November 13th. Normal Service Resumed…

Sad news that a true one-off, Tony Joe White, has passed away at 75. His early albums were rough and ready, gusty and emotional. Listen to “Aspen, Colorado” (covered beautifully by Robert Cray on his recent Hi Rhythm album), or “The Train I’m On” for his simple yet sophisticated storytelling. He was by far the best thing on a Muscle Shoals bill at the Barbican a few years back, leaning back on his chair, accompanied only by his swamp guitar, a small amp and a plaintive harmonica, spinning tales, slowly putting the audience under his spell and sounding only like himself.

Jeb Loy Nichols wrote beautifully at Caught by the River: “In my life as a musician, no one has been more important to me than Tony Joe White. For forty-five years his music has been my soundtrack, my daily touchstone, my reminder, my bedrock. I once asked him who, or what, had been the biggest influence on him; he thought about it for a moment and then, in his quiet drawl, said, the rain.”

“Some clients hire Rob Wood [founder and creative director of Music Concierge, a company that chooses background music for businesses] because they want to influence individuals’ behaviour. When the football club Tottenham Hotspur was looking for music for its new training ground complex, Wood was asked to provide playlists for a holistic programme covering every aspect of Spurs’ players’ psychological and physical wellbeing. Others seek to create a certain atmosphere, such as the restaurant German Gymnasium, for which he sourced particular bell sounds that evoked Mitteleuropean cafe culture.” – from Jake Huyler’s fascinating Guardian piece on the “music design” – formerly known as muzak – industry.

John Cooper Clark by Tim Adams, in The Observer. A typically insightful and amusing set of responses from the good Doctor. Among a shout-out to Bill Withers and Busby Berkeley was this answer to a question posed by DJ Lauren Laverne.
Q: What is it that mono can do that stereo can’t?
A: “Hi Lauren. Well, for one thing, mono could produce the Phil Spector “wall of sound”. You couldn’t have that in stereo. That glorious bank of french horns bleeding into a mess of cellos and strings. I tend to live by the dictum “less is more”, but that mono sound proved more can be more. It is also more true to life. If you went to see a band, the Beatles, the Stones, they were up there on the stage; you would naturally expect all the sound to come from their general direction. What do you want to listen to the bass player over your left shoulder for? Stereo is some nerd twiddling his knobs. The only stereo I like is a jukebox: two speakers but both on the same piece of furniture. Phil Spector is obviously out of circulation right now, but I am keeping the faith alive. Stereo, my ass.”

One of the things that really helps in times where grinding stress is balanced with periods of mind-numbing boredom is a gripping read. Thanks go to Steve Way for giving me three of Mick Herron’s terrific Jackson Lamb series, charting the exploits of a group of MI6 cast-offs, billeted in a run-down office, Slough House, near Barbican Station. This gives them the tag “Slow Horses” among the spooks at Service headquarters – characters half-off the books but too tricky to sack, slowly being bored into resignation.

Herron balances the behind-the-curtain-realism of John Le Carré with a blistering sense of humour and a tuned ear for the way people speak – he’s the first author I’ve read to recognise that people say “gunna” not “gonna”, as in “I’m gunna do something”. He also describes London as it actually is, in all its everyday, grimy glory. And he cleaves to the British Crime Novelist template of “Jazz Lover”. There aren’t many references to music, but this passage creeps into the fourth novel of the series, Spook Street:

“Apart from his fingers he is still, but these move unceasingly, his keyboard pushed aside to better accommodate this, and while an observer would see nothing more than an advanced case of the fidgets, what J.K. Coe is describing on the scuffed surface of his desk is a silent replica of what’s coursing through his head via his iPod: Keith Jarrett’s improvised piano recital from Osaka, 8 November1976, one of the Sun Bear concerts; Coe’s fingers miming the melodies Jarrett discovered on the night, all those miles and years away. It’s a soundless echo of another man’s genius, and it serves a dual purpose: of tamping down Coe’s thoughts, which are dismal, and of drowning out the noises his mind would otherwise entertain: the sound of wet meat dropping to the floor, for instance, or the buzz of an electric carving knife wielded by a naked intruder.”

Someone should make these into a tv series, especially as the weirdly under-cooked The Little Drummer Girl was so short on laughs or thrills.

It’s the new podcast from Rock’s Backpages! Yes, I’m biased, but it’s really good. Like eavesdropping on two good friends off on a hike through the foothills of the mountains of rock… hear Mark liken Keith Moon to “the ghastly showoff at school that you just want to thump…” and Barney reminisce about the time they met Wu-Tang’s U-God – “a very bizarre encounter, where Mark and I were waiting at the San Francisco airport, and we suddenly realised that in the departure lounge with us was most of The Wu-Tang Clan – not that I’d ever done a headcount…” And, as Mark would say, “So on and so forth!” Episodes here.

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The book of Five Things is available from Amazon here.

Front Cover

He writes with the insight of someone who has inhabited the world of the professional musician but also with the infectious enthusiasm of someone who is a fan like anyone of us. It’s entertaining and inspiring in equal measure.” – from an Amazon review by Zuma

“What a treat! And it has the years before I discovered your blog…” – Dan Franklin, Publisher

“A terrific book, stuffed to the gills with snippets of news items and observations all with a musical theme, pulled together by the watchful eye of Martin Colyer… lovingly compiled, rammed with colour photos and interesting stories. Colyer has a good ear for a tune, an eye for the out-of-ordinary and he can write a bit too.” – Steve Carr,

“I’ve been dipping with huge enjoyment since it arrived” – James Walton, writer and presenter of Radio 4’s books quiz, The Write Stuff, and the R4 pop quiz All the Way from Memphis.

Five Things: Wednesday 7th May

Friedlander & Hinton
Beautiful photographs, flagged up by Bob Gumpert. The Milt Hinton shot of the jazz banjoist Danny Barker and Dizzy Gillespie, asleep while travelling, is just wondrous, and the framing of Louis Keppard by Lee Friedlander in front of a ruched curtain is terrific. And I’m certain that the tall guy on the right, holding the umbrella, in the Young Tuxedo Brass Band 1959 photo is Sam Charters. Some of Friedlander’s shots appeared in Like A One Eyed Cat (title courtesy of Big Joe Turner’s signature song “Shake, Rattle and Roll”). Now to find my copy…

Young Tuxedo Brass Band, 1959

Money doesn’t talk. When it comes to “transformative rock anthems”, it swears…
Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to “Like A Rolling Stone” are set to be auctioned off this summer. As Rolling Stone reports, Sotheby’s are expecting to receive bids of more than $1 million when the handwritten draft of the words to Dylan’s 1965 track go on sale on June 24. Sotheby’s described the item as “the only known surviving draft of the final lyrics for this transformative rock anthem”, and revealed that the papers also include other possible lyrics which Dylan did not include in the final version of the song. The letter includes the phrase “Dry vermouth/You’ll tell the truth” and also has the name of notorious gangster Al Capone scribbled in the margin. Lyrics from Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” will also go under the hammer as part of the auction, and are expected to sell for between $400,000 and $600,000.

Check it out…
Ace Records has released Let The Music Play: Black America Sings Bacharach and David. “This 24-track compilation follows similar releases for Lennon and McCartney, Bob Dylan, and Otis Redding, and draws from the halcyon period between 1962 and 1975. For much of that period, Bacharach and David’s songs were rarely far from the top of the pop and R&B charts. As per Ace’s custom, the set includes both the familiar hits (few) and the lesser-known tracks (many). Let the Music Play features a 20-page booklet with lavish illustrations and detailed track-by-track notes from compiler/producer Tony Rounce. Duncan Cowell has superbly remastered all 24 songs.”

Swamp this and swamp that: Tony Joe White news
Watching a celebration of Muscle Shoals at the Barbican some years back, an under-rehearsed and sorta sketchy affair was lent some heft by the appearance of Tony Joe, playing his signature swamp rock blues, mostly solo. I’ve written before about his 1971 Albert Hall show (“In the middle of his set supporting Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tony Joe White stepped up to the mic and introduced his band: two of the Dixie Flyers (Mike Utley on organ and Sammy Creason on drums) and – on bass, ladies and gentlemen – the legendary ‘Duck’ Dunn, Memphis maestro (Booker T, Otis, Eddie, Wilson). Not content with Duck’s luminous, numinous credits, Tony Joe informed the audience that we had a Champion in the house (my memory fails me with the precise details, but it was something like All-State Tennessee Hall of Fame Champion). Yes a Champion of… the YoYo. And there, on the stage of The Royal Albert Hall, ‘Duck’ Walked The Dog… he Hopped The Fence… he went Around The World… he Looped The Loop… and 5,000 people whooped for joy, as they gave him a standing ovation.”)

Now, it seems, a show on that tour was taped. Rhino Records press release: “Before his song “Polk Salad Annie” went Top 10 in 1969, Tony Joe White learned to how to put on a good show as a survival skill while paying his dues in some of Texas and Louisiana’s roughest honky-tonks. His hit led to a U.S. tour where unsuspecting audiences were mesmerized by the guitarist’s fiery performances and his frenzied command of the whomper stomper (aka wah-wah pedal). Rhino Handmade preserves an unreleased 1971 live album with That On The Road Look, which finds White locked in watertight with his longtime drummer Sammy Creason and keyboardist Michael Utley along with legendary bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn. Thought to be a rumor for the longest time, not much is known about this unreleased treasure, including the exact location where it was recorded. Writing in the album’s liner notes, Ben Vaughn says: “What we have here is Exhibit A, proof that the self-named Swamp Fox was a bona fide barnstormer. Or barnburner. Or both. When you cue up this disc, Tony Joe and his three-piece band are already in fourth gear. Later for that lazy, laid-back vibe. What we have here is a sense of purpose.” As for the origin of the album, White believes it could have been recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London. White recalls the tour vividly in the liner notes: “Creedence tried to burn us down and we tried to burn them down, ’cause they were goin’ around, “Swamp this and swamp that”, and ol’ Duck and me was real tight – we were fishin’ buddies and we got talkin’ one night, and he told ’em, ‘You know, Fogerty, there ain’t no alligators in Berkeley.’ From then on, it was war every night onstage.”

Love Marilyn
Had no great hopes for an HBO Monroe film created from recently found journals, but it’s riveting. Well directed by Liz Garbus, the idea of having actors read and act the quotations actually comes off. Oliver Platt is especially good reading Billy Wilder, and among many others Jennifer Ehle (remember The Camomile Lawn?) is excellent reading MM’s journal excerpts. Really strong library interviews are counterpointed with Monroe’s viewpoint and the picture and film research are really strong. The incidental music (take a bow, Bonnie Greenberg) is nicely chosen and the film draws to an end with a bewitching and gauzy version of “All Of Me” by, unexpectedly, Ani DiFranco. Bizarrely, the whole film is on YouTube, with the song at around 1hr 36.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 16th May

Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Royal Albert Hall, April 15, 1970
In the middle of his set supporting Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tony Joe White stepped up to the mic and introduced his band: two of the Dixie Flyers (Mike Utley on organ and Sammy Creason on drums) and—on bass, ladies and gentlemen—the legendary ‘Duck’ Dunn, Memphis maestro (Booker T, Otis, Eddie, Wilson). Not content with Duck’s luminous, numinous credits, Tony Joe informed the audience that we had a Champion in the house (my memory fails me with the precise details, but it was something like All-State Tennessee Hall of Fame Champion). Yes a Champion of… the YoYo. And there, on the stage of The Royal Albert Hall, ‘Duck’ Walked The Dog… he Hopped The Fence… he went Around The World… he Looped The Loop… and 5,000 people whooped for joy, as they gave him a standing ovation.

Julie Delpy, The Film Programme, R4
In a really entertaining interview by Francine Stock, Delpy talks about her new film in which the action takes place over 48 hours. “I like the unity of time, maybe because I’m not very good at storytelling in time-lapse, and I hate the time-lapse sequence of montage with, like, music. Like the typical one was a nice trendy song of the time, then you have a montage of time passing or whatever (laughs)—I just can’t do that! I like unity of time, like when shit hits the fan it really usually happens on like a very short period of time… In Before Sunset the idea of doing it in real time, hour and a half, came from me…”

A Veteran Vibe
Aimlessly flipping from channel to channel, a great juxtaposition: Charles Aznavour (now 87, about 57 at the time of this recording of She) and Engelbert Humperdinck (formerly Gerry Dorsey, let’s not forget, currently 76). Aznavour sings like a piano player, jamming words together in entirely unnatural fits and starts, cramming then letting one word run long— a European version of gospel’s tension-and-release? Whatever, it’s mesmerising, especially as the camera just holds the same closeup of his face throughout the song. Humperdinck sings Britain’s Song For Europe entry, Love Will Set You Free, and, leaving aside whether the song is derivative or fine—what did you expect?—he gave it some going over. The voice was strong, his pitch was dead-on and he negotiated the tricky key change (a Eurovision must) with aplomb. All the best for Baku, Eng!

Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias
Simon was saying that I should be aware of the Cardiacs, a band I’d entirely missed in the eighties and nineties, and on their Wiki entry I noticed a name from the past—listed as an inspiration—a name you don’t forget. The Albertos were a band I happily watched countless times [mostly, I think, at the Marquee] as they purveyed a wildly cynical take on the music business. It’s hard to describe the shows. Look through the contact sheet of a roll I shot at one of the gigs (it enlarges if you click on it) and you’ll get a sense of what they were like. See drummer Bruce Mitchell—widest shoulders this side of Dick Tracy plus huge wooden nude-girl tie! The worrying balaclava-and-gun look! That alarming codpiece! CP Lee, wearing a Peter Cook-like belted raincoat in the photos and playing a Stars & Stripes guitar, went on to write a great book about Dylan’s infamous ’66 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig, Like The Night. The Albertos were a one-off—they were really good musicians and were also hysterically funny. There’s not many bands you could say that about. [nb: final frame shows my friend Kwok, asleep on my mother’s couch.]

New Sandwich Bar In Town


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