Monday, March 6th

ONE MOST EXCELLENT SHOP OF THE WEEK
In Paris (feeling unfettered and alive, natch) I search for La Galcante, the shop from a magazine junkie’s dreams. It’s off a small Rue in Paris, hidden behind an archway. I had discovered its existence in this article in Christie’s online magazine, where they accurately describe it as a treasure trove of ephemeral publications. I was ushered into the vaults in search of various artistes, where I came across this hilarious Rock & Folk cover (“au service du rockn roll depuis 1966”). Elsewhere in the shop, Elvis Costello popped his head up…

galcante

“We have tickets, envelopes, bills. We are interested in every type of paper.” Pierre Aribaud leans over the counter, smiles and starts rolling a cigarette. Aribaud is a seasoned documentaliste at La Galcante, a unique Parisian emporium offering papiers anciens – newspapers, magazines, postcards, photographs, maps, journals – to curious collectors. It’s like Google, just with dust motes and silverfish.

TWO JAZZ! NICE…
Nick Hornby, Esquire magazine UK, 25th anniversary edition:
“The last couple of years, I’ve finally got jazz. I know it’s the cliché of my age, but it’s fantastic. I was reading something and suddenly thought I was fed up of everything I listen to being in 4/4 and sounding more or less the same, I’d like to hear something different. I found the right jazz and that was that.” Frustratingly Nick doesn’t tell us what the “Right Jazz” was for him.

THREE BOB DYLAN SHOPS FOR TIES…
… with Alan Price (and his ever-present bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale). Here’s a short excerpt from a fascinating post written by Michael Chaiken, curator of Bob Dylan’s Archives for the Helmerich Center for American Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma: “The archive boasts hundreds of hours of live recordings, going back to Dylan’s earliest coffeehouse days and continuing into his recent tours. There are many instances in the archive where a song can be studied from its initial iteration on paper, to the moment Dylan first stepped to the microphone to record it, through to its reinvention over several decades onstage. A good example of this is “Tangled Up in Blue”, from the 1975 album Blood on the Tracks – it’s a song that began on paper with the title “Dusty Sweatbox Blues”, whose first studio take was a solo acoustic performance; it was ultimately released on record with a full band and has since had its lyrics and tempo radically altered in live performance. The ability to trace out this evolution is among the archive’s greatest strengths.” The article is full of teasing references to material as yet unshown (if you’re a Dylan nut, that is), and this short piece of original footage from Dont Look Back is just great. The young shop assistant who gurns at the camera wouldn’t look out of place in the Arctic Monkeys…

FOUR LARRY ON LEVON
From a nice interview in Vintage Guitar magazine with multi-instumentalist and producer Larry Campbell:
Talk about playing in a band with Levon as the drummer… “Oh, man! You have never played a blues shuffle until you’ve played a blues shuffle with Levon Helm. It’s like you’re sitting in a hammock, rocking in the breeze. The guy was nothing but feel. Finesse had nothing to do with Levon’s drumming. There was no distance at all between who he was and what he did. Every note he sang, every beat he played, every strum on the mandolin came out of him as naturally as breathing. That kind of immediate, honest expression is irresistible. You can’t not be moved by that…

It’s not like he had perfect time or he played the most interesting fill or that he had a huge vocabulary on the drum kit – but none of that stuff mattered. What mattered was the way he would make a song feel… it was a lesson in simplicity. I’ve played with other drummers who, technically, could run rings around Levon. And I’m not saying that’s something you should avoid; a lot of different drummers knock me out. But Levon had his particular thing that was unique to him, and it was always a great place to be. Never failed.”

FIVE THE PRE-INAUGURATION CONCERT
I was going to write a 5 Things extra on this extraordinary (for all the wrong reasons) show, but too much time has passed – and Dave Holmes on Esquire.com did a great job [read it here]. Some observations, though, with a couple of excerpts from his piece. I was watching it on CNN, and it started with Trump saluting Abraham Lincoln, as the Stones’ “Heart of Stone” blasted out the PA. Dave Holmes: “You know – the song about two lovers who, try as they might, cannot feel honest emotion for one another. They have been too wounded by the events of their past to risk getting hurt again, so they just remain ice-cold. Lonely together. Numb. Donald and Melania introduce themselves to America as her new First Couple to that song, and then take their seats behind bulletproof glass. So that’s fun…”

Next came the shockingly named Frontmen of CountryTM to sing a bunch o’ songs about ’Merca, including Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”. I thought that if, as the song has it, WC Handy did look down over America today, really, he’d think it was just the same-old-same-old. And the First Lady seemed somewhat bored –no-one seemed to have clocked that a 15-minute country medley may, in the cold of a late afternoon in Washington, seem to last an hour. Holmes in Esquire: “She said, Tell me are you a Christian child?/And I said Ma’am I am tonight!” As are all in attendance, ceremonially Christians for the night, Christians who leave out the parts about feeding the hungry and having compassion for the poor and loving your enemies and turning the other cheek and casting out the moneychangers and welcoming refugees and that whole bit about how a camel will pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man gets into heaven. Other than that, super Christian. Anyway, getting back: Memphis!

trump

Mildly headbanging – yet shockingly generic – rock poured out over the crowd, as huge video screens showed Chinooks and attack boats and drones and gung-ho militarism. Trump, in the manner of someone who knows cameras are trained on him, tried to keep in motion, pointing at things the audience couldn’t see, but he was also looking over his shoulder in a slightly weird way, almost at the crowd, but never quite meeting its eyes. Melania looked like she may have only just realised that the next four years will largely consist of smiling at a bizarre parade of “entertainment”, and meeting people she will not be able to feign interest in. The parade followed with YouTube sensations, The Piano Guys, and a bunch of silver-suited numpties dancing as DJ Ravi drummed his heart out to no great effect.

Here we moved into the realms of the tragically talentless. Truly the March of the Mediocre on Washington… Toby Keith attempted to set country music back, oh, only 50 years or so, with lyrics of the “whiskey for my man, beer for my horses” kind. You really felt for all the people who live in Nashville, tarred by this brush. By the end, after fireworks were accompanied by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in an arrangement that Mitch Miller himself would have passed on for being too cheesy, the CNN reporters covering the whole affair looked askance and said, “Now we’re listening to “Don’t Stop Believing” – like it’s the last episode of The Sopranos!”

I’ll leave the summing up to Dave: “There’s some good country music out there, but most of it is sung by millionaires, droppin’ their Gs, namin’ American states, sayin’ aw shucks and singin’ about pickup trucks and then goin’ home and not givin’ a shit about their actual audiences. Modern mainstream country panders so hard, every song might as well start with Hey, listener: have you lost weight? Trump taught himself how to do this too, which is why 63 million Americans think a guy who lives inside a bar of gold in midtown Manhattan gives one single damn about them.”

AND FINALLY…
Towards the end of last year I wrote a piece for eye magazine – a major profile of Peter Brookes, the Times’ political cartoonist. I had the thoroughly enjoyable tast of interviewing Peter in his office early one morning before he began that day’s task.

brookes

And in researching images for the story, I came across this great Time Out cover of Frank Zappa, from the golden era when Pearce Marchbank was the art director (Peter and Pearce were at Central School of Art together). eye is out now…

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Five Things: Wednesday 5th February

Cello/Ship, Excellent Window Display, Selfridges

Cello

Jody Rosen on the Dylan-Chrysler-Superbowl-Halftime-Ad
“So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone… we will build your car.” In the era of globalisation let’s not forget that Chrysler is an Italian-owned car company. I was pleased to discover Jody Rosen’s blog on New York Magazine’s website. He was terrific on the Grammies, and great on this: “As Dylan, age 72, moves into the twilight, he can see the boldface obituaries, rearing up on the horizon: Bob Dylan, America’s Great Protest Singer, Dead. There is clearly nothing on earth that irks Bob Dylan more than the specter of those wrongheaded and inevitable headlines. Dylan hasn’t recorded a protest song in decades, but make no mistake: The car ad and the yogurt ad, they’re protests.” Of course, lots of people thought this a ridiculous and untenable position, and Conan O’Brien did a very funny uncut version. And, visually slapdash as the ad is, I like the way that, as Dylan says cool, it runs into the motorcycle revving along the highway.

“As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden/The wounded flowers were dangling from the vine”
Hugh sends a link to a great blog: Gardening With Bob Dylan. “Written by a working gardener, with regular updates, easy ideas and thinking aloud. I have a garden of my own in Kent on clay soil and in a droughty area. I have recently acquired another, in Piemonte, Italy, higher and more continental in climate. I’m female and not very young. Other enthusiasms are garden literature and Bob Dylan. He has something to say about everything, even gardening.”
From the about page: “I’m no kind of aesthetic theoretician. But I have always believed that a successful piece of art will finger the synapses of your brain and your emotions together, setting up sparks between them. With luck you get a multiplicity of resonances, bouncing around, throwing light on both the world and yourself in it. For me, that is what Dylan does; it’s not just music and singing, it’s an open act of creation which you, the listener, have a hand in and a responsibility for. You have to listen. You have to concentrate. You develop meaning together with the singer and your own understanding of the world. To be more prosaic, you need new thoughts as you work in a garden; otherwise you’re going round and round the yearly practices, the endlessly repeated nuggets of advice. I like those thoughts to open and widen the vista in the mind, to go beyond the plant or the material, or the practice. To join things up, to express something beyond themselves, to be part of life. Let me out of the fenced enclave, however beautiful! Dylan’s songs will always lead me somewhere. They’ll connect me up, charm or amuse me, and lead me back to myself again, to what I’m doing, or what I care about. So I write my posts carefully, sticking to one song each time and enjoying the challenge of tying the song to a gardening preoccupation, or the lessons I have learnt in many years of making gardens.”

Bob by Allen
Mick Gold sends this, one of a series of portraits of Dylan taken in 1990 by Allen Ginsberg. Interesting clothing.

Bob by Ginsberg

“Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact…”
Levon Helm, singing “Atlantic City”, in Ain’t In It For My Health, a documentary where mortality weighs heavy as we follow Levon going to a variety of specialists for invasive procedures as he puts together his final album, Electric Dirt.

Some thoughts:

  • It’s fascinating to see Larry Campbell struggle with Levon’s anger. “I would go out on that Grammy night if they could tell me what good it’s gonna do for Rick and Richard… they never wanted to do a thing for ’em when they’se around.”
  • A fine version of Randy Newman’s “Kingfish” with Levon on funky acoustic rhythm guitar.
  • As eloquent as summation of The Band as I’ve ever heard, from Barney Hoskyns.
  • Levon’s Woodstock memories: “Fortunately I’d taken some of that brown acid!” he cackles.
  • Does anyone else remember Jesus, thinner-than-thin with long straight hair? Always shedding his clothes to dance at the Marquee or Reading or the free concerts in the park? More often than not, he was there. And appearing here, in some Wembley ’74 footage of The Band playing “Chest Fever”.
  • “In the Pines”, played to his new grandchild. Starting as a lullaby, it gets more and more intense as it goes on. As Levon plays his Gibson mandolin, a montage plays of him drumming through the ages. “The best seat in the house” he’d say, as he tub thumps behind Ronnie Hawkins in the Hawks, behind Dylan in ’65 and 74, and in The Band. The baby’s mother, Levon’s daughter Amy, can’t stop herself from joining in.

Five Things: Wednesday 17th April

Words Fail, pt. 73
From the Evening Standard: The soundtrack to David and Samantha Cameron’s marriage is an album of Depression-era US folk music, the PM’s wife has disclosed. Time (The Revelator) is a 2001 collection of austere narratives by Nashville singer Gillian Welch. Peter Mensch, manager of rock stars such as Metallica and husband of ex-Tory MP Louise, discussed the Camerons’ tastes at a Tory function. “I asked Samantha Cameron, ‘Why Gillian Welch?’,” said Mensch, who manages the singer and invited the couple to her Hammersmith concert in 2011. “She said, ‘There was a record store  in Notting Hill where David and I used to live. I would say to the guy with the purple mohawk: “What should I be listening to?” He sold me Time (The Revelator). For the past 10 years David and I listened to it all the time’ .”

Lana Del Rey, Chelsea Hotel No 2
Nicely simple and atmospheric version of a song its author has often felt uneasy about. I’m not even sure anyone but Leonard Cohen should sing this, but the solemn and melancholy tune is a draw to a certain type of singer. I think my favourite version is actually Meshell Ndegeocello’s, where she creates such a slowed-down, sultry arrangement that it seems that she’s only singing the song for one person to hear, not an audience. I don’t think it’ll be on the setlist next week at Ronnie Scott’s.

From Our Woodstock Correspondent
The road from RT 28 to W’stock, formerly rt. 375, will be officially re-named Levon Helm Highway. Meanwhile, all Robbie has named after him is the house next door, and that’s not even official. (But a couple has moved in and are done a nice job renovating…) as ever, john c

What I Say
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s notice, posted on the doors of Webster Hall, New YorkYeah

Killing Them Softly
The soundscape of this beautifully shot film based on George V Higgins’ fine book, Cogan’s Trade, and recently released on DVD, is fantastic. It’s worth watching just for that, from the opening credits of crunching footsteps underneath a voiceover of Obama on the election trail. The election is a presence throughout the film, playing on TVs in bar and on car radios. From the creak of car seats, the roar of throaty engines and the rain on the windshield, to the clangs of echoing hallways, real care is taken. Music supervisor is Rachel Fox, piano pieces and musical ambiences by Marc Streitenfeld. Take a bow.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 25th April

The First Time I Ever Heard The Band
was when Sam Charters came through London in 1969, leaving America behind. He gave me his five favourite albums, one of which was Music From Big Pink

Levon…
always reminded me of my dad. Wiry. Ornery. Absolutely lived for music and drink-fueled good times. A great turn of phrase. The man who made the party happen—wherever he was. So whenever I watch any footage of Levon, I’m always put in mind of Bill.

The Song That Meant The Most
“The melody—too beautiful and out of reach for any words I have—spins the chorus into the pastoral with a feel for nature that is really hedonistic—

Corn in the field
Listen to the rice as the wind blows cross the water
King Harvest has surely come

—and a desperate, ominous rhythm slams the verses back to the slum streets that harbour the refugees of the pastoral disaster.”
—Greil Marcus, Mystery Train

“King Harvest was one of his greatest, most intuitive performances, and the sound of his kit more than did it justice. “King Harvest was one track where I got my drums sounding the way I always wanted them. There’s enough wood in the sound, and you could hear the stick and the bell of the cymbal.” Jon Carroll wrote that Levon was “the only drummer who can make you cry,” and listening to him on King Harvest—the anguished fills and rolls, the perfect ride cymbal figure accompanying the line Scarecrow and a yellow moon, pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town—it’s hard to disagree.”
—Barney Hoskyns, Across The Great Divide: The Band & America

Two Bits A Shot
In the nineties, in the early days of rocksbackpages, Barney and a group of us were pitching ideas to Malcolm Gerrie (creator of The Tube) for magazine tv shows about music. My most unlikely idea was to almost fetishistically examine great musicians’ instruments… and of course the opening feature would have been Levon’s wood rimmed kit, with the harvest scene painted on the bass drum, filmed from the inside out…

Levon Helm, Thank You Kindly
“They took me out to the location, and it was like going back in time: The film crew had rebuilt Butcher Hollow, Loretta’s hometown… We started work late in February and filmed for about six weeks, until old Ted Webb [Loretta’s father, whom Levon was playing] passes away… I was sad when my character died and my part of the movie was over. I didn’t really want to get in the coffin for the big wake scene, but I also didn’t want to be thought of as superstitious or “difficult.” So I told Michael Apted he’d have to get in first to show me how to look. So he kind of warmed the thing up for me, good sport that he is. As the “mourners” gathered around to sing Amazing Grace, I had to sit bolt upright. It was like coming back to life.

Cut!

“It’s my funeral,” I told them, “and if you’re gonna sing Amazing Grace, it’s gotta be the old-fashioned, traditional way.” And I taught ’em in my dead man’s makeup how to do it shape-note style like they would’ve back in the holler in those days. Some of the ladies they’d hired as extras turned out to be church choir singers, so once we’d got it off the ground it didn’t sound too bad. We rehearsed it a few times, then I got back in the coffin, and we shot the scene.”
—Levon Helm (with Stephen Davis) in his biography, This Wheel’s On Fire

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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