Friday, August 12th

 

ONE IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN THIS…
If you’re resident outside Britain you may not have. But you should. Three minutes of wonderment made in an unfeasibly short space of time. “We wanted to illustrate that someone brushing their teeth can be as superhuman as someone who plays wheelchair rugby,” says We’re the Superhumans’ director Dougal Wilson. “When I was writing the treatment, I was looking for a link between sport and non-sport and started thinking that music could provide this connection. One of the first people I met while working on the ad was Mark Goffeney, AKA Big Toe, who plays the guitar with his feet. From there I started searching for a ‘band’ and we managed to find lots of other musicians who were overcoming their disability by playing music.”

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It required casting an array of musicians, athletes, dancers and extras. More than 140 people with disabilities star in the advert, so finding the right people meant eschewing traditional ways of casting. ays Alice. “Thank god for the internet and our team of researchers because we found some amazing people just by trawling through hundreds of YouTube clips and Facebook videos. I love that these talented people don’t have agents, we’re giving people a chance to shine on their own and giving them a platform they didn’t have before,” says Alice Tonge, creative director at 4Creative.

TWO THE BOWIE PROM
Jude Rogers gets to the point in The Guardian: “Six months and three weeks after David Bowie died, musicians still feel compelled to give their tributes, to sing those songs that shaped their lives. It was almost unsurprising when the Bowie prom was announced, promising Bowie with a twist – but who really wants Bowie with a twist? Bowie was the twist: the wayward Bromley boy who turned himself into a peculiar pop art project, perfectly.” Her view was that too few people took risks, and I think she was right. Of the performances that I saw, Anna Calvi and Laura Mvulu were the ones who did. Also, are instrumental versions of Bowie songs ever anything more than, well, slightly tame instrumental versions of Bowie songs? Update – I’ve watched it all now, and I think there are some fine rearrangements, especially those by Jherek Bischoff and Anna Meredith (who did the two Marc Almond numbers). Oh, and lovely to be reminded of the beautiful instrument that is Paul Buchanan’s voice.

THREE MICK GOLD IS WEIRDLY SYNCHRONOUS
“I’m still grooving on the revelation I came across that Milton Glaser based his ‘iconic’ poster of Dylan on Duchamp’s self portrait, dated variously from 1957 to 1959,” Mick emails just as I was reading a book that features Glaser for a review that I’m writing for Eye magazine. Mick continues… “I came under Duchamp’s spell when I made a film about Dada and Surrealism way back in the 1970s, Europe After the Rain. His sensibility seemed to inflect everything he touched. He created a relatively small body of work, and 99% of it ended up in Philadelphia! When Bowie released Darkstar at the moment of his death, I thought of Duchamp making his final work, Etant Donnes, in secret and then allowing news of it seep out after he had died. Even though I found it a rather dubious work when I finally saw it in Philadelphia, the ideas and preparatory works behind it are still haunting and beautiful.”

FOUR SUMMER BREEZE MAKES ME FEEL FINE
Quite excited to read about the arrival soon of “The Great Lost Isley Brothers Album”. In 1980 they wanted to record a live album, but instead of the usual mobile truck at a concert venue they cut Groove with You… Live! at Bearsville Sound in Woodstock (where The Band recorded Cahoots). Apparently it “had all of the incendiary thrills of a live show in pristine studio fidelity.” The band then overdubbed an audience’s frenzied reception and the energetic introduction of MC “Gorgeous” George Odell. Mad.With a ten-minute version of “Summer Breeze” I’m there… It reminded me of a great interview with Ernie Isley that I read a while back. Here’s some of it:

The HUB: Your soaring guitar work on “That Lady” put rock guitar sounds in the spotlight – and that was pretty revolutionary for soul-inflected music at at the time. How did you get that sustain-drenched sound?
Ernie Isley: We were working with the same engineers Stevie Wonder was using on what would become Innervisions. We were working on the record that became 3+3. There was a fuzz box and a phase shifter by Maestro, and that was pretty much it.
The HUB: That solo had a huge influence on ’70s guitar sounds in several genres.
Ernie Isley: We cut it before the lyrics had been finished, and there was a strong rhythmic guitar part that tied in with the congas – very funky, very rhythmic. But when I plugged in for the solo and hit that first note, the track went from black and white to 3D technicolor! Recording it, there were two takes; the second take is what’s on the record. On the first take I was playing all over the place. My eldest brother, Kelly, was looking at me through the glass; he did not blink for like 25 minutes. The engineers were going nuts, and I was going nuts. When I got done, they said play it again to fit in with the vocals. I was really ticked off that we had to do a take two.

FIVE BONNIE RAITT FOR PRESIDENT!
A very nice interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS covers a lot of ground in its 25 minutes, from the death of her brother to the current Election. An intelligent warm interviewer, an interesting and modest subject – what’s not to like?

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ON THE MUSIC PLAYER
Reading Malcolm Jack’s Guardian review of Tom Jones live show in Glasgow, I see that Tom finished his set with an apposite cover: Sister Rosetta’s jumping “Strange Things Happening Every Day.” Hear it in the Music Player to the right.

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Wednesday, 4th February

This week I’m trying out some new categories, which I’ll probably end up junking as it becomes too hard to shoehorn things into them. Anyway, for now I’m going with Something I Learned, I Know Nothing! (aka Things to Investigate), Song of the Week, Visual of the Week, Oh God, Not That Again…, and On the Playlist this Week. We’ll see how it goes.

SONG OF THE WEEK
FourFiveSeconds: Improbably wonderful strumalong from Sir Paul, Rihanna and Kanye West. Paul roughly bangs out the chords on an acoustic, Rihanna gives it some throaty passion and Kanye whines away while a toddler gurgles. Two times through, then it all stops and an organ starts for the gospel middle eight (it’s like there wasn’t even time to work on a smooth transition – the guitar just stops and the organ starts). This is where Rihanna takes it to church, with a particularly lovely Bonnie Raitt-like bit of bluesy melody in there. For the last time through the verse, a deep guitar joins for a little rough-edged zooming up and down the frets. For 3.08 everything’s alright in the world. Sometimes simple works.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
Barbara Anderson of Lausanne, Switzerland asks the Guardian Notes & Queries: How different would life on Earth be with no moon? At the end of a very learned explanation of the four reasons life would be very different, Adam Rutherford, an editor at the science magazine Nature, writes: “So a moonless Earth would have no seasons, no tides but a lot of wobble, a fat middle, very short days and no owls, bats or moths. More importantly, Creedence Clearwater Revival would never have written “Bad Moon Rising”, and that would mean hurricanes a blowing, and the end coming soon.” Adam lists his interests as Science, cured meats and movies. Good man.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
Also from the Guardian, an extraordinary piece on “Bone Music”, music pressed onto X-Rays in Russia during the Cold War (yes, I checked that the date wasn’t April 1st). Pete Paphides writes about Stephen Coates of ‘antiquarian art-poppers’ the Real Tuesday Weld.
“The clamour among young Russians for jazz and rock’n’roll during the cold war years is brought home by the range of materials on show at X-Ray Audio [an exhibition at the Horse Hospital, London]. Unofficial recordings weren’t pressed only on to x-rays – there are records made from road signs and circular cake plinths. Coates and Aleks Kolkowski will present an evening of stories and demonstrations of the recording process in action, at which Kolkowski – the owner of a 1940s recording lathe – will record on to x-rays. “One thing this has shown me is that the format is completely integral to the listening experience,” explains Kolkowski, who also “repurposes” unwanted CDs by etching grooves into them, adjusting the hole in the middle and creating five-inch jukebox records. “CDs actually sound fantastic once you make them into actual records.”

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There’s something oddly poignant about watching a record player stylus suck music – in this case, a doo wop song by the Ravens – out of the grooves of a CD. There’s some background noise, though nothing quite like the extraneous noise that comes with bone music. Later that day, I speak with Greg Milner, whose 2009 book Perfecting Noise Forever remains the definitive book on the history of recorded music. “We need to get out of that mindset that background noise happens at the expense of clarity. In the course of my research I listened to cylinders of performances that date back over 100 years ago. It’s hard to explain it, but you registered an acute presence in those recordings that was undeniable.” Kolkowski agrees. “Humans like to hear things that sound like recordings, but the imperfections – the hisses and crackles – make us listen a bit harder. Reaching for perfection is more rewarding to the ears, whereas modern digital recordings deliver perfection directly. Somehow, without the effort, some of the satisfaction is taken away.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Natalie Prass’s Taped-up Epiphone, one way to stop feedback

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OH GOD, NOT THAT AGAIN…
Ok, I promise that this is the last time I write about “Uptown Funk”. Having properly listened to it, it strikes me as a total Was (Not Was) rip off. Something like “Hello Operator” or one of my favourite (bracketed) titles of all time – “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. Somehow I found this nicely done version of Obama singing it…

I KNOW NOTHING!*
I don’t know anything about Paolo Conte, really, but people I trust have mentioned him at various points the past year. This week Richard Williams retweeted Clive Davis’ link to Conte performing “Madeleine” with a great band, making music that conjours up every Italian film you’ve ever seen. This song features two pianists playing at one piano – as they finish the song, he strolls behind them and blows on their heads in turn. Brilliant. So I downloaded a couple of tracks, one of which, “Clown”, has a sensational melody and an extraordinary swirling (military drumming, accordions, clarinets, several pianos) build-up to its instrumental finale. It’s stunning.
*[Please feel free to apply in writing for a full list of all the things I don’t know].

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Three from Was (Not Was): The pellucid “Baby Mine”, possibly the greatest of all Disney songs, given a compelling reading by guest Bonnie Raitt, with Paul Jackson Jnr on the weeping & sighing guitar and gorgeous hints of doo-wop in the backing vox. That’s followed by “Hello Operator (I mean Dad, I mean Police)” where you can dig the party atmosphere and the Defunkt-like horns. We finish with “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. A cracking synth intro, a touch of The Look of Love strings, and a lyric from the August Darnell school of 12-inch short stories (think “There But For the Grace of God Go I”). Stick around for the magic outro where they list what happens when the “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks…” and out comes Trotsky, Coltrane, and Che Guevara. Of course.

And yes, I’m aware that tonight I should be listening to Shadows In The Night. “Autumn Leaves” sounds pretty cool, and I’m loving the steel guitar of Donnie Herron. And the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) interview is great. ’Til next week…

5 Things: Wednesday 11th December

Mastermind Specialist Subject: Janis Joplin
My score, 5. Competitor’s score, 12. He was good…

Martin Sharp 1942 – 2013
William Yardley, New York Times: “He painted Marilyn Monroe blooming in a Van Gogh vase, devoted decades to documenting the cultural significance of Tiny Tim and was sentenced to prison for breaking obscenity laws in his native Australia. Martin Sharp, who died on Sunday, pursued his distinctive Pop Art for half a century without much concern for whether it was popular. But for a brief period in the late 1960s, his muse helped shape the imagery of rock music. It started with a beer at a bar in London in 1967. Mr. Sharp had arrived the year before to start London Oz, an extension of the irreverent Australian magazine Oz, for which he had been artistic director. At the Speakeasy Club on Margaret Street, he befriended two musicians. When Mr. Sharp mentioned that he had written a poem that might make a good song, one of the musicians said he had just come up with new music but needed lyrics. Mr. Sharp scratched out his poem and his address on a napkin. A couple of weeks later, the musician dropped by and gave him a 45 r.p.m. record. He was a guitar player for a band called Cream. His name was Eric Clapton. On the A side of the 45 was “Strange Brew.” On the B side was Mr. Sharp’s poem put to music, “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”

Bonnie Raitt, BBC4 Sessions
Bonnie, wine bottleneck slide on finger, shubb capo at the second fret, calling up the ghost of Lowell George. What I first thought was a ridiculous manicure was, in fact, a set of white plastic fingerpicks. Every solo was a thing of controlled emotion and dexterity in the service of soul and beauty. She also had Mike Finnigan on keys (who played on Electric Ladyland and toured in Maria Muldaur’s astonishing band in 1975—see below). “I always think of John Lee Hooker when we do this,” she says, as they launch into John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” and then plays a wonderful intro before the song becomes a pretty boring chug-a-long. But every time the bottleneck hits the strings it zings. My friend Mark was there and said they all seemed a little tired, and the production team kept asking for retakes, but certain things really worked on TV. Hutch Hutchinson’s use of a small travel bass on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was great, there was a tremendous “Million Miles”, where she articulated the words way better than Bob, and Finnegan got all Mose Allison on its ass… (not that I much care about articulation, but the song seemed all the more desperate for it). And “Love Has No Pride” nailed you to the wall. Against simpatico bass and pump organ, Raitt played her 1972 classic and bought forty more years of a life lived to it. All X Factor contestants should be forced to watch this performance.

Midnight At The Oasis (Soho Branch)
Reminded of Maria Muldaur at Ronnie Scott’s, a gig I failed to get into, I look up some reviews on rocksbackpages. I remember that I spent a week hassling Barbara Charone in the Warner Brothers press office trying to get an interview with Amos Garrett. I don’t know why. I was at art school and had no journalistic credentials. I think I just wanted to tell Amos how great I thought he was. Karl Dallas in Melody Maker: “She is backed – if that is an adequate word for so brilliant an aggregation – with quite the tightest, most talented little six-piece band any singer was ever blessed with, which came out from behind her and featured pianist Mike Finnigan as singer once in each set. Everything about this band is a joy – from the cool, right-on drumming of Earl Palmer, to the twin guitars of David Wilcox and Amos Garrett, so contrasting and yet so complementary.” Earl Palmer! Rock & Roll History right there. However, neither this review or Charles Sharr Murray’s in NME mentioned the fact that the bassist was James Jamerson, which is bizarre. How could you not mention James Jamerson! (Murray also found the performance bland beyond belief, but then he sneered about Springsteen at the Hammersmith Odeon, and he was wrong there, too.)

Braids XOYO
At sea in a roomful of hipster beards and square rimmed glasses. Of course, there’s no obligation to like the music made by relatives or friends, but there’s nothing nicer than when you do, here in the shape of the ferociously talented Austin, Taylor and Raffaele. Down to a trio from a four-piece, what before was impressive loop-driven modern ambient music has now become thrillingly visceral and really emotional. They were aided by the best sound I have ever heard in a club, or maybe in any venue. Their soundman, John, puts drums, keyboards and guitars through the PA, using no amps (he previously worked for the legendary Clare Bros, leaders in the field). It was whisper-quiet – something I’ve literally never heard before – and it allowed the music to form, in pinsharp detail, in front of your ears. Each mallet stroke or snare lick or signal-processed synth effect or treated vocal sat exactly where it should in the mix, allowing the performance to build to a fantastic climax. Incredible.

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Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 29th February

Bruno Mars’ Bass Player, The BRITs
Unassumingly, the coolest man to take the stage on the night, and by a country mile. Bruno Mars—nice Little Willie John look and fine pompadour—played the Wonder-ish Just The Way You Are, and his bassman rose to the challenge. Digging the show, hands bopping over the fretboard like Jamerson re-incarnated, Jamareo Artis didn’t put a beat or a note wrong, even when double-stepping the dance moves. The final high flourish as the song ended was the sublime icing on the cake, sliding his right hand down the fretboard to dampen the last note, before hooking his thumb jauntily in his hip pocket.

Whitney Houston at the BRITs
Watching the jarringly brusque tribute, my mind flashed back to an earlier time: in 1987, in a Park Lane hotel ballroom, Whitney sang her hit du jour, How Will I Know, dancing slightly awkwardly to a backing track on a stage more suited to an army base than an awards show. We were ten yards away, pushing bad food around our plates, and could hear Whitney acoustically, as well as through the PA. She gave it her all, and as the pre-record started to fade, was so into the performance that she continued for a good fifteen seconds, not backing off her volume at all. Jaws hit the table as the most thrilling sound vaulted over us. For those fifteen seconds, she was a blissful and transported teenager, singing in the Lord’s House. In that fakest of environments—an awards show—something real.

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt1: Feb 28th, Park Lane, London
On the bus going up Park Lane, approaching Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park yesterday morning. iPod on random. A Dylan track, from a bootleg I haven’t even bothered listening to (it comes from a period I don’t care for, around the time of Under The Red Sky). It’s a shuffle, pretty unmixed sounding, with what sounds like Randy Jackson’s rubbery bass lines bubbling along*. “One time in London I’d gone out for a walk/At the place called Hyde Park, where people talk/Get up on a platform and they tell their point of view/To anyone who’s there, that’s who they’re talkin’ to/There was a man on a platform, talking to some folks, about TV being evil, he wasn’t telling jokes…” Leaving aside the obviously low, McGonagall-esque quality of these lines—possibly some of the worst Bob’s ever penned—How strange is that?

*I remember Randy Jackson saying they were pretty odd sessions. Don Was would line-up different bands of players each time Dylan came to the studio. No-one had the first clue what they were doing. It’s a production technique, I guess…

Bonnie Raitt: Thank You
That’s the song Thank You, from early in her career, although it’s entirely appropriate to thank Bonnie for one of American music’s most satisfying careers. Justin Vernon draw attention last year to her sublime I Can’t Make You Love Me, but there’s so much in Bonnie’s past that’s fine, just waiting for rediscovery. I’m just going to draw attention to a winning radio airshot: The Lost Broadcast: Philadelphia 1972. [Through some grey European law loophole Amazon are selling CD’s of US radio broadcasts from Dylan, Waits and Cohen, among others]. Bonnie introduces it thus: “This is a tune—for all you unseen people out there I’m just going to move to the piano to show how versatile I am—haven’t played a piano for months now, didn’t play it before that since I was a little kid, pubescing in Los Angeles. Playing Dick Dale runs [runs finger down keyboard]—Wipeout! Anyway, this is a tune I wrote over the summer. Ready?”

It’s not a perfect song, part Jackson Brown, part Eric Kaz, a little Philly soul (the taping took place at the legendary Sigma Sound studios), even some Toussaint in the piano melody, but this performance, with Freebo on bass and TJ Tindall on slithery, chiming guitar is a little gem. As she glides her beautiful voice over the phrase “I was all you’d ever need,” hear one of the great American voices—unforced, unglitzy, true.

The Adele Gap
Phrase meaning: the difference between a performer’s singing and speaking voices. Example: “there is no Adele Gap in the case of Leonard Cohen.” See TIME magazine mishearing of Adele Grammy exclamation “Mum! Girl done good!” below.

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