Five Things: Wednesday 14th May

In The Bluegrass State…
…although it has to be said that a huge glass conservatory on the side of a Kensington Hotel is not the most perfect venue for the Governor to extoll Kentucky’s virtues. When I think of Kentucky I think of wood: bourbon barrels and archtop mandolins, so a trick missed there. But it was nice to hear a convincing bluegrass band, although they hail from Penzance rather than Pine Ridge, in the shape of Flats & Sharps (get the Flatt & Scruggs reference there?). They played a committed set for the assembled throng of travel industry types, but the high point was when the Governor and his guest, the US Ambassador, got up to sing “Blue Moon Of Kentucky”. The band played it at a cracking lick, all keening voices and frailing hands, then realised that their distinguished guests didn’t quite, er, have the lyrics down. So they leapt into the breach and papered over the cracks, much to the amusement of all who knew the words backwards.

Flats & Sharps

Come Gather Round, People…
Dorian Lynskey wrote a nice piece in The Guardian about Merry Clayton and the re-release of Dylan’s Gospel that contained some really interesting asides: Every word of her version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is wrenching and magnificent. You can hear the same intensity in her volcanic 1971 version of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and in her transformative, apocalyptic performance on “Gimme Shelter”. When the pregnant singer was summoned, at the last minute, to join the Stones one night in autumn 1969, she was in her pink silk pyjamas and simply threw on a mink coat for the session. “I really don’t want to go to this session because it’s 11.30 at night,” she says, warming to the anecdote. “I refuse to get dressed. At the studio I’m reading over the lyric and I’m saying, Rape? Murder? Honey what does this mean? They gave me the gist of it. I just interpreted it the way I felt it.…”

Clayton’s faith in the political messages her voice could convey to listeners was so immense that in 1974 she sang on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s controversial “Sweet Home Alabama”, a song she actively disagreed with. Approached by fellow backing singer Clydie King, she agreed on one condition. “I said we’re going to sing the crap out of this song. They have the nerve to sing Sweet Home Alabama! That’s the white interpretation of Alabama. It’s not sweet home to black people! It’s not sweet home at all. We’re going to sing it like a protest song. We were singing it through our teeth, like we were really angry: We’re going to sing your song, honey, but not because we want to – because it’s necessary.”

Kasabian Shock! They’re Better Now, But Not By Much…
Happy to learn that Caspar Llewellyn Smith had same opinion about Kasabian as me, but worried that he’s given them too much credit for their new album: “The first time I meet Sergio Pizzorno, the thin-as-a-rake, bearded-and-black-leathered guitarist from Kasabian, I tell him how terrible his band is. My memory of the occasion is hazy, but the following morning I wake up remembering one part of what was mostly a monologue.
Pizzorno: “No, man, it’s good – I appreciate you being straight with us. I’ve never understood why the broadsheet press don’t seem to like us.”
Me: “In that case [feeling triumphant], I will tell you!” Cue a long, finger-jabbing rant, in which I hold the band solely responsible for every failure of contemporary rock’n’roll. So it is a credit to Pizzorno’s good-naturedness that, six months later, I am sitting in the kitchen of his well-appointed house on the fringes of Leicester, responding to the question of how many sugars I’d like in my tea.”
However, the piece has the extraordinary title, a quote from ’ol Sergio, “We’re trying to create a new musical language”. As ever (sucker for punishment, me) I track down the videos and their Jools Holland performance. Their claim is not borne out by either. The songs are catchier, but the melodies extremely second hand, the vocals as weak as ever, shoddy lyrics and the band locked into a drum machine-driven Madchester/Madness/Primal Scream groove.

John Deakin, Photographer’s Gallery

Fascinating portrait of literary, bohemian, painterly Soho in the 50s and early 60s. I always think of music when I think of Soho, but the lone photo of musicians is of Humph at Ronnie Scotts. I guess that Deakin just wasn’t as drawn to the musicians as he was to the other ne’er-do-wells.

More Dylan’s Gospel
Dylan GospelI remember buying this album (it’s still in storage somewhere) mainly because I liked the cover. From Lynskey’s piece: And what did Dylan make of his gospel makeover? Adler can’t say because, surprisingly, they’ve never met, despite having many mutual friends. “What’s ironic is that we both have 12-year-olds who hang out together,” he says. “The other night I was going over to Bob Dylan’s house to pick up my son but I still didn’t see him. So I’ve never known his reaction.”

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 7th March

Busker, Charing Cross tube station, Thursday 1st March
An alto saxist, playing Ewan McColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, with every phrase so extended it took the entire length of the subway corridor for the tune to fall into place, which it did, rather beautifully. And at 30p, cheaper than an iTunes download.

Dark Ages Musician-Fan Communication
Found in a folder of old things: this returned envelope from a simpler, less efficient time. Attempting to join the Levon Helm Organisation, which would have given me an 8″x10″ glossy and a quarterly newsletter. For $6. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter? What? Who needs ’em?

For illustration fans: The early Isabelle Dervaux rubber airmail stamps are trumped by the United States Post Office Returned To Sender.

Close Up to a Clarinet
I’m working on a book with a great musician, Sammy Rimington. Sammy’s played clarinet over the years with some of the greats of the Jazz world, as well as with the likes of Muddy Waters and Ry Cooder, and I asked if he’d bring his clarinet the next time we met to work on the book, a scrapbook of his life. He obliged and, sitting two feet away from him as I pushed the record button, was struck by how great it was to be in such proximity to a) a great musician, and b) that most gorgeously fluid and smoky-sounding instrument.

Pro-Rata Music Documentaries
Talking with my friend Steve Way about the Gerry Rafferty doc, he proposed that future music documentaries should be made in appropriate formats. eg: Punk Rock documentaries should be very short, preferably under three minutes; Prog Rock documentaries should be be extremely long and in multiple parts (the “Gatefold” approach).

Kasabian vs Lou Reed, Friday 2nd March
The Graham Norton Show, BBC1. Kasabian are so bad, so indie dishwater bland, they make me want to crawl into a hole and die. All the moves, all the thin jeans and pointy shoes and shades in the world couldn’t rescue the flaccid strumming and the la la la’s. Goldie Hawn attempted to describe this sorry mess, causing the singer (looking for all the world like someone’s dodgy bearded uncle) to reference Be My Baby and Roy Orbison.

Oh Please.

Fuck. And Off.

Over on BBC2 a few minutes later, a discussion about Lou Reed reaching seventy. After a clip from Later, of Lou with Metallica, writer Christina Patterson made this observation: “I kind of think—why should he carry on doing the same stuff? He did some stuff absolutely brilliantly, that’s more than most of us do in a lifetime and I think it’s a great temptation for artists to do the same thing again and again… And I think good on him… to try and do something fresh. Personally I think it’s disastrous, but I don’t see there’s anything wrong in the quest…” Absolutely spot on. But then Lou’s done something great in the first place, unlike Kasabian. Result? Victory for Lou!

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