Archive for the ‘songs’ Category

Nature Boy

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This is my favourite couplet from any song – and how come my philosophy on life is derived from George Benson.

I first came across the song ‘Nature Boy’ on the record ‘In Flight’ by jazz guitarist Benson. In time it emerged that it was a cover of Nat King Cole. In more time I became aware that it was written by someone called Eden Ahbez (who I’d never heard of). He turned out to be a proto-hippy and a very interesting character whose extraordinary story gave rise to this fascinating photo:

eden ahbez and nat king cole

The dapper Cole and the Jesus-like Ahbez came to coincide in the wake of Ahbez pushing a dirty, rolled-up manuscript onto Mort Ruby, Cole’s manager, backstage at the Lincoln Theater, LA. On it was a tune and these words:

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

Beautiful simplicity – as has that fantastic closing couplet.

This happened shortly after World War Two, in 1947. Ahbez at the time was of no fixed abode and unemployed. Cole liked the song and began playing it live to audiences. In 1948 he recorded it but before the recording could be released Ruby needed to track down its writer to secure the rights.

Ahbez was eventually discovered living just below the first L of the Hollywood sign with his family. They slept under the night sky. Ahbez ate vegetables, fruits and nuts. He had shoulder-length hair and a beard, wore sandals and white robes. He studied Eastern mysticism and claimed to live on $3 a week.

‘Nature Boy’ became a No. 1 hit in the US Billboard charts for eight consecutive weeks during the summer of 1948. That same year RKO Radio Pictures paid Ahbez $10,000 for the rights to the song to use it as the theme tune for the movie ‘The Boy With Green Hair’.

Meanwhile he lived a proto-hippy life under the big L of Hollywood. Letters were significant for him. He actually called himself eden ahbez rather than Eden Ahbez as he reckoned only the words “God” and “Infinity” merited capitalisation.

eden ahbez songwriter

During the 30s he lived in Kansas City and worked as a pianist and dance band leader. In 1941 he moved to LA where he got a gig playing piano in Eutropheon, a health food shop and raw food cafe on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, owned by John and Vera Richter. The Richters lived by a philosophy based on ‘Lebensreform’ (Life Reform) and the notion of the ‘Naturmensch’ (Nature Man) which was derived from the ‘Wandervogel’ (Wandering Bird) back-to-nature movement in Germany.

ahbez became part of a California-based group known as the ‘Nature Boys’, prominent among whom was Gypsy Boots (Robert Bootzin). Bootzin is another fascinating character, a hippy decades ahead of the 60s counterculture, with shared elements of ahbez’s background.

Bootzin was born in San Francisco to Russian Jewish immigrant parents. His father was a broom salesman. His mother brought him and his four siblings up as vegetarian. She led the family on hikes in the Californian hills and fed the homeless with her black bread. In the wake of his older brother’s premature death from TB, Bootzin resolved to pursue a healthy, natural lifestyle. He grew his hair long. By 1933 he had dropped out of high school and left home to wander the wilds of California with a group of fellow vagabonds. In the 40s he lived off the land with a dozen other Nature Boys in Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, CA. They slept in caves and trees, and bathed in waterfalls. Long hair and beards were the order of the day.

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Hence ahbez’s Jesus hair and beard, and diet of raw fruits and vegetables. It was at this juncture that he adopted the name ‘eden ahbez’ (ahbe to his friends). He was actually born George Alexander Aberle on 15th April 1908. On subsequent adoption (1917) he became George McGrew. Then George became eden.

ahbez was originally of the East Coast not West. He was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish father and a Scottish-English mother but spent his early years in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. He was then adopted at the age of 9 by the McGrew family of Chanute, Kansas.

How much of the life of eden ahbez is self-mythologising is difficult to gauge. He claimed to have crossed the U.S.A. on foot eight times by the time he was 35. He settled in L.A., married Anna Jacobsen, with whom he slept in a sleeping bag in Griffith Park. They had a son, Tatha. The family continued living out under the stars, with just a pushbike, sleeping bags and a juicer. ahbez was to be seen on Hollywood  street corners sharing gems of Eastern mysticism.

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eden anna tatha/zoma – January 1948

Having been handed the scruffy  ‘Nature Boy’ manuscript via Ruby, Cole recognised the underlying melody in the song as Yiddish. He decided to add it to his repertoire because he wanted a Jewish song for his act (presumably good for capturing that particular constituency). Cole recorded ‘Nature Boy’ on 22nd August 1947 with an arrangement by Frank DeVol and a piano part written by Cole played by Buddy Cole (Edwin LeMar Cole, no relation).

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Despite Capitol releasing ‘Nature Boy’ as a B side, its quality overcame record company cluelessness to quickly hit the #1 spot. Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and others rushed out cover versions and it remains a much covered song, from David Bowie to John Coltrane, from Ella Fitzgerald to Bobby Darin.

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Frank and eden

ahbez’s relationship to the greenback seems to have been an awkward one. Once ‘Nature Boy’ became a hit, the publishers and composer (Herman Yablokoff) of the Yiddish song ‘Schwieg Mein Hertz’ (‘Shvayg Mayn Harts’/ ‘Be Still My Heart’) claimed that the melody of ‘Nature Boy’ came from their song and sued, subsequently settling out of court with ahbez for a whopping $25,000. ahbez said he had “heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains.” Prior to this, when Ruby and Cole had eventually tracked him down under the L, it turned out that ahbez had given various people different shares of the publishing rights so he ended up with pretty much big fat zero. The happy ending though is that after Nat ‘King’ Cole died in 1965, his wife eventually gave all the rights back to its creator ahbez.

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ahbe anna zoma 1961

In the  wake of ‘Nature Boy’ ahbez continued to write songs for  Cole, including ‘Land of Love’ (covered by Doris Day and The Ink Spots). In the mid 50s he supplied songs to Eartha Kitt, Frankie Laine and others. His composition ‘Lonely Island’ was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1957, his second and final tune to make the Top 40.

He collaborated with jazz singer-songwriter Herb Jeffries, in 1954 releasing the LP ‘The Singing Prophet’ including ahbez’s 4-part ‘Nature Boy Suite’.  In 1959 he started recording his own distinctive brand of instrumental music. He could be seen in beatnik coffeehouses around LA performing on bongos and flute as accompaniment to beat poetry.

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outside Health Hut, LA

In 1960 (thanks to the prompting of Bob Keane, boss of Del-Fi Records) he cut his only solo record, ‘Eden’s Island’ – “the first ever psychedelic pop classic” according to my pal Doug, and he knows his shit. It combines beat poetry with off-beat jungle exotica arrangements. ahbez promoted the LP by making personal appearances on a coast-to-coast walking tour. (He recorded another similar album, ‘Echoes from Nature Boy’, again containing his poems set to music, which was released posthumously.)

He pops up in various places during the actual Hippy era. Grace Slick, later of Jefferson Airplane, then of The Great Society, covered ‘Nature Boy’ in 1966. Early the next year ahbez was photographed in the studio with Brian Wilson during one of the ‘Smile’ sessions. Later in ’67 Britain’s very own psychedelic pioneer Donovan tracked down ahbez in Palm Springs and the two like-minds communed.

ahbez had his fair share of personal tragedy. His wife Anna died relatively young (47)  of leukemia (in 1963). His son, Zoma (originally named tatha om ahbez) drowned as a 22 year old (in 1971). He himself met an ironically unnatural death at the sharp metallic end of an automobile, succumbing to the injuries sustained in the accident in LA on 4th March 1995. He was 86. The fruit and veg had agreed with him.

On the subject of fruit, ahbez said he once told a cop who was hassling him for his shaggy appearance:  “I look crazy but I’m not. And the funny thing is that other people don’t look crazy but they are.”

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April 1948

 

Coincidence No. 402

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I’m sitting listening to Let the Record Show (the Dexys LP of 2016, their versions of Irish standards) whilst doing my 2015-16 accounts (close to the wire as usual). I get to the last track, Carrickfergus, and the lyrics

…as black as ink

just as I’m signing the cover letter to my accountant, switching from the red Pilot fountain pen I’ve been using to tick off the enclosures to a black biro because it’s just plain odd to sign stuff in blood red.

***

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I saw Dexy’s play Carrickfergus in 2016 at the Festival Hall at Imagining Ireland, the London celebration of the Easter Rising centenary.

Now in Kilkenny it is reported
On marble stone there as black as ink
With gold and silver I would support her
But I’ll sing no more now til I get a drink
Cause I’m drunk today and I’m seldom sober
A handsome rover from town to town
Ah but I’m sick now my days are numbered
Come all me young men and lay me down
Come all me young men and lay me down

I got to know this song through Van Morrison’s version. During 2016 Robert Elms took Kevin Rowland, lead singer of Dexys, to see Van play at Nell’s in West Kensington. I happen to know this because Robert mentioned it in his excellent, traditional annual music round-up. Which neatly rounds up today’s circle of connection and coincidence.

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4 things I love about Peter Gabriel

On Friday I bumped into an old colleague at BAFTA, Tom Dolan of the Government Digital Service, who said he’d spotted me coming out of a Peter Gabriel event the other day. Which reminded me I’d been meaning to write this, it was majorly inspiring. The event was set up by The School of Life and centred on Peter Gabriel being interviewed by philosopher (and bit of a fanboy) Alain de Botton. PG came across as humble and connecting. The setting was The Emmanuel Centre in Marsham Street, just behind Channel 4 yet I’d never suspected that behind the modest door lay a massive, magnificent circular church auditorium. In the queue I bumped into an old C4 colleague & friend, Jan Younghusband, then Commissioning Editor for Arts & Music at C4, now Com Ed for Music & Events at the Beeb. Also Mike Christie, director, whose work includes one of my favourite shows during my time at the Channel, Jump London. (My other favourite is one of Jan’s, The Cost of Living featuring the DV8 dance company.) Mike’s a one for interesting buildings – I recently watched his modernist architecture series From Here to Modernity which inspired me to go back and look at the Isokon building in Hampstead.

 

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1. He’s ever curious

This video was shown which blew my mind. It’s an ape learning to play the keyboard through its own exploration. At c.1’48” you can see it discovering the octave. PG is just a few feet away harmonising in the background.

 

You can see the set-up here:

 

Now (a) I love monkeys and (b) I reckon we’re just bald ones so this was guaranteed to appeal: the notion of communicating with our simian cousins through music which, as PG pointed out (a PG Tip) is the most direct and non-rational of art forms. As Walter Pater put it:

All art aspires to the condition of music

i.e. to that direct to the heart&soul unmediated non-material nature.

 

2. He’s a great collaborator

Kate Bush & Sinead O’Connor are two that particularly stick in my mind…

The Don’t Give Up video by Godley & Creme.

Blood of Eden

 

3. He was great looking

Captured particularly well by Robert Mapplethorpe – I remember this shot jumping out at me at a Mapplethorpe exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (?) because of that white V and the downward eyes.

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Peter Gabriel by Robert Mapplethorpe

 

4. He has an open mind

Whether it’s his championing of world music through his Realworld label and WOMAD festival or his embracing of interactive digital technology (and apes) he has a most admirable and inspiring openness. When I won the very first Interactive Entertainment BAFTA Award in 1997 with the MindGym team the main nominee we beat was Peter Gabriel’s Starship Titanic game made with Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe) Adams. It felt very much like the young upstart had triumphed. His work with Amnesty International. His campaigning for South Africa in the wake of Steve Biko’s murder. His wide-ranging interests and boundless enthusiasm remain an inspiration to young upstarts across the globe.

 

 

Desert Island Discs Day

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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:

Songlines #13: Half the World Away

The Question:

What song or piece of music means the most to you?

Ciara Linder is a teacher – born in London, grew up in Northern Ireland, now living back in London. Her choice reflects this axis in her life.

The Song: Half the World Away – Aurora

Here is her older brother’s Songlines – a very different take on the London Irish experience.

 

 

The previous Songlines:

Songlines #12: Call to Prayer / Adhan

Songlines #12: Call to Prayer / Adhan

 

The Question:

What piece of music means the most to you?

Farrah Jarral, dedicated GP and star of Osama Loves on Channel 4, comes up with a left-field choice (similar in some ways to Songlines #2) –  a religious song chosen by a not particularly religious person.

The Song: the Muslim call to prayer, the Adhan

 

 

And here’s the song in question:

 

 

Previous Songlines:

Songlines #11: Sheena Is a Punk Rocker (Aidan Murtagh of Protex)

Songlines #10: Bach to the Future (James Rhodes)

Songlines #9: The Flower Duet

Songlines #8: I’m Waiting for the Man

Songlines #7: Soul to Squeeze

Songlines #6 – Pakistan perspectives

Songlines #5 – NYC Blues

Songlines #4 – Thank Christ for the BBC (London Irish)

Songlines #3 – She Moved Through the Fair

Songlines #2 – Rich Mix

Songlines #1 – Hammertime

 

Bowie: The Next Day

I’m sure many people are feeling Bowied out by now with all the media coverage and social media outpourings but I still want to capture the moment (not least for myself), and book-end a sombre day with the reflections that have bubbled up in the last 16 hours on a truly great man.

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One Bowie

{This is a picture from one of my old posts (hence the odd caption – I can’t recall the context) but I really love it, so…}

Like many people I immersed myself today in Bowie’s music – drawn initially, of all the 25 long players (studio LPs), to Station to Station (it was interesting where my heart took me when push came to shove). And then to Blackstar because he wouldn’t want us looking back too much. And on to Lodger because …well it got me thinking, why does that one resonate? – it was a moment when he had a significant impact on my life…

1979. I was mainly into punk. One evening I was at home laying across my bedroom floor listening to a radio show on Radio 1 called something like Conversations with Bowie. I think I may still have a recording of it on cassette tape in a drawer somewhere. During the long (two part?) interview, centred on the making of Lodger, his newest record, he mentioned an artist who was making a big impact on him around then but was largely unknown at the time. Egon Schiele. I’d never heard of him, and I knew a fair bit about art (for a 16 year old). He was very little known in Britain then. What Bowie said struck me and I made a mental note which I followed up…

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Thin White Bloke: a Bowie-like Egon Schiele

Fast-fwd to four years later >>> I won a travel scholarship (the Morrison Grant) from Girton College, Cambridge to study Egon Schiele’s work in Vienna. It was a significant landmark in my growing up, helping consolidate my interest in art and Modernism as well as providing a colourful independent travel adventure. Thank Bowie for that.

Another Teutonic moment: Exactly this time last year I went to Berlin with Enfant Terrible No. 2 (who loved it – the cafes, the wandering about, the whole vibe). On one of our flâneur sessions we stopped at a big record shop and I came across a box set called Zeit of Bowie’s Berlin period – Low, Heroes, Lodger and the live double LP Stage. I bought it as the perfect souvenir of a beautiful trip. I’m going back this coming weekend (apposite timing given today’s news) with Enfant Terrible No. 1. He was playing Bowie in his room at Bournemouth University last night, pulling a semi-all-nighter for an essay, pretty much when the star light was darkening over in NYC.

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Father & Son

And on the subject of family members, our cat is called Ziggy after Bowie’s Ziggy. I was looking for a pair of names for our pair of cats and the one that found favour after a social media call-out was Ziggy & Stardust. (Her hair’s even better than Bowie’s, well worthy of her name.)

My director showreel when I first went freelance was to the soundtrack of Sound and Vision. I can’t hear that song any more without seeing some of those pictures including an underwater swimmer shot by DoP Jack Hazan (Rude Boy, A Bigger Splash) and Martin Luther King delivering his I Had a Dream speech from within an H shape (which represented the word Hearing).

The last Bowie moment that comes to what is now a somewhat weary mind on this grey day is not either of the occasions I saw him play live – 1983 on the Serious Moonlight tour in Grenoble (we had fun because he was clearly having fun) and 1985 at Live Aid – but set in a North London exam room as I sat my O Level English. We had to write a creative story and mine was ‘inspired by’ (for which read ‘an unsubtle rip-off of’) Please Mr Gravedigger from his first LP (David Bowie of 1967), simply transposed into prose with lots of fancy adjectives. I got an A. I went on to do A Level and S Level English, then literature subjects at university, bringing us back to Girton.

Another half-thought emerges: as I approached those A Levels I grew heartily sick of school and spent the second half of the second year of 6th form in my dad’s house (not where I grew up) shacked up in a bedroom with two things for comfort: a pile of Jane Austen books and two Bowie cassettes: ChangesTwoBowie and Rare. I did no work, just read that pile and listened to that slightly off-beat pair of compilations. All the exam shit worked out fine and it was a suitably intense teenage moment.

Just four and a half moments of different scales where Bowie had a benign and positive influence on my life. There are many others, many associated with particular records or songs – from Let’s Dance in a small bedsit in Chambéry, Savoy when I first cut the umbilical cord from home (at Boulevard des Capucines chez les Pachouds) to V2 Schneider on the jukebox during a Baltic educational cruise aboard the SS Uganda) – many moments of intrigue, delight and inspiration from someone who ultimately is a true genius and by all accounts (many today) a real mensch.

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I & eye

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Big Ones

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Little Ones

Bowie: Blackstar Rising

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Just beautiful

I heard about the passing of David Bowie about 15 minutes ago as the sad and unexpected news broke on Radio 5 Live. It had echoes of the news at a similar time on the same station almost exactly 3 years ago when the beautifully resonant song ‘Where Are We Now?’ was suddenly unleashed upon the world as a present on Bowie’s birthday – 8th January 2013. But this was the dark twin. It was only on Friday that the world was enjoying a similar event – the birthday release of Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, as surprising and novel as anything he has ever done. As a jazz lover it was a delicious prospect. Despite listening to it across this weekend sadly there hasn’t even been time to start to absorb it.

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I don’t normally feel such deaths in a truly personal way (with the single exception of John Martyn) but this one is very resonant in a different way. The passing of this great son of London without doubt makes the world a lesser place and I’ll spend today absorbing it. It is not totally dark in that it feels like he lived a beautiful life.

The love of music; the persistence getting his break; the innovation, success, boundry-pushing; the re-inventions; right up to the surprise re-emergence in 2013; the happy marriage; the prioritisation of children/fatherhood; the tranquil oasis in his third great city London > Berlin > New York, a suitably great metropolis to be the backdrop for his final ascendance.

While I absorb the sad&sudden news here are some Bowie bits from Simple Pleasures part IV over the last few years:

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January 2013]

Heddonism [11 April, 2012]

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

 

Way Over Yonder

My copy of Tapestry sits uneasily beside Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Love Bites. It wasn’t really where I was at in the 70s. It was given to me (by way of legacy) by my friend Steve whose birthday it should be today. That’s him at the top.

steve and stu

This was taken by my friend Judyth at the SchluperBowl – an occasional soft ball game Steve, Stu (Toronto) and I organised on the Heath. The lime green shirt I’m wearing was bought with Steve and/or Stu at a shop in Middle Lane, Crouch End after a Saturday morning gathering at Wisteria cafe. We all bought a green jacket there and I wore mine today in honour of Steve.

The last of the Green Jackets

The last of the Green Jackets

Stu’s is now history. And of course Steve’s is lost in time. I was particularly conscious of Steve’s presence two evenings ago when I went to see Beautiful, the Broadway musical about the life and times of the great songwriting partnership of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. When Lewisham’s own Katie Brayben (playing CK) sang Natural Woman, that’s when the dust got in my eyes. I laughed, I smiled, I shook a leg. What an uplifting, entertaining production – way beyond anything I expected. I had been told by Jonathan Shalit a few days before (at a breakfast at The Ivy thrown by his agency ROAR) that it was a good show, but I was largely going as a treat for my other half, who has You’ve Got a Friend as her party piece. She grew up with Tapestry because they were doing hippy in Eire when we were doing punk here in London.

What the show made you realise is what an amazing array of brilliant songs Goffin-King wrote – from The Drifters Up on the Roof to The Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – across a number of years. The backbone of the story was the craft of song-writing, played out in the friendly rivalry between Carole & Gerry and Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann, either side of a thin partition in the Brill Building song factory.

Tonight my mum gave me a clipping about the performance the night before. Seemingly Carole King was in the audience unbeknownst to Katie Brayben and joined her in a rendition of You’ve Got a Friend after the show. That’s a moment I’d have loved to have witnessed – Katie seeing Carole emerge from the audience.

I remember hearing in a podcast – I remember exactly where I was, jogging along a field at the edge of Beit Chananyah – how James Taylor sort of nicked You’ve Got a Friend to put on Mud Slide Slim. They were recording in the same studios and sharing musicians – that’s how come JT appears on Tapestry. He did a kind of “I hope you don’t mind but…” on her and she was too polite to say anything. He scored a Billboard No. 1 with it. Joni Mitchell also appeared on both albums (her own Blue came out that same year). Carole said of You’ve Got a Friend “The song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”

Talking of writing and inspiration, the whole experience the other night gave me an idea for a book. I went to write down a note about it when I got home from the Aldwych and found I’d already written the very same idea a while back in the same place. Meant to be. I started to work on the idea there&then and ploughed on through the night. Made the next day at work …interesting.

I’m listening to the record now as I write and Natural Woman, which has just come up, reminds me that Carole King first entered my life (I’m not counting the 8-track in my step-dad’s car, as I wasn’t paying attention, other than to the picture on the cover) thanks to Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, one of my favourite movies. It accompanies Harold and Meg as they make a baby.

I had a conversation about Carole King when my sister-in-law Bronagh wanted to find a song for her own funeral and asked for my advice. I suggested Way Over Yonder and we listened to it together. She was lying in a bed upstairs at my other sister-in-law Bernadette‘s house in Carlingford, overlooking the lough, preparing us for her impending death like Jesus preparing the disciples. It’s now just finishing playing Beautiful as I writes this, and has just segued into Way Over Yonder.

Way over yonder is a place that I know
Where I can see shelter from hunger and cold
And the sweet-tasting good life is so easily found
Way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound

I know when I get there, the first thing I’ll see
Is the sun shining golden, shining right down on me
Then trouble’s gonna lose me, worry leave me behind
And I’ll stand up proudly in a true peace of mind

Way over yonder is a place I have seen
It’s a garden of wisdom from some long ago dream

Today I hope the sun is shining golden on Steve, Bronagh and Bernadette in the land where the honey runs in rivers each day…

Carole King tapestry record on a green jacket

Now That’s What I Call Christmas Music 54

Was talking Christmas music with Catalan Brian and The Luck Habit earlier this week in the wake of my moment on The Robert Elms show last weekend – see Radio Radio. In the good ol’ US of A of course it’s a genre in its own right, as reflected in the iTunes genres/CD metadata which includes Holidays Music or something like that. So we agreed to put together a selection of the best ‘Holidays’ tunes by way of party game cum useful list.

Frank Sinatra Christmas

1. Last Month of the Year – Blind Boys of Alabama

This is the one we kick off proceedings with every year in our house.

Father: Tell me when was Jesus born?
It was the last month of the year

Was it January?
Children: no [etc.]
February? no
March, April, May? no
June, July, August, September, October, November?
It was the 25th day of December
It was the last month of the year

What’s not to love?

2. Children Go Where I Send Thee – Nick Lowe

This was our 2013 acquisition – it was the year I got to really appreciate Nick Lowe. I saw him live at a recording of Songwriter’s Circle a couple of years ago for BBC4 and really started to rethink his music. I’ve always had a soft spot for Rockabilly, right back to when the local greengrocer’s delivery boy was in The Polecats.

3. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl

I’ll get it out the way – at the risk of losing TLH from the discussion. I just love the slagging bit in the middle. And Matt Dillon (Rumblefish era) featuring in the vid. I spoke to Kirsty’s mum earlier this year while writing my book – Jean Newlove – an incredible 91 year old who looked after Dance and Movement for some of Joan Littlewood’s theatrical enterprises. Sinead O’Connor has also played this live with The Pogues in Kirsty’s absence.

4. Jingle Bells – Frank Sinatra

From Frank’s cracking Crimbo LP imaginatively entitled ‘The Christmas Album’. The voice – unbeatable.

5. Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens

Christmas has nothing to do with good taste.

6. Let It Snow – Ella Fitzgerald

A voice as pure as driven white stuff.

7. Cool Yule – Louis Armstrong

The dude was cool as the white stuff.

8. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt

Naughty but nice.

9. Silent Night – Sinead O’Connor

What Sinatra is to the male voice, Sinead is to the female voice i.e. as good as it gets. Seems like a good one for this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War and that Christmas moment in No Man’s Land.

Sinead-O'Connor singer Irish

I’ll be adding more to these over the next few days. In the meantime Brian has got together a formidable list which I’ll post in the first comment. Feel free to add your faves…

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