Aurora – A Different Kind Of Human – Step 2

Back in 2015 the John Lewis Christmas advert featured a cover of the Oasis song ‘Half a world away’, performed by Aurora. This advert is actually quite a big thing in the UK and every Christmas it becomes a water cooler conversation. Over the years there have been some pretty good cover versions and the odd original, these are the ones released as singles:

Release
date
TitleArtistsPeak
position
23 November 2009“Sweet Child o’ Mine”Taken by Trees23
12 November 2010“Your Song”Ellie Goulding2
11 November 2011“Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want”Slow Moving Millie31
9 November 2012“The Power of Love”Gabrielle Aplin1
10 November 2013“Somewhere Only We Know”Lily Allen1
6 November 2014“Real Love”Tom Odell7
6 November 2015“Half the World Away”Aurora11
10 November 2016“One Day I’ll Fly Away”Vaults53
10 November 2017“Golden Slumbers”Elbow29
8 February 1971“Your Song”Elton John7

you may remember the Aurora track from 2015:

Anyway, the point I was getting to was that I had no idea who it was singing but saw the advert repeatedly that Chritmas and there was something about her voice that I really liked, but I never really investigated any further, I’ve no idea why.

I did see this about a year ago where she was covering Massive Attack, and doing it very well. Again I didn’t investigate any further.

Cut to last week and I did this:- Your F***ing Sunny Day where I included a track by Aurora (Apple Tree) which put her back in the forefront of my mind so when a few days later I saw this in HMV reduced to £9.99 I picked it up.

So, some detail, basically from Wikipedia, Aurora Aksnes (born 15 June 1996), known mononymously as Aurora (stylised as AURORA), is a Norwegian singer-songwriter and producer. She spent much of her life in Os, Hordaland county, Norway.

Aurora did not originally expect to perform music professionally, preferring to keep her music private: “I never really wanted to sing, or to be on the stage at all,” she said. “I just wanted to write, maybe become a doctor or a physicist or something of that kind.” When she was 16, Aurora performed a “really long and boring song about world peace” at her high school’s leaving ceremony and a classmate put the video online.

Around the same time, a friend uploaded a track Aurora had recorded as a Christmas gift for her parents to SoundCloud. These two songs were discovered by a representative of Made Management, a Norwegian management company, who invited Aurora to visit their office for a meeting in early 2013. “At first I thought no,” she recalls. “But then my mum said I should think about the idea of sharing my music with the world because maybe there’s someone out there who desperately needs it. And that could actually be a good thing.” In a few hours both songs received thousands of visits in Norway, which earned Aurora some notoriety in her country, in addition to a fan base on Facebook.

Aurora then set about working on her songwriting for around a year before giving her “first proper live performance” at a Norwegian music festival. “I don’t think I was born to be an entertainer, I used to really be afraid of playing live on-stage. Obviously it’s terrifying! But now I look forward to it every time. I’ve learned not focus on myself, cause it’s not about me. Now I only think about giving everyone the best experience. A magic moment.”

I opened the album when I got home and it was a nice surprise to find that it was a nice clear blue vinyl:

There’s an interesting genealogy to why I would like this album, at least I think it interesting. During one of my many charity shop visits looking for CD’s I picked up a copy of Body Talk by Robin, a performer I have paid absolutely no attention too really, but I popped the CD on in the car for my journey to work and, despite it being further towards Pop that I normally listen to, I really liked it, in fact, it’s a fabulous album. What it did was open me up to more music that drifts into the pop spectrum, and it opened me up to the song ‘The River’, the opening track of the album, which I swear I’d heard before but can’t remember where or when.

I think what I like about the music that Aurora is producing is that while it clearly has many pop elements it still seems to retain and outsider feel about it as though it is a stream meandering alongside a river of pop but never quite joining it. She also seems to be rather quirky, and I like quirky.

The more I listen to this album the more I like it, it’s a quick grower, which is not always a good thing but I think in this case if Aurora continues the way she is then she could well become a Bjork like musician who continues to make and break her own rules, which the music industry needs. Homogenous music is a boring dead end, we need difference.

The Seed (above) is a lovely, but quite scary view on our current environmental crisis and has a very simple point to make, and it makes it very well, ‘You cannot eat money”

Just like the seed I don’t know where to go
Through dirt and shadow, I grow|
I’m reaching light through the struggle
Just like the seed I’m chasing the wonder
I unravel myself All in slow motion [

You cannot eat money, oh no
You cannot eat money, oh no
When the last tree has fallen
And the rivers are poisoned
You cannot eat money, oh no

Tracklist

A1The River
A2Animal
A3Dance On The Moon
A4Day Dreamer
A5Hunger
A6Soulless Creatures
B1In Bottles
B2A Different Kind Of Human
B3Apple Tree
B4The Seed
B5Mothership

Here is a great performance from this years Glastonbury festival, an event I will never get to go as tickets sell out in a nanosecond.

0:40 – The River 4:22 – Churchyard 8:56 – All is Soft Inside 14:12 – Warrior 18:10 – Soft Universe 23:25 – Runaway 27:51 – Apple Tree 31:40 – The Seed 36:27 – Forgotten Love 40:15 – I Went Too Far 44:21 – Queendom 48:27 – Running with the Wolves

This is a raw feed from Glastonbury 2016 on the John Peel Stage, it starts at 20 minutes so scroll forward, fabulous performance.

1 – Black Water Lilies 2 – Warrior 3 – Winter Bird 4 – Under the Water 5 – Runaway 6 – Under Stars 7 – I Went Too Far 8 – Running With the Wolves 9 – Conqueror

She has an authenticity, or at least that’s what I perceive, that I really like and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next.

Nina Simone – Pastel Blues

There are a lot of old jazz and blues albums being re-issued at very reasonable prices at the moment, this isn’t one of them, costing pretty much the same as a new release, but worth every penny.

The album was recorded in 1964 and 1965 and released by Phillips Records in 1965, peaking at number 139 on the Billboard charts, which is interesting as it almost certainly one of the top 100 albums of the decade, in my opinion, and this chart placing re-affirms my view that charts are not necessarily a reflection of what was actually good in any given year. Popular does not necessarily equal good.

I’m always on the look out for Nina Simone albums to add to my collection, and there are plenty to add as I only have two, this and ‘Little Girl Blue’, oh, and a best of CD that I bought in a charity shop for £0.50p.

The recording of this album is a little unclear to me as, online, some tracks are listed as ‘Recorded Live’ but it doesn’t say that on the album cover, maybe they were. It’s an album of cover versions, although back in this time period this was often the norm, with only the final track, the traditional song ‘Sinnerman’, credited to Simone as arranger.

Speaking of the cover, here is a special treat, the liner notes:

Tracklist

Be My Husband3:19
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out2:35
End Of The Line2:51
Trouble In Mind2:37
Tell Me More And More And Then Some3:05
Chilly Winds Don’t Blow3:59
Ain’t No Use2:35
Strange Fruit3:26
Sinnerman10:15

I do prefer the Billy Holiday version of ‘Strange fruit’, which would be even better if the production values were as good as on this record (not that the Holiday version is terrible), but Simone still does a really good version.

There is a certain feeling to ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ that comes from Simone, as though she has lived it and is just passing on her story, she’s exceptionally good at owning a song and her voice carries a depth of emotion that few other performers seem to be able to achieve.

Pearl Jam – Vitaology

I rarely talk about Pearl Jam, which is odd as I really rather like them and have done since they released their debut album. A lot of their releases came out when I was buying CD’s rather than vinyl, but any album that contains the track ‘Spin The Black Circle’ deserves to be owned on that format I think.

So this is how Pearl Jam get in my head, played on repeat while I am doing something else or left in the car CD player for weeks on end so it always comes on while I am driving. I had ‘No Code’ in for a couple of months and when I listened to it a few years later was surprised I knew all the songs, having forgotten about the car marathon.

One of the problems I initially had with Pearl Jam was that everything I heard that wasn’t ‘Jeremy’, wasn’t ‘Jeremy’, which is silly really but there you are, I compared everything they did to it and if it wasn’t vaguely similar I was displeased. Now this is clearly stupid, several albums of songs that all sound the same would be pretty crappy but that’s how it was. It was this subconscious listening that I later did that shook me out of that idiocy and it’s a good job it did otherwise I would have completely missed so many great songs.

Just in case you are wholly unaware of who Pearl Jam are, here is a very synopsised synopsis:

Pearl Jam where formed in 1990 in Seattle, Washington. Since its inception, the band’s line-up has included Eddie Vedder (lead vocals), Mike McCready (lead guitar), Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), and Jeff Ament (bass guitar). Since 1998, the band has also included drummer Matt Cameron (also of Soundgarden). Boom Gaspar (keyboards) has also been a session/touring member with the band since 2002. Drummers Jack Irons, Dave Krusen, Matt Chamberlain, and Dave Abbruzzese are former members of the band.

Formed after the demise of Gossard and Ament’s previous band, Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam broke into the mainstream with its debut album, Ten, in 1991. One of the key bands in the grunge movement of the early 1990s, its members often shunned popular music industry practices such as making music videos or giving interviews. The band also sued Ticketmaster, claiming it had monopolised the concert-ticket market. In 2006, Rolling Stone described the band as having “spent much of the past decade deliberately tearing apart their own fame.”

I’m not a big fan of favourite songs from an album, unless it’s one of those albums that really only has one good song on it, and I do like the whole of Viataology, but if somebody held a gun to my head and asked my to pick one song, well, I’d suggest they need some serious medical help, but I would also pick ‘Corduroy’.

As a band I like their ethos, which I take at face value, in that they really do not seem to take advantage of their fan base, or, they really take advantage but don’t appear to. I hope the former. In its first week of exclusively vinyl release (back in 1994), Vitalogy sold 35,000 copies and was the first vinyl album to chart due to exclusively vinyl sales in nearly a decade. 

I do remember disliking this album on first listen as I was still in ‘Jeremy’ mode I think but, like so many of their albums, it has grown on me over time and now it has several favourites on it, but it doesn’t stand up as a complete work. ‘Pry, To’ is filler. ‘Bugs’ is just terrible and “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me”  should never have been conceived let alone given birth to. Take these away and you have a great, but shorter, album.

Miriam Makeba ‎– Miriam Makeba

Label: London Records ‎– HA 2332, London Records ‎– HA.2332
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono, Purple Label
Released: 1961

I was delighted to find and original copy of this album in the used record store today, filed under Jazz, which is debatable, but a very pleasing discovery nonetheless.

Zenzile Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a South African singer, songwriter, actress, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil rights activist. Associated with musical genres including Afropop, jazz, and world music, she was an advocate against apartheid and white-minority government in South Africa.

Born in Johannesburg to Swazi and Xhosa parents, Makeba was forced to find employment as a child after the death of her father. She had a brief and allegedly abusive first marriage at the age of 17, gave birth to her only child in 1950, and survived breast cancer. Her vocal talent had been recognized when she was a child, and she began singing professionally in the 1950s, with the Cuban Brothers, the Manhattan Brothers, and an all-woman group, the Skylarks, performing a mixture of jazz, traditional African melodies, and Western popular music. In 1959, Makeba had a brief role in the anti-apartheid film Come Back, Africa, which brought her international attention, and led to her performing in Venice, London, and New York City. In London, she met the American singer Harry Belafonte, who became a mentor and colleague. She moved to New York City, where she became immediately popular, and recorded her first solo album in 1960. Her attempt to return to South Africa that year for her mother’s funeral was prevented by the country’s government.

Makeba’s career flourished in the United States, and she released several albums and songs, her most popular being “Pata Pata” (1967). Along with Belafonte she received a Grammy Award for her 1965 album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. She testified against the South African government at the United Nations and became involved in the civil rights movement. She married Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Black Panther Party, in 1968. As a result, she lost support among white Americans and faced hostility from the US government, leading her and Carmichael to move to Guinea. She continued to perform, mostly in African countries, including at several independence celebrations. She began to write and perform music more explicitly critical of apartheid; the 1977 song “Soweto Blues”, written by her former husband Hugh Masekela, was about the Soweto uprising. After apartheid was dismantled in 1990, Makeba returned to South Africa. She continued recording and performing, including a 1991 album with Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie, and appeared in the 1992 film Sarafina!. She was named a UN goodwill ambassador in 1999, and campaigned for humanitarian causes. She died of a heart attack during a 2008 concert in Italy.

Makeba was among the first African musicians to receive worldwide recognition. She brought African music to a Western audience, and popularized the world music and Afropop genres. She also made popular several songs critical of apartheid, and became a symbol of opposition to the system, particularly after her right to return was revoked. Upon her death, former South African President Nelson Mandela said that “her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.” – Wikipedia

She has such a beautiful voice and was, in so many ways, a trailblazer for African music. The Click Song may be familiar to you, maybe not, but do have a listen to the concert from Stockholm below, she was amazing.

01:05 – 04:04 “Mbube”
04:06 – 07.14 “As The Rising Sun”
07.24 – 10.16 “Forbidden Games”
10.23 – 13.17 “Chove Chuva”
13.29 – 15.17 “Click Song”
15.37 – 20.00 “When I’ve Passed On”

We need to talk about Martin…….

Back in 2002 I bought the album Open Heart Zoo by Martin Gretch having heard a song of his somewhere, Dave might remember where (Hi Dave). Back then I thought it was a rather brilliant album. I have no idea where my original copy is, I may have sold it, given it away, lost it or it could be in a box somewhere, it’s a mystery, a rather boring one, but a mystery nonetheless.

Today I was in a charity shop and there was a copy sitting on the shelf, which was a delightful surprise as I had pretty much forgotten about it. I listened to the whole album on the drive home from work and I can confirm my original assessment was correct, it is rather brilliant. If I were to take Radiohead and Peter Gabriel and put them in a blender, it would make a terrible mess and I would probably end up in jail, however, the sound that would result would be a new flavour that encompassed both.

Because I can’t really rely on Dave to remember I looked it up and discovered that the track “Open Heart Zoo” (written when he was 15 years old) was featured on a Lexus advert on British TV in 2002. This sounds vaguely familiar so let’s go with that.

As far as I can tell there was only 1 video created for tracks from this album, for the title track, here it is:

Tracklist:

Here It Comes5:02
Open Heart Zoo5:21
Dali5:38
Tonight5:07
Push5:00
Only One Listening4:51
Notorious4:55
Penicillin4:47
Catch Up3:46
Twin4:41
Death Of A Loved One6:30
(silence)10:30
Ill (Demo)3:51

Now there is an issue with Martin, he hasn’t released anything for bloody ages. As far as I can tell he has had an album ready for release for at least 2 years but, for a number of reasons, is unable to release it. There are 2 albums I’ve never listened to though, the last one released in 2007, and I can’t decide whether to get them or listen to them online as there is no vinyl version of anything. I’ll probably do a little of both.

I listen to a lot of music and I have difficulty understanding why Martin Grech isn’t a huge star when others, whose output is quite sub-standard, are. I do see him guesting on a few things but, for reasons unknown to me, he hasn’t released anything for 12 years. Maybe that is the roadblock to superstardom, and let’s be honest, I probably wouldn’t be as keen if he was, fickle music fan that I am.

Here is the album, if you have the time, have a listen, I genuinely think it is worth it and I will soon be doing a best albums of 2002 list, this will be in it.

Speaking of guesting on some tracks, give this one a go, it’s a corker!

Currently Listening to……….

This:

IMG_1106

Discussed in greater detail HERE