Glastonbury 2009: Anticipation

Right then.

About this time last year I wrote a similar little note shortly after the lineup had been announced of things I wanted to see and do ahead of Glastonbury, scheduling clashes notwithstanding. Looking at the lineup for this year, I started getting excited again, and figured I would do the same. Similar to last year, the nice thing about the lineup is that there are a lot of artists I know of, but none I’ve particularly thought I’d ever get the chance to see. Also as with last year, I’ll just hit the names down here,Β  and aim to do a full writeup after the fact.

Here goes then:

  • Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs
  • Neil Young
  • Lily Allen
  • The Specials
  • The Streets
  • Rolf Harris
  • British Sea Power
  • Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band
  • Eagles of Death Metal
  • Pendulum
  • Jarvis Cocker
  • Spinal Tap
  • Florence and the Machine
  • Newton Faulkner
  • 2ManyDJs
  • Scratch Perverts
  • Badly Drawn Boy
  • The Lancashire Hotpots
  • Blur
  • The Prodigy
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • Madness
  • Tom Jones
  • Noisettes
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Manu Dibango
  • Roots Manuva
  • Mr Scruff

So, yeh, a bit of a longer list than last time, based on what I’ve seen so far. In addition, some of the stand-up options sound most appealing, as does the Free University of Glastonbury idea. May have to be spending quite a lot of time wandering about the place…

One thing that disappoints me about the lineup is the highly likely clash between Blur and Prodigy – both bands of particular note I would love to see live. If there’s one thing Jay-Z and Massive attack taught me last year it’s that I can’t succesfully mix between the two halfway. Some tough decisions may have to be made…

Obviously, it’s a long list, and many things will clash, especially as I intend to be nipping to and from ‘The Park’ fairly frquently to see what the special guests lineups end up being – I was more than a little gutted to hear I missed Last Shadow Puppets last year. Hmph.

Either way though, I think the essence I’m trying to get across here is this: I’m excited. If you’re going, I hope you are too.

Bob Dylan: The Way Live Music is Meant to Be?

Set List: http://www.boblinks.com/050209s.html

So, last night I was in Glasgow at the SECC watching Bob Dylan and his band live in concert for the first time.

I’ve wanted to see Dylan live for a good few years since I was first introduced to his music and I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Going into the gig, which I was attending with Steve, Craig, and Steve’s flatmate Gordon, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Steve had seen him before on a couple of occasions, and his advice, in agreement with what I’d heard / read elsewhere seemed to suggest this was a good thing. Expect nothing. Don’t expect to recognise the songs until you hear the lyrics, and the like. They were right. It was like no other gig I’d been to before.

First up, no support acts. Hardly surprising I guess, given the man’s fame and reputation, it would be bloody difficult to have the task of warm up act. Secondly, he simply doesn’t need it. It detracts nothing from the occasion in there being no support act present. The feeling of anticipation in the arena before the show commenced at around 19:45 was electric as it was. If anything, a support act runs the risk of diminishing that feeling.

Secondly, a notable lack of spoken interraction with the audience, right up until he announced the names of his band members as the show closed up. Again, not a bad thing, but just not something I’ve experienced from a ‘standard’ gig, where the centre piece of the group is more than happy to harp out the same old cliche’d arguments to an already excited crowd. If anything, I appreciate the lack of it, but it was also a notable change to the other gigs I’ve been to in the past.

Thirdly, and as forewarned, the incredible differences in the songs being played to the point that they are unrecognisable from any recorded versions I’d heard, until he started singing. Steve mentioned whilst we were beering before the show that the reason he heard for this from Dylan’s point of view is that he’s never been completely, 100% happy with any song he’s recorded, so why shouldn’t he mash them up and try to perfect them live? Even if that means taking the songs off on a tangent that hadn’t been thought of when they were first written. It actually makes a whole lot of sense, and to me, emphasises the ‘artist’ quality that Dylan seems to ooze – never quite content, never afraid to try something different, regardless as to how it may be received. An admirable quality, regardless of what you think of the songs themselves.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, the music itself. It doesn’t matter whether you think it ‘works’ or not – for me personally, some of it on the evening worked better than others, but that’s the nature of experimentation – the thing about it was that it seemed to be note perfect. Both Dylan and all the band members were on exactly the same page at every step through every song, and you’re left with the impression that one would have to try bloody hard to pull up just one note that was out of place. Maybe I’m overly keen to praise given how much I enjoy his music, but to me this screams emphasis on the artist permanently seeking perfection. These twists to old tracks haven’t just been toyed with one night and rolled straight out, they’ve been born out, practised, tweaked, practised some more until they’re ready to be performed.
The one exception to this during the set was Thunder on the Mountain which, whilst having twists from the recorded version – and sounding much more powerful – was easily recognisable from the first few notes.
Another interesting point relating to the music itself? Not one track from the new album that came out a few days before. Very refreshing.

Favourite Tracks / Moments:

  • Maggie’s Farm is a personal favourite track of mine. Heightened by the fact that this was the first performance of the evening, I thoroughly bloody enjoyed it. [ ~ YouTube ~ ]
  • Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – or, more specifically, Dylan’s Harmonica solo towards the end of it – was sublime. The whole track was superbly put together, but the harmonica elevated it to an entirely different level. Simply stunning. [ ~ YouTube ~ ]
  • Highway 61 Revisited. Another track that I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I adore, largely for it’s entertainment factor, and simple ‘jumpability’, before even looking at the lyrics. This version left me, quite surprisingly, stunned. It genuinely did take me right up until he started singing before I could work out what was being played, but knew I was going to enjoy it. Whilst perhaps not being musically similar, it reminded me of the excitement I get listening to the recording of Isis from The Bootleg Series Volume 5: The Rolling Thunder Revue from the point of view that it was so loud, boisterous, pwoerful and yet clearly so carefully executed that it just left me awe-struck. Special. [ ~ YouTube ~ ]

Of course, I could highlight many, many more, but that would sort of defeat the point of trying to pick out highlights. It was all excellent. The encore surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting to hear All Along the Watchtower [ ~ YouTube ~ ], and thoroughly enjoyed the version I got to hear, as I was with The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll [ ~ YouTube ~ ], in a rendition that brought quite a surreal twist to something I was used to hearing at a much slower, mournful pace.

General Conclusions:

You may have already guessed – I had a superb time, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the concert. As Craig commented beforehand, “It’s not every day you see an artist perform that influenced artists like the Beatles”.
And I know what he means.
There’s something slightly surreal (and more than a little exciting) about seeing an artist perform that has had such a lengthy career, playing songs he first recorded decades before you were born, but that you’ve listened to maybe one hundred times or more, and playing them in such a completely different manner that only the lyrics reveal their true identity.
It’s also exciting to see such an artist perform in such a way – rather than churning out the old favourites note-perfect as if they were playing the CD through the loudspeakers – I know why they do it, but that doesn’t make it as exciting as seeing someone constantly striving to shake it up and try something different.
And I think it’s that that I find so fascinating about Dylan. Of course, I love the music anyway, from a lyrical level as much as from an instrumental level, but it’s that extra twist – the defiance – the ability and the strength of mind to constantly try and break his own cycles, and to deal with the consequences later. To reinvent himself, I suppose. But none of those terms really do justice, as they’re banded about the place all too often and with such liberty that they become watered down, weak and, ultimately pointless. And, to me, Dylan is anything but that.

Isn’t he just reactionary? Isn’t it all a ploy to keep people guessing and writing about him? Does he really care? Isn’t he passed his best? Hasn’t he sold out? Yadda-yadda.

Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. The question I have to ask is does it really matter? Whether any of the above questions are valid or not is largely irrelevant. If they are true, then he’s executed them in a considerably more ‘ballsy’ manner than any other leading performance artist in the field. And he’s pulled it off exquisitely. If they’re not true then, well, they’re not true. πŸ™‚

Are there songs I would have liked to have heard? Of course – but with such an extensive back catalogue that’s always going to be the case. One of the things that ‘does it’ for me about Dylan is the simple fact of the variation, the ever-present chance of surprise / disappointment / excitement / awesome. It makes it fresh. It makes it exciting. It makes it interesting. It makes it live.

Would see again without hesitation.


You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
You need something to make it known
That it’s you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you’re sitting
That the world ain’t got you beat
That it ain’t got you licked
It can’t get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope’s just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner ’round a wide-angled curve

Bob Dylan – Last Thoughts on Woodie Guthrie

Glastonbury Festival 2008

Well, it’s been a good day or so since we made it back to the real world after 5 days down in deepest Somerset to attend Glastonbury Festival 2008, so I thought it was about time I set about trying to actually write about it. This is that attempt.

In the Beginning

Attending the Festival as a group was John, Mike, Owen, Duncan, and myself. Duncan would be joining us on the Thursday, whereas the rest of us drove down on Wednesday. The journey down was uneventful, but we had the vehicle packed to the rafters with bags, tents, booze, and Pot Noodles. There really was little else.

The Music

So, this is the selection of artists I actually managed to see live whilst I was there. Of course, the sad thing is that I will miss some artists out, particularly those that I heard in passing or caught their sets midway through on the Wednesday or the Thursday, where no published program seemed to exist to help me find out the names of some of the funky musicians I listened to.
More or less, this list is in chronological order, starting on Thursday with The Levellers, and finishing with The Verve on Sunday night. You can fill in the other times and days yourself, or just trust me when I say they follow through the weekend…

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see everybody I’d wanted to see, but I did get a fair old whack at things.

The Levellers

[last.fm linkage]
Various signs around the place on Wednesday and during the day Thursday had made it fairly clear that the Levellers were performing, and I decided pretty early on that I had to go see them. I don’t know why I thought that, because I’d only ever heard one track by them (knowingly) pre-Festival, and that was Just the One. But I went anyway, and plodded down to the Left Field tent in the pissing rain to try and get inside and be remotely dry whilst watching and listening. The place was full to the rafters.

As to the performance. Personally, i thought it was brilliant. Everybody loved it, lots of singing along, the sounds quality was good and the atmosphere was great – a really solid band to unofficially kick things off. Shame I got piss wet through in the process, but that’s what it’s all about I guess!

Kate Nash

[last.fm linkage]
Mornings soon proved to be not the best of times for our merry little crew, be it because we were sleeping, recovering, or just plain ol’ procrastinating instead of going out there and listening to music. Thanks to that, we arrived pretty late to see the last couple of songs Kate Nash was performing.

Kate Nash tends to get quite a lot of flack, or so it seems to me anyway and, if I’m honest, I think I was the only one of us who quite fancied going to see what she was like live, which probably doesn’t score me any points on the heterosexual scale. Bugger.
Still, I have to say what I saw at the end of the set was good, if you like the stuff she does, which I do. It’s entertaining, easy to listen to, and amusing, which is just fine in my book.

The Subways

[last.fm linkage]
To be honest, I hadn’t listened to much Subways stuff before the festival and wouldn’t have initially rushed anywhere to see them. I have the first album lying around somewhere and it occasionally gets a listen to and does the job well. However, they followed Kate Nash on the Pyramid Stage so we figured, why the hell not? There was nothing else particularly pressing that I wanted to see in the morning anyway.

As with what I saw from Kate Nash, I enjoyed it. They seemed to have a fairly solid stage presence and were fairly interesting to listen to. I only recognized a couple of songs from the first album, and wasn’t entirely sold on all the new material they tried out, but it was fun. Would see again (at a Festival… probably wouldn’t go out of my way to buy tickets).

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs

[last.fm linkage]
Fecking brilliant. John summed it up afterwards by commenting that this sort of thing is exactly what Glastonbury should be about- variation and random fun.

The atmosphere was brilliant, the performance was amusing and captivating and generally to a pretty good quality considering the washboard was in action. The three of them did brilliantly and genuinely seemed to convey an almost humble attitude to being there. They may have opened by saying it was a joint effort between the audience and them, but it really did seem that way as it went on – every single person in the room seemed to become a real part of the gig. Simply brilliant, and I hope to see these guys again at a future point. Try and listen to some of their stuff, it’s fun! πŸ™‚

Alabama 3

[last.fm linkage]
Over to the Jazz World stage, this was another artist I really didn’t know very much about (except, of course, the Soprano’s Theme πŸ™‚ ). They’re fascinating. In a really weird sort of way. I really can’t even begin try and describe them, as I wouldn’t know where to start. The vocals are a strange mixture but they seem to work and there’s something completely unavoidable about how cool and, dare I say it, funky the whole band is. Genuinely interesting.

Candi Staton

[last.fm linkage]
Everyone knows and loves at least one Candi Staton song, even if they don’t know her by name. And, arguably, this was one of the best sets I saw over the whole weekend.

Simply put, she’s brilliant. Superb voice, great stage presence, and everyone loves the music. She belted out some absolute classics, seemed to hit every note just the way she wanted to, and seemed to be havingΒ  a great time being there. If you didn’t see her, you missed out, regardless of whatever else you saw in her place. Sorry, you just lost the game.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals

[last.fm linkage]
The start of a crazy evening.
I’ve seen Fun Lovin’ Criminals before, in Lancaster, and thought they were great then. This time, they also didn’t disappoint, although I had a much more relaxed approach to watching them – that being that I was wandering around the gig on my own, too drunk for my own good, and talking to strangers (see ‘Reckless Abandon’, below for more). So in many respects, they were background music. But it’s great background music. This set also served to remind me that I should listen to them a bit more often. Tasty.

Sinead O’Connor

[last.fm linkage]
I was pretty excited at the prospect of being able to see Sinead O’Connor live in the run up to the festival, and so was a little disappointed with hindsight to admit that I didn’t actually see the show.
I was there – please don’t think I skipped it all together – but I just heard it again as background music whilst I was talking to two very nice people from the Czech Republic. Good times.

What I heard was good though, although it would be hard to claim she has a bad voice and, as with FLC, it was really nice to have good music going on around you whilst you could sit and talk to strangers, embarrassing yourself along the way. Lovely jubbly. I also failed to spot if she still had a shaved head, so anyone who can help confirm / deny that it would be much appreciated.

Kings of Leon

[last.fm linkage]
I’ve enjoyed listening to the Kings of Leon ever since I first heard Molly’s Chambers, which always struck me as fairly fun and easy to listen to. However, I will quite happily take the points made by both John and Mike that, relatively speaking, they are quite a boring band and don’t bring anything new to the table. That doesn’t bother me though. One thing Glastonbury reaffirmed for me is that I’ve largely got past worrying about where the music’s come from, what it means, what it brings to the table, or whether its overrated, ‘sold out’, or any other such phrases. Of course, if a songs got an emotional background, pushes boundaries and has something I can relate to in it then it will be preferred, but it doesn’t stop me just enjoying listening to things non-committally.

And so it was with Kings of Leon. I knew when I saw them announced that they were one of the few acts I would feel I _had_ to see whilst at Glasto, purely because what I’ve heard recorded I’ve enjoyed and – just as with so many other acts at the Festival – I really wanted to see what they could do live.

Honest verdict? I was disappointed. I enjoyed the songs, but I felt as a live act they were simply dull. I think I was expecting a bit more stage presence, and probably beer. I wanted rock and roll but all I got was this lousy CD-quality experience.
That’s not to say they were necessarily bad though. I did enjoy what was played and had a little solo boogie all to myself in my slightly spaced out state but, in future, I wouldn’t be overly bothered whether I saw them or went to see something else.

Pete Doherty

[last.fm linkage]
Following the end of Kings of Leon, I staggered up towards The Park to see the end of Pete Doherty, seeing as he’s another artist I really haven’t heard much from. I literally arrived right towards the end, but from what I did see and hear, he did a good job. Well played that man.

James Blunt

[last.fm linkage]
No one will believe me, but this was largely accidental. We lost Owen, and I had to hold the fort whilst the search parties went their separate ways. Turns out it meant I got to sit / sleep through this. Everyone there seemed to love it, good for them. Have to admit I was strongly apathetic, letting this rank as my biggest regret / wasted time moment of the weekend. It’s not that he’s necessarily bad, he’s just not really anything I’m into.

The Raconteurs

[last.fm linkage]
I dozed a little bit for this as well, but I thought they did a pretty good job overall. I knew hardly anything about them before sitting through it, and I probably would see them again given the chance. Not much more to say though really.

Manu Chao

[last.fm linkage]
Another artist I was determined to ensure I caught at least once during the festival, we decided to stick at the Pyramid Stage and see Manu Chao there. They didn’t disappoint. Energetic, upbeat, and all under the late afternoon sun. It couldn’t have been better.

A great mix of their songs, some new, some old, all timeless, it was everything I would have hoped for from a Manu Chao gig. Would definitely try to see them again.

Amy Winehouse

[last.fm linkage]
Not really a lot to report on this one that would be classed as ‘new news’, seeing as how everybody seemed to be talking about it and the ‘Punch up’ incident since the Festival. However, I thoroughly bloody enjoyed it. She was incoherent at times (could have been the sound levels). She was tottering about looking rather unstable. And the dress wasn’t the most flattering. But fuck it. She also has a brilliant voice and got stronger and stronger as the show went on. If newspaper reports are to be believed, and if she really is ‘ruining herself’ then, yes, of course it’s a shame and a sad story but, at the same time, if she’s having fun and making good music then… meh… maybe I’m just being selfish, but I actually quite enjoy seeing musicians embrace the rock and roll spirit every now and then. They’re only human, afterall. Why should their mistakes and life choices be plastered all over the place? And why should it bother us from a music point of view? To me, it shouldn’t.

So, Miss Winehouse, well done on the performance. I salute you.

Jay-Z

[last.fm linkage]
It’s been spoken about enough, but the intro was brilliant, and showed a solid sense of humour. To then open up with 99 Problems was something I knew and appreciated. Good song.

Whilst I didn’t watch the entire set, the first half I watched was good. It was entertaining, had a decent variety of samples that brought back some songs I hadn’t heard for a long time, and it brought variety and controversy to the floor. I certainly hope there’s hip hop at next year’s Festival, even if it doesn’t headline. It brings it back to being a Festival in celebration of music, in all its forms.

Massive Attack

[last.fm linkage]
Given that the timetables clashed between Massive Attack and Jay-Z, I was only able to catch the last bit of Massive Attack before retiring for sleep. From what I saw, and from what I heard others say, it was epic. Great use of lasers as well. A little part of me is gutted I didn’t see it all, but then I was glad I got to see Jay-Z.

Neil Diamond

[last.fm linkage]
There’s very little that can be said against this mighty fine individual. In fact, if I had to nitpick, it would be because I thought his acknowledgement of the applause he received was a little repetitive – there’s only so many times I can hear “thank you so much” and hearing it after every song got a little boring.

Still, it was actually a lot better than I’d hoped it would be, with highlights clearly including Sweet Caroline and, for me at least, Pretty Amazing Grace since I’ve enjoyed the song immensely since I first heard it (repeatedly) on the Radio when it was released. It sounds just as good live.

Good clean fun would be a good way to describe the set. The afternoon sun made it very continental in it’s party atmosphere. Wild.

Goldfrapp

[last.fm linkage]
Yet another band I really didn’t know enough about / of before going to the Festival, I was very pleasantly surprised at quite how much I liked them. Granted, I dozed through a good portion of the set, but the music clearly wasn’t so offensive I couldn’t sleep to it. Great voice, and really quite interesting, I can imagine I’ll listen to more of this stuff before too long. Good job.

Leonard Cohen

[last.fm linkage]
The one artist I feel I can write an unhealthy chunk of text about.

Without doubt, this was the single greatest performance of the weekend (in my humble opinion), even if I wish to put all the weight of that achievement onto one song – Hallelujah. Simply stunning. Words don’t even come close. I am being completely honest when I say I don’t think I have ever seen any other live performance that has simply knocked me for six on an emotional scale as watching Mr Cohen belt out his version during this set. It actually makes the original album version seem rather disappointing by comparison, and it’s a song I absolutely adore.
As it happens, I had also been listening to Jeff Buckley’s version of the song a few too many times to be healthy in the weeks before the Festival, and that had always managed to intrigue me, but by comparison, it can’t do anything like Cohen’s version can. It’s husky, it’s candid, it’s bare bones, and it’s brilliant. It seemed to get possibly the greatest applause that I witnessed during the weekend and, if everybody was doing as I was, it was automatic. I could think of nothing else but applause. I couldn’t have shouted anything out. It genuinely hit me like a bottle of wine.

Maybe it was because I was still in a mildly fragile state from the previous few days, but it brought me bloody close to crying. Sad? Probably, but it’s the truth. Whether it was the combination of the music and the setting sun, with the added mix of having the entire crowd hanging off his every word with adoration or not I really don’t know. But it was special. I’ve linked a mobile phone video that somebody put on YouTube below. Check it out if you like. It’s rather good.

In many ways, it was a shame that Hallelujah came in the middle of the set because, as Mike said, it meant that the next few songs almost felt disappointing, but in so many ways I really don’t think Cohen cared, and he definitely kept everyone on board and interested as he continued through the rest of his set.

If you ever get the chance to see Cohen live, do it. Don’t think twice about it. Don’t wait. Just do it. You probably won’t get many chances. If he’s performing at a Festival near you and there are tickets left, buy them, and go. You will not regret it. It’s a statement I’m probably going to grow up to hate myself for saying, as it sounds a bit weak, but he’s an amazing performer, coming across as very commanding over his domain whilst at the same time seeming genuinely humble and honoured to be so adored. Plus, seeing as all his songs are largely, and primarily poems, I would be very surprised if he ever performs the same song quite the same on any two occasions. Brilliant.

Go watch the video: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_tPQQLMXmQ4

The Verve

[last.fm linkage]
Probably the one band I was most excited about pre-Festival. The performance itself has no doubt been well documented. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially Bitter Sweet Symphony. Nearly returned me to tears again. I believe it brought Owen closer.

Seriously good show though. Very impressive, and clearly appreciated by all who attended. They were every bit as good as you would expect them to be, and deserve any and all praise they receive. Solid performance.

Reckless Abandon

Friday night was Crazy Friday. In fact, Friday in general was Crazy Friday. But it was brilliant, and full of, you guessed it, reckless abandon.

I did everything my mother always told me I shouldn’t do:

  • I wandered around on my own in a strange new place
  • I drank excessively
  • I spoke to (and accepted gifts from) complete strangers
  • I applied the ‘cocktail’ methodology to my stimulants of choice
  • I picked my nose

With hindsight, it was foolish. It was also bloody brilliant, and something that I’d never done before. That’s not an encouragement though.

Anyway, where to begin? Well, my guess is it started with that Guinness at an ungodly hour of the morning. In so many ways it was a wrong choice, yet it seemed so right at the time. Lovely stuff. Then there could be the Hot Spiced Cider. After all, it’s only apple juice fundamentally, so we were all more than entitled to give it a whirl. Invigorating in and off itself.

As I remember it, at some point after this myself and John returned to ‘base camp’ to get some booze and lunch, by which I mean a Pot Noodle and the remains of the first box of red, red wine. Plodded on down towards The Other Stage to meet up with Michael and co, at which point the cave suit was on (it had started spitting again). Here came the first break, as the rest of them were off to see… someone… can’t remember who, and I headed back to Jazz World for the Alabama 3, ‘bag’ of wine now in hand (the box disintegrated in the rain). According to the strangers I was talking to, it looked quite suspicious, me being in, effectively, a boiler suit with a transparent bag in hand containing an unidentified red liquid. I’m sure they loved it really though.

At the end of the Alabama 3 set,which I enjoyed thoroughly, I latched onto some unsuspecting Welsh folk to chat about my dodgy appearance and why I was on my own (“No, really, I _do_ have friends, they’re just… erm… somewhere else…” πŸ™ ). Just before Candi Staton came on stage, Mike and John found me (apparently, my bright yellow suit stood out… *shrugs*) and we made our way to the rest of them to watch – and subsequently boogie a little to – Candi Staton.
Once more, we got talking to strangers. A couple of fellows from down south, and a considerably older gentleman I’m led to believe was not with them, but who was, certainly, loving life. It was a solid hour of banter, and I thank them for that.

After that, I believe myself and John went back to the tent again, or maybe a few more of us did, to replenish food levels (with Noodles) and to grab another beer. I was to be the only one who wanted to see Fun Lovin’ Criminals over the other options so I set off back down there on my own, this time replacing my sun hat with the Indian Headdress. I could probably cite this as the defining moment of the evening.

On the way from The Other Stage to Jazz World, I stopped for another Cider, and shook many strangers hands, not to mention uttering the famous ‘How’ whilst raising my right hand a good few times. The concept made me giggle.

Arriving at FLC, I decided it was too busy for me to be bothered to get near the front, so I wandered aimlessly (and drunkenly) towards the edge of the sound stage. It was hear that I latched onto my second group of the evening – a jovial bunch of guys from Anfield (of course, I played the dubious card and admitted I was a United fan – not something I would have done sober). They were a really nice bunch and seemed to appreciate my odd attire. They offered me a beer which, for a Carling, settled surprisingly well, and soon introduced me to Gary, which I mistakenly thought referred to Green when they first mentioned him. Apparently, I was wrong, and I can only guess his name should be spelt Gar-E. But that’s just a best guess, the truth is, worryingly, that I have no idea. I know it wasn’t negative, and it made me eager to talk to strangers but beyond that, I’m stumped. The Gar-E suggestion came from Mike.

Anyway, the Jolly Scousers soon departed, and I was back to embarrassing myself in front of another group who, I think, were from London way and were only to eager to provide a screen for me to piss behind – a fact I had forgotten until a couple of days later – I know, I’m an embarrassment to my family. πŸ˜‰

After chatting for a while, I realized that I was risking missing Sinead O’Connor, so I made my apologies and left. On the way I got talking to a delightful couple that were heading towards The Other Stage who decided to share some poppers with me before we went our separate ways. Apparently, they liked my headdress. Lovely folks.

I carried on walking, in my blissful state, up past the Left Field stage, where I stopped briefly to cut short some little kids who were trying to take the piss. I blind-sided them with good temperament and wished them a good festival. I still don’t quite know why, it just seemed easier than ignoring them.

Before long I was up by the Acoustic Stage, sat outside it and returning the ever-increasing number of “Hows” I was receiving, even occasionally going as far as responding with “That’s How… for now [dodgy facial expression]”. It amused me greatly.
Up outside the acoustic stage I got talking to Tom and his Czech girlfriend (Katka?). Lovely people. And really quite interesting. God only knows what they thought of me. All I really remember is repeatedly apologising for ruining their evening. I sat outside the tent talking to them most of the way through Sinead’s set. Her set provided great background music.I also spoke to a group from New Zealand and did a crap job of taking their photo for them numerous times. Even the time I tried to rest the camera on Tom’s head didn’t work. Wacky.
We sat, chatted, had a little smoke to stir things up and laughed about Tom’s apparent knee fetish. Fun times.

After staying just long enough to thoroughly embarrass myself I left to go catch the Kings of Leon set. Feeling fairly content still, the walk there passed quickly, with a silly grin slapped across my face. More “Hows” were exchanged.

Wandering around the crowds waiting for the Kings of Leon, my initial intention was to find Mike and John, who I knew were both meant to be there somewhere. Apparently, they were equally smashed after getting through as much of the booze as they could. Solid performance.

However, I didn’t find them, as I was distracted by a fun-loving group who stopped to talk to me. After providing them with my carefully rehearsed caution – “I warn you, I am an idiot and have spent the evening attaching myself to different people as I can’t find my friends” – we joked, laughed about my attire, and smoked some more, and waited for the show. It was fun, but I sort of drifted away from them mid-Kings of Leon as I seemed to be struck by a niggling sense of paranoia / soberness that left me realizing I may be ruining everyone’s night _and_ the fact that they seemed to think I was gay. I questioned what I was doing, and just switched off and watched the rest of the set on my own. That was rude of me, and I apologise. As with most people I met that night, they were a lovely group, and I shouldn’t have let my social ineptitude stand in the way of me trying to be polite. God damn my shy side!

Before the end of the set, I was talking to another two strangers briefly, as one of them wanted his picture taken with the headdress on. I said he could, provided I was in the picture. He agreed, the picture was shocking, and I apologise for ruining it. Besides that, I don’t remember much of the conversation.

As soon as that set finished, I left and set off for The Park, to see the end of Pete Doherty’s set. I’d forgotten how long a walk it was, and arrived just in time to catch the end of it, although I very nearly didn’t see anything – the multicoloured tower in the corner caught my eye and I walked aimlessly towards it… and past the stage.
You can’t make this shit up.
So, after doubling back on myself to see the end of Doherty’s set, I was at a loss as to what to do I realized I was still on my tod, 5 hours after I’d last seen any of my friends, and I was sobering up.

I took a stab in the dark and guessed that the rest of them might be in the Dance Village, so I set off down there feeling distinctly alone.
When I couldn’t spot them, I turned around and walked back up to the tent (near The Park). When they weren’t there, I went _back_ down to the Dance Village where I got a little bit worried when one reveller threw his arms round me and tried to tell me that I had his hat. I don’t remember what exactly I said to him, but I think I took his comments as more threatening than they were intended. So, sorry for that.
If they were meant threateningly however then you, sir, are a cunt, possibly the only one I met that weekend.

As I got back to the tent, John and Mike arrived, both thoroughly drunk. I was glad to see them and chirped up a lot. Shortly after John threw up and passed out. I took photos. Mike had a Pot Noodle (I think). Then we grabbed some Strongbow and headed up to the Silent Disco in The Park, for all of about 30 minutes, after which it closed, and we returned to camp to sit around and talk. Mike slept, and I decided to wait up for Owen and Duncan, like a paranoid parent. I still don’t know why, I guess I just wasn’t sleepy.

And that kids, is the story of Crazy Friday. Or, at least, my interpretation of it. I’m sure the others have their own specific stories and fables as to how their evening went, but that was mine. It was truly reckless, spur of the moment, and surprised me in that regard, but it was also just pure fun, and the first time I’ve ever really felt an significant effect from pills. Very interesting, if not very clever.

The Food

Not the cheapest but – when you balance it off against the circumstances – not ridiculous either. I believe Mike estimated, and we concurred, that you could easily buy every meal of the day for Β£15 each day. Which really isn’t as bad as it could have been, as that estimate is on the generous side in as much as we would feel full after such a day
We, however, took many Pot Noodles with us, and a good few cans of beans (some even with added sausage!) and a spot of soup. We ate (relatively) well, but I don’t want to look at another Pot Noodle for at least another year, no matter how good they were at the time..!

Of course, it also fails to factor in beer. I’m glad we took our own.

Averaged Β£3 a pint, which for a festival isn’t bad, although there were surprisingly few bars offering the bitter.

However, the Hot Spiced Cider stall went down a treat – total win. And, dare I say it, fecking lovely.

Regrets

Surprisingly few, really.

One big one is that I didn’t get to see Duffy. I really should have forced myself off my arse and gone and seen her. Nothing wrong with the Raconteurs, but I do rather like the Welsh girl.

Another one would probably be for the few artists I really wanted to see but didn’t manage it – namely Groove Armada, the full Massive Attack set, and Fatboy Slim.

Yet another one would be that I didn’t spend more time around The Park. Some good stuff on up there.

One more? Missing out on Tony Benn because of a timetable change. I actually wasn’t that bothered to see him pre-Festival,Β  but the disappointment of a later schedule-change bothered me. Fucker. πŸ˜‰

Final one? Not taking the Monday off work. Not only because it nearly killed me, but because I would have rather enjoyed going fookin’ crazy on the last night. That would probably have killed me as well.

Conclusions

Glastonbury really doesn’t need a conclusion. It met and surpassed all my expectations.

However, one caveat – keep the variation. Maybe hip-hop doesn’t warrant a headline slot yet, but it needs a place. Good hip-hop is, well, good. And it was a brave choice. So bravo.

If you get the chance, go to 2009. And if you do, let me know. We’ll beer.

Songs that make me go ‘Oooh’

That’s right, another list πŸ™‚

Basically an ongoing collection of individual songs that, for whatever reason, give me a weird tingly feeling whenever I hear them. The sort of song that makes me, quite literally, want to stop in my tracks and just appreciate it.
I’m sure some of them will drop from the list in time, and others will arrive to replace them, but I figured I’d share, even if it’s only me who gets such a feeling from them. I won’t try to explain even what it is about them that I like, as I really don’t know, but there’s obviously something.

  • Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah [last.fm]
  • Johnny Cash – Hurt [last.fm]
  • Fairouz – Ya Tayr [last.fm]
  • Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven (MTV Unplugged) [last.fm]
  • Zwan – Love to Love [last.fm]
  • The Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide [last.fm]
  • Sinead O’Connor – All Apologies [last.fm]
  • Bob Dylan – Love Sick [last.fm]
  • (hed) Planet Earth – The Meadow [last.fm]

Glastonbury Lineup Anticipation…

Well, the lineup for Glastonbury 2008 has been announced and, unlike a lot of comments I’ve seen posted in places, I’m actually rather looking forward to it.

It’s a weird one though because, with one or two exceptions, there’s no particular artists that have been announced that I could say I’m huge-mega-omgwtf fan of, but there’s just a whole bunch of artists that I’ve heard a good deal by and / or would just be really interested in seeing what they’re like live. To mention a few in such a position are:

  • Kings of Leon
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Spiritualized
  • Groove Armada
  • Kate Nash
  • The Zutons
  • Newton Faulkner
  • Fatboy Slim
  • Sinead O’Connor
  • Fun Lovin’ Criminals
  • Candi Staton
  • Manu Chao
  • Hot Chip
  • Duffy
  • Pendulum
  • The Verve

There are obviously others beyond that as well (if there’s nothing else on I’d be quite interested in seeig The Subways and Joan Baez for example), but that gives a rough impression from my first looking through it.

It looks like it’s going to be quite a cool mix all-in-all, with Manu Chao, Groove Armada and Kings of Leon topping my list of ‘really want to see’.

Bring on the rain.

This Month…

… I have mostly been listening to a few albums that I’ve recently found I really quite like. Some I expected to and our fairly new acquisitions, some are ones I’ve had lying around for a good while but never really listened to.

Top of that list is an album I really should have listened to earlier, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips. I seem to remember there being a lot of noise about this when it first came out, but I never really gave it much time of day / heard much of it. Having listened to it more recently, it’s easy to say the Do You Realize?? has fast become a firm ‘favourite of the minute’ track, and in general I find the whole album just quite pleasant to listen to and somehow seems a little bit different and quirky. If you haven’t listened to it before, give it a whirl. I think you may be impressed.

Another album that’s a bit more recent but features some sheer legends has also made it onto my ‘Must Buy’ list of the minute – Raising Sand by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. It’s a great collection of songs from varying sources done really, really well. I don’t think I’m alone in saying both Plant and Krauss have voices capable of capturing the listener, and the two gel perfectly together. As with The Flaming Lips, it’s not massively upbeat and chirpy, but it’s addictive. Fortune Teller and Please Read the Letter are the tracks I’ve found myself pulling back to time and again, but I really can’t fault the rest of it either. Go have a look-see. πŸ˜‰

One more that’s not quite old news, buthardly cutting edge either is an album that, to be fair, completely surprised me as it was a whole lot better than I expected it to be, and that’s Made of Bricks by Kate Nash.
I bought it solely on the strength of the first single, Foundations which, against all my usual judgement, was a song I just plain enjoyed. There’s something oddly refreshing about her vocals, perhaps in a slightly ‘earthy’ way. A bit like the same reason I enjoyed the Sandi Thom album, it’s just got something about it that (probably) is ‘genetic’, ‘popular’ and ‘all over the place’ at the minute, but then I don’t really follow the charts, and it sounds fun to me. That, and there are some really, really stunning tracks on there. In my humble opinion… πŸ˜‰ Check out Nicest Thing if you haven’t heard it recently.

And finally, because otherwise this could drag on all night, an album that I’ve had for years and was one of the first albums I bought by this artist – Bob Dylan‘s Blood on the Tracks. I can’t help it, I fookin’ love it. And it’s one of these albums that I go through phases of. I can listen to it on repeat for a good long time and not get old of it, then suddenly I’ll go weeks without listening to it – not through choice, just that it doesn’t jump out at me for a little while. Then I’m right back into it. It’d be too hard to single a track out as a favourite, and too easy to go ahead and list the entire track listing, so here’s a current (as of today) feeling about a top 3 tracks from the album: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Tangled Up in Blue, and Idiot Wind.
Simply sublime.

So there it is, a bit of what I’ve been listening to recently, album-wise. And before any ‘connected folks’ point it out, I know this doesn’t fully reflect my current last.fm User Profile. That’s because I’ve been mostly sticking these on my CD player in the car going to and from work. So much so in fact that I haven’t been able to listen to the latest edition of LUGRadio yet!

In other news, I’m still reading Dune by Frank Herbert. I really should have finished it by now but haven’t been concentrating on it. Now that I’m not on Eve Online in my free time, I should hopefully get that polished off in the next few days. Not sure what I’m going to be reading next, mind. I still owe a promise that I’d try to read some Harry Potter books, as much as the thought bothers me, although I doubt I’ll be doing that quite yet. Procrastination’s bad though kids, mkay?

A Few (Good) Things

The evening is still (relatively) young, but already I’ve just sat listening to The Black Box of Jazz which, whilst I’ve owned it for at least 4 years, I haven’t yet listened through all 4 CD’s back-to-back like I did tonight.
Simply put, it’s brilliant, and there are some individual tracks on there that are simply outstanding. I’ve heard all the tracks off the box set at certain times before, but listening to it start to finish really highlights how good those tracks are.
Just figured I should share.

For the rest of my highly resourceful day, I’ve watched two films – Evan Almighty, and Blade Runner.
First up was Evan Almighty which, judging by the trailers I saw over summer, I thought could be a good laugh. Frankly, I was disappointed.
It was amusing at times, and probably in a group atmosphere there would be many laughs shared, but I just didn’t find it as funny as I guess I expected to. I was also struck by a strange thought – all the general impressions of what an Ark should look like strike me as fundamentally flawed: the thing has no apparent sails, and yet clearly doesn’t (shouldn’t) have an engine, which means the thing basically just floats. In a flood scenario, where there are potentially many hazards to hit, this strikes me as foolish to have effectively ZERO control over where it should be heading. Just a thought.

Second up, Blade Runner, a film I should have watched long ago but didn’t.
Again, to be honest, I found myself a little disappointed. Not too much, but enough to remember.
It has plenty of very good moments but overall it just seemed to fail to capture me in the way I thought it would. I can’t single out anything that’s particularly wrong with it, I guess I’d just leave it saying it didn’t do all I thought it could for me… πŸ™‚
Still, I reckon it’s a film everyone should at least try, maybe it just caught me on an off-day, following so closely as it did to my viewing of Evan Almighty.

And that’s it really. I guess the subject line is a little off. It should probably read ‘One Good Thing and A Couple of Moderate-to-Pretty Good things.

Meh.

Free Music

A little selection of some pleasant little albums available under Creative Commons licenses on Jamendo.com. Available links under each name.

Stark – Lounge Immersion

Some nice jazzy moments.

Various Artists – Bluebox Sampler, Vol. 1

A cool little mixture of rock tracks, along with some really mellow numbers. Some really nice tracks.

Download Here

All:My:Faults – The Anger Manifest EP

Quite heavily electronic rock-bordering-metal tracks. A good front voice and it all works well together. I like it, but I don’t quite know why yet. I keep thinking it’s because it’s a little bit Rammstein-esque, with a twist.

Download Here

The TenGooz

With presently four available albums for download, there’s not one of them I wouldn’t recommend you have a listen to. Japanese group, but singing in English, all in an upbeat, almost-ska, funky little package with a solid bassline and fun guitar.

Download Here

Piergiorgio Lucidi – JazzMoves

Nice.

Download Here

Goo Goo Cluster – Goo Goo Cluster

Funkier than a funky thing on funky stuff. Try it.

Download Here

Zweeback – Zweeback

Relaxed, and generally just fairly pleasant easy listening. Worth a try.

Download Here

Revolution Void – Increase the Dosage

I downloaded this ages ago but never really listened to it. However, it came on today, and have to admit it’s rather addictive, mainly because it fluctuates in tempo and volume a bit, which is nice. Quite cool background music.

Download Here

Linux Music Management

Music. Everybody loves music. At least, everybody who’s normal does (that’s fact by the way, right there).

It’s also true that most people now manage most of their music using their Computers, even if only as a medium for transferring them to the latest portable music device.

So, music management is important. It’s important that as people expand their music collection, they can keep track of it all from one location, play it, and do whatever they want with it. For some, that may be too much, and they’d rather find exactly what they want to play and hit play (generally, these people will just use a CD player, it’s easier, and quicker than firing up a computer to play a song or album you can see on your shelf…).

But, for me at least, I like to mix and match what I’m listening to, to try and access the full spectrum of music I own and see where I end, so such things as random selection become important, and other things.

So what I’ve decided to do here is attempt a quick review / run down of how five different Music Management applications perform, things I like about them, things that could be better, things that – for me – are notable in their absence. Where applicable I will also make broad comparisons to the proprietary equivalents such as iTunes, Windows Media Player and… I can’t think of another.

Because all the ones I am looking at here are Open Source and running on Linux. Some of them will be able to run on Windows or OS X, some won’t, some may be currently under development as forks.

The Media Players I’ve chosen to look at (with their version numbers) are:

As you can see from the version numbers (if you use those as a guide), some of these projects are more mature than others and all offer slightly different things. I have used all of these projects for extended periods of time recently, and still use Amarok, so it might come across as bias in some areas. But I use Amarok for a number of reasons, which will follow.

All thumbnails used in each section link to bigger screenshots, just click to follow.

I don’t pretend that these five comprise the only options for Linux users or any other users, but they are the five better ones I’ve tried. Players such as XMMS and others are classics and solid players, but they don’t handle the management part well enough to be included. If you feel there’s something I’ve overlooked, please comment!

All items were used on a PowerBook G4 running Ubuntu 6.10 (Edgy Eft) and the GNOME Desktop.

Amarok 1.4.3

amarok_1a

Amarok (http://amarok.kde.org) is the only player in this roundup to my knowledge that is designed with the KDE Project in mind, and as such is also the Project’s Music Player of choice, coming pre-loaded with the majority of – if not all – distributions that ship KDE. The website states:

Amarok is the music player for Linux and Unix with an intuitive interface. Amarok makes playing the music you love easier than ever before – and looks good doing it.

I think most people would have a hard time disagreeing with that statement.

amarok_1b

The interface is fairly clear cut, whilst a couple of things could be adapted to make it easier for people crossing over from using iTunes or similar. It is intuitive. The album cover manager works well for those who like to be able to view the cover artwork of the albums whilst listening to their music.

Even running Gnome with the default Ubuntu ‘Brown’ in the window title bar you become immersed in the Amarok GUI – it just looks nice. There’s no other way to describe it. I’ll agree, the Windows Media Player GUI isn’t too bad either, nor is iTunes, but I find them both a little overbearing, whereas Amarok comes across as very soft. But that’s a personal opinion one would guess.

Another thing that the Amarok team have done well with is the tight integration to last.fm. A lot of music projects now are including last.fm integration as standard or plugin form, but Amarok, to my knowledge, were one of the very early adapters, and it shows with the maturity the integration has reached. Not only do last.fm Radio stations appear in the Playlists tab, but all songs are quickly and easily uploaded to the last.fm servers whilst you listen and recommended artist and song lists are generated for you to check out – very useful.

As with most things KDE, the options and settings boxes for Amarok offer quite a high degree of configurability, with certainly more options than the Gnome equivalents.

amarok_2

The basic layout when starting up Amarok works something like this: Down the left hand side you have 5 Tabs: Context, Collection, Playlists, Files, and Media Device. In the very latest versions of the software there is also a 6th box that links to the Magnatune servers – an online music store that allows full playback of it’s entire catalogue before choosing whether to purchase or not. Very cool.

Along the top of the window you have all your usual options plus a few Amarok specific ones: Engage (allowing you to play CDs, web streams, or specific folders without yet adding them to your collection), Playlist (for playlist-specific functions, such as undo, clear, add, remove, save, etc.), Mode (repeat or randomize), Tools, Settings, and Help.

Following on from this, the main bulk of the available window space is taken up by the playlist window, showing the songs that have either finished playing or are due to play, along with the usual Forward, Back, Stop, Play, Pause buttons, timetrack, and a spectrum-analyzer for bored.
amarok_3

The Context tab is a great feature for those who want to learn more about the music that’s playing. It itself is subdivided into 3 more tabs: Music, Lyrics, and Artist.

The music tab will provide you with information on the current playing track, linking in with last.fm as mentioned earlier to provide short lists of recommended / related artists and tracks, as well as displaying the current album art (if applicable), the last time you listened to this song, and this songs present rating (by default as based on it’s playback). Below all this there is the list of your favourite tracks by this artist (again, based on playback) and the list of albums by the artist that also reside in your collection. All these albums are expandable to choose a particular track you want to listen to – just drag it into the playlist.

The lyrics tab has also matured over time, and now gives you the option to connect to one of several online lyric sites which it goes off and searches to find the lyrics of the current playing song. It’s a really nice idea, but personally, I’ve found that often, no matter how many of the sites I try, it struggles to find the song I’m listening to exactly and provides some ‘Related Choices’ that seem to bear little or no relation to what I was looking for. However, this could easily be the fault of the Lyrics hosts over Amarok’s.

The Artist tab, on the otherhand, is a very useful tab indeed, if you want to waste time. What it does is takes you to the corresponding Wikipedia page for your currently playing artist and embeds it in the tab. For the well documented artists it is nice to have for extra pictures, band history and the like, but for less well-known artists it just yields empty pages. Of course, the beauty of Wikipedia means that if your favourite band or artist is lacking information, you can add it yourself right there and then.

amarok_4

The Collection tab, to me, highlight’s one of the most important areas as it covers just how the application handles the music it does – ie. How well it does it’s job.

Amarok’s Music Collection is handled in a similar way to others, such as Quod Libet and Exaile, in that the user adds the folders that contain the music into a selection field and then the application goes off and searches that folder and all sub-directories and adds all the music it finds to the collection. The important point here is that it doesn’t actually move the files and put them in it’s own music directory as iTunes would, nor does it track where these files go if the user moves them outside of the ‘Selected Directory’. It simply reads the Selected Directory / Directories constantly and adds changes to the collection and removes ones that no longer exist. As far as I understand this it achieves this through the use of databases to make things simpler. For me, living my life out of the laptop, this is ideal, as it means I configure the player to read all music files from both the music folder in my Home Directory, and on my External Hard Drive. If the External isn’t plugged in then Amarok (obviously) doesn’t show the tracks that are there as they aren’t playable. However, if I plug the external in, then the next time it checks for a collection auto-update, all those songs will appear back in my Collection Tab, ready to play. It also means that if I copy a new CD and slot it into the Music Directory where I want it and organised how I want it to be, Amarok can find it, read the files, put them in collection, and… leave the Filesystem alone! I’m particularly anal about how my music is organized both in my CD Rack, and on my Computer, and so this point is very important to me.

Once in the collection, the files are shown, by default, organized by Artist under subheadings of 0-9, A, B, C etc. Spreading the artists out a little bit when quickly scanning through to find where, for example, the Red Hot Chili Peppers albums are. It also groups Albums containing songs by multiple artists into their own ‘Artist Name’ of Various Artists, which appears at the top of the list. Each artist name is then expandable to reveal the available albums (individual tracks are placed in an ‘Unknown’ box). In turn, each album expands to show the tracks. Double-clicking on any aspect will add the appropriate parts to the playlist – so, if you double click on the Red Hot Chili Peppers then all songs by them will be added to the playlist, if you just double-click the album ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ then just that album’s songs will be added and so on. One downside to this is that it can become frustrating for new users who double click a few too many times to find multiple songs in their active playlist as they add them when they intend to play them, but it takes only a short amount of time to get used to this.
amarok_5

The Playlists tab opens up, as the name suggests, all the playlist options, but also includes the Podcast directories and Radio Streams, all of which you can add and subdivide at will. There really isn’t too much more to add on that point, a host of different Smart Playlists are already in place, and the one other aspect is the Dynamic Playlist option.

Because of the way in which Amarok handles music playing (you add songs from your Collection to a ‘blank’ playlist and wipe or save when finished) there is no real need (yet it exists) for a ‘Shuffle’ or random play button – you are able to create your playlists on the fly with ease and rarely have your entire collection in the playlist – and so the Dynamic Playlists came into play (or so I would have thought). What these do is basically start a script that will constantly keep xx number of songs that are coming up for play in the playlist, and Y number of recently played (xx and y are configurable). As each song plays, one disappears from the recently played and a new song is added to the end. Ad infinitum. It’s effectively random play, but you get to see what’s coming up and make some changes. The one major annoyance I have with this is that if I don’t monitor it closely then I end up with Podcasts or speeches turning up in the middle of my music. Sometimes I appreciate it but it would be nice to be able to block it.

The Files tab gives you access to your filesystem to find files that maybe aren’t in your playlist / have just downloaded or maybe just to move things around. That’s up to you, and I’ll be honest it’s a tab I don’t find myself using often because everything is already in my collection. Still, it’s there.

The final tab on the list is the Media Devices tab, probably more commonly known as the iPod tab. With the rise of such devices nearly all media players feature one of these now, and Amarok is no different. I can’t comment much on its functionality though I’m afraid, as I run Rockbox on my iPod so treat it as a hard drive. Sorry. As far as aesthetics and interface though, the Amarok one stays true to form and truly looks easy. Whether it is or not is someone else’s area of expertise.

Of course though, nothing is ever perfect, nor is Amarok. Whilst it is an excellent Music Manager, it suffers, in my mind on one major level – it is just too KDE. All the extension options that I’ve tried to use whilst running on Gnome just don’t quite match the ease of performance you get when running in a KDE environment. I suppose this is to be expected, but I will provide examples. One major example is burning playlists to CD. If you have K3b installed then you have no problems, but there is no customisation option (that I can find) that would allow you to change this to Serpentine (for example), the default Gnome CD Creator. Now, I’m not getting into an argument as to which is better, but it would be nice to have that choice, even when running KDE. Another (and in my mind, bigger) example is web browsers. Now, for this, there is an option to change your preferred browser when Amarok needs to access the outside world but – in my experience – performance suffers greatly when I have it set (as I do) to Firefox over Konqueror and is generally a pig to the point that I don’t bother to use it.

Another issue I have is that there really are almost ‘too many’ features in Amarok. To really get the most out of things like the Wikipedia hooks, the rating system, and all the other pieces of information you can give yourself you need a really wide screen. Even on the 15″ PowerBook I’m running on the Wikipedia information and occasionally the album information looks too ‘bunched up’, but expanding it loses a lot of the playlist information off the edge of the screen (and I only have Song, Artist, Album, Length, and Type selected!). But then the flipside is that most of the features that exist are features I like and wouldn’t like to miss out on, so drawing the line is difficult.

Rhythmbox 0.9.6

rhythmbox

Rhythmbox is a Music Management app designed specifically for GNOME, and lives up to that name in providing something that ‘just works’ and with limited configuration right out of the box. It is the default Music Management app that ships with Ubuntu on the Gnome desktop and is in most respects the opposite of Amarok. That’s not to say it’s bad though. It does what it does very well. If it didn’t it wouldn’t have such a large userbase.

But it is different. The first thing I noticed back when I first started to try Rhythmbox (about a year and a half ago) was that it looked vaguely familiar. And it still looks the same now, give or take, although other factors have changed so you might not recognise it. The reason it looked so familiar is because it was originally inspired by iTunes, and to the end incorporates some features i Tunes users will be familiar with. By far the most useful of these is the fact that it uses DAAP, which is the same protocol iTunes uses to share music, thus allowing someone using Rhythmbox to see and listen to an iTunes users music on the same network, and vice versa.

As far as the music management goes, again it runs things quite similarly to iTunes. Looking through the preferences allows you to set the Library location, along with a check box to enable watching for new files. Conversely, if files are removed from the library then a list appears under the Library option to show you what’s disappeared. Adding files or folders is as simple as sticking them in the library directory, or by going to Music > Import File.. / Import Music… – fairly straight forward really. This is where you will also find all the other goodies, such as adding a radio station or podcast.

Playlist management works very similarly to iTunes as well. Simply create your playlist on the sidebar, open up your library, and drag and drop the songs you want into your playlist. Arrange them at will.

When you open up the library, what you will be met with is a split-pane window, the top off is occupied by a searchbox, Artists Pane, and an Albums Pane, allowing you to search through for the artist you want, then a specific album if you so desire. The results of your clicks will appear in the lower half, with all the songs and associated information, ready to play or to move into a playlist. The biggest downside to this, in my opinion, is that if you set an album off playing in the Library Pane and then head off somewhere else in your library to see what you want to play after the album finishes you need to be wary. As soon as the current playing song finishes, the next song to play will not be the next one in the album, but whichever artist / album / song you have currently navigated to. Not so bad if you like to make playlists for every album / situation, but I don’t like that. It’s a personal preference though.

And there really isn’t much more to it than that. One really nice aspect is that all the main buttons (Previous, Play, Next, Repeat, Shuffle, Browse) and the timescale are all right there, nice and large, giving easy access to the important functions.

Rhythmbox also stays very Gnome when it comes to Preferences, leaving little to be edited, and more things that can be turned on / off or chosen from a pre-written list. It doesn’t get into the nitty gritty, but it does work. Similarly, plugins are available for a number of different features, covering last.fm, iPod support, and more.

It is very hard to actually knock Rhythmbox down on any specific technical issues as it does just work. The only things I can really knock it back on are my own personal disagreements, which mainly come from liking how I control my music. The fact that everything has to go in just one library screws me up from using my external drive in conjunction with my hard drive, which the collection setup in amarok and some others allows me to do. I also struggle with the playlist idea as it’s just not a process I particularly like. I’m the same with mix-tapes / mix-cds. After a very short while I get bored with them and want to mix something else on there. I can happily go back to the same mix after a break of other music, but listening to anything repeatedly frustrates me. I also dislike having large numbers of playlists available (as I would have to do if I wanted to playlist each album separately). Incidentally this was something I never liked about iTunes either.

Another is the lack of a ‘Various Artists’ grouping such as Amarok has. This leaves me with the same problem I used to have with my iPod that every artist on a compilation album has there own listing, album, and all for one track. It strikes me as illogical. But Rhythmbox is not alone in doing this.

So, whilst there’s not something I can point out as being a single reason for others not to use it, it’s just something that doesn’t ‘feel’ right to me.

Banshee 0.11.1

banshee

Banshee is the fairly new entrant as far as my experience goes and I had high hopes for it. This probably sways my judgement somewhat and it must be taken into account that is still a fairly new project, and has a lot of growing to do before it is as mature as some of the others here.

The reason my hopes were so high for it is that, having used Beagle for desktop searching quite a lot, and having F-Spot recently beat off the competition from Digikam in becoming my Photo-Manager of choice, I figured another Mono-related Project would also be able to sway me. Quite simply it hasn’t. But it still has plenty of time to prove itself. To start with the positives though:

It has to be said that Banshee does look, very simply, delicious. The artwork is clean, simple, and well finished. It has a very polished look to it for such a low version number.

The Preferences and configurability options are, like Rhythmbox, kept to a minimum but provide variables for all the basic functionality you might need. The Music folder can be set here, along with the option as to whether you want to copy the imported files to the folder. Very similar to iTunes in that respect.

There is a notable lack of ‘Smart’ Playlists, which to my mind is a good thing. Playlist management already is quite tidy, with new playlists sitting in their correct place within the library, not sitting after the Podcasts option, which is one minor grumble with some other players. This also aids the visual impact of plugging in an accessory, such as an iPod, as the icons for these appear after the Podcast icon, and help give everything a sense of proportion (Playlists are comprised of Library files, and so such be considered a second level of the library itself – makes sense to me). Once again, I didn’t try to use the iPod connection feature to sync items, but judging by the Project Website’s screenshots it seems that the whole process very much adapts the polished feel and looks almost as though the iPod was designed to be sued with it. As to how well such features actually work at the moment, again, I’m afraid I don’t have the experience with the feature to comment.

As with Rhythmbox, the Plugins are very easy to handle, and simply need checking to be activated and then any minor configuration, where necessary, can be made. The plugins currently available allow for things such as Podcasting, last.fm, and Recommendations. Commendable stuff.

One area in which Banshee is nearly unique to the other options mentioned here it is that it is designed, out of the box, to be a complete solution – you can rip a CD inside it, fix up the tags and make playlists, and then burn an audio CD all in the one project, something open source players up until this point have not really concentrated on as a major issue. This is nice to see

But still, I just cannot warm to Banshee. True, it looks better than Rhythmbox and yet shares many features, but I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of using Banshee over Rhythmbox. I think my primary (and possibly only) reason for this is the Library setup.

Firstly, with the standard Library view, it is exactly what I, personally, do not want from my Music Manager. everything is lumped together in the same list with only the search box in the top right to help find things. Now, it’s true, most of the time I will know what I want to find, but equally there are many times where I just like to scroll through my entire catalogue of music and see what I have. If I was to do this in Banshee I’m sure I would soon be blind. There are no spacers or ways of cutting down the lists at all. Whilst Amarok has the A,B,C collection approach, and Rhythmbox / Quod Libet / Exaile have the artist lists, Banshee just has one big grouping and a search box. Now, I know, by using Mono and given the nature of Beagle (smart searching) and F-Spot (tagging) the search feature has always been enough and is probably every bit as intelligent as Beagle-search is (perhaps one day Beagle will scan ID3 tags and bring back those search results as well) but it just doesn’t cut it for the way I use my Music Management. If I want to skim through my entire library of artists, the very lack of an easier to read list makes that job a lot more difficult and confusing. For example, I have over 300 songs by Bob Dylan alone, by using any of the other Music Managers’ methods of Artist-handling that immediately removes 299 list entries to skim through. I would agree that to many people it’s probably a minor point, but to me it just becomes irritating.

Exaile 0.2.3

Exaile is another fairly new project, setting out to be the Gnome equivalent to Amarok – that is a fully featured music management solution – and it’s started out on the right footing.

The main layout is similar to Amarok with a central playlist ‘whiteboard’ taking up most of the space and tabbed options int the left hand side bar, although it stays ‘very Gnome’ by placing the current track information and album art on the top of the screen and leaving the main play buttons at the bottom of the screen. To find out more artist information you need to navigate the View menu, where you can go to Lyrics, Artist, or Album information. In this menu you can also add or remove viewable columns, or use the Action Log to see what your version of Exaile has done since you opened it up, including last.fm logs (if you use it) and the like.

Moving across one to the Tools options opens the key feature – the Library Manager. Unlike the other Gnome apps I looked at, this bears much more operational resemblance to Amarok, giving you the freedom to add whichever directories you want and then hitting apply. Also in here you can manually rescan your collection, force a retrieval of album covers from Amazon, clear or view the queued songs and playlists, or use the Blacklist feature.

This is a superb feature of Exaile and opens another playlist tab with the heading blacklist. As the name suggests, what this playlist does is act as a reference point for the randomization options, giving a list of tracks that should not be selected by the random method. It may not sound too exciting, but when you have an archive of 40 or so 90 minute spoken word podcasts it is a godsend. There is nothing more disruptive than having a random playlist playing your music and then to have the start of a speech or podcast break up the flow of music. The blacklist gets around that. Of course it can also be used to place music you don’t want to listen to in, but my suggestion would be to simply hit the DELETE button in those instances. It’s an excellent feature.

Exaile_2

You may have noticed that in introducing the Blacklist feature I also passed over tabbed playlists. This is another, in my opinion, very smart move on Exaile’s part allowing you to have open and accessible multiple playlists whilst one playlist plays through in the background. Why is this useful to me, he of little faith in playlists? Well, it’s useful to me because if I need to make a playlist of music I want to stick on my audio player for a car journey or trip, rather than go through specifically worrying about finding each track I like and where it belongs right before leaving, I can instead be listening to a randomized playlist, and whenever a track comes on that I like I simply drag it over to the new playlist’s tab and drop it straight in. When I finish my listening for the day I simply go have a look at what’s been collected in the new playlist and stick it on the audio player. Of course, for those who like to design custom playlists, this feature will never grow old, and would in fact become a standard requirement in managing your music. No more having to look through the list of all your playlists to make sure you add to the right one, just open that one up next to the one you are listening to and drag and drop. Easy!

Ratings within the playlist are also straight forward and, unlike most other music managers on the market, allows up to 10 stars, giving you much more freedom to grade your music realistically and determining a good cut off point when deciding what you want to listen to.

Exaile_3

As far as the sidebar tabs go, Exaile doesn’t differ hugely again from Amarok – Collection is there, as is Playlists, Radio (which is kept separate, unlike Amarok), and Files are all there, and one would imagine that if it doesn’t do it on automount already, one day the Media Device option will be there as well. Of course, Context isn’t needed, as it handles that information elsewhere (see above).

The Playlists tab is worth a quick mention in the way it physically boxes off the difference between Smart and Custom playlists, unlike the folder option in Amarok. Personally, I think I actually prefer this method. I also prefer separating the Radio and Playlists tab, allowing them to both do exactly what they say (granted, Radio also handles Podcasts). I was, in honesty, a little disappointed to see that the Radio tab doesn’t follow the trend set by the Playlists tab in the organization of Radio and Podcast – for this it reverts to the Amarok folder idea. Still, it’s functional and works fine.

As with both Rhythmbox and Quod Libet, the Preferences area remains quite limited on Exaile, although I would imagine there may be a necessity to expand this slightly if it follows its course of becoming the full Gnome alternative to Amarok. I would have thought plugins and the like could quite easily be fitted in this area. But, it is presentable, straight forward, and lets you change the most important things which, I guess, is what it needs to do.

Exaile_4

Without a doubt, Exaile is an excellent and exciting looking project, considering it is still in such early days. The interface is, like most Gnome user interfaces, very straight forward, clean and usable. But it still lacks, just like Rhythmbox and Quod Libet before it, a way of compressing some of the collection under a ‘Various Artists’ label. Related to this, the Collection list at the minute still doesn’t have the subdivides (A, B, C, etc) that are nice to have when collections get silly-big. Methods of sorting through the collection are good, but not as configurable as those that Amarok has, although this sticks with the simplicity aspect of Gnome.

Another problem I found personally was with the On Screen Display, something that I haven’t mentioned with the other projects because, even though they have them, they don’t either stand out as a huge positive or negative either way, they’re just there. But the one on my PowerPC version of Exaile here seems buggy. By which I mean that it seems to choose its own moments for reminding you what you’re listening to as it pleases, whether or not you’ve selected it to even be displayed. The lack of a transparency layer option to this also makes this frustrating as it manages to complete cover up whatever was underneath it. But I can let that slide down to early version numbers and running on another platform.

Quod Libet 0.23.1

quodlibet

Quod Libet is another music management application designed in GTK+ and designed primarily for the Gnome desktop, but not exclusively.

It is a lovely music management app and ships with Ex Falso, which can be run as a standalone program for mass-editing of ID3 Tags. This utilises the same tagging backend as is used if you want to edit tags within Quod Libet and functions perfectly well for the job it performs.

On initial startup, I found the main interface to be fairly similar to what I was used to with Rhythmbox – very Gnome, well laid out, clear, and functional. The default View on startup is the ‘Paned Browser’ option which provides 3 panes – Artists, Albums, Playlist, as described in Rhythmbox. This functions perfectly well and with all the same functionality as Rhythmbox provides. The Back, Play, Forward and Volume controls sit at the top of the window on clear view and easy to access.

The one main difference here though is that there is now sidebar with Library and Podcasts and the like as exists in Rhythmbox and Banshee. Instead, what Quod Libet does is introduce a View section to the top taskbar, allowing you to choose which Browser view you want (from a choice of Disable Browser, Search Library, Playlists, Paned Browser, Album List, File System, and Internet Radio) and whether you want to see the Song List (for each album / artist / library), Queue of upcoming songs, or both. Most of these options don’t need explanation as they have been mentioned earlier so I will concentrate on the ones that are slightly different, primarily the Album List.

As you will expect from the name, this is a list of all the album’s in the current collection library, sorted by either title, date, or artist – options you can choose via a drop-down menu. It also features a search bar to help wade through the list and, where available, will show the album art next to the title. Any albums not assigned an album will all appear together under a ‘Songs Not in an Album’ section.

Preferences, sticking with the Gnome approach are fairly minimal, although a bit more fleshed out than Rhythmbox. One library option is available, which is also regularly scanned for updates.

Plugins- and Extensions-wise, Quod Libet seems to have quite a dedicated fan base that supply quite a good range of plugins to cover the same range as most of the other players here offer.

Now, for the disagreements. As with Rhythmbox, my primary concern is the option to obtain music in your library from a single source. This works fine for someone with all their music files in the same location all the time (desktop user) but simply doesn’t cut the mustard for someone in a position such as mine. I won’t the labour the point, I’ve said it already.

Missing Audio Feeds. This could well be a harsh criticism on my part, as the Quod Libet Wiki does indeed say that there is a view option for this, but it is not in my latest Ubuntu package. Which is a shame, as it is a useful feature for all media managers to have and to avoid having to use an external app / manual download for keeping things up to date. Maybe it’s the case that this is a plugin, but on my version, such an option didn’t exist.

The Album List. Doesn’t quite work right for me. First of all, I have a lot of individual tracks that don’t have an album associated with them (if I don’t have a full album I wipe the album tags of all the odd tracks and lump them in one folder in the artist’s directory). I found on mine that whilst, by and large things were ordered properly, there kept being one or two odd-cases at the top or bottom of the list that were out of sync. This is ok though, as I don’t actually have to use it, the pane browser works just fine, albeit with the same lack of a ‘Various Artists’ tab to keep the numbers down.

And the Winner Is…

Amarok.

In my personal opinion it is the only music manager out there at the moment that caters so entirely for my needs. This could be claimed that it only manages that because it’s bloated and has so many features in that parts of it just have to appeal to something somebody wants, but I don’t feel that’s the case here.

Certainly, it does have an overdose of features, not all of them that work well in a smaller screen environment (ie Wikipedia links), and it does have some options that are plain gimmicky (moodbar, which I don’t use), but overriding all of that is the fact that it works excellently at what I want it to do – which is manage where the files in my music directories are, what they say, and present them to me in the most clear and concise manner. It suits me because that’s the way I like to browse through my music.

Incidentally, Exaile very nearly meets all my requirements also, and as soon as things such as the ‘Various Artists’ annoyance, and Alphabetically-separated collection browsing come into it, it would become my first choice when using Gnome simply because it fits into the environment so much better.

But for now, it simply can’t match Amarok for the way it displays my music to me and allows me to organise it.

Equally, the ease at which Amarok incorporates such things as its scripts manager (plugins) by allowing browsing, installing, and configuring within the confines of the application is admirable, and something the Gnome projects could learn from. There is nothing more frustrating from a user perspective than having to fire up the browser, search through the website listings, download a tarball of the plugin you want, untar it to the correct directory, and then going back into your music manager to activate it and hope it works. Tight integration is the key here for me. Of course, if its something completely abstract that hasn’t been uploaded to the kde-look archives then that’s my responsibility to find, but for all the cool little tweaks, extras, and themes, it makes sense to keep access to them as simple as possible.

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, none of these applications are perfect, and Amarok is no exception. Things that I believe could help improve it as a complete music management are things like tight cooperation with a pure tagging application (such as EasyTag, to use a KDE example). Tagging and Tag Editing is already pretty good within Amarok, but I do sometimes find my tags haven’t saved properly when accessing my music in another application, and occasionally when trying to reopen the same file in Amarok, moments after it has saved the changes. Odd, but it happens.

Another feature that I never even thought of until I used Exaile but which I believe all the other apps severely lack is the Blacklist feature and the Tabbed playlist. The extra level of usability and enjoyment they have the potential to provide the user with is immense, considerably more than it sounds when you read about it…

And that’s not the only application that Amarok could learn from. There’s still plenty to be said for making the Play / Pause / Forward / Back / Stop buttons play a significant role in the interface – they are, after all, the key functions of controlling music, and are and aspect that the Gnome-projects tend to do very well in.

Even Banshee, the definitive loser in this race has significant enough positive points in it that Amarok should take note of – namely the ability to listen, rip, and burn CDs within the application, without having to link that work off to another application is a huge step forward, and an important one in usability. I have no idea what the development plans are looking like for Amarok, but my personal thinking is that this should be a number one priority (along with Blacklist and Tabbed Playlists ;-)) in future versions – the current interface and level of operation is good enough to not have to worry about adding new shiny-bits such as the moodbar – of course, it will always be able to be improved, and shouldn’t be forgotten about, but something such as the CD control would be a huge step forward, and raise the bar that bit higher for all the other media managers. I mean, K3b is a brilliant CD application, but I don’t won’t to have to go through the extra step of loading that up when I want to quickly burn a CD before I head out. I should be good to go from the minute I choose ‘Burn Playlist to CD…’.

Still, there will always be room for improvement, and I am not for one minute suggesting any of the applications need to become the same – the fact they are all different is the one thing that gives us such choice – but they do all have certain areas that I see them lacking in with respect to their current features, and some minor tweaks that would make the whole thing much easier.

To finish, I’ll be a bastard and rank them all, in order of the preference that they do the job I want them to do:

1 – Amarok

2 – Exaile

3= Quod Libet

3= Rhythmbox

5 – Banshee

So there it is. Of course there will be people who disagree with what I’ve chosen or the grounds on which I’ve judged it, that’s inevitable. If you feel I’ve missed something or been too harsh, comment on it. But the important thing to note is that I don’t rate any of these as particularly bad applications, and would certainly run any of them before I would run Windows Media Player or iTunes through CrossoverOffice or anything similar – even Banshee (if I have to have a Music Manager move my files, I’d rather an Open one did ;-)).

Worthy Cause

I don’t normally go in for these sort of things, not because I’m a tight-arse, just that I find the majority of the sponsored events lacking in certain areas. But for some reason this one really appeals to me.

http://www.jonobacon.org/?p=907

There’s the link. To sum it up, Jono Bacon, Ubuntu Community Manager, author, musician, and Open Source legend, amongst other things is going to record, mix, and release an entire album’s worth of original music in his home studio in just one 24 hour marathon session.

The music when finished will be released under his usual Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike-NonCommercial license on http://www.recreantview.org – his central internet location for all his recorded works – check it out.
Except where stated, all the main instruments (acoustic, electric, bass and drums) are played and recorded by Jono himself – no small amount of talent I’m sure you’ll agree!

So, go ahead, read his post, sponsor him – it’s all for a good cause.