Friday, October 27th

ONE “THE FURNACE RANG WITH A THOUSAND GROANS”
I’m not going to mention the Dylan play anymore (I’ve learned my lesson) but, in one of those strange coincidences, as I got into the car – but prior to finding Bryan Ferry’s fabulous version of “Hard Rain” on my phone – I checked my email. There was a note from Michael Gray, Legendary Professor of Dylan. We hadn’t been in touch for at least nine months, so it was amusing that he emailed at that precise time.

5-skiffleHe was kindly pointing me to an Australian review of a new compilation album that features the Ken Colyer Skiffle Group doing “Down Bound Train”. I always assumed that Ken, Alexis, Lonnie and the gang’s gently percolating tune was based on an old “Casey Jones” style trad song. I was wrong. It was written by Chuck Berry. And thus Ken became the first British artist to cover a Chuck Berry song. Before the Beatles. Before the Stones. Which seems somewhat amazing. I can only assume that their blues antennae were set for Chess Records because of Dixon, Waters and Wolf, and somehow in early 1956, flipped Chuck’s “No Money Down” to listen to the B-Side.

TWO “SULPHURIC FUMES SCORCHED THEIR HANDS AND FACE”
Wikipedia tells us that “Down Bound Train” was inspired by Berry’s fire and brimstone religious upbringing. Both his parents were staunch Baptists and sang in the Antioch Church Choir, which rehearsed at his home. “It is a song about redemption and a warning against alcohol abuse. A man who has too much to drink falls asleep on a barroom floor and has a vivid dream about riding a train, which is driven by the Devil himself. When the man wakes up he renounces the demon drink. It’s one of the first rock records to employ a fade-in and fade-out.” Chuck’s version is hotter and hipper than Ken’s, for sure, and features a fine vocal and a great lyric:
“The passengers were most a motley crew,
Some were foreigners and others he knew,
Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags,
Handsome young ladies and wicked old hags…”
But the topping is the fabulous galloping guitar he plays throughout, which leaps forward from the backing for a couple of rhythm solos. [Listen in the audio player to the right].

THREE “THE STRANGER AWOKE WITH AN ANGUISHED CRY”
Listen to this“Respect” from A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and tell me if it doesn’t strike you as totally redundant…

FOUR “WIDER AND WIDER THE COUNTRY GREW”
Also, please help me to understand this Bang & Olufsen advert in the latest John Lewis magazine: “The AW17 Collection (this Autumn/Winter, I get that at least) embraces that magical slice of time where everything just falls into place. Crisp, lilac sunrises, grey city skyline days, rich brown dusks and violet nightclub vibes – all set in the unique landscape of Japan”. I think we’re talking about tiny speakers.

5-boad

FIVE “AND THE PRAYERS AND VOWS WERE NOT IN VAIN”
A letter to The Guardian that was bang on…
Sincere thanks to Laura Barton for her excellent review of Bruce Springsteen on Broadway (13 October). Rich in insights while devoid of cliche, her warm perceptive report conveyed much of the intimate feeling of being there, sensing that it was something special and exceptional. The accompanying monochrome portrait was exactly right, capturing the man’s essential humanity. Ms Barton, as ever, selects each phrase with care: “We’re not at the theatre any more.” With that, she has told us everything. I have to cope with never getting a ticket, but great reporting.
Irvine Stuart
Dorridge, West Midlands

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Wednesday, December 14th

ONE JAZZIE B: FROM DOLE TO SOUL, BBC 4
This documentary started lazily, but gradually sharpened up to be a fascinating portrait of black experience in 80s London. “The media painted us all with the same brush, but we were all different strands of that brush… not everybody in south London and Brixton enjoyed West Indian food – no we didn’t. We were sick of chicken and rice and dumpling and all that stuff, ’cos that’s what we were raised on. We aspired to the Wimpy Bar – we wanted to eat chips. I was born and raised in England. I wanted to be like my mate at school. I wanted to go fishing down on the River Lea. I wanted to play Subbuteo, I wanted to roller skate. I wanted to have those kind of experiences. I played Ice Hockey, for Christ’s sake!”

TWO RICHARD HARRIS IN A COMMENT ON thebluemoment
On a post about the Stones’ new album: “May 12, 1963 (Sunday) they played an afternoon “R&B” session at The 51 Club (Ken Colyer’s place). We were in London, up from Wales for the opening concert that night of Ray Charles’ hugely anticipated first British visitation, so wandering through Soho just to kill time, we drifted in. Yes, they cranked through the Chess Best Of anthology rather well, loud and tight, and with embryo attitude! I do remember they also did “I’m Moving On” with a two chorus break, the second with the bass lifting up an octave. We stole that! The Stones at a pivotal, enthusiastic point and Ray & that Band on one London Sunday… to be alive etc…”

THREE LORRA LORRA ROBBIE ROBERTSON THIS WEEK…
from an animated (!) interview by Andy Kershaw on Radio 4, to a very interesting Michael Simmonds piece in Mojo. The Kershaw interview felt to me to be treading old ground (the Starlight Lounge story is told in the Last Waltz and in every book about the Band ever written), but reading the interview in Mojo reminds me that there’s more than one side to any story. I was idly looking at robbierobertson.com when I came upon this gallery of his guitars. I singled out one Telecaster, partly because of its extraordinary appearance, partly because of its extraordinary history.

robertsonguitars

Then I went off on a detour around Chuck Berry. First, a wonderful piece by Peter Guralnick, where he discusses a series of meetings with Chuck Berry, where the subject of poetry’s influence on the words of Berry’s songs comes up.

It’s here, too, in this interview shot for “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll”, with Robertson and Berry looking through Chuck’s scrapbook. It’s fascinating how subtle and tender Berry’s thoughts are.

FOUR A LOVELY IDEA…
Tyler Coates in US Esquire on the news that no, Bob won’t go to the Nobel Ceremony, but yes, he has written a speech for it: “Usually when one RSVPs “no” to an invitation, it isn’t necessary to submit a long explanation or – perhaps even more ballsy – a script to be read to the people who did show up to the party. Then again, we’re talking about a guy who ghosted on the people who simply wish to bestow upon him one of the world’s most coveted awards. Would it be too much to ask for a member of the Swedish Academy to stand up in front of the crowd, silently hold up Dylan’s speech on cue cards and drop them to the floor?”

The reality was a moving rendition of “Hard Rain” by Patti Smith, beautifully chronicled here by Amanda Petrusich on newyorker.com (she’s the author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, a fantastic book.)

FIVE REST IN PEACE, HERB HARDESTY
Not only a kick-ass saxophonist on those great Fats Domino records out of New Orleans, but for those of us who saw Tom Waits touring in ’79, a fabulous trumpet player, too. Follow this link to hear him on the glorious medley of “Summertime/Burma Shave” essayed on that tour. Apparently, his trumpet was custom-made by Henri Selmer Paris, one of two made in France by a master craftsman; the other was owned by Louis Armstrong.

AND FINALLY… PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Halfway up the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, we come across this…

gaga

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