Wednesday, 4th November


I had no idea that these were still around, two-handed fretboards that work independently and are played by tapping. My only problem with the Stick is that I’ve never heard anything other than pallid jazz funk or new age played on them, maybe with the exception of bass player Tony Levin (who I remember using one with Paul Simon in the 80s). I could, of course, be wrong… Anyhow, this particular busked performance was of George Harrison’s “Something”, which ticked both those boxes. Impressive, but too many notes for an echoe-y tube station.

It turns out that Stu Kimball’s solo guitar introductions were from the deep American folk & blues songbook… the first half entrance was to “Foggy Dew”, the second to “Deep Ellum Blues”. According to – your one stop shop for all hard-to-find documentary films about American folk or roots cultures – “Deep Ellum is a part of Dallas, Texas, and was a legendary music scene built by the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Lead Belly, and Bill Neely, which all but disappeared with the construction of Dallas’s Central Expressway in the 1950s”.

I never thought I’d hear Bob play “She Belongs to Me” live, so that was a thrill, as it’s a song that lingers on through the decades, never losing its magic. This particular version was loaded with a rich, thick stew of guitars, especially a lovely, molten sound from Charlie Sexton that sent me back to his wonderful production and playing on Lucinda Williams “Essence”. There was also a great break during the first harmonica solo, before drummer George Recili led the band back in with a couple of snappy funk fills.

I remember having lunch with Charlie Gillett the week after Diana died. It was early September, 1997, and we sat outside a Caribbean restaurant that had just opened in Covent Garden. He gave me a track sheet of his programme [It’s Saturday Night with Charlie Gillett] from the previous weekend, and quizzed me on the reason for the songs’ inclusion. Some were easy, like Nicky Thomas’s “Love of the Common People” (a great Trojan single), but I was stumped on the specifics of “She Belongs to Me” – which was shocking as I’d been trying to earn a living as a lyricist for the previous decade. My only defence is that I’m often more interested in the mood the words conjure or the song’s feel than specific lines. I have a cheap theory that great lyrics and a boring melody are never a success, whereas a great melody with duff lyrics still has a chance. You may not agree, but there it is. I listened anew to the song after that lunch and have been listening to it ever since. I’ve added the tracklist at the end of this week’s post – it makes interesting reading. Oh, and the versions I most love are the live ’66 acoustic version with its bluesy “Cathedrals of Sound” harp solo, and the alternate take from the Bringing It All Back Home sessions included on the No Direction Home soundtrack. Vastly different, but equally beautiful.

Watching the bizarre F1 coverage of the USA Grand Prix, I realised that all sport now aspires to the glamour of Motor Racing. I want this explained to me. Because every major sporting event I go to – in sports that were always regarded as serious and competitive, such as athletics or cycling – are now all covered in an expensive blanket of razamatazz. The disco light nonsense reached a zenith with 6 Day London, where the centre of the arena was held by a large booth containing a DJ from the Ministry of Sound and his exploding airjets and cannons. From this perch he was able to force competitors to wear giant foam hands and generally dance like only people wearing cycling footwear can dance. The music didn’t even break for the actual racing either: Keirin or Derny, it didn’t matter – the big thudding bass beat trailed them every wheel of the way…


Recommended by Gemma Cairney, Radio 1 presenter, in The Guardian: “I want to tell you a secret. Lurking at the end of some Hackney streets, the London borough I have gallivanted and lived in for the past decade, is a place of solitude. It becomes hazy in the summertime and wraps you up in green as far the eye can see. It’s called the Hackney Marshes, a strange and unexpectedly big patch of grass, reservoir and haven for happy bell-ringing cyclists. Adjoining it is an ever-stretching canal, plunging you further north, filled with houseboats that make you want to throw out all your things and join “floatsville”. At one particular moseying point, you can hear a plonkity, plonk soundtrack to your dreamy walk. You stop and realise that it comes from the floating record shop, a simple set-up consisting of some boxes of carefully selected vinyl and a smiley boat-owning guy to help you choose. It has everything from 50p bargains to deliciously gold-adorned Motown specials. It’s the ultimate pleasure to flick through, outside, in one of London’s loved no-man’s lands. Whenever I buy a vinyl from there, I always feel like I’m bringing home a memento of the perfect Sunday afternoon.” We came across it recently, and purchased some fine singles from the collection of Kerry Stone…


Stay with me, here. This is the Chipmunks – a cynical attempt to wrest money from junior fans of the cartoon show – covering Blondie’s “Call Me” (from American Gigolo, let’s not forget). C’mon, stay with me here – the trick is playing it back at 16 rpm, whereupon it sounds, well, just amazing. Jim Morrison, anyone?

And my Jordan sends me this YouTube link of another Jordan, a 5-year-old, creating a hip hop song in 30 seconds (well, almost…) The world is a strange place.

TRACKLIST FOR It’s Saturday Night with Charlie Gillett, 6 September, 1997


Wednesday, 25th February


BobworldBob’s World. We just live in it, according to this Slate Map. It lists every place mentioned in a Dylan lyric. Although the one I clicked on at random seemed wrong: surely the “Brighton girls are like the moon” line in “Sign on the Window” refers to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and not Brighton, East Sussex?

My favourite paragraph of newsy rock criticism so far this year, which encapsulates the mundanity of BRIT-schooled talent. Mark Beaumont in the Guardian… “This year’s fresh lump of unreconstructed fossil fuel being lobbed into the music industry’s spluttering furnace is critics’ choice winner James Bay, the latest in an endless stream of lowest-common-denominator trad singer-songwriter money-spinners, with an inexplicable 8m YouTube views, but this time – crucially – in a hat. The hat, let’s make no bones, is magnificent, a charcoal Panama worthy of the latter years of Razorlight, but its resplendent brim hides a chronic deficiency of personality, presence and ideas.”

So in the last six weeks we manage to watch almost every major film in Oscar contention and stay up to watch the show, which turns out to be a damp squib, strangely underpowered. It’s a consequence, I think, of Neil Patrick Harris’s rather laid back and ironic presenting style, which didn’t get the required reactive energy from the audience. The opening musical number was a bravura technical display, and funny enough, but it was downhill from there. It reached a nadir with Lady Gaga singing a medley of all the songs from The Sound of Music which seemed to go on all dawn. Straight. With no contemporary ‘edge’. It was all we could do to stay awake. Maybe we were asleep and it never happened, it was all just some terrible hallucination.

So, on that note, my nominations for musical performances in the films of 2014 would be as follows:
1) Drummer Carla Azar (Wendy & Lisa, PJ Harvey, Jack White), who is terrific playing Nana, the drummer in Frank’s band in Frank, the amusing (and somewhat tragic) fictional re-telling of the career of Chris (Frank Sidebottom) Sievey.
2) Charlie Sexton, long-time Dylan sideman, in the wonderful Boyhood, playing Ethan Hawke’s brother, and some lovely guitar behind Hawke as he sings a (pretty good) self-written song.
3) The scene in Selma where Martin Luther King phones Mahalia Jackson late at night for some support, which comes in the form of a mesmerizing song… and then an FBI phonetap log comes up on the screen…


4) Antonio Sanchez’s improvised drum score for Birdman, the only music in the film (apart from a minute of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor). Fascinating to hear how it came together, in Vanity Fair’s piece: “An accomplished improvisational musician, Sanchez knew how to improvise to the beat in his own head or with other musicians onstage. But improvising to actual images, especially those that had not even been filmed yet, was more of a challenge. So Iñárritu pulled a chair up to Sanchez’s drum kit and talked him through the movie, motioning every time that Keaton’s character would advance to the next part of the scene.

“So [Iñárritu] would be sitting in front of me with his eyes closed and all of a sudden he would raise his hand. And I would think, OK, that means Riggan opened a door, so I would switch or do an accent or do something with the texture. We would try the scene again and then try a different kind of intensity and color… A lot of people think of the drums as a monochromatic instrument… and a lot of people do play that way but I have been experimenting with playing on the sides, the wood, on the rims, with my hands, with brushes, mallets, branches—anything to get a very wide range sonically.” He even stacked cymbals to make them sound less washy and sustained and more dry and trashy.

Iñárritu played the demos during rehearsals to make sure they worked. And they did, but he and Sanchez both agreed that the drums sounded “almost too good, too pristine” for a movie set inside an old Broadway theater. The two re-teamed in L.A., and Sanchez re-created some of his improv-ed tracks with a different drum kit that had been detuned and outfitted with vintage heads. The two also took the drums onto the street to experiment with hand-held moving microphones so that they did not have to rely on reverb, echo, and volume effects for some of the scenes in which Keaton walks through Times Square, weaving in and out of crowds alongside an actual street musician.”

Annoyed that I’m out of town on Friday – having just heard that Garland Jeffreys is playing in West Kensington – I check to see which other towns he’s playing on this short tour and discover that we can hit Leicester on Sunday night on the way back, and see him there. Who doesn’t love “35mm Dreams”, “Wild in the Streets” and “Ghost Writer”? I know I have, since 1975. As the New Yorker put it: “Last month, the Village Voice published its list of the sixty best songs ever written about New York City. Coming in at No. 7 was Jeffreys’s “Wild in the Streets,” a hissing, insinuating, insistent piece from 1973. No argument here, but you could print up a list of the Brooklyn native’s catalogue, tack it to the wall, step back ten paces, and throw a dart, and you’d be almost guaranteed to hit another great New York City song. Jeffreys, who is seventy-one, is still a dynamo.” And I can’t wait to hear him sing “In the heat of the summer/Better call up the plumber/And turn on the street pump/To cool me off…/With your newspaper writers/And your big crime fighters/You still need a drugstore/To cure my cough…”

I’m hoping that Mark Bosch is on lead guitar. From photos on Jeffreys’ website it seems he is – when I saw him with Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, I thought him a “passionate and note/feel-perfect Seventies/Eighties Noo Yawk (think Leslie West or Mike Rathke) player, matching Hunter every step of the way”.

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