Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Pete Brown

High Flying Electric Bird

High flying bird, I don’t hear the last for me
High flying bird, I don’t know the rest of it
Into the dark where electric wings spark you into life
Sketches of night, a first to fade away,
Stretches of light, growings to grid the day,
Into the waves where submarine slaves kiss you into life
Flying over the mountains of lust,
Blowing over the weddings of dust
Into the dark where electric wings spark you into life
High flying bird, I don’t hear the rest for me
High flying bird, the sky’s where I need to be
Into the grin where electric eyes spin you into life
Sounds of the day,  smash themselves into dreams,
Somewhere I lay, are tears running down my beams
Into the sun where the silver wings run themselves into ground...

I found this extract/transcription of most of the lyrics from this beautiful song I referenced in my previous post. I tried to transcribe the rest, but it is so difficult to pick out what Brown is actually singing - and I suspect some of the above is guesswork [though it sounds accurate in most cases as you listen....]. But this certainly captures the poetry of the song, and Brown's artfulness.

I couldn't find the full lyrics anywhere; finding his poetry is difficult too. There's one copy on amazon - in the States - but it's ex-libraray, so I haven't decided.

But you can listen to the song here and maybe you are better at hearing the lyrics than me.....

Pete Brown & Phil Ryan - Road of Cobras

Still On Rock's Road

My main interest in this album is Pete Brown, having been a big fan of his work in the late 60s with The Battered Ornaments and then early 70s with Piblokto! - and of course there is his work as lyricist with Cream and Jack Bruce on renown songs like Sunshine of Your Love, SWLABR, I Feel Free, Politician and White Room. My favourite Pete Brown song is the beautiful High Flying Electric Bird [Brown/Mullen] from the Pete Brown and Piblokto! album Things May Come And Things May Go, But The Art School Dance Goes On Forever [1970]. Great bird-whistle soloing on this too.

This 2010 album is great stuff, mainly jazz infused, and with Phil Ryan - long time collaborator - making, of course, his major contribution through keyboards, writing and orchestration. Cool tracks are 3rd Between Us with Maggie Bell on accompanying vocal, 4th Klip-On Weirdness Kit which highlights signature Brown lyrics in all their lively playfulness, and the same can be said for the Brown narrative of 5th track The Ballad of Psycho and Delia which includes a sweet if brief alto saxophone solo from Art Themen, and Annie Whitehead on trombone.

The great Jim Mullen plays guitar on most tracks, but Mick Taylor also guests on opener Flag a Ride and 8th 13th Floor. Pete Brown's distinctive vocal is a delight throughout. Helen Hardy and Rietta Austin provide soulful backing vocals on most tracks too. As I've said, it's jazzy, but also funky as on 7th Men Only with again some ripe and ribald lyrics livening up the proceedings [penile puns....].

Having just purchased this I also bought a secondhand hardback copy of Pete Brown's autobiography White Rooms and Imaginary Westerns - On The Road With Ginsberg, Writing For Clapton and Cream - An Anarchic Odyssey which I also look forward to reading. It is a life lived to the full so there are clearly stories to tell. I will also be chasing down some of his poetry.

Surprise Songs

Warren Haynes, Sick Of My Shadow - Man In Motion [2011]

Haynes' first solo album for 18 years, the sometime Gov't Mule, The Allman Brothers Band, The Dead and countless other band's or jam group's major or cameo contributor turns in a soulful and groove-laden rather than straight bluesrock album that also foregrounds his great gravelly vocal.

For me, stand-out and surprise track is Sick Of My Shadow, surprising because the lead instrument is an effects tweaked saxophone played by Ron Holloway. The Hammond organ stabs are beaten back by the sax solos and even Haynes' guitar work takes a passenger seat next to this domination. I love it, but most reviews either ignore or, as with one, prefer to reference a solo demo and then deride the polished and final version. You can see Haynes play this as a solo on [and I was amazed at the simple chord sequence] or the full album version on

Have a listen, compare, and enjoy.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

e.e. cummings

it may not always be so;and i say
that if your lips,which i have loved,should touch
another's,and your dear strong fingers clutch
his heart,as mine in time not far away;
if on another's face your sweet hair lay
in such a silence as i know,or such
great writhing words as,uttering overmuch,
stand helplessly before the spirit at bay;
if this should be,i say if this should be- 
you of my heart,send me a little word;
that i may go unto him,and take his hands,
saying,Accept all happiness from me.
Then shall i turn my face,and hear one bird
sing terribly afar in the lost lands. 
As one of my 'teenage' poems, I'm sure this will be more familiar than those I have posted previously. It is interesting to me how there is a pattern emerging in the love poems I seem to be selecting with their final honest lines.

There were a number of favourite cummings poems I could have chosen, but the one that would have run this choice the closest is my father moved through dooms of love.

Chris Smither - Time Stands Still

Fingerpickin' Goodness

Ahead of seeing the great American folk blues singer/songwriter and fingerpicking expert Chris Smither next week, I'll comment on his last release Time Stands Still from 2009 [there is a live collection Lost and Found, 2011, available only at gigs so I hope to get mine next week too].

I came across Smither relatively recently, and picked for my Top Fifty his twofer that combines his brilliant first two albums I'm A Stranger Too and Don't It Drag On [1970/1971] - the folk oriented and beautifully played  songs very much in the more British tradition of John Martyn, Bert Jansch and Steve Tilston. His later work, and this album, reflect the blues tradition and have seen his earlier warbling voice drop towards a rougher baritone. Opening track Don't Call Me A Stranger is an electric foot-stomping dirt blues with Smither declaring with simple honesty I ain't evil/I'm just bad. The title track picks up the pace on the foot tapping and has Smither in more familar fingerpicking acoustic mood. Third Surprise Surprise is a rock'n'roll blues that tackles our world economy with banks are failin'/you start wailin' and surprise surprise the money's gone blunt reality - and there's some comic mockery of those turning to religion to look for another kind of failed bail-out! Smither's self-penned songs, all but 3 of the 11 on this album, are worldly wise and played with little extraneous interference - the guitar and voice authority all that is needed to carry such effective ideas and tunes.

My favourite on this album is one of the three covers, Dylan's It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry. I know I like this because it reflects the earlier Smither that I do so adore, and here the guitar playing is in his folk mode, and it reminds me of the the sliding fret-work [not slide guitar] and softer wavering vocal of Time To Go Home from I'm A Stranger Too, though there are many songs from those first two albums that have this signature sound. Another gem is the slow blues Old Man Down, a meloncholic reflection with 'ambient guitar' adding to the plaintive tone about the death of his dad: it's time to lay the old man down.

The Rabbit Lies

The rabbit lies sprawled out full length in its hutch
sleeping, head flopped against the door’s wire mesh
so squares of white fur push through and do not move.
He could be dead. It is the still of slumber and so slow
breathing as he rests yet again. What it is, I know, is
age – this rabbit’s simply too goddamn old and lazy
which is obvious from those times where we must rouse
him to clip encrusted or messy faeces from his back end.

Yet he can look serene. And it is, yes, in the long calm
of his lying there that he also looks endearingly sweet,
so when I give as reward for this recumbent lie
an edible treat, it drops from the fumbling of his
eager but less assured lunge, and I too grope to find,
keen to act like helping another old man across a street.

Friday, 24 February 2012


Green Grass and High Tides, Outlaws - Outlaws [The Outlaws 1975]

Heard this track on Planet Rock tonight, and that extended two-guitar jam is amazing and must have been so much fun to play, as it was and still is when closing their past and present live shows.

Here's another band and song I didn't really know at the time - what the hell was I doing? As I posted the other day regarding Firefall, I don't understand how it's possible I missed out on such country harmony [and/or West Coast] sound at the very time I would have lapped it up with such enthusiasm. I mean I do now, but I would have revelled in it back then, especially the guitar romp. Would have drivelled. And drooled. Even tonight it woke me from my nap......

I didn't know of the Outlaws until some time in the 80s when a work colleague recorded for me me a cassette copy of Springsteen's Nebraska and put an Outlaws' lp on the other side [not this debut album]. And tonight when I heard Green Grass and High Tides on the radio I went to search for my cd copy - but then remembered I recently acquired an Outlaws album - and yes, this is the one, playing now [for the second time] on this track. Loud. Just into the first solos as I type. A taster before the lengthy and rousing closer. The song isn't about marijuana as often thought but instead about rock and roll luminaries from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix.

In that interconnectivity that likes to surprise, two days ago I was playing a more recently purchased vinyl, The Rolling Stones' big hits [high tide and green grass], the title after which Hughie Thomasson named his song. Far out.

Henry Graham

good luck to you kafka/you'll need it boss

the man from the finance company
came again today he wants to know
when i'm going to pay but what he won't say
is what it was i bought

one morning perhaps when i was high
on poetry and corned jock butties
i must have wandered threepartsmental
into a departmental store and bought something

a three piece suite for my sweet
a frigidaire to keep frozen my despair
a fitted carpet for the inside of my head

he just won't say what it was
and when i laugh he looks the other way
apparently i have only fourteen days left
he won't even say what happens then

i suppose they will come and take away my eyes
(which i know i haven't paid for)
or the words that live inside my head
or my surprise at raindrops or the use

of my legs or my love of bread
then again they just might forget
about me and go away / fat chance

When Allen Ginsberg visited Liverpool in 1965 he declared the city the centre of the consciousness of the human universe, or words to that effect because there are a variety of alternatives out there, and for those who doubt he actually said it, Brian Patten is quoted as observing I think Allen believed the centre of human consciousness to be wherever he was at the time.

This is by way of introducing Henry Graham who was a Liverpool painter and poet of this time, having attended that centre of cultural significance Liverpool College of Art. He didn't make The Mersey Beat selection, but he was a similar poet of that oeuvre. This book was published in 1969 and I acquired my copy in 1973. The appeal was obviously the poetic irreverence of the moment and the celebration of comic meaninglessness, or I guess I would have seen in this poem at that teenage time an anti-establishment sentiment, a mockery of the powers to be who would try to deprive us of the words that live inside our heads and a love of raindrops and so on. It was just fun.

I wrote plenty of immature gibberish trying to emulate this poetic hilarity. It's not as easy as it might seem. I'll post an example one day when I'm feeling very confessional.....

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Top Fifty - Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath [1970]

Rain, tolling bell, thunder, drawl of a heavy riff, and slow bleak questions before the apocalypse strikes its shocked response Oh No,  Black Sabbath announces Black Sabbath, and the demons, wizards and devils therein are dark procreative forces announcing a new genre through this Satanic birthyell, or the vivaparous voice that is Heavy Metal God Ozzie Osbourne.

Raw as a pig’s hide kicked by a mad farmer’s boot in the wild black of night, the relentless ramrod riffs and largely monosyllabic lyrics pound out again and again the most sublime new testament of Rock. By the time we get to N.I.B. - 40 seconds in to be precise -


the most memorably malevolent iambic pentameter in Rock is fully realised: OH YEAH!

Diablo Tony Iommi lays down his own straightforward but powerful incantations in dark worship at the altar of Blue Cheer, and Fiend Geezer Butler provides roars from other visiting daemons carried on the rumbling rolls of Beast Bill Ward.

I bought this album not really knowing who or what it was – but drawn by the cover – somewhere on a market stall in London. I played it for the first time, as memory serves, at the house of a female student friend and other likeminded 5th year musical vampires where we sucked its fresh blood with relish. I do believe there was a collective and spontaneous headbang, but reality and myth merge after all these years.

I do know that its dark drones merged with simple melodic lines still thrills today. I might be wrong, but it seems to me that Paranoid has more acclaim, and War Pigs is the common choice for a fans’ anthem, but this debut raw assault on the senses has left its permanent mark on my musical hide and long listening ride.

Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters - There It Is

Nuff Said

Been listening to this all morning: poetry and jazz and invective - it's powerful stuff. Second track U.S. - Nigeria Relations is a mesmerising example of Cortez's performance poetry with the repeated line They want the oil but they don't want the people hammering home its stinging message. This method is used again for sixth track If The Drum Is A Woman: potent repetitions across a greater variety of lines, percussion accompanying. The marriage of jazz [the Firespitters] and poetry [Cortez] gets a rousing work-out on fifth track Opening Act.

I'm learning all the time: researching around this album I discover today that Jayne Cortez was married in 1954, at age 18, to Ornette Coleman. Nuff said.

And here are the lyrics to the rousing and more rockblues oriented opening track There It Is,

There It Is

My friend
they don't care
if you're an individualist
a leftist a rightist
a shithead or a snake

They will try to exploit you
absorb you confine you
disconnect you isolate you
or kill you

And you will disappear into your own rage
into your own insanity
into your own poverty
into a word a phrase a slogan a cartoon
and then ashes

The ruling class will tell you that
there is no ruling class
as they organize their liberal supporters into
white supremist lynch mobs
organize their children into
ku klux klan gangs
organize their police into killer cops
organize their propaganda into
a devise to ossify us with angel dust
pre-occupy us with western symbols in
african hair styles
inoculate us with hate
institutionalize us with ignorance
hypnotize us with a monotonous sound designed
to make us evade reality and stomp our lives away
And we are programmed to self destruct
to fragment
to get buried under covert intelligence operations of
unintelligent committees impulsed toward death
And there it is

The enemies polishing their penises between
oil wells at the pentagon
the bulldozers leaping into demolition dances
the old folks dying of starvation
the informers wearing out shoes looking for crumbs
the lifeblood of the earth almost dead in
the greedy mouth of imperialism
And my friend
they don't care
if you're an individualist
a leftist a rightist
a shithead or a snake

They will spray you with
a virus of legionnaire’s disease
fill your nostrils with
the swine flu of their arrogance
stuff your body into a tampon of
toxic shock syndrome
try to pump all the resources of the world
into their own veins
and fly off into the wild blue yonder to
pollute another planet

And if we don't fight
if we don't resist
if we don't organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is

Nuff said, you know

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Yevgeny Yevtushenko


My love will come
will fling open her arms and fold me in them,
will understand my fears, observe my changes.
In from the pouring dark, from the pitch night
without stopping to bang the taxi door
she’ll run upstairs through the decaying porch
burning with love and love’s happiness,
she’ll run dripping upstairs, she won’t knock,
will take my head in her hands,
and when she drops her overcoat on a chair,
it will slide to the floor in a blue heap.

[from Selected Poems, Penguin Modern European Poets, 1962]

Of course I've got the bug now, right up there, and I'm revisiting the old reading grounds. It's wonderful.

With Yevtushenko, it was a choice between this poem and Lies with the following opening that had an obvious appeal for a teenager's sense of being wronged by anyone and everyone older,

Lying to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world is wrong....

But I went for Waiting because I was as romantic as radical in my 70s poetic moods in the 70s and I love the simple rushing narrative of this immediate poem.

Firefall - Firefall

Coulda Been a Contender

With my fondness for pretty West Coast harmony, this is a band and album I should have known in its time, 1976, but I didn't, only discovering them and this album maybe five or more years ago. And a few weeks ago I picked up a vinyl copy.

Stand-out and famous track is opener It Doesn't Matter, written by Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman and Rick Roberts, so there's your harmony pedigree right there. Rick Roberts, who had been in the Flying Burrito Brothers, formed Firefall in 1974, and his songs on the album probably appeal the most, though all are good. Third track, again by Roberts, is the CS&N/Eaglesesque Livin' Ain't Livin - though that sound reference is naffish, I know. But you understand what I mean about pretty and West Coast and, really, AOR music. Love it. Fifth, Dolfin's Lullaby - Roberts again, is just beautiful.

A Larry Burnett number, Cinderella, is the sixth track - first on side 2 - and this is also superb, having a slightly rockier sound to it, but firmly in that Eagles/Loggins and Messina  frame of reference.This was a popular radio-play, but didn't do as well as it might because of, apparently, female opposition to the  lyrics which are about a man's regret for staying with the girl he got pregnant,

Cinderella couldn't you see
Don't want your company
Shoulda left that mornin' left that day
Took your love and your child away

But hey, he didn't leave her! Give the guy a break ladies of the 70s. Two more Rick Roberts' songs excel on side two of the album: You Are The Woman, and Mexico with some fine guitar work. A great album, and in my possessive proclivity when it comes to music, I am delighted to have this vinyl which I have naturally been listening to whilst typing this post. If I had grown up with this from 1976 I have no doubt it would be a definite Top Fifty, but such is the nature of this selection: I didn't have the extra special nurturing that adds other indelible elements to the music itself.

Ted Walker

February Poem

The hours of daylight must be lengthening now:
I walked among the frost and noticed how
The last, softening snowdrops were in thaw;
Then, stepping between flecks of shadow, saw
The first collapse of crocuses begun,
Yellowy in small fritterings of sun.
Ridiculous with delight, I hurried home.

But I stare from a winter-facing room
To think how premature the petal-fall
Of laurustinus by the churchyard wall;
And as the minutes edge me from the light
Into this perceptibly shorter night,
I sense a northerly gathering air
Prising another bud of my despair.

[from The Night Bathers, 1970]

As a teenager I was a big fan of Ted Walker's poetry and I have four of his collections: The Night Bathers, Fox on a Barn Door, The Solitairies,  and Gloves to the Hangman with its wonderful poem Pig Pig about a 1386 tribunal in Falaise that sentenced a pig to be 'mangled and maimed in the head and forelegs, and then to be hanged, for having torn the face and arms of a child and thus caused its death'. The pig was first dressed in man's clothes.

In the early 70s, I had the great joy of being Chairman of the Literary Society at the then Ipswich Civic College where we were given quite a nifty budget to promote poetry and similar. Pretty much carte blanch to spend it as I saw fit too. Wouldn't get that kind of trust and investment in the arts nowadays, especially in an FE College [no fucking mission statement; no fucking financial audit]. Amongst a variety of writers and other things organised that I can't fully remember, I did get Ted Walker to come and give a reading for us. We took him out for a curry afterwards and I must have talked the biggest load of absolutely and genuinely earnest and enthusiastic bollocks about poetry and probably politics. I'm sure I got very drunk. Just hope Ted saw potential somewhere amongst all that teenage joy.

In my early years of teaching in the 80s I often used Ted Walker's poetry. I chose this poem today because it is February and it is a sonnet and, in a convention I wholly understand, Walker merges seasonal reference with a touch of self-pity.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Eric Steckel & Craig Thatcher - The Soundmine Sessions [2009 demos]

World Ahead

I have written before about Eric Steckel and his last major album Milestone of 2010 which showcases this astonishingly good and young guitarist. This 2009 set offers four [3 + 1 reprise] more numbers in the same fine vein, with third track It's The Little Things presenting a superlative guitar solo: it's not flash, but full of sonic bliss in the disciplining on the wah wah, and then - well, it's not flash as I said, but it is blisteringly quick. Not a shred, but a romp around the frets.

There's loads of good guitarists out there, and maybe many who are more virtuoso. With Steckel, it's the control and depth of sound, and he also has a fine maturing vocal, and the songwriting is excellent. Still only 21 years old. What a world ahead.

Peter Porter

An Exequy

In wet May, in the months of change,
In a country you wouldn’t visit, strange
Dreams pursue me in my sleep,
Black creatures of the upper deep –
Though you are five months dead, I see
You in guilt’s iconography,
Dear Wife, lost beast, beleaguered child,
The stranded monster with the mild
Appearance, whom small waves tease,
(Andromeda upon her knees
In orthodox deliverance)
And you alone of pure substance,
The unformed form of life, the earth
Which Piero’s brushes brought to birth
For all to greet as myth, a thing
Out of the box of imagining.

This introduction serves to sing
Your mortal death as Bishop King
Once hymned in tetrametric rhyme
His young wife, lost before her time;
Though he lived on for many years
His poem each day fed new tears
To that unreaching spot, her grave,
His lines a baroque architrave
The Sunday poor with bottled flowers
Would by-pass in their morning hours,
Esteeming ragged natural life
(‘Most dear loved, most gentle wife’),
Yet, looking back when at the gate
And seeing grief in formal state
Upon a sculpted angel group,
Were glad that men of god could stoop
To give the dead a public stance
And freeze them in their mortal dance.

The words and faces proper to
My misery are private – you
Would never share our heart with those
Whose only talent’s to suppose,
Nor from your final childish bed
Raise a remote confessing head –
The channels of our lives are blocked,
The hand is stopped upon the clock,
No one can say why hearts will break
And marriages are all opaque:
A map of loss, some posted cards,
The living house reduced to shards,
The abstract hell of memory,
The pointlessness of poetry –
These are the instances which tell
Of something which I know full well,
I owe a death to you – one day
The time will come for me to pay
When your slim shape from photographs
Stands at my door and gently asks
If I have any work to do
Or will I come to bed with you.
O scala enigmata,
I’ll climb up to that attic where
The curtain of your life was drawn
Some time between despair and dawn –
I’ll never know with what halt steps
You mounted to this plain eclipse
But each stair now will station me
A black responsibility
And point me to that shut-down room,
‘This be your due appointed tomb.’

I think of us in Italy:
Gin-and-chianti-fuelled, we
Move in a trance through Paradise,
Feeding at last our starving eyes,
Two people of the English blindness
Doing each masterpiece the kindness
Of discovering it – from Baldovinetti
To Venice’s most obscure jetty.
A true unfortunate traveller, I
Depend upon your nurse’s eye
To pick the altars where no Grinner
Puts us off our tourists’ dinner
And in hotels to bandy words
With Genevan girls and talking birds,
To wear your feet out following me
To night’s end and true amity,
And call my rational fear of flying
A paradigm of Holy Dying –
And, oh my love, I wish you were
Once more with me, at night somewhere
In narrow streets applauding wines,
The moon above the Apennines
As large as logic and the stars,
Most middle-aged of avatars,
As bright as when they shone for truth
Upon untried and avid youth.

The rooms and days we wandered through
Shrink in my mind to one – there you
Lie quite absorbed by peace – the calm
Which life could not provide is balm
In death. Unseen by me, you look
Past bed and stairs and half-read book
Eternally upon your home,
The end of pain, the left alone.
I have no friend, no intercessor,
No psychopomp or true confessor
But only you who know my heart
In every cramped and devious part –
Then take my hand and lead me out,
The sky is overcast by doubt,
The time has come, I listen for
Your words of comfort at the door,
O guide me through the shoals of fear –
‘F├╝rchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir.’

[from The Cost of Seriousness, 1978]

Not a poem from my youth, but one I have always liked intensely. It is very 'poetic' - the rhyming couplets; the sustained poetic references; its learned cleverness, and I can imagine the detractors because of this - but for me this control is a part of its formal grace and sincere dedication to Porter's first wife, on whose death this poem is both an exequy but more passionately a eulogy. Indeed, it is the juxtapositions of taut poetic lines and content with tender confession which makes it so powerful, and ultimately honest.

Bishop [Henry] King's model is itself a moving piece and I have now posted it in the comments section of this post.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Surprise Songs

The Hamsters, Little Wing - The Jimi Hendrix Memorial Concerts 1995 [1996]

I keep meaning to see The Hampsters when they play locally, as they do, and it's the Hendrix set I'd be keen to hear. Apart from the shite cover, this is brilliant Hendrix repackaging - the guitar of Snail's-Pace Slim (Barry Martin) being the obvious gem in a tight mimetic trio. When you love a song so much like Little Wing, it does surprise when another version can stand alongside so confidently. The extended opening guitar work is perfect.

Robert Graves

Symptoms of Love

Love is a universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares -
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!

Could you endure such grief
At any hand but hers? 

From his 1965 Collected Poems, I bought this book in 1970. Not a brilliant poem, but I think the message was one, as with the Neruda recently posted, which appealed to the adolescent broken heart! There is of course the irony in this and also Neruda's endings. These poems were typed and displayed on my bedroom wall - oh sad, sad teenage wall....

Elixir Of Escape

John Martyn - When It's Dark [Demo], Solid Air, Deluxe Edition

One of John's most soothing and beautiful songs, and as a demo very simply done on solo acoustic guitar. If you are ever in the place of its title, this will go some way to alleviate.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Extra Classic - Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam

Not A Classic, Yet

San Francisco based dub duo marry reggae rhythms to psyche pop vocals to produce this entertaining album. Being honest, I would have liked more psychedelic input into the Jamaican core - as the album cover and pic below suggest - but that's just because my musical preference dictates aural desire, as ever. I think a lack of any absolutely stand-out tracks will prevent this from ever gaining widespread appeal, but it is distinct enough as a a whole to be worthy of note. Perhaps a promise of more to come when songcraft can push above the successful idea.

Surprise Songs

Lonely Woman - Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come

I'm not surprised that this opening track on Coleman's iconic album is superb: I'm surprised because I have heard for the first time the melodic line that forms the saxophone solo in the Manfred Mann Chapter III track Konekuf. I had never made the connection, loving the MM cut and not really knowing Lonely Woman. So is it a simple rip-off? Homage? I couldn't find any references and/or explanations online, but I did get another surprise, which may or may not be accurate, when I read that Konekuf spelt backwards was Mann's caustic comment on racial attitudes and policies at the time - and for those of you who don't get it because of your age, it alludes to the Conservative MP and racist Enoch Powell and, presumably, his infamous rivers of blood tirade.

Incredible how I will now listen to a song I have known and loved for over 40 years with an entirely new set of markers. More shock than surprise really.

Raymond Carver

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Ghost Voice

It is that time and I hear you call but it is a
ghost haunting ahead of its moment, a voice
that urges and implores before the need is even
more. Each night I will pause and listen and
hear: sometimes it is the shout that pierces,
or it is just shadow, the dark echo from before
rounded out to an almost sound as if real.
And I respond. I rise and wait and listen and
hear the eventual silence like some blessing;
and blessed, I take my place back in the
queue to await the sound of your actual call,
whenever there is the impulse of your need.
And as the time comes for your sharp appeal
it is a call I am so well rehearsed to heed.

Rusty Anderson - Until We Meet Again

Living The Life With Sir

I wrote recently and enthusiastically about watching Paul McCartney playing on the BBC Electric Proms, Camden, and being impressed with him and his tight band. Lead guitarist and excellent supporting vocalist in that band is Rusty Anderson, and this compilation of his two solo albums is a fine reflection of the talent McCartney so clearly noted and wanted with him.

Opener Help Myself is a sound enough song with Sir Paul playing a different kind of supporting bass. It's the second track Born on Earth that really showcases Anderson's songwriting talents and excellent array of guitar riffs. The song has its many influences - the Beatles being one of the least surprising - and I hear a little bit of Squeeze as well as Electric Light Orchestra. There are string arrangements which reflect the influence of the Beatles/George Martin, and these occur throughout this song and the whole album, but I do like the varying guitar layers, and it is overall quite a complex song that ends strongly with its orchestral peak. Anderson provides a gritty vocal on this track too.

Third track Baggage Claim is a clever enough pop ditty, enhanced by another pert guitar solo. Fourth Where Would We Go is a strong song, an acoustic number with that Beatlesesque jauntiness which enhances rather than detracts. It has enough shifts and sweet electric guitar above the acoustic to flesh it out to a hummable tune. Fifth Julia Roberts is a song seeped in sixties pop psyche lyrics and tune, an imagined meeting with the fantasy of his fancy. It's perhaps a little too pretty for me, but I'm feeling quite inclined to liking the whole of this guy's journeyman offering when so much from more popular and feted bands - take Coldplay's latest for example - nauseates by comparison. This is followed by an even more psyche pop track in Electric Trains where the sunshine harmonies and fuzzed guitar echo those late 60s songs where something a little more incongruous than a train is prefaced by the adjective electric! Seventh These Are The Days has a little of the John Mellancamp about its opening and main riff, but as the more ostensibly ballsy of all songs with its referencing of cocaine and shit to go down, it is surprisingly the least successful. Rock credibility is resurrected in subsequent number Devil's Spaceship with slight vocal distortion and heavier, near-metal guitar. Ninth Catbox Beach is an instrumental homage to bands like The Ventures and The Shadows, and foregrounds Anderson's fine guitar playing again, including an odd reggae insert.

Eleventh and penultimate Damaged Goods is an echoing, harmonising ballad. The album closes on the upbeat Until We Meet Again, but it is a song that could have been sacrificed to end more strongly on an earlier choice. But as I said, this is an album to be judged as a whole and I have been entertained by a guy with genuine talent who really must be living the life by helping McCartney, and others in that fine band, to represent so much astonishing music.

Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge - Help Me Make It Through The Night

They Didn't Need Any Help

I have just finished watching the Duets on BBC programme and it showed - had to show - the sublime Old Grey Whistle Test performance of these two singing Kristofferson's great song.

It is an intimate and sensuous duet. The singing is superb; the chemistry simmering. If you haven't seen, do check it out.

The programme also showed Cher singing with Gregg Allman, a performance I hadn't seen before, though I do have the album Allman and Woman they recorded together when married. Not as hot, but good stuff too.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Pablo Neruda

Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her. 

Now and then I think I will post some of my favourite poems, and I'm going to start with those that were important to me as I was growing up, both as a person and a writer. I bought Neruda's wonderful collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair on the 10th April, 1973

Top Fifty - Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat and Tears – Same

As the horns announce the distortion of their other entry into the mix, you know that after the opening flute tranquillity of Variations on a Theme by Eric Satie [1st and 2nd Movements], this is an album getting ready to launch.

And second track Smiling Phases also announces the great voice of David Clayton-Thomas. A Winwood/Capaldi/Woods song, Blood, Sweat and Tears tear it up with some wonderful horn arrangements by Fred Lipsius before transferring into the jazz middle with piano [by Lipsius] and some strutting Jim Fielder bass. The horns return to yank the song back to organ and Clayton-Thomas’ key vocals: the consummate B, S & T’s song.

This is followed by the schmaltz and lite jazz of Sometimes in Winter with writer Sam Katz on vocal. But those sweeping horns try to sustain fully the sound. This isn’t the strongest track in the band’s second outing, but it sets us up nicely for what’s to come next.

Fourth More and More reminds us of why we want Clayton-Thomas at the vocal helm. Drums and horns provide a more staccato rhythm in this song, and the funky bass with stabs of organ lead into the Katz guitar solo, one of the few rock guitar with effects contributions on the album, and a snatch from a similar sound on their excellent debut album with Al Kooper leading the band.

Fifth And When I Die, written by the brilliant Laura Nyro, keeps the clever song choices supporting the band’s progress. Its cowboy interlude lightens the mood and is fully in keeping with the jaunty bass and overall rhythm. The song’s gospel roots get played out in the lovely ending to this upbeat version.

Another superb song choice gets placed at number six with the Holiday/Herzog classic God Bless The Child.  The Clayton-Thomas vocal again carries this great track, perhaps a requisite when covering such an original. The song is arranged by Dick Halligan, and his organ into Latin piano-led interlude with swirling horns [Winfield/Soloff/Hyman] and saxophone [Lipsius] reminds me of the Buddy Rich Big Band and provides that lovely nuance to such a famous number.

Seventh Spinning Wheel is perhaps the peak on this big band vehicle. The cowbell introduces the beat, and Clayton-Thomas again controls from here on in, employing some distortion effects on an otherwise quite conventional playing. I love the squealing horns around the trombone drag, but could have done without the circus recorders at the end – a twee finale that prompts someone to say that wasn’t too good! But perhaps this is all part of the fun.

Wavering horns, drum roll and organ introduce eighth track You’ve Made Me So Very Happy. Listening to this and the whole album in 1968, its consistent jazz orchestrations, as on this beautiful romantic track, had a huge impact. These songs are essentially pop numbers and/or classic standards. There is very little rock guitar, apart from the one solo already mentioned, and even less in terms of sound effects. It’s the jazz that made it raunchy and heavy and so cool because as well as listening to rock we were all listening to jazz to find that ‘alternative’ sound. The band Chicago went the heavier and at times psychedelic route – and I love that – but this album and these songs retained a simpler but nonetheless distinctive sound that became a template for so many other jazz rock bands that followed.

The band’s self penned and penultimate track Blues-Part II lets members solo and perhaps gives its nod to rock blues and improvisational moments to align it to the more experimental. A fine Lipsius alto sax solo dances above a simple repeated bass line, then slows to a melancholic layer before the bass picks up on Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love riff – a lovely surprise - and then there’s one other subliminal of a rock guitar lead, as two bars of Spoonful are played. Oh the homage and humour. It’s Clayton-Thomas who takes the song out on a crescendo of his soulful voice before segueing sweetly into the echoing flute of Halligan on the 1st Movement from Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie where it all began – until we hear a door close.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Black Bananas - Rad Times Xpress IV

Psychedelic Bananas

Here’s an album that wah wahs and fuzzes and samples and distorts and synthesises and phases in and out and all about. The mish-mash of genres is given a heavy or trippy treatment throughout and that’s what entices and entertains. I don’t know what it is. Post-rock? Nu-rock? Rude-rock? It is funk and groove too, and more influences than I have the energy to identify – if that were possible – and then transcribe.

This is Jennifer Herrema post-Royal Trux and post-RTC, and whilst I knew a little about the former band I have no experience of the latter. I recall Royal Trux in the late 80s into 90s with their dirty rock and blues which was so refreshingly basic and brutal, recalling but renewing sounds from the 70s.

This latest endeavour is as brash and bold but seems to experiment with many more styles and presentations, including the Prince-like funk [because I’m listening to it now] of Do It, with elements of computer game battle sounds being fired within. The vocals are usually enhanced and altered and synthesised in some way, and the overall impact is of an electrical rewiring of fundamentally conventional songs that merge with the bubble and gurgle and voice-overs of other sounds and orchestrations. Then you get a track like My House that resurrects the Royal Trux sound: gritty female vocal and screeching guitar over a pounding beat – with mellotron? Then there’s the Hawkwindesque spacedirge of Earthquake; the rock and sax noise of Overpass; the ambient/industrial pop of Nightwalker; the punkrock and Hendrix of closer Killer Weed.

The cover is a perfect representation of the whole: all colour and splash and psychedelic attitude. Superb. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Gregory Porter – Be Good

He Can Be Bad Too

Porter’s second release after the excellent debut Water arcs again across the soulful to explosive jazz in a collection swelled with beautifully sung ballads to the scat blitz of his wilder moments.

Opener Painted On Canvas is as tender as touch, the vocal caressing around gentle piano chords and playing lyrically with the colours of what makes us who we are. Title track Be Good is playful too in its simple tune and the lyric she says lions are made for cages just to look at if you like/you dare not let them walk around cause they might just bite/she knows what she does as when she dances around my cage and says her name/be good, be good – the metaphor of the lion teased and tamed in this relationship bolstered by a seductive alto sax solo by Yosuke Sato.

Third track On My Way To Harlem is an upbeat homage to the influence and inspiration of Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Marvin Gaye: I so could use some of those blues from Langston Hughes. His supporting band plays an energetic set for this spirited track. Fourth song Real Good Hands has a wonderful spoken opening that evokes soul numbers of the sixties, and the sung assurances to the parents that he will look after their daughter seem equally anachronistic but totally believable in their polite promises, including I wanna make your daughter my wife.

Seventh, the Webster/Fain Imitation of Life, is a classic piano-led jazz ballad that presents Porter’s vocal in all its simple and gentle eminence. This is followed by another sweet offering, Mother’s Song, which is a warm and heartfelt tribute invoking traditional sensibilities of honour, trust and blessing. Ninth Our Love keeps the mood mellow and romantic.

It’s tenth Bling Bling that launches Porter’s scat attack, and as with similar vocables in Water it reminds me of that other expert of vocalese, Kurt Elling. The band again empathises with some raunchy playing, Tivon Pennicott’s tenor saxophone screaming its part in the conversation.

The album ends on two classics. Penultimate track Ned Adderly’s Work Song gets a lively workout, Pennicott and Sato again laying down some scorching sax strides. Closer is a gorgeous a cappella version of God Bless The Child. This is pure and perfect. No acrobatics here, but it is truly moving with its emotive delivery.

Porter is apparently most popular in Europe but particularly here in the UK. He appeared in the 2011/12 Jools Holland Hootenanny and was, for me, the most distinguished performer in a show that is getting a little tired, though Holland's Later is still brilliant at introducing acts on television, as with Porter when he released Water. Porter did receive a Grammy nomination for that album. Whatever the wider acknowledgements and accolades, he is without doubt a great performer and this latest release is a superb addition to his art.

Houston Called

Whitney Houston - My Love Is Your Love

Whatever you personally think of her music/singing, or whether you have any regard for her as a person and artist, Whitney Houston will have been a big part of many people's lives and thus her death will affect a significant number worldwide. It's not about worth or value when compared with other people and/or artists and their deaths: it's just a fact.

I bought Houston's 1998 album My Love Is Your Love having been genuinely engaged by its newer sound for her, especially the title track which was written and produced by Wyclef Jean and Jerry Duplessis. This track funks-up Houston's more familiar soul/pop balladry in the style that made The Score such an instant success for Wyclef's Fugees. I'm not a fan generally of Houston though I think she has an amazing voice. The vocal acrobatics don't always impress - and the When You Believe duet with Mariah Carey as well as a few others on this uneven album reflect this - but her range and clarity of tone are phenomenal.

Others in an appealing funky vein on this album are It's Not Right But It's Okay, Heartbreak Hotel and Oh Yes, part penned by Missy Elliot. These are the songs I have enjoyed today in remembering Whitney Houston.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sea Today

We saw the sea today - still there – both of us in the cold,
facing up to its challenge in the winter wind and
walking in that slow uncertainty which still accounts for
progress. How does this simple endeavour also amount
to a calculation, and can I find enough to keep going
in its measureable pace? Easy enough in consideration of
our time before and more to come, however filled, if
we can at the very least keep moving forward together.

We’ll need to see if it can carry and create, which is all in
belief and believing, and I again must count and calculate
how much to lose myself in the ebb and flow of such a hope.
We were there today, but tomorrow can become catastrophe
and what was disappears in less drama than what a word
connotes, or in the seabed mine waiting to detonate.