Wednesday, April 18th

This week’s missive has been written to a soundtrack of Bettye Lavette singing “Emotionally Yours” from her new record of Dylan covers, “Sometimes It Snows In April” from Me’Shell Ndegéocello’s Ventriloquism, her album of 80s covers, Melody Gardot’s fine Live in Europe, and The Kills’ new single (see below).

ONE RECOMMENDED FILMS 1
If you’re a lover of B-Movies then get to the cinema quickly for A Quiet Place, so you don’t read anything more about it [like this – Ed]. Director John Krasinski played composer Marco Beltrami Peter Gabriel’s version of Bowie and Eno’s “Heroes” as a direction for the minimal score, to be done on a minimal budget. “All I needed were strings and a piano. I de-tuned the piano’s black keys to make it a little askew.” It works beautifully, merging in with the almost silent film, where most of the sound comes from whispers, feet padding on sanded paths, and the tiny creaks of floorboards.

TWO RECOMMENDED FILMS 2
Also out now, the terrifying You Were Never Really Here, by Lynne Ramsay, with Joaquin (or as he’s now known in our house, WhackHim)
Phoenix. Wow. Dark, disturbing, oppressive, incredibly filmed and directed, it’s a nasty, bruitish tale that seems totally at home in the world today. I always think that films dealing with exploitation veer perilously close to the thing they’re moralising about, and this is in the tradition of Scorsese and Schrader’s Taxi Driver, and, especially, Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, the next film he wrote, about a father searching for his daughter amid the world of Snuff films. There is one of those sequences that critics call “bravura”, where Phoenix is seen dispatching various hoods via CCTV screens, as a distorted soundtrack plays Rosie and the Originals “Angel Baby”, a song that even in its original form is pretty distorted.

In an interview with Emily Yoshida for Vulture, Ramsay tells how this sequence came about: “So we started walking through the whole sequence, and the DP shot it, and I started thinking about how I was going to use the sound. And I started to think, you know, this [the grainy CCTV footage] feels right for that moment in the film. It’s a risky thing to do, but it was kind of a light-bulb moment when our backs were against the wall in many ways. And then for the sound stuff, with the skipping music, we tried a lot of different things; we tried using just room tone. But “Angel Baby” was the first track I tried, and I thought, maybe it’s just an interior track. And we were playing with it, and it kind of messes with your brain a little bit; it comes out of different speakers. And then the idea of the time slice, where you take little pieces of the song out, so the cuts “jump” even more. It sets up sort of a startling tone. So once we kind of hit on that, I was like, we’re kind of using the music in a different way — you don’t exactly know what or why, but it does something to you.” Startling is right – it’s a brilliant effect, and if the film is slightly unsatisfying it’s not for want of realism or talent.

THREE ANOTHER FILM RECOMMENDATION!

5-billfrisellThis time on DVD, this one Emma Franz’ intimate film about Bill Frisell, Bill Frisell: A Portrait, which illuminates the rather terrifying creative process that takes place in Bill’s mind. At one point he’s doing a concert with pianist Jason Moran, and sends him over a sheaf of song ideas, about forty, from a pile of hundreds that he’d written in a short period. My favourite section has Frisell trying to remember how a particular song goes, and failing, saying how he hopes it will come to him in the moment, and cutting to him playing it brilliantly that night. It also has the treasurable Joey Baron, as interviewee and collaborator, whose recollections are a total hoot. Help enable Emma to make more great films by buying a copy!

FOUR THINKING ABOUT RECORDING WITH…
Ndugu Chancler [see the music player on the right] made me look out this, Eric Leeds’ horn chart for Hot House’s “Means Too Much”
.

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He flew into L.A. from Minneapolis to work with our co-producer, Susan Rogers, who was also recording with Wendy & Lisa on her days off. We asked Susan if Eric would write a horn section for this song and, boy, did he ever. He came in and blazed his way through the five parts (alto, three tenors, baritone), not a note out of place. It was like magic.

FIVE EIGHT BY EIGHT BY…
I was interviewing legendary NYC Art Director Robert Priest by Skype this week about his extraordinary global football magazine, Eight by Eight, when he asked me what I was listening to. That question always blindsides me, but as I was seated at the computer, I was able to give him a couple of names. I reversed the question, and he said that the Priest & Grace office loved The Kills. Which was weird, as I was going to mention their new single in answer to his original question. It’s called “List of Demands (Reparations)” and is fantastic – a howling thump of in-your-face menace, placed right at the corner where The Ting Tings meet Queen’s “We Will Rock You”!

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Friday, April 6th

ONE THE MOST SOULFUL AND MOVING PIECE OF MUSIC…
that I heard this week wasn’t sung, it was spoken. It was in Clarke Peters’ fine edition of Soul Music on Radio Four, Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. In the section on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, a dusty, dry-as-paper voice starts speaking in restrained cadences, taking its own solemn time to tell its tale.

“My name is L. C. Cooke, I’m the brother of the late, great Sam Cooke. Well I know you remember “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan… Sam always said a black man shoulda wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind”. And he sat down and wrote,

I was born by the river
in a little tent
But just like the river
I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time coming
But I know
Change gonna come

and he said, “A Change is Gonna Come” was the hardest song he ever wrote in his life.” Cooke quietly gave the proceeds of the song to Martin Luther King and the Movement, but in his dignified way, L.C. won’t make more of that. “See, when Sam did something, he didn’t want to brag about it, you know… and so I’d really rather not talk about that.”
[It’s available on the iPlayer now].

TWO “COOL MODERNISM” AT THE ASHMOLEAN
A small and perfectly formed exhibition, on ’til July 22nd and highly recommended. As we left the gallery and made our way downstairs, passing the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Gallery (an exploration of the meeting of the West with the East through European exploration from 1492 onwards), I see a display of guitars and violins. It includes these three beautiful examples, with the central instrument being one of the few examples of a Stradivarius guitar. I had no idea that such a thing existed. Here and here are examples of what they sound like.

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THREE GOSPEL BOB
Watching Trouble No More, the documentary/feature about the Gospel Years (sermons okay, music strangely inflexible) you couldn’t miss Dylan’s intense commitment to the material. Coated in sweat, he prowled and preached to the crowd. Best bit may well have been the harp solo at the end of “What Can I Do for You?” It wasn’t quite at ’66 levels of brilliance, but it provided a moment where the music went out on a limb, and towards the end resolved around the beautiful melody of “That Lucky Old Sun” – later to become a feature of the gospel tours.

FOUR A MUSICAL FREE FOR ALL
I was struck by this paragraph near the end of Original Rockers by Richard King, an elegiac account of his time working at Bristol’s Revolver Records in the mid 1990s:
“Visitors to the shop from outside Bristol would return months later, enriched by the experience of buying music that, before conversing with Roger, they had previously been unaware of. They treasured the atmosphere of enquiry and compulsion at the counter, even if it felt intimidating, and departed smiling and enlivened, carrying their purchases in the black and red-and-black Revolver bag, sure that in doing so some mutually appreciated form of status had been conferred. In turn, they brought their particular enthusiasms to the counter for discussion and used the opportunity of loitering in the shop to broaden their musical knowledge.”
When this was written (in 2015, about the mid-1990s) it was already nostalgic. Now, in the era of streaming, it feels that it’s come from the time of Jane Austen… Now the tech companies piggyback on the creative work that others have made, and become rich, by co-opting us into their business, while the creators, for the most part, make little. Read Amanda Petrusich in this week’s New Yorker, and weep.

nb. When I texted my friend Tim (he was at Bristol University) he replied: “A fantastic memoir, made even stranger by the fact that I worked at Revolver for a while. Highlights for me included a two-month stint when Chris the then manager insisted that Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing in My Head” was the first record played every morning. He also refused to stock the first Dire Straits album and badly abused anyone who dared ask for it.”

FIVE THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE
Creepy and greedy, Andrew Cunanan (compellingly played by Darren Criss) drives his would-be husband and will-be next victim, David, across the flatlands of Minnesota. They arrive in a bar, postponing the inevitable, and the singer on the small stage at the end of the bar sings, straightforwardly, “Drive”, the Cars song best known for its use as the soundtrack to films of the Ethiopian famine during Live Aid. It’s Aimee Mann, strumming an Epiphone J160E, a guitar synonymous with John Lennon due to featuring on the Help! movie songs. I’m not saying that’s deliberate (she has played that model for a long time), just interesting. And the song is perfect for the scene:

“Who’s gonna tell you when / it’s too late.
Who’s gonna tell you things / aren’t so great.
You cant go on, thinkin’ nothing’s wrong,
But who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

As Cunanan breaks into tears, Mann improvises something close to the melody of “Save Me”, one of her songs that inspired (and were used in) Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, adding yet another layer to this small interlude.


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Extra! Protest Songs No.2: “The Danger Zone”

Songwriter and singer Percy Mayfield was a scribe for the loveless and lost, but also for the man railing against the possibility of Armageddon. Even in the most plaintive and beautiful lovesick ballad, his apocalyptic bent creeps in. Here’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”:
“Show the world how to get along
Peace will enter, when hate is gone
But if it’s not asking too much
Please send me someone to love…”

“River’s Invitation” conjoins his missing sweetheart with thoughts of suicide:
“I spoke to the river
And the river spoke back to me
It said man you look so lonely
You look full of misery
And if you can’t find your baby
Come and make your home with me”

Even a visit home was no fun. “Stranger in My Own Hometown”, cut famously by Elvis, finds the singer bemoaning his lot…
“I came home with good intentions
About 5 or 6 years ago
But my hometown won’t accept me
Just don’t feel welcome here no more…”

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His most famous song was for his mentor, Ray Charles – “Hit the Road, Jack” was a monster hit in 1961. But on the B-Side, cut at the same session, was “The Danger Zone”, blessed with one of Ray’s greatest ever performances. Here’s a lovely piece about the song, and its relation to Leonard Cohen’s “Almost Like the Blues”, at thebluemoment.

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Its refrain has been running around my head for the last few months, to the point where I had to record a version of it. So forgive me the gall. Here it is. [removed for remixing]

 

 

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Thursday, March 15

ONE OUT COME THE FREAKS
Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape kindly sent me a copy of A Hero for High Times, Ian Marchant’s new book. Its subtitle describes it pretty succinctly: A Young Reader’s Guide to the Beats, Hippies, Freaks, Punks, Ravers, New-Age Travellers and Dog-on-a-Rope Brew Crew Crusties of the British Isles, 1956–1994. Whew! It’s a hefty book, and I’m a third of the way in – it’s vivid, engaging and somewhat eccentric, much like its subject Bob Rowberry. In a good way.

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How could I not love a book that has a Jonny Hannah cover (finished and delivered a good few years ago, Jonny – above in his Darktown Taxi – tells me), a long section on Studio 51 (the Ken Colyer Club) and an Afterword page with the line, aimed at his Younger Readers, “Now you need a Ginsberg and a Ken Colyer and an Elvis of your own.” There’s also this fine shout-out to Dan in the Acknowledgements…to my editor, Dan Franklin, without whose work over thirty years or so, there would be no history of the counterculture”. Highly recommended.

TWO RADIO PROGRAMME OF THE WEEK
In a similar vein, a wonderful R3 documentary on Val Wilmer, jazz writer and photographer, and brave explorer of free jazz. Discover how a young girl made such an impression on several decades of black musicians. “I started out interviewing musicians when I was very young and I was really just a fan and I didn’t really know I could do it. I really didn’t know what to ask people and so therefore I didn’t ask complicated questions. I asked Where did you get your first instrument, why did you have a saxophone, who did you play with, and who did you play with next? People enlarge on things, and, if they feel relaxed with you, then they will talk more. I enabled people to speak freely and therefore they did. And sometimes they spoke very freely indeed, much to my astonishment…” It was a programme that did Val’s extraordinary life justice.

THREE CONCERT OF THE WEEK
David Rodigan and the Outlook Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall. On the Day of Great Snow Kwok and I grab something to eat at Five Guys before the gig and I ponder the fact that he I and I have been eating burgers in London since the time when there was only one burger joint in London, the Hard Rock. Where Kwok became night grill chef while still a student on the Fine Art course at Chelsea School of Art, before being poached to run the kitchen at a new Hard Rock in Frankfurt. So I value his opinion, and we’ve spent the intervening forty years of searching for the best hamburger in town. Five Guys gets a okay 5/10.

The other thing that Kwok was into at Chelsea was reggae, and has listened to Rodigan’s Rockers, the show being celebrated tonight, since the 70s. So we couldn’t not go to the Festival Hall show, even though we had no idea what it would consist of. It turned out to be a very formal-looking Rodigan (dead ringer for George of Gilbert and George, three-piece suit and tie) entertainingly leading us through a history of Jamaican music while the orchestra played the requisite songs for each segment (Bluebeat, Rock Steady, Lover’s Rock et al) with guest vocalists.

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The atmosphere was fervid, closer to a boxing match than a concert. People were leaping around and giving a standing ovation before Rodigan’s feet even touched the stage. When he arrived, the crowd sat down for a few notes then all got back on their feet for the next two hours, even those in the boxes ranged along the sides of the hall. I haven’t witnessed a concert explode into a dancing mass like this ªexcept, maybe, the end of Paolo Conte’s Barbican show). There’s a lot of shouting. Each new tune draws another round of exclamations hurled at the stage: “Respec’! Respec’!” “Boooooooooom!” “RodiGan!”.

The arrangements sat on the shoulders of some fantastic rhythm work. Rock steady and rock solid, the bassist locked in with the two drummers and a percussionist to give the whole evening a deep thump and a hypnotic sway. I’ve searched online for the line up of the Orchestra, but have found almost no information, so I can’t credit them, or the fine horn section and backing singers. The line up of singers – half of them flown in from Jamaica and New York for tonight’s show – was impressive, Bitty McLean, Horace Andy, Maxi Priest, Tippa Irie, Ali Campbell among them. Highlights were conductor and arranger Tommy Evans’ cool dancing, Maverick Sabre’s gorgeous grainy voice, and Horace Andy’s slick patent leather outfit. Most amusing moment goes to Tippa Irie and his least necessary stage-leaving announcement of “I’m Tippa Irie”. We’d spent the previous ten minutes chanting his name – I say “Tipper” you say “IRIE!”, I say “David”, you say “Rodigan”!

FOUR VIDEO OF THE WEEK 1
A collaboration with the Detroit School of Arts, featuring the Vocal Jazz Ensemble and teacher Ms V. for David Byrne’s Reasons to be Cheerful Project (we need this man, right here, right now!) It’s a rocking rendition of “Everybody’s Coming To My House” from his new American Utopia album.

FIVE VIDEO OF THE WEEK 2
Humble Pie “For Your Love”. I can’t even quite remember the path to stumbling across this, but (at least for the first half of its seven minutes) it’s great.

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Thursday, February 21st

ONE TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD/DENMARK STREET
Nice to listen to an impromtu Piano/Snare jam in the airy new TCR station, all ready for Crossrail to open. The Singing Lumberjack’s guitar is for sale in No.Tom Guitars. It’s a 1949 Gibson J45, and is yours for a shade under £7,000.

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TWO ANTICIPATING THIS HUGELY…
Tonight’s the night…

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THREE GRACE DENT ON THE MARYLEBONE DINERS AT SIMON ROGAN’S ROGANIC
From ES Magazine: “Still, after an hour, we still had 10 courses ahead, a task that felt all the more arduous because Blandford Street attracts some of the biggest tosspots in London. It has gorgeous restaurants – Jikoni, Carousel, Trishna and so on – but terrible people painted into a corner of blandness by their own spare cash. This isn’t the eccentric opulence of Chelsea, geed up by Russian and old British money, or Shoreditch, still riding on lost 1990s notions of hipness. This is Marylebone, where rich Harley Street neurologists eat dinner like Trappist monks, then go home to buy Mark Knopfler tickets.”

FOUR JUST A BOARD WITH THINGS TO SAY……
“and 2 humans to write them each day. Board belongs to TFL but content is our original work. Copyright @allontheboard”. Seen at North Greenwich Station, next to the O2.

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FIVE I FEEL A NEW CATEGORY COMING ON…
Something like Inopportune Songs For This Location. Like the Smiths “Meat Is Murder” in a butcher’s shop, say. Bob Gumpert emails with this… “Taking photos at the homeless family drop-in located in the “WeWork” building – all young tech folks doing whatever they do. Lots of casuals and hipsters (am not opposed to hipster). Music is piped through all floors of WeWork and is currently playing Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. A bit strange for someone of my age and temperament…”


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Wednesday, January 31st

ONE THE WEATHER STATION, OSLO

5-weatherTim and I stand with our backs leaning on the bar, watching Red River Dialect play their support-set songs, muggily. “It’s like listening to an It’s a Beautiful Day bootleg” says Tim, with unerring accuracy. I’m concerned that the subtlety of Tamara Lindeman’s songs will suffer a similar fate, but as soon as the Weather Station hit the first chord my worries evaporate. I was sent here by a review that Richard Williams wrote (here) and he captures just what makes their gigs so special. “Some of these songs are like the deepest conversations you ever had with someone you care about – and very often they’re like things that were formulated but somehow never got said. On the faster songs she piles lines on top of each other to create a river of thought and feeling. And none of the nuances are lost when she sings them with a band in front of an audience.”

Lindeman and her collaborators create an organic soundworld, and find the new in clever variations on the old. Sonically there are echoes of David Crosby’s chords, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira-era strumming, and, more tellingly, the spectral space found by the Cowboy Junkies when they recorded with one microphone in a church. But that makes the music sound too gentle – there’s a steamroller drive to the faster songs, powered by the bass of Ben Whiteley, who Tim singles out as the player the music seems to revolve around. Erik Heestermans disdains the obvious on drums and Will Kidman’s guitar solos are febrile and brittle in the manner of Richard Thompson. He’s also playing a structural role in the songs, teasing out melodies that Lindeman fleetingly suggests. The basic building blocks of rock – two guitars, bass and drums – hypnotically remade. Seventy five minutes went by in the blink of an eye.

TWO BASQUIAT AT THE BARBICAN
A fantastic show, where Basquiat’s crazed genius shined through. What I had forgotten was just how much he referenced musicians in his work – often an older Jazz than you may expect (Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” and Ben Webster’s “Blue Skies”, say, although his main man was Charlie Parker).

5-BasquiatThere’s also cracking film of August Darnell and Andy Hernandez leading Kid Creole and the Coconuts through their early-80s set in a New York Club. [Polaroid of AD above].

THREE FROM NICK COLEMAN’S NEW BOOK
Voices: How a Great Singer Can Change Your Life, published by Jonathan Cape on 25 January. I’m really looking forward to this. Here’s a bit about Al Green: “We are in New York on Seventh Avenue, high up in the sky in his hotel bedroom. This is my second attempt to interview the Rev. The first time round, which he clearly only half remembers, if at all, from a year ago, we’d got bogged down in thick theological mud. I’d wanted to draw out the lineaments of his faith in order to unravel the fabric of his genius, or something along those lines. Most of all, I’d wanted to uncover the ambivalences that allow him to sing about God like a lover and about Love like a metaphysical poet. This is not possible in 20 minutes. And Al, being a true soul man, had chosen to sing most of his replies in robust Biblical quotation. This was great for me but no use at all for you, dear reader.
So Al, when you’re singing, do you wait for the spirit to come to you or do you summon it? “What magazine do you work for?  in London? Ah, well, I don’t really speak on that subject because it’s a Utopia subject and, anyway, no one is always in the spirit or under the anointing. Not that I know of. And if you sit and wait for it and do what the scripture says – ‘And if anybody ask anything of the Lord, let him be prepared to wait on it’ – you may be waiting a few days. And then your studio time runs out!”

FOUR THE BLOODY BOB MUSICAL, AGAIN…
I saw this review by Caroline McGinn in Time Out. Apart from my obvious disagreement over the production, just check her In My Opinion! “It’s poignant and stirring and totally fresh to see “Like a Rolling Stone” voiced by a middle-aged woman – the electrifying Shirley Henderson as Nick’s wife Elizabeth – who’s losing her inhibitions and her mind. Or the – IMO hokey and forgettable minor ballad – “I Want You”, slowed down and revealed as a sexy, aching, unrequited duet for Nick’s son Gene and yet another character, the girl who’s leaving him for a guy with a real job.”

FIVE DO RE MI
I came upon this while looking for something else. It’s rather fine. Bob, Van Dyke Parks and Ry Cooder play Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” at the Malibu Performing Arts Center in January 2009.

Wednesday, January 24

ONE THERE’S POOR, AND THERE’S REALLY POOR
A bar/cafe at Stansted Airport, themed around illustrious musicians (sadly, I kid you not). In reality this means a wall of Black and White 12 x 15 framed prints, and this, a wall of names, graphically arranged.

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So we have the ungainly clashes of Muse/Fish and Chips, and Uriah Heep/Fresh, and Depeche Mode seem to have merged with the Rolling Stones… And don’t forget the legendary Ozzy Osb, and Ethro Tull. “I’ll have the Rod Stewart Inergarder, please…”

TWO FOR ART’S SAKE… 
I’m really appreciative of Sky Arts, although they have a worrying tendency to hire people to make programmes about themselves, saying how great they are. They rock this approach with Melvyn Bragg’s hymn of praise to The South Bank Show now that it’s left ITV for Sky. Almost two hours of weirdly unsatisfying clips from thirty years of programme-making, linked by Melv standing coldly on various bits of the windswept South Bank and bigging up himself, before cutting to people like David Puttnam who also big him up. Strange.
I’ve just started another Sky Arts series, Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge, a history of the magazine. I may be sensitized to this puffery as I’ve just Read 50 Years of Rolling Stone, a (somewhat) entertaining hagiography that I’m reviewing. The documentary comes laced with the same sense of baby-boomer self-congratulation as the book – I assume all this RS looking back activity was an attempt to drive up the price before Jann Wenner sold the company. Anyhow, the first episode reminds you of the brilliance of its writing in the Sixties, especially Hunter S Thompson on Nixon, interesting to read at this point in history:
“This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else that tries to make us uncomfortable. Jesus, where will it end – how low do you have to stoop in this country to be President? It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal, incurably violent side of the American character. He speaks for the werewolf in us, the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable on the nights where the moon comes too close”

THREE YOU WON’T BELIEVE YOUR EARS…
…as Buddy Holly calls his record company to ask for his songs back. A man never far from a tape recorder, he turned it on for the call. Found via Messy Nessy’s 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today.

FOUR I POST THIS WITH NO COMMENT…
Nando’s has opened a music studio at one of their main London restaurants, giving budding musicians the chance to lay down their own tracks while chowing down on chicken, reported the NME. The studio has been opened at Nando’s in Frith Street, Soho, and will give successful applicants the chance to record their own music with the help of an in-house studio engineer and pioneering equipment including a Neumann U87 microphone. “We’re really excited to open our first music space, both for our growing network of artists and also for our fans looking for a unique experience in the restaurant. Some of the best ideas have started over Peri-Peri (or so we’re told), so we’re looking forward to hearing what happens when we bring together chicken and tunes!”, a Nando’s spokesperson said.

FIVE PRANCING IN THE STREET!
What happens if you take the music away from Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s take on “Dancing in the Street” and cruelly imagine how the vocals may have sounded as they danced? This… 

 

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Friday, January 5th

A quick round up today. Too much time spent watching tv (how poor was McMafia? From its terrible title to its watery atmosphere, its lousy script to its underdeveloped characters… Everything that The Night Manager was, this isn’t. End of rant) and catching up with work to concentrate on 5 Things. I hope normal service will resume from next week. Happy New Year!

ONE MY FAVOURITE BOOK OF THE YEAR
Latest in the repurposed Ladybird People at Work series:

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“This is a rock star. His name is Bob Dylan.
Bob is rehearsing with his band. It takes a long time.
First the band have to learn all of Bob’s famous songs.
Then Bob has to think of worse tunes he can sing over all of them.”

TWO R.I.P. RICK HALL, GIANT OF ALABAMA MUSIC
Although we recorded in Muscle Shoals, we were working at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, set up by Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett, who broke away from Hall’s FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) studio. I took the photo below in Florence, just across the river. And, below, I’m standing by the famous sign at the city limits. Among some fine obits, rocksbackpages reminded me of Mick Brown’s wonderful piece on Rick Hall and Muscle Shoals for the Daily Telegraph in 2013. You can find it here.

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From Mick’s piece: For a brief and exhilarating period Muscle Shoals rivalled New York, Los Angeles and London as one of the most important recording centres in popular music. You need only visit Muscle Shoals to realise quite how remarkable this was. The town is one of four – the others are Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia – that cluster along the Tennessee river in the north-western corner of Alabama, and are collectively known as the Shoals. The combined population is 69,000. It is a place of wood-framed houses, their porches entwined with bougainvillea; of handsome antebellum mansions – and of restaurants serving fried catfish and turnip greens. Thick forests flank the river, which rolls sluggishly in the summer heat. For an anonymous backwater, the Shoals has an improbably rich musical history. Florence was the birthplace of WC Handy, the father of the blues, and of Sam Phillips, who in 1953, convinced, as he put it, that “if I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars”, had the presence of mind to record an 18-year-old Elvis Presley singing the blues song “That’s Alright, Mama” – effectively creating rock’n’roll.

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THREE THE “AMERICAN PIE” CLASSIC ALBUMS PROGRAMME…
reminded me of Don McLean’s song, “Orphans of Wealth”, at this moment as apposite as it’ll ever be…
“And they’re African, Mexican, Caucasian, Indian / Hungry and hopeless Americans / The orphans of wealth and of adequate health / Disowned by this nation they live in.
And with weather-worn hands, on bread lines they stand / Yet but one more degradation… / And they’re treated like tramps while we sell them food stamps /
This thriving and prosperous nation…”

FOUR I TRIED TO WRITE ABOUT DYLAN’S GOSPEL YEARS…
but the issue that I’ve had since 1980 keeps rearing its head – I listen to the first bars of any song thinking, “This sounds great” and ninety seconds later I’ve zoned out. I don’t understand – the band is great, the arrangements are good, it’s performed with drive and commitment… But it’s the same problem I have with the whole of Tom Petty’s oeuvre. I can never stick around ’til the end.

FIVE FROM MAJOR TO MINOR
A fascinating piece about the current state of pop music at Popbitch. They’ve looked at one element in particular…
“Being popular gets you a good place on a Spotify playlist; getting a good place on a Spotify playlist gets you more plays. The more plays you get on Spotify, the better your chart position. The better your chart position, the better your placement on Spotify playlists. The more you get heard, the more popular you become. The more popular you become, the more you get heard. This is not a particularly groundbreaking observation. People have been talking about this quirk of the new chart calculations for years now. What is interesting about this run of long-standing number ones though is that something else significant seems to have changed since the days of “Everything I Do” and “Love Is All Around”. Specifically: the key that the songs are in.”

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Extra! All best for the holiday season…

rushingxmas

Next week, before the year ends, I’ll attempt to write about Josh Ritter at Shepherds Bush Empire (stunningly good), the American Pie Classic Albums on BBC4 (no Rob Stoner, not enough Paul Griffin), David Lynch’s Twin Peaks scene sountracked by Otis, and Guitarmaggedon (Matt Umanov’s on Bleeker Street closing, guitar sales down).

This week, though, a Christmas card from Jimmy Rushing and family, sent to my dad in the late 50s, and my take on another* Christina Rosetti Christmas song. Apologies for the unmixed state of it, but you know Christmas and deadlines… Thanks for reading over the past year, and best wishes to all.

 

* A couple of years ago I recorded “In the Bleak Midwinter” as an eight-minute soundscape. using the Teisco Baritone guitar that I had recently acquired [you can listen to it here]. The bari is back this year, wrestling with twitchy drummers and a ghostly choir (thanks, Mimosa!).

Tuesday, December 19g

ONE IS SPOTIFY MAKING MUSIC MUZAK?
I’ve always had issues with Spotify. This article by Lizz Pelly at The Baffler illuminates the subject brilliantly. “Spotify loves “chill” playlists: they’re the purest distillation of its ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper. They’re also tied to what its algorithm manipulates best: mood and affect. Note how the generically designed, nearly stock photo images attached to these playlists rely on the selfsame clickbait-y tactics of content farms, which are famous for attacking a reader’s basest human moods and instincts. Only here the goal is to fit music snugly into an emotional regulation capsule optimized for maximum clicks: “chill.out.brain,” “Ambient Chill,” “Chill Covers.” “Piano in the Background” is one of the most aptly titled; “in the background” could be added to the majority of Spotify playlists.”

TWO SOMEBODY HAD TO…

Turns out that Swedemason was the man who stepped up…

THREE ROOTS & TOOTS!
I’d really recommend a terrific Sky Arts documentary, Toots and the Maytals: From the Roots, about reggae’s beginnings and the intertwined career of “Toots” Hibbert. Beautifully made, it contrasts excellent interviews and documentary footage with his current band performing his greatest songs (I liked that the drummer had his setlist written on his snare drum head).

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FOUR A THEORBO? REALLY?
In an early music review in The Guardian there was a tantalising picture of Alex McCartney playing a lute-like instrument that looked ten feet long. It’s a theorbo.

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Wikepedia: “The theorbo is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox. Like a lute, a theorbo has a curved-back sound box [a hollow box] with a wooden top, typically with a sound hole, and a neck extending out from the soundbox. As with the lute, the player plucks or strums the strings with one hand while fretting the strings with the other hand; pressing the strings in different places on the neck produces different pitches, thus enabling the performer to play chords, basslines and melodies.” Alex plays it rather beautifully.

FIVE FROM BERLIN, HOLLYWOOD
While I was in Berlin I came across the Camera Work gallery, a beautiful space showing a really well put together show of Matthew Rolston’s photographs from the eighties and nineties. He was bringing back the kind of portraiture that Hollywood studios made popular in the thirties and forties, the work of men like George Hurrell and Clarence Bull. Strong lighting, rich shadows and mysterious expressions made this really well-curated show fascinating. They’ve aged better than I thought they would – I remember being rather wary of their glamour at the time. [Click on the picture to enlarge. It features George Michael on the left and Sade, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell on the right].

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If you’re receiving the email out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

If you’re receiving the email out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

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