Archive for November, 2008

Dylan in London, 1962/63

November 28, 2008
If you missed Bob’s Big Freeze, Tuesday’s one-hour Radio 2 documentary on Dylan in London in 1962/63, you can still catch it online – until next Tuesday, 2 Dec (2230 GMT).

It’s a richly detailed account of Dylan’s first trip outside North America. Martin Carthy claims the trip was vital in Dylan’s development as a writer, exposing him to sources which inspired some of the big early anthems like Spanish Boots, Girl From The North Country and Bob Dylan’s Dream. The first masterpiece LP, Freewheelin’, followed in mid-1963.

Strengths? Apart from the evocative music clips, it’s a well-researched feature – as you’d expect from a co-production by long-time Dylan scribe Patrick Humphries. The number and variety of eye witness accounts is impressive.

And don’t be put off by the extraneous noises in the first few minutes of the playback – Nigel Ogden on the organ, and a trail for another Radio 2 show.

Bob’s Big Freeze: recommended.

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

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Maria Callas: favourite female opera singer

November 27, 2008
Maria Callas receives the same level of media attention as Bob Dylan or Miles Davis. It’s easy to see why; she’s Music for Grown-Ups readers’ clear favourite female opera singer, as our poll a couple of years ago established.

Favourite female opera singer: results

Maria Callas 46.8%
Cecilia Bartoli 28.1%
Anna Netrebko 9.3%
Magdalena Kozena 9.3%
Renee Fleming 6.2%
Angela Gheorghiu 0%

Gerry Smith

Roy Orbison: readers’ favourite ‘50s rocker

November 26, 2008
Gearing up for the start of In Dreams: Roy Orbison, the four part series starting on BBC Radio 2 next Monday (1 Dec) at 2330, I dug out the poll conducted here a few years ago which showed Orbison to be even more popular among readers than Elvis!

Favourite ‘50s rockers:

Roy Orbison 26%
Elvis Presley 24.6%
Chuck Berry 21.9%
Buddy Holly 17.8%
Everly Brothers 9.5%
Little Richard 0%

Much as I rate the Big-O, I’d personally rank him after Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.

Gerry Smith

Roy Orbison, Charlie Parker, Olivier Messiaen

November 25, 2008
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days:

Hidden among its vast TV and radio output, the BBC broadcasts some magnificent music for grown-ups. Every week of the year. And it’s all free – well, sort of… .

Thurs 27 Nov
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2
2300 Georgie Fame, BBC Four Sessions – BBC Four
2400 Van Morrison, BBC Four Sessions – BBC Four

Fri 28 Nov
1930 Mahler’s 2nd Symphony – BBC Four
2100 The Clash: Westway To The World – BBC Four
2200 The Clash Live – Revolution Rock – BBC Four

Sat 29 Nov
1600 Charlie Christian, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3
1730 Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust (from the Met) – BBC Radio 3
2400 Charlie Parker, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3

Sun 30 Nov
2400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6 Music

Mon 1 Dec
1200 & 2200 Olivier Messiaen, Composer Of The Week
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri) – BBC Radio 3
2330 Roy Orbison, In Dreams (1/4) – BBC Radio 2

Thurs 4 Nov
2300 Salif Keita, BBC Four Sessions – BBC Four

Fri 5 Dec
2315 fRoots magazine’s Album of the Year, World On 3 – BBC Radio 3

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast live online – please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

More Rolling Stones pictures and striking Oasis artwork

November 25, 2008
Rock and roll art is really taking off, with new shows following each other in rapid succession.

Smart Gallery, in Harrogate, North Yorks, is now selling a set of Stones photographs from 1963. Rolling Stones – 1st Photo Sessions by Philip Townsend comprises six images retailing as a giclee signed limited edition boxed set of mounted images (£895) or individually framed at £275 each.

www.smartgallery.co.uk

Meanwhile, Snap Galleries, which mounts an exciting programme of rock photography exhibitions at its Birmingham HQ, is showing the London-centric art market just what it’s missing with a temporary taster exhibition in the basement of a clothes retailer in London’s Covent Garden.

In the run-up to Xmas, Snap/Covent Garden has a lovely show of Oasis artwork with Michael Spencer Jones’s portfolio of album and singles cover photography.

While Oasis are not really musicians for grown-ups, the Out Of The Blue collection, on sale as limited edition photographs, box sets and a beautiful limited edition book, are striking artifacts which will excite many younger rock music lovers.

www.snapgalleries.com

Gerry Smith

Lucinda Williams – channelling Van Morrison?

November 21, 2008
On Sweet Honey, her new album, Lucinda Williams seems to be channelling Van Morrison. Her new song The Knowing (track 9), sounds eerily like a Van Morrison song from his mid-‘80s Beautiful Vision period. (It isn’t.)

From the vaguely New Age lyrics to the smouldering vocal delivery, from the mantra-like repetition to the quietly impassioned humming (where else have you heard Williams humming on record?), from the tempo to the instrumentation, the similarities are legion.

I’d lay good money that Lucinda Williams had been hearing a fair bit of vintage VanMan music while she was writing Sweet Honey.

Gerry Smith

The Clash, Mahler and Georgie Fame

November 20, 2008
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days:

Hidden among its vast output, BBC TV and radio has some magnificent music for grown-ups – every week of the year. And it’s all free – well, sort of… .

Sat 22 Nov
2400 Art Tatum, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3

Sun 23 Nov
2400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6 Music

Thurs 27 Nov
2300 Georgie Fame, BBC Four Sessions – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 28 Nov
1930 Mahler’s 2nd Symphony – BBC Four
2100 The Clash: Westway To The World – BBC Four
2200 The Clash Live – Revolution Rock – BBC Four

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast online, streamed. Please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online for a short period after transmission via:

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

Gerry Smith

Leonard Cohen – in depth – on UNCUT magazine’s website

November 19, 2008
UNCUT magazine has a Leonard Cohen feature although, unlike the current MOJO, Lenny doesn’t grace the cover (Paul Weller does).

Stealing a march on its great rival, UNCUT has cleverly used the out-takes from the interviews with Cohen associates for a series of traffic-building bonus articles on its website.

Recommended.

www.uncut.co.uk

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EARLIER RELATED ARTICLE:

Leonard Cohen celebrated in new MOJO

As Leonard Cohen prepares for the next leg of his triumphant world tour, the new (“December”) issue of MOJO, the London-based heritage rock monthly, has an impressive 11-page feature on the great poet-musician. Recommended.

Most of it’s taken up by a probing new interview and a buyer’s guide to the Cohen discography, both by Sylvie Simmons.

MOJO also has a Lenny cover – a recent portrait complete with grey goatee beard and rakish peaked cap – and a free CD of new covers of Cohen songs.

(The US edition apparently has a Metallica cover, lending support to the line peddled here that the US doesn’t really get Laughing Len as much as Europe – or Canada.)

Gerry Smith

Music for grown-ups in a tiny town in deepest England

November 18, 2008
On Saturday I travelled 100 miles up the A5 to see a gig. The A5 used to be the major road linking London with Birmingham. The Romans built it, as Watling Street, but the opening of the M1 in the mid-‘60s made it redundant. So now it’s a lovely, empty, winding country road linking historic coaching towns like Towcester and Tamworth.

My journey was to see a performance in Lichfield by Jim Moray, nu-folk innovator oft lauded on musicforgrown-ups.com.

It was my first visit to Lichfield and I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be a delightful little place, an oasis from a bygone era – apart, that is, from welcome modern innovations like clusters of friendly skateboarders, handy fast food joints and the welcoming smoke-free pubs offering shelter from the persistent drizzle (and live football).

What made Lichfield particularly enjoyable was the sandstone medieval cathedral, surely one of the loveliest, if lowest profile, churches in Europe.

Inside, away from the rain, Saturday’s visitors were treated to a rehearsal by a Heavenly choir, preparing for an evening gig. I’d loved to have made the concert, but it clashed with the Moray show (review to follow).

But what an impressive cultural offering! In a tiny town in deepest England you never hear about, the locals had a choice of world-class music for grown-ups: Jim Moray at the Guildhall or Gaudeamus Omnes, a programme of celestial music by Taverner, Byrd and Palestrina, by the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir.

What riches!

Gerry Smith

Van Morrison’s Astral Weekend at Hollywood Bowl

November 17, 2008
Thanks to Andrew Robertson in Adelaide

If ever I was going to fly to the other side of the world for a weekend to see a concert – make that two concerts – November 7th and 8th at Hollywood Bowl was the time to do it.

In a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Van Morrison played Astral Weeks – arguably the greatest album in contemporary music – live both nights to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release in 1968.

Set lists:

Friday 7th November

Wavelength
Saint Dominic’s Preview
And The Healing Has Begun
It’s All In The Game >> You Know What They’re Writing About
Troubadours
Angeliou
Moondance
Brown Eyed Girl
Gloria

Astral Weeks
Beside You
Slime Slow Slider
Sweet Thing
The Way That Young Lovers Do
Cyprus Avenue
Ballerina
Madame George

Listen To The Lion

Saturday 8th November

Wavelength
Saint Dominic’s Preview
Caravan
It’s All In The Game >> You Know What They’re Writing About
Here Comes The Night
And The Healing Has Begun
Summertime In England
Brown Eyed Girl
Gloria

Astral Weeks
Beside You
Slime Slow Slider
Sweet Thing
The Way That Young Lovers Do
Cyprus Avenue
Ballerina
Madame George

Listen To The Lion

When the first night started with Wavelength, Saint Dominic’s Preview and And The Healing Has Begun, I knew we were in for a totally magical experience. You would hardly get a better encore than that, let alone an opening sequence. I have to admit to tears in Healing, I was simply taken!

My own assessment was confirmed by this online review of the Friday night concert in the LA Weekly website on Saturday: “Sell the rest of your portfolio. Forgo fancy dinners for the rest of November. Break your lame date and call your soul mate. Do what you have to do, I swear, to get a ticket to tonight’s Van Morrison show at the Hollywood Bowl. If you at all have ever been moved by a Morrison song, if you’ve wondered whether age has worn his voice, tore away at his heart or passion, you should make a pilgrimage.”

It is seriously impossible to describe these concerts – as an Aussie, I’ve only seen Van live a handful of times, but the Van faithful from all over the world who were there, many of whom had seen him countless times, all agreed that this was the high water mark.

For me, this weekend was about Van’s musical legacy. There have been some people questioning why he would be doing Astral Weeks again and how it might be about money, and getting some rights back from Warner Brothers, and so on. But I don’t think so – if he had wanted to make money, I’m not sure that Astral Weeks was the most astute business decision – more likely Van Morrison “At the Movies” live at Hollywood Bowl would have been more popular.

In an emailed interview with Van, published in the Los Angeles Times, he made one comment that really struck me: “But I prefer writing and crafting the spiritual-leaning songs the most.” And for most of us Vanatics, those are the songs that resonate – but those are the songs that have been (mostly) absent from the last few albums.

So this “Astral Weekend” was about Van reclaiming some of what made him Van Morrison – I think it was a very personal journey for him. But one that he couldn’t help sharing, even though sharing doesn’t (apparently) come easily to him.

Others have said they were worried that he couldn’t do justice to Astral Weeks now after all these years. But he did – it wasn’t a repeat version, but it was a very faithful re-creation, true to the original, but informed by the 40 years in between. Nobody complained about the It’s Too Late To Stop Now version of Listen to the Lion starting with a piano intro, rather than guitar as on the original studio version, so why would there be a problem with Van changing the instrumentation and arrangements in the live versions of the Astral Weeks songs – as long as they were true to the spirit of the originals. Which they were!

To the concerts…

Anyone familiar with Van’s canon will recognise those set lists as extraordinary. To get All In the Game, Troubadours and Angeliou was completely beyond my wildest imaginings – it meant we got the whole of Side 2 of Into The Music, plus Troubadours, in addition to the whole of Astral Weeks!

Angeliou was exceptional, especially when he told the story that had no words – as only Van can, with those vocal sounds that come from who knows where (did you dig that sound?).

Closing out the first half with Moondance, Brown Eyed Girl and Gloria didn’t even seem to disappoint those who’ve heard them 100 times before, I think because the arrangements were so good. Moondance was so crisp and clean, and Van’s sax playing was great. Gloria was a stunner, morphing into Who Do You Love, and having a really bluesy grunt to it. And BEG was, well, just the perfect pop song delivered perfectly.

Then the second half started, Astral Weeks – this was very hard to believe, that there we were, and it was happening. It was 1972 when I first heard Astral Weeks, it blew me away then, it has continued to blow me away ever since, and it blew me away on Friday night.

I think the Friday night highlight was an astonishing Slim Slow Slider in which Van was attacking his acoustic guitar, again and again and again and again, with wild bursts of the most frenetic strumming you’ve ever seen, and singing BOTH that he was breaking down AND that he mustn’t break down.

If proof was still needed that this was about the music, Slim Slow Slider was it – if it was just a money-making exercise, he didn’t have to drive himself into such a frenzied state. He was, at once, breaking down and not breaking down, casting such an emotional spell you couldn’t help but be drawn into it. But like Astral Weeks (the album) has always done, it reveals the depths of pain while also opening the door to redemption. Beside You the same. Ballerina the same. Not so Astral Weeks itself (the song), which I’ve always found to be full of inspiration and hope – to be born again, to be born again.

Running Sweet Thing and Young Lovers in sequence seemed just right, and brought joy back to the stage after the depths of Beside You and Slim Slow Slider (not that listening to those two wasn’t a joyous experience, of course).

Then running Cyprus Avenue, Ballerina and Madame George together made for another inspired sequence and closed out the album, I mean concert, beautifully. Only to be followed by Listen to the Lion, which I had hoped would close out the first half because I really didn’t expect an encore after Astral Weeks (an encore after Madame George?!!). The tears were back in Lion – after all, it is my funeral song, and it is the one, out of all of his songs, that I so wanted him to play! And he did.

On Saturday night, after opening with Wavelength again, things went to a whole new level with an inspired Saint Dominic’s Preview – lines like “Warner Brothers have paid out for the wine” and “when you’re in the phoney state you’re in” and “snipers on the rooftops” suggested that there was fire burning in that belly tonight!

I didn’t expect Caravan – and while he wasn’t kicking, the arm thrusts were straight out of The Last Waltz and the band suddenly became the Caledonia Soul Orchestra. And what was Van doing, BOTH turning up AND turning down that radio. He was just going for it – tonight was his night, no doubt.

Then Game took off – if Saint Dominic was taken to another level, Game went to another galaxy, and it just went on and on, and took us all with it. Tinges of disappointment that we weren’t going to get Healing again – but we did, and again, I had shivers up and down my spine when I heard those first few guitar chords. Healing was very, very special for me, both nights.

Here Comes The Night was a personal treat – as a kid I used to take a transistor radio to bed, under the covers so my parents couldn’t hear, and Here Comes The Night and Mystic Eyes, along with Gloria, began my lifetime relationship with Van (even if I didn’t know it at the time).

But was Summertime in England the biggest surprise of all? It was agreed by everyone I spoke to at the “Van fan” gatherings that there would NOT be a SIE at these shows – even though it would have been first choice for many. Again, not a song that Van would have chosen if he was being guided by commercial interests. But what a surprising version – it started at the end and even though I kept thinking he’ll come back to the beginning with a very soft, taken right down “would you meet me in the country in the summertime in England…” it didn’t happen. Nevertheless, a magical highlight and perfect as it was.

Astral Weeks (the album, not just the song) on Saturday night also, in my opinion, went to another level. I was trying to describe to someone after the show what the difference was – and even though I couldn’t really find the right words to explain it, it seemed to me that he differentiated the songs more clearly. On Friday night, there was a bit of a sameness about his vocal delivery (excluding the extraordinary bits, scatting, etc) whereas on Saturday night each song took on its own personality. For example, Beside You was delivered more like on the album, much starker vocal delivery, almost harsh, but in a way that befits the song.

The highlight (if it’s possible to pick one) on Saturday night was Ballerina – after which he got a standing ovation from a crowd that knew Madame George and (hopefully) Listen to the Lion was still to come.

Speaking of standing ovations, on Friday night the crowd just clapped and cheered for what seemed like 10 minutes before the house lights came up. Yes we wanted more, but it was more than that – it was a genuinely enthusiastic acknowledgment of what we had witnessed. And this included people in the audience who were not Vanatics. I was really hoping that Van hadn’t left straight after the show because I thought it would have done wonders for his soul to have heard such heartfelt appreciation.

On Saturday night, my tears happened in Madame George – not sure if it was just the occasion, or whether it was the song, but certainly Madame George on Saturday night was as good as it gets. On a weekend that was better than it ever gets.