Five Things: Wednesday 25th December

Cover Girl: Julie London
Michele’s request for a Julie London Christmas album hits a snag. She never did one. But with a little internetting and some Indesign, Julie’s Miss December (from her album, Calender Girl) becomes a fully-fledged seasonal treat.

Christmas-Julie

“Oh the shark has pearly Teeth, Dear…”
Michael Gray on Bobby Darin: “Bobby Darin’s singles were part of my adolescence, and all these decades later I’m still impressed by his work, the multiplicity of his talent and his human decency. He was a songwriter, singer, actor, pianist, guitarist and mentor to RogerMcGuinn; he conquered the pop charts and then dinner-jacket showbiz, yet came to see that turbulent times called for songs of social conscience. As a person he was gracious, articulate, sharp and funny. He was a talented actor, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1963.

As for his records, well OK, not “Splish Splash”, but “Dream Lover”, produced by the Erteguns, was one of the most shimmering records of 1960 – and was followed, very surprisingly, by the best version of “Mack the Knife”, with Darin unarguably the master of this radically different genre. Then came “Beyond the Sea”, a more than worthy successor that didn’t try to replace the Charles Trenet original (“La Mer”, a timeless track blemished only by the ridiculously over-hearty male voice choir at the end). I still love it. I loved a number of his later records too, though often preferring the B-sides. Neil Young said this of him: “I used to be pissed off at Bobby Darin because he changed styles so much. Now I look at him and think he was a genius.”

He sang duets on TV with an extraordinary range of people from Stevie Wonder to Judy Garland, from Dinah Shore to Clyde McPhatter and from Linda Ronstadt to Jimmy Durante. He sang “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” with Judy Collins in 1969; he could sing “Cry Me A River” and “Lonesome Whistle Blues”; he could play bluesy harmonica and convincing drum solos; and do fine imitations of Hollywood stars.”

Lovely, and true. Check the version of “Lonesome Whistle Blues”. In a week where I watched Mumford & Sons and The Old Crow Medicine Show’s self-regarding documentary, Big Easy Express, (loosely inspired by Festival Express), the ability to inhabit a Hank Williams song is not to be sneezed at. Darin’s really there, the young pretenders not even in the same State.

Thinking of Bobby Darin, I remembered that Mad Magazine’s opinion of him was less complimentary
Somewhere I have this issue, but found what I was looking for on BobbyDarin.net: “In Oct. 1961, the pop culture magazine Mad introduced a feature entitled “Celebrities Wallets.” It was drawn by George Woodbridge and written by Arnie Kogen. The Magazine stated “With this article, MAD introduces a new feature, based on the proposition that you can tell an awful lot about a person by the scraps of paper and cards and bills and photographs and money he carries around in his wallet. Since we are all basically nosey, we thought it would be exciting to see what famous people carried around in their wallets. So we sent out a special research team to pick some famous pockets…”. Bobby Darin was their first subject.

Darin

Emil & The Detectives, National Theatre
I know it’s a kids’ show, but I was one once, and this – well, this was my favourite book. My copy, foxed with age and with its black and white line drawings badly coloured in, is a treasured possession. I was not let down, especially by the extraordinary Expressionist set design and the Weimar-esque pit band, led by Kevin Amos. Their verve, and the wonderful score by Paul Englishby, added immeasurably to the experience. The choreographing of the children, the commuters and the cycling is really clever, and the use of light to create a city and its sewers, breathtaking. If you’re around, find an excuse to go…

On the way to and from Emil, great busking…
In sheet rain, almost vertical, turning the Hungerford footbridge across the Thames into a swimming pool: Tuba and Melodica, playing “Winter Wonderland”. Tuba. Melodica. Now that’s a combination. Then a clarinettist, playing only the sax solo from Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, but looping it and using the echo to play around himself. Fabulous. I don’t know if we were paying them for their inspired choices or their fortitude…

Well, that’s a hundred posts reached. Whew! All best to every one of you reading, and have a sterling seasonal sojourn. Back, in some form, in 2014.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 1st August

Busker, Waterloo Station, 29 July
Playing Jimi Hendrix riffs. Not songs—just riffs. I figure he thinks that the most anyone hears is about 25 seconds, and that he should stick to what he does best, which involves a lot of flashy hand waving and facial grimacing. I gave him £1 for the way he fluttered his hand away from the strings after playing a particularly nice Purple Haze pastiche.

Stand Up For Senegal!
Alone among the national anthems that I’ve heard at this Olympics, the Senegalese song doesn’t have militaristic percussion and brassy horns. It actually has a pretty, pastoral tune, which seemed to float round the stadium rather than bounce off the metal girders, as Uruguay’s did. Senegal went on to float past the Uruguayan defence and win 2-0, playing with ten men for most of the match.

Sounds In Silence
Re-parking the car late the other night. The street is eerily quiet, as is the car, and the radio unexpectedly leaps into life at top volume. Jesus! But it’s only our old friends, Simon and Garfunkel, singing The Sound Of Silence, in the Tom Wilson “Folk Rock Overdub Mix”. I’m not sure that I’ve ever really listened to this but it’s great. Subtly done, albeit in a chart-friendly kind of way, with Bobby Gregg particularly good on drums as he follows Simon’s fingerpicked acoustic. But it’s such a strange notion, isn’t it—to, without the knowledge, cooperation or consent of the act, re-shape the track so radically. And, in the process, reform the act and help to make it huge.

How We Made… The Piano. The Guardian, August 1st
MICHAEL NYMAN Composer/“I had listened to recordings of Holly Hunter, who played Ada, performing Bach and Brahms and thought she’d be best suited to reflective, lyrical music—and useless at the usual Michael Nyman-type stuff. I must have pitched it right because she played with an emotional power that still influences me whenever I perform the score. The soundtrack helped define the feel of the film as it was shooting: Hunter said, as she accepted her Oscar, that it helped her create the character of Ada.”
JANE CAMPION, Director/“The only brief I gave Michael was to compose quite a few pieces that we could choose from. I let him have free rein, but we’d discuss what he’d done and I’d tell him if something could be sadder or happier. When he first visited, I hired a piano thinking he’d want to work through a few ideas, but he sat down, played a couple of notes, and said: Let’s go shopping! I assumed this was a musical genius at work, so decided I’d better go along with it. I trailed him all afternoon, while he bought a shirt and watched some cricket. Finally, I asked if he’d had any thoughts and he said he’d decided to research Scottish folk songs. I knew immediately that this was perfect.”

Bowie: Backsides/Mugshots
Stumbled across two David Bowie artifacts this week: A bootleg of a 1980 TV Show recorded at the Marquee Club, Wardour Street, London, in late October 1973 for the American TV show Midnight Special. I remember that somehow we got tickets and queued down the Soho street for hours to get in. I wasn’t a great Bowie aficionado but I do remember the show, with all its stop/start filming and endless retakes, as being really thrilling. Bowie was backed by the Spiders From Mars, but with Aynsley Dunbar on drums. Luckily, Mick Rock, who was photographing it, wrote about it for Music Scene: “The space in the Marquee is too limited to permit the requisite number of cameras to film simultaneously, so each song had to be reshot from different angles several times. This entailed as many as five or six performances of the same song…. the atmosphere generated by Bowie’s own unique craziness swiftly transformed the clubhouse into something closely resembling a circus ring – Dali style. Throughout Bowie was very patient, very up. He filled in the intervals between takes rapping with the audience, teasing, laughing. After each song he would disappear immediately, reappearing dramatically on cue for the next one in a new costume. He was joined by Marianne Faithfull, in a nun’s cowl and black cape, for the last song, the old Sonny and Cher hit, I Got You Babe. He frolicked about in the true spirit of the song while Marianne watched him, deadpan throughout. During one long break between takes she turned and left the stage, and paraded a pretty bare bottom, as the split in her cape flew open.” I remember that quite vividly.

Secondly, this, the most composed, fashion-forward police mugshot of all time.

“David Bowie, Iggy Pop and two female friends were busted for felony possession of half a pound of marijuana back in March of 1976 at the Americana Hotel in Rochester, N.Y., following a nearby concert. Bowie was held in the Monroe County jail for a few hours before being freed on bail—but this swanky mug shot wasn’t taken until he returned a few days later to face arraignment. The four ended up skating on all charges.”—Joe Robinson, diffuser.fm

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 7th March

Busker, Charing Cross tube station, Thursday 1st March
An alto saxist, playing Ewan McColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, with every phrase so extended it took the entire length of the subway corridor for the tune to fall into place, which it did, rather beautifully. And at 30p, cheaper than an iTunes download.

Dark Ages Musician-Fan Communication
Found in a folder of old things: this returned envelope from a simpler, less efficient time. Attempting to join the Levon Helm Organisation, which would have given me an 8″x10″ glossy and a quarterly newsletter. For $6. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter? What? Who needs ’em?

For illustration fans: The early Isabelle Dervaux rubber airmail stamps are trumped by the United States Post Office Returned To Sender.

Close Up to a Clarinet
I’m working on a book with a great musician, Sammy Rimington. Sammy’s played clarinet over the years with some of the greats of the Jazz world, as well as with the likes of Muddy Waters and Ry Cooder, and I asked if he’d bring his clarinet the next time we met to work on the book, a scrapbook of his life. He obliged and, sitting two feet away from him as I pushed the record button, was struck by how great it was to be in such proximity to a) a great musician, and b) that most gorgeously fluid and smoky-sounding instrument.

Pro-Rata Music Documentaries
Talking with my friend Steve Way about the Gerry Rafferty doc, he proposed that future music documentaries should be made in appropriate formats. eg: Punk Rock documentaries should be very short, preferably under three minutes; Prog Rock documentaries should be be extremely long and in multiple parts (the “Gatefold” approach).

Kasabian vs Lou Reed, Friday 2nd March
The Graham Norton Show, BBC1. Kasabian are so bad, so indie dishwater bland, they make me want to crawl into a hole and die. All the moves, all the thin jeans and pointy shoes and shades in the world couldn’t rescue the flaccid strumming and the la la la’s. Goldie Hawn attempted to describe this sorry mess, causing the singer (looking for all the world like someone’s dodgy bearded uncle) to reference Be My Baby and Roy Orbison.

Oh Please.

Fuck. And Off.

Over on BBC2 a few minutes later, a discussion about Lou Reed reaching seventy. After a clip from Later, of Lou with Metallica, writer Christina Patterson made this observation: “I kind of think—why should he carry on doing the same stuff? He did some stuff absolutely brilliantly, that’s more than most of us do in a lifetime and I think it’s a great temptation for artists to do the same thing again and again… And I think good on him… to try and do something fresh. Personally I think it’s disastrous, but I don’t see there’s anything wrong in the quest…” Absolutely spot on. But then Lou’s done something great in the first place, unlike Kasabian. Result? Victory for Lou!

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