2020 Review

2020 – the year that nobody wants to look back at. Referring to perfect vision as 20/20 will forever carry a certain irony with it now. And let’s be honest, if you were to try and sum up the year with a word or phrase, there isn’t much that’s family-friendly that truly does it justice – other than dumpster fire perhaps, which I’ve seen a lot of people use very accurately.

Granted, 2021 hasn’t started off any better, but that’s because we’re still experiencing the fallout from the damage caused by its unruly predecessor. 2021 has its work cut out trying to repair that, and it will undoubtedly require the assistance of 2022 and beyond to achieve it. However, 2021 is giving us a lot of reason to be hopeful, so there is definitely light at the end of this long, dark tunnel we’ve all been stuck in.

Normally when I do these annual reviews, I just list things month by month. But as time itself shuddered to a halt and stopped making any sense in March, with all the remaining months rolling into one, I’m just going to summarise things in categories instead. That way you can skim through to the sections that interest you most if you don’t want to read everything. The items mentioned here, and many others, have all been discussed in my Favourites posts during the year, which you can read for a lot more detail.

So I hope you enjoy this post and, apart from the first section, I hope it reminds you of some of the more pleasant distractions from the last 12 months!

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Christmas 2020 Favourites

Happy New Year! Well, as happy as it can be in the circumstances. It was a strange and difficult Christmas without a doubt, not the sort any of us wanted, and it’s going to be a hard winter for many, especially now we’re in lockdown again. There’s a big ray of hope with the rollout of the vaccines though, so the future’s looking good, and many thanks to all the health workers who are doing their utmost to dish them out as quickly as possible.

My thoughts also go to everyone in America after the recent terror attack amid the fallout from Trump’s defeat. Biden’s inauguration on January 20th can’t come soon enough. Best wishes from across the pond, stay safe!

Those challenges aside, however, I hope you were able to find some enjoyment and comfort during the festive period, insofar as the rules allowed in your part of the world.

Mum and I are doing fine, I’m pleased to say. We’ve enjoyed lots of nice treats, and have had plenty of fun things to watch and listen to, all of which has been a welcome distraction from the news. I continued to have a few long walks around my local area during December as well, as that was the only way I could get out and about, so it was important to make the most of it. Mum’s had a bit of fresh air too of course, but doesn’t go on the long hikes like I do, and we’ve made sure she stays well away from other people apart from her sister (and even then they keep their distance at the front door, she hasn’t been in the house).

So we did pretty well this Christmas despite the limitations, and here’s my festive post and video to round things up. I’m not going to mention absolutely everything we filled our stomachs with, or every little bit of entertainment we watched or listened to, as this update’s long enough as it is. I’m just going to mention my favourite things, as is the purpose of these posts. Nothing here is sponsored as usual, and any gifts are just from friends, not the people behind the products. So I hope you enjoy!

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Queen At 50 – London Locations – Part 1

Back in September I spent a day walking around some of the Queen-related locations in Hammersmith & Kensington, following the Day 1 itinerary on the Queen Locations website. And my intention was to find most of the locations listed on that site over a series of walks – i.e. those that still exist that I can get to reasonably easily. However, due to the weather and the toughening up of Covid restrictions, I haven’t yet had a safe chance to go hunting for any more.

So this is Part 1 of what will be a very sporadic series, looking at some of the key places where the band lived, recorded and performed. As I don’t yet know when I will be venturing back into Central London, I wanted to share some of the photos I’ve taken so far as a Christmas bonus, rather than waiting until I’d completed my explorations.

Thank you to Judit Castellà for creating the Queen Locations site, which inspired me to do this and made it very easy for me to track down these places. Check out their site for additional notes and photos, and also their Queen Online article about how the site came together. As well as their Day 1 itinerary, further notes and photos about these locations can be found on Queen ConcertsMercury Paradise and the map on Shane’s Queen Site.

So let’s get on with it, and I hope you enjoy walking in Queen’s footsteps with me!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – Bohemian Rhapsody Covers

As discussed in depth in my previous post, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is an enduring classic that continues to increase in popularity 45 years on, as new generations of fans are introduced to it, most recently thanks to the movie of the same name and Queen’s tours with Adam Lambert. Freddie’s masterpiece, like his spirit and all of his music, will never die or be forgotten.

It is of no surprise, therefore, that it’s been covered in a myriad of styles by thousands of people, either tackling the full song or focusing on selected sections of it, despite the fact that it’s very brave of anyone to take on a song of such complexity that is so famous and well-loved.

In my previous reviews of Queen’s albums, I’ve always included cover versions as part of those posts. But such is the significance of Bo Rhap and the huge number of covers it’s had, coupled with the fact that it’s always nice to do some kind of special post at Christmas, that I’ve decided to give these interpretations of the track a space of their own.

Of course, it goes without saying that nobody can come close to Queen when reproducing any of their songs, especially this one. And there are plenty of covers out there that range from the decidedly average and uninspiring to the downright bizarre and awful. But there are also lots of beautifully arranged, excellently performed and cleverly interpreted versions too.

So in this post I wanted to share a long list of cover versions that I’ve found, divided into rough subsections to keep similar types together. I’ve compiled them into a big Youtube playlist as well (ending with a few minor covers of the album’s closing track, God Save The Queen).

Some are great in my view, some are not, and the rest are somewhere in between. But everyone’s opinions will differ. All I’ve tried to do is present a wide variety that I feel are of interest and worth exploring out of curiosity. It’s not every cover that exists by any means, but I feel it’s a very comprehensive and fair representation of what’s out there, listing most of the major versions and lots of hidden gems.

So buckle in for a long selection, and see which versions you like best!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – A Night At The Opera – Part 3

This is the final instalment of my deep dive into Queen’s epic 1975 LP, following on from Part 1 and Part 2. There is also a bonus post about Bohemian Rhapsody cover versions, but this post explores the rest of the main material.

The album of course finishes in style, courtesy of their biggest hit of all time, followed by a patriotic instrumental at the end. So let’s get straight on with it, as there’s plenty to discuss. I hope you enjoy!

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Accessible Advent

Merry Christmas! 🎄🎅 It’s a strange one for us all this year, and will be very difficult for many, but I hope you’re able to find some happiness, comfort and support, and can immerse yourself in things that you enjoy.

Throughout this month I took part in Accessible Advent on social media, created by Ginny Butcher, where each day I highlighted something that would make life more accessible for me and other visually impaired people. So I thought I’d share the full list here as well. I hope you find it interesting and useful!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – A Night At The Opera – Part 2

The first side of Queen’s hugely successful and perennially popular 1975 album, which I reviewed last week, is in itself quite a stunning collection of assorted treasures.

But those tracks were also paving the way for even more incredible delights on the flip side, for which there is a great deal to talk about. So much so, in fact, that I’ve had to split my reviews for the second side into 2 parts.

In this post, therefore, I’m going to take a close look at the next 3 tracks. The first is their longest song and one of their most complex, the second is their most popular sing-along acoustic number that’s spawned a ton of live performances and covers, and the third is a delightful Dixieland tune. So I hope you enjoy!

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Queen At 50 Reviews – A Night At The Opera – Part 1

This is the big one, the album that launched Queen into the stratosphere. The previous release, Sheer Heart Attack, was already a joyous collection of majestic variety that sounded like perfection to many, and its predecessor Queen II was also (and still is) held in very high regard. And yet the band still felt they were learning and developing, and they were keen to push things further still for their next album.

They were also having a fresh start, having moved to EMI Records and recruited new manager John Reid (who also managed Elton John), after ending their contract with Trident Studios under a dark cloud. Queen hadn’t been getting paid fairly for the success of their previous work, due to the contract they’d signed up to, and that contract was very expensive to get out of. So they were broke, which placed considerable pressure on them. It was now all or nothing. Their next release had to be a big success, otherwise that would be it, Queen would be no more.

A 2-page spread from the Night At The Opera CD booklet, one photo on each page. On the left, Freddie Mercury sits in front of a microphone, wearing a leafy-patterned jacket over a white shirt and white trousers. On the right, John Deacon sits playing the bass guitar, wearing a yellow t-shirt and blue jeans

But they were up for the challenge, and determined to show the world what they were capable of. They had also been told by their new manager to make the best album they’ve ever done, with complete freedom to do whatever they wanted. So they made the most of the opportunity.

They incorporated everything they’d learned and played around with up to that point (clear influences can be heard on their earlier albums, e.g. songs on Queen II like My Fairy King), and took full advantage of the studio technology available to them (using 7 studios altogether). They had carefully written lyrics and distinctive melodies (with all 4 band members writing at least one track each), a range of simple to complicated song structures, multi-tracked harmonies (now working with 24-track tapes instead of 16), a myriad of musical styles and instruments (using what felt best for each song rather than sticking to a particular genre), and big production values. It was the most expensive album ever made at the time. And they named the album after a Marx Brothers film, even becoming good friends with Groucho Marx as a result.

Their incredible efforts gave us their first and most successful number 1 single, plus the first chart hit to be written by their bass player, and many other beautiful songs. It held the number 1 spot on 4 of its first 7 weeks in the chart (held off on the other 3 occasions by Perry Como’s 40 Greatest Hits, a very different record entirely!). It stayed in the top 40 for 34 weeks (including 12 weeks in the top 10 & 16 in the top 20), and as recently as last year it was still poking its head into the lower end of the Top 100 every so often, which it will continue to do now and again in the future, each time a new generation is introduced to the band in some way. Inevitably the most famous track on this album is the one that regularly draws people to it time and time again.

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November 2020 Favourites

Hello again, hope you’re all keeping safe and well. As you’ll no doubt be aware, November here in England was a very quiet month due to our second national lockdown, which saw non-essential places closed once again and further restrictions on gatherings. it didn’t really feel like a lockdown this time though, as the streets were still fairly busy with traffic and pedestrians, and I was already in the habit of not going out anywhere special anyway, so it didn’t feel like anything had changed for my mother and I.

Even as we move back into the 3-tier system, which is now stricter than before, things for my mother and I still won’t be any different. Having a consistent routine this year despite all the many rule changes has really helped us to ride the waves. And I’m still going out for walks every weekend, continuing to explore new streets in my area every time, so I’m getting a bit of fresh air and exercise regularly.

So what with all that, and the fact that we’ve been in the traditional lull of new TV shows before they bring out their Christmas treats, it means there isn’t a huge amount to mention this month, relative to some of the more epic essays I’ve been writing this year. That said, we have of course had some very good news lately, and I still have some TV and music content to mention, so there’s still a fair selection of bits and pieces to share in this month’s post and video. And as usual none of it is sponsored or gifted. So I hope you enjoy as always!

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October 2020 Favourites

Here we go again. It’s time for Lockdown 2: Electric Avenue, so the cases don’t get higher. It’s not quite as severe as the first one, with education settings remaining open in particular, but there are still very tight restrictions nonetheless. And it had been inevitable for some time. The use of different ‘tiers’ to set regional rules was keeping the infection rate lower than it otherwise would have been, but it wasn’t quite doing enough to drive cases down. So we didn’t have a choice, sadly, as many other countries have found.

There are still lots of reasons to be optimistic, thanks to the ever-improving knowledge about the virus, the better treatments now available, the developments of mass testing, and the very promising results of vaccine trials. But right now we have to be vigilant to get through the winter safely, and it’s important to take care of ourselves and look after our mental health during this time.

I feel relatively calm about it thankfully, as I’m fortunate to have a steady job, priority grocery deliveries, family support, regular contact with friends, blogging projects, local walks, entertainment, etc to help pass the time. And we’ve pre-ordered our meat for Christmas from a farm we like, so that gives us peace of mind too. I still greatly miss seeing friends in person and visiting interesting places of course, nobody wants this. But right now my mother and I feel safe and comfortable, which is the important thing. We’re more prepared than the first time around, when the uncertainty and panic buying made it really difficult to begin with. So we know we can get through it, having done it once already.

But for many other people it’s going to be a lot harder, due to physical and mental health issues, loneliness, loss of employment and business, financial worries, family and domestic problems, the loss of loved ones from the virus or other causes, and so on. So please do help others if you can, either by direct support or by charitable donations, because every little bit helps. And do also sign the petition by Mind calling on the Government to invest in a Winter Mental Health Support Package.

And if you’re in a position where you’re struggling, then my thoughts are with you, and please know that you’re not alone. And don’t be afraid to seek help or support, there’s absolutely no shame in that. If you’re unable or too anxious to talk to someone you know, then there’s lots of advice and support available from the Samaritans, counsellors, mental health charities, other charities relevant to disabilities and health conditions, support groups on social media, etc. I know it’s easier said than done – I’ve had to confide in friends about difficult things in the past, most of us have to at some point in our lives. But having any kind of support network, even if it’s just one person you can reach out and talk to when you need it, is a massive lifeline. Use it.

And to my American friends, who are going through a stressful period with their election right now, we’re all thinking of you too. You’ve had enough to deal with in 2020 on top of the pandemic as it is, without this in the mix as well. At the time of publishing this post, the outcome is still not clear, but I sincerely hope that common sense and decency prevails in the end. Stay safe out there.

But anyway, with all that said and done, let’s get into my latest monthly update, which is what you came here for in the first place. In this post and video for October there’s plenty to mention as usual, including my latest appearance on national radio, my walks out and about, and the various bits of entertainment I’ve been enjoying. None of it’s sponsored or gifted as usual, and I hope you find it interesting!

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