeman - Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield - Somehow hearing Seth's songs in a beautiful cathedral setting really did bring the sound home wonderfully well, and it had a feeling of being intimate despite the length of the cathedral's main nave. To have such spot on vocals with him and Lisbee Stainton throughout, and the band on top form, it really did feel a special and homely gig, despite being miles away from my home. Highlights for me were hearing the likes of "Last Rider" and the beautiful "Portrait of My Wife" projected so well throughout the church setting.
Nine Inch Nails - Phones4u Arena, Manchester - Gigs are good with friends, and my friend Dan and I massively enjoyed this one, with the band on top form and proving that with the right sound engineer, an arena can sound good. Most of the top tiers were closed, so it did feel somewhat more intimate than normal, with the band playing a quality set throughout with the video wall backing adding in part to the tracks, especially "The Great Destroyer", "Copy of A" and the stunning "Came Back Haunted", and so wonderful to have "Hurt" at the end with the chorus sang along en masse.

Best Film of 2014 - Noah
Some may have seen Darren Aranofsky's directed interpreation of the biblical tale somewhat controversial, but for me (not that religious) it actually made a good effort of bringing a different side of proceedings whilst keeping the key elements. The battles fought gave it a contemporary edge, with both Ray Winstone and Russell Crowe as Noah both excellent. You also had Emma Watson in perhaps her finest role yet, showing a depth of emotion and feeling along with Jennifer Connelly. Add to that a strirring Clint Mansell soundtrack which set proceedings to the fore, and you had a real epic element to the film throughout. One that I think will stand the test of time in years to come as a modern day classic.

Best TV Programme of 2014 - Happy Valley
If this doesn't win a Bafta at the next awards for television, I would like an inquest why. In perhaps her finest acting role yet (even usurping her Caroline in Last Tango in Halifax), Sarah Lancashire's role of policewoman Catherine Cawood was a mix of toughness around her family and emotion sometimes within it. Uncovering a plot of kidnapping and crime, and seeing a man who she abhorred and driven to bring him to justice showed real elements of human emotion and will to win also. Siobhan Finneran as Catherine's sister also really underplayed things wonderfully well, but yet being the solid rock of the family too. Although a second series has been commissioned, somehow I felt it'd have been better left alone as these outstanding six episodes.

Best Sporting Moment of 2014 - Manchester City's second Premier League title
A real gamut of emotions during the last few weeks of the season, as losing to Liverpool at Anfield meant for many we thought that the title was over. But as we bounced back to win the remaining games we needed to, and with Chelsea beating Liverpool at Anfield, all of a sudden the door was ajar and we grasped the opportunity massively. Once Liverpool had squandered a 3-0 lead away at Crystal Palace, showing not that much tactical nous, we overcame Aston Villa and then West Ham in much less drama than the 2012 win, and it was a much more relaxed feel as the trophy was back to us once again. Add to that a Carling Cup success too (first league cup win in 38 years) and not a bad year for us City fans at all!

Best male personality of 2014 - Lewis Hamilton
This for me was the year that Lewis came of age, and matured hugely as a driver and a person, shrugging off car failures and setbacks earlier in the season and becoming a much more driven driver, pushing himself onwards with a steely determination to not only beat his team mate Nico Rosberg but also win the World Championship, with the final race in Abu Dhabi won by a storming start and putting the pressure on at all times. It was also good that he showed humility and passion (cue the "Eng-land" chant when he won the British Grand Prix with the fans driving him on, almost Nigel Mansell-esque) and I think people warmed to him a lot more this year than in previous years.

Best female personality of 2014 - Jo Pavey
Another fine example of how to conduct yourself in athletics. Jo may be over 40 now, but the birth of her children inspired her to push even more and do her husband and children proud, and how. A well earned bronze medal against all the might of the African distance nations at the Commenwealth Games in Glasgow was special, but then to go to the European Championship and land a gold medal there was spellbinding stuff - her will to win shown there should act as an inspiration to all female athletes in that you're never too old but also how to keep working hard and that running cleanly can reap its rewards, both on and off the track.

Personal moments of 2014 - Cornwall and Outstanding Team Member award
I had several nice personal moments this year which made it all the more special. Heading back to Cornwall was always lovely of course, and having a week there with The Love In My Heart is always good, as the weather held for most of the week, I caught the sun and we had relaxing times on beaches such as Sennen Cove, Porthgwarra and even did the lovely Polgoon vineyard tour too. However, going to Cornwall to see 3 Daft Monkeys was also special too, and taking the Cornish Riveira train from London to get down there was also a nice treat to myself also.

One thing I didn't expect though and somehow made my year also was the fact that the yearly staff awards for the department I work in were announced earlier in December 2014, and what I didn't know was that I had won the award for Outstanding Team Member. For me, I just do my job, be helpful to others where possible and do what I can to make things a better experience for customers, but it's also nice that there were others who thought the same and took the time to put quality nominations in. I do feel rather humble about it too in that I didn't expect it and it was a surprise.