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.

Wednesday, 25th February

VISUAL OF THE WEEK

BobworldBob’s World. We just live in it, according to this Slate Map. It lists every place mentioned in a Dylan lyric. Although the one I clicked on at random seemed wrong: surely the “Brighton girls are like the moon” line in “Sign on the Window” refers to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and not Brighton, East Sussex?

A QUOTE TO QUOTE
My favourite paragraph of newsy rock criticism so far this year, which encapsulates the mundanity of BRIT-schooled talent. Mark Beaumont in the Guardian… “This year’s fresh lump of unreconstructed fossil fuel being lobbed into the music industry’s spluttering furnace is critics’ choice winner James Bay, the latest in an endless stream of lowest-common-denominator trad singer-songwriter money-spinners, with an inexplicable 8m YouTube views, but this time – crucially – in a hat. The hat, let’s make no bones, is magnificent, a charcoal Panama worthy of the latter years of Razorlight, but its resplendent brim hides a chronic deficiency of personality, presence and ideas.”

OSCAR MUSIC
So in the last six weeks we manage to watch almost every major film in Oscar contention and stay up to watch the show, which turns out to be a damp squib, strangely underpowered. It’s a consequence, I think, of Neil Patrick Harris’s rather laid back and ironic presenting style, which didn’t get the required reactive energy from the audience. The opening musical number was a bravura technical display, and funny enough, but it was downhill from there. It reached a nadir with Lady Gaga singing a medley of all the songs from The Sound of Music which seemed to go on all dawn. Straight. With no contemporary ‘edge’. It was all we could do to stay awake. Maybe we were asleep and it never happened, it was all just some terrible hallucination.

So, on that note, my nominations for musical performances in the films of 2014 would be as follows:
1) Drummer Carla Azar (Wendy & Lisa, PJ Harvey, Jack White), who is terrific playing Nana, the drummer in Frank’s band in Frank, the amusing (and somewhat tragic) fictional re-telling of the career of Chris (Frank Sidebottom) Sievey.
2) Charlie Sexton, long-time Dylan sideman, in the wonderful Boyhood, playing Ethan Hawke’s brother, and some lovely guitar behind Hawke as he sings a (pretty good) self-written song.
3) The scene in Selma where Martin Luther King phones Mahalia Jackson late at night for some support, which comes in the form of a mesmerizing song… and then an FBI phonetap log comes up on the screen…

MLK

4) Antonio Sanchez’s improvised drum score for Birdman, the only music in the film (apart from a minute of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor). Fascinating to hear how it came together, in Vanity Fair’s piece: “An accomplished improvisational musician, Sanchez knew how to improvise to the beat in his own head or with other musicians onstage. But improvising to actual images, especially those that had not even been filmed yet, was more of a challenge. So Iñárritu pulled a chair up to Sanchez’s drum kit and talked him through the movie, motioning every time that Keaton’s character would advance to the next part of the scene.

“So [Iñárritu] would be sitting in front of me with his eyes closed and all of a sudden he would raise his hand. And I would think, OK, that means Riggan opened a door, so I would switch or do an accent or do something with the texture. We would try the scene again and then try a different kind of intensity and color… A lot of people think of the drums as a monochromatic instrument… and a lot of people do play that way but I have been experimenting with playing on the sides, the wood, on the rims, with my hands, with brushes, mallets, branches—anything to get a very wide range sonically.” He even stacked cymbals to make them sound less washy and sustained and more dry and trashy.

Iñárritu played the demos during rehearsals to make sure they worked. And they did, but he and Sanchez both agreed that the drums sounded “almost too good, too pristine” for a movie set inside an old Broadway theater. The two re-teamed in L.A., and Sanchez re-created some of his improv-ed tracks with a different drum kit that had been detuned and outfitted with vintage heads. The two also took the drums onto the street to experiment with hand-held moving microphones so that they did not have to rely on reverb, echo, and volume effects for some of the scenes in which Keaton walks through Times Square, weaving in and out of crowds alongside an actual street musician.”

ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK
Annoyed that I’m out of town on Friday – having just heard that Garland Jeffreys is playing in West Kensington – I check to see which other towns he’s playing on this short tour and discover that we can hit Leicester on Sunday night on the way back, and see him there. Who doesn’t love “35mm Dreams”, “Wild in the Streets” and “Ghost Writer”? I know I have, since 1975. As the New Yorker put it: “Last month, the Village Voice published its list of the sixty best songs ever written about New York City. Coming in at No. 7 was Jeffreys’s “Wild in the Streets,” a hissing, insinuating, insistent piece from 1973. No argument here, but you could print up a list of the Brooklyn native’s catalogue, tack it to the wall, step back ten paces, and throw a dart, and you’d be almost guaranteed to hit another great New York City song. Jeffreys, who is seventy-one, is still a dynamo.” And I can’t wait to hear him sing “In the heat of the summer/Better call up the plumber/And turn on the street pump/To cool me off…/With your newspaper writers/And your big crime fighters/You still need a drugstore/To cure my cough…”

AND…
I’m hoping that Mark Bosch is on lead guitar. From photos on Jeffreys’ website it seems he is – when I saw him with Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, I thought him a “passionate and note/feel-perfect Seventies/Eighties Noo Yawk (think Leslie West or Mike Rathke) player, matching Hunter every step of the way”.

Friday, January 30th

ONE THING I HEARD: The origin of the Mad Men theme.
Ever heard of Enoch Light? Me, neither. I was sent to this by an entertaining piece on the LA Times blog, Pop & Hiss, by Gustavo Turner, about the origin of the Sinatra songs that feature on Bob’s new album. “Jerry Lee Lewis, strangely enough given his manic persona, has had a moving version of “Autumn Leaves” as part of his extensive repertoire for decades (there’s a YouTube video of Lewis performing the song in 1971). The song has subliminally reentered popular culture in the last few years: as noted Dylan expert Scott Warmuth pointed out, the intro to Enoch Light’s easy listening arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” provides the core sample for the popular loungey theme for the TV show Mad Men.” [nb. Jerry Lee Lewis’s performance is restrained and Willie-like, but the most unusual part is his posture. I’ve never seen anyone sing a song with arms folded across his chest, the only movement the occasional raising of his chin. The repeated last line, “start to fall… oh woah oh hoo”, goes to a ghostly falsetto and fades out. Fabulous.]

ONE THING I SAW: This lovely photo of the Copper Family, which reminded me of Saturday afternoons in Dobell’s, when the delivery of new records on the Topic label would lead to an hour of English traditional music being played on the store’s sound system, edging out the more usual fare of BB King and Bert Jansch.

Copper

ONE THING I READ: The wondrous Bjork interviewed by Pitchfork.
Who are confessional singer/songwriters that you like?
Funnily enough, with my favorite music like that, I don’t understand the words. I really like fado singers like Amália Rodrigues, but I don’t speak Portuguese. [laughs] I really like Abida Parveen from Pakistan, but I don’t understand a word she sings either. As for American singers, you know who I’ve loved almost since my childhood? Chaka Khan. I love Chaka Khan. I’ve totally fallen in love with a remix album of hers from ’80s. I don’t know if it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s just pleasure. Obviously, I really love Joni Mitchell. I think it was that accidental thing in Iceland, where the wrong albums arrive to shore, because I was obsessed with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Hejira as a teenager. I hear much more of her in those albums. She almost made her own type of music style with those, it’s more a woman’s world.

Hejira is one the most feminist albums ever.
Right? The lyrics! And The Hissing of Summer Lawns as well. I love “The Jungle Line”, it sounds like something somebody would make now, it’s crazy. Maybe it’s because it’s not my generation, but when I hear the folk stuff that she did before that, I hear it as a lot of people and not just her…

When it was originally misreported that Vulnicura was produced by Arca, instead of co-produced by you and Arca, it reminded me of the Joni Mitchell quote from the height of her fame about how whichever man was in the room with her got credit for her genius.
Yeah, I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, “You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something.” I’ve done music for, what, 30 years? I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him. He wanted to putting something on his own Twitter, just to say it’s co-produced. I said, “No, we’re never going to win this battle. Let’s just leave it.” But he insisted.

The world has a difficult time with the female auteur.
I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this – I’m not dissing him – this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats – it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos’] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don’t even listen to him. It really is strange.

ONE THING THAT MADE ME LAUGH: Time Out’s review of Mark Ronson’s new album by Oliver Keens: “Like “Get Lucky” a couple of years back, “Uptown Funk” smartly tapped into a nostalgia the public didn’t realise it had. Where Daft Punk used disco, Ronson (and guest Bruno Mars) used the synthed-up sounds of ’80s electric funk. Yes, it’s generic to the point of parody, and sounds like hundreds of perfectly ace records by black American artists that already exist. Yes, Ronson admitted that it took six whole months to record and that he even passed out trying to come up with the relatively simple two-chord guitar part. None of that matters. This is pop working as it should: being totally shameless, ubiquitous and providing that sacred bridge between the club and ‘The X Factor’. If you plan on going to a wedding in 2015, you will hear “Uptown Funk”. Deal with it. Last year, Ronson gave a TED talk about sampling. In its studied and laboured way, “Uptown Special” sounds like an album made by someone who’s given a TED talk on sampling. You can’t fault the ambition here, but as an album, it’s hard to give an uptown fuck.”

ONE THING THAT MADE ME CRY: Fashion Gibberish
For a while I’ve been thinking of starting a blog called Property Developer Gibberish, as hoardings fill up around London with an almost Orwell level of doublespeak, with talk about creating “communities” and “legacies” and “respecting the tradition” of areas they are redeveloping and ripping the heart out of. The fashion world is equally guilty of misusing language in a bid to make their particular cut of cloth stand out from the crowd. The Dutch clothing store, The Sting (founded 1982), is responsible for this corker: harnessing sixties pop and a code of honour, but – best of all – Nonsenese!

Sting
By the way, The Sting is one of the very few London shops with a connecting tunnel leading directly from the tube. It can be entered via the Piccadilly Circus station.

Wednesday, 5th November

That’s me in the picture, the Guardian
After Michael told me of his near-death brush with the Beatles as a child, the Guardian that day has a piece on two girls photographed on train tracks saying goodbye to the lads at Minehead station. Cynthia Wilkinson: “As the pair of us stood on the sidelines, having spotted the Beatles in their stationary train car, Marian and I just looked at each other and said, “Let’s go.” We headed across the railway track, not thinking for one moment about safety. We were 13 and 14, and didn’t think about danger then. We just thought, “Wow, there they are. Oh my God!”

At The Movies, Thayer Street, Marylebone
Nice Mad Dogs & Englishmen poster, from the film, not the tour.

Mad Dogs

Robert Cray, Royal Albert Hall, Blues Fest 2014
Lloyd and I are the lucky recipients of Loggia box tickets, courtesy of his daughter Maisie. I haven’t seen, or even heard much, of Robert Cray since the Strong Persuader tour of 1986, and, truth to tell wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see him on a double bill with Beth Hart. However, I was incredibly moved by his 90 minute set, for a mixture of reasons that I won’t go into now, but his easy charm and stunning touch reminded me of being at the Observer Magazine in 1986. June Stanier, our wonderful and fearsome Picture Editor had despatched Deborah Feingold to take a portrait of Cray in a bar somewhere, Chicago or LA, I think. She’s a great shooter, sent us some terrific frames, and confessed, laughingly, to June that she’d fallen “a little bit in love” with Robert during the shoot. I think the whole Albert Hall felt like that on Thursday. There’s no effects to speak of, just the pressing of fingers onto fretboard, and the timing of a master, with his lovely soulful voice sat on top. There were some beautiful Curtis Mayfield licks in one song, and another where they sounded like a T Bone Walker recording from the late 40s. It was like a tour of the blues, played by a man as good as anybody. After that, Lloyd and I could only take four numbers from Beth Hart. The warning sighs were Les Pauls instead of Strats – you just knew the Boogie Button would be hit halfway through the first song. And it was, complete with the Swamp Button for added hideousness, and the leather lungs of Ms Hart just made the poor song die a death. A couple more followed, with the guitarists actually having a “duel” (I know, I know) halfway through song two. As she announced her intention to play a song by the wonderful Melody Gardot (“murder”, as Lloyd put it), we knew it was time to go.

Cray

Lensomnia
I couldn’t sleep the other night, so I spent an hour at 2am reading Sylvie Simmons’ terrific biography of Mr Cohen, I’m Your Man. Satisfying and stylish, and certainly not a hagiography, it’s a totally fascinating look at career often made up of happenstance and luck. I’m struck again that things seen from the outside that seem so planned, are the result of chaos and frustration, especially with songs that he can’t finish.

Favourite music interview of the week
Unlocking the Truth: Brooklyn’s teen metalheads, the youngest group ever to sign to Sony, by Hermione Hoby in the Guardian:
“I meet them in the downtown office of their management, which, in the way of most such offices, looks like a teenage boy’s dream: pool table, bubblegum machines, mounted guitars, flatscreens playing music videos. Dawkins, the drummer, sits down beside me on the sofa, hands clasped in an attitude of professional attention. The other two bounce around until they’re finally corralled into place by a succession of managers and mothers. Lots of people think metal is about anger, I say… “That,” says Dawkins soberly, “is a stereotype.” Soft-spoken and still, he continues: “Music is music, and as long as you can express yourself in a way that you think is good for people to hear then it’s something you should do. I wish everybody could not be afraid to do the things they want to do.” At 12, Dawkins is the youngest, but has a gravitas more often associated with aged clergymen than pubescent heavy-metal drummers. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by his bandmates. “Jarad, you should be a pastor!” says Atkins. “When you retire, I’ll nominate you as the pope. ‘Pope Jarad is coming everyone, look your finest!’ You’re going to be the first black pope.” “That would be good,” he says, quietly.”

Extra! Goodbye Acker! A fine “Clarry man” and a lovely, genuine guy…
And possibly the only British Trad Jazz Musician to be signed to Atlantic by Ahmet Ertegun!

Acker

 

Wednesday 29th October

Classic Album Sundays ‘New’ Basement Tapes preview at the Bag O’ Nails
Appropriately set in a basement private members club in Soho (where Paul met Linda, and Jimi played his first gig, for those taking notes at the back), Coleen Murphy talked to Sid Griffin about the upcoming Basements release. Sid is expansive and all-knowing, Coleen is bubbly, the sound system stunning, the vinyl the best they can make and the audience refreshed by the limitless free wine and canapes. I had not expected this when I bought my £10 ticket. I take it as a sign that even Sony know they have vastly overcharged for the complete six-CD set and are trying to make amends. Steve and I were told off for talking – about the fact that Rick Danko is the key to nearly all the Basement Tapes’ melodies – by those sitting next to us (we apologise and they graciously accept – we hadn’t quite got into the whole Listen To An Album In Silence In Public thing.) We loved it, though, and we’ll be looking for Classic Album Sundays’ upcoming treats.

Laura Barnett interviews Kander and Dench about Cabaret in The Guardian
John Kander: “The first thing I did was listen to all the German jazz of the 1920s that I could find, believing that somehow the music would seep into my body. I’ve done that several times since: when we were writing Zorba, I listened to lots of Greek music; with Chicago, it was American jazz. It’s like sitting on a pile of books, hoping that the information will sneak up into your body without you having to think about it. And it does. Cabaret went down quite well in New York, but it was with the London production that things got really interesting. Lila Kedrova – a wonderful actress but wrong, I felt, for the part of Fraülein Schneider – got rave reviews. And Judi Dench, who was without question the best Sally Bowles I’ve ever seen in my life, got bad reviews. She filled out the character in a way we have never seen, before or since. She was innocent and knowing, vulnerable and tough. I remember working with her on the song “Cabaret”. Judi hadn’t sung that much in the theatre, and she was having a problem with the ending, which is one long, held note. I was showing her ways to cheat, but she stopped and said: ‘What a minute – what do you want? What do you really want?’ I said: ‘Well, I’d like it the way I wrote it.’ And she said: ‘That’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get.’ How could you not fall in love with somebody like that?”

Judi Dench: “In the audition, I told Hal [Prince, producer]: ‘I’m not a singer at all.’ And Hal said: ‘Remember that in a musical, you’re not to speak in one voice and sing in another. If that’s the voice you speak in, that’s the voice you sing in.’ It was such an empowering thing to say: I’ve since passed it on to lots of people. I got hold of Goodbye to Berlin, the book by Christopher Isherwood that it’s based on, and kept it on my dressing-room table – open at the page about Sally being just a middle-class girl from Cheltenham. She couldn’t sing at all, but there was something about her you couldn’t stop watching, something mesmerising. I read that passage over every single night. My dressing-room was underground, so I could hear what people were saying as they walked past, which could be quite unnerving. After one matinee, I heard a woman say to her husband: ‘Oh, you told me it was all about nuns and children.’ I think she was rather disappointed…”

Graham goes to the The Art of the Brick Exhibition, sends these

LEGO Janis Bob

Janis and Bob, immortalised in Lego.

We go to Frieze Masters
…which, in contrast to our anticipation that Frieze London would be inventive and now! and Frieze Masters would be old and dull, was exactly the reverse. FL showed that most contemporary art has dug its head in the sand, avoiding saying anything about the world around us, in a kind of petulant and feeble-minded way. Whereas FM covers everything from Italian church sculptures from the 16th century (just unbelievable) up to the year 2000. Great photographs from Frank and Horst, a clutch of Picassos, and some lovely stuff from the painters in each movement who weren’t the leading lights, but did great work none the less. Musically speaking, there were a few good things.

Frieze2

Here’s the one I found most intriguing, mainly because “Dink’s Blues” was a 78 my dad had, and I played it one day and thought it the most extraordinary thing I’d heard in my life. At first I laughed, finding it amusing that someone so barely competent had ever been recorded. But as I played it again (and again) the weird stop/start thing going on, the grunted, mumbled vocalising and the crashing creshendos of Dink’s ten fingers – I think it came to influence everything I feel about music. I haven’t heard it since about 1975 (my dad sold most of his American Musics when he was short of funds) and my attempts a while back didn’t turn a copy up. I even wonder if it could possibly match my remembered version. Anyway, it was great to be reminded of it here in The Barry Thorpe Collection of 20th Century American Music by Allen Ruppersberg, 2014 (Vol.1), an imagined collection in itself… And it didn’t hurt that the pegboard was so reminiscent of old playback booths…

Harry Dean Stanton interviewed by Sean O’Hagan last year (I’ve only just run across it)
“Singing and acting are actually very similar things,” says Stanton when I ask him about his other talent, having seen him perform about 15 years ago with his Tex-Mex band in the Mint Bar in Los Angeles. “Anyone can sing and anyone can be a film actor. All you have to do is learn. I learned to sing when I was a child. I had a babysitter named Thelma. She was 18, I was six, and I was in love with her. I used to sing her an old Jimmie Rodgers song, “T for Texas”. Closing his eyes, he breaks into song: “T for Texas, T for Tennessee, T for Thelma, that girl made a wreck out of me.” He smiles. “I was singing the blues when I was six. Kind of sad, eh?”

St Vincent, Roundhouse
My crusade of going to see concerts by musicians I have barely heard reaches a slight impasse with Annie Clark. The Roundhouse is fabulous and Michael is telling me great stories of nearly being run over, aged seven, by George Harrison’s Ford Anglia (John leant out and apologised). I loved his great answer to the question, asked recently at a party, of what music he liked: “Music that sounds like it comes from somewhere”. I think that nails it. Anyway, here are my iPhone jottings on SV: Stunning opening/ Performance art/huge shadow shape-making on the bkdrop/klieg lights flashing/So composed sure and happy in her performance/Great, great hair/[At one point] she lays down, then slowly falls off a stage riser, in the glare of halogen lights/Robert Johnson fingers shredding like Marnie Stern/Weirdly mesmerising, almost metal guitar playing/Great hair. That was the first 45 minutes. Then my notes end as the law of diminishing returns set in and I drift to the bar and then to the exit.

Five Things: Wednesday 25th June

My two favourite bits of ephemera found on the web this week
Roxy Music small ad in the Music Press. Those were the days. I think the pic on the right was an album cover, but I’m not sure. Whatever, top marks!

Roxy
Horseless Headmen, The Harrison

HH

Forty five minutes of improvised fabulousness: with added drummer, Tom Atherton, who imbued proceedings with a mighty roar that still allowed the terrific Nick Cash (regular drummer) to decorate and amplify the noise with bells, bike chains and upturned water dispensers. Guitarist G Painting seemed to be initiating the proceedings this time round, alternating an almost metal attack with delicate and spiky Chinoiserie. Bassist Ivor Kallin was propulsive and gulping, and trombonist Paul Taylor’s organic rasp and great ear for a melody (he’d been playing along to Duke Ellington on the sound system before they started) added to the Headless mix. Sometimes it felt and sounded like they were building the Titanic in a tiny basement; at others, when they stroked a melody tenderly, like a warm bath.

Mavis Staples talking to Elon Green about recording The Weight for The Last Waltz, The New Yorker
Just an excerpt: “The Last Waltz was, as Helm wrote in his memoir, deemed “too lily-white and missing something crucial.” And so, not long after the show, the Staples Singers, a popular gospel group and old friends of the Band, performed “The Weight” on an M.G.M. soundstage in front of an audience of two hundred and fifty people. As the song finishes up, the camera settles on the Staples family—Roebuck (“Pops”), out of focus in the background, and his daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne, and Mavis. Mavis, closest to the camera, throws her head back, leans toward the mic, and says, almost inaudibly, “Beautiful.” Here is Mavis Staples’s memory of that session: “It was so beautiful to me. I was surprised that was caught on tape, you know, because I thought I was whispering. It wasn’t rehearsed to go like that. It was just a feeling that brought that on. The excitement of being with our friends—Levon and Danko and those guys were such good friends of ours—to be singing with them, and knowing that this is going to be on the big screen, the silver screen, it was just a moment in time for me…

Scorsese gave us all a break at one point, and everybody scattered. Levon was on his drums, still drumming. So Pops walked back there. “Hey, Levon!” Levon said, “Hey Roebuck!” And they talked a bit, and all of a sudden Pops realized that Levon was smokin’ two cigarettes. He said, “Levon, man, you’re smoking two cigarettes at a time?” And Levon held one of ’em up and said, “Oooooooh, Roebuck. You gotta try this one!” And that one was marijuana! Pops said, “Man, I don’t want none of that mess.” Daddy was so tickled. We talked about that forever

And I remember everything about it. I remember every moment that we had doing that. Pops said, “Mavis! Baby, you shouldn’t carry it out so long like that,” when I go, “Heeeyyyy yeeeeaaah.” And I said, “Nah, daddy, that’s the good part. That’s what I feel.” He said, “O.K., do what you feel. That’s the best thing. Do what you feel.”

Busking at Clapham, 1980s
Among Bob Mazzer’s pictures of the London underground during the 80s at the Howard Griffin Gallery I was drawn to this as Clapham Common was my local tube station then (this could be Clapham North or South, all three look alike). Doesn’t that seem like a proto-Jack White, down in the tube station at midnight? And I don’t think the guy singing is actually with the band…

Clapham

Bob Dylan by artist Martin Creed, The Guardian
Jeff also gave me tapes, including a bootleg of the Bootleg Tapes (I think they mean the Basement Tapes – ed) that I still play. I have a lot of cassettes from that time and a car that plays tapes, so I still listen to Jeff’s bootleg when I’m driving. I love the Bootleg Series: those funny versions of songs often seem better than the official versions. They haven’t been cleaned up. I got into Bob Dylan, again, because of the 1997 album Time Out of Mind, which seemed like the start of a whole new thing. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful music, but also the funniest, most thoughtful and stupid music I could possibly imagine. It feels like it’s got everything in it, but without necessarily making sense. Things fly in from left, right and centre. There are different ideas, turns of phrase, beautiful pieces of music, catchy bits, but it’s mysterious and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t add up. One song, “Highlands”, is 15 minutes long and sounds as though he’s just making the story up as he goes along. It’s brilliant. It reminds me of something I’m told the painter Gerhard Richter once said: “I want my work to be stupid, like nature.”

Five Things: Wednesday 9th April [This is late, too]

I Got Those Ol’ Subcomittee Blues Again
“As thousands take their seats Thursday night at New York’s Barclays Center to watch Kiss, Cat Stevens and other artists be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”, writes Marc Myers in the Wall Street Journal, “Cecil ‘Big Jay’ McNeely will be preparing dinner in his one-bedroom apartment in the Baldwin Hills section of central Los Angeles. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, Mr. McNeely helped pioneer rock ’n’ roll. His wailing blues saxophone and feverish R&B concerts set new showmanship standards for many rockers who followed—including Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown. He also helped integrate R&B, paving the way for rock’s mass-market ascendancy in the second half of the 1950s… “Having more early R&B artists inducted would be great, but ultimately it’s the decision of the subcommittee,” said Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation president and CEO Joel Peresman. “Then their recommendation needs to garner enough votes among nominating-committee members to get on the ballot.” That last sentence on Big Jay McNeely’s omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes you question the very notion of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, doesn’t it?

“And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox, too”
Bob G. sends me a link to a site where eloquent strippers talk about music and politics, and one of the choices leads me to this discovery about Lester Maddox. As Wikipedia says: “Maddox’s name appears in the opening lines of Randy Newman’s song “Rednecks” in allusion to his appearance on The Dick Cavett Show:
“Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show/With some smart-ass New York Jew/And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too.
Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool/If they think they’re better than him they’re wrong/So I went to the park and I took some paper along/And that’s where I made this song.”
He was a populist Democrat, and a staunch segregationist, refusing to serve black customers in his Atlanta restaurant in defiance of the Civil Rights Act. Amazingly, Maddox was the 75th Governor of Georgia (from ’67 to ’71). After his 1974 gubernatorial bid, and with his political career seemingly over and with massive debts, Maddox began a short-lived nightclub comedy career in 1977 with an African-American musician, Bobby Lee Sears, who had worked as a busboy in his restaurant. Sears had served time in prison for a drug offense before Maddox, as lieutenant governor, was able to assist him in obtaining a pardon. Calling themselves The Governor and the Dishwasher, the duo performed comedy bits built around musical numbers with Maddox on harmonica and Sears on guitar.” Truth, truly stranger than fiction, as this newspaper clipping from the time attests.

Maddox

 

Duke Fakir, Four Tops singer, How We Made “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, The Guardian
“We were all in the studio one day when Holland-Dozier-Holland said they wanted to try something experimental. They had this thumping backing track played by the Funk Brothers – it had an amazing drum beat created by timpani mallets hitting a tambourine. The sound was fabulous, but then Eddie said they wanted Levi Stubbs [the Four Tops’ lead singer] to do Bob Dylan-type singing over it. Levi was uncomfortable at first. He said: “I’m a singer. I don’t talk or shout.” But we worked on it for a couple of hours, recording it in pieces, talking part after talking part. Eddie realised that when Levi hit the top of his vocal range, it sounded like someone hurting, so he made him sing right up there. Levi complained, but we knew he loved it. Every time they thought he was at the top, he would reach a little further until you could hear the tears in his voice. The line “Just look over your shoulder” was something he threw in spontaneously. Levi was very creative like that, always adding something extra from the heart. The finished song didn’t sound like the Four Tops. We just assumed it was some experimental thing that would go on an album. A few weeks later, Motown boss Berry Gordy sent us a memo: “Make sure your taxes are taken care of – because we’re going to release the biggest record you’ve ever had.” He called us into his office, and I remember one of us asking: “So when are we going to record this great song?” He said: “You already have.” We’re all thinking: “Huh? Then he played “Reach Out” and we said: “Hold on, Berry, we were just experimenting. Please don’t release that as a single. It’s not us. It has a nice rhythm to it but if you release that we’ll be on the charts with an anchor.” He laughed, but we left the meeting feeling very upset, almost angry. I was out driving when I heard the song on the radio for the first time. It hit me like a lead pipe. I turned my car round and drove right back to Berry’s office. He was in a meeting but I opened the door and just said: “Berry, don’t ever talk to us about what you’re releasing. Just do what you do. Bye.”

Mistaken Wall Painting. Don’t Hold Front Page.
Waiting in the car, the sunlight drew me to something on the wall at the end of our street. And in one of those “doesn’t that look like the face of Jesus in my burnt tortilla?” moments, I thought it was a version of the cover of The Band. I know – mad. What it actually is: the number £29,000. Which in itself is quite strange…

Band

Ronnie Scott’s Jook Joint
Reading A London Year (a compilation of diary entries for each day drawn from myriad sources) I come upon this, written on the 27 march, 1776 by Edward Oxnard.

“In the evening went to Drury Lane to hear the Oratorio of the Messiah composed by Handel. It is impossible for me to express the pleasure I received. My mind was elevated to that degree, that I could almost imagine that I was being wafted to the mansions of the blest. There were more than a hundred performers, the best in England.”

I knew how he felt as I sat in the best seat of the house (thanks H+E!) and listened to Ronnie’s super-talented MD James Pearson lead his house band through a soul-heavy set that was flatly astonishing. If you’d asked me beforehand if I wanted to hear “Proud Mary”, I’d have politely declined. What could anyone bring to that karaoke warhorse, written by John Fogarty and pummeled into the ground by Tina Turner? I reckoned without Michelle Jones and a band who played everything with taste and feeling. It’s hard to know where to start… The first half had been the Alex Garnett quartet with Dave Jones on bass, fleet fingered but mountainously funky, Pearson on keys and Elliot Henshaw on drums, moving from the twenties to the seventies, jazz-wise, with ease. The same musicians became the nucleus of the band for the second set, joined by a five piece horn section featuring, joy of joys, a baritone sax. They also added three terrific singers and the sensational Adam Goldsmith, fresh from essaying every guitar style known to man in The Voice house band. A medley of Cop Theme Tunes was followed by a perfect “Night Train”, hot horns to the fore. There was so much to enjoy here, especially Goldsmith’s Curtis Mayfield-style licks wrapping around Polly Gibbon’s sultry vocal on Ray Charles “What Would I Do Without You?” and his angry soloing on “I’d Rather Go Blind”, counterpointing Michelle Jones.

I could have watched Elliot Henshaw all night. I had to go up to him afterwards and tell him that he was one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen. In the quartet it was “Big Noise From Winnetka” (expansive and dynamic Krupa-esque tom thumping) one moment, Mr Magic-era Harvey Mason (a model of funk precision) the next. His cymbal playing behind the soloists was hair-raisingly good, every intonation wieghted and propulsive. In the R ’n’ B/Soul second half, where they were reading charts for unfamiliar arrangements, he was just as jaw-dropping. Not a missed turnaround, not a bridge or chorus that didn’t lift higher than the one before. Hugely recommended, the Jook Joint’s on Sundays, once a month, with a shifting cast of great musicians.

Five Things: Wednesday 18th September

Amy Winehouse Exhibition, Jewish Museum
A touching collection of the memorabilia of someone who died too young.

AmyOne of the records displayed, Sarah Vaughn’s The Divine One, still had its Record & Tape Exchange sticker. Starting at £10, by the time Amy bought it, the price was a bargain £3.

The songs our parents gave us, The Guardian
My favourite piece of writing here was Lucy Mangan’s: “Wichita Lineman” (the words of Jimmy Webb sung by Glen Campbell) had been playing in the background for years until one day when I was about seven or eight. I suddenly seemed to become old enough to hear, properly at last, one of my mum and dad’s favourite songs. The words didn’t make much sense at first – for a start, I would need Wichita, lineman and county explained to me once it had finished – but I could hear the… well, I would need a new word for that too, but a long time later I would come across “yearning” and be able to give a name to that strange ache the music produced in me.

From then on I played and replayed that record on my own account… I was in love – with the words now even more than the music (though in later years an ex-boyfriend would explain to me what every part of the latter was doing and why and how it was working all together to produce something even greater than the sum of its parts, which made me fall in love with him all over again). “I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road/Searching in the sun for another overload …”

It’s the sparest of songs – just 16 lines, 13 if you don’t count the repeated final verse – and it suited our family’s inexpressive collective temperament perfectly. Whatever damage I did to their enjoyment during those first obsessive months has since been repaired and now when we gather we will play it, and it alone has the power to still us all while we follow that battered stoic across the state and, separately together, indulge in a little vicarious longing of our own.

One Night In Soho: Part One
It started with Barney’s phone call to come see a screening of Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen’s take on a would-be Folk Star in Greenwich Village, ’62. The night before I’d watched a Mastermind contestant do his Two Minutes on the LIfe and Work of Bob Dylan. He scores 13. I knew one he didn’t – the studio in Minneapolis where Bob re-recorded Blood On The Tracks (that’s Sound 80, pop pickers). He knew one I didn’t – the two books of the Old Testament that feature in the lyrics of “Jokerman” (that’s Deuteronomy and Leviticus, fact fans). And I screwed up an easy one, by interrupting and shouting Robert Shelton! when they asked about the night in the Village when Dylan was reviewed in the New York Times, when the answer was the name of the club (The Gaslight).

And the Coen’s film centres, dramatically, on that very night. Which made me wonder about the mainstream audience reaction to a film that turns on a concert review… The evocation of time and place is predictably good, and its sense of humour is not a million miles from A Mighty Wind, especially the hysterical record session where Justin Timberlake (half of folk duo Jim and Jean with Carey Mulligan) is attempting to cash in with an assumed name (The John Glenn Singers), and a Space Race ditty (“Dear Mr Kennedy”). The supporting actor casting is worthy of Broadway Danny Rose or Stardust Memories – extraordinary faces, pungent performances. Carey Mulligan rocks an acerbic fringe, John Goodman is monstrously withering, and Oscar David is really convincing as an almost-good-enough troubadour. If you know your Village in the early Sixties, go see it. If not? Not so sure. I’d be interested to know what an impartial observer would make of it.

One Night In Soho: Part Two
The restaurants of Soho seem to be having a Boogie/Swamp moment. If it’s not the Allmans and John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down The Road” (ooo-eee – remember that? Creedence in all but name?) playing in ramen joint Bone Daddies, it’s Canned Heat at Pizza Pilgrims, which is where I found myself after the film. As I walked to meet Tim in St Giles, I passed this in Soho Square, screening off the Crossrail development. It seems that Dobells is unavoidable at the moment…

Soho

One NIght In Soho: Part Three
Tim’s spot, The Alleycat in Denmark Street, is a dive, in all the best senses of the word. Every other Tuesday, #4 on the door, and Paloma Faith’s Musical Director, Dom Pipkin, playing excellent Longhair/Booker piano, his keyboard sonically split, with bass in the left hand and electric piano in the right. Along with a drummer doing the right thing (staying on the hi-hat, not much cymbal action) and a lowdown trombonist, they make a holy noise. Dom’s dad is coaxed up for Doctor Jazz, N.O. style, before he and his wife head off for Wales, a man in a cap adds fine accordian, the young dudes in the audience groove, and we’re all happily transported to Claibourne Avenue and Rampart Street for a couple of hours. Catch Dom and The Iko’s on Sunday where they are promoting and supporting Zigaboo Modeliste at the 100 Club. I tell my mother about it, and she says that’s how it used to be, and so we make a date to hit The Alleycat some future Tuesday.

Dom

Five Things: Wednesday 29th May

Wayne Miller died last week
Wayne Miller was one of the less famous names at the legendary photo agency Magnum. When we were looking for a cover for our album in 1986, to be called South, we were determined not to have ourselves in the frame. Our first single had used a Weegee photo of a burning building, and we liked the anti-80s feel of black and white photography. In the mid-80s every cover seemed to have sharp pinks and hard yellows and glossy, overlit faces shining out.
Wayne
We were looking for a photo that summed up the feel of a record recorded partly in the Alabama heat of Muscle Shoals, and found it in the book that accompanied Ed Steichen’s famous Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. The photo we fell in love with was of a couple in a clinch. It was part of a series taken in 1949 of migrant workers – cotton pickers – in California. We thought that the intensity and intimacy was something to behold. There’s another wonderful image in this series of the same couple, the man sitting disconsolately on the bed, with the woman lazily fiddling with her nails. I’m still not sure how we convinced anyone to go with this approach, but we did. Of course, the record company could probably point to the cover having something to do with the paltry sales of the album… The type is cut out of some posters that we had printed by Tribune Showprint, of Earl Park, Indiana. You can read about the rather great Mr. Miller here. If you’re curious, more on our failed career here.

The Clash interviewed, The Guardian
Paul Simenon on musicianship: I’d become musically more capable. I could take off the notes that were painted on the neck of my guitar. But then I did make a mistake in being really confident: I went for one of those jazz basses that didn’t have frets… and when it goes really dark, and you can’t quite hear what you’re playing, it suddenly sounds like you’re drunk. So I said: “You know what? I think I’ll have the frets put back on.” I got a bit carried away. I thought I was getting quite good, but I got a big slap in the face.

…and on presentation: A lot of the looks were down to financial problems. Everyone in those days wore flares and had long hair. So if you went into secondhand stores, there’d be so many straight-legged trousers because everyone wanted flares. That instantly set you apart from everybody else. And also there was another place called Laurence Corner… Mick Jones: Selling army surplus…

I work along the road from where Laurence Corner was, and still fondly remember the green Army Jacket I bought there. Now there’s a chemist in its place, but they’ve put a nice plaque in the window…

Laurence

That Difficult Second Album
Sexual Healing, Pamela Stephenson Connolly’s sex therapy column in The Guardian: “My boyfriend talks too much during sex. We’ve been together for a year and recently he’s started talking to me while we’re intimate. At first it was everyday stuff like what he wants for dinner but then essentially he began ranting. Do you know how hard it is to climax while listening to someone talk about how many bands have produced “disappointing second albums”? I don’t know if I can go on like this.”

Rolling Stone’s Bob Dylan Special
No professional manicures for Bob…

bobmanicure

Stephen Collins’ strip, Guardian Weekend
Still, his wonderful anti-Mumfords bandwagon rolls on…

Scollins

Not room this week for Sam Amidon at Bush Hall, intriguing, strange and moving in equal measure. More next week…

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