Seems like lately things are going south…

As a man of briskly advancing years, it’s refreshing to see an actual senior still able to make remarkable music. I’ve spent most of this weekend listening to a Neil Young album, not something I had planned on.

Recently the lucky recipient of a tip off from an insider at Gloucester library, I netted something of a haul in their recent CD sale (apparently no one buys CDs anymore, I was recently informed by a patient young dude behind the counter at Rough Trade) and came away with amongst other things a clutch of Neil Young albums.

I’m not what you’d call a bona-fide Neil fan, although obviously… Buffalo Springfield… Cortez the Killer and Southern Man… Needle and the Damage Done…  some CSNY moments…

It’s more a “Neil Young” thing.

I’m not sure he’s the easiest of characters to get on with, and he does sort of embody all that powdery excess of the seventies. And then there’s that ferocious back catalogue (Wikipedia lists 45 releases) – who’s got time for that sort of thing? It’s generally been a boat I’m comfortable to have missed.

There’s a couple of records I’m still to decide on from the haul; a couple I’ve quickly dispensed with (does anyone really need to hear an old rocker covering doo-wop songs? The originals are so much better…) but this one has really stuck:

Psychedelic Pill

The old rocker thing has been a substantial barrier too and it’s fair to say Young doesn’t bother trying to dissuade anyone about it. He ambles around on stage looking like a good old boy in his checked shirts and frayed jeans, sporting ill-advisedly unkempt (but thinning) long hair. Who cares, eh?

At times on 2012’s Psychedelic Pill, he sounds as reactionary as any ordinary 67-year old might sound – “Don’t want no MP3s!” (I doubt he’d have allowed himself to be patronised by over-confident, West-Country record store staff) and there are a couple of other pretty ordinary attempts to convince he’s not an old dog after all.

There are, however, some truly monumental tracks dominating the record, all of them blearily soaked in fuzz and unforgiving reverb with absolutely no fucks given about how long the tracks take to unwind – “She’s Always Dancing” is a spritely 8:33; “Walk Like a Giant” (complete with daft whistling) at 16:27 comes in a disappointing third place, the gold medal going to “Driftin’ Back” with a monstrous (but always compelling) 27:36 minutes.

The absolute crown of the whole double album is “Ramada Inn” – I will never use the phrase “bitter-sweet” again without thinking of this song.

Watch the official video:

[Yes, there’s an official video… for a song that last more than 16 minutes…]

It’s a truly monumental song that tells itself gradually in measured fashion, about a relationship getting old – a subject that I suspect very few people would attempt, let alone manage to imbue it with such depth and understanding.

The growling, rusty tone of Young’s guitar suits the song so well, and the edgy wail of his voice is faultless.

There are many, many songs that perfectly capture the hormone-injected rage and enthusiasm of being a young man (you can fill countless mix tapes with them – I’ve done it and continue to do so), but very few that talk with such eloquence about the universal mysteries of going south.

What a song.

There’s a couple of live versions but my favourite is this one with Young, rocking a somehow inevitable double-flannel look. I don’t know when it was from but was uploaded a good couple of years after the release of PP, and it’s all acoustic, so orphaned of all the bitter edge and fuzz-tone of the original version. Somehow it’s even more poignant for its softer feel.

Comes to us all…

I Love How Much You Love Me

One of the advantages of being a patchy sleeper is that I get to listen to more stuff. I’ve tended in the past to listen to podcasts but with the fortuitous discovery of the BBC Sounds app (who knew, eh?) I’ve been listening to more music since the New Year. The Freak Zone obviously, but finally I’ve discovered the majesty of Gideon Coe. People have been urging me to listen to more radio for a while now and I’ve always objected to the idea of listening to music that someone has chosen for me. But insomniacs can’t be choosers, and I’m now a fully signed up member of the Guvnor’s Appreciation Society.

Coe has pointed me towards a load of “new” music in the last two months (plus a surprising amount of Bluebeat) and I feel something of a fool for waiting this long. Chief of the artists queueing up to be enthused over is this lady:

Anna B Savage

This is an artist with a remarkable voice – it’s the first thing you notice, no question. She reminds me a lot of the singer formerly known as Antony Hegarty, now calling herself Anohni (and sadly a little quiet of recent) or of Nina Simone. It’s a beautifully rich tool, only occasionally going over into Cleo Laine territory (clearly, no one wants that).

But the songs she writes are pretty remarkable too – very personal (almost awkwardly so), very warts and all, sparing herself no blushes. She comes across as both powerfully independent and painfully needy at the same time, as imperfect as the rest of us.

I bought A Common Turn just after Christmas (her first real album, I think) and have been enjoying it very much since then. One of the advantages of being late for everything is that you don’t have to wait so long for the next one, and sure enough the second Anna B Savage album was released last week.

See? I’m both late and on the cusp, at one and the same time.

Here’s one of the typically stylish Blogotheque films with her doing two of the tracks of this new record.

Lovely stuff.

All this became even better when it became clear that if you ordered an advance copy of the new record, Influx, at Rough Trade, Bristol, you can see her sing a few tunes as well. So a couple of days into Half Term and short train ride later, serendipity found me shaking off an overlong winter hibernation, once again standing in front of a stage, expectation gleaming in my eyes.

I think I might have been expecting some defiant Amazonian to stride confidently onstage and so was more than a little surprised to see a slightly self-conscious but instantly personable figure dressed in orange, stepping barefoot on to the modest stage that Rough Trade have round the back of their café. She played “Hungry” from the new record and then introduced herself and made it clear that she welcomed interaction and questions from us. She was a bit taken aback when one confident young lad who’d come with his father fired off straight away

“Marrr-mite. Yes or no?” , in a textbook Brizzle burr that needed repeating. (“Hell, yes!” was the eventual answer.)

She went on to play five or six from the new record which it doesn’t seem fair to share yet, plus the title track of A Common Turn”, a flawed, really gorgeous song that I will leave with you here:

A Common Tern (sic)

The whole Rough Trade experience was very pleasant which coupled with the discovery of Uber (not yet reached Gloucester as such) meant I was on a train home by a very respectable 8:30.

An old feller could get used to this again…

What makes you think you’re good enough to think about me?

Happy New Year one and all, I trust you all enjoyed a good Season and that Santa rewarded you all for your forbearance over the year. I had a smashing time, spending time with most of the family (although the Boy and his new wife were forced to hole up alone with their first doses of Covid), eating and drinking well (my new favourite drink is a Negroni – and mutations of it incorporating various other spirits in the cupboard) and receiving a pile of tempting CDs from various friends and long-suffering family members.

New Year’s Resolutions are obviously a ridiculous construct, fashioned chiefly for sluggish journalists and over-keen TV presenters. I think we can all agree on this, but if I were to make such a Resolution it’d probably involve another nebulous attempt to listen to more new music. I’ve become very lazy about this over the last couple of years, seeing less live music and spending far too much listening time winding myself up about the parlous state of affairs in the news.

Anyway, in an obligatory nod towards a Resolution I shall no doubt look back on with some embarrassment in the summer, I give you this:

Wet Leg

A glance through Wet Leg’s wiki page reveals the extent to which I’ve really lost touch over this time. Three singles were released in 2021, one album last year and some talk of another in the offing, various gongs have been proffered, including Mercury Prize, Grammies and Brits nominations. For God’s sake they’ve even appeared on the Boogie-Woogie King’s studio-based miscellany. It comes to something…

No matter, I’m there now (as I’m sure I’ve said more than once in the past). Santa brought me the first album and I’m very keen on it.

Here’s Wet Dream from the record:

Who doesn’t love a lobster-clawed pillow fight in a corn field?

Pop Music’s a deceptively simple thing, isn’t it? A slew of captivating lyrics delivered with deadpan humour, a rhythm section that knows its job, a bit of twangy guitar. What’s not to like?

The aforementioned deadpan vocals belong to Rhian Teasdale and the twangy guitar comes from Hester Chambers, founder members of the band and college friends from the Isle of Wight. In an age of “nepo-babies” (that’s a thing, right? I read about it on Twitter), I love all this coming-out-of-nowhere stuff. There’s hope for the world.

Official videos are great and all that but you can see a band’s personality much more clearly, playing live, interacting with each other and an audience. There’s a lovely live set put on for everybody’s friends KEXP which you’d be daft not to watch in full:

There’s a whole lot of love in the room and the reactions from the two friends and their touring band are a pleasure to behold. Everyone is clearly having a blast.

Now there’s a New Year’s Resolution…

Don’t make me nervous – I’m holding a baseball bat

Season’s greetings to one and all.

I hope you’re taking full advantage of the benefits of the season. Boxing Day, one of my favourite of all days, made for pissing away…

And what better way than listening to your Christmas haul and gleefully jumping down a series of YouTube wormholes?

Santa has been particularly good to me this year and with luck I may well be moved to go off about one of the other records I was given this year. For today though, I’ve spent my time listening to a wonderful Johnny Burnette record that my daughter in law kindly bought me. (The Boy chose well…)

The Rock and Roll Trio

The wormhole part comes with the discovery that a debate “rages” amongst rockabilly heads about the guitar part on the early recordings. Apparently, I may well have been adding to the general spread of misinformation and fake news, when I casually repeated the line that Paul Burlinson played that rickety old distorted guitar part on “Train Kept a Rollin’”.

If you recall, the guitar part on said record is credited with being one of (if not The) first times that a fuzz-tone guitar sound appeared on record. So it’s not quite the academic exercise that it sounds – you can say it does kind of matter. Certainly to some folks…

Paul Burlinson claimed throughout his life that he played on all the early recordings and was indeed a founder member of the trio with the Burnette brothers. He was certainly a cracking player of jump guitar (he also claimed to have learned to play at the feet of a passing blues player as a ten year old. I’m just saying).

There is a lovely clip of Burlinson playing live with Rocky Burnette (Johnny’s son) in the nineties here, which came off the back of Burlinson’s solo album released in 1997. But here’s an even better clip of part of the recording session for the record (there’s quite a nice nod to the Yardbirds at the end – I wanted to see Jeff Beck’s boot going through one of the speakers…)

This is a record that apparently Rick Danko and Levon Helm played on, but I can’t see either here (although DJ Fontana is the older of the two drummers used).

Anyway, it turns out that a number of people reckon that session player (and pioneer of the twin-necked guitar) Grady Martin was the actual guitarist responsible for the gritty tone of the guitar on “Train Kept a Rollin’”. I haven’t got a clue obviously but this feller makes quite a convincing case and this other bloke too… They’ve done their homework so who am I to argue (homework never being one of my strongest suits…)?

Here’s a clip of Martin playing “Freight Train Boogie” with Red Foley but really there are loads of clips on YouTube (Look up “The Fuzz” for some really strange bass fuzz guitar)

(The Burlinson loyalists can’t resist chipping in on the comments here, you’ll notice…)

It all doesn’t matter too much I guess in the long run. In any case, I reckon the real heartbeat behind all of these early Rock and Roll Trio records is the harsh, impatient vocals. The best of the early tracks are driven by the frustration and aggressiveness of Johnny Burnette’s voice and I think his is the real genius behind the songs. His voice is not so different to Elvis’, and it’s only when you realise that the majority of these songs were written and recordings made on or around the same time as Elvis’ Sun recordings and the release of “That’s All Right”. Burlinson actually worked with Presley and Burnette grew up on the same housing project. (Inexplicably, Sam Phillips gave Burnette an audition at Sun but turned them away…)

Here’s the other great Rock and Roll Trio song from the period, “Honey Hush”. Again, the same growling guitar / nervy voice combination – a winner every time.

I chose this video because again the Burlinson/Grady scrap comes up in the comments – and someone claiming to be Burlinson’s son actually says they both played on the record.


It’s Christmas fellers, we’ve all had a drink, shall we call it a draw?

We’ll do it hot and we’ll do it fast!

Writing about Jerry Lee a couple of months ago, I had a whole other post lined up to follow it. I was ready to construct a fifties punk post along the lines of Gene Vincent as Johnny Rotten and post-war America as Bill Grundy. It would almost certainly have been a real doozie – a dazzling post that would have gone “viral” for sure (I think is the term…).

I should’ve struck while the iron was hot or at least luke warm, but in truth I put the iron down somewhere and by now I can’t quite remember where that was. Shall we just agree that it was destined to be an absolute stonker, one of my best…?

There are a couple of things that even this addled old fool can still remember, though…

Fifties Punk

I’ve been meaning for a while to “get into” the furious, foul-mouthed whirlwind that was Hasil Adkins, a fifties rockabilly star for whom the prefix “proto” was surely invented. A “proto-punk” before the Sonics picked up their guitars, before Iggy had got his first pair of leather trousers, before Sky Saxon had grown out his fringe. Punk was not even a glimmer in Lydon’s beady red eye. Before all of this, Hasil Adkins was making a series of stunningly ill-advised life decisions, and creating his own dumb soundtrack along the way.

There’s a YouTube doc about the man which runs through some of the highlights of a dizzyingly reckless life which you can find here. And even if all you do is stick with the first two minutes of “She Said”, you’ll have a fair idea of what fifties America was dealing with. (Although if you do check out at that point, you’d miss the giddy happiness of seeing Adkins donning yellow afro, tap dancing and then playing an electric organ on the roof of his car. You’d also miss a lengthy hiatus in one of the man’s stomping-ground performances while a particularly bitter catfight breaks out and is then broken up by a formidable third woman. You know you want to…)

Adkins’ had a “distinctive” DIY style that was derived from the fact that he played as a one-man-band in the mistaken assumption that Hank Williams didn’t employ a band (he did), so why should he? Or that (in the words of his sister) “they was doing it theyself… which they was not… but he thought they was… so he took it from there.”

Can’t imagine many other session musicians coming up with the guitar sound on this record, mind…

It’s not just me, though, is it? Fifties punk…

If Santa is reading this post, I am hoping to become something of a Hasil Adkins expert by Boxing Day… but until that point, we’ll leave it.

The other thread around which I was hoping to weave my beguiling tapestry was a song by big band leader Tiny Bradshaw, first brought to my attention by this clip from Blow Up:

Again I love the guitar tone here, it’s properly gruff.

There is another, less satisfying clip of the Yardbirds doing “Train Kept a-Rollin’” on YouTube, a proper live version from French TV, but sadly without the feisty charms Jeff Beck and with rather too much of the more foppish stylings of Jimmy Page.

No matter, this is better, and way more punky…

(Disappointingly, there’s precious little footage of the band, this is about all I can find…)

This is the Johnny Burnette Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio version of the Bradshaw song and for me it exudes as much attitude and sheer mutiny as pretty much anything else I know. Again, the sound Burnette’s guitarist, Paul Burlison, grafts from his six-string is pure adrenaline and I’d like to think that a youthful Dave Davies’ life was never the same. There’s also a slightly unnerving synergy with the Jeff Beck scene shot ten year later.

Burlinson claimed that he got the tone by accident “after accidentally dropping his amplifier, which dislodged a power tube and later, ‘whenever I wanted to get that sound, I’d just reach back and loosen that tube’” (Wikipedia).

It’s claimed that this is the first example of deliberately distorted guitar sound on record, and considering it was recorded in the impulsive days of 1956 (a good two years before “Rumble”), it’s hard to think of anything earlier.

Wretchedly, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio broke up in 1957, and Johnny Burnette forged a lighter career as a bit of a crooner. Burlison moved back to Tennessee to start a family and his own electrical business. Burnette died in a boating accident in 1964. All over too soon. Ridiculously short, agonizingly intense…

Again, Santa… c’mon! I’ve been good!

When the light splits into colours…

I haven’t forgotten that I rashly promised a post about “fifties punk” a few weeks ago (it is a thing, I assure you…) but it’s… uh… not quite ready. It is coming…

But in the meantime, maybe we should try something a little more… modern.


I’ve gone out and bought a new-new record – you know… it came out this year (I know!)

Modern Nature

I saw Jack Cooper (for it is he) a while back when he was co-fronting Ultimate Painting, and bought both their subsequent albums. Jolly good they were too, although Cooper now claims it was all a little too easy (he only wrote half the songs). I also bought the first Modern Nature record which I also enjoyed.

But this one’s a step up, mind.

The new record, Bella Union’s Island of Noise, starts with the distinctive circular warblings of the great Evan Parker (a striking and marvellous sound in its own right) and moves on apace, powered throughout by Cooper’s progressive guitar sound and some rich, lush strings and bass. It’s beautiful many-textured stuff that easily and lightly bears repeated listens.

Amongst it all, I’m very keen on Cooper’s light, brittle, barely-coping vocals which contribute to and set the tone for the gossamer thin impression of these recordings. There were plans for an instrumental sister-disk to this called “Island of Silence” but I’m not sure it got a very wide release, which is a shame…

There’s a lovely “visualiser” of “Performances” available from the record which will serve as a more than adequate appetiser for the whole sumptuous affair:

I probably shouldn’t do this, but the whole record is on YouTube as some sort of official film soundtrack, here

Gorgeous as it all is, the more I listen to the record, the more I am impressed by the quivering services of Evan Parker. His talents surely don’t come cheaply, (particularly if you pay him piece-rate – he manages roughly 12 notes to everyone else’s one or two) but whatever they paid him, it wasn’t enough. He adds a rich, shimmering quality to Cooper’s already elusive arrangements that in places raise the sound to different, unexplored places. Cooper has also, rather brilliantly, taken some of Parker’s characteristic space – boldly faltering and hesitating, pausing quizzically between lines. It’s really effective.

I couldn’t possibly explain or pass sensible comment on Parker’s skills or technique (his Wikipedia page reads like sections of Finnegan’s Wake – you’ll be enlightened to know, for example, that he uses “multi-phonics or harmonics in combination with circular breathing, polyrhythmic fingering and split tonguing”) but he is of course something of a seminal figure in a modern jazz world that I can never hope to penetrate.

But as with a lot of these things, if you close your eyes and forget whether it matters or not, it’s all rather beautiful and satisfyingly strange…

(By the way, if you’re impressed that he gets through all 13 minutes of what is ominously called “Solo Part 1” without apparently drawing breath, read the wiki-entry on circular breathing – the current world record, held by Femi Kuti, is almost four times longer…)

We’ve strayed into other worlds and universes from the fifties rockabilly I was originally thinking about this morning, but once you stop and breathe in the rarefied air, it’ll not surprise you to know that among Parker’s other collaborators you’ll find Jah Wobble, Charlie Watts Scott Walker and of course, another great barely-coping vocalist, the great Robert Wyatt:

And this will be hard to top:

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