Five Things, Wednesday 24th September

I’m not making this up…
Stuart MacDonald, managing director of Aquila Capital, a hedge fund, DJs on Resonance FM as Dr Stu. A typical listing goes like this: “You are cordially invited to listen to the N@ked $hort Club on Mondays; one hour of loose talk about the poetry of hedge funds and the state of the world, plus heady music. No promotional agenda, no commercial intent… just Purest Alpha and Ponzi Bier in these interesting times. Host, Dr. Stu will be joined by expert guests, by Tantric Videolink from the US, Robert Savage, CEO of CCTrack, poet Joyce Goldstein. and music from the Orb/Gong, Steve Hillage, Jefferson Airplane, Terry Riley, and Neu.” He’s quoted in the City AM newspaper as saying, “I don’t see how anyone can fail to see the connection between hedge funds, psychedelic music and poetry.” I’ve not been so confused since Donald Rumsfeld’s known unknowns…

Blind Willie Johnson
At Michael Gray’s engrossing Dylan Weekend we listen to Blind Willie Johnson, singing in two different voices thus, (in Michael’s opinion) paving the way for Dylan’s own adoption of different voices at different times. And when we get home to catch up on Series Two of House of Cards, who appears on the wall of Freddy Hayes’ crib? Blind Willie. In one of the best episodes so far, brilliantly helmed by Jodie Foster and shot in exquisitely composed shallow-depth-of-field scenes, there’s collateral damage to Freddy’s BBQ Joint, the rib shack on the wrong side of town – Frank (Kevin Spacey) Underwood’s favourite bolthole in times of crisis.

Willie

Interesting interview with the modest and thoughtful Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna was the producer of Bonnie Raitt’s first two albums, so he’s a man with taste. And for his work in Jazz’s basement storeroom he deserves plaudits. And, if you like great jazz photos, check out his Facebook page: “When the late Charlie Lourie, my best friend and co-founder of Mosaic Records, and I bought the Francis Wolff archive of photographs from practically every Blue Note session between 1940 and 1967, we spent years sifting through this historic gold mine of jazz documentation. So many of the photos brought classic sessions to life. But there were some humorous images and oddities among the archive. One of my favorites is the photo of Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey, two of the greatest drummers in the history of this music and two of the coolest, most colorful people I ever had the honor to know. It’s from a November 2, 1958 Blakey session with multiple drummers which I eventually issued as Drums Around The Corner. They are conferring about a tune, but it looks like two guys conspiring to topple a government or pull a great jewelry heist.

Drummers

You Gorra Luv It!
Sheridan Smith is Cilla Black. Yet another terrific central portrayal by a British actress, here in a tale that could fall flat – like biopics often do – but is great for these reasons: a) The art direction, set dressing and period clothes are never lingered on in that “We’ve spent a bundle on this, we have to show it off” way. They do the job incidentally, while being great to look at. b) There’s a rich seam of humour running through the script, a lightness of touch that tells the story whilst avoiding literalness. c) The music feels live (Smith sang live throughout the whole of the first episode). She also sings all the studio takes and the cute build-up to hearing her finally sing “Anyone Who Had A Heart” – held to the end of part two, even though we see her recording it much earlier, ends the episode brilliantly. The session, overseen by George Martin, has a fabulously-cast bunch of Abbey Road sessioneers with cardigans, suits, glasses and thinning hair.

One last thing on “Popular Problems”
As a designer, I feel that I have to note that Popular Problems continues the dreadful graphics that always litter Cohen’s releases. This is probably the worst yet. Dire typography, bad Photoshop solarisation and poor cutouts. Such a shame that the quality of the design doesn’t match up to the quality of the music. ps: I also wonder why he never does these studio albums with his stunning road band. Is it that he likes a patchwork way of working, or needs the privacy of a simpler approach? That’s not to diss the moody and excellent music on the CD, but when you look at what a great group of musicians did on “Be For Real” a few albums back, it just really puzzles me.

Len

Five Things, Wednesday 17th September

Poignant & Strange

ClubsFrom Stylist: “Photographer Antonio La Grotta’s project, Paradise Discotheque, revisits Italy’s out-of-town superclubs, made for thousands to dance through in the Eighties and Nineties, but now out of fashion and abandoned. Sad and beautiful.”

These Foolish Things
At Michael Gray’s Dylan Weekend (more on this next week!) Michael put this on his grand hi-fi as a sort of quiz, which of course I can’t do here, for as soon as you click on the link you’ll see who it is. I tumbled it somewhere in the second verse – his phrasing and styling is just terrific and the fantastic ramping up of emotion for the last verse (helped along by the drummer) is an object lesson in soul tension.

Mark Porter has designed a new digital magazine, thelongandshort
…and their music column is based on a blog called Song Exploder, a great idea where an artist talks about how their song was constructed. The first features Daedelus (Alfred Darlington to his mother) talking about “Experience”. And while listening to that, try to get your head around how digital magazines actually work. I always feel like a dunce with digital magazines – I keep getting lost – but I’m sure that I’ll get the hang of it soon…

The Lost Genius of Judee Sill, R4
I finally get round to listening to this sorry tale. I always liked her strange way with melodies, using climbing or descending bass runs on the guitar or piano to lace her songs with nagging hooks, so that you still remember them twenty years later. A left-field songster with a weird baroque/gospel sensibility, her work didn’t sit happily in with the Laurel Canyon lot, or with anyone else, for that matter.

David Hepworth had this to say: “Sill made a couple of very good albums for Asylum in the early 70s. She had a song called “Jesus Was A Crossmaker” that was almost celebrated at the time. Celebrated, at least, among the people who might have watched Old Grey Whistle Test or read the Melody Maker… Sill died in 1979. There had been a lot of sadness in her life: drugs, accidents, abuse. When that happens there’s always the chance that thirty-five years later Radio 4 will commission a programme about you called The Lost Genius Of Judee Sill.

But here’s the thing. When acts make it big they take is as proof of their talent. They did it on their own. When they don’t make it big they always blame it on something or someone specific. The record company went out of business, the radio banned us, the drummer left, there was a strike, there was an oil crisis or a war, there was somebody who had it in for us. If the artists don’t make such a claim then enthusiasts have to make it for them.

The story here is that Sill outed David Geffen, the boss of her record company, on-stage. In this narrative he had his revenge by dropping her from the label. I’m not sure the record business works like that. It’s more likely that his company had put out the two albums they were obliged to release under the terms of Sill’s contract, records which hadn’t sold. Therefore they decided their money would be better spent on somebody else.

Simon Napier-Bell was talking the other night about how performers have a combination of self-belief and chronic insecurity which you would consider mad if you encountered it in a member of the public. This same egoism drives them to believe that the only thing standing between them and widespread acclaim is some kind of wicked plot… rather than accept the truth, which is that we, the public, weren’t really bothered one way or the other. We’re the villains, not the mythical “suits” or the tin ears at radio. Our natural state is indifference. We bought some other music or we didn’t buy any music at all. We forgot. We passed by on the other side. We have lives in which your career doesn’t figure at all.”

Robin Thicke Charms World, Again.
“I was high on Vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio. So my recollection is when we made the song, I thought I wanted, I, I, I wanted to be more involved than I actually was by the time, nine months later, it became a huge hit and I wanted credit,” Thicke said in the statement. He added that he was no longer taking Vicodin. And, presumably, now that Marvin Gaye’s lawyers are suing, no longer keen on taking credit either.

Extra! Listening to Len some more
Check out “Nevermind”, from Popular Problems, and prepare to anoint Leonard C and Patrick L the John le Carré’s of popular song.

 

Five Things, Wednesday 20th August

Stephen Fry talking to Professor John Mullan, on Reading Aloud, R4
“We take for granted, that this thing we have, this language, this sound of the tongue hitting the back of our teeth and the labials and the dentals and the fricatives, and all these strange little things our mouths can do – has a beauty, it can dance in our head – and when the words are the words of a magician, a great, great writer then the rhythm and the flow and the glide of language in one’s ear is a solace and a beauty that very little else can replace, wouldn’t you agree?”

Leonard Cohen, “Almost Like The Blues”
First song from Leonard’s latest album, the wonderfully titled Popular Problems. And it’s sounding pretty fine, continuing the minimal late-night urban blues feel that he’s lately found. And featuring, of course, the mordant and downbeat lyrics that he writes so well:
I saw some people starving/There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning/They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
/I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic/It was almost like the blues/It was almost like the blues”
Interesting that both he and Dylan are staking out a claim on this wellspring territory as they age – there’s something so natural about their voices negotiating that I-IV chord change.

“I’m not a morose person, I just like morose music!”
Malcolm Gladwell on Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” on Desert Island Discs: “To my mind, music is at its finest when it explores the melancholy side of human nature. And [this song] has the most depressing opening couplet, I think, in the history of modern music… I mean it’s an extraordinary achievement! “With the money from her accident, she bought herself a mobile home/So at least she could get some enjoyment out of being alone…” I don’t think you can top that. The achievement of bringing someone to tears is infinitely greater than the achievement of bringing them to laughter. I happen to be obsessed with this notion: we laugh all the time, and easily… and yet we continue to reward people who bring us to laughter, as if it’s some great feat. It’s not, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I will make you laugh over the next whatever minutes. I will not make you cry. I am simply not good enough to make you cry. So I think that people who bring us at least to the brink of tears are geniuses, and to do it in two lines? I’m ready to be moved after I hear those two lines…”

Willy DeVille
When the internet isn’t trying to sell me Michael Kors handbags or Oakley sunglasses, it can be a very useful thing. And after reading Thom Hickey’s Immortal Jukebox on Willy (Mink) DeVille, I went on a YouTube bender. And what terrific stuff I found. I hadn’t appreciated how good he was, and why Jack Nitzsche (a man with pretty stellar taste, if you look at a list of his collaborations) why so enamoured of him. There’s a really nice Dutch fan film in five parts and a great set from Montreux with Freddy Koella on guitar. Larger than life, and cooler than Keith Richard.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last of the Belles
Reading this brilliantly written and poignant short story, I liked this paragraph’s description of the narrator’s unattainable love-interest, Ailie Calhoun, and the country club’s Saturday night:
“On Saturday night she and Bill Knowles came to the country club. They were very handsome together and once more I felt envious and sad. As they danced out on the floor the three-piece orchestra was playing “After You’ve Gone”, in a poignant incomplete way that I can hear yet, as if each bar were trickling off a precious minute of that time. I knew then that I had grown to love Tarleton, and I glanced about half in panic to see if some face wouldn’t come in for me out of that warm, singing, outer darkness that yielded up couple after couple in organdie and olive drab.  It was a time of youth and war, and there was never so much love around”. Which sent me looking for versions of “After You’ve Gone” and finding rather lovely ones by Dinah Washington (great, as you’d imagine), Chet Atkins & Suzy Bogguss (cute and jazzy, and I dug the twin guitars), Written in 1918 (when the story was set by FSF) and covered by Bessie Smith, Judy Garland and, oh, nearly everyone in the world. But Nina Simone’s version? That’s something special. Live in a small club with an almost out-of-focus backing – bass, drums and guitar – there’s a great build and release into her piano solo, and a fantastic vocal throughout.

 

 

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 9th January

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt4: Hyde Park Corner, London
As Lana Del Ray sparks into life in my headphones, hitting the chorus of Day At The Races [And I’m off to the races/Cases of Bacardi chasers/Chasing me all over town…] a trap and four outriders, all jodhpurs, riding hats & crops, trots in front of the bus, past Apsley House, and makes their way into Hyde Park.

On The Road Again
Fact Of The Week: At number 17 in the Highest Earning World Tours last year, Leonard Cohen is ahead (at £28.4 million) of Justin Bieber… and at Number 27, The Black Keys are ahead of Celine Dion, having grossed $23.5 million. The Black Keys. $23.5 million. Wow…

emusic Find Of The Month: Menahan Street Band, The Crossing
Recorded in a studio paid for by a Jay Z sample, by some of the musicians behind Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley’s sound, mostly during the night, this instrumental album is wonderful. Some of it is Spaghetti Western, some a kind of handicraft Portishead—try Ivory & Blue: jazz horns, soulful wah-wah guitar, funky Seventies pop drumming. Just the right amount of loose, just the right amount of tight, just the right amount of great.

Jeff Buckey: Three Films In Pipeline…
But the one I’m looking forward to (Brendan Fletcher’s A Pure Drop) is written by the fabulously named Train Houston. You’d have to gravitate towards music in some form with a name like Train Houston.

Bowie Back, Nile Rogers Bio, Letters Of Note
One the evening before David Bowie’s return to PopWorld™ I was reading Nile Rodgers’ very entertaining biography Le Freak, and had reached the part where he talks about recording Let’s Dance with the label-less Bowie.

“As I say to vocalists who are singing a little flat, sharp, or out-of-the-pocket, We’re in the neighbourhood, but we haven’t found the house yet.” David Bowie helped me find the house.

Not long after I arrived in Switzerland, Bowie strolled into my bedroom with a guitar.“Hey, Nile, listen to this, I think it could be a hit.” What followed was was a folksy sketch of a composition with a solid melody: the only problem was it sounded to me like Donovan meets Anthony Newley. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. I’d been mandated to make hits, and could only hear what was missing… I started reworking the song. I soon discovered the diamond in the rough.

[We] asked Claude Nobs, creator of the Montreux Jazz Festival, to round up a handful of local musicians… gone were the strummy chords… I’d replaced them with staccato stabs and a strict harmonic interpretation. I used silence and big open spaces to keep the groove and kept rearranging it on the spot, like I always did with Chic. David quickly got down with the reshaping of his song. We had a lot of fun and laughter in that Swiss studio with those terrific musicians… Laughter is the key to my sessions—the unconditionally loving parent in the room.”

And from Letters Of Note: In November of 1970, a month after signing a five-year publishing deal with Chrys­alis Music, 24-year-old David Bowie wrote the following letter to Bob Grace, the man who signed him, and briefly filled him in on his life so far:

November 17th, 1970
Haddon Hall

Mr. Bob Grace
Chrysalis Music Ltd
388/398 Oxford Street
London W1

Dear Bob
I was born in Brixton and went to some Schools thereabout and studied Art. Then I went into an Advertising Agency which I didn’t like very much. Then I left and joined some Rock ’n’ Roll Bands playing Saxophone and I sang some which nobody liked very much.

As I was already a Beatnik, I had to be a Hippie and I was very heavy and wrote a lot of songs on some beaches and some people liked them. Then I recorded Space Oddity and made some money and spent it which everybody liked.

Now I am 24 and I am married and I am not at all heavy and I’m still writing and my wife is pregnant which I like very much.

LOVE DAVID

Extra! Five Things I Loved This Year…

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

Sam

 

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

 

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

 

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

LenOl

 

 

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

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

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 21st November

Cover Me
Around the time of the singer songwriter boom of the early 70’s, cover versions used to be odd one-offs, musicians showing respect for their elders & forbears, and subsidiary to the act’s own material. Then covers became cute—hipper bands would cover less hip pop songs, thus hipping them up. Then it all seemed to go wrong when people stared making tribute cover albums. Steve McL, who posts interesting and entertaining covers, usually themed, at the excellent coverfreak, puts it pithily in his manifesto:

“You should only cover a song if you have a reason for covering it. Financial considerations don’t count. Bring something new to the song. Make it your own. You’re a musician, interpret the music! It can be good or bad, just make it different from the original. Otherwise, what’s the point? My mission here is to spread Good Covers in the hope that they will overtake the bland and boring ones. If I post one that you enjoy, tell your friends and help me in my lonely battle…”

This is all a roundabout way of saying that Meshell Ndegeocello’s album of songs associated with the late, great Nina Simone—Pour une âme souveraine [“For a sovereign soul”]—is great. So far, her reworkings of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Feelin’ Good (I know, daunting to even attempt), Don’t Take All Night with Sinead, and Young Gifted & Black with Cody ChesnuTT are the ones I keep going back to, but the whole album is a triumph, and in a week where I heard the Mumfords wanly strum through The Boxer, a necessity.

The First Thirty Seconds Of “Jive Talking”
Go on, listen to them. Chunks of muted guitar. Then a kick drum and a nasty, grungy synth bass. Then some sweetness with a little Chic-like rhythm guitar before the snare and a double-tracked Barry come strutting in. Actually the whole song is pretty wonderful, especially the great drumming of Dennis Bryon.

Leonard Cohen Screensaver. Thanks, Antonio Zazueta Olmos

Southern Soul Odyssey One
An email with this attachment from my relative Brett, taking a break from touring and holidaying in Alabama: “Trip Down Memory Lane!”

I’m put in mind of time spent in the Shoals. I found this scan the other day of Jimmy Johnson’s pick, which later served time as the rocksbackpages logo…


Southern Soul Odyssey Two

Coincidentally, we were talking about artworks where someone instructs others to do the work, with the visiting Bob & Sam Gumpert. I was obsessed at one time with Letterpress printing and sourced an order form for a great Printshop in the 80s called Tribune Showprint, out of Earl Park, Indiana. They printed posters for the Chiltlin’ circuit and Soul Shows, often on hand screenprinted ‘rainbow’ cards. Mark and I immediately got them to do posters and covers for Hot House, our band. How great—typing out the wording and enclosing a glossy 10 x 8, posting the order off airmail, and three weeks later getting 50 cardboard posters back.


I’m pretty sure that it influenced this…

Boris Vian, Man Of Vision
From the IHT auction catalogue (see last week). “The Pianoctail is a strange instrument, imagined by Boris Vian in his novel L’Écume des Jours. The renowned writer, who died in 1959, conceived this cocktail-making piano which would make a drink according to the notes played. An Americano is made when a major chord is played, and when a triad or tonic chord is played, you get a gin-fizz. The instrument was displayed this morning in a Parisian cinema, where the film is being shown tonight. March 20, 1968.”

“For each note there’s a corresponding drink – either a wine, spirit, liqueur or fruit juice. The loud pedal puts in egg flip and the soft pedal adds ice. For soda you play a cadenza in F sharp. The quantities depend on how long a note is held – you get the sixteenth of a measure for a hemidemisemiquaver; a whole measure for a black note; and four measures for a semibreve. When you play a slow tune, then tone comes into control to prevent the amounts growing too large and the drink getting too big for a cocktail – but the alcoholic content remains unchanged. And, depending on the length of the tune, you can, if you like, vary the measures used, reducing them, say, to a hundredth in order to get a drink taking advantage of all the harmonics, by means of an adjustment on the side.”

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 31st October

Danny Baker, Shortlist Questionnaire
Who’s the most overrated band of your lifetime? “Queen. A dreadful group. They were neither Led Zeppelin nor Bowie and they played that middle ground in between. Punk rock didn’t come around because of prog rock or anything like that, it came around because of Queen. Abba, Queen and ELO—that was what people were trying to move away from. You can find everything Queen did better elsewhere.”

Bob Dylan & The Poetry Of The Blues
Michael Gray, my favourite writer on Bob Dylan, gives a talk in Canterbury, close enough to drive to. Mick Gold comes with me, supplying an excellent compilation CD and fascinating conversation for our tiny road trip. Michael’s presentation is terrific—funny and revelatory. Over a meal afterwards we talk about the fact that Freddy Koella is both Michael and my favourite Dylan guitarslinger. Mick reveals that the night before, Freddy had guested for two songs at Bob’s Santa Barbara gig—the first time since he was a member of the Never-Ending Tour Band in 2004.
Michael on Freddy: “Freddy was Dylan’s best-ever lead electric guitarist (and just might be the best electric guitarist altogether since the heyday of Hubert Sumlin). Robbie Robertson was near sublime—the next best, a very close second—but Freddy was better. And in The Band all the other musicians were crucial too, whereas in Dylan’s band Freddy had to carry the whole front line. Of course you could say Mike Bloomfield was right up there, but he was, though a virtuoso, essentially more limited (Dylan had to tell him, for Like A Rolling Stone, to play ‘none of that B.B. King shit’); and G.E. Smith was terrific, but safe. You never wondered excitedly what he might do next. Whereas Freddy played by living on the edge, like Bob, fusing Django Reinhardt and Carl Perkins and playing as if it were 1957 now. He was the electric lead guitarist Dylan himself would have been, had Dylan ever bothered to master the instrument.” That line is fantastic, and spot on—“Playing as if it were 1957 now…”

Papa Nez’s Blues
To the Queen Elizabeth Hall with my mum to see her old fave, Mike Nesmith (The First & Second National Band stuff, not The Monkees, just so’s you know). I seem to be making it a point lately to see only Senior Citizens Of Rock™ but it’s just coincidental. It’s instructive to compare and contrast the approaches, however.
Leonard “Ladies’ Man” Cohen, 78, 4 years into his latest group of tours, is in fantastic voice, playing three-and-a half-hour shows with some of the finest musicians on God’s earth and playing versions of his songs that make the original tracks seem pale shadows. It is, in all senses, not just another show. It’s a summation of a life’s work.
Ian “Mott To Trot” Hunter, 73, belts out his impressive and rockin’ back catalogue with ferocious intent, fronting a hell-for-leather combo, The Rant Band. On lead guitar, Mark Bosch is a passionate and note/feel-perfect Seventies/Eighties Noo Yawk (think Leslie West or Mike Rathke) player, matching Hunter every step of the way. His tribute to Mick Ronson, Michael Picasso, is really moving, and the sense of community between him and his fans something to feel.
Mike “Papa Nez” Nesmith, 70, hasn’t played London since 1975, and makes a rather terrible decision. Sold to the audience as cutting edge technology by Nesmith, the three musicians on stage play along with pre-recorded tracks (mostly triggered by the keyboardist), which a) makes the sound terrible, all clunky Casio drums and booming sound effects, and b) forces everyone into a rather tight and metronomic way of playing—an already fairly predictable bass player becomes almost immobile, and the music has no sway or grace. This seems a real shame, as Nesmith’s use of soundscapes on tracks like Nevada Fighter, Bonaparte’s Retreat or Beyond The Blue Horizon were really innovative, especially in a country rock context. There are some beautiful songs here, from Joanne to The Grand Ennui to Rio, and Nesmith has the fine idea of setting up each song with a short piece of fiction contextualising the events that have (supposedly) led up to the song. But the bad sound, the gloopy and excessive synth string playing, the hopeless beats and Nesmith’s out of practice and strained voice leaves us feeling underwhelmed.

www.bullettmedia.com/article/music-journalism-cliches-that-need-to-be-retired-today/
Well, this brilliant broadside by Luke O’Neil makes rock journalism just that bit more difficult (but—hey—upside… potentially better!)

Not So Lucky, Lucky, Lucky
“I love all the PWL stuff slowed down, it sounds great.” says Kylie talking about The Abbey Road Sessions, where she re-records her pop hits of the eighties. I remember when the band I was part of (who NME saw as the antithesis of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s PWL stuff—Rick Astley, Kylie, Jason Donovan etc.) decided to record a slow version of Kylie’s I Should Be So Lucky for a radio session. Sounded great when Mark roughed it out on piano with Heather, but someone somewhere hit the Irony Alert! button and thought better of it…

Extra! 5 Things Concerning Leonard Cohen in Paris

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

Montparnasse Cemetery, Sunday: Gainsbourg

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


Olympia Theatre, Sunday: A Pilgrimage


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leonard, Hand In Pocket, photograph by Michelle Clement.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 23rd May

Modern Family Rocks! Or Is That Soft Rocks?
Haley has been ripped off—her dad gets ready to confront the perpetrator. Phil: “Yeah I got a plan. Either he gives us the money or he gets a private performance from (holds up left fist) England Dan and (right fist) John Ford Coley.” Later, he amends this to “Crosby (left fist), Stills (right fist), Nash (knee), and Young (kicks out his foot).” Baby Boomer scripting par excellence— and Ty Burrell as Phil just gets better and better.

I Missed The Radio Doc About The Missing Bobbie Gentry
Yes, I conspired to miss something I know I’d have loved. I only found out after it broadcast and then—just as my finger was hovering over the play triangle on iPlayer—it disappeared. I can only hope it featured the wonderful Jill Sobule song, Where Is Bobbie Gentry? Set to a clever melody closely modelled on Ode To Billie Jo it tells of a fan’s devotion…

“Out in the desert where the skin slowly cures deep brown
She’s got a little shack, a pickup truck, parked out on the edge of town
It’s just what I imagined, no one knows where’d she be
Maybe she’s in heaven passing black-eyed peas
Where is Bobbie Gentry?

Up in Alaska hauling wood or maybe in Japan
I bet that she’s still beautiful, goes barefoot everywhere she can
Does she still play guitar or write a song or two?
Maybe that was over; she’s got better things to do
Where is Bobbie Gentry?

If I could just find you
Say I love you and then leave you alone
If I could just find you
Say I love you and then leave you alone

1967, Bobbie made it on the Billboard charts
Ten years later, disappeared and broke everybody’s heart
Does she ever go to Chickasaw? Ever go back on that bridge?
Well, I was the baby thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Yeah, I was the baby thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge…”

Love that middle eight…

That “Bird On A Wire” Was A Real Cracker Of A Movie, Wasn’t It?
Someone has made a a psychological thriller, due out in a couple of weeks, titled after Leonard Cohen’s A Thousand Kisses Deep, from Ten New Songs. It stars Emilia Fox and Dougray Scott (in a pork pie hat, playing jazz trumpet in the bath). Snap judgment from the trailer? Absolutely preposterous.

Niles ’n’ Miles
Fascinating piece hidden away in the Money section of The Guardian, by the always interesting Nile Rogers, in a regular column called My Greatest Mistake. He tells of the many occasions on which Miles Davis would ask Rodgers to write him a song. Nile: “This is a great man who changed my life—and he wanted me to help change his. I believe he kept asking me for about two years, and all that time I couldn’t believe he was serious… he had a funny coding system for when we spoke on the phone at night, like I was calling the president of the US: I had to ring three times and ask for so-and-so and then he would know it was me. I kept doing jazz fusion demos and whenever Miles heard them he’d say to me: “I can do that myself. I want a motherfucking Good Times.” Miles Davis was 100% clear but I didn’t hear him. He was completely sincere and had opened himself up by asking for my help. If I wasn’t so stupid I might have done it.”

Bob. Dylan. Boot. Leg.
From Bobby Keys’ autobiography Every Night’s a Saturday Night we learn that the feet poking out from the Rolls Royce on Delaney & Bonnie & Friends are Bob’s. And the Rolls? Albert Grossman’s.

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