“India on my mind…”

I’ve been thinking about India a lot lately.

It started with an invite to the premiere of the new documentary India’s Forgotten Women, just a day before hopping on a plane to Singapore for a week. Then last Friday, I spent much of the evening in Secondo (a trendy bar/clothes shop situated under a railway arch in Clapham), at a fund raising event called Tamasha, organised by a couple of young women I go to church with.

Last year, ten of us spent two weeks in Delhi, with a project we support out there called Asha (the Hindi word for “hope”). Asha operates in 35 slum areas in Delhi, providing healthcare, educating children, helping people set up businesses, and a lot of work empowering women in various aspects of life – to the point that whereas in the old days, slum dwellers were completely at the mercy of slumlords, these days it’s the women who ‘run tings’ in the slums where Asha operates. Anj (one of the two ladies who organised the event) works in London as a teacher. She’s about to head off to India to work with the Asha project again – for a year this time.

The event itself was a lot of fun. I ate some extremely sticky Indian confectionery and saw a couple of very promising new singers perform live (with real bands; none of that karaoke business). I even bought a Levi’s denim jacket really cheap! All in all, a good night – and it started me thinking about a few things.

One of the reasons I started a blog was that I was getting fed up of having stories which I felt ought to be heard, but not being able to share them because they weren’t “what editors are looking for right now.” If your work involves dealing with a gatekeeper of some sort – an editor, an interview board, Simon Cowell – you can probably relate to that feeling of your destiny being in someone else’s hands. Not nice. Well, this blog was meant to be the place where those stories found an outlet, so it’s about time I used it for that a bit more.

As I’ve already mentioned, I went to India last year and spent some time with the Asha project. I’ve got an in-depth interview with the leader of the project, which I’ve hawked around various newspapers to no avail. The commissioning editor of one very big magazine was interested in the story; we swapped emails back and forth discussing the possibility of them running it… and then the emails stopped (I discovered a while later that the mag had gone bust).

Anyway, the point of all this is to announce a mini “India Season” of blog posts. I’ll be putting up part of that interview with Dr. Kiran Martin (founder of the Asha project) soon, followed by an interview with Michael Lawson, the director of India’s Forgotten Women. In the meantime, why not recap by having a look at my blog posts from last year’s India trip?

In Conversation: To’Mezclao

DJ Lyng Chang on the "unos y doses" with To'Mezclao at Africa Oye

I’ve already talked about my time at this year’s Africa Oye festival in my last blog post. I’ve been beavering away with the audio I recorded there… and now, for your listening pleasure, here’s the interview I did with Lyng Chang, DJ with the Cuban band To’Mezclao.

AFRICA OYE 2010

Man, this year has flown past. I can’t believe it’s been a whole 12 months since I made my now annual trip up to Liverpool for the Africa Oyé festival. But it has – and I’ve just enjoyed a brilliant day in the sun with a field full of friendly Liverpudlians and some awesome music acts.

Africa Oyé’s definition of what constitutes African culture and music remains as broad as it’s always been. Not that I’m complaining; the range is great, and it gets people in. Haiti featured quite heavily this year, represented by the folkloric stylings of Ti Coca, and Saturday’s headliners, the upfront Boukman Eksperyans.

I landed at Sefton Park just before 1pm. No sooner had I introduced myself at Event Control and picked up my press pass when I bumped into Maya, the friend I’d made at last year’s festival, together with her Irish radio DJ friend and his wife. Last year, he’d been unable to come, and Maya had borrowed my equipment to record interviews for him. Friendly hugs and handshakes all round, and then we headed out into the main area to see the stalls and see the first act on the bill.

The Cuban band To’Mezclao were the opening act. Unfortunately, their set was plagued with technical hitches; they barely made it through their first song when the power cut out. And again. And again (this time, during their second song). And yet again. Still, you have to commend them on their professionalism. The hitches didn’t faze them, and when the power problem was sorted for good, they delivered a fantastic set which spanned salsa, merengue, cumbia, reggaeton and more.

I saw a good chunk of To’ Mezclao’s set before retreating to the Hospitality tent with Maya and her friends, for an in-depth interview with the lead singer of Boukman Eksperyans. He talked about everything – Haiti’s history, the sore relationship between politicians and musicians there, rebuilding after the earthquake, all the things Irish mythology and Haitian tradition have in common, and his disgust at Monsanto’s “evil seeds” being planted in his country. I left the interview feeling somewhat educated, I don’t mind saying…

The Guinean band Les Espoirs de Coronthie were on next, and gave a dazzling display of kora playing, a nice fusion of bluesy guitar and ‘Cookie Monster’ style ragga vocals. Ti Coca and his group Wanga Nègès were mellow and easy-going. I particularly enjoyed their cover of ‘Bobine’ – a song I was introduced to by Ska Cubano (now that’s a band I’d love to see play here!). Halfway through their set, I nipped back into Hospitality and interviewed To’ Mezclao’s DJ, who talked about everything from younger Cubans’ approach to their musical heritage, through to what effect Barack Obama’s easing of restrictions on Cuba has had on the music coming from there. I kind of got the impression he wasn’t in any hurry to move to Miami…

After saying goodbye to Maya and her friends (who had to leave early to meet some other people), I caught some of Victor Démé’s gig. I was completely blown away by Victor’s guitarist. He looked rather unassuming when you first saw him… and then he’d pick up his white Stratocaster and suddenly turn into Slash Clapton. The moment Victor came offstage, I made a beeline for his tent and got a copy of his latest CD off his tour manager. After he’d rested a bit, we did a press conference-style interview together with some radio people from Manchester, and their French translator.

I’d first come across Victor’s music a couple of years ago, when he’d released his debut album at the age of 46 (or 47, depending on which magazines you read). I wanted to know if other late starters saw him as an inspiration for having started recording at that age (especially given that anything over 24 is considered ancient in pop star years).

“Yes!” was his short answer. “Young people do too,” he continued. “What a lot of them say to me is, ‘If you can do it at your age, then we can do it too.’ But one thing I do tell young people is not to be fooled into thinking that they have all the time in the world to do the stuff they want to do and achieve. Imagine that you’re already late, and act with that urgency.”

With the Victor interview done, I was free to enjoy some of Boukman Eksperyans’ storming set before heading back to my B&B with one of those legendary Liverpool-sized Chinese takeaways. Sadly, I couldn’t stay for the whole weekend due to work commitments (and trust me, that is not a complaint!). But I’m more than positive that Andrew Tosh (son of Peter), the Rasites, Carlou D (whom I’ll be seeing perform live on Tuesday) and les Freres Guissé will be every bit as entertaining as the line-up I did see were… and that To’ Mezclao will make it through their set without any hiccups.

Liverpool, see you in June ’11…

Live Review: Tamikrest & Dirtmusic

Tamikrest & Dirtmusic
The Borderline, London, 18 May

I’d been sold on the idea of seeing Tamikrest and Dirtmusic perform together ever since the moment I first popped the DVD that came with Dirtmusic’s BKO album into my DVD player and got to see some of their Malian odyssey.

On paper it looks like a mix that shouldn’t work. Here we have a band made up of one Australian and two Americans teaming up with a band of Tuareg musicians – a minority in their home country of Mali. But somehow Dirtmusic and Tamikrest have found a kindred spirit in each other – one that has produced some awesomely beautiful music.

Dirtmusic’s new album takes its name from the airport code for Bamako airport in Mali, where it was recorded. The gig itself was kind of a musical game of tag. Dirtmusic would play a few songs, then Tamikrest would play a few, and then the two bands would either jam en masse or in some permutation or other. Tamikrest’s percussionist, Aghaly Ag Mohamedine, provided a solid groove on his djembe all throughout. Fatma Walett Cheikh (Tamikrest’s backing vocalist, and the only female on stage) added haunting melodies to some of the songs. Hugo Race (Dirtmusic’s lead vocalist) MC-ed the whole glorious mess with style.

It was an amazing gig – and apparently I’m not the only person who found the combination of acts intriguing. The Borderline was packed. A handful of young Tuareg men stood right in front row of the audience waving flags. ‘Black Gravity’ (from Dirtmusic’s album) received a particularly warm reception from the crowd. So too did ‘Ready for the Sign’ and their Velvet Underground cover ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. The music was raw, earthy, gutsy… and simply beautiful.

As I write this, both bands are together on a ‘night liner’ bus, touring Europe via road. Here’s hoping the bus swings round this way again soon.

Set list:

  • Other side (Dirtmusic + Aghaly)
  • Collisions (Dirtmusic+ Aghaly)
  • Still running (Dirtmusic+ Aghaly+ Ousmane)
  • Amiditin (Tamikrest)
  • Alhorya (Tamikrest)
  • Adounia (Tamikrest)
  • Outamachek (Tamikrest + Hugo)
  • Black gravity (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest)
  • Ready for the sign (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest)
  • All tomorrows parties (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest)
  • Desert wind (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest)
  • Unknowable (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest/Mossa)
  • Toumastin (Ousmane, Chris Eckman & Chris Brokaw)
  • Aicha (Tamikrest/Dirtmusic)
  • Tidite Tille (Tamikrest/Dirtmusic)
  • Tamiditin (Tamikrest/Dirtmusic)
  • Lives we live (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest)
  • Adagh (Tamikrest/Dirtmusic)
  • Smoking bowl (Dirtmusic/Tamikrest)
  • Tahoult (Tamikrest/Dirtmusic)

Tamikrest:
Ousmane Ag Mossa – lead vocals , lead guitar
Aghaly Ag Mohamedine – Djembe
Cheikh Ag Tiglia  – bass, vocals
Fatma Walett Cheikh   –  backing vocals
Mossa Ag Borreiba – rhythm guitar,  vocals

Dirtmusic:
Chris Eckman – vocals, organ
Chris Brokaw – vocals, guitar, drums, slide banjo, maracas
Hugo Race – vocals, guitar

Live Review: The Creole Choir of Cuba

The Creole Choir of Cuba
Monday 17 May
Wilton’s Music Hall, London E1

While introducing the choir, our MC John Simpson remarked that the venue we were in had a ‘Cuban’ feel to it. He wasn’t wrong; Wilton’s Music Hall in London’s East End is the oldest surviving Music Hall in the world, and it does give the impression that it could fall down at any time (“carefully neglected”, as one audience member put it). Looking as old as it did, you were reminded of those crumbling concert halls and old nightclubs that always crop up in films set in Cuba. The choir fitted in perfectly.

The machinery working to bring the Creole Choir of Cuba to an international audience has been grinding away for over a year now – ever since Simpson and his production team discovered them singing during a trip to Havana, and got them booked for last year’s WOMAD and Edinburgh festivals. The choir’s real name is ‘Desandann’ (descendants) and it’s made up of the descendants of Haitians who have emigrated to Cuba over centuries. Through song, they have preserved aspects of Haitian culture that are hard to come by these days – even in Haiti itself. The choir are now as identified with Haiti as they are with Cuba – which has resulted in their being at the forefront of Cuba’s contribution to the ongoing disaster relief effort in Haiti. Call it divine providence or just being in the right place at the right time; either way you can’t deny how very timely it is.

Armed with just their voices, two congas and a variety of shakey things, Desandann had us all in their grip for the best part of an hour. In that time, we scanned the emotional spectrum – all the way from pathos and melancholy through to elation and sheer joy. They treated us to laments, upbeat merengues and Haitian folk songs, all with a heavy dose of Africa running through. We clapped; some of us even danced. As the choir sang their last song, they walked down the aisle, dispensing hugs and handshakes to the audience as they disappeared one by one into a door in the back of the auditorium, leaving us clamouring for more.

After their WOMAD appearance last year, the choir recorded an album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios. It’s due for release in four months’ time and I’ve heard some of the tracks. Get it – that’s all I’m saying.

From the Y Crate: Bill Wolfer

From the Y Crate, #16:
“Wolf” by BILL WOLFER (Solar/Constellation)

Yet another lost ‘blue-eyed soul’ offering. Wolf is one of my favourite 80s soul albums – which is ironic, because I only discovered it in the 90s. I came to Bill Wolfer via the singer Jon Gibson (yep – more blue-eyed soul) and I can still remember the look of absolute shock on Jon’s face when I interviewed him and mentioned to him that I owned a copy of Wolf.

The story behind the album goes something like this. It was the early 80s, and Solar Records (the label that gave us Shalamar) had high hopes for two white acts they’d signed. In the red corner was Jon Gibson – a very soulful singer whose voice bore an eerie resemblance to that of Stevie Wonder (whom he had worked with on and off). In the blue corner was our man Bill – a master session keyboardist whose work could be heard on some of Motown’s best albums. Hall and Oates were making a killing on the charts around this time, and someone at Solar had a bright idea: why not put these two guys together and we can have our own Hall & Oates? (Stop laughing. This is the music industry we’re talking about, and you want original ideas?).

Thankfully, that idea got vetoed, and the two acts released solo albums instead. Bill produced Jon Gibson’s Standing on the One; Jon did lead vocals on a few tracks on Bill’s Wolf. Bill was able to pull in a few stellar names to appear on Wolf. Stevie Wonder‘s harmonica playing on “Soaring” is simply awesome (as is Crystal Blake’s vocal). And if you listen very closely to “So Shy”, you just might be able to pick out Michael Jackson‘s voice in the chorus (the album was recorded at around the same time Michael was working on Thriller, and Bill had previously toured with the Jacksons and played on their Triumph album). You can also just about hear him on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” – one of two tracks on which Bill does lead vocal in a Herbie Hancock vocoder stylee (another case of “shy keyboardist syndrome”, I wonder?).

Bill went on to produce Shalamar’s hit “Dancing in the Sheets”. He also worked with Vanity and produced some of Jon Gibson’s Christian music offerings. I’m told that he’s making Latin jazz these days. That I must investigate…

Making History (and Other Rock n Roll Myths)

Well, they nearly did it…

Inspired by last year’s campaign to stop Joe McElderry getting the Christmas Number 1, a Facebook group has hyped Delirious?‘s song ‘History Maker’ into the charts, making it Number 4 this Easter weekend (although surely that makes Rage Against the Machine the real ‘history makers’ here, since they were the first to do this?).

I’ve had mixed feelings about the campaign myself. Not about Delirious?, I hasten to add. I love those guys. I’ve interviewed Martin Smith and Stu G more than once over the 15 or so years that Delirious? was a going concern, and they’ve always been top blokes.

When it comes to their fans, however… well, that’s a different story altogether.

Delirious? fans (some of them, at any rate) have always seen themselves as victims of one of the world’s greatest injustices. Being fans of a band that can sell out the Brixton Academy and outsell Robbie Williams in America yet not get airplay on Radio 1 will do that to you, I guess. It led to a militant tendency developing within the band’s fan base; one that took it upon itself to get the D-Boys’ music played on The Nation’s Favourite by any means necessary – regardless of how badly thought out their strategies were.

Each time Delirious? released a single, anyone who’d been stupid enough to let these guys get hold of their email address would receive an email bemoaning the fact that the new song had been overlooked by Radio 1 yet again. You would then be supplied with the email addresses of every single Radio 1 DJ, and ordered (oops, I mean urged) to write to them demanding that they play the single. And I do mean every Radio 1 DJ. Never mind the fact that Chris Goldfinger, Tim Westwood and Danny Rampling couldn’t play the track even if they wanted to (what with them being the station’s specialist reggae, hip hop and dance DJs respectively), you had your orders and had to carry them out. Try to point out to whoever was behind the campaign that they hadn’t thought it through properly and you would normally get some rude, bolshie response. And why not? After all, they were trying to do “the Lord’s work” and you weren’t cooperating.

I had flashbacks to those dark days every time I logged on to Facebook these past few weeks. There were days when my news feed would be full of nothing but reminders to become a fan of “Christian music topping the charts!” and to download not one but two versions of ‘History Maker’. Clearly, these people have never heard the word ‘overkill’.

But the thing that bothered me the most was the pseudo-spiritualising of what was basically an exercise in hyping a single into the pop charts. You weren’t hyping a single, you were “making a statement for Christ”, “taking over the airwaves for God” or some other bogus God-speak. Even the simple claim of “getting Christian music into the charts” was redundant; after all, in the same week’s chart we had songs by Owl City, Paramore and Mumford & Sons. No particular shortage of Christians in the charts there, as far as I can see…

Funnily enough, I don’t even think the band themselves were that fussed about being heard on Radio 1. Martin certainly wasn’t when I interviewed him around the time their Mission Bell album was released (“We’re a bit long in the tooth for all that now,” he said to me).

Anyway, it’s all done now. Delirious? have their hit and their fans have their wish. It’s a pity TOTP isn’t on anymore, because seeing them on that would’ve been fun. To the former D-Boys: congrats on finally breaking into the Top Five and getting that long overdue play on R1. And to the people behind the campaign: congrats too – but next time you do something like this, could you please be less annoying with it? “Pester power” is so called for a reason, you know…

My first premiere (and Happy New Year?)

It’s been a while, I know, since my last blog post. A whole three months, in fact. And I’m not even sure why I never got round to posting anything during the first quarter of 2010 – but the longer it got, the more I felt pressured to make my first blog post of the year a really good one. Pressure can do bad things to creativity (yeah, I know – sometimes it can do good things to it too). And then the first time I tried to write this particular post, Micro$oft Word decided that it would be really fun to kill it on my first save and leave no trace of its existence (I’m rewriting it with Open Office now, if you’re interested).

Anyway, I’m back now – and I’d like to use my first blog post of the year to congratulate an old friend on two major milestones.

I’ve known Shabazz Graham for over a decade. A friend introduced me to him years ago when he was a comic illustrator and I was just starting out in this writing game. The first time I realised that important people read the stuff I wrote was when I did a piece about Shabazz’s comics for the now defunct Christian Herald newspaper – and received a phone call from Radio 4, asking me to put them in touch with him (even before I’d seen the piece in print myself!). When he had a go at being a rapper, I wrote about his music for some music mag (can’t remember which; there’ve been a few in my career). And when he started to work on his dream of being a filmmaker, I wrote about that a couple of times too.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in BAFTA for the premiere of Malachi – Shabazz’s directorial debut. It was my first premiere (I’ve done loads of previews; that’s part of the job. Premieres – that’s the pretty people’s department). I absolutely loved the short film about a young Sickle Cell Anaemia sufferer who gets a bit more than he bargained for when he uses his camcorder to capture the good things in life.

Malachi was shot very close to where I live, so it felt familiar in a way films don’t normally do. The daughter of an old friend of mine has a small role in it. Luke Carradine’s score was excellent. And in the film says more about love and relationships in half an hour than your average telly soap does in years.

Master storyteller that Shabazz is, even his film premiere had an unexpected twist. We saw the film, the cast and crew came up onstage and talked about the experience, and then Shabazz called out a few people he wanted to thank and give small gifts to in appreciation for their work on the film. Last on the list was Oliveene Whittaker, who had taken photographs on set – and who also just happens to be Shabazz’s girlfriend. She went up to collect her gift and next thing we know, our man’s on one knee in front of her! Yes – he went there… and she said yes!

There’s not much more I can say, really. Shabazz, my boy, I wish you Palme d’Ors, Oscars, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes by the shedload. But above all, I wish you and Oliveene an extremely joy-filled marriage.

2009: My Year in Music

And what a year it’s been!

My gigs of the year:

Delirious’ last ever gig (HMV Apollo, Hammersmith, November)
Staff Benda Bilili (Barbican, October)
Chic (HMV Forum, September)
Daby Touré at Africa Oyé (Sefton Park, Liverpool, June)
Shlomo and the Vocal Orchestra (Greenbelt Festival Mainstage, August)
Monica Giraldo (Magic Mirrors, Cannes, January)
Speed Caravan (Jongleurs, Camden, October)
Afrobeat Vibration with Dele Sosimi & friends (Empowering Church, London, several months in the year)

My favourite new discoveries of the year:

Sonnyboy: An unassuming, multi-talented soul singer I met in Cannes. His song ‘Josephine Brown’ has kind of been played to death at my home since then – both the mellow soul original and the housey ‘Psycho remix’.
Ndidi Onlukwulu: Another Cannes discovery; a Canadian singer who sits somewhere between Norah Jones and Corinne Bailey-Rae.
Charlie Winston: Met him in Cannes too. He’s English, but has been a lot bigger over in France this past couple of years. Landed himself a deal with RealWorld after babysitting for Peter Gabriel (true story!).
The Apples: I met this lot at Greenbelt, where I was their host for a couple of seminars they did. An awesome nine-piece funk band from Israel with no guitars or keyboards, just two turntables and loads of horns.
Muntu Valdo: This Cameroonian singer-songwriter is a great example of how digital looping technology has revolutionised live acoustic music. Shut your eyes, and you’d think he had a 10-piece band (and at least five backing singers) on stage with him!
Freshly Ground: I was introduced to this lot by friends who’d either been to South Africa and seen them, or had discovered them via Youtube. Brilliantly quirky; great fun; all-round brilliant band.

My favourite albums of the year:

MaxwellBLACKsummer’snight: Yay! Maxwell’s back! He may have lost his trademark Afro, but the angelic voice is still there – and that’s what counts. ‘Pretty Wings’ is soul at its finest.
PortlandThese Broken Hands: Soothing, thoughtful, sublime… just a few of the nice adjectives I’ve thrown at this album since I first heard it. Ideal late-night listening from the Midlands-based band.
Staff Benda BililiTres Tres Fort: From living rough on the streets of Kinshasa to capturing the hearts of World Music fans everywhere, 2009 has been a fantastic year for “Africa’s #1 disabled band”, and 2010 is set to be even bigger. Wait till the film’s released; the whole world will be chanting “Giruppa! Giruppa! Giruppa! Sexamachine!”
Jars of Claythe Long Fall Back to Earth: This is fast becoming my all-time favourite Jars album – especially the tracks ‘Scenic Route’, ‘Weapons’ and ‘Boys (Lesson One)’.
Van HuntUse in Case of Emergency: Seriously classy soul from the über-talented (and still criminally underrated) American singer.
And a special mention for: DJ Because’s Audio Sensei (not so much a ‘mixtape’ compilation as a compelling audio collage) and Sara Watkins’ self-tiled album (‘alt-country’ set, produced by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones). Poles apart musically, but both absolutely brilliant.

Tragedy of the Year: Losing Michael Jackson. End of.

My “sometimes I’m just too sarcastic for my own good” moment of 2009: The time I posted a daft comment on Facebook, insinuating that Mika had had a sex change and was now Lady Gaga… only to receive several shocked emails asking if it was true.

‘Twas the Year of the Skank: It seemed as if everybody was inventing daft dances and making songs up to go with them. My personal favourites (including a couple from 2008) were: the oh-so-ironic ‘Stupid Skank’, Skepta’s ‘Rolex Sweep’, ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes’, and Guvna B’s ‘Kingdom Skank’.

Most Pointless Musical Campaign of the Year: The anti-Cowell “RATM for Christmas number 1” thing. Yeah, let’s show that Sony executive how much we hate him… by buying a Sony song! If this is what passes for “revolution” in the 21st Century, God help us…

… and in the “If I never hear this crap again, it will be too soon” category:

Jazmine Sullivan’s ‘I’m in love with another man’: Yes, I know I’m not in the target audience for this song. But imagine the uproar if some man had sung a song that basically said, “Look, girl – we’ve been together for a while and you’ve never been unfaithful to me. But here’s the thing: I’m dumping you for someone else. No reason; I just am.” Sick, isn’t it? (and not in the way ‘da kidz’ use the word ‘sick’ these days). It made me long for Eamon’s charm and subtlety (now there’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say).

“#09 Memories”

About a week ago, “#09memories” was a ‘trending’ topic on Twitter. I’ve never really done the ‘recap of the year’ thing that much in the past (as much as I do like reading other people’s), but found myself spending the best part of an evening sharing my memories and reading those of others. It seemed a bit of a shame just to let one audience see them in short bursts, so I compiled them into a list to post here – expanding on a few where I felt the 140-character limit didn’t really let me say what I wanted to.

So in no particular order (well, maybe slightly chronological, but only just; actually more emotional than chronological), here are some of my standout memories – both great and not-so-great – from 2009:

• Meeting the adopted little sister I never knew I had for the first time.

• The whole Celebration fam going to Hereford and spending a day with Cynthia, barely three months before she passed away.

• Doing the last DJ slot in the Blue Nun wine bar at the Greenbelt festival.

• Going to MIDEM for the first time in 14 years, and discovering great music from Sonnyboy, Ndidi Onukwulu, Yom, Monica Giraldo & Charlie Winston. Also seeing Duke Special in concert, and celebrating Barack Obama’s inauguration with members of the American Association of Independent Music. MIDEM has a reputation for being all about the business and not so much about the music. But it is possible to find decent music there, if you look hard enough.

• Discovering London’s coolestest venue, the Shunt Lounge… only for it to close 10 months later.

• The Operation Christmas Child trip to Swaziland – and the delighted screams of the kids as they opened their shoeboxes.

• Arriving in Jo’burg airport en route to Swaziland; hearing ‘Viva la Vida’ on the PA system and thinking, “Coldplay? This can’t be Africa.”

• Giving career advice to the Swazi schoolgirl who told me she wanted to be a journalist when she grew up.

• The loud cheer that erupted in our minibus as we drove into Mbabne (the Swazi capital) and saw a branch of Nandos.

• My first lunch in India: Domino’s Pizza!

• Painting and decorating the community centre in a Delhi slum; logging on to the internet and wondering who this Susan Boyle woman was, and why so many of my Facebook friends had become fans of hers.

• Riding an elephant up to the Amber Palace in Jaipur.

• Visiting the Taj Mahal – and not really believing our tour guide’s story about how he’d told Danny Boyle off because “that scene in Slumdog Millionaire made Indian tour guides look bad.”

• Being mistaken for Ice Cube by some of the kids in the slum where we were working.

• A pimp in Nashville offering me girls an’ ting. That’s the last time I stay in a Motel 6!

• Driving a van in Atlanta with no satnav, and introducing my passenger (my 11-yr-old niece) to the world of Bill & Ted and their “be excellent to each other” philosophy.

• Lou at the Bridge Bar in Beckenham.

• Several trips to Paris, during which the Starbucks on Boulevard St Germain became my office away from home.

• Curling up in bed ready for a good night’s kip, then receiving a txt msg saying Michael Jackson had just died…

• … and then receiving another text from the same person two hours later, informing me that Farrah Fawcett had also died (at which point, I responded with “You’re really the herald of good tidings tonight, aren’t you?”).

• Being asked to talk about MJ on Radio 4…

• … then receiving another phone call from Radio 4 a few hours later (after I’d prepared what I was going to say), saying they’d found someone else to do it.

• Discovering a new way to watch TV: reading your friends’ sarky status updates and/or tweets about the show while it’s on. Sometimes you didn’t even need to watch the show in question; the running commentary told you everything you needed to know!

• Jedward, Kandy Rain, Mr. “I don’t know how to spell Daniel properly”, Afro Boy and La Gordita in Miss Frank.

• Cave Austin Girl.

• One of the deepest films ever (Downfall) being turned into a series of often sick “Hitler reacts to…” jokes on Youtube.

• Dizzee Rascal losing what little respect I had left for him with asinine comments about the preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

• The realisation that people actually read my blog!

• My big ‘fanboy’ moment: shaking Nile Rodgers’ hand at Chic’s gig at the Forum (I now use his plectrums to play my guitars – when I can be bothered, that is. I must do more of that – and more seriously – in 2010).

• Watching Baaba Maal, Kano & Bashy soundcheck from side stage at the Royal Festival Hall.

Daby, the 'vibe man'

• Africa Oyé in Liverpool. Meeting and working with Maya; ‘vibing’ with Daby Touré (pictured) and doing the most hilarious interview I’ve ever done (with an extremely well-dressed artist who will remain nameless).

• The last ever Delirious? gig – and meeting Mr. Tommy Sims at the after-party.

• “What would we do? Usually drink; usually dance; usually bubble.” (Yeah, I know; I discovered it in ’09).

• Seeing people’s nastier sides come out after certain celebrity deaths. Not nice at all.

• Vampires. Vampires everywhere.

• My first ever purchase of a Hed Kandi CD… oh, wait – that was in ’08. In a Zavvi shop, just before they all closed. My last ever purchase from a Woolworth’s, and my last ever visit to a Border’s bookshop.

• Shelley Ryan.