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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They’re moving, they’re coming: my thoughts on the glorious return of All Saints

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I’ve spoken many a time on this here blog before about my formative experiences with being introduced to music. And with the return this week of All Saints, the sassier, streetwise and grittier alternative to many of their 90s and 00s pop contemporaries, now seems like a good time to breach this very subject again.

The question ‘What was the first record ever you bought?’, is I find, one that people try and attempt to prevaricate around for fear of not being cool or for having made musical choices that it was completely fine for a nine or ten year old mind to make. I am not one of these people, nor have I ever attempted to be.

My first recollection of being introduced to the quartet of Shaznay Lewis, Melanie Blatt, and sisters Nicole & Natalie Appleton, was from my best friend at primary school, Jack. His parents were quite well off and as such, he had access to the now defunct Smash Hits magazine as soon as it came out and the latest singles on CD, which were more expensive back then.

I had to make do quite contently with the ex-chart singles counter in Our Price and Woolworths, and the same issues of Smash Hits once they were a month out of date and reduced to clear on the old magazine stall in Chelmsford market. However, having a friend like Jack was cool because he more often then not, let me used to read his copy at lunchtime and keep the songword cards I wanted.

It was on one such lunch time when we were about 8 or 9 that he introduced me to All Saints, and on his Walkman we listened to his tape of their first single, ‘I Know Where it’s At’. Sultry, slightly cool and a bit more R&B led then what I’d been aware of – keep in mind this was late 1997/early 1998, and the Spice Girls (who I also loved) were the dominant playground currency at this time – I was instantly hooked.

A couple of months after this, with my Christmas money that year, I duly went to the big Woolworths in Braintree high street – which is now an Iceland – and marched up not to my usual stomping ground of the ex-singles bargain bucket, but instead to the main, full price singles chart, and purchased their break through UK chart topper ‘Never Ever’ on CD. This was the very first record I bought.

Looking back now it’s a very grown up choice for a 9 year old’s first single, certainly when you listen back to it, as I indeed am whilst writing this very post. Written by Shaznay with the legendary Cameron McVey (Massive Attack, and then later Sugababes) at a time when a relationship with her boyfriend was falling apart, its wistful, reflective nature backed with a rousing, almost gospel like new swing beat was like audial manna from heaven. Even now, when the song starts quite simply with Nicole speaking her lines in a Shangri-La style over the piano melody: ‘A few questions that I need to know / How you could ever hurt me so’, I’m entranced.

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Such was mine and Jack’s love of the Saints, that on non uniform days we took to dressing in their common attire of combat trousers and black t-shirts with Timberland boots thinking we were dead cool. In a class topic about mini beasts (read: insects), we also captured, wrote about and ultimately dissected for supposedly scientific purposes, a wasp and a slug that we christened Shaznay and Natalie respectively. (Shaznay and Natalie, if you are reading this, I apologise on behalf of mine and Jack’s 9 year old selves. We were very weird.)

So apart from naming insects for lame school projects and forming one of my strongest childhood friendships, what else did All Saints bring to these ears? Well, as I touched on with ‘Never Ever’, they were always aimed at a slightly cooler and older class then my own dear one. That’s the funny thing about when you’re young: you spend half your time attracted by the idea of being older and more grown up, and ultimately wishing your life away, only to find years later it was all just a lie to seduce you into thinking that way.

Of course, All Saints were happily not all just a lie, and I remained a fan of theirs as the years went on, when they came to release their second album ‘Saints & Sinners’ in 2000, on which lay both of their dream like, ambient and lush William Orbit helmed chart toppers ‘Pure Shores’ and ‘Black Coffee’, when they split acrimoniously over a jacket in 2001 and then branched out into solo careers (duo in the Appletons’ case, for their brilliant 2003 effort ‘Everything’s Eventual’), and when they reformed briefly in 2006 for the criminally underrated and commercially underperforming ‘Studio 1’ and its marvellous lead single ‘Rock Steady’.

Now joining that list of ‘whens’, is the ‘when’ from this week, as after a 10 year absence they unveiled their first new material, ‘One Strike’, off their fourth studio album ‘Red Flag’ due for release in April. Musically, so much of the elements that drew me to buying ‘Never Ever’ with my Christmas money all those years ago drew me to ‘One Strike’ when I heard it for the first time this week. That same poised, Kohl eyeliner stained but majestically harmonised setup is all present and correct.

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It nods respectfully to what made them such a runaway hit the first time around, but unlike other music comebacks of recent years, there is something about All Saints returning which feels more like this is a return which has every right to be happening. The second you hear them sing together again, there is a natural and honest chemistry that is undeniable on record as it is when you see them together.

That’s a very rare thing, something that was rare even back in 1997, and to have retained that nearly 20 years on is not only rare but quite special. I’m just kicking myself that their comeback show at Camden KOKO sold out so fast on Friday just gone. Until then, here’s hoping a full tour gets announced, whilst I wait feverishly with anticipation for what I think is going to be one of the pop albums of 2016. All Saints have marched back in, and they know fully well where it’s at.

All Saints’ new album ‘Red Flag’ is out via London/Fascination on 8th April. The first single ‘One Strike’ is available to download and stream now. They play Camden KOKO in London for a one off gig on 4th April, and will play V Festival and Cornbury Festival later this summer. Twitter: @AllSaintsOffic