Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Jeremy Searle: Americana Uk: Album of the Year: To the Bone

Jeremy Searle is a much respected music journalist.
He writes for the fine online magazine Americana uk.
I'm proud to reproduce his 'Albums of the Year' list below.

You can read Jeremy's original review of 'To the Bone' here:

Jeremy Searle writes:

AKA everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? Yes, it’s time for my Top Ten Albums of 2014 which will be completely subjective, with surprising omissions, astonishing inclusions and, quite frankly, an order that defies belief. In other words, just like all the other lists. Except it’s mine. So, to business.

10. Remedy – Old Crow Medicine Show. OCMS have been around for what seems like forever so sometimes you forget what a breath of fresh air on the bluegrass scene they were when they arrived and this is their best album since their debut.

9. Best Medicine – The Stray Birds. Their eponymous debut was one of the best of last year and the acoustic folk/bluegrass/country/roots trio deliver more of the same this time round. Great harmonies, great playing, great songs.

8. Going Down To The River – Doug Seegers. Seegers is the real deal. Homeless and playing for change, a genuinely heart-warming story leads to this debut album made at the age of 61. When people talk about authenticity, this is what they mean. Seegers has lived it and you can hear it in his voice and his songs. The title track is a classic and the rest of the album is snapping at its heels.

7. lullaby and… THE CEASELESS ROAR – Robert Plant. Wherein rock’s great front man and sonic experimenter, together with his best ever band, the Sensational Space Shifters, returns to the rock/folk/world fusion he’s so good at and also displays his vulnerable side. Majestic, as were the live shows.

6. Diamonds On The Water – Oysterband. Their first album since losing long-time bassist/cellist Ray Cooper, this could have a been a step back or a holding set. But it wasn’t, rather a creative rebirth with some of their best songs and playing. Thirty years down the road the fire still burns.

5. The History of New Orleans Rhythm And Blues 1955 – 1962 – Various Artists. Six CDs, over 180 tracks, exemplary packaging and booklet, some of the greatest music ever made and only £22. An object lesson in how to produce a reissue, with hours and hours of listening joy, from Sea Cruise to Lucille, Land of 1000 Dances to Sweet Sixteen. Bliss.

4. The Elizabethan Sessions – Various Artists. Set up by the EFDSS and Folk By The Oak, this collaboration between some of the finest folk artists around was an unalloyed triumph. Despite being created in less than a week, the quality of songs is astonishingly high, the playing likewise and all the potential pitfalls spectacularly avoided.

3. Centenary – Show of Hands, There have been a lot of Great War albums and songs this year but none approached Centenary. Poems read by actors Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter with traditional and original pieces by Show of Hands, it was appropriate, powerful and deeply moving. The best thing they’ve ever done, which is saying something.

2. Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour – Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker. I have proclaimed these two as future stars ever since first hearing them and, good though their previous work has been, this is not only their best yet but an album that takes folk music as a whole forward. Masterful songwriting and that voice from Clarke, great interpretations of traditional pieces, beautifully deft guitar work from Walker, this is as good as folk music gets in 2014.

1. To The Bone – Jones. Trevor Jones of Miracle Mile fame delivers his best solo album yet, which is
saying something. Exquisite heartbreak, devastating insights and words that cut, yes, to the bone, allied to impossibly beautiful melodies and perfectly judged playing and singing.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Toronto Tim Says: My Best of 2014

Tim Patrick is a good friend.
Here are his choice cuts from 2014.
As you can see, he knows his onions...
Why not add your list at the bottom under 'Comments'?
Or, you could email me your list and comments and I'll post separately...
Come on. 
We all like a list.
Mine follows shortly...


Excellent year for new music! There won't be many surprises listed here, since I've already tipped my cards earlier in the year via several 'hissyfit' postings. 
Here they are anyway...


JONES  - "Somewhere North Of Here" (Easy choice. Another timeless classic)


THE WAR ON DRUGS - 'Lost In The Dream' (blown away by this one. Earns a slot in my top 30 LP's of all time)

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART - 'Days Of Abandon' (mixed reviews by critics, but it's my top "pop" album of the year)

CHERRY GHOST - 'Herd Runners' (sparkling gem from Simon Aldred - highly recommended)

JONES - 'To The Bone' (a grower - Yes, a change can be good, very good...)

JOE HENRY - 'Invisible Hour' (Humdinger... May be Joe's best ever...) 

BEN WATT - 'Hendra' (I miss Tracey's golden pipes, but Ben's voice in fine form & very solid tunes abound)

DAMIEN RICE - 'My Favorite Faded Fantasy' (still a few cheesy lyrics, but a surprisingly strong return to form - Thanks TJ)

TOM HICKOX - 'War, Peace & Democracy' (promising newcomer. "Pretty Pride Of Russia" my 2nd favorite tune this year)

BILL PRITCHARD - 'A Trip To The Coast' (unknown veteran makes a real nice record)

PETER JAMES MILLSON - 'Sweet The Love That Meets Return' (lovely album, full of heart - Thanks Nick)

SILVER SEAS - 'Alaska' (best mate and longtime co-writer of Josh Rouse, produces catchy tunes that sound like... Josh Rouse!)

PEARLFISHERS - 'Open Up Your Coloring Book' (way too sprawling, way too sweet, but I'm a big fan of David Scott so this one makes the list)

FUTURE ISLANDS - 'Singles' (kinda weird stab at retro 80's synth-bands that caught my fancy)

NOTE: Sorry to some old favorites whose latest releases just weren't good enough - Bruce Springsteen, Deacon Blue, James, Stars, Simple Minds, um... U2. 
Also, Mary Chapin Carpenter's latest 'Songs From The Movie' would have made my "Best Of" list, except that it consists of older songs reinvented with orchestral arrangements, so doesn't qualify.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Happy Birthday to Me...

Thanks to all of you who have sent birthday wishes.
You've made a bold man very sappy...
My birthday started early; yesterday Di took me to the 'Ja Ja Ja' fest in Shoreditch. It was a wonderful celebration of Nordic music, culture, food etc. Lots of Icelandic beer; particularly one fine Pale Ale, not too pallid at a stonking 7.5%! It helped to wash down renowned Finnish chef Antto Melasniemi's wonderful food. I ate a lot of face (and I'm not talking about snogging Holmsey). How does Crispy Catfish Cheeks in Icelandic Beer Batter with Seaweed Salt sound? It tasted even batter... Followed that with a Lamb's Cheek sandwich with Crispy Red Cabbage and a Dulse Seaweed Creme Brûlée. Just awesome.
We watched a screening of Bjork's 'Biophilia Live' documentary and then sat through a presentation of The Best of Nordic Music Videos from Andre Chocron, Dan Kragh Jacobsen and artist Jenny Wilson. We then watched Jenny's dynamic set and lounged around the bar, meeting some interesting folk; particularly another 'elderly' couple (we were on a uni campus) Andy and Lizzy. I got mistaken for 'someone famous' by one youngster who was disappointed to hear Di's whispering response (Didn't want to hurt my feelings) that I was no one special really...
We also bumped into the lovely, irascible Emiliana Torrini, our main reason for being there. Di and I met up with Emiliana in Aarhus in 2012 at the festival when I played at the opening Gala. She introduced Di to the word 'Sshpaaaarklaay' and me to Japanese Single Malts so... she has a lot to answer for. She played a blindingly beautiful set, drawing mainly from her recent 'Tookah' album which I recommend to anyone with half a heart.

I'd guide their other half, to what Emiliana half heartedly describes as her 'duvet album'. Fisherman's Woman' is a stunning folkish thing of great beauty, Buy it now here:
Home the long way around as the M40 was closed at both ends... I think that we came home via Birmingham; still, we got to listen to Tookah 3 times through... every cloud...
And then... up this morning to my right ear being folded into four (why?) and then that same ear bent again by Di's rendition of 'Happy Birthday'.
Ditto from Dot.
Di and her Mum both have Van Gogh's ear for a tune...
Card opening and coffee.
Two lovely presents from Di: Sylvie Simmons Leonard Cohen bio 'I'm Your Man' which I've coveted a while...

... and a beautiful 'coffee table' book 'Remembered for a While', a celebration of Nick Drake's life and music.
Nick Drake has been the soundtrack to the morning.
His back catalogue is heartbreakingly brief; 2 hours flew by.

Next we were on to Leonard's exquisite, unsurpassable debut, (Oasis? Really?) before being whisked away for a surprise lunch with the caveat "don't expect it to be what you initially think it to be..." and "dress smart, jeans will be fine..."
Umm, ok...
I'll be happy as long as I don't have to eat a beast's face. Been there, done that...

Back, much later; fed and watered.
Pissed and stuffed actually...
A posh curry with the noisy neighbors.
Leonard sings a lullaby:
"Ah the wind, the wind is blowing... freedom soon will come. 
Men will come from the shadow..."
Di's hopeful.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Lovesong: Damien Rice: I Don't Want to Change You

'It was like learning how to walk again, a little bit like going for a walk in the woods without really knowing where you're going"'

I like a sad song.
I was taken by the heartache of Damien Rice's debut 'O'.
It seemed like a genuine outpouring, coming on both sanguine and sad, it was beautifully restrained and contained, with Lisa Hannigan providing a detached and wonderfully calming foil for the injured party's malaise.
The follow up '9' ploughed a similar furrow but, Christ, did it burrow deep.... It was all so bleatingly bleak; 'Do you miss my smell"? etc. Too much blood from the same vein; what was once affecting and winning was effectively becoming a whine.
And now, after an 8 year hiatus comes 'My Favourite Faded Fantasy', his long awaited follow up and... Damien's still not a happy chappy - “You could be my poison, my cross, my razor blade/ I could love you more than life if I wasn’t so afraid.” - but this is a misery that loves company.
Sure, there's angst akimbo but there's now a keening subtlety to the drama; a haunting beauty to the melancholy that is engaging: truly captivating.
Here's Rice talking about his creative process:

Recorded in icy detachment at Sigur Ros's studio in Iceland, Rik Rubin's production is lush and lean; subtly expansive, allowing Rice to exhail. He's given the time and space to be genuinely sorrowful. The orchestrations and extended fades are a sign that airplay is the last thing on his mind.
As you can see from the video below, Damien won't be getting the next Coke or John Lewis ad, but this is sterlingly strong, engrossing, engaging, fractured, fucked up and full of hope.
It's all quite lovely.
Not so much a come back as a recovery...

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Fireworks: Jones

Ok, it's a day too late...
I love Bonfire night.
I love fireworks so much that... I wrote a song about them.
I hope that you enjoy this...
Thanks to Nick Baker for the video.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Lovesong: Boo Hewerdine: Funny Bones

'What's a clown when there's no-one around?
There's no joy in laughing on your own
Please forgive me for my funny bones'

Music just seeps out of some folk.
This song, I believe, just made it as a 'B' side.
Are there still such things as 'B' sides?
Are there such things as 'funny bones'.
Boo is no genius.
Boo is not groundbreakingly original.
He is heartbreakingly musical and admirably hard working.
He could just be the most talented 'songwriter' in the UK.
Boo's latest release 'My Name in Brackets' is a retrospective.
Hardly a 'Best Of' because it's only a single CD.

You'd need a box set to do Boo's back catalogue justice.
Sorry to gush but, if you aren't aware of Boo 'My Name in Brackets' would be a good place to start.
As would this song.
Music just seeps out of some folk...
A 'B' side.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Hat Club: Oct 18: David Bridie

Thanks to Boo Hewerdine for such a brilliant set on Saturday.

Our next presentation comes to you from Melbourne Australia.
I've lifted the following biog from David's website; a more personal dissection of this top bloke will follow later...

David Bridie is the quiet achiever of Australian music, seven time ARIA award winning songwriter and composer David Bridie has enjoyed a distinguished career as one of Australia’s most innovative musicians. With his repertoire as a recording artist, soundtrack composer, producer, lyricist, uniquely Australian songwriter and singer, as well as a specialist in the music of Melanesia, Bridie has certainly stamped his mark.
A founding member and songwriter of critically acclaimed musical groups Not Drowning Waving and My Friend The Chocolate Cake whose success both in Australia and across the world is well documented, Bridie has also released a number of albums under his own moniker with the 2002 “Act of Free Choice” being released in the UK, Canada and America as well as Australia. At a recent Chocolate Cake gig in Melbourne, at The Famous Spiegeltent, Bridie mused that in fact he had performed in The Spiegeltent in five different countries.
It is as a songwriter that Bridie has forged his reputation as one of Australia’s best with tracks such as This Year Is Better Than Last Year (DB), The Kiap Song (NDW), I’ve Got A Plan (MFTCC), The Koran, The Ghan and A Yarn (DB), and The Last Great Magician (MFTCC) – all confirming his individual style in painting a mural of the modern world, its geography, its political mores and its dwellers identities.

From mid-2000 Bridie released three solo albums; Act of Free ChoiceHotel Radio and Succumb. These albums see Bridie make a return to the experimental music that his earlier group Not Drowning Waving had been noted for, with Bridie’s voice and electric piano woven around a universe of found sounds, anything from Papua New Guinea conch shells to Morsecode intercepted on short wave radio, with bass and drums added over the top of lyrics that are purely and unmistakably Bridie, a ruthlessly honest musical mirror to Australia’s complex national character and wry personal insights to the state of being human.

Over the years Bridie has balanced his career as a live musician with the composition of soundtrack music, with credits for over 16 Feature films including Proof, Bran Nue Dae, The Man Who Sued God and Gone several of which received International release. His score for In a Savage Land landed Bridie the award for “Best Original Score” at the AFI Awards,“Best Original Soundtrack” by the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and “Best Soundtrack Album” at the 2000 ARIA Awards.
Credits for his 29 television/short films/documentaries soundtracks include Remote Area Nurse for
which he won an AFI Award, “Winner Best Independent Release” ARIA Award; The Whitlam Documentary, MABO; Life of an island Man, The Circuit and most recently, the feature documentary film Strange Birds in Paradise and 10 part ABC drama series The Straits. David has always explored his particular passion for Melanesian life, music and history.

Now regarded as the world’s foremost producer of Melanesian music artists, David has scored, curated and produced many films, concerts and albums in Australia, PNG and The US and has been instrumental in launching the musical careers of many of these artists including George Telek (PNG) who is now considered an elder statesman of Music in his home country and had his music released on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. Other producing credits include Archie Roach’s “Jamu Dreaming”, Christine Anu’s “Stylin Up’ and West Papuan string band Black Paradise’s “Spirit Of Mambesak” CDs, Richard Mogu (PNG). His most recent work with Pitjantjatjara man Frank Yamma and the Countryman CD has seen Yamma’s career take off with UK and Europe tours and festival bookings across Australia and the world including the London Olympic Festival and Womad UK in 2012.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Hat Club: Boo Hewerdine

I'm not sure if you know this but... Di and I run a music venue.
The Hat Club is hosted in the bar of our local squash club in Beaconsfield.
It's a homely little venue with a simple agenda: to promote quality music to our members and to support musicians.
It's a tough time to be a musician; music streaming generally means that recorded music has very little value these days. 50,000 plays on Spotify earns the songwriter £5.
Yup, you read that correctly.
Live performance has become a prime source of income for our ever more wandering minstrels; wondering where their next meal's coming from.
The Hat Club has a max of 65 so 'intimate' is the vibe.
Beaconsfield Squash Club offers its facility and bar staff free of charge.
Barry Cross designs and prints our posters; again, no charge.
Paul Austin is a club member who also runs a local music shop in the old town. We are grateful to him for providing a PA gratis and for being the poshest roady in town.
With all support offered freely by enthusiasts I'm proud to say that every penny taken on the door goes to the artist.
And tonight's artist is very special; worth every penny...

If you are free tonight, bewilderingly, we have a few tickets left but... please don't just turn up, I'd hate to turn you away. Email me at trev@lisacottage.demon.co.uk and I'll confirm you on the list.
£10 entry
Showtime @ 8.30pm
Future attractions are:
David Bridie: October 18
Peter Bruntnell: November 8
Rae Husbandes: December 13
See below Barry's wonderful posters of previous acts.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Tom Waits for No-One: 4: 'I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You': From The Early Years Vol 2

'Closing Time' (1973) was the debut; fairly conventional fare in retrospect. This song is beautifully rendered but I think that I might prefer the initial sketch... What do you reckon?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Happy Birthday Bruce: 65 today

How do you judge people?
On whether they are kind to animals or old folk?
On how they behave when they know that they are not being watched?
Compassionate, loyal etc?
Yup, all of the above...
I know that it's wrong but I always get a bit uncomfortable around folk who rant negatively about Bruce Springsteen.
Sure, his music might be a little bombastic for some - 'Born in the USA' is misunderstood but still a little overblown for me - but... the man has an integrity that is unimpeachable. He's consistent and focussed. Seems to be a true and honest friend too; one that doesn't always take the easy turn but will always hold your eye, not glance over your shoulder for something... better.
Anyway, I just wanted to mark his 65th birthday.
The first Springsteen I ever heard was on a tiny, tinny plastic radio in my dormitory in Ermysted's Grammar school back in 1975. 'Born to Run' was the song and it knocked me sideways; possibly the most potent musical epiphany of my life. Springsteen mythology; everyone spoke in hushed tones about the lost concert footage of the infamous Hammersmith Odeon gig of 1975. Bruce was pissed off with the world, the British press in particular, for over hyping his first UK appearance as the arrival of some kind of Messiah. 'The Future of Rock and Roll' flyers were everywhere and he ripped them down and stomped 'em good. You can read the history of that tantrum anywhere. However, when 'Born to Run' was remastered a few years back it was re-issued with recently discovered film of that concert and it turned out to be as scintillating as everyone dared to believe.
Do yourselves a favor; seek it out.
It's spellbinding.
Here's the first song.
The moment you glimpse Bruce skulking onto the stage wearing a tea cozy on his head, to the moment at the end of the song when the band take the stage and hug each in other in obvious relief is just joyful.
This one song is hands down my favorite live vocal performance of all time.
My favorite musical 'moment' is when the band kick on the next song, 10th Avenue Freeze Out.
Again, well worth searching out...
Chicken Skin...
Nice memories in this Guardian piece too...

Kudos: Colin Penter: Joe Henry on 'Songwriting'

"What is important, what has meaning, is the journey… [and] journeys are through history as well as through a landscape" 
Theo Angelopoulos

"The obsession's in the chasing, and not the apprehending"
Tom Waits

'Kudos': entitles my first mumblings in recognition of kindred spirits; folk who are treading a familiar path; in search of beauty, truth and the perfect chord.
The web is a winding road that never leads you to your expected destination. Whilst trawling for info on yesterday's 'Tom Waits for No-One' piece (regarding his song 'Diamond in Your Mind'), I came across a blogsite written by Colin Penter entitled 'Always Keep a Diamond in Your Mind.', an obvious reference to the Waits song; more of which later.
Penter describes his interests as "dispatches on everyday life, social and political realities, the cycles of history, the complexities of civil society, political poetry and song and the struggle of being a good citizen whilst resisting corporate hegemony (and having a laugh) from one of the most isolated cities in the world." 
I'm unsure which isolated city he calls home (Perth?) but Penter writes beautifully, chronicling the mundane and the mystic, often citing the poetry and wisdom of the good and the great; quotes as disparate as these two:

“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
James Baldwin

"Enjoy every sandwich"
Warren Zevon

Those of you who pass through these pages will probably know that I'm a huge fan of the work of Joe Henry, whose 'Invisible Hour' I recently reviewed here.  It's currently top of my pile for 2014.
My eye was initially drawn to a piece that Penter posted about Joe Henry's thoughts on songwriting, particularly in reference to Solomon Burke for whom he produced the fine album 'Don't Give Up on Me' in 2002.
I hope that Colin doesn't mind (I'll remove it if he does) but I've lifted much of that piece for you to read below.

See Colin's excellent piece in situ here:

Penter writes:

Henry writes beautifully and movingly of Solomon Burke, but it is the insight he provides into the wonderous craft of creating and delivering a song that is most intriguing. Henry writes how Solomon Burke was able to interpret and deliver one of his songs in a way that enscapulated precisely what he intended as a songwriter, but in a way that was different to the lyrical content of the song. Of Solomon Burke's interpretation of his song Flesh and Blood Henry writes:

"As a lyric oriented songwriter, it is worth noting that the track taught me a lasting lesson about the power of vocal delivery to impart not just emphasis and texture but meaning."

Apparently Burke changed the lyrics of the song to be the exact opposite of what Henry (the songwriter) had written, but his delivery of the song was such that the emotional intent and experience conveyed by the singer was precisely what Henry had meant. Writing of Burke's performance Henry writes:

"He bore down on those four words again and again and by force squared them with my intention and made them mean exactly what I'd meant, and the exact opposite of what he'd literally sung....And I started in that day to think differently, in a veryconcious way how a lyric released to the air is different from the written word"

The game of language- the physical sounds of words, how they couple and disperse- is what inevitably leads me to meaning......... Songs are, indeed deliberate inventions that we are frequently wont to adopt as gospel; and I am timid to explain mine, probably because they leave me at a loss. I know they Mean, I just don't always know what they mean.

Joe Henry has also written an illuminating description of how the song 'Our Song' (from 2007's 'Civilians') was formed, crafted and delivered. It is intelligent and insightful writing about the songwriter's craft. Henry describes how the song started with a single line and then emerged more fully formed from a series of events, daily happenings and reflections on the larger social and political context. Henry writes that:

Songwriting for me has absolutely nothing to do with self expression and everything to do with discovery. I write to find out what I am writing about. I may, after the fact, discover that something personal and known to me has indeed been expressed but the desire to do such is not what propels me forward, nor would personal fact, inadvertently revealed ever be part of what might make a song successful in my estimation.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Tom Waits for No-One: 3: Diamond in Your Mind: From 'Healing the Divide' (2007)

"She's like a wrecking ball that's no longer attached to the chain"

I know this song from the fine Joe Henry produced Solomon Burke album 'Don't Give Up on Me' (2002). It's not really a ballad, although strangely moving. 'Diamond in Your Mind' was written in 2000 by Waits and wife Breenan. I don't believe it was recorded by Waits until this live version, which is taken from Healing the Divide: A 'Concert for Peace and Reconciliation' given by Dalai Lama, Tom Waits, Kronos Quartet, Philip Glass, Foday Musa Suso and Anoushka S in 2007.
It popped up on Spotify yesterday and has been ear worming me ever since. Populated by the usual bawdy menagerie, it's as universal as it is singular; Wait's particular genius.
It's also funny as hell...

I shook the hand of the President and the Pope in Rome
I've been to parties where I've had to be flown
They said everything was sacred, nothing was profane
And money was something that you throw off the back of trains

Oh always keep a diamond in your mind
You gotta always keep a diamond in your mind
Wherever you may wander
Wherever you may roam
You gotta always keep a diamond in your mind

Steam of the gravy with little fried pearls
Floating like a necklace on a beautiful girl
Johan says thanks to the food and land
And oh so ever grateful for God's on my hands

Oh always keep a diamond in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind
Wherever you may wander
Wherever you may roam
You gotta always keep a diamond in your mind

She's got the milk of human kindness and the fat of the lamb
Scared like a baby, well she drives like a man
She lives outside of Natchez where she operates a crane
She's like a wrecking ball no longer connected to the chain

Oh Zerelda Samuel said she almost never prayed
Said she lost her right arm, blown off in a Pinkerton raid
Then they lashed her to a windmill with old 3-fingered Dave
Now she's 102 drinking mint juleps in the shade

Everybody, always keep a diamond in your mind
You gotta always keep a diamond in your mind
Wherever you may wander
Wherever you may roam
Your gotta always keep a diamond in your mind

Monday, 22 September 2014

Tom Waits for No-One: 2: Time: From 'Rain Dogs' (1985)

Wait's married screen writer Kathleen Brennan in 1980 and her theatrical influence became apparent in his writing, initially with 1983's 'Swordfishtrombones'. He followed that in 1985 with 'Rain Dogs'. It was originally going to be called ‘Beautiful Train Wrecks’ or ‘Evening Train Wrecks’. Wait's sense of mischief remained keen; a smirk beneath kind, squinting eyes. Always a compassionate chronicler of his stray dogs, his cantankerousness now seemed heightened; a Prospero, the playful puppeteer, detached enough to hack through a string or two just to see what happens. 'Rain Dogs' is certainly populated by victims, survivors; surely injured, grotesque and grateful, all desperate to tell their tales of survival; perhaps for the exchange of a story; a shared cigarette or the offer of some small change as the sun settles on their journeys.
Although the musicality of 'Time' itself is quite conventional it was around this time that Tom was trying to write less on the piano and involve more unconventional orchestrations; using disparate instruments such as the marimba, banjo, double bass and... bones:

"Your hands are like dogs, going to the same places they've been. You have to be careful when playing is no longer in the mind but in the fingers, going to happy places. You have to break them of their habits or you don't explore; you only play what is confident and pleasing. I'm learning to break those habits by playing instruments I know absolutely nothing about, like a bassoon or a water phone"

'Time' is the sound of fractured folk holding their breath, cast adrift, treading water; trying to stay afloat amidst the flotsam, a plethora of past imperfect lyricism, an overabundance of beauteous vignette that reeks of love, loss and longing. Oh, and the tune's not bad either... In this wonderfully doleful song Tom's eye settles on a particular transience; rain on a rusty metal roof, tapping out the passing moments of a bewildered rogue's gallery; yearning, displaced and lonely. There is a grit to the romance that renders their rain soaked streets authentic. And there's hope around the soggy edges in the yearning yelp: “It’s time, time, time that you loved/It’s time, time, time.”
I always get chicken skin during this evocative verse:

And they all pretend they're Orphans
And their memory's like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you can't remember
Tell the things you can't forget that
History puts a saint in every dream
Well she said she'd stick around
Until the bandages came off
But these mamas boys just don't know when to quit
And Matilda asks the sailors are those dreams
Or are those prayers
So just close your eyes, son
And this won't hurt a bit

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Tom Waits for No-One: 1: Kentucky Avenue: From 'Blue Valentine' (1978)

Sappy title I know but...

Tom's best 'ballads'? 
An impossible question as each is like a cross eyed lover; you adore them for their perfect imperfections, best loved ever changing, depending on your own state of dishevelment or displacement...
There's the more obvious early balladeering of the Asylum Years but his output post 'Swordfishtrombones' has been similarly affecting; Waits will always tug your heartstrings by grabbing you very gently by the throat. The increasing dissonance in his music renders the occasional moments of baleful beauty twice as nice. It's like the clouds parting on a nightmare; you surrender to a dream of a song and love it all the more for it's ephemeral effect; sure that its fleeting beauty is a prelude to darkness descending again. That's the nature of the beast in Tom; he dresses himself (and addresses us) as a hobo, an outsider; a Peeping Tom if you like. You sense him sanguinely squinting at the world from the gutter; because that's surely where the interesting folk abide; the walking wounded sidelined by sorrow, bad judgements or just plain bad luck. Tom's always on the move though, that transience is what makes him such an engaging raconteur. He populates his world with such worldy wonders that we can't look away but wouldn't want to walk those streets.

I'm posting regularly, but in no particular order, some bleeding obvious gems, other rough diamonds that might have been lost amongst the rubble.

I love 'Kentucky Avenue' like no other... so much so that I'm posting the live and recorded versions.
I always get a little moist during the penultimate verse.
The strings swell and Tom pleads:

"Take the spokes from your wheelchair
And a magpies wings
And tie 'em to your shoulders and your feet!
I'll steal a hacksaw from my dad
And cut the braces off your legs
And we'll bury them tonight in the cornfield"

I'm continually dipping into a collection of interviews: 'Innocent When You Dream' is basically Tom on Tom; with the usual tall tales and u-turns that inform any conversation with this mischievous minstrel; he flits between cantankerous, charming and irascible; wily, witty and never dull.
I'd happily have him on my desert island but I'd not be lending him my matches...

"My best friend, when I was a kid, had polio. I didn't understand what polio was. I just knew it took him longer to get to the bus stop than me. I dunno. Sometimes I think kids know more than anybody. I rode a train once to Santa Barbara with this kid and it almost seemed like he lived a life somewhere before he was born and he brought what he knew with him into this world and so... It's what you don't know that's usually more interesting. Things you wonder about, things you have yet to make up your mind about. There's more to deal with than just your fundamental street wisdom. Dreams. Nightmares."

Feel free to chip in...

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Timely Perhaps...

Taken from 'Hopeland (Notes from Corsica)

Fish to Fry

It was a beautiful day, not a cloud. We sat outside La Chariot in Algajola and ordered pizza with anchovies, served with a piquant olive oil and vinegar combination that wasn’t for the meek. We had stopped for a quick lunch and then it was to be a beach day; we had books to finish. Protected from the sun by silver birches that sheltered the restaurant’s garden, we shared a carafe of rose and waited for the earth to turn. We loved the odd duality of this calm bustling haven; the patron Patrick was the double of Di’s brother Steve so, for her, it also had an illogical fraternal pull. On finishing our demi we began to wonder where our food was. The service here was usually great but, there was no service; everyone was crammed into the tiny bar watching television. I tried to catch an eye, but to no avail. Maybe it was a racing day; I knew that the old boys inside loved their horses, hacking and slapping their thighs as they wagered and lost centime after centime. I stumbled into the smoky darkness and peered at the throbbing silver glow. No horses, but what seemed like an American blockbuster; all sirens, explosions and an overactive NYPD. The hushed reverence with which this action was viewed confused me. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I asked the barman. “This” he announced, “is World War Three.” I lent towards the screen at the very moment that the second tower was hit. There was a collective throaty gasp as the shadow of a plane buried itself deep and indelibly into the consciousness of all who witnessed that devastating moment. The coverage was CNN but with an excitable French commentary that I couldn’t decipher. “An accident?” I asked the room. “Terrorists! New York is burning” a strangled voice replied. I held on to the bar, light headed with the gravity of the moment and caught myself, a stranger, in the long mirror above the bar. I wasn’t acting, this was momentous, America under attack on its own soil; things could never be the same again. I looked out of the bar into the absurd sunshine and beckoned Di in. Ahead of her waded a willowy man dressed in the traditional bleu de chien, a faded blue cotton fishing jacket, and bright red rubber boots, with a simple fishing rod over his shoulder and the handle of a green plastic bucket in his hand. What hair remained was oiled and middle parted. Atop a prominent elegant nose he wore round tortoise shell spectacles, beneath, his luxuriant moustache was the stuff of legend. Oblivious to the unfolding drama he made his way lugubriously to the bar and ordered a glass of Pastis, which he held for an age beneath that long nose before downing it in one. Wiping his moustache with the back of a hand, he took off his glasses and scanned the room, his bleary eyes eventually resting on mine. He nodded down at his bucket with a shrug. “Up since dawn, for one fish. Merde!” I looked into the slopping container. A lonely red mullet was doing laps, fishing for company, or a way out. Ordering another drink the man’s squinting gaze followed mine to the TV screen. The twin towers smoked and blazed. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” he asked, indifferently, scratching his peeling pate. “This,” I replied “is World War Three. Terrorists!” He arched his eyebrows and scowled down at his catch. “Terrible, a disaster” I muttered. “Terrible yes, but not a disaster” he gently kicked his bucket, “for tonight there will be fish soup”.

Later, back in England I would see a TV documentary on 'The Falling Man', about the efforts to identify a poor soul captured on film that day, falling to his death from World Trade Centre. Since its publication the now iconic photograph, taken by Richard Drew, has been invested with many layers of meaning. Some thought that the image should be airbrushed from history, that to view it was voyeuristic. Others saw it as a symbol, a new flag for a now outward looking America. There seems to be a calm about the man's descent that defies the horrors surrounding him, he's caught in a brief moment of apparent grace. Of course, the shots before and after that frame tell the true tale of this prelude to extinction; he hurtles at 130mph, limbs akimbo, towards certain death. I was struck by the idea of this being the man's last choice. He could accept the fate thrust upon him by the terrorists, or he could choose to control his own destiny, albeit a limited choice, but still an empowering moment; not suicide, but choosing your own time of departure. Is there not a dignity in that, and should we not recognise that dignity? To look away would seem to deny the fact that he made a choice, should we not honour him by bearing witness? I wrestled with the subject. There was something in the way that people reacted to the photo that intrigued me. Eventually it came to me; we all wanted to see his face, his expression, to know how he felt, to see ourselves in his place. There but for the grace of God indeed, he is ‘all of us’! 

I later heard an interview with a man who had spoken to his wife on a cell phone just before she jumped. He spoke calmly about her making the ultimate choice, and the comfort taken from knowing that she was thinking of him and their children as she leapt and he was sure that for her it was a kind of homecoming. She was able to breathe freely and for one last moment be under a beautiful blue sky. He said something like "to be out of the smoke and into fresh air, she must have felt like she was flying", an endorsement of the human spirit too profound to ignore. The idea that, as this horror unravelled, I was under the same blue sky, looking into a green bucket, sharing a Corsican fisherman’s disappointment, remains a constant reminder to me of the vagaries and vulnerabilities of any life, the transience and resilience of the human condition and the profundity of the mundane. As strangers bequeath their chosen Heaven or Hell upon us all, no man truly controls his own destiny. Whilst individually we all live where compromise leads us, collectively we must learn to control our politicians and to own our religions. We empower them to provide protection and comfort, not perpetuate the terrors that seem to feed them. At a distance the world might tear itself apart, but meanwhile on this peculiar island, there were other fish to fry.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

'Trevor' the Tractor

My first word was 'Tractor'
Unsure as to why
Now whenever I see one
Just want to cry, cry and cry

If my first word was 'fog'
Well that would be better
Not a workingman's clog
To hobble and fetter

That first word's a factor
I wish to deny
It's what I am not
I'm no practical guy

Unspecific and vague
My perfect report
Try bottling that
In a winsome retort

I've only one gear
And it leads to an easel
I'm all crutches, not clutches
Work on whisky, not diesel

And why am I writing
These words not so clever?
I've been gifted a picture
Of a Tractor named 'Trevor'

William Carlos Williams wrote this:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

With regard to the inspiration for the poem, Williams wrote: 
"The Red Wheelbarrow" sprang from affection for an old Negro named Marshall. He had been a fisherman. He used to tell me how he had to work in the cold in freezing weather, standing ankle deep in cracked ice packing down the fish. He said he didn’t feel cold. He never felt cold in his life until just recently. I liked that man, and his son Milton almost as much. In his back yard I saw the red wheelbarrow surrounded by the white chickens. I suppose my affection for the old man somehow got into the writing."

Unsure as to why I'm writing this other than that I've been reading about 'enjambment' and 'objective representation'. 
It's a slow day and... I love WCW's poem.
Unsure as to why.
Maybe because it's meditative, and vaguely specific... if that makes sense...
Oh, and perhaps because someone just sent me a picture of a tractor... named 'Trevor'.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Lovesong: Joe Henry: 'Sign' & 'Slide'

Reading Joe Henry's birthday eulogy for Elvis Costello yesterday got me reaching, tellingly, not for EC records, but for Joe's latest; the exquisite 'Invisible Hour'.
If you haven't yet had the pleasure you really should check it out.
Excuse this regurgitation but... upon release, I was so moved by it that I blogged and wrote an Amazon review.
It went something like this:

"I take all this to be holy
If futile, uncertain and dire
Our union of fracture, our dread everlasting
This beautiful, desperate desire"
This morning I read a piece by Andy Miller in The Guardian about how we are losing the ability to read.
I wasn't actually rustling a broadsheet but prodding at the online version… a case in point I guess.

"Although we love to argue about books, acquire them, express strong opinions about them, etc, etc, more than ever we seem to be losing the knack of reading them."

It seems to Miller that we are faking cultural literacy; consuming 'Art' has become more about ticking boxes and basking in culture's reflected glory rather than in its actual glow.
He quotes the writer Eleanor Catton's perception:

"Consumerism," she writes, "requiring its products to be both endlessly desirable and endlessly disposable, cannot make sense of art, which is neither."

Could we add that we are also losing the art of listening?
Particularly listening to music.
Is your iPod and Spotify on 'Shuffle' folks?
Do you rely on suggested Playlists for your musical ennui?
I know that I do; and I rally against such thoughtless behaviour.
We all do it and deny ourselves the pleasure of a progressive listen.
I believe that artists still ponder long and hard on segues.
I know that I do...
Come on.
What was the last album you listened to top to tail?
Be honest now.
Please list them below; I need some inspiration.
This morning I listened straight to the new Joe Henry album 'Invisible Hour'.

"It wasn't peace I wanted and it wasn't peace I found..."
These are his first words and I'm totally connected.
"… and our very blood tastes like honey now".

And then, before I knew it… the album finishes.
I'd been lost; an invisible hour indeed.
I hit replay and… it's even better 2nd time.
I'm currently on my 4th rotation and… not one cup of coffee needed.

"What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed content first-hand but simply knowing that it exists."

Please, and you'll thank me for this, find your new favorite 'album' today.
I recommend Joe Henry's new 'Invisible Hour' but Roddy Frame's 'Seven Dials', Cherry Ghost's 'Herd Runners' and John Smith's 'Great Lakes' are up there too.
I know that I'm probably preaching to the choir but… it's great to rediscover a lost pleasure.
It made me remember my first listening of Springsteen's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'.
I was quivering like a s***ting dog; at the end of side two I was singing like a tuning fork.
I know, it's bleeding obvious advice, like 'don't drink too much' or 'floss', but some times we all need to be reminded of the bleeding obvious.
Turn off the TV, lose your phone, let the laptop battery go flat.
Source (or even buy) 'Invisible Hour' and for 50 minutes, sit back and reevaluate your losses.
Then make those losses beloved!
Here endeth..

Here's a sure 'Sign' of the man's greatness:

And another beauty; 'Slide':

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Purbeck Festival

I've just got home from a fairly challenging weekend at The Purbeck Folk Festival. 
It's set on a splendid little peninsular in Dorset, just up from the Jurassic Coast.

Four days surrounded by other people's noisy children, dressed in onesies (them, not us) and seemingly training for future life in a circus. We resided in a yurt and could be found permanently balancing our bums atop that now infamous 'long drop' before taking gloriously cold showers whilst standing in other peoples drippings... I think that they should introduce the practice as a replacement for the much maligned idea of National Service for toughening up the young or feeble minded. Four days of that prepares you for anything.
Di and Lou (our neighbor) had arrived early and were keen for our company. Di welcomed me with 'They're all into Bread', which I took to be a sure sign of middle age and quality control; whisper it, but I like a bit of David Gates myself. I said as much and the girls looked at me strangely until I realized that Di was making a disparaging remark about the bloodline of some of our camping neighbors... Aaah... 'They're all interbred...' I've got to admit that there was a high count of overbites and wandering Adam's apples. We tried not to make eye contact. And these weren't the cheap seats; this was the posh 'glamping' area; cordoned off with red tape and everything...

The music on offer was a real mixed bag, it seemed that most of the musicians were struggling with the austerity and stink too. Chris Wood was grey, grizzled and gloriously grumpy, poking at our comfort and conscience; breaking our hearts with his social commentaries and domestic dramas. 
'My Darling's Downsized' was just exquisite.

Emily Barker (resplendent in a 'C*untry' Ain't a Dirty Word T shirt) and the Red Clay Halo were pretty damned fine too; their new album 'Dear River' is cracking and received a full airing.  
This particular song kept the bottom lip wobbling after Wood...

In contrast, Eddie Reader was a joyful bundle of newly wed bliss. Boo Hewerdine was there too, to keep an eye on proceedings, and did a sterling job.
The live highlight was a surprise. I've got all Turin Brakes' albums; liked but never loved. 
Live they were just awesome; a tight four piece; two guitars, bass and drums. It was a good old fashioned show. Exhilarating in fact. This clip is from elsewhere but gives you a taste of the dynamic...

Lloyd Cole played solo and also seemed to be suffering 'The Long Drop' blues. There sure seemed to be a bad smell under his nose. He didn't have much to say but when he did chat it was mumbled, acidic and arch. He wore a velvet jacket and slippers and played a fine set, re-imaginings of a fine back catalogue; brutally edited; I think that 'Rattlesnakes' was barely 2 minutes long. He encored with 'Forest Fire' which of course lacked that awesome guitar solo but was still fairly incendiary. 

We drove home this morning in horizontal rain to upright loos with soft toilet paper and warm baths.
And then I opened up my laptop and the first email awaiting me was this from Toronto Tim. 
Strange serendipity...


I just stumbled across this video of a recent Lloyd Cole show. 
You know how I've been moaning about how LC seems to be terminally glum, and getting a little long in the tooth to "rock"? 
Well the bugger has proven me wrong. 
Seems that he's having a ball here performing a blazing version of "Forest Fire" with a stellar band of Glasgow mates he's assembled, calling themselves The Leopards. Mick Slaven (Deacon Blue), Dougie MacIntyre (Love & Money), Campbell Owens (Aztec Camera), Jim Gash (Pearlfishers/Ricky Ross) & one of my favorite organists of all time (along with Federici & Tench) - longtime LC cohort Blair Cowan. 
A fan spliced together this video with uploads of 4 other fans at the concert and did a pretty nice job. Low budget but fantastic!

Old Lloyd or Young Lloyd... Which do you prefer?

FOREST FIRE (live 1985 - Munich):  Lloyd Cole and The Commotions - Forest Fire (Live HQ)