Five Things: Wednesday, 28th May

Hal Blaine
In donating to Denny Tedesco’s Kickstarter campaign to get his Wrecking Crew documentary released, my treat, or reward, is a copy of Hal Blaine’s biography, which is fascinating, if plagued by the weaknesses of a self-published book: terrible proofreading, a fair amount of repetition and the kind of stuff an editor might ask (like – where’s the chapter about recording Bridge Over Troubled Water?). All that notwithstanding, it’s full of interesting detail on the man who, as Richard Williams wrote, “…virtually created a style by himself and became an elder statesman among West Coast session percussionists”. Here’s one of my favorite details: “Phil Spector is the only producer I’ve ever known who always had an extra 2-track recorder running constantly from the beginning of every session. Everything said or played went on tape, and it was quite a trick. Musicians often walk into the studio cold and start warming up in their own way before the tracking begins. They come up with strange riffs, and when asked what they’ve played they never remember. Not so at Phil’s sessions. He would ask, play back the lick and say, ‘Remember that, I want it on the front of the bridge’. Phil would pick out the nuggets he wanted and by playing them back, make them history (so many musicians play incredible warm-ups and never know it).” See the music player on the right for Hal live with S&G.

Eric Yahnker, Sticks & Drones, Paradise Row Gallery, Newman Street
Cactus Guitar/Bizarre Ferlin Husky-Mariah Carey interface/Obama watches Miley on wrecking ball through White House window. (click to enlarge).


Daniel Lanois, The Barbican, Monday
From the opening two songs, both played solo on the pedal steel that sits towards the back of the stage, I start to anticipate a great gig. As clouds of distortion weave around the edges of the theatre, parting to reveal a clear shaft of melodic sunlight, I remember what I always loved about Lanois’ sound. Like a curdled, clotted version of Red Rhodes, he’s the master of the almost-resolved filigree, of the blur coming into focus, of a heavenly melody. As the last notes die away in a swoosh and buzz someone in the audience shouts “Turn the volume down!” And it all goes a bit south from there. “I’ll do whatever you want if you come up on stage. Otherwise I’ll see you after the show…” He straps on his gold top Les Paul and, although there are flashes of brilliance, he’s just not a very interesting songwriter and a fairly woeful lyricist. And despite great bass and drums from Steven Nistor and Jim Wilson it doesn’t really catch fire for me, especially when Emmylou Harris comes on to play Wrecking Ball. The problem of playing one album in sequence, especially one that is so locked in to a particular sonic palette is that there’s almost no room for the music to breathe, and it’s not helped by Emmylou’s unvarying approach to each song. I’ve never really warmed to any of her records and I finally realised why – I find her voice unyielding and somehow lacking warmth, warmth that her duet partners, be they Dylan, Earle or Parsons, bring in spades. I felt bad that I didn’t enjoy it more.

From Our Woodstock Correspondent
John Cuneo writes: Having a bunch of colleagues over tomorrow, and they’ll all have to drive through town while this is going on. Such a goofy place this is… “It takes a lot to laugh, it may take seven hours of lip-synching Bob Dylan for Linda Montano to cry. The performance artist, known for her endurance pieces, will be impersonating the former Robert Zimmerman atop a 14-foot lift in front of the Kleinert/James Art Center in Woodstock on May 24 from noon to 7 pm in honor of Dylan’s 73rd birthday. The Dylan endurance outside the Kleinert/James stems from Montano’s realization that her family members look like Bob Dylan. She adopted the Dylan persona in order to “be like my brothers, having always wanted to be a man as a child—knowing that they were always getting the better cultural deal,” she says. Montano’s interest in Dylan, and other historical figures whom she has portrayed, like Mother Theresa, are intricately linked to her investigations of the blurred boundaries and interconnections between art and life: between being, having been, and wanting to be—not be anything at all. Here’s Linda Mary Montano posing as a young Bob Dylan. New York City, 1989.


Only just caught up with this…
…“Royals” cover in Lorde’s home town. Bruce adds a judicious ”fucking” into “Every song’s like, Gold Teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom…” and changes ”We crave a different kind of buzz” to “kind of love”, Queen Bee to King Bee (nice Muddy Waters link there) and generally gives it a bang-up performance.


Five Things Extra! Iceland

Iceland, Early May
The size of England, the population of Bromley. And 90% live in one city, Reykjavik. So we set off to the wilds and discover many an isolated church (all with harmoniums), beer made from icebergs and the cafe where the cover of John Grants’ Pale Green Ghosts was shot.

1 Airport Liquor Store/Strange cafe menu
Bjork, of course, means Birch.


2 Harmonium in a house at the Icelandic Folk Museum
Right next to the extraordinary Skogafoss waterfall. Tourism is great in Iceland. At most sites of natural beauty they put some wooden posts in the ground to denote a car park. That’s it. No toilets, wastebins (take it with you, folks!), concessions, ticket booths. Then you’re free to wander into the waterfall. Health and Safety, you say? Nei. btw, the harmonium worked perfectly, sounded great.


3 Violin Workshop, Reykjavik
A wall of violins (with a Pinocchio puppet, too) hang just out of shot in this rather lovely glass-fronted work space.


4 Dyngja guesthouse, Höfn
Höfn is on the eastern edge of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have full access to Sergio Mendes records, as we discovered when the hotel owner’s son gave us the keys and pointed out this stereogram and his dad’s 70’s record collection, and left us to our own devices. Fuelled by langoustines and glacial beer we disturbed the sleep of the other occupants of the guesthouse with a hit parade consisting of Boston (“More Than A Feeling”), Arlo Guthrie, Stan Getz, America (“Horse With No Name” from History, worst album cover illustration ever), and, of course, Brasil ’66, getting us in the mood for this summer.


5 Stunning modern nautical church, Stykkishólmur, Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Featuring an unbelievable new organ. Sadly not heard.


And finally…
back in Reykjavik, to the Mokka-Kaffi, serving espresso since 1958, and lately location to John Grant’s album cover. They’re so cool that they don’t even have a copy of the album anywhere, and our internet was patchy so we couldn’t even google a copy of it. I was rather annoyingly insisting we recreate it, so we had to wait until a table was free and rely on my flawed memory. Marcel did an excellent job getting the right feel with Hipstamatic, though.

I-Mokka copy


Five Things: Wednesday 21st May

Happy Valley, BBC1
There’s little music used in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley that doesn’t come from a car radio, so most of Sarah Lancashire’s performance as police sergeant Catherine Cawood doesn’t have the aid of the emotional lift that is liberally doused over most drama on tv or film. There’s no telegraphing prompts, or swelling string pads but, hey, they’re not required. It’s an astonishing portrayal that holds the centre of this really superior policier. The range of thought that flickers across her face in conversations – talking about one thing, realising something else – make it one of the great performances of recent years and puts most showy big-name stuff to shame. The high level of acting, fantastic script and great direction from Euros Lyn (Welsh director of Sherlock) make this a must see.

And Jake Bugg’s “Trouble Town”…
…works pretty well as Happy Valley’s theme. There’s a run on Bugg at the moment: British Airways’ current ad uses one of his, as did the coverage of The Great Manchester Run last weekend. “Trouble Town” feels right for the Yorkshire-set series, although it has the problem of all Jake Bugg songs – it sounds entirely unoriginal (this one owes its biggest debt to “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”).

I catch a half hour of Eurovision
…luckily the bit featuring a favourite actor, Pilou Asbaek, who is one of the hosts. Weird. Imagine Michael Fassbinder or Chiwetel Ejiofor agreeing to host – he’s that kind of actor. He’s terrific in the Danish film, A Hijacking, as the cook aboard a freighter that is boarded by Somalian pirates. It’s the non-Hollywood version of Captain Phillips. Anyway, I turn on in time for his guided tour of the Eurovision Hall Of Fame, a rather great spoof, all appalling costume displays and dry ice, and topped by Ireland’s Johnny Logan pretending to be his own waxwork in a totally Lynchian scene…

Canal Boat Barbeque, Middlesex Filter Beds, Hackney Cut
Walking past a group of boats on the Lea River, an unexpected piece of music wafts from a radio: Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther Theme. Plas Johnson’s sax sashays through the warm summer air before Shelly Manne’s cymbal and the horn section open it out. Seemed an entirely perfect piece of music to go along with the mellow mood. “Originally played in the key of E minor, it is noted for its quirky, unusual use of chromaticism which is derived from the Hungarian minor scale (gypsy/romani scale) with raised 4th and 7th degrees.” – Wikipedia

Neil Young talks to his mother in heaven about his father, weather forecasting and his missing collaborator, Ben Keith
Recording his latest album, A Letter Home, in Jack White’s Phono-recording booth (see the Jimmy Fallon clips here), Neil prefaces the session with this message. The album is interesting, but I increasingly find a little Neil goes a long way.

Food Song List, Vappiano’s, Bankside


Five Things: Wednesday 14th May

In The Bluegrass State…
…although it has to be said that a huge glass conservatory on the side of a Kensington Hotel is not the most perfect venue for the Governor to extoll Kentucky’s virtues. When I think of Kentucky I think of wood: bourbon barrels and archtop mandolins, so a trick missed there. But it was nice to hear a convincing bluegrass band, although they hail from Penzance rather than Pine Ridge, in the shape of Flats & Sharps (get the Flatt & Scruggs reference there?). They played a committed set for the assembled throng of travel industry types, but the high point was when the Governor and his guest, the US Ambassador, got up to sing “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”. The band played it at a cracking lick, all keening voices and frailing hands, then realised that their distinguished guests didn’t quite, er, have the lyrics down. So they leapt into the breach and papered over the cracks, much to the amusement of all who knew the words backwards.

Flats & Sharps

Come Gather Round, People…
Dorian Lynskey wrote a nice piece in The Guardian about Merry Clayton and the re-release of Dylan’s Gospel that contained some really interesting asides: Every word of her version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is wrenching and magnificent. You can hear the same intensity in her volcanic 1971 version of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and in her transformative, apocalyptic performance on “Gimme Shelter”. When the pregnant singer was summoned, at the last minute, to join the Stones one night in autumn 1969, she was in her pink silk pyjamas and simply threw on a mink coat for the session. “I really don’t want to go to this session because it’s 11.30 at night,” she says, warming to the anecdote. “I refuse to get dressed. At the studio I’m reading over the lyric and I’m saying, Rape? Murder? Honey what does this mean? They gave me the gist of it. I just interpreted it the way I felt it.…”

Clayton’s faith in the political messages her voice could convey to listeners was so immense that in 1974 she sang on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s controversial “Sweet Home Alabama”, a song she actively disagreed with. Approached by fellow backing singer Clydie King, she agreed on one condition. “I said we’re going to sing the crap out of this song. They have the nerve to sing Sweet Home Alabama! That’s the white interpretation of Alabama. It’s not sweet home to black people! It’s not sweet home at all. We’re going to sing it like a protest song. We were singing it through our teeth, like we were really angry: We’re going to sing your song, honey, but not because we want to – because it’s necessary.”

Kasabian Shock! They’re Better Now, But Not By Much…
Happy to learn that Caspar Llewellyn Smith had same opinion about Kasabian as me, but worried that he’s given them too much credit for their new album: “The first time I meet Sergio Pizzorno, the thin-as-a-rake, bearded-and-black-leathered guitarist from Kasabian, I tell him how terrible his band is. My memory of the occasion is hazy, but the following morning I wake up remembering one part of what was mostly a monologue.
Pizzorno: “No, man, it’s good – I appreciate you being straight with us. I’ve never understood why the broadsheet press don’t seem to like us.”
Me: “In that case [feeling triumphant], I will tell you!” Cue a long, finger-jabbing rant, in which I hold the band solely responsible for every failure of contemporary rock’n’roll. So it is a credit to Pizzorno’s good-naturedness that, six months later, I am sitting in the kitchen of his well-appointed house on the fringes of Leicester, responding to the question of how many sugars I’d like in my tea.”
However, the piece has the extraordinary title, a quote from ’ol Sergio, “We’re trying to create a new musical language”. As ever (sucker for punishment, me) I track down the videos and their Jools Holland performance. Their claim is not borne out by either. The songs are catchier, but the melodies extremely second hand, the vocals as weak as ever, shoddy lyrics and the band locked into a drum machine-driven Madchester/Madness/Primal Scream groove.

John Deakin, Photographer’s Gallery

Fascinating portrait of literary, bohemian, painterly Soho in the 50s and early 60s. I always think of music when I think of Soho, but the lone photo of musicians is of Humph at Ronnie Scotts. I guess that Deakin just wasn’t as drawn to the musicians as he was to the other ne’er-do-wells.

More Dylan’s Gospel
Dylan GospelI remember buying this album (it’s still in storage somewhere) mainly because I liked the cover. From Lynskey’s piece: And what did Dylan make of his gospel makeover? Adler can’t say because, surprisingly, they’ve never met, despite having many mutual friends. “What’s ironic is that we both have 12-year-olds who hang out together,” he says. “The other night I was going over to Bob Dylan’s house to pick up my son but I still didn’t see him. So I’ve never known his reaction.”

Five Things: Wednesday 7th May

Friedlander & Hinton
Beautiful photographs, flagged up by Bob Gumpert. The Milt Hinton shot of the jazz banjoist Danny Barker and Dizzy Gillespie, asleep while travelling, is just wondrous, and the framing of Louis Keppard by Lee Friedlander in front of a ruched curtain is terrific. And I’m certain that the tall guy on the right, holding the umbrella, in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band 1959 photo is Sam Charters. Some of Friedlander’s shots appeared in Like A One Eyed Cat (title courtesy of Big Joe Turner’s signature song “Shake, Rattle and Roll”). Now to find my copy…

Young Tuxedo Brass Band, 1959

Money doesn’t talk. When it comes to “transformative rock anthems”, it swears…
Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to “Like A Rolling Stone” are set to be auctioned off this summer. As Rolling Stone reports, Sotheby’s are expecting to receive bids of more than $1 million when the handwritten draft of the words to Dylan’s 1965 track go on sale on June 24. Sotheby’s described the item as “the only known surviving draft of the final lyrics for this transformative rock anthem”, and revealed that the papers also include other possible lyrics which Dylan did not include in the final version of the song. The letter includes the phrase “Dry vermouth/You’ll tell the truth” and also has the name of notorious gangster Al Capone scribbled in the margin. Lyrics from Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” will also go under the hammer as part of the auction, and are expected to sell for between $400,000 and $600,000.

Check it out…
Ace Records has released Let The Music Play: Black America Sings Bacharach and David. “This 24-track compilation follows similar releases for Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding, and draws from the halcyon period between 1962 and 1975. For much of that period, Bacharach and David’s songs were rarely far from the top of the pop and R&B charts. As per Ace’s custom, the set includes both the familiar hits (few) and the lesser-known tracks (many). Let the Music Play features a 20-page booklet with lavish illustrations and detailed track-by-track notes from compiler/producer Tony Rounce. Duncan Cowell has superbly remastered all 24 songs.”

Swamp this and swamp that: Tony Joe White news
Watching a celebration of Muscle Shoals at the Barbican some years back, an under-rehearsed and sorta sketchy affair was lent some heft by the appearance of Tony Joe, playing his signature swamp rock blues, mostly solo. I’ve written before about his 1971 Albert Hall show (“In the middle of his set supporting Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tony Joe White stepped up to the mic and introduced his band: two of the Dixie Flyers (Mike Utley on organ and Sammy Creason on drums) and – on bass, ladies and gentlemen – the legendary ‘Duck’ Dunn, Memphis maestro (Booker T, Otis, Eddie, Wilson). Not content with Duck’s luminous, numinous credits, Tony Joe informed the audience that we had a Champion in the house (my memory fails me with the precise details, but it was something like All-State Tennessee Hall of Fame Champion). Yes a Champion of… the YoYo. And there, on the stage of The Royal Albert Hall, ‘Duck’ Walked The Dog… he Hopped The Fence… he went Around The World… he Looped The Loop… and 5,000 people whooped for joy, as they gave him a standing ovation.”)

Now, it seems, a show on that tour was taped. Rhino Records press release: “Before his song “Polk Salad Annie” went Top 10 in 1969, Tony Joe White learned to how to put on a good show as a survival skill while paying his dues in some of Texas and Louisiana’s roughest honky-tonks. His hit led to a U.S. tour where unsuspecting audiences were mesmerized by the guitarist’s fiery performances and his frenzied command of the whomper stomper (aka wah-wah pedal). Rhino Handmade preserves an unreleased 1971 live album with That On The Road Look, which finds White locked in watertight with his longtime drummer Sammy Creason and keyboardist Michael Utley along with legendary bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Thought to be a rumor for the longest time, not much is known about this unreleased treasure, including the exact location where it was recorded. Writing in the album’s liner notes, Ben Vaughn says: “What we have here is Exhibit A, proof that the self-named Swamp Fox was a bona fide barnstormer. Or barnburner. Or both. When you cue up this disc, Tony Joe and his three-piece band are already in fourth gear. Later for that lazy, laid-back vibe. What we have here is a sense of purpose.” As for the origin of the album, White believes it could have been recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London. White recalls the tour vividly in the liner notes: “Creedence tried to burn us down and we tried to burn them down, ’cause they were goin’ around, “Swamp this and swamp that”, and ol’ Duck and me was real tight – we were fishin’ buddies and we got talkin’ one night, and he told ’em, ‘You know, Fogerty, there ain’t no alligators in Berkeley.’ From then on, it was war every night onstage.”

Love Marilyn
Had no great hopes for an HBO Monroe film created from recently found journals, but it’s riveting. Well directed by Liz Garbus, the idea of having actors read and act the quotations actually comes off. Oliver Platt is especially good reading Billy Wilder, and among many others Jennifer Ehle (remember The Camomile Lawn?) is excellent reading MM’s journal excerpts. Really strong library interviews are counterpointed with Monroe’s viewpoint and the picture and film research are really strong. The incidental music (take a bow, Bonnie Greenberg) is nicely chosen and the film draws to an end with a bewitching and gauzy version of “All Of Me” by, unexpectedly, Ani DiFranco. Bizarrely, the whole film is on YouTube, with the song at around 1hr 36.

Five Things: Wednesday 1st May

Steve And Steve
Really enjoyed listening to Steve Forbert at Bush Hall, lots of interaction with the audience (very good backing vox from left of us) and a pleasure to hear his idiosyncratic and unique vocal/guitar action. My only complaint was that he didn’t play his great “It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way”, a song that seems to have been written by a much older person (Miche said, watching the clip, that he seems like an old soul). As we left my friend Steve came up with a brilliant BBC4 Documentary idea: The New Dylans – Where Are They Now? You’d know about the obvious ones, Steve and John Prine and Bruce and Loudon, but what about Elliot Murphy, eh? Speaking of Bob, exciting news that two of his finest guitarristas, Larry Campbell and David Bromberg, are coming to Bush Hall later in the year as a duo. Larry was the sonic structuralist in Dylan’s great touring band of 1997-2004, anchoring the melodies of the songs with his awesomely precise picking. As well, Larry plays great cittern (hear it on “Sugar Baby”) and violin (on “Cross The Green Mountain”), and was MD and producer of Levon Helm’s last band. And David Bromberg puts down his violin restoring to join him, just after we were reminded of his nimble brilliance by the Self Portrait re-issue.

David’s comment on last week’s post prompts me to find this…
“Martin, Not apropos of anything but last Sunday I was at an Antique Fair in Lostwithiel, Cornwall and there was a bookseller with some EPs for sale and as I looked though I couldn’t resist buying a Decca EP DFE6286 by Ken Colyer’s Skiffle Group singing “Take This Hammer”, “Down By The Riverside”, “Go Down Old Hannah” and “Streamline Train” for the sum of £1.66 which was recorded on 28th July 1955 which just happens to have been my 10th birthday. The odd sum is because I also bought a King Oliver EP and another of the MJQ with a very cool photo making it three for a fiver. David”


My father’s autographed programme, MJQ concert, sometime in the 50s. Not sure how cool this photo is, but the type is great…

On its own, it’s number 8…
Gary Calton has made three lovely short films about Britain’s social clubs while on assignment fot the Indy. The first animates Gary’s stills to give the film a really interesting feel. The bingo caller in the second sounds like Graham Fellows’ great musical creation, John Shuttleworth – “Those Legs Eleven. Thank you, whistlers!” Oh, and Jonny Rich sings the hell out of ”Sweet Caroline”.

GunsmokeGunsmoke Blues. Interesting. Have ordered.
From Big O: “While surfing the web we came across this DVD that had so far escaped our attention. This 60-minute concert featured the talents of blues greats Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith. We’ll let Steven I. Ramm tell the story: “In 1971, a team of blues fans, who just happened to be cameramen for television westerns (yes, Including CBS’ “Gunsmoke”), had a few days off and headed to Eugene, Oregon to catch – and film – the all-star blues tour headed by Muddy Waters with Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner and the lesser-known George “Harmonica” Smith. They captured the concert on 16 mm film (so don’t expect hi-def here) and, just as important, got to travel in the car with Waters, Thornton and Turner. In 2004 this material was compiled by producer Toby Byron (who made the wonderful “Masters of American Music” series for PBS) and it was released by Universal.”

 Wayne Cochran. Be Afraid.
Words fail. Jaco Pastorius got his start in this band, and whoever is on bass here is doing the groove proud.

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