Category Archives: general

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RIP John Martyn

One of my best musical memories is of John Martyn and Danny Thompson playing through Solid Air at the Cropredy festival – I forget the year, it was during the Eighties. A magical summer evening. News of Martyn’s death came today in a brief entry on his web site.

What can I say? I love his music for its individuality, depth, emotion, jazzy edginess, and yearning.

Solid Air may be his greatest work but my own favourite albums are Sunday’s Child and Inside Out.

Solid Air was written for Nick Drake; I hope someone writes an equally beautiful song for John.

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Richard Thompson at the Cambridge Corn Exchange

I saw Richard Thompson, accompanied by Judith Owen (vocals, piano) and Debra Dobkin (percussion, vocals), perform his 1000 Years of Popular Music set at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge (Friday January 16th).

This is a great atmospheric venue with good acoustics, but we arrived slightly after 7.30pm thanks to traffic and parking problems, to find that the show had started on the dot. We missed the first two songs and ended up in seats that weren’t the ones we’d booked, but they were good seats which is what counted.

The concept is that RT and his ensemble play songs from the ages – from Medieval to the present day. Why? A few reasons. Because he can, and few others could. Because he’s exploring his cultural history. Because he wants to introduce songs that are old but good to a new audience. Because he wants to pay tribute to the past. Because it’s a hoot. All of these.

It makes for an enjoyable evening, though it is inevitably uneven. I studied English Literature and knew some of the older songs as poems; it was good to hear them in a new context, especially with Thompson’s dry,witty introductions. I enjoyed his 19th century social comment songs, Blackleg Miner and I Live in Trafalgar Square. He caught the mood of the Kinks’ See My Friends brilliantly. His rendering of Abba’s Money Money Money is hilarious. I didn’t think he carried off the Beatles so well, though we saw some striking Beatlemania photos.

I was sorry he did not perform Oops! … I did it again (yes, the Britney Spears song) as this is one of my favourites on the CD, another ode to failed relationships.

The paradox of RT is that he is fascinated by mortality, decadence and despair, yet is among the most clean-living, disciplined and downright healthy artists out there; he is sixty this year but his voice is strong and physically he looks almost the same as he did twenty years ago, with his trademark beret.

He carries it off really well, but would I rather have heard 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Wall of Death, and The Ghost of you Walks? I suppose I would; but at the same time kudos to RT for doing something different.

This is the set list from the day before in London (I didn’t go but it was posted to the discussion list); ours was very similar but I’ll update this post when I have the exact set list from last night.

Hevene Queen
3 Ravens
So Ben
False Knight
Pipe Shepherds Pipe
When I am Laid in The Earth
Remember Thou O Man
Shenandoah
Blackleg Miner
Trafalgar Square
Sally Gardens
When a Man Goes to Woe

Interval

Java jive
Night and Day/Something Wonderful
Wine Spo-Di-O-Di
All Right I’ll Sign the Papers
See My Friends
Friday on My Mind
Money, Money, Money
everybody’s Got to Learn sometime
Maneater
Encores
Ja Nuls Hom Pris
Cry Me a River
Beatle Medley

Live at Kilburn a must for Who fans – but for the Coliseum concert, not Kilburn

The recent DVD / Blu-ray release of The Who at Kilburn 1977 is a must-have if you have any spark of interest in The Who. I found it utterly compelling. I got the DVD, because I can play it anywhere, and I’m not convinced Blu-ray has much advantage for something like this.

What gripped me was not the Kilburn concert though. It’s OK, but this is among Keith Moon’s last performances and he is far from his best.

No, the gem here is the 1969 London Coliseum concert, from the best years of The Who. The Coliseum is an opera house, and was booked in order to perform the rock opera, Tommy. The band members realise how pretentious this is and joke about it; yet at the same time there was a genuine desire to push rock music to a new place.

That’s exactly what they do, not because Tommy is an opera, but through sheer energy and virtuosity. The quality varies from reasonable to bootleg, especially the picture which is very dark at times, but it matters little; this is The Who from when they could reasonably claim to be the best live band in the world.

Sparks indeed. You’ll love it.

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Free McFly CD in Mail on Sunday shows media powershift

Today’s Mail on Sunday in the UK has McFly’s new CD, Radio:Active, as a free insert. Free CDs and DVDs are like confetti in the weekend press these days; but this one is distinctive in that it is new material and comes from a band not yet in the twilight of its career – insofar as these things can be predicted.

The band has its own label, called Super Records, which gives them the freedom for this kind of experiment.

Not so long ago, the CD was itself the upsell – music companies would give away other stuff in order to promote the CD. Now that’s changed; free exchange of digital music has undermined the value of CDs, and McFly has figured out that promoting the band is more important.

But what is the new upsell? Performances, tat, ringtones, digital audio and video downloads. Trouble is, it’s not going to sum to as much as CD sales did in the old days.

Oh well, there’s always the deluxe CD and DVD package, with four extra tracks and a booklet, coming in September. Perhaps not so much has changed after all (except it has).

And the music? Lightweight pop, compressed to hell. No complaints about the lightweight pop; but the sound quality is much worse than on the first and second CDs, Room on the Third Floor and Wonderland.

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My early days with music part 2: records with my parents

In the late sixties we lived in a small village in Oxfordshire (then Berkshire). I have a few musical memories. One is a song covered by Tom Jones, The Green Green Grass of Home. We had a television, and there must have been some programme we watched that followed Top of the Pops. As a result, we always caught the last song, which was the number one, and in my memory it was always Tom Jones and The Green Green Grass of Home. I see that according to wikipedia it was number one for just seven weeks in 1966; but it was possibly an entire school holiday. I had no idea what a sad tale the song told, about a man awaiting execution. Still, that wasn’t my favourite tune at the time. That would have been the theme tune to Thunderbirds, a TV puppet show about rescuing people with fabulous machines.

We had a record player, a green one-box affair, mono of course, but with an auto-changer. My dad bought a record of Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge, and another with someone crooning Sullivan’s The Lost Chord. The tale of perfection found fleetingly but lost forever appealed to him; bear in mind that he was an artist too (a writer):

It linked all perplexéd meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence
As if it were loth to cease.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
That one lost chord divine,
Which came from the soul of the organ,
And entered into mine.

I remember musicals too. A great Saturday treat was to go to the cinema and see the latest: The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Doctor Doolittle, Mary Poppins, Thoroughly Modern Millie. We bought some of these soundtracks (like everyone else) and the songs will stay with me forever. I still enjoy My Fair Lady and its extreme political incorrectness.

My brother managed to come home one day with a job lot of secondhand singles. I think we bought one or two as well. There was treasure here, though I didn’t know it. The Carnival is Over by The Seekers makes my eyes prick whenever I hear it. Windmills of my mind sung by Noel Harrison, with its clever words by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand:

Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own
down a hollow to a cavern where the sun has never shone
like a door that keeps revolving in a half forgotten dream
or the ripples from a pebble someone tosses in a stream
like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face
and the world is like an apple whirling silently in space
like the circles that you find
in the windmills of your mind

There was also Goodbye my love, by the Searchers, which we thought was hilarious (goodbyyy-yy-yy-yy-yyee my love); and a single by the Rolling Stones, As Tears go By which we quite liked, but had 19th Nervous Breakdown on the other side which we considered very silly (actually it was the A side and, I realised later, a great song).

The next event was going away to school and getting a portable radio. Yes, a tranny (transitor radio). That’s the next post.

Bowie on Bowie in the Mail on Sunday

Today’s Mail on Sunday has a giveaway CD with “David Bowie’s own choice of the 12 greatest tracks of his career.”

I couldn’t resist this even though I have pretty much everything already. It turned out to be worth it, if only for the two pages of new notes by the man himself within the paper. Completists will also want the CD for the reworked “Time will crawl”:

I’ve replaced the drum machine with true drums and added some crickety strings and remixed.

Any revelations here? Not really, though there are some touches of detail. Like how Life on Mars came together. He was sitting on the steps of a bandstand in a park in South London when the riff came to him “Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap”, couldn’t get it out of his head and rushed to work it up into a song at Haddon Hall in Southend Road.

Of the song Bewlay Brothers, which sounds autobiographical, Bowie says:

…this wasn’t just a song about brotherhood, so I didn’t want to misrepresent it by using my true name. Having said that, I wouldn’t know how to interpret the lyric other than suggesting that there are layers of ghosts within it.

Bowie says that the aforementioned Time will Crawl was inspired by the Chernobyl, when a nuclear power station exploded:

A complicated crucible of impressions collected in my head, prompted by this insanity, any one of which could have become a song. I stuck them all in Time Will Crawl.

This echoes what Dylan said about his (incomparably greater) song A Hard Rain’s a-gonna fall, which is also associated with nuclear threat. In the sleeve notes to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Nat Hentoff recalls Dylan saying that Hard Rain was written during the Cuban missile crisis, and adding:

Every line in it is actually the start of a while song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.

Bowie says he chose “songs that I don’t seem to tire of”. There’s nothing from his iconic album Ziggy Stardust (unless you count the live Hang on to yourself); draw your own conclusions. Here is what he chose:

  1. Life on Mars
  2. Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)
  3. The Bewlay Brothers
  4. Lady Grinning Soul
  5. Win
  6. Some Are
  7. Teenage Wildlife
  8. Repetition
  9. Fantastic Voyage
  10. Loving the Alien
  11. Time will crawl (MM Remix)
  12. Hang on to yourself (Live Santa Monica ‘72)

The full article is here.

The ten best Kinks albums

As voted by the fine people at Steve Hoffman’s forum.

The Village Green Preservation Society
Something Else
Arthur
Face to Face
Muswell Hillbillies
Lola versus Powerman and the moneygoround
Kontroversy
Misfits
Sleepwalker
Everybody’s in Showbiz

I asked the question because I’ve pretty much missed out on the Kinks, aside from their very well known singles (Waterloo Sunset, Apeman, Lola, You really got me etc). I’ve excluded greatest hits packages (of which there are a bewildering number).

Well worth exploring.

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How many rotting PDO CDs are out there?

Many millions, in my opinion. The reason is that I’ve been ripping CDs to FLAC for a slimserver installation. I came across quite a few CDs showing signs of corrosion, the notorious “CD rot”. Almost all are made by PDO. The problem seems to strike the outer rim of the label side first, which goes golden brown. The brown gradually spreads across the whole side, eventually being clearly visible on both sides of the CD. The affected CDs seem to cover quite a wide time span in date of manufacturer, roughly 1989 – 1994 according to my impressions. Wikipedia says 1988-1993 in a rather good article on the subject – however, it has no estimate of how many CDs were affected.
The good news is that so far all my bronzing CDs still play. Now that they are ripped to a lossless format, at least I have a backup. I presume at some point they will become unplayable.
In a way, I guess PDO has got away with it. Yes, they are faulty CDs, but even a 15 year life is not that bad. By the time they fail in their millions, probably most people will be playing music from files rather than CDs.

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