Tuesday, December 1st


Johnny Rivers, LA Reggae. I had this record back in the seventies, bought for its sleeve concept, and his version of version of Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,”. I found it recently in the excellent Wood Street market in Walthamstow. The vinyl inside is still interesting, and as cover records go, still sounds good. The Wrecking Crew provide the backing, with Jimmy Webb on piano, and the guitars of Dean Parks and Larry Carlton are both to the fore, guitar fans. Rivers, originally from Louisiana, had an LA-based career playing mostly covers of r ’n’b and pop songs. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, “Rivers is one of a small number of performers including Mariah Carey, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd (from 1975’s Wish You Were Here onward), Queen, Genesis (though under the members’ individual names and/or the pseudonym Gelring Limited) and Neil Diamond, who have their names as the copyright owner on their recordings (most records have the recording company as the named owner of the recording).” Anyway, back to the sleeve… as a graphic tool, the Kodachrome 35mm slide has been a long-time favourite of designers, and was totally suited to the age of the 12-inch record, and is beautifully done here – try doing that with a CD or download (I know, I know, please ignore me, all under 35s reading this).

“Glass Harmonica refers to any instrument played by rubbing glass or crystal goblets or bowls. When Benjamin Franklin (yes, that Benjamin Franklin) invented a mechanical version in 1761, he called it the armonica, based on the Italian word armonia, which means “harmony”. The unrelated free-reed wind instrument aeolina, today called the “harmonica”, was not invented until 1821, sixty years later.” So – watch this and weep. “Hallelujah” played on a glass harmonica. Amazing. And to top it all off – at one point, terrifyingly, he jogs the whole table to get a vibrato effect.

I dropped in for one event at this celebration of Punk Rock at St Martin’s, to see Clinton Heylin and John Ingham talk about punk year zero, art schools and DIY with Keith Levene of PIL. What I took away from this was that no two people remember any thing or any event the same way, and this happened to fuel the most amusing bits of the chat, Levene being ever so slightly catty about Clinton’s misreading of the name of Joe Strummer’s first band, the 101ers (Clinton calling them theonehundredandone-ers). I don’t even trust my memories of the period, although my pal Mark has a much better recall of the time in 1976 when the Pistols played their third gig (was it the third? Maybe) at our art school refectory. I recall Johnny Rotten looking like a young Donald Sutherland, but Mark remembers much more pertinent details – the fact that some people got it, like our friend Jill Tipping, and some of us didn’t. As Mark said, if you didn’t get it, it was terrible – to feel too old at twenty one!

Has to be this find, in a great store filled with football and music memorabilia, again in Walthamstow’s Wood Street Antiques City – Lillian Roxon’s Rock Encyclopedia, one of the great music books. I was always a huge admirer of the pithy music and gig reviews in the New Yorker, brilliant at distilling musicians’ USP’s down to a few sentences. The Roxon book is like that, smart and snappy. It’s the first edition (it was later updated and partly re-written by other hands). As my research tool of choice, Wikepedia, says, “her articles about the burgeoning rock scene are now credited as being foundation stones of serious rock writing, and she has since been described by other leading critics as “the mother of rock”. She was friendly with many leading music stars but rarely became personally involved. Although she looked young enough to mix easily with the rock crowd, she was at least ten years older than most of the musicians she wrote about. Unusually for the time, she did not smoke or take drugs and only rarely drank alcohol. These factors, together with her renowned wit, combined to give her writing a degree of ironic detachment that influenced many younger rock writers.”


Anywhere you drop into the book is rewarded with gems, like this.
“Scott McKenzie/He emerged at just the right moment (summer 1967) with his song warning people that if they were coming to San Francisco they would have to be sure to wear a flower in their hair. A long-time friend of Papa John Phillips, he had almost become a Papa, but he didn’t, and the solo albums that followed San Francisco did not do very well. The trouble was he was so closely associated through the song with flower power that it hurt his other singles on other subjects. Besides, a lot of people did go to San Francisco wearing flowers in their hair and it didn’t do them a bit of good. They still haven’t forgiven Scott McKenzie”.

Well. I really don’t know where to start. In the beginning, it was Laura Barton who tipped the world (my world, anyway) to the existence of a soulful and raw combo from Athens, Alabama (not Georgia). Their singer, Brittany Howard, a former fry cook and postal worker, had an astonishingly fearless vocal approach and the band avoided a revivalist tag by taking the sounds of the 60s by the scruff of the neck and beating them breathless on the banks of the Tennessee River. Anyway, you know all this. Jordi and I saw them a couple of years back when the hipster chatter attempted, but failed, to ruin the experience.

Having felt a little ho-hum about the new album, and having bought the tickets about nine months ago, I’m not sure how much I was looking forward to the show. Jordi and I decided to skip the support, and the Japanese restaurant we were in felt very warm and comfortable, but as soon as we darkened the doors of the Academy ambivalence disappeared. The one-woman revival show that is Howard enveloped the hall from the first note. Underpinned by her great rhythm playing, the band – added to by an extra keyboardist and three backup vocalists – followed in her slipstream. There are no passengers here, but they have to fight to keep up. Her guitar playing is all grown up and now she takes most of the leads, throttling the neck of her blue pearl three-pickup SG as if her life depended on it. It’s become as important to her as the piano is to Aretha, and the way she controls the ebb and the flow, the tension and release, and the whole quiet/loud/quiet thing is something to behold.

The spirits of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Otis hovered nearby, and this may well be the closest one can now come to seeing any of the great preaching singers who were born in gospel but jumped into r ’n’ b. The individual songs all became part of one hysterical (in a good way) continuum, and I couldn’t tell you what they played, but I could tell you how it felt.

It was the week after the Paris attacks, and the band seemed grateful that people had even turned up to see them. Maybe that added an extra looseness, or a release of relief, to their performance. Everything from the albums were definitively played, and the way the backing singers were worked into the show was clever – sometimes the male vocalist would be the only one on stage, duetting around Howard, other times he’d retreat and the two female voices would punch out the choruses. Towards the end they all surged together like a choir, creating a beautiful gauzy veil with Howard leading them in spirals to the rafters.

It was genuinely thrilling to watch someone push against the limits of both their instrument and the genre of music that they’re working in – Brittany Howard seems engaged in an experiment to find out where she can take that extraordinary voice, and how the music will sound when she gets there. We were just lucky to be along for the ride.

Wednesday, 25th November

IMAGE OF THE WEEKjanis.jpgPolice mugshot of Janis Joplin. The Smoking Gun: “Janis Joplin was arrested in November 1969 in Florida and charged with disorderly conduct after yelling obscenities at police officers during a Tampa concert. Charges were later dropped after it was ruled that the singer’s actions were an exercise of free speech.

Who wants another Christmas album, eh? You’re right – no-one. And just walking around in any shop subjects you to the unwelcome “All I Want for Christmas” (and occasionally, on good days something as wonderful as The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping” – which has just been covered by Kylie, I hear). However, there’s a cracker from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, called “It’s a Holiday Soul Party”. Standouts are a great instrumental “God Rest Ye Merry Gents” – if you liked their side project The Menahan Street Band, you’ll dig this – and my favourite, “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”. “When I was a child I used to wonder/How Santa put my toys under the tree/I said, “Momma can you tell me how this can be?/When there ain’t no chimneys in the projects”.

News in from BigO: Jarvis Cocker, British conductor Charles Hazlewood, Adrian Utley from Portishead and Will Gregory from Goldfrapp will take part in full, orchestral interpretations of the themes from Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson’s other shows. The concert will take place on December 1, 2015 at the Colston Hall, Bristol. The collective will be accompanied by the British Paraorchestra, the world’s only professional ensemble of disabled musicians. Hazlewood, conductor and Artistic Director of the Paraorchestra and All Star Collective said: “We will be bringing back to life all the iconic hits of composer Barry Gray, in the 50th anniversary year of the launch of Thunderbirds. Expect high octane, big band-fuelled live renditions from this hit TV series, alongside timeless classics from shows including Stingray and Captain Scarlett. We even have Gray’s original Ondes Martinot, the old-school futuristic electronic instrument, which is the sound of the Mysterons”. From Wikepedia: “The instrument’s eerie wavering notes are produced by varying the frequency of oscillation in vacuum tubes. The production of the instrument stopped in 1988, but several conservatories in France still offer tuition to students of the instrument”. I want one.

From an elegant post: “I am beginning to wonder if collecting recorded silences is a bit of an affliction but I remembered that I also own an album called The Sounds of Silence… a kind of Now That’s what I Call Quiet Volume 1. On this record there is a piece by Andy Warhol, made for the East Village Other magazine in 1966. It is called “Silence (Copyright 1932)”, and purports to have been created by Andy Warhol aged 4. But this silence, unlike the dust induced silence of Robbe-Grillet or the dust that slows and extends the passing of time moving towards silence in Stalker, has no duration. This is not just time stopped but time negated. Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his soundproofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.”

Shown on BBC 4, soon after its cinema release – catch it if you can. Jeanie Finlay does a splendid job with one of rock’s crazier stories. Jimmy Ellis was born in Orrville, Alabama, with the voice of Elvis Presley – a huge problem when Elvis was alive, as the public already had the ‘real’ thing, but when Elvis died on August 16, 1977, and Shelby Singleton had an idea of how to fill the void, involving spangly suits, a bizarre made up name (Orion Eckley Darnell) and a mask – well, you can imagine… The film ends with Orion’s version of the great Charlie Rich song “Feel Like Goin’ Home” (written in response to Peter Guralnick’s book of the same name, one of the finest music books ever published) segueing into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” which is strangely moving.

Charles used the the J word at the Albert Hall a little while ago, a couple of weeks after Bob was there. Ninety-one, and strutting around the stage like a fit seventy-year-old, he told us stories from his career, rescued “She” from the cawing clutches of Elvis Costello’s Notting Hill cover, and gave a hundred-minute show to an adoring bunch of fans. “You know, if you come to be famous, popular, doesn’t matter if you are a singer, actor or politician or anything else, but known – you know what I mean – a money-maker, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an extraordinary entourage of people trying to be helpful in any way – for example, if they found you in bed with their own wives they would pull the cover over you in case you catch cold… [they are] a parasite, until your success begins to decline. So after you have been squeezed like a lemon, the time will come for them to sell you, betray you, to crucify you. I call this song My Friend, My Judas.” What followed was a staggering cross between Barry White and John Barry, with a side order of Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid soundtrack.


In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part Two)

Berger & Wyse, The Guardian

Allen Toussaint interviewed by Marc Myers of the Wall Street Journal: “On my 14th birthday, I was playing piano and suddenly stopped. I turned my body to the left, straddled the seat and rested my elbows on my thighs. For whatever reason, I said to myself, “I’m 14 and every 10 years I’m going to check back with this 14-year old and tell him how I’m doing.” I have no idea how I came up with that, but from then on I had those chats. They don’t last long. I talk to myself as though that 14-year-old is still at the piano. I often say how surprised I am at how far I’ve come. The 14-year old at the piano just listens – but he always seems as surprised as I am.” When we finished, Allen said, “You know, that was a fascinating conversation. No one ever asked about that part of my life, and I don’t believe I’ve ever told anyone that story about those talks with myself.” A loving man. I miss Allen and his graceful touch.”

aka Roots Manuva. This is from Tim Jonze’s piece in The Guardian: If you think this means Bleeds adopts a softer, more commercial approach then you’re mistaken. The opening song is called “Hard Bastards”, and covers such school assembly-friendly topics as joblessness, drugged escapism and the brutality of “rich cxxxs”. It paints a bleak picture of British life in 2015 but it’s not, he says, informed by the country’s rising inequality. “Selfishness is everybody, from the broke to the rich,” he says. “We can be rather nasty people whether we have £200 for the day or £200m for a lifetime.”
Is that something he’s witnessed getting worse in recent years?
“Nah, it’s always been bad! What will get worse is that, as the middle class develops, they will start doing really horrible things to each other, in terms of how sophisticated they can be to vote, or defraud the taxman. The amiable middle class will become the mean, hard bastard class, trying to hang on to their assets.” It’s not inequality Smith sees as British society’s chief problem, but the education system. “We’re constantly being beaten around the heads with ‘You’ll be nothing – you’ll end up sweeping the streets, Rodney!’ Well, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t I sweep the road if I want to? A teacher should have no right to say anything like that. What’s more important – a judge or a roadsweeper? We need both! Every other person wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer – shouldn’t we just want every person on earth to be educated? Then everything else should take care of itself. So yeah, that’s what that song’s about.”

A cursory listen sounds like it’s up there with his best. If you’re interested , try “Facety 2:11”, a Four Tet production that sound like Battles, and “Hard Bastards” itself, a fantastic draggy, pumping noise with an alternately funny and desperate lyric. And no-one escapes his hawk-eyed look at the state of British society.

Olivia Lange, also in The Guardian, reviewing two new books re: Reed. I loved this paragraph: “Which brings us back to the question of whether people want to read about the life of Reed. As I trawled through hundreds of pages about pills popped and spiteful remarks made over mixing desks, his songs kept looping in my head. “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Perfect Day”, “Last Great American Whale”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, “Hello, It’s Me”. What is this music doing? Why has it lasted so long, and stayed so pristine and so weird? Because even at its most swaggering it is vulnerable, not in the sense of caring about external approval, but in the sense of laying feelings bare, of taking risks, of being imbued with a reckless, relentless spirit of experiment. “Aw, Lou,” the critic Lester Bangs once wrote, “it’s the best music ever made.” And I can’t help wishing it could have been left at that.”

“We (the Abelour whisky Distillery) have recently acquired a beautifully restored, wooden clad version believed to date back to 1947. Our Voice-O-Graph was discovered in the Houston, Texas area and is believed to have operated, recording experiences in several public places during the 1940s, including an appearance in Dallas at the State Fair of Texas.” Apparently, Jack White owns the only other operational one, so it was a chance to try it out for the time it was set up in groovy Phonica records in Poland Street. but it’s a very hit-and-miss experience, and mine was, sadly, miss. Apart from constantly bashing the machine head of my Martin travel guitar on the side of the booth (it’s a tight fit), the resulting record sounds like there’s 40 miles of bad road between me and the microphone. But I was still glad to have the experience, and I have clear vinyl 45 rpm disc to prove it.

The incredible Nicola Walker still bestrides the world of TV detectives at the moment. I’d mentioned that in Unforgotten she jokes around with her sidekick Sunny by singing him Bobby Hebb’s great tune, but last night in River – where she plays the ghost partner (or manifestation, as he would have it) of hard-bitten and morose cop Stellan Skarsgård, it turned up again – what smooth music does he put on while preparing drinks in his glam Canary Wharf apartment? “Sunny”, of course. I have no idea if this was intentional, but it has to be, no?

And still I failed to write about Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible, and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia. I’m going to start calling this Five Things I Saw and Heard Recently…

In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part One)

In the post: US Post Office stamps in honour of Janis Joplin.

I really loved this set of photos taken in the early days of CBGB, shared on Marc H Miller’s 99 Bowery site. “Our first photograph of Bettie with the movers and shakers was taken during our very first visit to the club in late 1976. Standing alone by the bar was one of Bettie’s favorite performers, the poet-rocker Patti Smith. At home at CBGB and a wee bit tipsy, Patti was more than happy to oblige our request for a picture with Bettie. Soon we were CBGB regulars, checking out the different bands and slowly adding to our collection of pictures. Although the buzz about CBGB was growing, the place was still a neighborhood bar where future rock legends were just as likely to be hanging out and drinking by the pinball machine as performing on stage. As our “Paparazzi Self-Portraits” morphed into “Bettie Visits CBGB,” we saw our photographs as a reflection of the new aesthetic emerging, a contradictory mix of high and low culture energized by fun and humor, the lure of fame and fortune, and a cynical appreciation of the power of a good hype.” I mostly love the fact that Bettie’s rather demure and straightforward gaze rarely falters.

For Simon’s big birthday I had wanted to get the two of us tickets to see Jerry Lee Lewis at the Palladium (We’d been to the Wembley Country Festival together in the late 70s and seen The Killer top the bill, but I was too late). Searching around I realised that someone I’d wanted to see, Paulo Conte, was at the Barbican in November. I know what you’re thinking – it’s his birthday, not mine. In my favour, Simon loves Naples and has visited it many times. Also, he has very wide-ranging musical tastes, from The Singing Postman – he’s an East Anglian boy, after all – to the Folk Songs of Georgia. We both loved Conte, conducting proceedings with arms down at his side, rather like Chaplin, his waggling hands giving prompts to the musicians. And what musicians! A brilliant, blazing orchestra – oboe, a horn section that included a baritone sax, violin, accordion, vibraphone, organ, bass, drums and piano. Oh, and three guitarists – a formidable sound when they locked-in for any gypsy jazz passages. My recall of the specifics of the gig is less than perfect: I had been in an, um, traffic incident the previous day but had not wanted to let Simon down, so arrived at the venue lightly concussed. The next day I had a dim memory of Simon, apropos the incredible audience reaction toward the end of the two-hour show (abandoned dancing in the aisles, general screaming and mayhem), telling me of the night that he saw BB King in Naples. I emailed, asking him to fill me in…

“I went to see BB King one hot night about twenty-five years ago in a vast tent in the outskirts of Naples. He played this grand stately blues instrumental that lasted about fifteen minutes, after which the entire audience responded in kind by singing the Napoli football anthem – for about 5 minutes! BB just had to stand there and make I love you all-type gestures til the frenzy abated…”

He then follows this with a second email: “I’ve got my football seasons muddled up – well it was last century. They won the league in 1986-87 (the Napoli flag on the wall over my bed says so!). The next season they were pipped to the post by the dreaded AC Milan (who sing some horrible song about Neapolitans living on a dunghill) after losing 2-3 to them at home in April/May, a week or so after that over-optimistic evening serenading BB King. I watched the match on TV with my friend Antonio in his flat in the Spanish Quarter. Milan scored first and everything went very quiet. Then Maradona equalised and the whole street went out on to their balconies and did a little jig and sang their Ole’s. Then Milan scored again – silencio. Careca equalised and we all went out onto the balconies again. Then Van Basten scored a third for Milan. Cacca frita! The next day Naples – which was normally totally manic – was like a city of the dead…

He adds a postscript: “This was happening just weeks before Maradona’s Napoli won the Scudetto for the first time – hence all the footie madness. The city was full of the sound of aerosol trompetti and every shrine seemed to have a prayer for Diego.” Here’s Simon’s version of the shrines, and how the streets of Napoli looked at the time:


Dotter and I met up with “lovely Brett” around an old piano in a Brixton pub. We talked of car crashes and old guitars and amplifiers until Brett looked at his watch, announced that he had to go to work, and headed off to play bass for Best Coast. California pop indoors at night, and sounding just fine.

I was talking to Tim about getting tickets to see the Allen Toussaint Band at the Barbican this Sunday. I’d last seen him at Ronnie Scott’s in April last year in the company of Richard Williams, who was going to interview him the next day. Here’s Richard on his surprise encore that night. It was a wonderful, warm show, by a truly talented musician, and it was so sad to hear the news yesterday. I’ll cue up “Tipitina and Me” from the post-Katrina fundraising album – a beautifully measured and melancholy version of the Professor Longhair classic. As “Thank You”, his tribute to Longhair, says: “Thank you, Lord, for this very special man/and thank you for letting me be/around to see/one as great as he…” Here are my memories of that night at Ronnie’s, and the music player on the right has live versions of “Thank You” and “Freedom for the Stallion”.

Part Two on Friday with Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible (a punk event at Central St Martins), The Aberlour Voice-O-Graph and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, 4th November


I had no idea that these were still around, two-handed fretboards that work independently and are played by tapping. My only problem with the Stick is that I’ve never heard anything other than pallid jazz funk or new age played on them, maybe with the exception of bass player Tony Levin (who I remember using one with Paul Simon in the 80s). I could, of course, be wrong… Anyhow, this particular busked performance was of George Harrison’s “Something”, which ticked both those boxes. Impressive, but too many notes for an echoe-y tube station.

It turns out that Stu Kimball’s solo guitar introductions were from the deep American folk & blues songbook… the first half entrance was to “Foggy Dew”, the second to “Deep Ellum Blues”. According to folkstreams.net – your one stop shop for all hard-to-find documentary films about American folk or roots cultures – “Deep Ellum is a part of Dallas, Texas, and was a legendary music scene built by the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Lead Belly, and Bill Neely, which all but disappeared with the construction of Dallas’s Central Expressway in the 1950s”.

I never thought I’d hear Bob play “She Belongs to Me” live, so that was a thrill, as it’s a song that lingers on through the decades, never losing its magic. This particular version was loaded with a rich, thick stew of guitars, especially a lovely, molten sound from Charlie Sexton that sent me back to his wonderful production and playing on Lucinda Williams “Essence”. There was also a great break during the first harmonica solo, before drummer George Recili led the band back in with a couple of snappy funk fills.

I remember having lunch with Charlie Gillett the week after Diana died. It was early September, 1997, and we sat outside a Caribbean restaurant that had just opened in Covent Garden. He gave me a track sheet of his programme [It’s Saturday Night with Charlie Gillett] from the previous weekend, and quizzed me on the reason for the songs’ inclusion. Some were easy, like Nicky Thomas’s “Love of the Common People” (a great Trojan single), but I was stumped on the specifics of “She Belongs to Me” – which was shocking as I’d been trying to earn a living as a lyricist for the previous decade. My only defence is that I’m often more interested in the mood the words conjure or the song’s feel than specific lines. I have a cheap theory that great lyrics and a boring melody are never a success, whereas a great melody with duff lyrics still has a chance. You may not agree, but there it is. I listened anew to the song after that lunch and have been listening to it ever since. I’ve added the tracklist at the end of this week’s post – it makes interesting reading. Oh, and the versions I most love are the live ’66 acoustic version with its bluesy “Cathedrals of Sound” harp solo, and the alternate take from the Bringing It All Back Home sessions included on the No Direction Home soundtrack. Vastly different, but equally beautiful.

Watching the bizarre F1 coverage of the USA Grand Prix, I realised that all sport now aspires to the glamour of Motor Racing. I want this explained to me. Because every major sporting event I go to – in sports that were always regarded as serious and competitive, such as athletics or cycling – are now all covered in an expensive blanket of razamatazz. The disco light nonsense reached a zenith with 6 Day London, where the centre of the arena was held by a large booth containing a DJ from the Ministry of Sound and his exploding airjets and cannons. From this perch he was able to force competitors to wear giant foam hands and generally dance like only people wearing cycling footwear can dance. The music didn’t even break for the actual racing either: Keirin or Derny, it didn’t matter – the big thudding bass beat trailed them every wheel of the way…


Recommended by Gemma Cairney, Radio 1 presenter, in The Guardian: “I want to tell you a secret. Lurking at the end of some Hackney streets, the London borough I have gallivanted and lived in for the past decade, is a place of solitude. It becomes hazy in the summertime and wraps you up in green as far the eye can see. It’s called the Hackney Marshes, a strange and unexpectedly big patch of grass, reservoir and haven for happy bell-ringing cyclists. Adjoining it is an ever-stretching canal, plunging you further north, filled with houseboats that make you want to throw out all your things and join “floatsville”. At one particular moseying point, you can hear a plonkity, plonk soundtrack to your dreamy walk. You stop and realise that it comes from the floating record shop, a simple set-up consisting of some boxes of carefully selected vinyl and a smiley boat-owning guy to help you choose. It has everything from 50p bargains to deliciously gold-adorned Motown specials. It’s the ultimate pleasure to flick through, outside, in one of London’s loved no-man’s lands. Whenever I buy a vinyl from there, I always feel like I’m bringing home a memento of the perfect Sunday afternoon.” We came across it recently, and purchased some fine singles from the collection of Kerry Stone…


Stay with me, here. This is the Chipmunks – a cynical attempt to wrest money from junior fans of the cartoon show – covering Blondie’s “Call Me” (from American Gigolo, let’s not forget). C’mon, stay with me here – the trick is playing it back at 16 rpm, whereupon it sounds, well, just amazing. Jim Morrison, anyone?

And my Jordan sends me this YouTube link of another Jordan, a 5-year-old, creating a hip hop song in 30 seconds (well, almost…) The world is a strange place.

TRACKLIST FOR It’s Saturday Night with Charlie Gillett, 6 September, 1997


Extra! Bob Dylan & his band, RAH, 21st October

“Why can’t I be more conventional
People talk
People stare
So I try
But that’s not for me…”
– “Why Try to Change Me Now”, covered on Shadows in the Night

These things we know: that Bob has a great band, from the rock steady rhythm section, equally at home with brushes and bows as sticks and fingers – to the dazzling front line of guitar and pedal steel; that he has an unsurpassed choice of songs to sing; that he won’t respond to requests no matter how many times the audience shouts out their particular favourite song; that he will always be his own man, ploughing his own furrow.

This we didn’t know: that he could sing, live in concert, timeless songs of the 40’s and 50’s with a believable, vulnerable – but above all – careful, voice.

It made him less cavalier with his own songs, too, and the contrast of the pedal steel and brushes-driven Sinatra songs gave his 21st century blues numbers more snap and bite – “Pay In Blood” was terrifying, phrase after phrase flung from the stage like Muddy Waters backed by Johnny Winter; “Long and Wasted Years” becoming a second cousin of “Brownsville Girl”, both in melody and narrative delivery.

He pays homage to the American music that still fuels him, in the way he chooses to walk onto the stage. The first half kicked off with guitarist Stu Kimball playing an acoustic piece of western folk (think the “Pat Garrett“ soundtrack, or “Red River Valley”) as the rest of the band filed on. For the second half Kimball played an electric country blues, Mississippi via Chicago, for the band’s entrance. As he said in Chronicles, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

I also thought of this quote, said when he was 21 and talking of the tradition that he wanted to work in… “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool – a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points.”

And even at his most forward-thinking, smashing the conventions of popular song, there would always be the blues: “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”, “Highway 61”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. You wonder what his 1966 self would make of him singing Sinatra at the Albert Hall in 2015. I bet he’d be fine with it. He was 1966 in 1966, and he didn’t need to be that again. He’d be pleased that he still honoured his roots every night that he plays, whether it’s Crosby and Sinatra, Wolf and Waters, or Williams, Holly and Berry. And, as he encored – with a wonderfully rolling and tumbling, piano-led version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was almost-country (but mostly Bob), and a coruscating “Love Sick” – I kept coming back to that verse from “Why Try to Change Me Now”. It struck me as both the fulcrum of the night’s set, and of his entire enormous, chaotic, poetic, mind-blowing, career.

Tuesday, 20th October

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Five Things is a little all over the shop this week – some pieces are in the wrong place, and others, about things I actually saw this week, will be in next week’s column. I hope that’s clear… for instance, Friday bought Paolo Conte to the Barbican, and I’ll try to write about that next week. He’s 78, and was the first of The Big Beasts of the A/W 2015 Season™ – and was utterly fantastic. The others are Bob [74] this week, and Charles Aznavour [91!] in November.

Years ago, Rolling Stone did a piece on Levon Helm’s studio, The Barn, and they were extremely taken with the full-size American flags that were hung from the tall double-height walls. They suggested that Levon could well turn his talents to interior design. Well, my current tip is inspired by Bernard Paturel’s Café Espresso in Woodstock. In a set of photos taken by Douglas Gilbert in 1964 for Look magazine – but rejected, as Dylan was deemed too scruffy – there are shots of Bob writing in the upstairs room. Behind him are tools hung on pegboard (perforated hardboard to the timber trade), and I became obsessed with finding some to put on the studio wall. Of course, it also has memories of record-listening booths in the early sixties, so seemed apposite. Thrilled to actually find some, this was the result. I am, obviously, available for all freelance interior design gigs…

Dylantypestudio[I also remember that we once saw Julia Childs’ kitchen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. It had been taken from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts to be displayed at The Smithsonian. She had used pegboards to hang her utensils.]

but Unforgotten’s pretty good and the cast is cracking: Bernard Hill, Ruth Sheen, Brian Bovell, Tom Courtenay, Hannah Gordon, Cherie Lunghi and Trevor Eve among them. Loved the exchange between the lead detectives, Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar. His character is nicknamed Sunny, and when he gives his boss (Walker) a piece of information that she’s been obsessing over, she breaks out Bobby Hebb: “Sunny, yesterday my life was full of rain, Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain…”

Also in detfic news, Aby Morgan’s weird police procedural, River, (think Sixth Sense crossed with Prime Suspect) has a first episode brilliantly bookended by “I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)” by Tina Charles, first as a singalong in the car, by Nicola Walker (excellent again) and Stellan Skarsgård, and at the end, as karaoke. Produced by Biddu (remember the Biddu Orchestra?) it’s a creditable lift of the TK house band sound – way better than I remember it.

Not being able to find Sunny at home and wanting to hear it again I went to YouTube, and discovered this excellent tv performance with Bobby Hebb accompanied by the great Ron Carter on (electric!) bass. After the intro, Bobby goes into the setup for the first verse but unaccountably, teasingly, slips in a bit of the James Bond theme. And the way the key just gets higher and higher towards the end is just great. Don Cheadle could play him in a heartbeat.

Richard Williams wrote a terrific obituary when Bobby died in 2010: “Two minutes and 44 seconds of unrepeatable pop-soul alchemy, recorded almost as an afterthought at the end of a session in which greater attention had been paid to other songs. A two-second snare-drum roll, an irresistibly cool bass figure, the mentholated chimes of a vibraphone, and a guitar and a hi-hat italicising the backbeat introduced Hebb’s light-toned but unmistakably ardent voice, soon buttressed by a purring horn section, kicking drums and cooing backup vocals. It was a gift to discotheques everywhere.”

Bobby had a proper backstory, too… “He was born [Robert Von Hebb] in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of blind musicians, and he and his brother Harold, who was six years older, performed on the street as part of the family’s washboard band, Hebb’s Kitchen Cabinet Orchestra, while they were still children. In his teens, Hebb became the only black member of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, playing the spoons and other instruments, at a time when commercial country music was an exclusively white preserve.” See what I mean?

You can also watch James Brown kicking it out of the park here. This performance was uploaded by rare soul films, which does what it says on the tin – a real treasure chest of great tv performances.

An interesting review of Don’s Miles Davis biopic from Matt Patches of US Esquire:
“In his prismatic, percussive biopic Miles Ahead, which just premiered at the New York Film Festival, actor-director Don Cheadle picks up with Davis at his lowest point, a late-’70s stretch of musician’s block provoked by depression and fluffed with cocaine. Through flashbacks and haunting memories, we see the full pendulum swing – from success stories, down to derailment, and all that jazz in between. Cheadle evokes Davis’ recordings with mercurial style and his own rambunctious performance as the late legend. The past ebbs and flows out of the present. Deeper cuts (think Agharta) rub against the classics in an anachronistic splatter painting. The main thrust of the film, the hunt for stolen studio tapes, imagines Davis and amalgamated Rolling Stone writer Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor) in a swinging version of T.J. Hooker. Cheadle pulls out all the stops to capture Davis’ essence. He never quite gets there. Miles Ahead is the rare biopic in need of Hollywood’s “cradle to grave” blueprints. By scrapping Davis’ origin story – picking up his first trumpet, finding his sound, abandoning the culture around him – the film simply insists upon importance. The music never speaks for itself.”

Monday, 12th October



From the promo short for the next Bootleg Series, number 12, film of Bob looking at a music shop window the day that “Subterranean Homesick Blues” goes on sale (as does Cilla’s new single!).

Then you may need to watch Salman Rushdie reciting the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake…

Or listen to letter G of Joe Boyd’s A-Z, which features fascinating insights into the poetry of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the story of its tortuous gestation. She left Rick Rubin’s label in tears – after playing the first version of the album to him, his only comment concerned adding tambourine on one of the tracks – and ended up finishing the album for Polygram with E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan producing. Bittan himself recently talked to Rolling Stone about it: “Lucinda was making the record down in Nashville, and I think she hit a wall. She wasn’t grooving in the studio and was having difficulty finishing it off. I knew her bass player, so they wound up flying me down to produce the thing. I was told the whole thing had stalled. We wound up re-cutting most of the tracks, though the drums and bass parts were pretty good… Lucinda is just this tremendous, authentic, fantastic artist. She reminds me of Bruce, even though they have very, very different styles. She’s a great songwriter with an extremely beautiful, vulnerable voice. I produced the record, but unfortunately they already made a deal where Rick Rubin mixed it. I would have liked to have done that. But he did a great job.”

Then find the latest advert for the launch of a new perfume, Decadence. Apparently, Adriana Lima captures the glamour and luxury of the fragrance in a mesmerising TV campaign. No. What happens is that, thanks to Marc Jacobs, the Marvelettes fabulous, Smokey-produced, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is sullied by a truly poxy faux-sleaze tv ad, that doesn’t scream decadence as much as it screams desperate cliché.

from every record tells a story, although in this case it’s the photos that do the talking –“Incredible Archive of Lost Photos Unearthed of Led Zep, Bowie, Rolling Stones…”
So why didn’t you go on to be a professional photographer?
Bottom line is, I really wasn’t suited to being a photographer. I was as blind as a bat! I could have passed as a poster child for kids with “Coke bottle” glasses. So I had to look through thick lenses, then through the viewfinder in the dark with the lights flashing and changing and reflecting into my glasses – when I did this, it wasn’t about the photography. It was about the moments and the music and the people that I was watching and was so passionate about. To me it was all so unreal and unbelievable that this pasty white, skinny, tall, long-hair kid was standing ten feet from Bob Dylan and George Harrison. That’s what it was all about for me.”

the ever-interesting blog by Marc Myers, comes Yogi Berra on jazz. Berra was one of those characters that you knew of growing up on a diet of Mad Magazine, as I did. I’m not sure I ever knew really what he did or meant to Americans, but I did cotton on to the fact that he mangled the English language in ways that were extremely funny. He was, in fact, a great baseball player for the New York Yankees, but as Wikepedia has it, “he was also known for his malapropisms as well as pithy and paradoxical quotes, such as “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” while speaking to reporters. Simultaneously denying and confirming his reputation, Berra once stated, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz:
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz? 

Yogi: I can’t, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it’s right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong.
Interviewer: I don’t understand.
Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it. 

Interviewer: Do you understand it? 

Yogi: No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it. 

Interviewer: What is syncopation?
Yogi: That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music…
Interviewer: Now I really don’t understand.
Yogi: I haven’t taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.

THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: It’s worth subscribing to their YouTube channel – the music spots are often interesting, and they upload them for each show. The Kendrick Lamar performance from a couple of weeks ago was staggering, and there’s an affecting, if slightly stumbling performance on the anniversary of 9/11 by Paul Simon (strangely not looking like Paul Simon), playing “American Tune”*.

CARPOOLING WITH JAMES CORDEN: Try as I might to dislike James Corden, I can’t. Get past the first feeble joke of this segment, and it’s very funny. The premise is that James can only use the carpool lane to get to work on his new chatshow if someone travels with him, and he uses this idea with the show’s musical guests – so he’s accompanied by Iggy Azelia, Justin Beiber, Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart at al. Here’s a link to the Stevie Wonder episode – the love Corden has of the Wonder back catalogue is palpable, and he’s clearly thrilled to have Stevie along for the ride.

[*Fascinating fact: Mandy Patinkin recorded the song in Yiddish on his 1998 album “Mamaloshen.” Now, don’t all rush to iTunes…]

Five Things Extra: thinking about Sam Charters and a few nice things

I woke up at 5am on the day we were to go to Uppsala to meet Annie, who was going to read some of Sam’s poetry at an evening performance at the English Bookshop, during Uppsala’s yearly Culture Night. Annie had asked me to say something about collaborating with Sam on a book of poems and photographs that we had published near the end of his life.

 I awoke with thoughts going around my head of what I would say, and decided to get up and write them down, as I’d either not get back to sleep if I didn’t, or remember them if I did. So in the apartment that we had spent such memorable times, I wrote as swiftly as I could.


I always looked up to Sam – as a young boy, in a physical sense – he was a towering figure dressed in Levis’ 501s, Bass loafers with cream socks, a light blue shirt, with a v-neck dark blue pullover, a canvas-coloured London Fog raincoat.

As a teenager, it was less Sam’s physical presence as much as his intellectual one – it was about the expanding of horizons. I can see him now, padding around my parents’ Charing Cross Road flat, a suitcase full of books and notes and records – always open – that spoke of exotic places, exotic thoughts, exotic music.

In 1968, we were sent three plane tickets – Pan Am, London to New York – to visit with the Charters. So for three weeks we soaked up America with Ann and Sam as our guides. My dad Bill was sent on his first visit to New Orleans, to hang out in the places – and with the people – that his brother Ken had written about so vividly in 1952 when he jumped ship to play with his heroes. We, meanwhile, headed to the Newport Folk Festival to stay in a spookily empty school dormitory and watch Arlo Guthrie and Janis Joplin and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Sam was Buddy and Junior’s record producer, and he took me backstage to their trailer where Buddy let me hold his guitar. That was an education right there.


When Sam came through London in 1970, en route to a new life in Sweden (he’d felt that staying in the States at that point would mean joining the Weathermen), he left with me some of his favourite albums. There was God Bless Tiny Tim; there was I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die by Country Joe and the Fish (produced by Sam); more indelibly, Music From Big Pink was there, and I remember Sam saying that Richard Manuel’s “In a Station” was his favourite track.

Around this time (I was about fifteen) there was an open invitation to visit whatever project Sam was currently working on, so after school most days and weeks that he was in town, I would make my way over to Sound Techniques, a recording studio housed in an old dairy building off the King’s Road in Chelsea. I’d sit on the couch at the back of the control room as Sam produced American protest singers, English folksters, blues guitarists and Ragtime Orchestras, always with the same good humour, but also with an intense desire to bring out the core of whichever artist he was working with.

I saw his rapport with them, his subtle direction of them, and his real love for what they did. I experienced at first hand the camaraderie of musicians, the application of their gifts, their ability to come together and coax magic from thin air. These things have always stayed with me.


Sam had a really sophisticated knowledge of music and its history and such a wide-ranging love of song. He’d gone with Ann on voyages of discovery that, for some, equaled Stanley’s trek to find Livingstone or Vespucci, America – voyages that took them back into the struggles and art of an earlier America. Yet he wore his knowledge lightly and often worked with music rooted in apparent simplicity, always coming back – in some way – to the blues, a music that had spoken across states and racial boundaries and decades of time to him. And although he often wrote of the past, it was always the future for Sam: there was the next project, just around the bend, to find and illuminate another neglected or wrongly understood strand of music. It’s no coincidence that one of his final journeys was to tell the little-known story behind the creation of the songbook Slave Songs of the United States, and the woman who made it happen, Lucy McKim Garrison.

When I was eighteen, about to go to art school, Sam was in town, working. He had the record company, who he’d just written a liner note for, make the cheque for his payment of £60 out to me. A week before, I had seen an advert for a Leitz enlarger, a photographic printer that allowed you to turn a bathroom into a darkroom. With Sam’s cheque I bought it and began my practical journey into photography. I didn’t become a photographer – music and design were what I became mixed up in – but it gave me an appreciation of the commitment photographers, like musicians, need to make their work happen.


Sam and Annie have been a constant and wonderful presence in the life of my family and 14 months ago, when Sam asked if a package had arrived in London ahead of our trip to Stockholm, I had no idea that he was asking me to collaborate on a project with him, designing and adding photos to a collection of his London poems. I was touched and thrilled to do it, worried about my rusty photographic skills, but up for the challenge. I remembered the day in 1973 when we trekked around the city finding poems in boxes at the locations that had inspired them, before meeting up with Sam in a pub in Hampstead where he put a cover on our sheets and stapled them together into a book. Batting the design of the new book, back and forth across the internet, was among the best experiences of my working life…

And when I think of Sam now, as I often do, I mostly think of him laughing, as he talked of the absurdities of life, of the footwork of Zlatan Ibrahimović, of finding rare sheet music in the Canary Islands, of the value and import of friendship, love and art. He taught me to pay it forward; to work with collaborators that you liked; to encourage other people’s talent. He was an inspiration to me, as he was to many others, and he showed me not only how to be enthusiastic but – more importantly – how best to use that enthusiasm.

Sam Arsta

Sam, Årsta, Jan 8th, 2015, listening to Willie Nelson singing Steve Fromholz’s “I’d Have to be Crazy”.

Friday, 25th September


This may be some form of Holy Grail. I tried working out how long this would take to listen to – I’m not even sure I’ve heard all of the 6CD Basement Tapes yet – and came up with 32 hours (379 times an average of 5 minutes per track (obviously some are uncompleted takes, but some will run longer and there’ll be lots of chat). I’ve put something on the music player on the right that will be included – an outtake/alternate version of “I’ll Keep it with Mine (or, Bank Account Blues)”.

Excerpts from a few things that I liked recently but forgot, or only just got round to reading

Charlotte Church writing in The Guardian: “But, in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus against it, how can anybody possibly think that drilling in the Arctic is OK? There have already been many, much more scholarly and informed articles and books written on the subject than I could offer, such as Rick Steiner’s essay on Arctic drilling, Terry Macalister’s book Polar Opposites: Opportunities and Threats in the Arctic; and Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Annie Leonard, published in June. I wouldn’t have read any of them had I not been approached by my drummer’s mum, who spoke to me extensively in my kitchen about the (at that point) intended drilling plans, and encouraged me to sign the Arctic Declaration. I implore you all to go speak to your own drummer’s mum.”

Do you know that José 
Feliciano lives in the same town as you in Connecticut?
“I do know that, but I’ve never met him. We’ve never crossed paths, even though Weston is a very small town – there’s a gas station and a market.
So you’re actually the 
second-best guitarist in Weston, Connecticut.
“I’d go for that. He’s a far better guitar player than me.”

I don’t think so.
“No – I mean technically, classically. I ain’t trained that way. I force the thing to do as it’s told.

I don’t know much beyond the sounds I hear.
“Thank God, nor do I. The technical aspects – my horror is doing interviews with Guitar Magazine or something. I’ve got my favorite axes that I 
do know quite a bit about, 
but when they start to go, “Is that the Gibson S3?” – I don’t fucking know. It works all right for me.”

Listening to Crosseyed Heart, Keith’s new album, I’m struck by the youthfulness of his voice, and the fact that, in places, he sounds like Mark Knopfler. Hell, in places it even sounds like a Dire Straits record…

Tune in to Joe Boyd’s A-Z. He’s up to F! The first [A] is partly about Andy Razaf, lyricist on “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, the second [B] about Rastafarians in Jamaica and the birth of Reggae. Toots & The Maytals song “Bam Bam” is the B of the A-Z. “Those trombone parts were overdubbed by Rico Rodriguez, a great Rasta trombone player. Toots had no written arrangements, he would just go into the studio and hum a melody line in Rico’s ear, and Rico would try and follow it. When he got one line done, Toots would them hum a harmony, and once they’d got that done, we’d move on to the next bar. It was a very, very slow process – they went in the studio about nine, and emerged about four in the morning with blood trickling down Rico’s chin from his split lip. But he was grinning…”

That’s as far as I’ve got, but they are highly recommended for information illumination par excellence.

Watch this staggering film. I was sent there by Jonny Trunk in his always amusing 50p Friday emails: “I managed to license some very good music this week by the amazing Ernest Berk. He was a ballet dancer, teacher and modern creative thinker who turned to avant-garde composing for his own ballets. All I can say is wow. And then wow again. I came across him a few years ago and it’s taken me years to track down some music and actually license it. To give you a flavour of what lies ahead here is one of his scores, made for David Gladwell’s 1964 An Unitled Film for the BFI. Hold tight. I suggest you do not look if you are a vegetarian. [Ed’s note… Type lovers, check out the titles, where more prominence is given to the words FOR THE than either the filmaker or the BFI. David Gladwell, best known as an editor (Lindsay Anderson’s If… and O Lucky Man!) filmed this short at 200 fps. As the BFI says, “it depicts a series of pastoral scenes from a British farm, edited together to produce a suggestion of violence in contrast to its visual beauty”].


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