Tuesday, August 15th

ONE TELL ME THAT IT ISN’T TRUE
“I have been in the industry long enough to know when I’m in the presence of a genius and Chris Martin is just that. In years to come, Britain will look back at him as a modern-day Shakespeare. He is an incredible recording artist, an incredible songwriter, but where he really comes alive is performing live. If you get the chance to see Coldplay live, do it – you ain’t gonna regret it.” – Jay-Z in an interview with The Metro UK, late July 2017

TWO ZIMMER & FRAMES
On the evidence of the first ten minutes, I thought that Dunkirk was going to be virtually dialogue-less. Unfortunately, it isn’t, and all the dialogue does is give voice to the most hackneyed element of war films – that we need narratives to balance the visceral thud and dogfight screams. In many ways, it’s a stunningly immersive film, with Nolan’s bravura time-shifting and powerful visual sense keeping you slightly taut and breathless throughout. Allied to this is Hans Zimmer’s cracking score which seems as if it’s forever on the brink of breaking into soaring melodies and swelling strings but finding itself overpowered and mashed into the noise of cranking machinery and bullets tearing through metal.

From Business Insider: “Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own, with a particularly insistent ticking, and we started to build the track out of that sound. And then working from that sound, we built the music as we built the picture cut. There’s an audio illusion in music called a ‘Shepard tone’ – it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the [Dunkirk] script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals.” Apparently, it helps if you imagine the Shepard tone as a barber’s pole – remember those?

THREE HARRY STYLES?
Distracting to see the ex-1Directioner as one of the soldiers trapped on the beach – his face is distinctive, the part is quite large, and it draws you out of the action as you strart to process it. I have nothing against Harry – he has very good taste in drummers (Sarah Jones, who I saw with Alex Taylor a couple of years ago, is a really considerable talent). But you just keep thinking how many young actors could have benefitted from Dunkirk on their CV.

FOUR MY SENSES ARE FILLED UP ALREADY, THANKS
What in God’s name was BBC4 thinking when they put John Denver at the Wembley Arena in 1979 in a prime time Sunday night slot. What in God’s name was I thinking, watching it? Good Lord, the cheese-fest that is the John Denver songbook made 45 minutes feel like a life sentence. He had a super expensive band with him, the best that money could buy, but even they couldn’t fight their way out of some of the lousiest material ever written in the name of music. No cliche was left unturned by his unctuous persona. “I wanna Rock ’n’ Roll!” he said, strapping on a Gibson 335. There followed a cover of “Johnny B Goode” that was beyond saving, even by James Burton. Aside from Burton, there was Hal Blaine on drums, Jim Horn on sax, Herb Peterson on guitar, Emory Lee Gordy on bass and Glen Hardin on keys. So he basically had Elvis’ band plus Blaine, all in the service of, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy / Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry / Sunshine on the water looks so lovely / Sunshine almost always makes me high.”

FIVE (A) SONG OF THE WEEK 1 THE ROOTS FEAT. BILAL “IT AIN’T FAIR”
So you’re talking about Curtis Mayfield’s wonderfully delicate yet tough vocal tone (and this performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test) and that very night this terrific track is broadcast on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. From the Detroit soundtrack, the upcoming film about the riots of ’67 by Kathryn Bigelow.

FIVE (B) SONG OF THE WEEK 2 DAVID RAWLINGS “CUMBERLAND GAP”
… with Gillian Welch, of course, from new album, Poor David’s Almanac. The most immediate song – no, it’s not the Lonnie Donegan one – is a wonderful Harvest-era Neil Young-like duet that trudges through its Kentucky landscape with backwards guitars and a pentecostal Hammond. (FYI: The Cumberland Gap is a narrow pass through the long ridge of the Cumberland Mountains, within the Appalachian Mountains, near the junction of the U.S. states of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.)

FIVE (C) SONG OF THE WEEK 3 GLEN CAMPBELL “GUESS I’M DUMB”
I’d never heard this before, an entirely extraordinary lost pop classic. As Richard Williams writes, “Recorded at the same time as the Beach Boys Today album, it’s a prototype of what we were going to hear on Pet Sounds the following year: a carefully wrought song of tortured self-examination set to an imaginative adaptation of the techniques originated by Phil Spector… the mono mix is a masterpiece. I’ve described the individual elements separately, but you’re supposed to hear them as one giant instrument, as if recorded by a single microphone.”

And this, from Amanda Petrusich’s lovely reminiscence of Glen Campbell in the New Yorker: “I met Campbell once, at the Nashville airport. All of my belongings (including my laptop, which contained an early and otherwise unsaved draft of a magazine feature I’d spent months reporting) had recently been stolen from my rental car. It was parked in a garage downtown; one of its rear windows had been smashed in with a rock. During the ensuing hubbub – phoning the cops, explaining the compromised state of my Kia Sephia to the rental-car agency – my flight back to New York City had departed without me. I was consoling myself by drinking a great deal of beer at an outpost of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famed Broadway honky-tonk. This must have been in 2009.

I looked up and saw Campbell wandering around with his wife, Kim Woolen. (They’d met on a blind date – he took her to dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, with his parents, and then to a James Taylor concert.) Campbell hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet, not in any official capacity, but it was clear, even then, that he wasn’t quite himself—that certain ideas or bits of language were receding, drifting out of reach, like paper boats fluttering across a pond.

I approached and brazenly asked for a photograph – I suppose I felt like I had little left to lose in Nashville that afternoon. They were so gracious. You know, it wasn’t that bad, losing my stuff and missing my flight. There would be more stuff, more flights. He threw a big arm around me and we grinned.”

Wednesday, 15th March

ONE FAVOURITE ALBUM REVIEW OF THE WEEK
Alex Balk in The Awl, reviewing the Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir.

[Headline] Album Good
[Sell] Take my word for it, or this other guy’s. Or find out yourself.
[Text excerpt] …anyway. I’m not a big “let’s get all descriptive as fuck in the review” type guy, because Jesus Christ, just tell me if it’s worth checking out and I’ll figure out the rest on my own. But I know some people need more convincing. Here’s the best review I’ve read so far, if someone going on and on about things is your thing… [there follows a review from Slate, a Spotify playlist and a video link].

TWO NEVER NEVERLAND?
It seems a lot for a 5 Bed house, but it is 2,700 acres and perfect for a vineyard, apparently…

zoopTHREE GOOD GOD, THE NME GETS WORSE…
From its Kong-wrapped advertising cover to Geri Halliwell’s Soundtrack of my Life, it’s a shock how redundant the free NME is now. There is literally nothing of note in the whole sorry thing. It’s mostly Q&As that barely rise above the “what is your favourite colour?” level, and the Straw/Camel interface moment is discovering that the NME Awards are now sponsored by a hair shampoo company, VO5, and their advertorial is headlined, “Get gig-ready hair”. Really.

FOUR SUB-EDITOR STAR OF THE WEEKwsjFIVE THINGS THAT I READ AND ENJOYED
1) Thanks to Every Record Tells a Story for reminding me of those Junior Parker records that came out in the late Sixties/early Seventies. An influence on Al Green, who dedicated “Take Me to the River” to “Little Junior Parker, a cousin of mine, he’s gone on, but we’d like to kinda carry on in his name…” he was famed for writing and recording “Mystery Train” and the blistering “Feelin’ Good” at Sun in 1953. Thereafter, his career plateaued, but the soul/blues albums of this later period are great, and had some inspired song choices. My favourites were the Percy Mayfield cover, “Rivers Invitation”, sung against clipped funk guitar and fatback shuffle drums, an eight-minute take on Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with a loooong spoken intro. But finest of all, as ERTAS’s Steve says, is a version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Quiet and compelling, the simplicity of the guitar playing is genius, as is Junior’s vocal, especially on the closing couplet, “So play the game Existence to the end/of the beginning, of the beginning…

2) The New Yorker profile “Jack White’s Infinite Imagination”, by Alec Wilkinson:
Last summer, Jack White bought a house in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that he had seen only in photographs. He wasn’t planning to live in it, except perhaps occasionally on retreats—he lives in Nashville. He was drawn to its past. The house was designed by George Nelson, a figure in American modernism, who mostly designed furniture. “A George Nelson house, there’s not too many of those,” White said in a car on the way there.

[The previous owner Dave] Corner sat on a couch and White sat in a chair beside him, as if on a talk show. White asked Corner what his favourite part of the house was. “This living room,” Corner said. “It’s so peaceful.” The room had windows that rose to the ceiling, and beyond the windows were woods. White asked what the rain sounded like on the flat roof. “Like heaven,” Corner said. White said that in Nashville he’d had microphones installed under the eaves of his home, so that he could hear the rain better. He has two young children, a boy and a girl, from his second marriage, and he said that his ability to make the rain louder had led them to believe that he controlled the weather.

3) This amusing piece by Alan Swyer on Narratively, about being Ray Charles’ interview “stand-in”: “It began innocently enough. After thousands of interviews, Ray had come to hate the process, and told me he was particularly dreading a session with a journalist who stuttered. Come on by and sit with me, Ray said. If you’re there, maybe we can figure out what he’s asking and get the goddamn thing over with. Only when I arrived for the interview did Ray inform me that instead of merely keeping him company, I — not he — would be doing the talking. Ray was a prankster, so I assumed he was joking. The reporter blanched when he learned who would be answering his questions, but I figured that once we were under way, Ray would laugh, then take over…”

4) This piece from last December that I finally got round to reading on Slate, about Stevie Wonder’s classic period, by Jack Hamilton: “Most Americans follow up their 21st birthdays with a hangover; Stevie Wonder opted for arguably the greatest sustained run of creativity in the history of popular music.” Thrill to the fact that top-to-tail, Wonder created “Higher Ground” in three hours…

5) And finally, Richard Williams’ excellent piece on Bob Dylan’s largely under-appreciated 1966 acoustic opening halves, on thebluemoment. Always drawn to the atmosphere of these hypnotic versions, where songs stretch and expand timelessly on Dylan’s whim, I felt that songs regarded as slighter, like “Fourth Time Around”, were raised to the level of “Visions of Johanna” by the performance. Here’s a note I got from Ray Lowry, having sent him the 1966 bootleg Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix that surfaced about six months before the “Judas” concert was officially released. I’d discussed it at length while commissioning a cartoon from him. I’d said, don’t ignore the first half, but Ray, a rockabilly at heart – one of the reasons he got on so well with The Clash – only had ears for the hopped-up vocals and the hipped-up whipcrack of the guitars.

raydylan

The first rays of Summer-like weather (well in London, anyway) led me to chose Joni Mitchell’s version of “Summertime” in the music player on the right.

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Wednesday, December 14th

ONE JAZZIE B: FROM DOLE TO SOUL, BBC 4
This documentary started lazily, but gradually sharpened up to be a fascinating portrait of black experience in 80s London. “The media painted us all with the same brush, but we were all different strands of that brush… not everybody in south London and Brixton enjoyed West Indian food – no we didn’t. We were sick of chicken and rice and dumpling and all that stuff, ’cos that’s what we were raised on. We aspired to the Wimpy Bar – we wanted to eat chips. I was born and raised in England. I wanted to be like my mate at school. I wanted to go fishing down on the River Lea. I wanted to play Subbuteo, I wanted to roller skate. I wanted to have those kind of experiences. I played Ice Hockey, for Christ’s sake!”

TWO RICHARD HARRIS IN A COMMENT ON thebluemoment
On a post about the Stones’ new album: “May 12, 1963 (Sunday) they played an afternoon “R&B” session at The 51 Club (Ken Colyer’s place). We were in London, up from Wales for the opening concert that night of Ray Charles’ hugely anticipated first British visitation, so wandering through Soho just to kill time, we drifted in. Yes, they cranked through the Chess Best Of anthology rather well, loud and tight, and with embryo attitude! I do remember they also did “I’m Moving On” with a two chorus break, the second with the bass lifting up an octave. We stole that! The Stones at a pivotal, enthusiastic point and Ray & that Band on one London Sunday… to be alive etc…”

THREE LORRA LORRA ROBBIE ROBERTSON THIS WEEK…
from an animated (!) interview by Andy Kershaw on Radio 4, to a very interesting Michael Simmonds piece in Mojo. The Kershaw interview felt to me to be treading old ground (the Starlight Lounge story is told in the Last Waltz and in every book about the Band ever written), but reading the interview in Mojo reminds me that there’s more than one side to any story. I was idly looking at robbierobertson.com when I came upon this gallery of his guitars. I singled out one Telecaster, partly because of its extraordinary appearance, partly because of its extraordinary history.

robertsonguitars

Then I went off on a detour around Chuck Berry. First, a wonderful piece by Peter Guralnick, where he discusses a series of meetings with Chuck Berry, where the subject of poetry’s influence on the words of Berry’s songs comes up.

It’s here, too, in this interview shot for “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll”, with Robertson and Berry looking through Chuck’s scrapbook. It’s fascinating how subtle and tender Berry’s thoughts are.

FOUR A LOVELY IDEA…
Tyler Coates in US Esquire on the news that no, Bob won’t go to the Nobel Ceremony, but yes, he has written a speech for it: “Usually when one RSVPs “no” to an invitation, it isn’t necessary to submit a long explanation or – perhaps even more ballsy – a script to be read to the people who did show up to the party. Then again, we’re talking about a guy who ghosted on the people who simply wish to bestow upon him one of the world’s most coveted awards. Would it be too much to ask for a member of the Swedish Academy to stand up in front of the crowd, silently hold up Dylan’s speech on cue cards and drop them to the floor?”

The reality was a moving rendition of “Hard Rain” by Patti Smith, beautifully chronicled here by Amanda Petrusich on newyorker.com (she’s the author of Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, a fantastic book.)

FIVE REST IN PEACE, HERB HARDESTY
Not only a kick-ass saxophonist on those great Fats Domino records out of New Orleans, but for those of us who saw Tom Waits touring in ’79, a fabulous trumpet player, too. Follow this link to hear him on the glorious medley of “Summertime/Burma Shave” essayed on that tour. Apparently, his trumpet was custom-made by Henri Selmer Paris, one of two made in France by a master craftsman; the other was owned by Louis Armstrong.

AND FINALLY… PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Halfway up the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, we come across this…

gaga

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Friday, September 9th


louisstewart.jpg
ONE RIP LOUIS STEWART
Sweet-toned Irish jazz guitarist, and a kind and gentle man, at whose feet I sat a few times in the late 70s. It was usually at the Jazz Centre Society in Covent Garden, as I attempted to figure out how a camera worked. Nikkormat FT-N, 35mm lens, Tri-x pushed to 1600 ASA.

TWO THAT MAN BISCHOFF AGAIN
The most fascinating figure in the recent Bowie Prom for me was the arranger and bassist Jherek Bischoff, and in investigating his oeuvre, I discovered a couple of interesting things. His 2012 release, Composed, featuring nine orchestral pieces, with different vocalists, was first written on a ukulele. “This record was recorded with one microphone, an Mbox and a laptop. I recorded each individual musician of the ‘orchestra’ in their very own living rooms. I then layered each instrument (sometimes one violinist playing one part twenty times for instance) until it was the size of a huge orchestra. I spent the summer bike riding from house to house recording each musician.”

Now, that’s an interesting approach. Pitchfork wrote that listening to the album whilst being aware of the process “is like imagining someone filling an Olympic-sized pool with an eye dropper: the mind balks, both at the enormity of the undertaking and at the disposition of the person behind it.”

For his next one, he almost did that: “Bischoff began recording the album Cistern in an empty two million gallon underground water tank under Fort Worden in Port Townsend, Washington. The size of the space was a huge factor in the development of the album. In an interview Bischoff described how “the vast emptiness of the cistern generates a reverb decay that lasts 45 seconds. That means, if you snap your fingers, the sound lasts 45 seconds. That amount of reverberation is an absolutely wild environment to try to create music in.He was bought up on a sailboat, which sort of explains the ukelele…

Oh, and he played a very gorgeous bass guitar at the Proms, a kind of glammed-up version of McCartney’s Hofner violin bass. He also played chords on it at various points, a sound I love. Hear his arrangement of “Ashes to Ashes” in the music player on the right.

THREE ANOTHER GREAT DAY IN HARLEM
Bob G sends me a link to this fascinating interactive piece in the Daily News, which shows just how many backgrounds and genres within Jazz that extraordinary amalgamation contained. Click on any musician to hear a performance clip. Hats off to Art Director/Photographer Art Kane.

FOUR JONNY TRUNK’S FRIDAY 50p MAILER IS ALWAYS FUN…
“Also this week I got sent this ace film about The Mellotron by someone on the mailing list. It’s great and stars Richard Nixon, who used to have a magic show on the TV – his able assistant at the time was the divine Anita Harris, who possibly still opens the Barnes Jumble Sale twice a year. Let’s hope she does…” The clip is terrific, until David Nixon – not Richard, sadly, as the Richard Nixon Magic Show has a great ring about it, especially as his nickname was ‘Tricky Dick’ – actually plays. Obviously none of the members of King Crimson or the Moody Blues actually saw this Pathe demonstration or they would never have bought Mellotrons in the first place. There’s a fascinating shot of the tape loops inside the cabinet, followed by a professional pianist playing, who is actually worse than David Nixon.

FIVE RIP PRINCE BUSTER
Richard Williams wrote a very nice piece on thebluemoment about the Prince – and just check out the bassline on this baby…

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Five Things: Wednesday 31st July

Everyday I Have The Blues…
Or everyday that Richard posts, anyway. And in a good way. Not to be bossy or anything, but you really should all be following thebluemoment, for the way Richard Williams illuminates popular (and some other kinds of) music with a lucidity that shines out of the computer screen. This week, one of the things that propelled him to the keys was Frances Ha. “It’s not often I want to get up and dance in the aisles of a cinema, but that’s how I felt halfway through Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha the other night, when David Bowie’s “Modern Love” erupted out of the speakers. I’ve never been keen on Bowie (although I admire the stuff from his Berlin period), but “Modern Love” is one of those tracks — like Boffalongo’s “Dancing in the Moonlight”, Danny Wilson’s “Mary’s Prayer” or the New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” — that automatically quicken the heartbeat and turn the world’s colours up a shade. It doesn’t matter who it’s by. Listen without prejudice, as someone once suggested.”

Last Night I Had A Dream…
…in which Bill Nighy suggests I listen to the music of GT Moore and the Reggae Guitars. Strange.

Neil, hung
NeilHanging Henry Diltz’s beautiful photo of NY at Balboa Stadium in 1969 (bought at a strikingly strange auction after a showing of Legends Of The Canyon), I put iTunes on a random Neil Young playlist and it threw up something I had never heard (let alone knowingly owned). It’s from the Citizen Kane Junior Blues bootleg recorded at the Bottom Line in New York in May, 1974. Young was there to see Ry Cooder – and was so inspired that, when Ry had finished, he got up on the stage and played for an hour. Most of the material was unknown to the audience, being from the as-yet unreleased On The Beach. “Greensleeves was my heart of gold” sings Neil, before talking amusingly about depressing folksingers… Hear it in the music player to your right.

Now That’s a Record Cover
H HawesFrom London Jazz Collector’s blog, the moody Hampton Hawes, caught in a great sepia mood. And look at its recording venue: Live at the Police Academy, Chavez Ravine, June 28, 1955, Los Angeles, CA. In related news; if you can, look up a copy of Ry Cooder’s Chavez Ravine, a concept album which tells the story of the Mexican-American community demolished in the 1950s in order to build public housing, which, this being LA, was never built. Eventually the Brooklyn Dodgers built a stadium on the site as part of their move to Los Angeles. Fantastic music, especially good on hot summer days, with fine guest vocalists and astonishing percussion.

Best. Busker. Ever.
Donovan (“Sunny Goodge Street”) meets Arthur Brown (“Fire”)  at twilight by the American Church.

Tubafire

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 6th February

From The Blog Of Photographer Heather Harris
“The first four words of vocabulary we learned in Synthesizer 101 class at UCLA (circa 1972, so we’re talking monophonic ARP 2600s) were the descriptions of all musical sound notes: attack, sustain, decay, release. How fitting to the lifeworks of creative types.” Wow. Attack. Sustain. Decay. Release. That’s a manifesto right there, and a great title for a project…

Martin Carthy on Bob Dylan on Desert Island Discs
“The influence of British folk music shows in his later work—he started writing these really anthemic tunes… he was a great performer, a wonderful performer. I don’t believe that anybody who saw his first performance at the King and Queen down in Foley Street would be able to say he gave a bad performance. He stood up, did three songs, absolutely knocked everybody flat. People loved him.”

Is it right that you used to share a flat together?

“No [exasperated exhale]. This story started going round that he stayed with me when he came to London—no, he didn’t. But we did actually chop up a piano. The piano was a wreck, half the keys were missing and it was a very, very cold winter and my wife and I decided to chop up the piano so we took it bit by bit. And by the time Bob came along we were down to the frame. And I’d been given, for my birthday, a Samurai sword and Bob came round to have a cup of tea, and Dorothy—my then wife—said, “Make a fire, Mart,” so I got the sword, and he stood between me and the piano and said, “You can’t do that, it’s a musical instrument!” I said It’s a piece of junk and went to swing at it and before I could swing at it he was whispering in my ear, Can I have a go?

The London Jazz Collector Thinks (A Regular Feature On His Wonderful Site)
“A bent piece of metal pipe with holes called the saxophone transforms human breath into a voice, drums extend the pulse of the heart beat, a piano exchanges ten for eighty-eight fingers, while the bass is the feet on which music walks. Instruments are physical extensions of human form and function that transform man into musician, the ultimate analogue source. Whilst the vocal singing voice can be beautiful, (though often, not) how does it compare with a stream of triplets and sixteenths soaring from Charlie Parker’s alto? It strikes me that not only are records the new antiques, they are works of art, the equal of art framed on gallery walls. You are not just a mere record collector, a figure of fun and pity, poking around in dusty crates. You are, in that immortal expression of Charles Saatchi, an artaholic, in need of a life-sustaining drink.”

This Fabulous Photograph Of John Lee Hooker Explaining It All
John Lee

“I’m not getting any younger, but I’m not feeling very old, Not shoutin’ for my cemetery tomb soon, I’m gonna wait ’til John Lee Hooker makes room…”
Garland Jeffreys, ’Til John Lee Hooker Calls Me, from his latest album (can we still say that?) The King Of Inbetween, where, with the help of the great Larry Campbell, he continues to plow a furrow of his own making, never beaten down, a streetwise NYC poet, part Lou Reed, part Doo-Wop, part John Lee, still a ghost writer with 35mm dreams.

And From Next Week…
For you loyal seventeen followers—or Seventeen Spurious Widows, as an unreleased Bob Dylan song would have it—after one year or 52 posts, and prompted by a great time spent helping out Richard Williams on his new blog (thebluemoment.com, go there now!), a redesign—and to kick it off, a special issue devoted to Bob Dylan and Bette Midler’s hilarious and fascinating Buckets Of Rain session.

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