The Zaw Towers Review of 2022

2022 was a much better year compared to the previous two. Things started to move back to more normality, which did at least mean I was able to have a relaxed 50th birthday with The Love In My Heart and some quality time away, and see friends I'd not seen in almost three years and have some memorable times with them too. That for me was special and the face to face interactions with people, and getting on with work in a big way, really did make for a positive year. So, what were my highlights? You're about to find out.

Best Single/Track of 2022 - "The Poppies Strike Back" - Pop Will Eat Itself
And did they ever! This was much more akin to the 1994-era Industrial Poppies era, and all the better for it, with the lines being all about how the ways that society, social media messaging and propaganda were twisting people and words. Powerful and important, and to have nods as well to their previous songs (spot the samples from Crazy Horses, as first used in Def Con One) as well as a mighty catchy back beat to pogo along to and some evil synth noises, and you've got a winning formula that's become a live favourite for a very good reason. Seven years since their last single, and did they ever strike back!

Also recommended:
"Degradation Rules" - Ozzy Osbourne - You have Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi together. You know from that full well that it's going to be a full on assault on the senses, metal wise, with the guitar work into perfect doom metal territory. Add to that perfect bass from Robert Trujillo (Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies) as well as a blistering solo part with the harmonica kicking in at the start and end, and you've got a perfect recipe for an unlikely, but very welcome, modern day metal classic.
"Mascara Streakz" - Altered Images - Who would have thought that Clare Grogan would release another Altered Images album, 39 years after the last? And with it, what a comeback, with gorgeous pieces of pop throughout the album, including this title track which has so much funkiness and a lovely Summer vibe, with Clare's vocals sounding better than ever. A huge and welcome surprise.
"The Zealot Gene" - Jethro Tull - Another case of the first album in years from a band, and here Ian Anderson and co really do show that they're back - with a vengeance. Lyrically absolutely on the pulse with him in fine vocal from with a lyrical barb thrown in, and the flute of course present and correct, with some heavy guitars also. The title track of what is a very good album to check out.
"Vault of Heaven" - Pixies - Although these days it's a much more Americana inspired band rather than be the quiet bit loud bit peak, this certainly for me was the stand out single from the Doggerel album. Some gorgeous guitars give the choruses a break and departure from the more softer Americana in the verses, and so a different sort of quiet bit loud bit, and Black Francis on fine form lyrically too.

Best Album of 2022 - "Westgate Under Fire" - Dub War
2022 was the year of the musical comeback for sure, and after many years with Skindred, Benji Webbe and co had Dub War back on the agenda, and how. Thirteen tracks of raw power, energy and nods to their original dub, reggae and metal fusions and a host of guests including the late Ranking Roger, Mike Bordin of Faith No More, Jamie Miller and Mikey Doling from Snot, and others. Benji's voice is in superb form from the full on assault of Art of War, the vibes of Vibes in the Place, and the defiance of Get Back Up, the pure controlled anger in Blackkkman (key line "Afro Caribbean Cymru!") as well as the cover of Stay Together with a more mellow feel. There's something for everyone in here, and it stands up superbly against the other two Dub War albums. An absolutely essential return, to say the least.

Also recommended:
"The Unearthly Beauty of MJ Hibbett"- MJ Hibbett - Short and sharp songs in the main here, apart from the Brexit-tinged satire of Kenny's Brother Alan's Stag Do, subjects such as fire drills, the perils of project (mis)management via Agile, suffering pain with Bad Back, and the reflective It's Hard To Be Hopeful, as stupidity keeps winning, to a slant at People Who Stand In The Door being a pain in the backside. The wit and humour are still here in their droves, and having some added synth really does make it a really nice varied and fun album, and there's plenty of smiles to be had here.
"Tick Tick Tick" - Stephen Mallinder - Cabaret Voltaire may be no more, but the legacy lives on with Mal's excellent solo work, a perfect blend of beats and disco clash along with that distinct vocal of his. From the funky beats of Ringdropp to the disco sound of Hush and then to the brooding feel of the the title track, with the more minimal electronica of Shock To The Body, it's a really welcome and surprising feast of beats and puncuated and subtle use of instruments throughout.
"Tresor" - Gwenno - All the tracks apart from one are sung in Cornish, but that actually adds to the more mystique and almost cinematic feel that it provides, with the title track being perfect proof of that. There's also some delightful broodiness in the lengthy Ardamm, and a reflective feel in Porthia that is joyous too. The one Welsh track here, "N.Y.C.A.W" (Nid yw Cymru ar werth, Wales is not for sale) is also wonderful electronic pop with that Welsh edge. An intriguing and yet beautiful album.
"Stamina" - Grand Couloir - A very different release here, namely with some fusion jazz and nods to electronica throughout, recorded in Berlin and featuring no less than Volker Meitz on keyboards (some of you on the Commodore 64 front will know him as PRI of Oxyron). It's experimental in parts but with the keys and synths having some real heart to underpin all the mellow jazz vibes, especially on the likes of Yossarian Lives and Beseelt Benebelt, which has some gorgeous arpeggio with the trumpet as a lovely accompaniment there.

Best Concert of 2022 - Kristin Hersh, The Lexington, London
I actually managed to see Kristin Hersh twice this year, but for me the Sunday afternoon matinee show at the Lexington was a very special gig. It was two halves with lovely acoustic guitars and some storytelling along the way, but with Kristin in superb form vocally and really was hitting the mark with the selection of songs and the delivery with gusto of many of my own personal favourites from both solo and Throwing Muses eras, including the likes of Cottonmouth, Mississipi Kite, Your Dirty Answer, Flooding, and a hauntingly beautiful Your Ghost plus readings from the Seeing Sideways book too. It felt intimate and lovely to be at, and that's all thanks to Kristin making us all feel so welcome and warm.

Other Concerts I Enjoyed:
Paul Weller, de Montfort Hall, Leicester - To be able to see the Modfather at a really lovely venue, and have The Love In My Heart with me for it as a little treat close to her birthday was really special. A great cross section of his back catalogue too, including four Style Council songs (that pleased The Love immensely) - Shout to the Top being a highlight of that. We also did get the likes of From the Floorboards Up, Hung Up, You Do Something To Me, and closing the whole set with A Town Called Malice was an inspired move - the whole band on form and on fire. And we even got to meet Dean Nicholson and his famous cat Nala at Leicester station the next morning!
MJ Hibbett and Pete Green, The King and Queen, London - To say I'd missed the Totally Acoustic nights was an understatement. But for Pete to be here too and to read poems from his new book and give us lovely renditions of One Monday Morning and Get Drunk With Me Tonight was special, and so good to see him. Mark was on good form playing not just stuff from the new album, but classics such as Clubbing in the Week, Hey Hey 16K and The Lesson of the Smiths was very welcome indeed. Here's to his gig number 1000 in February next year, and yes, I will be there.

Best TV Programme of 2022 - Then Barbara Met Alan
Telling the story of campaigners Barbara Lisicki and Alan Holdsworth, the founders of DAN (Disabled People's Direct Action Network), in how they met, their campaigns against the likes of the ITV Telethon, and the motto to effectively pee on pity, it's not just a superlative drama with commanding performances from both Arthur Hughes and the superb Ruth Madeley, but a history lesson for the rest of us, showing the fight for the rights of disabled people, and being human and needing to be loved too. There's some beautiful moments of tenderness amongst the battles, but also the fact that those producing it didn't get just anyone to play the main characters, but those who've actually been there and lived it (see also an excellent appearance from Liz Carr from Silent Witness here) and there's a real sense of identity and an important drama that needs to be in every school curriculum as an important learning tool into acceptance of everyone.

Best Sporting Moment of 2022 - Lionesses at Women's Euro 2022
It was great of course seeing all the drama unfold of Manchester City winning the Premier League so dramatically, especially when coming back from 2-0 down on the final day of the season to win against Aston Villa, but for achievements, the Lionesses, coached by the excellent Sarina Weigman, really did shine in the Summer. Massive crowds at all games, and a family friendly atmosphere made it all enjoyable no matter what match you went to, but England were on a mission, crushing Norway 8-0 in the group stage, snatching an extra time winner against Spain in the quarter finals, hammering Sweden 4-0 in the semis, and then.. the final. And what a final, with Chloe Kelly's extra time winner sparking memories of Brandi Chastain and being an iconic moment for women's football. Look at the attendances in the women's game since, and the take up. This was their moment, and for someone like me who's followed them for many many years, a real punch the air moment of absolute joy. An honourable nod also to the wheelchair rugby league team too who won their World Cup in Manchester and got everyone taking about their superb sport.

Best male of 2022 - Volodymyr Zelenskyy
When the President of Ukraine stood up and was counted at the start of the Russian invasion, ensuring that he was on the front line with everyone, standing tall and showing the defiance by leading from the front, you couldn't help but feel a sense of pride that there was, unlike in the UK, proper leadership from someone. His communication with his people was to show that he was with them, suffering the same, and doing what he could to get political traction so that other countries would stand with Ukraine. His presence, his demeanour, and his heart has shown that you can be a leader who cares (see also Jacinda Ardern for example) and stands with you and for you. Time magazine gave him person of the year, and deservedly so, and I'm hoping in 2023 that Ukraine can stand, proudly, having defeated Russia. Oh, and he's also the voice of Paddington Bear in the Ukranian version of that film.

Best female of 2022 - Iryna Kondratova
Whilst war raged in Ukraine, and to the east of the country in particular, life for those who could not escape would not be easy in cities such as Kharkiv. Step forward Iryna Kondratova and her team of paeditricians at the hospital, who, despite heavy shelling and at risk to their own lives, continued to care tirelessly for pregnant women, newborns and mothers at the Kharkiv Regional Perinatal Centre. If there were intensive care babies that couldn't be moved, they would stay with them under her leadership. Such courage under fire and indeed being able to volunteer to take over David Beckham's Instagram to highlight the hidden face of war showed calm wisdom, and as she puts it herself "our dreams, our hopes and our faith are alive and stronger than ever."

Personal Moments of 2022 - 50th Birthday And Award Win At Work
It was nice to be able to celebate my 50th birthday in a relaxed way with The Love In My Heart, being away overnight at a really lovely hotel out in the country, and sharing some special moments with her during the day, especially the Bowland Brewery and its wonderful relaxed atmosphere and beers. It was just the thing to celebrate together and to be happy, so many thanks to her for being so lovely and kind. It made me feel very special. It was also around the same time that I was having to put things together to turn around readiness for a future work event in June, which didn't go unnoticed: I won an award for the work I did during that second quarter and I'm sure that'll contribute to me getting on and being progressing in my career too, so nice to feel that sense of achievement.