And here comes a man with a paper and a pen…

In a lost hour cruising the neon interstates of YouTube, last night, I came across this.

(I was tempted to say I ‘d been stalking coming, new bands, attempting to retrieve an already battered reputation for being “relevant” – although God knows what that means these day.

But alas, no, I was looking for Del Shannon videos… more of him later.)

Anyway watch this:

I’ve loved this song since reading the chapter on the Band in “Mystery Train”. Marcus called it possibly their best song and on the back of it I went out and bought the Brown Album. I’d say it’s probably my favourite Band song of them all but I’d have to caveat that because the scarcely believable truth is that there are two or three other songs on that whole remarkable album that are right up there with it.

I also learned yesterday that Eric Clapton flew out to Big Pink after hearing the first album to meet the band. The story is that, already bored of Cream, he was actually looking to inveigle his way into the group, if necessary as a second guitarist. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the log cabin wall as Clapton rocked up in his pink bellbottom jeans wanting to meet the men behind Music from the Big Pink and the partially emerging Basement Tapes?

“And so I went up to jam with them, and I show up with all this paraphernalia on, the guys are all in work clothes, and I thought, well, are we going to jam? They said, ‘We don’t jam, we write songs and play the songs.’”

To their eternal credit, Clapton didn’t really penetrate such a tightly-knit group of workmen-musicians (he later said they were like members of the Hole in the Wall Gang) and I like to believe that as far as they were concerned, he just didn’t really cut it. I’m not sure I care to imagine what would have become of the Band with a feckless superstar like Clapton in their midst and I’m hugely appreciative that their sanctity was preserved.

We’d never have had anything like this, for sure.

And there’s so much to love about it, from Richard Manuel’s suffering vocals, a pitiful call from the heart of old America to Robertson’s fierce, wiry guitar outro (although, remarkably, it’s still not quite the match of his lithe, weary recorded version); from Levon Helm’s splendid, sinewy drumming (incredible to think that at times he effectively shared the drumming duties with Manuel) to Garth Hudson’s emphatic flicking of the last switch on his organ as the song finishes. And those dark, looming chorus lines…

Happy Sunday everyone…

Lime and limpet green…

Well, it was already a bit shit, wasn’t it?

But somehow the sight of that gurning pantomime dame announcing the demise of Christmas 2020 has really put the nail in the coffin.

Let’s get high…

The Pink Floyd

On a grimy, pasty afternoon this week, I put this on again for the first time in ages and I was immediately gripped by what a strange, adolescent piece of garish psychedelia it was. I’d forgotten just how damn exciting it is.

I could not begin to imagine what it must have sounded like to a largely unprepared population at large. But then a quick search of YouTube, turns up this:

Apart from the only clip I can find online of Syd performing his song (and clearly, therefore, brilliant), it does do a pretty good job of showing the blank incomprehension of an ill-equipped public, embodied by a by-no-means hostile, though clearly not where-it’s-at Hans Keller (“I don’t want to prejudice you against them, but four quick points I want to make…”)

The whole filming of a song about psychedelic exploration in black and white is also rather symbolic of the general unreadiness of the BBC, Robert Robertson and Hans Keller for what they were witnessing.

(I’m also very keen on the whole “The Pink Floyd” thing…)

The interview afterwards is great fun too, with Roger Waters and Syd Barrett displaying the nerdiest of cut-glass accents, but still managing to look and sound like oiks next to Herr Keller. I can’t bring myself to dislike Keller – he’s just simply from another age. It’s bizarre to think that at the time of the interview, he’s only 47 – an age I myself look back at wistfully…

This is my favourite part of the whole weird exchange

Keller: I happen to have grown up in a string quartet which is a bit softer… so why has it got to be so loud?

Water: Well I don’t guess it has to be, but I mean that’s the way we like it, but we didn’t grow up in a string quartet and I guess that could be one of the reasons.

There’s also this version online, which is live and was filmed sometime after Syd had gone missing, but which is possibly even more exciting. It’s poorly edited, a bit trebly and has been cut clumsily in a couple of places; but still the energy of Waters and particularly Nick Mason behind his kit, really owns the song. In my sloppiness, I’d always associated the arrival of Dave Gilmour with the point at which the band lost their groovy “The” and moved onto grown-up Rock.

Clearly, I’m an idiot.

Hit it!

Having regained the keys to the creepy old coop that is Bebop and American Jazz, I continue to have a rather jolly old time, careening up and down the dust-laden corridors, bursting into chambers and ransacking the wardrobes and dressers within.

One day, I’ll have to approach this in a more methodical and altogether grown up fashion (and will no doubt be much the better for it), but for now I’m thoroughly enjoying haphazardly opening drawers and picking out whatever takes my fancy.

This, for instance…

Pithecanthropus Erectus

The thrumming stand-up bass of Charlie Mingus is one of Life’s great irresistible sounds, always, and this record has been fun to explore. I picked it up in my dying days at eMusic and as with many of those purchases haven’t really done it justice until now.

The title track is the stand out pick, brimming as it is with playfully chaotic ideas and a captivating charm, but the whole record is apparently a significant one. Released in 1956, (the year after Miles Davis formed his first quintet and engaged Coltrane), Mingus abandoned his normal practice of meticulously compiled sheet music and taught each part to his band by ear. If you remember that mesmeric, impenetrable picture of Coltrane’s Giant Steps pieces put to paper, this makes some sense, but was apparently ground-breaking at the time.

(Can’t help thinking of Beefheart whistling and pounding the piano lid incoherently to a bewildered Drumbo a decade later – it all comes back to Beefheart, even when it doesn’t).

Anyway:

The liner notes claim that that the title track is a tonal poem (I looked it up, I’m none the wiser…) dedicated to the ascent and descent of mankind, which sounds to these post-punk ears more than a little pretentious. But maybe in those innocent pre- Roger Dean days, it didn’t sound quite so silly. And, for sure, there’s no navel-gazing on this record, just an insistent, self-aware strut – an ode to Man who has not only learnt to stand on two legs and walk but to promenade up and down the avenue, tipping his hat to the ladies and flipping dimes to the shoeshine.

The stagger into chaos part is not really a dark descent but a rather splendid going-to-seed, as Jackie McLean honks and yowls from the side-lines only gradually does Mingus’s bassline stumble and eventually disintegrate over the course of ten glorious, disorderly minutes.

If you think about some of the painful, apocalyptic howls that Coltrane and various other free-jazz souls would put to record only a few years later, this is all a bit naïve and much more fun for it. It’s not exactly rough beasts slouching towards Bethlehem, more like Thomas O’Malley and Scat Cat crashing through floor after floor of their own run-down Parisian mansion.

I can’t find anything from this line-up on YouTube but I did stumble across this wonderful clip from 1960 with an entirely different and perhaps more well-known band. It’s well worth watching. From the get-go, there’s a good six minutes of Bud Powell on piano which is quite the thing in itself but it also allows you to watch and hear Mingus, at the coalface in his busy workshop, without the more powerful brass section taking over.

Until they do, which is also pretty damn remarkable (if only for the magnificently goateed Eric Dolphy’s evening suit / sandals combo). Hit! It!

 

I can’t think of anything clever to say,

it’s all a terrible shame…

The distance between love and your heart is too far beyond my imagination…

A beautiful sunny bank holiday morning, how often does that happen. eh? What better way to take advantage of it than sitting in your attic room, headphones on, surfing the Internet?

When I first started this Blog, way back when Gloucester and Arsenal weren’t the butt of jokes; when Trump was just a racist property-developer and before hucksters ruled the world (simpler times…), I used to spend quite a lot of time reading other better-informed, more dynamic Blogs. And occasionally I return to these sites just to see what’s happening, (and to scav a few tips, of course).

I went back to one of them last week, the always interesting, always revelatory Aquarium Drunkard and came across this fabulous mixtape compiled by a musician called Ahmed Gallab, known as Sinkane, and hosted by AD. It’s a wonderful selection of tracks back from Gallab’s childhood memories growing up in Sudan, which he prefaces with “Every Sudanese family has a drawer full of cassettes in their home”. All rather wonderful…

I know next to nothing about Sudan but the first few bars of the first track, by Abdelkarim Al-Kabli got me checking where exactly Sudan is, and sure enough, it borders with the capital of seventies swing and sway, Ethiopia. I’m unaware of there being an actual “Swinging Khartoum” scene but the crossovers between these tracks and all that Ethiopiques madness are obvious to hear, and I’m sure are literal as well as figurative.

Here is Mr Al Kabli, performing “Hani Ardon” (semi-) live, backed by a full string section, languid, tumbling hand percussion and his own work on the oud:

 

I know, it’s video footage with an audio soundtrack over the top, which is certainly a massive shame. Still, a treat, no? (By the way, if you go to YouTube to watch the video, the comments underneath are informative too).

My favourite track from the AD/Sinkane collection is this belter from Al Balabil, three sisters from the Wadi-Half region of the country, who became known as the Sudanese Supremes (watch it, before you scoff).

 

You see! It’s great isn’t it? I love the unhinged rhythm and the monomaniac bassline. The vocals really rock, too, stomping a careful, deliberate path between traditional ways and a raucous fifties-style rhythm and blues.

“Al Balabil” (or “Al Bilibal” as Sinkane would have it – vowel sounds are tricky when you have to move between scripts) translates as “The Nightingales”, a real Motown name, if ever I heard one. The sisters were encouraged in their career by their father and as you can imagine caused quite a stir, singing, dancing and travelling unaccompanied around the country but were apparently massively popular in Seventies Sudan before narrowing attitudes and the inevitable military coup caused the clouds to close back in and the sisters to retire. I’ve done this whole lost-in-the-midst-of-horror thing before and there’s not a whole lot more to say about it.

And I’m not going to pretend know much about them myself. But fortunately, as ever, there are people who do. There’s a great biog of the Nightingales here, which I heartily recommend (although the link to a collection is, alas, dead).

Go on, here’s some more… (This one might be even better)

Apparently, two of the sisters having moved to the USA, there are occasional trips back to Khartoum for reunions and actual dates played. Wouldn’t that be something?

In this horrible age of abuse and decay…

414779I had a disconcerting conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago, who was able, without hesitation to tell me not only his top ten albums of all time but also his ten favourite Beatles songs. He seemed particularly surprised, scathing even, that I didn’t have the same readily to hand.

Needless to say, this has bothered me disproportionately, particularly the top ten albums thing. What exactly have I been doing with myself? I can do a top three for sure but after that, it’s all a bit sketchy…

Robyn Hitchcock

One record that should certainly be in the 3-10 category would be Underwater Moonlight by the ever-wonderful Soft Boys. Not exactly a Great record, as such, but definitely a record I come back to again and again, full of wonderful tunes and Robyn Hitchcock’s fish-eye take on the world. That combination of jingle-jangle guitar and post-punk dissonance and edge is, just, special. (I’m listening to “Queen of Eyes” as I type, a gem of a song that is as damn near perfect as makes no difference.)

The reason I’m back on the Soft Boys again this time, is that another in a substantial line of semi-official parcels of recordings has just come to my attention. Published on the by-now venerable old Blog that is Aquarium Drunkard, it’s some sort of collection of sessions and demos taken from what is apparently their very early days, but one or two of the tracks wouldn’t look out of place on Underwater Moonlight. I won’t link any here but do go to AD and take it yourself (and listen to Look Into Your Mirror nice and loud). And while you’re at it, you’d be plain daft not to have a listen to the recording of the 1980 show (proper Moonlight vintage) that I’ve just noticed he’s also offering. And, by the way, I don’t think it can be that unofficial (if this sort of thing bothers you), as it popped up on Hitchcock’s own Twitter feed…

The good news is that the Old Pervert is still alive and recording, and I believe touring the US as I write. Recently bought his Joe Boyd-produced latest record, The Man Upstairs, and it’s a little mellower, for sure, but still odd and beautifully tuneful. A mixture of originals and covers, it’s a lovely listen.

Here’s the Psychedelic Furs song, The Ghost in You:

 

 

I’ve seen Hitchcock play festivals a couple of times in the last few years and an engaging soul he is. I enjoyed his set of insect songs one balmy Green Man afternoon but the more memorable of the two was a spot he did with Joe Boyd himself, as the producer read extracts from his book. After each section, Hitchcock would sing a rough but heartfelt song from that session.

I think I’ve probably posted this before, but here’s one of them:

River Man

God bless your silvery locks, sir…

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