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Friday, October 17, 2014

Dear public figures, you don't have to apologise to me

It's Friday, as good a day as any to think of the people who will offend us next week. Right now they're not aware that they will be offending us. They're happily thinking about their book tour or the after-dinner speech they're about to give. They're blissfully unaware of the fact that this time next week they'll have to issue a formal apology for something which they've said, something which seemed sensible and moderate at the time but once strained through the medium of Twitter and condensed into another headline to feed the raging appetite of rolling news, which now demands one apology a day, it suddenly reads like a paragraph from Mein Kampf.

Not that I've read Mein Kampf, just as most of the people demanding the apology won't have read the article or speech or exchange from which the offence will have apparently arisen. They will simply be basking in that warm feeling of self-righteousness that comes from assuring everyone that they're on the side of the angels, as if the angels didn't change sides every bit as much as everyone else. The sign of a mature society is it can live with the idea that the public discourse will be full of things that might not get general agreement. It's a sign of the other kind that people feel such a need to shout other people down.

With a full week to go, I'd just like to say that if in a week's time you're called upon to apologise for something you said in the first half of the week, you don't have to apologise to me, nor do I insist that you apologise to anybody else. Hope that helps a bit.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I heart Rod Stewart 1970-71

Why am I always going on about old records? Somebody asked me that the other day. Don't I like music made today? Don't I check out "nubandz"?

Well,  the reason I go on about 1971 is because I'm writing a book about it. I do like music made today but it tends to be hip hop or pop music. Most of today's rock sounds tired to me. No, I don't check out "nubandz".

Tell you why I go on about the music of 1971. I'd never heard this track until today. It's The Faces recorded at the Fillmore East at the end of 1970. They're doing "Love In Vain", which they've clearly heard for the first time via the Stones. That is one reason to love it. The idea that an up and coming band wasn't embarrassed to borrow an idea from their elders and betters. And though Rod Stewart clearly hasn't learned the words properly he gives a performance which is simultaneously bravura and  nonchalant.

Now you may tell me that there are up and coming rock bands today who have singers who have this kind of presence and power. I reserve the right not to believe you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the music business, "suits" often have ears

People who talk about "the suits" in the music business (or any other business come to that) usually don't know what they're talking about. I met up with Rob Dickins yesterday. I suppose many people would call Rob a suit. He used to be Chairman of Warner Music UK, which is the kind of job people lazily associate with boardroom politics and a complete disengagement from the products which the business deals in.

There's no point trying to rattle your rock and roll medals in Rob's direction because he's got more and bigger ones than you have. He went to see Jimi Hendrix when he was sixteen, was booking the Faces as Social Sec at Loughborough University when he was twenty, and was plugging Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" to Radio One when he was twenty-two.

We were talking about 1971 and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". I pointed out that Gaye took it to the West Coast and secretly remixed it to bring the congas up in the mix and to make it sound more ethereal. Rob pointed out that the really extraordinary thing about "What's Going On" is the sound of the triangle.

I've just been playing it and he's right. Not bad for a suit.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Interviews with the reluctantly retired from Palm Springs

The Download's a good podcast if you're interested in vintage soft rock. 

It comes from a weekly radio show done by  Chris May and Elli Tourj√© in Palm Springs, California and features straight, informative interviews with people such as James Taylor bassist Leland Sklar, Beach Boy Al Jardine, trumpeter turned mogul Herb Alpert, Wrecking Crew bassist Joe Osborn and Richard Carpenter.

I was just listening to the episode with Sklar. He still works, which makes him happy. He'd just been talking to Linda Ronstadt whose health prevents her from doing the same thing.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Force yourself to watch a proper film this weekend

Ever since I was a teenager people have been telling me to see the French gangster film "Rififi", made in 1955. I've been so convinced by their argument that it's a classic I've probably told people that I've seen it when I hadn't. This week I finally got round to actually seeing it on Netflix.

Of course it's brilliant. Now that I'm older I can appreciate things about it that I wouldn't have quite got when I was a kid: the look of post-war Paris, the shiny old cars, the glistening pavements, the cruel glitter in the eyes of the leading man, the extraordinary look of the jazz clubs, the half-hour robbery sequence which is done without words, the difficulty of making a phone call and the way that feeds into the drama.

Amazing how often when you've got a choice between the old thing that you know will be great and the flashy new thing which you know will disappoint you choose the latter and end up wasting your time and money. Henceforth I shall try not to do that.




Thursday, October 09, 2014

Morrissey gets pranked by his own record company

You have to feel for Morrissey. Even in middle age he goes around trying to pick fights with people who apparently have better things to do. Current target is his record label Harvest. He says they haven't promoted his record enough. Acts always say this when the record hasn't sold enough. To underline his point he has his band dressed in tee shirts saying "Fuck Harvest". (Bit rich this, since the members of the band won't be signed to Harvest and therefore presumably have no quarrel with them.) Anyway, Harvest have responded by offering "Fuck Harvest" tee shirts for sale. They come in a choice of colours. Love to have been a fly on the wall when he got the news.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Stop whinging about the distortion of sound and make records we like.


This has had three and a half million views on You Tube. It's a short documentary about the shortcomings of compressed music made by audio firm Harman.

It features Snoop Dog, Slash, Kate Nash, Hans Zimmer, Lianne La Havas, Mike Shinoda and other musicians, bemoaning the fact that over the last ten years we've traded audio excellence for convenience. An MP3 file short-changes us in terms of quality and we don't care. Given the amount of time and care the musicians put into their recordings, ain't that a shame?

Problem is there's no sign that we care. And there's no point bitching about our obsession with convenience or the fact that these days You Tube is the record business, the radio and the printed media all put together.

That massive movement has benefited the musicians. If it weren't for today's virtual free flow of recorded music most of those people in that film wouldn't be well-known enough to be in that film. When music was hard to find and difficult to afford there were far fewer prominent musicians. The perceived preciousness of music is directly related to its scarcity. Those days are not coming back. These people should thank their lucky stars.

Some of the greatest records I ever heard were made in spite of the limitations of the recording medium and the manufacturing technology. Lee Perry's records wouldn't have been any better if the tape had run at the proper speed and the record had been on virgin vinyl. They had the power to move and next to that sound quality is nothing.

I listen to the musicians in that film and I think that if I were to hear their recordings in the way they intended it wouldn't make all that much difference to the way I felt about them. If it's great music it will be great no matter how compressed it is. If it's middling all the expansion in the world won't make it any more than that.

This is a classic case of Hepworth's Law Of Improvement, which I developed over years of watching people trying to improve magazines. There's improvement, then there's the kind of improvement which is recognised by the user and finally there's the kind of improvement which is both recognised and valued by the user.

Only the third sort is worth the trouble.