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2018: the best bits

Girl from the North Country 2

Sheila Atim (photograph: Manuel Harlan)

Girl from the North Country

Outside of the Rogers-and-Astaire films and Jersey Boys — and Broadway’s contribution to the American songbook, of course — musicals have never played much of a part in my life. I went to the opening night of Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country at the Old Vic in January only because I was asked to write a piece about how the playwright had responded to the invitation to build an evening around Bob Dylan’s songs. I got a pleasant surprise. The play was a little predictable and sometimes melodramatic. But Alan Berry, the musical director, and Simon Hale, the orchestrator, arranger and musical supervisor, had taken McPherson’s pleasingly eccentric selection and recreated them as something standing apart from a story set in Duluth, Minnesota – Dylan’s birthplace – around the time of the Depression, but entirely of a piece with the atmosphere. A little band played beautifully behind the singing of the cast, which was uniformly excellent – and in the case of Sheila Atim, delivering “Tight Connection to My Heart”, something rather more than that. I enjoyed it so much that when it transferred to the West End, I went back and was not inclined to change my view.

Here are the other things I particularly enjoyed this year:

Live performances

1 Ry Cooder (Cadogan Hall, October)

2 Mavis Staples (Union Chapel, July)

3 Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House (Cafe Oto, May)

4 Amir ElSaffar + Rivers of Sound (Kings Place, November)

5 Louis Moholo-Moholo Quartet (Cafe Oto, October)

6 Mary Halvorson Octet (Haus der Berliner Festspiele, November))

7 Nérija (Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, March)

8 Nels Cline 4 (Vortex, April)

9 Richard Thompson (Richmond Theatre, August)

10 Anthony Braxton’s ZIM Music (Cafe Oto, May)

11 Bill Frisell (Cadogan Hall, November)

12 Irreversible Entanglements (Haus der Berliner Festspiele, November)

13 Tony Malaby (Vortex, May)

14 Elaine Michener’s Sweet Tooth (St George’s, Bloomsbury, February)

15 Peter Hammill (Queen Elizabeth Hall, April)

16 The Necks (Cafe Oto, October)

17 Hamid Drake / Yuko Oshima (Haus der Berliner Festspiele, November)

18 Kit Downes / Tre Voci / Southbank Gamelan (Union Chapel, February)

19 Jamie Branch’s Fly or Die (Cafe Oto, November)

20 Martin Speake Quartet (Vortex, April)

New albums

1 Ambrose Akinmusire: Origami Harvest (Blue Note)

2 Moses Boyd Exodus: Displaced Diaspora (Exodus)

3 Arve Henriksen: The Height of the Reeds (Rune Grammofon)

4 Betty LaVette: Things Have Changed (Verve)

5 Tyshawn Sorey: Pillars (Firehouse 12)

6 Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Anti-)

7 Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes: Uplift the People (Ogun)

8 Swing Out Sister: Almost Persuaded (SOS)

9 Mary Halvorson: The Maid with the Flaxen Hair (Tzadik)

10 The Necks: Body (ReR)

11 Barre Phillips: End to End (ECM)

12 Mike Westbrook: Starcross Bridge (hatOLOGY)

13 Michael Mantler: Comment c’est (ECM)

14 Geir Sundstøl: Brødløs (Hubro)

15 Lio: Lio Canta Caymmi (Crammed Discs)

16= Brian Eno: Music for Installations (Opal)

16= Bryan Ferry: Bitter-Sweet (BMG)

18 Jon Hassell: Listening to Pictures (Ndeya)

19 Peter Hammill: From the Trees (Fie)

20 Lewis Wright: Duets (Signum Classics)

Archive / reissue albums

1 Negro Church Music (Man in the Moon)

2 Charles Mingus: Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery/ 46 Selden (BBE)

3 André Hodeir: Essais (Fresh Sound)

4 Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet (Resonance)

5 John Coltrane: Both Directions at Once (Impulse)

6 Mike Westbrook: In Memory of Lou Gare (Westbrook)

7 Chuck Jackson: The Best of the Wand Years (Ace)

8 Don Cherry: Studio 105, Paris 1967 (Hi-Hat)

9 Shirley Ellis: Three Six Nine (Ace)

10 Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette: After the Fall (ECM)

Feature films

1 A Woman’s Life (Une Vie) (dir. Stéphane Brizé)

2 Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

3 Cold War (dir. Pawel Pawlokovski)

4 The Guardians (Les Gardiennes) (dir. Xavier Beauvois)

5 Loveless (dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev)

6 Jeune Femme (dir. Léonor Serraille)

Books: non-fiction

1 Berlin 1936 by Oliver Hilmes (The Bodley Head)

2 Left Bank by Agnès Poirier (Bloomsbury)

3. Moneyland by Oliver Bullough (Profile)

Books: fiction

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape)

Books: poetry

The Long Take by Robin Robertson (Picador Poetry)

Books: photography

New York Scenes by Fred W. McDarrah (Abrams)


1 Ilse D’Hollander (Victoria Miro Mayfair)

2 Jean-Michel Basquiat: Boom for Real (Barbican)

3 The Age of Jazz in Britain (Two Temple Place)

4 London 1938 (Max Liebermann Villa, Wannsee)

5 Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ (Turner, Margate)


Childish Gambino: “This is America”

Lana Del Rey: “Venice Bitch”

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael in the UK #

    Thanks Richard, what a terrific list. Plenty to investigate here, and some possible Christmas present ideas too. I hope your regular readers will post some of their cultural highlights for 2018 too.

    December 13, 2018
  2. Fantastic list!!

    December 13, 2018
  3. tansey #

    A pretty full year there, Richard. Loved the Chuck Jackson album.

    December 13, 2018
  4. Mick Steels #

    What a stunning recital by Barre Phillips beautifully recorded, his final solo release is a fitting end to a journey started in 1968.

    December 13, 2018
  5. I was stunned by the London production of Girl From the North Country too: the mostly non-obvious use of the songs, the performances. The one piece of business that was subtle and yet worked so well was having the drum set at the side of the stage and having various actors sit at it and get to drive an occasional song–to be the rhythm and not the words.

    December 13, 2018
  6. GuitarSlinger #

    The worst bits ;

    The continuation of Donald Trump’s reign of chaos despite all logic and common sense .

    Your ongoing BREXIT fiasco headed up by May Queen of Neo-Populists .

    The EU crumbling under the weight of Moscow’s influence – neo populism – nationalism etc – et al – ad nauseam .

    The sole positive being none have anything directly to do with music though its all having a profound effect .. at least here in the US

    As for the best of CD’s ( from this Yank’s point of view )

    La Fenice – Keith Jarret

    Life Of – Steve Tibbets

    Here If You Listen – David Crosby w/Becca Stevens , Michelle Willis , Michael League ( of Snarky Puppy )

    WARM – Jeff Tweedy

    More Blood , More Tracks – Bob Dylan – The bootleg Series Vol. 14 ( the single CD edition )

    Die Nacht ( Schubert ) w/ Ana Lechner – Pablo Marquez ( exquisitely sublime )

    Music IS – Bill Frissel ( his best in decades )

    Landfall – Laurie Anderson

    Concert of the year – Pat Metheny and the new ( mostly ) acoustic 4tet

    Movie ? Aint much of a film buff but the Giacometti biopic ” Final Portrait ” and Ethan Hawke’s performances in ” First Reformed ” and ” Juliet Naked ” are well worth watching

    Television ? One word ” CounterPart ” The most intelligent psychological and philosophically complex TV since Patrick Mc Goohan’s 1960’s series ” The Prisoner ” A must watch !

    Here’s hoping for a 2019 thats a damn sight better that 2018 was … and

    Rock On – Play/Listen On – Remain Calm ( despite the bs worldwide ) and do please Carry On

    gtrslngr 😎

    December 13, 2018

    Many thanks for your 2018 ‘best bits’. As always, you have highlighted items that would otherwise have passed me by. I am particularly grateful to you for listing the Andre Hodeir release.I first became aware of these 1950s/60s sessions through a Max Harrison essay many years ago but hadn’t come across a comprehensive collection until now; the new Fresh Sounds set will do nicely.

    Like you, musical theatre is not usually my thing, but I enjoyed ‘Girl From The North Country’ at the Old Vic immensely. For anybody with an appetite for more of the same, I recommend the National Theatre’s current production – on until 26 January – of ‘Hadestown’, Anais Mitchell’s inspired interpretation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; it’s an extraordinary show, and highly recommended.

    I have shared quite a few of your live highlights – including the great Ry Cooder Cadogan Hall gig – but a personal high point was the second set of the Evan Parker/Alexander Hawkins/John Edwards/Mark Sanders gig at the Vortex at the beginning of the year; terrific. And of this year’s new releases, a particular favourite of mine has been Olivia Chaney’s beguiling ‘Shelter’. There really is so much great music around, isn’t there?

    December 15, 2018
  8. Paul Crowe #

    Plenty of inspiration there for presents to …… self.

    December 18, 2018
  9. Ed Grummitt #

    Thanks for the review and the fabulous list Richard, glad to see Richard Thompson in there. Also as ever thanks for the Guardian articles. All the best for Christmas and the New Year!

    December 19, 2018
  10. Adrian #

    One of the most pleasant surprises for me this year were the archive releases. In addition to the Mingus, Coltrane, Jarrett and Cherry mentioned in your lists there was also ‘new’ Monk and Hank Jones, another great Miles’ set and, slightly differently, the Ryan Porter that was recorded ten years ago.

    In newer releases alongside those mentioned I greatly enjoyed the Lovano/Douglas album, Nat Birchall, Roller Trio, and Joshua Redman.

    I also thought Girl in the North Country was very special (pretty sure it was a 2017 production though). It made me return to ‘that’ period of Dylan’s career and listen more closely.

    I look forward to exploring many of the other things on your list – it is great to have you blogging again.

    Happy Christmas

    December 21, 2018

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