Marcus from Grasscut here with a few thoughts on the TV and music that have helped get me through 2020. I haven’t included any books — maybe that’ll be a subsequent post. Andrew’s done his own list over here.
I have never been on top of new film and TV the way I was once on top of new music. I haven’t seen The Crown or Normal People or I May Destroy You or Industry (though I might get stuck into one or all of them next year) or Tiger King (I definitely won’t). I got through the initial lockdown by re-watching, for the fourth or fifth time, The Sopranos. The last film I watched is The Leopard from 1963, starring Burt Lancaster. It’s still both brilliant and, in its refrain of ‘for things to remain the same, everything must change’, more appropriate than I’d anticipated as mid-pandemic viewing.
So only two new TV moments stick in my mind this year. One is the lowlight: Dominic Cummings in the Rose Garden, a strange and appalling moment even in a year that has sometimes seemed to consist of nothing else.
The other TV moment that sticks in my mind is the highlight: Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. These five films took me away from Barnard Castle towards London’s West Indian community in and around the 1970s. Even the episodes that were light on plot, such as ‘Lovers Rock’, were spectacularly evocative of both the era’s all-pervasive racism and the occasions on which that racism was at least temporarily transcended — for instance at an all-night party. And episodes with a stronger plot, such as ‘Education’, which concerns systemic racism in the British school system, left me in pieces. Needless to say, the films only gained power from arriving in the year of the toppling of the Edward Colston statue, of the killing of George Floyd, and of a pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on people of colour. The magnificent soundtrack can be found here.
Spotify tells me I’ve listened to 1,365 artists this year, representing 381 genres. I have no idea what to make of this. I do know that I have listened to a lot of old releases: Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Steve Reich, Freddie Hubbard, the Beach Boys. Of the year’s new releases, some of the work can be done by the best-of-2020 lists: you don’t need me to tell you to listen to records like Beatrice Dillon’s Workaround. Both Hannah Peel’s soundtrack for The Deceived and Bibio’s Sleep on the Wing, however, seem to have been neglected in those lists. I’m still a big fan of the remix of ‘The Door in the Wall’ Stephen/Bibio did for us back in 2010.
Also neglected in the 2020 best-ofs is Nine Emotions by Yorkston/Thorne/Khan which, like their previous two records, has a slight Pentangle thing going on. I can’t play the double bass like Jon Thorne any more than I can play double bass like Danny Thompson. But I can dream. My fourth and final neglected album of the year is Skins ’n’ Slime by the cellist Oliver Coates, who once supported us in Whitstable. Olly calls it ‘pastoral metal’. I’m in. He also, incidentally, joins Bibio in the pantheon of Grasscut remixers: check out his brilliant remix of ‘Fallswater’ from 2016.
My other records of 2020 were recorded some time ago. Although I’m a piano player, really, I have of late been getting into synths such as the Juno 60. I will never, however, be Mort Garson. The Canadian composer was known for his jingles and TV themes but he also, between 1967 and his death in 2008, did some extraordinary things with Moogs. There have been a few posthumous releases in 2020 but Music from Patch Cord Productions is the pick of the bunch.
On a similar but more European note — take that, Brexit — I’ve been enjoying Tape Archive Essence 1973–78, a compilation of tracks by Hans-Joachim Roedelius (of Cluster and Harmonia). They’re sparse, constructed from nothing but a Farfisa organ, a synth, an echo unit and, now and again, a rhythm box. I think these pieces were included in a larger-scale release a few years ago, so it’s not strictly new for 2020, but frankly I missed the earlier release. And, at just 10 tracks, this one’s a bit more manageable.
And finally… The first two cassettes I owned as a kid, for reasons I still can’t quite fathom, were a rock ’n’ roll medley and Oh What A Lovely War. I still love Eddie Cochran and the other artists on the medley. And I still love Oh What A Lovely War, although for entirely different reasons: I don’t mind admitting that, at the age of eight, the politics went entirely over my head. So the final song that has got me through the year is ‘When This Lousy War Is Over’. True, in one sense, it has nothing to do with 2020. On the other hand, we all need to remind ourselves at times that the lousy war against Covid will one day be be over. There is hope in the dark. We await The Return of the Sun.