There is nothing like a Dame…..

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One of the gigs I wish I’d been at this week was Dame Shirley Bassey’s special Electric Proms show at The Roundhouse, but, alas, it wasn’t to be…..
Richard Hawley was the support, which would have made it a dream line-up for me.
Anyway, I’ve had to settle for second best and watch the highlights on the BBC iPlayer. Wow, what a show and it bodes well for Bassey’s forthcoming new album, The Performance, which is due out in early November.
On the record, Bassey has worked with several contemporary songwriters and acts, including Hawley, The Manic Street Preachers, Pet Shop Boys, Tom Baxter and current Bond soundtrack composer David Arnold. 
Like Dusty Springfield, Eartha Kitt and Liza Minelli before her, Bassey is the latest diva to be thrust back into the spotlight by the help of younger musicians who’ve always had a soft spot for her. And the results are absolutely fabulous, darling. 
Hawley, Baxter and James Dean Bradfield from The Manics guested at the Electric Proms show (with a huge orchestra), performing with Shirl on the songs they’d written for her. And she also indulged in some lighthearted flirting and teasing with them – adding to the theatricality of the whole thing.
The Hawley-penned After The Rain is beautiful – a sad breakup ballad – all piano, strings and Hawley’s twilight twangy guitar.  
Bassey excelled herself on the Pet Shop Boys’ song The Performance of My Life – a huge orchestral showtune that could be her theme tune. And on a lighter note. there’s The Girl From Tiger Bay – melodic epic pop-rock from The Manics, with James doing his stadium guitar riffing.
You can see the song below – I love the moment when James rocks out on the solo and shimmies with our Shirl.
So showbiz……

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Best gig of the year so far: One night in Heaven with Bad Lieutenant

As the nights draw in and the end of the year is nigh, I have started to reflect on my favourite gigs and albums of 2009. In the near future, I will be writing about some of them on this very blog….
I have been to plenty of brilliant concerts this year, from Morrissey (get well soon, Stephen) on Great Yarmouth Pier, to Richard Hawley playing all of Truelove’s Gutter (probably my favourite album of 2009) at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a reformed Mott The Hoople raising the roof at Hammersmith Apollo and the Pet Shop Boys doing their art-disco-pop extravaganza at O2.
I also really enjoyed seeing cult indie act Spearmint play their A Week Away album in its entirety at the ICA, Blur’s comeback show and how could I forget McCartney walking on stage with Neil Young in Hyde Park, to do a duet on Day In The Life. 
But my favourite gig of the year so far has to be Bad Lieutenant (Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris from New Order’s latest incarnation) at London’s Heaven last week. Why? Because now, looking back, I can distinctly recall the precise moment when I thought to myself – ‘this is the best musical moment I’ve had all year’.
The first half of the set saw the band mostly playing material from their recent debut album – think New Order without the twangy bass and, occasionally,when guitarist Jake Evans sings, a poppier version of Doves. You can’t argue with that.
We even got a nice surprise when they launched into Tighten Up – a Smiths-style gem from Electronic’s first album, when Bernard collaborated with Johnny Marr. So far, so good, but the best was yet to come.
Bad Lieutenant slipped into a cool, guitar-heavy version of Out of Control – a track Bernard recorded with the Chemical Bros that sounds like I Feel Love-era Donna Summer meets New Order, funnily enough.
Towards the end of the live outing, as if that tune wasn’t great enough on its own, the song then seamlessly segued into a killer version of New Order’s Temptation.
Man, the place went mental. I thought I’d died and gone to……. Ahem.
Bathed in a strobe light, showered in over-priced lager and hugging the grown men stood next to me, I raised my pint glass in the air and toasted the genius of Sumner, as the sound of a thousand indie discos reverberated in my brain.
I can also remember turning round to face the crowd and see the looks on their faces. This is something I only do at truly special gigs.
Just as I was thinking it couldn’t get any better, we then got versions of Joy Division’s Transmission and Love Will Tear Us Apart for the encore.Not bad, eh?
As 2009 gigs go, that one will take some beating, but seeing as I’m going to watch The Charlatans play acoustic at The Social tomorrow and Billy Bragg do a set in my local next weekend, anything is possible….

Death of a Popular Hairdresser – the continuing adventures of Sean Hannam and Quiet Loner

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I’m pleased to announce that a brand new song has emerged from my latest recording session with UK alt.country act Quiet Loner. (aka Matt Hill)
A demo version of Death of a Popular Hairdresser is now available to listen to at www.myspace.com/seanhannamlyricist
I wrote the lyric and Matt wrote the music. If features Matt on lead vocals and all instruments (guitars, bass and drums), while I simply pitch in with a spoken word piece on the chorus and help out with some ‘oohs’ and ‘la-la-las’ in the middle eight section.
Recorded and mixed by Matt in one night, the song was up online within about five hours of us making it, which is not bad, even if I do say so myself. We’re so punk rock, man.
Inspired by a newspaper billboard I saw in Harrow-on-the-Hill, which simply read ‘Death of A Popular Hairdresser’, the song is a tawdry tale of drink, drugs, sex, C list celebs and scissors.
When I wrote the lyric, I dreamt up a ficticious storyline of a girl and a guy who enter the murky world of celebrity culture and fashion, which, ultimately, leads to their demise, and sadly, the premature death of one of them. I’ve always wanted to write a ‘story song’ – this is my first attempt, so please be gentle with me.
In my head, I wanted it to sound like Squeeze meets the Pet Shop Boys – I think the words are my attempt at being Chris Difford. It hasn’t turned out that way – it’s actually more of a Billy Bragg country-pop song, I guess – like something from Talking To The Taxman About Poetry.
As Matt said, just imagine a full band version, with Johnny Marr playing a jangly riff and Ian Mclagan laying down some warm Hammond organ. Maybe one day…..  I really love the middle eight, which has some Beatlesy backing vocals. I think the end is a bit Beatles, too – the way Matt finishes on ‘hairdresser’ is very Paperback Writer.
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like ‘And cut’…..
Well, I thought it was funny, anyway……

Keeping it rural – Louis Eliot’s new album: Kittow’s Moor

Cinematic scenesters Rialto were always one of my favourite Britpop bands, writing atmospheric John Barry-meets-Morricone soundtracks for hedonistic nights out in London town.
Despite releasing a clutch of brilliant, epic pop singles that combined the bombast of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with the nerve-shredding drama of Sixties spy movie themes and the theatrical tension of Pulp and the Pet Shop Boys, Rialto faded into obscurity after only two albums.
Their frontman – and songwriter – Louis Eliot, is now pursuing a solo career, but he’s left the drama of London behind for the remote Cornish countryside, where he now lives, writes and records, playing pastoral folk-pop.
His first solo album, The Long Way Round, was released in 2004. At the time, I said: ‘ This record is a charming collection of self-penned songs in the vein of mid-period Beatles or Kinks. High on melody and low on production values, it’s a collection of intimate,stripped-down quirky tunes.The arrangements are sparse – mostly acoustic – but occasionally bolstered with easy listening-style brass and Dylan-like harmonica.’
Well, I am delighted to announce that the long-awaited follow-up album is finally being released in January 2010. What’s more, I’ve already had a listen to it and it’s brilliant.
Kittow’s Moor is the first album that Louis has made with his new band, The Embers, featuring, among others, Martin Bell from The Wonderstuff, who plays fiddle, mandolin and banjo on the record, as well as carrying out co-production duties and composing the brass arrangements.
A more mature record than its predecessor, it’s also even folkier, which could be down to Bell’s influence. Accordion and whistle create a Celtic feel, conjuring up comparisons to The Waterboys. Loaded with rural imagery and poetic lyrics, the songs deal with love, loss, childhood memories and,er, drinking to excess.
The very trad I Saw Her At The Fair  is full of rich imagery – a fair rolls into town, complete with bully boys, bumper cars and tungsten stars. It’s like Mike Scott meets Morrissey.
The 25th of the 12th  is a poignant tale of a Cornish Christmas ( “A billion snowflakes fell in a field of white….. Meet me down by the early English church, the frozen ground and the silent silver birch.”), while Skimming Stones  has Louis casting his mind back to when, as a young boy, he stood on a beach, indulging in a favourite pursuit ,dreaming of his future. (“Take me back home to the place, where dreams are all I’ve known, stepping out over the breaks, when we were skimming stones.”)
There are, however, some other nods to his past on this album, in particular, hints of his previous musical careers. Come On Let’s Go  could almost be a long-lost Rialto tune – it’s a wry commentary on the excesses of London nightlife with a definite Ray Davies feel – but for the appearance of a Cornish brass band.
Before he formed Rialto, Louis was the vocalist in glam revivalists Kinky Machine. On One Step At A Time, his love of glam rock is still evident – it has a Glittery backbeat and great fuzzy guitar licks.  
My favourite song on the album is just simply one of the best things Louis has ever written. Opener Runaway Night manages to capture some of Rialto’s tawdry, nocturnal melancholy and romantic longing (‘To the broken tune of an ice cream van, I wrote a song for you on the back of my hand. If you follow me, we can jump the lights, of a seaside town on a Saturday night. And when you hold me tight, it feels just like when you close your eyes on a motorbike.”) 
Wonderful stuff.

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