Five Things, Thursday, June 22nd

First, a few Five Things recommendations if you’re in London over the next few days, then a request for information, followed by an offer you can refuse…

ONE THE DOUGLAS BROTHERS SEE/SAW5-douglasDamon Albarn/Bryan Ferry/Abdullah Ibrahim  This brings back memories of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in the late 70s, in a crowded club, sitting on the floor right underneath Ricky Ford’s tenor sax as Ekaya, Ibrahim’s band at that time, played some of the most beautiful music I’d ever heard… “We photographed the South African musician and composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, playing the piano at the Blue Note jazz club in Greenwich Village. Our photo session was doubling as his sound check. This shows him absolutely lost in his music, which was so absorbing that we almost forgot to shoot. We probably took half the amount of frames we normally did as we both kept stopping and listening. Properly awesome.” The Brothers quit photography after about seven years of high-profile editorial and advertising commissions, and the show is a selection of their archive which narrowly escaped being dumped in a skip a few years ago. [nb. They’re Southend boys, the younger siblings of Graeme Douglas, guitarist/songwriter with Eddie And The Hot Rods]. Until Saturday 24th, Art Project Bermondsey Space, SE1

TWO HENDRIX WALKING TOURS5-hendrixWe’ve missed the Monterey 50 talks, and the Hendrix lessons go on throughout the year, but upcoming are three Hendrix Walking tours. All start in Brook Street at the Handel & Hendrix House. Lasting 90 minutes, they cost £15 each.
1) This tour visits other places where Hendrix lived, including addresses in Montagu Square and Upper Berkeley Street. The walk will also take in venues Hendrix frequented and the location of his last official interview.
2) This tour goes to the site of the studios where Foxy Lady was recorded, the location of The Experience’s first-ever rehearsal, and the venue where the band had their debut performance.
3) Finally, this tour visits the site of a number of venues that Hendrix frequented, including The Speakeasy, Bag O’Nails and the place of his last public performance.

THREE VISIT SERGEANT PEPPER’S HOME5-abbeyroadI hear that the studio visit is excellent (it wasn’t running on the day I was passing) but the shop was a fine second prize. It usually has a small exhibit of rare photos and the actual tape boxes from Beatles sessions, alongside a wide variety of quite cute merch (“I am the Eggman” egg cups, anyone?). And it’s always fun to see the slight chaos as tourists interminably hold up the traffic recreating the Abbey Road cover. Click on the photo to enlarge.

FOUR IN THE WORDS OF SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON, “HELP ME…”5-musos“I can’t do it all by myself…” I was organising my dad’s negatives the other day and came across this fascinating picture of a caught moment, shot on Ektachrome (which has faded to these lovely matt colours). I’m assuming this is after a show, and I think they may be eating my dad’s approximation of Red Beans & Rice, but that’s as far as my knowledge/guesswork goes. So if anyone knows the subjects/situation, please let me know. [Thanks to Charlie Banks for revealing that the woman is Rosina Skudder, occasional vocalist with Ken at Studio 51].

FIVE BUY THE FIRST ALBUM RELEASED ON SOUTHWESTERN RECORDERS!dfdisplay copyHere at last… Forty-eight minutes of Mood Music for a Decaying World! Thrill to the sound of Theramins and eBows and mistreated guitars! Be amused by the attempts to build a song on the howling of coyotes! Hear the appropriation of Baby Dodds’ drumsticks! Find songs written in honour of Twin Peaks (the first time round)! Go to the music player on the right for a taste, and if tempted, go here to order your very own hand-made copy. The first ten orders (I may be getting ahead of myself here) go into a Prize Draw for the chance to win a ticket to go with me to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 28th June to see Old Crow Medicine Show play Blonde on Blonde in its entirety. Bon Chance!

If you’re receiving the e-mail out, 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! Billy Bragg Comes to Tea…

In the late summer of last year, I received an email out of the blue from Billy Bragg.

“Hi Martin”, Billy wrote, “For the past couple of years I’ve been writing a book that seeks to put skiffle into its proper context in British cultural history. My starting point is your dad’s record collection and it ends with Ken playing at the 100 Club the night after the first punk festival held there in September 1976.” [These pictures show the posters on the back wall of the club].

club

He went on to say that Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer – a collaboration between Mike Pointon, Ray Smith and myself that presented Ken’s story as an oral biography – had been a great help, “not only giving me some insight into the British trad scene, but also helping me to understand the importance of New Orleans to both jazz and skiffle.”

Billy wanted to find some pictures that helped to highlight that this was the moment when guitars came to the fore, and the music shifted, setting the stage for the British Pop and R ’n’ B boom of the early sixties. Some were in the Ken book, but there were others left over, so I looked them out and Billy, who was in the East End for family reasons, came to tea. It was great to meet someone so passionate about the story of that time, as well as being what you hoped he’d be – a genuinely nice fellow. So we talked about the romance and inspiration of American roots music of all stripes, and sorted out the most relevant images.

A few days later Billy sent me a few of the chapters, and I was thrilled by the amount love and devotion that had gone into the book. It needed someone who was willing to put the time and effort into researching and reading widely, and in finding those who had lived through those times and still had stories to be told. I know how pleased my dad would have been to see a light shone on this period – to see the story so well recounted, placed in the context of Britain’s post-war years and the American and British music that preceded and followed. From America’s prison farms to New Orleans at the turn of the century, and forward to the birth of rock, it’s not only a remarkable musical journey but also a terrific piece of social history.

It’s a bonus that Billy comes at it from the viewpoint of a working musician, and a political one at that. Following in the footsteps of Pete Frame’s excellent The Restless Generation, Billy puts flesh on the bones of the story – he shows the wild effect that Skiffle, through Lonnie Donegan, had on the youth of Britain and America, a DIY genre that gave a whole generation the means to make their own music, while shoving aside the bland and tired-out variety shows of their parents.

Roots, Radicals & Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World is released on June 1st. I really recommend it. There is a lengthy excerpt [on the music player to the right] of Billy in conversation with Bob Harris at a preview of the book, which took place at Cecil Sharp House. Here’s a short extract.

lonnie

Lonnie Donegan takes centre stage in a photograph from the period, playing guitar and singing into the mic. To his right, Alexis Korner plays mandolin and Ken Colyer strums the guitar slung across his knee. To his left, Bill Colyer sits playing a washboard, while Chris Barber plucks a stand-up bass. This picture embodies a revolutionary moment in British popular music, when the guitar, for so long stuck at the back of the bandstand, an often inaudible part of the rhythm section, comes to the front and takes control. A young Pete Townshend was there to witness this paradigm shift.

The future powerhouse guitar player of the Who was just a schoolboy when he saw Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen at Acton Town Hall, west London. At the time, his father was a professional musician, playing with the Squadronaires big band. Used to the smooth, sophisticated swing played by his father, Townshend was shocked by the primitive nature of the Jazzmen and their crowd. “I was used to the tidy music of my dad’s era. It was messy. He (Colyer) was messy. The band were messy. The audience were messy.” In scenes of seeming chaos that would not have been out of place at a punk gig twenty-five years later, Townshend described how the men were drunk, wore cheap rough duffel coats, some had wet themselves and instead of wearing wrist watches, some had alarm clocks hanging around their necks.

Disorienting though these scenes must have been to the young Townshend, what made a lasting impression on him was the sight of guitarist taking control of the gig by bringing his instrument to the front of the stage. In that moment, he grasped the enormity of what was happening. “This instrument was going to change the world. For me, this was absolutely massive because my father was a saxophone player. I could see the end of my father’s world – I was going to get this guitar and it was going to be bye-bye old timer and that’s exactly what happened.”

Wednesday, 26th November 2014

The Art of McCartney
Released last week, an all-star – and I mean all-star – tribute to Sir Paul. Catching the previews of some of the tracks, the overall feel is pretty safe, which is a shame as McCartney’s recent albums have been sonically adventurous. Steve Miller returns the favour that McCartney did him when they co-created “My Dark Hour” in 1969: “There was a big argument and they [the Beatles] all went, leaving me at the studio. Steve Miller happened to be around: ‘Hi, how you doing? Is the studio free?’ I said: ‘Well, it looks like it is now, mate.’ ” To Barry Miles, Paul recalled, “Steve Miller happened to be there recording, late at night, and he just breezed in. ‘[I said] can I drum for you? I just had a fucking unholy argument with the guys there.’ I explained it to him, took ten minutes to get it off my chest. I thrashed everything out on the drums. There’s a surfeit of aggressive drum fills, that’s all I can say about that. I played bass, guitar and drums and sang backing vocals. It’s actually a pretty good track.” The same can’t really be said of Miller’s versions of “Junior’s Farm” and “Hey Jude”. The only comment on its emusic page is this, from Jules Herbert: “And all at once the life, beauty and air of Paul McCartney’s songs are sucked out of the room. Oh dear.” Dylan, as usual, doggedly goes his own way – he just bolts the chassis of “Things We Said Today” to the wheels of “Things Have Changed” and takes it for a spin.

Bill’s send off
Bill MemWe finally get around to scattering my dad’s ashes (the half that wasn’t scattered in his favourite fishing lake in Scotland by his fellow “Sons of the Loch” a couple of years back, in a fittingly raucous celebration that involved, I believe, some whisky and a recalcitrant boat). By the banks of the Crane River in Cranford, there is now a bit that’s forever Bill. It’s near the site of his and Ken’s childhood home, and was the locus around which the Crane River Jazz Band formed, and from where Ken left to go on his extraordinary journey to New Orleans. Now the jets come in to land at Heathrow, so low that you can see the rivets in the wings. We each wore a badge of Bills’ that related to some aspect of his life: one from the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, one from the Rock Island Line, one from the “Sons”, and his Armed Forces’ Veteran badge. In between the roar of the planes we toasted Bill with his latter-day favourite tipple – red wine, 14%, screwtop, preferably 3 bottles for a tenner. Even Gabe, no wine fan, had a memorial swig as we soundtracked it with songs by Ken that featured Bill. Almost my favourite of these early recordings (“K.C. Moan”, “Go Down Old Hannah”, “Midnight Special”) was the song that you can hear in the music player on the right… “Ja Da”. Ken on cornet, John RT Davies on American organ, Bill, wire brushes on a suitcase. A strange, haunting piece of music that sounds for all the world like it belongs in Eraserhead.

Sidney Bechet gets a Blue Plaque

Bechet
A strange note: Bill was bought home from hospital as a baby to the house that his parents worked at, as cook and chauffeur, which was in Fitzroy Square – by coincidence around the corner from where we currently live. And then today, as we walked up Conway Street, which runs through Fitzroy Square, this plaque, recently put there by the Nubian Jak Community Trust. Wikipedia tells us that, “while in London, Bechet discovered the straight soprano saxophone, and quickly developed a style quite unlike his warm, reedy clarinet tone. His saxophone sound could be described as emotional, reckless, and large.” An excellent description – Bill would be happy. In other Bechet facts, Disneyland’s Tower Of Terror ride features Bechet’s song “When the Sun Sets Down South” as cue music. The ride is a “deserted [since Halloween in 1939] hotel on the dark side of Hollywood”. I kid you not. As Philip Larkin wrote of Bechet… “On me your voice falls as they say love should/Like an enormous yes/My Crescent City/Is where your speech alone is understood/And greeted as the natural noise of good/Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity”. Take it away, Phil.

Amy Jazz Lady
Mosaic by Susan Elliot at the Cube Gallery on Crawford Street. Her work, she says, “is like archiving the cupboards and mantelpieces of a Nation – it’s made out of kitchen tea time crockery, kitsch tourist mementos, novelty mugs, badges, coins, the everyday stuff of domestic living.”

AmyJazz

Not A Wonderful World, Strictly Come Dancing, Sunday
First, we have to come to terms with Barry Manilow’s extraordinary visage, like an animated character rather than a human being. Then we have to come to terms with Barry duetting with the dead, who can’t fight back. The victim here was Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World”, projected on a huge oval screen as Barry either slipped his version of the lyrics in between the cracks left by Satch, or, even worse, scatted after. If Jazz isn’t dead it’s not for want of trying.

 

 

5 Things Extra: Dobell’s Exhibition

Unknown man outside shop, possibly Pete Martin’s wife Joyce behind him.

Unknown man outside shop, possibly Pete Martin’s wife Joyce behind him.

DobellsThe Dobell’s exhibition at my old alma mater, Chelsea School of Art (now relocated in the shadow of Tate Britain and renamed university of the arts london chelsea) was a Proustian rush – who knew that the Museum Of London had collected parts of the original shop when the Tower Street branch finally closed in 1992? The ‘drum’ sign, the record bags, the cover artworks, most of all an original record rack built by my dad – filled in a picture of what it was like to be there, at a time when record shops were part-business, part-clubhouse, and part-preacher’s pulpit. I met two of my old bosses, Les and Gerry, caught up with Leon Parker – whose hard work had made the exhibition happen – and ended up between Donald Smith (the curator) and Jona (“You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties”) Lewie as they both reminisced about Anthony Newley and sang snatches of his songs back and forth, which seemed a strangely appropriate end to the evening.

Richard Williams was there too, and writes here about the story of Dobell’s in a typically astute post on his blog, thebluemoment.com.

Here are some photos – mostly taken by my dad, Bill – of life in the shop in Brighton, with a picture of the more famous London shops at the end.

“Has ‘Trad’ Jazz Had It? Special Investigation.” Those were the days… Don Sollash, my mum Betty and me, and my cousin Ray, Brighton Shop, 1957

“Has ‘Trad’ Jazz Had It? Special Investigation.” Those were the days…
Don Sollash, my mum Betty and me, and my cousin Ray, Brighton Shop, 1957

Early window display. Poor opinion of Elvis Presley expressed.

Early window display. Poor opinion of Elvis Presley expressed.

Early record browsing seals habit of lifetime.

Early record browsing seals habit of lifetime.

Ron & Mina Bowden and Bill look on as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (cut off) play in the shop.

Ron & Mina Bowden and Bill look on as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry (cut off) play in the shop.

Charing Cross Road, Jan 1966, Kodachrome Slide

Charing Cross Road, Jan 1966, Kodachrome Slide

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 12th September

When Harry Met Sammy
I don’t normally like to these posts to be long, but as a piece of writing this is too good to edit down. This reminded me again that things are rarely as they seem, rarely as simple as outsiders perceive—those at the centre of events always have a much more complex perspective. And also it reminded me of the importance of primary recollections…

It started when Barney let me know a couple of months ago about an upcoming Harry Smith Conference, America Changed Through Music: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music at 60, a one-day conference this Saturday September 15th. It’s hosted by the University of East Anglia’s School of American Studies at UEA London, and will explore the impact and ongoing legacy of an extraordinary cultural artefact—whew! I emailed one of the co-directors, Thomas Ruys Smith, as I’d been talking to Sam & Ann Charters about their time with Moe Asch at Folkways Records, and offered to put him in touch. He said he’d be delighted in Sam’s view. And then Sam emailed me with his view, which is brilliant (if off-message…)

“I’ve had a long, complicated relationship with Harry’s set. I first heard it in New Orleans in 1952 just after it first came out—a folk singer named Billy Faier in the French Quarter had it—then when Annie and I first began living together in 1957 the first thing we bought together was the Harry Smith set. $35 dollars—a lot of money for us. I liked some of it—some of it I already knew—and it all seemed to be to be just part of what had been going on with the reissues of old jazz and blues recordings since the 1930s. Fred Ramsey was doing a twelve volume LP reissue for Moe Asch of the history of jazz at the same time and his volume 1 had a lot of the same kinds of material. When I began working with Moe he said that he had been helping support Harry and they both were junking old 78s on 6th Avenue, just around the corner from the Folkways office. All the records in the collection were up in the office and half of the records that went into the set were his. He said that he and Harry had talked a lot about what they wanted from the set and of course it followed the outlines that the Lomaxes had set up in their folk song anthologies. The LPs were fine and fun—but no big deal.

But—for all those sixties teenagers the world began with Bob Dylan, and if he listened to the set it had to be the roots of everything that ever happened in America. Harry was living in the Chelsea Hotel all this time and in all my experiences with him he was a genuine horse’s ass. I had to shut him up sometimes when I was trying to record people in the Village and he kept drifting into Moe’s office begging for money. All his films were there as well, but I had seen a lot of experimental film and I didn’t think these were very exciting. His great things seemed to be the collection of painted Russian Easter Eggs in his hotel room, and his unending repertoire of string games. I edited an album of Allen Ginsberg’s readings and singing from tapes that Harry made in the hotel room, and at least he got a decent sound.

He made some scrawled notes for a Volume 4 and I was given the luckless task of trying to figure out what he wanted to include from his list—which drew down upon my head the wrath of everyone whose lives had begun with the original three volumes. Harry finally couldn’t pay his hotel bill, so Allen moved him in and supported him, which meant that Harry now became an iconic figure, since Allen always made it known that he only hung out with important figures. Before he died Allen set up in his will a legacy to pay for promotion of the Harry Smith legend. The woman who had the job was a fire-eater who often expressed her dislike for me, but I always felt that she was just doing what she was paid to do. There was eventually a Harry Smith celebration at the St. Marks Church on the Lower East Side where Harry was presented as the only person anyone knew who was probably at least as important as Jesus.

So that’s me and Harry—I wish some of these people could somehow see that what happened in the 1950s was just a continuation of the gathering and collecting of vernacular music in the South that had been going on for nearly a century. Everything I learned was from what people like Fred Ramsey and Bill Russell had done in New Orleans and the South in the 1930s—their recordings of musicians like Leadbelly and Bunk Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton—the books and articles and eventually LPs and films. Why does Harry get the credit for something that was much larger than his set? I dunnow.

I did a radio interview yesterday with someone in America who had just read The Country Blues and he wasn’t really aware that these things could have happened so long ago. At least the people obsessed with the blues don’t go on about Harry—they want to talk about the Stones and the other Brits. I try always to talk about other things, but there is always a silence. At least he didn’t ask me about Dylan.

You can certainly pass this on to Tom—a small muted protest.”

Thankfully, Tom felt that it was “a priceless perspective to get on things—a rich account from a significant individual.” As it is. My dad used to include a couple of the tracks when he did record recitals around the country in the late fifties. I found these notes he made about Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s James Alley Blues.

Bill Colyer Record Recital rough notes

Art Garfunkel: Walking/Singing interface
Reports MSN Music: We did not know that Art Garfunkel has been walking as part of his therapy. He’s currently walking across Greece, en route to Istanbul, a journey that began in Ireland and has continued in 100-mile installments over the past 10 years. He tells us: “I am singing while I walk! I sing because I need to find my voice—I’ve had trouble with it over the last two years—and I can’t live without singing.”

Duquesne by Bob Gumpert
Following last week’s mention of Duquesne, Bob sends these fantastic photos.

1986: Duquesne, PA. The abandoned Duquesne Steel Works, and a view of the dying steel town. Photographs by Robert Gumpert

On My iPod, Danny O’Donoghue, Metro
Fire and Rain by James Taylor. “This is such an emotional song and without doubt one of his best. It’s about the time he spent with junkies, in particular a girl called Suzanne.” Ah, Danny, with his simple, inaccurate view of the world…
The song actually chronicled Taylor’s experiences in mental institutions, such as McLean Hospital in Massachusetts as a senior in high school and his battle with drug addiction (The fire in the title refers to his shock therapy). “Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you,” refers to Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend of his who committed suicide while he was away in London recording his first album for Apple Records. Friends at home, concerned that it might distract Taylor from his big break, kept the news from him, and he only found out six months later.

Where’s My Harmonica, Albert? Why, In Beak Street, Bob, At Your Pop-Up Shop…
…just around the corner from Carnaby Street. Underwhelming. I bump into Mark Ellen, whose two-time-listen opinion of Tempest is “Five good songs.” Dead on. Or as my friend Lloyd said, “It’s like one of his theme time radio shows—but just him…”

Bobstore; Cinema downstairs, desultory Don’t Look Back showing; Shop floor and harp.


Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 6th June

Jubilee Concert Song Choices
Cliff Richard. Devil Woman. Wronged man song. “She’s just a Devil Woman, with evil on her mind.” Give that man a knighthood! Oh, they did…
Robbie Williams. Mack The Knife. Song about a murderer. “Now on the sidewalk… whoo, sunny mornin’, Lies a body just oozin’ life.” Don’t harsh my mellow, Rob!
Ed Sheeran. A Team. Song about a junkie prostitute. “Go mad for a couple grams… And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland, Or sells love to another man.” Thanks, Ed!
Tom Jones. Mama Told Me Not To Come. Song about drug-fuelled party. “That cigarette you’re smoking ’bout to scare me half to death.” Delilah. Song about death and adultery. “She stood there laughing—I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more.” Loving the imagery, Sir Tom!
Stevie Wonder. Superstition. “Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin’ glass, Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past.” Hmmmm…

No respite, not even in popular Classical music…
Renee Fleming. Un Bel Di Vedremo (from Madame Butterfly). Deluded woman waits for philandering, unpleasant husband to return.

Best Thing About The Jubilee Concert
Grace Jones. Slave To The Rhythm. The Hula Hoop. Enough said.

The genius of Spy Magazine, now complete and online

Al Hirshfield draws the British editors who made their careers in NYC in the 90s. Diggin’ Anna Wintour as Paul McCartney!

2012-1951
In this Jubilee Week, a look back at the Festival Of Britain, put in mind by a lovely present from the erstwhile jazz drummer Colin Bowden. A framed 78 by the Crane River Jazz Band (on the Parlophone label) of I’m Travelling, with Ken Colyer on cornet and Bill Colyer on washboard. Colin: “That record of I’m Travelling was the first major recording I ever did, because I was in the audience!” Colin was a schoolboy at the time, but went on to become one of the major figures in the Traditional Jazz revival of the early fifties.

Clockwise: Parlophone 78, Bill’s misspelled invite, Princess Elizabeth meets Ken, Programme cover

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