Five Things, Wednesday 8th October

From an unsparing – but excellent – profile of Willie Nelson at 81 in Rolling Stone, written by Patrick Doyle
“We walk across the driveway to what Nelson calls Django’s, a small log cabin where he spends most of his time. A baseball bat sits by the door; Al Jazeera plays with the volume off on the flatscreen, while a liberal talk-radio show blares in the back of the room. There are shelves of books – books about the history of the Middle East, a book of sketches by Julian Schnabel and a Django Reinhardt songbook. Reinhardt has long been Nelson’s favourite guitarist; he has been taking lessons lately, learning some of the jazz great’s techniques from a teacher in Maui.”

From Michael Parkinson’s biography, picked up at my in-laws
“Yehudi Menuhin had been booked to appear and the researcher reported that, while visiting him, she saw an album by Stéphane Grappelli on his desk. She enquired if he was a fan and Menuhin said he had been sent the album but was not aware of Grappelli’s work. We called Stéphane, who was working in a club in Paris, and asked if he would appear on the show with Menuhin. He was uncertain. “He is a maestro. I am a humble fiddle player,” he said. We convinced him and he flew in to meet Menuhin who, by this time, had listened to Grappelli’s album and was insisting that if they played together they must first rehearse at his house. Stéphane arrived, straight from his stint in the nightclub, and was whisked off to meet Menuhin. He was very nervous. He returned three hours later, wreathed in smiles. we asked him how the rehearsal had been. Stéphane said, “How did it go? I tell you. Five bars into Lady Be Good, who is the maestro?” Menuhin was in awe of Grappelli’s effortless improvising, something he found as impossible to achieve as it would have been for Stéphane to play the Brahms Violin Concerto. It is hard to imagine two more diverse personalities – Menuhin, an infant prodigy, a protected species from childhood; Stéphane, a child of smoke-filled rooms who never had a formal lesson in his life and created, along with Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club, a sound as enchanting and fresh as any in all of jazz.”

My one meeting with Monsieur Grappelli was when Roger Horton, owner of the 100 Club, asked me to photograph him, in order to have his portrait on the walls of the club. Barely out of art school, I had spent a year or so photographing musicians at the Jazz Centre Society in Seven Dials Community Centre on Shelton Street, Covent Garden. It was good practice – there was almost no light and no space, so you really had to work hard to get anything worthwhile. I had no real knowledge of the music, mostly at the more experimental end of the jazz spectrum, but it was always interesting. I snapped Mongezi Feza, Peter Ind, Tony Coe and Bobby Wellins with various degrees of success. I remember squeezing into a tiny space at Louis Stewart’s feet and shooting almost vertically upwards. Louis is a great jazz guitarist from Ireland, who was also in Grappelli’s band that night, along with the equally gifted Martin Simpson. At the point Roger asked me I was competent, but no more, and nervous to boot. I think that Roger asked me to shoot with a flash, because I never would have otherwise used it… Stéphane was polite, but tired, and I felt awful making them pose. The performance, however was terrific. Here’s the contact sheet. Roger chose frame 3, I chose the sans-flash frame 8.

SG

From The Financial Express
Sian sends me this: Scientists sneak Bob Dylan lyrics into research articles: Five Swedish scientists who have been quoting Bob Dylan lyrics in research articles for the last 17 years are running a wager on who can squeeze in most of the American singer’s songs in their articles. The game started 17 years ago when two Professors from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, John Jundberg and Eddie Weitzberg, wrote a piece about gas passing through intestines, with the title Nitric Oxide and inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind. “We both really liked Bob Dylan and we thought the quotes really fitted nicely with what we were trying to achieve with the title”, Weitzberg said. “We’re not talking about scientific papers – we could have got in trouble for that – but rather articles we have written about research by others, book introductions, editorials and things like that”. A few years later a librarian spotted an article written by two other medical professors working at the same university titled Blood on the tracks: a simple twist of fate. The librarian connected the foursome. Junberg and Weitzberg then invited their colleagues to take the idea to the next level and they started competing to see who could get the most Bob Dylan lyrics into their articles before retirement. The winner will get lunch in a restaurant in Solna, north of Stockholm.

From Small Acorns
After another great Tuesday night at the Harrison to watch the Horseless Headmen, Grahame Painting’s terrific improv project, Marcel thinks he recognises trombonist Paul Taylor from seeing the Yiddish Twist Orchestra recently. One innocent enquiry leads to a fascinating conversation, which takes in the upcoming Orchestra CD – two years after its recording, the stars have finally aligned – Brass bands, the UK Cuban music scene, trombone poetry (Paul’s invention), the Three Mustaphas Three, Don Ellis, the Mingus Big Band and the nature of music. Marcel and I agreed that it was as enjoyable as the gig.

From Rock’s Backpages, and the Other Side
A recording made by John Pidgeon of an extraordinary interview he did with Michael Jackson, through the medium of his 13-year-old sister Janet, has been animated by Blank on Blank, in their Famous Names, Lost Interviews series. It was recorded in LA in January 1980 as Off The Wall was being released.

From John’s introduction: “One thing,” she said, as if it was an insignificance she had overlooked and just remembered, “you don’t mind if his sister sits in on the interview, do you?”
“Of course not, Shirley,” I assured her with a smile.
“What’s her name?”
“Janet.”
“Janet,” I repeated.
“Oh, and one more thing…” Shirley paused, to ensure she had my attention. Anticipating another trivial afterthought, I wasn’t ready for the bomb Shirley was about to drop.
“If you could direct your questions to Janet, she’ll put them to Michael.”

Michael Jackson: “I hate labels because it should be just music. I don’t see anything wrong with disco. You can’t dance to [imitates guitar thrashing sound] or… Call it disco. Call it anything. It’s music. Would you call “She’s Out of My Life” disco? “Off The Wall”, “Rock With You”… I don’t know. It’s music to me. It’s like you hear a bird chirping. You don’t say: “That’s a bluejay. This one is a crow.” It’s a beautiful sound. That’s all that counts. Listen to it. You watch them soar in the skies. It’s just beautiful.”

Extra! Mike Disfarmer and Birney Imes
If you’re interested in photography of the American South, check out this fascinating post by Gerry Corden, at That’s How The Light Gets In. Nominally about the new Lucinda Williams CD, it mutates into a fascinating look at photography, music and mutual inspiration.
“Disfarmer is an unusual name – because Mike made it up, changing his name to indicate a rift with both his kin and his agrarian surroundings. He was born Michael Meyer in 1884 and legally changed his name to Disfarmer to disassociate himself from the farming community in which he plied his trade and from his own kinfolk – claiming that a tornado had accidentally blown him onto the Meyer family farm as a baby.”

Five Things: Wednesday 8th May

Tony, Tony, Tony
Following on from the despair of a couple of weeks ago at depressing rock reads, this rebalanced everything: Eamonn Forde’s brilliant compression of Tony Blackburn’s hysterical and self-regarding autobiography, Poptastic. Here are two examples, the first about Gary Glitter. Read it and weep. With laughter.

TonyB

Elton John Documentary, BBC
elton_john_backbendI caught the last quarter of the Elton doc, which seemed to compress the past thirty years of his career into ten minutes and was struck by this: Why, if you’ve got an interview with Terry O’Neill, and he says, “Elton rang me up and said we’re doing a show at Dodger Stadium, it’s gonna be great, get over here and take some pictures,” do you not show any of Terry’s now-iconic shots, just some fairly run of the mill video?

Little Bulb’s Orpheus, Battersea Arts Centre
Amidst the wonderfully mad recreation of Hades and the beautifully evoked Parisian nightclub of this Django-ised retelling of the Orpheus myth, a truly stunning moment. Tom Penn, who plays The Drummer/Stage Hand/Dancing Bear/Too Many Parts To Mention, sits down and, as Persephone [the Queen of the Underworld] plucks the opening notes on a harp of a beautiful ballad, “La Chanson de Persephone,” written by the company. From his mouth issues a falsetto that is extraordinary – part Bon Iver, part Antony – and in a production filled to the brim with indelible music – “Minor Swing”, Saint-Saens, Debussy, Piaf’s “Hymne à l’amour” – brings the house down. A song you wanted to hear again the second it finished.

Littlebulb

“I analyse leaders for a living, and none are as great as Alex Ferguson”
Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor: As someone paid to observe and analyse leaders and potential leaders for a living, I never saw one to match Sir Alex. Like the impresario of a great opera company or the chief executive of a mighty corporation he succeeded so much and survived for so long because he understood people – how to motivate them, how to discipline them and how to inspire them. When this year Harvard Business School asked Fergie to share some of his secrets, he explained how as a young manager he studied and learned from leaders in other walks of life: “I had never been to a classical concert in my life. But I am watching this and thinking about the co-ordination and the teamwork – one starts and one stops, just fantastic. So I spoke to my players about the orchestra – how they are a perfect team.” He didn’t manage teams – he created them.

Tribeca Films Logo Screen
TriI’m not even sure what those pre-credit sequences that show the production company of the film are even called. Splashes? You know – the Lion of MGM, the Searchlight of Fox, the Calder Mobile thing for Pathe? Whatever, check out this little beauty from Tribeca Films at the head of this two minute preview for Greetings From Tim Buckley [you’ll need to search for Tim Buckley]. Using a lighthouse sweep, it’s just gorgeous.

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