Five Things: Wednesday 25th June

My two favourite bits of ephemera found on the web this week
Roxy Music small ad in the Music Press. Those were the days. I think the pic on the right was an album cover, but I’m not sure. Whatever, top marks!

Horseless Headmen, The Harrison


Forty five minutes of improvised fabulousness: with added drummer, Tom Atherton, who imbued proceedings with a mighty roar that still allowed the terrific Nick Cash (regular drummer) to decorate and amplify the noise with bells, bike chains and upturned water dispensers. Guitarist G Painting seemed to be initiating the proceedings this time round, alternating an almost metal attack with delicate and spiky Chinoiserie. Bassist Ivor Kallin was propulsive and gulping, and trombonist Paul Taylor’s organic rasp and great ear for a melody (he’d been playing along to Duke Ellington on the sound system before they started) added to the Headless mix. Sometimes it felt and sounded like they were building the Titanic in a tiny basement; at others, when they stroked a melody tenderly, like a warm bath.

Mavis Staples talking to Elon Green about recording The Weight for The Last Waltz, The New Yorker
Just an excerpt: “The Last Waltz was, as Helm wrote in his memoir, deemed “too lily-white and missing something crucial.” And so, not long after the show, the Staples Singers, a popular gospel group and old friends of the Band, performed “The Weight” on an M.G.M. soundstage in front of an audience of two hundred and fifty people. As the song finishes up, the camera settles on the Staples family—Roebuck (“Pops”), out of focus in the background, and his daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis. Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, “Beautiful.” Here is Mavis Staples’s memory of that session: “It was so beautiful to me. I was surprised that was caught on tape, you know, because I thought I was whispering. It wasn’t rehearsed to go like that. It was just a feeling that brought that on. The excitement of being with our friends—Levon and Danko and those guys were such good friends of ours—to be singing with them, and knowing that this is going to be on the big screen, the silver screen, it was just a moment in time for me…

Scorsese gave us all a break at one point, and everybody scattered. Levon was on his drums, still drumming. So Pops walked back there. “Hey, Levon!” Levon said, “Hey Roebuck!” And they talked a bit, and all of a sudden Pops realized that Levon was smokin’ two cigarettes. He said, “Levon, man, you’re smoking two cigarettes at a time?” And Levon held one of ’em up and said, “Oooooooh, Roebuck. You gotta try this one!” And that one was marijuana! Pops said, “Man, I don’t want none of that mess.” Daddy was so tickled. We talked about that forever

And I remember everything about it. I remember every moment that we had doing that. Pops said, “Mavis! Baby, you shouldn’t carry it out so long like that,” when I go, “Heeeyyyy yeeeeaaah.” And I said, “Nah, daddy, that’s the good part. That’s what I feel.” He said, “O.K., do what you feel. That’s the best thing. Do what you feel.”

Busking at Clapham, 1980s
Among Bob Mazzer’s pictures of the London underground during the 80s at the Howard Griffin Gallery I was drawn to this as Clapham Common was my local tube station then (this could be Clapham North or South, all three look alike). Doesn’t that seem like a proto-Jack White, down in the tube station at midnight? And I don’t think the guy singing is actually with the band…


Bob Dylan by artist Martin Creed, The Guardian
Jeff also gave me tapes, including a bootleg of the Bootleg Tapes (I think they mean the Basement Tapes – ed) that I still play. I have a lot of cassettes from that time and a car that plays tapes, so I still listen to Jeff’s bootleg when I’m driving. I love the Bootleg Series: those funny versions of songs often seem better than the official versions. They haven’t been cleaned up. I got into Bob Dylan, again, because of the 1997 album Time Out of Mind, which seemed like the start of a whole new thing. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful music, but also the funniest, most thoughtful and stupid music I could possibly imagine. It feels like it’s got everything in it, but without necessarily making sense. Things fly in from left, right and centre. There are different ideas, turns of phrase, beautiful pieces of music, catchy bits, but it’s mysterious and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t add up. One song, “Highlands”, is 15 minutes long and sounds as though he’s just making the story up as he goes along. It’s brilliant. It reminds me of something I’m told the painter Gerhard Richter once said: “I want my work to be stupid, like nature.”

Five Things: Wednesday, 18th June

I saw an advert for Steven Seagal’s Blues Band, Clapham Grand, July 25th
Tragically this is not a joke. We all remember Bruce Willis, don’t we? And YouTubing Steve confirms that he has the moolah to hire a good band and buy a bizarre snakeskin coat, and the chops to approximate a grunting blues/rock style allied to a very odd playing technique… but dear God, can you imagine two hours of it?

I learned how to make an EDM track in 5 minutes
Sad, but possibly true…

My ears pricked up…
…during Brazil v Croatia’s halftime break as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darlin’ be Home Soon” soundtracked a McDonalds Ad. Seems awful when songs you really like become used to hawk something. Written for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1967 film You’re a Big Boy Now, it’s possibly the only song ever to use the word “dawdled”.

I heard the best Rockabilly Busker ever, Tottenham Court Road Tube
Shaking his booty, chops to die for. As I walked past he seemed to be essaying a bit of Cliff Gallup crossed with Danny Gatton. He really had it all…


I bought Harvey Kubernick’s “Turn Up The Radio” in the gleaming new Foyles
There to hear Mark Kermode talk, it was nice to see a bookseller with faith in the Bricks and Mortar, and it reintroduced me to browsing the racks. It felt like the days when you could only get imported American books in Compendium at Camden Town, and I left with a list of things to go back and buy. Turn Up The Radio is terrific, both in words and pictures, and it sent me back to listen to Skip Battin’s album Skip, as Kim Fowley was the lyricist, and he features heavily in the book (it’s subtitled Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972 and is highly recommended for lovers of that time and place). Skip was a record I found in the mid-Seventies at the library in Theobald’s Road, which was obviously stocked by a connoisseur of LA Rock (unless the connoisseur was a customer who just asked the librarian to order in all kinds of strangeness). Whatever, I borrowed this album a lot at the time, mainly for a song I loved, called “The St. Louis Browns”, a strange retelling of the story of the Cleveland Browns baseball team and their relocation to St. Louis. While that still sounds great, the song I liked most as I listened again was the one in the music player on the right, “Captain Video”.




Five Things: Wednesday, 11th June

Lorde, Shepherd’s Bush Empire
It would be an exaggeration to say that one song brought me here, but not by much. That pop masterwork and critique of consumer rapping, “Royals”, is actually joined on the album by other good songs, and they all translate to the stage in a club/dance music fashion, with sub-sonic bass, crashing beats and synth string pads. The lighting is simple but effective and she’s not afraid to be minimal – some songs have very little safety net going on musically behind her. As Kitty Empire said in The Observer, “tonight’s gig sometimes has the atmosphere of a rave in an art gallery”. And even though at times it feels like a PA rather than a proper concert, with the banked backing vocals all flown in by the keyboardist, it’s seventy minutes of really enjoyable noise. Yes, I’m too old to be here among the mid-twenty-something couples that surround me, but what the hell. I actually like gigs where I don’t have a slavish devotion to the music – when I saw Mos Def at the same venue I only really knew the brilliant “Quiet Dog” from the album he was promoting, but it was a terrific show.


I was taken aback by how much the audience loved Lorde, howling like religious devotees every time she did her trademark hair toss, and screaming at the end of every song. She couldn’t stop saying how much playing the Empire meant to her (it’s certainly a change from playing to 50,000 people in Lisbon a few days earlier) and seemed genuinely delighted by the response. A nice cover of The Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party” quietens down the mood for a short spell but it soon vibes up again and by the time of “Team”, she’s added a gold cape and cannons fire paper squares (see above) in the air. Then she’s gone, no encore, with the crowd suddenly stilled, all hint of messianic fervor gone as they swarm out of the doors and on to the Green.

From a site Bob G recommends, two lovely 1977 photos
David Byrne, journalist Lisa Robinson, and Ramones manager Danny Fields in Paris, during the Talking Heads/Ramones European tour, 1977 and Iggy Pop photographed by Esther Friedman, The Idiot/Lust For Life era, West Berlin 1977.


Best Dancing Seen This Week
Sam Herring, Future Islands, “Seasons”, Letterman show. I’m essentially resistant to Future Islands brand of synth pop (I always listen to anything that Laura Barton mentions, but they left me cold). This, however, is kinda great. Patently sincere, equal parts Kevin Eldon, Joaquin Phoenix, and Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter, it elicited this excellent comment on YouTube: “Oh noes! he needs to stop!”

Very funny French Canadian film with a great central performance from Patrick Huard as David, father (by sperm donation) to 200 kids (remade as Delivery Man with Vince Vaughn for the US, apparently unsuccessfully). Recommended.
“David! What are you doing here? I spoke to the psychologist. He said he met you and you’re perfectly normal.”
“I told you so…”
“You’re not normal! I’ve known you 20 years. You’re not normal. How much did you lose in that scheme to import Cuban cigars?”
“The guy seemed like a legit businessman…”
“He walked around in a swimsuit! Who does business with a guy in a swimsuit? Make sure you mention you once paid $500 for one of Hall and Oates’ guitar picks.”
“When they die, it’ll be worth a fortune…”
“That won’t be for another 30 years! Besides, it’s Hall and Oates! They’d do a gig at a kids’ party for $500!”

Imelda May, Later
Catching up with a particularly drab edition of Later (Sharon Van Etten, Wild Beasts and Damien Jurado all vying for title of Dullest Four Minutes Of Music TV, 2014), headlined by Arcade Fire (David Byrne, get your lawyers! Sue Them!) the stand out for me was Imelda May, whose band of wonderfully-faced men created a lovingly noir-lit rockabilly blues to back her on “Gypsy In Me”. Darrell Higham’s guitar introduction was a thing of wonder, from the haunted feedback-and-whammy-bar start to the steely, rust-drenched trilling that set the stage for Imelda to strut upon. So often, this retro stuff just falls flat on its face, but she delivered a ramrod-straight performance that kept the tension up.


Five Things: Wednesday 4th June

Jane Bown Exhibition at King’s Place
A very nice, small exhibition of Jane’s work, in which I really liked this indirect portrait of Sinead O’Connor. I remember when I was at the Observer we were doing a piece on U2. To their credit, they asked if Jane could go to Dublin and photograph them. We were only too happy to send her, and she came back with shots of them together on the docks, and individually in a pub nearby. I had worked with Jane a fair bit at that time and I think I was the first person to ask her to try shooting in colour, for a series on estimable women in The Listener (in the interests of full disclosure it wasn’t my idea, but Russell Twisk’s, my editor). Anyway, I laid it out and used the four single shots because I thought that they were far better than the group shots. Jane, however, didn’t, and it took some time to be forgiven…


Will Birch writes about Nick Lowe’s (What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
A couple of excerpts: “Tune-wise, Lowe acknowledges the influence of Judee Sill and her ‘ginchy little lick’ in “Jesus Was A Cross Maker.” Never would have spotted that, but now Will mentions it… “In 1992 the song was covered by American musician Curtis Stigers for the soundtrack album to the hit movie The Bodyguard. It became the biggest selling soundtrack recording of all time, consequently earning Lowe considerable royalties, allowing him to work at a more elegant pace, but also enjoy artistic control of his subsequent music and retain his trusty road band. The song is still a permanent fixture in Lowe’s live shows. Sung at a slow tempo to acoustic guitar accompaniment, it has acquired an almost hymn-like quality and his attentive audiences listen in reverence. He recalls the song’s genesis: “I think I’d originally thought of it as being funny, because the old hippie thing, which I’d invested a lot of my time and energy into, had become a load of old bollocks. I had that poetic thing… ‘As I walk this wicked world, searching for light…’ I was doing it tongue in cheek, using those words. I thought it was a fantastic title, I couldn’t believe my luck. As long as that title popped up now and again it didn’t really matter what I sang about in between… ”

Really? No Spindle Trails? Then a bargain, I’d say…


I love the, uh, over-the-top listings of some items on ebay (this is heavily edited): “A TRULY STUNNING, 60 YEAR-OLD DISC WITH A FANTASTIC HERITAGE – EVERY COLLECTOR’S DREAM!! Wow!!! Recorded in February 1957 and issued in the UK shortly thereafter, this absolutely incredible LP from ALEX KORNER’S BREAKDOWN GROUP featuring CYRIL DAVIS (sic.) is one of the most important items in the history of British Blues!!! The LP was produced, in a run of just 99 copies in order to avoid liability to UK ‘Purchase Tax’, by the now legendary ‘Dobell’s Jazz Record Shop’ in London’s Soho region and issued on the store’s own 77 Records imprint. The LP finds Korner and Davies attempting to re-create the US Blues of LEADBELLY and MONTANA TAYLOR. As the title suggests, the recordings were captured at London’s Roundhouse; a Blues club established by Korner and Davies in 1956. The session was committed to tape by the late, great JOHN R T DAVIES and the finished sleeve benefits from hugely informative notes courtesy of CHARLES FOX. This incredible, 57 year-old gem came to me almost 20 years ago from DON SOLLASH; the son-in-law of DOUG DOBELL who owned the label!!! So, bid now to win this gem or, after the auction has ended, you can sit back in your chair and wonder how you managed to such a MONSTER BLUES RARITY pass you by!!! The classic dark green and white labels with gold and black print and DEEP RIDGE are in AS NEW condition; absolutely NO wear and NO spindle trails!!!

Seeing the Brooklynites on Later, and intrigued by the duo vocals fronting a rough and raucous band – stand up drummer, slightly out-of-control slide guitarist – bought the album. Best when they’re looser, less fun when they’re glossier and more produced, if they make it to album two it could get really good. Standout track to check out: “Go Home”. I like this slower sultrier version recorded at KEXP.

Led Zep advertising, Great Portland Street


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