Tuesday, June 28th

ONE THE MOST TIMELY QUESTION IS, WHY?

beatlesFrom this month’s issue of Vanity Fair, the maestro Beatles watch. Aesthetically a complete non-starter, this is what you get: “The 13 Beatles’ album titles are written all around the bespoke dial, with a special “Help” index at 4 o’clock which recalls the cover of the iconic album released in 1965. The silver galvanic dial matches the polished steel bracelet. It features the official Beatles logo and a date window at 3 o’clock. This unique timepiece paying tribute to the legendary Fab Four is limited to 3,000 pieces.” A “Help” index?You can join the discussion at #RWThe Beatles.” What discussion? Who’s discussing this? “It retails at around £950.” I know, I know, we can’t wait ’til we get to the shop… “Each maestro Beatles will be presented with a dedicated watch case celebrating the music icons. An impressive drum with the official Beatles logo decorates the top of the box.” Believe me, the drum box is not impressive…

TWO THIS IS WHAT THEY WERE LISTENING TO FIFTY YEARS AGO IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA…! KHJ29June66.jpg

THREE THE QUIETEST MUSIC VIDEO EVER
Greenpeace: “Through his music, acclaimed Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi has added his voice to those of eight million people from across the world demanding protection for the Arctic. Einaudi performed one of his own compositions on a floating platform in the middle of the Ocean, against the backdrop of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier (in Svalbard, Norway).”

 

FOUR CRUISING UP PARK LANE AT NIGHT IN A DROP-TOP MERC…
…with Joan Armatrading’s “Love & Affection” and “Down to Zero” on the sound system. An enjoyably bonkers Chelsea School of Art reunion/event ended up with a lift in Kwok’s new car with a suitably late-seventies soundtrack. I was recently reminded of her odd, stern, almost solemn voice when I watched current act Rationale on Later… with Jools Holland. And those songs still sound unusual as pop hits…

FIVE SNAP SHOT!
Loving the groovy table at Snap Gallery – the place for all your Rock music photographic needs. I remember Guy’s first gallery in the Custard Factory in Birmingham, which, if memory serves me well, featured Daniel Kramer’s photos as its opening exhibition.

! snapdesk

And now Dan Kramer returns to Snap in Piccadilly Arcade for A Year and a Day: “Daniel Kramer first photographed bob Dylan on 27 August 1964 in Woodstock, and his final photographs of Bob Dylan were taken on 28 August 1965, just over a year later. Dan was in the studio when Bob Dylan recorded Bringing It All Back Home, and took the Grammy-nominated cover photograph for that album, and its follow up Highway 61 Revisited. He photographed Dylan live in many guises – solo, duetting with Joan Baez (triptych, below), and in his final session, electrified with The Hawks at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium – and behind the scenes, relaxing off stage with friends.”

! snapdylan

AND ON THE MUSIC PLAYER…
to the right, from last week’s post, hear Van Morrison and the Caledonia Soul Orchestra awesomely funk up “Sweet Thing” as John Platania’s guitar and David Hayes’ bass burn up the Rainbow. From the recently released It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Volumes II, III and IV.

For the full 5 Things experience, please click on the Date Headline of the page in the email and you will go to the proper site (which allows you to see the Music Player). Also all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Tuesday, 21st June

ONE I THINK WE’VE REACHED PEAK ROCK ’N’ ROLL…

brides

Complete with a David Bowie tribute (why?) a drugstore guide (wrong kind of drug reference, no?) and, from the glorious inside pages, a typical R ’n’ R Bride pull quote.

TWO CHIPS MOMAN, R.I.P.
At the turn of the millennium Chips Moman sold some of his astonishing guitar collection at Christies. My pal Mark went along, said Hi to Chips, didn’t bid, gave me the catalogue. Here is the jewel of the collection, although for me it was given a run for its money by the Coral Sitar, as featured on From Elvis in Memphis (where it was played by the sublime Reggie Young) and on “Cry Like a Baby” by The Box Tops.

scotty

The price realised by the 1956 Gibson Super 400 CES was a staggering £67,550, but as the man says, “This guitar is believed to have been used on more hit records than any other comparable instrument in pop history.” Originally purchased by Scotty Moore, the guitarist with Elvis Presley’s backing band, it became known by other musicians and fans as “the blonde Elvis guitar.” Among the Presley records on which Scotty Moore used the guitar were All Shook Up, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and One Night. In addition, Scotty is seen playing the guitar in the Elvis Presley feature films Loving You and Jailhouse Rock. According to Chips, Moore would get annoyed with Elvis for playing around with the guitar he described as “his pride and joy.” Scotty: “In 1963, I was working at Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, TN. We needed some equipment for the studio for which funds were not available. Chips Moman owned his studio in Memphis, American, and he had the set of vibes which we needed. I had recently acquired a new guitar and had the old one available, which Chips wanted for the historical value. The guitar was traded for one set of vibes, a small classic guitar, and $80.00 cash.” Was that ever a bargain…

Chips regularly used the guitar during his own recording sessions, both as a player and a producer. It was used on literally hundreds of sessions between 1963 and the early 70s, appearing on several hundred hit records, including Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” and “Never Loved A Man” and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” Session guitarist Reggie Young played the guitar on Elvis’s 1969 sessions in Memphis, which produced the hit singles “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto.”

THREE SOUND OF THE WEEK
Working with French photographer Lionel Derimais on a book project about his time living in China, he shows me this: flocks of pigeons in Beijing, with whistles attached to their tail feathers.

FOUR WHILE I’M HAPPY TO HAVE MORE FROM THE VAN VAULTS…
…in the shape of It’s Too Late To Stop Now Volumes II, III and IV, I’ve got to say that the packaging sucks. There are seventeen photos of Van (yes, I counted them), all essentially variations of the same shot, but none of the wonderful Caledonian Soul Orchestra (unless you count a couple of fuzzy B&W’s of saxophonist Jack Shroer). Why downgrade the input of one of the great bands in rock? Also, there’s just a perfunctory liner note, but no context-setting essay, no reminiscences – in short, no great effort. I still have to watch the DVD of the Rainbow show, but hey – poor work, Sony Legacy. In the music player to the right, hear the Orchestra awesomely funk up “Sweet Thing” as John Platania’s guitar and David Hayes’ bass burn up the Rainbow.

FIVE BOB FINALLY PLAYS A REQUEST SHOUTED OUT FROM THE AUDIENCE!
It’s just not for one of his songs
In other Bob news, this sent by Bob G: Mikael Wood in the LA Times site on Dylan at the Shrine: “What a treat it was to hear someone at this stage in his career playing what excites him now rather than what excited him 3 million years ago.”

For the full 5 Things experience, please click on the Date Headline of the page in the email and you will go to the proper site (which allows you to see the Music Player). Also all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

Friday, June 3rd

ONE BOBBY CHARLES ROLLS ON AT THE EE STORE!

! ee

TWO WE WATCH VICTORIA
Shot in one real-time take, be immersed in a young Spanish woman’s night out gone wrong. It’s breathless and brutal and has a terrific score by Nils Frahm. “We were given unusual creative freedom by approaching the movie together with [director] Sebastian Schipper, who was keeping the production and direction to one single team. The score was recorded in a special location, the former GDR broadcasting production facilities that today host Studio P4. We simply put a big screen in the middle of the room, filled it with microphones and instruments, set the movie on loop and kept improvising on top of it together – my good friends and I.” Frahm had wondered if such a unique film even needed music, but his score becomes a compelling part of the whole experience. Afterwards, we sat asking each other questions – how did the cinematographer avoid getting any of the crew in shot? how scripted was the dialogue? would a traffic jam stop them reaching their next set of marks? I’d watch it again tomorrow.

THREE PAY DONNIE HERRON HIS DUES, REVIEWERS!
I don’t think I’ve seen more than a cursory mention of Donnie Herron in the Fallen Angels Dylan album reviews (or, for that matter, in those for Shadows in the Night) but his pedal steel playing on both records takes the instrument in new orchestral directions. It’s never over-sweet or brash – it’s luscious, swooning and widescreen. Too often the discussion of Dylan centres on his voice (or lyrics) to the exclusion of truckloads of great, inspired musicianship. I was pointed to this great article by legendary engineer Al Schmitt on the recording of Shadows in the Night, where he talks eloquently about the process of recording live: “At one point Schmitt did suggest some kind of mixing process, but Dylan had other ideas. “We wanted everything to sound like it was done at the same time in the same room,” the engineer recalls. “I rode the fader on his vocals, and I panned everything pretty much as it was in the room, apart from the electric guitar, which I panned to the left, opposite the pedal steel. I placed the bass where I felt it should be, which was not too loud. At end of the session we listened back to the final takes, and that was it. Dylan decided which take of each song he liked best, and that one would immediately be locked as the master. When I mentioned mixing Dylan said: ‘No, I love the way this sounds.’  …It really was just the way records were made in the old days! In those days you could not edit or fix things, and so you had to do the take when things were emotionally right. And you chose the take that had the feel on it. This is why so many records from back then are so much more emotional and touch you so much more deeply. Today everything is perfect, and in many places we have taken the emotions out of records.”

FOUR FOUND IN A FLEA MARKET, RIGHT UP CALUM*’S STREET…

! singles.jpg

A box of 16 singles from the 50s/60s. Ranging from the Red Army to Mahalia Jackson. Mine for 10 Euros. *Calum blogs about sound, provocatively, at likeahammerinthesink.

FIVE IN A DRESS MADE FROM CURTAINS!
I liked the excellently psychedelic video for Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”. Familiar ground lyrically, of course, but a real earworm of a tune. Like the song, Patrick Daughters’ video doesn’t really build or go anywhere, but it’s a pleasant Bollywood-esqe ride. And a strong look, no?

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 12.54.14

EXTRA ON THE MUSIC PLAYER
In a recent interview, Elvis Costello said that Prince was right about everything to do with the rights of artists, the music industry and the Internet. But Melanie Safka got there first… “Well you know that I’m not a gambler / But I’m being gambled on / They put in a nickel and I sing a little song / They’re only putting in a nickel and / They want a dollar song…”

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 3

Woodstock Four The John Cuneo Woodstock Express

woodstock

John is an illustrator that I’ve worked with through the years, and it was great to finally meet him and his wife, Jan, when we pulled into Woodstock from Connecticut. John and Jan live in a house that was part of the Robertson spread, mostly used as a crash pad and rehearsal space during the time of The Band’s Woodstock years (John says that one visitor, returning to the scene of his old band days told him “I’ve had sex in every room of this house!”). We settle for a fine lunch and conversations that range far and wide. Later, concerned that we haven’t seen enough, John puts on a guided tour of the locale, taking in Dutch barns, The Levon Helm Memorial Boulevard, the Byrdcliffe theatre (located just above what was Bob Dylan’s home, and the slopes of Overlook mountain). After fond farewells we take our leave later than we should and end up lost in the wrong part of NYC in a snowstorm (that’ll teach me to say we didn’t need satnav), and are saved by the directions of a Josh Homme lookalike police officer, wearing the largest bullet-proof vest I’ve ever seen, printed with the words Strategic Tactical Unit. Finally we sink into the warm snug of the Marlton Hotel in Greenwich Village (where Jack Kerouac penned the Subterraneans). Later, I find this version of “Up on Cripple Creek” – shot at the same time as the better-known clip of “King Harvest” – recorded in John and Jan’s house. Great loosey-goosey drums in the false start, Levon’s cigarette insouciantly dangling from his lips, and a great moment where Garth decides to stroke his beard rather than play the wah-wah clavinet line…

Woodstock Five East Village Night
As our old friends Rick and Liney guide us through the doors of the Summit Bar, located in the old Alphabet City section (so named because of Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names) we are struck by two things. One is the unique bouquet of cardamom, as the bartender infuses sugar spirit with the world’s finest pod, and the other is the sound of Levon Helm singing “Up on Cripple Creek” – I mean, what are the chances? Hearing this, Rick says, “Do you remember his great part in The Shooter?” I’d forgotten it, but Rick brings it all back home… Mark Wahlberg plays a sniper caught in a double-cross and set-up by a hawkish senator and, in the scene in question, drives up to a house deep in the woods. He glances at his companion, saying, “Welcome to Tennessee, the patron state of shootin’ stuff” and they get out of the truck and knock on the door. What follows is another of Levon’s great film cameos…

 

Wahlberg (Bob Lee Swaggart): “Suppose I was looking for a man to make a 2,200 yard cold-bore shot? Who’s alive that could do that?“
Mr Rate: “Seems I heard about a shot like that bein’ made not too long ago – said the guy’s name was Bob Lee Swaggart – never met the man so I wouldn’t know.”
Wahlberg replies, “Yeah, they said that alright”.
Mr Rate: “They also said artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in I-raq and Anna Nicole married for love…!”

We eventually tumbled out of the Summit and into the warm embrace of the great staff at Kafana across the road, where we drank Serbian Cabernet Sauvignon and put the world to rights. And so our Woodstock-related adventures came to an end, but if you are interested in the music that was made there and the history of how a small town in the Saugerties came to be such an artistic and musical powerhouse, read Barney Hoskyns’ fine new book, Small Town Talk.

Oh, and Five Things gold awards to: The Marlton Hotel at 5 West 8th Street, The Summit Bar at 133 Avenue C (try the oysters) and Kafana, a great Balkan restaurant at 116 Avenue C.

Postscript. I took a copy of Small Town Talk to give to John. A few days later he emailed, saying how much he was enjoying the book, and attached this…

!dylanbassett

 

Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 1

In the lead up to a trip to the States (that would include lunch in Woodstock with this blog’s local Correspondent), a series of random events coalesced around the subject of that small town in the Saugerties. So with three weeks to go ’til we left, we started with this…

Woodstock One The Last Waltz Recreated
An Irish group, called “The Group”, bring a show they have done for a few years now to London for the first time. In it “The Group” play most of the songs from The Last Waltz, the movie of The Band’s swansong concert. 
Tim sees a small listing in Time Out, and a few days later we find ourselves (Tim, Alison, Alex and me) at the Islington Assembly Rooms watching a live concert that is a tribute to a movie that was made about a live concert.

lastwaltz

The picture shows Winterland, er, Islington. From left, Unknown, Ronnie Hawkins, Rick Danko, Neil Young, Van the Man, Robbie Robertson (obscured), Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond (and Muddy Waters), Joni Mitchell and Paul Butterfield. But I’m sure you could tell that [click to enlarge].

The musicians all dress as the guys in The Band did on that night and they make a fair fist (Tim’s phrase) of the songs. There’s a horn section at the back, from which “Garth Hudson” steps out to take a couple of sax solos. They’ve got the moves down, from Robbie Robertson’s flailing hand shtick while soloing to Rick Danko’s bobbing and weaving (the bass player is pretty uncanny, actually, musically as well as visually). Behind them a very poor presentation of bad graphics and clips from the film is run from a Windows Laptop (boys! Really…). It’s great to hear the songs played well, although you can never quite shrug off the Tribute Band™ feel.

The revolving guest artists (who ranged far and wide at the The Last Waltz) are played by a motley crew. To actually convey how strange this whole thing was, I will just tell you that the same person played both Neil Diamond and Muddy Waters. Diamond spot on, Muddy, well… less spot on.Thankfully, we were spared “The Staples” singing “The Weight”. Eric Clapton was played by a very short older gent with a silver grey afro, who virtually had to be restrained from “Clapton-ing” everything he played on after “Farther On up the Road”. As the entire audience roared the chorus of “The Weight” back at the stage it was hard to tell who was in charge of the whole thing – the band or the crowd, a fair proportion of whom appeared to be friends of the group. Whatever, it made for a fitting end to a mad celebration of a unique event.

Woodstock Two Full Tilt…
follows next week.

 

Friday, March 4th

ONE: BOB!
So he was not only down in the basement mixing up medicine and making tapes, but squirreling away mountains of artifacts in a hideaway storage facility. Thus the late period curtain-reveal of Bob Dylan’s career continues. This is from the NYT piece by Ben Sisario on Dylan’s huge secret $60 million archive: “Humanizing touches appear, but in small and scattered pieces. There is a wallet from the mid-1960s containing Johnny Cash’s phone number and Otis Redding’s business card. We can see the 1969 telegram from “Peter and Dennis” (Fonda and Hopper, that is) about the use of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” in the film “Easy Rider,” but the response is by a lawyer. Amid these mountains of paper, Mr. Dylan, the man, remains an enigma.”

telegram

TWO: IGGY!
From Big O: It’s already a big deal to have a celebrity in class but what happens when it is Iggy Pop, 68, who poses nude for your art class? Twenty-one artists, aged 19 to 80, at the New York Academy of Art were greeted by a naked Iggy Pop on February 21, 2016 as the rocker was recruited by the Brooklyn Museum to serve as the class’ nude model. Rolling Stone reported that conceptual artist Jeremy Deller, who was the driving force behind the Iggy Pop Life Class project, said: “For me it makes perfect sense for Iggy Pop to be the subject of a life class; his body is central to an understanding of rock music and its place within American culture. His body has witnessed much and should be documented.”

THREE: ENNIO!
How nice to see a dynamic B&W photograph used on a concert poster for once…

! morricone

FOUR: MAVIS!
Mick Gold treats me to a viewing of the very affecting Mavis! at BAFTA. Highly recommended for its story of family ties and Civil Rights – for Mavis Staples, it’s always all about the music. No diva-ishness, no dilution – the struggle runs through her like a seam of coal. Most moving moments: a visit to Levon Helm in his studio, rail thin and gaunt, intently listening while Mavis sings to him, and finally being compelled to join in by the beauty of her voice; Mavis talking about Pops with Jeff Tweedy and his son, and feeling the love of another musical family in the projects that they’ve recorded with her.

Other highlights: the least gnomic Bob Dylan interview, possibly ever, and the performances with her current band, a terrific ensemble consisting of guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes and drummer Stephen Hodges (whose work I mainly knew from the swordfishtrombones-era Tom Waits).

Mick sent me this, from the filmmaker’s notes: Many people have wondered what it was like to ‘meet Dylan.’ WTTW rented a suite in the North Side hotel where Dylan was staying. We invited Mavis and her sister Yvonne to watch the interview; they had not seen Dylan since Mavis sang background on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone for David Letterman’s 10th anniversary show in 1992. Dylan arrived on time and alone. He wore a black riverboat gambler outfit, framed by a black cowboy hat and black gypsy boots. Like a schoolboy, Dylan tiptoed into the room with a shy stride. He carried a single red rose for Mavis. They embraced… Dylan and the Staples had some good times. This didn’t make it into our documentary, but Pervis (who left the group in 1970) recalled Dylan diving off a board at the motel where they were staying during the Newport Folk Festival. “He jumped off the board and his shorts came off,” Staples said. “I went in and got ’em. I thought something happened to him because he had his boots on, too. We got to be friends. We bought some wine, and he wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” on the back of a shirt board.” I asked Dylan about this story. He said it “pretty much sounds right” and that he wrote many songs on many different objects.

In an interesting interview with Noah Schaffer for Arts Fuse, Holmstrom explained his philosophy for backing Mavis: “I really think Mavis sounds best in a stripped down setting because it gives her voice more room to resonate. Plus, a lot of my favorite Staples Singers stuff was just Pops Staples on guitar and their voices, occasionally with bass and drums too. To me, that’s where the deep Staples vocal blend really shines. It’s as if the singers are an orchestra horn section, punching and popping lines, being a lead instrument at times, not just singing “oohs and aah’s.” If you add too much it takes away from what makes it so soulful in the first place. We like to use silence and a bigger range of dynamics than most bands. We try to play really quiet at times so that when we play at medium volume it has an impact, rather than starting on 10 and staying there all night. It also makes it easier on the six singers to really sing rather than strain to hear ourselves. It’s something we have to constantly work on, remind ourselves of.”

FIVE: MICHAEL ABRAHAMS!
If only all health warnings were like this…

 

Thanks this week to Marc Myers of JazzWax fame for running some fine Terry Cryer shots of Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Ken Colyer this week. Marc had written about Sister Rosetta and linked to the fine BBC documentary about her, so I had sent him the shots out of interest.

Oh, and look out for a Five Things Extra! next week on all the strange Woodstock related events and coincidences that seemed to happen in the last few days.

Monday, January 25th

IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Best thing we bought in Paris last weekend: from the Vanves flea market – it’s hard to resist Monks playing music, I find. Best thing we saw but didn’t buy: this Philips’ Rosita music centre.

Paris

ONE. ENOUGH SINGER-SONGWRITERS, ALREADY
Ian Gittings wrote about the plague in The Guardian: “Jamie Lawson, a Devon-born singer-songwriter had put out three albums over a decade-long career to almost blanket indifference… Ed Sheeran released the fourth last year [on his new record label], expressing hope that it would pick up play at “my dad’s dinner parties”. This should have been the kiss of death but was instead inexplicably regarded as a recommendation: on the verge of his 40th birthday, Lawson saw the record go to No 1. This precipitous rise from obscurity is baffling, as Lawson is such an unremarkable, journeyman talent. In the currently cluttered field of showily sensitive male singer-songwriters, he possesses no discernible selling point. He is Sheeran without the endearing glimpses of wit and humanity; Damien Rice minus the depths and the dark side [actually I think Gittings is letting him off lightly here, it’s even worse than that – Ed].”

Fronting a functional band with an ingratiating grin apparently welded to his face, Lawson primarily suggests some ghastly amalgam of James Blunt and Ben Haenow. His excruciatingly sentimental lyrics could be the handiwork of a moonlighting Clintons cards copywriter: the jaw-droppingly platitudinous “Someone for Everyone” (“Don’t worry/If you can’t find love in a hurry”) could very easily be retitled There are More Fish in the Sea, or At Least You’ve Got Your Health.”

And one of those “showily sensitive male singer-songwriters” is Jack Savoretti. I saw him do a couple of songs as a short support act to Paulo Conte, his record company playing up his Italian heritage in hopes that Conte fans would flock to follow Jack too.

Last week he played the Graham Norton Show, and while he seems a nice enough fellow, his performance was a patchwork of all the current crop’s failings. There was a sub-Coldplay chord sequence powering music that exists on some glassy plane entirely separate from the voice, with no interaction and no give and take. Far from it being a social activity, this is music that doesn’t move about the room, talk amongst itself or tell an interesting story. It just sits there like an Ikea sideboard, neat and bland, with a flimsy and hollow core. So even though the band can play, and he can sing, it’s all for nothing. His vocal was at 10 on the emotional richter scale by the end of the first chorus, and there’s no way here for the listener to invest in a narrative arc. And it’s all topped off with a ridiculous lyric, blathering on about the fall of Empires and such like, topped off with the awful title phrase “If I could catapult my heart/to where you are”. Just imagine that line in your head. Go on. Whoa! Enough negativity! Here’s something I liked…

TWO. INSTRUMENT CORNER
Bob G sent me this link to Behold, an interesting Photo blog, where Ed Stilley makes an Outsider Artform of guitars. “God Instructed Him in a Dream to Make Guitars and Give Them Away to Kids, So He Did”. Can’t beat that for a headline. And the solution to limited access to parts results in a truly unique 12-string guitar.

THREE. A NICE PIECE IN THE NEW YORKER
Elon Green on Mavis Staples’ new album, which will release in mid-Feb followed by a new documentary, Mavis!: “The new record, Mavis thought, presented an opportunity to do something different. Radically so; her inspiration came, in part, from Pharrell Williams’s galactically popular “Happy.” She’d sung it to herself each morning, and it had, more or less, lodged itself in her brain. “When the world was just so upside down, [Williams] brought a lot of people up with that song,” Mavis said recently. “I’ve been making people cry for so many years, and I just want to sing something joyful.” And at the end, this: “As for Mavis, she has only one regret about the record, set for release on February 19th. “I wish I could have gotten old Dylan to write a song for me,” she said. A lifetime ago, Mavis and Bob Dylan were in love. “We may have smooched,” she says in the documentary. Dylan, in fact, went to so far as to ask Pops for Mavis’s hand in marriage. He was denied.”

FOUR. THIS YEAR WE’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS FILM…
The Jaco Pastorious documentary, co-directed by Stephen Kijak who did such a great job with Scott Walker in 30 Century Man. One YouTube comment from StevieDebe kind of sums up the end of the story: “When I met him on the street, 6th Avenue and 3rd St, I said Are you Pastorius? He said, That’s right, Jaco Pastorius, best bass player in the world… can I borrow $16? To which I said gladly yes! It has a nice trailer, with an imperious Joni Mitchell – “I like originals… pause, drags on her cigarette… Jaco was an original”. It could be time for me to drag out my old chestnut, “The Night I Met Joni (and Jaco)”, except that I won’t. You can find it here if you’re so minded.

FIVE. A FASCINATING PIECE IN VANITY FAIR…
by Michael Lewis, where he takes on the mantle of William Goldman to illuminate the strange route movies take to get made. This is apropos of The Big Short: “ Having said all that, the movies that have been made from my books have, in my view, been pretty great. It’s no use trying to shift gears here and claim credit for this. There’s no obvious correlation between the quality of a movie and the quality of the book it springs from: good movies have been made from bad books, just as bad movies have been made from good books.

Each of the three times I have sat in the darkened room and watched for the first time a movie of my book I have felt simple delighted surprise. With each movie the surprise has been greater. The Blind Side wasn’t that hard to imagine as a movie – at the heart of the book was a bizarre and moving family drama. Moneyball was hard to imagine as a movie, but at least it was about baseball and thus organically linked to popular culture. Wall Street, even in the aftermath of a financial crisis that has cost so many so much, is not. The behavior of our money people is still treated as a subject for specialists. This is a huge cultural mistake. High finance touches –ruins – the lives of ordinary people in a way that, say, baseball does not, unless you are a Cubs fan. And yet, ordinary people, even those who have been most violated, are never left with a clear sense of how they’ve been touched or by whom. Wall Street, like a clever pervert, is often suspected but seldom understood and never convicted.”

 

Monday, December 21st

Sorry, I forgot the link to Henry “Red” Allen’s red-hot performance. It is now added…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This video, shot by Eric Feigenbaum, for Charles Bradley singing “Changes”.

bradley

EVEN THE SILENCES SOUND EXPENSIVE…
I was trying to put my finger on why Adele’s “Hello” doesn’t convince, and then Clive James in The Guardian did it for me: “It could be said that Adele is Mama Cass born again, but she needs a song to match her voice. I have listened several times to her smash hit, “Hello”. I was hoping that the shapely beauty of her opening phrase would hook me for what remains of my forever. But the opening phrase never really arrives. The whole number is one of those big ballads in which the singer whispers her way through a verse section that hasn’t got a melody and then goes soaring and bellowing into a chorus section that hasn’t got a melody either. The virtuosity leaves you yawning with admiration. Whitney Houston drove herself bonkers yelling stuff like that, and Celine Dion at full volume puts up such a barrage that she might be part of Canada’s anti-missile defence system. But Adele still has time for better things.”

BOBCAT BIRTHDAY!
Through the generosity and efforts of my loved ones I was totally surprised this week by the arrival of The Holy Grail. Nothing to do with Dan Brown – it was the 18-CD Collectors Edition of Vol 12 of The Bootleg Series. It’s an extraordinary object, with facsimile 7-inch vinyl, books of essays and ephemera, original filmstrip of a release print of Don’t Look Back, and more Dylan than you can shake a stick at.

I’ve barely started on the box set itself, as Columbia decided that – if you’d bought it – they’d give you the Christmas gift of all Dylan’s live shows from February to December 1965. So positive tsunami of songbytes streamed down to my mac. Of note so far: 1) the erroneous iTunes info that the Royal Albert Hall is in Manchester (!). 2) the chance to play “Compare the Drummer!” as Forest Hills and the Hollywood Bowl have Levon Helm (with Harvey Brooks on bass), the Berkeley Community Theatre has Bobby Gregg, and the previously issued 1966 UK tour has Mickey Jones. Me, I love the sledgehammer that was Mickey, pushing and goading both band and singer onto ever more fantastic heights. 3) the chance to hear “Positively 4th Street” played live in fairly decent audio at Berkeley Community Theatre with Bobby Gregg on drums. 4) as far as I know, the only acoustic version that exists of “Tombstone Blues” – feeling like a cousin to “It’s Alright, Ma” – recorded live at the Contemporary Songs Workshop at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival. The audience are so hip that they actually laugh in all the right places.

I WISH I HAD MORE RIVER…
River was the most intriguing detfic of the year, as visually striking as London Spy, only way, way better (coherent, grounded, not in love with itself, didn’t filtch an ending from Thelma & Louise). River’s epicentre was a powerful Zapruder-like sequence of the shooting that triggers the story – endlessly replayed in an attempt to discern any clues hidden within it. Its co-star, the excellent Nicola Walker, was asked by The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage if she has a clause in her contracts that she has to sing in all her shows (she sings in both River and Unforgotten, the other policier that she was the lead in, most memorably Tina Charles’ “You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’”):
“Yeah, that’s just what I do now. I turn up and I say: It’s very important that I sing 1970s disco hits. Wasn’t that weird? Things like that, you don’t really think about when you’re doing the job, and then they both come out together. I’m not a singer, but I enjoyed it because Stellan (Skarsgård)– even though he was in Mamma Mia – makes a great deal of the fact that he’s not a singer. He’s very good at making you feel like you can do anything.”

RED ROCKS!
One of the things I most enjoy about writing Five Things is the chance discoveries made when I’m checking spellings or dates. You always learn something new, or find some compelling performance. I was sent a scan of a Christmas card that trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen sent years ago, by Tony Standish, an Australian book seller and old friend of the family. And, as is the way of these things, came across this amazing performance from a 1964 Jazz625 with Alex Welsh’s band. Henry starts by listing great New Orleans musicians over a comping piano and walking bass – “I was there with ’em, I couldn’t miss ’em, my father had the band, Henry Allen Snr, New Orleans!” before launching into a blistering “St James Infirmary”, the song Dylan leaned on when he wrote “Blind Willie McTell”. Check the stance, legs tensed as he takes a short break, and the section where he just hollers St James! three times. Actually, the whole vocal is terrific, as is his long solo – avoiding most of the usual clichés – and when the song comes to an end, he just shouts and starts it up again. Then after a shared round of solos it ends again, only to have Henry conduct the band to vamp as he tops it off with a terrific bit of long-note showmanship.

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Extra! Bob Dylan & his band, RAH, 21st October

“Why can’t I be more conventional
People talk
People stare
So I try
But that’s not for me…”
– “Why Try to Change Me Now”, covered on Shadows in the Night

These things we know: that Bob has a great band, from the rock steady rhythm section, equally at home with brushes and bows as sticks and fingers – to the dazzling front line of guitar and pedal steel; that he has an unsurpassed choice of songs to sing; that he won’t respond to requests no matter how many times the audience shouts out their particular favourite song; that he will always be his own man, ploughing his own furrow.

This we didn’t know: that he could sing, live in concert, timeless songs of the 40’s and 50’s with a believable, vulnerable – but above all careful – voice.

It made him less cavalier with his own songs, too, and the contrast of the pedal steel and brushes-driven Sinatra songs gave his 21st century blues numbers more snap and bite – “Pay In Blood” was terrifying, phrase after phrase flung from the stage like Muddy Waters backed by Johnny Winter; “Long and Wasted Years” becoming a second cousin of “Brownsville Girl”, both in melody and narrative delivery.

He pays homage to the American music that still fuels him in the way he chooses to walk onto the stage. The first half kicked off with guitarist Stu Kimball playing an acoustic piece of western folk (think the “Pat Garrett“ soundtrack, or “Red River Valley”) as the rest of the band filed on. For the second half Kimball played an electric country blues, Mississippi via Chicago, for the band’s entrance. As he said in Chronicles, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

I also thought of this quote, said when he was 21 and talking of the tradition that he wanted to work in… “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool – a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points.”

And even at his most forward-thinking, smashing the conventions of popular song, there would always be the blues: “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”, “Highway 61”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. You wonder what his 1966 self would make of him singing Sinatra at the Albert Hall in 2015. I bet he’d be fine with it. He was 1966 in 1966, and he didn’t need to be that again. He’d be pleased that he still honoured his roots every night that he plays, whether it’s Crosby and Sinatra, Wolf and Waters, or Williams, Holly and Berry. And, as he encored – with a wonderfully rolling and tumbling, piano-led version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was almost-country (but mostly Bob), and a coruscating “Love Sick” – I kept coming back to that verse from “Why Try to Change Me Now”. It struck me as both the fulcrum of the night’s set, and of his entire enormous, chaotic, poetic, mind-blowing, career.

Monday, 12th October

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

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From the promo short for the next Bootleg Series, number 12, film of Bob looking at a music shop window the day that “Subterranean Homesick Blues” goes on sale (as does Cilla’s new single!).

IF YOU NEED CHEERING UP…
Then you may need to watch Salman Rushdie reciting the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake…

Or listen to letter G of Joe Boyd’s A-Z, which features fascinating insights into the poetry of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the story of its tortuous gestation. She left Rick Rubin’s label in tears – after playing the first version of the album to him, his only comment concerned adding tambourine on one of the tracks – and ended up finishing the album for Polygram with E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan producing. Bittan himself recently talked to Rolling Stone about it: “Lucinda was making the record down in Nashville, and I think she hit a wall. She wasn’t grooving in the studio and was having difficulty finishing it off. I knew her bass player, so they wound up flying me down to produce the thing. I was told the whole thing had stalled. We wound up re-cutting most of the tracks, though the drums and bass parts were pretty good… Lucinda is just this tremendous, authentic, fantastic artist. She reminds me of Bruce, even though they have very, very different styles. She’s a great songwriter with an extremely beautiful, vulnerable voice. I produced the record, but unfortunately they already made a deal where Rick Rubin mixed it. I would have liked to have done that. But he did a great job.”

ON THE OTHER HAND, IF YOU NEED DEPRESSING…
Then find the latest advert for the launch of a new perfume, Decadence. Apparently, Adriana Lima captures the glamour and luxury of the fragrance in a mesmerising TV campaign. No. What happens is that, thanks to Marc Jacobs, the Marvelettes fabulous, Smokey-produced, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is sullied by a truly poxy faux-sleaze tv ad, that doesn’t scream decadence as much as it screams desperate cliché.

A FASCINATING INTERVIEW…
from every record tells a story, although in this case it’s the photos that do the talking –“Incredible Archive of Lost Photos Unearthed of Led Zep, Bowie, Rolling Stones…”
So why didn’t you go on to be a professional photographer?
Bottom line is, I really wasn’t suited to being a photographer. I was as blind as a bat! I could have passed as a poster child for kids with “Coke bottle” glasses. So I had to look through thick lenses, then through the viewfinder in the dark with the lights flashing and changing and reflecting into my glasses – when I did this, it wasn’t about the photography. It was about the moments and the music and the people that I was watching and was so passionate about. To me it was all so unreal and unbelievable that this pasty white, skinny, tall, long-hair kid was standing ten feet from Bob Dylan and George Harrison. That’s what it was all about for me.”

FROM JAZZWAX…
the ever-interesting blog by Marc Myers, comes Yogi Berra on jazz. Berra was one of those characters that you knew of growing up on a diet of Mad Magazine, as I did. I’m not sure I ever knew really what he did or meant to Americans, but I did cotton on to the fact that he mangled the English language in ways that were extremely funny. He was, in fact, a great baseball player for the New York Yankees, but as Wikepedia has it, “he was also known for his malapropisms as well as pithy and paradoxical quotes, such as “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” while speaking to reporters. Simultaneously denying and confirming his reputation, Berra once stated, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz:
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz? 


Yogi: I can’t, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it’s right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong.
Interviewer: I don’t understand.
Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it. 

Interviewer: Do you understand it? 


Yogi: No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it. 


Interviewer: What is syncopation?
Yogi: That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music…
Interviewer: Now I really don’t understand.
Yogi: I haven’t taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.

IN US TV NEWS!
THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: It’s worth subscribing to their YouTube channel – the music spots are often interesting, and they upload them for each show. The Kendrick Lamar performance from a couple of weeks ago was staggering, and there’s an affecting, if slightly stumbling performance on the anniversary of 9/11 by Paul Simon (strangely not looking like Paul Simon), playing “American Tune”*.

CARPOOLING WITH JAMES CORDEN: Try as I might to dislike James Corden, I can’t. Get past the first feeble joke of this segment, and it’s very funny. The premise is that James can only use the carpool lane to get to work on his new chatshow if someone travels with him, and he uses this idea with the show’s musical guests – so he’s accompanied by Iggy Azelia, Justin Beiber, Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart at al. Here’s a link to the Stevie Wonder episode – the love Corden has of the Wonder back catalogue is palpable, and he’s clearly thrilled to have Stevie along for the ride.

[*Fascinating fact: Mandy Patinkin recorded the song in Yiddish on his 1998 album “Mamaloshen.” Now, don’t all rush to iTunes…]

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