Monthly Archives: February 2017

Write Here, Write Now: 2.28 – Fireball

Deep Purple – Fireball. Fast-paced song – shame about the words.

One of the bands of my youth, I remember loving Ian Gillan’s screams and Ritchie Blackmore’s riffs and listening in awe to Jon Lord’s organ on Child In Time. Rediscovering the band recently, it’s Ian Paice’s drumming which really impressed me, particularly on Child In Time. The amazing pace and variety of his drumming  give a vitality of rhythm to a band that otherwise would be a bit ponderous and very self-indulgent.

Instead the musicians seem to lock into the groove he gives the songs and the tightness and technical ability gets channeled into songs that drive along at a phenomenal  pace and are more than the headbangers that those under the heavy metal/rock  genre seem to produce.

Fireball is a short (for  them) example of this. Flying along in less than 3 1/2 minutes, it loses no time in setting off with very fast drumming filled with little rolls that don’t let up the whole way through. Blackmore’s riffing keeps pace and Gillan’s words come flying out at a similar speed. It’s only really Lord’s organ playing that appears to slow things down at times, though it often catches up with the speed of the other instruments.

Roger Glover’s bass playing is not so easy to determine in the mix, but after a few listens, I can feel the instrument, sometimes in sync with the guitar, sometimes following its own path.

I wouldn’t mind if Gillan was a better lyricist – simple words of praise for a woman/car? don’t really do much for me. I stopped being a pre-adolescent a long time ago.

It’s in the last minute and a half that the song comes alive for me – when drums, guitar and organ all speed past, playing so dynamically, so flawlessly that it is great to move to. and it’s the organ which carries the melody.

A song that picks you up, carries you bouncing along for three minutes, then drops you again. Just because it is short doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot packed into it. Every now and then it’s good to drop back into such pleasures.It would be good to discover a band that had the same tight rhythms and driving force, but without the silly words.

Write Here, Write Now: 2.27 – A Sailor’s Life

Fairport Convention – A Sailor’s Life. It’s good to learn about music in an open-minded way.

There was a time when folk music would have been something I would never listen to. Desperately worthy and unfashionable music by men with beards and women in long skirts, both with wobbly voices and songs about historic social injustices and courtly romances. As I get older, I’m getting more appreciative of musicianship regardless of genre and recognizing a singer with a remarkable voice no matter what the subject.

I think my way in to this music would be bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service who know how to jam without dwindling into a sprawling, lethargic bluesy mess, Television and Neil Young, whose songs could exhibit great sparring of instruments, and the bass player, Danny Thompson, whose fine deep tones grace and improve many songs outside the folk genre. Even, I suppose, the Grateful Dead, who jammed fluently and with great musical skill from psychedelia into American folk and country music, albeit indulgently.

There i so much going on in this song, which lasts for over 11 minutes, that, even  though I have been listening to it all evening while doing other things, I can’t really pick it apart or interpret individual parts or instruments successfully. Not that that is going to stop me giving it a go, of course…

The first thing I notice about the song is the scraping violin, and its interplay with guitar and other instruments. And that’s even with the song starting almost unaccompanied by Sandy Denny’s clear, distinctive voice, (which I knew from Led Zep IV, and so come to with certain, positive  expectations). There’s a bit of a guitar widdle and a flurry of cymbals (to symbolize a sea breeze?), but the instruments really only start to play in the foreground at almost 3 minutes in, accompanying the last three verses of the song. The guitar comes chugging in and the violin starts sawing, while the drums keep time with the bass at the back.

The guitar and violin seem to be playing music only distantly related to the main melody or each other, which is what makes the track interesting. They pull the ear in different directions, while not overwhelming the singing, which lasts until just after the middle of the song. Upon which point the guitar, bass and violin let rip. The violin, in particular, is quite droney, tugging on a particular note while the guitar noodles on a more musical path, every now and then getting a bit dirgey with the violin. A few minutes of this kind of call and response which gets a bit familiar and unchanging, and the bass sound, which did seem to be echoing the guitar, comes briefly to the fore before it all fades away.

Given the song, I quite like the idea of the violin giving a sense of foreboding for the story being told. In fact, the violin is the best thing about the song, thought the drumming is a steady and pounding presence throughout, keeping the disparate instruments together.

I didn’t think I would do the song justice, and I’ve lived down to my word. I suppose I could have chosen something more personal and affecting, like ‘Meet on the Ledge’ or ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’. But I did want to tackle something on the rock side of their folk rock label. I think its the last three minutes where the instruments all play themselves out which will reward most repeat listening and attention,.but not now. I think I can say I’ve laid a bit of the groundwork for that…

Maybe something shorter tomorrow?

Write Here, Write Now: 2.26 – Need You Tonight

INXS – Need You Tonight. Dragging myself back to the eighties after a haircut.

Sitting in the park this afternoon with my little family, there were a few other parents with young children around. Sharing the bench with us was a dad with shoulder length, wavy dark hair. I thought this reminds me of Michael Hutchence, who  had great hair – hair I wanted to have – byronic locks. As a goth, I was as attracted to the romantic poets as to the post new romantic music scene, so there was a strong appeal, even if the music of INXS didn’t exactly ‘fit’.

I think I first came across him in the film ‘Dogs In Space’ – released in 1986. At the time I was living in Brussels, the first year after school in a provincial English town and enjoying my new-found freedom by seeing pretty much every film in the many English-language cinemas across the Belgium capital. This was one of a series of rebellious cool films like Down By Law, Sid and Nancy, Rumblefish, The Color of Money that gave me a good feeling about being a teenager in the eighties. Set in a Melbourne squat, it was chaotic and rowdy and Hutchence looked so good in it.

Need You Tonight was released the following year, when I was retaking A levels to get into university. I think I must have been up at Oxford, at a crammer, doing extra studying when I heard it on a jukebox in a pub. It may sound quite conventional now, but at the time, the mi of rock and dance seemed quite exotic. At night, I wandered the deserted back alleys of the city, on a kind of goth/Brideshead/Jude the Obscure drunken trip, getting caught up in the fantastical architecture lit up by the sodium haze of the street lights. I may be imagining it, but this punchy, dynamically rhythm guitar grooved song may have been ringing in the back of my head as I looked up at the walls of the fabled colleges I would never formally study in.

The contrast between slinky, breathy half-whispers, smooth crooning at times in call and response with full voiced singing balances precariously on a delicious mix of different guitar moods – constant background notes, distinct rhythmic ringing strums and dominant strokes of the main riff that strike through the song – and pattering drum beats. And the pauses in the song seem as deft in their marking out the different layers of sound as a skateboard poised on the edge of a skatebowl before descending to the bottom for another exhilarating rush of sound.

The bass is almost imperceptible in this song, but listening carefully, I can feel it, adding to the syncopation of the rhythm guitars – unobtrusive, but there – allowing the other instruments to take the foreground and enabling a lightness and airiness in the song.

It’s a narcissistic beauty of a song, which winks an eye and beckons a finger at the listener with a saucy self-satisfied grin. Naughty but nice, I still fall for its charms some thirty years later after first hearing it and wanting to be Michael Hutchence, though I think I have other role models now…

Write Here, Write Now: 2.25 – Soledad

Jah Wobble & The Invaders of the Heart – Soledad. Possibly my favourite song of all

This is a slightly daunting blog to write, as I ‘d like to do this song justice, but know I may fail to capture is essence, or why it moves me so much. There’s no particular reason to post this one today, out of 365 blogs, but it’s going to be in here at some point, so why not now.

With Jah Wobble, Justin Adams and Natacha Atlas, the three sounds of bass, guitar and voice are superlative. The steady deep presence of the bass, rooting the song solidly, is right at the core, although not right at the start of the song. It gives an anchor of a melodic riff from which the two other main musicians can explore and express the passions and emotions revealed in the lyrics.I could probably dance to that alone. Awesome.

Then the guitar. I wanted to learn the guitar because of Concerto de Arunjuez, which isn’t flamenco, but gave me a flavour of the intense nature of Spanish guitar. I love plucking strings on an acoustic guitar, but what Adams does on this track flies way above what I can do. It’s beautiful to listen to, though. Something you wouldn’t normally hear alongside the dub bass, but it contrasts delightfully. Running up and down the scale, distinct bones of notes stand out against the rumble of Wobble’s low tones. Varying from clear picking out of melody to frantic strumming, it illustrates the pent up and unleashed emotions in the song. Neat phrases start and then stop, leaving gaps before a delicious run of notes or a rush of noise to match Atlas’s ululations.

In the dance between guitar and voice, Adams performs, then gives way most gentlemanly for Natacha Atlas’s achingly affecting vocals.  Until tonight when some diligent googling of the few Spanish words I could identify led me to the lyrics (below), I had no idea what was being sung. It was clearly something deeply felt, something wrenched from the voice. Although sung in Spanish, Atlas gives a middle Eastern feel to the song. With the hum and wail of synths (?) at the beginning and end of the song, there’s a feel of being in the desert.

Now in possession of the words, the sounds form into recognizable shapes in my head (I don’t speak Spanish). If anything, knowing the words accentuates and delineates the music she’s making. The contrast between how I as an English speaker and a Spanish speaker would pronounce the words (más), the long lead into the second ‘Déjame’, the drawing out of  ‘canciones’, ‘doloroso’- it’s thrilling.

But the joy of the song is not in picking out and identifying individual elements. It’s in all these things playing together in one rhythmically and melodically rich song, each affecting my ear, head, body and soul in different was simultaneously. The lead in to the bass with tinkling bells and simple drum beat, the addition to the mix of the guitar, the handclaps, and then the space cleared for the vocals, clear, spaced, the reach down of the guitar to the bass and then sudden high notes. It’s a sound I could drown in.

Of the three of them, the musician I have most enjoyed listening to after loving this song is Justin Adams, whose solo material is as enjoyable. And I think it’s his guitar playing that is the heart of this song for me – it’s the thread through it which I follow, even as the other instruments magnify and ground the beautiful distinctive sound he makes.

There. I’m not sure I’ve done the song justice, but it’s up there in my pantheon of wonderful sounds to listen to. That list is slowly getting filled up. And then what?

 

Déjame
Porque sólo tengo soledad

Y los recuerdos tan perdido
Un momento doloroso

¡Ay, qué vida tan oscura!

Para que me sufro más

Déjame

Tus manos que tocan canciones
Para mí fue religión

Pero los recuerdos tan perdido
Un momento doloroso

Díme que me amarás

¡Ay, qué vida tan oscura!
Sin tu amor no viviré

Los recuerdos tan perdido
Un momento doloroso

Write Here, Write Now: 2.24 – Jollity Farm

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Jollity Farm. A quick burst of jollity.

I love the Bonzos. I always have. And I can say that because they were one of the first bands i ever got to know. As soon as I manged to operate the cassette player in my parents’ hifi, ‘Gorilla’, their first album, was discovered and played over and over again,  which along with the Monty Python records, inspired my own attempts at recording comedy sketches.

Looking back now, there is so much wit, so many cultural references, so much variety of genre in the songs on that album, that would have gone completely over my head back when I was 7 or 8.

That didn’t matter, because “everything’s a perfect treat” on the album – plenty of light silliness, unexpected twists and turns. I’m not surprised they were the house band on a children’s television programme.

While not the first song on the album, this was the first that really made an impression, with all the supremely lifelike animal impressions – just the right level of insanity to raise a grin on any listener’s face.

The music isn’t half bad, either. The sedately-pounding piano, the muted trumpet, the honking saxophones, the manically-strummed banjo, the little fills from the drums. All of which is topped off by the sublimely mannered and subversively-authoritative voice of Viv Stanshall.

And then they round the whole thing off with the theme from the Archers. This is a song I am going to want to introduce to my daughters – help their musical comedy education, but mainly give them a laugh and get them moving around to the jolly rhythms.

Write Here, Write Now: 2.23 – Viva Colonia

De Höhner – Viva Colonia. It’s Carnival Time!

Once a year, usually in a typically wet February, the Rhineland Carnival kicks off on a Thursday with the Weiberfastnacht – the Women’s Carnival. Dedicated carnivalistas turn up in the morning at work and school in fancy dress costumes and, at 11.00 am, start partying. This involves singing, drinking (a lot of drinking) and going round any men with ties and taking a pair of scissors in a symbolic act of castration, snipping off the bottom of said tie. For that act, the payment is a “Bützje” – a kiss. I got my tie sliced twice this morning.

Over the next few days, culminating on Rosenmontag, there will be cabarets, street parades in towns and villages across the region. And soundtracking the festivities, during which much Kölsch (beer) is drunk, is Kölsch carnival music, of which this track is a typical example. The words are often sung in the local Kölsch dialect of German, and beerhouses, bars and the car-free streets of Cologne and Bonn will ring out to singalongs.

I used to be a fan of Status Quo when they were a heads down 12 bar blues machine. In the eighties they went pop with bouncy tunes and a lighter touch – this is exactly of a style with such songs as the Anniversary Waltz and the Wanderer. Once a year, it’s OK , but the asinine drinking songs with their relentless upbeat jollity can only be endured ironically so long by someone who is a miserabilist goth at heart.

Mind, there is a tasty little bit of organ music at the beginning – doubtless recorded in the Kölner Dom, the Gormenghastly gothic cathedral parked in the centre of Cologne, a stone edifice visible from Bonn.

The carnival is probably more for those young and unattached to cut loose and overturn convention for a few days. Hospitals in the area are said to note a spike in the birth rate about 9 months after the partying has stopped. Now having small children, participation is required as one of the features of the floats processing along the street parades is the throwing of “Kammelle” – sweets, chocolates and other small items down  upon the waiting crowds. To be fair, a lot of preparation goes into the costumes, float decoration and choreographed dancing, so it is quite a spectacle.

One more time with the chorus, then!

“Da simmer dabei! Dat es prima! VIVA COLONIA!
Wir lieben das Leben, die Liebe und die Lust
wir glauben an den lieben Gott und han auch immer Durst”

“It’s always there. It’s great! Long Live Cologne!
We love life, love and passion
We believe in God and we are always thirsty”

Write Here, Write Now: 2.22 – Down By The River

Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Down By The River. Epic guitar duelling

This may be the song that got me into Neil Young. Although I was aware of ‘Like A Hurricane’, I hadn’t heard the song. I think ‘Heart of Gold’ may have played on the radio some time during my childhood as it seemed familiar when it played.

It was after the end of the first year at university that a group of us made the car journey down to Glastonbury for the festival. The weather was warm orange sun on the dashboard and Decade was playing on the stereo. A great way to be introduced to Neil Young’s music, the collection of 10 years of songs made a long-lasting impact – Cinnamon Girl, Cowgirl In The Sand and Southern Man – lengthy tracks with sprawling guitar solos – they seemed to come from another, golden age – California in the sixties, when everything could take its time, hang loose and revel in its sound.

All the songs on the compilation made an impact quite quickly – an indication for me of the approachable melodic pop sensibilities of Neil Young. Of all of them though, it was Down By The River that stood out most – for its guitar sparring – seemingly two lead guitars playing in one song – but guitars paying in a far different way to the fret bashing histrionics of the heavy metal/rock I had been used to from my early teenage years.

I’d kind of had my taste in metal shamed out of me in the early eighties, as the cool music to listen to was new wave, punk,.synth and indie. Although I was edging back towards rock music with bands like the Sisters, the Cult, Bauhaus – who weren’t afraid of wearing their pre-punk influences on their sleeves, It think it was this track which made me realise it was possible to indulge in guitar jamming without accompanying it with lyrics boasting about pubescent boy fantasy subjects – girls, dragons, fast cars etc. More to the point, it was a song where the bass line does more than just blindly follow the guitar/vocal line. When I listen to some metal now, I find it hard to hear the bassline at all.

It’s a long song – nearly 9 minutes, with two instrumental breaks/guitar solos taking up about half the time in total. Not that the instruments revert to conventional melodies during the verse/chorus parts. Al through the song, it’s possible to hear the two guitars and bass all playing their own distinguishable melodies, helpfully separated out into different channels in the mix, so you can tell when it’s Neil Young’s guitar, when Danny Whitten’s.

Although Neil Young takes the lead most of the time in bursting out with unusual runs of notes (38 repeats of the same note at one point, apparently), Danny Whitten does more than just play backing rhythm guitar. Although clearly separate sounds, the two guitar tracks seem to throw lead and rhythm back and forth between them, with Neil Young happy to leave big gaps in his playing, which adds to the sense of space in the song. And nodding away between the two, there’s Billy Talbot’s lovely warm bass, giving calm continuity.

The song itself carries the main melody, strong singing from Neil Young with nice harmonizing from Danny Whitten, allowing all the intriguing instrumentation to carry on without the whole thing collapsing into an aimless jam. Even at the height of the first 3 minute solo, when it’s not clear where the soloing is heading, the steady drumming  and comfortable bass lets you know the singers will be along soon to add structure and form back into the track.

There’s a  great confidence in this song, a feeling of a band, well-practised & experienced, able to take the music where their muse takes them. ‘Come with us, it’ll be fun – you’ll be in good hands’, is what it says to me.

In good hands was precisely where my infant daughter was not, some 5 years ago when I took her, in her pram, for her first solo outing with Dad – letting Mum have a much-needed rest at home. It was a fine October day with clear skies – not too cold. Where shall we go , I thought? How about down to the Rhine, across the bridge, up to the next bridge and then back home? About an hour’s walk, a reasonable proposition.

As we headed down the road towards the bank, I either had on my iPod or had in my head the lyrics to – Down By The River. Ooh, this is appropriate, I thought –

“Down by the river, I shot my baby
Down by the river, Dead, oh, shot her dead.”

*Giggle* Never had the words seemed more sinister. I think I also had Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ in my head as well. Oh well.

The walk went fine in as far as we crossed over the Rhine and started up towards the north bridge. Then it all went a bit pear-shaped. The footpath ahead was closed for repair. Never mind, I thought – I’ll cut across the upturned cobbles and excavated tarmac to further downstream, where the path should continue.

Except the path didn’t reappear. It seemed like the efficient Germans had dug up the whole path right to the bridge. Not wanting to accept this, I was determined to continue my walk (with pram) across clayey fields, till it became apparent that there was no way I was going to reach the north bridge. I had to turn round and head back.

It was now substantially later than an hour after I had set off. The confidence with which I had embarked on this outing was ebbing with the setting sun. Slightly panicky, I did make it back over the main city bridge and then worked my way home through the chilly evening air, lit by the street lights slowly brightening as the sky above darkened. It was such a relief to reach our front door.

The whole time, the motion of the pram had kept my little child asleep and snugly warm under blankets. But now when I hear the words ‘You could be taking me for a ride”, I am transported back to that trip down to the river, even as the sparring guitars remind me of a much earlier and more fondly-remembered journey.

Music takes us to interesting places.