Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Three Days a Week


Eight Days A Week

Eight Days a Week

Day 2: Liverpool


So I’m sitting in front of Liverpool Town Hall in the Indian summer afternoon sunshine. I’m discussing a documentary with a Scouse film-maker, the protagonist of the film and the cameraman. We’ve just arrived, the beers have just landed and out of the open balcony door of the Town Hall tumble the strains of Let It Be. Then more Beatles. Then a female singer doing covers of their songs. I couldn’t have scripted or timed it any better. My fantasy Liverpool afternoon. After the meeting I trotted down the street to the Odeon for the world premiere of the Beatles documentary, Eight Days A Week, put together by Ron Howard. The red (actually blue) carpet shenanigans were broadcast live from Leicester Square to this and other cinemas around the country and beyond, including the arrival of Paul and Ringo. Where better to watch it than in Beatlesville. The moment and song that punched out was when John composed Help. It stood out as the point when their song-writing went up a gear or three.


Day 1: Sheffield


Spent the day working with an indie producer in Sheffield – which was fun. After we wrapped for the afternoon, I headed into the city centre from the atmospheric, leafy burbs. In the golden early evening sunlight surveyed the city’s excellent array of street art, not least the excellent work of Rocket01.


After a fine Mexican beano, hung out chatting in the Peace Gardens with their monumental fountain portals and all-round perfect mix of water, stone and grass. I’m usually in the city for DocFest in the summer so it was good to see it under other circumstances. It has some of the finest regeneration in the country, with a brilliant passage from the station up to the Peace Gardens. The blade sculpture bordering the station with a thin layer of water flowing over the gigantic knife-edge of shining steel. The tower of the university bearing a poem by Andrew Motion about standing looking at the tower of the university. The art deco Showroom cinema. The art deco Library and (Graves) Gallery. The wooden ribs and hothouse glass of the Winter Gardens. The Victorian Town Hall, sheltering the Peace Gardens.


Day 2: Sheffield


Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry

Began the day at a working breakfast with a Sheffield-based film producer who is a very nice guy. Then a quick visit to the Graves Gallery to look at the hidden treasure that is their permanent collection. Catching my eye this time: Christ Carrying the Cross attributed to Luis de Morales (late C16), a prematurely aged, weary Jesus, right beside a striking painting of a man holding a skull, a dark momento mori where the difference between the head and skull is marginal; The Hours by Burne-Jones, six ladies representing the sweep of the day, their dress ranging from dawn blue to late afternoon russet and back to night-time blue-black; a Paul Nash landscape, an Auerbach cityscape of Mornington Crescent; Sam Taylor-Wood suspended from the ceiling (flashback to young John Lennon); a portrait of Edith Sitwell and her languorous hands – one of the best galleries in the land.

Then the train to Liverpool across the Peak valleys bathed in Indian summer gold.

Day 3: Sheffield

Rain after the early hours thunder, making the work at Roco (a new creative co-operative space) all the cosier. A good creative session, inducing headache in the journey to a possible break-through, wrestling with knotty problems between cups of tea. A burst of sun as we left to mark the conclusion in grand style.


“So we sailed on to the sun”

The Beatles – Yellow Submarine



Dream of Life


Patti Smith: Dream of Life

I met Patti Smith one time – it was in St Luke’s Church near Old Street roundabout after an intimate gig of hers. We talked briefly about Rimbaud and the time he spent in Camden Town with Verlaine. Rimbaud of course features in a scene of the ten-years-in-the-making poetic hotchpotch of a film that is Steve Sebring’s documentary ‘Patti Smith: Dream of Life’ which I saw on the big screen this afternoon at the Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End thanks to Doc n’ Roll.


On Rimbaud’s toilet

I went with my old friend, film-maker and teacher Roddy Gibson. We went to see Patti in 2007 at The Roundhouse where she did a wonderful gig centred on her album ‘Twelve’. I’ve probably seen her play live around ten times, always in London, from the Union Chapel to St Giles-in-the-fields by Denmark Street – and even in one or two places that weren’t churches.


Patti Smith & photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

The best moment of the film for me was when she, without warning, pours out from an exotic urn Robert Mapplethorpe’s ashes into her hand, explaining the texture, that it’s not like normal ashes or dust. Their connection is a fascinating one, not least as it overlapped with her intense marriage to Fred Sonic Smith.

Her smile which punctuates the film is another thing that stays with you.

I liked the moment when she meets Jesse Jackson at an anti-war demo, as it struck me that he bears the names of both her children – Jesse is the daughter (on piano), Jackson the son (on guitar).


Patti Smith & Allen Ginsberg

The presence of Allen Ginsberg in the film really resonated for me. I have been writing about him in recent times – here’s an extract. His poetry, in my experience, has the marvellous effect of inspiring the reader to write poetry. Patti is clearly a descendent of his, and that they were friends is inevitable. Blake, Corso, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Burroughs are all present in the film as a constellation at the centre of a particular cultural universe – one that really sings to me.

The line that punched out for me was where Patti asserts that we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it. As I watch my 19 year old wrestle with the shape of his identity and life mission it’s a salutary reminder to tread softly as someone lays their dreams at your feet, to be careful not to crush nascent ambitions or visions, to enable them to use their singular voice and realise their dreams of life.


With 1930s guitar given her by playwright Sam Shepherd in the 70s

My mission is to communicate, to wake people up – it’s to give them my energy and accept theirs. We’re all in it together, and I respond emotionally as a worker, a mother, an artist, a human being …with a voice. We all have a voice. We have the responsibility to exercise it, to use it.


Frida Smith

There seems to be a connection


Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe

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Frida Kahlo meets Patti Smith


Patti meets Frida (Wave)

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Frida as Odalisque

1978 in Music

I wrote about 1971 as the key year in music this time last year and this week David Hepworth has released a book on exactly the same theme. I started thinking about this in 2013 when I had a discussion at BAFTA with Malcolm Garrett, designer of the covers of Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (referred to below) – Malcolm argued for 1970. Today my friend & best man Stuart Rubenstein proposed 1978 as an alternative. I don’t really buy it as the most significant year but it was a landmark, dynamic one.

Here are a dozen of the LPs that got my blood racing that pivotal year of my youth and I write this listening to Stuart’s 1978 playlist.

1978 was the year I fully got the punk bug thanks to Buzzcocks who released 2 great LPs during those palpitating 12 months. So in no particular order:


(1) Give Em Enough Rope – The Clash

I trudged through the snow to Loppylugs in Edgware to buy this. I saw the tour at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town with Mikey Dread and Joe Ely supporting, one of the greatest gigs of my life.


(2) The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees

Was transfixed by this band, not least the track Switch. Saw them at Hammersmith Odeon and the Music Machine in Mornington Crescent around this time.


(3) Another Music in a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks

Got this as a Christmas present (at my own request) from someone I didn’t much like. The single from it (which I got first from Smiths in Chichester), What Do I Get, was what opened me up to Punk. The sleeve design was really striking with its silver and fluorescent orange. It was a kick years later to meet its super-talented designer Malcolm Garrett through work. My copy now bears his signature.


(4) Easter – Patti Smith

I was transfixed by the hairy armpit in the cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.


(5) Plastic Letters – Blondie

I had a crush on Debbie Harry as Debbie had on Denis. I saw them for my 2nd ever gig at Hammersmith Odeon, as well as outside their record label, Chrysalis, near Bond Street.


(6) Stage – David Bowie

One of the few things outside of punk to catch my attention.


(7) Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse

Can’t recall how I came across this but it will have been thanks to the Punk-Reggae axis.


(8) Public Image – Public Image Ltd

How could Johnny Rotten transcend the Pistols? With a single as startling as anything those bad boys did.


(9) An American Prayer – Jim Morrison & The Doors

I still reckon Jim was a significant and talented poet.


(10) Here My Dear – Marvin Gaye

As intense as records ever get – I pictured Marvin alone in the studio in the dark, laying his voice over and over itself.


(11) Moving Targets – Penetration

Something a little exotic from the regions


(12) Power in the Darkness – Tom Robinson Band

My very first gig at Hammersmith Odeon with PJE. I used the stencil which came with this on my school bag.

A parlour game for Easter

This has flown in from Dan McKevitt in Carlingford (via Facebook). A musical parlour game for the holidays.The emphasis is on records that have meant a lot to you rather than the all-time greatest.

“Here are the rules. Post up 12 albums on to your timeline that have stayed with you for whatever reason. One album per Artist/Band. Tag 12 friends and get them to do likewise, include me so I can see your choices. Don’t overthink it. Enjoy. No Compilations.”

1 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis [how to become tranquil in 5 easy steps/tracks]

2 Jesus Christ Superstar [as a young teen I used to spend hours and hours drawing and colouring to this]

3 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye [I played it the night my fist born made his appearance]

4 Another Music In a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks [my route into punk]

5 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane [took me somewhere higher]

6 Hot August Night – Neil Diamond [the first LP I bought myself – helluva jean jacket]

7 Let’s Dance – David Bowie [helped me find the joy in my first year away from home]

8 Glorious Fool – John Martyn [prompted me to recognise that JM was the greatest singer of them all …ever]

9 Give ’em Enough Rope – The Clash [trudging through the snow to get this from Loppylugs the day it came out – there’s never been such anticipation]

10 Moondance – Van Morrison [contains my eponymous wedding dance]

11 The White Album – The Beatles [teen memories of discovering the Fab Four and others with JRT]

12 The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees [will life ever get more exciting?]


By the way, here are the Best Albums ever

And here are some more music lists

Van & Tom

I just found this on the phone I’m about to dump – meant to post it at the time (8th Nov 2015, just home from the gig) but must have lost it in all the excitement…


Robert Elms introduced Van Morrison and Tom Jones tonight at Blues Fest in the Millennium Dome, saying this is the first time they’ve performed live together – I’ll believe it (though I’m slightly surprised).

Van played first, brought Tom on at the end of his set. Then Tom played with his young band and brought Van back on at the end. They didn’t look rehearsed which was good – small mistakes about when to come in is a small price to pay for some proper connection.

Van’s band was old and experienced; Tom’s was young and spunky. Van’s set was jazzy blues; Tom’s was raw chapel gospelly blues.

Van was in wry humourous mood (contrary to reputation); Tom was nostalgic in a forward-looking, energetic way.

Who in this generation (or recent ones) I wondered will be capable of doing a gig like this in 50 years?

Some highlights included:


* Making love in the afternoon – where the ‘high’ in ‘highway’ was brought to my attention for the first time, Van really getting into the sex&drugs groove

* Baby please don’t go – with drum beat gun shots at the climax

* No Plan B – Van’s band followed him to a higher place, building to a driving end of set


* What is the soul of man – the stripped down blues of Praise & Blame

* I love you baby can’t help myself – beautiful sparse arrangement Tom made full use of

Van & Tom:

What am I living for if not for you & Strange Things – where the pair of them found their together groove

No Whenever God Shines His Light nor Gotta Serve Somebody but the event lived up to its promise and was more than the sum of its parts. Their connection through the Celtic and the Blues made it a match of the heavenly variety.

Van’s set


Tom’s set


In memory of Gary

This time yesterday I went to the funeral of my old friend Gary Watson. This could be him…


…but actually it’s not. This could be him…


…but actually it’s not. But it is in essence – sharp dresser, a bit of a geezer, totally committed to music, tall, swept back black hair, a wild side – these are him.

My favourite memory of him is at a party at a squat where he was living in Stamford Hill. I got there early evening and not much was ready – it was the end of a fine summer’s day and so a barbecue was in prospect. But the transformation was nigh on miraculous. First the speakers went out into the garden to get the groove going. Then the couch and all the living room furniture was taken outdoors. Next Gary and John Hand between them built a whole set of tables in a horseshoe around the garden – from scratch, off-cut timber. As they went about their work little heads started to appear over the fences and in the windows of the surrounding houses which were mostly home to orthodox Jews. Who are these strange men with their hucking and knucking and their music, living life to a different beat? Every kid in the neighbourhood started to come out of the woodwork. The tables and temporary furniture were constructed so swiftly and a fire lit with typical Irish efficiency (John using tried&tested techniques from Athlone of rolling and folding newspaper to help get the flames established) that there was plenty of time for artist and set constructor/designer John to also construct wooden sculptures on the trees to complete the outdoor decor. In under an hour an entire outside room was created for the evening’s shenanigans. As the sun set dozens of little bright eyes looked on with amazement and pleasure.

I got quite fucked up that night. In a good way. Didn’t sleep a wink. Had to go see my dad in Brighton the next day, when one of my favourite photographs of myself was taken. I’m standing by the breakwater wall of Brighton Marina with my dad, leaning on the concrete in a nonchalant way in a lilac jumper and tan austen boots. He’s beside me looking pretty relaxed. Little does he know how fucked up I am inside but a broad smile belies that. And I was happy thanks in large degree to Gary’s party.

I have only one thing connected to Gary – a beautiful thing. It’s a second-hand Frank Sinatra record he bought me – a propos of nothing I think. Not only had he clearly chosen the music with care (60s bossa nova Sinatra which I like for its cool stylish swing) but he’d decorated the cover with great care with a collage centred on the word “Incognita” from an old map. ‘Terra Incognita’ is ‘unknown territory’ in the world of cartography. And that’s where Gary is now.


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The last time I listened to this record (before using it to herald the funeral yesterday) was the last time I saw Gary, when he came round to our place for dinner. Una and I had been out for a walk along the canal near Clapton and I’d parked at Watermint Quay, HQ for the best of our partying in our late 20s with a Hibernocentric crowd of friends. It was through John’s sister that Gary came into our lives. As we walked from the car down to the canal past the door behind which all those parties took place the door swung open to reveal Gary. We promised to pull by for a cuppa on returning from our walk and then invited him over that same Christmastime evening to join our dinner with friends. A lot of talk was talked, a lot of drink was drunk, Frank sang and it was a fine night to go out on as things transpired.

At the funeral yesterday one of Gary’s brothers sang one of Gary’s songs – beautifully, full of the kind of feeling you can only get on such an occasion. And a recording of Gary singing was also played – he had real talent, even more obvious now. The event was enriched with a variety of stories about Gary’s generosity and kindness, things even his parents didn’t know about because he was quiet and no-nonsense in his giving. The single mum’s house he did up across the road at his own expense and effort. The Rolex he gave away to a waiter just because it made the man so happy. The muslim co-worker he joined on fast for Ramadan for 28 days as soon as he became aware of the rules (no tea etc.). But the story I liked most was Gary lying in the middle of a long straight road in the middle of nowhere in the north of Scotland as his pal sped by on his huge motorbike just feet away at 100 mph so Gary could experience the Doppler effect in a big way. So Gary. Risk life&limb for a good sound effect.

We finished the funeral day yesterday at a concert by Wynton Marsalis’s jazz big band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, at the Barbican. The encore turned out to be an old-style New Orleans funeral march. Meant to be. Music, soulful, sharp suits – very Gazza.


Simple Pleasures from Belfast

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You Do Something to Me

The light just after sunset. Jogging. Peach Bellinis. The Style Council. Tuna tartare. Mixed race people. Propellor planes. Reading history. Editing film/video. Poached pear. Love songs. You Do Something to Me. You Do Something to Me video. Afros. Laying across big beds. Water (drink). Hugging. Pears. Orange (colour). Coincidences.

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He does something to Him


Desert Island Discs Day


I was at a meeting this afternoon chaired by Kirsty Young of Desert Island Discs which set me thinking about the various times I’ve had a stab at my 8 discs, as well as playing the game with the Enfants Terribles. It’s interesting to have musical yardsticks over time to see how consistent or otherwise you are.

Here’s the first one I can find online from October 2006 when Kirsty had just started on DID:

1* Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches
2 John Coltrane – A Love Supreme part 1 (Acknowledgement)
3 Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me (?)
4 Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up
5 The Clash – White Man in Hammersmith Palais
6 Bill Evans – Love theme from Spartacus
7 Bjork – Hyperballad
8 The Doors – The End
Book: Ulysses – James Joyce
Luxury: Mouth organ (with teach-yourself disc and book)

Here’s another go from later the same day, indicative of how impossible the challenge is for anyone who loves music:

1* Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches
2 John Coltrane – A Love Supreme part 1
3 Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me
4 Eric Satie – Gymnopedie
5 Bruce Springsteen – Into the Fire
6 Siouxsie & the Banshees – Icon
7 Sinead O’Connor – On Raglan Road
8 Frank Sinatra – One for my Baby

I recently [17th Jan] redid my list (without reference to past efforts of course) on a trip to Berlin with Enfant Terrible No.1 (his choice is further below):
1 Curtis Mayfield – move on up
2 John Martyn – small hours [new entry]
3 Miles Davis – flamenco sketches
4 John Coltrane – a love supreme, part 1
5 Van – in the afternoon [new entry]
6 The Clash – white man
7 Marvin Gaye – what’s going on [change of track]
8 Frank Sinatra – one for my baby
Book: Ulysses – james joyce
Luxury: pencil & notebooks [change]

Given that’s a 9 year gap, remarkably consistent I’d say, with a healthy bit of change. The appearance of John Martyn reflects my gradual realisation (particularly in the wake of his elevation to The Great Gig in the Sky 7 years ago) that he is the best of the best of singers, a Big Soul. Van’s entry simply corrects a big oversight in the 2006 vintage. I probably haven’t nailed the right track yet. The change of Marvin song just indicates I can’t make up my mind which track from What’s Going On to pick out from a perfect LP which doesn’t really compute as individual tracks in isolation.

Tangentially, here’s another variation – Inheritance Tracks – from November of 2007, broadly aligned with my Desert Island choices:

  • Inherited Track: ‘Everything’s Alright’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ OR ‘Soolaimon’ by Neil Diamond
  • Bequest Track: Miles Davis’ ‘Flamenco Sketches’ from ‘Kind of Blue’

Moving on to the next generation, here’s Enfant Terrible No. 2’s first ever go, aged 6:

1 Madness – Embarrassment
2 Bruce Spingsteen – Atlantic City
3 The Cranberries – Ode to my Family
4 Cornershop – Brimful of asha
5 Max Romeo – I Chase the Devil
6 Trumpton – Windy Miller song
7 The Jam – Batman theme
8 AC/DC – It’s a long way to the top
Book: Claris Bean/My Uncle is a Hunkle
Luxury: My house

That’s some list for a 6 year old – clearly getting a proper musical education! I’ll quiz him in the next couple of days and see how radically his list has changed as a 16 year old. [I’ll insert his 2016 list here:]

To see the significant change of teenagehood, here’s Enfant Terrible No. 1’s first ever go from late 2006, aged 11. He wrote it out in long hand in a notebook, taking several months to pin his choice down (typical of him in its careful consideration):
1 U2 – Vertigo
2 Unite Tribe – Life and Death
3 Oxmo Puccino and the Jazzbastards – Perdre et Gagner
4 The Cure – Love Cats
5 * Michael Franti & Spearhead – Sometimes
6 MC Solaar – Solaar Pleure
7 The Raconteurs – Steady as she goes
8 Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit

I pushed him for a swifter, more spontaneous choice this time:
1 James Taylor – fire & rain
2 The Beatles – lucy in the sky with diamonds
3 Carol King – it’s too late
4 Curtis Mayfield – move on up [paternal influence at work]
5 Bob Dylan – hurricane
6 Nirvana – teen spirit
7 The Doors – riders on the storm
8 Led Zep – stairway to heaven
Book: the odyssey – homer
Luxury: my pillow

So only one track persists over the decade – Smells Like Teen Spirit. That’s the spirit of teen for you. BTW I could happily add Kurt singing Where Did You Sleep Last Night? to my grateful eight:

‘Heroes’ mystery solved

A few days ago when I was in Berlin I wrote this (in a post called Where Are We Now? about David Bowie):

There are a few panels of the Berlin Wall on display on the north side of the place and then a significant stretch of the banal concrete sections in Niederkirchnerstrasse (on the corner of which was the Blackstar poster above). The bands graffitied on that section indicate how frozen in time it is: Blondie, Madness, Lee Perry all get a painted name check. A few more individual sections stand in the grounds of the apartment blocks adjacent to the Hansa Studio in Köthener Strasse. It all helps get you in the ‘Heroes’ frame of mind. I tried to figure out where Bowie might have seen Visconti and his lover from the studio windows but it’s hard to figure as two walls are blank and there’s no obvious spot where the Wall would have been in sight from the front or back of the Hansa building so the lovers’ kiss remains in the imagination (which is probably where it actually was anyway).

Well I was wrong – the spot where the lovers (Visconti and a backing singer) kissed by the Wall was behind the building. I actually snuck through an archway to investigate that Sunday afternoon. A security guard came out of a concealed door as I got to the end of the short tunnel but he must have thought it was not worth the bother and let it go. I walked around a bit in the back garden and car park in search of the spot so I reckon I must have been pretty much bang on at one point.

The mystery is solved in this fascinating video clip (20 mins) from BBC4 in which Visconti recalls the event (about 11 mins in).

David Bowie at the Berlin Wall, 1987

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