Five Things: Wednesday 14th May

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

Flats & Sharps

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

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

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

John Deakin, Photographer’s Gallery

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

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

Five Things: Wednesday 3rd July

River Island go for the Newport ’64 look

Dylan Jeans

Kenny Rogers, questioned by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian
I found an old newspaper story online about you beginning a parallel career in professional tennis in the late 70s.  What was that all about? I’m kind of an impulsive obsessive, I don’t know if there’s a category like that. I get impulsively involved in something and I get obsessed with it. I did that with tennis. I didn’t start playing until I was 35 years old, and then I got obsessed with it and I played eight hours a day. I played in professional matches. I had a national ranking. I was one spot above Björn Borg in doubles.
You’re joking!* No! That’s just my nature. Then I couldn’t physically play tennis any more, so I took up photography. I studied for four years under a guy who’d been Ansel Adams’ assistant … [describes photographer Adams’ “zone system” codification of the principles of sensitometry in mind-boggling depth].
*He’s not.

Busker, Northern line to Old Street
As he tried to pick up a Polish girl (“Sorry, love, thought you said Portuguese…”) he starts playing “Three Little Birds”, all Glasto peace & love, but failing to feel any enthusiasm from a listless tube carriage, takes a weird right turn into “Blue Suede Shoes” – One for the money/Two for the show…

The Stones & The Times
The Evening Standard writes: The biggest fan of Mick Jagger still seems to be The Times newspaper. In 1967, its then editor William Rees-Mogg wrote in defence of Jagger after he was given three months in jail for possession of amphetamines, under the headline Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel? This weekend, prior to the Stones’ Glastonbury set, The Times returned to Jagger who had confessed that he might have liked being a teacher rather than a rocker. “The newly qualified teacher Mr Jagger was quickly taken off religious studies after he expressed sympathy for the devil,” began its leader. “His biology lessons were not much better, strangely dominated as they were by wild horses, little red roosters and the spider and the fly. Chemistry lessons were a disaster after Mr Jagger baffled the pupils with his insistence that jumping jack flash was a gas, gas, gas. He also showed a dangerous tendency to play with fire, which contravened the school’s health and safety regulations.” What have the Times leader writers been taking?

“A man of wealth and taste.” First part correct, not sure about second.

Ronnie Wood painting of Mick Jagger and hand-lettered guitar (words from “Sympathy For The Devil”)

Ronnie Wood painting of Mick Jagger and hand-lettered guitar (words from “Sympathy For The Devil”)

Favourite Letter Of The Week
“Marie Paterson bemoans the coverage of classical as opposed to pop music (Letters, 1 July) but at least “pop” music is performed by the composers, whereas classical music, with some exceptions, is usually performed by a tribute band, often known as an orchestra.”
Derek Middlemiss, Newark, Nottinghamshire, in The Guardian

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