Five Things: Wednesday 29th May

Wayne Miller died last week
Wayne Miller was one of the less famous names at the legendary photo agency Magnum. When we were looking for a cover for our album in 1986, to be called South, we were determined not to have ourselves in the frame. Our first single had used a Weegee photo of a burning building, and we liked the anti-80s feel of black and white photography. In the mid-80s every cover seemed to have sharp pinks and hard yellows and glossy, overlit faces shining out.
We were looking for a photo that summed up the feel of a record recorded partly in the Alabama heat of Muscle Shoals, and found it in the book that accompanied Ed Steichen’s famous Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. The photo we fell in love with was of a couple in a clinch. It was part of a series taken in 1949 of migrant workers – cotton pickers – in California. We thought that the intensity and intimacy was something to behold. There’s another wonderful image in this series of the same couple, the man sitting disconsolately on the bed, with the woman lazily fiddling with her nails. I’m still not sure how we convinced anyone to go with this approach, but we did. Of course, the record company could probably point to the cover having something to do with the paltry sales of the album… The type is cut out of some posters that we had printed by Tribune Showprint, of Earl Park, Indiana. You can read about the rather great Mr. Miller here. If you’re curious, more on our failed career here.

The Clash interviewed, The Guardian
Paul Simenon on musicianship: I’d become musically more capable. I could take off the notes that were painted on the neck of my guitar. But then I did make a mistake in being really confident: I went for one of those jazz basses that didn’t have frets… and when it goes really dark, and you can’t quite hear what you’re playing, it suddenly sounds like you’re drunk. So I said: “You know what? I think I’ll have the frets put back on.” I got a bit carried away. I thought I was getting quite good, but I got a big slap in the face.

…and on presentation: A lot of the looks were down to financial problems. Everyone in those days wore flares and had long hair. So if you went into secondhand stores, there’d be so many straight-legged trousers because everyone wanted flares. That instantly set you apart from everybody else. And also there was another place called Laurence Corner… Mick Jones: Selling army surplus…

I work along the road from where Laurence Corner was, and still fondly remember the green Army Jacket I bought there. Now there’s a chemist in its place, but they’ve put a nice plaque in the window…


That Difficult Second Album
Sexual Healing, Pamela Stephenson Connolly’s sex therapy column in The Guardian: “My boyfriend talks too much during sex. We’ve been together for a year and recently he’s started talking to me while we’re intimate. At first it was everyday stuff like what he wants for dinner but then essentially he began ranting. Do you know how hard it is to climax while listening to someone talk about how many bands have produced “disappointing second albums”? I don’t know if I can go on like this.”

Rolling Stone’s Bob Dylan Special
No professional manicures for Bob…


Stephen Collins’ strip, Guardian Weekend
Still, his wonderful anti-Mumfords bandwagon rolls on…


Not room this week for Sam Amidon at Bush Hall, intriguing, strange and moving in equal measure. More next week…

Five Things: Wednesday 22nd May

RIP George Jones: A memory of the Wembley Country Festival, 1981
Simon and I loved the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, and were prepared to endure any amount of maudlin production-line Nashville filler to see him. However, the bill at the 1981 International Festival Of Country Music (© Mervyn Conn) at the Empire Pool was pretty good, and Carl Perkins’ set led into Jerry’s, the highlight of which was a staggeringly over-the-top rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. The icing on the cake, however, was the towering (but pretty short, if memory serves me well) performance by the legendary George. I had inveigled a press pass and snuck into the VIP section, and found myself next to Elvis Costello, who was there to pay homage, I’m guessing. Two frames, a rather evil-eyed look from one of Elvis’s companions, and I concentrated on the stage. My favourite shot, though, is of Simon, resplendent in bootlace tie and Jim Reeves badge…


Michael Hann v Ginger Baker, Guardian video
I’m with Ginger on this. It’s not nearly as awkward as The Guardian claims, and Hann should have realized from question one that he needed to be a bit less rock writerly. The business of being a working musician is often about money, and survival, not art, so asking him questions like “Your time in Africa – it seems from the film to be very, very important to you, was that the time when you felt most musically fulfilled?” may not be the best starting point, especially as it implies that anything post that period was a let down…

Bowie Fan album, £650
Weirdest item in the Selfridges pop-up Bowie shop.


A Week of Gifts…
Lloyd gives me Imelda May’s plectrum: “Hubbard, my oldest friend from Hull, is mad about Imelda. He went to see her and after the gig got chatting and she gave it to him – it’s the one she used.”


And Weston kindly gives me these cigarette cards of guitarists, part of a set issued by Polydor in the seventies. It reminds me that I need to download the Shuggie Otis outtakes that Richard Williams writes so well about here.


Ladies & Gentlemen, Henry Diltz
I’m introduced to Henry, legendary lensman of Laurel Canyon, whose iconic pictures of The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell and CSN&Y were the visual soundtrack to my adolescence. I ask him when he switched his focus from musician (he was a member of the Modern Folk Quartet, playing banjo) to photographer. He tells me that Steve Stills mentioned that the Springfield were going to do a gig at Redondo Beach, so he tagged along to take pictures for the slide show that he would do for his friends every weekend, showing pictures of L.A. itself and sometimes its musicians, who were often among those gathered in Henry’s house. The Springfield came outside from their sound check and he asked if they’d pose in front of a large mural. A magazine heard that he had some shots and paid him $100. Realising he could make this photography thing work he started taking more and more and, often with designer Gary Burden, photographed his friends album covers. I loved hearing about his time playing banjo for Phil Spector: Spector was interested in the nascent folk-rock scene and took The Modern Folk Quartet into the studio, where they recorded a Harry Nilsson song, “This Could be the Night”. Brian Wilson dropped by whilst they were recording it, in his pajamas and dressing gown, and sat there with the song on repeat, mesmerized. Spector, very paranoid about any song he released, afraid that it wouldn’t scale the heights of his previous successes, and would therefore damage his reputation, never put it out. But Henry did get to play banjo sitting next to Barney Kessel in the guitar section of the Wall Of Sound, on the Righteous Brothers “Ebb Tide” among others…

Henry introduces the film Legends Of The Canyon at the Mayfair Hotel, tiny Canon camera always at hand

Henry introduces the film Legends Of The Canyon at the Mayfair Hotel, tiny Canon camera always at hand

There’s a very good interview with Henry here, from rockcellarmagazine, that tells the stories in more detail.

Five Things: Wednesday 15th May

Bowie Walk

Having helped the V&A with a photo of Dobell’s, they’re kind enough to send me this Jonathan Barnbrook-designed pamphlet, David Bowie Is Walking In Soho. The tour starts here.

Riders Of The Stars
FRANK SINATRA: One bottle each: Absolute, Jack Daniel’s, Chivas Regal, Courvoisier, Beefeater Gin, white wine, red wine. Twenty-four chilled jumbo shrimp, Life Savers, cough drops. No mixers?
BRITNEY SPEARS: Fish and chips, McDonald’s cheeseburgers without the buns, 100 prunes and figs, a framed photo of Princess Diana. Britney, as always, touched by genius!
AL GREEN: Twenty-four long-stem (dethorned) red roses. Having seen Rev. Green present these in the flesh to his adoring audience, I’m touched by the thoughtfulness.

Cat Power, Bathrooms & Bullies
On Woman’s Hour I catch Chan Marshall talking about the best places she found to sing as a teenager and she talks of school bathrooms when no-one was in them, singing to the walls and the echo – and when she’s on Later that night you can see how her voice now has those reflections and deflections built into it. With a haircut borrowed from Nick Lowe and her hands jerking in and out of her jean shirt, her performance of “Bully” was twitchy and vulnerable, but beautifully her – she doesn’t sound much like anybody else (the same is true of Laura Mvula, also on the show, who – making a nod to Nina Simone – is refreshingly different from her peer group).

Found on the website while googling “who wrote Walkin’ to New Orleans.”
Well Composed: Bobby Charles tells how he wrote three of his classic songs.

Walking to New Orleans
“I had sent Fats a copy of ‘Before I Grow Too Old,’ and he had recorded it, but I didn’t know. The next night he was playing in Lafayette, and I went to see him play. He told me, ‘I cut your song last night – I wish I’d brought a copy of it for you to listen to.’ And he said, ‘You gotta come to New Orleans to see me and hang out with me.’ I said, ‘I’d love to, but right now I’m really on my butt and got no money and no way to get over there.’ He said, ‘Take a bus or something.’ I told him, ‘The only way I’d be able to get there would be to walk to New Orleans.’ As soon as I said that, I said, ‘I gotta go.’ I jumped in the car and wrote the song on the way back home from Lafayette to Abbeville.”
See You Later Alligator
“I used to say to the band or friends, ‘See you later, alligator.’ One night after a dance, I was walking out the door, and my piano player was sitting down in a back booth, and there were two drunk couples in the booths in front of him. I said, ‘See you later alligator’ to him as I was walking out, and it was one of those doors that closed real slow. I heard a girl say something about ‘crocodile.’ I walked back in and said, ‘I don’t mean to bother you, but I just told him, “See you later, alligator.” What did you say?’ She said, ‘After a while, crocodile.’ I said, ‘Thank you,’ and went home and wrote the song in 20 minutes. My daddy was screaming at me to turn out the lights, because he had to get up and go to work at 5 o’clock in the morning. I said, ‘Give me five more minutes.’ I had to sing it to myself over and over so I wouldn’t forget it.”
The Jealous Kind
“I was married at the time, and I was in the bathtub. My wife was fussing and hollering at me while I was taking a bath. I said, ‘Why don’t you bring me paper and a pencil and just leave me alone for 30 minutes.’ She said, ‘You and your damn paper and pencil.’ I wrote it right there in the bathtub. Same thing with ‘Before I Grow Too Old.’ She said, ‘You gonna be like this for the rest of your life?’ I said, ‘I’m gonna try and hurry up and do as much as I can before I get too old.’ Bam! Bring me a paper and pencil!”

I’m appalled that I’d never known that Bobby Charles wrote one of my all-time favourite songs.

And more from The Big Easy…
…in the shape of another Hugh Laurie documentary. He’s dry and funny, and has great taste in producers and musicians, and plays pretty good piano. I just never want to hear him sing again, if that can be arranged. Best bit: the amazing Jon Cleary, an Englishman in New Orleans, doing a staggering take on James Booker and Professor Longhair. He rips through a sonic wonderworld of rhumba rhythms and tumbling blues, then turns to Laurie and says, “New Orleans comes into fashion, goes out of fashion. They don’t stop playing here just because no-one’s looking.”

Professor Longhair’s House, 2010

Professor Longhair’s House, 2010

Longhair had my favourite band name ever: Professor Longhair and The Shuffling Hungarians [called that, as Wikepedia says, for reasons lost to time. As far as I can ascertain, there were no Hungarians in the band]. I do remember going with Mark to see James Booker at the 100 Club. As we came down the stairs to the basement room we heard the sound of a New Orleans band pounding out “Junco Partner”, the bass shaking the walls, what sounded like a horn section high-stepping the accents. We stepped through the door to find Booker alone at the piano, committing his mischief, conjuring up an orchestra’s worth of accompaniment with just two hands…

Five Things: Wednesday 8th May

Tony, Tony, Tony
Following on from the despair of a couple of weeks ago at depressing rock reads, this rebalanced everything: Eamonn Forde’s brilliant compression of Tony Blackburn’s hysterical and self-regarding autobiography, Poptastic. Here are two examples, the first about Gary Glitter. Read it and weep. With laughter.


Elton John Documentary, BBC
elton_john_backbendI caught the last quarter of the Elton doc, which seemed to compress the past thirty years of his career into ten minutes and was struck by this: Why, if you’ve got an interview with Terry O’Neill, and he says, “Elton rang me up and said we’re doing a show at Dodger Stadium, it’s gonna be great, get over here and take some pictures,” do you not show any of Terry’s now-iconic shots, just some fairly run of the mill video?

Little Bulb’s Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre
Amidst the wonderfully mad recreation of Hades and the beautifully evoked Parisian nightclub of this Django-ised retelling of the Orpheus myth, a truly stunning moment. Tom Penn, who plays The Drummer/Stage Hand/Dancing Bear/Too Many Parts To Mention, sits down and, as Persephone [the Queen of the Underworld] plucks the opening notes on a harp of a beautiful ballad, “La Chanson de Persephone,” written by the company. From his mouth issues a falsetto that is extraordinary – part Bon Iver, part Antony – and in a production filled to the brim with indelible music – “Minor Swing”, Saint-Saens, Debussy, Piaf’s “Hymne à l’amour” – brings the house down. A song you wanted to hear again the second it finished.


“I analyse leaders for a living, and none are as great as Alex Ferguson”
Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor: As someone paid to observe and analyse leaders and potential leaders for a living, I never saw one to match Sir Alex. Like the impresario of a great opera company or the chief executive of a mighty corporation he succeeded so much and survived for so long because he understood people – how to motivate them, how to discipline them and how to inspire them. When this year Harvard Business School asked Fergie to share some of his secrets, he explained how as a young manager he studied and learned from leaders in other walks of life: “I had never been to a classical concert in my life. But I am watching this and thinking about the co-ordination and the teamwork – one starts and one stops, just fantastic. So I spoke to my players about the orchestra – how they are a perfect team.” He didn’t manage teams – he created them.

Tribeca Films Logo Screen
TriI’m not even sure what those pre-credit sequences that show the production company of the film are even called. Splashes? You know – the Lion of MGM, the Searchlight of Fox, the Calder Mobile thing for Pathe? Whatever, check out this little beauty from Tribeca Films at the head of this two minute preview for Greetings From Tim Buckley [you’ll need to search for Tim Buckley]. Using a lighthouse sweep, it’s just gorgeous.

Five Things: Wednesday 1st May

A Rainy Night In Bourges: Le Printemps De Bourges, Loire, France
The annual festival brings a platter of bands to almost every bar in town. Trying to decide where to go and who to see brings the following descriptions from the programme: Superhero Big Beat Surf/Pop Art Punk/Reggae Occitan/Black Death/House Celt Rock Experimental, and my favourite: Rock Noise Folk Blues. This poster in a nearby town would have had me putting money down for tickets, but it was in the past…


Best music we saw was a cracking band called Minou, consisting of Pierre Simon & Sabine Quinet, plus a bald percussionist on electric pads. They play guitars and keyboards, both well, and their oeuvre is some unholy mixture of Kraftwerk, Nirvana and Talking Heads, put over with personality and pizazz and great timing. They were playing in a plastic garden tent, set up in the street, with a pop-up bar serving beer and lethal rum punch, and gave it their all – a welcome relief from the sub-Punk Rock being played in most bars, that the French seem, unaccountably, to be in love with.


Bob Gumpert Appalled By Ricin Suspect
Josh Marshall, TPM: “We had the first court appearance this morning for James Everett Dutschke. Unlike his predecessor, a flat claim of true innocence does not seem to be in the cards. More shocking, it’s now alleged Dutschke is a Wayne Newton impersonator.”

Bob says: “Perhaps only in Mississippi – the first guy arrested for poison letters was an Elvis impersonator. He was turned loose. The new person arrested is a Wayne Newton impersonator and that is just plain offensive.” To make it even worse for Bob, The Daily Mail reports that “the FBI searched his home, vehicles and former studio last week, after dropping charges against an Elvis impersonator who says he had feuded with Dutschke in the past.” Couldn’t make that up – feudin’ impersonators: Elvis vs Wayne…

The Thick Of It Writer Ian Martin’s 60 thoughts about turning 60, The Guardian
My favourites:
4. It was 1968. Early summer evening, a Saturday. My mate and I were hitching home in the Essex countryside. We got a lift from a happy couple in a boaty car that smelled of leather and engine oil. We were 15, they were proper old, 20-ish. Relaxed and so very much in love. They treated us as equals, laughed at our jokes, we smoked their cigarettes. “Walk Away Renee” by the Four Tops came on the radio. We all sang along to the chorus. I felt a blissful certainty that life as an adult might genuinely be a laugh. The entire encounter lasted no more than 10 minutes. I have thought about that couple every day since. Every day, for 45 years. Imagine that. A Belisha Beacon of kindness pulsing through the murk of a whole life.

58. “Nice snare sound.” Always say this to someone you like when they are playing you terrible music, especially if it’s their demo. This insincere but specific observation allows both parties to sidestep more general, and potentially cruel, discussion. If the person insists, they deserve everything they get, starting with “shit snare sound.”

Portrait Of The Artist, The Guardian: Madeleine Peyroux, Singer
What work of art would you most like to own? “I hate the idea of owning a work of art. But I do own a guitar that I consider a work of art. It’s a 1943 Martin 0-17. I took it on tour with me for 16 years, but I’ve just had to put it back in the closet. It was made in the United States during the second world war, when metal was rationed – there’s no metal in the neck, which means it’s constantly going out of tune.”

Edith Bowman’s 10 Best Songs Ever Written, Stylist Magazine
Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On: “To be honest, I don’t feel there’s a lot I can say about the song itself. Just listening to it says it all. It’s the perfect tonic. It brings out the sunshine. The horn section at the start of the song, coupled with the melodies, makes you want to groove from the first few bars. Instant smiles from the get-go.” Marvin would be pleased that his agonised plea for peace and understanding (opening lines Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying/Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying…) soundtracks Edith’s braindead summer picnics. And she actually says, about Joni Mitchell’s “The River,” “she sings it in a way that makes her feel totally accessible, the fragility in her voice encouraging you to sing along. This is probably quite a ‘girl’s choice’ to be honest…” In what world is choosing a song by one of the greatest songwriters ever to have graced pop music girly? There’s not a lot of fragility in Joni. Bare, naked honesty, yes. Fragility? I don’t think so. This is a woman who got totally pissed off when she played acetates of Court & Spark at a party after Dylan had played the acetates of Planet Waves, and having no-one listen. And knowing that it was a better record. The woman who Dylan whispered to, after they shared a bill together in the early 2000s, “Joni, you make me sound like a hillbilly in comparison.” Oh, Edith. Behave.

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