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Sunday, September 30, 2012

David Sedaris doesn't apologise or explain - which is why I like him


I'm beginning to like going to see people I know nothing about. A friend of ours booked some tickets to see David Sedaris at the Cadogan Hall on Friday night. I went along knowing nothing about him except he was popular and I'd once heard him read a story on a NPR podcast. He came on at 7:35, read three stories about things that had happened to him, took a few questions and at 9:05 went out in the lobby to sign books. He was funny. I enjoyed it a lot.

What I really liked about him was that at no point did he do what so many people who are in the business of making us laugh do, which is position themselves. He didn't follow every description of an unworthy thought or action with an assurance that he wasn't that kind of person. In the three stories he read he talked about his fancy to own the skeleton of a pygmy, the fact that he simply can't relax if he knows there's an unmade bed in the house and his discovery that some people in a public lavatory defecate into their hands to avoid the sound of turds splashing into the water. To hear thoughts like this coming from a neat middle-aged American was relaxing in a way that most comedy isn't.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

We don't remember Frank Wilson but his records are written on our hearts

This morning in a moment of serendipity I found this in a pile and put it on. I've always had a soft spot for the streak of hits The Supremes made after Diana Ross left. "Nathan Jones", "Stoned Love", "Floy Joy", "Bad Weather", "Automatically Sunshine" and "Up To The Ladder To The Roof": this would be a recognised as a major pop career if it didn't happen to live in the shadow of the hits made by the original line-up. I love their brisk sexiness, that sense of life in the projects recalled from the back of a limo in "Up The Ladder To The Roof", the arrangement of "Bad Weather" which anticipates what Stevie Wonder was about to unleash and a sound which is little more supper-club than classic Motown. Now I read that Frank Wilson, who produced these and lots more Motown records, died yesterday. He didn't even get his name on the cover of this compilation of his records.

Friday, September 28, 2012

So, farewell, Aasmah Mir

The departure of Aasmah Mir from BBC Five Live removes half of one of the BBC's great on-air partnerships.

Peter Allen, her Drivetime partner, is old school. If anything he's even less impressed with the modern world than John Humphreys. You can't help warming to a man who is so determined not to fall in with fashionable enthusiasms and has a memory that goes back further than Tony Blair.

Mir, a Pakistani by descent and Glaswegian by upbringing, is clearly of a different generation but, apart from being a really good broadcaster, she clearly had enough rapport with Allen to play the only niece who could josh him out of his sulks. And she has one of the greatest gifts a radio presenter can have, which is an attractive laugh. I'll miss the pair of them.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

1971 was the annus mirabilis of the rock album - and here's the proof



I've written before about how the year 1971 was the annus mirabilis of the rock album. It wasn't until I sat down yesterday and compiled a Spotify list of tracks from albums released in that one calendar year that I realised just how true it is.

The first bit of the list writes itself. This is the year of Hunky Dory, Sticky Fingers, Every Picture Tells A Story, Pink Floyd's Meddle, Elton John's Madman Across the Water, Who's Next and Led Zeppelin IV. Those are just the British ones. Think about it. If there had been a Mercury Music Prize in 1971 these would have been on the shortlist. These would be the Arctic Monkeys and Pulps of their day. The shortlist would possibly have been rounded out by a few token left-field items like John Martyn's Bless The Weather, No Roses by Shirley Collins and the Albion Band or Steeleye Span's Ten Man Mop.

In California Joni Mitchell was putting out Blue, The Doors LA Woman, James Taylor Mud Slide Slim, David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name, Graham Nash Songs For Beginners and Carole King Tapestry. It was the year of California.

King was one of a number of artists to put out more than one album in 1971: she released Music later the same year, McCartney followed Ram with the first Wings album Wildlife while Yes followed The Yes Album with Fragile - all in the same twelve months. Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood had enough songs for The Move's Message From The Country and the first Electric Light Orchestra album. Rod Stewart recorded one solo album and two albums with the Faces in that same time.

The strength of the list is even more amazing when you consider the people who didn't put out a record of new material in 1971: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Richard Thompson to name but three. The first version of this playlist was only forty-three tunes. It's now up to 106 tracks and it will probably grow further.

Most of the music on this list was made by people under the age of thirty-two. The exceptions are Leonard Cohen, Bill Withers, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, Elvis Presley, Tom T. Hall and, Freddie King. There's a huge preponderance of war babies. Most of them were twenty-six. I was listening to Who's Next yesterday and marvelling at how this bunch of yobs from Shepherd's Bush could possibly have become so good so quickly. Hardly anyone who made the music on this list spent any time in further education. They were on the road as teenagers.

They were almost all releasing the records that would come to define them. If any of them were on stage tonight - as quite a few of them will be - the songs the audience would want them to play are the songs on these albums that they released in 1971.

Like footballers yet to have their first serious injury, they were writing songs as if it never occurred to them that one day they might run out. And they were doing it while on a never-ending tour. Nobody was going off to an island to write some new material. They didn't look down. They just kept on pedalling.

They all seemed, in one way or another, to be original. Even those few who were reaching back to an old tradition, such as the New Riders of The Purple Sage, Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, Steeleye Span or Ry Cooder seemed to be doing it for the first time. The music they were playing even they had never heard before. Some, like Doctor John, were to carry on making and re-making their 1971 album for the next forty years.

A few, such as The Band, had passed their peak. Some, like the Bee Gees, were about to go into a slump from which they would re-emerge bigger and better. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Steve Goodman would die very young.

Most of the music on this list was made to be played on the same radio to the same people. Formatting hadn't yet driven people off into ghettoes where they only heard what they already liked. Even at the snobbier end, I would guess that John Peel would have played everything on this list.

I was surprised at the fact that the cult Californian acts of the 70s were already around as the last chords of the sixties faded away. Little Feat had released their first. Ry Cooder was on to his third. Randy Newman was marking time with a live album. Neil Young was trying out the songs for his 1972 album Harvest when he recorded Live At Massey Hall. I cheated here because this record only came out in 2007.

Live albums were coming into fashion. Most of these acts would have prepared new material on stage before trying to record it, just as Neil Young was doing. You could make a top ten of live albums made at the Fillmore that year, from the Allman Brothers top-of-the-world masterpiece to Humble Pie's impudent manifesto, recorded largely when they were a support act.

Whenever I trot out the argument that 1971 was the annus mirabilis of the rock album, just as 1965 was the annus mirabilis of the pop single, people say, well, we all do that with our youth. And we all do.

The difference is I'm right. This list proves it.

P.S. There's no Led Zeppelin on Spotify. Otherwise that list would be even more amazing.

For the benefit of people who can't get Spotify, here's the song titles and the artists,

The Who – Baba O'Riley - Original Version
Rod Stewart – Mandolin Wind
The Rolling Stones – Moonlight Mile - 2009 Re-Mastered Digital Version
Joni Mitchell – Little Green
David Bowie – The Bewlay Brothers - 1999 Digital Remaster
The Doors – Riders On The Storm - Remaster
Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
The Allman Brothers Band – Statesboro Blues - Live At The Fillmore East/1971
Carole King – It's Too Late
T. Rex – Life's A Gas
Yes – Roundabout
Sly & The Family Stone – Family Affair - Single Version
Paul McCartney – Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey
Janis Joplin – Mercedes Benz
Elton John – Tiny Dancer
Cat Stevens – Tuesday's Dead
John Prine – Illegal Smile
David Crosby – Laughing
The Beach Boys – 'Til I Die
Nilsson – Without You - Remastered 2004
Santana – Toussaint L'Overture
Graham Nash – Wounded Bird
Alice Cooper – Under My Wheels
Dolly Parton – Coat Of Many Colors
Van Morrison – Wild Night - 2007 Re-mastered
Bill Withers – Ain't No Sunshine
Don McLean – American Pie
James Taylor – Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition: The Great Gates Of Kiev - Live At Newcastle City Hall, 1971
Kris Kristofferson – The Pilgrim - Chapter 33
Flamin' Groovies – Teenage Head
Todd Rundgren – We Gotta Get You A Woman
Aretha Franklin – Oh Me Oh My [I'm A Fool For You Baby] [Album Version]
J.J. Cale – Call Me The Breeze
Isaac Hayes – Theme From Shaft - Album - Remastered
Little Feat – Brides Of Jesus
Electric Light Orchestra (Elo) – 10538 Overture - 2001 - Remaster
John Martyn – Singin' In The Rain
Kevin Ayers – Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes - 1999 Digital Remaster
Jimi Hendrix – Angel
Gene Clark – For A Spanish Guitar
Randy Newman – Tickle Me
The Kinks – Muswell Hillbilly
Serge Gainsbourg – Ballade De Melody Nelson
Albion Country Band – Claudy Banks
Al Green – I Can't Get Next To You
Judee Sill – Jesus Was A Cross Maker
Barbra Streisand – Stoney End
The Move – Do Ya
Stevie Wonder – Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer
Colin Blunstone – Say You Don't Mind
Leonard Cohen – Dress Rehearsal Rag
Mountain – Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)
Leon Russell – Stranger In A Strange Land
Michael Nesmith And The First National Band – Grand Ennui
Traffic – The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys
The J. Geils Band – Floyd's Hotel
Lindisfarne – Fog On The Tyne - 2004 - Remaster
Boz Scaggs – Runnin' Blue
James Brown – Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)
Neil Young – Helpless - Live At Massey Hall 1971
Family – Larf And Sing
The Staple Singers – Respect Yourself
Sandy Denny – Late November
Stephen Stills – Change Partners
Procol Harum – Broken Barricades
John Lennon – Jealous Guy
Tony Joe White – They Caught The Devil And Put Him In Jail In Eudora, Arkansas
Dr. John – Where Ya At Mule
Tom T. Hall – The Year That Clayton Delaney Died
Genesis – The Return Of The Giant Hogweed
Humble Pie – Four Day Creep
Bee Gees – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?
Carly Simon – Anticipation
Jimmy Webb – Met Her On A Plane
Loudon Wainwright III – Motel Blues
Ry Cooder – On A Monday
Elvis Presley – Little Cabin On The Hill
Frank Zappa – Peaches En Regalia - Live At Fillmore East / 1971
Danny O'Keefe – Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues
Osibisa – Beautiful Seven - Digitally Remastered Version
King Curtis – A Whiter Shade Of Pale - Live @ Fillmore West
Don Nix – Living By The Days
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Shorty Falls In Love - Live (1971 Troubadour)
The Chi-Lites – Have You Seen Her
Freddie King – Going Down
ZZ Top – Squank
Crazy Horse – Downtown
Faces – Had Me A Real Good Time
Hot Tuna – Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning
The Band – Life Is A Carnival - 2000 Digital Remaster
The Isley Brothers – Ohio/Machine Gun
John Stewart – Little Road and a Stone to Roll
Steeleye Span – When I Was On Horseback
Grin – We All Sung Together
Steve Goodman – City Of New Orleans
Rory Gallagher – Laundromat - Remastered 2011
Neil Diamond – I Am...I Said
Can – Paperhouse
Jethro Tull – Aqualung
America – Ventura Highway
New Riders Of The Purple Sage – Glendale Train
Albert King – She Caught The Katy (And Left Me A Mule To Ride)
The Hollies – Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
Roberta Flack – Go Up Moses
Caetano Veloso – London London
Carpenters – Rainy Days And Mondays
Status Quo – Mean Girl
The Moody Blues – The Story In Your Eyes
Linda Ronstadt – Rock Me On The Water
Dory Previn – Mary C. Brown And The Hollywood Sign
The Temptations – Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Johnny Cash – Man In Black
Laura Nyro;LaBelle – I Met Him On A Sunday
Bridget St John – City-Crazy
Gilbert O'Sullivan – Nothing Rhymed
The Supremes – Nathan Jones
Ike & Tina Turner – Proud Mary
Todd Rundgren – Long Flowing Robe
Carole King – Brother, Brother
Yes – I've Seen All Good People: a. Your Move, b. All Good People

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Musicians are just waking up when their audience is going to sleep


I found this in my notes. I'd been struck by how rock musicians and their audiences share ninety minutes of a kind of communion in the evening but have completely different ways of looking at the day. It makes me wonder whether the time might ever come when the live music industry recognises the fact that since most of the audience is over forty they might prefer their shows to start a little earlier.

6:00 a.m. 
Rock fan's alarm goes.
Rock musician turns over in his sleep.
7:30 a.m.
Rock fan begins tiring commute.
Rock musician sleeps on.
8:30 a.m.
Rock fans begins work.
Rock musician does more sleeping
12:30 p.m.
Rock fan has lunch and starts to worry about how he's getting home from tonight's gig.
Rock musician stirs and watches Loose Women in bed.
2:00 p.m.
Rock fan begins meeting.
Rock musician has leisurely shower.
3:00 p.m.
Rock fan buys chocolate bar to provide energy surge.
Rock musician meets in lobby to go to sound check.
5:00 p.m.
Rock fan wonders how he's going to pass three and a half hours between work and gig.
Rock musician begins sound check
6:00 p.m.
Rock fan finishes work and toys with the idea of going straight home and missing gig altogether.
Rock musician starts to wake up.
8:00 p.m.
Rock fan goes to venue and looks for place to stand and, being less than six foot three, actually see.
Rock musician has a nap backstage.
9:30 p.m.
Rock fan looks at watch for the hundredth time.
Rock musician take to stage.
11:00 p.m.
Rock fan misses encore and slopes off to catch last train home.
Fired up with adrenaline rock musician begins encore.
12:30 a.m.
Rock fans tramps home from station feeling tired and filthy.
Rock musician goes to bar.      

Monday, September 24, 2012

When London was a mystery and Time Out had the key


Time Out goes to free distribution this week. I wish them the best of luck. It might work. If it doesn't it's difficult to see where they go next. According to The Times, "circulation as a paid-for title had almost halved since its late-Nineties’ peak of 110,000". I suspect that if it really was selling 55,000 copies a week on the news stand they wouldn't be making this move.

I was talking about music and media at the Reeperbahn Conference in Hamburg last week. One of the things I tried to get through to a younger audience is just how the communications revolution of the last ten years has made it difficult for us to remember the world before that revolution, when there was still such a thing as scarcity.

No title benefited from that scarcity quite as much as Time Out. In the golden era of Time Out, which went from the mid-70s to the 90s, if you wanted to know what was on at your local cinema or whether that film you wanted to see was on somewhere else, you went to Time Out. If you needed the phone number of the Hammersmith Odeon box office, you went to Time Out. If you wanted to know who QPR were going to be playing at the weekend, whether you could get a ticket and where the nearest tube was, you went to Time Out. If you wanted a vegetarian restaurant in East London, you went to Time Out.

It pulled off lots of coups in terms of design and journalism but beneath the surface it operated as a sort of alternative telephone directory. That's what made it sell. I can't remember the last time I looked up a phone number on paper and called it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The power of positive napping

This shot comes from a series of pictures of school classrooms all over the world taken by Julian Germain. It's shot in Taiwan. After the kids have had lunch they just put their heads down on the desks and have a half-hour nap.

I was in Japan once on a long coach journey with a load of teenagers and young adults. I turned round from staring out of the window to see that they were all asleep. I was very envious. Presumably this is a Far Eastern thing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock's dirty postcard from London



I never get tired of watching Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy because it's a precious memento of London before Style. It was made in 1972 when the old fruit market was still in Covent Garden and barristers in morning dress discuss "sex murders" with unseemly relish over pints of bitter and shepherd's pie in Nell Of Old Drury. Jon Finch plays a boozy ex-RAF officer whose estranged wife runs a dating agency in one of those little rookeries that used to lead off Oxford Street. She takes him to dinner at her club where middle-aged ladies in hats are served by other ladies in bombazine. The police drive Rover 2000s and tuck into full English breakfasts. When Finch takes Anna Massey to the Coburg Hotel they have to check in as Mr and Mrs Oscar Wilde and the hall porter asks if he wants "anything from the pharmacy". Nobody in the film seems young, which simply wouldn't be allowed nowadays.

It opens with a helicopter shot coming up the river from the east, ducking under Tower Bridge and then swooping through the smoke left by a tugboat crossing the Thames. Tugboats! Smoke! It climaxes with a struggle in the back of a lorryload of potatoes. Hitchcock never made a seedier film but then he never made a film that had a more precise sense of place. At the time he made it he hadn't lived or worked here for thirty years but he still had a vision of London. There isn't a glimpse of the swinging city that everybody else was busy putting on film round about the same time. Maybe he just ignored all that and made the film that was in his head. I'm very glad he did.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Re-reading Ragtime by the light of the web

I first read Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow in the late-70s, not long after it was published. It's set on the East Coast of the USA in the early days of the 20th century and many of its characters are real historical figures. There are internationally-known ones like Harry Houdini and Sigmund Freud. Then there are people like Stanford White and Evelyn Nesbit (pictured), best known to students of American history.

I've been reading it again, only this time there is one huge difference. This time I know that every person, place, event, device, fashion, city, district, mode of transport, incident, meeting, style, advertisement, invention, fad, gimmick, building or work of art mentioned in the text is available on the web on just a couple of clicks.

This has two interesting effects. It makes me wonder how much I bothered looking things up in reference books when I read the novel first time round. Did I just treat it all as an invention embroidered on top of fact and just read round the bits I couldn't decipher? Did I accept that finding out things was quite an onerous task? (I've just read a passage where J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford dine on Chincoteagues, which I now learn are ponies.)

Just as it was onerous for me back then I assumed it took an equally special effort on the part of the novelist to build this whole world for me. Reading it today with an iPad at hand is to realise to what extent Doctorow must have written his book by looking at a lot of old pictures and simply describing them. At that time this probably meant a lot of time spent at the New York Public Library going through their collections of news photographs, which seemed impressive in itself.

I'm sure that when Doctorow is no longer around to object Ragtime will be published in a pictorial version so that you won't even have to go to the trouble of firing up a web browser. What price fiction when that happens?



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Avoid famous people doing you a favour


Clint Eastwood says that before he gave his speech at the Republican Convention the organisers wanted to know what he was going to say.

"They vet most of the people, but I told them, 'You can't do that with me, because I don't know what I'm going to say,'"

He says he got the idea for his bizarre dialogue with an empty stool as he was waiting to go on.

Think about that. How fragile must your hold on reality be if  you think that the idea which occurred to you a few seconds ago will enthral an entire nation?

He was supposed to do five minutes. He did twelve. Usually when things over-run it's because the speech is going over well. Not even a huge movie star who spends their lives in a warm bath of acclaim can possibly have thought that was the case here.

Here's what I've learned about public speaking. The only good public speakers are the nervous ones. I've found this to be true on big platforms and in tiny rooms above pubs.

Anyone who tells you they're nervous will be fine. Anyone who tells you they're not nervous will be a disaster. And, what's more, they'll be so lacking in awareness that afterwards they won't know how badly it's gone.

This applies with humans but even more with celebrities. There's something in the make-up of famous people that leads them to believe they can get on their feet and compose something funny and inspiring with no preparation.

I once took part in a high-profile debate which involved a rock star. I've done lots of public speaking which is why I sweated on my preparation. He'd done none which is why he thought he could just stand up and do it. He couldn't. Oh boy, he couldn't. And I bet, like Clint Eastwood, he still doesn't know how badly he did.

Mark Ellen and I have discussed this many times over the years in planning events. Through bitter experience we learned that you should particularly beware a star who thinks they're doing you a favour. If they think they're doing you a favour they will have been inadequately briefed about the nature of the event by their representatives, will do no preparation before the event and then at the last minute will be so paralysed with nerves and self-consciousness that they'll launch into a riff which has no ending, usually one that disparages the event in a clumsy effort to look above it all. Avoid them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's a recording contract, not a marriage

Some resourceful plugger managed to get the story of Bill Fay on the Today programme this morning. Fay made a couple of albums in the early 70s and then there was nothing until recently when he was swept up in the 21st century campaign to rediscover just about every singer-songwriter from that golden era. Best of luck to him.

The key phrase that made the narrative work for a news programme was that Fay was "dropped by his record company" in 1971. You can hear that being pitched to the producer, repeated to the editor, briefed to the presenter and then said feelingly during the item.

"Dropped by his record company" is a recent expression. Before that people would say "his popularity declined". "Dropped by his record company" comes from the era of boy bands and it implies a complete withdrawal of the only source of funding. It is taken to mean "cast into the outer darkness". It means "going home with your tail between your legs". It means "game over".

In fact record companies rarely "drop" anyone. They simply decline to renew the contract, double their initial bet and throw good money after bad.

When Bill Fay made those two records for Decca subsidiary Deram in 1970-71 a record deal would probably be for just one album with an option for another. Round about the same time East Of Eden made just two albums for Deram and they had a hit single. Most acts on Deram, like most acts on most labels, never got to make an album at all.

Fay made his two, the market shrugged, the radio passed and the press weren't bothered and so Deram decided they didn't want any more. This was the right decision, not an act of cultural vandalism.

 I'm always amazed that the same people who want record companies to stick with unsuccessful acts for longer are the same people who want the record companies to spend all their time looking for fresh new talent. If they do one they can't do the other.

Monday, September 10, 2012

At last I can name the mystery band who came to stand for ROCK

Sorting stuff out this weekend I came upon this copy of the NME Encyclopedia of Rock. This came out in 1976 and was edited by Nick Logan, who taught me to proof-read and Bob Woffinden, who gave me the invaluable advice "don't ever use the word 'feel' as a noun". (Amazing what you remember.)

Before the internet this was the place you went if you wanted to check how many records Paul Kossoff had made or Joni Mitchell's date of birth. I tweeted about it and I clearly wasn't the only one who remembered it with great affection. Some had committed whole sections to memory. David Quantick said he taught himself to write reviews by reading it. One person could only afford the unillustrated version and used to borrow the pictorial version from the library.

Looking at it I remembered the many hours we used to spend trying to work out the identity of the group on the front. Again I wasn't the only one. Even Nick Logan didn't know. It had been the publisher's choice. The guesses came in. Budgie? Mountain? Wishbone Ash? Mahogany Rush? Rush? Can? Steve Hillage and Gong? Iron Butterfly?

I have to thank Mark Blake for giving me the correct answer. It's Quiver, an excellent group who subsequently merged with the Sutherland Brothers and had Tim Renwick and Bruce Thomas among their number.

The person who took the photograph was Robert Ellis, who also supplied the picture of Pink Floyd on the back. "It was deliberately chosen to be obscure," he told me. "They were first band on at the first show at the newly opened Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park London, supporting the Who, in November 1971. The cover of the book deceives the eye. My original photo, which I still have, shows the four members of the band."

Thursday, September 06, 2012

What do you do with old magazines?


Just that. What do you do with the buggers? I just opened a box which has been gathering dust in my office for ten years and was amazed what I found. Impenetrably dense issues of ZigZag from the days of punk rock, thirty-year-old copies of Rolling Stone, cultish Anglophile music magazines like Bomp! and Trouser Press from the mid-70s, editions of The Face from the days when you'd forgotten it was still going and lots of things I've worked on myself. For years I used to have the magazines I'd worked on myself put in bound volumes. This means they're in good condition but I hardly ever look at them.

But why did I keep these magazines in the boxes? Often because they cost money, were hard to track down at the time and would be impossible to replace. At the time in the mid-70s when I was originally enthralled by John Tobler's interviews with Mike Nesmith or Nick Kent's look back at the Beach Boys I suppose I thought I would never get that kind of treat again. Little did anyone suspect that in forty years time people would still be twining out glossier versions of the same thing. Nostalgia would prove to have a future that nobody could have predicted.

I look at these magazines now and I wonder what to do with them. Once I put them back in this box I'll never get them out again. They're not sufficiently organised for me to ever use them as a form of reference. If I wanted to find particular pieces I could probably Google them or I could easily email somebody who would have them. They're not worth any money on the secondhand market. And they're dust magnets. When I first packed them away I was a young bloke trying to hang on to my youth. Why the hell am I hanging on to them now?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The kind of David Bowie exhibition I'd like to see


At today's press launch for the exhibition David Bowie Is, which is coming up next March at the V&A, they had three of his costumes on display. There was the Ashes To Ashes pierrot suit, the Union flag frock coat designed by Alexander McQueen and one of the Ziggy Stardust outfits, for which the brief was droog via Laura Ashley.

The people talking about the exhibition were keen to stress that it was more than a display of costumes, which suggests that it will be a display of costumes. Seeing famous outfits on mannequins always leaves me somewhat underwhelmed. What they should really do is let you try them on.

I was trying to think of the kind of memorabilia exhibition I would really like to see. I guess mine would be less spectacular, more suited to the detailed displays you could pore over in glass cases than the high-impact items around which most exhibitions are built. When we go round art galleries my wife looks at the pictures first and then at the captions. I look at the captions first and then the pictures. I've decided I'm a narrative person.

That's why I'd like to see his childhood bedroom recreated, displays of Bromley town centre through the years, old school books, cheap guitars, bassdrum pedals, a chronology of his haircuts, marked-up tape boxes, old contracts, personal letters, sketches, false starts, crossings-out, studio logs, mixing consoles, bits of kit, clipping from FAB 208, preposterous film scripts, storyboards for videos, things thrown on stage by fans and, most of all, a royalty statement for Tin Machine.

A little light music in the morning

Last night Danny Baker was wondering how come Harry Nilsson never got the respect he deserved. Maybe it's because he played light music. The music we take seriously is the music that seems to take itself seriously. On Harry, which was made in 1969, he even sings about puppies at one point, which was never going to get the rock critics stroking their goatees in approval. Where's the dark and edgy in that?

I don't know who Mike Viola is. I looked him up a  couple of months ago but I've forgotten what I learned and the more I enjoy Acousto De Perfecto the less interested I am in finding out. I'm sure it would only prejudice me. His voice reminds me a bit of Harry Nilsson, particularly on Primary Care Giver. Most of the record is just him on acoustic guitar plus two people playing violas.

Like Nilsson's records, Viola's sound a little like doodles. There's a line in Secret Radio about songwriting that I like. "Not all of them are worth finishing/But you've got to finish them to see".

You can find them both on Spotify.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Sympathy for the devil (or Frankie Boyle)

I don't go seeking after Frankie Boyle but I sympathise with the position he's in. Channel 4, like the BBC before them, hire him because he's outrageous and then fire him because he's outrageous. It's as if they're gleefully egging him on to let fly with the barbs but as soon as one of them lands on a group they perceive as "vulnerable" (one of the weasel words of our time) they hastily compose their features to indicate disapproval and ask him to step into the office.

It was the same with Russell Brand during his time on Radio Two. You hire him because he goes a notch further than Jonathan Ross and then fire him because he's gone two notches further. That's the nature of the beast. If you tell somebody that their appeal lies in their outrageousness you must expect them to aspire to outrageousness, which can be quite easily measured by the number of times they cross the line, rather than humour, which is a lot more subjective. And harder.