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”, “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 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 The Knack, 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.

Thursday, 12th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

SaxesJust one window of Phil Parker’s extraordinary new brass and woodwinds store at the start of Hampstead Road.

OH NO, NOT THAT AGAIN…
The courage of my convictions gets a little weaker each time I read another review of Whiplash. This excellent, despairing, New Yorker review of how jazz is treated in the movies, by Richard Brody, points out, after retelling a much more accurate version of the Jo Jones v Charlie Parker incident: “Here’s what Parker didn’t do in the intervening year: sit alone in his room and work on making his fingers go faster. He played music, thought music, lived music. In Whiplash, the young musicians don’t play much music. Andrew isn’t in a band or a combo, doesn’t get together with his fellow-students and jam—not in a park, not in a subway station, not in a café, not even in a basement.” And Brody ends with this – “There’s nothing in the film to indicate that Andrew has any originality in his music. What he has, and what he ultimately expresses, is chutzpah. That may be very helpful in readying Andrew for a job on television. Whiplash honors neither jazz nor cinema; it’s a work of petty didacticism that shows off petty mastery, and it feeds the sort of minor celebrity that Andrew aspires to. Buddy Rich. Buddy fucking Rich.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
The BBC Timeshift programme, When Eating Out Went Exotic had a segment on Pizza Express and its relationship to music. When Peter Boizot wanted to change the use of a basement, he turned to his friend, designer Enzo Appicella: “He said, Enzo, I have this basement in Dean Street, can you design for me a nice jazz club? I said, How much do you want to spend. He said, Not much. I said, Do you have the money to spend on five gallons of black paint? He said, Yes, that’s ok. And that was the decor – almost like it still is now! I said, Peter, don’t pay me, but you must make a huge big party!”

TWO WORDS THAT COST A LOT
Found in M, the Performing Rights Society’s magazine, the story of Steve Miller and “The Joker”: “I remember it was late at night and I was at an open-air party, sitting on the hood of a Pontiac GTO convertible with my back against the windshield. I had a Martin D-28 guitar in my hands and I was playing around with a bassline. The lyric Some people call me the space cowboy just popped into my head and from there it only took me about an hour to finally come up with the chorus. When I took it to the band, there wasn’t much of a reaction. At the time we were cutting rhythm tracks with John King on drums and Gerald Johnson on bass and this was just one song out of nine we were recording that day. It was very simple, so no one thought it was a hit song – we got the basic track down in one take so the song you hear is actually the demo.

The whole thing was recorded at Capitol Records, Hollywood, in Studio B. I played the Martin D-28 six-string acoustic guitar with Gerald on a Fender bass and John on drums. Then I sang the lead vocal and added the second part harmony. The final part was done by playing a slide guitar solo on a Fender Strat through a Mannys overdrive pedal and a Leslie speaker set on the chorus effect. The whole song took about 30 minutes to do!

There was one line in “The Joker” that caused me grief. Ahmet Ertegun [respected media mogul and founder of Atlantic Records] somehow stopped the payment of all my royalties for the song. I called to ask why and he told me that Eddie Curtis [who had originally written the song “Lovey Dovey”] was threatening him over the “Lovey Dovey” reference I’d used within the song.

I explained to Ahmet it was a tribute to The Coasters [who recorded a version of “Lovey Dovey” in 1964] and not part of the lyrics of the song. Considering all the writing credits he’d had with his own artists, I told him he was being duplicitous. He agreed and said he was sorry. He also said he was going to sue me anyway, so I had to give him and Eddie Curtis a percentage of my song to get the block on my royalties removed.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
There is a whole Wikipedia entry discussing Steve Miller’s use of the word, Pompatus, in “The Joker”. The line “Some people call me Maurice/’Cause I speak of the pompatus of love”, was written after Miller heard the song “The Letter” by The Medallions. In it, writer Vernon Green made up the word puppetutes, ‘to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure, who would be my everything and bear my children’(!) However, Miller misheard the word and wrote pompatus instead. In the Latin language, pompatus is an actual word meaning done with pomp or splendor. However, it is stressed on the second syllable, whereas the nonce word is stressed on the first”. For a made up (“nonce”) word, it’s truly excellent that it has such a life beyond the song. A list of places where the word has turned up is great – apart from a 1996 film titled The Pompatus of Love starring Jon Cryer (featuring four men discussing a number of assorted topics, including attempts to determine the meaning of the phrase), we learn that Michael Ondaatje used it in his book Anil’s Ghost.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK

Garland
“This is called Mystery Kids…” says Garland Jeffreys, and the carousel-like intro trills out from the guitar and keyboards, then they hit the first verse, plunging us all into Scorsese’s Mean Streets, as Garland lays it out: “Marcellino Casanova/Little Angel from Laslow Street/Cinderella, she’s a crossover/She got no father in her history…” As the band chorus, Who are the Mystery Kids? they suddenly pull back and Garland starts to recite over a ticking beat…

“I climb six flights/To the tenement heights/And there ain’t no lights/It’s the darkest of nights/And the piss-stench smell/In the black stairwell/With the William Tell Overture…”
– and Bosch plays descending chorused chords, arpeggiating into the distance over the shivery hush from the keyboard –
“– in the background/And across the floor/I see two big rats/In a world like that/Can’t take anymore…”
And Jeffreys talks of his father “My father worked every day that he could find a way to work…”
– here Bosch plays sweet chiming guitar, very quietly –
“He worked up in Harlem, grew up in Harlem, and he was a tough father, very tough. He didn’t really have to hesitate to slap you across the face if you didn’t mind what you said. Growing up like that was frightening sometimes… I would start waiting around five, knowing that he’d be home around six. You could go to the back of my house, which was really my grandmother’s house, and you could see the trains, the subway cars, go by. And I would always be looking to see…’
– Bosch scrapes the strings and makes the noise of wheels on rails –
“Is he on that train. Is he on this train?”

Hear the rest on the audio player to the right

Saturday, 7th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Bob Vid

From Mr Dylan’s bonkers film noir for “The Night We Called It A Day”.

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN THE FIELD
Tim uses my ticket to a Guardian screening of Midlake: Live in Denton as I wasn’t around, and files this report: “The film was a bit disappointing. Everything was shot handheld, going in and out of focus, etc, which gave it the look of a home movie. The hometown footage, randomly scattered throughout the concert, added to the home-movie vibe, shots of band members and friends having a barbecue, walking around town, etc. Denton came across as more normal – population 120,000, two universities – than quirky and the band seemed very sincere but not especially interesting musicians. Knowing nothing of their music, I didn’t hear any lyric or riff that caught my imagination. That said, the Q&A with lead singer Eric Pulido was enjoyable. He came across as very honest, open and, yes, sincere. It says something about the changing face of rock ’n’ roll, though, when you hear a musician discuss his work/life balance, reveal that he sits on his hometown’s historic buildings commission and say that he is currently listening to a lot of ELO, Supertramp and Wings…”

MISTER DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN
An excellent example of building a documentary by getting all of the blocks in place: great interviews with people who were there, or who had specific musical points to make, and fantastic source films (whether home videos, tv shows, news broadcasts or features). But most importantly of all, the confidence to not cut flashily away from incredible footage of the songs themselves – to let the groove run long enough to mesmerize the viewer, and reveal the musical heart of the story.

There was so much here. No matter how many times you’ve seen the TAMI show footage it still staggers. This was Brown’s breakthrough moment, thrust before a huge white audience, beside The Stones, The Beach Boys and Gerry & The Pacemakers, among others. As his ‘Cape Man’ Mr Ray, says, “He come out there like a shot out of a gun, man, dancin’ all across the stage. It’s kinda hard to beat, when you’re an artist that can sing and dance”. Mr Ray then gets his moment, flinging the cape over Brown’s shoulders as he mimes collapsing from sheer fervour – as Mick Jagger (in a very funny interview) says, “It’s obviously an act, but you worry about him!”

Following the smash and grab of “Outasite!” and turning up the emotional volume with “Please Please Please”, the band prepare to go into “Night Train”. Drummer Melvin Parker’s eyes smile as he remembers that moment. “Sam the bass player whispers in my ear, says ‘Melvin, let’s see if those guys can keep up with this…’ and it’s Night! Night! Train!” He mimes smashing down his stick on the snare – “It was off to the races!” They then proceed to play it at a sensational tempo, but James and his three back-up boys look like there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. The fluid glide of the camera moves back across the stage with Brown as he does the push-ups, the astonishing Ali-like shuffle, the dervish splits, and catches his grin of satisfaction as he saunters off the stage, his work done.

“TOO WHITE TO BE BLACK, TOO BLACK TO BE WHITE”: GARLAND JEFFREYS AT THE MUSICIAN, LEICESTER
It’s dark in the mean streets of Leicester’s industrial quarter, and I was glad when I saw a light, a single point surrounded by the hulks of abandoned buildings. It’s the front window of the Musician, a tiny club. Great. This is where you want to connect with a gloriously rootsy r&b/rock band: pretty much one long room, a bunch of die hard fans, a compact stage – and on it a group of people who really, really know what they’re doing. This is a band who sound as muscular and dense and driving as you’d want, without sacrificing any detail. They’re locked in tight, Charly Roth’s keys answering Mark Bosch’s guitar as the bass and drums (Brian Stanley and Tom Curiano) lock like Al Jackson and Duck Dunn. When they left us with a tribute to his Syracuse University student friend Lou, they played “I’m Waiting for The Man” with a perfect lowdown Memphis undertow. The sound is terrific, better than one has a right to expect of a whistlestop date following a visit to Scotland the night before. On Facebook, Robert Maddock reported that “Malc the soundman has been there forever, and he said it was the best performance he had ever witnessed at the Musician.”

There was an elegance, a finesse to what they were doing, even as they thundered through “Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me”, dizzying blues licks spinning from Mark Bosch’s guitar over the song’s Junior Parker chassis, making the recorded version sound polite. There was the easy familiarity of music loved for a long time and played with friends – I have no idea if it was, but that’s what it sounded like to me. A good guide for a gig is how often the musicians smile at each other, over small mistakes or turnarounds they pull off dead on time. And Garland’s band were smiling a lot. In ways, it had the feeling of the early E Street Band, a lot of passion and humour in the music, rooted in r&b but with rock and latin seeping in. It was that New York brew of “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me’, added to the Doo-Wop of Frankie Lymon and the street corner bands, with a side order of VU.

The best thing is that the songs are properly rooted – songs, as my friend Michael would say, “that sound like they’re from somewhere”. Often they’re reportage from his life: the centerpiece of the set was a chilling “Mystery Kids”, about his fearful wait for his father to arrive home, that I can’t do justice to now.* “Coney Island Winter”, “It’s What I Am”, “Roller Coaster Town” – each one great. And from someone who’s had a career as long as his, in a business that is rarely easy, there’s not a trace of cynicism about Garland Jeffreys. He warmly talks to locals who he apparently knows from a transplanted-to-New-York musician, and asks after their grandkids. It’s something to see.

The audience (all 85 of us) raise the roof and there’s much glad-handing and back slapping. I moved off into the night, the songs running around my head as I got lost in the circles of the centre, passing empty office blocks with hoardings promising a new dawn of luxury apartments with gyms and saunas and twenty-four hour concierge services. In my head I was still standing on Coney Island, twenty two blocks from the city…

More next week. Oh, and I’d also like to thank bassist Brian Stanley for a fascinating conversation that covered NY musicians, Late Night Show bands, Real Estate and Michael Jackson’s drummers.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Having watched the making of Aja a few weeks ago, I’m surprised to see The Bloomsbury Theatre lists an afternoon chat with its producer Gary Katz. So I’ve spent some time listing to The Royal Scam (not least for Paul Griffin’s amazing piano playing on “Sign In Stranger”). Here’s the tracking session for that song, which runs a little slow, and also the track for “Kid Charlemagne”, before overdubbing. The line-up is (approximately) Bernard Purdie on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass, Larry Carlton and Walter Becker on guitars, Don Grolnick on Fender Rhodes, Paul Griffin on Clavinet (KC) and piano (SIS).

Wednesday, 25th February

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

BobworldBob’s World. We just live in it, according to this Slate Map. It lists every place mentioned in a Dylan lyric. Although the one I clicked on at random seemed wrong: surely the “Brighton girls are like the moon” line in “Sign on the Window” refers to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and not Brighton, East Sussex?

A QUOTE TO QUOTE
My favourite paragraph of newsy rock criticism so far this year, which encapsulates the mundanity of BRIT-schooled talent. Mark Beaumont in the Guardian… “This year’s fresh lump of unreconstructed fossil fuel being lobbed into the music industry’s spluttering furnace is critics’ choice winner James Bay, the latest in an endless stream of lowest-common-denominator trad singer-songwriter money-spinners, with an inexplicable 8m YouTube views, but this time – crucially – in a hat. The hat, let’s make no bones, is magnificent, a charcoal Panama worthy of the latter years of Razorlight, but its resplendent brim hides a chronic deficiency of personality, presence and ideas.”

OSCAR MUSIC
So in the last six weeks we manage to watch almost every major film in Oscar contention and stay up to watch the show, which turns out to be a damp squib, strangely underpowered. It’s a consequence, I think, of Neil Patrick Harris’s rather laid back and ironic presenting style, which didn’t get the required reactive energy from the audience. The opening musical number was a bravura technical display, and funny enough, but it was downhill from there. It reached a nadir with Lady Gaga singing a medley of all the songs from The Sound of Music which seemed to go on all dawn. Straight. With no contemporary ‘edge’. It was all we could do to stay awake. Maybe we were asleep and it never happened, it was all just some terrible hallucination.

So, on that note, my nominations for musical performances in the films of 2014 would be as follows:
1) Drummer Carla Azar (Wendy & Lisa, PJ Harvey, Jack White), who is terrific playing Nana, the drummer in Frank’s band in Frank, the amusing (and somewhat tragic) fictional re-telling of the career of Chris (Frank Sidebottom) Sievey.
2) Charlie Sexton, long-time Dylan sideman, in the wonderful Boyhood, playing Ethan Hawke’s brother, and some lovely guitar behind Hawke as he sings a (pretty good) self-written song.
3) The scene in Selma where Martin Luther King phones Mahalia Jackson late at night for some support, which comes in the form of a mesmerizing song… and then an FBI phonetap log comes up on the screen…

MLK

4) Antonio Sanchez’s improvised drum score for Birdman, the only music in the film (apart from a minute of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor). Fascinating to hear how it came together, in Vanity Fair’s piece: “An accomplished improvisational musician, Sanchez knew how to improvise to the beat in his own head or with other musicians onstage. But improvising to actual images, especially those that had not even been filmed yet, was more of a challenge. So Iñárritu pulled a chair up to Sanchez’s drum kit and talked him through the movie, motioning every time that Keaton’s character would advance to the next part of the scene.

“So [Iñárritu] would be sitting in front of me with his eyes closed and all of a sudden he would raise his hand. And I would think, OK, that means Riggan opened a door, so I would switch or do an accent or do something with the texture. We would try the scene again and then try a different kind of intensity and color… A lot of people think of the drums as a monochromatic instrument… and a lot of people do play that way but I have been experimenting with playing on the sides, the wood, on the rims, with my hands, with brushes, mallets, branches—anything to get a very wide range sonically.” He even stacked cymbals to make them sound less washy and sustained and more dry and trashy.

Iñárritu played the demos during rehearsals to make sure they worked. And they did, but he and Sanchez both agreed that the drums sounded “almost too good, too pristine” for a movie set inside an old Broadway theater. The two re-teamed in L.A., and Sanchez re-created some of his improv-ed tracks with a different drum kit that had been detuned and outfitted with vintage heads. The two also took the drums onto the street to experiment with hand-held moving microphones so that they did not have to rely on reverb, echo, and volume effects for some of the scenes in which Keaton walks through Times Square, weaving in and out of crowds alongside an actual street musician.”

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Annoyed that I’m out of town on Friday – having just heard that Garland Jeffreys is playing in West Kensington – I check to see which other towns he’s playing on this short tour and discover that we can hit Leicester on Sunday night on the way back, and see him there. Who doesn’t love “35mm Dreams”, “Wild in the Streets” and “Ghost Writer”? I know I have, since 1975. As the New Yorker put it: “Last month, the Village Voice published its list of the sixty best songs ever written about New York City. Coming in at No. 7 was Jeffreys’s “Wild in the Streets,” a hissing, insinuating, insistent piece from 1973. No argument here, but you could print up a list of the Brooklyn native’s catalogue, tack it to the wall, step back ten paces, and throw a dart, and you’d be almost guaranteed to hit another great New York City song. Jeffreys, who is seventy-one, is still a dynamo.” And I can’t wait to hear him sing “In the heat of the summer/Better call up the plumber/And turn on the street pump/To cool me off…/With your newspaper writers/And your big crime fighters/You still need a drugstore/To cure my cough…”

AND…
I’m hoping that Mark Bosch is on lead guitar. From photos on Jeffreys’ website it seems he is – when I saw him with Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, I thought him a “passionate and note/feel-perfect Seventies/Eighties Noo Yawk (think Leslie West or Mike Rathke) player, matching Hunter every step of the way”.

Wednesday 18th February

OH GOD, NOT THEM AGAIN…
I forgot to mention this last week. Anyone see, for some unfathomable reason, Kasabian open the BAFTA’s? The BAFTA’s (a name I can’t now hear without Jennifer Saunders as Clarice Starling pronouncing it “Bafders” in the French & Saunders Silence Of The Lambs spoof years ago) keep looking endlessly, enviously, westwards as the years pass, as they position themselves as Oscar’s Mini-Me. And they’ve noticed that the Oscars kick off with a musical number, right? Except, on the Academy Awards night it’s a specially written “musical” number, that catalogues, critiques and generally cocks a snook at the nominated films. That’s not how BAFTA see it, obviously. This year… (drum roll)… please welcome (another drum roll)… British Rock Giants… (cheering and clapping, more drum rolls, possibly some eye rolling)… Kasabian! Dear God. I know that if I think of British Film, I’m always put in mind of the Poundshop Primal Scream that are Leicester’s famous sons. I mean, aren’t you? And shame on Stephen Fry for calling them “The Amazian Kasabian”, whilst undoubtedly thinking nothing of the sort. I hope.

A QUITE-LIKED QUOTE
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu: What I’ve Learned, US Esquire: “I see only one requirement you have to have to be a director, or any kind of artist: rhythm. Rhythm, for me, is everything. Without rhythm, there’s no music. Without rhythm, there’s no cinema. Without rhythm, there’s no architecture. The cosmos is a system of rhythms that come in many ways: Images. Sounds. Colors. Vibrations… and if you don’t get that, if you don’t have that, it’s impossible to do something that vibrates. You can have the craft, the knowledge, the information, the tools, even the ideas – but if you don’t have rhythm, you are fucked.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This Twen spread, shot by Robert Freeman, designed by Willy Fleckhaus, found on MagCulture.

Twen1

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
As Don McLean prepares to sell, on April 7, the 16 pages of notes that became “American Pie” for somewhere just south of $1,000,000 according to a Christie’s estimate, I thought of the only piece I ever had in Mojo magazine. It was for a regular column called “What do you mean you’ve never heard of…?” and my chosen subject was the ghostly Paul Griffin. The man who saved “American Pie”, after various attempts to record it had failed. McLean: “And then this piano player named Paul Griffin, who had worked with Bob Dylan, started running “American Pie” down, and he played the ass off that song. It just started bouncing all over the place. He really pumped the thing and drove it. And with my guitar in his ear, and him jumping around on the piano, it came together. Once I put the vocal on, it became a very hot record.” Not forgetting Rob Stoner’s great bass playing, of course…

I wanted to find him as he’d played some of the greatest piano parts in rock, and I tried for weeks to get in touch with him, calling numbers given to me by, I think, Chris Welch at Music Sales. Various family members would answer, promising that if I called at 2pm he’d be there, but it didn’t happen. Anyway, I cobbled something together, and while looking for it yesterday, found a wonderful letter online, from Jonathan Singer to the New York Daily News in 1999, archived on the steely Dan website (Paul was the only musician ever given a co-credit by Becker & Fagen). He wanted them to write a piece to get Paul’s hospital treatment paid for. I make no apology for running so much from it. It’s just so fascinating. Here are some excerpts:

“Think of the organ intro to Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now”… the gospel piano behind Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, and Don McLean’s “American Pie”… the tack piano on B.J.Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”… Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By”… Paul Simon’s “Tenderness” from There Goes Rhymin” Simon – these all feature Paul Griffin at the keyboard.

“But if any one producer monopolized Griffin, it was Burt Bacharach. From Dionne Warwick’s first records; “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Walk On By,” “Anyone Who Had a Heart” – if Bacharach/David wrote it, then Paul Griffin probably played the piano part. Wait a minute. Bacharach, no slouch as a pianist, gave Paul nearly all of his own piano parts to play? “Do you know why he did that?” Griffin asked. “Because Burt used to love to come into the studio and conduct. That’s why he gave me those parts to play.”

“Other musicians might have kept quiet about Bacharach’s idiosyncrasies and just let their own legend grow. Not Griffin. Try to compliment him on that little organ part for Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” and he humbly smiles away the accolade. “A Bert Keyes arrangement,” he says, proud to give credit where credit is due.

“Griffin was so knocked-out by Aretha Franklin’s piano playing, that he refused to play on the session for “Think.” “They wanted me to play that [piano] intro she does. I said, “No way! That’s her !” Then again, Griffin was playing with Aretha three years before Atlantic signed her; when Clyde Otis cut her for Columbia.

“Paul Griffin’s most extraordinary – and often uncredited – work with Bob Dylan occurred on January 25, 1966. There has always been some confusion about the players on this first New York session for Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Because the album was finished a few months later in Nashville, the album lists only the Nashville musicians. The two New York sessions, the first of which produced “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” are frequently credited to members of the Band. Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson might have played bass and guitar on one of the New York sessions. But just a single listening erases any doubt about who played piano. Al Kooper, who played organ at the session, remembers Paul well. “The piano playing on “One of Us Must Know” is quite magnificent,” Kooper told writer Andy Gill. “It influenced me enormously as a pianist. It’s probably Paul Griffin’s finest moment.”

“Griffin’s playing on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” is reminiscent of what he would play five years later on “American Pie” – but even more brilliant in its intensity and improvisation. The song is an emotional confession of misconnects and apologies from the singer to some woman who has tragically slipped out of his life. Griffin gives the song its tragic depth – and height. He picks his way sensitively through the verses; but at other times, he prowls beneath the words with Judgement and an ominous gospel lick that he stokes until he has climbed to the verse’s peak. At the chorus, Griffin unleashes a symphony; hammering his way up and down the keyboard, half-Gershwin, half-gospel, all heart. The follow-up, a killer left hand figure that links the chorus to the verse, releases none of the song’s tension. Then, on the last chorus, not content to repeat the same brilliant part, Griffin’s playing is so breathtaking, and so completely embodies the lyric, that he enters into some other dimension. For several seconds, on one of Dylan’s best songs, Griffin makes Dylan seem almost earthbound. “It’s great, two-fisted, gospel piano playing,” Kooper says, “played with the utmost of taste.”

“Paul Griffin doesn’t remember it. He’s momentarily bewildered, almost apologetic for not recalling something others hold so dear. The part was probably something he’d heard in Paradise Baptist church at least a hundred times before. But do not mistake an isolated, fuzzy memory for a moment that he is unaware of. He is well aware of this music’s significance – in Paul Griffin’s life.

“The sound that you hear is the sound of gratitude,” he says simply. “If it wasn’t for music, I don’t know what would have become of me. I’d had a lot of jobs – I was a cutter in the garment district, I delivered groceries for a supermarket – but nothing with any kind of future. So, what you hear is the sound of being thankful… for being able to play… for being tapped to play on a session [Dylan’s] like that… thankful… as if I’d been saved from something horrible.”

“Several months after this conversation, Paul came down with pneumonia. Over the last year, he’s been in and out of the hospital. Then, a few weeks ago, doctors told him he needed a liver transplant. After a lifetime in music, “something horrible” yet threatens to overtake Paul Griffin, and he and his family wait. Would it not be fitting and wonderful if some of the artists, musicians and executives who so appreciated Paul while his smile lit up a session and his playing lit up their hearts, could now raise up as one and help him. Even the listening public – anyone who remembers all those Shirelles records, Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now,” “American Pie,” or the first exquisite twenty seconds of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Anyone, in fact, who, like Don McLean, can still remember how that music used to make them smile…” – Jonathan Singer

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
And, of course, looking for all this stuff, in the way of the web I run across something else… Chip Taylor’s Rock & Roll Joe site, dedicated to the unsung heroes of Rock ’n’ Roll. Where they know Paul Griffin’s name. Seriously – a place you could lose some time looking round.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Say goodbye to Lesley Gore, singer of cracking songs in the Sixties. Just check out Ms Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me” in 1964, where the director has filtered the lens and shot in extreme close-up, for a brilliant modern-as-tomorrow look. Here’s a song I always liked from her last album, in 2005, recorded and written with Blake Morgan, where the quality of angels is called into question, as if she was Philip Marlowe, perhaps – “Oh I’m waiting for better angels/Oh I’m waiting, for any lead/Though my case looks fatal/I’m still hoping better angels come to me…”

Friday, 13th February

OH GOD, NOT THAT AGAIN…
I’m going to tell you, until you all go and see him: Blake Mills played a two-hour set at the wonderful place that is the Union Chapel, with Jesca Hoop as his support act and duet partner. Her minimal, unusual guitar playing and swooping voice were brilliantly suited to the stunning acoustics of the Chapel during her three songs, before Mills joined her to play “Murder of Birds”, a song I knew but had no idea he was the guitarist on. Joined by the band they essayed the kind of performance that would thrill any lover of the musics of the American West, South or East over the last sixty years. I can’t add much to what I wrote about October’s show at Bush Hall. Subtly different, but just as good. Opening song “If I’m Unworthy” has assumed such gigantic proportions of feedback and emptiness, I remember thinking most acts would be thrilled to save that as their last song to ensure an encore…

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
From Mark Kermode’s Observer interview with Paul Thomas Anderson: “Some years ago, when we were doing an on-stage interview in London, Anderson told me that he sometimes felt his movies were best viewed as musicals. In a now iconic scene from Magnolia, the disparate cast are seen spontaneously singing along to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up…”

“Well,” he says, “those movies you mention are musicals in the sense that the music is woven so strongly inside them. I think that’s probably true of There Will Be Blood too. But starting with The Master, I was working on things that had a little more dialogue. You know, there’s music in there, but the film isn’t structured like a musical. This was more a matter of just driving to the set each day and listening to some stuff Jonny had sent me, or listening to Can, or Neil Young [both feature on the soundtrack] over and over. That’s what we were trying to do – to make a movie that felt like a Neil Young song, that has that sweet sadness to it.” For all its anarchic sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, Inherent Vice does indeed possess a “sweet sadness”, a quality enhanced by the fact that Anderson’s partner, the actor and comedian Maya Rudolph, makes a small but significant appearance. “Maya and I don’t avoid working together,” Anderson says, “but there just hasn’t been much opportunity before. So we squeezed her in here. And you know that we’ve got her mom [the late Minnie Riperton] singing in Inherent Vice, too? It’s a moment that makes me well up every time – as we’re looking at Maya, you hear her mom singing this song, “Les Fleurs…” it makes me so warm and fuzzy.”

Always nice to be reminded of the great “Wise Up” scene (and of the great Melora Walters, an actress who doesn’t get cast in nearly enough good movies), but just as cool to be sent back to the astonishing Minnie. “Les Fleurs” is  basically a descending chord sequence (courtesy of Ramsey Lewis) above a funky laid-back beat provided by Maurice White (of EW&F fame), topped off with shimmering layers of vocals and horns that keep peaking and waning through the whole of the song in an incredible arrangement by producer Charles Stepney. Interestingly, her most famous song was written for her daughter: “[Perfect Angel Producer Stevie] Wonder felt that one more song was needed to meet the industry standard of a 40-minute album. He asked Riperton and songwriter-husband Richard Rudolph to come up with a tune that they considered to be their “most embarrassing song”. With hesitation, Riperton did mention a lullaby she sang to her daughter Maya to put her to sleep at night so that she and Rudolph could spend “grown-up time”. With Rudolph’s help, Riperton came up with “Lovin’ You” – which was quickly recorded with Wonder on electric piano and synthesizers, whilst Rudolph supplied the chirping birds from a sound effects reel.” – Wikipedia

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
An interesting tributary that emerged owing to my lack of knowledge re: Enoch Light. John Walters at Eye sends me a great site that details Light’s record label, Command Records, and its commissioning of Bauhaus legend Josef Albers for the cover art.

Obsessed by “experimentation in the realm of stereophonic sound, he went to great lengths to achieve his vision. His sessions used the best available recording studios, musicians, and equipment. He also experimented with the arrangement of musicians during recording to create interesting effects. To achieve the sound he was looking for, Light mastered the first three records 39 times until he got it right. The records came with extensive liner notes, detailing the minute details of the recording process and crediting all of the musicians involved. Each track was also annotated on the packaging, describing the way it would test the home stereo equipment… a sample of his rendition of “Autumn Leaves”… became the theme for the AMC hit drama Mad Men. A very appropriate choice given the television show’s focus on the shifting consumer culture and its influencers of the 1960s. And to add another layer to all this is the fact that the original version of Autumn Leaves was written by Joseph Kosma, who was related to László Moholy-Nagy, another legendary Bauhaus figure and a colleague of Albers there.”

Albers

 

VISUAL OF THE WEEK: Selfridges Window Display: “Bright Old Things” featuring Roger Miles
Roger Miles worked for 32 years as a chartered accountant for Deloitte, and was a senior partner for 20 years. In 2009, he hung up his abacus and went to Chelsea College of Arts, being awarded a BA in Fine Art with 1st class honours. Roger’s final College show in 2014 was an immersive experience that focused on the interaction between visitor and artist. The installation recreated a ’70s record store in a mobile library, with most of the contents coming from his previous art residency at a recycling centre.
This isn’t the first time you have worked at Selfridges? “No it isn’t. During Christmas in 1975, I worked for four weeks in the bedspread department. I had just started my accounting degree, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was at number 1 and punk music was just around the corner. I was working hard to convince customers to convert from bedspreads to the new fangled duvet from Scandinavia. Almost 40 years later, I have returned as an artist – just don’t ask me about tog values…”

Selfridges

ADVICE TO FOLLOW…
David Byrne, The Proust Questionnaire, Vanity Fair
What is your favourite journey? From the barroom to the bedroom… that’s not really true – it just popped into my head, but, wow, it sounds like a song waiting to be written! Maybe a song for someone else, I think. My favorite journey is the journey that an idea takes when taken all the way to its logical conclusion–  which usually ends up being a place that is surreal and ridiculous. Logic and rationality taken all the way to the end are irrational and nonsensical.”

SONG OF THE WEEK
“Stonemilker” by Bjork. Entirely written, played and produced by Bjork. The Max Richter-like orchestration. The ebb and flow. The percussion from the Beach Boys’ “Diamond Head”.  The way she sings “juxtaposition”.

IF I WERE ON TWITTER, I’D FOLLOW: Maureen Van Zandt

Maureen

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Isn’t it odd when you haven’t thought about a musician in years and then, in the space of a few days their name comes up. Recently, designing a novel for Sam Charters, this was quoted at the start: “In the olden days they called them fables/But they’re nothing but doggone lies…” Old minstrel show song recorded by Jesse Fuller, “The Lone Cat.”  A lovely post by Thom Hickey, dreaming of being the Smithsonian’s Director sends me back to Jesse’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” (which you’ll find on the music player to your right). Here’s the nice story of the inspiration for his homemade foot-operated bass/percussion instrument, the Fotdeller: “It took me a whole week one time when I wasn’t doing anything, and I made the thing I call the Fotdella in my back room. I just got the idea lyin’ in my bed one night, just like I write songs… I thought about doin’ something like that (the Fotdella) so that I could have something to go along with me and help me out instead of another fellow. I just took some Masonite, heated some wood in hot water and rounded it off around a wheel. I learned that in the barrel factory where I used to work – that the way they do the staves. I tried to use bass fiddle strings, but they don’t sound so good, they stretch out of tune so I use piano strings”.

Wednesday, 4th February

This week I’m trying out some new categories, which I’ll probably end up junking as it becomes too hard to shoehorn things into them. Anyway, for now I’m going with Something I Learned, I Know Nothing! (aka Things to Investigate), Song of the Week, Visual of the Week, Oh God, Not That Again…, and On the Playlist this Week. We’ll see how it goes.

SONG OF THE WEEK
FourFiveSeconds: Improbably wonderful strumalong from Sir Paul, Rihanna and Kanye West. Paul roughly bangs out the chords on an acoustic, Rihanna gives it some throaty passion and Kanye whines away while a toddler gurgles. Two times through, then it all stops and an organ starts for the gospel middle eight (it’s like there wasn’t even time to work on a smooth transition – the guitar just stops and the organ starts). This is where Rihanna takes it to church, with a particularly lovely Bonnie Raitt-like bit of bluesy melody in there. For the last time through the verse, a deep guitar joins for a little rough-edged zooming up and down the frets. For 3.08 everything’s alright in the world. Sometimes simple works.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
Barbara Anderson of Lausanne, Switzerland asks the Guardian Notes & Queries: How different would life on Earth be with no moon? At the end of a very learned explanation of the four reasons life would be very different, Adam Rutherford, an editor at the science magazine Nature, writes: “So a moonless Earth would have no seasons, no tides but a lot of wobble, a fat middle, very short days and no owls, bats or moths. More importantly, Creedence Clearwater Revival would never have written “Bad Moon Rising”, and that would mean hurricanes a blowing, and the end coming soon.” Adam lists his interests as Science, cured meats and movies. Good man.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
Also from the Guardian, an extraordinary piece on “Bone Music”, music pressed onto X-Rays in Russia during the Cold War (yes, I checked that the date wasn’t April 1st). Pete Paphides writes about Stephen Coates of ‘antiquarian art-poppers’ the Real Tuesday Weld.
“The clamour among young Russians for jazz and rock’n’roll during the cold war years is brought home by the range of materials on show at X-Ray Audio [an exhibition at the Horse Hospital, London]. Unofficial recordings weren’t pressed only on to x-rays – there are records made from road signs and circular cake plinths. Coates and Aleks Kolkowski will present an evening of stories and demonstrations of the recording process in action, at which Kolkowski – the owner of a 1940s recording lathe – will record on to x-rays. “One thing this has shown me is that the format is completely integral to the listening experience,” explains Kolkowski, who also “repurposes” unwanted CDs by etching grooves into them, adjusting the hole in the middle and creating five-inch jukebox records. “CDs actually sound fantastic once you make them into actual records.”

xray

There’s something oddly poignant about watching a record player stylus suck music – in this case, a doo wop song by the Ravens – out of the grooves of a CD. There’s some background noise, though nothing quite like the extraneous noise that comes with bone music. Later that day, I speak with Greg Milner, whose 2009 book Perfecting Noise Forever remains the definitive book on the history of recorded music. “We need to get out of that mindset that background noise happens at the expense of clarity. In the course of my research I listened to cylinders of performances that date back over 100 years ago. It’s hard to explain it, but you registered an acute presence in those recordings that was undeniable.” Kolkowski agrees. “Humans like to hear things that sound like recordings, but the imperfections – the hisses and crackles – make us listen a bit harder. Reaching for perfection is more rewarding to the ears, whereas modern digital recordings deliver perfection directly. Somehow, without the effort, some of the satisfaction is taken away.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Natalie Prass’s Taped-up Epiphone, one way to stop feedback

 NP

OH GOD, NOT THAT AGAIN…
Ok, I promise that this is the last time I write about “Uptown Funk”. Having properly listened to it, it strikes me as a total Was (Not Was) rip off. Something like “Hello Operator” or one of my favourite (bracketed) titles of all time – “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. Somehow I found this nicely done version of Obama singing it…

I KNOW NOTHING!*
I don’t know anything about Paolo Conte, really, but people I trust have mentioned him at various points the past year. This week Richard Williams retweeted Clive Davis’ link to Conte performing “Madeleine” with a great band, making music that conjours up every Italian film you’ve ever seen. This song features two pianists playing at one piano – as they finish the song, he strolls behind them and blows on their heads in turn. Brilliant. So I downloaded a couple of tracks, one of which, “Clown”, has a sensational melody and an extraordinary swirling (military drumming, accordions, clarinets, several pianos) build-up to its instrumental finale. It’s stunning.
*[Please feel free to apply in writing for a full list of all the things I don’t know].

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Three from Was (Not Was): The pellucid “Baby Mine”, possibly the greatest of all Disney songs, given a compelling reading by guest Bonnie Raitt, with Paul Jackson Jnr on the weeping & sighing guitar and gorgeous hints of doo-wop in the backing vox. That’s followed by “Hello Operator (I mean Dad, I mean Police)” where you can dig the party atmosphere and the Defunkt-like horns. We finish with “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. A cracking synth intro, a touch of The Look of Love strings, and a lyric from the August Darnell school of 12-inch short stories (think “There But For the Grace of God Go I”). Stick around for the magic outro where they list what happens when the “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks…” and out comes Trotsky, Coltrane, and Che Guevara. Of course.

And yes, I’m aware that tonight I should be listening to Shadows In The Night. “Autumn Leaves” sounds pretty cool, and I’m loving the steel guitar of Donnie Herron. And the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) interview is great. ’Til next week…

Friday, January 30th

ONE THING I HEARD: The origin of the Mad Men theme.
Ever heard of Enoch Light? Me, neither. I was sent to this by an entertaining piece on the LA Times blog, Pop & Hiss, by Gustavo Turner, about the origin of the Sinatra songs that feature on Bob’s new album. “Jerry Lee Lewis, strangely enough given his manic persona, has had a moving version of “Autumn Leaves” as part of his extensive repertoire for decades (there’s a YouTube video of Lewis performing the song in 1971). The song has subliminally reentered popular culture in the last few years: as noted Dylan expert Scott Warmuth pointed out, the intro to Enoch Light’s easy listening arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” provides the core sample for the popular loungey theme for the TV show Mad Men.” [nb. Jerry Lee Lewis’s performance is restrained and Willie-like, but the most unusual part is his posture. I’ve never seen anyone sing a song with arms folded across his chest, the only movement the occasional raising of his chin. The repeated last line, “start to fall… oh woah oh hoo”, goes to a ghostly falsetto and fades out. Fabulous.]

ONE THING I SAW: This lovely photo of the Copper Family, which reminded me of Saturday afternoons in Dobell’s, when the delivery of new records on the Topic label would lead to an hour of English traditional music being played on the store’s sound system, edging out the more usual fare of BB King and Bert Jansch.

Copper

ONE THING I READ: The wondrous Bjork interviewed by Pitchfork.
Who are confessional singer/songwriters that you like?
Funnily enough, with my favorite music like that, I don’t understand the words. I really like fado singers like Amália Rodrigues, but I don’t speak Portuguese. [laughs] I really like Abida Parveen from Pakistan, but I don’t understand a word she sings either. As for American singers, you know who I’ve loved almost since my childhood? Chaka Khan. I love Chaka Khan. I’ve totally fallen in love with a remix album of hers from ’80s. I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s just pleasure. Obviously, I really love Joni Mitchell. I think it was that accidental thing in Iceland, where the wrong albums arrive to shore, because I was obsessed with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Hejira as a teenager. I hear much more of her in those albums. She almost made her own type of music style with those, it’s more a woman’s world.

Hejira is one the most feminist albums ever.
Right? The lyrics! And The Hissing of Summer Lawns as well. I love “The Jungle Line”, it sounds like something somebody would make now, it’s crazy. Maybe it’s because it’s not my generation, but when I hear the folk stuff that she did before that, I hear it as a lot of people and not just her…

When it was originally misreported that Vulnicura was produced by Arca, instead of co-produced by you and Arca, it reminded me of the Joni Mitchell quote from the height of her fame about how whichever man was in the room with her got credit for her genius.
Yeah, I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” I’ve done music for, what, 30 years? I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him. He wanted to putting something on his own Twitter, just to say it’s co-produced. I said, “No, we’re never going to win this battle. Let’s just leave it.” But he insisted.

The world has a difficult time with the female auteur.
I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this – I’m not dissing him – this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats – it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.

ONE THING THAT MADE ME LAUGH: Time Out’s review of Mark Ronson’s new album by Oliver Keens: “Like “Get Lucky” a couple of years back, “Uptown Funk” smartly tapped into a nostalgia the public didn’t realise it had. Where Daft Punk used disco, Ronson (and guest Bruno Mars) used the synthed-up sounds of ’80s electric funk. Yes, it’s generic to the point of parody, and sounds like hundreds of perfectly ace records by black American artists that already exist. Yes, Ronson admitted that it took six whole months to record and that he even passed out trying to come up with the relatively simple two-chord guitar part. None of that matters. This is pop working as it should: being totally shameless, ubiquitous and providing that sacred bridge between the club and ‘The X Factor’. If you plan on going to a wedding in 2015, you will hear “Uptown Funk”. Deal with it. Last year, Ronson gave a TED talk about sampling. In its studied and laboured way, “Uptown Special” sounds like an album made by someone who’s given a TED talk on sampling. You can’t fault the ambition here, but as an album, it’s hard to give an uptown fuck.”

ONE THING THAT MADE ME CRY: Fashion Gibberish
For a while I’ve been thinking of starting a blog called Property Developer Gibberish, as hoardings fill up around London with an almost Orwell level of doublespeak, with talk about creating “communities” and “legacies” and “respecting the tradition” of areas they are redeveloping and ripping the heart out of. The fashion world is equally guilty of misusing language in a bid to make their particular cut of cloth stand out from the crowd. The Dutch clothing store, The Sting (founded 1982), is responsible for this corker: harnessing sixties pop and a code of honour, but – best of all – Nonsenese!

Sting
By the way, The Sting is one of the very few London shops with a connecting tunnel leading directly from the tube. It can be entered via the Piccadilly Circus station.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 109 other followers

%d bloggers like this: