Thursday, October 4th

I’m glad we got the chance to see Charles Aznavour a few years ago, to hear a master at work. Alan Clayson’s choice of ten Aznavour songs in The Guardian was spot on, although ten wasn’t enough to include “It Will Be My Day” and “You’ve Got to Learn”. Find the latter in the music player on the right. In other news this week, the Theremin has reached the mainstream when Graham Norton has a conversation with Ryan Gosling about it, followed by a demonstration, in which Lada Gaga nailed it. Some part of me wants to see Bradley Cooper and Lada Gaga mixin’ it up in A Star is Born. I’m almost tempted to watch Barb and Kris as homework.

Anyway, tonight, thanks to Mark, it’s Vulfpeck. I have no real idea who they are (I think from Brooklyn. No, I’ve checked – Ann Arbor, neighbour to Detroit, Michigan), I’ve heard precisely four minutes of their music (but I liked it a lot, especially the bass player) and I’m looking forward to, uh, getting down in Brixton…

ONE CHARLES AZNAVOUR AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL
From Five Things, 25th November 2015: Charles used the Judas word at the Albert Hall a little while ago, a couple of weeks after Bob was there. Ninety-one, and strutting around the stage like a fit seventy-year-old, he told us stories from his career, rescued “She” from the cawing clutches of Elvis Costello’s Notting Hill cover, and gave a hundred-minute show to an adoring bunch of fans. ‘You know, if you come to be famous, popular, doesn’t matter if you are a singer, actor or politician or anything else, but known – you know what I mean – a money-maker, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an extraordinary entourage of people trying to be helpful in any way – for example, if they found you in bed with their own wives they would pull the cover over you in case you catch cold… [they are] a parasite, until your success begins to decline. So after you have been squeezed like a lemon, the time will come for them to sell you, betray you, to crucify you. I call this song “My Friend, My Judas”.’ What followed was a staggering cross between Barry White and John Barry, with a side order of Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid soundtrack. Awesome.

TWO GIVE THE DRUMMER SOME…*
How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? Ten – one to replace it and the other nine to tell you how Steve Gadd would have done it better.

Weckl, Purdie, Gadd, Paice, Starks & Stubblefield, Earl Young, Steve White. Just a few of the drummers featured in Chris Wilson’s new four-part Sky Arts series, The Art of Drumming, as he crosses continents and genres to talk to the greats. It’s beautifully filmed and full of great quotes. Here’s Earl Young, Philly hero, looking sensational at seventy-eight, on powering Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes: “The pumping bass drum was like a signature, but it’s not just the bass drum. See in the studio, this (points to hi-hat) is the most important feel of a song. Most drummers just use it to keep time, and they worry about this (indicates rest of kit). I worry about this (points to hi-hat), because, to me, this is everything – I hear this as a melody…”

It pays proper homage to New Orleans and the rudiments as it takes us from thrash to jazz. Learn what extreme metal guys owe to Louis Bellson, and let Thomas Lang (Boyzone, The Spice Girls!) blow your mind with his eight-pedal kit. Check your prejudices at the door as Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain talks swing and power: “I’m blessed to play with the best bass player in the world in our genre of music… but I got to be honest, it’s getting harder for me to play that kind of style physically. I’m an old man. I got my railcard last week! Ha!” Bill Ward. Bill Ward of Black Sabbath! Riveting! “I play orchestration-ally. I’m not a very good backbeat drummer… when you play loud and slow music at the same time, there’s just this huge sustaining growl… a wall of sound”, which Bill then goes on to demonstrate vocally.

Bette Midler’s drummer, Daniel Glass, is great on Billy Gussak’s snare bombs on Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” and Earl Palmer’s shuffle variation on Little Richard’s “Lucille”, and Fay Milton of Savages, after playing an extraordinary triplet pattern for the song “The Answer”, tells us that basically, she’s “replicating my own version in my head of what I’m hearing from a sampler from a track that I loved 20 years ago!” Chad Smith of The Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Ian Paice was the first drummer I wanted to play like, so much swing! See, I’m ten years old again!” – is illuminating about Ringo, Bill Ward, and pretty much everyone else mentioned in the programme. Watch as they all play along to iconic tracks while explaining both the mechanics and the soul…

*In “Funky Drummer”, James Brown announces the upcoming drum break, with a request to “give the drummer some.” He tells Clyde Stubblefield, “You don’t have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got…” Stubblefield’s eight-bar unaccompanied “solo”, a version of the riff he plays through most of the song, is the result of Brown’s directions; this breakbeat is one of the most sampled recordings in music.

THREE IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Seen on a bus in Stratford. First, do you think they asked for Lionel’s (or Liooel, as he’ll always be to me) permission? And, second, isn’t Muzmatch just the worst app name that you’ve ever heard?

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FOUR NETFLIX AND CHILLS
More potentially good television. From the press release: An upcoming Netflix docuseries will investigate some of music’s biggest mysteries, including the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley and the murders of Sam Cooke and Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay.

The eight-episode ReMastered will arrive on the streaming service on October 12th with Who Shot the Sheriff?, a look at the role Jamaican politicians and the CIA played in the attempted assassination of Marley, who suffered gunshot wounds to the arm and chest in the incident. The following month, Harlan County U.S.A. documentarian Barbara Kopple co-directs an examination into Johnny Cash’s tumultuous White House meeting with Richard Nixon in Tricky Dick and the Man in Black.

Netflix will stream one new episode of ReMastered every month through May 2019, with the December 2018 episode focusing on Who Killed Jam Master Jay?, the Run-DMC DJ who was killed in a Queens, New York studio in 2002; despite six witnesses, the murder remains unsolved.

Subsequent months bring an investigation into the murder of three members of the Irish group the Miami Showband during the Troubles in Ireland in 1975, the death of Chilean singer Victor Jara at the hands of the Pinochet regime and, in February, a look into the mysterious shooting death of Sam Cooke. ReMastered’s first season concludes with Devil at the Crossroads, about blues legend Robert Johnson and his apocryphal handshake deal with the Devil, and Lion’s Share, about one man’s journey to South Africa to find the true writers behind the hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” ReMastered was created by Emmy award-winners Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist and lists Irving Azoff and Stu Schreiberg among its executive producers.

FIVE BOB CORNER
I usually like Rich Hall and his take on America (from an exile’s perspective), but this promo for his new tour is almost funny (i.e. not funny enough) and pretty mean-spirited. And plain weird to write off everything Bob’s done since 1988, which kinda proves he’s not listening.

Extra! Daniel Kramer’s year with Bob Dylan

Written for Pulp magazine last year.

5-coverBob Dylan: A Year and a Day. Photographs by Daniel Kramer

Edited by Nina Wiener / Art Direction by Josh Baker / Design by Jess Sappenfield
Published by Taschen, hardcover in a clamshell box, edition of 1,965 (cute!)

“In retrospect, it’s clear that Bob was in the process of winding up a very large spring. I didn’t know then 
how much of that spring would be let loose in the coming months.” – Daniel Kramer

On July 20th 1965, Bob Dylan, the star of the Greenwich Village Folk Boom, exploded onto the pop charts. America’s first modern singer-songwriter, Dylan, in the six minutes and thirteen seconds that it took for the epochal “Like a Rolling Stone” to be debuted on US radio, virtually created grown-up rock music. But Dylan’s spectacular reinvention of himself and his music had not just happened overnight – it had been brewing for a while. At the beginning of this astonishing, game-changing period – the like of which had previously been the preserve of fine artists such as Matisse and Picasso – photographer Daniel Kramer found himself, through a mixture of talent, persistence and chance, in the position of recording the highs of an extraordinary year in the life of Bob Dylan.

Having first seen Dylan on Steve Allen’s variety show in February, 1964 (“It was the kind of sound I always liked. It reminded me of a voice from the hills… like a voice that had been left out in the rain and rusted…”) Kramer decided that he had to photograph this performer who was brave enough to play songs about social injustice on a mainstream tv show. He called Dylan’s management: “Naturally I was told Mr Dylan was not available. And so it went. I would call, and they would say no.” Eventually, Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, picked up the phone. “By this time he knew why I was calling. I convinced him that I was a reasonable, completely sane, published, professional photographer. I was caught by surprise when his almost immediate answer was, Okay, come up to Woodstock next Thursday. You can have an hour. Just like that… just like that!”

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So Kramer drove two hours north of New York City on a bright August morning and spent the day following the 23-year-old musician as he read newspapers, played chess, and hung out with Sally Grossman (Albert’s wife) and his own wife-to-be, Sara Lownds. In the early Sixties, Woodstock was still a sleepy burg, a place where Dylan could keep the increasing intensity of life in New York at bay. The pictures are winningly relaxed and goofy, Dylan obviously finding Kramer a copacetic presence, and from that simple beginning, Kramer found himself photographing Dylan on thirty occasions over the next 365 days.

Kramer had come to photography early, aged 14, and later fell into a job working as an assistant at the studio of the fashion photographer Allan Arbus. “His wife, Diane Arbus, also did her darkroom work there – it turned out to be more than just a job. From Allan I learned to manage a studio, work with models, and run the business – and from Diane, I learned to open my eyes a bit wider, to think about my pictures in new ways.” His next gig was assisting Philippe Halsman, legendary Life magazine cover photographer. “From Philippe, I learned how to make light do your bidding, instead of the other way around, and how to choose a decent wine – and that photography could be a great adventure and a pathway to the whole world.”

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From Kramer’s fascinating recollections in the accompanying text, we find that he becomes one of Dylan’s travelling companions. In this role, he’s given both space and time to produce meaningful work. It’s a hallmark of Dylan’s relationships with the producers, musicians and photographers who come into his orbit – once they are admitted, they are allowed to bring their vision with them. Only Alfred Wertheimer on his trips around the country with a young Elvis Presley had such access to a popular star, with similar results – to show the nuts and bolts of the music business and lift the veil at the moment that the cultural plates were shifting.

Listen to any of the session tapes of recent release The Cutting Edge (every single note of music Dylan recorded, complete with false starts and unused takes, throughout 1965, the year of Kramer’s book) and you’ll find that Dylan’s moulding of what’s happening is subtle and understated, only occasionally direct and demanding. And if you met his approval, his world was your oyster. Kramer takes full advantage, producing classic black-and-white reportage backstage, onstage, in cars and cafes.

The book, beautifully laid out, is broken into sections (Woodstock / Town Hall / In the Studio / Bob & Joan / Early ’65 / Forest Hills) by lyrics letterpressed onto heavy matt paper, with Kramer’s excellent narrative set in typewriter, an era-specific evocation of the prevailing technology of the time.

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The sheer size of the book lets you feel that you’re at a really well-curated exhibition, one where the scaling and sequencing of the images are perfectly judged. The detail drawn out of the gorgeous grain of the 35mm Kodak Tri-X film that Kramer used is wonderful, and the book is a much more satisfying way to see these photographs than as individual prints in a gallery.

The colour film that Kramer shot of Dylan, the cover session for Bringing It All Back Home, one of the two albums he would release in 1965 (the other, Highway 61 Revisited, also had a cover shot by Kramer) sits happily at the centre of the book, in a section called “Intermission”. Kramer’s studio shoots (including a meeting at Kramer’s New York studio that would provide the cover for Dylan’s first book, Tarantula) give a break between the reportage either side and show that his earlier experiences in the studio with Arbus and Halsman served him well.

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But first, he needed the persuasive techniques of Bob’s manager to make these shoots happen. After Columbia’s art director, John Berg, refuses to commission the (as he saw it) inexperienced Kramer to shoot the cover of Bringing It All Back Home, Grossman intervenes. “Mr Grossman took us [Dylan and Kramer] to the art director’s office, where he proceeded to make a series of predictions of what bad things would happen [to Berg] if I did not get this assignment.”

Having been present at the recording sessions, Kramer knew that he had to deliver something that related to Dylan’s new direction – and a technique he was working on for a fashion shoot with his 4×5 view camera seemed perfect. It enabled him to make “multiple exposures on one sheet of film while moving, blurring, or keeping sharp parts of any single exposure”, a world away from the fly-on-the-wall 35mm reportage that Kramer had been shooting up to this point.

Arranging Dylan in a room set at Grossman’s Woodstock house, with Sally Grossman draped decoratively on a sofa, Kramer adds elements to make his technique work. “We scoured the house and basement to find things to put in the picture so there would be things to ‘move’ when the camera back was revolved. I wanted to say that Bob Dylan was less a folksinger and more a prince of music. So there in the centre of the turning record is Bob Dylan without an instrument, in this beautiful room, seated with a beautiful woman in a red dress… we were lucky to get one exposure with the cat looking into my lens.” Kramer can’t resist telling us that he and John Berg were nominated for a Grammy Award for best album cover photograph…

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Around this time, a new Dylan snaps into view, as the pages turn from images of joking around with old friends to those of Dylan with an early hero, Johnny Cash. Dylan is about to play one of his last acoustic shows and has morphed from the chubby-faced Chaplinesque troubadour to a more angular and focused presence. Over dinner with Cash, he seems to be burning with a particular intensity, fixing Dan Kramer and Cash both with a piercing gaze.

The next stage is about to begin in earnest, and it will lead to the alienation of Dylan’s loyal fanbase. His artistic horizons are widening to take in Pop Art and filmmaking – from Greenwich Village to the Warhol factory was only a matter of a few downtown NY blocks, but in 1965 it was an artistic chasm. On one side, the gruesomely authentic folksters, on the other, the achingly hip (yet blatantly commercial) scenesters. As Dylan moved inexorably across from one to the other, the air was thick with cries of Sell Out! and worse. Kramer finds himself shooting from the inside out.

A show at Forest Hills with electric backing will plunge Dylan into a maelstrom that the world of rock has rarely seen, as a performer’s desire to follow his muse sees him branded a Judas and pelted with objects. Visually, Dylan’s look begins to assume the sharp outlines of an icon – even in a close-field blur, with Albert Grossman far away in the stands of the Forest Hills stadium, Dylan is instantly recognisable, entering the period where he would be drawn by Milton Glaser as a rainbow-headed visualisation of the grooviness and excitement of the middle sixties.

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And that concert signals the end of Kramer’s travels with Bob. The last shots are of Dylan at one remove from his audience, backlit by blinding spotlights as someone invades the stage, chased by cops. A tour of the US and Europe awaits Dylan, his world accelerating until it culminates in a motorcycle accident that will remove him from the public glare for the following years.

Daniel Kramer moves onto a long and successful career straddling editorial, advertising and motion-picture work, and never photographs Dylan again. And Dylan? Well, he’s still “on the road, heading to another joint…”, not stopping long enough to be pinned down. But we, luckily, have this epic production to linger over, reliving that remarkable year when the times were truly changing.

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The book of Five Things is available from Amazon here.

Front Cover

He writes with the insight of someone who has inhabited the world of the professional musician but also with the infectious enthusiasm of someone who is a fan like anyone of us. He also comes at the subject from an entirely personal, slightly sideways perspective, with no agenda and no product to sell. It’s entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.”

“A terrific book, stuffed to the gills with snippets of news items and observations all with a musical theme, pulled together by the watchful eye of Martin Colyer… lovingly compiled, rammed with colour photos and interesting stories. Colyer has a good ear for a tune, an eye for the out-of-ordinary and he can write a bit too.”

Wednesday, May 2nd

It was a week of strangeness, a week where Gibson went bankrupt, Bob Dylan turned distiller and Prince had a new song out…

ONE “I’M LIKE A BIRD WITHOUT A SONG”
With some synchronicity, there I was talking about Susan Rogers (see the music player on the right) and Eric Leeds, when she’s interviewed by The Guardian for the release of Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. “One day, he went into a room with a notebook and, within an hour, emerged with the lyrics to “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Rogers, who witnessed many such bursts of creativity, remembers, “The song came out like a sneeze.” As usual, she rolled the tapes as Prince laid down instrument after instrument, mixing and overdubbing in the same session (Eric Leeds overdubbed the sax part three days later).”

It starts for all the world like a Harry Nilsson song, a fairground calliope round punctuated by a percussive dah-dah! Then the vocal starts, a tune you know so well that any deviance from the version you’ve loved since 1990 pulls you up short. There’s an unexpected muscularity as the drums and swooping guitar fly in at the end of the first line. It has that loosey-goosey drumming style that Stevie Wonder had when he overdubbed on top of his own drum parts. (Eddie Hinton was another captain manyhands in this regard – try “Watch Dog”). It also has a couple of bluesy turns to the melody which really work, and listen to how Eric Leeds’ tenor picks up on that sour/sweetness beautifully. Susan thought the finished song was “exceptional, in his Top 10”. She was right – it’s a masterpiece. Really.

TWO “I BEEN A MOONSHINER…”
As I write this, son is in L.A. attempting to buy a bottle of Bob’s new signature hootch, Heaven’s Door. According to Clay Risen of The New York Times, “the palate opens with a soft cocoa and buttercream note, then sharpens toward black pepper and cigar tobacco. The finish is slightly bitter, with the sweet spiciness of an Atomic Fireball.” Sounds good, Clay. Let’s hope Gabe hits paydirt. It’s occasioned the release of more pictures of Bob in his ironworking studio, along with inspirational quotes…

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…but there’s a cute bit of the Heaven’s Door site that has a random selection of Bob’s original typescripts for songs. This one, for “Blind Willie McTell” – bootlegged whisky in his hand – has the fabulous (cut) couplet, “Just me and Betty Grable, trying to stay warm…”

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THREE “DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALRIGHT”
While typing, I’m listening to Verona, the last show of the Dylan European Tour (it’s here) which features heavily re-arranged versions of the entire set-list. There’s an intimate and gentle loveliness to pretty much everything played, like the band are gathered around one mic in a triangle of light. Although it’s all very restrained, there are some neat angles to the melody lines (mainly in the form of unison lap steel/guitar features). The version of “Tangled up in Blue” is very odd, but the American Songbook stuff is gorgeous, “Honest with Me” is given a total Eddie Cochran makeover (quite a lot of the gig has a dawn of R&R feel) and “Pay in Blood” has now become a brilliant kind of Weimar Blues. Bob’s own piano playing is on-the-money, operating at the most eccentric end of his spectrum. The interludes in “Ballad of a Thin Man” – well it’s nothing like you’d expect. The whole band sound like they’re having the damnedest time. Good on Ol’ Whiskey Bob.

FOUR RY COODER TOURS AGAIN, AT SON’S INSISTENCE…
Well done, Joaquin! Of course, The Prodigal Son London date sold out instantly. A shame, as Cadogan Hall would be an excellent venue to hear him and his band of young guns play. I managed to get tickets for the gig at the National Stadium in Dublin, the world’s only purpose-built boxing stadium, built in 1939. Wish me luck. I mean, acoustically it could be fine, I just have my doubts… Oh, and someone put this excellent promo film on YouTube recently: Van Dyke Parks’ first music video production at Warner Brothers Records, in 1970. “I headed up a pioneering office that I titled ‘Audio Visual Services.’ Of those several ten-minute documentary musical shorts, I know of only one that survives – ‘Ry Cooder’”. Dig the pick-up truck and Airstream trailer.

FIVE MORTIFICATION CORNER
I’m at the dentist, around the corner from Selfridges. Across from me, looking at his phone is Toby Jones. Who doesn’t love Toby Jones as an actor? Brilliant in his breakthrough role as Truman Capote in Infamous, marvellous as Neil Baldwin in Marvellous (the story of Stoke City Football Club’s kit-man), and fantastic alongside Mackenzie Crook in Detectorists.

I have a guitar with me, which I never do. I hate carrying a guitar around town. I feel a charlatan. I have it because my sister-in-law, Hedda, has asked me to bring it to that evening’s Mark Kermode in 3D at the BFI, of which she is one of the producers. Not to play, you understand, but as a back-up, in case actor Johnny Flynn can’t bring his to the show. Johnny wrote and the theme song for Detectorists, so I’m amused by the coincidence. Dentist visit done with, I head to the South Bank, and to the Green Room. Tonight’s guests are Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror fame and Jessie Buckley and Johnny, who are there to talk about their new film, Beast.

I’m talking to Mark, who says that Johnny won’t be here for the start of the show, and we work out a bit of business where, as Johnny’s introduced, Mark will ask if anyone has a guitar. Guitar secreted under my seat, that’ll be my cue to hold my hand up and pass it to the front. Hilarity will ensue.

Mark asks if the guitar’s in tune, so I say yes but get it out to check. As I’m doing so, Mark then suggests a run through, and pulling out his harmonica, calls Jessie over, and expects me to play along, with Charlie Brooker and Hedda for an audience. The chords for, yes, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” fly from my head, and Jessie’s lovely voice is left to deal with my all-over-the-shop guitar.  Attempting to pull the chords up on the phone is tricky, as the BFI building seems to block 4G signals, but Mark somehow gets them. Not so they fit on a tiny phone screen, however. We go again, there’s much stopping and starting, but it gets the key worked out, warms Jessie’s voice up and allows Mark to sort out the right cross-key for his harmonica.

The show is, as usual, highly entertaining, and Charlie Brooker’s love for the terrifying Magic Roundabout film, Dougal and the Blue Cat, a sight to see. Then Johnny arrives on stage, and he and Jessie try to talk about a film that is almost impossible to without spoiling its taut roll-out of character and tension. Then Mark asks his guests to play a song, and if there’s a guitar in the house. There is. It’s Johnny’s, but no-one’s told Mark so he points me out, and expects me to hand it to him. But I’d been asked to leave mine in the Green Room in case Johnny wanted to familiarise himself with it. And no-one’s told Mark, but it only adds to the rather carnival-esque atmosphere of these shows… All is well, though, and they essay a sweet, skipping version of “Don’t Think Twice”.

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Afterwards, I talk to Johnny about his love of the fingerpicking style of Mississippi John Hurt (listen to the Detectorists theme to check that out), his upcoming live album (and great live albums of the past), Blake Mills’ production of his friend Laura Marling’s Semper Femina (I love how Mills pushed the structures of the music, but he’s not so sure) and his lovely 1934 wooden Resonator guitar (a National Trojan, I think). He’s a lovely guy, great at both things he does, as is the extremely talented Jessie. And, thankfully, I hadn’t seen the excellent Beast before I met them both. That’s all I’m saying.

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Wednesday, January 31st

ONE THE WEATHER STATION, OSLO

5-weatherTim and I stand with our backs leaning on the bar, watching Red River Dialect play their support-set songs, muggily. “It’s like listening to an It’s a Beautiful Day bootleg” says Tim, with unerring accuracy. I’m concerned that the subtlety of Tamara Lindeman’s songs will suffer a similar fate, but as soon as the Weather Station hit the first chord my worries evaporate. I was sent here by a review that Richard Williams wrote (here) and he captures just what makes their gigs so special. “Some of these songs are like the deepest conversations you ever had with someone you care about – and very often they’re like things that were formulated but somehow never got said. On the faster songs she piles lines on top of each other to create a river of thought and feeling. And none of the nuances are lost when she sings them with a band in front of an audience.”

Lindeman and her collaborators create an organic soundworld, and find the new in clever variations on the old. Sonically there are echoes of David Crosby’s chords, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira-era strumming, and, more tellingly, the spectral space found by the Cowboy Junkies when they recorded with one microphone in a church. But that makes the music sound too gentle – there’s a steamroller drive to the faster songs, powered by the bass of Ben Whiteley, who Tim singles out as the player the music seems to revolve around. Erik Heestermans disdains the obvious on drums and Will Kidman’s guitar solos are febrile and brittle in the manner of Richard Thompson. He’s also playing a structural role in the songs, teasing out melodies that Lindeman fleetingly suggests. The basic building blocks of rock – two guitars, bass and drums – hypnotically remade. Seventy five minutes went by in the blink of an eye.

TWO BASQUIAT AT THE BARBICAN
A fantastic show, where Basquiat’s crazed genius shined through. What I had forgotten was just how much he referenced musicians in his work – often an older Jazz than you may expect (Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” and Ben Webster’s “Blue Skies”, say, although his main man was Charlie Parker).

5-BasquiatThere’s also cracking film of August Darnell and Andy Hernandez leading Kid Creole and the Coconuts through their early-80s set in a New York Club. [Polaroid of AD above].

THREE FROM NICK COLEMAN’S NEW BOOK
Voices: How a Great Singer Can Change Your Life, published by Jonathan Cape on 25 January. I’m really looking forward to this. Here’s a bit about Al Green: “We are in New York on Seventh Avenue, high up in the sky in his hotel bedroom. This is my second attempt to interview the Rev. The first time round, which he clearly only half remembers, if at all, from a year ago, we’d got bogged down in thick theological mud. I’d wanted to draw out the lineaments of his faith in order to unravel the fabric of his genius, or something along those lines. Most of all, I’d wanted to uncover the ambivalences that allow him to sing about God like a lover and about Love like a metaphysical poet. This is not possible in 20 minutes. And Al, being a true soul man, had chosen to sing most of his replies in robust Biblical quotation. This was great for me but no use at all for you, dear reader.
So Al, when you’re singing, do you wait for the spirit to come to you or do you summon it? “What magazine do you work for?  in London? Ah, well, I don’t really speak on that subject because it’s a Utopia subject and, anyway, no one is always in the spirit or under the anointing. Not that I know of. And if you sit and wait for it and do what the scripture says – ‘And if anybody ask anything of the Lord, let him be prepared to wait on it’ – you may be waiting a few days. And then your studio time runs out!”

FOUR THE BLOODY BOB MUSICAL, AGAIN…
I saw this review by Caroline McGinn in Time Out. Apart from my obvious disagreement over the production, just check her In My Opinion! “It’s poignant and stirring and totally fresh to see “Like a Rolling Stone” voiced by a middle-aged woman – the electrifying Shirley Henderson as Nick’s wife Elizabeth – who’s losing her inhibitions and her mind. Or the – IMO hokey and forgettable minor ballad – “I Want You”, slowed down and revealed as a sexy, aching, unrequited duet for Nick’s son Gene and yet another character, the girl who’s leaving him for a guy with a real job.”

FIVE DO RE MI
I came upon this while looking for something else. It’s rather fine. Bob, Van Dyke Parks and Ry Cooder play Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” at the Malibu Performing Arts Center in January 2009.

Extra: Girl from the North Country

NOT FARGO, FARRAGO
I decided to spend an afternoon traveling in the North Country fair but sadly wished that I’d never taken leave of London Town. (To see what prompted my going, see Five Things Extra: That Dylan Play, where two friends with opposing views write about it).

Honestly, upfront I have to say that there’s more nuance and depth of character in a silent movie than there is in Girl from the North Country. Yes, I speak as a slightly reluctant attendee, but not because I was proprietorially feeling How dare they… or snottily assuming critical feelings about a work in another medium purloining Bob’s songs to its own ends. I’m not even sure that I would have been offended by Ben Elton scripting a play based around these songs, as he had done for Queen. And – also honestly – the music, arranged by Simon Hale, is delivered beautifully, with sensitive guitar, piano, bass, and fiddle accompaniment that manages to mostly stay away from a Mumford hoedown, and deliver true heft behind some good singing.

But, dramatically speaking, well… Nothing here made me feel that the writer, Conor McPherson, had any understanding of these people and their problems in this small midwestern town. The plot seemed laughably dated, cobbled together from offcuts of Steinbeck, O’Connor, and O’Neill. Slow-witted lunk? Check. Old rich man who thinks money can buy him the love of a poor but pretty girl? Check. Con man masquerading as a bible salesman? Check. Boarding-House owner with debts and a mistress? Check. Black convict trying to escape… I could work my way through the cast, but you get the drift.

There’s an almost offensive use of dementia as a dramatic device, with Shirley Henderson having to play the afflicted wife of Nick, the Boarding House owner. From the back of the stalls she looks too young (even if she isn’t in life) and plays her as a sexually incontinent, gratuitously swearing Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Really. Bits of business at the boarding house ( in a variety of clunky American accents) get interspersed with musical moments that are meant to round out character and story, but for every line that fits, there are two that seem tangential or just plain weird. “Sign on the Window” and “Went to See the Gypsy” (with its mention of “that little Minnesota town”) work at the start, but “Señor” (“Señor, señor, do you know where we’re headin’? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?”) seems to carry a heavier apocalyptic load than these flimsy characters can bear.

And while it was great to hear songs from, say, the Empire Burlesque period, where Dylan’s own versions have weak or unlistenable production, some decisions didn’t come off. Especially in the case of “I Want You”, sung in counterpoint to a reprise of “Like a Rolling Stone”. Slowing the song’s essential skipping beat to a funereal pace and disastrously over-enunciating the lyrics (Musical Theatre Alert!) rendered those beautiful rolling and tumbling lines (“The guilty undertaker sighs/The lonesome organ grinder cries/The silver saxophones say I should refuse you”) dead on arrival. It also contained the unfortunate call and response of…
“How does it feel…” (LaRS)
“So bad…” (IWY)

I thought Bronagh Gallagher the most impressive singer (she also played very tidy drums on a few songs) especially on “Sweetheart Like You”/True Love Tends to Forget”, but I found myself more than once involuntarily leaning forward and putting my head in my hands. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the performance so I had to stop myself emitting weary sighs, but by halfway through the second half, I felt my patience being stretched thin, as thin as the dramatic arc of the story.

Thinking about the success of the play (it’s transferring to the West End soon), and the standing ovations at the finale, I wondered if there are people who go to see every musical in the West End, regardless of type. I heard the people behind me say that they must go home and listen to this Dylan guy, and I don’t mention that as a criticism. What I do think is that the bar is set too low if this farrago gets five stars from Michael Billington in The Guardian.

As I walked back to my car, I scanned through my iPhone for some music to clear my head. Brian Ferry irreverently blasting out “Hard Rain” fitted the bill as I pulled out from the Cut and onto Waterloo Bridge. When, a few songs later, Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd.” burst out of the speakers, I pulled over and listened, powerfully struck by the fact that he paints – with shocking detail – a fully rounded and realised story in the three and a half minutes it takes to play out. Dreams, inequality, racism, celebrity, poverty, politics, and violence. All vividly brought to life. Three and a half minutes. The last two and a half hours is just wasted time.

Extra: That Dylan Play…

hibbing

IT SEEMS THAT I HAVE TO GO TO THE THEATRE…
…which is not my favourite thing to do. But as two friends have opposite opinions on the play that uses Dylan songs throughout, it’s going to be necessary. [Image above shows Hibbing’s High School, Dylan’s Yearbook picture, Dylan onstage with his first band, The Golden Chords, and North Country Girl Echo Star Helstrom].

So here’s Bruce Millar on Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country:

“The first inkling that something was not quite right came early on, as it became clear that the young female actor (20s, early 30s at a pinch) in the lead role was actually playing an aging woman with dementia – well, at least 60, and we are talking about the 1930s, when that age did make you old. Her husband was, appropriately, my age and similarly gone to seed. I know, this is acting, you suspend your disbelief – but as Tom said, is it really not possible to find a female actor of 60-odd who can sing a bit? They’re always complaining of a lack of roles, but here one comes along on the West End stage and it’s snaffled by a youngster. Anyway, for me the production immediately smacked of the school play, with a teenage Lady Macbeth…

The play itself, set in Duluth (the possibly spurious BD connection – I couldn’t make out any dramatic justification for it), seemed to throw in every cliche of American southern gothic literature – the nutter in every family, the sinister and manipulative Bible salesman, the subterranean sexual passions, the wastrel would-be writer son, the washed-up pro boxer – in a not very stylish or original manner, and a couple of thousand miles north of its proper territory.

And then, in a manner rather too reminiscent of Abba – The Musical, the cast burst into song every now and then. Some of the singing was good, and there was nothing particularly wrong with the interpretations, but it slowly dawned on me that this was a Crime against Art. Recorded or live, these songs, mostly from the 60s and 70s, are all very precise, but at the same time extraordinarily open-ended; they play on the imagination, suggesting multiple meanings, feelings and depths, in a way that few songwriters have ever achieved so consistently (which is probably why the Nobel committee gave Dylan the literature prize).

Shoe-horned into this derivative drama, each song seemed to have been limited, confined, diminished, flattened and emptied-out; there was no charge, none of the reverberation that I value in the originals. It was strange to hear these great songs transformed into something so small.

Over an interval drink, Tom and I decided to cut our losses and head for Dunkirk instead. I’ve got pretty catholic tastes and am both patient and mean enough to want to get my money’s worth – the last time I walked out of a film or play was 40 years ago (strange how some things stick in the mind). I haven’t seen what the professional reviewers make of Girl from the North Country – I’ll be particularly interested in Ann Treneman’s review in the Times (if she reviews it), given that she is an admirer of Dylan. My prediction is that lazy subs will probably run headlines saying For fans of Dylan only; I would reverse that, but even then advise against going.”

And here’s Mick Gold:

“It’s a funny beast but I recommend it. Twenty songs in search of a play? Stuck in 1934 Duluth with the Eugene O’Neill Blues again? Set in a Depression era rooming house in the city where Bob will be born in seven years time, McPherson’s play floats in a fragmented way on a sea of songs. The good news is the cast and the music are wonderful. Worth the price of a ticket just to see Bronagh Gallagher (of Pulp Fiction fame) play the drums.

When a falsely accused black pugilist enters stage left, you can guess what is coming, but when the inevitable “Hurricane” blows the audience away, it’s done with massive energy. To my ears some outstanding young singers in the cast (Sheila Atim, Arinze Kene). Jim Norton, who did a brilliant job of reading the whole of Ulysses for Naxos discs, plays a seedy old man.

“Jokerman”, “Slow Train”, “Duquesne Whistle”, “Like a Rolling Stone” and many more are all done with great artistry and emotional impact. There was the occasional tear in my eye. If this were a boxing match I’d score it Play 3, Bob 5. But the reason the music is so good is McPherson does have some strange and poignant ideas about not making the songs too obvious. And the rhyming of 1934 Depression-era Main Street USA and 2017 zero-hours UK is convincing.”

Thursday, May 25th

ONE LIL BUCK
Dance is my Cultural Achilles Heel™ but I overcome it to marvel at this, filmed while the Shchukin collection was at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. “I was born in Chicago,” Lil Buck says, “Raised in Memphis, Tennessee…” Well, that’s a blues lyric right there.

5-Lil

“It’s a dance style that started with Memphis underground rap music, and that music, the way it was produced, gave us a certain bounce. When I was around 16 years old I got into ballet. We made a deal with this artistic director that we would teach hip-hop, and they would teach us ballet…” There’s a moment at 2:45 in front of Picasso’s Three Women that is just astounding, but it’s not the locale, or the music, or the amazing art – this would be as strange and beguiling wherever it was performed.

TWO “I WAS HIS PERPETUAL +1”
In the 80s Mark and I went to see, more than once, Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, a band that consisted of eight brass players and one drummer. The man on the non-brass instrument was Phillip Wilson. A great drummer, he was equally adept at keeping the band ticking and purring through the buildup of “Saving All My Love for You” as slashing and slapping back at the horns as they riffed violently to the song’s climax. It was a holy noise, great on record but best experienced live. The only other things I knew about Phillip Wilson were that he was involved in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and that he had drummed with the Paul Butterfield Band around the end of the Sixties. This fascinating interview by Ethan Iverson with David Sanborn, the sax player, is about how important Wilson was to Sanborn.

“Through Phillip, I met Lester Bowie, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett. Lester was the comedian king: like the wise philosopher of St. Louis but funny and fearless. Phillip and Lester did not discriminate about styles of music. Lester played in a circus band, society gigs, straight-ahead gigs. He played with Jimmy Forrest. He met his wife Fontella “Rescue Me” Bass on a gig with the Clara Ward Gospel Singers. Everyone had a day job except for Lester. Julius Hemphill sold furniture, Oliver Lake worked in the post office, Phillip worked as an arc welder at McDonnell Aircraft. Phillip worked at McDonnell all day, like from six in the morning to three or four in the afternoon, and he might have gone home and slept a bit before playing and hanging all night. Sometimes we would be hanging at like four in the morning and he’d say, ‘I’ve got to go home, change my clothes, and go to work.’”

THREE WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE
I loved this pastel drawing, a forgery passed off as Bob Dylan’s work a week or so ago, but actually a rather great picture of The Band. As Richard Manuel sang “The hoot owl and his song, will bring you along / Where else on earth would you wanna go?”

5-band

FOUR “MY HEAD SAYS NO! BUT MY HEART SAYS GO!”
This NY Times video, by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, is simply people climbing up a Ten Meter Diving Platform and jumping off. The twist is that none of them has ever done it before, and it takes some negotiating, either with friends or themselves, as they build up the courage to do it. And the reason that I’m writing about it is that the editing of the film is so brilliant, and the sounds are as important as the visuals. Tension and release personified – finger clicking, nervous scratching and deep breaths before the screams and the splash.

FIVE SPIRITLAND
Tim and I meet at Spiritland, somewhere that I’ve been meaning to go to since it opened. Then a couple of days later, Oobah Butler on Mr. Hyde wrote a piece on it that perfectly summed up my mixed feelings about it.

“Novelty has become the lifeblood of London. Most new spots open with a sideways glance, crazed gurn and elbow nudge, rather than straight-faced sincerity. But a new hero is bucking the trend: Spiritland, the “listening bar” in Kings Cross that’s “a paradise for anyone from the aficionado to the curious”. It definitely takes itself seriously, from its one-of-a-kind speaker system to DJ sets from big names like Hot Chip and Jarvis Cocker. And that’s great! But one issue: what the hot hell is a listening bar? Dudes in At The Drive-In T-shirts who occasionally look up from their William Burroughs novel to give an appreciative nod? An immersive experience that leaves no room for anything but absorbing tunes? One so intoxicating that it can get you drunk on music? I tried to stay sober on a Thursday night to find out.

Spiritland is tucked away in a ghost town of half-finished apartment buildings, mournful Bella Italias and broad, empty streets. It’s a diverse crowd, but everyone has one thing in common: we’re sat in a spartan room with dinner and drinks, facing The Bloody Big Music Blaster. Neither imbalanced nor throttling, the setup sounds wonderful. It’s official: I am woozy; totally drunk on music. But getting there requires an indulgent, eyes-closed isolationism that goes against its appeal to groups going out. You can have a table-banging debate about zero-hours contracts with the squad, or you can surrender to sound and fully appreciate the tech. Doing both is harder.

There’s also the Dad’s-cologne whiff of pragmatism over the layout. If you were to place all your focus on the listening experience, you wouldn’t have so many tables right at the front. The speakers would creep away from the wall. You wouldn’t serve food. So Spiritland finds itself in a no man’s land, ostensibly appealing to both the casuals and the committed, but not being quite right for either. But this is probably as music-obsessed as we can get in London 2017 – it could have been more dedicated elsewhere in Europe, but the closure of clubs and gig venues shows we turned our backs on music. So I order a beer, relax and enjoy Spiritland for what it is: an imperfect yet inventive space for a bit of small-group musical nerding.”

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Monday, March 27th

Have you noticed how nearly everyone interviewed on either TV or Radio nowadays prefaces the start of their answer with “So” followed by a brief but weighty pause, as if they are lecturing a slightly witless teenager? I’ve decided to get in on the act this week.

So. Here goes…

ONE OF THE BEST PIECES OF WRITING I’VE READ RECENTLY
So, Liam Noble is a jazz [I’m not even sure that kind of nomenclature is serviceable anymore] pianist who writes like a dream. Everything on his blog, Brother Face, repays reading – this is his latest, which tells of his job transcribing thirty of the Bill Evans Trio’s performances for a publisher – “Anyway, back to Bill Evans. After four months the job was done. I walked away a new man. I walked away a hollow corpse, eaten away by the parasite Bill Evans. I couldn’t play a note, because every note that came out was his, and so I tried to blank him out, and to override this I had to think of “someone else” and how they would play the same thing. So now there were three of us…” Brilliant.

SO, TWO THE MINIMALIST TURNTABLE

wheel

From What Hi-Fi: “For the space-conscious, here’s your turntable. New Kickstarter project Wheel by Miniot is a wheel that plays records. There’s no visible tonearm, no cartridge and nothing but a platter. Everything is built into the platter, including the belt drive, linear tonearm and amplifiers. It’s controlled by the stick in the middle. Turn it to start the record playing, then turn it again to adjust the volume. Tap the top to pause it, or prod the side to skip a track or go back one. It works either horizontally or vertically, so can be wall-mounted. What could be simpler?”

TRIPLE SO, THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR BOB…
There’s a fascinating interview with Bob by Bill Flanagan (whose Written in My Soul is still one of the best books on the stuff and nonsense of songwriting) on bobdylan.com, for the release of Triplicate.

Up to the sixties, these songs were everywhere – now they have almost faded away. Do they mean more to you when you hear them now? “They do mean a lot more. These songs are some of the most heart-breaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them, and lived through them, I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.”

When you see footage of yourself performing 40 or 50 years ago, does it seem like a different person? What do you see? “I see Nat King Cole, “Nature Boy” – a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That’s a different person than who I am now.”

FOUR OVER ON TIMELINE
So, Jim Marshall is the great photographer of Rock Music, 1964 to 1970, and this is about his posthumous show, Jim Marshall, 1967, running in San Francisco at the moment. Here’s a favourite shot from Proof, a great book of his photos, of Elizabeth Cotton and Mississippi John Hurt at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964 (did I say that he was a great Folk and Jazz photographer also?)

marshall

FIVE PLAYLIST FROM LUNCH WITH GEORGE FOSTER
As we talked of Spiritland and Gearbox Records and Brilliant Corners (mostly new to me, of course) we listened on George’s extraordinarily hi-fi system. Here’s a partial playlist:
“Trouble Man”/Rickie Lee Jones (the string bass sounded huge – it could be Richard Davis (of Astral Weeks fame, for non-jazz fans), or Mike Elizondo (of Eminem fame) or Paul Nowinski, but, whoever it is, they pin you to your seat.
“Blues in the Night”/Julie London (Big, brassy and sassy, with an amazing vocal sound and a gorgeous ending).
“Deep River”/Horace Parlan and Archie Shepp (in honour of Mr. Parlan, RIP).
“Speak Low”/Karin Krog, Warne Marsh & Red Mitchell (I had no knowledge of the extraordinary Ms Krog, but the interplay of her voice, the sax and the bass is something else – as is the Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash song – written for the musical, One Touch of Venus, a collaboration with librettist S. J. Perelman. Now that’s a rehearsal room you’da wanted to be in, in 1943, no?. As Nash wrote: “Time is so old and love so brief/Love is pure gold and time a thief…”
“Poinciana”/Keith Jarrett Trio. We ended up by watching Keith Jarrett in Japan, playing “Old Man River” solo, which goes from contemplative to gospel to baroque through Billy Taylor, Broadway and Carole King (I swear!) in exquisite fashion.

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Monday, March 6th

ONE MOST EXCELLENT SHOP OF THE WEEK
In Paris (feeling unfettered and alive, natch) I search for La Galcante, the shop from a magazine junkie’s dreams. It’s off a small Rue in Paris, hidden behind an archway. I had discovered its existence in this article in Christie’s online magazine, where they accurately describe it as a treasure trove of ephemeral publications. I was ushered into the vaults in search of various artistes, where I came across this hilarious Rock & Folk cover (“au service du rockn roll depuis 1966”). Elsewhere in the shop, Elvis Costello popped his head up…

galcante

“We have tickets, envelopes, bills. We are interested in every type of paper.” Pierre Aribaud leans over the counter, smiles and starts rolling a cigarette. Aribaud is a seasoned documentaliste at La Galcante, a unique Parisian emporium offering papiers anciens – newspapers, magazines, postcards, photographs, maps, journals – to curious collectors. It’s like Google, just with dust motes and silverfish.

TWO JAZZ! NICE…
Nick Hornby, Esquire magazine UK, 25th anniversary edition:
“The last couple of years, I’ve finally got jazz. I know it’s the cliché of my age, but it’s fantastic. I was reading something and suddenly thought I was fed up of everything I listen to being in 4/4 and sounding more or less the same, I’d like to hear something different. I found the right jazz and that was that.” Frustratingly Nick doesn’t tell us what the “Right Jazz” was for him.

THREE BOB DYLAN SHOPS FOR TIES…
… with Alan Price (and his ever-present bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale). Here’s a short excerpt from a fascinating post written by Michael Chaiken, curator of Bob Dylan’s Archives for the Helmerich Center for American Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma: “The archive boasts hundreds of hours of live recordings, going back to Dylan’s earliest coffeehouse days and continuing into his recent tours. There are many instances in the archive where a song can be studied from its initial iteration on paper, to the moment Dylan first stepped to the microphone to record it, through to its reinvention over several decades onstage. A good example of this is “Tangled Up in Blue”, from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks – it’s a song that began on paper with the title “Dusty Sweatbox Blues”, whose first studio take was a solo acoustic performance; it was ultimately released on record with a full band and has since had its lyrics and tempo radically altered in live performance. The ability to trace out this evolution is among the archive’s greatest strengths.” The article is full of teasing references to material as yet unshown (if you’re a Dylan nut, that is), and this short piece of original footage from Dont Look Back is just great. The young shop assistant who gurns at the camera wouldn’t look out of place in the Arctic Monkeys…

FOUR LARRY ON LEVON
From a nice interview in Vintage Guitar magazine with multi-instumentalist and producer Larry Campbell:
Talk about playing in a band with Levon as the drummer… “Oh, man! You have never played a blues shuffle until you’ve played a blues shuffle with Levon Helm. It’s like you’re sitting in a hammock, rocking in the breeze. The guy was nothing but feel. Finesse had nothing to do with Levon’s drumming. There was no distance at all between who he was and what he did. Every note he sang, every beat he played, every strum on the mandolin came out of him as naturally as breathing. That kind of immediate, honest expression is irresistible. You can’t not be moved by that…

It’s not like he had perfect time or he played the most interesting fill or that he had a huge vocabulary on the drum kit – but none of that stuff mattered. What mattered was the way he would make a song feel… it was a lesson in simplicity. I’ve played with other drummers who, technically, could run rings around Levon. And I’m not saying that’s something you should avoid; a lot of different drummers knock me out. But Levon had his particular thing that was unique to him, and it was always a great place to be. Never failed.”

FIVE THE PRE-INAUGURATION CONCERT
I was going to write a 5 Things extra on this extraordinary (for all the wrong reasons) show, but too much time has passed – and Dave Holmes on Esquire.com did a great job [read it here]. Some observations, though, with a couple of excerpts from his piece. I was watching it on CNN, and it started with Trump saluting Abraham Lincoln, as the Stones’ “Heart of Stone” blasted out the PA. Dave Holmes: “You know – the song about two lovers who, try as they might, cannot feel honest emotion for one another. They have been too wounded by the events of their past to risk getting hurt again, so they just remain ice-cold. Lonely together. Numb. Donald and Melania introduce themselves to America as her new First Couple to that song, and then take their seats behind bulletproof glass. So that’s fun…”

Next came the shockingly named Frontmen of CountryTM to sing a bunch o’ songs about ’Merca, including Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”. I thought that if, as the song has it, WC Handy did look down over America today, really, he’d think it was just the same-old-same-old. And the First Lady seemed somewhat bored –no-one seemed to have clocked that a 15-minute country medley may, in the cold of a late afternoon in Washington, seem to last an hour. Holmes in Esquire: “She said, Tell me are you a Christian child?/And I said Ma’am I am tonight!” As are all in attendance, ceremonially Christians for the night, Christians who leave out the parts about feeding the hungry and having compassion for the poor and loving your enemies and turning the other cheek and casting out the moneychangers and welcoming refugees and that whole bit about how a camel will pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man gets into heaven. Other than that, super Christian. Anyway, getting back: Memphis!

trump

Mildly headbanging – yet shockingly generic – rock poured out over the crowd, as huge video screens showed Chinooks and attack boats and drones and gung-ho militarism. Trump, in the manner of someone who knows cameras are trained on him, tried to keep in motion, pointing at things the audience couldn’t see, but he was also looking over his shoulder in a slightly weird way, almost at the crowd, but never quite meeting its eyes. Melania looked like she may have only just realised that the next four years will largely consist of smiling at a bizarre parade of “entertainment”, and meeting people she will not be able to feign interest in. The parade followed with YouTube sensations, The Piano Guys, and a bunch of silver-suited numpties dancing as DJ Ravi drummed his heart out to no great effect.

Here we moved into the realms of the tragically talentless. Truly the March of the Mediocre on Washington… Toby Keith attempted to set country music back, oh, only 50 years or so, with lyrics of the “whiskey for my man, beer for my horses” kind. You really felt for all the people who live in Nashville, tarred by this brush. By the end, after fireworks were accompanied by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in an arrangement that Mitch Miller himself would have passed on for being too cheesy, the CNN reporters covering the whole affair looked askance and said, “Now we’re listening to “Don’t Stop Believing” – like it’s the last episode of The Sopranos!”

I’ll leave the summing up to Dave: “There’s some good country music out there, but most of it is sung by millionaires, droppin’ their Gs, namin’ American states, sayin’ aw shucks and singin’ about pickup trucks and then goin’ home and not givin’ a shit about their actual audiences. Modern mainstream country panders so hard, every song might as well start with Hey, listener: have you lost weight? Trump taught himself how to do this too, which is why 63 million Americans think a guy who lives inside a bar of gold in midtown Manhattan gives one single damn about them.”

AND FINALLY…
Towards the end of last year I wrote a piece for eye magazine – a major profile of Peter Brookes, the Times’ political cartoonist. I had the thoroughly enjoyable tast of interviewing Peter in his office early one morning before he began that day’s task.

brookes

And in researching images for the story, I came across this great Time Out cover of Frank Zappa, from the golden era when Pearce Marchbank was the art director (Peter and Pearce were at Central School of Art together). eye is out now…

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Wednesday, November 16th (late!)

 A week for Art and Guitars, starting with a trip to Bond Street…

ONE SOLACE IN ART
Searching for something to lift my spirits on the ninth of November, I turn first to the Halcyon Gallery in New Bond Street for the latest in Bob Dylan’s series of exhibitions there (it’s on until December 11th). I tried to feel what a rather over-emotional Jonathan Jones did when he reviewed it for The Guardian, but didn’t come up trumps. I liked some of the large canvases, and it was entertaining, but fell slightly short of compelling. There was a cool wall with Daniel Kramer’s On a Triumph in Woodstock shot, a video player and a set of stats… I was leaving as one of the visitors got into a rather intense discussion of the merits of Bob’s style with the curator. Her point – if it wasn’t Dylan who had done them, they would not have merited a large and fulsome West End showing. I stayed long enough for the blood to be mopped up and the combatants to agree to a draw.

bob

TWO MORE SOLACE IN ART
Then to the Bowie show, right across the road at Sothebys. It’s interesting to see how well auction houses now display their sales. This had full-wall graphics and comprehensive captions, and a nicely displayed selection of objects that ran the gamut from painting to, uh, furniture (mostly Ettore Sottsass and Memphis objets, including his red Valentine typewriter for Olivetti, of which he said, it was “the sort of thing to keep lonely poets company on Sundays in the country”).

bowie1

The audience for this melange was a fascinating bunch – wild-haired men from the fringes of rock, mingling with Eurotrash art dealers, busy edging their way past German art students and Japanese tourists. Oh, and there was the odd East End Camp Criminal-type, all shined shoes and classy cashmere coat, to give it the full Performance vibe. It was as catholic a collection (people and art) as you could imagine, Bomberg to Basquiat, via St Ives.

bowie2

THREE IT’S NOT ART…
but you gotta love this. Vintage Reggae record sleeve photography geographically located in the here and now. And how lovely to be reminded of the fabulously named Smiley Culture. It’s one of those name that makes you break into a grin if you say it out loud, much like the name of Michael Jackson’s one-time spiritual guide and rabbi (I know, I know) Schmuley Boteach, does.

covers

FOUR I MENTIONED GUITARS…
So check out these babies, from an auction a couple of weeks ago. These were my favourites, but the one on the left takes the biscuit: Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar, 1954, serial no. 5238, with Parsons-White Pull-String, owned by John Beland, Flying Burrito Brothers. It is signed extensively, including Roger McGuinn, Chet Atkins, Thumbs Carlile, Ricky Nelson, James Burton, Ray Price, George Jones, J.J. Cale, Charlie Pride, Glen Campbell, Dickey Betts, Merle Travis, Roy Nichols, and others, with case.

guitars

Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar, 1953, the body with hand-tooled leather wrap, with flight case stenciled WAYLON/NASHVILLE TN and bearing the tag of Waylon Jennings’s trucking company, Road Inc. Fender Musicmaster II/Mustang Prototype Electric Guitar, 1967, from the workbench of Leo Fender, Daphne Blue body, Candy Apple Red headstock, the body exhibiting prototypes for the three-bolt Micro-Tilt neck adjustment and a Jazzmaster-style tremolo system, with hardshell case. Gibson Style U Harp Guitar, 1908, serial no. 8618, factory order no. 1004, with original hand tooled leather case. Their estimates were all pretty high and all 4 went unsold.

AND, FINALLY, FIVE A SHAMELESS PLUG
Rocksbackpages’ excellent new compendium of Joni Mitchell articles and interviews is now available – go here. As Barney says in his introduction, “Included in Reckless Daughter are some of the most open and thoughtful interviews Mitchell has ever given, as well as some of the finest snapshots of her complex, often spiky personality.”

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