Archive for the 'Music' Category


Pet Shop Boys + Ballet = ?

When Pet Shop Boys first announced they wanted to write the music for a ballet, I was a little bemused. I guess I didn’t know what to make of it. As much as I love music, ballet is something that has never appealed to me at all. Kulcha and me just don’t mix.

The ballet is based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Most Incredible Thing”, one I hadn’t heard of and still I was bemused. No disrespect to HCA but I had grown out of those sorts of stories many years ago.

I obviously bought the CD when it came out earlier this year. I knew if nothing else, being the Pet Shop Boys, the music would be magnificent. In that regard, I wasn’t disappointed. Different to the usual kind of ballet music I’m aware of and different to a Pet Shop Boys album, yet at the same time quite similar. Sort of a bastard child of the two styles full of dramatic musical hooks and sound effects. Very strident at times which I love. There is only one kind of pop moment which utilises a demo of a song called “Baby” that Neil and Chris had given to Swedish group Alcazar. Always great to hear Neil’s voice no matter how briefly.

So I would definitely recommend the album but how I would I go actually seeing the ballet. Could I cope? I am going to be in London in March next year and the ballet is having a short return season. I took the plunge and booked a ticket. I like to experience new things and a ballet couldn’t be that bad, could it? I reasoned if I really wasn’t enjoying it, I could leave during the intermission. I’ll find out in a few months.

I did find some clips on Youtube that had been put up by someone involved in the production which actually look OK and entertaining enough.

The first is the talent show which has a speaking part, a disco beat and looks a lot of fun.

The next clip is the “pop” moment with Neil singing “Baby”.

The next two clips really show off the audio visual aspect of the show.

I’m starting to think that the show might be an enjoyable experience.

To finish off this entry, here is Alcazar’s version of “Baby” in full. Not quite Neil but you can get a feel for the song. It’s from Alcazar’s “Disco Defenders” album which is worth checking out if you like dance pop.


Mark Wilkinson – What Music Is All About

Last night, I was sitting in a community church hall in Glebe which resembled a rather large lounge room. Lots of sofas, armchairs and an odd assortment of chairs and coffee tables. There were 110 of us, all there to experience the magic of Mark Wilkinson performing live.

This was my second time seeing Mark perform. The first time was a few months ago in a tiny basement club near Kings Cross during a two week holiday. Due to a lack of funds, I decided to have a “staycation”, a holiday at home playing tourist in my own city. One thing I had decided to do was to discover a new artist. Some unkind friends tell me that I already have too many CDs (I do) and don’t need anymore (not true). I have quite a few friends who are eternally stuck in the past when it comes to music. They often make sweeping statements about modern music being rubbish which irritates me no end. There is still plenty of great music being created by great artists and I still get a kick out of discovering a new artist.

So, who was it to be? I quickly dismissed sites like Ticketek and Ticketmaster and found myself at Moshtix scouring the list of artists performing in Sydney during those two weeks. It felt a bit like drawing up a shortlist of job applicants to interview. Mark’s write-up caught my eye with words like “fiercely independent” and “soulful voice”. I checked a couple of clips on YouTube, liked what I heard and booked a ticket. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It was an amazing show and I was instantly a big fan.

Last night was the same. There is something refreshing about a guy with just a guitar, simply singing and playing amazing music. And the voice. Mark really does have an amazing voice. Soulful doesn’t really describe it completely. Mark’s voice is one of those voices that grabs you by the balls and by the heart and drags you along for the ride. I really could listen to Mark’s voice all night long. I had quite a few emotional moments last night thanks to that voice. I kept thinking this is what music is meant to be about.

Another appealing thing about Mark is that he hasn’t succumbed to showbiz. He really comes across as a really down to earth guy, someone you could quite easily have a few beers and lots of laughs with.

Mark released his debut album “Truth Came Running” earlier this year, one of my favourite albums of the year. A great collection of acoustic soul. It is available through his website and on iTunes internationally as are his EPs. Here are a selection of songs.

The first single from the album was “All I Ever Wanted” and it has a great clip filmed in South Africa. I want a t-shirt with “I’m Alive” on it. ūüôā

A favourite song of mine that is on the album. “Should’ve Been”.

Mark has that knack with cover versions of totally owning the song. This is the OneRepublic song “Secrets” that is on Mark’s latest EP “Sweet White Lies”.

For more information, check the following links:


Listening to a new album for the first time

Listening to a new album for the first time is always a special time for me. Personally, I usually to listen to it in private on repeat, shut away in my bedroom with the headphones on. Sometimes if I’m feeling really kinky, I’ll do it in the dark. ūüôā ¬†I will then keep playing the album over the next couple of weeks as I become familiar with the songs.

I have been eagerly awaiting the new album from Darren Hayes, “Secret Codes and Battleships”, due out on 21 October 2011. Strangely I was never particularly a fan of Savage Garden but I did and still do love Darren’s solo work. He has an amazing voice and a great pop sensibility pervades his work. Darren’s last album “This Delicate Thing We’ve Made” is an absolute masterpiece and one of my favourite all-time albums.

Since my anticipation for “Secret Codes and Battleships” has been running high, I was intrigued when Darren’s official website announced special listening sessions for the album just for fans. I put my name down, not really expecting to get in, and promptly forgot about it. I never get picked for these things anyway.

Imagine my surprise when I got an email confirming my attendance at a listening session in a¬†recording¬†studio in inner Sydney. I must confess to being nervous before going. Although yes I am a fan of Darren’s music, I can’t compare to those obsessive fans who can reel off facts and who know every details about Darren’s life and career. I have never been that comfortable being that sort of fan about any artist to be honest although I have been in the past.

It was a beautiful sunny day three weeks ago when I turned up at the studio. I made sure that I got there an hour early and was fortunate enough to get into the courtyard area. I sat quietly with another fan even when most of the other people were ushered out to wait in the street. It does pay to be well-behaved at times.

By the time they were ready to let us in, we had to leave any bags and electronic devices with security. We were scanned with one of those portable security wands. I guess they had to make sure no unscrupulous person would record it. The confirmation email had advised that we had to be prepared to be patted down and I was ready for that but sadly no action for me on that front! The security guys were very friendly and apologetic about the security arrangements but no one seemed to mind.

There were about 100 fans and we all sat in the main orchestral room. Darren’s sister Tracey, who runs the fan club, spoke with us about the album and how Darren and his family were very appreciative of the fans’ support. Darren himself couldn’t be there but he had recorded a video introduction which was a nice touch. It was nice to have an artist who is genuinely supportive of and grateful to his fans. A rare thing these days.

And then it was time to listen to the album.

I musy say that this was a very unusual way to listen to an album for the first time. Well, for me anyway. I felt a sense of desperation, knowing that I was going to hear it only once and then having to wait two months to hear it on my terms. I was trying to recall every detail so the memory of it wouldn’t totally disappear. Of course, I wasn’t successful in that regard. It was all a distant memory by the time I got home.

I was able to hold on to my general impressions of the album which of course were very positive. This is a more pop friendly album and a lot more accessible than the last one. It has a lot more tighter sound. I think it’s got the potential to be huge. The two songs that stayed with me the longest were the next singles – “Bloodstained Heart” (now out on Australian iTunes) and “Black Out The Sun” (the rest of the world).

We only got to hear the album once. After the last song, Tracey just announced that was it. I wanted to scream out to play it again but thought that wouldn’t be a good idea. There was a brief chat about favourite songs and then it was time to go. I made sure I thanked Tracey for the opportunity. She joked about how cruel it was to only play it once and then make us wait. I had to agree but at the same time I was very appreciative of being able to hear the album.

Thinking about it afterwards, I think it will still be like listening to it for the first time when I finally get the album except the¬†anticipation and the experience overall¬†will be¬†enhanced by having had this sneak peek. At least I know that I won’t be disappointed.

I have also just found out that there is going to be a special edition with seven bonus tracks and a collector’s edition with twelve bonus tracks so there will be the equivalent of a whole album of extra stuff that will be totally new. Exciting or what? ūüôā

An epic clip has been unleashed for “Black Out The Sun”. Darren is currently¬†filming¬†a clip for “Bloodstained Heart” but in the meantime there is a lyric video. Both these songs are different shades of brilliant with “Bloodstained Heart” pipping the post as my favourite. I can’t stop playing them.

And to round it out, here is the video for the first single from the album, “Talk, Talk, Talk”.


The mystery of Isa finally solved

You may recall my recent series of posts where I rediscovered favourite albums of mine that I had not listened to in a couple of years. One of them was “Storybook” by Peter J√∂back. Listening to the album again, reminded me of the mystery of Isa Norberg.

Back in 2004, Isa sang a duet with Peter called “Summer Wine”, a cover of the old Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood hit. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album, partly due to the stunning vocals of Isa Norberg according to the album credits. Later in 2004, I saw Peter in concert and Isa joined him on stage for “Summer Wine”. I fell in love with Isa, her voice and stage presence totally transfixed me.

Well, I thought, someone that talented had to have more of a career than singing one duet but I couldn’t find anything with an Isa Norberg. I kept trying for a while but eventually gave up, thinking the mystery would never be solved.

Listening to the album again recently, reignited my love for Isa so once again, I went hunting and this time I turned up trumps. My internet research skills must be a lot better these days. As I discovered, the difficulty I had in the past was partly due to the fact that Isa had been known by different names and her music had covered different styles from schlager to pop to folk to jazz.

So here, for anyone interested is a potted history of the career of Isa Norberg aka Jessica Pilnäs.

Isa was born Jessica G. Piln√§s and it was under that name that she appeared in Melodifestivalen 1995 (Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest) at the tender age of 16. Her song “Jag ger dig allt” (I give you everything) came third and was a hit for the young singer but, rather than commit to a career straight away, Jessica decided to finish school.

Five years later in 2000, Jessica signed with Sony Records. The record company dubbed her Isa, thinking that were too many Jessicas on the market. As Isa, she released an album called “Pretender” and two singles – the title track and “Everything I Do”. Isa toured with the likes of Robyn and sold well in Japan of all places. This album was very much contemporary pop/R&B.

Here is Isa performing an acoustic version of “Pretender” during a promotional tour of Japan.

Pop wasn’t really Jessica’s thing and she didn’t like being told what to do by the record company so there was no follow up. Jessica got married and started a family. She also¬†studied¬†medicine. Although she was¬†spending¬†her time bringing up her children and studying, Jessica still kept her hand in, guesting on records by Peter J√∂back, Bengan Janson, Vacuum and Nils Landgren.

Thanks to Elin, here is Jessica as Isa Norberg (Norberg being her married name) performing “Summer Wine” with Peter J√∂back.

And this is “Love Earth Cry” by Vacuum featuring the stunning vocals of Jessica Piln√§s.

Nils Landgren released a Christmas album in 2008 and Jessica provided the vocals for “A Child Is Born” performed here on a Swedish TV show.

Stepping back a moment to 2005, as Jessica Norberg, Jessica joined the group Mormors Visor as lead vocalist and released a Swedish¬†language¬†album “S√•dan √§r k√§rleken” (Such is love), a mixture of folk and jazz. A really quite beautiful album. Click on the image below to go to the group’s MySpace page and listen to some of their songs.

Now lets flash forward to 2011. Jessica has finished studying and is now a qualified doctor. She feels ready to get back into music and has recently released a brand new album called “Bitter and Sweet”. Jessica’s first love is jazz and this album highlights her jazz voice. A mixture of original songs and covers done in her own inimitable style. Here is her jazz version of the Eurythmics hit “There Must Be An Angel” which is¬†truly¬†brilliant, as is the rest of the album.

The best thing is that almost everything that Jessica has done is still readily available. All three albums (as Isa, Mormors Visor and Jessica Piln√§s) are up on international iTunes as are the Peter J√∂back, Vacuum and Nils Landgren collaborations. I was able to order Jessica’s latest from Bengans and my friend, the Best Judge, was able to pick up a copy of the Isa album for me on a recent trip to Sweden.

Jessica’s official site:¬†

As far as I can ascertain, that is a run down of the career of Isa Norberg / Jessica Pilnäs. Please let me know if I have missed anything.


Lulu – the songwriter

Most people know Lulu, the singer and entertainer, who has been performing for the best part of five decades and still has the youthful looks and boundless energy of someone half her age.

What some people may not know is that Lulu is an accomplished songwriter, often writing with her brother Billy Lawrie. She has even penned hits for other artists.

Her biggest hit would be “I Don’t Wanna Fight” for Tina Turner, a worldwide hit in 1993 and featured on the soundtrack for the Tina bio pic “What’s Love Got To Do With It”.

David Cassidy scored a US hit with “No Bridge I Wouldn’t Cross” in 1998. Forgive the quality.

You can listen to a better audio quality version here.

“My Angel Is Here” is a beautiful song which was a country hit for Wynonna Judd in 1996.

Of course, Lulu has recorded many of her own songs. Here are a few of my favourites.

The 1999 single “Hurt Me So Bad”.

The 1994 single “Goodbye Baby and Amen”.

This performance of “Gateway To Heaven” was from 1999/2000 but wasn’t released until 2005 on the album “A Little Soul In Your Heart”.


Day Seven – Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Ah, Dusty. The world’s greatest singer ever and that’s not just my (ever so humble) opinion. Dusty had this talent of inhabiting a song and making it her own. She didn’t just sing a song, she interpreted it.

“Reputation” was the first Dusty album I bought back in 1990 and I used to play it to death, even though I haven’t listened to it for a couple of years. Yes, I was a late Dusty convert, thanks to the Pet Shop Boys. They had brought Dusty back into the public eye and to my attention by asking her to duet with them on the classic “What Have I Done To Deserve This” which was a big world-wide hit.

And then came two new hit singles from Dusty, both written and produced by the Pet Shop Boys. “Nothing Has Been Proved” was the haunting but wordy hit from the movie “Scandal”. “In Private” was 80s disco with a 60s retro feel. Fabulous stuff.

Both these singles were included on “Reputation”, an album produced by the Pet Shop Boys (five songs), Dan Hartman (three songs), Andy Richard (one song) and Paul O’Duffy (one song). Despite the mixture of producers, the album does have a consistent flow to it, probably because Neil Tennant was an executive producer for the project.

Possibly my favourite song on the album, is “Daydreaming”, written by the Pet Shop Boys. It really should have been a single. Dusty gets to rap which is remarkable in itself.

The trancy “Occupy My Mind” is another favourite on an album full of favourites.

Two of the non-Pet Shop Boys songs were also singles – “Reputation” and the lush ballad “Arrested By You”.

The high energy “Born This Way” got a run recently when it was touted as a leaked version of the Lady Gaga song of the same name (totally different song though) – and people fell for it!

Here is the camp clip for “In Private”. Dusty is looking fabulous.

The arty clip for “Arrested By You”.

The clip for “Nothing Has Been Proved” featured clips from the movie “Scandal” as well as cameos by Neil and Chris.

The title track “Reputation” is well worth an inclusion.

Finally, here is the 12″ version of “Daydreaming”. Sadly no video or TV performance exists.

I wish that EMI would consider releasing a deluxe package of this album – 2 CDs and a DVD. The second CD could contain all the remixes and the DVD would¬†contain¬†the video “Reputation – The Videos”. Not too much to ask, surely. ūüôā


Day Six – Peter J√∂back – Storybook

Well I had to include an album from Peter Jöback and I have been itching to listen to this album again for a while now. Unlike most of my other Peter-loving friends, I tend to prefer his pop material but I do like to indulge in his more theatrical stuff from time to time.

The idea behind the “Storybook” album was big songs with a story. Songs from stage and screen. And Peter chose well – well known songs mixed up with lesser known gems. This really is a great album.

My one beef (and I’m being mean-spirited here) is there is an instrumental track. As beautiful as it invariably is, “Theme from Schindler’s List” has no vocal. I realise that the album is also a spotlight for Gothenburg’s Symphony Orchestra and this is their track. Actually I should stop being selfish and give credit to the Orchestra for the amazing musical backing they give Peter throughout the album. They really add a touch of class to the proceedings and allow Peter’s strong voice to shine even more.

I have quite a few favourite tracks, including “Always On My Mind”, “I Who Have Nothing”, “I Don’t Care Much” and “Summer Wine”. Peter’s version of “She” has become the definitive one for me and is a favourite among Peter’s fans.

Lets see what I can find on You Tube to give you a taste of this album.

“Always On My Mind” has been recorded by so many including the Pet Shop Boys. Peter’s version is the more traditional one and his voice does lift this up into the stratosphere.

Here is an incredible performance of “She” at an athletics gala.

I really wanted to share “Summer Wine” with you. I found it but someone has put a slideshow of Michael Landon from “Bonanza” to it. Still, you can hear Peter’s voice in duet with Isa Norberg. Isa is really quite wonderful too. I have tried to find out more about her with no success.

“I Who Have Nothing” is one of those great songs and Peter’s version is easily the definitive one for me (sorry Shirley). Actually, a duet between Peter and Shirley Bassey on this song would be nothing short of amazing.