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.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A bad day for music

I awoke today to the sad news of Alex Chilton's passing. Then coming home from running the kids to school, I heard that Charlie Gillett is also gone. I'm very saddened, almost speechless. Different men, different lives, different roles, but for me their significance is closely related. Long before satellite radio and the internet, both men were stubbornly committed to sharing unknown/unusual music with the world, Charlie through his broadcasts, and Alex through his recordings and shows (obviously not to mention his own brilliant song writing). Rest in peace gentlemen. Music lovers around the world are much richer for having known you.

Gigantic, ten-gallon hat-tip to my former neighbor Robert Gordon for this video of the song "My Rival" (which later appeared on "Like Flies on Sherbert," an album which fascinated me for a long, long time), shot by William Eggleston, who once let me use his phone when my car broke down outside his house. I didn't realize until years later that he was who he was.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Scenes from London life

Brian Jones detail

Offline analogue nostalgia blues

I am most probably addicted to the Web, but there is a part of me which misses the pre-Internet era when sharing music with friends involved a lot of time, effort and thought. I often made cassette compilations for old friends, new-found possible friends with a common interest, people in need of education or conversion to this or that artist/style, and women I was interested in. It was an expression of self: "This is what I think is good, you need to hear it, and I have made the effort to make this for you, to curate a collection of songs which will hopefully change your view of the world, or at least make you smile."

It was a time-consuming labor of love, often involving hand-written notes and bespoke cover art, very different from the instant gratification/commoditization of information sharing we experience online today. Not that the modern experience is entirely a bad thing, quite the opposite. Can you remember being interested in a certain topic and having to go to the local library to do research and deal with things like microfilm, microfiche, and The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature? If you can't, count yourself lucky. It was exceedingly painful. It was a world where access to information was, comparatively, incredibly constrained, and if you didn't experience it first-hand, you really can't imagine what it was like, which was bad in retrospect, but felt positively Space Age back then. (Makes one wonder what our children will think about our fancy Interwebs of their childhood when they're our age.)

Anyway, back to music. I made many compilations for friends/possible friends/converts/possible girlfriends back in that age, and I also received many. My friend and bandmate Robert Fordyce, who moved to New York not long before I moved to London in 1995, and I were kind of fed up with "pop" music in the early/mid 90s, and so we spent a lot of time sitting around listening to modern jazz, "world" music, and 20th Century Classical music and other weird, off-road audio, and he made me four cassettes of the 20th Century masters, each with its own humorous caricature of the composer. Many years ago, my erstwhile wife took the covers and framed them. I recently was reunited with them as I unpacked upon moving into my new flat.

They are:

Igor Stravinsky, aka "Pimpin' Igor"

Pimpin' Igor (Stravinksy)

Bela Bartok, whose strapline is "Don't Worry, be Happy." I love it.

Don't worry, be happy! - Bela Bartok

Charles Ives, who, as the text states, won the Pulitzer Prize for music, but declined it.

Charles Ives, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music, which he declined

Arnold Schoenberg, my favorite of the group, and an oblique reference to the album "A Lot of People Would Like to See Armand Schaubroeck... Dead," which our friend and bandmate Jeff Green from The Grundies owned.

A lot of people would like to see Arnold Schoenberg... DEAD!

Thank you, Bob. I continue to treasure these drawings. They make me smile whenever I see them, so mission accomplished, still after 16 years or so.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Scenes from London life

Michael Caine

Detail from mural on housing estate set for demolition, Newington, South London, boyhood home of Michael Caine.

Can you keep a secret?

That darned Linda Heck has embarked on a recording project, cutting 15 tracks in Memphis last week at Easley-McCain studios with the usual suspects - fine musicians (and people) every one. Next, in perhaps a first for a Memphis-based band, sometime next week I will be stepping into a friend's studio in East Dulwich, London, to add some guitar and vocals to four tracks, maybe more. It's going to be a learning experience for everyone involved. Presumably the files from the Memphis session will be uploaded to an FTP site, which we will then pull down on this side of the pond, and then upload again once we're done. Meanwhile, listen to the new song "Woo Hoo Hoo Yeah" from this session on Linda's MySpace page. Joyous and smooth as silk. I'm all excited about this.

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Lie

A great performance by The Gun Club from 1983 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, featuring my friend Jim Duckworth, certainly one of the planet's greatest living guitar talents. I love this song, both because of the chord sequence and the ambivalence of the lyrics: is Jeffrey Lee Pierce singing about a woman, himself, heroin, or all of the above?

Scenes from London life

Windrush Square, Brixton