Extra: Girl from the North Country

NOT FARGO, FARRAGO
I decided to spend an afternoon traveling in the North Country fair but sadly wished that I’d never taken leave of London Town. (To see what prompted my going, see Five Things Extra: That Dylan Play, where two friends with opposing views write about it).

Honestly, upfront I have to say that there’s more nuance and depth of character in a silent movie than there is in Girl from the North Country. Yes, I speak as a slightly reluctant attendee, but not because I was proprietorially feeling How dare they… or snottily assuming critical feelings about a work in another medium purloining Bob’s songs to its own ends. I’m not even sure that I would have been offended by Ben Elton scripting a play based around these songs, as he had done for Queen. And – also honestly – the music, arranged by Simon Hale, is delivered beautifully, with sensitive guitar, piano, bass, and fiddle accompaniment that manages to mostly stay away from a Mumford hoedown, and deliver true heft behind some good singing.

But, dramatically speaking, well… Nothing here made me feel that the writer, Conor McPherson, had any understanding of these people and their problems in this small midwestern town. The plot seemed laughably dated, cobbled together from offcuts of Steinbeck, O’Connor, and O’Neill. Slow-witted lunk? Check. Old rich man who thinks money can buy him the love of a poor but pretty girl? Check. Con man masquerading as a bible salesman? Check. Boarding-House owner with debts and a mistress? Check. Black convict trying to escape… I could work my way through the cast, but you get the drift.

There’s an almost offensive use of dementia as a dramatic device, with Shirley Henderson having to play the afflicted wife of Nick, the Boarding House owner. From the back of the stalls she looks too young (even if she isn’t in life) and plays her as a sexually incontinent, gratuitously swearing Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Really. Bits of business at the boarding house ( in a variety of clunky American accents) get interspersed with musical moments that are meant to round out character and story, but for every line that fits, there are two that seem tangential or just plain weird. “Sign on the Window” and “Went to See the Gypsy” (with its mention of “that little Minnesota town”) work at the start, but “Señor” (“Señor, señor, do you know where we’re headin’? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?”) seems to carry a heavier apocalyptic load than these flimsy characters can bear.

And while it was great to hear songs from, say, the Empire Burlesque period, where Dylan’s own versions have weak or unlistenable production, some decisions didn’t come off. Especially in the case of “I Want You”, sung in counterpoint to a reprise of “Like a Rolling Stone”. Slowing the song’s essential skipping beat to a funereal pace and disastrously over-enunciating the lyrics (Musical Theatre Alert!) rendered those beautiful rolling and tumbling lines (“The guilty undertaker sighs/The lonesome organ grinder cries/The silver saxophones say I should refuse you”) dead on arrival. It also contained the unfortunate call and response of…
“How does it feel…” (LaRS)
“So bad…” (IWY)

I thought Bronagh Gallagher the most impressive singer (she also played very tidy drums on a few songs) especially on “Sweetheart Like You”/True Love Tends to Forget”, but I found myself more than once involuntarily leaning forward and putting my head in my hands. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the performance so I had to stop myself emitting weary sighs, but by halfway through the second half, I felt my patience being stretched thin, as thin as the dramatic arc of the story.

Thinking about the success of the play (it’s transferring to the West End soon), and the standing ovations at the finale, I wondered if there are people who go to see every musical in the West End, regardless of type. I heard the people behind me say that they must go home and listen to this Dylan guy, and I don’t mention that as a criticism. What I do think is that the bar is set too low if this farrago gets five stars from Michael Billington in The Guardian.

As I walked back to my car, I scanned through my iPhone for some music to clear my head. Brian Ferry irreverently blasting out “Hard Rain” fitted the bill as I pulled out from the Cut and onto Waterloo Bridge. When, a few songs later, Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd.” burst out of the speakers, I pulled over and listened, powerfully struck by the fact that he paints – with shocking detail – a fully rounded and realised story in the three and a half minutes it takes to play out. Dreams, inequality, racism, celebrity, poverty, politics, and violence. All vividly brought to life. Three and a half minutes. The last two and a half hours is just wasted time.

Friday, October 6th pt. 2

Yes, I know it’s Thursday the 12th…

FOUR DESERT ISLAND DISCS
In a nicely left-field Desert Island Discs bookended by Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, cancer specialist Siddhartha Mukherjee played “Round Midnight” and talked about the links that Indian music has to jazz (and in later selections, flamenco and Philip Glass): “I was very late to the jazz party, which was unusual, because of course, the connections between jazz and Indian classical music are so apparent now – both improvise, both are rhythmically complex, both melodically similar… Once I discovered all these parallels I became addicted, and I discovered Monk when I was in Oxford.” I’d never heard the Vijay Iyer Trio playing “Galang”, but the programme sent me shooting off to find it. A headlong syncopated rocker, it was the song that started M.I.A.’s career, co-written with Elastica. Iyer’s take is a fair way from M.I.A.’s but it’s absolutely terrific.

FIVE (A) VELS TRIO
It seems to be the week of the piano-led trio. Support act for the Souljazz Orchestra at Rich Mix was Vels Trio – electric keys, drums and bass. We arrived at the end of their set but caught two songs. According to their agent’s website, they are “the result of three experimental jazz musicians born out of collective obsession, emotion and improvisation to sculpt contagiously frenetic compositions.” Sounds about right. I couldn’t take my eyes off the drummer, Dougal Taylor, as he propelled those frenetic compositions, beautifully shading the peaks and troughs. I was also struck by the fact that he was using his wallet to dampen his snare…

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FIVE (B) SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA
The Souljazz Orchestra challenge the packed, polyglot London audience at Rich Mix to resist their groove, and from the first note the crowd are under their spell. There are Caribbean shuffles, funky sissy struts, swishing NYC disco hi-hats and earthquake house explosions – all underpinned by an Afrobeat sway. At one point, Pierre Chrétien, the keyboardist (vintage Hohner Clavinet D6 and some mighty bass keyboard below it), introduces a song as Somalian Disco and that’s pretty accurate too. Daughter points out that the three sax players take the knee (I thought they were doing a James Brown thing) during “Mr President”, written during Bush, updated to Trump and the song that got them noticed by Gilles Peterson (who receives a shout-out tonight) 11 years ago. Impressively, you can get their latest release on cassette – which I do. Highly recommended.

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Friday, October 6th pt. 1

Recovering from a late night/early morning of sweating inside Rich Mix with the glorious Souljazz Orchestra [a big thank you to Ginie], this week’s Five Things comes in two parts…

THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING?
This is eerie and totally fascinating, an empty Camp Nou as Barcelona play Las Palmas with no crowd, following the Catalan Independence referendum. It’s the sounds you’re never really privy to during matches; the players talking to each other – “Luis, do me a favour!” – as Suarez tries to claim a penalty, or without the soundtrack that usually accompanies the action – the weird lack of drama as Messi insouciantly rounds the goalkeeper to score, for instance, or Suarez ripping his shirt after he misses… to a deafening silence.

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This description, from Sid Lowe’s excellent report for The Guardian, captures the strangeness of it all: “At 4.13pm, Barcelona’s anthem blared out. The referee came out of the tunnel and picked up the ball from that absurd plinth, hurriedly throwing down the one he had in his hand, and the players followed. Echoing round, the anthem opens with the line: “The whole stadium cheers; we’re the blue and claret people.” When it closed, a “brave cry”, the place fell silent and the whistle went, heard by all. There was no one in stands, where the mes que un club slogan sat exposed. The directors’ box lay empty. The board watched it from somewhere inside. So did the players’ families, a lift-load of kids leaving together at the end.

Every shout was audible. A free-kick was greeted with “oh, so you give this one?”, there was something about a “mother’s shell”, and the standard call of any park anywhere: get out, push up, man on, quick, that’s it, near post, no foul, good. There’s something odd about actually hearing someone shout: “Leo! Leo! Here, Leo!” at Messi. Something odd about it all. Something sad too, a kind of what’s the point when it’s like this? But it was fascinating too. You could close your eyes and more or less follow the game, imagining the kind of pass delivered by the noise, the ball struck or stroked. Phwump or tac.

From way, way up, you could hear Messi get hit, and the satisfying sound of his free-kicks being saved: leather then latex on the ball. From way down there they could hear the radio commentators shouting when Busquets scored. And when Messi got the second and third there was gentle applause from a ballboy behind the goal. Suddenly, somehow, in an empty stadium there was also someone running on the pitch, swiftly removed by stewards. He appeared to be wearing an independence shirt and carrying a piece of paper. With barely seconds to go Luis Suárez put a shot wide. His scream rolled round the seats and he tore at his shirt, ripping it wide open and walking off.”

CAN I GET TWO COPIES OF GENE SIMMONDS VAULT, PLEASE?
A great post at everyrecordtellsastory about the upsurge of vinyl subscription services (Jack White’s Vault, Turntable Kitchen, Experience Vinyl et al) also features this: “Slightly beneath White’s Gold Standard Vault is Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, fresh from trying to secure rights to the devil-horns hand sign…” Simmons will hand deliver his Vault to each punter who pays the $2000 dollar price tag. If you stump up $50,000 (sic) he will come and hang out at your house for a couple of hours. From the FAQs:

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I love the fact that they felt they had to add “including windows…”

THREE PHOTOS…
Running out of headline inspiration, as you can see. In the fabulous tome that I wrote about last week, 75 Years of Capitol Records, I noticed that Paul and Linda were photographed at home in West Sussex by David Montgomery in 1976, and pinned up in the background was Edward Kasper’s wraparound sleeve for The Band’s Moondog Matinee. As Nick DeRiso wrote at Something Else!: “I stare at the album’s original fold-out poster, a saloon setting from Edward Kasper that combines Helm’s old stomping grounds of Helena, Ark., with Robbie Robertson’s Cabbagetown, and I can’t take my eyes off [Richard] Manuel. He’s apart, the only one lost in thought. Robertson is working the jukebox, Hudson and Helm are sharing a drink, Danko is reading a music magazine. But Richard is alone, thinking — staring off into the middle distance. It’s like he can see something, already, that I still haven’t come to grips with more than four decades later: Richard Manuel is already gone.”

moondog

I hung it when setting up the workroom. It nestles in good company beneath Dylan by Antonin Kratochvil and Daniel Kramer, Neil Young by Henry Diltz, Woody Guthrie by Arthur Dubinsky, Leonard Cohen by Antonio Olmos, Ray Charles by Jim Marshall and David Bowie by the incomparable Antonin again. And the latest addition on the right – get your very own Jimi Hendrix English Heritage plaque. As a plate. Genius!

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Wednesday, September 27th

ONE BARNEY’S BRILLIANT BOOK
Finding myself with a couple of hours to kill, I endeavor to make sense of Selfridges’ Music Matters season. “The transformative power of music. Amplified”, apparently. It seems to consist of windows dressed with cymbals, a pop-up vinyl store by Rye Wax, a few gigs and exclusive music-inspired collections by your fave fashion-forward designers. It all left me a little cold until I found the Taschen shop within the Books department. And there I saw 75 Years of Capitol Records. I remember Barney (Hoskyns) telling me that he’d been commissioned to write this a couple of years ago but I hadn’t seen it before. It’s beautifully designed and printed, and the storytelling (in the three sections I read before my arms gave out) is great. The Kingston Trio spread is stunning. The only downside is the price (£99.99 online, £135 in store), but you can’t have everything (as per usual, click on pictures to enlarge).

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TWO VOCODER LISTING ON EBAY
This may be the finest eBay listing ever. “I change the pitch from High to Low, so everybody can enjoy the show…” The fact that it’s perched on a tumble dryer is very “Internet of Things”.

THREE THE SWISS. WHO KNEW?
From Mashable: “On paper, Karlheinz Weinberger lived a mostly boring existence. He worked as a warehouse manager at the Siemens factory in Oerlikon, Switzerland from 1955 until his retirement in 1986, and lived in the same apartment for almost his whole life. But when he was off the clock, he set out with his camera to photograph the unusual. (He literally had “Photographer of the Unusual” printed on his business card.) In 1958, he fell in with the Halbstarken, one of Switzerland’s first underground youth cultures. These young men and women idolized the brooding sexuality of American rebels like Elvis Presley and James Dean, sported flamboyant hairstyles, and wore jeans and jackets adorned with studs, patches, and enormous belt buckles.” [The Cliff Richards one seems an anomaly here – Ed]

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FOUR THE END-OF-LIFE INDUSTRY JUST KEEPS ON GROWING…
…with a new wrinkle aimed at the baby-boomers. Your loved one’s ashes pressed into a record. Painful puns abound – the company is called And Vinyly – but at least we can feel safe in the knowledge that gran is forever in our record collection.

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FIVE IN JAZZ NEWS
It was a week of contrasts and timelines – a first album (Unnatural Events) launch by pianist/composer Tom Millar at the PizzaExpress in Dean Street and the 80th birthday celebration of composer and arranger Mike Gibbs. I went to Tom’s as we’d help kick-start his album (he’s the son of friends) but also because I really like his playing. I feel unqualified to actually write about jazz, so here’s a link to a well-balanced review by Kevin LeGrande at jazzwise.

I went to Mike Gibbs’ because George Foster had told me to. I’m so glad I did – it was a wonderful sound that his 14-piece band conjured up in the tiny 100-seat Vortex, with an audience made up of jazz lovers and musicians who’d played with Gibbs. His charts are restless and physical, and the assembled orchestra did them proud, with a supple rhythm section, a seriously great guitarist in Mike Walker and an amazing group of horn players (one of whom doubled on accordion, rather beautifully). I had invited Marcel along as he grew up listening to Mike Gibbs, and we discovered that Marcel’s dad and Mike Maran (who was seated behind us at a table with John Walters of eye magazine fame) were both in the rather sparse audience at Ronnie Scotts’ in 1972 when Gibbs’ Just Ahead was recorded. Oh, and Richard Williams introduced me to the mighty Evan Parker – it was that kind of night (see John Fordham’s Guardian review here).

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Tuesday, September 19th

ONE JONI BUGG
Well there’s inspiration, and then there’s stealing, but if you steal you have to make something better than the original, which this sorry attempt fails to be.

joniThe cover of Hejira is made up of 14 different photographs collaged by Mitchell and retouched by an airbrush artist. I had bought UNCUT’s Ultimate Music Guide to Joni Mitchell which has the unretouched image by Norman Seeff [above, left] on its cover. It’s generally terrific, and a good companion to the recent Rock’s Backpages book, Reckless Daughter, but I was slightly appalled to find that it barely mentions my favourite song, “Black Crow”. Mitchell’s open-tuned electric rhythm guitar scrubs out a midwest blacktop backdrop for Jaco Pastorius to dig into and move around, all angles, like a tractor twisting and turning in the endless fields that line the road. At the same time Larry Carlton’s hovering above with an electrical storm of distorted guitars. At one point Carlton and Pastorious leap into the air like a couple of crop dusters and circle the skies before being reined in by Mitchell’s high yelp. The song irons out for the fade where it races off into the distance and, right before it disappears beyond the horizon, Larry Carlton suddenly summons up the ghost of Mick Green and plays an outrageously swaggering rock & roll riff. It’s a unique sound, a unique song.

TWO I’VE JUST ORDERED…
The Invisible Man: The Story of Rod Temperton, the “Thriller” Songwriter, partly because it’s such an unlikely story, partly because he wrote “Always and Forever”. From Heatwave to Hollywood, he ended up as Britain’s third most successful songwriter. Jed Pitman on Thriller: “Temperton wrote three songs for the record, including the title track which began life as a song called “Starlight” but [Quincy] Jones asked Temperton to come up with new lyrics to fit the tougher theme that was emerging from other tracks around it. Rod knew he wanted one word because that fitted in with the song He said about writing lyrics that the meaning of them didn’t necessarily matter, the lyrics to him would disappear into the melody of the song. The lyrics themselves were all about how many syllables they were for each word to fit lyrically and melodically with the song structure. He’s effectively using the words as another musical instrument rather than sending a message. He wrote about 300 words down and then he wrote the word ‘Thriller’ and that was it, he stopped and went, ‘Wow, I can see it on top of the Billboard charts, I can see the merchandising, I can see everything – Thriller by Michael Jackson.’”

THREE ONE TRACK MINDS
The wonder of Wilton’s Music Hall is in its restoration. When you hear that a venue from the past has been restored you imagine a lot of gilt, a kind of “overloud” painting where the brashness of the colour may be accurate, but shouts too much, and there’s a general air of fussiness. None of this has happened at Wilton’s. A building at risk has become a beautiful encapsulated ruin (in the nicest possible sense).

A couple of months ago it played host to One Track Minds, a series where generally well-known people talk about a song that means a lot to them. A varied lineup included Tulip Siddiq, MP, comedians Mark Thomas and Harry Mitchell, sports writer Jenny Offord and session man and all-around entertainer Guy Pratt. It was great to hear Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Want Fi Goh Rave” again, from the fantastic Forces of Victory album, to be reminded of how great Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” is. Guy Pratt, session man extraordinaire [below, left], talked about being on a disastrous teenage holiday. There’s an excellent review of the show by John Sills at thoughtsfromwestfive: “In Guy’s case, he was at one point lying on a bunk bed, recovering from having tried smoking with an ‘evil’ cousin. He noticed a cassette player nearby and pressed play. A song came on, all jittering synthesizers, throbbing bass, strident guitars and, at the end, an Irish violin. He was mesmerized, and at that moment knew what he wanted to do with his life. Be a musician. And the song? “Baba O’Riley”, the opener on the Who’s 1971 album, Who’s Next.”

Harry Mitchell was the highlight, though. After a long set up about relationships and angst, he revealed that he cemented his friendship (with his friend, Ed) through a shared love of dancing to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. Sadly, he said, Ed can’t be here tonight… at which point, Ed arrived, and said dancing commenced.

5-wiltonsOne Track Minds is highly recommended, and back at Wilton’s on October 9th. Simon Napier-Bell is one of the six guests. Details here.

FOUR WIND RIVER: DON’T GO THERE
I expected much more from Taylor Sheridan. The scriptwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water, here – as both writer and director – piles an implausible plot with clunky dialogue: “Can’t we call for backup?” “This ain’t really backup country… this is go it alone country” goes one bit of business, six words too long. Jeremy Renner is a hunter (and philosopher, judging by his gnomic utterances) and Elizabeth Olsen an FBI agent investigating a murder on a Native American Res. It’s an irritating film with a pretty good soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (although there’s nothing as memorable as the music created by Robbie Robertson for tv doc The Native Americans). It also has that thing where an unrelated song by a sensitive male songwriter plays over the end credits (in this instance, “Feather” by William Wild).

FIVE HAVE YOU HEARD OF BENARD IGHNER?
Me either. A month ago I was listening to Peggy Lee sing, sensationally, “Everything Must Change”, from an album recorded live in London in 1977. I knew the song – Nina Simone had covered it [among too many others to list here] but I wondered where it had come from originally. So I went looking, and found this obituary, by A. Scott Galloway (at TheUrbanMusicScene.com), of the man who wrote it, Benard Ighner. He had died a week or so before.

“Benard (not “Bernard” and the last name pronounced “eyeg-ner”) was most widely known and adored for his composition “Everything Must Change”. A deeply existential musing about the unmovable ‘way of time,’ it was introduced [on Quincy Jones’ platinum-selling 1974 album, Body Heat] by Ighner singing with hushed intimacy ascending into reverent earnestness over a dreamy surround sound arrangement of piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer, rim shots and a trombone solo by the great Frank Rosolino. Never a single, the haunting masterwork went a long way toward selling the full-length album as a 6-minute slice of interstellar Heaven.”

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Sunday, September 10th

ONE IMAGE OF THE WEEK

5-cloudshillThis spectacular gramophone belonging to T.E.Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), seen at his tiny rural retreat, Clouds Hill, in Dorset. From the National Trust website: “The Music Room was where Lawrence used to write and where he entertained his guests. Sometimes they would listen to music played on the special gramophone Lawrence had made, with its huge horn. At other times they would chat, or eat simple suppers out of tins.”

TWO RIP WALTER BECKER 1
“To properly honor Walter Becker, your editor is auditioning 15 freelance eulogists.” 
– American music critic Brad Shoup, on Twitter.

RIP WALTER BECKER 2
Rickie Lee Jones: “The best musician of our group loved Steely Dan, and that was how I came to hear “Bodhisattva”, “My Old School”, “Pearl of the Quarter”. Lines about Annandale and oleanders with pesky stomping bass and drums. I mean these guys knew how to make music. They had a hit on every record – I mean a thing that was played on the radio over and over – that became part of how we saw our collective selves. I was brought up, you might say, on writing thick with imagery and subtle implication and I loved it. I loved the innuendo, the humor, the sting. The genius was as much in the part we filled in, the lines they didn’t write. That was where the sticky stuff of memory made their music a part of our own personal history. I knew about hiding behind the oleanders, heck I grew up in Arizona… It wasn’t the specific line, it was the sorrow and fury of the melody, Bring back the Boston rag. Tell all your buddies that it ain’t no drag.”
On the music player on the right hear Steely Dan in 1974 at the Rainbow Theatre in London ripping through “The Boston Rag.”

RIP WALTER BECKER 3
The “Mu Major” chord. This is the clearest explanation that I found. Apparently, its first appearance was in the 12th Century, in Perotin the Great’s “Viderunt Omnes”. It appears in many Dan songs, including “Deacon Blues”, “Black Cow”, “Don’t Take Me Alive” and “Fire in the Hole”.

THREE DON’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY
I’m trying to finish Stuart Cosgrove’s book, Detroit 67 before I go to see the movie, but frustratingly, it’s a bit of a slog. Great research, fascinating information, but poorly edited, so progress has been slow. The story told here of the Supremes is perfect as a microcosm of the problems inherent in Berry Gordy’s Motown project, and the Florence Ballard material key, but there’s too much repetition and it isn’t focused enough. The evocation of that time in Detroit is terrific, and I’d still recommend it, but the skill involved in book editing should not be overlooked. (Still below from a selection of photos of performers backstage, taken by Magnum photographers – thanks, Bob).

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For extra background, this WXYZ-TV Detroit Channel 7 segment on Detroit in 1967 is interesting. There’s a lovely bit 11 minutes in where Dennis Coffey plays the intro to “Just My Imagination”. Which is just fabulous.

FOUR THE VILLAGE VOICE’S PRINT EDITION IS DEAD
I remember occasionally finding copies of VV in Camden, and on any trip to New York, it had to be picked up immediately. There were some excellent online tributes, amongst them this from Joe Levy, who was the music editor there in the late eighties/early and is currently contributing editor for Rolling Stone“In 1987 I was an intern for the Voice music editor, Doug Simmons. There was a strike benefit for the union that summer — Public Enemy and Sonic Youth played. It was at a small club, but Public Enemy’s show was already pretty much arena-sized, with the S1Ws stepping as Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Terminator X upended all notions of musical possibility. When Sonic Youth took the stage, they announced they would play an instrumental set because ‘Public Enemy had used all the words.’ Think for a second about these two groups, and how they defined the noise that New York City gave the world. And think about the next year, which would bring Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Then think about the two of them showing up at a newspaper’s union strike benefit and playing back to back. That was the Voice, and its music section, in action.”

FIVE DON’T YOU LOVE A PRESS RELEASE FROM ANNIE (ST. VINCENT) CLARK?
hi, all.
it’s been a while. songs, albums, videos, shows, press. putting out a record is like having a bridezilla-style* wedding every 2-3 years. lots of “did you get the save the date? it was an email cause, you know, the planet…” and fussing over flower arrangements, except you’re walking down the aisle to your own music by yourself, to your “self.” your bridesmaids and groomsmen are your label, agents, managers, day managers, personal assistants standing expectant with a mixture of stress, excitement, pride. the fans are the attendees, who will pick sides (this side prefers the old you walking down the aisle, this side is onboard for the new you waiting at the altar, there is definitely one person who will protest the marriage in a drunken, dramatic way…) a lot of pomp. plenty of circumstance. but sometimes what gets lost in all the mothers-in-law, speeches, and seating arrangements (has this metaphor stretched so thin that it belies the fact that i have neither attended many weddings, nor aspired to my own?) is this simple fact: it’s about love**. At its best and at its core, it’s about love. that’s it. that’s all. that is literally the only point. (and i mean “literally” to mean literally.) this record is from my heart to yours. i hope it finds its way there.
love, ac
* yo, i know it’s sexist AF.
** for the sake of the emotional momentum of this note, we are choosing to ignore that century of marriage were not, in fact, about love but about wealth consolidation/women as chattel***
*** yo, i know that’s sexist AF.

A RECOMMENDATION
Ozark on Netflix. Money launderer for the cartel Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) has to get out of town with his wife (Laura Linney) and kids and swiftly relocate. To the area of the title (the highland region of the central United States) where the lake of the Ozarks has more shoreline than California. Great acting and terrific to look at, and there’s some nice work on the soundtrack, especially in the early episodes. One of the later ones has Bob Seger’s “Still the Same” running through it, used in almost every scene. I missed Bob and His Silver Bullet Band back in the day – just not on my radar, but I was pleased to make amends.

Tuesday, August 22nd

There was much about sound this week, from the science behind the Doppler Effect to the whys and wherefores of producing a vocal sound that won’t permanently damage you. Also, the extraordinary website that is digitising 78s with a record deck that uses four different needles. Oh, and Tom Waits (in the music player on the right) does his own Doppler Effect of a car hurtling by on the blacktop…

ONE YOU GOT ME SINGING…
An excerpt from a fascinating article in The Guardian’s Long Read slot, by Bernhard Warner on the actualité of being a professional singer nowadays:
“Singing is a rough business. Every vocal performance involves hundreds of thousands of micro-collisions in the throat. The vocal cords – also known as vocal folds – are a pair of thin, reed-like, muscular strips located inside the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. They are shaped like a wishbone, and contain the densest concentration of nerve tissue in the body. When we are silent, the cords remain apart to facilitate breathing. When we sing or speak, air is pushed up from the lungs, and the edges of the cords come together in a rapid chopping motion. The air causes the cords to vibrate, creating sound. The greater the vibration, the higher the pitch. By the time a soprano hits those lush high notes, her vocal cords are thwacking together 1,000 times per second, transforming a burst of air from her lungs into music powerful enough to shatter glass.”

TWO TRAVELLING LIGHT (WELL, SOUND, REALLY)
Charles Hazlewood (on Radio 4) talked about the dissonance that makes him tingle. With the help of Brian May, he recreates an unusual experiment with a steam train and a brass band to prove the existence of the Doppler Effect (think police sirens flashing past, or the end of “Caroline, No” – it’s the way a note seems high in the distance and lower once it’s passed you by). The section on the Hammond Organ and its associated speaker, the Leslie, is especially interesting. In his studio in Somerset (an abandoned swimming pool) he discusses the Leslie with Sarah Angliss: “Donald Leslie wanted to get the sense of immersion that you got when you went to hear a mighty Wurlitzer at the cinema”. The twin horns in the Leslie spin at “quite a lick, so much of a lick that they create a Doppler Effect” alongside what organ players apparently call a “tremulant”, a sort of wah-wah volume shift. They also discuss the subtle use of a Leslie on both the guitar and vocal on “Little Wing”. Listen here.

THREE HEY, THAT’S NO WAY TO SAY GOODBYE
Tom Waits’ “Summertime/Burma Shave” medley, live, with an intro devoted to Elvis, best read very slowly in a Waitsian drawl…
“August, I remember it. It rained all day, the day that Elvis Presley died… and only a Legend can make it do that. Cause, you know, when my baby said we were through, that she was gonna walk out on me – it was Elvis Presley that talked her out of it…
He gave me my first leather jacket, taught me how to comb my hair just right in a filling station bathroom… It was Elvis that gave you a rubber on prom night, told you that you looked real sharp. I think he maybe just got a little tired of repairing all the broken hearts in the world… and now I think we’re behind the stand, where mechanics cars never start and where nightwatchmen are always sleeping on the job, where shoe-shine boys all have worn-out scuffed up shoes… But a legend never dies, just teaches you everything he knows, gives you the courage to ask her out. And I know there’s a small town where dreams are still alive, and there’s a hero on every corner – and they’re all on their way to a place called Burma Shave.” Listen on the music player to the right.

FOUR TOWER OF SONG
Go here for an extraordinary project, the digitization of shellac records by George Blood for the Internet Archive. “Through The Great 78 Project, the Internet Archive has begun to digitize 78rpm discs for preservation, research, and discovery. 78s were mostly made from shellac (beetle resin) and were the brittle predecessors to the LP era. On Twitter, go to @great78project for uploads as they happen.” FYI An unapologetic preservationist, Mr. Blood lives in Philadelphia where he and his wife Martha are renovating a 1768 house.

FIVE DRESS REHEARSAL RAG
Kevin Cheesman puts me on to this, Neil Finn’s project to rehearse and record an album in live-streaming sessions: “Every Friday in August at 7 pm NZT, I will be performing on a live stream from my studio in Auckland. It will be accessible via Facebook. During these Friday sessions, you will be witness to a series of musical happenings featuring friends, family, songwriters, and singers playing tunes both old and brand new. Follow the progress of new song arrangements as we build towards the last stream on August 25. This final performance will be the actual recording of my new solo album.” Neil invites you to watch and listen to him and his exotic ensemble record the whole album, live in one session. His new album entitled Out of Silence will then be mixed, mastered and released on the following Friday, September 1 (the previous streams are all on YouTube now).

EXTRA CLOSING TIME
Thrilled to see my piece on Daniel Kramer’s Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day in both English and Italian in the latest issue of Pulp. Libro di Bob!

dylanbook

PS I’M CLEARING OUT MAGAZINES…
Anyone interested in a whole bunch of MOJO magazines? I’ll happily give them to whoever will take them away. Email martinworkbench@gmail.com.

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Tuesday, August 15th

ONE TELL ME THAT IT ISN’T TRUE
“I have been in the industry long enough to know when I’m in the presence of a genius and Chris Martin is just that. In years to come, Britain will look back at him as a modern-day Shakespeare. He is an incredible recording artist, an incredible songwriter, but where he really comes alive is performing live. If you get the chance to see Coldplay live, do it – you ain’t gonna regret it.” – Jay-Z in an interview with The Metro UK, late July 2017

TWO ZIMMER & FRAMES
On the evidence of the first ten minutes, I thought that Dunkirk was going to be virtually dialogue-less. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and all the dialogue does is give voice to the most hackneyed element of war films – that we need narratives to balance the visceral thud and dogfight screams. In many ways, it’s a stunningly immersive film, with Nolan’s bravura time-shifting and powerful visual sense keeping you slightly taut and breathless throughout. Allied to this is Hans Zimmer’s cracking score which seems as if it’s forever on the brink of breaking into soaring melodies and swelling strings but finding itself overpowered and mashed into the noise of cranking machinery and bullets tearing through metal.

From Business Insider: “Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own, with a particularly insistent ticking, and we started to build the track out of that sound. And then working from that sound, we built the music as we built the picture cut. There’s an audio illusion in music called a ‘Shepard tone’ – it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the [Dunkirk] script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals.” Apparently, it helps if you imagine the Shepard tone as a barber’s pole – remember those?

THREE HARRY STYLES?
Distracting to see the ex-1Directioner as one of the soldiers trapped on the beach – his face is distinctive, the part is quite large, and it draws you out of the action as you strart to process it. I have nothing against Harry – he has very good taste in drummers (Sarah Jones, who I saw with Alex Taylor a couple of years ago, is a really considerable talent). But you just keep thinking how many young actors could have benefitted from Dunkirk on their CV.

FOUR MY SENSES ARE FILLED UP ALREADY, THANKS
What in God’s name was BBC4 thinking when they put John Denver at the Wembley Arena in 1979 in a prime time Sunday night slot. What in God’s name was I thinking, watching it? Good Lord, the cheese-fest that is the John Denver songbook made 45 minutes feel like a life sentence. He had a super expensive band with him, the best that money could buy, but even they couldn’t fight their way out of some of the lousiest material ever written in the name of music. No cliche was left unturned by his unctuous persona. “I wanna Rock ’n’ Roll!” he said, strapping on a Gibson 335. There followed a cover of “Johnny B Goode” that was beyond saving, even by James Burton. Aside from Burton, there was Hal Blaine on drums, Jim Horn on sax, Herb Peterson on guitar, Emory Lee Gordy on bass and Glen Hardin on keys. So he basically had Elvis’ band plus Blaine, all in the service of, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy / Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry / Sunshine on the water looks so lovely / Sunshine almost always makes me high.”

FIVE (A) SONG OF THE WEEK 1 THE ROOTS FEAT. BILAL “IT AIN’T FAIR”
So you’re talking about Curtis Mayfield’s wonderfully delicate yet tough vocal tone (and this performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test) and that very night this terrific track is broadcast on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. From the Detroit soundtrack, the upcoming film about the riots of ’67 by Kathryn Bigelow.

FIVE (B) SONG OF THE WEEK 2 DAVID RAWLINGS “CUMBERLAND GAP”
… with Gillian Welch, of course, from new album, Poor David’s Almanac. The most immediate song – no, it’s not the Lonnie Donegan one – is a wonderful Harvest-era Neil Young-like duet that trudges through its Kentucky landscape with backwards guitars and a pentecostal Hammond. (FYI: The Cumberland Gap is a narrow pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland Mountains, within the Appalachian Mountains, near the junction of the U.S. states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.)

FIVE (C) SONG OF THE WEEK 3 GLEN CAMPBELL “GUESS I’M DUMB”
I’d never heard this before, an entirely extraordinary lost pop classic. As Richard Williams writes, “Recorded at the same time as the Beach Boys Today album, it’s a prototype of what we were going to hear on Pet Sounds the following year: a carefully wrought song of tortured self-examination set to an imaginative adaptation of the techniques originated by Phil Spector… the mono mix is a masterpiece. I’ve described the individual elements separately, but you’re supposed to hear them as one giant instrument, as if recorded by a single microphone.”

And this, from Amanda Petrusich’s lovely reminiscence of Glen Campbell in the New Yorker: “I met Campbell once, at the Nashville airport. All of my belongings (including my laptop, which contained an early and otherwise unsaved draft of a magazine feature I’d spent months reporting) had recently been stolen from my rental car. It was parked in a garage downtown; one of its rear windows had been smashed in with a rock. During the ensuing hubbub – phoning the cops, explaining the compromised state of my Kia Sephia to the rental-car agency – my flight back to New York City had departed without me. I was consoling myself by drinking a great deal of beer at an outpost of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famed Broadway honky-tonk. This must have been in 2009.

I looked up and saw Campbell wandering around with his wife, Kim Woolen. (They’d met on a blind date – he took her to dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, with his parents, and then to a James Taylor concert.) Campbell hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet, not in any official capacity, but it was clear, even then, that he wasn’t quite himself—that certain ideas or bits of language were receding, drifting out of reach, like paper boats fluttering across a pond.

I approached and brazenly asked for a photograph – I suppose I felt like I had little left to lose in Nashville that afternoon. They were so gracious. You know, it wasn’t that bad, losing my stuff and missing my flight. There would be more stuff, more flights. He threw a big arm around me and we grinned.”

Extra: That Dylan Play…

hibbing

IT SEEMS THAT I HAVE TO GO TO THE THEATRE…
…which is not my favourite thing to do. But as two friends have opposite opinions on the play that uses Dylan songs throughout, it’s going to be necessary. [Image above shows Hibbing’s High School, Dylan’s Yearbook picture, Dylan onstage with his first band, The Golden Chords, and North Country Girl Echo Star Helstrom].

So here’s Bruce Millar on Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country:

“The first inkling that something was not quite right came early on, as it became clear that the young female actor (20s, early 30s at a pinch) in the lead role was actually playing an aging woman with dementia – well, at least 60, and we are talking about the 1930s, when that age did make you old. Her husband was, appropriately, my age and similarly gone to seed. I know, this is acting, you suspend your disbelief – but as Tom said, is it really not possible to find a female actor of 60-odd who can sing a bit? They’re always complaining of a lack of roles, but here one comes along on the West End stage and it’s snaffled by a youngster. Anyway, for me the production immediately smacked of the school play, with a teenage Lady Macbeth…

The play itself, set in Duluth (the possibly spurious BD connection – I couldn’t make out any dramatic justification for it), seemed to throw in every cliche of American southern gothic literature – the nutter in every family, the sinister and manipulative Bible salesman, the subterranean sexual passions, the wastrel would-be writer son, the washed-up pro boxer – in a not very stylish or original manner, and a couple of thousand miles north of its proper territory.

And then, in a manner rather too reminiscent of Abba – The Musical, the cast burst into song every now and then. Some of the singing was good, and there was nothing particularly wrong with the interpretations, but it slowly dawned on me that this was a Crime against Art. Recorded or live, these songs, mostly from the 60s and 70s, are all very precise, but at the same time extraordinarily open-ended; they play on the imagination, suggesting multiple meanings, feelings and depths, in a way that few songwriters have ever achieved so consistently (which is probably why the Nobel committee gave Dylan the literature prize).

Shoe-horned into this derivative drama, each song seemed to have been limited, confined, diminished, flattened and emptied-out; there was no charge, none of the reverberation that I value in the originals. It was strange to hear these great songs transformed into something so small.

Over an interval drink, Tom and I decided to cut our losses and head for Dunkirk instead. I’ve got pretty catholic tastes and am both patient and mean enough to want to get my money’s worth – the last time I walked out of a film or play was 40 years ago (strange how some things stick in the mind). I haven’t seen what the professional reviewers make of Girl from the North Country – I’ll be particularly interested in Ann Treneman’s review in the Times (if she reviews it), given that she is an admirer of Dylan. My prediction is that lazy subs will probably run headlines saying For fans of Dylan only; I would reverse that, but even then advise against going.”

And here’s Mick Gold:

“It’s a funny beast but I recommend it. Twenty songs in search of a play? Stuck in 1934 Duluth with the Eugene O’Neill Blues again? Set in a Depression era rooming house in the city where Bob will be born in seven years time, McPherson’s play floats in a fragmented way on a sea of songs. The good news is the cast and the music are wonderful. Worth the price of a ticket just to see Bronagh Gallagher (of Pulp Fiction fame) play the drums.

When a falsely accused black pugilist enters stage left, you can guess what is coming, but when the inevitable “Hurricane” blows the audience away, it’s done with massive energy. To my ears some outstanding young singers in the cast (Sheila Atim, Arinze Kene). Jim Norton, who did a brilliant job of reading the whole of Ulysses for Naxos discs, plays a seedy old man.

“Jokerman”, “Slow Train”, “Duquesne Whistle”, “Like a Rolling Stone” and many more are all done with great artistry and emotional impact. There was the occasional tear in my eye. If this were a boxing match I’d score it Play 3, Bob 5. But the reason the music is so good is McPherson does have some strange and poignant ideas about not making the songs too obvious. And the rhyming of 1934 Depression-era Main Street USA and 2017 zero-hours UK is convincing.”

Wednesday, August 2nd

ONE ROCK REFERENCES EVERYWHERE…

5-tiger

For this one, we have Tiger (the Danish retailer, a “celebration of all things fun and creative”) to thank. Which leads us neatly on to…

TWO ROCK ’N’ ROLL GUNS FOR HIRE
Subtitled The Story Of The Sideman, this was an enjoyable, if slightly repetitious, watch, that sadly proved why most sidemen are sidemen. There’s an artistic gulf between being a great musician playing anything brilliantly at the drop a hat, and an artist with something to say, who realises that he needs people who can play anything brilliantly at the… you get the picture. Presenter Earl Slick was as r ’n’ r as they come, even when he was chopping wood outside his cabin in upstate New York, but the moment that he and Bernard Fowler (second vocalist, the Rolling Stones) start in on the Bowie stuff – oh, mama, hands in front of your face time.

THREE SORT-OF-SATISFIED SIDIES
Steve Cropper, perfect sideman, relished the role and was happy and content, as he’d written some of soul music’s most cherished – and lucrative – songs (see One). Wendy and Lisa found their version of success by branching away from the frontman role into award-winning tv and movie scoring. They are so openly in love with music-making that the scenes of them in the studio playing and talking, were the programme’s most interesting. Here’s the bit when Wendy realises that something has gone wrong…

Prince (in the film Purple Rain) “This is a song the girls in the band wrote – Lisa and Wendy…”
Wendy Melvoin: “The song “Purple Rain” – in the movie he says, I’d like to perform a song the girls wrote… I had an interview and someone misquoted me, asked Did you write “Purple Rain”, and the answer in print was Yes. I get a phone call from Prince, and he’s extremely upset. “Why did you say that? Do you think you wrote “Purple Rain”?” And I said, “Stop. No, but we helped you”.

Prince walked in the room and said, here’s the chord progressions… I thought to myself that’s like a Country progression, and what I pride myself on is finding a way to re-harmonise something that’s very simple. So, I played the chords, but I stretched bottom notes and I put ninths, different shades… here comes the chords… [Wendy plays beautiful suspensions over Lisa’s piano, creating the gorgeous feel that we know and love].

“Did I write “Purple Rain”? Neoowww. But would “Purple Rain” have been the song that you hear to this day without chef [meaning herself] coming in – this is the dish I wanna cook, I’ve assembled a crew here – what are we gonna do? I wanted to be a great guitar player in a great band. I wanted to be a great player. But there’s ambivalence about that role that I had, and what I knew Lisa and I were giving him.

I did have moments of anger at him – I always wanted him to say, You are great! God, I couldn’t do this without you… that didn’t come out of his mouth. Prince made it perfectly clear that if you had that role, and you were next to him, playing, that was his validation. In the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted his validation… But when it came right down to it, he had every right to ignore you. He hired you. He wanted to do this thing, and he was signed to Warner Brothers. And it wasn’t specified, there wasn’t a distinction made that You are now going to partake in my soup. It was just like – This is gonna be awesome, aren’t you going to be having fun? I’m having fun. And we’re like Yeaaahhh!

FOUR ANOTHER SIDEMEN MOVIE!
Now, this movie here, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, celebrates three sidemen of the blues: Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Looks good. I remember seeing Willie with Muddy Waters at, I want to say the Edmonton Sundown (or maybe it was The Rainbow), and for half the gig I was convinced that Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was the star of the show. The rest of the band kept great time and Willie played his thing, song after song, a brilliant dancing, shuffling beat. He could play the slowest blues and make it move and groove. Here’s a nice ’76 concert in Dortmund, from around that time. Check out “Long Distance Call” at around 48 minutes, his cymbals following James Portnoy’s harp. Wonderful.

FIVE ROOTS, RADICALS AND ROCKERS AT THE LIBRARY
Billy brings the music home to America – whilst explaining the twist given to it by Britain’s jazzers, skifflers, and bluesers – talking to an audience at the Library of Congress. It took place, worryingly, in the Mumford Room. My researches don’t reveal if it’s named after Marcus Mumford or not. I’m hoping not. [Thanks to Charlie Banks for the link.]

PLUS…
So many good pieces to read in the last few weeks. Here’s two – Patti Smith’s farewell to her friend Sam Shepard in the New Yorker and Richard William’s lovely note about Shepard’s co-write with Bob Dylan on “Brownsville Girl”, one of the great vocal performances in the whole of American music.

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