apolla: (Black Rose)
I am really not sure what this is, but I do know it's been in the back of my head for awhile...

In The Dark Moment Before Dawn

'Come back,' she whispered into the freezing air. 'Come back to me.'

He had been sat on the end of the bed, back ramrod straight, for an hour. Shivering, shaking, sobbing: lost to her, to here and now. She does not know what made him this way because he will not tell her. He will not tell her in the bright sunshine of the day and he will not tell her in the anonymous shroud of night.

She knew enough to understand a little. She recognised the names of places he went because she read every scrap of newspaper she could find, every single day. She was sat up in bed recovering from Vicky's birth when she read about the liberation of a place called Belsen. She had no idea that he might have been one of the liberators of such a place.

She had no idea that he was one of the soldiers who entered the camp to find thousands of corpses and thousands of inmates so sick and mistreated that it was difficult to tell who was dead and who was alive. As the newspapers began to fill with details, she had no idea that her Bill, who had once been the gentlest of men, was directing captured SS guards to bury the dead in graves the size of football pitches.

When he returned in January 1946, he was a shadow of himself. She hated her friends whose husbands had come back uninjured, unbroken. She fed him with what rations she had, and those her family forced her to accept. As his body returned to the frame she remembered, she hoped his character would do the same.

She gave him plenty of time. She did not comment when he returned from the pub three hours after closing time and she didn't mind when he would go out on a Sunday morning to walk, not to return until almost dinner time.

In all that time, he said very little beyond trivial small talk.

He hit her on 15th April 1948. It was the first emotion he'd shown and she was almost glad that he'd responded at all, even if she had to cover up the black eye for days.

With Little Bill and Vicky he was gentle and quiet. He liked to sit and read them stories before bedtime, and he took understated delight in Vicky's insistence on sitting on his lap whenever they listened to the Light Programme on the wireless. She loved the silly voices of The Goons, so Bill learned to imitate them. He was able to accept Vicky's easy but insistent affection in a way he couldn't from his own wife, probably because his daughter wasn't there in the darkness.

She was there in the darkness. She was always there, and she pulled him back every time the demons emerged from the shadows.

'Come back to me.'

She did not know why it worked, but it did. He never spoke of it, so she never knew that recalling her soft nocturnal whisperings from the early days of their marriage was what kept him going during the never-ending night of the war.

He taught Little Bill and Vicky how to whistle like the birds, taught them their times tables and joined-up writing. His endless patience with them – especially with easily distracted Vicky – swelled and warmed her heart. She did not know that he clung to every single moment of normality, of pleasant because they kept the darkness at bay for awhile.

He began to sleep through the night once more. By 1957, she believed his nightmares were over. She was not to know that he had just learned to sleep through them.

Their children grew, as children do. Times changed, as times do. Little Bill got a job at Ford Motors and moved to Dagenham with the girl he married. Vicky cut her hair like Twiggy and moved into a flat with three other girls from her typing pool. The house was silent without them.

When England won the World Cup in 1966, she noticed Bill's jaw clench every time Kenneth Wolstenholme said a German player's name. As everyone else in the pub celebrated the victory, Bill sat and sipped at his pint of bitter.

In 1969, his nights became disturbed once more. There was so much about the war in the newspapers and on television because of the anniversary of its beginnings, she supposed that it had brought it all back to him. She was so much older and it was harder to deal with night after night of disturbed sleep. She could've moved into the kids' empty room but she didn't, because her voice was still the only thing she knew helped.

'Come back to me.'

In 1976, he was knocked over by a Morris Minor coming back from work. The painkillers he was given for his broken leg made the nightmares worse. He retired from work a year later, worn down by life, the war, strenuous work, his injuries and the effort of surviving. The nightmares only got worse.

Little Bill provided them with a grandchild in 1978, a chubby-faced girl called Lucy. Bill responded to her as he had his own children, with gentle patience. A year later he was fitted with dentures after years' of grinding had worn his own teeth down.

In 1984, she found him sat at the edge of the bed like so many times, but the cold winter's night had grabbed his frail body. The fever put him in hospital, the pneumonia which followed put him in the ground.

She thought it was a mercy, in the end. For her as much as for him. The funeral was full of people speaking of his kindness and quiet ways. He was admired and respected by the community. Few people remembered that he had not always been quiet. Nobody knew that the shadows around him had not always been there.

'Poor Mum,' she heard Vicky stage-whisper to Little Bill during the wake. 'Married to one man for so many years and now he's gone. How will she cope?'

Vicky knew nothing, of course. She had been married to two men: Bill before the War and Bill after it. Vicky did not know that it was a relief to sleep without fear, without interruption. Vicky did not know that she felt liberated and despised herself for it, nor what it was to love another person in their troubled entirety. She did not know what it was like to live with a stranger, for that is who had come into her house in 1946.

Her own dreams began in 1998. 'Come to me,' he said. 'Come back to me.'

Bill, with his gregarious smile and twinkling eyes restored, held his hand out and she took it without hesitation. She had missed him.

Archive of our Own

Wednesday, 3 October 2012 19:39
apolla: (Default)

Hi Gang,

Does anyone have an invite for AO3 I might be able to nab?


apolla: (Philip)
I have a new (to me) computer for which I bought some speakers which came with a subwoofer. I did the obvious: hopped over to YouTube for some funk music to appreciate said subwoofer. It's not big but it does what I want it to.

I've always been fond of a stonking bassline. I love how they can move me from stillness in a way that few other things can. A nifty drumline might get my fingers or feet tapping, great guitar riffs stick in mysoul forever, but fab basslines move my entire being like nothing else.

So I suppose it's not much surprise that one of my favourite bands was led by the bass guitarist.

Yes, it's Thin Lizzy time again! I wasn't going to post them for awhile, but they've been in the news again.

Bad News: Mitt Romney thought it was acceptable for him to appropriate "The Boys Are Back In Town" during the US Presidential campaign.
Good News: Philomena Lynott is still a fierce old thing who won't take that lying down from gobshites like him. And so has Philo's widow, who actually has the copyright.

Weird News: "Thin Lizzy" are recording again.
Bad News: Philo is still dead.

The Guardian also republished an old interview with Your Man which brought a little sunshine into a stressful day, which featured the song "The Boys Are Back In Town" heavily.

I forget, being a devoted fan, that most people only know Thin Lizzy for that song. I forget because to be honest it's not my favourite. I love and adore it, but it's not my favourite. It's not even my favourite song on Jailbreak because I'm the kind of mad fool who loves strange album cuts like "Angel from the Coast".

Of course, "The Boys Are Back In Town" was my introduction to the group. I couldn't tell you exactly when I first heard it. It was probably some unimportant, unimpressive day during an unimportant, routine journey in the car. My mum would've been driving, I woudl've been in the seat behind her and my brother would've been in the seat behind the passenger. Maybe my dad was there too. The radio was almost always tuned to Capital Gold when I was young, because that's the music my dad loved and my mum disliked least.

Car journeys always seemed to take such a long bloody time back then. I would read, but that made me feel sick. I have so many memories of staring out of the window, as I'm sure many of us do, as unknown and often very dull landscapes would pass by. Memories of journeys in the dark with the orange glow of a town's street lights in the distance or below as our car climbed up a road. The endless line of lights on a motorway, or the eerie blackness of unlit country roads.

There's one time we went on holiday somewhere without my dad but with my granny. We must've got lost or something because it just seemed to take even more than forever and it was so dark and ugh..... all that to end up in a caravan for a few days in a place so unimpressive I don't remember anything but that long journey.

All that kept me going on journeys like those was the music on the radio. It's a double-edged sword: a holiday during the summer of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was ruined by its constant presence on the radio - we were out of Capital Gold range - and same with the summer of 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" by Bryan Adams. Our holiday in Florida was defined by "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow which I swear was playing every single time we got in the damn car and was always followed by "Oh What A Night!"

It's in that realm I would've heard "The Boys Are Back In Town." Probably it was one I sang along with the chorus, like I did for anything which caught my ear. I knew it, is what I'm saying, very well by the time I fell in love with the group.

Philip. I suppose I really fell in love with Philip. Not him exactly, though I adore him. I fell in love with his songs and the beauty of his lyrics. I fell in love with his combination of hard and soft, of tough and romantic. A heavy rock band which could produce such heartrending songs as "Still In Love With You" would always be a winner with one such as me. Hard shell, soft centre. Darkness with just enough light. The rough end of town, but fun.

Philip was a storyteller, above all things. Poetic in it, yes... but first and foremost a storyteller. There's a grand tradition of those in Ireland. Travelling bards, or the folks in town who you could depend on to spin you a great yarn guaranteed to be 99% fantasy (please, let's not call it blarney) and 1% tragic truth. Stories to make you laugh while you're weeping, to rouse your soul as they break your heart.

I do love this song, but it's almost too universal for me to truly devote myself to. It is about anything, therefore can be everything, about anyone therefore about everyone. That is its true genius. Maybe "The Boys" are returning from war, maybe from prison, maybe just from a trip out to the desert or from the big football game. Who knows? They're back, and everything just got interesting because of it.

In the specific version which plays in my head, they're a rock and roll band. Young, impossibly gorgeous, hugely charismatic. incredibly naughty. Thin Lizzy, in other words. Or for me, Shadowlands. They are everything a rock and roll band should be, and they're back to entertain, carouse and leave you wanting more.

I can't tell you that it's my favourite Thin Lizzy song, not even my favourite on Jailbreak. Without it though, I don't think I'd love the band as much as I do. It is their calling card, their mission statement. "The Boys Are Back In Town" is the sound of a group at their best, now that's summer's come. Things may never be as good again (and for Lizzy they weren't, truly) but it's ok because the nights are getting warmer and it won't be long...

Many years ago when I was a callow youth, I wrote a series of probably not very good wish fulfilment short stories based around a nightclub in heaven where all the rockers and rollers hang out. Naturally I went to visit them there. I hung out while the house band played, got a dancing lesson from Gene Kelly, hit on by Errol Flynn (I was young enough for him then). The Works. The name of that club? Dino's. Not just because I love Dean Martin (though I do) but because of this song. Why? The notion of getting to spend time with The My Boys listening to them play, while my heroes and dearest people are around me? That is heaven. Philip wrote it for me, many years ago.

I rather think I love "The Boys Are Back In Town" even more than I thought.

An observation about this series so far: I almost always end up talking about something completely unexpected and unrelated to my intent at the beginning. Hmm.

Part 17 - Nat King Cole - "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll"
Part 16 - Rory Gallagher - "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 - The Shadows - "FBI"
Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Dino)
Once upon a time, when I was an impressionable teenager, I saw a TV documentary about a man called Dean Martin. This was around 1997 or 1998 when suddenly (or rather, part of a marketing strategy), the Rat Pack dudes were back everywhere. Dino's tune "That's Amore" was used in a Pizza Hut commercial here and suddenly everyone was singing it. It must not have been long after Sinatra died and the coverage that got... and since then, marketing people have been misusing swing/easy listening/lounge to their selling advantages.

Anyway, I liked it. I loved Dean's voice. Wrote poems about it at one point. I was screwed up, OK? After awhile listening to Dean, and somewhat to Frank and Sam, and boosted by seeing Ken Burns' Jazz when I was in my first year at Lancaster, I started to stumble more onto another fantastic voice

Nat King Cole. Love that voice. Love the piano too. Just a fantastic performer, even when made-up what I can only really describe as 'whiteface' (see here) or any number of humiliations. However, this post is not about that. Better-qualified people than I have discussed the racism Cole endured and the ways in which he dealt with it.

I'm going to post my most favourite Cole track ever. I mean more than 'When I Fall In Love" or "Unforgettable", "Smile" or even "Nature Boy".

It's a live track, nearly eight minutes long and is called "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll". Recorded aroundabout 1960, during the last true great hurrah of the old singers.

Let me exlain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.*

Rock and roll was to singers like Sinatra what Sinatra was to Crosby. Rock and roll was to Sinatra and his pals what punk was to the rock giants of the late 70s. A fresh new sound which made everything before it sound old and fusty whether it truly was or not.

Picture this: Elvis, in his pre-army gloriosity: slick quiff, jeans, sports jacket, smouldering gaze and curled lip. Most of all, recall his barely-caged, hip-swinging masculine sexuality on stage. Now set that next to Frank Sinatra in his tuxedo, baldness-covering fedora, middle-aged swing. I happen to think both Presley and Sinatra were hitting music peaks in 1956, but they're very different notions. The gorgeous Nelson Riddle strings-and-swing of Songs for Swingin' Lovers is for grown-ups. Elvis Presley, featuring "Blue Suede Shoes" is for the young.

Tom Lehrer hilarious refers to "rock and roll and other children's records" on one of his comedy records. He's right, of course. Early rock and roll was simple and sometimes crude. There were some real stinkers released, especially once the big labels got hold of the genre. A lot of the crap then deserves lampooning.

Enter Nat King Cole, 1960. What I love about "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll" is that it is hilarious. The mockery is spot on. The versions of his old tracks - "Pretend" becomes "Pretend you're sloppy when you're blue.." and "Answer Me" becomes "Answer Me, Daddio" and "Mona Lisa" becomes "Moaning Lisa, you're too wholesome. Won't you dig me at the coffeehouse tonight? Many cats have been drug on your doorstep..."

But the one I love most is "Nature Boy": "There was a cat, a very strange enchanted cat. They say he traveled very far, played guitar, in his hopped up car. He said come dwell in Heartbreak Hotel, I think Elvis was his name. And then one day, the crazy day he passed my way. And while we spoke of many things, hot rod kings, Daddio said he. The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to rock and be rolled in return."

The first time I heard the song I thought I might die laughing. I love rock and roll music to the core of my soul. It is the first music I loved, the first stuff I had spinning on my record player. Once upon a time, Elvis was music to me. But you see, I love the older stuff too. Again, not all of if. There's as much rubbish, commercial "swinging" music as there is the same for rock and roll... both can and should be lampooned. For me, there's enough room for the good stuff of both.

I loved that "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll" was so funny but didn't seem to be bitter. It wasn't churlish or contemptuous as so many people were at the time. It was clever (written by Jimmy and Noel Sherman) and did a good job of exposing some of the weaknesses in those early rock and roll tunes. It even poked a little gentle fun at Nat's music.

But then right at the end, as he's singing that "Mr Cole won't rock and roll!" he says "...could if I wanted to, though."

I suppose that if he really wanted to, Cole would've made some passably good rock and roll-style songs. But I can't see how it would work. His "thing" was neat, cool, swinging music. HIs piano-playing was bright and delightful. He could do dark, of course, but it's all very dignified and grown up. He was forty in 1960. Elvis and Jerry Lee were 25; Little Richard was 28. Frankie Avalon and the Everlys were in their very early 20s.

So, I'm not convinced he necessarily could have rock and rolled... but I wouldn't have wanted him to. Music doesn't have to be one genre all the time. It doesn't have to be rock OR swing OR punk. The endless variety of music is what makes it so beautiful. On my iPod Enrico Caruso and John McCormack share space with Rory Gallagher and Howlin' Wolf. There are one-hit wonders like Baccara and "Whispering Grass" by Don Estelle & Windsor Davies next to The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Dean Martin has his own dedicated playlist, as does Julie London. The dark psych-pop of Love sits near Luke Kelly. A broad church from A-Ha to "Zorba the Greek", Abba to the Yardbirds. Bernard Cribbins. Betty Hutton, Big Bill Broonzy. Cream, The Clancy Brothers, The Connaught Rangers. You get the idea.

Mr Cole wouldn't rock and roll, but he didn't need to. Being Nat King Cole was much more than 'enough.' It's about playing the music you love to the best of your ability. His abilities were extraordinary, just as Elvis was a great purveyor of his music. There's room enough in my heart for both of them, and many more besides.

Music at its best transcends everything, including labels, genres and pigeonholes. All that matters is this: do you love it?

Thanks to Inigo Montoya

Part 16 - Rory Gallagher - "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 - The Shadows - "FBI"
Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Rory)
I was going to post about a Certain Irish Guitarist but decided to dodge the bullet again. I was going to post some Dean Martin or something.

And then Lou Martin died.

Almost every truly great musical legend worked with other great musicians. They might not be as flashy or as charismatic. They might not be songwriters, but behind practically every single Golden God there is a backing group of brilliance.

Jimi Hendrix had Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in his Experience.
James Brown had the likes of Alfred Pee Wee Ellis
Freddie Mercury had Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
Elvis had Scotty Moore and Bill Black
Miles Davis... basically just worked with the best.
Philip Lynott had his revolving door of guitarists, but he also had a fantastic constant in drummer Brian Downey.
It's not a coincidence that Clapton did his best work with Bruce & Baker and then with Duane Allman.

Rory Gallagher was no exception. One of the real great guitarists, he was also a charismatic frontman with a decent voice, but even he needed something behind him. He, like the other legends, knew the importance of working with the best.

Lou Martin was a great pianist. He could do blues, boogie-woogie and rock for sure but he wasn't a slacker when it came to classical. This link pretty much proves my point.

Funny thing is, Lou died on 17th August 2012. On 17th August 2008, I walked into the Cork City branch of HMV and bought my very first Rory Gallagher record: The Essential 2-disc compilation. It was raining on and off of course, it was a Sunday and I'd been wandering the town since 8am waiting for things to open. I'd even gone to Mass at the cathedral for something to do.

I wandered, listening to The Dubliners on my iPod. Ronnie Drew had died the day before and I was dealing with it in the only effective way I knew: immersing myself in his voice. I had french toast at a trendy cafe and continued my wander.

Rory Gallagher was a name I knew, but I didn't really know the music. I could've told you he was a blues rock guitarist, a dead Irish one no less. I had one of his songs - "Born on the Wrong Side of Time" on my iPod. The title appealed for obvious reasons. There in his hometown I decided I really should buy some record of his. In HMV I was confronted by a giant poster of Ronnie Drew, of all things.

I'm so glad I was in Ireland that weekend. Ronnie mattered there. Not so much here. 'They' knew how I felt. I was at home, geographically and musically. I couldn't summon the necessary to walk into a pub on my own so I didn't check out any of Cork's famous live music scene. I stayed in, watched the Ronnie Drew documentary on RTE 1 and read the liner notes of my new CD.

I went to Cobh, a pretty little port with a strong feeling of grief sewn into itself thanks to the Titanic, the Lusitania and the dreadful legacy of the famine and emigration. I read the liner notes again.

I got on a train to Dublin, where I ate at Gallagher's Boxty House as usual, ate at O'Neill's as usual and went to see Philip on his birthday, as usual. I stared at the Music Wall of Fame in Temple Bar, caring for the first time about the guitarist with the long brown hair. I nipped up Grafton Street to visit Philip's statue and there got into a conversation with two Dub rock fans about Rory.

It wasn't until several days later, back at work, that I actually listened to the CD. A secret: at first I wasn't all that impressed. I mean it was good but it didn't grab me totally. I liked the second song, "Moonchild", for sure. Then I listened to "Barley And Grape Rag". But I didn't get sucked in immediately. I'd be silly to, right?

According to this very blog, I listened to "Barley and Grape Rag" one hundred and eighty-seven times between late August and the end of 2008. I sang it at the work Christmas gig while wearing a Rory t-shirt. It was awesome.

But I wasn't sucked in. Oh no. I was up all night watching videos on YouTube, but I wasn't sucked in. I literally bought the t-shirt, but I'd have to be really fucking stupid to get obsessed by another dead rock star, right?

By 2008 I'd already carved plenty of other names on my heart. Lennon, naturally. Harrison. The lizardy fellow. Philip. Dean Martin. Valentino. Flynn. You pretty much know them if you've been here before. I'd be really daft to left someone else come along and gouge another scar, right?

I am that fucking stupid. By the time I even noticed, I was much too far gone. I should've noticed when I was on the tube late one night, returning home from being in the Just A Minute audience and I was dancing in my seat to the delta-like sound of "Who's That Coming" and I should've noticed when every visit to HMV began with a trip to the 'G' section of Rock and Pop. I should've noticed when the panic of leaving my gymbag in Starbucks was more to do with losing the newly-purchased Against The Grain CD than my sneakers.

No, I should've known exactly what was going to happen on 17th August 2008. He is a dead Irish rock musician who was fantastically good at his job. King Cnut had better odds against the tide.

Truly though, I didn't quite get it right away. It took a little while for my ears to get attuned to his work. It took even longer for me to beleive that he meant it about not selling out, about being dedicated to the music and even longer than that to believe he wasn't secretly a bastard.

Turns out he was that dedicated to the music and I've still yet to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the man himself.

Four years later, I love that man's music more than I can tell you. That's why it's taken until now for him to be the subject of the challenge, because I can't speak about it. I can't tell you how I love it, only that I do. I can't tell you how deeply it is now scored into my soul, as if forty years had passed with me stood by the side of his stage every night.

I picked one video above all for this post. It is the song which probably ensured a part of my heart will be forever Rory's, because he wrote down my pain and gave it voice:

Rory Gallagher - "A Million Miles Away" - which incidentally features footage of Cork City and some excellent Martin organ.

"There's a song on the lips of everybody/There's a smile all around the room/There's conversation overflowing/So why must I sit here in the gloom?.... I'm a million miles away, I'm a million miles away, sailing like the driftwood on a windy bay."

I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected. Sometimes I still get close to it. Knowing that one of my heroes was able to write a song which so exactly described the state of my soul worries me: I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That he might have felt the same breaks my heart, and I hope it was one of those occasions where a writer was able to portray a world without inhabiting it.

I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected and that song was, ironically if you like, an anchor I used to drag myself back to shore. That's one reason I love his music so.

Most of it is Rory's guitar and his voice, his songwriting, his grasp of the genre he loved so much. But he wasn't alone on that stage. First with Taste, then with his various Rory Gallagher line-ups, the classic of which involves Lou Martin's keys.

I can't tell you what I love and why without writing a dissertation, and I already wrote one of those for Jim Morrison. You have to listen to the music itself and decide for yourself. It's between me and the music and it's between you and the music. The contract is personal and non-transferable.

For me, the most succinct I think I can be is this: It is a deep scar on my heart and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Part 15 - The Shadows - "FBI"
Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Percy)
I was going to post about a Certain Irish Guitarist, but I had another idea pinged at me and I can sense a Matt Damon/Jimmy Kimmel type theme beginning...

Awhile back, a friend at work linked me to an advert for junk food nastiness which features thousands of mini-Hank Marvin clones in the schoolyards of Britain, who are naturally transformed back into their own selves once they are fed the junk food. "Hank Marvin" is, of course, rhyming slang for 'starving'.

I was just taken aback that fifty years after the Shads' greatest successes, someone thought filling our screens with Fiesta Red Stratocasters and Those Specs was a good idea. It was a good idea.

My relationship towards The Shadows is complex. if there is a single sound to truly define my early years - that is, my childhood before I picked the records myself - then it's the Shadows. Not Buddy or Elvis, the Shadows. They were crucial and often on the record player, but my dad loves The Shadows.

I liked the Shadows. I couldn't understand why they didn't have a singer and became introduced to the notion of 'the guitar instrumental', a form my dad loved so much that I once hunted down three singles by a group called Nero & The Gladiators for his Christmas present because he loved "Trek To Rome", the B-side to their "In The Hall Of the Mountain King"

My dad is, at heart, such a rock geek. The man loves B-sides and has a great memory for the stuff he used to dig. He even saw Screaming Lord Sutch play Shoreditch Town Hall and ran rock and roll nights at his local youth club there in the heart of London; he hung out with Kenny Ball at Ronnie Scott's and had a drink more than once with Viv Stanshall. And wasn't impressed by any of it ;) He's also still angry that my Granddad didn't let him go to the Buddy Holly concert in 1957, being told he could go 'next year'...

So if you ever wondered where I learned this from, you have your answer. And the Shadows, today's subject, are integral to it all. If I love guitar music - and you know I do - the Shads were a big part of it. I needed Hank Marvin, Duane Eddy and Link Wray to put the later guitarmeisters in context.

In short: No Hank, No Eric. No Duane (Eddy), no Duane (Allman). No Link, No Rory. (incidentally, this vid of Jimmy Page listening to Rumble is my new favourite thing)

The Shadows were my introduction to that world. Thanks to Hank and The Holly, I wanted a Stratocaster. That's what rock stars played. I've mentioned before how disappointed I was when I finally got guitar lessons only to discover they were classical guitar lessons. I was an ungrateful little sod, of course. I was 21 when I finally got my Strat (a copy, natch). The feeling when I held my darling, sparkling gold Strat named Jimmy (for Page, natch)... nothing like it. I was Hank, I was Buddy. I was every kid who ever dreamed of being a rock star.

Then I tried to play and as a rock guitarist I make a passable classical guitar student. I can't do it. It's not in me. I can play melodies, but I can't play riffs. I can passably accompany my own singing with some chords and even some finger-pickin' but I'm not Hank Marvin.

When The Shadows come on the radio or whatever, my fingers find that imaginary fretboard and they find the invisible strings. For those three or so minutes, I am one of the Shadows in their suits and ties doing that odd Shadow Walk. Which makes for an interesting walk home. In this, I am like most every Shadows fan ever, including my own dad, whose only musical skill is playing a two-note Eddy riff.

I'm getting off the point. Which was this: when I was five, I would've told you that The Shadows were fantastic. Mind you, I liked Cliff Richard then too. I believed my dad when he said they were the best. And they were, for a time, some of the best out there. This was also before I'd seen the "Wired for Sound" video which I can neither forgive nor forget.

And then The Beatles happened. Nothing was quite the same after that, and I do feel sorry for the Shadows and other pre-Beats bands who woke up one day and found themselves outdated and outpaced. For an example: try watching Summer Holiday starring Cliff and the Shadows and then watch A Hard Day's Night. Light years' cultural difference and yet the latter only released a year and a half after the former.

But I get that. Things change. Punk screwed with a lot of people's plans and I'm fairly sure Crosby's still pissed at that Sinatra upstart.

What turned me against the Shadows was the elevator music they put out later and which my dad still seemed to want to play. Awful bland renditions of crap like "Don't Cry For Me Argentina". Boring, bland, safe covers of previously awesome songs. The musical equivalent of tapioca pudding.

It was the opposite of what rock music is supposed to be, a betrayal I believed of the dangerous power that is inherent in the electric guitar.

I was disappointed. I was bitter. I decided the Shadows were beneath my notice. The Beatles was where it was at, man! I was living out the chronology of 1960s popular culture in the 1990s. The Beatles, Dylan, Cream, the Stones, this was real music! Who wants to listen to rubbishy, tremelo-heavy instrumentals by Cliff's backing band? Not I!

And then... one day some years ago, my dad was driving me home from a weekend at their house in Suburbia. As our family's ill-advised journey to the bourgeois heartland was coming full circle for me in a triumphant return to the Worley Stomping Ground, we listened to compilation CDs he had in the car.

And wouldntcha know it, "FBI" by The Shadows was one of the tracks. I hadn't heard it for years- I really did turn against the Shadows pretty wholeheartedly - and it was amazing. Oh, the feeling of meeting a dear old friend after so many years, being able to appreciate its economy, its crisp, clean notes, the driving rhythm.

In the car, I found my shoulders moving in time with the Shadow Walk and my fingers searching for that imaginary fretboard again. I swear if I my dad hadn't been driving through North London, he'd have been doing the same. And for a minute or two it felt like his Renault Scenic was a Thunderbird and we weren't on the A1 towards Hendon, we were on Route 66 getting near Joplin, MO. Or something. Music can have such power. Mostly though, we were caught up in the euphoria of a shared memory and a shared love of the music. I hadn't asked him, but I came to realise that he was disappointed somewhat in how the Shadows eroded their own reputation - he refused tickets for the recent Cliff N Shads reunion shows - but he'd kept his love of the great stuff where I'd kicked it aside.

Which was silly. I didn't need to do that. Tunes like "FBI" and "Apache" stand for themselves and no cover of "Parisienne Walkways" can wreck them. Nothing, not even the group themselves, can wreck how "Foot Tapper" and "Frightened City" make me feel.

And that my friends, is good music well-loved.

Part 14 - Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina - "I Found A Dream
Part 13 - Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo - "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Default)
I was going to write about a certain Irish guitarist, but Sunday was the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death. I've been a big enough fan of hers over the years to be moved to write about this.

For months - literally months - I had a tune stuck in my head. Just the dah-dah-dah of it, and I knew I knew it from somewhere. I couldn't have told you from where and I felt like I just needed the next two notes of the tune and I'd be there. And for days, weeks and then months, this tune haunted me. It was haunting anyway, melancholic and psuedo-classical. If I hummed it long enough it turned into Brahms' Tales from the Vienna Woods. I could not recall where it was from but I finally got the hint of a lyric, something about "you will have nothing to lose if you lose your heart."

Do you know how many songs there are with that sentiment? It was driving me round the proverbial twist, knowing I knew it, liked it and yet... nothing recollectin'. Ask the guys I work with - it probably annoyed them almost as much as it annoyed me.

And then, more or less by chance, I decided to watch a motion picture I had not seen in a long time. the Prince and the Showgirl. It stars Laurence Olivier, who I can't stand, and Marilyn Monroe, who I've always adored. I've seen it a few times because while it is not a good film it has two things I like: a fake Ruritania type country (I also like The Prisoner of Zenda despite it being crap because of this) and MM.

My attachment to La Monroe is complicated, much like herself. I was drawn in by that face and kept by her charisma. Her true life story broke my heart and yet uplifted it. When I discovered Marilyn, my own self-esteem was about as buggered as it could've been. I truly believed I was a total troll in both body and mind, of no use or worth to myself, anyone else or the world. I believed everyone hated me and I could actually eat worms and not only would people not care, they'd use it as an excuse to hate me more.

So I drowned myself in movies and music. I threw myself at beautiful people: MM, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, etc. I spent hours staring at pictures of MM, trying to see what it was which made her so beautiful. It wasn't her sex appeal for me, so what was it? I didn't want to have sex with her, and I didn't want to be her... so why did I stare at her? Why did I watch How to Marry a Millionaire and Ladies of the Chorus? And the really-not-very-good-would-be-forgotten-if-not-for-that-one-scene The Seven Year Itch. Why did I sit through The Prince and the Showgirl more than once, despite Olivier always causing me partly-irrational anger?

Sidenote: I couldn't tell you exactly why I detest him so much. It was before The Prince... and before I knew what a colossal douchebag he could be in real life. But I really do.

I've still not got a satisfactory explanation, by the way. I couldn't tell you what it is about Marilyn I adore. I like the vulnerability she brought to roles, I like her sassy moments. I love her comedy. Some Like It Hot is one of the greatest movies ever made, in large part because of her performance.

So I have to just say weakly that 'she has a quality'. But you know, writers have been trying to quantify and explain Marilyn since about 1951 and haven't come up with a decent answer yet.

She has such a quality that I watched a below-quality movie starring a man I detest enough times for a fragment of a song to ping back into my head years later. She is gorgeous - Olivier shot her well, I have to say that - and her performance elevates the role. I would like to have seen Vivien Leigh's take on it as well, but MM is wonderful. Broken and beautiful and luminous and most of all, most of all: a survivor.

So many people look at Marilyn Monroe as a victim. And she was in many important ways. But most of all, beyond all things, she was a survivor. You and I do not need to pity La Monroe. I feel sorrow for the bad times in her life and I despise those who took advantage of her. But I do not pity her.

I think I've just explained what I love about her after all: for everything that people tried to do to her, she never truly broke. Watch The Misfits and you'll see a spark of defiant humanity there. That's what I love and it's what I needed back then: to see someone bend but not break. If Marilyn could survive, so could I. I hadn't her beauty but I hadn't even half her sorrow.

So sure, I watched The Prince and the Showgirl even though it didn't deserve it. It's worth it for the end, when still wearing her evening gown, Marilyn tosses aside the heavy borrowed overcoat and struts out into the Edwardian London morning...

Worth it enough that a stray fragment of a tune stayed lodged in my memory, waiting for the day it would bug the hell out of me.

apolla: (Fleeen)
I was going to make this post about a certain Irish Guitarist, but then tonight BBC Four showed a documentary about Kenneth Williams and I changed my mind.

I loved the Carry On movies as a kid. They were just so silly and naughty without being so explicit that it was unsettling. Kenneth Williams was so snooty and repressed, and Sid James was so common and lecherous in contrast.

Later, I realised that there was so much more to Williams than that, in ways good and bad. I discovered how repressed he truly was, what an unpleasant fellow he could be, how incredibly intelligent, erudite and well-read he was. And yes, tragic.

Then I discovered Rambling Syd Rumpo. It was a moment in which my loves of language, folk music and comedy smashed together into something quite brilliant. Written for Round the Horne by Barry Took and Marty Feldman (comedy writers par excellence both), the songs of Rambling Syd are smart parodies of existing folk tunes which twist the pedestrian English language into fantastic innuendo.

That these were being performed at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England gives some of the tunes a very real sense of naughtiness in the same way the Round The Horne characters' Julian & Sandy (Hugh Paddick and again, Kenneth Williams) used the then-secretive gay slang Polari. It's funny if you don't quite get all the jokes. It's hilarious if you do.

Rambling Syd Rumpo is a fantastic character and most of the songs are tremendous. This is my favourite:

"The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie" - Rambling Syd Rumpo (Kenneth Williams) - 1967.

What I love most about this song is how much it's mocking the homosexuality laws themselves. 1967 is usually cited as when being gay stopped being illegal, but even a cursory glance shows the change in law was limited and did not even scratch the surface of decades' worth of stigmatisation.

The language is gorgeous. What the hell is a cordwangler or a moulie? It doesn't matter. Ken's performance gives you a bloody good idea of what they might be. The performance is what makes it. Williams knew words and how to wring out what he wanted from them. It's why he was such a master on Just a Minute and why Syd is so funny. He elevated the silliness to sublime.

I love good comedy records. Peter Sellers, Derek and Clive. Kenny Everett. The Rutles. Tom Lehrer. They combine comedy and music in different ways, sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Rambling Syd isn't subtle, but it isn't a frying pan to the head either. The songs might not seem clever but oh, they are.

Part 12 - Chas and Dave - "Rabbit"
Part 11 - The Beatles - "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 - Duke Ellington - "The Mooche"
Part 9 - The Doors - "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 - Queen - "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 - Thin Lizzy - "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash"
Part 5 - Craig Ferguson - "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 - The Bees - "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 - Marvin Gaye - "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 - The Dubliners - "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 - The Allman Brothers Band - "Statesboro Blues"
apolla: (Rory)
Given the opportunity and the right subject, I can talk for hours without let up. Most of you know this: in person I'm not much different to my blogging self. Never one short word when sixteen long ones will do (except the f-word, of course)...

As a child I was no different. Upon reaching their tether, more than once I heard one or other of my parents say "You've got more rabbit than Sainsbury's!". Sainsbury's sold rabbit then, I remember seeing them in the freezer section. The website suggests this is no longer the case, despite occasional newspaper articles suggesting it's making a comeback in the nosh department.

It took me awhile to understand what they mean. My parents both grew up in east central London in the 50s and 60s, so speak cockney rhyming slang with fluency. My dad's work at Smithfield meat market as a young man also means he speaks their backtalk with ease (feeb = beef etc). "Rabbit" is rhyming slang from the phrase "rabbit and pork" which rhymes with "talk" (barely). The phrase was then used in this song by Chas and Dave which was a pop hit in 1980.

"You've got more rabbit than Sainsbury's, why don't you give it a rest?" can therefore be translated into English thusly: "At this juncture your verbosity is putting some strain on my patience and good nature so I would appreciate it very much if you would consider the possibility of bringing your remarks to a timely end."

Chas and Dave were first popular in the late 70s and were on TV a fair amount when I was a kid, so "Rabbit", "Gertcha", "Margate", "Snooker Loopy" and other rockney hits became familiar. They did the theme tune for the Alf Garnett sitcom called In Sickness and In Health and it was on a record I listened to a lot. They did a bunch of songs for Tottenham Hotspur football club too. They were pretty goshdarn successful.

Rockney, for the uninitiated, is derived from the kind of informal folk music being heard in pubs in the East End of good old London town where the only instruments available were aged, out of tune pianos and anything a punter might have brought in (ergo, cheap and portable such as mouth organs, banjos, guitars). Music by the people for the people, if you like, with a genealogy in the likes of music hall and Mrs Mills and subject matter which was of interest and concern to the audience and performers.

Now, I think there's a good argument to suggest that a lot of Chas n Dave is very much playing the stereotype to its extremes but they were so popular in their day that it must've struck a chord. The apparent simplicity of rockney belies their abilities: Both were well-regarded session musicians before. Chas Hodges was one of Joe Meek's house band The Outlaws along with Richie Blackmore. Chas and Dave are both from Norf Lahdan, so it's at the very least an authentic put-on (if such is possible).

A funny thing happened when I was living in Southern California in 2001-2. There in the glorious sunshine, amongst the friendly, dentally-perfect young people of UC Irvine, I used Chas n Dave to combat homesickness.

There, I admit it: I was occasionally homesick for the overcrowded, grim, ugly spit of land we call Britain. In truth, I was only homesick for London town and so a bit o' Rockney was just what I needed. The sound of my parents' London, my grandfather's London.

Again, it's partly a lie: they know the songs but I don't know that my parents would call themselves fans. Indeed, my dad's so old school that if you mention Chas n Dave, he'll talk about The Outlaws. Their accents got softened over years of grammar schooling and living in Hertfordshire, and my mother in particular worked hard to break out of that sound and attitude. It's hilarious when she slips back into a real Old Hoxton accent...

The recent gentrification of Hoxton (which she finds amusing) and Shoreditch led to the rise of the Mockney (see Ritchie, Guy) and the Shoreditchean hipsters. I'm sure many of them would lay claim to being fans of C&D in a suitably ironic sense.

As an aside: It hasn't escaped my notice that "Rabbit" reinforces stereotypes of the "Trouble & Strife", the nagging wife. Does it bother me? I'm a radical feminist, of course it does. However, were I to stop listening to music because it's problematic I'd have a very empty iPod. I acknowledge it, I dislike it and I move on for now.

I don't love Chas and Dave ironically. I just love them and I won't make apologies for it. Is rockney a great art form? No. Is it very good at what it sets out to do? Yes. Will you have the songs stuck in your head for hours afterward? Yes. It's as close to the sound of lost communities as we're likely to get outside of documentary clips.

Rockney is in some ways the swansong of the 'East End' as you'd understand it from stereotypes and movies. Most of those communities were torn apart during and after the Second World War. What wasn't levelled by the Luftwaffe was knocked down on purpose. Not all of that was bad - it's nice to have decent housing with such things as indoor toilets - but a lot was lost in the redevelopments and suburbanisation of the 1960s and 1970s.

Nostalgia, plain, true and simple: It's not a coincidence that Chas n Dave came to prominence just as the chickens were coming home to roost for councils which had ripped up old neighbourhoods to throw up cheap, dangerous tower blocks and estates, and just as those who'd moved out to the soulless, history-less suburbs realised what they'd done by leaving the old places behind. Gentrification was already happening to Islington in the '70s and these days the only way natives get to live there is if they've made some money or they're council tenants who've managed to stay such. I'm here because my granddad stayed. He's the only one of five brothers who did: Fred went to Kent, George to Bournemouth, Ted to Bristol, Ron to Bury St Edmunds. Of the two surviving girls, Auntie Aileen stayed but she died unmarried in 1992. Lovely lady, my auntie Ailee... but even she was moved out (about half a mile) from where they grew up. The house they lived in is now a small park all of ten minutes away from where I am right now.

You can't buy history. When I walk these streets the sound of my footsteps ring with the echoes of my adored Granddad, just as his echoed with his grandparents, and our forebears. We go back about 350 years here, by the ancestry reckonings of me and Cousin Elaine. That twig anyway, the rest of my ancestors are Irish, naturally.

Chas n Dave, jellied eels and rollmops, pie and mash, pearly kings and queens... these are the stereotypes and cliches which have basis in a truth which matters to me. I don't expect it to matter to anyone else, nor for the same reasons. I don't cling blindly to them or wish things were the same as they were in some unspecified time in teh past when we was poor but we was 'appy. That time never existed, not truly. The truth was that a lot of people lived in shoeless, hungry, flea-and-lice infested poverty (and still do). My family pulled itself up into some comfort by graft, education and dedication.

I am a arts centre card-carrying member pretentious wordy cheeky little madam, because of the efforts of my ancestors. The last time I tried to eat pie and mash I was six or seven and it made me want to vomit, but I adore sun-dried tomatoes and tapas. I've been to the opera and loved it. I watch BBC Four and I went to university (twice). I should not love Chas n Dave music, but I do because it's possible for those disparate worlds to coexist in my life, just as it's possible I enjoyed both the Dark Knight Rises and Shakespeare's Henry V today. People are complex little sods, aren't they?
apolla: (Default)
I don't know what to say, but I want to say something.

I was at work yesterday when I nipped quickly onto BBC News and discovered that a gunman had opened fire in a Colorado movie theater during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. It was like being punched in the stomach... later we learned 12 people were dead and dozens more injured.

I sat at my desk and forced myself not to cry as I read the details. Those around me expressed horror too.

Except that this felt different. Why? Two things. The attack took place in a cinema. A cinema, the place of dreams, hopes, wonder and beauty.

Also you know, this was a midnight screening of the new Batman picture. Do you know who goes to a midnight screening of a comic book movie? Geeks. Fandomers. Us, in other words. Friendslist, it was us in that theatre. We all know very well the excitement of a midnight opening. How many of us have done it? Or the queues for Harry Potter midnight openings at bookstores? The jubilation of being first yes, but mostly the quivering excitement of the wait being over. We've been waiting for DKR for years. I'm super-excited and I'm not even in Batman fandom. I'm going to a breakfast screening tomorrow morning.

But those midnight screenings are part of fandom community too. Even in a cinemaful of strangers a person is amongst pals. We're all there because we have to be there now, first, with no more waiting! It's that beautiful feeling of not being the freak in the room, the geek in the room, the oddball in the room because we are all freaks, geeks and oddballs. I don't know exactly who was in that movie theatre, but it was a midnight screening of Dark Knight Rises: I can establish some notions. Are we surprised that a blogger was killed? No. Saddened, yes, but not surprised.

This was an assault on us, friends. Whatever the reasons and causes, this was us under fire. I'm not saying that makes us special or any of us able to comment on the event with more authority than anyone else. But if you're wondering why it feels worse than other similar events, that might be why.


Movies are my refuge. I love them. They are not a simple escape from the dark bits of life, it's more complex than that, but that world constructed from celluloid and stardust is indescribably important and beautiful to me. The cinema is the cathedral of that world, a place where we fellows in movielove congregate to share the experience.

Christopher Nolan said something similar: "The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me."

That cathedral has been sullied by someone who brought real blood and horror into a place where blood is corn syrup and horror is over by the time the credits roll.


I have a great deal to say about the whys/blame/whatever about this, but now isn't the time and my thoughts are not sufficiently processed.

Tomorrow I will go to see The Dark Knight Rises. I will almost certainly not be placed in the same danger as those moviegoers in Aurora, but I will think of them. I'll think of everyone who has been a victim of the violence our society values. I'll think of The Joker and what he represents in our society. I'll remember Heath then. I'll remember every great moment I spent in a cinema: from Che Part One blowing my mind; the joy of The Band Wagon and Cinderella and A Hard Day's Night on a big screen; trying not to try in front of my mum and dad as a child watching The Lion King, laughing myself hoarse during American: The Bill Hicks Story; the sight of Valentino's face 30 feet high during The Son of the Sheik, a thousand such moments and every single time a movie lifted me from the dark pit in which my mind so often found itself.

I will think of those dead and injured as Batman and Bane do battle. And I will try to feel the joy of a new movie experience because that's all I can do. 
apolla: (George and Arthur)
I just saw A Hard Day's Night in my favourite cinema. I haven't seen it in a long while.

When I was fifteen, I watched A Hard Day's Night almost every night upon returning from the misery of school. Some nights, I watched it twice. I fast-forwarded through bits I didn't dig so much - never got along with the "Can't Buy Me Love" scene because I never rated that song very highly.

I loved it, though. The humour: sometimes wry, sometimes broad, sometimes rather naughty for the times, the in-jokes. It became a new language for me to talk in - my friend Louise also knew the movie and we would pepper our conversation with "that's an in-joke you know" and the likes. I was a Lennon Person then, and I think he gets a lot of the best lines in the movie, so maybe that's why I was a Lennon person (constantly re-reading Coleman's Lennon biography helped).

I watched the damn film so many times that I could still recite most of the script along with them when I saw it earlier. And yet it felt fresh and new in some ways to see it on a big screen: I hadn't noticed that Wilfred Brambell's character is actually reading a nudie magazine at the start. I'd forgotten how much of a shock that first chord in "A Hard Day's Night" is when it opens the movie. I found new appreciation for the "Can't Buy Me Love" segment on the big screen, and through not being able to FF through it.

To this day, I still think of the supporting cast as being "...who was in A Hard Day's Night" with few exceptions. Anna Quayle will always be Mrs Monroe from Grange Hill first; and Wilfred Brambell is and ever will be Steptoe first and foremost. It doesn't matter that Norman Rossington had a lengthy and successful career, when I saw him in his Sharpe appearance, my reaction was "You're a swine!"

It even influenced how I speak: there are some lines I use in every day speech that I'd basically forgotten I'd nicked from them! Today my work colleague Phil and I will occasionally (OK, regularly) break into a quote-the-movie game if so much as a word or theme comes up in the everyday. "A drag, a well known drag." You can imagine what we were like during the fuss about Swine Flu.

As a lover of movies as much as of music, I find it a fascinating film. Shot in black and white, it captures that moment just before the 1960s became "The Sixties" both in terms of how London and her people are depicted, and in cinema terms. Hand-held cameras, quick cuts, a realistic chaos, editing in time with the songs and even some Altman-like talking over each other... these are not things one saw in movies much if at all before. Mostly though, they're already taking the piss out of Beatlemania while it's still going on! It is, I think, really quite scornful, not even gentle satire at times. It's the weary scorn George displayed in his Anthology interviews where he talked about the fans giving their screams but the Beatles giving their nervous systems. The scene with George and the marketing guy still works perfectly today because hell, that's all it is now!

I think the Beatles often get credited with doing things "first" when maybe it's not fully accurate or fair. But A Hard Day's Night was something new and fresh and game-changing. Not just because of those four, but thanks to Alun Owen's script and Richard Lester's direction. I must've seen it more than 100 times and today was like meeting an old pal one hasn't seen for a long time and discovering that they're still delightful.

So today's Awesome thing is "I'm Happy Just To Dance WIth You" because it was one of my favourite songs in the film, because although I thought then that the sun shone out of Lennon's arse, I was beginning to realise that Harrison was just as interesting a character... "bonus" Lionel Blair at the beginning, too...

Last thing: the icon accompanying this post is one I made years ago when I still cared to do such things. It's a reference to a line in A Hard Day's Night.
apolla: (George and Arthur)
I have always found it difficult to sleep, but when I was in my first year at university it was seriously bad. It was that year that I pulled my only three-nighter and I only went to sleep because I got bored. This was before Lancaster University had internet in the res. halls so I even had to walk up to the 24hr computer lab to read Buffy fanfic to pass the time.

It was very late one night that I found a TV show worth watching at that time. Four channels don't give you much option at 1am... It was Ken Burns' Jazz documentary. Looking at the Great Wiki's page, I must've come in at Episode 2. The ten episode series ran at two hours per episode so it was perfect for me to burn some time with.

It is a documentary rightly criticised for various reasons but for me it was just what I needed then: an introduction to the music. My only true exposure to jazz beforehand was Coppola's the Cotton Club movie (itself problematic) and the occasional flicker of interest in something I might hear on TV or in a movie (I remember being entranced by a moment in The Addams Family which used Duke Ellington's The Mooche and a similar experience with Billie Holiday's The Very Thought Of You during Forever Young). Otherwise, I saw jazz as being like in the Fast Show sketch: up its own arse and really very dull. I was very wrong...

Names like Ellington, Basie, Beiderbecke, Carmichael, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Henderson began to take on special meanings to me. A whole world opened up as I realised that jazz wasn't what I thought it was - or what it had become in mainstream media. As the series progressed, I discovered more... I already loved Dean Martin and Sinatra's swing but there was more! And then Miles Davis. I still remember tearing open the packaging of Kind of Blue as I sat on the bus back to campus so I could listen to it on my discman. And the feelings when I discovered I preferred Birth of the Cool!

And for the first time, I was discovering that I loved something made by black Americans for black Americans. I was an American Studies major and it was all beginning to make sense to me... my eyes were being opened exactly as a university education should ensure they are. I began to get some understanding of what words like "segregation" really meant - more from Jazz than from class, I should add.

Did I mention I found that I loved a love of the music? Not all of it, but then there's plenty of rock music I don't like. In some ways, blues music means more to me, but if I've learned anything in my discoveries over the years, it's that all music is connected, bound together in ways expected and not.

So, for my tenth Awesome Thing, I give you Duke Ellington and his Orchestra playing "The Mooche":

apolla: (Smiler)
So far I've posted a variety of dead people's music... and a lil' bit of living people.

There is one Dead Musician who is notable by his absence so far. Today that ends.

I'm going to ask you all to do me a favour: Forget everything you know - or think you know - about The Doors. Forget all the bullshit 'legends' because first, foremost and forever, the Doors were a blues band. Sure, they did some weird things with them, but the Blues were their thing. That's why LA Woman is their greatest achievement...

Anyway, today's track is Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" as performed by the Doors in Vancouver, 6 June 1970 with blues guitar giant Albert King guesting.

I love that they open with a Bo Diddley lick too, because that's one of my favourite sounds in the world. I love "Who Do You Love?" as a track anyway - the Band's version of it in the Last Waltz, Dion's version recently, and of course the original.

What I love about this particular track though, is that I feel it's proof that behind all the hype and legend and Lizard King bullshit, There's this searing King slide guitar - I am an absolute sucker for slide guitar and it is not a coincidence that the three guitarists I love the most were all slide-eriffic (George Harrison, Rory Gallagher, Robby Krieger) - but the rest too. I once wrote that Ray Manzarek's organ sound was "if the River Styx had a soundtrack" because of how unearthly and deathly I always felt from it, and it works for this. I'm not sure a real bass wouldn't sound better, but that's all part of the Doors' weird charm. I love the way drawing the riffs out becomes a hypnotic loop one can really feel... or I can, anyway. But I love the jams on All Things Must Pass so I'm designed that way. I love Jim's howling and screaming because I can feel that he feels the music and is just going with it. (This is where talking about teh Doors starts to sound dickish so I won't continue)...

I know The Doors aren't for everyone and I've a good idea as to why. I even agree with some of the anti-Doors arguments. But I love them, and I love them playing the blues like the good little white middle class boys they were.

And for me no matter where I go, or what I discover, it always comes back to Jim.
apolla: (Freddie)
I had a bit of a break as you might have noticed... I also started writing Post 8 around the Sgt Pepper movie but it was so abysmal (the film more than the post itself) that I had to abandon it... and I don't think it's very nice to tear it to shreds in the immediate aftermath of the death of one of its stars... so anyway...

On Monday I had the afternoon off work so I headed to Starbucks to continue editing my novel o' doom... and with their free wifi I was listening to the YouTube playlist I have called 'Researchering' which is supposed to contain music which is useful to the aforementioned novel... it's become a bit of a 'stuff I like' list. Who saw that happening, huh?

So I wanted to listen to "As" by Stevie Wonder to begin. So I did. But I'm not going to post about that record today. I'm going to post about the video that came up next.

"These Are The Days Of Our Lives" by Queen

I've told this story here before so I'll be brief: I still remember the morning of 25th November 1991. I was nine years old and sat at our pine kitchen table for breakfast like the day before and the day after. I couldn't tell you what I had for breakfast but I assume it was Coco Pops because that's how I rolled then.

And then my mummy told me that Freddie Mercury had died of AIDS. My brother was a couple of weeks short of his seventh birthday and replied "What, of a hearing aid?" which is funny and heartbreaking simultaneously. I was a middle class suburban child and only knew AIDS was a disease that was on the news a lot and there was no cure for it. I can't remember my exact reaction to her news because it's become coloured by my feelings since.

Another quick story which takes place some time before this (presumably 1989): In our town there was an old-fashioned bookstore in a strip-mall near Sainsbury's which for a long time (seemed long anyway) had some records in the window. One was The Miracle by Queen. The cover features the four band members' faces morphing together into one person. I loved it and seem to recall persuading my mum more than once to walk that way to Sainsbury's just to look at it. I assumed Brian was the band's leader because he had the biggest hair, which is quite a neat way of looking at rock band dynamics when you think about it...

Anyway, my friends and I were Queen fans even then. I suppose now that the group's mad theatricality appealed to children. I was already a rock fan anyway. My dad had bought me my own record player (secondhand at a jumble sale, we're not Rothschilds) when I was six in an effort to stop me wrecking his with my clumsy child ways. I loved Buddy Holly and the other rock and roll dudes. When I was really little I'd even made up a stupid dance to "Piltdown Rides Again"... I was already initiated into that world when Freddie died, is what I'm saying. And he was the first rock star I lost.

I didn't know at the time that Jim had already bought the farm, that Philo had worn his body out, that Steve Marriott's house had burned down. I knew that John Lennon was dead because it was a simple fact of life by then. I didn't know that it would hurt later.

When the group re-released "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a double A side with "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" my dad got it for me on cassette tape. I preferred Bo Rhap of course, because I could do the head-banging thing. I must've spent the last weeks of 1991 with permanent neck ache.

But then when I did listen to "These Are The Days..." I got it. I was nine but I was a weird kid and already knew that the best had passed. I was coming up to leaving my beautiful, wonderful primary school years and wasn't happy. I knew it wouldn't be the same. I started to really understand what we'd lost when Freddie went. But it was a beautiful song even as it made me sad.

A few years later, Made in Heaven was released. I was at a perfect age and mental situation to get totally sucked in by the pain and grief anew. I taped a TV show about the group and watched it over and again. And that's when I learned that the videos for "I'm Going Slightly Mad" and "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" were shot in black and white to hide the toll HIV/AIDS was taking on Freddie. The "Slightly Mad" video had really confused me when I was a kid, in a good way, and now I saw why he was wearing the wig and the pancake... my heart broke anew.

Queen are a group I have loved dearly in my time... without ever getting totally sucked in. I still don't own the Miracle even now, or most of their studio albums, probably because they're all still full price in the shops. For Queen, it seems, I am content with a handful of compilations and Made in Heaven. I just need to hear that voice every so often... Which seems weird. I mean, they were a huge group, innovative and interesting, influential and enduring. Maybe one day I will fall down that rabbit hole completely.

This song is beautiful. It's beautiful without the context of Freddie's death. With that context, it's beautiful and heartbreaking. He doesn't look well but he is still Freddie, still fierce. He's wearing a waistcoat with cats on it, man! It is a great song about growing old, which is interesting given that many of the Great Rock Stars were in their forties by then...

The thing people didn't get about rock back in the day was that it would grow with the musicians. It didn't have to be a young person's game after all... but the music did change. Of course it did. People change. Freddie did. In the video he's still throwing his Freddie Mercury shapes but it's neither frantic nor manic. He no longer needs to prove himself because he's Freddie Mercury. This is the man who held the entire Live Aid audience in the palm of his hand, after all.

There is one moment in the video that I love more than any other in almost any music video. It's the end, or thereabouts. Freddie, our hero, looks up into the camera and whispers "I still love you". It's his last appearance and he chose to end it like that. I love that and I don't think I've ever watched it without replying "right back atcha, man" in some form. I meant it then and I mean it still.

There's not much positive in the world, but the dynamic between musical hero and the fans can be powerful and tremendous when there's love and respect from both sides. Freddie and Us was such an example.
apolla: (Lynott)

Today I decided that I was going to post something I really love. Not sure what, I headed to my iTunes to check out my 'Top 25 Most Played' list.

Some/quite a lot of what's on the list is there because they're songs I performed myself at one gig or another so listened to them a lot to rehearse/practice. Some of what's on there is because it's the Usual Suspects, those spectacularly talented people whose music grabbed me so hard once that I had to listen to them all the time. All the time.

The number one song on the list is there for both reasons. But I'm not going to post that. I'm going to post the number two song.

"Don't Believe a Word" - Thin Lizzy - Top of the Pops.

To me, this is absolutely the most perfect rock song about being a rock star. It's incredibly short - the album version clocks in at 2:19 - but says everything about the myths, legends and sad reality behind the leather trousers.

Philip Lynott was a truly fantastic, brilliant lyricist. Poet, if you will, in the grand tradition of many a Dubliner like himself. He was really great with rhymes in particular - he built an entire song, "Rocky" around only a handful of rhymes and managed to tell a life story with them.

He wasn't perfect. This is the man who wrote "Tonight there's going to be a jailbreak somewhere in this town", to which we all replied "Would that be at the jail then, Philo?"

Philo was and remains one of my favourite people in the history of the universe, never mind anything else. I don't say this imagining he was always a particularly nice or good guy. He's my hero in spite of and sometimes because of his weaknesses and failings as well as his greatness and strengths.

One of the things he was particularly good at was telling the truth while he lied and lying while telling the truth. In the song "With Love" he sings "But this Casanova's roving days are over... more or less". And he was right. This is a man who could write a song called "Opium Trail", which seems to have a pretty good understanding of what Teh Drugz do to you... only for them to kill him ten years later. 1979's "Got To Give It Up" (no relation to the Gaye track) reflects a similar contradiction. No, not contradiction: simply a breathtaking ability to lie to oneself about oneself.

"Don't Believe A Word" on the other hand, is absolute honesty: that there might always be another girl he's singing to, that he's almost certainly lying. Given that he wrote an earlier song called "Still In Love With You", it's pretty audacious.

And there's rock music in a nutshell. Not just for girls listening to pop crushes, for all of us. The Rock Star is a myth. His wife Caroline said that "Philip was a rock star when he was cleaning his teeth" but that doesn't make it less of an act, it just makes it more constant an act. We know of plenty of rock stars who are all rock-all the time but that doesn't make it true.

They're all lying to us one way or the other. Whoever said they had to tell the truth anyway? Songs should illuminate something about the human condition if they're to be worth anything, but it doesn't follow that the composer had to experience it themselves. Sometimes they do, but it doesn't follow that they're always telling the truth.

But because the music is good - when it is good - we believe it. We silly, naive children. We want to believe. It's understandable, but that doesn't make it true and wishing doesn't make it so.

If wishing made it so, Philip Lynott would be alive and making awesome records with a similarly-animated Rory Gallagher on guitar and Jim Morrison singing. And Moon would be on drums. I'd... make the tea, or something. Anything to be in that room. If wishing made it so...

"Don't Believe A Word" has a great riff, but the ultimate beauty of it to me is the way Philo lays it out clearly: he probably isn't singing to Her/You/Me, he's probably lying to Her/You/Me but it doesn't matter because the song is awesome, because he feels regret about it, because the lyrics are beautiful in that very Lizzy bittersweet way.

That's the reality, the deal we make: we all know it's not real but it's OK to lie to us as long as you're rocking our socks off.

The danger is when we start believing in it, and that goes for the stars as much as the audience: how many of them fell apart because they started to believe in their own magical powers and immortality?

Don't believe me if I tell you, especially if I tell you I'm in love with you.

apolla: (OTP)
It's funny how things work sometimes. When I was a child, my favourite band name ever was 'The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band'. My dad liked them and used the name as a punchline and such every now and then. It sounded like the name of a really madcap, awesome group.

It took me awhile to learn it wasn't just a thing my dad had made up to make me laugh, and "I'm The Urban Spaceman" was a favourite song from early on - the 'I don't exist" always got me, half-hilarious, half-profound. Some years later, hearing the Bonzos more, I understood that the name of the band is exactly what they sound like: madness on a record. A mixture of music hall (vaudeville, if you will), jazz, rock and roll, sixties psychedelic pop and whatever it is that Viv Stanshall's brain was made of.

So anyway, I posted a Craig Ferguson cold open yesterday and in reply, a friend said he liked the cold open which introduced Geoff, which was a lipsync to "Look Out, There's A Monster Coming" by the Bonzos. I saw it at the time and was bowled over a little at how two of my fandoms (not quite the right word) collided. I loved the idea that CF was a Bonzos fan as well, and it makes perfect sense that he might like such a weird group of eccentrics. And you know, he most probably saw Do Not Adjust Your Set as a kid.

Anyway, today's video is not "I'm The Urban Spaceman" though I love that song, nor even "Death Cab for Cutie". Today's video is the Bonzos covering someone else:

<iframe width="480" height="360" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Od2PBlZ3ZQM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - "Monster Mash" - appearance on Do Not Adjust Your Set, 1968

Probably most of you reading have heard "Monster Mash" somewhere along the way. The original was a 1962 novelty record by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. It is itself a parody of the dance crazes which had been sweeping popular culture - The Twist, The Mashed Potato, etc.

I don't recall seeing this particular video before, not even during that strange fevered winter night a few years back when I stayed up all night watching nowt but Bonzos... you can imagine how frazzled my brain was after that.

I love the details - the bones for drumsticks, the Reaper with Ray-Bans, Viv's graceful, effeminate prancing in some contrast to his resonantly eerie vocals, the cut to a picture of Liberace during the line "Dracula, and his son"; changes to the lyrics to make them even funnier and more gruesome.

Most hilariously: The Bonzo Dr Frankenstein has brought his monster to life, and for why? Well, to play the spoons. How delightfully, brilliantly, barmily English. And of course it goes wrong.

I'm not going to say much more about the Bonzos, because I know they'll come up later in the challenge. But this is a great video and an insight into children's TV of the late sixties - no wonder Craig Ferguson is the way he is...
apolla: (Default)
I pondered what to post today... and after spending most of the evening catching up with The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, I thought to post one of his musical openings.

I just didn't know which one. They're all awesome in their own different ways.

I was going to go with the most recent Halloween vid: "There's a Light Over At The Frankenstein House" but then I started watching the "Monster Mash" vid from the year before...

And then I realised there was one musical intro which summed up what I love about LLS/CraigyFerg.

The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson Cold Open (with some explanation) Doctor Who

So, let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

If you don't know, Craig Ferguson is a Scots-born comedian/writer/actor/awesome dude who via a series of strange life-turns now hosts the chat show immediately following Letterman. This means he broadcasts at half past midnight and gets to be rather more subversive, brilliant and intelligent than if he was on when Puritanical America is watching. He really screws with the format even as he takes part in it. The joke is that there's no budget so that it's done on the cheap: he doesn't have a band or a real life sidekick. he does have a gay robot skeleton sidekick called Geoffrey Peterson (voiced magnificently by Josh Robert Thompson) who is far superior to most living, breathing people on TV.

He also has puppets. But not just any puppets. There were Kronos, King of the Monkey People from another planet and Gustave Flaubert, a pig with sideburns and a contempt for the bourgeoisie, which haven't been seen in ages; Then there was the stonkingly awesome Wavey, a crocodilio from Louisiana with a (seriously dodgy) Cajun accent and penchant for waving. And eating people. He actually hosted the 1000th show. My personal favourite is Sid, the foul-mouthed rabbit from Norf London. You can guess why.

CraigyFerg is an incredibly sharp, quick-witted auto-didact. He also appears to be an astonishingly (especially for Late Night US TV) open-minded, decent human being. In the email segment once someone wrote in to say her boyfriend thought Craig was gay, she didn't... I expected Craig, because I've seen a lot of TV, to make a snidey gay joke or be horrified. I hadn't seen much of his show at that point... and instead he basically looked into the camera and said "And what if I was?" Many of you have heard me use the phrase "Love all the People" as my motto for existence. Coincidentally (or maybe we're both Hicks fans?), he will say the exact same thing when difficult stuff comes up.

Did I mention he does a monologue at the start of each show? Every weeknight he stands there and does what's basically 10 minutes of stand-up. Every night, something new (or the same tired old LLS/CF crap, as he would say)... there aren't many who could do that and make you laugh. But sure, some nights are funnier than others. And I would love him to get over the Kardashian jokes soon, and there's no need to do tired old fat jokes...but he's awesome more often than he's not. He gets what Late Night is. When the Late Night Wars (Leno/O'Brien Edition) exploded, Craig stood there on his show and said "It's a bunch of rich white men fighting over who gets millions of dollars." He refers to himself as a Late Night Douche. Like I say, he's fucking with the format from within.

Weirdly, Geoff the Robot was supposed to be and started as a subversion of the sidekick thing: he just had a few pre-programmed phrases ("In Your Pants" and "Balls" spring immediately to mind) but it became so funny that they got JRM to voice him live most nights. He still is a subversion I suppose, but not in the way they initially expected.

I was going to tell you why I love today's video so much but I got distracted. Craig is also a ginormous geek and has a great love of Doctor Who but until very very recently, most American audiences knew about as much as British ones do about LLS/CF (naff all, in other words) so he would have to explain it and its success. Which you have to admit is a bit of a tough call. Like explaining the success of Rod Hull and Emu to outsiders...

"Well, there's this 900 year old space-dude alien who travels around in a Police Box [pause to explain Police Box] with various companions going to other planets [pause to explain quarry in Wales] and battling evil aliens and stuff and he can travel in time. And when he dies he regenerates into a new body. And it's really scary. But made with tin cans and plungers. Since 1963."

So when he got Matt Smith on the show, presumably as part of BBC America's BIG MASSIVE GINORMOUS promotion of DW in the US, he did a cold open with a song explaining Doctor Who to American audiences. And then couldn't get rights to the Orbital version of the theme tune so showed it without the music.

And then the version including the music leaked online. Shock and surprise, right? So finally Craig got to show the opening as God Craig intended, and that's what's linked above.

I love the song because it does a great job of explaining DW to the uninitiated and is kinda beautiful in a strange way.

It also involves the phrase 'the alligator speaks the truth"... which is perfect for the inevitable stoner portion of his audience.

But the great moment is this: "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."

And that is what the Doctor is about. It's certainly why I love DW so much even when it's full of fail, because it's still less fail-worthy than most. In a way, it's also a pretty good summation of Craig's own show. He starts every show (post-credits) with the greeting 'It's a great day for America!' or some variation thereon. Written down it sounds like the kind of hokey shite that American TV is full of. It's really not. It's a moment of optimism, genuine affection for his adopted country and a glimmer of 'Yeah, life's shite but hey, it is a great day for us. This is a guy who drops references to Flaubert and Kierkegaard into his monologues, for all the Kardashian jokes and references to balls. I love how he screws with the censor, too. This is a show which features a cussing cockney rabbit puppet but also had Desmond Tutu as a guest. It gives me a little hope that entertainment is not totally screwed, that we as a human race are not totally screwed.

I'd recommend the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson to you all. And I do. If it's not your bag, that's cool. Because after all, Love All the People, dif'rent strokes for dif'rent folks.
apolla: (Freddie)
I'm trying for one a day. We've had lots of old stuff by now-dead people so far... let me try this a different way:

"Who Cares What The Question Is?" - The Bees - Octopus, 2007

The Bees are a group from the Isle of Wight (pronounced 'white' for you non-UK people), a small and odd place nestled in the sea near Portsmouth in England. The people from the Isle of Wight are a peculiar bunch and the islands itself is a strange reflection of the mainland. In some ways it's just like the rest of Britain and in other ways it feels like going back in time...

The Isle of Wight hosted a music festival for a handful of years back in the day, until the locals and the local council decided they'd had enough and the organisers' incompetence conspired to make the '70 festival the last. At that festival, incidentally the following performed:

[The] Taste, Tony Joe White, Supertramp, Kris Kristofferson, Chicago, Family, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, The Who, The Doors, Sly & The Family Stone, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Richie Havens and Jimi Hendrix.

In one weekend: The Doors. The Who. Taste. Free. Jimi Hendrix.

Let me put this another way: in a single weekend, one could've seen Pete Townshend, Rory Gallagher, Paul Kossoff and Jimi Hendrix. Throw in Bert Jansch courtesy of Pentangle and that's an awful lot of six-string power right there, not even including the great guitarists in the other groups (Hi Robby Krieger) or others not primarily known for their guitar-playing (Hi Joni)

I had you at Hendrix, right? Yeah. Anyway, that festival is captured for all time on film in Message to Love which does a good job of capturing what was going on at the festival. It was such a colossal clusterf&ck that there was not another IoW Festival until 2002.

I first went to the Isle of Wight Festival in 2007. It was a last-minute thing, almost literally: I was asked to work it the afternoon before leaving. I was already exhausted and not prepared so was up most of the night before getting all my camping stuff ready. I seem to recall watching Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band while I got ready (spoiler alert: it's horrendously awful but kinda fun). My Granddad/Flatmate/Best Pal had died two months earlier which accounts for some of the exhaustion. I was screwed up, naturally. It wasn't the best physical or mental state but I packed my bag and didn't hesitate because The Rolling Stones were playing. I'd never seen them live and them playing a festival was a Big Deal.

Travel to the festival was OK except that instead of a nice, hard-wearing rucksack I only had a crap leather holdall, a bulky sleeping bag and a borrowed tent to carry. No wellies but a pair of Converse sneakers which gave me blisters just on the walk through the site on arrival. Again, a bad omen. I was scheduled to work at Glastonbury and had intended to buy all the necessary stuff but hadn't yet, so I really was unprepared.

Long story short: Festival was amazing and so. much. fun. The Stones were not good, but the rest of it was great and mostly because I spent most of my time at the Hipshaker Tent. This was run by a bunch of guys who liked old school soul and funk type stuff. Performing there were local band The Bees. I had technically seen the Bees before but as they were supporting Robert Plant the first time I saw him (Teenage Cancer Trust, Royal Albert Hall), I don't remember any of that. I wish I did, because The Bees are fantastic...

Their song 'Chicken Payback' was played during a DJ set of stuff which included seriously classic, Motown, Styx and Chess songs and didn't sound at all out of place. It sounds both classic and modern at the same time. The guys are accomplished musicians and as I learned that week, ebullient company. They were awfully nice to me as I bothered them for a setlist for their various live and DJ-curating sets even though I was exhausted to the point of incomprehension. Seriously, that's not a euphemism for drinking (I wasn't) or anything else (I never have). I was just done. But their set was outstanding. Highlight of my festival by a long chalk - and this at a festival featuring the Rolling Stones.

And also, just looking at the line-up now I realise I missed Country Joe McDonald and that bothers me now. I must've been working when he was on...

I saw and met a lot of famous people that weekend and heard some great music. A few weeks later, I endured the horrendo 2007 Glastonbury Festival (It was Somme Chic that year. Just a miserable bloody experience) and crumbled into almost complete meltdown from the being knackered and emotionally drained. To suggest I was living on the edge of my last nerve in mid-late 2007 is to underestimate quite how close to the edge I was.

But. And there is one: I had found The Bees. I watched today's video over and over, listened to the song over and over. I love their combination of old and new, and it was exactly what I needed at that point. I needed a band who didn't make my heart or soul hurt any more than they did. The Bees' music was fun. It was smart as well as catchy. It wasn't throwaway, but it wasn't something I had to throw my entire being into (see Lizzy, Thin; Gallagher, Rory; Martin, Dean; Beatles, The). It was great music that at the same time did not make demands on me to adore it. That particular track has some nifty slide guitar, and I am a sucker for slide guitar.

In short, it was precisely what I needed at a time when I needed it. I bought Octopus and listened to it a ton. I really love that record.

Two years later I worked the Festival again. By then I was properly prepared, well-rested and psychically improved (not better yet, but an improvement). The Bees were there once more but only to curate a DJ set as I recall. And one of the band remembered me from two years earlier. 'You gotta be impressed by that, right?' he asked, not arrogantly. 'Yeah,' I replied quite honestly although later wondered if it was because I was mad rather than memorable for cooler reasons. 'I enjoyed your set more than the Stones,' I added, honestly and not in an effort to suck up.

I didn't say 'oh, and your album helped get me through a dark time' because I didn't realise it did that until much later. About half an hour ago, actually. It wasn't a record I necessarily ascribed that much power to, but it really was what I needed.

The Bees are a great band. You should check out their music, you really should. And if I can't be at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 to hang out with my favourite loves, then my scatterbrained memories of 2007 will at least help fill that hole.

If anyone has access to a time machine I could avail myself of, let me know. I just want it for a weekend...    
apolla: (Night Life)
Enjoying it so far? Anyone reading so far?

Anyway, we had the Allman Brothers, then the Dubliners. And now something a little different:

[General Trigger Warning for comments on the YouTube videos, read at your own risk]

"Got To Give It Up" - Marvin Gaye - live, Montreux 1980.

One day some years ago now, one of my dearest friends in the entire cosmos said "You gotta listen to this!" and sent me the studio version of this song. I was hooked like a fish on a reel. My first instinct is not usually towards disco music. I like some of it very much but the bad stuff is really bad and a lot of it feels very mechanical/clinical to me and I need to feel my music.

It is not unreasonable though, to assume that disco in Marvin Gaye's hands is not going to be bad... and it isn't. I love the twelve minute version. I love walking home to it because there are few songs that I end up walking so fast and yet still have a swing in my hips and a dancey step to my gait. You should see me waiting to cross the road when this is on: there I am on a busy London street bouncing like a child. When this is on the iPod I'm not walking through Central London at rush hour, I'm grooving down the line on Soul Train.

In fact, I was going to post Marvin's appearance on Soul Train to perform this as today's video, but it's miming - though it's cool when he joins the crowd dancing.

But I posted the live version because it's a bit more interesting. For a start, I love and want that jacket. I know it's not a musical thing, but I do. I find it both amusing and sad that he needs several introductions before he comes out. And I love that sparkly waistcoat. I would wear those both myself.

Anyway, what I love about the live version is that it's looser, funkier than the studio version, which has a touch of the clinical disco about it - much as I love it. Also, Gaye had such a way of moving on stage. It's not quite dancing and it's almost awkward in comparison to the slick choreography we get these days, but he's into the music... and that's what's so gorgeous.

The song itself isn't strictly disco and the lyrics rather poke fun at disco - the protagonist is a wallflower who can't bring himself to dance until the power of the music gets him and he gets his funk on. And while it's a bit of a mockery, isn't that exactly what great dancing music is about? I love how it's 'disco' but it's funky as hell and I do defy anyone to listen to this and not move. Right now I'm sat in my armchair under a duvet (tis cold!) with my computer on my lap... and my feet are rocking in time to the music. My head is going from side to side and I'm almost typing in time. I defy anyone to listen to this and stay still...

A long time ago I saw a documentary where Marvin was referred to as 'The Black Frank Sinatra'. I think it might've been one of those VH1 Behind the Music type things. While I see the point whoever-it-was was making, I disagree. Marvin Gaye was Marvin Gaye. You don't need to qualify it more than that, not to me. Perhaps it's white bourgeois privilege talking, but Marvin Gaye wasn't the Someone Else of anything. I don't say this to devalue or ignore his race or anything, but to call him "the Black xxxxxx" to me, is to imply he's only good in a black context and that's simply not true. Marvin Gaye was the only Marvin Gaye and that's more, much more, than good enough for me.

In 2006 I visited Detroit, MI. I really like the city generally but the touristy highpoint was being in the Motown Historical Museum, stood under the echo chamber and being asked to sing a bit to demonstrate it. My friends and I were surrounded by late-middle-aged black American tourists (I can't remember where they were from) who were die-hard Motown fans. I stood under the echo chamber which Marvin himself had used and prayed my voice would not give out. I managed a few phrases from "Dancing In The Street" before my nerve gave out, but I will never, ever forget the sound of my own voice bouncing back at me with that unmistakable Motown vocal echo. One day I want to go back and try again - and do better. Or record, better still ;)

People who are supremely talented are always fantastic to observe at work. Marvin was one of those people. I won't say that every song he ever recorded was fantastic. Of the well known ones, I really don't like "Let's Get It On" as a song, although that might partly be because it's been so devalued over the years... but on his day, he was one of the golden gods. There's so much I could've picked for this... I think he'll show up again on this 100 Things Challenge.

To quote the song itself: "let's dance, let's shout, get funky what it's all about!"
apolla: (Black Rose)
I'm going to try and do this once a day (won't happen)...

Post the Second in 100 Awesome Musical Things to be Found on YouTube:

(Trigger Warning and General Good Advice: Do not read the comments on YouTube videos. That way bigotry and trolls do lie)

"The Octopus Jig" - The Dubliners.

You might need to watch this twice to get what's going on. Let me lay it out for you:

Barney McKenna is the little dude with the beard and the banjo.
John Sheahan is the auburn-haired dude with the beard and the violin.
Ciarán Bourke is the tall dude with the beard and the tin whistle.
Luke Kelly is the dude with the ginger afro and the beard and the glass.

Now, it gets complicated.

Barney is picking the banjo with his right hand while his left is fingering (oo-er, get over it) the notes on the violin..
John is bowing the violin with his left hand and fingering the notes on the banjo with his right. He is also blowing (oo-er, get over it) the tin whistle.
Ciarán is fingering the notes on the tin whistle. And drinking a glass of something unspecified but looks like a pale ale to me.
Luke is pouring beer down Ciarán's throat.

There are versions on YT with Luke's introduction but the quality is shite and these are the fifty seconds we're interested in. So anyway, if your mind isn't at least a bit blown by this I'm not sure you've quite understood what's going on.

Can you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? It's a bit like that, only really fast and with the great complication of needing to find different notes.

Next question: do you know someone else well enough to be able to coordinate it with them? Have you ever tried to pat your head and rub someone else's belly (with their permission, please) and do it in time?

Barney McKenna died a couple of weeks ago, having a cup of tea at home. He was, as the press said, the last of the 'original' Dubliners, but given Sheahan's been in the group since 1964 (they started in '62) it seems a slightly trivial fact to me, but hey-ho. I've been listening to the group again on and off since. I find their astonishing go at The Mason's Apron really useful for cycling in the gym...

Luke, he of the clear-as-a-bell voice, died in 1984. He's the fellow who sang the near-impossible Rocky Road To Dublin some of you will recognise from Sherlock Holmes. Seriously, try and sing along... If the Dubliners were good at anything, it was making the Really Difficult seem Really Easy.

Ciarán died in 1988 after years of ill health (Check out his last TV appearance here, worth it for the faces in the crowd...).

Ronnie Drew, he of the coal-under-a-door voice, who you see in the background of the Octopus Jig video, died in 2008. I don't mind telling you that when I heard the news I burst into tears. I love voices you see, and his is so distinctive, so interesting and full of soul...

By the time I was attending Dubliners gigs, Luke and Ciarán were long dead. Ronnie had left the band and rejoined and left more than once. I saw them first with my mammy at The Cambridge Corn Exchange. The crowd were having a nice time but being very English and muted about it. The other times I saw them was in Dublin itself, at Vicar Street. Vicar Street is probably my favourite venue in the world, and mostly because of them... and in spite of the bar prices.

I had the chance to be at their Royal Albert Hall gig not long ago but balked at the ticket prices and with the sad feeling derived from the last time I saw them that they were not quite at their best anymore. The last time I saw them, at the 'A Time To Remember' show at Vicar Street, some of their zest and zip was missing. They are, after all, old men. I don't say it to criticise: on my best day I'm not half the musician they are on their worst... just that I couldn't quite face the creeping mortality of my heroes.

The Octopus Jig never fails to make me smile. It's silly and funny but still breathtaking. I've seen it dozens of times - linked a bunch of people at work to it randomly back in March sometime - and it still make me go 'whuh? how?'. I wish I was in a band where we were all so awesome, so in tune with each other that we could do something like that... I suppose that's why I like this particular moment so much, because you can't do that without being so close as to share a single musical brain. Are there even any other groups who have done it? I don't know.

The Dubliners are the sound of the home I miss and never fully had. It's not simple dewy-eyed and rose-tinted ah jaysus isn't Oireland in the Rare Aul' Times de best? nostalgia for an Ireland which never actually existed. The Dubliners to me are the warmth of Gallagher's Boxty House on a rainy night; they're a walk through Stephen's Green or up the Liffeyside; and of driving though County Kerry's majestic beauty with my family; of the solitude of an empty road in Galway; of dark moments of desperate yearning; of a wet August Sunday morning in Cork; singing "Raglan Road" and "Love Is Pleasing" myself; walking through Islington late one night yelling "The Sons of Roisin" along with Luke; walking to work on a Tuesday morning past the British Museum... a thousand everyday moments half-forgotten but fully lived.

There are musicians I've loved for longer, ones I've loved more passionately, more obsessively, more intensely... but the Dubs are part of the musical fabric of my heart and soul. You know me: that means that they are my heart and soul.


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October 2012

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