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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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