I started writing for Penny Black nearly a decade ago and began with something of a bang. Fellow writer and long-time friend Pete Alison and I attended the Nottingham Splendour Festival. He and his wife bought my ticket as a 30th birthday present so I could finally see one of my all-time favourite bands, Madness, live. As I started a new decade (and God knows it's been an interesting one), I felt enthusiastic, hopeful and ready to get back to telling the world what I think about music. Now Penny Black is 20 and I'm (ahem) nearly twice as old, so it seems appropriate to start this countdown to celebrate Penny Black's birthday with a gig to celebrate my own.

Nottingham Splendour
Imelda May
Johnny Got A Boom Boom

Along with headliners Madness, Pete got to see the Fun Lovin' Criminals, we both got to see Imelda May and I fell slightly in love. It's OK, my husband wasn't even there and he fell in love with her too. In fact often if I can hear this song playing in our kitchen it usually means my dinner won't be long. Maybe there is some kind of Pavlovian response going on? Anyway.. You might be a bit surprised I've not chosen a Madness track... there is more of them coming, have no fear.

As excited as I was waiting for the Magnificent Seven to finally appear in front of me in the flesh, one of my fondest memories of this day was being right at the front when Ms May took the stage. She was someone new, who I'd not heard before but who immediately grabbed my attention. As an undergrad I used to write music reviews for the university student magazine and I'd always loved music passionately. But since graduation jobs, houses and children had meant actively seeking out new music and writing about it had fallen by the wayside somewhat. That day standing in a muddy field in Nottingham watching a rockabilly vixen do something different with Soft Cell classics and bang her own boran reminded me why I wanted to join Penny Black and start writing again.

Richard Hawley
Leave Your Body Behind

One of my birth city's many marvellous musical offerings to the world, this song I reviewed back in 2012 became an immediate personal favourite. Recently I faced a second lot of brain surgery after a second aneurysm was discovered. (Greedy? I know.)This song was on my mind and my funeral playlist not because it is morbid but because it is beautiful and honest and the sentiment brought me a lot of comfort when I needed it.

The Magic Brothers Interview
They Tell You

I was actually sat in a hospital waiting room waiting for my daughter to be taken down for a minor operation when an email from editor John popped into my inbox. In it was an invitation to interview one Daniel Woodgate, who along with his brother Nick made up The Magic Brothers. Their debut album was about to be released, so did I fancy having a chat with Daniel about said album? I said yes.... and then freaked the $%!* out. The reason John had sent this to me was he knew I was a huge Madness fan and Daniel is also known as Woody Woodgate, drummer with a certain troop of Nutty Boys. My daughter went to theatre and I think it's fair to say my emotions were all over the place. Once I knew she was fine I think I tried to retract my initial and very enthusiastic "yesI'lltotallydoaphoneinterview" and mooted an email interview instead. John very politely (as always) talked me round to sticking with the phone interview plan. He was right, I would have really regretted it if I hadn't.

I love the album, 'They Tell You' is a real earworm and Woody was a joy to chat to. As we wrapped up the interview my 15 year-old self made a sudden appearance and I blurted out that I also loved Madness, they were my favourite band and I was just really happy I'd had the opportunity to talk to him. In my head I am meant to be a smooth, unflappable music writer. In reality I am and always will be a total fangirl. My cheeks hurt I was smiling so hard when I ended that call, and I can't see it would have happened was it not for Penny Black.

Japanese Fighting Fish
They Lie

A great example of a CD I'd never have bought in HMV. I am often drawn to promo releases if they have good press releases and this one sounded fun so I gave it a spin. 'They Lie' cracked me up the first time I heard it. A little bit of frantic shouting about the fact everyone lies (nearly) all the time, when you are having a rough day, never fails to make me feel better.

Mark Morriss Interview & Gig Of A Lifetime
How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back

In 2012 an intimate solo gig by Mark Morriss was the first gig I attended after the brain hemorrhage briefly stopped me in my tracks in 2011. The damage had included not being able to tolerate loud noise and for a few very painful months immediately afterwards I couldn't listen to music at all. Thankfully I was able to tolerate music again eventually and so that first gig holds a very special place in my heart. A year later I did a phone interview with Mark about his 'Flash of Darkness' album, and a couple of years after that I completed the trinity by meeting him in person and reviewing a Bluetones gig. That was my first access all areas pass and I went backstage before the gig and was at the afterparty. That, my friends, was a lot of stuff ticked off my bucket list in one night.

Although I loved the Bluetones, my friend Helen really turned me on to Mark's solo stuff. Not long after I came out of hospital she sent me a copy of 'Muscle Memory' because she said a couple of songs seemed appropriate. One was about Maggie getting her bounce back. I did indeed get mine back too.

Ten Songs That Made Me Love... Queen
Keep Passing The Open Windows

Is it too meta to talk about a 'Ten Songs That Made Me Love...' piece in a 'Ten Songs' piece? Maybe, but one of the things I love about Penny Black is that for all the new music I have discovered, it has also given me the opportunity to write about bands I've always loved and look back on their careers. Sometimes that takes the form of profiles or reviews of reissued albums, but this piece just let me tie together fantastic songs by a band I have loved since I could talk and memories that (mostly) make me smile. Much like this piece. Like I said, meta much?

Madness
Forever Young: The Ska Collection
Don't Quote Me On That

When I was a skint teenager I spent money I arguably should have been spending on food and stuff on Madness CDs (and VHS tapes, posters and a beanie hat which might be my longest-serving item of clothing ever). So when I got this particular Madness compilation for free I felt more than my usual level of glee. My 15 year-old self would have been astounded with the idea of being sent music for nothing (other than a fair and balanced review). It's safe to say I already owned every single track on it (most of them in multiple formats) but the album came with a great retrospective booklet which also unfolded to a poster I didn't have.

After I'd enjoyed myself writing the review I eyed up a space in my collection this album could slip into nicely. But it never got there. Instead I sent it to the teenage son of a friend I knew was having a bit of a rough time and was also a Madness fan. I knew it would bring a smile to his face and if Pennyblack helped me be a fairy godmother (and also look totes sick as the young people say - I think) for a day, I was very happy to take the opportunity.

A-ha Gig Review
Move To Memphis

I have a slightly complicated relationship with A-ha. This gig I reviewed back in late 2010 was meant to be their final tour. So I didn't just go to the gig, I spent far more than can possibly be prudent on merchandise while I still could and sobbed my little pop tart heart out at the fact they wouldn't be together anymore.

Then a few years later they reformed and started touring again. I am both happy and feeling slightly cheated.

Still, I had no expectations in Sheffield Arena that night that my favourite A-ha song would make the playlist, so when the first strains of a Harket sigh and then that frankly filthy bass kicked in I nearly cried, I was so pleased. For that reason alone I probably will forgive them for reforming. I know they'll be relieved to hear that.

Morcheeba
Blood Like Lemonade

Getting sent free music (and occasionally books, DVDs, oh, and free gig tickets) has never got old for me. Sure I listen to and review plenty of stuff that doesn't appeal to me, be it new bands I've not heard before or bands I've previously enjoyed who've decided to go in a new direction. Morcheeba didn't let me down. I loved this album, in particular the title track, from the first listen, and nearly 8 years since its release it remains a regular feature on my iPod playlists.

Baked A La Ska
Toxic

'Just Desserts' is a riot from beginning to end but the "11 headed ska monster" version of the Britney Spears, um, classic, proves a ska makeover can improve pretty much anything. Whenever a song pops up on my playlist I discovered via Penny Black it makes me smile. My brain not playing ball has meant I've needed to take a few leaves of absence from Penny Black in the last 10 years but I'm always welcomed back with open arms, never told what I should write (yep, that happened elsewhere) and I love finding a home with so many other people who aren't just passionate about music but love what they do too.

Happy Birthday Penny Black, I can't wait to see what is around the next corner for you (and me).









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