Sunday, August 30, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Somebody recently slipped me a copy of an excellent documentary called "The Wrecking Crew". It's about Los Angeles session musicians of the 60s and 70s. It features the reminiscences of people like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Earl Palmer, Plas Johnson and Glen Campbell, the people who played the actual music on everything from "River Deep Mountain High" through "Somethin' Stupid" to Herb Alpert's "Lonely Bull". It's like going under the bonnet of a whole era of peerless pop music, from The Byrds "Mr Tambourine Man" to the theme from "Hawaii 5-0", and seeing what makes it tick.
To hear Carol Kaye (pictured) and Al Casey talk about how they arrived at the backing sound of "These Boots Are Made For Walking" is to realise how much of a hit record's emotional stickiness arises from the uniqueness of a particular performance. This in turn owes a huge amount to the idiosyncratic ear of a certain musician. Nancy Sinatra has performed that song thousands of times since that recording date but she hasn't found anyone who plays the distinctive bassline like the combination of Chuck Berghofer on string bass and Carol Kaye on electric did on that day. "It's very difficult to capture," she says. Capture's the word.
"The Wrecking Crew" proves how wrong my Beatles correspondent was. And I think most rock fans are probably every bit as wrong in exactly the same way. They think greatness in pop is all about soul and inspiration and having your heart in the right place. It's not. It's about the tiny details that, in the words of some musician here, "make the tune pop". If it doesn't pop all the elements - song, singer, musicians and that unspecified box of skills which we in our ignorance summarise under the word "production" - just lie there on the slab.
When these musicians used the word "pop" it's as a verb, not a noun. That's my learning for the week.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Today I went past St Pancras Old Church. The graveyard has been shaved a little to accommodate the Eurostar Terminal. It's not the first time. When the Midland Railway was being built here in the 1870s young Thomas Hardy was the architect with the job of relocating graves. It's reckoned to be one of the oldest sites of Christian worship in Europe. It was also one of the venues on the Beatles Mad Day Out photo session, as seen in the gatefold of the red and blue albums.
Monday, August 24, 2009
I was even more disturbed by the Premiership table on the BBC Sport website. I am told that this now updates automatically as matches are going on. This meant that they were showing Spurs at the top of the table with nine points seconds before the final whistle had gone at Upton Park. I know it would have taken somebody even more pessimistic than me to think that England and Spurs weren't about to win but there's something not quite right about this habit of spending emotional capital before it has been gained. It reminds me of the flat feeling you get if you open a birthday present as soon as it arrives, rather than waiting for the big day. All media is acutely aware of the fact that they're only one of thousands of different ways of getting information and therefore their natural reaction is to make sure they're the first with the news, even if it hasn't quite happened yet. Witness OK's Jade Goody "tribute issue" which went on sale before the poor woman had died. I fear this is the way of the future.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
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Saturday, August 15, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
What I love in Beevor's books are the gripping details of human nature under unrepeatable duress. The mid-western farm boys who had little concept of a world beyond Kansas but were profoundly moved by the sight of Normandy cows desperate to be milked. The fact that the invaders stripped dead German soldiers naked for the souvenir value of their uniforms. And the head-spinning story of the three French whores who had set up a brothel in a burned-out landing craft on the invasion beach on the evening of D-Day.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
This kind of approach is as much of a straw in the wind blowing through the media as all this talk about pay walls. The Times pay Patrick Barclay for his opinions and the more directly they can access those opinions the better. If they send him off to compose his thoughts it probably takes hours, even if he's quicker than most. If they just stick an apprentice in front of him with a dictaphone it probably takes five minutes and for the end-user the result is exactly the same.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
[Following Jude Rogers' lead....] OK, here are the rules. Test your memory and your love of live music by listing 50 artists or bands (or as many as you can remember) you've seen in concert. List the first 50 acts that come into your head. An act you saw at a festival and opening acts count, but only if you can't think of 50 other artists. Oh, and list the first concert you ever saw (you can remember that, can’t you)?
It was raining last night so I tapped out this:
1. Chuck Berry and the Animals at the Bradford Alhambra, 1965. Went with a schoolfriend who later went to prison for murder.
2. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Lyceum, 1975. Best rhythm section I ever heard. Front line not shabby.
3. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Madison Square Garden, Thanksgiving, 1980. Afterwards they had a party in the bowling alley.
4. Earth Wind and Fire, Wembley Arena, 1980-ish. The drummer levitated and turned upside down while playing a solo.
5. Diana Ross, Wembley Arena, 1983? She had a tantrum over the sound and kicked a whole monitor off the stage with just her tiny foot.
6. Little Feat at the Rainbow on a Sunday afternoon in 1974(?) The Doobie Brothers literally couldn't follow them.
7. Haircut One Hundred at the Hammersmith Odeon at the height of Heyward-mania. Mark Ellen and I only men in the audience.
8. Yes at the LSE in 1972. We sat on the floor.
9. The Jam at the Hope and Anchor in 1976. Ten people in the audience.
10. Randy Newman at the Barbican a few years back. Funniest and wisest man in pop.
11. Tom Waits at the BBC TV theatre in 1981. Audience had been bussed in to see Jim'll Fix It.
12. The Modern Lovers at Aylesbury Friar's in 1978. I Introduced them on stage.
13. Elton John at Wembley Stadium in 1975. Hot day. Girlfriend (now wife) and I sat baking on the turf. He played the whole of his new album in dispiriting sequence.
14. Paul McCartney at Earl's Court. It was the first gig that my whole family (youngest member, 7) demanded to attend.
15. Son House at the Commonwealth Centre in 1971(?)
16. Elvis Costello Sunday night residency at the Nashville Rooms in 1977.
17. Maria Muldaur at Ronnie Scott's in 1975. Shook the hand of Amos Garrett.
18. Richard Thompson at the 100 Club on the night before Cropredy a few years back. Teddy was playing guitar. The woman standing next to me was Linda.
19. The last night of the Naughty Rhythms Tour at Holloway Poly. I still have one of Pete Thomas's drum sticks.
20. Jean Michel Jarre lighting up the skyline of Houston in 1983.
21. The D'Oyle Carte Opera doing The Mikado at the Savoy Theatre ten years ago. Best performance of anything I've ever seen.
22. Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1978, watched from a lighting tower.
23. Stiff talent night at Eric's, Liverpool in 1977. Jayne Casey and Holly Johnson singing "I'm sticking to you because I'm made out of glue."
24. Marillion in Poznan, Poland, 1986. Band paid in zlotis which they drank afterwards in the hotel bar.
25. Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Sheffield City Hall, 1980. They screened "Deep Throat" on the coach afterwards.
26. The Headboys at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. Formerly Klook's Kleek.
27. Tinariwen at the Shepherd's Bush Empire last year. I have finally found my perfect vantage point.
28. Van Morrison and the Caledonia Soul Orchestra at the Rainbow.
29. The J. Geils Band at the Midnight Court at the Lyceum in 1972. We walked most of the way home.
30. The Move at the Queen's Hall, Leeds in 1967. They didn't play but came on stage to apologise.
31. Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band in Leeds, 1967. Somewhere in an arcade.
32. The B 52s at the Paradiso in 1979.
33. Greg Kihn and Sammy Hagar at some County Fair in upstate California in 1976.
34. The McGarrigles at Carnegie Hall. Rufus Wainwright came on and organised them.
35. Humble Pie at Walthamstow Poly 1971. Steve Marriott spat in the air and then walked under it.
36. Crowded House farewell at Sydney Opera House.
37. Took 17 year old son to see Bob Dylan at Wembley. "He'll be crap," I said. "He was crap," he said.
38. Louis Armstrong at Batley Variety Club in 1967.
39. The Decemberists at Shepherd's Bush Empire a few years ago.
40. The Rolling Stones at the 100 Club. They were rubbish.
41. Britney Spears sound check at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party in 1998.
42. Status Quo at Reading in 1977.
43. Michael Jackson at Madison Square Garden in 1986. I was in the same hotel as Bubbles.
44. Live Aid.
45. Culture Club at the Dominion Theatre in 1983.
46. Boz Scaggs with his blues band at the Jazz Cafe ten years ago.
47. David Bowie on the "Station To Station" tour at Wembley. The longest, dullest drum solo in history.
48. The Grateful Dead at Wembley twenty years ago. Even duller drum solo.
49. Neil Young at Hammersmith Odeon when he played solo in front of bare brickwork.
50. Toumani Diabate played for me in his back garden in Bamako, Mali in 2007.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Hayward lived in a flat above his shop, and spent weekends at a house on Lord Hambleden's estate in Oxfordshire. But he remained proud of his Cockney roots; and every week until her death in 1984 he visited his mother, Winifred (who had worked in a bullet-making factory during the war), presenting her each time with a £1 note to pay for her meals-on-wheels.
When she died the family found this money preserved in 15 ice-cream boxes under her bed, along with a note reading: "This money is to get Doug out of prison when they finally get him." She did not believe that her son could earn so much money as a tailor, and assumed that he must have criminal connections.
I'm trying to imagine which obituaries of the future will hint at the same sort of raffish life.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Saturday, August 01, 2009
This is a very subtle way of putting things, as befits a very subtle man. It suggests he should have said things in a different way while also, by employing a term often used in the world of artillery, implying that had he known the impact his words would have had, he would have pointed them at somebody else. How he must yearn for the days when Presidents weren't expected to have a quotable reaction to every small convulsion in the nation's daily life.