FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 27th February

Psychic City by Yacht
I can’t even remember what this song was used for this week, tracking an advert, or a programme segment, or something. All I knew was that it hit all those Blondie/Ze Records/Waitresses buttons. Great—almost dumb, possibly smart—pop.
“I used to live in a voodoo city,
Where every little thing had its own secret life.
I might be washing up the dishes
And the kitchen might say,
“Hang around baby baby, hang around baby baby,
Hang around baby we’ll be baking a cake for you…”

And for when you have a few minutes to spare…
says Steve Caplin, and directs me to http://www.facebook.com/AwkwardBandAndMusicianPhotos. The first two are my favourites from a quick browse. The third? In the week that Heino releases a new album and it shoots to the top of the German charts here’s one he made earlier. As The Guardian reports:  “The album contains cover versions of punk, hip-hop and hard-rock hits—to the disgust of many of the bands who originally performed them [this in reference to Heino’s alleged far-right views].” Heinous, no?
But Made Parole, Will Travel! may just be the finest album title ever…


Johnny Marr, Shortlist interview
Can you remember the moment you fell in love with the guitar?
“Yeah, I was four or five and there was a little wooden toy hanging in the window of a shop that sold mops and buckets and brooms around the corner from my house in Ardwick. Whenever we walked past it I’d be doing that thing that you see dogs on a lead do, where they just dig into the pavement and don’t move. My mother got so sick of it that she bought it for me. I painted it white and stuck on beer bottle tops to make it look like an electric guitar, and I carried that thing around everywhere. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered there were shops that sold real ones…


On the left: Natty Bo. Marcel’s Nephew Jack. Not in that order
Note to self: definitely catch the next Yiddish Twist Orchestra gig.

“And the sun don’t shine anymore/And the rains fall down on my door ”
From Rolling Stone via Dave Ashmore: “The Band’s Garth Hudson saw some of his belongings sold off this weekend by his landlord in a Kingston, New York, garage sale after failing to pay rent on his loft space for about seven years. The multi-instrumentalist, most-known for his organ and keyboard playing, kept the space for storage. He stored everything from personal possessions and household items to handwritten sheet music, and among the goodies are uncashed checks, including one issued from EMI in 1979 for $26,000. Hudson’s Facebook page had a note to fans encouraging them to attend the garage sale and purchase items to allow Hudson to buy them back. “We were told everything there was sold,” read the note. “We were not seeking funds, but were asking purchasers to allow us to reimburse them for what they bought as we were not on premises ourselves.” The owner of the space has already made an agreement with an online auction company to sell off the music-related items on April 1st. As for the fans, they’re already on it: one woman bought Hudson’s household items and personal belongings for a few thousand dollars with the apparent intention to return them to him.”

FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 20th February

What I’ve Learned, Thom Yorke, US Esquire
“My grandfather would come to our house in the countryside, borrow one of our bikes, and disappear. He’d come back after dark and we had no idea where he’d been. If he ran into anybody, he’d just ask them where the good nightclub was. He did that right up until his nineties.”

The Disarray Of Staff Benda Bilili

Sad news that SBB are no more. Last year, Marcel and I went to see a preview of the film telling their story, followed by the band in concert, and both were wonderful. The film’s an uplifting piece of work full of great scenes (my favourite being when teen genius Roger—player of self-invented tin-can and wire instrument, having just been found downriver and asked to join the band—is given a stern talking-to by his mother and sister). The show was as riotous as a concert in a chapel can be, and finished with some of the finest dancing I’ve ever seen, especially as most of it was done by men on crutches and in wheelchairs.

Mr Hyde Mailout, extolling virtues of “Birmingham Scene”
IS THIS THE NEXT BIG MUSIC SCENE? shouts the headline. “What do you know about Digbeth? We do have one useful thing you should know about it: it’s been lazily dubbed the “Shoreditch of Birmingham” thanks to three young bands who are rising to prominence after spending their formative years hanging out there. Is “B-Town” 2013’s version of Madchester? Meet the major players and decide…”

So I do. I Soundcloud them all. Three bands from the, uh, West Midz. First up is Swim Deep: According to Mr Hyde, “producing ethereal, synth-heavy music that’s unashamedly poppy, yet also soulful and endearingly rough around the edges.” The band’s vocalist says “[Birmingham bands] are making the UK’s best music. It’s not all the same like in other scenes–it’s a really varied sound.” Mmmm. I say: Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.

I try number two. Jaws. Mr Hyde again: “their fuzzed-out shoegaze-indebted sound can’t remain in the shadows for long in any era that sees a new My Bloody Valentine album so warmly received. The vocalist says: “I heard someone describe us as Ian Curtis In LA, which is pretty cool.” Right. Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.

Sensing a pattern I move to number three, Peace. My Jekyll (sorry, I mean Mr Hyde): “Their gift is writing complex, Foals-esque tracks but with huge, sing-along choruses. The vocalist says: “Our music should make you want to shake and make you want to cry at the same time. And sometimes it should make you want to party.” Ordinary boy vocals, more guitars than the others, slightly less tinny beats.

I’ve got to say, five minutes in the company of each of these bands only made me think Where’s the new here? Why are they all so satisfied with replicating what’s gone before? Why are all the vocals so… dull? And how desperate are journalists to discover a new “scene”?

Lately, A Ken Colyer State Of Mind

Dobells Listeners

Before filming an interview with John Williamson and his charming crew for a BBC 4 documentary, I had looked out some hopefully useful material. Among my favourite finds was this picture, taken by the Brighton Evening Argus, of Doug Dobell’s first shop, shopfitted by my dad, in 1956. The programme, to be shown in late May, focuses on the British Jazz Revival of the late Forties and early Fifties. My job was to help illuminate the extraordinary trip that Ken made to New Orleans in 1952, jumping ship in Mobile to play with some of his heroes, breaking the law in several ways to do so. I also recently compiled this piece for The Stansbury Forum about Ken’s pilgrimage, based on reminiscences and letters from Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer.

The Mad Opening Number of A Chorus Line
My mother’s birthday. A show. The pre-opening night, the last of the previews, where the audience seems packed with the cast’s relations, which gives a peculiarly heightened air to the whole performance. It’s actually pretty great—in some ways a weirdly prescient view of Reality TV’s audition process—but my favourite musical moment comes right at the beginning. The opening number I Hope I Get It pits frenzied Seventies Lalo Schifrin wah-wah disco, all tom rolls and rim shots, against the Tin Pan Alley tune of the refrain, “I really need this job/Please, God I need this job/I’ve got to ge—t this jo—b.” Cue massed jazz hands and that particularly Michael Bennett-style of angular shock dancing. Magic!

FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 13th February

Down Terrace
An in-your-face saga of the spiralling disintegration of a Brighton criminal clan, the music track for Ben Wheatley’s first film (from 2009) is a fascinating mix of transatlantic rural music. The none-more-English folk music of The Copper Family sits happily next to Robert Johnson’s Little Queen of Spades. Sea Shanties segue into acts of appalling violence while the plaintive, pain-wracked Are You Leaving for the Country? by Karen Dalton soundtracks the disposal of a body. And as terrible as that sounds, the music acts as a kind of “life goes on” comfort, especially in the scenes where the father, played by Robert Hill, sits playing guitar with his band of friends in the living room at the house in Down Terrace.

B Kliban: Lady Gaga’s Stylist, About 30 Years Early
Talking to Adam about the genius of the Canadian cartoonist, and—looking out one of his books—finding this great cartoon.

Thoughts While Running with Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan in the Headphones
I’m struck by how this Seventies classic would work as Breaking Bad’s theme tune:

“On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean
Everyone stopped to stare
at your Technicolor motor home…”

“…Now your patrons have all left you in the red
Your low rent friends are dead
This life can be very strange…”

“…Clean this mess up else we’ll all end up in jail
Those test tubes and the scale
Just get them all out of here
Is there gas in the car
Yes, there’s gas in the car
I think the people down the hall
Know who you are…”

I don’t listen to Larry Carlton’s fantastic shape-shifting guitar solo, I don’t listen to Bernard Purdie’s lickety-split drumming, I don’t even listen to Paul Griffin’s funky Clavinet. I just listen to Chuck Rainey’s sublime bass, pumping and prodding and pushing and powering the song along.

From My Friend Bill in the States
ps:  you’ll be amused to know that I’m performing in a Grateful Dead cover band called Feels Like The Stranger, playing our first gig in a Stamford CT bar on March 7th! I’m playing all the Bob Weir rhythm parts on an 18 song set list… sounds easier than done! That dude was all over the place re: chord shaping!! My left hand is a cramped, gnarled and numb mess… thus the name of the band… : ) C’mon on over, I’ll put you on the comp list : ))

Flight (Cassette) Deck
With The Cowboy Junkies’ version of Sweet Jane, Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge, and Marvin’s What’s Goin’ On, Flight is a film about alcoholism and addiction masquerading as a legal/action thriller—with a terrific soundtrack, and a nicely indie feel for a mainstream Hollywood production.

Look out for an FTISHTW Extra! on Bob ’n’ Bette’s Buckets Of Rain Session coming soon

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 6th February

From The Blog Of Photographer Heather Harris
“The first four words of vocabulary we learned in Synthesizer 101 class at UCLA (circa 1972, so we’re talking monophonic ARP 2600s) were the descriptions of all musical sound notes: attack, sustain, decay, release. How fitting to the lifeworks of creative types.” Wow. Attack. Sustain. Decay. Release. That’s a manifesto right there, and a great title for a project…

Martin Carthy on Bob Dylan on Desert Island Discs
“The influence of British folk music shows in his later work—he started writing these really anthemic tunes… he was a great performer, a wonderful performer. I don’t believe that anybody who saw his first performance at the King and Queen down in Foley Street would be able to say he gave a bad performance. He stood up, did three songs, absolutely knocked everybody flat. People loved him.”

Is it right that you used to share a flat together?

“No [exasperated exhale]. This story started going round that he stayed with me when he came to London—no, he didn’t. But we did actually chop up a piano. The piano was a wreck, half the keys were missing and it was a very, very cold winter and my wife and I decided to chop up the piano so we took it bit by bit. And by the time Bob came along we were down to the frame. And I’d been given, for my birthday, a Samurai sword and Bob came round to have a cup of tea, and Dorothy—my then wife—said, “Make a fire, Mart,” so I got the sword, and he stood between me and the piano and said, “You can’t do that, it’s a musical instrument!” I said It’s a piece of junk and went to swing at it and before I could swing at it he was whispering in my ear, Can I have a go?

The London Jazz Collector Thinks (A Regular Feature On His Wonderful Site)
“A bent piece of metal pipe with holes called the saxophone transforms human breath into a voice, drums extend the pulse of the heart beat, a piano exchanges ten for eighty-eight fingers, while the bass is the feet on which music walks. Instruments are physical extensions of human form and function that transform man into musician, the ultimate analogue source. Whilst the vocal singing voice can be beautiful, (though often, not) how does it compare with a stream of triplets and sixteenths soaring from Charlie Parker’s alto? It strikes me that not only are records the new antiques, they are works of art, the equal of art framed on gallery walls. You are not just a mere record collector, a figure of fun and pity, poking around in dusty crates. You are, in that immortal expression of Charles Saatchi, an artaholic, in need of a life-sustaining drink.”

This Fabulous Photograph Of John Lee Hooker Explaining It All
John Lee

“I’m not getting any younger, but I’m not feeling very old, Not shoutin’ for my cemetery tomb soon, I’m gonna wait ’til John Lee Hooker makes room…”
Garland Jeffreys, ’Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me, from his latest album (can we still say that?) The King Of Inbetween, where, with the help of the great Larry Campbell, he continues to plow a furrow of his own making, never beaten down, a streetwise NYC poet, part Lou Reed, part Doo-Wop, part John Lee, still a ghost writer with 35mm dreams.

And From Next Week…
For you loyal seventeen followers—or Seventeen Spurious Widows, as an unreleased Bob Dylan song would have it—after one year or 52 posts, and prompted by a great time spent helping out Richard Williams on his new blog (thebluemoment.com, go there now!), a redesign—and to kick it off, a special issue devoted to Bob Dylan and Bette Midler’s hilarious and fascinating Buckets Of Rain session.

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