Five Things, Wednesday 15th October

Who’s in charge?
From Roy Keane’s slightly mad new autobiography, The Second Half: “It might seem strange but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music. A young lad might want to put on the latest sound; an older player might say: ‘I’m the senior player’ and put himself in charge. But I noticed none of the players [at Sunderland] were in charge of the music and this was a concern for me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’ The last song before the players went on to the pitch was “Dancing Queen” by Abba. What really worried me was that none of the players – not one – said: ‘Get that shit off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ “Dancing Queen.” It worried me. I didn’t have as many leaders as I thought.”

Hedi Slimane: Sonic
No, I didn’t see this, but Steve’s partner Fiona did, and writes about it on her always interesting fashion blog, Something I’m Working On. “A couple of years ago, when I was Art Director of Russian Vogue, I used to design the covers and fashion stories Hedi Slimane shot for us. Among other things, this involved trying to reason with his agent about how to leave a white border of exactly one centimetre around Hedi’s photographs without cropping the photographs, despite the fact that Hedi’s photographs were not the same shape as our pages. Hedi is (understandably) passionate about his pictures, and the way they are presented. Hedi likes to be in control. Which is why (a) this exhibition is gorgeous, and (b) it’s so fascinating: the subject matter – the music scene – after all, is pretty much the opposite of control.” The exhibition is at the Fondation Pierre Bergé/Yves Saint Laurent in Paris until January 11, 2015.

Terry Cryer’s Best Shot, The Guardian
Glad to see that Terry chose this lovely photo of George Lewis and Joe Watkins at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 in 1957. It’s been one of my favourites ever since I came across it when we put together the book about Ken. Terry was by far the best photographer of that whole pre-rock scene, and his shots really stand out, partly from his use of a large format camera, partly from his clever use of flash. He was great at capturing the joy of an audience, to which this picture testifies. [It’s the square picture to the right of Bob recording Highway 61…]

Wall of Loft

Greetings from Darktown!
And strangely, that very day, I had made a mask from Terry’s photo of Ken and Sister Rosetta Tharpe [the largest of the rectangular pics above], as Jonny Hannah’s book launch insisted that entry was contingent on wearing a mask – the invite included a pre-cut mask shape that the invitee had to customise in some way. Having just given a rave review to his book in Eye magazine, I didn’t want to miss it but arrived late, only catching the last part of Sandy Dillon and Ray Major’s spooky sounding set (more on this in the Five Things End of Year roundup). But I do get to congratulate Jonny (a nicer fellow you won’t meet) and pick up a copy of the book in a hand drawn carrier bag (see below). I chose the Flying V as it seemed an odd choice of guitar for a man obsessed with Hank Williams. Although, after Jonny waxed eloquent about the beauty of the Flying V, it made more sense.


“Birds flying high, you know how I feel…”
Driving through sheets of rain just outside Colchester, with Nina Simone on the car stereo, singing Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”. And as she leans into the last verse, Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky/how sweet it would be if I found I could fly, the rain stops and hundreds of swallows swoop from the trees to begin a murmuration, wheeling like a storm cloud against the suddenly bright sky.

Extra! Up Close with Robin Bannerjee
At dinner with my mother at a local bar, we luck into a set from Verity Guthrie and Robin Bannerjee. I am so close to Robin that I can feel the chord changes. And they’re great chord changes. Robin was Amy Winehouse’s guitarist (see the wonderful Other Voices performance in Dingle) and tonight he’s partnering the sultry voice of Verity Guthrie. He loops his rhythm part so he can solo over it, pulls out songs from his depthless folder and gets Verity to find the words on her iPhone, and generally plays a blinder. We have to leave before they finish, so I don’t get the chance to request Tom Waits’ Old Boyfriends, a number they would kill. Next time.Robin

Five Things: Wednesday 18th September

Amy Winehouse Exhibition, Jewish Museum
A touching collection of the memorabilia of someone who died too young.

AmyOne of the records displayed, Sarah Vaughn’s The Divine One, still had its Record & Tape Exchange sticker. Starting at £10, by the time Amy bought it, the price was a bargain £3.

The songs our parents gave us, The Guardian
My favourite piece of writing here was Lucy Mangan’s: “Wichita Lineman” (the words of Jimmy Webb sung by Glen Campbell) had been playing in the background for years until one day when I was about seven or eight. I suddenly seemed to become old enough to hear, properly at last, one of my mum and dad’s favourite songs. The words didn’t make much sense at first – for a start, I would need Wichita, lineman and county explained to me once it had finished – but I could hear the… well, I would need a new word for that too, but a long time later I would come across “yearning” and be able to give a name to that strange ache the music produced in me.

From then on I played and replayed that record on my own account… I was in love – with the words now even more than the music (though in later years an ex-boyfriend would explain to me what every part of the latter was doing and why and how it was working all together to produce something even greater than the sum of its parts, which made me fall in love with him all over again). “I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road/Searching in the sun for another overload …”

It’s the sparest of songs – just 16 lines, 13 if you don’t count the repeated final verse – and it suited our family’s inexpressive collective temperament perfectly. Whatever damage I did to their enjoyment during those first obsessive months has since been repaired and now when we gather we will play it, and it alone has the power to still us all while we follow that battered stoic across the state and, separately together, indulge in a little vicarious longing of our own.

One Night In Soho: Part One
It started with Barney’s phone call to come see a screening of Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen’s take on a would-be Folk Star in Greenwich Village, ’62. The night before I’d watched a Mastermind contestant do his Two Minutes on the LIfe and Work of Bob Dylan. He scores 13. I knew one he didn’t – the studio in Minneapolis where Bob re-recorded Blood On The Tracks (that’s Sound 80, pop pickers). He knew one I didn’t – the two books of the Old Testament that feature in the lyrics of “Jokerman” (that’s Deuteronomy and Leviticus, fact fans). And I screwed up an easy one, by interrupting and shouting Robert Shelton! when they asked about the night in the Village when Dylan was reviewed in the New York Times, when the answer was the name of the club (The Gaslight).

And the Coen’s film centres, dramatically, on that very night. Which made me wonder about the mainstream audience reaction to a film that turns on a concert review… The evocation of time and place is predictably good, and its sense of humour is not a million miles from A Mighty Wind, especially the hysterical record session where Justin Timberlake (half of folk duo Jim and Jean with Carey Mulligan) is attempting to cash in with an assumed name (The John Glenn Singers), and a Space Race ditty (“Dear Mr Kennedy”). The supporting actor casting is worthy of Broadway Danny Rose or Stardust Memories – extraordinary faces, pungent performances. Carey Mulligan rocks an acerbic fringe, John Goodman is monstrously withering, and Oscar David is really convincing as an almost-good-enough troubadour. If you know your Village in the early Sixties, go see it. If not? Not so sure. I’d be interested to know what an impartial observer would make of it.

One Night In Soho: Part Two
The restaurants of Soho seem to be having a Boogie/Swamp moment. If it’s not the Allmans and John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down The Road” (ooo-eee – remember that? Creedence in all but name?) playing in ramen joint Bone Daddies, it’s Canned Heat at Pizza Pilgrims, which is where I found myself after the film. As I walked to meet Tim in St Giles, I passed this in Soho Square, screening off the Crossrail development. It seems that Dobells is unavoidable at the moment…


One NIght In Soho: Part Three
Tim’s spot, The Alleycat in Denmark Street, is a dive, in all the best senses of the word. Every other Tuesday, #4 on the door, and Paloma Faith’s Musical Director, Dom Pipkin, playing excellent Longhair/Booker piano, his keyboard sonically split, with bass in the left hand and electric piano in the right. Along with a drummer doing the right thing (staying on the hi-hat, not much cymbal action) and a lowdown trombonist, they make a holy noise. Dom’s dad is coaxed up for Doctor Jazz, N.O. style, before he and his wife head off for Wales, a man in a cap adds fine accordian, the young dudes in the audience groove, and we’re all happily transported to Claibourne Avenue and Rampart Street for a couple of hours. Catch Dom and The Iko’s on Sunday where they are promoting and supporting Zigaboo Modeliste at the 100 Club. I tell my mother about it, and she says that’s how it used to be, and so we make a date to hit The Alleycat some future Tuesday.


Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 28th November

The Return Of Scott Walker
Exciting news for us Scott fans! In a relatively revealing Guardian interview as his new album, Bish Bosch, is launched, Scott talks about his fear of performing, as well as saying that no promoter would put him on anyway, as they’re only interested in money. But Scott could tour cultural festivals, not rock arenas, if he chose. In 2008, for instance, The Barbican put on Drifting and Tilting—The Songs of Scott Walker. It was more opera than rock. Scott, eyes hidden beneath baseball cap, stood at the mixing desk conducting his collaborator Peter Walsh. It was all I could do to drag my eyes away and back to the stage, which teemed with extraordinary visions. The most arresting image? Possibly a boxer using a pig’s carcass as a percussion instrument. Or maybe Gavin Friday as Elvis (“It casts its ruins in shadows/Under Memphis moonlight”), perched on a stool, singing to his stillborn twin Jesse, while a bequiffed and backlit figure strode  from the back of the stage until he assumed gigantic proportions, looming over the whole theatre. Whichever, it was an evening that lives on in the memory. Long may Scott run.

Amy’s Blues
The National Portrait Gallery in London buys a portrait by Marlene Dumas of the late Amy Winehouse, and  the curator says: “Dumas said that she had been very moved by the news of Winehouse’s death.” Which sort of begs the question: why not be moved by something useful like her talent or her voice—while she was alive. What’s “moving” about her death? “Dumas, who is based in Amsterdam, sought out images of Winehouse online for the work which draws the viewer in to the singer’s distinctive eyes and eye liner.” Yes, you read that right. In Art Speak, she sought out images of Amy online. And then copied some of the photos she found, quite badly. So, basically, this mediocre fan painting was co-created by Google Image Search (79,600,000 results).

Kermit The Frog, Meet Miles Davis & Louis Malle & Jeanne Moreau
Genius overlay of Davis’ session (filmed by Malle) recording the soundtrack to Lift To The Scaffold, the great French noir from ’58, with LCD Soundsystem’s New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down. The film of Davis playing to a huge projection of Moreau walking the streets of Paris at night is just stunning. That’s cut with Kermit on a rock across the river from midtown, and in Times Square. Hats off to Alessandro Grespan for his inspired and crazy jamming together of these two videos. The despairing mood of both pieces is eloquently summed up in James Murphy’s brilliant couplet “There’s a ton of the twist, but we’re fresh out of shout…”

Is It Rolling, Keith?
My favourite moment so far in Crossfire Hurricane, the Stones doc, is the extraordinary stage invasion footage. Keith: “It started, man, on the first tour. Half way through things started to get crazy [here the on-stage cameras filming the concert record a group of young besuited guys pushing the Stones over, singing into Jagger’s mic, attempting to pull Brian Jones’ guitar off, as the soundtrack becomes phased and fragmented]… we didn’t play a show after that, that was ever completed, for three years… we’d take bets on how long a show would last—you’re on, 10 minutes…”

Christies Pop Culture Auction Preview, South Kensington
A random sampling of the 20th Century, from chairs that were part of the set of Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, via Harrison Ford’s bullwhip from Raiders to the ‘Iron Maiden’ from Ken Russell’s Tommy (a snip if it goes for its estimate of £1000). I was there to gaze upon Mitch Mitchell’s snare drum (as featured on Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Hey Joe etc) and Andy Warhol’s mock-up of an unpublished book of the Stones ’75 tour. Favourite item? Hibbing High School Yearbook, 1958, signed, “Dear Jerry, Well the year’s almost all over now, huh. Remember the “sessions” down at Colliers. Keep practicing the guitar and maybe someday you’ll be great! A friend, Bob Zimmerman”

Jerry’s Yearbook, Hibbing High School, 1958

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 25th July

Big Man On The Bass
Sad news that Bob Babbitt (Midnight Train to Georgia, Rubberband Man, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Inner City Blues, Band Of Gold, Tears Of A Clown, Copacabana, Never Can Say Goodbye—wow!) has passed away. Watch Standing In The Shadows Of Motown and thrill to his pulse, precision and groove. He’s totally on it, whether negotiating James Jamerson’s iconic lines or his own. Watch him—in a moment caught on low-res videocam—reflected in Meshell Ndegeocello’s sunglasses, as he tearfully talks about the assassination of Martin Luther King, saying of the other musicians who made up the Funk Brothers, “I felt as sad as they did. I was one of them.”

“She Came With Her Spindly Little Legs And Her Mental Hair And Sang Her Heart Out…”
Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle. Philip King, producer: “There’s something about singers, they’re sort of odd, you know. They carry songs with them… how many songs is any singer singing at one time? If you talk to a great jazz singer they’ll say I know five hundred songs but I’m singing thirty of them at the minute… Certainly the way that she sang that night, Amy… sang the blues away, She used her gift to still her trembling soul. She used her gift as a way to explain herself to herself. To entertain people, sure, but to sing the blues and to give herself some relief.” On bass, Dale Davis. On guitar, Robin Banerjee. Singing stunningly, Amy Winehouse. There are too many great moments to list, but the Ray Charles interview, an exquisite Me & Mr Jones, the way Amy’s eyes light up when she talks about the Shangri-La’s, the way she sings ‘Door’ in You Know That I’m No Good. If you love music, watch this film.

Surely Previous?

On the shelf above, a sticker read: “When It’s Gone, It’s Gone!”


Euro 2012: A Thriller. Imogen Heap’s Version: Not So Much

I forgot to write about this, but just found a note. Now—I love a re-visioned MJ classic as much as the next person {EVIDENCE FOR THE PROSECUTION: Robbie Fulks’ Billie Jean} but it has to make sense. The usual end-of-tournament slo-mo roundup-with-music was typically well edited and included all the moments of high tension and goals to die for that are prerequisite. It was soundtracked by Imogen Heap (who I usually like and admire) doing an acoustic cover of Thriller—nice piano playing, and lyrically some strike/hand/paralyzed-type links for relevant footage. But, Billie Jean with an impassioned, paranoid delivery atop a slinky bolero beat=goal. Thriller with all the thrills drained out, replaced with slightly hammy over-emoting=horrific penalty shoot-out miss.

Tonight The Blackbird Dies
Despite really liking Low and seeing them live last year, I was ashamed to discover I’d never heard Monkey, which blasts out over the opening of a cracking (but modest) B-picture, Killshot, based on Elmore Leonard’s book of the same name, one of the great modern-day crime novels. The song is fantastic—“Tonight you will be mine, tonight the monkey dies…” Nice to finally see a Hollywood film about hitmen that’s not excessive and stupid, but tight and realistic instead. Mickey Rourke is in finest Wrestler mode as Armand “Blackbird” Degas, Diane Lane is excellent and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richie Nix is really fine. The behind camera lineup is impressive: Produced by Laurence Bender and the Weinsteins, directed by John Madden, shot by Caleb Deschanel, thanks to Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack in the credits. Of course, it never got a cinema release in Britain.

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