From Joni Mitchell to The Fall: LYR’s Simon Armitage prescribes 9 of his favourite albums
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We’re extremely humbled to be joined for our latest instalment of Doctor’s Orders by Britain’s Poet Laureate—as well as writer, novelist and vocalist for LYR—the wonderful Simon Armitage. We caught up with Simon mid-lockdown for a chat about some of his favourite records and how they’ve helped shape his life.
As the vocalist for LYR, Armitage has gained himself yet another platform for his heartening and connective poetry. The group manage to not only tap into the primordial metre of word and beat but sprinkle it with the sheen of modernity and, most importantly, they’ve made a cracking new record. Call in the Crash Team arrives June 26th and delivers a perfect distillation of the poignancy that poetry and music can provide.
Of course, not everyone is capable of providing such fine stitching of two arts — LYR have some serious credentials in their ranks. Not only do they have the wildly talented Richard Walters and Patrick Pearson creating the beats and music of the project, but the words come from none other than Britain’s current Poet Laureate. It meant Armitage was the perfect guest for our Doctor’s Orders feature.
Continuing with our Mental Health Awareness campaign, Far Out Magazine has teamed up with the suicide prevention charity CALM to help connect you with your favourite artists and hear how music has helped them during their darker times.
The organisation, with the full working title of ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’, offer a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for those most in need of mental health support. At a time when millions of people have been forced to stay home during strict lockdown measures, CALM have seen a huge spike in their workload.
We at Far Out Magazine believe in music’s ability to heal. It could be the moment that the needle drops on your favourite album and provides respite from a chaotic world or, conversely, it might be the fanatic conversation you have with friends about which guitarist was the greatest. Music, it’s safe to say, has always allowed us to connect with one another and ourselves.
In support of CALM, we’re asking a selection of our favourite people to share nine records that they would prescribe for anyone they met and the stories behind their importance. Doctor’s Orders will be a new weekly and ongoing feature will see some of our favourite musicians, actors, authors comedians and more, offer up the most important records, which they deem essential for living well.
Simon Armitage takes on the challenge of prescribing nine albums for living well and his selections offer not only a perfect playlist but a reflection of Armitage’s life so far and how music has always played some role in it. Naturally, his choices are varied but they all hang on a few notable hooks.
Expect to see selections from celebrated lyricists as well as music that doesn’t engage the mind but directly with the soul.
Simon Armitage’s 9 favourite albums:
Every Valley – Public Service Broadcasting
The first pick from Armitage is the third record from the brilliant Public Service Broadcasting, Every Valley:“It’s a kind of concept album, really,” reflects the poet. “And it includes a lot of spoken word, which I’ve always liked on the record. It’s something very personal too.
“It’s a record of great,resilience. It’s about the heart and soul of those mining communities in South Wales which were decimated when the mines shut. But it’s about the kind of heart and soul that lives on there. And he’s used local voices, local actors. And there’s a male voice choir at the end of the last track, which just always melts my heart.”
Having connections that run deep within mining communities, we talk about the concept of an all-male choir and how, even at football matches, they can provide an emotion unlike any other. “Incongruous as well. You know, you don’t expect such a sweet sound to come from, you know, particularly often reticent men who are involved in heavy industry.”
Live at the Counter Eurovision – Misty In Roots
The next record is a live album from reggae stalwarts Misty In Roots and their brilliant Live at the Counter Eurovision which the poet suggests adds another layer to the record saying “it’s a moment captured.”
“John Peel once described it as the greatest reggae album ever made. And, you know, he’s somebody whose opinions I always trusted.” Though he does confess, “Although I suppose there’s been quite a lot of reggae albums made since that time.”
Adding: “I was at college when I heard it, and that was when I woke up to issues of blackness and what it meant to be black in Britain. I’d grown up in a quite remote rural community and wasn’t exposed to a lot of those politics. In 1984, I went up to a big demo in London. I was at Portsmouth, at in college, and went up to this big demo and music festival in Jubilee Gardens in London. And Misty were playing that day along with The Smiths and Billy Bragg—it was that era when politics and music were really intertwined. So, it’s got memories for me of political passion and the unity of a big crowd coming together for a cause. There’s a fantastic photograph online taken that day. And I like looking at it and thinking I was in that crowd somewhere.
“There’s something about Reggae—when it’s really working—that it feels as if it’s in harmony with the heart beat. There’s a trade, back and forth, of the noise and the off-rhyme and the off-rhythm and at about the pace of the heart.”
High Land, Hard Rain – Aztec Camera
The debut jangle-pop joy of Aztec Camera’s High Land, Hard Rain was always going to be a pick from Armitage growing up during the eighties. “I was at college and it became the sort of album of the corridor. You know, everybody’s room that you walk past. This album was coming out of it.
“I’d been listening to, you know, a lot of kind of very dour and sombre music for quite a long time. The whole post-punk scene. And this was suddenly very exuberant, melding together of sort of indie values and pop, which I’d always rejected since punk. So it was kind of a relief as much as anything that people could make kind of pop record that was still cool.”
Dogrel – Fontaines D.C.
Next up was one of our standout albums from the last few years, the uncanny Dogrel from Dublin’s own Fontaines D.C. “This is about the energy really. The energy of youth. It’s love, passion and vitriol,” Armitage explains.
“It’s just one of them albums where, every now and again at my age, you think am I finished with that genre of music? You know, maybe I should be listening to Shostakovich this morning… Which I do. But then you hear that and you think, no, you know, this is this still gets me really revved up.”
Looking at how a band like Fontaines break out in a saturated scene, Armitage suggested “there’s got to be something extra. It’s quite hard to define what it is. But, they’ve definitely got it.”
Debut – Björk
The debut record from Bjork was always likely to feature in Armitage’s list, her iconic first release as a solo artist change the landscape of music. “I’d just been to Iceland and written a book there. And it’s where I met my wife. This record has a very kind of special place in our family history.”
Armitage continued” “I remember being in a nightclub in Reykjavik dancing to a chuck on a called ‘Big Time Sensuality’, which is a big booming dance track. And it’s got lovely songs on it, like ‘Venus Is a Boy. So it’s got personal meanings for me that go beyond. You know, I bring luggage to it.”
Reflecting on how songs can instantly take you to another place in time, Armitage shared that he had the record on repeat: “It’s got great bounce that album. It’s very ‘up’.”
The Button Down Mind Strikes Back – Bob Newhart
Another selection that we imagine Bjork herself would be proud of, if only for the non-conformist ethos, as the poet picks a record from comedian Bob Newhart. Comedy albums have since died out but, for a while, they were extremely lucrative and a permanent fixture in people’s collections.
“When I was growing up, we only had about five or six albums in the house and this was one of them,” Armitage said. “So I guess it’s like spoken word, but it’s standup comedy, really. And my dad thought this guy was absolutely hilarious and so did I. When I started listening to this album again, I realised that I’ve used phrases of his sometimes when I’m speaking, and probably in poems sometimes as well. Its delivery, it’s very droll, very laid back.”
Ladies of the Canyon – Joni Mitchell
We weren’t surprised by Simon’s next pick, one of music’s most fantastic wordsmiths—Joni Mitchell. But we did take a second look at the album he chose. “I couldn’t decide really between Blue, which is everybody’s favourite. Joni Mitchell album and it’s just a masterpiece or Ladies of the Canyon, which is so less well known but it’s still a really wonderful album. I will go for the Ladies of the Canyon just to be massively controversial and stop a kind of, you know, a revolution.”
Reflecting on our brief of picking records to help people through some tough times, Armitage reflected: “I was thinking about ideas of music that sort of make makes you happy—that can lift you. I realised when I was thinking about this that I don’t listen to music for that reason, particularly. If I want to get jolly well, I wouldn’t put a record on.
“I think what I do when I listen to music is that I want to find something that resonates, something that’s operating at the same frequency as my mood and something that sort of, I don’t know, reverberates within my soul. And it might not be happiness achieved, but it’s a comfort or a familiarity that’s brought about.
“So even though, you know, you couldn’t point to the Ladies of the Canyon say this is a really upbeat, exuberant album, it resonates at some level that that makes me feel okay about myself.”
Cupid & Psyche 85 – Scritti Politti
Next up was another track from Simon’s musically formative years and the eccentric but much-loved band Scritti Politti. The poet admits the band were of “very strange provenance really. Essentially a guy called Green Garside who came out of Leeds, in the beginning. So they were part of that proto-punk set of The Mekons and Gang of Four and produced highly political, philosophical, early works and then they produced a couple of really amazing pop albums of which this is one.”
He reveals: “Every now and again, I think the album must sound terrible now. And I put it on again, and it still sounds absolutely brilliant, really fantastic production quality.”
Fall Heads Roll – The Fall
A self-confessed “big Fall fan” Armitage had set himself a challenge during the enforced social distancing: “I was going to set myself the task during lockdown of listening to every Fall album… and then I decided that the lockdown probably won’t last long enough.”
Perhaps one of his most cherished bands, Armitage could have likely filled this entire list with albums form the band. “I’ve been with The Fall right from the beginning, right through to the end. That’s quite a career—from the late ’70s, their first albums and right through to when Mark Smith died. So the album that I’m picking is the track is their 24th studio album, which is by no means a late Fall album. And it’s called Fall Heads Roll.
“You know, a lot of bands, you know, make great sounds at the beginning of their career because they’re doing something unique because they haven’t really mastered any technique. So they don’t really sound like anybody. Then they sort of peter out a little bit or they start to sound like everybody else. But The Fall only sounds like The Fall and yet every album as its own quirks and strangeness. It’s just absolutely thundering.”
“After the album, he sacked all that band and started with another era of four musicians who went on to make probably some of the best albums that The Fall ever made. But that one for me was the album that sort of retuned me back to The Fall after a time of slightly drifting away from them.”
Armitage concluded: “It’s not something that your neighbours would want to hear coming through the wall. And it’s not something that I play, you know, with the rest of the family or in.”