Thursday, February 2nd

Woody Guthrie went through World War Two with a sign on his guitar, ‘this machine kills fascists’. After the war was over, he kept the sign on and we said, “Woody, Hitler’s dead, why don’t you take the sign off? He says, “Well this Fascism comes along whenever the rich people get the generals to do what they want…”
Pete Seeger, interviewed in Greenwich Village, Music That Defined a Generation (2012)

ONE NEXT OF KIN
I spent a part of this week being intrigued by Loyle Carner, a gentler form of MC, whose songs often ride on summery jazz or feel-good gospel while they talk of cooking pancakes for an imaginary sister, missing his student loan or grieving for his late stepfather. Still very South London (Croydon, to be precise) but there’s something interesting going on. Oh, and the cover of Yesterday’s Gone harks back to Music From Big Pink

bandcarner

TWO BOOKS CORNER: NEXT OF KIN PT. 2
Which neatly leads on… I’m gonna recommend the Robbie Robertson book, Testimony, to y’all. It puts proper flesh on the bones of many of the stories that have been told again and again – such as how they sourced a new drummer once Levon Helm bailed on the 65-66 Dylan tour, and why Robertson ended up photographed alongside Alan Ginsberg in front of City Lights bookstore in 1965 – as well as providing a sense of the dizzying nature of their work with Dylan. It’s light on the specifics of his songwriting, the recording process and the evolution of his guitar playing, but strong on portraits of the many characters that cross his path. If you read this alongside Levon’s “Wheels on Fire” and Barney’s “Across The Great Divide” and “Small Town Talk”, you can patch together a story with at least seven different sides, Rashoman-style. Doing this reveals a rounded narrative about the extraordinary series of events that gave birth to The Band, and the clash of Robbie’s voraciously aspirational search for knowledge and status with Levon’s “Hell, let’s just play” mentality that signposted the death of this joyous group even at the moment of its greatest triumph, The Band. I mean, Bunuel and F.S. Walcott’s Medicine Show had much in common but – in the end – not enough.

THREE SAD NEWS, SAD NEWS COME TO ME WHERE I SIT…
… that Terry Cryer has passed away [Val Wilmer’s Guardian obit here]. I’ve always loved the pictures that he took of Jazz musicians in the 50s. They (and more) were collected in a fascinating book, One in the Eye, edited by Ian Clayton and with a great introduction by Val Wilmer in 1992, which is set to be reprinted soon, apparently. It’s full of deadpan writing, by a man who said, “I broke the rules because it was a lot more fun than following them”. “By the time I got to London, dope was becoming fashionable. People stopped chewing benzedrine inhalers when the company that made them took the Benzedrine out. Pity about that, they were quite nice with lemon gin…”; “Ann and I got married – we were quite happy just living together, but under pressure from Sister Rosetta [Tharpe], I bought a special licence. She gave us the best wedding present, a night in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool!” I always have a print of one or more of Terry’s photographs wherever we’re living – currently these two grace the wall behind the record deck.

cryer

FOUR IF YOU REMEMBER IT…
My favourite items in the V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 were in a small case (see picture by Lucy Hawes/V&A). They were the messages written on paper plates and scraps of paper and pinned to shelter doors or trees at the Woodstock Festival. You know the kind of thing – Beware of the Brown Acid/I’ll meet you by the right-hand Tower – but touching that someone saved them. Frustratingly hit and miss as a round up of those five years, but hugely enjoyable none the less, it’s on ’til Feb 26. Now let me hear you shout… “Gimme an F!

revolution

FIVE I’M LOOKIN’ FUNNY IN MY EYES
In the week that Bob Dylan’s take on The Great American Songbook is announced, with 2017’s ‘worst font on a record cover’ already sewn up, I watched Greenwich Village, Music That Defined a Generation, on Sky Arts. In the midst of a host of fascinating clips was this unlikely pairing, singing an unlikely song, Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die”…

greenwich.jpg

EXTRA! MORE
After mentioning Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd.” in the synaesthetic wine thing (here) a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time looking for songs that could possibly be covered by an unnamed legendary rock singer as he contemplates a new album. In my trawling I was looking at a couple of songs on Robbie Robertson’s “How to be Clairvoyant”, an album I’d never given the time of day to. It’s really good – my slight antipathy to solo Robbie is breaking down. And that led on to Lang Lang’s take on “Somewhere/Dirty Blvd.” It’s kind of amazing, almost 12 minutes of pianistics, bombastic percussion, “Somewhere” sung by Lisa Fischer, and “Dirty Blvd” spoken by Robertson. It’s on Spotify, although not on YouTube, if that has whetted your appetite.

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Friday, June 17th

ONE AT HENDRIX AND HANDEL’S…
…where the launch for The Last Great Event (Volume 2 of When the World Came to the Isle of Wight by Ray Foulk) took place. Since it opened in February I’ve meant to go, so it was good to finally get there.

hendrix

In the photos: A poor cut out on the greeting poster, that loses half a Stratocaster – took me back to the great old days of letterpress block cutters; A wall featuring some of Jimi’s record collection (good to see Sam’s first recording of Lightnin’ Hopkins after re-discovering him); The nicely done record bins where each record is listed alongside little stories and anecdotes; Some guests having their picture taken in the recreated bedroom; Cute plate as plaque, yours for £42.50 (£2.82 in 1970’s cash).

TWO THE BAND IN LANDYLAND
A show at Camden Proud that sadly didn’t feature an appearance by Elliot Landy (I’d taken my copy of Woodstock Vision in quest of an autograph) or enough material to sate the thirst of people who are excited by the idea of a show of photos of The Band. A disappointingly un-curated take on a fascinating period, with no real context (such as the story of Robbie Robertson, fed up with being told their album cover could be shot by the best that New York had to offer, Penn or Avedon, replying “Who’s the worst photographer…” and Grossman saying “I don’t know if he’s the worst but he keeps bugging me” and gave the job to Landy. Where were the photos of The Band playing American football remembered from the sheet music book of The Band album, where was Hudson (Garth) on a Hudson (automobile) by the Hudson (River)? Ah well, write this off as the moanings of a boring fan. Here is my favourite unseen photo, Richard Manuel as Warren Beatty.

landyband

THREE HEAR THE ICELAND FANS ROCK SAINT-ÉTIENNE

FOUR FAVOURITE CORRECTION OF THE WEEK
Corrections and clarifications, The Guardian: “A column (How we made… The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds, 7 June, page 19, G2) featured interviews with the Orb’s Alex Paterson and Youth. The accompanying photograph, however, did not show Paterson with Youth, as the caption said, but with another member of the Orb lineup, Thrash.
 

FIVE HERE’S A SONG FOR THE SUMMER: “SEALED WITH A KISS”
As I was recording this I read that jazz guitarist John Etheridge was doing a version in his live sets so I deliberately avoided searching for his version until I’d completed mine. Then, of course, I YouTubed his: the melody lends itself to his approach, on top of the Steely Dan-ish organ chords and I really like Mark Kircher’s drumming in the intro.

I’d heard the song for the first time in years on one of the last episodes of Mad Men and the melody nagged away at me. One one hand it’s an over-ripe teen anthem, on the other a singular melody that doesn’t sound like a “pop” tune at all. Anyhow, joined by talented, proper musicians – Mark Pringle on guitar and structure, Paul Taylor on trombone and arrangement, I give to you, on the music player to your right, my take on Brian Hyland’s summer smash, “Sealed With a Kiss”. As always, play it loud. When the music player is updated and the song is no longer there, you can find it here.

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Extra! Woodstock Mania, part 1

In the lead up to a trip to the States (that would include lunch in Woodstock with this blog’s local Correspondent), a series of random events coalesced around the subject of that small town in the Saugerties. So with three weeks to go ’til we left, we started with this…

Woodstock One The Last Waltz Recreated
An Irish group, called “The Group”, bring a show they have done for a few years now to London for the first time. In it “The Group” play most of the songs from The Last Waltz, the movie of The Band’s swansong concert. 
Tim sees a small listing in Time Out, and a few days later we find ourselves (Tim, Alison, Alex and me) at the Islington Assembly Rooms watching a live concert that is a tribute to a movie that was made about a live concert.

lastwaltz

The picture shows Winterland, er, Islington. From left, Unknown, Ronnie Hawkins, Rick Danko, Neil Young, Van the Man, Robbie Robertson (obscured), Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond (and Muddy Waters), Joni Mitchell and Paul Butterfield. But I’m sure you could tell that [click to enlarge].

The musicians all dress as the guys in The Band did on that night and they make a fair fist (Tim’s phrase) of the songs. There’s a horn section at the back, from which “Garth Hudson” steps out to take a couple of sax solos. They’ve got the moves down, from Robbie Robertson’s flailing hand shtick while soloing to Rick Danko’s bobbing and weaving (the bass player is pretty uncanny, actually, musically as well as visually). Behind them a very poor presentation of bad graphics and clips from the film is run from a Windows Laptop (boys! Really…). It’s great to hear the songs played well, although you can never quite shrug off the Tribute Band™ feel.

The revolving guest artists (who ranged far and wide at the The Last Waltz) are played by a motley crew. To actually convey how strange this whole thing was, I will just tell you that the same person played both Neil Diamond and Muddy Waters. Diamond spot on, Muddy, well… less spot on.Thankfully, we were spared “The Staples” singing “The Weight”. Eric Clapton was played by a very short older gent with a silver grey afro, who virtually had to be restrained from “Clapton-ing” everything he played on after “Farther On up the Road”. As the entire audience roared the chorus of “The Weight” back at the stage it was hard to tell who was in charge of the whole thing – the band or the crowd, a fair proportion of whom appeared to be friends of the group. Whatever, it made for a fitting end to a mad celebration of a unique event.

Woodstock Two Full Tilt…
follows next week.

 

Five Things: Wednesday 23rd October

Gainsbourg Auction: + 6 citrons, du parmesan, et un pot de crème fraîche, merci…
A bizarre collection of Serge Gainsbourg’s belongings are at auction on October 31. The list of items include four cigarette butts in a cassette case (estimate £425-£600), a pair of his nail clippers (estimate £40-£70), and a telegram to his wife, Jane Birkin, of controversial Number One single “Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus” fame. Last year his handwritten shopping lists were sold for £6,540. Said David Richard, a spokesperson for the auction house: “When we sold those we realised there was a great interest in items from his everyday life. Quite a lot of the bidders were women and they were prepared to go quite far but it’s always difficult to know how much people are prepared to pay for these things”. Well, here’s a few of my favourite things (but I think I’ll pass on actually bidding):

Serge

From Michael Gray’s Outtakes blog, Mike Bloomfield and Big Joe Williams:
In 1980 Mike Bloomfield published a short memoir, Me and Big Joe, which not only portrayed the difficulties of their relationship very honestly but also, in Peter Narváez’ phrase, illustrated “the cross-cultural triumph of the blues tradition”. Bloomfield wrote: “Joe’s world wasn’t my world, but his music was. It was my life; it would be my life. So playing on was all I could do, and I did it the best that I was able. And the music I played, I knew where it came from; and there was not any way I’d forget.” I really love that sentence, and reading more excerpts discover that the book is compelling, well-written and illustrated by Robert Crumb.

Joe

Favourite Story Of The Week
Tony Bennett questionnaire, The Guardian: Q: You must have mixed with them all… I lived for 15 years in Los Angeles and I still can’t believe that the handsomest man in the world, Cary Grant, and the greatest performer in the world, Fred Astaire… were in my home. I celebrated my 50th birthday with them. Unforgettable.

Did any of them do anything in your home that you’ve had to keep secret? No. But once Dean Martin was in his home, having this mad party, and he was trying to study his lines for a television show so he called up the police and said: “I’m Dean Martin’s neighbour and there’s too much noise coming from his house. Have the police come and slow down the party.” And the police came and broke the party up and he got rid of everybody in the house.

A Note On Packaging The Past
I give into temptation. I’ve bought this music on vinyl, in 1972. In its first digital form on CD in the late eighties. On remastered CD in 2000. And here we are, buying it again in 2013, remixed, re-programmed, repackaged. Rock of Ages by The Band, originally in a three-gatefold sleeve of purple with Bob Cato’s enigmatic oriental statue on the front and mysterious pictures by Magnum’s Ernst Haas (the impressionistic colour ones) and John Scheele (the beautiful B&W’s) on the inside. One of the great live albums of the rock era. As Allen Toussaint says: “They dance by a different drummer, all the time. There was nothing stock about them”. But I baulk at the stupidly-priced Venal-Record-Company-Death-Throes Box Set, with its 5.1 Surround Sound DVD version of the tracks and the Sebastian Robertson soundboard mix of the uncut New Year’s Eve night. Come on. How many times can the people who love this music be ripped off? Yes, I know that everything in Heritage Rock World™ has to be a ‘production’. And, yes, it sounds fantastic, remixed by Robertson and the brilliant Bob Clearmountain with a staggering degree of detail. But then, it always did sound fantastic, I just didn’t know it could sound better, and may never have felt I was missing out…

And Also…
Robbie Robertson’s liner notes are less annoying than usual. I love his comments about Rick Danko: “Rick showed something during this period that I still don’t understand. While singing like a bird, he played a fretless bass… in an unorthodox style that worked against reason and normality.” Toussaint again: “Rick Danko – his approach, there’s nothing like it. Some people, you can tell what school of thought they come from on the bass… I don’t know where Rick Danko comes from. I don’t know his source of reference… it was just his very own thing and I think it was perfect”.

 

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 15th August

Emusic Find Of The Week
“My name is Dale Hawkins, and I wanna dedicate this song… to the three cities… that I, uh… had the pleasure of recording this tune in! Give a listen and you’ll hear ’em.”—DALE HAWKINS, cousin to Ronnie, creator of the fabulous Susie Q (if you haven’t heard it in years download it now! James Burton’s guitar—out-of-this-world!). This is from L.A., Memphis & Tyler, Texas, title song of his obscure late sixties release, with Burton, Cooder, Mahal, Penn & Oldham all playing. It’s on the great compilation Country Funk 1969-1975. “Ain’t no bum trip, man,” he drawls over a particularly out-of-place flute solo. “It just goes to show ya, man, you can take the soul pickers out of the soul country, but you can’t take the soul out of the pickers…” As Pitchfork says “Weird, in a totally wonderful way,” and it’s hard to disagree.

From Dakar to Kampala!
We started two weeks ago at the football with Senegal’s lovely anthem and, in some excellent circularity, ended with hymne Uganda—“a musical treat” according to The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw—at the final medal ceremony, in honour of Stephen Kiprotich’s stunning gold-medal run in the marathon. A musical treat it is—I’d pay good money to hear either Randy Newman or Garth Hudson do an arrangement…

Best Coast, 100 Club, London
I hadn’t been to the 100 since it was saved by Converse’s sponsorship. Very happy to see that nothing much had changed—remarkably branding-free and still sweaty, loud and rocking. Brett was playing bass and guitar with Best Coast, and I took his picture by the plaque that’s there for my uncle, his great grandfather, Ken.

Fifty Shades Of Tortoiseshell

Jazz-themed sunglasses from St Albans. Nice.

Take A Load Off RP
Robert Pattinson in French culture mag Les InRockuptibles: “I’m going to do a movie about The Band, the one that played with Dylan: a beautiful script about the nature of songwriting.” Mmmmmmm… I may be lost for words {although, to be fair, he comes over well in the interview}.

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