Wednesday, January 24

ONE THERE’S POOR, AND THERE’S REALLY POOR
A bar/cafe at Stansted Airport, themed around illustrious musicians (sadly, I kid you not). In reality this means a wall of Black and White 12 x 15 framed prints, and this, a wall of names, graphically arranged.

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So we have the ungainly clashes of Muse/Fish and Chips, and Uriah Heep/Fresh, and Depeche Mode seem to have merged with the Rolling Stones… And don’t forget the legendary Ozzy Osb, and Ethro Tull. “I’ll have the Rod Stewart Inergarder, please…”

TWO FOR ART’S SAKE… 
I’m really appreciative of Sky Arts, although they have a worrying tendency to hire people to make programmes about themselves, saying how great they are. They rock this approach with Melvyn Bragg’s hymn of praise to The South Bank Show now that it’s left ITV for Sky. Almost two hours of weirdly unsatisfying clips from thirty years of programme-making, linked by Melv standing coldly on various bits of the windswept South Bank and bigging up himself, before cutting to people like David Puttnam who also big him up. Strange.
I’ve just started another Sky Arts series, Rolling Stone: Stories from the Edge, a history of the magazine. I may be sensitized to this puffery as I’ve just Read 50 Years of Rolling Stone, a (somewhat) entertaining hagiography that I’m reviewing. The documentary comes laced with the same sense of baby-boomer self-congratulation as the book – I assume all this RS looking back activity was an attempt to drive up the price before Jann Wenner sold the company. Anyhow, the first episode reminds you of the brilliance of its writing in the Sixties, especially Hunter S Thompson on Nixon, interesting to read at this point in history:
“This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else that tries to make us uncomfortable. Jesus, where will it end – how low do you have to stoop in this country to be President? It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal, incurably violent side of the American character. He speaks for the werewolf in us, the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable on the nights where the moon comes too close”

THREE YOU WON’T BELIEVE YOUR EARS…
…as Buddy Holly calls his record company to ask for his songs back. A man never far from a tape recorder, he turned it on for the call. Found via Messy Nessy’s 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today.

FOUR I POST THIS WITH NO COMMENT…
Nando’s has opened a music studio at one of their main London restaurants, giving budding musicians the chance to lay down their own tracks while chowing down on chicken, reported the NME. The studio has been opened at Nando’s in Frith Street, Soho, and will give successful applicants the chance to record their own music with the help of an in-house studio engineer and pioneering equipment including a Neumann U87 microphone. “We’re really excited to open our first music space, both for our growing network of artists and also for our fans looking for a unique experience in the restaurant. Some of the best ideas have started over Peri-Peri (or so we’re told), so we’re looking forward to hearing what happens when we bring together chicken and tunes!”, a Nando’s spokesperson said.

FIVE PRANCING IN THE STREET!
What happens if you take the music away from Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s take on “Dancing in the Street” and cruelly imagine how the vocals may have sounded as they danced? This… 

 

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Tuesday, December 19

ONE IS SPOTIFY MAKING MUSIC MUZAK?
I’ve always had issues with Spotify. This article by Lizz Pelly at The Baffler illuminates the subject briliantly. “Spotify loves “chill” playlists: they’re the purest distillation of its ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper. They’re also tied to what its algorithm manipulates best: mood and affect. Note how the generically designed, nearly stock photo images attached to these playlists rely on the selfsame clickbait-y tactics of content farms, which are famous for attacking a reader’s basest human moods and instincts. Only here the goal is to fit music snugly into an emotional regulation capsule optimized for maximum clicks: “chill.out.brain,” “Ambient Chill,” “Chill Covers.” “Piano in the Background” is one of the most aptly titled; “in the background” could be added to the majority of Spotify playlists.”

TWO SOMEBODY HAD TO…

Turns out that Swedemason was the man who stepped up…

THREE ROOTS & TOOTS!
I’d really recommend a terrific Sky Arts documentary, Toots and the Maytals: From the Roots, about reggae’s beginnings and the intertwined career of “Toots” Hibbert. Beautifully made, it contrasts excellent interviews and documentary footage with his current band performing his greatest songs (I liked that the drummer had his setlist written on his snare drum head).

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FOUR A THEORBO? REALLY?
In an early music review in The Guardian there was a tantalising picture of Alex McCartney playing a lute-like instrument that looked ten feet long. It’s a theorbo.

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Wikepedia: “The theorbo is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox. Like a lute, a theorbo has a curved-back sound box [a hollow box] with a wooden top, typically with a sound hole, and a neck extending out from the soundbox. As with the lute, the player plucks or strums the strings with one hand while fretting the strings with the other hand; pressing the strings in different places on the neck produces different pitches, thus enabling the performer to play chords, basslines and melodies.” Alex plays it rather beautifully.

FIVE FROM BERLIN, HOLLYWOOD
While I was in Berlin I came across the Camera Work gallery, a beautiful space showing a really well put together show of Matthew Rolston’s photographs from the eighties and nineties. He was bringing back the kind of portraiture that Hollywood studios made popular in the thirties and forties, the work of men like George Hurrell and Clarence Bull. Strong lighting, rich shadows and mysterious expressions made this really well-curated show fascinating. They’ve aged better than I thought they would – I remember being rather wary of their glamour at the time. [Click on the picture to enlarge. It features George Michael on the left and Sade, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell on the right].

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Friday, February 10th

ONE THIS WEEK IN FILMLAND 1
I often think that getting older is a fight against becoming jaded. And this thought occurs often when watching films. So few do anything out of the ordinary, that you haven’t seen a hundred times before. Television has now become the place for long-form narratives, leaving most films with an undercooked set of characters (stack 120 minutes up against several thousand – we could call it, say, the Analyse This vs The Sopranos syndrome). To watch a film like Hackshaw Ridge is to see (once, that is, you’ve got past Mel Gibson’s gratuitous and unsavoury dwelling over flailed and melted flesh and blown-apart faces) a film cleave so strongly to the time-honoured template that you know every plotline and signpost right down to the end credits. Large chunks of predictable dialogue, poor CGI and painfully obvious music leave you wondering just how much time and money it took to make such a mediocre film, one that does no service to the incredible true story that it’s based on.

So this week it was great to see two films that jettisoned most of the rulebook. Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is an hallucinatory impression of the time between the assassination of JFK and his funeral procession through a stunned Washington, from the viewpoint – and through the face of – Jacqueline Kennedy. From the first, queasy string figure over impressionistic images of Natalie Portman as Jackie, the music mirrors the choppy, darting way that the film is edited. The score, by Mica Levi, is solemn and vertiginous by turns, and stunningly integrated. Apparently she sent some proposed sections to Larrain before the editing started and he worked with them. Maybe that’s how the jolting lurches, the film’s visual signature, came about.

This is from groovy online magazine FACT: “I’ve just always been interested in those glisses,” Levi says of the warped sound that permeates the score. “It’s something that happens if you slow [your playing] down, you get this glooping and distortion and morphing of [sound].” A glissando, or a glide, also gives the score an extra frill – but it also creates a sound palette for Jackie that is both reminiscent of the 1960s, and reflective of music right now. “Back in the day, especially around this time, a lot of music was quite soupy and there was a way of being indulgent by having a glissando. There’s something quite rich about it,” Levi says. You can stream the soundtrack here.

[I’d really recommend watching a fascinating and beautifully-made documentary found on National Geographic’s channel, JFK: The Final Hours, before seeing the film [on YouTube here]. It examines the three-day trip to Texas that ended in Dealey Plaza, interviewing people who met or saw the First Couple, from 8-year old Bill Paxton (who narrates the film) to 30-year-old Alexander Arroyos, vice chairman of the League of Latin American citizens, whose event on the eve of their flight to Dallas was graced by Jacqueline Kennedy giving a short speech in Spanish, which she’s seen practicing in Jackie.]

TWO THIS WEEK IN FILMLAND 2
I’m not sure what to say about Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, only that it’s absolutely astonishing. Paradoxically it builds up a head of steam while becoming quieter and more static, so that by the last scenes you’re almost holding your breath. No reviews that I’ve read so far have really conveyed what makes it unique, and I’m not going to try. Visually it looks like it’s been shot by a great photojournalist and, sonically, the score by Nicholas Britell is perfect [excerpt here].

THREE SKY ARTS LIVE AT ABBEY ROAD CLASSICS (!)
I can’t tell you how many of the performances in this series are anything but. However, a new low was reached by Bryan Adams, promoting his 2008 album, 11. A self-satisfied cliché-machine, he managed to talk about his own studio in Vancouver (“State-of-the-Art” – aren’t they always?) rather than say anything about the hallowed space of Abbey Road. After 20 minutes of sustained pummeling, the chords of D and G were ready to give up the ghost. The lyrics. The lyrics. The lyrics! Not even Songwriting 101. “She’s got a way of getting inside your soul/She’d breach the walls of Jericho/Make you fall like virgin snow…” And the deathless, “She comes to me like rain falls down my window, Sure as night will follow day.” Anyway, here’s a still of Jerry Jemmott’s exquisite fingers (he was playing with Gregg Allman on one of the programmes) from just before the fade for the end credits.

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FOUR DAVID BYRNE ON THE ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG SHOW
On seeing the exhibition at Tate Modern, Byrne wrote:
“We began to ask about the place where Bob spent some of his formative years, Black Mountain College, in North Carolina… Here are the basics of the school’s philosophy. John Rice, the founder, believed that the arts are as important as academic subjects; there was less segregation between disciplines than you’d find at a conventional school; no separation between faculty and students; no grades; no compulsory classes. Here’s what now seems like a really radical idea – manual labour (gardening, construction, etc) was also key. No one had outside jobs; they all chipped in to build the actual school, and helped serving meals or doing maintenance. I asked the curator, Achim, if these new ideas about progressive education were what was primarily responsible for the explosion of creativity in this tiny school. He said, yes, those factors were influential, but just as much were other factors – the fact that many of the faculty were refugees (those pesky immigrants!) from the rise of nationalism and intolerance going on in Europe at the time.”

Here is a link to the story of the cover that Rauschenberg made for Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues.

FIVE EVEN MORE MUSIC TV
The Channel 4 series, The Great Songwriters, has been hit and miss – Ryan Adams was a little dull, Bill Withers was interesting (but the programme featured his daughter performing his songs rather pallidly), Jimmy Webb strangled his own creations and Carly Simon was fine-ish. The Barry Gibb one was fascinating, though, as Barry, like Tom Jones in his autobiography, was straightforward and honest about failure as well as success.

Can I ask you about “Islands in the Stream”?
“Islands in the Stream” was written with Diana Ross in mind, as we were finishing up that project, which proves that R ’n’ B and country music are alike in many ways – we didn’t think of it in terms of Kenny Rogers. Kenny called up and said, would you do a couple of songs for me? And, once again, Maurice said we should be recording this song, but I believe if we’d recorded that song we wouldn’t have got on the radio. Because it was post-Fever, and that was our fate at that point, but hey, we thought we were finished in 1972!

It was Eric Clapton who said, “Why don’t you do what I did, and record in Miami? You make a record on American turf, you become Americanised…” So we did… The Eagles had brought out “One of These Nights” (also featuring a lot of falsetto as it happens!), and everyone was[recording] next door to us. Crosby, Stills and Nash were sitting in our studio as we recorded… not in the control room, on the studio floor! And Steven Stills played timbales on “You Should be Dancing”. Those experiences were phenomenal!” [ed: Which led to their post-shooting soundtrack work on Saturday Night Fever – where, in fact, John Travolta had actually been dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs tracks during the filming.]

AND FINALLY… THINGS I FORGOT TO POST IN 2016, PART 1
A wonderful piece on an extraordinary event: George Foster was at Albert Ayler’s appearance at the London School of Economics in 1966, and this is his fascinating account of how shabbily the establishment and the BBC dealt with it. The International Times printed this (below), and you can read the piece, published by London Jazz News, here.

! Ayler.jpg

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