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 15th August

Emusic Find Of The Week
“My name is Dale Hawkins, and I wanna dedicate this song… to the three cities… that I, uh… had the pleasure of recording this tune in! Give a listen and you’ll hear ’em.”—DALE HAWKINS, cousin to Ronnie, creator of the fabulous Susie Q (if you haven’t heard it in years download it now! James Burton’s guitar—out-of-this-world!). This is from L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas, title song of his obscure late sixties release, with Burton, Cooder, Mahal, Penn & Oldham all playing. It’s on the great compilation Country Funk 1969-1975. “Ain’t no bum trip, man,” he drawls over a particularly out-of-place flute solo. “It just goes to show ya, man, you can take the soul pickers out of the soul country, but you can’t take the soul out of the pickers…” As Pitchfork says “Weird, in a totally wonderful way,” and it’s hard to disagree.

From Dakar to Kampala!
We started two weeks ago at the football with Senegal’s lovely anthem and, in some excellent circularity, ended with hymne Uganda—“a musical treat” according to The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw—at the final medal ceremony, in honour of Stephen Kiprotich’s stunning gold-medal run in the marathon. A musical treat it is—I’d pay good money to hear either Randy Newman or Garth Hudson do an arrangement…

Best Coast, 100 Club, London
I hadn’t been to the 100 since it was saved by Converse’s sponsorship. Very happy to see that nothing much had changed—remarkably branding-free and still sweaty, loud and rocking. Brett was playing bass and guitar with Best Coast, and I took his picture by the plaque that’s there for my uncle, his great grandfather, Ken.

Fifty Shades Of Tortoiseshell

Jazz-themed sunglasses from St Albans. Nice.

Take A Load Off RP
Robert Pattinson in French culture mag Les InRockuptibles: “I’m going to do a movie about The Band, the one that played with Dylan: a beautiful script about the nature of songwriting.” Mmmmmmm… I may be lost for words {although, to be fair, he comes over well in the interview}.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 27th June

Hall & Quotes (ouch!)
Rebecca Hall interview, Stylist. There’s a rumour you’re a total music geek… “Yes, that’s true. This is how much of a music geek I am; if I have a day with nothing to do, one of my favourite things is to just sit at my computer and make playlists of pretty much anything. If I could be a musician, I’d do it. I love singing.”
Is there one song you think everyone should listen to?
“That’s a really tough question. Do you mean the song or the version? I always go back to Ella Fitzgerald singing My Man at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1977. It’s not necessarily the song, and it’s not even necessarily her, it’s that particular recording. For some reason, it always gets to me. And I’ve got a bunch of those but that’s the first that comes off the top of my head.”

I’m a sucker for actually bothering to listen to things that people recommend (in all those My Playlist, or Favourite Saturday Night/Sunday Morning Record magazine features), and that’s an interesting response: The song or the version? Sometimes there are particular versions of songs that just work for you. For instance, Rick Danko singing Unfaithful Servant (part of last week’s post). That’s not the version I’d play anyone if I were trying to convince them of the brilliance of the song (that would be the original Band version, if you’re interested). It’s not even the second version I’d play them (that’s Rock Of Ages if you’re still interested). But it is the one that moves me now and makes me hear the song anew.

Anyway: I go to iTunes to get Ella’s Montreux version and find this:

Do explicit songs get a 20p surcharge? No, cause I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart apparently doesn’t have swearing and is 99p. WHAT IS THIS SWEARING? So I buy it. My Man is lovely, throaty and intense (the last time through Ella hits the title phrase like a tenor sax), starting with a deep breath as Tommy Flanagan picks out the intro. It has all her signatures, and a beautiful virtuoso ending. I can see why Rebecca Hall loves it. I’ve listened to Come Rain and damned if I can find any @#%&*! swearing. If anything, Ella sings like she has a broad smile for the whole song (for me this song is owned by Ray Charles’ glacial take). So, unlike Ella’s My Man, it’s not a version for the ages. Just a version with a 20p surcharge.

The Wide, Wide World Of Sport (And Music)
From Sport Magazine, June 22: BEATS BY DR DRE PRO HEADPHONES: What Modern sportsman doesn’t carry round a hefty pair of cans? “They are noise-cancelling, so great before a big race, and for travelling,” he explains. “I like all kinds of music, from Jay Z to Michael Jackson.”—Team GB swimmer Lian Tancock.

Pot. Kettle. Black.
“After a day with Bono, she might want to put herself back under house arrest.”—Bob Geldof on Aung San Suu Kyi.

Tin Pan Alley, Stefan Grossman, Sound Techniques
Sound Techniques was a studio housed in an old dairy building between Chelsea Embankment and the King’s Road. I was thinking about it because I walked past one of the guitar shops on Denmark Street and idly glanced at a beautiful inlaid Martin acoustic. I looked closer and realised it was a Stefan Grossman signature model. Stefan was, and is, an extremely brilliant  guitarist. I had been talking about him with Sam Charters, who was tasked in the mid-seventies with making a mainstream Grossman record by Transatlantic Records’ Nat Joseph. To this end he hired Alan White, Danny Thompson and Richard Thompson to play. When Sam was in town producing I would hang around the studio after work or college, just enjoying watching the creative process and soaking up the atmosphere (Nick Drake’s albums were recorded at ST), looking down from the control booth to the live room below. I have two memories of those particular sessions: One is watching Sam and Stefan patiently making the curly-headed Richard Thompson overdub one electric guitar part for hour after hour, trying to get him to play it more aggressively. Difference between a session man and an artist in his own right—a session man will say, “You want this? Or this? Or how about this?” Richard just tried to play it better each time. And the other memory was of picking up a comic that was lying in Alan White’s Drum Case and being given very short shrift by the Plastic Ono Band drummer for not asking first…

Maltese Diamond Position Inlays. £4,179.

Best Coast
Always nice to see a relative on stage, even if they are second cousins (did I get that right? Or is it first cousins twice-removed? Or not even cousins but something else?) Whatever, Brett is my cousin Nickie’s son. And bass & guitar player for Best Coast on tour. A grand night had by all!

Best Coast, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 20th June. Brett and Bethany Cosentino

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 13th June

Rick Danko, Unfaithful Servant, LA, 1979: “Easy with him, he’s a human…”
As Eric Andersen wrote, in a farewell letter to Rick: “Your singing remains one of the everlasting glories of American music.” And, though it’s ragged and rough, this is as glorious as it gets. A sweaty club, a febrile atmosphere (it’s not beautifully recorded, but the room fairly crackles—I’ve rarely heard something sound so present). Blondie Chaplin, ex-Beach Boy, is on piano, Rick just singing, not playing bass, someone loosely slapping a tambourine. The crowd is rowdy, and inappropriate for such a heartfelt song. There’s an Elvis-like foldback on the vocal mike, almost sounding like it’s hitting the back wall and touring the room. From Caledonian Mission to It Makes No Difference Rick defined a way of ballad singing that’s unique—a high, white, hilltop soul man, singing American music. Here, he leans in hard, perhaps as a response to the low-down, boozed-up crowd. He fumbles some lyrics, oversings others, but it’s fantastic. Just after he sings “Farewell to my other side, Well, I’d best just take it in stride” he makes the above plea to the crowd, but doesn’t miss a beat. The crowd whistles & whoops and Rick turns it on until the words run out and Paul Butterfield steps up to take the song home with a searing harp solo.

Jo Stafford, Paul Weston, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards
Flicking through an illustrated biography of Frank Sinatra I came across a reference to Jo Stafford (the No 1 singer of the ‘pre-rock’ era, apparently). I’ve got various tracks by her, including a great version of You Belong To Me—a wonderful song nicely covered by Bob Dylan and included on the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers. The book mentioned that she recorded several albums with her husband Paul Weston, spoof records that grew out of a party turn, where he would play bad cocktail piano and she would sing high and out-of-tune. Proustian rush time! These albums were a favourite of my parents, alongside others by Jonathan Winters and Bob Newhart. My dad also had a 78 of Red Ingle & His (Un)Natural Seven’s Tim-Tay-Shun (a spoof of Perry Como’s Temptation). And who is the female vocalist on Tim Tay Shun? Jo Stafford. And they still sound pretty great.

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt2: June 12th, Victoria Station, London
A song I don’t recognise starts playing, a kind-of bluesy shufflin’ riff with slight Beatles-y overtones in its swirling guitars, as I turn to the G2 section of The Guardian. Steve Miller starts singing: “Way down in Alabama there’s a girl just a waitin’ for me, She don’t have to worry, she don’t have to hurry, Lord, I keep her so happy, she’s my…” And at this point I read the cover line: THIS DRUG RUINS LIVES: HOW SUGAR BECAME A LETHAL ADDICTION by Jacques Peretti. And Steve sings: “Sugar baby, Sugar, sugar baby, Sugar baby, Sugar, sugar baby…”

Really?
World’s Richest DJs:
#10: Moby Net Worth $28 million
#9: Daft Punk Net Worth – $30 million each
#8: Pete Tong Net Worth – $30 million
#7: Judge Jules Net Worth – $40 million
#6: Sasha (DJ) Net Worth – $40 million
#5: Armin Van Buuren Net Worth – $40 million
#4: John Digweed Net Worth – $45 million
#3: Paul van Dyk Net Worth – $50 million
#2: Paul Oakenfold Net Worth – $55 million
#1: DJ Tiesto Net Worth – $65 million

Really 2?

Black and Grey Mesh Eye Logo Trucker Cap, thanks. Oh, on second thoughts…

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 30th May

Best Eurovision Moment
After Albania’s rather terrifying sub-Bjork performance, Graham Norton waited a beat, then said: “I’m pretty sure that, if they get her medication right, that need never happen again…”

Pete Doherty Interview by Geoffrey Macnab, The Guardian
Ah, poor Pete, treated badly by everybody as he makes his film debut in Confession of a Child of the Century. Take Charlotte Gainsbourg. She wasn’t “all that happy” about the production, which, he says he knows because he snuck into her room and looked at her journal [!]. She came in “as someone everyone knew but a complete stranger in the immediate environment… you couldn’t be a star.” It was freezing cold on location. Between takes, assistants would “leap on her with loads of blankets and hot-water bottles and I was stood there in 19th-century cotton with lots of holes in it.” And in prison: “It’s horrible, horrible. There are lots of aggressive, money-oriented, very masculine people, but at the same time, there is really nasty homoerotic violence. It’s not the place to be if you are a freethinking man.” And now there’s the film critics! The reviews have been overwhelmingly negative, with Doherty’s own performance deemed “catastrophic” and “calamitous.”

For what it’s worth, I have no great opinion on Doherty’s songwriting talent and I wasn’t impressed by The Libertines, but I saw him play a song at Hal Willner’s Disney night, The Forest of No Return, part of Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown at the Festival Hall in 2007. With a line-up of luminaries ranging from Nick Cave to Grace Jones (brilliantly terrifying on The Jungle Book’s Trust In Me) Pete took the stage to sing Chim Chim Cheree. We were sitting just behind Kate Moss, Pete’s then-inamorata, who was busy snapping photos. One of the few performers to have memorised the words, strumming a battered acoustic, he totally inhabited the song, and—singing beautifully—essayed a perfect and tender version, rescuing it forever from the clutches of Dick Van Dyke. And that’s no mean feat.

Reissue of the Week
Walked into a guitar shop to discover that Fender have reissued the Kingman, the acoustic played by Elvis, with its classic Fender headstock…

My prized Fender 1968 catalogue

A Night At The Opera
Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. English National Opera. Anthony Minghella’s production. Visually stunning in places. Rousing and expressive music. Awful story, that seems horribly outdated and verging on distasteful. Terrible clunky language which is hard to sing (Pinkerton: “I bought this house for nine hundred and ninety nine years, but with the option, at ev’ry month, to cancel the contract! I must say, in this country, the houses and the contracts are elastic!”). And then sung with seeming disregard for the melodies of the music floating underneath! Interview this week with Emma Rice, director of theatre group Kneehigh: Is there an artform you don’t relate to? “Opera. It’s a dreadful sound. It just doesn’t sound like the human voice.”

Image Of The Week: !Bobama!

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