Five Things Extra! Blake Mills at Bush Hall

BM

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

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

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

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

Five Things Extra! Iceland

Iceland, Early May
The size of England, the population of Bromley. And 90% live in one city, Reykjavik. So we set off to the wilds and discover many an isolated church (all with harmoniums), beer made from icebergs and the cafe where the cover of John Grants’ Pale Green Ghosts was shot.

1 Airport Liquor Store/Strange cafe menu
Bjork, of course, means Birch.

I-Birch

2 Harmonium in a house at the Icelandic Folk Museum
Right next to the extraordinary Skogafoss waterfall. Tourism is great in Iceland. At most sites of natural beauty they put some wooden posts in the ground to denote a car park. That’s it. No toilets, wastebins (take it with you, folks!), concessions, ticket booths. Then you’re free to wander into the waterfall. Health and Safety, you say? Nei. btw, the harmonium worked perfectly, sounded great.

i-Harmonium

3 Violin Workshop, Reykjavik
A wall of violins (with a Pinocchio puppet, too) hang just out of shot in this rather lovely glass-fronted work space.

i-violin

4 Dyngja guesthouse, Höfn
Höfn is on the eastern edge of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have full access to Sergio Mendes records, as we discovered when the hotel owner’s son gave us the keys and pointed out this stereogram and his dad’s 70’s record collection, and left us to our own devices. Fuelled by langoustines and glacial beer we disturbed the sleep of the other occupants of the guesthouse with a hit parade consisting of Boston (“More Than A Feeling”), Arlo Guthrie, Stan Getz, America (“Horse With No Name” from History, worst album cover illustration ever), and, of course, Brasil ’66, getting us in the mood for this summer.

i-Sergio

5 Stunning modern nautical church, Stykkishólmur, Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Featuring an unbelievable new organ. Sadly not heard.

i-Church-Organ

And finally…
back in Reykjavik, to the Mokka-Kaffi, serving espresso since 1958, and lately location to John Grant’s album cover. They’re so cool that they don’t even have a copy of the album anywhere, and our internet was patchy so we couldn’t even google a copy of it. I was rather annoyingly insisting we recreate it, so we had to wait until a table was free and rely on my flawed memory. Marcel did an excellent job getting the right feel with Hipstamatic, though.

I-Mokka copy

 

Five Things Extra: A Few Of My Favourite Things

Words and Music, Box, Cox & Roberts
Found when moving, ukulele sheet music. Ghost Riders on the trail of the Lonesome Pine, before fetching up in Woodstock…

Across

Michael Douglas as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra, the single most vivid Hollywood performance of last year.
“Why do I love you? I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I’m with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for ignoring the possibilities of the fool in me, and for accepting the possibilities of the good in me. Why do I love you? I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, and for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening.”

Donald Fagen, Subterranean in Gestation, Eminent Hipsters
“I must have been about 8 years old when my father, like so many second-generation American dads, decided to get his family the hell out of the city and make a run at upward mobility in the suburbs. After a couple of false starts, we finally settled into a ranch-style home nestled among hundreds of its near-identical brothers in Kendall Park, N.J., a typical housing development circa 1957. The development was not very fully developed. I was not amused. Sawdust still hung in the air. To walk out of the sliding glass doors onto the slab of concrete that was the patio and gaze across an ocean of mud at one’s doppelganger neighbors was, well, awesome. My parents, gazing out the window of  the kitchen of the future, delighted in the open space, the gently curving streets and the streamlined look of the cream Olds Dynamic 88 all cosy in its carport. But for me, a subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness, it was a prison. I’d been framed and sentenced me to a long stretch at hard labor in Squaresville.”

Fascinating stuff about The Boswell Sisters (check out “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”) and Henry Mancini, and I’m only a third of the way in.

Favourite Songs Of The Year
Lorde, “Royals”
Synth bass. Beats. No other instruments, just a punchy lead and great backing vox. A top melody. And pop-star skewering lyrics to die for:
“I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh/I cut my teeth on wedding rings in the movies/And I’m not proud of my address/In a torn-up town, no postcode envy…
But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom/blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece/jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash…”
followed by her curtly dismissive: “We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair.” Thrilling.

Dan Penn, Zero Willpower
The Muscle Shoals documentary made me listen again to Dan Penn’s Do Right Man from 1994. Writer of “Dark End Of The Street” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” among others, the album was recorded in the Shoals and features many of the town’s greats. This track was always a favourite, and listening again to the perfectly weighted rhythm section of Roger Hawkins and David Hood – like the suspension on a bridge – to the stately horns and organ, to the helicopter-like tremolo of Reggie Young’s guitar, I’m struck by its perfection. Nobody plays more than the song needs, or less than it deserves.

Robbie Fulks, “That’s Where I’m From”
Bob Dylan said in 1990, There’s enough songs in the world. The world don’t need any more songs…  and I knew what he meant. Bob weakened his case, of course, by writing “Love Sick”, “High Water (For Charley Patton)” and “Sugar Baby” a few years later. In some genres, you may as well give up, modern Country, especially. As the Country mainstream does the thing it does every decade or so and flirts with AOR, and the alt-end just gets more singer-songwritery (i.e. like smooth-sounding versions of Lucinda Williams) I didn’t expect to find a new Fulks album so moving. Do I need another acoustic bluegrass ’n’ country album? Well, yes. Especially one recorded in three days by Steve Albini in Chicago. Ken Tucker, writing for npr, puts it perfectly: “With Gone Away Backward, Fulks has made an album that feints in the direction of nostalgia while grappling very much with the here and now. Even for a singer-songwriter known for his clever twists and turns, it’s a considerable achievement. It partakes of folk, country, bluegrass and honky-tonk even as the shape of the songs and the content of the lyrics close off much chance of any one of these genres claiming the music as its own.”

Fulks had recorded “That’s Where I’m From…” a few years back in a more traditional arrangement with a full band and pedal steel, and it’s interesting to compare and see how much deeper the song’s become, supported this time round with a couple of guitars, bass and mandolin. A sound that’s totally naked – you could be sitting in a room with them. Every note perfectly placed. And a lyric that summons the fantastic ‘Cosmopolitan Country’ of the late 60s, of Tom T Hall and Tammy and George, as it limns the thoughts of a man far from his past:
“Back in the driveway/The end of the workday/How fast that world disappears
A fresh lawn, a pine tree/A neighbor just like me/Who’s worked all his life to get here…”
And he thinks back on…
“Dad doing battle/With dirt hard as gravel/And summers the crops never came
We’d shoot down a pheasant in flight/And sing songs about Jesus all night…”
And the chorus kicks in…
“That’s where I’m from/Where time passes slower/That’s where I’m from/Where it’s yes ma’am and no sir
You can’t tell I’m country/Just you look closer/It’s deep in my blood
A white collar, a necktie/That’s where I’ve come/Half-naked in the moonshine/That’s where I’m from…”
Then, after a glorious interlude of guitar interplay, the killer couplet: “If you’ve ever heard Hank Williams sing/Then, brother, you know the whole blessed thing…”

Five Things Extra: Hatch Show Print

Hatch

I approached Jim Sherraden, the man who saved Nashville’s Hatch Show Print, with some trepidation. I felt guilty. In the late 80s, having discovered the wonderful world of Show Prints (posters, often printed on card, that would be nailed to telegraph poles, placed in barbershop windows, pinned to noticeboards) I’d decided to get some printed for a 12-inch single cover. I’d seen some of the famous Hatch prints (Elvis and Hank) but had thought they were no longer a going concern. The only contact I could find for a Poster Shop was in a magazine article about Tribune Show Print, of Earl Park, Indiana. So I wrote them, and they sent me a set of forms to fill in. I sent them back with an International Money Order and waited. Three weeks later, a package of 25 posters arrived, on the “Rainbow” card that I’d requested, a favorite of mine from a Mighty Clouds of Joy poster that was on a wall at Muscle Shoals Sound.

Posters

Our single didn’t sell, but about six months later, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever came out with a faux version that just leaves you thinking, Why not go the whole hog and get the real thing?

Jim saved a great American institution, coining the phrase Preservation Through Production. He writes excellent lyrics to songs by Jonas Feld, a Norwegian national treasure (and at various times musical partner to Eric Anderson and Rick Danko). He signed my loved copy (rather brilliantly, as he spoke to me, telling me not to feel guilty, Tribune were great and still going strong) of the book about Hatch that came out a bunch of years ago. He told my mother a funny story about Levon Helm, and kissed her on both cheeks, making her, and my, evening. A hero.

Tom-Jim

The exhibition is on for another twelve days, and the wall of posters is something to see.

Five Things Extra: Welcome To Muscle Shoals, Hit Recording Capital Of The World

“David, little David, help me now, c’mon little David…”

ShoalsSign

Excerpts from David Hood Q&A, Soho Hotel Cinema

Audience member: Do you have a theory about what the magic of Muscle Shoals was?
DH: I think it’s a group of young people who wanted to make good music, that was the driving force. We never thought we’d be famous, we never thought we’d be Beatles or anything like that… always my role has been a supporting role. I was always the guy by the drummer playing and trying to do whatever I could to make the artist sound good… we all had the same goal and that was to play great music and to hear it on the radio. And that was a thrill… it’s still a thrill.

I was interested in the fallout of Aretha’s appearance in the Shoals and her sudden departure after Rick Hall and her husband, Ted White, came to blows. Was there a difference in feel, working in New York, where the sessions relocated, compared to the Shoals?
DH: Well it was a lot more formal. There were union guys saying You can’t unplug that amplifier, we gotta have someone come in. We did the Letterman show three weeks ago in New York and we’re setting up and I wanted to move my amplifier, and… In Muscle Shoals, we were the guys, that’s the thing. [But in New York] once we got in there, got in our positions, playing the music, it was the same, then…

Our little studio, 3614 Jackson Ave., when Paul Simon came and recorded there, he came to record “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”, because he had heard “I’ll Take You There” and wanted those black Jamaican musicians to play, so he came and booked the studio time. He booked four days for that song and when he came in it was raining and the studio leaked… I don’t know if it’s polite to say this but the sound engineer [Jerry Masters] taped tampons across the back of the control room roof, because the water was dripping on the control board. We got “Take Me” on the second take, so we had three more days – Paul Simon’s not going to give up the studio time he’s paying for so we cut “Kodachrome” and those other things… [those other things included “Loves Me Like A Rock”, “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” and the luminous and delicate “St. Judy’s Comet”, showing the deft touch that made them perfect collaborators. Just listen to Pete Carr’s guitar fills, Hood’s super-melodic bass and Barry Beckett’s cool vibes. The Rhythm Section also cut “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “My Little Town” with Simon].

So, very primitive facilities that we had… but it’s the sound of the musicians – it’s not the room, it’s the musicians. Many, many accidents happen in music. At the end of “Kodachrome” you hear Paul Simon go “OK” – that’s when he’s trying to get us to stop, to do it again, and we keep playin’ and it sort of becomes the record, so you never know on things like that.

My friend Alex: Often in the film Rick Hall comes across as an eccentric and sometimes brutal character – is that a fair depiction?
DH: That’s some true depiction – to this day. The session where you see [in the film] Candi Staton  recording ”I Ain’t Easy To Love”…

Alex: He’s all over it, isn’t he…
DH: He was so typical Rick Hall. He was still as awful as he ever was. “No man, that’s no good! That’s not what I want…”

Audience member: Is it a love/hate thing?
DH: Mostly love [audience laughs]. He gave me my start, I would be nowhere without him… I tell him that every time I see him. It’s a small town where we are. You either love each other or kill each other!

Other than the fact that I missed MSTthere being any mention of Eddie Hinton (add your own non-hitmaking Shoals denizen here), the film captures something of the time and place that those wonderful records came from. Read Mick Brown’s lovely piece on the Telegraph’s site, that tells you what you need to know.

I caught up with David after 25 or so years – the last time we talked was in his office at 1000 Alabama Avenue. I wore the T-Shirt the studio had given us, and Alex took a picture on his phone.

Quote at the top: Mavis Staples’ exhortation to David Hood in “I’ll Take You There”. Sign photograph taken by me in ’87.

5 Things Extra: Dobell’s Exhibition

Dobells

George Elliot, Bill Colyer, Brian Harvey, Doug Dobell, Ken Lindsay, George Webb, John Jacks and a bottle of Emva Cream Sherry at the opening of Dobells in Brighton in 1957. Bill had just finished building it all with Peter Martin.

The Dobell’s exhibition at my old alma mater, Chelsea School of Art (now relocated in the shadow of Tate Britain and renamed university of the arts london chelsea) was a Proustian rush – who knew that the Museum Of London had collected parts of the original shop when the Tower Street branch finally closed in 1992? The ‘drum’ sign, the record bags, the cover artworks, most of all an original record rack built by my dad – filled in a picture of what it was like to be there, at a time when record shops were part-business, part-clubhouse, and part-preacher’s pulpit. I met two of my old bosses, Les and Gerry, caught up with Leon Parker – whose hard work had made the exhibition happen – and ended up between Donald Smith (the curator) and Jona (“You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties”) Lewie as they both reminisced about Anthony Newley and sang snatches of his songs back and forth, which seemed a strangely appropriate end to the evening.

Richard Williams was there too, and writes here about the story of Dobell’s in a typically astute post on his blog, thebluemoment.com.

Here are some photos – mostly taken by my dad, Bill – of life in the shop in Brighton, with a picture of the more famous London shops at the end.

Unknown man outside shop, possibly Pete Martin’s wife Joyce behind him.

Unknown man outside shop, possibly Pete Martin’s wife Joyce behind him.

“Has ‘Trad’ Jazz Had It? Special Investigation.” Those were the days… Don Sollash, my mum Betty and me, and my cousin Ray, Brighton Shop, 1957

“Has ‘Trad’ Jazz Had It? Special Investigation.” Those were the days…
Don Sollash, my mum Betty and me, and my cousin Ray, Brighton Shop, 1957

Early window display. Poor opinion of Elvis Presley expressed.

Early window display. Poor opinion of Elvis Presley expressed.

I, however, love Elvis.

Early record browsing seals habit of lifetime.

Early record browsing seals habit of lifetime.

Ron & Mina Bowden and Bill look on as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (cut off) play in the shop.

Ron & Mina Bowden and Bill look on as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (cut off) play in the shop.

Charing Cross Road, Jan 1966, Kodachrome Slide

Charing Cross Road, Jan 1966, Kodachrome Slide

Extra! Five Things I Loved This Year…

The Best Use Of An Unlikely Venue
Sam Amidon, Westminster Central Library. Turned into, variously, a New York avant-jazz Loft Space, a poetry workshop, a folk festival and a church.

Sam

 

This Table In Spain
Mark Ritter: Alter Muddy Water. Written by Lee Hazlewood. Heard once, thanks to YouTube, never forgotten (or, for that matter, ever want to hear again.)
Table

 

This Guitar At The Christie’s Sale
Elvis’ Fender Jaguar, apparently.
Elvis Guitar

 

Favourite Acrobatic Moment From My Favourite Concert
The Webb Sisters’ astonishing backflip in the “Charlie Manson” verse of The Future, Leonard Cohen concert, Paris Olympia, where he played his greatest works [songs you’ve loved so long they’re almost part of your DNA] with his greatest ever band.

LenOl

 

 

And At The End Of The Year, A Present
A Hollie Cole album is always a welcome addition to our household, and this December, an early Christmas present, Night. Standout tracks are stunning versions of If You Could Read My Mind and Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues, with glorious support from her original Trio, David Piltch on bass and Aaron Davis on piano.There’s a sadness in her voice that can’t be denied, but music this great always uplifts.

Oh, And Something To Look Forward To For Next Year…
The outrageous trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s version of Gatsby, featuring, as its soundtrack, No Church in the Wild by Jay-Z and Kanye West, Florence and The Machine’s Bedroom Hymns and—for its final, most hysterical third—Filter’s industrial version of The Turtles’ Happy Together. Sensational.

Extra! 5 Things about Ne-yo & Malibu Red: The Musician/Commerce Interface

Exclusive!
Headline for Shortlist Magazine Malibu Red Advertorial: “It’s a little bit more exclusive.” Apart from the fact that something is exclusive or it isn’t, the very word in the same sentence as the sickly coconut liqueur Malibu is a little, shall we say, rum.

Don’t You Just Love Creative Collaborations?
“When Ne-Yo was appointed the creative director of Malibu Red [I know, who knew you could be?], he took the role seriously. Incredibly seriously, in fact. The Grammy-award-winning singer wasn’t just involved with the design of the bottle of Malibu Red [It’s brilliant. It looks like a bottle]—the new tequila-infused drink from Malibu—[Hold on a moment. Let’s process this. Ne-Yo. Rum. Coconut. Tequila. Yum!]… he also helped create the unique fusion, wrote an exclusive* track and shot a music video. Not only was his involvement hands-on [I know, again. It makes it sound like Ne-Yo is doing this from the bottom of his heart (so generous!) rather than being paid nightclubs-full-of-cash]… he’s the embodiment of Malibu Red [whatever that is].
*There’s that word again.

Ne-Yo, Tell Us About Your Video.
“The concept of the video is taking the smooth of Malibu rum and the fire of silver tequila. It’s the smooth mixing with the fire. In the video, I turn the smooth and the fire into a person… Ne-Yo! Ne-Yo! Enough Smooth ’n’ Fire, already!

Let’s See That Video!
It’s… hopelessly, hopelessly dull. Ne-Yo is the “Smooth,” a Latina everywoman the “Fire.” It takes place in a disco. It’s every bit as bad as that sounds. The song? Like a Forever 21 version of Nelly.

Ne-Yo

FYI
Malibu Red is available in supermarkets nationwide now [that’s a little bit more exclusive… no?]

Extra! 5 Things Concerning Leonard Cohen in Paris

Public Piano, Eurostar Terminal, Friday: Hallelujah
In some kind of omen, as we walk through the train terminal, a man sits and starts playing a lovely, stately version of Len’s now-most-famous-song. As he finishes we say thanks for starting our trip off in such perfect style. He advises us to buy a lottery ticket.

Montparnasse Cemetery, Sunday: Gainsbourg

A small detour to the tombs of Man Ray, de Beauvoir and Sartre, and here, covered in metro tokens, roses, kisses and poor pencil drawings, the grave of Serge Gainsbourg.


Olympia Theatre, Sunday: A Pilgrimage


The couple sitting next to us met at a Cohen concert at Leeds University on his first tour in May 1970. And here they were, celebrating at the Paris Olympia 42 years later. And my bad photography has cropped the grey fedora—adopted, I was assured, long before Len.

Olympia Theatre, Sunday.
The Concert:
In numbers
33 songs.
3 hours 40 minutes.
3 encores comprising seven songs.
9 musicians, made up of three women and six men—two singers from Kent, England, one from Los Angeles, USA, one from Montreal, Canada; one drummer from Mexico City, Mexico; one keyboardist from Florida, USA; one guitarist from Texas, USA; one bassist from New York State, USA; one violinist from Moldova; one multi-instrumental string player from Zaragoza, Spain.

The Concert: Five Great Moments
1  A brilliant performance of Everybody Knows, every verse a work of genius, every verse a still-accurate assesment of human weakness and failure. Co-written with Sharon Robinson, who sings a glorious solo version of Alexandra Leaving.
2  A bravura moment at the last verse of The Future where Leonard sings the “There’ll be fires on the road/and the white man dancing,” and bassist Roscoe Beck does a stately piroutte, which is followed by LC singing “And all the lousy little poets/coming round/tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson/and the white girls dancing,” whereupon the Webb Sisters turn away from their mikes, take one step back and, synchronised, do perfect cartwheels…
3  Leonard soloing on a Jew’s Harp, that most American of instruments on the hoedown breaks of Closing Time, one of two songs (Heart With No Companion being the other) where he sounds uncannily like Tom T. Hall, only deeper. Also, Take This Waltz in a Weimar-ish arrangement, has a hint of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Honest.
Night Comes On. I hadn’t dared to hope that I’d hear Leonard sing my favourite song. And sing it he does, causing some spontaneous tears in the audience, its mournful and beautiful melody letting the words cascade in their stoic and weary way, on the cushion of warmth the band create.
I remember catching a version of Who By Fire in the late 80s in a hotel room in LA by chance. It was on Night Music, a show hosted by David Sanborn, with Hal Willner and Jools Holland involved—like a precursor to Later. Sonny Rollins joined Leonard, and played an unaccompanied intro that tore the roof off before the band (including half of Was Not Was and Robben Ford) came in. Tonight, Javier Mas was the star turn, a masterclass in flamenco, playing the bandurria like a man possessed, the elastic strings rolling and tumbling to a frenzied crescendo…

The Concert: Some Observations
You have to make your peace with the fact that a certain amount of drama is missed by muting the drums quite this much. The sound is exquisitely clear and balanced, intentionally allowing every word to ring clearly through. To make up for the lack of beat, Larson’s churchy Hammond B3, Alex Bublitchi’s muscular violin and Javier’s Mas’s extraordinary Laud provide thrilling dynamics. Mitch Watkins on guitar (after eleven years in Lyle Lovett’s Large Band) provides structure, architecture and blues—his moaning slur at the end of a Wes Montgomery-like solo on Amen the coup de grâce.

The older-type singer (the ones who aren’t Mick Jagger, anyway) are very fond of the prizefighter pose. Len takes this even further than the bob-and-weave and sings at least half the set on his knees on the patterned rugs that cover the stage, James Brown-style. It also emphasised the supplicant nature of many of the songs: to God, to Poetry, to lust, love, the musicians and to the audiene, who he always addresses as “Friends.” His ability to get back up from his knees with grace is very impressive.

The only singer with a deeper voice than Len is Barry White. Fact.

1976: The First Time I Saw Leonard
Was on the south coast of England in 1976. A friend of my mother’s was managing the hotel where Leonard and his musicians were staying and had tickets. I didn’t really know much about his music then—but this was World Music before it had a name, with the flamenco melodies, the gypsy violin and the Moorish oud. Backstage for a meet and greet, we were struck dumb. The next morning, having breakfast at the next table, we were even more tongue-tied.

Leonard, Hand In Pocket, photograph by Michelle Clement.

Extra! 5 Things Concerning Willis Earl Beal

Declaiming Charles Bukowski at the start…

Tabernacle Testifying

Tabernacle Testifying

“I’m a wizard, not a Musician”: Willis Earl Beal at The Tabernacle

OK.

1 The look John Carlos, Mexico City 1968. One black-gloved hand. (On the right hand, though Carlos’s was on the left, but he looks more like Carlos than Smith). Cross that with Aaron Neville in his muscle/t-shirt days. Sunglasses. Tight jeans. Cowboy boots. Occasional wearing of a sheet as a cape. Sheet starts evening covering up AKAI reel-to-reel.

2 Poses With cape, and standing on chair, superhero. Stalking stage with mic: Grace Jones meets Emo Philips. Albequerque-back-porch-stretched-out-almost-horizontal-feet-crossed for one song.

3 Voice Paul Robeson. Tom Waits. The Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Something of James Carr. I’m just trying to give pointers. He doesn’t really sing/sound like any of ’em.

4 Tools Simple. Shaker Simple in comparison to most. Aforementioned reel-to-reel tape recorder (gotta love a performer whose set list is contained on a reel of tape). Open-tuned electric guitar, played on lap with strings fretted by thumb, Richie Havens-style, and amp. Drink that looks like Rum and Coca Cola. Belt, taken off and used to whip chair at one point.

5 Songs Some are no more than a backing track of cheap synth beat overlaid by buzzing insect sound, here mutated into a compelling signal to noise. One of the guitar songs is almost a classic Southern Soul Ballad. I don’t know what their titles are, I’d only heard one track before going, but all are declaimed with a frightening intensity, and as we’re all sitting/standing very close, it’s a little like watching performance art.

I love an act that grabs the evening by the scruff of the neck and, by force of will, carries an audience­—even as they’re trying to get a handle on what the hell’s been put in front of them. And ends it with: “We need you to buy the album, Acousmatic Sorcery…  [long pause] …the action figures [long pause] …the pencils… [long pause] …and if you do I will then personally come to your house and give you benediction.”

The Set Up

The Set Up

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