Tuesday, 8 June 2010


What is Shanting?

Shant'ing is a refusal to challenge one's own innate prejudices even when confronted with evidence to disavow you of your precious views. I’m one of life’s shan’ters apparently. According to a mate of mine, I take a dislike to things prior to trying them out and won’t budge when presented with evidence of said thing’s goodness. It’s not so much that you won’t like something as you shan’t, he said, shortly before passing me the crack pipe.

Sad thing is, he’s probably right. Having a reasonably diverse taste in music has empowered me, in my own mind at least, to dismiss acts out of hand purely on reading an interview or hearing that someone whose music taste I mistrust is a fan.

Down the years, I’ve amassed a whole Not I-pod of groups I’ve entirely neglected to listen to out of snobbery, misinformed prejudice and a dozen more reasons. U2, the Levellers, the Stereophonics, the entire oeuvre of metal, Sisters of Mercy and most goth bands, pretty much everything on 4AD (with the obvious exception of Pixies, Breeders), the last 35 years of Rolling Stones records, anything by Sting...all of them shan’ted by me.

I love it though. Some things in life I like to have my prejudices and opinions challenged. I like to argue about politics with my friends of different persuasions. I try new food all the time. But music is the one thing I cannot budge on. Except for those oh so rare occasions when a band whose music normally is guaranteed to suck big time, manage to produce something that makes you sneak out at the dead of night to listen to it without anyone finding out.


1: DEACON BLUE – Your Town. In the late 1980’s loads of earnest bands emerged from the Celtic hinterlands with unbelievably over sincere and earnest songs often with a mildly political flavour. Scotland were especially guilty in this department, not only producing ironically Yuppie-styled soul bastards Hue and Cry but also Deacon Blue who sold shitloads of records despite having a singer-songwriter (very 80s that) called Ricky Ross who dressed like an accountant at a Christmas party and looked a bit like the bloke out of the BT adverts, you know the one who used to be in My Family, except after being kicked in the face a few times. I despised them. And then one Autumn night in 1992, the radio was on in my Carmarthen kitchen – a slightly disembodied female voice started chanting ethereally, some epic sounding proto-trance keyboards began to build and then a dramatic volley of guitar and distant drumming began. I turned the volume up. A familiar but distorted voice kicked in. It couldn’t be, could it? Not....AAAAH I LIKE A DEACON BLUE SONG. FUCK FUCK FUCK!!!!! Admittedly it helped that they’d taken the very much in-vogue DJ Paul Oakenfold to produce said track but there was enough of old Ricky and co to suggest that maybe they weren’t utter shit after all – a feeling that dissipated when the next thing they released reverted to the old formula of being wank on chips.

2: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – Cry Me A River. The typical career arc of a boyband member is Be Born Attractive, Get Discovered By Closeted Homosexual Media Mogul, Release Several Soundalike Singles With Absolutely No Artistic Merit Whatsoever, Get Old, Split Up, Die In Tragic Solo Circumstances. Timberlake, a man not only blessed with being cute enough for even Nick Griffin to probably want to fuck him, but also possessor of one of the coolest surnames ever, goes and breaks the rules. His debut single was a classic stop whatever the fuck you were just doing and listen to this moment. An almost sinister piece of RnB, a childish one finger keyboard solo, some rain effects and Timberlake sounding vulnerable and vengeful all at the same time. Fucking brilliant.

3: THE OSMONDS – Crazy Horses. When Take That made their comeback a couple of years back and the world was forced to generally agree that actually “Rule the World” was genius and then started to backtrack over the retrospectively realised merits of songs like “Never Forget”, it wasn’t the first time a boyband shocked the world. Crazy Horses stands out in the Osmonds recorded canon like the Olympic flame in a sea of shit-covered cigarette lighters. Absolutely barking. Who better to act as spokespeople for the burgeoning environmentalist movement than a clean-cut Mormon family band from the biggest polluting country on earth? When JLS release a record full of screeching synthesizer noises, glam rock guitars and funky as hell horns about the dangers of downloading child pornography then this record might have a rival as Most Unlikely Record Ever Released.

4: STEREOPHONICS – Dakota. Some things you can always rely on. Sir Alex Ferguson pointing at his watch to indicate the referee's bribe money is about to kick in, otherwise unemployed idiots trying to kick prison vans if there’s a nonce inside, etc. Likewise, the Stereophonics, a band good for a bit of gravel-voiced 3rd rate sub-Faces pub indie, nothing else. A band that, on the whole, existed purely for the kind of people who admire Chris Moyles. Who after years of releasing turgid lumpen earshit then release this. A subtle electro pulse hums beneath a gravel-voiced embodiment of ennui, like The Pet Shop Boys fronted by The Throat Cancer Choir, before kicking into something genuinely fucking goddamn full throttle rock and roll yeah and back out again into electronic yearning. I couldn’t bring myself to buy it though. It would have been like voting Conservative purely on the strength of scrapping the ID card. Shanting in full effect.

5: GOMEZ – We Haven’t Turned Around. Steve Coogan used to have this character called Paul Calf. Calf was a stereotype of the unemployed working class Northern male, forever bemoaning students. He would have hated Gomez. Christ knows I did. A band that practically stank of Bob Marley posters, trust funds and transient Socialist politics – Gomez were the most student band of all time. Their mildly diverting inoffensive indie dance secret weapon was the bizarre voice of Ben Ottewell, a man who looked like somebody big in the Young Conservative Society but somehow had the voice of an obscure thirties blues singer from the Mississippi Delta. When I heard this record I felt the pain of a Roman emperor touched by the cry of a baby gladiator. It helped that the video accompanying said record was a thing of apocalyptic sadness, just the thing you need in your life when every news bulletin is telling you that come Dec 31 1999, the world’s computers will all somehow suddenly think it’s 1900, realise they haven’t yet been invented and send the world’s passenger aircraft tumbling from the skies in some sort of universal celebration of kamikaze culture. Like those imagined plummeting jets, Gomez never touched such heights again and I managed to sneak home from Spillers Records with my copy safely tucked into my plane-proof trouser pocket.

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