Friday, October 14th

clintonsA late posting for most of this, covering more than just the last week, in the usual slightly disorganised way. In breaking news, I’m obviously glad that Bob got his due, finally. Twitter, predictably, provided amusement (left). And great to see that Bob was in fine voice at the Desert Trip last weekend in California. A fantastic and ominous Masters of War (here) was even relevant to the current election:
“Let me ask you one question,
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness,
Do you think that it could?
Well I think you will find
When your death takes its toll,
All the money you made
Won’t buy back your soul…”

ONE NOTES FROM THE MERCURY AWARDS: A DREAM
As I sat idly wondering if one could write a song with lyrics entirely provided by episode titles from The Real Housewives of Orange County (“Ooh baby baby/You’re swimming with the sharks/Beneath judgy eyes/and Tahitian Skies…”) I remembered that I’d watched the Mercury Awards the other day while, as Tom Waits would say, several sheets to the wind. I had jotted down notes on a page of that day’s Guardian, but when I came to look at them I couldn’t understand how any of it fitted together, so here they are, as a piece of abstract poetry, perhaps.

A weird walk-through alphabetised history of Mercury’s/J for J/Klaxons instead of Amy W/Skepta genuinely modest/almost only genuine moment in a night of untrammelled narcissism…

Unappealing 1975/ripping off Bowie’s “Fame”/a strange and ferociously efficient sound/“Blurred Lines” was sued…

Radiohead out-of-place before a musical chicken-in-a-basket crowd/not really listening…

Benjamin Clementine/what happens when a good backstory and striking looks come together/song is a farrago of music theatre clichés run through a Nina Simone simulator…

Michael Kiwanuka/the Terry Callier du nos jours/left his song at home/so little movement in this dullness/“Fantastic Stuff” appaz, according to/Lauren Laverne – smug host…

TWO IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK
A confusing episode of Later, which is almost too exhausting to parse, containing as it did men walking around the stage in the name of grime, t-shirts alternately commemorating Buddy Rich and rallying the “Give 17-year-olds the Vote” segment of the audience, and even acapella songstresses. What did we learn? That Lisa Hannigan has an extraordinary voice, especially at the closing of her song; that Barry Gibb has sort-of-lost his extraordinary voice and his new band compensates with three extra guitarists (one his son), that Slaves are throwback rubbish, and that Jools slightly overplays when sitting-in with Norah Jones (who had a really tight band, great drummer, interesting guitarist). Oh, and that Declan McCann (t-shirt owner, below) is precociously interesting, but only if you happen to be under 25.

declan

THREE NEIL YOUNG COVERS
On the extended version of that episode of Later, Norah Jones lit into a tune that made me look up – Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied”. It’s a song that almost defies a cover– it exists in a ragged (wonderfully so) version cut live on the ill-starred Time Fades Away tour, and is a piece of caustic autobiography set to music, mostly about Buffalo Springfield. She has form where Young’s songs are concerned, playing this song live at NealFest in 2015 and playing “Down by the River” at The Bridge Concerts with Young himself. I assume it speaks in some way to her about her experience of the music biz – she did it well, giving it the right shade of downbeat anger. It sent me back to another odd Young song cover – a track on David Bowie’s Heathen, a CD that I’d bought as my wife loves the wonderful “Everyone Says Hi”. It’s “I’ve Been Waiting for You”, from Young’s first solo album, a strange and brilliant piece of work. Bowie covers it with keening and brassy synths and truckloads of echo, but keeps the original arrangement pretty intact. As does Chip Taylor on a third NY cover version that I found buried deep in an iTunes folder – “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” from MOJO Presents: Harvest Revisited, which suits his parched voice to a T.

FOUR JOHN PLATANIA PLAYS “ANGEL OF THE MORNING” WITH CHIP TAYLOR

platania
I’ve been listening obsessively to John Platania’s guitar solo on “Sweet Thing” since it was released on Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late to Stop Now Vol 2, 3 and 4. Hard to believe it didn’t end up on the 1974 record as it matches any performance on the original two-disc set. And here he was, accompanying Chip Taylor in a tiny room downstairs at Clerkenwell pub, The Slaughtered Lamb. Taylor, last of the Yonkers Cowboys, weaves stories of growing up with his brothers (one, Barry, a Volcanologist, the other, Jon Voigt, actor) in New York in the early fifties as Platania drapes beautiful filigreed guitar lines around the shoulders of Taylor’s deceptively simple four or five-chord country songs. This is not Nashville country, but a kind of cowboy country, a mesas and plains music, big on telling tales and dispensing sage advice. Each and every song was electrified by Platania’s sure touch – one moment Tennessee rockabilly, the next an orchestral pealing of notes tumbling down – and if the heart came from Taylor’s whispered and wry voice, the soul came from John’s Stratocaster.

FIVE “I’M TRAVELLING LIGHT, IT’S AU REVOIR…”
A few favourite paragraphs from David Remnick’s great New Yorker piece on Leonard Cohen:
And then, like my mother, [Cohen] offered what could only have been the complete catalogue of his larder: water, juice, wine, a piece of chicken, a slice of cake, “maybe something else.” In the hours we spent together, he offered many refreshments, and, always, kindly. “Would you like some slices of cheese and olives?” is not an offer you are likely to get from Axl Rose. “Some vodka? A glass of milk? Schnapps?” And, as with my mother, it is best, sometimes, to say yes. One day, we had cheeseburgers-with-everything ordered from a Fatburger down the street and, on another, thick slices of gefilte fish with horseradish.

Leonard studied; he worked at the clothing factory, where he picked up a useful skill for his career as a touring musician: he learned to fold suits so they didn’t wrinkle. But, as he wrote in a journal, he always imagined himself as a writer, “raincoated, battered hat pulled low above intense eyes, a history of injustice in his heart, a face too noble for revenge, walking the night along some wet boulevard, followed by the sympathy of countless audiences… loved by two or three beautiful women who could never have him.”

And this lovely quote from Dylan, when Remnick asks him his thoughts on Cohen… “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said. “Even the counterpoint lines – they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.” There’s also a delightful bit where Bob talks about the similar craft (and crafty-ness) shared by both Irving Berlin and Cohen.

AND FINALLY… PLAY VINYL WITH NEW £5 NOTE
From What HiFi “The plastic £5 note isn’t just waterproof, tear-proof and recyclable, it can also hold a tune… The new fiver is made from polymer (plastic) and is claimed to be stronger, cleaner and safer as a result. And it seems the new hardier design brings into play plenty of other uses – such as acting as a needle on a vinyl record. YouTube user Michael Ridge tested the fiver on an Abba record. It’s not quite as simple as it looks. Ridge also used a contact microphone and a small amplifier to muster up the sound. But, yes, the new £5 note does do the job of a particularly poor needle.”

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Five Things: Wednesday 21st May

Happy Valley, BBC1
There’s little music used in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley that doesn’t come from a car radio, so most of Sarah Lancashire’s performance as police sergeant Catherine Cawood doesn’t have the aid of the emotional lift that is liberally doused over most drama on tv or film. There’s no telegraphing prompts, or swelling string pads but, hey, they’re not required. It’s an astonishing portrayal that holds the centre of this really superior policier. The range of thought that flickers across her face in conversations – talking about one thing, realising something else – make it one of the great performances of recent years and puts most showy big-name stuff to shame. The high level of acting, fantastic script and great direction from Euros Lyn (Welsh director of Sherlock) make this a must see.

And Jake Bugg’s “Trouble Town”…
…works pretty well as Happy Valley’s theme. There’s a run on Bugg at the moment: British Airways’ current ad uses one of his, as did the coverage of The Great Manchester Run last weekend. “Trouble Town” feels right for the Yorkshire-set series, although it has the problem of all Jake Bugg songs – it sounds entirely unoriginal (this one owes its biggest debt to “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”).

I catch a half hour of Eurovision
…luckily the bit featuring a favourite actor, Pilou Asbaek, who is one of the hosts. Weird. Imagine Michael Fassbinder or Chiwetel Ejiofor agreeing to host – he’s that kind of actor. He’s terrific in the Danish film, A Hijacking, as the cook aboard a freighter that is boarded by Somalian pirates. It’s the non-Hollywood version of Captain Phillips. Anyway, I turn on in time for his guided tour of the Eurovision Hall Of Fame, a rather great spoof, all appalling costume displays and dry ice, and topped by Ireland’s Johnny Logan pretending to be his own waxwork in a totally Lynchian scene…

Canal Boat Barbeque, Middlesex Filter Beds, Hackney Cut
Walking past a group of boats on the Lea River, an unexpected piece of music wafts from a radio: Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther Theme. Plas Johnson’s sax sashays through the warm summer air before Shelly Manne’s cymbal and the horn section open it out. Seemed an entirely perfect piece of music to go along with the mellow mood. “Originally played in the key of E minor, it is noted for its quirky, unusual use of chromaticism which is derived from the Hungarian minor scale (gypsy/romani scale) with raised 4th and 7th degrees.” – Wikipedia

Neil Young talks to his mother in heaven about his father, weather forecasting and his missing collaborator, Ben Keith
Recording his latest album, A Letter Home, in Jack White’s Phono-recording booth (see the Jimmy Fallon clips here), Neil prefaces the session with this message. The album is interesting, but I increasingly find a little Neil goes a long way.

Food Song List, Vappiano’s, Bankside

Vap

Five Things: Wednesday 29th January

Folk Music Has Another Moment…
A fitting soundtrack to The Naked Rambler (some Nick Drake, I think, and Tom Paxton’s “Rambling Boy”). The Joan Baez documentary I’ve not quite finished watching. BBC4 showing Murray Lerner’s great Festival. The opening of Inside Llewyn Davis and attendant media blitz. And lastly, all the obits for Pete Seeger folk’s been all over everything in the last week or so. My favourite act in Lerner’s film were the amazing Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers, clean-cut college kids looking for all the world like cousins of Buddy Holly and Annette Funicello, high-stepping and twirling, accompanied by Seeger’s banjo-playing, to a standing ovation from the crowd. “In 1962 from in and around the little mountain town of Hendersonville, NC, the so-called Dancingest Little Town in America, a group of teenagers and one adult, 24-year-old James Kesterson, started the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers. Hendersonville had been the Home of the retired world champion North Carolina Cloggers and a bit of their influence can be seen in the Blue Ridge Mountain Dancers.”

At The Foot Of Richard Williams’ Fine Pete Seeger Tribute
on the Guardian site: Seeger jeans, just in…

Seeger

Happy Traum, Interviewed By Ken Hunt, 1981, Found On rocksbackpages.com
Happy: “It seems to me that folk music is a very funny form musically, because it can be easily a kind of dead issue. I think that’s the way many people do folk music; when it’s put in those terms, it really can lose the vitality that it’s supposed to have. So, naturally I’m attracted to people who can take folk songs and make them alive and make them exciting, without necessarily turning them into something different. I mean, you could play folk songs with a symphonic orchestra or you can play folk songs with a rock and roll band, but it will very often lose the essence just as much as if somebody’s doing an old Burl Ives imitation, which also loses the essence to me. But when Ry Cooder plays a folk song, most of the time he keeps the essential things about that music that attracts me to it and yet at the same time adds something which is fresh and different. So that’s one of the reasons why I think both he and Taj Mahal are very important. Because they take those old songs and add a life to them.”

Excerpt From Neil Young’s Grammy Speech (Producers & Engineers Wing)
“So this is a cool night because we’re all here together… A lot of us, you know, producers and engineers –I’m kind of a producer, partially, an engineer, I’m not really good at either one. It’s hurt my records in the past. We’re performance-oriented: technical things don’t matter that much. That’s only one way of making records. A lot of you out here are craftsmen: just beautiful records, and take great care with every note. And I know I’m not one of them. I like to capture the moment. I like to record the moment. I like to get the first time that I sung the song. I like to get the first time the band plays the song. So there’s a lot of compromises you make to get that feeling, but in the long run, that’s where the pictures are when I hear my words and when I see the pictures while I’m listening. So that’s what we try to record.

I love you all people, because I know what you’re doing. I know how crazy you are about all the things that I don’t care about. Sometimes you make great records, and it’s fantastic. They’re not like my records – sometimes I can’t feel them, but I really appreciate them. No, sometimes I can feel them and I go, “Holy shit, how did they do that? How did they make that record? I know they layered it – it’s not like a documentary where something happens and you take a picture, cinema verite. This is a movie: somebody created all the scenes, and there was the dialogue, and then they did the dialogue again, and there was the foley to do the sounds, and they did all the stuff, and everything’s perfect – but it’s still good.”

There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just a different way of doing it than I could ever do, because I have so little ability to do that, that it would really suck: over and over again, getting it right. That’s why I’m flat, that’s why it doesn’t matter that there’s bad notes. That doesn’t mean it’s not production – it just means it’s the kind of production that we do.

Some people are here tonight that I’ve worked with over the ages that are just really incredible people. Al Schmitt’s here tonight… because he’s the father of what’s going on here, and he’s still here. He has staying power. And he was recording the way that I want to record now. I’m going to make a record with Al – we’re talking about making a record together where there’s only one mic, but we do a huge orchestra. And when we finish doing that performance, and every guy’s standing the right length from the mic: the background vocal is like “hey-hey-hey,” and of course I’m up here, but they’re right there, so it sounds like that there. So we’re going to do it that way. We’re not going to mix it: we’re going to do it, and mix it while we do it. Everybody can get in the right place, and if it’s not right – well, we’ll move the bass up. Move the bass closer. It’s not loud enough? Move the amp closer, then! It sounds good, but it’s just too quiet, so move it up. Move it in, and the drums? Leave it over there, go back farther.

Do you know how fun that is to do? That is so much fun. It’s like playing music – it’s not making music, it’s playing it… There’s something that happens with one mic. I’ve just never been able to do that, with some rare instances like when I record in a recording booth from a 1940s state fair. I got that sound by closing myself into a telephone booth. And I notice, it sounds just like an old record. And I like the sound of old records! I’ve always loved that.

The thing we do is, we make great stuff in the studio and then we kiss its ass goodbye, because nobody’s ever going to hear it. That’s unfortunate, and it didn’t used to be that way. That’s something that happened to us – that’s an injury we sustained, and it deeply hurt us. So the time has come for us to recover and to bring music back to the people in a way that they can recognize it in their souls – through the window of their souls, their ears. So they can feel and vibrate and so that they can get goosebumps. We cherish those fucking goosebumps. We really need those.”

Some Non-Folk: I walked between the raindrops…
…to work, eschewing my usual Boris Bike, and “Day Dream”, the Ellington/Strayhorn song on Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi album, sneaked into my earphones. It’s really something, and somehow I’d never properly listened to it before – Joshua Redman on burnished tenor duetting with Toussaint’s exquisite piano. It makes time stand still as I walk past a hundred people standing in the rain in Rathbone Place, victims of a fire alarm drill. It comes to an end as I cross the coffee shop threshold, usurped by Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” as I stand in line behind Ian Hislop and Andy Hamilton catching up with one another.
nb, from Michael Hill’s liner notes on Nonesuch Records’ website: Apparently, Redman nailed his solo on the first take. Toussaint praises Redman’s “beautiful tone. I could just listen to him alone, solo. I’d love to catch him on a street corner somewhere. And everyone was hip to him much more than I was. When I told my son about him, he said, ‘Oh yes, he’s the bomb.’ And my son was right. Joshua is a marvelous musician. He’s finely tuned to what he’s looking for in his sound; he doesn’t accept stock.”

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