Five Things: Wednesday 9th October

How We Made Boogie Wonderland, The Guardian
Allee Willis, songwriter: “In the late 1970s, I teamed up with Jon Lind, who’d written “Sun Goddess” for Earth, Wind & Fire. In the disco era, lots of songs contained the word “boogie”, but we didn’t want to write just another dance song. I’d just seen Looking for Mr Goodbar, a harsh film starring Diane Keaton as a dissatisfied teacher, who takes drugs, goes out dancing every night and picks up a different guy. One night, she brings home a sexually confused Vietnam vet who beats, rapes and kills her. I wanted to write about the desperation some people feel – and how dancing can provide a release. The line, “Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get/Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has laid too many bets”, is so bleak. But the groove came first and – musically – it’s uplifting, with a chorus that feels almost theatrical, like Broadway, like Mary Poppins”.

I’d never noticed those lyrics (or their inspiration). The following lines aren’t much more uplifting: “The mirror stares you in the face and says,‘Baby, uh, uh, it don’t work’/You say your prayers though you don’t care; you dance and shake the hurt”. More ammunition for the Nile Rodgers take on Disco: that the songs were often lyrically acute portraits of the society of the time.

From Chris Floyd’s Blog on photographing Ronnie Wood,
“We are in a prime piece of four story Georgian Mayfair, on the first floor – the second floor if you’re American. The place attracts a multinational crowd.  It’s not an art gallery. It’s a fine art gallery… cultured people with good legs and fine watches. I am here to photograph Ronald David Wood. He is the artist in residence at the gallery. Up on the top floor is his studio. It has all his paints, his brushes, his canvases, a snooker table, and although he’s not actually living here, a huge bed should he wish to take advantage of the resources and crash for a while. Later on I make a joke about how handy this must be if he doesn’t have enough money in his pockets for a cab back to Holland Park, especially after a big night out in the West End. It went right off the cliff.  Sometimes I worry that I get too subtle at the key moments. I’ve been doing it for years.

Everybody who works here calls him Ronnie. They tell me what to expect. Ronnie likes to be involved in the creative process. Ronnie doesn’t like to dwell on things for too long, Ronnie does tend to get bored. That’s ok, I say, I get that a lot. Wherever I go in the building, on any of the four floors, the music of The Rolling Stones plays continuously. All the hits from the last half century. We bring in our equipment from the car outside. It’s the hottest day of the year, thirty six degrees centigrade. The lunchtime streets of Mayfair buckle under the weight of the heat but back inside the fine art gallery the cool air of wealth wafts over all of us from the air conditioning vents.

I set up two different shots simultaneously, so that we can wheel Ronnie from one seamlessly to the next, without losing him to boredom somewhere in between. The most important element is to not give them time to think. If you do that they will always choose to slip away, wander off, disappear. In summary, they will do one. Why? Because when you’ve been in The Rolling Stones for almost forty years you will have had your picture taken tens of thousands of times. There is nothing interesting about it, nothing new, nothing to cause you to think. Having your picture taken for a magazine cover is like what a Payment Protection Insurance cold call is to us. On the whole, you don’t want to be rude but if they go on past a certain point you’re just going to hang up and not feel guilty about it

Sight, target, engage. It’s a military situation. There’s no mirror, signal, manoeuvre here. Whatever it takes. As one gilded Stones hit fades away and a new one immerses us in its familiar scent, a thought comes into my head. A question for Ronnie. Yes, can I ask you something, Ronnie? “Yeah man, as long as it’s not about The Faces”. I gesticulate to the speakers, to the music. “Well, when you go somewhere, a bar, a pub, a restaurant, a shop, a cab, and you hear a Stones song on the stereo, the radio, well, what do you hear? What do you hear that we don’t hear?” The opening bars of “Gimme Shelter” are washing down over us. Ronald David Wood cocks an ear, his body comes up on its haunches as he searches the spectrum for the signal. The only thing missing from this familiar posture is a guitar. The apocalyptic, heart of darkness groove of my favourite ever Stones song cascades down in a torrent over us: “Oh, a storm is threat’ning/My very life today…”

Ronald David Wood finds the signal or, more correctly, the signal finds him and his arm starts to move, followed quickly by his hips. He loses himself in it for five, maybe six seconds, locked inside. Then his head slowly comes up, he pulls his Ray Bans down his nose an inch and his black, black eyes look at me for a second before his nineteen fifties, postwar, Hillingdon ration boy face breaks into the slyest little smirk you’ve ever seen, and he says:


I like it.”

Record Shop Berwick Street: Ricky Gervais, Seona Dancing
I’d never actually seen one of their covers, but Ricky makes a very convincing Boy George/Jon Moss cross…


Journey Through The Past: One
I find some things while we’re moving house. This is a favourite… 16 years old and a winner. Zachariah turns out to be a hippie musical western loosely based on Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, adapted as a Musical Western by the Firesign Theatre comedy troupe. Country Joe and the Fish star, as an inept gang of robbers called The Crackers.

extra-Record Mirror

Wikepedia: “Underneath the gunplay, the jokes, and the music, an important message is delivered: a life of pacifism, quiet contemplation, male bonding and vegetarianism is preferable to a life of violence”. I don’t remember getting that at all. But Elvin Jones (!) is great as drumming gunslinger Job Cain, and Doug Kershaw plays a fantastic Cajun stomp, ”Ballad of Job Cain” that I treasure to this day – my first exposure to Cajun music, before Charlie Gillett gave us all the Sundown Playboys on Honky Tonk. It gets better. Apparently Ginger Baker was originally going to play the part of Zachariah…  and the film recorded a loss of $1,435,000 (impressive for 1971, no?)

CSN at the Albert Hall
It was almost worth it for Steve Stills’ guitar playing in “Bluebird”. Almost. Three hours of dodgy harmonies, the backing band churning it up like buttermilk and pleas for peace were, frankly, a bit of a slog. Even for songs that feel part of one’s DNA.

It all started with the lights going down to Jeff Beck’s version of “Day In The Life” (a change from “Fanfare For The Common Man”, say, and a neat reference to both the Albert Hall and Stills’ debt to Beck in his soloing). The sound was muggy for the first few songs – the drums in particular a horrible cardboard thump – but it gradually cleared. Unfortunately this revealed that Stills’ voice is shot and that CSN’s live harmonies haven’t got any tighter since the late Sixties. We’re then on a merry-go-round. A couple of Crosby songs followed by a couple of Nash songs followed by a… you get the idea. Crosby comes out pretty well, always an interestingly different songwriter (apart from a dreadful reworking of “Triad”, sounding not unlike a bad 80s cop show theme). Nash, however (Brian Nash, according to the Guardian’s review), is just dreadful. Pompous, pretentious, unpleasantly nasal and off the cliché-ometer lyrically. “Military Madness” and “Cathedral” haven’t improved over the years. A new song, “Burning For The Buddha” is as dreadful as its title.

Pretty much all the fun comes from Stills, launching himself without a safety net into solo after solo. “Bluebird”, the old Springfield chestnut, was dusted off and sent into the stratosphere, all trem-bar swoops and harmonics. It was outrageously good, Stills got a standing ovation, and I was given the will to stay to the end. On “Treetop Flyer” he walked around the stage playing the most beautifully liquid blues fills, nods to Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon” one minute, to BB King the next, before dashing back to the mike to sing another laconic verse of his paean to Vietnam Vets turned drug smugglers. His solos in “Almost Cut My Hair” were equally good, spurred on by Crosby’s impassioned singing.
Why are band logo's so bad? It’s as if they’ve asked Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer to design them. Oh, and only £2 for CS&N rolling papers…

Why are band logo’s so bad? It’s as if they’ve asked Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer to design them. Oh, and only £2 for CS&N rolling papers…

Finally came the encore of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” – all over the shop, but made good by Stills’ channeling Davy Graham for a raga-infused breakdown in the middle. I left the Hall strangely gloomy, wondering if I expected too much.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 22nd August

Garner-A-Go-Go! “This is Jim Rockford; at the tone leave your name and message…”
Talking to Aimee Mann about her new album, she mentioned being drawn to analogue synthesizers and gnarly guitars after revisiting some classics from the early eighties pop-synth era. Among the more obvious markers like the Cars and Blondie, it was great to hear her namecheck the terrific theme to The Rockford Files by Mike Post… and to hear her quote it at the end of the title track of Charmers.

Bits Of Bob
As excerpts of Tempest (not The Tempest—that’s Mr Shakespeare’s, according to Bob himself) filter out, we hear Early Roman Kings (fabulous title, no?) soundtracking some dreary looking US tv series, Strike Back… The song itself is a default Dylan accordion-led 12-bar that gives the band little room to move. Now that Charlie Sexton is back this is disappointing: at Hammersmith last year he showboated so much it could have been called The Charlie Sexton Show, featuring Bob Dylan, as he fired riff after riff into every available space, absolutely thrillingly…

Lyle Lovett, What I’ve Learned, US Esquire, February 2012 (yes, I’ve only just got round to reading it…)
“The inspiration and excitement that you get from being amazed when you give a vague direction to a guitar player like Dean Parks—“Make it sound a little more purple”—and then hear him play exactly the right thing.”

And Talking Of Purple: Fashion Forward Drummer, South Bank, Last Friday Evening

Never seen a drum kit this particular colour. Apparently it’s very… this season.


Photographers on Music: Brilliant!
The advent of blogging has revealed that photographers are a) really thoughtful and smart about their work, the world, the price of coffee, etc, and b) can really write. Here’s two I came across by chance this week. Firstly, Chris Floyd, on his blog Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances, writing about a complex quick-turnaround portrait of Olympic Cycling Gold Medallist Laura Trott:

“I close my eyes and I think of the canon. The canon are the photographers I draw on in times of doubt. They give me comfort, solace and inspiration. They include Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber, Lee Friedlander, Sally Mann, Corrine Day, Glen Luchford, Erwin Blumenfeld, Harry Callahan and, in this case, Irving Penn… I go through the rolodex in my head thinking of them all until I find the one that instinctively feels like the inspirational match for the task at hand. That’s not to say I set about slavishly ripping them off. I use them as my starting point… They are my photographic moral compass. They show me the light, guide the way and keep me company. Once I push off and get underway I’m then going forward under my own steam. By the time I get to the other side I will have, hopefully, added enough of my own ingredients to the dish for it to taste new and different. To understand what I mean then check this out:

Bad Penny Blues by Humphrey Lyttleton (1956).

then this:

Lady Madonna by The Beatles (1968).

Each of them are great but one was a jumping off point for the other. I love it. You can hear the lineage right there.”

I also stumbled (is there a better way, internet-wise, to say this?) via the Black Eyewear blog, across the Secret Diary of Perou (photographer to the stars) and amongst factory-and-dog-related-posts read this fantastic account of his experience of seeing Elizabeth (Cocteau Twins) Fraser at Meltdown. If only more music writing was this good, or this well laid out:

“i am sitting on my own due to a late ticket purchase.
but i’m three rows from the stage.

we all make the mistake of sitting through 30 minutes of support act: four people doing acapella, harmonised, medieval chanting.
all songs sound exactly the same.
unexpectedly, it makes me want to punch someone: almost certainly not what this music was designed for.

elizabeth arrives on stage: a demure, grey haired lady with the voice of an angel.
during the second song: a reworking of a cocteau twins track, i feel tears on my face and i’m glad i’m sitting on my own.
i have crazy tingles over my spine.

but then…

behind elizabeth i notice the bald keyboard player who looks like richard o’brien in the crystal maze, wearing a sparkly, tinsel, double-width, pointed shoulder-padded outfit, postulating between two stacks of keyboards like a prog-rock nightmare.
he is more than a little distracting.
and begins the downfall of my evening’s entertainment.

the audience are annoying.
in between songs, old men shout out ‘we love you liz’. ‘marry me’ and ‘where have you been?’

there is a lesbian couple in front of me who try to dance though seated through all the cocteau twins songs.
one of these women also keeps trying to take photos of elizabeth on an iphone and keeps getting told by the ushers ‘NO PHOTOS’

i am no longer able to enjoy the performance when a girl arrives four songs before the end of the show to take her empty seat next to mine.

she is wearing an overpowering fragrance that smells like a combination of mountain pine fresh toilet duck and lemon fresh toilet duck.
i don’t know if she bathed in it pre-show or if she’s been drinking it, but i am unable think about anything else now.

i am concerned my nasal passages will be permanently damaged by sitting next to this person.

there are two standing ovations.
i sit through the first one
i stand through the second so that i am able to leave swiftly.

for the second encore elizabeth does a version of one of my favourite songs: ‘song to the siren’ which she did with ‘this mortal coil’ (a tim buckley cover)
and it is not so good.
i leave the royal festival hall a little disappointed.

sarah texts from the train station.
she’d left with steve before the first encore “…the memories were better.”


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