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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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!

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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!

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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.”

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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.”

Monday, May 8th

I’ve managed to stop howling at GQ Style’s Brad Pitt feature long enough to post these things that amused/interested me in the last couple of weeks, thus making it Eight Things…

This week’s Eight Things is sponsored by the letter “F” and features rather a lot of videos…

ONE STOCK FOOTAGE

splitIt’s so hard to find new ways to put images together. This absolutely rocks – beautiful split-screen use of stock footage (apart from the cheap sensationalism of a couple of splices. And the song, a rather pale “Get Lucky” a-like, by Cassius feat. Cat Power & Pharell). Just how much stock footage did director Alex Courtès (or his researchers) actually have to look through?

TWO SELF-FLAGELLATING
Born to Run. It seems an unimaginative title for Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography – but, as it pans out – becomes the only title that could possibly fit. It’s actually exhausting following Bruce’s downbeat road-movie retelling of his life. He’s excellent on the awkwardnesses inherent in the whole friend/bandmate/employee thing, and brilliant on the hard craft that went into maximising what he saw as an everyday set of talents, but I always end up wanting more about the construction of the music and how it feels to play it. Publishers, I guess, want more details of angst and love and sex – which they think is relatable stuff for a general audience. However, it’s precisely because you can’t relate your life to his that makes his so interesting…
nb. I also zoomed through Clinton Heylin’s book on the E Street Band years (it was cheap at Fopp). Pretty good, although, as always with Clinton, his habit of telling the artist what they should have done with their life, and which songs “should have been recorded/should have been binned” is typically tedious. It’s a shame, as he’s a really thorough and engaging writer.

THREE “I’M HAVING THE SAME REACTION THAT YOU’RE HAVING, WHICH IS FREAKING OUT…”
Paul F Tomkins unboxing Aimee Mann’s new release, “Mental Illness”.

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FOUR OLD FAVOURITES: YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
In Classic Rock World™ news recently, Wendy and Lisa get the band back together…
Wendy Melvoin [talking to David Browne of Rolling Stone]: All this is fluid right now. But the plan today – and it’s changeable – is we only perform songs that don’t distance us as the band. So in other words, if we perform “Darling Nikki,” none of us are going to sing it. We’re going to have someone come out and do it. Wherever we go, there’s going to be an artist who loved him deeply and they can come up and sing that song.

But the other tracks that were specifically geared around a band – say, “Let’s Go Crazy” or “Controversy” – we’re going to [sing them]. We’re also going to do some of the songs that didn’t call for a lot of his calisthenics or his screaming. There’s no one who could do that. No one. You’re going to see us doing things more like “Girls and Boys”, “Love or $” [the B-side of “Kiss”]. There’s a massive catalog of what we can perform. Most of it is the big hits… and people who are saying, Who’s going sing “Purple Rain”? Fuck, we just… Once again, let’s break this down. Why doesn’t everybody in the audience sing it? We’ll play it, we’ll put a couple microphones out there, and you sing it! That song is bigger than any of us now. It’s a group vocal. Everybody sing it.

In your mind, how different were the Revolution from his later bands? “We’re not the most thrashy musicians he had. After we broke up, he had guys that were, like, notating their parts. We’re just not that. We’re scrappy. We were a band. Bobby says it all the time: We were the last band Prince was ever in.
 
Also, here’s Don Was on playing The Band’s songs [for The Last Waltz 40 Tour], talking to Bob Ruggiero of the Houston Press: Was knows he has big shoes to fill in playing Rick Danko’s parts, though he’s not interested in doing a “karaoke” take on them. “If you listen to the live recordings, the thing about Rick is that he never played the same way twice. It’s not like if you play “Something” by the Beatles, you have to play that bass exactly right! My thing is to try to get into [Rick’s] head and conjure up the spirit of what he was doing. The thing that I can relate to is at the core, he’s an R&B bass player. And me growing up in Detroit with soul and Motown music, there’s a relation.”

And finally in CRW™… The Classic is the name given to a new series of two-day concerts in the US that bring back the rock stars of yesteryear – Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Steely Dan, Journey, Earth, Wind & Fire and The Doobie Brothers. They will perform at the Classic East and Classic West two-day festivals in July. The first event will be held on July 15-16 at Los Angeles’ Dodgers Stadium, followed by Classic East from July 29-30 at Citi Field in New York City. Yesteryear. Don’t you love that word?

FIVE FOURTEEN?
This is the songwriters’ credit list for Jidenna’s “Classic Man”, as used on the soundtrack of Moonlight. 14 people! It’s on Wondaland Records, Janelle Monae’s label (whose fine acting graces both Moonlight and Hidden Figures.) My favourite name on the list is Roman GianArthur Irvin, although Amethyst Amelia Kelly runs him close.

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SIX “THAT’S HOW YOU F****ING DO IT!”
Haim come back with a live-in-the-studio-in-real-time video of a new song. I’m not sure the song’s all that great, but it’s a pretty cool video, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Este Haim: “My mom was studying to be a teacher and to get your credentials you have to shadow another teacher. My mom gets a gig at a school in the Valley, shadowing the art teacher. First week, the teacher has a heart attack in the parking lot and my mom becomes the sole art teacher. My mom was younger than me, like 22/23, and she now has 5 or 6 classes of kids. She would always talk about this one kid named Paul, that she loved – he was very energetic, artistic, vivacious. We’d turn the TV on and Boogie Nights would come on or Magnolia and our mom was like, ‘oh that’s Paul’s movie.’ That being Paul Thomas Anderson. We were like, Mom are you talking about Paul Thomas Anderson? And she was like, ‘Yes that is Paul, I taught Paul.’”

SEVEN FONDA & FRISELL’S INSPIRATION
Rest In Peace, Bruce Langhorne. The real Mr Tambourine Man has sadly passed away, so I listen to Peter Fonda say goodbye on Last Word (Radio 4): “Universal said, Fonda – you just can’t go hiring your friends to play on the soundtrack [of The Hired Hand], and I said, Listen, this cat’s a virtuoso on forty-two stringed instruments – he can play an entire symphony orchestra sound!” Writing an article for Pulp magazine about Taschen’s enormous book of Daniel Kramer’s great photographs, Bob Dylan, A Year and a Day, I discover an image that I’ve not seen before, of Bob ’n’ Bruce playing on the Les Crane TV show. They’re both playing parlour guitars [Langhorne’s a 1920 Martin 1-21] and Bruce is a few steps behind Bob in half-shadow. Then I put on The Hired Hand, Langhorne’s soundtrack to Fonda’s movie, twenty-four minutes of beautifully hand-stitched music, and undoubtably an imfluence on the soundtrack work of Ry Cooder.

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The programme said that he did the soundtracks to Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, which wasn’t the case, although he had worked with Jonathan Demme on Melvin and Howard and Swing Shift. Jonathan Demme: “Just occasionally, you come across these geniuses. Bruce Langhorne was one. These people all tend to work in the same way: they respond instinctively to the visual image. I still remember the insane thrill of being with Bruce in his apartment, with his guitar and other instruments, and looking at scenes from Melvin and Howard. He was playing things and I was just saying, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing.’ Bruce Langhorne has done some of the most beautiful scoring that I have ever been involved with, or ever known.”

Bill Frisell talking to Michael Ross on premierguitar.com: “I didn’t realise how big an influence he was until many years later. It was almost subliminal, but that is too soft a word. He had this gigantic effect… I used to listen to the early Bob Dylan records he was on when I was a kid, lying on the floor with the speakers next to my head, playing them over and over. I just heard him as part of the total sound. Years later I realized his playing was this line between accompanying and having a conversation, being spontaneous and completely integrated into the music from the inside out, playing a part but not a part, unpredictable… that was the way I have been trying to play my whole life.”
 
EIGHT WTF
“A $30 bag of Doritos chips that plays the entire soundtrack of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 has sold out instantly. The controls on the packet fit around the image of a cassette deck. The crisp bag is rechargeable so you can listen to the soundtrack more than once.  The follow-up soundtrack to the first Guardians flick, which went on to become one of the best-selling vinyl records of recent years, features a huge range of stone-cold ’70s hits.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 niagarastarship

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Monday, March 27th

Have you noticed how nearly everyone interviewed on either TV or Radio nowadays prefaces the start of their answer with “So” followed by a brief but weighty pause, as if they are lecturing a slightly witless teenager? I’ve decided to get in on the act this week.

So. Here goes…

ONE OF THE BEST PIECES OF WRITING I’VE READ RECENTLY
So, Liam Noble is a jazz [I’m not even sure that kind of nomenclature is serviceable anymore] pianist who writes like a dream. Everything on his blog, Brother Face, repays reading – this is his latest, which tells of his job transcribing thirty of the Bill Evans Trio’s performances for a publisher – “Anyway, back to Bill Evans. After four months the job was done. I walked away a new man. I walked away a hollow corpse, eaten away by the parasite Bill Evans. I couldn’t play a note, because every note that came out was his, and so I tried to blank him out, and to override this I had to think of “someone else” and how they would play the same thing. So now there were three of us…” Brilliant.

SO, TWO THE MINIMALIST TURNTABLE

wheel

From What Hi-Fi: “For the space-conscious, here’s your turntable. New Kickstarter project Wheel by Miniot is a wheel that plays records. There’s no visible tonearm, no cartridge and nothing but a platter. Everything is built into the platter, including the belt drive, linear tonearm and amplifiers. It’s controlled by the stick in the middle. Turn it to start the record playing, then turn it again to adjust the volume. Tap the top to pause it, or prod the side to skip a track or go back one. It works either horizontally or vertically, so can be wall-mounted. What could be simpler?”

TRIPLE SO, THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR BOB…
There’s a fascinating interview with Bob by Bill Flanagan (whose Written in My Soul is still one of the best books on the stuff and nonsense of songwriting) on bobdylan.com, for the release of Triplicate.

Up to the sixties, these songs were everywhere – now they have almost faded away. Do they mean more to you when you hear them now? “They do mean a lot more. These songs are some of the most heart-breaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them, and lived through them, I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.”

When you see footage of yourself performing 40 or 50 years ago, does it seem like a different person? What do you see? “I see Nat King Cole, “Nature Boy” – a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That’s a different person than who I am now.”

FOUR OVER ON TIMELINE
So, Jim Marshall is the great photographer of Rock Music, 1964 to 1970, and this is about his posthumous show, Jim Marshall, 1967, running in San Francisco at the moment. Here’s a favourite shot from Proof, a great book of his photos, of Elizabeth Cotton and Mississippi John Hurt at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 (did I say that he was a great Folk and Jazz photographer also?)

marshall

FIVE PLAYLIST FROM LUNCH WITH GEORGE FOSTER
As we talked of Spiritland and Gearbox Records and Brilliant Corners (mostly new to me, of course) we listened on George’s extraordinarily hi-fi system. Here’s a partial playlist:
“Trouble Man”/Rickie Lee Jones (the string bass sounded huge – it could be Richard Davis (of Astral Weeks fame, for non-jazz fans), or Mike Elizondo (of Eminem fame) or Paul Nowinski, but, whoever it is, they pin you to your seat.
“Blues in the Night”/Julie London (Big, brassy and sassy, with an amazing vocal sound and a gorgeous ending).
“Deep River”/Horace Parlan and Archie Shepp (in honour of Mr. Parlan, RIP).
“Speak Low”/Karin Krog, Warne Marsh & Red Mitchell (I had no knowledge of the extraordinary Ms Krog, but the interplay of her voice, the sax and the bass is something else – as is the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash song – written for the musical, One Touch of Venus, a collaboration with librettist S. J. Perelman. Now that’s a rehearsal room you’da wanted to be in, in 1943, no?. As Nash wrote: “Time is so old and love so brief/Love is pure gold and time a thief…”
“Poinciana”/Keith Jarrett Trio. We ended up by watching Keith Jarrett in Japan, playing “Old Man River” solo, which goes from contemplative to gospel to baroque through Billy Taylor, Broadway and Carole King (I swear!) in exquisite fashion.

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Wednesday, 15th March

ONE FAVOURITE ALBUM REVIEW OF THE WEEK
Alex Balk in The Awl, reviewing the Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir.

[Headline] Album Good
[Sell] Take my word for it, or this other guy’s. Or find out yourself.
[Text excerpt] …anyway. I’m not a big “let’s get all descriptive as fuck in the review” type guy, because Jesus Christ, just tell me if it’s worth checking out and I’ll figure out the rest on my own. But I know some people need more convincing. Here’s the best review I’ve read so far, if someone going on and on about things is your thing… [there follows a review from Slate, a Spotify playlist and a video link].

TWO NEVER NEVERLAND?
It seems a lot for a 5 Bed house, but it is 2,700 acres and perfect for a vineyard, apparently…

zoopTHREE GOOD GOD, THE NME GETS WORSE…
From its Kong-wrapped advertising cover to Geri Halliwell’s Soundtrack of my Life, it’s a shock how redundant the free NME is now. There is literally nothing of note in the whole sorry thing. It’s mostly Q&As that barely rise above the “what is your favourite colour?” level, and the Straw/Camel interface moment is discovering that the NME Awards are now sponsored by a hair shampoo company, VO5, and their advertorial is headlined, “Get gig-ready hair”. Really.

FOUR SUB-EDITOR STAR OF THE WEEKwsjFIVE THINGS THAT I READ AND ENJOYED
1) Thanks to Every Record Tells a Story for reminding me of those Junior Parker records that came out in the late Sixties/early Seventies. An influence on Al Green, who dedicated “Take Me to the River” to “Little Junior Parker, a cousin of mine, he’s gone on, but we’d like to kinda carry on in his name…” he was famed for writing and recording “Mystery Train” and the blistering “Feelin’ Good” at Sun in 1953. Thereafter, his career plateaued, but the soul/blues albums of this later period are great, and had some inspired song choices. My favourites were the Percy Mayfield cover, “Rivers Invitation”, sung against clipped funk guitar and fatback shuffle drums, an eight-minute take on Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with a loooong spoken intro. But finest of all, as ERTAS’s Steve says, is a version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Quiet and compelling, the simplicity of the guitar playing is genius, as is Junior’s vocal, especially on the closing couplet, “So play the game Existence to the end/of the beginning, of the beginning…

2) The New Yorker profile “Jack White’s Infinite Imagination”, by Alec Wilkinson:
Last summer, Jack White bought a house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that he had seen only in photographs. He wasn’t planning to live in it, except perhaps occasionally on retreats—he lives in Nashville. He was drawn to its past. The house was designed by George Nelson, a figure in American modernism, who mostly designed furniture. “A George Nelson house, there’s not too many of those,” White said in a car on the way there.

[The previous owner Dave] Corner sat on a couch and White sat in a chair beside him, as if on a talk show. White asked Corner what his favourite part of the house was. “This living room,” Corner said. “It’s so peaceful.” The room had windows that rose to the ceiling, and beyond the windows were woods. White asked what the rain sounded like on the flat roof. “Like heaven,” Corner said. White said that in Nashville he’d had microphones installed under the eaves of his home, so that he could hear the rain better. He has two young children, a boy and a girl, from his second marriage, and he said that his ability to make the rain louder had led them to believe that he controlled the weather.

3) This amusing piece by Alan Swyer on Narratively, about being Ray Charles’ interview “stand-in”: “It began innocently enough. After thousands of interviews, Ray had come to hate the process, and told me he was particularly dreading a session with a journalist who stuttered. Come on by and sit with me, Ray said. If you’re there, maybe we can figure out what he’s asking and get the goddamn thing over with. Only when I arrived for the interview did Ray inform me that instead of merely keeping him company, I — not he — would be doing the talking. Ray was a prankster, so I assumed he was joking. The reporter blanched when he learned who would be answering his questions, but I figured that once we were under way, Ray would laugh, then take over…”

4) This piece from last December that I finally got round to reading on Slate, about Stevie Wonder’s classic period, by Jack Hamilton: “Most Americans follow up their 21st birthdays with a hangover; Stevie Wonder opted for arguably the greatest sustained run of creativity in the history of popular music.” Thrill to the fact that top-to-tail, Wonder created “Higher Ground” in three hours…

5) And finally, Richard Williams’ excellent piece on Bob Dylan’s largely under-appreciated 1966 acoustic opening halves, on thebluemoment. Always drawn to the atmosphere of these hypnotic versions, where songs stretch and expand timelessly on Dylan’s whim, I felt that songs regarded as slighter, like “Fourth Time Around”, were raised to the level of “Visions of Johanna” by the performance. Here’s a note I got from Ray Lowry, having sent him the 1966 bootleg Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix that surfaced about six months before the “Judas” concert was officially released. I’d discussed it at length while commissioning a cartoon from him. I’d said, don’t ignore the first half, but Ray, a rockabilly at heart – one of the reasons he got on so well with The Clash – only had ears for the hopped-up vocals and the hipped-up whipcrack of the guitars.

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The first rays of Summer-like weather (well in London, anyway) led me to chose Joni Mitchell’s version of “Summertime” in the music player on the right.

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