The Zaw Towers Review of 2016

2016 was another year of change for me. I settled in to my new place in Croydon, and also landed another job in the Summer which was going back to some of the stuff that I used to do and know well. On top of that, the spectre of far too many celebrity deaths, Brexit, and a certain American president to be all loomed large, as well as rubbish trains on Southern Railway. However, the plus sides of great music, family, friends and my love made it a wholly positive year personally. Here's what floated the boat for 2016:

Best Single/Track of 2016 - "Talent" - Pixies
The best post-Kim Deal era Pixies song they've written? Perhaps. A return to the short sharp Pixies that we all know and love? Pretty much. Add to that a great guitar solo in the middle to break up the song, a solo bass followed by a guitar during the verses, and a real sense of melody and speed, and you've got it right there. Massively impressive, and sometimes less is actually more, as proven here.

Also recommended:
"Everything You've Come To Expect" - The Last Shadow Puppets - Take yourself back to a Summer in the late 1960s and feel that sense of baroque pop music come over, could have easily been a film soundtrack number. Gorgeous instruments, especially the string part in the middle, spot on vocals, and a real sense of taking yourself away from all the reality at the same time. A massive title track highlight of a very good album.
"Broken Love" - Donna-Maria - The title track of the EP, and despite the little name change from Donna Marie, what hasn't changed are some beautiful acoustic guitars, added with more electrics and a country twang, and a simply luscious vocal that just oozes class and quality. Sit yourself in a field in the middle of Summer, and have this play along, and you'll get the sense of feeling and heart this has. And buy the EP!
"Hardwired" - Metallica - Three minutes of pure adrenalin, pure anger, pure Metallica back at their thrashiest. A real statement of giving two fingers up with the swear words in the chorus line and a stripped back and dirtier, grittier, faster sound along the way. Those who were looking for the old Metallica should look no further than this, sit back and mosh like hell. In fact, the album itself was pretty good too it has to be said.
"Bath White" - 50 Foot Wave - The title track of the EP from Kristin Hersh's power punk three piece, and completely full of dirty guitars, and crashing drums, and those angry vocals from Kristin. It's four minutes of brooding mood, and grooving guitars during the opening part, later giving way to a more louder side later. Massively shows that she still has it - in bucket loads.

Best Album of 2016 - "Blackstar" - David Bowie
One final epitaph for one of music's great legends and pioneers, and one that bared the soul as a last will and testament more than anyone would have realised. The epic almost ten minute title track is a start, and Lazarus formed the foundation for the musical which Bowie had written at the same time. The whole album feels like a piece of art as well as a soundtrack to the final days of his life and career, and a statement of creativity. It's easy to feel the emotions, but to fully comprehend that intensity requires several lengthy and poignant listens. Not just album of this year, but possibly album of the last two or three. Seriously.

Also recommended:
"Skeleton Tree" - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Continuing the theory of less being more, Cave's vocals are brought more to the front in this more reflective mood, with the sounds of desperation in "I Need You", the title track's instruments swirling all around the vocal, and "Girl In Amber" having a sense of belonging in a film soundtrack complete with choir and an awkward string instrument punctuating throughout. Beautiful and emotive, all at the same time.
"Beneath Your City, As You Dream" - Robberie - Lovely debut album from this Sheffield acoustic three piece, complete with one of the best football songs ever in "Journeyman", travelling the lower leagues and being a cult hero, and "Everyone's A Geek" complete with being in the bedroom with an Atari and thinking about old games. Lovely acoustics, and "Seven Hills" about their native Sheffield is wonderfully evocative too, complete with xylophone to bring that twinkly lights feeling. Gorgeous.
"Still Valid" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators - Eleven tracks of short sharp indie pop goodness, including another wonderful song about football, "In The North Stand", reminding me of going to the football with my grandad, the fun "20 Things To Do Before You're 30" complete with its mickey take of those who do those sort of lists, and perhaps best of all, "(You Make Me Feel) Soft Rock", a love song complete with leaving Leytonstone far behind and punching the air in the chorus. Joyous, sunny and overall bloody brilliant.
"Reformation: Last Ninja 2" - Matt Gray - Take one of my favourite old Commodore 64 games of all time, and have the original composer go back and re-do the soundtrack on new equipment, keeping the vibe of the original SID sound in tact, and you're pretty much on a winner. As in the original game, the Sewers Main Theme is probably my favourite, stretched to an epic ten minutes, but all the tracks ooze quality and a real sense of keeping that original feel from the original game. Any retro gamer worth their salt needs to order it.

Best Concert of 2016 - Indie Daze 3, O2 Kentish Town Forum, London
Seven quality bands for the price of one on a nice day in October? Absolutely. Lots of highlights throughout the day, including Jim Bob of Carter USM's solo acoustic set, the final ever gig of Gaye Bykers on Acid, and then the three main acts kicking backside - Pop Will Eat Itself delivering a storming set complete with Rich and Adam from the original line up also involved, Echobelly playing a lovely set of new stuff and their classics, then EMF storming it all with plenty of their early classic stuff, and an encore of Unbelievable with various other band members joining in, and that show of togetherness really was a lovely thing. Definitely going to have to look at going for Indie Daze 4!

Other Concerts I Enjoyed
Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, London
- Seeing a gig with The Love In My Heart is always good, but seeing Jools and orchestra do a quality show in an iconic venue? Oh yes. It was two hours of sheer brilliance, helped by Beth Rowley joining in on vocals, and Pauline and Arthur from The Selecter joining in for several of their tracks. The feel good factor was in plentiful supply, complete with Ruby Turner doing her bit and geeing up the audience too. Massively pleased to have finally seen Jools and Co in London too.
Midge Ure - Union Chapel, Islington, London - Acoustic music in a gorgeous venue, complete with the support act India Electric Co helping out with strings and mandolin, it made for a special night, with indeed something from everything, from "Sounds of Marching Men" from Rich Kids, "Fade To Grey" by Visage and a stunning version of Ultravox's "Vienna" complete with string interlude section in the middle that got a deserved standing ovation along the way. And yes, that Christmas song in the encore too, which we all sang along to!
Clint Mansell, Symphony Hall, Birmingham - Seeing Clint do his film score stuff in his home town was rather special, complete with tracks from the newly released High Rise, the magnificently pounding title track of Pi, and the epic feeling of both Requiem For a Dream and Moon giving lots of space and flow in a gorgeous venue. He felt the sense of playing at home and the emotion poured through in the songs, and an absolute joy to be able to hear and see it live.
Kristin Hersh, St John on Bethnal Green, London - An acoustic set in a really lovely church, complete with a series of readings from her new book interspersed, and you've got a rather cold night in November sounding a heck of a lot warmer. Her voice really had that feel during "Your Dirty Answer" especially, and a spellbinding version of the classic "Your Ghost" was also another special moment. It seemed to go by far too quickly, but was a beautiful night of acoustic music.

Best TV Programme of 2016 - Stag
Close run thing between this and Line of Duty Series 3, but this three part mini series complete with dark comedy and amounts of sinister brooding gore throughout got the vote. It's effectively a stag weekend gone horribly wrong in so many ways, from the way that each one is killed one by one, to the desperate almost comedic battle for survival, and not just one but two twists throughout towards the end to keep you on your toes. Brilliantly written, and superbly executed by all involved.

Best Sporting Moment of 2016 - The UK Paralympic Games Performance
Yes, the Olympic Games were brilliant and the UK athletes there did really well. But they were superseded by some supreme performances from athletes in the Paralympic Games, which included a first gold medal from Ellie Robinson complete with trademark walk on, the equestrian team, notably Lee Pearson and Sophie Christiansen, storming it, Hannah Cockroft getting three out of three golds on the track, Dame Sarah Storey overtaking Dame Tanni-Grey Thompson as the most gold medalled UK Paralympic athlete, and Kadeena Cox getting golds in cycling and athletics. Those were just the tip of an iceberg of some superb performances showing that ability, not disability, was the winner here. Yes they could, and then some.

Best male personality of 2016 - Sir Andy Murray
How could Sir Andy Murray follow up the previous year? By winning Wimbledon for a second time, then heading to the Olympic Games and being the only male tennis player to defend their title successfully in an epic final against Juan Martin del Potro, and then continuing his outstanding form through the rest of the year and getting the World number 1 slot at the end of it. A knighthood only seemed right somehow for the excellent performances and for pushing the British tennis talent to be inspired that bit further.

Best female personality of 2016 - Hannah Cockroft
Plenty of reasons for nominating here, but the main one for me was that sheer sense of willpower and determination, despite not having a sponsor, and after a rare defeat, bouncing back and focussing on the job in hand, head off to Rio, enter three different events which required different tactics, and race your heart out in all three to win all three gold medals. It was a shame in such a superb sporting year that her achievements didn't warrant a Sports Personality of the Year nomination, but for me it was perhaps the performance of the Paralympic Games for a UK athlete.

Personal moments of 2016 - Another New Job and Selling The House
The year started with a new job, and in the middle of the year, I was head hunted for another position, and that head hunt proved to be a massive success. So now I'm working back with technologies I know well, with a good team of people, and overall a real sense of achievement and being able to develop myself further. I was proud of that but also being able to sell off my old house and make a nice profit on that was also most useful - especially as at one time I was paying for that and rent on the new flat. It's definitely been a year of progression, with the wonderful constant of The Love In My Heart keeping me going and providing lots of inspiration along the way too, massively important that.