Five Things, Wednesday 22nd October

Gordon Bennett!
Switching to Strictly Come Dancing I am assaulted by Lady Gaga, looking like Barbara Streisand crossed with Liza Minnelli, shouting jazz lyrics into Tony Bennett’s spookily unlined face. It seems a little cruel and I don’t know what Tony did to deserve this. Then they do a bloody second song! It’s worse than the first! It’s “Anything Goes”, and I much prefer T Bone Burnett’s updating of the Cole Porter standard (It’s in the music player on the right.) I remember, too, that T. Bone also did a great rewritten version of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in which just before the last verse, he amusingly shouts “Let’s Rock!” Lady G does nothing so entertaining. It’s like Variety’s not dead… next they’ll bring back Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Oh. They have…

More T Bone
This week we caught up with True Detective, which was compelling despite the fact that, in the end, it was a rather typical Bayou-set story of tangled family histories, guns, drugs and creeps. If you’ve read any of James Lee Burke’s memorable detective series featuring Dave Robicheaux, you’ll know the territory. The relationship between the two cops across the timeline of twenty years is riveting, though, and wonderfully acted by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The music, either recorded or sourced by Burnett, is excellent, and deliberately avoids slide guitars and accordions while still evoking swamps and hollers.

From London Jazz Collector, this is rather beautiful

Atlantic

The Potency of Cheap Music
Liked this para from Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking”, a book about the year her daughter was ill and her husband, John Gregory Dunne died. “…I realized that my impression of myself had been of someone who could look for, and find, the upside in any situation. I had believed in the logic of popular songs. I had looked for the silver lining. I had walked on through the storm. It occurs to me now that these were not even the songs of my generation. They were the songs and the logic, of the generation or two that preceded my own. The score for my generation was Les Paul and Mary Ford, “How High the Moon”, a different logic altogether. It also occurs to me, not an original thought but novel to me, that the logic of the earlier songs was based on self-pity. The singer of the song about looking for the silver lining believes that clouds have come her way. The singer of the song about walking on through the storm assumes that the storm could otherwise take her down.”

From Zoe Williams’ fabulous piece on Northern Soul, The Guardian
“Northern soul was happening everywhere except London,” Constantine says. “That’s because London had a new release culture. They were pushing psychedelia, but a lot of these kids, they didn’t want to wear makeup and dress like hippies. They were coming out of the mod movement, which also played a lot of soul. They had shit jobs where they were dirty in the day – when they went out, they wanted to look sharp.”

Andrew Marlin, 61, was wearing the Fred Perry shirt that he bought in 1970. Between 1971 and 1979, he never missed a Wigan weekend. “I was marked one of the best dancers there,” he says. “Not being big-headed, but I was.” He says his father died at 91 on a dancefloor, but I took this with a pinch of salt. His dancing was, however, unfakeable (I saw it with my own eyes): inimitable, sparse, solitary, beautiful. I don’t mean beautiful in a sentimental way – what a beautiful life, still to be lost in the music of your youth, on a Thursday night in 2014. I mean it literally: graceful and instinctive, like a deer. They say you’re meant to dance like there’s no one watching; no one said you couldn’t watch.

There’s talc in the corner of the dancefloor, though the purists don’t like it. “You don’t need talc,” says Marlin. “Just get some leather soles.” Debbie describes going to the famous Wigan Casino: “We used to put our vodka in a squeezy bag, so if they squeezed your handbag, they couldn’t feel it. One night, we just didn’t get time, and my friend went with a bottle, and they found it, and they confiscated it. They put it on the back shelf, and it was, like talc, talc, talc, talc, bottle of vodka, talc.”

Swoz and Les Beaton (who runs the night with his wife, Carol) DJ under a frilly standard lamp, their record collections worth tens of thousands of pounds. “The sad thing is,” says Swoz, handing me 7 inch after 7 inch records, for me to look at and give back, even though he’d whited over the labels (for confidentiality), so they all looked the same, “when I go, my kids aren’t going to be interested in any of this. They’ll find someone to buy it, but they won’t keep it for themselves.” He hands me a record in an anonymous homemade white cardboard cover, a note on it saying: “RIP Max, not to be sold, ever, never, until we meet.” No, crying? Of course not. Something in my eye.

Five Things, Wednesday 15th October

Who’s in charge?
From Roy Keane’s slightly mad new autobiography, The Second Half: “It might seem strange but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music. A young lad might want to put on the latest sound; an older player might say: ‘I’m the senior player’ and put himself in charge. But I noticed none of the players [at Sunderland] were in charge of the music and this was a concern for me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’ The last song before the players went on to the pitch was “Dancing Queen” by Abba. What really worried me was that none of the players – not one – said: ‘Get that shit off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ “Dancing Queen.” It worried me. I didn’t have as many leaders as I thought.”

Hedi Slimane: Sonic
No, I didn’t see this, but Steve’s partner Fiona did, and writes about it on her always interesting fashion blog, Something I’m Working On. “A couple of years ago, when I was Art Director of Russian Vogue, I used to design the covers and fashion stories Hedi Slimane shot for us. Among other things, this involved trying to reason with his agent about how to leave a white border of exactly one centimetre around Hedi’s photographs without cropping the photographs, despite the fact that Hedi’s photographs were not the same shape as our pages. Hedi is (understandably) passionate about his pictures, and the way they are presented. Hedi likes to be in control. Which is why (a) this exhibition is gorgeous, and (b) it’s so fascinating: the subject matter – the music scene – after all, is pretty much the opposite of control.” The exhibition is at the Fondation Pierre Bergé/Yves Saint Laurent in Paris until January 11, 2015.

Terry Cryer’s Best Shot, The Guardian
Glad to see that Terry chose this lovely photo of George Lewis and Joe Watkins at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 in 1957. It’s been one of my favourites ever since I came across it when we put together the book about Ken. Terry was by far the best photographer of that whole pre-rock scene, and his shots really stand out, partly from his use of a large format camera, partly from his clever use of flash. He was great at capturing the joy of an audience, to which this picture testifies. [It’s the square picture to the right of Bob recording Highway 61…]

Wall of Loft

Greetings from Darktown!
And strangely, that very day, I had made a mask from Terry’s photo of Ken and Sister Rosetta Tharpe [the largest of the rectangular pics above], as Jonny Hannah’s book launch insisted that entry was contingent on wearing a mask – the invite included a pre-cut mask shape that the invitee had to customise in some way. Having just given a rave review to his book in Eye magazine, I didn’t want to miss it but arrived late, only catching the last part of Sandy Dillon and Ray Major’s spooky sounding set (more on this in the Five Things End of Year roundup). But I do get to congratulate Jonny (a nicer fellow you won’t meet) and pick up a copy of the book in a hand drawn carrier bag (see below). I chose the Flying V as it seemed an odd choice of guitar for a man obsessed with Hank Williams. Although, after Jonny waxed eloquent about the beauty of the Flying V, it made more sense.

JH1

“Birds flying high, you know how I feel…”
Driving through sheets of rain just outside Colchester, with Nina Simone on the car stereo, singing Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”. And as she leans into the last verse, Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky/how sweet it would be if I found I could fly, the rain stops and hundreds of swallows swoop from the trees to begin a murmuration, wheeling like a storm cloud against the suddenly bright sky.


Extra! Up Close with Robin Bannerjee
At dinner with my mother at a local bar, we luck into a set from Verity Guthrie and Robin Bannerjee. I am so close to Robin that I can feel the chord changes. And they’re great chord changes. Robin was Amy Winehouse’s guitarist (see the wonderful Other Voices performance in Dingle) and tonight he’s partnering the sultry voice of Verity Guthrie. He loops his rhythm part so he can solo over it, pulls out songs from his depthless folder and gets Verity to find the words on her iPhone, and generally plays a blinder. We have to leave before they finish, so I don’t get the chance to request Tom Waits’ Old Boyfriends, a number they would kill. Next time.Robin

Five Things Extra! Blake Mills at Bush Hall

BM

First thing I wanna say: Alabama Shakes are in good hands. The producer of their second album, due soon, is on stage at Bush Hall tonight and is, second song in, playing Joe Tex’s “I’ll Never Do You Wrong” up a storm, his unfettered guitar slashing out a solo that is terrifyingly “backwoodsy”. He isn’t going to lose the Shakes spontaneity, that’s for sure. His Coodercaster-style guitar has a pickup that sounds like a swarm of bees, apposite considering Joe’s wonderful lyrics for that song (“And if I ever make you cry/Baby, I hope a fly alight on my pie/I hope a bee sting me over my eye”), but his syncopated style puts me most in mind of Lowell George, another great songwriter/guitarist with an unusually broad musical worldview. Seated for the whole gig, Mills would often take delight in a particular phrase and caress it again and again, smiling to himself all the while, especially when leading the band to the brink of a canyon of noise, to only let it all fall away, opening up a cavernous gap filled only by the sound of reverb throbbing its way into the distance…

At various points you could say Manuel Galban or Les Paul, or, I don’t know, Dick Dale, Chet Atkins, Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson. I’m not trying to pigeonhole, just trying to get a little of the flavour of someone who – combining great taste with an experimentalist’s bravado – takes the audience (which tonight includes Don Was and Marcus Mumford) on a sonic tour of all the places a guitar can go. Some songs sound beamed in from the mazy dreamscape of an American midnight, where you hear the gaps between the radio stations and the signal comes and goes. Others (the “Who Do You Love” riff, bludgeoned – thrillingly – for about six minutes) show that taking the volume control down to one doesn’t negate his love of turning it up to 11. Oh, and I’ve never seen a performer hit his guitar as much as Mills, either thumping the upper bout or wrenching the body back from the neck for a little improvised tremolo.

With a fine rhythm section of Stuart Johnson, on a kit that includes an enormous Marching Bass Drum and – I think – no hi-hat, and Sebastian Steinberg on deep, deep bass, with Tyler Chester on vintage keys (Chamberlin, Mellotron and Wurlitzer) the music could flip between a swampy ZZ Top boogie and a wistful Randy Newman vibe with ease. The switches in tone  were jagged and dramatic, but they always made sense. Fiona Apple joined in for a suitably gothic/gospel version of Conway Twitty and Jack Nance’s “It’s Only Make Believe” and a couple of the songs that she sings on Mills’ new album, Heigh Ho. After an audience meltdown brought them back for an encore, we were treated to an extraordinary cover of Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night” that was part-Elvis, part-Twin Peaks (it owed a lot to Chester’s fifties sci-fi soundtrack organ). In a burnished croon, head flung back and eyes closed, Blake Mills sang it to the rafters, and then soloed with a hushed, dampened series of semi-atonal Les Paul phrases. I realised that for most of the gig I had been leaning forward, not to watch his fingers, but because the music somehow demanded it.

The are some good videos online, but nothing really replaces sitting twenty yards from his amplifiers. Fretboard Journal has a fascinating hour-long interview here.

Five Things, Wednesday 8th October

From an unsparing – but excellent – profile of Willie Nelson at 81 in Rolling Stone, written by Patrick Doyle
“We walk across the driveway to what Nelson calls Django’s, a small log cabin where he spends most of his time. A baseball bat sits by the door; Al Jazeera plays with the volume off on the flatscreen, while a liberal talk-radio show blares in the back of the room. There are shelves of books – books about the history of the Middle East, a book of sketches by Julian Schnabel and a Django Reinhardt songbook. Reinhardt has long been Nelson’s favourite guitarist; he has been taking lessons lately, learning some of the jazz great’s techniques from a teacher in Maui.”

From Michael Parkinson’s biography, picked up at my in-laws
“Yehudi Menuhin had been booked to appear and the researcher reported that, while visiting him, she saw an album by Stéphane Grappelli on his desk. She enquired if he was a fan and Menuhin said he had been sent the album but was not aware of Grappelli’s work. We called Stéphane, who was working in a club in Paris, and asked if he would appear on the show with Menuhin. He was uncertain. “He is a maestro. I am a humble fiddle player,” he said. We convinced him and he flew in to meet Menuhin who, by this time, had listened to Grappelli’s album and was insisting that if they played together they must first rehearse at his house. Stéphane arrived, straight from his stint in the nightclub, and was whisked off to meet Menuhin. He was very nervous. He returned three hours later, wreathed in smiles. we asked him how the rehearsal had been. Stéphane said, “How did it go? I tell you. Five bars into Lady Be Good, who is the maestro?” Menuhin was in awe of Grappelli’s effortless improvising, something he found as impossible to achieve as it would have been for Stéphane to play the Brahms Violin Concerto. It is hard to imagine two more diverse personalities – Menuhin, an infant prodigy, a protected species from childhood; Stéphane, a child of smoke-filled rooms who never had a formal lesson in his life and created, along with Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club, a sound as enchanting and fresh as any in all of jazz.”

My one meeting with Monsieur Grappelli was when Roger Horton, owner of the 100 Club, asked me to photograph him, in order to have his portrait on the walls of the club. Barely out of art school, I had spent a year or so photographing musicians at the Jazz Centre Society in Seven Dials Community Centre on Shelton Street, Covent Garden. It was good practice – there was almost no light and no space, so you really had to work hard to get anything worthwhile. I had no real knowledge of the music, mostly at the more experimental end of the jazz spectrum, but it was always interesting. I snapped Mongezi Feza, Peter Ind, Tony Coe and Bobby Wellins with various degrees of success. I remember squeezing into a tiny space at Louis Stewart’s feet and shooting almost vertically upwards. Louis is a great jazz guitarist from Ireland, who was also in Grappelli’s band that night, along with the equally gifted Martin Simpson. At the point Roger asked me I was competent, but no more, and nervous to boot. I think that Roger asked me to shoot with a flash, because I never would have otherwise used it… Stéphane was polite, but tired, and I felt awful making them pose. The performance, however was terrific. Here’s the contact sheet. Roger chose frame 3, I chose the sans-flash frame 8.

SG

From The Financial Express
Sian sends me this: Scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into research articles: Five Swedish scientists who have been quoting Bob Dylan lyrics in research articles for the last 17 years are running a wager on who can squeeze in most of the American singer’s songs in their articles. The game started 17 years ago when two Professors from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, John Jundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, wrote a piece about gas passing through intestines, with the title Nitric Oxide and inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind. “We both really liked Bob Dylan and we thought the quotes really fitted nicely with what we were trying to achieve with the title”, Weitzberg said. “We’re not talking about scientific papers – we could have got in trouble for that – but rather articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that”. A few years later a librarian spotted an article written by two other medical professors working at the same university titled Blood on the tracks: a simple twist of fate. The librarian connected the foursome. Junberg and Weitzberg then invited their colleagues to take the idea to the next level and they started competing to see who could get the most Bob Dylan lyrics into their articles before retirement. The winner will get lunch in a restaurant in Solna, north of Stockholm.

From Small Acorns
After another great Tuesday night at the Harrison to watch the Horseless Headmen, Grahame Painting’s terrific improv project, Marcel thinks he recognises trombonist Paul Taylor from seeing the Yiddish Twist Orchestra recently. One innocent enquiry leads to a fascinating conversation, which takes in the upcoming Orchestra CD – two years after its recording, the stars have finally aligned – Brass bands, the UK Cuban music scene, trombone poetry (Paul’s invention), the Three Mustaphas Three, Don Ellis, the Mingus Big Band and the nature of music. Marcel and I agreed that it was as enjoyable as the gig.

From Rock’s Backpages, and the Other Side
A recording made by John Pidgeon of an extraordinary interview he did with Michael Jackson, through the medium of his 13-year-old sister Janet, has been animated by Blank on Blank, in their Famous Names, Lost Interviews series. It was recorded in LA in January 1980 as Off The Wall was being released.

From John’s introduction: “One thing,” she said, as if it was an insignificance she had overlooked and just remembered, “you don’t mind if his sister sits in on the interview, do you?”
“Of course not, Shirley,” I assured her with a smile.
“What’s her name?”
“Janet.”
“Janet,” I repeated.
“Oh, and one more thing…” Shirley paused, to ensure she had my attention. Anticipating another trivial afterthought, I wasn’t ready for the bomb Shirley was about to drop.
“If you could direct your questions to Janet, she’ll put them to Michael.”

Michael Jackson: “I hate labels because it should be just music. I don’t see anything wrong with disco. You can’t dance to [imitates guitar thrashing sound] or… Call it disco. Call it anything. It’s music. Would you call “She’s Out of My Life” disco? “Off The Wall”, “Rock With You”… I don’t know. It’s music to me. It’s like you hear a bird chirping. You don’t say: “That’s a bluejay. This one is a crow.” It’s a beautiful sound. That’s all that counts. Listen to it. You watch them soar in the skies. It’s just beautiful.”

Extra! Mike Disfarmer and Birney Imes
If you’re interested in photography of the American South, check out this fascinating post by Gerry Corden, at That’s How The Light Gets In. Nominally about the new Lucinda Williams CD, it mutates into a fascinating look at photography, music and mutual inspiration.
“Disfarmer is an unusual name – because Mike made it up, changing his name to indicate a rift with both his kin and his agrarian surroundings. He was born Michael Meyer in 1884 and legally changed his name to Disfarmer to disassociate himself from the farming community in which he plied his trade and from his own kinfolk – claiming that a tornado had accidentally blown him onto the Meyer family farm as a baby.”

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 Johnson, 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 much earlier, 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 byEuniceChoi.

“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

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