Wednesday, June 12th

{ONE} A FEW THINGS ABOUT MARTIN SCORSESE’S NETFLIX FILM, “ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY
“It was more fun than the law allows, by a long shot. There were genius writers everywhere. It was a bus full of musicians and singers and painters hurtling through the night fueled by White Russians and other things, making a movie, writing songs and playing – on those evenings when we got the mixture right – some of the most incendiary, intense and inspired rock’ n’ roll, before or since. For evidence, please see the version of “Isis.” Check out Dylan’s reading of, “If you want me to, yes.” That was about it for me. That “yes” encapsulated all of it. The joy, the shock, the anger, the lust, the mirth, the bewilderment, the almost derangement of the whole ride.”
– T-Bone Burnett, one of the Revue guitarists

Watch it, it’s a hoot – brilliant and funny, and you can believe what you want to. Think back to Dylan’s playful press conferences – even now he has the ability to wrong-foot or con the audience, he’s just doing it here with Scorsese’s help. It makes no difference if the Sharon Stone bit is invented, or the Argentinian filmmaker doesn’t really exist. If you remember Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s political mockumentary, Tanner ’88, then the politician interviewed about Dylan’s closeness to President Jimmy Carter won’t be a surprise. It’s safe to say that no conventional film studio would have gone for this, but that’s what Netflix brings to the table. So here are a few great moments from Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story.

1 “Isis”. Scarlet Rivera’s limo driver says that he’d never really been to a rock show, before noting that the relationship between those on the stage and those in the audience was like “one battery charging another”, a neat way of conveying the excitement felt by the audience at being in such intimate spaces seeming to spur on the performers to reach some kind of ecstasy. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the mighty performance of “Isis” captured here, transformed from a rather plain, loping, piano-driven tune to an excessive, expressive romp. With no guitar (a Patti Smith inspired move) Dylan in white-face makeup gives it the full David Bowie (while, amusingly, Mick Ronson struts and solos behind him).

2 Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg went from being part of the first shows to being bumped off-stage as the running time needed to be cut, by a lot. He continues on tour, hilariously reading Kaddish to a group of mahjong-playing women, who just happened to be in the same hotel as the Revue (they’re then treated to Dylan and band romping through “Simple Twist of Fate” in an almost “Pub Singer” style). What’s great about Ginsberg is that when the camera alights on him, he sums up what’s happening and what it may mean, in gorgeous poetic sentences.

3 “Like stations in some relay…” Among the extraordinary Bob performances nestles something equally stunning. We’re at Gordon Lightfoot’s house in Toronto, walking up darkened stairs before being ushered into a living room. Seated with guitars are Roger McGuinn, Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Joni proceeds to teach them the chords sequence that she wants them to play. When she’s satisfied that they’re not going to fuck it up, she starts… “No regrets, Coyote / We just come from such different sets of circumstances / I’m up all night in the studios / And you’re up early on your ranch…”

She delivers it drop-dead perfectly. She’s just written it about Sam Shepherd, who’s along for the ride to write a film that’s being shot as the tour winds its way up the Northeast coast of America. He’d was invited to join up, so he dropped what he was doing (setting up a horse ranch in California) and caught a train (won’t fly, not since “Mexico, 1963”) to New York. If you like the film, his Rolling Thunder Logbook is a great companion piece.

4 Turning 180º from the big-boned performances and the blustering stadiums of Tour ’74, where even the acoustic performances are bellowed, here, in the gipsy caravan of RTR, “Mister Tambourine Man” is given a beautiful reading, every line caressed and shaped and caught in amazing close-up by David Myers’ lens.

5 The whipcrack of Howie Wyeth’s snare in “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. Wyeth and bassist Rob Stoner (the MD of the whole shebang) are the MVPs of the Revue, providing a brilliant rhythmic and melodic platform for everyone to swan-dive off. Stoner does outrageous melodic walks up and down the neck while never missing an accent or a root note to anchor everything again. Wyeth, a student of orchestral percussion, plays the songs, commenting on the lyrics as he goes. In Sam Shepherd’s words, “Wyeth’s jackhammer drums are splitting the four-four time into smithereens. He has a right hand that’s not to be believed. It comes down on the accent and then plays half a dozen little cluster strokes in between striking two or three cymbals for added color. A drummer like this usually goes totally unnoticed, since he lacks the obvious flash of the more athletic types – Howie sits there like he’s driving a ’58 Impala, cruising down the highway.” Joni Mitchell intended to visit for one show, but stayed for the remaining 15, partly because, she said, “Howie Wyeth’s soul is so beautiful.”

The end titles list every gig, by years, that Dylan has played since the Revue’s tours. It’s astonishing…

{TWO} EAZY DOES IT
It seems that the Eazy-E bench in Newhaven [for the earlier story go here] is not an unalloyed hit. But it has produced a classic local paper story. The Argus reports.

One angry resident said he was “truly shocked and outraged” by the decision to allow the bench. William Bartoli told the council: “You are all responsible for polluting our cherished town. I would have applauded Guy Stevens’ interest, and hard work in raising the funds, until I discovered it was a shrine to a drug-dealing rapper whose many song titles included ‘F*** the Police’.” He raged: “Would I get permission to have a memorial bench for Jimmy Savile? I think not.”

In response, Councillor Pinky McLean said that the bench was “a project of passion from a local taxpayer. Although we may not agree with lyrics that this American man wrote, there are many music legends who have not lived a truly wholesome life and recorded songs and lyrics that offend. But they are just humans. Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright was too. He was just a man who has been remembered on a bench and, while not everyone’s cup of tea, made many, many people happy.”

Mr Stevens, who campaigned for the bench, said: “I’d encourage everyone to get a bench of a dead rapper in their town.” Unveiling the bench, Town Mayor Amy said: “I would like to see a John Lennon bench – that was more my era. After looking up Eazy -E on the internet, I am now an expert on gangster rap. His LP Straight Outta Compton was rated as one of the best ever made, and for me, that’s fascinating, because I didn’t have a clue who he was.”


{THREE} LEE KRASNER
Thanks to Caroline and Bill, we went to the opening of Lee Krasner: Living Colour. “I was a woman, Jewish, a widow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a little too independent.” It’s a great show, especially the early-to-mid work that the brutalist Barbican space really suits. When MoMa had an exhibition of the paintings of her husband, Jackson Pollock in 1998, they released a CD of music drawn from the Jazz 78s found in his studio. As it’s 2019, The Barbican has made a Spotify playlist for Lee, and it’s very cool.


{FOUR} THERE’S A LOT OF TALENT OUT THERE…

The ingenuity of folk knows no bounds – here’s four people with a strange band name (Walk off the Earth), some loose change, drinking glasses and giant handbells, playing my new favourite song, Lil Nas’ “Old Town Road.”


{FIVE} B.B. KING – LIFE OF RILEY
A sombre, serious portrait that ends up being less celebratory than it could be, and more melancholy. It’s on Netflix now, and beautifully directed by Jon Brewer, but I felt it needed less of the talking heads and a few more of B.B.’s milestone performances. One nugget, though, was an interesting story about his aversion to playing acoustic guitars. Eric Clapton had asked B.B. to make an album with him (2000’s Riding With the King)…

Eric Clapton: I thought the best thing to do – we’ll go into the room with a couple of guitars and see what comes out…
B.B. King: I said, “Whatever you think is good we’ll try it”, and we did, and he was right, except trying to make me play acoustic – I didn’t like that… [laughs] I had been cut all to pieces by a guy called Alexis Korner. Alexis Korner said, “B, I got two Martin guitars, acoustic guitars and I got an idea for something called “Alexis Boogie”, so let’s try it…” Boy, when we started recording, he just cut me to pieces. I said, I’ll never play another [acoustic] as long as you’re alive [laugh] and I didn’t! I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but now Alexis is dead I’ll try it. And Eric did the same thing, cut me to pieces!

Tuesday, September 19th

ONE JONI BUGG
Well there’s inspiration, and then there’s stealing, but if you steal you have to make something better than the original, which this sorry attempt fails to be.

joniThe cover of Hejira is made up of 14 different photographs collaged by Mitchell and retouched by an airbrush artist. I had bought UNCUT’s Ultimate Music Guide to Joni Mitchell which has the unretouched image by Norman Seeff [above, left] on its cover. It’s generally terrific, and a good companion to the recent Rock’s Backpages book, Reckless Daughter, but I was slightly appalled to find that it barely mentions my favourite song, “Black Crow”. Mitchell’s open-tuned electric rhythm guitar scrubs out a midwest blacktop backdrop for Jaco Pastorius to dig into and move around, all angles, like a tractor twisting and turning in the endless fields that line the road. At the same time Larry Carlton’s hovering above with an electrical storm of distorted guitars. At one point Carlton and Pastorious leap into the air like a couple of crop dusters and circle the skies before being reined in by Mitchell’s high yelp. The song irons out for the fade where it races off into the distance and, right before it disappears beyond the horizon, Larry Carlton suddenly summons up the ghost of Mick Green and plays an outrageously swaggering rock & roll riff. It’s a unique sound, a unique song.

TWO I’VE JUST ORDERED…
The Invisible Man: The Story of Rod Temperton, the “Thriller” Songwriter, partly because it’s such an unlikely story, partly because he wrote “Always and Forever”. From Heatwave to Hollywood, he ended up as Britain’s third most successful songwriter. Jed Pitman on Thriller: “Temperton wrote three songs for the record, including the title track which began life as a song called “Starlight” but [Quincy] Jones asked Temperton to come up with new lyrics to fit the tougher theme that was emerging from other tracks around it. Rod knew he wanted one word because that fitted in with the song He said about writing lyrics that the meaning of them didn’t necessarily matter, the lyrics to him would disappear into the melody of the song. The lyrics themselves were all about how many syllables they were for each word to fit lyrically and melodically with the song structure. He’s effectively using the words as another musical instrument rather than sending a message. He wrote about 300 words down and then he wrote the word ‘Thriller’ and that was it, he stopped and went, ‘Wow, I can see it on top of the Billboard charts, I can see the merchandising, I can see everything – Thriller by Michael Jackson.’”

THREE ONE TRACK MINDS
The wonder of Wilton’s Music Hall is in its restoration. When you hear that a venue from the past has been restored you imagine a lot of gilt, a kind of “overloud” painting where the brashness of the colour may be accurate, but shouts too much, and there’s a general air of fussiness. None of this has happened at Wilton’s. A building at risk has become a beautiful encapsulated ruin (in the nicest possible sense).

A couple of months ago it played host to One Track Minds, a series where generally well-known people talk about a song that means a lot to them. A varied lineup included Tulip Siddiq, MP, comedians Mark Thomas and Harry Mitchell, sports writer Jenny Offord and session man and all-around entertainer Guy Pratt. It was great to hear Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Want Fi Goh Rave” again, from the fantastic Forces of Victory album, to be reminded of how great Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” is. Guy Pratt, session man extraordinaire [below, left], talked about being on a disastrous teenage holiday. There’s an excellent review of the show by John Sills at thoughtsfromwestfive: “In Guy’s case, he was at one point lying on a bunk bed, recovering from having tried smoking with an ‘evil’ cousin. He noticed a cassette player nearby and pressed play. A song came on, all jittering synthesizers, throbbing bass, strident guitars and, at the end, an Irish violin. He was mesmerized, and at that moment knew what he wanted to do with his life. Be a musician. And the song? “Baba O’Riley”, the opener on the Who’s 1971 album, Who’s Next.”

Harry Mitchell was the highlight, though. After a long set up about relationships and angst, he revealed that he cemented his friendship (with his friend, Ed) through a shared love of dancing to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. Sadly, he said, Ed can’t be here tonight… at which point, Ed arrived, and said dancing commenced.

5-wiltonsOne Track Minds is highly recommended, and back at Wilton’s on October 9th. Simon Napier-Bell is one of the six guests. Details here.

FOUR WIND RIVER: DON’T GO THERE
I expected much more from Taylor Sheridan. The scriptwriter of Sicario and Hell or High Water, here – as both writer and director – piles an implausible plot with clunky dialogue: “Can’t we call for backup?” “This ain’t really backup country… this is go it alone country” goes one bit of business, six words too long. Jeremy Renner is a hunter (and philosopher, judging by his gnomic utterances) and Elizabeth Olsen an FBI agent investigating a murder on a Native American Res. It’s an irritating film with a pretty good soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (although there’s nothing as memorable as the music created by Robbie Robertson for tv doc The Native Americans). It also has that thing where an unrelated song by a sensitive male songwriter plays over the end credits (in this instance, “Feather” by William Wild).

FIVE HAVE YOU HEARD OF BENARD IGHNER?
Me either. A month ago I was listening to Peggy Lee sing, sensationally, “Everything Must Change”, from an album recorded live in London in 1977. I knew the song – Nina Simone had covered it [among too many others to list here] but I wondered where it had come from originally. So I went looking, and found this obituary, by A. Scott Galloway (at TheUrbanMusicScene.com), of the man who wrote it, Benard Ighner. He had died a week or so before.

“Benard (not “Bernard” and the last name pronounced “eyeg-ner”) was most widely known and adored for his composition “Everything Must Change”. A deeply existential musing about the unmovable ‘way of time,’ it was introduced [on Quincy Jones’ platinum-selling 1974 album, Body Heat] by Ighner singing with hushed intimacy ascending into reverent earnestness over a dreamy surround sound arrangement of piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer, rim shots and a trombone solo by the great Frank Rosolino. Never a single, the haunting masterwork went a long way toward selling the full-length album as a 6-minute slice of interstellar Heaven.”

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Wednesday, 10 December

Idiosyncratic Careers Continue/1
Joni Mitchell at 71, still an admirable toughie. She continues to work – her next project is a four-part ballet culled from her back catalogue. She was recently interviewed by Billboard: “I’ve had a very full life. I don’t miss much of anything. I can’t sing anymore – don’t miss it. I can’t play anymore – don’t miss it. I’ve got all these instruments laying around and hopefully one day I’ll pick them up. But I do want to start writing my short stories, that’s what I want to do after I get this ballet out of the way. If it can happen, great – if it becomes apparent it’s not gonna happen, alright, I’ve got plenty to do. And I’ll still paint.”

At the British Library
A highly recommended Gothic Exhibition drew us here (and it is exceptionally good), but if you are in the area it’s worth popping in for 15 minutes to see the Treasures of The British Library, a permanent exhibition of highlights. Here you’ll find Jane Austen’s writing desk, the Magna Carta and a great selection of handwritten Beatles lyrics (here’s “A Hard Day’s Night” scrawled on a child’s birthday card).

Beatles1

Idiosyncratic Careers Continue/2
And Bob Dylan announces an album of Frank Sinatra covers, with these words: “It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” Michael Gray’s take on it is here. All of this reminds me of a great Dylan performance of “Restless Farewell” at Mr Sinatra’s 80th birthday bash. Frank’s request, apparently, and obviously chosen for its proto-“My Way” lyrics, the best of which was this couplet… “And the dirt of gossip blows into my face/And the dust of rumors covers me…” Accompanied by an orchestra, a lovely, lonesome fiddle and a guitarist that slips a “Maggie’s Farm” quote in near the end. And as it finishes and the applause starts, Bob nods and says, “Happy Birthday, Mr Frank”.

Heal’s has pre-Christmas festivities, with incredible G&T’s and this stack ’o’ Speakers

Stack

Barney sent me this a few weeks ago, but I’ve just re-found it.
I love the fact that it’s Hudson’s Menswear Dept.

Rockin' Revols

Five Things: Wednesday 1st May

A Rainy Night In Bourges: Le Printemps De Bourges, Loire, France
The annual festival brings a platter of bands to almost every bar in town. Trying to decide where to go and who to see brings the following descriptions from the programme: Superhero Big Beat Surf/Pop Art Punk/Reggae Occitan/Black Death/House Celt Rock Experimental, and my favourite: Rock Noise Folk Blues. This poster in a nearby town would have had me putting money down for tickets, but it was in the past…

B1

Best music we saw was a cracking band called Minou, consisting of Pierre Simon & Sabine Quinet, plus a bald percussionist on electric pads. They play guitars and keyboards, both well, and their oeuvre is some unholy mixture of Kraftwerk, Nirvana and Talking Heads, put over with personality and pizazz and great timing. They were playing in a plastic garden tent, set up in the street, with a pop-up bar serving beer and lethal rum punch, and gave it their all – a welcome relief from the sub-Punk Rock being played in most bars, that the French seem, unaccountably, to be in love with.

Minou

Bob Gumpert Appalled By Ricin Suspect
Josh Marshall, TPM: “We had the first court appearance this morning for James Everett Dutschke. Unlike his predecessor, a flat claim of true innocence does not seem to be in the cards. More shocking, it’s now alleged Dutschke is a Wayne Newton impersonator.”

Bob says: “Perhaps only in Mississippi – the first guy arrested for poison letters was an Elvis impersonator. He was turned loose. The new person arrested is a Wayne Newton impersonator and that is just plain offensive.” To make it even worse for Bob, The Daily Mail reports that “the FBI searched his home, vehicles and former studio last week, after dropping charges against an Elvis impersonator who says he had feuded with Dutschke in the past.” Couldn’t make that up – feudin’ impersonators: Elvis vs Wayne…

The Thick Of It Writer Ian Martin’s 60 thoughts about turning 60, The Guardian
My favourites:
4. It was 1968. Early summer evening, a Saturday. My mate and I were hitching home in the Essex countryside. We got a lift from a happy couple in a boaty car that smelled of leather and engine oil. We were 15, they were proper old, 20-ish. Relaxed and so very much in love. They treated us as equals, laughed at our jokes, we smoked their cigarettes. “Walk Away Renee” by the Four Tops came on the radio. We all sang along to the chorus. I felt a blissful certainty that life as an adult might genuinely be a laugh. The entire encounter lasted no more than 10 minutes. I have thought about that couple every day since. Every day, for 45 years. Imagine that. A Belisha Beacon of kindness pulsing through the murk of a whole life.

58. “Nice snare sound.” Always say this to someone you like when they are playing you terrible music, especially if it’s their demo. This insincere but specific observation allows both parties to sidestep more general, and potentially cruel, discussion. If the person insists, they deserve everything they get, starting with “shit snare sound.”

Portrait Of The Artist, The Guardian: Madeleine Peyroux, Singer
What work of art would you most like to own? “I hate the idea of owning a work of art. But I do own a guitar that I consider a work of art. It’s a 1943 Martin 0-17. I took it on tour with me for 16 years, but I’ve just had to put it back in the closet. It was made in the United States during the second world war, when metal was rationed – there’s no metal in the neck, which means it’s constantly going out of tune.”

Edith Bowman’s 10 Best Songs Ever Written, Stylist Magazine
Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On: “To be honest, I don’t feel there’s a lot I can say about the song itself. Just listening to it says it all. It’s the perfect tonic. It brings out the sunshine. The horn section at the start of the song, coupled with the melodies, makes you want to groove from the first few bars. Instant smiles from the get-go.” Marvin would be pleased that his agonised plea for peace and understanding (opening lines Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying/Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying…) soundtracks Edith’s braindead summer picnics. And she actually says, about Joni Mitchell’s “The River,” “she sings it in a way that makes her feel totally accessible, the fragility in her voice encouraging you to sing along. This is probably quite a ‘girl’s choice’ to be honest…” In what world is choosing a song by one of the greatest songwriters ever to have graced pop music girly? There’s not a lot of fragility in Joni. Bare, naked honesty, yes. Fragility? I don’t think so. This is a woman who got totally pissed off when she played acetates of Court & Spark at a party after Dylan had played the acetates of Planet Waves, and having no-one listen. And knowing that it was a better record. The woman who Dylan whispered to, after they shared a bill together in the early 2000s, “Joni, you make me sound like a hillbilly in comparison.” Oh, Edith. Behave.

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