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Playlist Archive

louis gives flowers, japan 1996

Louis's listening experiences and recommendations over the last couple of years... The current month's playlist is here.


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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April 2006

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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Autumn 2005

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 Music label.

Oh yes – magic – The Magic Numbers accompanied me on this trip; but I have already said much about them.

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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Summer 2005

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 from emusic.com (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, I wonder?

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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January 2005

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 great artist.

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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September 2004

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 a lyric.

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 from.

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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July 2004

Would you believe it? I've just bought a Korgis compilation.

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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June 2004

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 there.

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March 2004

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.

Adieu, Claude.
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February 2004

"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, toodle-oo.

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January 2004

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 first.

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) film scores.

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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August 2003

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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June/July 2003
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 WatersRollin’ 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 THAT good.

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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May 2003
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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April 2003
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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March 2003
“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 bless Bill.
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February 2003
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 NailsHurt, 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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January 2003
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 FlameDoc 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…

stop press!
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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December 2002
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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Novembre 2002
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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October 2002

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 stuff.

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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September 2002

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 LP.

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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August 2002
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, won't it?

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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July 2002
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 vocal hook.

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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June 2002
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 time.

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 Louis
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May 2002
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, etc.

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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April 2002
Strangely enough, not one, but two records featuring accordions in this month's list of personal favourites. The first one is the eponymous Four 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 riveting.

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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March 2002

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 All
(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, (demo)
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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February 2002
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, very tender,
and very beautiful light.

She Knows Me Too Well, from Beach Boys Today! (1965)
Pet Sounds before Pet Sounds. I still haven't completely worked out that
chord structure. It's a bit like what Francois Truffaut said of one 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 film that
I've forgotten that I wanted to study how it was made." The tune is
astonishingly beautiful, of course, but, for me, the highlight is the
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 of
sonic perfection...

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 (1970)
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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January 2002

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 2), 1957
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…read on, 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 Rattle (EMI)
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…that…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 now.
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December 2001
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
From Classics
(1998, Emarcy (division of Polygram), Cat No.5369582)

Vagabundo Coracao, Gal Costa & Caetano Veloso
From Domingo
(1967 - Re-released 1999, Cat No.838555-2)
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November 2001
(quite reduced, due to major building works in the Louis Philippe household)

Black Coffee, All Saints (daughter's influence)
From Saints and Sinners
(2000, London Records, Cat No.8573852952)

Borzeguim, Antonio Carlos Jobim
Available on the Man from Ipanema (Box Set)
(Verve 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
(2001, Tricatel, Cat No.TRICDFR008)

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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