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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Suspicious – as I think it is reasonable to be – about any odd-shaped novel, I approached Magnus MillsThe Forensic Records Society (Bloomsbury, 2017) with some trepidation.  It’s a neat piece of book design: square, referencing the 45 rpm vinyl singles of old, sporting printed boards and a dust jacket with a hole revealing the disc’s label, and  shaved at the top to show the edge of the disc printed on the cover; the hole in the middle has not been bored through the body of the book.  Pictured here too is the B-side of the boards, a white label demo that plays a part in the narrative.

It starts with a discussion between James and our unnamed narrator (neither of whom has any back story) about who is saying what in the run-off grooves of an unnamed single, though as ‘Keith’ and ‘Roger’ are named it’s a fair guess they are listening to something by The Who.  It is in fact Happy Jack, though I only know this because it was mentioned in one of the reviews I resorted to reading in an attempt to see if anyone else had had problems making any sense of the ending, but later for that.  So you can see from early on there might be a rather specific demographic being aimed at here.

Nobody listens. Not properly anyway. Not like we do’” says James, who shifts into activist mode: “‘We could form a society for the express purpose of listening to records closely and in detail. Forensically if you like, without any interruption or distraction.'”  And so The Forensic Record Society is born.  They put up a poster in their local, where they will meet in a backroom: “All welcome: bring three records of your choice” to be played in strict rotation; “Obviously there will be no comments or judgement of other people’s taste. We’ll be here simply to listen.”

The first record to be played is The Universal:

        While it was playing both James and Chris stared solemnly at the revolving disc. Neither showed any reaction to the barking dog which accompanied the opening bars, the sudden appearance of electric guitars in the middle section, nor the jokey trombone at the end. They just sat listening in reverential awe. […]         Finally Chris broke the silence.
‘That’s the sea in the trees in the morning.’ It was all he said, but we knew exactly what he meant.

Well, yes, as it happens I do too.  Point well made.  Pity the poor reader who is not aware this is one of the Small Faces’ small masterpieces, though.  Chris’s comment at the end becomes an issue as the Society grows, but the point I need to make here is that throughout the 182 entertaining pages of the book, and the playing of many records ranging from over at least four decades of music, not a single group or artist is named, which can be confusing when a song like Promised land is mentioned.  There were plenty that had me puzzled and keenly Googling.  (I fear I may be incriminating myself in some way here).  But thinking about that, I’d wager that – contradictorily – a certain something would go missing from the text if the attributions were there.  Even though most of the time the record choices are not significant to the narrative, younger readers might struggle, and those without much interest in popular music will probably just not bother.

Things progress: “We sat around the table in our various attitudes (serene, solemn, mesmerised and so forth) and listened … ” (which combination becomes rather a good standing joke).  A latecomer (Phillip, a man in the long, leather coat “with gigantic lapels“) is spurned and sets up a rival organisation – The Confessional Records Society.  James’s puritanical approach becomes problematic, and there is unrest.  There is a crisis when a new member brings along a prog-rock album to the club where it was assumed the single was king; like all good dictators, James gets his sidekick to deal with it.  “We’d started out with such high ideals” bemoans the faithful narrator, “yet within a few months we’d witnessed bickering, desertion, subterfuge and rivalry”. There are splinter groups and a coup – The Perceptive Records Society (comments allowed, though not many are actually made), then the New Forensic Records Society.  The Confessional Records Society moves out of the pub and balloons into an evangelical (as in money-making) charismatic movement, with t-shirts and mass confessions.

What we have here is a nicely worked, broader allegory, delivered with a touch of dry psychological insight:

Was it really beyond human capacity, I pondered, to create a society which didn’t ultimately disintegrate through internal strife? Or collapse under the weight of its own laws? Or suffer damaging rivalries with other societies? Because there was no question that all these fates awaited us if we carried on as we were.

I got hold of The Forensics Records Society because a mate had likened it to The Detectorists, Mackenzie Crook’s gentle and brilliantly unhurried look at English blokedom hobbyists.  It can’t quite manage the charm, but there is plenty of humour to be had from the situation; there are some delightful set pieces.

And then there are the women, principally barmaid Alice, a musician, singer-songwriter of talent, whose demo is featured on the back cover of the book, the listening to of which becomes something of a MacGuffin.  Our narrator feels that Alice, who has meanwhile paired up with James, has declared war on him: “‘I don’t know what you’re doing here,’ she said. ‘You don’t even like music.’”  Ouch. “Well the truth is she thinks we’re all emotionally retarded,” vouchsafes James.  She makes a dramatic exit when the disc is finally played.

The New Forensic Records Society, a looser set-up that the originators deign to visit, even has a couple of women members.  Someone has brought along Shipbuilding:

        ‘OK,’ he [Dave] said. ‘Are there any comments or judgements?’
‘Well it’s alright to listen to,’ remarked the woman sitting opposite me, ‘but you can’t really dance to it, can you?’

This is both funny in context (harking back to Janis or whatever her name was on that bloody ’60s TV programme – not Juke Box Jury, the other one) but also, after a brief moment’s thought, deeply condescending – a cheap laugh, which nevertheless soon has its narrative uses.  She it is, too, who gets our Guinness drinking narrator drunk, waking up in a strange bed to deliver the mystifying con(if you can call it one)clusion.  But later for that.

On the other hand, there are some delicious celebrations of blokedomisms of the musical kind.  Gals, don’t you just love us?:

  • From our narrator, the man with no name: “When I got home my first job was to put the evening’s choice of record back in its proper place (my record collection was filed in strict alphabetical order).”  For me, as a librarian, this is not enough.  It’s a complicated business – I need to know.  I presume he does it by artist but … does he use letter-by-letter or word-by-word?  Just for starters.
  • Then there are James’s side projects.  Like, “About a month ago I decided to play my entire collection in strict alphabetical order (but see above); and, later, “I’m playing all my records with bracketed titles”.  “Sounds like an absorbing pastime”,’ I remarked.
  • And his compadre’s:  “My plan was to play all my records that faded in and out. In the event it took me longer to find them than to play them.” 
  • And in said compadre’s Alice-induced moment of doubt: “I finally resorted to counting and playing all the records in my collection by women performers. The process took me most of the day, and the statistics were inconclusive.
  • Or Mike – “a man with spiky hair” – in search of his nirvana, announcing: ‘The perfect pop song is precisely three minutes in length.”  Spoiler alert: he finds it twice: Another girl, another planet by The Only Ones, plus one I’m not revealing.  He’s wrong, of course, about those 3 minutes, which is far too long.
  • Two men called Andrew achieve possibly the most obscure accolade: “‘Watch out,’ murmured Barry. ‘Here come Pressed Rat and Warthog.’”  I had to dredge the memory banks  hard, and then double-check.  Yes, it was a single: b-side of Anyone for tennis.

As you might have gleaned there’s a broad range of decent music cited – rock, ska, reggae, pop, folk, soul – and nothing that made me wince; MacArthur Park makes an appearance for laughs.  There’s no specific historical timeframe – emails exist, CDs, cassettes and digital downloads get no mention – though I doubted a couple of later songs ever made it to 45 rpm (The Killers?).  But hey, it’s an allegory.  My heart soared when one of my all-time favourite Atlantic soul obscurities got played.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Rex Garvin & the Mighty CraversSock it to ’em JB:

A double homage to James Bond and the hardest working man in show business, Mr. James Brown.  I had this once on single, and whoever’s got it, I’d like it back!

And for me, Looking for Lewis and Clark by The Long Ryders will never fail to excite:

Spoiler alert

Ah yes, and the small matter of how it ends.  Which has baffled all the reviewers I’ve reviewed.  If this is allegory, what on earth does that ending mean?  The triumph of dance music?  The end of civilisation in a wild splurge of hedonism?  The narrator sure as hell doesn’t know; he just keeps us hanging on.  Do these words, coming to him – waking confused in a strange bed – from the room next door, mean anything to anyone?  Are they a quote from some outro?  Zappa?:

Yeah, yeah … more, more … nice … play another song … yeah maybe … hey, what’s happening later on? … what’s happening? … yeah beautiful … yeah, come on baby … I got it … yeah, outasight, man …”  [there’s more like this]

I’d quite like to know.

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The morning before The Antipoet‘s 10th anniversary video-shoot show, WiiFit told me I had the body of a 21 year-old.  The morning after said performance WiiFit told me I had the body of a 37 year-old (still only just over half of the reality, but, you know).  Nevertheless, as the I Ching invariably says: no blame, and there is a Latin tag for it (post hoc ergo propter hoc, for what it’s worth).   Though the sweets provided at each table  – pick-and-mix and mini-chocolate bars, a nice touch – may have contributed to the weight gain.

‘Come and be part of the fun as we film 10 years of The Antipoet,’ they said; ‘be an Antipoet extra for the evening’.  ‘Watch and enjoy as The Antipoet perform pieces from the last decade whilst filming a DVD to pop into their new book, Does my bass look big in this?’  So we did, and they did, and a grand time was had at The Cock Hotel in the town of Stony Stratford (“our spiritual home”), last Thursday.  The book is published later this year.

Philfy Phil lived up to his moniker (maybe too much at least for wife and her mate) and lamented that no-one onomatopoeic enough had died lately to refresh the pantheon of his take on Paul Simon’s The boxer (the one with that chorus).   Then it was time for those “masters of beatrantin’ rhythm and views’ (© www.theantipoet.co.uk/ ) to take the stage and give us two ‘best of’ sets – ‘greatest hits’ as far as I’m concerned – from the last decade’s prodigious output.  Filming necessitated a more disciplined approach than seen previously (though not a great deal so) (or should that be soberer … ).  Retakes and director Donna’s interventions only added to the fun.

For those (oh lucky people) yet to come across the Antipoet (oh, come on – I’m talkin’ ’bout the joy of discovery), in the past I’ve written about the lads extensively here on Lillabullero, so I’m not going to repeat myself.  Here links to two lengthy pieces on the occasion of their last two albums, We play for food and Bards without portfolio:

Thursday, they delivered all the faves: there’s plenty to sample on YouTube and their website.  I never tire of their take on painful poetry gigs, Random words in a random order, and indeed many more, but was particularly glad they chose to feature 1420 MHz (megahertz), one they don’t do that often, evoking as it does a sense of wonder amidst the worthy scorn, angst and social commentary.  Here it is from an earlier time:

As Phil says, they should be on telly – after all, what else is Channel4 for?  The name chosen for the FaceBook event for this show should serve well enough as a title for the show: Rant along an Antipoet!  And what a panoply of guests they could showcase, including those who closed the show – Fay Roberts, Richard Frost, Justin Thyme – with cleverly and joyously worked parodies and addendums to the basic opus.

Another Wow!

A kid’s show at the local library a couple of days earlier and a quieter enchantment from the Wriggle Dance Theatre‘s Into the Rainbow.  There in my capacity as grandparent, I had a pretty good idea we were in for something a bit special when  greeted in mime at the top of Stony Library’s stairs by a young woman with an umbrella, guiding us to our places on the floor.  I say us – it was one child, one responsible adult, so I just lingered close by, leaning on a pillar, witnessing the show and watching the watchers.  Both were great.

Why the umbrella?  Rain sound effects because … rainbows! I was slow to make the connection.  Amazing what you can do with a couple of boards, some long coloured ribbons and a big shiny blue sheet if you are a couple of trained dancers – women working through the medium of mime and, um, interpretive dance (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) – and a relaxed troubadour leading or commentating in song.  I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to trained dancers before – graceful and gymnastic, in tune with each other – and was so impressed overall by an accomplished ensemble performance as, over 45 minutes, they introduced the colours of the rainbow one by one, each colour given its own min-show.  The big shiny sheet was the sea, under which they swam, heads popping in and out of strategic gaps in the cloth; grandson – live performance like this was a new thing for him – had to be discouraged from going under the waves himself.

 Brilliant show, expertly pitched and well appreciated by all.  A lovely interlude.

 

It’s The Antipoet’s tenth year and to mark this momentous event, we once again return to our spiritual home of Stoney Stratford for a one off best of show which will be recorded and released as a DVD for the summer 2018 season. So come along and be immortalised as part of this celebration and wonder at how we ever got this far and where the hell we’re gonna go next!!!

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The Bardic Trials

And it came to pass that Stony’s got a brand new Bard.  All hail poet Sam Upton!  Crowned (or rather, cloaked) after an absorbing contest with accomplished storyteller and laidback one-time Texan Lynette Hill at York House Centre.  Tellingly, Sam delivered his statement of Bardic Intent acknowledging the tradition and the work of previous holders of the post in verse form.  Shame there were only two up for it this year, but it was a good contest, and a fine evening’s entertainment was put together by the Bardic Council and outgoing Bard – Bard 007 Mr Stephen Hobbs – nevertheless.  Sam will have a hard job to match Steve’s work rate.

Fay Roberts held a buzzing audience still and entranced with a poem delivered entirely in Welsh – I add No, really! for those who’ve never seen her – while Northampton’s Bard Mitchell Taylor‘s was an energetic (with much poetic striding) and passionate set, by turns personal and political.  Original stuff from singer-songwriter from Dawn Ivieson, in fine voice.  Professional comedian James Sherwood finished the evening off in style.  He had me in stitches, not least when – sat at and playing keyboard – singing and raging against the mathematical inexactitude all too often found in popular songs.  Wish I could remember some culprits other than 50 ways to leave your lover (in which just 5 are listed); there was that Cher song …

The Pantomime

The Stony Stratford Theatre Society‘s 3rd annual panto,  Dick Whittington in Stonyland was a hoot, with all the traditional trimmings, complete with plenty of nods to the locality and no little originality from playwright (and Principal Boy) Danni Kushner (no surnames on the handout, no surnames here … except this one … for the writer).  Great ensemble performance (Oh, yes it was), invidious to single out etc etc (Oh, no it isn’t), because as Dame, troubadour Roddy’s Sally the Cook is already legend; not bad for a first acting role – “Oh, you won’t believe your eyes / at the size of Sally’s pies.”  Another first was Danni singing solo – who knew there’s a folk singer in there as well?  [Photos © Denise Dryburgh]

The Talk

Sarah Churchwell, prof of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the Uni of London, delivered a bit of an eye-opener at the Library for those who think of Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby as rooted in, and symbolic of, the Jazz Age.  No.  As she enthusiastically demonstrated, published in 1925, almost as a warning, it is pointedly and set in 1922,  highlighting with some telling slides what was in the news that year, and suggesting 1922 was to the celebrated Jazz Age what 1962 was to Swinging Sixties.

She expanded her subject to look at anti-immigrant origins in the 1920s of the first America First movement, and its links with the KKK.  I almost bought the book, though I have piles waiting to be read at home, she’s that charismatic a performer.  We didn’t have lecturers like her back in the day.

This talk, along with a handful of others, and various other events that I didn’t make it to – and those I did, above and below –  were all part of the programme of the splendid 14th Annual StonyWords literary festival.

Roger McGough. Photo © Andy Powell, who seemed to be everywhere, sound engineering and performing: so here’s a thumbs up.

That Roger McGough

Tickets for Roger McGough at York House were sold out even before the StonyWords programme was printed.  Resplendent in red sneakers he delighted a packed crowd with material that was new to the vast majority of the audience (and certainly to me).  Refreshingly none of the greatest hits were called upon; at the age of 80 he’s a sprightly and dapper performer, and still writing.  [One, um, golden oldie, Let me die a young man’s death cites the ages 73,91, and 104.  Not as much a hostage to fortune as Pete Townshend’s “Hope I die before I get old” in the Who’s (and their middle-aged tribute bands’) My generation, but then, they still do that. ]

Saying he was often accused of being ‘too sentimental’ he went out of his way to disabuse that with a neat reworking of one piece.  He was very funny, but at the same time, with a broad-ranging selection of an hour’s worth of material, not afraid to give us pause for thought.  I did succumb here, bought the autobiography.

This StonyMusicHall4

The Prince of Wales Rattlers. Photo © Andy Powell

Even without The Prince of Wales Rattlers, special guests from over the Northamptonshire border closing the show, StonyMusicHall4 would have been a grand affair.

What did we have?  With various multi-talented members of the Stony Steppers never far away we had: a sand dance, a recitation, a  clog dance (Daisy), singalong Vera Lynn, Whispering grass (from Two Men not called Matt, with accents slipping), a surreal chorus line dance routine involving half black/half white costumes, Mr Ferneyhough and concertina implanting an earworm (“With her ‘ead / tucked / underneath her arm“), some stunning slapstick choreography on If I was not a clog dancer, and … an act I’ve forgotten, I fear; sorry, please do tell.

The Rattlers started off with a couple of temperance hymns.  Too late, the barrels were empty.  Then continued with material more from the folk than music hall tradition but fully the latter in spirit, (and they elided somewhere in there historically anyway (didn’t they?)).  Great four-part harmonies, a moveable feast of musical accompaniment, a fine comedic turn, much jollity.
And so home with a big grin all over one’s face.

Them Theatre pop-ups

Caught one of these – the Light Programme, as opposed to the Dark Programme – in the Library.  A selection of rehearsed readings from a shifting cast of members of the Stony Stratford Theatre Society including a couple of Alan Bennett monologues, a bit of Bard and another old dude, excerpts from Alan Ayckbourn, the Stoppard Rosencrantz and Wossname, and a surprising piece (well, to me) from Chekhov that I wish I could remember*.  Good show, Caz & Co.

*The sneeze; the evils of tobacco – thanks Caz.

 

 

 

 

 

Pop-up theatre in the library

 

 

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Scribal: The last hurrah!

A fine if occasionally damp-eyed Last Hurrah! at the passing of Stony Stratford’s Scribal Gathering, the open-minded open mic‘ that has welcomed ‘poets, musicians and all performers of any style, genre or level of experience, to share their creativity before a warm and receptive audience‘ once a month for nearly nine years now.  Your humble host here at Lillabullero was not the only performer on the night to salute Scribal for getting their writing and performing asses into – or back into – gear over the years, not least two (or was it three?) former Bards of this parish.  

It has been enormous fun and a lot more.  I think my first Scribal was on its first birthday and I’ve only missed a couple since through illness.  I’ve made some friends and seen some great (and, naturally, not so great) local performers (both nascent and experienced) and the featured guests have included a sparkling array of performance poets, spoken word artists, musicians and singer-songwriters of wider repute.  No time now for a chronicle or arbitrary list, but I can’t not mention frequent visitors The Antipoet.

Immediate reason for its disappearance, in the words of current prime mover Jonathan JT Taylor – for whom a massive vote of thanks – who’s been there from the beginning: “Our venue, The Crown will not be opening on a Tuesday this year and I can’t find another suitable venue. I have tried holding the event on a Wednesday in the past but it doesn’t work, so I’m putting the event on hold for now.”  (The Crown is now a gastro-pub, so understandable, I guess, if no-one’s eating of a Tuesday). 

JT goes on: “Personally I feel the spark has gone from the event. It’s had a good innings – nearly nine years! So it’s not a goodbye, it’s a so long and thanks for all the fish…”  Yeah but, no but: while it could no longer maintain the manic energy of what, I guess, must be called ‘the Richard Frost years’ – how could anything? – and there weren’t so many fresh surprises, Scribal could still be the best and most creative show in town, and usually was.  So thanks again to JT and the Scribal Elves and all their hard work.  Mind, there’s the small print (see the poster); not so much Adios as Au revoir?

The Last Hurrah was a grand way to go out, with the welcome return of a featured guest who markets himself as ‘The Rutland Troubadour‘ and gets away with it in some style.  The personable Paul McClure has some fine songs of his own at his disposal – Americana-ish and more – which he punctuates with good-natured and self-deprecatory wit and wisdom.  (Check out more at: http://www.paulmccluremusic.com/  – go to ‘Film’ to hear some music including the one that goes, “I just want to play / the best version / of the simplest song / I could find / in my heart / that’s true”  – or on YouTube)

The Robot Orchestra

Spent an absorbing hour wandering around the members of the orchestra then being still and wandering around again at Stuart Moore’s Robot Orchestra pop-up installation at the Stantonbury Gallery.  I’ll let Stuart explain:

The Robot Orchestra members are a diverse collection of modified cyborg instruments and sound objects ranging from antique church organ pipes to digital-control-auto-feedback guitars. They will be performing a microtonal soundscape composition who’s non-western notes are sourced from nature to explore the bigger world of fluid unnameable harmony that exists between the gaps.

Meditative, intriguing, sounds swelling, ebbing, flowing, birdsong weaving (was that a frog?), therapeutic and more.  Given Stuart also drums with my favourite local band – The Box Ticked, if you’re asking – one has to revise all those old drummer jokes.  More here at Stuart’s website: http://stuartmooresound.wixsite.com/stuartmooresound – go to ‘Some sounds’ to get the feel of it.

Centurion Vaultage

Yup, a hundred Vaultages down and, it is to be hoped, many more to come.  Take a bow Pat ‘the Hat’ Nicholson, MC and troubadour of this town.  Long may you run and your silver hair hang down.  If there were a recording of his almost talking blues A day in the life (not the actual title) chronicling him greeting the day and taking a stroll up and down the High Street with his dog, then I would provide a link right here, right now.  But there isn’t, so I can’t.  Watch this space.  Anyway, a poet-friendly open mic still thriving, though it can be hard waxing lyrical when the other non-Vaultage end of the pub is lively.

Couple of quickies

Was it the third or fourth Wassail, waking up the apple trees at York House?  Lovely little event, the miserable rain stopping just in time for open air frolics and mulled cider drinking, though too damp for the bonfire this year.  The ever resourceful Innocent Hare carousing, nay wassailing.

And All Hail the New Bard!  Congratulations Sam Upton.
More about this grand event in another post.

Vintage Stony 2018

Now in its ninth year, so surely worthy of the description ‘traditional’, Stony Stratford’s New Year’s Day Vintage Car and Motorcycle Festival opened to fair weather and more cars and visitors than I can remember.  Seemed to be more really ancient vehicles this year, but overall (or am I getting jaded?) more quantity than Wow! quality.  Out of nowhere – it wasn’t forecast – the unkind weather changed to a vicious cold rain; felt for those who didn’t see it coming.  Early birds, we were lucky, home back in time to be safely tucking into hot chocolate.
Click on the photos (all ©DRQ) for an enlargement.

Not for the first time, this 1934 Citroen Traction Avant (built in Slough!) was my favourite in show, seen here with self-portrait with camera. I got a bit hung-up with reflections, especially of trees:

 

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Well … some of it is down to slothdom and procrastination, and some of it is down to events and body stuff, but the blog Lillabullero hereby makes a furious try (that’s furious as in quick rather than anger) at catching up:

La Belle Sauvage

Hugely exciting, I was swept along by the perilous escape by boat that gives it its title, at the core of La Belle Sauvage (David Fickling, 2017).  Left me both soaring and floundering as to what to read next, like … bring on the second volume of The Book of Dust – right NOW! – please Philip Pullman.

Like its predecessor His dark materials trilogy, this one is full of ideas and charm – and good advice for teens – as the battle of the good guys against the bastards in the parallel universe land of Brytain is played out.  Pullman gets to champion public libraries again too.

I’d forgotten about the totemic daemons on everyone’s shoulders or thereabouts, and how until their ‘owners’ grow up they are changelings, a fascinating notion.  Here Lyra and Pantalaimon are only 6 months old, but we are assured the new trilogy is an ‘equel’ – more than a prequel.

It may be over 500 pages long, but it’s an easy read with a lot of dialogue to drive it along, and it is, after all, a children’s book, but it easily transcends that (unlike Potter).  It boasts a generous cast of characters of all shades, one of whom, Hannah Relf, is a librarian, and some lovely nod and a wink asides:

Hannah ate her sandwich slowly … and reading a book. It was nothing to do with work; it was a thriller, of the sort she liked, with a mysterious death, skin-of-the-teeth escapes, and a haughty and beautiful heroine whose function was to fall in love with the saturnine but witty hero.

Nothing like the resourceful 11-year-old Malcolm and the feisty 15-year-old Alice at the heart of La Belle Sauvage, then.

The shock of the fall

I liked the fiction of Nathan Filer‘s  The shock of the fall (Harper Collins, 2013) being a neat pile of writings and documents left for someone to find in the vacated, due for demolition, building that had recently housed Day Care Centre in which the writings’ author and subject had begun a road to recovery (probably).

19-year old Matthew Holmes’ journey – I won’t go into specifics, but they are not without interest – through a troubled childhood into a schizophrenic breakdown, leading to hospitalisation and then out into care in the community, is presented typographically as a mix of pages tapped out on an old typewriter or printed out at the Centre (with the odd bit of concrete poetry), interleaved with increasingly concerned hand-written letters from his social worker, and a friend’s drawings.  He describes himself at one stage as being “hunched over a typewriter, staining paper with family secrets“, while in the printouts he will comment to and on whoever’s looking over his shoulder at the PC; there are a lot of nice touches and self-deprecation like that in his voice).

I have to say that though I’m a fan of slow reveal narratives this one struck me as a bit too slow, and repetitive with it.  Nevertheless, and even through a certain reek of the university Creative Writing Department about it (the mirroring of two key events in particular), in the end I was moved by Matthew’s tale, and his Nanny Noo’s faith.  A broader appreciation of The shock of the fall grew after a Book Group meeting in which someone with experience both as a mental health worker and client bravely put things in the book in context with their experience.  Book Groups can be a splendid things!

But I really wanted to be an anthropologist

I turned out to be an illustrator, but I really wanted to be ...” is how Margaux Motin kicks off this collection (Self Made Hero, 2012; translated Edward Gauvin) from her French language cartoon blog.  I had a great time with it.  Her reflections on motherhood with two demanding children and a trimly stubbled partner run a gamut from ennui (she draws a great bored face) through to girlish delight, taking in a (sorry to be repeat myself) self-deprecatory love of life, a touch of filth and a lot of finely detailed shoes.

On the right here there’s an extract from the page headed ‘A few things you should know about me’.  There’s an adept use of colour, used in a variety of ways.  Despite the consistency of line, as I turned the pages there was no danger of being over familiar with a sameness of style and approach.

Experience the sheer joy of this double-page spread and know that it’s only half way through, with a punchline to come:

Mentioned in despatches:

These I was at, and another day might have got a lot more attention, in particular the splendid Kara (energetic Russian influenced folk from all over, strong vocals, accordion, the wonderful sound of the low notes of the hammered dulcimer – here’s their website) and Five Men Not Called Matt (of whom there are more than 5, and not all men, lustily shantying and more, with subtle support from a solo Roddy Clenaghan), both at York House.  Tim Buckley ably kept the Scribal show on the road in November (where we had the first helping of Richard Frost’s new epic in progress), and there must have been a Vaultage in there somewhere.  Stony Tracks, a local Desert Island Discs derivative, was launched in some style.  Shame to miss the lantern parade and Stony Christmas lights turn on, but needs musted.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

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… to be part of the mass singing along to Like a rolling stone at the 2017 Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention, upstairs in the Dome of the Boston pub in Tufnell Park?  Pretty good!  A surprise sprung on us (and maybe the rest of the band) by Dave Clarke (no, not that one) towards the end of the proceedings.  Little bit of sacrilege does no-one any harm (Eh, Geoff?).

Earlier that same day …

So many people at Euston Station, even midday on a Sunday and the trains mostly running on time.  Down onto the Northern Line to Archway where the Archway Tavern (home of the pub interior featured on Muswell Hillbillies) is out of commission for the time being, but after road remodelling no longer perilously (for pedestrians) sited on its own traffic island; there’s a swish purpose-built cycle lane to the left of the photo.

Has that Guinness clock advert really been there since the Millennium?

And it’s up Highgate Hill on a clear day (past Dick Whittington’s cat, who appears to be eating the paintwork, or trying to escape) on my annual nostalgic stroll (except I had to miss last year, due to a debilitating cold).

I lived in Highgate – nearer the tube station than the Village – when I first moved to London, but spent many a contented hour taking in the pleasures of Waterlow Park, which then boasted an active aviary, and giving Karl Marx a nod in the adjoining cemetery (inscribed on the tomb: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it”), though that bit is no longer open entry.

And so into a very green – the luxuriant grass at least – Waterlow Park.  One year I saw that tree garlanded and a wedding celebration taking place, the married couple dancing in full wedding garb under its bows.  This year the only voices I heard were speaking in foreign tongues.  I’m not complaining; well, I suppose I am – what is wrong with all the natives, eschewing this lovely park on a bright bracing sunny day?

On the way down, on my way out, some remaining leaves for my autumn almanac.  Out onto Chester Road and down the hill to the Boston.  Breaking the habit of a lifetime, I actually pay to check in my coat at the cloakroom; it gets steamy.  Old style real life fandom (if you ignore all those phones recording stuff).  Guinness at £4.90 a pint.  A fiver next year?  I blame Brexit.  This year, with a bow to the demographic, there was more seating – arranged concert style – available (that I don’t use; found a decent column to lean on).

The first North London hosted annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention I went to was actually held upstairs in the Archway Tavern, in 1998.  It was a pretty relaxed occasion, there were lots of tables and a chance to chat and meet up with people one had only known till then in the glory – pre-FB – days of Kinks Preservation Society mailing list; first ‘Hi’ to Olga and the two Geoffs.  It stayed there for another three years, until the owners turned the venue into a flash failed disco or night club – whatever.  A new venue was found in the function room of the Boston Arms, one tube stop down, getting so well attended and crowded that for the last few years it has moved upstairs into their Dome venue, with the advantages of a decent stage and sound setup but a bit of a falling off of a sense of community.

The 1998 ticket proudly boasts “with Mick, Nobby, The Baptist [the Muswell Hillbillies veterans] and Dave Clarke (subject to availability)”, the next year’s has them as the Kast Off Kinks; years again later a fan poll would dismiss the suggestion to lose an F.  In those early days it was a pleasingly ramshackle affair, the band agreeing on a list of songs and practising solo up until the day but still working up an emotional storm.  As the years have gone by most of the others who had served (there have been two basic bands) were regularly incorporated into the set, including two of the  backing singers from the Preservation tours.  Of those still alive (most, in fact) only  – somewhat disappointingly – Dave Davies has not been involved.  Dave Clarke ably stands in for the brothers Davies single-handedly; you can find out more about him (including a lengthy mid-career spell in the Royal Navy!) and much else at the Kast Off’s website: http://kastoffkinks.co.uk/

These days the Kast Off Kinks are a working band.  Their website lists a total of 63 other gigs for this year, with 54 already announced for next year.  Nobby (John Dalton) announced his retirement about 5 years ago but still features regularly on bass when Jim Rodford isn’t off with Argent or the Zombies, while Bob Henrit will sometimes dep for original drummer Mick Avory.  The excellent Ian Gibbons is the featured keyboards man (it’s been a while, I think, since The Baptist (John Gosling) was active).  Dave Clarke is ever-present.  They were all involved at some stage on Sunday, still seemingly enjoying one another’s company.  Vocals a bit more shared than they used to be, or was that just more of Ian.  They may be a more polished and rehearsed outfit these days, but there is thankfully still room for a bit of mayhem.

Percussivating organ sounds

Three sets, 41 songs (thanks Olga for the listing), with mutating bassmen and drummers (bit like watching Doctor Who regenerate).  Naturally plenty of the favourites, community singing to the usuals and almost every word of Shangri-La; God’s children too given its due.  Some songs moving towards their own KOK interpretations.  Have to say a jauntily throwaway Muswell Hillbilly disturbed me.  Apparently the very first outing for I’m not like everybody else (mass singing, d’accord).  Some nice train-like embellishments  from Dave’s guitar on Last of the steam powered trains.  Some outstanding keyboard work from Ian throughout: I’ve noted swirling organ on See my friends.  a rousing Better things.  The aforementioned majestic Like a rolling stone.  A joyous rousing Louie Louie with some exciting percussive work from Ian in Hammond organ mode, an epic Long Tall Sally.  Great playing all round.  And goodnight (or at least good evening – it’s an afternoon gig).

Oh yes, and somewhere in there, Ray Davies makes an appearance, in good voice for – this year – a whole You really got me, and graciously praising and thanking the Kinks Fans Kollektiv, who on Friday and Saturday nights had graced two pubs with their Kinks tributes.  It was good to meet again with Dave Emlen, proprietor of the long-running – practically from the birth of the Web! – Kinda Kinks website.  And, of course there was the traditional Dedicated follower of fashion vocal from Mick Avory, the gold lame jacket shed for a superhero themed number.  There’s a bootleg Kinks instrumental – basically a blues shuffle – goes by the title Mick Avory’s underpants.  There was a guaranteed pair of Mick Avory’s shorts (cries of ‘Shame’) on offer in the auction, went for a tidy sum.  As did  the other wares in same.  The whole shindig supports the Childhood Leukemia charity.  Bill Orton and the Official Kinks Fan Club committee are to be thanked once more for their sterling efforts (a currency that has not been devalued).

So many people at Euston again.  Home again in time for Blue Planet.  Thanks to other Geoff for directing me to this, for which I am grateful – as maybe you, dear reader, will be too:

 

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I

Towards the end of Wild Mercury – a tale of two Dylans, the late great Ian McDonald‘s brief but insightful survey of Bob Dylan‘s life and career, written for a glossy music mag on the occasion of his 60th birthday in 2001 and reprinted as the lead essay in his The people’s music (Pimlico, 2003), he suggests: “Bob Dylan’s career is one of the great spiritual journeys of our time. Check it out.”

II

Scott M. Marshall‘s Bob Dylan: a spiritual life (BP/WND Books, 2017) gives us such a narrow picture of that journey that it feels a lot of the time like it’s a discussion as to what the man is going to enter as his religion on the census form.  Dylan’s ’60s output is very briefly considered for its Biblical references and that’s it.  How did it feel?  But that’s not his concern:

Did Bob Dylan, by 1970, have a personal relationship with God? Whatever the case, there is precious little doubt that he possessed a strong monotheistic bent.

III

You see, Scott M. Marshall is a ‘God-botherer’.  What this means here is an unbelievable, undermining prissiness in his use of blush-sparing dashes.  He quotes Tim Drummond, bassist in Dylan’s fine Christian period band, reacting to the hostility some brought to the gospel concerts:

“Well they brutalised him; they were all pissed off because he wouldn’t sing the old songs […] I told him that I’d stay with him until the t—- fell off the Statue of Liberty, after seeing what he went through.”

Yup.  Her ‘t—‘.  That’s how it’s straightfacedly printed.  Why is Ned Flanders writing this book?  Even when he’s quoting the man himself –  from what Marshall calls a ‘matchless’ interview in Rolling Stone in 2012 with Mikhail Gilmour – we get “You can tell whether people have faith or no faith by the way they behave, by the s— that comes out of their mouths.”  (This is one of those Dylan interviews, by the way, which, if you have the taste, is worth a read; early on there is discussion about the Christian concept of ‘transfiguration’ as applied to himself – a passage that Marshall chooses not to mention.)  Reporting the same interview, he continues:

For the record, after calling his detractors from yesteryear a name that cannot be repeated here, Dylan let those “Judas!” folks know that he wished them eternal strife.

For the record he calls them ‘motherfuckers’.  To quote him quoting him again: “So f—-ing what?”   Well there is Bob’s response to the infamous 1966 Manchester “Judas!” heckle: “I don’t be-lieve you. You’re a liar”.  And to the band:Play fucking loud”.  Try meaningfully blanking that from the history.

IV

To be fair, Scott Marshall‘s main concerns are not with the actual music, nor most aspects of his subject’s life – booze, drugs etc. – outside of the narrow religious definition he’s working with.  Bob Dylan: a spiritual life is a mix of some productive original interviewing and a big cut-and-paste job of published interviews and other material.  It gets a bit repetitive as the years pass by.  But some of the interviews certainly told me something new.  In particular with:

  • Dave Kelly (Dylan’s PA at the time of the fortnight’s run of gospel shows at the Warfield Theatre in SF in November 1979, whose attempts – at Dylan’s prompting – to engage the wider Christian communities were met with indifference)
  • Regina McCrary (one of the experienced gospel singers who accompanied him on stage in the gospel years)
  • and T-Bone Burnett (pleading not guilty to the charge, as is often presumed, that he was responsible for Dylan’s ‘conversion’ to Christianity) –

V

The book would probably never have come to be written were it not for Dylan’s apparently sudden adoption of an evangelical brand of Christianity in 1979.  The tale is told; not quite so sudden, but he had a ‘knee-buckling’ personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  He followed it up with a three-month course of Bible study with the Vineyard School of Discipleship in San Francisco, and recorded Slow train coming, his first Christian album.  When he went back on the road it was basically with a gospel review, featuring none of the old songs, and interspersed with some hellfire preaching from the man himself.  This lasted, with two more albums, but some leavening on stage of some old songs towards the end, for nearly three years.

One of Bob Dylan: a spiritual life‘s strengths is its logging of the variety of responses from Dylan fans, Jews and Christians to this episode; it was dismissed as a gimmick by some, treated with suspicion on all sides. The 1970s take up 50 pages of the 254 pages of actual text, the 1980s 43 pages.  There can be no doubt that he meant it, man.  And has not refuted it since, though his understanding of his ‘mission’ has altered a whole lot.  Never mind the labels, he was sold on the Testaments, Old and New; and Revelations.

But for all the Gotta serve somebody he never actually signed up with anybody, and his Jewish roots were still in the ground.  “There’s really no difference between any of it in my mind,” Marshall quotes him, from Neil Spencer’s 1981 interview in the NME.  And, in a section Marshall doesn’t quote in that interview, in response to the question, “You’ve always had a strong religious theme in your songs even before you became a Christian”, Spencer records Dylan angrily saying: I don’t really want to walk around with a sign on me saying ‘Christian’.”  Bit odd, considering the sermonising a couple of years previous, but Dylan has always been suspicious of labels.  At concerts in this period he would introduce the stirring In the garden (“When they came for Him in the garden, did they know? / Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?“) as This is one of my anti-religion songs right here.”  A very personal Jesus, then.

VI

As an atheist and humanist I’ve never had much of a problem with the music religion inspires.  Hymns I sang with relish as a lad, Handel, gospel music, John Coltrane, ‘old time’ bluegrass.  How can I?  I may not feel I have been saved “by the blood of the lamb” but I can happily sing along to Dylan and Co powering along about it.  I may find it hard not to think occasionally of the character in Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus trilogy who heckles, “What blood group was he?”, but this is exciting, liberating, musicTrouble no more, the 13th volume of Bob Dylan’s Official Bootleg Series delivers live performances from 1979-1981 – the gospel years.  It is full of powerful vocals – Dylan aided and abetted by a four woman chorus steeped in the stuff – with some great ensemble playing from the band.  Intense, moving, at times solemn, accusatory, testifying, at others playful, or plaintive.  And, yes, the odd moment to these ears of languor – When he returns.  There are some gorgeous melodies to play with here too.  What has surprised me more than anything else is the warmth to be found amidst the uncompromising fundamentalism, not least, of course, in his interplay with the gospel chorus; when not straight preaching – actually oft when he is – he’s enjoying himself.

The 2-CD compilation finishes with one of Dylan’s finest songs, the awesome Every grain of sand, testament to the progression his writing underwent as the preaching nature of Slow train took more of a back seat.  Other highlights for me are the infectious singalong Ain’t gonna go to hell for nobody, The groom’s still waiting at the altar (which rocks as hard as anything he’s done), the passionate In the garden and the vocal dexterity of Dead man, dead man and Shot of love.  There was plenty of creativity going on in what some still insist as lost years; he would, of course, say that he was found.  Naturally I remain unconverted but I’ve had a hell of a good time.

VII

The booklet packaged with the 2-CD edition of Trouble no more (that’s its cover on the right) adds something too.  There are appreciations from a Christian and a non-believer (who’s like me’s singing along), and extensive notes on each track.   Here are a couple of things from it that would have added to A spiritual life:

  • For a bit of context: worryingly, at the time Dylan was reading a book called The late great planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey, first published in 1970 and taken up by no less than Bantam Books in 1973 – the first book of Christian prophecy put out by a mainstream secular press, part of the whole Reaganite rise of the Christian Right phenomenon in the US, seeing the Book of Revelations being played out in Russia and Iran.  “Lindsey turned out to be something of a nut … who, in 2008, suggested that Barack Obama was the AntiChrist,” the writer adds.  (In the Neil Spencer NME interview previously mentioned (reproduced here) Dylan peddles the old the Earth is 6,000 years old riff; I wonder if any subsequent interviewers have asked him if he still believes that.)
  • The late 1978 change of lyrics in performance to the great Tangled up in blue, so when she opens up “the book of poems written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century” (a favourite passage of mine) becomes “The Gospel according to Matthew, Verse 3, Chapter 33” – fortuitously keeping the rhyme – only for the apparently incorrect citation to be revised again to ‘Jeremiah’ the next night.

VIII

As suggested at the outset, I think that Scott Marshall‘s definition of a spiritual life is way too narrow to encompass Bob Dylan‘s art and life.  He rather begrudgingly hints at this in another quote from the 2012 Rolling Stone interview:

“Clearly the language of the Bible still provides imagery for your songs,” Gilmour added. “Of course, what else could there be.” The seventy-one year-old goes on to assert that it’s impossible to go through life without reading books and claims there’s some truth in all books while citing a laundry list of titles and authors: the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Buddhist sutras, the Koran, the Torah, the New Testament, Marcus Aurelius, Confucius and Sun Tzu.

There are steps on the way that don’t interest our monotheist author, from the time Dylan immersed himself in folk music and hit New York in 1961, telling Izzy Young he Never saw a God; can’t say till I see one” through to the immersion of us completists in the songs of Frank Sinatra (I’m afraid I had to pass on Triplicate).  There have been so many ideas in the air among his close compadres; though he can dismiss them with ease later, they were still stations on the way.  Marshall himself quotes Dylan twice saying, “But I always felt that if I’m going to do anything in life, I want to go as deep as I can.”  Or as his son Jakob puts it, “He’s never done anything half-assed. If he does anything he goes fully underwater.”  I’ll just leave the back cover of Desire, with Tarot card and Buddha (and Joseph Conrad) hanging there.

The crucial thing is that Bob Dylan seems not to have let his faith compromise friendships with non-believers like Alan Ginsberg or Jerry Wexler, producer of Slow train coming.  This quote about the latter, unfortunately without citation, is from the Official Bootleg booklet.  The “confirmed Jewish atheist”:

“… was never going to fall under the spell of true to life Christianity,” Dylan said.  “But that’s beside the point.  There are a lot people who live the life of a Christian in their behaviour and speech, but would never count themselves among the faithful.  However, there are just as many souls who profess to be Christians whose actions and speech prove that they wouldn’t know Christ from a hole in the wall.”

IX

A few more snippets from Scott M. Marshall‘s Bob Dylan: a spiritual life that I think bear repeating:

  • astutely he avers: “Terms like ‘religious,’ ‘Christianity,’ ‘conversion,’ and ‘fundamentalist’ were virtually absent from Dylan’s vocabulary, but his personal experience, as described by outsiders was – and is – constantly framed in those terms.”
  • contrary to those who ascribe cult status to the Vineyard Church: “What is interesting here is that, contrary to some speculation, Dylan’s decision to sing only his gospel material from November 1979 through My of 1980 was not the decision of the Vineyard Church. In fact, Larry Myers, the pastor who visited Dylan’s home in early 1979 (and who was invited on tour in 1979-1980) urged Dylan to sing his older material.”  [I looked up Vineyard on Wikipedia: they have spread internationally; there have been schisms] 
  • when he returned to featuring his ‘oldies’ live, Dylan changed the punchline of the coruscating Masters of war. “It’s original line, “Even Jesus would never forgive what you do” was dropped and – to this day – has never been uttered in performance of the song. “Dylan knows it is not biblically correct,” asserts author Ronnie Keohone …”  Frustratingly we are not told what it’s replaced by; this atheist fears a diminution of power.
  • a tribute to Ralph Stanley and the old guys, as told to John Pareles in 1979: Those old songs are my lexicon and my prayer book … All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from Let me rest on a peaceful mountain to Keep on the sunny side. You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back towards those old songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing I saw the light. I’ve seen the Light, too.

X

I’ll finish as I started with Ian MacDonald.  He offers three theories on the art and life of Bob Dylan.  First jokingly is that he’s “currently the world’s greatest performance artist. (That’s ‘performance’, not ‘performing’.)”  Except you couldn’t make it up.  Second is the flawed human being and artist … and genius (a word not to be used lightly).  Third is the embodiment of the Jungian archetype of Trickster.  The current Sinatra stuff could come from anywhere in that spectrum.  Personally I wish he’d get bored with that – though not without some merit (Autumn leaves!), surely 5 CD’s worth is enough.  I look forward to a last full flowering of his writing.

Currently, the last time I looked, none of the specifically religious material from the three album sequence of Slow train, Saved and Shot of love is featured in performance (http://www.boblinks.com/111817s.html).

The title of this piece – Trailing moss and mystic glow – is the result of an act of bibliomancy using Bob Dylan: Lyrics 1962-2001.  From the song Moonlight on the Love and theft album.  Fits as well as anything more obvious, I’d say.  Must go and remind myself how it goes.

 

 

 

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