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Baker's Dozen

Critic's Round-Up: Mark Kermode's Favourite Albums
Marc Burrows , February 11th, 2014 08:20

The film critic, television presenter and skiffle bassist sets aside his DVD stack to talk top records with Marc Burrows

For anyone who regularly listens to Mark Kermode's hugely popular BBC 5 live show interviewing him over the phone has a surreal edge. He's just as likely to divert onto sideways anecdotes, correct grammar, do silly voices and build head-of-steam rants as he is on air; it's like having a conversation with the radio where it actually answers back.

Officially "the nations most trusted film critic", Kermode has carved out a unique niche as one of the UK's go-to authorities on all things film, moonlighting as the lead movie critic simultaneously for 5 live, the BBC News Channel, Newsnight Review, The Culture Show and The Observer. That's despite being a horror nut who rarely toes the line of critical consensus and will happily skewer the most sacred of cows if he feels it's not up to standard. He's a man clearly in love with his art, as his recent book Hatchet Job, an analysis and celebration of the role of the critic in the post-internet age, proves with some style.

It's not all about film though - throughout his two decades of movie rants he's maintained a double life playing upright bass, first in 90s skiffle/rockabilly band The Railtown Bottlers, and more recently in Southampton quartet The Dodge Brothers whose third album, The Sun Set: Recorded At Sun Studio, Memphis, Tennessee was, as the title suggests, cut live to tape at the legendary Memphis studios. He's keen to stress his interest in music isn't the obsessive, academic authority that marks his work with movies though. "Put it this way," he says "I used to live around the corner from Mark Lamarr. Mark Lamarr is encyclopaedic on that stuff, I have very specific areas of interest in slap bass and all that kind of thing. I used to go to Mark's house and you couldn't see the walls for records, beautifully alphabetised, and he knew where every record was. In the same way Philip French [venerable Observer film critic who Kermode replaced in 2013] has seen so many films, Mark has this encyclopaedic knowledge and it's lovely listening to someone who really loves this stuff and can explain it to you, and can contextualise it." While he feels as a film critic his role is to talk about movies, not make them, his attitude to music is the exact opposite. "I'm not a music critic," he says "I see the two things as separate - I make music, I work with The Dodge Brothers and what we do is a very specific form of music. Later on, through the genius of [silent film pianist] Neil Brand we ended up accompanying silent movies and the two things came together, music and cinema, but I'm not a music critic." Although he admits, guiltily "I must 'fess up, I did write a review of a rockabilly compilation a few years ago."

While he may not be as encyclopaedic as the similarly bequiffed Mark Lamarr, narrowing down thirteen choices for his Bakers Dozen still gave Kermode some trouble.

"There's a lot of stuff I couldn't really mention," he says, "some of it because it's on collections. I've got the entire Washboard Sam collection, there's a series that's just called Washboard Sam: Complete Recorded Works, in chronological order, on Document records. There's volumes I-X and they're just brilliant. The problem is I can't name one of these as an album, because it's the complete works of Washboard Sam. They've got a brilliant sound, and if you're interested in jug and skiffle and bluegrass they're just fantastic. Then there's The Sun Story box sets and there's various versions of that which people have given me over the years, they're usually called Sun or The Sun Story and there's umpteen collections. When we were leading up to doing The Dodge Brothers album we just listened over and over again to everything. The interesting thing is no matter what the tracks are, no matter what order they're compiled in, they all sound like Sun. All these different artists and records and they all sound like Sun. Again though, it's not really an album. The Mary Poppins soundtrack was fighting for space, I think those songs are absolutely wonderful. There's the Dead Presidents soundtrack album, which came out in this period along with Forest Gump in which soundtrack albums were great pop compilations, which goes back to something like American Graffiti and later on Philip Kaufman's The Wanderers. I haven't got anything by Carole King, but do you have a Carole King album, or do you have the Grace Of My Heart soundtrack, which was the film attempting to do her life? I haven't got Joni Mitchell, I'd love to put Blue in but I've just ran out of numbers."

Click on his image below to begin scrolling through Mark's choices