Friday, 25 March 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 93 (Top Ten): Random Recent Purchases




So how to round off our first article in four weeks? How about a random rummage through our latest purchases in no particular order, with a look at whether they were worth buying or not (remember, we buy the dross so you dont have to!)

1) Stephen Stills “Live At Shepherd’s Bush” (CD, 2009): It’s been out a while, this set, but so hard was it to find – and so expensive as it when I first found it – that I’ve only got round to buying it now. This live set finally redresses the balance of the weird track listing for the only other official Stills live album to date (the logically named ‘Stephen Stills Live’ from 1975) and adds no less than three exclusive covers to the Stills canon (the moody ‘blind fiddler’, the over-familiar ‘Girl From The North Country’ and the surprising choice of the Tom Petty song about bad-parenting ‘The Wrong Thing To Do’). This album also keeps the former’s strong one-side acoustic, one-side electric set and Stills’ guitar-work has never been better, especially on a riveting six minute version of ‘Rock and Roll Women’ and the under-rated and now topical again song about recession ‘Isn’t It About Time?’ A warning though – this live recording reveals the cracks in Stills’ now sadly wrecked voice like never before and there are far better live versions of many of the more famous songs on live CSN records. Still, good on Stills for stretching himself with many of the choices here and – if you can find it cheaply enough – there’s enough good moments here for most CSN/Buffalo Springfield fans.


2) The Who “Live At Leeds” (Deluxe four-disc version, recorded 1970 and released 2010): This live set, however, is disappointing. As anyone whose read our newsletter issue no 76 (our ‘live albums’ special) or our AAA review no 33 will know, ‘Live At Leeds’ is my nomination for the best live record made by anybody, with the best rock and roll band in the world at the peak of their powers. The original half hour cut down set was amazing enough but the release of two further sets (chronicling first an 80 minute highlights set and then the full two-hour show with a performance of ‘Tommy’ included intact) made perfection sound more and more perfect still. The news that Polydor had discovered the following night’s show in Hull led us to think that this four disc set might be better still (it was only left unreleased because the tapes were thought to be missing John Entwistle’s bass parts on a few songs and the original ideas was to mix the two shows together for a final record). Alas, it’s not. The Who aren’t playing badly and a couple of spots are actually better than ‘Leeds’ (namely a funky ‘I’m A Boy’ and a slightly calmer ‘I’m Free’), but for the most part the band sound tired and play more as individuals than as a telepathic single unit. One other point is that this second show in Hull is just so similar – not just the identical track listing (minus an encore of ‘Magic Bus’ I notice) which is fair enough for gigs played just one day apart but the seemingly improvised passages – the scream of guitars in ‘Amazing Journey’, the quick-changing chords of ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ and the breath-taking improvisations in the 12-minute ‘My Generation’ (which runs a little shorter than the version on ‘Leeds’ but is otherwise identical). It’s as if The Who are trying to remember what made the previous night’s show in Leeds so special and they can’t quite relax enough to re-create it no matter how hard they try. Considering the hefty price of this set (£60 when it came out, although some shops have it cheaper at the moment), personally I’d steer clear and go back to the two-disc version, one of the greatest and most musical noises it will ever be your privilege to hear.


3) The Rolling Stones “Off The Record” (book compiled by Mark Paytress, 2004): My latest charity shop find is this excellent book made up of Rolling Stones press pieces down the years, from the famous ‘Who Kills A Butterfly With A Wheel?’ article that helped two of the Stones escape imprisonment to lesser known moments about aborted film projects and Mick Jagger’s trousers. My shelf is currently full to bursting with Stones books – there’s the official and deeply boring ‘According To The Stones’, Bill Wyman and Keith Richards’ excellent (in completely different ways!) autobiographies, a brather odd book about the relationship between Mick and Keef, the fascinating ‘Stories Behind Every Song’ book, the much-thumbed ‘Complete Guide To The Music Of’, last year’s impressive Uncut guide to the band and the downright superlative ‘Rough Guide To The Music Of...’, but this book is one of the best I’ve yet come across, with lots of forgotten pieces as well as pieces that I’ve heard about for years and never read in full. You really do need to be an obsessive anorakky fan like me to make the most of it (all the casual mentions of forgotten projects could get very confusing for those who don’t know the full story) and big events like Brian Jones’ death or the Stones’ exile in France are covered almost as an after-thought. But if you are a big Stones nut then this book is for you and more than worth the £2.50 I paid for it in hardback!


4) Astrid Kirchherr “A Retrospective” (2010, a book edited by Matthew H Clough and Colin Fallows): One other excellent purchase is the first book by one of the Beatles’ earliest supporters. For those who don’t know, Astrid is the German photographer who became engaged to ‘fifth Beatle’ Stuart Sutcliffe, helped develop the Beatles’ early image of leathers and haircuts (as far as I’m concerned the Beatle moptop look is all down to Astrid, whatever Lennon may have claimed later) and took their earliest professional photographs. Many of them are here in this book including the famous shot of the five Beatles (without Ringo but with Stuart and Pete Best) at the fairground, seen in full shot without the close crop around the band for the first time as well as some early Brian Epstein-influenced shots of the band in suits from 1963 that aren’t often seen. Most moving of all, however, are the photos of Stuart – easily the most photogenic of the group in the days before Lennon grew into his leadership role – at work and at play and the eerie, much-discussed photo of a fragile looking Lennon taken in Stuart’s art studio the day he heard that his best friend had died, with a 17-year-old George looking concerned over his shoulder. That single rarely-seen shot is worth the price of the book alone, although do be warned that the translated interviews with Astrid, Klaus Voormann and Astrid’s one-time husband Gibson Kemp aren’t anything like as illuminating as the photographs and nor is this book exclusively a Beatles one (there’s lots of shots of Astrid and her family as well as other musicians of interest to Beatle fans such as Ringo’s first employer Rory Storm and Apple artist Jackie Lomax). Still, these are important pictures by one of the leading lights of her day (like Linda McCartney after her, Astrid had already made quite an impact by the time she met the Beatles and if anything the association hurt her own career) and the book is a well-produced labour of love that deserves better acknowledgement from fans who realise it’s worth.


5) Gustav Holst: “The Evening Watch and Other Choral Music” (2004): Amazingly, I think I’ve gone through 200 articles without revealing to you my love for the only classical music composer on a level with giants from the rock and pop world. Most of you will only know Holst from the ‘Planets’ score, which is an often misunderstood piece of work (it’s written about astrology, not astronomy!) that has overshadowed equally fine moments in the composer’s career. ‘The Evening Watch’ isn’t one of them, mind, being one of Holst’s occasional religious works that never really suit his style (his often heavenly music is enthused by a similar kind of non-religious spirituality common to most of the artists on this list), although there are other rare pieces here that are worthy additions to the Holst canon, especially the six Choruses and seven part-songs which show much more of the Holst ‘spirit’ and less of impressive chameleonic abilities. To be honest, though, if you want to know this fascinatingly complex and rule-breaking man’s work better you want to buy The Hymn Of Jesus his own superior version of Ave Maria, (OK, so forget what I said about his religious works...), A Winter Idyll, Ode To Death, Invocation, the Brook Green Suite, the piano pieces Nocturne and Piece For Yvonne, the sadly unfinished The Morning Of The Year and especially the exquisite Perfect Fool (the opera may have been booed off the stage but the opening ballet is amongst the most moving music ever made by anybody). Most fans and fellow collectors scratch their heads when I mention Holst’s name but Justin Hayward, for one, is a fan and considers ‘The Planets’ a big influence on his work (or he did once, anyway, I haven’t seen his name mentioned in interviews for a while!) and certainly Holst is the only classical composer I can stomach, the only one remotely close to writing music as powerful and meaningful as the artists on this list (and even then he has patchier moments than any of the groups on our list, I have to say...) Still, if you get bored of the music on this list (as if!) then check out one of the above recordings – and better still join me in lobbying for a performance of one of Holst’s six operas (none of which have ever been staged since his death in 1934!)


Right, that’s enough nattering for one week. We hope to be with you again soon all being well – but please bear with us if we’re not. We really are facing some problems at the moment and I’m not sure if we’ll ever fully solve them, but as long as there are those of you who visit the site I’ll do my best to keep going. Oh and I ran out of space to moan about it earlier but – what does David Cameron think he’s doing, sending missiles to shoot down leaders who until a few months ago Britain’s Government was supporting? Whilst I agree with the cause, switching sides in such a callous manner – using our weapons to fight weapons we’ve been selling for the past few decades – seems downright hypocritical to me! Just because Cameron wants his own Falklands! Oh and full marks for Obama for hanging back – America may be involved too but it’s us that’s doing all the shouting about it. Huh, up with music and down with the Coalition!

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