Wall #7

Digging into my saved Youtube clips once more, rediscovering the gems I found over the past decade or so. I think the kind of things we like to watch says a lot about who we are.

When the one and probably the only talent a comedian has to have is an ability to make us laugh, we should perhaps have a special high regard for guys like Bill Bailey. He is nothing short of being superb; broad in scope and insight. And now he can dance too!

The west London I knew has definitely moved on yet I’m aware of some of its changes, youth culture in particular. Here, the juxtaposition of acting cool even in mundane situations expresses the ridiculousness of taking that stuff too seriously.

George Formby is from another era. Not allowed to be overtly indecorous, these comedians relied heavily on innuendo. Ridiculous really as risqué was the humour those audiences wanted.

Unlike Bailey, Formby was poorly educated, left school too early in years and, I understand, was more or less illiterate, a thing he regretted later in life.

While he could play the banjolele, he hadn’t the knowledge to play in different keys. To get around this, he had someone tune a performance set of banjoleles with different tunings and played them the same way, only matching a particular instrument with a particular song.

A beauty of Youtube is when it throws up a performer I probably wouldn’t get to know otherwise; some of the talented people might be amateurs. I don’t know Danny James and I don’t know why the reference is to Hendrix; he does well on his own merit.

In my early 20s, I shared a house with a couple who were in a band, or trying to form one. The guitarist would often practice riffs or just a few bars of a tune, but never playing what sounded like a complete piece. This would annoy me a bit: it sounded good and then he’d just stop and go on to something else, over and over.

I’ve tried to play the guitar but haven’t the patience. If I could, I’d play whole pieces. I think I could no more play bits and bobs anymore than I could write half a sentence or draw half a portrait.

I’m a fan of Commissario Montalbano, both the novels by Andrea Camilleri and the dramatised series starring Luca Zingaretti. The theme tune used is from The Dance of the Macabre composed by Saint Saëns, a jolly sounding piece despite the title.

However, in one of the later episodes, the end theme was replaced by the haunting Malamuri sung by Olivia Sellerio. What a beauty! Sellerio is Sicilian and the song is in Sicilian too, not Italian. I tried to find a translation but couldn’t. I’m sure the title means bad love, or something like it.

Some years ago we took a studio apartment on the Greek island of Zakinthos. The owners took us to a local tavern for an authentic Greek dinner and there was a trio of musicians playing folk music by the side. Knowing no Greek, I ask our hostess what the songs were about; they all sounded feisty, and some sounded really bawdy, like rugby songs. “Oh, love, love, love, always about love, nothing else,” she said.

Further up the Italian coast there’s Venice, and further back in time, there’s Baroque, and in that space there was Barbara Strozzi. I read from Wikipedia how she was the most prolific composer in her time. Not merely for a woman, mind, but out of all composers of either sex.

When I hear this piece, I get the same sense as hearing the blues. It’s profound and soulful, and I love that kind of thing.

As an antidote to the seriously cold weather presently here in England, I’m putting up Third World and 96° in the Shade.

I had a copy of the studio album, bought after the hit single, Now That We Found Love, and it is one of the most musical reggae bands I think I’ve heard, mainly down to the lead guitarist.

Although a protest song, but like all reggae tunes, I find it exudes warmth and energy which envelops the soul and makes you want to move around and sing. Wonderful music.

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.

Wall #5

Another wall of videos I’ve collected from Youtube. I appear to have saved a lot of videos over the years – decades by now, I imagine – and looking over these I had this idea about theme walls: there were plenty of interesting song covers; clips from feature films; many film shorts; philosophy; art; extraordinary science; ordinary science!

But then I thought, that’s the opposite to how I watch Youtube and how I’ve come across these ones to save. It’s a jumble, a random, some might say eclectic. Homogeneity, it ain’t, so there.

I think I’ve mentioned, and included, stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee, before. The first video, on which Lee narrates, is a sweet little documentary about repair shops in Hackney, a suburb of east London.

Long ago – well, not too long ago – things used to be repaired when they broke or malfunctioned, as a first step before considering a replacement. Somewhere during the past forty years, this tradition diminished significantly and we became what’s sometimes referred to as a throwaway culture.

And now the savvy are saying we’re paying for this careless extravagance. We may need to return to prior methods; it’s encouraging to see not everyone has forgotten the skills.

Geoff Marshall has made a series of these “the secrets of…” aesthetic eye tours of the stations of the lines of the London Underground. The Central Line was my line, the nearest station about a fifteen minutes walk. I could have walked to the Piccadilly Line (25 minutes) or the Metropolitan Line (25 minutes), but the Central, as it’s name implies, got you into the centre of London in the shortest time.

I admit, I took a lot of it for granted and wasn’t too interested in the architecture of stations aa a youth. M has done his homework and delivers a good job.

I’m always fascinated by stop-frame animation (you can keep CGI animation: no skill, not interested), and I don’t believe anyone who hasn’t had a small go at a flip-book, probably drawing in the corner of a pocket book or diary.

This guy from Andymation takes it to another level, even composing a storyline. Follow the dots, it’s amazing.

Ever wondered about that equation giving the area of a circle?

A = 2πr^2

The definition of π is simply the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter (or to twice its radius). But what about that area equation! Dark magic, eh?

I love mathematics and teacher Eddie Woo explains it simply and brilliantly.

Omeleto is one of a few channels on Youtube dedicated to very good short film dramas. I liked this one about the difficulty an orthodox jewish woman has with a secret sex toy during Shabbat.

I’m not Jewish but I understand for the orthodox followers, it is forbidden to work or cause work to be done during their Sabbath.

I’ll finish up with a piece of unusual music; that is, music not normally heard on the mainstream. There’s often something pleasingly mesmeric yet playful about Steve Reich’s compositions, especially pieces for multiple instruments of the same kind. Enjoy two marimbas played by the duo, Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins.

Wall #3

I’m doing a series of video walls comprising the sort of stuff I pick out on Youtube.

An extended wall this one. On Youtube, I have tried to collect gems over time, putting them into different playlists. The trouble with Youtube is many videos are uploaded without authorisation and eventually the site takes them down or blocks them “in your country”. So I stopped sorting them out and instead simply saved any to a playlist I called Channel Nonno, (with a nod to the Fast Show).

It’s been a while since I played anything from that playlist so I did this last night and selected eight which show the kind of things I listen to, though it’s not an exhaustive sample.

John Martyn with Danny Thompson; it’s one act I regret not seeing. The double bass sound is wonderful in itself but a well-performed solo is something more. I never seem to tire of this song however it’s played.

My first hearing of Anderson.Paak was this tune opening one of Craig Charles’ Funk & Soul Shows on the radio. I think it’s at the exemplary end of a wide spectrum for this genre. Anderson.Paak is the drummer, as well as the singer and composer, and he’s pretty good on the kit too.

I do like percussion. I might have become a drummer in a different life. All the various forms of percussion instruments, found in all different cultures, I find fascinating. The simplicity of banging on any sounding surface – maybe we start off on a kitchen table or a tub of paint – to the complexity of rhythms and tones on virtuoso instruments.

The calabash is a dried gourd; the husk of a vegetable rather like a pumpkin. In Africa, the calabash is used for the sound box of many instruments, some stringed as well as percussive.

These players are Aliou Saloum Yattara and “Cola” Mahamadou Balobo Maiga of the Malian band, Super Onze (or Super 11).

Lonnie Johnson has a remarkably clear and mellifluous voice for a blues singer, I think. It’s good how we can find many of these clips on Youtube now. This one includes an introduction by the inimitable and great harmonica player, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller).

Bar The Sex Pistols (and a few other individual songs) there wasn’t much that interested me about Punk Rock. Yet, from the mid-70s through into the 80s, it did clear the way for light to shine more on diverse neglected or forgotten genres, many of which I liked.

There was a Teddy Boy and Rockabilly resurgence among this and the Welsh band, Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers, was a key agent (though they had been playing for some time before).

In the London of my youth, busking wasn’t permitted under bylaws and rarely tolerated. On the subways of the Tube, you might pass a tuneless guitarist or a lonely saxophonist; occasionally in the process of being arrested or moved on by Transport Police officers.

Arriving in Sydney, it seemed like buskers’ heaven. Not only were they permitted to perform but areas of the city were designated for them. I’d turn a corner to see a crowd stood watching a synthesiser duo accompanied by a dancer; along the street, there’d be a string quartet; in the park, maybe a guitar band.

It took a long time to see this back home. I’ve worked in the city of Bath on and off and there it seems to encourage street performances. Occasionally I hear one or two in my small local town.

I would love to witness this street band from New Orleans, Tuba Skinny, playing its ragtime swing jazz blues. The singer has the perfect voice for this music. Despite all appearances, I believe it tours around the world. Coming to a gig near you…

I had the pleasure of seeing Bugge Wesseltoft perform at our Cheltenham Jazz Festival, the year before Covid struck our shores. I decided to go as he was in a new trio with Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström, from the Swedish band, Esbjörn Svensson Trio. That was a band I became interested in and wanted to see but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson died in an accident while scuba diving.

Honestly, I could have an entire wall made from selections from the Seattle station, KEXP. It puts our BBC to shame. Fortunately, by the power of the web, you can receive it wherever there’s an internet connection.

This is The True Loves, also from Seattle, doing a set at KEXP. Now that’s a truly lively lovely sound to finish with.

Wall #2

The kind of stuff we watch of an evening on Youtube probably gives a real insight into what we like and what influences us. Here’s six recent watches taken from my viewing history list,

Public Eye is something I remember from childhood. It was an alternative, if not an antidote, to the numerous PI series on telly, mostly imports from the States, nearly all depicting a heroic pugilistic protagonist living an enviable lifestyle. Not so Frank Marker. He was down-at-heel affordable, principled, altruistic and, in hindsight, possibly somewhere on the spectrum.

The drama ran through ten years between 1965 and 1975, though much of the earliest episodes are lost due to the policy of wiping tapes for reuse. Most of what remains is watchable on Youtube. I think no one cares to much about it to order its taking down. I think its a gem of exemplary telly drama but at the same time I doubt it would have an audience these days.

The later episodes written dealt with social issues. This story deals with homosexuality; lesbianism, though likely not as threatening an issue as gay men at that time. Whatever happened to Susan Penhaligon?

So the world did change but not as the guys in Ten Years After seemed to have wanted it to. “Everywhere is; freaks and hairies; dykes and fairies; tell me, where is sanity?” Extraordinary to think this was popular youth sentiment at the time. Still, he does go on to sing about redistribution of wealth…left wing, then? It’s a good tune though.

Orwell is possibly the most under-read and misinterpreted commentator of his time. And I think he was of his time. The actor playing him here (he looks familiar but I can’t recall his name) bears a good likeness to the author. The comments below the video are way off the mark. It makes me wonder how many have read him and know what he was writing about.

The clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is both funny and closer to reality. I’m happy to find a good piece of Python as I think it was over-rated, over-done and desperate. Too many cooks?

I can’t seem to get enough of Brother Insight, aka Br. Thich Man Tue, and his demonstrations of Qigong self-massaging therapies. In this one he is doing a daily stretching routine and it’s like watching a graceful dancer rehearsing a series of moves.

I don’t know much about Qigong. I see parallels with yoga practice, and I once did a term of Tai Chi; some of those moves seem vaguely familiar. I haven’t the discipline to embark on this kind of thing but simply watching Brother Insight puts me in a good mood.

Another regular Youtube event, almost daily owing to lockdown, is Colt Clark & The Quarantine Kids. I believe the girl is Bellamy and it’s curious that such a youngster knows how to do a cockerel strut au Mick Jagger, straight out if the 60s. Warms the cockles of your heart, as they once said.

Coffee & Pie

written for the Great Bloggers’ Bake-off : writing something about Bread, Cakes or Pies. There’s a lot of choice here – and out there, over time – and I’ve settled for a slice of Pie.

“There’s wheat in the fields, and water in the stream; and salt in the mine, and an aching in me.”

Song of a Baker (Lane/Marriott)

Ronnie Lane, once of The Small Faces, sang metaphorically about love. It is a song about making love but not in the idiomatic sense of coitus, rather preparing to love somebody speculatively; old-fashioned romanticism, maybe.

His bandmate, Steve Marriott, said of Lane’s contributions; he writes all our deep and meaningful stuff, and I just write the hits.

Yet it’s Marriott’s backing vocals in the song which punch forth as if from a deeper place entirely, lending the song some rich soulfulness. Marriott was arguable one of the best rock singers there was, powerful despite his small stature.

The band grew apart and Marriott left to form a new one. They chose the name “Humble Pie” and, in keeping with the changing trend, the music was more rock, less pop, but always with that soulful rendition of his.

The band appeared on the British TV late night music show, The Old Grey Whistle Test, performing this version of Black Coffee, a song written and previously recorded by Ike and Tina Turner. Marriott is in cheeky chappie mode, flirting with the session backing singers, The Blackberries, owning the performance and looking to have a great time.

Generally, I cook but never bake but if I were to bake a cake, it might be a Coffee and Walnut cake; there aren’t too many sponge cakes I go for. It’d be nice eating it al-fresco on the lawn, and with a little espresso.

The Tune Inside My Head

i. Internal Music

Every so often, out of nowhere and without apparent cause, I’ll get a snippet of a song come into my head. I’m sure it happens all the time to a lot of you out there too.

It may be a line or two, a riff, a solo, or a rhythm. Sometimes it’s obvious what the song is but occasionally I rack my brains to remember which song. That’s the fun part.

Other times, it may arouse my curiosity further: as to its origins, who wrote it, whether the version I know well is the original or a cover, who played on the record, and so on. And it doesn’t always turn out to be what I might have believed it to be.

ii. Dreaming

Though I don’t usually remember my dreams, last night was an exception. It was a crazy dream about going into town with a group of youthful mates, exchanging shoes with one of them (don’t ask me why?) and I remember having to run down the street in these odd shoes. I mean they were odd in their appearance – kind of oversized and woollen or felt – AND odd because the left and right ones just didn’t match at all: one brown with black laces, and the other green with white laces!

iii. A Song

Anyway, I rose out of bed singing in my head, these lines,

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school,
or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool,
or find myself a rock ‘n’ roll band, which needs a helping hand…

Of course, that’s an easy one to figure out but it still got my curiosity going.

It was probably among the first chart number ones I really took much notice of as I was beginning to listen to music more intently. On TV, it was mimed by Rod Stewart and The Faces, with the DJ John Peel having a cameo part, sitting on a stool playing a mandolin. This was all fakery.

It was a Rod Stewart solo song recorded with session men, and when it came to crediting the musicians for the album sleeve, he couldn’t remember the mandolin player’s name, only that he was with the band, Lindisfarne. It is Ray Jackson.

Okay, Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan, both of The Faces at the time, played a part in the recording, but the others weren’t involved. Wood played bass as well as guitars, and the drummer was Micky Waller. Something new, at least to me, is a credit for a “celesta” (Pete Sears).

What’s a Celesta?, you may ask, and it’s a good question. But you’ve no doubt already heard one, quite clearly, and not realised it’s a celesta. It’s the well-known classical piece, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The celesta is a keyboard instrument, looking a bit like an upright piano, where hammers strike tuned metal plates, or bars, which resonate against wooden blocks. Tchaikovsky loved its sound, it seems.

Unlike most pop songs I’ve ever heard, I think the lyrics to Maggie May are well crafted, intelligent and imaginative. A proper ballad. They are credited to Roderick Stewart which I wouldn’t have guessed simply as he has recorded a lot of cover songs. The co-creditor is Martin Quittenton who also played guitar on the recording.

At the time, Stewart was uncertain about the song’s worthiness and conceded to the record company’s preference for the session’s other cut, a cover of singer-songwriter, Tim Hardin’s excellent Reason To Believe, as his new single’s A-side. But radio DJs and the public had other ideas, and the single became a double A-side with Maggie May becoming the most air-played and, instantly, the more popular tune.

It was no.1 in the UK for five weeks running, and elsewhere too. It is also reputedly the highest selling single of all time featuring a mandolin, yet only credited as,

“…played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”

I’m sure I can hear the celesta clearly around the 2:35 mark, coinciding with when he begins to sing those very lines I remembered above. No celesta in the tv studio though, nor are their guitars plugged in.

It Bothers Me

Bother is a good word. It is the word I will force myself to have habitually at hand in those moments when I want to express how something bothers me when it ought not to. Ought not to because it is trivial, irrelevant and of little consequence to my life.

It bothered me that I had often been struggling to come up with an adequate word to describe the emotional state when things appear wrong but a convincing, lucid argument isn’t forthcoming. Then I heard Richard Feynman say it and it clicked. Things bothered him – honours and awards, in his case – and things bother me too.

It bothers me to see men pedalling bikes with their arches instead of the balls of their feet.

It bothers me to read “noone” when they mean no one.

Noone is Peter Noone, the cherubic faced man who sang with Herman’s Hermits, the 60’s band whose hits included the romantically ebullient, Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good and its heartbreaking inevitability, No Milk Today. You can still hear these on Youtube if you have paracetamol handy.

I saw the noone crime committed today in a national newspaper. The article was celebrating the joy of reading which makes the crime worse than it is normally. Hopefully I will get over it with counselling or some downward-facing dog.

Picture the sweet, little face of Peter Noone opposite, commit it to memory and never ever write his name again when you mean to say “no one”.

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

The Joy of a Random Segue and of Reading at Odd Moments at Work

On Music

I’ve said I’m back working. Just for a bit, hopefully, as I realise I am genetically unsuited to it. However, as into each life a little rain must fall, so too does every cloud have its silver lining.

In the hour long drive at each end of the day, I’m enjoying listening to my playlist again. Ever since I owned a car and had audio fitted – a twenty-five quid diy job for my first car, I remember – I’ve always loved listening to music while driving. At the start, it was tape cassettes; a fiddly process at the best of times and always a risk of the machine chewing up your favourite recording. Thank Apollo! for digital and the invention of the USB memory stick, a thing half the size of a thumb which holds 750+ songs and that’s only half its capacity. I plug it in the car’s audio and request “Shuffle” and it plays my favourite songs in a random order.

I could make my own playlists, as I did with cassettes. The problem with this, for a perfectionist like me, is getting the segues right so that the mood of the music flows. This is not as simple as it sounds and it’s a good reason to leave it up to the mindless machine. However, even the uncultured gadget occasionally delivers beautiful segues and makes me think, I must make a note of that. But I never do. I haven’t worked out how to make notes while driving along.

On Reading

I’ve also started to grab an odd moment at work to read. This might mean the last ten or fifteen minutes at the end of lunch. It’s easy to think, ah, ’tisn’t worth getting out the book, or tablet, for such a short time, but I’ve found it is.

Reading at different times of the day and in different environments is surprisingly a different experience to normal, I find. Habitually, I tend to read last thing at night. Contrary to what experts say about reading off an illuminated tablet, I don’t find it induces insomnia. I actually find I’m nodding off and though I’m following the text, there’s a point when I’m not taking anything in. This isn’t really a good way to read at all but, in a busy day, it’s the only time regularly available.

At work, I find these moments where there isn’t much else to do. It’s not time to get back to the grindstone but lunch is eaten and I’ve done all my personal chores like checking my finances, answering personal emails, and shopping. It may be just ten minutes but out comes the iPad and I kick back and read a few paragraphs, and I realise it’s a different kind of joy. And whatever it is I’ve read stays firm in my mind, which is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

image of person reading by Blaz Photo via