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Archives for September 2009

A Few Changes to the Music Website

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Matthew Shorter Matthew Shorter | 17:28 UK time, Tuesday, 29 September 2009

If you've found your way to this blog post via the BBC Music homepage, you'll already have noticed a couple of changes to the design of the site as of late last week. We've significantly revised the design and functionality of various parts of the homepage in particular. The main content promotion area at the top of the page, the scrolling ribbon of artists played on the BBC and the album reviews box have all been redesigned both to make it easier to move around all the promoted content, and to provide more information about the range of content on offer. We test our websites regularly, and in the session that led to these changes we found that users, in particular those with disabilities, found some of our old design and functionality hard to understand and use, so we really hope these changes will help. We'd love to hear your views, whether or not you agree.

Elsewhere, I'm delighted to say that audio has returned to our album reviews (more loyal users will remember that we used to host audio clips in RealMedia until our relaunch earlier this year). The audio has actually been there for a couple of weeks, but we're especially proud of our new listen button which appeared with the recent set of changes as part of our review tracklists. Here's just one example of a fully audible review. We're surprised there aren't more online reviews offering audio, but happy to be out on this particular limb.

In other improvements to our album reviews offering, we've also reintroduced another late lamented feature in the form of "Like This? Try These..." links from some of our reviews - like this one. And with recommendations from BBC brands an increasingly key part of our approach to reviewing albums, we've started to aggregate these recommendations in pages like this. We've also made a page where you can see all our recommendations together.

Finally, we've tweaked the "Played By" section of our artist pages so that we're no longer displaying histogram-style bars next to programmes that have recently played a given artist. Since we're not actually displaying numbers of plays here (for good but complicated reasons), we thought the bars weren't adding much to the page and decided to tidy them up. For anyone who actually wants to see the raw numbers, they're still there in machine-readable feeds such as xml & rss.

All feedback welcome.

Re-wiring the Electric Proms

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Lorna Clarke Lorna Clarke | 14:33 UK time, Monday, 28 September 2009

I can't believe it is the fourth BBC Electric Proms already! I still remember launching the first event with The Who, Paul Weller with Amy Winehouse, Kasabian and the late great Godfather of Soul -James Brown.

I'd like to say it has got easier, but it hasn't really, just smaller. New issues always come up, usually from the BBC itself. We simply cannot afford to keep it the same size. The music business is also suffering with marketing budgets reduced and promotional touring budgets slashed. Suddenly I'm having heated conversations with tour managers about rehearsal space prices, catering prices; "will sandwiches be Ok?" and "do you really need that many rehearsals?"

We need impact for less money said the BOSS. Focus on known headliners that the broadcast teams want on TV and Radio.

March 2009:
Have dinner with David Arnold (created the Kaiser Chiefs' show for EP in 2007). He's in the middle of producing the new album from Dame Shirley Bassey, her first in 20 years. He's very excited about the project. When he gets excited, you get excited. He's the reason I started playing music again. Anyway, she wouldn't do it would she? Mark Cooper gets on a plane to Monaco. She likes him. Alan Yentob goes to Monaco. She likes him too.

So we've announced this year's event and sent out the press release. We only had budget for four headline shows this year. We can't afford a support slot for every headliner, that would add thousands in Musicians' Union fees. We've managed to keep our film initiative though; New Music Shorts. Florence & The Machine and Metronomy inspired films commissioned from brand new film makers. The bands have agreed to play on the night in the Studio Theatre space at the Roundhouse too. This is a real coup. We book Florence in May.

July 2009:
Smokey Robinson with the BBC Concert Orchestra agreed. We go to recce the hotel suite and mail him pictures as we can't afford their actual choice. Emma persuades the hotel to throw in a complimentary steam room for him. Many, many late night transatlantic calls later...
Smokey's Team: 'Yes. No. Maybe'
Then...
Smokey: 'Definitely not as I've changed my manager and my mind... What was the event again?'.
Later on...
An American accent on the phone: 'I'm the new manager for Mr Robinson'.

Start from the top...
Me: 'Paul McCartney's done it before. And Burt Bacharach.'
Smokey's New Manager : 'OK yes, sounds good. You have permission to speak to my legal team.'
A team of lawyers! Gulp.

Tears of a Clown with at least 18 strings? Mike Townend will arrange the new music charts. Amazingly no orchestral charts exist of Smokey's music. Just agreed with Andrew Connolly, the BBC Concert Orchestra manager, and Mike Townend that we really should put the harp player back in the orchestra for Smokey's night.

We sign contracts with the other headliners in August. Dizzee Rascal's had an amazing year and launches his fourth album soon. He's consistently creative, refusing to be pigeon-holed.
Doves are one of the most thoughtful bands we've worked with, they'll be supported by fellow Mancunians Magazine (whose lead singer is flying in from the Far East to play). Doves will also be joined on stage by a massive London based Bulgarian choir.

Still trying to work out how we get all the musicians that Trevor Horn would like on the stage for the Robbie Williams show! Hopefully it'll be the second show this year with a harp.

September 2009
Ticket requests from the most unlikely places, constantly. For instance, Magazine want to see Smokey. Politely explain to all the ticket requesters they are not my tickets to give away.

More requests: Dame Shirley's dress may need a special lighting plan; Robbie currently has 38 musicians on stage ; Trevor's politely asked for no curly BBC sandwiches please, such a nice man; and a US Football ticket request for Smokey's band whilst they are here. Sorted.

The Electric Proms team are behaving a little strangely. Talking to themselves about making accurate budgets and risers for choirs.

It is a great line up, but as we always say 'until the Diva sings, its work in progress'. The Electric Proms will be here in a hot minute. Then we get Electric Proms flu. Happens every year.

Lorna

www.bbc.co.uk/electricproms

George Russell R.I.P.

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Pete Marsh - BBC Music Interactive | 11:43 UK time, Monday, 28 September 2009

The composer, pianist and theoretician George Russell passed away at the end of July, and this weekend Alyn Shipton's excellent Jazz Library programme paid tribute to him with a revealing and fascinating archive interview.

Russell's great gift to jazz was something he called The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation, which all sounds a bit dull till you realise it was the spur for the modal explorations of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. So in a nutshell, no George Russell - no Kind of Blue or A Love Supreme.

Here's Alyn's recollections of Russell...

"I first got to talk to jazz composer and bandleader George Russell when I was researching a book on Dizzy Gillespie. Trumpeter Ian Carr put us in touch, and George told me how he'd been writing modal jazz for Dizzy in 1947. (That modal theory eventually transformed itself into George's lifetime's work on the Lydian mode.)

We stayed in contact, and I later did a number of magazine interviews with him, gradually getting to know him and his work as I previewed his various London appearances over the years. In due course, while I was making a World Service and Radio 3 documentary series about Ornette Coleman, I made the trek to Boston, Massachusetts, to meet George in person, as he had worked closely with Ornette in the 1950s and 60s. I took the subway Green Line right out to its furthest extremity, and then walked another mile or so, and finally came to George's house, tucked away behind the main University campus area. He was a great host, and we talked about music for hours, recording the interview about Ornette, and one about George himself that's the basis for the current Radio 3 Jazz Library programme.

If you listen really carefully, you can hear my producer Oliver Jones munching Kettle Chips in the background, from the luxurious spread that George had prepared for us. Sadly in a series of office moves, the original DAT tape seems to have disappeared - an occupational hazard of making radio shows, but fortunately I had a cassette backup and in order to present this very personal portrait of a great composer and musician, I hope everyone will bear with the hisses and crackles.

Not long after his last London visit, when I went to hear his band at the Barbican, George was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Sadly he died this summer, but this Jazz Library interview which particularly explores his friendship with the pianist Bill Evans, is a tribute to a great man of American Music."

Here's one of George's best known tunes for your delectation.

Editor's Pick of New Releases, August 2009

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Mike Diver Mike Diver | 11:55 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009

While the summertime rash of festivals has previously denied August a fair raft of worthwhile album buys, this year couldn't have more different. In the first of our month-end articles rounding up the best releases from the last 30-odd days that were, here are BBC album reviews editor Mike Diver's (rather belated) picks from August 2009.

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
(Domino, released August 3)

Writes reviewer Ian Wade: "Good lord, Wild Beasts are amazing. Thrillingly outside of what passes for alternative music in these final days, yet still sufficiently ankle-deep in the indie, the Kendal-formed foursome swoop and soar in a way not seen since the time of Suede's blouse-ripping early days, with a fine line teetering between the absurd and the magic, writhing around in a sensual fashion long abandoned by northern herberts with guitars. Two Dancers is the sound of horny young urchins running amok through an insatiable widescreen soup of desire and wonders. Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven't twigged already, Wild Beasts are your new favourite band."

Read the full review of Two Dancers

Wild Beasts - All The Kings Men (single released October 5)


Various Artists - Total 10
(Kompakt, released August 10)

Writes reviewer Colin Buttimer: "Though it might have become something of an institution over the course of a decade, the Total series deserves your attention: why miss out on two and a half hours of characteristically svelte, high-quality dance music? This assortment is of a consistently high quality, so it's difficult to pick individual highlights, but Thomas Fehlmann's mix of The Field's The More That I Do is special: hypnotically ethereal, but more driven than the original. The set ends on a subdued note with Pachanga Boys' Fiesta Forever, but a decade on and it doesn't feel like the party's over yet."

Read the full review of Total 10

The Field - The More That I Do (Thomas Fehlmann remix - audio only)


The xx - xx
(Young Turks, released August 17)

Writes reviewer Lou Thomas: "Every song here is an enigmatic and moody blend of smoky crooning, nimble keyboard trickery and slippery treble-heavy riffs. Such self-awareness and focus is commendable given so few experienced bands, let alone newcomers, can manage it. Whether The xx plough on in the same noir direction of this debut or pursue new tangents, it must be hoped the young Londoners are able to maintain their affecting hold on the listener whatever the stylistic surface."

Read the full review of xx

The xx - Basic Space


Mew - No More Stories...
(Columbia, released August 24)

Writes reviewer Mike Diver: "Rarely ones to let self-consciousness stand in the way of indulgence, Mew's follow-up to their much-acclaimed album of 2007, And the Glass Handed Kites, is every bit as exploratory and expansive as fans old and new have come to expect. They deserve to be categorised alongside some of the more extraordinary outfits pushing beyond boundaries: Radiohead and Muse are stylistic bedfellows, although the Danes are rather more restrained of bombast."

Read the full review of No More Stories...

Mew - Introducing Palace Players


Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
(Domino, released August 24)

Writes reviewer Mike Diver: "Humbug embraces the true nature of album-craft by sequencing ten tracks in such a way that coherence and consistency bind constituent pieces into a single, enjoyably sombre whole. It's proof that Arctic Monkeys have grown up: here, they incorporate elements of rock'n'roll past to fuel a very modern affair, and that it manages to sound completely unique is testament indeed to Alex Turner and company's cultivated creative nous."

Read the full review of Humbug

Arctic Monkeys - Crying Lightning


Little Dragon - Machine Dreams
(Peacefrog, released August 31)

Writes reviewer Lou Thomas: "Back in 2007, Gothenburg's enticing tech-pop alchemists Little Dragon released their eponymous debut. With Machine Dreams they've followed that auspicious and surprising concoction of digi-funk, subtle down-tempo rhythms and twitchy electronica with an equally beguiling and neatly layered album. There may not be another collection of airy (and Air-y) dream pop quite as terrific produced this year - Machine Dreams is wonderfully sensual, and ever so essential."

Read the full review of Machine Dreams

Little Dragon - Swimming


Find many more reviews, including releases in the jazz, soul, classical and pop fields (under-represented this month, but there are a few to sate your appetite if you're so inclined), on our reviews homepage.

Radio 3's Eclectic Late Junction is Ten

Editor's note. Fiona Talkington is a Radio 3 presenter and was one of the founders of Radio 3's eclectic late night music selection, Late Junction. Yesterday was the programme's birthday.

And so we are ten. Ten years of the wind whistling through telegraph wires in the Australian outback, Mongolian throat singers galloping across the plains, delicate kora playing plucking at the heartstrings of the the African soul, a resurgence of English fiddle tunes and ballads, panting Inuit singing competitions, Scandinavian jazz and fiery flamenco. We've fed the soul with Coptic chanting, shape-note Quaker hymns, Mauritanian praise songs, funeral rituals and wedding dances.

We've driven listeners insane with relentless plays of Gavin Bryars' Jesus' Blood or Charlemagne Palestine's single chords. We've introduced Beethoven and Schubert to Tom Waits or Scott Walker. We've gone out in search of the music, we've brought musicians to us. Womad memories - the great Geoffrey Oryema's heartfelt singing late one dark July night, the eagle wings of Mari Boine. We've suffered the Glasgow cold in January for Celtic Connections and filled our studios with warm and generous bands and a wee dram or two.

It really is as simple as that, a passion for music, an urge to discover, a liking for the rather weird, enormous respect for musicians and a love of our loyal engaging listeners. From Day 1 you've been with us on this journey, sharing your albums with us, playing air guitar alongside us, writing us poems, telling us your secrets, your dreams, your heartaches. We've given you music for the birth of your children, dried your tears in times of need, held your hands with our music at funerals. We've emptied your bank accounts as you rush to buy what you've heard.

It began with Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright's dream of a programme which could bring together the sax playing of Jan Garbarek and Bulgarian chanting. We must have given him some wild dreams at times! Would it last two years I wondered? But here I am ten years later loving the music more than ever. True my house might be suffering subsidence under the weight of CDs, but I've also sat by a fjord in the early hours of a summer morning touched by the beauty of music, and stood in a crowd of thousands in Italy with hundreds of tambourines being thrown into the air in wild exuberance and joy in music making. When cancer struck, I wouldn't let Late Junction go, it was as much my lifeline as the drip, drip of the chemotherapy drugs.

Ten years of producers with a passion and willingness to explore this musical world, who beam with delight when they surprise us with some exquisite Georgian field recordings, or some archive Cornelius Cardew. The LJ team is aboard a ship which sails to unknown places through uncharted waters. And now we are ten.

And the artists we've brought together for our tenth birthday celebration? Stian Carstensen? The zaniest, craziest, most imaginative, inventive, weirdest, most musical accordion/banjo/lap-steel/kaval player/singer/raconteur and comedian I know, partnered with virtuoso fiddler Ola Kvernberg. You'll also hear eclectic experimentalist Max de Wardener, pianist Huw Warren and three members of Roots Union, overheard recently from the back of a pub in Sidmouth by Verity Sharp.

Mercury Prize: Who Will Win in 2010?

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Mike Diver Mike Diver | 09:00 UK time, Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Since its inception in 1992, the Mercury Prize has served as a valuable alternative to album award nods at the Brits, offering mainstream exposure and a fairly hefty cheque to its winners, almost all of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. And where artists have subsequently stalled, one can look to their triumphant collections - Ms Dynamite's A Little Deeper in 2002, Talvin Singh's OK three years' earlier - as career high points, rightly selected by the prize's judging panel as worthy victors.

However, with each passing year competition becomes fiercer - now, the Mercury is every bit as important to a band's enduring success as substantial radio play, sold-out shows and high-charting singles, and increasingly acts as a springboard for such visible accomplishments. This year's winner, Speech Debelle, is sure to reap the rewards of not only triumphing, but doing so from one of the strongest shortlists in years.

But enough about this year - such is the industry's insatiable appetite for the Next that it's already time to look to the Mercury Prize of 2010 (for the next few minutes, anyway), and the acts already lining up to play their part at its 19th awards ceremony.

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Speech Debelle, winner of the 2009 Mercury Prize

Firstly, a band whose failure to make the 2009 shortlist left more than a few critics flabbergast: Late of the Pier. The Castle Donington band's 2008 debut effort Fantasy Black Channel drew upon influences from the 80s - ahead of the rise of La Roux, natch - and mashed Numan echoes into visions of a future where multi-coloured cacophonies are part and parcel of any top ten countdown. Accessible yet bristling with a crazed enthusiasm for advancement through opposites-attracting arrangements, Fantasy Black Channel really should be in the running this year - but as it's not, attentions must turn to follow-up LP Blueberry Pie, pencilled in for a release in the next few months and certain to further the four-piece's already flowering reputation for expectation-eschewing sonic frivolity.

lateofthepier.jpg

Late of the Pier: Future favourites?
Already released are contenders from The xx - fresh-faced gloom merchants channelling old-school 4AD celestial swirl and squeezing alluring, affecting pop from the spectre of Joy Division - and Noah and the Whale, whose new The First Days of Spring record is a confident collection of genteel folk-inflected arrangements bound together by a captured-on-film (if you get the deluxe edition) narrative. The Big Pink stand some chance of recognition, too, when their A Brief History of Love debut is released - if you're as-yet unfamiliar, think Kasabian with better electronics and less of the braggadocio. Simian Mobile Disco and Arctic Monkeys comprise a high-profile pair with standouts aplenty on their respective records, Temporary Pleasure and Humbug, but whether either has made a critical impression deep enough to feature in the judging panel's thoughts some months from now remains to be seen.

Better big-league bets are Muse - who picked up a nomination for their last album, Black Holes & Revelations, in 2006 - and Radiohead, who quite staggeringly have never won the Mercury before, despite releasing two generation-defining records with OK Computer in 1997 and In Rainbows a decade later. The former band's new LP, The Resistance, has been attracting positive reviews enough to plaster half of the North Circular's billboard array in stand-alone quotes, while the much-celebrated (but rather lacking in shiny statuettes) Radiohead are surely preparing a new album, with recently released track These Are My Twisted Words showcasing an intriguingly ominous direction.

Beats-and-pieces collections coming in the next couple of months are led by a trio of boundary-pushing, wheel-reinventing acts: F*** Buttons, Hudson Mohawke and King Cannibal. Bristol-formed pair Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power are the censorship-necessary sorts guiding second album Tarot Sport to completion alongside producer Andrew Weatherall, and lead single Surf Solar is evidence enough of their amazing progression since debut affair Street Horrrsing (do listen to it on their MySpace page - it's a beastly beauty). And wouldn't it be a treat to hear Jools announce them as winners to a live television and radio audience?

Hudson Mohawke, aka Ross Birchard, ostensibly fronts the Glasgow's LuckyMe collective alongside another purveyor of wonderfully wonky dubstep-gone-awry beats, Rustie. Butter, his debut album, is out in October in Warp, and stands a decent chance of attracting considerable press attention following tips from the likes of Mary Anne Hobbs - the kind of attention that, really, should have come labelmate Chris Clark's way with his phenomenal Totem's Flare album of this summer (which missed the 2009 cut, to this writer's disappointment). King Cannibal, meanwhile, is a London-based gentleman by the name of Dylan Richards. His forthcoming album for Ninja Tune, Let the Night Roar, is the sound of (another worthy nominee that never was) The Bug's Kevin Martin losing his way in a Streatham alleyway and coming out the other side, eventually, sweating like he's trapped in a Stephen King nightmare. It's peculiarly haunting, for very much the right reasons; that you can also tap a foot fairly frantically to it is but a bonus.

Rather more polite offerings from Fanfarlo and Mumford & Sons are worth investigation from anyone partial to contemporary domestic takes on folk, albeit of a variety equally indebted to Arcade Fire and their ilk; Sian Alice Group's sublime Troubled, Shaken Etc is an album that keeps giving with each play through, delicate yet deceptively catchy of percussion; and both Kill It Kid and The Twilight Sad comprise decent shouts from the anthemic end of the indie spectrum - the latter act will blow your eardrums, if not your mind, at any one of their gigs. Then there's past nominees Jamie T and Basement Jaxx - their latest wares are both patchy affairs, but popularity based on previous form could carry them through.

sianalice-group.jpg

Sian Alice Group

But, honestly, only one band truly shines in the UK right now, as an act genuinely continuing down a path entirely of their own making: Wild Beasts. The Kendall-formed foursome's second album, Two Dancers, is several lengths ahead of any of the aforementioned to these ears, its assortment of uniquely idiosyncratic pop arrangements, jaw-dropping (and heart-stopping) switches in tone and texture, and singularly raunchy lyricism - it's smut at times, for sure, but defiantly archaic of expression and subsequently surprisingly tender and romantic - comprising the kind of long-player that only comes around once in a lifetime.

Well, once a year at least, making the Mercury Prize of 2010 theirs for the taking. Unless the token jazz pick proves to be quite the addictive listen, of course.

Related Links
Mercury Prize 2009 - full coverage, with videos and photos from the ceremony

Mike Diver is the reviews editor at bbc.co.uk/music

The Beatles Recovered

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Mark Cooper Mark Cooper | 16:20 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Beatles started off as a covers band and half the first Beatles' album consists of versions of Motown, R&B and rock 'n' roll. Brian Epstein reportedly encouraged John and Paul to get writing if they wanted a future beyond the 18 months or so that was the projected lifespan of anything pop in the early 60s.

There's a touching moment in The Beatles On Record in which a serious Paul discusses their career prospects as jobbing songwriters when the band's moment in the spotlight might be over in a few months. For eight years in the 60s and for the decades since, The Beatles comprehensively proved their sneering elders wrong; from the first they were built to last.

John and Paul kicked off as songwriters by handing out songs to the Stones and Liverpool mates like Billy J Kramer and Cilla Black but pretty soon they only had time for their own studio adventures.

Our ...Sings the Beatles compilation on BBC Four is an eclectic survey of Beatles' covers from the 60s and beyond. It's a tacit reminder of how Beatles' songs became ubiquitous almost overnight in the mid-60s and how quickly they were taken up by the mainstream and turned into easy listening. Much of ...Sings Beatles is TV gold because it's light entertainment colliding with pop music and producing... God knows what! That means Dudley Moore and Cilla Black making comic eyes at each other over If I Fell, Petula Clark in a field doing a vaudeville version of Sgt Pepper, Shirley Bassey turning Something into Wagner.

singsbeatles.jpg

Cover Queens: Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey & Cilla Black

There's the occasional musical gem - I still like Richie Havens' take on Here Comes The Sun for example - and the odd reminder that although the flood of Beatles' covers slowed to a trickle in the 80s and 90s, each generation could still 'make' their own Beatles - take a bow Candy Flip's acid house version of Strawberry Fields Forever.

Of course we could only show you what's in the BBC's vaults and that doesn't include Ella Fitzgerald or many of the New York Times' fave covers from a recent Top 10 which includes The Breeders' Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Rufus Wainwright's Across The Universe and Stevie Wonder's We Can Work It Out.

There are those on the web that argue that The Beatles are much covered but that those covers are never a match for the perfection of the band's studio originals in contrast to Dylan who's a fertile source for interpreting precisely because his own versions of his songs are so idiosyncratic and sketchy.

There's some truth in that and while there's plenty of discussion out there online with lists of jazz , Moog and other genre Beatles' covers, the last 45 years or so of covers suggests it's hard to take on perfection. I'm going to plump for Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude with Duane Allman on slide guitar because, for once, here's a version that isn't awed by the original. We'd like to know what your favourite Beatles' cover is and why so - anyone for Marmalade?

Mark Cooper is the Executive Producer of ...Sings the Beatles which you can watch on BBC Four on Friday 11 September.

Related Posts
How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin
Albert Maysles on Filming the Beatles

Related Links
...Sings the Beatles

Mercury Pies 2009

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Rory Connolly Rory Connolly | 11:57 UK time, Tuesday, 8 September 2009


A few months back we asked a few of our favourite music websites and blogs to share their thoughts on who should be nominated for this year's Mercury Prize. Thirteen replied, and between us they made quite a good fist at predicting the 2009 shortlist.

With the big announcement upon us, we felt it was the perfect time to return to our experts to ask them who they think will be the lucky winner, and who they would like to be the lucky winner. The results make interesting reading;

Its Getting Boring By The Sea
Who they would like to win: Friendly Fires
Who they think will win: Florence & The Machine

Strangeglue
Who they would like to win: Friendly Fires
Who they think will win: The Horrors

thinkwillwin.jpg

To Die By Your Side
Who they would like to win: Florence & The Machine
Who they think will win: La Roux

The Line Of Best Fit
Who they would like to win: The Horrors
Who they think will win: Bat For Lashes

BlackPlastic
Who they would like to win: Friendly Fires
Who they think will win: The Horrors

Chromewaves
Who they would like to win: Bat For Lashes
Who they think will win: Bat For Lashes

want2win.jpg


Faded Glamour
Who they would like to win: Friendly Fires
Who they think will win: The Horrors

Mike Diver - BBC Music Reviews Editor
Who they would like to win: The Invisible
Who they think will win: Bat For Lashes

So if our bloggers are anything to go by The Horrors and Bat For Lashes will be battling it out the final moments of the judging panels discussion later this evening. And win or not, Friendly Fires have already won over a lot of new fans with their debut.

Don't forget you can watch the live announcement and exclusive Mercury Prize ceremony performances from all the shortlisted artists at bbc.co.uk/mercuryprize

Who do you think will win?

Mercury Prize - And the winner is...

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Rory Connolly Rory Connolly | 10:11 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009

The second week of September dawns and the eyes of the music world begin to focus on London's Grosvenor Hotel, and the judging panel of the Mercury Prize, who lay somewhere within battling out the final moments of this year's big decision.

The twelve artists who made this year's shortlist have become all the more easy to find, as Bat For Lashes talks to Observer Music Monthly, and The Horrors begin a month of shortlisted musicians presenting on 6 Music.

The bookies have closed in on Florence and the Machine as a leading contender, but as so often with the Mercury Prize we all have our favourites. Radio 2's Jeremy Vine thinks the unique skills of second time nominee Bat For Lashes deserve the nod, while Roots Manuva is happy to highlight the merits of fellow rapper Speech Debelle.

NME's Emily Mackay is one of many to heap praise on critic pleasers Glasvegas, but it's the likes of previous nominee Zoe Rahman and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody who direct our gaze on the lesser known, but no less accomplished charms of The Invisible and Lisa Hannigan respectively.

Elsewhere on our now overflowing Mercury Prize website 6 Music news' Rodrigo Davies has taken a more in depth look at 2009's final twelve and those budding radio presenters The Horrors have stopped off at The Hub to record a session.

And it's at bbc.co.uk/mercuryprize that you will be able to follow all the exciting events on Tuesday night. Guy Garvey relives his achievement with Elbow at last year's award from 7pm on 6 Music, before Steve Lamacq takes over with a live broadcast from the ceremony. Lauren Laverne joins us at 10pm as we provide live web coverage of BBC Two's award show, while Rodrigo Davies will be keeping us up to date on all the night's developments via Twitter.

How The Beatles Rocked the Kremlin

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Leslie Woodhead Leslie Woodhead | 09:00 UK time, Friday, 4 September 2009

beatles_kremlin.jpg

In August 1962, I made a little film with four unknown kids playing in a Liverpool cellar. I was a very raw recruit to TV, working on a local news programme in Manchester, and I'd been asked to find something to contrast with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. A friend told me to contact a man called Brian Epstein. I thought Epstein was surprisingly dapper for a rock manager, but he led me to a dingy basement in the city centre - "The Cavern Club" Epstein told me. The music roared up to meet me as we felt our way down the stairs - and I got my first sight of The Beatles.

This was not my music. I was - and still am - a modern jazz fan. But the visceral thrill of the not-yet Fab Four punched me in the stomach. I was hooked. In the pub afterwards, Paul McCartney said to me: "It must be dead glamorous working in TV". On the way home, still high on the assault of that music, I had to stop my car and be sick in a ditch.

A few days later, we shot the first ever film with The Beatles, a sweaty lunchtime session in the Cavern. Today, that two-minute scrap of grainy black-and-white film looks like something excavated during World War I. But over almost 50 years since then, that footage has somehow shaped my life as a filmmaker.

In the mid 80s, when I started to make documentaries in the Soviet Union, I began to hear stories - incredible at first - about how the Beatles had changed the USSR. A few Russian fans told me had even seen that little film I made in the Cavern Club. I knew the Fab Four had never been able to play behind the Iron Curtain, denounced as capitalist pollution by the repressive old men in the Kremlin. I heard that fans had been arrested for smuggling Beatles music, and had been kicked out of University for having a Beatles album. The stories piled up as I came back to make documentaries in Russia over the last 20 years.

I heard fantastic tales of how Beatles-starved comrades inscribed bootleg tapes of I Feel Fine into X-ray plates of their Uncle Sergei's lungs - the only vinyl available. I was told how phone boxes across the Soviet Union were vandalised to make pickups for home-made guitars carved from kitchen tables. And serious witnesses - professors, reporters, the Russian Deputy Premier - insisted that the music and spirit of The Beatles had played a more important role in washing away the foundations of totalitarianism than the decades of Cold War propaganda or the threat of nuclear missiles.

I have wanted to make this film for years, and the finished documentary, crammed with bizarre archive and improbable tribute bands, is even wilder and more surprising than I'd anticipated

How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin has been fun to make. But along the way, it also tells the unknown story of a revolution which helped to change a superpower.

How The Beatles Rocked the Kremlin is on BBC Four on Sunday 6 September at 8pm and Monday 7 September at 10.30pm

Related Links
Leslie Woodhead - official site
How the Beatles rocked the Eastern Bloc - Leslie's article for BBC News

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Albert Maysles on Filiming the Beatles
Countdown to Beatles Week
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Filming the Beatles American Invasion

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Albert Maysles Albert Maysles | 14:10 UK time, Wednesday, 2 September 2009

In February 1964 I got a call from Granada Television saying that The Beatles were arriving at Idlewild airport in New York in two hours, and would I like to make a film of them.

Watch Albert talk about the Beatles' arrival in the US.

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I put my hand over the phone and turned to my brother David and said, "Who are the Beatles? Are they any good?" Fortunately he knew and with a big smile on his face, the two of us got on the phone, made the deal and rushed out to the airport in time to see the plane coming down. Soon we were filming them in a limousine and then upon their arrival at the Plaza Hotel.

Watch Albert talk about filming in the Plaza Hotel.

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The next seven days we were with them day and night. When they went into the TV studio to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, we knew that we wouldn't be able to film because of union technicalities so instead we walked down the street, went into the first tenement we saw and as we walked through the corridor, we heard Beatles music coming from one of the apartments. We knocked on the door and the mother let us in. We filmed the whole family watching the Beatles on television.

Watch Albert talk about the Beatles' photo op in Central Park.

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Watch Albert talk about the Beatles' night at the Peppermint Lounge.

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But that's not the end of it. When John Lennon and Yoko moved into the Dakota building, we were already there, so we got together a number of times. There was a time when John and Yoko thought we should do some more filming, perhaps go to the pyramids of Egypt where they would bury themselves in the sand with only their heads protruding and we would film them. I was in Paris at the time but my family was home and heard the shots that killed John.

So many coincidences... In 1965, before John had met Yoko, I filmed her doing one of her happenings called Cut Piece, and more recently her 70th and 75th birthday parties. As the Beatles film was the early bookend to the 1960s (1964), my film Gimme Shelter is the bookend to its close (1969).

Related Links
Maysles Films - official site
The Beatles - official site

Related Posts
Countdown to Beatles Week
Tweet the Beatles!

Tweet the Beatles

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Nigel Smith Nigel Smith | 18:00 UK time, Tuesday, 1 September 2009

meetbeatles.gif

image inspired by the cover of Meet the Beatles!

On Saturday night at 8.35pm BBC Two are showing a new documentary called The Beatles on Record which uses rare archive footage, never heard before out-takes, and interviews with the Fab Four to shed light on the creation of all of their albums.

It's a fascinating programme and one we think Beatles fans will want to talk about while they are watching. The director Bob Smeaton, who also made the landmark Beatles Anthology series, will be using Twitter during the broadcast to join in this conversation and answer some of your questions

If you use Twitter while watching the programme and add the hashtag #beatlesbbc to your tweets you will be able to see what Bob and other viewers taking part are saying about it by looking at twitter's search results for #beatlesbbc or on Twitterfall.

If you would like to take part don't have a Twitter account you can sign up at twitter.com.

There are lots of other Beatles programmes coming up on TV so don't feel you can only use the #beatlesbbc hashtag while watching on Saturday night. It's already being used by BBC staff talking about Radio 2's Beatles bank holiday weekend shows.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and we'll answer it before Saturday evening.

Related Links
Beatles - BBC artist page
Beatles - official site

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