Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 2

Woodstock Two Full Tilt, Theatre Royal, Stratford East
So, a few days after The Last Waltz revisited we head to the the theatre to see Full Tilt, a musical play about Janis Joplin, who was of course managed (as were The Band) by the Squire of Woodstock, Albert Grossman.
“On stage a woman stands, the greatest rock singer of her generation. Behind her is the hottest band that a record company can buy. In front of her, an audience of thousands of expectant fans. She is Janis Joplin. She is utterly alone.” So, it’s pretty much a salty monologue with a band for the performances. There are a few scenes where other characters – a night desk clerk, a road manager – intrude, but it’s pretty much Angie Darcy’s show as Janis. The musicians who make up her band (Big Brother in parts, Kozmic Blues at others) are some of Scotland’s finest – guitarist Harry Ward, Andy Barbour on keyboards, bassist Jon Mackenzie and James Grant on drums. The simple set, not much more than a dressing room, may be underpowered, but it’s the only thing that is. By the end we (wife, mother, daughter) have winced at the sad facts of a life shaped by bullying, heartache and drink, have heard the word “Maaaaann”, drawled at least 150 times, and had the roof raised by a bravura performance of “Piece of My Heart”.

Woodstock Three Small Town Talk launch, Rough Trade East

A few days later, it gets more Woodstock-y at Barney’s reading – with guest, Graham Parker – to launch his new book. Recommended for its fascinating portrait of a small town unique in American music history, the book has a lot of time for the less famous among its denizens – Karen Dalton, the Muldaurs, Bobby Charles, Paul Butterfield and the floating pool of musicians who would come to define East Coast Americana. Graham Parker, who lived in Woodstock for a while, told us of his most memorable musical moment there: “I had the extraordinary experience of working with Garth Hudson, which was a full-day experience, for three songs… he fell asleep at one point, then he woke up and said, “Where did all these women come from?” There was just me and the engineer… [Garth has a narcoleptic condition]. We’d agreed on a fee – and he beat me down by a thousand dollars at the end! “Uh, that’s too much…”

Wednesday, 25th November

IMAGE OF THE WEEKjanis.jpgPolice mugshot of Janis Joplin. The Smoking Gun: “Janis Joplin was arrested in November 1969 in Florida and charged with disorderly conduct after yelling obscenities at police officers during a Tampa concert. Charges were later dropped after it was ruled that the singer’s actions were an exercise of free speech.

Who wants another Christmas album, eh? You’re right – no-one. And just walking around in any shop subjects you to the unwelcome “All I Want for Christmas” (and occasionally, on good days something as wonderful as The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping” – which has just been covered by Kylie, I hear). However, there’s a cracker from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, called “It’s a Holiday Soul Party”. Standouts are a great instrumental “God Rest Ye Merry Gents” – if you liked their side project The Menahan Street Band, you’ll dig this – and my favourite, “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”. “When I was a child I used to wonder/How Santa put my toys under the tree/I said, “Momma can you tell me how this can be?/When there ain’t no chimneys in the projects”.

News in from BigO: Jarvis Cocker, British conductor Charles Hazlewood, Adrian Utley from Portishead and Will Gregory from Goldfrapp will take part in full, orchestral interpretations of the themes from Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson’s other shows. The concert will take place on December 1, 2015 at the Colston Hall, Bristol. The collective will be accompanied by the British Paraorchestra, the world’s only professional ensemble of disabled musicians. Hazlewood, conductor and Artistic Director of the Paraorchestra and All Star Collective said: “We will be bringing back to life all the iconic hits of composer Barry Gray, in the 50th anniversary year of the launch of Thunderbirds. Expect high octane, big band-fuelled live renditions from this hit TV series, alongside timeless classics from shows including Stingray and Captain Scarlett. We even have Gray’s original Ondes Martinot, the old-school futuristic electronic instrument, which is the sound of the Mysterons”. From Wikepedia: “The instrument’s eerie wavering notes are produced by varying the frequency of oscillation in vacuum tubes. The production of the instrument stopped in 1988, but several conservatories in France still offer tuition to students of the instrument”. I want one.

From an elegant post: “I am beginning to wonder if collecting recorded silences is a bit of an affliction but I remembered that I also own an album called The Sounds of Silence… a kind of Now That’s what I Call Quiet Volume 1. On this record there is a piece by Andy Warhol, made for the East Village Other magazine in 1966. It is called “Silence (Copyright 1932)”, and purports to have been created by Andy Warhol aged 4. But this silence, unlike the dust induced silence of Robbe-Grillet or the dust that slows and extends the passing of time moving towards silence in Stalker, has no duration. This is not just time stopped but time negated. Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his soundproofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.”

Shown on BBC 4, soon after its cinema release – catch it if you can. Jeanie Finlay does a splendid job with one of rock’s crazier stories. Jimmy Ellis was born in Orrville, Alabama, with the voice of Elvis Presley – a huge problem when Elvis was alive, as the public already had the ‘real’ thing, but when Elvis died on August 16, 1977, and Shelby Singleton had an idea of how to fill the void, involving spangly suits, a bizarre made up name (Orion Eckley Darnell) and a mask – well, you can imagine… The film ends with Orion’s version of the great Charlie Rich song “Feel Like Goin’ Home” (written in response to Peter Guralnick’s book of the same name, one of the finest music books ever published) segueing into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” which is strangely moving.

Charles used the Judas word at the Albert Hall a little while ago, a couple of weeks after Bob was there. Ninety-one, and strutting around the stage like a fit seventy-year-old, he told us stories from his career, rescued “She” from the cawing clutches of Elvis Costello’s Notting Hill cover, and gave a hundred-minute show to an adoring bunch of fans. “You know, if you come to be famous, popular, doesn’t matter if you are a singer, actor or politician or anything else, but known – you know what I mean – a money-maker, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an extraordinary entourage of people trying to be helpful in any way – for example, if they found you in bed with their own wives they would pull the cover over you in case you catch cold… [they are] a parasite, until your success begins to decline. So after you have been squeezed like a lemon, the time will come for them to sell you, betray you, to crucify you. I call this song My Friend, My Judas.” What followed was a staggering cross between Barry White and John Barry, with a side order of Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid soundtrack.


Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 9th May

Janis Joplin, Get It While You Can, Take Three, July 27th 1970
“Everybody I know is crazy, except President Nixon… and that’s his problem…” This is take three of the Jerry Ragavoy/Mort Shulman song, still not quite polished, but rawer and freer. When they reconvene on September 11th to finally record it, they’re more focused—“brighter”— in producer Paul Rothschild’s words. But take three still has the edge, a more pleading vocal, and a coda of “No No NoNoNo NO…” that is absolutely moving, and missing from the final take.

Alabama Shakes, Electric Brixton, May 3rd
In the sleevenotes to an album by one of Alabama’s greatest musical talents, Eddie Hinton, that fine Memphis journalist Robert Gordon wrote: “If a frayed rope could sing, it would sound like only two people, and since Otis is dead, that leaves Eddie.” And since Eddie is dead, that leaves Brittany Howard. It’s erroneous that Janis is the cheap ’n’ easy invokee—Howard’s models seem more to be those two men, especially when you factor in her tone. First seen when the excellent Laura Barton wrote about a lone YouTube video in The Guardian last year, I’d deliberately avoided listening, but bought tickets to see them. As my daughter Jordan said, that way you’re not just anticipating the couple of songs you know, and not listening properly. So we let it wash over us and tried to ignore the ******* hipsters talking at the bar and the drunks hollering next to us (hard to do in the moodily quiet numbers). Punching her guitar, stomping her boots and seemingly conducting the songs by shakes of her head, Brittany Howard lived up to the hype, and the band are just slick enough to make it work, but not so slick that it sounds mechanical—you just wish you could be watching them at The Lamplighter, outside of Muscle Shoals, instead of here. Oh, one last thing: the name. It’s not easy to do a great band name these days – see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds for example – but this is most excellent, both geographical locator and mission statement.

Black Cobra
Enable the subtitles on your TV, get to see who’s sold their music to Ad Agencies! Cobra beer ad, Black Keys’ Gold On The Ceiling. In two minds whether the lyrics really fit the product – “Gold on the ceiling/I ain’t blind/Just a matter of time/Before you steal it/It’s all right/Ain’t no God in my eye.” I’m not sure that’s on brand.

VanMan SatNav
Driving with my friend Steve Way to a cartoon festival, he was taken with the Irish voice on our car’s SatNav, and started doing the instructions in the style of Van Morrison. Genius! Leaving motorways and approaching roundabouts has never been so entertaining. Googling to see if anyone had already thought of this I could only find one reference, from a thread on Julian Cope’s Modern Antiquarian… “My Van Morrison Sat Nav has caused me to flood my brakes in the slipstream and I’m now stuck between two viaducts. It’s also told me to fuck…” and there, wonderfully, access to the thread ends, as I can’t get on to the site.

Message From Chuck!


Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 2nd May

Miles Davis, the “My Funny Valentine” scene, Homeland
Carrie presses play on her music system and Miles’ trumpet entwines round the next five minutes, as the would-be dinner à deux fails to materialize. She puts on lipstick, walks past the painting of a jazz trumpeter on the stairs. Brody’s at the door. Their clothes rustle, the ever present cicadas throb as the background sounds are foregrounded. She pours wine. “Miles Davis!” she barks. “Do you like Jazz?” “I don’t know anything about it.” He tells her why he’s there, he leaves, the double bass climbs, she ditches the wine. As the title melody resurfaces, the camera cuts to Brody getting into his car and staring out the windscreen, then back to Carrie, wretched in her kitchen, then to Saul. He’s the only one who knows about Brody and Carrie’s relationship, has a tangled relationship of his own with Carrie as her mentor, and now he’s staring into a CIA fridge, filled with all the things that office fridges always contain: medicines and mustard and peanut butter… The tune spirals and stretches as Saul walks back to his office and, seen from behind the blinds, sighs as he realizes he’s forgotten a knife. He looks in his desk drawer and pulls out a ruler to spread the peanut butter, and at 5 minutes, 10 seconds, with the song only 50 seconds away from finishing, it cuts into an electronic bass hum/high pitched drone and a child’s drawing in a mansion window, as the next day dawns—and brings with it the fateful surveillance operation in the square.

Freak Out!
In a particularly wide-ranging segment of Jools Holland’s Later, an incandescent Annie Clarke—a refreshingly un-Marina And The Machines-like woman singer, and a considerable guitarist. I was so-so about the song, but the guitar playing! Well, great joy! Not since seeing the latest Chili Peppers guitarist [Josh Klinghoffer] has someone stopped me in my tracks like that. “As of late 2011, her pedal board includes the following: Korg PitchBlack, DBA Interstellar Overdriver Supreme, ZVex Mastotron Fuzz, Eventide Pitchfactor, Eventide Space, BOSS PS-5 Super Shifter, Moog EP-2 Expression Pedal. All her pedals are controlled by a MasterMind MIDI Foot Controller. She usually plays with a 60s Harmony H-15V Bobkat guitar.”—Wikipedia

Olly: Life On Murs
Oh the fabulous poptastic late-night treats continue… I don’t remember the channel, but here’s a programme possibly commissioned for the Title Pun alone. We follow the cheeky chappy (a kind of cut-price Robbie Williams) as he tours. Memorable moment—the backstage huddle just before hitting the stage. Rather than Madonna’s prayer circle, a raucous New Orleans-style number led by the horn players as the band leap around singing “I feel like fuckin’ it up, I feel like fuckin’ it up.” Brilliant.

Nostalgia Time! House Of Oldies
Photographer Nick Sinclair’s mailout this week.

I remember this record shop! I bought Bruce Springsteen bootlegs (Passaic, The Roxy ’78—“All you bootleggers out there in radioland, roll your tapes”) from them in the early Eighties.

Joplin. Grave. Spinning.
Not since I saw a poster in Times Square for Bob Marley Footwear [see picture] has something clothes-based seemed so wrong.

A re-issue of Pearl had this flyer inside: “Made for Pearl is part gypsy rambler, and part cosmic cowgirl… a bit of joyful rebellion. MFP has produced clothing and accessories as enduringly modern, beautiful and timeless as Joplin’s colourful legacy.” Who writes this shit?

And finally…

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

Newsnight v Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All
Oh dear. Old media fails again to report properly on new phenomena… From Stephen Smith’s bizarre “Is this the future of Rock ’n’ Roll?” opening line it was The Day Today all the way. After Brick Stowell explained that he made 300 t-shirts for the pop-up shop (OF are paying their way by selling stuff rather than music at this point), Smith’s supposedly snark aside was: “Are there any washing instructions in here?” How lame is that? A pointlessly combatative interview with OF followed by their manager having to insist they paid taxes, before Smith’s coup de grâce—“Some say the band are a case of new wine in old bottles, or is that a case of old dope in new bongs?” If that’s the level of discourse, if that’s how you’re going to attempt to impart information in the six minute time slot that Newsnight will allow—then why bother? As the kids would say: Jam Yo Hype, Newsnight!

Mystic Malvina
“There were some good things at the Monterey Folk Festival—you must have missed them, or they didn’t appeal to you anyway… A girl named Janis Joplin, square built, impassive, singing blues in a high, skin-prickling voice like a flamenco woman; Bob Dylan, and some others. When thousands of kids are doing something with diligence and devotion, there are going to be some geniuses amongst them—it figures mathematically. And something is coming of this. Bob Dylan is a sign.”

An excerpt from a wonderful letter that folksinger Malvina Reynolds (composer of Little Boxes) wrote to Ralph J Gleason, published by Jeff Gold on his Recordmecca blog. As Jeff says, “Boy, did she ever get that right.” Big Brother & The Holding Company three years in the future and Dylan’s first appearance on the West Coast. “He too was almost completely unknown, and for Reynolds to invoke the genius-word was pretty prescient—and daring, indeed.” Jeff follows this with a letter from a woman called Donna, about Dylan’s 1965 San Francisco Press Conference which is just as good. More and more, these primary sources ring with resonance—the resonance of a time and place, not with hindsight or a critical straightjacket to tie them up in.

Welcome To The Library, Friday evening, 13th April

As far from the jungle as could be—you’d think—the Westminster Reference Library, just off Leicester Square. I used to do my homework there. Tonight it’s the venue for the Sam Amidon Experience.

A power trio unlike any you’ve ever heard. Sam makes the melodies of these old, old folk songs a kind of plainsong—flattened out and dessicated, almost. By repeating and intensifying phrases, voice totally in sync with his unique guitar style, the tunes move forward and shift gears. Behind him, like mad scientists tiptoeing through the cables, his genius accompanyists moved from Slingerland drumkit to computer, from bass to prepared guitar. Take a bow Shahzad Ismaily and Chris Vatalaro. With these two beyond-talented collaborators the show swayed from free jazz to beat poetry to Appalachian ballads (one of which, Prodigal Son, Amidon dedicated to Rick Santorum: “When I left my father’s house, I was well supplied, I made a mistake and I did run, I’m dissatisfied… I believe I’ll go back home, I believe I’ll go back home, I believe I’ll go back home, Acknowledge I done wrong.”)

I took my mum. She found it equal parts beguiling and baffling. She loved the final medley of Climbing High Mountains with R. Kelly’s Relief, where the audience sang the refrain like a hymn. She’d liked to have heard more Beth Orton. Mothers, eh?

Post-Rock Careers: Nine Inch Nails

Literate Rockers Alert!
As Alex Kapranos is to food, so Charlie Fink may be to film, if an enterprising publisher snaps up the Noah & The Whale Film Companion. A really entertaining diary entry in ES Magazine made me warm to a frontman whose band had hardly set my pulses racing at a couple of festival appearances last year. I’ll have to listen anew.

%d bloggers like this: