Wednesday, 25th November

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Berger & Wyse, The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, 4th November


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 12th October



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: Do you understand it? 

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 25th September


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18th September


From the upcoming (September 29th) Rock & Pop auction at Sotheby’s in London, these eight lots are my favourites. A spare £150,000 may get you Bob’s original “Hard Rain” lyrics… [From the family of Elisabeth (Lily) Djehizian, the first wife of Hugh Romney (“Wavy Gravy”). Lily met Romney whilst working as a waitress at the Gas Light and was closely associated with many of the artists working in Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s, most notably Lenny Bruce.] Click to enlarge – check out the great Beatles’ (U.S.A.) Ltd. typography.

Spellbinding six-minute overview of the current state of Kendrick Lamar’s music on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Lamar makes most current music look dumb and pallid. It isn’t just the crack rhythm section or the compelling jittery shapes he throws as he sings, it’s the delivery and the timing. He romps through the mid-section with the fantastic beat of To Pimp a Butterfly’s “King Kunte” dissing musical frauds– “I can dig rappin’, but wait! a rapper with a ghost writer? tell me what happened!?“ The song relentlessly builds by moving up a semi-tone every chorus, the two bass players powering it on and on, before it morphs into a effects-driven jazzy end section with an amazing repeated vocal riff on “lovin’ you is complicated…” Staggering.

Is it just me, or is this as tuneless as I think? One of Apple’s new Apple Music adverts with Leon Bridges, or as he’s known in our house, Aloe Blacc without a decent song. The others aren’t much more convincing – I’m not sure Shamir or Flo Morrisey are doing anything not done better before.

…and the winner is: Southern Electric, with the Miles Davis Quartet (Miles on trumpet, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums) playing “When I Fall in Love (it Will be Forever)”. It was on repeat and made the resulting 25-minute wait way more pleasant.

Strangely, Mr Christlieb is referred to as Pete…
Mr Fagen: “When everything was recorded – the rhythm section, the horns and the background vocals – Walter and I sat in the studio listening back and decided we needed a sax solo, someone to speak for the main character. We liked the sound of a tenor saxophonist who played in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, a cat who blew like crazy when the show went to a commercial. He had this gutsy sound, but we didn’t know who it was.”

Mr Becker: “We had our producer Gary Katz ask around and he found out it was Pete Christlieb. Pete had invented any number of cool harmonic devices that made his playing sound unique. He just sounded like a take-charge soloist, a gunner.”

Pete Christlieb: “I went over to the studio one night after the Tonight Show finished taping at 6:30 p.m. When I listened on headphones to the track Tom [Scott] had arranged, there was just enough space for me to play a solo. As I listened, I realized Donald and Walter were using jazz chord changes, not the block chords of rock. This gave me a solid base for improvisation. They just told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do. So I listened again and recorded my first solo. We listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half-hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.”

It’s Pete Christlieb’s sax on Tom Waits’ wonderful Nighthawks at the Diner. I found this piece on its recording, a Dan Daley interview with Bones Howe… We started talking about where we could do an album that would have a live feel to it. We thought about clubs, but the well-known ones like the Troubadour were toilets in those days. Then I remembered that Barbra Streisand had made a record at the old Record Plant studios, when they were on 3rd Street near Cahuenga Boulevard. It’s a mall now. There was a room there that she got an entire orchestra into. Back in those days they would just roll the consoles around to where they needed them. So Herb and I said let’s see if we can put tables and chairs in there and get an audience in and record a show. I got Michael Melvoin on piano, and he was one of the greatest jazz arrangers ever; I had Jim Hughart on [upright] bass, Bill Goodwin on drums and Pete Christlieb on sax. It was a totally jazz rhythm section. Herb gave out tickets to all his friends, we set up a bar, put potato chips on the tables and we had a sell-out, two nights, two shows a night, July 30 and 31, 1975. I remember that the opening act was a stripper. Her name was Dewana and her husband was a taxi driver. So for her the band played bump-and-grind music –and there’s no jazz player who has never played a strip joint, so they knew exactly what to do. But it put the room in exactly the right mood. Then Waits came out and sang “Emotional Weather Report”. Then he turned around to face the band and read the classified section of the paper while they played. It was like Allen Ginsberg with a really, really good band.” From


Bones Howe’s original layout diagram for the live recording.

Wednesday, 9th September

…including one thing from a couple of weeks ago…


It’s tough to be a support act – unfamiliar music played to unfamiliar faces, only a few waiting for their favourite tunes. And Alexis Taylor at first seems an odd pairing with Lonnie Holley, as his new album, Await Barbarians, is all Seventies electric piano-driven singer-songwriterness, albeit with lovely Wurlitzer and restlessly inventive guitar [I missed the guitarist’s name].

What gradually pulls me in, though, is the wonderful drumming of Sarah Jones. On a couple of songs (the ones that seem to be teetering on the edge of turning into Neil Young’s “See the Sky About to Rain”) she sounds just like she’s stepped out of the Hi Records Studio in 1972 – the kit compressed and gated so the hats are as loud as the snare, with that deliberate, almost ponderous, beat. It’s wonderful. Her whole approach is really considered, like she feels herself to be totally at the service of the songs, treading carefully through a set of short, sweet tunes – including a cover of “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, where Alexis floats over the song, aided by great distorted guitar. The one exception to this mood was towards the end, when they played a beast of a thing (called something like “Vortex”) that alternately sounded like a Kurosawa soundtrack and Can at their most driven. This was where Sarah Jones took the lead with a swaggering set of tom rolls allied to a mighty beat that gradually drew the other musicians in and built to a blistering crescendo.

During the interval, a couple of rows down, David Byrne is chatting to Robert Wyatt. The QEH is maybe half full as the lights go down. The crowd greet the main act ecstatically, a woman behind me almost sobbing with delight-slash-hysteria, her hands clasped together in supplication.

Stage left, drumkit, stage right, cello. In the middle behind a bank of keyboards, Lonnie Holley, covered in rings and scarves. I have no idea what to expect. “Here we go, here we go… here we go”, says Lonnie softly, his fingers starting the fluttering, repetitive figures on the piano that will set the style for the next hour. These flurries are given shape and dynamics by the excellent cellist and by Lonnie’s voice, often melodically entwined. The drumming is free but receptive to the nuances of Lonnie’s direction. From what I could make out, most of the spontaneous lyrics are platitudes about mother earth and treating each other well, but it’s the mellow and soulful sound of his voice that catches you. It’s a hypnotic thing, found in, say, Al Green’s or Marvin Gaye’s oeuvre – coming from the Gospel tradition, but played out in a certain kind of soul music as seduction. Whatever, it was like being enveloped in warm bathwater, or more accurately, a flotation tank, with the outside world banished for as long as he performed. Priscilla Frank put it nicely in The Huffington Post: “From the rings on his fingers to the words in his mouth, Lonnie Holley is always at work on the art that is Lonnie Holley. He’s a scavenger and a shaman, a performer, a storyteller and a genuine spirit. Despite the relentless barrage of tragedy Holley faced throughout his life, he salvaged his very being like a discarded object left in a sewage pipe, and turned it into something wildly beautiful.” And that’s what the ebb and flow of his show was – beautiful.

A very nice set of B&W photographs of the soundcheck by Stuart Leech, shot for music website The 405, can be found here.

As we set off for Stockholm for a literary festival in Uppsala, where we’ll read some of Sam Charters’ poetry and celebrate his life, I looked for some performances by Peps Persson, a Swedish bluesman who Sam produced. I loved Peps’ first album, especially his version of “The Sky is Crying”. His voice sounds a little like Dave Van Ronk’s (who Sam also produced) on this terrific track “Samma Lea, Snae Blues”. The long-held note at the beginning of the second verse is beautiful, the band cruise with just the right amount of low down groove, just the right amount of precision, and the drummer’s leap to the cymbal at the end is great.

Glad to see my favourite post-rock, math-rock combo Battles are back in the fray. This video catches them playing about-to-be-released song “The Yabba”. Always fun to watch John Stanier drumming, and love the way he comes back in at around the 6:00 mark as the song reaches its chaotic conclusion.

I was idly looking for stuff about how Willie and Al Jackson and Howard Grimes got the “Willie Mitchell drum sound” and, as is the internet’s way, I ended up at Al Green playing “Simply Beautiful”, which does not contravene the Trades Description Act in any way, shape or form. And if you like that, check this – his incredible performance of the Gibb Brothers’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”. I had an mp3 of this performance, but didn’t realise there was video… brilliantly directed, too. The opening verse shot in half-profile; the way Al bears down on “mend”, the enraptured kid in the front row. Oh, to be in that tv studio in New York in 1973…

A Post-MusiCares Conversation with Bill Flanagan
Bill: I noticed that some people who were not at the event read the transcript of your speech and didn’t get that some of it was tongue in cheek. When you said, “why me, lord?” in the room you were laughing and so was the audience. In print, some people thought it was all serious.

Bob: Yeah, well you had to be there.

Bill: How did you select all the performers for the Musicares tribute, was that difficult?

Bob: “It really wasn’t. Most all of them had recorded versions of those songs over the years. Garth had made “Make You Feel My Love” a number one hit. Tom Jones had done an incredible version of “What Good Am I.” Beck had recorded “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat.” Bonnie had recorded astonishing versions of “Standing in the Doorway” and “Million Miles.” So no, it wasn’t that hard. I’d even seen Alanis Morissette sing “Subterranean Homesick Blues” somewhere and I couldn’t believe she got that so right, something I’d never been able to do. Neil of course, he’s been doing “Blowin’ In the Wind” for a while and he does it the way it should be done and that song needed to be there. Some people called up right away and wanted to be on the show, so Don Was found a few songs for them. But mostly, they were all recorded versions that we were hearing except maybe for Aaron Neville’s version of “Shooting Star.” I could always hear him singing that song. He’s recorded other songs of mine, all great performances, but for some reason I kept thinking about “Shooting Star,” something he’s never recorded but I knew that he could. I could always hear him singing it for some reason, even when I wrote it. I mean, what can you say? He’s the most soulful of singers, maybe in all of recorded history. If angels sing, they must sing in that voice. I just think his gift is so great. The man has no flaws, never has. He’s always been one of my favorite singers right from the beginning. “Tell it Like it Is,” that could be my theme song. It’s strange, because he’s the kind of performer that can do your songs better than you, but you can’t do his better than him. Really, you can’t say enough about Aaron Neville. We won’t see his likes again.”

Every so often in a shop or cafe you hear something so out of the blue that you have real difficulty placing just who it is, even though you may know the song well. This happened post-dropoff at the McDonald’s on the edge of Stansted Airport. In between the Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift came Polica, who stood out (to me, anyway) like a sore thumb. It’s always nice to hear things you like, unexpectedly. The same thing happened in Pret recently when Jenny Owen Youngs “Led to the Sea” was playing… If you don’t know Polica, start with “Dark Star”. Two drummers, synth, bass, multi-tracked and staggered vocals and a fabulous horn part. What are you waiting for? For Jenny Owen Youngs, start with “Fuck Was I” (as in “What the fuck was I thinking?”). If you like that, try “Woodcut” (The Age Of Rockets Remix), or “Nighty Night”.

“Looking to fine-tune your style for autumn? Need a new fashion father figure? No musical genre turned out more sharp Gs than jazz…” Dig the fashionista’s take on Max Roach



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 122 other followers

%d bloggers like this: