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2015: The best bits

Bitter Lake 1

Bitter Lake, a documentary directed by Adam Curtis and available all year on BBC iPlayer, spends two and a half hours examining the half-hidden history of the last 70 years and offers a profoundly troubling catalogue of epic miscalculations, very few of them committed in innocence. Assembling a mosaic of footage from many sources, and using music — from Messaien to This Mortal Coil — quite brilliantly to counterpoint his chosen images, Curtis examines the deep causes of recent events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The film’s existence, and its availability, makes a conclusive argument on behalf of independent public service broadcasting. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:


1. Steve Lehman Octet (Bimhuis, Amsterdam, February)

2. Matana Roberts (OSLO, Hackney, October)

3. The Necks (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, November)

4. Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet (Pizza Express, July)

5. Giovanni Guidi Trio (Rosenfeld Porcini Gallery, April)

6. Bob Dylan (Royal Albert Hall, October)

7. Discreet + Oblique: The Music of Brian Eno (Barbican, September)

8. Sophie Agnel/John Edwards/Steve Noble (Vortex, March)

9. Jason Pierce/Wm Eggleston’s Stranded in Canton (Barbican, July)

10. Julia Holter (Islington Assembly Hall, November)

11. Annette Peacock (Cafe Oto, November)

12. Nik Bärtsch’s Rhythm Clan (Kings Place, November).

13. Alexander Hawkins Trio (Cafe Oto, April)

14. Yazz Ahmed (Canary Wharf Jazz Festival, August)

15. Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit (Cafe Oto, May)

16. Selvhenter (A l’Arme Festival, Berlin, August)

17. Binker & Moses (Foyle’s, September)

18. Amok Amor (Vortex, November)

19. Cécile McLorin Salvant (Ronnie Scott’s, June)

20. Björn Lücker’s Aquarian Jazz Ensemble (Jazzahead, Bremen, April)


1. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath/Interscope)

2. Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Dance (Blue Note)

3. The Weather Station: Loyalty (Paradise of Bachelors/Outside Music)

4. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee (Constellation)

5. Mette Henriette: Trio/Ensemble (ECM)

6. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (Columbia)

7. Kronos Quartet: Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector: Music of Terry Riley (Nonesuch)

8. Eddie Prevost etc: 3 Nights at Cafe Oto (Matchless)

9. Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (ENJA/Yellow Bird)

10. Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (Domino)

11. Georgie Fame: Swan Songs (Three Line Whip)

12. Don Henley: Cass County (Virgin)

13. Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi)

14. Mural: Tempo (Sofa Music)

15. The Henrys: Quiet Industry (own label)

16. Ryan Truesdell/Gil Evans Project: Lines of Color/Live at Jazz Standard (ArtistShare)

17. The Pop Group: Citizen Zombie (Freaks R Us)

18. Tore Brunborg: Slow Snow (ACT)

19. Drifter: Flow (Edition)

20. Eyebrow: Garden City (Ninety&Nine)


1. The Staple Singers: Faith & Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976 (Stax)

2. Bob Dylan: Bootleg Series Vol 12 / The Cutting Edge (Sony Legacy)

3. Georgie Fame: The Whole World’s Shaking 1963-66 (Polydor)

4. Miles Davis: Miles at Newport 1955-1975 (Columbia Legacy)

5. Don Cherry: Modern Art/Stockholm 1977 (Mellotronen)

6. Various: Rastafari: The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955-83 (Soul Jazz)

7. Various: Jon Savage’s 1966 (Ace)

8. Graham Bond: Live at the BBC and Other Stories (BBC)

9. John Coltrane: So Many Things (Acrobat)

10. The Velvet Underground: Loaded (Atlantic)


1. Marshlands (dir. Alberto Rodríguez)

2. Timbuktu (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako)

3. Eden (dir. Mia Hansson-Love)

4. Straight Outta Compton (dir. F. Gary Gray)

5. Love & Mercy (dir. Bill Pohlad)


1. Hou Hsiao Hsien season (BFI)

2. L’Eclisse (dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)


1. Amy (dir. Asif Kapadia)

2. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution (dir. Stanley Nelson)

3. Sinatra: All or Nothing at All (dir. Alex Gibney)

4. The Wrecking Crew (dir. Danny Tedesco)

5. Atomic (dir. Mark Cousins)


1. Oresteia (Almeida, July)

2. Robert Wilson in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (Barbican, June)

3. Richard Alston Dance Company: Overdrive (The Place, June)


1. Agnes Martin (Tate Modern)

2. William Kentridge: More Sweetly Play the Dance (Marian Goodman)

3. David Jones: Vision and Memory (Pallant House Gallery, Chichester)

4. Richard Diebenkorn (Royal Academy)

4. Robert Gumpert: The Bridge (Menier Gallery)

5. Peter Lanyon: Gliding Paintings (Courtauld Institute)


1. Everything by Patrick Modiano, including The Search Warrant, Honeymoon, Out of the Dark and Suspended Sentences


1. Barbara Frenz (tr. J. Bradford Robinson): Music to Silence to Music: A Biography of Henry Grimes (Northway)

2. Richard Goldstein: Another Little Piece of My Heart (Bloomsbury)

3. Jon Savage: 1966 (Faber & Faber)

4. Simon Spillett: The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes (Equinox)

5. Tom Jones (w/Giles Smith): Over the Top and Back (Michael Joseph)

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Some splendid choices here – but shocked not to see I Believe in Miracles here… Not suggesting it should supersede Timbuktu (my film of the year) but still deserving some love!

    December 15, 2015
  2. Paul Tickell #

    Yes, a great selection. Not sure what I personally would choose but Timbuktu, L’Eclisse, and Jon Savage’s 1966 book would definitely be there.

    December 15, 2015
  3. Many thanks for the endorsement, Richard. I’m also glad you’ve nominated the John Coltrane ‘So Many Things’ boxed set too.
    Best Wishes
    Simon Spillett

    December 16, 2015
  4. Tony May #

    Thank you for a great year’s reading, Richard, for all the tips and commentary through 2015.

    December 16, 2015
  5. Jon Ramsey #

    Hi Richard. Great list and thanks for all the columns throughout the year. Without the Blue Moment I wouldn’t have spent 4 great nights at Oto listening to the Necks, got to explore the music of Matana Roberts, ditto William Kentridge’s exhibition etc etc. All the best Jon Ramsey

    December 16, 2015
    • Paul Crowe #

      Just to echo earlier comments …..

      Thanks a lot, Richard, for some wonderfully informative and insightful pieces throughout the year.

      December 16, 2015
  6. Paul Tickell #

    Re William Kentridge: just a few weeks ago he directed a really interesting South African play at the Print Room in Notting Hill – ‘Ubu and the Truth Commission’. It had the lot – great acting, back-projection, puppetry, humour and radical politics.

    December 16, 2015

    Thanks, Richard – a great list. Nice to see the Staple Singers’ box heading your selection of re-issues; it’s on my ‘to buy’ list. I was expecting that Rhiannon Giddens might have featured somewhere – her album would certainly be in my ‘2015 best bits’ selection, and I was lucky enough to catch her live in Rotterdam in July, and she and her excellent band were simply stunning; definitely one of my gigs of the year. It just goes to show how much great music is around – how fortunate we are.

    Another 2015 ‘best bit’ – almost everything I heard at this year’s Berlin Jazz Festival; many, many thanks for pulling together such a great line-up – I’m planning for 2016 in Berlin already …

    December 18, 2015
    • Thanks, Graham. I’m sorry I missed Rhiannon Giddens’ live shows.

      December 20, 2015
  8. Rick Hanley #

    Thanks in particular for the heads-up on Bitter Lake; the most enlightening two and a quarter hours of 2015. I am only sorry that I ignored your advice and wasted a similar amount of time by watching the ghastly Inherent Vice.

    December 28, 2015

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