by / December 7th, 2015 /

Music Is My Radar: Tom Robinson

This week sees the return to Ireland of Tom Robinson, with two solo acoustic shows in Dublin (Whelans, Wed 9th) and Cork (Cyprus Avenue, Thurs 10th). Back making music after a twenty year break (during which he became one of the leading lights in British radio), his new album Only The Now features the likes of Billy Bragg, Lisa Knapp, Swami Baracus, Nadine Shah, Nitin Sawhney, TV Smith, Ian McKellen, Martin Carthy and John Grant, and is very much a return to his strident songwriting style of yore. We’ll be talking to Tom in depth on a forthcoming podcast but in the meantime we asked him to pick five of his favourite tunes.

Neko Case – ‘Where Did I Leave That Fire’

I just had the privilege of interviewing Neko Case for my Saturday night radio show on BBC 6 Music, and in my view this is the most extraordinary track from her most extraordinary album: 2013’s snappily titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. An unsettled childhood on the US West Coast led to drumming in punk bands, via singing with Vancouver’s New Pornographers, and a slow rise to Grammy-nominated alt-country solo success in the mid-00s. And although this album grew out of a four-year struggle with debilitating clinical depression, as the title suggests she managed to turn the experience into into a life-affirming body of work. Sparse and chilling it may be – yet ‘Where Did I Leave That Fire’ is ultimately one of the most uplifing pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

Stevie Wonder – ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’

While I’m a sucker for great bass players (stand up Andy Fraser, Carol Kaye, James Jamerson and co) my favourite bass part of all time isn’t even played on a bass. Stevie Wonder is a master of so many instruments that his funk sensibilities as bass player often get overlooked. ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’, on Stevie’s puzzlingly hard-to-pronounce album Fulfillingness’ First Finale, overflows with joyful exuberance – from the wonky off kilter drum pattern through his ragged barrelhouse piano riffing to the liquid chromatic harmonica solos exploding with life. But it’s on his Moog bassline that he’s clearly and audibly having the most fun – the sound of a stone cold genius jamming with himself at the very peak of his powers. As in all great pop music the lyrics, needless to say, are complete nonsense.

La Shark – ‘Fiji (I’m In Heaven)’

La Shark are a product of New Cross via Cairo, Paris and Kendal and their music has always had the ability to put a big silly grin all over my face. They make sprawling groove-driven records and mischievous videos that crackle with life, sardonic humour and sheer originality – while their notoriously wild and anarchic live shows make them one of the most essential London bands you’ve never heard of. This track in particular blends a looseness, loucheness and playfulness with the sense that almost anything could happen. La Shark plough an extravagant left-field furrow across the wilder fringes of the music industry that’s entirely their own. Long may they flourish.

Nina Simone – ‘Mississippi Goddamn’

When people refer to the protest songs of the early ’60s they usually mean the likes of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie – but ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ makes those earnest white radicals pale by comparison. The righteous fury of Nina Simone on this scorching flamethrower of a song prefigures Public Enemy by two decades and even they never came close to a line like “this whole country’s full of lies – you all gonna die, and die like flies”. The tragedy is that all these years later even with an African American president in the White House, events in Ferguson make this song as relevant today as it ever was. One line says it all: “you don’t have to live next to me – just give me my equality”.

Gavin Friday – ‘The Last Song I’ll Ever Sing’

I once had the pleasure of sharing a stage with Mr Friday and The Man Seezer at an Aids benefit in Dublin. It was hosted by the late and legendary Thom ‘Diceman’ McGinty. One of Thom’s eccentricities was that refused to use a microphone and instead bellowed his introductions into the room in a huge sonorous voice – a complete surprise (to me at least) from the city’s most famous living statue. For me this is a wonderfully deft and elliptical tribute to the Diceman from a master songwriter. With outstanding production by Tim Simenon, the whole Shag Tobacco album is something of a lost masterpiece – it’s hard to believe Island Records actually dropped Gavin from the label rather than marketing the bejasus out of it.