Wednesday, August 2nd

ONE ROCK REFERENCES EVERYWHERE…

5-tiger

For this one, we have Tiger (the Danish retailer, a “celebration of all things fun and creative”) to thank. Which leads us neatly on to…

TWO ROCK ’N’ ROLL GUNS FOR HIRE
Subtitled The Story Of The Sideman, this was an enjoyable, if slightly repetitious, watch, that sadly proved why most sidemen are sidemen. There’s an artistic gulf between being a great musician playing anything brilliantly at the drop a hat, and an artist with something to say, who realises that he needs people who can play anything brilliantly at the… you get the picture. Presenter Earl Slick was as r ’n’ r as they come, even when he was chopping wood outside his cabin in upstate New York, but the moment that he and Bernard Fowler (second vocalist, the Rolling Stones) start in on the Bowie stuff – oh, mama, hands in front of your face time.

THREE SORT-OF-SATISFIED SIDIES
Steve Cropper, perfect sideman, relished the role and was happy and content, as he’d written some of soul music’s most cherished – and lucrative – songs (see One). Wendy and Lisa found their version of success by branching away from the frontman role into award-winning tv and movie scoring. They are so openly in love with music-making that the scenes of them in the studio playing and talking, were the programme’s most interesting. Here’s the bit when Wendy realises that something has gone wrong…

Prince (in the film Purple Rain) “This is a song the girls in the band wrote – Lisa and Wendy…”
Wendy Melvoin: “The song “Purple Rain” – in the movie he says, I’d like to perform a song the girls wrote… I had an interview and someone misquoted me, asked Did you write “Purple Rain”, and the answer in print was Yes. I get a phone call from Prince, and he’s extremely upset. “Why did you say that? Do you think you wrote “Purple Rain”?” And I said, “Stop. No, but we helped you”.

Prince walked in the room and said, here’s the chord progressions… I thought to myself that’s like a Country progression, and what I pride myself on is finding a way to re-harmonise something that’s very simple. So, I played the chords, but I stretched bottom notes and I put ninths, different shades… here comes the chords… [Wendy plays beautiful suspensions over Lisa’s piano, creating the gorgeous feel that we know and love].

“Did I write “Purple Rain”? Neoowww. But would “Purple Rain” have been the song that you hear to this day without chef [meaning herself] coming in – this is the dish I wanna cook, I’ve assembled a crew here – what are we gonna do? I wanted to be a great guitar player in a great band. I wanted to be a great player. But there’s ambivalence about that role that I had, and what I knew Lisa and I were giving him.

I did have moments of anger at him – I always wanted him to say, You are great! God, I couldn’t do this without you… that didn’t come out of his mouth. Prince made it perfectly clear that if you had that role, and you were next to him, playing, that was his validation. In the spirit of full disclosure, I wanted his validation… But when it came right down to it, he had every right to ignore you. He hired you. He wanted to do this thing, and he was signed to Warner Brothers. And it wasn’t specified, there wasn’t a distinction made that You are now going to partake in my soup. It was just like – This is gonna be awesome, aren’t you going to be having fun? I’m having fun. And we’re like Yeaaahhh!

FOUR ANOTHER SIDEMEN MOVIE!
Now, this movie here, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, celebrates three sidemen of the blues: Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Looks good. I remember seeing Willie with Muddy Waters at, I want to say the Edmonton Sundown (or maybe it was The Rainbow), and for half the gig I was convinced that Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was the star of the show. The rest of the band kept great time and Willie played his thing, song after song, a brilliant dancing, shuffling beat. He could play the slowest blues and make it move and groove. Here’s a nice ’76 concert in Dortmund, from around that time. Check out “Long Distance Call” at around 48 minutes, his cymbals following James Portnoy’s harp. Wonderful.

FIVE ROOTS, RADICALS AND ROCKERS AT THE LIBRARY
Billy brings the music home to America – whilst explaining the twist given to it by Britain’s jazzers, skifflers, and bluesers – talking to an audience at the Library of Congress. It took place, worryingly, in the Mumford Room. My researches don’t reveal if it’s named after Marcus Mumford or not. I’m hoping not. [Thanks to Charlie Banks for the link.]

PLUS…
So many good pieces to read in the last few weeks. Here’s two – Patti Smith’s farewell to her friend Sam Shepard in the New Yorker and Richard William’s lovely note about Shepard’s co-write with Bob Dylan on “Brownsville Girl”, one of the great vocal performances in the whole of American music.

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Extra, April 22nd: Gotta Broken Heart Again

purple

 

Five Things: Wednesday 26th February

Of Time And The City
I caught twenty minutes of Terence Davies’ great half doc/half memoir, his love letter to Liverpool. From the Korean War footage, overlaid by the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” – a mixture that shouldn’t work, but does – through Terry’s hilariously voiced-over Yeah Yeah Yeahs when the Beatles come on-screen, to the stunning slum clearance/building of the tower-blocks sequence set to Peggy Lee singing “The Folks Who Live On The Hill”, it never fails to move. If you’ve not seen it, you can watch that scene here.

Jason Wood: The film shows you a Liverpool beyond The Beatles and football, which is what people tend to think about when they think about the city. Your narration is very significant. It lends character because it is so impassioned.

Terence Davies: What was odd was that I was writing this commentary as I was doing it and recording it as a rough guide. We got someone to do part of the narration, but it just didn’t work and the producers said, No, you must do it. I was worried that when you hear your own voice, it can sound a bit like the Queen Mother after she died. All my films have strong Liverpool accents. It always makes me feel a bit embarrassed… At one point they asked me to put in how I lost my accent and I said, “You can’t be serious? You really can’t be serious? I’m not doing that.” I was worried and I was staying with my sister Maisie and I said, “When did I lose my accent?” and she said, “You never had one!”

I have no illusions about my work but I must add I have no illusions about anybody else’s either. I am very strict with myself and I think, “no, that could have been improved”. It was what I thought was right at the time – and you have to stand by that. And if it completely fails, you have got to say, “But that is what I meant at the time.” There’s a line by Vaughan Williams, I think it’s on his Sixth Symphony, when he says, “I don’t know whether I like it, but it is what I meant.” And that’s a wonderful thing to say upon your own work.

Tim Sends This Link
…to Postmodern Jukebox’s rather lovely twenties-styled version of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, perhaps inspired by Bryan Ferry’s take on his back catalogue. “My goal with Postmodern Jukebox is to get my audience to think of songs not as rigid, ephemeral objects, but like malleable globs of silly putty. Songs can be twisted, shaped, and altered without losing their identities – just as we grow, age, and expire without losing ours – and it is through this exploration that the gap between “high” and “low” art can be bridged most readily.” – Scott Bradlee, founder. Well, OK, Scott! File alongside The Ukelele Orchestra Of Great Britain and Pink Martini. Oh, and the Sad-Faced-Clown version of “Royals” rocks, too. Are you listening, Michael B?

A Quote I Really Liked
Laura Barton talking to Willy Vlautin, singer/guitarist with Richmond Fontaine: We’re sitting in an empty London pub, where the clipped twang of Vlautin’s Nevada accent seems to lift the gloom. Though he now lives in Oregon, he grew up in Reno, his father leaving home when he was four. His mother was left alone to raise their two sons. Although Vlautin was “so shy that I could barely go to school”, he was a diligent student who never seemed to be paid back with good grades. He lived largely inside his own head. “I’ve used escapism as a crutch my whole life,” he says. “I hated being a kid, so I escaped. But I never thought of myself as a rich guy driving a Cadillac hanging with James Bond. I was pragmatic. My big dream was to have an uncle that owned a wrecking yard and then I could just work there, and he’d actually like me and he’d make me dinner. And I would live in that fantasy world. I’d wake up every morning and check in.” …he’d actually like me and he’d make me dinner… That’s a line that could make you cry.

Live Music Extra:
1. Dotter scolds me for not mentioning her ‘awesome’ wedding band

And it’s true. I was so tired after the wedding I could barely think what to say. The band was put together by Mike Pointon, who I collaborated with on Ken’s book, alongside Ray Smith. It was made up of musicians who had played with Ken Colyer (Mike, since he was nineteen) supported by sons of Ken’s peers on drums and bass. They really swung. One guest, bowled over, assumed they’d been together for years, and at the end asked Mike how long “The Lavender Hill Mob” (the venue was on said hill) had played as a unit, and Mike answered “About three hours.” The acoustics were great, the sound of the musicians tight and warm, and the repertoire wide-ranging. Even when they were playing softly during the meal, people were applauding the solos. I’ve never seen that happen at a wedding before.

2. Jaz Delorean at The Alleycat

Alleycat
At the Iko’s Record Shop night, it was Lee Dorsey time, the highlight of which was Dom Pipkin’s wonderful re-imagining of “Working In A Coalmine”, in which he left the rhythm section behind and proceeded to conjure up all sorts in a trance-like meditation. I heard Scott Walker, Stravinsky, Booker, and Dr John before he got back on the straight and narrow… The evenings are always fairly ramshackle, with misses and hits, but there’s usually something like this to treasure. Jaz Delorean delivered my favourite band performance with a terrific take on Louis Prima’s medley of “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” on the crowded, tiny stage, featuring fabulously sleazy horns and a winning vocal from the guitarist (with the crowd on the chorus). Anyone trying to get to the women’s bathroom had to run the gauntlet of the four horn players (and an accordionist) who couldn’t actually fit on the stage.

3. Avant-improv at The Harrison
Mark and Tom describe their band, Throttling Tommy, as “the unlistenable in pursuit of the unplayable. A blues-rock power trio without the Marshall stacks and the bass player, who hasn’t turned up. And who have forgotten how to play blues. Or rock. Or anything else, for that matter. Allergic to songs”. A pretty succinct description, if you ask me, and their first gig doesn’t disappoint. I’m a sucker for funk drumming and trem-bar harmonics/histrionics, and they sound wonderful together in this blanket-covered de-mobbed bunkhouse, playing forty minutes without a safety net. Tom has a lovely line in, er, tom/cymbal interfacing, and it’s always fun listening to Mark trying to avoid anything as shocking as a melody. Video here.

Mark

Headliners Horseless Headmen were tight and fascinating. Stand up, G. Painting (guitar, effects king), Paul Taylor (trombone, fabulous tone), Nick Cash (drum kit and percussion, check out the upside-down water bottle) and Ivor Kallin (fretless bass guitar and chopsticks in beard). I love a gig that almost ends when an audience member shouts as an improvisation closes, “That was brilliant! You’ll never top that!” and the band actually have a discussion about whether playing another number (which there’s time for) is a hostage to fortune…

HH2

From our Woodstock Correspondent, John C
“Saw Prince a few times myself. Once in Denver he came out while Vanity 6 was setting up, sat down at a piano to the side of the stage and played for a half an hour. No mic, just for himself. The most mind-boggling stuff. We were up front and close enough to hear. If memory serves, I believe The Time came up after Vanity and before Prince. One of the funkiest nights of my life. I was levitating.”

Five Things: Wednesday 19th February

After last week’s scheduled interruption…

A gift from Bob & Sandy, in which stunning clay figures mash the Day Of The Dead with celebrity icons
Name all six, Win A Prize!

MexicoPrince’s plectrum from his first visit to London, 1981
As Prince plays small gigs in the capital, from front rooms in Leyton to the offices of The Guardian, a look back… I knew of Prince because my friend Mick had given me Prince, the album. I was working in my first  job at the Radio Times and went to the Lyceum  show with two friends from work, Sue and Ruby. I remember it being virtually empty as there hadn’t been much publicity. It was the Dirty Mind band of Andre Cymone on bass, Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink on keyboards, Bobby Z on drums and Dez Dickerson on guitar. The keyboardists were disguised (Matt Fink had some kind of radiation suit on) and the frontline wore underwear and trenchcoats. Quite mad. It was a spectacular show, with Prince’s guitar playing  outstanding, and they went down a storm with the few hundred people there (mostly music-biz types, I think). I was right at the front (well, the whole audience were, actually) and close enough to catch Prince’s plectrum.

Prince

I have a memory of Prince being bad-tempered, not with the audience, but at the empty hall. He stomped off at the end throwing his pick rather petulantly… and cancelled the rest of the tour. I recently read the brilliant Ian Penman on this gig. He hated it. Really, really hated it. See for yourself in this cut-down excerpt (I know I shouldn’t but it is pretty long: “For a wolverine habituee of the sharper clubs and bars of our capital such as myself, this tawdry ‘gig’ was something like a step into the horrors of Hieronymous Bosch from the accustomed gilt-edged decadent sumptuousness of Klimt! The dry ice and fright lights – whose calculated effect is undermined and rendered pretty pathetic by way of the Lyceum’s half-emptiness – turn out to be a good index of the Prince live repertoire’s ancient grasp of sub-cultural subtlety: the plot doesn’t thicken, it keeps its consistency. Heavy, stodgy, overdone, tasteless, lacking in spice or space – you get the picture? ‘Outfront’, Prince prances in unison with his two guitar cohorts – they walk it like they talk it, as the saying goes, every song split down the middle or battered to bed with the tedious exaggeration of third-rate Heavy Metal. Someone remarked to me the next day that oh, you know what these young chaps are like with their Hendrix fixations. Hendrix? It never began to shimmer with a hint of the historical avant-shapelessness or spirited slipstreams or sexual harangues of a Hendrix! This was calculated – Madison Square Garden here we come! – coldly choreographed strut rut muzak, in which context Prince’s thigh flashes and camp come-hither persona is stretched pretty thin. My two fellow funkateers and I unanimously elected to wander away from the endlessly guitar wrenching spectacle after about half an hour – we didn’t really even ‘walk out’; it was more of an embarrassed shuffle.”

I, on the other hand, was obviously taken in by the dry ice and the third-rate Heavy Metal. I still am – see the music player on the right…

Annie Clark review, from our French Correspondent, Steve Way
“St Vincent was awesome at Le Cigalle – small theatre venue, great fun – she has the arty moves, channeling  a deranged Barbie rock android. Did the whole gig, including climbing steps, on high heel strappy black pixie boots. Fiona most impressed.”

Tip Jar in Attendant, a Victorian Men’s urinal turned cafe in Foley Street. Highly recommended for Ironwork, and coffee

Tipjar…and on the playlist as we ate breakfast, The Tallest Man On Earth. Rather great, all in all.

Oh, and I thought I might write about the soul-sapping Brits…
but every record tells a story does it better. Except he fails to mention the strange absence of any discernible talent in Ellie Goulding, Kate Moss’s voice (don’t speak, don’t break the illusion), the pitiful MasterCard plinth, Pharell’s Club Tropicana trousers (I said he’d look back in six months and rue the day, but Miche pointed out that six hours might be more accurate), and the absurd bigging-up of host James Corden by most of the bands (why? He was so poor). OK, that’s it.

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