Friday, 12th June

It seems to be film week here at Five Things. Calum posts on his blog likeahammerinthesink about a film he made on his phone… “as I crossed between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island on the tramway. Then I re-shot the film through a mirrored box that I found one night on the King’s Road in Chelsea. I looked for songs that were exactly the same length as the footage (4’46”) and tried out various combinations. The juxtaposition of “No One is Lost” by Stars (a kind of disco-rock crossover number) with a kaleidoscopic view of New York, the Williamsburg Bridge and the East River worked…”


He’s then asked to take it down for copyright reasons by Vimeo, so he records caged birds in Tooting’s covered market and uses that as the soundtrack instead. However, should you want, you can start his film on Vimeo at the same time as starting the Stars song on YouTube, and enjoy it as its creator intended, the mirrored box making the images come kaleidoscopically alive.

It took me back to a time when, as students at Chelsea we found tins of 16mm offcuts outside a Wardour Street editing suite and cut them randomly together, playing it back with a soundtrack of equally random records. There are always moments where the sound and picture line up to make something so right that it seems planned. That happens here as the cars emerge out of the ground to perfectly-timed synth throbs, and the struts of the bridge arrive on screen at the same time as the drums recede…

That, having brilliantly embodied MLK in Selma, David Oyelowo is playing Nina Simone’s personal assistant in the troubled biopic, Nina – hey, what other kind of biopic is there? With social media as it stands you can inflame a lot of people, a lot of the time, often over nothing, or nothing that most of them know about. Nina is played by American/Domenican actress Zoe Saldana (whose husband, Marco Perego, took her surname when they got married). “I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either. An artist is colorless, genderless… It’s more complex than just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-alike to play a dark, strikingly beautiful, iconic black woman.’ The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it.”

That there’s also a new Nina documentary premiering on Netflix on June 24, What Happened, Miss Simone?, directed by Liz Garbus. She made the brilliant Love, Marilyn. She also made the excellent Bobby Fisher Against The World – her titles are always good, as is her production company’s name, Moxie Firecracker. [As an aside, her favorite songs are “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze, and “Mesmerizing” by Liz Phair].

Her father is the legendary civil rights attorney, Martin Garbus, who represented Daniel Ellsberg and Lenny Bruce among countless others. His book, Tough Talk: How I Fought for Writers, Comics, Bigots, and the American Way sounds a must-read.

Liz Garbus grew up knowing Simone, and the film looks a cracker… Variety’s Scott Foundas: “Garbus limits the third-party talking heads to Simone’s close friends and collaborators (including her longtime guitarist and musical director Al Shackman), but smartly resists turning the movie into a pageant of present-day testimonials about the singer’s influence and legacy. Mostly, she just lets Simone take the stage, reasoning that the best way to understand her is through her songs – performances in which Simone seems to be pouring out every ounce of herself, the music flowing through her like an electric current, her voice echoing forth as if from some place deep inside the earth”. Watch the trailer here.

Jonny Trunk, Trunk Records: “And let’s all hope today is better than yesterday, with three extraordinary deaths all in row – of people who have certainly shaped my life in one way or another: Christopher Lee, Ron Moody and Ornette Coleman. I remember getting phone calls from Mr Lee when I first issued The Wicker Man. He used to phone up on a regular basis and sing “Tinker Of Rye” down the phone. One day, he phoned and I wasn’t in – these were pre-mobile days. My flat mate answered the phone and told him I was out. He asked, “are you Christopher Lee by any chance?”. “Why, yes”, came the reply – “how did you know it was me?”. Well I recognised your voice Mr Lee, from all those classic horror films you made”. “Horror!”, shouted Mr Lee – “I don’t do horror!” and slammed down the phone. He will be sorely missed, certainly around central London where he used to spook about the place, signing anything he was involved with (posters, soundtracks, you name it). There was (to me) another classic Christopher Lee moment, when he put some of his possessions into a James Bond sale at Christies in the 1990s. He put in a pair of his white Scaramanga loafers – both signed inside in black pen of course. Trouble was, he’d put in two left shoes. Brilliant.

As for Ron Moody, there will be his odd and only LP up for 50p next week, and I will be playing Coleman’s Chappaqua Suite, made for Conran Rook’s Chappaqua film but [judged] “too beautiful to use” on tomorrow’s OST Show.” Watch this mashed-up trailer made for it recently (not using Coleman’s score, but extraordinary nonetheless.

Various mentions of Mary Margaret O’Hara this week also synchronise with me finding a Canadian musicians’ tribute album to The Band, presented by Garth Hudson (who plays on every track). It came out in 2010 and, I guess like biopics, there’s good and there’s bad. As usual, those who cleave too closely fail, and those who dive in with both feet win. I think this is the best track by far, a forgotten song that was tacked onto the Last Waltz album, a song which pointed ahead to the style that Robbie Robertson would adopt for his first solo album, a glassy atmosphere of synths and chiming guitars. Robbie’s singing had vastly improved from “To Kingdom Come” on Music from Big Pink, but I think MM O’H has more to give the song or – it may be more accurate to say – to drag out of it.

Friday, 5th June

As the posters in the U.S. said – “Back by Unpopular Demand”. And summed up better than I can by Every Record Tells a Story: “So what of the 2015 version of the band? They can’t continue to be the angry young men they were thirty years ago, surely? So where does that leave them? Difficult also to be a nostalgia act if hardly anyone bought your records or saw you play all those years ago… What the packed audience at The Roundhouse saw last night was a band at the top of its game… there was plenty of good-humoured horseplay and bad cover songs (what better way to subvert one of your best and most powerful songs than to segue neatly into “My Boy Lollipop”?). Westerberg forgot words, messed up songs at will and yet kept a smile on his face. He’s like the punk Eric Morecambe, playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. However, this apparent self-sabotage no longer damages The Replacements’ reputation, as it did in the eighties, but now enhances it.”


It was a sustained assault that made you feel like you were watching the best punk band there had ever been, only with stellar added melodies. Westerberg is a force to behold: a cracking guitarist with a real signature sound (the intro music was The Faces – Westerberg would have fitted in with them pretty well); a great lyricist whose songs are still a perfect fit 30 years on; and a fantastic front man, funny and fearless. The heartbeat bass of Tommy Stinson – looking like a scarecrow Sid Vicious – was on the money in every song, and he seemed delirious with the pleasure of having virtually every person in the room singing the songs back at them. And that’s not to mention (no-one does in any of the reviews I’ve found) the sizeable contributions of second guitarist Dave Minehan and drummer Josh Freese, who powers the whole thing with unstinting energy and precision. It was joyful, totally joyful.

Ever wondered where the ubiquitous Nokia Ringtone came from? Mr Hyde (Shortlist magazine’s email newsletter) tells us. It’s at 0:12.

That John May has started a free newspaper in Brighton following on from his success doing the same in Lewes (see fan, L Cohen pictured below). Hats off to a really nice design job by Raphael Whittle, too. John got in touch to find out about Doug Dobell’s short-lived Brighton Record Shop, as I have various photos of it, taken by my dad. I remembered everything I could, then checked with my mum, who revealed that I was wrong on nearly every count. There – that shows you the importance of primary research. John’s CV is extremely impressive, and now that I’ve discovered his blog, The Generalist, I may have to take time off work wondering back through its archive.


An interesting, but slightly underdeveloped, film – the NS story in 30 minutes? Please! Best section comes when she goes to meet Al Shackman, who played guitar with Simone for years. With Bush Ranger hat and a barely-amped 335, he shares fascinating memories before they tiptoe through Rogers & Hart’s “Little Girl Blue” rather exquisitely. At one point they show the original Bethlehem cover of her first album, with its wonderful tagline: “Jazz as played in an Exclusive Side Street Club” over a photo of Nina in Central Park wrapped in a blanket. Looking for it I found the second album with another photo from the Central Park shoot. “An intimate variety of vocal charm”. You said it, brother.


Talking back and forth with my friend Graham, after he had played the Rubaiyats “Omar Khayyam” to open a recent episode of his excellent weekly radio show, The Eclectic Eel (which can be found on Mixcloud), I discover from him that it’s by Allen Toussaint. How many strings can one man have to his bow? If Five Things had a radio show, the Eel would be it – “music and sounds from across genres, eras and continents”.

Five Things, Wednesday 15th October

Who’s in charge?
From Roy Keane’s slightly mad new autobiography, The Second Half: “It might seem strange but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music. A young lad might want to put on the latest sound; an older player might say: ‘I’m the senior player’ and put himself in charge. But I noticed none of the players [at Sunderland] were in charge of the music and this was a concern for me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’ The last song before the players went on to the pitch was “Dancing Queen” by Abba. What really worried me was that none of the players – not one – said: ‘Get that shit off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ “Dancing Queen.” It worried me. I didn’t have as many leaders as I thought.”

Hedi Slimane: Sonic
No, I didn’t see this, but Steve’s partner Fiona did, and writes about it on her always interesting fashion blog, Something I’m Working On. “A couple of years ago, when I was Art Director of Russian Vogue, I used to design the covers and fashion stories Hedi Slimane shot for us. Among other things, this involved trying to reason with his agent about how to leave a white border of exactly one centimetre around Hedi’s photographs without cropping the photographs, despite the fact that Hedi’s photographs were not the same shape as our pages. Hedi is (understandably) passionate about his pictures, and the way they are presented. Hedi likes to be in control. Which is why (a) this exhibition is gorgeous, and (b) it’s so fascinating: the subject matter – the music scene – after all, is pretty much the opposite of control.” The exhibition is at the Fondation Pierre Bergé/Yves Saint Laurent in Paris until January 11, 2015.

Terry Cryer’s Best Shot, The Guardian
Glad to see that Terry chose this lovely photo of George Lewis and Joe Watkins at Ken Colyer’s Studio 51 in 1957. It’s been one of my favourites ever since I came across it when we put together the book about Ken. Terry was by far the best photographer of that whole pre-rock scene, and his shots really stand out, partly from his use of a large format camera, partly from his clever use of flash. He was great at capturing the joy of an audience, to which this picture testifies. [It’s the square picture to the right of Bob recording Highway 61…]

Wall of Loft

Greetings from Darktown!
And strangely, that very day, I had made a mask from Terry’s photo of Ken and Sister Rosetta Tharpe [the largest of the rectangular pics above], as Jonny Hannah’s book launch insisted that entry was contingent on wearing a mask – the invite included a pre-cut mask shape that the invitee had to customise in some way. Having just given a rave review to his book in Eye magazine, I didn’t want to miss it but arrived late, only catching the last part of Sandy Dillon and Ray Major’s spooky sounding set (more on this in the Five Things End of Year roundup). But I do get to congratulate Jonny (a nicer fellow you won’t meet) and pick up a copy of the book in a hand drawn carrier bag (see below). I chose the Flying V as it seemed an odd choice of guitar for a man obsessed with Hank Williams. Although, after Jonny waxed eloquent about the beauty of the Flying V, it made more sense.


“Birds flying high, you know how I feel…”
Driving through sheets of rain just outside Colchester, with Nina Simone on the car stereo, singing Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”. And as she leans into the last verse, Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky/how sweet it would be if I found I could fly, the rain stops and hundreds of swallows swoop from the trees to begin a murmuration, wheeling like a storm cloud against the suddenly bright sky.

Extra! Up Close with Robin Bannerjee
At dinner with my mother at a local bar, we luck into a set from Verity Guthrie and Robin Bannerjee. I am so close to Robin that I can feel the chord changes. And they’re great chord changes. Robin was Amy Winehouse’s guitarist (see the wonderful Other Voices performance in Dingle) and tonight he’s partnering the sultry voice of Verity Guthrie. He loops his rhythm part so he can solo over it, pulls out songs from his depthless folder and gets Verity to find the words on her iPhone, and generally plays a blinder. We have to leave before they finish, so I don’t get the chance to request Tom Waits’ Old Boyfriends, a number they would kill. Next time.Robin

Five Things, Wednesday 20th August

Stephen Fry talking to Professor John Mullan, on Reading Aloud, R4
“We take for granted, that this thing we have, this language, this sound of the tongue hitting the back of our teeth and the labials and the dentals and the fricatives, and all these strange little things our mouths can do – has a beauty, it can dance in our head – and when the words are the words of a magician, a great, great writer then the rhythm and the flow and the glide of language in one’s ear is a solace and a beauty that very little else can replace, wouldn’t you agree?”

Leonard Cohen, “Almost Like The Blues”
First song from Leonard’s latest album, the wonderfully titled Popular Problems. And it’s sounding pretty fine, continuing the minimal late-night urban blues feel that he’s lately found. And featuring, of course, the mordant and downbeat lyrics that he writes so well:
I saw some people starving/There was murder, there was rape
Their villages were burning/They were trying to escape
I couldn’t meet their glances
/I was staring at my shoes
It was acid, it was tragic/It was almost like the blues/It was almost like the blues”
Interesting that both he and Dylan are staking out a claim on this wellspring territory as they age – there’s something so natural about their voices negotiating that I-IV chord change.

“I’m not a morose person, I just like morose music!”
Malcolm Gladwell on Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” on Desert Island Discs: “To my mind, music is at its finest when it explores the melancholy side of human nature. And [this song] has the most depressing opening couplet, I think, in the history of modern music… I mean it’s an extraordinary achievement! “With the money from her accident, she bought herself a mobile home/So at least she could get some enjoyment out of being alone…” I don’t think you can top that. The achievement of bringing someone to tears is infinitely greater than the achievement of bringing them to laughter. I happen to be obsessed with this notion: we laugh all the time, and easily… and yet we continue to reward people who bring us to laughter, as if it’s some great feat. It’s not, it’s the easiest thing in the world. I will make you laugh over the next whatever minutes. I will not make you cry. I am simply not good enough to make you cry. So I think that people who bring us at least to the brink of tears are geniuses, and to do it in two lines? I’m ready to be moved after I hear those two lines…”

Willy DeVille
When the internet isn’t trying to sell me Michael Kors handbags or Oakley sunglasses, it can be a very useful thing. And after reading Thom Hickey’s Immortal Jukebox on Willy (Mink) DeVille, I went on a YouTube bender. And what terrific stuff I found. I hadn’t appreciated how good he was, and why Jack Nitzsche (a man with pretty stellar taste, if you look at a list of his collaborations) why so enamoured of him. There’s a really nice Dutch fan film in five parts and a great set from Montreux with Freddy Koella on guitar. Larger than life, and cooler than Keith Richard.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last of the Belles
Reading this brilliantly written and poignant short story, I liked this paragraph’s description of the narrator’s unattainable love-interest, Ailie Calhoun, and the country club’s Saturday night:
“On Saturday night she and Bill Knowles came to the country club. They were very handsome together and once more I felt envious and sad. As they danced out on the floor the three-piece orchestra was playing “After You’ve Gone”, in a poignant incomplete way that I can hear yet, as if each bar were trickling off a precious minute of that time. I knew then that I had grown to love Tarleton, and I glanced about half in panic to see if some face wouldn’t come in for me out of that warm, singing, outer darkness that yielded up couple after couple in organdie and olive drab.  It was a time of youth and war, and there was never so much love around”. Which sent me looking for versions of “After You’ve Gone” and finding rather lovely ones by Dinah Washington (great, as you’d imagine), Chet Atkins & Suzy Bogguss (cute and jazzy, and I dug the twin guitars), Written in 1918 (when the story was set by FSF) and covered by Bessie Smith, Judy Garland and, oh, nearly everyone in the world. But Nina Simone’s version? That’s something special. Live in a small club with an almost out-of-focus backing – bass, drums and guitar – there’s a great build and release into her piano solo, and a fantastic vocal throughout.



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