In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part Two)

Berger & Wyse, The Guardian

Allen Toussaint interviewed by Marc Myers of the Wall Street Journal: “On my 14th birthday, I was playing piano and suddenly stopped. I turned my body to the left, straddled the seat and rested my elbows on my thighs. For whatever reason, I said to myself, “I’m 14 and every 10 years I’m going to check back with this 14-year old and tell him how I’m doing.” I have no idea how I came up with that, but from then on I had those chats. They don’t last long. I talk to myself as though that 14-year-old is still at the piano. I often say how surprised I am at how far I’ve come. The 14-year old at the piano just listens – but he always seems as surprised as I am.” When we finished, Allen said, “You know, that was a fascinating conversation. No one ever asked about that part of my life, and I don’t believe I’ve ever told anyone that story about those talks with myself.” A loving man. I miss Allen and his graceful touch.”

aka Roots Manuva. This is from Tim Jonze’s piece in The Guardian: If you think this means Bleeds adopts a softer, more commercial approach then you’re mistaken. The opening song is called “Hard Bastards”, and covers such school assembly-friendly topics as joblessness, drugged escapism and the brutality of “rich cxxxs”. It paints a bleak picture of British life in 2015 but it’s not, he says, informed by the country’s rising inequality. “Selfishness is everybody, from the broke to the rich,” he says. “We can be rather nasty people whether we have £200 for the day or £200m for a lifetime.”
Is that something he’s witnessed getting worse in recent years?
“Nah, it’s always been bad! What will get worse is that, as the middle class develops, they will start doing really horrible things to each other, in terms of how sophisticated they can be to vote, or defraud the taxman. The amiable middle class will become the mean, hard bastard class, trying to hang on to their assets.” It’s not inequality Smith sees as British society’s chief problem, but the education system. “We’re constantly being beaten around the heads with ‘You’ll be nothing – you’ll end up sweeping the streets, Rodney!’ Well, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t I sweep the road if I want to? A teacher should have no right to say anything like that. What’s more important – a judge or a roadsweeper? We need both! Every other person wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer – shouldn’t we just want every person on earth to be educated? Then everything else should take care of itself. So yeah, that’s what that song’s about.”

A cursory listen sounds like it’s up there with his best. If you’re interested , try “Facety 2:11”, a Four Tet production that sound like Battles, and “Hard Bastards” itself, a fantastic draggy, pumping noise with an alternately funny and desperate lyric. And no-one escapes his hawk-eyed look at the state of British society.

Olivia Lange, also in The Guardian, reviewing two new books re: Reed. I loved this paragraph: “Which brings us back to the question of whether people want to read about the life of Reed. As I trawled through hundreds of pages about pills popped and spiteful remarks made over mixing desks, his songs kept looping in my head. “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Perfect Day”, “Last Great American Whale”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, “Hello, It’s Me”. What is this music doing? Why has it lasted so long, and stayed so pristine and so weird? Because even at its most swaggering it is vulnerable, not in the sense of caring about external approval, but in the sense of laying feelings bare, of taking risks, of being imbued with a reckless, relentless spirit of experiment. “Aw, Lou,” the critic Lester Bangs once wrote, “it’s the best music ever made.” And I can’t help wishing it could have been left at that.”

“We (the Abelour whisky Distillery) have recently acquired a beautifully restored, wooden clad version believed to date back to 1947. Our Voice-O-Graph was discovered in the Houston, Texas area and is believed to have operated, recording experiences in several public places during the 1940s, including an appearance in Dallas at the State Fair of Texas.” Apparently, Jack White owns the only other operational one, so it was a chance to try it out for the time it was set up in groovy Phonica records in Poland Street. but it’s a very hit-and-miss experience, and mine was, sadly, miss. Apart from constantly bashing the machine head of my Martin travel guitar on the side of the booth (it’s a tight fit), the resulting record sounds like there’s 40 miles of bad road between me and the microphone. But I was still glad to have the experience, and I have clear vinyl 45 rpm disc to prove it.

The incredible Nicola Walker still bestrides the world of TV detectives at the moment. I’d mentioned that in Unforgotten she jokes around with her sidekick Sunny by singing him Bobby Hebb’s great tune, but last night in River – where she plays the ghost partner (or manifestation, as he would have it) of hard-bitten and morose cop Stellan Skarsgård, it turned up again – what smooth music does he put on while preparing drinks in his glam Canary Wharf apartment? “Sunny”, of course. I have no idea if this was intentional, but it has to be, no?

And still I failed to write about Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible, and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia. I’m going to start calling this Five Things I Saw and Heard Recently…

In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part One)

In the post: US Post Office stamps in honour of Janis Joplin.

I really loved this set of photos taken in the early days of CBGB, shared on Marc H Miller’s 99 Bowery site. “Our first photograph of Bettie with the movers and shakers was taken during our very first visit to the club in late 1976. Standing alone by the bar was one of Bettie’s favorite performers, the poet-rocker Patti Smith. At home at CBGB and a wee bit tipsy, Patti was more than happy to oblige our request for a picture with Bettie. Soon we were CBGB regulars, checking out the different bands and slowly adding to our collection of pictures. Although the buzz about CBGB was growing, the place was still a neighborhood bar where future rock legends were just as likely to be hanging out and drinking by the pinball machine as performing on stage. As our “Paparazzi Self-Portraits” morphed into “Bettie Visits CBGB,” we saw our photographs as a reflection of the new aesthetic emerging, a contradictory mix of high and low culture energized by fun and humor, the lure of fame and fortune, and a cynical appreciation of the power of a good hype.” I mostly love the fact that Bettie’s rather demure and straightforward gaze rarely falters.

For Simon’s big birthday I had wanted to get the two of us tickets to see Jerry Lee Lewis at the Palladium (We’d been to the Wembley Country Festival together in the late 70s and seen The Killer top the bill, but I was too late). Searching around I realised that someone I’d wanted to see, Paulo Conte, was at the Barbican in November. I know what you’re thinking – it’s his birthday, not mine. In my favour, Simon loves Naples and has visited it many times. Also, he has very wide-ranging musical tastes, from The Singing Postman – he’s an East Anglian boy, after all – to the Folk Songs of Georgia. We both loved Conte, conducting proceedings with arms down at his side, rather like Chaplin, his waggling hands giving prompts to the musicians. And what musicians! A brilliant, blazing orchestra – oboe, a horn section that included a baritone sax, violin, accordion, vibraphone, organ, bass, drums and piano. Oh, and three guitarists – a formidable sound when they locked-in for any gypsy jazz passages. My recall of the specifics of the gig is less than perfect: I had been in an, um, traffic incident the previous day but had not wanted to let Simon down, so arrived at the venue lightly concussed. The next day I had a dim memory of Simon, apropos the incredible audience reaction toward the end of the two-hour show (abandoned dancing in the aisles, general screaming and mayhem), telling me of the night that he saw BB King in Naples. I emailed, asking him to fill me in…

“I went to see BB King one hot night about twenty-five years ago in a vast tent in the outskirts of Naples. He played this grand stately blues instrumental that lasted about fifteen minutes, after which the entire audience responded in kind by singing the Napoli football anthem – for about 5 minutes! BB just had to stand there and make I love you all-type gestures til the frenzy abated…”

He then follows this with a second email: “I’ve got my football seasons muddled up – well it was last century. They won the league in 1986-87 (the Napoli flag on the wall over my bed says so!). The next season they were pipped to the post by the dreaded AC Milan (who sing some horrible song about Neapolitans living on a dunghill) after losing 2-3 to them at home in April/May, a week or so after that over-optimistic evening serenading BB King. I watched the match on TV with my friend Antonio in his flat in the Spanish Quarter. Milan scored first and everything went very quiet. Then Maradona equalised and the whole street went out on to their balconies and did a little jig and sang their Ole’s. Then Milan scored again – silencio. Careca equalised and we all went out onto the balconies again. Then Van Basten scored a third for Milan. Cacca frita! The next day Naples – which was normally totally manic – was like a city of the dead…

He adds a postscript: “This was happening just weeks before Maradona’s Napoli won the Scudetto for the first time – hence all the footie madness. The city was full of the sound of aerosol trompetti and every shrine seemed to have a prayer for Diego.” Here’s Simon’s version of the shrines, and how the streets of Napoli looked at the time:


Dotter and I met up with “lovely Brett” around an old piano in a Brixton pub. We talked of car crashes and old guitars and amplifiers until Brett looked at his watch, announced that he had to go to work, and headed off to play bass for Best Coast. California pop indoors at night, and sounding just fine.

I was talking to Tim about getting tickets to see the Allen Toussaint Band at the Barbican this Sunday. I’d last seen him at Ronnie Scott’s in April last year in the company of Richard Williams, who was going to interview him the next day. Here’s Richard on his surprise encore that night. It was a wonderful, warm show, by a truly talented musician, and it was so sad to hear the news yesterday. I’ll cue up “Tipitina and Me” from the post-Katrina fundraising album – a beautifully measured and melancholy version of the Professor Longhair classic. As “Thank You”, his tribute to Longhair, says: “Thank you, Lord, for this very special man/and thank you for letting me be/around to see/one as great as he…” Here are my memories of that night at Ronnie’s, and the music player on the right has live versions of “Thank You” and “Freedom for the Stallion”.

Part Two on Friday with Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible (a punk event at Central St Martins), The Aberlour Voice-O-Graph and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia.

Five Things: Wednesday 29th January

Folk Music Has Another Moment…
A fitting soundtrack to The Naked Rambler (some Nick Drake, I think, and Tom Paxton’s “Rambling Boy”). The Joan Baez documentary I’ve not quite finished watching. BBC4 showing Murray Lerner’s great Festival. The opening of Inside Llewyn Davis and attendant media blitz. And lastly, all the obits for Pete Seeger folk’s been all over everything in the last week or so. My favourite act in Lerner’s film were the amazing Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, clean-cut college kids looking for all the world like cousins of Buddy Holly and Annette Funicello, high-stepping and twirling, accompanied by Seeger’s banjo-playing, to a standing ovation from the crowd. “In 1962 from in and around the little mountain town of Hendersonville, NC, the so-called Dancingest Little Town in America, a group of teenagers and one adult, 24-year-old James Kesterson, started the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. Hendersonville had been the Home of the retired world champion North Carolina Cloggers and a bit of their influence can be seen in the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers.”

At The Foot Of Richard Williams’ Fine Pete Seeger Tribute
on the Guardian site: Seeger jeans, just in…


Happy Traum, Interviewed By Ken Hunt, 1981, Found On
Happy: “It seems to me that folk music is a very funny form musically, because it can be easily a kind of dead issue. I think that’s the way many people do folk music; when it’s put in those terms, it really can lose the vitality that it’s supposed to have. So, naturally I’m attracted to people who can take folk songs and make them alive and make them exciting, without necessarily turning them into something different. I mean, you could play folk songs with a symphonic orchestra or you can play folk songs with a rock and roll band, but it will very often lose the essence just as much as if somebody’s doing an old Burl Ives imitation, which also loses the essence to me. But when Ry Cooder plays a folk song, most of the time he keeps the essential things about that music that attracts me to it and yet at the same time adds something which is fresh and different. So that’s one of the reasons why I think both he and Taj Mahal are very important. Because they take those old songs and add a life to them.”

Excerpt From Neil Young’s Grammy Speech (Producers & Engineers Wing)
“So this is a cool night because we’re all here together… A lot of us, you know, producers and engineers –I’m kind of a producer, partially, an engineer, I’m not really good at either one. It’s hurt my records in the past. We’re performance-oriented: technical things don’t matter that much. That’s only one way of making records. A lot of you out here are craftsmen: just beautiful records, and take great care with every note. And I know I’m not one of them. I like to capture the moment. I like to record the moment. I like to get the first time that I sung the song. I like to get the first time the band plays the song. So there’s a lot of compromises you make to get that feeling, but in the long run, that’s where the pictures are when I hear my words and when I see the pictures while I’m listening. So that’s what we try to record.

I love you all people, because I know what you’re doing. I know how crazy you are about all the things that I don’t care about. Sometimes you make great records, and it’s fantastic. They’re not like my records – sometimes I can’t feel them, but I really appreciate them. No, sometimes I can feel them and I go, “Holy shit, how did they do that? How did they make that record? I know they layered it – it’s not like a documentary where something happens and you take a picture, cinema verite. This is a movie: somebody created all the scenes, and there was the dialogue, and then they did the dialogue again, and there was the foley to do the sounds, and they did all the stuff, and everything’s perfect – but it’s still good.”

There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just a different way of doing it than I could ever do, because I have so little ability to do that, that it would really suck: over and over again, getting it right. That’s why I’m flat, that’s why it doesn’t matter that there’s bad notes. That doesn’t mean it’s not production – it just means it’s the kind of production that we do.

Some people are here tonight that I’ve worked with over the ages that are just really incredible people. Al Schmitt’s here tonight… because he’s the father of what’s going on here, and he’s still here. He has staying power. And he was recording the way that I want to record now. I’m going to make a record with Al – we’re talking about making a record together where there’s only one mic, but we do a huge orchestra. And when we finish doing that performance, and every guy’s standing the right length from the mic: the background vocal is like “hey-hey-hey,” and of course I’m up here, but they’re right there, so it sounds like that there. So we’re going to do it that way. We’re not going to mix it: we’re going to do it, and mix it while we do it. Everybody can get in the right place, and if it’s not right – well, we’ll move the bass up. Move the bass closer. It’s not loud enough? Move the amp closer, then! It sounds good, but it’s just too quiet, so move it up. Move it in, and the drums? Leave it over there, go back farther.

Do you know how fun that is to do? That is so much fun. It’s like playing music – it’s not making music, it’s playing it… There’s something that happens with one mic. I’ve just never been able to do that, with some rare instances like when I record in a recording booth from a 1940s state fair. I got that sound by closing myself into a telephone booth. And I notice, it sounds just like an old record. And I like the sound of old records! I’ve always loved that.

The thing we do is, we make great stuff in the studio and then we kiss its ass goodbye, because nobody’s ever going to hear it. That’s unfortunate, and it didn’t used to be that way. That’s something that happened to us – that’s an injury we sustained, and it deeply hurt us. So the time has come for us to recover and to bring music back to the people in a way that they can recognize it in their souls – through the window of their souls, their ears. So they can feel and vibrate and so that they can get goosebumps. We cherish those fucking goosebumps. We really need those.”

Some Non-Folk: I walked between the raindrops…
…to work, eschewing my usual Boris Bike, and “Day Dream”, the Ellington/Strayhorn song on Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi album, sneaked into my earphones. It’s really something, and somehow I’d never properly listened to it before – Joshua Redman on burnished tenor duetting with Toussaint’s exquisite piano. It makes time stand still as I walk past a hundred people standing in the rain in Rathbone Place, victims of a fire alarm drill. It comes to an end as I cross the coffee shop threshold, usurped by Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” as I stand in line behind Ian Hislop and Andy Hamilton catching up with one another.
nb, from Michael Hill’s liner notes on Nonesuch Records’ website: Apparently, Redman nailed his solo on the first take. Toussaint praises Redman’s “beautiful tone. I could just listen to him alone, solo. I’d love to catch him on a street corner somewhere. And everyone was hip to him much more than I was. When I told my son about him, he said, ‘Oh yes, he’s the bomb.’ And my son was right. Joshua is a marvelous musician. He’s finely tuned to what he’s looking for in his sound; he doesn’t accept stock.”

Five Things: Wednesday 23rd October

Gainsbourg Auction: + 6 citrons, du parmesan, et un pot de crème fraîche, merci…
A bizarre collection of Serge Gainsbourg’s belongings are at auction on October 31. The list of items include four cigarette butts in a cassette case (estimate £425-£600), a pair of his nail clippers (estimate £40-£70), and a telegram to his wife, Jane Birkin, of controversial Number One single “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” fame. Last year his handwritten shopping lists were sold for £6,540. Said David Richard, a spokesperson for the auction house: “When we sold those we realised there was a great interest in items from his everyday life. Quite a lot of the bidders were women and they were prepared to go quite far but it’s always difficult to know how much people are prepared to pay for these things”. Well, here’s a few of my favourite things (but I think I’ll pass on actually bidding):


From Michael Gray’s Outtakes blog, Mike Bloomfield and Big Joe Williams:
In 1980 Mike Bloomfield published a short memoir, Me and Big Joe, which not only portrayed the difficulties of their relationship very honestly but also, in Peter Narváez’ phrase, illustrated “the cross-cultural triumph of the blues tradition”. Bloomfield wrote: “Joe’s world wasn’t my world, but his music was. It was my life; it would be my life. So playing on was all I could do, and I did it the best that I was able. And the music I played, I knew where it came from; and there was not any way I’d forget.” I really love that sentence, and reading more excerpts discover that the book is compelling, well-written and illustrated by Robert Crumb.


Favourite Story Of The Week
Tony Bennett questionnaire, The Guardian: Q: You must have mixed with them all… I lived for 15 years in Los Angeles and I still can’t believe that the handsomest man in the world, Cary Grant, and the greatest performer in the world, Fred Astaire… were in my home. I celebrated my 50th birthday with them. Unforgettable.

Did any of them do anything in your home that you’ve had to keep secret? No. But once Dean Martin was in his home, having this mad party, and he was trying to study his lines for a television show so he called up the police and said: “I’m Dean Martin’s neighbour and there’s too much noise coming from his house. Have the police come and slow down the party.” And the police came and broke the party up and he got rid of everybody in the house.

A Note On Packaging The Past
I give into temptation. I’ve bought this music on vinyl, in 1972. In its first digital form on CD in the late eighties. On remastered CD in 2000. And here we are, buying it again in 2013, remixed, re-programmed, repackaged. Rock of Ages by The Band, originally in a three-gatefold sleeve of purple with Bob Cato’s enigmatic oriental statue on the front and mysterious pictures by Magnum’s Ernst Haas (the impressionistic colour ones) and John Scheele (the beautiful B&W’s) on the inside. One of the great live albums of the rock era. As Allen Toussaint says: “They dance by a different drummer, all the time. There was nothing stock about them”. But I baulk at the stupidly-priced Venal-Record-Company-Death-Throes Box Set, with its 5.1 Surround Sound DVD version of the tracks and the Sebastian Robertson soundboard mix of the uncut New Year’s Eve night. Come on. How many times can the people who love this music be ripped off? Yes, I know that everything in Heritage Rock World™ has to be a ‘production’. And, yes, it sounds fantastic, remixed by Robertson and the brilliant Bob Clearmountain with a staggering degree of detail. But then, it always did sound fantastic, I just didn’t know it could sound better, and may never have felt I was missing out…

And Also…
Robbie Robertson’s liner notes are less annoying than usual. I love his comments about Rick Danko: “Rick showed something during this period that I still don’t understand. While singing like a bird, he played a fretless bass… in an unorthodox style that worked against reason and normality.” Toussaint again: “Rick Danko – his approach, there’s nothing like it. Some people, you can tell what school of thought they come from on the bass… I don’t know where Rick Danko comes from. I don’t know his source of reference… it was just his very own thing and I think it was perfect”.


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