Saturday, July 20th

{ONE} LOVING LISBON

Fado – everywhere in the Alfama, Barrio Alto and Chiado districts [click to enlarge]

If you haven’t booked a summer break, here’s a suggestion. There’s a fascinating looking bill at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon from 1-11 August, featuring performances by Marc Ribot, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mary Halvorson and more, working around a theme of resistance and protest. We spent a few days there last week and, with Melody Gardot’s “Amalia” floating beside us, we walked the hills and docks of this most livable city. It’s super-friendly, the food and wine terrific, and the slightly crumbling Southern European vibe is still intact from my last visit 20 years ago.

{TWO} RAPPER BENCH NEWS!

From Popbitch: “A new Eastside/Westside hip-hop beef is emerging – but this time it’s between East Sussex and West Sussex. As we mentioned at the start of the year, a resident of Newhaven, managed to raise £1,500 after getting permission from the local council to erect a park bench in tribute to the late NWA rapper, Eazy-E. Now it looks as if rap fans in Lancing, West Sussex, are firing back. Having flouted council regulations, they have installed an unlicensed memorial plaque to Tupac Shakur on a bench at the Monks Recreation Ground. In what appears to be a deliberate attempt to stoke up tensions, they’ve also scrawled the words “Fuck You, Newhaven” underneath it. It has since been removed, but quite how the proposed renaming of Worthing Pier to “Wu-Tang” Pier will go down is currently anyone’s guess.”

{THREE} GUITARSLINGERS

A Blabber & Smoke interview with Glasgow guitar player Tom Rafferty had this excellently annotated list of his favourite guitarists and his favourite instrumental albums:
Here are ten guitarists who have lifted me up:
Marc Ribot – always surprising, always a left turn, a singular hand
James Williamson – slamming raw power
Tom Verlaine – liquidity
Ry Cooder – floating, yet gritty
Sonny Sharrock (especially Ask The Ages) – rage
Jimmy Reed – swinging sincerity, great heart
Hubert Sumlin – righteous blues
Pops Staples – The Shimmering King, with the deftest touch
Robert Quine – skronk and fury
Earl Hooker – astonishing twang and slide
As for a favourite guitar instrumental album, it’s almost impossible, but here’s a few:
Raybeats – It’s Only A Movie
Link Wray & The Wraymen – Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble (the one with the blue cover, on Charly)
David Torn – What Means Solid, Traveller?
Jon & the Nightriders – Live At The Whisky A Go Go
Earl Hooker – The Genius of Earl Hooker

{FOUR} FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH BOB

Having watched endless programmes recently where manicured presenters sit in fake rural environments (folksy sets of hay bales, picnic sets, log cabins, looking at you, Glastonbury) I was primed for gushing introductions and dreadful links at Bob ’n’ Neil, but they were notable by their absence. By the time we got to Hyde Park, we were 65,000 strong, but there was still enough space to lay down a picnic blanket. It’s essentially a lovely day out in the park, only minus the ability to buy a drink, unless you queue for 45 minutes. Yep, no food or drink was allowed in – obviously, we sneaked a hipflask of Bob’s Heaven’s Door bourbon in – which would be fine if the queues were short. Having missed Boy Azooga on the undercard, I was interested to see how Laura Marling fared. So we found a place at the base of Delay 7, a huge video screen with in-sync speakers where both the sound and vision were good and settled in.

“Master Hunter”, kicked off her set, and featured great rolling drums, a “Ballad of Hollis Brown” feel and a cheeky “It Ain’t me Babe” reference, but it was hard for her to involve the crowd, who were woozily distracted by the bucolic weather and the carnivalesque atmosphere, by the Artisan Pizza and the Coffee Caravans. They only really responded for the final two songs, both from the excellent Semper Femina, “Nothing, Not Really” and “Wild Fire”. It was fun to watch the British Sign Language signers in the corner of the screen work with Laura’s rather sophisticated lyric style. Their remit includes making the beat of each song apparent through their body language – they were certainly going to find both words and beat easier with Neil.

Signer, Neil, Old Black, picnic blanket

I remember Rob Fitzpatrick writing in Word magazine, about Young’s Americana album: “If you remove the comfort blanket of (in this case entirely unwanted) hero worship for a moment – and I love Neil Young dearly – what you’re left with is a record that no one in their right mind could possibly want to play more than once or twice. There is a great deal to be said for recording quickly and intuitively, but not much for bashing through everything once and then calling it a day.” Well, that’s kind of what Neil does now. He’s found a clodhopping bunch to back him up who make Crazy Horse look like a fine-tooled, precision outfit – the band with possibly the worst name in Rock History: Promise of the Real. Really. Promise of the Real. Who came up with that?

Opening with three identically-paced songs with identical chords (that’ll be our old favourites C, G and D) “Mansion on the Hill”, “Over and Over” (that could have been the afternoon’s motto) and “Country Home”, he then went into “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, and some semblance of melody and structure came to bear. I thought I’d have no problem with a set-list that included this, “Alabama”, “Words”, and “Walk On” but I did. The problem was that everything was leaden. The band were no match for the sifty strangeness of a song such as “I’ve Been Waiting for You”, flattening out the melodies, and on the Harvest selections, two guitarists attempted to replace late steel player Ben Keith and failed. I mean, I lived through pub rock, and it was way better than this. He also played possibly two of his worst songs (“Throw Your Hatred Down” and “Piece of Crap” – don’t tempt me).

As Neil churned out solo after solo on “Old Black” – his faithful ’53 Les Paul – all I could think of was Bill Bailey’s riff on The Edge, where he reveals simplistic note patterns beneath the layers of effects pedals. But Neil was there to worship the guitar as a holy relic and played solos on virtually every song. I mean, he’s very good at his thing, but this performance struck me as indulgent and lazy. At some point during a never-ending “Rocking in the Free World”, I was praying for a power cut. At that point, I could have signed it in BSL… Jesus, it was the song that never died. We were, indeed, “rocking” in some world, I’m just not sure how free it actually is at the moment.

“One time in London I’d gone out for a walk / Past a place called Hyde Park where people talk / ’Bout all kinds of different gods, they have their point of view / To anyone passing by, that’s who they’re talking to…” – Bob Dylan, “T.V. Talkin’ Song”, not one of his finest hours.

A rare shot of four-fifths of Bob Dylan and His Band

Bob came on, and the video screen director had his orders: never don’t have Bob in the frame. And as Bob was behind a piano, this meant the entire show was watched in a static shot, unless he sashayed to centre stage to rock out a little or play some harp. We didn’t see Charlie Sexton or George Recili until the fifth song, a cracking “Can’t Wait”. From the off (“Ballad of a Thin Man”) the band were concentrating on Bob’s hands, especially Donnie Herron, perched high behind him, on pedal and lap steels, whose hair was – literally –blowing in the wind. Occasionally, bassist Tony Garnier would lean into shot, staring at the piano keyboard. At first, Bob sang reasonably straight, but it didn’t take long for the rather mannered swallowing and biting of words to start. I thought it slightly unfair on a less Bob-centric crowd than would be at his own shows and felt it especially on a guttural “Make You Feel My Love”, presumably added to the setlist to claim it back from Ms Adkins. Bob either was smiling a lot or grimacing, it was hard to tell, but our friend Bob got it spot-on when asked how he found him, answering, “Puckish”.

Throughout, the band delivered the usual impeccable standard of musicianship, although soloing was kept to a minimum because Bob was obviously enjoying playing the piano too much to leave many gaps. There was a demented music-box version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, and a baffling “Like a Rolling Stone”, close to the waltz-time of his first studio demo of the song in 1965. His latter-day blues obsession also led to a string of rather dull roadhouse blues – “Pay in Blood”, “Early Roman Kings” “Honest With Me”, “Thunder on the Mountain” – which lost some of the audience energy. But it was pretty enjoyable, with a sweet acoustic trio performance of “Girl from the North Country”, a thrilling and febrile “Love Sick”, and a bolero-beat “Gotta Serve Somebody”. We cracked out the bourbon and toasted Bob’s health, and his minstrel’s journey, still travelling the world at 78.

{FIVE} VIDEO OF THE WEEK: BRITTANY HOWARD, “STAY HIGH”.

Filmed in Decatur, Alabama and starring actor Terry Crews (fun fact: Crews considers his first job in the entertainment industry to be a stint as a courtroom sketch artist in Flint, Michigan). It’s a little bit of midsummer magic – my favourite moment comes at 2:15, as Crews mimes “I’m doing wonderful / just fine / thank you”, and the girls he drives past echo, “Thank you!”) in full-on Bobbie Gentry conversational mode.

Lars Gotrich on npr: How did Terry Crews come to appear in the video? Simple. Brittany Howard asked. “I got an email from the Brittany Howard, asking me to be a part of a song she wrote that was all about her dad and how special he was to the family. And she poured her heart out in this letter. I couldn’t believe it,” Terry Crews recalls. “Brittany was like, ‘We can shoot it in L.A.,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m coming to you, we’re going to Alabama. We’re going to where you grew up, to where your family is.”

{DESIGN CORNER} MULBERRY, BOND STREET

Rather lovely vernacular designs for fashion brand Mulberry’s curated and sponsored small gigs.

Friday, June 2nd

A visually-driven 5 Things this week…

ONE FOUND ON THE BOOKSHELF
I found this the other day (while attempting to lay my hands on a Raymond Chandler book that I’m convinced I own but can’t find). I bought it a few years ago, mostly for the cover, and it cost £5 (it’s a 1963 third reprint, with pages 82-96 bound in upside down). It’s a good knockabout read, and it occurs to me that it could easily be updated with a little Photoshop work. Hell, the Russian guard even looks like Vlad…

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“During the charity golf tournament, I was just addressing the ball to tee off the first hole, when suddenly all hell broke loose. A wild cacophony of sounds fractured the air like the testing area of a bagpipe factory. For a moment I thought Spike Jones had parachuted in. Then I saw where all this was coming from. A ragged group of tall, bearded, white-turbanned Berbers were standing at the edge of the green. As the noise they produced from thin clarinet-like pipes and twelve-foot horns beat through my skull, I got a glimmer of what was going on. They were brother Jack’s newest ‘discoveries’ and they were ‘audiotioning’. I’d never heard anything like the Riff (sic) Mountain Boys, and I was sure no-one else had either, so later I had them on my television show… their music blew out tubes in sets all over America. I’ll never forget them. Whenever I drive by the plush headquarters of the musicians’ union in Hollywood, I think of those tall, bearded tribesmen and their weird instruments. If there’s any music on the moon, it probably sounds like the stuff the Riff Mountain Boys turn out.”

TWO FOUND AT CHRISTIES
Among the Enigma Ciphers, a working Apple-1 (originally priced at $666.66, current estimate, $300,000 – $500,000), and a letter from Charlie Parker appealing a union fine of $350 levied after his resignation from the American Federation of Musicians, the “Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana” auction on June 15 has this example of an early Excel spreadsheet: a newly discovered preliminary plan for the festival at Woodstock.

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“A testament to the moving target that was the Woodstock festival during its planning stages, it appears to have been intended to run from Wednesday 13 August to Wednesday 20 August 1969. The plan lists each day horizontally, and each row is divided into smaller, but unspecified time intervals (perhaps 10 minutes per slot?). Only the prime nights (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) were scheduled, and many of several of the planned acts, including Joan Baez, The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and The Who, were scheduled to play four nights in a row. Jean Val Ernst, a staff member of Woodstock Ventures discovered the chart in a trailer behind the stage after the conclusion of the festival.” I liked this note on the listing: “accomplished in various color markers and pencil”.

THREE FOUND AT PHOTO LONDON
I could feel myself falling out of love with photography as I walked around Photo London. Too much of the work felt plastic and unmoored. The vintage photojournalism is great (but we all knew that) and there was a considerable amount that had been done better before. The artier end of stuff is foundation level and the transgressive stuff unengaging and yawny. In music-related finds, Taschen had the handsome Dan Kramer book on Bob, there was a nice shot of John Cale in front of Warhol’s Double Elvis, and Brian May was on hand to give you his favourites from the whole show.

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Two good things: NYTimes Pic Ed Kathy Ryan’s talk with young Jack Davison was great, as was David Hurn’s Swaps, a neat exhibit curated by Martin Parr, with Hurn, that put the pictures Hurn had swapped with other photographers – over sixty years – next to those they’d given him in return.

FOUR SPEAKING OF PHOTOGRAPHY…
I came across this cover for Bill Evans & Jim Hall’s Undercurrent album, which I had never seen, shot by a photographer I didn’t know. Whatever, it’s beautiful and seems to have been released at various points with no type at all.

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It’s by Toni Frissell, and was shot at Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida, in 1947. Fast fact: When she grew tired of fashion photography for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, she was hired as the first woman on the staff of Sports Illustrated in 1953.

FIVE THE STANLEY BOOK OF FURNITURE
Found at my father-in-law’s. Where Dad has his cool new sterogram, and the teen bedroom has an, I’d guess
, Italian-made electric guitar in the wardrobe. Well done the art director, for flipping the picture

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EXTRA A PLUG FOR PATRICK…
Patrick Humphreys’ emails… “Just to let you know that the programme I have been developing for years will be broadcast on Saturday 3 June at 10.30am. Howzat For Hollywood tells the intriguing and little-known story of the Hollywood Cricket Club. Just imagine, Errol Flynn at Silly Mid-Off… David Niven, 12 Not Out and Boris Karloff as wicket keeper… Jim Carter, taking time off from butler duties at Downton Abbey, presents the half-hour documentary.”

EXTRA TWO FIVE THINGS IS CURRENTLY ENJOYING…
Two albums that tangentially look back to Laurel Canyon, while feeling absolutely now. Laura Marling’s exceptional Semper Femina has great singing, fine songs, and an intriguing Blake Mills’ production. It’s an album that, as they used to say, repays careful listening. Check “Wild Fire”, “Nothing, Not Nearly” (with its one-chord, one-minute guitar solo) and especially “Soothing”, with its gorgeous dual bass part. Interestingly, I can’t find out who actually plays on the record. So few reviews even concern themselves with anything but the lyrics, which seems to miss at least 50% of what the album’s about, but is still typical of how music is approached by the press.

And Josh Tillman as Father John Misty (on Pure Comedy) is strange as strange can be but successful on its own terms – I just don’t know what they are. It’s baffling and fascinating in equal measure. Thanks, Tim!

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