Jonathan Coulton is a singer-songwriter for the internet age, who became successful through podcasting and a “Thing a week” year of 52 musical pieces; before writing the theme for the ending credits of the popular video game Portal.
He’s got a real talent for writing catchy lyrics with a touch of humour; and a good candidate for a quirky Christmas song with a hint of menace.
Ewan MacColl was a folk singer, poet and playwright of the best kind – one with an MI5 file. You’ll know quite a few of his songs like “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Dirty Old Town” (inspired by Salford and originally written for a play) along with a few missteps like the regrettably celebratory “Ballad Of Stalin”; which strangely enough isn’t available on YouTube.
It seems my tendency is to pick just one, so here’s The Manchester Rambler; inspired by the Kinder trespass, an event which helped establish the principle of access to land for walkers, and arguably leading to the establishment of Britain’s famous and quite unique national parks.
Ewan, with his first wife Jean Newlove; is of course the father of Kirsty MacColl, who was also a very talented singer songwriter.
Only 1000 copies of “Bright Phoebus” were pressed; so “Folk Music’s Sergeant Pepper” is pretty hard to find, although there have been plenty of covers. Thankfully we’ve got the internet; and Youtube. The title track is my favourite. Phoebus is an epithet of the sun-god Apollo; from the Greek “Phoibos” meaning “bright, shining, radiant”.
The fantastic Kay Starr is possibly best known for “Wheel Of Fortune“. However one of my favourites is “Comes A-Long A-Love”; a song notable for being the UK’s third ever number one single in January 1953.
The song was written by Al Sherman; and turned out to be his last hit, although rumour has it his sons continued his trade and also did quite well. Another goldmine of a back story that we can dig into later.
Stromae (“Maestro” with reverse syllables) is a Belgian singer songwriter who first found success with “Alors On Danse“. Stromae, whose father was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, released the album “Racine Carrée” in 2013 and one of the stand out tracks is Papaoutai. (“Father, where are you?”)
Formidable is also great – the video caused a bit of a furore when clips of an apparently drunk Stromae stumbling around a tram stop went viral…
Johnny Todd is a Liverpool folk song most famous as the “Theme from Z-Cars” and associated with Everton F.C. and Watford F.C.
The song is known through a collector of folk songs; Frank Kidson, who heard it from Liverpool school children. This version is by Bob Roberts, a folk singer who also happens to have been the last captain of a British commercial vessel operating under sail.
I guess that’s the kind of back story that really gives a rendition some clout!
Picture courtesy of The British Library – actually of Thames bargemen; but appropriate I thought.
First encountered in this vimeo ‘A Drifting Up’ is a great introduction to Jon Hopkins; composer, producer and performer who has worked with a slew of famous and cutting edge musicians. As usual the whole album is great but this track is definitely the highlight.