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

Five Things: Wednesday, 23rd July

Is it Just Me…
Or are flares and bell bottoms making a comeback? First it was the percussionist with the Brian Jonestown Massacre with his flares, then this week I saw a young hipstery type in Berners Street with what was defiantly a pair of bell bottoms, literally covering his shoes. I know everything comes around in the end, but are these two a fashion-forward tip of the iceberg?

Attempted Fig Leaf for People building Apartments for multimillionaires, Fitzrovia
As we see, dead rocks stars can’t control who takes their name in vain. The estate agent gibberish on this window is chilling.

Fitzroy

Now That’s What I Call A Compilation
And not just because it features Ken Colyer playing “The Red Flag”. From likeahammerinthesink: “Since the beginning of this year I have been making one compilation CD each month. The tracks on each mix come from CDs from charity shops (mostly from my local one) and I exclude music bought elsewhere… that is the only constraint. The mixes tend to be combinations of the popular and the obscure so include jazz, pop, noise and anything else that I like.”

Recommended: Tim’s Vermeer
At the end of this really interesting film about trying to discover why Vermeer’s paintings feel the way they do, the credits roll with, yes, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” playing. Groan. Obvious. But wait, it’s a different Bob version. It’s great. It sounds like the Jesse Ed Davis and Leon Russell session, Dylan’s singing is nasal and ragged and it has a corny, but great, showbizzy ending… apparently Dylan was “very fond” of the film and allowed its use, thus continuing the tradition of giving filmmakers (the Coens, Cameron Crowe) alternate versions for use in their films. nb. Also noticed Damien Tedesco amongst the sound recordists and wondered if he was a relation of Wrecking Crew star Alumni, guitarist Tommy Tedesco…

Not Recommended: YSL
Slightly tedious biopic of Yves Saint Laurent. Very difficult to have as your central character a man who looks at the floor all the time. The early parts are best, before the drug addled tedium of the Seventies. The music during the scene where YSL gets the idea for his Mondrian-inspired dresses is a cracking piece of garage rock, that the credits pin down as The Bossmen from 1966 (Dick Wagner’s first band before The Frost and a career working with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed). It’s called “On The Road” and it’s all you’d want from a mid-Sixties band from Saginaw, Michigan. “I walked a million miles since Sunday/And still I got no place to go”.

Five Things: Wednesday, 16th July

Watching: Amazing Bass Lines
I don’t know whether I admire his stamina or dexterity more. In fact maybe it’s his memory that is the most impressive thing about this…

Watching: Ray Charles sing the hell out of “Sail On Sailor”
Thanks to Grahame for putting me on to this. Fast forward to 9.08. It’s the Beach Boys 25th Anniversary in 1986. It’s in Hawaii. Carl and Brian do a very strange intro, you’re not sure where it’s leading, then suddenly it’s Ray – in an awesome flower-print jacket and garlanded with a Lei.

Finding: A pack of Neil Diamond Playing Cards at a rather desultory Record Fair

Diamond

Watching: A Recreation of The Sopranos’ Credit Sequence in Grand Theft Auto Style
Why Recreate The Sopranos’ Credit Sequence in Grand Theft Auto Style? Because it was there to be done…

Listening to: Lily Allen on Desert Island Discs
“This song was the first dance of mine  and my husband’s… It was really sweet, actually. Sam and I got together the day I played Glastonbury and I remember I had a week off after that, and I hired a yurt and put it up in my dad’s back garden and invited him down. And as we left he gave me this mix CD that he’d made for me, and this was the first song that was on it and it became the song that we danced to at our wedding. We actually flew the guy that sang it, Tommy McLain, who’s in his nineties, all the way from Louisiana with an eleven-piece band and he played this song…” Tommy McLain’s “Grow Too Old” is a great, great cover version, that finds a seam of melancholy in the midst of songwriter Bobby Charles’ swaggering braggadocio. It was originally on a fabulous compilation called Another Saturday Night, a celebration of the sound of South Louisiana made in 1974 by Charlie Gillett for his Oval Records label.

Five Things: Wednesday 9th July

Cloud Lamp. I want.

Lamp
I’ve always loved the sound of thunder or rain on records, and when I saw this I tried to remember some songs that use thunder, but, with the exception of Eminem’s “Stan”, all the ones I thought used thunder, didn’t. But I did stumble across this great piece of audio of The Shangri-Las recording “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)”, so all was not lost.

Brian Jonestown Massacre
There’s an appropriate smell of patchouli from the row ahead of me, as it’s possibly the first time I’ve watched a band in the Roundhouse since the ZigZag concert of 1974 with Mike Nesmith headlining. Actually, I remember James “Blood” Ulmer there later than that… but that ruins the patchouli reference… anyway – the audience is confronted by a wall of guitarists when the BJM take to the stage. I ask Jack why they have so many and he says, “In case Anton Newcombe fires one during the gig”, and I’m not entirely sure he’s joking. Three guitarists all playing Gibson 335s – one a twelve string – with lead BJM person, Anton Newcombe, playing a Dave Grohl Signature Epiphone, which is 335-like. One or other will occasionally change guitars for a Vox Teardrop, but with no discernable difference to the sound. At one stage the keyboardist gets out a guitar so the count is six including the bass player. Anton himself plays like he’s just mastered Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day and sings in a rather Garth from Wayne’s World voice. The only non-guitarist is the drummer, and he’s the hardest-working man on the stage. Out front is Josh, a languid percussionist, who wears bell bottoms. It’s deeply conservative, but fun, and they indulge in some trippy wig-outs.

Having not knowingly heard a note of their oeuvre I had few preconceptions, but it’s an entirely pleasant noise, as they churn around the chords of “Hey Joe” on one song, “All Along The Watchtower” on another. At some points they even sound like the Dave Clark 5. But what they really sound like is those bands that you see in the dance scene of a late 60s-early 70s movie, Hollywood hippie music shading into dumb frat boy rock. Terrific!

Loudon Wainwright in Uncut
How inconvenient was the “New Bob Dylan” tag: “Both good and bad. Who else was a “new Dylan”? John Prine, Steve Forbert, Elliot Murphy, Bruce. I made a joke about how we’re all in a 12-step programme and we meet in Buenos Aires once a year, or at Bruce’s house, as his is the biggest.”

Summer Exhibition
Seen at the Royal Academy’s Summer Show (the usual insane mix of great and not-great art, and enjoyable for both), this beautiful small felt coat, by Eve Gonzales, called A Coat For My Daughter, and embroidered with great names: Ivor Cutler, Music From Big Pink, Itchycoo Park, Peggy Lee, even the Shangri-Las.

Coat

 

Great Skewering of the absurd Robin Thicke by Peter Robinson in The Guardian
Thicke says that his next album is called Paula in an attempt to win his estranged wife back: “A pop entity more self-aware than Thicke – and that’s all of them except Jessie J – might say: “Fair play, this entire debacle has played out in public but should be salvaged, if indeed it can be salvaged at all, in private.” Not the case for the “Give It 2 U” hit-maker. The announcement came of album’s tracklisting. Opening with “You’re My Fantasy”, Thicke’s opus subsequently delivers, in order, “Get Her Back”, “Still Madly Crazy”, “Lock the Door”, and “Whatever I Want”, which reads less like a romantic gesture and more like a plot to violate a restraining order…”

Five Things, Wednesday 2nd July

This Is Revealing
The Making of Blonde On Blonde. The excellent Oxford American just goes about its way, publishing great piece after great piece: this month it’s Sean Wilentz going behind the scenes of the making of Blonde On Blonde in both New York and Nashville: “The songs are rich meditations on desire, frailty, promises, boredom, hurt, envy, connections, missed connections, paranoia, and transcendent beauty—in short, the lures and snares of love, stock themes of rock and pop music, but written with a powerful literary imagination and played out in a 1960s pop netherworld.” His reconstruction of the feel in the studio is terrific, and chock full of nuggets: “Fewer than twelve hours later, everybody was back in the studio to start in on what Dylan called “Like a Woman”. The lyrics, once again, needed work; on several early takes, Dylan sang disconnected lines and semi-gibberish. He was unsure about what the person described in the song does that is just like a woman, rejecting “shakes,” “wakes,” and “makes mistakes”. The improvisational spirit inspired a weird, double-time fourth take, somewhere between Bo Diddley and Jamaican ska, that on the tape finally disintegrates into a voice in the background admitting, “We lost, man.” If you have any interest in this period of Dylan’s music, read it.

This Is Great
Unlock The World, Avis Advert. Having watched Saving Mr Banks (a gently pointless little tale) it was amusing to see the subject of the film’s emotive centre, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”, featured in the new Avis Car Rental Ad. Made a refreshing change from the usual dreadful Eurotrash EDM that the current Mercedes and Nissan ads have as their soundtrack. In fact, the juxtaposition of the nostalgic croon of David Tomlinson with the finely shot (and expensive-looking) black & white works really well. I’d love to see which photographers’ books they cribbed the shots from. The stills approach is very interesting, as car ads invariably have endless shots of vehicles moving at speed, and this one only has movement at the end.

This Is Insane
“Perfect”, Rob Cantor. Very inspired, to start with Randy Newman, slightly off on Willie Nelson, but pretty spot on for the rest. I especially loved Ian McKellen, Flipper and the trumpet solo, but the female singers are the best: Billie Holiday, Cher, Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Britney, Bjork and Christina Aguilera.

This Is Sad
The death of Bobby Womack. At one point, early in our career as Hot House, Mark & I must have worn our copy of The Poet II down to the bone. For at least a year, everything that we wrote had its roots, lyrically or musically, in that album. We went to see Womack & Womack play the Shaw Theatre (that’s Bobby’s brother and step-daughter) during their “Love Wars” tour, we saw Bobby somewhere, I can’t remember where, maybe at The Venue or the Town & Country, and sought out his back catalogue (even including BW goes C+W, mainly for the cover). A few years ago, in a period where Mark and I were recording stuff again, Mark sent me a lovely piano and guitar instrumental, with a kind of Southern swing, and I started thinking about Eddie Hinton, a soul brother of Bobby’s, who had a voice like Otis and a playing style that was influenced by, or maybe was an influence on, Womack’s own take on the guitar. I thought about the stuff that Eddie and Bobby played on in Muscle Shoals and wrote a tribute to the both of ’em. It’s in the music player to the right.

This Is Rather Lovely
A London Palladium tea towel. A good week, when you could see both Max Miller and Fats Waller.

Fats

Five Things: Wednesday 25th June

My two favourite bits of ephemera found on the web this week
Roxy Music small ad in the Music Press. Those were the days. I think the pic on the right was an album cover, but I’m not sure. Whatever, top marks!

Roxy
Horseless Headmen, The Harrison

HH

Forty five minutes of improvised fabulousness: with added drummer, Tom Atherton, who imbued proceedings with a mighty roar that still allowed the terrific Nick Cash (regular drummer) to decorate and amplify the noise with bells, bike chains and upturned water dispensers. Guitarist G Painting seemed to be initiating the proceedings this time round, alternating an almost metal attack with delicate and spiky Chinoiserie. Bassist Ivor Kallin was propulsive and gulping, and trombonist Paul Taylor’s organic rasp and great ear for a melody (he’d been playing along to Duke Ellington on the sound system before they started) added to the Headless mix. Sometimes it felt and sounded like they were building the Titanic in a tiny basement; at others, when they stroked a melody tenderly, like a warm bath.

Mavis Staples talking to Elon Green about recording The Weight for The Last Waltz, The New Yorker
Just an excerpt: “The Last Waltz was, as Helm wrote in his memoir, deemed “too lily-white and missing something crucial.” And so, not long after the show, the Staples Singers, a popular gospel group and old friends of the Band, performed “The Weight” on an M.G.M. soundstage in front of an audience of two hundred and fifty people. As the song finishes up, the camera settles on the Staples family—Roebuck (“Pops”), out of focus in the background, and his daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis. Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, “Beautiful.” Here is Mavis Staples’s memory of that session: “It was so beautiful to me. I was surprised that was caught on tape, you know, because I thought I was whispering. It wasn’t rehearsed to go like that. It was just a feeling that brought that on. The excitement of being with our friends—Levon and Danko and those guys were such good friends of ours—to be singing with them, and knowing that this is going to be on the big screen, the silver screen, it was just a moment in time for me…

Scorsese gave us all a break at one point, and everybody scattered. Levon was on his drums, still drumming. So Pops walked back there. “Hey, Levon!” Levon said, “Hey Roebuck!” And they talked a bit, and all of a sudden Pops realized that Levon was smokin’ two cigarettes. He said, “Levon, man, you’re smoking two cigarettes at a time?” And Levon held one of ’em up and said, “Oooooooh, Roebuck. You gotta try this one!” And that one was marijuana! Pops said, “Man, I don’t want none of that mess.” Daddy was so tickled. We talked about that forever

And I remember everything about it. I remember every moment that we had doing that. Pops said, “Mavis! Baby, you shouldn’t carry it out so long like that,” when I go, “Heeeyyyy yeeeeaaah.” And I said, “Nah, daddy, that’s the good part. That’s what I feel.” He said, “O.K., do what you feel. That’s the best thing. Do what you feel.”

Busking at Clapham, 1980s
Among Bob Mazzer’s pictures of the London underground during the 80s at the Howard Griffin Gallery I was drawn to this as Clapham Common was my local tube station then (this could be Clapham North or South, all three look alike). Doesn’t that seem like a proto-Jack White, down in the tube station at midnight? And I don’t think the guy singing is actually with the band…

Clapham

Bob Dylan by artist Martin Creed, The Guardian
Jeff also gave me tapes, including a bootleg of the Bootleg Tapes (I think they mean the Basement Tapes – ed) that I still play. I have a lot of cassettes from that time and a car that plays tapes, so I still listen to Jeff’s bootleg when I’m driving. I love the Bootleg Series: those funny versions of songs often seem better than the official versions. They haven’t been cleaned up. I got into Bob Dylan, again, because of the 1997 album Time Out of Mind, which seemed like the start of a whole new thing. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful music, but also the funniest, most thoughtful and stupid music I could possibly imagine. It feels like it’s got everything in it, but without necessarily making sense. Things fly in from left, right and centre. There are different ideas, turns of phrase, beautiful pieces of music, catchy bits, but it’s mysterious and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t add up. One song, “Highlands”, is 15 minutes long and sounds as though he’s just making the story up as he goes along. It’s brilliant. It reminds me of something I’m told the painter Gerhard Richter once said: “I want my work to be stupid, like nature.”

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