QueenPod podcast

“Miming to Sheer Heart Attack with a pvc pipe” // QueenPod podcast and my Queen story

A few weeks ago, I added an old classmate as a friend on Facebook. We had been to primary school together, more than 20 years ago. Within seconds, he sent me this short message: “One word: Queen.” It made me smile, because I honestly couldn’t recall bothering my schoolmates with Queen trivia …

Then I remembered how I mimed to the ‘Live Killers’ version of Sheer Heart Attack, dressed as Freddie Mercury at Live Aid, with a painted moustache and a thin pvc pipe that served as a sawn-off mic, in front of a baffled audience of Spice Girls and Take That fans. Indeed, only one word mattered at that time: Queen.

QueenPod is doing all right and diving deep

Why am I writing this? I’m kind of late to the party, but over the last week I’ve been listening to the QueenPod podcast. Every episode digs deep into a single side of a Queen album. How deep? Well, to give you an idea: side A of Queen’s 1973 debut album is just four tracks long, but it keeps the panel going for 1 hour and 53 minutes straight. That’s how deep.

An interesting detail is that the podcast is made with the consent of Queen’s management, meaning that the makers are allowed to use the music they’re discussing, which is a huge advantage—even if this extended track-by-track approach will mostly appeal to fans who know the entire discography by heart.

“It was never easy being a Queen fan. But Queen music was my launching pad into an eclectic jungle of sound.”

It enables the members of the panel to draw attention to particular details in the music. Roy Thomas Baker playing a stylophone in Seven Seas of Rhye? All right, let’s hear it. And what is Rhye anyway? No stone is left unturned.

Comedian Sooz Kempner delivers nice insights into musical matters such as key changes, Freddie’s vocal range and time signatures. Fellow comedian and superfan John Robins is brilliant throughout. In Simon Lupton, the QueenPod has a guy on board who actually worked closely with the band in recent years, literally a witness from the wings. Host Rohan Acharya ties it all together nicely. Everyone shares their personal stories and invites the listeners do to the same. So here we are (though not born to be kings).

Flash Gordon approaching (and disappearing fast)

A picture exists of my classroom Queen gig. Behind me, a friend in a football shirt sits slumped on a chair, with his hand covering his mouth, trying to hide his laughter. It was never easy being a Queen fan. But as someone shared with QueenPod, Queen music was my launching pad into an eclectic jungle of sound.

The first artists I got into in my early teens after Queen were Van Halen, Bowie and Jeff Beck. Then Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Then King Crimson, Frank Zappa (who gets regular mentions on the QueenPod show, particularly by John Robins), Rush, XTC, Wire and Porcupine Tree. Then Miles, John Zorn, Swans, Snarky Puppy and Stereolab. If you’re exposed to Queen from a young age, you can easily develop a taste for the eccentric or the outlandish. At least I did.

I got to know Queen through a copy of ‘Greatest Hits’ in my uncle’s collection, which soon became the first CD I bought for myself. When later I cycled to the record shop to buy another Queen album with my pocket money, I decided to choose value for money and picked the CD with the most tracks on them.

“I imagined how we would return home without even catching a glimpse of Brian’s tour bus.”

The next day, my father, brought the ‘Flash Gordon’ soundtrack back to where it came from. He returned home with his own childhood favorite, ‘A Night At The Opera’, which really set things alight. From that point on, I had to have, read and hear everything. The solo stuff too.

The night that nearly did me in

Then in 1998, at the age of 12, an event happened I had been ridiculoulsy nervous about for weeks. Brian May, who had just released ‘Another World’, played the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. Unfortunately, driving there in pre-GPS days, we got lost in the busy streets of the city. And stuck in traffic.

I panicked and imagined how we would return home without even catching a glimpse of Brian’s tour bus. Luckily, dads always get the job done.

I found a good spot in the back, leaning on the fence around sound engineer Trip Khalaf’s mixing desk. I sang along as if it was the last time I would ever need my voice. And for a brief moment in time, life was perfect.

Review // The Album Years podcast – A New Pair of Ears

The Album Years, a new music podcast by No-Man colleagues Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness, went off to a roaring start, with fans applauding the first two episodes. The new series even hit the top 3 on Apple Podcasts in various countries. 

My opinion? The enthusiasm and insights of Wilson and Bowness make you want to pick up a pencil and take extensive notes. I’m afraid this series is going to cost me a small fortune in record stores. If a music podcast can achieve that, it’s a success in my book.

Each episode zooms in on a particular ‘album year’, a year from an era where albums existed as a unified art form, not just a random collection of hits. For Wilson and Bowness, who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, the era started in the mid-60’s–which is true, as long as you don’t take jazz albums into account–and ‘ended’ around the year 2000, which seems to be a more arbitrary choice, especially since the album era never really ended. But you need to draw the line somewhere. I get that.

Beyond Bowie and Pink Floyd

The first two episodes, focussing on 1980 and 1973, where lots of fun already. Without spoiling anything, I can say that while ‘Closer’ by Joy Division, Bowie’s ’Scary Monsters’ and Pink Floyd’s ’The Dark Side of the Moon’ are briefly mentioned they don’t feature in the official selection. As Wilson rightfully comments, these albums have been dissected and reconstructed over and over already: “There’s nothing more to say.”

Instead, Wilson and Bowness pick favorite, significant and strangely-under-the-radar records of a particular year and reflect on it, placing the albums in their historical context, commenting on sonic innovations, adding personal recollections and funny ad-libs (like only friends can), talking about the influence and nachleben of certain albums, often connecting the dots between them. It’s history, debate and annotated playlist rolled into one.

Real discussion

They don’t always agree, which is the kind of dynamic you need to make a podcast like this interesting. Even more so as the podcast isn’t allowed to use any sound clips, so both hosts have to work extra hard to ‘dance about architecture’ and they’re magnificent at it.

Wilson talks quite quickly and in a confident voice (almost as if his knowledge and opinions are fighting to get out), at times cutting off the soft-spoken Tim Bowness mid-sentence.

The Album Years Podcast - Steven Wilson & Tim Bowness - No-Man

The latter chooses his words with great care and manages to keep his composure when Wilson questions his choices or statements. It really makes you want to be a fly on the wall during No-Man recording sessions, which have consistently spawned great albums. Maybe that’s their magic.

But both offer remarkable insights and analysis. Even when they talk about records you already know, you’ll be inclined to dig up that LP and listen to it with a new pair of ears.

Just to give you one example: in the 1973 episode, Wilson talks about the horrific drum sound on Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Wizard, A True Star’. So I went back to the Zen Archer, and lo and behold, he’s right. Though one could argue it’s part of the DIY aesthetic of the album.

Insightful and exciting

There’s really no point in judging the selection of albums. Wilson and Bowness have been sharing their playlists online for years. Together they turned me on to dozens of albums. They set out the boundaries of the podcast clearly and within that framework I’m confident they’ll keep balancing every episode between the familiar and the obscure, the accessible and the bizarre. The Album Years has been both insightful and exciting so far.

Enjoy ’The Album Years’ now on all major podcast platforms.