Thursday, February 16th

ONE IF YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW IT…
Song Exploder is rather great, featuring as it does musicians talking about how something they’ve made actually came together. The latest has Nicholas Britell on the evolution of his Moonlight soundtrack. Get through the (rather long) set-up and hear how the layers of the main theme came about.

“It’s going between the major one and the minor four chord. You’re in a major key so there’s this sense of stability, but the alternating back-and-forth creates, for me, a feeling of introspection… there’s a violin that’s doubling the melody on top, and the sound of the violin… what I asked [violinist Tim Fain] to do, was to play it as quietly as he possibly could while still generating enough sound that he felt comfortable with the note, and then we recorded it close to the mike.” It gives the theme a kind of brittle age, like something created long ago by wind blowing across pampas grass by the ocean.

He goes on to say: “I actually do a lot of experimentation with reverb, because the sound of an instrument is entirely related to where you’re hearing it – the space that you put an instrument in changes so much of the character… [in this piece] there’s actually another piano, underneath the first piano, which fades in over the course of the track. The first piano is a fully-in-tune grand piano! The second one is a sort-of-noisier upright piano with a loud mechanism, it’s not a really, incredibly in-tune piano (laughs), but that’s what’s beautiful about it. It feels so human and so true.” Amen to that.

TWO MICHAEL HEAD, THE SOCIAL

head

Tim takes me to see Michael Head, once of the Pale Fountains and Shack (and even Arthur Lee’s backing band on a tour in the early 90s). It’s at The Social in Fitzrovia, a basement club with nice bar staff and a tiny stage. A man, that Kitty Empire said, “has spent the best part of 30 years not getting famous”, Head is playing to a room of devotees, not only from his home town of Liverpool, but from every corner of Europe, judging by the accents around us. No idea what to expect, but it doesn’t phase any of the audience that the support acts are a man reading a short story (excellent) followed by a poet, Paul Birtill, who is also great. And it’s good to be surrounded by people listening to songs that obviously come from a time and place that mean so much to them – their goodwill for the man on the stage is palpable. I’m less carried away, but I don’t have that shared background. Also, I have an issue with solo guitar-strumming shows. The kind of romantic/poetic/stoic songs that are Head’s stock-in-trade need, for me, the melodic buttress of a band around them.

THREE GRAMMY & GRANDPA
From the always entertaining Every Record Tells a Story: “The Grammys operate in a strange time-warp, the 2017 awards covering the music released between mid-2015 and mid-2016. As a result, gongs are handed out for songs that have been missing for longer than the hair on the top of Donald Trump’s head. 

It’s odd in such a fashion-conscious and fast-moving medium that the 2017 Grammys’ Song of the Year, Adele’s “Hello”, was released in October 2015. That’s a longer period of time than the entire career of The Bravery. It was bad enough when the charts were announced on Sunday and you watched Top of The Pops on a Thursday… You begin to feel for the voting committee being so far behind the times, bless them. What will the committee think when they hear about the break up of The Beatles? Will Kanye West boycott the next show because there was no nomination for “Murder She Wrote” by Chaka Demus and Pliers? David Bowie, meanwhile, had never won a Grammy for his music before – the single most remarkable failure to honour something since the Brexit campaign promised £350m a week to the NHS. The Grammys had never honoured the music of Pop’s Great Innovator, whilst giving six awards to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers…”

FOUR LATE REVIEW
Marc Myers, Anatomy of a Song, The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits. I’m a sucker for a good oral history. My first copy ended up with a man I sat next to on a plane coming back from Morocco. He was reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (featuring “a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer”) and I had just finished Anatomy of a Song. We fell into conversation, and it turned out that he had been at every Glastonbury Festival since the first, in 1971 when it was the Glastonbury Fair. At the end of the flight I felt that he would enjoy it. So I bought myself another copy, then decided that it would make a perfect Christmas present. It got to the point where my wife kept steering me away from bookshops as Christmas approached and it became a family joke along the lines of “you know what would be a perfect present for [insert name here] – Anatomy of a Song!” Anyhow, buy it, it’s great. One thread that runs through the book is how accidental many of the great moments in Popular music history are.

Read the story of Pink Floyd shipping the 24-track tapes of “Another Brick in the Wall” from LA to London to have their engineer find a local school to sing on it. Read an interview with the man who was “Carey” in Joni Mitchell’s song, and hear what he thinks of it – “I knew I was in way over my head. I couldn’t earn a living and she was way too talented for me.” Read Loretta Lynn on the musicians she recorded “Fist City” with: “Grady [Martin, guitarist], bless his heart, would set a quart of whiskey next to his chair. When I first met him, I said to Owen [Bradley, producer], “We don’t want him playin’ on my record if he’s drunk, do we?” Owen said, “He’ll do better drunk than sober, so let’s leave him alone.” And read the story of how long it took to record the drums for “Heart of Glass” while listening to the track – fantastic.

My favourite chapter may well be the one about The Hues Corporation’s rhumba/disco crossover, “Rock the Boat”. It’s got the Stonewall riots, the New York clubs acting as rhythm laboratories, the beginnings of dance culture, and a weird group name, from songwriter Wally Holmes – “I was a rebel then and disliked wealthy people, so I named [our] trio the Children of Howard Hughes, since they obviously weren’t”. Seeing the legal complications ahead, he changed the name to the Hues Corporation, and the song was recorded twice, the second time with L.A.’s finest, including Jim Gordon on drums and Larry Carlton on guitar (he provides the crazy solo in the song’s fade).

It was used in Ridley Scott’s The Martian as part of the soundtrack (disco tunes left on a crew member’s laptop provides the reason). Megan Garber in The Atlantic made an interesting point about its humanising use in the film… “No offense to the Hues Corporation, but “Rock the Boat” – “Rock the boat (don’t rock the boat, baby)! / Rock the boat (don’t tip the boat over)!” – is not, whatever else it may be, terribly epic. Astronauts may technically be named for sailors, and space-faring vessels may technically be called “ships,” but beyond that, the maritime metaphor will not extend. In using it, though – and, in general, in creating a soundtrack that might as well be nicknamed Now That’s What I Call DiscoThe Martian is doing some boat-rocking of its own. It is effectively rejecting the traditions and clichés of the space movie. It is rejecting the standard, soaring spirituality of the typical space score in favour of something that is smaller and more human. It is trading Holst for Houston.”

FIVE FIVE THINGS RECOMMENDATIONS
Carrie Rodriguez, Lola. An album that transcends its nominal genre of Spanglish Tex-Mex (if that is indeed a genre). As Felix Contreras wrote on NPR’s First Listen, “In my mind, there’s a magical Mexican restaurant located somewhere in Austin, Texas; it’s a place where people of all cultures, backgrounds, ages and languages rub elbows over mouth-watering Tex-Mex combination plates. Aging hippies, Chicano hipsters, old-school Texans in cowboy hats, abuelitas, blues musicians, Western fiddlers – they’re all there. It’s an image I’ve imagined ever since I first heard music that combines influences across cultures, like Americana accented with conjunto or a blues-rock trio singing in Spanish. But I’d never heard the exact sounds that I’d imagined playing in a jukebox in that made-up restaurant until I heard Lola, the new album by Carrie Rodriguez.” It was possibly my most played album of last year, its sultry sway backing surprisingly pointed lyrics, and with a secret weapon in American music’s MVP, Bill Frisell. Once again, I have to thank Tim.

The Word Podcast, A Word in your Ear, with Barney Hoskyns. Listen as Mark Ellen and David Hepworth quiz Barney about all things Albert Grossman.

13th. Mick Gold disagrees with my assessment of Hackshaw Ridge. In penance (I like to think), he flags up the sombre and brilliant 13th, up for the Best Documentary Oscar, a graphically-inspired documentary on the implications of the 13th Amendment. It runs, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”, and the film illuminates the extraordinary way that the corporate world moved into the prison system to utilise the labour force created by the staggering statistic that America has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. On Netflix now.

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A Late Return and 7 Things, Thursday 19th January

Happy 2017 to all, if such a thing feels even vaguely on the cards. Strangeness seems to be all over the cards at the moment – here’s some recent examples…

ONE PROOF-READING ERROR OF THE WEEK
As I browsed Waterstones’ racks I saw a new Random House reissue of Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. And when I read the back blurb, it introduced me to a music producer I didn’t know…

wolfe

TWO CHRISTMAS UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE
Bumptious Will Hutton’s team didn’t seem to understand the rules of the game – buzzing when they didn’t need to, and conferring when they shouldn’t – in possibly the lowest scoring match in UC history. The poor scores were compounded by the other team seemingly having no knowledge of pop culture, even though their captain, Chris Hawkings, was introduced as a 6 Music DJ. He put his head in his hands having failed to recognise Revolver, Blonde on Blonde and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme from their track listings. I know the heat of the moment leads to blankness, but I’m sure his return to work would have been made jestingly uncomfortable after the show was broadcast.

THREE BLACK MARIAH
Mariah Carey is always present through Christmas and the New Year, isn’t she? Here, jazz pianist Liam Noble talks of his feelings about “All I Want for Christmas is You” on his blog, Brother Face, in brilliant fashion. Here, discussing her choice of notes:

“It all starts pretty conventionally; bells, chords, warbly R ’n’ B vocals. But listen to that line at 0:25 “…I just want for my own/More than you could ever know”; on the words “own” and “know” – that note, an Eb, it’s very unstable in G major. And each time, the melody just jumps back on to the tonic note, a highly illegal move in melody writing. In board game terms, it’s like going up the snakes and down the ladders. Over and over through this song, the melody lingers around this same note like scratching a flea bite that only gets worse with the itching. At 2:39, in the bridge, she lingers on that Eb in the bass on the words “and everyone is singing”, the beat surging optimistically on, the chords reflecting a deep disquiet.”

And this, on the accompanying video:
“Viewed today in all its shaky, grainy nineties-ness, it looks like… flashback footage of a murder victim from a Scandinavian thriller… I made a list of some of the images;
Spinning Santa heads
The woods, deserted
Standing alone in the woods, deserted, as the sun rises
Disembodied hand and forearm reaches for something
Holding an incongruous rabbit aloft
Unexplained digging in the snow (where is the rabbit?)
…All I Want For Xmas Is You. In a box.”

FOUR BLUE MARIAH
2016 was made better by the fact that Amanda Petrusitch appears regularly on the New Yorker’s culture blog, and her writing on Carey’s New Year’s Eve appearance in Times Square, “Mariah Carey’s rather Perfect Farewell to 2016” was vintage:
“Carey famously sings in what’s called the whistle register – the highest range of tones a human being can organically produce. It is extraordinarily unusual for a grown person ever to make sounds that piercing, although babies and small, angry children can sometimes get themselves there without much help. On the studio recording of “Emotions,” Carey arrives, miraculously, at a high G, all those octaves up the scale, during a run at the end of the word – and why wouldn’t this be literal? – “high.” Is it pleasant to the ear? It sounds, to me, like a rabid bat has just flown up and under my sweatshirt, and we are both shrieking dementedly in terror.”

“…Something was wrong. From the outset, Carey was catastrophically behind the beat. Two men appeared at her elbows, presumably to help her traverse a short staircase. (This is something she likes: being accompanied down short staircases.) “Just walk me down,” she said, smiling wanly. “Well, happy new year!” Some fussing. “We can’t hear.” Carey flipped her long, shiny hair, fiddled with a gold necklace, put a hand on her hip. “All right, we didn’t have a check for this song, so we’ll just say it went to No. 1,” she announced, striding across the stage in heels. “And that’s what it is.” This routine went on for an uncomfortable amount of time: a bit of singing, a pronouncement, some striding. When it came time for the G7 note, Carey was not holding the microphone anywhere near her mouth, but there it was, nonetheless: that wild, clarion G7, blaring from the speakers…”

You can watch some clips here, if you feel the need. This side of the Atlantic we had the charmless Mr Robbie Williams, whose facial grimaces were enough to sum up 2016. His choice of the first song to sing when the strokes of midnight were just passed was the head-scratching one of “New York, New York”. Having watched the City of London attempt to out-firework all the other cities of the world, the least we could have expected was Lord Kitchener’s “London is the Place for Me”.

FIVE THIS IS JUST SO COOL…
Shelly Manne, the Jackson Five, The Grammy Awards 1974. Found at Marc Myers exhaustively fascinating JazzWax blog, where it drew this note from Flip Manne, Shelly Manne’s wife. “Happy New Year! Regarding that clip of Shelly with the Jackson 5 that you posted, I was backstage with him that night at the 1974 Grammy Awards. He was on a turntable stage that was supposed to turn around as soon as they came down the ramp but it temporarily malfunctioned. As a result, he was late turning and had to come out playing with no idea where they were in the music. Shelly had amazing timing and it always saved him.” This is the only time we’ll ever hear The Jacksons cover The Staples, War and the Detroit Spinners, and how modest is Gladys Knight’s acceptance speech? Of course, Manne was the percussionist thanked for his “drumstikly pasteurized conktribution” on Tom Waits’ Small Change.

SIX YOU KNOW, I’M JUST NOT CONVINCED…
Personally, it’s usually a good friend that makes a great wine come alive, but Fiona Beckett, argued in a Guardian wine review that, “if wine is to come alive for people, it needs more of this sort of synaesthetic approach. Music, for instance, can actually change your perception of food and drink, according to research carried out by Professor Charles Spence at Somerville College, Oxford. And, as it happens, Oddbins has been pursuing this line of thought for a while now, pairing its wines with different soundtracks. The exotically smoky Cantine San Marzano from Salento is somewhat whimsically recommended with Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, while Samuel Delafont’s Libre Cours Rouge 2015, an exuberant blend of pinot noir and grenache, is partnered with Paul Anka’s “A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine” (though, personally, I’d go for Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd”). [Ed’s note: try and find two more diametrically opposed songs! Guess which the line, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor – I’ll piss on ’em/that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says…” comes from].

Anyhow, back to Fiona: “Great Western Wine in Bath has teamed up with a company called Stylus Vinyl to pair a classic album with one of its wines. This month, they’ve matched David Bowie’s Hunky Dory with El Brindis Monsant 2014, Franck Massard’s ballsy blend of samso and garnacha. You may disagree about the appropriateness of the soundtrack, but it’s a welcome departure from seeing wine purely as a commodity, and instead start to view it as part of a broader, cultural experience.

My pairing? A cheeky Ribera Del Duero with Red Ingle and The (Un) Natural Seven, featuring the wonderful Jo Stafford – billed here as Cinderella G. Stump – taking Perry Como’s Temptation to the cleaners. My dad loved Spike Jones (along with Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart and Stan Freeberg), so I’d always been exposed to this musical insanity. It’s not something that you need to hear often, but may be appropriate in this Inauguration Week. Hear it in the music player on the right if you dare.

SEVEN AFTER ALL THIS IDLE SCHEMING, CAN’T WE HAVE SOMETHING TO FEEL…
On the occasion of the passing of Nat Hentoff, legendary jazz writer and all round extra-ordinary fellow, Marc Myers ran an interview that he
’d done in 2009
Marc: Is there a link between jazz and justice?
Nat Hentoff: Oh sure. When Max Roach was teaching at the University of Massachusetts, I was auditing a class there. Afterward we were talking. He said, “You know, what [jazz musicians] do, each of us as individuals, is listen to one another very carefully to make this thing work. And out of that process comes a whole that has its own identity. That’s exactly what the U.S. Constitution is all about.” How right he was. Thinkers coming together to create something that has enormous purpose.

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Monday, 8th February

ONE. THIS. THIS IS AMAZING…

graph
Found at Polygraph. I’ll let them introduce themselves: “Polygraph is a publication that explores popular culture with data and visual storytelling. Sorta. This thing is in its infancy. We’re making it up as we go”. This here is a moving flow chart of what Hip Hop’s Billboard Top 10 sounded like from 1989-2015, blending tracks every time the No 1 record changes. If you want to track the Pop-isation of Hip Hop go from Kirko Bangz “Drank in My Cup” on May 28th, 2012 thru to Pitbull’s “Timber” on February 7th, 2014. And then weep a little.

TWO. RADIO 4 ON SONG
Interesting interview with Bonnie Raitt on Woman’s Hour, with a nice mention of Dobell’s, (where she found a Sippie Wallace album in the early Seventies) and a fascinating programme on the commercialization of Gospel music, The Gospel Truth, presented by the financial educator Alvin Hall. The whole show had a very powerful soundtrack (it starts with Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of one of those killed in a massacre in Charleston) and ended with “Everything’s Coming Up Jesus!” by contemporary gospellers Livre, which features a great bass part and a swooping chorus strong enough that I had to go and find it immediately.

THREE: THE BLACK SABBATH STORY
I have no idea how I had missed the story of Black Sabbath’s formation and Tony Iommi’s accident until now, but I had. It’s retold very nicely at Every Record Tells a Story here. And here’s a couple of excerpts:Tony Iommi had been a sheet metal worker but the machine had come down on his right hand and severed the tips of the middle and ring fingers. There’s never a good hand to lose a finger or two from, but as a left handed guitar player, the right hand is definitely the worst option. What’s more, the accident occurred on the day he was due to quit the job to take up music as a full time profession… A friend bought a profoundly depressed Iommi an album by Django Reinhardt. Django played gypsy jazz and used just two fingers to fret chords after burning his hand in a fire, and played the most intricate melodies. This inspired Iommi. He still couldn’t play with two fingers, but like when the A-Team were trapped by gangsters in a garage with just their van, a couple of conveniently discarded sheets of metal and a welder’s torch, he got busy on his escape. Iommi made a couple of thimbles from melted fairy liquid bottles, glued on leather to the sanded down tips and finally – and crucially – loosened the strings so he didn’t need to press so hard. Slowly and surely Iommi gained his confidence and technique with these Blue Peter-esque improvised finger tips. A deeper tone and slower sound began to emerge…”

“Black Sabbath was released on Friday 13th February 1970. The critics hated it, but it reached number eight in the UK charts and number 23 in the USA. Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Nirvana, Slayer, Mastodon and countless others all owe their careers to this album. An entire genre of music invented by a guitarist without a full set of fingers, a jazz drummer, a former abattoir worker and, best of all, a trainee accountant. And the most amazing part of this story? They recorded the whole album in just eight hours in a tiny studio at the back of what is now a guitar shop in Soho. Eight hours. It took them eight hours to invent heavy metal.”

FOUR: YET MORE INTERESTING LOOKING MUSIC FILMS
Two films are in production about the not-widely-known Danny Gatton, a guitarist of fearsome dexterity. For a flavour, try this.
As Damien Fanelli wrote in Guitar World last year: “The late Danny Gatton had a nickname: “The Humbler.” As in, “You think you’re so great? Let’s see you go head to head with Gatton. You will be humbled.” Gatton, who also was known as the Telemaster and the world’s greatest unknown guitarist (a nickname he shared with his friend Roy Buchanan) could play country, rockabilly, jazz and blues guitar with equal authority – and sometimes with a beer bottle! In this legendary clip from his 1991 Austin City Limits appearances, watch as Gatton plays slide guitar, overhand-style, using a full bottle of beer as a slide. Of course, since the bottle is full, some suds find their way onto his Fender Tele’s neck. So Gatton whips out a towel to wipe off the beer; only he keeps the towel on the neck – and simply keeps on playing. What’s most impressive about this sequence is just how fun and musical his playing is, despite the beer-bottle theatrics. Although there’s a good deal of showmanship involved, it’s by no means all about showmanship; as always, his playing is humbling.”

FIVE: FILLMORE EAST MEMORIES
Marc Myers’ always fascinating blog, JazzWax, leads me to this slightly hysterical (in a good way) piece about the Fillmore East, legendary NYC music venue, by resident historian of the Bowery Boogie, Allison B. Siegel [“as an urban historian, Allison can be found exploring and documenting buildings wherever she goes making it very hard to walk down the street with her”]. In March 7, 1968, Loew’s Commodore Theatre became the Fillmore East, renamed by the man behind the Fillmore West in SF, Bill Graham. It closed a few years later, and sadly “what was once the entrance to a whimsical place of drama and comedy, laughter and light shows, music and camaraderie, sex, drugs, disco and rock n roll is now… a bank.”

AND LASTLY…
This week I have mostly been swooning over the pace, attack and grace of both Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City and Billy Preston of Los Angeles. Dig Billy’s Wurlitzer playing on “Funny How Time Slips Away” from a CD I’d lost but now have found: Rhythm, Country and Blues, one of the best to be found in the Various Artists/Tributes to Something section of the record store. Produced by Don Was, the whole thing is highly recommended, from Patti Labelle and Travis Tritt’s “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” to “Rainy Night In Georgia” by Conway Twitty and Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave fame). And who knew that Lyle and Al would sound so good together? In one of those odd coincidences the CD arrived on the day I found this great sketch from my friend, illustrator John Cuneo…

johnc

 

In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part Two)

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Berger & Wyse, The Guardian

bergerandwyse JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE
Allen Toussaint interviewed by Marc Myers of the Wall Street Journal: “On my 14th birthday, I was playing piano and suddenly stopped. I turned my body to the left, straddled the seat and rested my elbows on my thighs. For whatever reason, I said to myself, “I’m 14 and every 10 years I’m going to check back with this 14-year old and tell him how I’m doing.” I have no idea how I came up with that, but from then on I had those chats. They don’t last long. I talk to myself as though that 14-year-old is still at the piano. I often say how surprised I am at how far I’ve come. The 14-year old at the piano just listens – but he always seems as surprised as I am.” When we finished, Allen said, “You know, that was a fascinating conversation. No one ever asked about that part of my life, and I don’t believe I’ve ever told anyone that story about those talks with myself.” A loving man. I miss Allen and his graceful touch.”

ALWAYS ENJOY AN INTERVIEW WITH RODNEY SMITH…
aka Roots Manuva. This is from Tim Jonze’s piece in The Guardian: If you think this means Bleeds adopts a softer, more commercial approach then you’re mistaken. The opening song is called “Hard Bastards”, and covers such school assembly-friendly topics as joblessness, drugged escapism and the brutality of “rich cxxxs”. It paints a bleak picture of British life in 2015 but it’s not, he says, informed by the country’s rising inequality. “Selfishness is everybody, from the broke to the rich,” he says. “We can be rather nasty people whether we have £200 for the day or £200m for a lifetime.”
Is that something he’s witnessed getting worse in recent years?
“Nah, it’s always been bad! What will get worse is that, as the middle class develops, they will start doing really horrible things to each other, in terms of how sophisticated they can be to vote, or defraud the taxman. The amiable middle class will become the mean, hard bastard class, trying to hang on to their assets.” It’s not inequality Smith sees as British society’s chief problem, but the education system. “We’re constantly being beaten around the heads with ‘You’ll be nothing – you’ll end up sweeping the streets, Rodney!’ Well, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t I sweep the road if I want to? A teacher should have no right to say anything like that. What’s more important – a judge or a roadsweeper? We need both! Every other person wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer – shouldn’t we just want every person on earth to be educated? Then everything else should take care of itself. So yeah, that’s what that song’s about.”

A cursory listen sounds like it’s up there with his best. If you’re interested , try “Facety 2:11”, a Four Tet production that sound like Battles, and “Hard Bastards” itself, a fantastic draggy, pumping noise with an alternately funny and desperate lyric. And no-one escapes his hawk-eyed look at the state of British society.

READING ’BOUT LOU
Olivia Lange, also in The Guardian, reviewing two new books re: Reed. I loved this paragraph: “Which brings us back to the question of whether people want to read about the life of Reed. As I trawled through hundreds of pages about pills popped and spiteful remarks made over mixing desks, his songs kept looping in my head. “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Perfect Day”, “Last Great American Whale”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, “Hello, It’s Me”. What is this music doing? Why has it lasted so long, and stayed so pristine and so weird? Because even at its most swaggering it is vulnerable, not in the sense of caring about external approval, but in the sense of laying feelings bare, of taking risks, of being imbued with a reckless, relentless spirit of experiment. “Aw, Lou,” the critic Lester Bangs once wrote, “it’s the best music ever made.” And I can’t help wishing it could have been left at that.”

DRUM ROLL! THE ABELOUR VOICE-O-GRAPH!
“We (the Abelour whisky Distillery) have recently acquired a beautifully restored, wooden clad version believed to date back to 1947. Our Voice-O-Graph was discovered in the Houston, Texas area and is believed to have operated, recording experiences in several public places during the 1940s, including an appearance in Dallas at the State Fair of Texas.” Apparently, Jack White owns the only other operational one, so it was a chance to try it out for the time it was set up in groovy Phonica records in Poland Street. but it’s a very hit-and-miss experience, and mine was, sadly, miss. Apart from constantly bashing the machine head of my Martin travel guitar on the side of the booth (it’s a tight fit), the resulting record sounds like there’s 40 miles of bad road between me and the microphone. But I was still glad to have the experience, and I have clear vinyl 45 rpm disc to prove it.

AMUSING TELEVISUAL CROSS REFERENCE
The incredible Nicola Walker still bestrides the world of TV detectives at the moment. I’d mentioned that in Unforgotten she jokes around with her sidekick Sunny by singing him Bobby Hebb’s great tune, but last night in River – where she plays the ghost partner (or manifestation, as he would have it) of hard-bitten and morose cop Stellan Skarsgård, it turned up again – what smooth music does he put on while preparing drinks in his glam Canary Wharf apartment? “Sunny”, of course. I have no idea if this was intentional, but it has to be, no?

And still I failed to write about Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible, and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia. I’m going to start calling this Five Things I Saw and Heard Recently…

Monday, 12th October

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

BobSHB

From the promo short for the next Bootleg Series, number 12, film of Bob looking at a music shop window the day that “Subterranean Homesick Blues” goes on sale (as does Cilla’s new single!).

IF YOU NEED CHEERING UP…
Then you may need to watch Salman Rushdie reciting the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake…

Or listen to letter G of Joe Boyd’s A-Z, which features fascinating insights into the poetry of Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, and the story of its tortuous gestation. She left Rick Rubin’s label in tears – after playing the first version of the album to him, his only comment concerned adding tambourine on one of the tracks – and ended up finishing the album for Polygram with E Street keyboardist Roy Bittan producing. Bittan himself recently talked to Rolling Stone about it: “Lucinda was making the record down in Nashville, and I think she hit a wall. She wasn’t grooving in the studio and was having difficulty finishing it off. I knew her bass player, so they wound up flying me down to produce the thing. I was told the whole thing had stalled. We wound up re-cutting most of the tracks, though the drums and bass parts were pretty good… Lucinda is just this tremendous, authentic, fantastic artist. She reminds me of Bruce, even though they have very, very different styles. She’s a great songwriter with an extremely beautiful, vulnerable voice. I produced the record, but unfortunately they already made a deal where Rick Rubin mixed it. I would have liked to have done that. But he did a great job.”

ON THE OTHER HAND, IF YOU NEED DEPRESSING…
Then find the latest advert for the launch of a new perfume, Decadence. Apparently, Adriana Lima captures the glamour and luxury of the fragrance in a mesmerising TV campaign. No. What happens is that, thanks to Marc Jacobs, the Marvelettes fabulous, Smokey-produced, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is sullied by a truly poxy faux-sleaze tv ad, that doesn’t scream decadence as much as it screams desperate cliché.

A FASCINATING INTERVIEW…
from every record tells a story, although in this case it’s the photos that do the talking –“Incredible Archive of Lost Photos Unearthed of Led Zep, Bowie, Rolling Stones…”
So why didn’t you go on to be a professional photographer?
Bottom line is, I really wasn’t suited to being a photographer. I was as blind as a bat! I could have passed as a poster child for kids with “Coke bottle” glasses. So I had to look through thick lenses, then through the viewfinder in the dark with the lights flashing and changing and reflecting into my glasses – when I did this, it wasn’t about the photography. It was about the moments and the music and the people that I was watching and was so passionate about. To me it was all so unreal and unbelievable that this pasty white, skinny, tall, long-hair kid was standing ten feet from Bob Dylan and George Harrison. That’s what it was all about for me.”

FROM JAZZWAX…
the ever-interesting blog by Marc Myers, comes Yogi Berra on jazz. Berra was one of those characters that you knew of growing up on a diet of Mad Magazine, as I did. I’m not sure I ever knew really what he did or meant to Americans, but I did cotton on to the fact that he mangled the English language in ways that were extremely funny. He was, in fact, a great baseball player for the New York Yankees, but as Wikepedia has it, “he was also known for his malapropisms as well as pithy and paradoxical quotes, such as “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” while speaking to reporters. Simultaneously denying and confirming his reputation, Berra once stated, “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz:
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz? 


Yogi: I can’t, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it’s right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it’s wrong.
Interviewer: I don’t understand.
Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can’t understand it. It’s too complicated. That’s what’s so simple about it. 

Interviewer: Do you understand it? 


Yogi: No. That’s why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn’t know anything about it. 


Interviewer: What is syncopation?
Yogi: That’s when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don’t hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music…
Interviewer: Now I really don’t understand.
Yogi: I haven’t taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.

IN US TV NEWS!
THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: It’s worth subscribing to their YouTube channel – the music spots are often interesting, and they upload them for each show. The Kendrick Lamar performance from a couple of weeks ago was staggering, and there’s an affecting, if slightly stumbling performance on the anniversary of 9/11 by Paul Simon (strangely not looking like Paul Simon), playing “American Tune”*.

CARPOOLING WITH JAMES CORDEN: Try as I might to dislike James Corden, I can’t. Get past the first feeble joke of this segment, and it’s very funny. The premise is that James can only use the carpool lane to get to work on his new chatshow if someone travels with him, and he uses this idea with the show’s musical guests – so he’s accompanied by Iggy Azelia, Justin Beiber, Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart at al. Here’s a link to the Stevie Wonder episode – the love Corden has of the Wonder back catalogue is palpable, and he’s clearly thrilled to have Stevie along for the ride.

[*Fascinating fact: Mandy Patinkin recorded the song in Yiddish on his 1998 album “Mamaloshen.” Now, don’t all rush to iTunes…]

Friday, 18th September

auction

IMAGES OF THE WEEK
From the upcoming (September 29th) Rock & Pop auction at Sotheby’s in London, these eight lots are my favourites. A spare £150,000 may get you Bob’s original “Hard Rain” lyrics… [From the family of Elisabeth (Lily) Djehizian, the first wife of Hugh Romney (“Wavy Gravy”). Lily met Romney whilst working as a waitress at the Gas Light and was closely associated with many of the artists working in Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s, most notably Lenny Bruce.] Click to enlarge – check out the great Beatles’ (U.S.A.) Ltd. typography.

WELL THIS RAISES THE GAME A LITTLE BIT
Spellbinding six-minute overview of the current state of Kendrick Lamar’s music on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Lamar makes most current music look dumb and pallid. It isn’t just the crack rhythm section or the compelling jittery shapes he throws as he sings, it’s the delivery and the timing. He romps through the mid-section with the fantastic beat of To Pimp a Butterfly’s “King Kunte” dissing musical frauds– “I can dig rappin’, but wait! a rapper with a ghost writer? tell me what happened!?“ The song relentlessly builds by moving up a semi-tone every chorus, the two bass players powering it on and on, before it morphs into a effects-driven jazzy end section with an amazing repeated vocal riff on “lovin’ you is complicated…” Staggering.

NOT STAGGERING
Is it just me, or is this as tuneless as I think? One of Apple’s new Apple Music adverts with Leon Bridges, or as he’s known in our house, Aloe Blacc without a decent song. The others aren’t much more convincing – I’m not sure Shamir or Flo Morrisey are doing anything not done better before.

BEST TELEPHONE TREE HOLD MUSIC THIS WEEK!
…and the winner is: Southern Electric, with the Miles Davis Quartet (Miles on trumpet, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums) playing “When I Fall in Love (it Will be Forever)”. It was on repeat and made the resulting 25-minute wait way more pleasant.

FROM MARK MYERS’ WSJ PIECE ON THE MAKING OF STEELY DAN’S “DEACON BLUE”
Strangely, Mr Christlieb is referred to as Pete…
Mr Fagen: “When everything was recorded – the rhythm section, the horns and the background vocals – Walter and I sat in the studio listening back and decided we needed a sax solo, someone to speak for the main character. We liked the sound of a tenor saxophonist who played in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, a cat who blew like crazy when the show went to a commercial. He had this gutsy sound, but we didn’t know who it was.”

Mr Becker: “We had our producer Gary Katz ask around and he found out it was Pete Christlieb. Pete had invented any number of cool harmonic devices that made his playing sound unique. He just sounded like a take-charge soloist, a gunner.”

Pete Christlieb: “I went over to the studio one night after the Tonight Show finished taping at 6:30 p.m. When I listened on headphones to the track Tom [Scott] had arranged, there was just enough space for me to play a solo. As I listened, I realized Donald and Walter were using jazz chord changes, not the block chords of rock. This gave me a solid base for improvisation. They just told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do. So I listened again and recorded my first solo. We listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half-hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.”

EXTRA! FOR ALL YOU NIGHTHAWKS OUT THERE…
It’s Pete Christlieb’s sax on Tom Waits’ wonderful Nighthawks at the Diner. I found this piece on its recording, a Dan Daley interview with Bones Howe… We started talking about where we could do an album that would have a live feel to it. We thought about clubs, but the well-known ones like the Troubadour were toilets in those days. Then I remembered that Barbra Streisand had made a record at the old Record Plant studios, when they were on 3rd Street near Cahuenga Boulevard. It’s a mall now. There was a room there that she got an entire orchestra into. Back in those days they would just roll the consoles around to where they needed them. So Herb and I said let’s see if we can put tables and chairs in there and get an audience in and record a show. I got Michael Melvoin on piano, and he was one of the greatest jazz arrangers ever; I had Jim Hughart on [upright] bass, Bill Goodwin on drums and Pete Christlieb on sax. It was a totally jazz rhythm section. Herb gave out tickets to all his friends, we set up a bar, put potato chips on the tables and we had a sell-out, two nights, two shows a night, July 30 and 31, 1975. I remember that the opening act was a stripper. Her name was Dewana and her husband was a taxi driver. So for her the band played bump-and-grind music –and there’s no jazz player who has never played a strip joint, so they knew exactly what to do. But it put the room in exactly the right mood. Then Waits came out and sang “Emotional Weather Report”. Then he turned around to face the band and read the classified section of the paper while they played. It was like Allen Ginsberg with a really, really good band.” From Tomwaitsfan.com

nighthawks-soundonsound

Bones Howe’s original layout diagram for the live recording.

Friday, 21st August

VISUAL OF THE WEEK (Personal)
Guitars out of Storage!

guitars

VISUAL OF THE WEEK 2 (Public)
Wall of musicians of colour from an fine-looking exhibition, African Industrial Revolution (A.I.R.) by e-studio Luanda, an artist collective and studio complex founded in 2012 in the Angolan capital by Francisco Vidal, Rita GT, António Ole and Nelo Teixeira. Impressed by the range from Ellington to Martina Topley Bird, I was annoyed that I’d managed to miss it.

ex

LORD, WON’T YOU BUY ME A LONNIE HOLLEY TICKET
My habit of buying tickets to gigs I know nothing about continues. Anyone fancy coming to see Lonnie Holley and Alexis Taylor on Monday night at the RFH? Just drop me a line at martinworkbench@gmail.com if your interest is piqued, as mine was, by this paragraph on the Meltdown website:
“Lonnie builds a bridge between Gil Scott-Heron and Alice Coltrane’s Turiya Sings. He approaches both his visual art and his music by reacting to what is in front of him: his music is about the very moment in which it unfolds. Lonnie’s words, on the other hand, are based on his experiences. His endless energy and wild curiosity are capturing hearts and minds in the worlds of both music and fine art.”
I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure as hell up for it. The website also notes that “Lonnie Holley was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1950, the seventh of 27 children, and claims he was traded for a bottle of whiskey when he was four.”

THINGS FOUND ONLINE
St Anthony: Rather wonderful tribute poem/track by Mike Garry & Joe Duddell to Tony Wilson, delivered with the kind of front that only Mancunians seem to have. How much would you love to have this done as a tribute to you after your death?

Demented Bobness: Graham sends a Weird Al Yankovitch Dylan parody, only using all-palindromic lyrics (my favourite is “Lisa Bonet ate no basil”) allied to a creditable Highway 61 pastiche.

The Beatles at Shea Stadium: Mark Myers (again) points the way to something interesting… a little-seen documentary from ’66. “As for me, I was 9 in 1965 and lived in Manhattan. While I didn’t go to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium, I probably would have gone if I had had a sister. What I do remember about that summer was the universal passion among girls and boys for all things British. Like every other preteen, I saw Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady… London, for me, was imagined as a Candyland of the mind… on the radio, British artists such as Petula Clark, Herman’s Hermits, the Rolling Stones, and Tom Jones had hits. I wanted to go downtown to meet Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter and seek satisfaction, whatever all of that meant.” It’s full of wonderful stuff: nine minutes into the film, the Discotheque dancers take the stage after Murray the K and run through every dance step that is now regularly parodied when people think of 60s dancers. Absolutely hysterical. The voice-over interviews with the lads are terrific – street smart and eloquent in equal measure. I loved the sound guys behind the stage – the film cuts to them at around thirteen minutes, as King Curtis and the Kingpins are playing. As a portrait of the times it’s top-notch.

TITLE OF THE WEEK
News that David Rawlings has a new album, with the great title, Nashville Obsolete, prompts me to listen again to his first under the rubrik of the Dave Rawlings Machine, A Friend of a Friend, especially its most luminous song, “Bells of Harlem”. Here it is in live form – a lovely song, beautifully played. Catch the guitar outro, a fabulous circular melody spinning to a hushed conclusion. For another terrific piece of Rawlings’ guitaring, check out “Ruby” from the same KEXP session, where he plays a flatly stunning solo in the middle, not to mention an beautiful set of harmonics before the last chorus. What I love about him is the fact he’s sui generis – there are obvious bluegrass antecedents, but really he’s created a parched flamboyancy all his own.

Some things from the last couple of weeks, posted on Monday 10th August

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

bike
Funny how “For What It’s Worth” continues to exert its pull on film-makers and advertisers, for uses entirely unrelated to its subject matter, which is the Sunset Strip riots of 1966. Maybe it’s the guitar harmonic that repeats throughout… Here is a rather exquisite matching of the song to a stunning slopestyle mountain bike run (whatever that is – didn’t it used to be BMXing?) with beautifully liquid camera work in one uninterrupted shot. Bike helmets off to Brandon Semenuk on the bike, and Anthill Films for the production and filming.

MARIO WIENERROITHER HAD THE EXCELLENT IDEA…
to remove the music from pop videos, and Lionel Richie’s “Hello” with no music, just reduced to its creepiest parts, is a cracker.

THE B OF THE BANG…
Spookiest sound heard lately? The silence of the 40,000 strong crowd a moment before the 100m final at the Olympic Stadium a couple of weeks ago. Not even one throat-clearing… Usain Bolt’s start was slow but he powered through on a wet track to win in 9.87 seconds. Amused afterwards when he said that he lost focus in the middle of the race. In the middle of a race lasting under ten seconds? Extraordinary.

OR MAYBE THE S OF “SHUT UP…”
I hadn’t realised that all large athletics competitions have a stomping soundtrack throughout. Sometimes it’s groan-worthily obvious: Van Halen’s “Jump” for, well, you can guess. Most of the time it’s just irritating. It set me wondering who makes the music choices. Is there a job title that goes with that? Most of the athletes seem to have bought into the whole “hype up the audience” thing, leading the clapping in the build up to their next attempt. Most blatant offender was the half-bearded (look it up) Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi, although in fairness it did give that competition a slightly hysterical edge which was thoroughly enjoyable.

The organising of the programme is extremely slick and the events run parallel in a really clever way. Our favourite: the North Korea-like synchronicity of the Hurdles prep, with small trucks dispensing assistants (and hurdles) at precise intervals. However, the big screen presentation was lacking. Too many announcements that you couldn’t hear properly over the PA, the huge screens bereft of interesting statistics, with poorly judged replays and focus – why, when Laura Weightman was being interviewed after a fine run (by one of the air-headed personality interviewers – echoes of Smashy and Nicey here) were we treated to a close up of a High Jumper wandering around. Why, when the women’s Triple Jump was happening was the entrance in tracksuits of the men’s 100m finalists deemed more interesting? Dumb.

DYLAN STUFF AND NONSENSE OF THE WEEK
50 years on, it still fascinates. Marc Myers of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the electric Newport ’65 concert on his excellent Jazz Wax blog, and received this missive from Al Kooper, the organist in the band:
“Did it not occur to anyone that the reason people were really upset was that the headliner of the entire festival, the person that most people had traveled a distance to see, the person that they sat through three days of music, only played for 17 minutes? That was the problem, Marc. Journalists turned that around into booing – I only heard people yelling, More! More! More! – and false images of Pete Seeger walking around with a fire ax to cut the sound cables. The fact is someone who shouldn’t have touched the house sound for Dylan’s set did, and did a bad job. Listen to the mono mix on the film versions, as only Bob’s voice and Mike Bloomfield’s guitar can be heard – no drums, no bass, no organ and no piano.”
As for the recording of “Like a Rolling Stone” in June 1965, Al said this:
“Bob didn’t really switch the instrumentation. He just went from 3/4 to 4/4 time. I didn’t think of it as ‘acoustic.’ Bob spent a day (June 15th) working on the 3/4 version and overnight decided to switch to 4/4. Since going electric, he’s always had his 3/4 and 6/8 compositions. “Winterlude” comes to mind. I think the lyric on “Like a Rolling Stone” was more balanced to sing in 4/4 and overnight he came to that conclusion. Some band members were switched, but the instrumentation remained the same until they moved Paul Griffin to piano and changed my life (and instrument).”
And reader Daniel Mainzer added the following…
“Interesting article about Bob Dylan at Newport. I was there. The prevailing mood of the crowd reflected much of our generation’s attitude toward social change as reflected by the music. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane and others lit it up in the late 1960s, and the brief flirtation with folk was over, since it was boring. We wanted to move and dance, not sway like seaweed in a gentle tide. I think Dylan felt this too and wanted to break out, to give the people what they wanted. Seeger’s music, and folk in general, was always about social injustice and a heavy message. While well done, the repetition just killed the music. Not to mention the acoustic guitar with no beat. Boring!!! Dylan knew the effect of a pounding rhythm section and let this loose on us. What a relief! Now we could enjoy Dylan instead of putting him on the back shelf.”

ES MAGAZINE QUESTIONNAIRE: LOUISE BREALEY
The Sherlock actress on the first thing she does when she arrives back in London: “I play London is the Place for Me by Lord Kitchener as I drive down the motorway. My best friend Chris put it on a mixtape for me when I was homesick doing Casualty in Bristol in 2002.” A fine choice – it’s in the Music Player to the right.

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