The Zaw Towers Review of 2020

2020 was a year that really was all about survival. All was going well until March, and then a global pandemic hit. It was mainly about treasuring those around you and to make sure you kept in touch with everyone, and that we all checked in and looked after each other. It more than anything proved just how much we can sometimes take so much for granted, and how much that normality will be something more to treasure when we eventually are allowed to do so. There was still plenty of uplifting moments provided through the year despite all that, so going to be positive as I can and celebrate those here.

Best Single/Track of 2020 - "Hard Crew" - Altern-8
Those masters of 1990s raves, Altern-8, making a comeback? Believe it. Although this track had been a staple of recent live sets, to have it playing at full blast with the pumping beats, plenty of breaks and lots of power throughout was just a call to everyone to get up, dance round their living rooms safely, and remind ourselves that rave never indeed died - it just developed and came back with suitable and massive aplomb. The second part as it lightens out is a masterstroke too - shows what you can do when you have the talent!

Also recommended:
"People Are All Right (when they are given half a chance)" - MJ Hibbett and the Validators - Maybe a little self-indulgent, seeing as I actually do sing backing vocals on this as part of a choir late on, but I'd enjoyed this track live for some time in 2019, and with a title change a focus more on how actually we're all okay if we're allowed to show that we can be good people really did feel a positive vibe throughout. And coming back from the pub is something to treasure when we we allowed to do so.
"Let It Snow" - Obey Robots - Take Rat from Ned's Atomic Dustbin and Laura from Penfriend (formerly She Makes War), get all the guitar and vocal parts recorded in their own studios, bring it all together and you have a gorgeous piece of powerful guitar indie rock that hits the right notes and all the right tones with their debut single as a pairing. Looking forward to hearing much more of this to be honest.
"Tears" - Little Sparrow - To bring back a song written by Katie Ware's father back in the 1980s and to give it a much darker, moodier, folk feel, and yet maintain the theme of space and travel throughout is not only testament to this arrangement but does justice to the original song (which is also on the CD) - and Katie's vocals have sounded never as good - full of drama and passion.
"Vasto" - Cabaret Voltaire - A new Cabs single and new album? Granted it is only Richard H Kirk now, but this opening single had all the hallmarks of classic CV in a close to eight minute number - plenty of beats and sounds, and a pounding rhythm that just develops and grows bigger all the way through - an impressive way to come back all brooding and moody even more than before.

Best Album of 2020 - "Where Does It Go" - Denise Johnson
There's a mixture of sadness as I listen to this album knowing that Denise is no longer with us, but to be able to have this album to remind everyone of her vocal talents is a perfect postscript to an illustrious singing career for this Mancunian heroine. Seven tracks, stripped back and acoustic allowing Denise's vocals to shine through, really did give me tingles when I first listened, and it still does. There's the glorious version of New Order's True Faith, granted, but the album closer of Steal Me Easy just has a perfect beauty within which really showcases the voice so wonderfully well. When it comes back in stock at Piccadilly Records, order, buy, listen and love just as much as we Mancunians loved her.

Also recommended:
"Sun Racket" - Throwing Muses - Blistering and powerful from Kristin Hersh and co, almost to the point of distortion on a few of the tracks, notably Frosting, where it's Kristin at her most angry and passionate. And not to be messed with. Yet there's also calmer stillness, in the likes of Maria Laguna and the lovely Milk at McDonalds with the closer Sue's also being of the same ilk, which is the light to the darker rockier sections, so definitely a grower over time. You may like the quiet or loud bits, but I like both - it's contrast and reflection where it is needed.
"Foolish Loving Spaces" - Blossoms - And what's wrong with a bit of joyous pop from Stockport's finest? Not one bit of it, and the optimism this whole album has really kept me going throughout, the opener If You Think This Is Real Life sets the scene perfectly, and for me there's something magic in Romance Eh? as well which just brings a big smile to the face as you listen. The theme of happiness and love continues with the likes of Falling for Someone complete with joyous chorus line too. Maybe too cheery for some, but we all need happy songs sometime don't we?
"A Pilgrim's Tale" - Seth Lakeman - Narrated expertly by the actor Paul McGann, this whole album tells the journey on the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers leaving for America, and has a beautiful folk feel with stalwarts such as Benji Kirkpatrick and Ben Nicholls providing instrumental backing, and some spellbinding vocals by Cara Dillon to compliment Seth perfectly as the story is told. It's definitely an album to listen to in full to get the full picture of how much it really is a full story told in an hour or so.
"Manchester Calling" - Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - Quality songwriting very much in evidence here, as there's plenty of tales about being up North, and how the changing face of Manchester is reflected throughout the whole theme of the album, with the single You And Me (Were Meant To Be Together) having reference to mushy peas in the chorus being an inspired move to say the least. The title track, MCR Calling, is almost a protest song to progress bringing down the likes of the Hacienda in place of flats and how the River Irwell becoming a backdrop - having spoken word throghout too. Moving.

Best Concert of 2020 - Seth Lakeman, Southwark Cathedral, London
To actually see any gigs at all this year was a considerable bonus, and I only got to see two or three. For me this was the highlight: Seth and band with gorgrous acoustics inside a beautiful old cathedral, with the trains near London Bridge almost overhead as the band played, a perfect juxtaposition. I was lucky to get a side aisle view and could see the drama unfold as the band played, with after the whole album A Pilgrim's Tale in full, had a second half full of some Seth classics and a spellbinding version of Kitty Jay to round of proceedings. One thing I missed a lot was live music, so reminding myself of this was a perfect moment to realise just how much.

Best TV Programme of 2020 - The Sister
Lots of drama series this year were managed to be filmed, and one which really did captivate both myself and The Love In My Heart together was this four part drama, expertly laid out over four days and explained a mysterious night, a dead body, and the rammifications of that fateful night years later. Bertie Carvel, who had been the bad husband in Doctor Foster, was here as the rather spooky character Bob and a perfect compliment to add to the confusion of Russell Tovey as Nathan. It really did unfold rather well and was a good psychological drama, and added to a police woman that wouldn't give up on the case, Nina Toussaint-White doing superbly here. Definitely well worth a watch and possibly one of the best dramas ITV have had in a long time, has to be said.

Best Sporting Moment of 2020 - Lewis Hamilton Smashing F1 Records
To even get an F1 season off the ground at all is testament to all the back room staff at F1 and all the circuits alike to even get some races underway to be quite honest. It was clear that Lewis Hamilton had an added responsibility with being at the forefront to battling racism and taking the knee, but also that competitive edge was very much still there - proven by winning his seventh world title, equalling the great Michael Schumacher. Not content with that, but Lewis overtook Michael's number of race wins (now standing at 95) as well as already holding the most number of pole positions (98) and most podium finishes (165) too - immensely proud of him and I think he'd definitely want to get an eighth title to be on his own in terms of world title wins.

Best male of 2020 - Marcus Rashford
This for me was a no-brainer. Not only was Marcus Rashford at the forefront of many footballers giving back to their communities during the current situation, but the way he stayed calm, professional and passionate about wanting to ensure no child went hungry showed compassion far more than this excuse for a Government ever will. He got the free school meals for those that needed them reversed for the Summer, and for the half term, undeterred by the Government, he got everyone local to help each other out and provide meals where needed, doing a job far better than any minister ever could. There is so much I could say about him, but I am proud that he is Mancunian and showing that, as the late great Tony Wilson said, we do things differently here. Keep up the superb work Marcus, all us Mancunians and the country are behind you, blue or red, we're a City united on that front.

Best females of 2020 - Jacinda Ardern and Tsai Ing-Wen (joint winners)
When you have a situation on your hands as you do now, what you want is calm compassionate leadership and clear communications to get everyone on board to be in this together. I knew of course Jacinda Ardern would do that based on last year, but going one step further and taking a pay cut to show an example to her nation? That is leadership right there, and the lack of the dreaded C word in New Zealand is to show the right decisions were taken and had the people on side. In a much more densely populous country also, Taiwan also managed to deal with their situation spectacularly well, and again, clear leadership and direction shown from Tsai Ing-Wen, ignoring the bullies from China and showing a way forward which meant minimal deaths and also a level of compassion and fairness throughout. They both showed also that decisions made by going hard and early proved to be the right and sensible way to tackle this current era we live in.

Personal Moments of 2020 - Surviving Together and Singing Vocals on a Single
The way the first lockdown worked in the UK, I ended up spending considerable amounts of weeks with The Love In My Heart, us both still working hard (in fact The Love hasn't stopped being in work throughout due to her job) and we both were able to help each other survive as well as form our own support bubble, which has proved important more than ever to be together and to keep each other motivated and happy, despite some difficult times for both of us. I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful woman in my life and that has to really be appreciated even more than it is now. To also be able to record some vocals and appear as part of a choir of vocalists on an actual single was something I never thought I would do, but managed to do that before lockdown happened, and was so pleased how it turned out. Another thing I've managed to do in my life, which as they say, can be too short, so live it however you can when we're able to again.