Thursday 27 May 2021

His Name Was Always Buddy

I've probably mentioned this before, but scattered around the various hard-drives in this flat lurk several partially completed ICA's, destined, one day, for JC's consideration to be included in his legendary ongoing series over at The (New) Vinyl Villain. A couple of weeks ago, The Blogfather himself shared a Buddy Holly ICA, one of the very artists that I had on my 'to be finished' list. When it comes to Buddy's music, it'd be hard to put a foot wrong in terms of pulling together a worthy compilation and indeed JC's ICA is pretty much faultless.

Buddy Holly had been dead for 14 months when I appeared on the scene, but his music was in the house from day one. Dad was a fan and I still carry his handful of original singles with me to this day (that's one of them at the top of this post). I played those singles endlessly on the trusty family radiogram from a very young age and know every note, every crack and pop on each one of them, intimately. Buddy's music had such a profound effect on me that years later I later picked up one of the very earliest career spanning box sets ever released by any artist, 1979's 'The Complete Buddy Holly'.

Here's a song that would've made my version of a Buddy Holly ICA. 'Take Your Time' appeared on the b-side of 'Rave On' in 1958 and is a sparse, organ led gem. It's lyrically interesting too - consider such lines as '...heartstrings will sing like a string of twine...' or '...go with me through, times 'til all times end...' Somewhere, a young Bob Dylan was paying attention. At the time of his death on February 3rd 1959, Buddy was just 22 and had been recording professionally for barely 2½ years. 

Buddy Holly - Take Your Time

Monday 24 May 2021

Salute Him When His Birthday Comes

I'm fortunate enough to have seen Bob Dylan in concert nearly 70 times - from Blackbushe in 1978 to the Royal Albert Hall in 2015, via France, Switzerland, America and all over the UK. People sometimes ask what it is that keeps me going back again and again? I tell them that it's the moments. Across the years I've witnessed astounding, transcendent performances - shaky, uneven performances and everything in between. But even the bleakest concerts have contained moments that made me laugh out loud, cry real tears or simply involuntarily yell out my appreciation. We in the audience know when something magical is happening up there - we're lifted, elevated, even levitated. It's hard to explain, as you can see.

Here's an example. Back in 1994 I did a three show run across France, taking in Paris, Besançon and Lyons. I could write a volume on each night, but just take a look at this performance of I'll Remember You from Lyons. It's a grainy audience shot video of an ok song from a wildly overproduced mid-80s album, but, not for the first time, for some reason Bob really connected with it lyrically that night. After noodling through the intro, Dylan is immediately engaged with the opening verse - passionate, articulate, focussed. More noodling, then he steps forward to deliver verse two, again, fully engaged with his vocal. Things almost imperceptibly step up a level with the 'There's some people that you don't forget...' line, but nothing prepared us for the change of gear with 'When the roses fade, AND I'M IN THE SHADE...'  - just listen to the audience reaction. To quote a great man, something is happening here and we don't know what it is. By now he is elsewhere, as are we. I'm feet away, caught in the spell, as the spittle flies from his mouth '...didn't I try to care..?' He sensibly pulls back from the brink for the final verse, but once again it's a controlled, passionate build to the concluding ' the end, my dear sweet friend, I'll remember you...' and the audience, once again, erupts. Note the wry smile that flickers across his features as he sings ' was you who came right through, it was you who understood, though I'd never say, that I done it the way, you would have liked me to...' If he's ever addressed any audience directly and openly, it was right there and then. Naturally, Bob being Bob, having taken us to an altogether higher plane with a phenomenal, captivating vocal, then allows the song to drift instrumentally and aimlessly to an eventual conclusion, a very l-o-n-g three minutes later. Seriously, when the vocal is done, you can switch off and get on with your day. 

The fact that Bob Dylan features so rarely on these pages is a conscious decision. If you've made it this far, you've no doubt noticed that I can bore for my country when I get into pontificating about the man, his cultural impact on my life and the minutiae of his art. The last thing the world needs is another amateur wannabe Bobcat spouting forth, when there are so many far more eloquent students of his work available to tap into. I couldn't let today of all days pass by unacknowledged though. Many happy returns of the day Bob.

Friday 21 May 2021

Big Ben Rock

Digging through some old photos recently, I came across this one, taken by Dad on one of our many Sunday outings around London in the mid-1960s. We hit a lot of well known spots on that particular day, several of which he documented with his trusty camera. Dad worked in busy hi-fi shops on both High Holborn and Oxford Street during this period, but enjoyed wandering the relatively quiet streets of the city on Sundays, when practically everything was closed. I vividly remember that, in spite of it being 20 years on from the end of World War II, a number of bomb sites still remained, scarring the landscape, apparently untouched and open to the inquisitive eyes of a little boy and his Dad. Many central areas were truly deserted, our footsteps and chatter echoing around the empty streets and pavements. Later we'd amble East to the heaving Petticoat Lane Market, where it felt by comparison that every family in London had gathered to barter, haggle and trade. 

So there I am in front of a filthy looking Big Ben (it practically glistens these days), wearing what is by far the coolest jacket I've ever owned in my life. An old Green Line coach heads out of shot - possibly a 705 on the way to Victoria. A Ford Anglia passes on my side of Westminster Bridge - a car I knew well as an Uncle drove one throughout the 1960s. An unknown lady walks into shot. When I initially rediscovered the photo, my 21st century instinct told me that she was looking at her phone, but of course on closer inspection she's holding her own camera. Perhaps, buried deep in an old shoebox somewhere in this world, there's a fading image of Big Ben being photobombed by an anonymous young lad in a rather fetching brown jacket.

The snap gives me a perfect excuse to dig out Lee 'Scratch' Perry's fantastic 'Big Ben Rock', a 7" single released for Record Store Day 2019 and featuring Boz Boorer on guitar. 

Lee 'Scratch' Perry - Big Ben Rock

Monday 17 May 2021

Monday Long Song

Flip over the 12" of George Faith's classic 1977 reading of William Bell's 'To Be a Lover' and you'll find 'Rastaman Shuffle', a lengthy instrumental ramble through the same tune by The Upsetters - essentially it's the backing track, stripped of vocals and effects. Sometimes you need a thudding drum and bass heavy dubwise selection in your life, but at other times a melodic, chugging beauty such as this just hits the spot.

The Upsetters - Rastaman Shuffle 

Friday 14 May 2021

This is Where Your Solo Would Go

To coincide with the first anniversary of the passing of keyboard maestro Dave Greenfield, The Stranglers have issued a fitting tribute to their fallen comrade, 'And If You Should See Dave...'. I'll put my hand on my heart and admit that I've not followed the exploits of the MeninBlack to any great degree since the halcyon days of the classic line-up, but this really is a fine and moving song, taken from the 18th Stranglers LP, 'Dark Matters', due for release in September. Greenfield played with The Stranglers for 45 years and appears on eight of the eleven tracks on the forthcoming album. The song's video, shot on the streets of Los Angeles, features key locations in the band's relationship with the city such as the Whisky A Go Go where they played a 1980 residency and the Regent Theatre, scene of Greenfield's last ever American show with The Stranglers.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Bob Marley - 40 Years Gone

There are a select handful of favourite artists who ploughed their respective trades within my timeframe, that I never, for one reason or another, managed to see live in concert. Most of them I've come to terms with by this stage, others I'm still irritated that I missed out on, but one or two are almost too upsetting to dwell upon for any extended period. Bob Marley, who died 40 years ago today, falls squarely into the latter category. 

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Sun is Shining

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Smile Jamaica

Thursday 6 May 2021

Sunny on the Outside, Stormy on the Inside

I've never been what you'd call a voracious reader, but I've usually had a book or two on the go at once - up until a couple of years ago anyway. Since then, well for one reason and another I've found it nigh-on impossible to concentrate on any serious reading - I've tried several times, but just found myself struggling through a handful of pages, putting the book down and never picking it up again. This lack of focus hasn't stopped me buying the blighters though and when I moved house in October, my aching back told me just how many unread volumes I'd accumulated. So a couple of weeks ago, when out of the blue I was hit by the overwhelming urge to read, you might naturally assume that I'd pluck one of those unread tombs from the shelf and dig in, but no. Instead, I went out to a newly reopened independent bookshop and purchased a copy of Richard Thompson's recently published recounting of his own nascent musical journey, Beeswing. It turns out I made a good decision, instantly drawn in, I polished it off in a couple of sittings. 

Beeswing is a thoroughly engaging read, written in an easy, conversational style that isn't overwrought and doesn't dwell unnecessarily - for example, by as early as page 21 the initial line-up of Fairport Convention is already in place. Songs are dissected, relationships examined, legendary names dropped (Jimi Hendrix, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, Phil Ochs etc) and tragedies reluctantly addressed. More importantly than anything, Thompson's writing sends you scurrying back to those early records - and I can offer no higher praise than that. 

Here's a Hutchings/Thompson original from the Fairports' oft overlooked 1968 debut LP. 

Fairport Convention - It's Alright Ma, It's Only Witchcraft

Monday 3 May 2021

Monday Long Song

When favourites of The Swede collide - Miles Davis sits in with ELP!

It's been a couple of months since I reached for a lengthy prog piece to fill the Monday Long Song slot, so here's one of the biggest names from the golden era of that most divisive of genres, Emerson Lake & Palmer, with the title track from their second LP 'Tarkus', recorded and released in 1971. Written in six days, recorded in four, the piece consists of seven movements and nearly brought the band to a premature end, with Greg Lake being initially unconvinced by Keith Emerson's musical vision. On release however, 'Tarkus' quickly became a fan favourite and remained a staple in the band's setlist up to their final reunion show in 2010.

Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus

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