Archive for the ‘singing’ Tag

Sweet Little Mystery

Sarah Jane Morris

First gig of the year was an absolute cracker – spine-tingling and uplifting. It was singer Sarah Jane Morris (think Preraphaelites meet Janis Joplin) at Ronnie Scott’s. She was singing songs by my favourite of favourites John Martyn. The venue is one of the best, still redolent of the 70s. You just sip cocktails (no two the same) and watch&listen from just feet away.

jane morris dante gabriel rossetti proserpine

Jane Morris as Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874)

The support act was Jonathan Gee Trio. As we share two-thirds of our name (my middle name is Jonathan) I felt compelled to go talk to the eponymous pianist after the set. He was delighted to meet on that basis. When I enquired whether Gee was all there was he explained it originated from Goldstein or similar, curtailed in the 30s. I said snap: Gewürtz.

sarah jane morris singer

SJM = Janis meets African Earth Mother

Sarah Jane Morris played the following John Martyn songs – her approach is to find her own way of rendering songs that are meaningful to her, like JM she has a baritone voice which therefore suits these songs (although she has a 4 octave range):

  • Couldn’t Love You More – an unbelievably brilliant and simple love song
  • Head & Heart – an unbelievably brilliant and simple love song, the heart of JM’s genius
  • Call Me
  • Send Me One Line – from the film 84 Charing Cross Road, bit of a rarity
  • Over the Hill
  • Solid Air
  • One World
  • Sweet Little Mystery
  • Glorious Fool – one of my favourites, apparently dedicated to another Ronnie – Ronnie Reagan
  • May You Never

Among these there were several transcendent moments (which is all you can really ask from a concert), sometimes from the singing, sometimes from the playing, particularly Jason Rebello’s piano.

Sweet Little Mystery sarah jane morris LP album record

What it made me realise is that John Martyn was a genius (truly) at writing powerful love songs – not like a poet or a micro-novelist but an honest-to-goodness songwriter – simple, repetitive, rhythmic.

The band were top notch:

  • Jason Rebello, piano – one night only, gave it his all
  • Tim Cansfield, guitar
  • Tony Rémy, guitar and co-creator of the John Martyn covers project, realised in an album called Sweet Little Mystery (2019)
  • Henry Thomas, bass – his double-bass was bust (SJM told me after the set) and so he was playing electric, not his norm – but he played it with a remarkable soft fluidity which really stood out
  • Martyn Barker, drums
  • Dominic Miller, guitar – played with Sting for a long time, a very distinctive, individual style, subtle, spare

It’s not surprising that it took three guitarists to equal one John Martyn, a guitar great as well as one of the greatest songwriters.

John martyn sweet little mystery LP album record

After the gig I got to chat briefly to Sarah Jane Morris and Tony Remy, the cherry on the cake of a brilliant night. I told her that I shared a birthday with John and that he is the only person I didn’t know, not family nor friend, whose death I deeply mourned. The day he died the world was a lesser place.

The moment I stepped out of Ronnie’s into the Soho night air the world was a greater place.

john martyn young

A touch of the messiah about him

jane morris

Jane Morris, posed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his garden in Chelsea, 1865 – albumen print by John R. Parsons ::  Jane Morris (1839-1914), wife of William Morris (1834-96), muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82)

 

One world, one nightmare

[written and published elsewhere shortly after the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony; published here the day before the closing ceremony including an 8-minute hand-over slot to London 2012]

Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi - face and voice

Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi - face and voice

I dreamt I saw thousands of people moving in unison in circles. I dreamt they were so numerous that the incredible spectacle looked as ultimately unconvincing as CGI. I dreamt I saw children singing songs so simple (so not made up by children) they were bland and charmless – We plant trees, we sow seeds, the land turns green. The air turns brown. We wear masks. I dreamt I saw teenage girls swaying for hour after hour as country after country filed past, filming the filmers on their made in China handycams. Getting tired? Keep swaying happily girls or it’s the labour camp for you. Meanwhile back in the labour camp, some months earlier: OK, lads, here’s the choice – break rocks or learn this little dance. I dreamt I saw some other lads goose-stepping in black boots. Tanks filing past, missile launchers, fly-bys. One world, one dream. One tank, one student. Meanwhile, some miles away: 150 tanks roll into Georgia. Georgian army 11,320 – Russian army 395,000. Georgian population 4.63m – Russian population 140.7m (though due to halve by 2050). Georgian annual military expenditure $380m – Russian military expenditure $59,100m. How much did this spectacle cost? How much does China spend on education per year? I dreamt I saw no flag from Tibet. I dreamt I saw unison not unity. I dreamt I saw bird cages in a bird’s nest. People moving in small circles. I dreamt of the Mordillo cartoon I cut out as a kid. “We’re all different!” shout out the identical looking mass of people. “I’m not!” shouts out one of them. One party, one line. I dreamt I saw something which sub-consciously summarised what others fear.

In 2012 to follow these people making a spectacle of themselves, partying to the tune of the Party, London must be itself, tune in to its idiosyncratic, eccentric, spirited creativity (one thing that cannot be manufactured); its rich mix of cultures and peoples; its unique, particular, genuine handmade in Britain talent; its individual dreams which thread the tapestry of its Jerusalem spirit.

Post-script 23.08.08:

As it turned out, some of it was CGI (the footprints across the city sequence as shown on TV across the globe). The ‘lovely children’s singing’ turned out to be voiced by the little girl with crooked teeth whilst the pretty little girl provided the acceptable face. And those various ethnic groups represented by children dressed up in various ethnic costumes turned out to be not very ethnically mixed at all. So after two weeks of great sport, it still looks like a bit of authenticity, eccentricity, diversity and deep-down creativity should go a long way.

Post-script 26.8.08:

Went to Trafalgar Square on Sunday to watch the Olympics hand-over communally. Within the 8 minute British 2012 intro perhaps the most interesting moment was when David Beckham kicked the football into the serried ranks of the Chinese performers (seemingly not where it was planned to go – how very England FC of him). For just a moment the fine-tuned order was disrupted as a lone individual nabbed the ball and showed a brief glimpse of genuine delight.

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