Friday, February 10th

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

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

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

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

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

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

jemmott

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

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

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

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

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

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

! Ayler.jpg

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Thursday, February 2nd

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

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

bandcarner

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

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

cryer

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

revolution

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

greenwich.jpg

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

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Thursday, January 26th

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

mccoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

worthofweb

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

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

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A Late Return and 7 Things, Thursday 19th January

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

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

wolfe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Thing, Christmas Eve 2016

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

Thanks to Mark for the music.

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Wednesday, December 14th

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

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

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

robertsonguitars

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

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

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

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

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

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

gaga

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Wednesday, November 16th (late!)

 A week for Art and Guitars, starting with a trip to Bond Street…

ONE SOLACE IN ART
Searching for something to lift my spirits on the ninth of November, I turn first to the Halcyon Gallery in New Bond Street for the latest in Bob Dylan’s series of exhibitions there (it’s on until December 11th). I tried to feel what a rather over-emotional Jonathan Jones did when he reviewed it for The Guardian, but didn’t come up trumps. I liked some of the large canvases, and it was entertaining, but fell slightly short of compelling. There was a cool wall with Daniel Kramer’s On a Triumph in Woodstock shot, a video player and a set of stats… I was leaving as one of the visitors got into a rather intense discussion of the merits of Bob’s style with the curator. Her point – if it wasn’t Dylan who had done them, they would not have merited a large and fulsome West End showing. I stayed long enough for the blood to be mopped up and the combatants to agree to a draw.

bob

TWO MORE SOLACE IN ART
Then to the Bowie show, right across the road at Sothebys. It’s interesting to see how well auction houses now display their sales. This had full-wall graphics and comprehensive captions, and a nicely displayed selection of objects that ran the gamut from painting to, uh, furniture (mostly Ettore Sottsass and Memphis objets, including his red Valentine typewriter for Olivetti, of which he said, it was “the sort of thing to keep lonely poets company on Sundays in the country”).

bowie1

The audience for this melange was a fascinating bunch – wild-haired men from the fringes of rock, mingling with Eurotrash art dealers, busy edging their way past German art students and Japanese tourists. Oh, and there was the odd East End Camp Criminal-type, all shined shoes and classy cashmere coat, to give it the full Performance vibe. It was as catholic a collection (people and art) as you could imagine, Bomberg to Basquiat, via St Ives.

bowie2

THREE IT’S NOT ART…
but you gotta love this. Vintage Reggae record sleeve photography geographically located in the here and now. And how lovely to be reminded of the fabulously named Smiley Culture. It’s one of those name that makes you break into a grin if you say it out loud, much like the name of Michael Jackson’s one-time spiritual guide and rabbi (I know, I know) Schmuley Boteach, does.

covers

FOUR I MENTIONED GUITARS…
So check out these babies, from an auction a couple of weeks ago. These were my favourites, but the one on the left takes the biscuit: Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar, 1954, serial no. 5238, with Parsons-White Pull-String, owned by John Beland, Flying Burrito Brothers. It is signed extensively, including Roger McGuinn, Chet Atkins, Thumbs Carlile, Ricky Nelson, James Burton, Ray Price, George Jones, J.J. Cale, Charlie Pride, Glen Campbell, Dickey Betts, Merle Travis, Roy Nichols, and others, with case.

guitars

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar, 1953, the body with hand-tooled leather wrap, with flight case stenciled WAYLON/NASHVILLE TN and bearing the tag of Waylon Jennings’s trucking company, Road Inc. Fender Musicmaster II/Mustang Prototype Electric Guitar, 1967, from the workbench of Leo Fender, Daphne Blue body, Candy Apple Red headstock, the body exhibiting prototypes for the three-bolt Micro-Tilt neck adjustment and a Jazzmaster-style tremolo system, with hardshell case. Gibson Style U Harp Guitar, 1908, serial no. 8618, factory order no. 1004, with original hand tooled leather case. Their estimates were all pretty high and all 4 went unsold.

AND, FINALLY, FIVE A SHAMELESS PLUG
Rocksbackpages’ excellent new compendium of Joni Mitchell articles and interviews is now available – go here. As Barney says in his introduction, “Included in Reckless Daughter are some of the most open and thoughtful interviews Mitchell has ever given, as well as some of the finest snapshots of her complex, often spiky personality.”

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In October, 2012…

…we took the Eurostar to Paris, to see Leonard Cohen at the Olympia Theatre. It seemed the right place to see him, what with it being the home of French chanson and a far better bet than the O2 as a place to enjoy music. I wrote a fivethings about it, which sums up a lot of what I loved about him and his work.

ONE PUBLIC PIANO, EUROSTAR TERMINAL, FRIDAY: “HALLELUJAH”
In some kind of omen, as we walk through the train terminal, a man sits and starts playing a lovely, stately version of Len’s now-most-famous-song. As he finishes we say thanks for starting our trip off in such perfect style. He advises us to buy a lottery ticket.

TWO MONTPARNASSE CEMETARY, SUNDAY. GAINSBOURG
A small detour to the tombs of Man Ray, de Beauvoir and Sartre, and here, covered in metro tokens, roses, kisses and poor pencil drawings, the grave of Serge Gainsbourg.


THREE OLYMPIA THEATRE, SUNDAY: A PILGRIMAGE


The couple sitting next to us met at a Cohen concert at Leeds University on his first tour in May 1970. And here they were, celebrating at the Paris Olympia 42 years later. Amazing. And my bad photography has cropped the grey fedora—adopted, I was assured, long before Len.

FOUR OLYMPIA THEATRE, SUNDAY: THE CONCERT
a) In numbers:
33 songs.
3 hours 40 minutes.
3 encores comprising seven songs.
9 musicians, made up of three women and six men—two singers from Kent, England, one from Los Angeles, USA, one from Montreal, Canada; one drummer from Mexico City, Mexico; one keyboardist from Florida, USA; one guitarist from Texas, USA; one bassist from New York State, USA; one violinist from Moldova; one multi-instrumental string player from Zaragoza, Spain.

b) Five Great Moments
1  A brilliant performance of Everybody Knows, every verse a work of genius, every verse a still-accurate assessment of human weakness and failure. Co-written with Sharon Robinson, who later sings a glorious solo version of Alexandra Leaving.
2  A bravura moment at the last verse of The Future where Leonard sings the “There’ll be fires on the road/and the white man dancing,” and bassist Roscoe Beck does a stately piroutte, which is followed by LC singing “And all the lousy little poets/coming round/tryin’ to sound like Charlie Manson/and the white girls dancing,” whereupon the Webb Sisters turn away from their mikes, take one step back and, synchronised, do perfect cartwheels…
3  Leonard soloing on a Jew’s Harp, that most American of instruments on the hoedown breaks of Closing Time, one of two songs (Heart With No Companion being the other) where he sounds uncannily like Tom T. Hall, only deeper. Also, Take This Waltz in a Weimar-ish arrangement, has a hint of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Honest.
Night Comes On. I hadn’t dared to hope that I’d hear Leonard sing my favourite song. And sing it he does, causing some spontaneous tears in the audience, its mournful and beautiful melody letting the words cascade in their stoic and weary way, on the cushion of warmth the band create.
I remember catching a version of Who By Fire in the late 80s in a hotel room in LA by chance. It was on Night Music, a show hosted by David Sanborn, with Hal Willner and Jools Holland involved—like a precursor to Later. Sonny Rollins joined Leonard, and played an unaccompanied intro that tore the roof off before the band (including half of Was Not Was and Robben Ford) came in. Tonight, Javier Mas was the star turn, a masterclass in flamenco, playing the bandurria like a man possessed, the elastic strings rolling and tumbling to a frenzied crescendo…

c) Some Observations
You have to make your peace with the fact that a certain amount of drama is missed by muting the drums quite this much. The sound is perfect and balanced, intentionally allowing every word to ring clearly through. To make up for the lack of beat, Larson’s churchy Hammond B3, Alex Bublitchi’s muscular violin and Javier’s Mas’s extraordinary Laud provide thrilling dynamics. Mitch Watkins on guitar (after eleven years in Lyle Lovett’s Large Band) provides structure, architecture and blues—his moaning slur at the end of a Wes Montgomery-like solo on Amen the coup de grâce.

The older-type singer (the ones who aren’t Mick Jagger, anyway) are very fond of the prizefighter pose. Len takes this even further than the bob-and-weave and sings at least half the set on his knees on the patterned rugs that cover the stage, James Brown-style. It also emphasised the supplicant nature of many of the songs: to God, to Poetry, to lust, love, the musicians and to the audience, who he always addresses as “Friends.” His ability to get back up from his knees with grace is very impressive.

The only singer with a deeper voice than Len is Barry White. Fact.

FIVE THE FIRST TIME I SAW LEONARD
Was on the south coast of England in 1976. A friend of my mother’s was managing the hotel where Leonard and his musicians were staying and had tickets. I didn’t really know much about his music then—but this was World Music before it had a name, with the flamenco melodies, the gypsy violin and the Moorish oud. Backstage for a meet and greet, we were struck dumb. He was charming. The next morning, having breakfast at the table next to his, we were even more tongue-tied.

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.”

Thursday, October 20th

Mark, you don’t need to tell me this is too much Dylan…!

ONE RING NO BELLS
In one of the best among the plethora of the Why Bob Dylan is a worthy Nobel Prize winner pieces – as my friend Graham emailed, “an anagram of Blonde on Blonde is BD done Nobel (although there’s an o, n and l leftover)” – Richard Williams mentioned a song that may be obscure, but is a great piece of work – “’Cross the Green Mountain”, written for the movie Gods and Generals. Dylan’s fascination with the Civil War as a country-defining event was chronicled in Chronicles, of course, and thus is a natural fit. It’s memorable not only for its fine lyric but for the extraordinary sombre slow march created by the musicians – that chugging electric rhythm, the ghostly organ, the keening violin and the tension-and-release press rolls on the drums.

 It’s a-one off, really, in the Dylan canon, and comes from a fertile period of writing songs for films – from “Things Have Changed” for Wonder Boys, through “Waiting For You” in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood to the wonderful “Tell Ol’ Bill”* from North Country and “Huck’s Tune” from Lucky You. Most of these were finally collected together in Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8.

That said, the song’s video (it loses about four verses) is one of the stranger ones I’ve ever seen, for Bob’s hair and hat alone.

 This is from a terrific piece by Tom Junod in US Esquire from 2014 [that can be found here]: “When Ron Maxwell, the director of Gods and Generals, got it into his head to ask Dylan for an original song, his music coordinator laughed at him. But when he asked, he got a reply from Dylan’s management right away, and both Maxwell and his wife wound up listening to “Cross the Green Mountain” with Dylan and his band at a studio in the Valley. “He was there in his New Balance shoes,” Maxwell says. “He was a bit shy, I want to say. We said hi and shook hands. When they played the song back, he was looking away. I heard the whole thing, taking notes. At first I was thinking, That’s a lot of verses. Then it was finished, and I stood up and he looked at me. I said, I really like it. He said, You do? You like it? I said, I more than like it – are you kidding? And he relaxed and all the band members relaxed. The tension left the room. They let me know they were all fans of [Maxwell’s first Civil War movie] Gettysburg and watched it over and over again on the bus.”

*Google the outtakes for this song – they must have tried it ten different ways, at every tempo known to man…

TWO LANGUAGE CORNER
We can thank The Donald for at least restoring some great and underused words to the English language, such as Prig & Blowhard. This piece on the decrepit state of Trump Tower’s public spaces, and what it says about the man, is brilliant.

THREE UGLIEST ALBUM COVER OF 2016?
Kings of Leon, take a bow. And don’t do any more chat shows, if last week’s appearance on Graham Norton’s show is anything to go by. Coming off like sulky teenagers is so, well, 1980s…

kolFOUR PETULA CLARK, “LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF” THE BIG ISSUE
My biggest piece of advice to the younger me is something I don’t think she could do. It would be to find your own voice. Something only you have. It’s not easy. Some people find it right away. It seems to me that Amy Winehouse found hers right away. But it took me a long time. I had to go through a lot of experiences. I don’t think I found it until I was into my 30s and working in America. I was learning along the way but my real voice didn’t come out until then. I think there’s something in my voice that I can’t describe – I’m not even sure what it is. Lots of singers sing better than me but what makes you an individual, makes you stand out, is almost impossible to define.

FIVE THANK YOU, JOHN
For sending me two Dylan related things. One: a fine drawing (I don’t know who for, with John it could be from the scrapbook, or for the hallowed pages of the New Yorker). John’s latest NY cover of Trump was unceremoniously bumped (just like Trump will be on Nov 8, I hope) on the day before hitting the newsstand, by, of course, the Bob Nobel News…

johnTwo: this great excerpt from Carol Bayer Sager’s new autobiography, titled Writing Lyrics With Bob Dylan Is Weird, something that I think we all suspected, but without the great detail that CBS goes into. In Bob’s chilly barn, she looks in her bag for a pen:
I had my usual yellow-lined legal pad and he gave me a pen when I couldn’t find mine in my overstuffed bag which included a wallet, a card case, a makeup bag in case I was sleeping over, Kleenex, Chapstick, a small collection of star crystals in a small silk pouch which I carried because I was afraid to stop carrying them in case they were protecting me, a croc case for my Lactaid and my Stevia, cards with people’s names on them I no longer knew, a mirror given me by Elizabeth with undistorted magnification, my eyeglasses, a rubber tip that a dental hygienist had dropped in one day, and scores of useless other things that just kind of piled up in there.
“Thank you,” I said, taking my head out of my bag long enough to take his ballpoint pen, which I wished had a thicker tip.
I refocused. “So, do you have any ideas of what you feel like writing?”
“Well, I’ve got a little bit of an idea.”
He mumbled his words very softly. I thought he said “I godda libble bid a deer.”

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