Friday, May 3rd

It was a week when Greta Thunwald gave us all a masterclass in thinking and Beyoncé gave us Homecoming – all sound and fury, but at least signifying something, although it struck me as, to quote Stanley Unwin, “all jumbly in the moto…” So this week, it seems, there are weird cross-currents at work…

{ONE} HOME/HEART INTERFACE
For all its visual flash (it cuts two performances over the Coachella weekend, so in some shots, everyone’s dressed in pink, in others, yellow, which really screws with you until you figure it out) the songs in Homecoming actually get flattened out in the performance, and it feels thin vocally and melodically over the two-plus hours. The rehearsal footage is impressive for showing the scale of a production like this, but the inspirational quotes and voiceover get a little strained. There’s some astonishing dancing, especially from the sinewy men, and great propulsion from the horns and drums, but the songs about Jay-Z (with lines like “Becky with the good hair”) and hits like “Single Ladies” don’t quite feel of a piece with the celebration of black history happening around them.

{TWO} CONDUCTING UP A STORM
Beyoncé uses a huge marching band of drums and horns as tribute to the homecoming culture of America’s black colleges and universities. At the same time, Ethan Iverson (via Richard Williams) pointed us towards The Jenkins Orphanage Band – “Astounding audio and video of Jenkins Orphanage Band in 1928. (That drumming!) Later on in the clip, there is some great dancing. Jabbo Smith, Trummy Young, Cat Anderson and others came out of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.” At 1:24 the bass drum player uses his mallets for a jape. Fabulous. You almost expect Buster Keaton to slide along the street in front of them and turn to face the camera.

As the notes on YouTube by scgary66 say, “The Orphanage Band comprised of young African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina and was a notable influence in American jazz; it had also been the first black instrumental group formed in the state (1895). By the 1920s, the group was so large as to allow five separate bands to tour the eastern US, and they appeared at the 1927 New York premiere of the play Porgy. They are seen here in a Charleston sidewalk performance.” What Richard calls the “two-conductor system” is some kind of genius – two duelling/dancing conductors, one for the rhythm, one for the horns, and I want to know why no-one’s tried this since…

{THREE} RADIO, RADIO
Radio 4 had a tremendous (judging by the first hour) three-part Dusty doc, Definitively Dusty with excellent Dusty audio interviews through the years, and featuring most of her important collaborators. It reminded me that one of the first singles that I ever bought was The Springfields “Island of Dreams”, a song that always links in my mind with Dylan’s “Standing In The Doorway” from Time Out of Mind, mostly for the lyrics, but also for parts of the rather downbeat, blue melody. Also on R4, I caught the end of a very strange programme titled The Spider Orchestra. “Struck by the beauty of spider webs, Tomas Saraceno made them into sculptures and discovered that when spiders move, the silken strands make tiny sounds, which he turns into music.” Rather wonderful. Listen to hear the vagaries of live improv with an arachnid.

{FOUR} BOOKS OF THE WEEK
Found in an extremely old-school bookshop in Suffolk, these gems. I loved Oak Publications because they were typeset on electric typewriters and pasted up in a very rigid way. This one is by Tony “Little Sun” Glover of Koerner, Ray & Glover fame, and is dedicated to Kenneth Patchen and Sonny Boy Williamson II, “the two greatest poets of our times.” Sonny Boy I knew, but Patchen not. He was a poet and pacifist and an influence on the Beats (Patchen’s biographer wrote that he “developed in his fabulous fables, love poems, and picture poems, a deep yet modern mythology that conveys a sense of compassionate wonder amidst the world’s violence.”) In his own words, “I speak for a generation born in one war and doomed to die in another.”

On the other hand, Eddie Rogers’ story of Denmark Street is less poetry, more publishing. Tin Pan Alley Tomorrow (the Fifteenth Chorus as the book archly titles its chapters) is a cracker.

{FIVE} BEWARE THE HUMAN-MACHINE HIVEMIND…
Popbitch flagged up the work of Botnik Studios, who are “mashing up all the best text in history to create the ultimate album, The Songularity. We’re remixing Scottish folk ballads, Amazon reviews, Carrie Underwood, The Elements Of Style and more. Our predictive text computer program suggests lyrics in the style of these influences. We set the results to original music.”

Their ultimate Country song, “You Can’t Take my Door” features the excellent chorus, “Look at yourself / and a hand / and a shelf / in the wind…” There’s “Negatively 4th Street”, which combines Dylan lyrics with negative reviews of restaurants on 4th Street in Manhattan. And “Bored With This Desire To Get Ripped”, which is Morrissey’s lyrics algorithmically combined with Amazon customer reviews of the P90X home workout DVD.

It reminded me of a song service in Nashville in the late 70s, where you could send your lyrics off and have them recorded by session musicians. Famously, a guitarist named John Trubee sent a rambling piece of obscenity featuring Stevie Wonder, which he assumed would prompt a letter back saying that his submission didn’t meet their standards, and that he was a sick man, but instead received this: “Dear John, We have just received your lyrics and think they are very worthy of being recorded with the full Nashville Sound Production. I am enclosing a contract of acceptance. Please sign and return along with $79.95 to cover the cost for the song…” So he did, and that’s how “Peace & Love (Blind Man’s Penis)” came to be. “Over the lamest, most minimal country track was some country hack singing the lyrics I wrote [albeit with references to Stevie nixed]. I was stunned”, Trubee writes. Read the whole story here.


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{BUY FIVE THINGS I SAW & HEARD THIS WEEK – THE BOOK!}

The book is edited by Rick Ball, with a foreword by Richard Williams and a cover illustration by Sam Falconer. It covers the first two years of the site. For more information, go here.

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