Thursday, July 5th

I’ve been distracted from weekly posting by a project that’s taken up a fair amount of time, but it’s finally come to fruition. Here’s a quick and dirty look back at the last few weeks. So, listening to Frazey Ford’s lovely Indian Ocean, recorded with the Hi Rhythm Section in Memphis (thanks, Tim – I missed this in 2104), here’s Five Things from the last three weeks…

ONE I LOVED SEEING OLD PALS MICRODISNEY
…who had reformed to receive the inaugural IMRO/NCH Trailblazer Award 2018 – an award which celebrates seminal albums, in this case The Clock Comes Down the Stairs, by iconic Irish musicians. Post the Dublin concert hey played a show at the Barbican, where their songs were revealed to have real heft, standing the test of time. Thirty years fell away and it was great to see them play to a wildly enthusiastic full house.

5-microdisney.jpgThe highlight for me was “Past”, where Cathal’s keening delivery sounded so good enfolded in the warmth of the band’s sound.

TWO WHY DOES THE BBC HAVE TO BE A CONCERT PROMOTER?
I’m not sure events like the Big Weekender are the best use of their (our) resources. There’s so much music on tv but, while it’s not totally narrowcast, it certainly excludes whole swathes of interesting stuff. There has been pitifully little coverage, for instance, of the extraordinary moment that is happening now in jazz in Britain. They just can’t seem to find a way to document or support it. When we look back and are thrilled that someone recorded Big Joe Williams or Josh White, or Rosetta Tharpe or Thelonius Monk or Jimi Hendrix or Ry Cooder or Talking Heads – where is that coverage now? Does it always have to be put through the funnel of newly hyped acts, Jools Holland or a giant music festival? End of rant.

THREE I LOVED THIS IMPASSIONED PAEAN TO FREE (THE BAND, NOT THE CONCEPT)
Commenting on one of Bob Lefsetz’ extraordinary almost-daily stream-of-consciousness missives [the Lefsetz Letter] from the front line of the music biz, was Hugo (Gang of Four) Burnham.

Subject: Re: Paul Rodgers Podcast. “Yes, that voice… that was so strong and mature, so young, and has stayed that way for decades. “My Brother Jake” is still one of the saddest, loveliest songs ever. Chokes me up every time. They were the second band I ever saw live (and on my own) at The Royal Albert Hall in 1972. I stood transfixed at the lip of the (quite low) stage. Paul wore a red flared-sleeve T-shirt… which took me an age to find to buy – in Kensington Market, eventually. There is SO much more than “Alright Now” – they were still teenagers when they recorded “Fire & Water’, FFS. Free was simply the biggest influence on G4. It killed us that the only damn label who didn’t want to sign us in ’78/’79 was Island Records… We covered “Woman” in the early days; I copied Simon Kirke’s whole sit-up playing style – the master (along with Charlie) of less-is-more playing. I met him at [Jerry] Wexler’s memorial service in NY and shook his hand. (Right after that I shook Bernard Purdie’s hand. What a day!) I still listen to Free all the time. Elemental, wonderful stuff.”

FOUR WORST PHOTO OF THE LAST FEW WEEKS

5-mooch.jpgNot the fault of Christopher Lane, the photographer, but down to the fact that people who don’t play guitars always hold them so awkwardly. This Epiphone in the hands of the Mooch (interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead for The Guardian) still has its label hanging off the head stock, and is poorly signed by OneRepublic. Who? What? I listened so you don’t have to. I didn’t have to listen long. “In creating their third full-length album, OneRepublic travelled to Paris, Greece, London, New York, Seattle and Vancouver to write, record and immerse themselves in elevating and expanding their already-sweeping sound.” Right, that’s me told. They could have tried harder with the signatures, I feel, as could the Mooch with the tongue thing. I assume he’s making like Gene Simmons of Kiss. It figures that Scaramucci’d be thirty years out of date.

FIVE THE PEERLESS AMANDA P ON PAISLEY PARK
From The New Yorker: “Before I arrived, I found the property’s purpose somewhat oblique: was it a shrine, a historic site, a mausoleum, a business? In the atrium, I discovered that Paisley Park provides an immediate target for a very particular kind of grief. (The museum’s curator, Angie Marchese, described it to me simply as “a place to go.”) Most of Prince’s fans didn’t know him personally, yet his work was essential to their lives. When he died, where could they mourn? An ungenerous reading might be that Americans are so ill-equipped to manage death that we are forced to mediate it through tourism. We soothe our pain by buying a plane ticket, booking a hotel room, buying a keychain: expressing gratitude via a series of payments. It works, to an extent.”

EXTRA! WHAT THE HELL… WILLIE DE VILLE DOES “ACROSS THE BORDERLINE” IN 1999.
Alongside the glorious mandolin of Freddy Koella, the great James Luther Dickinson, John Robert Hiatt and Ryland Peter Cooder song is still pertinent after all these years.

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Tuesday, June 12th

ONE LORD ABOVE, DEVIL BELOW
Hillsong Church pops up on Sunday at the Dominion Theatre. Shame that Bat out of Hell is the musical in residence…

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TWO DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE’S A RAMONES MUSEUM IN BERLIN?
“Flo Hayler is a Ramones fan. In 1990, he goes to his first concert, and becomes a devotee of the punk rock band, this gig marking the beginning of a lifelong passion. Starting with posters, he hoards T-Shirts and all possible memorabilia. To the annoyance of his girlfriend, his collection grows proportionally to fill his small Berlin flat. And indeed, Hayler collects so much Ramones memorabilia that he now has enough to fill a museum. In 2005, he opened the first Ramones Museum in Berlin, and the world. Head to Kreuzberg to admire 500+ items from the Ramones’ history. A café with snacks, coffee and, of course, beer completes the punk picture. Explore exhibition spaces decorated like packed living rooms. Photos, information and history pour out of display cases and cover the walls.” Oh, and the museum offers life-time tickets to loyal guests.

THREE PIANIST AND COMPOSER LIAM NOBLE…
…has a blog, Brother Face (brilliantly subtitled, Jazz musician gets tangled in words) which is always thought-provoking and enlightening. This is from his most recent post, on Ava DuVernay’s 2008 film, This Is The Life, a documentary which “chronicles the alternative hip hop movement that flourished in 1990s Los Angeles and its legendary center, the Good Life Cafe” according to Wikipedia.

“The thing I love most about the cinema is coming out afterwards, the feeling of moving from that enclosed space to the open world, the dislocation that confirms that something has changed. I haven’t spoken for five hours, but in my brain there’s a head-spinning avalanche all the way home, I’m trying to remember everything that I saw and heard, it came in such a rush, all the names of the MCs and crews, where was the club, was it LA, (I’ll check when I get home), I’ll buy all the records, and I’ll look for the lyrics so I can start again and piece it all together slowly at my own remedial pace. I’m lost. I feel like a beginner, like an idiot somehow and, as a musician, that’s the feeling I’m always looking for. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

And from the previous post, on songs from West Side Story, “Chord sequences stand up like a table, and if you want to build one with three legs you’d better know where to put them.” If Liam was American, he’d be published by The New Yorker.

FOUR A DIFFERENT LIAM AT THE PIANO AT THE LADY MILDMAY, NEWINGTON GREEN

5-pianostandNow that’s what you want to see on your pianist’s iPad. Especially when it follows Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”.

FIVE PINK FLOYD REISSUES, BY EVERYRECORDTELLSASTORY
“You have to feel a little sorry for Pink Floyd fans. Not too much, obviously. They are more likely than you are to have a final salary pension, a second home, a car that starts on a cold day, a membership to a gym they never visit and all the other trappings of the baby boomer generation, but it’s not as though this is lost on the record companies that sell products to them. Because those record companies are looking to suck up Floyd fan’s cash almost as relentlessly as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals target betting addicts at your local Ladbrokes…”

EXTRA! SOME RECOMMENDED LISTENING
Is That Machine On? is a look by Stuart Maconie at the “golden age of the music press interview.” An entertaining programme that ends up with John Pidgeon’s remarkable interview with Michael Jackson via his “interpreter”, sister Janet. Properly mad.
And Radio 4 still has Great Lives on Miles Davis available. Listen to Adrian (Portishead) Utley and Richard Williams attempt to convince Matthew Parris of Kind of Blue’s place in the Pantheon.

EXTRA! FOUND IN A BOX IN THE GARAGE
Osmonds Letraset!  Why?

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Wednesday, May 2nd

It was a week of strangeness, a week where Gibson went bankrupt, Bob Dylan turned distiller and Prince had a new song out…

ONE “I’M LIKE A BIRD WITHOUT A SONG”
With some synchronicity, there I was talking about Susan Rogers (see the music player on the right) and Eric Leeds, when she’s interviewed by The Guardian for the release of Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. “One day, he went into a room with a notebook and, within an hour, emerged with the lyrics to “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Rogers, who witnessed many such bursts of creativity, remembers, “The song came out like a sneeze.” As usual, she rolled the tapes as Prince laid down instrument after instrument, mixing and overdubbing in the same session (Eric Leeds overdubbed the sax part three days later).”

It starts for all the world like a Harry Nilsson song, a fairground calliope round punctuated by a percussive dah-dah! Then the vocal starts, a tune you know so well that any deviance from the version you’ve loved since 1990 pulls you up short. There’s an unexpected muscularity as the drums and swooping guitar fly in at the end of the first line. It has that loosey-goosey drumming style that Stevie Wonder had when he overdubbed on top of his own drum parts. (Eddie Hinton was another captain manyhands in this regard – try “Watch Dog”). It also has a couple of bluesy turns to the melody which really work, and listen to how Eric Leeds’ tenor picks up on that sour/sweetness beautifully. Susan thought the finished song was “exceptional, in his Top 10”. She was right – it’s a masterpiece. Really.

TWO “I BEEN A MOONSHINER…”
As I write this, son is in L.A. attempting to buy a bottle of Bob’s new signature hootch, Heaven’s Door. According to Clay Risen of The New York Times, “the palate opens with a soft cocoa and buttercream note, then sharpens toward black pepper and cigar tobacco. The finish is slightly bitter, with the sweet spiciness of an Atomic Fireball.” Sounds good, Clay. Let’s hope Gabe hits paydirt. It’s occasioned the release of more pictures of Bob in his ironworking studio, along with inspirational quotes…

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…but there’s a cute bit of the Heaven’s Door site that has a random selection of Bob’s original typescripts for songs. This one, for “Blind Willie McTell” – bootlegged whisky in his hand – has the fabulous (cut) couplet, “Just me and Betty Grable, trying to stay warm…”

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THREE “DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALRIGHT”
While typing, I’m listening to Verona, the last show of the Dylan European Tour (it’s here) which features heavily re-arranged versions of the entire set-list. There’s an intimate and gentle loveliness to pretty much everything played, like the band are gathered around one mic in a triangle of light. Although it’s all very restrained, there are some neat angles to the melody lines (mainly in the form of unison lap steel/guitar features). The version of “Tangled up in Blue” is very odd, but the American Songbook stuff is gorgeous, “Honest with Me” is given a total Eddie Cochran makeover (quite a lot of the gig has a dawn of R&R feel) and “Pay in Blood” has now become a brilliant kind of Weimar Blues. Bob’s own piano playing is on-the-money, operating at the most eccentric end of his spectrum. The interludes in “Ballad of a Thin Man” – well it’s nothing like you’d expect. The whole band sound like they’re having the damnedest time. Good on Ol’ Whiskey Bob.

FOUR RY COODER TOURS AGAIN, AT SON’S INSISTENCE…
Well done, Joaquin! Of course, The Prodigal Son London date sold out instantly. A shame, as Cadogan Hall would be an excellent venue to hear him and his band of young guns play. I managed to get tickets for the gig at the National Stadium in Dublin, the world’s only purpose-built boxing stadium, built in 1939. Wish me luck. I mean, acoustically it could be fine, I just have my doubts… Oh, and someone put this excellent promo film on YouTube recently: Van Dyke Parks’ first music video production at Warner Brothers Records, in 1970. “I headed up a pioneering office that I titled ‘Audio Visual Services.’ Of those several ten-minute documentary musical shorts, I know of only one that survives – ‘Ry Cooder’”. Dig the pick-up truck and Airstream trailer.

FIVE MORTIFICATION CORNER
I’m at the dentist, around the corner from Selfridges. Across from me, looking at his phone is Toby Jones. Who doesn’t love Toby Jones as an actor? Brilliant in his breakthrough role as Truman Capote in Infamous, marvellous as Neil Baldwin in Marvellous (the story of Stoke City Football Club’s kit-man), and fantastic alongside Mackenzie Crook in Detectorists.

I have a guitar with me, which I never do. I hate carrying a guitar around town. I feel a charlatan. I have it because my sister-in-law, Hedda, has asked me to bring it to that evening’s Mark Kermode in 3D at the BFI, of which she is one of the producers. Not to play, you understand, but as a back-up, in case actor Johnny Flynn can’t bring his to the show. Johnny wrote and the theme song for Detectorists, so I’m amused by the coincidence. Dentist visit done with, I head to the South Bank, and to the Green Room. Tonight’s guests are Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror fame and Jessie Buckley and Johnny, who are there to talk about their new film, Beast.

I’m talking to Mark, who says that Johnny won’t be here for the start of the show, and we work out a bit of business where, as Johnny’s introduced, Mark will ask if anyone has a guitar. Guitar secreted under my seat, that’ll be my cue to hold my hand up and pass it to the front. Hilarity will ensue.

Mark asks if the guitar’s in tune, so I say yes but get it out to check. As I’m doing so, Mark then suggests a run through, and pulling out his harmonica, calls Jessie over, and expects me to play along, with Charlie Brooker and Hedda for an audience. The chords for, yes, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” fly from my head, and Jessie’s lovely voice is left to deal with my all-over-the-shop guitar.  Attempting to pull the chords up on the phone is tricky, as the BFI building seems to block 4G signals, but Mark somehow gets them. Not so they fit on a tiny phone screen, however. We go again, there’s much stopping and starting, but it gets the key worked out, warms Jessie’s voice up and allows Mark to sort out the right cross-key for his harmonica.

The show is, as usual, highly entertaining, and Charlie Brooker’s love for the terrifying Magic Roundabout film, Dougal and the Blue Cat, a sight to see. Then Johnny arrives on stage, and he and Jessie try to talk about a film that is almost impossible to without spoiling its taut roll-out of character and tension. Then Mark asks his guests to play a song, and if there’s a guitar in the house. There is. It’s Johnny’s, but no-one’s told Mark so he points me out, and expects me to hand it to him. But I’d been asked to leave mine in the Green Room in case Johnny wanted to familiarise himself with it. And no-one’s told Mark, but it only adds to the rather carnival-esque atmosphere of these shows… All is well, though, and they essay a sweet, skipping version of “Don’t Think Twice”.

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Afterwards, I talk to Johnny about his love of the fingerpicking style of Mississippi John Hurt (listen to the Detectorists theme to check that out), his upcoming live album (and great live albums of the past), Blake Mills’ production of his friend Laura Marling’s Semper Femina (I love how Mills pushed the structures of the music, but he’s not so sure) and his lovely 1934 wooden Resonator guitar (a National Trojan, I think). He’s a lovely guy, great at both things he does, as is the extremely talented Jessie. And, thankfully, I hadn’t seen the excellent Beast before I met them both. That’s all I’m saying.

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Wednesday, April 18th

This week’s missive has been written to a soundtrack of Bettye Lavette singing “Emotionally Yours” from her new record of Dylan covers, “Sometimes It Snows In April” from Me’Shell Ndegéocello’s Ventriloquism, her album of 80s covers, Melody Gardot’s fine Live in Europe, and The Kills’ new single (see below).

ONE RECOMMENDED FILMS 1
If you’re a lover of B-Movies then get to the cinema quickly for A Quiet Place, so you don’t read anything more about it [like this – Ed]. Director John Krasinski played composer Marco Beltrami Peter Gabriel’s version of Bowie and Eno’s “Heroes” as a direction for the minimal score, to be done on a minimal budget. “All I needed were strings and a piano. I de-tuned the piano’s black keys to make it a little askew.” It works beautifully, merging in with the almost silent film, where most of the sound comes from whispers, feet padding on sanded paths, and the tiny creaks of floorboards.

TWO RECOMMENDED FILMS 2
Also out now, the terrifying You Were Never Really Here, by Lynne Ramsay, with Joaquin (or as he’s now known in our house, WhackHim)
Phoenix. Wow. Dark, disturbing, oppressive, incredibly filmed and directed, it’s a nasty, bruitish tale that seems totally at home in the world today. I always think that films dealing with exploitation veer perilously close to the thing they’re moralising about, and this is in the tradition of Scorsese and Schrader’s Taxi Driver, and, especially, Paul Schrader’s Hardcore, the next film he wrote, about a father searching for his daughter amid the world of Snuff films. There is one of those sequences that critics call “bravura”, where Phoenix is seen dispatching various hoods via CCTV screens, as a distorted soundtrack plays Rosie and the Originals “Angel Baby”, a song that even in its original form is pretty distorted.

In an interview with Emily Yoshida for Vulture, Ramsay tells how this sequence came about: “So we started walking through the whole sequence, and the DP shot it, and I started thinking about how I was going to use the sound. And I started to think, you know, this [the grainy CCTV footage] feels right for that moment in the film. It’s a risky thing to do, but it was kind of a light-bulb moment when our backs were against the wall in many ways. And then for the sound stuff, with the skipping music, we tried a lot of different things; we tried using just room tone. But “Angel Baby” was the first track I tried, and I thought, maybe it’s just an interior track. And we were playing with it, and it kind of messes with your brain a little bit; it comes out of different speakers. And then the idea of the time slice, where you take little pieces of the song out, so the cuts “jump” even more. It sets up sort of a startling tone. So once we kind of hit on that, I was like, we’re kind of using the music in a different way — you don’t exactly know what or why, but it does something to you.” Startling is right – it’s a brilliant effect, and if the film is slightly unsatisfying it’s not for want of realism or talent.

THREE ANOTHER FILM RECOMMENDATION!

5-billfrisellThis time on DVD, this one Emma Franz’ intimate film about Bill Frisell, Bill Frisell: A Portrait, which illuminates the rather terrifying creative process that takes place in Bill’s mind. At one point he’s doing a concert with pianist Jason Moran, and sends him over a sheaf of song ideas, about forty, from a pile of hundreds that he’d written in a short period. My favourite section has Frisell trying to remember how a particular song goes, and failing, saying how he hopes it will come to him in the moment, and cutting to him playing it brilliantly that night. It also has the treasurable Joey Baron, as interviewee and collaborator, whose recollections are a total hoot. Help enable Emma to make more great films by buying a copy!

FOUR THINKING ABOUT RECORDING WITH…
Ndugu Chancler [see the music player on the right] made me look out this, Eric Leeds’ horn chart for Hot House’s “Means Too Much”
.

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He flew into L.A. from Minneapolis to work with our co-producer, Susan Rogers, who was also recording with Wendy & Lisa on her days off. We asked Susan if Eric would write a horn section for this song and, boy, did he ever. He came in and blazed his way through the five parts (alto, three tenors, baritone), not a note out of place. It was like magic.

FIVE EIGHT BY EIGHT BY…
I was interviewing legendary NYC Art Director Robert Priest by Skype this week about his extraordinary global football magazine, Eight by Eight, when he asked me what I was listening to. That question always blindsides me, but as I was seated at the computer, I was able to give him a couple of names. I reversed the question, and he said that the Priest & Grace office loved The Kills. Which was weird, as I was going to mention their new single in answer to his original question. It’s called “List of Demands (Reparations)” and is fantastic – a howling thump of in-your-face menace, placed right at the corner where The Ting Tings meet Queen’s “We Will Rock You”!

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Friday, April 6th

ONE THE MOST SOULFUL AND MOVING PIECE OF MUSIC…
that I heard this week wasn’t sung, it was spoken. It was in Clarke Peters’ fine edition of Soul Music on Radio Four, Songs of the Civil Rights Movement. In the section on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”, a dusty, dry-as-paper voice starts speaking in restrained cadences, taking its own solemn time to tell its tale.

“My name is L. C. Cooke, I’m the brother of the late, great Sam Cooke. Well I know you remember “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan… Sam always said a black man shoulda wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind”. And he sat down and wrote,

I was born by the river
in a little tent
But just like the river
I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time coming
But I know
Change gonna come

and he said, “A Change is Gonna Come” was the hardest song he ever wrote in his life.” Cooke quietly gave the proceeds of the song to Martin Luther King and the Movement, but in his dignified way, L.C. won’t make more of that. “See, when Sam did something, he didn’t want to brag about it, you know… and so I’d really rather not talk about that.”
[It’s available on the iPlayer now].

TWO “COOL MODERNISM” AT THE ASHMOLEAN
A small and perfectly formed exhibition, on ’til July 22nd and highly recommended. As we left the gallery and made our way downstairs, passing the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun Gallery (an exploration of the meeting of the West with the East through European exploration from 1492 onwards), I see a display of guitars and violins. It includes these three beautiful examples, with the central instrument being one of the few examples of a Stradivarius guitar. I had no idea that such a thing existed. Here and here are examples of what they sound like.

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THREE GOSPEL BOB
Watching Trouble No More, the documentary/feature about the Gospel Years (sermons okay, music strangely inflexible) you couldn’t miss Dylan’s intense commitment to the material. Coated in sweat, he prowled and preached to the crowd. Best bit may well have been the harp solo at the end of “What Can I Do for You?” It wasn’t quite at ’66 levels of brilliance, but it provided a moment where the music went out on a limb, and towards the end resolved around the beautiful melody of “That Lucky Old Sun” – later to become a feature of the gospel tours.

FOUR A MUSICAL FREE FOR ALL
I was struck by this paragraph near the end of Original Rockers by Richard King, an elegiac account of his time working at Bristol’s Revolver Records in the mid 1990s:
“Visitors to the shop from outside Bristol would return months later, enriched by the experience of buying music that, before conversing with Roger, they had previously been unaware of. They treasured the atmosphere of enquiry and compulsion at the counter, even if it felt intimidating, and departed smiling and enlivened, carrying their purchases in the black and red-and-black Revolver bag, sure that in doing so some mutually appreciated form of status had been conferred. In turn, they brought their particular enthusiasms to the counter for discussion and used the opportunity of loitering in the shop to broaden their musical knowledge.”
When this was written (in 2015, about the mid-1990s) it was already nostalgic. Now, in the era of streaming, it feels that it’s come from the time of Jane Austen… Now the tech companies piggyback on the creative work that others have made, and become rich, by co-opting us into their business, while the creators, for the most part, make little. Read Amanda Petrusich in this week’s New Yorker, and weep.

nb. When I texted my friend Tim (he was at Bristol University) he replied: “A fantastic memoir, made even stranger by the fact that I worked at Revolver for a while. Highlights for me included a two-month stint when Chris the then manager insisted that Ornette Coleman’s “Dancing in My Head” was the first record played every morning. He also refused to stock the first Dire Straits album and badly abused anyone who dared ask for it.”

FIVE THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE
Creepy and greedy, Andrew Cunanan (compellingly played by Darren Criss) drives his would-be husband and will-be next victim, David, across the flatlands of Minnesota. They arrive in a bar, postponing the inevitable, and the singer on the small stage at the end of the bar sings, straightforwardly, “Drive”, the Cars song best known for its use as the soundtrack to films of the Ethiopian famine during Live Aid. It’s Aimee Mann, strumming an Epiphone J160E, a guitar synonymous with John Lennon due to featuring on the Help! movie songs. I’m not saying that’s deliberate (she has played that model for a long time), just interesting. And the song is perfect for the scene:

“Who’s gonna tell you when / it’s too late.
Who’s gonna tell you things / aren’t so great.
You cant go on, thinkin’ nothing’s wrong,
But who’s gonna drive you home tonight?

As Cunanan breaks into tears, Mann improvises something close to the melody of “Save Me”, one of her songs that inspired (and were used in) Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, adding yet another layer to this small interlude.


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Extra! Protest Songs No.2: “The Danger Zone”

Songwriter and singer Percy Mayfield was a scribe for the loveless and lost, but also for the man railing against the possibility of Armageddon. Even in the most plaintive and beautiful lovesick ballad, his apocalyptic bent creeps in. Here’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”:
“Show the world how to get along
Peace will enter, when hate is gone
But if it’s not asking too much
Please send me someone to love…”

“River’s Invitation” conjoins his missing sweetheart with thoughts of suicide:
“I spoke to the river
And the river spoke back to me
It said man you look so lonely
You look full of misery
And if you can’t find your baby
Come and make your home with me”

Even a visit home was no fun. “Stranger in My Own Hometown”, cut famously by Elvis, finds the singer bemoaning his lot…
“I came home with good intentions
About 5 or 6 years ago
But my hometown won’t accept me
Just don’t feel welcome here no more…”

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His most famous song was for his mentor, Ray Charles – “Hit the Road, Jack” was a monster hit in 1961. But on the B-Side, cut at the same session, was “The Danger Zone”, blessed with one of Ray’s greatest ever performances. Here’s a lovely piece about the song, and its relation to Leonard Cohen’s “Almost Like the Blues”, at thebluemoment.

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Its refrain has been running around my head for the last few months, to the point where I had to record a version of it. So forgive me the gall. Here it is. [removed for remixing]

 

 

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Thursday, March 15

ONE OUT COME THE FREAKS
Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape kindly sent me a copy of A Hero for High Times, Ian Marchant’s new book. Its subtitle describes it pretty succinctly: A Young Reader’s Guide to the Beats, Hippies, Freaks, Punks, Ravers, New-Age Travellers and Dog-on-a-Rope Brew Crew Crusties of the British Isles, 1956–1994. Whew! It’s a hefty book, and I’m a third of the way in – it’s vivid, engaging and somewhat eccentric, much like its subject Bob Rowberry. In a good way.

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How could I not love a book that has a Jonny Hannah cover (finished and delivered a good few years ago, Jonny – above in his Darktown Taxi – tells me), a long section on Studio 51 (the Ken Colyer Club) and an Afterword page with the line, aimed at his Younger Readers, “Now you need a Ginsberg and a Ken Colyer and an Elvis of your own.” There’s also this fine shout-out to Dan in the Acknowledgements…to my editor, Dan Franklin, without whose work over thirty years or so, there would be no history of the counterculture”. Highly recommended.

TWO RADIO PROGRAMME OF THE WEEK
In a similar vein, a wonderful R3 documentary on Val Wilmer, jazz writer and photographer, and brave explorer of free jazz. Discover how a young girl made such an impression on several decades of black musicians. “I started out interviewing musicians when I was very young and I was really just a fan and I didn’t really know I could do it. I really didn’t know what to ask people and so therefore I didn’t ask complicated questions. I asked Where did you get your first instrument, why did you have a saxophone, who did you play with, and who did you play with next? People enlarge on things, and, if they feel relaxed with you, then they will talk more. I enabled people to speak freely and therefore they did. And sometimes they spoke very freely indeed, much to my astonishment…” It was a programme that did Val’s extraordinary life justice.

THREE CONCERT OF THE WEEK
David Rodigan and the Outlook Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall. On the Day of Great Snow Kwok and I grab something to eat at Five Guys before the gig and I ponder the fact that he I and I have been eating burgers in London since the time when there was only one burger joint in London, the Hard Rock. Where Kwok became night grill chef while still a student on the Fine Art course at Chelsea School of Art, before being poached to run the kitchen at a new Hard Rock in Frankfurt. So I value his opinion, and we’ve spent the intervening forty years of searching for the best hamburger in town. Five Guys gets a okay 5/10.

The other thing that Kwok was into at Chelsea was reggae, and has listened to Rodigan’s Rockers, the show being celebrated tonight, since the 70s. So we couldn’t not go to the Festival Hall show, even though we had no idea what it would consist of. It turned out to be a very formal-looking Rodigan (dead ringer for George of Gilbert and George, three-piece suit and tie) entertainingly leading us through a history of Jamaican music while the orchestra played the requisite songs for each segment (Bluebeat, Rock Steady, Lover’s Rock et al) with guest vocalists.

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The atmosphere was fervid, closer to a boxing match than a concert. People were leaping around and giving a standing ovation before Rodigan’s feet even touched the stage. When he arrived, the crowd sat down for a few notes then all got back on their feet for the next two hours, even those in the boxes ranged along the sides of the hall. I haven’t witnessed a concert explode into a dancing mass like this ªexcept, maybe, the end of Paolo Conte’s Barbican show). There’s a lot of shouting. Each new tune draws another round of exclamations hurled at the stage: “Respec’! Respec’!” “Boooooooooom!” “RodiGan!”.

The arrangements sat on the shoulders of some fantastic rhythm work. Rock steady and rock solid, the bassist locked in with the two drummers and a percussionist to give the whole evening a deep thump and a hypnotic sway. I’ve searched online for the line up of the Orchestra, but have found almost no information, so I can’t credit them, or the fine horn section and backing singers. The line up of singers – half of them flown in from Jamaica and New York for tonight’s show – was impressive, Bitty McLean, Horace Andy, Maxi Priest, Tippa Irie, Ali Campbell among them. Highlights were conductor and arranger Tommy Evans’ cool dancing, Maverick Sabre’s gorgeous grainy voice, and Horace Andy’s slick patent leather outfit. Most amusing moment goes to Tippa Irie and his least necessary stage-leaving announcement of “I’m Tippa Irie”. We’d spent the previous ten minutes chanting his name – I say “Tipper” you say “IRIE!”, I say “David”, you say “Rodigan”!

FOUR VIDEO OF THE WEEK 1
A collaboration with the Detroit School of Arts, featuring the Vocal Jazz Ensemble and teacher Ms V. for David Byrne’s Reasons to be Cheerful Project (we need this man, right here, right now!) It’s a rocking rendition of “Everybody’s Coming To My House” from his new American Utopia album.

FIVE VIDEO OF THE WEEK 2
Humble Pie “For Your Love”. I can’t even quite remember the path to stumbling across this, but (at least for the first half of its seven minutes) it’s great.

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Thursday, February 21st

ONE TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD/DENMARK STREET
Nice to listen to an impromtu Piano/Snare jam in the airy new TCR station, all ready for Crossrail to open. The Singing Lumberjack’s guitar is for sale in No.Tom Guitars. It’s a 1949 Gibson J45, and is yours for a shade under £7,000.

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TWO ANTICIPATING THIS HUGELY…
Tonight’s the night…

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THREE GRACE DENT ON THE MARYLEBONE DINERS AT SIMON ROGAN’S ROGANIC
From ES Magazine: “Still, after an hour, we still had 10 courses ahead, a task that felt all the more arduous because Blandford Street attracts some of the biggest tosspots in London. It has gorgeous restaurants – Jikoni, Carousel, Trishna and so on – but terrible people painted into a corner of blandness by their own spare cash. This isn’t the eccentric opulence of Chelsea, geed up by Russian and old British money, or Shoreditch, still riding on lost 1990s notions of hipness. This is Marylebone, where rich Harley Street neurologists eat dinner like Trappist monks, then go home to buy Mark Knopfler tickets.”

FOUR JUST A BOARD WITH THINGS TO SAY……
“and 2 humans to write them each day. Board belongs to TFL but content is our original work. Copyright @allontheboard”. Seen at North Greenwich Station, next to the O2.

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FIVE I FEEL A NEW CATEGORY COMING ON…
Something like Inopportune Songs For This Location. Like the Smiths “Meat Is Murder” in a butcher’s shop, say. Bob Gumpert emails with this… “Taking photos at the homeless family drop-in located in the “WeWork” building – all young tech folks doing whatever they do. Lots of casuals and hipsters (am not opposed to hipster). Music is piped through all floors of WeWork and is currently playing Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. A bit strange for someone of my age and temperament…”


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Wednesday, January 31st

ONE THE WEATHER STATION, OSLO

5-weatherTim and I stand with our backs leaning on the bar, watching Red River Dialect play their support-set songs, muggily. “It’s like listening to an It’s a Beautiful Day bootleg” says Tim, with unerring accuracy. I’m concerned that the subtlety of Tamara Lindeman’s songs will suffer a similar fate, but as soon as the Weather Station hit the first chord my worries evaporate. I was sent here by a review that Richard Williams wrote (here) and he captures just what makes their gigs so special. “Some of these songs are like the deepest conversations you ever had with someone you care about – and very often they’re like things that were formulated but somehow never got said. On the faster songs she piles lines on top of each other to create a river of thought and feeling. And none of the nuances are lost when she sings them with a band in front of an audience.”

Lindeman and her collaborators create an organic soundworld, and find the new in clever variations on the old. Sonically there are echoes of David Crosby’s chords, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira-era strumming, and, more tellingly, the spectral space found by the Cowboy Junkies when they recorded with one microphone in a church. But that makes the music sound too gentle – there’s a steamroller drive to the faster songs, powered by the bass of Ben Whiteley, who Tim singles out as the player the music seems to revolve around. Erik Heestermans disdains the obvious on drums and Will Kidman’s guitar solos are febrile and brittle in the manner of Richard Thompson. He’s also playing a structural role in the songs, teasing out melodies that Lindeman fleetingly suggests. The basic building blocks of rock – two guitars, bass and drums – hypnotically remade. Seventy five minutes went by in the blink of an eye.

TWO BASQUIAT AT THE BARBICAN
A fantastic show, where Basquiat’s crazed genius shined through. What I had forgotten was just how much he referenced musicians in his work – often an older Jazz than you may expect (Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” and Ben Webster’s “Blue Skies”, say, although his main man was Charlie Parker).

5-BasquiatThere’s also cracking film of August Darnell and Andy Hernandez leading Kid Creole and the Coconuts through their early-80s set in a New York Club. [Polaroid of AD above].

THREE FROM NICK COLEMAN’S NEW BOOK
Voices: How a Great Singer Can Change Your Life, published by Jonathan Cape on 25 January. I’m really looking forward to this. Here’s a bit about Al Green: “We are in New York on Seventh Avenue, high up in the sky in his hotel bedroom. This is my second attempt to interview the Rev. The first time round, which he clearly only half remembers, if at all, from a year ago, we’d got bogged down in thick theological mud. I’d wanted to draw out the lineaments of his faith in order to unravel the fabric of his genius, or something along those lines. Most of all, I’d wanted to uncover the ambivalences that allow him to sing about God like a lover and about Love like a metaphysical poet. This is not possible in 20 minutes. And Al, being a true soul man, had chosen to sing most of his replies in robust Biblical quotation. This was great for me but no use at all for you, dear reader.
So Al, when you’re singing, do you wait for the spirit to come to you or do you summon it? “What magazine do you work for?  in London? Ah, well, I don’t really speak on that subject because it’s a Utopia subject and, anyway, no one is always in the spirit or under the anointing. Not that I know of. And if you sit and wait for it and do what the scripture says – ‘And if anybody ask anything of the Lord, let him be prepared to wait on it’ – you may be waiting a few days. And then your studio time runs out!”

FOUR THE BLOODY BOB MUSICAL, AGAIN…
I saw this review by Caroline McGinn in Time Out. Apart from my obvious disagreement over the production, just check her In My Opinion! “It’s poignant and stirring and totally fresh to see “Like a Rolling Stone” voiced by a middle-aged woman – the electrifying Shirley Henderson as Nick’s wife Elizabeth – who’s losing her inhibitions and her mind. Or the – IMO hokey and forgettable minor ballad – “I Want You”, slowed down and revealed as a sexy, aching, unrequited duet for Nick’s son Gene and yet another character, the girl who’s leaving him for a guy with a real job.”

FIVE DO RE MI
I came upon this while looking for something else. It’s rather fine. Bob, Van Dyke Parks and Ry Cooder play Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” at the Malibu Performing Arts Center in January 2009.

Wednesday, January 24

ONE THERE’S POOR, AND THERE’S REALLY POOR
A bar/cafe at Stansted Airport, themed around illustrious musicians (sadly, I kid you not). In reality this means a wall of Black and White 12 x 15 framed prints, and this, a wall of names, graphically arranged.

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So we have the ungainly clashes of Muse/Fish and Chips, and Uriah Heep/Fresh, and Depeche Mode seem to have merged with the Rolling Stones… And don’t forget the legendary Ozzy Osb, and Ethro Tull. “I’ll have the Rod Stewart Inergarder, please…”

TWO FOR ART’S SAKE… 
I’m really appreciative of Sky Arts, although they have a worrying tendency to hire people to make programmes about themselves, saying how great they are. They rock this approach with Melvyn Bragg’s hymn of praise to The South Bank Show now that it’s left ITV for Sky. Almost two hours of weirdly unsatisfying clips from thirty years of programme-making, linked by Melv standing coldly on various bits of the windswept South Bank and bigging up himself, before cutting to people like David Puttnam who also big him up. Strange.
I’ve just started another Sky Arts series, Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge, a history of the magazine. I may be sensitized to this puffery as I’ve just Read 50 Years of Rolling Stone, a (somewhat) entertaining hagiography that I’m reviewing. The documentary comes laced with the same sense of baby-boomer self-congratulation as the book – I assume all this RS looking back activity was an attempt to drive up the price before Jann Wenner sold the company. Anyhow, the first episode reminds you of the brilliance of its writing in the Sixties, especially Hunter S Thompson on Nixon, interesting to read at this point in history:
“This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else that tries to make us uncomfortable. Jesus, where will it end – how low do you have to stoop in this country to be President? It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal, incurably violent side of the American character. He speaks for the werewolf in us, the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable on the nights where the moon comes too close”

THREE YOU WON’T BELIEVE YOUR EARS…
…as Buddy Holly calls his record company to ask for his songs back. A man never far from a tape recorder, he turned it on for the call. Found via Messy Nessy’s 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today.

FOUR I POST THIS WITH NO COMMENT…
Nando’s has opened a music studio at one of their main London restaurants, giving budding musicians the chance to lay down their own tracks while chowing down on chicken, reported the NME. The studio has been opened at Nando’s in Frith Street, Soho, and will give successful applicants the chance to record their own music with the help of an in-house studio engineer and pioneering equipment including a Neumann U87 microphone. “We’re really excited to open our first music space, both for our growing network of artists and also for our fans looking for a unique experience in the restaurant. Some of the best ideas have started over Peri-Peri (or so we’re told), so we’re looking forward to hearing what happens when we bring together chicken and tunes!”, a Nando’s spokesperson said.

FIVE PRANCING IN THE STREET!
What happens if you take the music away from Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s take on “Dancing in the Street” and cruelly imagine how the vocals may have sounded as they danced? This… 

 

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