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 Lamb 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.

Wednesday, January 21st 2015: This Week…

I heard “The Mushroom Cloud” by Sammy Salvo for the first time
“I’ve got me a sweetheart and I love her, too/We want to make big plans but what can we do?
When a mushroom cloud has changed every rule/It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school
Peace, peace, peace where did you go?”

Fantastic piece of 1961 melodramatic apocalypse pop, written by the great Boudleaux Bryant, that almost made it as the theme tune for a new US tv drama Manhattan. “It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school…” – now that is songwriting genius. There’s a great site, The Art of the Title devoted to movie and tv credit sequences, and Manhattan made their 10 best of 2014. The eventual theme tune was written by Jónsi of Sigur Rós, who did the music score for the series.

I liked this story of one sick/slick guitar part
From an interview with Mark Ronson by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian: A courier arrives with a gift and a card from his record company, celebrating the arrival at No 1 in the charts of “Uptown Funk”, a collaboration with singer Bruno Mars that Ronson laboured over for six agonising months. He claims that he worked so hard on it that his hair started to fall out; at one point, the stress of trying to come up with a suitable guitar part caused him to vomit and faint. “We did 45 takes of it and I just couldn’t get it, it sounded like horrible bullshit, so we went to lunch, walked down to a restaurant. Everyone was saying: ‘Dude, what’s wrong with you? You’ve gone totally white.’ Because I was going on pretending everything was just fine; you don’t want to admit that you’re just not there, you’re not where you want to be. And I went to the toilet and just… fainted. I threw up, and fainted. They had to come and carry me out of the toilet.” As I’m leaving, he starts talking again about the guitar part on “Uptown Funk” that made him faint. He played it to his stepfather, Mick Jones, of AOR titans Foreigner. “And he said: ‘Oh, that’s good, is that Nile Rodgers?’

Of course, Ronson could just have hired Jules De Martino from the Ting Tings, who does a fine line in Chic-tastic rhythm guitar on their new album, Super Critical.

I missed out on PJ Harvey
By the time I read about the opportunity to watch her new album being recorded in 50-minute slots, it was sold out. Calum, however, got to see it, and gave an insight into what I missed:

“The set up is in the basement of Somerset House in the building recently abandoned by the Inland Revenue. Visitors are guided through the former rifle range, after decompression and mobile drop-off on the ground floor. In a one-way mirrored cubicle in the old gymnasium, the musicians, producer and technicians are already at work… we can see and hear them but they are isolated from us. No one within the recording studio looks up to the glass, the barrier remains intact. I find it hard to concentrate at first… this audio/visual voyeurism is unfamiliar territory.

The space is full of instruments some of which look like props – though a beautiful old snare drum is later pressed into service. Listen out for a hurdy-gurdy on the new PJ Harvey album. The talk inside the box is technical but then the assembled musicians run through a fairly short section of a song… or maybe it is a fairly short song… and it is possible to discern the beginnings of a ‘track’. It all looks like hard work and everyone is very well-behaved and patient. They do know they are being watched and this is bound to affect the ‘performance’. John Parish as producer sits on a white sofa (the whole interior is very white) and nods and suggests different approaches to the instrumentation. Snare drums, flute, saxophone, guitar and melodica are put to use with a good deal of experimentation with percussion on a marching-style rhythm. He asks PJ Harvey – ‘How’s your song doing in the middle of this?’ – she laughs in response. It seems quite tentative from everyone’s point of view…I have no idea if this is normal. At one point Parish says to Kendrick Rowe on drums something along the lines of ‘…you get into the groove at that point and there’s nothing wrong with that but maybe it should be a kind of standing up groove rather than a sitting back groove…’. The ‘audience’ are very attentive and quiet though we have been told that we don’t have to be. The session is about 50 minutes long and there is the feeling that people don’t want to miss anything.”

I was playing “Hey, Hey, Bunny” by John Fred and his Playboy Band…
and thinking how great it was (thanks, Richard) and decided to find out more about Mr Fred. I came across this Robert Christgau review from Rolling Stone in July, 1968, of the Judy in Disguise With Glasses album. Some excerpts, if you, too, are interested in knowing more about the obscure Mr Fred.

“John Fred, for those who manage never to listen to AM radio, is a kid from Louisiana who sold two-and-a-half million of a single called “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).” The radio is the center of your life when you’re driving a lot – in the old days, many producers used a car radio speaker to make sure they had it right – and ”Judy in Disguise” soon distinguished itself as a great car song. It had the simple melody and the heavy beat, but it was good music over and above that – the instrumental work was very tight, the arrangement original with several good gimmicks (a heavy breath for punctuation and a short filter-distort at the close), and the lyrics, well, strange, not what is called rock poetry but not “yummyyummy-yummy igotloveinmytummy” either. Furthermore, it sounded like John Fred and his Playboy Band had a fine time making the record. [Do you think that comes through on records? I’m inclined to believe it does]. One does not expect a good album from a John Fred. Even the Box Tops, a Top-40 group that has never released a second-rate single, make terrible albums…

On the cover of this album in its original release was a corny picture of the band. On the back were pictures of John’s two previous LPs – John has been a star in Louisiana for some time – and some acknowledgements (Sitar furnished by Kenny Gill Music, Baton Rouge, La.). But it is a great record. The album is now entitled Judy in Disguise and has a not-bad cartoon on the cover. Paula, which hadn’t wanted to release “Judy” as a single because it was a little, well, er, far out, decided to play the freak for what it was worth. But the album didn’t sell much. All those single sales were to the 12-year-old market. And in a couple of years, chances are that John Fred will be back in the South playing dances, or maybe in the administrative end of the music business.

Like many white singers from the South (Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, for instance), John Fred’s bag is pop R&B. He is tuned to Memphis and to white singers like Eric Burdon and Stevie Winwood, the Eric and Stevie of “When I Was Young” and “Gimme Some Lovin’.” And just like them, he has ambitions. Obviously, he and his collaborator, sax player Andrew Bernard, listened carefully to the Beatles and decided to do some studio stuff of their own. Similar decisions have produced a lot of bad music in the past year. But stuck down there in Shreveport, Fred and Bernard were principally entertainers who wanted to fool around a little. So when they use crowd noises in “Achenall Riot” they integrate them cleanly into the music. They write obscure lyrics but link them to things known and seen, so that “Agnes English,” is obviously about a whorehouse. They employ a sitar and a girl chorus and part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra but (out of pure caution, probably) never overdo it. Those three songs are the “experimental” ones. All were written by Fred and Bernard, who also contributed two more conventional songs and an arresting talk thing called “Sad Story”. The only one that doesn’t work is “Out of Left Field,” mostly because it’s hard to redo Percy Sledge. [“Sad Story” is amazing. An almost generic Southern Soul ballad is done with a minimal amount of instrumentation – ticking drums and one-finger keyboard – with a bizarrely Thief of Baghdad-style string arrangement. There’s a weird bit where Fred wordlessly sings a New Orleans Mardi-Gras melody. I’d love to hear Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard cover this.]

The Airplane and Stones have succumbed to excesses, but Fred and Bernard do not. Of course, they had much less to work with – the lyrics are high-pop in quality, and while the music is precise and well-realized, it is not brilliant. (The band is exceptionally tight live, but Fred is not a good performer, and his choice of material is unfortunate – he does other people’s songs because he believes his young audiences won’t recognize his own.) But for anyone who caught himself liking “Judy” or has a prejudice for happy music, the album is a worthwhile gamble. Just tell your friendly neighborhood dealer to write to Paula Records, 728 Texas Street, Shreveport, Louisiana. He’ll get it eventually.”

I bought a bargain Steely Dan DVD
£3 at Fopp bought me the DVD of Steely Dan’s Aja in the Classic Albums strand. Aja is an album I listened to recently, and found that I was almost alienated by its perfect sheen. However, this DVD, made in 1999 about an album released in 1977, is worth the price of admission for several things. Ian Dury, talking about how happy their music made him – “Jazz is a dangerous thing in Rock ’n’ Roll, you mustn’t do too much of it, and I don’t think they do… they use that knowledge and that love they’ve obviously got…” Drummer Rick Marotta on their profligate use of the best musicians money could buy (“It wasn’t like they’d play musical chairs with the guys in the band – they played musical bands. The whole band would go and a whole other incredible band would come in!”). We get a crack band assembled to play the songs as instrumentals to show off the grooves underneath. The marvellous Paul Griffin (Dylan’s Highway 61 pianist (strangely uncredited here) plays keyboards, Chuck Rainey’s on bass, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s on drums alongside Jon Herington and Walter Becker on guitars and Fagen on electric piano. We also get Donald Fagen rapping the song that was sampled from “Black Cow” (Uptown baby/Uptown baby/We gets down, baby/For the crown, baby).

There’s a great moment where they work their way through some of the guitar solos that didn’t make the cut on “Peg”. About eight guitarists had a go at it, and they play a couple of more-than-respectable attempts, before isolating Jay Graydon’s fantastic one-shot take that ended up on the album – and they both grin widely as he hits a particularly “Hawaiian” bend at the end of the first line. I can now safely listen to Aja again, hipped to the artful oddness of the backing vocals on “Peg” and the fantastic Chuck Rainey bass parts on “Home at Last”.

Wednesday, 17 December

A ‘Five Things’ film recommendation
I notice that Whiplash is coming out early in the New Year. I saw it at the London Film Festival, and thought it was a terrific addition to a small genre: the struggling musician film. It’s really difficult to make fictional music films. As John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote of Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, “It’s easy to find actors who can play and sing, and it’s easy to find musicians who believe they can act, but to find someone who can do both at the level needed, and at the same time, is rare… the problem with putting live performance in a narrative movie, the reason nobody does it, is you can’t splice the film together later; if the tempo is even a hair off between takes, the flow is ruined.” Issac was like a metronome, according to T Bone Burnette, who “sat off camera with a stopwatch, timing his individual measures.” What also makes Whiplash work is its twist on the “inspirational teacher movie”: As its young director, Damien Chazelle, says, “it’s structured like any inspirational teacher movie is structured, except my teacher is an asshole.”

Joe Keohane, in American Esquire captured it well: “The gist: Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a first-year student at the top conservatory in New York. He’s a promising jazz drummer, but no one seems to notice. Legendary music teacher Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) takes the kid under his wing, and sure enough, over time, whole worlds of potential are revealed. Ah, the magic of great teaching! Thing is, Fletcher isn’t a great teacher in the way, say, Robin Williams was in Dead Poets Society. He’s more of a sadistic monster, a bulging forehead vein of a man who believes there are no two more harmful words than good job. He screams at his students, pits them against one another, and pushes them until they cry and bleed… Sure, it might sound like something Ayn Rand wrote with Gordon Ramsay and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, but thankfully Whiplash resists any easy conclusions. It just looks at greatness, the seductive power of it, the collateral damage done in its pursuit, and asks, again and again: Is it worth it? You watch the drumming and you look at the human wreckage trailing in its wake, and it doesn’t look good, frankly. But then you watch more of that drumming, the stray beads of sweat on the ride and the blood on the snare, riot straining against rhythm, the whole of it capturing something elemental and profound, and you think, in spite of yourself, It is.

“The American jazz musician who saved my life”
Hidden away in Family (for the most part, a fairly ghastly section of the Saturday Guardian), this astonishing tale. It’s introduced thus: “Aged 21, Francois Grosjean’s father introduced him to a dinner guest one night, with a cryptic remark. They never met again but 45 years later, he discovered that this old friend of his parents had been pivotal to his existence.” He is looking through a short autobiography his mother wrote: “As I was reading about her pregnancy, I came across a few sentences that startled me, and that I had to read twice. My mother had written, “One day (my husband) brought home to dinner an American soldier, Jimmy Davis, a musician. He had just finished writing a song called “Lover Man” which became a big success. He persuaded me that it was wrong to abort. With his help, I decided to keep the baby.” It starts his search to find out more about Jimmy Davis…

Bob. An Audience of one. Totally Bonkers: “Will he experience the complete euphoria?”
Gabe alerts me to this, in which a Swedish company asks (with a little help from Google Translate) this: “Do we have more fun together with others? In Experiment Alone gambling company Paf investigates the role of community to human enjoyment and well-being. After five experiments and with more than 700,000 viewers, We Have Reached now the Grand Finale. One of Sweden’s, perhaps even the world’s, biggest Bob Dylan fans Is About To See his idol performances at an arena gig – all alone. How Will Frederick Find the experiment? Will he experience the complete euphoria or Will a feeling of emptiness come creeping It When there is no one to share the experience with?” Hear Bob and Band play Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” to an almost empty theatre, and the sound of one man clapping. Then hear Bob do a truly weird, deconstructed, voodoo version of “Blueberry Hill” that sounds like a bad New Orleans dream…

Jonny Trunk’s demented ordering instructions for his release of rare Brazilian album “Tam…Tam…Tam…!”
“Yes, I’d not heard of it either until August this year, which is why the LP is quite unexpected. Originally it was released in 1958 (in Brazil), and is a recording made relating to a musical extravaganza called “Braziliana” that toured the world in the 1950s. The music is a potent mix of hypnotic tribal chants, rhythms and extraordinary melodies – it sounds like no other album I can think of… The more you listen to Tam…Tam…Tam…! the more of the future you hear. To Order:
1) First decide what you version you would like.
2) Find yourself the correct note(s) – £5, £10. £20 etc.
3) Find yourself a piece of paper, upon which you must write i) your name, ii) your address, and iii) what format(s) you would like.
4) At the bottom of the paper draw something to do with Brazil or Brazilians. And yes, I know what you are thinking. Your drawing could be as good or as bad as you like. A simple football will suffice.
5) Finally wrap your money up in the paper, put it in an envelope and send it.

Image Of The Week: Gods Own Junkyard
At Lights of Soho, Brewer Street, the great creations of Neon Man, Chris Bracey…

Neon

 

Wednesday, 10 December

Idiosyncratic Careers Continue/1
Joni Mitchell at 71, still an admirable toughie. She continues to work – her next project is a four-part ballet culled from her back catalogue. She was recently interviewed by Billboard: “I’ve had a very full life. I don’t miss much of anything. I can’t sing anymore – don’t miss it. I can’t play anymore – don’t miss it. I’ve got all these instruments laying around and hopefully one day I’ll pick them up. But I do want to start writing my short stories, that’s what I want to do after I get this ballet out of the way. If it can happen, great – if it becomes apparent it’s not gonna happen, alright, I’ve got plenty to do. And I’ll still paint.”

At the British Library
A highly recommended Gothic Exhibition drew us here (and it is exceptionally good), but if you are in the area it’s worth popping in for 15 minutes to see the Treasures of The British Library, a permanent exhibition of highlights. Here you’ll find Jane Austen’s writing desk, the Magna Carta and a great selection of handwritten Beatles lyrics (here’s “A Hard Day’s Night” scrawled on a child’s birthday card).

Beatles1

Idiosyncratic Careers Continue/2
And Bob Dylan announces an album of Frank Sinatra covers, with these words: “It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” Michael Gray’s take on it is here. All of this reminds me of a great Dylan performance of “Restless Farewell” at Mr Sinatra’s 80th birthday bash. Frank’s request, apparently, and obviously chosen for its proto-“My Way” lyrics, the best of which was this couplet… “And the dirt of gossip blows into my face/And the dust of rumors covers me…” Accompanied by an orchestra, a lovely, lonesome fiddle and a guitarist that slips a “Maggie’s Farm” quote in near the end. And as it finishes and the applause starts, Bob nods and says, “Happy Birthday, Mr Frank”.

Heal’s has pre-Christmas festivities, with incredible G&T’s and this stack ’o’ Speakers

Stack

Barney sent me this a few weeks ago, but I’ve just re-found it.
I love the fact that it’s Hudson’s Menswear Dept.

Rockin' Revols

Wednesday, 3rd December

London Transport Lost Property Office window, Baker Street

Baker Street

Albums (one featuring BB King’s leg, I’m pretty sure) left at Archway in ’69 (disappointing to lose Abbey Road just after you’d just bought it, I’d imagine), and singles, including Harry Belafonte, abandoned on a number 24 bus in ’66.

Killer Serial
Driving from Antwerp to Utrecht we listen to Serial, which is as gripping as everyone says it is. It’s well edited, and the sound and music are really good – due to composers Nick Thorburn and Mark Henry Phillips (who also mixes the show). You’re totally drawn into this murder case from 1999, as Sarah Koenig picks at the court records, talks to the perp on the cell (literally) phone, cold calls players in the case and hires detectives to double check the police work. Highly recommended. As the miles pass I wonder why I recognise the street name that keeps cropping up: Edmondson Avenue. Then I realise that Serial is set in Baltimore, where the dream sequence in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest takes place: “I dreamed I was sitting on a bench, in Baltimore, facing the tumbling fountain in Harlem Park… Fire engines went out Edmonson Avenue.” Mark and I recorded a, um, sound collage version [in the music player on the right] of the excerpt, inspired by an abortive attempt to read Hammett’s short stories into a tape recorder for my mother. I realised pretty quickly that it’s incredibly hard to do, which is why they use actors, who have the discipline and the skill. I took an easier route: just the dream scene over a glitchy soundscape.

Thinking about Dash
James Ellroy on Hammett: “It’s the language of suspicion, alienation and the big grasp for survival. It’s a constant jolt of physical movement and conversation. Hammett’s heroes move and talk, move and talk, move and talk… Red Harvest was published in 1929. It’s a coda to the Boom and a prophecy of the Depression. The Op [Hammett’s detective] witnesses and largely precipitates a hallucinogenic bloodbath in a Montana mining town. He pits labour against management and cops against crooks. He… bluffs his way through uncountable interrogations and acclimatises himself to fatalities in war-zone numbers. He drinks laudanum and wakes up with a woman knifed to death. His actions create a momentary peace in Poisonville. That peace will soon shatter. It doesn’t matter. He’s moved on already…” My brother-in-law once interviewed Ellroy and asked him to sign a book for me, as he knew I was a fan. In a copy of Dick Contino’s Blues, he wrote: “Fear this book! James Ellroy.

Is there another house as famous in Rock Mythology™ as Big Pink?
Nice journey from the Village to the West Saugerties, narrated by Jeff (“Rock and Roll… phew!”) Bridges over “This Wheel’s on Fire”. A more interesting take is here, as Garth Hudson, getting on now, revisits Big Pink’s basement, currently owned by Don & Susan Lasala. It’s great to actually see the inside as it is (and was, pretty much) and there’s a wonderful couple of moments near the end, where Garth does what Garth does, which is play transcendentally beautiful piano. I remember Barney emailing me excitedly in about 1993, sending a realtor’s advert with Big Pink listed at about $275,000. We were, sadly, unable to come up with this amount of money. It remains a great regret of mine.

“Now the lesson is over, and the killing’s begun…”
Taking a cue from the excellent Mogwai soundtrack for French TV Series The Returned, the subtle use of music in The Missing adds layers of meaning to the story. I was reminded of Troy Kennedy Martin using Willie Nelson’s “Time of the Preacher” from Red Headed Stranger in his state of the nation thriller Edge Of Darkness in the 80’s. In The Missing we have multiple Robert Johnson songs (“Me and the Devil”, here in its Gil Scott Heron incarnation, “Sweet Home Chicago” in a cover version heard in a bar, which is dismissed by the creepy pederast Ian, who paints disturbing pictures to Johnson’s epic “Crossroads”). Another thread is French chanson: Aznavour was in last week’s episode, and the part of the French cop Julien is taken by Turkish-born French actor Tchéky Karyo, who has an occasional recording career singing typically French-Middle-Aged-Man songs (rather nicely, I should add). The opening credit theme is by by Belgian post-rock band, Amatorski, (I don’t know any of this stuff, you understand, I’m just saving you the work of looking it up, should you have wanted to). Oh, and the closing song varies: one week, Emiliana Torrini’s crepuscular take on “If You Go Away”, the next Johnson’s “Kind Hearted Woman”.

Wednesday, 26th November 2014

The Art of McCartney
Released last week, an all-star – and I mean all-star – tribute to Sir Paul. Catching the previews of some of the tracks, the overall feel is pretty safe, which is a shame as McCartney’s recent albums have been sonically adventurous. Steve Miller returns the favour that McCartney did him when they co-created “My Dark Hour” in 1969: “There was a big argument and they [the Beatles] all went, leaving me at the studio. Steve Miller happened to be around: ‘Hi, how you doing? Is the studio free?’ I said: ‘Well, it looks like it is now, mate.’ ” To Barry Miles, Paul recalled, “Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. ‘[I said] can I drum for you? I just had a fucking unholy argument with the guys there.’ I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There’s a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that’s all I can say about that. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It’s actually a pretty good track.” The same can’t really be said of Miller’s versions of “Junior’s Farm” and “Hey Jude”. The only comment on its emusic page is this, from Jules Herbert: “And all at once the life, beauty and air of Paul McCartney’s songs are sucked out of the room. Oh dear.” Dylan, as usual, doggedly goes his own way – he just bolts the chassis of “Things We Said Today” to the wheels of “Things Have Changed” and takes it for a spin.

Bill’s send off
Bill MemWe finally get around to scattering my dad’s ashes (the half that wasn’t scattered in his favourite fishing lake in Scotland by his fellow “Sons of the Loch” a couple of years back, in a fittingly raucous celebration that involved, I believe, some whisky and a recalcitrant boat). By the banks of the Crane River in Cranford, there is now a bit that’s forever Bill. It’s near the site of his and Ken’s childhood home, and was the locus around which the Crane River Jazz Band formed, and from where Ken left to go on his extraordinary journey to New Orleans. Now the jets come in to land at Heathrow, so low that you can see the rivets in the wings. We each wore a badge of Bills’ that related to some aspect of his life: one from the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, one from the Rock Island Line, one from the “Sons”, and his Armed Forces’ Veteran badge. In between the roar of the planes we toasted Bill with his latter-day favourite tipple – red wine, 14%, screwtop, preferably 3 bottles for a tenner. Even Gabe, no wine fan, had a memorial swig as we soundtracked it with songs by Ken that featured Bill. Almost my favourite of these early recordings (“K.C. Moan”, “Go Down Old Hannah”, “Midnight Special”) was the song that you can hear in the music player on the right… “Ja Da”. Ken on cornet, John RT Davies on American organ, Bill, wire brushes on a suitcase. A strange, haunting piece of music that sounds for all the world like it belongs in Eraserhead.

Sidney Bechet gets a Blue Plaque

Bechet
A strange note: Bill was bought home from hospital as a baby to the house that his parents worked at, as cook and chauffeur, which was in Fitzroy Square – by coincidence around the corner from where we currently live. And then today, as we walked up Conway Street, which runs through Fitzroy Square, this plaque, recently put there by the Nubian Jak Community Trust. Wikipedia tells us that, “while in London, Bechet discovered the straight soprano saxophone, and quickly developed a style quite unlike his warm, reedy clarinet tone. His saxophone sound could be described as emotional, reckless, and large.” An excellent description – Bill would be happy. In other Bechet facts, Disneyland’s Tower Of Terror ride features Bechet’s song “When the Sun Sets Down South” as cue music. The ride is a “deserted [since Halloween in 1939] hotel on the dark side of Hollywood”. I kid you not. As Philip Larkin wrote of Bechet… “On me your voice falls as they say love should/Like an enormous yes/My Crescent City/Is where your speech alone is understood/And greeted as the natural noise of good/Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity”. Take it away, Phil.

Amy Jazz Lady
Mosaic by Susan Elliot at the Cube Gallery on Crawford Street. Her work, she says, “is like archiving the cupboards and mantelpieces of a Nation – it’s made out of kitchen tea time crockery, kitsch tourist mementos, novelty mugs, badges, coins, the everyday stuff of domestic living.”

AmyJazz

Not A Wonderful World, Strictly Come Dancing, Sunday
First, we have to come to terms with Barry Manilow’s extraordinary visage, like an animated character rather than a human being. Then we have to come to terms with Barry duetting with the dead, who can’t fight back. The victim here was Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World”, projected on a huge oval screen as Barry either slipped his version of the lyrics in between the cracks left by Satch, or, even worse, scatted after. If Jazz isn’t dead it’s not for want of trying.

 

 

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