Thursday, March 15

ONE OUT COME THE FREAKS
Dan Franklin at Jonathan Cape kindly sent me a copy of A Hero for High Times, Ian Marchant’s new book. Its subtitle describes it pretty succinctly: A Young Reader’s Guide to the Beats, Hippies, Freaks, Punks, Ravers, New-Age Travellers and Dog-on-a-Rope Brew Crew Crusties of the British Isles, 1956–1994. Whew! It’s a hefty book, and I’m a third of the way in – it’s vivid, engaging and somewhat eccentric, much like its subject Bob Rowberry. In a good way.

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How could I not love a book that has a Jonny Hannah cover (finished and delivered a good few years ago, Jonny – above in his Darktown Taxi – tells me), a long section on Studio 51 (the Ken Colyer Club) and an Afterword page with the line, aimed at his Younger Readers, “Now you need a Ginsberg and a Ken Colyer and an Elvis of your own.” There’s also this fine shout-out to Dan in the Acknowledgements…to my editor, Dan Franklin, without whose work over thirty years or so, there would be no history of the counterculture”. Highly recommended.

TWO RADIO PROGRAMME OF THE WEEK
In a similar vein, a wonderful R3 documentary on Val Wilmer, jazz writer and photographer, and brave explorer of free jazz. Discover how a young girl made such an impression on several decades of black musicians. “I started out interviewing musicians when I was very young and I was really just a fan and I didn’t really know I could do it. I really didn’t know what to ask people and so therefore I didn’t ask complicated questions. I asked Where did you get your first instrument, why did you have a saxophone, who did you play with, and who did you play with next? People enlarge on things, and, if they feel relaxed with you, then they will talk more. I enabled people to speak freely and therefore they did. And sometimes they spoke very freely indeed, much to my astonishment…” It was a programme that did Val’s extraordinary life justice.

THREE CONCERT OF THE WEEK
David Rodigan and the Outlook Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall. On the Day of Great Snow Kwok and I grab something to eat at Five Guys before the gig and I ponder the fact that he I and I have been eating burgers in London since the time when there was only one burger joint in London, the Hard Rock. Where Kwok became night grill chef while still a student on the Fine Art course at Chelsea School of Art, before being poached to run the kitchen at a new Hard Rock in Frankfurt. So I value his opinion, and we’ve spent the intervening forty years of searching for the best hamburger in town. Five Guys gets a okay 5/10.

The other thing that Kwok was into at Chelsea was reggae, and has listened to Rodigan’s Rockers, the show being celebrated tonight, since the 70s. So we couldn’t not go to the Festival Hall show, even though we had no idea what it would consist of. It turned out to be a very formal-looking Rodigan (dead ringer for George of Gilbert and George, three-piece suit and tie) entertainingly leading us through a history of Jamaican music while the orchestra played the requisite songs for each segment (Bluebeat, Rock Steady, Lover’s Rock et al) with guest vocalists.

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The atmosphere was fervid, closer to a boxing match than a concert. People were leaping around and giving a standing ovation before Rodigan’s feet even touched the stage. When he arrived, the crowd sat down for a few notes then all got back on their feet for the next two hours, even those in the boxes ranged along the sides of the hall. I haven’t witnessed a concert explode into a dancing mass like this ªexcept, maybe, the end of Paolo Conte’s Barbican show). There’s a lot of shouting. Each new tune draws another round of exclamations hurled at the stage: “Respec’! Respec’!” “Boooooooooom!” “RodiGan!”.

The arrangements sat on the shoulders of some fantastic rhythm work. Rock steady and rock solid, the bassist locked in with the two drummers and a percussionist to give the whole evening a deep thump and a hypnotic sway. I’ve searched online for the line up of the Orchestra, but have found almost no information, so I can’t credit them, or the fine horn section and backing singers. The line up of singers – half of them flown in from Jamaica and New York for tonight’s show – was impressive, Bitty McLean, Horace Andy, Maxi Priest, Tippa Irie, Ali Campbell among them. Highlights were conductor and arranger Tommy Evans’ cool dancing, Maverick Sabre’s gorgeous grainy voice, and Horace Andy’s slick patent leather outfit. Most amusing moment goes to Tippa Irie and his least necessary stage-leaving announcement of “I’m Tippa Irie”. We’d spent the previous ten minutes chanting his name – I say “Tipper” you say “IRIE!”, I say “David”, you say “Rodigan”!

FOUR VIDEO OF THE WEEK 1
A collaboration with the Detroit School of Arts, featuring the Vocal Jazz Ensemble and teacher Ms V. for David Byrne’s Reasons to be Cheerful Project (we need this man, right here, right now!) It’s a rocking rendition of “Everybody’s Coming To My House” from his new American Utopia album.

FIVE VIDEO OF THE WEEK 2
Humble Pie “For Your Love”. I can’t even quite remember the path to stumbling across this, but (at least for the first half of its seven minutes) it’s great.

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Thursday, February 2nd

Woody Guthrie went through World War Two with a sign on his guitar, ‘this machine kills fascists’. After the war was over, he kept the sign on and we said, “Woody, Hitler’s dead, why don’t you take the sign off? He says, “Well this Fascism comes along whenever the rich people get the generals to do what they want…”
Pete Seeger, interviewed in Greenwich Village, Music That Defined a Generation (2012)

ONE NEXT OF KIN
I spent a part of this week being intrigued by Loyle Carner, a gentler form of MC, whose songs often ride on summery jazz or feel-good gospel while they talk of cooking pancakes for an imaginary sister, missing his student loan or grieving for his late stepfather. Still very South London (Croydon, to be precise) but there’s something interesting going on. Oh, and the cover of Yesterday’s Gone harks back to Music From Big Pink

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TWO BOOKS CORNER: NEXT OF KIN PT. 2
Which neatly leads on… I’m gonna recommend the Robbie Robertson book, Testimony, to y’all. It puts proper flesh on the bones of many of the stories that have been told again and again – such as how they sourced a new drummer once Levon Helm bailed on the 65-66 Dylan tour, and why Robertson ended up photographed alongside Alan Ginsberg in front of City Lights bookstore in 1965 – as well as providing a sense of the dizzying nature of their work with Dylan. It’s light on the specifics of his songwriting, the recording process and the evolution of his guitar playing, but strong on portraits of the many characters that cross his path. If you read this alongside Levon’s “Wheels on Fire” and Barney’s “Across The Great Divide” and “Small Town Talk”, you can patch together a story with at least seven different sides, Rashoman-style. Doing this reveals a rounded narrative about the extraordinary series of events that gave birth to The Band, and the clash of Robbie’s voraciously aspirational search for knowledge and status with Levon’s “Hell, let’s just play” mentality that signposted the death of this joyous group even at the moment of its greatest triumph, The Band. I mean, Bunuel and F.S. Walcott’s Medicine Show had much in common but – in the end – not enough.

THREE SAD NEWS, SAD NEWS COME TO ME WHERE I SIT…
… that Terry Cryer has passed away [Val Wilmer’s Guardian obit here]. I’ve always loved the pictures that he took of Jazz musicians in the 50s. They (and more) were collected in a fascinating book, One in the Eye, edited by Ian Clayton and with a great introduction by Val Wilmer in 1992, which is set to be reprinted soon, apparently. It’s full of deadpan writing, by a man who said, “I broke the rules because it was a lot more fun than following them”. “By the time I got to London, dope was becoming fashionable. People stopped chewing benzedrine inhalers when the company that made them took the Benzedrine out. Pity about that, they were quite nice with lemon gin…”; “Ann and I got married – we were quite happy just living together, but under pressure from Sister Rosetta [Tharpe], I bought a special licence. She gave us the best wedding present, a night in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool!” I always have a print of one or more of Terry’s photographs wherever we’re living – currently these two grace the wall behind the record deck.

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FOUR IF YOU REMEMBER IT…
My favourite items in the V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 were in a small case (see picture by Lucy Hawes/V&A). They were the messages written on paper plates and scraps of paper and pinned to shelter doors or trees at the Woodstock Festival. You know the kind of thing – Beware of the Brown Acid/I’ll meet you by the right-hand Tower – but touching that someone saved them. Frustratingly hit and miss as a round up of those five years, but hugely enjoyable none the less, it’s on ’til Feb 26. Now let me hear you shout… “Gimme an F!

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FIVE I’M LOOKIN’ FUNNY IN MY EYES
In the week that Bob Dylan’s take on The Great American Songbook is announced, with 2017’s ‘worst font on a record cover’ already sewn up, I watched Greenwich Village, Music That Defined a Generation, on Sky Arts. In the midst of a host of fascinating clips was this unlikely pairing, singing an unlikely song, Bukka White’s “Fixin’ to Die”…

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EXTRA! MORE
After mentioning Lou Reed’s “Dirty Blvd.” in the synaesthetic wine thing (here) a couple of weeks ago, I spent some time looking for songs that could possibly be covered by an unnamed legendary rock singer as he contemplates a new album. In my trawling I was looking at a couple of songs on Robbie Robertson’s “How to be Clairvoyant”, an album I’d never given the time of day to. It’s really good – my slight antipathy to solo Robbie is breaking down. And that led on to Lang Lang’s take on “Somewhere/Dirty Blvd.” It’s kind of amazing, almost 12 minutes of pianistics, bombastic percussion, “Somewhere” sung by Lisa Fischer, and “Dirty Blvd” spoken by Robertson. It’s on Spotify, although not on YouTube, if that has whetted your appetite.

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