Wednesday, May 2nd

It was a week of strangeness, a week where Gibson went bankrupt, Bob Dylan turned distiller and Prince had a new song out…

ONE “I’M LIKE A BIRD WITHOUT A SONG”
With some synchronicity, there I was talking about Susan Rogers (see the music player on the right) and Eric Leeds, when she’s interviewed by The Guardian for the release of Prince’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U”. “One day, he went into a room with a notebook and, within an hour, emerged with the lyrics to “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Rogers, who witnessed many such bursts of creativity, remembers, “The song came out like a sneeze.” As usual, she rolled the tapes as Prince laid down instrument after instrument, mixing and overdubbing in the same session (Eric Leeds overdubbed the sax part three days later).”

It starts for all the world like a Harry Nilsson song, a fairground calliope round punctuated by a percussive dah-dah! Then the vocal starts, a tune you know so well that any deviance from the version you’ve loved since 1990 pulls you up short. There’s an unexpected muscularity as the drums and swooping guitar fly in at the end of the first line. It has that loosey-goosey drumming style that Stevie Wonder had when he overdubbed on top of his own drum parts. (Eddie Hinton was another captain manyhands in this regard – Spotify “Watch Dog”…). It also has a couple of bluesy turns to the melody which really work, and listen to how Eric Leeds’ tenor picks up on that sour/sweetness beautifully. Susan thought the finished song was “exceptional, in his Top 10”. She was right – it’s a masterpiece. Really.

TWO “I BEEN A MOONSHINER…”
As I write this, son is in L.A. attempting to buy a bottle of Bob’s new signature hootch, Heaven’s Door. According to Clay Risen of The New York Times, “the palate opens with a soft cocoa and buttercream note, then sharpens toward black pepper and cigar tobacco. The finish is slightly bitter, with the sweet spiciness of an Atomic Fireball.” Sounds good, Clay. Let’s hope Gabe hits paydirt. It’s occasioned the release of more pictures of Bob in his ironworking studio, along with inspirational quotes…

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…but there’s a cute bit of the Heaven’s Door site that has a random selection of Bob’s original typescripts for songs that reference drink. This one, for “Blind Willie McTell” – bootlegged whisky in his hand – has the fabulous (cut) couplet, “Just me and Betty Grable, trying to stay warm…”

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THREE “DON’T THINK TWICE, IT’S ALRIGHT”
While typing, I’m listening to Verona, the last show of the Dylan European Tour (it’s here) which features heavily re-arranged versions of the entire set-list. There’s an intimate and gentle loveliness to pretty much everything played, like the band are gathered around one mic in a triangle of light. Although it’s all very restrained, there are some neat angles to the melody lines (mainly in the form of unison lap steel/guitar features). The version of “Tangled up in Blue” is very odd, but the American Songbook stuff is gorgeous, “Honest with Me” is given a total Eddie Cochran makeover (quite a lot of the gig has a dawn of R&R feel) and “Pay in Blood” has now become a brilliant kind of Weimar Blues. Bob’s own piano playing is on-the-money, operating at the most eccentric end of his spectrum. The interludes in “Ballad of a Thin Man” – well it’s nothing like you’d expect. The whole band sound like they’re having the damnedest time. Good on Ol’ Whiskey Bob.

FOUR RY COODER TOURS AGAIN, AT SON’S INSISTENCE…
Well done, Joaquin! Of course, The Prodigal Son London date sold out instantly. A shame, as Cadogan Hall would be an excellent venue to hear him and his band of young guns play. I managed to get tickets for the gig at the National Stadium in Dublin, the world’s only purpose-built boxing stadium, built in 1939. Wish me luck. I mean, acoustically it could be fine, I just have my doubts… Oh, and someone put this excellent promo film on YouTube recently: Van Dyke Parks’ first music video production at Warner Brothers Records, in 1970. “I headed up a pioneering office that I titled ‘Audio Visual Services.’ Of those several ten-minute documentary musical shorts, I know of only one that survives – ‘Ry Cooder’”. Dig the pick-up truck and Airstream trailer.

FIVE MORTIFICATION CORNER
I’m at the dentist, around the corner from Selfridges. Across from me, looking at his phone is Toby Jones. Who doesn’t love Toby Jones as an actor? Brilliant in his breakthrough role as Truman Capote in Infamous, marvellous as Neil Baldwin in Marvellous (the story of Stoke City Football Club’s kit-man), and fantastic alongside Mackenzie Crook in Detectorists.

I have a guitar with me, which I never do. I hate carrying a guitar around town. I feel a charlatan. I have it because my sister-in-law, Hedda, has asked me to bring it to that evening’s Mark Kermode in 3D at the BFI, of which she is one of the producers. Not to play, you understand, but as a back-up, in case actor Johnny Flynn can’t bring his to the show. Johnny wrote the theme song for Detectorists, so I’m amused by the coincidence. Dentist visit done with, I head to the South Bank, and to the Green Room. Tonight’s guests are Charlie Brooker of Black Mirror fame, and Jessie Buckley and Johnny, who are there to talk about their new film, Beast.

I’m talking to Mark, who says that Johnny won’t be here for the start of the show, and we work out a bit of business where, as Johnny’s introduced, Mark will ask if anyone has a guitar. Guitar secreted under my seat, that’ll be my cue to hold my hand up and pass it to the front. Hilarity will ensue.

Mark asks if the guitar’s in tune, so I say yes but get it out to check. As I’m doing so, Mark then suggests a run through, and pulling out his harmonica, calls Jessie over, and expects me to play along, with Charlie Brooker and Hedda for an audience. The chords for, yes, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” fly from my head, and Jessie’s lovely voice is left to deal with my all-over-the-shop guitar. Attempting to pull the chords up on the phone is tricky, as the BFI building seems to block 4G signals, but Mark somehow gets them. Not so they fit on a tiny phone screen, however. We go again, there’s much stopping and starting, but it gets the key worked out, warms Jessie’s voice up and allows Mark to sort out the right cross-key for his harmonica.

The show is, as usual, highly entertaining, and Charlie Brooker’s love for the terrifying Magic Roundabout film, Dougal and the Blue Cat, a sight to see. Then Johnny arrives on stage, and he and Jessie try to talk about a film that is almost impossible to without spoiling its taut roll-out of character and tension. Then Mark asks his guests to play a song, and if there’s a guitar in the house. There is. It’s Johnny’s, but no-one’s told Mark so he points me out, and expects me to hand it to him. But I’d been asked to leave mine in the Green Room in case Johnny wanted to familiarise himself with it. And no-one’s told Mark, but it only adds to the rather carnival-esque atmosphere of these shows… All is well, though, and they essay a sweet, skipping version of “Don’t Think Twice”.

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Afterwards, I talk to Johnny about his love of the fingerpicking style of Mississippi John Hurt (listen to the Detectorists theme to check that out), his upcoming live album (and great live albums of the past), Blake Mills’ production of his friend Laura Marling’s Semper Femina (I love how Mills pushed the structures of the music, but he’s not so sure) and his lovely 1934 wooden Resonator guitar (a National Trojan, I think). He’s a lovely guy, great at both things he does, as is the extremely talented Jessie. And, thankfully, I hadn’t seen the excellent Beast before I met them both. That’s all I’m saying.

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Five Things, Wednesday 2nd July

This Is Revealing
The Making of Blonde On Blonde. The excellent Oxford American just goes about its way, publishing great piece after great piece: this month it’s Sean Wilentz going behind the scenes of the making of Blonde On Blonde in both New York and Nashville: “The songs are rich meditations on desire, frailty, promises, boredom, hurt, envy, connections, missed connections, paranoia, and transcendent beauty—in short, the lures and snares of love, stock themes of rock and pop music, but written with a powerful literary imagination and played out in a 1960s pop netherworld.” His reconstruction of the feel in the studio is terrific, and chock full of nuggets: “Fewer than twelve hours later, everybody was back in the studio to start in on what Dylan called “Like a Woman”. The lyrics, once again, needed work; on several early takes, Dylan sang disconnected lines and semi-gibberish. He was unsure about what the person described in the song does that is just like a woman, rejecting “shakes,” “wakes,” and “makes mistakes”. The improvisational spirit inspired a weird, double-time fourth take, somewhere between Bo Diddley and Jamaican ska, that on the tape finally disintegrates into a voice in the background admitting, “We lost, man.” If you have any interest in this period of Dylan’s music, read it.

This Is Great
Unlock The World, Avis Advert. Having watched Saving Mr Banks (a gently pointless little tale) it was amusing to see the subject of the film’s emotive centre, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”, featured in the new Avis Car Rental Ad. Made a refreshing change from the usual dreadful Eurotrash EDM that the current Mercedes and Nissan ads have as their soundtrack. In fact, the juxtaposition of the nostalgic croon of David Tomlinson with the finely shot (and expensive-looking) black & white works really well. I’d love to see which photographers’ books they cribbed the shots from. The stills approach is very interesting, as car ads invariably have endless shots of vehicles moving at speed, and this one only has movement at the end.

This Is Insane
“Perfect”, Rob Cantor. Very inspired, to start with Randy Newman, slightly off on Willie Nelson, but pretty spot on for the rest. I especially loved Ian McKellen, Flipper and the trumpet solo, but the female singers are the best: Billie Holiday, Cher, Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Britney, Bjork and Christina Aguilera.

This Is Sad
The death of Bobby Womack. At one point, early in our career as Hot House, Mark & I must have worn our copy of The Poet II down to the bone. For at least a year, everything that we wrote had its roots, lyrically or musically, in that album. We went to see Womack & Womack play the Shaw Theatre (that’s Bobby’s brother and step-daughter) during their “Love Wars” tour, we saw Bobby somewhere, I can’t remember where, maybe at The Venue or the Town & Country, and sought out his back catalogue (even including BW goes C+W, mainly for the cover). A few years ago, in a period where Mark and I were recording stuff again, Mark sent me a lovely piano and guitar instrumental, with a kind of Southern swing, and I started thinking about Eddie Hinton, a soul brother of Bobby’s, who had a voice like Otis and a playing style that was influenced by, or maybe was an influence on, Womack’s own take on the guitar. I thought about the stuff that Eddie and Bobby played on in Muscle Shoals and wrote a tribute to the both of ’em. It’s in the music player to the right.

This Is Rather Lovely
A London Palladium tea towel. A good week, when you could see both Max Miller and Fats Waller.

Fats

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 4th July

Take A Giant Step Around The Block
In the office Hugh started singing Goin’ Back (I can’t remember why. Nor can he) and I said, “Oh, the Monkees did the original version of that…” and he said he was sure it was Dusty Springfield. We were both convinced it was written by Goffin and King (we were right), but a short Wiki later it turned out that Dusty’s was the first released (although Goldie of Goldie & The Gingerbreads had recorded first it before falling out with G&K over some changes she’d made to the lyrics). Anyway… the song I was actually thinking of was Take A Giant Step, also by Goffin & King, that was on the Monkees first album. Then I said, “Oh that was recorded around the corner, at the Philips recording studios at Marble Arch.” As it was, as well as You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and If You Go Away. Philips Studios opened in 1956, located in the basement of Stanhope House, close to Marble Arch. It was also used by the Walker Brothers for Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. By 1983 the studio had become part of the Polygram group, was put on the market and bought by Paul Weller who renamed it Solid Bond.

Paul Weller—“Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers and all that recorded in Philips Studios. And then all of a sudden this desk wasn’t ‘any good’ any more and this tape machine wasn’t ‘any good’ any more and everything had to be digital. And as soon as we all went digital, man, everyone sounded the fucking same. From country & western to funk to rock’n’roll or whatever, everybody sounded glassy and linear. A technical thing, but it’s true.” And so he sold it, and all the equipment.

Well, I went down the road to see what was still there. I passed Le Pain Quotidien—where we had lunch the other day and, bizarrely, Paul Weller walked past with some dry cleaning—and negotiated safe passage past the machine-gun wielding cops outside Tony Blair’s house in Connaught Square. I found an imposing set of steps leading to Stanhope House (1), an excellent resprayed Sixties mini—can’t you just see Dusty holding down her bouffant to squeeze into it? (2), a Middle Eastern electronics shop selling translated copies of Tony Blair’s biography, next to some irons and hair trimmers (3), and, next door, a shop whose purpose I couldn’t pin down. There were replicas of the creature from Alien, some crash helmets and petrol cowlings with airbrushed women on. There were TVs and mobile phones. There was a five string G+L bass (4). I asked how much the bass was. “Ah, that’s not for sale. It’s in the window to attract attention.” It’s things like this—it was the least attention-grabbing part of the display (except to me, that is)—that make me love Edgware Road.


Dusty vs Scotty
It’s great when you dig out something that you really loved as a teenager and it still sounds as great, in every way, as you remembered it! I’m gathering tracks to make up a DJ set for illustration Collective ART SCHOOL DISCO—I know, what were they thinking?—I’ve never DJ’d in my life, but they said I didn’t have to stand there actually doing anything clever, I could just give them a CD… They are pitching up at Boxpark in Shoreditch to illustrate to the Sounds Of Disco for the day, so I was looking for stuff we loved in our Manresa Road studios from 75-79. Scotty was loved for Draw Your Brakes from The Harder They Come soundtrack, and for the most fabulous and wonderful Skank In Bed. YouTube it (it’s not available in any other way as far as I know). Over a version of Breakfast In Bed (as heard on Dusty In Memphis, written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie ‘Flipside’ Fritts) Scotty sings, shouts and pleads with Lorna —who did the version of the song that Scotty is freaking out over—and then breaks off to admonish his musicians in a, frankly, undescribable, way. Majestically bonkers.

Another Mag Done Gone/Word Down
“Sad news, sad news, come to me where I sit.” Word Magazine closed this week. Now who’s going to interview all those amazing and interesting characters that no-one else has the brains to talk to? And provide a home for the peerless Rob Fitzpatrick, whose writing about the end of music just gets better and better:
On Neil Young’s
Americana: “But if you remove the comfort blanket of (in this case entirely unwanted) hero worship for a moment—and I love Neil Young dearly—what you’re left with is a record that no one in their right mind could possibly want to play more than once or twice. There is a great deal to be said for recording quickly and intuitively, but not much for bashing through everything once and then calling it a day.”
On the myth of Scott Walker:
“For example, a discourse on the song Patriot (A Single) runs aground when the writer can’t decide what Walker really meant in a particular line. “It’s virtually impossible to say,” they admit, “and Walker has always been sparing with his explanations…” All of which makes me think, “Well, if you don’t know and he won’t, or can’t, say, what is the point of all this? What are we doing here?” Sometimes it’s important to step back and open a window and remember that this is pop music; it’s not meant to hurt this much.”
On the shelf life of bands: “ If I were a musician, the question I hope I would ask myself more than any other is: who cares? …the facts are simple: a hundred years of recorded music is available at the touch of a button to anyone who cares to listen. Are you really sure it’s necessary to put out another LP? It is more than ten years since The Cranberries released a record, but despite no one on Earth missing them, they have decided to make another. Sadly, 30 seconds into the first tremulous, ponderous, say-nothing, waltz-time. half-arsed shrug of a track you will be screaming at the sky. Here’s Cast… John Power’s relentless lack of imagination makes Beady Eye sound like Sun Ra.  Criticising Guided by Voices is a bit like criticising weather—momentarily distracting, but entirely pointless when it just keeps coming anyway.”
On Karen Dalton’s 1966: In 1966 Dalton was 29 years old and had left New York to live in a remote cabin in Colorado with her husband, Richard Tucker, and children. Most nights they would gather around a log fire and sing and on one of those nights a friend called Carl Baron, who’d sweated up to this address-free outpost with his precious reel-to-reel tape recorder, captured the songs as they were sung. Forty-five years later, the ghosts of that evening have finally been let loose… Dalton certainly doesn’t seem to be performing these songs; this is eavesdropping on a grand scale and it has all the dark thrill and guilty tang that comes with that behaviour. We are the unseen watchers, the eyes at the window, the ears at the wall, and there is, I think, a psychic cost involved in that deal. Friends and lovers trading songs around a sparking grate is one thing: having those same moments digitally diseminated decades after your death is quite another. The covers and the traditional songs that inhabit this exquisitely presented recording are deeply moving and I wouldn’t want to be without them, but rarely, if ever, have I been as haunted by a collection as I am by 1966.…on 1966 [Dalton] sounds relaxed. Safe. At peace. Whether you’re willing to risk disturbing that hard-won peace by listening in is, of course, entirely up to you.”

I’m bereft.

Inappropriate Musical Illustration
“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me, maybe?

Ripped from the sketchbook, illustrator John Cuneo’s visual reaction to the Carly Rae Jepsen song that has been driving America mad (judging by the comments after John’s post). nb—John has informed me that “I draw to praise that song, not to bury it.”

Next—Fontella Bass?
Always nice to to discover a typeface named after a great soul singer. (Staton by Henrik Kubel, a2-type, 2010)

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 9th May

Janis Joplin, Get It While You Can, Take Three, July 27th 1970
“Everybody I know is crazy, except President Nixon… and that’s his problem…” This is take three of the Jerry Ragavoy/Mort Shulman song, still not quite polished, but rawer and freer. When they reconvene on September 11th to finally record it, they’re more focused—“brighter”— in producer Paul Rothschild’s words. But take three still has the edge, a more pleading vocal, and a coda of “No No NoNoNo NO…” that is absolutely moving, and missing from the final take.

Alabama Shakes, Electric Brixton, May 3rd
In the sleevenotes to an album by one of Alabama’s greatest musical talents, Eddie Hinton, that fine Memphis journalist Robert Gordon wrote: “If a frayed rope could sing, it would sound like only two people, and since Otis is dead, that leaves Eddie.” And since Eddie is dead, that leaves Brittany Howard. It’s erroneous that Janis is the cheap ’n’ easy invokee—Howard’s models seem more to be those two men, especially when you factor in her tone. First seen when the excellent Laura Barton wrote about a lone YouTube video in The Guardian last year, I’d deliberately avoided listening, but bought tickets to see them. As my daughter Jordan said, that way you’re not just anticipating the couple of songs you know, and not listening properly. So we let it wash over us and tried to ignore the ******* hipsters talking at the bar and the drunks hollering next to us (hard to do in the moodily quiet numbers). Punching her guitar, stomping her boots and seemingly conducting the songs by shakes of her head, Brittany Howard lived up to the hype, and the band are just slick enough to make it work, but not so slick that it sounds mechanical—you just wish you could be watching them at The Lamplighter, outside of Muscle Shoals, instead of here. Oh, one last thing: the name. It’s not easy to do a great band name these days – see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds for example – but this is most excellent, both geographical locator and mission statement.

Black Cobra
Enable the subtitles on your TV, get to see who’s sold their music to Ad Agencies! Cobra beer ad, Black Keys’ Gold On The Ceiling. In two minds whether the lyrics really fit the product – “Gold on the ceiling/I ain’t blind/Just a matter of time/Before you steal it/It’s all right/Ain’t no God in my eye.” I’m not sure that’s on brand.

VanMan SatNav
Driving with my friend Steve Way to a cartoon festival, he was taken with the Irish voice on our car’s SatNav, and started doing the instructions in the style of Van Morrison. Genius! Leaving motorways and approaching roundabouts has never been so entertaining. Googling to see if anyone had already thought of this I could only find one reference, from a thread on Julian Cope’s Modern Antiquarian… “My Van Morrison Sat Nav has caused me to flood my brakes in the slipstream and I’m now stuck between two viaducts. It’s also told me to fuck…” and there, wonderfully, access to the thread ends, as I can’t get on to the site.

Message From Chuck!

chuckrainey.chipin.com/chuck-rainey-well-health-fund

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