Saturday, September 19, 2020

What Joni Did In Frome.

A couple of weeks ago while I was researching another story I was reading about all the people who had recorded at the Wool Hall studio which is just down the road from here. As well as Van Morrison and Tears For Fears who both owned the studio at different times, many other artists used The Wool Hall during its time as a recording studio. The Smiths recorded their final album there in 1987 and Morrissey his first solo album called Viva Hate. Other artists who used the studio included Annie Lennox, The Pretenders, David Sylvian, Sisters of Mercy, 808 State, Stereophonics, and Paul Weller. 

Wool Hall, Beckington.

The one that really made me sit up and take notice though was
Joni Mitchell. I wondered why would an international superstar like Joni Mitchell who would have had the finest state of the art studios in Los Angeles or New York at her disposal come to a rural backwater like the village of Beckington to work? I did a bit more digging and discovered that the reason for Joni being here was that her husband at the time was bass player & producer Larry Klein who came here to work on an album with Ben Orr formerly of the band The Cars. Joni took advantage of the situation and began work on songs for an album that was released in 1988 called Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm. Only part of the album was recorded at the Wool Hall. I also found a radio interview that Joni gave to David Jensen in which she said that she lived in Frome near Beckington from January to June 1987. I decided to order the CD which arrived yesterday. I was a huge Joni Mitchell fan at one time. It is almost exactly fifty years ago in the summer of 70 that I bought Ladies Of The Canyon which remains a favourite album, as does Blue which is one of the greatest albums ever, in my opinion. I gradually started to lose interest after that. I think before this week the last time I bought a Joni Mitchell album was 1977 with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter which I soon tired of. I think my problem was that I liked the simple folky sound of just Joni, her songs and her guitar or piano. A great artist though needs to grow, Joni got interested more in exploring rhythms and drum sounds and what modern technology could offer, such as synthesisers. She became more jazz influenced as well, which I was not ready for at the time. 

Ashcombe House, Bath.

When I played
Chalk Mark In A Rain Storm for the first time yesterday I recognised the first song My Secret Place because I remember the video she made with Peter Gabriel. Joni became friendly with Peter because her husband and Ben Orr both worked on Peter’s album called So. Peter had just finished recording that album and offered Joni the use of his home studio. This was nearby at Ashcombe House on the outskirts of Bath. This was in the days before Peter built his famous Real World Studios in the village of Box. I know Ashcombe House because I went there one afternoon. I had a friend in Bradford On Avon who knew Peter and did occasional work for him. One day Pete wanted some furniture moving and we went over there in a van to do the job. Sadly, I did not get to meet Peter that day, but I had a look in the studio. Anyway, it is a nice quite sensuous love song duet to open the album. 

The second song is called Number One and is all about the pressures of fame. Ben Orr plays on this track which suggests to me it is a Wool Hall recording. I like Lakota because it tells a story. It is about the Lakota Native American tribe and the Wounded Knee & Pine Ridge incidents which I just read about on Wikipedia. There are a lot of guest musicians on this album, Don Henley features here. You can also hear chanting by Iron Eyes Cody. When I read about him, it was quite interesting because all his life he had claimed to be Native American and always dressed in the native garb, but when he died it was revealed that he was Italian. His parents came from Sicily. The Tea Leaf Prophecy, Lay Down your Arms is a song about Joni’s parents and how they met. Wendy & Lisa from Prince’s band The Revolution sing on this track. The unlikely figure of Billy Idol sings on Dancin’ Clown. Tom Petty and Thomas Dolby also play on this track which mentions Rowdy Yates who was played by Clint Eastwood in Rawhide on the telly. I like it, and I also like Cool Water in which Joni reworks an old cowboy song to great effect. What I really like about it is a cameo appearance by the great voice of Willie Nelson. The Beat Of Black Wings is a great anti-war song which tell the story of a damaged soldier called Killer Kyle who can’t get the sound of helicopter rotor blades out of his head. Don Henley shares the vocals on Snakes & Ladders which is a kind of his and her type song. The Reoccurring Dream is a scathing attack on the consumer society in which Joni cleverly samples TV adverts which promise happiness if you buy stupid products. A Bird That Whistles is Joni rewriting the traditional song Corrina Corrina.

I have listened to the album twice now and I really like it. I am pleased that Joni put the time she spent here to such good use. I am glad I bought it. I think it has renewed my interest in Joni Mitchell’s music. I feel sorry for Joni because she has suffered with ill health in recent years, so I hope she is recovered, and I will certainly listen to more of her albums in the future.



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

A Sunny Country Afternoon.

It has been a golden September day today, so I took a stroll uptown. I had a mooch in one of the charity shops and was delighted to find two great CD’s in very good condition. One is called My Life by Iris Dement and the other is called Trio by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris. I was well chuffed because these are some of my favourite singers. When I got home, I sat in the kitchen with the sunshine streaming through the open door and listened to them, Iris first. This is the fourth Iris Dement album I have now after Infamous Angel, Sing The Delta & The Trackless Woods. After one listen, I think it is a rival to Infamous Angel as my favourite Iris album. It was released in 1994 and is dedicated to her father Patric Shaw Dement who died in 1992. There is a nice little booklet with the CD which contains a very moving story by Iris about her father. In his younger days he played the fiddle at all the local dances, but when he was ‘saved’ (found Jesus) he hid the fiddle away, never to play it again. Iris found the fiddle and asked him to play it, but he said, “I’m sorry Honey, I can’t do it”.  
Patric Shaw Dement.

I will not go through every song now because I have not heard it enough yet. After one listen though I especially liked the opening track Sweet Is The Melody, also No Time To Cry and The Shores Of Jordan. There are a lot of biblical references in Iris’s songs. Her upbringing is ingrained in her work. Her family and working-class roots are especially important to her. When you listen to Iris sing you know she is sincere and means every word she sings. I think that is why I like her so much, for her honesty, there is no showbiz pretension with Iris. One last little thing, I like her message of thanks to her good friend John Prine for his support in getting her music noticed.

After Iris finished, I played Trio which I also enjoyed. It was released in 1987. I have never owned a record of Dolly Parton before, but I have always liked her, for her personality and great songs. I will never forget her legendary performance at Glastonbury a few years ago. In the 1970’s I was a huge fan of Linda Ronstadt, she was beautiful. I had her Greatest Hits album & Hasten Down The Wind & Heart Like A Wheel. What can I say about Emmylou Harris?, one of my favourite singers of all time. I expect a lot of people who read this will be quite familiar with this album because it was a huge best seller. After one listen, I love it. Stand out tracks are The Pain Of Loving You, Wildflowers and Making Plans. I suspect though that after a few more listens I will realise that every track is a classic.

I have enjoyed my country music afternoon, so I’m pleased I went into that shop today. I just noticed it is nearly time for the pub. See you later.


Tuesday, September 08, 2020

So Quiet In Here.

The Kirk, Rode.

As you know, Van Morrison is my favourite musician. I have always been quite proud of Van’s association with the area where I live. For many years, from 1987 with Poetic Champions Compose to 2005 with Magic Time Van recorded most of his work at the Wool Hall studio which is in the village of Beckington only five miles from Westbury where I live. It was one of the most creative periods of his long career.
The album I want to talk about today is Enlightenment which Van released in 1990. In the sleeve notes to the album it says ‘Recorded mainly at Wool Hall Studios Beckington, Townhouse London, Real World, Box & Pavilion Studios London. ‘So Quiet In Here’ recorded at The Kirk, Rode, Somerset'. (See picture below) I know Real World Studios in the village of Box because it is owned by Peter Gabriel and is a very famous studio. The place that intrigued me is The Kirk at Rode. Van did not own the Wool Hall in 1990, he bought it a couple of years later. I think on the day that Van wanted to record So Quiet In Here the Wool Hall might have been unavailable, so he had to look around for another studio in the local area, or maybe he wanted a place with the acoustics of a church with the right atmosphere for the song. I know this village very well indeed because we used to go to a brilliant pub in Rode called The Red Lion which sadly does not exist anymore. It had the best jukebox I have ever seen. We used to stand around it singing Rag Doll by the Four Seasons. That pub used to have great pub games as well, such as Shove Ha’Penny and Bar Skittles.

Anyway, I am getting off the point. Although I knew Rode pretty well, I had never heard of a place called The Kirk. I guessed from the name that it was a redundant church or chapel which had been converted into a studio, but none of the buildings in Rode that I knew fitted the bill. I asked a muso friend of mine who used to live in the area, and he said it was owned by a guitarist called Shaun Kirkpatrick. I googled that name and discovered that Shaun Kirkpatrick was in a rock band called Bronz. Although it was an English band founded in Bath, they had most success in America. Sadly, Shaun died in 2013, R.I.P. I found this in a tribute to him written by his wife for a memorial service. ‘K is also for the Kirk in Wiltshire; one half a home that he shared with Liz his first wife and the boys and the other half a studio converted from a disused Baptist chapel. Van Morrison’s song ‘It’s so quiet in here’ was inspired by his time working there.’
Shaun Kirkpatrick.

I was really pleased to find that information. The parts of the puzzle were starting to look like they fit. I am guessing that Shaun called the building ‘The Kirk’ as a play on words of his name Kirkpatrick. However, I still did not know which building in Rode it was. I joined a Facebook group for Rode Village yesterday and asked if anybody could give me any info and a lady from Rode kindly put up a photo of the Kirk. It is in Lower Street, Rode. The mystery was solved, but there was one final twist. I found an obituary in the Wiltshire Times for Shaun which said ‘Shaun Kirkpatrick, the guitarist with Lucy La Stique, the popular rock band formed by musicians who met in Peewee’s Real Ale Bar in Trowbridge, has died unexpectedly, aged 56. I was amazed at that news because I used to frequent that pub and I remember seeing Lucy La Stique playing in there. What a small world it is. I have shared a live video of Van singing So Quiet In Here on this site if you would like to hear it.

Van Morrison - So quiet in here (BBC)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Full Tilt To Dilton Marsh.

It was Saturday morning and the wind and rain of the last few days had abated. I decided it was high time I got some exercise and went for a bike ride, so I pumped up my tyres and off I went. I headed up the Warminster road which I did not enjoy because of the busy traffic and stink of fumes. Also, it was mainly uphill which I do not like. I hate the pain in my leg muscles when the lactic acid kicks in. I was glad to turn off the main road onto the road to Old Dilton. Suddenly I was in the beautiful countryside cycling along a pleasant lane. “This is more like it”, I thought to myself. After a while I reached the church of St Mary and stopped to have a look.
St Mary's Church, Old Dilton.

It is a charming little 14th century church which is no longer used for regular services but is conserved by the Churches Conservation Trust. The interior is said to be perfectly preserved and of great architectural interest. On the door of the porch I saw a notice which said that if you want to have a look inside you can borrow the key from a nearby house. I considered doing that, but in the end, I just took a couple of photos and cycled on.
My next port of call was the railway station at Dilton Marsh. I wanted to see this because it is immortalised in a poem called Dilton Marsh Halt by one of Britain’s greatest poets of the 20th century John Betjeman. I love that poem, not least because it mentions Westbury in it. A friend had told me that there was a notice board on the platform with the poem on it, but I could not find it. I have put the poem at the end of this story if you want to read it. How a railway station in a tiny place like Dilton Marsh has survived is beyond my understanding, but long may it continue.
Dilton Marsh Halt.

Then I headed on towards Brokerswood. At a crossroads I came across the tiny tin church. This is a remarkably interesting little building because of its history. When the church at Southwick burned down about 120 years ago the congregation bought a temporary prefabricated tin church which they used while a new church was being built. When that was completed the tin church was dismantled and reassembled at the crossroads. A couple of services are held there every year and I think it is looked after by volunteers, which is very good of them.
Tin Church at Brokerswood.

I was getting tired by now. “That will do for today”, I thought to myself. I am 68 after all. I had one last nice little encounter on my way home. I spotted some goats looking at me from a field and stopped to take a photo. They are called Golden Guernsey’s. I know this because I got chatting with the owners. They really are nice looking goats as you can see in the photo. That made a pleasant end to my little expedition and I was glad I made the effort to get out and about on this nice Saturday morning.
Golden Guernsey Goats.
Dilton Marsh Halt by John Betjeman.

Was it worth keeping the Halt open,
We thought as we looked at the sky
Red through the spread of the cedar-tree,
With the evening train gone by?
Yes, we said, for in summer the anglers use it,
Two and sometimes three
Will bring their catches of rods and poles and perches
To Westbury, home for tea.
There isn't a porter. The platform is made of sleepers.
The guard of the last train puts out the light
And high over lorries and cattle the Halt unwinking
Waits through the Wiltshire night.
O housewife safe in the comprehensive churning
Of the Warminster launderette!
O husband down at the depot with car in car-park!
The Halt is waiting yet.
And when all the horrible roads are finally done for,
And there's no more petrol left in the world to burn,
Here to the Halt from Salisbury and from Bristol
Steam trains will return.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

All Mirrors by Angel Olsen.

The weather has been awful today, dark and rainy. I haven’t left the house all day. A huge contrast to yesterday which was a pleasant sunny day. I decided to make the most of it and caught the bus over to Warminster. You have to wear a face mask on the bus now, and half of the seats are taped off to keep people apart. I had time for a quick scout around the charity shops before I met my friend. In the Blue Cross shop I found a 1984 first edition in very good condition of Money by Martin Amis for only £1.45. I should make a nice profit on that when I sell it. Then I thought I would treat myself to a new CD. In the record shop I could not decide what to get. I almost bought a newish album by Bob Dylan or Neil Young, but I didn’t because I wanted to hear something fresh to my ears. I spotted an album called All Mirrors by Angel Olsen. I had heard one or two of her songs previously on BBC 6 Music and had heard that she had a new album coming out. I thought that this was the one, but it isn’t. The album I bought came out in October 2019.

I have played it twice today and have not decided yet if I like it or not. It might grow on me after a few more listens. The opening track is called Lark. It begins very quietly but builds to a cataclysmic ending. This album is awash with violins, violas, cellos, trumpets, synthesisers, and many other instruments, especially drums. One of my problems is that even with my reading glasses on I have trouble reading the tiny print of the lyrics in the accompanying booklet, so it is hard  to understand what the songs are about. From what I can make out, the subject matter seems to be the break-up of her personal relationships. It is all very enigmatic. I like art to be about the human condition in general, things that apply to everyone. The private lives of individuals aren’t that interesting.
 I wasn’t too impressed with the title track All Mirrors, but I quite liked the third song Too Easy which was a much simpler arrangement with just four players. New Love Cassette I also enjoyed and the cacophony of sound at the end reminded me a bit of the Beatles Day In The Life. What It Is I found to be one of the more immediately accessible songs because of its simple rhythms. Impasse is a swirling mass of sounds. I found the arrangements almost overpowering at times on this album with the vocals almost lost in the mix, especially when you are trying to understand what she is singing about.

My favourite song after two listens is Tonight with genuinely nice melancholic vocals. I liked the relentless drum sound on Summer. At times some of the music sounded almost like a movie soundtrack to me. Chance is a nice song to end the album with. Angel’s voice has a kind of 60’s pop sound on this song, especially on the third verse. I think her new album revisits a lot of these songs in an acoustic fashion. That might be a good idea because at times I felt there was too much going on to take it all in. Having said that, I might grow to love this album in time as I get more familiar with it. I will let you know if I do.
Me & Angel Olsen.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Seeing Skid Row At Cloud 9 Peterborough, August 23rd 1970.

The summer of 1970 was the best of times for me. I was 18 and had just left the Kings School, Peterborough and was waiting to go to college in September. I got a summer job at Chivers-Hartleys canning factory on night shift. For 12 hours every night I sat at a conveyor belt as millions of peas passed by. I had to pick out any pods before they reached the cans. There were dozens of Irish students working there as well. They used to come over every summer for the annual pea canning campaign. We used to pass the time chatting and joking to relieve the boredom and I made quite a few friends. Unknown to me, one of those students was Bob Geldof who later became world famous in the Boomtown Rats and for organising Live Aid. I do not remember speaking to Bob at the time, but I read about his Peterborough experience years later when he wrote his autobiography. I think Bob lived in digs in Gladstone Street. Although the hours were long, the money was great, and being students, we didn’t have to pay income tax . For the first time in my life I was loaded. On Saturday I would head for town. Harry Fenton’s was the shop to buy clothes such as Ben Sherman shirts and Levi Sta-Prest jeans. I even bought a suit in Burton’s that I called Mr Burt because that is what it said on the inside pocket. Then I would head for the record shops to buy some albums. The music that summer was great. Alright Now by Free was heard everywhere and Lola by The Kinks. I bought lots of albums including Ladies of The Canyon by Joni Mitchell, Full House by Fairport Convention and Déjà Vu by CSN&Y.  Saturday afternoons we would hang about in the back room of Purdy’s coffee bar or on Cathedral Square to find out what was going on. It never seemed to rain that summer either.
Bull Hotel.

On Saturday evenings our gang would head for the Cardinal Bar in the Bull Hotel. It was called the Cardinal Bar because there were two huge pictures of Mazarin & Richelieu on the walls. We would find out what was happening after the pub closed. There were always parties, where we would drink Woodpecker cider or Watney’s Party 7’s. They were these huge cans which held seven pints of beer. I remember one night on the way home from a party, me and two friends met this skinhead who had just come out of a chip shop. He put his chips on top of a wall and challenged us to a fight. My mate Daz gave him a slap around the ear. He ran off and we ate his chips.

Sunday August 23rd, 1970 was the most memorable day of that summer. My Irish friends were excited because Skid Row were to appear at Cloud 9. This was a music venue in the Grand Hotel, Wentworth Street which was just off Bridge Street. It was run by a local promoter called Steve Allen. We were lucky to have Steve Allen because Peterborough was one of the few towns between London and Birmingham with a club featuring live bands. Saturday night was soul night. I only went a couple of times to that. I did not like it because there were always fights. Sunday night was the night I liked when they had progressive rock. It was a much nicer atmosphere. I had seen a few bands on Sunday night already, but Skid Row were to be a revelation. They must not be confused with a later American band of the same name. This Skid Row were a three-piece band from Dublin comprising of Noel Bridgeman on drums, Brush Shiels on bass & vocals, and Gary Moore on guitar & vocals. I had never heard of them, but my Irish buddies assured me that Gary Moore was the best guitarist in the world. When the big night arrived Cloud 9 was packed. I think half the audience were Irish. There were canning factories in nearby Wisbech & Kings Lynn as well, so it seemed like every Irish student music fan within a 30-mile radius had descended on Peterborough.
Noel Bridgeman, Gary Moore, Brush Shiels.

There might have been a support band, but I do not remember them. Skid Row were unforgettable though, especially Gary Moore. I was young, but Gary was even younger than me, a precocious talent. He had long hair and had not yet acquired the ugly scar on his cheek that he had in later life. He was lost in the music as he played unbelievable licks on his guitar. I do not know anything about the technical side of guitar playing, but I have not heard a better rock guitarist since that night. I rate him up there with Rory Gallagher, another Irish guitarist who I also admire. I'm not usually a huge fan of loud rock music. I generally prefer the singer-songwriter folkie sound, but I make an exception for the likes of Gary, Rory, Phil Lynott and a few others. 
I found out later that Gary’s guitar was a 1959 Gibson Les Paul which he had bought from the late great Peter Green. Gary could make it talk and sing. Later in his career Gary became known as a Blues guitarist, but that magical night in 1970 when I saw him, he was an absolute rocker. I could not possibly tell you the names of any of the songs because this was a few weeks before their first album was released, but I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I cannot believe that gig was 50 years ago today. It still seems fresh in my mind. It's funny how sometimes I can't remember what I did yesterday, but can recall vividly the events of half a century ago.
Gary Moore's Gibson Guitar.

The long summer of 1970 was coming to an end. About three weeks later, I was off to college. As the train left Peterborough I watched the cathedral in the distance disappear from view, and knew that one chapter of my life was closing and another was about to begin. ..............To be continued..

What Joni Did In Frome.

A couple of weeks ago while I was researching another story I was reading about all the people who had recorded at the Wool Hall studio whic...