This is obviously a deeply unsettling time, with anxieties only exacerbated by an untrustworthy government seemingly hellbent on sacrificing the older generation and the less well-off, so it’s more important than ever to find some positives wherever you can. On top of recouping at least two hours a day because I currently don’t have to commute (and doing away with all the associated stresses those journeys entail), one thing that I’ll always be grateful for when I look back on this period is my newfound appreciation for albums – perhaps ‘rediscovery’ would be a slightly better word.
With the advent of digital downloads, music streaming sites and the ‘shuffle’ function, it can be all too easy to cherry-pick a selection of individual songs (from one artist or many) and play them in whatever order they are thrown at you. Many of us really have forgotten how to listen to albums properly – some may not have ever been constrained by this format at all.
Enter Tim Burgess.
Aside from The Show Must Go Online, Tim’s album parties have become permanent fixtures in my week, and things that I really look forward to – so much so, my diary is packed with them for many weeks to come.
These ‘gatherings’ have been taking place on an intermittent basis before this crisis hit and we were unable to gather in person at other events (mostly with Charlatans or solo records); now, with everyone isolated in one place or another, they’re able to happen much more frequently – there are generally two or three every night. Why is availability important? Because (most of the time) it’s not simply listening to an album; as well as Tim listening & tweeting along, people involved in the making of that album also join in – whether it’s the artists themselves, producers, managers, or anyone else they can think of.
And then it’s down to us – the fans – to plug any remaining gaps. We all congregate around the hashtag #TimsTwitterListeningParty, sharing anecdotes, photos, observations, and anything else we can think of within the span of around 45 minutes (or however long the album is).
A few folks asking how these work. They’re really easy:
Stream or play the album in question and follow me and the relevant twitterer(s) and watch the tweets in real time. Ask questions/ share memories etc using #timstwitterlisteningparty. Nowt complicated. That’s it ; )
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) March 26, 2020
It’s a really simple concept, and might not seem all that alluring from the outside – but trust me, it’s ridiculously addictive. I stumbled upon Kaiser Chiefs doing their own listening party for Education, Education, Education & War one night and couldn’t resist joining in as I absolutely love that album – as soon as it finished I went straight to Tim Burgess’ website to investigate his parties further (I’d previously seen a few of his tweets about it but not really looked into the whole thing). The next night I joined in the Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever (The Cribs) listening party and I was hooked; since the beginning of April I’ve done 13 of them (mostly indie bands like The Coral, as you’d expect, but also some Mark Ronson and The Avalanches for a bit of range) and am constantly checking the website for more.
Many of these are albums that I don’t actually own, so it’s been great to discover terrific album tracks as well as hear the singles that I know & love – and, to my shame, some of the albums I do own I’ve never actually listened to in their entirety before. To be honest, it’s not something I’ve ever really been that big on. When I first properly got into music and Queen were my band of choice, I’d save up my pocket money to buy one of their albums every few weeks and would sit & listen to those properly – plus in the early days of finding new current artists I enjoyed I would make more of a point to listen to full albums – but once cheaper options of finding music became available (such as downloading singles) and I had a bit more disposable income, I stopped always putting the effort in. There were obviously some exceptions (EEE&W for one), but exceptions they were.
Now that has all changed. As I am working from home (and am having to suffer a housemate who clearly has fuck all to do except make long phone calls & watch films at full volume) I have more opportunity to put my headphones on and listen to music while I plough through data processing, etc. – so I’ve started doing my own album listen-throughs! Starting with Coldplay’s Parachutes, and including things as diverse as The Rise of Skywalker OST & Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, I’m now up to 32 albums completed – some are re-listens, others are previously neglected records finally having their moment.
Quick Survey: Please click ‘like’ on this tweet if you have joined in on one, or more, of our listening parties.
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) April 9, 2020
Whether it’s a concept album or a ‘regular’ album, thought goes into the order in which the tracks are placed – and, unless you listen to it from beginning to end, you’ll miss the subtleties that are there in the tracklisting. It may be noticing how the opening track sets the tone of the whole record (Walking Barefoot on Ash’s Free All Angels), a progression in tone from brash to gentle (Kaiser Chiefs’ Employment), or something else entirely. There’s also the fact that on some albums each track directly transitions into the next one (such as The Avalanches’ Since I Left You) so you feel the full effect of each song by listening to them back-to-back.
The ‘party’ element is the icing on the cake. As nice as it is to sit on your own and listen to an album, there’s something really special about knowing that fellow fans are hearing the same songs at (pretty much) exactly the same time as you; it’s the feeling you get when you’re at a gig, except in isolation. Hearing the behind-the-scenes stories from the artists is brilliant (and also hilarious in some cases, especially when characters such as The Libertines and Bonehead are involved), but nothing beats the feeling of unity you get as fans showing your joint appreciation for the music. And, as Tim mentioned in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, it creates a safe space; Twitter and other social media can be absolute hell holes at times, but it’s things like this that remind you why you have an account.
Though if you’re unable to join in at the time (there is so much going on at the moment, I’m almost as busy as normal – if not busier) there’s a neat ‘replay‘ function on the website that stores relevant tweets from Tim’s guests and plays them back in real-time. I finally managed to test this out this week, as I was gutted to miss the Employment party (it clashed with my weekly dose of Shakespeare!) and decided I needed to catch up as quickly as possible. It’s a great innovation – there’s even a ‘surprise me’ button if you want to take your chances – and I hope to find time to squeeze in some more that I missed out on first time round.
Who knows when we’ll be able to get back to gigs? I’m not confident that the shows I have booked for September will go ahead (or if I’d feel comfortable attending if they did), so it may be 2021 before we can safely enjoy music in the same room together. In the meantime I’m more than happy to be together, apart.