Archive for July, 2008

No new content on Friday or Monday – see you again on Tuesday

July 31, 2008
I’m taking advantage of the fine summer weather to get the garden sorted, and am turning off my computer for a few days.

So there’ll be no new content on Friday or Monday. I’ll be back posting new copy on Tuesday 5 August.

Make sure you drop by!

Gerry Smith

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Splendid jazz programming – on classical radio station

July 31, 2008
I never listen to Classic FM. I tried when it launched, but it’s far too lightweight for my tastes; I much prefer BBC Radio 3.

After trialling it seriously, I never listened to Classic FM’s sister station, Jazz FM, either, or its successors, Smooth FM or theJazz.

So I don’t have much time for the hugely successful company behind Classic FM. It has created a big new market, but I’m not part of it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, on long drive, I happened upon – and warmed instantly to – Classic FM Jazz, a two hour programme which runs nightly from midnight.

It had some fine programming – established greats like Bill Evans and Chet Baker; fringe voice like Blossom Dearie, which had me guessing (and floundering); and credible, interesting new sounds.

It was agreeably presented by Helen Mayhew, who taught me a lot, without appearing to. And very few of the relentlessly tiresome ad breaks which do much to diminish the station’s daytime output.

Classic FM Jazz: a real find; I’ll be returning whenever I’m driving after midnight.

Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next 10 days

July 30, 2008
Tempting TV/radio broadcasts in the next 10 days:

Thurs 31 July
1900 Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione – Proms, BBC Radio 3
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Sun 3 August
2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

Mon 4 August
1200 Bruckner, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri)

Thursday 7 August
2300 Bert Jansch, BBC Four Sessions – BBC Four

Fri 8 August
2100 Ella Fitzgerald, Legends – BBC Four
2335 Herbie Hancock, Live From Abbey Road – More4

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are available online, streamed. Please see the BBC channels’ web sites for details.

Archived radio and TV programmes are accessible online for a short period via

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen – still reverberating

July 29, 2008

 

Twelve days on, the monumental Leonard Cohen gig at London’s O2 is still reverberating. I still wake up humming Lenny tunes. I’ve been buying Lenny CDs for family (I already had them all – on vinyl and tape). And I’ve been buying all the missed Cohen books – by and about Leonard.

That’s what tours are all about, of course – revving up interest in the product range.

Before retiring Lenny from Music for Grown-Ups (for the time being), here are a few final observations:

* Whereas I used to consider Cohen’s early albums the peak of his output, it’s now clear that there are two outstanding trilogies in the (small) catalogue: the first three and an even stronger later group – Various Positions, I’m Your Man and The Future.

* Various Positions (not, as previously thought, I’m Your Man)is the key starting point for the late-career renaissance. Two of its songs – Hallelujah and If It Be Your Will – number among Len’s finest.

* If the tour’s merchandising operation doesn’t fill the Cohen coffers, I’d be surprised. To this cheapskate, some of the prices were outrageous. I didn’t mind shelling out £10 for a lovely (slim) souvenir booklet.

But the new box set, The Collection at £40? Gimme a break!

It’s a wonderful box, with five albums: Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Various Positions, The Future, I’m Your Man and Ten New Songs.

But for £40? It’s widely available elsewhere at around £25. And I recently bought all five CDs (plus a bonus, Love And Hate) from my local Tesco store/Play.com for a grand total of £14.

* there’s now a gaping DVD LIVE-shaped hole in Leonard’s discography. I’m betting that a disc of footage of the highly-praised tour will go on sale for the Xmas market. I’ll certainly be buying.

* I was surprised and amazed at the high quality of the London venue, the O2. More to follow.

Gerry Smith

Classic rock photographs in London gallery

July 28, 2008
I must have walked within 50 yards of Blink Gallery, at 11 Poland St London W1, a thousand times without ever realising it was there. Then, for some reason last week, I headed down Poland St, south off Oxford Street, opposite HMV Oxford Circus branch, for the first time.

And there it was – a fabulous small gallery of two floors of framed, signed limited edition rock musician photos.

Pride of place goes to two Dylan pics by Jerry Schatzberg:

* Bob Dylan Pliers 1965 5/20 £2k + VAT 16” x 20” Silver Gelatin print, and

* Bob Dylan 1965 8/30 £2k + VAT 16” x 20” Silver Gelatin print.

Most readers would recognise both from the Blonde On Blonde cover shoot.

The Dylan pics are surrounded by other iconic shots documenting the best of Brit rock, from the Stones to Paul Weller. My favourite is is a wonderful tableau from the Beggars Banquet shoot, and there’s Hendrix, Oasis, Bob Marley et al, if jokey Stones debauchery isn’t your bag.

If you’re in London’s West End with a spare fifteen minutes, a visit to Blink Gallery is highly recommended. It’s free to look, and if you have a couple of thousand pounds to spare, you can buy, too.

(aficionados of soft porn: please brace yourself for a pleasant surprise before clicking the link below)

www.blinkgallery.com

Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next 10 days

July 24, 2008
Tempting TV/radio broadcasts in the next 10 days:

Thurs 24 July
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (rpt) – BBC Radio 2
2400 The Chess Records Story – BBC 6 Music (4/4)

Sun 27 July
2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

Mon 28 July
1200 Gluck, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri)
2115, Steve Reich, The Lebrecht Interview – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 31 July
1900 Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione – Proms, BBC Radio 3
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are available online, streamed. Please see the BBC channels’ web sites for details.

Archived radio and TV is accessible online via

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

Proms 2008: the highlights

July 23, 2008
The Proms, the annual summer festival of (mainly) classical music held (mainly) at London’s Albert Hall, started its 2008 season last Friday with the inauspicious withdrawal through illness of Finnish soprano Karita Mattila.

The Proms used to seem like a two month-long gathering of all the geeks, swots and hapless toff and jerks in England (and Colonies). The festival came across as a celebration of the smug, self-satisfied bourgeoisie.

Having overcome such dispiriting prejudice, I now reserve my criticisms for the Proms programme itself. It always has gems, sometimes a multiplicity. But it’s largely a succession of one tedious 19thC symphony after another, albeit played by a rich variety of leading orchestras. I tend to home in on the vocal music.

Proms 2008 highlights I’m waiting for include:

Thurs 31 July – Monteverdi’s Poppaea (Danielle de Niese)

Mon 11 August – Puccini’s Il Tabarro (Barbara Frittoli)

Sun 17 August – Beethoven Mass in C

Fri 22 August – Mahler 5 etc (Angela Kirschlager)

Sun 24 August – Bach’s St John Passion

Sun 31 August – Verdi’s Requiem

Mon 8 Sept – Mahler 6 (Chicago SO)

That’s less than 10% of the total festival, but a mouth-watering prospect nevertheless.

To its credit, the BBC transmits all 76 concerts live on the indispensable Radio 3, with a few also on BBC Four TV. But, as with so many big events, the BBC’s presence transforms the Proms. In applying its Middle England gloss to the events it covers, the BBC changes them. It’s what makes its Wimbledon output inferior to French TV’s coverage of the Paris Open. And makes Glastonbury virtually unwatchable.

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are available online, streamed. Please see the BBC channels’ web sites for details. Archived radio and TV is accessible online via:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

Dylan/Cohen: perfect asymmetry?

July 22, 2008
Thanks to Jane Milton:

“I enjoyed Anne Ritchie’s piece on Bob/Len. (What follows is my attempt to ensure that this web site carries articles by women on two successive days – for the very first time, if I’m not mistaken.)

“I’m a Bob devotee but have found solace with Lennie in several periods when Dylan has been floundering.

“Leonard’s first two ground-breaking albums were released when Dylan was putting out albums like Nashville Skyline, well below the standard of his mid-60s masterpieces.

“Then, when Leonard’s output floundered, in the second half of the ‘70s, Dylan was back on top.

“And then when Bob went AWOL in the late 80s, L Cohen delivered two more masterpieces – Various Positions and I’m Your Man.

“Has anyone else noticed how their discographies seem to be in perfect asymmetry? For one who loves both, it’s been a lucky coincidence.”

Leonard Cohen – the Canadian Dylan?

July 21, 2008
I saw Leonard Cohen for the first time last week, at London’s O2 Arena. It was a magnificent gig.

So thanks to Anne Ritchie for her timely article on Leonard and Dylan:

“Just as Ira B Nadel’s book, Various Positions – A Life Of Leonard Cohen, was turning a little tedious, with its microscopic examination of the (French) Canadian (Jewish) literary scene and references to authors I’d never heard of (and was unlikely to ever want to discover), my interest was reawakened in the middle chapter (Chapter 7), when Bob Dylan appeared for the first time.

“We had arrived at 1966, when Cohen, aged 31, was about to embark on his singing career. At an all-day poetry get-together, none of his fellow poets had heard of this Dylan who Cohen was raving about. One of his friends went out immediately to buy Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, but when they were played they had little impact. Only Cohen was impressed, declaring he would become the Canadian Dylan: music seemed more lucrative than literature.

“En route to Nashville, Cohen stopped off in New York, where he stayed, on and off, for two years. There he was introduced to fellow Canadian Mary Martin, an assistant to Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. It was Martin who arranged for fellow Canadians the Hawks, later known as The Band, to back Dylan. (She also managed Van Morrison for a time.)

“With Martin as his manager, Cohen established himself in the New York music scene. John Hammond, who had also discovered Dylan, signed him to Columbia Records.

“At this point in Various Positions, we see various members of Dylan’s circle from Cohen’s perspective: arguments with Joan Baez over drugs, his infatuation with Nico… .

“It was not until autumn 1969 that Cohen and Dylan met for the first time. Dylan heard that Cohen was at another Village folk club and summoned him to the Kettle of Fish. Their mutual admiration is no secret. Cohen has described Dylan as a Picasso – exuberant, wide-ranging, and assimilating the history of music. Dylan is reported to have gone backstage at several Cohen concerts, and even called in to the recording studios with Allen Ginsberg to sing back-up on Don’t Go Home With Your Hard On, a notorious track on the Phil Spector-produced album, Death of A Ladies’ Man.

“As author Nadel remarks, Cohen and Dylan share some qualities in their song-writing, notably sophisticated lyrics and elegant melodies. They both draw heavily from The Bible. Nadel adds that neither had much of a voice.

“I’d agree that early Lennie can sometimes embarrass with flat notes, but his speaking voice is rich and sonorous and his singing improved with confidence. Dylan could always sing. Listening to his early songs, forty five years down the line, I am often surprised by the force of his singing, the phrasing and the way he holds onto notes. And though his singing voice has seen better days, his speaking voice continues to charm.

“Cohen’s trademark is the most felicitous turn of phrase, both in speech and song. Phrases in his songs impress me with their beauty even when I struggle to comprehend them. Often described as hypnotic, his melodies can draw you in to an intimate world. Only in later songs, as in those in The Future, does Cohen seem to break out from his enclosed world – though his two most recent albums, Ten New Songs, and Dear Heather, see him once again retreating into Planet Leonard.

“Various Positions gives a detailed, informative picture of Leonard Cohen the man and consequently many insights into his (relatively limited) musical output.

“By comparison, Dylan’s vast and varied output reflects a boundless curiosity. It reveals a man looking outwards as well as inwards.”

Leonard Cohen in London: Hallelujah!

July 18, 2008
Death-bed scene: “Well, Dad, that’s the money sorted out: you seem to have blown most of it on live music. As a matter of interest, what were your top five gigs?”

I think I’d have to include last night’s London leg of the Leonard Cohen tour at the O2 (aka Millennium Dome). The septuagenarian charmer delivered almost three hours of intense beauty, deep joy and not a little glee.

For the assembled 20,000, it was a predictably reverential (if unexpectedly intimate), celebration of a major, rarely seen, talent.

The setlist (below) was remarkable, Zeitgeist-marking signature songs succeeding each other, relentlessly. Cohen’s performance was energetic, engaged, generous. His singing made you suspect that maybe he really does have the gift of a golden voice after all. His spoken renditions, particularly of A Thousand Kisses Deep, were deeply moving.

What a writer! What a performer! What a charismatic, inspirational man.

Band – 6 plus 3 vocalists – were accomplished accomplices. Horn-man Dino Soldo was particularly impressive. Sound quality was the best I’ve heard at an amplified gig. Staging, lighting, vision/mixing on big screens were all benchmark quality.

I’d waited many years to see Leonard, the second best writer/performer of the rock era. It was well worth the wait.

SETLIST (approximate):

1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. The Future
3. Ain’t No Cure for Love
4. Bird on a Wire
5. Everybody Knows
6. In My Secret Life
7. Who by Fire
8. Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye
9. Anthem
10. Tower of Song
11. Suzanne
12. The Gypsy’s Wife
13. Boogie Street
14. Hallelujah
15. Democracy
16. I’m Your Man
17. Take This Waltz
18. First We Take Manhattan
19. Sisters of Mercy
20. If It Be Your Will
21. A Thousand Kisses Deep
22. So Long, Marianne
23. Closing Time
24. I Tried to Leave You
25. Whither Thou Goest

A perfect 10, then?

Not quite. A churl could point to the slight unevenness of the setlist: it flagged a bit towards the end of the second half. The finales were underwhelming – the welcome Webb Sisters duet was wrongly positioned; Closing Time is dramatically and melodically too weak to close a show.

And there was an ever-present threat that the show might descend into mainstream showbiz hoopla – Leonard’s frequent name-checking of the band palled early; he was far too nice to the assembled hordes – few would have deserved his compliments; and you sensed that the “spontaneous” jokes had been the same at most gigs on the tour.

For most performers, all this would have been a turn-off. For Leonard, I can make an exception.

Gerry Smith