Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Category: Music Miscellanea

My music, part 2

Continuing the stroll down music avenue…

A lot of my music is rooted in land, seasons, weather, landscape. I’m definitely Rural Man. Ten years ago I did a series of solo recordings loosely associated with 1970s music, and one of them was the album Border Land. I very rarely listen to my own music, but some albums, including this one, have a peculiar chemistry that I never can put my finger on. So I listen to this one quite often. It’s music to evoke a part of Britain very close to my heart, and pretty much where I live now – the Marches, the region where England and Wales meet. Border Land does dive south into Herefordshire, but mostly its world is the Marches area of Shropshire.

There’s a hint of Mike Oldfield in this album, but I played and arranged the instruments in a different way to how he does his music – more impressionistic. And because music is mostly about feeling and emotion, I suspect the reasons Mike Oldfield recorded Hergest Ridge in 1974 are similar to the reasons I recorded Border Land.

Around the time I made Border Land I had a group with two friends, one of whom, Chris Gill, lived in Criggion in Wales. We jammed a few times in the Criggion village hall, and I suspect the atmosphere of the place contributed to the spacey music that ensued. Landscape can influence music in many ways – in composition and in improvised playing. Chris, Andy and I may have been making rock music then, but we were channelling something more elemental, I think.

Border Land remains a favourite of my long form pieces.


My music, part 1

I rarely talk in author or SF circles about the music which I write and record, because generally speaking I’ve had a bit of a negative response to this aspect of my creative life, in those places anyway. Some people are interested and supportive, but at least as many are the opposite. So, for a few days here on my blog I’m going to highlight a few of my favourite pieces recorded over the years.

Blue Lily Commission has been my solo “world-fusion” project for eighteen years now, focusing on the various unusual instruments that I play, mixed with high-tech synthesizers and the like. A while back I bought some beautiful Indonesian flutes – the suling as it’s known over there – one of which seemed to have an Indian vibe when I played it, a bit like the bansuri, which I definitely can’t play. So here is a short piece for solo flute, which I improvised (I think I kept the second take) over a pre-recorded tanpura drone.


Top 10 favourite albums of the year

Not quite a Top 10 of what was released this year, but…


Björk, ‘Utopia’

Having stopped following Björk over a decade ago after the knotty Medulla and the messy Volta, I found myself intrigued by reports of flutes and the return of choirs to her new album. Utopia is akin to my favourite of her albums, Vespertine, and sounds a bit like the sonic equivalent of Art Nouveau. A gorgeous album.


BNQT, ‘Volume 1’

Realising that ace songwriter Tim Smith was never again going to grace a new Midlake album, I wondered what this new direction would be like. It’s the guys from Midlake with an album created from pairs of songs by well-know writers, including Fran Healy from the amazing Travis and that guy out of The Kaiser Chiefs (a band I never got). Volume 1 is a good album, but I can’t help wondering what Tim Smith is up to…


Saz’iso, ‘The Least We Can Do Is Wave Our Handkerchief’

Bought on the strength of not knowing what Albanian music sounded like and some great reviews. Emotional, beautifully sung (and played) music.


Stornoway, ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’

Randomly bought in Tubeway Records on the strength of its terrific cover and packaging, this turned out to be a wealth of great songs and inspired playing. After hearing this I bought the band’s most recent album, which alas turned out to be their last. Vibrant and tuneful.


The Parson Red Heads, ‘Blurred Harmony’

Most of my friends can’t understand why I love this band (who they deem mild American country-rockers) but my reply is the one I always give when asked this question – the songs, the tunes. This release is up to the band’s usual standard, though with fewer female vocals, which is a shame, as that aspect of the singing was one of the high points of their peerless Yearling.


Jean-Luc Ponty, ‘The Atacama Experience’

Having wondered what the violin maestro had been up to recently (I was a huge fan of his ever-evolving works in the ‘eighties) I was pleased to notice a studio album from 10 years ago that I’d never encountered. With more emphasis on jazz than before, and his first ever (!) acoustic violin piece, it’s a marvellous listen.


Fleet Foxes, ‘Crack-Up’

A long wait after the outstanding Helplessness Blues, this third album proved to be a complex, almost progressive work of many instruments and many fragments. It’s got melody and charm, but perhaps lacks something from losing a song-based structure. Still good though, and way ahead of most of the competition.


North Sea Radio Orchestra, ‘Dronne’

I bought this after falling for Arch Garrison’s wonderful I Will Be A Pilgrim, which is a kind of love-letter to prehistoric southern England. This is an orchestrated work, with a similar focus on melody. More complex and less immediate than the solo work, it’s still terrific.


Renaissance, ‘Live At The BBC’

Having been a fan of this criminally under-rated band for decades, and having seen them return to live work in Britain (Annie has for ages been a resident of America) a couple of years ago, I was very keen to get this classic BBC concert from 1977, which before release had only been viewable on YouTube. It’s superbly put together, with lots of extras. They simply were one of the all-time greats, with a songwriter (Michael Dunford) and a lyricist (Betty Thatcher) almost without equal. Wonderful band, and a total delight to see this in pristine DVD quality.


The Coral, ‘Butterfly House – Acoustic’

I can’t believe it took me 5 years to realise this existed. I love the original album – my favourite of their fantastic output – and this highlights the strengths of the songs, provided by the Skelly brothers. Beautifully played and sung, entirely on acoustic guitars. Unbeatable.




Happy Anniversary Elton & Bernie

While a few people today are celebrating the anniversary of a couple of grotesquely rich British parasites, others are celebrating something far more important – the fiftieth anniversary of the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

When, thirty or so years ago, my good friend Pete Wyer told me that Elton John was his favourite songwriter, I was surprised, imagining Elton to be some kind of light pop music act. Of course, my naive thoughts were proved hopelessly wrong in subsequent years of musical discovery. Elton John is one of the all-time greatest writers of melody, up there with Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, and others of their ilk, while Bernie Taupin is a great lyricist. When I listen to Elton’s albums, especially the classic ‘seventies albums, it’s always the melodically gorgeous or otherwise musically beautiful songs which move me. My own favourite albums are those such as Elton John, Madman Across The Water, Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Blue Moves and Songs From The West Coast, all of which have a high proportion of exceptional tunes.

Last night, ITV showed a ‘Top 20 Elton Songs’ tribute (which clumsily opened with a song written by Pete Townshend), and many of the songs would be on my top 20. I have to admit, I was a tad disappointed that Elton’s melodic gift wasn’t mentioned – though there was brief reference to unusual chord changes – but, hey, at least the anniversary has been recognised and celebrated on popular TV and radio.

So here’s my own favourites – thirty wonderful songs by a man of timeless musical genius.

Skyline Pigeon
Your Song
Sixty Years On
Come Down In Time
Tiny Dancer
Indian Sunset
Rocket Man
Blues For My Baby And Me
High Flying Bird
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
I’ve Seen That Movie Too
Grey Seal
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
We All Fall In Love Sometimes/Curtains
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Shine On Through
It Ain’t Gonna Be Easy
Song For Guy
Blue Eyes
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
Sad Songs
I Want Love
This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore
The Captain And The Kid


Ten Bowie faves

Bowie… gone, but never forgotten.

1 Oh! You Pretty Things
2 Andy Warhol
3 Changes
4 Starman
5 Golden Years
6 Ashes To Ashes
7 Sound & Vision
8 Space Oddity
9 This Is Not America
10 Kooks

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci top 10

A personal top ten from the masters of Cambrian psychedelia – one of my favourite bands!

1 Sometimes The Father Is The Son
2 Heywood Lane
3 Starmoonsun
4 Iechyd Da
5 Miss Trudy
6 Faraway Eyes
7 Spanish Dance Troupe
8 Freckles
9 This Summer’s Been Good From The Start
10 Let’s Get Together (In Our Minds)

10 Julian Cope faves

Julian H. Cope! A long-time favourite of mine, and most deserving of a top 10…

1 The Mystery Trend
2 Fear Loves This Place
3 Soldier Blue
4 Beautiful Love
5 Leli B
6 Highway To The Sun
7 Planetary Sit-In
8 Strasbourg
9 Greatness And Perfection
10 World Shut Your Mouth

10 Byrds favourites

A jingle-jangle brand new week of the Music Miscellanea trek…

1 Mr Tambourine Man
2 All I Really Want To Do
3 Eight Miles High
4 Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)
5 The World Turns All Around Her
6 Mr Spaceman
7 My Back Pages
8 So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star
9 Wasn’t Born To Follow
10 Ballad Of Easy Rider

10 Mike Oldfield faves

The trek into Music Miscellanea continues… Mike Oldfield has long been an important part of my musical heritage and playing, especially (of course!) his early works. But there was good stuff afterwards too…

1 Hergest Ridge Part 1
2 Incantations Part 4
3 Ommadawn Part 2
4 Incantations Part 2
5 Hergest Ridge Part 2
6 Tubular Bells Part 1
7 Moonlight Shadow
8 Ommadawn Part 1
9 Return To Ommadawn Part 1
10 Harbinger

Kate Bush favourites

A new week, a new addition to the Music Miscellanea trek… Today it’s ten favourite songs from the outstanding, unique Kate Bush.

1 Army Dreamers
2 Egypt
3 Strange Phenomena
4 Moving
5 Oh England, My Lionheart
6 Suspended In Gaffa
7 Deeper Understanding
8 Hello Earth
9 Misty
10 The Sensual World