Monday, March 27th

Have you noticed how nearly everyone interviewed on either TV or Radio nowadays prefaces the start of their answer with “So” followed by a brief but weighty pause, as if they are lecturing a slightly witless teenager? I’ve decided to get in on the act this week.

So. Here goes…

ONE OF THE BEST PIECES OF WRITING I’VE READ RECENTLY
So, Liam Noble is a jazz [I’m not even sure that kind of nomenclature is serviceable anymore] pianist who writes like a dream. Everything on his blog, Brother Face, repays reading – this is his latest, which tells of his job transcribing thirty of the Bill Evans Trio’s performances for a publisher – “Anyway, back to Bill Evans. After four months the job was done. I walked away a new man. I walked away a hollow corpse, eaten away by the parasite Bill Evans. I couldn’t play a note, because every note that came out was his, and so I tried to blank him out, and to override this I had to think of “someone else” and how they would play the same thing. So now there were three of us…” Brilliant.

SO, TWO THE MINIMALIST TURNTABLE

wheel

From What Hi-Fi: “For the space-conscious, here’s your turntable. New Kickstarter project Wheel by Miniot is a wheel that plays records. There’s no visible tonearm, no cartridge and nothing but a platter. Everything is built into the platter, including the belt drive, linear tonearm and amplifiers. It’s controlled by the stick in the middle. Turn it to start the record playing, then turn it again to adjust the volume. Tap the top to pause it, or prod the side to skip a track or go back one. It works either horizontally or vertically, so can be wall-mounted. What could be simpler?”

TRIPLE SO, THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR BOB…
There’s a fascinating interview with Bob by Bill Flanagan (whose Written in My Soul is still one of the best books on the stuff and nonsense of songwriting) on bobdylan.com, for the release of Triplicate.

Up to the sixties, these songs were everywhere – now they have almost faded away. Do they mean more to you when you hear them now? “They do mean a lot more. These songs are some of the most heart-breaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them, and lived through them, I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.”

When you see footage of yourself performing 40 or 50 years ago, does it seem like a different person? What do you see? “I see Nat King Cole, “Nature Boy” – a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That’s a different person than who I am now.”

FOUR OVER ON TIMELINE
So, Jim Marshall is the great photographer of Rock Music, 1964 to 1970, and this is about his posthumous show, Jim Marshall, 1967, running in San Francisco at the moment. Here’s a favourite shot from Proof, a great book of his photos, of Elizabeth Cotton and Mississippi John Hurt at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 (did I say that he was a great Folk and Jazz photographer also?)

marshall

FIVE PLAYLIST FROM LUNCH WITH GEORGE FOSTER
As we talked of Spiritland and Gearbox Records and Brilliant Corners (mostly new to me, of course) we listened on George’s extraordinarily hi-fi system. Here’s a partial playlist:
“Trouble Man”/Rickie Lee Jones (the string bass sounded huge – it could be Richard Davis (of Astral Weeks fame, for non-jazz fans), or Mike Elizondo (of Eminem fame) or Paul Nowinski, but, whoever it is, they pin you to your seat.
“Blues in the Night”/Julie London (Big, brassy and sassy, with an amazing vocal sound and a gorgeous ending).
“Deep River”/Horace Parlan and Archie Shepp (in honour of Mr. Parlan, RIP).
“Speak Low”/Karin Krog, Warne Marsh & Red Mitchell (I had no knowledge of the extraordinary Ms Krog, but the interplay of her voice, the sax and the bass is something else – as is the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash song – written for the musical, One Touch of Venus, a collaboration with librettist S. J. Perelman. Now that’s a rehearsal room you’da wanted to be in, in 1943, no?. As Nash wrote: “Time is so old and love so brief/Love is pure gold and time a thief…”
“Poinciana”/Keith Jarrett Trio. We ended up by watching Keith Jarrett in Japan, playing “Old Man River” solo, which goes from contemplative to gospel to baroque through Billy Taylor, Broadway and Carole King (I swear!) in exquisite fashion.

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Wednesday, 15th March

ONE FAVOURITE ALBUM REVIEW OF THE WEEK
Alex Balk in The Awl, reviewing the Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir.

[Headline] Album Good
[Sell] Take my word for it, or this other guy’s. Or find out yourself.
[Text excerpt] …anyway. I’m not a big “let’s get all descriptive as fuck in the review” type guy, because Jesus Christ, just tell me if it’s worth checking out and I’ll figure out the rest on my own. But I know some people need more convincing. Here’s the best review I’ve read so far, if someone going on and on about things is your thing… [there follows a review from Slate, a Spotify playlist and a video link].

TWO NEVER NEVERLAND?
It seems a lot for a 5 Bed house, but it is 2,700 acres and perfect for a vineyard, apparently…

zoopTHREE GOOD GOD, THE NME GETS WORSE…
From its Kong-wrapped advertising cover to Geri Halliwell’s Soundtrack of my Life, it’s a shock how redundant the free NME is now. There is literally nothing of note in the whole sorry thing. It’s mostly Q&As that barely rise above the “what is your favourite colour?” level, and the Straw/Camel interface moment is discovering that the NME Awards are now sponsored by a hair shampoo company, VO5, and their advertorial is headlined, “Get gig-ready hair”. Really.

FOUR SUB-EDITOR STAR OF THE WEEKwsjFIVE THINGS THAT I READ AND ENJOYED
1) Thanks to Every Record Tells a Story for reminding me of those Junior Parker records that came out in the late Sixties/early Seventies. An influence on Al Green, who dedicated “Take Me to the River” to “Little Junior Parker, a cousin of mine, he’s gone on, but we’d like to kinda carry on in his name…” he was famed for writing and recording “Mystery Train” and the blistering “Feelin’ Good” at Sun in 1953. Thereafter, his career plateaued, but the soul/blues albums of this later period are great, and had some inspired song choices. My favourites were the Percy Mayfield cover, “Rivers Invitation”, sung against clipped funk guitar and fatback shuffle drums, an eight-minute take on Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with a loooong spoken intro. But finest of all, as ERTAS’s Steve says, is a version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Quiet and compelling, the simplicity of the guitar playing is genius, as is Junior’s vocal, especially on the closing couplet, “So play the game Existence to the end/of the beginning, of the beginning…

2) The New Yorker profile “Jack White’s Infinite Imagination”, by Alec Wilkinson:
Last summer, Jack White bought a house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that he had seen only in photographs. He wasn’t planning to live in it, except perhaps occasionally on retreats—he lives in Nashville. He was drawn to its past. The house was designed by George Nelson, a figure in American modernism, who mostly designed furniture. “A George Nelson house, there’s not too many of those,” White said in a car on the way there.

[The previous owner Dave] Corner sat on a couch and White sat in a chair beside him, as if on a talk show. White asked Corner what his favourite part of the house was. “This living room,” Corner said. “It’s so peaceful.” The room had windows that rose to the ceiling, and beyond the windows were woods. White asked what the rain sounded like on the flat roof. “Like heaven,” Corner said. White said that in Nashville he’d had microphones installed under the eaves of his home, so that he could hear the rain better. He has two young children, a boy and a girl, from his second marriage, and he said that his ability to make the rain louder had led them to believe that he controlled the weather.

3) This amusing piece by Alan Swyer on Narratively, about being Ray Charles’ interview “stand-in”: “It began innocently enough. After thousands of interviews, Ray had come to hate the process, and told me he was particularly dreading a session with a journalist who stuttered. Come on by and sit with me, Ray said. If you’re there, maybe we can figure out what he’s asking and get the goddamn thing over with. Only when I arrived for the interview did Ray inform me that instead of merely keeping him company, I — not he — would be doing the talking. Ray was a prankster, so I assumed he was joking. The reporter blanched when he learned who would be answering his questions, but I figured that once we were under way, Ray would laugh, then take over…”

4) This piece from last December that I finally got round to reading on Slate, about Stevie Wonder’s classic period, by Jack Hamilton: “Most Americans follow up their 21st birthdays with a hangover; Stevie Wonder opted for arguably the greatest sustained run of creativity in the history of popular music.” Thrill to the fact that top-to-tail, Wonder created “Higher Ground” in three hours…

5) And finally, Richard Williams’ excellent piece on Bob Dylan’s largely under-appreciated 1966 acoustic opening halves, on thebluemoment. Always drawn to the atmosphere of these hypnotic versions, where songs stretch and expand timelessly on Dylan’s whim, I felt that songs regarded as slighter, like “Fourth Time Around”, were raised to the level of “Visions of Johanna” by the performance. Here’s a note I got from Ray Lowry, having sent him the 1966 bootleg Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix that surfaced about six months before the “Judas” concert was officially released. I’d discussed it at length while commissioning a cartoon from him. I’d said, don’t ignore the first half, but Ray, a rockabilly at heart – one of the reasons he got on so well with The Clash – only had ears for the hopped-up vocals and the hipped-up whipcrack of the guitars.

raydylan

The first rays of Summer-like weather (well in London, anyway) led me to chose Joni Mitchell’s version of “Summertime” in the music player on the right.

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Monday, March 6th

ONE MOST EXCELLENT SHOP OF THE WEEK
In Paris (feeling unfettered and alive, natch) I search for La Galcante, the shop from a magazine junkie’s dreams. It’s off a small Rue in Paris, hidden behind an archway. I had discovered its existence in this article in Christie’s online magazine, where they accurately describe it as a treasure trove of ephemeral publications. I was ushered into the vaults in search of various artistes, where I came across this hilarious Rock & Folk cover (“au service du rockn roll depuis 1966”). Elsewhere in the shop, Elvis Costello popped his head up…

galcante

“We have tickets, envelopes, bills. We are interested in every type of paper.” Pierre Aribaud leans over the counter, smiles and starts rolling a cigarette. Aribaud is a seasoned documentaliste at La Galcante, a unique Parisian emporium offering papiers anciens – newspapers, magazines, postcards, photographs, maps, journals – to curious collectors. It’s like Google, just with dust motes and silverfish.

TWO JAZZ! NICE…
Nick Hornby, Esquire magazine UK, 25th anniversary edition:
“The last couple of years, I’ve finally got jazz. I know it’s the cliché of my age, but it’s fantastic. I was reading something and suddenly thought I was fed up of everything I listen to being in 4/4 and sounding more or less the same, I’d like to hear something different. I found the right jazz and that was that.” Frustratingly Nick doesn’t tell us what the “Right Jazz” was for him.

THREE BOB DYLAN SHOPS FOR TIES…
… with Alan Price (and his ever-present bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale). Here’s a short excerpt from a fascinating post written by Michael Chaiken, curator of Bob Dylan’s Archives for the Helmerich Center for American Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma: “The archive boasts hundreds of hours of live recordings, going back to Dylan’s earliest coffeehouse days and continuing into his recent tours. There are many instances in the archive where a song can be studied from its initial iteration on paper, to the moment Dylan first stepped to the microphone to record it, through to its reinvention over several decades onstage. A good example of this is “Tangled Up in Blue”, from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks – it’s a song that began on paper with the title “Dusty Sweatbox Blues”, whose first studio take was a solo acoustic performance; it was ultimately released on record with a full band and has since had its lyrics and tempo radically altered in live performance. The ability to trace out this evolution is among the archive’s greatest strengths.” The article is full of teasing references to material as yet unshown (if you’re a Dylan nut, that is), and this short piece of original footage from Dont Look Back is just great. The young shop assistant who gurns at the camera wouldn’t look out of place in the Arctic Monkeys…

FOUR LARRY ON LEVON
From a nice interview in Vintage Guitar magazine with multi-instumentalist and producer Larry Campbell:
Talk about playing in a band with Levon as the drummer… “Oh, man! You have never played a blues shuffle until you’ve played a blues shuffle with Levon Helm. It’s like you’re sitting in a hammock, rocking in the breeze. The guy was nothing but feel. Finesse had nothing to do with Levon’s drumming. There was no distance at all between who he was and what he did. Every note he sang, every beat he played, every strum on the mandolin came out of him as naturally as breathing. That kind of immediate, honest expression is irresistible. You can’t not be moved by that…

It’s not like he had perfect time or he played the most interesting fill or that he had a huge vocabulary on the drum kit – but none of that stuff mattered. What mattered was the way he would make a song feel… it was a lesson in simplicity. I’ve played with other drummers who, technically, could run rings around Levon. And I’m not saying that’s something you should avoid; a lot of different drummers knock me out. But Levon had his particular thing that was unique to him, and it was always a great place to be. Never failed.”

FIVE THE PRE-INAUGURATION CONCERT
I was going to write a 5 Things extra on this extraordinary (for all the wrong reasons) show, but too much time has passed – and Dave Holmes on Esquire.com did a great job [read it here]. Some observations, though, with a couple of excerpts from his piece. I was watching it on CNN, and it started with Trump saluting Abraham Lincoln, as the Stones’ “Heart of Stone” blasted out the PA. Dave Holmes: “You know – the song about two lovers who, try as they might, cannot feel honest emotion for one another. They have been too wounded by the events of their past to risk getting hurt again, so they just remain ice-cold. Lonely together. Numb. Donald and Melania introduce themselves to America as her new First Couple to that song, and then take their seats behind bulletproof glass. So that’s fun…”

Next came the shockingly named Frontmen of CountryTM to sing a bunch o’ songs about ’Merca, including Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”. I thought that if, as the song has it, WC Handy did look down over America today, really, he’d think it was just the same-old-same-old. And the First Lady seemed somewhat bored –no-one seemed to have clocked that a 15-minute country medley may, in the cold of a late afternoon in Washington, seem to last an hour. Holmes in Esquire: “She said, Tell me are you a Christian child?/And I said Ma’am I am tonight!” As are all in attendance, ceremonially Christians for the night, Christians who leave out the parts about feeding the hungry and having compassion for the poor and loving your enemies and turning the other cheek and casting out the moneychangers and welcoming refugees and that whole bit about how a camel will pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man gets into heaven. Other than that, super Christian. Anyway, getting back: Memphis!

trump

Mildly headbanging – yet shockingly generic – rock poured out over the crowd, as huge video screens showed Chinooks and attack boats and drones and gung-ho militarism. Trump, in the manner of someone who knows cameras are trained on him, tried to keep in motion, pointing at things the audience couldn’t see, but he was also looking over his shoulder in a slightly weird way, almost at the crowd, but never quite meeting its eyes. Melania looked like she may have only just realised that the next four years will largely consist of smiling at a bizarre parade of “entertainment”, and meeting people she will not be able to feign interest in. The parade followed with YouTube sensations, The Piano Guys, and a bunch of silver-suited numpties dancing as DJ Ravi drummed his heart out to no great effect.

Here we moved into the realms of the tragically talentless. Truly the March of the Mediocre on Washington… Toby Keith attempted to set country music back, oh, only 50 years or so, with lyrics of the “whiskey for my man, beer for my horses” kind. You really felt for all the people who live in Nashville, tarred by this brush. By the end, after fireworks were accompanied by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in an arrangement that Mitch Miller himself would have passed on for being too cheesy, the CNN reporters covering the whole affair looked askance and said, “Now we’re listening to “Don’t Stop Believing” – like it’s the last episode of The Sopranos!”

I’ll leave the summing up to Dave: “There’s some good country music out there, but most of it is sung by millionaires, droppin’ their Gs, namin’ American states, sayin’ aw shucks and singin’ about pickup trucks and then goin’ home and not givin’ a shit about their actual audiences. Modern mainstream country panders so hard, every song might as well start with Hey, listener: have you lost weight? Trump taught himself how to do this too, which is why 63 million Americans think a guy who lives inside a bar of gold in midtown Manhattan gives one single damn about them.”

AND FINALLY…
Towards the end of last year I wrote a piece for eye magazine – a major profile of Peter Brookes, the Times’ political cartoonist. I had the thoroughly enjoyable tast of interviewing Peter in his office early one morning before he began that day’s task.

brookes

And in researching images for the story, I came across this great Time Out cover of Frank Zappa, from the golden era when Pearce Marchbank was the art director (Peter and Pearce were at Central School of Art together). eye is out now…

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Thursday, February 16th

ONE IF YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW IT…
Song Exploder is rather great, featuring as it does musicians talking about how something they’ve made actually came together. The latest has Nicholas Britell on the evolution of his Moonlight soundtrack. Get through the (rather long) set-up and hear how the layers of the main theme came about.

“It’s going between the major one and the minor four chord. You’re in a major key so there’s this sense of stability, but the alternating back-and-forth creates, for me, a feeling of introspection… there’s a violin that’s doubling the melody on top, and the sound of the violin… what I asked [violinist Tim Fain] to do, was to play it as quietly as he possibly could while still generating enough sound that he felt comfortable with the note, and then we recorded it close to the mike.” It gives the theme a kind of brittle age, like something created long ago by wind blowing across pampas grass by the ocean.

He goes on to say: “I actually do a lot of experimentation with reverb, because the sound of an instrument is entirely related to where you’re hearing it – the space that you put an instrument in changes so much of the character… [in this piece] there’s actually another piano, underneath the first piano, which fades in over the course of the track. The first piano is a fully-in-tune grand piano! The second one is a sort-of-noisier upright piano with a loud mechanism, it’s not a really, incredibly in-tune piano (laughs), but that’s what’s beautiful about it. It feels so human and so true.” Amen to that.

TWO MICHAEL HEAD, THE SOCIAL

head

Tim takes me to see Michael Head, once of the Pale Fountains and Shack (and even Arthur Lee’s backing band on a tour in the early 90s). It’s at The Social in Fitzrovia, a basement club with nice bar staff and a tiny stage. A man, that Kitty Empire said, “has spent the best part of 30 years not getting famous”, Head is playing to a room of devotees, not only from his home town of Liverpool, but from every corner of Europe, judging by the accents around us. No idea what to expect, but it doesn’t phase any of the audience that the support acts are a man reading a short story (excellent) followed by a poet, Paul Birtill, who is also great. And it’s good to be surrounded by people listening to songs that obviously come from a time and place that mean so much to them – their goodwill for the man on the stage is palpable. I’m less carried away, but I don’t have that shared background. Also, I have an issue with solo guitar-strumming shows. The kind of romantic/poetic/stoic songs that are Head’s stock-in-trade need, for me, the melodic buttress of a band around them.

THREE GRAMMY & GRANDPA
From the always entertaining Every Record Tells a Story: “The Grammys operate in a strange time-warp, the 2017 awards covering the music released between mid-2015 and mid-2016. As a result, gongs are handed out for songs that have been missing for longer than the hair on the top of Donald Trump’s head. 

It’s odd in such a fashion-conscious and fast-moving medium that the 2017 Grammys’ Song of the Year, Adele’s “Hello”, was released in October 2015. That’s a longer period of time than the entire career of The Bravery. It was bad enough when the charts were announced on Sunday and you watched Top of The Pops on a Thursday… You begin to feel for the voting committee being so far behind the times, bless them. What will the committee think when they hear about the break up of The Beatles? Will Kanye West boycott the next show because there was no nomination for “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus and Pliers? David Bowie, meanwhile, had never won a Grammy for his music before – the single most remarkable failure to honour something since the Brexit campaign promised £350m a week to the NHS. The Grammys had never honoured the music of Pop’s Great Innovator, whilst giving six awards to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers…”

FOUR LATE REVIEW
Marc Myers, Anatomy of a Song, The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits. I’m a sucker for a good oral history. My first copy ended up with a man I sat next to on a plane coming back from Morocco. He was reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (featuring “a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer”) and I had just finished Anatomy of a Song. We fell into conversation, and it turned out that he had been at every Glastonbury Festival since the first, in 1971 when it was the Glastonbury Fair. At the end of the flight I felt that he would enjoy it. So I bought myself another copy, then decided that it would make a perfect Christmas present. It got to the point where my wife kept steering me away from bookshops as Christmas approached and it became a family joke along the lines of “you know what would be a perfect present for [insert name here] – Anatomy of a Song!” Anyhow, buy it, it’s great. One thread that runs through the book is how accidental many of the great moments in Popular music history are.

Read the story of Pink Floyd shipping the 24-track tapes of “Another Brick in the Wall” from LA to London to have their engineer find a local school to sing on it. Read an interview with the man who was “Carey” in Joni Mitchell’s song, and hear what he thinks of it – “I knew I was in way over my head. I couldn’t earn a living and she was way too talented for me.” Read Loretta Lynn on the musicians she recorded “Fist City” with: “Grady [Martin, guitarist], bless his heart, would set a quart of whiskey next to his chair. When I first met him, I said to Owen [Bradley, producer], “We don’t want him playin’ on my record if he’s drunk, do we?” Owen said, “He’ll do better drunk than sober, so let’s leave him alone.” And read the story of how long it took to record the drums for “Heart of Glass” while listening to the track – fantastic.

My favourite chapter may well be the one about The Hues Corporation’s rhumba/disco crossover, “Rock the Boat”. It’s got the Stonewall riots, the New York clubs acting as rhythm laboratories, the beginnings of dance culture, and a weird group name, from songwriter Wally Holmes – “I was a rebel then and disliked wealthy people, so I named [our] trio the Children of Howard Hughes, since they obviously weren’t”. Seeing the legal complications ahead, he changed the name to the Hues Corporation, and the song was recorded twice, the second time with L.A.’s finest, including Jim Gordon on drums and Larry Carlton on guitar (he provides the crazy solo in the song’s fade).

It was used in Ridley Scott’s The Martian as part of the soundtrack (disco tunes left on a crew member’s laptop provides the reason). Megan Garber in The Atlantic made an interesting point about its humanising use in the film… “No offense to the Hues Corporation, but “Rock the Boat” – “Rock the boat (don’t rock the boat, baby)! / Rock the boat (don’t tip the boat over)!” – is not, whatever else it may be, terribly epic. Astronauts may technically be named for sailors, and space-faring vessels may technically be called “ships,” but beyond that, the maritime metaphor will not extend. In using it, though – and, in general, in creating a soundtrack that might as well be nicknamed Now That’s What I Call DiscoThe Martian is doing some boat-rocking of its own. It is effectively rejecting the traditions and clichés of the space movie. It is rejecting the standard, soaring spirituality of the typical space score in favour of something that is smaller and more human. It is trading Holst for Houston.”

FIVE FIVE THINGS RECOMMENDATIONS
Carrie Rodriguez, Lola. An album that transcends its nominal genre of Spanglish Tex-Mex (if that is indeed a genre). As Felix Contreras wrote on NPR’s First Listen, “In my mind, there’s a magical Mexican restaurant located somewhere in Austin, Texas; it’s a place where people of all cultures, backgrounds, ages and languages rub elbows over mouth-watering Tex-Mex combination plates. Aging hippies, Chicano hipsters, old-school Texans in cowboy hats, abuelitas, blues musicians, Western fiddlers – they’re all there. It’s an image I’ve imagined ever since I first heard music that combines influences across cultures, like Americana accented with conjunto or a blues-rock trio singing in Spanish. But I’d never heard the exact sounds that I’d imagined playing in a jukebox in that made-up restaurant until I heard Lola, the new album by Carrie Rodriguez.” It was possibly my most played album of last year, its sultry sway backing surprisingly pointed lyrics, and with a secret weapon in American music’s MVP, Bill Frisell. Once again, I have to thank Tim.

The Word Podcast, A Word in your Ear, with Barney Hoskyns. Listen as Mark Ellen and David Hepworth quiz Barney about all things Albert Grossman.

13th. Mick Gold disagrees with my assessment of Hackshaw Ridge. In penance (I like to think), he flags up the sombre and brilliant 13th, up for the Best Documentary Oscar, a graphically-inspired documentary on the implications of the 13th Amendment. It runs, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”, and the film illuminates the extraordinary way that the corporate world moved into the prison system to utilise the labour force created by the staggering statistic that America has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. On Netflix now.

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Friday, February 10th

ONE THIS WEEK IN FILMLAND 1
I often think that getting older is a fight against becoming jaded. And this thought occurs often when watching films. So few do anything out of the ordinary, that you haven’t seen a hundred times before. Television has now become the place for long-form narratives, leaving most films with an undercooked set of characters (stack 120 minutes up against several thousand – we could call it, say, the Analyse This vs The Sopranos syndrome). To watch a film like Hackshaw Ridge is to see (once, that is, you’ve got past Mel Gibson’s gratuitous and unsavoury dwelling over flailed and melted flesh and blown-apart faces) a film cleave so strongly to the time-honoured template that you know every plotline and signpost right down to the end credits. Large chunks of predictable dialogue, poor CGI and painfully obvious music leave you wondering just how much time and money it took to make such a mediocre film, one that does no service to the incredible true story that it’s based on.

So this week it was great to see two films that jettisoned most of the rulebook. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is an hallucinatory impression of the time between the assassination of JFK and his funeral procession through a stunned Washington, from the viewpoint – and through the face of – Jacqueline Kennedy. From the first, queasy string figure over impressionistic images of Natalie Portman as Jackie, the music mirrors the choppy, darting way that the film is edited. The score, by Mica Levi, is solemn and vertiginous by turns, and stunningly integrated. Apparently she sent some proposed sections to Larrain before the editing started and he worked with them. Maybe that’s how the jolting lurches, the film’s visual signature, came about.

This is from groovy online magazine FACT: “I’ve just always been interested in those glisses,” Levi says of the warped sound that permeates the score. “It’s something that happens if you slow [your playing] down, you get this glooping and distortion and morphing of [sound].” A glissando, or a glide, also gives the score an extra frill – but it also creates a sound palette for Jackie that is both reminiscent of the 1960s, and reflective of music right now. “Back in the day, especially around this time, a lot of music was quite soupy and there was a way of being indulgent by having a glissando. There’s something quite rich about it,” Levi says. You can stream the soundtrack here.

[I’d really recommend watching a fascinating and beautifully-made documentary found on National Geographic’s channel, JFK: The Final Hours, before seeing the film [on YouTube here]. It examines the three-day trip to Texas that ended in Dealey Plaza, interviewing people who met or saw the First Couple, from 8-year old Bill Paxton (who narrates the film) to 30-year-old Alexander Arroyos, vice chairman of the League of Latin American citizens, whose event on the eve of their flight to Dallas was graced by Jacqueline Kennedy giving a short speech in Spanish, which she’s seen practicing in Jackie.]

TWO THIS WEEK IN FILMLAND 2
I’m not sure what to say about Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, only that it’s absolutely astonishing. Paradoxically it builds up a head of steam while becoming quieter and more static, so that by the last scenes you’re almost holding your breath. No reviews that I’ve read so far have really conveyed what makes it unique, and I’m not going to try. Visually it looks like it’s been shot by a great photojournalist and, sonically, the score by Nicholas Britell is perfect [excerpt here].

THREE SKY ARTS LIVE AT ABBEY ROAD CLASSICS (!)
I can’t tell you how many of the performances in this series are anything but. However, a new low was reached by Bryan Adams, promoting his 2008 album, 11. A self-satisfied cliché-machine, he managed to talk about his own studio in Vancouver (“State-of-the-Art” – aren’t they always?) rather than say anything about the hallowed space of Abbey Road. After 20 minutes of sustained pummeling, the chords of D and G were ready to give up the ghost. The lyrics. The lyrics. The lyrics! Not even Songwriting 101. “She’s got a way of getting inside your soul/She’d breach the walls of Jericho/Make you fall like virgin snow…” And the deathless, “She comes to me like rain falls down my window, Sure as night will follow day.” Anyway, here’s a still of Jerry Jemmott’s exquisite fingers (he was playing with Gregg Allman on one of the programmes) from just before the fade for the end credits.

jemmott

FOUR DAVID BYRNE ON THE ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG SHOW
On seeing the exhibition at Tate Modern, Byrne wrote:
“We began to ask about the place where Bob spent some of his formative years, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina… Here are the basics of the school’s philosophy. John Rice, the founder, believed that the arts are as important as academic subjects; there was less segregation between disciplines than you’d find at a conventional school; no separation between faculty and students; no grades; no compulsory classes. Here’s what now seems like a really radical idea – manual labour (gardening, construction, etc) was also key. No one had outside jobs; they all chipped in to build the actual school, and helped serving meals or doing maintenance. I asked the curator, Achim, if these new ideas about progressive education were what was primarily responsible for the explosion of creativity in this tiny school. He said, yes, those factors were influential, but just as much were other factors – the fact that many of the faculty were refugees (those pesky immigrants!) from the rise of nationalism and intolerance going on in Europe at the time.”

Here is a link to the story of the cover that Rauschenberg made for Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues.

FIVE EVEN MORE MUSIC TV
The Channel 4 series, The Great Songwriters, has been hit and miss – Ryan Adams was a little dull, Bill Withers was interesting (but the programme featured his daughter performing his songs rather pallidly), Jimmy Webb strangled his own creations and Carly Simon was fine-ish. The Barry Gibb one was fascinating, though, as Barry, like Tom Jones in his autobiography, was straightforward and honest about failure as well as success.

Can I ask you about “Islands in the Stream”?
“Islands in the Stream” was written with Diana Ross in mind, as we were finishing up that project, which proves that R ’n’ B and country music are alike in many ways – we didn’t think of it in terms of Kenny Rogers. Kenny called up and said, would you do a couple of songs for me? And, once again, Maurice said we should be recording this song, but I believe if we’d recorded that song we wouldn’t have got on the radio. Because it was post-Fever, and that was our fate at that point, but hey, we thought we were finished in 1972!

It was Eric Clapton who said, “Why don’t you do what I did, and record in Miami? You make a record on American turf, you become Americanised…” So we did… The Eagles had brought out “One of These Nights” (also featuring a lot of falsetto as it happens!), and everyone was[recording] next door to us. Crosby, Stills and Nash were sitting in our studio as we recorded… not in the control room, on the studio floor! And Steven Stills played timbales on “You Should be Dancing”. Those experiences were phenomenal!” [ed: Which led to their post-shooting soundtrack work on Saturday Night Fever – where, in fact, John Travolta had actually been dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs tracks during the filming.]

AND FINALLY… THINGS I FORGOT TO POST IN 2016, PART 1
A wonderful piece on an extraordinary event: George Foster was at Albert Ayler’s appearance at the London School of Economics in 1966, and this is his fascinating account of how shabbily the establishment and the BBC dealt with it. The International Times printed this (below), and you can read the piece, published by London Jazz News, here.

! Ayler.jpg

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Thursday, February 2nd

Woody Guthrie went through World War Two with a sign on his guitar, ‘this machine kills fascists’. After the war was over, he kept the sign on and we said, “Woody, Hitler’s dead, why don’t you take the sign off? He says, “Well this Fascism comes along whenever the rich people get the generals to do what they want…”
Pete Seeger, interviewed in Greenwich Village, Music That Defined a Generation (2012)

ONE NEXT OF KIN
I spent a part of this week being intrigued by Loyle Carner, a gentler form of MC, whose songs often ride on summery jazz or feel-good gospel while they talk of cooking pancakes for an imaginary sister, missing his student loan or grieving for his late stepfather. Still very South London (Croydon, to be precise) but there’s something interesting going on. Oh, and the cover of Yesterday’s Gone harks back to Music From Big Pink

bandcarner

TWO BOOKS CORNER: NEXT OF KIN PT. 2
Which neatly leads on… I’m gonna recommend the Robbie Robertson book, Testimony, to y’all. It puts proper flesh on the bones of many of the stories that have been told again and again – such as how they sourced a new drummer once Levon Helm bailed on the 65-66 Dylan tour, and why Robertson ended up photographed alongside Alan Ginsberg in front of City Lights bookstore in 1965 – as well as providing a sense of the dizzying nature of their work with Dylan. It’s light on the specifics of his songwriting, the recording process and the evolution of his guitar playing, but strong on portraits of the many characters that cross his path. If you read this alongside Levon’s “Wheels on Fire” and Barney’s “Across The Great Divide” and “Small Town Talk”, you can patch together a story with at least seven different sides, Rashoman-style. Doing this reveals a rounded narrative about the extraordinary series of events that gave birth to The Band, and the clash of Robbie’s voraciously aspirational search for knowledge and status with Levon’s “Hell, let’s just play” mentality that signposted the death of this joyous group even at the moment of its greatest triumph, The Band. I mean, Bunuel and F.S. Walcott’s Medicine Show had much in common but – in the end – not enough.

THREE SAD NEWS, SAD NEWS COME TO ME WHERE I SIT…
… that Terry Cryer has passed away [Val Wilmer’s Guardian obit here]. I’ve always loved the pictures that he took of Jazz musicians in the 50s. They (and more) were collected in a fascinating book, One in the Eye, edited by Ian Clayton and with a great introduction by Val Wilmer in 1992, which is set to be reprinted soon, apparently. It’s full of deadpan writing, by a man who said, “I broke the rules because it was a lot more fun than following them”. “By the time I got to London, dope was becoming fashionable. People stopped chewing benzedrine inhalers when the company that made them took the Benzedrine out. Pity about that, they were quite nice with lemon gin…”; “Ann and I got married – we were quite happy just living together, but under pressure from Sister Rosetta [Tharpe], I bought a special licence. She gave us the best wedding present, a night in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool!” I always have a print of one or more of Terry’s photographs wherever we’re living – currently these two grace the wall behind the record deck.

cryer

FOUR IF YOU REMEMBER IT…
My favourite items in the V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 were in a small case (see picture by Lucy Hawes/V&A). They were the messages written on paper plates and scraps of paper and pinned to shelter doors or trees at the Woodstock Festival. You know the kind of thing – Beware of the Brown Acid/I’ll meet you by the right-hand Tower – but touching that someone saved them. Frustratingly hit and miss as a round up of those five years, but hugely enjoyable none the less, it’s on ’til Feb 26. Now let me hear you shout… “Gimme an F!

revolution

FIVE I’M LOOKIN’ FUNNY IN MY EYES
In the week that Bob Dylan’s take on The Great American Songbook is announced, with 2017’s ‘worst font on a record cover’ already sewn up, I watched Greenwich Village, Music That Defined a Generation, on Sky Arts. In the midst of a host of fascinating clips was this unlikely pairing, singing an unlikely song, Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die”…

greenwich.jpg

EXTRA! MORE
After mentioning Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd.” in the synaesthetic wine thing (here) a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time looking for songs that could possibly be covered by an unnamed legendary rock singer as he contemplates a new album. In my trawling I was looking at a couple of songs on Robbie Robertson’s “How to be Clairvoyant”, an album I’d never given the time of day to. It’s really good – my slight antipathy to solo Robbie is breaking down. And that led on to Lang Lang’s take on “Somewhere/Dirty Blvd.” It’s kind of amazing, almost 12 minutes of pianistics, bombastic percussion, “Somewhere” sung by Lisa Fischer, and “Dirty Blvd” spoken by Robertson. It’s on Spotify, although not on YouTube, if that has whetted your appetite.

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Thursday, January 26th

ONE RECORD OF THE WEEK
London’s myriad opportunities for vinyl purchasing leads to some odd places, but this is up there with the (floating) Record Deck – Subtitles café on Balls Pond Road, where you can not only get coffee but original Czech film posters and 331/3 records. Navigating its tiny space is fun, as is flicking through the racks, where I came across this – Charlie McCoy’s The Real McCoy. I know that it will, in all probability, not set the world afire (although it won a Grammy), but it’s basically the Area Code 615 lineup, put together after recording Nashville Skyline (most of them had also worked on Blonde on Blonde three years earlier). One of the few bands named after phone area codes, although you can find some others here (but not Area Code 615, strangely).

mccoy

TWO REAL COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Of the Oscar-nominated films that films I’ve seen so far, Hell or High Water is the most solid. A small story told exceptionally well with great performances all round and a kickass country score (Billie Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings et al) surrounded by mood music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The final song is “Outlaw State Of Mind” by Chris Stapleton, which, if you have an affinity to the outlaw country scene of Willie and Waylon and the boys, will take you back to Luckenback, Texas. Investigating further, I found this fine clip of Stapleton performing George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey” – bass and keyboards have the Muscle Shoals ’67 look down pat. Chris also gives good interview – “If somebody tells me it sounds dated, I’d say that’s great, as long as the date is 1978… I’m a fan of polarization. If you make something that is palatable to everybody, it’s like making vanilla ice cream, and I think we have enough of that.”

THREE IN OTHER OSCAR NEWS
The gloomy Manchester by the Sea has Lesley Barber’s classical score ladled over it like clam chowder, never letting the film breathe. It jerks into life in a bar scene when there’s a knockout triple of Shirley and Lee’s cataclysmic “Let the Good Times Roll” segueing into Albert King’s solid “Driving Wheel” followed by Ray Charles with “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”, as Casey Affleck picks another hopeless fight. It’s a beautifully crafted film, with great performances (except, somehow, Michelle Williams, who feels over the top), but we left wondering what the point of it was. I’ll report back on La La Land (I’m not hopeful – it looks like One From the Heart with extra dancing).

FOUR HOWEVER, THIS I WANT TO SEE
From a US Esquire cover story on Pharrell, by Jeff Gordinier: “Pharrell’s feminist inclinations fueled his latest endeavor, Hidden Figures, a film he worked on as a producer and wrote original music for. The movie tells one of those stories from the course of American history that you can’t believe has gone unheard for so long.

Directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, it raises a toast to three African-American women (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson) who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where they played pivotal roles in America’s space race against Mother Russia in the early 1960s. Without their breakthroughs in mathematical formulas, computer programming (then in its infancy), and engineering, astronaut John Glenn may never have made it into orbit – nor would he and his capsule have splashed down successfully near Grand Turk island.

For decades, their story wasn’t merely marginalized; it was unknown, not even a blip on the radar. No one was listening. “The female contribution to anything significant has always been historically dismissed or discounted, or often erased,” Pharrell says. To a degree, the women were unseen and unheard within the white management structure of NASA, even while they were in the midst of making the calculations that would eventually send American astronauts to the moon. The movie has a series of scenes in which Henson, playing Johnson, has to totter frantically in high heels to a building far away from the main Langley war room because no one thought, in those last days of segregation, to provide a nearby restroom for black women. “That’s how rigged the matrix was,” Pharrell says.

AND FINALLY… STATISTIC CORNER!
I stumbled across this site that purports to tell you what your site is worth, should you be in any way interested in monetizing it. I of course ran the numbers on Five Things. I then ran them for two of the finest music blogs, thebluemoment and JazzWax. Here are the results:

worthofweb

In Eurovision terms I think that makes Five Things nul points.

Next week, I’ll catch up with the March of Mediocrity that was the Pre-Inagaration concert, great rock reads, and Barry Gibb.

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A Late Return and 7 Things, Thursday 19th January

Happy 2017 to all, if such a thing feels even vaguely on the cards. Strangeness seems to be all over the cards at the moment – here’s some recent examples…

ONE PROOF-READING ERROR OF THE WEEK
As I browsed Waterstones’ racks I saw a new Random House reissue of Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. And when I read the back blurb, it introduced me to a music producer I didn’t know…

wolfe

TWO CHRISTMAS UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE
Bumptious Will Hutton’s team didn’t seem to understand the rules of the game – buzzing when they didn’t need to, and conferring when they shouldn’t – in possibly the lowest scoring match in UC history. The poor scores were compounded by the other team seemingly having no knowledge of pop culture, even though their captain, Chris Hawkings, was introduced as a 6 Music DJ. He put his head in his hands having failed to recognise Revolver, Blonde on Blonde and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme from their track listings. I know the heat of the moment leads to blankness, but I’m sure his return to work would have been made jestingly uncomfortable after the show was broadcast.

THREE BLACK MARIAH
Mariah Carey is always present through Christmas and the New Year, isn’t she? Here, jazz pianist Liam Noble talks of his feelings about “All I Want for Christmas is You” on his blog, Brother Face, in brilliant fashion. Here, discussing her choice of notes:

“It all starts pretty conventionally; bells, chords, warbly R ’n’ B vocals. But listen to that line at 0:25 “…I just want for my own/More than you could ever know”; on the words “own” and “know” – that note, an Eb, it’s very unstable in G major. And each time, the melody just jumps back on to the tonic note, a highly illegal move in melody writing. In board game terms, it’s like going up the snakes and down the ladders. Over and over through this song, the melody lingers around this same note like scratching a flea bite that only gets worse with the itching. At 2:39, in the bridge, she lingers on that Eb in the bass on the words “and everyone is singing”, the beat surging optimistically on, the chords reflecting a deep disquiet.”

And this, on the accompanying video:
“Viewed today in all its shaky, grainy nineties-ness, it looks like… flashback footage of a murder victim from a Scandinavian thriller… I made a list of some of the images;
Spinning Santa heads
The woods, deserted
Standing alone in the woods, deserted, as the sun rises
Disembodied hand and forearm reaches for something
Holding an incongruous rabbit aloft
Unexplained digging in the snow (where is the rabbit?)
…All I Want For Xmas Is You. In a box.”

FOUR BLUE MARIAH
2016 was made better by the fact that Amanda Petrusitch appears regularly on the New Yorker’s culture blog, and her writing on Carey’s New Year’s Eve appearance in Times Square, “Mariah Carey’s rather Perfect Farewell to 2016” was vintage:
“Carey famously sings in what’s called the whistle register – the highest range of tones a human being can organically produce. It is extraordinarily unusual for a grown person ever to make sounds that piercing, although babies and small, angry children can sometimes get themselves there without much help. On the studio recording of “Emotions,” Carey arrives, miraculously, at a high G, all those octaves up the scale, during a run at the end of the word – and why wouldn’t this be literal? – “high.” Is it pleasant to the ear? It sounds, to me, like a rabid bat has just flown up and under my sweatshirt, and we are both shrieking dementedly in terror.”

“…Something was wrong. From the outset, Carey was catastrophically behind the beat. Two men appeared at her elbows, presumably to help her traverse a short staircase. (This is something she likes: being accompanied down short staircases.) “Just walk me down,” she said, smiling wanly. “Well, happy new year!” Some fussing. “We can’t hear.” Carey flipped her long, shiny hair, fiddled with a gold necklace, put a hand on her hip. “All right, we didn’t have a check for this song, so we’ll just say it went to No. 1,” she announced, striding across the stage in heels. “And that’s what it is.” This routine went on for an uncomfortable amount of time: a bit of singing, a pronouncement, some striding. When it came time for the G7 note, Carey was not holding the microphone anywhere near her mouth, but there it was, nonetheless: that wild, clarion G7, blaring from the speakers…”

You can watch some clips here, if you feel the need. This side of the Atlantic we had the charmless Mr Robbie Williams, whose facial grimaces were enough to sum up 2016. His choice of the first song to sing when the strokes of midnight were just passed was the head-scratching one of “New York, New York”. Having watched the City of London attempt to out-firework all the other cities of the world, the least we could have expected was Lord Kitchener’s “London is the Place for Me”.

FIVE THIS IS JUST SO COOL…
Shelly Manne, the Jackson Five, The Grammy Awards 1974. Found at Marc Myers exhaustively fascinating JazzWax blog, where it drew this note from Flip Manne, Shelly Manne’s wife. “Happy New Year! Regarding that clip of Shelly with the Jackson 5 that you posted, I was backstage with him that night at the 1974 Grammy Awards. He was on a turntable stage that was supposed to turn around as soon as they came down the ramp but it temporarily malfunctioned. As a result, he was late turning and had to come out playing with no idea where they were in the music. Shelly had amazing timing and it always saved him.” This is the only time we’ll ever hear The Jacksons cover The Staples, War and the Detroit Spinners, and how modest is Gladys Knight’s acceptance speech? Of course, Manne was the percussionist thanked for his “drumstikly pasteurized conktribution” on Tom Waits’ Small Change.

SIX YOU KNOW, I’M JUST NOT CONVINCED…
Personally, it’s usually a good friend that makes a great wine come alive, but Fiona Beckett, argued in a Guardian wine review that, “if wine is to come alive for people, it needs more of this sort of synaesthetic approach. Music, for instance, can actually change your perception of food and drink, according to research carried out by Professor Charles Spence at Somerville College, Oxford. And, as it happens, Oddbins has been pursuing this line of thought for a while now, pairing its wines with different soundtracks. The exotically smoky Cantine San Marzano from Salento is somewhat whimsically recommended with Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, while Samuel Delafont’s Libre Cours Rouge 2015, an exuberant blend of pinot noir and grenache, is partnered with Paul Anka’s “A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine” (though, personally, I’d go for Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd”). [Ed’s note: try and find two more diametrically opposed songs! Guess which the line, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor – I’ll piss on ’em/that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says…” comes from].

Anyhow, back to Fiona: “Great Western Wine in Bath has teamed up with a company called Stylus Vinyl to pair a classic album with one of its wines. This month, they’ve matched David Bowie’s Hunky Dory with El Brindis Monsant 2014, Franck Massard’s ballsy blend of samso and garnacha. You may disagree about the appropriateness of the soundtrack, but it’s a welcome departure from seeing wine purely as a commodity, and instead start to view it as part of a broader, cultural experience.

My pairing? A cheeky Ribera Del Duero with Red Ingle and The (Un) Natural Seven, featuring the wonderful Jo Stafford – billed here as Cinderella G. Stump – taking Perry Como’s Temptation to the cleaners. My dad loved Spike Jones (along with Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart and Stan Freeberg), so I’d always been exposed to this musical insanity. It’s not something that you need to hear often, but may be appropriate in this Inauguration Week. Hear it in the music player on the right if you dare.

SEVEN AFTER ALL THIS IDLE SCHEMING, CAN’T WE HAVE SOMETHING TO FEEL…
On the occasion of the passing of Nat Hentoff, legendary jazz writer and all round extra-ordinary fellow, Marc Myers ran an interview that he
’d done in 2009
Marc: Is there a link between jazz and justice?
Nat Hentoff: Oh sure. When Max Roach was teaching at the University of Massachusetts, I was auditing a class there. Afterward we were talking. He said, “You know, what [jazz musicians] do, each of us as individuals, is listen to one another very carefully to make this thing work. And out of that process comes a whole that has its own identity. That’s exactly what the U.S. Constitution is all about.” How right he was. Thinkers coming together to create something that has enormous purpose.

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One Thing, Christmas Eve 2016

Towards the end of the year I heard a BBC news bulletin that made even the most terrible events of this wretched year fade into the background. I remembered that my dear friend Mark had sent an acoustic bottleneck guitar version of “Silent Night” around a few years ago for the Christmas season. And then I remembered that in 1966, Simon & Garfunkel had juxtaposed that song with the 7 O’Clock news. So that’s what I did. Donate to the Red Cross efforts here.

Thanks to Mark for the music.

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Wednesday, December 14th

ONE JAZZIE B: FROM DOLE TO SOUL, BBC 4
This documentary started lazily, but gradually sharpened up to be a fascinating portrait of black experience in 80s London. “The media painted us all with the same brush, but we were all different strands of that brush… not everybody in south London and Brixton enjoyed West Indian food – no we didn’t. We were sick of chicken and rice and dumpling and all that stuff, ’cos that’s what we were raised on. We aspired to the Wimpy Bar – we wanted to eat chips. I was born and raised in England. I wanted to be like my mate at school. I wanted to go fishing down on the River Lea. I wanted to play Subbuteo, I wanted to roller skate. I wanted to have those kind of experiences. I played Ice Hockey, for Christ’s sake!”

TWO RICHARD HARRIS IN A COMMENT ON thebluemoment
On a post about the Stones’ new album: “May 12, 1963 (Sunday) they played an afternoon “R&B” session at The 51 Club (Ken Colyer’s place). We were in London, up from Wales for the opening concert that night of Ray Charles’ hugely anticipated first British visitation, so wandering through Soho just to kill time, we drifted in. Yes, they cranked through the Chess Best Of anthology rather well, loud and tight, and with embryo attitude! I do remember they also did “I’m Moving On” with a two chorus break, the second with the bass lifting up an octave. We stole that! The Stones at a pivotal, enthusiastic point and Ray & that Band on one London Sunday… to be alive etc…”

THREE LORRA LORRA ROBBIE ROBERTSON THIS WEEK…
from an animated (!) interview by Andy Kershaw on Radio 4, to a very interesting Michael Simmonds piece in Mojo. The Kershaw interview felt to me to be treading old ground (the Starlight Lounge story is told in the Last Waltz and in every book about the Band ever written), but reading the interview in Mojo reminds me that there’s more than one side to any story. I was idly looking at robbierobertson.com when I came upon this gallery of his guitars. I singled out one Telecaster, partly because of its extraordinary appearance, partly because of its extraordinary history.

robertsonguitars

Then I went off on a detour around Chuck Berry. First, a wonderful piece by Peter Guralnick, where he discusses a series of meetings with Chuck Berry, where the subject of poetry’s influence on the words of Berry’s songs comes up.

It’s here, too, in this interview shot for “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll”, with Robertson and Berry looking through Chuck’s scrapbook. It’s fascinating how subtle and tender Berry’s thoughts are.

FOUR A LOVELY IDEA…
Tyler Coates in US Esquire on the news that no, Bob won’t go to the Nobel Ceremony, but yes, he has written a speech for it: “Usually when one RSVPs “no” to an invitation, it isn’t necessary to submit a long explanation or – perhaps even more ballsy – a script to be read to the people who did show up to the party. Then again, we’re talking about a guy who ghosted on the people who simply wish to bestow upon him one of the world’s most coveted awards. Would it be too much to ask for a member of the Swedish Academy to stand up in front of the crowd, silently hold up Dylan’s speech on cue cards and drop them to the floor?”

The reality was a moving rendition of “Hard Rain” by Patti Smith, beautifully chronicled here by Amanda Petrusich on newyorker.com (she’s the author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, a fantastic book.)

FIVE REST IN PEACE, HERB HARDESTY
Not only a kick-ass saxophonist on those great Fats Domino records out of New Orleans, but for those of us who saw Tom Waits touring in ’79, a fabulous trumpet player, too. Follow this link to hear him on the glorious medley of “Summertime/Burma Shave” essayed on that tour. Apparently, his trumpet was custom-made by Henri Selmer Paris, one of two made in France by a master craftsman; the other was owned by Louis Armstrong.

AND FINALLY… PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Halfway up the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, we come across this…

gaga

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