Voltarol - related music

Friday, 27 June 2008

Strike up the bandolim

Hamilton de Hollanda (see yesterday's post) is only one of a number of younger Brazilian musicians who have revitalised interest in the bandolim. As you can see from the picture, the main difference between a mandolin and a bandolim is the name and the body shape. Otherwise, both instruments have similar scale lengths, tuning and stringing.
Jacob do Bandolim was probably the first musician to bring the instrument to prominence, and is responsible for one of the most well known and frequently recorded choro tunes, Noites Cariocas (Rio Nights - 'Carioca' is a slang trem for a person from Rio de Janeiro). Here it is played by another superb bandolimist, Armandinho, with the late, great Raphael Rabello on 7 string guitar (another instrument that deserves a posting of its own - watch this space...).
Another young musician working in the choro field is Dudu Maia. His speciality is the 10 string bandolim which as the name implies has an extra course of strings, thus extending the harmonic range. here he is seen in a choro club in Brasilia, playing another Jacob do Bandolim composition, Vibrações (Vibrations). Hamilton de Hollanda, whilst retaining a great love and respect for the older musical forms has, in recent years been taking the bandolim in a more jazz-oriented direction. Here he is with his quintet in 2006. I can't name the tune but I did notice that de Hollanda is also now playing a 10 string instrument.
I have a couple of Déo Rian albums but know very little about him other than the fact that he's about the same age as me, was much influenced by Jacob do Bandolim and is another great player. There are very few YouTube clips of him and most of them have not been uploaded very well, but here is his version of Vibrações. Another player of similar vintage is Joel Nascimento, whose work I first encountered on a double CD devoted to the compositions of Jacob which was released on the Biscoito Fino label in 2003. Unfortunately the quality of the YouTube material is not good - mobile phone videos and TV news clips with the presenter talking over most of the performances, but his recordings are well worth seeking out.
Finally, to bring this particular strand full circle, here Mike Marshall performs in Brazil, with Hamilton de Hollanda, singer Zelia Duncan and an unknamed guitarist. The song is Doce de Côco (Coconut Candy) and is yet another classic composition by Jacob de Bandolim.
I shall be returning to the subject of choro again at some point, but for now I'm off up to London for a few days. My next posting will be a revue of tomorrow night's Maria Rita concert at the Barbican. Maybe I'll see you there...

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Mandolin windows

When my brother 'G the D' and his wife returned from a protracted trip to the U.S.A at the beginning of the 80's, he gave me a tape of an album called 'Hot Dawg' by a mandolin player called David Grisman. They had been to see Grisman's group at a concert in California, mainly because Stéphane Grappelli was a featured guest. G the D and I had first come to hear Grappelli through an enthusiasm for Django Rheinhardt's music But this stuff from Grisman was something new. Yes, it had elements of 'Gypsy Jazz' in it, but it also contained a large helping of Bluegrass and more than a hint of modern jazz influences. It was a knock-out mix and I loved it.

Not long after this I opened a specialist guitar shop in partnership with 'Fingers' Bartram, who by now was better known as Richard Bartram and was an accomplished Luthier (see my links). As well as selling instruments and music we decided to keep guitar records, so I set about building a varied stock that featured every possible aspect of guitar playing except the rock side of things (on the grounds that was already covered in depth by every other record shop in the known universe). My thoughts turned to the Grisman album, which had featured a superb acoustic guitar flat-picker by the name of Tony Rice. I soon found other albums by Rice and was led in turn to the world of bluegrass and also to the new acoustic music movement that was getting underway in the States. This clip of Grisman, Rice, fiddle player (and, incidentally, also a great guitarist) Mark O'Connor and bassist Rob Wasserman playing a tune called 'E.M.D.' should give you an idea of the impact that this stuff had on me and why the mandolin was now also engaging my attention. Pretty soon I picked up on Sam Bush - now known as a stalwart Nashville session player but capable of transcending the genres and playing all kinds of music. Here are two clips. The first shows him with another great musical 'genre bender', 5 string banjo player Bela Fleck (I will be coming back to him in a later posting). This is part of an American TV documentary about Fleck from the mid 90's and features one of his original compositions, 'Cheeseballs in Cowtown'! The next shows Bush, splendidly over the top, playing a tune called 'Funk 55' on a 4 string electric mandolin (same tuning but only one course of strings instead of two).

Another stalwart of Grisman's circle of musicians was Mike Marshall, who I have mentioned before as one of my favourite guitarists (see The twang's not the thang). In fact, mandolin is his first instrument. Here he shows off his bluegrass chops with 'Psychograss' at The Old Settler's Music Festival 1n 2007. In recent years and in common with one or two other musicians from the North American acoustic music scene, he has turned his attentions to choro and has recorded with a number of Brazilian musicians. Here we see him with the great bandolim player, Hamilton De Hollanda. They start with a bluegrass classic and segue to a choro favourite.

My next posting will follow the line back into Brazil, but for now we'll conclude with a clip of Mike in France last year, playing Ravel's 'Laidronette Imperatrice des Pagodes' with Nov' Mandolin Sextet . Another classic example of what can happen when the barriers come down and it's all just about the music!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Cavaquinho country

As I wrote in yeterday's posting, the cavaquinho is the Portuguese ancestor of the ukulele, now used widely in Brazil both in samba and in choro music. The first time I became aware of it was on a great Chico Buarque song called 'Vai Passar' that came out in 1984 when Brazil was still in the grip of a military dictatorship. Buarque, like many other MPB artists of the time was an ardent critic of the regime and his lyrics were full of irony and satirical imagery, the understanding of such things not being the strong suit of most military dictators. However, the vast majority of the public new exactly what he was talking about and the song was a massive hit. Here's a translation of some of the lyrics to give you some idea ('Vai Passar'= 'On its way', also sometimes translated as 'It will pass') It starts -

On its way

A samba's coming down the street

All the cobblestones of the old city tonight will be shivering

Remembering that immortal sambas passed by here

That here they bled about our feet, that our ancestors danced here...

and concludes -

...Oh, what a good life, olerê

Oh what a good life, olarâ

The banner of the lunatic assylum

On its way

The superficial jollity of the performance is all that non-Portuguese speakers hear at first, but as soon as one has an idea of the subject matter the whole thing takes on a glorious feeling of potential liberation. and it is that wonderful, driving cavaquinho that kick-starts this song and propels it on its way. Vai passar!

I soon discovered that the cavaquinho was also capable of expressing a great sense of yearning, of heart-felt emotion, a feeling that runs particularly through the musical form known as 'choro' (see yesterday's posting). My first introduction to this was an album called'Desde que o Choro é Choro...' (Since choro was choro - a play on the title of a famous Caetano Veloso song 'Desde que o Samba é Samba) by Henrique Cazes & Família Violão, which came out in 1995 on the Rio de Janeiro based Kuarup label. I could find no performance clip of the group but here is their leader playing his own composition, Study no.1 for Cavaquinho.

I was lucky enough to go to a choro club in Sao Paulo last year. It was an informal meeting of choro enthusiasts who varied in age between about 15 and 75. The common interest is choro music and there was an ever-changing line up of performers, which included at least five cavaquinho players, most of whom also doubled on 'bandolim', which is the Brazilian mandolin and also features heavily in choro music. Alas I have no record of this experience other than my memory of it, but events like this are not at all uncommon all over Brazil. I managed to find this clip of such a gathering on YouTube, which gives you a rough idea of this kind of event, although in the case of the one I attended there was a little less background noise. Here, a bunch of friends are playing for their own amusement in a bar. The tune is 'Apanhei-te Cavaquinho' (You took the Cavaquinho) by another great choro composer, Ernesto Nazareth.

On our first visit to Brazil in 1994 I first met with 'Woody' (see my blog links), who has been one of my best friends ever since. Although his principal interest is in Rock and Blues and mine is primarily Brazilian music we got on extremely well because he knew a huge amount about my subject, I knew a fair bit about his and we both shared a passion for jazz. When we left Brazil the first time, Woody had made a number of cassette tapes for Mrs Voltarol and me, of stuff that we might not know about. Amongst these tapes was an album by a group called Novos Baianos (The New Bahians), entitled 'Acabou Chorare' (No More Crying), which was "a groundbreaking mix of rock, samba, frevo and choro that would influence performers, songwriters and bands in the years to come" (All Brazilian Music). This intriguing bunch of Brazilian hippies freely mixed psychedelic rock with traditional music such as samba and choro and electric guitars and basses with cavaquinhos and violão (nylon string guitar). The net result was in fact typically Brazilian, in that the pigeon holes were ignored and the result was just great music. Probably the most popular track on the album was 'Preta Pretinha' (for which their is no literal translation), but it's all great stuff and well worth looking out for. It was reissued on CD in 2000.
As I said earlier, the Bandolim also features heavily in choro music, afact that was to grab the attention of quite a few North American musicians who were playing in the bluegrass and new acoustic music scene, resulting in several collaborations between players from the two genres. I'll be looking at this from the perspective of the different instruments over the next few weeks, starting tomorrow with the mandolin.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Anarchy in the UKe

And before we go any further, this is the only mention that the Sex Pistols will get in this posting. I'm sorry, I just couldn't resist the horrible pun. So - now that we've got that cleared up...

My father was dead against me having a guitar and so I had to do a great deal of saving and scrounging before I finally got the massive sum of £5 together and bought a beat-up nylon string model from the son of our next door neighbour. I was fourteen by now and we had moved from the flat over the hardware shop to a semi on the main road (although still less than a mile from where I was born). The guitar's previous owner was the cousin of Johnny Kidd (of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates) and he made much of this connection as Kidd was beginning to have some chart success, but this was completely wasted on me because I had already given Rock and Roll the thumbs down and was far more interested in accompanying myself on folk songs.

There were inevitable ructions when my father came home to find the guitar in the house. I was instructed to 'take it back right this minute' and told firmly that "...you'll never play that thing as long as you've got a hole in yer arse." After much ranting and roaring he finally conceded that I could keep it, on the strict understanding that he never, ever saw or heard it again. I took it upstairs to my bedroom and with the aid of a picture hook and a piece of string, hung it on the wall. Later that night, when I had retired to my bedroom, I gently lifted the instrument down from the wall and held it an an approximation of the playing position. Before I had so much as touched the strings my old man's voice came bellowing up the stairs - "PUT THAT BLOODY UKULELE DOWN!!!" It was uncanny. The man was definitely psychic. For the rest of the time that I lived at home I could never go near the thing when he was in the house. He always knew and always complained vociferously. It just wasn't worth the hassle so I would do all my practicing at a friend's house.

Some years later, during The Jugular Vein years, Max Emmons introduced us to the ukulele as a credible instrument. Max grew up in Clapham and his mother would take in lodgers to help balance the family budget. One of these lodgers was a young Chinese actor named Bert Kwouk, who, according to Max, was a reasonably competent uke player who taught him to play 'The World is Waiting for the Sunrise' on that instrument. Thus it was that that tune became a favourite with the J.V. Thank you Bert. I couldn't find a pure uke version of the tune on the net but this one features two Japanese enthusiasts on banjolele and ukulele respectively, performing a version that is uncannily similar to our performance of it. We used mandolin ( played by 'Fingers' Bartram) as the other stringed instrument and also featured washboards (me) and Jug (Mr Murfet). I eventually acquired a uke myself and would play it on some of our numbers.

I retained a fondness for the ukulele long after I had left the jug band, but rarely had an opportunity to play it in public. I eventually sold my uke during a bout of minor impoverishment and did not own another one until I was given one as a birthday present a few years ago. Alas, by then arthritis had begun to rob me of what little nimbleness I had and I was never really able to play one again, any more than I could the cavaquinho (pronounced cav/ar/keen/yo) that I had purchased in Brazil the previous year.

The cavaquinho is widely played in Brazil in samba and especially in choro. I had noted the similarity between the cavaquinho and the ukulele but had never realised that the uke had actually evolved from the Portuguese instrument. The two are very similar in size and appearance (like a mini four string guitar) but they are tuned slightly differently and the cavaquino has steel strings as opposed to the uke's nylon ones. Both are remarkably versatile instruments but the uke, with its softer sound, can often have a somewhat comic edge to it, whilst the cavaquinho can be a very driving sound (when used as a rhythm instrument) and both plaintive and aggressive when used as a solo instrument.

This is not to say that the ukeulele is not a serious instrument, but this comic aspect has more to do with the general public's perceptions of it. Say 'ukulele' to most people and they think of George Formby, the toothy Lancastrian film and music hall performer. Formby did not in fact play the uke but rather the banjolele (same tuning but with a banjo body), although it seems almost impossible to get this fact recognised. Even the Wikipedia entry for Formby has him down as playing the Ukulele! In fact, the above clip of the two Japanese musicians playing 'The World is Waiting for the Sunrise' clearly illustrates the difference between the two instruments.

The late George Harrison was a great uke enthusiast and played both 4 and 6 string versions of the instrument. This clip of him performing 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' with, amongst others, Joe Brown and Jools Holland, is presented in a light -hearted and comical fashion but it still manages to be - for me at any rate - remarkably moving. (Incidentally, it also illustrates what just what a good singer Harrison was.) Talking of the Beatle, here is a virtuoso performance by Hawaiian uke wizard Jake Shimbukuro of 'While my Guitar Gently Weeps'

Australian Azo Bell is a phenomenal musician who just happens to have settled on the ukulele as his main means of expression. Here is a clip of him performing the Miles Davis classic 'Milestones' with his trio, The Old Spice Boys. Although the veneer of this is comical, the actual musicality of the piece is positively awe-inspiring.

In the last few years the uke has been brought back into prominence - at least in the UK - by the extraordinarily successful Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. They also take a comic approach to the instrument which thinly disguises a high level of musicianship and some great arranging skills - witness this extraordinary rendition of David Bowie's 'Life on Mars'. Incidentally, it was only whilst compiling this posting that I noticed that the U.C.G.B. had actually recorded a number entitled 'Anarchy in the Ukulele', so I'm not alone in my crime. If you're still not convinced about this much-overlooked instrument then go and have a look at what YouTube has to offer when you search on 'Ukulele'. I think you'll be surprised.

In my next posting the subject will be the uke's close relative - the cavaquinho.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Classical Guess

I've related elsewhere in these pages how the record player first came into my life (see Wonderful round, black, shiny things). My brother Alcohol is eight years older than me so at this point already had an income and a social life (although this was interrupted for a couple of years by National Service around this time). Inevitably, some of this income was spent on records and Alcohol's interests lay in a classical direction. I knew very little about classical music other than the fact that I liked most of what I heard of it, without actually stopping to think that that was what it was, if you see what I mean. So far I knew that I had liked the music for the BBC Chidren's Hour production of John Masefield's 'The Box of Delights' ( a Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson) and that was a good start. (In the early eighties the Beeb did an excellent Television Production of The Box of Delights and to my great joy they used the same music. Here is a clip of the opening titles.)

Alcohol's choices also tended to be influenced by the use of music in films and plays. the BBC TV production of 'The Quatermass Experiment' in 1953 had used 'Mars, Bringer of War' from Gustav Holst's The Planets' Suite and as a consequence had received a certain amount of exposure. Prokofiev's 'Lieutenant Kijé' had been used for the film of Joyce Cary's 'The Horse's Mouth'. Both of these works soon turned up in the house, rapidly followed by Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition', Rimsky Korsakov's 'Scheherazade', Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony and '1812 Overture', Sibelius's 'Finlandia' and 'Valse Triste', Saint Saens' 'Dance Macabre' and an EP of José Iturbi playing Debussy's 'Claire de Lune' from the 'Suite Bergamasque' and Chopin's 'Polonaise No 6 in Ab'. This was the bundle of goodies that kick-started my taste for classical music. I loved every one of them and would play them endlessly whenever I had the front room to myself.

Pretty soon I was buying my own classical records but, as usual, I was restricted to EPs and singles by lack of funds. I bought Mendelssohn's 'Hebrides' and 'Ruy Blas' overtures, De Falla's 'Ritual Fire Dance (from 'El Brujo Amor), Tchaikovsky's 'Slavonic March', Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue', a single of the intermezzo from Sibelius' 'Karelia Suite' (the theme for ITV's 'This Week', Dag Wirén's 'Serenade for Strings' (part of which was the theme for BBC's 'Monitor' arts programme) and Wolf-Ferrari's overtures to 'Susannah's Secret' and 'The Jewels of the Madonna'.

It was a great basis to build musical taste from and it eventually led me to a love of a huge diversity of so-called 'serious' music, without ever replacing my other passions for jazz and folk. I didn't realise that I was already beginning to consider everything in its own right and was doing away with the 'pigeon-holes' approach to music. These days I have a pretty sophisticated sound system and a vast collection of music, but sometimes I just imagine myself back in the front-room of that flat over the hardware shop, crouched on the carpet in front of the Bush record player, with the smell of hot vinyl in my nostrils and the sound of 'Mercury, the Winged Messenger' filling my ears and transporting me into space. I don't have many fond memories of my home life as a child but that one will do...

NB. If you scroll right to the end of most of the Wikipedia links here, you will find a link to a performance of the music referred to.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Puttin' on the style

These days you can generally tell what kind of music 'young people' are in to by their clothes and haircuts. Children as young as one or two frequently seem to be making fashion statements and declarations of tribal allegiance on behalf of their parents and by the age of five and six they seem to be making them for themselves, but it was not always thus.

Like most children of my generation I had very little say in what clothes I wore until I was about fourteen and I had even less say about my haircut. My younger brother, G the D and I would be dispatched regularly to the barber's shop at the end of the parade of shops where we lived. Our dad ran the hardware shop and we lived over it from 1953 until about 1959. As a consequence my parents knew the barber well and instructions were already given well in advance of our respective arrivals in the chair at 'Maison Bert's', as it came to be known. My friend Muff was also a regular victim of Bert's ministrations and in later years we would enact little 'Barber shop' cameos for friends, nearly all of whom seemed to think that we were making it up. But we weren't.

Bert was, as far as I know, quite a nice man. He was short and Welsh, smoked incessantly, was addicted to the Welsh national sport and had learned his trade in the army. The waiting customers in his shop were provided with three or four hard-backed chairs and a small table containing a selection of racing papers and 'Tit Bits' and 'Blighty' magazines. There was one barber's chair and one mirror over a sink, around which were arranged a selection of display cards containing combs and nail clippers. Next to the sink was a small wooden cabinet on top of which sat Bert's tools of the trade (clippers, scissors and cut-throat razor), bottles of hair tonic and brilliantine and some jars of 'Brylcreem' and in which lurked 'something for the weekend', whatever that was. There was also a leather strop attached to the side of the cabinet, on which he would (occasionally) sharpen the razor.

As a consequence of his military training in the tonsorial arts, a 'short back and sides' was a short back and sides, but as a concession to civilian life the front - at least on us youngsters - was left just long enough to form a fringe, which was then cut dead straight across. The general effect was as if he had given one a 'pudding-bowl' haircut and then gone round the back and sides with the clippers as an afterthought. As you sat in the chair he would hack and snip away at you, all the while with a lighted cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, the smoke from which caused his eye to water and him to squint constantly. He would shower you with fag ash and the occasional live spark as he worked, whilst holding a non-stop conversation with his older waiting customers on his favourite topic - " See the rrrRugby last night, did you?". At last it would be done. "Any 'Evenin' in Paris' is it?" he would ask and, not waiting for a reply would slosh hair tonic on one's head and give it a brisk rub. "There. Lovely! Tell your dad I'll see him later." And it was done and you escaped.

When we moved to live over the shop we were only about six hundred yards from our old house. I was a frequent visitor to my old haunts as we had lived only five doors away from Muff and he was still there. There was another, slightly older boy to be seen in what had been my garden. His name was Geoff and I got chatting to him. His mother (there didn't seem to be a father about) bred St Bernard dogs and the garden was now full of dog pens. It wasn't long before I was invited in to the house and Geoff got out the record player. " Listen to this!" he said, putting on a seventy eight r.p.m record of 'The Riff Song' from Sig Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein's operetta 'The Desert Song'. (The recording I've found here is not the one he played me. I'm sure it would have been from the soundtrack of the 1953 film but this was the only clip I could find). Geoff had obviously seen the film and proceeded to fashion an Arab headdress from one of his mother's headscarves, wrap an old curtain about his person to double for a cloak and to charge around the room singing along with the record and wielding an imaginary sword. This was fantastic. "I've got to go home for my lunch," I said. "I'll come back later"

I ran home and bolted my lunch, then as soon as I was allowed to leave the table, went and rummaged in the coat cupboard. I emerged triumphant with my school mac, several long woollen scarves and an old cricket stump which for years had been used by mother as a 'copper' stick. (For the uninitiated - before the advent of the washing machine, certain clothes and items of bedding were washed in a 'copper' - a container with a gas heater underneath it. The 'copper stick' was used to stir the soap into the copper as the water heated, as well as for extracting the washed items afterwards and transferring them to the rinsing water. Interestingly, this information as not so far found its way on to an internet reference site.) I quickly fastened my mac by one button at the throat in the approved 'cloak' style, tied a woollen scarf on my head and, for good luck, draped the rest of the scarves about my person. Clutching my copper-stick like a scimitar I dashed from the house and galloped an imaginary arab steed all the way back to Geoff's house, attracting a multitude of bewildered stares from baffled passers by as I went. I confess that I must have been a strange sight. To my mind I was The Red Shadow, galloping across the desert in full battle cry. Everybody else saw a slightly overweight nine year old, short trousered, Macintosh bedraped, woolly scarf-festooned boy with a pudding basin haircut, who was waving a cricket stump and singing -
"Ho! So we sing as we are riding,
Ho! It's a time you'd best be hiding
Low, It means the Riffs are abroad
Go, Before you've bitten the sword..."
in an unbroken voice, as he gallumphed up the road sweating profusely. (It was a hot day during the summer holidays). I arrived at Geoff's house and knocked at the door. It was answered by his mother who told me that Geoff was not coming out, and suggested rather frostily that, as I didn't live there any more, I might like to go away and not bother them again. So I did. And I didn't.
That was the first time I made a conscious connection between music and clothing. I would see Geoff around from time to time but he always refrained from speaking to me, then after a while he wasn't around so much. Being a couple of years older than me he was beginning to hang out with the older boys and I didn't see him again until I was about fifteen. The one-time, would-be scourge of the desert was walking down the road in full Teddy Boy gear, complete with 'brothel-creepers' with inch-thick crepe soles and a combination 'Duck's Arse' and 'Elephant's Trunk' hairstyle. This time I found it strangely easy not to rush home and copy his outfit...

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

I'll give it a bash

Since arthritis stopped me playing guitar to an acceptable level I have fallen back on my percussion skills for my main musical outlet. In fact, to tell the truth, I am a better percussionist than ever I was a guitarist but I was always drawn to the guitar even though I have never been very dexterous. My sense of rhythm has always been good and my first musical efforts were in fact percussive. A guitar playing friend (Paul - see various references to his father's tape recorder in previous postings) also owned some bongo drums and I would often pick these up and bash along whilst he strummed the guitar and sang Leadbelly songs. Somewhere along the way we spent one afternoon with another young would-be musician who at that time was learning to play the guitar. As far as I know I may well have been the first drummer that Roger Glover ever worked with.

I had got to grips with the guitar, faffed around the folk scene and ended up co-founding the Jugular Vein with three other people, one of whom, The Rev. B. Sprules 'Muff' Murfet played the jug and the other two of whom - 'Fingers' Bartram and Fred Kettle (or Max Emmons, to give him his real name) were considerably better guitarists than me. We made it a golden rule never to have more than two guitars playing together on any given song and so, as the repertoire was developed and arrangements were worked out, I found myself learning to play other instruments, not the least of which was the washboard. As our career developed we frequently played jazz clubs as well as folk clubs, and I became a regular washboard 'sitter-inner', often playing with Mike Messenger's Jazz Band,sometimes with Steve Lane's Southern Stompers and a couple of times with the legendary Ken Colyer.

The next percussive influence was a big one. I have already talked about my discovery of Sivuca (see Accordion Crimes). One of the tracks featured the triangle being played in the Brazilian manner and the moment I heard it I was hooked. I had to learn how to do that so I bought a triangle and a beater and took to the woodshed (metaphorically speaking) for six months, practicing obsessively until I could play like that. (I searched long and hard on YouTube for a good example of triangle playing but unfortunately this example was the best I could find. Still, it gives you a rough idea of what it's about). I would play my triangle at every opportunity, and although there weren't many Brazilian-style bands around at that time, funk was beginning to edge its way on to the scene and Latin percussion worked well with it. Soon I was expanding my arsenal of 'toys' (as hand-percussion devices were somewhat disparagingly known), and began to take percussion kit with me on gigs.

In the meantime I was beginning to take notice of the percussion credits on albums. Paulinho da Costa was an early favourite. Next up was Airto Moreira, whose 1971 album 'Seeds on the Ground' was an absolute revelation to me when I first heard it. I immediately longed to add the berimbau to my percussion skills but it was to be 1994 before that happened (but that's another story). That album also introduced me to Hermeto Pascoal and was another link in my journey towards Brazilian music. By the time that I heard Naná Vasconcelos with Egberto Gismonti on the album 'Danca das Cabeças' I was totally hooked on both percussion and the music of Brazil.

Around about 1979 I was asked to join a band called Zarjazz as percussionist. Most of the members were from Wooburn Green, near High Wycombe, and the unit had been formed by a group of friends with an enthusiasm for jazz funk. They had recruited a keyboard player who was a friend of mine, by the name of Stewart Edmiston. Unfortunately the drummer in the band wasn't the greatest player in the world, and Stewart had suggested that I be brought in to reinforce the time keeping. I stayed with that band until it self-destructed a year later, although not before such luminaries as bassist John McCartney (see Accordion Crimes), drummer Hossam Ramzy and saxophonist Andy Sheppard had passed through its ranks. I'll tell more of the doings of Zarjazz in another posting, but for the moment I'll just add that this was where I really paid my dues as a percussionist, learning that you needed stamina as much as you needed rhythmic sense and musicality.

Since then I have travelled extensively in Brazil, playing whenever the opportunity arises, as well as playing with various bands in England, but these days mostly I just listen and write. Mind you, I do have a habit of typing in time with whatever music I'm listening to. Unfortunately the result is generally gibberish...but you knew that already.

Friday, 13 June 2008

The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd...

Once again Radio Four sparks off an idea for a posting. I was listening to Bill Bailey on desert Island Discs this morning and he was talking about how he psyches himself up for a gig. It set me thinking about my own career (such as it was) in front of audiences and how I felt about it. When I first set foot in public I did not consider myself to be a musician (although music has always been part of what I do). I was (or was trying to be) first and foremost a performer and was totally without fear for the first few years of my on-stage life. I was bomb-proof. Nothing could throw me. In fact, I was case-hardened. Let me explain.

I had failed the eleven plus exams in spectacular fashion, having little or no interest in anything that school had to offer. I was reading fairly fluently by the age of four and a half and had not, therefore, been terribly engaged by the unspeakably tedious doings of Janet and John. As a consequence I assumed the same to be true of any school book, so plowed my own furrow by spending a great deal of my time in the local library which was conveniently located right next door to the school. I managed to keep my head above water sufficiently to always stay in the A or B streams throughout primary school but ended up at the local secondary modern school nonetheless.

My best friend, Muff had also ended up there a year earlier. He was by far the smartest and most interesting person that I knew, but a mixture of his own personal shyness and the inability of the education system to recognise exceptional ability if it was a tad nonconformist meant that he had stayed in the C stream during his time in primary school. Thus, secondary modern had been inevitable. (To illustrate just how wide of the mark the system could be - a few years after leaving school, Muff read Beowulf, the famous 11th Century epic poem. He was sufficiently intrigued by it to want to read it in the original language and so taught himself Anglo Saxon.)

So there we were, at a school that, at the time, was considered to be one of the roughest in England - so much so that 'Panorama' made a programme about it - and the arts were not high on its agenda. Also, unlike Alan Plater's 'San Quentin High' from the wonderful - and fully musically connected - 'Beiderbecke' series) there were no inspirational and eccentric teachers about the premises. When the time came for a school concert an announcement was pinned up on the noticeboard to the effect that auditions were soon to be held in the main hall and requesting that anybody who had a 'turn' to offer should attend these. There was also to be a school play - the title of which escapes me now - in which I had a small but noticeable part as I spoke the opening line. (I can still remember it: "Sir, Sir, is the lady of the 'ouse at 'ome?)

Muff and I, together with a lad from Muff's class called Philip Webb (who was also a bit of an outsider), decided to work up a sketch for the concert. I don't remember all the details but it was heavily influenced by The Goon Show and involved a banner on a stick (carried by a po-faced and silent Philip Webb) that read 'More Beer for the Workers', Muff and me carrying a bottle-filled sock each, which we 'played' with spoons, and the slurred singing of 'Nellie Dean', the archetypal pub song of the time. Given that we were thirteen and fourteen years old at this time (and I was still in short trousers) this must have been a somewhat bizarre spectacle, albeit a somewhat prophetic one as Muff and I were to develop quite a powerful relationship with beer and music during our time in the Jugular Vein.

I was very taken by this stage lark and was not content with the play and the group sketch, so I also worked up two solo pieces to present. One was a rip-off of a comic of the day whose name I can't remember, but whose act consisted of delivering bucolic observations on modern day life with a broad country accent, and whose 'get-off' line was -"Well, Oi must be orf. It's a long walk back to Dorset'. I constructed an act which involved a blackboard and chalk and some very dubious mathematical explanations, all delivered in a bad 'Mummerset' accent and concluding with the aforementioned catch phrase. I also had an idea for a mime act involving me pretending to play Leroy Anderson's 'Forgotten Dreams' on the school piano, starting with my hands but slowly progressing to the use of feet and finally my backside. This last item I hadn't actually rehearsed, being sure that I could wing it at the audition. I duly managed to borrow a copy (78 r.p.m. of course) of the record, which was quite popular at the time as the tune had been used as the theme music for a Francis Durbridge thriller on the TV.

We duly turned up on the day of the auditions. First up for scrutiny was the joint effort - the 'Nelly Dean' piece. This went by on the nod, with only a barely-raised eyebrow from the producer. Next up was my 'Mummerset' rubbish and this too was accepted, then it was the turn of 'Forgotten Dreams'. The record went on and I flailed about somewhat hopelessly as it quickly dawned upon me that the piece just wasn't going to work. I got to the last verse and mimed playing what were, literally, bum notes as the tune concluded, certain in the knowledge that this would - quite deservedly - receive the 'thumbs down'.
"Yes. Fine. Next" said the producer.
"Er...I don't think it will work sir" I said, "I don't think I want to do it".
"Nonsense boy. You'll do it and like it and that's the end of it!" said the producer.
I think that it was at this point that it began to dawn on me that there weren't actually many other people present and that the main criterion for passing the audition was that you actually turned up. They were obviously woefully short of material.

And so the day of the concert dawned. The school play had been withdrawn from the proceedings as it had been dreadfully under rehearsed and the English master in charge had decided to get out whilst the going was good. All depended on the individual acts. I don't remember much about our performance of 'Nelly Dean' other than the fact that it was quite well received. The 'Mummerset' sketch actually went reasonably and drew a few laughs. There were one or two other items, including a spoof 'This is Your Life' routine, the subject of which was our bald bricklaying instructor (played by a fourth-former in a pink swimming cap) and then it was time for the Leroy Anderson number.

The sketch was announced, the curtains parted and I made my way nervously to the piano and sat down. The record started and I went, reluctantly, into my abysmal routine. It was greeted at first by a kind of sullen silence, but by the middle of the second chorus the booing and catcalling were beginning. By the middle of the third chorus they were in full throat. I put my head down and struggled on, willing the whole thing to be over. Suddenly the headmaster strode angrily on to the stage gesturing imperiously at the wings and with smoke and flames practically issuing from his nostrils. The music ground to a halt and the audience went silent. The Headmaster stabbed his finger angrily, first at me -frozen with my back to the piano in the middle of a 'bum' note - and then at the audience. "This boy has gone to a lot of time and effort to try and entertain you...you...oafs!" he spluttered, "and all you can do is howl and catcall like a bunch of demented idiots..." (at least the second of these statements was more or less accurate) "so - he's going to do it again and this time..." I didn't actually hear the last part of the announcement as I had withdrawn very far inside myself and must have been damn near catatonic as I went through the ordeal again, because I can't remember anything about the rest of the day. But from then until I finally started to concentrate on being a musician rather than a performer, I was fearless on stage. Nothing could ever be as bad as that experience.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Woke up this afternoon - PART TWO

I became a fan of the cartoonist's art fairly early on, principally through being introduced to the writings of James Thurber and finding that I enjoyed his captioned drawings almost as much as I did the text. In our local library his books were kept in the 'Literature', section for some reason, as were collections of Ronald Searle drawings, which I really admired and the works of one Gerard Hoffnung, whose line wasn't quite in the Searle class but whose subject matter was music. I soon became the owner of a number of his books and my particular favourite cartoon was of an organist observing in his mirror that he was about to be overtaken by a car. Imagine my delight then when I discovered that the man made music as well as drawing it. His 'Interplanetary Music Festivals' were wonderfully funny and eccentric, as well as being extremely musical. He was able to persuade a great many serious musicians and composers to contribute to these affairs. Alas, I can find no footage of the original concerts on the web, but here is a more modern performance of 'Grand Grand Overture' by Malcolm Arnold, which may give you some idea. This was originally written for a Hoffnung concert. I heard some of these on the radio and others on that reel to reel recorder that had also introduced me to Tom Lehrer and Victor Borge (see yesterday's posting). Alas, Hoffnung lived a very short life and no sooner had I discovered his work than he was gone. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1959, aged just 34.

A few years later, when I was working in record shop in Southall (see Indian Summer), I first came across P.D.Q.Bach. He has been described as "...the last of Johan Sebastien Bach's twenty-odd children, and certainly the oddest.") In fact this fictitious member of the Bach family is the creation of one Peter Schickele, whose name I first came across on a Joan Baez LP, for which he had provided some string arrangements. I've long since forgotten the Baez album but P.D.Q. Bach remains a firm favourite to this day. There is, I'm happy to say, a great deal of material out there on the net, and many of the albums are a available in CD form. Here is a sample - 'The Hindenburg Concerto'. I also recommend a visit to the Peter Schikele/P.D.Q. Bach website.

Around 1965 I became aware of an outfit called The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. I read of their doings and was much intrigued, but it wasn't until 1967 that their first album - 'Gorilla' - was released and I got a flavour of the inspired lunacy of this wonderful unit. I subsequently bought all their albums as they were released and was lucky enough to see them live on their farewell tour in, I think, 1970. Those last few gigs are generally considered to be amongst the best that they ever did. I can remember being almost helpless with laughter by the end of the evening, Profoundly happy that I had seen such a thing and profoundly sad that I would not see such a thing again, Needless to say, a small part of my mind stayed vigilant and made notes...some of their style was due to show up in the Jugular Vein stage act in the very near future. Here is a taste of their surreal splendor, a TV performance of 'Canyons of your Mind'.

Along the way their have been people who wrote and performed songs that made one laugh - such as Jeremy Taylor and Leon Rosselson, but they were not exclusively humourists, and the musical content in both cases was not in the same class as the lyrics. Never the less they produced some good stuff, frequently with a strong political edge and their respective web sites are well worth a visit.

Randy Newman is in a league of his own. He writes great tunes and superb lyrics. His arrangements are brilliant. He makes you laugh and he makes you cry, frequently at the same time. I have followed his career with enthusiasm since hearing his second album in 1970. I was so bowled over by his song writing that I felt that their was no point in me trying to write any more because he was doing everything that I had ever tried to do and unlike me, succeeding at it. I can't recommend him highly enough. Here's a clip of a live performance of 'Christmas in Capetown'. If you are familiar with the recorded original then you will realise that all the elements of the instrumental arrangements are there in his solo piano part. It's a very good example of him climbing into another mind and writing a song from that mind's perspective. He's not a prolific songwriter just eleven new albums of songs since 1968 but the quality rarely falters and the good news is that their is a new album, entitled 'Harps and Angels' is due for release in August. It includes a song called 'A Few Words in Defence of Our Country' which demonstrates that, if possible, he's sharper than ever. Roll on August!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Woke up this afternoon...

No - this is not the second part of my 'blues' strand, but a quote from one of my favourite musical humorists, Martin Mull. His 'Middle Class Blues', from the 1973 album 'Martin Mull and his Fabulous Furniture Live in Your Living Room' contains the following verse:

Woke up this afternoon and both my cars were gone
Said I woke up this afternoon and both my cars were gone
Felt so low down deep inside, I threw my drink across the lawn.
This is accompanied on a ukulele played bottleneck style, using a baby's feed bottle as a slide. It contains all the elements of 'funny' music that I love. The playing is good in its own right, the genre is satirised from the inside, that is, by someone who obviously completely understands the music and -where applicable -the lyrics are extremely sharp. As far as I know Mr Mull hasn't recorded any new material since the early eighties, having concentrated mainly on painting and on his acting career. Only two of his albums are still available - the above mentioned 'Fabulous Furniture' and 'I'm Everyone I've Ever Loved', which spoofs every popular music genre from folk to the Philadelphia Sound, with contributions from Rob Reiner and Tom Waits and some of the best musicians around. Unfortunately all I could find in the way of clips is his folk spoof, 'Men' which is good, but doesn't really do him justice musically. The two albums available are well worth tracking down and can be found on a number of US web-based retail outlets.
I was first introduced to musical humour through the recordings of Michael Flanders and Donald Swan (see 'Wonderful round, black, shiny things'). I loved the cleverness of the lyrics and the way they fitted so naturally and seamlessly with the music. Most people probably associate Flanders and Swan with 'The Hippopotamus Song (Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud)', if they know of them at all, but their work could also embrace more adult topics, witness 'Have Some Madeira M'dear'. I used to love this song and could sing all the words, but I have to admit that, at the age of ten or thereabouts, I wasn't entirely aware of the significance of all they were singing about. Well, these were more innocent times...
It was a few years after this that I first heard Tom Lehrer on my friend Paul's father's reel to reel tape recorder. I must have been about fourteen when 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park' first made me wet myself with laughter. I'm happy to report that there is a whole host of Lehrer performances available on the web which clearly illustrates that his facility to combine music and words with satirical intent (which easily stands comparison to Gilbert and Sullivan) still resonates today. I'm not quite so sure about 'The Merry Minuet', performed by the Kingston Trio, which I heard from the same source and was pretty taken with at the time. That same tape recorder also introduced me to Victor Borge, whose wonderful routines I happily plagiarised a few years later for The Jugular Vein (see Mutt and Jeff). His superb explanation of a Mozart Opera confirmed all the prejudices I was already developing about that particular branch of music (and I'll undoubtedly return to this subject), although in his case I think there was probably slightly more affection for that art form than I have.
Next up was probably an EP of The Firehouse Five plus Two, which was one of Muff's purchases. The band was the spare time project for a bunch of Disney animators who played humour-laden dixieland Jazz. This clip of 'Tiger Rag' from 1951 or thereabouts doesn't demonstrate this terribly well but this was definitely another link in the chain of influences that would lead to founding of the J.V. A little later, The Temperance Seven (see 'Pop and me') arrived upon the scene, with their elegant recreations of Twenties dance music, which were played 'straight' but presented in a highly amusing fashion. Despite the fact that you couldn't actually see them whilst listening to their records, they somehow managed to communicate the drollery of the live performances. Certainly the sleeve notes of their LP's contributed to this, as did all of their publicity material. I went to see them play many times. It was their habit to arrive at the venue by hearse and to ceremoniously carry a trombone case onto the stage in the 'coffin' position. As they all tended to dress like Victorian undertakers and never smiled, the juxtaposition of personal solemnity with the jauntiness of the music was their stock-in-trade and I loved it. They were, inevitably, another source of influence on the soon-to-be Jug Band. This clip of 'Everybody Loves My Baby' gives a good flavour of their stage presence.
The 'Temps' achieved the height of their fame during that brief, weird chapter in British Pop History, The Trad Boom which , as I have observed before, is worth a posting in its own right. It only lasted a couple of years but led straight into the start the 'Beat Boom' which in turn ultimately led to the birth of Rock. There's a strange intermingling of strands in the early sixties. Us teenagers were into a variety of different types of music, thrashing around in the worlds of Pop, Rock and Roll, Folk music, 'Trad', and Modern Jazz and looking for something new...and that too, is a theme to be developed. But tomorrow I'll conclude this segment about humour in music.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

A bit of flag waving

I heard an item on the radio yesterday evening about a disastrous collapse in the British flag making industry. Now those of you with a passion for football - and at this point I must stand up and be counted as a football hater - will be aware that the England team has not made it into the final stages of some sort of tournament that's happening at the moment. As a consequence the flag makers have not sold a plethora of pennants bearing the Cross of St George. (Incidentally, the first time that the world around me suddenly erupted with St George's Cross flags was a couple of years ago, when Alcohol, Ganja the Dwarf and I were off on a quest together. Being all of us unversed in the ways of Football, we spent several days travelling discretely and by water, under the impression that the British National Party had somehow taken control of the country - I'll no doubt tell more about this in the fullness of time.)

Now - if I can just go of at an apparent tangent for a moment - I come from a fairly socialistic background and to say that we have no love in my family for Margaret Thatcher is about as much of an understatement as describing the surface of the sun as being 'a bit warm'. My father's dying words were actually 'Bastard...Thatcher', and the rest of us have never had to come near death to attest to that sentiment. My younger brother, Ganja the Dwarf (hereinafter known as 'G the D') has recently acquired a flagpole (can you see where this is going yet?) and expressed to me one day his intention of buying a red flag to fly when the news of Lady T's demise is announced. As one who can't wait for that happy day, I wanted to be ready and so soon located a flag manufacturer on the net that will happily provide you with any kind of flag - including a red one - for around about Eight quid, including postage. So I'm now the proud owner of a red flag - ready to fly it the moment the glad tidings are announced.

I'm pretty certain that there are a whole bunch of you out there that share these feelings (and if you have been following these pages but don't share them I guess this is probably the parting of the ways for us, in which case - Goodbye) so what I propose is this: start the Red Flag campaign now. I won't advertise the web site here but a quick search on 'Flag Sales UK' should do the trick. Be prepared for the day and tell all your friends and fellow sympathisers about the wheeze. Lets face it, when it happens we are going to be up to our arses in non-stop TV, Radio and Newspaper coverage for days on end, most of which will be telling us what a great leader she was and how much she did for this country. Ha! My red flag will be flying within seconds of the news. I shall also be breaking the habit of a lifetime and phoning the local radio station for a request. You might like to do the same. My choice is 'Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead'. All right - yes - I know I expressed a great dislike of 'The Wizard of Oz in an earlier posting (Wonderful round, black, shiny things), but in this case I'm willing to make an exception. Go on - do it! You know it makes sense.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Woke up this morning...

Although I ran into a brick wall with Rock and Roll (see Pop and me), Blues was a very different kettle of fish altogether. My friend Barry (see Wonderful round, black, shiny things) is a year older than me, which meant that he got a job before I did and had some spending money of his own. Muff - as he was known - had equally catholic tastes to my own and figured that if we were to investigate the second-hand shops for 'sennyeights', we were bound to find some interesting stuff. Every weekend we would head into Uxbridge (our nearest town) and visit all the record shops, including Tommy Barnard's second hand books and records emporium in Uxbridge High Street (the others being Barnard and Warren, which sold new books and records and was located behind Uxbridge Underground Station, and Woolworth's, which sold the top twenty in four formats - original 45's and 78's of the hits of the day and Embassy label copies of same - also as 78's and 45's and a bit cheaper. I should point out that we didn't go to Woolworth's record department to look at the records because we were not really interested in anything they had for sale, but they did sell coffee in there and it was cheaper than the Aero Milk Bar).

Muff was particularly interested in anything old, and we came home from some of these jaunts with an extraordinary selection of stuff - some of which was to form the basis of our subsequent musical careers (Muff was later to metamorphose into The Reverend B. Sprules Murfet of the Jugular Vein - see Mutt and Jeff). 'Christmas in Kitchener's Camp' was not one of these, but 'Me and Jane in a Plane' by Harry Bidgood and the Broadcasters certainly was (Ironically this was itself a Woolworth's cover version of the original which, I think, was by one Debroy Summers. But the great find was a Bessie Smith recording of 'St Louis Blues'. We were familiar with the tune through a recording of the U.S. 7th Army band (or some such unit) performing a drill routine to it, but had never registered the true nature of blues at this point. The Bessie Smith version was a revelation. Unfortunately I have been unable to trace a version of the original version on the web, but this clip of Bessie in the 1929 film 'St Louis Blues' will give you some idea.

We still weren't quite sure what 'blues' was - apart from it being the music of black Americans - but our interest was aroused and Muff soon found an LP of black Southern convicts recorded on a prison farm. This was a real eye-opener (or should that be 'ear-opener'?). There was an authenticity to this stuff that was a million miles away from the pop that we were being bombarded with. Both of us being readers as well as listeners, the next move was to find a book about blues. A visit to the library unearthed 'Blues Fell This Morning: The meaning of the blues" by Paul Oliver. This had a companion LP on the Philips label and I somehow scrambled the money together to buy it. Suddenly the world of blues opened up for us: artists like Barbecue Bob, Peg Leg Howell and especially Memphis Minnie (whose 'When the Levee Breaks' we were later to record with The Jugular Vein) really caught our imagination. Soon we had tapped into the ragtime side of blues, with artists like Blind Blake and Blind Boy Fuller, and realised that the performances of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey were closely related to jazz. We also heard the music of Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Lonnie Johnson ( a find that was to lead us back to jazz again). But the greatest of our discoveries was the music of Robert Johnson, which was to have probably more influence on the world of Rock than that of almost any other artist except Muddy Waters - but the story of how we followed blues into the electric music world is one for another day.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Local hero(ine)s

The other night I went to see a gig by a duo called Knight and Gayle, who were performing in a rather nice little restaurant in Hayle called The Foundry Bar. Kris Gayle is a singer who has been one of the south west's best kept secrets for many years and John Knight is a guitarist of considerable ability who ran his own recording studio for some time and is now involved in production and design. They first worked together in the early seventies in a band called 'Matrix', and have recently got together again to form this interesting unit.

Kris has a superb, pitch-perfect voice, a great sense of timing and phrasing and an ability to really inhabit a song. The pair performed an eclectic mix of material ranging from Van Morrison and Randy Crawford to Sting and Steely Dan but Kris managed to make each song her own without ever indulging in flamboyance or histrionics. John's accompaniments are most interesting. He uses a Roland guitar synthesiser, which allows him to generate bass lines, organ and string parts - all in real time: there are no backing tapes here! Despite the problems with latency that a guitar synth has (the synth voices respond a fraction of a second after the notes have been played), John manages to sustain a great groove. His chord voicings involve some pretty challenging stretches so as to accommodate the bass lines and he really has mastered the art of accompaniment. Oh, and his harmony backing vocals are spot on too! I really do recommend that you go and hear them if you get the chance.

Kris also works regularly with pianist Viv Rodd. Kris and Viv have landed a deal for their new CD '8.00 am' with Discovery Records and which was released nationally on June 2nd. Jazzwise gave it a great review in the May issue and Jack Massarik of the London Evening Standard made it his CD of the week, in the June 6th issue. Kris's web site is http://www.krisgayle.com/ and you can hear tracks from the new CD, which also happens to feature another ex band mate of mine, Marc Hadley. Go on.Check it out! It's well worth a listen.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The twang's not the thang

Having been only briefly enchanted by Duane Eddy (see Pop and Me), I remained vaguely interested in guitars. Unlike most of my contemporaries I didn't necessarily want to play one at this stage. I just quite liked the noise they made, provided that it was allied to some sort of actual content.

My next guitar-orientated record purchase was an EP (if you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know that term by now) by a musician called Laurindo Almeida, entitled 'Guitar Music of Spain'. I was, I admit, primarily attracted by the word 'guitar'. I had no idea who Laurindo Almeida was and not the remotest idea what Spanish guitar music might be, or how it differed from any other kind of guitar music. So when I pulled that sleeve out of the rack and asked the shopkeeper to play me a track I had no idea what to expect.

What a revelation that was. As the sound of Fernado Sor's Study No.12 washed over me for the first time I moved swiftly from 'vaguely interested' to 'totally hooked' in the space of a few minutes. It wasn't so much the Spanish guitar as the guitar itself that embedded itself in my consciousness. I could suddenly see that it was an instrument which allowed you to play more than one note at a time, that it was possible to play melody and accompaniment simultaneously, in the same way that you could on a piano. I played that record endlessly. It was my introduction to an entirely new world - that of Sor, Tarrega, Turina and Albeniz. It was also, unbeknownst to me at the time, my first record by a Brazilian artist.

The next guitarist to seriously grab my attention was Tal Farlow. (Here's a clip from, I think, the early eighties). This was another accidental discovery. My friend Mole (see Wonderful, round, black, shiny things) had an older brother with an interest in Modern jazz. Mole turned up at our mutual friend Dave's house one day, with a selection of his brother's LPs under his arm. One of these was a Tal Farlow album (there were also records by Gerry Mulligan and Dave Brubeck, but that's a different strand of this tale). Once again I was transfixed. The music was totally different and yet it 'spoke' to me in the same way that the Laurindo Almeida record had. Needless to say I was soon hunting in the record shop for Tal Farlow recordings, but because my dad (a) kept me very short of pocket money and (b) would not allow me to get a paper round so as to earn money for myself, I could not afford to buy LPs, and there were no EPs of Mr Farlow available. But I had discovered modern jazz guitar and soon found an EP called 'The Train and the River' by the Jimmy Giuffre 3, which featured a guitarist called Jim Hall.

This was yet another revelation of a find. Not only did it introduce me to a guitarist who has remained one of my favourite musicians of all time, but it let me see that a musical group was could be more than the sum of its parts - that at the highest levels some sort of gestalt seemed to operate. Here's another, much later clip of Jim Hall (this time with the late, great Michel Petrucciani) which I think illustrates that gestalt at work, as well as demonstrating just what a great musician he is.

Followers of this blog will realise that I was dipping into all sorts of music at the same time and that I'm just trying to pursue some individual strands here. My burgeoning parallel interest in folk music had led me to trust the Topic record label, so when I came across a guitar instrumental EP on Topic called 3/4 AD, I thought it was worth checking out. It was by someone called Davy Graham. The tracks were 'Angi', 'Davy's Train Blues' and a duet with Alexis Korner called '3/4 AD' Once again, this was a revelation. It was a whole new musical arena: it wasn't folk or jazz or blues or pop but it had elements of all of those things. Whatever it was, I found it deeply satisfying. Davy inspired a whole raft of players to follow in his wake and I subsequently bought albums by disciples Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, both of whom reached fame in their own right. But with hindsight I realise that Graham was the man and that what he played was not folk or jazz or blues or world music or guitar music. It was just MUSIC. (Alexis Korner will feature in yet another strand of this blog, as will Bill Leader, who recorded Graham, Jansch and Renbourn (see also Keeping it in the family)

After that there were many players that whose work I fell in love with, in all spheres of music - Segovia, Narciso Yepes, Django Rheinhardt, Eddie Lang, Tony Rice, Mike Marshall, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Larry Carlton, Jim Mullen, Julian Bream, Baden Powell (no, not that Baden Powell)...the list is endless and I will come back to them, but if you've checked out any of the clips in this piece then you'll know why Duane Eddy never made the final cut!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Pop and me

I've always had a very uneasy relationship with Pop (and I'm not talking about my late father here - that relationship was a bloody sight more than just uneasy!). The schmalzy confections that infested the late forties and early fifties were not really aimed at my age group anyway, although I was vaguely aware of them - 'Shrimp Boats is a Comin'', 'There's a Pawn Shop on the Corner in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania', 'Hey Up, Pat him on the BoBo', 'Where Will the Baby's Dimple Be?' and similar stuff. The official version of the invention of the 'Teenager' and the evolution of the youth-orientated music industry says that it was all pretty dire until Rock and Roll came along, and I would agree with that up to a point. It was all pretty dire. Unfortunately I felt the same way about Rock and Roll (I still do. I can now see its importance and relevance in the scheme of things but I still don't actually like it).

I had heard stuff on the radio - 'Rock Around the Clock' and so forth, but had remained unimpressed, then one day we went to visit relatives and I found myself in the company of my cousin Michael and his record player. "Right" he said, "you've got to listen to this!". 'This' was "Tutti Frutti" by Little Richard. I have read so many Rock biographies in which the writers describe that seminal moment when they heard Rock and Roll for the first time and it totally changed their lives. Often it is the words (if you can call them that) - "A Wop Bop a Lubop, A Wop Bamboo" - that are cited as the great eye-opener. They certainly were in my case. I knew then for certain that if I never heard this drivel again it would be too soon for me.

The first record I ever bought was 'Rebel Rouser' by Duane Eddy. I was fascinated by the guitar and thought that maybe I had found a route into pop through instrumentals (I still had that instinct to be like my peers and they were nearly all into 'teenage' music by now). The next record I bought was an EP (see Wonderful round, black, shiny things.) of Mendelssohn Overtures, with 'Fingal's Cave' on one Side and 'Ruy Blas' on the other. 50 years later I still have a recording of those works (in fact I still have my original EP but it's pretty unplayable now), but I had wrung all the juice out of Duane Eddy within six weeks. I did have another flirtation with the charts when I bought 'Hoots Mon (there's a moose loose aboot this hoose)' by Lord Rockingham's Eleven, but this was another six-week wonder. (Incidentally, the recently reformed Bonzo Dog Band have recorded a version of this on their new CD, under the title 'Hawkeye the Gnu')

The next pop act to grab my attention wasn't really a pop act at all. It was The Temperance Seven, whose unlikely appearance in the charts with 'You're Driving Me Crazy' was a part of a singularly anachronistic hiccup in the English pop world that saw 'Trad' jazz become the great teenage thing for a brief period. (I'll undoubtedly return to this theme later.) I was much taken with this band and went several times to see them play. Curiously, I was to end up in a band with some one who, to this day, still plays with them. When 'Fingers' Bartram left the Jugular Vein, he was replaced by Mike Deighan, whose connection with 'The Temps' opened several doors for the J.V. (but that, again, is another story). Many years later I also recorded a more contemporary instrumental version of 'You're Driving Me Crazy' with my own band.

The Beatles, initially at any rate, received a somewhat lukewarm reception from me and it wasn't until 'A Hard Day's Night' that they began to get my full attention, although by this time they were already becoming much more than just pop. I was initially more excited by 'The Who', and purchased 'Substitute', whose opening riff was an object of interest for the then aspiring guitarist in me. There was then a gap of about four years and I bought 'America' by The Nice, then another gap of nearly ten years and I bought 'Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll' by Ian Dury and the Blockheads - and that was it for me and pop singles. I bought many albums by people who had chart success - The Beatles, The Band, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Steely Dan, Manhattan Transfer and Kirsty MacColl - but they , like most of my supposedly pop choices all transcended the genre and their music was far and away removed from the ephemeral nature of purely commercial 'product'.

I think that for most people, the pop of their time is not just about the music. it's about relating to a time and a place, style, clothes and rituals, their peer group - their tribe. I've never felt that sort of sense of identity. Yes - I can wax nostalgic about the music of my youth, but there's an awful lot of it and there's a great deal of variety to it. My tribe was a very small one that consisted mostly of people with similarly catholic tastes to my own. I'm still in regular contact with most of them -and still arguing about music

Monday, 2 June 2008

Indian Summer

I heard Ravi Shankar being interviewed on the Today programme this morning. Now in his eighties, he is making his farewell tour of Europe, although many of the concerts have been cancelled or postponed due to ill health. I first heard his music in the early 60's and, on one unforgettable occasion, heard him play in a pub.

My first introduction to Indian music had come about through my working in a record and hi fi shop in Southall, a town well known for its large Indian population. The shop, as you would expect, stocked many imported Indian records and as well as a great deal of film soundtracks(the title "Bhoot Bungla" sticks in my mind for some reason...) there was a selection of Indian classical music. By this point in my life I had realised that I had an insatiable appetite for all kinds of music and would listen to anything and everything, so I was soon checking out the Indian selections. The film music did not do it for me but one or two the classical musicians did - particularly Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar.

In the mean time I had become friends with one of our customers, one Richard Bartram, who shared my catholic tastes in music and was soon to manifest himself as 'Fingers' Bartram of the Jugular Vein (see 'Mutt and Jeff'). Richard would go on to be one of this country's finest guitar builders but at this point in time was still laying bricks for a living. His sister was working for the Co-operative Society at that time and had some sort of involvement in the Co-op's Folk Club. One day in, I think, 1966, Richard came into the shop and announced that he'd got tickets for a performance by Ravi Shankar at the Co-op's folk club, and did I want some? Rats and drains come to mind when trying to describe the speed with which I said 'yes', so one Saturday a few weeks later, accompanied by Richard's then girl friend and my then wife, we set off for the West End.

I can't recall the name of the pub now but I'm sure it wasn't the club's regular venue which was, I think, The Pindar of Wakefield in Kings Cross. I do remember that it was a very hot evening and that by the time we reached the venue we were all somewhat steamy. We bought drinks and went through into the room where the performance was to take place. A low, white-sheeted dais had been set up at one end and the rest of the room was jammed shoulder to shoulder with people. It was 'standing room only' and I guess there were about 250 people in a space that might comfortably held 90 or so.The compere for the evening was the late Bruce Dunnet , who was once described by the critic Karl Dallas as a "...Rabelaisian, lantern-jawed, foul-mouthed, stooping, commanding presence." At the start of the evening at least he was fairly restrained, although his famous cry of "Tak' yer glasses wi' ye tae the bar!" which was delivered in a broad Scots accent, rang out a couple of times before the performance started.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the introductions were made and Ravi Shankar stepped onto the dais, accompanied by the great tabla player Alla Rhaka (whose son Zakir Hussain is probably even more famous than his father, thanks to his associations with the likes of John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham, Van Morrison etc.) and a tamboura player whose name I forget. He addressed the audience quietly and politely, requesting that we did not drink or smoke during the performance, also that we refrain from applauding until the end of the entire performance (which would last about one and a half hours). He also requested that the windows be closed during the performance as the noise of the traffic was somewhat intrusive. The musicians then settled themselves cross-legged on the floor and commenced to play.

Despite the rapidly mounting temperature and lack of liquid refreshment the audience remained entranced for the next 90 minutes. It was a breathtaking musical and spiritual experience that seemed to transcend its environment and transport everybody to an entirely new place. At last the music wound down to a conclusion. The last notes of the tamboura died away. There was a silence that must have lasted for a full minute before the audience finally errupted into frantic applause that must have lasted a full five minutes. At last, when it had become apparent that there was to be no encore, the clapping and cheering faded to nothing and once again there was silence as the audience again dwelt upon the sheer spirituality of the experience that they had just shared. At this point Bruce Dunnet leapt to his feet and hollered "Aah. Come on Ravi, gi'e us another chune!"

Once again - if there's anyone out there that remembers the occasion then I'd love to hear from you