And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

#harkive 2017

Note: this blog entry is for the #harkive project, an annual popular music research project that asks people to tell the tale of HowWhere and Why they listen to music on a single day each year. You can find more about that project on the official site.

I wake up to the sound of Radio 4, perhaps the most middle class of awakenings. It’s on the alarm clock and I quickly switch it off: sometimes you need a coffee inside you before you can stand an extended John Humphrys monologue.

I travel to work in silence besides the noise of the bus, preferring to read a magazine without musical distraction until I arrive at work. My first proper music listening of the day doesn’t start until 11am when I finish all of my just-got-to-the-office catchups, discussions and meetings and am able to escape into my headphones.

I’m quite bad when it comes to listening to old favourites rather than new music so I start off with a classic: At The Drive-In’s 2000 album “Relationship of Command”. I was obsessed with this band in the early 2000s—just after they split—and was a bit disappointed by their recent new album, so I return this one for its sheer urgency and power. Every time I hear it fires me up and takes me back to being 17 and angry, presumably at something.

After this blast I need something a bit more casual so I decide to turn to Wikipedia to see if there’s any musical history happening today. It turns out that July 25th 1965 was the date that Dylan went electric at Newport Folk Festival, so I pop on “Bringing It All Back Home”, some of which featured in Dylan’s controversial set. I was all set to listen to a playlist of the actual songs he performed that day but it turns out nobody’s created one on Spotify and since I’m too lazy, I stick to the album. It’s a good mix: some ballads, some stompers and a classic or two. I still love the laughter at the start of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”.

After lunch I decide I should probably listen to something recorded in the last decade, then remember reading an interview with HAIM the other day which means they probably have a new record out. I caught some of their set at Glastonbury in 2014 and enjoyed it so I give their new release, last month’s “Something To Tell You” a spin. I end up adding “Nothing’s Wrong” to my “class” Spotify playlist (eg. good songs) for its Fleetwood Mac-esque soft rock beauty (and those backing vocals). The rest of the album blurred past as I worked and a few songs piqued my interest, but I find myself more interested in the code I’m writing for most of its duration.

With a post-lunch slump setting in, I decide to take a coffee break and head outside. Before, though, I banish an earworm and play “Ghosts” by the Jam, a song I habitually noodle whenever I pick up a guitar. I first came across it via a cover by Ted Leo, but the original version has a neat horn section in the back of the mix which really picks it up. This song also got used in an episode of Eastenders as the funeral music for Kevin Wicks (aka Phil Daniels of Parklife fame). Trivia!

I spend a little time paging through my music collection for an event I’m running tonight, “Off The Record”. It’s a record club (like a book club) with a different theme each time. This month our theme is “A European Union” so I scan through my library for bands made up of Europeans. It’s harder than I thought – turns out I listen to a lot of North American artists. Amongst the Euros I do track down, though, are Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, The Tallest Man On Earth, Jaga Jazzist and Django Reinhardt. I add these to my playlist for later and leave the office to head to the pub where I run my music event.

On the way there I listen to the ITV Cycling podcast on my phone. They produce a daily show for the Tour de France, recorded by the same staff who produce the TV commentary and daily highlights package for TV. They must do the podcast last and every episode is hilarious because they’re either desperate to wrap up, rehashing stuff they’ve already said on camera, or taking the piss out of each other (probably after a few glasses of wine, too). This might not sound like a great advert but it’s a fun show and the camaraderie between the presenters makes it an engaging listen.

This time I’m catching up on the final episode from Sunday’s stage into Paris, and at one point, presenter Ned Boulting makes a joke about what he can hear in his earpiece from his director when broadcasting live. He jokingly makes a radio fuzz noise into the mic, when suddenly my headphones come loose from the socket and the audio becomes muffled and just emits an irregular clicking noise. I listen to this for almost a minute, thinking it’s an extended joke about how bad their in-ear audio gets, before I realise it’s a problem at my end and plug the cable back in properly. Oops.

Soon I’m at the pub and get the equipment set up for that night’s Off The Record event. Our theme is “A European Union” so we’re listening to music from the continent. I switch on my playlist from earlier for background music but after a while I find Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros a bit too soft (sorry, Joe) so I put on Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (“Shake The Sheets”, perhaps their best record) to liven things up.

Eventually it’s time for our album: each month a group of 20 or so Birmingham music nerds get together and we listen to an album together, then talk about it. It’s an event I’ve been running for two years now and it’s a fun night. This month we’re listening to The Whitest Boy Alive’s 2009 album “Rules” which I’ve never heard before. It’s a danceable, upbeat affair with introspective lyrics and a clean, simple vibe. I enjoy the album, and the songs everyone else plays after it’s done (see the official site for that playlist!). I also contribute a song myself: “Day” by Norwegian jazz fusion pioneers Jaga Jazzist. I can’t stop myself from picking out the piano and guitar notes with my fingers on the table as it plays: it’s that kind of song.

The night draws to a close and I’m probably a few drinks ahead of where I should be, given I have an early flight the next morning. We grab a cab and hear the sound of the city receding behind us as we head home. The last sounds I hear before drifting off are a brief excerpt from the Alan Partridge audiobook—read by Steve Coogan—which is as ridiculous as it is funny.

With the exception of Off The Record this has been a typical day for my music listening, albeit one a little more focused than usual. Deliberating over what to listen to can turn into a Netflix-esque “nah, I don’t fancy that” so it’s refreshing sometimes to just jump into something without thinking too much, like I did with HAIM. Spotify is great at recommending me things I’ve missed, and perhaps I need that gentle nudge to avoid rehashing things I’ve heard a thousand times before. I’ll be checking out the collaborative #harkive playlist to see what other things I missed today.