Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Bob Dylan @ The Roundhouse

Sunday 26 April 2009

Photo: Oslo 1 Apr 09 © Wikdmessenger

It can be hard to get excited about Bob Dylan gigs. The best advice is to go with low expectations and an open mind. I've watched him perform awful sets where he's barely acknowledged his audience and only the deluded could call what came out of his mouth 'singing'.

Still, the prospect of seeing the old troubadour in such a small space coupled with my brother's report that he was on good form the previous night at the cavernous 02 meant I was in high spirits on Sunday evening in Camden Town.

Reviews of the Roundhouse gig have been mixed. Hardcore fans have been predictably positive. On the Word Magazine website Fraser Lewry has sparked a great debate after damning the gig as "dreadful". In contrast Richard Williams' four-star review in the Guardian reckoned Dylan performed "perhaps the most compelling version of Like a Rolling Stone since Earl's Court 1978". You be the judge on that score.

MP3: Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (Live @ The Roundhouse)

Personally, I had a great time. There's no question that Bob's voice is shot but he sang with conviction and I could hear all of the lyrics enunciated (which is more than I can say about previous Dylan gigs). I did doubt whether Bob's band knew what he was up to all the time as they constantly focussed on their boss's odd keyboard riffs and never seemed quite sure when to finish a song.

Still, there's something extremely compelling about witnessing this strange old geezer on stage. As my friend Jane observed, Bob seemed to be enjoying a private joke with himself all night. His bizarre grin reminded me of V for Vendetta; his jerky leg dance conjured up images of Grandpa Simpson at an OAP disco.

As a huge fan of Bob's radio show, where each week he is humorous and engaging, it does surprise me that Dylan limited his audience chat to introducing the band and an Amy Winehouse gag. Yet the other thing that makes Theme Time Radio Hour so great, Bob as self-confessed "musical expeditionary", is always evident at his shows.

When I saw Dylan in Brixton four years ago, the same month Link Wray died, he opened with a rendition of Rumble and later played tribute to The Clash with a version of London Calling. My father-in-law saw Bob a few years ago when he treated the audience in Newcastle, hometown of The Animals, to House of the Rising Sun.

On Sunday he doffed his stetson to the Roundhouse's 1970s heyday. I'm not enough of a Faces fan to have noticed but one of our party told me in the pub afterwards that the evening's version of I Don't Believe You explicitly recalled Cindy Incidentally.

MP3: Bob Dylan - I Don't Believe You (Live @ The Roundhouse)

Yes, this is geeky stuff, but as Dylan said in his recent interview with Bill Flanagan he just doesn't see himself in the same mould as other performers.

A lot of the acts from your generation seem to be trading on nostalgia. They play the same songs the same way for the last 30 years. Why haven't you ever done that?

I couldn't if I tried. Those guys you are talking about all had conspicuous hits. They started out anti-establishment and now they are in charge of the world. Celebratory songs. Music for the grand dinner party. Mainstream stuff that played into the culture on a pervasive level. My stuff is different from those guys. It’s more desperate. Daltrey, Townshend, McCartney, the Beach Boys, Elton, Billy Joel. They made perfect records, so they have to play them perfectly... exactly the way people remember them. My records were never perfect. So there is no point in trying to duplicate them. Anyway, I’m no mainstream artist.

Debatable I know. What's not is that Bob Dylan is the weirdest crank in showbusiness and is still playing by his own rules. In my book that's to be applauded (if not always heard).

Related Posts
Tom Waits on Radio Bob - listen to Tom's basement tapes
Bob Dylan 2.0 - relaunch of
It's A Mad Mad Mad Bob World - my first take on I'm Not There
Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror - Dylan at Newport
Radio Bob Returns - celebrating series two of Theme Time Radio Hour

Related Links
Amazon: Bob Dylan - Together Through Life - buy the new album

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Should I Put It In My Pants?

Gone Fishin' With John Lurie, Tom Waits & Pals

Some TV channels seem to devote the majority of their airtime to the "Fifty Greatest/Funniest/Daftest/Inspiring/Etc Moments of All Time" but I don't recall this scene of Tom Waits putting a freshly caught red snapper down his shorts ever making one of those countdown clip shows.

This is from the second episode of Fishing With John, John Lurie's surreal take on outward bound entertainment first broadcast in the States in 1991. I don't think it was ever shown on UK television but I have a well-worn set of VHS tapes that was probably my first ever transatlantic Amazon order. It's one of my most prized possessions.

Thankfully, at long last, the six-part series has been released on DVD over here. As well as Tom in Jamaica you can also enjoy Jim Jarmusch shark fishing in upstate New York, Matt Dillon in Costa Rica, Willem Dafoe on the ice in Maine and a double episode with Dennis Hopper in search of the giant squid in Thailand.

It is unlike any television programme you've ever seen. The hi-jinks on screen are matched by deadpan narration and as well as putting his pals in ludicrous situations Lurie also scored the series with a particularly peculiar soundtrack.

This is one of the two Tom Waits 'field recordings' from the series as well as the mysterious fish dance Lurie and Dillon perform before their adventure.

MP3: Tom Waits & John Lurie - River of Men

MP3: John Lurie - Fish Dance

The YouTube clip above is merely the tip of the iceberg. Do yourself a favour and get your hands on the DVD. You'll thank me for it.

Related Links
Amazon: Fishing With John DVD
Amazon: Fishing With John Soundtrack CD
City Paper: John Lurie Interview - talking trout

Thursday, 23 April 2009

State Songs #13: Idaho

Spuds. Even the state's tourism website admits that "many people don’t know much about Idaho except 'famous potatoes.'" Until I looked at I too was among that "many" but now I've learned that Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in America, "deeper than the Grand Canyon" and Anderson Ranch Reservoir is known for its blue-ribbon fly-fishing.

There aren't many songs about the "Gem State" but I hope you find a few nuggets here. If you have suggestions for any I've omitted please leave a comment below.

MP3: The Divine Comedy - Idaho

As great a song about homesickness as you're likely to hear. Neil Hannon deserves extra credit for rhyming noisy with Boise. If you listen to just one of these songs listen to this one.
More Divine Comedy: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Yonder Mountain String Band - Idaho

The Yonder Mountain String Band are based in Colorado so why they're so fond of Idaho I'm not quite sure although I guess they do list plenty of reasons in the song.
More YMSB: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: The B-52s - Private Idaho

This is the only one of my Idaho selections that does actually mention potatoes. Crank it up loud and I defy you not to want to dance like Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider do in the video.

More B-52s: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - Idaho

The harmonies, bass line and horns make this a terrific listen. If they haven't already done so I suggest the Idaho Tourism office use the song in a TV ad; anywhere that's as "sweet as apple cider" is surely worth a visit. Now I find it hard to think of Valli without recalling his sweary performance as Rusty Millio in The Sopranos.

More Frankie Valli: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Rosalie Sorrels - Way Out in Idaho

The only native Idahoan featured on my list Sorrels is something of a minor legend in American folk circles and was pals with Utah Phillips and Hunter S Thompson. She played at Newport in 1966 and The Isle of Wight in 1970 and continues to tour today.
More Rosalie Sorrels: official site | Amazon

Next up on our trip round the States we hit the Mid-West for the first time and visit the Land of Lincoln - Illinois.

Related Posts
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Welcoming Back The Rockingbirds

Looking back now 1992 was the most important musical year of my life. REM's Automatic For The People, The Jayhawks' Hollywood Town Hall and The Lemonheads' It's A Shame About Ray either confirmed my musical prejudices or pointed me further down the road marked 'twang'. It was also the year I discovered North London country-rock heroes The Rockingbirds who've played a handful of reunion gigs this week and whose marvelous debut album has just been re-released by Heavenly.

When we were in the Fifth Form my friend Dave Varley bought The Rockingbirds' single Gradually Learning. Three things attracted him to the CD: the cover (see above), the sleeve's amusing pen portraits of the band (see here and here) and the 99p-for-four-tracks price tag. That fateful day at the Lincoln branch of Andy's Records I'm not sure Dave even knew he was buying a record by a British band.

The title track was pretty good but we were more attracted to the B-side, Love Has Gone and Made a Mess of Me, whose lyric "It's the same kind of luck/As being run down by a truck" appealed to our adolescent sense of humour.

MP3: The Rockingbirds - Love Has Gone and Made a Mess of Me

And that was that. The Rockingbirds released some singles, two well-received but commercially unsuccessful albums, played a bunch of gigs I never saw and disbanded in 1995. This track from their swan song Whatever Happened to the Rockingbirds is a fitting epitaph to a band out of step with the 90s Britpop explosion.

MP3: The Rockingbirds - Band of Dreams

Shortly after I moved to London in 1999 I met Big Steve Arlene whose band The Arlenes was keeping the North London twang flame alight. Steve suggested I might enjoy Come Down and Meet the Folks, the Sunday afternoon club he ran at Rosie O'Grady's in Camden with a chap called Alan Tyler. That name was familiar. I excitedly phoned Dave and told him I'd found out what had happened to The Rockingbirds, or at least their lead singer and songwriter. We headed to Camden Road in the hope of hearing the song that had amused us as teenagers.

One of the first times we went to Meet the Folks Alan played Love Has Gone and Made a Mess of Me. I was beside myself. Since then we've seen Alan Tyler play numerous times but never thought we'd get to see the actual Rockingbirds perform.

Last year the band reunited to play with Edwyn Collins at one of the Heavenly Records 18th birthday gigs at the South Bank Centre. It sold out before I could get a ticket. Thankfully a good time was had by all and the seed was sown for a few more live shows.

"Is this queue for The Rockingbirds? I never thought I'd say that."
- overheard outside The Dome, Tufnell Park, 18 April 2009

Last night Dave and I finally saw The Rockingbirds play. After about four songs Dave lent over to me and accurately observed,"It's going like a dream so far." I'd not seen so many fortysomethings dancing since I was last at a wedding and got particularly animated myself during the classic Jonathan Richman tribute Jonathan Jonathan.

Inside the Gradually Learning sleeve it says "Alan has golden shades and a platinum voice... He vows never to become a rock monster". It's always wonderful to attend a gig where so much affection is directed towards the band on stage. I think everyone at the Dome last night will forgive Alan's triumphant ascension onto the drum riser before the encore. Welcome back.

Related Posts
I'm Your Fan - includes Jonathan Jonathan

Related Links
Amazon: The Rockingbirds - buy the re-issued album, it's superb! - includes some great videos - Alan Tyler's current band
Come Down and Meet the Folks - still going strong

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

State Songs #12: Hawaii

Aloha! When I first started thinking about state songs I knew Texas and Tennessee would yield a bumper crop but reckoned I'd only need an Elvis track and a few steel guitar instrumentals to deal with Hawaii. Not so.

Perhaps because it's been overcast and I wanted some sunshine or the luxury of the bank holiday weekend meant more time rummaging for tunes but I've ended up with my longest post of the journey so far.

So, download these dozen songs, mix yourself a mai tai and sit back and think of Kailua.

MP3: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Sailin' on to Hawaii

As part of Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys Bashful Brother Oswald helped popularise the Dobro and played the resonator guitar on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's classic 1972 triple album Will The Circle Be Unbroken. He also wrote this track which he performs on that record with Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs.
More Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: official site | BBC | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Elvis Presley - Rock-A-Hula Baby

Blue Hawaii (1961) was one of Elvis' most successful films and the King returned to the island to make two more movies as well as the legendary Aloha From Hawaii satellite broadcast in 1973. This was the B-side to Can't Help Falling in Love, a number one hit from the Blue Hawaii soundtrack. Billboard reckoned the song was "ideal for a new dance craze".
More Elvis Presley:
official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: The Beach Boys - Hawaii

Had the Beach Boys actually been to Hawaii by 1963? God only knows. My guess is that by the time of their third album Brian Wilson and Mike Love had found writing songs about the Southern California beach scene too limiting and wanted to branch out a little. Some trivia: Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who surfed.
More Beach Boys: BBC | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: John Prine - Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is uncovering connections between songs I'd previously never noticed. To wit Sam Bush, whose Taking Out The Georgia Mail, featured in my previous post, backs Prine with the New Grass Revival on this track from the 1986 album German Afternoons. Some trivia: John Prine has never surfed.
More John Prine: official site | BBC | Amazon |7digital

MP3: The Ventures - Hawaii Five-0

The surf guitar legends recorded their version of the TV theme tune a year after the show made its debut in 1968 and although it ran for 12 years I reckon more people are familiar with the Hawaii Five-0 theme than the TV show itself thanks to The Ventures' definitive rendition.
More Ventures: official site | BBC | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Jimmie Rodgers - Everybody Does It In Hawaii

The Singing Brakeman isn't specific what "it" is but with hula girls in his sights we can take a pretty good guess. This was recorded in 1929 as America went crazy for ukuleles and Hawaiian music.
More Jimmie Rodgers: official site | BBC | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Kitty, Daisy & Lewis - Honolulu Rock-A-Roll-A

I first saw this band of retro-obsessed siblings about six or seven years ago at Come Down and Meet the Folks in Camden Town. Since then they've won over festival audiences, had the honour of performing on Blue Peter and will support Coldplay on their US tour this summer. The past is safe in their hands.
More Kitty, Daisy & Lewis: MySpace | BBC | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Roy Rogers & The Sons of the Pioneers - Hawaiian Cowboy

I heard Bob Dylan play Sol K Bright's original version of this on Theme Time Radio Hour. I've chosen Roy Rogers' recording instead for my Dad's benefit. He's a man who lives by the Roy Rogers' Rider's Rules and still mourns the passing of Trigger.
More Roy Rogers: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Andy Iona - Ta-Hu-Wa-Hu-Wa-I

Apparently this is an "Hawaiian war song" but who might be menaced by the combination of steel guitar and upright bass isn't obvious. Andy Iona was an Hawaiian music legend and lent his ukulele skills to Louis Armstrong on Satchmo's tropical recordings of the 1930s.
More Andy Iona: Wikipedia

MP3: Honolulu Nights - David Grisman, Mike Auldridge & Bob Brozman

Bob Brozman was unknown to me until I produced the website for Alan Yentob's Story of the Guitar series. This is a great outtake we put on the site:

The track is from is from the album Tone Poems III which traces "the musical history of the great resophonic and slide instruments that were developed in America during the first third of the 20th century".
More Bob Brozman: official site | Amazon

MP3: R Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders - Hano Hano Hawaii

If you've seen Terry Zwigoff's wonderful documentary Crumb you'll know that the saucy cartoonist is a huge fan of vintage jazz. Crumb's string band (at times including Zwigoff and Bob Brozman) released three records in the 70s; this nonsense pastiche is from their third.
More Robert Crumb: official site | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Henry Hall & The BBC Dance Orchestra - Goodbye, Hawaii

In the 1930s Henry Hall's Dance Orchestra played every evening from the BBC's HQ at Broadcasting House. This is the sort of song I like to imagine being played on ocean liners while women in cocktail dresses sip whiskey sours and rum daisies.
More Henry Hall: Wikipedia | Amazon

As usual let me know any songs I should have included. Next time we'll be in the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway and Lana Turner - Idaho.

Related Posts
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Saturday, 11 April 2009

State Songs #11: Georgia

My teenage obsession with REM means I've always had a soft spot for their home state and thanks to my 'American cousin' John Barner living there I've been able to visit a few times.

I vividly remember my first trip to Georgia, traveling along the kudzu lined highway in a Greyhound bus, listening to a tape of Murmur on my Walkman and being reminded of all the weird Southern images conjured up in those early REM songs.

Georgia has inspired hundreds of songs and I've really enjoyed choosing the seven here. If there are any you think I should have included and haven't please leave a comment below. In the meantime fix yourself an ice tea, imagine you have a porch, and enjoy these selections.

MP3: Ray Charles - Georgia on My Mind

Georgia adopted Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrel's 1930 classic as its official state song in 1979. Dozens have recorded it but this is the most famous version and sung by a Georgia native too.
More Ray Charles: BBC | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Julie London - Hard Hearted Hannah

Julie London is remembered as fondly for her sultry, sexpot image as her songs. As Wikipedia points out, "the notably suggestive portrait photos used on London's album covers made lasting impressions even on the tone deaf." Her rendition of the Tin Pan Ally standard about the "Vamp of Savannah, GA" captures her appeal to a tee.
More Julie London: MySpace | BBC | Amazon

MP3: Justin Townes Earle - South Georgia Sugar Babe (live)

Steve Earle's lad is fast becoming one of my favourite artists and his live shows are particularly fun. This is from a cracking set in Austin last December that's available in full at the Internet Archive.
More Justin Townes Earle: MySpace | Amazon

MP3: Webb Pierce - Georgia Rag

A fine slice of 1950s honky-tonk twang from the legendary Webb Pierce whose previous appearance in these parts was one of my drinking song posts.
More Webb Pierce:
Wikipedia | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Uncle Tupelo - Chickamauga (live)

This track's lyrics are more pertinent considering that the version here is from Uncle Tupelo's last ever show on 1 May 1994 in St Louis. Acrimonious slanging matches between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar typified Uncle Tupelo's break-up so it's perhaps appropriate that the Battle of Chickamauga took place during the Civil War.
More Uncle Tupelo: fansite | Amazon | 7digital

MP3: Sam Bush - Bringing in the Georgia Mail

Bluegrass virtuoso Sam Bush was America's National Fiddle Champion at 15 but is even more highly regarded as a mandolin player. This track is from one of the superb Crowd Around the Mic CDs that North Carolina radio station WNCW offers its supporters.
More Sam Bush: official site | Amazon

MP3: Blind Willie McTell - Atlanta Strut

William McTell was born in Thompson, Georgia in 1898. This is from only his third session, recorded in Atlanta in 1929. Like many early blues musicians McTell recorded songs under various names for different "race" labels and released this one as Blind Sammie for Columbia.
More Blind Willie McTell: Wikipedia | Amazon | 7digital

Next time we'll be wearing ridiculous shirts and sipping Mai Tais as we say "Aloha" to Hawaii.

Neighbouring States

Alabama - Cat Power, Billie Holiday, Jim White, Joan Baez, Shelby Lynne, Lynryd Skynyrd
Florida - Vic Chesnutt, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley

Related Posts
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Hi and Lo

New Adventures in Modern Twang

The Hi and Lo are an urbane pair of twang fans from Leicestershire I'd recommend to anyone who likes the idea of seeing a drummer play the banjo. I saw the band for the first time last Saturday at the Betsey Trotwood on the same bill as the delightful Piney Gir and my pals Two Fingers of Firewater.

Paul McClure played acoustic guitar, harmonica and mandolin while the top-hatted Nick Bott combined drums, more harmonica, banjo and electric guitar. I was first struck by what a lovely sound they created together but it was their self-deprecating between-song patter that really won me over. Some of the songs are pretty funny too.

These two vids and the MP3 below should give you a flavour. There's more at as well as a good 10-track CD for sale.

If you're in London The Hi and Lo are playing the mighty Come Down and Meet the Folks this Sunday. Perhaps see you there.

I Get Blue (Just Like Those Cowboys) Over You

Ray of Sunshine

MP3: The Hi and Lo - The Bad Times Aren't As Bad (They're Even Worse)

Related Links - videos, songs, gigs, CD

Monday, 6 April 2009

State Songs #10: Florida

Florida is one of those states that divides people. Among its detractors are anyone who sunburns easily and all those who voted for Al Gore in 2000 while fans of the Sunshine State include Jewish retirees and more than a million British tourists each year.

These three tracks take in both viewpoints. As usual if there's a song you love that I've not included do let me know. I'll soon be compiling a list of ones that got away.

MP3: Vic Chesnutt - Florida

You won't hear a better putdown on our journey around the states. "There's no more pathetic place in America" sings Vic of the "Redneck Riviera". The track is from his essential second album West of Rome (1991).
More Vic Chesnutt: MySpace | BBC | Amazon

MP3: Muddy Waters - Deep Down in Florida

By way of balance here's Muddy Waters looking forward to visiting the state "where the sun shines damn near every day". Coincidentally Waters' final public performance took place in Florida when he joined Eric Clapton on stage in Miami on 30 June 1982 to sing Blow Wind Blow.
More Muddy Waters: | official site | BBC | Amazon| 7digital

MP3: Elvis Presley - Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce

A cheesy track from the film Girl Happy that's far from vintage Presley but worth a listen for such couplets as "Any male in Fort Lauderdale/ Who is not pursuing a cute female/ Will automatically land in jail/ That's the law in Fort Lauderdale". If you're not convinced watch this clip. They didn't call him the King for nothing.
More Elvis Presley: official site | BBC | Amazon | 7digital

We're staying in the South for our next state, Florida's neighbour - Georgia.

Neighbouring States
Alabama - Cat Power, Billie Holiday, Jim White, Joan Baez, Shelby Lynne, Lynryd Skynyrd
Georgia - Ray Charles, Julie London, Justin Townes Earle, Webb Pierce, Uncle Tupelo, Sam Bush, Blind Willie McTell

Related Posts
State Songs - links to every post on this musical road trip
Related Posts with Thumbnails



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