Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Australia(n): Men At Work/Down Under



purchase [Down Under]

There really isn't anything more Australian in this genre than Men at Work's <Down Under>.
I've checked the SMM records: surprisingly, there's no record of either Men at Work nor Down Under!

Maybe that's not such a surprise: the group had but a single major hit (some lesser hits, OK). But this song is the first that comes to [my] mind when you say "Australia". No?

Back in 1982, I used to record MTV to VHS tapes so that I could watch these hits again and again 10,000 miles away at any time I wished.

The SongFacts web site provides some depth to the bottle-clanging in the official video for the song:
>It was just a little bass riff with some percussion that he played on bottles which were filled with water to varying degrees to get different notes. It was a very intriguing little groove.
I really loved it, it had a real trance-like quality to it. I used to listen to it in the car all the time.<



Avicii & Men at Work above (more Avicii here)

Australia: Midnight Oil/Blue Sky Mining


Midnight Oil: Blue Sky Mine
[purchase]

There are many great bands and musicians from Australia, and I hope that we get to a bunch of them over the next two weeks. I’m going to start off with my favorite, Midnight Oil. Like most Americans who have heard of Midnight Oil, I first became aware of them with what is still probably their most famous song, “Beds are Burning,” from 1987’s Diesel and Dust (released in the US in 1988). It is a great song, highlighting the claims of indigenous Australians to their historic land. And the album raised other concerns of indigenous Australians and environmental matters (and had another great single, “The Dead Heart.”)

Not surprisingly, there was a bit of a backlash about a bunch of white guys raising these issues, but it seems that the band did all of the right things (like donating their royalties to indigenous organizations and touring with indigenous bands), and it seems that eventually, most people appreciated the fact that Midnight Oil’s popularity raised the profile of these issues.

It was the band’s next album, 1990’s Blue Sky Mining, that made me a confirmed fan—in fact to this day, it remains one of my favorite albums, and is included in any conversation about my “Desert Island Discs.” I think that while it lacks a single track that has the staying power of “Beds are Burning,” each of Blue Sky Mining’s 10 songs are strong, and the album holds together from the opening sorta title track, “Blue Sky Mine,” about the experiences of workers at the Wittenoom blue asbestos mines, to the environmentally focused closer “Antarctica.”

The band decided to both make their music a little more accessible and make their message even more political, and it worked. Not to mention that the success of their prior album gave them the opportunity to work at a better studio, so the sound of the album is much cleaner. There are songs about the need to remember and examine Australia’s difficult history, corrupt politics, divisiveness, and other environmental and political issues. Damn—all of these issues are still problems in the world. Here’s a nice article about the album, including an interview with guitarist Jim Moginie and producer Warne Livesey, looking back on it after 25 years.

Midnight Oil’s environmental and political emphasis was not just empty rhetoric. On the tour supporting Blue Sky Mining, the band, in New York to play at Radio City Music Hall, pulled up on a flatbed truck at Exxon’s nearby headquarters, unfurled a banner that read “Midnight Oil makes you dance, Exxon oil makes us sick” and played a 30-minute lunch-hour set to protest the prior year’s Exxon Valdez spill. Peter Garrett. the band’s 6’4” shaved-head frontman was the President of the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1989–1993 and 1998–2002, and during 1993–1998 he was on the International Board of Greenpeace. He also served in the Australian House of Representatives and in the Cabinet as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and later as Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth.

David Letterman loved Midnight Oil, and I loved Dave. He usually introduced them with some crack about how Garrett scared him, and referred to them as “bushmen,” which seemed funny at the time, but hasn’t really aged well. Here’s a video of their performances on his show, and in the last one, you can hear some of Dave’s comments.

Being who I am, I did go back and get copies of most of the band’s albums before Diesel and Dust, and they didn’t totally grab me, and I didn’t listen to them much. They seemed to be searching for a style, mixing punk, pop and even prog influences that really came together in a trio of albums that started with Diesel, continued with Blue Sky and ended up with its successor, Earth and Sun and Moon (with a fine live set that was released during this period). After that, although they put out some good music, to my ears they never again reached the peak of that three album run. They are a band that I have never seen live, and regret it.

Midnight Oil disbanded in 2002, when Garrett left the band, although they reformed intermittently for benefit shows. They reunited for a world tour in 2017 (somehow, I missed their NY dates) and are touring Europe and the UK later this year.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Lion/Lamb: Leo Kottke




purchase some essential [ Leo Kottke  ]

Seems to me that the jump from Lion/Lamb to Leo is perfectly reasonable for our current theme, considering the derivation of the two.

Leo Kottke has always held me in awe since I first heard him back in the 70's.
There is something different about his style - a not necessarily visible "attack" to the strings of his guitar. An approach more felt than seen. Not quite as removed from a standard chord progression as John Fahey's way out there style, but still verging in the same dissociation from the expected. He hits notes unexpected, but they fit in in their own way.

Kottke has influenced no small number of musicians. It's hard to have heard him and not been affected by his style: the ring of the strings, the repetition ...

One of my favorites of Kottke's works is his interpretation of Bach's <Jesu Joy>.
I took a moment to go off on a tangent from this, remembering that Bach has various references to sheep in his work (You know .. Jesus as pastor of his flock.  And in fact, there are Bach "lyrics" of that sort:  ... while we like sheep ...

But I couldn't locate any Kottke video to back this up.

Friday, March 15, 2019

LION/LAMB: MOSES & THE LAMB/THE WAIFS

Uncertain whether I would be lion enough to manage this, given I have spent the last five days driving from my home, in the middle of England, to Sweden, via (a ferry to) Holland, Germany and Denmark. And now, a return journey. No, not escaping the shitstorm of Brexit, even if I'd like to, delivering instead my son to his girlfriend, and a new life, in Malmo. But, no lamb me, here I sit, in the cold, literally, light of early morning, tapping away, making me feel, in the middle of Westphalia, quite the adventurer. Which is a clunky way of introducing this tune and the band that play it, Australia's the Waifs, australians seeming always the most inveterate of travellers. (As they display with this early number.)


This song is from their sixth album, 'Temptation', in 2011, by which time they had moved from becoming world famous in their homeland to slightly known elsewhere. A support slot with Bob Dylan clearly did no harm, transporting them from his 2003 tour of Oz to the north american continuation thereof. I had come across them from appearances on the UK festival circuit around that time, liking the rootsy sounds, amalgamating bits of folk with blues and country. Consisting of two sisters, growing up with their dad's record collection, and a busker they met, asking him to join their band within hours, or so the story goes, a name was steadily built.

What's it about? I guess it sounds a standard gospel/blues standard; indeed, I thought it was. Actually it was penned by Josh Cunningham, the aforesaid busker, and stems from his becoming a born-again christian. Round about the same time, one of the sisters, Donna Simpson, got sober, with some of the other songs recounting that journey. I have no record of what the other sister/other member Vicki Thorn was going through at the time, but it is a fine, if sometimes galling, record.

Two records have followed, in 2014 and 2017 respectively. The title track of the latter, 'Ironbank', effectively offers an explanation of how and why they still exist. I'm glad they do.



Moses & the Lamb, here

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Lion/Lamb: Mary Had a Little Lamb


Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Mary Had A Little Lamb
[purchase]

Ultimately, what underlies this blog, over its long history, is recorded music. And while Edison may not have been the first person to figure out how to record stuff that could be played back (that achievement is currently credited to Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, who invented the phonoautograph in the mid-1850s, but never profited from it), he was the one who popularized it, and in the technology world, the glory often goes not to the first, but to the best or luckiest marketer.

The first thing that Edison recorded in 1877 was the nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” That original recording has been lost, but a recording of the rhyme on an Edison machine in 1878 by Thomas Mason, a St. Louis newspaper political writer, still exists, and you can hear that here, after some music.  (It is wrongly attributed to Edison, as you can read here.) In 1927, at the Golden Jubilee of the Phonograph ceremony, Edison recalled that fateful day, and you can hear that here. And if you are interested in the disputed history of the writing of the original rhyme, the Wikipedia article is here.

Although there’s sort of a sing-song tune that goes along with the rhyme, we are not going to discuss that, even though it is probably already lodged in your brain right now.  Sorry.  Instead, we will jump ahead to 1968, and an album by soon to be Blues Legend Buddy Guy, A Man and the Blues, on which he recorded a fun, bluesy version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” throwing in a little “A Tisket, A Tasket,” for good measure.. (In 1990, when my son was all of two months old, my wife and I brought him to Central Park to a free Buddy Guy show. We did stand in the back—somewhere in this picture, maybe--but Buddy jumped off the stage and ran through the crowd playing, and came right up to us. Begging the question whether we were very good or very bad parents. I don’t recall whether he played “Mary” that day, because I was enthralled by his playing, and was worried about my infant son and his mother, considering that I had been a father for all of two months and had no clue what I was doing.)

Frankly, though, I first became aware of the tune from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version on his debut album from 1983, Texas Flood, which spawned the better known singles "Pride and Joy" and "Love Struck Baby," and the great live version on Live Alive. There’s really not much more to say about it—it was clearly a goof when Guy recorded it (if brilliantly done), and Vaughan seemed to regard it similarly, but also as another showcase for his incendiary guitar playing.

OK—one more thing. This article, which discusses the song, posits that Guy swiped the song, knowingly or not, from Freddie King’s instrumental “Just Pickin',” which itself may have been nicked from another bluesman, Earl Hooker, whose song “Two Bugs and a Roach” sounds similar. Who knows?

No one, though, seems to have sued anyone over the royalties.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

LION/LAMB: THE LION & THE UNICORN/THE MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG


Ever vigilant in my aim to extend my often anglocentric peccadilloes to a wider audience, I dare say The Men They Couldn't Hang may be an unknown quantity to many readers. Which is a pity. Indeed, they are probably also fairly niche on these shores, despite recently ratcheting up a 35th year of performing. Arising out of the short-lived UK cowpunk movement of the 80s, which also produced the Pogues in their earliest incarnation, as well as lesser known names as the Boothill Foot-Tappers. (I know, I can hear the yells from Distressed, Arkansas, chiding me for using the term cowpunk, a term that, a little later, became the term for a more aggressive and electric ragged country sound in the US,  a sort of americana before it was called americana, but, much as I like that too, we used it first and, hey, I'm writing. My guys were a little gentler and used a little more acousticity.)

Pulling tropes from folk music, country and punk, TMTCH always had a strong sense of history, and, hailing from the naval garrison town of Portsmouth, often this was maritime history, encompassing anything from smuggling to the Napoleonic wars. I was drawn in early, finding their rough hewn melodic jangle very much to my ears. A flurry of records appeared between 1984 and 1991, when they first threw in the towel. But no band ever really breaks up these days, do they? In 1996, buoyed by a few interim reunion, they officially reformed, or at least the dominant front line of singer/songwriters Paul Simmonds, Phil 'Swill' Odgers and Stefan Cush, backed by a varying line-up in the rhythm section of guitar, bass and drums, with, often, the additional services of Bobby Valentino, fiddler extraordinaire and Clark Gable lookalike. In the intervening 20 years they have kept up a credible presence, alternating full band tours with individual projects, albeit often with one or other of them tagging along. I have seen them twice, in about 1990 and then again last year. (Here's what I thought.)


So how about the song? And what of lions and unicorns? Actually, a timely moment to consider, 20 odd days ahead of the UK 'regaining' its sovereignty and bouncing out of europe. Or at least the EEC. At the time of writing, no deal yet forthcoming, it looks and feels as comforting as a poke in the eye. The lion and the unicorn are the heraldic emblems on the country's coat of arms. If the lion is a symbol of fierce steadfastness, the unicorn is a symbol of fantasy. I know which feels the more realistic.

How prophetic are these words, penned by Paul Simmonds in 1990, describing his then perception of the status of this nation. I would hate for history to become literally the only future.


'Welcome friends from overseas
I'm your guide I aim to please
I know what you want from me
Sights and smiles and history
I'll take you down to the Underground
Tha's where the spirit of the Blitz is found
Hear those sirens over your head?
See that platform, thats your bed

(Chorus)
Who went mad, who drowned in drink?
Who's in a cage and who's extinct?
Who ended up in a uniform?
The Lion and The Unicorn

Here's the church there's the steeple
Open it up where are the people?
Thinking up ways to take your dough
By deal or scheme or unseen blow
Now out to the shires where the towns are quaint
We spruced them up with a coat of paint
That white paint don't cover up dirt
Bandages don't cover up hurt

(Chorus)
I'll tell you tales of kings and sailors
Puritans, outlaws, thieves and traitors
Show you round the land we made
Whisper something we betrayed
So where's the hope, where's the reason?
Poisoned by the years of treason
Where's the justice where's the grace?
Disappeared without a trace'

Here is a live version.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Lion/Lamb: Mbube/The Lion Sleeps Tonight

[purchase]

On the one hand, trying to write about the history of this song seems to be biting off more than I want to chew, and yet, despite the popularity of the song, and the publicity about its twisted backstory, it may not be known to all of the readers of this blog.

If you are interested in more than this summary, check out this, or this, or this.

The song that we know now as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was originally written by Solomon Linda, an illiterate black man born in the Zulu lands in South Africa in 1909. He led an a capella band, the Evening Birds, and wrote a song for them called “Mbube,” which means lion in Zulu. It was inspired by Linda’s childhood work as a cattle herder, who had to protect the flock from hungry mbube.

The song, and its style, were so popular that its title became the name for the style. Its release in 1939 by Gallo Records was a success and the song became popular in Europe during the 1940s, ultimately selling over 100,000 copies, despite, you know, World War II, making it the first African record to reach that level of sales. The great ethnomusicologist Allan Lomax played a copy of Linda’s record for his buddy Pete Seeger in 1949. Mishearing the lyrics as “Wimoweh” (a not unreasonable position if you listen to it), ultimately Seeger arranged the song for the Weavers (and a full orchestra).

Linda, poor and likely unaware of the burgeoning popularity of his song, sold the rights for pennies to the studio (and also took a job at the company’s packing plant). And Seeger, who apparently believed the song to be a “traditional” song (note that the label of the 78 in the video above doesn’t credit a writer), credited his version of the song to "Traditional", with arrangement by "Paul Campbell,” a pseudonym that the Weavers used to get writing royalties, thus meaning that Linda (or the company he sold the rights to) got nothing.

“Wimoweh” became a big hit for the Weavers, and a part of their standard repertoire, including in a famous performance at Carnegie Hall. It also became a popular song for other folk groups to record, including the Kingston Trio (who credited the song to the fictional Campbell and the real Linda). South African singer Miriam Makeba recorded the song in 1960 as “Mbube,” and credited it to “J. Linda” (and she sang it at JFK’s birthday party, right before Marilyn Monroe’s more famous performance.)

The next year, George David Weiss was hired to arrange a pop version of “Wimoweh,” and he wrote the lyrics for what became known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which was released by the Tokens, and became a No. 1 hit. The song was credited to “Albert Stanton,” a pseudonym for Al Brackman, who was the partner of Howie Richmond, Pete Seeger’s music publisher. There have been hundreds of covers of the song, in all of its various guises, over the years--even by Brian Eno--and it has been used in movies and plays, most notably the productions and soundtracks of The Lion King.

In a just world, this money would have gone to Solomon Linda, or his descendants. Of course, this is music publishing, so you know that didn’t happen. It appears that Eric Gallo, who bought the rights to the song from Linda, had cut a (bad) deal with Richmond, exchanging the rights to the song for the right to administer it in South Africa and other small markets. Seeger eventually discovered that Linda was the original writer of the song, and wanted his share of the royalties to go to him. He entered into a contract with Linda for this purpose, and directed his publishers to keep sending Linda his share of any royalties. It appears, though, that this didn’t really happen. Seeger later pleaded ignorance, saying, “I didn’t realize what was going on, and I regret it. I have always left money up to other people. I was kind of stupid.” Not only that, but it appears that Linda and his heirs were basically shut out from royalties from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

In 1991, there was an arbitration among some of the rights holders to the songs, at the end of which, the Linda family is awarded 10% of writers’ performance royalties. So very little of the money generated from the song’s huge Lion King popularity made it to them, and they continued to live in poverty.

But, like the popularity of the song, the story wasn’t over. A South African writer, Rian Malan wrote an article in Rolling Stone, which is linked above, explaining in detail the sordid details summarized above. That article spawned an Emmy winning documentary, A Lion’s Trail. Which led to a lawsuit. That lawsuit, however, was not a sure thing—Linda had sold the rights to “Mbube,” and his wife and daughter each did the same. But Disney, the defendant, decided that it didn’t want the bad publicity, and settled the case, confidentially, as is common in such settlements, but which required them to pay certain royalties, both back and going forward, to the Linda family.

So, while justice was not really served, significant injustice was mitigate.

Friday, March 1, 2019

TITLES & HONORIFICS: WE THREE KINGS.........

So many titles, so little time, so I thought I would cheat and sling in a threefer, three for the price of one, choosing three heads of royalty of differing style and background. Of course, there are many Kings in music, even if we discount those with the surname King. So no Albert, Ben E. or B.B. And I thought I would stick to titles rather than honourifics, so no Kings of Pop, Delta Blues or even the.


King Curtis may be an unfamiliar name to many, albeit probably not here, but the diversity of his career and the broadness of his legacy surpasses many better known names. His given name, Curtis Ousley is even less well known. As a child in the sixties, and teen in the seventies, my first awareness of him was his raw honking on John Lennon's Imagine album, especially on 'It's So Hard'. Subtle it ain't, and though he became best known for his aggressive and rasping sound, it wasn't always so. His early influences were in jazz, with his joining Lionel Hampton's band instead of taking up a music scholarship, before branching into sessions. One early piece of work was with Buddy Holly, 'Reminiscin'', for which Holly gave him the songwriting credit. Mixing his own work, with several successful singles of his own, alongside working as a bandleader for, amongst others, Aretha Franklin, he continued still to find plenty of session work. Tragically he was killed in 1971, being stabbed in a fracas with a couple of dealers he heard arguing outside his front door. The song below, made before his death, gave him a grammy for best R&B instrumental, featuring also the late Duane Allman on guitar.


King Tubby is a name associated more as a producer and re-mixer, that being his metier. Unarguably one of the fathers of dub, that studio process of vast and sudden echoes and repeats clattering around a soundscape, entire instruments dropping randomly in and out, all underpinned by subterranean basslines. I bloody love it and, the older I get, so I can't get enough. (Plus it is the golden guarantee of getting a crying baby off to sleep, rocking in your arms to some of Kingston's finest.) Tubby or Neil Fraser as he was known to his mother, is seen largely the instigator of this style, working out of his studio from the late 50s, evolving the format over the next decade or so. Principally derived within and from reggae, in more recent times it has become a much loved tool of re-mixers, some of Tubby's disciples, notably the Mad Professor applying the same techniques to dance and electronica. Here, another of his acolytes, Scientist, explains the roots of dub. Sadly, and worryingly for my 3rd King, Tubby was also murdered, this time shot, and also on his front porch.


So we have had some gold and some frankincense. So it must be creosote time. Or King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, from the Kingdom of Fife, in Scotland. An astonishingly busy career has seen him start and run his own record label, produce and collaborate with any number of other artists and release over 40 recordings of his own, all by his half-century. Most has, however, been under any mainstream radar, however world famous in his own backyard.  Through his Fence Collective he was able to nurture local talent and one famous graduate of that scene is K.T. Tunstall. Other names such as James Yorkston and onetime business partner, Johnny Lynch, aka Pictish Trail, have also had some wider exposure. Creosote himself gradually has become more widely known, in part through his soundtrack work, notably 'From Scotland With Love', and through his work with electronica artist Jon Hopkins. More recently still, his last record, 'Astronaut Meets Appleman', in 2016, featured in many best of year lists, including my own, his mix of a whimsical and emphatically scottish folk sensibility with a motorik rhythm, effortlessly crossing many a barrier of genre. Here's my review of him live in 2017. Give him some eartime and spread his word wider. (Plus he is still alive!)


Curtis.
Tubby.
Creosote.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Titles and Honorifics: Miss ...As in "Don't Want to Miss..."



purchase [ Aerosmith: Don't Want ....]

I'll go off on a tangent here ... A somewhat-warped tangent, but I think I still play by the rules: Miss ... Mister ... Dr ...

A number of my co-workers include their honorifics as part of their email signatures (PhD ...)

I once considered including mine: BA/English  ... and then it seemed ... I don't know... fake ... un-called for. But then I earned a CNA degree (That's Certified Network Administrator) from Novell [remember them?]  after 2 years of rather grueling courses and tests. Again, I thought to include it in my email signature, but opted against. (TWE) To What End?

In and between all this time, society went from monikers such as "Master so-and-so" - relegated to the dust-pile of history - and then we more or less trashed the use of "Miss so-and-so" in place of Ms...

Honorific titles (and such) appear to be in a state of transition. How about the standard business letter that used to start: "Dear Sir..."? How do you reformat that for this day and age? Is "Sir" an honorific of another past generation?

As I noted in my mail to the blog writers, in Europe, some of the honorifics get compounded/extended, such that we get Prof. Dr. so-and-so.

But I digress. Off on the tangent I mentioned ...
The word "miss" has more than one meaning (as do numerous other words in English). It can be one of the honorifics of the current theme. Or it can mean "to lack".

We'll work with the latter.

Aerosmith's "Don't Want to Miss a Thing" has little to do with honorifics (but it satisfies our theme in that it includes one of the honorifics key-words: miss).  It's about "treasuring every moment with another person" - a nice thought to take into tomorrow and beyond. The lyrics are sprinkled with "baby" throughout, but baby is not an honorific title. Maybe it should be. The word <God> shows up, too, but neither is that considered an honorific title.






Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Titles and Honorfics: Mr. Follow Follow



Fela & Afrika 70: Mr. Follow Follow
[purchase]

Last year, I mused about the general lack of protest music, in the vein of CSN&Y’s “Ohio,” despite the myriad reasons to be protesting. But one thing is for certain, these days, making protest music is, for the most part, not dangerous. (Although with a president who advocates violence against journalists and other opponents, vigilance is necessary.) Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” which protested issues including gun violence, racism and discrimination, won all sorts of awards, including the Grammys for Record and Song of the Year (yes, they are different), as well as Best Music Video. Gary Clark, Jr.’s new song, the searing “This Land,” protests racism and the president, and he got to perform the song on Saturday Night Live.

Things were very different, though, for Fela Kuti in his native Nigeria in the 1970s. Kuti, the Afrobeat pioneer, known by the honorific “Black President,” was also a political activist, and he paid significantly for this activism. In 1970, after returning to Nigeria after stints in Ghana and the United States, Fela created the “Kalakuta Republic,” a commune where he lived, recorded and provided refuge for many who opposed the oppressive military junta that ruled the country with an iron fist. He and his band, Afrika 70, released albums that protested the government, which the people loved, but, not surprisingly, the junta hated, leading to raids on the compound.

In 1977, Fela released Zombie, initially containing just two, 12 minute plus songs. “Zombie” called for the people to rise up and oppose the military zombies that oppressed them. It swept the nation, and has become one of his most famous songs, not only because of its message, but because of its incredibly infectious beat. The second song was “Mr. Follow Follow,” in which he warns about blindly following, and if following is necessary, to do so with eyes wide open. It is less catchy than “Zombie,” but is sinuous and foreboding.

In response to this album, the Nigerian government attacked the Kalakuta Republic. Fela was beaten, almost to death. His elderly mother was thrown from a window, and killed. His wives, and other women, were beaten, raped and mutilated. Men had their testicles beaten with rifle butts. The buildings were burned, and Kuti's studio, instruments, and master tapes were destroyed. The medical clinic run by Fela’s brother, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti (who was severely beaten in the attack), was burned.

Journalists who arrived on the scene to report on the attack were themselves set upon by the troops, as were any inquisitive passers-by. In response, Fela delivered his mother’s coffin to the residence of the junta’s leader, and wrote two songs, both of which could theoretically fit this theme, too: “Coffin For Head Of State” and “Unknown Soldier,” mocking the government’s claim that the compound had been destroyed by an unknown soldier.

Ultimately, Fela tried to run for president, but was refused a spot on the ballot, was jailed on a pretext, continued to release music, continued to be politically active, was jailed on suspicion of murder, and died, in 1993, supposedly from complications relating to AIDS, which is disputed.

Like many Americans I was introduced to the music of Fela when the musical, Fela! was on Broadway. My family and I saw it, and it was amazing.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Titles and Honorifics: Doctor My Eyes




purchase [Jackson Browne: Doctor My Eyes ]

A number of my co-workers include their honorifics as part of their email signatures (PhD, MA English ...). De rigueur.

I once considered including mine: BA English  ... and then it seemed ... I don't know... fake ... un-called for. And then I earned a CNA "degree". (That's Certified Network Administrator) after 2 years of rather grueling courses and tests  - and it was no joke back then. Today ... Novell is on the junk pile of IT history (but the background knowledge I learned is not.). I thought to include it in my email signature, but opted against. (TWE) To What End?

In and between all this time, the world went from monikers such as "Master so-and-so", which was relegated to the dust-pile of history, and then we more or less trashed the use of "Miss so-and-so" in place of Ms... But it is location specific still. In Turkey, we still adhere to relatively formal appelations (with multiple honorifics, like the Germans (see below)

Honorific titles are in a state of transition. How about the business letter that used to start: "Dear Sir..."? How do you reformat that for this day and age? Is "Sir" an honorific of another past generation?

In Europe, some of the honorifics extend to several, back-to-back, such that we get both Prof.and  Dr. so-and-so: Prof. Dr. Jones.

Doctor. One of the most venerated honorifics you can achieve. So....Doctor My Eyes it is.



Lest it be forgotten:



Saturday, February 23, 2019

TITLES & HONORIFICS: DOCTOR, DOCTOR/THOMPSON TWINS

Being one myself, I am only too aware that a physicians title is wholly hono(u)rific, always enjoying the wrath of PhDs over said point, especially when they labour the issue and correct the temerity of anyone calling them mister. I don't give a diddly what folk call me, well, by and large, but they usually apply me the title. At work, I mean. It is a bit creepy elsewhere. Which is where I swiftly make the aside that I thought the well-known Jackson Browne song to have a comma in the title and to be an opening consulting room gambit............


Moving swiftly on, weren't the Thompson Twins great? Well, perhaps, and briefly, for no more than a couple of years, ending, possibly, at Live Aid. I dare say their publicist would disagree, but it was a brief and bright flame they burned. Actually anything but an electro band at the time of their formation, in 1997, a standard new wave guitar band of scallywag squatters seeking the streets of gold in London. With anything up to 7 of them to begin with, live shows augmented by whomsoever in the audience they could coax up on stage for added "percussion", never were there either twins or a Thompson in their ranks.


First single, 'Squares and Triangles', an altogether spikier sound than they would later adopt, was not a success, nor the album it became part of. Nor, much, the 2nd, although a freak pick-up of one of the songs from that release, 'In the Name of Love', became a dance hit in the clubs of Chicago. This virtual solo excursion into synthesiser territory gave the impetus to ditch the bulk of the band and reinvent. Tom Bailey, the de facto leader of the larger conglomerate, brought more fully on board the services of part time singer and percussionist, Alannah Currie, and erstwhile roadie, Joe Leeway. Polishing up the sound and employing expensive video shoots became their entry to chart success, with a run of huge singles, starting with 'Love on Your Side'.  'Hold Me Now' was the most successful, but the song featured here came a close 2nd.

I was a big fan. This time, the early 80s, was a boom time for music TV and you couldn't get away from the anthemic tunes and glossy image portrayed by the band, even if it was hard to fully see the point of the already more peripheral Currie and Leeway, seemingly more to do with the videos than the music. I remember an interview with Bailey, describing how he came to write their songs, suggesting he let computer programmes initiate melody lines. Only later came the reveal he had actually trained in classical piano and been a music teacher, prior to dropping out and into full time music making. I was also intrigued to discover that, given the title of this song and piece, his father was himself a medical doctor.


Live Aid, responsible for raising the profile of many another artist, strangely seemed to start the rot. Part of the American leg of the show, they were famously joined on stage by Madonna. Much more a show-biz bash than the UK show that preceded it, earlier that same day, the sound balance was largely appalling and I sort of lost interest. Yes, they continued for a few more years and records, losing Leeway along the way, and, in an effort to ally even more strongly to the increasingly important dance scene, the now duo, also now husband and wife, changed their name to Babble, becoming almost universally unknown in a stroke. (The two of them, however, did write this for Debbie, then Deborah, Harry.)

Bailey and Currie relocated to her home of New Zealand, Bailey becoming involved in the local music scene as a producer, Currie raising their children. The marriage later broke up and Bailey has returned to the northern hemisphere. Without finding much success as a solo artist, he is mainly to be found on the nostalgia circuit of 80s package tours, as Tom Bailey's Thompson Twins. Or, in parallel, as dub trance act International Observer, something far more in tune with my current tastes. Given the renaissance many of his contemporaries have since experienced, who knows, I don't see it impossible for he/they to regain a place in the limelight, such is the collective rose-tinted taste for that decade. If A Flock of Seagulls can come back, surely so too the Thompson Twins?


A final thought. So, if no twins and no Thompsons, why the name? This derives from characters in the comic adventures of the famous Belgian, Tintin, irrepressible detectives Thomson and Thompson. Who weren't even twins.

Your prescription.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Titles And Honorifics: Two Princes


Spin Doctors: Two Princes
[purchase]

The Spin Doctors’ song “Two Princes” is catchy, fun and was a huge worldwide hit. It got a Grammy nomination, for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group (it lost to Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge,” ugh). It was ranked No. 41 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s. And yet, over time, a visceral hatred of the band, and this song in particular, has festered. Blender ranked it No. 21 on its 2004 list of the 50 worst songs ever. Although it appears that this assessment was based mostly on the fact that the writer didn’t like that the band looked like a bunch of “scrabbly beared [sic], questionably hatted, red-eyed stoners.”

Google “spin doctors hate,” as I did, and you will find many articles like this, or this, or this, describing the writer (or interviewee’s) hatred of the band and the song. But you will also find this article, from Popdose, defending the band, and pointing out that there has been, inevitably, a backlash to the backlash. There's this, by someone who listened to the song 100 times in a row, and loves it.  And although the band finished eighth in a 2013 Rolling Stone reader poll of the 10 worst bands of Nineties, the writer noted:  "Also, they really aren't that bad and don't belong on this list."

Interestingly, most of the complaints about “Two Princes” are based on some combination of “the song was overplayed,” “it is simplistic,” “the singer’s voice sucks,” “the lyrics are repetitive,” and “the singer does some silly scatting.” But couldn’t you say that about many, many songs that are popular, beloved and even respected?

Were Spin Doctors a great band? No, but they were pretty good for a while, and fun to see live (which I did, in 1992, I think—but that’s another story). They put out a couple of good albums and a bunch of good songs (and Pocket Full of Kryptonite, which spawned “Two Princes” was filled with a few other gems, including "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong" which would also fit this theme). Is “Two Princes” a great song? Probably not, but it is certainly a very good song.

I’m going to speculate that the hate started as a reaction from the jam band community, which saw Spin Doctors’ popularity as a sell-out, and unjust, because there were “better” bands who had less success. That was picked up by more mainstream critics, who were also able to mock the band for their latter-day hippie image. And at some point, it became part of the culture, like ragging on Nickelback, or saying that “We Built This City” is the worst song ever. (Both of those, though, have merit).

At the end of the day, I have to agree with this comment from Paste: “The decline of hippie-pop three-hit wonders the Spin Doctors from Top 10 to snorting punchline was swift, brutal and not entirely just.”

Thursday, February 14, 2019

HAPPY/UNHAPPY COUPLES: JOHNNY & MARY/ROBERT PALMER

OK, so I'm going to run with this idea of a named couple a little further, given the groundswell (ha!) of acclaim to my previous post, mainly due to this also being a terrific track, long loved by me.


I am uncertain who the named Johnny and Mary might be, I can find nothing about them, but I'll wager it took a fair bit of relationship counselling, should they have ever stayed together, the lyric outlining classic partner dysfunction. It probably wasn't the John(ny) and Mary in the Dustin Hoffman/Mia Farrow film but the song could be a nice projection of their possible fate. I doubt also it was the inspiration for the 10,000 Maniacs spin-off duo of John and Mary, Lombardo and Ramsey respectively, but that at least allows a link. I always feel the song owes some little debt to the classic standard, 'Frankie and Johnny', tho' it was clearly after the failure of aforesaid counselling for that lyric to play out. I always associate them, anyway, but with upward of 256 versions of that staple, and several films, I won't pursue that one. Or not too hard, anyway.

Robert Palmer always stuck out a little from the company he kept, never quite embracing the tribalisms of any of his bands, or the image of the day. I feel he was always happier in the slick suits of his solo days than the hair and flares of earlier band Vinegar Joe. He seemed always a soul man, whether in a rock band or even in the song featured here, an early example of synth-pop. Even in, arguably, his most famous period, the MTV years of 'Addicted to Love', producing unashamedly rock anthems, as memorable to men of a certain age for the band in the video, he managed to maintain a sharp sense of funky. Indeed, his keenest work was inspired, arranged and backed by Lowell George, from deep south mavericks, Little Feat, fusing soul, jazz and country to a broad based rock and roll shuffle, together with the Meters, metronomes of the New Orleans melting pot of influences. He was also an early adopter of reggae, after moving, mid 70s, to a house nearby the famed Compass Point studios in the Bahamas. Not bad for a boy from Scarborough, on the north Yorkshire coast. It is strange to think he was considered almost an elder statesman when, in 1985, he hooked up with members of Duran Duran and from Chic, to form The Power Station, his vocals bridging the diversity of influences into a malleable fusion. All the more so when you remember he died, tragically young, at only 54, in 2003, some 15 odd years later.

Back to the song, living on after the author's death, passing through quite a few hands from Status Quo to Ellen Foley. But it is this version that lingers longest, sung by another englishman, from even further up in the north of England, another rough hewn lad happier in ties and tux, one Bryan Ferry, here fronting a rearrangement by Todd Terje, a norwegian electronic artist.


Enjoy!
Enjoy more!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

happy/unhappy couples: The Letter




purchase [The Letter]


Even though I didn't grow up in the US, my American parents had those perforated, punch-out valentines card booklets for us kids. (Are they still being produced?) Send your sweetie a card. A love letter.

This past week I had my students write a "real" letter. You know? Paper and envelope kind of letter. In this day and age.

After the fact, it got me thinking: I wonder if Jeff and Lauren are a happy couple these days. I wonder if they would have been happier if they had been sending old-fashion letters instead of the electronic version. It's a dying art it is, writing snail mail.





<The Letter> seems to include both happy and unhappy in one swell foop: The couple must be happily in love: the love-letter included lots of love in the form of "can't live without you no more..." (happy), but the distance between is painful: "ain't got time to take a fast train ..."(unhappy). The couple is probably going to be happy when the singer gets there, don't you think?

The songfacts website suggests that the studio addition of the jet plane taking off may have contributed to the song's success (take yourself back to 1967: when people wrote letters and we spelled it "aeroplane").

Happy/Unhappy Couples: Voices Carry

’Til Tuesday: Voices Carry
[purchase]

If you watched MTV in its early days, you almost certainly saw the video above, of ‘Til Tuesday’s 1985 song “Voices Carry.” It was one of the most popular videos of that era, winning the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in a Video, and singer Aimee Mann won Best Female Performer at the American Video Awards. It has taken up residency on most lists of all-time great videos, and it likely propelled the song to a No. 8 slot on the Billboard singles chart. Despite positive critical reception, the band never again reached that level of popularity, broke up after its third album, and Mann went on to a successful solo career (managed by ‘Til Tuesday drummer Michael Hausman).

The video, directed by D.J. Webster, was unusual, in that not only was it shot like a movie, it included dialogue over the music. It tells the story of an unhappy couple—a man, played by actor Cully Holland, dressed and acting like a rich, obnoxious Wall Street guy, and a woman, played by Mann, with untamed, platinum blond hair, the bassist in a New Wave band. The man is controlling and dismissive, denigrating her music as a “hobby,” and trying to get her to act and dress like the arm candy that he believes he is entitled to. Meanwhile, we see Mann playing and singing with the band, and when she returns home, her boyfriend yells at her and, to the extent possible in a video shot for MTV in 1985, forces himself on her, while he fantasizes about a romantic lovemaking session with a brunette, neatly coiffed, version of Mann.

The final, iconic, sequence (based on a scene from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much) starts with the couple, dressed to the nines (if anything, the video shows that Aimee Mann can pull off hats), in the audience at Carnegie Hall, surrounded by similarly well-dressed people. The boyfriend’s smug superiority turns to disgust when he notices that Mann has a small rattail braid peeking out from her hat, and as his annoyance increases, Mann begins to sing along with the song, increasingly forcefully, as the audience begins (not at all without cause) to look askance. As the boyfriend becomes more and more agitated, Mann begins singing louder and louder, before finally standing up, elbowing him on the way, ripping off the hat, displaying her wild hair, and belting out, "He said, shut up! He said, shut up! Oh God, can't you keep it down?” And as the audience turns to watch, the boyfriend buries his head in shame. In so many ways, this song, and especially the video, was way ahead of its time. Add your hashtags here.

Interestingly, Mann originally wrote the song, and the band performed it, about a lesbian relationship. But the record company was not that progressive, so they changed it to an abusive heterosexual couple. Cully Holland, the actor playing the toxically masculine boyfriend, died in 1991, with only three other credits on his IMDB page, and a little Internet research turns up that he died either of AIDS or suicide, and that he was likely gay. So, you had a song about lesbians turned into one about heterosexuals, with the aggressive male member of the couple played by a gay man. The mind reels.

Although many of Mann’s songs deal with difficult and serious topics, she has a great sense of humor. I’ve seen it in her live performances, and it emerges in interviews. Understanding the place of the “Voices Carry” video in music history, she decided to parody it, in a video for her 2012 song, “Labrador.” It begins with a faux “Behind the Scenes” interview with director Tom Scharpling, played by Jon Hamm (who appears to be game for anything), suggesting that they do a shot-by-shot remake of “Voices Carry.” Mann states that she thought it was a stupid idea that she was tricked into doing when Scharpling claimed that the contract was a birthday card for his nephew, which she signed while on the phone, The video is, essentially, the same as the other one, although Mann, more than a quarter century on, and with long, straight hair and dark framed glasses, looks nothing like she did in the original, and the boyfriend is played by drummer Jon Wurster, whose high-pitched voice and little pony-tail mocks the Wall Street bro look of his predecessor. There are other fun bits in the “Labrador” video, which actually looks like it was shot in New York (Boston was the location of the original, except for the façade of Carnegie Hall), but I’ve written too much already, so just watch:

Sunday, February 10, 2019

HAPPY/UNHAPPY COUPLES: JACK & DIANE/JOHN COUGAR (MELLENCAMP)

Is there a more archetypal US couple than Jack and Diane? Well, of course, the answer is an unreserved yes, but, ignoring that, this couple have maintained an ongoing virtual life, come what may, in the nearly 37 years since John Mellencamp brought them first to our attention. Hell, he wasn't even John Mellencamp then, being still the John Cougar some manager thought sounded cooler than his given name. But ain't it a great song?


The song very nearly didn't make it, Mellencamp having dumped it, being unable to get his band to give the accompaninent he heard it as needing. It took Mick Ronson, yes that Mick Ronson, to insist he give it another crack, this time with Ronson on additional guitar. The iconic hand claps shouldn't even be there, being initially just part of the click track to facilitate the arrangement. But it just sounded better with than without. And should you still be pondering the Ronno/Mellencamp linkage, most odd in retrospect, the Spider from Mars and the midwest journeyman roots artist, remember then that John, then Johnny, Cougar was being pushed as a slightly Bowie-esque retro-rocker in the mid 70s, and that the aforementioned manager was Tony DeFries, the famous main man of MainMan, who also looked after Bowie. Anyhow, this song was many years after the DeFries management, but I am sure that's where the pair of them first met. Ronson subsequently invented himself as a go-to guitarist for anyone from Bob Dylan to Ian Hunter, ditching the spandex and stack heels along the way, whilst DeFries ditched Cougar to the no lesser delights of Rod Stewart's management team and Billy Gaff.

The song did well. Number 1 in 1982 for 4 weeks, still his biggest hit. It has also given birth to a number of references across music and film, as the names Jack and Diane have almost come to be generic of just about any young couple in their struggle to stay together. It was certainly the first I had heard of the artist, his earlier US hits having failed to translate across this pond. And I heard no more of him for some time, despite ongoing success in the US. I guess my tastes had always been a tad rootsier than the charts, and I was developing a taste for Steve Earle, as he ploughed his country into a rock furrow. What I didn't know was that (by now named) John Cougar Mellencamp was traversing the opposite direction, in 1987 they each perhaps halfway in the transition. Earle produced 'Guitar Town' in 86 and, a year later, Mellencamp produced 'The Lonesome Jubilee', still, for me, his masterpiece.

Of course he has made many a record since then, most of it in a similar vein, much of it to a high standard. A heart attack slowed him a little in the 90s, yet ironically boosted his status. By his return to performance he was being greeted as a similar icon to the working man as Springsteen, and would appear on stage with the Bob Dylans, Willie Nelsons and Neil Youngs of this world. And so he has continued, increasingly a politicised performer, albeit with views fairly constantly to the left of centre, no small critic of the current regime. (Indeed, I hadn't realised until this day that he was, in fact, one of the founding fathers, with Young and Nelson, of Farm Aid.)


So what of Jack and Diane? Well, they made a (brief) reappearance in the 1998 song, 'Eden is Burning', but the song is, presumably, so allegorical as to give no personal update. But I'll bet he worries who they voted for, last time around. But he still plays it.


Here.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Happy/Unhappy Couples: Happy Loving Couples


Joe Jackson: Happy Loving Couples
[purchase]

Valentine’s Day comes during the end of this theme, so it seemed like a good time to look at happy and unhappy couples. I’ve written before about Joe Jackson’s career, so I won’t repeat myself, but one thing is clear about Jackson is that he writes very sharp, often cynical lyrics, but they often demonstrate ambivalence, and his song, “Happy Loving Couples” is a fine example. My parents did pay for an expensive education, so let me bring in Tolstoy for a second—Anna Karenina somewhat famously begins, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” On the surface, that’s sort of what Jackson seems to be saying here--

Happy loving couples make it look so easy 
Happy loving couples always talk so kind 

And the narrator seems pissed at that—

Until the time that I can do my dancing with a partner
Those happy couples ain't no friends of mine

And he aspires to that sort of easy couplehood, wearing matching clothing and reading Ideal Homes magazine. But the ambivalence in the lyric is really, I think,  that his anger is not simply that he’s uncoupled, but that he realizes that a relationship takes work, and really isn’t all that easy.

The song, like many on Jackson’s debut, is rooted in classic pop/early rock, but sped up and with an edge that put it into the New Wave genre (and to be fair, there’s more than a whiff of Elvis Costello’s Less Than Zero in the chorus), and it would be criminal not to mention Graham Maby’s great bass playing on this song, and most other great Jackson songs.

I didn’t date all that often in my high school and college days (shocking, right?), and sadly more than once found that Valentine’s Day was the end of a relationship, and not the beginning. Or even the middle. But I’ve now been married for more than 30 years to the love of my life, and I know (because people have told me) that they think that our relationship seems easy, and for the most part, it is. But trust me, it isn’t always, and what seems effortless to the outside world does take work, every day. And we don’t wear matching clothes or read home magazines (at least I don’t), but we do occasionally watch Fixer Upper together, because aren’t Chip and Joanna a great, happy (looking, at least) couple?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Spies and Secrets: Secret Agent Man



purchase [ Johnny Rivers Secret Agent Man]

Kind of in the middle of the James Bond/Man from UNCLE and Danger Man (in the UK) came Johnny Rivers' 1966 hit <Secret Agent Man>.

Written by the duo P.F.Sloan and Steve Barri, it was Rivers who took it to the top of the charts (#3). Rivers, along with Sloan and Barri, was under contract to Lou Adler of Dunhill Records.  Curiously, once again, the Ventures again made the most of the times by recording this in addition to their James Bond Theme from back in '62.


If you sense a certain similarity between the two songs (Bond Theme and Secret Agent), that's because ... well ... it's a life of danger. And that guitar is what danger sounds like. And because there is a certain amount of ... plagiarism (No... building on what came before).

That said, seems to me that Johnny Rivers hasn't received the credit he's due. Don't forget: he's also the man who sang the (again #3) hit the following year: <Baby, I Need Your Lovin'>. There's an informative interview/article in Forbes magazine that provides some sense of the man and his life.


Sloan himself tells his version of how things went down here.
Sloan and Steve Barri, incidentally, went on to found The Grass Roots. (Sloan below)


Other versions include:
Bruce Willis (above)

DEVO (above)

Most folks think that Rivers did it best.

SPIES & SECRETS: MY SECRET IS MY SILENCE/RODDY WOOMBLE


If, like me, you find a tot of melancholia is the best pick-me-up on a frosty February morning, you could do a whole lot worse than immersing your ears in this fella. You may know him better as the vocalist and front man of Idlewild, that scottish institution of melodic and intelligent rock, but it is in his other guises I find more pleasure.

Broadly this what I call Glaswegiana (or Weegiana, the derivative), that melting pot of indie-rock and traditional folk, with generous side-orders of country, jazz and classical, anything really, dependent upon who's in town. You can find a fiddle as equally as an electric guitar, an accordion as a synthesiser and bagpipes as a saxophone. Drums, real or electronic, optional but often. Why (Glas)We(e)giana? Well, apart from tripping neatly off the tongue, much of it derives in or around Glasgow, Scotlands 2nd city, itself a melting pot, as the industrial revolution brought in waves of highlanders and irish, anyone dispossessed and looking for gainful, often the detritus of lives lost elsewhere. Whilst the music or musicians might not derive from the city, it is where it coalesces, a sort of hibernian delta triangle. Strong drink has never been far away from the heart of this city, and where there is drink, there is song. So there has always been rich and vibrant musical scene, the city being the breeding ground for bands as diverse as The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Simple Minds and Primal Scream. But it is after hours, after sell-out shows at such iconic venues at Barrowlands and King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut that the seeds of Weegiana tend to be sewn. The yearly Celtic Connections festival, 2 or 3 weeks of gigs and shows across the city, bears ample testament to this. Nominally a "Folk" festival, the list of names appearing shows just how wide a palette this term has become, and there are always specials, one-off commissions and collaborations  that typify my thesis. Here's this years programme. And the sessions, come-all-ye's of whoever has been playing each night, The Festival Club, held nightly at the Art School, from the time of curtain down at all those other venues until the wee hours, exemplify this still further.

But Woomble, more about him. From Irvine, an ancient burgh on the Ayrshire coast, south west of Glasgow, and with a somewhat peripatetic childhood, holidays in his parent's camper van and period of relocation to the states, he ended up in Edinburgh, where the nascent Idlewild came to germination. Hooking up with Colin Newton and Rod Jones, drummer and guitarist respectively, in 1995, the band were initially renowned more for enthusiasm than expertise: one famous early quote had them described as the "sound of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs". However, their gamut morphed relatively swiftly, with the endorsement of influential radio DJ, Steve Lamacq, from mere clatter to a clinging wraparound sound, evocative both of grunge and a powerpoppier sound, not dissimilar to early R.E.M. Indeed, such comparisons, as they lurched into the 2000s, became commonplace, with no diminishment by the comparison. I first came across them about this time, actually as support to R.E.M. in the late summer of 2003, playing at Old Trafford, in Manchester, UK, the home of Lancashire cricket club.

                                                        American English/Idlewild

I liked them, but I liked a whole lot the more folk tinged direction of his debut solo album, entitled the same as the song here featured, in 2006, songs soaked in the spray across windswept jetties of the scottish island, Mull, he had migrated to. In collaboration with others from both folk and rock backgrounds, this epitomised the scottishness my heart adheres to. Then, linking up with Kris Drever, from Lau, folktronica mavericks, and the mercurial John McCusker, fiddler extraordinaire, currently the delight of both the Transatlantic Sessions, another baby of Celtic Connections, and of Mark Knopfler's current band, they set off as a trio, album to follow. Along the way he joined the sprawling collective, Reindeer Section, the ensemble conglomeration of whomsoever Gary Lightbody, of Snow Patrol, could find in Glasgow during those years at the turn of the century: members of Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai and Arab Strap, amongst others.  Marvellous times indeed, encapsulated still further by his curatorship of 'Ballads of the Book', a 2007 album that brings together the cream of then scottish culture, both musically and literary. As well as members of band/individuals as disparate as Teenage Fanclub, King Creosote and the Incredible String Band, premier folkies like Alasdair Roberts and Karine Polwart were present, collaborating with writers such as A.L. Kennedy, Ian Rankin and more. Many names appear time and time again across all of Woomble's involvements, musicians unfettered by their day job, just wanting to play. In 2011, he continued his solo output with 'The Impossible Song and Other Songs', describing the process here.

                                                The Weight of Years/Ballad of the Books

I guess there is less money in such arty fare, and it was to Idlewild Woomble again returned, since which time he has bounced between the two, band and solo, gradually mingling the sources, a fiddle player now part of the live Idlewild experience, and newer Idlewild members appearing simultaneously in his solo band. And the style has narrowed between the two, as more albums appear, band and solo. I saw his solo show perhaps a year or so after "My Secret" , and it was all fiddles and acoustica, a glorious show, yet last year, to commemorate solo album number 4, "The Deluder", it was he and the current Idlewild bassist, Andrew Mitchell/Wasylyk on guitar, playing, largely, a lot of Idlewild songs in an unplugged format. (I picked up the Wasylyk album from the merch desk.....)
Idlewild are on tour this summer. I remain undecided.

Changing the tune a little, in case I find myself accidentally convincing myself I don't like Idlewild, here's Woomble himself, a fine writer, who has penned regular monthly columns for Glasgow's Sunday Herald newspaper, as well as keeping up a blog on his personal website, www.roddywoomble.net. It's about breakfasts.

Get 'My Secret is My Silence' while you can.




Friday, February 1, 2019

Spies and Secrets: F.B.I.


Ian Hunter: F.B.I.
[purchase the album at a very high price]
[purchase just the song, at a reasonable price]

Growing up, as a good liberal child in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the FBI was the enemy. Under the leadership of director J. Edgar Hoover, and after his death, the FBI was instrumental in trying to suppress the civil rights and anti-war movements, discriminate against gays, and generally act as a tool of the “Establishment.” I personally have no problem with enforcing the law, if done fairly and within the bounds of the law—and so I have no problem with the FBI’s anti organized crime or terrorism work, for example—but with respect to the civil rights and antiwar stuff, they definitely crossed the line. Which may be why, in part, it wasn’t hard to watch The Americans, and find myself sorta pulling for the Russians, even though watching the show demonstrated that they were also pretty horrible.

It is interesting, though, that now it is the “leader” of the American government himself who is the biggest critic of the FBI, despite the fact that he appointed its director. And let me be clear—former director Comey deserved to be fired by whichever candidate won the 2016 election because of the way he botched the handling of the investigations of both candidates. But to have done so for the explicit reason of impeding the investigation into alleged conspiracy with Russia to influence the election is simply wrong, and probably illegal. So, it is amusing that these days, it seems like it is the liberal Democrats who seem to be bigger fans of the FBI than the Republicans.

I doubt that the FBI is that big a deal in England, much as the band The Shadows was never that big a deal here. (How’s that for a clunky segue?) But in England, they were huge, with multiple hits, and lead guitarist Hank Marvin influenced pretty much every great English/Canadian/Australian guitarist, including Richard Thompson, Andy Summers, Brian May, Steve Howe, George Harrison, Neil Young, Tommy Emmanuel, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Peter Frampton, and Jeff Beck. Just to name a few.

Although they started out as the backup band for Cliff Richard, maybe the poster child for “huge in England, mostly unknown in the US,” the Shadows went on to fame in their own right, mostly as an instrumental band. “F.B.I.,” released in 1961, was not their biggest hit, but it did hit #6 on the UK charts (and never charted in the US.)

Ian Hunter opened his 1980 live album, Welcome to the Club, with a cover of the song, featuring his band’s guitarist, Mick Ronson, who has also been quoted as saying that Marvin and The Shadows were influences on him. (Both Ronson and Marvin appeared on Roger Daltrey’s solo album, One of the Boys, for what that’s worth). It is a great way to kick off a great live album that includes a bunch of Hunter’s and Mott the Hoople’s best songs (and some other interesting covers). I remember playing this album more than a few times at WPRB.

The aforementioned Brian May also covered the song on a 1996 tribute album to Marvin and The Shadows, as have others.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Spies & Secrets: It's No Secret



purchase [Jefferson Airplane Takes Off]

James Bond, The Man from UNCLE, Our Man Flint ... the 60s spawned an interest in spies that played out in various TV and movie productions both in the US and in the UK.

Way out in San Fransisco, things were headed in a different direction. The "kids" out there tended to look askance at government antics - establishment lies and secrets. Some thumbed their noses, some were outright in-your-face hostile, in the streets protesting the government, while others chose to share their anti-government message in lyrics and song. Among those choosing music was Jefferson Airplane. Check out the lyrics for We Can Be Together.

Just a few weeks back, J.David noted the passing of Marty Balin, but in doing so, probably didn't anticipate that someone else would bring it back around in the Spies/Secrets theme.

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. One of the earliest albums I owned. My musical proclivity then, as now, was pretty eclectic. Probably my favorite from this, their first album is <Let's Get Together> - a full on plea for the hippie-dom philosophy of "we are all brothers (and sisters)". After that track? It's a toss-up between <Come Up the Years> and <It's No Secret>.

<It's No Secret> isn't a song about spies. It's a plaintive Marty Balin love song. This, of course, before Grace Slick. And there doesn't appear to be any spying going on here. After all "it's no secret".
But consider the lyrics (credited to Balin):
As I get older the years they get heavy for you
Oh is it any wonder why I feel that my whole life is through
Yeah, when I stop feeling how strong my love is for you
Oh, know I'll be empty wanting your love like I do



This is nothing like the Beatles <Love Me Do>. The chord changes are beyond the Beatles' I-IV-V, and the notion of love that the song expounds is beyond the innocence of the "Love Me Do" type.

Incidentally, there are other <It's No Secret>s out there - because sometimes love IS a personal secret:

Elvis on a totally different track (he sings "... no secret what God can do"):







Kylie Minogue