Saturday, 7th March

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Bob Vid

From Mr Dylan’s bonkers film noir for “The Night We Called It A Day”.

FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT IN THE FIELD
Tim uses my ticket to a Guardian screening of Midlake: Live in Denton as I wasn’t around, and files this report: “The film was a bit disappointing. Everything was shot handheld, going in and out of focus, etc, which gave it the look of a home movie. The hometown footage, randomly scattered throughout the concert, added to the home-movie vibe, shots of band members and friends having a barbecue, walking around town, etc. Denton came across as more normal – population 120,000, two universities – than quirky and the band seemed very sincere but not especially interesting musicians. Knowing nothing of their music, I didn’t hear any lyric or riff that caught my imagination. That said, the Q&A with lead singer Eric Pulido was enjoyable. He came across as very honest, open and, yes, sincere. It says something about the changing face of rock ’n’ roll, though, when you hear a musician discuss his work/life balance, reveal that he sits on his hometown’s historic buildings commission and say that he is currently listening to a lot of ELO, Supertramp and Wings…”

MISTER DYNAMITE: THE RISE OF JAMES BROWN
An excellent example of building a documentary by getting all of the blocks in place: great interviews with people who were there, or who had specific musical points to make, and fantastic source films (whether home videos, tv shows, news broadcasts or features). But most importantly of all, the confidence to not cut flashily away from incredible footage of the songs themselves – to let the groove run long enough to mesmerize the viewer, and reveal the musical heart of the story.

There was so much here. No matter how many times you’ve seen the TAMI show footage it still staggers. This was Brown’s breakthrough moment, thrust before a huge white audience, beside The Stones, The Beach Boys and Gerry & The Pacemakers, among others. As his ‘Cape Man’ Mr Ray, says, “He come out there like a shot out of a gun, man, dancin’ all across the stage. It’s kinda hard to beat, when you’re an artist that can sing and dance”. Mr Ray then gets his moment, flinging the cape over Brown’s shoulders as he mimes collapsing from sheer fervour – as Mick Jagger (in a very funny interview) says, “It’s obviously an act, but you worry about him!”

Following the smash and grab of “Outasite!” and turning up the emotional volume with “Please Please Please”, the band prepare to go into “Night Train”. Drummer Melvin Parker’s eyes smile as he remembers that moment. “Sam the bass player whispers in my ear, says ‘Melvin, let’s see if those guys can keep up with this…’ and it’s Night! Night! Train!” He mimes smashing down his stick on the snare – “It was off to the races!” They then proceed to play it at a sensational tempo, but James and his three back-up boys look like there’s nothing they’d rather be doing. The fluid glide of the camera moves back across the stage with Brown as he does the push-ups, the astonishing Ali-like shuffle, the dervish splits, and catches his grin of satisfaction as he saunters off the stage, his work done.

“TOO WHITE TO BE BLACK, TOO BLACK TO BE WHITE”: GARLAND JEFFREYS AT THE MUSICIAN, LEICESTER
It’s dark in the mean streets of Leicester’s industrial quarter, and I was glad when I saw a light, a single point surrounded by the hulks of abandoned buildings. It’s the front window of the Musician, a tiny club. Great. This is where you want to connect with a gloriously rootsy r&b/rock band: pretty much one long room, a bunch of die hard fans, a compact stage – and on it a group of people who really, really know what they’re doing. This is a band who sound as muscular and dense and driving as you’d want, without sacrificing any detail. They’re locked in tight, Charly Roth’s keys answering Mark Bosch’s guitar as the bass and drums (Brian Stanley and Tom Curiano) lock like Al Jackson and Duck Dunn. When they left us with a tribute to his Syracuse University student friend Lou, they played “I’m Waiting for The Man” with a perfect lowdown Memphis undertow. The sound is terrific, better than one has a right to expect of a whistlestop date following a visit to Scotland the night before. On Facebook, Robert Maddock reported that “Malc the soundman has been there forever, and he said it was the best performance he had ever witnessed at the Musician.”

There was an elegance, a finesse to what they were doing, even as they thundered through “Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me”, dizzying blues licks spinning from Mark Bosch’s guitar over the song’s Junior Parker chassis, making the recorded version sound polite. There was the easy familiarity of music loved for a long time and played with friends – I have no idea if it was, but that’s what it sounded like to me. A good guide for a gig is how often the musicians smile at each other, over small mistakes or turnarounds they pull off dead on time. And Garland’s band were smiling a lot. In ways, it had the feeling of the early E Street Band, a lot of passion and humour in the music, rooted in r&b but with rock and latin seeping in. It was that New York brew of “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me’, added to the Doo-Wop of Frankie Lymon and the street corner bands, with a side order of VU.

The best thing is that the songs are properly rooted – songs, as my friend Michael would say, “that sound like they’re from somewhere”. Often they’re reportage from his life: the centerpiece of the set was a chilling “Mystery Kids”, about his fearful wait for his father to arrive home, that I can’t do justice to now.* “Coney Island Winter”, “It’s What I Am”, “Roller Coaster Town” – each one great. And from someone who’s had a career as long as his, in a business that is rarely easy, there’s not a trace of cynicism about Garland Jeffreys. He warmly talks to locals who he apparently knows from a transplanted-to-New-York musician, and asks after their grandkids. It’s something to see.

The audience (all 85 of us) raise the roof and there’s much glad-handing and back slapping. I moved off into the night, the songs running around my head as I got lost in the circles of the centre, passing empty office blocks with hoardings promising a new dawn of luxury apartments with gyms and saunas and twenty-four hour concierge services. In my head I was still standing on Coney Island, twenty two blocks from the city…

More next week. Oh, and I’d also like to thank bassist Brian Stanley for a fascinating conversation that covered NY musicians, Late Night Show bands, Real Estate and Michael Jackson’s drummers.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Having watched the making of Aja a few weeks ago, I’m surprised to see The Bloomsbury Theatre lists an afternoon chat with its producer Gary Katz. So I’ve spent some time listing to The Royal Scam (not least for Paul Griffin’s amazing piano playing on “Sign In Stranger”). Here’s the tracking session for that song, which runs a little slow, and also the track for “Kid Charlemagne”, before overdubbing. The line-up is (approximately) Bernard Purdie on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass, Larry Carlton and Walter Becker on guitars, Don Grolnick on Fender Rhodes, Paul Griffin on Clavinet (KC) and piano (SIS).

Five Things, Wednesday 17th September

Poignant & Strange

ClubsFrom Stylist: “Photographer Antonio La Grotta’s project, Paradise Discotheque, revisits Italy’s out-of-town superclubs, made for thousands to dance through in the Eighties and Nineties, but now out of fashion and abandoned. Sad and beautiful.”

These Foolish Things
At Michael Gray’s Dylan Weekend (more on this next week!) Michael put this on his grand hi-fi as a sort of quiz, which of course I can’t do here, for as soon as you click on the link you’ll see who it is. I tumbled it somewhere in the second verse – his phrasing and styling is just terrific and the fantastic ramping up of emotion for the last verse (helped along by the drummer) is an object lesson in soul tension.

Mark Porter has designed a new digital magazine, thelongandshort
…and their music column is based on a blog called Song Exploder, a great idea where an artist talks about how their song was constructed. The first features Daedelus (Alfred Darlington to his mother) talking about “Experience”. And while listening to that, try to get your head around how digital magazines actually work. I always feel like a dunce with digital magazines – I keep getting lost – but I’m sure that I’ll get the hang of it soon…

The Lost Genius of Judee Sill, R4
I finally get round to listening to this sorry tale. I always liked her strange way with melodies, using climbing or descending bass runs on the guitar or piano to lace her songs with nagging hooks, so that you still remember them twenty years later. A left-field songster with a weird baroque/gospel sensibility, her work didn’t sit happily in with the Laurel Canyon lot, or with anyone else, for that matter.

David Hepworth had this to say: “Sill made a couple of very good albums for Asylum in the early 70s. She had a song called “Jesus Was A Crossmaker” that was almost celebrated at the time. Celebrated, at least, among the people who might have watched Old Grey Whistle Test or read the Melody Maker… Sill died in 1979. There had been a lot of sadness in her life: drugs, accidents, abuse. When that happens there’s always the chance that thirty-five years later Radio 4 will commission a programme about you called The Lost Genius Of Judee Sill.

But here’s the thing. When acts make it big they take is as proof of their talent. They did it on their own. When they don’t make it big they always blame it on something or someone specific. The record company went out of business, the radio banned us, the drummer left, there was a strike, there was an oil crisis or a war, there was somebody who had it in for us. If the artists don’t make such a claim then enthusiasts have to make it for them.

The story here is that Sill outed David Geffen, the boss of her record company, on-stage. In this narrative he had his revenge by dropping her from the label. I’m not sure the record business works like that. It’s more likely that his company had put out the two albums they were obliged to release under the terms of Sill’s contract, records which hadn’t sold. Therefore they decided their money would be better spent on somebody else.

Simon Napier-Bell was talking the other night about how performers have a combination of self-belief and chronic insecurity which you would consider mad if you encountered it in a member of the public. This same egoism drives them to believe that the only thing standing between them and widespread acclaim is some kind of wicked plot… rather than accept the truth, which is that we, the public, weren’t really bothered one way or the other. We’re the villains, not the mythical “suits” or the tin ears at radio. Our natural state is indifference. We bought some other music or we didn’t buy any music at all. We forgot. We passed by on the other side. We have lives in which your career doesn’t figure at all.”

Robin Thicke Charms World, Again.
“I was high on Vicodin and alcohol when I showed up at the studio. So my recollection is when we made the song, I thought I wanted, I, I, I wanted to be more involved than I actually was by the time, nine months later, it became a huge hit and I wanted credit,” Thicke said in the statement. He added that he was no longer taking Vicodin. And, presumably, now that Marvin Gaye’s lawyers are suing, no longer keen on taking credit either.

Extra! Listening to Len some more
Check out “Nevermind”, from Popular Problems, and prepare to anoint Leonard C and Patrick L the John le Carré’s of popular song.

 

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