Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
So I’m sitting here in the shadow of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig listening (unusually for me) to Johann Sebastian Bach, chapel/choirmaster of St Thomas’s, on Spotify, absurdly selecting ‘tracks’ according to number of listens (Partita in B-flat major 2,764,917). And I’m writing this post 5 years and 1 day after I wrote my first Back to the Fatherland on first coming to the city where my dad was born, accompanied by my sons/his grandsons.
Here is that first post about how I found my grandparents’ house, which is just a few streets from here, the other side of the site of the burnt-down synagogue:
I came back in 2010 thanks to Documentary Campus/Doc Leipzig, the annual documentary film festival held largely at the MDR building just out of the city centre, just a short walk from the hospital where my dad was born. That’s why I’m back for the fifth time.
Here’s an account of my third (2013) visit during my sabbatical from Channel 4:
Last year I came with my older son who was making his first documentary (Scattergun – a life in four tattoos) as part of his A level in Applied Media. He was interested in listening in on the pitching sessions.
This year I’m solo again (like 2012 and 2013). I’ve been mentoring a documentary team making a film about renouncing vegetarianism. Last year I mentored a film about Super 8. This year I brought my own Kodak flipcam (off-spring of the Super 8) to make a little video of the trip.
I arrived in the autumnal late afternoon sun of Berlin Schoenefeld, got a taxi driven by a mad Turk to Sudkreuz (he miraculously got me there with 15 minutes to spare) and then the train to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. I had dinner with a bunch of the Documentary Campus folk in an ex-vinegar (Essig) factory. So no bitterness there, just celebration of The Documentary among a group of old pals including Elizabeth MacIntyre of Discovery Networks International, who is just leaving Documentary Campus to head up Sheffield DocFest, and Lena Pasanen, formerly of YLE, Finland, who is taking over Elizabeth’s role. I walked back, surprised at how well I could navigate the city at night.
So here I am in the shadow of the Thomaskirche as its bells chime midnight. By now I’m listening to Jacques Loussier playing Bach – sacrilege perhaps but sometimes a man just needs jazz.
I watched the last of the sun dive beneath the hazy hills from the end of Westminster Avenue. I was standing beside a sign saying End in black on a yellow square on the honk, otherwise known as a fat squarish diamond. I watched the last rays across the beach where 50 years ago this month Jim Morrison bumped into Ray Manzarek, sang him Moonlight Drive and lit the touchpaper of one of the great American bands.
“What about you, Jim, you working on anything?”
“Yeah, I’ve been writing some songs…”
I’d just been over for an end of day swim. As I walked back across the deep Venice Beach an LAPD chopper flew along the shoreline, cut square across the sand and then flew along the palm tree line along the back of the beach. The chopper, the tree line and the sudden sound of a plane landing brought to mind the perfect opening of Apocalypse Now to the strains of The Doors’ The End.
Wrapped in sandy towel I walked back up Westminster past #14, the apartment where Jim lived with his friend Dennis Jacobs in ’65. He ate at Derek’s and slept on the roof, where he also dropped acid, looking out to sea. So right now I’m living by chance, of all the streets in LA, on the same street as Jim.
Before my swim I went to get pizza for Enfant Terrible No. 2 who was feeling a bit rough. While I was waiting in the pizza place a fella commented on my T-shirt which says: “1977” in orange 70s text. “The year Elvis died” he said.” “A great year for music” I said “…except Elvis of course”, I added out of sensitivity. “Good for punk. Good for reggae too.” “This” he said “is the greatest reggae producer ever”, pulling out his phone and bringing up a number. “Can’t go back to Jamaica of course. Would get his head cut off.” He explained, in a way I struggled to catch, that he was some sort of agent or promoter or something. “That’s Easyrider”, pointing to a hippy-weird silver-haired bloke in the corner. The inspiration for the movie Easy Rider apparently. Dennis Hopper (of Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now fame) lived in Venice until his death in 2010. “Easyrider played in a band called Storm who opened for The Stones and all of them.” (I’ve just tried to find any signs of all that with a quick web search but to no avail.)
He told me about the formation of Led Zeppelin in conjunction with a singer called Terry Reid. His number was also in his phone. (That does check out on the web.) I asked him about Jim. “Oh yes, I know even more about them.” He pulled out the phone and showed me the number of Chris Morrison. “It’s his son. He’s in jail.” “I didn’t know he had a son – who’s the mother?” “Pamela Courson’s older sister’s best friend.” Apparently he was banging her all the time he was with Pam, she didn’t want him to acknowledge the kid, she took him away to Paris to that end, and she got him into heroin which she used but he never had. And he died there. (Chris checks out on the web.) The pizza arrived. I took my leave of Easyrider and James of Live Wire Rekords. (That kind of checks out on the web in a self-referencing kind of way.)
We first spotted that pizza place on a walk over to the Venice Canals earlier in the afternoon. Bobby Klein photographed The Doors there in 1967.
On the way back from our wander around the canals, the origins of Venice CA, reclaimed from a swamp in the early 20th century, we passed the revamped Jim mural by Rip Cronk. It was on a blue background when painted in 1991 but has recently been ‘restored’ against bright orange, ringed in a line of luminous green which met with severe disapproval from the car park attendant at the Muscle Beach car park below towering Jim. “They should paint it blue again, that’s all.” I agreed and walked on to the end of that back street, Speedway, where we came out on Westminster a few feet from the End.
Slight change of rules since I put together the best 75 LPs of all time on Long Players 7 years ago – no compilations rule still holds but I’m upping it from one to two titles max per artist/band (to allow for those with a long career which has seen substantial changes) – and I’m not sticking to 75, just as long as the list wants to go…
[I’ll also add in the best track off each album when I get round to it, in square brackets]
Beauty Stab – ABC
The Stars We Are – Marc Almond
Living in the Flood – Horace Andy (reggae LP for late night sessions)
The Last Waltz – The Band
Two Suns – Bat for Lashes
The White Album – The Beatles
Post – Bjork
Go Tell It on the Mountain – Blind Boys of Alabama
Plastic Letters – Blondie
Space Oddity – David Bowie
Love Bites – Buzzcocks
Push the Sky Away – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
The Clash – The Clash
London Calling – The Clash
* A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
If I Could Only Remember My Name – David Crosby
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me – The Cure
* Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
Don’t Stand Me Down – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
One Day I’m Going to Soar – Dexys
Hot August Night – Neil Diamond
The Doors – The Doors
The Soft Parade – The Doors
Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan
Slow Train Coming – Bob Dylan
Ocean Rain – Echo & The Bunnymen
The Nightfly – Donald Fagen
Tiger in the Rain – Michael Franks
* Stay Human – Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Score – The Fugees
So – Peter Gabriel
L’Histoire de Melody Nelson – Serge Gainsbourg
* What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Flesh – David Gray
Guys & Dolls movie ST
Passenger – Lisa Hannigan
To Be Continued – Isaac Hayes
Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix
Come get it I got it – David Holmes
Gentlemen Take Polaroids – Japan
The Melody at Night, With You – Keith Jarrett
Praise & Blame – Tom Jones (gets to his essence)
Tapestry – Carol King
The Miseducation of – Lauryn Hill
Yarona – Abdullah Ibrahim trio
All Mod Cons – The Jam
Jesus Christ Superstar
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
On Song – Brian Kennedy
Steps in Time – King (a guilty pleasure with DMs)
Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Imagine – John Lennon
Cinquieme As – MC Solaar
Candy McKenzie – Candy McKenzie (a Lee Scratch Perry Black Ark LP from 1977 that got lost somehow)
The Snake – Shane MacGowan & the Popes
Madness – Madness
Correct Use of Soap – Magazine
Exodus – Bob Marley & the Wailers
* Solid Air – John Martyn
Glorious Fool – John Martyn
New World Order – Curtis Mayfield
Sings Big Blues – Little Milton
Monk’s Dream – Thelonius Monk quartet
* Poetic Champions Compose – Van Morrison
A Night in San Francisco – Van Morrison
Blues and the Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson
Tribute – John Newman
Nevermind – Nirvana
Throw Down Yours Arms – Sinead O’Connor
Meddle – Pink Floyd
Water – Gregory Porter
Dummy – Portishead
Metal Box – Public Image Ltd (in the metal box)
O – Damien Rice
Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
England’s Newest Hitmakers – The Rolling Stones
Diana – Diana Ross
Stranded – Roxy Music
Rumblefish OST (Stewart Copeland)
The Crack – The Ruts
WomanChild – Cecile Mclorin Salvant
Abraxas – Sanata
Gymnopedies – Eric Satie
Beyond Skin – Nitin Sawhney
Bring ‘Em All In – Mike Scott
Never Mind the Bollocks – The Sex Pistols
* Songs for Swinging Lovers – Frank Sinatra
The Scream – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Six Days in June
Easter – Patti Smith
The Specials – The Specials
* The Rising – Bruce Springsteen
We’ll Never Turn Back – Mavis Staples
Tea for the Tillerman – Cat Stevens
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian
* Remain in the Light – Talking Heads
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor
Kilimanjaro – The Teardrop Explodes
Soul Mining – The The
Quick Step & Side Kick – Thompson Twins
Power in the Darkness – Tom Robinson Band
Under Milk Wood – Stan Tracey
Joshua Tree – U2
Signing Off – UB40
Hand on the Torch – US3
Live in Leeds – The Who
Rhythm & Sound – With the artists (a reggae gem from unlikely quarters)
West Side Story movie soundtrack
Talking Book – Stevie Wonder
Harvest – Neil Young
* Road to Freedom – The Young Disciples
Hot Rats – Frank Zappa
I’ve been thinking about updating some of the lists that punctuate this blog (usually around Christmas when I’ve got a bit of time on my hands and am in a playful as well as reflective mood) so I’ve gathered a few here by way of preparation…
Blasts from the Pasts (musicians)
Doing the Box 1 (singles)
I’m thinking of doing next a Best Movies list and revisting Best Songs.
I just came home to this note from Enfant Terrible No. 1. It indicates that his Catholic education stuck to some degree, however little time he has for formal religion. It’s also a sign that his Music Education stuck to some degree because it refers to the borrowing without express permission of the paternal CDs (ranging from Curtis Mayfield to Siouxsie & The Banshees) in order to flesh out a newly broadened music collection. For nearly a decade we had wall-to-wall rap and then suddenly the dam has burst and The Enlightenment has flowed.
The beginnings of this are documented below in Passing the Baton.
I want to pick up the thread this day last week on Father’s Day, as good a one as ever occurred.
I get up relatively early (for a Sunday) to take said Enfant Terrible to his weekend job, teaching little kids rugby at a local school (the school where The Kinks went back in the golden era). Before leaving he handed me this home-made card:
Inside are written the wondrous words: “continue to musically educate us”. In the meantime from The Cure to The Doors, from Diana Ross to The Boss, they’re working their way through the goldmine.
Once back to the house I go for a run in St Pancras & Islington Cemetery (do your jogging or you’ll end up in here), listening to Inheritance Tracks from Radio 4. Here are mine from 3 years ago, but I think de facto at this point the one I’ve bequeathed may be Sympathy for the Devil. I was listening to the lyrics the other day while watching Crossfire Hurricane with Enfant Terrible No. 2 and they really are brilliantly epic for a young man of Jagger’s then age.
When I get back from my run I clean the bird shit off the car and pick up all the litter on Maurice’s allotment beside my house (Maurice is rarely able to get here any more due to old age taking its toll and Luis, the Portuguese fella who looks after the massive plot for Maurice, just doesn’t get the idea of litter/rubbish – it’s a cultural thing, either OK for possible recycling or weirdly invisible.) So a couple of physical activities for the greater good, always feels good. The original Forgive-Me-Father was a great advocate of service as the path to happiness.
In the afternoon we went down to our annual local festival, the East Finchley Community Festival in Cherry Tree Woods. I did a short stint on the stall of The Phoenix Cinema, where I am a trustee. Little kids were drawing discs to use in a Zoetrope type device, watching their work back as animation. The rest of the time I was mainly by the main music stage where the highlight for me was a bunch of geezers of my vintage playing tracks from my music collection, as raided above, like Song from Under the Floorboards and something by Talking Heads which now escapes my silver-fox vintage memory.
While I was sitting there the solution to a mystery came in over the airwaves. I’d bought a vinyl copy of Born to Run at Alan’s the day before. On the cover was a name that looked more like a signature than a name written to assert ownership of the record.
I whacked this photo online and drew it to the attention of my best man, a Springsteen veteran and connoisseur – he took 9 minutes to work out whose signature it was (he had a book signed by the same person) – it was Eric Meola, the photographer of the famously stark no-nonsense black&white Born to Run cover. So not a bad acquisition for £7. I told Alan the story on my way home from the festival on this beautiful summer evening and he shared the piquant addendum that the copy had come from the collection of singer Paul Young (of Q-Tips, Band Aid and solo fame).
In the evening the ETs gave me my Father’s Day present, a subscription to Spotify on which was prepared a playlist called ‘The Enlightenment’ consisting of loads of songs I’d shared with them over the years which they now really appreciated. It was clearly the product of many hours work, including the use of Shazaam to identify unnamed tracks I had put on early birthday compilation cassettes for them.
We went up to Highgate for dinner together, unbooked and last minute as I prefer. It was chilled, great larks. On our return we set up a collaborative playlist called ‘3-way Music Education’…
I had the great honour and pleasure of explaining to Enfant Terrible No. 2 this afternoon how a record player works – and indeed how a record works. “So if you turn it over are there more songs on the other side?”
It reminded me of the time the four of us were in the car listening to a Sherlock Holmes story and I had to pause the tape to explain what a ‘typewriter’ was, as the mystery revolved around a typewriter with a dodgy E.
So I walked down to Alan’s record shop on our high street with the ETs and No. 2 bought his very first piece of vinyl, a Rolling Stones (later) hits LP – he was after the track Wild Horses. He asked me to show him how to play it in the shop. I demoed on the knackered old deck. “So the lines are different songs?”
I showed him how to check the record for blemishes, how to handle the disc, how to check the weight/thickness.
It’s interesting how they came to this place, to the point of being introduced to Alan as customers after one and a half decades of just being local kids. After years of wall-to-wall rap the younger one recently got into reggae, then Dylan and The Stones; the older one into The Doors and Dylan. When Snoop Dogg put out a reggae album as Snoop Lion he provided the bridge for ET2 into the rasta world. And Yelawolf’s Nashville connections prompted thoughts in the head of ET1 of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. After years of Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa how amazing to get a text saying: “Just been listening to Bob Dylan’s song ‘Hurricane’ – the man’s a genius”.
What’s also interesting to see is how all the musical education/indoctrination did actually get in and get noticed. I used to make them tapes for their birthdays based on what they were interested in – so at 4 for example it was cops, robbers and superheroes – cue Police & Thieves, The Batman theme (The Jam), etc. Now tunes like Riders on the Storm (from the cowboys & Indians phase) are resurfacing in their consciousness.
This afternoon’s lads’ trip down the road was a real landmark and a deep pleasure.
Today’s first day for me at DocFest 2015 has been dominated by music which is at it should be in the home of Joe Cocker, Comsat Angels, Heaven 17 and The Human League. I headed North in time to chair a lunchtime session in the uber-Victorian town hall on the current state of play of music films and rock docs. We had something of a supergroup on the panel, the Cream of the cream, including:
- Brett Morgen, director of Cobain: Montage of Heck and the Stones documentary Crossfire Hurricane
- Paul Viragh, writer of the Ian Dury movie Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll
- Jessica Edwards, director of Mavis, a new documentary about Mavis Staples
- Julia Nottingham, producer of the surprisingly romantic The Possibilities Are Endless about Edwyn Collins and his wife, representing Pulse Films who made my favourite film (scripted or unscripted) of last year, Film4’s 20,000 Days on Earth, featuring Nick Cave
- Chris Wilson, producer of Hotel California, centred on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and the rest of the 70s Laurel Canyon set
We covered a fair bit of ground including the reimagining of music docs in the form of films like Pulse’s The Possibilities Are Endless; Brett’s technique of cutting and designing the audio track first (particularly evident in his The Kid Stays In The Picture film about Robert Evans); films inspired by magical live experiences and made by fans; the commonalities between scripted drama about musicians and music docs; the opportunities in theatrical releases with a cinematic approach versus those in TV.
I had a good chat with Brett and Chris outside a cafe in the afternoon about music and film geekery from 12 Years a Slave (Brett went to film school in New York with Steve McQueen and thought there was a massive leap forward from Shame to 12 Years) to Fiddler on the Roof.
Paul, Chris and Brett plus Leslie Lee who produced our session wended our way to a slightly bizarre karaoke bar to watch the Champions League final at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin before heading over to the Showroom cinema to watch the Cobain film nice&loud.
My favourite scene is when Kurt plays the master tape of Nevermind to his mother and she realises the implications of how scarily brilliant it is and tries to warn him.
What the Cobain film leaves me with are these keys to Kurt’s life:
- fear of humiliation
- sense of shame
- love of playing live
Yesterday Christies in New York sold the manuscript and notes for Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit ‘American Pie’ for $1.2M. It’s a view back from the perspective of 1971 over the 60s and 50s to an age of innocence represented by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The lyrics have a reputation for being impenetrable and rich in sub-text, though it is easy to spot Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Janis Joplin et al as he takes us through from his 12 year old self mourning the loss of Buddy Holly and co. in a tragic plane crash in 1959 through to a jaded, nostalgic 24 year old surveying the wreckage of the Hippy era. When asked what it means McLean’s favourite answer is: “It means I never have to work again.”
I went back this evening to check whether the song is as irritating as I remember. It is. The description of “bubblegum Dylan” is not far off (I think the phrase is Alexis Petridis’s). But the song’s sale and the fact it is trying to capture the meaning of a particular point in music history makes it a good springboard for a project that’s been brewing up in me for quite some time.
Over a couple of years I kept noticing that a number of classic records were recorded in 1971. After a while it seemed more than just coincidence. And as the 1971 records gathered I noticed that in many ways they seemed to represent the essence of the 60s/Hippy era even though they were a couple of years late numerically. How come the 60s seemed to climax in 1971? What was special about that year?
I went back to look and picked out 10 records that seem crucial to that year, and then one track on each that gets to the heart of the record. I’m planning to do a post about each of them in the wake of this intro. So first up will be ‘Natural Woman’ by Carole King from ‘Tapestry’…
A message from
James Rhodes, pianist & campaigner for music education
19 Mar 2015
We have had our first campaign success with Don’t Stop the Music – and it couldn’t have been done without your tireless campaigning.
Ofsted have agreed to include a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ in their inspections of schools.
This is great news! It is the first step in helping ensure that children have access to a proper music education. It could not have been done without your support.
And on Tuesday night, I got to speak in parliament to members of the House of Lords and House of Commons about our concerns and what we need to do to protect music for future generations.
I had the opportunity to discuss our findings from the initial stages of Don’t Stop the Music; findings that gave me sleepless nights. Music education is in desperate need of support from the Government, and with May’s election fast approaching I need your help to make sure music education is not forgotten in the next Parliament.
We need consistent funding, not a post code lottery, opportunities for children to progress beyond their first musical experiences, more action from Ofsted, a trained teacher in every school, and school accountability measures (league tables and the like) which value music properly.
What I am asking your help with now, is making our voice as strong as possible.
If we have 100,000 people signed up to this campaign by the start of May, we will be able to make sure music education is not side-lined by a future Government.
So I am asking for your help, once again, to ensure more children have the opportunity to play musical instruments – please forward this message to your friends, put the petition link on Twitter and Facebook and get as many people as possible to sign up to the campaign
Thank you, thank you and thank you again.
Sign the petition here (it takes literally a minute)
Here’s a brief video summary of the Channel 4 multiplatform / transmedia project- Don’t Stop the Music featuring concert pianist James Rhodes – whose nomination for an International Digital Emmy was announced this week in New York. It is one of 4 nominees in the Non-Fiction category, one of 12 nominees in total.
Here’s what the warehouse looked like where the 7,000 instruments were gathered in their journey from people’s attics to 150 primary schools across the UK. Entering this warehouse and seeing this sight was one of the highlights of my career.