Monthly Archives: September 2013

Matthew Jay remembered

Around May 2001 The Times ran a competition for young music journalists. At that particular time I was twenty years old and finally coming out of a bout of depression and ill health that had wrecked my teenage years and left me with few qualifications and even fewer prospects. So when I read about the competition I thought, `I’ll have some of that.`

So I had to write an article about something music related. My gig going years were still slightly ahead of me so my only option was to write a review. My thought process was that there was no point in writing about a record everybody was buying. I needed something unknown. So I scoured the then current issue of Q Magazine for a suitable candidate.

I didn’t win the competition. However I did end up with a copy of Draw by Matthew Jay.

Matthew Jay was a twenty three year old singer/ songwriter and Draw was his first album. At the time singer/ songwriters were very much in vogue. The biggest success story of the moment was David Gray and the re-issue sections were finally taking notice of Nick Drake. Indeed I believe Matthew Jay only narrowly got the nod over another singer/ songwriter who had his debut out that month.

It was ironic because calling Matthew Jay a singer/ songwriter in the David Gray/ Nick Drake mode would have been unfair in the extreme. Many of the songs on Draw were backed by a full band and only a few (inevitably the ones that got highlighted) had the earnest soul searching streak that was the fashion of the time.

Opening song Four Minute Rebellion features the f word repeatedly. It gives way after a minute to the fantastic Beatlesesque (a word I remember using in that overwise forgotten review) pop of Let Your Shoulder Fall. Three more fine songs follow which see a gradual wind down to the album’s centrepiece Meteorology; a song which baffles me to this day but still moves me the same way it did in 2001. Meteorology is Jay’s finest achievement rivalled only by the track that follows – Call My Name Out shows that Britpop was his mother tongue and he spoke the pop as much as the Brit. The second half of Draw isn’t quite in the same class but has its moments, not least the cheery singalong of The Clearing and Become Yourself which had the album’s defining lyric. `Become yourself my boy, you’re only halfway there.` Hold on to that thought.

In short Draw held its own in the pantheon of 2001 which would prove an extraordinary year for music (REM’s Reveal, Dylan’s Love & Theft, Elton’s Songs From The West Coast, Ryan Adams’ Gold, Everything I Need by Aynsley Lister – at the time the guy who beat Matthew Jay to be my find of the year). It’s still a fine listen today. For two years I awaited the follow up.

On September 25th 2003, ten years to this day, Matthew Jay died, in circumstances that remain slightly unclear. I will not detail these here. Suffice to say his family bravely kept his spirit alive with a rarities album (Too Soon) and Further Than Tomorrow which determined as closely as possible what the follow up to Draw might have been. Neither quite rivalled Draw but have plenty of fine moments.

One of the few things that is clear is that Matthew Jay was moving away from pop/ rock and incorporating dance influences into his music. The full reconciliation between the two genres arguably wouldn’t happen until the new decade and the question of what music Matthew Jay might have been making in 2013 (in his mid thirties) will be forever answered.

And the introverted 20 year who entered a Times competition? He evolved of course. Music remains my passions and I’ve been privileged to actually meet some of the artists whose music I now champion. Other idols I wouldn’t want to meet (I mean what would I say to Bruce Springsteen if I ever met him). But there are a small number who I’ll never get to meet. But in a way I know all of them through their music – let’s face it, they do it to share their dream with anyone who’ll listen.

Matthew Jay – I miss you, ten years on. I still listen to Draw from time to time and it makes me smile.

For those who haven’t heard of him, here’s a link. Meteorology is the track you should download but I’d like to think he’d prefer me to choose something more upbeat.


The Paradox Of Justice?

Anybody following the news today 10/9/2013 will be aware that a TV soap star has been acquitted of child rape after a high profile trial. I won’t name the actor concerned because a) everybody knows who he is anyway and b) I’m treading on thin ice legally writing this as will soon become apparent.

Nor am I going to repeat the lurid facts (which are all in the public domain anyway). All we should need to know is that the event has been presented before a jury who, after careful deliberation of the facts, found the defendant not guilty. NOT GUILTY. That’s all we need to know.

Except that if we follow the thought through logic tells us that the accuser must be guilty of a few crimes herself (wasting police time, lying under oath, not to mention the distress caused to the falsely accused star and therefore could be prosecuted (note – I say could, not should). Except here we run into two problems. She MIGHT not be lying, the jury may have simply felt the evidence was not sufficient to convict beyond all reasonable doubt. After all it was he said vs she said.

The second problem is this. IF the accuser was prosecuted another jury would have to be persuaded beyond all reasonable doubt that she was lying and that may well not happen. In which case the pendulum swings back the other way.

The paradox of justice; where a man can be found not guilty but never fully acquitted. The stain of the accusation will linger.

This case was high profile. There are plenty of similar cases across the country that follow a similar pattern; he attacked me, no she’s lying, members of the jury what say you? Anti rape campaigners will decry low conviction rates (only just stopping short of saying that it’s better that innocent men go to prison) but the benefit of the doubt MUST go to the accused. However unless the lie is proven we never know for certain.

This is the reason why the accused in cases of sexual assault should have anonymity. It’s about time everybody who believes in justice admitted it.

Great Moments In Flop History Part 1 – Shoot The Dog

The first in what will be a (very) occasional series – says he who has a second article already lined up – highlighting moments in pop culture that are probably best forgotten.

I’ve had this article in mind for a while but I’ve been waiting for the tenth anniversary of the flop in question. Only yesterday did I realise I’d missed it by over a year. My memory isn’t normally this faulty; I thought we were looking at Autumn 2003, not Summer 2002. However the reason for this mistake ties quite nicely into the article; the subject of which is George Michael’s long forgotten single Shoot The Dog.

In 2002 we were three and a half years distant from what may have been George Michael’s commercial high point when his hits compilation Ladies and Gentlemen had a lengthy run at number one over the Christmas period. This was in spite, or perhaps because, of the infamous toilet incident that kickstarted the second phase of George Michael’s career; the one with the anonymous sex, car crashes, drug charges and very little music.

With hindsight the warning signs were already there. Post Ladies And Gentleman a covers album had disappointed commercially and a comeback single Freeek (consisting of George bellowing `I’ll be your sexual freak` and not much else) had barely grazed the top ten. Which takes us on to Shoot The Dog.

The song is pretty hard to seperate from the accompanying video to say the least. In truth the video scarcely needs the song. An animation featuring George W Bush as a moronic war hungry President who in the course of the video shares a bed with his lap dog Tony Blair and wife Cherie (although the video also references the Simpsons, the Royal family and the England football team) and ends with Bush and Blair walking off in obvious marital bliss.

It actually sounds rather tame now. The Bush/ Blair relationship and the poodle insult are enshrined not just in political satire but arguably history itself. However Shoot The Dog was released in July 2002, almost halfway between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. While both men were already distrusted and the invasion of Afghanistan was criticised in some quarters it wasn’t quite the open season that would develop by the end of the decade; indeed both would win a subsequent election victory. George Michael at least has the satisfaction of being slightly ahead of the times on this one.

But anyway, the result wasn’t quite uproar. One American newspaper described him as a `washed up pervert pop star` but that was as good as it got. Of course all publicity is good publicity but if George Michael was hoping the column inches would translate into record sales he was mistaken. Shoot The Dog entered the UK chart at 13 before plumetting out of the top thirty the following week. In America it didn’t even chart.

Is it a good record? Not really. It relies quite heavily on a sample of the Human League’s Love Action, hardly an original choice of sample. It’s very much at the funk end of George Michael’s output and thus was never going to appeal to the rock fans who bought Careless Whisper, while lacking any sort of hook to catch the attention of the dance crowds. It made for an adequate piece of album filler when it eventually washed up on the Patience album two years later but no more than that. We’ll never know if it would have been a bigger hit if released during the dying days of the Bush/ Blair administration or with a less provocative video.

Context is everything. George Michael’s next single Amazing did much better commerically proving he could still score with a strong song. However Amazing would arguably be his last hit of real significance and Shoot The Dog is no worse than a lot of his recent output (on the rare occasions he still produces music).