Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas

Season's greetings and best wishes to everyone out there in cyberwhatever. This has been an extraordinary year in so many respects, and I feel very fortunate to be who and where I am at this moment in time. So it's only fitting to have an extraordinary video, from The Who, at the very top of their game. Keith Moon is so excited by Christmas that he finds it hard to stay in his seat.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Scenes from London life

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The Memphians

I don't know when this is set for release, but I sure would love to see it.

Brian Eno Day, 1988

I can't imagine when I will ever have the 12 uninterrupted hours required to listen to this. Perhaps I'll take the day off on February 12, 2013, the 25th (!) anniversary of this original Brian Eno Day.

Steve Reich at UC Berkeley University Museum (November 7, 1970)



And as a bonus, a radio interview from the same year!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Paper and Iron

Okay, Capitalism, let's see what you've got for me this week. Happy Monday to wage slaves everywhere.

Friday, 7 December 2012

We Jam Econo

Something for the weekend: the story of legendary California band The Minutemen. I never saw them live, but I did manage to catch the successor band Firehose once or twice. If only scientists had worked out how to harness their energy...

Scenes from London life

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Growing old in public

I turned 50 at the end of October. In recent years, as I pondered the relentless approach of this event, I wondered if, come the day, I would feel depressed or freaked out. When it arrived, I had quiet celebrations on a very small scale, thought about all the interesting experiences and good fortune I've enjoyed in life, offered quiet thanks for all the wonderful people I've known and the loving family and group of friends who have always been there for me. And, fulfilling an aspiration I developed over the past year, I managed to play a good gig with a talented band behind me, just two days before I crossed the threshold. There's not much video from the event, but these are the ones. We have a number of working names, but none which has stuck yet. On bass, Matt Bowers, and on drums Charlie Hoskyns. The event was a charity fundraiser guerilla art show at a disused and unheated garage/vehicle inspection centre in my local 'hood, on a cold, rainy Sunday evening. And why not? Onward!





Friday, 30 November 2012

Self-reflection

Self-reflection

Photo by will.the.brain

Friday, 16 November 2012

All You Need is Cash

I can remember when this first aired in the States, and I bought the soundtrack album and listened to it heavily for a number of years. I rented it on DVD recently and nearly wet myself, I was laughing so hard. It's top-notch satire, but what really makes this amazing (as I've ranted previously) is Neil Innes' brilliantly observed songs, each of which incorporates elements from several different Beatles songs.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Evening Star

Today ended with one of the most beautiful autumn evenings I can ever recall in London, and the colours of the sunset, as well as the feelings they inspired, took me back to this wondrous album.




Scenes from London life

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Riding with Neil

Neil Young is 67 today. There are few people as cool, in my book, and I struggle to think of many who have brought me as much enjoyment through their music.

Back in ancient times, there was a guy named Larry whose parents lived across the park from my house in East Memphis. He was a couple of years older than me, and I didn't really know him when we were kids, though I did have a crush on his younger sister at the time. Years later, when my buddy, Mark Edwards, and I were trying to start our first band, we "auditioned" (a pompous and misleading term, given that typically it felt like we were trying to woo people to join in our tuneless racket-making) Larry as a drummer. I had seen him at some sort of university party with another band, and he was a decent drummer, plus he was a funny guy and seemed to know how to have a good time.

Anyway, invariably our rehearsals in those days were short on musical content and long on drinking and talking. Larry regaled us with tales of his job as a room service waiter at the Hilton in East Memphis. He seemed to have met all sorts of rock stars in the course of his work, and it must have been a real shock to knock on the door of room 515, or whatever, only to discover Pete Townshend on the other side. But he seemed to be pretty cool about it all. Maybe it was all made up, who knows, and who cares?

The best one I remember was when he knocked on a door and was greeted by a very bored Neil Young, who bribed him to take him out in his car to buy a six pack of beer and drive him around Memphis for a couple of hours, talking and listening to the radio as Neil smoked the occasional "left-handed cigarette."

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

More from the Panther vaults

I've never seen this gem before, but thanks to the miracle of YouTube, here we witness Lorette Velvette, Giovanna Pizzorno, and George Reinecke, tooling around in Tav Falco's signature 1965 Thunderbird through some of Memphis' most scenic streetscapes, and into the wilds of Mississippi along Highway 61, before encountering the man himself, to the band's cover of Z.Z. Hill's classic "Shade Tree Mechanic." I think this was 1988/89, because I remember missing a party at which I believe this may have had its premier, as I was living in Japan at the time. But it was a long time ago, and I could be wrong.


 

Panther Burns, 1979

I wish there were more footage from this era on the web. This would be about six months to a year before I first saw them play, but this is very much the way I remember them sounding, apart from the fact that Alex and Ross seem much more coherent and sober in this footage. I don't recognize the venue, but through the murky light I think I recognize a few young faces as being familiar. Also noteworthy is that the band was still known as "Panther Burn" at this point.



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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Elected

Apparently there is something happening in the political arena Stateside today. If only a cigar-smoking chimp and alcoholic, snake-handling rock-star were actually involved...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Happy Halloween

Here's some truly scary music. A couple of years ago on a car trip, I tormented my children with "War Pigs" several times, and my younger daughter astutely observed, "He's rhymed 'masses' with 'masses' - how stupid is that?" I can't argue. Stupid it may be, but stupid can be heavy and awesome too.



Monday, 22 October 2012

Roba (Robbery)

During most of my final days in Memphis in the early 90's, I pretty much just listened to jazz and ethnic music of various descriptions, and in parallel with the Tuvan rabbit hole I fell down, I also developed a serious sweet tooth for the amazing sounds coming out of Madagascar at the time. I spent so much time listening to D'Gary that I began to have serious doubts about whether it was even worth ever picking up a guitar again, and Tarika Sammy's second album was also in very heavy rotation. Every track on it would have been a hit, in my view, if not for the language barrier, strange instrumentation, and whirling polyrhythmic patterns which often seem to turn in on themselves, mesmerizing and disorienting Western ears. Still, they were commercial enough to make the New Orleans Jazzfest, and this is a great performance, with the added bonus of my old Memphis chum Candace Mache being visible in the audience in the opening seconds.

Scenes from London life

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

I'm Glad I'm Not a Man

Another gem from a great unsung Memphis band. By my reckoning, this was the third incarnation of The Marilyns, the one I recorded in 1988, not that I can find my tapes from that immensely enjoyable session, with a lovely group of people. Dang.

"Cyndi Lauper, she's so stupid, 
Says girls just want some fun,
But all we want is your money, honey, 
To buy ourselves some guns,
We wanna give some pleasure,
We wanna get some pleasure,
But all the boys we treasure,
Just drink and do drugs,
Drink and do drugs,
Drink and do drugs, and screw,
Well, screw you baby,
We're The Marilyns comin' atcha now!"

Friday, 19 October 2012

When Something is Wrong With My Baby

Life is full of conundrums, mysteries, and unanswered questions. How many angels can dance on one hand clapping? If a bear shits in the woods and no one is around, does it actually make a sound? How stupid can a person be and still work as an estate agent? What is the point of Quora? Why would anyone ever willingly become an actuary?

A couple of days ago, an anonymous friend sent me a scan of this photo, apparently taken by Deanie Parker, whom I met on a magical night several years ago. And the question which arose in my mind was, why is there no audio or film record of this moment, which must have been incredible, and probably very funny, beyond words? Here we find David Porter and Isaac Hayes performing at the 1969 Stax Records sales convention, presumably doing a Sam & Dave pastiche to the music which they wrote for the very same Sam & Dave. The mind boggles.

Porter and Hayes



Wire - Pink Flag

Probably one of the most influential albums that you may well never have heard, though track 15, at 21:44, should be familiar to all R.E.M. fans. 1977 goodness that never stops giving.

Memories of a day on Highway 61, summer 2012

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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A gift, undelivered

This is such an awesome story, that I asked permission of my colleague, who told it to me, to blog it, because I thought it needed to be aired. He granted me that permission, but mentioned that the artist in the story might feel that confidences had been betrayed if she were identified by name without consultation, so I have taken pains to honor his wishes, and also not to be too specific about the artwork involved.

So, on Monday, this colleague of mine who is also very much into music, approached me first thing, with a big smile on his face, and said, "I've got the most amazing story, and I know that you, of all people will appreciate it." He had spent the weekend somewhere out in the great English countryside, and the place he was staying just happened to be the home village of an artist he really admires, one of whose pieces of sculpture he owns. He described it (generically, for your eyes, dear reader) as a small-ish sculpture of an historical figure of note. He had picked up on the fact that she sometimes does private viewings of her work at her home, so he contacted her, and she graciously invited him over to look around.

As he was touring the home, he noticed a drawing on the wall, apparently of the same historical figure of note as the one in his sculpture.

He enquired, "Is that a drawing of [historical figure of note]?" "Yes," she replied.

"Did you do it?"

Somewhat reluctantly, apparently, she replied, "No, it was done by a former boyfriend of mine, a long time ago."

She then explained the background story (the details of which I will shuffle, so as to preserve the surprise element of the narrative): it seems that the drawing had inspired the sculpture which my colleague today owns, and she had created it with the intention of giving it as a gift to her long-gone boyfriend from many years before. Except that he unfortunately died just days before she could do so, and the piece ended up being sold, and now rests in my colleague's home.

During the course of the back story, the artist apparently proffered a tid-bit of information, in that her old boyfriend had been in a band. "Which band?" my colleague asked. Rather sheepishly, apparently, the artist responded, "The Clash."

It would have spoiled the story if I'd opened with this line, but my colleague's opening line to me in telling me this story, in reality, was, "I feel like I'm living with the ghost of Joe Strummer..."

     

Milo, Sorghum and Maize

Boy, oh boy, the sheer unhinged enthusiasm and insanity of this first Meat Puppets album just never seems to get old. There was a time when I used to listen to it at least once a day. The interview from 1994 is very amusing, and I like the fact that Curt says he hasn't figured out what the band sounds like yet (after 14 years and eight albums). Certainly, the contrast between the first and second albums couldn't be greater, and they subsequently stumbled through the lands of early ZZ Top, Prince and King Crimson (to my ears, plus any others I might have missed) in their next few outings. If the fans couldn't get a grip on the group's "sound," then why would the band itself have had any better idea? I saw them twice, once in 1985 supporting "Up on the Sun," and again after "Huevos" came out two years later. All within the same set, they could be both utterly transcendent and embarrassingly awful, and they didn't really seem to care which. The second show I saw featured Curt making fun of Cris' fashion sense and generally belittling him at every opportunity, as well as steadfastly refusing to play anything from the set list. Poor Derrick Bostrum sat behind his drum kit, calling out song after song, being ignored, while the two brothers blanked each other. I guess they've achieved some sort of happy ending, which is probably one of the least likely outcomes from a very messy history.





Scenes from London life

Vincent Square

If I Had a Hammer...

... I might be tempted to take it to this rare piece of vinyl, but I'd probably think better of it, because you never know when you're going to need a bit of the healing power of truly bad music, and this is pretty much the gold standard in that department. We can only imagine how the planned collaboration with Jimi Hendrix might have changed things for the better.



Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Let it All Hang Out

When I meet people here, they invariably ask where I'm from. If they know anything about Memphis at all, they then invariably ask me what kind of place it is. My stock answer is that it's beautiful in parts, that its musical DNA (past and present) is unique and powerful, and that there's also a lot of senseless violence. The sad events of 14 October underscore this more clearly than ever. I never had the pleasure of meeting B.B. Cunningham, though I do recall seeing him play this immortal classic at a gig at the Antenna many years ago, backed (if I recall correctly) by both the Easley brothers, among others. Since the sad news of his pointless death, I have seen an immense outpouring of grief and admiration on Facebook, and I know that some of my friends who were close to him have nothing but good things to say about the man, and it's a sad commentary on Memphis and America in general that such a creative and energetic soul should die working the night shift as a security guard at the age of 70, shot by some fucking punk-ass gang-banger, doubtless over some meaningless dispute. Easley - McCain Studios, where Linda Heck's Transformed was recorded, and where I have spent such happy hours, is housed in a building which once housed B.B.'s studio, and he maintained an office there until the end (perhaps he owned the building, I don't know). When I was doing some work with Linda and Doug Easley there this past summer, I wandered around in the front part of the building, where I could hear, from behind a closed office door, a bird chirping loudly. "That's B.B.'s bird," said Doug.

"Nobody knows what it's all about, it's too much, man, let it all hang out."


Atomic Punk

One spring afternoon in 1978, I was enduring another unfulfilling afternoon on the Audubon Park public golf course in Memphis, TN, as third man in the mighty Lester Jr. High (go Lions!) golf team. For an un-gifted and unmotivated young hacker like me, Audubon was a nightmare - every hole felt like an interminable par five, and the surroundings were fairly uninspiring. It was mostly flat, with minimal landscaping, and pretty much every part of the course seemed to be exposed to the sounds of heavy traffic from Park, Goodlett, Southern, and Perkins, the roads which surround it.

The amazing Van Halen debut album had been released in February, and though I didn't yet own it (that would come over the summer, when it seems like I bought so many albums that profoundly affected me, and which I still listen to regularly today), it was starting to get some airplay, and I was familiar with "Running With The Devil" and a couple of other tracks. So profound was its influence on subsequent bands, that from the perspective of today it is hard, if you weren't around at the time, to appreciate just how different it sounded when it first appeared. As a fledgling guitarist, it was entirely beyond my comprehension to work out what was even going on most of the time, and some of the things coming out of Eddie Van Halen's guitar were downright disorienting and scary.

So, back to Audubon Park golf course. I'm not sure if it still remains today, but back then there was a picnic pavilion in the distance near (I think) the third hole on the course. This was not the same pavilion where I would first hear The Randy Band and begin my foray into the Memphis music underground, which was in the wooded southwest corner of the park. I remember there was a fair bit of wind that day (almost certainly a strong headwind, given my luck with golf courses), but it blew my way carrying the most amazing sounds from that pavilion: a band was playing, just rehearsing, by the looks of it (there was no crowd), and they were playing the Van Halen album, every track, flawlessly. The guitarist had the Eddie Van Halen thing down completely. I couldn't see them, as they were too far away, but I've always had a sneaking suspicion that the incredibly astute guitarist might well have been the late, great Shawn Lane, though I'll never know for sure.  

  

Monday, 15 October 2012

Quem Tem Medo de Brincar de Amor?

Who says Mondays have to be dreary and stressful? This bit of musical sunshine from Brazil makes me smile every time, particularly the part-American Rita Lee (for whom I've always had a soft spot, and who could potentially be of Memphibian descent) dissolving into laughter at the cod-American accents in which she and Sergio Dias sing. I believe the title translates as, "Who's Afraid of Playing with Love?"





Sunday, 14 October 2012

Let it Down

Rather hastily put together before heading out to the brilliant Twister/Semion gig in Camden last night.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Scenes from London life

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Love is a Stranger

Only Guided by Voices fans (and my long-suffering children, who are inadvertently developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject) will get the joke here, but I think this (from my summer labor of love) works pretty well in its own right, and it makes me laugh every time. For the uninitiated, the answer lies here.

I've Never Found a Girl/My Heart Stood Still

Some fantastic Memphis/UK alchemy here. Alex Chilton meets Teenage Fanclub, for a great rendition of Eddie Floyd's "I've Never Found a Girl" (one of my favorite songs, which has been appropriated and reworked in various intriguing ways), along with (of course, what else?) a rocked out version of Rodgers and Hart's "My Heart Stood Still." Anything was possible on Planet Chilton, no song was out of reach or out of bounds. It was all just good music, to be explored and savoured, like life itself, and what better legacy to leave behind?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Question of Life

Once upon a time, I loved me some serious Fishbone. Listening to this in the dying days of 1988, on the Saemaul-ho between Taegu and Seoul, with a brain full of soju, everything seemed to make perfect sense. I think it's clear that I vastly overestimated my powers of comprehension and insight at the time, but it still sounds really exciting today.

The Bends

Some strange grey autumnal skies on this Sunday, prompting me to remember my first year here, adapting to the different light, and a different life. This album was a large part of the soundtrack of that first year, and I haven't listened to it in ages. It remains as enchanting and haunting as ever.

Scenes from London life

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My Life is Starting Over Again

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

What a revelation this album was when I first heard it. "Lucifer Sam," "Flaming," and "Bike" really do it for me, but the whole thing is just pretty extraordinary.

"The line of the horizon was clear and hard against the sky, and in one particular quarter it showed black against a silvery climbing phosphorescence that grew and grew. At last, over the rim of the waiting earth the moon lifted with slow majesty till it swung clear of the horizon and rode off, free of moorings; and once more they began to see surfaces--meadows wide-spread, and quiet gardens, and the river itself from bank to bank, all softly disclosed, all washed clean of mystery and terror, all radiant again as by day, but with a difference that was tremendous. Their old haunts greeted them again in other raiment, as if they had slipped away and put on this pure new apparel and come quietly back, smiling as they shyly waited to see if they would be recognised again under it." - Chapter 7: "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," from The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.

Gigging

The glamour of showbiz

From last night's blow out at Canvas & Cream.

Canvas n Cream gig 04 10 12
Photo by Jacek Polewski

Setlists really should be written in Crayon

The very exciting Flamexicano, now with Gretsch White Falcon. I think Lucille (my guitar) developed a bit of a crush.

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Take Care

Last night I played a great gig at Canvas & Cream in Forest Hill. The audience was warm and appreciative, the other performers (Paul Betts and the amazing Flamexicano) were outstanding, and some of my young and crazy co-workers made the schlep all the way down South, which was really gratifying. It was a fantastic night, of the sort that makes one truly glad to be alive. This morning, on my way into work with a sore head, from my bus at Vauxhall Cross I observed a young man being hit by a car, and almost certainly dying. Take care, people.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Life's Rich Pageant

Good morning world, here's a breath of fresh air from 1986.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Hold My Hand

As I recently observed, it's great working with so many people so much younger than me, as occasionally it gives me a chance to introduce them to things they might otherwise never find out about, mainly because I'm an old git who's been alive nearly half a century. I like sharing music that I am passionate about, and it's great to see people discovering something new and digging it. It also gives me a chance to revisit things through fresh eyes and ears, putting myself in their places, which is pretty satisfying too. Today I mentioned The Rutles in passing, and predictably, everyone looked blank. So I got another chance to spread the word about something I think everyone should know. The real genius of The Rutles is Neil Innes' songs, each of which invariably weaves together several Beatles' songs at once, either melodic, lyrical or chordal references, production, or arrangement, and typically some combination of all of these. Sometimes I think I prefer The Rutles to The Beatles, overall. A living legend that will live long after other living legends have died.

(Don't Go Back to) Rockville

Were any of us ever really as young as these fresh faces? I had the pleasure of seeing R.E.M. four times early in their career, long before they had even the slightest whiff of stadium band about them. Yes, between the first time and the last time I saw them, they became huge in the context of "college indy rock," or whatever other turgid and meaningless term was applied to them and every other non-metal band of the 80's, but they were still really just an exciting, rough and ready little band from Athens, GA.



The first time was at The Antenna Club, Memphis, and it must have been very late 1981 or very early 1982, because I remember it was very cold outside, and the club was insanely crowded and very warm. They only seemed to have about six songs in their repertoire, which they played through twice back-to-back, though no one complained. They were using equipment borrowed from opening band Barking Dog, because theirs had apparently been stolen from their van the previous night. Michael Stipe danced with half a globe perched on his head, quoting from a Grandmaster Flash song now and again, apparently to stretch out the songs. They managed to blow the power in the club a couple of times, which was amazing, because one second the entire room was filled with the sound of "Radio Free Europe" in full flight, the packed house dancing furiously, only to be followed by a few seconds of silence and pitch blackness, before the emergency back-up lights flickered on. A beautiful moment was ripped away, and then started again, as if it had never been interrupted. They were an extraordinarily engaging band, despite limited musical chops and the fact that everyone was pretty much expressionless throughout, and Michael Stipe had no penchant for audience banter. I guess it was the relentless tempos, the band's absorption in the moment, and the short, sharp, and completely stripped down songs.

Two years later, their amusingly-titled second album "Reckoning" had come out, and I made a road trip to Nashville in the battleship of a car owned by my friend and former bandmate, Jones Rutledge, with the other members of my then-band, Four Neat Guys, in tow, to see them at the gorgeous War Memorial Auditorium. By this time, they had become a polished, ultra-tight, and very confident band, clearly having a ball onstage, and drawing from two very strong albums' worth of material, plus some very eclectic covers, including Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," which Michael Stipe can be heard lapsing into towards the end of "Rockville" above, "There She Goes Again" by the Velvet Underground, and "Toys in the Attic" by Aerosmith. We left the venue feeling very excited and drove aimlessly around Nashville for hours, ranting about how great it had been, before heading back to Memphis in the early morning hours.



In 1985, I saw them at The Orpheum in Memphis, in support of the ponderous "Fables of the Reconstruction" album, and it was an equally ponderous performance, though the band was still very solid and the less self-indulgent material sounded great, along with the older stuff. Someone must have had a heartfelt word with Michael Stipe somewhere along the line, because I left the show thinking "They've lost it," only to have them return with the amazing "Life's Rich Pageant," which remains, far and away, my favorite. It was at Mud Island in 1986 that I saw them for the last time, touring in support of that album, and they sounded absolutely amazing. They were getting airplay for "Fall on Me," and the capacity crowd was singing blissfully along with every song. They were on their way.



Monday, 1 October 2012

Scenes from London life

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The Phone Call

I've been listening to the first two Pretenders' albums quite a bit recently, and they have aged extremely well. I never tire of hearing them. This is probably one of the more obscure tracks, but it's a great example (along with the better-known "Tattooed Love Boys") of one of their unique facets, a liberal use of odd time signatures and ear-catching rhythmic transitions.

Gig alert

The management at the wonderful Canvas & Cream in Forest Hill have been kind enough to invite me back for the second in their series of music nights, this coming Thursday, October 4th. I'm pretty sure I'll be kicking the night off, probably about 7:30 (they start early and promptly - it's not a late-night venue, afterall), opening up a triple bill which also includes Paul Betts (talented singer/songwriter/producer who engineered the sessions I did for Linda Heck's "Transformedalbum), as well as the always awesome Flamexicano. No cover, great food, quality booze, coffee, tea, cakes, art, all in an amazing venue staffed by friendly people with great taste in music.

Lucille and her twin sisters

Saturday, 29 September 2012

I am a Child

My soon-to-be-10 younger daughter came into my room this morning, just after I woke up. She climbed into bed with me, and we chatted. I reminded her that this was the morning when she would be going off to the park with two friends, all on their own - the second time this has happened, and the first under my care. She said she was sorry to be going off and leaving me at home. I said there was no need to apologize, and that this was just part of growing up. Imagine, I told her, being 21 years old and still coming over to my place and doing all the same old things on a Saturday. I informed her that when she's 21, I'll have just turned 61, and might be old and decrepit. Always full of odd, but touching, insights, she replied, "You might be like my child by then. That's okay, as long as you keep fit and don't break your neck or anything, it'll be alright." I will try, my child.




Everytime You Touch Me (I Get High)

I wrote some time back about my brief encounters with Charlie Rich, who possessed a talent still woefully under-appreciated today, and who was probably the first committed genre-buster in popular music - a common enough stance today, but one which was probably incomprehensible to the record company execs of the day. This piece, a jazz samba reworking of his 1975 smash country hit, from his final album, once again underlines just how versatile he was. And the baritone solo by Fred Ford just takes it to an entirely new level.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Hell on Earth Halloween bash (1992?)

Bob's Lead Hyena (1992?)

Photo by Patty Padgett. Part of the legendary Bob's Lead Hyena. L-R: Stoten Outlan (v), Jim Duckworth (g), Roy Berry (d), Brian ? (not in this band but a member of Voodoo Village People, among others), and me (I did play bass with them at one point as a replacement for Johnny Williams, but I can't remember if this was one of those occasions.) Not pictured - Mark Gooch (g), though that could be him I am looking at. This was such a wonderful band, but sadly short-lived.

Love's Gonna Live Here

I would have never expected that Andy Williams' passing would provoke a deep reaction in me, but it has indeed made me search back in my mind to the kinds of artists I was fortunate enough to be exposed to by my parents as a child, the kind of influences that contributed to my ability to understand and appreciate the broad spectrum of music I enjoy today. I can recall clearly watching the Buck Owens TV show as a little boy, and maybe that's why I have such an abiding love for his music to this day. Or maybe it's just because it's heartfelt and awesome, and I have good taste. I suspect it's a bit of both.



However, one of the things I like doing in my own work is inverting the mood or intent of the original version of a song, to create a conflict or a disconnect. In Buck's version, the tone is one of optimistic certainty, but I think mine sounds desolate and broken. Sorry, Buck, I like them both.

Go, Linda, go!!!

Really wish I could have been in attendance as an observer for this. (I did "phone in" three mp3s, however, so I was in the room, in a manner of speaking.) I think it would have been fascinating to see a different line-up playing the "Transformed" album, in its own unique interpretation. I think this is the beauty of Linda's emerging model of forming "collaborator cells" (my term, not hers) in key cities (we are ready in London, I can now say with confidence), such that the only constant throughout is her and her material, and the possibilities for interpretation are theoretically infinite, because I know she will always surround herself with the right people to make it work. Onward!

Programme from Linda Heck show in Sewanee. High brow!

Sun Child

So Long, Andy

Andy Williams died today. His voice is one of the clearest auditory memories of my childhood. When I was little, my parents' musical palette ran from country to Broadway to The Beatles to a bit of classical to Sergio Mendes to Dionne Warwick to Andy. And Andy was in heavy rotation, as I recall. I guess it's also noteworthy that the first time I ever saw the Jackson 5 was on the Andy Williams Christmas Special, which I recall being a big deal in our house, as seasonal communal TV went. Croon on, Andy.

Huun-Huur-Tu Live

In the period 1992 - 95, I was an itinerant Japanese teacher in an early years languages pilot project (called Project SAIL) in the Memphis City Schools, which meant that I spent a lot of time driving between six different schools dispersed across the city, which gave me a lot of time to listen to music and sing as I drove. At some point in 1993, I happened to see a documentary on TV about Tuva one night, which featured some throat singing, which I was already familiar with from some Mongolian recordings I had, and this coincided with the release of the seminal Huun-Huur-Tu album "60 Horses in My Herd," which I bought and listened to obsessively for the next couple of years. All those hours spent driving around Memphis gave me a chance to experiment, and I eventually worked out how to do throat singing, after a fashion, and I have employed it occasionally recently, as well as on the track "All Things Fall Away" on the wonderful Linda Heck album "Transformed." These guys are truly astonishing, and it's also worth remembering that this band also spawned the awesome Yat-Kha, and brought harmonic singing to the masses. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Libertyland

"Covered with barbed wire, land of the free, Libertyland, baby you and me." It was a delight to stumble across this lost gem recently. The Marilyns were one of my favorite Memphis bands of all time, and I saw them countless times, recorded them in one of their later incarnations, and recently covered one of their songs. This was shot by Ron Easley at the Ornamental Metal Museum on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, probably in 1984. From left to right: Jeannie Tomlinson (now Saltmarsh) - vocals, Kim Kruger - guitar, Marilyn Albert (then Duckworth) - guitar and vocal, and Jim Duckworth - drums. Libertyland was Memphis' fairly unspectacular amusement park attraction, now long gone, which did have one saving grace - the Zippin' Pippin. It was a bit of a laughing stock, even in its heyday, but it did give us one classic song.

Under the Big Black Sun

One of the best albums of the 1980s, in my view, and I think the vinyl still sits in a closet in Memphis, TN. I hadn't thought about it in years until a few months back, and now I don't seem to be able to get it out of my mind. Fortunately, it's available as a playlist, for the edification and enjoyment of those who don't know it, and as a blast from the distant past for those who do. I have yet to meet anyone in the UK who has heard of X, though I see they are making their way over in November.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Up On Cripple Creek

Levon Helm, perhaps the only genuinely good singing drummer in history.

Scenes from London life

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Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Magic of Memphis

A couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of playing a 45-minute solo set at a new venue just up the road in Forest Hill, called Canvas and Cream. It's an amazing place, and I'm pleased to say that the lovely management have asked me back again, on 4th October, on a bill with my friend Paul Betts and the ever-amazing Flamexicano.

Shortly before it all kicked off, I was sitting in the garden behind the venue with a couple of people, one of whom mentioned that a drummer with a studio just around the corner had once played with Isaac Hayes, and had photographic evidence to prove it. They were all amazed at the idea of photos of Isaac, and for most people in the normal world, that would be entirely understandable.

At that moment it hit me full-on in the face. I grew up in Memphis in the period 1974 - 1995 - a place where one might casually wander into a friend's house and find a rockabilly legend, wait on a genre-hopping genius, see Sam Phillips out mowing his lawn on a regular basis (my mother once had Al Green as a member of a school focus group, just for the record), have Al Jackson's wife as a teacher and see him dropping by the school, be befriended by an awesome artist who happens to be the niece of Duck Dunn, meet Alex Chilton on a friend's sofa and subsequently form a sort of friendship with him. That sort of place, just normal life.

Well, that may have been normal for Memphibians of my generation, but for the rest of the planet it is the stuff of legend, which brings me back to Isaac Hayes. Back in the early '90s, I lived a couple of blocks from Squash Blossom, a health food restaurant and grocery store on Poplar Avenue in Midtown, Memphis. Almost every time I went in there, which was frequently, Isaac Hayes was there. Normally he was just ahead of me in the queue, and as one friend recently pointed out, he had an annoying habit of ordering the last slice of the vegetarian pizza. I never actually spoke to him, which I regret, but he always seemed like a very likeable and approachable person, and his skin was amazing, a veritable baby's bum across all of his visible body.



Ue o Muite Arukou

To the non-Japanese reader, this song may be familiar as "Sukiyaki," the Kyu Sakamoto smash of 1963, which I remember hearing and loving as a child. When I was teaching in Japan, I had four different groups of co-workers to socialize with, being based in city hall, but mostly rotating between three junior high schools. This meant that every social event marking a key date in the calendar (New Year, end of school year, etc.) found me receiving four different invitations to boozy nights on the town, inevitably culminating in late night karaoke sessions. I typically was called upon to do "The Tennessee Waltz" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," which I always happily did, but I also had managed to learn this one by virtue of having a copy of the 45 back home, and I would insist on singing it if they would let me, which they always did.

Linda Heck & The Train Wreck played this a few times live, as a country number, which always baffled and impressed people. The lyrics are simple, but very moving, if you speak Japanese, that is. (The lyrics of the Taste of Honey version in English bear no relation, just for the record.) The title translates as "I'll Walk Looking Up," and the song makes clear that this is so the singer's tears won't spill from his eyes, as he walks alone at night remembering days in the springs and summers of his life, the details of which we are left wondering about - but it must have been heavy. Happiness is beyond the sky, beyond the clouds. Sadness lies in the shadows of the stars, of the moon. A literal translation would make it sound lame, which it isn't, so I'll refrain.
 

Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)

I find the cover image here a bit disturbing, but this is a beautiful song.

Viv Savage, philosopher

Scenes from London life

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Live Rust

I listened to this album obsessively when it came out, and I think I saw the "Rust Never Sleeps" film at least three times when it was on its fairly limited release. I hadn't really spent much time with it in recent years, but I stuck it on the iPod ahead of my American trip during the summer, and it ended up being the dominant soundtrack through four states on the drive back to Memphis from the Texas gulf coast. In particular, I have fond memories of how well it suited the journey up Highway 61 from Vicksburg to Memphis, in the brilliant Delta light of late afternoon on a beautiful summer's day, a day I won't soon forget.

So Sorry

Here is a very quickly done (last night, when I should have been watching television or staring at the wall) cover version of a Linda Heck song which very few people have ever heard before. I made a demo recording about 25 years ago of her doing this solo, and I've always found it a haunting and intriguing song, but as far as I know, it's never been performed or recorded since. Love me some GarageBand for iPad, and love me some SoundCloud, especially these embeddable widgets, which look really cool. And love me some Linda Heck covers!

The Letter

The best Alex Chilton lip-sync music video ever made. And some heartfelt words from his widow (read by Heather West).





Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Missing

The greatest music video featuring Balham Station ever made (it appears right at the end).

 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Scenes from London life

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Everywhere With Helicopter

The greatest amusement park-themed music video ever made.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Shining Light

The greatest underwater music video ever made.

Queen of Cans and Jars

Another instalment in what is gradually turning into a saga - a stubbornly recurring effort to cross-pollinate Guided by Voices and Kraftwerk. Is synth-pop a sign of mid-life crisis?

Scenes from London life

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Onward

I'm at something of a loss to explain why I haven't previously posted anything on my American trip in late July/early August, the highlight of which was the August 4th CD release party and gig for Linda Heck's incredible "Transformed" album, which I was so fortunate to be involved with. Maybe I've been processing it all, against a background of other stuff happening, and the demands of daily life. It's certainly not like it wasn't a deep experience - quite the contrary.

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This gig at the picturesque Ernestine & Hazel's on South Main was far and away the most sublime I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in, ranging from the duo set I did with Linda under the "ExCon" moniker, to the reconstituted Linda Heck and the Train Wreck power trio incarnation (with me on drums and the fabulous Jim Spake on sax), to the performance of the entire "Transformed" album as a quartet, with Spake beautifully augmenting the line-up as required.

It couldn't have possibly been better, and there were moments where I felt I was floating above it all, as a detached observer. Sadly, there is very little in the way of documentation of this amazing night. The venue was dark, and what little light there was emanated from behind the band, which works for the human eye, but not so much for the video camera.

It was a profound experience all around, and I felt incredibly alive and attuned to my surroundings for the four days of recording sessions and rehearsals running up to this night, and even more so on the night itself. Then the next day I was on a plane back to London.

Tonight Linda is holding a CD release party in Sewanee, Tennessee, her adopted home town. The plan is apparently to hold one event in every place where recording for the album took place, which just leaves Nashville and London on the list.

Onward!

Linda Heck & The Train Wreck

Linda Heck - Guitar and vocals
John McClure - Bass
Jimi Inc. - Drums & vocals
Jim Spake - Sax









The Linda Heck Experiment

Linda Heck - Guitar and vocals
John McClure - Bass
Kurt Ruleman - Drums
Jimi Inc. - Guitar and vocals
Jim Spake - Sax







Friday, 14 September 2012

Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School

Sometime in 1972/73, I remember wandering into my father's basement office in our apartment in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was working furiously on his doctoral dissertation. He was listening, as he often did at the time, to the only country music radio station in the area, which was true Yankee territory, make no mistake about it. This was well before the days of crossover country. George Wallace was firmly on the scene. The South was still largely an object of derision up north.

But back in those naive days of free-form and format-agnostic FM radio, it seemed anything was possible, and all sorts of things used to find their way onto the airwaves. On this particular occasion, the station was playing the entire first side of the "Country Music Then and Now" album by the Statler Brothers, which featured what was, in retrospect, a very daring experiment for the hyper-conservative Nashville music machine of the time: a pastiche of a live local radio broadcast of the type my parents would have been very familiar with in their childhoods in the 1950's.

The hapless and inept fictitious group featured therein was Lester "Roadhog" Moran and His Cadillac Cowboys, and it was gut-wrenchingly funny comedy-of-embarrassment of the highest order. I was initially a bit baffled, but my dad was in tears of laughter, which I enjoyed immensely, and when he later explained the context, it really meant a lot to me to have had this moment of seeing him so in touch with his own childhood, and so thoroughly amused.

A couple of years later, we ended up in Memphis, and I remember this weird little "Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School" album was one of my Christmas presents of 1974, which thrilled me immensely. I listened to it repeatedly for years thereafter, and it is still a very meaningful touch-point between my dad and me. We both dissolve into uncontrollable laughter at a mere single reference to it. And I have been amazed to find a lot of friends for whom this odd creation holds a similarly important place in their childhoods.  

Drums and Wires

One of the interesting things about working with quite a few people who are around half my age is the lack of overlap on musical tastes. I have discovered many new artists by being around them, and they have endured a bunch of mostly old stuff at my hands - some of which they have genuinely enjoyed. Works that figure prominently on the musical landscape of my peers and other old gits like me are completely unknown to many of them. For example, I whipped out this gem one day, and they immediately liked it. One person even asked if it was a Franz Ferdinand album they hadn't heard before, as proof positive that these young men from Swindon were making the music of the future. The looks of shock and disbelief which crossed their faces when I told them it was recorded in 1979 were priceless. But the magic lives on - I get at least one request per week for "Nigel," as the yoof refer to it.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

When you have 845 spare hours...

... you may want to check out this unbelievable collection of John Peel radio shows, including some of his Perfumed Garden shows from way back in 1967. What a treasure trove. It's almost too good to be true.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Zippin' Pippin

My favorite rollercoaster in the world, and Elvis', too. The Zippin' Pippin of Memphis, Tennessee, gone but not forgotten.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Scenes from London life

Now Here

Tattooed Wedding Ring

My first, and still only, fan video. Everyone who has heard the Linda Heck "Transformed" album seems to cite this one as their favourite cut, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree.




What I did during the summer holidays

This internet thing sure has inverted pretty much every aspect of the music world. Back in the mists of the analogue era, I recall going to the Sunday flea market at the Mid-South Fairgrounds and seeing box after box of studio out-takes from the "Let it Be" sessions, only seeing the light of day nearly a decade after they took place. Once the CD reissue wave began, the industry then at last had a mechanism for getting archival material and outtakes/alternative cuts into the packages. Amazing as it was, however, it was all backward-looking. 

Now, with tools like GarageBand and SoundCloud at our fingertips, it can all be nearly real-time. Albums by major artists get leaked, in part or whole, on a regular basis, to the outrage of the content cartel, but for everyone else, it's entirely possible to release in-process work and have it be a positive, if not integral part, of the process. It can be a form of audience engagement, or a feedback loop, or a form of collaboration, as the re-mix world continues to demonstrate so compellingly. Or all of the above.

It takes some intestinal fortitude to put things out that are incomplete, flawed, or not quite right, but in the words of Robert Fripp, I suppose it might be a valuable exercise in the spirit of "embracing hazard." So here is my embracing of hazard. This is a project I conceived in mid-August, as I felt compelled to take on a challenge, and I knew I had a couple of weeks where pretty much everyone I knew was going to be away, and I would be at a loose end over two weekends, one of them a three-day holiday weekend. 

The concept came to me suddenly one day at work: why not take two weeks, 14 days, and try to record one song each day, each by a different female songwriter? It was challenging in a variety of ways, but in the end, I did manage to do everything you hear on the 14 songs here in 14 days, though it was one-a-day on average, rather than in absolute terms. The first one I did was the P.J. Harvey song - a challenging start, as it's in 7/8. The last one I did was "Natural Woman," which I'm pretty sure no man has covered in its original form. (For the avoidance of doubt, I am straight and do not suffer gender dysphoria - I just think it's a great song, and deserves to be treated with respect.) Everything in between was mostly clustered over the two weekends, and I worked at a pretty furious pace, which often left me feeling a bit disorientated at the end of a session which might cover a Hendrix-meets-Lennon version of Amy Winehouse, Chrissie Hynde, and Exene Cervenka all in the same day.

I thought it would be interesting and instructive to try to get inside material which is associated with very strong female personalities, musical or otherwise, and to try to do something different with it. In some cases, such as the Yoko Ono and Björk pieces, they're as far away from the original arrangements as they could be, whereas others are very close. Some of them just make me giggle. The Blondie number re-imagined as a Specials rave-up was an unexpected turn of events that just came to me in a flash, as was the Guided by Voices "Motor Away" treatment of "Love is a Stranger."

There are some things here I'm not that happy with, from the get-go. The opening number, Jackie DeShannon's epic "When You Walk in the Room" works really well as an invocation of the Willie Mitchell sound, but the vocal take is below what I can do with it. I just haven't girded my loins for doing it over. The second number also needs some re-working of the vocals, and the Martha Wainwright song, the only one where I didn't use a metronome of some sort, suffers from a pretty noticeable tempo-racing, but I still like it. Maybe it creates a sense of time moving ever more rapidly away from hope. I don't know, but that may be my cover story if anyone ever asks. So I still have a little work to do on these, but most of them are perfect in my mind as they are. There is always a risk in ruining something by trying to fine-tune things that don't need fixing, which is why I've listened to it over and over to work out if the things that bother me would really bother anyone else. I'm still working on that one.

Overall, if I had to leave it as it is now, and never touch it again, I'd still be very happy with the outcome as a whole. Choosing a favourite is like choosing a favourite child, but I'm particularly happy with the Velvet Underground incarnation of Linda Heck's unspeakably beautiful "Tattooed Wedding Ring."

Part of me wants to close this project and leave it as a document of a very particular time and experience, and part of me thinks it may continue to expand and evolve well into the future. I certainly had hundreds of suggestions from friends of material to attempt, which are still untouched. A good friend has suggested that I continue it and package it into a live format that can be taken to Edinburgh next year. That sounds highly ambitious, but who knows? A year is a long time.

So the title of this "album" is "About a Girl," and the tracks (with the original artist/writer), in-process warts and all, are:

"When You Walk in the Room" - Jackie DeShannon
"Love is a Stranger" - The Eurythmics 
"You Come Through" - P.J. Harvey
"Riding With Mary" - X (Exene Cervenka)
"Walking on Thin Ice" - Yoko Ono
"Higher" - The Cardigans
"Picture This" - Blondie
"He Can Only Hold Her" - Amy Winehouse
"Don't Forget" - Martha Wainwright
"Tattooed Wedding Ring" - Linda Heck
"(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" - Carole King
"There's More to Life Than This" - Björk
"Birds of Paradise" - The Pretenders
"I Try" - Macy Gray

About a Girl (Work in Progress)


Love Letters

Scenes from London life

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Inspiring Doug Shell

Probably as a function of the age I'm at, I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how I got here. It's a fascinating gift we enjoy as human beings to have memory and analytical capacity, which allow us to examine every choice, relationship, and experience we've ever had and find points of connection between them, to draw maps and timelines of what we have done or experienced, and how it led to somewhere else, and ultimately to the here and now. Often there is a key person, a source of impetus or inspiration, at each of the main inflection points, and I have been thinking about some of those people of late.

The other day I stumbled across this clip from 1994, which is an entertaining little tidbit from the halcyon days of the "Classic Lineup" of Guided by Voices. At 2:11, a young man from the audience at the Threadwaxing show in New York says, "It was awesome. It was incredible. I feel myself becoming a groupie." I had to watch this a few times just to convince myself that I was not hallucinating, and I now have confirmation from a mutual friend that I was not, which I pretty much knew anyway. This exuberant young fan is named Doug Shell, and I met him in London nearly 10 years after this was filmed.

Back when I was doing the telecom financial analyst thing (which seems like two lifetimes ago), I determined that the only way to achieve some real job satisfaction, retain my sanity, and possibly open up some new doors, was to write in a different style, to produce more thematic and unconventional research. On my maiden voyage in this vein in 2003 (I think it was, possibly 2002), about an hour after I'd pressed the send button, I got an email from a sector specialist analyst at one of our fund management clients. His name was Doug Shell, and I hadn't previously had any contact with him, that I can recall. I think he was relatively new in that role. His email said something along the lines of, "This is an excellent piece of work, very different and thought-provoking. This is the sort of thing that investors can really benefit from. You should be really pleased with it. Keep going." Or something like that.

He subsequently became my most ardent supporter, though he was never quite so fulsome as in this video. But it mattered to my employers at the time that a client had been so impressed with something that our humble little research team had produced, and it gained me a lot of credibility with them, and gave me a huge degree of confidence that I was on to something, rather than just bored and crazy. We developed a friendly dialogue and spoke at regular intervals. He was always keen to hear my opinions and to debate industry issues, not so much specific stocks, and I think we learned a lot from each other.

Based on this critical early support, I did indeed keep going in the same vein, and many interesting and amazing experiences flowed from this decision. I've lost track of Doug, but man, wherever you are, thanks.

"And we're finally here,
And shit yeah, it's cool,
Shouldn't it be?
Or something like that."


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Ghost Town

Today I was heading into town on the bus on a shopping errand, and as we approached Elephant & Castle, I could see that there had been a serious accident on the approach on the Walworth Road, and all traffic was being diverted around through the enormous Heygate Estate, now deserted and awaiting demolition. I had been wanting for some time to take a particular photo here, and as my bus was gridlocked in the traffic cardiac arrest that ensues whenever anything goes wrong at Elephant, I decided to get off the bus and take my picture.

I then noticed some street art within the estate itself, and wandered in. At the heart of the estate, one man named Adrian, whom I encountered, the only remaining resident in that section (apparently there are fewer than a dozen left out of the 3,000 who used to live there) has taken over the entire courtyard and turned it into an urban farm of sorts, growing beans and vegetables, keeping chickens. He also has a sort of impromptu outdoor museum of the history of the struggle of the tenants for fair compensation for the loss of their homes, which he and his small group of holdouts are continuing. He said that it was either that or be forced to move out of London. The gentrification of the city is thus creating its own concrete jungle, as property development schemes, greed, and the incessant demand for premium housing for this global beast of a city drive the poor further toward the margin. Perhaps the word "favela" will come into common use in the English language.

It was an amazing 90 minutes I spent wandering there, and I took nearly 150 photos, featured in this slide show. (For those who prefer it, the native Flickr set is here.) Apart from Adrian, I didn't encounter anyone else, and it was a very strange feeling to be in this very quiet and deserted landscape in the midst of one of the busiest sections of South London, with chickens clucking away as I snapped photos. At times it almost felt like the aftermath of a pandemic, which, I guess, in a sense, it is.

 


 

You're Wondering Now

I was introduced to The Specials by my friend Jungle Jeff (a.k.a. Jeff Green), founding Grundy, skateboard and Ultimate Frisbee ninja, urban guerilla tomato gardener, and all-round good guy, in 1980, on my first night as a dishwasher at the barftastic Steak & Ale on Poplar Avenue in Memphis. He also trained me to run the industrial dishwasher, which knowledge has provided me with a hugely comforting career safety net throughout my life. We spent most of that first night goofing in the kitchen, singing Madness songs and doing ridiculous faux ska moves on the ever-slippery floors. Afterward we sat in his car drinking beer and listening to The Specials' first album, which I had never heard. I had the pleasure of seeing Jeff for the first time in many years, two nights on the trot on my recent trip to Memphis, and though we are the same age, he has not a single grey hair. And he's still crazy funny. Skate safely, my friend!

I found this video the other day, and I think it's remarkable, not just for the song and the performance, but because of the spectacle of all those young kids on stage, dancing in harmony, like their lives depended on it. Most of them are my age or slightly older. What sort of lives did they have after this joyous night, Christmas Eva, 1979? The whole set follows at the end.




Jungle Jeff
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The Specials on "Rock Goes to College," Colchester Institute, Christmas Eve, 1979

Scenes from London life

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Greatest Hits, Volume 1

A little over a year ago, I bought an iPad, solely for the purpose of using Garageband. I really should invest in some proper recording software at some point, but I really kind of like the constraints of working with the iPad. The process reminds me of the four track recording I used to do 25 years ago, or so. You're forced to work within the confines of limited tracks, and there are some things (live drums, for example) which it simply doesn't handle well. Anyway, I'm really pretty pleased with a lot of the pieces I've done, so I thought I would combine them into a compilation "album."

Friday, 7 September 2012

Ich bin Schwartz und stolz darauf

This is some amazing performance footage with really interesting, insightful, and endearing interview segments, from the "Beat Club" program in Germany. It's such a shame that American TV at the time was so focused on pap (has anything changed in the last 40 years?), while our European brothers and sisters got to enjoy the real deal. American affluence, arrogance, and complacency squandering the essence of the culture once again, while others happily pick up the pieces and treasure them. Rinse and repeat. Love me some Curtis Mayfield.



Sunday, 22 July 2012

Neon Lights

I don't know why, but sometimes I get musical ideas in my head which just won't go away, and this is one. I am a huge fan of both Kraftwerk and Guided By Voices, and sometime back I had the crazy idea to put together "A Salty Salute" and "Neon Lights," and so here it is. I really like it.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Love Supreme

I stumbled across this the other day, while searching for another Branford Marsalis link to email to a friend. How I managed to avoid seeing it all these years is anyone's guess. I once had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Marsalis in a trio configuration (with Jeff "Tain' Watts, also featured here, though his piano player, Kenny Kirkland, was away touring with Sting) at the University of Memphis Field House (a glorified gymnasium) with my dad, very shortly after arriving back from Japan in 1990. The acoustics were terrible, and the audience was mostly comprised of over-excited young African-American students, who had clearly come to hear the theme from the Spike Lee film "Mo' Better Blues," which was immensely popular at the time. In contrast, here was the intellectual, musicologically-minded Branford, intent on doing his thing, with a piano-less trio. I recall a particularly challenging 15-minute rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Garden of Souls," which left the audience fidgeting and chatting loudly. After a few numbers, punctuated by incessant requests for the hit song, Branford finally lost his cool, albeit in a very cool manner. I recall him saying to the restless audience, in a clearly frustrated, but very measured, way, "We're going to play what you want to hear, but first we're going to play what we like, because this music is important, and you need to hear it."

This is an audacious and stunningly heartfelt interpretation of perhaps the jazz cannon's most intense and deepest work. As all worthy interpretations should, this one takes a lot of liberties, while remaining unwaveringly true to the spirit of the original. It is 17 minutes longer than the original album, and in some ways is more intense. The musicianship throughout is impeccable all around, though for my money, the real stand-out is Jeff "Tain" Watts, who is, in technical musicological parlance, "a motherfucker."



Nunhead American Radio

This is a podcast of my second appearance on the irrepressible Lewis Schaffer's "Nunhead American Radio" program on Resonance FM, 25th June, 2012. The only thing missing was co-host, the beautiful Lisa Moyle - otherwise, it was a very fine program. I got to play some Linda Heck music, Lewis blew my mind with his knowledge of Memphiana, and I met the lovely Matt Roper, Anna Crockett and Richard Guard. We all went for a drink afterward, and the latter two, from the legendary East Dulwich Ukulele Club, very kindly gave me a lift home, and we had a very good laugh along the way. More salutary lessons in keeping one's head out of one's ass.


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Half -Life

I had the great pleasure of seeing these guys a couple of weeks back, thanks to my good friend Gazza, the only other person I know as a committed guitar freak with a day job in telecom. The gig was an album release party at the very atmospheric St. Pancras Old Church. This song sounds like a hit to me, and I think we will be hearing a lot more from them in the near future.

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Thank Goodstock

Four weeks ago tomorrow, I played my first-ever proper UK gig, at my younger daughter's school fundraiser, branded "Goodstock" (the school is called Goodrich, so the pun was really screaming to be used, though interestingly no one had landed upon this idea until recently).

I opened the evening with a 30-minute set on electric guitar and vocals, accompanied by the astonishingly talented Steve Watts on upright bass. He didn't know any of my songs, and we only had a half-hour sound check to get to know each other musically. We played a tastefully-selected set of eight covers, and he was an absolute trooper, a real joy to play with. The audience, probably somewhat baffled by the opening number, listened attentively, and smiled on occasion. After all was said and done, there was a genuine warmth and appreciation from them, and a number of people have since given me some very kind appraisals of the set.

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Goodstock2
Photo by Julia Hamilton

Goodstock12
Photo by Julia Hamilton

In the next set, I played drums with The Graduates, featuring my friend and neighbour Paul Betts, who recorded my guitar parts for the Linda Heck album at his place, and the lovely Jim McAllister of The Popes. It was great fun, and people liked it a lot. 

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The third band, Dad Company, were great enough to let me use their drum kit, and I have since gotten to know a few in their ranks as well. Great guys, and I'm a at a complete loss to understand why I've never encountered them before.

Which all begs the uncomfortable question, "Why have I had my head up my musical ass for the past 17 years?" My beloved East Dulwich is chock-full of talented people looking for interesting things to do, and I have quite a few in mind. A couple of them have indicated an interest in getting something together on the back of this event, with the aim of having fun and kicking ass - both noble pursuits. If there is a lesson from all of this, it's that interesting people have a much easier time finding you if you make yourself visible, and remain open to new possibilities. 

And so tomorrow, I jet with my girls to Memphis, where I will, in a couple of weeks' time, play this awesome gig - a gig which almost wasn't. Maybe it's just the looming arrival of a certain key birthday, but I feel more appreciative of my friends (old and new), my family, and of life itself, than ever.

lh-releasepartyposter 




Friday, 6 July 2012

Shocker in Gloomtown

Even if you're not a fan, this early edit of what later became "Watch Me Jumpstart" will still be interesting and entertaining, due to the personalities and wit of the band, and the highly unusual story of how it came to be known outside of its small circle, or how it almost didn't. Mitch Mitchell's grandmother anecdote at 7:30 alone is worth the price of admission. As an added bonus to Memphibians everywhere, I'm 99.999% sure that in the opening seconds of the film, Bob Pollard is wearing an Easley-McCain Recording t-shirt. I used to have one too - now added to the list of Things I Won't Keep/Sad if I Lost It.

Scenes from London life

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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Music for Films

For anyone finding themselves in the midst of a stressful work week and in need of a soothing cold towel to wrap round their head, plug in the earbuds, ignore your colleagues, and inhabit a calmer place for 41:06. As with so much good music, I was introduced to this by my friend and early musical co-consiprator, Mark Edwards. It inspired me in my youth, and I still return to it frequently.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Goodstock

My first-ever UK gig, and the first time I've ever played solo in public. A fundraiser for my younger daughter's school, it somewhat bizarrely ended up getting a promotional plug on BBC 6Music. Life never fails to amaze. IMAG4249

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Visitor

I'm not really sure what this is, but it's how I occupied myself while steadfastly ignoring the Jubilee. Most sounds are by me, with a few found sounds (numbers stations recordings, giant wind chimes, space noise, and HAL, of course) in the mix.