1. Anonymous | Non E Gran Causa (Performed by New London Consort with Catherine Bott, Conductor: Philip Pickett)
The Shrine of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain has been a focus for Christian pilgrimages since the 12th Century. One of my first introductions to the wonderful world of Early Music was via the album The Pilgrimage To Santiago by New London Consort and it has remained my all-time favourite album ever since. It is a kind of musical equivalent of Chaucer's famous work of English Literature, The Canterbury Tales, in that it is an attempt to replicate the range of Music that pilgrims would have encountered en-route. As with the variety in the stories told by Chaucer's characters, this can range from sublime religious works featuring polyphonic choral singing, to bawdy drinking songs with raucous instrumentation and rattling percussion. New London Consort, under the directorship of Philip Pickett, uses reproductions of early instruments and tries to re-create the sound of the era as faithfully as possible, so you will hear something very different from Contemporary Music, whatever your usual taste. This particular song - Non E Gran Causa - features Catherine Bott as lead soprano, a mixed chorus, lutes, harp, fiddles, tabor and tambourine, and I love the rises and falls as it goes through its various phases. In much the same way as some of the World's most magnificent Architecture has been inspired by Religion and causes our collective jaw to drop regardless of whether or not you subscribe to the particular beliefs, this Music has the power to lift the Spirit and stir the Soul whether or not its Latin text is your bag.
2. Radiohead | Paranoid Android (Live At Later... with Jools Holland, 1997)
My formative listening tastes followed a sequence of Rock (Classic Deep Purple era), to Prog Rock (Nektar, Man, early Genesis, Pink Floyd, etc.) to Post Punk Indie (Joy Division era). Then along came Radiohead and stuffed the whole lot into one amazing song. I have to confess it took a little while to creep up on me (additional Radiohead reference for those paying insufficient attention), but once I got there the OK Computer album dominated my CD player for months. Here's a YouTube link for a live performance of ...Android from one of the only surviving sources of Live Music on pathetic British Television - Jools Holland's Later....
3. Ali Farke Toure with Ry Cooder | Gomni
The West African country of Mali has emerged in recent decades as an incredibly rich source of wonderful Music, from the haunting desert blues of various Touareg (Saharan nomads) bands such as Tinariwen, Toumast and Tamikrest to the driving Pop/Rock/Blues/touch-of-Funk of Amadou & Mariam. My first introduction to Malian Music back in the '80s was via the album The River by the late, great Ali Farke Toure, and not long after this, he made the album Talking Timbuktu with Ry Cooder. The story goes that Ali was touring in the US, hooked up with Ry who guested at a couple of gigs, they booked a studio for three days, jammed and recorded it, and this glorious album was the result. Gomni is the third track on the album and has a great vibe to it. It is sung in the Songhai language, one of numerous languages spoken by Ali, and is a celebration of the ethic of hard work!
4. Massive Attack | Teardrop (with Elizabeth Fraser)
Massive Attack are the masters of the incessant, programmed synth drum beat and moody, grinding bass line - a combination which has been so widely and excruciatingly mis-used by so many, but which in the hands of the Massives is generally spellbinding. They've churned out a conveyor belt of classics, including Karmacoma and their remix of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Mustt Mustt, but they're all eclipsed by the beauty of Teardrop featuring the impossibly so-fragile-yet-so-powerful voice of Elizabeth Fraser. The first tour I did with Dead Can Dance was around Holland supporting Cocteau Twins in 1983 and I never missed the opportunity to get out in the audience after we came off stage and catch their entire set - Liz was always captivating. The combination of her singing with Massive Attack providing the backdrop is a real dream team moment, and I think this would probably be my all-time number one single.
5. Radio Tarifa | Nu Alrest
The concept behind the group (or collective) Radio Tarifa is apparently to create the Music of an imagined radio station based in Tarifa - the most southerly town in Spain - which would be a mix of the traditions of Southern Spain and North Africa. Rumba Argelina is my favourite of their albums, from which Nu Alrest is my favourite song. Although the album sleeve does not give explanatory notes, this is an apparent adaptation of Palestine Song written around the turn of the 13th Century by a German poet influenced by his involvement in crusades to the Holy Land. Clearly a bubbling cauldron of ideas, eras, cultures, creeds and nations - but ultimately a beautiful rendition of a beautiful song.
6. Acantus | O Crux Fractus
Some years ago I picked up by chance this eponymously titled album of Medieval Italian Music performed by Acantus and discovered a small gem. I'd never heard of Acantus before, and haven't heard of them since, but this album (released in 1999) always sticks in my mind and I regularly return to it. The particular track I've singled out has a beautiful polyphonic choral passage, which then dissolves into a terrific, frenetic reel of bagpipes, tambourine and other percussion. The full album is uploaded at the following YouTube link, and is well worth a listen in its entirity, but if you want to home in on this song - O Crux Fractus - forward the time bar to around 49.25.
7. Michael Jackson | Billie Jean
I have this connection with Michael Jackson as we were born on the same day (exactly - day, month, year - me, MJ and English comedian Lenny Henry)! Whatever you make of the stories of wackiness, it's undeniable that MJ was a great musician/artist/performer, worked with some brilliant collaborators, and made a legendary global impact. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, if I hear that Billie Jean bass line start up and those synth stabs kick in, I can't help myself - the foot starts tapping, the head starts jerking forwards on my neck all funky-chicken-style, and... Well, I think I'd better stop there. Simply the Classic Pop song.
8. Totó La Momposina | El Pescador
Here's a burst of exhuberance from Columbia, a celebration of the work of the local fishermen! The song is taken from the 1993 album La Candela Viva (Real World label) which is a feast of great rhythms and thrilling vocal crescendos. Totó is now in her 70s and is hopefully still going strong and keeping the locals dancing. Her work is very much in the tradition of Afro-Columbian culture. If you find this floats yer boat, do also check out a wonderful album called Umalali by The Garifuna Women's Project which provides a snapshot of songs and rhythms in the daily lives of women of the Afro-Caribbean communities in Belize, Guatamala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
9. Elbow | Fugitive Motel
My wife discovered Elbow shortly after the release of their second album Cast Of Thousands (2003). We were both instantly smitten and saw them at least half a dozen times around the mid-size London venue circuit before they made the leap into becoming a stadium act. I've been told by overseas friends that they're a very English act - and maybe you do have to be English/British to get it fully. I would love to be able to write lyrics with the quirky intelligence and pathos of Elbow front man Guy Garvey (Jarvis Cocker is another lyricist I similarly admire and envy in equal measure). Fugitive Motel is a fine example of song writing craft that beautifully evokes its subject matter and remains my favourite Elbow track despite the many others pressing to replace it.
10. Abdel Gadir Salim All-Stars | Bassama
Following the global success of the book/film/album/T-shirt/etc. of The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love, the superstar of Sudanese Music Abdel Gadir Salim stuck his tongue firmly in his cheek, called his band the All-Stars and his 1991 album The Merdoum Kings Play Songs Of Love. While I do love the Mambo scene, this Merdoum (song style of the Kurdufan province of Sudan) album rates as one of my all-time faves - the combination of oud, sax and violins underpinned by Afro-Arabic rhythms on bongoes and darabuka is a winner for me, and the fantastic white-toothed smiles of Abdel and his All-Stars on the cover are positively irresistible! Which leads neatly onto my choice of song - Bassama, apparently translates as Smiler. Not only that, the lyric translation in the CD booklet includes the couplet In the streams of Love, you are a wriggly swimmer... - beat that!