Tuesday, May 10th

A chance stumbling across a Bee Gees concert the other night while my mother was staying with us led to an across-the-board agreement that the Bros Gibb wrote some crackers, which then led on to an Al Green YouTube-athon, Al being one of my mother’s favourite singers. I said “You have to see this!” and lined up Al in 1973 doing the Robin and Barry Gibb classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (which I have previously mentioned here). That led on to many delights, but it was the Soul Train version of “Take Me to the River” that took the biscuit. With a horn intro that I’d swear was sampled by Gil Scott Heron for “B Movie”, the drummer starts working a storm up behind Al. Al whips his arm around in the air like he’s lassoing the band to join him in the river itself. The drummer holds back his fills ’til the last moment each time around. He’s playing a space age kit with bowl drums – I’ve never seen one like it before. Once you’ve spotted Homer Simpson’s face in those bowls, it’s hard not to keep seeing it. Make sure to play this loud – as Don Cornelius says at the end, it’s a Stone Gas…

Peter, Pale and Mary, anyone?


…is that, apart from spending a day with a really nice engaged group of people, you get a poster done for your visit, and in the case of working at Southampton for Chris Arran and Jonny Hanmsotonnah, a hand-crafted CD (Songs from the Mermaid Café , in association with Trunk Records, to tie in with Jonny’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park).It has now accompanied me on a few trips and is a fluid mixture of things known and unknown. We’ve long thrilled to the calypso stylings of Robert Mitchum, but were not au fait with Pinky Winters, whose “Cool Sazerac” is a highlight. My favourite track is not the title music to Kes, or even the beat-driven “Comin’ Home Baby”, by The Velvet Fog, Mr Mel Tormé, apparently a Northern Soul classic, and totally terrific. No, it’s the beautiful “Melodie Pour Les Radio Taxis”, played by Barney Wilen, Kenny Clarke, Kenny Dorham, Paul Rovere and Duke Jordan, from the soundtrack to Un Témoin Dans La Ville – totally unknown to me, but found by Jonny in the Trunk Record archives. Hear it in the music player to the right…
From a site devoted to Wilen: “The main character of his playing continues to lie in his even trajectory. His solos have a serene assurance which eschews dynamic shifts in favor of a single flowing line. With his tone still exceptionally bright and refined, it grants his playing a rare, persuasive power.”
And Jonny’s own liner notes are a treat: “The trunk itself has more than a touch of the Tardis about it. Once you open the lid, you soon find yourself diving in headlong, ’til only your loafers are seen popping out. And once the rummaging begins, there’s no possible way to stop. And why would you want to? This particular record shop, above us in the great internet wen, is far more interesting than anything you’ll find on most high streets…”

Dip into Tom’s book anywhere and you’ll be rewarded with a pithy take on his career at that point…
“And then an opportunity opens up for me to become a recording artist at the home of the world’s most notorious gangsta rap label… Tom Jones at Interscope. It couldn’t seem less likely. Of all the records companies in all the world, at this point in time. So suddenly my world is now Jimmy Iovine’s phonebook And Jimmy Iovone’s phone book is not short of numbers. Furthermore, during the making of the album we happily sign up for, he seems ready to use every single one of them…
Teddy Riley from the Backstreet Boys, the king of new jack swing, gets asked to produce some tracks. So does Jeff Lynne. So does Trevor Horn. So does Flood, who has worked with U2 and Nine Inch Nails. So does Youth, the techno and dub producer. So, for all I know, do any number of other people who aren’t too fussy about having a surname in 1994.
As the album comes together, Jimmy gets in touch. ‘I’ve been listening to everything , and it’s great,’ he says. ‘But I’m just trying to think of the track my mother is going to like.’ Seriously? Even now, at Interscope, with lethal rap acts down the hall and armed guards on the door, with money flying around to bring in the hippest producers and writers known to man, we’re still wondering how to please Jimmy Iovine’s mother?
Nothing against Jimmy Iovine’s mother, obviously.”
It’s a cracking read, poor proofreading notwithstanding (Porter Wagner? Shell Talmay?). And the CD that was released to tie in with the publication, Long Lost Suitcase, is a nice evocation of 50s music of all stripes, with one standout track – a version of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Elvis Presley Blues”. It was a strong song when it appeared on Time (The Revelator), but here it’s given depth by an arrangement brilliant in its simplicity – the only backing is producer Ethan Johns’ guitar over-amped and tremolo’d to the point of feedback, throbbing from left to right in the speakers, providing a bluesy plaincloth for Jones to sing over, just the right amount of unpolished. And Tom has something to give the song; after all, he knew Presley as peer and friend, and the lyric stares him in the face – “I was thinking that night about Elvis / Day that he died, day that he died/ He was all alone in a long decline…”

“Well, I played my clarinet, I mean I held my clarinet, through two holes, um, in a sound stage and lifted it, you know, miming, when the clarinet section played… no, I couldn’t play it, it was just my arms through the stage, I had no way of blowing, just my arms, I couldn’t see anything, the floorboards were very close to my nose…”

Marc Myers at JazzWax posts this incredibly weird clip: Ann Miller, tap dancing like a champion,while a disembodied orchestra plays…







Oh, and in a non-music-related way, this, by Charles Pierce for US Esquire, is worth reading…


Tuesday, April 12th

With a generic soundtrack halfway between Bowie’s “Heroes” and U2’s “Beautiful Day”, and created entirely from stock footage, this is one Presidential campaign ad you should watch. “Wherever I go… so do lens flares, and fields in sunlight…”

I’d finally managed to get tickets to see Melody Gardot, bought a few months ago, and then it happened that we needed to go to the US over the weekend that she was playing the Palladium (“Now this is a classy joint, got curtains and everything”, said Tom Waits in 1980 as he stood on its stage. “Ya should see some of the toilets we’ve been playing lately…”). So, I’m even more annoyed to have missed it when Kevin (who had kindly bought the tickets from me) texts a capsule review the day after: “Blinding gig! The girl’s got mojo running through her like rock has Brighton: muscular Muscle Shoals gospel blues, jazz ballads, New Orleans heat, Chicago melancholy and most of the Mississippi in between, with an odd Philly soul detour. Strong presence of the Female Holy Trinity throughout: Nina, Aretha and Janis, and the Ghost of Saturday Night himself.”

Ki&Ki. Gotta love something played with a spatula…


Bob sends a link to this beautiful piece about John Prine by Dan Barry of the New York Times, saying… “…the first graph is very nice, I think”. “A man in search of a pint found one in an Irish establishment in Midtown. He was short and everyday, save for his spikes of gray-white hair and a sizable indentation in his neck — the mark of something endured. He looked like a guy who’d been around, and was grateful to still be.”
It’s all great, I think. A little more:
“Then came the neck cancer, which Mr. Prine approached with wit and wonder to leaven the fear. His surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston fashioned a shield for his vocal cords — as if he were Pavarotti, Mr. Prine joked, instead of a performer who talked more than sang. “He was going to all this trouble,” he recalled, “and I finally said, ‘Have you ever heard me sing?’”
Prine also was an early crowdfunder: “He is also admired as a trailblazer for his early rejection of the recording-industry model, which he felt exploited singers and songwriters. When he co-founded an independent label, Oh Boy Records, in 1981, fans sent enough checks in advance of the next album that costs were already covered.”


I’m the target audience for this – in Jerry Garcia’s words I’m “Old and in the way…” and it’s a cool idea, but it missed several tricks, mostly musical. It was perfectly interesting (up to a point) but the archive footage and voiceovers were a disaster – if you’ve chosen to reassemble a (Japanese Tokai copy) Fender Stratocaster, then give us a little of Leo Fender and his brilliance, not a seen-a-thousand-times-before clip of girls screaming in 1964 at Keith Richards playing a Les Paul. Find out why the Strat’s the shape it is, interview some players, tell us why the tremolo bar came about – because James May’s bumbling Everyman is by now a fairly tired shtick. Hold on – why was it a copy? A new Fender’s only about £350…

From every record tells a story – a story of Exhibitionism and greed: “A Stones-branded football table is offered for £4,750, there’s a £2,500 backgammon set, a £940 record case and the most appalling smoking jacket based on Exile on Main St from Turnbull and Asser – a snip at £1,450. For those on relative budgets but still with money to burn there are Smythson notebooks (£50 each or £265 for a set) a £42.50 Steiff teddy, Lulu Guinness clutch bags (£295), or suitably gaudy Villebrequin swimming trunks (£180) and t-shirts (£85). Thank goodness there hasn’t been a global financial crisis and period of austerity recently…”


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