Wednesday, January 21st 2015: This Week…

I heard “The Mushroom Cloud” by Sammy Salvo for the first time
“I’ve got me a sweetheart and I love her, too/We want to make big plans but what can we do?
When a mushroom cloud has changed every rule/It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school
Peace, peace, peace where did you go?”

Fantastic piece of 1961 melodramatic apocalypse pop, written by the great Boudleaux Bryant, that almost made it as the theme tune for a new US tv drama Manhattan. “It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school…” – now that is songwriting genius. There’s a great site, The Art of the Title devoted to movie and tv credit sequences, and Manhattan made their 10 best of 2014. The eventual theme tune was written by Jónsi of Sigur Rós, who did the music score for the series.

I liked this story of one sick/slick guitar part
From an interview with Mark Ronson by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian: A courier arrives with a gift and a card from his record company, celebrating the arrival at No 1 in the charts of “Uptown Funk”, a collaboration with singer Bruno Mars that Ronson laboured over for six agonising months. He claims that he worked so hard on it that his hair started to fall out; at one point, the stress of trying to come up with a suitable guitar part caused him to vomit and faint. “We did 45 takes of it and I just couldn’t get it, it sounded like horrible bullshit, so we went to lunch, walked down to a restaurant. Everyone was saying: ‘Dude, what’s wrong with you? You’ve gone totally white.’ Because I was going on pretending everything was just fine; you don’t want to admit that you’re just not there, you’re not where you want to be. And I went to the toilet and just… fainted. I threw up, and fainted. They had to come and carry me out of the toilet.” As I’m leaving, he starts talking again about the guitar part on “Uptown Funk” that made him faint. He played it to his stepfather, Mick Jones, of AOR titans Foreigner. “And he said: ‘Oh, that’s good, is that Nile Rodgers?’

Of course, Ronson could just have hired Jules De Martino from the Ting Tings, who does a fine line in Chic-tastic rhythm guitar on their new album, Super Critical.

I missed out on PJ Harvey
By the time I read about the opportunity to watch her new album being recorded in 50-minute slots, it was sold out. Calum, however, got to see it, and gave an insight into what I missed:

“The set up is in the basement of Somerset House in the building recently abandoned by the Inland Revenue. Visitors are guided through the former rifle range, after decompression and mobile drop-off on the ground floor. In a one-way mirrored cubicle in the old gymnasium, the musicians, producer and technicians are already at work… we can see and hear them but they are isolated from us. No one within the recording studio looks up to the glass, the barrier remains intact. I find it hard to concentrate at first… this audio/visual voyeurism is unfamiliar territory.

The space is full of instruments some of which look like props – though a beautiful old snare drum is later pressed into service. Listen out for a hurdy-gurdy on the new PJ Harvey album. The talk inside the box is technical but then the assembled musicians run through a fairly short section of a song… or maybe it is a fairly short song… and it is possible to discern the beginnings of a ‘track’. It all looks like hard work and everyone is very well-behaved and patient. They do know they are being watched and this is bound to affect the ‘performance’. John Parish as producer sits on a white sofa (the whole interior is very white) and nods and suggests different approaches to the instrumentation. Snare drums, flute, saxophone, guitar and melodica are put to use with a good deal of experimentation with percussion on a marching-style rhythm. He asks PJ Harvey – ‘How’s your song doing in the middle of this?’ – she laughs in response. It seems quite tentative from everyone’s point of view…I have no idea if this is normal. At one point Parish says to Kendrick Rowe on drums something along the lines of ‘…you get into the groove at that point and there’s nothing wrong with that but maybe it should be a kind of standing up groove rather than a sitting back groove…’. The ‘audience’ are very attentive and quiet though we have been told that we don’t have to be. The session is about 50 minutes long and there is the feeling that people don’t want to miss anything.”

I was playing “Hey, Hey, Bunny” by John Fred and his Playboy Band…
and thinking how great it was (thanks, Richard) and decided to find out more about Mr Fred. I came across this Robert Christgau review from Rolling Stone in July, 1968, of the Judy in Disguise With Glasses album. Some excerpts, if you, too, are interested in knowing more about the obscure Mr Fred.

“John Fred, for those who manage never to listen to AM radio, is a kid from Louisiana who sold two-and-a-half million of a single called “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).” The radio is the center of your life when you’re driving a lot – in the old days, many producers used a car radio speaker to make sure they had it right – and ”Judy in Disguise” soon distinguished itself as a great car song. It had the simple melody and the heavy beat, but it was good music over and above that – the instrumental work was very tight, the arrangement original with several good gimmicks (a heavy breath for punctuation and a short filter-distort at the close), and the lyrics, well, strange, not what is called rock poetry but not “yummyyummy-yummy igotloveinmytummy” either. Furthermore, it sounded like John Fred and his Playboy Band had a fine time making the record. [Do you think that comes through on records? I’m inclined to believe it does]. One does not expect a good album from a John Fred. Even the Box Tops, a Top-40 group that has never released a second-rate single, make terrible albums…

On the cover of this album in its original release was a corny picture of the band. On the back were pictures of John’s two previous LPs – John has been a star in Louisiana for some time – and some acknowledgements (Sitar furnished by Kenny Gill Music, Baton Rouge, La.). But it is a great record. The album is now entitled Judy in Disguise and has a not-bad cartoon on the cover. Paula, which hadn’t wanted to release “Judy” as a single because it was a little, well, er, far out, decided to play the freak for what it was worth. But the album didn’t sell much. All those single sales were to the 12-year-old market. And in a couple of years, chances are that John Fred will be back in the South playing dances, or maybe in the administrative end of the music business.

Like many white singers from the South (Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, for instance), John Fred’s bag is pop R&B. He is tuned to Memphis and to white singers like Eric Burdon and Stevie Winwood, the Eric and Stevie of “When I Was Young” and “Gimme Some Lovin’.” And just like them, he has ambitions. Obviously, he and his collaborator, sax player Andrew Bernard, listened carefully to the Beatles and decided to do some studio stuff of their own. Similar decisions have produced a lot of bad music in the past year. But stuck down there in Shreveport, Fred and Bernard were principally entertainers who wanted to fool around a little. So when they use crowd noises in “Achenall Riot” they integrate them cleanly into the music. They write obscure lyrics but link them to things known and seen, so that “Agnes English,” is obviously about a whorehouse. They employ a sitar and a girl chorus and part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra but (out of pure caution, probably) never overdo it. Those three songs are the “experimental” ones. All were written by Fred and Bernard, who also contributed two more conventional songs and an arresting talk thing called “Sad Story”. The only one that doesn’t work is “Out of Left Field,” mostly because it’s hard to redo Percy Sledge. [“Sad Story” is amazing. An almost generic Southern Soul ballad is done with a minimal amount of instrumentation – ticking drums and one-finger keyboard – with a bizarrely Thief of Baghdad-style string arrangement. There’s a weird bit where Fred wordlessly sings a New Orleans Mardi-Gras melody. I’d love to hear Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard cover this.]

The Airplane and Stones have succumbed to excesses, but Fred and Bernard do not. Of course, they had much less to work with – the lyrics are high-pop in quality, and while the music is precise and well-realized, it is not brilliant. (The band is exceptionally tight live, but Fred is not a good performer, and his choice of material is unfortunate – he does other people’s songs because he believes his young audiences won’t recognize his own.) But for anyone who caught himself liking “Judy” or has a prejudice for happy music, the album is a worthwhile gamble. Just tell your friendly neighborhood dealer to write to Paula Records, 728 Texas Street, Shreveport, Louisiana. He’ll get it eventually.”

I bought a bargain Steely Dan DVD
£3 at Fopp bought me the DVD of Steely Dan’s Aja in the Classic Albums strand. Aja is an album I listened to recently, and found that I was almost alienated by its perfect sheen. However, this DVD, made in 1999 about an album released in 1977, is worth the price of admission for several things. Ian Dury, talking about how happy their music made him – “Jazz is a dangerous thing in Rock ’n’ Roll, you mustn’t do too much of it, and I don’t think they do… they use that knowledge and that love they’ve obviously got…” Drummer Rick Marotta on their profligate use of the best musicians money could buy (“It wasn’t like they’d play musical chairs with the guys in the band – they played musical bands. The whole band would go and a whole other incredible band would come in!”). We get a crack band assembled to play the songs as instrumentals to show off the grooves underneath. The marvellous Paul Griffin (Dylan’s Highway 61 pianist (strangely uncredited here) plays keyboards, Chuck Rainey’s on bass, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s on drums alongside Jon Herington and Walter Becker on guitars and Fagen on electric piano. We also get Donald Fagen rapping the song that was sampled from “Black Cow” (Uptown baby/Uptown baby/We gets down, baby/For the crown, baby).

There’s a great moment where they work their way through some of the guitar solos that didn’t make the cut on “Peg”. About eight guitarists had a go at it, and they play a couple of more-than-respectable attempts, before isolating Jay Graydon’s fantastic one-shot take that ended up on the album – and they both grin widely as he hits a particularly “Hawaiian” bend at the end of the first line. I can now safely listen to Aja again, hipped to the artful oddness of the backing vocals on “Peg” and the fantastic Chuck Rainey bass parts on “Home at Last”.

Some Kind of 2014: What I Learned…

Bruce Springsteen has really good taste in music books
New York Times Book Review: What are the best books about music you’ve read?
Bruce Springsteen: “At the top of my list remains Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, followed closely by Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis. I’d include Dylan’s Chronicles and a recent book by Daniel Lanois, Soul Mining, that gives insights into the making of music I found unique from any other book out there. Sonata for Jukebox, by Geoffrey O’Brien, has some lovely chapters in it, particularly its opening discussions of Burt Bacharach’s career.

So I read “Soul Mining”. And Bruce is right…
Notwithstanding my ambivalent view of Dan the Man (and the book has plenty of odd-slash-annoying tributaries that slow it down) the chapters on recording sessions are totally fascinating, and he is such an enthusiastic and expressionistic describer of the creative process that I was willing to forgive a lot. Anyone who can reference both Sly’s “In Time” and Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone” in a discussion on what a drummer needs to know is alright by me. One is a drum machine made to play like three drummers, the other seems to be people hitting suitcases and mason jars. Both great.

A couple of excerpts: The Neville Brothers Yellow Moon: “I loved having Eno around with his nonstop stream of sonics. The Nevilles were very curious about him. At an impressed moment, Art Neville leaned over to me, pointed to Eno, and whispered in my ear: “Where did you find this cat?” Art was so impressed that he paid him the greatest compliment, “That’s some cold-blooded shit”. Art knew what he was talking about. Check out his hit from the fifties called “Mardi-Gras Mambo” – definite soul, with a kick-ass sax solo, tone big as a house.”

The one-point source: “I was recently impressed by a Blind Willie Johnson recording… it gave me the sensation of a one-point source. It felt like I was standing in front of him, rather than listening to him. There was a darkness in the guitar, a warble in the voice, but the two ingredients had unity. I believe the human ear finds comfort in these more snapshotlike technically non-complex recordings, like the human eye finds comfort in a movie scene shot with one camera.A recent visit to a friend’s restaurant reinforced this… He couldn’t afford a big sound system, and so only had a small blaster on his open kitchen counter. A lack of funds might have led to a stroke of genius. The cook got to be the DJ – the cook, who is obviously in tune with the action of the room…” Later he talks about plugging both his and Dylan’s guitars into one amp, a small Vox, and how musical the resulting blend was. “The one-point source is a musical friend. If rock ’n’ roll was meant to be spontaneous, perhaps options are the enemy.”

By law, all adverts now come with pop soundtracks
The best ones made you listen again to great music: Chanel’s bonkers Coco ad had Kiera Knightley dispensing tester bottles at a Sixties Black & White party before disappearing and then reappearing in a speedboat under a bridge, all to the Zombies’ timeless “She’s Not There”; Suzuki put James Brown’s “I Want You So Bad” to work, following their previous use of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You”. And in a newly-recorded and distressed version, “You’re the One that I Want” in an even more mad Chanel ad – Surfer mom, directed by Baz Luhrmann, with Gisele Bündchen, music by Lo Fang. Ludicrous.

Owe Thörnqvist is still going strong

Sept 24 Owe
I love this poster for his 85th celebrations, pasted up around Stockholm. I researched Owe, and found that he is an 86-year-old Swedish troubadour. Go, Wikipedia, Go! “In 1955, Thörnqvist released his first record. His musical style spans over both rock, rumba and calypso; his texts are characterised by word play and humour. Thörnqvist was one of the first people to do stand-up comedy in Stockholm in the 1950s. In 1963, Thörnqvist provided guest vocals and performed the song “Wilma” on the Flintstones episode The Swedish Visitors. In 2004, Thörnqvist received The King’s Medal in the 8th size for his many contributions to Swedish culture as a songwriter, singer and composer.”  He looks so happy. I wonder what the King’s Medal in its 8th size is, and what you need to do to get, say, the 5th size?

Lana Del Ray is the most interesting vocalist working in mainstream popular music
I may have been an early adopter here. I loved “Video Games” long before it became the most played and played-out song of 2013, issuing from any radio or shop that you walked past. I think that Ultraviolence may be my favourite pop album of 2014. There’s so much going on here… she’s a tremulous fifties-grained vamp in “Shades Of Cool”, her voice swirled into the sandpapered-cinema strings-reverb of Dan Auerbach’s genius production. She’s funny, too, playing up to a critics’ view of her in “Brooklyn Baby” (or maybe it’s just a diss to Brooklyn) “Well, my boyfriend’s in a band/He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/I’ve got feathers in my hair/I get down to Beat poetry”. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the extraordinary widescreen use of her voice, multi-tracked over scrubby Nancy Sinatra guitars and ghostly strings. And she swears better than most people – check out the way she sings this refrain… “You never liked the way I said it/If you don’t get it, then forget it/So I don’t have to fucking explain it…” The woozy change time verse/chorus on “West Coast”, flipping the dial from surf rock to Fleetwood-Mac-at-a-narcotised-crawl is just wondrous. Hey, don’t worry, I know I won’t get many takers for this view…

And what I learned this year (in pictures):

Ukeleles always sound good outdoors (here, the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain seen at the Walthamstow Festival)

EOY Ukes

My mum’s recall of First World War songs was excellent (At the Royal Academy of Music Exhibition)

EOY Bette

Dylan Thomas’s poetry sounds best when read by a Welsh Shepherd in Fitzroy Square (in a Shepherd’s hut, with sheep, natch)

Fitzroy Shepherds

It’s really nice to discuss the work of Bob Dylan in the South of France (here, the view from Michael Gray’s house, looking not unlike a recent Bob painting).

IMG_4712

If you’re invited to a Private View, don’t arrive at the end of the evening
At Jonny Hannah’s I arrived for the last number of Sandy Dillon and Ray Majors’ set, which sounded impressively bayou in tone. Catching up with them afterwards we talked of the strange machinations of the music business, and Sandy’s incredible homemade electric keyboard/thumb Piano, dubbed The Thing.

Sandy

Timing is key to junk shop finds
I managed to wander past this one – with its potentially rare guitars – when they were closed, and we were about to leave town. So these two in Truro, one a Stella, sadly got away…

Mimi’s Phone_20141114_004

Wednesday, 17 December

A ‘Five Things’ film recommendation
I notice that Whiplash is coming out early in the New Year. I saw it at the London Film Festival, and thought it was a terrific addition to a small genre: the struggling musician film. It’s really difficult to make fictional music films. As John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote of Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, “It’s easy to find actors who can play and sing, and it’s easy to find musicians who believe they can act, but to find someone who can do both at the level needed, and at the same time, is rare… the problem with putting live performance in a narrative movie, the reason nobody does it, is you can’t splice the film together later; if the tempo is even a hair off between takes, the flow is ruined.” Issac was like a metronome, according to T Bone Burnette, who “sat off camera with a stopwatch, timing his individual measures.” What also makes Whiplash work is its twist on the “inspirational teacher movie”: As its young director, Damien Chazelle, says, “it’s structured like any inspirational teacher movie is structured, except my teacher is an asshole.”

Joe Keohane, in American Esquire captured it well: “The gist: Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a first-year student at the top conservatory in New York. He’s a promising jazz drummer, but no one seems to notice. Legendary music teacher Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) takes the kid under his wing, and sure enough, over time, whole worlds of potential are revealed. Ah, the magic of great teaching! Thing is, Fletcher isn’t a great teacher in the way, say, Robin Williams was in Dead Poets Society. He’s more of a sadistic monster, a bulging forehead vein of a man who believes there are no two more harmful words than good job. He screams at his students, pits them against one another, and pushes them until they cry and bleed… Sure, it might sound like something Ayn Rand wrote with Gordon Ramsay and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, but thankfully Whiplash resists any easy conclusions. It just looks at greatness, the seductive power of it, the collateral damage done in its pursuit, and asks, again and again: Is it worth it? You watch the drumming and you look at the human wreckage trailing in its wake, and it doesn’t look good, frankly. But then you watch more of that drumming, the stray beads of sweat on the ride and the blood on the snare, riot straining against rhythm, the whole of it capturing something elemental and profound, and you think, in spite of yourself, It is.

“The American jazz musician who saved my life”
Hidden away in Family (for the most part, a fairly ghastly section of the Saturday Guardian), this astonishing tale. It’s introduced thus: “Aged 21, Francois Grosjean’s father introduced him to a dinner guest one night, with a cryptic remark. They never met again but 45 years later, he discovered that this old friend of his parents had been pivotal to his existence.” He is looking through a short autobiography his mother wrote: “As I was reading about her pregnancy, I came across a few sentences that startled me, and that I had to read twice. My mother had written, “One day (my husband) brought home to dinner an American soldier, Jimmy Davis, a musician. He had just finished writing a song called “Lover Man” which became a big success. He persuaded me that it was wrong to abort. With his help, I decided to keep the baby.” It starts his search to find out more about Jimmy Davis…

Bob. An Audience of one. Totally Bonkers: “Will he experience the complete euphoria?”
Gabe alerts me to this, in which a Swedish company asks (with a little help from Google Translate) this: “Do we have more fun together with others? In Experiment Alone gambling company Paf investigates the role of community to human enjoyment and well-being. After five experiments and with more than 700,000 viewers, We Have Reached now the Grand Finale. One of Sweden’s, perhaps even the world’s, biggest Bob Dylan fans Is About To See his idol performances at an arena gig – all alone. How Will Frederick Find the experiment? Will he experience the complete euphoria or Will a feeling of emptiness come creeping It When there is no one to share the experience with?” Hear Bob and Band play Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” to an almost empty theatre, and the sound of one man clapping. Then hear Bob do a truly weird, deconstructed, voodoo version of “Blueberry Hill” that sounds like a bad New Orleans dream…

Jonny Trunk’s demented ordering instructions for his release of rare Brazilian album “Tam…Tam…Tam…!”
“Yes, I’d not heard of it either until August this year, which is why the LP is quite unexpected. Originally it was released in 1958 (in Brazil), and is a recording made relating to a musical extravaganza called “Braziliana” that toured the world in the 1950s. The music is a potent mix of hypnotic tribal chants, rhythms and extraordinary melodies – it sounds like no other album I can think of… The more you listen to Tam…Tam…Tam…! the more of the future you hear. To Order:
1) First decide what you version you would like.
2) Find yourself the correct note(s) – £5, £10. £20 etc.
3) Find yourself a piece of paper, upon which you must write i) your name, ii) your address, and iii) what format(s) you would like.
4) At the bottom of the paper draw something to do with Brazil or Brazilians. And yes, I know what you are thinking. Your drawing could be as good or as bad as you like. A simple football will suffice.
5) Finally wrap your money up in the paper, put it in an envelope and send it.

Image Of The Week: Gods Own Junkyard
At Lights of Soho, Brewer Street, the great creations of Neon Man, Chris Bracey…

Neon

 

Wednesday, 10 December

Idiosyncratic Careers Continue/1
Joni Mitchell at 71, still an admirable toughie. She continues to work – her next project is a four-part ballet culled from her back catalogue. She was recently interviewed by Billboard: “I’ve had a very full life. I don’t miss much of anything. I can’t sing anymore – don’t miss it. I can’t play anymore – don’t miss it. I’ve got all these instruments laying around and hopefully one day I’ll pick them up. But I do want to start writing my short stories, that’s what I want to do after I get this ballet out of the way. If it can happen, great – if it becomes apparent it’s not gonna happen, alright, I’ve got plenty to do. And I’ll still paint.”

At the British Library
A highly recommended Gothic Exhibition drew us here (and it is exceptionally good), but if you are in the area it’s worth popping in for 15 minutes to see the Treasures of The British Library, a permanent exhibition of highlights. Here you’ll find Jane Austen’s writing desk, the Magna Carta and a great selection of handwritten Beatles lyrics (here’s “A Hard Day’s Night” scrawled on a child’s birthday card).

Beatles1

Idiosyncratic Careers Continue/2
And Bob Dylan announces an album of Frank Sinatra covers, with these words: “It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” Michael Gray’s take on it is here. All of this reminds me of a great Dylan performance of “Restless Farewell” at Mr Sinatra’s 80th birthday bash. Frank’s request, apparently, and obviously chosen for its proto-“My Way” lyrics, the best of which was this couplet… “And the dirt of gossip blows into my face/And the dust of rumors covers me…” Accompanied by an orchestra, a lovely, lonesome fiddle and a guitarist that slips a “Maggie’s Farm” quote in near the end. And as it finishes and the applause starts, Bob nods and says, “Happy Birthday, Mr Frank”.

Heal’s has pre-Christmas festivities, with incredible G&T’s and this stack ’o’ Speakers

Stack

Barney sent me this a few weeks ago, but I’ve just re-found it.
I love the fact that it’s Hudson’s Menswear Dept.

Rockin' Revols

Wednesday, 3rd December

London Transport Lost Property Office window, Baker Street

Baker Street

Albums (one featuring BB King’s leg, I’m pretty sure) left at Archway in ’69 (disappointing to lose Abbey Road just after you’d just bought it, I’d imagine), and singles, including Harry Belafonte, abandoned on a number 24 bus in ’66.

Killer Serial
Driving from Antwerp to Utrecht we listen to Serial, which is as gripping as everyone says it is. It’s well edited, and the sound and music are really good – due to composers Nick Thorburn and Mark Henry Phillips (who also mixes the show). You’re totally drawn into this murder case from 1999, as Sarah Koenig picks at the court records, talks to the perp on the cell (literally) phone, cold calls players in the case and hires detectives to double check the police work. Highly recommended. As the miles pass I wonder why I recognise the street name that keeps cropping up: Edmondson Avenue. Then I realise that Serial is set in Baltimore, where the dream sequence in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest takes place: “I dreamed I was sitting on a bench, in Baltimore, facing the tumbling fountain in Harlem Park… Fire engines went out Edmonson Avenue.” Mark and I recorded a, um, sound collage version [in the music player on the right] of the excerpt, inspired by an abortive attempt to read Hammett’s short stories into a tape recorder for my mother. I realised pretty quickly that it’s incredibly hard to do, which is why they use actors, who have the discipline and the skill. I took an easier route: just the dream scene over a glitchy soundscape.

Thinking about Dash
James Ellroy on Hammett: “It’s the language of suspicion, alienation and the big grasp for survival. It’s a constant jolt of physical movement and conversation. Hammett’s heroes move and talk, move and talk, move and talk… Red Harvest was published in 1929. It’s a coda to the Boom and a prophecy of the Depression. The Op [Hammett’s detective] witnesses and largely precipitates a hallucinogenic bloodbath in a Montana mining town. He pits labour against management and cops against crooks. He… bluffs his way through uncountable interrogations and acclimatises himself to fatalities in war-zone numbers. He drinks laudanum and wakes up with a woman knifed to death. His actions create a momentary peace in Poisonville. That peace will soon shatter. It doesn’t matter. He’s moved on already…” My brother-in-law once interviewed Ellroy and asked him to sign a book for me, as he knew I was a fan. In a copy of Dick Contino’s Blues, he wrote: “Fear this book! James Ellroy.

Is there another house as famous in Rock Mythology™ as Big Pink?
Nice journey from the Village to the West Saugerties, narrated by Jeff (“Rock and Roll… phew!”) Bridges over “This Wheel’s on Fire”. A more interesting take is here, as Garth Hudson, getting on now, revisits Big Pink’s basement, currently owned by Don & Susan Lasala. It’s great to actually see the inside as it is (and was, pretty much) and there’s a wonderful couple of moments near the end, where Garth does what Garth does, which is play transcendentally beautiful piano. I remember Barney emailing me excitedly in about 1993, sending a realtor’s advert with Big Pink listed at about $275,000. We were, sadly, unable to come up with this amount of money. It remains a great regret of mine.

“Now the lesson is over, and the killing’s begun…”
Taking a cue from the excellent Mogwai soundtrack for French TV Series The Returned, the subtle use of music in The Missing adds layers of meaning to the story. I was reminded of Troy Kennedy Martin using Willie Nelson’s “Time of the Preacher” from Red Headed Stranger in his state of the nation thriller Edge Of Darkness in the 80’s. In The Missing we have multiple Robert Johnson songs (“Me and the Devil”, here in its Gil Scott Heron incarnation, “Sweet Home Chicago” in a cover version heard in a bar, which is dismissed by the creepy pederast Ian, who paints disturbing pictures to Johnson’s epic “Crossroads”). Another thread is French chanson: Aznavour was in last week’s episode, and the part of the French cop Julien is taken by Turkish-born French actor Tchéky Karyo, who has an occasional recording career singing typically French-Middle-Aged-Man songs (rather nicely, I should add). The opening credit theme is by by Belgian post-rock band, Amatorski, (I don’t know any of this stuff, you understand, I’m just saving you the work of looking it up, should you have wanted to). Oh, and the closing song varies: one week, Emiliana Torrini’s crepuscular take on “If You Go Away”, the next Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman”.

Wednesday, 26th November 2014

The Art of McCartney
Released last week, an all-star – and I mean all-star – tribute to Sir Paul. Catching the previews of some of the tracks, the overall feel is pretty safe, which is a shame as McCartney’s recent albums have been sonically adventurous. Steve Miller returns the favour that McCartney did him when they co-created “My Dark Hour” in 1969: “There was a big argument and they [the Beatles] all went, leaving me at the studio. Steve Miller happened to be around: ‘Hi, how you doing? Is the studio free?’ I said: ‘Well, it looks like it is now, mate.’ ” To Barry Miles, Paul recalled, “Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. ‘[I said] can I drum for you? I just had a fucking unholy argument with the guys there.’ I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There’s a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that’s all I can say about that. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It’s actually a pretty good track.” The same can’t really be said of Miller’s versions of “Junior’s Farm” and “Hey Jude”. The only comment on its emusic page is this, from Jules Herbert: “And all at once the life, beauty and air of Paul McCartney’s songs are sucked out of the room. Oh dear.” Dylan, as usual, doggedly goes his own way – he just bolts the chassis of “Things We Said Today” to the wheels of “Things Have Changed” and takes it for a spin.

Bill’s send off
Bill MemWe finally get around to scattering my dad’s ashes (the half that wasn’t scattered in his favourite fishing lake in Scotland by his fellow “Sons of the Loch” a couple of years back, in a fittingly raucous celebration that involved, I believe, some whisky and a recalcitrant boat). By the banks of the Crane River in Cranford, there is now a bit that’s forever Bill. It’s near the site of his and Ken’s childhood home, and was the locus around which the Crane River Jazz Band formed, and from where Ken left to go on his extraordinary journey to New Orleans. Now the jets come in to land at Heathrow, so low that you can see the rivets in the wings. We each wore a badge of Bills’ that related to some aspect of his life: one from the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, one from the Rock Island Line, one from the “Sons”, and his Armed Forces’ Veteran badge. In between the roar of the planes we toasted Bill with his latter-day favourite tipple – red wine, 14%, screwtop, preferably 3 bottles for a tenner. Even Gabe, no wine fan, had a memorial swig as we soundtracked it with songs by Ken that featured Bill. Almost my favourite of these early recordings (“K.C. Moan”, “Go Down Old Hannah”, “Midnight Special”) was the song that you can hear in the music player on the right… “Ja Da”. Ken on cornet, John RT Davies on American organ, Bill, wire brushes on a suitcase. A strange, haunting piece of music that sounds for all the world like it belongs in Eraserhead.

Sidney Bechet gets a Blue Plaque

Bechet
A strange note: Bill was bought home from hospital as a baby to the house that his parents worked at, as cook and chauffeur, which was in Fitzroy Square – by coincidence around the corner from where we currently live. And then today, as we walked up Conway Street, which runs through Fitzroy Square, this plaque, recently put there by the Nubian Jak Community Trust. Wikipedia tells us that, “while in London, Bechet discovered the straight soprano saxophone, and quickly developed a style quite unlike his warm, reedy clarinet tone. His saxophone sound could be described as emotional, reckless, and large.” An excellent description – Bill would be happy. In other Bechet facts, Disneyland’s Tower Of Terror ride features Bechet’s song “When the Sun Sets Down South” as cue music. The ride is a “deserted [since Halloween in 1939] hotel on the dark side of Hollywood”. I kid you not. As Philip Larkin wrote of Bechet… “On me your voice falls as they say love should/Like an enormous yes/My Crescent City/Is where your speech alone is understood/And greeted as the natural noise of good/Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity”. Take it away, Phil.

Amy Jazz Lady
Mosaic by Susan Elliot at the Cube Gallery on Crawford Street. Her work, she says, “is like archiving the cupboards and mantelpieces of a Nation – it’s made out of kitchen tea time crockery, kitsch tourist mementos, novelty mugs, badges, coins, the everyday stuff of domestic living.”

AmyJazz

Not A Wonderful World, Strictly Come Dancing, Sunday
First, we have to come to terms with Barry Manilow’s extraordinary visage, like an animated character rather than a human being. Then we have to come to terms with Barry duetting with the dead, who can’t fight back. The victim here was Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World”, projected on a huge oval screen as Barry either slipped his version of the lyrics in between the cracks left by Satch, or, even worse, scatted after. If Jazz isn’t dead it’s not for want of trying.

 

 

Wednesday 19th November 2014

Bob Marley’s Chains
In the week that sees Marley’s name being attached to a global cannabis brand, I find these in Selfridges. Possibly not as heinous as the clothing and shoes that came out a few years back, but still…

Bob Marley Cans

Send In The Clowns
Especially if they’re playing “Hotel California”, as this one was, deep in the bowels of Leicester Square.

Clown Hotel Calif

Keep On Running, still a cracker
Spencer Davis, as told to Dave Simpson, The Guardian:“I’d started the Spencer Davis Group when I was a linguistics student at Birmingham University. I was due to play a pub called the Golden Eagle but only had a drummer, Pete York. Someone told me to check out this combo called the Muff Woody Jazz Band. The guitar-player was Muff Winwood, who would later switch to bass, and there was this kid playing piano like Oscar Peterson and singing like Ray Charles. It turned out to be Steve Winwood, Muff’s 16-year-old brother. We played the Golden Eagle as the Spencer Davis Rhythm and Blues Quartet. Robert Plant and Noddy Holder were in the audience and, when we played there the next Monday, the queue was so big – stretching right round the block – that BBC Midlands came to film it. Chris [Blackwell] was selling ska and bluebeat records out of the back of a minivan when we first met him. One day, he played me “Keep on Running” by Jackie Edwards, a lovely Jamaican man with a pork-pie hat. I said: “We’ve got to cover that.” Jackie was thrilled with our transformation of his song. Steve had the same fuzz pedal Keith Richards had used on Satisfaction, so used it to give the guitar that distinctive raw riff. For the rhythm, I played a choppy guitar style influenced by Motown. Muff had wanted to do some Duane Eddy style bass, but I said that wouldn’t work, so he came up with that famous bassline. It almost sounds like brass. The shouting you can hear in the background is Jimmy Cliff, who happened to be in the studio, whooping with excitement.”

Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee
In Cornwall, in the tiny hamlet of Constantine, near the Helston river, is the single finest liquor store I have ever been in. The Rowe family have run it for fifty years, and from the front it looks like a typical village convenience store. It will sell you half-a-dozen eggs or a book of stamps, but once you get past the post office counter and the family staples there are row upon row of impeccably-sourced wines and spirits, a thousand whiskies, over a hundred rums, countless tequilas and shelf-fulls of obscurities that few London stores even stock. As Andrew, the current Rowe in charge, told me: “You’ve got to offer things that others don’t, to fight the supermarkets.” And to prove it, they deliver any number of bottles, anywhere in the country, for a fiver. As this is a blog about music, here’s my tenuous connection… I have been known to buy wines just for the label (Aussie winemakers Some Young Punks Naked on Roller Skates, for example) but I didn’t pick up any of the Rock Labels shown here (although I hear that the Mollydocker Ringmaster General is great, despite having Dave Stewart on its label). If you find yourself near, go.

Constantine1

In Other News
Meshell Ndegeocello at the Jazz Cafe, and Sam Amidon & Bill Frisell at the Barbican are going to have to wait ’til next week as I don’t have world enough and time at this precise moment. As a large project wends its way to the finish line, I take this positive: working with my editor, Ben, and his melodic laptop, I have been exposed to a Tsunami of music. I’ve been kept energised by the Strokes, chilled out by the Tindersticks and cheered up by Paolo Conte. Thanks, Ben!

 

 

 

Wednesday, 12th November

Swampers

I’m away, so there is no 5 Things this week. Apropos of last week’s talk of Robert Cray and Deborah Feingold, here’s my favourite pic of The Swampers, the rhythm section at Muscle Shoals Sound, taken by Deborah in 1982. Her portraits of jazz musicians are something else. Check them out here.

Wednesday, 5th November

That’s me in the picture, the Guardian
After Michael told me of his near-death brush with the Beatles as a child, the Guardian that day has a piece on two girls photographed on train tracks saying goodbye to the lads at Minehead station. Cynthia Wilkinson: “As the pair of us stood on the sidelines, having spotted the Beatles in their stationary train car, Marian and I just looked at each other and said, “Let’s go.” We headed across the railway track, not thinking for one moment about safety. We were 13 and 14, and didn’t think about danger then. We just thought, “Wow, there they are. Oh my God!”

At The Movies, Thayer Street, Marylebone
Nice Mad Dogs & Englishmen poster, from the film, not the tour.

Mad Dogs

Robert Cray, Royal Albert Hall, Blues Fest 2014
Lloyd and I are the lucky recipients of Loggia box tickets, courtesy of his daughter Maisie. I haven’t seen, or even heard much, of Robert Cray since the Strong Persuader tour of 1986, and, truth to tell wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see him on a double bill with Beth Hart. However, I was incredibly moved by his 90 minute set, for a mixture of reasons that I won’t go into now, but his easy charm and stunning touch reminded me of being at the Observer Magazine in 1986. June Stanier, our wonderful and fearsome Picture Editor had despatched Deborah Feingold to take a portrait of Cray in a bar somewhere, Chicago or LA, I think. She’s a great shooter, sent us some terrific frames, and confessed, laughingly, to June that she’d fallen “a little bit in love” with Robert during the shoot. I think the whole Albert Hall felt like that on Thursday. There’s no effects to speak of, just the pressing of fingers onto fretboard, and the timing of a master, with his lovely soulful voice sat on top. There were some beautiful Curtis Mayfield licks in one song, and another where they sounded like a T Bone Walker recording from the late 40s. It was like a tour of the blues, played by a man as good as anybody. After that, Lloyd and I could only take four numbers from Beth Hart. The warning sighs were Les Pauls instead of Strats – you just knew the Boogie Button would be hit halfway through the first song. And it was, complete with the Swamp Button for added hideousness, and the leather lungs of Ms Hart just made the poor song die a death. A couple more followed, with the guitarists actually having a “duel” (I know, I know) halfway through song two. As she announced her intention to play a song by the wonderful Melody Gardot (“murder”, as Lloyd put it), we knew it was time to go.

Cray

Lensomnia
I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I spent an hour at 2am reading Sylvie Simmons’ terrific biography of Mr Cohen, I’m Your Man. Satisfying and stylish, and certainly not a hagiography, it’s a totally fascinating look at career often made up of happenstance and luck. I’m struck again that things seen from the outside that seem so planned, are the result of chaos and frustration, especially with songs that he can’t finish.

Favourite music interview of the week
Unlocking the Truth: Brooklyn’s teen metalheads, the youngest group ever to sign to Sony, by Hermione Hoby in the Guardian:
“I meet them in the downtown office of their management, which, in the way of most such offices, looks like a teenage boy’s dream: pool table, bubblegum machines, mounted guitars, flatscreens playing music videos. Dawkins, the drummer, sits down beside me on the sofa, hands clasped in an attitude of professional attention. The other two bounce around until they’re finally corralled into place by a succession of managers and mothers. Lots of people think metal is about anger, I say… “That,” says Dawkins soberly, “is a stereotype.” Soft-spoken and still, he continues: “Music is music, and as long as you can express yourself in a way that you think is good for people to hear then it’s something you should do. I wish everybody could not be afraid to do the things they want to do.” At 12, Dawkins is the youngest, but has a gravitas more often associated with aged clergymen than pubescent heavy-metal drummers. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by his bandmates. “Jarad, you should be a pastor!” says Atkins. “When you retire, I’ll nominate you as the pope. ‘Pope Jarad is coming everyone, look your finest!’ You’re going to be the first black pope.” “That would be good,” he says, quietly.”

Extra! Goodbye Acker! A fine “Clarry man” and a lovely, genuine guy…
And possibly the only British Trad Jazz Musician to be signed to Atlantic by Ahmet Ertegun!

Acker

 

Wednesday 29th October

Classic Album Sundays ‘New’ Basement Tapes preview at the Bag O’ Nails
Appropriately set in a basement private members club in Soho (where Paul met Linda, and Jimi played his first gig, for those taking notes at the back), Coleen Murphy talked to Sid Griffin about the upcoming Basements release. Sid is expansive and all-knowing, Coleen is bubbly, the sound system stunning, the vinyl the best they can make and the audience refreshed by the limitless free wine and canapes. I had not expected this when I bought my £10 ticket. I take it as a sign that even Sony know they have vastly overcharged for the complete six-CD set and are trying to make amends. Steve and I were told off for talking – about the fact that Rick Danko is the key to nearly all the Basement Tapes’ melodies – by those sitting next to us (we apologise and they graciously accept – we hadn’t quite got into the whole Listen To An Album In Silence In Public thing.) We loved it, though, and we’ll be looking for Classic Album Sundays’ upcoming treats.

Laura Barnett interviews Kander and Dench about Cabaret in The Guardian
John Kander: “The first thing I did was listen to all the German jazz of the 1920s that I could find, believing that somehow the music would seep into my body. I’ve done that several times since: when we were writing Zorba, I listened to lots of Greek music; with Chicago, it was American jazz. It’s like sitting on a pile of books, hoping that the information will sneak up into your body without you having to think about it. And it does. Cabaret went down quite well in New York, but it was with the London production that things got really interesting. Lila Kedrova – a wonderful actress but wrong, I felt, for the part of Fraülein Schneider – got rave reviews. And Judi Dench, who was without question the best Sally Bowles I’ve ever seen in my life, got bad reviews. She filled out the character in a way we have never seen, before or since. She was innocent and knowing, vulnerable and tough. I remember working with her on the song “Cabaret”. Judi hadn’t sung that much in the theatre, and she was having a problem with the ending, which is one long, held note. I was showing her ways to cheat, but she stopped and said: ‘What a minute – what do you want? What do you really want?’ I said: ‘Well, I’d like it the way I wrote it.’ And she said: ‘That’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.’ How could you not fall in love with somebody like that?”

Judi Dench: “In the audition, I told Hal [Prince, producer]: ‘I’m not a singer at all.’ And Hal said: ‘Remember that in a musical, you’re not to speak in one voice and sing in another. If that’s the voice you speak in, that’s the voice you sing in.’ It was such an empowering thing to say: I’ve since passed it on to lots of people. I got hold of Goodbye to Berlin, the book by Christopher Isherwood that it’s based on, and kept it on my dressing-room table – open at the page about Sally being just a middle-class girl from Cheltenham. She couldn’t sing at all, but there was something about her you couldn’t stop watching, something mesmerising. I read that passage over every single night. My dressing-room was underground, so I could hear what people were saying as they walked past, which could be quite unnerving. After one matinee, I heard a woman say to her husband: ‘Oh, you told me it was all about nuns and children.’ I think she was rather disappointed…”

Graham goes to the The Art of the Brick Exhibition, sends these

LEGO Janis Bob

Janis and Bob, immortalised in Lego.

We go to Frieze Masters
…which, in contrast to our anticipation that Frieze London would be inventive and now! and Frieze Masters would be old and dull, was exactly the reverse. FL showed that most contemporary art has dug its head in the sand, avoiding saying anything about the world around us, in a kind of petulant and feeble-minded way. Whereas FM covers everything from Italian church sculptures from the 16th century (just unbelievable) up to the year 2000. Great photographs from Frank and Horst, a clutch of Picassos, and some lovely stuff from the painters in each movement who weren’t the leading lights, but did great work none the less. Musically speaking, there were a few good things.

Frieze2

Here’s the one I found most intriguing, mainly because “Dink’s Blues” was a 78 my dad had, and I played it one day and thought it the most extraordinary thing I’d heard in my life. At first I laughed, finding it amusing that someone so barely competent had ever been recorded. But as I played it again (and again) the weird stop/start thing going on, the grunted, mumbled vocalising and the crashing creshendos of Dink’s ten fingers – I think it came to influence everything I feel about music. I haven’t heard it since about 1975 (my dad sold most of his American Musics when he was short of funds) and my attempts a while back didn’t turn a copy up. I even wonder if it could possibly match my remembered version. Anyway, it was great to be reminded of it here in The Barry Thorpe Collection of 20th Century American Music by Allen Ruppersberg, 2014 (Vol.1), an imagined collection in itself… And it didn’t hurt that the pegboard was so reminiscent of old playback booths…

Harry Dean Stanton interviewed by Sean O’Hagan last year (I’ve only just run across it)
“Singing and acting are actually very similar things,” says Stanton when I ask him about his other talent, having seen him perform about 15 years ago with his Tex-Mex band in the Mint Bar in Los Angeles. “Anyone can sing and anyone can be a film actor. All you have to do is learn. I learned to sing when I was a child. I had a babysitter named Thelma. She was 18, I was six, and I was in love with her. I used to sing her an old Jimmie Rodgers song, “T for Texas”. Closing his eyes, he breaks into song: “T for Texas, T for Tennessee, T for Thelma, that girl made a wreck out of me.” He smiles. “I was singing the blues when I was six. Kind of sad, eh?”

St Vincent, Roundhouse
My crusade of going to see concerts by musicians I have barely heard reaches a slight impasse with Annie Clark. The Roundhouse is fabulous and Michael is telling me great stories of nearly being run over, aged seven, by George Harrison’s Ford Anglia (John leant out and apologised). I loved his great answer to the question, asked recently at a party, of what music he liked: “Music that sounds like it comes from somewhere”. I think that nails it. Anyway, here are my iPhone jottings on SV: Stunning opening/ Performance art/huge shadow shape-making on the bkdrop/klieg lights flashing/So composed sure and happy in her performance/Great, great hair/[At one point] she lays down, then slowly falls off a stage riser, in the glare of halogen lights/Robert Johnson fingers shredding like Marnie Stern/Weirdly mesmerising, almost metal guitar playing/Great hair. That was the first 45 minutes. Then my notes end as the law of diminishing returns set in and I drift to the bar and then to the exit.

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