Andy Jones, co-founder of and music booker for the FOCUS Wales showcase festival, shares his thoughts on all things music.
What record is on your turntable right now?
A Vision In The Dark by Kidsmoke (Libertino Records).
What’s the last great album you listened to?
Pang! by Gruff Rhys (Rough Trade). I know it’s a relatively new release still, but it’s a great album in my book.
Are there any classic albums that you only recently heard for the first time?
Scott – Scott Walker. I’d heard a few tracks from this, but I’d never listened right through until quite recently.
What is the most vital ingredient of a great album?
I think it always comes down to the songwriting. There are plenty of albums that are sonically pleasing, that I know will always do the trick if I put that album on, but the albums that live with me are the ones where I feel some connection, and for me I think it mostly comes down to the quality of the songwriting.
Describe your ideal listening experience (when, where, what, how).
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, and sitting on that old sofa in the control room, listening back to some of the classics that have been recorded there is an exciting experience. You can almost visualise the artists in the live room. There’s definitely magic in that place.
What’s your favourite album no one else has heard of?
A Vision In The Dark. Okay, so it’s a big stretch to suggest nobody has heard this yet, but it’s pretty much a brand new indie release from Wales. Although it’s still very early days, it’s already picked up some solid reviews and a fair few national radio plays, and I can totally get why. Kidsmoke have produced a great debut album, packed with all the energy and freshness that you want to hear in a debut album. The main thing for me is the quality of their songwriting. There’s an ambition in what they’re doing that’s exciting to hear from a new Welsh band. I think my point with this choice is that it’s a new undiscovered gem. That could all change soon though as it’s shortlisted for the 2020 Welsh Music Prize.
What album should everybody get into before the age of 21?
Rage Against The Machine by Rage Against The Machine.
Which artists — musicians, singers, songwriters, producers — working today
do you admire most?
Gruff Rhys is definitely up there. I just really appreciate that he doesn’t ever stand still. He’s constantly working on new albums and taking different approaches too. What an album Pang! is. It’s good to see him supporting new artists coming through too (notably the brilliant N’famady Kouyate, who’s toured with Gruff and also plays on Pang!).
Do you have any comfort albums?
Ocean Rain by Echo & The Bunnymen. I just love this album.
Do you think any “canonical” albums are widely misunderstood?
I think so many albums can become undervalued and misunderstood due to comparisons with an artist’s other releases. Equally, albums can become negatively tainted with the reputation or drama that can surround an artist. Even if that reputation develops with the artist in later years, it can become difficult for some people to appreciate the album for what it was at the time of its release. I find that this often happens to artists who go on to achieve high levels of success; people will (I think unfairly) bury the legacy of the original work that made the artist a success in the first place. U2 are probably the most obvious example of that type of thing: their 1987 album The Joshua Tree is a classic, and very well produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, but they’ve put out so many albums since that don’t sit quite so well with critics and fans, that people start to revise history.
What’s the best album you’ve received as a gift?
1, 2, Kung Fu! by Boy Azooga. Was great to get a copy of this pre-release. I think I’d only heard one or two songs from it at the time, but it was one of those situations where I immediately listened to the album from start to finish, and when I got to the end I put it on again.
What album do you recommend to people most often?
Neu! 2 by Neu!. There’s just something about this album that sits right for me.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned about an album recently?
Chic founder Nile Rodgers auditioned to play guitar in Bowie’s band around the time of his Young Americans album, but he didn’t get the part. It’s mind blowing to think of the different musical journey that could have happened if they’d started working together at that point.
Which genres do you especially enjoy listening to? And which do you avoid?
My pal Jason got me into cumbia last year, which is a music genre he’s been obsessed with for a while now. I really enjoy listening to cumbia. I don’t particularly have a gripe with any genre though. I enjoy lots of different types of music, and, well, each to their own.
What album might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
The Roxy Music collection. My uncle Ray was a big influence on my music taste growing up. He had every album you could think of on vinyl, and that’s no exaggeration. His collection is insane. He loves all kinds of music, but Roxy Music is his favourite band. It felt like Love Is The Drug was always playing when I was a kid, so they’re one of those bands which seems very connected to that time in my life.
Is there any album in your record collection you desperately wish you’d made?
I can’t think like that, but there are so many albums where I’d have loved to have just been around the studio when the record was being made. Happy to make the tea, and just soak in the vibe. Innervisions by Stevie Wonder would have been one amazing session to live through.
Have you ever changed your opinion of an album based on information about the artist, or anything else?
I’ve definitely had friends suggest that I give an album a second try, which has resulted in me changing my opinion on the record. I think sometimes you might not be in the right headspace for an album, so it can take a couple of listens.
How have your listening tastes changed over time?
I think it’s always evolving. I’m constantly surrounded by new music. We receive over 5,000 artist applications for the festival each year, so I’m always discovering new artists and it’s impossible for that to not impact my tastes. When I was growing up it could be quite tribal (my group of friends would obsess over one or two bands, then it’d be another couple of bands we’d obsess over for a period of time), but nowadays I have more of an appreciation for a wider range of artists and genres.
You’re organizing a party. Which three artists, dead or alive, do you invite?
Nina Simone, David Bowie and Prince.
Any upcoming albums you’re really looking forward to?
I’ve heard some exciting early recordings from a new Welsh band from Swansea called Bandicoot. I’m really looking forward to hearing their debut album once that’s ready.
More information about the FOCUS Wales showcase festival can be found here.