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Alternative Christmas albums and songs that you should seek out

It’s the time of year that retail workers dread. The pressure is on to make people feel ‘Christmassy’ (suggestable?) and that means shops, restaurants and bars are piping in a continuous loop of the most familiar and famous festive tunes.

Film director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver, Scott Pilgim etc) recently asked the question of his Twitter followers:

Question to people working in retail at this time of year: What Christmas song do you not mind hearing 100 times and which Christmas song sends you plunging into a psychotic abyss?

There was a pretty brutal reaction:

Christmas Wrapping is hands down the worst Christmas song I’ve ever heard. It is ear rippingly irritating and I wish it didn’t exist.

The one I hate the most is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas”, but put on anything by Burle Ives and I’m one happy camper

Santa Baby makes me want to hit things.

Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses, i could listen to all day. Wonderful Christmas Time by McCartney is the worst, though I’m also sick of hearing War Is Over by Lennon too. And I love the Beatles!

Place I was working started playing White Winter Hymnal by the Fleet Foxes which I adore, so that was fantastic. Wonderful Christmastime by McCartney feels like it’s been on my entire life whenever it plays, the absolute abyss.

I always have time for Stop The Cavalry, but I want Mariah Carey dead

Don’t mind – Greg Lake l Believe in Fathe Christmas Into the abyss – Jona Lewie Stop the Cavalry

When I worked in retail, I could have listened to Bing & Bowie’s Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth on a continuous loop. Lonely This Christmas by Mud got harder to take after the first few plays.

See Retail workers discuss Christmas songs they hate.

There is some great Christmas music out there. Individual tracks such as “The Fairy Tale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, “I believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake and “2000 Miles” by The Pretenders still bear up after all this time. The Phil Spector Christmas Album – “A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector” – is a stone cold classic of musical production, instantly recognisable and ambitious in scope. I must also admit to a bit of soft spot for Nobel Prize for literature winning Bob Dylan’s “Must be Santa”.xmas turntable

There are definitely some lesser known artists, or famous artists with lesser known festive music that are worth tracking down. Here is list of some albums and EPs that you might not have heard yet but could grow to love:

Cara Dillon – Upon a winter’s Night – beautifully sung by Cara and beautifully produced by husband Sam Lakeman this combines magical folky versions traditional Christmas songs and lovely original songs – buy here: Cara Dillon official website

Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – Midwinter – more traditional folky acoustic loveliness here https://josienneandben.bandcamp.com/album/midwinter

Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas – Songs for Christmas is a box set of five separate EPs of Christmas-related songs and carols recorded by independent musician Sufjan Stevens between 2001 and 2006, includes traditional and original songs like “Get Behind Me, Santa!”, “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” and “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas? (Well, You Deserved It!)”.

Weezer – Christmas with Weezer – A Christmas EP by American rock band Weezer giving traditional carols the full on geek guitar treatment.

Tracey Thorn – Tinsel and Lights – a Christmas album by British singer Tracey Thorn. The album was released on 29 October 2012.

Various – Gift Wrapped – 20 Songs That Keep on Giving! – compilation featuring the likes of Michael Buble, My Chemical Romance, REM.

Barenaked Ladies  – Barenaked for the Holidays – A holiday-themed studio album released by Canadian band Barenaked Ladies on October 5, 2004. The album includes Christmas and Hanukkah songs as well as “Auld Lang Syne”.

The Killers – (Red) Christmas EP – The EP features the band’s yearly Christmas singles from 2006 to 2011.

She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas – Actress and musician Zooey Deschanel and musician M. Ward get festive features several covers of classic holiday songs such as ‘Blue Christmas’ and ‘Sleigh Bells’.

Christmas on Death Row – compilation of rap and hip-hop artists on Death Row and Interscope records featuring Snoop Dogg, Danny Boy and 6 Feet Deep.

Kate Rusby – The Frost Is All Over – third Christmas album by English folk musician Kate Rusby featuring South Yorkshire-based material.

The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album – This contains five original songs and seven standards on a Christmas theme.

Jethro Tull – The Jethro Tull Christmas Album – A mix of new material, re-recordings of Tull’s own suitably themed material and arrangements of traditional Christmas music.

Saint Etienne  – A Glimpse of Stocking – tongue firmly in cheek and featuring Euro-pop tunes with titles like ‘No Cure for the Common Christmas’ and ‘Unwrap Me’.

There are many individual songs you could track down like Tim Minchin’s ‘White wine in the sun’, Headless Heroes’, ‘The North wind blew south’.

and Laura Marling’s ‘Goodbye England (covered in the snow)’.

Also on my playlist is The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t let the bells end) because it puts a smile on my face and pleased they got away with a near single entendre.

Have a great Christmas, Midwinter, Saturnalia, Solstice etc etc.

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Liam Gallagher's new album 'As you were' is highest selling UK vinyl album in 20 years

Liam Gallagher’s new album As You Were has become the highest-selling vinyl record in 20 years.

The former Oasis frontman’s debut solo album sold 16,000 vinyl copies in its first week, which helped send it to number one.

As You Were sold a combined total of 103,000 records and was reportedly outselling the entirety of the top 20 album chart put together.

Older brother Noel has also made a return to the spotlight, announcing his third album with his High Flying Birds. Who Built The Moon? is due for release on 24 November, and will feature the single ‘Holy Mountain’.

The brothers still appear to be openly hostile to each other with frequent digs on social media. The most recent is Liam criticising Noel for singing the Oasis song Champagne Supernova at a High Flying Birds gig (Liam takes another swipe at Noel for singing Champagne Supernova).

“Just heard Dolly’s version of Champagne Supernova in Brazil. Somebody needs to have a word. It’s really upsetting,” Liam tweeted.

“My point is just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you should always sing it,” he went on to say, adding: “It’s really upsetting” and “I’m upset”.

As You Were sees Liam take on songwriting duties, with the help of Greg Kurstin, Andrew Wyatt and others. Back in the days of Oasis Noel Gallagher was the chief songwriter, with Liam not chipping in until their fourth studio album Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.

Noel wrote many classics like ‘Live Forever’, ‘Rock n Roll Star’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, ‘Champagne Supernova’, ‘Morning Glory’. But despite not having written those songs, Liam says that he’ll continue to sing Oasis favourites as he feels they’re as much his as they are Noel’s.

Noel, known as The Chief, made his comeback with ‘Holy Mountain’, a song totally different to anything he’s done in the past.



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The Hyundai Mercury Music Prize 2017 – contenders

The Hyundai Mercury Prize 2017 is a strange beast. It turns the writing, recording and production of albums into a competition. Where it’s obvious when Mo Farah crosses a finish line ahead of his opponents, it’s almost impossible to say, in absolute terms, that one record is better than another.Hyundai Mercury Music Prize 2017

The artists and music are often a mix of wildly different genres and levels of fame so this year sees obscure British Jazz quartet Dinosaur pitted against mega-selling, Glastonbury headlining singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

For those on the shortlist it’s great exposure, even for someone like Ed Sheeran. For record shops and the music industry it’s an opportunity to sell more product and get the public and the media talking about music in what is traditionally a quiet time of the year for the industry.

While there have been some strange decisions on winners in the past (M-People anyone?), the eventual winner gets a major boost and will be the topic of heated debate.

Mecury Music Prize 2017

alt-j – Relaxer

alt-j  are an English indie rock band formed in 2007 in Leeds, by Gwil Sainsbury, Joe Newman, Thom Sonny Green and Gus Unger-Hamilton. They have been described as Folktronica.


Blossoms – Blossoms

Blossoms are an English indie pop band from Stockport, Greater Manchester. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Tom Ogden, Charlie Salt, Josh Dewhurst, Joe Donovan and Myles Kellock.


Dinosaur – Together, As One

Dinosaur is one of the most vital and creative new ensembles in the UK today. Led by trumpeter & composer Laura Jurd, Dinosaur features keyboardist/inventor Elliot Galvin, the effortlessly rooted Conor Chaplin on electric bass and the forever creative Corrie Dick on drums.


Ed Sheeran – ÷

Ed Sheeran, MBE is an English singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer. He was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, and raised in Framlingham, Suffolk.


Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being

Glass Animals are an English indie rock band from Oxford who are bigger in the US than the UK currently.


J Hus – Common Sense

A Hip Hop / Rap / Grime artist from London, real name Momodou Jallow.


Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

Kate Tempest is an English poet, spoken-word artist and playwright.


Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone

Loyle Carner, is an English hip hop musician and actor. His sound has been described by NME as ‘sensitive and eloquent’ and by The Guardian as ‘confessional hip-hop’.


Sampha – Process

Sampha Sisay, who performs under the mononym Sampha, is a British singer, songwriter and record producer.


Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

Stormzy, is an English grime and hip hop artist.


The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension

The Big Moon is a London four-piece indie-rock band formed in 2014 by Juliette Jackson.


The xx – ‘I See You’

The xx are an English indie band formed in 2005 in Wandsworth, London.


The 2017 Awards Show will take place on Thursday 14 September at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith.

See the official website here:  https://www.mercuryprize.com

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Glen Campbell dies aged 81

While recent deaths of other music legends have been more of a surprise, the death of Glen Campbell on 8th August 2017 and has deeply affected the whole music world. He had been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for several years but kept touring and even producing one last studio album Adiós released in June.

He will always be most famous for hits such as Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman with over 50 million in record sales, however he was also a gifted guitarist who played sessions with the Wrecking Crew, a collection of LA session musicians who played on hundreds of recordings for the era’s biggest names – Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke, Dean Martin, Simon and Garfunkel, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, and many others.

His guitar touched the landmark recordings of his time. He played on Sinatra’s Stranger in the Night, the famous ringing lead riff on I’m a Believer by the Monkees; Viva Las Vegas by Presley and on the Beach Boys’ landmark album Pet Sounds, Campbell’s guitar and vocals are heard throughout.

Glen Campbell

ACT1 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Campbell even joined the Beach Boys for a five-month tour in 1964-65 where he replaced Wilson, playing his bass and singing his falsetto leads, after Wilson suffered a breakdown and refused to go on the road.

Glen Campbell collaboration with Jimmy Webb

While Campbell is seen as a country artist, it was his collaboration with songwriter Jimmy Webb that took his fame beyond the world of country music. Songs like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, and Where’s the Playground Susie have a special place in people’s affections, with lush string arrangements and strong narratives that were more ambitious than the normal three minute pop song.

Campbell credited the fact that he and Webb grew up within 150 miles of each another as one of the reasons why they had similar sensibilities.

“That’s what we grew up with – the good songs, the good lyrics, the good big-band stuff. I miss that era.” In 2005 he said Webb’s “melodies and chord progressions were as good as anything I’d ever heard”.

The hits

Campbell racked up 48 country hits and 34 pop hits between 1967 and 1980. Like Johnny Cash, Campbell hosted a popular television show that defined genres in the artists it showcased.

When disco dominated the pop charts, he showed an uncanny ability to adapt by releasing Southern Nights, the Allen Toussaint song redone with a stomping dance beat, and Rhinestone Cowboy, which became ubiquitous at dance clubs and roller rinks across middle America.

Once the hits dried up, Campbell struggled with alcoholism and turbulent marriage battles. He also became a born-again Christian and recorded religious albums while never cutting back on touring.

By the late 1990s, he discovered a new generation of younger artists were citing him as an influence – partly due to a massive reissue campaign by EMI/Capital, but also to a new wave of interest in Americana music spurred on by artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Freedy Johnston, Michelle Shocked, and REM, who all happened to cover Wichita Lineman.

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2010, but kept releasing albums and touring until the end, even though he struggled with remembering lyrics at times.



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Sony is making vinyl records again

The vinyl revival continues with Sony making vinyl records again. The company has now announced that, in response to rocketing vinyl sales in the past few years, it will again be producing records, with the first batch scheduled to be made in a factory in Tokyo.

It’s not been disclosed which artists will be first selected production will be start in March 2018.

Sony’s original decision to cease making vinyl probably made sense back in 1989. Many customers were moving away from bulky records, and towards smaller, more easy to transport formats such as the CD and cassettes in Walkmans.who is buying vinyl records?

As the technology developed with the advent of MP3 players and, shortly after, streaming, vinyl sales plummeted as the format was seen as

Not many predicted vinyl’s enduring retro appeal and resurgence, especially among Millennial “hipsters” and music fans.

Trend mirrored in Europe

The trend has been mirrored In Europe, where most vinyl for major and independent labels is pressed by just two plants, GZ media based in the Czech Republic, and Record Industry in the Netherlands. However, their combined capacity of more than 100,000 records per day is not enough to keep up with global demand.

Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst, is not surprised by Sony’s move. “There’s no doubt vinyl is a market that will keep growing – even now globally there’s not enough capacity for making vinyl to meet the demand,” he said. “As a result the pressing plants can charge the labels a really high premium. So there may well be a profit incentive for more labels to reopen their own plants.”

However, Mulligan said the move would “require a lot of investment, not just in materials but also in expertise, training people up”.

“At the moment, consumers are willing to pay a high premium for vinyl – people will happily pay £40 for a limited edition record – and so labels are still making a wide profit margin. But if demand continues to rise, I can see labels wanting to take control of their own destiny when it comes to producing vinyl, so this may be repeated by others in the future. It’s all tied in to supply and demand.”

“A lot of young people buy songs that they hear and love on streaming services,” said Michinori Mizuno, chief executive of Sony Music Japan.

Sony vinyl plant limited to Japan

The decision by Sony to invest in its own vinyl-pressing plant is currently limited to Japan. The records released will primarily be older Japanese reissues, and some new albums, and the records will mainly be sold in that country.

The surge in demand for vinyl in the UK and Europe, propelled by events such as Record Store Day, has put enormous pressure on few remaining pressing plants. If sales continue to climb – 3.2m vinyl records were sold in the UK in 2016, up 53% on the year before – Sony may not be the only label wanting its own manufacturing plants, as was common practice in the 1970s and 1980s.

Further reading

Sony making vinyl records again 28 years after it stopped

Sony to open vinyl record factory in Japan

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UK Record shops gear up for 10th Anniversary Record Store Day 2017 – Saturday 22 April 2017

Excitement is building as Record Store Day is now only a few days away on Saturday 22 April 2017.

Record Store Day is the one day of the year when over 200 independent record shops all across the UK come together to celebrate their unique culture.Record Store Day 2017

Special vinyl releases are made exclusively for the day and many shops and cities host artist performances and events to mark the occasion. Thousands more shops celebrate the day around the globe in what’s become one of the biggest annual events on the music calendar.

While it is one day of the year, it celebrates a sector of the music industry that is showing signs of thriving in the climate of competition from streaming and people ripping and digitising music illegally for download. At All Good Record Shops we have seen the number of independent record shops grow in the last two years and we have nearly 400 featured record shops in the UK.

As an example of what is available, music legend Elton John is making a live album from 1970 available exclusively for Record Store Day 2017. In November 1970, Elton John performed an intimate concert at A&R Studios in New York, recorded for WABC FM. In front of 125 people, Elton played in his then three- piece line up of himself, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on drums. Intended for broadcast only, its pristine quality – engineered by the legendary Phil Ramone (the ‘R’ in A&R Studios) – meant that the recording of the performance became a fast- selling bootleg. Sales were so great that it had to be rush-released as 17.11.70 on DJM Records in April 1971, capturing six of the concert’s tracks on a single album. Elton John is a lover of record stores and a big supporter of record store day.

‘Happy 10th birthday to Record Store Day. I love record stores, I can go to the record store in Vegas and spend 3 hours in there. Just the smell of it, the looking at it, the wonder of it, the memories. I love vinyl so much; the tactile nature, the ritual of it, looking at the sleeve…especially with the old albums and the liner notes – who played on them, the process of putting it on, the needle going on and the sound coming out. And it DOES sound better, I know it does! It’s just the wonder of having vinyl’. Elton John

Find participating stores here: http://recordstoreday.co.uk/participating-stores/

Get the latest news on Record Store Day 2017 on the official website:  http://recordstoreday.co.uk/

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Ed Sheeran new album selling in all formats (including vinyl) to dominate chart

Ed Sheeran’s new album, ‘Divide’, is dominating the UK album and singles charts with massive physical sales but also big numbers for streaming.Ed Sheeran Divide

All of Divide’s 16 tracks are featured in the Official Top 20 of the singles chart. The entire top 10 (except, randomly, number 7) are from the album.

All three of Sheeran’s albums feature in the Top 5 of the album chart.

“Wow, what a phenomenal week,” Ed told Official Charts when confronted with the news.

“To every person who’s bought the album – thank you,” he added.

The album, ‘Divide’ shifted a staggering 672,000copies in its first week to bow at the summit of the survey, has clocked up another 158,000 sales across all formats at the midweek stage, according to the Official Charts Company.Streaming chart dominayted by Ed Sheeran

Fastest selling vinyl album for 20 years

It’s not just steaming and CDs where Ed Sheeran dominates. The Vinyl Factory reported that Divide is the fastest selling vinyl album for 20 years. According to data shared by the Official Charts Company, Sheeran shifted 672,000 physical copies in the first week, 13,500 of which were vinyl.

In doing so, the record overtook first week sales figures from the likes of David Bowie (who sold more than any other artist in the 12 months to April 2016) and vinyl chart regulars Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Noel Gallagher.

This is despite a fairly mixed critical reception:

“Ed Sheeran sells trite innocence by the pound. He uses bland wisdom and unimaginative music to ponder the basic good and bad in people around him, without once looking inward.” Laura Snapes – Pitchfork

“Ed Sheeran: ÷ review – every bloke charm fails to mask Divide’s calculating soul “ Harriet Gibsone – The Guardian

However his fans are ignoring the inevitable backlash and are loyally buying the record and booking tickets to see him on tour.

How streaming has changed the chart

In 2014, the Official Charts Company (OCC) finally acknowledged the importance of streaming, including it in its rankings for the first time.

Back then, it had a conversion rate of 100 streams equalling one sale or download.

This, they thought, would fairly represent the success of a track, balancing consumption (number of times a song is streamed) with purchase (number of times a song is sold).

But it still valued repetition, leaving many wondering if this could become a barrier to new artist trying to break in.

Ed Sheeran Divide, the fastest selling vinyl album in 20 years

Ed Sheeran Divide album review

Ed Sheeran dominates mid-week charts

Has Ed Sheeran killed the charts

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How to organise your vinyl record collection

In the Nick Hornby book (and then US made film), High Fidelity (High Fidelity movie, High Fidelity book) record shop owner Rob is caught by his friend just as he is about to reorganise his record collection.

In the film, his friend looks around the room, his interest piqued, and asks how he is organising the records.

His friend says, “It looks as if you’re reorganising your records? What’s this, Chronological?

“No,” said Rob.

“Not, alphabetical.”

“Nope. Autobiographical!”

“No, fucking, way!”

“I can tell how I got from Deep Purple to Howling Wolf in just 25 minutes. If I want to find the song Landslide by Fleetwood Mac, I have to remember I bought it for someone in the Fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

“That sounds…”

“Yep, comforting.”

If organising your record collection autobiographically sounds like a step too far in obsessive behaviour, then there’s plenty of advice around on how to organise your vinyl record collection or other formats.Reorganising your vinyl record collection.

Here are four basic laws of organising your vinyl record collection:

  1. Store in a temperature-controlled space – Vinyl does best at around 65 to 70 degrees, so keep it inside with you in a cool, dry place to prevent warping and mouldy covers.
  2. Avoid proximity to heat sources – When choosing a place to store your records, avoid anywhere that’s close to direct sunlight or a radiator or heat source.
  3. Never stack your records – Creating album piles is a cardinal sin of vinyl collecting. Always store your records upright, as even leaning them heavily on one another can create too much pressure, causing your records to warp or scratch.
  4. Replace old and damaged sleeves: It’s usually recommended that you remove the plastic wrap from records as soon as you get them so it doesn’t shrink or damage the album cover.

While we wouldn’t recommend chronological, here are the main options for organising your vinyl record collection:

Alphabetically by artist – the most straightforward, but bear in mind how you treat solo artists e.g. last name, first name or first name, last name. Take the librarian’s approach of last name, first name.

Alphabetically by Genre – if you have a very large record collection this will be a good option as long as you can easily decide in your own mind where artists belong. For example Fleetwood Mac records could fall into these genres, Blues, Rock, Pop and Acoustic. Jazz has many sub-genres and never the twain shall meet such as Free Jazz or Trad Jazz.

Alphabetically by Album Title – Sometimes you just want find that one album and then this method is for you.

Chronological – here the records are organized based on the year they came out which is great for music historians but may make it harder for you to find that obscure Cocteau Twins record when you need it.

Autobiographical – Nope.

Tell us how you organise your vinyl record collection in the comments section below.

Origanizing your record collection

Organize your vinyl

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Vinyl records outsell digital downloads for the first time in the UK

In the UK, as November turned to December, sales of vinyl records hit £2.4 million last week, beating the £2.1 million from digital downloads. There is also anecdotal evidence that the resurgence of vinyl is not just people of a certain reliving past musical memories.

New generations buy vinyl recordsVinyl records

Kim Bayley, chief executive of the Entertainment Retailers Association told The Guardian, “We have a new generation buying vinyl, lots of teenagers and lots of people under 25, who now want to buy their favourite artists on vinyl and have something a bit more tangible, a bit more collectible. People have become keen to support their favourite artists by buying into that ownership concept. It’s very difficult to demonstrate your love of an artist if you don’t have something to hold on to.”

Sean Forbes, who manages record shop Rough Trade West in London, which has been selling vinyl since 1979, said there was a “massive increase” in people buying vinyl and that new racks had been put in all Rough Trade shops to meet demand.

“Now it’s everyone who comes in to buy it, from 10-year-olds to 90-year-olds, we get the whole breadth,” said Forbes. “We now get a lot of people come in with their kids, and mum and dad want to start them off with a starter pack of good records. But you also still have the 65-year-old man who smells of weed who will always come into a record shop, stand around and then ask for something you haven’t got, and then leave. So it hasn’t changed completely.”

Adam Gillison of Jumbo Records told The Independent: “Ultimately, in this digital world our customers are continually looking for a tangible, physical way to celebrate their love for their favourite artists – something that digital services simply cannot offer.

“On top of this, over the last nine years the popularity of Record Store Day has continued to soar across the UK, so it comes as no surprise that the vinyl market continues to surge in this way.”

Vinyl records are priced higherRecord shop

While the revenue figures are higher, vinyl albums are priced much higher than downloads. Last week’s biggest-selling vinyl was Kate Bush’s triple-disc live album Before The Dawn, which retails at £52. A download of the same recording is available for £12.

All of which means that downloads are still the more popular product. According to the ERA, 120,000 vinyl albums were sold last week, compared with 295,000 digital ones.

The “vinyl revival” has been one of the most surprising success stories of the digital music era.

The format has now shown eight consecutive years of growth since facing near extinction in 2007, although it still represents less than 2% of the overall music market.

Overall sales of music have declined from about £634m in 2012 to £610m in 2015. The culture of paying for music may have missed a generation but is hopefully coming back as a new generation appreciate the struggles faced by new artists and damage done by streaming or downloading music for free.



Vinyl sales beat digital downloads for the first time

Tables turned as digital downloads are outsold by vinyl records


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Leonard Cohen dies aged 82, after releasing his 14th studio album

Leonard Cohen died on Friday 11 November 2016, aged 82 at his home in Los Angeles. He had just released his 14th studio album ‘You want it darker’ to great acclaim and was preparing for a world tour.

Although his music is often associated with melancholy introspection, his lyrics often had witty twists which chimes with an on-stage and off-stage personality that was warm and self-deprecating.

Early years

Leonard Norman Cohen was born in Westmount, a well-to-do area of Montreal, Canada on 21 September 1934.Leonard Cohen various positions

His mother had emigrated from Lithuania to Canada and his father Nathan, whose ancestors came from Poland, owned a successful clothing store.

His father died when Cohen was just nine years old but left his son a trust fund that would enable him to pursue his chosen literary career.

The young Cohen attended a privately run Jewish co-educational day school where he learned to play guitar and formed a folk group called the Buckskin Boys.

In 1951 he started studying English Literature at Montreal’s McGill University and published his first collection of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. His poetry was generally well received and he went on to release a second volume whilst studying at Columbia University in New York , entitled The Spice Box of Earth, in 1961, aged 27.

He took up travelling the world and indulged in whatever substances were available including LSD. After a spell in London he bought a typewriter, blue raincoat and moved to the Greek Island of Hydra.

He lived there with Norwegian Marianne Jensen, for whom he later wrote So Long Marianne. Her death in early 2016 inspired Cohen’s final album, You Want It Darker, released just three weeks ago.

He went on to publish two novels and moved to New York in 1966 with the aim of becoming a songwriter and singer. His debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, was released in December 1967 to reasonable commercial success, but instantly became a cult classic with stars such as Judy Collins covering the classic song Suzanne.

Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin and the Chelsea Hotel

Leonard Cohen wrote the song Chelsea Hotel about a sexual encounter with singer Janis Joplin and the story he often recounts on stage is rich with his typical dark humour and charm.

“A thousand years ago I lived at this Hotel in NYC. I was a frequent rider of the elevator on this Hotel. I will continuously leave my room and come back. I was an expert on the buttons of that elevator. One of the few technologies I really ever mastered. The door opened. I walked in. Put my finger right on the button. No hesitation. Great sense of mastery in those days. Late in the morning, early in the evening. I noticed a young woman in that elevator. She was riding it with as much delight as I was. Even though she commanded huge audiences, riding that elevator was the only thing she really knew how to do. My lung gathered my courage. I said to her “Are  you looking for someone?”  She said  “Yes, I’m looking for Kris Kristofferson  “I said  “Little Lady, you’re in luck, I am Kris Kristofferson.”  Those were generous times. Even though she knew that I was somewhat shorter than Kris Kristofferson, she never let on. Great generosity prevailed in those doom decades. Anyhow I wrote this song for Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel.”

Although it became known that the female protagonist was Janis Joplin, Cohen always regretted the locker room revelation of lines like “giving me head on the unmade bed, while the limousines wait in the street.”, although this is balanced by “You told me again you preferred handsome men but for me you would make an exception.”

The man who others covered

Although his albums and music had a dedicated following, Leonard Cohen’s songs were frequently covered by other people. Arguably, his most famous song is Hallelujah which was covered many times with a particularly haunting version by Jeff Buckley in 1994 followed by another cover by Rufus Wainwright which featured in the hit movie Shrek.


Songs like ‘I can’t forget’, ‘First we take Manhattan’ and ‘Tower of Song’ have also been covered by diverse artists such as The Pixies, Nick Cave etc etc. ‘Suzanne’ has had versions by Neil Diamond, Nina Simone and Roberta Flack. The album ‘I’m Your Fan’ has various Alternative artists covering his songs including three increasingly unhinged versions of Tower of Song by Nick Cave.

Leonard Cohen’s lyrics and music will live on and he leaves a rich legacy.

More about Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen remembered

30 great covers of Leonard Cohen songs that aren’t Hallelujah

Obituary: Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen Janis Joplin and the Chelsea Hotel

Leonard Cohen albums ranked

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