Five Things: Wednesday 30th October

Down With The Cool KIds
The depressing lack of cool jazz in the new series of Homeland is more than balanced by its recent appearance in Downton Abbey, thanks to young Lady Rose. As an imported-from-London Jazz Orchestra plays, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) is asked by a guest: “Is this your first experience of Jazz, Lady Grantham?” “Oh, is that what it is?” (pregnant pause, looks at the band…) “Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?”

Virgin 40th Anniversary Pop Up (or down) Exhibition, Bloomsbury
Deep in the basement of one of those extraordinarily grand ‘London Headquarters’-style buildings from the beginning of the 1900s that resemble landlocked battleships, a hollow hagiography of a label I always found slightly naff. I’d gone because I thought they had recreated the original Oxford Street shop, opened in 1971, where as a teenager it had usurped Dobell’s for me as a place to buy music, because they sold bootlegs. Upstairs, under the counter. You had to get to know the guys in the shop, and you had to know what you were looking for. “Have you got, uh, Wooden Nickel? Stealin’?, Oh, great, thanks, that’s £3, right…”


Photo shows Ridiculous letter from Anna Wintour to Professor Green that is beyond comment, and modified rusty Telecaster, one careful owner, as played on Tubular Bells. [Click to Enlarge]

[However, they hadn’t recreated Oxford Street, but the Notting Hill branch at the time of the Sex Pistols NMTB launch, which felt a bit lame. Note: The word “bootleg” originates from the practice of smuggling illicit items in the legs of tall boots, particularly the smuggling of alcohol during Prohibition. The word, over time, has come to refer to any illegal or illicit product and has become an umbrella term for unofficial, or unlicenced recordings.—Wikipedia]

Reed Between The Lines
Watching the BBC video of “Perfect Day” as it ended another tribute to Lou Reed I was struck by the less obvious artists who appeared in it: Emmylou Harris, Dr John, Robert Cray… did you remember Robert Cray singing a line? I listened to New York whole, top to bottom, as Lou wished. It’s my favourite Reed album, and I remember boring friends in 1989, endlessly making them listen, saying it had the greatest guitar sound ever recorded (the chorus guitar of “Hold On”). It opens with the killer triple-whammy of “Romeo Had Juliette”/“Halloween Parade”/“Dirty Blvd”. Sensational. Best piece of writing from the past few days about him is here.

Van Morrison, Into The Mystic, Take 11
Nothing will replace in your heart the Moondance version of a song Morrison first titled “Into The Misty”, but listen to this tracking session take. Van on intense, focused and dynamic rhythm guitar, possibly John Platania on second guitar, drummer Gary Mallaber and bassist John Klingberg playing off his lead… these guys are in the moment, in the mystic and it’s glorious. As Lou would say, you can’t beat two guitars, bass, drum.

Ronnie Wood Ticket For Sale. Stop Pushing At The Back.

Someone included me in a round robin offering this for sale. £125? For Ronnie Wood playing three chords for two hours. I love Jimmy Reed, but there are limits. I saw a Sky Arts tribute to BB King the other day, where a large group of guitarists and singers added very little to B’s show. In the 30 minutes I saw, Ron contributed the least, but was a jocular figure, happy to be there. Mick Hucknell sang, Susan Tedeschi barely got a look in on guitar but sang very nicely. Slash was jarringly inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes not. B was imperious when he played, which was not a lot of the time, but was always telling, which others weren’t. But the man who was king was humble Derek Trucks, whose mix of slide and fingers pulled off a truly wonderful solo in the sentimental ol’ slowie “Guess Who” and knocked everyone else into a cocked hat.

Five Things: Wednesday 17th July

Oh, Yeezus…
​You know when pop stars ​used to re-record their latest hits in the language of another market – say, Germany or France – before the world was totally consumed by the language of Amerenglish pop? Bowie did it, Dusty did it. I wish we could bring it back, and Kanye West would re-record Yeezus in a language I don’t understand. Then I’d be happier when I listened to it. Because the words on Yeezus are f***ing unlistenable. As if written by a seriously misogynistic asshole with self-aggrandisement issues. You wouldn’t want to be his wife. And it’s a drag, because the music, the beats, the soundscape, the whatever… is utterly, utterly, utterly great. Just out-of-the-park brilliant. Here’s Laughing Lou Reed on the talkhouse: “The guy really, really, really is talented. He’s… trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet. If you like sound, listen to what he’s giving you. Majestic and inspiring”. Lou also had an issue with the words and talks interestingly about that – it’s worth checking the full review out).

Oh, and $120 will buy you this Kanye West white T-Shirt. Dazzling.


And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’
Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10 – Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) is set to cover some interesting, if maligned, years. The complete IOW performance from August 31, 1969, a personal favourite (even in really bad audience-taped quality) with Dylan and the Band alternating a sweet, woody country sound with ragged roadhouse rip ’em ups. Also some great New Morning alternate versions (a piano-based “Went To See The Gypsy” and “Sign On The Window” with a string section should be particularly good if real bootlegs from the past are anything to go by). And finally, some cleaned up/stripped down Self Portrait tracks accompanied (amusingly) by liner notes courtesy of Greil Marcus, writer of the famous SP review in Rolling Stone with the deathly opening line, “What is this shit?”.

May need to start a Ken Colyer Corner in Five Things
Two more letters about The Stones, The Guardian:
• Messrs Gilbert and Blundell, prepare to eat dirt (Letters, 6 July). I saw the Stones at the Ken Colyer Jazz Club (It was actually called Studio 51, but was generally known as Ken’s Club) in Leicester Square in June 1963. “Come On” was slowly climbing the charts. It was the first date I ever went on. I was 16. The cellar venue was stifling with condensation and we drew CND signs in it on the low ceiling. The Stones looked like cavemen and sang every great rock number, including “Poison Ivy”, “Johnny B Goode” and “Route 66”. My date and I caught the last train back – the 12:42 from Victoria to Bromley South. When we arrived at Shortlands Station, my father was on the platform to meet us. “Just checking,” he said and walked off. My boyfriend lasted less than 50 days, but the Stones – well, you all know the rest. Susan Castles, Wem, Shropshire
• How about 1962 in the small cellar Studio 51, Great Newport Street, W1? Chatting with all of them every Sunday at the bar during the break. Two sessions, 4pm and 6pm. Signed pre-first record release photo to prove it, with a note from Bill on the back apologising for no news of first “disc”. Anybody else who was there? Gerry Montague, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

FYI: The Beatles visited the Rolling Stones on September 10th, 1963 as they rehearsed at the 51. They presented them with a new, unfinished song, “I Wanna Be Your Man”. On  hearing that the Stones liked the song, John and Paul went into Ken’s office and completed it, thus giving the Stones their first hit with a new song rather than a cover.

The Americans awakens a long-buried love for post-Peter Green Mac
The 80s-tastic Russian/US spy series features a cracking soundtrack from my least-liked decade. “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac in episode 1 sends me to the remastered album – as recommended, months ago, by Tom at work. It’s amazingly odd for a mainstream Californian rock record (and amazingly good, though I didn’t listen in 1979) and nothing’s stranger than “Tusk” itself, with the tribal percussion, the mumbling/chanting and the most eccentric drum rolls in pop’s history.

Bob Gumpert sends me this, An Alan Lomax Gallery…with this sensational contact sheet. This is Stavin Chain playing guitar, Lafayette, Louisiana, 1934. The movement in that top triptych is just stunning. More here.


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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