Extra! Billy Bragg Comes to Tea…

In the late summer of last year, I received an email out of the blue from Billy Bragg.

“Hi Martin”, Billy wrote, “For the past couple of years I’ve been writing a book that seeks to put skiffle into its proper context in British cultural history. My starting point is your dad’s record collection and it ends with Ken playing at the 100 Club the night after the first punk festival held there in September 1976.” [These pictures show the posters on the back wall of the club].

club

He went on to say that Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer – a collaboration between Mike Pointon, Ray Smith and myself that presented Ken’s story as an oral biography – had been a great help, “not only giving me some insight into the British trad scene, but also helping me to understand the importance of New Orleans to both jazz and skiffle.”

Billy wanted to find some pictures that helped to highlight that this was the moment when guitars came to the fore, and the music shifted, setting the stage for the British Pop and R ’n’ B boom of the early sixties. Some were in the Ken book, but there were others left over, so I looked them out and Billy, who was in the East End for family reasons, came to tea. It was great to meet someone so passionate about the story of that time, as well as being what you hoped he’d be – a genuinely nice fellow. So we talked about the romance and inspiration of American roots music of all stripes, and sorted out the most relevant images.

A few days later Billy sent me a few of the chapters, and I was thrilled by the amount love and devotion that had gone into the book. It needed someone who was willing to put the time and effort into researching and reading widely, and in finding those who had lived through those times and still had stories to be told. I know how pleased my dad would have been to see a light shone on this period – to see the story so well recounted, placed in the context of Britain’s post-war years and the American and British music that preceded and followed. From America’s prison farms to New Orleans at the turn of the century, and forward to the birth of rock, it’s not only a remarkable musical journey but also a terrific piece of social history.

It’s a bonus that Billy comes at it from the viewpoint of a working musician, and a political one at that. Following in the footsteps of Pete Frame’s excellent The Restless Generation, Billy puts flesh on the bones of the story – he shows the wild effect that Skiffle, through Lonnie Donegan, had on the youth of Britain and America, a DIY genre that gave a whole generation the means to make their own music, while shoving aside the bland and tired-out variety shows of their parents.

Roots, Radicals & Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World is released on June 1st. I really recommend it. There is a lengthy excerpt [on the music player to the right] of Billy in conversation with Bob Harris at a preview of the book, which took place at Cecil Sharp House. Here’s a short extract.

lonnie

Lonnie Donegan takes centre stage in a photograph from the period, playing guitar and singing into the mic. To his right, Alexis Korner plays mandolin and Ken Colyer strums the guitar slung across his knee. To his left, Bill Colyer sits playing a washboard, while Chris Barber plucks a stand-up bass. This picture embodies a revolutionary moment in British popular music, when the guitar, for so long stuck at the back of the bandstand, an often inaudible part of the rhythm section, comes to the front and takes control. A young Pete Townshend was there to witness this paradigm shift.

The future powerhouse guitar player of the Who was just a schoolboy when he saw Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen at Acton Town Hall, west London. At the time, his father was a professional musician, playing with the Squadronaires big band. Used to the smooth, sophisticated swing played by his father, Townshend was shocked by the primitive nature of the Jazzmen and their crowd. “I was used to the tidy music of my dad’s era. It was messy. He (Colyer) was messy. The band were messy. The audience were messy.” In scenes of seeming chaos that would not have been out of place at a punk gig twenty-five years later, Townshend described how the men were drunk, wore cheap rough duffel coats, some had wet themselves and instead of wearing wrist watches, some had alarm clocks hanging around their necks.

Disorienting though these scenes must have been to the young Townshend, what made a lasting impression on him was the sight of guitarist taking control of the gig by bringing his instrument to the front of the stage. In that moment, he grasped the enormity of what was happening. “This instrument was going to change the world. For me, this was absolutely massive because my father was a saxophone player. I could see the end of my father’s world – I was going to get this guitar and it was going to be bye-bye old timer and that’s exactly what happened.”

Extra! Detroit, Detroit, got a hell of a hockey team…

2 detroit

I didn’t write about Detroit after we’d been there in the Spring of last year – it seemed too easy to get things wrong, to be a rubbernecking tourist come to see America’s most famous dying city. Yet that’s not how Detroit appeared to us. Yes, it would take the sort of money only hosting an Olympics or a World Cup would provide to rebuild the infrastructure, and way more than a hipster influx to bring back some neighbourhoods from their desolate brink, but there was a real spirit there, in the University, in the Detroit Institute of Art, in Jack White’s Third Man Record Store on the Cass Corridor, at the great letterpress print shop Signal-Return, and in the Shinola factory, successfully bringing jobs and pride back to the Motor City. Reading Drew Philp’s nuanced piece in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, adapted from his book, about buying a house there (Buying a $500 House in Detroit: bidding on the soul of my city) took me back to the questions of gentrification and industry and community that we talked about as we drove around 8 Mile.

[Above: Downtown from Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney building]

ONE PARTIAL PLAYLIST FROM THE JOE LOUIS ARENA, DETROIT RED WINGS GAME
In a blue-collar, hard rock town, I was hoping for a little more local talent to show up on the soundtrack to our first ever Ice Hockey match. Maybe a little MC5, or some Bob Seger. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Ted Nugent, even (well, on second thoughts, not Ted). Something by those sons of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Iggy and the Stooges. Anything made at the legendary Motown studio a few miles up the Boulevard. Not a bit of it. Here’s what I jotted down during the game.
– “Zorba the Greek”, by Mikis Theodorakis (the stadium is near the Greektown area of Detroit)
– Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” (no surprise there)
– Generic Scary Horror Film Music
– A fair bit of EDM. (Actually a horrible amount of EDM)

– Randy Newman’s “You Got a Friend in Me…”
– Something by Aerosmith, I think

– Soft Cell, “Tainted Love”
– Chubby Checker “Let’s Twist Again”
– The headbanging bit from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
– The strutting bit from Elton’s “Bennie and the Jets”
– And some silent movie/Benny Hill-type musical interludes, usually accompanying a moment of humour. Or a fight on the ice.

5 detroit

TWO 8 MILE LOW
There was no Eminem heard at the Ice Hockey game, and I guess that it’s stupid to think that they should play some locally-grown music at every game. But it did seem like a lost tourist opportunity that the house that Em grew up in – famous from his first two album covers – is no more. It’s now just an empty lot on Dresden at Eight Mile. We put “Lose Yourself” on the car stereo and stopped to take some pictures…

[Above: Red Wings’ Pennants/Gettin’ down at Dresden]

THREE COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES
The Motown Museum (the studio is in one of eight houses bought by Berry Gordy on West Grand Boulevard) has its feet firmly planted in the glory days of the 60s and early 70s, and is therefore a nostalgic blast. You’re hustled through pretty quickly (as Berry Gordy knows, time is money) and the shop is a strange mishmash of postcards, random CDs and out of date merch, but it’s still a thrill to be in Studio A, to stand under the hole in the ceiling (Motown’s secret echo-chamber) and to see the Gordy’s upstairs apartment in its mid-60s glory, looking for all the world like they’ve just stepped out to take the kids to school.

3 Detroit

FOUR THE BEAT GOES ON
From the obituary of Motown’s Sylvia Moy by Richard Sandomir in The New York Times, about her work with Stevie Wonder: “There was an announcement in a meeting that Stevie’s voice had changed, and they didn’t know exactly how to handle that,” Ms. Moy said in an interview after her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. “They asked for volunteers. None of the guys would volunteer. They were going to have to let him go…” [I said] “Let this be my assignment – I don’t believe it’s over for him. Let me have Stevie.” She said that she asked Mr Wonder to play some of the “ditties” he had been working on, but she heard nothing that sounded like a hit. Then, as she was leaving, he played one final snippet of music for her and sang, “Baby, everything is all right.” There wasn’t much more, she recalled, and she told him that she would take it home and work on the melody and lyrics. With the songwriting help of Henry Cosby, a Motown producer, “Uptight” was completed. In the recording studio, though, there was no transcription of the lyrics into Braille for Mr Wonder to read from. So Ms Moy sang the words to him through his earphones. “I would stay a line ahead of him and we didn’t miss a beat.”

[Above: Moy, Wonder, Jamerson, Van Dyke and White in Studio A / Visiting Studio A / Detroit detritus

4 Detriot

[Above: Diego Rivera’s astonishing Detroit Industry Murals at the DIA. The workers come out well / Shinola, the calmest factory environment I’ve ever been in

FIVE WORDS FAIL
We drove to Detroit from Niagara Falls, where we sadly had no time to see Jefferson Starship (featuring Mickey Thomas) or BJ Thomas, or even to visit the Rock Legends Wax Museum.

1 niagarastarship

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One Thing, Christmas Eve 2016

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

Thanks to Mark for the music.

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Extra. One Thing. Tuesday, November 8th.

Joe Henry and Billy Bragg, Shine A Light tour of train songs, Union Chapel last night
Joe Henry: “I can’t tell you how nice it is to be here. It’s very important for you to understand that this project is in no way a ‘nostalgia’ project – that neither one of us would of had one interest in going into a recording studio and making a record that just says “Joe and Bill like trains…” [audience laughter]. The impulse really was to reclaim some of our culture and vocabulary. For me as an American, it’s our national poetry – the folk tradition is not a dead language… you know, we take up these songs that are still relevant for the same reason that theatre companies still stage “King Lear” and “Richard III”, because they’ve got something to say to us about who we are, and where we are, and why.

I’d also like to say that when I came in this evening for our soundcheck, because our dressing room is the rector’s office, I was asked specifically not to blaspheme [audience laughter]. And as a younger man I might have bristled at such a, uh, mandate… but as a grownup, and as a writer, I was very affirmed for it to be acknowledged that words matter. That language is power. And we all know it when we hear it.”

Extra: An Update on “The Colyer”

thecolyer2

In July last year I wrote: “As we went walking that ribbon of highway that links Covent Garden to Soho, en route to see Amy at the Curzon, most of Great Newport Street was covered in scaffolding. Not such a rare sight in the centre of town these days, with properties being developed at a giddy rate. However, the covering of the scaffolding was – frankly – gob-smacking. A huge 60s-style caricature covered the top half of the four-story high structure, with my uncle Ken flanked by Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger.”

Now, an update, prompted by a comment on that 5 Things post by Californian legend Peter Asher, OBE, (“Just happened to see this. I went to all the Stones gigs at Studio 51 and was also a Ken Colyer fan. And when I later went on the road myself (as one half of Peter & Gordon) our tour manager was Keith “Avo” Avison who used to play trombone in Ken’s band! – Peter Asher).

In brief, the redevelopment of a site on Great Newport Street (at which there was a jazz club called Studio 51, which became known as the “Ken Colyer Club”) was branded (love those branding ideas!) by calling it The Colyer. Without asking Ken’s son. I quickly found out that there was nothing to stop the developers (an enormous Insurance multinational) from using Ken’s image or name. I wonder how that would have played out if they’d called it The Jagger? Anyhow, I made enquiries as to whether they would like to make a donation to Help Musicians UK (previously the Musician’s Benevolent Fund) who I knew had helped some of the members of Ken’s various bands when they had, as musicians do, money troubles. But the Large Insurance Multinational plc™ declined. Which sadly came as no surprise. A World Without Love, indeed.

The Heritage plaque affixed to the building by Westminster Council, is still there – Ken Colyer Played New Orleans Jazz here in the basement “Studio 51” 1950-1973. There’s a discreet nameplate with the apartment intercoms and the entrance hall carpet has a cornet woven into it. Two-bedroom apartments available now at £1,750,000.

thecolyernow

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Extra: One Thing, or maybe Five…

AMANDA & JACK PALMER, KOKO, FRIDAY NIGHT
I thought it a cute present for daughter’s birthday to take her to see a dad and his daughter play some odd cover songs. Of course, the fact that we’d never heard a note of Amanda Palmer’s music was neither here or there – the concept was good. And, as it turned out, inspired. She came on stage (at the unfeasibly early start time of 7.30) to an audience made up of Steampunks, ex-Goths, Chaps, ex-Chaps, ex-self-harmers – just your basic London list of niche tribes of all stripes. She picked up a ukelele and started a song:

“In my mind
In a future five years from now
I’m one hundred and twenty pounds
And I never get hung over
Because I will be the picture of discipline
Never minding what state I’m in
And I will be someone I admire
And it’s funny how I imagined
That I would be that person now
But it does not seem to have happened…”

So, first song in, we have a witty start. She’s had a baby since last touring and this sets the gig up nicely. As she puts down the uke, she wonders about her reaction to having a baby –  “I’d play nice folk songs, and then I’d would just start writing nice songs about nice things, all major key songs about my children, all “life is good”… but I’d want to kill myself. What I actually just realised is, by making this record with my dad…” she trails off to hoots of laughter from the audience. “And lo and behold, we covered a bunch of nice folk songs… so maybe I’m exorcising the thing like some satanic demon.”

There’s something sort of old school about her though, so I’m thinking… Nellie McKay meets Liza Minnelli? For the second song she moves to the piano, and a more typical number – “Machete” – ensues. At which point my reference changes. Flailing arms at the piano, smashing the keys hard, Palmer booms out a song that seems to deal in some major angst. And I’m thinking… Sophie Tucker meets Patti Smith? A baby’s cry breaks the mood and she calls a halt midway. “I actually don’t know what to do, cause when I hear the baby I’m supposed to get up and walk offstage. It’s too distracting!” She eventually finds her way back into the song. “I don’t much like this song, says daughter, “but I really like her…”

And it’s hard not to warm to her, especially when the bizarre parade of special guests starts parading. First up is Neil Gaiman and (their) son. He hands the baby off to Amanda at the piano and reads a sleeve-note entitled “Who Killed Amanda Palmer”, with spookily perfect keyboard interjections by baby. It’s hard to convey the amusement value that sometimes exists in live performances, but I’m up for anything that breaks the mould of earnest “Here’s a song from the new album” gigs. I still fondly remember an Aimee Mann and Michael Penn gig where their friend, comedian Patton Oswalt, set up each song – often witheringly, scathingly – after being their support act.

Proud dad is followed by a current collaborater, Edward Ka-Spel, who daughter describes, accurately and hilariously, in terms not fit to print. He is barefoot, has a cape, some strange optics on his nose, and sings slightly creepy poetry. I’m thinking… Edward Gorey meets Nico? At this point, dad Jack is introduced, and does a solid if slightly stolid version of Leonard Cohen’s “You Got Me Singing”. He sings, in Johnny Cash’s register, an affecting plain song, very much Greenwich Village folkie pre-Dylan’s arrival. Not like the fruity actor-ness of a Theodore Bickel or Sebastian Cabot, more like a non-Italian version of Dominic Chianese (who played Uncle Junior in The Sopranos).

By the time we’ve reached “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” and “The Skye Boat Song”, we’re feeling caught up in a Mighty Boosh version of Playschool, especially as the latter is introduced by another poet, a tall thin man dressed in high heels. At this point, daughter needed more wine. Amanda and Dad work their way through Phil Ochs’ “In the Heat of the Summer” – a piece of protest doggerel that hadn’t aged well, before attempting Sinead O’Connor, More Len, Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World” (her sister comes on to sing on this) and John Grant’s slightly clunky cry for tolerance and difference, “Glacier”.

Amanda sometimes seemed a little, well, needy. But I get it, this genre is all about sharing/bonding/fandom/belonging etc – you can see she’s been a solid influence on Lady Gaga. As she talks to her patrones in the audience, super-fans who are currently crowdfunding her career, I’m now thinking… PT Barnum crossed with Lene Lovich?

Amanda and Dad end with Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” featuring a bravura piano arrangement before encoring with a couple of Dresden Dolls songs (I have no idea who the Dresden Dolls are, but Palmer was a part of them). Thus ends a night of variety and as we head down the warren of stairs to the cool outside air, I’m no closer to understanding how to describe AP & Pa. I have one last thought… Ethel Merman meets Tori Amos…

 

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 3

Woodstock Four The John Cuneo Woodstock Express

woodstock

John is an illustrator that I’ve worked with through the years, and it was great to finally meet him and his wife, Jan, when we pulled into Woodstock from Connecticut. John and Jan live in a house that was part of the Robertson spread, mostly used as a crash pad and rehearsal space during the time of The Band’s Woodstock years (John says that one visitor, returning to the scene of his old band days told him “I’ve had sex in every room of this house!”). We settle for a fine lunch and conversations that range far and wide. Later, concerned that we haven’t seen enough, John puts on a guided tour of the locale, taking in Dutch barns, The Levon Helm Memorial Boulevard, the Byrdcliffe theatre (located just above what was Bob Dylan’s home, and the slopes of Overlook mountain). After fond farewells we take our leave later than we should and end up lost in the wrong part of NYC in a snowstorm (that’ll teach me to say we didn’t need satnav), and are saved by the directions of a Josh Homme lookalike police officer, wearing the largest bullet-proof vest I’ve ever seen, printed with the words Strategic Tactical Unit. Finally we sink into the warm snug of the Marlton Hotel in Greenwich Village (where Jack Kerouac penned the Subterraneans). Later, I find this version of “Up on Cripple Creek” – shot at the same time as the better-known clip of “King Harvest” – recorded in John and Jan’s house. Great loosey-goosey drums in the false start, Levon’s cigarette insouciantly dangling from his lips, and a great moment where Garth decides to stroke his beard rather than play the wah-wah clavinet line…

Woodstock Five East Village Night
As our old friends Rick and Liney guide us through the doors of the Summit Bar, located in the old Alphabet City section (so named because of Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names) we are struck by two things. One is the unique bouquet of cardamom, as the bartender infuses sugar spirit with the world’s finest pod, and the other is the sound of Levon Helm singing “Up on Cripple Creek” – I mean, what are the chances? Hearing this, Rick says, “Do you remember his great part in The Shooter?” I’d forgotten it, but Rick brings it all back home… Mark Wahlberg plays a sniper caught in a double-cross and set-up by a hawkish senator and, in the scene in question, drives up to a house deep in the woods. He glances at his companion, saying, “Welcome to Tennessee, the patron state of shootin’ stuff” and they get out of the truck and knock on the door. What follows is another of Levon’s great film cameos…

 

Wahlberg (Bob Lee Swaggart): “Suppose I was looking for a man to make a 2,200 yard cold-bore shot? Who’s alive that could do that?“
Mr Rate: “Seems I heard about a shot like that bein’ made not too long ago – said the guy’s name was Bob Lee Swaggart – never met the man so I wouldn’t know.”
Wahlberg replies, “Yeah, they said that alright”.
Mr Rate: “They also said artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in I-raq and Anna Nicole married for love…!”

We eventually tumbled out of the Summit and into the warm embrace of the great staff at Kafana across the road, where we drank Serbian Cabernet Sauvignon and put the world to rights. And so our Woodstock-related adventures came to an end, but if you are interested in the music that was made there and the history of how a small town in the Saugerties came to be such an artistic and musical powerhouse, read Barney Hoskyns’ fine new book, Small Town Talk.

Oh, and Five Things gold awards to: The Marlton Hotel at 5 West 8th Street, The Summit Bar at 133 Avenue C (try the oysters) and Kafana, a great Balkan restaurant at 116 Avenue C.

Postscript. I took a copy of Small Town Talk to give to John. A few days later he emailed, saying how much he was enjoying the book, and attached this…

!dylanbassett

 

Extra! Josh Ritter

FROM RIHANNA TO RITTER
Gabe and I take turns DJing as he drives us back from a day trip to Old Trafford watching Leicester and Man U draw. It was wonderful to see Riad Mahrez up close, and the game featured a surprisingly deft performance by Marouane Fellaini (who would have expected that? Not me). I trawl around my iPhone to find things that I think Gabe’ll like and Dion’s “King of the New York Streets” gets the thumbs up. If you’ve not heard it, rectify immediately – it’s a terrific romp in the sound and style of Garland Jeffreys, or those tracks that Ronnie Spector cut with the E Street Band.

The newer songs that leap out as keepers are Rhianna’s “Desperado”, a sensational slice of noise with Robyn Rihanna Fenty’s wonderfully supple and slurry vocal wrapped around a industrial morass of funkiness, and a couple from Josh Ritter’s latest record. I’ve always been interested by Ritter, while never bothering to investigate much further. In general I find the whole Americana singer-songwriter thing a busted flush, peopled by whiny voices and dull songs, but Ritter is driven and clever, with the same vivid delivery and whipsmart wordplay as, say, the undervalued Steve Forbert (or, maybe, a rockier Lyle Lovett).

“Sermon on the Rocks” sees him and his great Royal City Band expand their sonic palette, alternating between a fearsome wallop and a delicate charm. Favourite on the road home from Manchester was “Getting Ready to Get Down”, a song in the mould of August Darnell’s great “There but for the Grace of God (Go I)”, a rocking tale of parental fears, small town morals and a daughter’s rebellion, spat out like prime Chuck Berry:

“Mama got a look at you and got a little worried/Papa got a look at you and got a little worried,
The pastor got a look and said “Y’all had better hurry/Send her off to a little bible college in Missouri!
And now you come back sayin’ you know a little bit about/every little thing they ever hoped you’d never figure out,

Eve ate the apple ’cause the apple was sweet/What kinda God would ever keep a girl from getting what she needs?”

Each verse has another cracker:
“Four long years studyin’ the Bible/infidels, Jezebels, Salomes and Delilahs…”
“To really be a saint, you gotta really be a virgin/dry as a page in the King James Version…”

“And when you get damned in the popular opinion/it’s just another damn of the damns you’re not giving…”

Powered by a rockabilly/afrobeat/funk guitar line sitting on a big four-on-the-floor and a rootsy Hammond, we put it on repeat and it flies us down the outside lane of the M6 in fine, fine style.

Later, trawling for stuff on Josh, I find the official video, explained here…
“Hey All! A few days after we put out “Getting Ready to Get Down” as a single, my great friend, Doug Rice, discovered an amazing homemade video online. It was a guy in his dance studio teaching the world line-dancing steps to “Get Down”! We contacted Cef, who it turns out is a line-dancing instructor from Idaho, told him how great we thought it was, and next thing you know we had even more footage to work with. We knew this stuff had to be shared. Cef is a great guy and I thank him (and his wonderful class!) wholeheartedly for sharing his pure talent and enthusiasm with me and letting me share it with you…

I also came across this thoughtful video made for PBS News Hour, rather prosaically titled “How does a Singer Songwriter Deal With Self-Doubt On Stage?” I’m digging the threads,  especially the Paul Simenon-like paint-splattered boiler suit that he wears on stage.

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 2

Woodstock Two Full Tilt, Theatre Royal, Stratford East
So, a few days after The Last Waltz revisited we head to the the theatre to see Full Tilt, a musical play about Janis Joplin, who was of course managed (as were The Band) by the Squire of Woodstock, Albert Grossman.
“On stage a woman stands, the greatest rock singer of her generation. Behind her is the hottest band that a record company can buy. In front of her, an audience of thousands of expectant fans. She is Janis Joplin. She is utterly alone.” So, it’s pretty much a salty monologue with a band for the performances. There are a few scenes where other characters – a night desk clerk, a road manager – intrude, but it’s pretty much Angie Darcy’s show as Janis. The musicians who make up her band (Big Brother in parts, Kozmic Blues at others) are some of Scotland’s finest – guitarist Harry Ward, Andy Barbour on keyboards, bassist Jon Mackenzie and James Grant on drums. The simple set, not much more than a dressing room, may be underpowered, but it’s the only thing that is. By the end we (wife, mother, daughter) have winced at the sad facts of a life shaped by bullying, heartache and drink, have heard the word “Maaaaann”, drawled at least 150 times, and had the roof raised by a bravura performance of “Piece of My Heart”.

Woodstock Three Small Town Talk launch, Rough Trade East

A few days later, it gets more Woodstock-y at Barney’s reading – with guest, Graham Parker – to launch his new book. Recommended for its fascinating portrait of a small town unique in American music history, the book has a lot of time for the less famous among its denizens – Karen Dalton, the Muldaurs, Bobby Charles, Paul Butterfield and the floating pool of musicians who would come to define East Coast Americana. Graham Parker, who lived in Woodstock for a while, told us of his most memorable musical moment there: “I had the extraordinary experience of working with Garth Hudson, which was a full-day experience, for three songs… he fell asleep at one point, then he woke up and said, “Where did all these women come from?” There was just me and the engineer… [Garth has a narcoleptic condition]. We’d agreed on a fee – and he beat me down by a thousand dollars at the end! “Uh, that’s too much…”

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 1

In the lead up to a trip to the States (that would include lunch in Woodstock with this blog’s local Correspondent), a series of random events coalesced around the subject of that small town in the Saugerties. So with three weeks to go ’til we left, we started with this…

Woodstock One The Last Waltz Recreated
An Irish group, called “The Group”, bring a show they have done for a few years now to London for the first time. In it “The Group” play most of the songs from The Last Waltz, the movie of The Band’s swansong concert. 
Tim sees a small listing in Time Out, and a few days later we find ourselves (Tim, Alison, Alex and me) at the Islington Assembly Rooms watching a live concert that is a tribute to a movie that was made about a live concert.

lastwaltz

The picture shows Winterland, er, Islington. From left, Unknown, Ronnie Hawkins, Rick Danko, Neil Young, Van the Man, Robbie Robertson (obscured), Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond (and Muddy Waters), Joni Mitchell and Paul Butterfield. But I’m sure you could tell that [click to enlarge].

The musicians all dress as the guys in The Band did on that night and they make a fair fist (Tim’s phrase) of the songs. There’s a horn section at the back, from which “Garth Hudson” steps out to take a couple of sax solos. They’ve got the moves down, from Robbie Robertson’s flailing hand shtick while soloing to Rick Danko’s bobbing and weaving (the bass player is pretty uncanny, actually, musically as well as visually). Behind them a very poor presentation of bad graphics and clips from the film is run from a Windows Laptop (boys! Really…). It’s great to hear the songs played well, although you can never quite shrug off the Tribute Band™ feel.

The revolving guest artists (who ranged far and wide at the The Last Waltz) are played by a motley crew. To actually convey how strange this whole thing was, I will just tell you that the same person played both Neil Diamond and Muddy Waters. Diamond spot on, Muddy, well… less spot on.Thankfully, we were spared “The Staples” singing “The Weight”. Eric Clapton was played by a very short older gent with a silver grey afro, who virtually had to be restrained from “Clapton-ing” everything he played on after “Farther On up the Road”. As the entire audience roared the chorus of “The Weight” back at the stage it was hard to tell who was in charge of the whole thing – the band or the crowd, a fair proportion of whom appeared to be friends of the group. Whatever, it made for a fitting end to a mad celebration of a unique event.

Woodstock Two Full Tilt…
follows next week.

 

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