Five Things, Wednesday 13th August

Don’t hold back, just push things forward
Ithaca Audio’s pertinently titled mashup uses one of the great intros (Shaft) and a bizarre selection of other imagery and soundtracks (Star Wars, Horse/Surf Guinness Ad) to excellent effect. “Shaft” is a Proustian Rush™ thing for me. It always transports me to Tony Blackburn’s (I think) chart rundown show on Sunday evenings, when all the homework – that you should have done on Friday – loomed. The Chart Show as background made it more bearable (though probably not good for the concentration) and occasionally something would issue out of the warm AM fuzz and demand that you stopped what you were doing to listen in wonder and awe. “Shaft” is the track I remember more than any other…

Prestige New Jazz v Esquire
At London Jazz Collector’s blog, a graphic Battle of the Brands: US jazz label Prestige’s covers translated or re-versioned by the UK’s Esquire when they were issued here. I don’t know which I prefer – there’s great work on both sides, as well as the odd duffer. I have the Prestige of Ray Bryant’s Alone With The Blues, but check out the IKEA-like (those ubiquitous piled stones that were done as large prints a few years back) Esquire version…

Royal Blood, Shortlist Interview
The new Morphine (only without the sax)? Not really, but I always like being put in mind of Morphine. Great drummer, wailing saxist and a bassist, Mark Sandman who played 2-string slide bass (!) and created such a unique vibe that you didn’t miss any other instruments. Check these two songs from a French TV show. They sound, if anything, better now, and still as unusual. Sandman died, of a heart attack, way too young… Anyhow, I liked Royal Blood’s answer when they were asked about appearing on US TV: Shortlist: You appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. What was that like? Mike Kerr:I’d never been to Hollywood, and it’s a very strange place. It’s like a theme park for millionaires. But the show is a very isolated experience. We didn’t meet Jimmy Kimmel or watch the show. It was like turning up to a place in Hollywood and doing a gig to 20 competition winners that were Googling you on the way in.

Paul Anka, on writing “My Way” for Frank Sinatra
In 1967, Frank Sinatra confided over dinner that he’d decided to retire. The Rat Pack was starting to splinter, which made him feel vulnerable, and he was being harassed by the FBI because of his Mob connections. ‘Kid, I’m fed up,’ he said. ‘I’m going to do one more album and I’m out of here.’ Then he lightened up and said: ‘Hey, kid, you never wrote me that song you always promised me. Don’t take too long!’ He’d often joshed with me about writing a song for him, but I’d never got round to it.

A few months later, at home in New York, I couldn’t sleep one night. So I sat at my piano and started playing a French song, “Comme d’habitude”, to which I’d bought the rights. There was a storm brewing and as I played I suddenly sensed myself becoming Frank, tuning into his sense of foreboding. That’s how I got the first line: ‘And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.’ I thought of him leaving the stage, the lights going out, and started typing like a madman, writing it just the way he talked: ‘Ate it up… spit it out.’ I’d never before written something so chauvinistic, narcissistic, in-your-face and grandiose. Everything in that song was Sinatra.

When I finished, it was 5am. I knew Frank was in Las Vegas, but by then he’d be offstage and at the bar. I called: ‘Frank, I’ve got something interesting – I’m gonna bring it out.’ When I played the song for him, he said: ‘That’s kooky, kid. We’re going in.’ Coming from Mr Cool, that meant he was ecstatic. There was never any question of singing it myself; “My Way” was done Sinatra’s way – and that was unquestionably the right way. Though I do like the way Sid Vicious did it…

I had one of those, honest
On Jeff Gold’s Record Mecca, an autograph book containing The Beatles signatures is priced at $7,500. It’s very similar to my autograph book, which once had the Beatles autographs on a single page, too. It also had The Searchers, Freddie “Parrot Face” Davis and Pete Seeger: they were all guests on Sunday Night at The London Palladium. Our friend, the bassist Lennie Bush, had the gig with the Jack Parnell Orchestra (which was full of great jazzers). Lennie (Sinatra’s go-to bass player on any sessions that Frank did in London) always took my autograph book with him. And then at some point I decided that my friend and colleague, Colin McHenry, was a bigger Beatles fan than me and that he should have that page. Colin, you owe me…

I love that—"To, Martin, keep with it” written by Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal, who then joked around with Earl and they ended up signing their names as Sinclair Hines and Earl Traill…

I love that—”To, Martin, keep with it” written by Sinclair Traill, editor of Jazz Journal, who then joked around with Earl and they ended up signing their names as Sinclair Hines and Earl Traill…

 

 

 

Five Things: Wednesday 26th March

It’s Album Week at 5 Things! New Album Display
These may be my favourite two album covers, ever. Jimmy Reed’s a study in perfect 50s still-life, and Blind Blake (or rather, Blake Alphonso Higgs, not Blind Blake the bluesman) looks like some proto-Neville Brody illustration (if you remember his illustrated 12-inch singles from the 80s, that is). The guitar neck and peghead is fantastic, and the fingers are a little like Robert Johnson…

Blake

Check out the wonderfully-named Dust & Grooves
I really like Jeff Gold and there’s much to enjoy here. Dig Jimi’s personal album collection, the Rolling Stones eponymous debut album – “the first pop album with no type on the cover, thanks to their innovative manager, Andrew Loog Oldham” – and the great see-through Faust album, which I remember owning (and liking for the cover more than the music), but can no longer find!

Faust

I Read this Guardian piece, titled “Is this the first post-internet album?”
And then I read it again. And both times I didn’t understand a word of it. I didn’t understand the subject and I certainly didn’t get a sense of what it may possibly sound like. So I find the first track, “Satellites” online and there’s some industrial noise, the words “open the satellites” repeated a lot, some beats and a haircut. And nothing that sounds remotely new, post-internet or like a musical version of a William Gibson book.

From the blog, Just A Hint of Mayhem
“Don’t you just love Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets” from his 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? I certainly do. I knew that it wasn’t a live recording but the applause included on the track makes it sound as though it is. Did you know that the applause wasn’t even recorded at an Elton gig? In fact it is drawn from recordings of the audience clapping and shouting at Jimi Hendrix’s Isle Of Wight festival set in 1970. I know of another occasion where that kind of thing has happened too. The sound of the crowd used on the title track of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album is actually the applause taken from a live album by the Faces… Can any of you offer any similar gems?”

A Little More Llewyn Davis
Llewyn Davis has become our background music of choice over the last few months. I’m not sure why, as the album is not consistently good (in fact, I think the best thing on it are Dave Van Ronk’s “Green Green Rocky Road” and Dylan’s “Farewell”, the only original tracks) but it creates a great mood. So a few more ILD bits:

1> Annie Charters I wanted to know what Annie thought of the film and was pleased that both she and Sam loved it, while realising that it, of necessity, played loose with the truth of actual life in the village in 1962. Sam produced Inside Dave Van Ronk for Prestige, (apparently the cat was only there for a couple of frames as the cover was shot, but it was enough for the Coens), with Blue Note legend Rudy Van Gelder as engineer, which I hadn’t known. Annie took the lovely pic of Terri and Dave on a Village rooftop. She said that she and Sam were both mouth-agape at the re-creation of Moe Asch’s office (where he offers Llewyn Davis a coat instead of royalties). Apparently the walls really were covered with terrible paintings that Moe was convinced were priceless, and he left some to Sam and Ann in his will.

12-Inside
2> Oscar Isaac: “Here’s a crazy story. I was doing this really small movie and there was this guy in the scene, he was an extra, he’s in his sixties and he’s playing a drunk in a bar. There was this guitar just sitting there on the set and in between takes he picked it up and started playing. So I asked him what his story was, and he said that he was a guitar player from New York. So I told him that I had this audition coming up and that the part was based a little bit on Dave Van Ronk. So he says that he played with Dave Van Ronk. And then he told me to come by his place, and I asked him where that was and he told me that he lived above the Gaslight on MacDougal Street and that he’d lived there since the ’70s. It was like this time capsule. He had these stacks of records and guitars all over the place. And he doesn’t start playing Dave Van Ronk, he starts playing the stuff that Dave Van Ronk was listening to, like the Reverend Gary Davis and Lightnin’ Hopkins. And then he introduced me to Dave Van Ronk’s widow. And this was all before the audition. So I felt this has to happen. It was meant to be. So then I started playing with him. I’d go along to coffee houses and open up for him and we would share the basket. And that really immersed me in the whole scene and allowed an organic folk sound to come out.”
3> Richard Williams: “I’ve seen it a couple of times and was impressed by the faithful portrayal of the Greenwich Village folk scene as it prepared for the transition from Pete Seeger to Bob Dylan (although, as a friend pointed out, nobody tied a scarf with a loop in the way Oscar Isaac, who plays Davis, does until about 10 years ago).”

Extra! Goodbye Card from Dan Mitchell…
… as I leave my job. Thanks, Dan!

Good Luck

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.


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