Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A Happy New Year to all my readers...

There! I've always wanted to write that! I suppose some sort of retrospective thingy is in order so - here goes:-

This is my first year of blogging (I started back in May) and I have been enjoying it immensely. Whether or not you lot out there in cyberland have is another thing entirely but it's all the fault of my old mate Leigh Heggarty (for more details of the attribution of blame, see "The time has come", the Walrus said...), whose excellent blog documents the everyday life of a jobbing Rock guitarist in great - and frequently amusing - detail.

I have made a new 'cyberpal' through the blog, courtesy of my Emily Remler memoir - See Emily Play - which put me in touch with the author of the All Things Emily website. We have been corresponding regularly and have been exchanging music and political opinions, both of us expressing joy (along with most of the Western World) at Obama's election. And talking of politics I am now the proud possesor of a 7 metre telescopic flagpole to go with my red flag (see A bit of flag waving). I do urge you to pass this idea on and to participate yourself. In a recent interview, Adrian Edmondson made the observation that, when Margaret Thatcher finally dies there will be a very large queue of people waiting to dance on her grave. It occured to me that they would probably get their feet fairly muddy because there will also be an awful lot of people pissing on it...

I have also got back in contact with an old pal, Paul Marsden, who was a fellow traveller on my early forays into discovering music. Whilst I was writing about some of these exploits ( see Folk me sideways Part Two for photographic proof of them) I checked for online evidence of his existence. Lo and behold - there was his website and contact was duly made. We have been exchanging emails and phone calls on a grand scale ever since (and as there had been a thirty year hiatus in our relationship there has been a lot to talk about).

I've been to some excellent gigs, bought a lot of CD's and DVD's, read a lot of good books, joined the wonderful world of blogging and - apart from becoming the proud possesor of hearing aids (see Mutt and Jeff) and high blood pressure - have, by and large had a jolly good year. I trust that yours has been at least as good as mine (but without the deafness and the blood pressure!) and that this coming year will be even better. That's it...see you in the new year!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Davy Graham 1940 - 2008

I was greatly saddened to learn of the death of Davy Graham on the 15th December. He was a musician that made a huge impact on the folk music scene of the 1960's and then seemed to slowly faded from sight over the next decade, although his musical influence continued to spread outwards like ripples in a pond. I've written elsewhere in this blog about discovering his music for the first time (see The twang's not the thang) but in recent years his albums have been reissued and I for one have bought a few of them and rediscovered his music all over again,

With another forty or so years worth of listening and playing experience under my belt I realised that Graham wasn't just an innovative guitar player: he was an extraordinary musician who just happened to play the guitar. I'm fairly certain that he would have made great music on whatever instrument he had focused on. We may well have been denied a virtuoso trombonist or harpist or kazoo player, come to that - the instrument wasn't the point. It was the ideas that were so stunning. That he did focus on the guitar was fortunate because there was a very receptive audience for acoustic guitar music out there just waiting to be wowed. Personally, I find that the more I listen to those records, the more wowed I become. Davy Graham seemed to have the same attitude as another of my heroes, the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, characterised by a refusal to think in terms of musical pigeon holes but rather to see music as a whole - as a river flowing past that could be dipped into at any point.

Here's a nineteen year old Davy, caught on film in 1959 playing 'Cry Me A River'

And here's some footage from the BBC's 'Folk Britannia' documentary series -

and here's a track from the EP that originally introduced me to his music.

For further information, here are some links -

Monday, 15 December 2008

Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs is one of those programmes that irritates me more often than it delights me, but sometimes, delight me it does, and that’s why I continue to listen to it. Often the interviewees are thoroughly unmusical, sometimes they are extremely boring and occasionally they are self important prats. More often than not though, it’s a case of ’vaguely interesting person chooses vaguely uninteresting music’ - there’s an awful lot of Bob Dylan and Puccini…But once in a while someone chooses something that I love – which always gets my attention, and once in a while somebody chooses something that I’ve never heard before but end up loving.

I first identified one of the Bach cello suites when Tom Courtenay chose it about forty years ago. I say identified because I’d heard the piece before and had been entranced by it. There is a scene in Jazz On A Summer’s Day (see Folk me sideways for more about this film) when the camera cuts back and forth between shots of the America’s Cup races taking place off of Newport, Rhode Island, and Fred Katz, cellist with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, practising in his room. At the time I assumed that Katz was improvising (albeit brilliantly), but the music stuck in my mind and stayed with me until Tom chose it and the light dawned. I subsequently bought the Pablo Casals recording of the complete Bach Cello Suites and it has remained a favourite ever since. Much to my surprise I found this clip of Casals playing part of Suite No 1 around 1953

Quite a few years later I was listening to the adventurer and writer Tim Severin’s choice. He had, amongst other things, emulated one of the Celtic saint’s legendary crossing of the Atlantic ocean in a leather boat, and had written a book about it. One of Severin’s selections was a jig called Water Under The Keel, which was from an orchestral suite for Uillean pipes and orchestra by the composer Shaun Davey. This immediately grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and gave me a damn good shaking and I was forced to go out and by the record of The Brendan Voyage – which was the title both of the suite and of the book that inspired it The piper on this was Liam O'Flynn, who was one of the founder members of the Irish group Planxty, one of the most innovative and influential musical units that Ireland had ever seen. The 'embedding feature for this YouTube clip of an extract from the piece has been disabled but you can see it by clicking here.

In 2004 my attention was grabbed again when the ‘death row’ lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith chose the forty part motet Spem In Alium by Thomas Tallis as one of his eight records. Again I marvelled at a sound, and couldn’t wait to buy a recording so as to hear that glorious noise on my Quad speakers instead of on the bathroom radio. (I tend to take a late shower on a Sunday.) Here is a clip of the work, performed by The Tallis Scholars.

I’m sure that I’m not alone in occasionally fantasising about being on the programme, and I’ve often started to compile my own eight records. I say ‘started’ because no matter how I try, I can never finish the list because there are so many great pieces of music that I just couldn’t do without. In fact if I’m ever invited on to the programme I shan’t take any music with me at all. I’ll choose a gun as my luxury and shoot myself as soon as I land, because the prospect of living for years with only eight records is just too awful to contemplate…