Thursday, February 16th

ONE IF YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW IT…
Song Exploder is rather great, featuring as it does musicians talking about how something they’ve made actually came together. The latest has Nicholas Britell on the evolution of his Moonlight soundtrack. Get through the (rather long) set-up and hear how the layers of the main theme came about.

“It’s going between the major one and the minor four chord. You’re in a major key so there’s this sense of stability, but the alternating back-and-forth creates, for me, a feeling of introspection… there’s a violin that’s doubling the melody on top, and the sound of the violin… what I asked [violinist Tim Fain] to do, was to play it as quietly as he possibly could while still generating enough sound that he felt comfortable with the note, and then we recorded it close to the mike.” It gives the theme a kind of brittle age, like something created long ago by wind blowing across pampas grass by the ocean.

He goes on to say: “I actually do a lot of experimentation with reverb, because the sound of an instrument is entirely related to where you’re hearing it – the space that you put an instrument in changes so much of the character… [in this piece] there’s actually another piano, underneath the first piano, which fades in over the course of the track. The first piano is a fully-in-tune grand piano! The second one is a sort-of-noisier upright piano with a loud mechanism, it’s not a really, incredibly in-tune piano (laughs), but that’s what’s beautiful about it. It feels so human and so true.” Amen to that.

TWO MICHAEL HEAD, THE SOCIAL

head

Tim takes me to see Michael Head, once of the Pale Fountains and Shack (and even Arthur Lee’s backing band on a tour in the early 90s). It’s at The Social in Fitzrovia, a basement club with nice bar staff and a tiny stage. A man, that Kitty Empire said, “has spent the best part of 30 years not getting famous”, Head is playing to a room of devotees, not only from his home town of Liverpool, but from every corner of Europe, judging by the accents around us. No idea what to expect, but it doesn’t phase any of the audience that the support acts are a man reading a short story (excellent) followed by a poet, Paul Birtill, who is also great. And it’s good to be surrounded by people listening to songs that obviously come from a time and place that mean so much to them – their goodwill for the man on the stage is palpable. I’m less carried away, but I don’t have that shared background. Also, I have an issue with solo guitar-strumming shows. The kind of romantic/poetic/stoic songs that are Head’s stock-in-trade need, for me, the melodic buttress of a band around them.

THREE GRAMMY & GRANDPA
From the always entertaining Every Record Tells a Story: “The Grammys operate in a strange time-warp, the 2017 awards covering the music released between mid-2015 and mid-2016. As a result, gongs are handed out for songs that have been missing for longer than the hair on the top of Donald Trump’s head. 

It’s odd in such a fashion-conscious and fast-moving medium that the 2017 Grammys’ Song of the Year, Adele’s “Hello”, was released in October 2015. That’s a longer period of time than the entire career of The Bravery. It was bad enough when the charts were announced on Sunday and you watched Top of The Pops on a Thursday… You begin to feel for the voting committee being so far behind the times, bless them. What will the committee think when they hear about the break up of The Beatles? Will Kanye West boycott the next show because there was no nomination for “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus and Pliers? David Bowie, meanwhile, had never won a Grammy for his music before – the single most remarkable failure to honour something since the Brexit campaign promised £350m a week to the NHS. The Grammys had never honoured the music of Pop’s Great Innovator, whilst giving six awards to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers…”

FOUR LATE REVIEW
Marc Myers, Anatomy of a Song, The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits. I’m a sucker for a good oral history. My first copy ended up with a man I sat next to on a plane coming back from Morocco. He was reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (featuring “a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer”) and I had just finished Anatomy of a Song. We fell into conversation, and it turned out that he had been at every Glastonbury Festival since the first, in 1971 when it was the Glastonbury Fair. At the end of the flight I felt that he would enjoy it. So I bought myself another copy, then decided that it would make a perfect Christmas present. It got to the point where my wife kept steering me away from bookshops as Christmas approached and it became a family joke along the lines of “you know what would be a perfect present for [insert name here] – Anatomy of a Song!” Anyhow, buy it, it’s great. One thread that runs through the book is how accidental many of the great moments in Popular music history are.

Read the story of Pink Floyd shipping the 24-track tapes of “Another Brick in the Wall” from LA to London to have their engineer find a local school to sing on it. Read an interview with the man who was “Carey” in Joni Mitchell’s song, and hear what he thinks of it – “I knew I was in way over my head. I couldn’t earn a living and she was way too talented for me.” Read Loretta Lynn on the musicians she recorded “Fist City” with: “Grady [Martin, guitarist], bless his heart, would set a quart of whiskey next to his chair. When I first met him, I said to Owen [Bradley, producer], “We don’t want him playin’ on my record if he’s drunk, do we?” Owen said, “He’ll do better drunk than sober, so let’s leave him alone.” And read the story of how long it took to record the drums for “Heart of Glass” while listening to the track – fantastic.

My favourite chapter may well be the one about The Hues Corporation’s rhumba/disco crossover, “Rock the Boat”. It’s got the Stonewall riots, the New York clubs acting as rhythm laboratories, the beginnings of dance culture, and a weird group name, from songwriter Wally Holmes – “I was a rebel then and disliked wealthy people, so I named [our] trio the Children of Howard Hughes, since they obviously weren’t”. Seeing the legal complications ahead, he changed the name to the Hues Corporation, and the song was recorded twice, the second time with L.A.’s finest, including Jim Gordon on drums and Larry Carlton on guitar (he provides the crazy solo in the song’s fade).

It was used in Ridley Scott’s The Martian as part of the soundtrack (disco tunes left on a crew member’s laptop provides the reason). Megan Garber in The Atlantic made an interesting point about its humanising use in the film… “No offense to the Hues Corporation, but “Rock the Boat” – “Rock the boat (don’t rock the boat, baby)! / Rock the boat (don’t tip the boat over)!” – is not, whatever else it may be, terribly epic. Astronauts may technically be named for sailors, and space-faring vessels may technically be called “ships,” but beyond that, the maritime metaphor will not extend. In using it, though – and, in general, in creating a soundtrack that might as well be nicknamed Now That’s What I Call DiscoThe Martian is doing some boat-rocking of its own. It is effectively rejecting the traditions and clichés of the space movie. It is rejecting the standard, soaring spirituality of the typical space score in favour of something that is smaller and more human. It is trading Holst for Houston.”

FIVE FIVE THINGS RECOMMENDATIONS
Carrie Rodriguez, Lola. An album that transcends its nominal genre of Spanglish Tex-Mex (if that is indeed a genre). As Felix Contreras wrote on NPR’s First Listen, “In my mind, there’s a magical Mexican restaurant located somewhere in Austin, Texas; it’s a place where people of all cultures, backgrounds, ages and languages rub elbows over mouth-watering Tex-Mex combination plates. Aging hippies, Chicano hipsters, old-school Texans in cowboy hats, abuelitas, blues musicians, Western fiddlers – they’re all there. It’s an image I’ve imagined ever since I first heard music that combines influences across cultures, like Americana accented with conjunto or a blues-rock trio singing in Spanish. But I’d never heard the exact sounds that I’d imagined playing in a jukebox in that made-up restaurant until I heard Lola, the new album by Carrie Rodriguez.” It was possibly my most played album of last year, its sultry sway backing surprisingly pointed lyrics, and with a secret weapon in American music’s MVP, Bill Frisell. Once again, I have to thank Tim.

The Word Podcast, A Word in your Ear, with Barney Hoskyns. Listen as Mark Ellen and David Hepworth quiz Barney about all things Albert Grossman.

13th. Mick Gold disagrees with my assessment of Hackshaw Ridge. In penance (I like to think), he flags up the sombre and brilliant 13th, up for the Best Documentary Oscar, a graphically-inspired documentary on the implications of the 13th Amendment. It runs, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”, and the film illuminates the extraordinary way that the corporate world moved into the prison system to utilise the labour force created by the staggering statistic that America has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. On Netflix now.

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

 

 

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 2

Woodstock Two Full Tilt, Theatre Royal, Stratford East
So, a few days after The Last Waltz revisited we head to the the theatre to see Full Tilt, a musical play about Janis Joplin, who was of course managed (as were The Band) by the Squire of Woodstock, Albert Grossman.
“On stage a woman stands, the greatest rock singer of her generation. Behind her is the hottest band that a record company can buy. In front of her, an audience of thousands of expectant fans. She is Janis Joplin. She is utterly alone.” So, it’s pretty much a salty monologue with a band for the performances. There are a few scenes where other characters – a night desk clerk, a road manager – intrude, but it’s pretty much Angie Darcy’s show as Janis. The musicians who make up her band (Big Brother in parts, Kozmic Blues at others) are some of Scotland’s finest – guitarist Harry Ward, Andy Barbour on keyboards, bassist Jon Mackenzie and James Grant on drums. The simple set, not much more than a dressing room, may be underpowered, but it’s the only thing that is. By the end we (wife, mother, daughter) have winced at the sad facts of a life shaped by bullying, heartache and drink, have heard the word “Maaaaann”, drawled at least 150 times, and had the roof raised by a bravura performance of “Piece of My Heart”.

Woodstock Three Small Town Talk launch, Rough Trade East

A few days later, it gets more Woodstock-y at Barney’s reading – with guest, Graham Parker – to launch his new book. Recommended for its fascinating portrait of a small town unique in American music history, the book has a lot of time for the less famous among its denizens – Karen Dalton, the Muldaurs, Bobby Charles, Paul Butterfield and the floating pool of musicians who would come to define East Coast Americana. Graham Parker, who lived in Woodstock for a while, told us of his most memorable musical moment there: “I had the extraordinary experience of working with Garth Hudson, which was a full-day experience, for three songs… he fell asleep at one point, then he woke up and said, “Where did all these women come from?” There was just me and the engineer… [Garth has a narcoleptic condition]. We’d agreed on a fee – and he beat me down by a thousand dollars at the end! “Uh, that’s too much…”

Ten Things! Thursday, 7th May

Yes, for one week (or is that two?) only, owing to the non-appearance of Five Things last week, Ten Things Seen and Heard!

ONE: LOOKING FORWARDS
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Django and Jimmie. Now that sounds interesting – a tribute to jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and “Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers. Apparently, it contains a sublime interpretation Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”.

TWO: LOOKING BACKWARDS
After Leslie leaves the room, Grace steps in… according to Nishat Baig at The Source, “RCA’s newest singer Grace has joined forces with G-Eazy and Quincy Jones to recreate Lesley Gore’s hit song “You Don’t Own Me.” The original track, released in 1963, was considered one of the first women’s empowerment anthems. Quincy Jones was the original producer, and co-produced the new version as a way to pay homage to Gore before her passing. The 17-year-old singer/songwriter, Grace, is taking the pop-soul world by storm and has been influenced by singers like Smokey Robinson to Janis Joplin, and Shirley Bassey to Amy Winehouse.” Well, we’ve never heard that before, have we? However, to be fair, it’s a pretty fly version.

THREE: I HAD NO IDEA…

Bill
That Citroën made a Citroën Maserati, but they did, and Bill Wyman bought one. The Guardian reported: “The minute I saw the Maserati, I thought – this is it! It looked so beautiful. They showed me that incredible engine and the double headlights…” Wyman lived in Vence in the South of France between 1971 and 1982: “I’d drive it to Keith Richards’ place in Cap Ferrat, to record Exile on Main Street and I’d drive to Paris and back, an eight-hour journey each way.” Wyman recalled zipping over in his Maserati to see his new circle of friends on the Cote d’Azur, people such as the artists Marc Chagall and César and the writer James Baldwin. He also drove the car twice to the Montreux jazz festival where he played with the likes of Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.”

FOUR: NEWS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE STATE DINNER!
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe: “The partnership between Japan and the United States is simply unparalleled in building the future of Asia and the world. I know everyone here knows that famous song by Diana Ross, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The song goes, “Ain’t no mountain high enough; ain’t no valley low enough, to keep me from you.” (Laughter.) The relationship of Japan and the United States is just like this. (Laughter and applause.)”

FIVE: THANK YOU, SAINSBURYS
For reminding me of Al Green’s sublime Belle album, from which some adland baby-boomer (or, possibly, Hoxton hipster) had extracted “Feels Like Summer”, one of its highlights, to soundtrack their latest advert. It has a simple, funky groove that’s so damned relaxed. After the wonderful thickness of Willie Mitchell productions, Al produced this himself and it has a very different sound – a little more acoustic, a touch more diffuse and airy – but great in its own way. Cut on the cusp of the secular and gospel parts of his career it is both nostalgic and urgent, often in the same song. In “Belle”, which rides on the back of Al’s choppy acoustic strumming, he talks to a woman about his religious feelings – “Belle, the Lord and I been friends for a mighty long time/Belle, leaving him has never really crossed my mind” and “Belle, oh It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need…” The push and pull of his calling runs through all its tracks. Check out, too, the lovely “Dream”, a seven minute meditation with Green and James Bass on lead guitars, that’s reminiscent of the kind of songs Bobby Womack was writing on the Poet albums. It’s now firmly on the Summer Playlist – I’d recommend you add it to yours forthwith.

SIX: PRECIOUS

lowell

After last week’s Lowell George DVD, found on YouTube – more of the Bedbugs!

SEVEN: BOTH GEOFF MULDAUR AND HIS AUDIENCE ARE HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME
I’ll write more about this gig in the upstairs room of a pub in Islington, I think, but suffice it to say that it was a total treat [and thanks to Tim for spotting it]. Geoff was introduced by his childhood friend Joe Boyd, who produced several of his albums including the fantastic (and expensive – check out the soul sessionmen credits, the cream-of-the-crop jazzmen and, uh, the Hollywood Orchestra) Geoff Muldaur is having a Wonderful Time. The gig was a masterclass in tale-telling and hypnotic playing. He’s a precise, fastidious guitar player, often in open tuning, and he picks with the lucidity and precision of someone like James Taylor or Richard Thompson – you know, those guitarists whose fingers glide over the strings making complex spiderweb shapes while beautiful melodies issue forth. The thumbpicked rhythm didn’t waver, and his genius for arranging made each song come alive, whether its roots were in the twenties, sixties or nineties. The name-checks ranged from Philippé Wynne of the Spinners – “People were conceived to this guy and nobody knows his name. One of our greatest singers” – to McKinneys Cotton Pickers, via Bobby Charles (“Small Town Talk” and “See You Later Alligator” among many others) and Stravinsky – a testament to Geoff’s great taste.

EIGHT: SYNCHRONICITY
Oddly, I’d been listening to Phillippé Wynne because of Richard Williams’ great post on Boz Scaggs covering, in Richard’s view, a song he shouldn’t have. Read the description of its recording, listen to Wynne sing (especially at the fade) and you’ll be convinced of the truth of both Richard’s and Geoff’s words.

NINE: PLEASE, MRS GLASER…
With the memories of Barney’s new book on Woodstock still circling my mind (Small Town Talk is the story of what happened after Albert and Sally Grossman first came to Woodstock and then, on the advice of their friends Milton and Shirley Glaser, bought an estate that had belonged to comic-strip illustrator John Striebel.” – really, Shirley Glaser is pretty much responsible for the whole Woodstock scene), I walked into a movie poster shop in Marylebone and saw something I’d once tried really hard to find in the early days of the internet, and had then forgotten about: an original of design giant Milton Glaser’s poster, which was included in the sleeve of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album in 1967. Apparently, some money changed hands and I seem to be the proud owner.

Bobposter

TEN: ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
A track from Sam Charters’ Folkways LP, Sounds of London. Looking for soundtracks to play at a photography show that we’re helping to organise, we’ve compiled playlists, recorded traffic, made music and disputed the various qualities of John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges and Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge. Sam’s London record, recorded in 1960, has some great moments – Speakers Corner, a pub in Shoreditch, Covent Garden Market at dawn, and this, a marching band recorded from our front room window in Charing Cross Road.

Wednesday, 18th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan Batman

SOMETHING WAS DELIVERED
Following a week where I wrote nothing about Dylan, it’s time for some more! Thanks to Mick Gold for this fine accompanying graphic… Barney sends me a copy of his soon-to-be-published epic on Woodstock, Small Town Talk: Wild Times & Bad Blood in Woodstock, 1963-1986, and a link to a site, PopSpotsNYC. Now here’s what the internet was invented for. A madly obsessive geographical quest to find the locations of famous rock photographs. Tell me what’s not to love about this. With a thoroughness matching a JFK assassination researcher with a  first-gen copy of the Zapruder film, Bob Egan, pop-culture detective, heads out with his camera, or peruses Google Street View and, with the aid of Photoshop, removes the mystery from the history. I was inspired by his tracking of Jim Marshall’s shoot of Dylan, Suze, Terry Thai & Dave Van Ronk in Greenwich Village (the famous tyre-rolling shot comes from this morning) to order a copy of Proof, a book of Jim Marshall’s contact sheets.

Dylanwalk

The great detectiveness that pinpoints the famous Elliot Landy “civil war” shot of The Band is just mind-boggling. Way to go, Bob!

Band

A COUPLE MORE BOB THINGS
1) A strange advert using Wigwam, from Self Portrait, as its soundtrack. Clash of Clans? I wonder which creative thought of that? It actually – strangely – kind of works.
2) A great article in The New York Review of Books by Dan Chiasson, reviewing both a date on the Never Ending Tour, at the Beacon Theatre in New York, and Christopher Ricks’ new $299 book, The Lyrics: Bob Dylan. “The opening verses of “Tangled Up in Blue” are among the most famous in Bob Dylan’s repertoire. Readers who know them will find themselves singing along: “Early one morning the sun was shining, I was laying in bed/Wondering if she’d changed at all, If her hair was still red.” Pronouns matter in Dylan, especially his “I” and “you,” whose limitless friction, wearing each other away year after year, Dylan’s songs have often so beautifully expressed. But there’s no “you” in “Tangled Up in Blue,” which is, in a way, the point: the unnamed “she” is lost, out of earshot, beyond conjuring, a creature who haunts Dylan’s dreams.

CRITICAL MISS
Grace Dent reviews restaurant West Thirty Six in ES Magazine: “Gentrification will eventually chase off all the cool that the initial gentrifiers were in search of. I’d get more het up about this, except records show that Londoners have been moaning about ‘bloody other people coming to spoil things’ since around 1611. West Thirty Six is a rambling great restaurant serving bistro fare – grill, burgers, cocktails – over many floors, led by chef Rex Newmark. Rex’s Twitter bio reads: Rex Newmark the Rock & Roll chef. Celebrity Executive Chef of Beach Blanket Babylon & West Thirty Six. Now call me a stick in the mud, but I don’t particularly want my chefs to be rock’n’roll. I’ve never looked once at Bobby Gillespie staggering around a stage sweating and thought, ‘Gosh, I bet he can knock up a delicate smoked haddock soufflé.’ Heading up a new restaurant – new menus, staff, clientele, dealing with snags and curveballs – requires ball-breaking, round-the-clock devotion to the dance of hospitality for months. It’s the opposite of rock’n’roll. It’s like setting off on tour with the Bolshoi Ballet… [after a dismal experience she concludes…] Maddeningly, our choice of roasted cauliflower turned out to be a small plate featuring two florets of cauliflower, some fresh pomegranate seeds and an overpowering taste of chopped celery – a testament to GCSE Home Economics – for the bargain price of £8.50. That’s the problem with being a rock’n’roll chef. You set out to be Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction era; you end up with food that tastes like it was cooked, circa 2003, by Pete Doherty.

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
I’ve been listening to lots of instrumentals lately, inspired by rediscovering the wonderfully vivid King Curtis Live at Fillmore West. This led to making an instrumental playlist. Here’s one of the quieter songs on it – “On October 4, in the wee hours after the band cut Nick Gravenites’ “Buried Alive In The Blues”, Janis injected some heroin in her room at the Landmark Hotel. Combined with the cocktails she’d sipped earlier, the lethal combination killed the 27-year-old singer. Her stricken band returned to the studio a few days later to finish the recordings they’d started, while there started improvising a new song., the elegiac “Pearl”. Of the track, [reissue producer] Bob Irwin says, “You could just feel on the tape the unbelievably somber and sad mood when the guys started playing this pretty ballad. Every tape before that was lively and bubbly. This is an edited version of a jam that goes on for 12 to 14 minutes.” Though the heartbreaking song was not issued on the original album, “the band named that track Pearl” says Irwin, “and it was assigned a matrix number and held as a recording”. Of course, Pearl was the Full Tilt Boogie Band’s nickname for Janis. Naturally it became the album title as well.” – from Holly George-Warren’s excellent liner notes to The Pearl Sessions.

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

The First Time I Ever Heard The Band
was when Sam Charters came through London in 1969, leaving America behind. He gave me his five favourite albums, one of which was Music From Big Pink

Levon…
always reminded me of my dad. Wiry. Ornery. Absolutely lived for music and drink-fueled good times. A great turn of phrase. The man who made the party happen—wherever he was. So whenever I watch any footage of Levon, I’m always put in mind of Bill.

The Song That Meant The Most
“The melody—too beautiful and out of reach for any words I have—spins the chorus into the pastoral with a feel for nature that is really hedonistic—

Corn in the field
Listen to the rice as the wind blows cross the water
King Harvest has surely come

—and a desperate, ominous rhythm slams the verses back to the slum streets that harbour the refugees of the pastoral disaster.”
—Greil Marcus, Mystery Train

“King Harvest was one of his greatest, most intuitive performances, and the sound of his kit more than did it justice. “King Harvest was one track where I got my drums sounding the way I always wanted them. There’s enough wood in the sound, and you could hear the stick and the bell of the cymbal.” Jon Carroll wrote that Levon was “the only drummer who can make you cry,” and listening to him on King Harvest—the anguished fills and rolls, the perfect ride cymbal figure accompanying the line Scarecrow and a yellow moon, pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town—it’s hard to disagree.”
—Barney Hoskyns, Across The Great Divide: The Band & America

Two Bits A Shot
In the nineties, in the early days of rocksbackpages, Barney and a group of us were pitching ideas to Malcolm Gerrie (creator of The Tube) for magazine tv shows about music. My most unlikely idea was to almost fetishistically examine great musicians’ instruments… and of course the opening feature would have been Levon’s wood rimmed kit, with the harvest scene painted on the bass drum, filmed from the inside out…

Levon Helm, Thank You Kindly
“They took me out to the location, and it was like going back in time: The film crew had rebuilt Butcher Hollow, Loretta’s hometown… We started work late in February and filmed for about six weeks, until old Ted Webb [Loretta’s father, whom Levon was playing] passes away… I was sad when my character died and my part of the movie was over. I didn’t really want to get in the coffin for the big wake scene, but I also didn’t want to be thought of as superstitious or “difficult.” So I told Michael Apted he’d have to get in first to show me how to look. So he kind of warmed the thing up for me, good sport that he is. As the “mourners” gathered around to sing Amazing Grace, I had to sit bolt upright. It was like coming back to life.

Cut!

“It’s my funeral,” I told them, “and if you’re gonna sing Amazing Grace, it’s gotta be the old-fashioned, traditional way.” And I taught ’em in my dead man’s makeup how to do it shape-note style like they would’ve back in the holler in those days. Some of the ladies they’d hired as extras turned out to be church choir singers, so once we’d got it off the ground it didn’t sound too bad. We rehearsed it a few times, then I got back in the coffin, and we shot the scene.”
—Levon Helm (with Stephen Davis) in his biography, This Wheel’s On Fire

%d bloggers like this: