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 25th June

My two favourite bits of ephemera found on the web this week
Roxy Music small ad in the Music Press. Those were the days. I think the pic on the right was an album cover, but I’m not sure. Whatever, top marks!

Roxy
Horseless Headmen, The Harrison

HH

Forty five minutes of improvised fabulousness: with added drummer, Tom Atherton, who imbued proceedings with a mighty roar that still allowed the terrific Nick Cash (regular drummer) to decorate and amplify the noise with bells, bike chains and upturned water dispensers. Guitarist G Painting seemed to be initiating the proceedings this time round, alternating an almost metal attack with delicate and spiky Chinoiserie. Bassist Ivor Kallin was propulsive and gulping, and trombonist Paul Taylor’s organic rasp and great ear for a melody (he’d been playing along to Duke Ellington on the sound system before they started) added to the Headless mix. Sometimes it felt and sounded like they were building the Titanic in a tiny basement; at others, when they stroked a melody tenderly, like a warm bath.

Mavis Staples talking to Elon Green about recording The Weight for The Last Waltz, The New Yorker
Just an excerpt: “The Last Waltz was, as Helm wrote in his memoir, deemed “too lily-white and missing something crucial.” And so, not long after the show, the Staples Singers, a popular gospel group and old friends of the Band, performed “The Weight” on an M.G.M. soundstage in front of an audience of two hundred and fifty people. As the song finishes up, the camera settles on the Staples family—Roebuck (“Pops”), out of focus in the background, and his daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis. Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, “Beautiful.” Here is Mavis Staples’s memory of that session: “It was so beautiful to me. I was surprised that was caught on tape, you know, because I thought I was whispering. It wasn’t rehearsed to go like that. It was just a feeling that brought that on. The excitement of being with our friends—Levon and Danko and those guys were such good friends of ours—to be singing with them, and knowing that this is going to be on the big screen, the silver screen, it was just a moment in time for me…

Scorsese gave us all a break at one point, and everybody scattered. Levon was on his drums, still drumming. So Pops walked back there. “Hey, Levon!” Levon said, “Hey Roebuck!” And they talked a bit, and all of a sudden Pops realized that Levon was smokin’ two cigarettes. He said, “Levon, man, you’re smoking two cigarettes at a time?” And Levon held one of ’em up and said, “Oooooooh, Roebuck. You gotta try this one!” And that one was marijuana! Pops said, “Man, I don’t want none of that mess.” Daddy was so tickled. We talked about that forever

And I remember everything about it. I remember every moment that we had doing that. Pops said, “Mavis! Baby, you shouldn’t carry it out so long like that,” when I go, “Heeeyyyy yeeeeaaah.” And I said, “Nah, daddy, that’s the good part. That’s what I feel.” He said, “O.K., do what you feel. That’s the best thing. Do what you feel.”

Busking at Clapham, 1980s
Among Bob Mazzer’s pictures of the London underground during the 80s at the Howard Griffin Gallery I was drawn to this as Clapham Common was my local tube station then (this could be Clapham North or South, all three look alike). Doesn’t that seem like a proto-Jack White, down in the tube station at midnight? And I don’t think the guy singing is actually with the band…

Clapham

Bob Dylan by artist Martin Creed, The Guardian
Jeff also gave me tapes, including a bootleg of the Bootleg Tapes (I think they mean the Basement Tapes – ed) that I still play. I have a lot of cassettes from that time and a car that plays tapes, so I still listen to Jeff’s bootleg when I’m driving. I love the Bootleg Series: those funny versions of songs often seem better than the official versions. They haven’t been cleaned up. I got into Bob Dylan, again, because of the 1997 album Time Out of Mind, which seemed like the start of a whole new thing. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful music, but also the funniest, most thoughtful and stupid music I could possibly imagine. It feels like it’s got everything in it, but without necessarily making sense. Things fly in from left, right and centre. There are different ideas, turns of phrase, beautiful pieces of music, catchy bits, but it’s mysterious and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t add up. One song, “Highlands”, is 15 minutes long and sounds as though he’s just making the story up as he goes along. It’s brilliant. It reminds me of something I’m told the painter Gerhard Richter once said: “I want my work to be stupid, like nature.”

Five Things: Wednesday 26th February

Of Time And The City
I caught twenty minutes of Terence Davies’ great half doc/half memoir, his love letter to Liverpool. From the Korean War footage, overlaid by the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” – a mixture that shouldn’t work, but does – through Terry’s hilariously voiced-over Yeah Yeah Yeahs when the Beatles come on-screen, to the stunning slum clearance/building of the tower-blocks sequence set to Peggy Lee singing “The Folks Who Live On The Hill”, it never fails to move. If you’ve not seen it, you can watch that scene here.

Jason Wood: The film shows you a Liverpool beyond The Beatles and football, which is what people tend to think about when they think about the city. Your narration is very significant. It lends character because it is so impassioned.

Terence Davies: What was odd was that I was writing this commentary as I was doing it and recording it as a rough guide. We got someone to do part of the narration, but it just didn’t work and the producers said, No, you must do it. I was worried that when you hear your own voice, it can sound a bit like the Queen Mother after she died. All my films have strong Liverpool accents. It always makes me feel a bit embarrassed… At one point they asked me to put in how I lost my accent and I said, “You can’t be serious? You really can’t be serious? I’m not doing that.” I was worried and I was staying with my sister Maisie and I said, “When did I lose my accent?” and she said, “You never had one!”

I have no illusions about my work but I must add I have no illusions about anybody else’s either. I am very strict with myself and I think, “no, that could have been improved”. It was what I thought was right at the time – and you have to stand by that. And if it completely fails, you have got to say, “But that is what I meant at the time.” There’s a line by Vaughan Williams, I think it’s on his Sixth Symphony, when he says, “I don’t know whether I like it, but it is what I meant.” And that’s a wonderful thing to say upon your own work.

Tim Sends This Link
…to Postmodern Jukebox’s rather lovely twenties-styled version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, perhaps inspired by Bryan Ferry’s take on his back catalogue. “My goal with Postmodern Jukebox is to get my audience to think of songs not as rigid, ephemeral objects, but like malleable globs of silly putty. Songs can be twisted, shaped, and altered without losing their identities – just as we grow, age, and expire without losing ours – and it is through this exploration that the gap between “high” and “low” art can be bridged most readily.” – Scott Bradlee, founder. Well, OK, Scott! File alongside The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britain and Pink Martini. Oh, and the Sad-Faced-Clown version of “Royals” rocks, too. Are you listening, Michael B?

A Quote I Really Liked
Laura Barton talking to Willy Vlautin, singer/guitarist with Richmond Fontaine: We’re sitting in an empty London pub, where the clipped twang of Vlautin’s Nevada accent seems to lift the gloom. Though he now lives in Oregon, he grew up in Reno, his father leaving home when he was four. His mother was left alone to raise their two sons. Although Vlautin was “so shy that I could barely go to school”, he was a diligent student who never seemed to be paid back with good grades. He lived largely inside his own head. “I’ve used escapism as a crutch my whole life,” he says. “I hated being a kid, so I escaped. But I never thought of myself as a rich guy driving a Cadillac hanging with James Bond. I was pragmatic. My big dream was to have an uncle that owned a wrecking yard and then I could just work there, and he’d actually like me and he’d make me dinner. And I would live in that fantasy world. I’d wake up every morning and check in.” …he’d actually like me and he’d make me dinner… That’s a line that could make you cry.

Live Music Extra:
1. Dotter scolds me for not mentioning her ‘awesome’ wedding band

And it’s true. I was so tired after the wedding I could barely think what to say. The band was put together by Mike Pointon, who I collaborated with on Ken’s book, alongside Ray Smith. It was made up of musicians who had played with Ken Colyer (Mike, since he was nineteen) supported by sons of Ken’s peers on drums and bass. They really swung. One guest, bowled over, assumed they’d been together for years, and at the end asked Mike how long “The Lavender Hill Mob” (the venue was on said hill) had played as a unit, and Mike answered “About three hours.” The acoustics were great, the sound of the musicians tight and warm, and the repertoire wide-ranging. Even when they were playing softly during the meal, people were applauding the solos. I’ve never seen that happen at a wedding before.

2. Jaz Delorean at The Alleycat

Alleycat
At the Iko’s Record Shop night, it was Lee Dorsey time, the highlight of which was Dom Pipkin’s wonderful re-imagining of “Working In A Coalmine”, in which he left the rhythm section behind and proceeded to conjure up all sorts in a trance-like meditation. I heard Scott Walker, Stravinsky, Booker, and Dr John before he got back on the straight and narrow… The evenings are always fairly ramshackle, with misses and hits, but there’s usually something like this to treasure. Jaz Delorean delivered my favourite band performance with a terrific take on Louis Prima’s medley of “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” on the crowded, tiny stage, featuring fabulously sleazy horns and a winning vocal from the guitarist (with the crowd on the chorus). Anyone trying to get to the women’s bathroom had to run the gauntlet of the four horn players (and an accordionist) who couldn’t actually fit on the stage.

3. Avant-improv at The Harrison
Mark and Tom describe their band, Throttling Tommy, as “the unlistenable in pursuit of the unplayable. A blues-rock power trio without the Marshall stacks and the bass player, who hasn’t turned up. And who have forgotten how to play blues. Or rock. Or anything else, for that matter. Allergic to songs”. A pretty succinct description, if you ask me, and their first gig doesn’t disappoint. I’m a sucker for funk drumming and trem-bar harmonics/histrionics, and they sound wonderful together in this blanket-covered de-mobbed bunkhouse, playing forty minutes without a safety net. Tom has a lovely line in, er, tom/cymbal interfacing, and it’s always fun listening to Mark trying to avoid anything as shocking as a melody. Video here.

Mark

Headliners Horseless Headmen were tight and fascinating. Stand up, G. Painting (guitar, effects king), Paul Taylor (trombone, fabulous tone), Nick Cash (drum kit and percussion, check out the upside-down water bottle) and Ivor Kallin (fretless bass guitar and chopsticks in beard). I love a gig that almost ends when an audience member shouts as an improvisation closes, “That was brilliant! You’ll never top that!” and the band actually have a discussion about whether playing another number (which there’s time for) is a hostage to fortune…

HH2

From our Woodstock Correspondent, John C
“Saw Prince a few times myself. Once in Denver he came out while Vanity 6 was setting up, sat down at a piano to the side of the stage and played for a half an hour. No mic, just for himself. The most mind-boggling stuff. We were up front and close enough to hear. If memory serves, I believe The Time came up after Vanity and before Prince. One of the funkiest nights of my life. I was levitating.”

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