Thursday, March 15

ONE OUT COME THE FREAKS
Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape kindly sends me a copy of A Hero for High Times, Ian Marchant’s new book. Its subtitle describes it pretty succinctly: A Young Reader’s Guide to the Beats, Hippies, Freaks, Punks, Ravers, New-Age Travellers and Dog-on-a-Rope Brew Crew Crusties of the British Isles, 1956–1994. Whew! It’s a hefty book, and I’m a third of the way in – it’s vivid, engaging and somewhat eccentric, much like its subject Bob Rowberry. In a good way.

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How could I not love a book that has a Jonny Hannah cover (finished and delivered a good few years ago, Jonny – above in his Darktown Taxi – tells me), a long section on Studio 51 (the Ken Colyer Club) and an Afterword page with the line, aimed at his Younger Readers, “Now you need a Ginsberg and a Ken Colyer and an Elvis of your own.” There’s also this fine shout-out to Dan in the Acknowledgements…to my editor, Dan Franklin, without whose work over thirty years or so, there would be no history of the counterculture”. Highly recommended.

TWO RADIO PROGRAMME OF THE WEEK
In a similar vein, a wonderful R3 documentary on Val Wilmer, jazz writer and photographer, and brave explorer of free jazz. Discover how a young girl made such an impression on several decades of black musicians. “I started out interviewing musicians when I was very young and I was really just a fan and I didn’t really know I could do it. I really didn’t know what to ask people and so therefore I didn’t ask complicated questions. I asked Where did you get your first instrument, why did you have a saxophone, who did you play with, and who did you play with next? People enlarge on things, and, if they feel relaxed with you, then they will talk more. I enabled people to speak freely and therefore they did. And sometimes they spoke very freely indeed, much to my astonishment…” It was a programme that did Val’s extraordinary life justice.

THREE CONCERT OF THE WEEK
David Rodigan and the Outlook Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall. On the Day of Great Snow Kwok and I grab something to eat at Five Guys before the gig and I ponder the fact that he I and I have been eating burgers in London since the time when there was only one burger joint in London, the Hard Rock. Where Kwok became night grill chef while still a student on the Fine Art course at Chelsea School of Art, before being poached to run the kitchen at a new Hard Rock in Frankfurt. So I value his opinion, and we’ve spent the intervening forty years of searching for the best hamburger in town. Five Guys gets a okay 5/10.

The other thing that Kwok was into at Chelsea was reggae and has listened to Rodigan’s Rockers, the show being celebrated tonight, since the 70s. So we couldn’t not go to the Festival Hall show, even though we had no idea what it would consist of. It turned out to be a very formal-looking Rodigan (dead ringer for George of Gilbert and George, three-piece suit and tie) entertainingly leading us through a history of Jamaican music while the orchestra played the requisite songs for each segment (Bluebeat, Rock Steady, Lover’s Rock et al) with guest vocalists.

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The atmosphere was fervid, closer to a boxing match than a concert. People were leaping around and giving a standing ovation before Rodigan’s feet even touched the stage. When he arrived, the crowd sat down for a few notes then all got back on their feet for the next two hours, even those in the boxes ranged along the sides of the hall. I haven’t witnessed a concert explode into a dancing mass like this, except, maybe, the end of Paolo Conte’s Barbican show). There’s a lot of shouting. Each new tune draws another round of exclamations hurled at the stage: “Respec’! Respec’!” “Boooooooooom!” “RodiGan!”.

The arrangements sat on the shoulders of some fantastic rhythm work. Rock steady and rock solid, the bassist locked in with the two drummers and a percussionist to give the whole evening a deep thump and a hypnotic sway. I’ve searched online for the line up of the Orchestra, but have found almost no information, so I can’t credit them, or the fine horn section and backing singers. The line up of singers – half of them flown in from Jamaica and New York for tonight’s show – was impressive, Bitty McLean, Horace Andy, Maxi Priest, Tippa Irie, Ali Campbell among them. Highlights were conductor and arranger Tommy Evans’ cool dancing, Maverick Sabre’s gorgeous grainy voice, and Horace Andy’s slick patent leather outfit. Most amusing moment goes to Tippa Irie and the least necessary stage-leaving announcement of “I’m Tippa Irie”. We’d spent the previous ten minutes chanting his name – I say “Tipper” you say “IRIE!”, I say “David”, you say “RODIGAN”!

FOUR VIDEO OF THE WEEK 1
A collaboration with the Detroit School of Arts, featuring the Vocal Jazz Ensemble and teacher Ms V. for David Byrne’s Reasons to be Cheerful Project (we need this man, right here, right now!) It’s a rocking rendition of “Everybody’s Coming To My House” from his new American Utopia album.

FIVE VIDEO OF THE WEEK 2
Humble Pie “For Your Love”. I can’t even quite remember the path to stumbling across this, but (at least for the first half of its seven minutes) it’s great.

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Tuesday, May 10th

AL GREEN NITE!
A chance stumbling across a Bee Gees concert the other night while my mother was staying with us led to an across-the-board agreement that the Bros Gibb wrote some crackers, which then led on to an Al Green YouTube-athon, Al being one of my mother’s favourite singers. I said “You have to see this!” and lined up Al in 1973 doing the Robin and Barry Gibb classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (which I have previously mentioned here). That led on to many delights, but it was the Soul Train version of “Take Me to the River” that took the biscuit. With a horn intro that I’d swear was sampled by Gil Scott Heron for “B Movie”, the drummer starts working a storm up behind Al. Al whips his arm around in the air like he’s lassoing the band to join him in the river itself. The drummer holds back his fills ’til the last moment each time around. He’s playing a space age kit with bowl drums – I’ve never seen one like it before. Once you’ve spotted Homer Simpson’s face in those bowls, it’s hard not to keep seeing it. Make sure to play this loud – as Don Cornelius says at the end, it’s a Stone Gas…

CRAFT BEER LABELS REALLY PUSHING WORDPLAY TO NEW LEVEL
Peter, Pale and Mary, anyone?

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A BONUS OF OCCASIONAL LECTURING…
…is that, apart from spending a day with a really nice engaged group of people, you get a poster done for your visit, and in the case of working at Southampton for Chris Arran and Jonny Hanmsotonnah, a hand-crafted CD (Songs from the Mermaid Café , in association with Trunk Records, to tie in with Jonny’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park).It has now accompanied me on a few trips and is a fluid mixture of things known and unknown. We’ve long thrilled to the calypso stylings of Robert Mitchum, but were not au fait with Pinky Winters, whose “Cool Sazerac” is a highlight. My favourite track is not the title music to Kes, or even the beat-driven “Comin’ Home Baby”, by The Velvet Fog, Mr Mel Tormé, apparently a Northern Soul classic, and totally terrific. No, it’s the beautiful “Melodie Pour Les Radio Taxis”, played by Barney Wilen, Kenny Clarke, Kenny Dorham, Paul Rovere and Duke Jordan, from the soundtrack to Un Témoin Dans La Ville – totally unknown to me, but found by Jonny in the Trunk Record archives. Hear it in the music player to the right…
From a site devoted to Wilen: “The main character of his playing continues to lie in his even trajectory. His solos have a serene assurance which eschews dynamic shifts in favor of a single flowing line. With his tone still exceptionally bright and refined, it grants his playing a rare, persuasive power.”
And Jonny’s own liner notes are a treat: “The trunk itself has more than a touch of the Tardis about it. Once you open the lid, you soon find yourself diving in headlong, ’til only your loafers are seen popping out. And once the rummaging begins, there’s no possible way to stop. And why would you want to? This particular record shop, above us in the great internet wen, is far more interesting than anything you’ll find on most high streets…”

AN EXCERPT FROM TOM JONES’ “OVER THE TOP AND BACK”
Dip into Tom’s book anywhere and you’ll be rewarded with a pithy take on his career at that point…
“And then an opportunity opens up for me to become a recording artist at the home of the world’s most notorious gangsta rap label… Tom Jones at Interscope. It couldn’t seem less likely. Of all the records companies in all the world, at this point in time. So suddenly my world is now Jimmy Iovine’s phonebook And Jimmy Iovone’s phone book is not short of numbers. Furthermore, during the making of the album we happily sign up for, he seems ready to use every single one of them…
Teddy Riley from the Backstreet Boys, the king of new jack swing, gets asked to produce some tracks. So does Jeff Lynne. So does Trevor Horn. So does Flood, who has worked with U2 and Nine Inch Nails. So does Youth, the techno and dub producer. So, for all I know, do any number of other people who aren’t too fussy about having a surname in 1994.
As the album comes together, Jimmy gets in touch. ‘I’ve been listening to everything , and it’s great,’ he says. ‘But I’m just trying to think of the track my mother is going to like.’ Seriously? Even now, at Interscope, with lethal rap acts down the hall and armed guards on the door, with money flying around to bring in the hippest producers and writers known to man, we’re still wondering how to please Jimmy Iovine’s mother?
Nothing against Jimmy Iovine’s mother, obviously.”
It’s a cracking read, poor proofreading notwithstanding (Porter Wagner? Shell Talmay?). And the CD that was released to tie in with the publication, Long Lost Suitcase, is a nice evocation of 50s music of all stripes, with one standout track – a version of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Elvis Presley Blues”. It was a strong song when it appeared on Time (The Revelator), but here it’s given depth by an arrangement brilliant in its simplicity – the only backing is producer Ethan Johns’ guitar over-amped and tremolo’d to the point of feedback, throbbing from left to right in the speakers, providing a bluesy plaincloth for Jones to sing over, just the right amount of unpolished. And Tom has something to give the song; after all, he knew Presley as peer and friend, and the lyric stares him in the face – “I was thinking that night about Elvis / Day that he died, day that he died/ He was all alone in a long decline…”

WHAT DID YOU DO AT WORK TODAY, DARLING…
“Well, I played my clarinet, I mean I held my clarinet, through two holes, um, in a sound stage and lifted it, you know, miming, when the clarinet section played… no, I couldn’t play it, it was just my arms through the stage, I had no way of blowing, just my arms, I couldn’t see anything, the floorboards were very close to my nose…”

Marc Myers at JazzWax posts this incredibly weird clip: Ann Miller, tap dancing like a champion,while a disembodied orchestra plays…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and in a non-music-related way, this, by Charles Pierce for US Esquire, is worth reading…

 

Five Things, Wednesday 15th October

Who’s in charge?
From Roy Keane’s slightly mad new autobiography, The Second Half: “It might seem strange but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music. A young lad might want to put on the latest sound; an older player might say: ‘I’m the senior player’ and put himself in charge. But I noticed none of the players [at Sunderland] were in charge of the music and this was a concern for me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’ The last song before the players went on to the pitch was “Dancing Queen” by Abba. What really worried me was that none of the players – not one – said: ‘Get that shit off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ “Dancing Queen.” It worried me. I didn’t have as many leaders as I thought.”

Hedi Slimane: Sonic
No, I didn’t see this, but Steve’s partner Fiona did, and writes about it on her always interesting fashion blog, Something I’m Working On. “A couple of years ago, when I was Art Director of Russian Vogue, I used to design the covers and fashion stories Hedi Slimane shot for us. Among other things, this involved trying to reason with his agent about how to leave a white border of exactly one centimetre around Hedi’s photographs without cropping the photographs, despite the fact that Hedi’s photographs were not the same shape as our pages. Hedi is (understandably) passionate about his pictures, and the way they are presented. Hedi likes to be in control. Which is why (a) this exhibition is gorgeous, and (b) it’s so fascinating: the subject matter – the music scene – after all, is pretty much the opposite of control.” The exhibition is at the Fondation Pierre Bergé/Yves Saint Laurent in Paris until January 11, 2015.

Terry Cryer’s Best Shot, The Guardian
Glad to see that Terry chose this lovely photo of George Lewis and Joe Watkins at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 in 1957. It’s been one of my favourites ever since I came across it when we put together the book about Ken. Terry was by far the best photographer of that whole pre-rock scene, and his shots really stand out, partly from his use of a large format camera, partly from his clever use of flash. He was great at capturing the joy of an audience, to which this picture testifies. [It’s the square picture to the right of Bob recording Highway 61…]

Wall of Loft

Greetings from Darktown!
And strangely, that very day, I had made a mask from Terry’s photo of Ken and Sister Rosetta Tharpe [the largest of the rectangular pics above], as Jonny Hannah’s book launch insisted that entry was contingent on wearing a mask – the invite included a pre-cut mask shape that the invitee had to customise in some way. Having just given a rave review to his book in Eye magazine, I didn’t want to miss it but arrived late, only catching the last part of Sandy Dillon and Ray Major’s spooky sounding set (more on this in the Five Things End of Year roundup). But I do get to congratulate Jonny (a nicer fellow you won’t meet) and pick up a copy of the book in a hand drawn carrier bag (see below). I chose the Flying V as it seemed an odd choice of guitar for a man obsessed with Hank Williams. Although, after Jonny waxed eloquent about the beauty of the Flying V, it made more sense.

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“Birds flying high, you know how I feel…”
Driving through sheets of rain just outside Colchester, with Nina Simone on the car stereo, singing Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”. And as she leans into the last verse, Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky/how sweet it would be if I found I could fly, the rain stops and hundreds of swallows swoop from the trees to begin a murmuration, wheeling like a storm cloud against the suddenly bright sky.


Extra! Up Close with Robin Bannerjee
At dinner with my mother at a local bar, we luck into a set from Verity Guthrie and Robin Bannerjee. I am so close to Robin that I can feel the chord changes. And they’re great chord changes. Robin was Amy Winehouse’s guitarist (see the wonderful Other Voices performance in Dingle) and tonight he’s partnering the sultry voice of Verity Guthrie. He loops his rhythm part so he can solo over it, pulls out songs from his depthless folder and gets Verity to find the words on her iPhone, and generally plays a blinder. We have to leave before they finish, so I don’t get the chance to request Tom Waits’ Old Boyfriends, a number they would kill. Next time.Robin

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