Thursday, April 2nd. “Stemmons Freeway, Northbound…”

As Bob Dylan releases “Murder Most Foul”, an odd mixture of William McGonagall and his own “’Cross The Green Mountain” or his Theme Time Radio Hour narration with a side of “New Danville Girl”, here’s a song about the assassination of Kennedy that I recorded with Mark Pringle about 10 years ago. It was part of a project called Idols, with songs about Kennedy, Tony Blair, Brittany Spears, Buster Keaton and Richard Manuel.

Through this extraordinary period I’ll be uploading a song every few days with some recommendations of things that I’ve seen, or heard, or read, and liked, in the hope that you might, too. Play this one loud.

ONE. Best 43 seconds of percussion that I’ve seen this week… (thanks, Bob)

Two. An interesting piece on Richard Russell and XL records in the Guardian mentioned a tremendous documentary I watched a couple of months ago on Teddy Pendergrass, directed by Olivia Lichtenstein, called Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me. It’s beautifully made and includes some remarkable footage, as it tells the age-old story of rip-offs and talent gone to waste. Harold Melvin does not come out well. Alexis Petridis starts by talking about the suicide of Keith Flint of The Prodigy: Flint’s childhood was unhappy: he had depression and was addicted to painkillers. Russell: “But I don’t think anyone doesn’t have that side. It’s more a question of: ‘What are you doing about it?’ But Keith was doing 10k runs, he had horses.” He sighs. “When someone kills themselves, can’t help but feel – what if he’d waited 20 minutes? Or something else had happened?”After Flint’s death, Russell saw a documentary about the soul singer Teddy Pendergrass, who was left feeling suicidal after being paralysed in a car crash. His therapist staged a mock funeral, allowing Pendergrass to hear his friends and family’s eulogies. Realising how much he meant to them, Pendergrass decided to live. “I thought, ‘Fucking hell, I could imagine that working.’ If Keith could have witnessed what people said after his death, how they expressed themselves at his funeral, I think that would have had a huge impact on him.” I’m not sure how you can see it (I watched on Sky Arts), although it may be available on Amazon Prime.

Three. From Liam Noble’s excellent series, an alphabet of “Advice for Jazz Students” on his blog, Brother Face. “I apologise for the mock-heroic tone of all this. It’s a long-winded way of saying this: try tapping two hands on a table, observe the infinite variety possible with two strands of rhythm, two arms. I like it, it’s my favourite practice routine. I like to think it connects me to the world and its workings. A bus passes by outside, I don’t even see the number or where it’s going, and for me, its story ends as the back wheels leave the edge of the window frame. The driver, though, is still there in the picture, until the end of her shift. Someone, somewhere, will see that bus to the breakers’ yard finale of its useful life. Most of us will not see where those atoms go, but they will be back, perhaps in the soles of the shoes of the woman who walks the streets of your town in the morning mist.”

Four. Stewart Copeland’s Adventures in Music (available on the iPlayer). An open ambassador for all that he comes across, and like Gregory Porter, smart and totally engaged with the subject. Catch a transcendental visit to Wells Cathedral to understand the mechanics of choral polyphony, Kanye West collaborator Caroline Shaw on melody and the effect of the human voice (amazing), and the hypnotic polyrhythms of Gnawa music in Morocco.

Five. Rudeboy. “A film about the love affair between Jamaican and British Youth culture told through the prism of one the most iconic record labels in history, Trojan Records.” An absolute joy, exquisitely made by Nicolas Jack Davies. Available, I think on Sky on demand.

Thursday, February 27th

This week sees me engage with social media via the medium of Instagram. We’ll see how that plays out. I was on Twitter for a few weeks around an exhibition that we were putting on and it was by turns exhilarating (when you’d found something cute to post) and exhausting (when you hadn’t, and felt in danger of falling off the whole slippery platform…) I learned of Choral Dub this week, where you cross dub reggae with renaissance choral music (here for some examples). I remain agnostic. Lately, there’s been a few nice things about Jazz in Britain, but let’s start with an exhibition that has only a day to run in NYC.

{ONE} DANA, TUPAC & BIGGIE
There’s a great app called Art Passport, by GalleriesNow, that provides 3D walkarounds of shows on in art galleries the world over. At GRIMM, New York, until Feb 29th is Dana Lixenberg: American Images. Dana’s a great photographer who I almost got to work with (she came in with her portfolio one time, but I couldn’t find the right job in the right place). As Eyewitness News from ABC! says, “New exhibit in New York City gives rare glimpse into hip-hop royalty.” She made really interesting large-format images, very against the grain of the time, which was high-key and dynamic. Dana’s work was about a quieter, caught moment, or a slightly unsettling context (see Steely Dan outside a jail cell, for instance)

{TWO} CASS, MOON, TARA, & JOHN
Three interesting articles about the 60s and beyond.
a) The house in Mayfair where Keith Moon lived, and Mama Cass died, by Rob Baker at Flashbak. “It’s interesting to note that Mama Cass, a person who struggled with her weight nearly all her life, died from trying not to eat, with a heart fatally weakened by too many diets. Keith Moon, a man with a prodigious appetite for alcohol, died from an overdose of medicine prescribed in an attempt to stop him drinking.”
b) Tara Browne and the writing of The Beatles “A Day in the Life” by Kit Ward at These Islands. “Six months before his death, his doting mother arranged a lavish twenty-first birthday party for him at the family’s Gothic pile in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland. The Lovin’ Spoonful, his favourite group, were flown in from California to perform, a snip at $10,000. The Rolling Stones were all there but the Beatles had to pass as they were in the thick of recording the Revolver album. It was a druggy do. Mick Jagger took LSD for the first time, though he didn’t enjoy it, Anita Pallenberg remembered it as ‘all pretty heavy’ and Marianne Faithfull saw it as a kind of turning point for many of the party-goers: ‘the start of a quest for decadence among these people.’”
c) The Fascinating Life and Times of John van Hamersveld by Benito Vila at Please Kill Me (Thanks, Bob). On his sleeve design for Exile on Main Street: “Norman Seeff was there and over the weekend, he had shot The Stones in a Hollywood studio late at night. Keith showed up for the shoot totally high, pants half off, and falls, bringing down the whole set. It was a loss in a way because what they were going to do was take a set of stills and, now, what they have are pictures of the set crashing, a sequence in motion. I’m sitting at the table with Jagger; meanwhile, Keith is across the way with his mirror glasses on, really loaded. Keith takes his hands and puts them together, and then opens them up and says, “It should be like a postcard fold-out,” and then he falls to the floor. We take his postcard fold-out idea and that becomes the thing that was inside the album, what Jagger called the bags.”

{THREEa} KEN, BILL, BERYL & OUCH!
Richard sends me this hilarious paragraph from a Steve Voce piece in Jazz Journal, about Chris Barber: “In between that band and the Halcox/Sunshine group, of course, came the Ken Colyer band. Ken’s taciturn lack of ability to communicate was compensated for by his immensely voluble brother, also in the band and who, in the manner of a ventriloquist, did Ken’s talking and rivalled Beryl Bryden if not in size then in bad washboard playing…” And this week, my aunt gave me these three 78s from her record collection as a gift. Now, who’s got a 78rpm deck…5-lonnieken

{THREEb} LONNIE, CHRIS, ALEXIS, KEN & BJÖRN?
Loved this keen reminiscence by Björn Ulvaeus in the Guardian’s Farewell Europe issue, and wondered if Chris and Ken and Lonnie and Alexis had been a subtle influence on Abba! “For as long as I can remember, the Swedes have loved the UK. A one-way love? I don’t think so. I’ve always felt so incredibly welcome, ever since I had a summer job in an office at 1 New Oxford Street in London. I was 15, and the trad jazz clubs along Oxford Street were heaven for a small-town boy from Sweden.”

{FOUR} LAURIE, BENNY & TEDDY…
Another Jazz Journal piece has this affecting obituary of drummer Laurie Morgan, the first British jazzman to witness Bird live, by his son Simon. It includes this paragraph: “Here [at Club Eleven, Britain’s first modern-jazz club] in 1949, Benny Goodman’s pianist, Teddy Wilson, scouted Laurie to play London Palladium and possible European shows with the King of Swing. ‘Teddy chose me because I wore a beret and sunglasses’, laughed Laurie. ‘He thought I looked the typical modernist, and wanted some of that in the show. In fact, I was disguising a head injury I got diving into the Serpentine!’ However, the Musician’s Union stopped the 22-year-old drummer playing as his dues had lapsed.”

{FIVE} MARTIN, GIBSON, HARMONY & STELLA
I think that I need a copy of this, The Times 2019 Music Book of the Year, by John Stubbins. Mostly because it asks questions like this: Why did music written for the parlor guitar in the 1800s travel into the Delta? How did Spanish and Vastapol tuning sow the seed for Delta blues? How did a big band banjo player influence the modern finger style acoustic guitar. Why were German and Bohemian violin makers so important to the development of English beat music? It is, however, such an extraordinary labour of love, and so beautifully designed that it has a £200 price tag.

{EXTRA} SOPHIE, HEARTS & MINDS…
Sophie Ellis-Bextor for NHS Organ Donation.

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Wednesday, February 19th

Last week’s post was possibly a little bad-tempered and carping, so let’s start with something lovely I came across this week…

{ONE} “THE STARS HAVE TURNED CHERRY RED…”
Jenny Lewis takes on “Standing in the Doorway” with a string section and a fabulous guitarist. The full performance (here) made me buy her new record, On the Line. I liked her voice and songs in Rilo Kiley. I love them both now.

{TWO} I’M SURPRISED TO FIND MY MIND’S STILL FAIRLY SOUND… 
“I guess Nashville was the roughest / But I know I’ve said the same about them all. / We received our education / In the cities of the nation, me and Paul…”

One of the best autobiographical songs in popular music (up there with “The Ballad of John and Yoko” for me) is Willie Nelson’s “Me and Paul”, which details both the camaraderie and calamity of the relationship of Willie with his long-time drummer, Paul English. Mark and I caught Willie’s band at the Hammersmith Odeon sometime in the 80s, and what a rollicking outfit it was – English in his black gambler’s hat, studded with silver dollars, Mickey Raphael on outrageous harmonica, Willie channeling flamenco and Django on Trigger, and the Nashville legend that was Grady Martin on fluid electric guitar.

My favourite verse of “Me and Paul” is this…
“On a package show in Buffalo,
With us and Kitty Wells and Charlie Pride
The show was long, and we’re just sitting there,
And we’d come to play and not just for the ride
Well, we drank a lot of whiskey
So I don’t know if we went on that night at all
But I don’t think they even missed us
I guess Buffalo ain’t geared for me and Paul…”


From Rolling Stone: “Known for his tough but flamboyant style, English was not only Nelson’s drummer, but also his enforcer and de facto bodyguard. In a 2015 deep-dive feature for Oxford American, Joe Nick Patoski writes about the many times English engaged in fistfights on the road, often pulling the .22-caliber pistol he kept in his boot. Even without a gun in his hand, the towering English cut an imposing figure. Both onstage and off, he adopted the persona of “The Devil,” grooming menacing facial hair, dressing all in black, and sporting a satin cape that is currently enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s exhibit.”

{THREE} THE MAGNIFICENT LEYTON LADIES BAND
A photograph, taken in the 1890s, at the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow. 5 string banjos, Portugese mandolins, lovely peg-head Martin-style parlour guitars. It would be great to know what they sounded like, but maybe it’s enough to enjoy their strong look. I also picked up this book, produced by the William Morris Gallery, about a crucial period in British art and music (here, at Walthamstow School of Art) – Peter Blake taught Ian Dury there. And Dury said, “there are a couple of ways to avoid death — one is to be magnificent.” Which, as artistic credos go, is well, magnificent.

{FOUR} THE FABULOUS MAVIS…
A Q&A with Mavis Staples by Richard Scheinin, for San Francisco Jazz.
What about your father’s guitar? How would you describe the sound of his playing?
A: My father’s guitar was a different sound from any guitar. Pops, he learned from a blues guy, Charley Patton. He learned guitar from Charley. Pops, when he was a boy, they lived on the Dockery Farm (in Dockery, Mississippi) and Charley Patton was there. Howlin’ Wolf was there. But Pops, he told us about how he would hear this man playing the guitar, and he loved it so much. He was makin’ 10 cents a day, and he would take that dime to the hardware store where they were selling guitars, and he put it in the layaway. He got that little guitar, and he taught himself. But he liked Charley Patton’s style. And so after he was playing for maybe a couple of years, he went into the music store — this was in Chicago — and he saw this tremolo. He put the tremolo on the guitar and, you know, let me tell you — Elvis Presley told me one time, he says, “I like the way your father plays that guitar. He plays a nervous guitar.” (She laughs.) He said, “nervous.” I didn’t wanna tell him; it’s not nervous! That’s my father’s tremolo on that guitar!

{FIVE} REDISCOVERING THE JOY…
… of making Mix CDs for friends. Rick was over from NYC and we were talking about Bill Frisell, who Rick tries to see whenever he plays Rick and Liney’s favourite place, {Le} Poisson Rouge, a venue founded by musicians on the site of the old Village Gate in Greenwich Village. Bill F is so generous with his wonderful favours that he ends up collaborating across genres and styles. Rick hadn’t heard some of these, so I said I’d put together a CD of my favourites…

AND… EXTRA ITEM OF THE WEEK
From Popbitch: Bjork is assembling a full-scale replica of her childhood bathroom — down to the exact tiling pattern — in an attempt to recreate the sounds she heard when singing as a kid.

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A Catch up of Sorts…

Well, it’s been some time. To recap, I used to write something, most weeks, called Five Things I Saw and Heard This Week. Obviously, that’s not been the case lately. I know that at this point I’m a prize-winning dilettante, but really… I’m going to attempt to stick to a schedule in 2020 (and hoping that someone, somewhere is thinking of a song-by-song cover of the Beach Boys’ 20/20). So, on waking from falling asleep in the Second Quarter of the Super Bowl to see first Shakira, then J Lo, strutting their stuff terrifyingly (especially the outdated Jackson-era crotch-grabbing) I went to bed, only to miss the outrageously exciting end to the game. But I awoke and started writing a Bunch of Things as a kind of catch up, along with a few observations from the last few months of movie watching in anticipation of the Oscars.

{ONE} I’d like to personally thank Joe Biden for bringing the word Malarkey into the modern world. Trump brought Blowhard and Carpetbagger back, and Joe is making his linguistic pitch with his campaign slogan, painted on his campaign buses as they criss-cross Iowa — “Joe Biden: No Malarkey”. He once said to Paul Ryan that what he’d stated about Obama’s foreign policy was “a bunch of malarkey”. Something makes me feel that Joe doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the nation, or, possibly, anything. In more US politics news: the story that this New Yorker piece, “Impeachment by Day, Drum Solo by Night”, tells is just so weird…

{TWO} Sam Mendes’ 1917 was, for its first 45 minutes, exceptional. And then it got less and less exceptional as the Mendes traits of cliched storytelling and over-egged theatrical performances from stunt-cast stars (Firth, Cumberbatch, Scott) took its toll. The night time stuff looked like a video game, and the last scene with “Wooden” Richard Madden (as he’s known in our house) was the final straw. Of course, it won all the BAFTAs.

{THREE} I’ll watch Adam Driver in anything*, even a Kramer v Kramer for the New Twenties, Marriage Story, which was compelling, save for the two musical interludes courtesy of the Steven Sondheim songbook. Driver’s was in a New York bar, singing “Being Alive”, and Scarlett Johansson’s family performance of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” took place in Sunny SoCal. Both were strangely naff and slightly WTF. Apparently they “represent some of the finest interpretations of Sondheim ever seen on-screen, capturing the richness and emotion of the lyrics and, in recontextualising them, adding new meaning”, according to Little White Lies. I beg to differ. 

*I say that but I’ve just realised that I tested that theory to destruction with Jim Jarmusch’s dreadful The Dead Don’t Die, hands down the worst made, most narcoleptic, in-joke drivel I’ve ever (half) seen. 

{FOUR} Spoiler Alert: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has Quentin Tarantino’s signature use of music — finding the best 30 or 40 seconds of a song — intact. A great example is the Mamas and the Papas’ “Straight Shooter”, a proto-“Last Train to Clarksville” (they both use the same musicians, a few months apart). It has a great lick for the intro and then, after you hit the end of the first verse, becomes much less compelling. 

The same is true of “Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection from Reservoir Dogs, a fantastic first minute followed by a truly terrible mariachi chorus, where it goes major Torremolinos. The film — you know the Hollywood one I started talking about, that one — it’s awful. It meanders and tries to be funny, and not one section of it works as a satisfying part of an over-arching story. You won’t ever get that 160 minutes back. It used the same dopey trope as Yesterday, the “what if someone stopped the Manson gang on the night of August 8th” replacing “only a couple of people in the world knew the Beatles existed”. 

And the day after I watched it, browsing in Fopp, I bought Etta James’s first 5 albums bundled together for a fiver. A cursory listen revealed that “Seven Day Fool” from Second Time Around gets nominated for my “Should be Used in a Tarantino Film” music award. I’m also partial to her fantastic vamp over a spectacular arrangement on “One For My Baby (and One for the Road), also from Second Time Around. The way sings “One Mo-awwwww…” before the modulation is just fabulous. 

{FIVE} If you’re looking for something Tarantino-esqe, but good, then try Drew Goddard’s Bad Night at the El Royale, better written and more fun than Once Upon a Time, with a great ensemble cast (Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson) and a show-stealing turn from Cynthia Erivo as a nightclub singer. She’s an actor and singer — both totally convincingly. She’s up for an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. Another double threat is Jessie Buckley, who was, apart from Joaquin Phoenix, by some stretch the only reason to watch the BAFTAs. She sang a song from the film Wild Rose, “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)”. Before it, she said, “I woke up this morning and thought: I’m going to enjoy myself tonight. I’m doing the song with my beautiful friends Neil MacColl and Ben Nicholls. We’re sitting on a stool and we’re just going to give it laldy [Scottish for “thrashing”]. I’m just going to sing my socks off and really enjoy it. Life’s too short not to enjoy these things.” She did, indeed, sing her socks off.

Oh, and Parasite is the best fiction film that I’ve seen in the last year. Its nailing of character and plot by the tautest of dialogue is like an object lesson in nuance and style. Your sympathies and loyalties shift with each scene, you find out all you need to know with the deftest of strokes, and the film as a whole is beautifully played, directed and edited. 

{SIX} Show Me the Picture!

At the Elgar Room in the Royal Albert Hall, we see an early showing of a beautifully made (great footage, exceptional editing, wonderful soundtrack) documentary on the great San Francisco photographer, Jim Marshall. Q&A with director Alfred George Bailey and Marshall archive director Amelia Davis hosted by RBP’s own Barney Hoskyns. Highly recommended.

{SEVEN} For my birthday I was given the beautiful 50th-anniversary box of the remastered Band album. It is a fabulous thing. Leaving aside the usual complaint about price (£90) and the gouging of faithful fans who have bought this album in three formats over the years, listen to this alternate version of “Rag, Mama, Rag”. It’s looser than the released version (if such a thing is possible) and has an inimitable piano intro courtesy of Garth, no tuba and the slinky Richard Manuel groove that shouldn’t work, but does because of the counterpart of Levon’s chunky mandolin and Robbie’s taut guitar.


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Extra! A Christmas Song

Normally, at this point of the year, I’d post a cover of a traditional Christmas song that I like. This year, however, I couldn’t find something that I felt like doing, so I looked through my back catalogue (!) and found something Christmas-centric. Eight years on I finished it off. Featuring David Miles on bass, and a list of the randomest place names I could find (that rhymed), here is “(I’m Trying to Make it) Home for Christmas”.

Baby, I’m writing you, just to tell you that I love you,
And I’m really trying hard to come home for Christmas.
Baby, I’m trav’ling from the Eastside to the West
And it’s a long winter’s march to get back home for Christmas.
… and it’s cold outside

Oh I might be in Kyiv or Tuscumbia
Carmarthen or Nepal
Wherever the hell I am in this world
I’m trying to make it home for Christmas…
I’m trying to make it home for Christmas…

Baby, I’m calling you, just to tell you that I love you,
And I’m really trying hard to come home for Christmas

Well I might be in Dubai or Columbia
Kandahar or St. Paul
Wherever the hell I am on this earth
I’m trying to make it home for Christmas…
I’m trying to make it home for Christmas…

You can find the other Christmas Songs here.

Five Things, Sunday December 8th

{ONE} RIP EL TEL
One of the nicest people that I’ve ever worked with was Terry O’Neill, a genuinely good guy who’d come up through the press ranks and never regarded himself as anything more than a “smudger”, Fleet Street slang for (in those pre-paparazzi days) a news photographer. I sent Terry down a Cornish cliff to take a portrait of a rescued boy in a sea cave, not realising that at the time he was suffering with the inner-ear condition, Vertigo. No complaints – it took his assistant to tell me. When I saw Time’s obit, it took me back to the day in 1988 when he photographed Charlotte Rampling for The Sunday Times Manual of Photography – we’d hired another Fleet Street great, Michael Ward, to be a fly on the wall to document Terry’s technique. I’m just out of shot here, but I treasure Michael’s picture of me talking to Terry about Jazz (he had ambitions to be a drummer before he fell into photography).


{TWO} EARNEST. WEIRD. AND AWESOME.
From the always interesting Cover Me website, on versions of the songs on Court and Spark. This excerpt is about “Free Man in Paris”. I think it’s such a personal song, about a very particular person, that it makes no sense for anyone other than Joni to sing it, but I hadn’t reckoned with Neil Diamond.

“I felt unfettered and alive.” Has there ever been a better description of freedom in song? Its famed subject, Joni’s then-record label boss David Geffen, didn’t want it included on Court And Spark because of the allusion to his sexuality within the lyrics. While it’s a subtle reference, within a love letter of a song, that seems tame now, in the early ’70’s admissions like this were still regarded as career suicide, and that’s what the up-and-coming music biz star Geffen was concerned about. Of course, he acquiesced in the end, and the world was blessed with a song widely regarded as one of Joni’s true classics… There have been some pretty high-profile and entertaining covers of “Free Man,” especially the faithfully fabulous Elton John, the camp and vocally virtuosic Rufus Wainwright, and the off-kilter fun-shine of Sufjan Stevens. They are all great, but Neil Diamond’s unhinged disco-rock-Broadway version from a 1977 episode of Soundstage is so earnest, weird, and awesome, so far from the sound of the original, that it has to be both heard and seen to be believed.


{THREE} “HE’D LOVE TO COME UP AND PLAY THE PIANO WITH YOU…”
As Elton John’s biography, Me, was released, Wreckless Eric told this brilliant tale. “I’m mentioned in Elton John’s book”, it starts, quoting a passage: “One day I’d be perfectly happy at home, telling anyone who’d listen about how wonderful it was not being shackled to the old cycle of touring, delighting in the free time that allowed me to concentrate on being chairman of Watford FC. The next, I’d be on the phone to Stiff Records, a small independent label that was home to Ian Dury and Elvis Costello, offering my services on their upcoming package tour, which they accepted. My sudden urge to get in front of an audience again was bolstered by the fact that I had a crush on one of their artists, Wreckless Eric – sadly, he was nowhere near wreckless enough to get involved with someone like me.” 

Then Eric tells of what Elton meant to him, and how terrifying it was when he heard that Elton wanted to produce his next album… Read it here


{FOUR} HEY JOE, SMITH!
There was a wild interview by David Browne in Rolling Stone with Warner Brothers’ Joe Smith who died, aged 91, last Monday. Smith talked about signing and working with the Grateful Dead. Here’s an excerpt…

Was the band’s drug use a concern to you? No. It was the culture of San Francisco. I was in the Army and went to college. I said, “Now, this is the way it is — accept it.” I didn’t want to get involved with it. It was a funny relationship. They always said I would never understand their music until I dropped some acid. And I said, “No! I will not eat or breathe around you!” They were playing a club in New York on one of those 80-below-zero nights. After I went to dinner I went to the show and it was freezing and they were on a break, and Pigpen said, “Let me get you some coffee.”
I said, “No, I’ll get my own coffee.”
They once asked me, “Why don’t you invite us to your house?”
I said, “I don’t want you on my street!”
We weren’t best friends but we established a relationship. Garcia was a sensible, gentle guy. Bobby Weir, too. But I was dealing with lunatics, you have to understand. They drifted in and out of reality depending on the amount of acid they dropped at the time. It was, “We don’t want ads.” They wanted us to go up to [Golden Gate Park] and give out apples to the crowd. That was going to be the promotion.
What do you recall of the problematic making of their second album, Anthem of the Sun? They made the first album. I wasn’t thrilled with it. I said, “Whatever’s going on there isn’t coming out on the record, so we’ll do another one.” They wanted Dave Hassinger to produce because he had worked with the Stones. [The experience] was terrible. They were so undisciplined. You’re in the studio and the clock’s running. If you want to do this at home, go home and fuck around. But don’t do this at a recording session with all the equipment and engineers. Hassinger called me. I was in touch with him all the way. He was unhappy. They said, “We’ll go to L.A. on a smoggy day and record 30 minutes of desert air and that will be the rhythm track.” What?! They’re all looking at me and I said, “The union won’t let that happen.”
During those sessions, you wrote a notorious letter to the band in which you chastised them and particularly singled out Phil Lesh: “It’s apparent that nobody in your organization has enough influence over Phil Lesh to evoke anything resembling normal behavior.” He was so negative about everything. When I went to meet with the band, he tells me he was very sensitive. I had 60 artists to deal with. I had Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t waste all that time with Phil Lesh!

Smith authored a brilliant book, Off the Record, which used a Studs Terkel-like oral history approach, and is full of fascinating stuff. You can find it on Amazon for around £10 – it’s highly recommended.


{FIVE} SOME MORE RECOMMENDATIONS
1) A fascinating documentary on Earl “Fatha” Hines made in 1975 for the British tv channel, ATV, and shot by Chris Menges and Jimmy Dibling. Kudos to the commissioning editor on that one! Earl is fascinating on working with Armstrong fifty years before, and on how his own unique style developed. As the voiceover says, “What Hines enjoys is the excitement, the bravery, the risk, of jumping headfirst into a tune, and then – in public – having to work his way out again…”

2) If you like what Brittany Howard is doing on the 5 Things Playlist on the right, then here’s more – her NPR Tiny Desk Concert. This excellent series, where artists turn up at National Public Radio’s offices, set up and play, is one of the Internet’s more joyful sites. “Stay High” is a delight, for one number she plays a rather gorgeous Teisco guitar, and the band are having a whale of a time throughout. She’s touring next year. 

3) The Clash: London Calling, is a new free exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the classic album, that opened at the Museum Of London on November 15 and runs through spring 2020. Items on show will include Paul Simonon’s Fender Precision bass guitar that he can be seen smashing on London Calling’s cover and Joe Strummer’s typewriter. Exhibit note that I like best … “Topper Headon’s drum sticks, which are the only remaining items of Headon’s that remain from this time”.


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More than 5 Things, November 11th

It’s been a busy time recently, but Five Things returns this week with hopefully interesting items from far and wide. Trade Description Act requires that we are renamed this week as More Than 5 Things From the Past Couple of Months

{ONE} I DON’T BELIEVE IN YESTERDAY
We finally saw Yesterday, a film lacking in so many things – charisma and coherence being the main ones. I mean, I didn’t not enjoy it, in a lazy wet-Thursday-night kind of way, but the incongruities in the end suffocated any joy in the small moments. I excerpted a few bits from Rob Sheffield’s withering review for Rolling Stone when it came out, but here’s the link to the whole thing (if you can bear the appalling amounts of adverts that the RS site has…) “It’s not like a musical,” director Danny Boyle said. “You’re not just covering the Beatles’ songs but recovering them from the dustbin of memory and re-presenting them to the world.” Imagine: An adult in 2019 thinking it’s necessary to rescue the Beatles from “the dustbin of memory.”

{TWO} IF YOU EVER WONDERED…
what the Doctor Who theme would sound like if Ennio Morricone had arranged it, wonder no longer…

{THREE} IN AUCTION NEWS
The Auction World™ has gone beserk lately – you can’t move for music-historical items from houses to trousers being dangled before the world’s eyes. Here’s a few noteworthy items…
ONE “A vintage green cardigan sweater worn by Kurt Cobain during Nirvana’s appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1993. The Manhattan brand sweater is a blend of acrylic, mohair and Lycra with five-button closure (one button absent) with two exterior pockets, a burn hole and discolouration near left pocket and discolouration on right pocket. Size medium”. It made $334,000 at auction Saturday, establishing a new record for the most expensive sweater ever sold at auction. I’m not joking. For $6,000 more, you could have bought Cobain’s Fender hybrid Jag/stang guitar, which you could at least play.

TWO Bill Pagel admits that buying rock and roll property [in his case Dylan’s childhood home in Hibbing] is a twist with unusual challenges: “With a guitar, you can move it around. A house is just sort of stuck there. It’s not a portable collectible.” But neither he nor Lee Bacon (owner of Kurt Cobain’s family house), has plans to move in. Instead, they’re in the process of restoring their respective purchases to as much of their original conditions as possible. The country world has already entered this territory – one can tour Loretta Lynn’s or Johnny Cash’s childhood houses, for instance – and Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s boyhood homes in Liverpool are tourist attractions. But plans for the Dylan and Cobain residences could mark the start of a similar initiative here in the States to turn the homes of classic rock acts into tourist attractions. – from Rolling Stone.

THREE Lot #1 at Gotta Have Rock and Roll’s Auctions in a few days time: Michael Jackson’s socks… as the site says, “Motown 25” Stage-Worn for first-ever Moonwalk, Bill Whitten Custom Crystal socks, gifted to manager Frank DiLeo.” Pre-sale estimate? $1-$2million.

FOUR The things I’d have bought? A poster (with the Jackson Five way down at the bottom of the bill) for what looks like a cracking show – isn’t Sad Sam just the best name for a M.C. ever? And a page from Dan Kramer’s Dylan photo book, 1968.

{FOUR} FEDS v EM
Having rapped about Trumps Donald and Ivanka, Eminem had a visit from the FBI. From Buzzfeed, after they filed a Freedom of Information Act request: The interview took place a month later, on the afternoon of Jan. 16, 2018, with Eminem and his legal team. Two pages of documents summarising the discussion were entirely redacted but it centred around Eminem’s BET freestyle rap and the lyrics in “Framed”. During the interview with Secret Service, when agents began to read the lyrics of his freestyle rap, “Mathers was familiar with the song and began to rap along with the interviewers as the verse was read”, according to the documents.

{FIVE} AND ON TV…
We’re happy that the second series of End of the F***ing World has arrived. A knowing Natural Born Killers relocated to Great Yarmouth, the off-kilter, genre-neutral first series was fascinatingly skewed – shot as though the hinterlands of Britain’s suburbia were as looming and empty as the Arizona desert, with a sensational soundtrack. The actual soundtrack was by Graham Coxon of Blur, but the episodes found space for thrilling Fifties’ psychobilly, those weird midnight Country torch songs, doo-wop, Solomon Burke covering Tom T. Hall (“That’s How I got to Memphis”) and Hayes Carll’s dynamite “KMAG YOYO”. Way to F***ing go.

{SIX} PERILS OF AUTOMATIC CAPTION SOFTWARESES
I like the note (here on an article about bad original band names).

{SEVEN} CONDÉ NAS?
Bizarre analogy from an extraordinary piece in New York magazine by Reeves Wiedeman, about the changes at magazine behemoth Condé Nast. Following a war-room meeting about hard commercial realities, Reeves writes: “When I brought up that meeting to Pam Drucker Mann, Condé Nast’s chief revenue officer, who had been there, she insisted it wasn’t different from meetings pressing other magazines on their commercial prospects. She used an analogy for thinking about the old Vanity Fair versus the new: “There’s a song Bill Withers may have written and sung that people of his time are like, ‘This is the best,’ and then Drake might remake it, and the people that love Drake will be like, ‘This song is amazing.’ ” I took the point, then asked if there actually was a Drake remix of a Bill Withers song that I had missed; she said it was a hypothetical but would get back to me with a real example. An hour later, a Condé Nast spokesperson emailed me Drucker Mann’s revised answer: “Old Town Road,” original by Billy Ray Cyrus. Remix by Lil Nas X.

{EIGHT} COOL MUSIC FOR JOHNNY
From Rolling Stone: After composing the score for the documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher in 2018, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready has directed his attention to the Man in Black, reuniting with director Thom Zimny to create the soundtrack for The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash. A new doc about the mercurial country singer, the YouTube Originals production (premiering November 11th) looks at Cash’s tortured past — the accidental death of his older brother; his own damaging affair with drugs — and subsequent redemption through spirituality and his marriage to June Carter. To best depict those lows and highs, McCready retreated to his home studio in Seattle to watch the film and come up with appropriately moody, but reverential, sounds. “I would watch the scenes and try to feel what the scenes meant to me, the emotion of what Johnny was talking about or the situation he was in,” McCready says.

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More Than 5 Things, September 12th, Pt. 1

I’ve seen lots of stuff over the weeks since the last post, and here it is, in no particular order. It has nothing to do with music, but you have to watch The Octopus in My House on iPlayer to see the finest nature programme of the past year. Three-hearted, blue-blooded and entirely boneless… you’ll never order octopus in a restaurant again. And, as the publicity happens for The Last Waltz at 40 tour, I’m just trying to figure out why none of the publicity mentions Garth Hudson, only musicians like Warren Haynes and Jamey Johnson, who, last time I looked, have no real Band connections. It’s also been amusing to see which media outlets had an issue with Lana Del Rey’s latest, Norman Fucking Rockwell, and how they decided to deal with that middle word. Was it F***ing? F—ng? Or F@!%ing? And there are no words for what’s happening politically at the moment in Britain, so on with the show…

{ONE} I LOVE A GOOD INTERVIEW
Fascinating Clive Davis interview by David Browne in Rolling Stone.
Which act do you regret not breaking?
“You’re always somewhat regretful of any artist you thought would break. There was the Alpha Band years ago that had T Bone Burnett and a young violinist named David Mansfield. And there were the Funky Kings with Jack Tempchin, who has written so many great songs [the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone”]”.

I may be the only person who has all three of The Alpha Band albums. Featuring great T-Bone Burnett songs like “The Statue Makers of Hollywood” and “Perverse Generation”, and even a song written with artist Larry Poons. They broke in my house, but possibly not in anyone else’s. Here’s the photographic proof…

AND ALSO…
Rob Stoner interviewed by Jason Woodbury on Aquarium Drunkard, about his role in Rolling Thunder, and what he thought of the Scorsese film. He asks Stoner about Dylan’s tendancy to cloud and obscure facts about his life and work: “I mean you could even look at that as in his sartorial approach, how he changes his lid every era: started out with a little newsboy hat, a little commie, comrade worker hat, and then he went on to the top hat, then the cowboy hat, then the fucking cab driver hat. It’s all part of him just being a shapeshifter. It’s all intentional, and it’s all in fun. It makes for a more entertaining movie than just another goddamn rock documentary. Also, it’s because it poses more questions than it answers. It sets them up for a sequel.”
AD: Do you think that there will be one?
Rob Stoner: Well, they’ve got plenty of performances left in the can, and furthermore, when they set out to begin this project 12 years ago, Scorsese sent a team around to every principal who was alive at the time to do a day’s worth of interviews. They came to my house. Bob’s manager, Jeff Rosen, sat in my studio with me for an entire day, interviewing me. So they have all these interviews in the can. They’ve got enough to do it. This time, if they do it again, hopefully they’ll mention Jacques Levy, Howard Alk, and Paul Goldsmith.
When asked how he handled working with demanding artists, he put it down to “incredibly good luck and people skills. You have to employ a lot of psychology and tap dancing and tip-toeing around these people’s idiosyncrasies. These idiosyncratic individuals, man, they’re artists. Some of them have acquired their strange quirks and personality by design, some of them are just naturally that way, but either way, you have to accommodate them. It’s all about psychology, really.
AD: And that was just a natural skill set that you possessed?
Rob Stoner: Well, basically, it was a desire to keep the job!
AD: Did you ever work for anybody who was more difficult to please than Dylan?
Rob Stoner: I’m gonna have to save that one for my book, man. [Laughs]

{TWO} MUSIC TO WORK TO

At least, that’s how this track worked for me. Forty two minutes and twenty seconds of “Wichita Lineman”. In places it is exquisitely beautiful. Apparently mentioned in Dylan Jones’ new book about the song (yes, just that song. A whole book). Hear DJ talk about it on the Rock’s Backpages Podcast here (it’s Episode 37).

{THREE} WORLD’S COOLEST TRUMPET?

Coming up in late October, as part of Christies Exceptional Auction, this Miles Davis-owned trumpet… “The trumpet was made by the Martin Company, which had been founded in Chicago in 1865 by the German instrument-maker, Johann Heinrich Martin. By the middle of the 20th century, demand for its trumpets was pretty much insatiable. Dizzy Gillespie was a huge fan, Miles Davis was another. Davis was particularly fond of a model called the Committee. So much so that when the Martin Company was sold to a rival manufacturer in the 1960s – and the production of Committee trumpets officially stopped – they continued to be custom-made for Davis. The Committee horn being auctioned was one of a set of three conceived by designer Larry Ramirez, who was a part-time jazz trumpeter himself. At Davis’s request, one was coloured red, one blue and one black – each of them decorated with a gilt moon and stars, and with the word ‘Miles’ inscribed inside the bell. Ramirez told the story, in later life, of the nerves he’d felt at the moment Davis handed him back one of the horns and said, ‘You play, don’t you?’. He duly played a tentative passage from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and remembers his relief when Davis observed, ‘Man, you play pretty good’.”

{FOUR} RIP JIMMY JOHNSON, RIP DONNIE FRITTS
When we recorded in the Shoals, Jimmy lent Mark his Telecaster, and us his car. Jimmy, like all of the Shoals team, wanted to help out. Tape Ops, receptionists, engineers, legends – all of them the embodiment of Southern Hospitality. I promptly reversed the car into a telegraph pole. Here I am on the bonnet of the Jimmymobile, pre-prang.

And Donnie (Flip-Side) Fritts was the subject of this lovely memoir by David Hood’s son Patterson (thanks, Bob, for The Bitter Southerner tip). A tribute to “Alabama’s Leaning Man”, he starts, “There was never a time when I didn’t know Funky Donnie Fritts…” and goes on to tell of Donnie’s life and times. “One of my favorites among Donnie’s songs was “Where’s Eddie,” which he and Eddie Hinton co-wrote around sunrise one morning. They got drunk, climbed a tree, and wrote the tune while sitting among the limbs. The British artist Lulu ended up recording it for New Routes, the album she recorded in Muscle Shoals. Years later, my band Drive-By Truckers recorded it for our album Go-Go Boots. Donnie later told me that he and Hinton drunkenly argued over whose name would grace the title. Fortunately, neither fell out of that tree.”

Donnie Fritts and Jimmy Johnson at Muscle Shoals Sound during the Prone to Lean Sessions

{FIVE} NICE NAMING, BRIAN…
The excellent film on Dieter Rams, part of the BBC’s Design Week of programmes, was graced with a fine Eno soundtrack (evocatively named, as usual). The three outliers were a Lotte Lenya Brecht/Weill track, Mancini’s “Days of Wine and Roses” and John Lewis’ “D&E”, both performed by Oscar Peterson.

{BEFORE YOU GO…}
The Tom Waits song location map

The RBP podcast with Richard Williams
A great episode. As Barney writes, “In the latest episode of the Rock’s Backpages podcast, Jasper Murison-Bowie (left) and I talk with very special guest Richard Williams about his long & august career as a writer, editor & author… and about Easy Rider, Arthur Lee, Albert Ayler, Laura Nyro, Melody Maker & much, much more. Richard gave me my first break as a music writer when he (and Ian Birch) gave me some reviews to write for MM in 1979. I owe him more than I can ever express. His taste and erudition have been beacons for me for at least 45 years. Thank you, sir.” Find it here (it’s Episode 41).

Life looks better in Super 8
Rather beautiful Super 8 movies of the Elliot Lawrence Big Band on the road in 1950, from Marc Myers’ JazzWax.

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The book of Five Things is available from Amazon here.

Front Cover

“He writes with the insight of someone who has inhabited the world of the professional musician but also with the infectious enthusiasm of someone who is a fan like anyone of us. He also comes at the subject from an entirely personal, slightly sideways perspective, with no agenda and no product to sell. It’s entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.” – from an Amazon review by Zuma
“A terrific book, stuffed to the gills with snippets of news items and observations all with a musical theme, pulled together by the watchful eye of Martin Colyer… lovingly compiled, rammed with colour photos and interesting stories. He has a good ear for a tune, an eye for the out-of-ordinary and can write a bit too.” – Steve Carr, everyrecordtellsastory.com

Friday, August 9th

{INTRO} SINCE WINSTON CHURCHILL WAS NO LONGER AVAILABLE…Why does the line “The new Captain Bligh / on the new ship of fools” keep running through my mind this week? It’s from Gil Scott-Heron’s nonpareil “B Movie” of course, his incredible dissection of Ronald Reagan’s effect on the state of America. It is full of indelible images, playing off Reagan’s past as a cowboy actor, the “Voodoo Economics” of George “Papa Doc” Bush Snr, the Madison Avenue sales job. It’s full of lines like “Racism’s up / Human Rights are down / Peace is shaky / War items are hot…” How’s this for nailing Brexit? “The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia / They want to go back as far as they can… / Even if it’s only as far as last week / Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards…”

I’m posting this just before fleeing to Marseille (not in a Country Joe, “Air Algiers” kind of way – you know, “I hopped on a plane / Oakland, New York / Oakland, New York / New York to Marseille…”). We are not going to the Casbah to cool it for a couple of years, we are not on the run from the FBI, our pictures have not been put on the Post Office walls. We are merely staying in Bédoin, a small town at the base of Mont Ventoux (there’s a plaque in the square in memory of British cyclist Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died near the peak, placed by journalists following the 1967 Tour de France).

{ONE} BETTY WRIGHT AT THE BARBICAN
I went with my old soul mucker, Mark. This is Mark’s take on what occurred: “Well, she was fabulous. Despite the best efforts of the couple sat next to me, who were more interested in scrolling through pictures on his phone during a particularly sensitive musical moment, and quite the most gormless MC who did his best to wreck the end of the show. Oddly, “Shoorah, Shoorah” was the weakest moment, but she played a bunch of songs I’d never heard which were fabulous. It didn’t feel remotely revivalist; in fact, she seemed utterly contemporary. And she was charm itself – never taking herself too seriously, funny as fuck, just a delight.”

And, although “Shoorah, Shoorah” didn’t work (it was the one New Orleans track in a Miami playlist) another Allen Toussaint anthem – “Everything I do Gohn (sic) be Funky” – summed up her exceptional band. The audience responded in kind.

{TWO} JOHN SIMON’S BOOK
“John Simon has always been one of our most musical producers, a mix of musical and social skills. Part arranger, part psychiatrist, part instrumentalist, part pure music lover, part camp counsellor.” – John Sebastian

Bob Lefsetz mentioned John Simon’s book, A Memoir of a Musical Life in and out of Rock and Roll, in one of his letters, so I sent off for a copy as I’d always been fascinated by the part he played in so many interesting careers, from Simon & Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen to Joplin, Taj Mahal, Gil Evans and The Band. It’s a great read (even if it’s littered with typos and is poorly designed) and I thoroughly recommend it. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff about the period of change from Tin Pan Alley to Flower Power – here’s a couple of excerpts…

On Fake Books. The first rock n roll song I ever played? “Shake Rattle and Roll”. I went with Dave Poe to far-off, exotic Bridgeport and we bought the sheet music in a music store. We learned songs from these little song collection books called “Combo Orks”. They were made for kids just like us. Each was issued by a music publishing house and contained songs solely from their catalogue. But what we really pined for and drooled over were… The Fake Books! These books had over 1000 songs, unlimited by the publishers right to print them and, hence, completely illegal. (if you can imagine that, long before the current climate everything-for-free internet.) These were as unattainable as The Holy Grail for youngsters like us. They were suited for pros because, unlike regular sheet music, each song had only its melody and chord names. From those chord names alone, you had to know how to transform the letters into actual chords that sounded good. It wasn’t until after college when I arrived in NYC that I managed to purchase my own illegal fakebook. It was like a drug buy! I actually had to meet this shady guy in a trenchcoat on the street who, looking left then right, opened up a large black suitcase and handed me volumes 1 and 2 for thirty bucks apiece. Then he was gone in a flash. Those two books continue to serve me well fifty years later.

On Al Kooper. Al has always had a good sense of how to attract attention for publicity. When he was temporarily on staff at Columbia, he wanted to give promotional copies of a record he’d made to DJs and Program Directors and attempted to persuade the Promotion Department to hire Andre The Giant to do it (literally a huge celebrity). Al tells me it didn’t work out because Andre couldn’t fit in a taxi.

On working on The Band. The guys in the band were so inherently musical that they found picking up a new instrument and making music on it natural, challenging and fun. Levon was always open to suggestions and to learning something new, always humble, never haughty. We imagined a mandolin part for “Rockin’ Chair”, but there were more chords required than 99% of mandolin players would ever be asked to play. So he and I sat down in facing chairs to figure it out. It remains one of my favourite memories of working with Levon. We each knew something the other didn’t know. I heard some chords that he didn’t know. He could play the mandolin better than I could. So together we figured out unconventional mandolin hand positions for chords that would fit the song.

And this nugget, a tale from VU and Dylan legend, Tom Wilson. One of his former mentors was a doo-wop producer. He wrote down all the doo-wop background nonsense syllables he used, like “shebang, shebang” or “whoop-whoop” and kept them filed alphabetically in a little box to make sure he didn’t use them again.

{THREE} SWOON RIVER
Jacob Collier’s 140 guest voices (and 5,000 of his own) on a version of “Moon River” is, um, impressive. But he’s no Richard Carpenter, Senator. Every time that someone covers this indelible Mancini / Mercer song (Frank Ocean most lately) they do too much to it, slathering it in syrup. For me, nothing has ever come close to the gut string guitar and simple reading of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Fun fact: Mancini and Mercer worked on the song in different towns. After Mancini had the melody, he sent it to Mercer, who wrote the lyrics. They played it for the first time in the empty ballroom of the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel in Los Angeles.

{FOUR} IN BEATLES ABBEY ROAD WEEK…
Did you ever see this, the climax of the woeful Bee Gee musical inspired by Sgt Pepper? It is insane to think that all of these people were in the same place at the same time. Watch it and weep, mostly with laughter.

{FIVE} A SMALL ROUND UP…
Oh, Pet… Excellent wide-ranging interview with Petula Clark by Elle Hunt in The Guardian about her astonishing career. I’ve always loved the fact that she recorded a nice electro-ish chill out track aged 80. It’s called “Cut Copy Me” and can be found here.

Oh, Ashley… Bill Bradshaw, writing at onthewight.com. “Fifty years after Bob Dylan made his now-legendary appearance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, the great troubadour has made a remarkable gesture to a new festival about to honour the anniversary. It means a previously unpublished and unheard Dylan composition will be heard exclusively for the first time at the Million Dollar Bash festival on the Isle of Wight on Saturday, 31st August. Now Dylan has made contact with Million Dollar Bash’s curator, Ashley Hutchings MBE – a founder member of Fairport Convention – to pass on a special poem. Hutchings has put together a one-off band, Dylancentric, to pay tribute to Dylan’s songs and assembled a high-class bill for the special event, including folk-rock legend, Richard Thompson. Hutchings, described by Bob Dylan as “the single most important figure in English folk-rock”, was contacted by his mentor as he called together the band for rehearsals. Hutchings said that Dylan’s messages also indicated he acknowledged the hard work going into the Bash’s salute to his 1969 appearance and that he fondly recalled his own time on the Island 50 years ago.

More Band stuff. Barney sends this: “Calling all Band fans (I know there are a few of you out there). A smart young guy named Matt Lodato asked me some great questions about Robbie, Levon, Garth, Rick & Richard… and we ended up having a pretty cool conversation.”

More Country Joe. Here’s Joe’s excellent “Air Algiers”, taken from the 1970 Big Sur Folk Festival, a week of peace ’n’ love, apart from Stephen Stills, who has a fight.

And Finally… Mark (from Betty Wright, above) and I lit in to “Air Algiers” a few years back as part of our Poisonville Project, and did it as a muezzin-inspired electric blues. Find it here.

Saturday, July 20th

{ONE} LOVING LISBON

Fado – everywhere in the Alfama, Barrio Alto and Chiado districts [click to enlarge]

If you haven’t booked a summer break, here’s a suggestion. There’s a fascinating looking bill at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon from 1-11 August, featuring performances by Marc Ribot, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mary Halvorson and more, working around a theme of resistance and protest. We spent a few days there last week and, with Melody Gardot’s “Amalia” floating beside us, we walked the hills and docks of this most livable city. It’s super-friendly, the food and wine terrific, and the slightly crumbling Southern European vibe is still intact from my last visit 20 years ago.

{TWO} RAPPER BENCH NEWS!

From Popbitch: “A new Eastside/Westside hip-hop beef is emerging – but this time it’s between East Sussex and West Sussex. As we mentioned at the start of the year, a resident of Newhaven, managed to raise £1,500 after getting permission from the local council to erect a park bench in tribute to the late NWA rapper, Eazy-E. Now it looks as if rap fans in Lancing, West Sussex, are firing back. Having flouted council regulations, they have installed an unlicensed memorial plaque to Tupac Shakur on a bench at the Monks Recreation Ground. In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to stoke up tensions, they’ve also scrawled the words “Fuck You, Newhaven” underneath it. It has since been removed, but quite how the proposed renaming of Worthing Pier to “Wu-Tang” Pier will go down is currently anyone’s guess.”

{THREE} GUITARSLINGERS

A Blabber & Smoke interview with Glasgow guitar player Tom Rafferty had this excellently annotated list of his favourite guitarists and his favourite instrumental albums:
Here are ten guitarists who have lifted me up:
Marc Ribot – always surprising, always a left turn, a singular hand
James Williamson – slamming raw power
Tom Verlaine – liquidity
Ry Cooder – floating, yet gritty
Sonny Sharrock (especially Ask The Ages) – rage
Jimmy Reed – swinging sincerity, great heart
Hubert Sumlin – righteous blues
Pops Staples – The Shimmering King, with the deftest touch
Robert Quine – skronk and fury
Earl Hooker – astonishing twang and slide
As for a favourite guitar instrumental album, it’s almost impossible, but here’s a few:
Raybeats – It’s Only A Movie
Link Wray & The Wraymen – Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble (the one with the blue cover, on Charly)
David Torn – What Means Solid, Traveller?
Jon & the Nightriders – Live At The Whisky A Go Go
Earl Hooker – The Genius of Earl Hooker

{FOUR} FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH BOB

Having watched endless programmes recently where manicured presenters sit in fake rural environments (folksy sets of hay bales, picnic sets, log cabins, looking at you, Glastonbury) I was primed for gushing introductions and dreadful links at Bob ’n’ Neil, but they were notable by their absence. By the time we got to Hyde Park, we were 65,000 strong, but there was still enough space to lay down a picnic blanket. It’s essentially a lovely day out in the park, only minus the ability to buy a drink, unless you queue for 45 minutes. Yep, no food or drink was allowed in – obviously, we sneaked a hipflask of Bob’s Heaven’s Door bourbon in – which would be fine if the queues were short. Having missed Boy Azooga on the undercard, I was interested to see how Laura Marling fared. So we found a place at the base of Delay 7, a huge video screen with in-sync speakers where both the sound and vision were good and settled in.

“Master Hunter”, kicked off her set, and featured great rolling drums, a “Ballad of Hollis Brown” feel and a cheeky “It Ain’t me Babe” reference, but it was hard for her to involve the crowd, who were woozily distracted by the bucolic weather and the carnivalesque atmosphere, by the Artisan Pizza and the Coffee Caravans. They only really responded for the final two songs, both from the excellent Semper Femina, “Nothing, Not Really” and “Wild Fire”. It was fun to watch the British Sign Language signers in the corner of the screen work with Laura’s rather sophisticated lyric style. Their remit includes making the beat of each song apparent through their body language – they were certainly going to find both words and beat easier with Neil.

Signer, Neil, Old Black, picnic blanket

I remember Rob Fitzpatrick writing in Word magazine, about Young’s Americana album: “If you remove the comfort blanket of (in this case entirely unwanted) hero worship for a moment – and I love Neil Young dearly – what you’re left with is a record that no one in their right mind could possibly want to play more than once or twice. There is a great deal to be said for recording quickly and intuitively, but not much for bashing through everything once and then calling it a day.” Well, that’s kind of what Neil does now. He’s found a clodhopping bunch to back him up who make Crazy Horse look like a fine-tooled, precision outfit – the band with possibly the worst name in Rock History: Promise of the Real. Really. Promise of the Real. Who came up with that?

Opening with three identically-paced songs with identical chords (that’ll be our old favourites C, G and D) “Mansion on the Hill”, “Over and Over” (that could have been the afternoon’s motto) and “Country Home”, he then went into “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, and some semblance of melody and structure came to bear. I thought I’d have no problem with a set-list that included this, “Alabama”, “Words”, and “Walk On” but I did. The problem was that everything was leaden. The band were no match for the sifty strangeness of a song such as “I’ve Been Waiting for You”, flattening out the melodies, and on the Harvest selections, two guitarists attempted to replace late steel player Ben Keith and failed. I mean, I lived through pub rock, and it was way better than this. He also played possibly two of his worst songs (“Throw Your Hatred Down” and “Piece of Crap” – don’t tempt me).

As Neil churned out solo after solo on “Old Black” – his faithful ’53 Les Paul – all I could think of was Bill Bailey’s riff on The Edge, where he reveals simplistic note patterns beneath the layers of effects pedals. But Neil was there to worship the guitar as a holy relic and played solos on virtually every song. I mean, he’s very good at his thing, but this performance struck me as indulgent and lazy. At some point during a never-ending “Rocking in the Free World”, I was praying for a power cut. At that point, I could have signed it in BSL… Jesus, it was the song that never died. We were, indeed, “rocking” in some world, I’m just not sure how free it actually is at the moment.

“One time in London I’d gone out for a walk / Past a place called Hyde Park where people talk / ’Bout all kinds of different gods, they have their point of view / To anyone passing by, that’s who they’re talking to…” – Bob Dylan, “T.V. Talkin’ Song”, not one of his finest hours.

A rare shot of four-fifths of Bob Dylan and His Band

Bob came on, and the video screen director had his orders: never don’t have Bob in the frame. And as Bob was behind a piano, this meant the entire show was watched in a static shot, unless he sashayed to centre stage to rock out a little or play some harp. We didn’t see Charlie Sexton or George Recili until the fifth song, a cracking “Can’t Wait”. From the off (“Ballad of a Thin Man”) the band were concentrating on Bob’s hands, especially Donnie Herron, perched high behind him, on pedal and lap steels, whose hair was – literally –blowing in the wind. Occasionally, bassist Tony Garnier would lean into shot, staring at the piano keyboard. At first, Bob sang reasonably straight, but it didn’t take long for the rather mannered swallowing and biting of words to start. I thought it slightly unfair on a less Bob-centric crowd than would be at his own shows and felt it especially on a guttural “Make You Feel My Love”, presumably added to the setlist to claim it back from Ms Adkins. Bob either was smiling a lot or grimacing, it was hard to tell, but our friend Bob got it spot-on when asked how he found him, answering, “Puckish”.

Throughout, the band delivered the usual impeccable standard of musicianship, although soloing was kept to a minimum because Bob was obviously enjoying playing the piano too much to leave many gaps. There was a demented music-box version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, and a baffling “Like a Rolling Stone”, close to the waltz-time of his first studio demo of the song in 1965. His latter-day blues obsession also led to a string of rather dull roadhouse blues – “Pay in Blood”, “Early Roman Kings” “Honest With Me”, “Thunder on the Mountain” – which lost some of the audience energy. But it was pretty enjoyable, with a sweet acoustic trio performance of “Girl from the North Country”, a thrilling and febrile “Love Sick”, and a bolero-beat “Gotta Serve Somebody”. We cracked out the bourbon and toasted Bob’s health, and his minstrel’s journey, still travelling the world at 78.

{FIVE} VIDEO OF THE WEEK: BRITTANY HOWARD, “STAY HIGH”.

Filmed in Decatur, Alabama and starring actor Terry Crews (fun fact: Crews considers his first job in the entertainment industry to be a stint as a courtroom sketch artist in Flint, Michigan). It’s a little bit of midsummer magic – my favourite moment comes at 2:15, as Crews mimes “I’m doing wonderful / just fine / thank you”, and the girls he drives past echo, “Thank you!”) in full-on Bobbie Gentry conversational mode.

Lars Gotrich on npr: How did Terry Crews come to appear in the video? Simple. Brittany Howard asked. “I got an email from the Brittany Howard, asking me to be a part of a song she wrote that was all about her dad and how special he was to the family. And she poured her heart out in this letter. I couldn’t believe it,” Terry Crews recalls. “Brittany was like, ‘We can shoot it in L.A.,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m coming to you, we’re going to Alabama. We’re going to where you grew up, to where your family is.”

{DESIGN CORNER} MULBERRY, BOND STREET

Rather lovely vernacular designs for fashion brand Mulberry’s curated and sponsored small gigs.

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