Thursday, July 5th

I’ve been distracted from weekly posting by a project that’s taken up a fair amount of time, but it’s finally come to fruition. Here’s a quick and dirty look back at the last few weeks. So, listening to Frazey Ford’s lovely Indian Ocean, recorded with the Hi Rhythm Section in Memphis (thanks, Tim – I missed this in 2104), here’s Five Things from the last three weeks…

ONE I LOVED SEEING OLD PALS MICRODISNEY
…who had reformed to receive the inaugural IMRO/NCH Trailblazer Award 2018 – an award which celebrates seminal albums, in this case The Clock Comes Down the Stairs, by iconic Irish musicians. Post the Dublin concert hey played a show at the Barbican, where their songs were revealed to have real heft, standing the test of time. Thirty years fell away and it was great to see them play to a wildly enthusiastic full house.

5-microdisney.jpgThe highlight for me was “Past”, where Cathal’s keening delivery sounded so good enfolded in the warmth of the band’s sound.

TWO WHY DOES THE BBC HAVE TO BE A CONCERT PROMOTER?
I’m not sure events like the Big Weekender are the best use of their (our) resources. There’s so much music on tv but, while it’s not totally narrowcast, it certainly excludes whole swathes of interesting stuff. There has been pitifully little coverage, for instance, of the extraordinary moment that is happening now in jazz in Britain. They just can’t seem to find a way to document or support it. When we look back and are thrilled that someone recorded Big Joe Williams or Josh White, or Rosetta Tharpe or Thelonius Monk or Jimi Hendrix or Ry Cooder or Talking Heads – where is that coverage now? Does it always have to be put through the funnel of newly hyped acts, Jools Holland or a giant music festival? End of rant.

THREE I LOVED THIS IMPASSIONED PAEAN TO FREE (THE BAND, NOT THE CONCEPT)
Commenting on one of Bob Lefsetz’ extraordinary almost-daily stream-of-consciousness missives [the Lefsetz Letter] from the front line of the music biz, was Hugo (Gang of Four) Burnham.

Subject: Re: Paul Rodgers Podcast. “Yes, that voice… that was so strong and mature, so young, and has stayed that way for decades. “My Brother Jake” is still one of the saddest, loveliest songs ever. Chokes me up every time. They were the second band I ever saw live (and on my own) at The Royal Albert Hall in 1972. I stood transfixed at the lip of the (quite low) stage. Paul wore a red flared-sleeve T-shirt… which took me an age to find to buy – in Kensington Market, eventually. There is SO much more than “Alright Now” – they were still teenagers when they recorded “Fire & Water’, FFS. Free was simply the biggest influence on G4. It killed us that the only damn label who didn’t want to sign us in ’78/’79 was Island Records… We covered “Woman” in the early days; I copied Simon Kirke’s whole sit-up playing style – the master (along with Charlie) of less-is-more playing. I met him at [Jerry] Wexler’s memorial service in NY and shook his hand. (Right after that I shook Bernard Purdie’s hand. What a day!) I still listen to Free all the time. Elemental, wonderful stuff.”

FOUR WORST PHOTO OF THE LAST FEW WEEKS

5-mooch.jpgNot the fault of Christopher Lane, the photographer, but down to the fact that people who don’t play guitars always hold them so awkwardly. This Epiphone in the hands of the Mooch (interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead for The Guardian) still has its label hanging off the head stock, and is poorly signed by OneRepublic. Who? What? I listened so you don’t have to. I didn’t have to listen long. “In creating their third full-length album, OneRepublic travelled to Paris, Greece, London, New York, Seattle and Vancouver to write, record and immerse themselves in elevating and expanding their already-sweeping sound.” Right, that’s me told. They could have tried harder with the signatures, I feel, as could the Mooch with the tongue thing. I assume he’s making like Gene Simmons of Kiss. It figures that Scaramucci’d be thirty years out of date.

FIVE THE PEERLESS AMANDA P ON PAISLEY PARK
From The New Yorker: “Before I arrived, I found the property’s purpose somewhat oblique: was it a shrine, a historic site, a mausoleum, a business? In the atrium, I discovered that Paisley Park provides an immediate target for a very particular kind of grief. (The museum’s curator, Angie Marchese, described it to me simply as “a place to go.”) Most of Prince’s fans didn’t know him personally, yet his work was essential to their lives. When he died, where could they mourn? An ungenerous reading might be that Americans are so ill-equipped to manage death that we are forced to mediate it through tourism. We soothe our pain by buying a plane ticket, booking a hotel room, buying a keychain: expressing gratitude via a series of payments. It works, to an extent.”

EXTRA! WHAT THE HELL… WILLIE DE VILLE DOES “ACROSS THE BORDERLINE” IN 1999.
Alongside the glorious mandolin of Freddy Koella, the great James Luther Dickinson, John Robert Hiatt and Ryland Peter Cooder song is still pertinent after all these years.

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Tuesday, June 12th

ONE LORD ABOVE, DEVIL BELOW
Hillsong Church pops up on Sunday at the Dominion Theatre. Shame that Bat out of Hell is the musical in residence…

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TWO DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE’S A RAMONES MUSEUM IN BERLIN?
“Flo Hayler is a Ramones fan. In 1990, he goes to his first concert, and becomes a devotee of the punk rock band, this gig marking the beginning of a lifelong passion. Starting with posters, he hoards T-Shirts and all possible memorabilia. To the annoyance of his girlfriend, his collection grows proportionally to fill his small Berlin flat. And indeed, Hayler collects so much Ramones memorabilia that he now has enough to fill a museum. In 2005, he opened the first Ramones Museum in Berlin, and the world. Head to Kreuzberg to admire 500+ items from the Ramones’ history. A café with snacks, coffee and, of course, beer completes the punk picture. Explore exhibition spaces decorated like packed living rooms. Photos, information and history pour out of display cases and cover the walls.” Oh, and the museum offers life-time tickets to loyal guests.

THREE PIANIST AND COMPOSER LIAM NOBLE…
…has a blog, Brother Face (brilliantly subtitled, Jazz musician gets tangled in words) which is always thought-provoking and enlightening. This is from his most recent post, on Ava DuVernay’s 2008 film, This Is The Life, a documentary which “chronicles the alternative hip hop movement that flourished in 1990s Los Angeles and its legendary center, the Good Life Cafe” according to Wikipedia.

“The thing I love most about the cinema is coming out afterwards, the feeling of moving from that enclosed space to the open world, the dislocation that confirms that something has changed. I haven’t spoken for five hours, but in my brain there’s a head-spinning avalanche all the way home, I’m trying to remember everything that I saw and heard, it came in such a rush, all the names of the MCs and crews, where was the club, was it LA, (I’ll check when I get home), I’ll buy all the records, and I’ll look for the lyrics so I can start again and piece it all together slowly at my own remedial pace. I’m lost. I feel like a beginner, like an idiot somehow and, as a musician, that’s the feeling I’m always looking for. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

And from the previous post, on songs from West Side Story, “Chord sequences stand up like a table, and if you want to build one with three legs you’d better know where to put them.” If Liam was American, he’d be published by The New Yorker.

FOUR A DIFFERENT LIAM AT THE PIANO AT THE LADY MILDMAY, NEWINGTON GREEN

5-pianostandNow that’s what you want to see on your pianist’s iPad. Especially when it follows Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free”.

FIVE PINK FLOYD REISSUES, BY EVERYRECORDTELLSASTORY
“You have to feel a little sorry for Pink Floyd fans. Not too much, obviously. They are more likely than you are to have a final salary pension, a second home, a car that starts on a cold day, a membership to a gym they never visit and all the other trappings of the baby boomer generation, but it’s not as though this is lost on the record companies that sell products to them. Because those record companies are looking to suck up Floyd fan’s cash almost as relentlessly as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals target betting addicts at your local Ladbrokes…”

EXTRA! SOME RECOMMENDED LISTENING
Is That Machine On? is a look by Stuart Maconie at the “golden age of the music press interview.” An entertaining programme that ends up with John Pidgeon’s remarkable interview with Michael Jackson via his “interpreter”, sister Janet. Properly mad.
And Radio 4 still has Great Lives on Miles Davis available. Listen to Adrian (Portishead) Utley and Richard Williams attempt to convince Matthew Parris of Kind of Blue’s place in the Pantheon.

EXTRA! FOUND IN A BOX IN THE GARAGE
Osmonds Letraset!  Why?

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Wednesday, November 1st

A tribute to Fats, a weird Sixties jam, some notable films, and a rather extraordinary gig…

ONE BEST OPENING PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, on Fats Domino: “The moments in my life in which I experience the least complicated kinds of joy are usually when I’m listening to a record by a piano player from New Orleans: Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Allen Toussaint, and, especially, Fats Domino. I can’t explain the alchemy – let the biologists map out precisely what happens on a chemical level. It doesn’t matter how leaden or battered I might have been feeling before – how encumbered by my own cynicism, how spiritually ransacked. There’s an exuberance inherent to this music that is purely, mystifyingly transformative. In an instant, everything lightens.”

TWO FATS AND THE BYRDS
Later in the Fats Domino piece, Amanda P, when talking about his first hit, “The Fat Man”, says, “…but I’d still challenge anyone to make it through the bit after the second verse – in which Domino begins to scat in falsetto, approximating the wah-wah-wah sound of a muted Dixieland trumpet – and not be left at least slightly agog. It’s a nonverbal, nonsensical chorus that’s not exactly a chorus, yet is somehow a flawless chorus—effervescent, unexpected, profuse.”

So for lovers of that, I’d recommend this – Domino backed by the Byrds on The Barry Richards Turn On Show (such a title!), one of a number of “free form” TV shows that were on local UHF TV stations around America in the late Sixties. Start at 7 minutes 30 seconds to see Fats teach the Byrds “Walking to New Orleans”. He tells Roger McGuinn to play the two notes that start the song. “No… staccato. Just hit ’em…” and then, satisfied that they at least vaguely understand him, he leads them into the song. Skip Battin (I guess) on drums and Chis Etheridge (I guess again) on bass try to fit into the rolling groove of Fats’ piano, and Clarence White moves over and plays the answer lines back to Fats… “That’s it, three chords, no bridge… no solo”. Fats looks momentarily worried when the tv director asks him if they’re ready to do a take, before Barry wanders back into frame to introduce the song, snapping his fingers to denote that he’s with it. Fats continues the rehearsal until Skip’s got inside the rhythm, then says: “We ready!”

Barry: “Here’s Fats Antoine Domino in a jam with the Byrds, the Byrds, and F– ” at which point Fats cuts him off and starts singing “I’m walking to New Orleans”, the camera shot tight on his extraordinary face. But they’d never rehearsed the ending – after the third verse it trucks along with Fats humming a lovely phrase over and over, while Clarence and Skip answer him before he draws it to a close with a raised arm and a shambling blues ending. It’s really, well, sweet is the only word…

THREE IF YOU’VE GOT TWENTY MINUTES TO SPARE…
Watch Undeniably Donnie, a film about Donny “Flipside” Fritts, whose album from 2015, Oh My Goodness, this short film was made to promote. Kris Kristofferson supplies the narration (“Every morning his hands draw close to the keys of his Wurlitzer piano”) to a wistful and touching portrait of one of the great backroom boys of Alabama music. Known as the Alabama Leaning Man in honour of his totally laidback style – “I’ve only seen him run twice…” says Kris, before adding, “the truth is I’ve never seen him run…”. John Prine, who often recorded in Muscle Shoals, sums Donnie up: “It’s like when you see a character in a movie, and you just feel really close to that one character as the plot develops – usually it’s not the, y’know, main person in the film, it’s a character actor, y’know – and Donnie’s a living, walking character actor…”

FOUR BILL FRISELL: A PORTRAIT

5-frisell richter
On Sunday, I’m hoping that I can get back to the city in time to go to the first London showing of the above film by singer and filmmaker Emma Franz. I’m always transfixed by Bill Frisell’s playing, whether he’s creating soundscapes and atmospherics, or modestly laying out a simple effects-free melody line from an ancient song that speaks to him. His touch is so delicate, yet so intense. If you feel the same way, then there are still some tickets left for the showing at the Curzon Soho this Sunday, November 5th, at 3pm.

Here’s Emma on Bill: “My own life experience includes many years having worked around the world professionally as a musician. I had long been an admirer of Bill Frisell’s music, as he seems to encompass everything that fascinates and excites me about music. In his music, there is individuality and universality, technique and simplicity, diversity, intensity and depth, and the sense of adventure of a child. Bill Frisell has already left a unique stamp on music, been artistically successful and critically acclaimed, yet remains an eternal student; humble, open-minded and constantly self- challenging.” I really like the idea of a musician making this film, and following Bill across his wide-ranging musical life. He’s been quoted as saying: “She got at something that I don’t think anybody’s ever [captured] – you know, it’s about the process, or whatever it is that I [go through]. I felt like you could actually see that.”

FIVE LOREN CONNORS AT CAFE OTO

5-loren2On a screen in a small music venue in Dalston a film is projected. In it a man shuffles around an apartment, struggling to free a record from its packaging. As he bends over you see a scar from some surgery running up his neck and into his hairline. The music that comes from the record when he drops the needle onto it is distant, ethereal, delicate, and distorted. Appalachian Blues, I wonder? Maybe Widescreen American Western Music? The man shuffles through drawings, hundreds of drawings, and hundreds more photocopies. He lays rolls of paint-splashed paper down on the floorboards of an apartment as the ghostly sounds play. That’s my introduction to Loren Connors’ world. The film is, appropriately, called Gestures. Then Connors walks on stage with a cane and a three-quarter sized student model Stratocaster (a Squier Mini, Fender’s diffusion line), sits down and starts a swirling, shifting piece. I’m transfixed. He builds walls of sound and then coaxes up tiny notes that sit on top, all the while using minimal chord shapes and flickering fingers to brush the strings. At times it’s angry and buzzing, but the impression I’m left with is a subtle and mesmerising beauty.

I’m there with Calum. I was saying that I’d never been to Cafe OTO, so Calum kindly gets us tickets for something coming up that he thinks I’d enjoy, and he’s spot-on. He last saw Connors years ago, when his hair was long and draped over his face when he played. Now he looks like one of Christopher Guest’s ensemble players, straight out of A Mighty Wind or Best in Show. At some point in the 45 minute performance, Loren’s partner, Suzanne Langille, starts reciting  a Keats ballad – La Belle Dame sans Merci – “And this is why I sojourn here/Alone and palely loitering/Though the sedge is withered from the lake/And no birds sing.” It’s alternately beguiling and creepy, which is, I think, its intended effect. It ends to wild applause. Loren sits back down, plays for another minute (an encore?) and that’s it. Brilliant.

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