How was it for you? 2018 was something of a rollercoaster ride in the UK. It was a year of extreme weather – two beasts from the east and a heatwave to rival 1976; a year full of negotiations, resignations and projected ramifications as far as our political commentators were concerned. It was the year we commemorated a century since the end of the First World War, said goodbye to Professor Stephen Hawking, watched two royal weddings, consumed resized Toblerones, reacquainted our ears with The White Album at 50, cheered for Winter Olympians in PyeongChang, marvelled at Geraint Thomas in the Tour de France, ushered Wenger out and Emery in, succumbed to Love Island fever, stared open-mouthed as England knocked in a few penalties at the World Cup and discovered that sharks really do love jazz. Well, some of us did.
Here in the British Council’s Music team, we’ve been catching up with some of the people we’ve been fortunate enough to work with this year, asking them to pick out songs that say 2018 to them as we look back at memorable projects in the last 52 weeks from Kiev to Chengdu.
– Stephen Bloomfield
Michael Price – January
We started the year by transporting Michael Price from a freezing London to a sub-zero Kiev. The UK TV and film composer – whose credits include the Sherlock TV series for the BBC – was in Ukraine for Envision Sound, sharing his knowledge with budding composers abroad. “It’s a joy to share the process of writing with other composers,” he told us. “The terror of the blank screen is the same everywhere.”
Returning to the UK, he released the album Tender Symmetry and for our playlist has contributed the track “Shade of Dreams”: “It was written to celebrate the birth of our first daughter, Emilie, who had her second birthday in 2018,” he told us. “It will always remind me of the joy and chaos of having a newborn but also speaks of our hope for her future and all of the new souls out there.”
Blue Lab Beats – February
It would be many months before anything resembling warm weather reached the UK but February was the month we found warmth in the power of collaborations. In Scotland, there was a piping hot musical exchange between Scottish traditional pipers and members of Ney Anban from Iran as part of Celtic Connections’ 25th anniversary. In Morocco, we helped connect Blue Lab Beats with Cassablancan musician Saad Tiouly via Hind El Ouardi who first saw the duo performing at The Great Escape in 2017. “Working with Saad was very different,” said NK-OK, on half of Blue Lab Beats, “it was a lot of fun”.
From Blue Lab Beats’ 2018 album Xover, we’ve picked out “Piña Colada” featuring saxophonist Nubya Garcia who worked with us later in the year when we invited her out to India to perform shows with her own band.
Nathaniel Mann – March
In March, avant-folk artist Nathaniel Mann found himself on the longest journey of any of our Musicians in Residence to date. After two flights, a coach ride, six hours on a small boat and a long hop on a 4x4 through the agricultural lands of Mato Grosso in Brazil, he finally reached his new temporary home along the Xingu river where he would spend six weeks living and making music with the indigenous Wauja community. You can find out more about Nathaniel’s time in Brazil by listening to our Musicians in Residence, Brazil podcast.
Nathaniel is no stranger to working with musicians from beyond the borders of the UK. As well as his Brazil residency, he also worked with the Polish avant-folk group Sutari in 2018. “This summer my band, Dead Rat Orchestra, invited them over to the UK for the first time,” he says. “It was a beautiful collaboration and felt like a very important gesture – two groups who simultaneously adore and deconstruct our countries’ folklore traditions, travelling the UK against the backdrop of Brexit.” You can find out more about their collaboration in the BBC Radio 4 documentary Dead Rats & Meat Cleavers and from Sutari’s album Osty, we’ve picked out “Pod Borem”.
Above: Nathaniel Mann recording Akari as part of an incredible residency in Brazil. Credit: Jean Nunes
Circa 69 – April
Muthoni Drummer Queen and Simon Wilkinson met at Convergence festival in March 2017. Fast forward a year and a month and, through our East Africa Arts programme, the pair launched Kenya’s first virtual reality music video. “I was listening to Muthoni’s music and some of the other awesome artists out of Nairobi on rotation as part of my preparation,” says Simon. “I heard so many great tracks but ‘Squad Up’ sticks out for me because I was lucky enough to experience a live performance whilst I was there. It reminds me of that time, of all the great people I met, stirs up a whole range of emotions like all good art should.”
Our East Africa Arts programme brings artists together from the UK and Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan.
Stephen Isaac-Wilson – May
Would it be Adele, Elton or Ed Sheeran to grace The Royal Wedding with their multi-platinum-selling vocals? Turns out it was none of them – young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason took centre stage in May 2018 (or rather centre arch) for the marriage of Harry and Meghan.
Meanwhile, we decamped to Manchester for a very different kind of union as we launched a new film, made in collaboration with Boiler Room, called Fleshback. The film, the third in a trilogy we’ve made with Boiler Room about DIY scenes across the UK, turned its attention to the underground queer raving scene of Manchester and Salford and its sublime soundtrack was filled with some absolute gems.
We spoke to the creative force behind the film, Fleshback’s director Stephen Isaac-Wilson, about what he was listening to in 2018. “I would say the entire Robyn album but if I had to pick a track it would probably be ‘Ever Again’ and not even for personal reasons – I just really love how all the elements on the track come together in a way that for me feels nostalgic”. You can check out Stephen’s latest film for the Barbican and Nowness that looks at the power and beauty of queer relationships.
Matthew Herbert’s Brexit Big Band – June
When the UK government triggered Article 50 – and began the process of exiting the European Union – Matthew Herbert’s creative juices began to flow and he embarked on a musical odyssey around Europe with his newly-formed Brexit Big Band. His aim was to meet, perform with and record as many musicians as possible on the continent with a view to releasing an album of new work on the same day the UK officially leaves the European Union in 2019. “I wanted to create a project that embodies the idea of collaboration from start to finish,” he said. As both album and exit are a few months away from completion, we’ve gone back in time to pick out a track from one of Matthew’s previous big band albums, “Just Swing” from There’s Me and There’s You.
Brian Eno – July
Brian Eno’s music career requires little introduction to fans of David Bowie, Roxy Music or followers of his own audio-visual work. We had the pleasure of bringing his installation, 77 Million Paintings, to Sarajevo over the summer – an artistic endeavour featuring an ever-changing combination of light and sound for all those who visit. We asked him for his track of 2018 and he replied with “Black Willow” by Loma. “Probably my song of the year,” he said. “I so admire their courage in leaving it this open.”
London Symphony Orchestra – August
Our ongoing music education work in Japan resumed in August as musicians from the London Symphony Orchestras’ Discovery programme landed in Tokyo to train local workshop leaders on how to lead inclusive music sessions. “We’ve chosen the Main Title from Star Wars as our track for 2018” explained the LSO’s Pia Luck. “It is a huge part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s recording history and reminds us of the spectacular A Celebration of John Williams concert in October of this year which brought 5,000 people together to share his music.”
Sadly, Judith Ackrill, Head of LSO Discovery, passed away in October 2018: “She will be greatly missed for her calm demeanour, good humour, sound judgement and leadership by everyone at the LSO” the orchestra said. Our thoughts are with her family this Christmas.
Jessica Curry – September
Jessica Curry is the BAFTA-winning composer behind the music for Dear Esther, a computer game which stunned the gaming world on its release and has since become a live gaming touring phenomenon. In March we spoke to creative producer Laura Ducceschi at SXSW in Austin, Texas about how the game and its music work as a touring production and in September we were delighted to help support the show and bring it to Musikfest in Bremen, Germany. Asked for her track of 2018, Jessica gave us something a little closer to home: “the track that will remind me of 2018 is ‘Aces High’ by Iron Maiden. My teenage son is a huge Maiden fan and we went to see them at the O2 in the summer. I’m not a particular fan of their music but Oz really, really wanted to go and I was happy to tag along. Well, the gig started and it was just insanely good! It was incredibly inspirational to see a bunch of musicians in their 60s just totally rocking out and just loving every single moment of their time on stage. They were so generous with the audience – they gave every ounce of themselves and there was no sense of boredom at playing the classics, only real pleasure in the music. I remember turning to my son when ‘Aces High’ was playing and seeing pure and unadulterated joy on his face. He was experiencing that feeling that only music you’re totally in love with can give you. I have snapshotted that moment of him looking so happy, so alive and so connected with the tens of thousands of people around him. That moment was everything that I love both about music and being a Mum and it will always stay with me.”
Hilang Child – October
The British Council’s UK:ID season has seen a number of fascinating collaborations between the UK and Indonesia. In October 2018, the season came to a close with a flurry of activity under the banner “Breaking Boundaries” and half-Welsh, half-Indonesian singer-songwriter Ed Riman – better known as Hilang Child – was there to kick off the celebrations. We asked him for his reflections on a super busy year: “I feel like I was so absorbed in everything leading up to my own album being released this year that I forgot to pay attention to much else in the way of new music. But to escape from myself when things were getting busy after launch, without a doubt I'd choose 'It's Not Over Till They Cry' by AK Patterson. I got to know them in the summer around the time my album came out. Their Shadows EP was released at roughly the same time and it became the soundtrack to all the touring and travelling I did between then and now – every long flight, every van journey back from a festival, every late night in a hotel. So I've developed a bit of an association between their music and all the exciting stuff that was happening for me at that time. I'd describe that particular song as a folk Bond-theme and it doesn’t get old at all. Alex’s voice is a thing of pure beauty, it became a bit of a comfort blanket for me when I needed to get out of my own head for a while.”
Above: Hilang Child on stage at the UK-ID festival gig in October 2018.
FEMME – November
We’ve been offering British musicians the opportunity to travel and spend several weeks making music in China since our Musicians in Residence programme began in 2011 in partnership with PRS Foundation. This year, we were delighted to announce three new musicians to the programme: Love Ssega, Jasmin Kent Rodgman and FEMME. We had barely cleaned up the party poppers to celebrate their success when FEMME jetted out to Chengdu to get the residencies kick started. Working with local musicians she transported her Girls Beats Bass project to China culminating in a night at Morning House showcasing “a line-up of all female-identifying Chinese DJs (and me) bringing the good stuff” she said.
Catching up in December, we asked FEMME for her tune of 2018. “Essence,” she said. “This song will forever transport me back to 2018 because I must’ve played it in every single DJ set this year. This is such a HUGE tune (Cassius – tell me the secret to your bass please?) and when I played it out during my British Council residency in Chengdu, everyone went wild. I’m eagerly anticipating more releases next year from this Aussie producer.”
Bryde – December
Our Selector Radio show has had some fantastic British artists in session this year. With Christmas hoving into view, we invited the wonderful Bryde into Selector headquarters to record a few songs for our latest session, due out in early 2019. She was great company and told us all about her musical beginnings in Wales, early influences and her career today, including a nomination for the Welsh Music Prize this year.
Inspired by that session, we’ve selected the first knockout track from her latest album Like An Island, called “To Be Brave”.