Tuesday, August 22nd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dylanbook

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

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Tuesday, August 15th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra: That Dylan Play…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s Mick Gold:

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 2nd

ONE ROCK REFERENCES EVERYWHERE…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, 16th July

ONE TELL ME THAT THIS ISN’T TRUE…
Thanks to Dave Holmes of American Esquire for this piece of “news”. “KidRockforSenate.com is pretty simple right now, but it sure does get its point across. It shows a simple photograph of Mr. Rock chillin’ in the “vaguely patriotic” section of the Art Van Furniture showroom.

5-kidrockHe wears sunglasses, a gold ring with the Detroit Tigers’ logo, and his best fedora (which is to say: the one he got at the Cabo Wabo gift shop). Several children’s softball trophies are displayed in a case over his right shoulder, while to his left, we see the Declaration of Independence and a portrait of George Washington. George is hung right where a Real American would put him: about two and a half feet off the ground, with an unobstructed view of a stuffed deer’s genitals.” Just pray that Ted Nugent doesn’t get any ideas.

TWO IS THIS ANYTHING MORE THAN “CATCHY”?
I like Dan Auerbach – his work in the Black Keys, his production of Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence – and I was intrigued to hear his new record was cut with the survivors of the great American Sound Studios house band in Memphis, drummer Gene Chrisman and pianist Bobby Wood, who played on hits by Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley. 5-auerbachAuerbach: “I learned so much from these guys… it’s a whole history of everything I love about music.” From its deliberately artless cover photo to its almost-cheesy feel, it doesn’t work for me. It comes off as a mix of M. Ward and the Monkees, and that’s not good. If you want to hear Chrisman at his thrilling best, check out “The Power of My Love” by Elvis, on From Elvis in Memphis. Everything is simple and held in check in the verses, but the choruses (especially from halfway in) just build and build, driven by the bass of either Tommy Cogbill or Mike Leech
, and Chrisman’s mighty drumming. In contrast, Auerbach’s album feels weightless and cute, a good combination for something, but not this.

THREE GOODBYE, RON
Sad news that Ron Bowden – a genuine, generous man and a fine drummer – has died. Ron played with my uncle and Chris Barber iat the very beginning of the stirrings of British jazz, played on some of Lonnie Donegan’s first skiffle sessions, and had a long career travelling the world (and being the house band on The Morecambe and Wise Show with Kenny Ball’s Jazzmen. Ron and his wife, Mina, once started a restaurant, a doomed project mainly because they never liked the idea of charging their friends – or pretty much any other customers – so it was more like a long-running party than a short-lived business. Here they are (Mina left, Ron far right) with Brownie McGee…

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FOUR GO ASK ALICE…
Bob G sends a link to a Ted Mills’ piece on Open Culture, where we can listen in wonder to Grace Slick’s isolated vocal track for “White Rabbit”. “The song was written in 1965 after an LSD trip at her Marin county home where Slick had listened to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain over and over again for 24 hours”. Glorious and steely don’t even begin to cover it…

FIVE WHOA! LOUIS ON THE BEAT GENERATION…
Thanks to Marc Myers at JazzWax for this fantastic clip: “You Beat Generation! Now your lives don’t have no meaning, though you’re living up a storm/You’ll do anything at all except conform…” Genius.

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STILL AVAILABLE VISIT HERE FOR MARTIN COLYER’S DISCOUNT FIREWORKS!

Five Things, July 5th

ONE TANGLED UP IN TOTALITARIANISM
The Handmaid’s Tale is so good, it makes everything else on tv look faintly pallid. Here are the words of Offred, at the top of episode two, as the Commander begins “The Ceremony” and she tries to take leave of her corporeal vessel by looking at the colour of the ceiling and slowly running down a list of the blues…
“Blue Moon, Rhapsody in Blue, Tangled Up in Blue, Blue Oyster Cult, Blue Monday.”
The updating is full of great touches, and great song choices (such as a slowed-down “Heart of Glass” soundtracking the explosion in the cafe during the riot in episode three).

Margaret Attwood, in a terrific column for the New York Times: “By 1984, I’d been avoiding my novel for a year or two. It seemed to me a risky venture. I’d read extensively in science fiction, speculative fiction, utopias and dystopias ever since my high school years in the 1950s, but I’d never written such a book. Was I up to it? The form was strewn with pitfalls, among them a tendency to sermonise, a veering into allegory and a lack of plausibility. If I was to create an imaginary garden I wanted the toads in it to be real. One of my rules was that I would not put any events into the book that had not already happened in what James Joyce called the “nightmare” of history, nor any technology not already available. No imaginary gizmos, no imaginary laws, no imaginary atrocities. God is in the details, they say. So is the Devil.”

TWO CHESS MEN

5-barneyBarney and Mark visit Chicago for Rock’s Backpages, and discover this extraordinary wall at the Chess Studios Museum. Barney reports: “they are slightly weird and creepy death masks… but a good number of the people are still alive!” I found this interesting piece on Chicagobusiness.com, asking why the Chess Studios aren’t a tourist mecca. I have to book a ticket to Chi-Town immediately.

I bought a copy of the Oxford American’s Music Issue (typically excellent) last month, and found that nearly all the adverts were for blues tours through most every city in the American South. There’s “New Music City” Birmingham, Alabama, Georgia is apparently on my mind, and I’m Soul’d on Stax and Memphis (where [Cap A] Authenticity comes from, according to Memphistravel.com). I find that music and history live where Robert Johnson died, in Greenwood, Mississippi and that Jackson in the same state has the most markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail. History also goes to be recorded in Muscle Shoals, recently refurbished by Dr Dre and Beats Entertainment (I’m not making this up).

THREE AFTER 40 YEARS, JOE ALLEN PREPARES TO MOVE AROUND THE CORNER
…and I wonder if The Divine Miss M will still be above the door to the restrooms… (I’m hoping they keep all of Jim McMullan’s great Lincoln Center Theatre posters, too).

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FOUR PSYCHO, ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
Nick invites my mum (or should that be Mother! MOTHER!) and I to a screening at the Festival Hall of Psycho, with the Herrmann score played live by the London Philharmonic, conducted by Robert Zeigler. Zeigler introduced Bernard Herrmann’s widow, Norma, and asked about the fallow period in his career after his falling out with Hitchcock over Torn Curtain in 1965. “Everyone in Hollywood at that time was afraid of being old hat – all the men had their shirts open to down to here, chains, middle-aged people smoking pot… Not Bennie. Or me. They were scared of being left behind, and Hitchcock wanted to tune in, and said: I want you to write me a pop song… And Bennie did what was best for the film – no pop tune, and that caused a rift between them. Even when he called Lionel Newman [Randy and Thomas Newman’s uncle, and senior vice president of all music for Twentieth Century Fox Films] and said What have you got?, he said Sorry, Bennie, we’ve decided to run with the kids… meaning You’re old hat… Well, he was really furious and he paced up and down, saying run with kids, run with kids? But come Scorsese and Truffaut and Spielberg… Taxi Driver… and Lionel Newman rang him and said Are you free? Are you free?, and Bennie said I’m sorry… I’ve decided to run with the kids!

5-psychoThe original score has never been released, apparently, although it has been bootlegged. The track names are great:
1 Prelude – The City – Marion and Sam – Temptation
2 Flight – The Patrol Car – The Car Lot – The Package – The Rainstorm
3 Hotel Room – The Window – The Parlour – The Madhouse – The Peephole
4 The Bathroom – The Murder – The Body – The Office – The Curtain – The Water – The Car – The Swamp
5 The Search – The Shadow – Phone Booth – The Porch – The Stairs – The Knife
6 The Search – The First Floor – Cabin 10 – Cabin 1
7 The Hill – The Bedroom – The Toys – The Cellar – Discovery – Finale

FIVE OLD CROW AT SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE
Along to the old BBC TV Theatre with “Discount Fireworks” competion winner Lloyd to see OCMS playing the whole of Blonde on Blonde, turbocharged Bluegrass-style. They are incredible at what they do, and they remember all of the lyrics, even “Sad Eyed Lady”. Their London crowd is partisan, and the evening is a blast (apart from a “comedy” version of “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” that we’ll pass lightly over). My only criticism would be that the softer side of BoB doesn’t really stand a chance. Even if they start a song as a stately dressage-like waltz, by halfway through they’re thrashing its hindquarters and racing for the finish line. The end with “Rock Me Mama like a Wagon Wheel”, a song they co-wrote with Bob, even though they’ve never met him. See the full story on the music player to your right.

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Five Things, Thursday, June 22nd

First, a few Five Things recommendations if you’re in London over the next few days, then a request for information, followed by an offer you can refuse…

ONE THE DOUGLAS BROTHERS SEE/SAW5-douglasDamon Albarn/Bryan Ferry/Abdullah Ibrahim  This brings back memories of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in the late 70s, in a crowded club, sitting on the floor right underneath Ricky Ford’s tenor sax as Ekaya, Ibrahim’s band at that time, played some of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard… “We photographed the South African musician and composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, playing the piano at the Blue Note jazz club in Greenwich Village. Our photo session was doubling as his sound check. This shows him absolutely lost in his music, which was so absorbing that we almost forgot to shoot. We probably took half the amount of frames we normally did as we both kept stopping and listening. Properly awesome.” The Brothers quit photography after about seven years of high-profile editorial and advertising commissions, and the show is a selection of their archive which narrowly escaped being dumped in a skip a few years ago. [nb. They’re Southend boys, the younger siblings of Graeme Douglas, guitarist/songwriter with Eddie And The Hot Rods]. Until Saturday 24th, Art Project Bermondsey Space, SE1

TWO HENDRIX WALKING TOURS5-hendrixWe’ve missed the Monterey 50 talks, and the Hendrix lessons go on throughout the year, but upcoming are three Hendrix Walking tours. All start in Brook Street at the Handel & Hendrix House. Lasting 90 minutes, they cost £15 each.
1) This tour visits other places where Hendrix lived, including addresses in Montagu Square and Upper Berkeley Street. The walk will also take in venues Hendrix frequented and the location of his last official interview.
2) This tour goes to the site of the studios where Foxy Lady was recorded, the location of The Experience’s first-ever rehearsal, and the venue where the band had their debut performance.
3) Finally, this tour visits the site of a number of venues that Hendrix frequented, including The Speakeasy, Bag O’Nails and the place of his last public performance.

THREE VISIT SERGEANT PEPPER’S HOME5-abbeyroadI hear that the studio visit is excellent (it wasn’t running on the day I was passing) but the shop was a fine second prize. It usually has a small exhibit of rare photos and the actual tape boxes from Beatles sessions, alongside a wide variety of quite cute merch (“I am the Eggman” egg cups, anyone?). And it’s always fun to see the slight chaos as tourists interminably hold up the traffic recreating the Abbey Road cover. Click on the photo to enlarge.

FOUR IN THE WORDS OF SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, “HELP ME…”5-musos“I can’t do it all by myself…” I was organising my dad’s negatives the other day and came across this fascinating picture of a caught moment, shot on Ektachrome (which has faded to these lovely matt colours). I’m assuming this is after a show, and I think they may be eating my dad’s approximation of Red Beans & Rice, but that’s as far as my knowledge/guesswork goes. So if anyone knows the subjects/situation, please let me know. [Thanks to Charlie Banks for revealing that the woman is Rosina Skudder, occasional vocalist with Ken at Studio 51].

FIVE BUY THE FIRST ALBUM RELEASED ON SOUTHWESTERN RECORDERS!dfdisplay copyHere at last… Forty-eight minutes of Mood Music for a Decaying World! Thrill to the sound of Theramins and eBows and mistreated guitars! Be amused by the attempts to build a song on the howling of coyotes! Hear the appropriation of Baby Dodds’ drumsticks! Find songs written in honour of Twin Peaks (the first time round)! Go to the music player on the right for a taste, and if tempted, go here to order your very own hand-made copy. The first ten orders (I may be getting ahead of myself here) go into a Prize Draw for the chance to win a ticket to go with me to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 28th June to see Old Crow Medicine Show play Blonde on Blonde in its entirety. Bon Chance!

If you’re receiving the e-mail out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Friday, June 2nd

A visually-driven 5 Things this week…

ONE FOUND ON THE BOOKSHELF
I found this the other day (while attempting to lay my hands on a Raymond Chandler book that I’m convinced I own but can’t find). I bought it a few years ago, mostly for the cover, and it cost £5 (it’s a 1963 third reprint, with pages 82-96 bound in upside down). It’s a good knockabout read, and it occurs to me that it could easily be updated with a little Photoshop work. Hell, the Russian guard even looks like Vlad…

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“During the charity golf tournament, I was just addressing the ball to tee off the first hole, when suddenly all hell broke loose. A wild cacophony of sounds fractured the air like the testing area of a bagpipe factory. For a moment I thought Spike Jones had parachuted in. Then I saw where all this was coming from. A ragged group of tall, bearded, white-turbanned Berbers were standing at the edge of the green. As the noise they produced from thin clarinet-like pipes and twelve-foot horns beat through my skull, I got a glimmer of what was going on. They were brother Jack’s newest ‘discoveries’ and they were ‘audiotioning’. I’d never heard anything like the Riff (sic) Mountain Boys, and I was sure no-one else had either, so later I had them on my television show… their music blew out tubes in sets all over America. I’ll never forget them. Whenever I drive by the plush headquarters of the musicians’ union in Hollywood, I think of those tall, bearded tribesmen and their weird instruments. If there’s any music on the moon, it probably sounds like the stuff the Riff Mountain Boys turn out.”

TWO FOUND AT CHRISTIES
Among the Enigma Ciphers, a working Apple-1 (originally priced at $666.66, current estimate, $300,000 – $500,000), and a letter from Charlie Parker appealing a union fine of $350 levied after his resignation from the American Federation of Musicians, the “Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana” auction on June 15 has this example of an early Excel spreadsheet: a newly discovered preliminary plan for the festival at Woodstock.

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“A testament to the moving target that was the Woodstock festival during its planning stages, it appears to have been intended to run from Wednesday 13 August to Wednesday 20 August 1969. The plan lists each day horizontally, and each row is divided into smaller, but unspecified time intervals (perhaps 10 minutes per slot?). Only the prime nights (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) were scheduled, and many of several of the planned acts, including Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and The Who, were scheduled to play four nights in a row. Jean Val Ernst, a staff member of Woodstock Ventures discovered the chart in a trailer behind the stage after the conclusion of the festival.” I liked this note on the listing: “accomplished in various color markers and pencil”.

THREE FOUND AT PHOTO LONDON
I could feel myself falling out of love with photography as I walked around Photo London. Too much of the work felt plastic and unmoored. The vintage photojournalism is great (but we all knew that) and there was a considerable amount that had been done better before. The artier end of stuff is foundation level and the transgressive stuff unengaging and yawny. In music-related finds, Taschen had the handsome Dan Kramer book on Bob, there was a nice shot of John Cale in front of Warhol’s Double Elvis, and Brian May was on hand to give you his favourites from the whole show.

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Two good things: NYTimes Pic Ed Kathy Ryan’s talk with young Jack Davison was great, as was David Hurn’s Swaps, a neat exhibit curated by Martin Parr, with Hurn, that put the pictures Hurn had swapped with other photographers – over sixty years – next to those they’d given him in return.

FOUR SPEAKING OF PHOTOGRAPHY…
I came across this cover for Bill Evans & Jim Hall’s Undercurrent album, which I had never seen, shot by a photographer I didn’t know. Whatever, it’s beautiful and seems to have been released at various points with no type at all.

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It’s by Toni Frissell, and was shot at Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida, in 1947. Fast fact: When she grew tired of fashion photography for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, she was hired as the first woman on the staff of Sports Illustrated in 1953.

FIVE THE STANLEY BOOK OF FURNITURE
Found at my father-in-law’s. Where Dad has his cool new sterogram, and the teen bedroom has an, I’d guess
, Italian-made electric guitar in the wardrobe. Well done the art director, for flipping the picture

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EXTRA A PLUG FOR PATRICK…
Patrick Humphreys’ emails… “Just to let you know that the programme I have been developing for years will be broadcast on Saturday 3 June at 10.30am. Howzat For Hollywood tells the intriguing and little-known story of the Hollywood Cricket Club. Just imagine, Errol Flynn at Silly Mid-Off… David Niven, 12 Not Out and Boris Karloff as wicket keeper… Jim Carter, taking time off from butler duties at Downton Abbey, presents the half-hour documentary.”

EXTRA TWO FIVE THINGS IS CURRENTLY ENJOYING…
Two albums that tangentially look back to Laurel Canyon, while feeling absolutely now. Laura Marling’s exceptional Semper Femina has great singing, fine songs, and an intriguing Blake Mills’ production. It’s an album that, as they used to say, repays careful listening. Check “Wild Fire”, “Nothing, Not Nearly” (with its one-chord, one-minute guitar solo) and especially “Soothing”, with its gorgeous dual bass part. Interestingly, I can’t find out who actually plays on the record. So few reviews even concern themselves with anything but the lyrics, which seems to miss at least 50% of what the album’s about, but is still typical of how music is approached by the press.

And Josh Tillman as Father John Misty (on Pure Comedy) is strange as strange can be but successful on its own terms – I just don’t know what they are. It’s baffling and fascinating in equal measure. Thanks, Tim!

If you’re receiving the e-mail out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Thursday, May 25th

ONE LIL BUCK
Dance is my Cultural Achilles Heel™ but I overcome it to marvel at this, filmed while the Shchukin collection was at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. “I was born in Chicago,” Lil Buck says, “Raised in Memphis, Tennessee…” Well, that’s a blues lyric right there.

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“It’s a dance style that started with Memphis underground rap music, and that music, the way it was produced, gave us a certain bounce. When I was around 16 years old I got into ballet. We made a deal with this artistic director that we would teach hip-hop, and they would teach us ballet…” There’s a moment at 2:45 in front of Picasso’s Three Women that is just astounding, but it’s not the locale, or the music, or the amazing art – this would be as strange and beguiling wherever it was performed.

TWO “I WAS HIS PERPETUAL +1”
In the 80s Mark and I went to see, more than once, Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, a band that consisted of eight brass players and one drummer. The man on the non-brass instrument was Phillip Wilson. A great drummer, he was equally adept at keeping the band ticking and purring through the buildup of “Saving All My Love for You” as slashing and slapping back at the horns as they riffed violently to the song’s climax. It was a holy noise, great on record but best experienced live. The only other things I knew about Phillip Wilson were that he was involved in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and that he had drummed with the Paul Butterfield Band around the end of the Sixties. This fascinating interview by Ethan Iverson with David Sanborn, the sax player, is about how important Wilson was to Sanborn.

“Through Phillip, I met Lester Bowie, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett. Lester was the comedian king: like the wise philosopher of St. Louis but funny and fearless. Phillip and Lester did not discriminate about styles of music. Lester played in a circus band, society gigs, straight-ahead gigs. He played with Jimmy Forrest. He met his wife Fontella “Rescue Me” Bass on a gig with the Clara Ward Gospel Singers. Everyone had a day job except for Lester. Julius Hemphill sold furniture, Oliver Lake worked in the post office, Phillip worked as an arc welder at McDonnell Aircraft. Phillip worked at McDonnell all day, like from six in the morning to three or four in the afternoon, and he might have gone home and slept a bit before playing and hanging all night. Sometimes we would be hanging at like four in the morning and he’d say, ‘I’ve got to go home, change my clothes, and go to work.’”

THREE WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE
I loved this pastel drawing, a forgery passed off as Bob Dylan’s work a week or so ago, but actually a rather great picture of The Band. As Richard Manuel sang “The hoot owl and his song, will bring you along / Where else on earth would you wanna go?”

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FOUR “MY HEAD SAYS NO! BUT MY HEART SAYS GO!”
This NY Times video, by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, is simply people climbing up a Ten Meter Diving Platform and jumping off. The twist is that none of them has ever done it before, and it takes some negotiating, either with friends or themselves, as they build up the courage to do it. And the reason that I’m writing about it is that the editing of the film is so brilliant, and the sounds are as important as the visuals. Tension and release personified – finger clicking, nervous scratching and deep breaths before the screams and the splash.

FIVE SPIRITLAND
Tim and I meet at Spiritland, somewhere that I’ve been meaning to go to since it opened. Then a couple of days later, Oobah Butler on Mr. Hyde wrote a piece on it that perfectly summed up my mixed feelings about it.

“Novelty has become the lifeblood of London. Most new spots open with a sideways glance, crazed gurn and elbow nudge, rather than straight-faced sincerity. But a new hero is bucking the trend: Spiritland, the “listening bar” in Kings Cross that’s “a paradise for anyone from the aficionado to the curious”. It definitely takes itself seriously, from its one-of-a-kind speaker system to DJ sets from big names like Hot Chip and Jarvis Cocker. And that’s great! But one issue: what the hot hell is a listening bar? Dudes in At The Drive-In T-shirts who occasionally look up from their William Burroughs novel to give an appreciative nod? An immersive experience that leaves no room for anything but absorbing tunes? One so intoxicating that it can get you drunk on music? I tried to stay sober on a Thursday night to find out.

Spiritland is tucked away in a ghost town of half-finished apartment buildings, mournful Bella Italias and broad, empty streets. It’s a diverse crowd, but everyone has one thing in common: we’re sat in a spartan room with dinner and drinks, facing The Bloody Big Music Blaster. Neither imbalanced nor throttling, the setup sounds wonderful. It’s official: I am woozy; totally drunk on music. But getting there requires an indulgent, eyes-closed isolationism that goes against its appeal to groups going out. You can have a table-banging debate about zero-hours contracts with the squad, or you can surrender to sound and fully appreciate the tech. Doing both is harder.

There’s also the Dad’s-cologne whiff of pragmatism over the layout. If you were to place all your focus on the listening experience, you wouldn’t have so many tables right at the front. The speakers would creep away from the wall. You wouldn’t serve food. So Spiritland finds itself in a no man’s land, ostensibly appealing to both the casuals and the committed, but not being quite right for either. But this is probably as music-obsessed as we can get in London 2017 – it could have been more dedicated elsewhere in Europe, but the closure of clubs and gig venues shows we turned our backs on music. So I order a beer, relax and enjoy Spiritland for what it is: an imperfect yet inventive space for a bit of small-group musical nerding.”

If you’re receiving the e-mail out, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Extra! Billy Bragg Comes to Tea…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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