Extra! 5 Things Concerning Willis Earl Beal

Declaiming Charles Bukowski at the start…

Tabernacle Testifying

Tabernacle Testifying

“I’m a wizard, not a Musician”: Willis Earl Beal at The Tabernacle


1 The look John Carlos, Mexico City 1968. One black-gloved hand. (On the right hand, though Carlos’s was on the left, but he looks more like Carlos than Smith). Cross that with Aaron Neville in his muscle/t-shirt days. Sunglasses. Tight jeans. Cowboy boots. Occasional wearing of a sheet as a cape. Sheet starts evening covering up AKAI reel-to-reel.

2 Poses With cape, and standing on chair, superhero. Stalking stage with mic: Grace Jones meets Emo Philips. Albequerque-back-porch-stretched-out-almost-horizontal-feet-crossed for one song.

3 Voice Paul Robeson. Tom Waits. The Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Something of James Carr. I’m just trying to give pointers. He doesn’t really sing/sound like any of ’em.

4 Tools Simple. Shaker Simple in comparison to most. Aforementioned reel-to-reel tape recorder (gotta love a performer whose set list is contained on a reel of tape). Open-tuned electric guitar, played on lap with strings fretted by thumb, Richie Havens-style, and amp. Drink that looks like Rum and Coca Cola. Belt, taken off and used to whip chair at one point.

5 Songs Some are no more than a backing track of cheap synth beat overlaid by buzzing insect sound, here mutated into a compelling signal to noise. One of the guitar songs is almost a classic Southern Soul Ballad. I don’t know what their titles are, I’d only heard one track before going, but all are declaimed with a frightening intensity, and as we’re all sitting/standing very close, it’s a little like watching performance art.

I love an act that grabs the evening by the scruff of the neck and, by force of will, carries an audience­—even as they’re trying to get a handle on what the hell’s been put in front of them. And ends it with: “We need you to buy the album, Acousmatic Sorcery…  [long pause] …the action figures [long pause] …the pencils… [long pause] …and if you do I will then personally come to your house and give you benediction.”

The Set Up

The Set Up

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 4th April

Could you sound like the xx with just a cheap acoustic guitar and a cassette tape machine meant for accompanying karaoke? Willis Earl Beal can. Young, black, Southern, heartbroken, can draw, could soundtrack Juno. Evening Kiss is beautiful, insistent, mournful, touching. “This record was recorded on bad equipment. I like it that way.” Amen.

Churn, Churn, Churn
To everything there is a season… and it seems that right now it’s a fashion season, belonging to Flo and Lana. It used to be that it would take a good few years for pop or rock stars to get sucked into other orbits such as film or literature, but now the career path is Voguealicious. Is this diversification, to make the Fame Moment™ last longer? We’ve had Flo and Karl, sittin’ in a tree, yet Stylist’s cover story this week says that, “despite two number 1 albums and 18 awards Florence Welch is a reluctant star.” Really? Reluctant? It sure looks it, in the 327 full-page pictures they’ve run of her. To be fair, it’s a good interview that does paint her as someone who accepts all of this so that she can do the work she cares about… And Lana, first whispered about in September last year, now (already!) the recipient of the fashion equivalent of the Légion d’honneur, a Mulberry bag named after her, because of her—are you ready?—“retrospective look.” As for the bag, straight out of W. Eugene Smith’s Life Magazine story, “Country Doctor,” I’m failing to see much Del Rey.

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?
Tracklist for Tom Jones’ upcoming album, produced by Ethan Johns:
Tower Of Song (Leonard Cohen)
(I Want To) Come Home (Paul McCartney)
Hit Or Miss (Odetta)
Love And Blessings (Paul Simon)
Soul Of A Man (Blind Willie Johnson)
Bad As Me (Tom Waits)
Dimming Of The Day (Richard Thompson)
Travelling Shoes (Vera Hall Ward)
All Blues Hail Mary (Joe Henry)
Charlie Darwin (The Low Anthem)

Great song choices. Do I want to hear Tom Jones sing them?
Answer: Save Me, Jesus (Bobby Charles)

The Sound Of Dobell’s
“Every Jazz fan is born within the sound of Dobell’s!”
An email from Leon Parker, announcing the launch of his resource dedicated to Britain’s hugely influential Record Shops. Charlie Gillett introduced us because of Doug Dobell’s shops on Charing Cross Road (which my dad Bill built, and where I worked as a teenager). There are some nice reminiscences on the site (to which more will hopefully be added) and I particularly liked Rob Hall’s: “It was an ambition of mine to own all the albums featured on the bags they used.” Bill had selected the albums and had them photographed by an advertising photographer he knew in Soho, who shot it on lith film for better reproduction. Accidental design, it still looks good today. www.britishrecordshoparchive.org/dobells.html

Pic(k) Of The Week
“Sometimes, if I crave silence I turn to my Land 250. The experience of taking Polaroids connects me with the moment. They are souvenirs of a joyful solitude.” Patti Smith.
I thought that maybe I’d lost this, a sweet souvenir from an installation at Fondation Cartier in Paris that “reflected 40 years of her more personal visual art-making and creative expression,” but it turned up this week. And it will never be used in anger, of course.

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