Five Things: Wednesday 22nd April

One Thing I’ll Miss Later This Week: The “Muscle Shoals” Film
PickI’m really looking forward to this documentary, but am not around to see it at the Sundance Festival in London this week. I wrote a reminiscence of the time that our band, Hot!House went there to record (find it here). Incidentally, the Rock’s Back Pages logo is the legendary Jimmy Johnson’s guitar pick (he lent us his car as well…)

I liked this review on imdb titled, The only puzzling thing about “Muscle Shoals” is how this story went so long without being told.
prettycleverfilmgal writes: “Have you ever heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama? Let me rephrase the question – have you heard an Aretha Franklin song? Have you ever grooved to Wicked Wilson Pickett’s “Land Of 1000 Dances?” Have you ever thought, “Yes, Percy Sledge, that is exactly what happens when a man loves a woman!” Have you ever driven way too fast while the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” blasted through your speakers? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, or at least you’ve heard the Muscle Shoals sound, the subject of the documentary Muscle Shoals from director Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier. In the interest of full disclosure, these are my people ya’ll! I grew up just east of Muscle Shoals, also on the banks of the Tennessee River – “The Singing River” to the Native Americans who made their home there for millenia before Rick Hall founded FAME studios. Driven by a need to escape the crushing poverty and overwhelming tragedy that befalls him, Hall is the central figure in the story of the famed “Muscle Shoals Sound” – well, him and a group of homegrown, white-as-cotton studio musicians known as the “Swampers.” These men shaped what ultimately proved to be some of the finest rock, soul, and R&B America would ever produce.”

Thinking About Richie Havens
Introduced to him by Don Sollash, manager of Dobell’s Record shop (“I listened to jazz all day – the last thing I wanted to listen to at home was more jazz…”), I bought all of the late 60s-early 70s Havens’ LPs and loved them. I re-bought some of them last year on iTunes and gloried again to “I Started A Joke,” “This May Be The First Day,” “Handsome Johnny” and their like. Marcel called me up when they showed a Beatles At The BBC programme of cover versions, saying how great Richie’s awesomely strummed version of “Here Comes The Sun” was. His second guitarist and conga player have the damnedest time trying to keep up with him…  And this is lovely, from Richard Williams’ thebluemoment: “I interviewed Havens once, for the Melody Maker, and it gave me a good story to tell. It was at a hotel on Park Lane, in 1970 or 71. I went up to his room at the appointed time, knocked on the door, and was shown in. He greeted me with great warmth, and looked me straight in the eye. “Aquarius,” he declared. Er, sorry, I said, but no. Still that piercing look. “Sagittarius!” No, wrong again. “Capricorn!” Look, sorry about this, but… “Taurus!” You can guess the rest: he ran through the whole card before a process of elimination gave him the right answer. He didn’t appear at all embarrassed, and it certainly amused me. Then we got to talk. He seemed like one of the good guys.” I also like Havens’ story of walking on Hampstead Heath in 1974 and spotting Ray Charles from a distance, sitting on a park bench. “Suddenly I heard, “Hey, Richie. Get over here!” And it was Ray. He had extraordinary senses…”

Jackie DeShannon,“Put A Little Love In Your Heart” As Seen On TV (In A Cholesterol Spread Advert)
I heard this (probably DeShannon’s biggest hit, from 1969) on tv the night before her cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” pops up on my iPhone. Now most versions of this, even by good people, are dull and lugubrious. This one, in the hands of the estimable Jackie, is different. It starts straight, then an accordion enters and gets a Bacharach/Butch Cassidy feel going. It takes a left turn with the entrance of a pedal steel into a 5th Dimension/Bones Howe groove, and DeShannon pushes the vocal line away from the original, but in a good way. Oh, and it has an accordion. Did I mention that?

“I Bet Your Mama Was A Tent Show Queen”
Bob Gumpert sends a link to a fascinating piece by Carl Wilson (not the Beach Boy) on the Random House, Canada blog. It’s the strange story of, to quote the intro “a gay, cross-dressing, black singer named Jackie Shane, who scored a surprise radio hit in what was then staid and uptight Toronto.” His only surviving tv clip can be seen here, a compellingly diffident performance of Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog”

Meshell Ndegeocello: Ronnie Scott’s, Tuesday Night
The drummer, Earl Harvin, sits on the left, his kit pointing across the stage. His mallets are at the ready. Chris Bruce, the guitarist, playing a modded Tele Custom from the 70s, crouches at his pedalboard. Meshell Ndegeocello, her angular bass worn high, counts the song down. And, like setting out a manifesto, they start playing “Tomorrow Never Knows”…
Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying
Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.
Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being
Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing
and underneath it all creep the contorted keys of Jebin Bruni, wrenching decayed and tweaked noises from his banks of vintage organs and synths and laptop screens.


There is, in her music, enough of the familiar to feel comforted. Often the songs are known – tonight derives mostly from her album in tribute to Nina Simone – but the constituent parts are roughly handled. They keep you on the edge of your seat: how far will they push before it all collapses? Great holes appear, to be suddenly filled by the rolling thunder of the drums or a shard of guitar or a sliver of keyboard or the clanging slap of Ndegeocello’s bass. It’s as if all the comforting sureties of the songs have been stripped away — but it’s music of beauty. It’s just that it’s not afraid to be ugly, too, like it wants to encompass the whole experience of life. It’s really hard to do it justice: my hastily scribbled notes in the darkness have phrases like ghostly martial doo-wop liberally sprinkled. But I’m making it sound doomy and it wasn’t at all. There’s such joy in hearing these musicians play. The metal freak-out that ends “Feeling Good,” the girls at the bar providing the backing vocals for “See Line Woman,” the stunning bass solo that brings a double-time “Suzanne” to an end – this is all wonderful, wonderful stuff. A version of “Pink Moon” in honour of London, and the stark and short “Oysters” are the icing on the cake. If she plays your town, go.

Five Things: Wednesday 17th April

Words Fail, pt. 73
From the Evening Standard: The soundtrack to David and Samantha Cameron’s marriage is an album of Depression-era US folk music, the PM’s wife has disclosed. Time (The Revelator) is a 2001 collection of austere narratives by Nashville singer Gillian Welch. Peter Mensch, manager of rock stars such as Metallica and husband of ex-Tory MP Louise, discussed the Camerons’ tastes at a Tory function. “I asked Samantha Cameron, ‘Why Gillian Welch?’,” said Mensch, who manages the singer and invited the couple to her Hammersmith concert in 2011. “She said, ‘There was a record store  in Notting Hill where David and I used to live. I would say to the guy with the purple mohawk: “What should I be listening to?” He sold me Time (The Revelator). For the past 10 years David and I listened to it all the time’ .”

Lana Del Rey, Chelsea Hotel No 2
Nicely simple and atmospheric version of a song its author has often felt uneasy about. I’m not even sure anyone but Leonard Cohen should sing this, but the solemn and melancholy tune is a draw to a certain type of singer. I think my favourite version is actually Meshell Ndegeocello’s, where she creates such a slowed-down, sultry arrangement that it seems that she’s only singing the song for one person to hear, not an audience. I don’t think it’ll be on the setlist next week at Ronnie Scott’s.

From Our Woodstock Correspondent
The road from RT 28 to W’stock, formerly rt. 375, will be officially re-named Levon Helm Highway. Meanwhile, all Robbie has named after him is the house next door, and that’s not even official. (But a couple has moved in and are done a nice job renovating…) as ever, john c

What I Say
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s notice, posted on the doors of Webster Hall, New YorkYeah

Killing Them Softly
The soundscape of this beautifully shot film based on George V Higgins’ fine book, Cogan’s Trade, and recently released on DVD, is fantastic. It’s worth watching just for that, from the opening credits of crunching footsteps underneath a voiceover of Obama on the election trail. The election is a presence throughout the film, playing on TVs in bar and on car radios. From the creak of car seats, the roar of throaty engines and the rain on the windshield, to the clangs of echoing hallways, real care is taken. Music supervisor is Rachel Fox, piano pieces and musical ambiences by Marc Streitenfeld. Take a bow.

5 Things Extra: Dobell’s Exhibition

Unknown man outside shop, possibly Pete Martin’s wife Joyce behind him.

Unknown man outside shop, possibly Pete Martin’s wife Joyce behind him.

DobellsThe Dobell’s exhibition at my old alma mater, Chelsea School of Art (now relocated in the shadow of Tate Britain and renamed university of the arts london chelsea) was a Proustian rush – who knew that the Museum Of London had collected parts of the original shop when the Tower Street branch finally closed in 1992? The ‘drum’ sign, the record bags, the cover artworks, most of all an original record rack built by my dad – filled in a picture of what it was like to be there, at a time when record shops were part-business, part-clubhouse, and part-preacher’s pulpit. I met two of my old bosses, Les and Gerry, caught up with Leon Parker – whose hard work had made the exhibition happen – and ended up between Donald Smith (the curator) and Jona (“You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties”) Lewie as they both reminisced about Anthony Newley and sang snatches of his songs back and forth, which seemed a strangely appropriate end to the evening.

Richard Williams was there too, and writes here about the story of Dobell’s in a typically astute post on his blog,

Here are some photos – mostly taken by my dad, Bill – of life in the shop in Brighton, with a picture of the more famous London shops at the end.

“Has ‘Trad’ Jazz Had It? Special Investigation.” Those were the days… Don Sollash, my mum Betty and me, and my cousin Ray, Brighton Shop, 1957

“Has ‘Trad’ Jazz Had It? Special Investigation.” Those were the days…
Don Sollash, my mum Betty and me, and my cousin Ray, Brighton Shop, 1957

Early window display. Poor opinion of Elvis Presley expressed.

Early window display. Poor opinion of Elvis Presley expressed.

Early record browsing seals habit of lifetime.

Early record browsing seals habit of lifetime.

Ron & Mina Bowden and Bill look on as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (cut off) play in the shop.

Ron & Mina Bowden and Bill look on as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (cut off) play in the shop.

Charing Cross Road, Jan 1966, Kodachrome Slide

Charing Cross Road, Jan 1966, Kodachrome Slide

Five Things: Wednesday 10th April

Willy Moon, I Wanna Be Your Man
Short. Stylish. Funky. Great guitar. His new album is 28 minutes long. That’s the way to do it.

Buying Cords from Eric Clapton
Well, not actually from Eric. Going to the wonderful Cordings on Piccadilly to peruse the trousers only to discover that EC liked the shop so much, he bought it. Shops that you feel will be forbidding and aloof usually turn out to be the opposite. Davidoffs’ cigar store on Jermyn Street and uber liquor-emporium Hedonism in Mayfair spring to mind—great, knowledgeable staff and no pressure…

The Art of Listening to Records
I listened to two great stereo systems this week, Alex’s and George’s. The same day we’d been in Cordings Alex put, by total coincidence, Eric Clapton’s “The Core” from Slowhand on his Technics deck… After listening to George’s – driven by a Garrard deck set in concrete – it seemed like Taj Mahal and the Pointer Sisters were actually in the room as we listened to “Sweet Home Chicago,” a great performance which I had forgotten all about. I always appreciate amazing stereos when I hear them, and am in awe of the lengths people go to – steam cleaning records, adding AC/DC converters, setting decks in concrete and the like. (see below for George’s response!)


Part of George’s extraordinary stereo

Then I saw this on London Jazz Collector’s blog: “I read something recently on the subject of record and hi-fi reviews which struck a chord. It was this. No-one really knows what anyone else hears. Thinking about it, it’s true. I only really know what I hear, and sometimes I’m not even sure of that. Sometimes I am only remembering what I thought about what I heard, which is not the same thing. I am remembering an opinion, not a sound. Every now and then I put on a record I haven’t played for a while, but remember thinking at the time was one of the best pressings I had ever heard, only to find it rather ordinary. It hasn’t changed, I have. Or the system has. Or something I am not aware of has. Worse, I recently upgraded a copy of a record I can remember really liking. Only to find, on playing, I no longer like it at all…”

Actually, worse is my admission that my favourite place of all to listen to music is one that any self-respecting audiophile absolutely scorns: the car.

Spring arrives, time for Calypso
As if to prove my point, no sooner has the sun come out (after what seems like an eternity) when “Lorraine” by Explainer bursts into life on the iPhone as I’m driving around town. Truly, one of the great intros: a bouncing bass, a chattering guitar, tss-tss hi-hat and The Explainer shouting: “Taxi! Taxi! Airport Kennedy!” And it sounds fantastic in the car…

Rock ’n’ Roll. Phew!
My friend Pal Hansen had this to say about photographing people whose work you know: “Sometimes you get that commission to photograph someone whose work you admire and whom you think is genuinely interesting. Many times, you walk away disappointed and with a distaste for whatever you did admire them for in the first place.”* It’s a little like that with most rock biographies, I find. And, my God, books written by musicians are seriously depressing, no? I’ve barely recovered from the ghastly sleazefest that was Warren Zevon’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead when I pick up Dallas Taylor’s Prisoner of Woodstock. Taylor, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young’s drummer in the late sixties, is a favourite of mine, but this terrible tale of abuse, insecurity, drugs, surgery and ego was almost too awful to read.

* Pal then went on to say: “However, once in a while, someone who comes across as truly talented and nice is actually just that.  One of my favourite actors, Forest Whitaker, is as nice as they come.”

From George
Just to set the record straight, so to speak, my turntable is a 50-year-old Garrard 301 from the days of British precision engineering. It is set into a plinth made of layers of lead sheet and MDF bolted together. The whole is supported on a slate slab which in turn is floated on 2 layers of air-filled BMX inner tubes for complete isolation from vibration. (The turntable in the Dobell’s exhibition was also a Garrard but made 25 years later when the company had been sold to new owners who took it downmarket).

The converter you refer to is a DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) which is usually incorporated into CD players. Digital players only produce a series of  signals which are either “on” or “off”, expressed as 1 or 0. They produce these at very high speeds, and the DAC decodes them and turns them into waveforms which amplifiers understand. At these ultra high speeds accuracy can be a problem. The more accurate the decoding, the better the music will sound. Mine is built for much higher levels of accurate conversion than are usually available from mass-market CD players.

AC/DC conversion is converting the current from the mains (in the UK 230V AC) to the voltages and type of electricity that will power audio circuits (typically DC, like from a battery, and in valve equipment circuits ranging from 3V DC to 500V DC).

Five Things: Wednesday 3rd April

‘January 26, 1962: Passed Dylan on the street, he said to me that he “didn’t know why so many things are happening to me.” I said that he did.’
Michael Gray writes a very nice piece on Izzy Young on the occasion of his 85th birthday. A couple of years ago in Stockholm we sat with Izzy outside his office, the Folklore Centrum, having tea with Sarah Blasko (Izzy is a magnet for any musician of a certain bent who happens to be in town). Here’s a photo of some of Izzy’s files. I’m guessing Irene relates to ‘Goodnight, Irene.’

Izzy's Bookshelf
After we leave, Sam (Charters) tells me that the last time Bob Dylan played in Stockholm, Bob’s people arranged for Izzy to meet him, and he ended up having a chat to Bob by the side of the bus. As they said goodbye, Izzy grabbed Dylan’s cheeks and waggled them, like a Jewish grandfather would do to his grandson. Security! Nobody touches Bob! Bob, however, burst out laughing… Sam said that Bob’s road manager told him it was the only time he saw Bob laugh on the whole tour…


BP Garage, Clapham Common Northside, Thursday
A man in front of me is slowly paying for petrol and weird “garage” shopping: A bottle of wine, Jelly Babies, Screen Wash, Iced Buns…  so I idly pick up the new Bowie CD. He looks at me and says “Dreadful cover,” about Jonathan Barnbrooke’s white square over Heroes. I disagree and say that the fact that it created thousands of memes proves that it worked as one part of Bowie’s brilliant stealth marketing for The Next Day’s release. Who’s been that excited about an album launch in years? He smiles, says fair point, and Exits Garage Left.

We Love Site-Specific Street Signs & Slang!
“Artist Jay Shells channeled his love of hip hop music and his uncanny sign-making skills towards a brand new project: Rap Quotes. For this ongoing project, Shells created official-looking street signs quoting famous rap lyrics that shout out specific street corners and locations. He then installed them at those specific street corners and locations.” More here.


emusic Find of the Month
Marnie Stern, downloaded because of its title: The Chronicles Of Marnia. She’s a really talented “shredding” (ask the kids) guitarist who seems to have made an album that references Battles and Braids. It’s manic & great & slightly odd—fretboard squalling, swooping vocal whoops and wild drumming… Somehow I was disappointed that the cover wasn’t more like this…

The Voyage of the Dawn Shredder

The Voyage of the Dawn Shredder


Reading The Guardian Magazine two weeks after publication, and finding Stephen Collins being brilliant. Again.

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