Five Things: Wednesday 30th October

Down With The Cool KIds
The depressing lack of cool jazz in the new series of Homeland is more than balanced by its recent appearance in Downton Abbey, thanks to young Lady Rose. As an imported-from-London Jazz Orchestra plays, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) is asked by a guest: “Is this your first experience of Jazz, Lady Grantham?” “Oh, is that what it is?” (pregnant pause, looks at the band…) “Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?”

Virgin 40th Anniversary Pop Up (or down) Exhibition, Bloomsbury
Deep in the basement of one of those extraordinarily grand ‘London Headquarters’-style buildings from the beginning of the 1900s that resemble landlocked battleships, a hollow hagiography of a label I always found slightly naff. I’d gone because I thought they had recreated the original Oxford Street shop, opened in 1971, where as a teenager it had usurped Dobell’s for me as a place to buy music, because they sold bootlegs. Upstairs, under the counter. You had to get to know the guys in the shop, and you had to know what you were looking for. “Have you got, uh, Wooden Nickel? Stealin’?, Oh, great, thanks, that’s £3, right…”


Photo shows Ridiculous letter from Anna Wintour to Professor Green that is beyond comment, and modified rusty Telecaster, one careful owner, as played on Tubular Bells. [Click to Enlarge]

[However, they hadn’t recreated Oxford Street, but the Notting Hill branch at the time of the Sex Pistols NMTB launch, which felt a bit lame. Note: The word “bootleg” originates from the practice of smuggling illicit items in the legs of tall boots, particularly the smuggling of alcohol during Prohibition. The word, over time, has come to refer to any illegal or illicit product and has become an umbrella term for unofficial, or unlicenced recordings.—Wikipedia]

Reed Between The Lines
Watching the BBC video of “Perfect Day” as it ended another tribute to Lou Reed I was struck by the less obvious artists who appeared in it: Emmylou Harris, Dr John, Robert Cray… did you remember Robert Cray singing a line? I listened to New York whole, top to bottom, as Lou wished. It’s my favourite Reed album, and I remember boring friends in 1989, endlessly making them listen, saying it had the greatest guitar sound ever recorded (the chorus guitar of “Hold On”). It opens with the killer triple-whammy of “Romeo Had Juliette”/“Halloween Parade”/“Dirty Blvd”. Sensational. Best piece of writing from the past few days about him is here.

Van Morrison, Into The Mystic, Take 11
Nothing will replace in your heart the Moondance version of a song Morrison first titled “Into The Misty”, but listen to this tracking session take. Van on intense, focused and dynamic rhythm guitar, possibly John Platania on second guitar, drummer Gary Mallaber and bassist John Klingberg playing off his lead… these guys are in the moment, in the mystic and it’s glorious. As Lou would say, you can’t beat two guitars, bass, drum.

Ronnie Wood Ticket For Sale. Stop Pushing At The Back.

Someone included me in a round robin offering this for sale. £125? For Ronnie Wood playing three chords for two hours. I love Jimmy Reed, but there are limits. I saw a Sky Arts tribute to BB King the other day, where a large group of guitarists and singers added very little to B’s show. In the 30 minutes I saw, Ron contributed the least, but was a jocular figure, happy to be there. Mick Hucknell sang, Susan Tedeschi barely got a look in on guitar but sang very nicely. Slash was jarringly inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes not. B was imperious when he played, which was not a lot of the time, but was always telling, which others weren’t. But the man who was king was humble Derek Trucks, whose mix of slide and fingers pulled off a truly wonderful solo in the sentimental ol’ slowie “Guess Who” and knocked everyone else into a cocked hat.

Five Things: Wednesday 23rd October

Gainsbourg Auction: + 6 citrons, du parmesan, et un pot de crème fraîche, merci…
A bizarre collection of Serge Gainsbourg’s belongings are at auction on October 31. The list of items include four cigarette butts in a cassette case (estimate £425-£600), a pair of his nail clippers (estimate £40-£70), and a telegram to his wife, Jane Birkin, of controversial Number One single “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” fame. Last year his handwritten shopping lists were sold for £6,540. Said David Richard, a spokesperson for the auction house: “When we sold those we realised there was a great interest in items from his everyday life. Quite a lot of the bidders were women and they were prepared to go quite far but it’s always difficult to know how much people are prepared to pay for these things”. Well, here’s a few of my favourite things (but I think I’ll pass on actually bidding):


From Michael Gray’s Outtakes blog, Mike Bloomfield and Big Joe Williams:
In 1980 Mike Bloomfield published a short memoir, Me and Big Joe, which not only portrayed the difficulties of their relationship very honestly but also, in Peter Narváez’ phrase, illustrated “the cross-cultural triumph of the blues tradition”. Bloomfield wrote: “Joe’s world wasn’t my world, but his music was. It was my life; it would be my life. So playing on was all I could do, and I did it the best that I was able. And the music I played, I knew where it came from; and there was not any way I’d forget.” I really love that sentence, and reading more excerpts discover that the book is compelling, well-written and illustrated by Robert Crumb.


Favourite Story Of The Week
Tony Bennett questionnaire, The Guardian: Q: You must have mixed with them all… I lived for 15 years in Los Angeles and I still can’t believe that the handsomest man in the world, Cary Grant, and the greatest performer in the world, Fred Astaire… were in my home. I celebrated my 50th birthday with them. Unforgettable.

Did any of them do anything in your home that you’ve had to keep secret? No. But once Dean Martin was in his home, having this mad party, and he was trying to study his lines for a television show so he called up the police and said: “I’m Dean Martin’s neighbour and there’s too much noise coming from his house. Have the police come and slow down the party.” And the police came and broke the party up and he got rid of everybody in the house.

A Note On Packaging The Past
I give into temptation. I’ve bought this music on vinyl, in 1972. In its first digital form on CD in the late eighties. On remastered CD in 2000. And here we are, buying it again in 2013, remixed, re-programmed, repackaged. Rock of Ages by The Band, originally in a three-gatefold sleeve of purple with Bob Cato’s enigmatic oriental statue on the front and mysterious pictures by Magnum’s Ernst Haas (the impressionistic colour ones) and John Scheele (the beautiful B&W’s) on the inside. One of the great live albums of the rock era. As Allen Toussaint says: “They dance by a different drummer, all the time. There was nothing stock about them”. But I baulk at the stupidly-priced Venal-Record-Company-Death-Throes Box Set, with its 5.1 Surround Sound DVD version of the tracks and the Sebastian Robertson soundboard mix of the uncut New Year’s Eve night. Come on. How many times can the people who love this music be ripped off? Yes, I know that everything in Heritage Rock World™ has to be a ‘production’. And, yes, it sounds fantastic, remixed by Robertson and the brilliant Bob Clearmountain with a staggering degree of detail. But then, it always did sound fantastic, I just didn’t know it could sound better, and may never have felt I was missing out…

And Also…
Robbie Robertson’s liner notes are less annoying than usual. I love his comments about Rick Danko: “Rick showed something during this period that I still don’t understand. While singing like a bird, he played a fretless bass… in an unorthodox style that worked against reason and normality.” Toussaint again: “Rick Danko – his approach, there’s nothing like it. Some people, you can tell what school of thought they come from on the bass… I don’t know where Rick Danko comes from. I don’t know his source of reference… it was just his very own thing and I think it was perfect”.


Five Things: Wednesday 16th October

Snapshot: My parents, who knew how to party by Janet Johnston, from The Family Section, The Guardian

It’s Christmas, probably 1957. This photo was taken in the front room of my childhood home in Birmingham, and there’s a party going on. I know nothing about this. My sisters and I have been tucked up in bed long before the guests arrive. At the front are my parents – Don, in the armchair with his guitar, and Audrey, just behind him. The other partygoers are my beloved “aunties” and “uncles”, my parents’ friends. This includes the likes of Uncle Bunny, Auntie Jean, Uncle Reg, Auntie Margaret, Uncle Fred and Auntie Val, Uncle Stan – names you don’t hear so much today.
Uncle John must have taken the picture, as he’s not in it. He’s captured the mood perfectly; you could almost be there, laughing along with everyone. There’s no trace of 1950s greyness and austerity (except perhaps the twisted crepe paper decorations in the alcove). My parents knew how to party and had a knack of making everyone around them happy. Auntie Val, who sent me this photograph recently, said: “We used to have such fun.” Quite possibly my mother has just told one of her very naughty jokes for which she was famous, or maybe they had just finished singing a silly song, accompanied by my father on the guitar.

Heads Up: Depressing re-emergence of Barre-Chord Rock
The return of Kings Of Leon seems to have presaged this dire turn of events. Now Jake Bugg is on Later is doing Church Hall Rock (or Church Crypt Rock, or Scout Hut Rock, even) – that style of music beloved of those who picked up a guitar in the Seventies and thrashed away in the nearest rehearsal space they could find, moving their hands up and down the neck, fingers locked into that one bloody shape. These people are too young for that. Surely we’ve come too far for this, lads?

Piers Morgan: my fight with the US pro-gun lobby
“A petition has been launched on the official White House website to have me thrown out of America. It’s been posted by an organisation called InfoWars, led by an extreme rightwing radio host called Alex Jones. Entitled “Deport British Citizen Piers Morgan for Attacking Second Amendment”, it states: “British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the US Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment. We demand that Mr Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens”. I asked my manager if this could actually be successful. Well, they tried to deport John Lennon, but failed, he said, encouragingly. Mind you, he did write “Imagine”.”

From The Big Box of Nonsense, Coningsby Gallery W1
Lovely work by Andrew Baker, a series of giclée prints next to woodcuts printed from the same digital files, of nonsense poems by John Lennon, Ivor Cutler and Spike Milligan, among others.


Peter Serafinowicz Sings The First Page of the Morrissey Book
Just great. I’m with Richard Williams on this: “Morrissey’s autobiography is to be published as a Penguin Classic: an effortless insult to every author in the series and every reader, too”.

Five Things: Wednesday 9th October

How We Made Boogie Wonderland, The Guardian
Allee Willis, songwriter: “In the late 1970s, I teamed up with Jon Lind, who’d written “Sun Goddess” for Earth, Wind & Fire. In the disco era, lots of songs contained the word “boogie”, but we didn’t want to write just another dance song. I’d just seen Looking for Mr Goodbar, a harsh film starring Diane Keaton as a dissatisfied teacher, who takes drugs, goes out dancing every night and picks up a different guy. One night, she brings home a sexually confused Vietnam vet who beats, rapes and kills her. I wanted to write about the desperation some people feel – and how dancing can provide a release. The line, “Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get/Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has laid too many bets”, is so bleak. But the groove came first and – musically – it’s uplifting, with a chorus that feels almost theatrical, like Broadway, like Mary Poppins”.

I’d never noticed those lyrics (or their inspiration). The following lines aren’t much more uplifting: “The mirror stares you in the face and says,‘Baby, uh, uh, it don’t work’/You say your prayers though you don’t care; you dance and shake the hurt”. More ammunition for the Nile Rodgers take on Disco: that the songs were often lyrically acute portraits of the society of the time.

From Chris Floyd’s Blog on photographing Ronnie Wood,
“We are in a prime piece of four story Georgian Mayfair, on the first floor – the second floor if you’re American. The place attracts a multinational crowd.  It’s not an art gallery. It’s a fine art gallery… cultured people with good legs and fine watches. I am here to photograph Ronald David Wood. He is the artist in residence at the gallery. Up on the top floor is his studio. It has all his paints, his brushes, his canvases, a snooker table, and although he’s not actually living here, a huge bed should he wish to take advantage of the resources and crash for a while. Later on I make a joke about how handy this must be if he doesn’t have enough money in his pockets for a cab back to Holland Park, especially after a big night out in the West End. It went right off the cliff.  Sometimes I worry that I get too subtle at the key moments. I’ve been doing it for years.

Everybody who works here calls him Ronnie. They tell me what to expect. Ronnie likes to be involved in the creative process. Ronnie doesn’t like to dwell on things for too long, Ronnie does tend to get bored. That’s ok, I say, I get that a lot. Wherever I go in the building, on any of the four floors, the music of The Rolling Stones plays continuously. All the hits from the last half century. We bring in our equipment from the car outside. It’s the hottest day of the year, thirty six degrees centigrade. The lunchtime streets of Mayfair buckle under the weight of the heat but back inside the fine art gallery the cool air of wealth wafts over all of us from the air conditioning vents.

I set up two different shots simultaneously, so that we can wheel Ronnie from one seamlessly to the next, without losing him to boredom somewhere in between. The most important element is to not give them time to think. If you do that they will always choose to slip away, wander off, disappear. In summary, they will do one. Why? Because when you’ve been in The Rolling Stones for almost forty years you will have had your picture taken tens of thousands of times. There is nothing interesting about it, nothing new, nothing to cause you to think. Having your picture taken for a magazine cover is like what a Payment Protection Insurance cold call is to us. On the whole, you don’t want to be rude but if they go on past a certain point you’re just going to hang up and not feel guilty about it

Sight, target, engage. It’s a military situation. There’s no mirror, signal, manoeuvre here. Whatever it takes. As one gilded Stones hit fades away and a new one immerses us in its familiar scent, a thought comes into my head. A question for Ronnie. Yes, can I ask you something, Ronnie? “Yeah man, as long as it’s not about The Faces”. I gesticulate to the speakers, to the music. “Well, when you go somewhere, a bar, a pub, a restaurant, a shop, a cab, and you hear a Stones song on the stereo, the radio, well, what do you hear? What do you hear that we don’t hear?” The opening bars of “Gimme Shelter” are washing down over us. Ronald David Wood cocks an ear, his body comes up on its haunches as he searches the spectrum for the signal. The only thing missing from this familiar posture is a guitar. The apocalyptic, heart of darkness groove of my favourite ever Stones song cascades down in a torrent over us: “Oh, a storm is threat’ning/My very life today…”

Ronald David Wood finds the signal or, more correctly, the signal finds him and his arm starts to move, followed quickly by his hips. He loses himself in it for five, maybe six seconds, locked inside. Then his head slowly comes up, he pulls his Ray Bans down his nose an inch and his black, black eyes look at me for a second before his nineteen fifties, postwar, Hillingdon ration boy face breaks into the slyest little smirk you’ve ever seen, and he says:


I like it.”

Record Shop Berwick Street: Ricky Gervais, Seona Dancing
I’d never actually seen one of their covers, but Ricky makes a very convincing Boy George/Jon Moss cross…


Journey Through The Past: One
I find some things while we’re moving house. This is a favourite… 16 years old and a winner. Zachariah turns out to be a hippie musical western loosely based on Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, adapted as a Musical Western by the Firesign Theatre comedy troupe. Country Joe and the Fish star, as an inept gang of robbers called The Crackers.

extra-Record Mirror

Wikepedia: “Underneath the gunplay, the jokes, and the music, an important message is delivered: a life of pacifism, quiet contemplation, male bonding and vegetarianism is preferable to a life of violence”. I don’t remember getting that at all. But Elvin Jones (!) is great as drumming gunslinger Job Cain, and Doug Kershaw plays a fantastic Cajun stomp, ”Ballad of Job Cain” that I treasure to this day – my first exposure to Cajun music, before Charlie Gillett gave us all the Sundown Playboys on Honky Tonk. It gets better. Apparently Ginger Baker was originally going to play the part of Zachariah…  and the film recorded a loss of $1,435,000 (impressive for 1971, no?)

CSN at the Albert Hall
It was almost worth it for Steve Stills’ guitar playing in “Bluebird”. Almost. Three hours of dodgy harmonies, the backing band churning it up like buttermilk and pleas for peace were, frankly, a bit of a slog. Even for songs that feel part of one’s DNA.

It all started with the lights going down to Jeff Beck’s version of “Day In The Life” (a change from “Fanfare For The Common Man”, say, and a neat reference to both the Albert Hall and Stills’ debt to Beck in his soloing). The sound was muggy for the first few songs – the drums in particular a horrible cardboard thump – but it gradually cleared. Unfortunately this revealed that Stills’ voice is shot and that CSN’s live harmonies haven’t got any tighter since the late Sixties. We’re then on a merry-go-round. A couple of Crosby songs followed by a couple of Nash songs followed by a… you get the idea. Crosby comes out pretty well, always an interestingly different songwriter (apart from a dreadful reworking of “Triad”, sounding not unlike a bad 80s cop show theme). Nash, however (Brian Nash, according to the Guardian’s review), is just dreadful. Pompous, pretentious, unpleasantly nasal and off the cliché-ometer lyrically. “Military Madness” and “Cathedral” haven’t improved over the years. A new song, “Burning For The Buddha” is as dreadful as its title.

Pretty much all the fun comes from Stills, launching himself without a safety net into solo after solo. “Bluebird”, the old Springfield chestnut, was dusted off and sent into the stratosphere, all trem-bar swoops and harmonics. It was outrageously good, Stills got a standing ovation, and I was given the will to stay to the end. On “Treetop Flyer” he walked around the stage playing the most beautifully liquid blues fills, nods to Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon” one minute, to BB King the next, before dashing back to the mike to sing another laconic verse of his paean to Vietnam Vets turned drug smugglers. His solos in “Almost Cut My Hair” were equally good, spurred on by Crosby’s impassioned singing.
Why are band logo's so bad? It’s as if they’ve asked Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer to design them. Oh, and only £2 for CS&N rolling papers…

Why are band logo’s so bad? It’s as if they’ve asked Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer to design them. Oh, and only £2 for CS&N rolling papers…

Finally came the encore of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” – all over the shop, but made good by Stills’ channeling Davy Graham for a raga-infused breakdown in the middle. I left the Hall strangely gloomy, wondering if I expected too much.

Five Things: Wednesday 2nd October

Lick The Stamp, Jack!


Seeing this just-released stamp of Ray, here paired with an earlier release of Johnny Cash, sent me back to a tape given to me by Bob Wray in Muscle Shoals. Bob (Member of the Third Great Rick Hall Rhythm Section, and a wonderful bassist) was playing on a Ray Charles album. Johnny Cash dropped by the studio and they started playing a Kris Kristofferson song that they both knew, “Why Me, Lord”. Bob described Ray getting so into it as he ripped out a solo on the old beige Wurlitzer that the piano started to jerk across the studio floor, almost crashing over. Just listen to Ray’s stubby intro, heightened by the bass drum, followed by the band dropping right in behind JC. Off the cuff and probably better than anything that made the album. [You can hear it on the music player at the right of the page]

There’s An Owl In The Background
Neil Brand interviewing Angelo Badalamenti about David Lynch in the wonderful Sound of Cinema: The Music that Made the Movies: One day in 1989 the pair sat down at Badalamenti’s piano and, in a single take, wrote the theme for a groundbreaking new television series. Badalamenti tells the story: David comes in and says, “Angelo!” – now we’re pals, you know – and he says, “We’re in a dark wood”, and I’m going like… [plays a pulsing two-chord pattern on the keyboard].

“No, Angelo, those are beautiful notes, but can you do ’em slower?”

“Oh, OK.” [It’s starting to feel closer to the theme we know].

“No, Angelo, slower”.

“David, if I play ’em any slower I’m gonna play in reverse”. (laughs) [He plays what is now recognisable as the opening to Twin Peaks].

“OK, Angelo, now there’s a girl named Laura Palmer, she’s a very troubled teenager and she’s in the dark woods, and she’s coming out from behind the trees. She’s very beautiful, too… give me something that’s her”. [The crepuscular sequence of climbing notes start].

“That’s it, Angelo, now let it build…”

“ ’Cause she’s coming closer, and she’s so troubled”. [Badalamenti plays a string pad behind the piano melody]

“And she’s got tears in her eyes, Angelo, it’s so sad, now reach a climax… that’s it, just keep it going, beautiful, beautiful. Now start coming down, but fall slowly, down, down, that’s it, that’s it, quietly. Now, Angelo, go back into the dark woods, and stay there. There’s an owl in the background…” [the strings disappear and fade].

“Angelo – you just wrote Twin Peaks…”

Kanye West sings “Bound 2” with Charlie Wilson from The Gap Band. I remember when people protested at pop stars when they compared themselves to God or Christ, but I guess there’s so much stuff out there now that no-one bothers. Kanye’s crucified pose at the climax of this song was kind of stupid, but the song itself – fantastic. Built on the back of “Bound”, by the sensationally named Ponderosa Twins Plus One – taking just the intro – and samples of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s”, it’s a highlight track of Yeesus, and could, quite possibly, be your entry point to this great album. He seems a miserable bugger, though. Oh, and mention, too, of Lorde, New Zealand teen sensation! Precocious, or what? Mannered but mature, and a sure, sure sense of melody, pitching her sultry voice against a choir and a synth bass. Real Name: Ella Yelich-O’Connor. As of July 2013, a Year Twelve student at Takapuna Grammar School. God knows how good she could get to be.

The Artangel installation of Daniel Silver’s Dig at the old Odeon site on Grafton Way, just off Tottenham Court Road, is fantastic. This musical set of dancing figures, amidst the

DigDead“recovered’ statues of Freud and Darwin, caught my eye. As, later that day, did this bottle of Grateful Dead wine. Tasting notes will follow anon (apparently the Rolling Stones 40 Licks offering is not up to much, but the guy at Gerry’s told me this was a proper bottle of wine).

The Man With The Bullwhip Speaks, Finally
Sorry it’s more Bob stuff, but Rick emails me this fascinating story about Victor Maymudes, Dylan’s righthand man in the ’60s. This short film is part of a pitch, and his son is now working on a manuscript taken from hours of interviews done in 2000.

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