Tuesday, July 31, 2007

42


I am 42 today. I am older than I once was and younger than I'll be; that's not unusual.

42, as the sci-fi nerds amongst you will know, is the Answer To The Ultimate Question Of Life The Universe And Everything, according to Douglas Adams.

It is also the atomic number of molybdenum, the amount of teeth wolves and dogs have and the number of the bus you need to get from Denmark Hill to Liverpool Street Station, London.

I used to live in Denmark Hill when I was a student. That was a long time ago, but I am no nearer to being able to work out what the meaning of life is than I was then, although I tend to side with the Pythons on this, as on several other matters...

"M-hmm. Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in; and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations".

I thank you.

Now, who fancies a cheesy twizzle?

ABC - 'Many Happy Returns' (1982)

[From this genius record, obviously. And posted instead of all those melancholy musical meditations on the inexorable passage of time I could have put here instead. Hurrah!].

Saturday, July 28, 2007

For Those Whose Names Were Never Called


Another of My Lovely Wife's early teen faves.

Though sadly I think it describes my early teens more than hers. *weep*

Janis Ian - 'At Seventeen' (1975)

[on this]

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Reggae # 5 - King Alfa's Song

Today a song based on the King James Bible version of Psalm 137 which expresses the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC (no, really).

In Rastafarianism Babylon is of course modern Western society (run by the 'baldheads'), and the exile is the enforced exile brought about by slavery ('when the wicked carried us away in captivity'). King Alfa is Haile Selassie.

The Boney M version drops this explicitly Rasta message, substituting the words 'How shall we sing The Lord's song' and removing the 'Sing A Song Of Freedom' chants, thereby depoliticising the song and rendering it safe for your Auntie Vi to jig about to after a few sweet sherries at your cousin Jacqui's wedding.

Banish that memory forever with this original version, from the soundtrack of 'The Harder They Come'. IRIE!
-
The Melodians - 'Rivers Of Babylon' (1969)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Frank Sinatra's Favourite Singer

Anthony Dominick Benedetto celebrates his 81st birthday next Friday, but since The Ghost will be closed for uz holidays then (hold back those tears), I thought we should celebrate now.

A trigger was London Lee posting re. Sinatra's wonderful 1967 album with Antonio Carlos Jobim, which made me think of Tony's take on 'Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars' (AKA 'Corcovado') - quite different in interpretation to Frank's and, most interestingly, using slighty different English lyrics, which if you're more familiar with the Sinatra or even Astrud Gilberto versions kinda adds a little frisson of newness which is rather nice.

I'd have first heard Tony Bennett on one of my Mum and Dad's early 70s Ronco Records nostalgia compilations (something like 'Stars Of The Fifties' ) - he was mainstream pop back then and a bit of a chart topper but like Sinatra he had jazz, swing and saloon in his veins and knew a fair bit about darkness and heartbreak too (unlike Francis Albert he saw active infantry service in Europe in World War 2 and more than his share of horrors).

I genuinely love 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco' and 'The Good Life', but for me Tony Bennett is at his absolute best when he's upfront of a small jazz group like the long-serving Ralph Sharon's Trio, or singing to the accompaniment of a real musical genius like the pianist Bill Evans on the two albums they made together in the 70s.

I'm glad he's 'found a young audience' via MTV and celeb duets and all that recently (though I could do without him singing with Bono) and it's great that he's at last getting the recognition he deserves; even his (very beautiful) paintings sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars now.

But this is how I most like to hear him...Buon Compleanno Antonio x

Tony Bennett & Bill Evans - 'Waltz For Debby'(1975)
Tony Bennett & Bill Evans - 'Some Other Time' (1975)

And not forgetting...

Tony Bennett - 'Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars' (1963)

(From this and this respectively. For more about his extraordinary life, Tony's autobiog is well worth a read).

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Are You Awake?"

I watched Lost In Translation again the other night, I think for around the fourth time. A film that just gets better and better for me the more I see it.

It's beautiful to look at of course (Sofia Coppola's nightime shots of Tokyo neon are especially lovely) and written and played in a wonderfully understated way - it also does that thing with music and colour that Coppola senior and his contemporaries picked up from genius British director Michael Black Narcissus Powell, and Coppola daughter seems to have absorbed by osmosis from birth....that thing where the screen colour and movement and the music all kind of fuse.

And when the music is the first major work from Kevin Shields since the Creation Records near-bankrupting My Bloody Valentine album Loveless, with some MBV, Jesus & Mary Chain and Air in there too at crucial moments, well....truly this is a Ghost-friendly film.

Tragically, I don't have an MP3 of Bill Murray karaoke-singing 'More Than This' (but YouTube has the clip) so the Roxy original will have to do.

Kevin Shields - 'Ikebana' (2003)
Kevin Shields - 'Are You Awake?' (2003)
My Bloody Valentine - 'Sometimes' (1991)
Roxy Music - 'More Than This' (1982)
Air - 'Alone In Kyoto' (2003)
The Jesus & Mary Chain - 'Just Like Honey' (1985)

[Buy the soundtrack and DVD (good deleted scenes!) here; Loveless here, Air here and Roxy's lovely Avalon here. This post goes out to my good friend Dr Al who's sandbagging against the floods in Oxford...]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Who Will Love Aladdin Sane?


This is My Lovely Wife's all-time favourite Saturday night record. She has an original dog-eared old copy of this LP; it was the sound of her early teens...

To our shame, some of us post-punk babies took a little longer to discover this-period Bowie.

David Bowie - 'Drive-In Saturday' (1973)

[Buy here]

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Reggae # 4 - LKJ In Dub

This was the first reggae LP I ever bought. I heard it on a tape playing in a fellow sixth-former's car one time when he was ferrying a bunch of us into town for a Friday night out. I think the tape belonged to his elder brother (people with slightly older brothers always got to hear cool music didn't they?). Anyway I loved it instantly, asked what it was, and finally tracked it down, which wasn't easy in Devon in the days before the internet, I can tell you.

Linton Kwesi Johnson is celebrated as a poet of course, so it's ironic that my first exposure to him was via this LP, which is almost entirely instrumental. In fact, I got to know these dub versions so well that when I heard the original vocal tracks many years later it was a tad disconcerting.

The music, from long-term LKJ collaborator and British reggae legend Dennis Bovell, is excellent and easily stands up on its own.

So, here are three 'In Dub' tracks

Linton Kwesi Johnson - 'Victorious Dub' (1980)
Linton Kwesi Johnson - 'Cultural Dub' (1980)
Linton Kwesi Johnson - 'Iron Bar Dub' (1980)

and here are their original vocal counterparts

Linton Kwesi Johnson - 'Forces Of Vickry' (1979)
Linton Kwesi Johnson - 'Bass Culture' (1980)
Linton Kwesi Johnson - 'Sonny's Lettah (Anti SUS Poem)' (1979)

'Compare and contrast', as they used to say in English Lit exam papers...

London Lee has already written much more eloquently than I can about the political and cultural context of LKJ's work over at Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop, and I heartily commend his post (and indeed the rest of his always excellent blog) to you.

[Tracks originally from this, this and this - but also now all available on this].

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Northern Picture Library

Look! They've got one of these in Manchester too, and like a lot of things there, it's loads cheaper than the one in London.

You will notice too that the sun is shining, something I understand is unusual thereabouts.


Trying to find Ally's Odd Bar (see previous post comments) I was rather taken by this establishment. It was closed, so I continued unpierced and untatooed. I liked the look of The Odd Bar very much, but it seemed too cosy a place to sit in on my own.


I found this statue of computing pioneer and Nazi code breaker Alan Turing incredibly sad and affecting. It is in Sackville Gardens where certain other gentlemen slumber heavily on benches and pigeons poo freely, as they will. You can see from my photo that someone has left an old yoghurt pot next to it. A slightly faded sign beside the statue details Turing's work and genius (in breaking the Enigma Code he hastened the end of the Second World War and almost certainly saved hundreds of thousands of lives; he is further acknowledged as the godfather of modern computing without which, self-evidently, I would not be able to write this and you would not be able to read it) and the sad story of how he was prevented from working after revealing quite openly to police investigating a burglary at his home that he was in a relationship with another man. He was convicted of 'gross indecency', placed on probation, forced to undergo hormone 'therapy' and later committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide, a 'victim of prejudice'. His work on Artificial Intelligence remained unfinished at his death. The sign notes that none of the major global computer firms approached for help in funding the statue agreed to make a donation.

After that, I needed cheering up. So I called my mate Marty for a reminder of how to find this favourite student pub of his. It used to have its own microbrewery, but now it's gone all Hogshead and they don't brew on site any more. Still, the atmosphere was convivial and even now there were lots of students inside (the Uni's up the road) - students, it struck me in one of those heartstopping moments you get now and then, who would not have been born when Mart and I first drank in here 22 years ago.

Back then we'd been to see Round Midnight at The Cornerhouse.

So this one's for old times sake...

Thanks Manchester, I enjoyed your company.

Thelonious Monk - 'Round Midnight' (1947)


[The composer's original, from this - the film soundtrack is available here. More about the genius of Alan Turing here].

Monday, July 16, 2007

This Lonely Railroad Station All Alone

I'm headed up to Manchester Piccadilly on the train tonight for a couple of days work in the city on Tuesday/Wednesday and the inevitable lonely hotel room that accompanies it.

I've always found airports exciting places, I suppose because I associate them with flying off to foreign parts, and the whiff of aviation fuel is genuinely one of my favourite smells (yes, I know if you live right next to Heathrow airport and smell it all day everyday it really isn't so special).

But train stations? Train stations are sad. To me, they mean goodbye; someone leaving, and someone being left behind....

They also mean largely in Britain still - bad sandwiches, lousy cups of tea, windy platforms, smelly kicked-in toilets.

*sigh*

I'll be OK when I get there I suppose....

Little Junior Parker - 'Mystery Train' (1953)
The Monkees - 'Last Train To Clarkesville' (1966)
Richard Hawley - 'Long Black Train' (2002)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Reggae # 3 - Doctor Who?

Is this the best reggae record ever made? Well, there are an awful lot of them and I ain't heard them all by a wide, wide, wide margin but - MAN! I love this hugely.

So did Johnny Rotten, apparently. And Messrs Strummer & Jones also felt moved to mention 'The doctor who was born for a purpose' in 'Rudie Can't Fail'...

But don't take anyone else's word for it - that's not very punk, is it?

Listen for yourself!

Dr. Alimantado - 'Born For A Purpose/Reason For Living' (1976)

[The Dr's MySpace here; an original Greensleeves Records biog here; some of the music here]

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What Do They Know Of England Who Only England Know?


The quote's from Kipling (via Billy Bragg, for some of us).

I thought of it the other day when I was moved by a published excerpt from a speech given by the always excellent Bill Bryson, the American humourist, who as a now-permanent resident of the UK and a long-term, and very passionate, campaigner on behalf of the English countryside, has just been appointed President of The Campaign To Protect Rural England.

If you don't live in England, or elsewhere in Britain come to that, and your image of the country has come from Richard Curtis movies and cable re-runs of Morse and Brideshead Revisited you may be wondering why rural England needs protecting at all; isn't the whole place a lush green arcadia that resonates to the leather on willow crack of village cricket matches and the melodic trilling of song thrushes in ancient hedgerows?

Er...no.

Truth is, rural England is under threat like never before - from a tangled and ever sprawling transport infrastructure, mushrooming out of town development and the relentless creep of new housing (today in parliament Gordon Brown announced that three million new homes would be built by 2020 - 'up 250,000 from the previous plan' - there's a notion to build on already developed 'brownfield' sites, but how many 'brownfield' sites would we need exactly, for three million houses? Won't a few tranches of green belt come in handy somewhere too??).

All of this makes me unspeakably sad. The country I love is disappearing, right in front of my eyes.

And doesn't it prove old Kipling right when it takes a writer from the US Mid-West to express what we have and what we stand to lose with such eloquence? Seems sometimes you have to leave a place, or come there from somewhere else, to see it as it really is....

"Because the countryside is so generally fine and looks so deceptively timeless, it's easy to think of it as somehow fixed and immutable and safely permanent. In fact, it is none of these things, of course - though it is very ancient, even more ancient than people often realise.

Not far from where I live in East Anglia there is a hedge, called Judith's Hedge, which looks like any other. But in fact Judith's Hedge is very venerable indeed. It was planted by a niece of William the Conqueror in the second half of the 11th century. So it is older than Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, York Minster - older than most of the buildings in Great Britain.

Even closer to home for me - indeed just beyond my bedroom window - is a handsome church tower that was built at about the same time. It has been standing there, adding a little touch of nobility and grandeur to the landscape, for 900 years. I find that a literally fantastic statement. If this church were in Iowa, people would travel hundreds of miles to see it. Of course, you'd have a job explaining to them how it got there, but you take my point. It would be a venerated relic. And here it is just an anonymous country church, treasured by a few aging parishioners and one overweight American, and otherwise almost entirely unnoticed because it is just one of 659 ancient parish churches in Norfolk alone.

Altogether there are 20,000 ancient parish churches in Britain. There are more listed churches than there are petrol stations. Isn't that an amazing fact? If you decided to visit one every day, it would take you 54 years to see them all.

You hardly need me to tell you how lucky you are to have what you have in this country. Being surrounded by such a sumptuous diversity of history and beauty is a delight and a privilege, of course, but it is also a great danger. When you have such an abundance of great things, it is easy to think of it as essentially inexhaustible and to persuade yourself that it can be nibbled away at without serious loss. I hate it when people think like that.

To me, the mathematics of the British landscape are wonderfully simple and compelling. Britain has about 60 million acres of land and about 60 million people. That's one acre for each of us. Every time you give up 10 acres of greenfield site to build a superstore, in effect 10 people lose their acres. To enjoy the countryside they must go and use other people's acres. By developing countryside you force more and more people to share less and less space. Trying to limit the growth of development in the countryside isn't nimbyism, it's common sense".

Gosh. Looks like this has been a serious post.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen - 'Green Fields' (2007)
Everything But The Girl - 'Lonesome For A Place I Know' (1988)

[from this and this]

Monday, July 09, 2007

"Now, pay attention 007"

Those of you were good at maths and stats and standard deviations from the norm and all that sort of mallarkey at school will be able to dig out your protractors, set squares and compasses and plot today's concept in graphical form tracking all key variables, so hey! your week is off to a great start already!

Our poser is this: if we were to assess every Bond film ever made according to two relative criteria - enjoyability of film and grooviness of music, what would come out on top? And, much more interestingly, for which films would the gap between the two ratings be greatest, i.e. what are the unmitigatingly shite Bond films with tremendous music, and what are the gobsmackingly fab Bond films with rubbish music? Are you still with me at the back? (ARE YOU CHEWING GUM BOY? WELL SPIT IT OUT).

For me, an excellent example in the rubbish movie but great music category is 'Octopussy' - a woefully bad outing for 007 with an antiquated Roger Moore camping it up, borderline racist 'Indian' villains, incoherent plotting, unsuspenseful chases and blah blah blah, BUT a superb late John Barry score echoing his very best early work, especially in rich orchestrations of the lovely title song 'All Time High' that run throughout.

And as for the best/best - hugely enjoyable films also with great music? 'Goldfinger', 'Dr No'? Of the later movies, 'The World Is Not Enough' with Barry-acolyte David Arnold's score and, way hey, Shirley Manson of Garbage?!

Whaddya think?

I have to tell you that there has always been a place in my heart for 'You Only Live Twice' (1967).

Film-wise it has peak-period Connery, Donald Pleasance's Blofeld, Little Nellie the jetcopter, lovely Asian women, spaceship-swallowing rockets and a villain's lair inside a massive volcano whose fake-lake surface rolls back like a big door. I mean come on! Musically - an awesome Barry soundtrack and, let us all give thanks, Nancy Bloody Sinatra!!!! Hmm, kind of beats Lulu, wouldn't you say?

Anyway, here are some musical excerpts for your delectation. Prepare to weep in awe at 'Mountains And Sunsets' (accompanies sweeping views of Japanese landscape) and thrill to the (much imitated, never bettered) tension of 'Capsule In Space' especially. Genius, truly.

John Barry (vocal, Nancy Sinatra) - 'You Only Live Twice - Title Song'
John Barry - 'Capsule In Space'
John Barry - 'A Drop In The Ocean'
John Barry - 'The Death Of Aki'
John Barry - 'Mountains And Sunsets'

[Buy the soundtrack here. This post based on an original pub discussion with my good friend Dr Al - happy birthday for tomorrow. In memory of Desmond Llewellyn 1914-1999].

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Reggae # 2 - Jamaican Soul

It has been a great week for the More Reggae In The Blogosphere (c) campaign, with Crash at Pretending Life Is Like A Song, Darcy at Feel It and Mick at Raiding The Vinyl Archive all signing up with groovy posts of riddim: RESPECT.

Lots of comments too from many of you lovely people of the 'Don't know much about reggae but know what I like' variety: and isn't it cool that what you like can be everything from Linton Kwesi Johnson's radical poetry take on the West Indian experience in 70s Britain to the roots rhythms of old punk favourite Dr Alimantado to Trenchtown-era Bob Marley to Althea & Donna and sunny chart-spanking reggae pop?

I loves it all, though it probably won't surprise you, given certain other musical 'leanings' that I have, that there is a soft spot in my heart for Music Of West Indian Origin with more than a little soul edge to it.

This, for example, I find simply sublime, starting as it does like a lost track from 'Dusty In Memphis' before kicking at 10 seconds into a seriously sexy rhythm and oh, that sweet vocal. It was originally recorded by Millie Jackson.

Susan Cadogan - 'Hurt So Good' (1974)

And perhaps Jimmy Cliff is Jamaica's Marvin Gaye: that pure, light, lovely voice that can soar, and does, on the almost gospel 'Many Rivers To Cross' (1971) and sooth too, like on the much, much less famous (and later) but almost as glorious 'Shelter Of Your Love' (1981).

Finally... 'Sitting In Limbo' (1971) I once shoved on the end of a tape of Balearic stuff I took to Ibiza - it was perfect sunshine listening on that magical island of intersecting leylines and chilled out good people. And they say the drugs don't work! (though please make mine a couple of these).

Happy weekend everyone.

[Buy Jimmy Cliff here; Susan Cadogan here - and on lots of compilations].

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Going Home

Right now I am so tired, dog tired, just fall into the sack and sleep for a thousand years tired. Too many early starts and long days and you know what it's like? When it feels like you're looking at the world through the wrong end of a telescope, your perspective's shrunk up and everything's weird and distant? Like that.

Last night I took to my trundle bed and I put on my big comfy, padded, old skool hi-fi headphones and I listened to this as I drifted into sleep. And it was beautiful.

Brian Eno - 'An Ending (Ascent)' (1983) (from this)

Forgive me for being lazy, but can I quote Wiki? (I'm so tired...)

This music was originally recorded in 1983 for a documentary called For All Mankind, directed by Al Reinert and originally intended as a non-narrative collection of NASA stock footage from the Apollo program. The non-narrative version with the Eno soundtrack was released on video in 1990 by the National Geographic Society.

I am sure I saw this film on TV, probably in the late 80s and probably late at night on BBC2. It was haunting.

'An Ending (Ascent)' accompanies the footage of the Apollo 11 module leaving the moon to return to Earth......we watch as the lunar surface slips steadily away below us. We are going home.

Night night.
---
[and happy 4th of July American friends]

Monday, July 02, 2007

"Hi, I'm Plenty"

But of coursh you are.

Did you catch this at Glastonbury? Marvellous. Works especially well in a Sheffield accent I feel...

Arctic Monkeys - 'Diamonds Are Forever' (live at Glastonbury) (2007)

And it's been too long since I posted something by His Holiness Our Lord Sir John Barry (All Give Praise), so here's our Shirl too.

Shirley Bassey - 'Diamonds Are Forever' (1971)

Sequinned wellies!

[You had better download the Monkeys at once because it will self-destruct in exactly one week. The Shirl is from this which there is no excuse whatsoever for you not owning; you might also consider this. Amazing fact! Plenty O'Toole was played by Lana Wood, Natalie's sister! Here's her website. What a shame you could not stay for dinner Mr. Bond].
---
PS: I've just realised that this is my hundredth post. I was going to make a big song and dance about that when it happened, but here it is happening without me noticing. Which is as it should be really, isn't it?