Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Europeans are coming (maybe)

We may have been part of ‘the union’ for over forty years but you could probably still easily recall most of the European acts to have an influence (or hit) in this country. It may be the one area of business where we continue to export far more than we import.

Ignoring the random breakthrough hits, one-off novelties and the like it appears that European labels are less able to exert their pressure on the UK. By which I mean that (ignoring cultural issues) if an act is big in the States you can expect the management and label to try and replicate that success across other territories. Is the same true for non-UK or non-Irish European artists?

It’s probably just as well, since we already seem to have more music than we can possibly hope to listen to. The Euro hit-factories contribute to the pop charts but at a more cerebral level is there any entente cordiale?

These thoughts occurred as I encountered two acts that have huge success in other parts of Europe but seem to mean little here. Agnes Obel’s  beautiful single (and video) The Curse may change her luck. I can think of many UK acts I’d be happy to send on a permanent exchange for Agnes.


She’s already sold almost half a million copies of her debut album Philharmonics, giving her platinum status in France and Belgium, gold in the Netherlands, and five times platinum in her native Denmark, where she picked up five Danish Music Awards. Another great European act you’ve never heard of?

Thomas Dybdahl I’m less sure of. Big in Norway and selected other places, his Man on a Wire hopes to make a dent over here.


There’s something about this that doesn’t work for me. It could be the whispered vocals that seem somewhat affected, the overly-whimsical tone of it all and even the obligatory beard and jumper combo. I don’t know if they do parody or satire in his native land but this is on the verge of it. The song is pleasant enough, for sure, and certainly enough for R2 to pick up on it. He has legendary status in Norway with platinum sales and awards-galore but I remain to be convinced. I doubt he’ll lose any sleep over it.

I’ve been in search of thoughtful, lyrical, heartfelt and soulful music. There are artists that occasionally get close but don’t quite make it – a plaintive vocal with nothing to say can still be vacuous however earnest it may try to be. I found myself accidentally listening to Black on a plane journey (Wonderful Life was on the audio-system) and dredging up Colin Vearncombe’s past glories – they were glorious indeed. Digging deeper I found him still releasing albums, including many that I’d missed.  His website’s poorly executed but the music is still more than worthwhile.

A similar thing happened with Lloyd Cole, noticed because of his new song (below) but with many great tracks on his website – including two superb acoustic live albums which I subsequently purchased.


Perhaps it means we don’t need to look to Europe or even for new releases; instead of looking forward we have to look back. It feels wrong but maybe it’s alright?

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