Friday, 31 December 2010

Goodbye 2010, and good riddance, mostly

One of the few really outstandingly positive things in my year was regrouping with old friends on New Year's Day in Memphis to play some music for the first time in 16 years or so. It far surpassed even my wildest expectations. And, as an unforeseen bonus, later in the year I managed to get back to Memphis for some studio work with the unspeakably awesome Linda Heck and Doug Easley. I only hope that 2011 may bring me some similarly satisfying moments. And bring you whatever you are missing in life as well... Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Merle does Marty

As a small child there was a lot of music in the house, a somewhat baffling mixture of Beatles, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, soundtracks from various Broadway shows, and a lot of Ray Price and Merle Haggard. All this probably accounts for my impatience at spending too long with any one genre. Merle's certainly one of the more unique voices in country music history, though I've always heard a lot of Lefty Frizzell in his timbre and phrasing. This remarkable video clip reveals his immense talent as a mimic (this is the live album segment alluded to by Ralph Emery). Marty Robbins' expression at hearing himself done so flawlessly is a joy to behold.

Christmas scenes from London life

Ringo the Snowman

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

So much for "Ebony and Ivory"

BBC Radio 4 recently ran a great documentary (sadly no longer available) on TONTO and its creators, the special sauce behind Stevie Wonder's spate of classic albums in the early 70's. One sad revelation in it was that Stevie underwent a kind of personality change as the result of a head injury (which would probably explain a lot of his desultory later output), and this, coupled with the strained race relations of the time, led him and his handlers to conclude that the "white boys" behind the scenes deserved neither recognition nor royalties. So much for "Ebony and Ivory."

Scenes from London life


Friday, 17 December 2010

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart

And the greats keep dropping like flies. I didn't discover him nearly as early as perhaps I should/could have, but once I did, a lot of things suddenly made sense, and certainly nothing was ever the same again. Thank you, Don Van Vliet.

Happy Birthday, Warner Brothers


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Scenes from London life


Hold On

Can it be 30 years today? I can certainly remember where I was - mopping the kitchen floor at the end of the night at the barftastic Steak and Ale, Poplar Avenue, Memphis. What a devastating moment.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Innocent memories from that long-forgotten time when local TV stations actually produced programming. WMC TV5 newsman Dick Williams had a weekend side-gig as a magician on this long-running show, seen here in 1983. The furniture commercial was very typical of the time.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Different Trains

I just returned from a two-day business trip to Germany, where I always feel compelled to listen to Kraftwerk or "Krautrock" if I have occasion to ride a train. I know that's a painfully embarrassing cliche, but judging from taxi rides I've taken, and the muzak in the hotel I tend to stay in, it seems like the locals prefer 80's rock anthems and the theme from "Dirty Dancing," so I'm happy to let them have their Germany while I keep my own private version to myself. Anyway, I like the incongruity of this mash-up, and the scenes along the railway leaving Victoria are still eerily familiar after all these years.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

And now, our Saturday night feature: Carnival of Souls

Intermission - time for a tasty snack

Rupert Murdoch knows about my secret moustache (and its debauchery)

I recently had the good fortune to stumble across this refreshingly insane Glaswegian trio, and I've been having a hard time keeping some of their songs out of my head ever since. This is one, and for the non-British readership, here is the background on the subject matter, if you're interested.

Driveway to Hell

So there I was thinking that my hood, East Dulwich, was on the sleepy side and lacking in serious rock-n-roll credentials. Imagine my surprise when I learned a couple of days ago that just two streets away from my humble hovel lies the site where rock legend Bon Scott was found dead in a Renault 5 on February 20, 1980.


The records say that he was found outside No. 67. This is a photo of 67A, which is nicer to look at than 67, but if you insist, check out the surrounding area, with the gargantuan and hideous Dawson's Heights Estate opposite. Surely Bon was not the first, nor the last, to find a dead end on this street.

View Larger Map

I was surprised to find no signs of any fan presence here, though it apparently does attract the odd visitor...

Premature rock deaths often seem to be accompanied by some sort of cruel irony. In this case, Bon Scott died at the tender age of 33, on Overhill Road. It was a long way to the top of Dawson's Hill.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Brian and Dick

Props to virtual friend Watson Smith who alerted me to the existence of this gem. Brian Eno interviewed by "Dick Flash" of "Pork Magazine," who looks and sounds suspiciously like Brian Eno with a wig and glasses, and possibly some voice manipulation. The idiot-interviewer-meets-hyperarticulate-artist formula inverted. This is one of the funniest things I have seen in some time.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween

Nothing's more frightening than reality!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Scenes from London life

At last, I've found it!

Love's Labour's Lost

A very beautiful and sad story, apparently still unresolved two years later. The stat which blows my mind is that only 17% of the music released between 1948 and 1966 is available in digital form.

The Archive from Sean Dunne on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Beach Boys 1967

They're not everyone's cup of tea, but I have a fair degree of fascination with the Beach Boys' output during the "Pet Sounds" to "Surf's Up" era, so I was very pleased to stumble across this recording of a rehearsal from 1967. If I'm not mistaken, some of this has been issued previously, notably the acapella version of "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring," but hell, here it is and it's free, courtesy of the Internet Archive.

I particularly like the stripped-down version of "God Only Knows," the shambolic version of "The Letter" (recall that a young Alex Chilton apparently hung out with Dennis Wilson and met Charlie Manson in the wake of this song's success), "You're So Good to Me," and those moments where Dennis' harmonies take things to another level. His contribution has been consistently misunderestimated. On the less scintillating end of the spectrum is the gender-inverted version of "Help Me Rhonda," and the strange rendering of "Heroes and Villains," wherein arch twat Mike Love's commentary, presumably inaudible to the others at the time, reveals just what a short-sighted, money-grubbing dickwad he must have been. Not content just to be the least-talented member of one of the greatest musical enterprises of its age, or to have had a hand (however small) in the creation of some of the greatest music ever, he bitches about the lack of commercial success of Brian's recent output. Very revealing, very unappealing.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Before they were famous

Returning from my second stint in Japan in summer 1990, I made a wrong turn in 1991/1992, enrolling in Memphis State University's graduate program in urban planning. It's a topic I'm still very much interested in, and arguably it's a more pertinent discipline now than ever, but two events convinced me to quit after just one year. The first was a visit to observe a meeting of the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board, which was dominated by property developers, each of whom recused themselves from cases in which they were conflicted, and all of whom clearly scratched each other's backs in the pursuit of ever-greater urban sprawl. I found it to be a sickening display. The second was an encounter with a student just completing the program, who had quit a job as an engineer with BellSouth and racked up a lot of debt in pursuing the degree, only to find himself facing the prospect of earning less than as a telecom engineer, if he could get a job at all. I decided I would ride out the rest of the year and move on.

Sometime late in that spring semester of 1992, I was walking across campus when I heard a sampled drumbeat in the distance, with a whirling, Middle Eastern shawm-like sound above it. I followed the sound to the front of the student center building, where a P.A. system had been set up, and this group of very enthusiastic young people was dancing around before the sound segued into this very song. I think it was late afternoon on a Friday, and Memphis State then being predominantly a commuting school with lots of kids working part-time jobs to make ends meet, there was only a handful of people around, perhaps 30 or so. Unfortunately, just as the song began to move into high gear, the power died. I and a few of the other onlookers waited around for ten minutes or so, but there was no sign of the power being restored, and the poor band looked very disappointed. I finally decided to cut out. A few months later, watching MTV one night, I worked out who the unfortunate group had been, and I wished that I'd hung on a bit longer, just in case someone found that uncooperative fuse.

An unusual Memphis sunset, New Year's Eve 2007

Weird clouds over the Mississippi

Non-textbook Memphibians, volume 2

Memphis's musical heritage is so rich and varied that inevitably people have to resort to categorization, stereotypes and cliches to try to make some sense of it all. I see it all as one continuum, but I guess some people find it easier to ghetto-ize it as "country," "rockabilly," "soul," "blues," "funk," "trashabilly," "lo-fi shitrock," etc. The term "avant garde" doesn't get bandied about much, because I guess Memphis is seen as having made very little contribution to this arena, at least in the sense of "serious music," but it did give the world one very remarkable and influential character in the shape of Jon Hassell.

Most Memphians have probably never heard of him, and to be fair, he doesn't make much of his affiliation with his home town, yet for all his relative obscurity, his profound influence has been acknowledged by many more familiar musicians. The seminal Eno/Byrne collaboration "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," which I listened to religiously upon its release, had a tremendous and lasting influence on the direction of electronic music (hello Moby?), and it was initially conceived around Jon Hassell, though he seems to have been rather abruptly written out of the project before it really began - a turn of events which he seems to have been very bitter about for many years. His rich and varied body of work rewards exploration, and he just keeps on going.

A New Morning Will Come

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Non-textbook Memphibians, volume 1

Living in London for 15 years, I fear that my accent no longer immediately betrays my roots as it once might have. At times I am terrified that I might eventually end up sounding like Loyd Grossman. When someone does pick up on my accent and asks where I am from, I am typically greeted with the "Ah, Elvis-country" response, if, indeed, the person in question knows anything about Memphis at all. It's more rare, but not at all unknown, that the person will be a Stax fan, though if the conversation progresses that far, many people confuse some of the Stax output for Atlantic thanks to the shambolic outcome of the Stax-Atlantic deal. Some people confuse Memphis for Nashville, which leads me to have to explain the rivalry, and Memphis' rightful place as the capital of Mississippi (or, rather, some notional Delta superstate). I have yet to encounter anyone who mentions Martin Luther King's assassination, which always strikes me as odd, given that it seemed to hang over the place so ominously while I was growing up.

I have never had cause to discuss the Kronos Quartet in the context of Memphis, but sure enough, their former cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, is a Memphibian. I was fortunate enough to see them on a rare (actually, I think, unprecedented) visit to Memphis in 1993 or so, at the Cordova Cellars Vineyard, which I believe her mother owned (perhaps she still does). "Pieces of Africa" was out the previous year, and several pieces from it were played on that beautiful sunny afternoon, including the enchanting "Escalay" by Hamza El Din (if you don't know him, you should). This meditative piece builds in intensity, with a lot of heavy-duty percussive cellistry going on, and in this particular performance, Joan Jeanrenaud managed to pop a string. Everything stopped instantly, and there was an audible collective intake of breath from the audience, who, scattered around the lawn of the vineyard, had been mesmerized up to this point. Speaking purely for myself, I had completely lost myself in the music, and the sudden silence might as well have been an explosion.

Scenes from London life


So Long, Eric

Incredible to find something like this on YouTube showing "0 views," but that's what it said when I found it. Anyway, there's been a meme going round on Facebook lately, in which one takes 15 minutes to think of 15 albums which have had a major influence on one's life. They don't qualify as a single album, and I'm not sure they would make the cut even if they were, but the various live recordings from the European tour of this ill-fated Mingus outfit of 1964 were in heavy rotation for me after I discovered them in Japan in 1990 or so. Here we see Johnny Coles in fine form before his collapse onstage in Paris, and Mingus seeming to enjoy himself thoroughly, even when his bass slides away from him at the abortive start of this song, written in honor of Eric Dolphy, who was to depart the band (and later the planet) at the end of the tour. Sadly, this version, like Dolphy's career, is cut short, with the best still yet to come.

Lou, Laurie, and Jakarta Joey

Someone posted this ludicrous, but highly entertaining, deadpan 1974 interview with Lou Reed on Facebook not long ago, and it reminded me of an anecdote related to me many years ago (1995 is my guess) by Memphibian friend and former musical collaborator, Joseph Pegram, now resident in Jakarta.

Joey, as we all knew him then, had gotten a gig with Hot Monkey (Grifter Scott Taylor's side project, which at that point consisted of Scott, Memphis artist and percussionist David Hall, and Joey. Coincidentally, the first Linda Heck release, "Dig My Own Hole," was on the flip-side of the "Sain" single.) as one of the opening bands for Laurie Anderson at The Knitting Factory in New York City.

The band had already played and were outside getting some fresh air, when Laurie and partner Lou Reed were seen approaching the club. Joey's roommate at the time was an artist and Laurie Anderson fanatic, who wanted to give her one of his very large prints, and he had entrusted Joey with a letter and photo of the print to be hand-delivered to her. Dutifully, Joey made his way back to the dressing room, letter and photo in one hand, beer in the other, to wait until the crowd thinned enough to approach her. Finally his moment came, and he delivered the precious consignment, explaining that he was in the opening act (apparently Laurie Anderson liked the name "Hot Monkey") and that his friend had put him up to approaching her in this way. She listened graciously and patiently, taking it all in.

At one point, Joey turned to see that Lou Reed had walked into the dressing room. Now, Joey was a big Laurie Anderson fan, but did a good job of keeping it cool in her presence, unlike some of the stream of shamelessly fawning hangers-on that had preceded his audience with her. But this was Lou Reed, and I remember Joey saying that he was standing there thinking something along the lines of, "It's Lou Reed, one of my absolute biggest heroes, and now he's walking towards me. I bet he's going to say something amazing."

Lou walked straight up to Joey and said, "Hey, where did you get that beer?"

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Here we have a nice short film, shot entirely on an iPhone 3GS, with the exception of three 10-second segments supplied by the festival organizers and required for inclusion. The Memphibian angle here is the music, by Memphis' own Overjoid (Roy Berry of Lucero and artist Terance Brown).

Monday, 6 September 2010

A little bit of f*ckin' fairy dust

My friend and band mate John McClure somehow came by a compilation tape in the mid 80s which contained this masterpiece (which the uber-awesome Linda Heck pointed me to), as well as some other priceless pieces from Al Kooper's "Kapusta" albums, most notably the Buddy Rich and Barry White outbursts. We used to end up in crippling fits of laughter over these pieces, which, in the pre-internet age, were particularly precious rarities.

Me & (the Italian) Elvis

My brother recently stumbled across this forgotten gem. July 1989, I was home for a month from my job in Japan, and agreed to help out my friend Roy Barnes in a class film project. This involved getting up early one day and driving out to the Hickory Ridge Mall (at that time the pinnacle of White Flight retailing in Memphis) to interview Columbo, "The Italian Elvis," who worked in a pizzeria in the mall food court. I recall him as a nice guy, fairly unassuming. At one point, apparently not filmed, I asked him about his time in the States. He said he had lived for ten years or so in Houston (I think I recall him saying it was Houston), where he had fallen in love with a woman, gotten married and had a son. "Then one day I come home and she tell me the kid's not mine."

Teddy Bear

Sometimes you come across something so strange that it just stops you in your tracks and demands that you take notice. Red Sovine's execrable trucker tearjerker, "Teddy Bear," on 8-track, on video. Thank you, Internet.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Hole

Stumbled across this peculiar relic on the Internet Archive today. Dizzie Gillespie and George Matthews voice cartoon characters discussing the psychology of nuclear deterrence and the risks of accidental Armageddon. Vintage Cold War stuff, with interesting animation. Diz recounts the making of this Academy Award-winning short in his autobiography, "To Be or Not to Bop."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Scenes from London life



It's nearly Notting Hill Carnival time again. I haven't been in recent years, and on the occasions when I have gone in the past, I've pretty much avoided the crush of the parade route in favor of some of the peripheral attractions, discovering along the way some old school reggae and dub sound systems with amazing music and a nice atmosphere. One year, however, I did spend some time along the very crowded parade route, and witnessed the following little vignette. I related this anecdote to someone the other day, and they seemed to find it amusing - it certainly amused me at the time, and it was a beautiful example of the little human dramas you can see unfolding around you if you take the time to watch.

I was standing in the crowd along the parade route, and in a lull in the action, I noticed a young couple nearby who were having some sort of disagreement. She was unloading a long stream of something I couldn't hear because of the incredible volume of the music, but it was clearly either a litany of complaints, a torrent of invective, or some combination of the two. He was more or less speechless, occasionally shrugging or holding up his hands in a defensive gesture. Eventually she stopped and turned to face the parade action, ignoring him.

He paused for a moment, and I could see there was something going on behind his eyes. Suddenly he turned, and tip-toed gingerly a few feet away in the sort of exaggerated manner you might expect to see from a masked burglar character in a children's cartoon. When he was ten feet or so away, looking over his shoulder with an expression containing something like a mixture of incredulous satisfaction and residual dread, he smiled when he saw that his absence was still unrecognized, and broke into a trot. By fifty feet away he had melted into the crowd completely, but just as he disappeared, I'm sure I saw him look over his shoulder one last time with a wry smile.

Hearts and minds

Lester School

One of the important formative experiences in my early life was attending Lester Junior High School in Memphis for three years, 1975 - 78. My family had arrived in Memphis in 1974, and I spent sixth grade at the MSU Campus School, providing me my first brush with Memphis musical greatness. Lester was located in a very tough black neighborhood called Binghampton, about three miles from my home, and I lived in its catchment area due to the court-ordered desegregation of the Memphis City Schools, which had begun in the early '70s.

While this attempt at social engineering ultimately proved a boon to property developers and religious private schools capitalizing on the white flight which ensued, in the first few years there were some examples of schools which managed to maintain some sort of racial balance. Lester at the time was under the leadership of "Bud" Garrett, a charismatic teacher and basketball coach who had managed to sell the proposition of a ghetto school built on academic excellence to a relatively affluent white liberal audience in East Memphis.

I think when I started there in seventh grade the racial mix might have been something like 70/30 black/white, which was a pretty remarkable achievement given all the historic mistrust and fear stemming from what up to that point had been an apartheid system in all but name. By the time I left at the end of ninth grade, the mix had skewed to 90/10 or so (my school bus route in that final year served precisely four children), as the white liberals of East Memphis abandoned the experiment and the "optional schools" magnet program drew the more advantaged and socially mobile to other schools. Still, I had some fantastic teachers there, and I learned a lot about the realities of life which has stood me in good stead through the years that followed. And for a couple of years in the mid-70s, it was a beacon of hope, possibly even a model school of sorts.

The school was also the scene of numerous ridiculous anecdotes, which I often revisit with the good friends I made there, whenever we happen to speak. This one came to mind the other day. It was first period, in seventh grade (1975/76), and we were in our P.E. class, playing softball under the direction of our teacher, whose name escapes me at the moment (lifelong friend and unofficial Lester historian Jon McKamie reminds me his name was Mr. Johnston). At one point a new kid was brought out from the office to join the class, a Vietnamese boy on his first day of school. As I previously mentioned here, there was a resettlement center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and the local Catholic charities sponsored settlement for a significant number of Southeast Asian refugees in Memphis in the mid and late '70s.

This new arrival didn't speak a word of English as far as we could tell, but he smiled with remarkable confidence in the face of such an alien situation (imagine trading Danang for Binghampton), and joined our team. I was next up at bat, and made a base hit. I duly ran toward first base, which was being manned by a very tall and "big-boned" girl, whose identity I cannot recall with certainty, but it may have been Afrika Hathaway (Dr. McKamie corrects me, it was the equally formidable Annette Sanders). Unfortunately, she was straddling the baseline about two feet in front of the bag, and I expected her to move, but she didn't, so I knocked her down hard in an effort to get safely to first base. She was unhappy with this, understandably, and there was a bit of commotion and a lot of laughter before our teacher came over to explain that it might be safer for her to stand next to the bag or slightly behind it.

Next up was our new Vietnamese classmate, who, it transpired later, was actually a couple of years older than originally thought, and was soon moved up to his appropriate grade level, which is why I never knew his name or anything else about him. He had apparently never played softball/baseball before, but swung the bat with authority and actually connected with the ball on the first try. He smiled, a bit stunned with surprise at his success, and we all shouted and pointed at first base, encouraging him to run, which he did, and very fast at that. The girl playing first base, whom I had decked just seconds before, was now standing well behind the bag on the baseline, having learned her lesson. The new arrival from Fort Chaffee blazed down the first base line, past the bag, and dealt a brutal body check to the poor, innocent first base woman, knocking her flat on her ass. Pandemonium broke out, with most of us in tears of laughter, and even our teacher struggling to contain his amusement as he dusted off the unfortunate victim and tried to explain to the new kid that knocking people to the ground was not a normal part of the game.

God only knows what sort of story the kid told his family when he got home from school that night, about this great new contact sport called "softball."

Scenes from London life

Ancient Brooklyn taxi, Wood Vale, SE23

Watusi Rodeo

Well, I'm now 0-for-2 on Antenna Club reunions, having missed the recent lovefest organised this time by the club's long-time owner Steve McGehee. I heard mixed reviews, but I understand there were some outstanding performances along the way, undeterred by the oppressive heatwave Memphis has been suffering. However, both of the reunions held to date have just encompassed local bands, or bands/musicians who were local at the time. The local scene was a huge part of the appeal of the club in its day, as were the occasional big name acts who passed through, but there was also a steady stream of regional bands which came through in pretty heavy rotation, I can recall. Among these were The Bad Brains, Pylon, Jason and the Nashville Scorchers, Love Tractor, R.E.M. (before they got too big), and Guadalcanal Diary.

This remarkable video comes from the latter, and features footage (at 1:10 and 2:48) of the late James Grantham, a.k.a. "Dancin' Jimmy," a homeless Midtown Memphis alcoholic who, on the rare occasion when he could manage to sneak into the Antenna Club, would perform some unusual interpretive dance before being thrown out. (Here he is seen in Madison Avenue in front of Murphy's bar, with the Antenna sign visible in the background.) He was essentially a harmless character whom everyone around Midtown recognised, and some did what they could to help him out.

My friend and local film maker, Roy Barnes, at one time had some interview footage of Dancin' Jimmy, in which he claimed to have been a classmate of Elvis Presley's at Humes High School and also claimed that Elvis' first pink blazer was his inadvertent invention. The way I recall the anecdote, Jimmy had washed a pair of red socks in the bathtub with a white blazer, "...and when I come back that water'd done turned. I was gonna throw it away, but Elvis said, 'I'll take it.'" He was about the right age, and someone once said that they had managed to confirm that he did go to Humes High School, but who knows?

Payin' dues, the old school way

I've had a lot of posts backing up in my mind lately which I haven't found (or made) the time to write, but this log jam must be broken. It seems appropriate to start with a tidbit which recently came my way from my brother Mike. This apparently aired on the NBC Prime Time Sunday show hosted by Tom Snyder, two days before Christmas in 1979. In it we see Memphis' own Jerry "The King" Lawler during one of his many phases spent on the dark side, with his inimitable manager, Jimmy Hart, himself a Memphis music legend of sorts (Lawler is also a musician and vocalist). His nemesis in this segment, Bill "Superstar" Dundee, first arrived in Memphis in the mid-70s, as part of a tag team who claimed to be Australian, despite Dundee's obviously Scottish accent - that he could pull off being an Australian was evidence of how isolated Memphis was back then. I waited on Bill Dundee once at the barftastic Steak and Ale on Summer Avenue, and unlike Charlie Rich, he seemed to accept (somewhat grudgingly) the attention he attracted from the other patrons as part of the job.

I attended the WMC Saturday morning TV show once, and the Monday night matches at the Midsouth Coliseum on many occasions, once of twice in the cheap seats up top, where there was a thick fug of marijuana smoke. My recollection of the experience is very much as it is portrayed here - a lot of angry people with questionable dentition venting their frustration at the beginning of another thankless work week. I remember Lawler himself at the time saying something along the lines of, "You know what's got ten teeth and an IQ of 100? The first four rows at a wrestling match." There were always a few spectators at ringside who I suspected (and still suspect) were plants by the promoters used to whip up the audience, in particular an ancient black woman who always had with her some fried chicken legs wrapped in foil, which she would eat during the matches, occasionally standing up and hurling abuse at one of the bad guys while stabbing her drumstick in the air. I guess it didn't help matters that referee Jerry Calhoun seemed to be easily distracted and had terrible vision.

Thursday, 5 August 2010


As I've said before, local "wrasslin'" was an important part of the lives of many young Memphibians of the bygone era, long before the rise of the crass commercialism and corporate consolidation which has so cheapened this fine art form.

A friend recently alerted me to the existence of this wonderful site, which uses some clever algorithms to convert ordinary names to wrasslin' names. It occurred to me the other day that, a city so deeply influenced by both wrasslin' and music as Memphis should have its musical luminaries immortalized with wrasslin' names, just because it's possible, and it might even yield some interesting results. And maybe because I've got too much time on my hands.

So, reflecting the unfortunately high casualty rate among Memphis musicians in recent months, I've started with the recently departed:

Jim Dickinson - "Triple Jackal"
Alex Chilton - "Cerebral Ice"
Tommy Hoehn - "Dash Assassin"
Andy Hummel - "Dark Darkshadow"
Jay Reatard - "Smooth Swarm" (though his real name, Jimmy Lee Lindsey, Jr., yields the more interesting "Cerebral Magnum")

Obviously, this exercise could be almost infinite in scope, so I have focused on people I have played or worked with in the past, many of whom appear in the pages of this humble bloglet. I have omitted anyone whose name generated a dull wrasslin' name, because that just ain't right.

Alex Greene - "Sundance Pounder"
Amy Adcock - "Ravishing Vixen"
Bob Elbrecht - "Legendary Champ"
Brian Collins - "Love Sweet Cakes"
Cordell Jackson - "Molly Dame"
Craig Shindler - "Falcon the Ambassador"
Dave Shouse - "Double Blazer"
David Hall - "Andre Swarm"
David Skypeck - "Napalm Shadow"
Davis McCain - "Big Tempest"
Doug Easley - "Cerebral Geek"
Doug Garrison - "Abdullah the Hammer"
Fields Trimble - "Titanic Assassin"
Geoff Marsh - "Evil Daddy"
Greg Cartwright - "Diamond the Ambassador"
Greg Easterly - "Ivan Fury"
Hans Faulhaber - "Jack Disciple"
Harris Scheuner - "Lord Giant"
Jack Adcock - "Titanic Apocalypse"
Jack Yarber - "Grizzly Shadow"
Jean Tomlinson - "Frumpy Actress"
Jeff Green - "Rowdy Sterling"
Jim Duckworth - "Farmer Titan"
Jim Spake - "Cardiac Legend"
Joey Pegram - "Bad News Ranger"
John McClure - "Sweet Blazer"
John Pearson - "Professor Freak"
Jones Rutledge - "Farmer Barbarian"
Kai Eric - "Dark Joker"
Kurt Ruleman - "Sundance Satan"
Linda Heck - "Promiscuous Freak"
Mark Edwards - "Butch Frost"
Mark Harrison - "Diamond Ironstorm"
Mike Cupp - "Kid Ninja"
Rich Trosper - "Admiral Ironstorm"
Richard Graham - "Sweet Bull"
Richard Young - "Ringo Atlas"
Robert Fordyce - "Demolition Dog"
Robert Palmer - "The Grand Kahn"
Ross Johnson - "Doctor Striker"
Roy Berry - "Atomic Volcano"
Roy Brewer - "Napalm Barbarian"
Scott Taylor - "Dash Bull"
Sean Kerr - "Buzz Python"
Stoughten Outlan - "Nature Boy Punisher"
Tav Falco - "King Kong Venus"
Tony Pantuso - "Cardiac Satan"
Trey Harrison - "Rowdy Terminator"
Wally Hall - "Cardiac Nova"

Boarding the wayback machine

I can't wait to see this documentary on Memphis' legendary Antenna Club, a place I practically lived in the period 1982 - 85, and visited/played at with varying frequency over subsequent years. I know pretty much everyone interviewed here (nice to see you all again!), including surprise appearances by my old schoolmate Laura Goodman, and the young woman I am 99.5% sure is my late classmate Jamie Thomas, and I am amazed at how the makers have managed to get their hands on some of the footage seen here.

For those unable to remember a time before the internet, it's probably impossible to convey just how significant this club (and other clubs like it around the country) was to the lives of those who gathered there to play or listen to music. It gave us a sense of connection to the outside world, as well as a nexus for all the various strands of local music to attract, intertwine, or repel.

I played more gigs there than I can possibly recall, some of which I'm still proud of, and also witnessed or perpetrated a number of heinous crimes against music. I also was privileged to catch amazing shows by a very young R.E.M. (whose first single had just been released, and whose equipment had been stolen from their van the night before, requiring that they borrow kit from opening act Barking Dog), N.R.B.Q., Firehose, The Replacements, The Meat Puppets (twice), Shockabilly, and many others by now forgotten bands, local and otherwise, all of which stay with me to this day.

It would be easy, however, to get caught up in the nostalgia and ignore the fact that many of us who frequented the club had a love/hate relationship with it. It was an unpleasant environment: smoky, claustrophobic, oppressively hot, filthy (even the "dressing room" for bands was unspeakable), and depending on the night the management could be a bit surly. And as it developed more or less into a local monopoly over time, musicians and fans began to look for other places to play and listen. Thus, Antenna's repelling effect was arguably the catalyst for other scenes to take shape: Fred's Hideout, Barristers, The Pyramid Club, The Loose End/Epicenter Lounge, Barristers 2 (which I am proud to say I booked the first show into), and others I am no doubt forgetting for the moment.

It was by turns seductive and repugnant, glorious and embarrassing, a jewel in the crown of Memphis' chequered and confused cultural heritage, and it was important. I miss it, sometimes.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Saturday, 24 July 2010

I Wanna Be Loved

I can remember seeing Elvis Costello perform this song at Mud Island in Memphis around 1982/83, and I recall he credited the song to a Memphis group called Teacher's Edition, a group I'd never heard of and still know virtually nothing about. Presumably, they were a group of teachers from the Memphis City Schools who somehow managed to cut a side on Hi Records, and I guess if you've only got one shot you might as well try to make a jaw-dropping classic. When I finally tracked the original down years later on this compilation, I was really stunned by what I heard, and I'm really pleased to be able to share it (note - there is no video, just a rather poignant static photo). As a recording, it may not be crafted to the same meticulous standard as Al Green's work of the period, but it still possesses all the fine elements of Hi productions. Enjoy.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

All's well that ends well, eventually, with a little pressure

After a few more days of government inaction over the environmental crime and arson incident which took place across the road from me recently, I escalated the situation last week. First, I stupidly called the general Environmental Services number for Southwark Council, which took me to a friendly, if somewhat baffled, call center employee, who didn't quite know how to direct my complaint. He eventually sent it to the department in charge of fly-tipping offences, before suggesting that perhaps the best way of dealing with the issue was to confront the builders/property owner myself. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps he was just rehearsing his script for our future lives under the ConDem government, where apparently most public services will be handled by volunteers. I told him in no uncertain terms that I don't pay taxes so that I can enforce the law in place of the Council.

Convinced that this call had been a waste of time, I sent my local Councillor an email with a link to my original blog post. This was now three days after the arson incident. He responded to me the same day, and forwarded my email to the head of the enforcement division, who got in touch the following day. Apparently this division had been aware of the rubbish dumped in front of the house, but did not know about the subsequent arson incident.

I was, and am, amazed that an incident requiring the fire and police services' involvement would not be reported to the appropriate local authority immediately, let alone four days after the event. I was also astonished to find that I was only the second person to file a complaint. The first person had apparently called in about five days before the arson, by which time the rubbish had been on the street for nearly two weeks, if my memory serves me well. This speaks of a level of apathy and indifference which even I find surprising. For days I watched people walking past, looking at the mess and shaking their heads, but it seems that not one could be bothered to pressure the Council for action - not even the family resident in the upstairs flat, who could have easily lost their lives.

Anyway, the environmental enforcement division took the extraordinary measure of sending out a crew last Friday, and cleaning the site to an immaculate extent. Apparently the property owner will get the bill, which is as it should be. The question I have is, would this neat and quick resolution have occurred had I not written about it and posted photos to name and shame the Council into action - and crucially informed them of the existence of the blog post? I suspect not.

On the other hand, what this incident suggests to me is that, if people expect their local government to do nothing, and then do nothing to make their complaints known, then indeed, they will probably observe inaction and erroneously conclude that they are powerless, and the local government indifferent or inept. It doesn't have to be this way.

Scenes from London life


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Another fallen star

R.I.P. Andy Hummel, the third of Big Star's original four members to pass away, and the second this year. Last year, in writing a post on Four Neat Guys, I included a peculiar anecdote about him as related to me by Harris Scheuner, which I reproduce here.

We were all obsessed with Big Star, whose catalog was out of print at the time, though Randy had all three studio albums and a bootleg tape of the radio broadcast from 1974. Harris, in particular, seemed to be way off into a Big Star trip, and I remember him telling me this story around this time. He was in the old Seessel's Supermarket on Union, doing some grocery shopping. An announcement came over the in-store PA system: "Mr. Andy Hummel, Mr. Andy Hummel, please come to customer service." Harris was curious, as Hummel is not that common a surname, and Andy Hummel was the name of the bass player in Big Star. So Harris went to customer service, to see a tall guy there who was unquestionably Andy Hummel.

Harris waited until he had finished whatever business he had been paged for, and asked him, "Excuse me, are you Andy Hummel?" Andy Hummel, who indeed he was, looked a bit startled and said, "Yes." "Andy Hummel from Big Star?" Apparently there was a pause, and the real live Andy Hummel said, "Yes, but how do you know about Big Star?" As Harris told it, Andy Hummel had moved to Texas to work in the aerospace industry, and apparently had no knowledge of the resurgence of interest in Big Star, despite the fact that REM and a number of other high-profile acts had by this time become very vocal public champions of the band. To anyone reading who can't remember a time before the internet, this is the way life used to be - people, relationships, bands just got lost. Unsearchable, un-Facebookable, un-Linked-Inable, just gone.

The curious among you may enjoy this interview with Andy Hummel from 2001, in which he gives his view of life in Big Star and beyond. I fail to understand his vitriolic attacks on Jim Dickinson, but I guess everyone is entitled to be wrong about something. There may be some tension up in Rock-n-Roll Heaven tonight.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Broken Hearts for You and Me

I don't know how many people remember Trio, but for a brief period in 1982 they brightened our world with the equal-parts annoying and irresistable "Da, Da, Da," which I first remember hearing in heavy rotation as a music video at the Antenna Club in Memphis, before it went on to become an international hit via MTV. Like many of my friends, I dutifully bought the EP, and fell in love with this song, which seems to have aged pretty well. I've always wanted to cover it, and I'm sort of surprised more people haven't, though I do remember The Thunder Lizards of Memphis doing a particularly good version at one of their gigs in 1983 or so. Perhaps surprisingly for a group built on minimalism, here we are treated to an airy, psychedelic guitar solo (blindfolded, no less) from Kralle Krawinkel. Perhaps the song is due a revival in the wake of Germany's devastating exit from the World Cup.

Scenes from London life

Express Weaving

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Sunday, 11 July 2010

London's burning

About three weeks ago, the noisy and vaguely antisocial youngsters occupying the ground floor flat of the house opposite mine suddenly were gone. I don't know if they skipped out on the rent, or were evicted, but the owner of the property immediately got to work on gutting and redecorating the entire gaff. Sadly, this apparently necessitated dumping all of the contents of the flat (clothes, books, mattresses, bookshelves) in a very unruly pile in front of the building. The man is apparently too cheap to even hire a skip.

Arson on Upland Road

Since then, Southwark Environmental Services have been out to visit at least twice that I have observed. I spoke to them once during the week before last to give some background and encourage them to deal with the mess, because I was afraid that if it were just left, some opportunistic and unscrupulous builder (is there any other kind?) would be happy to add to the pile under dark of night. The second time I saw them, they appeared to be speaking to the owner, or at least to one of the guys doing the refurbishment work. Yet nothing happened.

Arson on Upland Road

I have had a couple of friends from the States staying with me for the past week, along with their young daughter, and being a decent person, I have ceded my bedroom and connected guest room to them. I have been sleeping in a sleeping bag in my living room at the front of the house. Yesterday, at about 3:30 AM, I was awoken by what sounded like a group of young men, talking and laughing very loudly in the street. In a minute or two, things quietened down, and I dropped off to sleep again, but soon I was disturbed by something I briefly mistook for raindrops hitting the ledge outside my open windows, but soon realized was the sound of fire.

Arson on Upland Road

Sure enough, the rubbish pile had been lit at the front left corner, next to the hoarding surrounding the partially completed new "aspirational" apartments being put up next door. I called the Fire Brigade immediately, and in my sleep-deprived stupor watched as the flames shot 15 feet or so in the air and spread rapidly towards the house, where a family with a couple of young boys and a baby live (fortunately with an entrance to the side and nowhere near the fire). I was just about to run across and awaken them when one of their windows broke loudly from the heat, a light came on upstairs, and one of their neighbors from next door made sure they were up and out.

Not very aspirational, is it?

By this time the hoarding around the new building was on fire, and the flames were licking the windows of the ground floor flat of the house. Fortunately the Fire Brigade turned up at this point, only five minutes or so after being called, because I think a couple of more minutes would have seen both the house and new building on fire. The next day police forensics did a thorough examination, and there was an officer outside most of the day, to whom I gave a statement of what I'd heard and seen.

Arson on Upland Road

However, the pile of partially burnt rubbish is still in front of the building, astonishingly, as a nice trophy, or perhaps a challenge to complete, for those responsible. Having failed to either remove the blight in the first place during the two weeks prior to the arson, or to force the property owner to do so, Southwark Council unwittingly allowed the shits responsible for this to put lives in danger via a stupid and pointless act of vandalism. My visitors, unlike many American tourists who visit London, will not be returning home with misconceptions of what a civilized place it is.

Arson on Upland Road

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Scenes from London life


Just about alright

Fifteen years ago today I arrived in the UK with a couple of suitcases, a little bit of money, and huge hopes for love, adventure, and prosperity - well, of a sort, anyway. The next morning, when my then wife-to-be left our tiny apartment in Vauxhall for work, I switched on the radio to survey the audio landscape of my new home before venturing out into the real world to try to shake off my jet lag. And out came this, the first song I heard on commercial radio in the UK. It's by no means my favorite from Supergrass, but still every time I hear it, I find myself right back in the feeling of that moment.

And the song is probably also emblematic of the general sense of optimism percolating through that era: the rise of "Britpop;" the promise of New Labour; "Cool Britannia;" the approaching Millennium; new technological and economic paradigms; previously unknown prosperity - much of which optimism, we now know, was underpinned by poor planning, poor regulation, and a lack of prudence and foresight which has led us to the nightmare, sorry, "significant challenges and opportunities," which now confront us. Still, on July 7, 1995, it was all there to play for, and I relish the memory.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Let's go away for a while

I'm a sucker for the stories behind how great records were made, and "Pet Sounds" is certainly one of the greatest. Here we have Brian Wilson working to realise the beautiful music in his head - a bit of a taskmaster, but it's difficult to argue with the results.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Scenes from London life

Innit lollipops - genius


The other night I watched "This is Spinal Tap" for the first time in many years, and I laughed just as hard and long as every other time I have ever watched it. As anyone with taste will surely agree, the best member of the band, without question, was Nigel Tufnel, whose scenes in his guitar room are among the funniest in the film. Today I happened to notice something come up on Twitter with a link to an article containing this footage. If this priceless segment were not the actual source for many of the guitar room gags, I will eat my skeleton T-shirt. Otherwise, it's one helluva coincidence.

Saturday, 15 May 2010


Tonight I'm missing a show at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park, Memphis, originally scheduled as a Big Star performance, but now re-purposed as a tribute to Alex Chilton. Of course I'm missing it, because I live 4,400 miles out of town, just beyond the dying gasp of Memphis' relentless eastward urban sprawl. Last night, I missed what by all accounts was a great show by my friend and occasional co-conspirator, Linda Heck, with whom I have just recently done some recording, both from London and in Memphis. This remarkable video sort of connects the two, at least in my mind.

Here we see Alex, joined by the late Jim Dickinson and Lee Baker, along with Sid Selvidge, Marcia Hare, a bass player I don't recognize, and an unseen drummer (presumably Richard Rosebrough) recording sections for "Like Flies on Sherbert," in either 1978 or 1979. This was a record I listened to with fascination for a long time, and while reviewers at the time struggled to know what to make of it, in retrospect, I think it's an important missing link on the road to the "lo-fi devolution." It's also an awful lot of fun.

If I understand it correctly, the story is that Alex managed to con some free studio time by claiming that technical problems had impeded his production of the Cramps' "Songs the Lord Taught Us," though this may be apocryphal.

This is a fascinating document to me, both of the people and of the recording process at the time. My recent Urashima Taro-like re-entry to the recording studio was an eye-opener, and this video reminds us how painful and challenging the process used to be. Witness Sid Selvidge trying with great difficulty to punch a single phrase into the beginning of "No More the Moon Shines on Lorena," and you get a sense of how difficult things were. Obviously, working within these constraints also prompted more innovative thinking, but damn, some easy things really seem unnecessarily hard in retrospective.

The songs are, "My Rival," "No More the Moon Shines on Lorena," and "Boogie Shoes." A longer version of this once existed on Vimeo, which also included more of "My Rival," "Bangkok," "Baby Doll," and "Rock Hard." Chaotic and all over too soon. Rest in peace, Alex.


I think it's a safe bet that the Cannes Film Festival will not see the likes of this this year, or any other, for that matter.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

What turns you on, U.F.O.?

Doug Easley's studio office contains a huge number of song lyrics from songwriter hopefuls who sent them in to the previous occupant/proprietor back in the 1970s. The most outstanding and strange that I saw was called "What Turns You On, U.F.O.?" It was an expression of exasperation with a lover, apparently of a sexual nature, but only the author knows for sure. Hopefully she since has either worked it out or moved on. No real connection with this short video of the Joe's Liquors "Sputnik" sign, apart from my own oblique connection. I always loved this Memphis landmark when I lived there, but like so many things in the city, it was frozen and non-functional at the time, only coming to life after I had moved on.

I'll remember April

Linda, Doug and me

The burst of beautiful spring weather we've had recently has evaporated, and I find myself looking out my window on a grey and unseasonably cold London Sunday afternoon, struggling to grasp that the events of the past week were real, not imagined.

I returned Thursday morning from a four-day lightning trip to Memphis, having at last escaped the clutches of Eyjafjallajokull. There I had the indescribable delight of three days in the studio with Linda Heck and the ever-amazing Doug Easley.


I shot plenty of video on my Flip Mino, but sadly this precious device seems to have died somewhere along the way, and I can't even retrieve the videos. I do have this one short segment shot on my phone, wherein we're listening as our old band mate Kurt Ruleman adds some percussion parts to a track.

The main focus of these sessions was vocals: Linda re-cut a couple of main vocals, and I added my voice to ten tracks, on some of which Linda sang with me. We have always had a deep unspoken musical understanding, and I find that harmony ideas flow thick and fast in my mind when I hear her sing. We also have a tendency to sound alike, or more accurately, I have a tendency to sound like her when I sing with her. I am curious to see if, when this collection of songs sees the light of day, listeners will even realize it's not all her.

Linda Heck wailing

We also synched up the guitar parts I recorded for four songs in London, so she and Doug could hear properly for the first time what we did (as opposed to the mp3 versions I sent previously, which have a Phil Spector-esque quality to them - as in it is often hard to unpick sounds). Kurt came in to do some percussion, including playing Doug's tympanis, which used to belong to Stax.

Kurt Ruleman rocks the Stax tympanis

There were some more details added here and there: Linda played some sparse pedal steel parts on "Transformed," to which I also added pedal steel (though in my case it is strummed slowly, to sound like a tanbura); Doug added some beautiful pedal steel and virtual vibes to "At Your Door"; and in the absence of our friend John McClure I punched in a sparse bass line during the breaks in the same song.

So, at this point, I'm guessing this project may be near completion, apart from the mixing, not quite two months since it was begun. Linda, John and Kurt cut 15 basic tracks and vocals at the beginning of March, I did my basement sessions later the same month, Greg Easterly and Mark Harrison added strings, sparse guitar and synth to a couple of songs in Nashville in April, and this string of vocal/percussion/overdubs sessions in Memphis takes things to a pretty complete level, at least as far as I can hear.

I am as excited about this as anything I've ever been involved with, and I love every second of the 51 minutes or so which these songs comprise. I think Linda's writing and singing is in top form, and the playing from her and Messrs. McClure/Ruleman/Spake/Duckworth/Easley/Easterly/Harrison is tasteful and fine throughout. For my own part, having put the guitar down for 15 years, I feel like I play better than I ever did when I was trying consistently. Perhaps I should not play more often.

Seriously though, it's interesting to have the perspective of time to put things into context. I used to find it daunting to go into the studio in isolation to do guitar or vocal parts, and was prone to clowning in order to hide my discomfort or lack of self-confidence. I also recall many times being in the studio with no clear idea of what we were trying to achieve - this sometimes gave rise to interesting accidents, but more often led to indifferent results.

The contrast with the past could not be greater in this project, at least as I have experienced it. For once, I have felt a sense of lucidity and calm throughout, in having ideas worked out in advance which ended up being executed as planned or improved through collaboration with others. I guess this is the much-vaunted "confidence and ease that comes with age and experience," and I can only hope it eventually permeates all other aspects of my life.

The material in question also makes a good contrast with the much-lamented "Lost Album." Whereas we either ran out of money or patience, or perhaps both, before that body of songs could be satisfactorily mixed and presented as a finished, polished product, every song here already feels like a complete, self-contained work. Every song here, bar one, has a definite ending, rather than a lazy fade. The arrangements are more sophisticated and there is much more going on sonically, but the sound is much sparser - another lesson of experience being a greater capacity to listen and self-edit. Saying nothing, or little, usually carries more weight and meaning than a filibuster.

And the nature of the songs in this set is also a long way from 1992. What are the songs about? One thing I have realized after all these years is that Linda's writing process is probably a much more complex affair than might seem apparent to anyone but her, which makes interpretation a fairly treacherous task. There are some non-obvious shifts in point-of-view which I am now aware of, and in one case I assumed a song to be about a very specific individual, only to be told that the lyrics had the widest and most general application imaginable. So, in short, it's not for me to try to interpret or explain, because I may be wrong, apart from the songs I have asked about and had explained to me. However, I do hear some common themes cutting across most of the songs involved here: emotional estrangement (both from the other and the self), death (in a variety of senses/guises), vulnerability, acceptance, forgiveness, self-discovery, rebirth. Grown-up stuff, but beautiful and a lot of fun. I am ecstatic and thankful that I got the chance to be a part of it.

I'm ready

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Memphis is the new Memphis

Well, Plan A was to attend and cover Fiberfete in Lafayette, and then carry on to Memphis for a short check-in with friends and family, and some recording with Linda Heck. However, Iceland had a different plan in mind, and the first leg of my journey was lamentably cancelled. However, tomorrow will hopefully allow me to realize Plan B, which constitutes the second leg of the trip in isolation. I'm desperately hoping it all comes off.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Jazz Club

The Fast Show was one of my very favorite shows, and its high point coincided with my early days in the UK. Happier times. "Jazz Club" was always one of my favorite segments, and this compilation shows why.

Back in the basement

"The Shop" recording studio, East Dulwich, London

I haven't set foot in a recording studio (at least not as a participant) since the mid-1990s, if that can be believed. Things have changed a bit. Last week I cut guitar and vocal parts for three new songs as part of the ongoing Linda Heck Memphis recording project, except that I cut my parts at "The Shop," a great local studio run by friend Paul Betts in East Dulwich, London.

Last week's titles were the atmospheric "Alabama," "How About You?" and "All Things Fall Away," and while I am thrilled to be involved and had a blast working with Paul, inside I felt forlorn, still absorbing the news of Alex Chilton's untimely death, and I think this came through in what we cut, which I'm very pleased with. I return Wednesday to cut one more, the more upbeat "Onward," which I believe requires a Marshall amp, two guitars in conflict, and a lot of coffee. Fortunately all of the above are ready and waiting.

Don't stand so close to me

A few years ago at Christmastime, I was with my wife and a group of friends at the Old Vic Theatre in London, seeing Sir Ian McKellen's Aladdin pantomime. After the very entertaining first act, there was an intermission, and the amused audience squeezed out into the lobby in a (mostly futile) attempt to get a drink before the second half began.

It was a particularly bad crush as I recall, and I became increasingly aware of an above-average source of pressure on my left side, including hints of an elbow in my ribs. As this grew worse, I began to think, "Okay, who is this asshole?" and I broke off conversation with my comrades to look. I turned my head to the left to find myself eye to eye with a man I immediately recognized as Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting.

He looked incredible, I must say, in spite of his elbow - I guess that's what good genes, a lot of money, and a bit of work can do for you. I attempted to locate my mobile phone and take a clandestine photo while he was still beside me, but my wife intimated that this would be a bad idea, so I abandoned that plan. Once in the lobby, Sting, Trudy, their kids and their discreet security escort set up camp on the stairs, six feet or so above the great unwashed.

I sort of liked this strategy. It wasn't so much that they wanted to be on display, I suspect, but more an acknowledgement to all present that Family Sting were in the house, and you can look, but don't touch. Plus it was a solid defensible position should anything untoward happen. In the event, all was peaceful, though many, including me, gawked a bit in spite of ourselves. Sting didn't look all that happy to me, maybe that's part of being the King of Pain, a title I could have usurped had his elbow action continued a few seconds longer.