In the latest in our Q&A’s for music enthusiasts, music journalist and author Cath Holland tells us about he listening habits and her not-so-secret love for Elvis Presley.
What record is on your turntable right now?
Sit Down Old Friend by Dion.
What’s the last great album you listened to?
Well the Dion record is pretty damn great: very simple vocals and guitar, a little sentimental at times but I am fond of it. Before that, I had Moby Grape’s 1967 debut album on. It’s full of heart and ambition and reminds me of exceptional times, ones recent and personal that mean a lot to me. And of course it was and is still so influential, merging so much together, and the vocals are fantastic.
Are there any classic albums that you only recently heard for the first time?
The notion of classic albums is problematic: the importance and permanence of a record is a very personal, subjective thing. I refuse to be told by an industry whose business model doesn’t pay musicians properly, what is classic.
But during lockdown I did reacquaint myself with the Velvet Underground albums, which was quite a trip. Embracing those records again as an adult has been a strangely emotional experience, like having old friends back in my life. Some of their works come across as naïve which is quite weird when you think about how they blew folks’ minds at the time.
What is the most vital ingredient of a great album?
For me, it’s exceptional songwriting with sharp, observational lyrics. I like wit and cheek in there too, and melancholy. I don’t like things to be too showy, a bit odd really as I’m a big Elvis fan. He threw everything but the kitchen sink into some later recordings, made them vulgar but still tremendous.
I need an album to take me on a journey, whether it be an emotional one or one with a more linear narrative. I enjoy being pulled this way and that emotionally, and challenged. And of course entertained, how could I forget that vital ingredient?
Describe your ideal listening experience (when, where, what, how).
At home in my front room and on my own, or with my late husband when he was here. Group listening isn’t my jam, even at gigs I prefer not to be standing or sitting with someone. Chit-chat is for other occasions or in the bar afterwards. I like listening to music to be an intimate experience rather than a bonding ritual.
What’s your favourite album no one else has heard of?
At the moment it’s My Idol Family by Charles Howl, and has been since it popped into my email inbox three years ago. Such quality songwriting – melancholic, funny, yet delivered in such a classy, understated manner. It displays wit on the border of cruelty at times but I like that. He writes with a scalpel. And such a leap from his debut album, although I hadn’t heard that or been aware of it at this point.
I wrote about My Idol Family a lot when it came out and hey presto, it still remains at cult status. It’s fascinating that some records, books, art which have a massive impact on some of us don’t reverberate outside our little respective bubbles – my husband loved this album too, found quirks in it I didn’t notice. But I’m past taking offence and in an odd way take it as a badge of pride. I don’t care if other people don’t like what I do, life’s too short.
What album should nobody get into until the age of 40?
I’d say Scott Walker’s The Drift and Bish Bosch aren’t for the average learner driver. Though not as scary or intimidating as some would have you believe. I heard a story about a guy who couldn’t stay in his flat after dark when he heard The Drift for the first time. What a wimp!
Which artists — musicians, singers, songwriters, producers — working today do you admire most?
I’ll keep this to recent discoveries or new projects of the past two or three years. I’m loving what Jack Cooper is doing with Modern Nature, three releases in 18 months and each a winner, very atmospheric and pulling in from all the folk, psych and jazz melancholies and moods. Of course I am enthusiastic and excited about a lot of new and emerging Welsh artists and I write about them if and when they ring my bell.
Carwyn Ellis’ Brazil – Welsh hybrid project Rio 18 is special and celebratory, which we all need right now, I always look out for his work anyway.
Hot Chip. I will always listen to a song or album from Glaswegian artists.
Do you have any comfort albums?
An Elvis compilation called I’m Leavin’ from Record Store Day 2016. It’s got country flavoured songs from late ’60s to early ’70s on it. It’s a very warm record.
What’s the best album you’ve received as a gift?
My husband came home one afternoon well made up with himself and clutching a copy of Del Shannon’s And The Music Plays On. This was before Discogs was an online treasure trove, and I’d been after the album for ages. Originally named Home & Away, it’s the baroque pop record Del made with Andrew Loog Oldham in late 1960s; the intention was to be a British answer to Pet Sounds – though Del was American. For one weary reason and another, it got shelved for a decade. It’s still a very special album, one that slipped through the cracks. A metaphor for what was happening to his career, if you want to read such a thing into it.
What album do you recommend to people most often?
I make anyone who comes to my house listen to Melyn by Adwaith. Friends, family, the bloke from Dyno-Rod…
How do you organise your records?
In a very complicated way, but I must stress I do know where everything is. My favourite artists have their own sections in order of release. I have special sections for Scottish and Welsh artists. Absolute go-to favourites of all genres, ages, and countries are stacked in front of the record player in the living room, and there is a shelf for newer purchases by the sofa. The rest, referred to as the general population, is in alphabetical order around the house.
Which genres do you especially enjoy listening to? And which do you avoid?
I’m going through a psych/garage phase at the moment, and I’ve got an eternal soft spot for indie and alternative rock and pop – whatever that means. I always used to say prog did my head in but I’ve blown the dust off a good few albums of the genre this year and happily eaten my words.
What album might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
People are surprised I love Elvis. “What, PRESLEY?” followed by a short laugh is not unprecedented. My reply to this is “get out of my house”.
How have your listening tastes changed over time?
I didn’t go near jazz or prog for years, even though lots of artists I admire are influenced by both. But I do now. I listen to much more classical music, and a lot more religious compositions and spirituals.
You’re organising a party. Which three artists, dead or alive, do you invite?
Dusty Springfield, Nikki Sudden, and someone from an indie landfill band when Britpop was massive and who got to number 36 in the charts or lower and is still bitter.
Any upcoming albums you’re really looking forward to?
Adwaith’s follow up to Melyn!