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

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

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

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

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

{TWO} MUSIC TO WORK TO

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

{THREE} WORLD’S COOLEST TRUMPET?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Front Cover

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

Friday, August 9th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 20th

{ONE} LOVING LISBON

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

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

{TWO} RAPPER BENCH NEWS!

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

{THREE} GUITARSLINGERS

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

{FOUR} FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH BOB

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

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

Signer, Neil, Old Black, picnic blanket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{DESIGN CORNER} MULBERRY, BOND STREET

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

Tuesday, July 2nd

{ONE} CARTOON
I took this cartoon from a batch submitted by Ray Lowry in about 1983, when I worked at The Listener. I don’t know whether it’s tragic or incredible that you could run it in Private Eye this week and it would still work…

{TWO} PIECES ON WORKING WITH MAC
Two interesting and heartfelt pieces on Dr John. First, in Rolling Stone, by Jonathan Bernstein, about the album that he was making before his death:
The resulting album is anchored largely in traditional country music. “These were people he grew up on, a lot of people didn’t know that,” says guitarist and producer Shane Theriot. Dr. John had idolized Hank Williams Sr. since he was a teenager, and according to jazz vets like John Scofield, he had been talking about recording a country-tinged piano record a la Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music since at least the Eighties. The album features several country classics like “Old Time Religion” (a duet with Willie Nelson), Johnny Cash’s “Guess Things Happen That Way,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” as well as several Williams covers like “Ramblin’ Man.”

“There’s a version of [Hank Williams’ 1949 song] “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” that’ll make you cry when you hear Mac sing it,” says Theriot. “As this record took shape, it wasn’t intentional, but the common thread is that the songs all deal with time and looking back. When you hear Mac sing, it’s somebody that’s lived a really full life. He sounds great, but he sounds exposed.” “The lyrical content” is country, keyboardist David Torkanowsky says of the record, “but it was completely Rebennack’ed out.”

And this, by Chris Rose on myneworleans.com.
In a career marked by many strange phone calls – an occupational hazard for a newspaperman – one I got in the fall of 2005 was a true corker. The voice on the other end of the line was unmistakable. At the time, he was living in New York City and had been taking in the news of Hurricane Katrina from afar, from friends and family and TV. And, it turned out, my stories in the Times-Picayune.

“You da’ only one who gets it,” he told me. And thus, we actually became friends. He called me every now and then to talk, to vent, to spleen. And then one day he called with a favor to ask. He was coming to New Orleans for the first time since the flood, and he asked if I would show him around. Me? Give a disaster tour for Dr John? What ya’ gonna do? And so time passed. Mac and I fell out of touch for a while. He was writing and recording new music. I was going insane, getting divorced and getting addicted. And then came another call from Mac, out of the blue, this one even stranger than the first one. He said he was working on a new record that would be called “City That Care Forgot,” by far the most political and angry record of his career. He told me that a couple of unfinished songs were inspired or based on some of my newspaper stories. And then he asked me if I would write them with him, polish them off for him. Whoa. Giving Dr John a disaster tour was one thing. Now he wants me to write songs with him? What the hell do you say to that? Sure, I said. And then: Umm, how do you write songs?

{THREE} QUOTES FROM ROB SHEFFIELD’S TAKEDOWN OF “YESTERDAY” IN ROLLING STONE
“Jack’s only likeable quality is that he’s into the Pixies (he has their poster on his wall) and wears a Fratellis T-shirt. Honestly, the idea of a world where nobody knows the Beatles is nowhere near as surreal as a world where people remember the Fratellis. (Note: I love the Fratellis, and could sing their 2006 U.K. hit “Chelsea Dagger” for you right now.)”
“It continues the weirdest and most noxious trend in the nouveau breed of rock flicks, like A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Dirt: there is never the slightest suggestion that female musicians exist. The idea just never comes up. (In A Star Is Born, when Gaga sleeps under a Carole King album cover, it’s a shock because Carole is the only other female presence in the movie who listens to music, much less performs it.)
“But nothing about Jack’s rise to fame makes sense, really. He plays “Back in the U.S.S.R.” in Moscow without changing a word. (Fun fact: Ukraine and Russia are no longer the same country! Thousands of people have been killed fighting over this!)”

{FOUR} LINES FROM A LOVE LETTER
From Len to M, sold recently for $21,250. “I put steel strings on my guitar, that’s like changing from underwear to armour, that’s New York City. Given up plans for sainthood, revolution, redemptive visions, music mastery, just the ageing man with a notebook.” [He was 33 at the time! – Ed.] “Walking through the city, insisting that no one follow, feeling either black or golden, dead to lust, tired of ambition, a lazy student of my own pain, happy about the occasional sun, thin and dressing very shabbily, hair out of control, feeling good tonight as I write my perfect friend… Isn’t it curious and warm to grow old in each other’s life?”

{FIVE} PEOPLE FAINTED WHEN MARADONA’S FREE-KICK WON A GAME AGAINST JUVENTUS…
… and two had heart attacks. After seeing the film, you can see why. At the start of Diego Maradona, the BBFC certificate warns, excellently, of nudity and bloody detail, and the film doesn’t disappoint. From Diego’s wide-eyed terror, to the crazed Napoli fans – the most impoverished football club in Italy buying the world’s most expensive footballer – the film uses the degraded videotape images as an immersive experience. It’s director Asif Kapadia’s signature of course – the no talking heads rule from Senna and Amy is maintained here – and it’s electric. The use of Foley, to amp up the sound of the ball as it’s passed, kicked and headed, and to intensify the crowd, is almost overwhelming. “That’s the most Italian thing ever”, says Gabe as Maradona is unveiled in chaos and clamour to a stadium full of Napoli fans. See how the weight of their expectations, followed by an inability to let Diego leave Napoli when he wanted to, causes – to mix metaphors – a car crash.

{EXTRAS} IF YOU’VE GOT SOME TIME TO SPARE
David Crosby as Rolling Stone’s Agony Aunt? It totally works
Ken Burns tackles Country Music over eight episodes for PBS – there’s a trailer here.
A fabulous piece on Dylan by Steven Heller, New York design guru, in Design Observer.
In the New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich’s Lil Nas X Is the Sound of the Internet, Somehow is terrific, and has an Einstein quote to die for.

Wednesday, June 12th

{ONE} A FEW THINGS ABOUT MARTIN SCORSESE’S NETFLIX FILM, “ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY
“It was more fun than the law allows, by a long shot. There were genius writers everywhere. It was a bus full of musicians and singers and painters hurtling through the night fueled by White Russians and other things, making a movie, writing songs and playing – on those evenings when we got the mixture right – some of the most incendiary, intense and inspired rock’ n’ roll, before or since. For evidence, please see the version of “Isis.” Check out Dylan’s reading of, “If you want me to, yes.” That was about it for me. That “yes” encapsulated all of it. The joy, the shock, the anger, the lust, the mirth, the bewilderment, the almost derangement of the whole ride.”
– T-Bone Burnett, one of the Revue guitarists

Watch it, it’s a hoot – brilliant and funny, and you can believe what you want to. Think back to Dylan’s playful press conferences – even now he has the ability to wrong-foot or con the audience, he’s just doing it here with Scorsese’s help. It makes no difference if the Sharon Stone bit is invented, or the Argentinian filmmaker doesn’t really exist. If you remember Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s political mockumentary, Tanner ’88, then the politician interviewed about Dylan’s closeness to President Jimmy Carter won’t be a surprise. It’s safe to say that no conventional film studio would have gone for this, but that’s what Netflix brings to the table. So here are a few great moments from Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story.

1 “Isis”. Scarlet Rivera’s limo driver says that he’d never really been to a rock show, before noting that the relationship between those on the stage and those in the audience was like “one battery charging another”, a neat way of conveying the excitement felt by the audience at being in such intimate spaces seeming to spur on the performers to reach some kind of ecstasy. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the mighty performance of “Isis” captured here, transformed from a rather plain, loping, piano-driven tune to an excessive, expressive romp. With no guitar (a Patti Smith inspired move) Dylan in white-face makeup gives it the full David Bowie (while, amusingly, Mick Ronson struts and solos behind him).

2 Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg went from being part of the first shows to being bumped off-stage as the running time needed to be cut, by a lot. He continues on tour, hilariously reading Kaddish to a group of mahjong-playing women, who just happened to be in the same hotel as the Revue (they’re then treated to Dylan and band romping through “Simple Twist of Fate” in an almost “Pub Singer” style). What’s great about Ginsberg is that when the camera alights on him, he sums up what’s happening and what it may mean, in gorgeous poetic sentences.

3 “Like stations in some relay…” Among the extraordinary Bob performances nestles something equally stunning. We’re at Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto, walking up darkened stairs before being ushered into a living room. Seated with guitars are Roger McGuinn, Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Joni proceeds to teach them the chords sequence that she wants them to play. When she’s satisfied that they’re not going to fuck it up, she starts… “No regrets, Coyote / We just come from such different sets of circumstances / I’m up all night in the studios / And you’re up early on your ranch…”

She delivers it drop-dead perfectly. She’s just written it about Sam Shepherd, who’s along for the ride to write a film that’s being shot as the tour winds its way up the Northeast coast of America. “I’m up all night in the studios / And you’re up early on your ranch / You’ll be brushing out a brood mare’s tail / While the sun is ascending / And I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel…” He was invited to join up, so he dropped what he was doing (setting up a horse ranch in California, since you ask) and caught a train (won’t fly, not since “Mexico, 1963”) to New York. If you like the film, his Rolling Thunder Logbook is a great companion piece.

4 Turning 180º from the big-boned performances and the blustery stadiums of Tour ’74, where even the acoustic performances are bellowed, here, in the gipsy caravan of RTR, “Mister Tambourine Man” is given a beautiful reading, every line caressed and shaped and caught in amazing close-up by David Myers’ lens.

5 The whipcrack of Howie Wyeth’s snare in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. Wyeth and bassist Rob Stoner (the MD of the whole shebang) are the MVPs of the Revue, providing a brilliant rhythmic and melodic platform for everyone to swan-dive off. Stoner does outrageous melodic walks up and down the neck while never missing an accent or a root note to anchor everything again. Wyeth, a student of orchestral percussion, plays the songs, commenting on the lyrics as he goes. In Sam Shepherd’s words, “Wyeth’s jackhammer drums are splitting the four-four time into smithereens. He has a right hand that’s not to be believed. It comes down on the accent and then plays half a dozen little cluster strokes in between striking two or three cymbals for added color. A drummer like this usually goes totally unnoticed, since he lacks the obvious flash of the more athletic types – Howie sits there like he’s driving a ’58 Impala, cruising down the highway.” Joni Mitchell intended to visit for one show, but stayed for the remaining 15, partly because, she said, “Howie Wyeth’s soul is so beautiful.”

The end titles list every gig, by years, that Dylan has played since the Revue’s tours. It’s astonishing…

{TWO} EAZY DOES IT
It seems that the Eazy-E bench in Newhaven [for the earlier story go here] is not an unalloyed hit. But it has produced a classic local paper story. The Argus reports.

One angry resident said he was “truly shocked and outraged” by the decision to allow the bench. William Bartoli told the council: “You are all responsible for polluting our cherished town. I would have applauded Guy Stevens’ interest, and hard work in raising the funds, until I discovered it was a shrine to a drug-dealing rapper whose many song titles included ‘F*** the Police’.” He raged: “Would I get permission to have a memorial bench for Jimmy Savile? I think not.”

In response, Councillor Pinky McLean said that the bench was “a project of passion from a local taxpayer. Although we may not agree with lyrics that this American man wrote, there are many music legends who have not lived a truly wholesome life and recorded songs and lyrics that offend. But they are just humans. Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright was too. He was just a man who has been remembered on a bench and, while not everyone’s cup of tea, made many, many people happy.”

Mr Stevens, who campaigned for the bench, said: “I’d encourage everyone to get a bench of a dead rapper in their town.” Unveiling the bench, Town Mayor Amy said: “I would like to see a John Lennon bench – that was more my era. After looking up Eazy -E on the internet, I am now an expert on gangster rap. His LP Straight Outta Compton was rated as one of the best ever made, and for me, that’s fascinating, because I didn’t have a clue who he was.”


{THREE} LEE KRASNER
Thanks to Caroline and Bill, we went to the opening of Lee Krasner: Living Colour. “I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.” It’s a great show, especially the early-to-mid work that the brutalist Barbican space really suits. When MoMa had an exhibition of the paintings of her husband, Jackson Pollock in 1998, they released a CD of music drawn from the Jazz 78s found in his studio. As it’s 2019, The Barbican has made a Spotify playlist for Lee, and it’s very cool.


{FOUR} THERE’S A LOT OF TALENT OUT THERE…

The ingenuity of folk knows no bounds – here’s four people with a strange band name (Walk off the Earth), some loose change, drinking glasses and giant handbells, playing my new favourite song, Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road.”


{FIVE} B.B. KING – LIFE OF RILEY
A sombre, serious portrait that ends up being less celebratory than it could be, and more melancholy. It’s on Netflix now, and beautifully directed by Jon Brewer, but I felt it needed less of the talking heads and a few more of B.B.’s milestone performances. One nugget, though, was an interesting story about his aversion to playing acoustic guitars. Eric Clapton had asked B.B. to make an album with him (2000’s Riding With the King)…

Eric Clapton: I thought the best thing to do – we’ll go into the room with a couple of guitars and see what comes out…
B.B. King: I said, “Whatever you think is good we’ll try it”, and we did, and he was right, except trying to make me play acoustic – I didn’t like that… [laughs] I had been cut all to pieces by a guy called Alexis Korner. Alexis Korner said, “B, I got two Martin guitars, acoustic guitars and I got an idea for something called “Alexis Boogie”, so let’s try it…” Boy, when we started recording, he just cut me to pieces. I said, I’ll never play another [acoustic] as long as you’re alive [laugh] and I didn’t! I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but now Alexis is dead I’ll try it. And Eric did the same thing, cut me to pieces!

Thursday, May 23rd

It was a week where part of a newspaper headline, “Guardiola’s Thirst”, prompted Steve Way to text me that it would be a perfect name for a Prog Rock Band (spot on!) and Bruce Springsteen gave us the bizarre “There Goes my Miracle”, sounding for all the world like one of the Righteous Brothers or, even, Englebert Humperdink. Which seems appropriate in Eurovision week. Also, we rewatched Diner and were struck by how much it must have influenced Tarantino, whose new film looks, uh, worrying and interesting in equal measure…

{ONE} HOW TO BE AFRAID 24 HOURS A DAY
The Design Museum’s Kubrick show is an extraordinary assemblage of materials, from camera lenses and costumes to pre-Excel shooting planners that are detailed and obsessive enough to induce mild panic. One of the captions talked of his use of music:

“Music, according to Kubrick, is one of the most effective ways of preparing an audience and reinforcing points that you wish to impose. The correct use of music, and this includes the non-use of music, is one of the great weapons that the film-maker has at his disposal. He scoured Billboard’s American hit parade from 1962 to 1968, adding authenticity to the soundtrack of Full Metal Jacket by using hits such as Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” and the Trashmen’s “Surfin Bird”. Despite his reputation for historical accuracy, Kubrick used music by Franz Schubert for Barry Lyndon even though it was composed in 1828 – half a century after the events depicted in the film. “I must have listened to every album you can buy of 18th-century music,” he explained. “One of the problems which soon became apparent is that there are no tragic love themes in 18th-century music.” Kubrick also used music to provoke emotion in his actors. For Lolita, Kubrick played Irma la Douce to bring tears to James Mason’s eyes, while West Side Story had the same effect on Shelley Winters.”

The quote in the headline was an unused tagline for Dr Strangelove, by the way.

“Weird electronic music / non-dancing music”. “To Mother & Dad…” “Her soft mouth was the road to sin-smeared violence!”

{TWO} SOMETHING I FOUND INTERESTING ABOUT BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (AND IT WASN’T THE FILM…)
A dismal script and lacklustre direction hobbled Bohemian Rhapsody for me, but the Live Aid concert recreation at the film’s climax was pretty impressive. There’s an amusing split-screen (real/film) here… and The Hollywood Reporter had this fascinating insight into the lengths a movie production will go to get the sound right.

“Bohemian Rhapsody wraps up with a nearly 20-minute concert performance, revisiting Queen’s iconic 1985 Live Aid turn at London’s Wembley Stadium. The filmmakers worked tirelessly to re-create the sound of that day… it began with the original material from Queen’s performance. Then, recording and music mixer Paul Massey worked toward creating “an acoustic stadium feel” but not just through electronic means. When Queen (with frontman Adam Lambert) played London’s O2 Arena in July, he managed to get two hours with no audience to have the songs played through the Queen PA at full level. “We mic’d all around the stadium.”

He also was able to use that concert to finesse the crowd sounds. “Brian May stopped the concert at one point and said, ‘Who’d like to be in the film?’ So we had 10,000 people doing a single clap and then another and another.” Then Massey was thrown a curveball when he was told the film’s October world premiere would be at the SSE Arena at Wembley in London. “It’s 12,000 seats,” says Massey, who realized he’d have to take out all the stadium effects he had so carefully added to the mix. “Otherwise, it would just be a big reverb wash going on because we’d be playing back something that was including stadium reverb and then the stadium itself was going to create its own reverb.” He went back and mixed a drier version of the film – the only time that mix was played for an audience was at the world premiere. “One time only,” says Massey…

{THREE} MORE COUNTRY NEWS

I love it when someone creates a phenomenon and the world goes for something it didn’t realise it wanted the day before. And what it wanted this spring was Hip Hop Country, in the shape of the earworm that is Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”. There was a period, after the great Southern Soul years when a couple of great black artists made country albums (of course, Brother Ray got there first in 1962), notably Bobby Womack and Millie Jackson, with BW Goes C&W (1976) and Just A Lil’ Bit Country (1981) respectively. But who knew that the current generation would match up the urban with the suburban like this, with a brilliantly conceived video featuring Chris Rock and Billy Ray Cyrus to boot…

There’s a cute piece at Rolling Stone by Josh Eells about Lil Nas X’s journey to the top of the streams: “Nas posted a few more songs, but they didn’t get much traction. “I could post a funny tweet and it would get 2,000 retweets,” he says. “Then I’d post a song and it would hit, like, 10.” One night around Halloween, he was browsing beats on YouTube when he found one by a 19-year-old in the Netherlands called YoungKio. Something about the track — built around an uncleared banjo sample from a Nine Inch Nails song — spoke to him. “I was picturing, like, a loner cowboy runaway,” he says. “Basically what I was going through, but in another lens.” Nas paid $30 to lease the beat, then spent all of November writing and rewriting his lyrics. He wasn’t too familiar with cowboy culture: While he’d worn Wranglers growing up (“It’s Georgia, everybody wore Wranglers”), he had to Google other Western lingo. He chose the title “Old Town Road” because “it sounded like a real country place. I was surprised it hadn’t been used before.”

{FOUR} I SAW THE LIGHT
This is fantastic – Leafcutter John making music against the clock with tiny torches. I once saw him playing a laptop with Polar Bear – absolutely riveting. From FACTmagazine: “For the past 20 years, John Burton – aka Leafcutter John – has been at the forefront of experimental composition, constructing his own technological systems out of hardware and software to make ornate, complex electronica. Ahead of the release of his seventh album on Border Community this week, we visited Burton at his studio to see what he could create with his one-of-a-kind setup in just 10 minutes, using Max, a home-made light interface and modular system to manipulate a collection of field recordings. The result – beautiful chaos.”

{FIVE} ALL THEY WILL CALL YOU…
Todd Austin made a terrific documentary on Woody Guthrie, Three Chords and the Truth. The segment on Guthrie’s song, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” was possibly the most resonant part – he wrote it in response to the fact that radio and newspaper coverage of the crash, while naming the aircrew, did not give the passengers’ names, but instead referred to them merely as “deportees”. There was a clip of possibly the finest version of the song, Bob Dylan’s powerful Rolling Thunder performance with Joan Baez. And the film also pointed up the fact that for two years, Fred Trump was the Guthrie family’s landlord, at Beach Haven near Coney Island. Woody wasn’t too impressed with Old Man Trump – there’s an excellent Amanda Petrusich piece at the New Yorker for a fuller telling of the story, and of the song that Guthrie wrote about him.


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{BUY FIVE THINGS I SAW & HEARD THIS WEEK – THE BOOK!}

The book is edited by Rick Ball, with a foreword by Richard Williams and a cover illustration by Sam Falconer. It covers the first two years of the site. For more information, go here.

Friday, May 3rd

It was a week when Greta Thunwald gave us all a masterclass in thinking and Beyoncé gave us Homecoming – all sound and fury, but at least signifying something, although it struck me as, to quote Stanley Unwin, “all jumbly in the moto…” So this week, it seems, there are weird cross-currents at work…

{ONE} HOME/HEART INTERFACE
For all its visual flash (it cuts two performances over the Coachella weekend, so in some shots, everyone’s dressed in pink, in others, yellow, which really screws with you until you figure it out) the songs in Homecoming actually get flattened out in the performance, and it feels thin vocally and melodically over the two-plus hours. The rehearsal footage is impressive for showing the scale of a production like this, but the inspirational quotes and voiceover get a little strained. There’s some astonishing dancing, especially from the sinewy men, and great propulsion from the horns and drums, but the songs about Jay-Z (with lines like “Becky with the good hair”) and hits like “Single Ladies” don’t quite feel of a piece with the celebration of black history happening around them.

{TWO} CONDUCTING UP A STORM
Beyoncé uses a huge marching band of drums and horns as tribute to the homecoming culture of America’s black colleges and universities. At the same time, Ethan Iverson (via Richard Williams) pointed us towards The Jenkins Orphanage Band – “Astounding audio and video of Jenkins Orphanage Band in 1928. (That drumming!) Later on in the clip, there is some great dancing. Jabbo Smith, Trummy Young, Cat Anderson and others came out of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.” At 1:24 the bass drum player uses his mallets for a jape. Fabulous. You almost expect Buster Keaton to slide along the street in front of them and turn to face the camera.

As the notes on YouTube by scgary66 say, “The Orphanage Band comprised of young African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina and was a notable influence in American jazz; it had also been the first black instrumental group formed in the state (1895). By the 1920s, the group was so large as to allow five separate bands to tour the eastern US, and they appeared at the 1927 New York premiere of the play Porgy. They are seen here in a Charleston sidewalk performance.” What Richard calls the “two-conductor system” is some kind of genius – two duelling/dancing conductors, one for the rhythm, one for the horns, and I want to know why no-one’s tried this since…

{THREE} RADIO, RADIO
Radio 4 had a tremendous (judging by the first hour) three-part Dusty doc, Definitively Dusty with excellent Dusty audio interviews through the years, and featuring most of her important collaborators. It reminded me that one of the first singles that I ever bought was The Springfields “Island of Dreams”, a song that always links in my mind with Dylan’s “Standing In The Doorway” from Time Out of Mind, mostly for the lyrics, but also for parts of the rather downbeat, blue melody. Also on R4, I caught the end of a very strange programme titled The Spider Orchestra. “Struck by the beauty of spider webs, Tomas Saraceno made them into sculptures and discovered that when spiders move, the silken strands make tiny sounds, which he turns into music.” Rather wonderful. Listen to hear the vagaries of live improv with an arachnid.

{FOUR} BOOKS OF THE WEEK
Found in an extremely old-school bookshop in Suffolk, these gems. I loved Oak Publications because they were typeset on electric typewriters and pasted up in a very rigid way. This one is by Tony “Little Sun” Glover of Koerner, Ray & Glover fame, and is dedicated to Kenneth Patchen and Sonny Boy Williamson II, “the two greatest poets of our times.” Sonny Boy I knew, but Patchen not. He was a poet and pacifist and an influence on the Beats (Patchen’s biographer wrote that he “developed in his fabulous fables, love poems, and picture poems, a deep yet modern mythology that conveys a sense of compassionate wonder amidst the world’s violence.”) In his own words, “I speak for a generation born in one war and doomed to die in another.”

On the other hand, Eddie Rogers’ story of Denmark Street is less poetry, more publishing. Tin Pan Alley Tomorrow (the Fifteenth Chorus as the book archly titles its chapters) is a cracker.

{FIVE} BEWARE THE HUMAN-MACHINE HIVEMIND…
Popbitch flagged up the work of Botnik Studios, who are “mashing up all the best text in history to create the ultimate album, The Songularity. We’re remixing Scottish folk ballads, Amazon reviews, Carrie Underwood, The Elements Of Style and more. Our predictive text computer program suggests lyrics in the style of these influences. We set the results to original music.”

Their ultimate Country song, “You Can’t Take my Door” features the excellent chorus, “Look at yourself / and a hand / and a shelf / in the wind…” There’s “Negatively 4th Street”, which combines Dylan lyrics with negative reviews of restaurants on 4th Street in Manhattan. And “Bored With This Desire To Get Ripped”, which is Morrissey’s lyrics algorithmically combined with Amazon customer reviews of the P90X home workout DVD.

It reminded me of a song service in Nashville in the late 70s, where you could send your lyrics off and have them recorded by session musicians. Famously, a guitarist named John Trubee sent a rambling piece of obscenity featuring Stevie Wonder, which he assumed would prompt a letter back saying that his submission didn’t meet their standards, and that he was a sick man, but instead received this: “Dear John, We have just received your lyrics and think they are very worthy of being recorded with the full Nashville Sound Production. I am enclosing a contract of acceptance. Please sign and return along with $79.95 to cover the cost for the song…” So he did, and that’s how “Peace & Love (Blind Man’s Penis)” came to be. “Over the lamest, most minimal country track was some country hack singing the lyrics I wrote [albeit with references to Stevie nixed]. I was stunned”, Trubee writes. Read the whole story here.


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Thursday, April 11th

This week brought with it the extraordinary last scene of Fleabag, played out to “This Feeling” by Alabama Shakes… “See, I’ve been having me a real hard time / But it feels so nice, to know I’m gonna be alright…” as well as a visit to the thought-provoking David Adjaye: Making Memory, at the Design Museum. If you have any interest in monumental architecture or type or civil rights or, who knows, the making of memorials, then try to see it [on ’til August 5th]. The typographical transcription of Martin Luther King’s last speech, which changes (as you listen and watch) the weight of the typefaces, based on the cadence and volume of King’s voice, is really something.

{STOP PRESS} ROCK ISLAND LINE
Billy Bragg’s documentary, directed by George Scott, is being shown tonight at 9pm on BBC4 (and thereafter on iPlayer). I haven’t seen it, though I helped in sourcing some images, but The Guardian’s preview found it “an admirably clear and unpretentious documentary by Billy Bragg, lauding the British skiffle craze of the 1950s for helping to usher in the pop revolution of the following decade. Bragg explains how one song, captured by US folk archivists and then associated with Lead Belly before being recorded by Lonnie Donegan, energised a new wave of performers for whom fighting racism was a major part of their drive to democratise popular music.”


{ONE} MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Shabaka Hutchings, improvising on the bass clarinet in church, for the Barbican Sessions. From the key drop at around two minutes via the skronking shreiks and the sound of the clarinet’s pads clattering, to the beautiful phrase that he finishes with, it’s totally hypnotic.

{TWO} IT’S ROCKUMENTARY TIME, PART ONE!
Free to Rock on Sky Arts had a terrific line-up of talking heads, including Jimmy Carter, Billy Joel and Mikhail Gorbachev. Best of all were the Russian musicians, all still dressed as if it were 1989. As one T-shirt said, “I’m only wearing black until they make something darker…”

My favourite story was this: “All we had were acoustic guitars, so we needed to make electric guitars. I had a friend who was a sailor who brought a Fender Guitar catalogue with the pictures, and even the factory drawings and dimensions. I saw for first time Fender Stratocaster, and I looked at that and I thought, God, what a beautiful thing… So I decided I’d get a piece of plywood and I carved the body, exactly the shape, but we couldn’t make the neck, so we took the acoustic Russian guitar, took off the neck and screwed it to that body. Then we needed a pickup! The one thing that the public telephone booth had is the magnets – when you talk –and they were perfect little magnets, so you have to break those public telephones, take those magnets, solder them. And it worked!” The deadpan on-screen caption tells us that, “shortly after, most phones in central Moscow were disabled by musicians making electric guitars…”

{THREE} WAYNE’S WORLD
Our friend Wayne’s first book was “Dedicated to…”, subtitled The forgotten friendships, hidden stories and lost loves found in second-hand books, a compilation of inscriptions found in said books. His new work is an even more fascinating concept – “Three Score & Ten: A Literary Journey Through Life” views the passage of time through the prism of literature. So the age of one through to seventy are illustrated by sections from great works, featuring one fictional male and one fictional female for each year, “in order to detail the minuscule changes wrought upon our bodies and minds as consciousness blooms, experiences accrue, hopes rise and fall, options expand and then retract.” An exhibition rather than a book (think of the rights clearances!) it’s at Burley Fisher books on Kingsland Road in Haggerston until May 1. It was so riveting we read every one.

{FOUR} ROOMFUL OF TEETH? ROOMFUL OF TEETH?
“Roomful of Teeth is a kind of lab experiment for the human voice. Its eight singers cover a five-octave range, from grunting lows to dog-whistle highs. Three have perfect pitch, all have classical training, and Wells has brought in a succession of experts to teach them a bewildering range of other techniques: alpine yodelling, Bulgarian belting, Persian Tahrir, and Inuit and Tuvan throat singing, among others. Because the group writes or commissions almost all of its pieces, it can create vocal effects that most singers would never attempt.” [They play Kings Place in May.]

This New Yorker piece was fascinating, and not only for its subject. It used a neat piece of web linking. Over certain phrases was a grey bar with a play arrow (see below) that triggers what is being described as you read it. Wild! I want to see if I can get this to work on 5 Things, but it’s undoubtedly ridiculously cutting-edge and expensive…

{FIVE} EXHIBITION CORNER!
I want to be in New York, now. Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll has just started at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, as the blurb says, “it explores the instrumentation of the rock band and how individual artists used their instruments to create their unique sound.”

Some of the ephemera from the show: playful design frames Bob’s head, authentic Southern Soul-styled poster for The Stones; and 60s graphic gorgeousness for a leaping Townsend.

The holy relics include:
Chuck Berry’s Gibson ES-350T from 1957, which he toted as he duckwalked through “Johnny B. Goode”.
Sister Rosetta’s stunning Les Paul Custom (a white-with-three-gold-pickups SG).
James Jamerson’s upright bass, likely used on many early Motown hits.
Keith Emerson’s Hammond L-100 and his Customized Hammond “Tarkus” C3.
Ian McLagan’s lovely Wurlitzer 200.
Ray Manzarak’s Vox Continental with the reversed (Black/white) keys.
Paul Butterfield’s Hohner Trumpet Call harmonicas, as photographed for Better Days’ debut album cover.

Left to right: Paul Bigsby’s Solid-body No. 2 from 1948, an extraordinary, visionary design; The first Fender guitar – body-shape there, headstock not; Jeff Beck’s seriously road-worn Telecaster; and Prince’s Hohner Madcat, a Tele copy bought from a Minneapolis-area gas station for about $30 in the early 1970s, because the guitar’s leopard-patterned pickguard matched his strap and stage outfit.


The list goes on… Don Everly’s Gibson Southern Jumbo, Muddy Waters’ Telecaster, Louis Jordan’s sax, Jerry Lee Lewis’s gold piano, Brian Jones’ Mellotron, Ian Anderson’s flute, beautiful posters for the Fillmore by Bonnie MacLean. The exhibition will also include a sculpture made from what was left of one Pete Townshend’s Gibson SG Specials (set in lucite as if it were a Hirst) after he smashed it during an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot. There’s even a fragment of the “Monterey Pop” Stratocaster of Jimi Hendrix… Whether it can bring these objects alive I don’t know, but if anyone goes, let me know what you think…

{EXTRA} QUOTE OF THE WEEK
The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis on Georgio Moroder at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. “The highlights come when Moroder’s disco-era hits punch through the cabaret styling on “I Feel Love” and a version of “MacArthur Park” using a taped vocal by the late Donna Summer. Occasionally, Moroder explains their recording: “Donna said she wanted to make a sexy record,” he offers. “Then she did a moaning, and then another moaning”. Alas, the ensuing version of “Love to Love You Baby” that follows is truncated, even bowdlerised. None of the four vocalists are required to do a moaning.”

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Friday, March 29th

Once a giant date of political upheaval, now its proximity to April Fool’s Day just looks prescient. Even Uri Geller was powerless to guide us. Here’s Five Things with tariff-free content, a warm embrace and no backstop.

{ONE} GOODBYE SCOTT WALKER (NOT WALKER)
I first listened to Scott Walker properly when my wife was doing interview transcriptions for documentary filmmakers. She was working on Stephen Kijak’s 2006 film about Walker, 30 Century Man, and we had piles of DVDs of interviews and studio footage. Transferring the sound onto cassette tape while watching the unedited reels became a fascinating experience – Stephen was allowed to film the studio sessions for The Drift, resulting in long takes of discussions between his co-producer Peter Walsh and a variety of musicians. This included a carpenter building a plywood box in the studio to deliver a certain sound and resonance when hit, the now-notorious percussion (a side of pork played by Alasdair Malloy), and the brilliant guitarist Hugh Burns, being pushed into chords that were almost physically impossible to play, his hand stretched to its limits on the fretboard. Scott’s instructions to Evan Parker, that he wanted “clouds of saxophones”, gives a hint of the textures and sonics that he was after.

Stephen, collaborating with his director of photography, Grant Gee, filmed each of the contributors listening to a Scott track of their choice on a portable record player, a lovely invention that pulls you both into the world of Walker, and of his acolytes. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As film director Atom Egoyan said, “I have rarely seen a biographical documentary that is able to make the viewer experience the perspective of a devoted fan, a concerned friend, and a complete stranger at the same time.” And I like singer Barb Jungr’s take on it: “In a rare moment Walker talks of the seductive quality, the power, of the baritone voice. Clearly, the gift he was given has been a double-edged sword. But this film reveals that he’s learned to wield that sword in a unique manner, and out there on the edges of music, where he walks alone, he’s leaving a magical, fairy tale trail that many may wish to follow, but few can.”

{TWO} SCOTT, ALMOST IN CONCERT
In 2012 I wrote about The Barbican putting on an astonishing show, Drifting and Tilting – The Songs of Scott Walker, a few years earlier. “It was more opera than rock. Scott, eyes hidden beneath a baseball cap, stood at the mixing desk conducting his collaborator Peter Walsh. It was all I could do to drag my eyes away and back to the stage, which teemed with extraordinary visions. The most arresting image? Possibly a boxer using a pig’s carcass as a percussion instrument. Or maybe Gavin Friday as Elvis (“It casts its ruins in shadows/Under Memphis moonlight”), perched on a stool, singing to his stillborn twin Jesse, while a bequiffed and backlit figure strode from the back of the stage until he assumed gigantic proportions, looming over the whole theatre. Whichever, it was an evening that lives on in the memory. Long may Scott run.”

{THREE} AS DAVID BAILEY DOES THE ROUNDS…
publicising his giant new Taschen book, I find this (below, right) in a book that I found, bizarrely, in a basement. Fashion students take note – and ignore Bailey’s cynicism.

{FOUR} HILARIOUS
Messy Nessy is a rather fabulous guide to Paris. This is from her always interesting weekly post, 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today.

Number 2. A Reminder that Barbra Streisand has a Mall (above, left) in her Basement. “Instead of just storing my things in the basement, I can make a street of shops and display them,” Streisand says. The mall at her Malibu home includes a doll shop, a costume shop and candy store where she serves guests ice cream. Ryan Murphy spoke of the time he had dinner with Lady Gaga at Streisand’s home. “We had dinner with Barbra and Jim, and Kelly [Preston] and John [Travolta], and Gaga and I. That’s all the people who were invited. And after dinner, she said, ‘Do you want to see the mall?’ And Gaga and I were out of that chair so fast… We went down to the mall and spent an hour down there. She pulled out her collection of gowns from Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! And then she said, ‘Do you want frozen yoghurt?’ I could write a whole book about that night.”

What’s sad is how generic ye olde worlde mall looks, like it’s been lifted from a rather poor theme parks…

{FIVE} TWO BENCHES
… walked past this week, one in Hackney marshes, where a saxophonist sat blowing, lost in the notes and impervious to the thumbs-up from passers-by. The other in Knutsford, Cheshire, while walking the dog around a lake, with a quote worthy of Miles Davis, although it is, in fact, from American Composer Truman Fisher, a man who adored Count Basie, accompanied The Ink Spots in Hollywood nightclubs in the 80s, and whose works inlude Pocahontas in London and Requiem for Wyatt Earp.


{EXTRA} RBP PODCAST, EPISODE 19
Listen to this excellent episode for the stunning interview with Minnie Riperton by Cliff White. Minnie was an amazing person with an extraordinary voice, who died way too young. Guest James Medd also has great stuff on Hal Blaine, Charlie McCoy and Joanna Newsom.


{BUY} FIVE THINGS THE BOOK, HERE


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Ten Things, Friday, March 15th

{ONE} NO MORE AUCTION BLOCK FOR ME
Very few guitars owned by Bob Dylan have ever come up for auction – the last one I can find was his 1963 Martin, played from the late 60s to 1977, most notably at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh. That went for $400,000. This week sees the auction of his Fender XII twelve-string. Sending a press video link to me, Richard points out the hilarious voiceover. For a start, it isn’t a key Dylan guitar at all. Heritage Auctions put up a picture of Dylan playing it in the studio, saying, “the 12-string instrument was used to record the double LP Blonde on Blonde – it is believed to be one of the best albums ever released and may rewrite music history when it crosses the auction block March 16 at Heritage Auctions.” Errr, probably not. Those pictures of Dylan in the studio with the XII are captioned as being from the Highway 61 sessions on Fender’s own website. More important is the fact that no electric 12 string appears on any Dylan tracks from 1965 (unless I just haven’t dug through the 18 CDs of The Cutting Edge forensically enough).

Bob’s mint guitar, in the studio with it, and the 1969 Fender catalogue

The hyperbolic narration ends with… “this piece could very well be the ultimate Dylan guitar – it is definitely one of the most important guitars of the 1960s, and popular music history for that matter…” No, no, and no. It’s not the storied Stratocaster he played at Newport in 1965 (the only other guitar of Bob’s that’s come up for auction, going for $965,000, although that authentication was controversial), which maybe fits the bill. His Greenwich Village Gibson, possibly. His small-bodied Blood on the Tracks Martin, again, maybe. But not this, a Fender publicity opportunity gift, that looks to be in unplayed condition, that may not feature on any of Dylan’s released music.

nb. I’ve always liked this eccentric guitar, probably since seeing Tim Buckley play one (I certainly liked the guitar more than I liked Tim Buckley). The Electric XII used the offset Jazzmaster/Jaguar body allied to what became known as “the hockey stick” headstock. Jimmy Page used his 1965 Electric XII on the arpeggiated rhythm guitar parts in “Stairway to Heaven” and as a drone on “When the Levee Breaks.”

{TWO} THE GEORGE MICHAEL AUCTION
Michael tells me that I should see the show before the auction happens, so I hotfoot it to Christies at St James, arriving at the back of the building to see Damien Hirst’s vitrine of a bull’s carcass pierced by lances (Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain, 2007). The piece was too heavy to get into the main exhibition space, so had been left in a loading bay with some disco lights and a music player. It is playing Michael’s rather glossy and antiseptic version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Suitably off balance, I head round to the front. This is some show, room after room filled with giant blow-ups of George, video screens and mad outfits from video shoots, and George’s collection of the art of the YBA’s (with other artworks also).

The cover image for Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1 is projected onto the staircase

The stages of George’s career are rather portentously spelt out in panels around the main staircase – “So, on 24th November 1994, five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, George Michael chose to publicly declare the beginning of a new era of his own…”

The wildly impressive staging…

It is excessive and fun, but diverting too – his taste leans towards the glib and glossy, very surface-driven, but one man’s art and all that… and I guess if you’re rich, like art and have the wall space then this is what you do.

Giant video screen, prop from video shoot

{THREE} THE GREATEST SIDEMAN
When Hal Blain’s third edition of his life story was published in 2010, it carried the fabulous subtitle, The Story of the World’s Most Recorded Musician. In Art Garfunkle’s words, “If music in the second half of the 20th Century were the Empire State Building, Hal Blaine would be the ground floor.” Blaine was an arranger as much as a drummer, and for a gilded period was on more hits than almost any other musician. The book’s a good read, especially where Phil Spector is concerned…

“Phil had a way of holding me back while the band rehearsed. I felt like a racehorse who wants to run as soon as the gate opens and Phil, the jockey, would rein me in until we were coming around the clubhouse turn, heading for the final stretch. When the right take materialized, he would start his incredible gyrations in the booth, running from one side of the glass to the other, looking at key people during crucial moments like Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. He would conduct with one hand asking for loudness, while the other hand was directed at another section calling for quiet. Then he would give me that magical look that meant only one thing – Go! And we would both go crazy, me doing fills that were total lunacy. I would do eighth-note and 16th-note fills during a shuffle, and vice versa!”

“We would rehearse for hours and hours, and no one could even go to the toilet for fear of moving a mic. Finally, after endless run-throughs, Phil would call a “ten” and scream, “Don’t touch the mics!” And no one did. I clearly remember how carefully we would all get up, twisting our bodies and moving delicately. Phil had positioned the mics himself, and the placement was sacred. Like ballet dancers, we would step around the mics and over the cords strewn all over Studio A. The heat was incredible. There was no real air-conditioning in those days… we used to say that the flies buzzing around the Gold Star were getting as large and as famous as us musicians!”

{FOUR} THE LAST BLUESMAN
David Remnick writes a fine portrait of Buddy Guy (cool playlist included, too) in the New Yorker. He’s following Buddy around his house while a Gumbo cooks on the stove: “Guy took me around the house to give the flavours, as he said, time to “get acquainted.” There were countless photographs on the walls: all the musicians one could imagine, family photographs from Louisiana, grip-and-grin pictures from when he was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Bush White House and from the Kennedy Center tributes received during the Obama Administration. (Obama has said that, after Air Force One, the greatest perk of office was that “Buddy Guy comes here all the time to my house with his guitar.”)

An enormous jukebox in the den offered selections from pop, gospel, rock, soul. “I listen to everything,” Guy said. “I’ll hear a lick and it’ll grab you – not even blues, necessarily. It might even be from a speaking voice or something from a gospel record, and then I hope I can get it on my guitar. No music is unsatisfying to me. It’s all got something in it. It’s like that gumbo that’s in that kitchen there. You know how many tastes and meats are in there? I see my music as a gumbo. When you hear me play, there’s everything in there, everything I ever heard and stole from.”

{FIVE} R.I.P., MR PARALLEL FOURTHS…
One of the finest guitar sessioneers ever died recently, the man responsible for some of the greatest fills in Southern Soul – Reggie Young, guitarist at both Muscle Shoals and American Studios in Memphis. From a 2013 interview:
Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
“Well, I was listening to this guitar solo on the radio in ’78, and I said to myself, “I can play a better solo than that guy.” Then I realized it was me!
I decided then that I needed to slow down. I was doing two, three, four sessions a day and I’d stay after the sessions were over and overdub harmonies or whatever had to be done. Then I’d be pushed for time to get to the next session…
Have you had any unusual calls?
Steve Jordan (the session drummer) asked if he could give my number to someone. I said, “Sure,” and a couple of days later Steven Segal called me. He was very nice. He kept saying, “My brother” (laughs). Well, he asked if I was interested in doing a benefit and I said I was, then he said I needed to be in Korea on Tuesday (laughs)! I told him that I couldn’t be there, but I gave him Tony Joe White’s number!”

{SIX} A FILM RECOMMENDATION!
I saw a preview at the end of last year (thanks, Hedda!) of Wild Rose, with Jessie Buckley playing a mouthy, car-crash Glasgow girl desperate to get to Nashville to be discovered. It should be a disaster of cringe-worthiness I know, but it neatly sidesteps most of the pitfalls (except for a cameo by Bob Harris that put one in mind of Graham Hill in Grand Prix). A typically excellent performance by Julie Walters helps, as does the fact that Jessie can really sing. She’s backed by a band of grizzled musos – Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham are there, as is Sam Amidon’s drummer, Chris Vatalaro – some decent songs, and a storyline that dials down the fairytale so as to not overshadow the realism. I loved it.

{SEVEN} BREATHLESS, NOT TOPLESS
That New York Herald Tribune knit shirt worn by Jean Seberg in Breathless? Now available here

{EIGHT} IF 5 THINGS HAD A RADIO STATION…
It would sound something like this, but probably not as well-compiled and eclectic: Graham Lovatt’s latest incarnation, at Completely Sound, with the excellent tagline, Music from all directions.

{NINE} IS THIS THE GREATEST…
photo in Jazz History? A quiet Sunday night in 1953. The Dodgers had just won the pennant. J.F.K. and Jacqueline Bouvier had just married. And four titans of bebop came together in a dive bar for a rare jam session. Read it at the New York Times.

{TEN} THE RBP PODCAST
The day ended and began with Giorgio Morodor. Doing some homework on Sigue Sigue Sputnik prior to appearing with Barney and Mark I listened to their hit single from 1985, “Love Missile F1-11”, and found that Moroder produced it, a fact I had not known. Their tagline – “We invented the future” – was never destined to last, and their schtick now looks quaint. And they last updated their website in 2015, so not really covering the “future” bit, lads. Part Adam & the Ants, part Sweet, it’s rockabilly strapped to an Autobahn rhythm. Still, it was fun to talk about their journey from Moroder to Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and then I got to quote Greil Marcus on Curtis Mayfield.

Someone described it as “bedroom dancing” which was a perfect description of the joyous quality it had

Afterwards, I headed to the other side of town, to Oslo in Hackney with Tim for The International Teachers of Pop. Such a fine name that I went not having heard a note. I did read an interview, however, and it told me that “Sheffield has a great history of drawing out these awkward, gangly weirdoes that make a very British, nay eccentric, kind of pop music that stews in the underground for a few years then appears seemingly from nowhere fully formed, like a very peculiar butterfly.” Spot on. They were terrific, a kind of reverse Human League with the two girls not as backing singers, but as strutting frontmen, and a drummer who laid into the beat with such ferocity and metronomic time that we assumed it was all done with computers. Dry Sheffield wit, pointedly political lyrics, and as they say, “a bona fide 125bpm cuddle for the masses!”

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