Thursday, 21 July 2011
News, Views and Music Issue 106 (Intro)
I’m back – and I’m very annoyed! No, not with The Queen for once or even the Spice Girls for once but with this stupid computer. Yes, dear readers, DellBoy Mark III is back home, but with half the hard drive space, no graphics card and a CD/DVD drive that’s worked sensibly for fewer hours than the Coalition. I’m particularly angry that my webcam now seems to be non-existent, just when I’d written a great script for my first online ‘news, views and music’ video for Youtube. Alas, having commissioned him to do it already, I’ll have to keep Max the Singing Dog’s salary of bones and top hats up high until it’s made. At least bingo’s drunk his wages already! Soon I shall be hitting the phones (for a third time in a month!) and complaining – but in the meantime enjoy the (all too brief) return of some decent graphics!
Another thing that’s annoyed me this week is the media and Coalition pilloring of Charlie Gilmour, the adopted son of the Pink Floyd guitarist, who was in trouble for the grand crime of – shock, horror – throwing a bin during a demonstration. Even the passengers in a passing car (Prince Charles and Camilla) said they were a bit shocked but understood the anger on the streets and weren’t pressing charges – so how come the future of a promising 21-year-old has been ruined by a sixteen month prison sentence? While News International gets away with murder – well, not quite literally, but they’ve interfered in murder cases at least. And the amount of suicides from people facing poverty, loss of benefits or the destruction of their savings mean it should be Cameron and his cronies in the dock. If ever there was a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with life under the Coalition...
On a happier note,
♫ Beatles News: Full marks to BBC One and the ‘Imagine’ team for their illuminating insight into the Lennons and their time in America (shown last Tuesday at 10.45pm). There’s really not much we don’t know about this period but the production team still managed to pull out a few gems, from Lennon’s studio chatter to Yoko’s home movies of him with a newly born Sean and the rare ‘ten for two’ benefit concert footage (the ‘John Sinclair’ rally). Together with the usual stories well told (and contributions from Yoko, May Pang, Elton John, producer Jack Douglas and various members of Elephants Memory) this is the best Beatles doc we’ve seen since – ooh – perhaps the similar ‘US vs John Lennon’ in 2006!
In other new words, seasoned director Martin Scorsese continues his recent run of music films with a biography of George Harrison. The two part special is due to be screened on an American channel sometime in August, with a DVD of it due to be on sale in the UK on October 10th. Rumour is there will be a book to go with the untitled project too. Let’s just hope it’s a bit more entertaining than his Rolling Stones concert film ‘Shine A Light’!
♫ Beatles/CSNY/Simon and Garfunkel News: A couple of months ago we mentioned that a new book, ‘Fire and Rain’, was coming out featuring no less than three AAA bands (and James Taylor) to tell the troubled story of 1970. As the most popular year featured on our website there’s a whole host of good stories to tell and writer David Browne tells them well. Sure, we know the Beatles story pretty well by now but even the fall-out over ‘Let It Be’ is given new perspective, thanks to an opening chapter where Paul, George and Ringo reunite to re-record ‘I Me Mine’ at the last ever Beatles session (till 1994 at least) and then go their separate ways, with a chapter dedicated to each. We learn much about Paul Simon too, doing his best to hide from the mega fame of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and retreat into himself, offering up a course on song-writing that gets mixed results while Garfunkel changes his first name to ‘Arthur’ and tries to make a new life for himself in films. It’s the CSN/Y chapters, though, that are the book’s biggest revelation, with spot-on portraits of the four musicians and their many ups and downs over the course of 1970, from Crosby losing his girlfriend in a car crash, to Stills moving to England to escape being kicked out of his own band, to Nash splitting with Joni Mitchell to Young’s sudden disappearance and mega-stardom with the start of what will become ‘After The Goldrush’ and the death of Danny Whitten. Now, ‘Fire and Rain’ isn’t perfect by any means. The book could have done with more and better pictures and the choice of lyrics for the chapter titles seem idiotic in places (‘Gone your way, I’ll go mine’ and ‘a feeling I can’t hide’ make less sense than, respectively, ‘rejoice we have no choice but to carry on’ and any lines from ‘Let It Be’ or ‘The Long and Winding Road’ respectively). And I struggle to understand what James Taylor is doing here, seeing as he wasn’t in a band, his star was rising not falling across the year like the others and, good as he is, he’s hardly in the same league as the other three. But I love the way the book has been divided into seasons, not bands (as three out of the four experience a relatively happy winter and turbulent autumn) and the links between the bands, whether its Macca in the audience wondering when CSNY are going to show up, to the Nashville session-man who worked on ‘Beaucoups of Blues’ joking with Ringo that his voice is the perfect fit for ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’! Recommended. Now, let’s hope there’ll be more books like this, especially for the years 1966, 1967 and 1969...
♫ Kinks News: What an interesting night last Friday was. Dave Davies got a whole documentary to himself, made by the exact same production team as the Ray Davies ‘Imagine’; special at xmas (ie Julian Temple and Alan Yentob) and the contrast to the first doc and the personalities of the brothers couldn’t have been more different. Ray spent his whole time talking about The Kinks and his relationship not just with his brother but all his family and the whole of the band – it took Dave 12 minutes to mention his brother and a good half hour to mention ‘The Kinks’ by name. Ray began his discussion seated behind a broken down piano in an old village hall which was the first place The Kinks ever professionally played (as ‘The Ray Davis [SIC] Quartet’). Dave showed us round his new homeland in Exmoor, wandering around the moors where he’s found peace since his stroke of 2003 (which, Dave being Dave, never even got a mention there were so many things to talk about). There was even a great finale where Yentob asked Dave if there was anything in his life he’d want to change; despite coming after a scene where a still unstable Dave falls over he replies adamantly ‘no!’ The same question was out to brother Ray last year – and he claimed there wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t change! ‘That sums up the two of us quite well!’ said Dave, with a chuckle. The result was similarly moving to the Ray Davies doc, if a little bit rambling – again, this was a second doc very much made for fans who know the story inside out, rather than casual fans who probably got more than a little lost. Still, Dave always was a very good interviewee and it’s nice to see him closer to full health than we’ve seen for a while, plus as a bonus we got to see even more of the teenage Davies brothers as filmed at a family get together circa 1962 (as seen briefly in Ray’s doc). Quote of the doc? The late great Pete Quaife in 1996 telling us that ‘we had Jimi Hendrix down one end of the stage – and Noel Coward up the other!’
The highlight of the night, though, was the ‘Kinks at the BBC’ doc. The show dispensed with the usual suspects (‘You Really Got Me’ TOTP 1964, Waterloo Sunset TOTP 1966, Lola TOTP 1970, ‘Got Love If You Want It’ Beat Room 1964) within the first 10 minutes, leaving the way clear for some clips that haven’t been seen since the day they were broadcast (a live vocal TOTP version of ‘Apeman’ from 1970, ‘Cuppa Tea’ from the Old Grey Whistle Test 1973, a raucous ‘Till The End Of The Day’ from 1973, ‘The Informer’ from 1993 and ‘To The Bone’ from Ray’s ‘Storyteller’ show on Jools Holland 1995). Fascinating! Let’s hope the Beeb devote a second hour to The Kinks because there’s at least as much BBC footage in existence – and still no showing for the old afternoon play starring Ray ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Piano Player’! The night ended with repeats of the Ray Davies clip and the excellent ‘Brothers’ documentary from the late 90s, featuring Oasis, The Beach Boys and Dire Straits as well as the Davies brothers. BBC4 like to repeat their triumphs ad infinitum, so if you’re a Kinks fan keep your eyes peeled (talking of which, you can see the Ray Davies ‘Imagine’ doc in the early hours of next Tuesday, July 19th).
♫ Simon and Garfunkel News: I’ve finally got hold of the 40th anniversary set of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (released back in May – some seven months after the actual anniversary!) and I’m impressed. I’ve never been a big fan of this album – to me it’s the weakest of the five S and G produced between 1964 and 1970 – but suddenly,when put together with the extras on this set, it makes perfect sense as the tonic to a troubled country in one of its most troubled years. Whatever your take on ‘Bridge’ (a mishmash of styles with no rockers up to the standard of the ballads or a near perfect sequence of arrangmenets and singing) the album glows better than ever thanks to the presence of an extra CD full of 17 live recordings from several shows taped in 1969 (only two of which have been heard before, on the ‘Best Of Simon and Garfunkel’ compilation) and an excellent companion DVD. We non-American fans have read about the TV special ‘Songs of America’ for years, a fascinating mix of S and G rehearsing in the studio and backstage at concerts and newsreels of that turbulent year set to the duo’s songs. The whole thing was so controversial the show’s original sponsors A T and T pulled out and the show was given a screening on a minor channel where –in Paul Simon’s words – it got pasted by a figure-skating show in the ratings. Much of it is boring – long, drawn out sequences of bland highways and destruction and confusion that is old to us now but was oh so awfully new at the time, with even Paul’s comments about ‘last year’s Woodstock festival’ seeming like they should belong in a different century not just another decade. Much of it is revealing too – ‘Bridge’ has never sounded as strong as it does accompanying shots of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and their respective funeral cars and trains, whilst hearing ‘America’ from the ‘Bookends’ album, usually a hymn of innocence and longing, set to a backdrop of a smoky grey industrial broken-down America gives the song a whole new slant. We also learn much about the duo themselves – the booklet and accompanying documentary may claim they were getting along well with the same sort of atmosphere but all I feel is tension, Simon pulling a face at Garfunkel’s haughty claims of knowing how to sing perfect harmonies and speaking over his partner with a diatribe about how Beethoven wrote his own rules about harmony. Garfunkel’s ‘Then Beethoven was a fool!’ might be said in jest, but the hurt look on his face suggests there’s more significance to the conversation than meets the eye. The show is awfully close in style to ‘Let It Be’, with the same sense that a generation and not just a duo is breaking up before our eyes and the voyeuristic nature of the cameras capturing arguments means we don’t know whether to stare or hide. There’s a fascinating modern-day documentary too featuring S, G and engineer Roy Halee where bygones and bygones and the troubled waters are past, but still featuring some revealing stories, such as Arty spending eight sessions struggling to get the first verse to ‘Bridge’ right, before spending his lunch break in the grounds of a huge church, filling himself with spiritual vibes that allowed him to nail the vocal on his return. It may not be the best album ever made but ‘Bridge’ finally feels like an album worthy of the weight its always been afforded with this three-part package, well worth the reasonable £12.99 asking price. Now where are the anniversary editions of ‘Parsley, Sage’ and ‘Bookends’?!
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy birthday to our dearly missed AAA men born between July 18th and 24th: Clarence White (guitarist with The Byrds 1968-72) who would have been 67 on July 19th and Keith Godchaux (keyboardist with The Grateful Dead 1973-79) who would have been 63 on the same day; also John Lodge (bassist with The Moody Blues 1967-present) who turns 68 on July 20th and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam who turns 64 on July 21st. Anniversaries of events include: CSN release their prestigious and much loved eponymous debut album (July 18th 1969); One of Otis Reddings’ last projects, with Carla Thomas, ‘Tramp’ reaches the charts (July 19th 1967); Simon and Garfunkel begin their first reunion tour, which will break down in recriminations a few months later (July 19th 1983); Jane Asher shocks the music press by announcing her six-month long engagement to Paul McCartney is off, after the couple have spent nearly five years together (July 20th 1968); 4000 fans unable to get tickets to a Beatles show in Blackpool rush the arena and the Beatles have to get flown in by helicopter (July 21st 1963); The Beatles’ first American album ‘Introducing...’ is released on the small label Vee Jay Records. It becomes the only Beatles LP ever to miss the charts in America! (July 22nd 1963); The Dire Straits’ first eponymously titled record hits the LP charts (July 22nd 1978); Four days after his 31st birthday Grateful Dead keyboardist dies in a car crash (July 23rd 1979) and finally, Jefferson Airplane receive their only gold disc for ridiculously high sales of their second album ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (July 24th 1967).