World Cup Playlist, 2006
It’s the same thing every four years. No, I’m not going to fall for it. Overhyped. Over-everything. Then, as D-Day approaches, the butterflies start fluttering, thousands of them – the World Cup is upon us, and, boy, don’t we know it. My desk is groaning under the weight of glossy supplements and special editions, posters and calendars which will soon fulfil their fate – in the recycling bag. White vans break the speed limit in residential streets, blurs of metal whizzing past primary schools and hospitals, knocking off the odd pensioner, scaring the living daylights off lollipop ladies, with St George flags stuck on the roofs, flapping like the wings of a demented bat. I borad the bus, shaken, and what do I see on giant billboards? David Beckham asking me to use Gillette blades to mow the facial hay. And I fall for it, again. Next Saturday, you’ll find me at Bush Halll, yes, that Bush Hall, gawping at a giant screen filled with men in shorts and questionable haircuts. For this glorious venue has succumbed to ‘World Cup fever’, as they’ve, ahem, imaginatively described it in their newsletter. Where I once stood crooning ‘Nightingales’, you’ll see Lennon doing his stuff; not John, mind you, but Aaron, the tricky Spurs winger. And Owen – not Clive, Michael. And James, twiddling his gloved thumbs on the bench – not Elmore, but David. Good thing too. I know he could play a mean slide, but with muffs like that, hey? Please do stop, I hear you begging.
So my new playlist is composed of songs and tunes as far removed from ‘soccer’ as can be imagined; no excerpts from the Bend It! compilations (‘guilty, your Honour’); and definitely not Franz Beckenbauer’s or Kevin Keegan’s *pop* singles. For this kind of fare, I refer you to my good friend Arnd Zeigler’s excellent new book (One Thousand Perfectly Legal Football Tricks, just published in Germany), where such horrors are dissected with the hand of a sadistic entomologist.
While I think of it, and since I’m quite fond of non sequiturs these days, I’d like to recommend you a few books for your summer holidays, which have also got bugger all to do with making the onion bag bulge with leather. Following the advice of Jonathan Coe, I’ve dipped a toe, then a foot, then my ageing body whole into the oeuvre of GK Chesterton, and have developed a passion for his wondrously imaginative prose. The Father Brown stories are well-known, or used to be, and quite splendid they are too, if sometimes formulaic in their construction. The true wonders of the fattest men of letters of the Edwardian age lie elsewhere, notably in a novel, The Man Who Was Thursday (what a title!), and in the insanely funny collection of short stories The Club of Queer Trades, which is not about what you think, filthy scoundrels, but about the activities of a group of gentlemen who belong to a trade of which they happen to be the sole practitioners. Jouissif, as we say in French. And I am glad to report that Alasdair Mclean of The Clientele shares my obsession with this soul-expanding, rib-splitting literature. Which leads me to another favourite, whose ‘The Best of Myles’ will accompany me on the trip to Paris I’m about to embark upon. Flann O’Brien is best-known (though not by many) for Swim-at-two-birds and the astonishing Third Policeman, a hellish tale of such originality that it killed his career as a ‘serious’ novelist. Think Borges (minus the coldness), think Kafka (but much funnier), think Joyce (but far more readable), and you’ve got O’Brien, who spent much of the reminder of his career writing a deliciously bizarre daily column for The Irish Times – until his death in 1966. The Best of Myles is a compendium of these columns, and has just been reprinted. But Flann O’Brien was not renowned for his prowess on the contrabassoon, so I shall move on, shan’t I?
Come to think of it, Donald Fagen doesn’t play the contrabassoon either. What he does, and better than at any time in his career since The Nightfly (released when many of you could only sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star), is write and sing songs in a beautifully elegant language that, unfortunately, few others know how to speak. His latest marvel, coming after the disappointment of Kamakiriad, bears the title of Morph The Cat, and, no, it is not a concept album based on the works of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Freud, maybe. More precisely, about one of the two life pulsions identified by the cigar-chomping psychoanalyst – Thanatos – that’s death, in Greek, or, in WC Fields’s rather arcane expression, The Man in the Bright Nightgown (incidentally, the title of one of the record’s seven-and-a-half tracks). Fagen hasn’t sounded that relaxed since…let’s say Katy Lied, to me the most satisfying of all Steely Dan’s albums. He also seems to have recovered in full the melodic sense absent from most of his output since the magnificent ‘On The Dunes’, the stand-out track on Kamakiriad (for Fagen fanatics, a quick insert here – ‘On The Dunes’ was written in 1982, as part of the aborted follow-up to The Nightfly. No, no, that’s nothing. You’re welcome.) I invite you to zoom onto ‘The Night Belongs to Mona’, the truly affecting tale of a young(?) woman who has found refuge in a world of all her own, dancing in her flat while the city sleeps, except Donald, of course, whom I suspect has aimed his telescope at her balcony. Will she jump? Won’t she? We’ll never know. ‘But the night belongs to Mona/When she dances all alone/Forty floors above the city/CD’s spinnin’/AC hummin’/Feeling pretty’. Call me sentimental, but that ‘feeling pretty’ gets me every time. Fagen was never renowned for his gift for empathy; wrongly so, in my opinion (‘Deacon Blues’, ‘Charlie Freak’, ‘Pearl of the Quarter’ – listen, you can hear a heart beating in there). However, Morph has empathy in buckets. And a superb air of generous detachment about the confusion of our times, particularly in America. Oblique references to Bush’s tinpot empire abound. Could ‘the fire downtown’ refer to 9/11? I think so. And if the superb two-chord wonder that is ‘Mary Close the Garden Door’ revisits the paranoia of ‘New Frontier’, it is, this time, not at the expense of the Red menace, but of the Texan bastard.
As one expects from a Fagen record, the musicianship is phenomenal (hats off to the harmonica player), but…what did I say?...relaxed. Tight, inventive, acrobatic at times, but always relaxed. Very little, if any, studio trickery was called upon; a bit of pro-tooling here and there, mostly, I suspect, on some wizard vocal harmonies. This is great music, let loose by musicians who can’t believe their luck to play such first-rate material. Magnificent.
Compared to this classic, most the rest fits in the category of, well, ‘the rest’, with the notable exception of one of Chris Evans’s recommendations (thanks again, benign uncle), Luke Temple’s gorgeous Hold a Match for the Gasoline World (Mill Ponds Records/Iris, available as a download from emusic), which contains my *single* of the year, ‘Old New York’. Temple, of which I know next to nothing (except that he also released a 2-track CD, B-Bird/Painted Blue on the same label two years ago), possesses a gorgeous voice that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Millennium album. He also writes delicate pop songs, with a keen ear for not-so-obvious chord and key changes; light, but not lightweight; poetic, but not maudlin. A terrific record for the summer…
…as is Fantastic Something’s ‘If She Doesn’t Smile (It’ll Rain)’. I know I’ve harped about this one before, but this luminous folk-pop tune – first released as a vinyl single aeons ago – was almost impossible to find, despite having ‘worldwide hit’ written all over its 3’14” of bliss. Thanks to Cherry Red joining the emusic fraternity, this is no longer the case. A search for Fantastic Something will lead you nowhere; go for ‘Ambition - The History Of Cherry Red Records Vol. 1&2’, and you’ll find this absolute gem (Everly-like harmonies, and the best use of 12-string acoustic guitars I’ve ever, ever heard) ; it is the sixth track on the second ‘volume’ of this topping compilation. No excuses, guys!
Now, last, not a recommendation, but a question for the Angels. BBC 4 (bless their little cotton socks) recently broadcast a superb documentary about Vivian Stanshall and the Bonzos…late in the programme, an irritatingly uncredited piano track – apparently recorded very late in Stanshall’s tragic career – was played over wistful images of Bristol, where he’d lived on a cargo ship (you can’t make things like that up), which doubled as a floating theatre for the staging of his one and only opera (Stinkfoot). A big hug to anyone who could identify this beautiful quasi-lullaby, angular as a Steely Dan banjo.
I’ll leave you with this thought for the day: every summer should be a summer of love.
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Many charges can be brought against Led Zeppelin. Plagiarism, as Bert Jansch and the late Willie Dixon found out; ridiculous haircuts; a rather nasty streak of misogyny in lyrics that, most if not all the time, would make a 16-year-old diarist blush (and not just because of their content); misuse of violins (though not on Kashmir); drum solos; and please feel free to exercise your teeth on other bones of contention. But, speaking of bones, of all the skeletons that have been rattling in my cupboard for as long as I can remember (and I do – 1971, Led Zeppelin III), none have made such a din as the baddest hard-rock band of them all. As if they’d been characters from The Corpse Bride copulating on a tin roof, to misquote Sir Thomas Beecham.
Why is it that the delicate, sensitive, popsmith that I’m told I am still fishes out one of his copies (note the plural) of ‘Houses of the Holy’ when little else will do?
Good question. This is what I’ll try and answer now, remembering at long last a promise I made quite a while ago.
I should say straight away that I am in fairly good company when I confess to my love for Led Zep. My friend Saeko Suzuki, as fearsome on a drum kit as she is deliciously refined in real life, swears by them. So does, or so has in my presence, the Hon. Andy Partridge. Even more interestingly, the extraordinary Rob Kloet (the rhythm man in the Nits musical circus of wonders) will not stop eulogising if you mention the name of John Bonham to him, as I did after the Dutch band’s recent gig at Bush Hall. Rob’s ‘drumming’ had had me close to tears after a few bars. Such lightness, such economy, such power. His bass drum was the size was an orchestral grosse caisse – ‘just like John Bonham’s’, he said afterwards around a bottle or two of Shiraz. That cue was enough to launch me into a near-rant about the great man, encouraged as I was by Rob’s remarks, such as: ‘Bonham played up, not down’. Yes, I could see – hear – what he meant. ‘Up’.There was something spiritual about the violence of Bonham’s playing, and genuinely so. Led Zep’s secret was his as much as Plant’s and Page’s and Jones’s.
It is this ‘upness’ of Bonham’s that explains why one of the tracks I keep going back to is ‘The Ocean’, in itself a fairly run-of-the-mill rocker written by Plant about his young daughter, I’m told. Run-of-the-mill – until Bonham unleashes a volley of mini-breaks on the song’s bridge, his snare rolls cunningly combined with down-slides on Page’s guitar. I do not know of any more brutally elemental moment in the whole history of rock’n’roll; and, as with all great music, the effect of it is not blunted by repetition; on the contrary, it has acquired a granite-like awesomeness to me. I can feel it thud in my ears – but I’m not just punched senseless – I can also feel elevated, as if I’d gulped a big lungful of free air and expanded like a balloon.
Some of you may ask what I had for lunch after reading this. Nothing untoward, I promise you. I ‘d warned you – this skeleton makes a lot of noise.
However, if Bonham’s playing is one key (ha – those cross-rhythms on Black Dog…), it is not the only one with works that particular lock open.
Thirty-five years on, when so much of the huff and puff of that era has dwindled to nothing more than a rabbit’s fart on a tarpaulin (ask your French friends where this image comes from), these records have retained their capacity to shock, surprise and seduce. I’m no great fan of the first two, I’ll admit; too much heavy-arsed rock-blues in there for my own taste. For it is (to me, at least) when LZ becomes angular like a Chinese banjo that we’re in for the magic trip. The physical power of their music has much to do with its abstraction. I’m extremely surprised that no-one has ever remarked on the remarkably ‘modernist’ approach to track-construction and, more generally, sound treatment Page adopted on ‘Presence’, one of the most under-rated albums in the rock’n’roll canon. It is black music – as in ‘starless and Bible-black’, from which every hint of ornamentation has been taken off. Even Plant’s ludicrous (and thrilling) vocalising has lost any hint of corporeity; Page, it seems, slowed down the master tapes in order to make his singer gain half-a-tone or more when the tracks were played back at normal speed. Even the guitarist’s brief interjections seem sculpted in a matter that is both hard to the touch – with a grit of its own – and preternaturally smooth to the mind’s eye. Do listen to ‘Presence’ again if you can; and you may agree with me (and my friend Michka Assayas, another great admirer of this opus) that there is little that people find in Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures that cannot be found in a single bar of Achille’s Last Stand, despite the pretentiousness of its title.
For those of a less austere disposition (Presence can be hard work), The Song Remains The Same (the track, not the very ordinary live album of the same name) could be an entry point in Led Zep’s rather bleak but astonishing soundscape. I’ve often played the intro to this song to unsuspecting listeners, as well as the tour-de-force of Page’s carefully-constructed riffing in its coda. ‘What the hell is this?’ tends to be the reaction. And ‘what?’ the comment, after I’ve answered the query. Led Zep, it seems, should sound like Spinal Tap, not like this.
Nor should it sound like ‘Going To California’, a ravishing song which was somehow forgotten in the explosion of ‘IV’; or ‘Gallows Pole’, and most of the B-Side of III, which was written by someone – Page – who could hear things in English folk music that no-one had heard before. Seriously.
In the end, it is all down to prejudice, isn’t it? How could three hairy sessionmen and a hairier vocalist produce something worth hearing three-and-a-half decades later? I learnt long ago that this kind of question wasn’t worth asking. And I also learnt that I oughtn’t be ashamed to have – almost – played air guitar to ‘Misty Mountain-Hop’ in my boarding-school dormitory. Do join in, please. There’s room for a few more people yet.
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No need, no chance to hide it –
the last couple of months have not been the happiest of times.
Still, if the verses and the choruses stank, the coda could not
have been more welcome, if too short. For ten days or so, we found
solace in our Paxiot retreat, doing nothing much more than eating,
reading, diving, drinking, chatting with old friends, drinking some
more, and getting to know how my new gizmo (something called a ‘Zen’,
of which my daughter is tremendously jealous) would perform under
the fingers of one who thought an iPod was something to do with Day of the Triffids. Once I’d
worked out that CD’s could be ‘ripped’ (I told
you I was a Neanderthal in such matters), wa-hey, I was on my way.
At times of doubt, when the need to regroup within the self becomes
a priority, it’s all the harder to stay away from tried and
trusted companions; Jacques Brel is one
of them. ‘Les Marquises’,
his last, and probably best, album sounded just perfect with the
Epirean coast in the background. Fauré’s Piano Quartets and Quintets follow me everywhere, no surprise there;
three Sibelius symphonies (2, 5 &
7) – par for the course; Ravel –
ibid., except that this Ravel was previously unknown to me. Happily
grazing through the prairies of emusic.com, I picked a strange flower
I’d never seen before: Ravel playing his own music, or should
I say, the ghost of Ravel – as these were ‘recordings’
made from piano rolls the composer had executed as early as 1903.
No hiss, no scratches – the pure sound of a modern piano as
he himself played it, from beyond the grave. An extraordinary experience,
almost unsettling at first, before the beauty and the unexpectedness
of the interpretation blow away the distorted perception one cannot
but have of the Sonatine, the Pavane and Gaspard as we have never heard
them. The highlights are many – La
Vallée Des Cloches is everything Steve Reich has dreamt
of, the Pavane a revelation (nothing
saccharine in this reading, which is much faster than any version
you may have heard before); as to those who wrote that Ravel was
a poor interpreter of his own works on the strength of some old
wax rolls and gramophone recordings…wrong, gentlemen, all
wrong. Magic. For those of you who haven’t succumbed to emusic.com
yet, the original CD was published under the title of Masters
of the Roll, Vol. 8: Piano Music of Ravel on the James Stewart
Oh yes – magic – The Magic Numbers accompanied me on this trip; but I have already said much about
Richard Thompson is a regular fellow
traveller of mine; this was a chance to live with his latest album, Front Parlour Ballads, which derives
its title from England’s greatest living songwriter’s
decision to keep out of the traditional studio and cook his soufflés
in his home kitchen. I guess ‘lo-fi’ will and has been
mentioned in reviews of this magnificent selection of thirteen new
songs, to me his strongest collection of material since Mirror
Blue, a record I am mad about. It’s a source of wonder
to me that, having lived in America for so long, the old Hampstead
boy can still draw upon his Britishness with such a sure foot –
and such an elegant hand. ‘How Does
Your Garden Grow’, a modern madrigal of exquisite finesse,
deserves to be included in the Very Best Of… of this masterful
musician (that’d be a huge compilation, agreed). Yes, available
on emusic, too, as is The Richard Swift
Collection, Volume One – The Novelist & Walking Without
Effort. By Richard Swift, yes -
a chap of whom I knew absolutely bugger all until dear Chris Evans
posted some information on this site’s message board. Swift’s
world is an oddly convincing compound of California and Weimar,
with Brian Wilson and Kurt Weill as guides, with vistas of England
(Losing Sleep, sooo late-period
Beatles) enjoyable from many a peak. Chris has mentioned Rufus Wainwright
as a possible point of comparison – yes – Ron Sexmith
too. John Cale? M. Ward. Randy Newman. Can’t put my finger
on it. Swift seems to be a bit of a control freak – the credits
have him as ‘Engineer, Art Direction, Mixing, Artwork, Instrumentation’
(sic), and good luck to him. This compilation of two records (the
first of which, the very extended EP ‘The
Novelist’, tells the story of an aspiring writer in
30’s New York and is deliciously ‘badly’ recorded)
has great focus, and some quite magnificent moments (Looking
Back, I Should Have Stayed Home More), as well as many sonic
surprises which nearly always fall into place with a sense of evidence
that must have required tremendous work, and much, much talent.
One for the present, not the future.
‘Now I’ve got to be gone’…
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Can it be that long since I last posted a playlist on this site?
Dear oh dear. But you who have, I hope, paid regular visits to our
message board, will not be led to think that I have retired from
music – as a listener. If anything, the last few months have
been amongst the richest in discoveries for a very long time, as
far as I am concerned. Yes, even ‘new’ stuff.
The word ‘discovery’ is to be taken with a pinch of
salt. Playing in the background – right now – is Josh
Rouse’s new album, Nashville, which I downloaded
(the very best service of its kind on the web, honestly) a few hours
earlier. My good friend Michael Cameron had introduced me to this
collection of ten sun-kissed songs on the eve of the Cup final in
his Cardiff flat (how convenient is that?); even through a wine-induced
fog, one thing was clear then: Nashville easily compared
with Josh’s magnificent 1972. Playing the record
nearly two months later in my West London office, it is even clearer
now. Tunes I’d heard but once immediately felt like old acquaintances.
There are many reasons why I shouldn’t fall for Josh Rouse’s
charms: the simplicity of his singer-songwriter chord progressions,
for example, something that, with most other artists, is just an
unwilling confession of laziness. But criteria such as this one
do not apply to someone who so intensely, so genuinely inhabits
a gentler, less cynical tradition. Arnold Schoenberg once remarked:
‘There’s an awful lot of good music yet to be written
in E major’; in Rouse’s case, make that E major 7th.
‘Streetlights’, with its beautifully-weighted
string arrangement, sounds like a forgotten David
Ackles classic, with a superb middle-eight which is, to my
ears, is a delightful evocation of The Left Banke
at their most lyrical. More than anything, this music is rooted
in a time, a place, and a distinct sensitivity. Rouse is everything
that Beck should be, if the gazettes were
to be taken seriously, but without the nod-nod wink-wink clever-cleverness
of the latter. When one hears echoes of the Philly sound (‘Saturday’),
the Smiths (‘Winter In The Hamptons’)
or of the Beach Boys (the first two bars
of ‘Carolina’, which sound uncannily like the
intro to ‘Then I Kissed Her’), one never feels like
young Rouse has been playing with scissors and superglue; this is
not a mere montage; this is a serious, and seriously talented songwriter
– and tremendous arranger - drinking from a natural source,
which I find marvellously refreshing.
Back to the Cup final; for it was on my way to Wales that my friend
Amy Lawrence slipped on a white-label CD in her car stereo, and
that I fell in love with The Magic Numbers
– whom, I’m pleased to say, I’ll see open for
Brian Wilson in Brighton tomorrow night.
At the time, the hype machine had yet to get into gear, and the
band was only a bunch of scruffy indie popsters who’d just
released a well-received four-track EP, but certainly not a Top
Ten act in the making. That they have achieved this kind of success
– in the UK, if not anywhere else – is little short
of a miracle. Forget all the music press’s limp-wristed references
to The Mamas & Papas (which still
baffle me), Romeo Stodart and his crew have first and foremost listened
to a lot of girl-group music; which suits fine the Shangri-Las
fanatic I’ll always be. This is unpretentious, but bloody
ambitious music-making; it is not easy to write, and deliver, five-minutes
teen symphonies with what is basically a power trio. That they succeed
to do so more often than not is a measure of the band’s talent.
I’ve already eulogised at length (on the message board) about
the album’s stand-out track, ‘Which Way To Happy’,
which has reinforced my conviction (soon to be tested in the studio)
that pop songs need not follow a linear, repetitive format. Romeo’s
voice may grate with some; try and get used to it: The Magic Numbers
are a vital antidote to Coldplay and their
clones in this year’s charts.
I’m deeply indebted to arch-supporter Chris Evans for leading
me to the wondrous terra incognita of 70’s pop that is Andy
Pratt, a half-forgotten future of rock’n’roll
who went all glam, with disastrous circumstances, around 1973. His
debut album – self-produced, it seems – has been made
available again through emusic (again), and will no doubt feature
quite highly in my revised Top 101 list (which could do with a fresh
coat of paint). ‘Records Are Like Life’ is
one of these UFO’s which have come from some strange place
in the future to startle earthlings like you and me. It’s
quite hard to describe what Pratt’s music is like. Jazzy?
Yes, quite a bit. In a Pretzel Logic kind
of way. But when you think you’ve nailed it, up comes a track
like ‘Low Tide Island’, which I’d qualify as a
psychedelic madrigal, an absolute masterpiece of a song, full of
unexpected twists and turns which do not sound the least bit contrived.
Enough said – just get hold of this absolute gem.
For amateurs of weird and wonderful things, check out Petra
Haden’s almost ludicrously brave re-invention –
with vocals, and vocals only – of The Who’s
greatest album, Sell-Out. Recorded at home on a (not very
good) 8-track machine, this is pure fun and, at times, mesmerising.
Exactly the kind of thing one should take a chance on when browsing
through the emusic catalogue – should they sponsor this page,
Last, a record that was sent to me with copious warning by my Bremen
chum Arnie Zeigler, who needn’t have been so cautious: Michel
van Dyke’s Bossa Nova (EMI Germany) is a cracker
– provided you do not mind a bit of Euro-pop nonsense from
time to time. This album will never, ever, make the Pop album of
the year lists, since it is not so much pop as popular music, an
important distinction for one born on the continent. One song –
the opener, canny fellow! – towers above everything else on
this record: the quasi-symphony ‘Herbst’, which
has the kind of glorious chorus one would expect from a Caetano
Veloso at his very best. Yes, it is that good. And if you don’t
think German can possibly sound like Brazilian Portuguese, well,
listen to this, and we can agree on it later.
Now back to work.
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Playing at gail o’hara’s chickfactor festival (no capitals,
please) a couple of weeks ago turned out to be a splendid occasion,
and in more ways than I could imagine. Bush Hall, a superb example
of victorian rococo, with its stucco friezes and crystal chandeliers,
was a magnificent backdrop for the set that Stuart Moxham
and I had devised; and the place was packed as well. Most gratifying.
But even more gratifying, maybe, was the opportuntiy to chew the
fat with a fascinating set of musicians who were also due to perform
that Saturday. Like Bridget St John – what
a voice, what a presence, and what songs – , who delivered
a very moving eulogy to John Peel, whom we miss
so much, whose absence is fely so acutely and so hurtfully by all
of us in England; he was the man who’d given her her first
chance, back in 1969. You just had to hear one bar of Hole in
my Heart to understand why he’d been so taken with this
But here were other acts on stage that night; one of them was
the Bill Wells Trio. Here’s how The Edge
reviewed their last album, Also in White (Domino GEOG 15,
available through www.dominorecordco.com):
“Pianist and innovator Bill Wells forms a unique silhouette
on the Glasgow music horizon. Although in recent years he has fashioned
collaborations with notable indie figures such as The Pastels, Future
Pilot AKA and members of Belle and Sebastian, his musical background
remains firmly rooted in the stultifyingly conventional Scottish
jazz scene. Through sheer frustration Wells began taking his ideas
elsewhere. The Future pilot AKA versus The Bill Wells Octet LP eventually
emerged in 1998 on Domino records, offering up a remarkable synthesis
of Wells' dark chord progressions and Sushi K. Dade's lo-fi tape
spliced backing tracks.
The first trio album, Incorrect Practice, was released in December
2000 and featured cohorts Robert Henderson on trumpet and Belle
and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson on guitar and harmonica. Also in
White effectively picks up where that all too short record left
off. Beautifully melancholic melodies spring from the heart of the
trio arrangements like haunting laments.
The elegiac motif of Singleton is one of the most unsettling piano
figures ever committed to tape and has the feel of a Stephen Poliakoff
soundtrack. Elsewhere the intricate pickings of Jackson on The Last
Guitar Lesson and the Steve Reich like loops on New Ascending Staircase
give Henderson the space he needs to pull off some of the most expansive
playing this side of Miles Davis' back-catalogue. This is an album
which is literally crying out to be heard.”
Agreed, Sir, agreed. Just one thing missing: the opening track
of that CDLP, Presentation piece No. 1, features one of
the most haunting melodies I have heard in years – since I
discovered a Meirelles E Os Copa 5 instrumental
on an Brazilian Acid Jazz compilation, actually. Stuart and I had
arrived somewhat late for the sound-check; did our thing, then left
the stage to Bill and his two accompanyists. Usually, after you’ve
line-checked, you head for the bar, of for any quiet place where
to collect your thoughts or, maybe, go through a couple of songs
again; but not this time, not quite. Bill started the loop which
runs almost unchanged throughout the nine minutes of Presentation
Piece No.1; then the guitar and the (mutted) trumpet hooked on that
tune of his. We literally jumped out of our seats backstage to listen.
The tune had everything, a lilting rhythm, saudade, bittersweet
harmonies which, as the piece went on, suddenly took a wondrous
turn, heading for the soundscapes Gil Evans designed
for the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. An absolute
classic, a standard worthy of Billy Strayhorn.
Bill’s music is not jazz, though; I even guess some jazzers
will be taken aback by the non-virtuosity of the playing. Bill’s
soloing has echoes of Horace Silver at times, at
his most economical. Nothing flashy, nothing fancy. He just sat
there, noodling alongside his loop, totally oblivious of what soloists
are supposed to do, as if he was stretching his fingers by himself,
discovering those chords, checking if that note fitted in –
yes, it did, then moving on, until the tune came back, that tune
which could go on forever. Magical.
I’ve been told that Bill’s records are pretty hard
to come by. It doesn’t surprise me. His talent is not of the
kind you can flog in a Megastore. Too bad for them. But that’ll
do for me.
God bless Bill, and God bless you all.
…and a post-scriptum: just back from France, where I found
(purely by chance) two records I’d been chasing for a while.
The first, Travessia, was Milton Nascimento’s
debut album, recorded in the blessed year of 1967, just after he
triumphed at the Sao Paulo Song Festival. Travessia served as a
template for a far better-known record, Courage, which
I’ve already praised with purple prose months and months ago.
Those of you who own the latter will find themselves in familiar
territory – as far as the compositions are concerned: the
title track, Tres Pontas and Outubro, for example,
were re-recorded for Milton’s American debut (produced by
Eumir Deodato, in one of his most expansive moods).
As one would expect, the sound is pretty ropey at times; the singer
laid down his vocal and guitar part first; the result was then overdubbed
by Luis Eça (the wondrous pianist/arranger
of the Tamba Trio) and his orchestra. One can hear
the old tape squeaking in the background…but who cares? Milton’s
voice is one of the wonders of the world, the songs are among his
very best, and Eça’s arrangements (sometimes veering
towards atonality) show again why no other musician was as respected
as he was by his Brazilian peers, Edu Lobo included.
The other good surprise was to find – at the price of €7
– a decent Pierre Vassiliu compilation, which
features three of his biggest hits of the early 70’s, which
also happen to be three of my favourite songs of that period. His
name will mean very little to non-French speakers, I know. The French
themselves might be fooled by this singer/songwriter’s later
‘comedy’ records, which were far more successful (Le
Pingouin, and other inanities), and obscured his earlier work,
which is delightfully tuneful, sensitive, and ‘musical’,
for a want of a better word, if there is one. Amour et Amitié
(shades of Caetano Veloso here), Marie
en Provence (killer chorus, the kind of chorus that haunted
my late nights in my teenage years) and that UFO of a song, J’ai
trouvé un journal dans le hall de l’aéroport,
one of those tunes that radios kept playing at night (again) without
ever mentioning its full title – three reasons to part with
very little money if you can, and, maybe, start your exploration
of the terra incognita of late 60’s-early 70’s French
pop, where many a treasure awaits re-discovery.
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Over the past month or so, many who've posted messages on the Sunshine
message board have actively encouraged me to open my ears to a variety
of new and not so new bands (in order to feed off other sounds whilst
I'm busy recording The Wonder Of It All). However, I've
been mostly engaged in a different and altogether more introspective
kind of exercise. I rarely, if ever, listen to my previous albums,
generally finding more to fault or to regret than to be inspired
by; the experience of the recording itself tends to taint my judgement.
Some of you may know that I have a 'problem' with Yuri
Gagarin, for example; the music has something to do with
it: I was not assertive enough in the studio to impose a less severe
approach to the sound than the one we 'chose' in the end. I'll always
regret not to have recorded 'Diamond' much later on - and
that is just one song out of many I've always felt did not receive
the attention they deserved, or the treatment they were crying out
for. But my response to 'YG' is to a large extent non-musical. These
were not happy times, oh no. The undecided intonation of the horns
on the title track reminds me of the constant tension that existed
betwteen Dean and I at the time, and which fortunately disappeared
when we were reunited for Rainfall
and Jean Renoir.
All this long preamble to come to this - my ears finally regain
a measure of objectivity when I'm engaged on a new project, as I
am now. Listening to my previous work makes sense then; if only
to remind myself that there were many occasions when I could have
stretched myself just that little bit further, not through lack
of will or work, but because, when your nose is pressed against
the glass, it's easy to believe that there's nowhere else to look.
This is paricularly true of my singing, an activity which, somewhat
maddeningly, involves both loss of oneself and a capacity for instant
analysis. Because my melodic lines do move about quite a bit, and
generally over an octave and a half at least, 'perfect' (or rather,
as close to perfect as is possible) technical control is a must;
striving for as exact an 'execution' of the part is a pre-requisite;
then I can start to worry about interpretation. Easier said than
done, obviously. I've greatly improved - technically speaking -
over the years; if I listen to 'Farewell Maria' on Rainfall,
for example, I'm struck by how undecisive some of the harmonic lines
sound to me - lack of confidence plays a part, lack of (breath)
control a greater one. I should have had the sense to pick a different
key, for starters. Lesson learnt.
Going back to more successful takes - apart from instilling some
confidence in one's performing abilities, and confidence is something
all singers chronically lack - helps in a different way; a method
which has been used with success in the past can be used again.
On My Favourite Part Of You,
for example, I'm struck by the new vocal tone (which I'd never known
I could utilise) you can hear on the chorus to 'I Need It'.
Trying to replicate it, I found out that I could only do so if the
sound was of the 'ee' family; something to keep in mind when refining
Similarly, I'm quite proud of the second verse of 'Before The
Rain', which has got an almost Robert Wyatt-esque quality in
the upper register - not that there was any conscious decision to
imitate him. What happened happened because of a) complete and utter
belief in Jonathan's beautiful text, and b) a step-by-step progression
on the scale that enabled me to go over my 'break' with my natural
voice without sounding like a chicken being strangled. What I learn
this way can be integrated into my approach to new songs, and improve
the performance - not that I'll ever be happy with one (although
'Jealous', on Delta Kiss,
comes pretty close...). I for one do not believe such a process
of self-appraisal can get in the way of spontaneity, far from it,
since what has been de-constructed is the effect; the song should
carry the singer of its own accord; if it fails to take you down,
it's probably because it wasn't good enough, or too meandering for
the interpreter to find a plateau or, rather, a cliff edge to jump
Mistakes, of course, teach more than successes. One that I have
repeated over the years - though far less since Sunshine,
I'll come to that - is a proclivity to play things rather too safely.
If you hear a line here, a break there - go for it. Don't hide it,
don't be too bloody polite. When Bertrand Burgalat and I were recording
the string parts to 'Rafaella', I came up with the idea
(not extrordinarily original, I confess) to open the song with a
violin glissando, which we duly put down to tape. A few days later,
setting up a basic mix for the track, I set up the relevant fader
at what felt like a 'polite' level; I was probably uneasy to go
beyond that, 'in your face' as it were. Bertrand asked me: 'why
so low'? I can't remember what kind of half-baked explanaion I gave
him; but we pushed up the fader to +3db, and added echo as well.
The line immediately made sense - that's what my ear had heard when
the idea had come up in the first place; I simply hadn't trusted
my ear enough. I now know better, but need to be reminded of past
compromises by listening to my records again. Which is why there
is no 'playlist' this month - but a guided tour of what I've done,
and should not have done, in order to do, now, what needs to be
done. And so to work.
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Would you believe it? I've just bought a Korgis
And all this because I heard Beck's version of
Everybody's Got To Learn Sometimes on the OS of Eternal
Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, the nearly-but-not quite romantic
comedy in which Jim Carrey ACTS and Kate Winslet is a waste of space.
Once out of the cinema, I kept on humming the song's main hook (
you know, the 'I neeeeeed your loving' bit), cursing Beck for missing
out on the beautiful modulation of that passage; like serving sauce
Périgueux with button mushrooms instead of truffles. Back
at home, I cracked it at the piano, and thought - Philippe, there's
nothing to be ashamed of - you love that song, sugar and all - buy
the damn thing. And so I did. You'll have to take my word for it;
the Korgis were all right, a bit better than that, in fact; not
the most inspired of bands, maybe, but they could turn out a tune,
which will do at this point in time, thank you very much.
Far weightier fare is M Ward's latest record,
Transfiguration of Vincent (Matador OLE5782), which I discovered
through my good friend Michael Cameron, the man who also forced
Calexico on me when no-one cared a jot about them.
Bless him. Ignore all those critics who'll tell you that this album
is another step in the transfiguration of M Ward himself - of his
morphing into Tom Waits Mk II. In fact, every new
record of his marks a step in the opposite direction; but it is
enough, it seems, to have a voice that can be qualified as 'gravelly'
and to write lyrics that go beyond the sheer surface of Americana
to be categorised like this. The strength (correction - one of the
strengths) of M Ward is his uncategorizability (ouch); the songs,
though fluid in the extreme, display a remarkable sense of architecture;
and the sound design (not an expression I use in a positive sense,
habitually) of Vincent is astonishing, to my ears, one of the most
imaginative uses, through a process of distortion and lateral transformation,
of all the tricks served on a plate by modern recording devices.
Beck - Ha! here we go again - has tried his hand at this sort of
aural gymnastics, but has never convinced me that he was doing so
out of a sense of necessity, whereas M Ward, well, does. I won't
single out any specific track for praise; but I will recommend every
single one of them to whomever has got an ear, a brain and a heart.
If 'important' means anything in music, this is without a doubt
the most 'important' record of the year.
July 2004, a pretty rotten month in many other respects, will nevertheless
hold a special place in my heart as I finally got my hands on The
Great Lost Kinks Album - in a roundabout way. For
the uninitiated, this record had been available for something like
a couple of weeks in 1973-74, before Reprise inexplicably shifted
its whole stock to discounters. Most of the tracks that made up
this jigsaw puzzle of an album had been recorded immediately after
the sanspareil Village Green Preservation Society, at a
time when a quasi-suicidal Ray Davies was enjoying
the last real flowering of his genius (1968). Reprise added a few
odd bits and bobs to construct an album that made no sense whatsoever,
but contained absolute gems like Lavender Hill and Where
Did My Spring Go. A friend of mine had made a cassette of this
LP in the late seventies, and I'd be looking for the real thing
since then. Hosanna, the quest is over, thanks to the release of
a Village Green 3-CD box-set (Sanctuary SMETD102), which
includes all of this wondrous stuff and will stand as the Theological
Sum of The Kinks from now on. And the price is ridiculous: £8.99
for the lot. Quite nice too to know that it's been in the Top 100
in the UK since its release at the end of June.
There's still hope.
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I know, I know, it's been a while.
I haven't exactly sat there doing niente; far from it; but lovely
football had me well and truly tied to my keyboard, when I wasn't
trying to chase some ex- or current player to give my readers the
benefit of his insight (a big word, in most cases) about Euro 2004.
But that is done, done and dusted. Normal service resumed.
So what have you been listening to, I hear you ask? The answer
is: some vinyl. I was sitting alone at home, when my eye was caught
by the spines of all these albums that had been gathering dust (literally)
on my shelves. Let's get down to it, I thought. So I cleared the
record-player of the dozens of CD's which had somehow been deposited
on its lid, and lifted its arm for the first time in ages.
And the first song to resonate in the living-room was This
Is Love, Come What May, by one of my all-time heroes, Bobby
Fuller. For the anoraks, it was a single which had only
been released in the LA area in 1965 until it resurfaced on a (very
uneven) compilation called KRLA - King Of The Wheels. By
the way, by very uneven, I do not mean 'bad'. I doubt Bobby Fuller
ever recorded a dud; however, what is simply good drag music (that's
cars, not garb we're talking about) and constitutes a good half
of the tracks on that record does not compare with the absolute
gems that more than fill the rest of the grooves - She's My
Girl, The Magic Touch, and the song mentioned above, with its
extraordinarily uplifting chorus and some gorgeous 12-string work.
Yes, 'uplifting' is the first word that comes to my mind when I
think of the Bobby Fuller Four. Next time you have one of those
mornings after the night before, try a dose of Let Her Dance
or Never To Be Forgotten; that should do the trick. You'll
find yourself playing air guitar embarrassingly quickly.
When asked to describe Bobby Fuller's music, and once I've done
with the 'uplifting' side of it, the best comparison I can come
up with is: imagine Buddy Holly playing with Creedence,
in a Wall of Sound production. Why the man is not considered an
absolute genius baffles me. Died too young, yes - but that's hardly
been a problem for some far lesser talents, hasn't it? So do yourself
a favour; shamefully, NO BFF records are currently available in
the UK; but it's possible - just possible - that you might get the
Never To Be Forgotten box-set which Del-Fi put out in 1998
by trawling the net.
Having hopped to the sounds of El Paso's greatest, I then moved
to dear Colin Blunstone, just to remind me that
I Don't Believe In Miracles is one of the ten best singles
ever released. Still is. Since then, I've been ruining my voice
trying to hit the high G of the song's main hook at the piano (I
play this wondrous tune in F, which I know is wrong, but falls better
under my fingers). A humbling experience.
Carrying on my exploration of long-forgotten treasures, I realised
that I possessed no less than 12 - twelve - Machito
albums, and about twice that amount of Cal Tjader's .
Good grief - when was I so much 'into' Latin music? But that gives
me a perfect opportunity to plug a double-CD Verve compilation of
two of Tjader's maddest, and most rewarding, recordings of exotica,
Several Shades of Jade and Breeze From The East, which
I'd been given by a very, very generous Japanese fan some ten years
ago. The first one, in particular, features some of Lalo
Shiffrin's very best work as an arranger. Tjader has this
advantage over the next artist(s) in line, my beloved Microdisney,
the band I thought would change the world in the mid-80's (it certainly
changed mine); at least his records are widely available. Just peeped
into the amazon website and realised that Everybody Is Fantastic
- for all its rawness, one of the best debut albums of the
last two decades - is not. Neither are Clock Comes Down The
Stairs and Crooked Mile. Criminal. Thankfully, my
old vinyl copies are not too scratched yet, and I could enjoy the
tortured lyrics and sumptuous tunefulness of Are You Happy
another half-dozen times. Cathal Coughlan once told me he considered
this track to be their finest; or rather, the finest example of
the way his and Sean's lyricism could be combined in a single moment.
The coda, with its heartbreaking slide guitar lick, could and should
go on forever; one gets the impression that, somehow, they played
it on and on, and that, somewhere, they still do. I'd like to go
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This playlist should come with a black border, as France lost one
of its great voices on the 4th of this month: Claude Nougaro,
who died in Paris, aged 74. I'd mentioned his name a couple of times
in this space before, I think. A name that is almost unknown outside
of the French-speaking world, when it should be alongside that of
Jacques Brel, so outstanding an artist he was.
He was not the tallest of men; he was not nicknamed 'The Little
Bull' for nothing - his energy was astonishing, as was the power
of his beautifully controlled barytone. Some of my earliest musical
memories are linked to the superb recordings he did in the early
to mid-sixties, with the help of arrangers and co-writers like Michel
Legrand and Jacques Datin. Nobody knew
how to twist the French language around the syncopations of jazz
as he did; nobody else could have put - beautiful - lyrics to tunes
as re-hashed as Dave Brubeck's 'Blue Rondo A La
Turk' as succesfully as he did, a tune which, sung by him, became
a breathless, and breathtaking first person account of a botched
robbery ('A Bout de Souffle').
But Nougaro was not just a 'cannibal' putting jazz standards through
his French mincing machine. His most beautiful songs were original
compositions, which showed him capable of expressing extremes of
despair ('Une Petite Fille') and tenderness ('Blanche-neige', or
'Cécile', a love song to his newly-born daughter, imagining
her own discovery of love: 'May you ever be touched as I touch you
know/My breath on your eyelashes/A kiss on your mouth in your child's
sleep/Cécile, my daughter'.)
Those of you who are familiar with my él recordings may
remember my first single for the label, when Louis Philippe was
still The Arcadians - it was a Claude Nougaro classic, 'La Pluie
Fait des Claquettes'. I could have covered many others - 'Le Cinéma',
for example, another tale of unrequited (or rather, unconsumed)
love, told with his usual wit: 'On the black screen of my sleepless
nights/Where I make my own films/Once, twice, ten times/I show that
sequence again/You fall in my arms/I shoot every night, on Sundays
too/Sometimes - the bell rings - it's you/Will I grab your hips/As
I do on the black screen of my sleepless nights//No - I say - 'How
are you'/And I take you to the movies'...
So Nougaro will not sing again of his beloved Toulouse, the town
of his birth, which inspired the most gorgeous of his melodies ('Toulouse',
what else?). Thankfully, his recordings are still widely available
- starting with his fantastic first album, Claude Nougaro
(Philips B00006AKTN). I don't think I need to make any recommendation,
or to carry on any further; like millions of Frenchmen, I feel dimished,
amputated of a small but essential part of myself.
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"Why are you always listening to the same music?"
The questioner was my daughter Camille, aged 12, whose own tastes
have changed a bit since she used to sing the oboe line which opens
The Rite of Spring. That was eight years ago. She quite
liked Poulenc's Les Biches, too. That
was before Beyoncé 'burst' (bust?) on the
scene, of course, and before 'Posh' acquired a new sense in her
dictionary - and I'm not talking about the Spice Girls.
Everything that is not hip-hop or r'n'b is 'posh'. Horace
Silver, for example. Which brings us back to...
"Why are you always listening to the same music?"
In fairness, it's true, over the past few weeks, I've always been
listening to the same music - Horace Silver. Over,
and over, and over again. That, and a bit of Moloko.
I'm very partial to Roisin Murphy. And to Scarlet
Johansson. But I digress.
One January afternoon, not feeling too wonderful about anything,
I entered the Virgin Megastore on the Tottenham Court Road; trying
to ignore the racket generated by all the X-Box anoraks in the entrance
hall, I made straight for one of the upper floors, and to the relative
peace of the Jazz/Easy Listening section (a combination that is
new to that shop, and to me too). I'd hoped to find a copy of Dudley
Moore's incidental music for Bedazzled (no such
luck). Something else caught my eye - brand new re-masterings of
Horace Silver's Blue Note recordings.
I bought the lot. I'd always cherished 'Songs For My Father',as
you'll know if you're a regular visitor to these pages; his other
albums I knew by proxy, happy to know they existed, but unwilling
- so far - to delve deeper into them. 'What a fool I was'...
'Six Pieces Of Silver'; 'The Stylings Of Silver'; 'Blowing
The Blues Away', 'Horace Silver & The Jazz Messengers';
how could I have lived without that? For now I can't.
Silver, as I've since explained ad nauseam to some friends of mine
who can't quite bring themselves to enjoying jazz, was not so much
a composer as a songwriter who happened not to write lyrics. He
had - has - a genius for hooks, tunes and arresting chord sequences
that should appeal to anyone with half an ear for Pop. Not for him
the formulaic 12 bar theme, followed by extemporisations, rounded
off by the re-stating of the theme, which bears the pants off those
who can't see the point in spontaneous composition. More
Ellington that Parker, whatever hard-boppers
might say, Silver loved to frame soli within 'new' arranged sections,
middle-eights, bridges, whatever you may call them, just like Duke
did. Yes, Horace wrote songs. And his great quartet of the late
50's swung like hell. All rise for Louis Hayes,
the funkiest - and most elegant - drummer this side of Art
Blakey. As years when by, Silver, who had a fabulous knack
for writing memorable blues-structured themes ('Dodlin', 'Sister
Sadie', 'Senor Blues', at least one classic per album), allowed
himself to show a more melancholic persona, and gave us such wondrous
things as 'Peace' (on the Blowin' the Blues Away LP),
with its gorgeous modulations and superb ensemble writing.
Talking about gorgeous, what about Scarlet Johansson, hey?
I'd better stop here. Next month, don't bet against Charlie
Mingus making a guest appearance in these pages. Till then,
Top of Page
Yes, I know - am I dead? - have I gone deaf? - why is that that
no new playlist has been put on the site for ages?
I wish I had an answer to the last question. My ears are still
working, and I haven't passed into the great beyond yet. It was
more a case of: what and whom could I possibly talk about that I
haven't already, erm, talked about?
Time has been in short supply too. I wish I could say that has
been the case because Danny and I had been rehearsing the new album
in the Bahamas. But no. No rehearsals, no Bahamas. Instead, babies
galore (Danny, Richard Preston and David Longdon, if you must know,
are now proud fathers of their first child) and, for me, an awful
lot of writing about an awful lot of things, some of which has been
published, some will, some may, and some won't. In truth, I have
spent more time watching the Arsenal at Highbury than in the studio
- or, simply, at home, listening to music. The few idle hours I
get here and there I try and spend at the piano, scribbling away
with my concrete fingers. However, some habits you can't lose; when
I've tired of my own tinkling, and that has been often, I've tried
and refresh myself by listening to a few things, most of them familiar
visitors in my sitting-room. But let's have a look at the new faces
A long time ago, I worked for the strangest of classical music
magazines; I say 'strangest', because it was bankrolled by Richard
Desmond, the bearded pornocrat responsible for such publications
as 'Readers' Wives' and 'Asian Babes'. This mag was called 'CD Classics',
not a very imaginative title I agree, but I plead not guilty on
that matter. As its features editor (who'd been hired thanks to
the recommendation of a friend who thought I knew a bit about the
subject), I was able to assemble a pretty decent collection of recordings
at no cost until the ineluctable happened: Desmond (whom I saw once,
chumping on a cigar, and looking down on us as some weird kind of
pond life) pulled the plug. I was also put on the mailing list of
every bloody orchestra and publisher in the bloody country, which
means that, years later, I still recycle a bag of unopened press
releases every bloody week.
However, and apologies for this rambling preamble, it also means
that, once in a blue moon, something nice happens - a new record
is delivered by my dyslexic postman; and that is how, in mid-December,
I discovered Richard Rodney Bennett's 'Concerto
For Stan Getz', which had been recorded by John Harle
for EMI. I should say at this point that I am no fan of John Harle;
I interviewed him at length once, and, pleasant as he was, I could
not digest his catholic approach to music-making, and his just-about-holier-than-thou
attitude regarding the need to 'popularise' classical music; which
means, as you know, not playing classical music at all, but something,
well, a bit third-stream I suppose, if you forgive the anachronism.
As to Bennett - I only knew him though his (perfectly respectable)
Then I put that concerto on, and I was...not enraptured...but charmed,
delighted by its lightness, and its sincerity. Harle is no Getz
- too much beef in there, not enough breath, and breadth - but acquits
himself perfectly in a very simple, very touching piece, which is
highlighted by some gorgeous scoring for strings. The result is
more Hollywood than Rio, yes, but carried with a lot of style and
understatement. Les Baxter fans would be well advised
to check this work out.
One track I think I've never mentioned, and that's my mistake -
but the only copy of it I have is on a third-generation cassette,
and my tape player has been kaput for a while - is Georgie
Fame's Hideaway (now available on The Best
of Georgie Fame 1967-1971, Collectors Choice 4851272). Fame
is known for two things; firstly, he has the reputation of being
a harder bastard than Van Morrison; secondly, 'I
say yeh-yeh' (great record, forever ruined by the Matt
Bianco cover). Hideaway is different. Pure escapism, miles,
thousands of miles away from the blue-eyed r'n'b that Fame churned
out (quite well) in the late sixties. The chord progression in itself
is a wonderful little thing, always turning 'the wrong side' when
you least expect it.
Not many of you will have heard of Qigang Chen.
I hadn't until we went to Saddlers Wells to see the Chinese
National Ballet perform a staging of 'Raise the Red
Lantern'. The dancing itself was ravishing; but what captivated
me the most was the music composed by Mr. Chen for the occasion.
Like many Oriental composers of his generation (he's 60 or thereabouts),
Mr. Chen fell in love with Messiaen (of whom he
was the last pupil) and, through him, with 20th century French classical
music, which he then absorbed into his own, more abrasive, language.
He might never achieve the notoriety of a Takemitsu
- well, I don't know, actually, if any more records of his music
get released over here. The only one I know of - the one I've been
listening to - bears the evocative title of 'Iris Dévoilée'
(Virgin Classics 5455492), which I understand to be the portrait
of a woman's various moods. I'd like to meet her, if she's anything
as beautiful and dreamlike as the music she has inspired. The CD's
just out, so getting it should not be any problem.
I've saved the best for last, but that is a best you'll be familiar
with if you've read these playlists for a while. My most treasured
family heirloom is a beautifully-bound score of Maurice
Ravel's 'Sheherazade' - not the youthful orchestral
overture, but the song cycle inspired by three Tristan Klingsor
poems. And if there is ONE Ravel recording I could take on my desert
island (can I have a second, please, Maazel's version
of l'Enfant et les Sortilèges'?), it is Simon
Rattle and the CBSO's rendering of 'Sheherazade'
(EMI Classics), the most intoxicatingly tender, erotic even, of
all of Ravel's works - even more than 'Daphnis' - yes,
yes. Maria Ewing is the featured soprano; I know
that her voice is supposed to lack power in the theatre, but I couldn't
care less in this case. Her voice is so sensuous, so sinuous, that
she gets away with murder - ie floating through whole lines without
much regard for Ravel's incredibly complex rhythms within rhythms
(2 over 3, 4 over 3, 5 over 4, 4 over 6, you name it). Rattle is
always there to let the ship sail, straight as an arrow through
the wind. Do I feel sad - depressed - inconsequential - anything
- that is the one recording I go back to, score on my lap, my whole
body and mind in Heaven.
At which point I must play it again, and wish you all a gorgeous
New Year, replete with wine, song and love.
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How to select CD’s for a holiday in the Greek sun... let’s
see... a lot of rummaging, boxes of records falling on my head,
CD writer gone to the knackers’ yard... It should be easier,
shouldn’t it? But it wasn’t. But it’s done. A
small selection – I travel lightly – and no big surprises.
My Brazilian home-made compilations are in there (of course), a
couple of Calexico albums, Lucinda Williams,
Miles, my own best-of Prefab Sprout
(strange how I’ve been coming back to them since I heard I
Trawl The Megaherz), an hour-and-a half of Beach Boys
favourites, Honnegger’s Pastorale d’été,
William Blezard’s Celtic Lament,
a sprinkling of Vaughan Williams (The Lark
Ascending, nothing fancy), a smidgin of Delius
(A Village Romeo And Juliet, the Beecham orchestration),
Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left, and
the demos Stuart Moxham and I have been recording
together, just to check they really need the remixing that the Great
Man From Cardiff thinks they do (I don’t). Very catholic,
and very conservative. I can only go on holidays with old, trusted
friends, I suppose.
Meanwhile, when I was not devouring another of Haruki Murakami
sublime novels (try Sputnik Sweetheart, if you haven’t
caught this Japanese bug already), or tracking down another delicious
eccentricity written by J.L. Carr (he of One
Month In The Country fame), it’s been pretty quiet on
the old stereo, as it usually is when I’m working in the studio,
or polishing off a few songs. Just time for a bit of Sandy
Salisbury, some old stuff by the Neal Hefti orchestra
(The Art of Arranging) and... what else? I must be forgetting
something. Yes, Richard Thompson, Beeswing,
one of his greatest lyrics. I don’t know if I’ve already
told you that, but seeing Richard Thompson on stage,
alone with Danny Thompson on double bass, ranks
up there in the Top 5 of the greatest concerts I’ve ever been
privileged to attend, together with Brian Wilson
(of course), Steely Dan (yes, yes), Simon
Rattle conducting Malher’s 10th symphony
and Ian Dury & The Blockheads at the absolute
top of their form, back in 1980 – the only band I have actually
followed on the road, and, God, am I thankful for that.
Thompson, of course, is an oddity. Everybody knows
the man’s a genius, the best English songwriter alive today,
the greatest guitarist in the galaxy, etc., etc., but half of my
friends haven’t got a clue who he is, what he’s done,
what they’re missing. Is it THE BEARD? It must be. Thinking
of it, unless you are known for your beard (Bonny Prince Charlie,
ZZ Top, GB Shaw, Tony Almeida - I digress) , embeardment is a bad
career move. The minute Eminem grows a beard (can
he? can he?), my daughter will hide her copy of 8-Mile.
I’ve worn a beard myself at times, if “wearing”
is the term. It didn’t do wonders for my career either. I
should have a word with Sean O’Hagan on the
subject, by the way; he’s getting perilously close to letting
his mutton chops crawl over his cheeks; the moment the invasion
will be confirmed, I’m sure the High Llamas
will bleat in the wilderness. Jim Morrison lost
his voice when he turned into Yogi Bear. Lennon
looked like a prat, poor Brian like a Bowery bum,
Ian Anderson like a bum full-stop. Quick check.
I am clean-shaven at the moment. But Richard Thompson
isn’t! So please don’t judge an artist by his pilous
system, and grab everything he’s recorded with Mitchell
Froom, then what he’s recorded without him.
Time to pack the insect repellent now. And the razors.
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A great deal of the records which end up on my hi-fi system
- or is it stereo these days? - only end up there because a good
friend managed to shake me from my apathy, tied me up on their sofa,
and forced me to listen to them. Now, who’d have guessed I
would ever recommend a Jeff Beck album? Not me.
Hendrix excepted, I’ve always viewed guitar heroes with a
circumspect eye, probably because I knew that I would never be able
to play that FAST, and that that long-haired girl in form 6A would
not agree to join her voice to my strumming (ahem), whereas she’d
be warbling if I could play the chords of House of the Rising
Sun in the right order. That’s how bad I was, and why
the 70s were a decade of sexual misery for me.
This confession made, You Had It Coming (Epic 5010182,
2001) is a quite remarkable album, coming from a musician who’s
spent most of his life pouring notes from his instrument like a
diarrhoeic hound. The sound is tight, brutal even; and the record
worth buying for an extraordinary version of Muddy Waters’
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, sung by Imogen
Heap, which puts every single metal band I’ve ever
heard to shame. Pure electricity – and incredibly imaginative
use of break-beats in a straight blues context. I promise you, it’s
Similarly, I’d never even thought of buying the recent Timpani
recording of Gabriel Dupont’s La Maison
dans les Dunes and Poème (a World Premiere
recording) if my friend Jonathan Coe had not assured me it was one
of those ravishing pieces of music that got lost in the wake of
Stravinskian neo-classicism and Austro-German expressionism. Both
pieces were written in the first two decades of the 20th century,
when Dupont was one of the great hopes of the French classical scene.
He died very young, and was quickly forgotten as the First World
War tore Europe, and European culture, apart.
Some of his accents are quite Fauré-an on first acquaintance,
without the wintery abruptness of the latter’s last compositions;
some modulations evoke the Ravel of Miroirs; but the voice
of Dupont, even at its most agitated, retains an essential gentleness.
Why works such as these are not regularly performed is a mystery
to me, and hats off to the Timpani label for rescuing them from
almost total oblivion. More please.
This said, nobody needed to advise me to go and listen to Colin
Blunstone and Rod Argent performing in Bloomsbury a few
weeks back; I’d have stolen tickets if I’d had to. For
those who had been at a previous Jazz Café gig, the repertory
held few surprises – some Argent, the bare minimum, thank
God; a generous selection of Zombies favourites, including the heavenly
Beechwood Park; a few new tracks – of a very high
standard -, including the lovely Sanctuary, from their
2001 album Out Of The Shadows; and, the cherry on the cake,
absolute marvels like Misty Roses, Say You Don’t
Mind and I Don’t Believe In Miracles, taken
from Blunstone’s far too small oeuvre.
A bonus was the presence on stage of the very best string section
I’ve ever heard in a pop context; they could be good: they
were members of the Duke and Eroica quartets. Which leads me to
plead with any of you who hasn’t already got Blunstone’s
two classic albums One Year and Enismore to do
something about it, and quick.
Not much space left. Ha, my Led Zeppelin Top Ten will have to wait
– again. I’ll give you a clue: Going To California
is in it. Stairway To Heaven isn’t. Blame it on that
long-haired girl from 6A...
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As my lovely webmistress is currently holidaying in the Greek
sun, no choice but to use this message board to let you know what
I've been listening to over the past few weeks. I probably should
have listened to a little bit more, judging by some of the recent
postings on the site. I promise I'll make an effort next time. But
maybe not right now.
I was toying with the idea of giving a good airing to the skeleton
in my musical cupboard, ie publish the list of my Top Ten Led
Zeppelin songs (things like Going To California,
to give you a hint of what's to come) - when I played Paddy
McAloon's new album for the first time - after which all
such thoughts deserted me.
I Trawl the MEGAHERTZ is every bit as extraordinary as
Nick Kent's recent review in Liberation makes it to be. As soon
as the first, quite beautiful theme of the opening "song"
filled my sitting room, I knew I was in for something very, very
special, the answer to all the doubts McAloon has had over his own
music for a very long time, and which had conspired to make Andromeda
Heights such a let-down.
The new album, of course, is not a Prefab Sprout album; no Wendy
Smith, no Thomas Dolby in sight. No vocals either, except the astonishing
delivery of the MEGAHERTZ monologue by one Yvonne Connors,
the mysterious recitante of a mysterious work which is also the
most achingly personal of all his oeuvre. I guess many fans who
were swept away by things like Cars And Girls will be checking
out their CD for confirmation that it is indeed the same man who
wrote that music.
It does not make for comfortable listening - a virtue, in my book
- even if there moments of sheer, luminous beauty throughout. Think
of a symphonic poem (quite beautifully played throughout) which
casts one eye towards Steve Reich and the other towards the Stravinski
of Orpheus and Dumbarton Oaks, though with far
more emotional immediacy. What the general public will make of it,
I don't know, and could not care less about. This is a record I
will listen to again and again, a companion if you will, just like
Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom has been for
many years; it does not hide the pain behind its conception; it
dwells on it, it feeds from it, it is its own catharsis.
Anything else is pap. I guess it would not make any sense to mention
any other records after this. Comments welcome, of course.
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I'll start with a very strong recommendation to switch off
the stereo and run to your local cinema to watch Lukas Moddysson's
new feature film, Lilya 4-Ever, which is the most harrowingly
beautiful film I've seen since Breaking The Waves. End
of the trailer, back to music.
I rarely, if ever, listen to my own records; but from time to time, as I rummage in my DATs drawer, I come across something that I had totally forgotten about, and that's what happened when I played Loveletter's (that's Simon Turner to you and me) quite extraordinary album for Siesta. Yes, extraordinary. We recorded it at breakneck speed; all I remember of my own input - apart from going through an unreasonable number of bottles of wine with producer Richard Preston, but what's new?, and hours putting together the intricate backing vocals to Penelope and Through Spray-Tinted Glasses - is plugging my classical guitar in a Vox AC 30, and happily blasting away distorted chords over such psychedelic marvels as the Bee Gees' Red Chair Fadeaway, which drummer Andy Lymn swears will be played at his funeral. One of the most curiously affecting records in Simon's curiously affecting catalogue...
April was, for the most part, a jazzy month. Horace Silver, Miles, the Tamba Trio, and a wonderfully lyrical - and swinging - version of Bill Evans' Waltz For Debbie, recorded by Cannonball Adderley with the composer. Many thanks to Danny for giving me this record a few years ago. Any more of those gems to follow, perchance? Reading a biography of Gil Evans made me go through my precious Claude Thornhill LPs again, and spend some well-used time to listen to the ravishing Snowflake, over and over again, and again. I'm actually sure I nicked a line from this tune somewhere, but where? Couldn't say. It had happened to me twice already. First, when I quite unconsciously lifted the first verse of Baby (a song given to the King of Luxemburg) from... the East German national anthem; then, when I, just as innocently, appropriated a full eight bars from the standard You Go To My Head for... I won't tell you which song. I'm too embarrassed to tell you.
Apart from that, what with the football season coming to a climax
(a disappointing one for the Gunner I'll always be, enough said),
and countless games to watch/commentate/write about, I've hardly
had time to listen to anything. Whatever spare time I've had has
been spent at the piano working through the songs which might appear
on my next album... about twenty of them, at the moment, which I'm
sure will be whittled down to a couple when I'm hit by one of my
customary crises of confidence. Still, a man's gotta do etc. And
may Arsenal win the Cup. There are only so many
suicidal thoughts I can go through in the space of a month.
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“Un seul être vous manque, et tout est dépeuplé” - “You miss a single person, and the world is but a desert” – yes, poetry is untranslatable. All French schoolchildren have learnt this line from Lamartine’s Méditations, I like the others. It has become a bit of a cliché; it is still true, however. On 2 March, an old man named William Blezard died at his home in Barnes. He was 82 years old, and I loved him dearly. I’d met him through his daughter, an old friend of my wife, who’d mentioned en passant that he wrote music. I soon found out that this absent-minded, incredibly clumsy gentleman wrote wonderful music, and it is this music I have listened to since his death. Bill loved Ravel, as I do. We’d spend hours at his home talking about our hero, I with the enthusiasm of an amateur, he with the sweet science of a true composer, able to sing by memory almost every single orchestral part from L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, the piece we revered above all others.
Later on, a bit sheepishly, I approached him – could he arrange a couple of my songs for piano and voice, so that Danny and I could perform them on stage? Bill obliged, and offered us two astonishing tour-de-forces – re-inventions of “Deauville” and “Ainsi Va Sa Vie”, which we later recorded in the studio. He’d found amazing harmonic twists in what were already pretty complex – for me – compositions, inserting ravelian discords in my orderly progressions. And Bill was generous, too, praising some melodic turns, delighted that a young chap like me, a pop musician for goodness’ sake, could dare using unusual devices in the tired format of the pop song.
It’s true that Bill was no fundamentalist (in any areas of his life); he’d been Joyce Grenfell’s and Max Wall’s accompanyist, had orchestrated a Noel Coward symphonic work, had been Marlene Dietrich’s musical director, organised impromptu soirées with the likes of Swann & Flanders, counted not one, but two Avengers girls among his friends, including the great Honor Blackman, who delivered a heartfelt eulogy at his funeral. Totally incapable of handling his more mundane affairs – to the point that he never even bothered to hire an agent – he continued all along to write superb music that broadcasters and record companies ignored until it was nearly too late. Thank God, over the last couple of years, the world finally woke up, and Bill saw many of his best pieces recorded on a variety of labels. I’d like to name two of those works, which I have listened to with much emotion since his death; the first, Two Celtic Pieces (English Oboe Concertos, ASV-White Line CD WHL 2130), could be described as a fantasia for oboe and orchestra, a gentle elegy very much in the mould of English pastoralism, suffused with an exquisite sense of enharmony. The other, a much darker, quasi-mahlerian “conversation between strings” entitled Duetto (English String Miniatures, Vol. 3, Naxos 8.555069), remains his masterpiece, better than anything Finzi ever wrote. To me, it proves how the “minor” composer he was reputed to be could have become a “major” one, whatever that means, if the powers-that-be had not effectively banned from the airwaves, and the concert hall, all new music that didn’t fit in the plinky-plonky, post-Darmstadt, post-this, post-that, aesthetics of the 50’s and 60’s.
Knowing him was a privilege. So was discovering his music. God
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Short month, short list, with an American slant to it…
I finally remembered we’d bought the fourth of Johnny Cash’s albums for American Recordings/Lost Highway (The Man Comes Around), which I hadn’t even bothered unwrapping before this very month - a very foolish thing to do, as it turned out. It would be in very bad taste to say that the tall dark one is in top form on this one, as we all know how ill he has been over the past couple of years. But, just as with his previous collaborations with Rick Rubin, this is the sort of record that makes the spine tingle and the eyes water. Cash is accompanied by Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers on many of the selections – minus the drums, a stroke of genius on Rubin’s part – and the result, if not as raw as Johnny Cash (the first of the series), is just as poignant. How great a singer he is is shown by the pathos he is able to instil into old chestnuts like In My Life, The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, Danny Boy, and, believe it or not, Bridge Over Troubled Water. But the Everest of this magnificent singer’s album is an absolutely extraordinary cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, a slow, dark, menacing, gathering storm kind of ballad which never quite gets to explode like, say, Roy Orbison’s It’s Over– one of the songs I want to be played at my funeral – and is all the more powerful for that. Astonishing, really.
Nothing else I’ve listened to over the past few months compares to The Man Comes Around in terms of sheer emotional power; so I’m a bit hesitant to add other albums to that playlist. Following a luminous gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I’d just like to mention Calexico’s latest CD (their best to date), Feast Of Wire (City Slang 5816932), a beautiful collection of tuneful Americana delivered with a rare sense of elegance by one of the very best, and most underrated bands of the moment. Going back to that gig at the Empire, it struck me, once again, how vastly superior all US bands seem to be in live situations – superior to UK outfits, that is. The reward of non-stop touring in far from ideal conditions? Maybe. But I rather feel that our American friends have kept faith in craftsmanship (here I go again) when “we” (well, not me, but you know what I mean) seem to content ourselves with presentation… or something less than that, but the words fail me at the moment. By the way, full marks to Calexico for a good rant on stage devoted to a certain GWB. It certainly got me going.
I told you it would be a short list. Just some news to finish with:
My Favourite Part of You, as you know, is out on March
25th in France. I’m now told that there will be domestic releases
in Germany and Canada shortly after that, with distribution in Scandinavia
to follow. More details soon on this website.
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It started as my daughter was practising something sounding fiendishly difficult on the piano, missed a beat, and banged a chord to express her displeasure. And that chord triggered the memory of a very special song…“Love…Love will keep us together”, na-na-na-na-na-na. What a tune. What a beat! I‘d first heard it in the small hours of the morning, in my father’s car, driving towards a summer camp in 1974. Neil Sedaka had written it for The Captain and Tennille, for whom it was their only hit in Europe. In many ways, this was a throwback to Sedaka’s Brill Building years, the one place where I’d have loved to be a salary man, one tune a day, no nonsense about people writing their own material, just craft, craft, craft – and empathy with the pop audience of the time. So my Led Zeppelin Top Ten, which I have promised for a few months now, will have to wait some more. Let’s go back to NYC circa 1961. I’ll have my all-time favourite Elvis tune (Marie’s the Name of his) Latest Flame – Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. A lot of Carole King, of course – It Might As Well Rain Until September (ah, that middle-eight), Hey Girl (again, sung by Freddie Scott), Up On The Roof (The Drifters, as if you didn’t know) and anything she wrote for the Everly Brothers. Let’s add a sprinkling of Leiber and Stoller (they didn’t write it, but who cares?, their unbelievable version of Fever for Alvin Robinson). Lots of Mann-Weil, and not just their Righteous Brothers hits…
Just received a phone call from XIII bis records. A release date has just been given for My Favourite Part of You. Thank God for that. My new album will be in the shops on March the 25th, and THAT IS DEFINITE.
back to the playlist, now .....
A recent visit at my favourite wine bar in the universe (Albertine’s, 1 Wood Lane, London, W12) was made all the more pleasurable by a long conversation with a few of the place’s regulars about our favourite Beach Boys moments; moments, not songs. This kind of pointless discussion delights me, and should prove to you that whatever I’m wearing, the anorak is never far off. No agreement was reached – which wasn’t the point of the thing anyway. But I’ll tell you what I told them. “10:30 I turn my radio on/Some group was playing a musical song”….recognise it? I Went to Sleep – the texture of the voices is simply gorgeous. Next: “Guess you know I’m/waiting for you girl”, the acrobatic turnaround from chorus to second verse in Let Him Run Wild, so unexpected, and so elegant. Let’s Go Away For A While – the slide guitar lick in the coda of that beautiful track, when it seems it is going to fall apart. Sail On Sailor – the incredible modulation to E major 9, what else?
But the record I’ve been listening more frequently, and with more pleasure, than anything else throughout the last month has been the magnificent David Whitaker compilation just released by Tricatel. It is called, somewhat misleadingly, the David Whitaker Songbook. The misleading bit is “songbook” – yes, there are some songs, which David arranged for people like Nico, Marianne Faithfull, Lee Hazlewood and Long Chris (strange to see the name of this French popster appearing in this list, but La Petite Fille de l’Hiver is just like a sweet wrapped in snow) – but the greatest moments of this great record are the instrumental selections, excerpts from his own fantasy album, Music to Spy By (Mancini plus sex) and from the OST to Hammerhead, a film I confess I did not know existed. For all of you who love Neal Hefti and Ravel, this is a must, a revelation. My only reservation is that it features a re-mix he did of an Air “tune”. But nobody’s perfect, even if David Whitaker comes damn close to it. And the sleevenotes were written by Andrew Loog Oldham. In Bogota. So that’s where all these Rolling Stones royalties ended up, then?
A word of consolation to finish with: we will all die one day,
and that includes George Bush.
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Late again. Why is that? So many things to do – and, no, that does not include Christmas shopping – aaaargh – so little time – so many football games to go to – so many books to finish – a record coming out next month (fingers crossed) - and here I am, wondering if I have actually listened to any music this month. I have, yes, not as much as I’d have wished to, but I have. Is it the sound of sabres and much worse rattling on both sides of the Atlantic? I‘ve had to remind myself why, despite all the posturing, the deceit, the lies and the baleful wish to police the globe of the GW Bush administration, part of me still loved America. Which America I mean you can guess if I tell you this month’s main guest on my CD player has been the great Randy Newman. Love Story, Germany Before The War, Baltimore, Sail Away…and Rednecks, of course. I’ve sat down at the piano, trying to bone those plump and delicious songs, and, heaven knows, it ain’t easy. I’m not exactly breaking new ground stating that Randy Newman is the greatest orchestral arranger of his generation – the most inventive, certainly – but I’ll add my voice to the chorus anyway.
When I have felt down, which has been too often, the best cure for S.A.D. I have found has been the Trojan 3-CD Rocksteady compilation – all of it excellent, of course, but with my all-time favourite rude boy song, Ba-Ba-Boom, by The Jamaicans (sometimes credited as The Ethiopians, I’m told; these things could be unclear in Kingston circa 1968). It has a devilish quavering motif on the electric guitar, and uses one of my own pet devices (ostinato riff/pedal point below alternate chords, one tone apart, thank you very much – enough of that) better than anything else I know.
A friend of mine who’d worked on a documentary about Francis Poulenc last year was kind enough to pilfer video copies of every single British TV programme ever devoted to my hero – plus some treasure chest stuff found in the archives of the INA. Watching these has been a delight – especially hearing old Poupoule chatting about his music with the kind of charm, modesty and wit that probably went forever with him. A poignant interview with his muse Denise Duval prompted me to listen – again and again – to one of his most extraordinary pieces, La Voix Humaine; he’s written music which is easier on the ear, but little that is heartbreaking as this one. La Voix Humaine is the monologue of a dumped woman, alone with her telephone, desperately trying to win back her lover, hurt enough to contemplate suicide, and attempt it, but too fragile to commit it. It’s not for kids, and it’s definitely not for cretins – that’ll do me.
On a lighter note, since my upstairs neighbours have moved, we’ve been temporarily granted the privilege to have our house to ourselves, which means we can play very loud music, very late, but not very often, I assure you. My daughter, who is approaching a …delicate phase of her existence (she’s 11) gets terribly embarrassed by all this, of course, even when I play one of her favourite tracks – You Only Get What You Give, by the New Radicals. I am not surprised Gregg Alexander decided to retire after recording this – how could he do anything better? This tune – straight out of Holland, to my ears – has the strange quality to turn me into a wild 16-year-old for a little under 5 minutes - a remarkable achievement, considering I thought I’d been turning into Kingsley Amis lately.
Apologies for not keeping my promise to share with you my ultimate Top 10 Led Zeppelin songs. This will come. Too many of us Zep fans are bullied these days, especially when you’ve been described by a journalist as “someone who speaks Bacharach-ese fluently” (I loved it, of course). That’s another New Year’s resolution for me. Which leads me to wishing a you a Merry Christmas, and thanking you for putting up with my ramblings over the last twelve months. I need no encouragement to carry on doing so (rambling), but thank you all the same.
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Yes, "novembre", since I've been listening (mostly) to French chanson this month. I knew my Michel Legrand from my Michel Collombier before I realised The Beatles existed, so I expect it's quite natural that I sometimes relapse into old habits - wholesome habits, of course. And since Michel Legrand is the first name I dropped in this conversation with my flagging memory, let's start with him. Unless I'm very much mistaken, it was he who arranged one of my all-time favourite recordings by a vocal group, Tout Bas (the French language version of Kurt Weil's Speak Low, a rather ambitious version of which I did on my Jean Renoir album), waxed by Blossom Dearie's Blue Stars over half a century ago. This record has unfortunately been out of print since I was in knickerbocker shorts, so trust me: it is as good, as inventive and as creamy as anything by Five Hits and A Miss or the Hi-Lo's. Who? I see I'm showing my age again. Let's say the Four Freshmen.
Michel Legrand it was too who co-wrote most of the songs on Claude
Nougaro's first 10", in 1962 or 63 I think, and that
record, thank God, is widely available again in CD format. I brought
back a brand new copy from my last escapade in Paris., and have
been playing Le Cinema and Une Petite Fille non-stop
since then. The English scriptwriter Dennis Potter
once talked of "the songs you hear from the top of the stairs",
when you're tucked up in bed, and your parents have asked a few
friends to play charades, bridge or something naughtier. Une
Petite Fille is one of those songs for me. Its breathless tempo
and beautiful modulations are a perfect setting for Nougaro’s
unique jazz/operatic style. "Une petite fille en pleurs/dans
une ville en pluie/ou est-elle nom de Dieu…" You could
hear the raindrops crash on the pavement as Nougaro chases his love
through Paris. Nougaro also sang impossibly tender ballads like
Cecile and Blanche-neige. And they say French
pop is crap. Maybe it isn't pop? Maybe it's better? Things like
Jacques Brel's Je Suis Un Soir d'Ete do
not exist in the English language, I'm afraid. Or George
Brassens' Les Passantes, with its marvellous tune,
to which there seems to be no obvious beginning, and to which you
hope there'd be no end. Or Les Freres Jacques'
Madame la Marquise a dit, a supremely witty, delicate sucre
d'orge of a song, wrapped in orchestral puff pastry. I suppose I'm
surprising myself; I was not conscious that those songs still had
the power to move me so much. Just a passing phase, probably. Next
month, expect Louis Philippe's Top Ten Led Zeppelin
songs. Will Achilles' Last Stand make the shortlist? En
attendant, un bon mois de novembre à tous et à toutes.
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Let's start with a plug. I popped in at the recent chickfactor
extravaganza at the Bush Hall, London (great venue, by-the-by), just
in time to miss Harvey Williams (ooops) and to catch up with most
of a superb gig by The
Clientele which proved that Alasdair Mclean's band is improving
by the day - tight sound, tight songs, excellent vocals - probably
the fruit of their heavy touring schedule in Europe and the US over
the past couple of years. Any recommendation? Yes. Their last LP,
Suburban Light (Pointy
Records), is as good a place to start from as any, even if my
favourite remains Lace Wings, if only because it is through
this record that I discovered their echo-drenched urban melancholia.
Any news of Johnny Cash anyone? I recently played his fabulous
Rick Rubin produced American Recordings 1994 album, which
reminded how small I felt when I had the privilege to sit a few
yards from him at a Later With Jools session. Many great songs on
that record, but I'll give a special mention to a Nick Lowe
(yes) composition entitled The Beast in Me. Spine-tingling
And now for something
I must have mentioned this "melodie"
before, but who cares? I've played Fauré's Le Secrettime
and time again over the last few weeks. I remember now - I talked
about it a couple of months ago. My memory is really going to pieces.
Who cares? What? Did I already say that? Who cares!
The closest I've ever felt to being a woman (pardon?) is every
time I've slipped Hejira in the CD player. It took me years
and years to realise that the only reason I couldn't stand Joni
Mitchell was because she scared me. Understand: I was scared
of the other half, beyond the big divide; women
I mean, what
ARE they? (that's the teenager speaking, the same one who couldn't
walk up to the pretty ones in the classroom) How long I managed
to hang on to my immaturity astonishes me. Hejira (and a couple
of other things) sorted me out in double-quick time, and remains
one of the loveliest, most beautiful pieces of music ever recorded.
By a woman. Ah, Coyote
Burt Bacharach never scared me, honest. Listening to most
of his songs is like slipping in a deliciously-scented bubble-bath
(probably with someone else) - but there is another Burt, whom I
love even more, much darker- songs like The Last One To be Loved,
for example. But the one track I keep coming back to bears the unlikely
title of Fool Killer, an eerie murder ballad he'd written
for a film that, to the best of my knowledge, was never made. Gene
Pitney recorded the title track, and, believe me, that is the
must of the month. The tune meanders through half-a-dozen key changes,
and features the most imaginative string arrangement I have EVER
heard on a pop record... which reminds me that I've intended -
and repeatedly forgot - to mention Dudley Moore's Bedazzled
(Original Soundtrack album recently re-released, I believe - I've
just got the single), which is a shame, as hardly anybody cared
to mention how talented a musician he was when he died. That makes
two musts for the month. And that'll do.
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So it's back from two weeks' holidays, and the nose back on the
grindstone... well, not exactly, but something like that. I have
a lot of catching up to do on the football front (- you might know
by now that this is one of my means to earn a crust -) and I have
hardly disturbed the piles of CDs which have gathered dust in my
absence. But we need a playlist, don't we? So I'll cheat a bit.
I had dinner with Anthony Adverse not long ago (- no, no reunion
record planned); a friend present at this orgy told us how she used
Squeeze songs to teach English to her Italian pupils in Florence
(poor thing). What a good idea, I thought. Let's have some Squeeze.
And we did.
Over the following hour or so, I was reminded of, not only how
much I loved Cool for Cats and East Side Story, but
also what has been lost by English pop over the past fifteen to
twenty years. Squeeze was a band of all-rounders, who felt equally
at ease with almost any genre of popular music - soul, r'n'b, rock'n'roll,
synth pop, you name it - and still managed to sound like themselves:
witty, tuneful, sometimes poignant. This craft they had learnt on
stage, of course. And that is what has been lost. It might surprise
some people who think of me as an effete pop supremacist, but back
in 1974-5-6, I was more likely to spin a single of Ducks DeLuxe
(Good Rockin' Tonite, can you believe it?) than a Millennium
Being born in Normandy meant my friends and I were far more aware
of what was happening just across the Channel than across the Atlantic.
We knew of Doctor Feelgood, and Graham Parker, and
Nick Lowe, and Kilburn & The High Roads before
anybody else on the continent, and not a few people in England,
through the network of fanzines, small labels, and specialist shops
which had appeared around that time in Rouen, Le Havre or Portsmouth.
I loved pub-rock, which was anything but the greasy rock you might
have expected. It is through pub-rock that I discovered the Everly
Brothers, for example - Buddy Holly too, and the Dorsette
brothers, and Northern Soul. Squeeze, though not strictly
speaking a "pub-rock" band, fitted the description. For
starters, all the band members were proficient instrumentalists
who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music. Their songwriting
was English to a fault, quirky but socially aware. Their front man
was not particularly good-looking (a universal rule in the world
of pub-rock groups). And I loved them. But there was a band I loved
even more at the time, and which has now been completely forgotten...
Why The Distractions were ever signed by Factory no-one
could possibly understand. Their best singles (Boys Cry,
the sublime Time Goes By So Slow, honestly the best pop tune
of that period) and their album, Nobody's Perfect, had nothing
to do with Tony Wilson's ethos. And they disappeared, completely,
when the label dropped them in 1981. If you trust my judgement at
all, do anything you can to lay your hands on Time Goes By So
Slow - it would make a stone cry, as we say in French. And you'll
thank me. Mike Finney's voice sounded a bit strangled at times,
but had a strange loveliness to it, and Steve Perrin-Brown, the
guitarist, knew how to write a striking melody, that's for sure.
All this reminiscing has left me a bit emotional, so I'll end up
with a track that never fails to lift me higher and higher, as Jackie
Wilson said: Never To Be Forgotten, by another of my all-time
heroes, Bobby Fuller, available on God knows how many compilations.
John Fogerty meets Phil Spector, megatons of echo. I'm going to
play it RIGHT NOW.
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Jonathan (Coe) and I share a perverse interest in "minor"
20th century composers; people who did not set themselves to revolutionise
music, but created works of great beauty nonetheless. One of these
was Miklos Rosza, whom everybody remembers as a Hollywood
musician, but who never stopped writing "serious" scores
between film commissions; I owe it to Jonathan to have directed
me towards his Concerto for Violin, which was written for
and recorded by Jasha Heifetz in the 50's. I finally found
a more recent version of it (on the Telarc label), and what a lucky
boy I am! The slow movement is a gem, with a very simple - almost
plain - theme that has haunted me since I first heard it. Think
Copland (Appalachian Spring) meets Vaughan Williams
(The Lark Ascending), with a sprinkling of Hungarian folk
music, and you've got it. Absolutely delightful.
A brief visit to Paris enabled me to get my hands on a new copy
of Henri Sauguet's Les Forains (Michel Plasson
conducting the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, on EMI
CDM 7 63204 2), a ballet score that was one of the first pieces
of music to move me - I must have been 5 or 6 at the time, I think.
Playing it today, it has lost none of its power on me, and reminds
me of why I am still French, nearly 20 years after leaving my country
for good. Listen to it, and you'll understand why. And good news
for those of you who might now be convinced by my constant rants
about the brilliance of the Tamba Trio: a double-CD compilation
of their best music is now available (title: Tamba Trio Classics)
- and widely distributed on the continent, I've been told. It was
certainly there in Paris and, yes, it is now in my collection.
One of the perks of chatting with the fans through the site is
that, from time to time (quite often, in fact), I do get demos and
CD's sent to me, some of which are well above average. Scott
Brookman's For those who like pop (Twee
Kitten Records tk-012) is one of them. One track in particular
caught my ear: She Smiled At Me, the "hit" of the
collection, which has got a totally unexpected modulation in its
chorus. For a few seconds, it is as if the tune has slipped on a
patch of ice - in the middle of summer. Very nice. Scott's voice
reminds me of (strangely) Robert Wyatt; I say "strangely"
because I could not begin to tell you why this young American should
have anything to do with the Canterbury man. But it has got great
character, and it's a relief to hear someone who has actually put
some effort into writing decent material, some of which is on the
"does he really mean it" side of whimsy - The Undersea
World of Sherlock Holmes (Main Title Theme) is a (basket) case
in mind. Thanks, Scott.
Should I really confess it? I'm a bit jealous of those guys at
Rev-ola, the label run by Joe Foster, which keeps putting
out superlative pop records from the likes of Millennium, Eternity's
Children, Sandy Salisbury and the like. Why? Because I thought
that I was one of the 57 people who cared for this music, and realise
I am not that special after all. It has now become the worst-kept
secret in pop; a blessing no doubt - but I'm almost disappointed
it has become that easy to have access to these gorgeous songs.
I thought you had to be worth of them, spend ages tracking tapes
and demos and forgotten singles and whatnot. I know: pathetic elitism.
So buy the whole Rev-ola catalogue! It's an order!
As I prepare to pack for my customary two-week vacation in Paradise
(the island of Paxos, in the Ionian sea), the same problem arises:
which records will I bring with me? And, yet again, I find myself
going straight to my Steely Dan box-set. From year to year,
the only difference is: should it be Pretzel Logic - again?
Aja? Well, it seems I'm leaning towards Katy Lied this year.
Pop in my street, and the chance is you'll hear me trying and fit
another vocal line of top of Doctor Wu's chorus (incidentally,
one of my top 5 favourite Dan songs of all time). So Katy Lied
it will be.
And a bit of Taj Mahal as well. A German friend recently
gave me a copy of one of Taj's more recent albums (Taj Mahal
and the Hula Blues, 1997, on a German label called something
like "Tradition & Moderne Musikproduktion", I'm not
too sure), which totally changed the preconceptions I had of his
work. I thought he was just a half-baked Ry Cooder, who'd
happened to be born black and been around Woodstock or Monterey
or another of those godawful hippy get-togethers. Mea culpa, mea
maxima culpa. Taj Mahal makes delicious music - hawaian blues which
manages to sound absolutely effortless (a misleading word) while
striking me with its rythmic and, yes, harmonic, complexity.
What else? Some Gil Evans, to listen to while I read his
biography, which Danny kindly gave me for my birthday. Maybe
Out of the Cool - superb album - a music of affirmation, a loud
"yes" to life, which speaks to the brain as well as to
the heart (and the feet). That'll do for a definition of good jazz,
Just a thought to finish with: I am really annoyed with people
who keep spelling "its" "it's". There. I just
wanted to get this off my chest before I left. I am becoming an
angry old man. Is it serious, doctor?
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I keep thinking about a Nusch
No.2, even though the original album was not exactly a commercial
triumph. One of the reasons for that is a Gabriel Faure song,
which Ravel once described as "the most perfect French
song of them all" - its title is Le Secret. The version
I have in my collection was recorded by Elly Ameling in the
sixties, and was (I believe) re-released by EMI Classics five-six
years ago. It cries out for a chamber arrangement, which I'd be
delighted to undertake. Other "reasons" include a chance
to have a go at some Vaughan Williams favourites, but I think
I've gushed about these before, so...
Is it the appearance of a strange yellow object in the London sky?
I keep coming back to my Edu Lobo/Tamba Trio albums, most
of which are unfortunately impossible to track down out of Brazil.
And when Reza is not on the turntable, I sing it to myself,
and Cheganca, and Minhas Historias, and many others.
Why is not Lobo celebrated here as much, or more than lesser
talents (Gilberto Gil, to name but one), I wonder? Not good-looking
enough? And what happened to him after 1967, when it seemed his
career nosedived in the US as well as in Brazil? Answers to these
questions welcome - the message board is a click away.
For some reason, no Bertrand Burgalat track has made it
here in the past, until this month that is. For those who label
him as a lounge god, and leave him there, a piece of advice: listen
to his version of Smokey Robinson's Tears of a Clown
on the recent "live" CD Bertrand Burgalat Meets AS
Dragon. I played that to a friend a few weeks ago, and we had
to tape his jaw back. Astonishing, really. BB is also developing
as a terrific singer, which will come as a surprise to many, himself
included. The backing track comes straight out of Nuggets
- should be a hit at parties. And maybe it'll be, who knows?
Which leads me nicely to a record that you cannot get on your hands
onto at the moment, but which you should try and track down as soon
as it is finally released. I understand that Count Indigo
has been working on his debut album for over a year now. If it is
anything as good as the demo of Trinity I've been sent, it
should be exceptional, and might provide Tricatel with its first
global hit, and help Bertrand feed his disgusting culinary habits.
Some old friends keep making a comeback, like The Free Design's
Kites Are Fun, best described as transcendental happy-clappy
pop. I know quite a few Sunshine regulars idolise this band, which
was resurrected by the efforts of Cornelius in Japan and Siesta
in Europe; I cannot quite summon such enthusiasm for all of Cyril
Dedrick's songs, which do not have the consistent quality of,
say, The Association's. But this one, their only hit, is
a corker, with a glorious arrangement and a bull's eye of a 3-part
I rarely, if at all, go to gigs these days. Old age and the cost
of baby-sitters are to blame, together with a chronic lack of curiosity,
or simple disappointment with most of today's bands. I made an exception
for Cathal Coughlan's gig at the Spitz a couple of months
ago, and thank God I did. The best singer alive in the world today
even sang my all-time favourite Fatima Mansions song, You
Won't Get Me Home, which was initially released on a bastardised
8-track EP/LP whose title I forget right now. Helpful, isnt'it?
Another "indispensible", which is never far from my stereo.
I'll leave you with Cathal, and wish you all a wonderful summer.
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Funny...Is it because I feel (just a bit) better? But Faure,
Poulenc and Durufle have taken a back seat this month. Not that
I'm sure that they'd enjoy what I have been listening too when this
bloody tinnitus has left me alone. Things like If She Doesn't
Smile, It'll Rain, by a Greek duo called Fantastic Something,
whom everybody expected to become massive at the end of the 80's
- but who didn't - and ended up like The Lotus Eaters (The
First Picture of You, another all-time favourite) - one-hit
wonders who deserved far better. Except that Fantastic Something
never got a hit with that marvellously tuneful track. Imagine the
La's on a very, very good day, with the Everly Brothers on vocals.
The single has long been a collector's item, but I believe that
song has surfaced on a few Cherry Red compilations. You know what
to do if you come across one of them.
I also visited some old friends whom I had neglected for a while,
like Roger Nichols & The Circle of Friends (eponymous
album, A&M, 1968), a very sweet album that will make you
think of Harpers Bizarre at their breeziest. It contains a totally
unknown Carole King gem, Snow Queen, which is the
first song I'll get my teeth into if and when I do a covers album.
I am not aware that anybody else ever recorded it, and cannot understand
why. Once again, great tune, and lyrics which bridge the gap between
the Carole of the Brill Building era and the Ms. King of Tapestry.
And, yes, apparently, this is THE Roger Nichols who engineered most
Steely Dan albums. Another thing: Melanie McLeod's voice is the
closest any girl (girl - not female) singer has come to pop TRUTH.
A surprise, now, well, to many of you, probably. Sarah and I were
rummaging through our vinyl collection recently, and took Joy
Division's Closer album out of its sleeve. I had forgotten
how much this record had meant to me then, and how much anger and
grief I'd felt when a friend phoned me with the terrible news that
Ian Curtis had hanged himself. Having listened to the record again,
I can confirm that JD was first and foremost a terrific pop-rock'n'roll
band (yes, yes!), and that Decades is even better than Love
Will Tear Us Apart. I had taken a cassette of the album with
me on a very long hiking trip in Western Canada, and had played
it every night by the campfire, an odd combination - Manchester
and the Rocky Mountains - which worked, somehow, maybe because Curtis'
voice could evoke limitless space and claustrophobia at the same
Same with Jeff Buckley, except that my main reason for
cherishing Grace is that I'd waited a very long time since
the last great Led Zeppelin album (Presence, if you
want to know). I am not too convinced by the Britten carols rendition,
lovely as they are - sorry - but when Grace rocks, it does
so with some of the menace and the elegance of LZ. I know that it
ill suits a "figurehead of lounge music" (a recent categorisation
of myself by a French journalist, who must live in a very strange
house) to confess his love for the hardest of all hard-rock bands,
but, no, I am not ashamed. I've never been in the closet. I would
still pogo to Misty Mountain Hop, if my daughter wasn't so
embarrassed by anything I do which shows her I am not 97 years old.
And while I am in a confessionnal mood, here's another sin I'm
quite proud of: loving, lo-ving, Ash Ra Tempel's New Age
of Earth, its opening track in particular (Sunrain).
Delicious. We French used to call this music "planant",
a wonderful word which describes what one feels in a glider plane.
I guess it was called kraut-rock over here, which does not sound
as nice. "Sunrain" is everything techno would have liked
to be, but never was, since Manuel Gottsching (i.e. Ash Ra
Tempel) had been there before, that is before Cubase, Notator,
Soundscape, ProTools and all that.
Last, pure poetry made music: Her Eyes (Are A Blue Million
Miles) by Captain Beefheart, one of the most beautiful
love songs ever written, and ever sung. Till next time... Love
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I guess I owe you all a word of explanation for my longish absence
from this site, and for the lateness of this play-list. Truth is,
my health has been quite poor for a while now, so much so that I
was obliged to withdraw from the gig Jonathan and Danny gave in
Warwick last month. Things might take a while to get sorted out...the
delicate flower I am would not mind a bit more sunshine at the moment.
The good news is that XIIIbis
Records and I have come to a - signed - agreement, which does
not just cover my next album, My
Favourite Part of You, but also a good chunk of my back
catalogue, which will be re-released over the next 12 months on
the French label, together with a collection of rarities, outtakes,
Things being what they are, bewteen visits to various doctors and
a series of increasingly unpleasant tests, I haven't played much
music over the past few weeks. One glorious exception, though. I'd
told how happy I'd been to find the Hubeau/Quatuor Via Nova
recordings of Faure's quintets; well, a brief passage
in France enabled me to shake the dust off some of my old vinyl
records, including a scratched LP of the same composer's Trio
in D minor (Hubeau again, on Erato), another
late work of angel Gabriel. Two of its themes had been playing in
my head stereo for years...such a joy to hear them again in all
their tender glory, what, 20 years later? It also made me realise
how much I owed Faure, whereas I'd always thought that Ravel and
Poulenc were much closer to my melodic sensibility. Faure's lines
tend to be longer, more cantabile, full of enharmonic twists...they
could all be marked delicioso, or amoroso...The way I'd like to
mark the new songs that have started to appear under my aching fingers
over the last couple of months. Expect a very, very tender new album
from me - that is: next year, once My Favourite Part of You
has been released.
Very little pop or jazz has found its way on my CD player recently.
Maybe it's just my "ill-being" that pushes me towards
music that offers other rewards, like Ravel's Concerto pour
la main gauche (Rattle/Ousset, EMI). I just can't
get the horn motif that accompanies the main theme's statement by
the piano out of my head. A distillation of Ravel's harmonic genius,
a bit like the trombone dissonances in the Sheperds' Song
from L'Enfant et les Sortileges.
Apart from that? Durufle's Requiem, which, at times,
sounds uncannily like the Beach Boys (In Paradisum
makes me think of Cool, Cool Water...) and, when I
need a pick-me-up, a few minutes of Horace Silver's Songs
for my Father, but I guess we all agree on this one. Ha!
And did I ever tell you the effect Chaka Khan's I'm
Every Woman's coda has on me? I was in a cab on my way to
Waterloo station last Friday, and as I told my driver "International
departures, please", Chaka started belting her stuff. Awesome.
I felt crap one second, I was grinning the next. I should listen
to more music, don't you think? Point taken, thank you. And talk
to you soon, I hope...
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Strangely enough, not one, but two records featuring accordions
in this month's list of personal favourites. The first one is the
Bags album , which was sent to me by their accordionist and
arranger Tom Aldrich, a very intriguing album (I guess self-produced)
which mixes NY jazz with popular music, and ends up with something
quite bizarre, but sometimes riveting. Who'd have thought it'd be
possible to transform Good Vibrations into a waltz? The Four
Bags have done it, as they have done a cover of Here Today,
and Brecht/Weill's (that's Kurt, not Cynthia) Alabama Song
...Their originals are quirky and...which word did I use?... quite
Maria Kalaniemi's Ahma (Rockadillo Records, ZENCD
2059, 1999) also features an accordion, Maria's of course. I had
the privilege of hearing this astonishing musician play her instrument
on a song of mine, Butterfly Blue, which I'd written for
HaLo's Blue album, a couple
of years ago. The session took place in Helsinki, under the guidance
of Timo Alakotila, who also produced Ahma, which is simply one of
the most gorgeous records I've heard in the past five years. Some
would file it under "folk-jazz" (it's entirely instrumental,
and all the players have got those funny Finnish names), but I'd
prefer "lyrical" myself. Maria makes the accordion sing
like no-one else - and some of the sinuous, ever-changing melodic
lines she and Timo wrote for this occasion are hauntingly beautiful.
A must, an absolute must.
After chasing it for several months, I finally found a copy of
Jean Hubeau and the Quatuor Via Nova's recording of Gabriel
Fauré's Two Piano Quintets (Erato 8573-84251-2, 1984,
re-issued in 2000), which I'd be listening to obsessively when I
was a student in Paris, all these years ago. Their effect hasn't
waned a bit; the third movement of the C Minor remains one of all-time
favourite pieces of music. If I may talk shop for a second, the
use of enharmony in that movement is astonishingly fresh, natural,
and poignant. Fauré for the drawing-room? Forget it.
Old friends come back to visit me. Reading Lawrence's not-so-brilliant
biog of Duke Ellington just published by Routledge, I've spun and
spun my beloved 3-CD box-set The Blanton-Webster Years (RCA-Bluebird
74321 13181 2, 1986 reissue). Awesome, as always.
A couple of plugs, to finish with. Have you heard of the Turin
Brakes? They're crap, right? They've ruined soft-rock for thousands
of people, who should have listened to Coast's 6-track EP
instead. If you like Bread and Woodstock (the Matthews Southern
Comfort version), drop a line to Stephen
Boucher and ask him to send you this lovely little thing, you
won't regret it.
Last, a friendly hello-and-thank-you to my former bass player Jacques
Delorenzi (Border Boy AND Arcadian) who is now working with a seriously
pretty French singer called Marina, who writes seriously good songs
in an early Everything But The Girl style. It's called "Mes
tout petits péchés" ("my ever-so-little
sins"), which I think means something rather naughty. The third
track is lovely. See you next month.
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You won't find me in record shops much these days, which would be
rather sad (old age creeping in, and so on) if kind souls didn't
send me enough CD's through the post to keep my ears pricked up
and my stereo busy. Kindest of all these kind souls is Kingsley
"Pet Sounds" Abbott, whom I thank for the most intriguing
collection of home-made compilations I've heard in a long, long
time. Keep them coming, Kingsley. Naturally, first on my list is
a track featured on one of his albums ...
King of Showbiz, Andrew Gold
from Greetings From Planet Love, The Fraternal Order Of The
(Dome - DOMECD14)
A real curio. Gold wrote that song with the great Graham Gouldman,
and it sounds like...like a monster hit in a parallel universe.
I'm no great fan of Gold's singing - too "out" for my
taste, Daryl Hall minus the tenderness - but this is near-perfection
in a very dangerous style. By which I mean perilously close to 10CC
in mid-Atlantic mode. But the chord structure is suitably oblique,
and the chorus diabolically catchy. I cannot make my mind up: do
I love this? Do I hate it? The fact that I've played it non-stop
over the past few days probably means I love it, and have not shed
my teenage fears of being caught up with a copy of The Year of
the Cat in my record collection.
Hawaii, The High Llamas
(Alpaca Park, VVR1001092), 1998
Everybody talks of "chilling out" these days, even The
Guardian. When I want to "chill out", whatever that is
(probably includes a glass of wine, a clean ashtray and a bowl of
olives), I reach for this record, and let it go by at its own beat.
That is because Hawaii has got several beats, depending on
the time of the day, the colour of the sky, the last telephone call
you've made, which makes it a perfect ambient record. Unusually
for an ambient record, it also requires concentration. It does not
have "outstanding" tracks like Checking In, Checking
Out or Painters Paint, but it has enough hooks to make
me very, very jealous indeed, and inexhaustible charm. Hawaii is
a lovely friend.
Mister X, Cathal Coughlan,
Why Cathal is not celebrated as one of the great singers of our
age is beyond me. In the presence of such fire, how can you fail
to burn? This song, with its plaintive recitative punctuated by
an eruption of violence, is what he does best - transforming anger
into beauty. He's the very opposite of a "minor" artist;
he's a major musician whose current lack of success belittles the
"listening public", and prove it has no ears, and very
little heart. Danny has played me a few tracks from his next album
(which he should have just finished recording when you'll read this),
which promises to be yet another triumph. No other vocalist active
today touches me so.
Songs of Travel, Vaughan Williams (Allen/Rattle et al)
(EMI/British Composers - CDM7647312)
The tenors get the girls, I'm told, but baritones get my vote, and
top of my list is Thomas Allen, particularly in this English setting.
One song in particular ravishes me - in the literal sense: Let
Beauty Awake, the most folk-like of this collection, which I
hope Danny and I will record one day.
Sonate pour flute, alto et harpe, Claude Debussy (Laskine/Rampal/Pasquier),
(Erato 4509-97410-2), 1962
Has this already appeared in a previous list? If yes, I won't apologise.
I keep coming back to this extraordinary piece, the most astonishing
sonic landscape one could imagine - and created with three of the
lightest instruments of the orchestra. Jonathan Coe recently told
me he would like to have this sonata played at his funeral (together
with a song for his daughter Mathilda, but that's another story),
and I hope he'll forgive me if I make the same request.
The Off-White Album, Martin Newell
(Humbug BAH25), 1995
The fact that I produced this record changes nothing to my veneration
for Martin as a songwriter - and I believe the songs are actually
superior to the better-known ones on his previous Greatest Living
Englishman album. Since Martin's a poet by trade, people make
much of his (wonderful) way with words, and forget what a melodist
he is. I still recall being in his shabby music-room in Wivenhoe,
listening to his singing Lions Drunk On Sunlight with the
voice of one who's spent too long at the pub on the previous evening.
The tune made an extraordinary impression on me, with its quasi-Anglican
chords, and the most gorgeous modulation from verse to bridge -
such an impression, in fact, that I insisted we recorded the piano
accompaniment there and then on my portable DAT machine. We could
sort out the rest in the studio. And we did. Of the many records
that I have "guested" on, this is, by far, the one I'm
the most proud of.
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Anyone who was at one of Brian Wilson's concerts at the Royal Festival
Hall last month will understand why this month's playlist is restricted,
if that's the word, to Beach Boys songs. Like thousands of other
enchanted spectators, the first thing I did when I finally got off
of my cloud was to spin a few choice cuts from my BB collection.
Just to make sure they were as good as what I'd been hearing on
the South bank a couple of hours earlier. So here is a totally arbitrary
selection, which certainly does not purport to be my personal BB's
Top 10 - that Top 10 changes too often for that. BW's music is like
a truly great painting; no matter how many times you look at it,
it is never exhausted; it changes according to the light; more
importantly, it creates its own light, and that is a very warm,
and very beautiful light.
She Knows Me Too Well, from Beach Boys Today!
Pet Sounds before Pet Sounds. I still haven't completely worked
chord structure. It's a bit like what Francois Truffaut said of
Hitchcock's movies, Notorious, I think: "I've sat down to watch
it on video,
to analyse it, but...after 15 minutes, I am so engrossed in the
I've forgotten that I wanted to study how it was made." The
astonishingly beautiful, of course, but, for me, the highlight is
quasi-doo woppish she knows me too well sung in harmony by
Carl, Al and
Dennis, I think. Sonic perfection...which brings me to another moment
Time to Get Alone, from 20/20 (1969)
...which is the "deep and wide" vocals in the middle-eight
of that gorgeous song, which I have thought of covering, actually.
I've noticed - much to my surprise - that two of the Bb's albums
(Friends and 20/20) that I came back to with greater
regularity than others dated from the late sixties, when Brian was
supposedly "past it". Oh no he wasn't. The music is simpler,
but extremely affecting, very imaginative, and pays no lip-service
to the trends of that day, or of any other day.
Forever, from Sunflower (1970)
Brian sang that in London, and it was heartbreaking; but then, this
is one of the truly great love songs. George Harrison wrote Something,
Dennis wrote Forever...a strange parallel, don't you think?
Everybody's covered the Harrison tune, that's the difference. Great
slide guitar part, fantastic vocal performance. I wanted to be Dennis
when I was a teenager, of course.
All I Wanna Do, from Sunflower
Sean O'Hagan (of the High Llamas) agrees with me: this song is one
of the great hidden classics in the BW canon - a tune with two different
middle-eights, that is luxury. Over-produced? You bet. A great one
to listen to with headphones, especially if you're stoned.
Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), from
Pet Sounds (1966)
Yet another highlight of the London concerts, and the one Beach
Boys song I would take with me on the proverbial Desert Island.
When I bought the Pet Sounds box-set, the first track I played
at home (after spending the tube journey back drooling over the
sleevenotes) was the string o'dub to that tune, to try and put my
finger on the modulation which precedes "There are words we
both could say..." Cue the Truffaut anecdote.
Sail On Sailor, from Holland (1973)
Sean O'Hagan, him again, played that song with the Bb's when he
toured with them shortly before Carl's death. Apparently, the Bb's
(sans Brian) had forgotten the killer chord that makes the song
(you know the one I mean); and it was up to Sean, who did not feel
too sure of himself, to point out that it was an E flat major 9,
not major 7. "Well I'll be damned", said Al Jardine, "That's
the chord we've been after for all these years!" which goes
to prove...what? That SOH is a lucky bugger. But he wasn't at the
show, so he doesn't know that the version we heard that night was
better than on the record. Yes, it was that good.
If you missed out on the January concerts, do keep hope: according
to Sunshine visitor and Pet Sounds authority Kingsley Abbott, Brian
Wilson will be back in London in June.
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What with the football season being even madder than usual, a great
deal of media work, frantic efforts to try and organise a gig in
Paris, and my daughter annexing the sitting-room with her new Simpsons
video, the stereo has been fairly quiet so far this month. When
it hasn't, here's what's been spinning.
Count Basie, Atomic Basie (Roulette Jazz/EMI 8 28635
A record I bought because it had those magic words on the sleeve:
"arrangements by Neal Hefti". Hefti didn't just write
the Batman theme tune; he also composed some of most delicious jazzy
instrumentals of the 60's - I'm sure you've all heard Girl Talk
and Li'l Darlin', for example. Shocking fact: all of Neal Hefti's
records are out of print, all of them. Atomic Basie, to get back
to it, is big-band swing at its best, absolute dynamite.
Ashkabad, City of Love (Real World), 1992
Whenever I do not know what to listen to, I pick up this record.
Ashkabad is a virtuoso band from Turkmenistan and
it's not what you think, plays the most exhilarating dance music
you could wish for. Some of the gentler tunes were written in heaven.
Los Lobos, Kiko (Warner Brothers 26786), 1992
When Los Lobos are good, they are very, very good. And when they
are very good, as is the case on this album, you wonder why people
only think of them as those guys who redid La Bamba for the
Richie Valens biopic. Kiko is superbly produced by Mitchell Froom,
who's given them a very dry - very driving - sound. Some of it (the
title track, in particular, Kiko and the Lavender Moon) makes
me think of Duke Ellington's late 30's-early 40's arrangements -
slightly discordant reed parts, fantastic energy, music that's going
forward all the time, boom, boom, like a Jimmy Blanton bass line.
Jean Sibelius, Symphony No.2, CBSO conducted by Simon
I cannot tire of it. It's one of the only classical scores I think
I really know, having sweated on the dots and lines until I believed
I could read those parts (delusion, alas). Sibelius is to me what
Beethoven is to many others. Poulenc I find more moving, almost
painfully so, Ravel delights me even more, but Sibelius is sheer
power, a power of a dark nature
It's like holding a very heavy
and very ancient stone in your hands, beautifully smoothed by time.
It's also extraordinarily romantic, but without sentimentality.
Etc., etc. I'll think I'll put it on again.
And this month's turd is ...
Whatever thing Jennifer Lopez did last. Some godawful "friend"
gave a copy of this
to my daughter. God knows I hate
so-called British R'n'B, with those soulless, tuneless singers doings
their Aretha-isms, eeya-ooooh-yeeaaaahhhhaaaargh, but J-Lo is actually
worse! I couldn't believe it! And excuse me, in the rear department
(I'm told these things matter), the little nonentity should take
lessons from Suzi Quatro. Now that lady could wear trousers. J-Lo
has to wear hot pants, or to remove them, to get Puff Showadidaddy
take notice of her, or whichever badass millionaire she's kawazooching
at the moment. I rest my case. Thank you, yes, I feel much better
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This week, I've mostly been listening to...
...a lot of Brazilian music, as I'm preparing a Brazilian Christmas
sampler for my friends. Life is slowly coming back to normal. Builders
have reluctantly left the flat, like so many rats who've discovered
the ship had run out of biscuits. The piano (atrociously out of
tune) has come back from the studio, where it had been gathering
dust, ash and bizarre bits of fluff since we finished recording
My Favourite Part of You. Which means my daughter has monopolised
it, and I get told off for not using the soft pedal after 8pm. But
enough of that...
Here's the list ...
(Label/Catalogue details where available listed below)
Top of it, and for a while I think, is an album recorded by the
divine Elis Regina shortly before her death: Ventos Do Maio,
remarkable for its title track and an astonishing duet with Milton
Nascimento, which should have been the first cut of Elis' next project.
Her death cheated us of it, but what little was recorded is a masterpiece,
the kind of track that leaves you speechless, filled with wonder,
eyes welling up with tears.
Other marvels on this sampler are the original version of Edu Lobo's
Reza, recorded with the Tamba Trio (check out a couple of
recent re-releases on Verve
by this amazing jazz trio/quartet), an angelic duet between Gal
Costa and Caetano Veloso Vagabundo Coracao, and a totally
unknown gem by Ze Pinheiro, Tesouro Encantado, which I think
was only released in Japan 5 or 6 years ago, a glorious melody I
first heard when I was invited on Robert Harris' late-night show
on Yokohama FM.
And if any of you know how, when and where it's possible to get
any more stuff by the Quarteto Em Cy, please contact Sunshine,
I'll be most grateful. The one track I've included in my festive
compilation is a ravishing song entitled Milagre - more of
this, please. Have a merry Xmas.
Ventos Do Maio/May Wind, Elis Regina
(1998, Blue Note
Records, Cat No.23503)
Reza, Tamba Trio with Edu Lobo
(1998, Emarcy (division of Polygram), Cat No.5369582)
Vagabundo Coracao, Gal Costa & Caetano Veloso
(1967 - Re-released 1999, Cat No.838555-2)
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(quite reduced, due to major building works in the Louis Philippe
Black Coffee, All Saints (daughter's influence)
From Saints and Sinners
Records, Cat No.8573852952)
Borzeguim, Antonio Carlos Jobim
Available on the Man from Ipanema (Box Set)
Records, Cat No.3145258802)
Almost Gothic, Steely Dan
From Two Against Nature
(2000, Revolution Records, Cat No.74321621902)
Sonata for flute, harp and viola, Claude Debussy
The SSSSSound of MMMMMusic, Bertrand Burgalat
Rumour & Sigh, Richard Thompson
(1991, Capitol, Cat No.CDEST2142)
Sun, Margo Guryan
From Take a Picture (2000, Siesta
Records, Cat No.SIESTA128CD)
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