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On The Beach

On The Beach

It began with a Lincoln Continental and a bottle of Mateus Rose. It ended in a drug-addled implosion that signified LA noire’s final trippy comedown, writhing on its belly like a hallucinogenic serpent, baying for blood.

What transpired in between these two fabled bookends is the story of Neil Young’s seasick salute to the demise of the sixties, in all its glory/glorious failings.

On The Beach would be released to an apprehensive and critical audience, led by a Rolling Stone headshake that labelled the record ‘one of the most despairing albums of the decade.’ Thirty years later its demented deterioration of sound would come to define Young’s knife-edged spirit in the face of critical acclaim, spurring over 5000 fans to sign an online petition in 2000 calling for the release of the album on CD. In 2003, their prayers were answered…

Released before the demonic cackle of Tonight’s The Night, On The Beach was deemed a bleak follow up to the critically acclaimed smooth sounds of bestseller Harvest. In all respects, this was Neil Young’s statement of intent. An unforgiving one-fingered salute, brought to life by opening track ‘Walk On’: a vitriolic mix of world weary cynicism and focused drive that would spur Young to keep moving, whatever the cost. ‘I hear some people been talkin’ me down/Bring up my name/Pass it round’ he gnarls. ‘Walk on’ he concludes. It’s an anthem that still continues to define the lone wolf’s career…

On The Beach came to being at the Sunset Marquis Hotel, suffocating beneath Hollywood’s bleak underbelly at the close of 1973. Porn star Linda Lovelace was a regular visitor to Young’s congregated players, as were the Everly Brothers, who would often prop themselves up amidst a sprinkling of Playboy bunnies. As bassist Tim Drummond succinctly put it, the hell-raising sessions embodied ‘Hollywood Babylon at its fullest.’

In 1973 the sleazefest was fully in session, fuelled by a ‘honey slide’ homemade concoction of sautéed marijuana and honey labelled by Young’s own manager Elliot Roberts as, ‘much worse than heroin…within ten minutes you were catatonic.’

As guitarist Rusty Kershaw’s wife Julie cooked up the debilitating psychedelic goop, wolfed down by Young and co in-between regular trips to Dr. Feelgood for B12 “popcorn” shots, Neil Young turned his attentions to flesh-eating feelings of antagony and disintegration. No stone was left unturned: what with his marriage to actress Carrie Snodgress on the rocks, vampire sucking oil tacoons/Richard Nixon/CSNY weighing on his mind and baying critics on his back, the singer was hardly starved of inspiration.

The heavy guitar playing of The Band’s rhythm section (namely Rick Danko and Levon Helm) only added to the album’s sodden and weary disillusionment.

Defined by his own distinctive take on the blues: ‘Revolution Blues’, ‘Vampire Blues’ and ‘Ambulance Blues’ act as soulful psalms amidst the chaos.

Whereas ‘Vampire Blues’ launches a millionaire rock star’s attack on the blood sucking exploits of the oil industry (listen carefully and you may just hear the “chhh-chhh” of a capitalist credit card against Tim Drummond’s defiant beard), the concluding knell of closing ‘Ambulance Blues’, inspired by Bert Jansch’s ‘Needle Of Death’, addresses fractioned feelings of antagonism towards critics, Richard Nixon, and even fellow collaborators CSNY (lamenting lyric ‘you’re all just pissing in the wind’ is a direct quote from manager Elliot Roberts regarding the inactivity of the quartet.)

Crucially, ‘Revolution Blues’, inspired by Charles Manson who Young met in his Topanga Canyon days, best sums up the record’s juxtaposition of fiction and reality, as musician-and-ringmaster Rusty Kershaw bewitched the track’s recording, instigating chemically in-balanced anarchy during recording, (Kershaw bizarrely claimed to be possessed by animal spirits and slithered like a snake on the floor, even managing to spook chief hell raiser David Crosby and Graham Nash who contributed on tracks ‘On The Beach’ and said ‘Revolution Blues’.)

The circus-act wasn’t lost on Neil Young, who adopts a demented Manson persona during the song as he manically rants the couplet ‘I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars/But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars.’

As the sessions became increasingly frenetic, the shambolic goings-on proved too far-out for engineer Al Schmidt who walked out on the session before its completion, amidst exasperated exclaims of “what the fuck is goin’ on?”

Good question: what the fuck was going on? Simple: Neil Young was making his escape. The iconic album cover speaks the only truth you ever need know: trailer trash patio furniture is strewn under the grey breezy sky as a 1959 cadillac fender rises out of the sandy rubble. The day’s paper is discarded on the anaemic sand, reading ‘SENATOR BUCKLEY CALLS FOR NIXON TO RESIGN’. Someway in the not-too-distant horizon, a windswept Neil Young stands with his back against the world, staring out to sea in a yellow and white polyester suit. Subversive when you bear in mind the album’s defining mantra: ‘The world is turnin’/I hope it don’t turn away.’ With that, Young’s pre-emptive strike against the world is complete…Half a heartbeat before the world dares contemplate turning its back away from him…

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They are one person. They are two alone. They are three together. Crosby, Stills & Nash will always be for each other.

In 1969, an entire US nation was ‘helplessly hoping’: the same year that Woodstock hit and man landed on the moon; Robert Kennedy was shot and 10,889 “Communist guerrillas” died in Vietnam. Anti-Nixon sentiment lingered in the Californian air like a claustrophobic fog. The sixties’ underworld (*aka – the youth*) was finally finding their voice.

Their fears and hopes were voiced by CS&N’s eponymous album, which delved into the folk roots of rock music and strapped it like a cathartic band-aid across a ruling class that had lost its way. CS&N would spectacularly lose theirs in the ‘Helter Skelter’ hell that followed the Charles Manson murders. The sea change, however, had already occurred.

Introducing David Crosby (godfather of social commentary, lynch pin and all-round hell raiser), Stephen Stills (ambidextrous guitar player, career-driven game-player and soul man) and Graham Nash (angel voiced peacemaker and bubblegum pop star). CS&N weren’t just a band – they were a super group made up of individual artists in their own right. Each member brought their own rhythm and demons to the table. And what a table it was…

The trio’s debut was truly born in Laurel Canyon – their debut success would signal a movement managed under the partnership of Elliot Roberts and David Geffen. From CS&N came Canadian songbird Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and…not forgetting…the lone wolf that came to define the era: Neil Young.

Looking back, David Crosby is quick to bring the romanticism down a peg or two. “Lately people have been looking back a lot, trying to analyze what happened; and that period of time, the ‘60s – has acquired the “rosy glow” that the aggrandizement of time can do to things…with Laurel Canyon – some people are making it into this mythical place, beyond what it was. Some of it was truly delightful. I enjoyed the hell out of it at the time.”

So, just what were the songs that came to define them? And where were they gloriously conceived? In February ’69, when the rain came to Laurel Canyon, David, Graham and Stephen headed indoors, and into Wally Heider’s studio on the corner of Cahuenga and Selma in Hollywood.

Studio manager Bill Halverson recalls, “they all showed up in Crosby’s VW bus. I asked them what they wanted to do. They said, “tonight we’re going to sing and play acoustic guitars.””

That’s exactly what they did – starting with Stills’ strangely-tuned (rather than the usual EADGBE, it favours EEEEBE instead) ode to ex-lover Judy Collins, ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, which sparkles and spirals over an epic 7:22 minutes. No one could accuse Stills of not taking his shit seriously. He wasn’t nicknamed ‘Captain Manyhands’ in the studio for n’owt, compensating Nash’s adequate guitar skills by executing all bass parts, lead guitar, most finger picking and rhythm parts and unleashing the demon on the organ.

It was Stills’ focus that gave birth to the soaring guitar solo-intro (spiralling as it’s recorded backwards) on ‘Marrakesh Express’, which took Graham Nash’s inspired train-ditty to new levels. And who could forget David Crosby’s Monty Python-esque “whoopa-a-mess-a-hooga-hoofa-a-messi-goush-goush’ ramblings before Stills cranks in?

Where CS&N really mesmerised their captive audience was in their crystal-clear harmonies. As Hollies publicist sums up when he first heard album track ‘Bye Bye Baby’, “I don’t think my nipples have softened since.’

To all purposes, CS&N’s unashamed romanticism softened a nation’s nipples in one fell folk record. No track encapsulates their harmonised romanticism quite as succinctly as ‘Guinnevere’ – a medieval yarn that acts as an anecdote to ‘69’s troubled times. It’s a hypnotic composition that cuts through the ether like ice. Myth relents to timely reality on Crosby’s ‘Long Time Gone’, addressing the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Which brings us round full circle: humanity and political consciousness are never far displaced from this debut, rooted in David Crosby’s acute awareness of the band’s time and place.

The time was 1969. The place was Laurel Canyon. The band were CS&N. Forty years later, their debut still soars. Hoofa-amessi-goush-goush!

There are certain episodes in your life that shake you to your very core, and disturb you in ways you couldn’t even begin to fathom. One such episode occurred last night when I was sitting down to watch Eastenders and was forced to witness a sobbing Samantha Janus sing Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ to her dead daughter’s coffin. No wonder the girl gormlessly walked into an oncoming car…

There are some traumas that not even the most adept power-showers can wash off.

Which got me thinking about the nature of death, funerals and music in general.

When a rare 70s soul track was played at Jade Goody’s funeral recently, a herd of Jade-ites from Essex reportedly bombarded their local HMV with requests for the track.

Staff at HMV revealed they were inundated with people trying to get their hands on a CD of ‘Ooh Child’ by The Five Stairsteps….and I quote, “it obviously had a real impact.”

This might be a controversial confession to make, but of all the tunes I’d imagine Jade picking, this one ain’t one of them. Thinking about it further, the song choices you make during (arguably) the two “biggest” events in your life – marriage and death, say an awful lot about how you view yourself, and….more importantly, how you wish others to view you. Are the two necessarily compatable? Of course not…

When Hunter S Thompson was laid to rest, he ensured the oppositive would happen in true Gonzo style by having Johnny Depp fire his ashes from out of a canon to the tune of Bob Dylan. Not bad, not bad at all…

Which singular track sums you up?

When I asked folks to send me the songs they’d like to be played at their wake, the results were gloriously eclectic: from The Who, to The Stones, Patti Smith and Green Day

Top marks, however, goes to my mate Guy for revealing he’d like to be cremated to the melody of Prodigy‘s ‘Firestarter’. Guy, if you’re reading, you win a mars bar.

On record, the official list of the most popular tunes played at funerals range from the predictable, to the bizarre, to the sublime.

Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ took the gold medal, but up there with him sits AC/DC with ‘Highway To Hell’, Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.

Which just shows the divide between people who still wanna wind people up at their own funeral, and those who are determined to get every single member of their congregation miserably blubbing into their cut-price Tescos flowers.

In fact, the UK top three is currently:

  1. ‘My Way’ – Frank Sinatra/Shirley Bassey
  2. ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ – Bette Midler
  3. ‘Time To Say Goodbye’ – Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli

Which only goes to show how many deceased people still lack musical integrity – even in the afterlife.

For the record, the song I would most like played at my own funeral is T-Rex’s ‘Cosmic Dancer’.  Closely followed by: Verve‘s ‘History’, Melanie‘s ‘Little Bit Of Me’, Cat Steven‘s ‘Lilywhite’ and PJ Harvey‘s ‘The Desperate Kingdom of Love’.

So someone please write that down before some Co-Operative idiot whacks on Bette Midler

Ta. I’ll leave you with Marc Bolan:

So, in the same weekend that I had a lengthy (*add insubstantial and frivolous to that mix actually – this was less about battling the throes of theology and more about whiling away my bored Saturday night with inane observations on throwaway subjects I am unequivocally unqualified to comment on, yet still seem to have a wealth of un-researched opinions about*)…

Do you know what? I’m complicating things. Lets start this again.

So, in the same weekend that I had a (actually, not so lengthy) “discussion” with my mate Andy about how I reckon Jesus was the first feminist (in so far as any man can actually be a feminist…which is another theological issue altogether), I put on some David Bowie and…yes, you’ve guessed it! Bowie and Jesus really do have more in common than you’d think.

Gender issues as a given (I’m also sure Bowie must’ve worn a loin cloth at some point in his career), I’ve been looking at his lyrics with refreshed interest. David Bowie: un-championed male feminist in rock music?

I mean, lets look at the facts. Most of the rock ‘n’ roll greats have cemented an entire career upon the burning embers of their glorious misogyny. We’ve all acknowledged the likes of Bob Dylan (“I didn’t mean to treat you so bad/You shouldn’t take it so personal/I didn’t mean to make you so sad/You just happened to be there, that’s all.”), Neil Young (“A man needs a maid”), Leonard Cohen (to an extent, I guess if you’re talking about categorising a woman as merely a “muse” above all other things) and The Rolling Stones (“It’s down to me, the difference in the clothes she wears, down to me, the change has come, she’s under my thumb”), but kudos to The Beatles for slipping past the net. I don’t know any other band that could pull off a cheery tune like ‘Getting Better’ and whack the most blatant wife-beating discourse over the top.

“I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her, and kept her apart from the things that she loved. Then I was mean, but I’m changing my scene, I’m doing the best that I can…”

(Well that’s fine then Maccas, as long as you’re doing the best that you can…that’s all that matters. Why don’t you lay another shiner on her whilst you’re at it? All in the name of rehabilitation, naturally…) Are these the same boys that most mothers in the 60s claimed they’d prefer their daughters brought home, over The Rolling Stones? Top marks for misogyny-under-the-radar, kids! I mean, how many of us have whistled along to lyrics that in the cold light of day, read like a Jeremy Kyle transcript? Hands up, we’ve all done it…

Then you have something like David Bowie’s ‘Boy Keep Swinging’ which really does hit you right between the eyes, in terms of the kind of sharp summation that you easily could’ve been written by a woman.

Heaven loves ya

The clouds part for ya

Nothing stands in your way

When you’re a boy

 

Clothes always fit ya

Life is a pop of the cherry

When you’re a boy

 

When you’re a boy

You can wear a uniform

When you’re a boy

Other boys check you out

You get a girl

These are your favourite things

When you’re a boy

Which I guess is the crux here – many men try and satirise machismo, yet few pull it off with such insightful ease. Throw in the video for good measure – a suited Bowie backed by backing singers that turn out to be Bowie again in drag – and the WI has themselves a cracking good pop tune.

I’ll await Lily Allen’s rendition with bated breath…

Oh, Penny. Where do I start? If you’re going to write a Guardian blog, at least get a few things right…

For a start – ‘I Am The Resurrection’ is 8.13 minutes on my watch…don’t knock off that last second…because, and this is the point, Penny: Every second counts when it comes to The Stone Roses

Secondly – not only do you seem to have no grasp of the importance of Stone Roses’ place and meaning within popular musical culture (are we forgetting that glorious moment in ’89 on ‘Waterfall’ when rhythm and guitars were brought spectacularly back together again after years of existing solitarily apart), but now you’ve gone and brought in the whole chromsome debate again. I thought we’d cleared this up a few blogs ago!

For the record: I am a girl. I adore The Stone Roses…and for me, their debut is up there with The La’s (probably another debut Guardian writer Penny Anderson deems ‘overrated’ yet is as perfect a debut as any band is ever likely to get.)

Lumping The Stone Roses stodgily as a “lad’s band” offers nothing in the way of an active explanation. Because they attract a largely male audience, does that void them of significance? If so, then we might as well throw out The Smiths, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC whilst we’re at it.

Thirdly, are you really suggesting Reni (that’s Reni, Penny, not Rennie. He’s not an indigestion tablet) was merely a drummer to patronisingly pat on the back for simply “loving music”? Get thee to ‘Elephant Stone’ at once.

Let me get back to the question of those 8.13 minutes. 8.13 minutes of undeniable musical prowess by any musician’s standards. Does Neil Young‘s ‘Down By The River’ lose any of it’s power because it chugs over 5 minutes? No, because each second is on it’s way to something. ‘I Am The Resurrection’ is always going somewhere. And as John Squire’s guitars jingles and the bass line soars 3/4 of the way through, they finally bring you home. In all sense and purposes, this is a prog-rock song. It’s the ultimate prog-rock song for the throngs of followers who were looking for a band to finally take them back home.

On a more personal note, I remember sending my first love (unrequited, naturally) a Stone Roses CD to his university digs when I was 19. Strapped to the record was a message explaining just what ‘I Am The Resurrection’ meant to me. I recall something along the lines of “and for that 8.13 seconds, let all be well and good with the world.” As if this would unlock his adoration for Ian Brown, and in turn, unleash his love for me. (Naturally it didn’t work. I lapsed into The Smiths soon after).

But that’s the power of a life-changing song. I felt the same way when I heard Love‘s ‘Alone Again Or’ all those years ago, or when my mate Kev turned me onto the wonders of XTC one random Saturday afternoon. When you feel like a song was written for you, and only you – that’s the mark of a true life-changing song.

The Stone Roses wrote life-changing songs. They deserve to be celebrated. Long may they reign. Bring on that re-issue!

If I told you that the other night I stumbled across Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson covering Nelly Furtado’s ‘Maneater’ at Wimbledon Theatre, you probably wouldn’t believe me. I barely believe it myself, but I assure it’s true…

The incident spurred me to concoct a list of my favourite covers over the years…For no other reason then I’ve been twiddling my thumbs at my desk and surfing YouTube seemed like an appropriate course of action. Enjoy.

1. Antony Hegarty transforms Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’

2. Fleet Foxes pay a tribute to Karen Dalton’s ‘Katie Cruel’

3. Lily Allen tackles Britney Spears’ ‘Womanizer’

4. Jose Gonzales tries his hand at Kylie’s ‘Hand On Your Heart’

5. William Shatner does Pulp’s ‘Common People’

6. Ryan Adams conquers Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’

7. M Ward masters David Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance’

8. The White Stripes reinvent Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

9. The Vines do Outkast’s ‘Ms Jackson’

10. Elbow make cabaret out of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Woman’

“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” Jack Kerouac

For those of you who aren’t aware, I put on a ramshackled gathering called Dharma Bums once a month. We used to hold it at The Strongroom but have since moved to Boogaloo in Highgate.

The ethos is simple really: get a bunch of musicians in the one venue and see what happens…which probably says more about my anarchic methods of promoting, then any fruitful desire to emulate the frayed anarchy of the beats.

Our first Dharma in our new home kicked off last night, and was a roaring success: Restless Pony, 6 Day Riot, Finlay Brown and Candice Gordo all made it such a perfect start to 2009…If I can just take a few moments to big up the latter. A girl with an amazing voice and someone who we will be bringing back to Dharma next month. Check out her MySpace below!

www.myspace.com/theswagoperation

Dharma really does rely upon a loyal group of followers to keep coming back in order to make this thing a success…which is where you come in!

I’d love to see you come down for the next one. February 22. Kicking off at 6PM. We have great talent in the shape of The Lost Brothers, Kill It Kid and Nat Jenkins. So, come on down!

And, if you care to look us up on facebook. We have a group called Dharma Bums, admin’d by yours truly, so come find us and join the gathering.

Rock your Dharma soul, people.

xxx

As most of my friends will testify, there are certain things that are guaranteed to rile me beyond all recognition: Che Guevara t-shirts, Peaches Geldof, Scientology, women who insist on filing their nails on the District line, you get the idea…

 

I have to say my limits were well and truly tested to the max this Xmas. Imagine my delight at ripping through my Mojo subscription gift box, only to discover the words, ‘Gift For Him’ plastered all over it.

 

Added to this singular insult, I was subsequently forced to tick which ‘gift for him’ I was requesting a year’s subscription to: Nuts, FHM, GQ…

 

Since when was a music monthly a mens only affair? It brought back traumatic memories from only a few years back at Xmas when the Rolling Stones ‘Forty Licks’ compilation ad on the TV ran by the sell-line: “The only gift to buy your man this Xmas.” I love how they always emphasise the “man” bit…like we’re supposed to be grateful or something.

 

I wasn’t actually going to blog about this at all, until I sat down to the Culture Show’s Motown special this week with guest presenter Martin Freeman. He begins to interestingly dissect the difference between each Motown label subsidiary before smugly ad-libbing, “I bet you all the women have switched off now.”

 

It’s not like I’m asking for a revolution or anything, but is it possible that we (and by “we”, I mean both men and women) all might accept that women…

 

a)      read Mojo

b)      like The Rolling Stones

c)      enjoy hearing Motown vinyl specifics

 

…any time soon?

 

 

It’s the eve of 2009. Time to make a few predictions in terms of what to look out for next year. I aim to add to this list in the next few weeks, so consider this Part I…first installment…whatever.

Beirut ‘March of the Zapotec’ (February 16)

He sounds like a Hungarian gypsy and he made us all fall in love with 2007’s The Flying Club Cup’. I’ve been waiting for a new record all year, and I’m pleased to say his third is no disappointment. In fact, I’ve just had it on full blast this afternoon. Ingeniously divided into two EPs, the first picks off where Flying Club’ left off, delving into Mexican folk music with the help of a small-town Mexican funeral band (frankly, we wouldn’t expect anything less.) The second, entitled, Holland is a contrasting departure from stereotyped-preconceptions, delving into synth-pop with his own indidual flare. It’s a fantastic follow-up.

DM Stith ‘Heavy Ghost’ (March 9)

Right, I’m very excited about this next one. I didn’t think you could get much better than Antony Hegarty, but David Stith can now count himself officially initiated. This is a mind blowing record. I listened to it all in one sitting with my jaw on the floor. His friendship with My Brightest Diamond may help to describe this debut, but in all honesty, this is one of those cases where words always seem to fall short…So I’m inclined not to ruin this with a botched attempt at a review. Morphined wanderings in a moonlit forest may just get us half way there, but I doubt it. Do me a favour, get your hands on this album in 2009. 

Antony and the Johnsons ‘The Crying Light’ (January 21)

Make this your first record purchase of 2009. Go on, I’ll buy you a mars bar. A king size one. Anyone who knows me will know about my love for Antony Hegarty. In my eyes, he is one of the most original, heartfelt and truly awe-inspiring artists around. This new record is breathtaking. I think I prefer it to I Am A Bird Now’. If you haven’t already discovered Antony and the Johnsons, make this record a must-have.

PJ Harvey ‘A Woman A Man Walked By’ (March 30)

It’s finally here. I’m very excited, Yes, I have heard it. Yes, it is amazing. No, this isn’t the last time I’ll be blogging about it.

 

Who else is excited as I am at the prospect of a spanking new PJ Harvey record?

 

Yes, the daddy-long legged rock ‘n’ roll siren is back…and I for one cannot wait for her return next year.

 

‘A Woman A Man Walked By’ will be released on March 30, in collaboration with John Parish…And having had the divine priviledge to hear the album a few months ago, I can confidently announce that Polly’s latest material is a breathtaking return to form, harking back to her early ‘Dry’ days.

 

For me, PJ Harvey represents everything a female artist should be but rarely ever achieves. Having written a fair few ‘women in rock’ features in my time, I guess my thoughts on Polly our best summed up through some words I wrote a few years ago:

 

“Where Polly Harvey succeeds is in her celebration of female sexuality in a man’s world. When the long-legged Harvey stood on stage in Reading Festival in 2001, skimmed by her tight mini-skirt and suggestive black boots, rocketing out raw thrills on her guitar, an iconic picture was created. The guitar need not be a phallic representation of the male ego: it could be used and manipulated by women to create a different sound. This wasn’t a bid to be accepted or different, it was a display of equal expression. When ‘Is This Love’ kicks in on ‘Stories From The City…’ exploding through the speakers with thrashing, grinding guitars, the deep raw expression of unashamed desire punches a mark. It’s opinionated. It’s unapologetic. And it takes no prisoners.”

 

In a current pop-climate stodgily saturated with the likes of Madonna and Katy Perry, her graceful presence has been sorely missed. Roll on 2009.

 

In the meantime, lets enjoy one of my favourite Polly tracks ‘Horses In My Dreams’, with those dreamtalking, dreamwalking lyrics:

 

Rode a horse around the world
Along the tracks of a train
Broke the record, found the gold
Set myself free again

I have pulled myself clear

 

 

 

I thought it would be a good  idea to celebrate the life and extraordionary work of Odetta, who passed away today at the age of 77.

 

Many of you may remember Bob Dylan nodding his cap to this core-shaking singer on his Scorsese documentary ‘No Direction Home’, as her earthy ‘Water Boy’ vocals tumbled out of her.

 

In a 1978 interview, he said: “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta.”

 

In fact, it was Odetta’s integral handprint on the American folk music revival in the 1950s that convinced the freewheeler to sell his electric guitar and play an acoustic one instead.

 

In her own right, she was a striking performer and freedom fighter, best-known in the US for taking part in the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, where she sang ‘O Freedom’.

 

Meticulous to her art, Time magazine even wrote in 1960. “To understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer.”

 

A raw talent. A defiant legancy. Odetta will be sorely missed. 

 

Please click onto this YouTube video in tribute and memory:

What with Katy Perry admitting she kissed a girl and liked it; Ida Maria declaring she likes you so much better when you’re naked; and Madonna currently indulging in her own brand of post-divorce pelvic-thrust therapy, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the womens lib movement in music has finally rendered its female artists free to express themselves in whichever ways they’d like.

 

Yes, the arguments and debates still rumble over – and well they might…the music industry itself is nowhere near it’s deserved equilibrium  – as my opening paragraph demonstrates: Does a female artist has to go to extremes in order to garner front page attention? As Alison Goldfrapp articulately pinpointed when I interviewed her a year ago for Clash Magazine, addressing the cult-rise of Beth Ditto: “does a woman have to be an extreme in order to get on the front page of NME?”

 

For those women restricted by the religious fundamentalism of their male aggressors in the Middle East, the question is far more vital: “Will any woman ever enjoy the freedom of making music like her male counterparts?”

 

It’s a question being asked in Saudi Arabia by a group of four revolutonary young girls who are daring the impossible – they’re daring to rock.

 

The reality for these girls in Jeddha, Saudia Arabia is a far cry from the MTV shenenegans of newly-crowned pop princess Katy Perry: They cannot perform in public. They cannot pose for album covers. Their jam sessions are conducted in secret, in fear of offending the religious authorities.

 

But for Saudi-Arabia’s first ever girl rock group Accolade, it’s a jam session worth fighting for.

 

The band’s first single ‘Pinnochio’ has become an underground hit in their home country, busy downloading the track from the girls MySpace.

 

The contradictions aren’t lost on the band. 19-year-old Lead singer Lamia may have a pierced eyebrow, but under Saudi law, she isn’t even allowed to drive a car.

 

“In Saudi, yes, it’s a challenge,” she admits. “We’re crazy. But we wanted to do something different.”

“What we’re doing — it’s not something wrong, it’s art, and we’re doing it in a good way. We respect our traditions.”

As in Iran, the under 25s make up a whopping 60% of the nation’s population. In Saudi at least, that majority is beginning to speak up. In 2008, there is a burgeoning rock scene, and a thriving hip hop fan base…and now they have their first all-female rock band.

 

Support the cause by clicking onto their MySpace. It may not be entirely your cup-of-tea, but quite frankly, if that’s your main concern then you’re totally missing the point here. Whether you love or hate these girls’ music is irrelevant. The fact is they’re making music.

 

There’s a tiny butterfly flapping its wings in Jeddha…lets make it a f***ing earthquake:

 

http://www.myspace.com/accoladeofficial

 

 

Oh, it’s a circus alright…

 

I’m not sure what I found more surprising on Saturday night. Britney Jean Spears’ car-crash “appearance” on The X-Factor (“appearance” being the operative word as her gurning lip-syncing left “listening” a little tricky) or the public’s shocked reaction to it. What was everyone expecting? Leona Lewis? The girl even made last week’s Same Difference Stepford zygotes look accomplished…

 

As ITV reminded us during every ten minute advert-break, the princess of pop “was BACK”…cue hysterical screaming from the studio audience and redundant retrospective flashbacks of Spears’ career of yore – redundancy being the term-du-jour – as millions of prime time viewers (12.8 million to be exact) sat back on their sofas, wholly aware that Ms Spears seems barely aware what date her next custody-battle is on, let alone where she is, what she really wants to be doing, or what she should be singing; yet deliciously lapping up the spectacle like driving past a hit and run on the M4.

 

Was it really such a surprise that Ms Spears was clearly not back where she belongs?

 

Surprise or not, the studio audience wooped and hollared as the judges gallantly rose to give her a standing ovation – less applauding a triumphant return to form and more clapping out of sheer relief that she managed to fly to london in one-piece, turn up to the studio on time and at least get her lifeless body on stage at the right time (even if her mind and spirit seemed to be somewhere else entirely.) Bravo, Britney is still alive! Three cheers for Xanax!

 

As the fawning Dermot O’ Leary tried to disguise his bemusement, Britney Spears gave confused and apathetic answers to all of his two questions. Did she enjoy watching the contestants sing? “Its really fun to be back in London” she disconnectedly replied.

 

Previously to this in-depth Q & A, we were treated to Britney’s comeback performance – her first in six whole years, we were reminded again and again like senile deliquants. After an hour of mindless hype we were finally presented with the Toxic icon herself, clad in a pop-staple outfit of cabaret-inspired black hot pants and fish net stockings…a clumsy attempt at emulating her heroine Madonna…who clumsily stole the look from a heroine who can actually sing and dance, Liza Minnelli. The homecoming queen then proceeded to badly lip-sync whilst she stamped her way through a bizarre dance routine that seemed to have more in common with Strictly’s John Sergeant…

 

Bizarre not only because the song in question ‘Womanizer’ seemed to have just one word to remember throughout…”wo-ma-nizer/wo-ma-nizer/wo-ma-nizer/oh, you get the picture”, but perhaps more significantly because this performance seemed to sum up her own descent into puppet show monotony. Watching Spears grapple with miming inane lyrics and losing spectacularly, I couldn’t help but interprete it as an apt metaphor for the current circus that surrounds her and our own celebrity-quaffing collusion in it. The words coming out of her mouth on Saturday night weren’t hers – but were they ever hers to begin with? Who the hell is the real Britney? Does anyone even care anymore?

 

Having produced an album that seems to address the ‘circus’ of her own life, but disappointingly addresses none of it, we seem further away from understanding just what went wrong with America’s darling…the epitomy of their deluded selfmade dream…now nothing more than a  performing seal, with a father controlling every asset and civil-freedom on “her behalf” it seems the X factor is not the only stage she now lip-syncs on.

Syd Barrett in Formentera

Syd Barrett in Formentera

The year is 1970. A bare-footed Joni Mitchell is ‘looking for the key to set her free’. Fleeing her lover, she packs up her guitar case and tip-toes the beaten path down through the French grape-vines, battling across the border to Spain and onwards to Barcelona before finally carving a path across the sea and coming home to Atlantis. Dipping her toes in the azure-water, she breathes in the Ibicenco air and breathes out her soul-defining record ‘Blue’. Her lover, Graham Nash, will hear her farewell letter when the album is released a year later in 1971. Postcards from the edge will never be the same again…

I recently had the pleasure of compiling a brief history of Ibiza’s rock ‘n’ roll myth-making for Ibiza Now, which has now been uploaded onto their blog pages.

To read up on the shape-shifting antics of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley on the island, click on the link below:

ibiza-rocknroll

It’s been some time since a supplement feature has provoked a tirade-fuelled blog from me.

The feature in question holds fort on page 12 of today’s Sunday Times Culture. The headline kicks off a patronising theme that clumsily treads its lumpy boots throughout an entire double page of un-researched, irrelevant and back-dated opinions, peppered with woeful generalisations and laughable stereotypes. 

Apparantly ‘Men are into Marr, women prefer Amos’ and the common dividing line between the sexes is down to musical integrity. (Namely, that men have it, and women…don’t.)

Couple this clunky manifesto, with a headline that reads ‘Listen, darling, they’re playing your song’ and perhaps you can see where I’m going with this…

For broadsheet writer Andrew Smith, the sexes are divided and consequently listen to two types of music. For our reading delight (and perhaps this is Smith’s handicapped idea of contextualisation) he lists both, defining them as thus:

ARTISTS THAT WOMEN LOVE BUT MEN HATE

James Blunt, Take That, Cat Stevens (Cat Stevens? ‘The thinking woman’s James Blunt’ apparantly. I’m sorry, does this man know anything about musical integrity himself? Or does he just compile tedious articles about it?), Justin Timberlake, Tori Amos, Alanis Morisette, Simply Red, Janis Joplin, Early Genesis (I’ve italicised Early there because Smith clearly didn’t think he had been patronising enough, therefore he quickly adds ‘Before they for all serious and jumped on the boys’ side’. Lovely)

ARTISTS THAT MEN LOVE BUT WOMEN HATE

Neil Young, The Smiths, The House Of Love, The Fall, Steely Dan, Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Led Zeppelin.

To label this feature as testosterone-fuelled, cock waving ignorance masquerading as mature arts-based journalism would be doing this piece a disservice. It’s a winning formula that (at least) goes to show just how bogged down this industry still is in blatant sexist stereotypes. 

I am probably less shocked that (and I’m going to hedge my bets here and categorise Andrew Smith just like he has attempted to categorise an entire sex) a male writer, approaching his middle-years subsequently enjoys a double-page spread in a weekend broadsheet with a piece that (yet again) scrapes the idea-barrel. It’s a running theme that regularly defines music journalism as we know it.

Getting back to the feature at hand, and one question remains: Are we really still expected to believe (in todays’ climate) that the world is actually made up of two such simpleton generalisations?

Let me crank this down a notch: What is Andrew Smith actually trying to say here? That men scratch their bollocks to Led Zep with a can of Stella in hand whilst girls whip up cosmopolitans in their pink pyjamas to James Blunt? 

As Smith creakily attempts to back up this (unimaginative excuse for an opinion piece) with scientific research that he clearly has no knowledge on (or indeed, experience in), the feature descends further into circus journalism.

Merely attributing his science to “recent research” (recent research where exactly?), he goes on to rhetorically raise the question of whether the musical divide between the sexes is a direct result of how differently we as adults talk to our children…and so he meanders:

‘…if we talk differently to our girls, as we very well might without even realising, could we be predisposing them to different types of music later in life?’

I shit you not…

Speaking as a woman who obsesses over Neil Young, The Smiths and Led Zeppelin, just as much (and with as much passion if not more) then her male counterparts; I have found today’s feature an embarrassing and insulting waste of paper, endorsed by countless male readers and editors no doubt, but as far off the mark as one is ever likely to get.

Men are from Marr indeed…

article4867532.ece?Submitted=true

Some people are born miserable. Some people become miserable. And some people take the liberty of acting miserable, despite the constant leg-ups, VIP passes and back-hander’s they have both received and indulged upon, all in the name of being a Geldof.

 

Not content with failing to present her rouge-pouted self as anything other than a spoilt prima donna on the cover of last week’s Sunday Times Style Magazine; the teenager has now forged the new and exciting path of getting hitched in Vegas. Kudos for originality.

 

Yes, Ms Geldof tried her hardest to tear off the indie “it girl” label by protesting that she is a talented writer/presenter/producer/DJ/tightrope walker. Needless to say that the rest of us learnt pretty early on in life, that anything slash anything equals trouble.

 

Not that this seems to have troubled Peaches new American hubby Maxwell Drummey (yes, that supposedly is his real name) who (you guessed it) drums in a band called Chester French (who no one had previously heard of, no one is ever likely to want to hear of, but who everyone is sure to hear of, regurgitating through a Topman speaker near you in about a week.)

 

Very clever, Maxwell. Although, you missed out one crucial glitch: Best to leave the plugging of your band until at least 24 hours after your wedding. Just to let the confetti settle.

 

In a shocking twist in the event at hand, critics are now branding the marriage as a “publicity stunt”, spurred on by a wedding statement by Peaches’ PR which is littered with plugs for the ingeniously named Chester French. And hardly subtle plugs at that:

 

‘Max’s band, Chester French, played at the ITV iTunes festival (in London in June), where Peaches was a co-presenter of the show. The acclaimed new Boston band were signed by Pharrell Williams to his label Star Track, a subsidiary of the giant Interscope Label. Their marriage has the full support of their family and friends.’

 

I think you’ll agree that they put the most important information first in that particular statement.

 

The ‘quickie’ ceremony took place last Tuesday at the Little White Wedding Chapel, with the Reverend Stephen Fabretti officiating. According to the Rev, “They held hands and looked eye-to-eye.” A feat of extraordinary achievement, bearing in mind the fact that the groom insisted on keeping his sunglasses on for the entire ceremony.

 

Kids, eh? 

 

Having just got back from Summercase in Barcelona, I have to say I’m becoming a fan of the humble Euro festival.

For starters, there’s the insanely great weather. Yeah, Barcelona’s Parc Del Forum was essentially a tarmacked car park with beer tents, but I see Glasto’s green fields and raise you the Spanish sun.

But what was most impressive was the lack of Fawlty Towers styled chaos that we British seem to thrive on back home. For example, when Richard Ashcroft decided The Verve would grace the stage 30 minutes later then scheduled, did they croak? Hell no – they merely popped a little screen announcement over the main stage an hour before they were due on.  Whilst this may seem obvious, rest assured that back in old Blighty, organisers would’ve hid behind the sound desk until the stage was pelted by plastic bottles amidst a cry of “VERVE!” come midnight.

Best of all was the recycling inititative they stamped on the site – top marks for forcing us to buy plastic cups for a euro each before we were even allowed to start necking the beer. I know I’m sounding like a poncy Guardian reader now, but it seriously did cut down on so much waste. (Although I’m not sure what the beer token scheme was all about…having to queue to buy tickets for beer every half hour did NOT agree with me.  Especially when the Spanish bar man in question seemed incapable of understanding my simple plea for “BEER”…)

For anyone wondering how the Summercase lineup went down, click on the Clash Magazine website here and read me harping on about The Verve for 90% of it:

 

summercase-weekend-overview

There comes a time in adult life when certain incidents cannot fail but reduce you to your 13-year-old self. There’s usually alcohol involved. In my case, it was alcohol and a backstage pass. And the 13-year-old in question was the kind of kid who couldn’t manage to leaf a couple of gummy bears out of her local newsagent without getting caught.

I’d honestly thought I’d progressed past this 13-year-old geek. Clearly it’s an affliction that never leaves (not unlike my love for En Vogue).

It’s a tragic testiment to my own rock ‘n’ roll failings that brought back flashbacks of that DIY AC/DC vest I so lovingly attempted to make for myself back at college. (The orange material and black felt – hand-hacked – lettering seemed like a feat of visionary dressmaking at the time…)

The world is clearly divided between two types of people: those who can pull off everyday item theft, and those who can’t. I’ve always fallen into the latter (much to my own lament.) So, it was clearly a rooky mistake of mine to use a support band’s backstage pass at the Shepherds Bush Empire the other night and sneak into an (Equestrian-theme named) US band’s dressing room and attempt to nick a few drinks cause I’d run out of money. 

Yes, that’s right. It’s a sorry state of affairs when you get in trouble with a rock band for “borrowing” a couple of pitiful bottles of light ale, but what can I say? The times are-a-changing…

The mortification I’ve experienced by this singular event is two-fold:

1. I was literally caught with a bottle opener in one hand and a bottle in the other by the tour manager (who incidentally had the most awesome red beard I have ever seen and am ever likely to see.)

2. When asked “what are you doing?” by said awesomely red-bearded tour manager (a reasonable question to raise), I actually used the phrase “I’m with the band.”

This is clearly the behaviour of someone who has watched Almost Famous one too many times and thinks she is Kate Hudson. In my defence – it wasn’t my idea. I told Craig I’d get caught. And that’s the other mortifying thing – it wasn’t even my idea. Who caves into peer pressure past the age of 16?

Maybe it was the dazzling sight of the red beard, but I honestly believed this tour manager would see the funny side. He didn’t. Needless to say the beers in question were confiscated.

With time to think about the ethical ramifications of my thoughtless actions, I have to say I am disappointed with Mr Red Beard. Firstly, the band were drinking whiskey. Secondly, I drank the beers anyway when I gatecrashed the aftershow. And thirdly, I was wearing a mini-dress. Do I not get points for that?

Clearly not.

The beer bottles and the damage done, eh?

Well blow me down, if Noel Gallagher hasn’t struck (yet another) own-goal. 

As someone who has always championed his wit and acerbic charm, I have to say his latest bouts of commentary have struck as the kind of shallow, backward analysis that swaggers 1994 – festering in a Brit Pop broom cupboard alongside Chris Evans, a crate of Hooch and a DD Wonderbra.

Which is a real surprise, because I totally agreed with his previous comments on the aggressive, negative and disgustingly misogynistic elements that so often overshadow rap and hip-hop. I totally agreed with his opinions on 50 Cent when he brilliantly pointed out the blazingly obvious: “I just don’t like the dragging women around on dog leads and all that stuff.”

But who could’ve predicted that when Jay-Z was announced as this year’s Glastonbury headliner, the UK would’ve indulged itself in such a blatant racist backlash that defied any proper sense or reasoning. Hoards of white middle class indie scenesters heckling out against the rapper as if Take That had been confirmed as Saturday night’s entertainment on the Pyramid Stage.

Black hip-hop at Glastonbury? Send out the troops! Lest we forget that Glastonbury is all about defying categorisation and stereotype – unfortunately it seemed like the festival’s fans had become the stereotype, wrapped up in a indie bubble, refusing to look past the ends of their own converse.

At the forefront of the battalion was Noel Gallagher himself – master and commander. Talk about a let-down, hearing him clumsily airing his views, ruffling his plumage amidst a chorus of “no chance.” Not least because I’ve always deemed Noel as the anecdotal godfather of the music world: Always sharp, devastatingly witty, acerbically dynamite and usually spot on. (A particular Gallagher gem for me is his quote about Beach Boys only selling records cause they’re next door to Beatles in HMV? Genius.)

Then Jay-Z mock-swaggered on stage strumming away to Wonderwall. Game over.

So, it is with great amusement that I read Noel’s latest comments – backtracking spectacularly to the beat of Jay-Z’s drum.

“For the record, I Iike Jay-Z,” he said. “That’s my opinion. If it offends people, don’t ask me any more questions. I should do these things and answer like every two-bit pop star.”

A case of eating a slither of humble pie, Noel?

Which brings me onto my real intentions for writing this blog. My top five classic Noel quotes (I still love him really):

1. “[I doubt] one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing ‘Sweet Dreams’ and thinks … ‘She might have a point there, you know?’ ”

2. “I’m not like John Lennon, who thought he was the great Almighty. I just think I’m John Lennon.”

3. “Sure I love Liam, but not as much as I love Pot Noodles.”

4. “Next year I hope to get a stalker or two because I don’t belive you’ve arrived until you get a stalker.”

5. Forte Crest Hotel. Glasgow. April 17, 1994. ALL OF IT.

It begins with a statement of intent:

“It seemed I’d always been chasing after something…Anything that might lead out into some more lit place, some unknown land downriver…”

The lit place is at Halcyon Gallery. The unknown land is brought to us by none other than Bob Dylan.

Lets cut to the chase: so many musicians have tried their hand at a spot of canvas work and failed miserably (not naming names, Ronnie Wood). It’s certainly a brave attempt by any person renowned for doing something completely different, to whack on the Picasso overalls and try something else. And do it well.

It’s even braver to (after many years) agree to showcase these extremely personal paintings to the public, especially bearing in mind the manner in which Dylan has curtained off his private life to roving eyes. Even XM Radio in the US (who host the troubadour’s Theme Time Radio Hour) have no idea where he broadcasts his shows from. Yet here we see Dylan unveil one of the most private aspects of his personal and artistic worlds: his paintings. And each tells a completely different story…

Sure, Dylan has displayed his love of painting to us on record sleeves such as his 1970 (critically ripped apart, yet I cherish as one of my personal favourites) release ‘Self Portrait’. But I’ve never had the opportunity to gain access to three floors worth of his material.

Waltzing into the first floor display room and the eye meets a series of paintings entitled ‘Train Tracks.’ For many fans, these paintings sum up Dylan’s philosophy: a man hell bent on walkin’ down that line, always keeping going, ever the shape-shifting artist, never looking back. What strikes immediately is the way he repeats a number of identical paintings, using different colours for each. Turquoise switches to white, switches to orange, swathes to blue. It is a theme that continues throughout his work and is something that struck me as indicative of Bob Dylan’s life and work – just as he changes the colour, thus changing the mood, appealing for different reactions; so the same applies to his music. This is a vibrant reminder of why Bob Dylan can never be categorised: each colour change on canvas symbolises his entire musical career and displays just how he approaches performing his songs – constantly changing, ever evolving, never conforming to expectation and always pissing off those traditionalists who yell at the back “get out an acoustic guitar and sing it like on Freewheelin’!”

Whether it’s a single draped violet curtain, an azure blue horizon, or a random pedestrian man swathed in green on a bridge: colour is what moves Dylan. You can soak in the David Hockney rainbow-palate and drink up the Picasso brush-strokes. 

New Orleans walkways give way to Chicago back alleys, into walled in introspection of Dallas hotel rooms, lakeside cabins and New York apartment blocks. This is Dylan’s world: a life on the road. Each shows a different side to the rolling stone who has made his life his own self-made train tracks.

I found it particularly interesting that the one canvas that most summed up Bob Dylan was the one that has sold the least. Was it the prettiest? No. The most vibrant? No. Most accomplished? Of course not. To me, this was the one that summed up the spirit of the story-teller, but most importantly of the acerbic social-commentator. ‘Statue Of Liberty’ would probably be the painting that most would walk by on the way to ‘Train Tracks’. But it drew me in like star dust. An imposing outline of the Statue of Liberty is cast aside by a jump-suited passer by, with ‘Cowboys’ blazened on his back. Across the bottom states the words: “RAPE IS NOT SEX”. Four words that say all you really need to know. It’s a punch in the guts. And isn’t it as relevant today as it was in the late 80s? I mean, all we’ve really achieved is to swap one Bush for another.

The Drawn Blank Series by Bob Dylan is on show at Halcyon Gallery in London until July 13. Link below:

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