Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
It’s been some week – three significant losses to the world. On Tuesday 3rd I had a previously reported session with The Box. One of the 45s that came up was a copy of Free Nelson Mandela by Amy Winehouse, given me by my friend Farrah. An unusual live recording, very very good but the record itself is strange, no label either side, pressed in a dull golden coloured vinyl. My friend and backgammon partner, Stuart, asked whether I’d heard how Mandela was now getting on and I said more of the same as far as I knew, in recovery to some extent. 2 days later Mandela suddenly passed on. Reflecting on his life, the predominant qualities for me were his peace and calm, focus and joy. This last in the sense that he seemed to take genuine pleasure in everything from winning the Rugby World Cup to dancing to meeting everyday people.
That same Box session had begun with a tribute spin of Police and Thieves (both as performed by The Clash and Junior Murvin) to mark the passage of Junior Murvin that day to The Big Dance.
Then two days ago I hear that Stan Tracey has moved on up to The Big Gig. I went to the excellent Edinburgh Jazz Festival this summer and my main mission was to see Bobby Wellins, who made Under Milk Wood with Stan Tracey. One of my favourite posts in Simple Pleasures part 4 is the one from St Patrick’s Day 2007 about the sublime Tracey & Wellins track Starless and Bible Black. At that performance in Edinburgh it turned out Stan Tracey was feeling unwell and couldn’t perform. I kept the notice as a souvenir. The same thing happened to me a few years earlier with Alice Coltrane – I had the ticket on my shelf but she died in the interim so I never got to see her perform. Likewise seeing Stan was not to be. That track, Starless and Bible Black, is genuinely one of the all-time greats.
So three huge losses to humanity this week, to which we can only respond by counting our lucky stars that they were ever in our lives.
I started Day 67 on non-book business in Marylebone to do with my main non-exec directorship – it was a nice change to be immersed in a thoroughly commercial world. I moseyed on though Mayfair in the direction of BAFTA in Piccadilly and briefly immersed myself in the art world courtesy of the Halcyon Gallery which has a big show of Bob Dylan’s iron sculptures and paintings which was fun. Once I got to BAFTA I dived back in to the Music chapter happily. Bumped into a couple of people who were helpful in making connections to interviewees (both for Music chapter). And set up some more interviews. Wandered across St James’s and through the dark park to Channel 4 HQ for Xmas drinks, my first visit to the building in several weeks, only my second since 1st September kick-off day, refreshing.
Day 68 began in the British Library with more tapping away about Tony Wilson. Had a lovely lunch round the corner in St Chad’s Place with Jesse Cleverly of the newly established Wildseed Studios, which he describes as “a content incubator looking to invest in great new ideas”. We talked Book, multiplatform, Royal Court (where he used to work), Nigella, creative process, etc.
Then bee-line home for more writing and to speak to the other protagonist of my Music chapter – Terri Hooley of Good Vibrations. He was totally charming and warm, and I really look forward to heading over to Belfast to hang with him in the next few days. He offered me a tour of Van’s East Belfast which will be a real kick.
And the day ends here in the Adam & Eve on Mill Hill’s Ridgeway – as much my home turf as Cyprus Avenue is Van’s. I’ve got mulled wine, crisps, seat by fire, Sinatra on the pub stereo, and my fresh little Air. Happy days.
Had a lovely Box and Backgammon session with my Best Man, Stuart, this evening. Opened proceedings with a non-Box record in the shape of The Clash’s first LP to mark the passing of Junior Murvin with the obvious but no less wonderful Police and Thieves. He wasn’t so keen on The Clash’s amphetamine cover but I am, and I wasn’t sure I could dig out the original single from my somewhat chaotic singles collection, bits of alphabetical order but not in sequence. As it was it turned out to be with some M records, after drawing a blank among the Js. Sweet voice, lovely swing to the tune.
One of my proudest moments as a father was when Enfant Terrible No. 1, aged three, accompanied me to the hairdresser as was his wont. Police & Thieves came on the sound system and after just three notes I asked: What’s that? Quick as a flash he answered: Police & Thieves. The staff couldn’t believe it. But he had had his first birthday mix tape that year and the songs were all about things he was interested in like Cowboys, Indians, Cops & Robbers.
I once wrote an art review for a paper Stuart and I worked on entitled From Genesis to Revelations – can’t remember what the theme or exhibition was any more but the title came straight from this song and was perfect in the context.
From Genesis to Revelations,
What the next generation will be, hear me
Lee Perry produced Junior Murvin’s signature track. I played a track by The Orb with Scratch on it this evening from The Box (courtesy of my friend Sarah Haque of Urban Species) – I’d played an EP just before which was at 33 RPM and forgot to change back to 45 …but the track sounded great (including Perry’s voice) which just goes to show how magical music is and I hope Junior is having a magical time at the Big Dance.
This morning did an interesting Allen Ginsberg-related interview with Kathelin Gray, a close associate of William Burroughs who crossed paths with Ginsberg on a regular basis, initially on the hippy scene in her home city of San Francisco and later in New York in the Lower East Side playground of Ginsberg’s circles. She has impeccable Beat credentials in that her mother was a close friend of Carolyn Cassady and she remembers being bounced on the knee of the elegant blonde. She works across a range of disciplines including producing, writing, directing and curating. She produced a documentary featuring Free Jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and indeed there’s an Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny track named after her. She consulted for ECM in the 80s (who have been on my radar for Music case studies) and was involved recently in Godfrey Reggio’s latest film, Visitors, with a soundtrack by Philip Glass (who collaborated with Reggio on the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy and of course collaborated with Ginsberg).
We met at BAFTA (good to be using my membership a bit more during this time) and talked first about Ginsberg and then about Kathelin’s broad-ranging work. We spoke about her involvement in Biosphere 2, a closed ecological system experiment in Arizona, and her current focus, a project based on the Research Vessel Heraclitus, a 25-metre Chinese junk. Since 1975 its multicultural crew of explorers and artists has sailed the vessel over 270,000 miles, in every sea except the Arctic. The current three year expedition is to study the changing port cultures of the Mediterranean. I could do with a bit of Med myself right now under these grey skies.
In the afternoon I wrestled a bit with the Tony Wilson chapter which has reached a treacly bit. I’ll just have to persist and keep writing til I get out the other side…
By way of consolation prize, I popped downstairs to Hatchards and bought myself a signed copy of Robert Harris’ latest novel about the Dreyfus Affair to read as my down-time book over the holidays.
Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
[Baudelaire, Spleen - Les Fleurs du Mal]
Last night Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera played the whole of their 1983 debut LP High Land, Hard Rain at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. At one point he mentioned their break-through gig in Paisley when they opened for Teardrop Explodes. The reference point was that it was the day Ian Curtis’ death was announced. He made it clear that across three decades it remains a landmark moment in the youth and musical lives of a generation.
Doubling up to six decades and we get who stole the show to some extent last night. Frame’s yellow-gold 1953 Gibson 295 ‘Scotty Moore’ guitar. I don’t know anything about guitars but I do know it sounded sweet and distinctive (worthy of the Scotty Moore name) and it looked beautiful to boot. The last time I wrote about a particular guitar in Simple Pleasures pt 4 (back in 2010), The Man with the Boo Guitar, it was Boo Hewerdine’s guitar and the maker, Alister Atkin down in Canterbury, kindly got in touch via comments.
Anyway, Day 64 was immersed once Moore in the world of Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson, Factory Records and Joy Division, key inspirers of the likes of young Roddy Frame, a 15 year old in an East Kilbride bedroom, intent on mixing the Manchester sound with The Clash and Wes Montgomery to come up with a fresh new vibe, which he brought down to London half-way through creating High Land (named after a street in Acton) to a soul-mate of Factory in the shape of Rough Trade records.
In terms of writing process I felt at a fork on this chapter in that I could continue going with the flow of my thoughts and store of research-based memories which is free-wheelin’ but risks losing control, or work my way now steadily through the research notes and integrate them into the emerging structure (which is largely how the Paul Arden chapter was written and yielded a perfectly good structure in the end). I decided to take the High Road of the free-flow and trust its own building logic and form will take it in a course which ultimately works.
Rounded off the week with a delightful phone conversation with Rosebud Pettet, a long-time, close friend of Allen Ginsberg, who lived with and beside him for over quarter of a century on&off. She was at his bedside when he passed on to the great poem in the sky and wrote a story about that experience which she shared with the likes of Patti Smith, Francesco Clemente and Philip Glass as well as Allen’s brother Eugene and partner Peter Orlovsky. She gave some beautiful insights into life with Allen from their meeting in the 60s when she was a teenager to his final years when he finally moved out of the building they had shared on the Lower East Side for yonks.
At one point in her travels Rose lived in London (not three miles from my end of the call) and at another point she was in Christiania in Copenhagen where I was last week.
I began the day back in the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood researching Sylvia Beach and her relationship with Joyce, with whom she was very close and supportive, not just around the publication of Ulysses but in his Parisian family life too.
In the afternoon I wrote about the legendary 4th June 1976 Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, attended by some 35 people and yet which inspired a great blossoming of music from Manchester including Joy Division and The Fall and their knock-on effects. It’s a good way into exploring the interface of truth and mythology around Tony Wilson, Factory and the Manchester scene of that golden era.
All week I’ve been trying to get in touch with a lead singer from another great band of the time to interview, wracking my brains about who I know who would have worked with him in recent times. Was drawing blanks from that line of inquiry until I was standing at the bread bit of the local supermarket during the weekend when I turned around and there he was. Singer of one of the great singles of all time and a landmark of punk, both of us loaves in hand, both in our silver fox period, face to face over a basket of family shopping. The world works in mysterious ways…
Day got off to a slow start with domestic stuff intruding. The upside was a good chat over lunch at our local favourite with Enfant Terrible No. 1. Putting me in a relaxed frame of mind to kick off the Actual Writing of the Music chapter along the lines that came to me walking down to lunch. I’d been struggling to find the emblematic scene (with which each chapter opens) for Tony Wilson. What finally came to mind was the legendary writing contract in blood scene immortalised in 24 Hour Party People (brought to you by the FineFolk at FilmFour) when Wilson and Joy Division formalise their relationship in a pub one afternoon. I came up with the notion of writing the scene in 3 takes. 1 as captured in the movie. 2 and 3 as told elsewhere by Tony Wilson. Each varies in detail and substance thus capturing the mythologising, self-mythologising and post-rationalisation integral to Wilson and his story. I read it back to Enfant Terrible No. 1 and he liked it.
Then I headed off with Femme Fatale No. 1 to see David and Tom Kelley, founders of IDEO, discuss their new co-written book Creative Confidence at the new Royal Academy buildings beside Burlington Arcade (the old Museum of Mankind, formerly part of the University of London which a distant relative of mine was involved in establishing, a factoid that emerged during a bout of family history research earlier this year). Tom kindly offered to write a blurb for the book (subject to his liking it of course).
New week, new chapter. After a lot of focus on the Literature/Ginsberg chapter last week, I felt the need to strike out into new territory so dived into the 24 Hour Party world of Tony Wilson and Factory Records. Where myth begins and reality ends needs a good deal of attention, and in clarifying that I hope to reaffirm that for all the ‘prat’s, ‘cunt’s, ‘wanker’s that were lobbed his way, his enthusiasm, energy and commitment to the music, creativity and city were a significant contribution. I put together the chapter outline around the principle of Being Your True Self whether that’s as an individual creative, a city or an emerging talent from the regions.
Tidying up loose ends from last week I spend some time corresponding with some friends of Ginsberg in New York and his very helpful estate. I rounded off the emailing session by venturing into new realms and contacting a music impresario from Northern Ireland whom I want to interview for this new chapter. All being well, an interviews trip to Belfast will be needed next month.
At lunchtime I sat down to watch Grant Gee’s (no relation) film about Joy Division to get me in the mood. I had a chat with Grant in a lift last week in Copenhagen where he was pitching a film about Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. He’s also made a documentary about WG Sebald which I’d love to catch (I couldn’t make the screening they did in Aldeburgh on its release much though I would have loved to – Rings of Saturn sits on the Shelf of Honour). I hope to catch up with Grant in the next few weeks at his South coast base (when I’ll also visit Oisin Lunny, who I had the pleasure of meeting on the Subterranean Homesick Blues morning). So the film got me suitably fired up, reminding me of the one time I saw Joy Division live at the Lyceum (a few hundred yards from the Subterranean Homesick Blues cul de sac).
So I got back to the typewriter-substitute, whacked on Atmosphere, and began sketching out the new chapter. One thing I learnt during the afternoon that I hadn’t known was that the band themselves found the source image for the cover of Unknown Pleasures and gave it to Pete Saville to work with. They got it from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy of all places. It now deserves a place in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Creative Alchemy.
Some web research in the morning (a surprisingly minor part of my activity so far) starting with the transcript of an exchange between Brian Eno, who I was considering as a candidate for the Music chapter, and Grayson Perry which touches on the subject of sharing, so I can use it a little bit in the Jeremy Deller case-study. Then some video including a reading by Hettie Jones in memory of Ginsberg with a spirited performance of a powerful Ginsberg poem/song on death, punctuated with the word “bone” [Broken Bone Blues].
Felt a sudden need for a haircut (as one does) so headed up to Drury Lane to lose the fro. Stopped by Forbidden Planet on the way over to my interview to pick up some comics for Enfant Terrible No. 2 who has recently become really taken by them (so fond memories of child&teenagehood triggered). A quick pitstop at Fopp to pick up some electric blues and jazz as compensation for not finding the Nick Lowe LP I was after. Then over to the Union Club in Greek Street to meet my interviewee for the afternoon.
I found myself in the same warm red room as I had been in four weeks to the day earlier for the cast&crew party for HealthFreaks (of which Episode 4 went out shortly after this interview). The open fire and picture-lined walls gave it a womb-like coziness on a dreary November day.
With the room to ourselves bar the occasional crashing through of a waitress, I interviewed Mike McCarthy about his time working with Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. He also lived with Joan and Gerry Raffles in Blackheath during that time in the mid-70s. He worked mainly with the local kids on the wasteland in front of the theatre, arriving as a fresh-faced Northern drama school graduate and leaving as a producer, moving off into the world with his stage adaptation of Planet of the Apes (damn him all to hell for having such a great idea).
Rounded off the day after hours with a phone interview with Steven Lock in Co. Wicklow, Ireland. He kindly approached me through this blog to offer an interview about Tony Wilson whom he produced at Granada in the 80s. I met Steven and his producer wife in Dublin a few years ago – when doing a speaking gig and when trying to set up a pan-Ireland talent development operation respectively. He gave a really good sense of what working with Wilson was wike (Ws weally wock). Steven’s own recent story is equally fascinating – he has set up an agricultural service (Grassometer) in the wake of filming a load of Irish farmers for a TV series and has hooked up with one of Apple’s original designers (Jerry Manock) to deliver the service via app (it’s to do with measuring grass volumes) – just the kind of chain of connections When Sparks Fly revels in, brought about by spotting an opportunity, seizing subsequent funding opportunities, and reaching out to fellow talent.
Broken bones O Lord
I’ll give my house away
Broken bones O God
It was never mine anyway
Broken bones O Buddha
Take my skull today
Or take back my skull someday