Friday, October 25, 2019


I've wanted to do this post for a while, just waiting for the right opportunity, serendipity offering perhaps the least obvious way to shoehorn it in. Collins, erstwhile pin-up poster boy for Glasgow 80's band, Orange Juice, has had a (brief) mention here before, but given his current renaissance, a fight back against most expected odds, and on the back of a new and acclaimed album and tour, time to stake his claim as an ongoing artistic presence of merit.

The two photos are decades apart; that much is obvious, but, following his pair of devastating brain haemorrhages in 2005, when it was assumed he might never fully function again, not only is he writing, singing and performing, he has become a pillar of his home community, Helmsdale, in the far north east of scotland, a small coastal fishing community, from where his forefathers had arisen. Initially unable to speak, one strange quirk of such a brain injury can be the retention of ability to sing. Following surgery and through intensive therapy, he was able to build up from only 4 words/phrases: 'yes', 'no', 'Grace Maxwell' (his wife's name) and, intriguingly and prophetically, 'the possibilities are endless'. True, he can no longer play his earlier and visceral guitar, at least by himself: his right arm is significantly weakened, but, with another person making the chords, he can still strum and pick. Making music again these past twelve years, a momentum of appreciation has built up, as his powers and prowess have built back up, using the recording studio almost as an instrument. 

I can commend a documentary made in 2014, The Possibilities are Endless, recounting his progress until then. This year saw his latest record, Badbea, an older name for the ancestral home to which he had returned and where he had his own studio built. (More accurately, Badbea is the name of the clearance village, to which the local clans were herded, ahead of being "emigrated" to the new world: read about it here.)  The picture of the bekilted Collins is from the 2010 Helmsdale Highland Games, at which he had been asked to be chieftain, able to reprise the role of his grandfather decades previously.

So far and so few witches, you say. Yes, indeed, so let me draw you to a superlative sampler of Collins' earlier output, ahead of the event described, featuring Orange Juice and his early solo works. Entitled Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice: A Casual Introduction, 1981-2001, this came out in 2002, it's need more a reflection of some slight industry dissatisfaction with his direction, the business wanting more poppy fare than the angrier material he was putting out following the demise of that group. It is an excellent sampler and an excellent round-up, ideal to prepare the palate for his current. The OJ hit single is there, in a unique melding of both the 7" and 12" versions, Rip It Up, alongside still standout highlights of his live repertoire, Gorgeous George, and, single, A Girl Like You
(Witches? I'm getting there.......)
Also included are a pair of covers, coincidentally linked by their subject matter of, you guessed it.

Witch Queen of New Orleans
Quite why this cheesy one hit wonder was chosen has continued to baffle me, an ear worm that burrowed into my youthful hatred back in 1971, by the weretherealorweretheyMemorex native indian band, Redbone. I learn, in fact, that their credentials were actually genuine, and that they had a number of hits, even if Witch Queen was the only one to cross over to my side of the pond. And, to my horror, having always devoutly skipped this version on playing this cd, I played it for this piece. You know, it's OK. It IS definitely and desperately cheesy, sure, but more in a mature scottish cheddar way than a monterey jack. It is only available on this disc.

Showing off Collins' masterful croon, this is a cover from the great american songbook I am usually so wary of, although, written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, and dating from 1957, I guess it could have featured in my last post on this theme. Collins here has me thinking more of mid to late period Motown, the time of big ballads and slinky synths, and is, more generally, a style, Motown, to which he increasingly returns, motor city horn arrangements being especially prevalent on Badbea.  Frank Sinatra loved it so much he cut it thrice, but other and more modern versions have included everyone from Robert Palmer to Robert Smith, by way of even Siouxsie Sioux. They all diminish in comparison.

So maybe not so witchy, but hopefully will still cast a spell on any unknowing ears.
The featured album is tough to find, but newbie, Badbea, isn't.
Here's a taster.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Witch: Yes, I'm a Witch

purchase [ The album ]

The following is all possibly "fake".
How would you know?

Yoko Ono is an artist? (True/False?) Yes, I guess so.
You are what you claim to be? Well ... that's certainly part of the road to your destination. But it generally doesn't guarantee it (see the various unknowns I try to include every now and then in my post of famous people's songs [Jimi   Herbie]. It's a fact that some of us are better positioned for one reason or another (and some are luckier)

Is Yoko Ono a witch? The jury seems to be out on that one.

You don't need my history lesson about Yoko to guide you towards your decision. (you can get your own here). On the other hand, I was one of millions that tracked the story of John and Ono in real time (because I was born in the 50s).

Yoko was one of the primary reasons the Beatles dis-banded? (maybe). Yoko "twisted" John's mind. (love tends to do strange things to your perceptions). Etc ... etc...

Does/Did Yoko Ono bring a new (artistic) dimension to John's (read: the Beatles at that stage) perceptions? (yes). Was it (artistically) creative? (Um ... yeah) Does that mean that she should be making her own albums at this point (2019) in time? ( uh ... no. But I am clearly biased from the start.)

I think the first time I really noticed Yoko's musical influence (yes - knew, but didnt register back in the 70s), was Plastic Ono Band - the husband/wife collaboration

Other input towards our theme - (witch or not) -Yoko is somewhere in the picture(like a true witch)
I'm Losing You

Watching the Wheels Turn (again .. Yoko here or not?)


Pardon the extensive parentheses - they seemed needed to separate my wandering thoughts this time around ...

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


The Great American songbook is something that has me normally running for the hills, especially when utilised as a vehicle for ageing rockers who have overdrawn on their inspirations. Most such vanity projects have given such a bad name to the originals that one could be fooled too that the originals are cheesy and cheap.  And sometimes they are, but there are a bevy of writers of such reliability that any such fear is misplaced. These would include Cole Porter, the Gershwins  and Richard Rodgers, cited mainly as three who transcend the celluloid vintage of their origin and can hold their heads up against often the most lumpen of current interpreters. My title song, above, as played out by Ella (do I really have to add) Fitzgerald, was written by Richard Rodgers (music) and Lorenz Hart (lyrics). Although Ella was not the first, and, as someone I totally didn't "get" until maybe a decade ago, arguably she provides the definitive  version. Quite how I couldn't see past the elderly and bespectacled, grandmarmy-like woman she had become, now defies me, it taking my Uncle George, a jazz lover who instilled in me the love of music if not, initially or necessarily, his tastes, to get me to see with my ears open, hear with my eyes open. He played me some Aretha Franklin, shocking me with his eclecticism, seamlessly then comparing and contrasting with Ella, getting me to allow both in my appreciation.

It's a great song, though, isn't it? From a 1940 musical, Pal Joey, it was originally sung by a Vivienne Segal on Broadway, reprised in a revival, 14 years later, with an ongoing life of it's own since then, with perhaps the most bizarre appearance coming in the UK royalty biopic, The Crown, as possibly sung by King George V and his daughter, Princess Margaret.
Here are three of the better contemporary versions. (With apologies to those who would say otherwise, Frank doesn't count as sufficiently contemporary.)

Boz Scaggs has one of those voices that hinges on the cusp of being just, and only just, right, fitting no definition of being good in any accepted classical sense. But, on the right material, perfect. Personally I am no lover of peak Boz, his disco years, Lido Shuffle and all that, much preferring his earlier and later more blues based work. But here, the juxtaposition of his strained holler alongside the consummate lounge jazz setting, is a glorious peanut butter/jelly combination. It comes from a 2003 release, But Beautiful: Standards, Volume 1. Strangely, no second volume has yet appeared.

Rufus Wainwright adores this stuff and it adores him. Many say he sings like a corncrake; I have to say I differ, finding his high camp self-belief so intoxicating as to have me forget the sentimentality of (some of) his material and the archness of his presentation. This version shouldn't really do it, as he milks the saccharine and cloys it to near curdle. But I love it. Just don't tell anyone. This comes from the film of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, my imagination that Bennett himself would be not amiss to crooning along with it.

Yes, that Jeff Lynne, Mr E.L.O. Astonishing, as I really cannot abide most of his output, in particular some of his trademark mannerisms, the echolalia backing vocals, for one, which threaten to appear here, retreating, thankfully,  just as swiftly. This avoids the tweeness he often can bring to material, his voice managing to sound warm and genuine. It doesn't even make me think, that much, of the Beatles. Like the Boz Scaggs above, this comes from an oft overlooked record in his canon, Long Wave, in 2012, a album entirely of covers from the 40s and into the 50s.

Of course, there are some other crackers, Linda Ronstadt and Sinead O'Connor, as two women who have the pipes to nail it, each capable of singing the phone book and still sounding sweet. And clunkers aplenty, mentioning no names.

Bewitched? Boz, Rufus, Jeff. Or just Ella.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Witch: Herbie Hancock/Witch Fire

purchase [Witch Fire ]

Herbie Hancock? ... I had a vinyl copy of one of his albums way back at the end of 60's. It was so long ago that I have a hard time remembering which one it was (I certainly no longer have a copy)
Wait ... does anyone even know his name today, let alone still have vinyl copies of this stuff?

The man has come up with 41 live albums, 12 studio, sixty-two compilations, five sound-tracks, thirty-eight singles ....I can hardly continue. Oh yeah ... he's also got a song that fits our current theme. Well, .. actually more than one (considering the above lengthy repertoire): the man has credits on <Witch Fire> as well on <Witch Hunt>. The titles sound awfully similar, no?

Witch Fire, from the Smoking Keys album, is credited to - can't find anything. There's relatively little online about this album. The first Google link takes you to a site in Asian/Chinese characters and not much else. The Google images link includes a screen shot of an album of the same name, but the trail seems to peter out about there. Except that that link resolves to give you a list of songs on said album. And another link (if you enclose the album title in quotes, leads you to (WTF): a link about Blue Cheer (now that's history for you) - "Peterson is at the wheel *smoking, keys* in the ignition but the motor is silent"

There's more online info about Witch Hunt, credited to Wayne Shorter from his '66 album <Speak No Evil>, which includes a number of ECM studio alumni: Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, and Herbie Hancock. (ECM going back to the end of the '60s and a major jazz publishing influence throughout the 70s and still thankfully going today)

But .. back to the story line (witches, Herbie Hancock)...
Herbie Hancock makes Rolling Stone's list of top "Stoner" albums, but not for this one (although that should come across as slightly auspicious - Halloween, anyone?)

Witch Hunt/James Easter:

Witch: Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'

Rick Wakeman: Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'

Today, we are going to debunk two myths.

First, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife and Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, was not a witch, although she has been accused of being one in popular culture. In fact, her execution was based on (probably false) claims of adultery, incest, and high treason designed to get her out of the way so that Henry could move on to wife III. But she was an incredibly divisive figure in English life of the day, ascending to the throne after the controversial end of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and otherwise contributing to the move of England from Catholicism to Protestantism. The politics of this period is fiendishly complex, with lots of players and shifting alliances, so, I’m not going to even try to explain all of this. I do recommend reading Hilary Mantel’s novels about this period, Wolf Hall, and Bring Up The Bodies, or watching the PBS adaptation of them, Wolf Hall, in which Claire Foy portrays Anne (before being cast in The Crown as the young Queen Elizabeth II, who was a descendant of Anne’s older sister Mary, a mistress of Henry VIII before her sister took her place. Like I said, complex.).

It seems that the witchcraft allegations stemmed from two main sources all derived from basic misogyny—first, if you were a powerful woman, and had enemies (and Anne fit that bill perfectly), it was likely that you would be called a witch. For example, while many contemporary commentators remarked on Anne’s beauty, brilliance and charm, one Catholic writer, long after her death, described Anne as having a “protruding tooth,” a “large wen (growth) on her neck,” and six fingers. You know, sort of like a caricature witch. There is no claim, however, that she wore a pointy hat, rode a broom, or weighed as much as a duck.

The second basis for the claim that Anne Boleyn was a witch is based on a comment reportedly made by Henry VIII, not the most reliable of narrators, to be sure, that he had been “seduced and forced into his second marriage by means of sortileges and charms.” “Sortilege,” however, appears to have been used to mean “bewitched or enchanted” in both the supernatural and non-supernatural sense, and there is significant evidence that Henry was smitten by Anne’s beauty, intelligence, charm, and expertise in flirting, and not so much by witchcraft.

If you are really interested in delving more into this question, check out this page.

Myth 2—Rick Wakeman’s 1973 album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, is a terrible example of the worst excesses of progressive rock. Yes, it was a concept album about historical figures, and yes, it is mostly Wakeman showing off his talent on various keyboards and synthesizers, and yes, there are moments of pomp and excess (which, to me, can have their place, anyway). But overall, the album contains beautiful music and great musicianship. And there are many, many worse examples of over the top prog pretension, so I think that, in retrospect, at least, the album holds up reasonably well.

The album was inspired by Wakeman’s dissatisfaction with his playing on his first tour with Yes, and his attempt to find a personal style. In an airport in Richmond, Virginia, Wakeman bought a copy of The Private Life of Henry VIII by Scottish writer Nancy Brysson Morrison, and the chapter on Anne Boleyn reminded him of a musical idea he had previously recorded. Wakeman decided to focus on each of the wives, “interpreting the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments.”

Listening to his take on Anne Boleyn, can I hear “a tribute to her feisty temper and valiant courage that she maintained while standing up to her husband,” as the Allmusic reviewer heard? Maybe, but overall, it is a nice piece, and not, to my hearing, excessive or bombastic. Plus, it has Bill Bruford on drums, which to me is always a positive.