Wednesday, November 1st

A tribute to Fats, a weird Sixties jam, some notable films, and a rather extraordinary gig…

ONE BEST OPENING PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, on Fats Domino: “The moments in my life in which I experience the least complicated kinds of joy are usually when I’m listening to a record by a piano player from New Orleans: Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Allen Toussaint, and, especially, Fats Domino. I can’t explain the alchemy – let the biologists map out precisely what happens on a chemical level. It doesn’t matter how leaden or battered I might have been feeling before – how encumbered by my own cynicism, how spiritually ransacked. There’s an exuberance inherent to this music that is purely, mystifyingly transformative. In an instant, everything lightens.”

TWO FATS AND THE BYRDS
Later in the Fats Domino piece, Amanda P, when talking about his first hit, “The Fat Man”, says, “…but I’d still challenge anyone to make it through the bit after the second verse – in which Domino begins to scat in falsetto, approximating the wah-wah-wah sound of a muted Dixieland trumpet – and not be left at least slightly agog. It’s a nonverbal, nonsensical chorus that’s not exactly a chorus, yet is somehow a flawless chorus—effervescent, unexpected, profuse.”

So for lovers of that, I’d recommend this – Domino backed by the Byrds on The Barry Richards Turn On Show (such a title!), one of a number of “free form” TV shows that were on local UHF TV stations around America in the late Sixties. Start at 7 minutes 30 seconds to see Fats teach the Byrds “Walking to New Orleans”. He tells Roger McGuinn to play the two notes that start the song. “No… staccato. Just hit ’em…” and then, satisfied that they at least vaguely understand him, he leads them into the song. Skip Battin (I guess) on drums and Chis Etheridge (I guess again) on bass try to fit into the rolling groove of Fats’ piano, and Clarence White moves over and plays the answer lines back to Fats… “That’s it, three chords, no bridge… no solo”. Fats looks momentarily worried when the tv director asks him if they’re ready to do a take, before Barry wanders back into frame to introduce the song, snapping his fingers to denote that he’s with it. Fats continues the rehearsal until Skip’s got inside the rhythm, then says: “We ready!”

Barry: “Here’s Fats Antoine Domino in a jam with the Byrds, the Byrds, and F– ” at which point Fats cuts him off and starts singing “I’m walking to New Orleans”, the camera shot tight on his extraordinary face. But they’d never rehearsed the ending – after the third verse it trucks along with Fats humming a lovely phrase over and over, while Clarence and Skip answer him before he draws it to a close with a raised arm and a shambling blues ending. It’s really, well, sweet is the only word…

THREE IF YOU’VE GOT TWENTY MINUTES TO SPARE…
Watch Undeniably Donnie, a film about Donny “Flipside” Fritts, whose album from 2015, Oh My Goodness, this short film was made to promote. Kris Kristofferson supplies the narration (“Every morning his hands draw close to the keys of his Wurlitzer piano”) to a wistful and touching portrait of one of the great backroom boys of Alabama music. Known as the Alabama Leaning Man in honour of his totally laidback style – “I’ve only seen him run twice…” says Kris, before adding, “the truth is I’ve never seen him run…”. John Prine, who often recorded in Muscle Shoals, sums Donnie up: “It’s like when you see a character in a movie, and you just feel really close to that one character as the plot develops – usually it’s not the, y’know, main person in the film, it’s a character actor, y’know – and Donnie’s a living, walking character actor…”

FOUR BILL FRISELL: A PORTRAIT

5-frisell richter
On Sunday, I’m hoping that I can get back to the city in time to go to the first London showing of the above film by singer and filmmaker Emma Franz. I’m always transfixed by Bill Frisell’s playing, whether he’s creating soundscapes and atmospherics, or modestly laying out a simple effects-free melody line from an ancient song that speaks to him. His touch is so delicate, yet so intense. If you feel the same way, then there are still some tickets left for the showing at the Curzon Soho this Sunday, November 5th, at 3pm.

Here’s Emma on Bill: “My own life experience includes many years having worked around the world professionally as a musician. I had long been an admirer of Bill Frisell’s music, as he seems to encompass everything that fascinates and excites me about music. In his music, there is individuality and universality, technique and simplicity, diversity, intensity and depth, and the sense of adventure of a child. Bill Frisell has already left a unique stamp on music, been artistically successful and critically acclaimed, yet remains an eternal student; humble, open-minded and constantly self- challenging.” I really like the idea of a musician making this film, and following Bill across his wide-ranging musical life. He’s been quoted as saying: “She got at something that I don’t think anybody’s ever [captured] – you know, it’s about the process, or whatever it is that I [go through]. I felt like you could actually see that.”

FIVE LOREN CONNORS AT CAFE OTO

5-loren2On a screen in a small music venue in Dalston a film is projected. In it a man shuffles around an apartment, struggling to free a record from its packaging. As he bends over you see a scar from some surgery running up his neck and into his hairline. The music that comes from the record when he drops the needle onto it is distant, ethereal, delicate, and distorted. Appalachian Blues, I wonder? Maybe Widescreen American Western Music? The man shuffles through drawings, hundreds of drawings, and hundreds more photocopies. He lays rolls of paint-splashed paper down on the floorboards of an apartment as the ghostly sounds play. That’s my introduction to Loren Connors’ world. The film is, appropriately, called Gestures. Then Connors walks on stage with a cane and a three-quarter sized student model Stratocaster (a Squier Mini, Fender’s diffusion line), sits down and starts a swirling, shifting piece. I’m transfixed. He builds walls of sound and then coaxes up tiny notes that sit on top, all the while using minimal chord shapes and flickering fingers to brush the strings. At times it’s angry and buzzing, but the impression I’m left with is a subtle and mesmerising beauty.

I’m there with Calum. I was saying that I’d never been to Cafe OTO, so Calum kindly gets us tickets for something coming up that he thinks I’d enjoy, and he’s spot-on. He last saw Connors years ago, when his hair was long and draped over his face when he played. Now he looks like one of Christopher Guest’s ensemble players, straight out of A Mighty Wind or Best in Show. At some point in the 45 minute performance, Loren’s partner, Suzanne Langille, starts reciting  a Keats ballad – La Belle Dame sans Merci – “And this is why I sojourn here/Alone and palely loitering/Though the sedge is withered from the lake/And no birds sing.” It’s alternately beguiling and creepy, which is, I think, its intended effect. It ends to wild applause. Loren sits back down, plays for another minute (an encore?) and that’s it. Brilliant.

5-loren

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Tuesday, August 15th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 14th

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

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

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

robertsonguitars

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

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

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

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

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

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

gaga

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