Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Madeleine Peyroux & John Etheridge, Bath Forum May 27th 2017.

It was my friend Dave who introduced me to the music of Madeleine Peyroux a few months ago when he gave me a copy of an album of hers called Keep Me In Your Heart For A While, The Best Of Madeleine Peyroux which I really enjoyed. I was especially taken by her versions of songs by Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen. I also really liked her voice which reminded me of Billie Holiday. When I saw that she was to appear at the Forum in Bath as part of the annual Bath Festival I knew we had to go.
It was a nice sunny Saturday evening when we boarded the 5.48 train at Westbury for the short journey to Bath. The city was bustling with people out enjoying the nice weather and we had time for a quick drink in a pub called The Cork. Sitting outside the pub I thought that I should come to Bath more often as it is such a nice place, especially in the summer. Then it was time to make our way to the Forum which is fast becoming my favourite music venue in the area after seeing the likes of Patti Smith, Richard Thompson, Kate Rusby and quite a few others here over the last few years. There was quite a long queue to get in because of the increased security measures following the tragic event in Manchester a few days earlier.

The opening act was a jazz fusion guitarist called John Etheridge. He is known for being a member of Soft Machine and has worked with the likes of Stephane Grappelli and many others. I thought I might find him a bit boring because really I like songs, but I was pleasantly surprised because I really got into his music. The first tune he played was a Sonny Rollins composition called Doxy which I wasn’t all that enamoured with but the second number was a Charles Mingus tune called Goodbye Pork Pie Hat  which apparently was written in tribute to Lester Young. I really enjoyed this one and closed my eyes and just  listened to Mingus, mellow, fantastic. Then he changed guitars to one that he had adapted and it was amazing because it sounded like bass and guitar combined. I didn’t recognise the tune but Dave told me it was called Stormy Weather. John finished his enjoyable short set with a really nice South African tune but I have no idea what it was called.

The interval seemed to last for ages. I went outside for a cigarette and took a photo of the tour bus to pass the time. Then finally it was time for Madeleine. As well as singing, she also played guitar and ukulele and was ably assisted by John Harrington on guitar and Barak Mory on upright bass. As I have said, I only have one album by Madeleine so I didn’t recognise all the songs so I’ll just tell you about the ones I did know. The first song was called Fun Out Of Life which I believe is a Billie Holiday song which suits Madeleine perfectly. I didn’t know the second song in which she pretended to sing into a telephone but it showed that she is a very humorous lady and also she doesn’t think much of Donald Trump. ( Who does?) This was followed by Tango Till They’re Sore in which the bass played used a bow on his instrument to great effect. Madeleine said she only sang three kinds of songs which were about Love, Blues & Drinking and the next song was about all three. It was called Guilty and in the lyrics she sang, ‘ I can’t stand myself’ which reminded me of a Van Morrison lyric. One of my favourite songs of the evening followed which was Our Lady Of Pigalle and Madeleine played ukulele on that one. I didn’t know either of the next two songs, one of them was in French but very enjoyable and the other was for people who felt that their vote didn’t count for anything. This was followed by a brilliant version of The Beatles It’s Getting Better which she said was the only cheerful song she was going to sing.

Other songs which I enjoyed were Easy Come, Easy Go which I think might be a Bessie Smith song,Trampin’ which was great and a song which was based on a poem by Lynton Kwesi Johnson that Maddy had put music to. Shout Sister Shout was dedicated to all the women in the audience. Every Thing I Do Gohn  Be Funky From Now On was originally a song by Lee Dorsey I believe but Madeleine's version is great. She sang a love song in Brazilian-Portuguese, I haven’t got a clue what it is called but it sounded wonderful. Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love was fabulous as was Careless Love which brought a wonderful concert to an end.

I wanted to buy Madeleine’s most recent album called Secular Hymns but I was amazed to find that there was no merchandise stall in the foyer which is most unusual at a concert these days. Anyway, we grabbed a quick drink in the pub opposite the station and caught the 10.38 train home. Thank you very much Bath Forum, John Etheridge,John Harrington, Barak Mory and most of all Madeleine Peyroux for a great night out in Bath.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Review: The Unthanks, 'How Wild The Wind Blows', The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake, Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford On Avon April 30th 2017

I had never heard of Molly Drake until a few months ago. This is how I discovered her. There is an English folk group called The Unthanks led by Rachel & Becky Unthank. I hadn't got any of their albums at the time but I had enjoyed the songs that I had heard and I saw them at Glastonbury Festival where they played with a full orchestra which was very impressive. Two of my friends Jacky & Bill from Yorkshire are big fans of the Unthanks.  I saw on the internet before Christmas that they were going to play in Bradford On Avon in April which is a very picturesque little town only eight miles from me. “That sounds like fun”, I thought to myself so I bought some tickets and invited my friends down for the weekend. I was really  looking forward to it. When I read more about this tour I discovered that they had deliberately chosen small venues which would be perfect for the intimate performance of the songs and poems of Molly Drake.

“Who on Earth is Molly Drake?”, I asked myself. I immediately googled Molly Drake and discovered via Wikipedia that she was none other than the mother of the legendary Nick Drake. Although I really like Nick Drake and am quite familiar with his best known songs and have one album called Way To Blue I’m not a fanatical fan like some completist’s who have to have everything he ever recorded. That’s why I hadn’t heard of Molly before. During her lifetime Molly never performed publicly or made any official recordings but I discovered that in the 1950’s her husband Rodney Drake had made some home recordings of Molly singing and playing the piano. Because of the increasing cult following  in her son’s life, attention passed to Molly and finally these recordings were assembled into a cd simply called Molly Drake and released by Squirrel Thing records in 2013.
I had read enough. I knew I had to get this cd, especially because it was issued on the same label as the Connie Converse album that I reviewed a year ago. I have always been fascinated by people who never really sought fame and fortune or had a brief flirtation with fame and then faded away but whose reputation has grown over the years due to the quality of their work. In the past as well as Connie I have written about the likes of Karen Dalton, Linda Perhacs, Annie Briggs, Vashti Bunyan. Sibylle Baier, Shelagh McDonald, Mellow Candle, Thomas Fraser, Jonathon Kelly, Jackson C Frank and many more.  I sent off to Germany for a copy because I couldn’t see one available in Britain and a few days later it popped through my letterbox. They had done an excellent job in the design of the cd with an attractive booklet with Molly’s story written by her daughter who is the actress Gabrielle Drake and contains lots of photos of Molly. I was a bit disappointed though because I was expecting a 45 page booklet of Molly’s poems to be included but alas there wasn’t. Maybe that was only with the first pressing of the album.

Just after Christmas I got around to giving the cd a good listen. The whole album is only 37 minutes long and there are 19 songs so you can see how short most of the songs are. Molly has a very English middle-class voice and sings in a very formal style. You can tell that the recording was made in the fifties. There is one song though called Poor Mum which almost sounds like a riposte to Nick’s song Poor Boy. If it was recorded in the 50’s then it is strangely prophetic. They have done a great job of mastering this cd from reel to reel 60 year old tapes but there is still some crackle and hiss on some songs but in a way that gives those songs a haunting ghost-like quality. The producer Joe Boyd said that these songs are the missing link in the Nick Drake story. I can understand what he means because the words do seem to have a feeling of quiet desperation and melancholy and explore the fragility of happiness which makes you think that Nick might have inherited a lot of his personality from his mother as well as a love of music.

Three months went by and Winter changed to Spring. I saw on the internet that the album by The Unthanks called 'The Songs And Poems Of Molly Drake' could now be ordered online ahead of it's official release date so I ordered it and while I was at it I ordered their book called 'The Unthanks Memory Book' as well and I resolved to take it along to the gig and get it signed. I also took Molly's album along in the hope that her daughter Gabrielle would be there on the evening to sign that.

                                                     Finally the big night arrived. I had never been to the Wiltshire Music Centre before but it is a fabulous little purpose built venue and the little town of Bradford On Avon is lucky to have such a nice venue. The sound quality in there is absolutely perfect. The stage set was designed very theatrically with chairs and lamps so in the small intimate setting you would almost believe that you were in Molly's living room. As well as Becky & Rachel singing they also had a piano player, bass player, clarinet & violin, all of whom performed brilliantly. I must say that Rachel & Becky's harmonies are among the best I have ever heard. They also had a screen at the back on which they showed photos and rare footage of Molly with Nick & Gabrielle Drake. I didn't take my notebook along to write the setlist but my favourite songs of the evening included Weaver Bird, Happiness, How Wild The Wind Blows, What Can A Song Do For You?, I Remember, Never Pine For The Old Love, Poor Mum and Soft Shelled Crabs. I can't remember the titles of the other songs but I enjoyed ever single song. In between the songs there was the voice of Gabrielle reciting her mothers poems along with pictures projected on the screen which was very moving.

                                                                                          The evening was divided into two halves and during the intermission I managed to get Becky & Rachel to sign my book and in the absence of Gabrielle, Becky kindly signed my Molly Drake CD. I also managed to get a photo with Rachel. They are really nice friendly people. As an encore they sang their version of Nick Drake's song Riverman and one other song that I don't know the name of. The show lasted about two hours and I must say it was one of the best evenings of music I have had in a long time so thank you very much to The Unthanks for a great night and spreading the word about the legacy of Molly Drake. I urge you to try and get a ticket to see The Unthanks on this tour if any are still available and buy their album as well because it is great.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: Van Morrison At Nell's 16th February 2017.

Van Morrison seems to like playing at Nell’s in West Kensington. Last night when I was leaving the club I thanked the owner Vince Power for a great evening and he told me that it was the 18th show Van had played at Nell’s. That is quite amazing when you think it has only been open since November 2014. I think it is because Van likes playing small intimate venues when he gets the chance. Maybe it reminds him of when he began his career at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast over 50 years ago. This is my story of yesterday.
I arrived in London Waterloo Station at about 1.00 and as it was a nice sunny day I took a leisurely stroll across the river to Embankment underground station. By the time I crossed the river I was singing Van’s latest song ‘Every Time I See A River’ in my head. Then it was just a short journey on the District Line to West Kensington. As soon as I came out of the station who should I meet but top Van fan Kerrie Brown. Kerrie had seen Van the night before and had got a signed CD and photos with Van so she was well chuffed. I told Kerrie I’d see her later and found my hotel which was only a couple of minutes away and had a snooze for a couple of hours.
It was 5.00 when I woke up. I had a look at the queue outside Nell’s and Kerrie was right at the front of it. She told me that our friend Yves-Michel ‘Burning Ground’ Balin was in the pub so I went to the ‘Famous 3 Kings’ to see him. It was great to catch up with him again and we had a good chat for about an hour. Eventually Yves-Michel went off to get in the queue but I stayed and had another drink. About 7.00 I thought I had better go as the doors were opening. In the queue it was brilliant to see my Spanish friend Miquel Rovira and his lovely wife Elena and their friend Thomas. I hadn’t seen Miquel since the ‘Lit Up Inside’ show in 2014.
Once inside, I spotted Brendan from Ireland which was the first time I’d seen Brendan since I was sat next  to him at the Van fans party for Van’s 70th birthday in Belfast 2015. Brendan always writes great reviews on the Mystic Avenue site so I am looking forward to seeing what he thought of this show and see if he agrees with me. Also, tucked away in a corner at the back, relaxing before the show I spotted three members of Van’s band, drummer Mez Clough, guitarist Dave Keary and singer Dana Masters. I don’t want to sound sexist but Dana looked stunningly beautiful. I had a little chat and they were very polite but I bet they just wanted to have a few quiet moments. I asked if it was ok to take a photo and they obliged. I had turned flash off on my camera so the photo isn't that great.

Then it was Showtime. It was nice to see Sumudu back, sharing backing vocal duties with Dana. The last time I saw Van in Nottingham 3 months ago was Sumudu’s first show with Van. The opening song was Goldfish Bowl which isn’t one of my favourite songs by any means but in this tiny venue, up close you don’t mind so much. Symphony Sid  followed. It isn’t a favourite of mine either but Dana added some really nice vocals. Do you know that Symphony Sid is mentioned in my favourite book of all time which is On The Road by Jack Kerouac.
“Dean took the wheel and drove clear the rest of the way to New York, and we began to hear the Symphony Sid show on the radio with all the latest bop, and now we were entering the great and final city of America.” (Jack Kerouac, On the Road, pt. 3, ch. 11) See photo of Symphony Sid.

Then it was Keeping Mediocrity At Bay, another of Van’s lesser songs in most fans opinion but Van seems to like it. Maybe he is trying to tell us something. Beautiful Vision was next and this was really nice and it was 35 years to the day since that great album was released.I wonder if Van realised that or if it was just coincidence. Tear Your Playhouse Down followed and again I think this is one of my least favourite Van songs but it allowed Dave Keary to show what a great guitarist he is. In contrast Sometimes We Cry is a classic Van song and Dana added some wonderful vocals to this song.
Van then added to his vast repertoire of instruments I have seen him play by picking up a pair of maracas. This is the first time in about 60 concerts where I have seen him play maracas, he said,” This is a Jazz & Blues club, so I’m gonna play some Bo Diddly”, I think the song was called ‘I Can Tell’. It was ok I suppose but when you are sat about 12 feet away from your favourite singer of all time you don’t care.

Then Van said, “I’m going to sing some songs that we used to do in the Maritime Hotel in Belfast back in 1964”, and sang Baby Please Don’t Go, Midnight Special, Parchman Farm, Don’t Start Crying Now and Custard Pie. It was great, I think Van is quite nostalgic for the olden days in Belfast when he was young and just starting out. There was a complete change of mood then for In The Midnight in which Dave Keary played some wonderful pedal steel guitar. The song had a sort of 1950’s doo-wop feel for me. This was followed by Think Twice Before You Go and then Precious Time which I know some of the Vanatics don’t like all that much but Dave on pedal steel and Paul on trumpet were excellent.

The show went from really good to sublime then, when Van put on his electric guitar for Why Must I Always Explain. It was fabulous and was followed by Ray Charles’s I Can’t Stop Loving You. Dana & Sumudu were great on the backing vocals for this song which reminded me of when Van had the Crawford Bell singers in the band about 10 years ago. The brilliance continued with In The Afternoon. Van  stopped the song to have a little mini-rant about BBC Radio 2 presenter Steve Wright who has a show called ‘Steve Wright In The Afternoon’. Van said he had met him about 20 years ago and he still has a grudge against Van now. Van said, “ Anyway, up your’s Steve Wright”. I agree with Van, I can’t stand the pillock either. Apart from that the song developed into Raincheck and it was great.
The show was coming to a climax now with All In The Game in which Dave on guitar and Paul on trumpet were magnificent and the song evolved into You Know What Their Writing About /No Plan B No Safety Net. This is the transcendental stuff that keeps us die-hard Van fans coming back for more. Van left the stage but came back for Help Me which was good but I’ve heard it many a time before. When Van left the stage again I was heading for the door because I knew the band would be playing away for another ten minutes. That’s how I managed to have a chat with Vince on the way out.

Outside on the pavement in the rainy London night I said cheerio to Kerrie who had to rush off and then me, Burning Ground, Miquel, Elena & Thomas went to the pub. Marcel-Yves was buzzing from the concert. We all agreed it was great. They were playing bass and drum dance music in the pub and Marcel-Yves couldn’t stand it after seeing Van so he headed off. Eventually the pub closed and I said goodnight to the others and headed back to my hotel.
This morning it was a beautiful sunny warm Spring day in London town and I went for a nice walk along the river. I was early for my train so went in a pub near Waterloo called The Hole In The Wall. Guess what music they were playing ? Only Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison. The perfect end to a really nice trip to London to see Van the man. Let’s do it again soon !

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Glastonbury 2000, My Seventeenth Glastonbury. 'It's A God Awful Small Affair'

I’ll always remember Glastonbury 2000 as the year of the brand-new Pyramid Stage, David Bowie and it being the year I got robbed. The weather was glorious when we set off from Westbury in a two-car convoy. Me, Kim and Kim’s niece Lisa in our car and our friends Andy and Alex in their car. Unfortunately, by the time we got as far as Frome we had lost them in the traffic and didn’t find them for another two days. I think this was probably the biggest Glastonbury of all. We will never know the true figure of how many people were there but I reckon it could have been as many as 250,000. You could tell that by how crowded it was. If you got there late it would have been nearly impossible to find a space to put up a tent. Everyone in the country knew by now how easy it was to get in for nothing and with the good weather as well, people just poured in. That was a huge problem from a health and safety point of view. This was the year of the disaster at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark when nine people were crushed to death in front of the stage. Glastonbury was lucky that the same thing didn’t happen there. I think the biggest danger was when one act finished on a stage and their fans would be leaving and meet other people arriving to see the next band and a human traffic jam would be created which was potentially lethal.

The other major problem facing the festival was the thieving which had got totally out of hand. You could see gangs of robbers going from tent to tent and if a tent was left unattended they would be in there robbing whatever they could find. They called themselves ‘The Scally’ but they were just scumbags who were ruining it for the vast majority of peace loving honest people. There simply wasn’t enough police and security to cope with it. The police did have one good idea though. They put up lots of bogus tents and quite a few thieves got busted trying to rob ‘police tents’. I always thought it would never happen to me because I was always careful not to leave anything valuable in my tent. In 2000 I got robbed though on the very first night we arrived. If it had happened on the Sunday night it wouldn’t have been as bad because I would have spent most of my money by then but on the Thursday night I was still pockets a jingle. It was about 1.00 in the morning and I was wandering back to camp from one of the beer tents and these three characters came along shouting, “Four cans of Stella for a fiver”. “That sounds like a good deal”, I thought to myself, “I’ll take them back to camp”. Like an idiot, I got out my wallet and was looking in it for a fiver when in a split-second I was staring at my bare hands. They had snatched my wallet and ran off in three different directions into the crowd. It was pointless giving chase because I didn’t know which one had my wallet and I would never have caught them anyway. I had lost £200 and my credit cards. I felt like such a fool when I got back to camp and had to announce that I had just been mugged. Luckily there was an on-site bank and next morning I went up there with Kim’s niece Lisa and cancelled my cards and Lisa lent me £100 which was kind of her. Then we went to the Police Headquarters and reported the theft. Not that it did any good. There was a huge queue to report crimes. I think there was 900 reported thefts that year. I bet the real figure was more like 5000 because most people wouldn’t have bothered reporting it. The police asked me for a description of the robbers but I couldn’t tell them much except I knew where they came from because I recognised the accents but I know everyone from there isn’t a thief. Anyway, it taught me a lesson I can tell you.

Let’s talk about more pleasant things because we still had a great time in 2000 despite that bad experience. It was the year of the brand-new Pyramid Stage. The gleaming silver structure had been christened by Robert Plant when he visited the farm a couple of weeks earlier. He christened it with some of Worthy Farm’s own milk. It was great to see the Pyramid back again and it is the same stage that is used today and makes Glasto recognisable around the world. 2000 was also the first year of The Glade which pumped out dance music amongst the trees non-stop from Wednesday till Monday morning.

Before I talk about the music I just want to tell you about one funny incident. Me and Kim were walking through the Theatre/ Circus field and we were approached by this dodgy looking geezer. He was wearing check trousers and a nasty coat with a fur collar and he had greasy combed back hair and a little moustache. He reminded me of Private Walker from Dads Army.
“Scuse me mate”, he said, “Would you be interested in buying a car?”
“Not really”, I said, “We’ve got one, where is it?”
“I’ve got loads of them for sale”
“Well, where are they then?”
“Here they are”, and he opened his coat to reveal lots of little dinky cars sewed into the lining of his coat. (See photo) It was hilarious. He was part of the street theatre that wander about in that area of the site. That is why you don’t need drugs at Glasto because reality is weird enough.

It was a good year musically in 2000. On the Friday night we saw Macy Gray. What I remember most about Macy’s set was that the security allowed two naked people to climb over the barrier and run across the front of the stage. This prompted Macy’s two backing singers to remove their knickers to show solidarity with the nudists. It might have all been part of the act for all I know but it was very funny. Later that night we saw some of Cypress Hill. They are an American hip-hop rap group from California. This isn’t usually my type of music but I thought they were good. When there was all the furore about Kanye West headlining at Glastonbury a couple of years ago, people were saying that this isn’t suitable music for Glastonbury but they forget that this type of music was on the Pyramid Stage many years earlier. Don’t forget the success of the dance tents either which played a lot of hip-hop, rap and that sort of music that I don't really know a lot about.

The main act I remember on the Saturday was seeing David Gray on the Other Stage. I had discovered his music the previous year at the Fleadh in London and had bought his album White Ladder. The next day Burt Bacharach was supposed to be playing but he pulled out and David played another set on the Pyramid Stage which made him a superstar overnight and White Ladder shot up the album charts. You can always tell who was a big success at Glasto by looking at the charts a week later. People can become world famous overnight. The only band I watched on the Pyramid that day was Ladysmith Black Mambazo. When we were around the campfire that night I was singing the song Homeless that they recorded with Paul Simon but I changed the song to Hopeless and was leaping over the fire which seemed quite funny at the time. Some of the best fun was around the fire, drinking and telling jokes. When people are really spaced out after partying for days and with sleep deprivation they will laugh at anything, such as, “What do you do if you see a spaceman?” “Park in it man”, and other silly stuff like that. The Pet Shop Boys, Reef, Ocean Colour Scene, Semisonic, Brand New Heavies, Travis and Asian Dub Foundation were also on that day but I don’t remember any of that. A lot of those bands slipped back into obscurity. Who the hell were Semisonic? I don’t think the Saturday line-up was that great in 2000. One good thing though, that evening we bumped into our friends Andy & Alex who we had lost two days before, so that was good.

Sunday was a lot better musically. Sharon Shannon was on the Pyramid Stage and a bit later it was American country music legend Willie Nelson. I know his importance in the history of music but I have never been a big fan. He was good though and I recognised quite a few of the songs. I insisted that we leave before the end of his set though because I wanted to see someone whose music I had discovered around that time which was Kate Rusby aka The Barnsley Nightingale who played on the Acoustic Stage. She was great, this was the first time I had seen Kate and I’ve seen her lots of times since. My favourite song of her performance was her version of Iris Dement’s Our Town.

The highlight of the whole festival though was David Bowie’s performance. This was his second Glastonbury. The first was in 1971 when he was relatively unknown and now he returned 29 years later as a music legend. It was the second and last time I ever saw him live. The first time was in the mid 70’s when he was the thin white duke and Station To Station was released. He seemed really pleased to be back. I can’t remember all the songs but I know he began with Wild Is The Wind because one of our friends Alex was a huge fan and was really pleased about that. It was mainly a greatest hits set including China Girl, Changes, Life On Mars, Ashes To Ashes, Rebel Rebel, Golden Years, Fame, All The Young Dudes, Man Who Sold The World, Station To Station, Starman, Under Pressure, Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Let’s Dance and many other songs that I can’t remember now.
That brought Glastonbury 2000 to a triumphant end. There was no festival in 2001 and when it returned in 2002 the huge problems of gate-crashers and thieving would finally be addressed but I’ll tell you about that next time.