The Zaw Towers Review of 2018

2018 was a year where plenty happened, and most of it affecting all of us, such as the lack of progress on Brexit for a start, the impasse of resignations of politicans almost playing chess instead of looking after the country, and when sport was one of the main salvations, including a great title win for my beloved Manchester City. Most of all though, it was a celebration of ten years together and counting for myself and The Love In My Heart - which is a rather special time all round. Plenty of good moments with friends too and a progression in my career did mean it wasn't all that bad thankfully. Here's what set the pulses racing nicely in 2018:

Best Single/Track of 2018 - "Just 3 EP" - Little Sparrow
A nice Summer release saw the main track of this three track EP being a rather different take of Madness' Baggy Trousers, but the absolute real gem was the beautiful, melodic and also haunting track "Dry Your Eyes" which had a perfect combination of strings and piano along with Katie Ware's sweeping voice to really make you feel so emotional inside. It's one of those tracks that kept me going on long train journeys homewards and so as not to feel too upset about being apart during the week. Majestic. Buy the EP immediately, I implore you.

Also recommended:
"How Did This Happen?" - Bodega - Take all the best bits of US college alternative rock, add a sense of intelligence with the phrasing and the drops to the likes of Barnes and Noble, and how a new world has to be a master and slave. Then add a killer hook and a buzz around the band's short sharp songs, and you've got a belting single and a perfect start to their Endless Scroll album
"Liverpool Revisited" - Manic Street Preachers - Their own tribute to how the Hillsborough campaigners never gave up, despite smears, and how the city was filled with pride when rightfully the fans were completely exonerated. It's full of uplifting guitars and hope, and although short, says it all with drive, aplomb and pure passion and respec - and a reminder of how good the Manics are when on form.
"The Fallen EP" - Gary Numan - Three outstanding new tracks from Gary Numan and a perfect accompaniment to the Autumn 2018 tour. My own favourite is the epic "It Will End Here" which just has a brooding verse giving way to an imperious and euphoric chorus full of synths and vocals. It's a case of an artist knowing his craft and how wonderfully well it can work in a smaller format.
"Little Changes" - Frank Turner - There are times when Frank is absolutely on it, and this is one of them. It's very easy to not realise that actually the whole song is about how making your own little changes gets you into a nicer and kinder world, and definitely for me that deeper sense of meaning raises the song from just being a singalong being used in adverts to an absolute gem. Well played.

Best Album of 2018 - "Brace for Impact" - She Makes War
If you took all the good bits of early 1990s indie bands, and put them together in a blender, and saw the results, you'd come up with this absolute gem from She Makes War. From start to finish, there's intelligent songwriting, some killer hooks, and a sense of a story throuhgout each song, such as a loving tribute on "Undone" to the leaving behind of the past on "Miles Away" and a song for the heavy hearted that is the brilliant opener "Devastate Me". My own favourite is the brooding and emotional "When The Quiet Came" which brings Laura's vocals to the fore in a show of depth of feeling that emnates throughout the whole album. If you've not acquainted yourself with She Makes War yet, start here - then get all the back catalogue too.

Also recommended:
"Possible Dust Clouds" - Kristin Hersh - Running in the sand in "Lethe" to the rather distorted vocal that gives way to rocking out on "Breathe In", there's no less of the raw power of Kristin Hersh's voice and guitar, both of which are well brought to the fore here. There's also the outstanding "LAX" which chugs along majestically along the way, and continues wirth aplomb too on "No Shade In Shadow". A solid albeit short release from a consistently brilliant artist.
"Monsters Exist" - Orbital - Absolutely happy to see Orbital back, and this comeback album was absolutely bang on in more ways than one. From the punchy synth, trumpet and drum combo on "Hoo Hoo Ha Ha" to the sweeping filtered synths on "Tiny Foldable Cities" this definitely felt like it was a continued development where the band had left off. And it would be remiss of me not to mention the rather epic "P.H.U.K" which belts along with a sense of being in space at the same time - epic.
"Songs of Praise" - Shame - An absolutely oustanding debut album - and a real sense of being on edge throughout the whole thing as the band go from full on punk to more post punk with an intriguing mix of spoken word and shouted vocals throughout. The whole mix feels somewhat full of dirty guitars and driving bass that gives everything that same direction. Definitely one to watch.
"Wanderlust" - Blancmange - Another great surprise was to have another Blancmange album - as Neil Arthur has been pretty prolific as of late. Here he teamed up with Benge, and feels more dark because of it. Whilst "In Your Room" is superb synth pop, the likes of "Gravel Drive Syndrome" and "Distant Storm" also hark of a more dystopian era and a feeling of being in a lonely place that is this country right now. Perhaps their finest release because of the experimentation within.

Best Concert of 2018 - Gary Numan, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Take Gary Numan and his great band playing a rocking set, and then add a symphony orchestra (The Skaparis Orchestra) based at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and you have this - an imperious two hours of how well an orchestral gig can work if you get the balance right, and definitely was the case here. Lots of tracks from the recent Savage album, but also superb reworkings of his earlier work including an epic "Here In The Black" and an on the edge of your seat rendition of "Are Friends Electric?" too. The fact the orchestra members were singing along and belting out the songs whilst playing just added to the sense of togetherness and showed many others just how a gig should be done. I'd happily see him do that again many times over.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed
They Might Be Giants, Barbican, London
- I had never seen They Might Be Giants live before. And after this gig, I wish I had seen them years and years before. Their live set was an absolute joy, blending in tracks from their recent I Like Fun album to their classics such as Birdhouse In Your Soul, all delivered with precision and aplomb and a sheer sense of fun throughout. A two hour plus set which had all sorts going on, it was a feast for the eyes and ears and a credit to the band for still being brilliant after all these years.
Swing Out Sister, Hospital Club, London - An intimate album preview gig to the full release of Almost Persuaded, it was a cosy feel and perfect for their laid back vibes as well. A real sense of togetherness from the band as Corinne, Andy and co - and some old classics thrown in with reworkings of sheer joy and happiness too. A pleasure to be there and let's hope for a full tour next year!
Bodega, Lock Tavern, London - A very warm and very sweaty venue in May, and packed to the rafters to that everyone could hear the band do their brand of college alternative rock. The short and sweet songs really did give some added punch in the live setting, and the way that the band had their instruments close by to play a varied set list really did add to the whole intimacy of the piece. And a free gig too - result.
Belly, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London - It was really good to listen to the new Belly album Dove this year, and their blistering live set really did accompany the album well. Apart from tracks from Dove, some of the classics such as tracks from the Slow Dog EP and singles such as Gepetto really did provide a solid almost two hour set. Well worth the wait for them to get a third album and accompanying live set.

Best Film of 2018 - Bohemian Rhapsody
It would be very easy to get a biopic of Freddie Mercury completely wrong, but here it was a case of how to get things right, even if they take time. Rami Malek was superb as Mercury, but also all the actors who played the other Queen band members were superb - notably Gwilym Lee as Brian May. There may have been the odd change here and there but to culminate and replicate the band's superb Live Aid set was the perfect thing to do - showcasing the band at their unstoppable peak. It's raised the standards of a rock biopic originally set by Control, and is the yardstick for others to be judged.

Best TV Programme of 2018 - Bodyguard
Dramatic to the end, and full of intrigue as you'd expect from Jed Mercurio, this six part series had everything and made you wonder if the bodyguard was actually working as an insider for the police, being set up as a fall guy, or a combination of both. And which drama would actually kill off one of the main characters half way through the series in a dramatic plot twist and change the course dramatically? I for one actually hope that a second series isn't made, as the hour and a bit long finale really was tense, sealed up the loose ends and made for a piece of gripping television throughout.

Best Sporting Moment of 2018 - England Women's Netball Last Second Heroics
The Commonwealth Games women's netball is effectively like a World Championship - all the best teams are in it. To battle back in the semi final against Jamaica and get victory on the final second was in itself brilliant, but to then go to the wire against the Australians, in their own back yard, and to get a final second win to lift the gold medal, was something special. They deserved all the accolades, and it was netball's Agüero moment. The take up in the sport since the win has shown the legacy that it's provided, and here's to more success next year at the Worlds in Liverpool.

Best male of 2018 - Gareth Southgate
An England manager putting the pride and passion back into the national men's footbal team? Absolutely. Gareth not only made sure England qualified well for the World Cup, but the battling to the end in each game ensured a last gasp win over Tunisia, a thrashing of Panama and winning on penalties in the knockout stages against Colombia (which England never do). A superb quarter final win over Sweden followed, and although we lost to Croatia in the semi finals, the pride had been restored, and that was followed by Nations League semi final qualification, beating Spain away for the first time in years. Excellent stuff.

Best female of 2018 - Rachael Bland
A posthumous award this one, but one which was deserved. Rachel's continued drive and determination to show that you could battle cancer and talk about it without feeling a sense of fear was something which proved to be an inspiration to many others who were suffering - fighting things together and feeling less alone was an important thing. The fact that the two remaining presenters will continue the You, Me and the Big C podcast in her honour shows the impact that the podcast and Rachael's wholehearted attitude had, and long may that legacy continue.

Personal Moment of 2018 - Ten Year Anniversary
The last ten years has had one wonderful constant - The Love In My Heart. And this year we celebrated ten years together by having a wonderful times in Naples, in Rome and best of all on our actual anniversary in Sorrento. Being sat by the sea together was lovely, and lunch outside in a beautiful restuarant with a relaxed setting was just perfection, and it just felt a special place for a rather special time that we've both had. Here's to many more wonderful years together and much love to my love.