Thursday, April 11th

This week brought with it the extraordinary last scene of Fleabag, played out to “This Feeling” by Alabama Shakes… “See, I’ve been having me a real hard time / But it feels so nice, to know I’m gonna be alright…” as well as a visit to the thought-provoking David Adjaye: Making Memory, at the Design Museum. If you have any interest in monumental architecture or type or civil rights or, who knows, the making of memorials, then try to see it [on ’til August 5th]. The typographical transcription of Martin Luther King’s last speech, which changes (as you listen and watch) the weight of the typefaces, based on the cadence and volume of King’s voice, is really something.

{STOP PRESS} ROCK ISLAND LINE
Billy Bragg’s documentary, directed by George Scott, is being shown tonight at 9pm on BBC4 (and thereafter on iPlayer). I haven’t seen it, though I helped in sourcing some images, but The Guardian’s preview found it “an admirably clear and unpretentious documentary by Billy Bragg, lauding the British skiffle craze of the 1950s for helping to usher in the pop revolution of the following decade. Bragg explains how one song, captured by US folk archivists and then associated with Lead Belly before being recorded by Lonnie Donegan, energised a new wave of performers for whom fighting racism was a major part of their drive to democratise popular music.”


{ONE} MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Shabaka Hutchings, improvising on the bass clarinet in church, for the Barbican Sessions. From the key drop at around two minutes via the skronking shreiks and the sound of the clarinet’s pads clattering, to the beautiful phrase that he finishes with, it’s totally hypnotic.

{TWO} IT’S ROCKUMENTARY TIME, PART ONE!
Free to Rock on Sky Arts had a terrific line-up of talking heads, including Jimmy Carter, Billy Joel and Mikhail Gorbachev. Best of all were the Russian musicians, all still dressed as if it were 1989. As one T-shirt said, “I’m only wearing black until they make something darker…”

My favourite story was this: “All we had were acoustic guitars, so we needed to make electric guitars. I had a friend who was a sailor who brought a Fender Guitar catalogue with the pictures, and even the factory drawings and dimensions. I saw for first time Fender Stratocaster, and I looked at that and I thought, God, what a beautiful thing… So I decided I’d get a piece of plywood and I carved the body, exactly the shape, but we couldn’t make the neck, so we took the acoustic Russian guitar, took off the neck and screwed it to that body. Then we needed a pickup! The one thing that the public telephone booth had is the magnets – when you talk –and they were perfect little magnets, so you have to break those public telephones, take those magnets, solder them. And it worked!” The deadpan on-screen caption tells us that, “shortly after, most phones in central Moscow were disabled by musicians making electric guitars…”

{THREE} WAYNE’S WORLD
Our friend Wayne’s first book was “Dedicated to…”, subtitled The forgotten friendships, hidden stories and lost loves found in second-hand books, a compilation of inscriptions found in said books. His new work is an even more fascinating concept – “Three Score & Ten: A Literary Journey Through Life” views the passage of time through the prism of literature. So the age of one through to seventy are illustrated by sections from great works, featuring one fictional male and one fictional female for each year, “in order to detail the minuscule changes wrought upon our bodies and minds as consciousness blooms, experiences accrue, hopes rise and fall, options expand and then retract.” An exhibition rather than a book (think of the rights clearances!) it’s at Burley Fisher books on Kingsland Road in Haggerston until May 1. It was so riveting we read every one.

{FOUR} ROOMFUL OF TEETH? ROOMFUL OF TEETH?
“Roomful of Teeth is a kind of lab experiment for the human voice. Its eight singers cover a five-octave range, from grunting lows to dog-whistle highs. Three have perfect pitch, all have classical training, and Wells has brought in a succession of experts to teach them a bewildering range of other techniques: alpine yodelling, Bulgarian belting, Persian Tahrir, and Inuit and Tuvan throat singing, among others. Because the group writes or commissions almost all of its pieces, it can create vocal effects that most singers would never attempt.” [They play Kings Place in May.]

This New Yorker piece was fascinating, and not only for its subject. It used a neat piece of web linking. Over certain phrases was a grey bar with a play arrow (see below) that triggers what is being described as you read it. Wild! I want to see if I can get this to work on 5 Things, but it’s undoubtedly ridiculously cutting-edge and expensive…

{FIVE} EXHIBITION CORNER!
I want to be in New York, now. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll has just started at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, as the blurb says, “it explores the instrumentation of the rock band and how individual artists used their instruments to create their unique sound.”

Some of the ephemera from the show: playful design frames Bob’s head, authentic Southern Soul-styled poster for The Stones; and 60s graphic gorgeousness for a leaping Townsend.

The holy relics include:
Chuck Berry’s Gibson ES-350T from 1957, which he toted as he duckwalked through “Johnny B. Goode”.
Sister Rosetta’s stunning Les Paul Custom (a white-with-three-gold-pickups SG).
James Jamerson’s upright bass, likely used on many early Motown hits.
Keith Emerson’s Hammond L-100 and his Customized Hammond “Tarkus” C3.
Ian McLagan’s lovely Wurlitzer 200.
Ray Manzarak’s Vox Continental with the reversed (Black/white) keys.
Paul Butterfield’s Hohner Trumpet Call harmonicas, as photographed for Better Days’ debut album cover.

Left to right: Paul Bigsby’s Solid-body No. 2 from 1948, an extraordinary, visionary design; The first Fender guitar – body-shape there, headstock not; Jeff Beck’s seriously road-worn Telecaster; and Prince’s Hohner Madcat, a Tele copy bought from a Minneapolis-area gas station for about $30 in the early 1970s, because the guitar’s leopard-patterned pickguard matched his strap and stage outfit.


The list goes on… Don Everly’s Gibson Southern Jumbo, Muddy Waters’ Telecaster, Louis Jordan’s sax, Jerry Lee Lewis’s gold piano, Brian Jones’ Mellotron, Ian Anderson’s flute, beautiful posters for the Fillmore by Bonnie MacLean. The exhibition will also include a sculpture made from what was left of one Pete Townshend’s Gibson SG Specials (set in lucite as if it were a Hirst) after he smashed it during an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot. There’s even a fragment of the “Monterey Pop” Stratocaster of Jimi Hendrix… Whether it can bring these objects alive I don’t know, but if anyone goes, let me know what you think…

{EXTRA} QUOTE OF THE WEEK
The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis on Georgio Moroder at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. “The highlights come when Moroder’s disco-era hits punch through the cabaret styling on “I Feel Love” and a version of “MacArthur Park” using a taped vocal by the late Donna Summer. Occasionally, Moroder explains their recording: “Donna said she wanted to make a sexy record,” he offers. “Then she did a moaning, and then another moaning”. Alas, the ensuing version of “Love to Love You Baby” that follows is truncated, even bowdlerised. None of the four vocalists are required to do a moaning.”

If you’re receiving the email out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full Five Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Comments

  1. Thank you for leading me to the Barbican website.

    Colston Willmott [aka bill smith]

  2. Loved the Shabaka Hutchings performance. I was trying to work out if the intermittent raising of his eyebrows marked when he was taking a breath. Assuming he actually took a breath, that is.
    And the musical links tool in the New Yorker piece is very cool. Every online record review and music book should have this.

  3. I did just got to see the Play It Loud show at the Met here in NY, and regret to say I found it disappointing. Mostly it’s walls of guitars behind glass, which of course can be interesting in itself for aesthetic value, but the whole presentation is a little too superficial and barebones.

    I guess I had high expectations, and my ideal would have been what I’ve seen at the pop/rock-related exhibits at the V&A in London: immersive and eye-catching displays, plenty of vintage footage and paraphernalia, thoroughly researched panels with detailed historical information, etc. Here it felt like I mostly got a guitar overload with some interesting background stories, and not much of a broader context (social, musical, technological, or otherwise), with a spare smattering of very brief video clips. The music selections playing throughout were OK, but quite predictable—they left me wishing curators had gone deeper and looked for interesting ways to integrate them into the show, without feeling like an afterthought.

    Sorry if all this sounds off-putting, but I guess I’ll need to avoid getting my hopes up next time.

    Having said all this, it was a thrill to see Cream’s hand-painted electric guitars, the Stones’ Mellotron, Keith Emerson’s Moog modular system, and a very cheeky printed add with Pete Townsend showing how to destroy his axe (with the actual, crumbled, resin-preserved instrument standing encased nearby).

    Hope all is well!

  4. Thanks, Gabriel, for that review. Now I’m wondering whether buy a ticket to NYC or not…

    • Do it! Besides, there is plenty to see & hear in NY (definitely more than 5 in a week). And I can take you out to a nice cuppa or to local delicacies to sweeten the deal?

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