Five Things: Wednesday 5th June

Daft. Not Punk.
So I ask Mark what he thinks of the new Daft Punk album and he says “Rubbish,” and I think 50 million people and all the broadsheet critics can’t be wrong. So I listen. I put it on Spotify when Summer arrives for a day and we have a barbecue. I play it when I’m walking around the house, or making tea. And guess what. Mark is right. Everyone else is wrong. And I love disco, and I love session musicians, but this is just… for instance, one track sounds like wonky, rubbish version of a Police song. The nadir is reached with  the Paul Williams tune, which sounds like a lame copy of something from Joss Whedon’s genius Buffy musical. It’s a cute idea to work with Williams (who wrote some of the Carpenters hits) but it just sounds… rubbish. So why is everyone so invested in saying it’s great. Is it because half of them seem to be creative partners in some promotional campaign (stand up, Pitchfork), or have got special access and an interview? The sell is clever, and it’s smart to get their collaborators to act as shills for them, but I’ll leave you with three words: Emperor’s New Clothes (or in this case, Motorbike Helmets).


The Blues, a film.
Sam Charters showed us this, his brilliant, little seen, 1962 film, as he was on his way to Scotland to spend time with Document Records remastering it. Shot as he and Ann Charters travelled through the South recording bluesmen who had had their moment in the sun in the 20s and 30s, it is 22 minutes of poetry and poverty. From a host of riveting performances, a favourite moment: Pink Anderson and his sweet-faced boy, Little Pink, playing Leadbelly’s Cottonfields. Hopefully the DVD will see the light of day later in the year.

Go Away You Bomb?
Bob Bomb
Hand-typed [as opposed to…?] lyrics to a Bob Dylan song which he never recorded are expected to sell for £35,000 when they go up for auction at Christies in London next month. Dylan’s lyric sheet for “Go Away You Bomb” will go under the hammer at Christie’s in London on June 26. Israel ‘Izzy’ Young: “I was compiling a book of songs against the atom bomb and asked Dylan to contribute; he gave me this song the very next day. I have never sold anything important to me until now and the funds raised will help to keep the Folklore Center in Stockholm going. I have always had a passion for folk music and I have collected books and music since I was a kid. I produced my first catalogue of folk books in 1955, comprised of books that nobody had ever heard of – this was the beginning of the interest in American folk music. Bob Dylan used to hang around the store and would look through every single book and listen to every single record I had. Since opening the Folklore center I have organised over 700 concerts with some of the biggest names in this music world. I’m a fun-loving Jewish boy who loves folk music and never gave up – that’s why I’m still alive.”

Cerys Matthews on Bob.
From The Guardian: “By 2008, her marriage was over and she was back in the UK. By now, she had a low-key solo career up and running, made an unexpected appearance on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and was starting to present shows on BBC 6 Music. A year later, she married her manager, Steve Abbott. The couple met when she recorded a duet with one of Abbott’s other clients, Aled Jones. “We just clicked. We had very similar taste in music, right down to the line between liking Bob Dylan and not really liking Tom Petty.” She smiles. “That kind of thing is important to me. I’m very opinionated about music. So is he.” Exactly right, Cerys! People always assume that you’ll like Tom Petty because you like Bob. And it’s just not true.

You Really Couldn’t Make This Up…
The sisters Mamet [daughters of David, band name The Cabin Sisters] introduce their [in their own words] unique brand of folk via body percussion, banjo and harmonies. This will be their first music video. “This music video for Bleak Love is our chance to realize through the visual artistry of some very talented people the universal feeling of un-requited love. Your support for this project will be the backbone to a body of excited filmmakers, producers and musicians all making something from nothing. we have a wonderful concept from a bright young director that includes, beautiful gowns, statues, a large opulent loft space, extensive make-up, saturated tones needing anamorphic lens (for those technically inclined). We also have those folks who are good enough to work for free that we are trying to travel and feed. It is an expensive proposition when all is said and done, but we have a realistic budget that we know we can make work. So, please please join us in the fight against heartbreak!” Apart from the hazy punctuation and capitalisation, wtf? Listen to Zosia’s stumbling and half-assed reasons why you should back her in the begging video. Well-paid, well-connected actresses using Kickstarter for vanity projects? I’m betting that, for your $8,000, the director styled chair is not cutting it.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 2nd January

Pop Music Lives!
The Graham Norton Show. Girls Aloud. New Single. Love Machine. I roll my eyes at the title. But it’s great, a cracking pop single, with hints of Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz. And, as the chorus powers into view, at the back of my mind, a nagging What Else Does This Sound Like? It only takes a few demented minutes of humming. Step forward The Butterfield Blues Band…

Ok! Hep, Two, Three, Four…
Woodstock Soundtrack, original vinyl, Side Six. The Butterfield Blues Band. Featuring saxophonist “Brother” Gene Dinwiddie. “I got a little somethin’ I’d like to lay on y’all, if you’ll bear with me a minute… please. We’re gonna do a little March right along thru now… It’s a Love March. We don’t carry no guns and things in this army we got. Don’t nobody have to be worried about keepin’ in step, and we ain’t got no uniforms—we’re a poor army. In order to keep our heads above the water and whatnot, we sing to one another, and play to one another and we trying to make each other feel good. Ok! Hep, two, three, four…” On the back of a great Rod Hicks bassline and Phillip Wilson’s martial drumming, Dinwiddie gives his all to the uber-hippie lyrics. As feedback crackles around Buzzy Feiten’s guitar, the horn section (featuring David Sanborn) riff like the most soulful Marching Band ever. And it certainly could be the inspiration for the Girls’ songwriting team, although I doubt it.

John Barry: Licence To Thrill (BBC Four Doc With A Rotten Title…)
I’d totally forgotten his great score for The Ipcress File. It uses one of my favourite instruments, a cimbalom (a kind of hammered dulcimer). One night I was in Budapest at a conference and we were all taken to a Hungarian Folk Dance dinner. It was, hands down, the loudest thing I’ve ever witnessed. The stage floorboards were percussively assaulted by the dancers’ boots and our insides were assaulted by the unholy bass vibrations that this set off. There were two cymbalom players at either side of the stage, hitting seven shades out of their instruments. The pitch of the treble strings as they were struck by the hammers was enough to take the top of your head off. Instant Migraine. Brilliant. I bought the CD.

“Tis The Song, The Sigh Of The Weary, Hard Times, Hard Times, Come Again No More…”
Laura Barton’s wonderful Guardian column, Hail, Hail, Rock & Roll, was one of the inspirations for me to do this blog, so I was sad to read of her hard year in the round-up of favourite moments by Guardian music writers. Here, she talked honestly about the past twelve months, and a rare bright moment. “This was not the happiest of years for me; all through January, on into spring and the summer, I took a slow lesson in falling apart. I could no longer see the beauty in anything—days stood grey and flat, food was flavourless, even music seemed muffled and blunt. By the first Tuesday in March I was experiencing daily panic attacks, and often felt too fearful to leave the house. But that evening Future Islands were playing the Scala in London… They played my favourites of course, and it was one of the finest gigs of my life, but what really made it was the stage invasion—a sudden surge of excitement at the beginning of, I think, Heart Grows Old, and suddenly we were all up there, dancing among the cables and the synths. And I remember in that moment looking down from the edge of the stage, out at all the bright faces and euphoria and glee, and feeling my chest swell with a brief, sweet gulp of long-lost joy.”

R.I.P Fontella Bass
Rescue Me. The best Motown song that was never on Motown, the best Motown bassline that wasn’t a Motown bassline (played by Louis Satterfield). Fontella Bass was a powerful singer, who made some wonderful gospel albums. The one I could find this morning was From The Root To The Source. It has Phillip Wilson, co-writer  of Love March (see above) on drums. To further cement the Butterfield link, I found a YouTube clip of Fontella in the 80s, singing Rescue Me on Dave Sanborn & Jools Holland’s fabulous Sunday Night, with Sanborn on sax. In memory, we’ll play some Fontella Bass tonight.


Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 28th November

The Return Of Scott Walker
Exciting news for us Scott fans! In a relatively revealing Guardian interview as his new album, Bish Bosch, is launched, Scott talks about his fear of performing, as well as saying that no promoter would put him on anyway, as they’re only interested in money. But Scott could tour cultural festivals, not rock arenas, if he chose. In 2008, for instance, The Barbican put on Drifting and Tilting—The Songs of Scott Walker. It was more opera than rock. Scott, eyes hidden beneath baseball cap, stood at the mixing desk conducting his collaborator Peter Walsh. It was all I could do to drag my eyes away and back to the stage, which teemed with extraordinary visions. The most arresting image? Possibly a boxer using a pig’s carcass as a percussion instrument. Or maybe Gavin Friday as Elvis (“It casts its ruins in shadows/Under Memphis moonlight”), perched on a stool, singing to his stillborn twin Jesse, while a bequiffed and backlit figure strode  from the back of the stage until he assumed gigantic proportions, looming over the whole theatre. Whichever, it was an evening that lives on in the memory. Long may Scott run.

Amy’s Blues
The National Portrait Gallery in London buys a portrait by Marlene Dumas of the late Amy Winehouse, and  the curator says: “Dumas said that she had been very moved by the news of Winehouse’s death.” Which sort of begs the question: why not be moved by something useful like her talent or her voice—while she was alive. What’s “moving” about her death? “Dumas, who is based in Amsterdam, sought out images of Winehouse online for the work which draws the viewer in to the singer’s distinctive eyes and eye liner.” Yes, you read that right. In Art Speak, she sought out images of Amy online. And then copied some of the photos she found, quite badly. So, basically, this mediocre fan painting was co-created by Google Image Search (79,600,000 results).

Kermit The Frog, Meet Miles Davis & Louis Malle & Jeanne Moreau
Genius overlay of Davis’ session (filmed by Malle) recording the soundtrack to Lift To The Scaffold, the great French noir from ’58, with LCD Soundsystem’s New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down. The film of Davis playing to a huge projection of Moreau walking the streets of Paris at night is just stunning. That’s cut with Kermit on a rock across the river from midtown, and in Times Square. Hats off to Alessandro Grespan for his inspired and crazy jamming together of these two videos. The despairing mood of both pieces is eloquently summed up in James Murphy’s brilliant couplet “There’s a ton of the twist, but we’re fresh out of shout…”

Is It Rolling, Keith?
My favourite moment so far in Crossfire Hurricane, the Stones doc, is the extraordinary stage invasion footage. Keith: “It started, man, on the first tour. Half way through things started to get crazy [here the on-stage cameras filming the concert record a group of young besuited guys pushing the Stones over, singing into Jagger’s mic, attempting to pull Brian Jones’ guitar off, as the soundtrack becomes phased and fragmented]… we didn’t play a show after that, that was ever completed, for three years… we’d take bets on how long a show would last—you’re on, 10 minutes…”

Christies Pop Culture Auction Preview, South Kensington
A random sampling of the 20th Century, from chairs that were part of the set of Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca, via Harrison Ford’s bullwhip from Raiders to the ‘Iron Maiden’ from Ken Russell’s Tommy (a snip if it goes for its estimate of £1000). I was there to gaze upon Mitch Mitchell’s snare drum (as featured on Purple Haze, The Wind Cries Mary, Hey Joe etc) and Andy Warhol’s mock-up of an unpublished book of the Stones ’75 tour. Favourite item? Hibbing High School Yearbook, 1958, signed, “Dear Jerry, Well the year’s almost all over now, huh. Remember the “sessions” down at Colliers. Keep practicing the guitar and maybe someday you’ll be great! A friend, Bob Zimmerman”

Jerry’s Yearbook, Hibbing High School, 1958

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

Big Man On The Bass
Sad news that Bob Babbitt (Midnight Train to Georgia, Rubberband Man, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours, Inner City Blues, Band Of Gold, Tears Of A Clown, Copacabana, Never Can Say Goodbye—wow!) has passed away. Watch Standing In The Shadows Of Motown and thrill to his pulse, precision and groove. He’s totally on it, whether negotiating James Jamerson’s iconic lines or his own. Watch him—in a moment caught on low-res videocam—reflected in Meshell Ndegeocello’s sunglasses, as he tearfully talks about the assassination of Martin Luther King, saying of the other musicians who made up the Funk Brothers, “I felt as sad as they did. I was one of them.”

“She Came With Her Spindly Little Legs And Her Mental Hair And Sang Her Heart Out…”
Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle. Philip King, producer: “There’s something about singers, they’re sort of odd, you know. They carry songs with them… how many songs is any singer singing at one time? If you talk to a great jazz singer they’ll say I know five hundred songs but I’m singing thirty of them at the minute… Certainly the way that she sang that night, Amy… sang the blues away, She used her gift to still her trembling soul. She used her gift as a way to explain herself to herself. To entertain people, sure, but to sing the blues and to give herself some relief.” On bass, Dale Davis. On guitar, Robin Banerjee. Singing stunningly, Amy Winehouse. There are too many great moments to list, but the Ray Charles interview, an exquisite Me & Mr Jones, the way Amy’s eyes light up when she talks about the Shangri-La’s, the way she sings ‘Door’ in You Know That I’m No Good. If you love music, watch this film.

Surely Previous?

On the shelf above, a sticker read: “When It’s Gone, It’s Gone!”


Euro 2012: A Thriller. Imogen Heap’s Version: Not So Much

I forgot to write about this, but just found a note. Now—I love a re-visioned MJ classic as much as the next person {EVIDENCE FOR THE PROSECUTION: Robbie Fulks’ Billie Jean} but it has to make sense. The usual end-of-tournament slo-mo roundup-with-music was typically well edited and included all the moments of high tension and goals to die for that are prerequisite. It was soundtracked by Imogen Heap (who I usually like and admire) doing an acoustic cover of Thriller—nice piano playing, and lyrically some strike/hand/paralyzed-type links for relevant footage. But, Billie Jean with an impassioned, paranoid delivery atop a slinky bolero beat=goal. Thriller with all the thrills drained out, replaced with slightly hammy over-emoting=horrific penalty shoot-out miss.

Tonight The Blackbird Dies
Despite really liking Low and seeing them live last year, I was ashamed to discover I’d never heard Monkey, which blasts out over the opening of a cracking (but modest) B-picture, Killshot, based on Elmore Leonard’s book of the same name, one of the great modern-day crime novels. The song is fantastic—“Tonight you will be mine, tonight the monkey dies…” Nice to finally see a Hollywood film about hitmen that’s not excessive and stupid, but tight and realistic instead. Mickey Rourke is in finest Wrestler mode as Armand “Blackbird” Degas, Diane Lane is excellent and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richie Nix is really fine. The behind camera lineup is impressive: Produced by Laurence Bender and the Weinsteins, directed by John Madden, shot by Caleb Deschanel, thanks to Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack in the credits. Of course, it never got a cinema release in Britain.

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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