Normally you have to read very carefully between the lines of an obituary to get any sense that the subject may have been anything less than a combination of William Shakespeare, Mahatma Gandhi and Judi Dench. But Richard Evans’ obit of historian Norman Stone in The Guardian today is as joyous a hatchet job as Max Hastings piece on (the still with us) Boris Johnson already posted here on the blog. Do read; it gets better and better as it goes on.
What does it sound like?:
I guess most people know the setup. In 1963 ITV took 14 seven year old English children from various backgrounds and decided to follow their lives, returning to them every seven years and see how they were getting on. In doing so they would explore the extent to which class and background influenced how they turned out, and the extent to which our DNA means the person we are is already there in the seven year old child.
Remarkably, 56 years later, eleven of them are still taking part – two declined this time, and one sadly died five years ago.I don’t know if I have a particular empathy with the participants because I am just one year younger than them. The life changes they’ve been through I’ve been through at the same time, not to mention the hairstyles, the fashions, and the widening girths. But I find it immensely moving televison.
The answer to the influence of background and DNA, is, of course, ‘quite a lot’ in both cases. But the programme also quietly subverts lazy assumptions, not least in the way many of the working class kids have turned out – the » Continue Reading.
What does it sound like?:
Until a couple of weeks ago I had never near of Mike Hart. But I was listening to an old Mojo free CD which had been gathering dust unplayed, featuring music from Liverpool artists, and a track by him just leaped out of the speakers. I checked out the album it’s from, and I can’t stop listening to it.
Mike Hart was part of Liverpool music through the 60s. He initially fronted Merseybeat band The Roadrunners, and was then part of Adrian Henri’s music and poetry group The Liverpool Scene. He was signed by John Peel’s Dandelion label and released two solo albums, of which Mike Hart Bleeds was the first, coming out in 1969. Sadly, neither did anything, and Hart, who seems to have had a massive self destruct button, descended into alcoholism. He died in an Edinburgh nursing home three years ago.
Mike Hart bleeds is an classic archetypal 1960s Folk/pop singer-songwriter record; it reminds me of near contemporaries like Ralph McTell, Harvey Andrews or Rab Noakes. For better or worse, Dylan’s shadow inevitably looms large, particularly the Dylan of Bringing it Back Home. Disbelief Blues is either an outrageous rip-off or » Continue Reading.
Someone called Bill Wyman has ranked all the Beatles songs; see the link at the bottom of this post. Turns out its not THAT Bill Wyman, but an American critic who shares the name. He clearly likes a list – is he perchance an Afterworder?
Some right old nonsense in here, it has to be said. I think we can all agree that Good Day Sunshine isn’t the very worst track recorded by The Beatles. I doubt even he thinks that.
For the last ten years @Hannah has popped up in late December to ask us all how the year has been for each of us. Sadly she hasn’t been around the site for a while so I guess she won’t be asking it this year. So allow me to step in and ask for your reflections on 2018. And what are your hopes and plans for 2019?
And if Hannah and some of the others who have been away happen to pick this up, it would be lovely to hear from you – your voices here are missed.
What a shambles. A deal to leave the EU no one likes. A shower of utter shits who willed this thing all bailing out and looking after their own careers. A PM who inherited (her choice, so sympathy can only go so far) an impossible task and who at least is sticking to it, and showing a sense of duty, but clearly can’t deliver. An opposition who is adopting a tactic to keep shtum and let the Tories destroy themselves which makes electoral sense but is hardly an honourable position.
So where now? If the deal gets overturned in Parliament as it surely will, will May hang around and take the view that given Parliament cannot sort this, the only alternative is a second referendum? Is this all a masterly long game in which she anticipates that second vote leads to a vote to Remain, and the whole thiing goes away?
Whatever happens surely history is going to judge Johnson, Gove, Rees Mogg et al very very harshly. I can thing of few examples of such utterly venal self interest in British politics.
Ed Vulliamy has written today in The Observer in praise of Taylor Swift for expressing explicit political views in favour of the Democrats, of LGBTQ rights, and against what she describes as ‘the systemic racism we still see in this country’. These might seem unexceptionable views to express, but Vulliamy’s points are that, firstly, she has a lot to lose with her middle America appeal, and, in particular, that such an explicit political stance from a pop star is pretty rare these days, compared to the late sixties/early seventies.
He has a go at a number of stars for their political silence. I don’t agree with that – I have never felt that musicians should be obliged to speak up politically, any more than they should be beaten up when they do so. But he has a point, doesn’t he, about the relative political tameness of major pop stars these days? Or are there in fact plenty of current examples out there? My sense is that there is plenty of political songwriting going on, but that its a different kind of politics – of gender, identity and behaviour rather than geo-political protest. Recent examples welcome.
‘Hey Jude’ was released in the U.K on 30 August 1968. The link below the video is to a nice Guardian piece on the song pointing out that it is probably now The Beatles’ most popular song (though I’d have thought ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let It Be’ must run it close). All McCartney songs – Lennon’s most popular is surely ‘Imagine’.
I can vouch for its enduring global appeal – at an outdoor concert I was at in Shanghai recently, featuring orchestral Beatles numbers, it was ‘Hey Jude’ and those na-an-nas that had the locals singing and swaying along. Hey Jude Hitmakers, indeed.
People tend to be a bit sniffy about ‘Hey Jude’ but I’ve never understood why – it worked when it came out and it still works now half a century later. Long may it run.
What does it sound like?:
Olivia Chaney’s first album, ‘The Longest River’, released in 2015, was a work of huge promise. Since then she’s worked with The Decemberists on the Offa Rex album, and the Kronos Quartet on their Folk Songs record. Now, her second solo record, ‘Shelter’ sees her spreading her wings as a songwriter, and more than fulfilling that promise. Here is a collection of songs bound together by echoing themes and narratives, in a production by Thomas Bartlett which seems simple but in fact in its simplicity and lack of adornment is utterly compelling.
In the title track Chaney pleads plaintively for the listener to persist in giving her shelter from her demons, over a simple acoustic guitar backing. In Dragonfly, the sight of a dragonfly in New York takes her back to memories of her childhood, this time over piano and strings. The loveliness of the chorus belies the hints of darkness in a lyric thinking back to her mother ‘I look back to see that someone stole her time’. ‘A Tree in Brooklyn’ opens with the arresting matter of fact line ‘Father’s a drinker, rolls down the stairs’, and tells of a close » Continue Reading.
What does it sound like?:
The album opens with a simple strummed mandolin introduction; and then the warmest sweetest vocal Ry Cooder has given in years as he launches into the Pilgrim Travellers 1950s gospel song ‘Straight Street’. Son Joachim comes in with some gentle drums, and, glory be, there’s the great team of Bobby King and Terry Evans (who has sadly died since this recording) together with Arnold McCuller with perfectly weighted backing vocals. It’s Cooder, it’s King and Evans, it’s a revived old American classic you’ve never heard before, and all’s right with the world.
The album is full of stuff like this. Cooder established himself in the early 70s as a one man curator and rediscover of American folk, blues and country song, and here he is doing it all over again.
There are two Blind Willie Johnson songs from the 20s and 30s. ‘Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right’ Has a wonderfully funky groove with superlative slide guitar, and backing vocals perfectly locked in. ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is funeral in pace; it’s dark and full of foreboding and fear, and as powerful a version as I’ve ever heard.
The title track and Rosetta » Continue Reading.
There’s been a bit of a stir over this year’s Pulitzer Prize for music. It’s almost always awarded to a classical composition – winners have included Samuel Barber, John Adams, Steve Reich and Elliott Carter, with the occasional concession to jazz artists like Ornette Coleman.
But this year the panel gave it to Kendrick Lamar for DAMN. He’s not only the first hip-hop winner, he’s the first winner in anything that might be defined as ‘pop’. Not before time some say: a sign of the decline of western civilisation say others (particularly following Bob Dylan being given the Nobel Prize). Personally I’m just amazed that he’s the first. And looking at the winners I see a lot of music which is and probabaly always will be largely unknown and a sense that most contemporary classical music is pretty much irrelevant.
Here’s a New York Times article discussing what this all means (link is below the video).
I have two tickets for Courtney Marie Andrews at Gorilla Manchester on 22 April which I can’t use now (am going to the Liverpool gig instead). Anyone like them? They’re £14.70 each but happy to accept, say, £15 for the two, so they get used. PM me if interested
So it’s Saturday night, Spurs are in the FA Cup semis, Ireland have won the triple crown, there’s a paella cooking up nicelly on the stove, bottle of French red opened and all is well with the world. The soundtrack tonight – Vans really very good last album of new songs Keep Me Singing.
When it comes to Bob Dylan, I’m a completist. I’ve got all the official albums, and whenever he releases a new one, however awful it is, I know I’ll be parting with my money. Same with Van Morrison. I’ve been invested in his records for so long it’s too late to stop now.
Of course compared to many here I’m a complete lightweight. I’ve never bothered with bootlegs, and even with the Official Bootleg series I’ve restricted myself to the 2CD sets rather than the big shiny box sets. But still, that collection from ‘Bob Dylan’ to ‘Trouble No More’continues to give me a lot of pleasure.
Except there’s been a big Christmas shaped hole in the middle of it. For some reason I’ve never been able to bring myself to buy ‘Christmas in the Heart’. Until today. I finally cracked in HMV today – at £3.99 it would have been rude not to. I listened on the drive home from work. And what a gloriously funny, barmy, joyous record it is. When I wasn’t singing along at the top of my voice (even less tunefully than Bob it has to be said) I was grinning from ear to ear. » Continue Reading.
Anyone read the winner or any of the rest of the shortlist? Anyone care?
I used to religiously read the shortlist and discovered many fantastic writers and novels (and some duds) as a result. But the balance of good v bad seemed to shift in more recent years and I lost interest. Picked up the thread again last year and read five of the six, but ye gods….
This year’s list hasn’t interested me in the least to date, with the one exception, as it happens, of the winner, Lincoln in the Bardo which I read a review of when it first came out and thought it sounded interesting. Will give that a go at some point but not sure about the rest of them. And meantime I cannot imagine that any of them are better than Sebastian Barry’s unbelievably great ‘Days Without End’ which unaccountably didn’t even make the list.
Thoughts from the Afterword’s literary critics?
It’s early days but I’m really enjoying Neil Finn’s new record Out of Silence, as I did his last, very different, album Dizzy Heights. It was recorded in various sessions put out live on Facebook (the films are all online) but the record stands up on its own beyond the notion of that particular experiment . It’s darker and more sombre than much of his best known output, both in lyrics and in the largely piano and orchestral arrangements. Maybe that’s a function of age – he’s 60 next year – maybe just the subject matter he has taken on, including the Bataclan murders in Terrorise Me. But it’s beautiful in a largely minor key, understated way.
I’ve dipped in and out of Crowded House and Finn brothers’ solo material. But the more I listen the more I think that there are very few songwriters since the 60s who can match his unerring ear and ability to write wonderful melodies. The comparison with Paul McCartney has been made so many times it’s become a cliche, but you can see why. He shares with McCartney and a few others like Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, an apparently effortless ability to » Continue Reading.
This month I have a significant birthday. Over the last few weeks I have been creating a playlist of 60 tracks for my 60 years – songs which in one way or another have been important for me. Some have particular memories; some are simply tracks I love. I’d got to 60 although it’s a work in progress – there are plenty on there I’m not sure about and many I am sure I have missed. But last night I added this as a 61st. Marie Courtney Andrews’ ‘Honest Life’ is the most recent record I’ve bought and I’ve been playing it a lot these last few weeks. She’s 26, my daughters’ generation. It must be hard to be original at that age, certainly if you’re ploughing a country singer-songwriter furrow. Listening to the album I can hear echoes of plenty of older artists who are either on my playlist or could be – Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Nanci Griffith. So there’s nothing especially new here.
Except that nobody has written these exact words before, and set them to this particular melody, and sung them in this particular way, and set them to these particular » Continue Reading.
For anyone interested in Randy Newman I heartily recommend the first part of a two part interview on Radio 2; part two still to come. I could listen to him talk and play his songs at the piano all day. And, oh my, what songs. More than any other songwriter I can think of I find his songs sound better and better the older I get. The new album sounds promising too.
Discuss. We often have here. Personally I think its demise is exaggerated. But guitar makers and sellers aren’t so sanguine…
Mardi Gras was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s final album. After 4 years of magnificent music making across six albums, the band was falling apart. Creedence had always been one brilliant control freak with an average, workmanlike three man rhythm section. John Fogerty was songwriter, lead singer, lead guitarist, provider of keyboards saxophone or any other additional instrument, producer and arranger. The others had a fraction of his talent, and none of the say. By 1972 they’d had enough. Brother Tom Fogerty had left. And Doug Clifford and Stu Cook wanted more input. So in an action of artistic suicide Fogerty gave it to them. They wrote and sang three songs each. Clifford’s were bearable but completely undistinguished. Cook’s were just awful. And Fogerty was clearly exhausted, pissed off, and, for the first time, simply didn’t care. The one positive note is that the album has one genuine Fogerty classic, the last song on their last album, Someday Never Comes.
In his corroscating Rolling Stone review Jon Landau described it as ‘relative to a group’s established level of performance, the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band’. He may well have been right. But this was 45 years » Continue Reading.
I was looking up Duke Ellington on The Allmusic site this evening and noticed that they baldly and unequivocally describe him as set out in the heading to this post.
Are they right? The word ‘all-round’ is important here I guess in that I’m not sure exactly what it means but it feels like a qualification and a caveat. I think it means that he was able to work in the genre of jazz but take it across into classical, film music and widespread acceptance- thus he had an ‘all-round’ impact second to none. But I’m not sure. Take it out and leave just ‘greatest musical figure of the 20th century’ and he may still be a contender, I suppose. But I’d plump for Shostakovich, for my money the greatest and most fascinating ‘classical’ composer of the century. Paul McCartney is also a clear candidate. Any others?
I don’t know enough about public opinion in Scotland to know if Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to a second independence referendum is a brilliant political move or a major error. People could very easily turn against her call, seeing it (as May has tried to present it) as putting political opportunism above the national interest. But if the majority of Scots are pro EU they may well see it as a smart move to apply more pressure on the government to step back from a hard Brexit and to win concessions for Scotland.
One thing has become clear in the last week – the interventions most likely to cause real problems for the government in the next couple of years are going to come from the SNP, or the Tory’s own ranks but not from Her Majesty’s official Opposition.
What does it sound like?:
Laura Marling’s sixth album has women at its centre. The word ‘he’ doesn’t appear at all; almost every song features a woman as its subject. The ‘she’ of these songs could be lovers, friends, rivals, mothers, women seen from afar, the singer herself. The songs constantly move between first and third person, and they may be the same person, or they may not.
The title Semper Femina is Latin for ‘always a woman’. She is at different times strong, vulnerable, suffering a broken love affair, feeling the rejection of a friend, taking inspiration from another woman, worrying about the planet, worrying that she is doomed to repeat the same mistakes throughout her life. She is ‘fickle and changeable’, but Marling takes that phrase from the classical Roman poet Virgil and defiantly co-opts it as a slogan for life:
You’ll be anything you choose/ Fickle and changeable are you/ And long may that continue.
Time and again Marling shows the ability of a short story writer to create a whole character, or situation in one or two lines
I know she stayed in town last night/ Didn’t get in touch
You want to get high?/ » Continue Reading.
I know we’ve done live albums on more than one occasion before, but still, it’s a rich vein.
I was listening to Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now, Vols II, III and IV yesterday and marvelling at what a remarkable record it is. And the arrangements really make it. There are eleven people onstage including Morrison, and every part has its own lines, distinctive and clear. Strings are invariably used on rock records to provide a gloopy background, but here the quartet has a real role to play with lead lines and melodies enhancing the songs throughout. Ditto the two brass instruments which are never just reinforcing noise. Jeff Labes’ keyboard and John Platania’s guitar weave in and out with the texture of a jazz ensemble.
The playing is fantastic, and, above it all, Van’s vocals magnificent as he goes from bullhorn to whisper and back again in a stroke. What you hear is the essence of all great live albums – musicians feeding off each other, off the audience, and off the moment in a way that can never be created in the studio.
Many of my favourite live albums do this – Allman Brothers at Fillmore » Continue Reading.
What does it sound like?:
I was thirteen when The Yes Album came out, but I only really became aware of it, and the band, a year or two later when all of my mates suddenly seemed to be listening to Yes, ELP, Genesis et al. I remember being dragged along to see them around the time of Tales of Topographic Oceans. However I don’t think I have ever knowingly heard a Yes record all the way through. As far as I was concerned in the 70s Yes were the acme of pompous prog rock with its classical pretensions and sub Tolkein and Lewis Carroll lyrics. Needless to say, the fact that I had never listened to them properly was no impediment to my trenchantly holding this view.
Anyway in recent years I have occasionally scoured the Spotify vaults to catch up with ‘classic’ albums and artists which have somehow eluded me thus far. Tonight it has been the Yes Album. And bugger me if it isn’t a much much more enjoyable listen than I expected.
There are only six tracks, but there is far less endless keyboard nonsense than I expected (maybe that came later with Rick Wakeman?). » Continue Reading.