Alex’s End of Year Prizes 2016

Happy Boxing Day one and all! Hope you are having a lovely Christmas so far, whatever you may be up to (cue festive emojis 🎅🎅🎅 🎁🎁🎁 🎄🎄🎄). Today’s blog sees the third annual giving out of my End of Year Prizes. 

2016 has, it’s safe to say, been an odd mistress of a year, but has been regardless packed full of some great music, TV, film and books. 

So plump a cushion up, make a cuppa and grab some more Fox’s biscuits / Quality Street / Twiglets as I dish out my awards to the great and good of this year…

SINGLE OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: DNCE for “Cake by the Ocean”!

It was a very close run thing deciding between this and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as my overall favourite of 2016. However, the former Jo Bro, Joe Jonas, rose from the embers of his Disney Channel past in his new band this year, with a unabashedly upbeat, funk driven pop anthem that was just a little bit rude but a sneakily charming track regardless.

BAND OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNERS ARE: All Saints!

10 years ago, with the relative underperformance of their third album “Studio 1”, it would have been incredibly easy to dismiss the notion of the 90’s coolest girl group ever doing another album. But following on from a successful stint supporting Backstreet Boys in 2014, Melanie, Nicole, Shaznay and Natalie reconvened to record and self release their blinding fourth album and top 3 smash “Red Flag”, as well as sellout a headline tour (which I met them on in Southend. Go 9 year old me!). And 2017 promises to be even more exciting for the ladies as another new album is in the pipeline, as well as supporting Take That on their summer stadium tour. Bring it on, bring it bring it on now!

WOMAN OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Joanna Lumley!

The ever ageless, ever fabulous national darling not only hit the big screen in style this year (more of which later), but also continues to reposition herself as a one woman Michael Palin with her brilliant travel series on ITV, this time taking in Japan and the Transsiberian railway, with all the captivating, witty and engaging insight we’ve come to expect from her.

TV SHOW OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Strictly Come Dancing!

In a series that’s been, as now departed head judge Len Goodman put it, better than a bit of cheese with a pickled walnut, this year’s Strictly has dazzled as the strongest and most memorable series it’s had in years, with a high entertainment factor, dazzling contestants and a brilliantly gifted Glitterball trophy victor in BBC sports commentator Ore Oduba (that Jive. Nuff said). And serious props especially, has to be given to any primetime Saturday night show that gets former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls doing a samba to Gangnam Style. More than a SEVERRRN from me for sure.

BOOK OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Sue Perkins for “Spectacles: A Memoir”!

Again, very close run battle this category, with Miranda Hart’s long awaited “Peggy and Me” also in contention for the title, but the now departing host of “The Great British Bake Off” and one half of one of Britain’s funniest double acts with Mel Giedroyc published an autobiography that was as riotously hilarious as it was genuinely touching. The chapter recounting her filming of a TV show about off road Land Rover driving in Asia with Liza Tarbuck is an absolute hoot in particular.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Olly Murs for “24 HRS”!

Seven weeks after we heralded it the best album of his career, Olly scored his fourth consecutive UK number one album, and is now hurtling to another platinum disc with a record that stays true to his very ethos as an artist and performer that is packed with hits in waiting as usual, but with his most mature and confident approach to date. Expect this to be another million seller by this time next year!

SINGER OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Rick Astley!

The Northern legend who started his career as a tea boy for Stock Aitken Waterman in the 80s, before going onto become an actual pop legend in his own right with “Never Gonna Give You Up” on both sides of the Atlantic in 1987, made a blinding return to the top of the UK charts this year with the excellent “50” album, his first new material in over 10 years. With a new tour planned for next year, he remains as timeless now as he did 30 years on from his debut.

MAN OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Tom Fletcher!

McFly frontman, singer, songwriter, guitarist. Vlogger. Twice winner of Dad of the Year. Wedding speech legend. Joining that little pool of Tom’s endless talents this year was “children’s author”, as following on from his “Dinosaur that Pooped” series of picture books with bandmate Dougie Poynter, he published his beautifully heartwarming first novel for young readers in “The Christmasaurus”. This time next year he’ll take to the stage for a sold out run of a live adaptation of the book at Hammersmith Apollo – which if this preview at this year’s Royal Variety Performance is anything to go by, will be equally epic.

FILM OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Absolutely Fabulous – The Movie!

So as we mentioned earlier, Joanna Lumley is (sort of) a double prize winner this year, as along with her partner in crime/comedy Jennifer Saunders, they returned in some serious style as Edina and Patsy for a successful big screen jaunt of Ab Fab that proved to be as hilarious as the original TV series was. It’s a two hour caper with gags and cameos a plenty.

COMEDIAN OF THE YEAR

AND THE WINNER IS: Michael McIntyre!

One of Britain’s best stand ups of the last decade ventured unsuccessfully into judging Britain’s Got Talent and hosting a short lived chat show, but he finally came into his own this year with the launch of his “Big Show” variety series filmed at the London Palladium for BBC One, which has already had two successful runs and returns for a third in 2017. The “Celebrity Send to All” game in particular (here’s Geri Halliwell’s one), is the most inspired feature in a primetime entertainment show since James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.

COMEBACK OF 2016

AND THE WINNER IS: Craig David!

In a year full of some almighty returns, the Southampton boy who bought UK garage to the world’s stage all the way back in 2000 made a triumphant return this year after half a decade out of the spotlight here in good ol’ Blighty. He scored himself a number one album with his comeback release “Following My Intuition”, highly praised live turns from Glastonbury to Ibiza, and top 10 hits a plenty with “When the Bassline Drops”, “Ain’t Giving Up” and “One More Time” to name but a few. And with 2017 boasting a sold out arena tour and further future hits to come, Mr David is well and truly the comeback kid.

SPECIAL AWARD: ICON PRIZE

AND THE WINNER IS: David Bowie!

It’ll be hard not to think of 2016, in years to come, as a year when we lost some of the most recognised and best loved figures in music, TV and film. As I sit here writing this today, the world is coming to terms with the passing yesterday of George Michael, at the age of 53.

But the one that had the most profound effect on me this year, and who is the deserved winner of my Icon Prize is David Bowie, whose first anniversary of his death at the age of 67 is but a few weeks away now. 

It’s easy to dissolve into platitudes, but his music, his innovation, his artistry and his vision broke down barriers and paved the way for much of what followed in the pop culture spectrum in subsequent decades, and it’s unlikely to be bettered or replicated by anyone. He will remain an icon for years to come.
Congratulations to all our winners, and thank you to everyone for reading and supporting the blog this year. See you all in 2017!

Much love always,

Alex  😄 😄 😄 x x x

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#CrazyStupidAlbum: Olly Murs (@ollyofficial) – “24 HRS”

Firstly, a hearty welcome back one and all! I’ve missed you all. I may or may not divulge in another forthcoming blog why there has been a silence of nigh on three months since my last post – real life mostly to place the blame on there. Secondly, Olly Murs is back (I know so, having met him again at his album signing in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush tonight – picture below. True gent as always). And with just seven weeks left of 2016, he has just released what may very well be the best pop album of the year.

It says a lot that of the classes of 2008 – 12 of “The X Factor” – read as the show’s peak years – only he, Little Mix and (a newly resurgent) James Arthur are still standing and making music. This, his fifth album in a thus far 7 year career also says a lot. The follow up to 2014’s chart topping “Never Been Better” thus already has a lot going for it.

It’s also a marked change in direction for the patron saint of cheeky chappy. Much has happened between now and his last album – some of which have been covered on here. We first got the hint last year that things were moving in a more mature direction music wise, when he released the brilliant “Kiss Me” as a new track from a repacked version of “Never Been Better”, a catchy but funky, slightly more moody dancefloor number which sounded fresh out of the late 80s and onto the 21st century airwaves.

Last year also saw him part ways with his long term girlfriend of three years, an experience which he has channelled into the lyrics and to the overall vibe of “24 HRS”. The results thus make for some of the most bold and adventurous sounds Murs has committed to record thus far.

Lead single and summer smash “You Don’t Know Love“, with its soaring chorus and electro tinged backing, sets up the tone of the album, beginning as it does right at the crux of a break up, which can be a painful experience however amicable it may be, but which vocally, Olly conveys perfectly. This theme carries on into “Years & Years”, a trip-hop laden demi-ballad wistfully mourning the passing of good times with a former flame.

Acoustic based jam “Grow Up“, the album’s current single, explores the more scathing side of a breakup as well, whilst maintaining the roguish charm of his earlier hits such as on the chorus line: “You’re so vain that I already know / That when you hear this on the radio / You’re gonna turn it up, turn it up, turn it up / Cause it’s all about you”. “Love You More” (not a JLS cover, sadly) and the oddly hypnotic title track with its Aqualung style sound also cover this theme further. Slightly sarcastic bitterness set to icy cold synths suits him down to a tee. Who’d thunk it?

Anyone fearing the album is missing his all important cheek though, need not worry, as there’s plenty of that abound – this time, taking on a racier, sexier direction. “Private”, his collaboration with wonderfully talented singer songwriter MNEK, is a straight up banger about keeping PDAs behind closed doors, whilst “Read My Mind” and “Unpredictable” glide charmingly and effortlessly along on a cool R&B vibe – both could be future singles.

For me, “Back Around” is one of the big standouts. It strikes a fine balance between the unique, uplifting sound that has got Olly to where he is now, but looks forward with this new sound of his as well, combining acoustic guitar with sharp dancefloor hooks in a manner many have attempted in recent months but few have convincingly pulled off. He is among that few.

With a career that has continued to defy expectations, and some of his strongest vocal and writing turns to date, “24 HRS” is a smart, honest but thoroughly enjoyable album. And there’s much to suggest here that Olly is onto potentially the biggest success of his career to date with this release. All the more praise to him for it!

5/5

STREAM THESE: “Back Around”, “Years & Years”, “Private”

“24 HRS” is out today via RCA/Sony. Olly is back on the road for a new arena tour in the UK and Ireland next March – tickets and dates available at www.ollymurs.com/live.

Dear Cat & Fi: The One with all the Soup

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hellllooo thar! Firstly my apologies. This is the first and long overdue ‘Dear Cat & Fi’ of 2016, which we are now a whole month and a bit into. Scary how fast the year has gone already that we are now approaching spring (although looking outside right now as I write this with the gale force winds, you probably wouldn’t know any different). I can only say that #reallife put paid to me writing a new entry to you both, but tonight seemed like a good time to so, better late than never etc.

So as I write this, I am listening – perhaps somewhat unseasonably some may argue – to the album which I have often cited as my ‘happy and alone on an island’ album. The album in question being ‘In Between Dreams’ by Jack Johnson, my copy of which, I was working out yesterday, I have now owned for 10 years. 2006 is now 10 YEARS AGO. Where the hell did that go?

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It’s made me feel somewhat reflective of the 10 years that has passed, and how much has happened to us all in that time. Thankfully, the only pictures in existence of me from that time is minimal – probably best for everyone’s sake. I’m truly one of those people that still talks about 2006 like it was yesterday, but perhaps this is one of the signs of my ever advancing years. I mean I’m three years off turning 30 for God’s sake!

So where was I? Oh yes, Jack Johnson. I find myself listening to his album at this time of year more than any other. We’re not quite near spring yet, and summer is still so far away that you find yourself wanting a lilting hit of laid back sunshine. And one listen to songs like ‘Better Together’, ‘Breakdown’, and – yes, there really is a song on there called this – ‘Banana Pancakes’ suddenly gives you a warming sense of comfort that the world is a better place.

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Elsewhere, I am living up to Mum’s new nickname for me of the ‘Soup Dragon’ – only less scaly and cute – and have become addicted to soups whilst the cold weather rages on. My particular new favourite is the above ‘Chicken Broth’ from Scottish based Baxters. Especially as I’m on a health kick at the moment, it’s difficult to find good soups that keep me going through to dinner time, but this actually tastes and reminds me of Mumma Mac’s now famous kitchen sink soups she used to rustle up on snow days when we were kids.

I think it was Nigella Lawson who once said that any form of chicken soup was like Jewish penicillin, but this is like restorative heaven in a bowl, just enough chicken and stock, but plenty of vegetables and risotto rice. Utterly yummers and naturally low in the naughty stuff.

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So what else have I been up to? Well, I had a mini Herts Uni reunion last weekend when my best girl Amy Warner was in town. We went for lunch together at Hungry Horse along with her sister Jennie and her fella Graham – or Rossy as he’s more commonly referred to – and had many laughs and a good catch up. They are in fact moving slightly near your neck of the woods to Maidenhead in April, Cat, so I may even kill two birds with one stone to see you both next time.

I also a few weeks ago, as you may have seen, posted a new poem on here. It’s my intention now this new year is under way to showcase more of my writing on here this year, which means lots more poems, and also other stuff I’ve been working on, so all feedback and comments are welcome etc. I will in fact be showcasing a project that’s been three years in development in the next couple of blogs so that’s rather exciting.

Anyway, hope you are both well and keeping safe and warm in this horrible weather. Speak to you both next week, for now, in the words of the late Sir Terry Wogan (RIP) at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually, I do. I’ve seen the rehearsals.’

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Luv-oo, Alex

x x

The Hall

By Alex MacGregor

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Nothing has changed.

Polished wood, radiator guards.
Chairs stacked in two.
Windows peeling with white paint.

Nothing has changed.

Pyrex mugs, a giant urn.
Coffee, tea.
Custard creams and bourbons.

Nothing has changed.

The distant echoes.
Squeaking footsteps, joyful laughter.
Not knowing where we were going.

Nothing has changed.

Clinging evermore to a memory.
Untouched by the passing of time.
As I still see it.

Nothing has changed.

Poem © 2016 Alex MacGregor Ltd. All rights reserved.