D.I.Y Disasters (And Occasional Successes) Part 5: “Sinking Boat”

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The Physio & Firkin back then…

If you’ve been following this series until now you will have noticed that the results of my gig promoting activities could be fairly described as mixed. I was still determined to carry on though. I wasn’t sure the Physio was the best place being a bit too far out of the city centre but I hadn’t got an alternative yet. Also I was having big ideas that didn’t get anywhere near getting off the ground. One idea was to do an all dayer with some of the better known bands such as Chaos UK heading the bill, some of my lesser known favourites such as Braindance , and a couple of local bands. The nearest I got to this was asking Chaos UK’s singer, Chaos, if he was interested in playing Leicester as he was passing by after a gig in Derby. “No” he replied walking past. I never put Chaos UK on.

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Charlie Parker and I

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Bird of Paradise – Charlie Parker

I have written a few times about my lazy relationship with my saxophone, a Boosey & Hawkes silver alto made in 1935 with a Selma C mouthpiece holding a Rico Royal Reed of 3 & 1/2 usually.  The reed produces the sound and they come from a plant called Arundo donax, or giant cane.  

Saxophone_reeds-alto,_tenorAny saxophone player worth her salt (like Charlotte Glasson for example) would find a 3 reed way too soft to play.  That’s one reason why I say lazy.  If you rehearse every day, even for an hour or two, you’ll need to put in a harder reed sooner or later.  The numbers refer to the thickness : one is very soft and easy to play, five is tough, needs to be licked on for a minute and you have to blow like a bastard to get any sound out of it, or at least I do.   Then again, all mouthpieces are different and eventually you find the reed that suits you.  I wrote about my early screechy  days with this instrument in My Pop Life #19 then discussed my struggles with tuning and pitch in My Pop Life 80 when I was playing with school band Rough Justice.  Later I discussed a disastrous audition for old school chum and Pogues drummer Andrew Ranken in My Pop Life #149 when he was putting together a band called The Operation while I was playing with a group called Birds of Tin.  And perhaps my finest saxophone memory was busking Stan Getz, glowingly reminisced through rose-tinted glasses in My Pop Life #68.

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This entry will have to join those stumbles around my chosen instrument if only through omission, because I have never attempted to play any Charlie Parker.  Why would I willingly submit to such humiliation?   It may, indeed, have been familiarity with those early sides on Dial Records from 1946-7 which prompted me to become an actor rather than a musician.  The mountaintop just couldn’t be seen let alone climbed, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to practice for 8 hours a day just to play to a handful of aficionados in a darkened cellar for hardly any money while hooked on heroin.

Then again, as my T-shirt says, it’s never too late to start wasting your life.

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Someone must have told me that Charlie Parker played the same instrument as me.   A purely superficial likeness, because I could never even play a single bar of music like Charlie.  But I bought an LP with his name on it in my early 20s and played it to death.  It was called Bird Symbols and he recorded the sides in 1947.  It’s called bebop music, and it broke the mould of jazz, which was in the late 30s & the war years, big-band swing music.  Young pups like Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others reduced the band size down to five or six and stretched the possibilities of phrasing, rhythm, harmonics and even sound itself, producing a schism in the form which then divided fans, critics and musicians alike.  Louis Armstrong for example was not a fan of bebop.

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Charlie Parker playing his alto early 1940s

Jazz took the high road after this and exploded into a thousand different forms.  I knew nothing of this when I bought it, I just listened to a young man playing the alto saxophone and held my breath because what he was doing sounded impossible to play, and for me it still is.   There is something so totally confident here, so stretched and bold and strong that I cannot conceive of really being in that space.  The opening four tracks of the LP are perhaps his signature sides : Moose The Mooche, Yardbird Suite, Ornithology and A Night In Tunisia pretty much defined early bebop and Charlie Parker, the new demon of the alto sax.  They are strange twisted mad tunes, spinning on their axes, interrupted phrases leading to staggering solos, bewitching breathless runs like excited thought patterns as the instruments have conversations with each other, debating the tune, arguing its merits, raising objections, re-iterating the main melody again.  They are short explosions of music, all under three minutes long, all totally original, all thrilling. But for me they are all a little theoretical, perhaps too esoteric.  The energy is fantastic, the playing beyond impressive.  But they don’t make me swoon in the end.

Bird of Paradise is track seven, or track one of side two when you flipped the vinyl over.  It is a different beast altogether, slower, contemplative, sweet and gentle and it stole my heart. There is something about the way Parker plays the opening phrase, he kind of falls into it, blowing like he is simply breathing out, making each fluid cadence sound perfectly natural, using the final four bars to sum up a whole universe of feeling which doesn’t resolve but just opens the door for the trumpet (not Miles Davis on this track but Howard McGhee) before pianist Dod Marmarosa turns the beat upside down with a clever phrase that tickles my ears every time.   I don’t know how to describe perfection, especially not in jazz, but I have been obsessed with this tune since I first heard it.  I have never tried to play it, probably wisely.  But there’s still time.

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Charlie Parker watches Lester Young playing tenor

Charlie Parker grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.  Background notes : the local jazz scene had an R’n’B-influenced swing sound using blues shouters like Jimmy Rushing fronting Bennie Moten‘s Kansas City Orchestra.   When Bennie died in 1935, Count Basie formed his own band with some of the players, including Rushing, and innovative stylists Jo Jones on the drums (who started using the hi-hat to keep time rather than the bass drum) and tenor saxophone player Lester Young.  Young had a sweet sound when he was backing Teddy Wilson & Billie Holiday (My Pop Life #162) but when he played with Count Basie in Kansas City his long flowing melodic lines, ear-catching pauses and his harmonic & rhythmic daring caught the attention of the teenaged Parker, and every other saxophone player in America.   Parker played the Basie sides on his parent’s Victrola over and over again until he had learned every single Lester Young solo by heart.  That’s dedication and that’s what it takes to be a great player!  Various stories of his early life include getting lost in a solo and losing track of the key changes playing live in a jam session.  The drummer – Jo Jones – threw a cymbal at his feet to make him leave the stage but it only spurred him on – an incident grossly misrepresented in the film Whiplash by the way.

Charlie Parker was quoted as saying that he practised in those days up to 15 hours a day.

Not lazy, young Charles.

He was unfortunate though –  following a car accident when he was hospitalized and given morphine he discovered that he rather liked the feeling and sought it out in the form of heroin for the rest of his life.

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Early picture of Count Basie in New York City

Charlie Parker moved to New York City in 1939 and hooked up with Dizzy, a very young Miles Davis and heroin, and started to practice with bass player Gene Ramey, trying out harmonic innovations in his time off from the gigs he had with the Jay McShann Orchestra.  Other instrumentalists were doing similar things – Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Christian and Max Roach and others were all seeing what they could invent, imagining a different sound, then trying to find it.  Eventually a group of them moved to Los Angeles where these tracks were recorded in 1946.

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Charlie Parker

There is a good film about Charlie Parker called Bird, starring Forrest Whitaker and directed by jazz aficionado Clint Eastwood.  The talent of the man was immense but so was his appetite for being high.  That cat was high.  Personally speaking, if I even have a joint I find playing music rather more difficult.  Especially the piano.  What is that note?  A?  It all becomes rather vague.  And drink – well one is fine, perhaps another at the interval, but any more than that and I’m playing like a dick.   I’ve always maintained that there are two types of people in the world : People who maintain that there are two types of people in the world, and everyone else.  Not but seriously – those who seek oblivion, and those who fear oblivion.  I am of the latter persuasion, once I go over my limit, once I start to Lose Control, I stop.  I don’t want to wake up in the gutter with one shoe.  I don’t want to see what happens if we all go down to the pier and jump into the sea.  No.  I’m a control freak in that sense.  Maybe I’m missing the point but I cannot stand in the shoes of Charlie Parker and imagine what it was like to play those solos while high as a kite.  Envious ?  Sure, a little.  But I wouldn’t trade places with him I don’t think, even though I would say he is probably the greatest saxophone player I have ever heard.  I have other favourites – Lester Young for sure, Stan Getz every day, but Parker, when he IS high and he plays a ballad like Just Friends for example from his ‘sax plus strings‘ era on Verve Records, or like this tune Bird of Paradise, well, there simply is no one finer.  Listen to him here and melt.

 

an incredible stoned version from 1947 called All The Things You Are with Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach.  It’s the same tune.

Going off script – Neil Young’s “Trans”

I always enjoy it when an artist I like does something completely different and unexpected and I’ve never understood the kind of people who shout “Judas” at the slightest deviation from the path the artist has furrowed. On top of this, I’ve always admired Neil Young for his if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em attitude. When his contemporaries were refusing to ditch the flares and mumbling about it not being ‘real music’, Neil was hanging out with the punks at the 100 Club and referencing Johnny Rotten in his songs. In fact the first time I became aware of Neil Young’s existence was his performance with Pearl Jam at the 1993 MTV Awards when grunge was at its height and Neil was rocking out twice as hard as the young bucks and obviously loving every minute of it.

With this in mind, I was intrigued when this article popped up on my Facebook feed a few weeks ago detailing the saga of Neil’s attempt at Krautrocking electronic music on his 1983 album “Trans” and how it led to Young’s label Geffen ultimately suing him for submitting “uncharacteristic” music. About a week after reading the article, in a stroke of serendipitous fortune and nothing short of a miracle amongst the usual slew of Sven-Bertil Taube, Vikingarna, and the occasional Glenn Medeiros LPs, I found a copy of “Trans” in a Swedish charity shop (although, maybe that in itself says something about the contempt people feel for the album).

After getting back to Japan and giving it a few spins, I’m pleased to confirm that my instincts were right. Sure, some tracks don’t quite hit the mark and the others just about land on their feet, but what I hear is an ambitious attempt to tap into something exciting that was going on in music and, for me at least, he more than succeeds. In fact the only tracks I don’t like so much are the ‘typical’ country twangers that bookend the album – presumably added to keep some record execs happy.

So, over to you. Are you the type to shout “Judas” at the slightest perceived infraction or are you happy to follow wherever they may lead and applaud when your favourite artist goes off script? And more importantly, am I on my own here with this whole “Trans”-is-actually-a-good-record stance?

*If anyone knows how to embed a Spotify playlist of the album, please let me know – I don’t have Spotify.

 

Earworms 26 March 2018

Morning all, I’ll have a double espresso with a glass of iced water please … perfect start to the day, thank you. Here are some more tunes to ease you gently into the new week. If you have an earworm you would like to share, please send an .mp3 or a link to earworm@tincanland.com, together with a few words about why you’ve chosen it. Next week’s theme will be HOPE. Many thanks to all contributors.

Evie Sands – Take Me For A Little While – Toffeeboy: It’s not every day that you ‘discover’ a top quality, 1960s female vocalist that you’ve never heard of before. Perhaps it’s a failing on my part but I’d never heard of Evie Sands before my brother introduced me to her, by way of a CD that he gave me at Christmas. And being a bit crap (me, that is, not my brother and definitely not the CD) I’ve only just got around to listening to it properly. It turns out that it’s packed full of Dusty Springfield-esque tunes like this one. Evie, it seems, was the 1960s soulful, female singer/songwriter equivalent of Unlucky Alf, constantly recording potential hit singles only for her record company to go bust and another singer come along and steal the song. Anyway, she deserves recognition and it starts here…

Palehound – Sea of Blood – vanwolf: I liked a few from Palehound’s album last year – A place I’ll always go. This is the B side from the current single.

Dave Gruisin & Co – Baby Elephant Walk – Ravi Raman: a jazzed up version of the famous track from Hatari! the first movie I saw or at least remember seeing. Family lore has me chasing our dog with a similar, makeshift loop.

Joan Armatrading – Let’s Go Dancing – severin: An oldie. From her 1975 Back to the Night album. An album I bought on vinyl the year of release. Then on cassette a while later. Now finally I have a version in my iTunes where it’s getting a lot of play all over again. Not a dance tune of course. Bears a slight resemblance lyrically to Tracy Chapman’s later and more famous Baby Can I Hold You? Or is that just me?

Alela Diane – Threshold – tincanman: I’m not the only one who’s Alela on Festive Spills so I’ll not be alone in welcoming a new album. On Cusp, a jaded young woman hopes for rebirth as a young mother.

Happy Mondays – Loose Fit – AliM: I keep hearing this on the radio and although I know and like the song, I had no idea it was the Happy Mondays, about whom I know very little except that when I was getting married everyone at work made a banner with “Happy Mundays” on it. That opening riff is so evocative, but I don’t know what it reminds me of. Any ideas?

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D.I.Y Disasters (And Occasional Successes) Part 4: “Sounds Like Hippies In Woolly Jumpers”

 

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Searching for a photo I found my actual gig flyer !

Autumn 98: After the success of the Varukers I was carrying on. I wasn’t going to overdo it though. I planned to do a gig every couple of months at the most. But things don’t always work out as planned. Once you’re name gets around you get offers.

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LONG CUTS

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a radio DJ I kept a C120 of every show, I’ve recently started randomly playing them in the early hours; here’s a recent one I thought some of you might enjoy.

One of the frustrating things about radio playlists is ‘tim’, a 1 hour show is usually about 15 cuts given that the typical cut is 4-5 minutes. But it often seemed that the best cut on an album was always the longest, some going to 15-20 minutes. Including one or more  of those in a set could screw everything else up, so  generally I avoided them.

To resolve that problem I’d occasionally do a show titled ‘Long Cuts’ which were just that. This one was from the first day of the new century, off to a good start. I’ve deleted all my chat and the station breaks etc. The show was a retrospection of the 60’s/70’s and cuts are;

1. American Pie – Don McLean.

2. Madam George – Van Morrison..

3. Calvary – Quicksilver.

4. Time has come today – Chambers Bros.

5. Judy Blue Eyes – CSN.

6. Keep on Chooglin – Creedence Clearwater.

7. Hey Jude – Beatles.

8. You can’t always get what you want – Stones.

9. East – West – Paul Butterfield.

10. Alice’s Restaurent – Arlo Guthrie.

 

Earworms 19 March 2018

““Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it IS a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.”  Yawn … it’s all about ennui this week. Thanks to those of you who bovvered. And to those of you who might listen, if you feel like it. And if anyone feels energetic enough to share an earworm with us, just send it to earworm@tincanland.com along with a few lines about why you’ve chosen it, if it’s not too much trouble. An .mp3 or a link will do. Don’t over-strain anything.

JJ Cale: Days Go By/ Doctor Told Me – Ravi Raman: Poor guy, neither self medication nor a doctor’s advice seems to help.

Sol Heilo – London Is Trouble – severin: Sol were due to play the Camden Assembly in London on the 13th March. I didn’t anticipate any trouble but I trust this song was present and correct. A melancholy number and not very flattering to the city but guaranteed a rapturous reception if I’m any judge. Which I am.  “London is trouble, in every brick and every stone / London is trouble, and I feel so bare when I’m alone / Clouding up my thoughts like the cold grey sky / Wearing down my soul as the Thames rolls by…” Could be construed as ennui. She was certainly in a bad place (not geographically) when she wrote it.

The Warlocks – Isolation – vanwolf: Well ennui seems to include lethargy and listlessness, and this track gives that feeling both lyrically and musically, even if there’s an obvious root cause.

Al Stewart – Bedsitter Images – AliM: From his first eponymous album. “The carpet with its flowers in shreds / Expires a foot before my bed / The crack that won’t return again / Advances through my broken window pane …” Been there. Marc Almond covered it, too.

Parquet Courts – Almost Had To Start A Fight / In And Out Of Patience – tincanman: New Yorkers signed with London’s Rough Trade for their latest, Wide Awake!, and sound like they’ve never lived anywhere else. Maybe now people will stop comparing them to Velvet Underground (although John Cale never releases hostages, does he).

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