Thursday, April 11th

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Five Things: Wednesday 3rd July

River Island go for the Newport ’64 look

Dylan Jeans

Kenny Rogers, questioned by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian
I found an old newspaper story online about you beginning a parallel career in professional tennis in the late 70s.  What was that all about? I’m kind of an impulsive obsessive, I don’t know if there’s a category like that. I get impulsively involved in something and I get obsessed with it. I did that with tennis. I didn’t start playing until I was 35 years old, and then I got obsessed with it and I played eight hours a day. I played in professional matches. I had a national ranking. I was one spot above Björn Borg in doubles.
You’re joking!* No! That’s just my nature. Then I couldn’t physically play tennis any more, so I took up photography. I studied for four years under a guy who’d been Ansel Adams’ assistant … [describes photographer Adams’ “zone system” codification of the principles of sensitometry in mind-boggling depth].
*He’s not.

Busker, Northern line to Old Street
As he tried to pick up a Polish girl (“Sorry, love, thought you said Portuguese…”) he starts playing “Three Little Birds”, all Glasto peace & love, but failing to feel any enthusiasm from a listless tube carriage, takes a weird right turn into “Blue Suede Shoes” – One for the money/Two for the show…

The Stones & The Times
The Evening Standard writes: The biggest fan of Mick Jagger still seems to be The Times newspaper. In 1967, its then editor William Rees-Mogg wrote in defence of Jagger after he was given three months in jail for possession of amphetamines, under the headline Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel? This weekend, prior to the Stones’ Glastonbury set, The Times returned to Jagger who had confessed that he might have liked being a teacher rather than a rocker. “The newly qualified teacher Mr Jagger was quickly taken off religious studies after he expressed sympathy for the devil,” began its leader. “His biology lessons were not much better, strangely dominated as they were by wild horses, little red roosters and the spider and the fly. Chemistry lessons were a disaster after Mr Jagger baffled the pupils with his insistence that jumping jack flash was a gas, gas, gas. He also showed a dangerous tendency to play with fire, which contravened the school’s health and safety regulations.” What have the Times leader writers been taking?

“A man of wealth and taste.” First part correct, not sure about second.

Ronnie Wood painting of Mick Jagger and hand-lettered guitar (words from “Sympathy For The Devil”)

Ronnie Wood painting of Mick Jagger and hand-lettered guitar (words from “Sympathy For The Devil”)

Favourite Letter Of The Week
“Marie Paterson bemoans the coverage of classical as opposed to pop music (Letters, 1 July) but at least “pop” music is performed by the composers, whereas classical music, with some exceptions, is usually performed by a tribute band, often known as an orchestra.”
Derek Middlemiss, Newark, Nottinghamshire, in The Guardian

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 7th November

Best Music-Related Tok Pisin Phrase
“The Prince of Wales spoke in the local language called Tok Pisin as he introduced himself as the nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin—the number one child belonging to Mrs Queen. It is a creole language widely spoken in Papua New Guinea. Tok is derived from the English word talk and Pisin from pidgin. Much of its vocabulary has a charm of its own. For instance, liklik box you pull him he cry you push him he cry is an accordion…”

The Video That Killed A Career
Alexis Petridis wrote an interesting piece about the new book, I Want My MTV, a few weeks back, and mentioned eighties arena rock star Billy Squier and the video for the track Rock Me Tonite, directed by Kenny Ortega. I finally got around to watching it, and it is quite the most deranged and strange video ever made (it often makes lists of the worst videos of all time), after which Billy’s career tanked. As I watched it I felt sad for Billy, and perused the usual sidebar links to other Billy Squier videos. I alighted on one where he’s sitting on a high stool in a lecture theatre, alone except for a blonde Telecaster, capo’d at A. I clicked the link. He’s playing a smallish fundraiser, fairly recently. He has a suit jacket on, and looks like a better preserved, more dignified Joe Perry. The guitar is powerfully amped, and he starts a strutting riff as he plays In The Dark. It’s terrific. A fairly generic eighties rock number, he gives it 110%, wailing and bending strings like a man possessed, and for as long as it plays you want to be driving down a road, really fast, at night.

Nail. Head. Ladies & Gentlemen, Robbie Fulks
On sifting and sorting and downsizing his CD collection: “Scrapping fat glossy packages by the likes of Timbaland, Nelly, Luke Bryan, and T.G. Sheppard (to be clear, and not to inflame everyone, I like a few songs by all these guys okay, but can’t justify the permanent storage of dozens of them) reminds me of the passing nature of fashionable taste, and the extravagance of the moneyed sector of the music industry in satisfying it. The photography on the Timbaland record that has somehow come into my possession looks like it cost a hundred thousand dollars. The booklet is so thick you can hardly coax it from the jewel case. If some dude turns a goofball idea into a popular hit and everyone dances around and enjoys the summer more, it doesn’t seem very objectionable. But when you give a moment’s thought to the year-of-vaccines-for-Bangladeshis’ worth of art design, the carbon footprint of multiple buses crisscrossing the country for years on end, and the transfer of millions upon millions of dollars from work-weary parents to summer-enjoying kids… you almost have to weep.”

Albert Hall Ceiling

No Day In The Life references here, no siree…

What Has Happened Down Here Is The Wind Have Changed
Listening to jazz clarinetist Sammy Rimington sing River Stay Away From My Door on Saturday night, I’m put in mind of the effects of Hurricane Sandy on friends on the East Coast. Rick in NYC: “It’s weird and slightly creepy walking back into the deep dark of lower Manhattan below 30th Street at night. I expect highwaymen with every breeze.” And John in Woodstock: “A bunch of big old trees came down, leaving us cold and dark and off the grid until early this morning. The soundtrack is chainsaws, nothing but chainsaws.” As the song’s lovely Carmichaelish melody unfolds, Sammy sings plaintively over the top: “Don’t come up any higher/Cause I’m all so alone/Just stay away from my bed and my fire/Cause that’s all I own…”

The Sammy Rimington International Band, Headcorn Village Hall

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