Five Things: Wednesday 29th May

Wayne Miller died last week
Wayne Miller was one of the less famous names at the legendary photo agency Magnum. When we were looking for a cover for our album in 1986, to be called South, we were determined not to have ourselves in the frame. Our first single had used a Weegee photo of a burning building, and we liked the anti-80s feel of black and white photography. In the mid-80s every cover seemed to have sharp pinks and hard yellows and glossy, overlit faces shining out.
Wayne
We were looking for a photo that summed up the feel of a record recorded partly in the Alabama heat of Muscle Shoals, and found it in the book that accompanied Ed Steichen’s famous Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. The photo we fell in love with was of a couple in a clinch. It was part of a series taken in 1949 of migrant workers – cotton pickers – in California. We thought that the intensity and intimacy was something to behold. There’s another wonderful image in this series of the same couple, the man sitting disconsolately on the bed, with the woman lazily fiddling with her nails. I’m still not sure how we convinced anyone to go with this approach, but we did. Of course, the record company could probably point to the cover having something to do with the paltry sales of the album… The type is cut out of some posters that we had printed by Tribune Showprint, of Earl Park, Indiana. You can read about the rather great Mr. Miller here. If you’re curious, more on our failed career here.

The Clash interviewed, The Guardian
Paul Simenon on musicianship: I’d become musically more capable. I could take off the notes that were painted on the neck of my guitar. But then I did make a mistake in being really confident: I went for one of those jazz basses that didn’t have frets… and when it goes really dark, and you can’t quite hear what you’re playing, it suddenly sounds like you’re drunk. So I said: “You know what? I think I’ll have the frets put back on.” I got a bit carried away. I thought I was getting quite good, but I got a big slap in the face.

…and on presentation: A lot of the looks were down to financial problems. Everyone in those days wore flares and had long hair. So if you went into secondhand stores, there’d be so many straight-legged trousers because everyone wanted flares. That instantly set you apart from everybody else. And also there was another place called Laurence Corner… Mick Jones: Selling army surplus…

I work along the road from where Laurence Corner was, and still fondly remember the green Army Jacket I bought there. Now there’s a chemist in its place, but they’ve put a nice plaque in the window…

Laurence

That Difficult Second Album
Sexual Healing, Pamela Stephenson Connolly’s sex therapy column in The Guardian: “My boyfriend talks too much during sex. We’ve been together for a year and recently he’s started talking to me while we’re intimate. At first it was everyday stuff like what he wants for dinner but then essentially he began ranting. Do you know how hard it is to climax while listening to someone talk about how many bands have produced “disappointing second albums”? I don’t know if I can go on like this.”

Rolling Stone’s Bob Dylan Special
No professional manicures for Bob…

bobmanicure

Stephen Collins’ strip, Guardian Weekend
Still, his wonderful anti-Mumfords bandwagon rolls on…

Scollins

Not room this week for Sam Amidon at Bush Hall, intriguing, strange and moving in equal measure. More next week…

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 21st November

Cover Me
Around the time of the singer songwriter boom of the early 70’s, cover versions used to be odd one-offs, musicians showing respect for their elders & forbears, and subsidiary to the act’s own material. Then covers became cute—hipper bands would cover less hip pop songs, thus hipping them up. Then it all seemed to go wrong when people stared making tribute cover albums. Steve McL, who posts interesting and entertaining covers, usually themed, at the excellent coverfreak, puts it pithily in his manifesto:

“You should only cover a song if you have a reason for covering it. Financial considerations don’t count. Bring something new to the song. Make it your own. You’re a musician, interpret the music! It can be good or bad, just make it different from the original. Otherwise, what’s the point? My mission here is to spread Good Covers in the hope that they will overtake the bland and boring ones. If I post one that you enjoy, tell your friends and help me in my lonely battle…”

This is all a roundabout way of saying that Meshell Ndegeocello’s album of songs associated with the late, great Nina Simone—Pour une âme souveraine [“For a sovereign soul”]—is great. So far, her reworkings of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Feelin’ Good (I know, daunting to even attempt), Don’t Take All Night with Sinead, and Young Gifted & Black with Cody ChesnuTT are the ones I keep going back to, but the whole album is a triumph, and in a week where I heard the Mumfords wanly strum through The Boxer, a necessity.

The First Thirty Seconds Of “Jive Talking”
Go on, listen to them. Chunks of muted guitar. Then a kick drum and a nasty, grungy synth bass. Then some sweetness with a little Chic-like rhythm guitar before the snare and a double-tracked Barry come strutting in. Actually the whole song is pretty wonderful, especially the great drumming of Dennis Bryon.

Leonard Cohen Screensaver. Thanks, Antonio Zazueta Olmos

Southern Soul Odyssey One
An email with this attachment from my relative Brett, taking a break from touring and holidaying in Alabama: “Trip Down Memory Lane!”

I’m put in mind of time spent in the Shoals. I found this scan the other day of Jimmy Johnson’s pick, which later served time as the rocksbackpages logo…


Southern Soul Odyssey Two

Coincidentally, we were talking about artworks where someone instructs others to do the work, with the visiting Bob & Sam Gumpert. I was obsessed at one time with Letterpress printing and sourced an order form for a great Printshop in the 80s called Tribune Showprint, out of Earl Park, Indiana. They printed posters for the Chiltlin’ circuit and Soul Shows, often on hand screenprinted ‘rainbow’ cards. Mark and I immediately got them to do posters and covers for Hot House, our band. How great—typing out the wording and enclosing a glossy 10 x 8, posting the order off airmail, and three weeks later getting 50 cardboard posters back.


I’m pretty sure that it influenced this…

Boris Vian, Man Of Vision
From the IHT auction catalogue (see last week). “The Pianoctail is a strange instrument, imagined by Boris Vian in his novel L’Écume des Jours. The renowned writer, who died in 1959, conceived this cocktail-making piano which would make a drink according to the notes played. An Americano is made when a major chord is played, and when a triad or tonic chord is played, you get a gin-fizz. The instrument was displayed this morning in a Parisian cinema, where the film is being shown tonight. March 20, 1968.”

“For each note there’s a corresponding drink – either a wine, spirit, liqueur or fruit juice. The loud pedal puts in egg flip and the soft pedal adds ice. For soda you play a cadenza in F sharp. The quantities depend on how long a note is held – you get the sixteenth of a measure for a hemidemisemiquaver; a whole measure for a black note; and four measures for a semibreve. When you play a slow tune, then tone comes into control to prevent the amounts growing too large and the drink getting too big for a cocktail – but the alcoholic content remains unchanged. And, depending on the length of the tune, you can, if you like, vary the measures used, reducing them, say, to a hundredth in order to get a drink taking advantage of all the harmonics, by means of an adjustment on the side.”

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