Extra! Bob Dylan & his band, RAH, 21st October

“Why can’t I be more conventional
People talk
People stare
So I try
But that’s not for me…”
– “Why Try to Change Me Now”, covered on Shadows in the Night

These things we know: that Bob has a great band, from the rock steady rhythm section, equally at home with brushes and bows as sticks and fingers – to the dazzling front line of guitar and pedal steel; that he has an unsurpassed choice of songs to sing; that he won’t respond to requests no matter how many times the audience shouts out their particular favourite song; that he will always be his own man, ploughing his own furrow.

This we didn’t know: that he could sing, live in concert, timeless songs of the 40’s and 50’s with a believable, vulnerable – but above all careful – voice.

It made him less cavalier with his own songs, too, and the contrast of the pedal steel and brushes-driven Sinatra songs gave his 21st century blues numbers more snap and bite – “Pay In Blood” was terrifying, phrase after phrase flung from the stage like Muddy Waters backed by Johnny Winter; “Long and Wasted Years” becoming a second cousin of “Brownsville Girl”, both in melody and narrative delivery.

He pays homage to the American music that still fuels him in the way he chooses to walk onto the stage. The first half kicked off with guitarist Stu Kimball playing an acoustic piece of western folk (think the “Pat Garrett“ soundtrack, or “Red River Valley”) as the rest of the band filed on. For the second half Kimball played an electric country blues, Mississippi via Chicago, for the band’s entrance. As he said in Chronicles, “Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I began. I always felt like I’d started on it, always had been on it and could go anywhere, even down in to the deep Delta country. It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.”

I also thought of this quote, said when he was 21 and talking of the tradition that he wanted to work in… “I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people. You see, in time, with those old singers, music was a tool – a way to live more, a way to make themselves feel better at certain points.”

And even at his most forward-thinking, smashing the conventions of popular song, there would always be the blues: “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”, “Highway 61”, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. You wonder what his 1966 self would make of him singing Sinatra at the Albert Hall in 2015. I bet he’d be fine with it. He was 1966 in 1966, and he didn’t need to be that again. He’d be pleased that he still honoured his roots every night that he plays, whether it’s Crosby and Sinatra, Wolf and Waters, or Williams, Holly and Berry. And, as he encored – with a wonderfully rolling and tumbling, piano-led version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that was almost-country (but mostly Bob), and a coruscating “Love Sick” – I kept coming back to that verse from “Why Try to Change Me Now”. It struck me as both the fulcrum of the night’s set, and of his entire enormous, chaotic, poetic, mind-blowing, career.

Five Things: Wednesday 9th October

How We Made Boogie Wonderland, The Guardian
Allee Willis, songwriter: “In the late 1970s, I teamed up with Jon Lind, who’d written “Sun Goddess” for Earth, Wind & Fire. In the disco era, lots of songs contained the word “boogie”, but we didn’t want to write just another dance song. I’d just seen Looking for Mr Goodbar, a harsh film starring Diane Keaton as a dissatisfied teacher, who takes drugs, goes out dancing every night and picks up a different guy. One night, she brings home a sexually confused Vietnam vet who beats, rapes and kills her. I wanted to write about the desperation some people feel – and how dancing can provide a release. The line, “Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get/Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has laid too many bets”, is so bleak. But the groove came first and – musically – it’s uplifting, with a chorus that feels almost theatrical, like Broadway, like Mary Poppins”.

I’d never noticed those lyrics (or their inspiration). The following lines aren’t much more uplifting: “The mirror stares you in the face and says,‘Baby, uh, uh, it don’t work’/You say your prayers though you don’t care; you dance and shake the hurt”. More ammunition for the Nile Rodgers take on Disco: that the songs were often lyrically acute portraits of the society of the time.

From Chris Floyd’s Blog on photographing Ronnie Wood,
“We are in a prime piece of four story Georgian Mayfair, on the first floor – the second floor if you’re American. The place attracts a multinational crowd.  It’s not an art gallery. It’s a fine art gallery… cultured people with good legs and fine watches. I am here to photograph Ronald David Wood. He is the artist in residence at the gallery. Up on the top floor is his studio. It has all his paints, his brushes, his canvases, a snooker table, and although he’s not actually living here, a huge bed should he wish to take advantage of the resources and crash for a while. Later on I make a joke about how handy this must be if he doesn’t have enough money in his pockets for a cab back to Holland Park, especially after a big night out in the West End. It went right off the cliff.  Sometimes I worry that I get too subtle at the key moments. I’ve been doing it for years.

Everybody who works here calls him Ronnie. They tell me what to expect. Ronnie likes to be involved in the creative process. Ronnie doesn’t like to dwell on things for too long, Ronnie does tend to get bored. That’s ok, I say, I get that a lot. Wherever I go in the building, on any of the four floors, the music of The Rolling Stones plays continuously. All the hits from the last half century. We bring in our equipment from the car outside. It’s the hottest day of the year, thirty six degrees centigrade. The lunchtime streets of Mayfair buckle under the weight of the heat but back inside the fine art gallery the cool air of wealth wafts over all of us from the air conditioning vents.

I set up two different shots simultaneously, so that we can wheel Ronnie from one seamlessly to the next, without losing him to boredom somewhere in between. The most important element is to not give them time to think. If you do that they will always choose to slip away, wander off, disappear. In summary, they will do one. Why? Because when you’ve been in The Rolling Stones for almost forty years you will have had your picture taken tens of thousands of times. There is nothing interesting about it, nothing new, nothing to cause you to think. Having your picture taken for a magazine cover is like what a Payment Protection Insurance cold call is to us. On the whole, you don’t want to be rude but if they go on past a certain point you’re just going to hang up and not feel guilty about it

Sight, target, engage. It’s a military situation. There’s no mirror, signal, manoeuvre here. Whatever it takes. As one gilded Stones hit fades away and a new one immerses us in its familiar scent, a thought comes into my head. A question for Ronnie. Yes, can I ask you something, Ronnie? “Yeah man, as long as it’s not about The Faces”. I gesticulate to the speakers, to the music. “Well, when you go somewhere, a bar, a pub, a restaurant, a shop, a cab, and you hear a Stones song on the stereo, the radio, well, what do you hear? What do you hear that we don’t hear?” The opening bars of “Gimme Shelter” are washing down over us. Ronald David Wood cocks an ear, his body comes up on its haunches as he searches the spectrum for the signal. The only thing missing from this familiar posture is a guitar. The apocalyptic, heart of darkness groove of my favourite ever Stones song cascades down in a torrent over us: “Oh, a storm is threat’ning/My very life today…”

Ronald David Wood finds the signal or, more correctly, the signal finds him and his arm starts to move, followed quickly by his hips. He loses himself in it for five, maybe six seconds, locked inside. Then his head slowly comes up, he pulls his Ray Bans down his nose an inch and his black, black eyes look at me for a second before his nineteen fifties, postwar, Hillingdon ration boy face breaks into the slyest little smirk you’ve ever seen, and he says:

“Yeah…

I like it.”

Record Shop Berwick Street: Ricky Gervais, Seona Dancing
I’d never actually seen one of their covers, but Ricky makes a very convincing Boy George/Jon Moss cross…

Ricky

Journey Through The Past: One
I find some things while we’re moving house. This is a favourite… 16 years old and a winner. Zachariah turns out to be a hippie musical western loosely based on Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, adapted as a Musical Western by the Firesign Theatre comedy troupe. Country Joe and the Fish star, as an inept gang of robbers called The Crackers.

extra-Record Mirror

Wikepedia: “Underneath the gunplay, the jokes, and the music, an important message is delivered: a life of pacifism, quiet contemplation, male bonding and vegetarianism is preferable to a life of violence”. I don’t remember getting that at all. But Elvin Jones (!) is great as drumming gunslinger Job Cain, and Doug Kershaw plays a fantastic Cajun stomp, ”Ballad of Job Cain” that I treasure to this day – my first exposure to Cajun music, before Charlie Gillett gave us all the Sundown Playboys on Honky Tonk. It gets better. Apparently Ginger Baker was originally going to play the part of Zachariah…  and the film recorded a loss of $1,435,000 (impressive for 1971, no?)

CSN at the Albert Hall
It was almost worth it for Steve Stills’ guitar playing in “Bluebird”. Almost. Three hours of dodgy harmonies, the backing band churning it up like buttermilk and pleas for peace were, frankly, a bit of a slog. Even for songs that feel part of one’s DNA.

It all started with the lights going down to Jeff Beck’s version of “Day In The Life” (a change from “Fanfare For The Common Man”, say, and a neat reference to both the Albert Hall and Stills’ debt to Beck in his soloing). The sound was muggy for the first few songs – the drums in particular a horrible cardboard thump – but it gradually cleared. Unfortunately this revealed that Stills’ voice is shot and that CSN’s live harmonies haven’t got any tighter since the late Sixties. We’re then on a merry-go-round. A couple of Crosby songs followed by a couple of Nash songs followed by a… you get the idea. Crosby comes out pretty well, always an interestingly different songwriter (apart from a dreadful reworking of “Triad”, sounding not unlike a bad 80s cop show theme). Nash, however (Brian Nash, according to the Guardian’s review), is just dreadful. Pompous, pretentious, unpleasantly nasal and off the cliché-ometer lyrically. “Military Madness” and “Cathedral” haven’t improved over the years. A new song, “Burning For The Buddha” is as dreadful as its title.

Pretty much all the fun comes from Stills, launching himself without a safety net into solo after solo. “Bluebird”, the old Springfield chestnut, was dusted off and sent into the stratosphere, all trem-bar swoops and harmonics. It was outrageously good, Stills got a standing ovation, and I was given the will to stay to the end. On “Treetop Flyer” he walked around the stage playing the most beautifully liquid blues fills, nods to Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon” one minute, to BB King the next, before dashing back to the mike to sing another laconic verse of his paean to Vietnam Vets turned drug smugglers. His solos in “Almost Cut My Hair” were equally good, spurred on by Crosby’s impassioned singing.
Why are band logo's so bad? It’s as if they’ve asked Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer to design them. Oh, and only £2 for CS&N rolling papers…

Why are band logo’s so bad? It’s as if they’ve asked Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer to design them. Oh, and only £2 for CS&N rolling papers…

Finally came the encore of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” – all over the shop, but made good by Stills’ channeling Davy Graham for a raga-infused breakdown in the middle. I left the Hall strangely gloomy, wondering if I expected too much.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 16th May

Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Royal Albert Hall, April 15, 1970
In the middle of his set supporting Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tony Joe White stepped up to the mic and introduced his band: two of the Dixie Flyers (Mike Utley on organ and Sammy Creason on drums) and—on bass, ladies and gentlemen—the legendary ‘Duck’ Dunn, Memphis maestro (Booker T, Otis, Eddie, Wilson). Not content with Duck’s luminous, numinous credits, Tony Joe informed the audience that we had a Champion in the house (my memory fails me with the precise details, but it was something like All-State Tennessee Hall of Fame Champion). Yes a Champion of… the YoYo. And there, on the stage of The Royal Albert Hall, ‘Duck’ Walked The Dog… he Hopped The Fence… he went Around The World… he Looped The Loop… and 5,000 people whooped for joy, as they gave him a standing ovation.

Julie Delpy, The Film Programme, R4
In a really entertaining interview by Francine Stock, Delpy talks about her new film in which the action takes place over 48 hours. “I like the unity of time, maybe because I’m not very good at storytelling in time-lapse, and I hate the time-lapse sequence of montage with, like, music. Like the typical one was a nice trendy song of the time, then you have a montage of time passing or whatever (laughs)—I just can’t do that! I like unity of time, like when shit hits the fan it really usually happens on like a very short period of time… In Before Sunset the idea of doing it in real time, hour and a half, came from me…”

A Veteran Vibe
Aimlessly flipping from channel to channel, a great juxtaposition: Charles Aznavour (now 87, about 57 at the time of this recording of She) and Engelbert Humperdinck (formerly Gerry Dorsey, let’s not forget, currently 76). Aznavour sings like a piano player, jamming words together in entirely unnatural fits and starts, cramming then letting one word run long— a European version of gospel’s tension-and-release? Whatever, it’s mesmerising, especially as the camera just holds the same closeup of his face throughout the song. Humperdinck sings Britain’s Song For Europe entry, Love Will Set You Free, and, leaving aside whether the song is derivative or fine—what did you expect?—he gave it some going over. The voice was strong, his pitch was dead-on and he negotiated the tricky key change (a Eurovision must) with aplomb. All the best for Baku, Eng!

Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias
Simon was saying that I should be aware of the Cardiacs, a band I’d entirely missed in the eighties and nineties, and on their Wiki entry I noticed a name from the past—listed as an inspiration—a name you don’t forget. The Albertos were a band I happily watched countless times [mostly, I think, at the Marquee] as they purveyed a wildly cynical take on the music business. It’s hard to describe the shows. Look through the contact sheet of a roll I shot at one of the gigs (it enlarges if you click on it) and you’ll get a sense of what they were like. See drummer Bruce Mitchell—widest shoulders this side of Dick Tracy plus huge wooden nude-girl tie! The worrying balaclava-and-gun look! That alarming codpiece! CP Lee, wearing a Peter Cook-like belted raincoat in the photos and playing a Stars & Stripes guitar, went on to write a great book about Dylan’s infamous ’66 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig, Like The Night. The Albertos were a one-off—they were really good musicians and were also hysterically funny. There’s not many bands you could say that about. [nb: final frame shows my friend Kwok, asleep on my mother’s couch.]

New Sandwich Bar In Town

Really?


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