Friday, August 9th

{INTRO} SINCE WINSTON CHURCHILL WAS NO LONGER AVAILABLE…Why does the line “The new Captain Bligh / on the new ship of fools” keep running through my mind this week? It’s from Gil Scott-Heron’s nonpareil “B Movie” of course, his incredible dissection of Ronald Reagan’s effect on the state of America. It is full of indelible images, playing off Reagan’s past as a cowboy actor, the “Voodoo Economics’ of George “Papa Doc” Bush Snr, the Madison Avenue sales job. It’s full of lines like “Racism’s up / Human Rights are down / Peace is shaky / War items are hot…” How’s this for nailing Brexit? “The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia / They want to go back as far as they can… / Even if it’s only as far as last week / Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards…”

I’m posting this just before fleeing to Marseille (not in a Country Joe, “Air Algiers” kind of way – you know, “I hopped on a plane / Oakland, New York / Oakland, New York / New York to Marseille…”). We are not going to the Casbah to cool it for a couple of years, we are not on the run from the FBI, our pictures have not been put on the Post Office walls. We are merely staying in Bédoin, a small town at the base of Mont Ventoux (there’s a plaque in the square in memory of British cyclist Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died near the peak, placed by journalists following the 1967 Tour de France).

{ONE} BETTY WRIGHT AT THE BARBICAN
I went with my old soul mucker, Mark. This is Mark’s take on what occurred: “Well, she was fabulous. Despite the best efforts of the couple sat next to me, who were more interested in scrolling through pictures on his phone during a particularly sensitive musical moment, and quite the most gormless MC who did his best to wreck the end of the show. Oddly, “Shoorah, Shoorah” was the weakest moment, but she played a bunch of songs I’d never heard which were fabulous. It didn’t feel remotely revivalist; in fact, she seemed utterly contemporary. And she was charm itself – never taking herself too seriously, funny as fuck, just a delight.”

And, although “Shoorah, Shoorah” didn’t work (it was the one New Orleans track in a Miami playlist) another Allen Toussaint anthem – “Everything I do Gohn (sic) be Funky” – summed up her exceptional band. The audience responded in kind.

{TWO} JOHN SIMON’S BOOK
“John Simon has always been one of our most musical producers, a mix of musical and social skills. Part arranger, part psychiatrist, part instrumentalist, part pure music lover, part camp counsellor.” – John Sebastian

Bob Lefsetz mentioned John Simon’s book, A Memoir of a Musical Life in and out of Rock and Roll, in one of his letters, so I sent off for a copy as I’d always been fascinated by the part he played in so many interesting careers, from Simon & Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen to Joplin, Taj Mahal, Gil Evans and The Band. It’s a great read (even if it’s littered with typos and is poorly designed) and I thoroughly recommend it. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff about the period of change from Tin Pan Alley to Flower Power – here’s a couple of excerpts…

On Fake Books. The first rock n roll song I ever played? “Shake Rattle and Roll”. I went with Dave Poe to far-off, exotic Bridgeport and we bought the sheet music in a music store. We learned songs from these little song collection books called “Combo Orks”. They were made for kids just like us. Each was issued by a music publishing house and contained songs solely from their catalogue. But what we really pined for and drooled over were… The Fake Books! These books had over 1000 songs, unlimited by the publishers right to print them and, hence, completely illegal. (if you can imagine that, long before the current climate everything-for-free internet.) These were as unattainable as The Holy Grail for youngsters like us. They were suited for pros because, unlike regular sheet music, each song had only its melody and chord names. From those chord names alone, you had to know how to transform the letters into actual chords that sounded good. It wasn’t until after college when I arrived in NYC that I managed to purchase my own illegal fakebook. It was like a drug buy! I actually had to meet this shady guy in a trenchcoat on the street who, looking left then right, opened up a large black suitcase and handed me volumes 1 and 2 for thirty bucks apiece. Then he was gone in a flash. Those two books continue to serve me well fifty years later.

On Al Kooper. Al has always had a good sense of how to attract attention for publicity. When he was temporarily on staff at Columbia, he wanted to give promotional copies of a record he’d made to DJs and Program Directors and attempted to persuade the Promotion Department to hire Andre The Giant to do it (literally a huge celebrity). Al tells me it didn’t work out because Andre couldn’t fit in a taxi.

On working on The Band. The guys in the band were so inherently musical that they found picking up a new instrument and making music on it natural, challenging and fun. Levon was always open to suggestions and to learning something new, always humble, never haughty. We imagined a mandolin part for “Rockin’ Chair”, but there were more chords required than 99% of mandolin players would ever be asked to play. So he and I sat down in facing chairs to figure it out. It remains one of my favourite memories of working with Levon. We each knew something the other didn’t know. I heard some chords that he didn’t know. He could play the mandolin better than I could. So together we figured out unconventional mandolin hand positions for chords that would fit the song.

And this nugget, a tale from VU and Dylan legend, Tom Wilson. One of his former mentors was a doo-wop producer. He wrote down all the doo-wop background nonsense syllables he used, like “shebang, shebang” or “whoop-whoop” and kept them filed alphabetically in a little box to make sure he didn’t use them again.

{THREE} SWOON RIVER
Jacob Collier’s 140 guest voices (and 5,000 of his own) on a version of “Moon River” is, um, impressive. But he’s no Richard Carpenter, Senator. Every time that someone covers this indelible Mancini / Mercer song (Frank Ocean most lately) they do too much to it, slathering it in syrup. For me, nothing has ever come close to the gut string guitar and simple reading of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Fun fact: Mancini and Mercer worked on the song in different towns. After Mancini had the melody, he sent it to Mercer, who wrote the lyrics. They played it for the first time in the empty ballroom of the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel in Los Angeles.

{FOUR} IN BEATLES ABBEY ROAD WEEK…
Did you ever see this, the climax of the woeful Bee Gee musical inspired by Sgt Pepper? It is insane to think that all of these people were in the same place at the same time. Watch it and weep, mostly with laughter.

{FIVE} A SMALL ROUND UP…
Oh, Pet… Excellent wide-ranging interview with Petula Clark by Elle Hunt in The Guardian about her astonishing career. I’ve always loved the fact that she recorded a nice electro-ish chill out track aged 80. It’s called “Cut Copy Me” and can be found here.

Oh, Ashley… Bill Bradshaw, writing at onthewight.com. “Fifty years after Bob Dylan made his now-legendary appearance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, the great troubadour has made a remarkable gesture to a new festival about to honour the anniversary. It means a previously unpublished and unheard Dylan composition will be heard exclusively for the first time at the Million Dollar Bash festival on the Isle of Wight on Saturday, 31st August. Now Dylan has made contact with Million Dollar Bash’s curator, Ashley Hutchings MBE – a founder member of Fairport Convention – to pass on a special poem. Hutchings has put together a one-off band, Dylancentric, to pay tribute to Dylan’s songs and assembled a high-class bill for the special event, including folk-rock legend, Richard Thompson. Hutchings, described by Bob Dylan as “the single most important figure in English folk-rock”, was contacted by his mentor as he called together the band for rehearsals. Hutchings said that Dylan’s messages also indicated he acknowledged the hard work going into the Bash’s salute to his 1969 appearance and that he fondly recalled his own time on the Island 50 years ago.

More Band stuff. Barney sends this: “Calling all Band fans (I know there are a few of you out there). A smart young guy named Matt Lodato asked me some great questions about Robbie, Levon, Garth, Rick & Richard… and we ended up having a pretty cool conversation.”

More Country Joe. Here’s Joe’s excellent “Air Algiers”, taken from the 1970 Big Sur Folk Festival, a week of peace ’n’ love, apart from Stephen Stills, who has a fight.

And Finally… Mark (from Betty Wright, above) and I lit in to “Air Algiers” a few years back as part of our Poisonville Project, and did it as a muezzin-inspired electric blues. Find it here.

Friday, October 6th pt. 1

Recovering from a late night/early morning of sweating inside Rich Mix with the glorious Souljazz Orchestra [a big thank you to Ginie], this week’s Five Things comes in two parts…

THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING?
This is eerie and totally fascinating, an empty Camp Nou as Barcelona play Las Palmas with no crowd, following the Catalan Independence referendum. It’s the sounds you’re never really privy to during matches; the players talking to each other – “Luis, do me a favour!” – as Suarez tries to claim a penalty, or without the soundtrack that usually accompanies the action – the weird lack of drama as Messi insouciantly rounds the goalkeeper to score, for instance, or Suarez ripping his shirt after he misses… to a deafening silence.

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This description, from Sid Lowe’s excellent report for The Guardian, captures the strangeness of it all: “At 4.13pm, Barcelona’s anthem blared out. The referee came out of the tunnel and picked up the ball from that absurd plinth, hurriedly throwing down the one he had in his hand, and the players followed. Echoing round, the anthem opens with the line: “The whole stadium cheers; we’re the blue and claret people.” When it closed, a “brave cry”, the place fell silent and the whistle went, heard by all. There was no one in stands, where the mes que un club slogan sat exposed. The directors’ box lay empty. The board watched it from somewhere inside. So did the players’ families, a lift-load of kids leaving together at the end.

Every shout was audible. A free-kick was greeted with “oh, so you give this one?”, there was something about a “mother’s shell”, and the standard call of any park anywhere: get out, push up, man on, quick, that’s it, near post, no foul, good. There’s something odd about actually hearing someone shout: “Leo! Leo! Here, Leo!” at Messi. Something odd about it all. Something sad too, a kind of what’s the point when it’s like this? But it was fascinating too. You could close your eyes and more or less follow the game, imagining the kind of pass delivered by the noise, the ball struck or stroked. Phwump or tac.

From way, way up, you could hear Messi get hit, and the satisfying sound of his free-kicks being saved: leather then latex on the ball. From way down there they could hear the radio commentators shouting when Busquets scored. And when Messi got the second and third there was gentle applause from a ballboy behind the goal. Suddenly, somehow, in an empty stadium there was also someone running on the pitch, swiftly removed by stewards. He appeared to be wearing an independence shirt and carrying a piece of paper. With barely seconds to go Luis Suárez put a shot wide. His scream rolled round the seats and he tore at his shirt, ripping it wide open and walking off.”

CAN I GET TWO COPIES OF GENE SIMMONDS VAULT, PLEASE?
A great post at everyrecordtellsastory about the upsurge of vinyl subscription services (Jack White’s Vault, Turntable Kitchen, Experience Vinyl et al) also features this: “Slightly beneath White’s Gold Standard Vault is Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, fresh from trying to secure rights to the devil-horns hand sign…” Simmons will hand deliver his Vault to each punter who pays the $2000 dollar price tag. If you stump up $50,000 (sic) he will come and hang out at your house for a couple of hours. From the FAQs:

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I love the fact that they felt they had to add “including windows…”

THREE PHOTOS…
Running out of headline inspiration, as you can see. In the fabulous tome that I wrote about last week, 75 Years of Capitol Records, I noticed that Paul and Linda were photographed at home in West Sussex by David Montgomery in 1976, and pinned up in the background was Edward Kasper’s wraparound sleeve for The Band’s Moondog Matinee. As Nick DeRiso wrote at Something Else!: “I stare at the album’s original fold-out poster, a saloon setting from Edward Kasper that combines Helm’s old stomping grounds of Helena, Ark., with Robbie Robertson’s Cabbagetown, and I can’t take my eyes off [Richard] Manuel. He’s apart, the only one lost in thought. Robertson is working the jukebox, Hudson and Helm are sharing a drink, Danko is reading a music magazine. But Richard is alone, thinking — staring off into the middle distance. It’s like he can see something, already, that I still haven’t come to grips with more than four decades later: Richard Manuel is already gone.”

moondog

I hung it when setting up the workroom. It nestles in good company beneath Dylan by Antonin Kratochvil and Daniel Kramer, Neil Young by Henry Diltz, Woody Guthrie by Arthur Dubinsky, Leonard Cohen by Antonio Olmos, Ray Charles by Jim Marshall and David Bowie by the incomparable Antonin again. And the latest addition on the right – get your very own Jimi Hendrix English Heritage plaque. As a plate. Genius!

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Thursday, May 25th

ONE LIL BUCK
Dance is my Cultural Achilles Heel™ but I overcome it to marvel at this, filmed while the Shchukin collection was at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. “I was born in Chicago,” Lil Buck says, “Raised in Memphis, Tennessee…” Well, that’s a blues lyric right there.

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“It’s a dance style that started with Memphis underground rap music, and that music, the way it was produced, gave us a certain bounce. When I was around 16 years old I got into ballet. We made a deal with this artistic director that we would teach hip-hop, and they would teach us ballet…” There’s a moment at 2:45 in front of Picasso’s Three Women that is just astounding, but it’s not the locale, or the music, or the amazing art – this would be as strange and beguiling wherever it was performed.

TWO “I WAS HIS PERPETUAL +1”
In the 80s Mark and I went to see, more than once, Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy, a band that consisted of eight brass players and one drummer. The man on the non-brass instrument was Phillip Wilson. A great drummer, he was equally adept at keeping the band ticking and purring through the buildup of “Saving All My Love for You” as slashing and slapping back at the horns as they riffed violently to the song’s climax. It was a holy noise, great on record but best experienced live. The only other things I knew about Phillip Wilson were that he was involved in the Art Ensemble of Chicago and that he had drummed with the Paul Butterfield Band around the end of the Sixties. This fascinating interview by Ethan Iverson with David Sanborn, the sax player, is about how important Wilson was to Sanborn.

“Through Phillip, I met Lester Bowie, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett. Lester was the comedian king: like the wise philosopher of St. Louis but funny and fearless. Phillip and Lester did not discriminate about styles of music. Lester played in a circus band, society gigs, straight-ahead gigs. He played with Jimmy Forrest. He met his wife Fontella “Rescue Me” Bass on a gig with the Clara Ward Gospel Singers. Everyone had a day job except for Lester. Julius Hemphill sold furniture, Oliver Lake worked in the post office, Phillip worked as an arc welder at McDonnell Aircraft. Phillip worked at McDonnell all day, like from six in the morning to three or four in the afternoon, and he might have gone home and slept a bit before playing and hanging all night. Sometimes we would be hanging at like four in the morning and he’d say, ‘I’ve got to go home, change my clothes, and go to work.’”

THREE WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE
I loved this pastel drawing, a forgery passed off as Bob Dylan’s work a week or so ago, but actually a rather great picture of The Band. As Richard Manuel sang “The hoot owl and his song, will bring you along / Where else on earth would you wanna go?”

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FOUR “MY HEAD SAYS NO! BUT MY HEART SAYS GO!”
This NY Times video, by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson, is simply people climbing up a Ten Meter Diving Platform and jumping off. The twist is that none of them has ever done it before, and it takes some negotiating, either with friends or themselves, as they build up the courage to do it. And the reason that I’m writing about it is that the editing of the film is so brilliant, and the sounds are as important as the visuals. Tension and release personified – finger clicking, nervous scratching and deep breaths before the screams and the splash.

FIVE SPIRITLAND
Tim and I meet at Spiritland, somewhere that I’ve been meaning to go to since it opened. Then a couple of days later, Oobah Butler on Mr. Hyde wrote a piece on it that perfectly summed up my mixed feelings about it.

“Novelty has become the lifeblood of London. Most new spots open with a sideways glance, crazed gurn and elbow nudge, rather than straight-faced sincerity. But a new hero is bucking the trend: Spiritland, the “listening bar” in Kings Cross that’s “a paradise for anyone from the aficionado to the curious”. It definitely takes itself seriously, from its one-of-a-kind speaker system to DJ sets from big names like Hot Chip and Jarvis Cocker. And that’s great! But one issue: what the hot hell is a listening bar? Dudes in At The Drive-In T-shirts who occasionally look up from their William Burroughs novel to give an appreciative nod? An immersive experience that leaves no room for anything but absorbing tunes? One so intoxicating that it can get you drunk on music? I tried to stay sober on a Thursday night to find out.

Spiritland is tucked away in a ghost town of half-finished apartment buildings, mournful Bella Italias and broad, empty streets. It’s a diverse crowd, but everyone has one thing in common: we’re sat in a spartan room with dinner and drinks, facing The Bloody Big Music Blaster. Neither imbalanced nor throttling, the setup sounds wonderful. It’s official: I am woozy; totally drunk on music. But getting there requires an indulgent, eyes-closed isolationism that goes against its appeal to groups going out. You can have a table-banging debate about zero-hours contracts with the squad, or you can surrender to sound and fully appreciate the tech. Doing both is harder.

There’s also the Dad’s-cologne whiff of pragmatism over the layout. If you were to place all your focus on the listening experience, you wouldn’t have so many tables right at the front. The speakers would creep away from the wall. You wouldn’t serve food. So Spiritland finds itself in a no man’s land, ostensibly appealing to both the casuals and the committed, but not being quite right for either. But this is probably as music-obsessed as we can get in London 2017 – it could have been more dedicated elsewhere in Europe, but the closure of clubs and gig venues shows we turned our backs on music. So I order a beer, relax and enjoy Spiritland for what it is: an imperfect yet inventive space for a bit of small-group musical nerding.”

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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!

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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”…

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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.

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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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