Wednesday, June 12th

{ONE} A FEW THINGS ABOUT MARTIN SCORSESE’S NETFLIX FILM, “ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY
“It was more fun than the law allows, by a long shot. There were genius writers everywhere. It was a bus full of musicians and singers and painters hurtling through the night fueled by White Russians and other things, making a movie, writing songs and playing – on those evenings when we got the mixture right – some of the most incendiary, intense and inspired rock’ n’ roll, before or since. For evidence, please see the version of “Isis.” Check out Dylan’s reading of, “If you want me to, yes.” That was about it for me. That “yes” encapsulated all of it. The joy, the shock, the anger, the lust, the mirth, the bewilderment, the almost derangement of the whole ride.”
– T-Bone Burnett, one of the Revue guitarists

Watch it, it’s a hoot – brilliant and funny, and you can believe what you want to. Think back to Dylan’s playful press conferences – even now he has the ability to wrong-foot or con the audience, he’s just doing it here with Scorsese’s help. It makes no difference if the Sharon Stone bit is invented, or the Argentinian filmmaker doesn’t really exist. If you remember Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s political mockumentary, Tanner ’88, then the politician interviewed about Dylan’s closeness to President Jimmy Carter won’t be a surprise. It’s safe to say that no conventional film studio would have gone for this, but that’s what Netflix brings to the table. So here are a few great moments from Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story.

1 “Isis”. Scarlet Rivera’s limo driver says that he’d never really been to a rock show, before noting that the relationship between those on the stage and those in the audience was like “one battery charging another”, a neat way of conveying the excitement felt by the audience at being in such intimate spaces seeming to spur on the performers to reach some kind of ecstasy. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the mighty performance of “Isis” captured here, transformed from a rather plain, loping, piano-driven tune to an excessive, expressive romp. With no guitar (a Patti Smith inspired move) Dylan in white-face makeup gives it the full David Bowie (while, amusingly, Mick Ronson struts and solos behind him).

2 Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg went from being part of the first shows to being bumped off-stage as the running time needed to be cut, by a lot. He continues on tour, hilariously reading Kaddish to a group of mahjong-playing women, who just happened to be in the same hotel as the Revue (they’re then treated to Dylan and band romping through “Simple Twist of Fate” in an almost “Pub Singer” style). What’s great about Ginsberg is that when the camera alights on him, he sums up what’s happening and what it may mean, in gorgeous poetic sentences.

3 “Like stations in some relay…” Among the extraordinary Bob performances nestles something equally stunning. We’re at Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto, walking up darkened stairs before being ushered into a living room. Seated with guitars are Roger McGuinn, Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Joni proceeds to teach them the chords sequence that she wants them to play. When she’s satisfied that they’re not going to fuck it up, she starts… “No regrets, Coyote / We just come from such different sets of circumstances / I’m up all night in the studios / And you’re up early on your ranch…”

She delivers it drop-dead perfectly. She’s just written it about Sam Shepherd, who’s along for the ride to write a film that’s being shot as the tour winds its way up the Northeast coast of America. He’d was invited to join up, so he dropped what he was doing (setting up a horse ranch in California) and caught a train (won’t fly, not since “Mexico, 1963”) to New York. If you like the film, his Rolling Thunder Logbook is a great companion piece.

4 Turning 180º from the big-boned performances and the blustering stadiums of Tour ’74, where even the acoustic performances are bellowed, here, in the gipsy caravan of RTR, “Mister Tambourine Man” is given a beautiful reading, every line caressed and shaped and caught in amazing close-up by David Myers’ lens.

5 The whipcrack of Howie Wyeth’s snare in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. Wyeth and bassist Rob Stoner (the MD of the whole shebang) are the MVPs of the Revue, providing a brilliant rhythmic and melodic platform for everyone to swan-dive off. Stoner does outrageous melodic walks up and down the neck while never missing an accent or a root note to anchor everything again. Wyeth, a student of orchestral percussion, plays the songs, commenting on the lyrics as he goes. In Sam Shepherd’s words, “Wyeth’s jackhammer drums are splitting the four-four time into smithereens. He has a right hand that’s not to be believed. It comes down on the accent and then plays half a dozen little cluster strokes in between striking two or three cymbals for added color. A drummer like this usually goes totally unnoticed, since he lacks the obvious flash of the more athletic types – Howie sits there like he’s driving a ’58 Impala, cruising down the highway.” Joni Mitchell intended to visit for one show, but stayed for the remaining 15, partly because, she said, “Howie Wyeth’s soul is so beautiful.”

The end titles list every gig, by years, that Dylan has played since the Revue’s tours. It’s astonishing…

{TWO} EAZY DOES IT
It seems that the Eazy-E bench in Newhaven [for the earlier story go here] is not an unalloyed hit. But it has produced a classic local paper story. The Argus reports.

One angry resident said he was “truly shocked and outraged” by the decision to allow the bench. William Bartoli told the council: “You are all responsible for polluting our cherished town. I would have applauded Guy Stevens’ interest, and hard work in raising the funds, until I discovered it was a shrine to a drug-dealing rapper whose many song titles included ‘F*** the Police’.” He raged: “Would I get permission to have a memorial bench for Jimmy Savile? I think not.”

In response, Councillor Pinky McLean said that the bench was “a project of passion from a local taxpayer. Although we may not agree with lyrics that this American man wrote, there are many music legends who have not lived a truly wholesome life and recorded songs and lyrics that offend. But they are just humans. Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright was too. He was just a man who has been remembered on a bench and, while not everyone’s cup of tea, made many, many people happy.”

Mr Stevens, who campaigned for the bench, said: “I’d encourage everyone to get a bench of a dead rapper in their town.” Unveiling the bench, Town Mayor Amy said: “I would like to see a John Lennon bench – that was more my era. After looking up Eazy -E on the internet, I am now an expert on gangster rap. His LP Straight Outta Compton was rated as one of the best ever made, and for me, that’s fascinating, because I didn’t have a clue who he was.”


{THREE} LEE KRASNER
Thanks to Caroline and Bill, we went to the opening of Lee Krasner: Living Colour. “I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.” It’s a great show, especially the early-to-mid work that the brutalist Barbican space really suits. When MoMa had an exhibition of the paintings of her husband, Jackson Pollock in 1998, they released a CD of music drawn from the Jazz 78s found in his studio. As it’s 2019, The Barbican has made a Spotify playlist for Lee, and it’s very cool.


{FOUR} THERE’S A LOT OF TALENT OUT THERE…

The ingenuity of folk knows no bounds – here’s four people with a strange band name (Walk off the Earth), some loose change, drinking glasses and giant handbells, playing my new favourite song, Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road.”


{FIVE} B.B. KING – LIFE OF RILEY
A sombre, serious portrait that ends up being less celebratory than it could be, and more melancholy. It’s on Netflix now, and beautifully directed by Jon Brewer, but I felt it needed less of the talking heads and a few more of B.B.’s milestone performances. One nugget, though, was an interesting story about his aversion to playing acoustic guitars. Eric Clapton had asked B.B. to make an album with him (2000’s Riding With the King)…

Eric Clapton: I thought the best thing to do – we’ll go into the room with a couple of guitars and see what comes out…
B.B. King: I said, “Whatever you think is good we’ll try it”, and we did, and he was right, except trying to make me play acoustic – I didn’t like that… [laughs] I had been cut all to pieces by a guy called Alexis Korner. Alexis Korner said, “B, I got two Martin guitars, acoustic guitars and I got an idea for something called “Alexis Boogie”, so let’s try it…” Boy, when we started recording, he just cut me to pieces. I said, I’ll never play another [acoustic] as long as you’re alive [laugh] and I didn’t! I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but now Alexis is dead I’ll try it. And Eric did the same thing, cut me to pieces!

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

VISUAL OF THE WEEK: 1
In the post: US Post Office stamps in honour of Janis Joplin.

JanisstampsIF YOU MISSED THIS…
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.

PAOLO CONTI AT THE BARBICAN
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…

SIMON’S BB KING/ITALIAN FOOTBALL INTERFACE
“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:

maradona

BEST COAST IN LESS-THAN-SUNNY BRIXTON
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.

! BrettPOSTSCRIPT
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.

Friday, May 30th

More Apologies. Helping our friend Bob with an exhibition of his work* crowded writing about music out of my brain for a couple of weeks. It’s slowly coming back…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK (FROM THE WEB)

Spotnicks

The Spotnicks. Crazy, dad. I had never heard of The Spotnicks, but according to Wikipedia, “they are an instrumental rock group from Sweden, who were formed in 1961. Together with the Shadows and the Ventures they are counted as one of the most famous instrumental bands during the 1960s. They were famous for wearing “space suit” costumes on stage, and for their innovative electronic guitar sound. They have since released 42 albums, selling more than 18 million records, and still tour.” Good God, 18 million?

In search of their “innovative sound”, I click more links and find this excellent description, by main man Bo Winberg (and I think Google Translate may be to blame for some of this). “At first I want to put the myth of Fender guitars in common – and particulary the Stratocaster – to death; According to some so called experts are all Fenders, made later than 1965, only rubbish. I do not agree! Once I had a Strata, built in 1961, and that one was really bad. No matter if I changes the strings, it was totally dead. I sold it to a Mexican musician. (!?)

“In my opinion there are only two types of guitars – good and bad ones – and it has nothing to do with year of production or which manufacture it comes from. I am playing on a Fender Stratocaster, made in 1965, which I bought in Hollywood, California, USA. The original color was Sunburst but I didn’t like it so I burnt it off and replaced it with ten layers of varnish. I growed out from galoping echomachines like Binson – squeak and sway – Echolette and Dynachord – distorsion and noice – and all trouble with tape breaks etc. Today I have an echo and delay made by Alesis with 99 different programs. I only use three of them but I would not tell the settings…” Good man, Bo. You have to keep some secrets in this world…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK (FROM REAL LIFE)
Busking below the bit on the South Bank where the ITV studios are, on a balmy, sunny evening, playing “When The Saints…” which seemed perfect. Always a fan of the accordion/trumpet combo, and not everyday you see someone playing a drum in a bag.

Busking

WRITING ABOUT MUSIC THAT I LIKED THIS WEEK (OR SO)…
Sophie Heawood, “I’ve fallen out of love with music”, Guardian Weekend:
“If feelings are a dimmer switch, I turned mine down to low. The victim was music, though for a long time I thought this was because of compressed MP3s on laptops not sounding like lovely old record players. There is some truth in that, but it turns out that music doesn’t work on a hardened heart. A month ago, a friend said he was giving away his functional, unbeautiful 1980s piano, and that it would need tuning, and did anybody want it? I found myself ordering a van the next day, and then finding a teacher. A Frenchman who smells of cigarettes and who plays me Ray Charles and then Handel and tells me how they come from the same place, the same chords. He explained, in my second lesson, that if you play a C and the G above it together, you have created a fifth, and that into that fifth you then bring the note halfway between them – E! – and “Aaaah, the sweetness of this E”, he says. And we sit there in the quiet, listening to it. It is startling. I have reduced music to one note, finally, and I realise that this is the way back in.”

GAMUT (NOT GAMUT)
Zaha Hadid, interviewed in Deluxe (the new Magazine from the Standard – just how degraded the idea of Luxury or Deluxury has become can be measured by this): “My musical taste runs the gamut from Sam Smith to Chris Brown to Adam Levine. It’s the definition of eclectic”. No, it isn’t. It doesn’t run the gamut [a complete range or extent] either…

DISTORSION AND NOICE (THANKS, BO)
Inspired by Bob’s photos of a neglected and rusting bridge in Paddington, I went and recorded the traffic, and then made five pieces of music (loosely) featuring said traffic overlaid with all manner of nonsense. It’s on Soundcloud if you feel the desire to check it out. In contrast to Bo, I would tell the settings… Mexican-made repro ’57 Strat, sunburst (not burned off and replaced with 10 layers of varnish), run through a Blackstone Mosfet Overdrive (no, me neither), and played with an e-bow (sometimes).

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
In honour of B.B., a tape given to us by Bob Wray in Muscle Shoals. It’s from the Love Me Tender sessions, the Nashville album that B.B. himself named as one of his favourites. Throughout, Larry Londin, the late, great Nashville drummer, had asked B.B. to play “The Thrill is Gone”, and each time the answer was no. On the last day of the sessions, B.B. had gone around thanking everyone, handing out keyrings and pens emblazoned with his logo. When he got to Larry, he picked up his guitar and launched into Larry’s request. Everyone scrambled to join in, the engineer rolled tape and they played the hell out of it. Londin does some wonderful rolls and cymbal work, but the best comes at the end when the song stumbles to a close and Larry bangs his sticks together, shouting “B.B., B.B., B.B. King, Yeah!” over and over as B.B. dissolves laughing.

* The catalogue can be found here.

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