The Zaw Towers Review of 2015

2015 for me started off fairly relaxed but the year ended with a massive amount of change: a new job, a new place to live and a real sense of moving onwards and upwards at last. I know it's been one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced and had to meet it head on, and throughout the year plenty kept me occupied and happy during all of those times. So without much further ado, here's what really floated the boat and made the year even more special than it already was.

Best Single/Track of 2015 - "Going My Way" - Paul Weller
There's something rather special about this song that just resonates with me hugely - whether it be the lovely piano playing or the fact it breaks into a really Summer feeling of a chorus with a nod to some great songs of the late 1960s. A definitive lesson in songwriting from the Modfather and a track I instantly fell in love with - more so when I had the privelege of seeing this song performed live in London in December which really did make the venue come alive. The best track from the very good Saturns Pattern album too.

Also recommended:
"Trees Touch Skies" - The Icicles - Even though a crowdfunding attempt fell short, the band released the EP anyway and the title track is a lesson in indie pop writing. It's full of nice guitars, full of joy and some lovely vocals to boot too, and a real sense of a more leisurely relaxed direction from the band (and no bad thing that is either). Hopefully this will lead to another album in the near future, here's hoping.
"Repentless" - Slayer - The title track of the album is one which is a real tribute to the former passed away member Jeff Hanneman, and really describes his attitude and way of life in a nutshell, compressed into three mighty minutes of thrash metal. Tom Araya is on top shouty form vocally and the riffs keep coming with thunderous pace also. Note too that the band have lost none of their drumming intensity with Paul Bostaph back and doing a cracking job here too.
"21st Century English Civil War" - Pop Will Eat Itself - When you get an album opener with the intensity and the raw power of the Mk II PWEI unleashed, you know you're in for a treat, with both Graham Crabb and Mary Byker at full pelt describing how much they loathe the likes of the English Defence League and all that they represent in a mass of passionate anger, screaming riffs and some powerful rock sensibilities. A real moment in time when rocking out to this.
"Outsiders" - Jesse Malin - Jesse was mighty busy this year releasing two albums, and this the title track of the second album really has a gorgeous blues rock feel as well as some pop sensibilities thrown in. A lesson in songwriting and a real sense of mood throughout makes this a mighty essential listen and his voice is also in his superlative form here complete with the "la la la" chorus really giving it all a sense of break between the mighty riffs either side. Gorgeous.

Best Album of 2015 - "Direction of Travel" - She Makes War
I had pledged for this album so pledgers got it this year instead of waiting for a full release in 2016. And what an album it is, Laura's best album yet complete with brooding dark pop sensibilities throughout. The opener "5000 Miles" is the start of a journey that takes you with a raft of emotions, and perhaps the lovely haunting "Please Don't" with Mark Chadwick from the Levellers on backing vocal is the stand out - but I could name any track at any time to be a particular favourite really, notably also the end track "The Best" with an acoustic melody and vocally a real sense of beauty too. Once it gets a full release, the message is simple: buy.

Also recommended:
"The Day Is My Enemy" - The Prodigy - A real sense of defiance greets you when listening to this: the beats rock in the right places, there's a notable guesting from Sleaford Mods on "Ibiza", there's an opening resembling a Commodore 64 for the mental "Destroy", and the opening single "Nasty" sets the tone perfectly for a pounding assault throughout. Plenty of bite, plenty of bits to love and to dance and go mental to at the same time.
"Lost Themes" - John Carpenter - Ooh yes. Simple as that. Imagine the soundtrack that John never wrote, put together nine quality tracks that could grace any film and you get Lost Themes. For me I love the three part epic that is "Domain" complete with a sinister ending, but all the tracks are high quality - I'd probably nominate "Mystery" as well due to its maybe more sunnier opening giving way to a dark, fast pounding sense of impending doom later on. The horror master at work, pure and simple.
"Viet Cong" - Viet Cong - Take all the best bits of Joy Division and blend them together into a seven track post punk epic, where the lead off single "Continental Shelf" had already given you some idea of the band's direction. The also excellent "Silhouettes" with its synth laden middle and the epic ender of "Death" really did have a sense of desperation and hope balanced all into one. Definitely one that you needed a few listens to really get into, but once you did, you were hooked.
"Beneath The Skin" - Of Monsters and Men - Took me far too long to discover how good this band were, and their second album is not just a lesson in songwriting, but add to that sweeping beautiful vocals, a sense of pure joy and a feeling of being uplifted all the way from Iceland - notably during the opener "Crystals" which sets the scene wonderfully well. The beautiful punctuated by piano feeling of "I of the Storm" is also another highlight in an album quite frankly full of them.

Best Concert of 2015 - Pop Will Eat Itself, Soundhouse, Leicester
Their album "Anti Nasty League" was very good and only just missed a top 5, but live was perhaps one of the finest times I've seen them play. Take a small venue, 200 or so diehards crammed into a small room, and watch as everyone pogoes like mad to a band on top form and with the sweat dripping from everyone within around ten minutes or so. It was a hot warm night where the music was loud, the band was proud and everyone was just going for it. A special night with special songs (the old stuff really got everyone massively jumping) and the whole close to two hour set was just full of wonderful highlights and moments - a real "you had to be there" feeling let me tell you.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed
The Darling Buds - Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
- Some 25 years after seeing the band on tour, it was good to see them again and indeed playing a set well worthy of the indie classics I remember back in the day, with a cross section of all three albums, even the early non-album singles such as "If I Said" and a small but captivated audience bounding around like it was 1989. Andrea Lewis was still in fine form vocally and full of happiness for everyone as she sang with a smile too - a real happy feeling throughout too.
Garbage - Academy 1, Manchester -Twenty years after their self titled debut album and the band were in awesome form here, replaying it all in full (not in track order) but including all the B-sides and even cover versions as well. The singles went down a storm and the band ended with the happy "When I Grow Up" which just set the night on fire. They were superb live as I remembered them back then and Shirley Manson really hasn't lost any of her vocals or Scottish fiery wit. Just a great gig to be at all round really.
Gary Numan, Academy 1, Manchester - Although going to the Kentish Town Forum gigs would have been ace, I was so pleased for my friend and I to see him play the old stuff with more synths and less guitars, and the reaction of a packed Academy was plain to see - a real sense of going back to the past but with so much feeling and mood that everyone just wanted to sing along (and they did) - and even some obscure tracks were played too which meant my friend as a big fan was especially pleased. Cracking gig, cracking atmosphere.
Paul Weller, Hammersmith Apollo, London - Take a two hour plus set, lots of songs from the recent Saturns Pattern album and solo career, throw in several songs from his Style Council era (much to The Love In My Heart's delight!) and also some Jam classics - especially That's Entertainment and A Town Called Malice at the end which had the crowd going properly mental, and you have a good reason why we decided to head here instead of Manchester Arena to see the Modfather live. It was a rather good move all round I think!

Best TV Programme of 2015 - Doctor Foster
From the start this seemingly simple tale of a woman doctor being lied to whilst her husband was having an affair may have not made for much, but it was the drama of the relationship and emotional breakdown, played ever so wonderfully by Suranne Jones, that took it up several notches and made it the most compelling piece of television for the year. The scene at the dinner table as she explained the whole sordid affair in front of the very family and daughter whom the husband was having an affair with was a lesson in performance, delivery and sheer gasp of moment. It was such a great and enjoyable series.

Best Sporting Moment of 2015 - The England Women's Football Team's 3rd Place at the World Cup
Granted, the Davis Cup tennis was great, but for me a defining moment happened in the Summer in Canada, as the England Women's football team, the Lionesses, captured the heart of a nation and propelled women's football into new territory with their drive, determination, passion and belief. Not since the men's 1990 team have I been so proud of an England football team and stayed up late to see them do the business. They may have lost cruelly in the semi finals, but the way they bounced back and beat Germany to bronze was something special. They all deserve the highest accolades and being new sporting models to inspire a generation of girls - and when you have the likes of David Beckham stating his daughter wants a different "B" name on the back of the shirt (Manchester City's Lucy Bronze no less), that says it all.

Best male personality of 2015 - Andy Murray
The Davis Cup win was indeed wonderful, and like the Wimbledon win in 2013, Andy Murray was on a mission. He and his brother Jamie were lethal in the doubles together, and every time a singles match was there to be won, he was in simply epic form and went for everything. In the quarter finals at Queens Club he was the epitomy of determination, drive and generally a superb example for British sport on the whole - and a winner too - the epic final lob to clinch the whole thing in Belgium was simply the stuff of legend, and a fitting winner of BBC Sports Personality this year to be fair.

Best female personality of 2015 - Steph Houghton
When you need a leader and a captain, who better to inspire a nation of girls than the England women's captain Steph Houghton. The Manchester City skipper did her utmost to give the team the steely desire and passion (and scored the vital equaliser against Norway in the last 16 match too) and her captaincy really shone through as England progressed. Her professionalism and attiude rubbed off on team mates and management alike, and the way that City came back from the World Cup, fought back and almost snatched the WSL title from Chelsea was a lot down to her and the way she was binding the teams together. Honourable mentions to the rest of the ladies' England team too.

Personal moments of 2015 - New Job, New Home
Although I had been applying for jobs up and down the country, what I didn't expect was not only to be offered a job that I knew that I could do, but also keeping in a similar sort of work environment to that I've been used to, and in a new city. So it was a case of accepting the job in London and finding myself a place to live that wasn't going to cost the earth, and I've pretty much done that by finding my new place in Croydon. It's been a rollercoaster last two months of 2015 but one I've felt proud to have achieved, and with the vital support and backing of The Love In My Heart too. The next few years should hopefully bring greater things and a definite sense of achievement.