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Previous Journal Entries

"The cords of all link back...strandentwining cable...

"Hello...put me on to Edenville... aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one"

Thursday
Sep302010

A holding line...

...pending a short holiday. 

Three quick things to register:

  • .dash's Chaika Casino at Theatre Souk is not to be missed - a fascinating piece, very inventively staged.  With a free pinball table and vodka, if you need any more inducements
  • Neil Young's Le Noise is at the top of my current playlist - review to follow.  In fine voice, with solo electric guitar, in a distinctive aural setting from Daniel Lanois (hence the punning title).
  • less convinced by a first listen to Sufjan Stevens' The Age of Adz.  The quirkiness has become ponderous, the melodies less accessible;  I was reminded at times of Rufus Wainwright, showing off - which isn't something to aim for.  Maybe it's a grower...
Thursday
Sep232010

News (miscellaneous)

See the review section for a great Old Crow Medicine Show gig yesterday. 

Today's cultural highlight was enduring the frustrations of an appalling internet booking system to get tickets for Robert Plant at the Roundhouse in the Electric Proms at the end of October.  Hope he plays 'Harm's Swift Way'...

And on Saturday we're off to Theatre Souk where .dash are providing the Nina Variations on a scene by Chekhov.

Sunday
Sep122010

Who's going to mark my time?

Songs can make us cry for many different reasons.  The reasons are often personal, evoking particular memories or associations from our past.  Over time songs become part of our lives, and their roots can twirl around some sensitive nerves.

But it seems special when a song bring tears to your eyes the first time you hear it.  How does that happen?

I was having breakfast this morning, reading the paper… secure in the knowledge that there was a solid door between the dog and my record collection…listening to Robert Plant’s new album Band of Joy, which has been deservedly collecting four and five star reviews.

Robert & co’s gorgeous cover of Townes Van Zandt’s 'Harm’s Swift Way' came on and my eyes were full before they hit the first chorus.  What was going on?

A number of things, I think.

It helps that these are wonderful performers, on fine form, in a congenial setting.  Robert Plant still has one of the great, and truly distinctive, rock voices, as well as a happy knack for assembling talented bands and giving them their head.  The combination of his control and power, Patty Griffin’s harmonies and Buddy Miller’s reverb-drenched guitar is hard to resist – the whole album has a sound that draws you in.

And Townes was a great writer, too, with a catalogue to die for – and there’s a pretty good case for saying that’s exactly what he did.  This song is an obscurity, written late in his life and not featuring on any of his official albums.  I hadn’t heard it before.  It’s a classic of his bruised-cowboy-loner-romantic persona:  unsurprising, but unequivocally right country chord changes, coupled with lyrics that are sometimes slightly clumsy and asking for an edit,  but mostly just smack you in the face with the raw reality of lives messed up and all too short:  

There is a home out of harm’s swift way

I set myself to find  

I swore to my love I would bring her there

Then I left my love behind...     

 

Oh me, oh my,  

Who's going to count my time?...

 

The road is past, tomorrow the sky

Between sometimes is blinding.    

Someday soon when I turn to cloud 

I will fly on her wings somehow…  

 

Oh me, oh my, 

Who's going to mark my time? 

Mortality is a key thread.  The skull beneath the skin, peeking out unexpectedly.  The stretch of our lives and their richness - as well as a reminder that, however long and rich they are, they have limits.

Led Zeppelin have a particular place in my affections.  In the summer of 1970, when I was thirteen, I was just getting to grips with the world of rock and its ‘sea of possibility’, as Patti Smith subsequently nailed it.  On a family holiday in distinctly untrendy Bude, North Cornwall, I was completely taken by a poster of theirs, despite never having heard the music.  A few months later I was a proud owner of the third album - and smitten as soon as the noise of the run-in groove translated into 'Immigrant Song'.  It lived up to the image, and had a great sleeve, as well.  Whatever else has come and gone , Zeppelin have always held a special place as the band who got hard rock unequivocally right and carried that constant potential to explode through into their tautly controlled acoustic songs.

So another factor here is how Robert Plant’s voice has been part of my and many others’ musical landscape for so long.  He rubs our noses in that longevity very nicely in a live recording of the current Band of Joy in Memphis, Tennessee a few weeks ago (which seems very readily available on the internet).  The name Band of Joy is a reprise of that of the group he and the late John Bonham had in the sixties (and for which, if you'll pardon the impossible-to-avoid diversion, Noddy Holder once roadied...).  So there is bound to be a slight air of memento mori about this incarnation, whatever the freshness and difference of the current band.  Robert Plant presses that button lightly but gloriously effectively as the band leave the stage after their last pre-encore number – a wonderful reinvention of 'Gallows Pole' from Zeppelin III – ‘See you in 43 years’, he says.

Suddenly, we're potholers, emerging from a narrow tunnel into an echoing underground chamber. It’s an insertion of depth and dimension in a medium whose default setting is the immediate and emphemeral.  But not in a way that evokes the dead hand and formaldehyde of ‘classic rock’:  this is the living, breathing stuff, not a museum piece. 

Give it a go and see how it strikes you.  As another great man once said:

Either I’m too sensitive

Or else I’m getting soft.

Tuesday
Sep072010

A development and a review

Well...confirmation today that I'll be leaving the 9 to 5 (or 7 to 7) next month.  So be prepared for more of this.

Meanwhile, a new addition in 'reviews'.

Sunday
Sep052010

Life's Rich Pageant (is safe in the rack...)

Record collectors know that life will mix some rough in with the smooth…that oh-so-audible scratch that was invisible before you handed over far too much  cash at the fair…the fondly remembered disc which proves, on reacquaintance, to be completely unlistenable (Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene, anyone?  I thought not.)...

    

...or assuming you’re buying a copy with the gatefold sleeve you recall and not thinking to check (Principal Edwards Magic Theatre’s Soundtrack ...

just ain’t the same without it)…

I could of course go on.

But there definitely are some smooths in there too.  Like eventually tracking down via eBay, in that renowned Krautrock hotspot of Land O’ Lakes, Florida, a lovely near-mint copy of Can’s Ege Bamyasi. And securing it for just $37.11.  (My previous copy, foolishly sold some 35 years ago for rather less, had come from a great secondhand record shop in Blackburn, and probably went back there.  I needed to keep things circulating then, buying and selling, to try to keep up with everything I wanted to hear – back in the days before downloading, with the buying power of my paper round wages stretched to breaking point and beyond…) 

Anyway, the postman brought the replacement on Thursday and it looked and sounded exactly as it should.  What a record:  Jaki Liebezeit’s extraordinary drumming;  Damo Suzuki shouting and moaning and pleading;  taut funk;  the luminous beauty of 'Sing Swan Song';  a pervasive self-confident and self-sufficient weirdness – fully confirmed by its title (apparently Turkish for ‘Aegean okra’) and the sleeve (what else? a close-up of an okra tin).  I’d had the CD for years and it is firmly lodged on my iPod.  But now I had it properly again.  Joy.

Yesterday was our labradoodle Douglas’s first birthday.  Labradoodles are renowned for being manic buffoons – entertaining, intelligent and friendly, but deeply daft.  We had confidently been telling people that  he was starting to settle down.  Doug’s previous triumphs included eating through our internet cable and  shredding a door mat.  He had form – but he did seem to be improving, we seemed able to trust him more…

I was having breakfast in the kitchen and realised Douglas was not in the room with me as he usually is.  Then I heard some strange noises and a rapid patter of paws in the living room.  I went to investigate. The dog had Ege Bamyasi in his mouth, worrying it like some animal prey whose last moments were imminent.  The cover was ripped apart, the black vinyl was between his teeth.  He seemed very happy.  I was not.  Anguish.  Existential hollowness.  Aaaaghhh. 

Eventually the roller coaster begins to ascend again.  Some sort of equilibrium returns to one’s soul.  I am listening to Ege Bamyasi as I write.  It actually plays pretty well.  Once the stylus has bounced over the tooth marks at the start of 'Pinch'.  The music is as good as ever, of course.  But I think I might have a look on eBay to see if I can get a better condition copy…