Friday, 18 May 2012

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Towers of London

Well, I thought we had pretty much exhausted the XTC-related content a while ago, but how wrong I was, and how pleased I am to be so. This extraordinary documentary from 1980 gives the fan a lot of insight into the people and process (including an impossibly young and chain-smoking Steve Lilywhite) behind the music, and also a great view of what constituted "state of the art" recording at the time of the "Black Sea" album. It's all great, apart from the desire to punch Branson any time he makes an appearance, but I reckon that's just a sign of being a normal human being.

Question of the day

Does being older than "Pet Sounds" somehow make one timeless, too? Released 46 years ago today, I had heard bits and pieces of this in my youth, but only really discovered it during my second year in Japan. When I did, I listened to it every day for at least six months. I guess if I'm honest, there haven't really been that many albums which genuinely changed my ideas about music forever, but this one is very near the top of the list. At the time, I found it somehow sustaining on some deeper level, and I guess that's probably the best tribute an artist can have.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Scenes from London life


Duck Dunn

Maybe it's just me, but it sure feels like we're losing the greats at an alarming rate recently. I awoke to news of the passing of Donald "Duck" Dunn, who died is his sleep after a gig in Tokyo - still spreading what a friend rightly calls "God's music" right to the end. Simplicity and elegance is a rare form of genius, and Duck Dunn was in full possession. For my money, if you could only cite one example, it would be "I've Never Found a Girl," which sent a shockwave down my spine the first time I heard it, and still does every time I listen to it. There's a lot to love in the song, but listen closely and it's really the very sparse bass accents on the one and three which actually propel the song. Whereas the tendency among most bass players would probably be to play along in the same groove with the rest of the band, Duck introduces some space and tension into the mix, which both anchors the song and allows it to fly at the same time. It doesn't come any better.

Binghampton Vice

I made this a few weeks back, just a bit of fun on a quiet weekend. I'm not quite sure how I ended up with the title, apart from the fact that the piece sounded like yet another theme to a non-existent detective series from the past. Then Binghampton popped into my head, as it does at some point most days. Binghampton was where I had some amazing experiences at a ghetto school in the black side of the area, but across the railroad tracks along Scott Street, the white Binghampton was where I later spent a lot of time involved in music.

The white Binghampton always struck me as some sort of ghetto for white immigrants from the country, at least that was the impression I got from the locals who drank at Fred's Hideout, the legendary hotbed of musical ferment in 1987. They all seemed to have come up from Mississippi, presumably during more promising times in the job market. The white Binghampton was also home to a number of fixtures on the music scene: Linda Heck lived there on a couple of occasions, as did The Brewers, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, the late and much lamented John Eatman (a.k.a. Johnny Singer), and a number of others at various times. I also lived there for a few months in 1991, during which time I discovered in a local thrift store a treasure trove of Style Wooten-produced records, including the immortal "I Found My Love in Memphis." And when it came time to play my first gig in 16 years, on New Years' Day, 2010, I once again found myself in Binghampton, albeit in an almost unrecognizable remodelled Fred's Hideout (now The Cove) on a much-gentrified Broad Street.

Checking the Wikipedia entry for the neighborhood just now, it seems appropriate that I imagined this as a cop show theme, given that section 3.1 is entitled "Random shootings at cars."

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Aretha vs. The Squares

As a child/young man, I was fortunately never particularly sickly, but inevitably, two or three days a year, I would be laid low by some stomach bug or another. Apart from feeling like shit, I actually kind of relished these days, because I got to stay home and immerse myself in the strange world of daytime television, which back then consisted largely of game shows. It always felt odd and wrong, because I knew I was joining a parallel universe comprised of the economically disenfranchised, the elderly and disabled, and frustrated housewives (who must have grated at being name-checked in this episode as having the third most tedious occupation in the country, while trying to escape said tedium). Still, it was a guilty pleasure, and I always liked "Hollywood Squares," because of the ever-shifting array of B-list and declining A-list celebrities, and the witty repartee they exchanged. Watching this episode from 1976, I am struck by a number of things:

  • Everyone looks much younger to me than they did at the time;
  • Some of the celebs are genuinely amusing, and the humor is still very tame;
  • The prizes are all pretty modest by the standards of modern hyper-consumerism and bling;
  • Joan Rivers is still recognizable as a member of the human race;
  • Shit, that's (Memphis-born) Aretha Franklin up there!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Song of the Day: Jackie Mittoo "Freak Out"

This song reworks Eddie Floyd's epic "I've Never Found a Girl," placing the guitar break of the original right up front, retaining the horn lines and the hook, while never actually stating the melody line. The horn line in "I've Never Found a Girl" itself references (or is referenced by, I haven't been able to work out the chronology) "Time is Tight," and is apparently ultimately a thinly disguised appropriation of "Theme From 'A Summer Place.'" Thus endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

So Long, Skip

I had the pleasure of meeting Skip Pitts over dinner in 2005, backstage at the Barbican. He struck me as a very animated person, with a mischievous sense of humor. I can clearly remember, as I'm sure others of my age can, too, the first time I heard the opening bars of "Theme from Shaft." The combination of the insistent, swishing hi-hat and the electric rattlesnake whip of the wah-wah guitar was both alarming and exciting. I loved that song from the very first time I heard it, and I was not alone - my hopeless 8th grade band class at Lester Jr. High in Binghampton used to love murdering it (as opposed to the rest of our limited repertoire, which we merely battered), and it was a real point of honor among the percussion section to be the guy playing the hi-hat figure. Never mind that the school's dilapidated instrument store contained no hi-hats - the resourceful kids of Binghampton would replicate the sound by placing a small crash cymbal on the floor, alternately muting and un-muting it with their feet. Surely Skip's opening wah-wah figure here is one of the most instantly-recognizable "sound logos" of the modern age, all over the planet. Rest easy, big man.

Scenes from London life


Amy and Sir Trevor

The lovely and talented Amy LaVere (herself apparently a some-time Sun Studios tour guide) shows legendary UK broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald (a member of the very limited fraternity of announcers to have dropped the "C" bomb live on the air and walked away unscathed) around the hallowed halls.

Space is the Place (1974 full length)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Heck of a Close Call

Just eight weeks ago, the Linda Heck album "Transformed" was released. Two years from the start of the project, which suffered various non-musical complications along the way, it was incredibly exciting to finally see it out, available for people to hear, as well they should.

I was, and am, very thankful to have had the chance to take part, and extremely proud of Linda, not only for writing, orchestrating, and producing such a fine body of work, but also for persevering in actually getting it out. I know the latter achievement came much less rewardingly, carrying with it hours of tedious research, brain-picking, form-filling, web account creation, and other assorted bullshit.

We chatted shortly after the release, to discuss life in general and specifically a new trans-Atlantic recording collaboration which we had only just initiated and were trying to scope out. She seemed to be daunted by now having to promote "Transformed." At one point, she observed that in many ways it's easier to promote your music if you die in an untimely fashion.

Neither of us could have guessed that this would soon become a very real possibility.

She went off to SXSW in Austin, and I went about my daily life here, spewing out bits and pieces for the new project. She returned home with a sore shoulder, which was diagnosed as bursitis, but which then rapidly deteriorated into a severe infection. About ten days ago, following a visit to the dentist, she happened to stop in again at her doctor's practice (next door), to ask a question and have someone take another look. One of the other practice doctors examined her, and came to a diagnostic conclusion along the lines of (I'm paraphrasing here), "Holy shit, how are you even walking around?! You could easily be dead by now. We need to get you on the table ASAP."

Emergency surgery followed, she was released from hospital four days later, and she now faces weeks, possibly months, of being housebound, rammed with tubes, heavily dosed with antibiotics, and undergoing various forms of therapy. The good news is that she doesn't seem to have suffered any nerve, circulatory, or muscle damage, so she will be able to return to playing and writing and performing, and I don't doubt for a second that she will be more awesome than ever.

Linda is a great and true friend, and I struggle to express the admiration that I have for her as a person and an artist. She is likely to go through some dark days, and there will be some ugly medical bills to confront at the end. Send her some positive thoughts and love, and if you haven't bought the album (or even if you have), there has never been a better reason to buy it (or buy it again). Rest assured the proceeds will be well-spent. CDBaby Amazon iTunes

Train Wreck WEVL

Scenes from London life