In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part One)

VISUAL OF THE WEEK: 1
In the post: US Post Office stamps in honour of Janis Joplin.

JanisstampsIF YOU MISSED THIS…
I really loved this set of photos taken in the early days of CBGB, shared on Marc H Miller’s 99 Bowery site. “Our first photograph of Bettie with the movers and shakers was taken during our very first visit to the club in late 1976. Standing alone by the bar was one of Bettie’s favorite performers, the poet-rocker Patti Smith. At home at CBGB and a wee bit tipsy, Patti was more than happy to oblige our request for a picture with Bettie. Soon we were CBGB regulars, checking out the different bands and slowly adding to our collection of pictures. Although the buzz about CBGB was growing, the place was still a neighborhood bar where future rock legends were just as likely to be hanging out and drinking by the pinball machine as performing on stage. As our “Paparazzi Self-Portraits” morphed into “Bettie Visits CBGB,” we saw our photographs as a reflection of the new aesthetic emerging, a contradictory mix of high and low culture energized by fun and humor, the lure of fame and fortune, and a cynical appreciation of the power of a good hype.” I mostly love the fact that Bettie’s rather demure and straightforward gaze rarely falters.

PAOLO CONTI AT THE BARBICAN
For Simon’s big birthday I had wanted to get the two of us tickets to see Jerry Lee Lewis at the Palladium (We’d been to the Wembley Country Festival together in the late 70s and seen The Killer top the bill, but I was too late). Searching around I realised that someone I’d wanted to see, Paulo Conte, was at the Barbican in November. I know what you’re thinking – it’s his birthday, not mine. In my favour, Simon loves Naples and has visited it many times. Also, he has very wide-ranging musical tastes, from The Singing Postman – he’s an East Anglian boy, after all – to the Folk Songs of Georgia. We both loved Conte, conducting proceedings with arms down at his side, rather like Chaplin, his waggling hands giving prompts to the musicians. And what musicians! A brilliant, blazing orchestra – oboe, a horn section that included a baritone sax, violin, accordion, vibraphone, organ, bass, drums and piano. Oh, and three guitarists – a formidable sound when they locked-in for any gypsy jazz passages. My recall of the specifics of the gig is less than perfect: I had been in an, um, traffic incident the previous day but had not wanted to let Simon down, so arrived at the venue lightly concussed. The next day I had a dim memory of Simon, apropos the incredible audience reaction toward the end of the two-hour show (abandoned dancing in the aisles, general screaming and mayhem), telling me of the night that he saw BB King in Naples. I emailed, asking him to fill me in…

SIMON’S BB KING/ITALIAN FOOTBALL INTERFACE
“I went to see BB King one hot night about twenty-five years ago in a vast tent in the outskirts of Naples. He played this grand stately blues instrumental that lasted about fifteen minutes, after which the entire audience responded in kind by singing the Napoli football anthem – for about 5 minutes! BB just had to stand there and make I love you all-type gestures til the frenzy abated…”

He then follows this with a second email: “I’ve got my football seasons muddled up – well it was last century. They won the league in 1986-87 (the Napoli flag on the wall over my bed says so!). The next season they were pipped to the post by the dreaded AC Milan (who sing some horrible song about Neapolitans living on a dunghill) after losing 2-3 to them at home in April/May, a week or so after that over-optimistic evening serenading BB King. I watched the match on TV with my friend Antonio in his flat in the Spanish Quarter. Milan scored first and everything went very quiet. Then Maradona equalised and the whole street went out on to their balconies and did a little jig and sang their Ole’s. Then Milan scored again – silencio. Careca equalised and we all went out onto the balconies again. Then Van Basten scored a third for Milan. Cacca frita! The next day Naples – which was normally totally manic – was like a city of the dead…

He adds a postscript: “This was happening just weeks before Maradona’s Napoli won the Scudetto for the first time – hence all the footie madness. The city was full of the sound of aerosol trompetti and every shrine seemed to have a prayer for Diego.” Here’s Simon’s version of the shrines, and how the streets of Napoli looked at the time:

maradona

BEST COAST IN LESS-THAN-SUNNY BRIXTON
Dotter and I met up with “lovely Brett” around an old piano in a Brixton pub. We talked of car crashes and old guitars and amplifiers until Brett looked at his watch, announced that he had to go to work, and headed off to play bass for Best Coast. California pop indoors at night, and sounding just fine.

! BrettPOSTSCRIPT
I was talking to Tim about getting tickets to see the Allen Toussaint Band at the Barbican this Sunday. I’d last seen him at Ronnie Scott’s in April last year in the company of Richard Williams, who was going to interview him the next day. Here’s Richard on his surprise encore that night. It was a wonderful, warm show, by a truly talented musician, and it was so sad to hear the news yesterday. I’ll cue up “Tipitina and Me” from the post-Katrina fundraising album – a beautifully measured and melancholy version of the Professor Longhair classic. As “Thank You”, his tribute to Longhair, says: “Thank you, Lord, for this very special man/and thank you for letting me be/around to see/one as great as he…” Here are my memories of that night at Ronnie’s, and the music player on the right has live versions of “Thank You” and “Freedom for the Stallion”.

Part Two on Friday with Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible (a punk event at Central St Martins), The Aberlour Voice-O-Graph and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, 4th February

This week I’m trying out some new categories, which I’ll probably end up junking as it becomes too hard to shoehorn things into them. Anyway, for now I’m going with Something I Learned, I Know Nothing! (aka Things to Investigate), Song of the Week, Visual of the Week, Oh God, Not That Again…, and On the Playlist this Week. We’ll see how it goes.

SONG OF THE WEEK
FourFiveSeconds: Improbably wonderful strumalong from Sir Paul, Rihanna and Kanye West. Paul roughly bangs out the chords on an acoustic, Rihanna gives it some throaty passion and Kanye whines away while a toddler gurgles. Two times through, then it all stops and an organ starts for the gospel middle eight (it’s like there wasn’t even time to work on a smooth transition – the guitar just stops and the organ starts). This is where Rihanna takes it to church, with a particularly lovely Bonnie Raitt-like bit of bluesy melody in there. For the last time through the verse, a deep guitar joins for a little rough-edged zooming up and down the frets. For 3.08 everything’s alright in the world. Sometimes simple works.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
Barbara Anderson of Lausanne, Switzerland asks the Guardian Notes & Queries: How different would life on Earth be with no moon? At the end of a very learned explanation of the four reasons life would be very different, Adam Rutherford, an editor at the science magazine Nature, writes: “So a moonless Earth would have no seasons, no tides but a lot of wobble, a fat middle, very short days and no owls, bats or moths. More importantly, Creedence Clearwater Revival would never have written “Bad Moon Rising”, and that would mean hurricanes a blowing, and the end coming soon.” Adam lists his interests as Science, cured meats and movies. Good man.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
Also from the Guardian, an extraordinary piece on “Bone Music”, music pressed onto X-Rays in Russia during the Cold War (yes, I checked that the date wasn’t April 1st). Pete Paphides writes about Stephen Coates of ‘antiquarian art-poppers’ the Real Tuesday Weld.
“The clamour among young Russians for jazz and rock’n’roll during the cold war years is brought home by the range of materials on show at X-Ray Audio [an exhibition at the Horse Hospital, London]. Unofficial recordings weren’t pressed only on to x-rays – there are records made from road signs and circular cake plinths. Coates and Aleks Kolkowski will present an evening of stories and demonstrations of the recording process in action, at which Kolkowski – the owner of a 1940s recording lathe – will record on to x-rays. “One thing this has shown me is that the format is completely integral to the listening experience,” explains Kolkowski, who also “repurposes” unwanted CDs by etching grooves into them, adjusting the hole in the middle and creating five-inch jukebox records. “CDs actually sound fantastic once you make them into actual records.”

xray

There’s something oddly poignant about watching a record player stylus suck music – in this case, a doo wop song by the Ravens – out of the grooves of a CD. There’s some background noise, though nothing quite like the extraneous noise that comes with bone music. Later that day, I speak with Greg Milner, whose 2009 book Perfecting Noise Forever remains the definitive book on the history of recorded music. “We need to get out of that mindset that background noise happens at the expense of clarity. In the course of my research I listened to cylinders of performances that date back over 100 years ago. It’s hard to explain it, but you registered an acute presence in those recordings that was undeniable.” Kolkowski agrees. “Humans like to hear things that sound like recordings, but the imperfections – the hisses and crackles – make us listen a bit harder. Reaching for perfection is more rewarding to the ears, whereas modern digital recordings deliver perfection directly. Somehow, without the effort, some of the satisfaction is taken away.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Natalie Prass’s Taped-up Epiphone, one way to stop feedback

 NP

OH GOD, NOT THAT AGAIN…
Ok, I promise that this is the last time I write about “Uptown Funk”. Having properly listened to it, it strikes me as a total Was (Not Was) rip off. Something like “Hello Operator” or one of my favourite (bracketed) titles of all time – “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. Somehow I found this nicely done version of Obama singing it…

I KNOW NOTHING!*
I don’t know anything about Paolo Conte, really, but people I trust have mentioned him at various points the past year. This week Richard Williams retweeted Clive Davis’ link to Conte performing “Madeleine” with a great band, making music that conjours up every Italian film you’ve ever seen. This song features two pianists playing at one piano – as they finish the song, he strolls behind them and blows on their heads in turn. Brilliant. So I downloaded a couple of tracks, one of which, “Clown”, has a sensational melody and an extraordinary swirling (military drumming, accordions, clarinets, several pianos) build-up to its instrumental finale. It’s stunning.
*[Please feel free to apply in writing for a full list of all the things I don’t know].

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Three from Was (Not Was): The pellucid “Baby Mine”, possibly the greatest of all Disney songs, given a compelling reading by guest Bonnie Raitt, with Paul Jackson Jnr on the weeping & sighing guitar and gorgeous hints of doo-wop in the backing vox. That’s followed by “Hello Operator (I mean Dad, I mean Police)” where you can dig the party atmosphere and the Defunkt-like horns. We finish with “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. A cracking synth intro, a touch of The Look of Love strings, and a lyric from the August Darnell school of 12-inch short stories (think “There But For the Grace of God Go I”). Stick around for the magic outro where they list what happens when the “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks…” and out comes Trotsky, Coltrane, and Che Guevara. Of course.

And yes, I’m aware that tonight I should be listening to Shadows In The Night. “Autumn Leaves” sounds pretty cool, and I’m loving the steel guitar of Donnie Herron. And the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) interview is great. ’Til next week…

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