Wall #6

Billy Liar, actually Billy Fisher, a creation of the writer Keith Waterhouse, is a fantasist- dreamer, much to the chagrin of his father and employers. In the 60s film adaptation, he’s played by Tom Courtney, one of the brilliant young British actors from the 60s who is still with us.

Shadrack, the undertaker-in-charge, is played by Leonard Rossiter, who seems to have had a face which began life in middle-aged and didn’t venture much from it afterwards.

I did have a notion briefly to do a whole wall of cover songs, being always interested in how musicians approach the work of well-known songs. I decided not to though I’ve included two here and a kind of cover-analysis of another.

The first is a version of Hendrix’s Little Wing. This is probably my favourite of his though I’d insist on the live performance at The Royal Albert Hall over the studio recording. That’s a tough one to beat though it’s been tried a few times by eminent guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. No one is better than Hendrix at the RAH.

You have to approach it differently; I feel this is the secret to good covers. I like this mandolin version. Also, the same musician plays what looks like a bass ukulele, or bassulele, (I may be wrong) and a cajón. So different approach and it works.

In the previous wall, I included a video from the short film channel, Omeleto. Another great short film channel is Future Shorts.

La Migala is a tale about an arachnophobe trying to cure himself by drastic means. Does it work? Watch and see!

Take Five is probably one of the most familiar jazz tunes. It’s melody was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Drummer Joe Morello was playing around with beats in 5/4 time as an alternative to the usual standard 4/4; the story goes that he was bored of 4/4 all the time. On hearing the beat, Brubeck asked Desmond whether he could write something to go with it. That is Take Five.

This video isn’t so much a cover – and a pretty good one at that – it’s more an appreciative analysis of the song. Joe Morello was a superb drummer but I like this guy’s style too.

The Five Minute Interview was a pretty good thing in my view. I’m in two minds about so-called chat shows, from Parkinson to Jonathan Ross, they seem such desperate affairs to get disinterested celebrities, out of their comfort zone, to entertain us for fifteen minutes or more under the direction of an inept and ill-informed inquisitor. My two minds are roughly split 70/30 against it.

Brian Sewell was a much misinterpreted man, and he knew it. I suspect he was quickly judged on his voice and his apparent self-confidence. He was though an exceptionally informed art historian and critic. He was also socially minded, winning the Orwell prize for his essays on a wide range of issues other than art; he said he preferred writing about those subjects more than writing about art.

I’m finishing the wall with a third cover version; it’s another familiar song: Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush.

I don’t know much at all about Little Boots but judging by her performance, she can sing and play. What’s more, her voice suits the lyrics and the minimalist piano accompaniment gives something more to the song than the original recording with its many instruments.

Sandmanjazz asks questions

Sandmanjazz’s Q & A. Three questions requiring answers from me.

If you could have your hair any colour for 24 hours, what colour would you choose?

Ultra-violet. It would attract butterflies and bumble-bees. Wouldn’t it be cool.

Are you a Hitchcock fan? If so, what is your favourite movie?

I’m not a Hitchcock fan but I do like North By Northwest. Cary Grant isn’t an actor with a broad range but I think he suits his character well in this film. Eva Marie-Saint and James Mason too.

Also, I like the particular scenes that we all know well by now: the guy at the bus stop saying, “it’s funny, he’s spraying where there ain’t no crops” before the thrilling plane chase scene, and the bit when he’s shaving on the train with the lady’s razor.

It’s a good plot and narrative.

Do you decorate for Autumn/Halloween and will it be affected by this year’s craziness?

This is a relatively new thing in England. Trick or treat and Jack-o-lanterns. Yes, we cut a pumpkin and put a candle inside for Hallowe’en. Get some sweet treats in for the neighbourhood kids.

It wasn’t done when I was a kid; we did “penny for the guy” which was basically begging on the corner, accepted as tradition. The money supposedly went to buy fireworks in celebrating of Guido “Guy” Fawkes’ failure to blow up the Houses of Parliament centuries ago. You’d make an effigy of Guy – called “a guy” – to be burnt on a bonfire on the night of the 5th November. Or the nearest Saturday.

Today, a bit about trombones

Out in the car this morning, I caught about two minutes of an interview with someone whose name I didn’t catch but he was asked to play something on his trombone. The piece took about twenty seconds, he was thanked for coming on, and the two presenters moved swiftly on to something completely different and I returned to my USB playlist.

Driving along, I thought of an old movie I’d found on Youtube a few years back. Paris Blues stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier. It also stars Louis Armstrong as band leader, “Wild Man” Moore, but essentially playing a version of himself. It’s about American jazz, and musicians playing in Paris clubs. Sidney Poitier appears cool, as he always did, holding a tenor sax, but they gave Paul Newman a trombone!

The slide trombone is a peculiar instrument with a bumbly and rude sound. It’s distinctive though. Yet, I’d guess, not being a musician myself, oddly unappealing for a chosen instrument. I wouldn’t know why a person would take it up, unless they arrived too late and it was the only thing left in the horn box apart from a tuba. The guy from the radio did say his was lying around the house having once belonged to his older brother. We never heard why the brother had it initially but we can infer he abandoned it. I also wonder if it’s hard on the arm. At first? I wonder if, like tennis elbow or housemaid’s knee, there is a medical condition known as trombonist’s arm.

Yet, more yet, I might say the trombone was one of the reasons jazz appealed to me after decades of listening to rock music: from heavy to prog., through folk and country, across punk and new wave, and into indie. Despite all those names, it was almost always two or three electric guitars, a drum kit and vocals. I still have an ear for it but it is, to me, the genre in the corner, surrounded by a lot of wet paint. Don’t ask me why it remains so popular. I listen for nostalgic reasons only.

I’m trying hard to think of any trombone involvement in a rock song. If you know, please let me know. Meanwhile, here’s John Coltrane’s Locomotion, featuring a solo by trombonist, Curtis Fuller,

top image: photo still from “Paris Blues” (1961)

bottom image: Curtis Fuller

Roll ‘em: Robert Johnson & how to properly pack a bag

Down to the crossroads.

My Youtube suggestions unearthed an old documentary on the legendary delta blues musician, Robert Johnson, yesterday. It had up till now escaped my notice but if you’re at all interested in the blues genre, it’s well worthwhile. (Link below.)

The label “legendary” or “legend” might be bandied around too casually these days as if it equates to just being famous but in Robert Johnson’s case, it is arguably apt.

So, in a nutshell for those who may be unaware, I shall attempt a precis of the salient points. Johnson, then known by his step-father’s family name of Spencer, aspired to be a musician, and not a farmer or farm labourer as was the usual work of his peers. His early attempt at music was to hammer nails into the outside of his mother’s house and string three wires between them and wedge a bottle under to provide tension; then he would pluck those wires to make music.

He would visit the bars and juke joints to hear the travelling musicians. He begged, amongst others, Son House, a loan of a guitar to practice on. But, according to House, the neighbours complained of the noise and so the guitar had to be taken away form him and subsequent begging turned down.

And here’s the legend part: Johnson took off, it’s not sure where, for six or seven months. When he came home, he begged to show how he could play. Of course, they feared the worst but it turned out he could not only play but play better than anyone around. It was said of him that he must have traded his soul to the devil to be able to play so well in such a short time.

He became an itinerant performer and a successful one. He was invited to Texas to record his music – 29 songs recorded off one mic in a hotel room, straight onto a disc. He was, by all accounts, a nice person but he had a thing for the ladies and it is suspected that he was poisoned by a jealous husband of one of his lovers. Or perhaps a jealous woman. The poison was hidden in a glass of whiskey handed to him during a performance. He died in pain the following day.

I followed her to the station, with a suitcase in my hand.

I had heard the stories before but there was a little gem within that made me smile. It was recounted by his travelling companion and fellow guitarist, Johnny Shines. He said Johnson had a routine of rolling up his suit, together with a white shirt inside, and carrying them around in a paper bag. When he put on his suit – presumably for a gig or a date – his clothes looked as if they were freshly pressed.

Why does this interest me? Well, for a while now, I’ve been rolling my clean shirts to put away rather than folding them, and when I pack to go away, I roll most of my clothes up. It seems to work, saves space, and avoids the creased look.

I got this tip from the Gentleman’s Gazette guy, Sven Raphael Schneider, the urbane, dapper dresser also featured on Youtube. Then, a while ago, I saw this packing diagram on Pinterest. It’s the new thing! Or the old thing, if we think about Robert Johnson.

For sure, it’s the small things in life which can bring the most pleasure. 😁

Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? | The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (youtube)

The (Not) Big Screen

A tutor once asked in a lesson, why are some paintings extremely large?

I said so they can be seen further away, which got a laugh but I wasn’t being entirely funny. The question went unanswered I remember. I think it was looking at the thing the wrong way. It should have been, Why are paintings the size they are?

A watercolour tends to be smallish as the medium is hard to handle on larger areas, it dries quickly. Charcoal and pastels rely somewhat heavily on impressionistic marks; they don’t do details well, so a larger format is better than a very small one. Of course, these aren’t hard and fast rules, simply making things easier. Some artists like a challenge and will paint large because they wish to or, conversely, choose to paint a portrait on the head of a pin.

What about cinema? My love of film came late to me thanks entirely to a film buff I engaged with on the internet for a while. He made me think about discernment which is something I’m always up for, not in film but in most things. The trouble is, I hate cinemas. This may be discernment in occupying public places rather than anything to do with film. More than twenty years have gone by since I last set foot inside a cinema and I have no regrets. It’s not my cup of tea: the uncomfortable seating, the lack of decent refreshments, the intrusive racket of surrounding strangers, the time wasted watching the damn advertisements and trailers, the eardrum splitting volume of the soundtrack when the main picture comes on. Not for me.

Watching a film, like listening to music or reading a book, is best an intimate experience, one on one. I get absorbed in the thing without distractions. I have come to love watching films on an iPad, with earphones. What I gain well compensates for anything I might be missing from the “big screen”. But what am I missing?

It seems that the old trick of perspective gives rise to the illusion of the screen’s bigness. Holding the tablet up, ignoring the distance between, the screen easily eclipses that of our wide screen telly. I wonder how much of the cinema screen it can obscure at a reasonable seated distance. I was once shown to a seat in the third row of the stalls. The picture was overbearing and I had a crick in my neck.

Come on, isn’t it best to snuggle down on your sofa, in your private space, with a beer at your side, and a tablet on your lap?

Popcorn – a (growing) list of films enjoyed on an iPad

B-tube – a growing collection of films enjoyed on the Youtube app