Paul Skillen's Top Ten (in no particular order):
I was pleased and surprised to be asked to write about my ten favourite songs for a project for the warmer climes website. Songs are more than just vibrations in the air. They are landmarks in our lives, memories of people, places, situations, emotions, history and love. Most of my tracks come from the eighties, as this is the time in my life when music led me and I followed. I was a student in Liverpool at that time and worked for Merseysound magazine. I was able to see gigs by all of the great Liverpool bands of that era and loved every minute of it. I was also involved with my own band This Final Frame and was involved with writing, recording and performing. I now lecture at a local University in the North West of England but have returned to music as a central part of my life, writing and recording a new album ‘My Blue Heart’ after a long break raising a family. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and passions with you. It has been an interesting journey to look back over my life and focus on the songs and the bands which have become the memorable mileposts along the way. I have omitted so many songs as I only could select ten. The last time I was able to reflect in such depth was for the first assignment for my doctorate. It is a sobering experience having to reduce your life experiences into a shortened form. It is akin to compiling a eulogy. Here goes:
Forbidden Colours by David Sylvian and Richi Sakamoto
I love this track with its overwhelming melancholy feel with subtle eastern themes. I really enjoyed the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence in which this song featured. David Sylvian’s vocals always were distinctive and I was a big fan of his band Japan. When I heard this song it immediately transformed my mood and made me drift off into another state of consciousness. When I hear it now it still draws me in and I have to stop doing things and concentrate on the song. It has a direct an emotional pull on my heartstrings. Brilliantly crafted, simply phrased and utterly memorable.
Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Joy Division
I enjoyed some of the Joy Division ‘doom rock’ of the late seventies and early eighties. It came about as a progression from the punk era into something deeper and more permanent. I was in Probe Records Shop in Matthew Street, Liverpool, when I first heard ‘Love will tear us apart’
As it was uplifting and melodious I did not recognise it as a Joy Division song. I asked the shop assistant who the artist was. The shop assistant was Pete Burns from Dead or Alive. I bought the record there and then. He put it in a Probe records bag and I took it home and played it to death. I did not try analyse it. It just felt good. The significance of the song did not come to me until I learnt of the suicide of Ian Curtis. The second gig of the rest of Joy Division as New Order was in ..Liverpool.. at Pickwick’s club and I made sure I was there as this song had made a lifelong connection with me through its sheer power and purpose.
Ghosts by Japan
A song by a band I really admired. Intelligent ideas well arranged and so atmospheric. The spirit world on this earth as our thoughts and memories spin around in our minds. Our past loves and lives come back to haunt us at the time when we least expect it.
L’Image Craque by Hambi and The Dance
Hambi and the Dance were a band who emerged in post punk era in Liverpool. They were romantic, passionate, clever, sophisticated, emotional and almost pre-Raphaelite in design. L’Image Craque is an utterly gripping track. I was hooked by its sheer intensity and brilliant melody in the refrain. It was released as the second single from the ‘Heartache’ album. I thought it would be a huge hit, but it did not prove popular. I can only think that it was too intense for radio play. I went to see the band play several times and this track always made my heart pound. Hambi latterly produced the visuals for a big screen installation at a OMD concert with the philharmonic orchestra in June of 2009.
Wonderful Life by Black
I became acquainted with Colin Verncombe as my sister’s partner originally had a flat in the same building as Colin. I met him at the ministry rehearsal rooms in Liverpool in the early eighties. Black were originally a three piece rock band which had little resonance with his later work. He had recently split up from his first wife and was in a reflective mood. He told me about this song ‘Wonderful Life’ which he was releasing on an indie label. A few weeks later I heard it on BBC radio Merseyside and recognised just where the sentiments of the song had originated. It was later rerecorded for WEA and became a huge hit. His strength to carry on and believe in himself was inspirational.
New Year’s Day by U2
In the late seventies I was a student in Liverpool and worked for Merseysound magazine. I would occasionally get into Eric’s Club in Liverpool to see the bands and review them. I was told by a friend at University to check out a band from Ireland playing at Eric’s. When I saw them, I was really disappointed and did not enjoy the band at all. I left to go and see another band playing somewhere else in the city and did not bother to review them. When New Year’s Day was released I could not believe it was the same band as the quality of the songs seemed so much stronger than I could remember. This song was about looking forward to great things ahead. A fresh start a new year to make my mark on the world. I was young and the world was exciting. Liverpool music scene was exciting and this song captured the mood and reminded me how little I knew about music and how much I had misjudged the talent of this amazing band.
Stay On These Roads by A-ha
When A-ha came on to the music scene in the eighties they had a couple of good synth pop tunes which grabbed the charts and allowed them to develop. As the initial success faded a more accomplished level of song writing emerged. My wife, Karen knew that I liked the band and bought me this single on vinyl. We later went to see them play at the Liverpool Empire. We both love this song and have been to see A-ha at various venues around Europe. This song epitomises their great talent. Wonderful song writing, great arrangement and haunting vocals. The three members play to their strengths in a real team effort to produce such magic. The enduring themes of perseverance and commitment ride out of the song as the gentle uplifting melodies rise to a crescendo and leave the listener reflecting on the past and looking to the future.
Liquid Mercury by The Wild Swans
The various incarnations of The Wild Swans over the years have touched my soul. Paul Simpson is a genius as far as I am concerned. What is more exciting is that this current line up are the best ever and the song writing continues to remain as consistently brilliant. This is a new track by The Wild Swans. Their reincarnation happened at the same time as the resurrection of This Final Frame and when both bands were played back to back this autumn on Spanish National Radio RNE. The DJ, the wonderful Julio Ruiz mentioned me in the same breath as Paul Simpson. This was indeed an honour. The track has amazing resonance with me as it is an historical piece, which I relate to entirely. When we recorded the Diary we used a Logan string synthesiser, which was somewhat unreliable. Whist it was being repaired a friend of mine, James (an original Wild Swan) said that we could borrow his keyboard for a recording session at Amazon Studios. I duly knocked at 14 Rodney Street and James came down with the Yamaha SK10 belonging to the Wild Swans. Little did I know that this flat would be later immortalised in the Swans single Liquid Mercury. I remember vividly the winter of 1981 and being ankle deep in snow. We recorded the Diary at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex during that winter and our van broke down on the M6. We were stranded in a blizzard with cars abandoned on the motorway. The temperature plummeted to minus 20 and Jim (the trumpeter) and I walked along the motorway to a light in the distance. This song brings that period of history back to me.
Hollow Horse by The Icicle Works
We were stable mates with the Icicle Works on Scratch Records RCA in 1980. I went to loads of their gigs as they were a really hardworking band. When their single ‘Love is a wonderful colour’ became a hit, the band had this song as their follow up. A really well crafted song with the line ‘Things I chose to value, I no longer have a use for’. I always found this poignant as a comment on society’s pursuit for happiness through material possessions. To my surprise it never registered the hit it deserved.
Absent Friends by Ken Dodd
Ken Dodd is a legendary comedian from Liverpool. He is over eighty years old and still performs several times a month. His shows are known for lasting many hours. I was taken to see his shows by my Mum when I was a boy. As my Mun grew old I would take her to see his shows. We would go back to her house in the early hours after a show, giggling like a pair of teenagers. Ken finishes his marathon shows with this song. It reminds me of the happy times I spent with Mum and was the song we chose for her final exit at her funeral. It is a song which rejoices in the happy times whilst remembering those who are not physically with us but are with us in our hearts.