Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 25th July

Big Man On The Bass
Sad news that Bob Babbitt (Midnight Train to Georgia, Rubberband Man, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Inner City Blues, Band Of Gold, Tears Of A Clown, Copacabana, Never Can Say Goodbye—wow!) has passed away. Watch Standing In The Shadows Of Motown and thrill to his pulse, precision and groove. He’s totally on it, whether negotiating James Jamerson’s iconic lines or his own. Watch him—in a moment caught on low-res videocam—reflected in Meshell Ndegeocello’s sunglasses, as he tearfully talks about the assassination of Martin Luther King, saying of the other musicians who made up the Funk Brothers, “I felt as sad as they did. I was one of them.”

“She Came With Her Spindly Little Legs And Her Mental Hair And Sang Her Heart Out…”
Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle. Philip King, producer: “There’s something about singers, they’re sort of odd, you know. They carry songs with them… how many songs is any singer singing at one time? If you talk to a great jazz singer they’ll say I know five hundred songs but I’m singing thirty of them at the minute… Certainly the way that she sang that night, Amy… sang the blues away, She used her gift to still her trembling soul. She used her gift as a way to explain herself to herself. To entertain people, sure, but to sing the blues and to give herself some relief.” On bass, Dale Davis. On guitar, Robin Banerjee. Singing stunningly, Amy Winehouse. There are too many great moments to list, but the Ray Charles interview, an exquisite Me & Mr Jones, the way Amy’s eyes light up when she talks about the Shangri-La’s, the way she sings ‘Door’ in You Know That I’m No Good. If you love music, watch this film.

Surely Previous?

On the shelf above, a sticker read: “When It’s Gone, It’s Gone!”

 


Euro 2012: A Thriller. Imogen Heap’s Version: Not So Much

I forgot to write about this, but just found a note. Now—I love a re-visioned MJ classic as much as the next person {EVIDENCE FOR THE PROSECUTION: Robbie Fulks’ Billie Jean} but it has to make sense. The usual end-of-tournament slo-mo roundup-with-music was typically well edited and included all the moments of high tension and goals to die for that are prerequisite. It was soundtracked by Imogen Heap (who I usually like and admire) doing an acoustic cover of Thriller—nice piano playing, and lyrically some strike/hand/paralyzed-type links for relevant footage. But, Billie Jean with an impassioned, paranoid delivery atop a slinky bolero beat=goal. Thriller with all the thrills drained out, replaced with slightly hammy over-emoting=horrific penalty shoot-out miss.

Tonight The Blackbird Dies
Despite really liking Low and seeing them live last year, I was ashamed to discover I’d never heard Monkey, which blasts out over the opening of a cracking (but modest) B-picture, Killshot, based on Elmore Leonard’s book of the same name, one of the great modern-day crime novels. The song is fantastic—“Tonight you will be mine, tonight the monkey dies…” Nice to finally see a Hollywood film about hitmen that’s not excessive and stupid, but tight and realistic instead. Mickey Rourke is in finest Wrestler mode as Armand “Blackbird” Degas, Diane Lane is excellent and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richie Nix is really fine. The behind camera lineup is impressive: Produced by Laurence Bender and the Weinsteins, directed by John Madden, shot by Caleb Deschanel, thanks to Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack in the credits. Of course, it never got a cinema release in Britain.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 18th July

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, born 14th July, 1912
My favourite photograph of a musician is this, a picture of Woody Guthrie, kindly given to me by the peerless Bob Gumpert. It’s my favourite because it has all the essential ingredients for a great music photo: An Icon. A Cigarette. A great location. A wide-angle that puts you right there. An acolyte, absolutely in the moment of playing with an trailblazer. A fascinated, curious crowd, all looking about fifteen. Their expressions are priceless.

Jack ’n’ Woody

I asked Bob how he came to have the picture: “It was taken by a photographer named Art Dubinsky—I am guessing the late 50’s-early 60’s in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, NYC. The other guitar player is Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. Art was a friend, a generous man who was a far better photographer than he got credit for. He lived in NYC at the time—at least I think so. I met him when he lived in LA and I was working in a rental darkroom, time behind the counter for time at the enlarger. He came in one day to use the darkroom as his home had burned down. We got to talking and became friends. He put me in contact with the National Lawyers’ Guild which led first to my photographing farmworker housing at Gallo wine, housing they said they didn’t have, and then to Harlan County, Kentucky for three months of photographing a coal miner’s strike. That in turn led to everything else. Sorry—I guess that is really more about Art and I and not the photo. He gave me the image, probably for no other reason than I liked it and had said so.” An appropriate story to celebrate Woody’s hundredth birthday—a story of friendship, inspiration and workers’ rights.

Poor Old Donovan, Destined To Be Dissed By Dylan Comparison Forever*
The always-amusing Barney Ronay on André Villas-Boas, new Spurs Manager, Guardian. “…there was something oddly heartening about the return in full-page panoramic close-up of André Villas-Boas, now formally in place as the new head coach of Tottenham Hotspur, and appearing, austerely suited in the middle of all this wretchedness, like an unexpected knock at the door from the local curate, who against all expectation you find yourself delightedly ushering inside. Welcome back, André. It has become fashionable to see Villas-Boas as a rather tarnished figure, to recall the frictions of his time at Chelsea, to balk at that familiar air of manicured expectancy. And to portray him instead as a kind of weak-chinned, own brand José Mourinho, Donovan to Mourinho’s Dylan, a provincial Wimpy bar to Mourinho’s gleaming McDonald’s, a managerial Sindy doll of prodigious inauthenticity. This is more than a little unfair. If nothing else there is much to admire in the way Villas-Boas is still out there… displaying the unshakable backseat extroversion that all the best managers have, as he winces and struts centre stage in skinny-trousered splendour, looking each time a little more like a tiny little dancing soldier on top of a wedding cake, or, increasingly, like a particularly convincing waxwork of himself.”

* However, Donovan doesn’t see it this way himself—there’s not much humility going on in his autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man. The evidence of Don’t Look Back doesn’t lie, however—It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue vs To Sing For You?

Roll Away The Stone
The Stones played their first gig at the Marquee club 50 years ago this week. Bill Wyman, in his book, Stone Alone: “On 3 March 1963 we played… an afternoon session at the Ken Colyer Club, Studio 51, in Soho. It was ironic that we were given a great welcome by the ladies, Vi and Pat, who ran this stronghold of New Orleans-style jazz, whereas the jazz snobs at the Marquee and elsewhere saw us as upstarts who should not be encouraged.” The Stones went on to play Ken’s club most Sundays for a year. On September 10th, 1963, The Beatles visited them as they rehearsed at the 51. They presented them with a new, unfinished song, I Wanna Be Your Man. On hearing that the Stones liked the song, John and Paul went into the office and completed it.

The Sound Of Gatz
Ben Williams is on stage through the whole of Gatz (so that’s about six-and-a-half-hours in all), sitting at a desk off to one side, controlling the sound effects and cues, as well as playing various characters. He does a stunning job—sometimes intensifying the drama, sometimes broadening it out with humour—running the gamut from car crashes and gunshots to air conditioner hums and vaudeville turns. One of the most (unexpectedly) moving moments comes when Mike Iveson, playing Gatsby’s houseguest Klipspringer, turns the office sofa into a piano and mimes the gestures of a pianist, paying along to Williams’ tape. He abruptly stops and sings, acapella, the only words in Gatz which don’t come from Fitzgerald’s book, the song The Love Nest.
Building houses still goes on
Now as well as then
Ancient Jack and Jill are gone,
Yet return again.
Ever comes the question old,
“Shall we build for pride? Or,
Shall brick and mortar hold
worth and love inside?”
Just a love nest, cozy and warm,
Like a dove rest, down on the farm,
A veranda with some sort of clinging vine,
Then a kitchen where some rambler roses twine…

In an exquisite rendition, Iveson turns the theme from the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, a pretty standard Twenties musical number, into a complex, achingly poignant commentary on the emptiness at the heart of Jay Gatsby’s mansion.

M.I.A.’s ‘Bad Girls’ Video, As Recommended This Week In Metro By Shirley Manson
Words are extraneous. Just go to 2:03. Go on.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 11th July

Poliça/Dark Star
Reasons to Hate: Huge amounts of reverb. Achingly trendy/Hipster friendly. Arty Double tracked female vocal. Iconic Grateful Dead title. [Dangerous to pilfer Iconic Grateful Dead titles]. Reasons To Love: Wonderful live drumming with a huge open-room sound. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a pummeling four-on-the-floor (hey, even Take That’s Shine has a fabulous drum track, all Rak Studios, circa Mickie Most). Cracking tune. And the arty double-tracked vocal really works, weaving in and out of unison. It reminds me of Al Green singing around and off himself in How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? Add all this to some great twanging bass and slightly out-of-focus horns and it’s a winner. Granted, this could end up wearing thin over more than a few tracks, but Dark Star and Lay Your Cards Out (for another great melody and truly insane drumming) are absolutely terrific.

Seven Is The Magic Number
A review of a new version of Sophocles’ Antigone by Anne Carson (Antigonick) in the New Yorker printed this fine single-verse version of the siege of Thebes: “Seven gates/and in each gate a man/and in each man a death/at the seventh gate.” Seven is a very lyrical number— especially in country blues. There’s Muddy Waters, singing Willie Dixon’s Hoochie Coochie Man: “On the seventh hour/On the seventh day/On the seventh month/The seven doctors say/He was born for good luck/And that you’ll see/I got seven hundred dollars/Don’t you mess with me.” Or Dylan’s Ballad Of Hollis Brown: “There’s seven breezes a-blowin’/All around the cabin door/Seven shots sound out/Like the ocean’s pounding roar/There’s seven people dead/On a south Dakota farm/Somewhere in the distance/There’s seven new people born.”

Nora Ephron (and Susan Edmiston) interview Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman’s office, late summer, 1965
But negro rhythm and blues has been around underground for at least twelve years. What brought it out now?
The English did that. They brought it out. They hipped everybody. You read an interview asking who the Beatles’ favourite singer was and they say Chuck Berry. You never used to hear Chuck Berry records on the radio—hard blues. The English did that. England is great and beautiful, though in other ways kinda messy. Though not outside London…”
In what way messy?
There’s a snobbishness. What you see people doing to other people. It’s not only class. It’s not that simple. It’s a kind of Queen kind of thing. Some people are royalty and some are not.” Plus ça change…

Best Thing I Read About The Gracelands Controversy
Following Stuart Jeffries’ Guardian review of the 25th anniversary documentary, where he concluded that Paul Simon should have left the music alone:—“it gave the chance to hear unsullied the South African music that thrilled Simon 25 years ago. How lovely to hear, for instance, accordionist Forere Motloheloa laying down a groove without Paul Simon singing over it. If only it had remained the music Simon loved, rather than the music he, having loved, used.”*

Widlow, on the Guardian’s blog, answered with this: “Paul Simon clearly was a politically naive, contrary, slightly obsessive, perfectionist artist, who may have thought himself above such things as needing permission from the ANC. But what he produced was akin to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics: a body of work that incarnated the exact opposite of the Apartheid philosophy, that sang out “Mixing cultures is good”, that proclaimed “These musicians are virtuosos and their culture is vibrant”, that put Black and White people into the same studio and had them eating and drinking together and using the same toilets and calling each other Brother…”

*This footage of the original 1985 sessions was extraordinary. There were children and babies sitting on the studio floor as the guitarists danced around the backing singers, vaulting their legs over their guitars (!) with the monumental bass and accordian lines of what became Boy In The Bubble booming out…

Leaving On A Jet Plane
Photo found in PA Photos: Britain in the 60s. British pop groups, bound for the USA on a tour which will yield half a million dollars. They are the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Alan Price Set and Eire Apparent. Eire Apparent?

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 4th July

Take A Giant Step Around The Block
In the office Hugh started singing Goin’ Back (I can’t remember why. Nor can he) and I said, “Oh, the Monkees did the original version of that…” and he said he was sure it was Dusty Springfield. We were both convinced it was written by Goffin and King (we were right), but a short Wiki later it turned out that Dusty’s was the first released (although Goldie of Goldie & The Gingerbreads had recorded first it before falling out with G&K over some changes she’d made to the lyrics). Anyway… the song I was actually thinking of was Take A Giant Step, also by Goffin & King, that was on the Monkees first album. Then I said, “Oh that was recorded around the corner, at the Philips recording studios at Marble Arch.” As it was, as well as You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and If You Go Away. Philips Studios opened in 1956, located in the basement of Stanhope House, close to Marble Arch. It was also used by the Walker Brothers for Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. By 1983 the studio had become part of the Polygram group, was put on the market and bought by Paul Weller who renamed it Solid Bond.

Paul Weller—“Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers and all that recorded in Philips Studios. And then all of a sudden this desk wasn’t ‘any good’ any more and this tape machine wasn’t ‘any good’ any more and everything had to be digital. And as soon as we all went digital, man, everyone sounded the fucking same. From country & western to funk to rock’n’roll or whatever, everybody sounded glassy and linear. A technical thing, but it’s true.” And so he sold it, and all the equipment.

Well, I went down the road to see what was still there. I passed Le Pain Quotidien—where we had lunch the other day and, bizarrely, Paul Weller walked past with some dry cleaning—and negotiated safe passage past the machine-gun wielding cops outside Tony Blair’s house in Connaught Square. I found an imposing set of steps leading to Stanhope House (1), an excellent resprayed Sixties mini—can’t you just see Dusty holding down her bouffant to squeeze into it? (2), a Middle Eastern electronics shop selling translated copies of Tony Blair’s biography, next to some irons and hair trimmers (3), and, next door, a shop whose purpose I couldn’t pin down. There were replicas of the creature from Alien, some crash helmets and petrol cowlings with airbrushed women on. There were TVs and mobile phones. There was a five string G+L bass (4). I asked how much the bass was. “Ah, that’s not for sale. It’s in the window to attract attention.” It’s things like this—it was the least attention-grabbing part of the display (except to me, that is)—that make me love Edgware Road.


Dusty vs Scotty
It’s great when you dig out something that you really loved as a teenager and it still sounds as great, in every way, as you remembered it! I’m gathering tracks to make up a DJ set for illustration Collective ART SCHOOL DISCO—I know, what were they thinking?—I’ve never DJ’d in my life, but they said I didn’t have to stand there actually doing anything clever, I could just give them a CD… They are pitching up at Boxpark in Shoreditch to illustrate to the Sounds Of Disco for the day, so I was looking for stuff we loved in our Manresa Road studios from 75-79. Scotty was loved for Draw Your Brakes from The Harder They Come soundtrack, and for the most fabulous and wonderful Skank In Bed. YouTube it (it’s not available in any other way as far as I know). Over a version of Breakfast In Bed (as heard on Dusty In Memphis, written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie ‘Flipside’ Fritts) Scotty sings, shouts and pleads with Lorna —who did the version of the song that Scotty is freaking out over—and then breaks off to admonish his musicians in a, frankly, undescribable, way. Majestically bonkers.

Another Mag Done Gone/Word Down
“Sad news, sad news, come to me where I sit.” Word Magazine closed this week. Now who’s going to interview all those amazing and interesting characters that no-one else has the brains to talk to? And provide a home for the peerless Rob Fitzpatrick, whose writing about the end of music just gets better and better:
On Neil Young’s
Americana: “But if you remove the comfort blanket of (in this case entirely unwanted) hero worship for a moment—and I love Neil Young dearly—what you’re left with is a record that no one in their right mind could possibly want to play more than once or twice. There is a great deal to be said for recording quickly and intuitively, but not much for bashing through everything once and then calling it a day.”
On the myth of Scott Walker:
“For example, a discourse on the song Patriot (A Single) runs aground when the writer can’t decide what Walker really meant in a particular line. “It’s virtually impossible to say,” they admit, “and Walker has always been sparing with his explanations…” All of which makes me think, “Well, if you don’t know and he won’t, or can’t, say, what is the point of all this? What are we doing here?” Sometimes it’s important to step back and open a window and remember that this is pop music; it’s not meant to hurt this much.”
On the shelf life of bands: “ If I were a musician, the question I hope I would ask myself more than any other is: who cares? …the facts are simple: a hundred years of recorded music is available at the touch of a button to anyone who cares to listen. Are you really sure it’s necessary to put out another LP? It is more than ten years since The Cranberries released a record, but despite no one on Earth missing them, they have decided to make another. Sadly, 30 seconds into the first tremulous, ponderous, say-nothing, waltz-time. half-arsed shrug of a track you will be screaming at the sky. Here’s Cast… John Power’s relentless lack of imagination makes Beady Eye sound like Sun Ra.  Criticising Guided by Voices is a bit like criticising weather—momentarily distracting, but entirely pointless when it just keeps coming anyway.”
On Karen Dalton’s 1966: In 1966 Dalton was 29 years old and had left New York to live in a remote cabin in Colorado with her husband, Richard Tucker, and children. Most nights they would gather around a log fire and sing and on one of those nights a friend called Carl Baron, who’d sweated up to this address-free outpost with his precious reel-to-reel tape recorder, captured the songs as they were sung. Forty-five years later, the ghosts of that evening have finally been let loose… Dalton certainly doesn’t seem to be performing these songs; this is eavesdropping on a grand scale and it has all the dark thrill and guilty tang that comes with that behaviour. We are the unseen watchers, the eyes at the window, the ears at the wall, and there is, I think, a psychic cost involved in that deal. Friends and lovers trading songs around a sparking grate is one thing: having those same moments digitally diseminated decades after your death is quite another. The covers and the traditional songs that inhabit this exquisitely presented recording are deeply moving and I wouldn’t want to be without them, but rarely, if ever, have I been as haunted by a collection as I am by 1966.…on 1966 [Dalton] sounds relaxed. Safe. At peace. Whether you’re willing to risk disturbing that hard-won peace by listening in is, of course, entirely up to you.”

I’m bereft.

Inappropriate Musical Illustration
“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me, maybe?

Ripped from the sketchbook, illustrator John Cuneo’s visual reaction to the Carly Rae Jepsen song that has been driving America mad (judging by the comments after John’s post). nb—John has informed me that “I draw to praise that song, not to bury it.”

Next—Fontella Bass?
Always nice to to discover a typeface named after a great soul singer. (Staton by Henrik Kubel, a2-type, 2010)

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