Category Archives: Heroes

Icons and the reasons why.

RIP Glen Campbell

https://youtu.be/RKeqXyY-9xA
RIP Glen Campbell. Glen and songwriter Jimmy Webb were responsible for one of the greatest pop songs ever. I’ve joked before that it’s my favourite song about telegraph poles (which it is) but that engineer up on his pylon in the middle of nowhere trying to maintain communications is one of the most poignant symbols of the human condition in a three minute tune…and Glen’s rich voice renders it perfectly without overstating the lonesomeness. Absolute class.

Playlist, August 2014

Amon Duul II – Lemmingmania – album

Amon Duul II – Duulirium – album

David Bowie – The Next Day – album

Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels – album

Cluster And Eno – Cluster And Eno – album

Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing – Axis: Bold As Love

Jimi Hendrix – If 6 Was 9 – Axis: Bold As Love

Santana – Batuka – Santana 3

Richard And Linda Thompson – The Great Valerio – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight

Augustus Pablo – 555 Crown Street – The Melodica King

The Beatles – Sexy Sadie – The White Album

Talking Heads – Fear Of Music – album

Mogwai – Waltz For Aidan – Come On Die Young

Mogwai – May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door – Come On Die Young

Pilton Pop

Poor neglected blog. Never mind, the football and tennis will soon be over, Glastonbury has passed…

Early_Sunday_afternoon_crowd_at_the_Pyramid_(323784473)

Ah, yes, the “Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.” I’ll be honest, I prefer recordings, film, books, painting and so on to performing arts. There is probably something about the focus on the human figure and it’s ego as the centre of attention in live, performing art that I have a problem with. Not that it’s much of a problem, it keeps me focused on what the work of art does rather than distracted by looks, skills, star-quality and all the trappings of celebrity which are almost always hideous.

So, Glastonbury 2014. The BBC TV coverage was excellent. I’ve spent hours accessing footage online and checking stuff I was unfamiliar with. The sound quality was better than ever. No complaints there. The festival was so vast in scope there was bound to be something for everybody so thumbs up for the Worthy Farm team too. But, as a snapshot of the current music scene, there was a dearth of exciting broad-based breakthrough next-big-thing OMG did you see that unmissable shit I can’t wait for their album vibes. If they’re out there, they will be using the  internet,  the great democratising enabler…except the sheer weight of dross up there makes it as hard as ever to find them before they achieve the tipping point or die of fatigue/old age. It says a lot when the thing that pushed the envelope most was Bryan Ferry revisiting the freaky early Roxy song Ladytron (after 40 years!) and still sounding expansive and futuristic in context.

Festivals are not exclusively or even predominantly for music lovers these days (if ever they were). Glastonbury is an experience involving much more than mere music (I’m told). I think of it as a weekend break with music for those who prefer camping to shopping malls. Similar experience.

But I don’t want to knock it. I’ll never know since I can’t imagine I’ll ever go and find out. I’m glad it’s there and thrilled so many are entertained by the experience. Like Mount Rushmore or The Giants’ Causeway, I’m sure it would be worth seeing. But not worth going to see.

Yes, the BBC is ideal for those who are into music but with no interest in the other trappings. Having veered off in a slightly cynical direction for a minute, let me just say I’m sure I noticed some fans listening during Mogwai’s set. Unusual since the audiences on the whole didn’t seem to be looking for subtlety and were happy with a singalong tune and a beat to jump about or sway to.

There are a couple of bugbears of mine associated with seeing performers. Firstly, singers who emote at me (with accompanying facial expressions) as if they felt this validated their music and helped me “get” its profound significance. Honestly, some singer-songwriters are more pretentious than the most extravagant OTT bands. Secondly, bands who “flesh out” their sound with synth pads or guitar strumming. Flash the chord-chart on the screen and most of us could do that for ourselves if we felt we really needed it. It’s lazy and boring.

The artists I preferred drew you into their unique musical world with effective dynamics and good arrangements as well as the tunes. There is an elusive tight-but-loose quality that the confident, well-bonded bands can achieve which allows the music to flow amongst them with an almost telepathic empathy. Audiences can pick up on it and share that vibe. Warpaint are a bit of an acquired taste and their new album is a slow grower but they have that feel about them. They don’t indulge in any visual presentation gimmicks whatsoever. It’s just them in their world and, if you think you’ve got their measure, their bag is flexible enough for plenty of invention and spirit.

Another band whose set I watched in its entirety was Pixies. I was actually prepared to be disappointed because of distant benchmarks and so on but, after a couple of numbers warming up, they were as formidable as ever. The Black Keys always deliver and are now at a peak of popularity having become a sort of pop/rock ideal for a modern age with a sizeable pop/rock hole at its centre. Interpol seem to be getting back in form, sharp and cool as ever, reminding us how consistently melodic, moody and edgy the magnificent “Antics” was.

Finally, best all round newcomer for me was St. Vincent who proved you can do a visual show without compromising the music if you are talented enough to consider every aspect of the whole and then deliver. Apparently the Americans “don’t get it” but they are still gorging on their overstuffed place where we have a rock/pop hole. There’s plenty of space for Annie to go far.

And speaking of the Americans, not content with outshining us with their spirit in the World Cup, they do the same at Glastonbury?! My musical tastes have always lent towards Europe rather than the trad old U.S. but where was the Brit challenge? The leftfield has bands like Mogwai and cheeky new pretenders Royal Blood but their audiences will always be limited. Too far out. Then you have headliners Kasabian trying desperately hard to be too far in. Since “West Ryder…” which was a very promising modern psych rock album, they seem to be dumbing down so much that Billy Bragg struggles not to confuse them with Spinal Tap. In between these two points…? How long is it since Radiohead delivered the ideal Glastonbury set that was of the moment and an index of possible futures? Really, that long?

Jimi Hendrix on Happening For Lulu

When I get my time machine working, this will be near the top of my list of musical moments to go back to and witness live. It’s right up there with The Beatles at the Cavern or on the Apple rooftop in Savile Row. One of my very favourite TV clips, it is glorious for so many reasons and on so many levels.

Aside from the bragging rights at being privileged to witness a legendary moment in rock history, imagine what a sheer mind-blowing experience it would have been! Sitting in Lulu’s audience towards the end of a comfortable Auntie Beeb peak-viewing programme (it preceded The Morecambe And Wise Show) when the Experience took over the airwaves would have been truly awesome. The studio crowd (polite, white, middle-class) seemed stunned and uncomprehending. This fact and frequent lazy journalism have given rise to “wild man” descriptions which are difficult to credit from our perspective. It’s certainly a powerful performance and would have seemed shockingly loud to the sedate theatre audience (at one point Hendrix warns the audience to plug their ears) but it is also controlled and extremely nuanced.

Brian Eno once revealed that he was a fan of this clip. At the time I was a bit surprised by this as Eno’s reputation for studio innovation and disinterest in virtuoso technique appeared to be the antithesis of what Hendrix was about. On second thoughts, however, Hendrix shared a healthy inquisitiveness and desire to experiment sonically while Eno, in his Roxy Music days, embraced the theatrical glamour of the look and lifestyle as an integral part of rock presentation. More importantly, Eno’s ethos as a producer often focuses on creating fresh sounds by bypassing routines to tap into a more intuitive creativity beyond established habits. That freshness could not result from slavish regurgitation of generic styles nor the egotistical demonstration of virtuosity at the expense of honest musicality. And so it is with Hendrix as much as Eno.

I remember Eno admiring the moment at the end of the first line of vocal in Hey Joe when Hendrix’s guitar goes out of tune. Hendrix smiles and simply starts turning the machinehead to retune the slackened string while seamlessly continuing to play. When a live performer has that sort of natural musical talent by the bucketload, technical matters are not an issue and the musician is directly connected with the music. You can hear it (and see it in Hendrix’s facial expressions) as he feels his way through the bending of those huge sustained notes.

If you want to hear this on CD, it comes right at the end of the BBC Sessions album. It’s at the end because, legend has it, Hendrix was banned from the BBC thereafter. The stories of Hendrix’s uncooperative behaviour may or may not be apocryphal. It has been said that heads rolled the following morning because the programme was allowed to overrun when Hendrix ignored signals to stop playing. You can see him gesture and pull a dismissive face at the key point. He was clearly scheduled to play Hey Joe, however, as it was introduced by the hostess herself. What the BBC didn’t know was that the band would quit this version of their breakthrough single after two minutes in favour of an instrumental take on The Sunshine Of Your Love as a tribute to the newly disbanded Cream. This section lasts a minute and a half. It reaches a conclusion of sorts but only after Hendrix has claimed “We’re being put off the air!” It is said that he pulled this stunt to avoid having to perform a contracted duet with Lulu for the last part of Hey Joe. There are those who claim that the show should have concluded with a routine closing number from Lulu as well so it’s a puzzle how this would have fitted in before Eric and Ern. One possibility is that they were meant to do All Along The Watchtower (as published in the Radio Times’ schedules) instead of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) which might have been a minute shorter.

The live, full-on Strat/Marshall sound on the Cream number shows how far lead guitar had come since the original version less than two years earlier which now sounds a bit plodding and tame but certainly wouldn’t have done at the time. Other than that, it’s a fairly routine Experience take on the famous riff and  the vocal tune both played on guitar. The version of Hey Joe is more interesting with a great extended intro where Hendrix blurs the dividing line between rhythm and lead guitar. After the tuning incident, the second vocal line is followed by a guitar fill on the E chord where Hendrix neatly quotes the riff from I Feel Fine. He doesn’t do this on either of the other two live versions of Hey Joe on the BBC Sessions so, if he did this spontaneously off the top of his head, it’s so staggering that he must have had a musical brain the size of a planet. If he planned it and worked it out in advance, it’s still pretty cool. Between this witty nod to The Beatles and the abrupt halt, however, he promptly forgot the lyrics which possibly further convinced him to go with his intention to break off early with “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish…” The real winner is the uptempo rip through Voodoo Child (Slight Return) where the rhythm section is clearer and Noel Redding’s bass is more active and driving than on the studio version while Hendrix is simply majestic.

We should be grateful to the BBC engineer who put his job on the line by not pulling the plug on Sunshine Of Your Love even if it is the least enlightening of the three tunes. We should be especially grateful to the engineer who secretly recorded the whole thing. This was a live broadcast and would have been lost for all time if someone hadn’t had the foresight to stick it onto the nearest bit of available videotape. It was then completely forgotten about until it was rediscovered by accident in the 70s half way through some footage about trains which was about to get thrown away. We should be most grateful, however, to the BBC engineers who managed to cope with what must have been equipment and volume levels way outside their comfort zone a full twenty years before similar BBC boffins failed to do the same for The Stone Roses performing Made Of Stone on The Late Show (as seen on Pop Goes BBC Two and All About Two this weekend.)!

Interesting

 

BBC 6 Music: Gideon Coe just played Breaking Glass. It was one of those occasions when your ears prick up in recognition but, because it is unexpected and out of context, you can’t place it for a moment but get lost in the wonder of it.

The way the melodrama of the lyric is sung in an understated voice and the angst is switched to the backing vocal is sheer genius. Bowie is always so good at backing vocals.

I may have to start work on a list of brilliant counter-intuitive switch-arounds and lateral thinking in music. When his trumpet player splits his lip, Glenn Miller rewrites the arrangement with a clarinet lead and creates Moonlight Serenade. That sort of thing.

…Unless it just ends up being dominated by The Beatles and Bowie…hohum.

Bowie notes

David Bowie – Video Killed The Radio Star, Sky Arts 1, 24, 26, 27 January

If you didn’t catch this TV show

a) you didn’t miss much

b) Sky will undoubtedly repeat it over and over and

c) I don’t need a better excuse to play this slightly less famous footage:

This wasn’t in the show, of course, as the theme was video but I’d rather watch a great classic live performance like this as a reminder of true genius than an overexposed video. The programme suggests that Bowie was perfect for the MTV video era. There was Ashes To Ashes and Let’s Dance… and then… well, didn’t he go completely crap just as MTV was taking over? Still, Sky Arts, bless them, think that having licence to include a handful of very familiar clips is enough quality to carry this shabby package. Speaking to camera, video directors (and Robert Elms) offer a few words about the making of these iconic videos…except they reveal nothing. David wanted the sky to go black and they can do that so they did. Sky didn’t bother asking how or why of course.

The brief edits of Bowie himself will be familiar to fans but one bit that sparked my imagination was this from DB:

“Sixteen, school leaving age: I went to an advertising agency. One thing that came out of the advertising thing, I think, was learning about storyboarding and putting your ideas down on paper in chronological order. That really came out of advertising, I think, and that stayed with me. So right from the beginning I was storyboarding videos.”

I’d like to say that, although the V&A “Bowie Is” exhibition successfully conveyed something of the breadth of the Bowie phenomenon, it’s really only the music that affects me. I’d like to say that but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It would be like claiming you can disregard the cultural significance and listen to The Beatles as just music. The things I liked most at the V&A and yearned to see more of, however, were not the stage outfits but the notebooks, lyrics and storyboards, the stuff in his own hand. I know I’m probably in a small minority on this and most fans respond strongly to the aspects of an artist that are the most extraordinary, most removed from everyday banality and the fans’ own behaviour and capabilities. To me, though, bits of paper, notes, doodles and drafts, which are made from such humble materials that they are within the grasp of anyone, can capture something truly remarkable and revealing about the creative process. I love art books that show working drawings and plans. One of my favourite exhibitions at the National Gallery was one juxtaposing drawings from different eras so you not only glimpsed behind the scenes and saw rarely viewed pieces but were somehow sucked right in to witness raw talent in the process of creating. In fact, the first time I was ever taken to an art gallery as a child, it was to the National Gallery and the intimate, dimly lit room that housed the Leonardo cartoon. I remember the tremendous sense of awe.

Getting back to the Bowie quote, it reminded me of one of the few useful truths to emerge from that depressing plethora of “improve your brainpower” self-help books (so end of the last century! I hope.) Tony Buzan (The Mind Map Book) pointed out that “Those considered to be “Great Brains” in the fields of art, science, politics, literature, the military, business and education have all used notes to help them think.” And “It is important to make a clear distinction between note-making and note-taking. Note-making means organising your own thoughts, often in a creative, innovative way. Note-taking means summarising someone else’s thoughts as expressed in a book, article or lecture.”

Leonardo, Picasso, Newton, Edison, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Columbus, Blake, Kennedy, Darwin… all used notebooks creatively not just  as a repository for ideas but as an incubator of ideas.

If Alan Yentob met up with Bowie in 2014 to look through his notebooks and chew the fat over the creative process a) I’d pay my money right now and b) maybe with more worthy efforts from Sky, Buzan’s list could be updated to include examples of living rather than long dead brains.