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.


Five Things: Wednesday, December 4th

Favourite Kickstarter Pledge Reward Of The Week
I can’t get enough of documentaries on the musicians behind some of the finest pop music ever made. Motown’s Funk Brothers in Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, The Swampers in Muscle Shoals, Booker T and the MGs in Respect Yourself – The Stax Story, and now the The Wrecking Crew. This is, to quote Danny Tedesco, son of the great guitarist, Tommy Tedesco, and director of the film, “a documentary about an elite group of studio session musicians in Los Angeles in the 1960’s who played on hits for the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Jan & Dean, The Monkees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Mamas and Papas, 5th Dimension, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, and that’s just a few! The amount of work in which they were involved was tremendous.” Here’s a clip of the musicians talking about the session for “Good Vibrations”. Love that Brian Wilson/Carol Kaye bass line! You have til December 21 to help them, and a thousand bucks will get you legendary Wrecking Crew Pianist/Arranger Don Randi’s services for a recording session – and he’ll buy you lunch as well.

Researching a piece on Queen’s Roger Taylor, Google throws up… This Week–Three Top-Name Attractions!
The Jet Set somehow don’t sound like the right support group, do they?


Fanfarlo, Water Rats
What are the chances of stumbling across a really good band in a London pub? One in a hundred? One in a thousand? Whatever, Fanfarlo are terrific (apart from their name, possibly). A band with a cracking drummer, two keyboardists who double on violin and trumpet, a frontman with a beautifully pared-down guitar style and a bass player who looks like a bass player should. The band have described their current sound as “Space Opera meets Spaghetti Western”. I can’t do any better than that. They also cover (on their website) one of my most favourite songs ever, “Witchi Tai To”, written by jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper and based on a Native American chant. The hit version was by Harper’s Bizarre, purveyors of Baroque Pop, produced by Van Dyke Parks, and with the Wrecking Crew aboard by the sound of it.

Come Gather Round, People…
Shortlist’s emailer Mr Hyde sends me to this review that really captures the spirit of the Coen Bros’ Inside Llewyn Davis and should whet the appetite of those who have a soft spot for either the Coens or Greenwich Village in the 60s.

Big Bill Broonzy: The Man Who Bought The Blues to Britain, BBC4
“I met some big shot and I was ready to make a record. I wrote a guitar solo called “House Rent Stomp” about those rent parties, no words, just pickin’ those old guitar strings, making the first two, E & B, cry, making the G & D talk, and the A & E moan”. That may be the best description of blues guitar I’ve ever heard.

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