John Grant

TrackAlbum / EP
GlacierPale Green Ghosts
Pale Green GhostsJohn Grant with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Queen Of DenmarkQueen Of Denmark
GMFPale Green Ghosts
MarzQueen Of Denmark
No More TanglesGrey Tickles, Black Pressure
GeraldineJohn Grant with the Royal Northern Sinfonia EP
You Don't Have ToPale Green Ghosts
Black BeltPale Green Ghosts
CaramelQueen Of Denmark

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Contributor: Paul Flint

My first encounter with John Grant was with his second studio album, Pale Green Ghosts (2013). Having been ignorant of his first release, Queen Of Denmark (2010) or any of his previous work with the band The Czars (1994-2004) it didn’t take long for that to be corrected. An unexpected journey down the John Grant rabbit hole began.

John Grant is not shy about opening up about his life and his struggles. There are many articles and lengthy interviews on what his music and particular tracks signify so I don’t need to spend time on that here – there are some links at the bottom of this post if you want to discover more. But it is important to note that these troubles are a constant source of inspiration for his songs. Whether it be homophobia, misogyny or broken relationships, there are common themes, often returned to. It’s clearly a cathartic experience for him; a flip side to his early life when he was forced to run and hide from who and what he was. But let’s be clear it’s not just vitriol, there is humour, lots of humour, and also plenty of love; it’s just usually coated in something darker.

His lyrics themselves are conversational and confessional. These are not straight forward rhyming couplets, out of context they can look incongruous, naïve even. However, sung in his deep dark baritone over the carefully crafted music, they mutate into something special. In fact it was the music that first attracted me to his sound. The pounding electronica and hypnotic rhythm of the eponymous title track of Pale Green Ghosts was the first thing I heard and it had an immediate impact, stopping me in my tracks and making me listen. That album, and his first, were quickly on heavy rotation.

Seeing John live made me appreciate the power of his voice. I knew it was good but for some reason it isn’t always to the fore on his records. But live, his vocals, his qualities as a performer, and the group of talented musicians he works with, all lift and bring the music to life. It’s also why a couple of tracks in the Toppermost list include live performances. I saw him first at the Ritz, Manchester, the first of several times, and it was mesmerizing. It reawakened me fully to the power of live music and is one of the reasons I started going to so many gigs.

His latest album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015) is the most challenging to date and for someone new to his output it’s not where I’d start. I discovered I wasn’t the only one who struggled with it. It’s John Grant pushing his boundaries, and ours, but it is a satisfying and rewarding experience once you spend time with it.

I love all three studio albums equally for different reasons and throw into the mix the live album recorded with the BBC Philharmonic and the EP with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, both arranged by Fiona Brice, and there is a quite a selection to pick from. So it was more about what to leave out and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right. On different days, different songs will have a different reaction. This is work that eclipses anything he did with his band The Czars. He’s a phoenix rising from the ashes, bearing his soul to the world over some beautifully crafted music.

But where would I start today? In the end it’s about his voice and the stories he tells. We’ve all felt like an outsider looking in, all felt hurt or had our heart broken, so these are the songs that pull at my heart, make me smile or both. And as good as some of the songs are on studio albums, they are often transformed live and that’s why those two live versions make the cut.

And in addition to the ten tracks I’ve listed, there is also a link below to a tiny desk concert which showcases three numbers not on my list: two beautiful songs from Queen Of Denmark, Where Dreams Go To Die and Sigourney Weaver, plus It Doesn’t Matter To Him another great track from Pale Green Ghosts, this one featuring Sinéad O’Connor.

As I said, different days, different choices but for the uninitiated, this John Grant playlist is a good place to start.

 

John Grant official website

John Grant: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

How Iceland saved John Grant: ‘I feel safe here’ (The Observer)

John Grant: Key of Life Interview with Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6)

Conqueror – John Grant interviewed by Ian Wade (The Quietus 2013)

John Grant biography (iTunes)

Thanks to BBC6 Music and like-minded music lovers on Twitter, Paul Flint @CloningPandas (the tall one, standing at the back, nodding) rekindled his love for music and discovered the joy of gigging once again. He now writes about it over at Beaten Generation

TopperPost #493

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