Saturday, July 25th

Monday, July 6th

Saturday, May 30th. Part Two

Saturday, May 30th. Part One

Read this for more from Richard on the astonishing career of Buddy Featherstonhaugh,
possibly the only man to have had careers as a jazz saxophonist
(he toured with Louis Armstrong) and Grand Prix racer simultaneously.
Peter Guralnick on Little Richard here.
Read Emily Nussbaum’s fascinating profile of Fiona Apple in The New Yorker.
Here’s Carrie Battan’s review of “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”.
More on Armstrong’s collages at The Louis Armstrong House here.


Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week. Tuesday, May 5th

Well, John the Baptist, after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero, the commander-in-chief
Saying, “Tell me, great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?”
The commander-in-chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And dropping a barbell, he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.”
— “Tombstone Blues”, Bob Dylan

{WELCOME}

I’m sitting here thinking. Has anyone done a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting in Limbo” yet? “Sitting here in limbo / Waiting for the dice to roll… / Sitting here in limbo / Got some time to search my soul…”
Or the great Willie Brown’s “Future Blues”? “The minutes seems like hours, and hours seems like days / The minutes seems like hours, hours seems like days…” [Recorded in 1931, it was once among the rarest blues 78s, and is worth around $25,000 if you can find a copy. Here it is on YouTube, with a photo his friend Son House’s signature on the label. Brown is famously mentioned in Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”.]

Anyhow, with a distinct New Orleans / Muscle Shoals flavour, here’s Five Things. We start with a few recommendations. First, if you feel like “getting lost in that hopeless little screen” as Len put it, some of our tv highlights.

{ONE} VISIONS 

SUNNY DAYS I spent some time last week sitting in the garden, lazily learning “Sunny”, Bobby Hebb’s perfect soul-pop classic. I’d been inspired by the wonderful Billie Eilish’s performance of it on the One World at Home concert, accompanied by her brother, Finneas, on an honest-to-god actual Wurlitzer electric piano*. Next to all the try-hard over-soulers, and especially after Elton John’s bizarre performance – in Tony Olmos’s words: “WTF! Why is Elton John murdering his own song?!” – Billie was a relaxed breath of fresh air.

My favourite version is still Bobby’s original, one take at the end of a session, but I also love this live performance on US TV in 1972, with Ron Carter on electric bass. Every verse pitches it up a half step and increases the tempo, until all hell breaks loose. Dig the Bond Theme intro (in the original, a vibraphone hints at that melody, but it’s made explicit in the guitar part here). As Richard Williams’ fine obit for The Guardian tells it: “In 1961 he moved to New York, where he found a more congenial artistic climate. “Sunny” would be written there, partly as a reaction to the death of his brother, who was murdered outside a Nashville nightclub in November 1963, the day after John F Kennedy’s assassination. “I needed to pick myself up,” Hebb said. The song came to him one morning when he had just returned to his home in Harlem from an all-night music session and a bout of heavy drinking, the sight of a purple dawn being its immediate inspiration.”

NOVELISATION The first episode of Novels that Shaped our World on BBC4 was an object lesson in making a literary documentary — informed people interviewed well, a clarity in the narration, and modern dramatisations of key works done with a light touch and a sense of fun. So introduce yourself to Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and other early masterworks. Take a bow, director Sarah Barclay.

UN-NETFLIX Unorthodox, about a woman who goes to Berlin to free herself from a from a strict Hassidic sect in Brooklyn. Better in Brooklyn than Berlin dramatically, but fascinating, with some fantastic performances. Loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiography Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, it’s the first Netflix series to be primarily in Yiddish. Music is an important part of the plot, and the reveal at the end is very moving. Also Uncorked, a Memphis-set story of a father who wants to hand over his Barbeque restaurant to his son, who is more interested in becoming a Sommelier. It’s a post-Moonlight film, funny and thoughtful, with a smart script and an interesting soundtrack of Memphis hip-hop (except for the scenes in France which, of course, have French rap).

{TWO} SOUNDS

CELLO WEEP FOR ME Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s stunning cello piece – “Melody” – ended the Today Programme one day last week. Muscular and emotional, it sounds like the past and the future at once, which was why it seemed so perfect for the present. From powerful bass tones to almost-imperceptible flute-like grace notes, it’s compelling and concise. It’s the first piece of music on this page of his website.

UNDER THE WALL Tunnel 29, a fantastic serial by Helena Merriman which “tells the extraordinary true story of a man who dug a tunnel right under the feet of Berlin Wall border guards to help friends, family and strangers escape…” Interviews with the tunnelers who survived and the presence of some real-life coverage of the attempts (extraordinarily, an NBC film crew were making a documentary of these student diggers) make it an edge-of-the-seat thriller, beautifully rendered in sound. You can also read a web version alongside, which has photos of the locale, the wall and its guards and all the participants.

CORONA IN THE CRESCENT CITY Harry Shearer on New Orleans, From Katrina to Corona on the always-interesting From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4. “Fifteen years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is facing another lethal storm. The city on Louisiana’s coast has become one of the worst-hit areas in the US. Some have blamed the high death toll on the decision to allow the annual Mardi Gras parade to go ahead. But musician and actor Harry Shearer, famous, among other things for voicing characters in The Simpsons, says don’t victim blame and don’t reproach the revellers.” Beautifully done. Oh, and Sue McGregor’s excellent The Reunion, also on Radio 4, the episode on four Girl Singers of the 60s – Helen Shapiro, Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw and Jackie Trent.

{THREE} *THE MIGHTY [FINE] WURLITZER

When we recorded in Muscle Shoals we asked why the studio was full of Wurlies. Apparently, schools bought them in bulk for music classes as they had a built-in speaker. Unfortunately, they were a devil to keep in tune, so they offloaded them, and they ended up in recording studios, accidentally becoming a valued component of the “Southern Soul” sound. Here’s Mark P. at the Wurlitzer and Robbie Taylor (our great keyboard player) at the Fender Rhodes. 70s music heaven!


{FOUR} A SLOW BLUES FOR A LOCKDOWN MIDNIGHT

Sometimes there’s nothing like a slow blues, and here’s a cracker, featuring the wonderful Arnett Cobb on tenor sax and Ellis Marsalis on piano, with Chris Severin on bass and Johnny Vidacovich on drums, taped on the evening of January 30, 1982, in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Ellis Marsalis sadly died last month.

Drummer Vidacovich was interviewed by my friend Sam Charters for his book A Trumpet around the CornerThe story of New Orleans Jazz, and I love this quote from it… “Musically, what’s going to happen around here – it’s about maintaining the past. But that isn’t a good word, because if I say maintain the “past”, what I really think about is that it’s something that’s growing. It’s a kind of machine. That’s the way music was around here, constantly growing, and it has the past in it. So if we can maintain that, then we’ll do what we’ve always been doing maintaining a music that has a past, [but] that’s very much alive today. That’s what we have to work for.

To me, that’s the way I see the living body of music in New Orleans. It’s very old, but it’s still growing. It’s like a tree that has a big, big trunk and old roots, but if you look up at the top, you can see it’s still sprouting little leaves. It’s still coming out, waving in the breeze. That’s what we have to do, make sure the tree don’t get sick.”

{FIVE} THANK YOU, CHRIS

A lovely 90th birthday tribute to the extraordinary career of Chris Barber on thebluemoment reminds me of the last time I saw Chris play, at the Camberley Cricket Club, alongside the always brilliant clarinet of Sammy Rimington. Sammy’s in the glass to the left, Chris on trombone to the right. Chris was a wide listener, always adding musicians and instruments that weren’t part of his starting point of New Orleans Jazz. For a period he had a great electric guitarist called John Slaughter, a fine horn section and a bevy of excellent guest vocalists. I always loved the fact that Chris also continued to be interested in later music from the Crescent City – his long association with Mac Rebennack was proof of his open ears. When he turned 81, he released a double CD called “Memories of My Trip”, an overview of his career, with fine performances by Chris with Van Morrison, Keith Emerson, Mark Knopfler, Rory Gallagher and Muddy Waters among others.

{ENDNOTES} 

¶ On one of BBC4s interminable So-and-So at the BBC, – you know, Singer-Songwriters, Country Songs, Cilla Black – I catch Carl Douglas doing “Kung Fu Fighting” on the One Hit Wonders show. I’d never realised what a nice-sounding voice he had, and such lovely phrasing. If he could be this good singing nonsense with conviction, I want to know what’s in Carl’s back catalogue, so I’m off to explore…

¶ You shouldn’t miss this, a short performance by “flatfoot” dancer D.Ray White. I aspire to this brilliant style of dance, and will attempt a demonstration at the first post-lockdown party. Be there or be square.

This is one of the best things I’ve read about music, improvised jazz in particular, recently. And these sentences felt relevant to “lockdown time”… “The process described in that paragraph may have taken five minutes, or it may have taken fifteen. No one was keeping score, and one of the special properties of improvisation – and not just jazz improvisation – is that it can take hold of chronological time and distort it: speeding it up, slowing it down, bending it, stopping it altogether. Now Konitz briefly ruled time, making it obey his commands as he lingered over the revealed contours of his design, sprinting forwards and pulling back until he judged the moment right to unveil the unmistakable shape of a standard.


Front Cover

The book of Five Things is available from Amazon here.

“He writes with the insight of someone who has inhabited the world of the professional musician but also with the infectious enthusiasm of someone who is a fan like anyone of us. He also comes at the subject from an entirely personal, slightly sideways perspective, with no agenda and no product to sell. It’s entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.”
from an Amazon review by Zuma

“A terrific book, stuffed to the gills with snippets of news items and observations all with a musical theme, pulled together by the watchful eye of Martin Colyer… lovingly compiled, rammed with colour photos and interesting stories. He has a good ear for a tune, an eye for the out-of-ordinary and can write a bit too.”
Steve Carr, everyrecordtellsastory.com

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April 3rd: Bill Withers, RIP

So sad to hear of the death of Bill Withers, life guide and fine songwriter. Here’s a reprint of a couple of Five Things about Bill.

Bill Withers onstage in 1973.

The things you learn…
Sent on a small Bill Withers journey by The Immortal Jukebox, I came across the interesting tale of his first album on the mix site, written by Barbara Schultz. There’s the fascinating story of Wally Heider’s studio in the piece, which is basically an interview with the great engineer Bill Halverson. And how many articles about recording studios feature the word “soffit”? “Withers was eventually signed to Sussex Records, and the great Booker T. Jones was enlisted to produce the new artist’s debut album, Just as I Am in 1971. Also on the session were two members of the MGs – drummer Al Jackson and bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn – plus singer/songwriter Stephen Stills on guitar. The recordings were made in Wally Heider’s Studio 3, then situated in L.A. at the corner of Cahuenga and Selma. The engineer was Bill Halverson, whose credits at that point included such essential records as Crosby Stills and Nash’s massive self-titled debut, Cream’s Badge, Tom Jones Sings She’s a Lady and CSNY’s Déjà Vu.

“It was Stephen Stills’ studio time that we were using,” Halverson recalls by phone from his home in Nashville. “I was working with Stephen on his first solo record, and he came to me a couple nights before this and said, ‘I’ve got this guy who needs a night of studio time.’ Stephen was hanging with Rita Coolidge, and Booker was marrying [Rita Coolidge’s sister] Priscilla Coolidge, and somehow Booker asked Stephen for some studio time. We just spent the one night.” On Withers’ session, Halverson placed Jackson’s kit near the control room glass, under an overhanging soffit – an emulation of United Western 3 [a fabled room in LA Studio lore — ed] – that held the studio playback speakers. “If you tucked the drums as close as you could under that overhang of the big speakers, you were out in the room but you had really good isolation,” Halverson says.

“When Bill Withers showed up,” Halverson says, “he comes walking in with his guitar and a straight-back chair, like a dining room chair, and asks, ‘Where do I set up?’ I showed him right in the middle of the room, and then he left and he came back in with this platform, a kind of wooden box that didn’t have a bottom. It was about four inches tall, and was maybe 3 foot by 4 foot; it was a fairly large platform, and he set it down in the middle of the room. Then he put his chair on it and got his guitar out, and he’s sitting on top of this box. So I miked him and I miked his guitar, and then I was doing other things – getting sounds together. But then he calls me over and he points down to the box and says, ‘You gotta mike the box.’ Well, the way I was trained, you serve the artist, whatever the artist needs. So I got a couple other mics and I miked the box, the place down near the floor, next to this platform.
 
“And now, when you listen to “Ain’t No Sunshine,” you know that all that tapping that goes on [while Withers sings] ‘I know I know I know’ all through it, actually, that’s him tapping his feet on the box, which is actually more intricate than the guitar on that track. He had evidently rehearsed that in his living room, maybe for years.”

I found the great documentary, Still Bill, directed by Damani Baker and Alex Vlack, complete on YouTube. I wrote a little about it in 2012:

It’s Bill Withers’ World: we just live in it… the Wonderful Still Bill
Everyone is hereby urged to see this fine, fine piece of work, less a music documentary than a meditation on how to live a life. Best human moment: Bill’s visit to an educational project helping kids who stutter (Withers did until the age of 28). Best musical moment: a toss-up between Raul Midón and Bill on the telephone, and at a tribute concert, Bill watching Cornell Dupree glide ’n’ slide through Grandma’s Hands, talent undimmed by illness (even though he has an oxygen tube on). Bill steps onto the stage and sings a verse, but then, as Barney Hoskyns’ wrote: “as if concerned not to upstage the ailing but grinning Dupree—one of soul music’s greatest guitar players—he almost immediately sat down beside him, continuing to sing but deferring to Dupree.” And with his hand resting on Cornell’s knee.

If you haven’t seen it, rectify that omission soon. The Cornell Dupree version of “Grandma’s Hands” is at 1 hr 6 minutes.

Thursday, April 2nd. “Stemmons Freeway, Northbound…”

As Bob Dylan releases “Murder Most Foul”, an odd mixture of William McGonagall and his own “’Cross The Green Mountain” or his Theme Time Radio Hour narration with a side of “New Danville Girl”, here’s a song about the assassination of Kennedy that I recorded with Mark Pringle about 10 years ago. It was part of a project called Idols, with songs about Kennedy, Tony Blair, Brittany Spears, Buster Keaton and Richard Manuel.

Through this extraordinary period I’ll be uploading a song every few days with some recommendations of things that I’ve seen, or heard, or read, and liked, in the hope that you might, too. Play this one loud.

ONE. Best 43 seconds of percussion that I’ve seen this week… (thanks, Bob)

Two. An interesting piece on Richard Russell and XL records in the Guardian mentioned a tremendous documentary I watched a couple of months ago on Teddy Pendergrass, directed by Olivia Lichtenstein, called Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me. It’s beautifully made and includes some remarkable footage, as it tells the age-old story of rip-offs and talent gone to waste. Harold Melvin does not come out well. Alexis Petridis starts by talking about the suicide of Keith Flint of The Prodigy: Flint’s childhood was unhappy: he had depression and was addicted to painkillers. Russell: “But I don’t think anyone doesn’t have that side. It’s more a question of: ‘What are you doing about it?’ But Keith was doing 10k runs, he had horses.” He sighs. “When someone kills themselves, can’t help but feel – what if he’d waited 20 minutes? Or something else had happened?”After Flint’s death, Russell saw a documentary about the soul singer Teddy Pendergrass, who was left feeling suicidal after being paralysed in a car crash. His therapist staged a mock funeral, allowing Pendergrass to hear his friends and family’s eulogies. Realising how much he meant to them, Pendergrass decided to live. “I thought, ‘Fucking hell, I could imagine that working.’ If Keith could have witnessed what people said after his death, how they expressed themselves at his funeral, I think that would have had a huge impact on him.” I’m not sure how you can see it (I watched on Sky Arts), although it may be available on Amazon Prime.

Three. From Liam Noble’s excellent series, an alphabet of “Advice for Jazz Students” on his blog, Brother Face. “I apologise for the mock-heroic tone of all this. It’s a long-winded way of saying this: try tapping two hands on a table, observe the infinite variety possible with two strands of rhythm, two arms. I like it, it’s my favourite practice routine. I like to think it connects me to the world and its workings. A bus passes by outside, I don’t even see the number or where it’s going, and for me, its story ends as the back wheels leave the edge of the window frame. The driver, though, is still there in the picture, until the end of her shift. Someone, somewhere, will see that bus to the breakers’ yard finale of its useful life. Most of us will not see where those atoms go, but they will be back, perhaps in the soles of the shoes of the woman who walks the streets of your town in the morning mist.”

Four. Stewart Copeland’s Adventures in Music (available on the iPlayer). An open ambassador for all that he comes across, and like Gregory Porter, smart and totally engaged with the subject. Catch a transcendental visit to Wells Cathedral to understand the mechanics of choral polyphony, Kanye West collaborator Caroline Shaw on melody and the effect of the human voice (amazing), and the hypnotic polyrhythms of Gnawa music in Morocco.

Five. Rudeboy. “A film about the love affair between Jamaican and British Youth culture told through the prism of one the most iconic record labels in history, Trojan Records.” An absolute joy, exquisitely made by Nicolas Jack Davies. Available, I think on Sky on demand.

Thursday, February 27th

This week sees me engage with social media via the medium of Instagram. We’ll see how that plays out. I was on Twitter for a few weeks around an exhibition that we were putting on and it was by turns exhilarating (when you’d found something cute to post) and exhausting (when you hadn’t, and felt in danger of falling off the whole slippery platform…) I learned of Choral Dub this week, where you cross dub reggae with renaissance choral music (here for some examples). I remain agnostic. Lately, there’s been a few nice things about Jazz in Britain, but let’s start with an exhibition that has only a day to run in NYC.

{ONE} DANA, TUPAC & BIGGIE
There’s a great app called Art Passport, by GalleriesNow, that provides 3D walkarounds of shows on in art galleries the world over. At GRIMM, New York, until Feb 29th is Dana Lixenberg: American Images. Dana’s a great photographer who I almost got to work with (she came in with her portfolio one time, but I couldn’t find the right job in the right place). As Eyewitness News from ABC! says, “New exhibit in New York City gives rare glimpse into hip-hop royalty.” She made really interesting large-format images, very against the grain of the time, which was high-key and dynamic. Dana’s work was about a quieter, caught moment, or a slightly unsettling context (see Steely Dan outside a jail cell, for instance)

{TWO} CASS, MOON, TARA, & JOHN
Three interesting articles about the 60s and beyond.
a) The house in Mayfair where Keith Moon lived, and Mama Cass died, by Rob Baker at Flashbak. “It’s interesting to note that Mama Cass, a person who struggled with her weight nearly all her life, died from trying not to eat, with a heart fatally weakened by too many diets. Keith Moon, a man with a prodigious appetite for alcohol, died from an overdose of medicine prescribed in an attempt to stop him drinking.”
b) Tara Browne and the writing of The Beatles “A Day in the Life” by Kit Ward at These Islands. “Six months before his death, his doting mother arranged a lavish twenty-first birthday party for him at the family’s Gothic pile in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland. The Lovin’ Spoonful, his favourite group, were flown in from California to perform, a snip at $10,000. The Rolling Stones were all there but the Beatles had to pass as they were in the thick of recording the Revolver album. It was a druggy do. Mick Jagger took LSD for the first time, though he didn’t enjoy it, Anita Pallenberg remembered it as ‘all pretty heavy’ and Marianne Faithfull saw it as a kind of turning point for many of the party-goers: ‘the start of a quest for decadence among these people.’”
c) The Fascinating Life and Times of John van Hamersveld by Benito Vila at Please Kill Me (Thanks, Bob). On his sleeve design for Exile on Main Street: “Norman Seeff was there and over the weekend, he had shot The Stones in a Hollywood studio late at night. Keith showed up for the shoot totally high, pants half off, and falls, bringing down the whole set. It was a loss in a way because what they were going to do was take a set of stills and, now, what they have are pictures of the set crashing, a sequence in motion. I’m sitting at the table with Jagger; meanwhile, Keith is across the way with his mirror glasses on, really loaded. Keith takes his hands and puts them together, and then opens them up and says, “It should be like a postcard fold-out,” and then he falls to the floor. We take his postcard fold-out idea and that becomes the thing that was inside the album, what Jagger called the bags.”

{THREEa} KEN, BILL, BERYL & OUCH!
Richard sends me this hilarious paragraph from a Steve Voce piece in Jazz Journal, about Chris Barber: “In between that band and the Halcox/Sunshine group, of course, came the Ken Colyer band. Ken’s taciturn lack of ability to communicate was compensated for by his immensely voluble brother, also in the band and who, in the manner of a ventriloquist, did Ken’s talking and rivalled Beryl Bryden if not in size then in bad washboard playing…” And this week, my aunt gave me these three 78s from her record collection as a gift. Now, who’s got a 78rpm deck…5-lonnieken

{THREEb} LONNIE, CHRIS, ALEXIS, KEN & BJÖRN?
Loved this keen reminiscence by Björn Ulvaeus in the Guardian’s Farewell Europe issue, and wondered if Chris and Ken and Lonnie and Alexis had been a subtle influence on Abba! “For as long as I can remember, the Swedes have loved the UK. A one-way love? I don’t think so. I’ve always felt so incredibly welcome, ever since I had a summer job in an office at 1 New Oxford Street in London. I was 15, and the trad jazz clubs along Oxford Street were heaven for a small-town boy from Sweden.”

{FOUR} LAURIE, BENNY & TEDDY…
Another Jazz Journal piece has this affecting obituary of drummer Laurie Morgan, the first British jazzman to witness Bird live, by his son Simon. It includes this paragraph: “Here [at Club Eleven, Britain’s first modern-jazz club] in 1949, Benny Goodman’s pianist, Teddy Wilson, scouted Laurie to play London Palladium and possible European shows with the King of Swing. ‘Teddy chose me because I wore a beret and sunglasses’, laughed Laurie. ‘He thought I looked the typical modernist, and wanted some of that in the show. In fact, I was disguising a head injury I got diving into the Serpentine!’ However, the Musician’s Union stopped the 22-year-old drummer playing as his dues had lapsed.”

{FIVE} MARTIN, GIBSON, HARMONY & STELLA
I think that I need a copy of this, The Times 2019 Music Book of the Year, by John Stubbins. Mostly because it asks questions like this: Why did music written for the parlor guitar in the 1800s travel into the Delta? How did Spanish and Vastapol tuning sow the seed for Delta blues? How did a big band banjo player influence the modern finger style acoustic guitar. Why were German and Bohemian violin makers so important to the development of English beat music? It is, however, such an extraordinary labour of love, and so beautifully designed that it has a £200 price tag.

{EXTRA} SOPHIE, HEARTS & MINDS…
Sophie Ellis-Bextor for NHS Organ Donation.

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Wednesday, February 19th

Last week’s post was possibly a little bad-tempered and carping, so let’s start with something lovely I came across this week…

{ONE} “THE STARS HAVE TURNED CHERRY RED…”
Jenny Lewis takes on “Standing in the Doorway” with a string section and a fabulous guitarist, Dylan Day. The full performance (here) made me buy her new record, On the Line. I liked her voice and songs in Rilo Kiley. I absolutely love them now.

{TWO} I’M SURPRISED TO FIND MY MIND’S STILL FAIRLY SOUND… 
“I guess Nashville was the roughest / But I know I’ve said the same about them all. / We received our education / In the cities of the nation, me and Paul…”

One of the best autobiographical songs in popular music (up there with “The Ballad of John and Yoko” for me) is Willie Nelson’s “Me and Paul”, which details both the camaraderie and calamity of the relationship of Willie with his long-time drummer, Paul English. Mark and I caught Willie’s band at the Hammersmith Odeon sometime in the 80s, and what a rollicking outfit it was – English in his black gambler’s hat, studded with silver dollars, Mickey Raphael on outrageous harmonica, Willie channeling flamenco and Django on Trigger, and the Nashville legend that was Grady Martin on fluid electric guitar.

My favourite verse of “Me and Paul” is this…
“On a package show in Buffalo,
With us and Kitty Wells and Charlie Pride
The show was long, and we’re just sitting there,
And we’d come to play and not just for the ride
Well, we drank a lot of whiskey
So I don’t know if we went on that night at all
But I don’t think they even missed us
I guess Buffalo ain’t geared for me and Paul…”


From Rolling Stone: “Known for his tough but flamboyant style, English was not only Nelson’s drummer, but also his enforcer and de facto bodyguard. In a 2015 deep-dive feature for Oxford American, Joe Nick Patoski writes about the many times English engaged in fistfights on the road, often pulling the .22-caliber pistol he kept in his boot. Even without a gun in his hand, the towering English cut an imposing figure. Both onstage and off, he adopted the persona of “The Devil,” grooming menacing facial hair, dressing all in black, and sporting a satin cape that is currently enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s exhibit.”

{THREE} THE MAGNIFICENT LEYTON LADIES BAND
A photograph, taken in the 1890s, at the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow. 5 string banjos, Portugese mandolins, lovely peg-head Martin-style parlour guitars. It would be great to know what they sounded like, but maybe it’s enough to enjoy their strong look. I also picked up this book, produced by the William Morris Gallery, about a crucial period in British art and music (here, at Walthamstow School of Art) — Peter Blake taught Ian Dury there. And Dury said, “there are a couple of ways to avoid death — one is to be magnificent.” Which, as artistic credos go, is well, magnificent.

{FOUR} THE FABULOUS MAVIS…
A Q&A with Mavis Staples by Richard Scheinin, for San Francisco Jazz.
What about your father’s guitar? How would you describe the sound of his playing?
A: My father’s guitar was a different sound from any guitar. Pops, he learned from a blues guy, Charley Patton. He learned guitar from Charley. Pops, when he was a boy, they lived on the Dockery Farm (in Dockery, Mississippi) and Charley Patton was there. Howlin’ Wolf was there. But Pops, he told us about how he would hear this man playing the guitar, and he loved it so much. He was makin’ 10 cents a day, and he would take that dime to the hardware store where they were selling guitars, and he put it in the layaway. He got that little guitar, and he taught himself. But he liked Charley Patton’s style. And so after he was playing for maybe a couple of years, he went into the music store — this was in Chicago — and he saw this tremolo. He put the tremolo on the guitar and, you know, let me tell you — Elvis Presley told me one time, he says, “I like the way your father plays that guitar. He plays a nervous guitar.” (She laughs.) He said, “nervous.” I didn’t wanna tell him; it’s not nervous! That’s my father’s tremolo on that guitar!

{FIVE} REDISCOVERING THE JOY…
… of making Mix CDs for friends. Rick was over from NYC and we were talking about Bill Frisell, who Rick tries to see whenever he plays Rick and Liney’s favourite place, {Le} Poisson Rouge, a venue founded by musicians on the site of the old Village Gate in Greenwich Village. Bill F is so generous with his wonderful favours that he ends up collaborating across genres and styles. Rick hadn’t heard some of these, so I said I’d put together a CD of my favourites…

AND… EXTRA ITEM OF THE WEEK
From Popbitch: Bjork is assembling a full-scale replica of her childhood bathroom — down to the exact tiling pattern — in an attempt to recreate the sounds she heard when singing as a kid.

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A Catch up of Sorts…

Well, it’s been some time. To recap, I used to write something, most weeks, called Five Things I Saw and Heard This Week. Obviously, that’s not been the case lately. I know that at this point I’m a prize-winning dilettante, but really… I’m going to attempt to stick to a schedule in 2020 (and hoping that someone, somewhere is thinking of a song-by-song cover of the Beach Boys’ 20/20). So, on waking from falling asleep in the Second Quarter of the Super Bowl to see first Shakira, then J Lo, strutting their stuff terrifyingly (especially the outdated Jackson-era crotch-grabbing) I went to bed, only to miss the outrageously exciting end to the game. But I awoke and started writing a Bunch of Things as a kind of catch up, along with a few observations from the last few months of movie watching in anticipation of the Oscars.

{ONE} I’d like to personally thank Joe Biden for bringing the word Malarkey into the modern world. Trump brought Blowhard and Carpetbagger back, and Joe is making his linguistic pitch with his campaign slogan, painted on his campaign buses as they criss-cross Iowa — “Joe Biden: No Malarkey”. He once said to Paul Ryan that what he’d stated about Obama’s foreign policy was “a bunch of malarkey”. Something makes me feel that Joe doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the nation, or, possibly, anything. In more US politics news: the story that this New Yorker piece, “Impeachment by Day, Drum Solo by Night”, tells is just so weird…

{TWO} Sam Mendes’ 1917 was, for its first 45 minutes, exceptional. And then it got less and less exceptional as the Mendes traits of cliched storytelling and over-egged theatrical performances from stunt-cast stars (Firth, Cumberbatch, Scott) took its toll. The night time stuff looked like a video game, and the last scene with “Wooden” Richard Madden (as he’s known in our house) was the final straw. Of course, it won all the BAFTAs.

{THREE} I’ll watch Adam Driver in anything*, even a Kramer v Kramer for the New Twenties, Marriage Story, which was compelling, save for the two musical interludes courtesy of the Steven Sondheim songbook. Driver’s was in a New York bar, singing “Being Alive”, and Scarlett Johansson’s family performance of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” took place in Sunny SoCal. Both were strangely naff and slightly WTF. Apparently they “represent some of the finest interpretations of Sondheim ever seen on-screen, capturing the richness and emotion of the lyrics and, in recontextualising them, adding new meaning”, according to Little White Lies. I beg to differ. 

*I say that but I’ve just realised that I tested that theory to destruction with Jim Jarmusch’s dreadful The Dead Don’t Die, hands down the worst made, most narcoleptic, in-joke drivel I’ve ever (half) seen. 

{FOUR} Spoiler Alert: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has Quentin Tarantino’s signature use of music — finding the best 30 or 40 seconds of a song — intact. A great example is the Mamas and the Papas’ “Straight Shooter”, a proto-“Last Train to Clarksville” (they both use the same musicians, a few months apart). It has a great lick for the intro and then, after you hit the end of the first verse, becomes much less compelling. 

The same is true of “Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection from Reservoir Dogs, a fantastic first minute followed by a truly terrible mariachi chorus, where it goes major Torremolinos. The film — you know the Hollywood one I started talking about, that one — it’s awful. It meanders and tries to be funny, and not one section of it works as a satisfying part of an over-arching story. You won’t ever get that 160 minutes back. It used the same dopey trope as Yesterday, the “what if someone stopped the Manson gang on the night of August 8th” replacing “only a couple of people in the world knew the Beatles existed”. 

And the day after I watched it, browsing in Fopp, I bought Etta James’s first 5 albums bundled together for a fiver. A cursory listen revealed that “Seven Day Fool” from Second Time Around gets nominated for my “Should be Used in a Tarantino Film” music award. I’m also partial to her fantastic vamp over a spectacular arrangement on “One For My Baby (and One for the Road), also from Second Time Around. The way sings “One Mo-awwwww…” before the modulation is just fabulous. 

{FIVE} If you’re looking for something Tarantino-esqe, but good, then try Drew Goddard’s Bad Night at the El Royale, better written and more fun than Once Upon a Time, with a great ensemble cast (Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson) and a show-stealing turn from Cynthia Erivo as a nightclub singer. She’s an actor and singer — both totally convincingly. She’s up for an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. Another double threat is Jessie Buckley, who was, apart from Joaquin Phoenix, by some stretch the only reason to watch the BAFTAs. She sang a song from the film Wild Rose, “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)”. Before it, she said, “I woke up this morning and thought: I’m going to enjoy myself tonight. I’m doing the song with my beautiful friends Neil MacColl and Ben Nicholls. We’re sitting on a stool and we’re just going to give it laldy [Scottish for “thrashing”]. I’m just going to sing my socks off and really enjoy it. Life’s too short not to enjoy these things.” She did, indeed, sing her socks off.

Oh, and Parasite is the best fiction film that I’ve seen in the last year. Its nailing of character and plot by the tautest of dialogue is like an object lesson in nuance and style. Your sympathies and loyalties shift with each scene, you find out all you need to know with the deftest of strokes, and the film as a whole is beautifully played, directed and edited. 

{SIX} Show Me the Picture!

At the Elgar Room in the Royal Albert Hall, we see an early showing of a beautifully made (great footage, exceptional editing, wonderful soundtrack) documentary on the great San Francisco photographer, Jim Marshall. Q&A with director Alfred George Bailey and Marshall archive director Amelia Davis hosted by RBP’s own Barney Hoskyns. Highly recommended.

{SEVEN} For my birthday I was given the beautiful 50th-anniversary box of the remastered Band album. It is a fabulous thing. Leaving aside the usual complaint about price (£90) and the gouging of faithful fans who have bought this album in three formats over the years, listen to this alternate version of “Rag, Mama, Rag”. It’s looser than the released version (if such a thing is possible) and has an inimitable piano intro courtesy of Garth, no tuba and the slinky Richard Manuel groove that shouldn’t work, but does because of the counterpart of Levon’s chunky mandolin and Robbie’s taut guitar.


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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