Five Things: Wednesday 10th April

Willy Moon, I Wanna Be Your Man
Short. Stylish. Funky. Great guitar. His new album is 28 minutes long. That’s the way to do it.

Buying Cords from Eric Clapton
Well, not actually from Eric. Going to the wonderful Cordings on Piccadilly to peruse the trousers only to discover that EC liked the shop so much, he bought it. Shops that you feel will be forbidding and aloof usually turn out to be the opposite. Davidoffs’ cigar store on Jermyn Street and uber liquor-emporium Hedonism in Mayfair spring to mind—great, knowledgeable staff and no pressure…

The Art of Listening to Records
I listened to two great stereo systems this week, Alex’s and George’s. The same day we’d been in Cordings Alex put, by total coincidence, Eric Clapton’s “The Core” from Slowhand on his Technics deck… After listening to George’s – driven by a Garrard deck set in concrete – it seemed like Taj Mahal and the Pointer Sisters were actually in the room as we listened to “Sweet Home Chicago,” a great performance which I had forgotten all about. I always appreciate amazing stereos when I hear them, and am in awe of the lengths people go to – steam cleaning records, adding AC/DC converters, setting decks in concrete and the like. (see below for George’s response!)


Part of George’s extraordinary stereo

Then I saw this on London Jazz Collector’s blog: “I read something recently on the subject of record and hi-fi reviews which struck a chord. It was this. No-one really knows what anyone else hears. Thinking about it, it’s true. I only really know what I hear, and sometimes I’m not even sure of that. Sometimes I am only remembering what I thought about what I heard, which is not the same thing. I am remembering an opinion, not a sound. Every now and then I put on a record I haven’t played for a while, but remember thinking at the time was one of the best pressings I had ever heard, only to find it rather ordinary. It hasn’t changed, I have. Or the system has. Or something I am not aware of has. Worse, I recently upgraded a copy of a record I can remember really liking. Only to find, on playing, I no longer like it at all…”

Actually, worse is my admission that my favourite place of all to listen to music is one that any self-respecting audiophile absolutely scorns: the car.

Spring arrives, time for Calypso
As if to prove my point, no sooner has the sun come out (after what seems like an eternity) when “Lorraine” by Explainer bursts into life on the iPhone as I’m driving around town. Truly, one of the great intros: a bouncing bass, a chattering guitar, tss-tss hi-hat and The Explainer shouting: “Taxi! Taxi! Airport Kennedy!” And it sounds fantastic in the car…

Rock ’n’ Roll. Phew!
My friend Pal Hansen had this to say about photographing people whose work you know: “Sometimes you get that commission to photograph someone whose work you admire and whom you think is genuinely interesting. Many times, you walk away disappointed and with a distaste for whatever you did admire them for in the first place.”* It’s a little like that with most rock biographies, I find. And, my God, books written by musicians are seriously depressing, no? I’ve barely recovered from the ghastly sleazefest that was Warren Zevon’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead when I pick up Dallas Taylor’s Prisoner of Woodstock. Taylor, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young’s drummer in the late sixties, is a favourite of mine, but this terrible tale of abuse, insecurity, drugs, surgery and ego was almost too awful to read.

* Pal then went on to say: “However, once in a while, someone who comes across as truly talented and nice is actually just that.  One of my favourite actors, Forest Whitaker, is as nice as they come.”

From George
Just to set the record straight, so to speak, my turntable is a 50-year-old Garrard 301 from the days of British precision engineering. It is set into a plinth made of layers of lead sheet and MDF bolted together. The whole is supported on a slate slab which in turn is floated on 2 layers of air-filled BMX inner tubes for complete isolation from vibration. (The turntable in the Dobell’s exhibition was also a Garrard but made 25 years later when the company had been sold to new owners who took it downmarket).

The converter you refer to is a DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) which is usually incorporated into CD players. Digital players only produce a series of  signals which are either “on” or “off”, expressed as 1 or 0. They produce these at very high speeds, and the DAC decodes them and turns them into waveforms which amplifiers understand. At these ultra high speeds accuracy can be a problem. The more accurate the decoding, the better the music will sound. Mine is built for much higher levels of accurate conversion than are usually available from mass-market CD players.

AC/DC conversion is converting the current from the mains (in the UK 230V AC) to the voltages and type of electricity that will power audio circuits (typically DC, like from a battery, and in valve equipment circuits ranging from 3V DC to 500V DC).

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 18th July

Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie, born 14th July, 1912
My favourite photograph of a musician is this, a picture of Woody Guthrie, kindly given to me by the peerless Bob Gumpert. It’s my favourite because it has all the essential ingredients for a great music photo: An Icon. A Cigarette. A great location. A wide-angle that puts you right there. An acolyte, absolutely in the moment of playing with an trailblazer. A fascinated, curious crowd, all looking about fifteen. Their expressions are priceless.

Jack ’n’ Woody

I asked Bob how he came to have the picture: “It was taken by a photographer named Art Dubinsky—I am guessing the late 50’s-early 60’s in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, NYC. The other guitar player is Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. Art was a friend, a generous man who was a far better photographer than he got credit for. He lived in NYC at the time—at least I think so. I met him when he lived in LA and I was working in a rental darkroom, time behind the counter for time at the enlarger. He came in one day to use the darkroom as his home had burned down. We got to talking and became friends. He put me in contact with the National Lawyers’ Guild which led first to my photographing farmworker housing at Gallo wine, housing they said they didn’t have, and then to Harlan County, Kentucky for three months of photographing a coal miner’s strike. That in turn led to everything else. Sorry—I guess that is really more about Art and I and not the photo. He gave me the image, probably for no other reason than I liked it and had said so.” An appropriate story to celebrate Woody’s hundredth birthday—a story of friendship, inspiration and workers’ rights.

Poor Old Donovan, Destined To Be Dissed By Dylan Comparison Forever*
The always-amusing Barney Ronay on André Villas-Boas, new Spurs Manager, Guardian. “…there was something oddly heartening about the return in full-page panoramic close-up of André Villas-Boas, now formally in place as the new head coach of Tottenham Hotspur, and appearing, austerely suited in the middle of all this wretchedness, like an unexpected knock at the door from the local curate, who against all expectation you find yourself delightedly ushering inside. Welcome back, André. It has become fashionable to see Villas-Boas as a rather tarnished figure, to recall the frictions of his time at Chelsea, to balk at that familiar air of manicured expectancy. And to portray him instead as a kind of weak-chinned, own brand José Mourinho, Donovan to Mourinho’s Dylan, a provincial Wimpy bar to Mourinho’s gleaming McDonald’s, a managerial Sindy doll of prodigious inauthenticity. This is more than a little unfair. If nothing else there is much to admire in the way Villas-Boas is still out there… displaying the unshakable backseat extroversion that all the best managers have, as he winces and struts centre stage in skinny-trousered splendour, looking each time a little more like a tiny little dancing soldier on top of a wedding cake, or, increasingly, like a particularly convincing waxwork of himself.”

* However, Donovan doesn’t see it this way himself—there’s not much humility going on in his autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man. The evidence of Don’t Look Back doesn’t lie, however—It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue vs To Sing For You?

Roll Away The Stone
The Stones played their first gig at the Marquee club 50 years ago this week. Bill Wyman, in his book, Stone Alone: “On 3 March 1963 we played… an afternoon session at the Ken Colyer Club, Studio 51, in Soho. It was ironic that we were given a great welcome by the ladies, Vi and Pat, who ran this stronghold of New Orleans-style jazz, whereas the jazz snobs at the Marquee and elsewhere saw us as upstarts who should not be encouraged.” The Stones went on to play Ken’s club most Sundays for a year. On September 10th, 1963, The Beatles visited them as they rehearsed at the 51. They presented them with a new, unfinished song, I Wanna Be Your Man. On hearing that the Stones liked the song, John and Paul went into the office and completed it.

The Sound Of Gatz
Ben Williams is on stage through the whole of Gatz (so that’s about six-and-a-half-hours in all), sitting at a desk off to one side, controlling the sound effects and cues, as well as playing various characters. He does a stunning job—sometimes intensifying the drama, sometimes broadening it out with humour—running the gamut from car crashes and gunshots to air conditioner hums and vaudeville turns. One of the most (unexpectedly) moving moments comes when Mike Iveson, playing Gatsby’s houseguest Klipspringer, turns the office sofa into a piano and mimes the gestures of a pianist, paying along to Williams’ tape. He abruptly stops and sings, acapella, the only words in Gatz which don’t come from Fitzgerald’s book, the song The Love Nest.
Building houses still goes on
Now as well as then
Ancient Jack and Jill are gone,
Yet return again.
Ever comes the question old,
“Shall we build for pride? Or,
Shall brick and mortar hold
worth and love inside?”
Just a love nest, cozy and warm,
Like a dove rest, down on the farm,
A veranda with some sort of clinging vine,
Then a kitchen where some rambler roses twine…

In an exquisite rendition, Iveson turns the theme from the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, a pretty standard Twenties musical number, into a complex, achingly poignant commentary on the emptiness at the heart of Jay Gatsby’s mansion.

M.I.A.’s ‘Bad Girls’ Video, As Recommended This Week In Metro By Shirley Manson
Words are extraneous. Just go to 2:03. Go on.

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