Thursday, May 25th

Dance is my Cultural Achilles Heel™ but I overcome it to marvel at this, filmed while the Shchukin collection was at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. “I was born in Chicago,” Lil Buck says, “Raised in Memphis, Tennessee…” Well, that’s a blues lyric right there.


“It’s a dance style that started with Memphis underground rap music, and that music, the way it was produced, gave us a certain bounce. When I was around 16 years old I got into ballet. We made a deal with this artistic director that we would teach hip-hop, and they would teach us ballet…” There’s a moment at 2:45 in front of Picasso’s Three Women that is just astounding, but it’s not the locale, or the music, or the amazing art – this would be as strange and beguiling wherever it was performed.

In the 80s Mark and I went to see, more than once, Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, a band that consisted of eight brass players and one drummer. The man on the non-brass instrument was Phillip Wilson. A great drummer, he was equally adept at keeping the band ticking and purring through the buildup of “Saving All My Love for You” as slashing and slapping back at the horns as they riffed violently to the song’s climax. It was a holy noise, great on record but best experienced live. The only other things I knew about Phillip Wilson were that he was involved in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and that he had drummed with the Paul Butterfield Band around the end of the Sixties. This fascinating interview by Ethan Iverson with David Sanborn, the sax player, is about how important Wilson was to Sanborn.

“Through Phillip, I met Lester Bowie, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett. Lester was the comedian king: like the wise philosopher of St. Louis but funny and fearless. Phillip and Lester did not discriminate about styles of music. Lester played in a circus band, society gigs, straight-ahead gigs. He played with Jimmy Forrest. He met his wife Fontella “Rescue Me” Bass on a gig with the Clara Ward Gospel Singers. Everyone had a day job except for Lester. Julius Hemphill sold furniture, Oliver Lake worked in the post office, Phillip worked as an arc welder at McDonnell Aircraft. Phillip worked at McDonnell all day, like from six in the morning to three or four in the afternoon, and he might have gone home and slept a bit before playing and hanging all night. Sometimes we would be hanging at like four in the morning and he’d say, ‘I’ve got to go home, change my clothes, and go to work.’”

I loved this pastel drawing, a forgery passed off as Bob Dylan’s work a week or so ago, but actually a rather great picture of The Band. As Richard Manuel sang “The hoot owl and his song, will bring you along / Where else on earth would you wanna go?”


This NY Times video, by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, is simply people climbing up a Ten Meter Diving Platform and jumping off. The twist is that none of them has ever done it before, and it takes some negotiating, either with friends or themselves, as they build up the courage to do it. And the reason that I’m writing about it is that the editing of the film is so brilliant, and the sounds are as important as the visuals. Tension and release personified – finger clicking, nervous scratching and deep breaths before the screams and the splash.

Tim and I meet at Spiritland, somewhere that I’ve been meaning to go to since it opened. Then a couple of days later, Oobah Butler on Mr. Hyde wrote a piece on it that perfectly summed up my mixed feelings about it.

“Novelty has become the lifeblood of London. Most new spots open with a sideways glance, crazed gurn and elbow nudge, rather than straight-faced sincerity. But a new hero is bucking the trend: Spiritland, the “listening bar” in Kings Cross that’s “a paradise for anyone from the aficionado to the curious”. It definitely takes itself seriously, from its one-of-a-kind speaker system to DJ sets from big names like Hot Chip and Jarvis Cocker. And that’s great! But one issue: what the hot hell is a listening bar? Dudes in At The Drive-In T-shirts who occasionally look up from their William Burroughs novel to give an appreciative nod? An immersive experience that leaves no room for anything but absorbing tunes? One so intoxicating that it can get you drunk on music? I tried to stay sober on a Thursday night to find out.

Spiritland is tucked away in a ghost town of half-finished apartment buildings, mournful Bella Italias and broad, empty streets. It’s a diverse crowd, but everyone has one thing in common: we’re sat in a spartan room with dinner and drinks, facing The Bloody Big Music Blaster. Neither imbalanced nor throttling, the setup sounds wonderful. It’s official: I am woozy; totally drunk on music. But getting there requires an indulgent, eyes-closed isolationism that goes against its appeal to groups going out. You can have a table-banging debate about zero-hours contracts with the squad, or you can surrender to sound and fully appreciate the tech. Doing both is harder.

There’s also the Dad’s-cologne whiff of pragmatism over the layout. If you were to place all your focus on the listening experience, you wouldn’t have so many tables right at the front. The speakers would creep away from the wall. You wouldn’t serve food. So Spiritland finds itself in a no man’s land, ostensibly appealing to both the casuals and the committed, but not being quite right for either. But this is probably as music-obsessed as we can get in London 2017 – it could have been more dedicated elsewhere in Europe, but the closure of clubs and gig venues shows we turned our backs on music. So I order a beer, relax and enjoy Spiritland for what it is: an imperfect yet inventive space for a bit of small-group musical nerding.”

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FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 20th February

What I’ve Learned, Thom Yorke, US Esquire
“My grandfather would come to our house in the countryside, borrow one of our bikes, and disappear. He’d come back after dark and we had no idea where he’d been. If he ran into anybody, he’d just ask them where the good nightclub was. He did that right up until his nineties.”

The Disarray Of Staff Benda Bilili

Sad news that SBB are no more. Last year, Marcel and I went to see a preview of the film telling their story, followed by the band in concert, and both were wonderful. The film’s an uplifting piece of work full of great scenes (my favourite being when teen genius Roger—player of self-invented tin-can and wire instrument, having just been found downriver and asked to join the band—is given a stern talking-to by his mother and sister). The show was as riotous as a concert in a chapel can be, and finished with some of the finest dancing I’ve ever seen, especially as most of it was done by men on crutches and in wheelchairs.

Mr Hyde Mailout, extolling virtues of “Birmingham Scene”
IS THIS THE NEXT BIG MUSIC SCENE? shouts the headline. “What do you know about Digbeth? We do have one useful thing you should know about it: it’s been lazily dubbed the “Shoreditch of Birmingham” thanks to three young bands who are rising to prominence after spending their formative years hanging out there. Is “B-Town” 2013’s version of Madchester? Meet the major players and decide…”

So I do. I Soundcloud them all. Three bands from the, uh, West Midz. First up is Swim Deep: According to Mr Hyde, “producing ethereal, synth-heavy music that’s unashamedly poppy, yet also soulful and endearingly rough around the edges.” The band’s vocalist says “[Birmingham bands] are making the UK’s best music. It’s not all the same like in other scenes–it’s a really varied sound.” Mmmm. I say: Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.

I try number two. Jaws. Mr Hyde again: “their fuzzed-out shoegaze-indebted sound can’t remain in the shadows for long in any era that sees a new My Bloody Valentine album so warmly received. The vocalist says: “I heard someone describe us as Ian Curtis In LA, which is pretty cool.” Right. Ordinary boy vocals. Ordinary melodies. Tinny beats.

Sensing a pattern I move to number three, Peace. My Jekyll (sorry, I mean Mr Hyde): “Their gift is writing complex, Foals-esque tracks but with huge, sing-along choruses. The vocalist says: “Our music should make you want to shake and make you want to cry at the same time. And sometimes it should make you want to party.” Ordinary boy vocals, more guitars than the others, slightly less tinny beats.

I’ve got to say, five minutes in the company of each of these bands only made me think Where’s the new here? Why are they all so satisfied with replicating what’s gone before? Why are all the vocals so… dull? And how desperate are journalists to discover a new “scene”?

Lately, A Ken Colyer State Of Mind

Dobells Listeners

Before filming an interview with John Williamson and his charming crew for a BBC 4 documentary, I had looked out some hopefully useful material. Among my favourite finds was this picture, taken by the Brighton Evening Argus, of Doug Dobell’s first shop, shopfitted by my dad, in 1956. The programme, to be shown in late May, focuses on the British Jazz Revival of the late Forties and early Fifties. My job was to help illuminate the extraordinary trip that Ken made to New Orleans in 1952, jumping ship in Mobile to play with some of his heroes, breaking the law in several ways to do so. I also recently compiled this piece for The Stansbury Forum about Ken’s pilgrimage, based on reminiscences and letters from Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer.

The Mad Opening Number of A Chorus Line
My mother’s birthday. A show. The pre-opening night, the last of the previews, where the audience seems packed with the cast’s relations, which gives a peculiarly heightened air to the whole performance. It’s actually pretty great—in some ways a weirdly prescient view of Reality TV’s audition process—but my favourite musical moment comes right at the beginning. The opening number I Hope I Get It pits frenzied Seventies Lalo Schifrin wah-wah disco, all tom rolls and rim shots, against the Tin Pan Alley tune of the refrain, “I really need this job/Please, God I need this job/I’ve got to ge—t this jo—b.” Cue massed jazz hands and that particularly Michael Bennett-style of angular shock dancing. Magic!

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