Friday, October 27th

ONE “THE FURNACE RANG WITH A THOUSAND GROANS”
I’m not going to mention the Dylan play anymore (I’ve learned my lesson) but, in one of those strange coincidences, as I got into the car – but prior to finding Bryan Ferry’s fabulous version of “Hard Rain” on my phone – I checked my email. There was a note from Michael Gray, Legendary Professor of Dylan. We hadn’t been in touch for at least nine months, so it was amusing that he emailed at that precise time.

5-skiffleHe was kindly pointing me to an Australian review of a new compilation album that features the Ken Colyer Skiffle Group doing “Down Bound Train”. I always assumed that Ken, Alexis, Lonnie and the gang’s gently percolating tune was based on an old “Casey Jones” style trad song. I was wrong. It was written by Chuck Berry. And thus Ken became the first British artist to cover a Chuck Berry song. Before the Beatles. Before the Stones. Which seems somewhat amazing. I can only assume that their blues antennae were set for Chess Records because of Dixon, Waters and Wolf, and somehow in early 1956, flipped Chuck’s “No Money Down” to listen to the B-Side.

TWO “SULPHURIC FUMES SCORCHED THEIR HANDS AND FACE”
Wikipedia tells us that “Down Bound Train” was inspired by Berry’s fire and brimstone religious upbringing. Both his parents were staunch Baptists and sang in the Antioch Church Choir, which rehearsed at his home. “It is a song about redemption and a warning against alcohol abuse. A man who has too much to drink falls asleep on a barroom floor and has a vivid dream about riding a train, which is driven by the Devil himself. When the man wakes up he renounces the demon drink. It’s one of the first rock records to employ a fade-in and fade-out.” Chuck’s version is hotter and hipper than Ken’s, for sure, and features a fine vocal and a great lyric:
“The passengers were most a motley crew,
Some were foreigners and others he knew,
Rich men in broadcloth, beggars in rags,
Handsome young ladies and wicked old hags…”
But the topping is the fabulous galloping guitar he plays throughout, which leaps forward from the backing for a couple of rhythm solos. [Listen in the audio player to the right].

THREE “THE STRANGER AWOKE WITH AN ANGUISHED CRY”
Listen to this“Respect” from A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and tell me if it doesn’t strike you as totally redundant…

FOUR “WIDER AND WIDER THE COUNTRY GREW”
Also, please help me to understand this Bang & Olufsen advert in the latest John Lewis magazine: “The AW17 Collection (this Autumn/Winter, I get that at least) embraces that magical slice of time where everything just falls into place. Crisp, lilac sunrises, grey city skyline days, rich brown dusks and violet nightclub vibes – all set in the unique landscape of Japan”. I think we’re talking about tiny speakers.

5-boad

FIVE “AND THE PRAYERS AND VOWS WERE NOT IN VAIN”
A letter to The Guardian that was bang on…
Sincere thanks to Laura Barton for her excellent review of Bruce Springsteen on Broadway (13 October). Rich in insights while devoid of cliche, her warm perceptive report conveyed much of the intimate feeling of being there, sensing that it was something special and exceptional. The accompanying monochrome portrait was exactly right, capturing the man’s essential humanity. Ms Barton, as ever, selects each phrase with care: “We’re not at the theatre any more.” With that, she has told us everything. I have to cope with never getting a ticket, but great reporting.
Irvine Stuart
Dorridge, West Midlands

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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:

5-simmons

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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Tuesday, August 22nd

There was much about sound this week, from the science behind the Doppler Effect to the whys and wherefores of producing a vocal sound that won’t permanently damage you. Also, the extraordinary website that is digitising 78s with a record deck that uses four different needles. Oh, and Tom Waits (in the music player on the right) does his own Doppler Effect of a car hurtling by on the blacktop…

ONE YOU GOT ME SINGING…
An excerpt from a fascinating article in The Guardian’s Long Read slot, by Bernhard Warner on the actualité of being a professional singer nowadays:
“Singing is a rough business. Every vocal performance involves hundreds of thousands of micro-collisions in the throat. The vocal cords – also known as vocal folds – are a pair of thin, reed-like, muscular strips located inside the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. They are shaped like a wishbone, and contain the densest concentration of nerve tissue in the body. When we are silent, the cords remain apart to facilitate breathing. When we sing or speak, air is pushed up from the lungs, and the edges of the cords come together in a rapid chopping motion. The air causes the cords to vibrate, creating sound. The greater the vibration, the higher the pitch. By the time a soprano hits those lush high notes, her vocal cords are thwacking together 1,000 times per second, transforming a burst of air from her lungs into music powerful enough to shatter glass.”

TWO TRAVELLING LIGHT (WELL, SOUND, REALLY)
Charles Hazlewood (on Radio 4) talked about the dissonance that makes him tingle. With the help of Brian May, he recreates an unusual experiment with a steam train and a brass band to prove the existence of the Doppler Effect (think police sirens flashing past, or the end of “Caroline, No” – it’s the way a note seems high in the distance and lower once it’s passed you by). The section on the Hammond Organ and its associated speaker, the Leslie, is especially interesting. In his studio in Somerset (an abandoned swimming pool) he discusses the Leslie with Sarah Angliss: “Donald Leslie wanted to get the sense of immersion that you got when you went to hear a mighty Wurlitzer at the cinema”. The twin horns in the Leslie spin at “quite a lick, so much of a lick that they create a Doppler Effect” alongside what organ players apparently call a “tremulant”, a sort of wah-wah volume shift. They also discuss the subtle use of a Leslie on both the guitar and vocal on “Little Wing”. Listen here.

THREE HEY, THAT’S NO WAY TO SAY GOODBYE
Tom Waits’ “Summertime/Burma Shave” medley, live, with an intro devoted to Elvis, best read very slowly in a Waitsian drawl…
“August, I remember it. It rained all day, the day that Elvis Presley died… and only a Legend can make it do that. Cause, you know, when my baby said we were through, that she was gonna walk out on me – it was Elvis Presley that talked her out of it…
He gave me my first leather jacket, taught me how to comb my hair just right in a filling station bathroom… It was Elvis that gave you a rubber on prom night, told you that you looked real sharp. I think he maybe just got a little tired of repairing all the broken hearts in the world… and now I think we’re behind the stand, where mechanics cars never start and where nightwatchmen are always sleeping on the job, where shoe-shine boys all have worn-out scuffed up shoes… But a legend never dies, just teaches you everything he knows, gives you the courage to ask her out. And I know there’s a small town where dreams are still alive, and there’s a hero on every corner – and they’re all on their way to a place called Burma Shave.” Listen on the music player to the right.

FOUR TOWER OF SONG
Go here for an extraordinary project, the digitization of shellac records by George Blood for the Internet Archive. “Through The Great 78 Project, the Internet Archive has begun to digitize 78rpm discs for preservation, research, and discovery. 78s were mostly made from shellac (beetle resin) and were the brittle predecessors to the LP era. On Twitter, go to @great78project for uploads as they happen.” FYI An unapologetic preservationist, Mr. Blood lives in Philadelphia where he and his wife Martha are renovating a 1768 house.

FIVE DRESS REHEARSAL RAG
Kevin Cheesman puts me on to this, Neil Finn’s project to rehearse and record an album in live-streaming sessions: “Every Friday in August at 7 pm NZT, I will be performing on a live stream from my studio in Auckland. It will be accessible via Facebook. During these Friday sessions, you will be witness to a series of musical happenings featuring friends, family, songwriters, and singers playing tunes both old and brand new. Follow the progress of new song arrangements as we build towards the last stream on August 25. This final performance will be the actual recording of my new solo album.” Neil invites you to watch and listen to him and his exotic ensemble record the whole album, live in one session. His new album entitled Out of Silence will then be mixed, mastered and released on the following Friday, September 1 (the previous streams are all on YouTube now).

EXTRA CLOSING TIME
Thrilled to see my piece on Daniel Kramer’s Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day in both English and Italian in the latest issue of Pulp. Libro di Bob!

dylanbook

PS I’M CLEARING OUT MAGAZINES…
Anyone interested in a whole bunch of MOJO magazines? I’ll happily give them to whoever will take them away. Email martinworkbench@gmail.com.

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A Late Return and 7 Things, Thursday 19th January

Happy 2017 to all, if such a thing feels even vaguely on the cards. Strangeness seems to be all over the cards at the moment – here’s some recent examples…

ONE PROOF-READING ERROR OF THE WEEK
As I browsed Waterstones’ racks I saw a new Random House reissue of Tom Wolfe’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. And when I read the back blurb, it introduced me to a music producer I didn’t know…

wolfe

TWO CHRISTMAS UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE
Bumptious Will Hutton’s team didn’t seem to understand the rules of the game – buzzing when they didn’t need to, and conferring when they shouldn’t – in possibly the lowest scoring match in UC history. The poor scores were compounded by the other team seemingly having no knowledge of pop culture, even though their captain, Chris Hawkings, was introduced as a 6 Music DJ. He put his head in his hands having failed to recognise Revolver, Blonde on Blonde and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme from their track listings. I know the heat of the moment leads to blankness, but I’m sure his return to work would have been made jestingly uncomfortable after the show was broadcast.

THREE BLACK MARIAH
Mariah Carey is always present through Christmas and the New Year, isn’t she? Here, jazz pianist Liam Noble talks of his feelings about “All I Want for Christmas is You” on his blog, Brother Face, in brilliant fashion. Here, discussing her choice of notes:

“It all starts pretty conventionally; bells, chords, warbly R ’n’ B vocals. But listen to that line at 0:25 “…I just want for my own/More than you could ever know”; on the words “own” and “know” – that note, an Eb, it’s very unstable in G major. And each time, the melody just jumps back on to the tonic note, a highly illegal move in melody writing. In board game terms, it’s like going up the snakes and down the ladders. Over and over through this song, the melody lingers around this same note like scratching a flea bite that only gets worse with the itching. At 2:39, in the bridge, she lingers on that Eb in the bass on the words “and everyone is singing”, the beat surging optimistically on, the chords reflecting a deep disquiet.”

And this, on the accompanying video:
“Viewed today in all its shaky, grainy nineties-ness, it looks like… flashback footage of a murder victim from a Scandinavian thriller… I made a list of some of the images;
Spinning Santa heads
The woods, deserted
Standing alone in the woods, deserted, as the sun rises
Disembodied hand and forearm reaches for something
Holding an incongruous rabbit aloft
Unexplained digging in the snow (where is the rabbit?)
…All I Want For Xmas Is You. In a box.”

FOUR BLUE MARIAH
2016 was made better by the fact that Amanda Petrusitch appears regularly on the New Yorker’s culture blog, and her writing on Carey’s New Year’s Eve appearance in Times Square, “Mariah Carey’s rather Perfect Farewell to 2016” was vintage:
“Carey famously sings in what’s called the whistle register – the highest range of tones a human being can organically produce. It is extraordinarily unusual for a grown person ever to make sounds that piercing, although babies and small, angry children can sometimes get themselves there without much help. On the studio recording of “Emotions,” Carey arrives, miraculously, at a high G, all those octaves up the scale, during a run at the end of the word – and why wouldn’t this be literal? – “high.” Is it pleasant to the ear? It sounds, to me, like a rabid bat has just flown up and under my sweatshirt, and we are both shrieking dementedly in terror.”

“…Something was wrong. From the outset, Carey was catastrophically behind the beat. Two men appeared at her elbows, presumably to help her traverse a short staircase. (This is something she likes: being accompanied down short staircases.) “Just walk me down,” she said, smiling wanly. “Well, happy new year!” Some fussing. “We can’t hear.” Carey flipped her long, shiny hair, fiddled with a gold necklace, put a hand on her hip. “All right, we didn’t have a check for this song, so we’ll just say it went to No. 1,” she announced, striding across the stage in heels. “And that’s what it is.” This routine went on for an uncomfortable amount of time: a bit of singing, a pronouncement, some striding. When it came time for the G7 note, Carey was not holding the microphone anywhere near her mouth, but there it was, nonetheless: that wild, clarion G7, blaring from the speakers…”

You can watch some clips here, if you feel the need. This side of the Atlantic we had the charmless Mr Robbie Williams, whose facial grimaces were enough to sum up 2016. His choice of the first song to sing when the strokes of midnight were just passed was the head-scratching one of “New York, New York”. Having watched the City of London attempt to out-firework all the other cities of the world, the least we could have expected was Lord Kitchener’s “London is the Place for Me”.

FIVE THIS IS JUST SO COOL…
Shelly Manne, the Jackson Five, The Grammy Awards 1974. Found at Marc Myers exhaustively fascinating JazzWax blog, where it drew this note from Flip Manne, Shelly Manne’s wife. “Happy New Year! Regarding that clip of Shelly with the Jackson 5 that you posted, I was backstage with him that night at the 1974 Grammy Awards. He was on a turntable stage that was supposed to turn around as soon as they came down the ramp but it temporarily malfunctioned. As a result, he was late turning and had to come out playing with no idea where they were in the music. Shelly had amazing timing and it always saved him.” This is the only time we’ll ever hear The Jacksons cover The Staples, War and the Detroit Spinners, and how modest is Gladys Knight’s acceptance speech? Of course, Manne was the percussionist thanked for his “drumstikly pasteurized conktribution” on Tom Waits’ Small Change.

SIX YOU KNOW, I’M JUST NOT CONVINCED…
Personally, it’s usually a good friend that makes a great wine come alive, but Fiona Beckett, argued in a Guardian wine review that, “if wine is to come alive for people, it needs more of this sort of synaesthetic approach. Music, for instance, can actually change your perception of food and drink, according to research carried out by Professor Charles Spence at Somerville College, Oxford. And, as it happens, Oddbins has been pursuing this line of thought for a while now, pairing its wines with different soundtracks. The exotically smoky Cantine San Marzano from Salento is somewhat whimsically recommended with Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, while Samuel Delafont’s Libre Cours Rouge 2015, an exuberant blend of pinot noir and grenache, is partnered with Paul Anka’s “A Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine” (though, personally, I’d go for Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd”). [Ed’s note: try and find two more diametrically opposed songs! Guess which the line, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor – I’ll piss on ’em/that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says…” comes from].

Anyhow, back to Fiona: “Great Western Wine in Bath has teamed up with a company called Stylus Vinyl to pair a classic album with one of its wines. This month, they’ve matched David Bowie’s Hunky Dory with El Brindis Monsant 2014, Franck Massard’s ballsy blend of samso and garnacha. You may disagree about the appropriateness of the soundtrack, but it’s a welcome departure from seeing wine purely as a commodity, and instead start to view it as part of a broader, cultural experience.

My pairing? A cheeky Ribera Del Duero with Red Ingle and The (Un) Natural Seven, featuring the wonderful Jo Stafford – billed here as Cinderella G. Stump – taking Perry Como’s Temptation to the cleaners. My dad loved Spike Jones (along with Jonathan Winters, Bob Newhart and Stan Freeberg), so I’d always been exposed to this musical insanity. It’s not something that you need to hear often, but may be appropriate in this Inauguration Week. Hear it in the music player on the right if you dare.

SEVEN AFTER ALL THIS IDLE SCHEMING, CAN’T WE HAVE SOMETHING TO FEEL…
On the occasion of the passing of Nat Hentoff, legendary jazz writer and all round extra-ordinary fellow, Marc Myers ran an interview that he
’d done in 2009
Marc: Is there a link between jazz and justice?
Nat Hentoff: Oh sure. When Max Roach was teaching at the University of Massachusetts, I was auditing a class there. Afterward we were talking. He said, “You know, what [jazz musicians] do, each of us as individuals, is listen to one another very carefully to make this thing work. And out of that process comes a whole that has its own identity. That’s exactly what the U.S. Constitution is all about.” How right he was. Thinkers coming together to create something that has enormous purpose.

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Tuesday, August 24th

Untitled-4ONE LAWRENCE OF ARABIA’S SCARF, OR JOHN LENNON’S CUFFLINKS?
Or, hell, the Parliamentary robe of Lord “Lucky” Lucan. Your choice. They’re in a particularly weird auction at Christies called Out of the Ordinary. Accurately, I’d say. 14th September, 2016. Add it to your diary.

TWO LIZA WITH A Z, STREISAND WITH AN S
In urgent breaking news, Barbra Streisand told NPR: “Siri pronounces my name wrong. [It’s] Streisand with a soft S, like sand on the beach. I’ve been saying this for my whole career. And so what did I do? I called the head of Apple, Tim Cook, and he delightfully agreed to have Siri change the pronunciation of my name, finally, with the next update on 30 September. So let’s see if that happens because I will be thrilled.” Much simpler than writing and recording a song about it, as Liza Minnelli did – “Liza with a Z, not Lisa with an S…” I tried to get Siri to pronounce “Liza Minnelli”, but she just kept asking me if I meant Liz Kent, a friend. Siri then sent me to a site on the web where people have recorded their own pronunciations of famous names. It asks you to rate their efforts. Really, we don’t deserve to survive Climate Change.

THREE THE MUSIC IN THE MIMICRY
There’s something extraordinary watching as an impressionist performs his sleight-of-voice to suddenly inhabit another person’s sound. At the top of this video on The Guardian’s website, Alistair McGowan’s Dara Ó Briain is astonishing, as is the sight of Rory Bremner and McGowan essaying their Boris Johnson’s, pointing out the “ooeeew” sound, which is all you can notice when it cuts to the clip of Boris himself. Nailing George Galloway with “Tainted Love” and Nigel Farage with “My Way” is very neat, too.

FOUR HAVE YOU HEARD THE BRISTOL HUM?

bristolhum.jpg

This is a fascinating short on the BBC Futures site – we’re deep into the world of Fortean Times here… secret government low-frequency radio waves or tinnitus or your body telling you that you’re run down? “It sounds to me the sound of a speaker where the volume’s been left up but there’s no music playing…

FIVE DIDN’T THINK WE’D GET OUT OF HERE WITHOUT SOMETHING ON BOB, DID WE?
I met the wonderfully named Colton Huelle at a memorial celebration of Sam Charters’ life in Connecticut early this spring. Colton is Kelsey’s boyfriend, and she’d grown up next door to the Charters’ and at the end of the day, somehow the topic turned to Dylan. I promised to send him a compilation that I made years ago of unreleased Bob songs, lost his address, found it again and sent it. He wrote a really thoughtful email back – here’s a bit where he talks about Bob: “Your package arrived just a few days before Kelsey and I saw Dylan in New Hampshire. During the concert, two things happened:
1) He forgot the words to the “She lit the burner on the stove” verse of “Tangled Up In Blue.” So he mumbled and mumbled until he finally sang (without losing the tune, somehow): “What are these lines? / I guess I don’t even know these lines/ …from me to you… Tangled up in blue.” It was both very sad and very delightful.
2) While Dylan was singing one of the songs from his Sinatra cover album, someone in the audience yelled “JUDAS.” Can you believe it? Kelsey and I spent a lot of the car ride home debating the motivations for shouting that. Was he just trying to make a funny reference? Was there malice behind it? And how often have jokers like that pulled the same stunt since the RAH concert in 66?”

ON THE MUSIC PLAYER
A tape made in 1975 of Paul Simon on the BBC featuring the legendary, and sadly late, Toots Thielemans. It’s also on YouTube here, in a much better quality version.


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Friday, August 12th

 

ONE IF YOU’VE NOT SEEN THIS…
If you’re resident outside Britain you may not have. But you should. Three minutes of wonderment made in an unfeasibly short space of time. “We wanted to illustrate that someone brushing their teeth can be as superhuman as someone who plays wheelchair rugby,” says We’re the Superhumans’ director Dougal Wilson. “When I was writing the treatment, I was looking for a link between sport and non-sport and started thinking that music could provide this connection. One of the first people I met while working on the ad was Mark Goffeney, AKA Big Toe, who plays the guitar with his feet. From there I started searching for a ‘band’ and we managed to find lots of other musicians who were overcoming their disability by playing music.”

paralympics.jpg

It required casting an array of musicians, athletes, dancers and extras. More than 140 people with disabilities star in the advert, so finding the right people meant eschewing traditional ways of casting. ays Alice. “Thank god for the internet and our team of researchers because we found some amazing people just by trawling through hundreds of YouTube clips and Facebook videos. I love that these talented people don’t have agents, we’re giving people a chance to shine on their own and giving them a platform they didn’t have before,” says Alice Tonge, creative director at 4Creative.

TWO THE BOWIE PROM
Jude Rogers gets to the point in The Guardian: “Six months and three weeks after David Bowie died, musicians still feel compelled to give their tributes, to sing those songs that shaped their lives. It was almost unsurprising when the Bowie prom was announced, promising Bowie with a twist – but who really wants Bowie with a twist? Bowie was the twist: the wayward Bromley boy who turned himself into a peculiar pop art project, perfectly.” Her view was that too few people took risks, and I think she was right. Of the performances that I saw, Anna Calvi and Laura Mvulu were the ones who did. Also, are instrumental versions of Bowie songs ever anything more than, well, slightly tame instrumental versions of Bowie songs? Update – I’ve watched it all now, and I think there are some fine rearrangements, especially those by Jherek Bischoff and Anna Meredith (who did the two Marc Almond numbers). Oh, and lovely to be reminded of the beautiful instrument that is Paul Buchanan’s voice.

THREE MICK GOLD IS WEIRDLY SYNCHRONOUS
“I’m still grooving on the revelation I came across that Milton Glaser based his ‘iconic’ poster of Dylan on Duchamp’s self portrait, dated variously from 1957 to 1959,” Mick emails just as I was reading a book that features Glaser for a review that I’m writing for Eye magazine. Mick continues… “I came under Duchamp’s spell when I made a film about Dada and Surrealism way back in the 1970s, Europe After the Rain. His sensibility seemed to inflect everything he touched. He created a relatively small body of work, and 99% of it ended up in Philadelphia! When Bowie released Darkstar at the moment of his death, I thought of Duchamp making his final work, Etant Donnes, in secret and then allowing news of it seep out after he had died. Even though I found it a rather dubious work when I finally saw it in Philadelphia, the ideas and preparatory works behind it are still haunting and beautiful.”

FOUR SUMMER BREEZE MAKES ME FEEL FINE
Quite excited to read about the arrival soon of “The Great Lost Isley Brothers Album”. In 1980 they wanted to record a live album, but instead of the usual mobile truck at a concert venue they cut Groove with You… Live! at Bearsville Sound in Woodstock (where The Band recorded Cahoots). Apparently it “had all of the incendiary thrills of a live show in pristine studio fidelity.” The band then overdubbed an audience’s frenzied reception and the energetic introduction of MC “Gorgeous” George Odell. Mad.With a ten-minute version of “Summer Breeze” I’m there… It reminded me of a great interview with Ernie Isley that I read a while back. Here’s some of it:

The HUB: Your soaring guitar work on “That Lady” put rock guitar sounds in the spotlight – and that was pretty revolutionary for soul-inflected music at at the time. How did you get that sustain-drenched sound?
Ernie Isley: We were working with the same engineers Stevie Wonder was using on what would become Innervisions. We were working on the record that became 3+3. There was a fuzz box and a phase shifter by Maestro, and that was pretty much it.
The HUB: That solo had a huge influence on ’70s guitar sounds in several genres.
Ernie Isley: We cut it before the lyrics had been finished, and there was a strong rhythmic guitar part that tied in with the congas – very funky, very rhythmic. But when I plugged in for the solo and hit that first note, the track went from black and white to 3D technicolor! Recording it, there were two takes; the second take is what’s on the record. On the first take I was playing all over the place. My eldest brother, Kelly, was looking at me through the glass; he did not blink for like 25 minutes. The engineers were going nuts, and I was going nuts. When I got done, they said play it again to fit in with the vocals. I was really ticked off that we had to do a take two.

FIVE BONNIE RAITT FOR PRESIDENT!
A very nice interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS covers a lot of ground in its 25 minutes, from the death of her brother to the current Election. An intelligent warm interviewer, an interesting and modest subject – what’s not to like?

bonnie.jpg

ON THE MUSIC PLAYER
Reading Malcolm Jack’s Guardian review of Tom Jones live show in Glasgow, I see that Tom finished his set with an apposite cover: Sister Rosetta’s jumping “Strange Things Happening Every Day.” Hear it in the Music Player to the right.

If you’re receiving the e-mailout, please click on the Date Headline of the page for the full 5 Things experience. It will bring you to the site (which allows you to see the Music Player) and all the links will open in another tab or window in your browser.

 

Tuesday, 15th March, updated 30th March

I failed to post a Five Things before leaving on a trip to the States, so here it is, slightly amended, on our return. Extras to follow on Woodstock & Detroit, people…

MARINA HYDE ON FIRE!
“In the meantime, we must turn our attentions to Kanye, who places his personal debt at $53m, explaining to the world: “If I spent my money on my ideas, I could not afford to take care of my family. I am in a place that so many artists end up.” Like various notables before him, Kanye declares: “I wanted the world to know my struggle.” (Then how about writing a $10 book entitled My Struggle? There must be at least 5.3 million ironists who would buy a copy of the German edition.)

Admittedly, his wife did claim this week to be “transferring 53m into our joint account”, but the suspicion must be that Kanye wishes to place himself on a more independent footing than one underwritten by the Bank of Kim. Not that he is against bailouts. In fact, the sense that Kanye is simply too big to fail was my takeout from a series of tweets he posted shortly after the debt ones, imploring Silicon Valley bigwigs to invest in his “ideas”. These ideas remain tantalisingly unspecified, though the past few days of tweeting alone have yielded such standouts as: “I don’t personally like suit jackets any more”, “I believe that Kim is our modern day everything”, and the peerless “super-inspired by my visit to Ikea today”.

But back to his plea for financial intervention. Lost in Showbiz would argue that what is taking shape is nothing less than a new theory of celebronomics: a theory that argues that an entirely free Kanye West market is not the most beneficial model for society. Yes, you can hope that the billionaire private sector plays a part. But governments have a responsibility to intervene at various stages in the cycle in order to provide the shared goal: full Kanye. Thus, far from encouraging thrift in a downturn, the state should actively encourage spending on Kanye West products. I hereby christen this theory Kanyesian economics, in honour of its leading thinker, and implore governments across the world to subscribe to its principles without delay.” – from The Guardian.

CALUM STORRIE’S EXCELLENT METHODOLOGY!
From Calum’s likeahammerinthesink blog, this excellence issues forth, complete with a how-to:

calum

  1. Locate obscure lounge album on vinyl…preferably with ‘erotic’ overtones (and in this case with rain effects and bells).
  2. Digitize Track 3, Side 2 (Il se fait tard).
  3. Copy track and reverse copy.
  4. Add echo.
  5. Slow the whole thing down by 50%.
  6. Fade to silence.

And the result? Beautiful. You could do an entire film soundtrack using this method.

JACO’S JOURNEY!
The DVD arrives in the post, directed by the excellent team of Stephen Kijak & Mr Paul Marchand. There is so much here, from Pastorious’ love for the guitar playing of Willie ‘Little Beaver’ Hale to his encyclopedic knowledge of big band jazz, learned from his father (a pro jazz singer – “there was no bad music played in our house!”). Loved this bit of Super 8 of an early Pastorious band in Miami, with Jaco on drums…

pastorious As a teenager, the only clothes he owned were two pairs of cords and three t-shirts – a wardrobe that would fit into his Fender bass case. When he joined Wayne Cochran (I’ve said it before, but you just have to check out Wayne Cochran on YouTube), the tuxedo (that all band members had to wear) was too big for his wiry frame, so he’d wear his compete wardrobe under it. Jerry Jemmott interviews him in 1984 for a bass lesson DVD and lists his accomplishments, telling him that a generation of bass players have been inspired by him, and ends up asking him, “How do you feel about that?”. He looks up, slightly lost in a mist and says, “Just gimme a gig!”

Jemmott – bassist on King Curtis (and Aretha) Live at Fillmore West, among a fairly awesome ton of credits – is an eloquent presence throughout: over Jaco duetting with himself on Coltrane’s “Naima”, he says… “that voice, it’s the voice of music, the singer in the horn. It’s not the rhythm section – the rhythm section is there doing the work to support it, we’re  the setting for the ring, to let the diamond shine brilliantly… so our job is to support that stone – but he was able to become a stone, also”. And, at the end of a story about prising the frets off his Fender after his upright bass fell foul of Florida’s humidity, Jemmott says… “And the rest is history!” Pastorious nods, but his eyes drop, and his expression tells the story.
And if, a little like Janis Joplin, his legacy is not quite the sum of its parts, there are still moments of swooning marvellousness. If you’re interested in the art of musicmaking it’s a must-see, despite its sorrowful arc. And I’m no fan of bass solos, but I’ll make an exception for this take on Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” – along with sundry other Hendrix tunes. After a miasma of feedback he quotes “The Sound of Music” before putting the bass on the stage and spraying harmonics until he picks out a delicate melody and walks off, vulnerable in the midst of virtuosity. nb. Don’t miss some hilarious South Bank Show footage of Melvin Bragg introducing the programme’s documentary on Weather Report in the ’80s… Melvyn’s hair is, as always, a thing to behold.
 

INTERNET + DATA = GLORIOUS MADNESS!
I mean, really, this is some kind of voodoo. I know I have a penchant for this sort of stuff, but this is as good as the HipHop Billboard No 1s from a couple of weeks ago. Every Noise at Once – every genre, every tributary in that genre. Check out Geechy Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues”, one of the strangest, most naggingly mysterious blues ever written. You could, as Em would say, lose yourself in the music. Personally, I’m just off to negotiate my way around dark psytrance.*

musicmap

 

AND FINALLY…
… do yourself a favour and read this exceptional piece by David Remnick in The New Yorker, on the complex majesty that is Aretha. As the time draws nearer that we all may be able to see the Amazing Grace concerts – as filmed by Sidney Pollack – Remnick pays tribute to America’s greatest voice. As the Prez says, “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings “A Natural Woman,” she can move me to tears – the same way that Ray Charles’s version of “America the Beautiful” will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed – because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”

* I did. But you’ll be pleased to know that I’m recovered now…

Monday, December 21st

Sorry, I forgot the link to Henry “Red” Allen’s red-hot performance. It is now added…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This video, shot by Eric Feigenbaum, for Charles Bradley singing “Changes”.

bradley

EVEN THE SILENCES SOUND EXPENSIVE…
I was trying to put my finger on why Adele’s “Hello” doesn’t convince, and then Clive James in The Guardian did it for me: “It could be said that Adele is Mama Cass born again, but she needs a song to match her voice. I have listened several times to her smash hit, “Hello”. I was hoping that the shapely beauty of her opening phrase would hook me for what remains of my forever. But the opening phrase never really arrives. The whole number is one of those big ballads in which the singer whispers her way through a verse section that hasn’t got a melody and then goes soaring and bellowing into a chorus section that hasn’t got a melody either. The virtuosity leaves you yawning with admiration. Whitney Houston drove herself bonkers yelling stuff like that, and Celine Dion at full volume puts up such a barrage that she might be part of Canada’s anti-missile defence system. But Adele still has time for better things.”

BOBCAT BIRTHDAY!
Through the generosity and efforts of my loved ones I was totally surprised this week by the arrival of The Holy Grail. Nothing to do with Dan Brown – it was the 18-CD Collectors Edition of Vol 12 of The Bootleg Series. It’s an extraordinary object, with facsimile 7-inch vinyl, books of essays and ephemera, original filmstrip of a release print of Don’t Look Back, and more Dylan than you can shake a stick at.

I’ve barely started on the box set itself, as Columbia decided that – if you’d bought it – they’d give you the Christmas gift of all Dylan’s live shows from February to December 1965. So positive tsunami of songbytes streamed down to my mac. Of note so far: 1) the erroneous iTunes info that the Royal Albert Hall is in Manchester (!). 2) the chance to play “Compare the Drummer!” as Forest Hills and the Hollywood Bowl have Levon Helm (with Harvey Brooks on bass), the Berkeley Community Theatre has Bobby Gregg, and the previously issued 1966 UK tour has Mickey Jones. Me, I love the sledgehammer that was Mickey, pushing and goading both band and singer onto ever more fantastic heights. 3) the chance to hear “Positively 4th Street” played live in fairly decent audio at Berkeley Community Theatre with Bobby Gregg on drums. 4) as far as I know, the only acoustic version that exists of “Tombstone Blues” – feeling like a cousin to “It’s Alright, Ma” – recorded live at the Contemporary Songs Workshop at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival. The audience are so hip that they actually laugh in all the right places.

I WISH I HAD MORE RIVER…
River was the most intriguing detfic of the year, as visually striking as London Spy, only way, way better (coherent, grounded, not in love with itself, didn’t filtch an ending from Thelma & Louise). River’s epicentre was a powerful Zapruder-like sequence of the shooting that triggers the story – endlessly replayed in an attempt to discern any clues hidden within it. Its co-star, the excellent Nicola Walker, was asked by The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage if she has a clause in her contracts that she has to sing in all her shows (she sings in both River and Unforgotten, the other policier that she was the lead in, most memorably Tina Charles’ “You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’”):
“Yeah, that’s just what I do now. I turn up and I say: It’s very important that I sing 1970s disco hits. Wasn’t that weird? Things like that, you don’t really think about when you’re doing the job, and then they both come out together. I’m not a singer, but I enjoyed it because Stellan (Skarsgård)– even though he was in Mamma Mia – makes a great deal of the fact that he’s not a singer. He’s very good at making you feel like you can do anything.”

RED ROCKS!
One of the things I most enjoy about writing Five Things is the chance discoveries made when I’m checking spellings or dates. You always learn something new, or find some compelling performance. I was sent a scan of a Christmas card that trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen sent years ago, by Tony Standish, an Australian book seller and old friend of the family. And, as is the way of these things, came across this amazing performance from a 1964 Jazz625 with Alex Welsh’s band. Henry starts by listing great New Orleans musicians over a comping piano and walking bass – “I was there with ’em, I couldn’t miss ’em, my father had the band, Henry Allen Snr, New Orleans!” before launching into a blistering “St James Infirmary”, the song Dylan leaned on when he wrote “Blind Willie McTell”. Check the stance, legs tensed as he takes a short break, and the section where he just hollers St James! three times. Actually, the whole vocal is terrific, as is his long solo – avoiding most of the usual clichés – and when the song comes to an end, he just shouts and starts it up again. Then after a shared round of solos it ends again, only to have Henry conduct the band to vamp as he tops it off with a terrific bit of long-note showmanship.

x-red

In no particular order: Five Things from the past couple of weeks (Part Two)

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Berger & Wyse, The Guardian

bergerandwyse JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE
Allen Toussaint interviewed by Marc Myers of the Wall Street Journal: “On my 14th birthday, I was playing piano and suddenly stopped. I turned my body to the left, straddled the seat and rested my elbows on my thighs. For whatever reason, I said to myself, “I’m 14 and every 10 years I’m going to check back with this 14-year old and tell him how I’m doing.” I have no idea how I came up with that, but from then on I had those chats. They don’t last long. I talk to myself as though that 14-year-old is still at the piano. I often say how surprised I am at how far I’ve come. The 14-year old at the piano just listens – but he always seems as surprised as I am.” When we finished, Allen said, “You know, that was a fascinating conversation. No one ever asked about that part of my life, and I don’t believe I’ve ever told anyone that story about those talks with myself.” A loving man. I miss Allen and his graceful touch.”

ALWAYS ENJOY AN INTERVIEW WITH RODNEY SMITH…
aka Roots Manuva. This is from Tim Jonze’s piece in The Guardian: If you think this means Bleeds adopts a softer, more commercial approach then you’re mistaken. The opening song is called “Hard Bastards”, and covers such school assembly-friendly topics as joblessness, drugged escapism and the brutality of “rich cxxxs”. It paints a bleak picture of British life in 2015 but it’s not, he says, informed by the country’s rising inequality. “Selfishness is everybody, from the broke to the rich,” he says. “We can be rather nasty people whether we have £200 for the day or £200m for a lifetime.”
Is that something he’s witnessed getting worse in recent years?
“Nah, it’s always been bad! What will get worse is that, as the middle class develops, they will start doing really horrible things to each other, in terms of how sophisticated they can be to vote, or defraud the taxman. The amiable middle class will become the mean, hard bastard class, trying to hang on to their assets.” It’s not inequality Smith sees as British society’s chief problem, but the education system. “We’re constantly being beaten around the heads with ‘You’ll be nothing – you’ll end up sweeping the streets, Rodney!’ Well, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t I sweep the road if I want to? A teacher should have no right to say anything like that. What’s more important – a judge or a roadsweeper? We need both! Every other person wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer – shouldn’t we just want every person on earth to be educated? Then everything else should take care of itself. So yeah, that’s what that song’s about.”

A cursory listen sounds like it’s up there with his best. If you’re interested , try “Facety 2:11”, a Four Tet production that sound like Battles, and “Hard Bastards” itself, a fantastic draggy, pumping noise with an alternately funny and desperate lyric. And no-one escapes his hawk-eyed look at the state of British society.

READING ’BOUT LOU
Olivia Lange, also in The Guardian, reviewing two new books re: Reed. I loved this paragraph: “Which brings us back to the question of whether people want to read about the life of Reed. As I trawled through hundreds of pages about pills popped and spiteful remarks made over mixing desks, his songs kept looping in my head. “Pale Blue Eyes”, “Perfect Day”, “Last Great American Whale”, “Walk on the Wild Side”, “Hello, It’s Me”. What is this music doing? Why has it lasted so long, and stayed so pristine and so weird? Because even at its most swaggering it is vulnerable, not in the sense of caring about external approval, but in the sense of laying feelings bare, of taking risks, of being imbued with a reckless, relentless spirit of experiment. “Aw, Lou,” the critic Lester Bangs once wrote, “it’s the best music ever made.” And I can’t help wishing it could have been left at that.”

DRUM ROLL! THE ABELOUR VOICE-O-GRAPH!
“We (the Abelour whisky Distillery) have recently acquired a beautifully restored, wooden clad version believed to date back to 1947. Our Voice-O-Graph was discovered in the Houston, Texas area and is believed to have operated, recording experiences in several public places during the 1940s, including an appearance in Dallas at the State Fair of Texas.” Apparently, Jack White owns the only other operational one, so it was a chance to try it out for the time it was set up in groovy Phonica records in Poland Street. but it’s a very hit-and-miss experience, and mine was, sadly, miss. Apart from constantly bashing the machine head of my Martin travel guitar on the side of the booth (it’s a tight fit), the resulting record sounds like there’s 40 miles of bad road between me and the microphone. But I was still glad to have the experience, and I have clear vinyl 45 rpm disc to prove it.

AMUSING TELEVISUAL CROSS REFERENCE
The incredible Nicola Walker still bestrides the world of TV detectives at the moment. I’d mentioned that in Unforgotten she jokes around with her sidekick Sunny by singing him Bobby Hebb’s great tune, but last night in River – where she plays the ghost partner (or manifestation, as he would have it) of hard-bitten and morose cop Stellan Skarsgård, it turned up again – what smooth music does he put on while preparing drinks in his glam Canary Wharf apartment? “Sunny”, of course. I have no idea if this was intentional, but it has to be, no?

And still I failed to write about Charles Aznavour, John Lennon’s J160E, Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible, and Lillian Roxon’s wonderful Rock Encyclopedia. I’m going to start calling this Five Things I Saw and Heard Recently…

Wednesday, April 8th

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

Dylan DeanBob Dylan watches Dean Martin, at home in Woodstock, Summer ’64, from a great set of photos by Douglas Gilbert. “In July of 1964, one year before his music changed from acoustic to electric, I photographed Bob Dylan for LOOK magazine. I spent time with him at his home in Woodstock, New York, in Greenwich Village, and at the Newport Folk Festival. The story was never published. After reviewing the proposed layout, the editors declared Dylan to be “too scruffy for a family magazine” and killed the story.” [Thanks, Bob G].

HOLD ON THERE A MINUTE!
Yes, we all laughed when Peter Bradshaw sent Grace of Monaco up at the Cannes Film Festival. “It is a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk. The cringe-factor is ionospherically high. A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic”. And it’s a very funny review, but having actually seen Diana, with Naomi Watts, a film he uses as an unfavorable comparison, I have to disagree about his heirarchy. Grace may be an undemanding watch, but it’s nicely shot and has a great cast of dependables (Langella, Jacobi, Parker Posey, and Kidman herself). Yes, the plot is nothing (rich people trying to keep their gilded colony afloat), but it actually looks like The Magnificent Ambersons in comparison to Diana. Maybe the music is somehow to blame – Christopher Gunning’s score sounds like Hollywood-orchestra-by-the-yard stuff, and it doesn’t suit the rather cool shooting style of the film, and, at times, drags it into near-melodrama.

CROWDFUND ONE MUSO DOCUMENTARY…
And you come across the radar of a lot of other people trying to crowdfund muso documentaries. “Hey, My name is Steve Duddy and I’m the executive producer of a brand new documentary titled Porcaro: A Band Of Brothers. The Porcaro family is one of the most prolific and iconic families in music. Jeff, Mike, Steve and Joe Porcaro helped shape pop and rock music as we know it today.” All true, but I’m just not convinced there’s a two-hour documentary in it.

HUSH NOW, DON’T EXPLAIN
For me, Billie Holiday was a singer from childhood Sunday mornings, remembered as sun-drenched and suffused with warmth. Too young to appreciate the complexity that she bought to anything she sang, there was still a sense of melancholy and yearning that was half-understood, and put away until one could fully appreciate it. You never hear any popstrels wanting to be Ella, do you? It’s always Billie. That kind of pain travels across time and distance, so the sweet-voiced singers lose out. And, hey – sad songs probably travel better than the happy ones. So, now it’s the centenary of Billie’s birth and Radio 4 have author Julia Blackburn and singer Rebecca (runner-up of the seventh series of The X Factor) Ferguson talking about her. Blackburn’s book, With Billie, was beautifully reviewed in The Guardian by filmmaker Mike Figgis, back in 2005:

“Billie was part of my life growing up on a council estate in Newcastle. My father was obsessed with her and her one-time accompanist, Teddy Wilson. There were two LPs that became central to my understanding of Billie. One was The Billie Holiday Memorial, on Verve records. In her book, Blackburn describes hearing Billie for the first time, while listening to this album. The first track is “I Cried for You” and has Johnny Hodges on alto sax introducing the song. The LP was a compilation of some of her finest tracks and ended with her devastatingly sad version of “For All We Know We May Never Meet Again”. I know every track by heart, every click and each moment where the needle would stick. Blackburn seems to have had the same experience.

When I first started collecting albums myself it was difficult to find any I could afford that my dad didn’t already own, so I would look at cheap editions of LPs. Most were not so good, but I did find one that my dad didn’t have. One of the tracks was “Fine and Mellow”, and I later learned that it was taken from a TV show called The Sound of Jazz. It is my favourite Billie track of all time and I know every note by heart. She is accompanied by Ben Webster, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge. Blackburn talks about this track in her book, but I would like to add a different slant. Years after first encountering the LP, I saw a documentary about Billie which included the complete TV footage of “Fine and Mellow”. It was the most profound experience to see how the music was animated: the way the musicians and Billie interacted with each other, the way she moved her head when Young was playing his solo. I’d go as far as to say it is my favourite piece of film of all time. There is no other jazz footage I am aware of that comes even close to this in describing the beauty of jazz improvisation.” Wonderful.

I also found these reminicences: “Jazz critic Nat Hentoff recalled that during rehearsals, Billie Holiday and Lester Young kept to opposite sides of the room. During the performance of “Fine and Mellow”, Hentoff recalled, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half-smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been – whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways.”

Arranger and bandleader Ray Ellis: “I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You”. There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.”

On Woman’s Hour, Rebecca Ferguson does a fine version of “Don’t Explain” – she doesn’t overly over-soul [or should that be over-jazz?] and there’s a lovely grain to her voice – hear the way she sings “You are my joy… and you are my pain”. It’s remarkable to hear her speak in a quiet, almost dour Liverpool accent, then sing like this.

JUST LOVELY
This wonderful remincence of Muddy Waters by John Moore, on The Guardian’s music blog: “A couple of weeks into guitar lessons with a lovely schoolteacher called Jill, who had written a song for Rags, the Blue Peter Horse that was broadcast on BBC1, I was able to play “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” – a sad lament to a lost pooch. As I strummed it for Peter, hopefully, I felt sure it would earn his approval. It didn’t. He was polite enough, of course, but as my parents beamed with pride at their six-string wunderkind, he asked if this was really the kind of thing I wanted to play.

Come to think of it, no, I replied. Then the suburban epiphany began, and the devil’s music came to Wokingham. The man in the sharp suit, with the cigarette glowing in the side of his mouth, picked up my guitar and began to play.
“Gypsy woman told my mother, before I was born/You got a boy child comin’, gonna be a son of a gun…”

The words, and sheer brutality of the riff, almost broke me in two.

And that’s when it started, year zero: from teenybopper to bluesman in one evening. As far as I was concerned, the little dog could stay lost, all I wanted was a John the Conqueroo, and a black cat bone – which, with our own midnight black, ancient moggy, was a distinct possibility.

Hearing a 12-year-old boy with a chorister voice, growling that “He’d Just Like To Make Love To You”, was enough to make our next-door neighbour Joan cry with laughter. I went electric soon after this, and she wasn’t laughing then – and I got called much worse than Judas. My love of Muddy Waters has stood me in good stead. At secondary school, it earned me the protection of the school psychopath. He’d learned that a boy in the first year had been blowing a blues harp on Winnersh station as the downhome train came in. He loved Chicago blues, and until he was expelled for arson, I was untouchable.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED

Sharon
That Sharon Robinson, great Leonard Cohen collaborator, is not a front person; some people work best in the engine room. Coming into the front room that is west London’s Bush Hall, we’re treated to the kind of performance that requires ‘notes’ – from a musical director, promoter or friend, whoever will say: “Don’t play that song, rehearse that one some more, don’t cover the electronic keyboard with a shawl that makes it look like she’s trying to reach the dead, do away with the pre-recorded drum tracks that bring John Shuttleworth to mind and hire a percussionist instead, don’t be exposed up there while your son doesn’t really cut the mustard as accompanist, with erratic timing and lack of articulation…” The trumpet player was great, but there needed to be more sonic variation.

Also, if Leonard’s songs take up fifty percent of your set, you really need to tell illuminating anecdotes of your time working with one of music’s finest and most interesting lyricists. Something about the working relationship, with a sense of detail that will make an audience feel special. Sharon Robinson has a wonderful voice, and sings with conviction but lacks the killer instinct of the true performer. It was not unenjoyable (in fact we may have been the only people to not love it – the audience were pretty ecstatic) but it would have been so much better with a great rhythm section at an intimate club like Ronnie’s.

In a week of such nostalgia (not even mentioning Linda Grant’s lightly cringe-inducing piece on the potential passing of Joni Mitchell by, in effect, saying  “You may be saddened by Joni dying, but I will be the most saddened person ever. I will, I promise – the most saddened person in the whole of the world. She wrote my life – did I tell you how sad I’d feel?”) here’s hoping next week’s blog will be a little more forward looking.

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