Friday, October 14th

clintonsA late posting for most of this, covering more than just the last week, in the usual slightly disorganised way. In breaking news, I’m obviously glad that Bob got his due, finally. Twitter, predictably, provided amusement (left). And great to see that Bob was in fine voice at the Desert Trip last weekend in California. A fantastic and ominous Masters of War (here) was even relevant to the current election:
“Let me ask you one question,
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness,
Do you think that it could?
Well I think you will find
When your death takes its toll,
All the money you made
Won’t buy back your soul…”

As I sat idly wondering if one could write a song with lyrics entirely provided by episode titles from The Real Housewives of Orange County (“Ooh baby baby/You’re swimming with the sharks/Beneath judgy eyes/and Tahitian Skies…”) I remembered that I’d watched the Mercury Awards the other day while, as Tom Waits would say, several sheets to the wind. I had jotted down notes on a page of that day’s Guardian, but when I came to look at them I couldn’t understand how any of it fitted together, so here they are, as a piece of abstract poetry, perhaps.

A weird walk-through alphabetised history of Mercury’s/J for J/Klaxons instead of Amy W/Skepta genuinely modest/almost only genuine moment in a night of untrammelled narcissism…

Unappealing 1975/ripping off Bowie’s “Fame”/a strange and ferociously efficient sound/“Blurred Lines” was sued…

Radiohead out-of-place before a musical chicken-in-a-basket crowd/not really listening…

Benjamin Clementine/what happens when a good backstory and striking looks come together/song is a farrago of music theatre clichés run through a Nina Simone simulator…

Michael Kiwanuka/the Terry Callier du nos jours/left his song at home/so little movement in this dullness/“Fantastic Stuff” appaz, according to/Lauren Laverne – smug host…

A confusing episode of Later, which is almost too exhausting to parse, containing as it did men walking around the stage in the name of grime, t-shirts alternately commemorating Buddy Rich and rallying the “Give 17-year-olds the Vote” segment of the audience, and even acapella songstresses. What did we learn? That Lisa Hannigan has an extraordinary voice, especially at the closing of her song; that Barry Gibb has sort-of-lost his extraordinary voice and his new band compensates with three extra guitarists (one his son), that Slaves are throwback rubbish, and that Jools slightly overplays when sitting-in with Norah Jones (who had a really tight band, great drummer, interesting guitarist). Oh, and that Declan McCann (t-shirt owner, below) is precociously interesting, but only if you happen to be under 25.


On the extended version of that episode of Later, Norah Jones lit into a tune that made me look up – Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied”. It’s a song that almost defies a cover– it exists in a ragged (wonderfully so) version cut live on the ill-starred Time Fades Away tour, and is a piece of caustic autobiography set to music, mostly about Buffalo Springfield. She has form where Young’s songs are concerned, playing this song live at NealFest in 2015 and playing “Down by the River” at The Bridge Concerts with Young himself. I assume it speaks in some way to her about her experience of the music biz – she did it well, giving it the right shade of downbeat anger. It sent me back to another odd Young song cover – a track on David Bowie’s Heathen, a CD that I’d bought as my wife loves the wonderful “Everyone Says Hi”. It’s “I’ve Been Waiting for You”, from Young’s first solo album, a strange and brilliant piece of work. Bowie covers it with keening and brassy synths and truckloads of echo, but keeps the original arrangement pretty intact. As does Chip Taylor on a third NY cover version that I found buried deep in an iTunes folder – “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” from MOJO Presents: Harvest Revisited, which suits his parched voice to a T.


I’ve been listening obsessively to John Platania’s guitar solo on “Sweet Thing” since it was released on Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late to Stop Now Vol 2, 3 and 4. Hard to believe it didn’t end up on the 1974 record as it matches any performance on the original two-disc set. And here he was, accompanying Chip Taylor in a tiny room downstairs at Clerkenwell pub, The Slaughtered Lamb. Taylor, last of the Yonkers Cowboys, weaves stories of growing up with his brothers (one, Barry, a Volcanologist, the other, Jon Voigt, actor) in New York in the early fifties as Platania drapes beautiful filigreed guitar lines around the shoulders of Taylor’s deceptively simple four or five-chord country songs. This is not Nashville country, but a kind of cowboy country, a mesas and plains music, big on telling tales and dispensing sage advice. Each and every song was electrified by Platania’s sure touch – one moment Tennessee rockabilly, the next an orchestral pealing of notes tumbling down – and if the heart came from Taylor’s whispered and wry voice, the soul came from John’s Stratocaster.

A few favourite paragraphs from David Remnick’s great New Yorker piece on Leonard Cohen:
And then, like my mother, [Cohen] offered what could only have been the complete catalogue of his larder: water, juice, wine, a piece of chicken, a slice of cake, “maybe something else.” In the hours we spent together, he offered many refreshments, and, always, kindly. “Would you like some slices of cheese and olives?” is not an offer you are likely to get from Axl Rose. “Some vodka? A glass of milk? Schnapps?” And, as with my mother, it is best, sometimes, to say yes. One day, we had cheeseburgers-with-everything ordered from a Fatburger down the street and, on another, thick slices of gefilte fish with horseradish.

Leonard studied; he worked at the clothing factory, where he picked up a useful skill for his career as a touring musician: he learned to fold suits so they didn’t wrinkle. But, as he wrote in a journal, he always imagined himself as a writer, “raincoated, battered hat pulled low above intense eyes, a history of injustice in his heart, a face too noble for revenge, walking the night along some wet boulevard, followed by the sympathy of countless audiences… loved by two or three beautiful women who could never have him.”

And this lovely quote from Dylan, when Remnick asks him his thoughts on Cohen… “When people talk about Leonard, they fail to mention his melodies, which to me, along with his lyrics, are his greatest genius,” Dylan said. “Even the counterpoint lines – they give a celestial character and melodic lift to every one of his songs. As far as I know, no one else comes close to this in modern music.” There’s also a delightful bit where Bob talks about the similar craft (and crafty-ness) shared by both Irving Berlin and Cohen.

From What HiFi “The plastic £5 note isn’t just waterproof, tear-proof and recyclable, it can also hold a tune… The new fiver is made from polymer (plastic) and is claimed to be stronger, cleaner and safer as a result. And it seems the new hardier design brings into play plenty of other uses – such as acting as a needle on a vinyl record. YouTube user Michael Ridge tested the fiver on an Abba record. It’s not quite as simple as it looks. Ridge also used a contact microphone and a small amplifier to muster up the sound. But, yes, the new £5 note does do the job of a particularly poor needle.”

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Tuesday, 21st June



Complete with a David Bowie tribute (why?) a drugstore guide (wrong kind of drug reference, no?) and, from the glorious inside pages, a typical R ’n’ R Bride pull quote.

At the turn of the millennium Chips Moman sold some of his astonishing guitar collection at Christies. My pal Mark went along, said Hi to Chips, didn’t bid, gave me the catalogue. Here is the jewel of the collection, although for me it was given a run for its money by the Coral Sitar, as featured on From Elvis in Memphis (where it was played by the sublime Reggie Young) and on “Cry Like a Baby” by The Box Tops.


The price realised by the 1956 Gibson Super 400 CES was a staggering £67,550, but as the man says, “This guitar is believed to have been used on more hit records than any other comparable instrument in pop history.” Originally purchased by Scotty Moore, the guitarist with Elvis Presley’s backing band, it became known by other musicians and fans as “the blonde Elvis guitar.” Among the Presley records on which Scotty Moore used the guitar were All Shook Up, Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole and One Night. In addition, Scotty is seen playing the guitar in the Elvis Presley feature films Loving You and Jailhouse Rock. According to Chips, Moore would get annoyed with Elvis for playing around with the guitar he described as “his pride and joy.” Scotty: “In 1963, I was working at Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, TN. We needed some equipment for the studio for which funds were not available. Chips Moman owned his studio in Memphis, American, and he had the set of vibes which we needed. I had recently acquired a new guitar and had the old one available, which Chips wanted for the historical value. The guitar was traded for one set of vibes, a small classic guitar, and $80.00 cash.” Was that ever a bargain…

Chips regularly used the guitar during his own recording sessions, both as a player and a producer. It was used on literally hundreds of sessions between 1963 and the early 70s, appearing on several hundred hit records, including Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman” and “Never Loved A Man” and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” Session guitarist Reggie Young played the guitar on Elvis’s 1969 sessions in Memphis, which produced the hit singles “Suspicious Minds” and “In The Ghetto.”

Working with French photographer Lionel Derimais on a book project about his time living in China, he shows me this: flocks of pigeons in Beijing, with whistles attached to their tail feathers.

…in the shape of It’s Too Late To Stop Now Volumes II, III and IV, I’ve got to say that the packaging sucks. There are seventeen photos of Van (yes, I counted them), all essentially variations of the same shot, but none of the wonderful Caledonian Soul Orchestra (unless you count a couple of fuzzy B&W’s of saxophonist Jack Shroer). Why downgrade the input of one of the great bands in rock? Also, there’s just a perfunctory liner note, but no context-setting essay, no reminiscences – in short, no great effort. I still have to watch the DVD of the Rainbow show, but hey – poor work, Sony Legacy. In the music player to the right, hear the Orchestra awesomely funk up “Sweet Thing” as John Platania’s guitar and David Hayes’ bass burn up the Rainbow.

It’s just not for one of his songs
In other Bob news, this sent by Bob G: Mikael Wood in the LA Times site on Dylan at the Shrine: “What a treat it was to hear someone at this stage in his career playing what excites him now rather than what excited him 3 million years ago.”

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Five Things: Wednesday 30th October

Down With The Cool KIds
The depressing lack of cool jazz in the new series of Homeland is more than balanced by its recent appearance in Downton Abbey, thanks to young Lady Rose. As an imported-from-London Jazz Orchestra plays, Lady Grantham (Maggie Smith) is asked by a guest: “Is this your first experience of Jazz, Lady Grantham?” “Oh, is that what it is?” (pregnant pause, looks at the band…) “Do you think any of them know what the others are playing?”

Virgin 40th Anniversary Pop Up (or down) Exhibition, Bloomsbury
Deep in the basement of one of those extraordinarily grand ‘London Headquarters’-style buildings from the beginning of the 1900s that resemble landlocked battleships, a hollow hagiography of a label I always found slightly naff. I’d gone because I thought they had recreated the original Oxford Street shop, opened in 1971, where as a teenager it had usurped Dobell’s for me as a place to buy music, because they sold bootlegs. Upstairs, under the counter. You had to get to know the guys in the shop, and you had to know what you were looking for. “Have you got, uh, Wooden Nickel? Stealin’?, Oh, great, thanks, that’s £3, right…”


Photo shows Ridiculous letter from Anna Wintour to Professor Green that is beyond comment, and modified rusty Telecaster, one careful owner, as played on Tubular Bells. [Click to Enlarge]

[However, they hadn’t recreated Oxford Street, but the Notting Hill branch at the time of the Sex Pistols NMTB launch, which felt a bit lame. Note: The word “bootleg” originates from the practice of smuggling illicit items in the legs of tall boots, particularly the smuggling of alcohol during Prohibition. The word, over time, has come to refer to any illegal or illicit product and has become an umbrella term for unofficial, or unlicenced recordings.—Wikipedia]

Reed Between The Lines
Watching the BBC video of “Perfect Day” as it ended another tribute to Lou Reed I was struck by the less obvious artists who appeared in it: Emmylou Harris, Dr John, Robert Cray… did you remember Robert Cray singing a line? I listened to New York whole, top to bottom, as Lou wished. It’s my favourite Reed album, and I remember boring friends in 1989, endlessly making them listen, saying it had the greatest guitar sound ever recorded (the chorus guitar of “Hold On”). It opens with the killer triple-whammy of “Romeo Had Juliette”/“Halloween Parade”/“Dirty Blvd”. Sensational. Best piece of writing from the past few days about him is here.

Van Morrison, Into The Mystic, Take 11
Nothing will replace in your heart the Moondance version of a song Morrison first titled “Into The Misty”, but listen to this tracking session take. Van on intense, focused and dynamic rhythm guitar, possibly John Platania on second guitar, drummer Gary Mallaber and bassist John Klingberg playing off his lead… these guys are in the moment, in the mystic and it’s glorious. As Lou would say, you can’t beat two guitars, bass, drum.

Ronnie Wood Ticket For Sale. Stop Pushing At The Back.

Someone included me in a round robin offering this for sale. £125? For Ronnie Wood playing three chords for two hours. I love Jimmy Reed, but there are limits. I saw a Sky Arts tribute to BB King the other day, where a large group of guitarists and singers added very little to B’s show. In the 30 minutes I saw, Ron contributed the least, but was a jocular figure, happy to be there. Mick Hucknell sang, Susan Tedeschi barely got a look in on guitar but sang very nicely. Slash was jarringly inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes not. B was imperious when he played, which was not a lot of the time, but was always telling, which others weren’t. But the man who was king was humble Derek Trucks, whose mix of slide and fingers pulled off a truly wonderful solo in the sentimental ol’ slowie “Guess Who” and knocked everyone else into a cocked hat.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 26th September

Then, Our Next Fixture Is Jethro Tull of Wiesbaden…
Montpellier boss Rene Girard has lashed out at the fixture schedule as his side continue to stutter in their title defence. Girard’s team have struggled in the early part of the season, while big-spending Paris Saint-Germain appear to be finding top gear. Girard was angered that his side had to play Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday evening and then face Saint Etienne just a couple of days later on Friday, where they managed to scrape a 1-1 draw. “I am not paranoid. I simply say that it’s a question of fairness. We played Arsenal, one of the best sides in Europe; we did not play Pink Floyd of Kiev,” Girard said scathingly. (I’m guessing that this is an amusing reference to Young Boys of Bern, who recently played Liverpool in the Europa league).

Stephen Collins vs Mumford & Sons. The Man’s A Genius!

Muse, Later, 25th September
Playing Madness, reigned in and close to the chest, they sounded for all the world like the house band in a bar in a Philip K Dick novel, with disco overtones. A Triumph!

Van The Man Sat-Nav: A Step Closer
My friend Steve phones up one evening, the sound of jazz behind him, as he leaves a message on the ansaphone: “Hi Martin, it’s Steve, I’m playing Van live and I just sort of realised the way to do the SatNav is to just play it and let me do it live… not that I can sing like him but you can do it if you’re listening to him, cos stuff occurs. But if you’re sitting there cold with a blank piece of paper you can’t do it. You realise when you’re listening to the tracks, like Tupelo Honey—“Well you can take the A45 or whatever…” and you can do it to the tune so it’s real. That’s the way we’ll do it, alright, Cheers!” So I download the set of instructions from the TomTom site and all I have to do is record Steve and figure out how to save the commands as OGG Vorbis files [what!?!] More anon…

I Saw The Splendor Of The Moonlight, On Honolulu Bay
We had a uke moment, in 1968, with the great Richard Perry-produced God Bless Tiny Tim album, then again in ’72 on Arlo Guthrie’s wonderful Hobo’s Lullaby. There were few sightings until Evan Hurd (great photographer!) gave us Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and his extraordinary “OK, this one’s for Gabby*” version of Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World in the early nineties. But now we have The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain for all our ukelele requirements, busting their way through Ennio Morricone, Handel and Lady Gaga in a smorgasbord of styles and genres. At the Albert Hall on Friday they revisited the site of their Proms triumph of last year. Showing someone who’d never heard of them a clip on YouTube I was thrilled to catch Lloyd and I strumming Beethoven’s Ode To Joy along with 1,006 other ukes…

*That’s Gabby Pahinui, whose slack key guitar playing so inspired Ry Cooder that he went to Hawaii to make a record with him. He features heavily on Chicken Skin Music.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 9th May

Janis Joplin, Get It While You Can, Take Three, July 27th 1970
“Everybody I know is crazy, except President Nixon… and that’s his problem…” This is take three of the Jerry Ragavoy/Mort Shulman song, still not quite polished, but rawer and freer. When they reconvene on September 11th to finally record it, they’re more focused—“brighter”— in producer Paul Rothschild’s words. But take three still has the edge, a more pleading vocal, and a coda of “No No NoNoNo NO…” that is absolutely moving, and missing from the final take.

Alabama Shakes, Electric Brixton, May 3rd
In the sleevenotes to an album by one of Alabama’s greatest musical talents, Eddie Hinton, that fine Memphis journalist Robert Gordon wrote: “If a frayed rope could sing, it would sound like only two people, and since Otis is dead, that leaves Eddie.” And since Eddie is dead, that leaves Brittany Howard. It’s erroneous that Janis is the cheap ’n’ easy invokee—Howard’s models seem more to be those two men, especially when you factor in her tone. First seen when the excellent Laura Barton wrote about a lone YouTube video in The Guardian last year, I’d deliberately avoided listening, but bought tickets to see them. As my daughter Jordan said, that way you’re not just anticipating the couple of songs you know, and not listening properly. So we let it wash over us and tried to ignore the ******* hipsters talking at the bar and the drunks hollering next to us (hard to do in the moodily quiet numbers). Punching her guitar, stomping her boots and seemingly conducting the songs by shakes of her head, Brittany Howard lived up to the hype, and the band are just slick enough to make it work, but not so slick that it sounds mechanical—you just wish you could be watching them at The Lamplighter, outside of Muscle Shoals, instead of here. Oh, one last thing: the name. It’s not easy to do a great band name these days – see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds for example – but this is most excellent, both geographical locator and mission statement.

Black Cobra
Enable the subtitles on your TV, get to see who’s sold their music to Ad Agencies! Cobra beer ad, Black Keys’ Gold On The Ceiling. In two minds whether the lyrics really fit the product – “Gold on the ceiling/I ain’t blind/Just a matter of time/Before you steal it/It’s all right/Ain’t no God in my eye.” I’m not sure that’s on brand.

VanMan SatNav
Driving with my friend Steve Way to a cartoon festival, he was taken with the Irish voice on our car’s SatNav, and started doing the instructions in the style of Van Morrison. Genius! Leaving motorways and approaching roundabouts has never been so entertaining. Googling to see if anyone had already thought of this I could only find one reference, from a thread on Julian Cope’s Modern Antiquarian… “My Van Morrison Sat Nav has caused me to flood my brakes in the slipstream and I’m now stuck between two viaducts. It’s also told me to fuck…” and there, wonderfully, access to the thread ends, as I can’t get on to the site.

Message From Chuck!

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