Five Things, Wednesday 1st October

Steve Punt on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip
A programme where people drive around, tip up at various Antique Dealers, and drive down their prices by haggling – only to find that, when they auction what they’ve bought, they are worth just about what the Antique Dealer was selling them for. Why am I even mentioning this? Only because they were in Coventry and went to the recently opened Coventry Music Museum which has a recreation of Jerry Dammers’ bedroom! I’m a sucker for that kind of thing after the Abba Museum, so if I find myself in the Midlands, I’m there.

Aretha does Rolling In The Deep
I dreaded this, but it’s actually terrific to have Aretha singing again, over a pared-down arrangement, keeping the clever ‘offset’ chord changes, as she and her sisters take it back to church, finding a different way through the melody. Just check the way she sings “We could have had it all…”, or how she drags out h-a-a-yy-a-n-d, or the strangled second verse, just before the backing vox hit “Ain’t No Mountain”. The vocal sound is great, too, recorded hot and on the edge of distortion (unless it’s just lousy audio encoding, in which case I retract that comment).

Bruce Wagner, author of Maps to the Stars, The Guardian
“The kids who worked in showbiz would come late to middle school – just after lunch – straight from the set, still in makeup and wardrobe. Dean Paul Martin Jr revved his Ferrari past the playground on his way to Rexford, a private bastion of learning for the incorrigible offspring of the famous. I graduated to Beverly Hills High. Beverly’s swimming pool, beneath a retractable basketball court, had made its screen debut in It’s a Wonderful Life. Special lunchtime assemblies featured the Doors and Linda Ronstadt. (! – ed) I used to give rich out-of-towners fake tours of stars’ homes in Holmby Hills. I’d point to this house or that and say, “Sinatra. Lucille Ball. Jimmy Stewart.” The addresses were available from curbside vendors but most of us were too bored or lazy to bother with veracity. One day, on a fake tour of Bel‑Air, I saw a dishevelled man in a bathrobe in the middle of the street. I slowed and took a closer look and couldn’t believe my eyes: Brian Wilson. He asked if we had a light for his cigarette. The Texans were so thrilled they tipped me $100. I finally understood the cryptic, dadaist bumper stickers popular at the time: I BRAKE FOR BRIAN WILSON.”

The Tardis Church
All Saint’s Church in Margaret Street is astonishing. On a small London street, just north of Oxford Circus, it seems ridiculous that there’s a  cathedral-sized space inside. But there is, beautifully restored, and featuring a four-manual Harrison and Harrison organ with 65 speaking stops, built in 1910. We were there to hear a challenging recital (it featured three Messiaen pieces) by Carl Bahoshy, in aid of Iraqi Christians in Need. Three was perhaps one too many Messiaen, but they showed off the bass notes of the organ impressively, and the depth of the registers used in  Apparition de l’eglise eternelle actually caused your stomach to churn. My favourite piece was much calmer, Bach’s sublime Liebster Jesu, Wir Sind Hier.

Sam Amidon, Lily-O
Sam’s new album features his great live collaborators, Shahzad Ismaily and Chris Vatalaro, with the added gorgeousness of Bill Frisell’s electric guitar. In his note on the songs, Sam says, “At one point in Iceland we were at the end of a full day of recording. We had just finished listening through some of the takes just to see where everything was at. It was about 8pm, nighttime in Reykjavik, and we were all sitting there on the couch at the back of the main control room in Greenhouse studios. I put some music from my computer onto the big speakers. Music sounds so strong and clear through those big speakers! I put on “We’ll Be Together Again” by Pat Martino, recorded in 1976. Bill said it was the first time he was hearing it in ages. We listened. Then I put on “Jesus Maria” from Jimmy Giuffre Trio 1961 with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow. That is beautiful music. It lifts you up, doesn’t it. We just listened for a good while, before heading downstairs to dinner.”

On first listen the album sounds tremendous, strong songs and vivid performances. And I have to add that the Guiffre piece is just beautiful… For a taste of what Frisell brings to Amidon, here’s a video of “Saro” shot live at the Poisson Rouge. Sam essays the song’s chords on an old dustbowl-dull Martin, a professorial Frisell to his left as they take this beautiful ballad for a stroll down by a clear flowing stream. Frisell is such an inspirational guitarist, and, playing off Sam’s elegant and affecting plainsong, wraps his fearless, chiming lines around the vocal. It’s a wonderfully openhearted performance, and Bill’s smile at the end is treasurable.

 

Extra!
Italian Paparazzi Elio Sorci – who was named “Highest paid photographer in the world in 1963” – featured in the Sunday Telegraph magazine. I loved this pic of Raquel Welch and Marcello Mastroianni in ’66. Remind anyone else of Amy Winehouse?

Sorci

 

 

 

Five Things, Wednesday 24th September

I’m not making this up…
Stuart MacDonald, managing director of Aquila Capital, a hedge fund, DJs on Resonance FM as Dr Stu. A typical listing goes like this: “You are cordially invited to listen to the N@ked $hort Club on Mondays; one hour of loose talk about the poetry of hedge funds and the state of the world, plus heady music. No promotional agenda, no commercial intent… just Purest Alpha and Ponzi Bier in these interesting times. Host, Dr. Stu will be joined by expert guests, by Tantric Videolink from the US, Robert Savage, CEO of CCTrack, poet Joyce Goldstein. and music from the Orb/Gong, Steve Hillage, Jefferson Airplane, Terry Riley, and Neu.” He’s quoted in the City AM newspaper as saying, “I don’t see how anyone can fail to see the connection between hedge funds, psychedelic music and poetry.” I’ve not been so confused since Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns…

Blind Willie Johnson
At Michael Gray’s engrossing Dylan Weekend we listen to Blind Willie, singing in two different voices thus, (in Michael’s opinion) paving the way for Dylan’s own adoption of different voices at different times. And when we get home to catch up on Series Two of House of Cards, who appears on the wall of Freddy Hayes’ crib? Blind Willie. In one of the best episodes so far, brilliantly helmed by Jodie Foster and shot in exquisitely composed shallow-depth-of-field scenes, there’s collateral damage to Freddy’s BBQ Joint, the rib shack on the wrong side of town – Frank (Kevin Spacey) Underwood’s favourite bolthole in times of crisis.

Willie

Interesting interview with the modest and thoughtful Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna was the producer of Bonnie Raitt’s first two albums, so he’s a man with taste. And for his work in Jazz’s basement storeroom he deserves plaudits. And, if you like great jazz photos, check out his Facebook page: “When the late Charlie Lourie, my best friend and co-founder of Mosaic Records, and I bought the Francis Wolff archive of photographs from practically every Blue Note session between 1940 and 1967, we spent years sifting through this historic gold mine of jazz documentation. So many of the photos brought classic sessions to life. But there were some humorous images and oddities among the archive. One of my favorites is the photo of Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey, two of the greatest drummers in the history of this music and two of the coolest, most colorful people I ever had the honor to know. It’s from a November 2, 1958 Blakey session with multiple drummers which I eventually issued as Drums Around The Corner. They are conferring about a tune, but it looks like two guys conspiring to topple a government or pull a great jewelry heist.

Drummers

You Gorra Luv It!
Sheridan Smith is Cilla Black. Yet another terrific central portrayal by a British actress, here in a tale that could fall flat – like biopics often do – but is great for these reasons: a) The art direction, set dressing and period clothes are never lingered on in that “We’ve spent a bundle on this, we have to show it off” way. They do the job incidentally, while being great to look at. b) There’s a rich seam of humour running through the script, a lightness of touch that tells the story whilst avoiding literalness. c) The music feels live (Smith sang live throughout the whole of the first episode). She also sings all the studio takes and the cute build-up to hearing her finally sing “Anyone Who Had A Heart” – held to the end of part two, even though we see her recording it, ends the episode brilliantly. The session, overseen by George Martin, has a fabulously-cast bunch of Abbey Road sessioneers with cardigans, suits, glasses and thinning hair.

One last thing on “Popular Problems”
As a designer, I feel that I have to note that Popular Problems continues the dreadful graphics that always litter Cohen’s releases. This is probably the worst yet. Dire typography, bad Photoshop solarisation and poor cutouts. Such a shame that the quality of the design doesn’t match up to the quality of the music. ps: I also wonder why he never does these studio albums with his stunning road band. Is it that he likes a patchwork way of working, or needs the privacy of a simpler approach? That’s not to diss the moody and excellent music on the CD, but when you look at what a great group of musicians did on “Be For Real” a few albums back, it just really puzzles me.

Len

Five Things, Wednesday 17th September

Poignant & Strange

ClubsFrom Stylist: “Photographer Antonio La Grotta’s project, Paradise Discotheque, revisits Italy’s out-of-town superclubs, made for thousands to dance through in the Eighties and Nineties, but now out of fashion and abandoned. Sad and beautiful.”

These Foolish Things
At Michael Gray’s Dylan Weekend (more on this next week!) Michael put this on his grand hi-fi as a sort of quiz, which of course I can’t do here, for as soon as you click on the link you’ll see who it is. I tumbled it somewhere in the second verse – his phrasing and styling is just terrific and the fantastic ramping up of emotion for the last verse (helped along by the drummer) is an object lesson in soul tension.

Mark Porter has designed a new digital magazine, thelongandshort
…and their music column is based on a blog called Song Exploder, a great idea where an artist talks about how their song was constructed. The first features Daedelus (Alfred Darlington to his mother) talking about “Experience”. And while listening to that, try to get your head around how digital magazines actually work. I always feel like a dunce with digital magazines – I keep getting lost – but I’m sure that I’ll get the hang of it soon…

The Lost Genius of Judee Sill, R4
I finally get round to listening to this sorry tale. I always liked her strange way with melodies, using climbing or descending bass runs on the guitar or piano to lace her songs with nagging hooks, so that you still remember them twenty years later. A left-field songster with a weird baroque/gospel sensibility, her work didn’t sit happily in with the Laurel Canyon lot, or with anyone else, for that matter.

David Hepworth had this to say: “Sill made a couple of very good albums for Asylum in the early 70s. She had a song called “Jesus Was A Crossmaker” that was almost celebrated at the time. Celebrated, at least, among the people who might have watched Old Grey Whistle Test or read the Melody Maker… Sill died in 1979. There had been a lot of sadness in her life: drugs, accidents, abuse. When that happens there’s always the chance that thirty-five years later Radio 4 will commission a programme about you called The Lost Genius Of Judee Sill.

But here’s the thing. When acts make it big they take is as proof of their talent. They did it on their own. When they don’t make it big they always blame it on something or someone specific. The record company went out of business, the radio banned us, the drummer left, there was a strike, there was an oil crisis or a war, there was somebody who had it in for us. If the artists don’t make such a claim then enthusiasts have to make it for them.

The story here is that Sill outed David Geffen, the boss of her record company, on-stage. In this narrative he had his revenge by dropping her from the label. I’m not sure the record business works like that. It’s more likely that his company had put out the two albums they were obliged to release under the terms of Sill’s contract, records which hadn’t sold. Therefore they decided their money would be better spent on somebody else.

Simon Napier-Bell was talking the other night about how performers have a combination of self-belief and chronic insecurity which you would consider mad if you encountered it in a member of the public. This same egoism drives them to believe that the only thing standing between them and widespread acclaim is some kind of wicked plot… rather than accept the truth, which is that we, the public, weren’t really bothered one way or the other. We’re the villains, not the mythical “suits” or the tin ears at radio. Our natural state is indifference. We bought some other music or we didn’t buy any music at all. We forgot. We passed by on the other side. We have lives in which your career doesn’t figure at all.”

Robin Thicke Charms World, Again.
“I was high on Vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio. So my recollection is when we made the song, I thought I wanted, I, I, I wanted to be more involved than I actually was by the time, nine months later, it became a huge hit and I wanted credit,” Thicke said in the statement. He added that he was no longer taking Vicodin. And, presumably, now that Marvin Gaye’s lawyers are suing, no longer keen on taking credit either.

Extra! Listening to Len some more
Check out “Nevermind”, from Popular Problems, and prepare to anoint Leonard C and Patrick L the John le Carré’s of popular song.

 

Five Things, Wednesday 10th September

Jonny Trunk’s newsletter, always amusing.
“Hello, I hope you are well. I am back from a mammoth tour of England. Nine counties. In fact I lost county. Also, 50p Friday can now begin again, and today we have a musical treat by Edmundo Ros – his cover versions of the classics from The Sound Of Music. This was before the film was made so there are cues you may not be aware of. It’s a charming and quite excellent album, with a killer version of “My Favourite Things”. It’s slightly exotic, slightly classical, very jazzy and most entertaining. It’s the first Friday of the month, which means it’s Spitalfield Record Fayre day (punches air with fist). Which also means I can go and buy a load of vinyl that I don’t really need and add it to the pile of other vinyl I bought last time that I don’t really need. Thanks for listening, Jonny” Eds Note: If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this thing.

Folk Art, Let’s Dance!
At Tate Britain, the Folk Art exhibition. Not sure about the curation – it was a confused affair, with far too many paintings that were just outsider or naive, rather than folk – but it had two fantastic objects made from mutton bones by Napoleonic prisoners of war. A beautifully-wrought cockerel (that was used on some posters for the show) and this violin.

Violin

Blue Ruin
Great murder/revenge tale, almost tragically ordinary and low-key, helped by an eerie soundscape – songs heard through car stereos or barroom walls alternating with a series of low tones and throbs, courtesy of Brooke and Will Blair. Partly funded through Kickstarter, where director Jeremy Saulnier’s pitch was, “It’s like plucking a character from a Hal Ashby film and tossing them into No Country for Old Men. Or if Wendy and Lucy got caught in the crossfire of Taxi Driver.” There’s also a lovely recurring use of Little Willie John singing “No Regrets” by the great Otis Blackwell, its rough edges and slight hysteria perfectly mirroring the events in the film. Look out for a terrific performance by Devin Ratray as an old high school buddy of the protagonist, Dwight (played by an equally good Macon Blair).

A low point in Graphic Design
Iggy Azalea’s album comes complete with the interesting blond-on-blonde treatment of lyrics and credits. And the most godawful choice of fonts – Broadway & Brush Script & some featureless sub-Helvetica – that I’m pretty sure are not being used ironically…

Izzy

Can you be more than ubiquitous?
Last refuge of the restless artistic soul – the perfume.

Girl

Extra! Claves to the fore!
Oh, and Jonny was right, “My Favourite Things” is fantastic. In fact the whole album (no song over 2:49, it’s done and dusted in 29 minutes) is joyful. I mean, who can resist “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” as a light samba featuring a harp as lead instrument? On second thoughts, don’t answer that.

Five Things, Wednesday 3rd September

I read John Banville’s new Philip Marlowe novel, The Black-Eyed Blond
There’s a few minor niggles with some of the vocabulary, and certain phrases cause the modern world to intrude in an otherwise strong evocation of Los Angeles in the early 50s, but I really enjoyed it. It’s set soon after The Long Goodbye and serves up the usual ingredients in a satisfying meal of corruption, drugs and mysterious women. “As I rounded the corner of the house and approached the conservatory, I heard the sound of a piano and stopped to listen. Chopin, I guessed, but I was probably wrong – to me everything on the piano sounds like Chopin. The music, tiny from this distance, seemed heartrendingly lovely, and, well, just heartrending. Imagine, I thought to myself, imagine being able to make a noise like that on a big black box made out of wood and ivory and stretched wires.”

I want Fred Bals’ job
Mick Gold sent me a link to this site. Fred gets to track down Dylan-related things like this: “In July of of 2010, I was commissioned to discover the name of the photographer – and, if possible – locate the original of this photo of Bob Dylan, used as the cover for a mono EP (French CBS EP 6270) released in March, 1966.” My favourite of the three tales of great detectiveness on his blog is this: “I was commissioned about a year ago to see if I could locate a specific photo taken during (actually, after) Dylan’s visit to Andy Warhol’s Factory in 1965.” It’s the story of Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis, a gift to Dylan, who proceeded to get Victor Maimudes to strap it to the roof of his station wagon and drive it to Woodstock. And speaking of Woodstock…

We catch up with our brilliant Woodstock Correspondent…
John C: Greetings from Woodstock, the town where “Woodstock” didn’t happen (but don’t tell that to the tourists that flock here all summer to snatch up tie-dyed t-shirts and and inhale the local vibe). Saw your post about Larry Campbell (who I see around town) and thought I’d check in.

Yesterday, while talking about Australian bass player Tal Wilkenfeld with David Sancious in an Italian restaurant in Woodstock, he told me that Jeff Beck does an amazing Jackie Mason impression – and that he broke it out on the ride back to the hotel after a gig in Tokyo. (I almost apologize for the head-spinning cultural mash up in that sentence, but there it is). btw, who had a better R&R Hall of Fame evening than David S? Inducted and performing with the E Street Band and also playing with Peter Gabriel during his induction  performance, and getting a mid-song shout out, by name, from both Brooce and Gabriel (in “Kitty’s Back” and “In Your Eyes” respectively). While I gushed right in his grill, David was typically gracious about the whole thing. Said that the HBO broadcast allotted everybody two songs, so “The River” and, regrettably, a terrific version of “Digging In The Dirt” went un-televised.

Was hunched over, doodling on a placemat  at an otherwise empty bar a few weeks back when Donald Fagen came in to pick up some takeout. Afterwards I asked the 22-year-old bartender if it’s exciting when that kind of thing happens. “What, when a guy comes in for takeout?” she said. No idea at all. The name Steely Dan also drew a blank – “So is his name Don or Dan?” Next time I saw her, she  related (somehow triumphantly I think), that David Bowie was in few days later, and that she had to be told who he was after he left as well. Christ, I’m old.

Same place the other night was introduced to Eric Kaz (“Cry Like a Rainstorm” and “Love has No Pride” – that one written with Libby Titus, Fagen’s wife and Levon’s ex etc…) Seemed like a funny, humble guy. I won’t even get into my wife walking the dog this past weekend, when a mom (Amy Helm it turns out)  playing in the yard with her kids, flagged her down to ask about Golden Retrievers. She’s thinking of getting one to scare off the bears, who have become a nuisance around here this summer. Never even mind locals Jack DeJohnette and Sonny Rollins dining at the Red Onion, or Happy Traum or…

Anyhow, to a guy that hasn’t seen live music in years and who rarely even leaves the house, it seem like musicians are coming out of the woodwork (or, more accurately, the woods) up here. Hey, did I mention seeing Milton Glaser at the Bear Cafe? Now there’s  a Rock Star…” John adds: “Feel free to share, but don’t make me come off as a craven celeb whore.” Heaven forfend, John, this is just excellently interesting.

We visit the Abba Museum in Stockholm
As weird as you may expect it to be. Through the gift shop (which, for extra profit, is by both the entrance and the exit) with its SOS Elastoplast packs and Honey, Honey jars of, well you know what (although the missing third Honey unaccountably annoyed me). Then you’re into a Swedish Folkfest forest where you get the early bios of Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, before arriving at the “Eurovision” Star Guitar and a roomset of Polar Studios – the piano on the far left of the photo is twinned to Benny’s in his home studio and plays in the museum when he plays at home – I know, bonkers! Must be troubling for the nighttime security guards. Their writing cabin on an island in the archipelago is also featured, as is that fantastic piece of graphic invention, the reversing of the first B, seen here in a fine sign. You can mix their records, sing along with the backing tracks, and appear on stage with a holographic Abba. There is a circular room which has record covers from their entire career (and the gold discs they earned) lining the walls while their costumes glitter away in curved glass cases. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Abba

…and watch the Homeland Season 4 trailer
This time Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are joined by Corey Stoll, last seen as Peter Russo in the exceptional House Of Cards, playing the US Ambassador to Pakistan. There’s Harvest-era acoustic, bass and drums on the soundtrack for this one, as Emily Jane White’s “Hole In The Middle” tells us: “Everybody’s got a little hole in the middle/Everybody does a little dance with the devil…”

Extra! Accompanying my mother on an MRI appointment
…there’s a choice of music whilst you lay down in the clattering contraption. Anyone for Blood On The Tracks or Born To Die?

MRI

 

Five Things, Wednesday 27th August

From Denny Tedesco’s Kickstarter project comes a Spector Symphony
“My biggest mistake in making this film was my estimating time. As of today, I’m on my 6607th day since I started shooting the The Wrecking Crew. That is 18 years, 1 month, and 2 days since that first day when I brought together Hal Blaine, my father Tommy, Carol Kaye and Plas Johnson. With the money that was raised on Kickstarter, we paid off the most important bill, which was the Musicians Union. The great thing is the musicians will be receiving payments for their work. I apologize for the delay and I really appreciate your patience and support. We know the film will be released theatrically in a limited market that allows us to earn national press and reviews. DVDs and Downloads will go out after that theatrical run. In the meantime, I continue to cut outtakes. Today’s short film involves Pianist Mike Lang, a Beatle, Cher and Harry Nilsson.”

My knowledge of Mike Lang is limited to the fact that Tom Waits used him on several albums, rather than play the piano himself, which, come to think of it, says quite a lot. And he’s also a very good interviewee. You can hear “A Love Like Yours” in the music player on the right.

CristinaFrom Britt Julious’ Britticisms blog comes a tale of self-plagiarism
Looking for some info on Cristina’s second album (inspired by Dave Heasman’s comment a couple of weeks back) I found this: “Cristina’s Sleep it Off: an album so unsuccessful that sleeve designer Jean-Paul Goude simply used the same aesthetics a year later for the cover of Slave to the Rhythm by his muse, Grace Jones.” There’s an interesting early Prince cover on the album I’d not heard before, “When You Were Mine”. I don’t know if it was done before or after the Bette Bright version, which I had as a picture disc, and remember fondly.

From my Brother-In-Law comes an urgent message
“Hey Mart, Tim and I are wondering if you can interpret the titles on this Dylan cover album from the 60s by Aufray. It’s in the house we’re staying in…” Nick and Tim

Hughes

Job done (my favorite is the translation of “Motorpsycho Nitemare”) I looked up the wonderfully named Hugues Aufray, who was in Dylan’s orbit in the mid-60’s. The following is from an RFI Musique piece: In 1965, Aufray chante Dylan was released, his first album of French covers of Dylan songs.

Hugues Aufray: I’d made a couple of records by 1961 when Maurice Chevalier invited me to New York to represent France at a charity gala. I discovered the most amazing city, the capital of the 20th century, filled with the most extraordinary artists. I went back to New York the minute I could, playing as a support act to Peter, Paul & Mary at The Blue Angel. I spent six months there and one night I ventured down to the Village to this real dive, Gerde’s Folk City, and watched this young guy with a harmonica. He was already singing the songs that went on to become absolute classics. For me, translating Dylan was something I wanted to do on an artistic level as well as a human level. It’s like when you read a fantastic book and you want to share it with your friends. The problem was that back in 1962-63, nobody in Paris knew who Bob Dylan was. (Record label owner) Eddie Barclay didn’t want to hear about anyone recording Dylan covers! The other problem was that Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, took almost two years to get back to me and authorise the French covers.

On recently finishing a third album of Dylan songs: The record company suggested I do an album of duets, getting guest artists to record new versions of my greatest hits with me. I thought that was a bit of a rehash… but I went away and thought it over and decided that if I took the same concept but applied it to Dylan songs everyone would get a lot more out of it… ever since I’d written the French version of “Forever Young” I’d hoped to record it with Johnny Hallyday. I can’t imagine anyone better than Johnny singing May you stay forever young! What I really wanted to do was bring out Dylan’s melodies. These days, he’s into the idea of destructuring his songs on stage even if that means disappointing his fans… The thing is, Dylan’s never appreciated being followed by a pack of people who don’t really understand who he is. And he doesn’t mind pissing people off. What I’ve tried to do is restore the primitive musicality of the songs. I collaborated closely with the American musicians on the album – most of whom have worked with Dylan at some point – trying to come up with arrangements which would bring out the melody, the harmony and the poetic cadence of each song. When Jane [Birkin] came into the studio [to record “Just Like A Woman”] she had a few problems with the melody and the fact that the lyrics were in French… And to be honest I didn’t know what to make of the final version. But when I played it to my friends and associates they all said “Wow! It’s brilliant! She takes the same musical liberties as Dylan himself!”

From the pages (or should that be screens) of Narratively…
Narratively is a great online magazine (and at the moment it’s Jazz Week, with pieces on Lee Morgan, the grandchildren of the 1940’s East LA Barrio denizens picking up Zoot Suits again, a busking saxist and Nick LaRocca of the ODJB). I really liked this story of an artisan New York trumpet maker, told by Melissa Smith, with photos by EuniceChoi.

“Most people don’t know who Josh Landress is. Most people will never know who Josh Landress is. If he is lucky, people will eventually know of him, long after he has stopped doing what he is doing. Josh Landress makes trumpets. It takes him approximately seventy hours over the course of two or three months to finish building one, and even then he can’t be sure his clients will be happy – an economic reality that could dissuade even the most committed craftsman… Popular brands are churned out in factories by the thousands. In his ten years bending, tweaking and molding brass, Landress has made forty-nine. He earns money mainly by repairing factory-made trumpets—Bessons, Bachs, Benges and Schilkes—hammering out dinks, filling up cracks, cleaning gunk that has accumulated inside, replacing mouthpieces, tweaking valves.

The steps for making a horn aren’t necessarily complicated, but they are painstakingly tedious. Landress is a stickler for construction. He does all of his work in his cramped studio, a job which in the wrong hands could be considered a bit thankless. To make the lead pipe, Landress begins with a sheet of brass. He cuts it to size using a template. He files the edge, eliminating any burrs, then folds and hammers it over a mandrel, a steel form in the shape of a tube. After the sheet is shaped, Landress seals the seam by heating the tube with a miniature blowtorch while adding silver, a bonding agent. When that’s done, he lets the brass cool in order to manipulate it. Heating and cooling change the molecular structure of the metal so it’s more malleable, and Landress can bully it into shape. He cleans the tube, puts it back on the mandrel, hammers again to flatten the inside, then wedges it between two metal rollers to smooth out the shape and round off any rough edges, particularly around the seam. Then he goes back three steps and starts again; heats, cools, shapes; then again, heats, cools, shapes, until he considers it perfect. To show me what perfect doesn’t look like, Landress lifted a lead pipe up against the light, pointed out a faint line running along the interior, a seam that he hadn’t successfully burnished out, and threw the pipe into the recycling bin.”

From the Streets of Stockholm (more next week…)

Abba2

Five Things, Wednesday 20th August

Stephen Fry talking to Professor John Mullan, on Reading Aloud, R4
“We take for granted, that this thing we have, this language, this sound of the tongue hitting the back of our teeth and the labials and the dentals and the fricatives, and all these strange little things our mouths can do – has a beauty, it can dance in our head – and when the words are the words of a magician, a great, great writer then the rhythm and the flow and the glide of language in one’s ear is a solace and a beauty that very little else can replace, wouldn’t you agree?”

Leonard Cohen, “Almost Like The Blues”
First song from Leonard’s latest album, the wonderfully titled Popular Problems. And it’s sounding pretty fine, continuing the minimal late-night urban blues feel that he’s lately found. And featuring, of course, the mordant and downbeat lyrics that he writes so well:
I saw some people starving/There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning/They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
/I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic/It was almost like the blues/It was almost like the blues”
Interesting that both he and Dylan are staking out a claim on this wellspring territory as they age – there’s something so natural about their voices negotiating that I-IV chord change.

“I’m not a morose person, I just like morose music!”
Malcolm Gladwell on Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” on Desert Island Discs: “To my mind, music is at its finest when it explores the melancholy side of human nature. And [this song] has the most depressing opening couplet, I think, in the history of modern music… I mean it’s an extraordinary achievement! “With the money from her accident, she bought herself a mobile home/So at least she could get some enjoyment out of being alone…” I don’t think you can top that. The achievement of bringing someone to tears is infinitely greater than the achievement of bringing them to laughter. I happen to be obsessed with this notion: we laugh all the time, and easily… and yet we continue to reward people who bring us to laughter, as if it’s some great feat. It’s not, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I will make you laugh over the next whatever minutes. I will not make you cry. I am simply not good enough to make you cry. So I think that people who bring us at least to the brink of tears are geniuses, and to do it in two lines? I’m ready to be moved after I hear those two lines…”

Willy DeVille
When the internet isn’t trying to sell me Michael Kors handbags or Oakley sunglasses, it can be a very useful thing. And after reading Thom Hickey’s Immortal Jukebox on Willy (Mink) DeVille, I went on a YouTube bender. And what terrific stuff I found. I hadn’t appreciated how good he was, and why Jack Nitzsche (a man with pretty stellar taste, if you look at a list of his collaborations) why so enamoured of him. There’s a really nice Dutch fan film in five parts and a great set from Montreux with Freddy Koella on guitar. Larger than life, and cooler than Keith Richard.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last of the Belles
Reading this brilliantly written and poignant short story, I liked this paragraph’s description of the narrator’s unattainable love-interest, Ailie Calhoun, and the country club’s Saturday night:
“On Saturday night she and Bill Knowles came to the country club. They were very handsome together and once more I felt envious and sad. As they danced out on the floor the three-piece orchestra was playing “After You’ve Gone”, in a poignant incomplete way that I can hear yet, as if each bar were trickling off a precious minute of that time. I knew then that I had grown to love Tarleton, and I glanced about half in panic to see if some face wouldn’t come in for me out of that warm, singing, outer darkness that yielded up couple after couple in organdie and olive drab.  It was a time of youth and war, and there was never so much love around”. Which sent me looking for versions of “After You’ve Gone” and finding rather lovely ones by Dinah Washington (great, as you’d imagine), Chet Atkins & Suzy Bogguss (cute and jazzy, and I dug the twin guitars), Written in 1918 (when the story was set by FSF) and covered by Bessie Smith, Judy Garland and, oh, nearly everyone in the world. But Nina Simone’s version? That’s something special. Live in a small club with an almost out-of-focus backing – bass, drums and guitar – there’s a great build and release into her piano solo, and a fantastic vocal throughout.

 

 

Five Things, Wednesday 13th August

Don’t hold back, just push things forward
Ithaca Audio’s pertinently titled mashup uses one of the great intros (Shaft) and a bizarre selection of other imagery and soundtracks (Star Wars, Horse/Surf Guinness Ad) to excellent effect. “Shaft” is a Proustian Rush™ thing for me. It always transports me to Tony Blackburn’s (I think) chart rundown show on Sunday evenings, when all the homework – that you should have done on Friday – loomed. The Chart Show as background made it more bearable (though probably not good for the concentration) and occasionally something would issue out of the warm AM fuzz and demand that you stopped what you were doing to listen in wonder and awe. “Shaft” is the track I remember more than any other…

Prestige New Jazz v Esquire
At London Jazz Collector’s blog, a graphic Battle of the Brands: US jazz label Prestige’s covers translated or re-versioned by the UK’s Esquire when they were issued here. I don’t know which I prefer – there’s great work on both sides, as well as the odd duffer. I have the Prestige of Ray Bryant’s Alone With The Blues, but check out the IKEA-like (those ubiquitous piled stones that were done as large prints a few years back) Esquire version…

Royal Blood, Shortlist Interview
The new Morphine (only without the sax)? Not really, but I always like being put in mind of Morphine. Great drummer, wailing saxist and a bassist, Mark Sandman who played 2-string slide bass (!) and created such a unique vibe that you didn’t miss any other instruments. Check these two songs from a French TV show. They sound, if anything, better now, and still as unusual. Sandman died, of a heart attack, way too young… Anyhow, I liked Royal Blood’s answer when they were asked about appearing on US TV: Shortlist: You appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. What was that like? Mike Kerr:I’d never been to Hollywood, and it’s a very strange place. It’s like a theme park for millionaires. But the show is a very isolated experience. We didn’t meet Jimmy Kimmel or watch the show. It was like turning up to a place in Hollywood and doing a gig to 20 competition winners that were Googling you on the way in.

Paul Anka, on writing “My Way” for Frank Sinatra
In 1967, Frank Sinatra confided over dinner that he’d decided to retire. The Rat Pack was starting to splinter, which made him feel vulnerable, and he was being harassed by the FBI because of his Mob connections. ‘Kid, I’m fed up,’ he said. ‘I’m going to do one more album and I’m out of here.’ Then he lightened up and said: ‘Hey, kid, you never wrote me that song you always promised me. Don’t take too long!’ He’d often joshed with me about writing a song for him, but I’d never got round to it.

A few months later, at home in New York, I couldn’t sleep one night. So I sat at my piano and started playing a French song, “Comme d’habitude”, to which I’d bought the rights. There was a storm brewing and as I played I suddenly sensed myself becoming Frank, tuning into his sense of foreboding. That’s how I got the first line: ‘And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.’ I thought of him leaving the stage, the lights going out, and started typing like a madman, writing it just the way he talked: ‘Ate it up… spit it out.’ I’d never before written something so chauvinistic, narcissistic, in-your-face and grandiose. Everything in that song was Sinatra.

When I finished, it was 5am. I knew Frank was in Las Vegas, but by then he’d be offstage and at the bar. I called: ‘Frank, I’ve got something interesting – I’m gonna bring it out.’ When I played the song for him, he said: ‘That’s kooky, kid. We’re going in.’ Coming from Mr Cool, that meant he was ecstatic. There was never any question of singing it myself; “My Way” was done Sinatra’s way – and that was unquestionably the right way. Though I do like the way Sid Vicious did it…

I had one of those, honest
On Jeff Gold’s Record Mecca, an autograph book containing The Beatles signatures is priced at $7,500. It’s very similar to my autograph book, which once had the Beatles autographs on a single page, too. It also had The Searchers, Freddie “Parrot Face” Davis and Pete Seeger: they were all guests on Sunday Night at The London Palladium. Our friend, the bassist Lennie Bush, had the gig with the Jack Parnell Orchestra (which was full of great jazzers). Lennie (Sinatra’s go-to bass player on any sessions that Frank did in London) always took my autograph book with him. And then at some point I decided that my friend and colleague, Colin McHenry, was a bigger Beatles fan than me and that he should have that page. Colin, you owe me…

I love that—"To, Martin, keep with it” written by Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal, who then joked around with Earl and they ended up signing their names as Sinclair Hines and Earl Traill…

I love that—”To, Martin, keep with it” written by Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal, who then joked around with Earl and they ended up signing their names as Sinclair Hines and Earl Traill…

 

 

 

Five Things, Wednesday 7th August

“She’s all I got is gone”: David Bromberg & Larry Campbell at Bush Hall
After a vivid ride through London on the back of Kevin’s motorbike (a big BMW, as used by the Met, for all you bike fans) we turn up at Bush Hall to see Dylan sidemen from different eras making a joyous noise – two performers who really love playing together, picking songs that they’ve probably played forever. Yes, there are plenty of phenomenal guitarists out there, but often they’re players whose virtuosity is almost a barrier to connection. That’s not the case here. This was a conversation between erudite practitioners who transmuted the pleasure they find in playing into the audience’s unalloyed enjoyment.

LCDB

Towering over all the risqué blues songs (Bromberg’s speciality) and the transposed Irish and Texan fiddle tunes (Larry’s bag) is a performance of “Delia” that is just hypnotic. For ten minutes, Bromberg sings and recounts the origins of the song against honeyed and stately tick-tock fingerpicking, while Campbell embellishes the tune with a swooping, swooning accompaniment on the bottleneck, finding beautiful, piercing melodies for as long as the song takes to wend its way to the last sigh. And every verse ends with the sad and resigned statement above, sing/spoken in the most poignant fashion. I’d a been happy if it had lasted twice as long.

Autopsy: Karen Carpenter, Channel 5
Alternately fascinating and grim (with actors playing Karen, Richard and their parents) as only programmes called Autopsy can be, this peculiarly tragic episode piled up the evidence for a recovery from anorexia, only for her to be failed by a pitifully weakened heart. My friend Andrew and I saw the Carpenters play a midnight show at the London Palladium in 1976 (yes, ’76, the year of Punk). It was in aid of Capital Radio’s Help a London Child, and you had to queue at Capital’s HQ at Euston Tower at seven in the morning. With a soft toy. So we did. The show was great – Richard’s dreadful vaudeville numbers, Karen’s drum solo and all. Tony Pelusi ripped out the classic guitar solo on “Goodbye to Love”, and Karen sang like she always did, trying to keep that melancholy tear at the edge of her voice at bay.

Bolt Dances to The Proclaimers, Hampden Park
And sets off a string of memories: I first saw The Proclaimers, as did most of Britain, when they appeared on The Tube. Our band was on that Friday, too, along with the Psychedelic Furs. We had travelled up to Newcastle, where the studios of Tyne Tees were, on the Quayside, and my day had already been made by the sight of Bobby Charlton being signed in at Reception. I remember two things well from the show. One was talking to Mars Williams, sax player for the Furs, and interesting to me as he had been a member of The Waitresses. They were a band I loved, for its mixture of Patty Donahue’s knowing sarcasm and the NY new wave of Chris Butler’s songs (songs with titles like “They’re All Out Of Liquor, Let’s Find Another Party” and “I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts”). I tended to buy anything that I could find on their label, Ze Records. Among their bizarre acts (Mutant Disco became the quick catch-all for what their releases sounded like) was an early version of Lana Del Ray who went by the name of Cristina (”Is That All There Is?” is still a masterpiece) and the stunning Material (including Bill Laswell and Fred Maher) whose “Busting Out”, with Nona Hendryx singing, you really need to hear. This a nice piece about The WaitressesI Know what Girls like: The Waitresses and the limits of the “Female-Fronted Band by Lindsay Zoladz on Pitchfork.

The other thing I remember was being intrigued by The Proclaimers’ Buddy Holly-like appearance and the closeness of their singing, like one voice with two sides. I told them they were great and would go far, one of the rare occasions that I was right. I loved seeing the Commonwealth Games audience singing “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” as Usain Bolt shook down his arms, then threw out the pointed finger a few times before miming walking as the crowd hit the chorus. Then he conducted the spectators for a bit before going into the “Pulp Fiction Eyes”. I’m not sure he would have remained so loose if he’d been about to run his banner event, the 100 metres, but here he allows himself to be enticed by the crowd’s reaction…

Dennis Hopper, The Lost Album, Royal Academy

Hopper


Richard Williams writes so well about this exhibition (and the use of The Band’s “The Weight” here) that I’m not sure that I can add anything much. Oh, except that my problem with exhibitions of photography are often about sizing. 400 10×8 prints is a lot to look at, and there’s too much here that is run-of-the-mill. The good ones deserve better printing to bring out the shadow detail, and sometimes more scale would be a good thing: Double Standard works well as a huge poster at the entrance, but its charms are lessened as a 10×8, where it looks a poor cousin to a Friedlander, Winogrand or Frank shot (above: the blow up/an introductory caption/watching a loop of Easy Rider from the balcony.) By the cafe is a small temporary screening room where Easy Rider and The Last Movie are shown a couple of times a day. I caught the last thirty minutes of Easy Rider, which looks pretty dated but is carried by its fervour – it feels like something that Fonda and Hopper needed to make, and not a studio product. I remembered that a cover version of “The Weight” was used on the soundtrack album, but had forgotten that “It’s Alright, Ma” – a song that eloquently addresses some of the film’s concerns – is used at the end. Sadly it’s a woefully lackluster version by Roger McGuinn, and just proves that it’s one of those Bob songs that should never be covered.

Nice!
Upon leaving the Royal Academy, this “Jazz” sweater caught my eye in Burlington Arcade. The word we’re looking for is “why”.

Jazz Sweater

 

Five Things, Wednesday 30th July

At the Multiplex
Watching Joe, with a great performance from Nic Cage that reminds you of the fact that he’s Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew and therefore should know a good script when he sees one. Pitched somewhere between Winter’s Bone and Mud (and co-starring young Tye Sheridan from that film) it’s really enhanced by a score from David Wingo and Jeff McIlwain that uses unsettling bass drones and atmospheres, with the occasional chorded piano. There’s also a nice Jerry Reed-ish song that tracks the hunt for Joe’s dawg.

At The Royal Academy of Music
With my mother and Yvonne for War Music: Notes from the First World War, a small but perfectly formed exhibition full of gramophones, sheet music (my favourite: “Hello, Central! Give Me No Man’s Land” by Al Jolson) and short films featuring extraordinary scenes of local am-drams preparing shows for the soldiers at the front. I loved this photo of Ivor Novello, and the description of one of his performances. “When he sang, men seemed to drink it in at once and instantly sang the chorus, and as we drove away at the end of the concert in the dark and the rain and the mud, from all parts of the camp one could hear the refrain”.

Novello

 

At The Commonwealth Games
England’s “Jerusalem” is given competition by Kenya’s National Anthem, a strikingly moody piece called “Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu” (O God, of all creation). According to Wikipedia it was originally composed in 1963 by a commission set up for the purpose, and based on a traditional tune sung by Pokomo mothers to their children. “The tune had to be of the right length and quality, yet possessing the necessary dignity. It had to be of such character as to make the writing of suitable words manageable, complicated by being both in Swahili and English. The tune also had to lend itself to appropriate harmonisation and orchestration for performance by a military band, without impairing the original tonality of the melody.” They totally succeeded. It was great to hear it played when Kenya swept the medals in the Women’s 10,000 meters on Day 6. You can judge for yourselves when David Rudisha wins the 800m tonight. [Editors Note, August 1st: this prediction was as accurate as my World Cup ones. Never come to me for betting advice.]

At Caitlin’s House, and my old Bank
Lovely use of a cello shape for storing wine. And for private banking, the less lovely use of a shiny resonator guitar, along with your crystal goblet and Greek bronze to make finance seem somehow, you know, groovy. We’re all rockers at heart, aren’t we? I blame the cover of Brother In Arms.

Wine

At home, finding a great Vanity Fair Questionnaire with Tom Waits
What phrase do you most overuse? “Do as I say and no-one will get hurt”.

Waits

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