Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 28th March

From Madison Avenue to Gillian Hills
That hysterical Zou Bisou Bisou birthday party scene! The band (all Fender instruments present and correct) groove quietly on Dobie Gray’s—or Ramsey Lewis’ if you prefer—1965 smash The ‘In’ Crowd (of course). Megan, Don’s wife, gives it her best yé-yé on 16-year-old Gillian Hill’s 1960 poptastic smash—Zou Bisou Bisou. I always think of Robbie Robertson when I watch Jon Hamm as Don Draper. Why? He’s watchful, taking in the surroundings, rarely speaking. He’s also the creative one they all circle around, who somehow brings out all the others’ talents. And—mostly—keeps his council, because as both Abe Lincoln and Ronnie Hawkins said, in different ways, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Dale Rogers & Trigger
Clint Black introduction on Songwriter’s Circle at the BBC: “This is a song really inspired by Roy Rogers, who I had the pleasure of gettin’ to know a little bit—great experience, recorded a song with him and got to spend a couple o’ years with him, off and on—going to a few award shows and bein’ nominated with Roy Rogers. And he said lots of great stuff—and his wife, too, Dale. A great lady. And the one thing that stuck out above everything else… she was kinda secretly hoping that Roy would pass first, because she really, truly, was afraid… that he might have her stuffed.”

Vox Pop
The Voice, Saturday Nights. Favourite Judge: Who knew he was so much fun? There’s almost a Dr Seuss-like quality to his looks, eyes scanning the other judges like a fawn in the forest. Quirky, impish, arrogance undercut by a winning vulnerabilty. Best Song Choice: Come Together rammed into Lose Yourself. One of the great songs of the Sixties b/w one of the great songs of the Noughties. Impressive that Judge Danny knew all the words and rapped along perfectly. Most Agonised Judge: The excellent Jessie J, taking the whole thing waaaay seriously.

Sade outearned any other touring British act in the world last year. Even Adele. Extraordinary. Under the radar, not courting press, just selling out a rare tour. I confess that the only time I’ve actually fallen asleep at a live gig was when I saw Sade at, I think, the Hammersmith Odeon in the Eighties. My wife had modelled dresses designed by her friend Sarah and Sade when they were at St Martin’s (the short-lived label was Lubel And Adu and the dresses were beautiful) so I guess that’s why we went. But, as mid-tempo ballad followed mid-tempo ballad, my eyes grew heavy. Nice & Lovely Songs, but not my speed.

Geek Patch Board
In this glamorous world of iPad and Pods and their gleaming curved surfaces and edges it’s always great to come across a piece of kit designed in the sixties that is still in use. Al Jazeera studios, South Bank, Gary Lineker photoshoot with Pal Hanson, always a pleasure to work with.

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

Homeland’s sound design
British dramas tend to have clean, neat soundtracks. I don’t mean the musical elements, but the overall soundscape. Often brilliant atmospherics and great scoring, but generally pristine voice recording and foley work. US programmes on the whole have a funkier sound (it may be partly a technical thing, I’m no expert). However, Homeland has taken funky to new levels. It’s oppressively, brilliantly, noisy—all cicadas and compression. [Compression |kəmˈpre sh ən| noun. Compression in audio recording lessens the dynamic range of the audio by reducing the level of the louder parts, resulting in an “in your face” sound. The proper use of compression will bring out the quieter parts of the audio and make the entire piece sound louder.] In each scene, the outside seems as loud as the inside (witness the crickets at night in the episode where Carrie sleeps at her sister’s house and the same background sounds run into Brody’s house. Air conditioners whirr, fridges hum, interview rooms throb. There’s no escape…

emusic find of the month
Late Late Party, a compilation of songs recorded by The Pac-Keys and The Martinis, at Stax in the mid-Sixties, both bands featuring Packy Axton, son of the label’s founders. Like a frat boy version of Booker T and The MGs. Fantastic. Hear Greasy Pumpkin. If you like that, hear the rest.

White On White
I hadn’t reread The White Album by Joan Didion for years. But it’s extraordinary. Against a backdrop of California, Manson and her own mental issues, it’s filled with brilliant passages like this one. After Manzareck and Morrison discuss, in a circular way, where they might rehearse the next day… “I counted the control knobs on the electronic console. There were seventy-six. I was unsure in whose favor the dialogue had been resolved, or if it had been resolved at all. Robby Krieger picked at his guitar, and said that he needed a fuzz box. The producer suggested that he borrow one from the Buffalo Springfield, who were recording in the next studio. Krieger shrugged. Morrison sat down again on the leather couch and leaned back. He lit a match. He studied the flame awhile and then very slowly, very deliberately, lowered it to the fly of his black vinyl pants. Manzarek watched him. The girl who was rubbing Manzarek’s shoulders did not look at anyone. There was a sense that no one was going to leave the room, ever. It would be some weeks before The Doors finished recording this album. I did not see it through.” Read anything about music that good recently?

Karen Dalton 1966
Personal recordings made in her family living room, now released. The folk world’s Billie Holiday sings Darroll Adams rhythmic, pretty Green Green Rocky Road with such a motionless sadness, it’s as if she’s staring transfixed out of her window at the road itself.

Winogrand/Dylan interface
Funny how certain songs leap into your head when prompted by something visual. I was walking down Edgware Road on Monday with the morning sun flooding past street signs and traffic-light poles and jaywalkers, and everything was angles and glare. I always think of views like that as Garry Winogrand mornings, a reference to the great American photographer whose photographs captured the extraordinary cityscapes of New York. A half-remembered lyric comes to mind: “Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’/the crossroads I’m standin’ at…” (Bad, bad attempt below)

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 14th March

David Whitaker
The death, at 81, of the man responsible for the strings that were sampled by The Verve for Bittersweet Symphony brought forth this excellent little nugget, recounted by Bob Stanley in his Guardian obit: “He spent much of his time in Paris working with the cream of the country’s “yé-yé” scene, including Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Claude François, France Gall and Serge Gainsbourg.  Gainsbourg’s song Comic Strip was recorded in London, with Brigitte Bardot providing back-up vocals. Whitaker later explained how they decided where they worked: “If Serge wanted some new clothes, we recorded in London, and if I wanted some we recorded in Paris.” Ha! There are, by the way, excellent waxworks of both Johnny and Serge in the Musée Grévin in Paris.

Liza with a What?
News comes via Andy Schwartz on the rocksbackpages blog of an album cut by Liza Minelli at Muscle Shoals. Aside from the fact that that we need much more information on this, it make you wonder about any other weird combos that may come out of the woodwork, from a long-gone time when no talent mix was too strange to consider. Prime runners?  The lost Doris Day at Stax album, or the rumoured Mae West: Gettin’ Down & Dirty with Little Beaver Miami masterwork?

Do You Remember The Tyla Gang?
At lunch with friends on Sunday it turns out that Weston’s brother Mike was the drummer in The Tyla Gang. We had a fine time reminiscing about The Nashville Rooms & Bees Make Honey and the London music scene of the early seventies, and Mike had great stories to tell of his times with Brian Eno and Sean Tyla. I saw Ducks Deluxe, Tyla’s band before The Gang, many times at The Fulham Greyhound. Most of my memories of Fulham Palace Road are pretty fuzzy, centering around Nazareth and Head, Hands & Feet.  Oh, and being shouted at by Ian Dury: “Oi, Four Eyes… get your beer off my fucking amp…”

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.

A Strange Englishness
A beautifully compiled curio: Tyneham House, a 14 track CD, beautifully packaged in a Gocco-printed card box with booklet and a ‘bonus’ cassette tape, all illustrated by award-winning artist Frances Castle (a Jarvis Cocker favourite) of Clay Pipe Music. The subject is the Dorset village  requisitioned by the government for ‘training purposes’ by the British Government in the lead-up to WWII. The music itself is by regular conributors to the label’s releases, but all anonymous here, with a mixture of new and archive performances. Perfect English Summer listening. Now we just need the Summer.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 7th March

Busker, Charing Cross tube station, Thursday 1st March
An alto saxist, playing Ewan McColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, with every phrase so extended it took the entire length of the subway corridor for the tune to fall into place, which it did, rather beautifully. And at 30p, cheaper than an iTunes download.

Dark Ages Musician-Fan Communication
Found in a folder of old things: this returned envelope from a simpler, less efficient time. Attempting to join the Levon Helm Organisation, which would have given me an 8″x10″ glossy and a quarterly newsletter. For $6. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter? What? Who needs ’em?

For illustration fans: The early Isabelle Dervaux rubber airmail stamps are trumped by the United States Post Office Returned To Sender.

Close Up to a Clarinet
I’m working on a book with a great musician, Sammy Rimington. Sammy’s played clarinet over the years with some of the greats of the Jazz world, as well as with the likes of Muddy Waters and Ry Cooder, and I asked if he’d bring his clarinet the next time we met to work on the book, a scrapbook of his life. He obliged and, sitting two feet away from him as I pushed the record button, was struck by how great it was to be in such proximity to a) a great musician, and b) that most gorgeously fluid and smoky-sounding instrument.

Pro-Rata Music Documentaries
Talking with my friend Steve Way about the Gerry Rafferty doc, he proposed that future music documentaries should be made in appropriate formats. eg: Punk Rock documentaries should be very short, preferably under three minutes; Prog Rock documentaries should be be extremely long and in multiple parts (the “Gatefold” approach).

Kasabian vs Lou Reed, Friday 2nd March
The Graham Norton Show, BBC1. Kasabian are so bad, so indie dishwater bland, they make me want to crawl into a hole and die. All the moves, all the thin jeans and pointy shoes and shades in the world couldn’t rescue the flaccid strumming and the la la la’s. Goldie Hawn attempted to describe this sorry mess, causing the singer (looking for all the world like someone’s dodgy bearded uncle) to reference Be My Baby and Roy Orbison.

Oh Please.

Fuck. And Off.

Over on BBC2 a few minutes later, a discussion about Lou Reed reaching seventy. After a clip from Later, of Lou with Metallica, writer Christina Patterson made this observation: “I kind of think—why should he carry on doing the same stuff? He did some stuff absolutely brilliantly, that’s more than most of us do in a lifetime and I think it’s a great temptation for artists to do the same thing again and again… And I think good on him… to try and do something fresh. Personally I think it’s disastrous, but I don’t see there’s anything wrong in the quest…” Absolutely spot on. But then Lou’s done something great in the first place, unlike Kasabian. Result? Victory for Lou!

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