Who’s gonna throw that minstrel boy a coin?

91d+7ElDX0L._SL1500_This is supposed to be a new-music-cum-gig-journey sort of a Blog (although you could be forgiven for missing that) and so one of the reasons things have been a little quiet here of recent is this rather splendid Christmas present I received three weeks ago.

The Basement Tapes

I spent a large slice of the summer listening to a Best Of collection called The Basement Tapes Raw and reading alongside it Sid Griffin’s blow-by-blow account of this particularly fertile period of Dylan’s career. It’s a collection I became a little obsessed with as August progressed, and the prospect of listening to the whole damn thing began to grow on me.

141103_r25702-1200And now I’ve got my hands on it, I’ve not been at all disappointed, not least because it’s so beautifully presented. There’s a hardback book of photos and notes plus a gorgeous book-like presentation case of the six CDs, all packaged in a reassuringly sturdy boxset case. Gold standard…

Now, I’m not going to go off all completist on you – I’ve always thought, “Who needs multiple versions of one song?” – but, I’ve gotta say, I’m all turned around about it now on this evidence. The two different versions of “Ain’t No More Cane”, for example, are genuinely fascinating, and I’m by no means certain they picked the right one for the Best Of. Furthermore some of the alternate takes are tantalising glimpses of very different versions of certain songs – the second take of “Open the Door Homer”, for example, sounds even more soulful and homespun than either of the other two. It sounds great, truly wondrous, but, tragically, is cut off after just a minute (cue, cries of anguish at this punter’s first listen).

The thing of it is, I’ve never owned a copy of the original (belated) release of The Basement Tapes and what’s more, I’m not even much of a Dylan fan – he’s tended to leave me a little cold – but you hear an entirely (en-tire-ly) different version of the man from what I imagined. There’s a lot of laughing and general larking around, and such a comfortable, relaxed feel to the recordings that you just want to wriggle your shoes off and enjoy the whole private experience.

the-band-basementThe context of the recordings is, of course, that they were made by The Bob and members of the Band, in the mythical Big Pink, over the period of weeks as Dylan convalesced after his motorbike accident (and generally re-evaluated his career and ambitions). From that side, you can understand the generous, almost indulgent feel of the sessions; but at the same time, the Band were in something of a state of flux, unsure of their futures and whether they would have work to go on to. Levon Helm wasn’t even present for most of the sessions, having quit the band, bruised and battered by the events of Dylan’s electric tour. You really wouldn’t know this from the playing (I had no clue, until the Griffin book), the Band sound as loose and cool as ever they did.

The Band are, of course, responsible for my very favourite record of all time – the Brown album and Music from the Big Pink are as good a pair of debut records as will ever be released – and it’s probably this side of the recordings which are what I’m loving, first up. There’s so much more, though, so much heart, …

Anyway, having mentioned The Greatest Record Ever Made, it’s occurred to me there are a bunch of songs here that wouldn’t look out of place on that record (or Big Pink). And so, with that in mind, here’s a new Lucky Seven (Big Pink version):

Lucky Seven (Big Pink version)

(One Too Many Mornings; Ain’t No More Cane; Santa Fe; Open the Door, Homer; Goin’ to Acapulco; I’m Not There; All You Have to do is Dream; Minstrel Boy)

Yeah, I know, eight…


That’s Mike driving the Winnebago…

So I’m off to Green Man on Thursday. Rain is (of course) predicted but that’s been the case every year, and I’ve always had a great time.

I’ll be taking my recorder and my video camera and all of that malarkey, but somehow I don’t think any footage I get will be quite as charming as this…

The Smell of the leaves, from the magnolia trees, in the meadow…

At the risk of going all Mojo/Uncut on you, I’m going to make a list of some of my favourite records. This not a pathetic attempt to up my circulation, (despite all appearances), there is a reason for it.

The other day, I was at the pub with my friends Tom and Rob when out of the blue Rob says,

“Top ten albums of all time, then?”

Now, I have spent many hours of my life building up to this moment, shuffling and reshuffling a few choice records until I knew the top three (or four) instantly. The Band, Forever Changes and Exile on Main Street (obviously), with Astral Weeks having drifted out to a distant fourth as I’ve grown older (at one stage it was Number 2).

But after that, I suddenly realised, I was struggling. I really couldn’t put together the rest of the top ten – there were just too many to choose from. I was acutely aware that my main four were sixties (or early seventies) records – anyone looking at that would think my music world fizzled out in 1972, in a crumbling mansion in the south of France.

What about all those modern records that I love? In a few years time, will Gulag Orkestar still seem the shining gem it does now? Which Gorky’s records should I include? Which Byrds record? Then there’s the feeling that all my records are made by white folk (I know… Arthur Lee…), don’t I like any black music? What about Al Green and Bob Marley? OMG! What about ska, reggae and the Upsetter?

In short I blew it. I dithered and dried up and totally missed my window. The moment was gone and I let myself down. And it’s been eating away at me for over a week now… (To the extent, I confess, that I’ve spent no little time hovering around my CD shelves with pen and paper. Sad, me?)

I’ve narrowed it down to about twenty, but it’s still pretty fluid, so the list won’t be appearing here yet (if ever). But one thing of which I am sure and remain unshakeable on is that my favourite ever record is the Band’s eponymous second album. It’s a wonderful (wonderful) piece without a weak track on it (Tom, btw, suggested that Exile on Main Street was patchy… controversial?). It started a whole new genre of modern music and it’s impossible to imagine the output of Wilco, Ryan Adams, Sufjan Stevens or Calexico without The Band.

I love the way they look (weather-beaten, unwashed, bearded), the autumnal colours of the sleeve and the range of the instrumentation of the songs. I’ve always been fascinated too by the way it feels like a record out of its time  and refers to past events as if they were just a couple of years ago, still fresh in the memory.

Here’s a magnificent clip of the Band rehearsing my favourite track from the record, King Harvest Has Surely Come…

And if you don’t like this, well, there’s going to be a parting of the ways, my friend…