Music Writing

This is where I post about music: concert reviews, album reviews, and anything where I feel I have something to say.

There are a few things worth noting. One is that I embarked on a project to write about this history and music of Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter. You can find an index to this work on a separate page here; it is also referenced in a post below.

You will also find a fair amount of content on David Bowie and Bob Dylan, two other enthusiasms of mine

David Bowie Is app: Floating in a most peculiar way

The exhibition David Bowie Is, originally at the Victoria and Albert museum in London and subsequently on tour around the world, has proved an enormous success with over 2 million visitors in 12 locations. Sony Entertainment has now released David Bowie Is AR Exhibition, an app for iOS and Android that uses Augmented Reality to enable users to enjoy the exhibition at home and whenever they like.

I found the app though-provoking. I am a fan of course, so keen to see the material; and I attended the London exhibition twice so I have some context.

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I tried the app on an Honor 10 AI – note that you have to download the Google ARCore library first, if it is not already installed. Then I ran the app and found it somewhat frustrating. When the app starts up, you get a calibrating screen and this has to complete before you can progress.

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If you struggle at all with this, I recommend having a look at the help, which says to “Find a well-lit surface with a visible pattern or a few flat items on it. A magazine on a desk or table works well.” Another tip is that the app is designed for a table-top experience. So sit at a desk, do not try walking around and using a wall.

The app streams a lot of data. So if you are on a poor connection, expect to wait while the orange thermometer bar fills up at the bottom of the screen. The streaming/caching could probably be much improved.

Once I got the app working I began to warm to it. You can think of it as a series of pages or virtual rooms. Each room has an array of object in it, and you tap an object to bring it into view. Once an object is focused like this, you can zoom in by moving the phone. Pinch to zoom should work too though I had some problems with it.

Here is a view of the recording page:

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and here I’ve brought a page of Bowie’s notes into view (note the caption which appears) and zoomed in; the resolution is good.

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The clever bit is that you can move objects around by tap and drag. This is a nice feature when viewing Bowie’s cut-up lyric technique, since you can drag the pieces around to exercise your own creativity.

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Fair enough, but is this really Augmented Reality? I’d argue not, since it does not mix the real world with the virtual world. It just uses the AR platform as a viewer into this virtualised environment.

The experience is good when it works, but not if you get disappearing content, endless “calibration”, stuttering videos, or content that is too small and stubbornly refuses to come into view – all issues which I encountered. It also requires a fairly high-end phone or tablet. So your environment has to be just right for it to work; not ideal for enjoying on a train journey, for example. And some of the content is literally shaky; I think this is a bug and may improve with an update.

Would it be better if it were presented in a more traditional ways, as a database of items which you could search and view? Unfortunately I think it would. This would also reduce the system requirements and enable more people to enjoy it.

It does look as if there is a lot here. According to the site:

56 costumes
38 songs
23 music videos
60 original lyric sheets
50 photos
33 drawings and sketches
7 paintings

I would love to be able to look up these items easily. Instead I have to hunt through the virtual rooms and hope I can find what I am looking for. Just like a real exhibition, complete with crowds and kids wanting toilets I guess. 

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook

Peter Hook, known as Hooky, played bass for Joy Division and then New Order – though he is no longer with New Order, having fallen out with guitarist Bernard Sumner (also ex Joy Division) in early 2007.

Hook’s first book, called The Hacienda: how not to run a club, was published in 2010 but I paid no attention at the time, nor to its successors Unknown Pleasures and Substance. Leafing through the Hacienda book earlier this year though, I discovered that Hook is an excellent writer, with a disarming to-the-point style and deadpan humour. He is also, it seems, ruthlessly honest in his recollections; maybe there are some embellishments, or maybe he tells it just as it happens, but either way he neither holds back nor wallows in the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, just narrates it.

I resolved to do some reading over the break and have just finished his Joy Division book. It is at once illuminating, entertaining and moving. I love the prologue:

Normally I don’t include any other people in my writing. Everyone remembers the same things completely differently.

The central character in this book is not Hooky, but rather Ian Curtis, the lyricist and singer in Joy Division. In fact, as you finish the book, you realise that Hooky has kept his own personal life, such as his relationship with Iris with whom he stayed for 10 years, largely hidden from view. The Hooky self-described in the book is a lad and a japer who gets lucky with his distinctive bass playing almost by accident. Curtis on the other hand is an intellectual and a poet, though when off-stage with the band he adopts a laddish persona which is at odds with how he behaves with his wife Debbie or his mistress Annik Honoré. Maintaining these different personalities was a source of huge stress, especially since Curtis was an epileptic and not physically robust.

During the recording of the second and last Joy Division album, Closer, and just a couple of months before Curtis took his own life, the band stayed in two adjacent London flats. In one were Hooky, Sumner and drummer Stephen Morris, and in the other Curtis with girlfriend Honoré. As Hooky tells is, the band did the usual rock lifestyle focused on drink, drugs girls and recording sessions, while Curtis and Honoré would go out to art galleries and museums. The separate flats and lifestyle seem symbolic of the differences between Curtis and his band. Though that did not stop the other band members disassembling and removing their bed one night as a jape, causing Curtis to “go mental, absolutely mental”.

This and other accounts of high jinks on the road now seem deeply insensitive, considering the state of Curtis’s physical and mental health, a fact which Hook openly acknowledges.

I feel terrible about it now of course. Now I’m older and wiser, and now I’ve looked at his lyrics and worked out what a tortured soul he was. We should have left him alone to have his love affair but we didn’t because he wasn’t tragic Ian the genius then. He was just our mate and that’s what you did with your mates up north, you ripped the piss out of them.

This remark touches on another thing: that Hook says little about the content of Curtis’s lyrics and apparently took little notice of them at the time. He experienced the songs viscerally without troubling much about the meaning of the words.

The consequence is that this book says little about what Curtis was trying to communicate through the music and lyrics of Joy Division. Hook presents track-by-track descriptions of Unknown Pleasures and Closer but focuses largely on the instruments, song structure and produce Martin Hannett’s effects.

A notable feature of Joy Division’s short life is that the band never had much money. There is even a suggestion that when the band was achieving considerable success, Factory Records and band manager Rob Gretton were happy to keep the band poor on the grounds that the music was better that way. So we get accounts of travelling down the motorway in old vans that hardly worked, sleeping on tour in dormitories and brothels (if the hotel says your room will not be available until 1.00am you should worry), and making do with dodgy instruments and amplification. There is an illustration showing Joy Division’s accounts in 1980 and 1981: the band made far more money after Curtis died than it ever did before.

If you like Joy Division (and I personally find the band utterly compelling) then you will enjoy this book, even though it is not, and does not pretend to be, the last word. If you wonder what the UK’s punk movement was like at the sharp end, you should read this book (hint: it was not glamorous). Then put on some Joy Division and reflect on how amazing and accidental it is that this music exists, with all its emotional power; and how it is so unlike the music of New Order, fine though that is in its own right.

Bob Dylan’s Mondo Scripto work and exhibition in London

If you are in London before 30 November 2018, and any kind of Bob Dylan fan, then I highly recommend Mondo Scripto, an exhibition of his drawings and Iron Works gates.

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Let’s start with the Iron Works. Way back in 2001 Dylan began constructing gates from scrap metal, as gifts for friends or for his own property. “Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow. They can be closed but at the same time they allow the seasons and breezes to flow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference,” he says.

Iron is part of Dylan’s history because he was born and brought up in Hibbing, Minnesota, Iron country and near a large open pit mine. So for Dylan it is a return to roots as well as another way to exercise his creativity. His Iron Works were exhibited at the Halycon Gallery in London in 2013, and you can see them now peppered around the display of drawings and paintings in the current exhibition.

The gates look strong but quirky, symmetrical in some ways but not in others, painted in subtle shades that bring out the metalness and variety. There are gear wheels, chains, spanners at odd angles, animal shapes, pliers, roller skates, wheels and springs all jumbled together but making a cohesive whole. Somewhat like the way he uses language in his songs.

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But what of Mondo Scripto? Dylan has taken 64 songs, written out the lyrics in blocks (so they are not particularly easy to read), and illustrated each one with a drawing. For example, here is one that I like, Just Like a Woman:

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Maybe you would expect to see a woman in the drawing; but no, this is the line “as I stand inside the rain.”

Note that the exhibits at the Halcyon Gallery are the actual drawings, not just the signed prints you can buy for £1895 each (10 songs, limited editions of 495 for each song).

I am not much interested in the collector’s aspect here. I think that is a lot of money for a print and a signature. The orginals also look much sharper and better than the prints, which is disappointing if you have the print. You may be able to negotiate to buy an original but it will cost a lot more. I would quite like one of my favourites on the wall, or a Dylan gate in the garden, but the cost is too steep for me; if I were wealthy enough for it to be spare change, perhaps I would. Then again, the profits are enabling this amazing exhibition which is free to attend so it is not so bad.

What I am interested in is the choice of songs, the choice of images and the way they are executed, and little details like small changes in the lyrics. For example, Ballad of a Thin Man in the original:

There ought to be a law against you comin’ around
You should be made to wear earphones

and in Mondo Scripto:

There ought to be a law against you coming around
Next time don’t forget to first telephone

I was intrigued to see that in Subterranean Homesick Blues, Dylan has written out:

don’t try ‘No Doze’

which is the latest chapter in a story; the original is “don’t tie no bows” but via humour and mis-transcription has become what it is. Maybe Dylan just copied it, maybe he likes it better now, who knows?

This is Dylan so there is variation everywhere. You can get a nice book/catalogue of Mondo Scripto for £45 (this one is a good buy), and this includes 60 songs written out with their drawings. However many of the drawings are different to those in the exhibition. Apparently the book was done first so those are the earlier versions. Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues, for example, has a bottle of wine in the book (“I started out on Burgundy”) and a cityscape in the exhibition (“Back to New York City”?).

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door has special treatment. This has been done as a series of 16 drawings, pen drawings rather than pencil sketches, including a variety of different doors and techniques for knockin’ on them. It begins with a hand knock, and ends with a rap from a cross. There is also a drill, a crowbar, a bottle, and so on.

Lovely humour, but also a meditation on death? Possibly, though Dylan has been singing about death at least since Fixin’ to Die on his very first album, so we should not take this as any kind of final statement.

It is nevertheless true that Mondo Scripto is Dylan’s reflection on his best-known songs, made new by drawings which bring out a striking image or thought and which reminds you how extraordinary they are.

One of the features of this beautifully laid-out exhibition is a wall of books, some by but mostly about Dylan.

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It is a reminder of how many of us have been entertained, absorbed and challenged by this body of work.

Mondo Scripto along with the Iron Works are remarkable, coming from a man who also tours incessantly and is of an age where many of us sit around doing nothing much at all.

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The Mondo Scripto song list

1. Song To Woody
2. Blowin’ in The Wind
3. Girl From The North country
4. Don’t Think Twicse, It’s All Right
5. Masters Of war
6. One Too Many Mornings
7. A Hard Rain’s A.Gonna Fall
8. Oxford Town
9. Tombstone Blues
10. Desolation Row
11. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
12. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
13. Like A Rolling Stone
14. Mr Tambourine Man
15. It Ain’t Me, Babe
16. Ballad Of A Thin Man
17. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
18. The Times They Are A-Changin’
19. Ballad Of A Thin Man*
20. All 1 Really Want Tc Do
21. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
22. 1 Want You
23. Highway 61 Revisited
24. Leopard-Skin Pill-Bax Hat
25. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
26. Visions Of Johanna
27. One Of Us Must Kuow {Sooner Or Later)
28. Subterranean Homesick Blues
29. She Belongs To Me
30. Maggie’s Farm
31. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
32. Just Like A Woman
33. Chimes Of Freedom
34. Positively 4th Street
35. Tangled Up In Blue
36. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” series
37. All Along The WaLchLower
38. Lay, Lady, Lay
39. The Man In Me
40. Tomorrow Is A Long Time
41. When I Paint My Masterpiece
42. I Shall Be Released
43. Forever Young
44. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
45. If You See Her, Say Hello
46. One More Cup Of Coffee(Valley Below)
47. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” series
48. Shelter From The Storm
49. Simple Twist of Fate
50. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
51. Gotta Serve Somebody
52. Isis
53. Jokerman
54. Every Grain Of Sand
55. Hurricane
56. This Wheel’s On Fire
57. Man Tn the Long Black Coat
58. Isis
59. Things Have Changed
60. Workingman’s Blues #2
61. Mississippi
62. Ain’t Talkin’
63. Highlands
64. Make You Feel My Love


David Bowie’s Welcome to the Blackout released on CD

David Bowie’s Welcome the Blackout, originally a Record Store Day vinyl exclusive, has now been released on CD and streaming services.

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The album is excellent, a live performance taken from Earls Court London on June 30th and July 1st 1978. The tour is the same one from which the earlier release Stage was taken, but on this one both the performance and the recording is superior in my opinion. I have reviewed it based on the vinyl release here.

Now the CD is here, packaged in a tri-fold sleeve even though there are only 2 CDs. Two of the inner panels are blank black, which I guess is a design reference to the title.

You also get a fold-out with sleeve notes and a small poster, which was not included in the vinyl release. There is a a review of one of the concerts by David Hancock (first published 30th June 1978 which must mean it is of the 29th June performance NOT featured here, but it matters little). The front of the fold-out is the cover of the tour programme/magazine, called ISOLAR 2.

Apparently these extras are a limited release (though I would guess a large number has been produced). There is also an unlimited release in a standard jewel case without the booklet (as I understand it).

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The sound of the CD is fine and similar to the vinyl. This is not something to take for granted, as CDs are often mastered for a louder sound at the expense of dynamics.

Recommended if you don’t have the vinyl and want a physical release.

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Review: Mixed Up Deluxe CD by the Cure

The Cure has released a 3-CD deluxe edition of Mixed Up, originally released as a double album or single CD in November 1990.

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Parts of this release have already appeared on vinyl in two limited Records Store Day 2018 releases: Mixed Up, and Torn Down.

A few words about the CD. Why would anyone buy a CD in this streaming era? It is a waste of money if you just want to listen to the music, but you do get some nice packaging, weird squirly, blocky artwork, photos of the band and of memorabilia from the day, and a 32-page booklet with notes and credits. When physical media has disappeared completely I will miss these things, even though the wretched small size of CD artwork means you have to squint to read the credits.

The idea for Mixed Up came to Robert Smith when he was wondering what came next after the Prayer Tour, the 76 shows which followed the release of the epic album Disintegration in 1989. There were “increased tensions in the band”, according to a quote from Smith in the booklet. “I had to think of something else in the meantime.”

The original thought was to compile the extended mixes made for 12″ singles into an album, since some of these releases were out of print and sought-after by fans.

As he worked on the album though, he moved beyond that initial concept. The early 12″ mixes of songs like Primary, Lovecats and Inbetween Days seemed to him inferior to the more recent releases, so he moved from compiling to reworking existing mixes of earlier songs. In fact, neither Lovecats nor Primary appeared at all on the original Mixed Up. In addition, two tracks on the original Mixed Up (A Forest and The Walk) were re-recorded from scratch as the multi-tracks were missing.

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Here is how the original Mixed Up (November 1990) breaks down:

Lullaby (Extended Mix): same as 12″ Fiction FICX 29 (1989)

Close To Me (Closer Mix): Same as 12″ FICSX 36 (1990), different from earlier extended mix on 12″ Fiction FICSX 23 (1985)

Fascination Street (Extended Mix): same as 12″ Elektra 0-66704 (1989, US/Canada only)

The Walk (Everything Mix): new recording for Mixed Up.

Lovesong (Extended Mix): Same as 12″ Fiction FICSX 30 (1989)

A Forest (Tree Mix): New recording for Mixed Up.

Pictures Of You (Extended Dub Mix): same as Fiction Records FICXB 34 where it is called Strange Mix (1990), but different from FICXA 34

Hot Hot Hot!!! (Extended Mix): same as 12″ Fiction FICSX 28 (1988)

Why Can’t I Be You? (Extended Mix):(LP only; omitted from the CD for space reasons): Same as 12″ Fiction Ficsx 25 (1987)

The Caterpillar (Flicker Mix): New extended mix for Mixed Up

In Between Days (Shiver Mix): New extended mix for Mixed Up; different from earlier 12″ Fiction FICSX 22 (1985)

Never Enough (Big Mix): New song recorded for Mixed Up

This made it a curious release, essential for Cure fans thanks to new material included but poor in terms of collecting previously released extended mixes.

What about the new 3CD set. The set breaks down as follows:

CD1: Mixed Up 2018 remaster

This is simply a remaster of the 1990 release. Track release as above, but Why Can’t I Be You still omitted (it is on the next CD in the set)

CD2: Mixed Up Extras

This CD includes (at last) most of the early extended remixes which were not on the original Mixed Up. Tracks:

Let’s Go to Bed (Extended Mix 1982)

Just One Kiss (Extended Mix 1982)

Close to Me (Extended Mix 1985)

Boys Don’t Cry (New Voice Club Mix 1986)

Why Can’t I Be You? (Extended Mix 1987)

A Japanese Dream (12″ Remix 1987)

Pictures of You (Extended Version 1990)

Let’s Go To Bed (Milk Mix 1990)

Just Like Heaven (Dizzy Mix 1990)

Primary (Red Mix 1990)

The Lovecats (TC & Benny Mix 1990)

Inevitably, there are still a few tracks missing. These are Primary (Extended Mix 1981); The Lovecats (Extended Version 1983); and In Between Days (Extended Version 1985). The notes refer to a digital release though I am not sure where or whether they have been released. Smith says of these versions that Primary was “basically a 7″ instrumental cut into the 7″ single mix”, that Lovecats was not really a remix, but rather the original single mix before it was edited down, and that In Between Days was “extended by person or persons unknown” and nothing to do with him.

Of these the only one I care about is Lovecats; I would like to have the full version here.

CD3: Torn Down

This is where Smith lets himself go and makes new mixes of favourites from the Cure’s back catalogue. “Compared to most of the Mixed Up remixes, my versions tend to work with the existing song structure; they’re pretty much the same length and tempo as the original … I found myself happier working within those structural restraints,” he says in the notes. That said, he found elements in the songs that had previously been buried, including the actual sound of heavy rain at the start and end of A Night Like This, which he brought out in the new mix.

Three Imaginary Boys (Help Me Mix)

M (Attack Mix)

The Drowning Man (Bright Birds Mix)

A Strange Day (Drowning Waves Mix)

Just One Kiss (Remember Mix)

Shake Dog Shake (New Blood Mix)

A Night Like This (Hello Goodbye Mix)

Like Cockatoos (Lonely in the Rain Mix)

Plainsong (Edge of the World Mix)

Never Enough (Time to Kill Mix)

From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea (Love in Vain Mix)

Want (Time Mix)

The Last Day of Summer (31st August Mix)

Cut Here (If Only Mix)

Lost (Found Mix)

It’s Over (Whisper Mix)

So how are the new mixes? An interesting way to hear them is to play the original followed by the remix, easy to do if you rip your CDs to a computer or streaming system. You can hear some themes, such as a more techno feel to the new mixes, and that Smith’s vocals are more forward. Three Imaginary Boys, for example, gives you a new perspective on an early song, with the “Can you help me” vocal from the end moved to the beginning of the song, hence the name “Help Me Mix”.

Shake Dog Shake benefits from the extra clarity of a modern mix and sounds more sinister and colourful than the original.

It tends to be lesser-known songs that benefit most. It is difficult to re-approach a magnificent song like Plainsong without making it worse, and in this case it is as expected.

Perhaps then it is better not to listen to them alongside the originals but to enjoy it as a whole. Cure fans will enjoy it even though it is not in any sense ground-breaking.

The complete package

This collections gets a warm welcome from me. I have always enjoyed Mixed Up, and I am delighted now to get treats like the earlier extended mixes of Close To Me. Just One Kiss, and the other extended mix of  Pictures of You, which to me are the definitive versions.

The sound quality is excellent, and kudos to mastering engineer Tim Young for showing some restraint in mastering so that these songs are not wrecked by excessively LOUD mastering.

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Ian Hunter talks to BBC Radio 1’s Johnnie Walker

Ian Hunter is in the UK for a Mott the Hoople reunion gig and did an interview with long-time BBC DJ Johnnie Walker, on the nostalgia show Sounds of the Seventies. If you are in the UK you can listen to it here for a limited time. The show is two hours long but the actual interview only around fifteen minutes (excluding the music).

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Hunter does a few interviews and I find them somewhat frustrating in general, because he always tends to get asked the same questions, and especially about the time when David Bowie gave Mott the Hoople a song (All the Young Dudes) to revive their career. Hunter is always patient but I wish he would be quizzed more often about the rest of his long career. Still, he is promoting a Mott the Hoople reunion so I guess it was not inappropriate on this occasion.

The Ian Hunter section opened with Wizzard’s See My Baby Jive, a hit single in May 1973 and chosen by Hunter. Why? “It was at a time when there wasn’t too much good stuff about,” he said. “I was getting disenchanted when all of a sudden that came out, it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.” You can certainly hear the influence in songs like The Golden Age of Rock ‘n Roll on Mott the Hoople’s 1974 album.

Walker asked about Hunter’s early years, when he won a talent competition in Butlin’s holiday camp, which kicked off a spell in a band called the Apex Group in the fifties. Then Hunter mentions performing in Hamburg with Freddie Lee, who told him he might have a future as a songwriter but “don’t ever sing ‘em”. Ha ha.

Then Bob Dylan came along, says Walker. “Bob was like the character singer,” said Hunter, “if it hadn’t been for him a lot of people like myself would never have got a shot. It was like a personality way of singing.”

We move on to the beginnings of Mott the Hoople and how Guy Stevens chose Ian Hunter as the singer of a band he was signing to Island Records, in place of Stan Tippins who became tour manager. “Guy was amazing. He was frustrated because he couldn’t do it himself, but he had the taste.”

Skipping a few years, we move on to Bowie and how Mott turned down Suffragette City, then went to hear All the Young Dudes. “David sat on the floor and he played All the Young Dudes on acoustic guitar”. Why did Bowie give away such a great song? Apparently he had been tinkering with it and it was not quite working. “He kinda got fed up with it,” said Hunter, “it needed new blood.”

A chat about the new reunion with Ariel Bender and Morgan Fisher follows. “We got together twice before but it was the original band. This is the second part of the band and they never got a shot to play on those two reunions. I always felt it was a shame, so now they get their moment in the sun,” said Hunter.

David Bowie: Welcome to the Blackout

The 21st April 2018 was Record Store Day, when the industry comes up with hundreds of special edition vinyl records which are offered for sale only through independent record shops. A helping hand for the independents, or a an attempt to con us into buying overpriced product via the old trick of artificial scarcity? Take your pick; but there’s no doubting that it gets thousands of people into record shops for at least one day in the year.

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For me, the highlight this year was a 3LP David Bowie live release, called Welcome to the Blackout. Not least because it was recorded at Earls Court London on the evenings of 30 June and 1 July 1978, and well, I was there, at least on one of the nights (I am not sure which). I remember it was an amazing experience, and that the the set visuals including the vertical bars backdrop were stunning – apologies for the poor quality of the picture below, which is taken from here.

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The Earls Court concerts were filmed by David Hemmings but the film was never released. However this might explain why the concerts were recorded by Tony Visconti and selected songs from the last two concerts were mixed by David Bowie and David Richards at Mountain Studios, Montreux between 17th and 23rd January 1979 (according to the sleevenotes). Two additional songs on Welcome to the Blackout, Sound and Vision and TVC 15, do not use Bowie/Richards mixes, perhaps because they were not selected at the time.

In 1978 David Bowie embarked on the ISOLAR II world tour, building on the release of Low and Heroes. The tour began in San Diego, March 1978, and ended in Tokyo, December 1978. Performances in Philadelphia in late April, and in Boston in early May, were recorded and formed the basis of the album Stage, first released in November 1978. Stage was originally just 17 songs, presented in a different order from that of the performance. In 2005 this was expanded to 20 songs, and the performance running order was restored, so that the opening track is the moody instrumental Warszawa. There was also a surround mix released on DVD Audio for a short time. Then in 2017 Stage was again reissued, now with 22 songs.

Since we already have Stage in so many guises, do we need Welcome to the Blackout? Having enjoyed this release for a couple of days, my answer is an emphatic yes. The Earls Court dates were at the end of the European leg of the tour, which did not resume until November in Australia. Bowie seems to be energised by this being in some sense the last concert of the tour and refers to this several times. He also performs two songs not on any version of Stage: Sound and Vision, and Rebel Rebel.

More important, the character of both the performance and the sound is different. There is simply more energy, and although the crowd noise is still mixed fairly low, it comes over as more of a live performance than the rather bland sound of Stage. We also get a longer Station to Station, under 9 minutes on Stage, and over 11 minutes here.

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The band, the same one as for Stage, is outstanding:

Carlos Alomar: Rhythm guitar
Adrian Belew: Lead guitar
Dennis Davis: Drums and percussion
Simon House: Electric violin
Sean Mayes: Piano, string ensemble
George Murray: Bass guitar
Roger Powell: Keyboards, Synthesizer

I’ve compared several songs on Stage and Welcome to the Blackout. For example, the song Blackout itself, which is decently performed on Stage, is introduced here by Bowie saying hoarsely “Welcome to the Blackout”; the instrumentation at the beginning of the song is more menacing and engaging on the new release; the vocal is more frenetic and desperate.

In TVC 15, the opening loony voiceovers is louder and more distinct on Welcome to the Blackout; it sounds like the band is having a great time and the song is more fun to listen to.

Jean Genie is stunning on this album; the guitar growls and grinds, Bowie’s vocal is full of drama; it makes the Stage performance (only on the 2017 edition) sound tame.

Despite the occasional flub, I can’t find any instances where I prefer the Stage recording.

Of course the album is meant to be heard as a piece, and seems to me to be an excellent capture of one of Bowie’s best performances.

Having said that, this concert lacks the intensity of Bowie in 1974 or 1976. Bowie is more at ease here.

I was fortunate to catch Bowie in performance in 1978. His next tour was not until 1983, when we got a different kind of performance to support the more mainstream Let’s Dance album; and after that in 1987 with the unsatisfactory Glass Spider tour.

Full track listing:

Warszawa
”Heroes”
What in the World
Be my Wife
The Jean Genie
Blackout
Sense of Doubt
Speed of Life
Sound and Vision
Breaking Glass
Fame
Beauty and the Beast
Five Years
Soul Love
Star
Hang on to yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Art Decade
Alabama Song
Station to Station
TVC15
Stay
Rebel Rebel

Finally a shout out to Ray Staff who mastered the album. On first listen he did a great job. I love the dynamics and the overall balance of the sound.

Recommended; and if you find the album hard to find at a sensible price, or don’t have a record player, there is no need to panic as it will probably be out on CD and download/streaming in a few months.

Update: Welcome to the Blackout is released on CD on 29 June 2018.

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Sandy Denny: 5 Classic Albums

These last days of the CD have delivered some amazing bargains for those who still like CDs – and I count myself as one, even if they are more often played through a music server than in an actual CD player.

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One such is the 5 Classic Albums collection of Sandy Denny (6 January 1947 – 21 April 1978), a singer with an amazing voice who was a member of the band Fairport Convention in the sixties.

In 1969 Denny left Fairport to form her own short-lived band, Fotheringay. After just one album, the band folded and Denny embarked on a solo career.

This set covers those solo years, during which she released four albums. The fifth album is a recording of her last concert, released in 1998.

The North Star Grassman and the Ravens (1971) opens with Late November, a song originally written for Fotheringay. It’s a fine album, firmly in the folk tradition but also highly individual, almost jazz-like at times with its interesting rhythms and tonalities. The band includes the amazing Richard Thompson (also ex-Fairport) on guitar and several other instruments.

Sandy (1972) is perhaps her most celebrated album. The haunting It’s take a long time, The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, which starts a cappella, the gorgeous Listen Listen, and more.

Like an old fashioned Waltz (1974) is a more lush album thanks to strings, brass and piano accompaniments and would be better without them, though it is still very enjoyable. The opening song Solo is great and features the immortal words “I’ve always kept a unicorn and I never sing out of tune”.

Rendezvous (1977) is again over-produced and poignant to hear now, knowing it was her last album. It opens with Richard Thompson’s I Wish I Was a Fool For You (For Shame of Doing Wrong) which almost sounds like a rock song, as Denny seeks a new audience. The cover of Candle in the Wind is not Denny’s finest hour but still seems prophetic: “your candle burned out long before your legend ever did”. Her voice is huskier thanks to smoking but she remains a strong singer.  I’m a Dreamer is a lovely song, as is the closing number, No More Sad Refrains.

Gold Dust (Live at the Royalty) (1998) is Denny’s last concert and well worth hearing. The concert was recorded and always intended for release as a live album, but there were some problems with the tapes, and some guitar and backing vocals were overdubbed for the eventual production in 1998. The song Solo is a highlight.

Overall, although it is wrong to describe all these albums as “classic”, what you do get is immersion into the music of a very fine singer and songwriter. Recommended.

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The Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter Story

I’ve been a fan of first Mott the Hoople and then Ian Hunter solo since way back when. I decided to embark on an album-by-album discussion of the band and of Hunter’s solo career over on the Steve Hoffman Music Forum. I started in October 2016 and have not finished yet, but I will.

There are a couple of reasons why I have decided to repost the content here – my own content, not the entire discussion. One is that I cannot edit any old posts there so errors, additions, fixing broken links etc cannot be fixed, other than by emailing moderators. Another is that it is hard to navigate a long thread, for example if you are looking for a review of a specific album.

Therefore I’ve posted the key posts on this site. You can find an index in the first post and continue from there.

Comments are welcome, especially if you have your own recollections of seeing the band (or one of Ian Hunter’s bands).

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Speech

Bob Dylan did not attend the Nobel Banquet where his prize for Literature was celebrated on 10th December 2016 – but he did provide a speech which was read by the US Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji:

“I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”
So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”

It’s a fine speech. I love the way he celebrates the working artist, the real-world artist who is not concerned only with artistic creation, but also with the practicalities of both life and art.