Friday, May 30th

More Apologies. Helping our friend Bob with an exhibition of his work* crowded writing about music out of my brain for a couple of weeks. It’s slowly coming back…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK (FROM THE WEB)

Spotnicks

The Spotnicks. Crazy, dad. I had never heard of The Spotnicks, but according to Wikipedia, “they are an instrumental rock group from Sweden, who were formed in 1961. Together with the Shadows and the Ventures they are counted as one of the most famous instrumental bands during the 1960s. They were famous for wearing “space suit” costumes on stage, and for their innovative electronic guitar sound. They have since released 42 albums, selling more than 18 million records, and still tour.” Good God, 18 million?

In search of their “innovative sound”, I click more links and find this excellent description, by main man Bo Winberg (and I think Google Translate may be to blame for some of this). “At first I want to put the myth of Fender guitars in common – and particulary the Stratocaster – to death; According to some so called experts are all Fenders, made later than 1965, only rubbish. I do not agree! Once I had a Strata, built in 1961, and that one was really bad. No matter if I changes the strings, it was totally dead. I sold it to a Mexican musician. (!?)

“In my opinion there are only two types of guitars – good and bad ones – and it has nothing to do with year of production or which manufacture it comes from. I am playing on a Fender Stratocaster, made in 1965, which I bought in Hollywood, California, USA. The original color was Sunburst but I didn’t like it so I burnt it off and replaced it with ten layers of varnish. I growed out from galoping echomachines like Binson – squeak and sway – Echolette and Dynachord – distorsion and noice – and all trouble with tape breaks etc. Today I have an echo and delay made by Alesis with 99 different programs. I only use three of them but I would not tell the settings…” Good man, Bo. You have to keep some secrets in this world…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK (FROM REAL LIFE)
Busking below the bit on the South Bank where the ITV studios are, on a balmy, sunny evening, playing “When The Saints…” which seemed perfect. Always a fan of the accordion/trumpet combo, and not everyday you see someone playing a drum in a bag.

Busking

WRITING ABOUT MUSIC THAT I LIKED THIS WEEK (OR SO)…
Sophie Heawood, “I’ve fallen out of love with music”, Guardian Weekend:
“If feelings are a dimmer switch, I turned mine down to low. The victim was music, though for a long time I thought this was because of compressed MP3s on laptops not sounding like lovely old record players. There is some truth in that, but it turns out that music doesn’t work on a hardened heart. A month ago, a friend said he was giving away his functional, unbeautiful 1980s piano, and that it would need tuning, and did anybody want it? I found myself ordering a van the next day, and then finding a teacher. A Frenchman who smells of cigarettes and who plays me Ray Charles and then Handel and tells me how they come from the same place, the same chords. He explained, in my second lesson, that if you play a C and the G above it together, you have created a fifth, and that into that fifth you then bring the note halfway between them – E! – and “Aaaah, the sweetness of this E”, he says. And we sit there in the quiet, listening to it. It is startling. I have reduced music to one note, finally, and I realise that this is the way back in.”

GAMUT (NOT GAMUT)
Zaha Hadid, interviewed in Deluxe (the new name for ES Magazine – just how degraded the idea of Luxury or Deluxury has become can be measured by this): “My musical taste runs the gamut from Sam Smith to Chris Brown to Adam Levine. It’s the definition of eclectic”. No, it isn’t. It doesn’t run the gamut [a complete range or extent] either…

DISTORSION AND NOICE (THANKS, BO)
Inspired by Bob’s photos of a neglected and rusting bridge in Paddington, I went and recorded the traffic, and then made five pieces of music (loosely) featuring said traffic overlaid with all manner of nonsense. It’s on Soundcloud if you feel the desire to check it out. In contrast to Bo, I would tell the settings… Mexican-made repro ’57 Strat, sunburst (not burned off and replaced with 10 layers of varnish), run through a Blackstone Mosfet Overdrive (no, me neither), and played with an e-bow (sometimes).

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
In honour of B.B., a tape given to us by Bob Wray in Muscle Shoals. It’s from the Love Me Tender sessions, the Nashville album that B.B. himself named as one of his favourites. Throughout, Larry Londin, the late, great Nashville drummer, had asked B.B. to play “The Thrill is Gone”, and each time the answer was no. On the last day of the sessions, B.B. had gone around thanking everyone, handing out keyrings and pens emblazoned with his logo. When he got to Larry, he picked up his guitar and launched into Larry’s request. Everyone scrambled to join in, the engineer rolled tape and they played the hell out of it. Londin does some wonderful rolls and cymbal work, but the best comes at the end when the song stumbles to a close and Larry bangs his sticks together, shouting “B.B., B.B., B.B. King, Yeah!” over and over as B.B. dissolves laughing.

* The catalogue can be found here.

One Thing I Saw This Week, post-May 7th

Strapping Cameron speeches onto the chassis of Eminem’s great “Lose Yourself” – casetteboy did this in October last year. You may have already seen it, but it’s sadly more relevant than ever.

Ten Things! Thursday, 7th May

Yes, for one week (or is that two?) only, owing to the non-appearance of Five Things last week, Ten Things Seen and Heard!

ONE: LOOKING FORWARDS
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Django and Jimmie. Now that sounds interesting – a tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers. Apparently, it contains a sublime interpretation Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”.

TWO: LOOKING BACKWARDS
After Leslie leaves the room, Grace steps in… according to Nishat Baig at The Source, “RCA’s newest singer Grace has joined forces with G-Eazy and Quincy Jones to recreate Lesley Gore’s hit song “You Don’t Own Me.” The original track, released in 1963, was considered one of the first women’s empowerment anthems. Quincy Jones was the original producer, and co-produced the new version as a way to pay homage to Gore before her passing. The 17-year-old singer/songwriter, Grace, is taking the pop-soul world by storm and has been influenced by singers like Smokey Robinson to Janis Joplin, and Shirley Bassey to Amy Winehouse.” Well, we’ve never heard that before, have we? However, to be fair, it’s a pretty fly version.

THREE: I HAD NO IDEA…

Bill
That Citroën made a Citroën Maserati, but they did, and Bill Wyman bought one. The Guardian reported: “The minute I saw the Maserati, I thought – this is it! It looked so beautiful. They showed me that incredible engine and the double headlights…” Wyman lived in Vence in the South of France between 1971 and 1982: “I’d drive it to Keith Richards’ place in Cap Ferrat, to record Exile on Main Street and I’d drive to Paris and back, an eight-hour journey each way.” Wyman recalled zipping over in his Maserati to see his new circle of friends on the Cote d’Azur, people such as the artists Marc Chagall and César and the writer James Baldwin. He also drove the car twice to the Montreux jazz festival where he played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.”

FOUR: NEWS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE STATE DINNER!
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe: “The partnership between Japan and the United States is simply unparalleled in building the future of Asia and the world. I know everyone here knows that famous song by Diana Ross, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The song goes, “Ain’t no mountain high enough; ain’t no valley low enough, to keep me from you.” (Laughter.) The relationship of Japan and the United States is just like this. (Laughter and applause.)”

FIVE: THANK YOU, SAINSBURYS
For reminding me of Al Green’s sublime Belle album, from which some adland baby-boomer (or, possibly, Hoxton hipster) had extracted “Feels Like Summer”, one of its highlights, to soundtrack their latest advert. It has a simple, funky groove that’s so damned relaxed. After the wonderful thickness of Willie Mitchell productions, Al produced this himself and it has a very different sound – a little more acoustic, a touch more diffuse and airy – but great in its own way. Cut on the cusp of the secular and gospel parts of his career it is both nostalgic and urgent, often in the same song. In “Belle”, which rides on the back of Al’s choppy acoustic strumming, he talks to a woman about his religious feelings – “Belle, the Lord and I been friends for a mighty long time/Belle, leaving him has never really crossed my mind” and “Belle, oh It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need…” The push and pull of his calling runs through all its tracks. Check out, too, the lovely “Dream”, a seven minute meditation with Green and James Bass on lead guitars, that’s reminiscent of the kind of songs Bobby Womack was writing on the Poet albums. It’s now firmly on the Summer Playlist – I’d recommend you add it to yours forthwith.

SIX: PRECIOUS

lowell

After last week’s Lowell George DVD, found on YouTube – more of the Bedbugs!

SEVEN: BOTH GEOFF MULDAUR AND HIS AUDIENCE ARE HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME
I’ll write more about this gig in the upstairs room of a pub in Islington, I think, but suffice it to say that it was a total treat [and thanks to Tim for spotting it]. Geoff was introduced by his childhood friend Joe Boyd, who produced several of his albums including the fantastic (and expensive – check out the soul sessionmen credits, the cream-of-the-crop jazzmen and, uh, the Hollywood Orchestra) Geoff Muldaur is having a Wonderful Time. The gig was a masterclass in tale-telling and hypnotic playing. He’s a precise, fastidious guitar player, often in open tuning, and he picks with the lucidity and precision of someone like James Taylor or Richard Thompson – you know, those guitarists whose fingers glide over the strings making complex spiderweb shapes while beautiful melodies issue forth. The thumbpicked rhythm didn’t waver, and his genius for arranging made each song come alive, whether its roots were in the twenties, sixties or nineties. The name-checks ranged from Philippé Wynne of the Spinners – “People were conceived to this guy and nobody knows his name. One of our greatest singers” – to McKinneys Cotton Pickers, via Bobby Charles (“Small Town Talk” and “See You Later Alligator” among many others) and Stravinsky – a testament to Geoff’s great taste.

EIGHT: SYNCHRONICITY
Oddly, I’d been listening to Phillippé Wynne because of Richard Williams’ great post on Boz Scaggs covering, in Richard’s view, a song he shouldn’t have. Read the description of its recording, listen to Wynne sing (especially at the fade) and you’ll be convinced of the truth of both Richard’s and Geoff’s words.

NINE: PLEASE, MRS GLASER…
With the memories of Barney’s new book on Woodstock still circling my mind (Small Town Talk is the story of what happened after Albert and Sally Grossman first came to Woodstock and then, on the advice of their friends Milton and Shirley Glaser, bought an estate that had belonged to comic-strip illustrator John Striebel.” – really, Shirley Glaser is pretty much responsible for the whole Woodstock scene), I walked into a movie poster shop in Marylebone and saw something I’d once tried really hard to find in the early days of the internet, and had then forgotten about: an original of design giant Milton Glaser’s poster, which was included in the sleeve of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album in 1967. Apparently, some money changed hands and I seem to be the proud owner.

Bobposter

TEN: ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
A track from Sam Charters’ Folkways LP, Sounds of London. Looking for soundtracks to play at a photography show that we’re helping to organise, we’ve compiled playlists, recorded traffic, made music and disputed the various qualities of John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges and Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge. Sam’s London record, recorded in 1960, has some great moments – Speakers Corner, a pub in Shoreditch, Covent Garden Market at dawn, and this, a marching band recorded from our front room window in Charing Cross Road.

Thursday, April 23rd

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Marina Hyde in the Guardian, attempting to follow Cameron and Boris as they gladhand the (carefully controlled) public: “Anyway, the day was run not so much on a need-to-know basis as a we’ll-decide-who-needs-to-know basis. I don’t want to overegg this remoteness problem, but we did start the day in a facility that describes itself as “the UK’s premier supplier of log cabins”. By Friday we’ll be at the UK’s premier supplier of panic rooms. Cameron has toured so many empty business parks and factories now that he must be totally dislocated, like some infinitely duller version of an arena rock star whose manager has to slap him awake and tell him he’s in Minneapolis.”

RECOMMENDED ONE
Lowell George – Feats First. I stumbled on this DVD on LoveFilm. It’s a must-see for fans of the late-lamented Lowell. Excellent contributions from Bud Scoppa, Barney Hoskyns, George Massenberg and the always interesting Van Dyke Parks, it avoids most of the Rock doc traps. Director Elliot Riddle allows contributors to talk at length, and Lowell’s life story is told with honesty and heart. Martin Kibbee, George’s songwriting partner, recalled two demos by their first band, The Factory, in 1966, with Frank Zappa at the controls. “The Loved One” was based on a movie of the same name from the book by Evelyn Waugh, which we were big fans of! And “Lightning Rod Man” was based on a short story by Herman Melville – Frank was not into all that literary stuff! We recorded at Original Sound, the first 10 track recorder in town and Frank was the most inventive guy in the studio. He tuned the piano and played it with pliers; he doubled up the backbeat with rolled up towels on a piano bench!”

It’s full of great tales – did you know George studied with Ravi Shankar? That he appeared on The Gomer Pyle show with drummer Richie Hayward, as a group called The Bedbugs? There’s a great interview where he delinates the difference between his style of slide playing and Ry Cooder’s – a lot to do with compression and a Sears & Roebuck 11/16ths spark-plug socket wrench.

Most touching are the Massenberg and Parks interviews. Here’s Van Dyke talking: “I was aware of his physical prowess and his intellect – Kant or Nietzsche, great philosophers, Socrates – all these dead white guys spoke to him with their theories about how to live a life that was instructed by principle. Both of us were left of Karl Marx and we were members of the same team, with a Trojan Horse, and we were determined to enter the music business and transform it and bring it good intent. I loved Lowell like a brother”. There follows an anecdote about a Japanese group who turned up at Sunset Sound with a suitcase filled with $100 dollar bills and a desire to be produced by Van Dyke that is just insane.

RECOMMENDED TWO
The Judge is better than I feared it would be – more hard-nosed than Hollywood usually is – and features a nice playlist of songs alongside Thomas Newman’s score: Bon Iver’s “Holocene”, “Reason to Cry” by Lucinda Williams, Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” and Gram Parson’s We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes (In The Morning)”. And the bonus (?) of Willie Nelson singing a pained version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” over the closing credits.

NOT RECOMMENDED
Later’s line-up this week had Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – yesterday’s haircuts, yesterday’s chords. To almost quote Greil Marcus, “Who buys this shit?” Followed by the Mumfords. Christ, lank hair alert! Hideous Guitary-Guitars in Turbo-Folk Explosion! It sounds like they want to be Counting Crows – nice to see their ambition stretching, eh? Did we fight the Rock Wars of the Seventies so this could happen? My desire for something fresh is at least met by Cheikh N’Digel Lô’s accordion player and his Senagalese/Fado cross, supple and fluid, with a dead-on beat.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Open Culture: “Five years ago, Kevin Ryan a 30-something music producer from Houston, Texas got a big idea. Why not take his two favourite things – Bob Dylan and Dr. Seuss, of course – and mash them up into one original creation. Hence came Dylan Hears a Who, a mock album that took seven Dr. Seuss classics and put them to the melodies and imitated voice of Mr. Dylan.” While I, as a child, preferred Richard Scarry to Dr Seuss, there is something about the language that Seuss uses that makes this a perfect match. And you can’t argue with the sentiment.

Friday, 17th April

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

DaveWedding reception, Somerset. At the Maverick Festival a few years ago there were lots of well-known names in the, uh, Americana field, but they were all left for dust by Stompin’ Dave, our pick of the weekend. A great Rev. Gary Davis-style ragtime picker, a fine frailin’ banjoist, an excellent flat-foot dancer – Dave does all these things with brio and style. To hear him play as everyone arrived back from the church was a treat.

MY FAVOURITE PIECE OF WRITING ABOUT PERCY SLEDGE THIS WEEK
Mick Brown, in The Daily Telegraph: “But if “When A Man Loves A Woman” was very much a product of its time it was also, magically, a piece of work that transcended the moment and the place in which it was made: a song that seemed to have been circling the heavens, just waiting to be called down to earth. The greatest pop music has a magical capacity to speak to the heart, articulating the inchoate feelings that one can barely articulate oneself: This is how love feels, how love hurts. “When a man loves a woman, can’t keep his mind on nothing else…” You KNOW that’s right. From a small dusty town in northern Alabama, the song reached out to me, a love-struck teenager in South London, a textbook of all the longing I felt for the girl on the dancehall floor, whom I could never tell exactly how I felt, and never would.”

JOE BOYD ON SAM CHARTERS
From his email newsletter, kindly sent on to me by Mick Gold: “When I realized that music was still out there to be discovered and that producing records would be my life, it was, remarkably, that same Sam Charters who gave me the tip that opened the door to my professional career. In the winter of 1965, the night before leaving for Chicago (on business for my then-employer George Wein, producer of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals), I found myself sharing a table at the Kettle of Fish bar with Sam. We and the other Greenwich Village blues hounds had gathered to hear the first New York performance of the just re-discovered Son House. When in Chicago, Sam urged me not to confine myself to South Side bars in my quest for great blues, but to head to the North Side and check out a mixed-race band under the leadership of Paul Butterfield. I mentioned the tip to my friend Paul Rothchild, newly appointed head of A&R at Elektra Records. He joined me in Chicago, signed Butterfield, added (at my suggestion) Mike Bloomfield on lead guitar. Six months later I had my reward: a job opening Elektra’s London office – on my way at last!”

JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (SLIGHT RECOMMENTATION)
Why is it that biopics often run out of steam halfway through? For the first 45 minutes this is great – as flighty and diffident-seeming as its title character, nicely shot and beautifully played. Andrew Buckley is great as Chas Chandler, as is André Benjamin as Jimi, and the music score is very clever. Denied any Hendrix tracks, director John Ridley has Waddy Wachtel replicate the sound and feel of both the Curtis Knight band and the Experience, with help from Leland Sklar and Bob Glaub on bass, and Kenny Aronoff on drums. The real star of the show, though, is Imogen Poots as Linda Keith, and it’s when her character becomes less involved that the story starts to sag, losing the vivacity and energy that she brings.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
The Festival of the American South was held at the Royal Festival Hall, about 10 years ago, maybe more. One night was a songwriter’s circle hosted by Charlie Gillett, with Guy Clarke, Allen Toussaint, Vic Chestnutt, and – on this track Dan Penn, with Joe South adding inimitable Tennessee guitar. Probably unrehearsed, with some stumbling rhythm guitar, but a wonderful, wonderful vocal on a track written by Penn with Spooner Oldham and made famous by Percy Sledge.

Five Things Extra! Soho’s Record Stores

If you’re around the area, go and share your memories of any of the legion (it’s up to, unbelievably, 142 at the moment) of record stores that have graced Soho’s streets, from the Harlequin that turned into Our Price to Steve’s Sounds in the basement at Newport Court, via Collets International, Ray’s and Dobell’s. A pop-up jointly curated by Leon Parker of the British Record Store Archive and the Museum of Soho, it was put together at short notice with help from The Museum of London and is located on Berwick Street next door to Gosh! Comics. The weird thing for me was not what I’d remembered, but what I’d forgotten. They have t-shirts for sale, along with records and memorabilia, and it runs ’til Monday.

Letter from Cheapo Cheapo Records confirming availability of Caravan’s first album and Chris Spedding’s The Only Lick I know; John from the Museum of Soho with Leon; Early Dylan and ’Ree sleeves; Hands up who remembers Imhofs?

Letter from Cheapo Cheapo Records confirming availability of Caravan’s first album and Chris Spedding’s The Only Lick I Know; Tony from the Museum of Soho with Leon; Early Dylan and ’Ree sleeves; Hands up who remembers Imhofs?

Wednesday, April 8th

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan DeanBob Dylan watches Dean Martin, at home in Woodstock, Summer ’64, from a great set of photos by Douglas Gilbert. “In July of 1964, one year before his music changed from acoustic to electric, I photographed Bob Dylan for LOOK magazine. I spent time with him at his home in Woodstock, New York, in Greenwich Village, and at the Newport Folk Festival. The story was never published. After reviewing the proposed layout, the editors declared Dylan to be “too scruffy for a family magazine” and killed the story.” [Thanks, Bob G].

HOLD ON THERE A MINUTE!
Yes, we all laughed when Peter Bradshaw sent Grace of Monaco up at the Cannes Film Festival. “It is a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk. The cringe-factor is ionospherically high. A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic”. And it’s a very funny review, but having actually seen Diana, with Naomi Watts, a film he uses as an unfavorable comparison, I have to disagree about his heirarchy. Grace may be an undemanding watch, but it’s nicely shot and has a great cast of dependables (Langella, Jacobi, Parker Posey, and Kidman herself). Yes, the plot is nothing (rich people trying to keep their gilded colony afloat), but it actually looks like The Magnificent Ambersons in comparison to Diana. Maybe the music is somehow to blame – Christopher Gunning’s score sounds like Hollywood-orchestra-by-the-yard stuff, and it doesn’t suit the rather cool shooting style of the film, and, at times, drags it into near-melodrama.

CROWDFUND ONE MUSO DOCUMENTARY…
And you come across the radar of a lot of other people trying to crowdfund muso documentaries. “Hey, My name is Steve Duddy and I’m the executive producer of a brand new documentary titled Porcaro: A Band Of Brothers. The Porcaro family is one of the most prolific and iconic families in music. Jeff, Mike, Steve and Joe Porcaro helped shape pop and rock music as we know it today.” All true, but I’m just not convinced there’s a two-hour documentary in it.

HUSH NOW, DON’T EXPLAIN
For me, Billie Holiday was a singer from childhood Sunday mornings, remembered as sun-drenched and suffused with warmth. Too young to appreciate the complexity that she bought to anything she sang, there was still a sense of melancholy and yearning that was half-understood, and put away until one could fully appreciate it. You never hear any popstrels wanting to be Ella, do you? It’s always Billie. That kind of pain travels across time and distance, so the sweet-voiced singers lose out. And, hey – sad songs probably travel better than the happy ones. So, now it’s the centenary of Billie’s birth and Radio 4 have author Julia Blackburn and singer Rebecca (runner-up of the seventh series of The X Factor) Ferguson talking about her. Blackburn’s book, With Billie, was beautifully reviewed in The Guardian by filmmaker Mike Figgis, back in 2005:

“Billie was part of my life growing up on a council estate in Newcastle. My father was obsessed with her and her one-time accompanist, Teddy Wilson. There were two LPs that became central to my understanding of Billie. One was The Billie Holiday Memorial, on Verve records. In her book, Blackburn describes hearing Billie for the first time, while listening to this album. The first track is “I Cried for You” and has Johnny Hodges on alto sax introducing the song. The LP was a compilation of some of her finest tracks and ended with her devastatingly sad version of “For All We Know We May Never Meet Again”. I know every track by heart, every click and each moment where the needle would stick. Blackburn seems to have had the same experience.

When I first started collecting albums myself it was difficult to find any I could afford that my dad didn’t already own, so I would look at cheap editions of LPs. Most were not so good, but I did find one that my dad didn’t have. One of the tracks was “Fine and Mellow”, and I later learned that it was taken from a TV show called The Sound of Jazz. It is my favourite Billie track of all time and I know every note by heart. She is accompanied by Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge. Blackburn talks about this track in her book, but I would like to add a different slant. Years after first encountering the LP, I saw a documentary about Billie which included the complete TV footage of “Fine and Mellow”. It was the most profound experience to see how the music was animated: the way the musicians and Billie interacted with each other, the way she moved her head when Young was playing his solo. I’d go as far as to say it is my favourite piece of film of all time. There is no other jazz footage I am aware of that comes even close to this in describing the beauty of jazz improvisation.” Wonderful.

I also found these reminicences: “Jazz critic Nat Hentoff recalled that during rehearsals, Billie Holiday and Lester Young kept to opposite sides of the room. During the performance of “Fine and Mellow”, Hentoff recalled, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half-smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been – whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways.”

Arranger and bandleader Ray Ellis: “I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.”

On Woman’s Hour, Rebecca Ferguson does a fine version of “Don’t Explain” – she doesn’t overly over-soul [or should that be over-jazz?] and there’s a lovely grain to her voice – hear the way she sings “You are my joy… and you are my pain”. It’s remarkable to hear her speak in a quiet, almost dour Liverpool accent, then sing like this.

JUST LOVELY
This wonderful remincence of Muddy Waters by John Moore, on The Guardian’s music blog: “A couple of weeks into guitar lessons with a lovely schoolteacher called Jill, who had written a song for Rags, the Blue Peter Horse that was broadcast on BBC1, I was able to play “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” – a sad lament to a lost pooch. As I strummed it for Peter, hopefully, I felt sure it would earn his approval. It didn’t. He was polite enough, of course, but as my parents beamed with pride at their six-string wunderkind, he asked if this was really the kind of thing I wanted to play.

Come to think of it, no, I replied. Then the suburban epiphany began, and the devil’s music came to Wokingham. The man in the sharp suit, with the cigarette glowing in the side of his mouth, picked up my guitar and began to play.
“Gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born/You got a boy child comin’, gonna be a son of a gun…”

The words, and sheer brutality of the riff, almost broke me in two.

And that’s when it started, year zero: from teenybopper to bluesman in one evening. As far as I was concerned, the little dog could stay lost, all I wanted was a John the Conqueroo, and a black cat bone – which, with our own midnight black, ancient moggy, was a distinct possibility.

Hearing a 12-year-old boy with a chorister voice, growling that “He’d Just Like To Make Love To You”, was enough to make our next-door neighbour Joan cry with laughter. I went electric soon after this, and she wasn’t laughing then – and I got called much worse than Judas. My love of Muddy Waters has stood me in good stead. At secondary school, it earned me the protection of the school psychopath. He’d learned that a boy in the first year had been blowing a blues harp on Winnersh station as the downhome train came in. He loved Chicago blues, and until he was expelled for arson, I was untouchable.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED

Sharon
That Sharon Robinson, great Leonard Cohen collaborator, is not a front person; some people work best in the engine room. Coming into the front room that is west London’s Bush Hall, we’re treated to the kind of performance that requires ‘notes’ – from a musical director, promoter or friend, whoever will say: “Don’t play that song, rehearse that one some more, don’t cover the electronic keyboard with a shawl that makes it look like she’s trying to reach the dead, do away with the pre-recorded drum tracks that bring John Shuttleworth to mind and hire a percussionist instead, don’t be exposed up there while your son doesn’t really cut the mustard as accompanist, with erratic timing and lack of articulation…” The trumpet player was great, but there needed to be more sonic variation.

Also, if Leonard’s songs take up fifty percent of your set, you really need to tell illuminating anecdotes of your time working with one of music’s finest and most interesting lyricists. Something about the working relationship, with a sense of detail that will make an audience feel special. Sharon Robinson has a wonderful voice, and sings with conviction but lacks the killer instinct of the true performer. It was not unenjoyable (in fact we may have been the only people to not love it – the audience were pretty ecstatic) but it would have been so much better with a great rhythm section at an intimate club like Ronnie’s.

In a week of such nostalgia (not even mentioning Linda Grant’s lightly cringe-inducing piece on the potential passing of Joni Mitchell by, in effect, saying  “You may be saddened by Joni dying, but I will be the most saddened person ever. I will, I promise – the most saddened person in the whole of the world. She wrote my life – did I tell you how sad I’d feel?”) here’s hoping next week’s blog will be a little more forward looking.

Wednesday, 1st April

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Chris

“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”, I imagine Virginia Woolf to be singing as we chance upon the latest hoarding at Fitzroy Place, the Candy Bros high-security detention centre for the obscenely rich. It tells us that Coldplay formed at the University of London. And on the right, as I’ve pointed out before, Dylan’s illustration is accompanied by the fact that he played The King and Queen in Foley Street on his first visit to London. Fitzroy Place is, apparently, Where Creativity Lives and that fact is illuminated by said hoardings. Chris looks strangely unmoved by this knowledge.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
Searching for a release date for Alex Gibney’s documentary on Scientology, Going Clear, (it’s just premiered on HBO) I came across this. You’ll need a strong stomach to watch, and an even stronger stomach to listen, but it’s worth it for the subtitles explaining the fate of Scientology’s 1990 top tier.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
A memory of the Rolling Stones live at Hyde Park, 5 July 1969 by co-promoter Andrew King in M magazine:

“It was the week Brian Jones had drowned. They’d already sacked him a month before and were rehearsing guitarist Mick Taylor. Mick and Keith thought someone might have a pop at them that day, so there were guns around. It was the first time I’d ever seen guns in the music biz. They were very worried.
During the course of that day a million people came and went. For me, the day kicked off at three in the morning and went on very late indeed. The butterflies were such a bloody hassle! Mick announced that he was going to read a poem by Shelley on the death of Keats, which he did quite extraordinarily badly, as if he’d never heard of a comma or full stop in his life. It was obviously Marianne’s idea – she was the literary one.
When he finished, all these butterflies were supposed to fly out, representing the soul of Brian Jones. It was my job to unleash them. The butterflies were bred at a farm in the West Country [and] came up by overnight train in cardboard boxes to Paddington Station. I remember the breed had been a thing of considerable consternation with the gardeners, because they didn’t want them to affect the park’s ecosystem. We were chuffed we’d managed to find the right species of butterfly – but it wasn’t plain sailing from there. I remember being down at Paddington Station at 4.30am to collect them, peeped into one of the boxes… and they all appeared to be dead! I panicked and called the butterfly farm, who told me they were just cold and asleep, and I had to warm them up to get them to fly.
So I took them backstage, but the only heating we had were two tiny electric fires students use to heat cans of baked beans. We started stacking up these butterfly boxes on the heaters and one of them caught fire. It was a real palaver. In the end, we managed to perk them up a bit and by the time of the gig a few butterflies did fly out as they were supposed to, but an awful lot just went plonk onto the stage. I’ll always remember Mick in that tutu, looking on somewhat aghast…

A QUOTE QUITE-LIKED
Lulu in a Q&A in the Guardian Weekend: If you could go back in time, where would you go?
“To the 60s, when I was 16, at the Marquee in Soho, and Eric Clapton asked what I was doing that night. I would give him a better answer.”

OH NO, NOT THAT AGAIN…
An excellently argued piece by US Esquire’s Andy Langer about the need for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to go dark for five years. “It needs a way out in years in which Seal, Primus, and Sublime or, worse yet, Counting Crows are looking for a way in.”

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
“All I Have to Do is Dream”, Keith Richards solo piano version, recorded at Longview Farm, North Brookfield, Mass, in late May 1981. As Keith works it out – playing piano like a guitar player – he inches towards Charlie Rich territory, and it’s strangely affecting.

 

Wednesday, 25th March

Visual of the Week

Ken&Rose
The great Sister Rosetta documentary was shown again on BBC 4. Any chance to run these lovely Terry Cryer photos – taken in the Studio 51 Club on Great Newport Street in 1957, of Rosetta playing with my uncle’s band – cannot be turned down. A woman with an amazing voice, an electrifying style and great, great taste in guitars. Check out the wild solo two minutes into the film.

A fascinating snippet from Laura Barton’s Buena Vista piece in The Guardian:
[Nick] Gold and [Ry] Cooder felt a similar a sense of care and responsibility for the recordings they made. “Each morning, we played what we had recorded the day before,” Gold says. “We knew it was wonderful. When you listen to it, you’re right there.” This was partly due to the positioning of a pair of microphones high in the studio to capture the ambience of the room. “The studio [Egrem] has this one fantastic large room. It just has this lovely feel.” But when the pair took the recordings to California to be mixed, they immediately stumbled. “We weren’t hearing that special something,” says Gold. “There was a clarity missing.” They began a frantic search for a mixing desk that resembled the one used in Havana, eventually locating the same model in a Christian recording studio in Los Angeles. “And there it was – that sound back in all its clarity! Ry said, ‘It’s like someone’s wiped the windows clear.’”

Gary Katz in Conversation
An engaging Q&A with the bone-dry Brooklynite, in which his deep love of music and musicians shines across the orchestra pit at the Bloomsbury Theatre. It was organised by the London Song Company, and its founder Julian Marshall (who has worked with Mr Katz) led the questions. Lots to enjoy, but the heart of it was how much Katz loved working on these great songs with most of America’s greatest musicians a phone call away. It was interesting to note that Katz’s working relationship with Donald Fagen ended after Nightfly because of Fagen’s insistence on using Wendell, the prototype drum machine that engineer Roger Nicholls built by hand on Fagen’s command, instead of the mere humans (aka America’s finest drummers) who had done service on all the Steely Dan records up to Gaucho. One thing that resonated was how many of the great solos on Steely Dan tracks were done in one take, considering the Dan’s penchant for taking months fretting about the placing of one beat. Phil Woods on “Dr Wu”, Wayne Shorter on “Aja”, Jay Graydon on “Peg” – all one pass at the track, pack away the instrument, go home.

Perhaps the most astonishing of all was Steve Gadd’s drumming on “Aja”. Apparently, Becker and Fagen (and Katz) always talked about using him, but every time they came close, one of them would say, “I don’t really love his backbeat…” (laughter) and they wouldn’t call him. Having problems with the drum track (and extended solo) on “Aja”, Katz told us:
“Someone said, ‘Maybe this would be a good time to try Gadd’. [At this time] Steve had a distinct problem with drugs. When he came into the room he said, ‘Let me put the score up…’ It was a very long score, because of the eight minutes, so they set up a semi-circle of music stands. He said, ‘Can we just run it down so I can mark it?’ So Chuck Rainey, Victor Feldman, great musicians, ran it down, Gadd marks it. Said ‘Okay, I’m ready’. Walter and I were in the control room, Donald was outside with his back to us, doing the scratch vocal. He only played it once. The only time he played it, is what you hear (sounds of incredulity from audience). Walter says, ‘You know, we may have made a mistake about Gadd’. (laughter)

“So six months go by, as they usually do on our records, we went back to New York to mix, and we were just about finished mixing the song, and someone said, ‘You know Gadd’s down the hall working on a Michael Franks record’, and Don says, ‘Go get him, and let him hear this.’ So we go down, say we want to play him something – he was a mess… he sat in front of the console and we played it really loud, really good sound. The track is over, he goes ‘Wow… who’s playing drums?’ We just look at each other, ’cause he wasn’t kidding. I said, ‘You did, Steve’. He said, ‘I’m a motherfucker’ (audience collapses)”.

“We skipped the light fandango/Turned cartwheels ’cross the floor…”
Mick Gold comments on my mention of the King Curtis album “Live At The Fillmore West”. “I was watching Withnail & I for the 987th time late night on TV and was suddenly seized by curiosity. What was the opening piece of music which plays over shots of Paul McGann’s horrified face contemplating the squalor of their flat in Camden Town, 1969? A bit of a search revealed it was King Curtis performing “A Whiter Shade of Pale” from the album you mentioned. What does that honking full-bodied tenor sax solo over washes of organ fills have to do with the domestic chaos and anguish we’re seeing? It’s totally counter-intuitive yet it works…”

You are so right, Mick. Funnily enough I too had caught 15 minutes of W&I recently, and had to force myself not to watch it all (it’s one of those films that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it and wherever into the film you come in, it’s almost impossible not to continue to the end, or 2am, whichever comes first). So I re-bought it, as my copy is in storage. It’s such a great record. There’s something about the balance of the players. You can hear everything that everyone is doing – each one’s frequency seems to be perfectly sonically placed. Curtis is up high on sax, higher when he puts his soprano through a wah-wah pedal, Cornell Dupree is sliding delta just below him (his performance is a fantastic all-encompassing lesson in soul guitar by itself), the Memphis horns add glorious punctuation, Billy Preston is between them and the Rhythm Section, sometimes soaring up, sometimes grinding down, with Jerry Jemmott on the bass at the base, and Bernard Purdie is operating in some Purdie-world, all over everything without stepping on anyone’s toes. It’s such a fantastic recording. (Oh, and by the by, if you’ve never seen this short sample of Purdie doing a 16th note shuffle, it’s priceless: “Whoa! I like it very much!”)

This Week’s Homework
…consists of Courtney Barnett (courtesy of Oscar). Great so far – imagine if Patty Donahue of The Waitresses was born in Australia, grew up and married Reg Presley of The Troggs, with Aimee Mann as the maid of honour and Nirvana, fronted by Elvis Costello, as the wedding band. Great lyrics and titles, too, often ripped from regular life – “Don’t Apply Compression Gently”, “Pedestrian at Best”,“Avant Gardener” and “History Eraser” (for all you Photoshoppers out there). Great to hear an Aussie accent in song. Every Record Tells A Story thinks you should hear this album…

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly (courtesy of Richard). I’m just getting to grips with this and I’m already excited. It demands listening to, a complex sonic experience crammed with ideas, asides and seventies jazz samples. The refrain “I remember you was conflicted/mis-using your influence” runs through it like a river. Report next week.

Collins

And with a final word from Stephen Collins in his wonderful Guardian strip, I’m off to watch the Godmother of Rock ’n’ Roll again…


A Note
My oldest, dearest friend died last week. I’ve known Sam Charters since I was four, and he, along with his wife Ann, left a musical impression on my life that isn’t even quantifiable. I’m not sure that I can find what I want to say about him yet, so I’ll leave it for a while, but I couldn’t let the week go by with no mention of its importance to me. I’m happy that I got to Stockholm in January so that we could sit and talk and drink Martinis – and listen to James Cleveland and Willie Nelson, one more time.

Wednesday, 18th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan Batman

SOMETHING WAS DELIVERED
Following a week where I wrote nothing about Dylan, it’s time for some more! Thanks to Mick Gold for this fine accompanying graphic… Barney sends me a copy of his soon-to-be-published epic on Woodstock, Small Town Talk: Wild Times & Bad Blood in Woodstock, 1963-1986, and a link to a site, PopSpotsNYC. Now here’s what the internet was invented for. A madly obsessive geographical quest to find the locations of famous rock photographs. Tell me what’s not to love about this. With a thoroughness matching a JFK assassination researcher with a  first-gen copy of the Zapruder film, Bob Egan, pop-culture detective, heads out with his camera, or peruses Google Street View and, with the aid of Photoshop, removes the mystery from the history. I was inspired by his tracking of Jim Marshall’s shoot of Dylan, Suze, Terry Thai & Dave Van Ronk in Greenwich Village (the famous tyre-rolling shot comes from this morning) to order a copy of Proof, a book of Jim Marshall’s contact sheets.

Dylanwalk

The great detectiveness that pinpoints the famous Elliot Landy “civil war” shot of The Band is just mind-boggling. Way to go, Bob!

Band

A COUPLE MORE BOB THINGS
1) A strange advert using Wigwam, from Self Portrait, as its soundtrack. Clash of Clans? I wonder which creative thought of that? It actually – strangely – kind of works.
2) A great article in The New York Review of Books by Dan Chiasson, reviewing both a date on the Never Ending Tour, at the Beacon Theatre in New York, and Christopher Ricks’ new $299 book, The Lyrics: Bob Dylan. “The opening verses of “Tangled Up in Blue” are among the most famous in Bob Dylan’s repertoire. Readers who know them will find themselves singing along: “Early one morning the sun was shining, I was laying in bed/Wondering if she’d changed at all, If her hair was still red.” Pronouns matter in Dylan, especially his “I” and “you,” whose limitless friction, wearing each other away year after year, Dylan’s songs have often so beautifully expressed. But there’s no “you” in “Tangled Up in Blue,” which is, in a way, the point: the unnamed “she” is lost, out of earshot, beyond conjuring, a creature who haunts Dylan’s dreams.

CRITICAL MISS
Grace Dent reviews restaurant West Thirty Six in ES Magazine: “Gentrification will eventually chase off all the cool that the initial gentrifiers were in search of. I’d get more het up about this, except records show that Londoners have been moaning about ‘bloody other people coming to spoil things’ since around 1611. West Thirty Six is a rambling great restaurant serving bistro fare – grill, burgers, cocktails – over many floors, led by chef Rex Newmark. Rex’s Twitter bio reads: Rex Newmark the Rock & Roll chef. Celebrity Executive Chef of Beach Blanket Babylon & West Thirty Six. Now call me a stick in the mud, but I don’t particularly want my chefs to be rock’n’roll. I’ve never looked once at Bobby Gillespie staggering around a stage sweating and thought, ‘Gosh, I bet he can knock up a delicate smoked haddock soufflé.’ Heading up a new restaurant – new menus, staff, clientele, dealing with snags and curveballs – requires ball-breaking, round-the-clock devotion to the dance of hospitality for months. It’s the opposite of rock’n’roll. It’s like setting off on tour with the Bolshoi Ballet… [after a dismal experience she concludes…] Maddeningly, our choice of roasted cauliflower turned out to be a small plate featuring two florets of cauliflower, some fresh pomegranate seeds and an overpowering taste of chopped celery – a testament to GCSE Home Economics – for the bargain price of £8.50. That’s the problem with being a rock’n’roll chef. You set out to be Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction era; you end up with food that tastes like it was cooked, circa 2003, by Pete Doherty.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
I’ve been listening to lots of instrumentals lately, inspired by rediscovering the wonderfully vivid King Curtis Live at Fillmore West. This led to making an instrumental playlist. Here’s one of the quieter songs on it – “On October 4, in the wee hours after the band cut Nick Gravenites’ “Buried Alive In The Blues”, Janis injected some heroin in her room at the Landmark Hotel. Combined with the cocktails she’d sipped earlier, the lethal combination killed the 27-year-old singer. Her stricken band returned to the studio a few days later to finish the recordings they’d started, while there started improvising a new song., the elegiac “Pearl”. Of the track, [reissue producer] Bob Irwin says, “You could just feel on the tape the unbelievably somber and sad mood when the guys started playing this pretty ballad. Every tape before that was lively and bubbly. This is an edited version of a jam that goes on for 12 to 14 minutes.” Though the heartbreaking song was not issued on the original album, “the band named that track Pearl” says Irwin, “and it was assigned a matrix number and held as a recording”. Of course, Pearl was the Full Tilt Boogie Band’s nickname for Janis. Naturally it became the album title as well.” – from Holly George-Warren’s excellent liner notes to The Pearl Sessions.

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