Thursday, 6 June 2019

Joe Innes, We Are All Fossils, Simeon Hammond Dallas

The Harrison
Travelled to The Harrison in King’s Cross where we saw Benedict Benjamin* in 2017, to check out a band that headlined then but who we didn’t like at the time, Joe Innes and the Cavalcade, because I try one song, Fables, on Spotify and love it. Sometimes you’re just not in the right place or time to appreciate a piece of music but never say never as one day you may be ready. Suddenly it clicks, you’ve got it, instant and intense. More on Fables, possibly my favourite song so far this year, here. And who knows – perhaps in some distant future I’ll come to appreciate drill or even Rufus Wainwright. 

* This is how we’ve been discovering new music of late. We go to see one act then prefer the one we didn’t come to see so found Benedict Benjamin (Had What You Had, My Feet Have No Need for the Ground) when he played back-up to Mandolin Orange at the Borderline. Then went to see him at the Courtyard when he supported Ciaran Lavery. I’ve never been to a gig before where I’ve loved every single song. Try Train, Tell Them All, Wicked Teeth.

Joe Innes
The only problem is that Fables is five years old and we didn’t like the newer numbers as much. The Folkroom is in the basement of the pub and the 'Folkroom Fortnightly' gig is free but you are encouraged to contribute, buy a cd or both. Chances are you will want to anyway. The pub is rammed with suits, office staff blowing off steam, everybody shouting to be heard over everyone else. The din is appalling. We’d meant to eat there as we did before but all the tables are taken so had to order soup and sit outside. It’s February and I'm freezing. We’re both wondering why we do this to ourselves, without saying so, when we could be in our nice warm house watching old episodes of Silent Witness on UKTVPlay. The soup is warming and after this we go down to the Folkroom. It’s a cute set-up, with a cosy ambience, fairy lights, etc. 

Simeon Hammond Dallas
The first act is Simeon Hammond Dallas. Her record company asked her to change her name as they thought it was too long. She didn’t, stuck by her principles, and in fact made it longer, and was duly dumped. Everyone here commends her for this with some elderly gents going ‘Oh how dare they ask you to change your name?’ etc. And it’s paid off as she now has a new album out and a launch party in April. The single is Wild Woman which I don’t like as much as Black Dog. A lot of her songs concern bad break-ups or bad boyfriends. It occurs to me that she’s had possibly twice the number of relationships I’ve had and is probably half my age so I’m a little jealous. Great voice. She cheers us up. Catch her busking by the London Eye some time.

We Are All Fossils
Halfway through the first song of the second act, We Are All Fossils (Jakob Deist Oelofse according to the cd sleeve), with Marc Halls, we know why we do it, because music is so amazing. The combination of the guy’s voices is so beautiful it almost has me in tears. Looking them up on YouTube later I love Aether and Honey Drop. The latter reminds me of the vocal harmonies of early Fleet Foxes (when they were still playing student unions) and before them the Eagles. I buy a copy of the album, The Optimist. Check out title track, The West, and the lovely new single The Merry Go Round is available  to download (at time of writing) at

Joe Innes and the Cavalcade
Then it’s time for Joe. He starts alone, playing new songs that I greatly prefer to the in-between songs I heard on the internet.  These tackle something a number of singer-songwriters tend to focus on at one time or another, stopping music and trying something else (occupational hazard is the term I'm searching for). Whether it's facetious or not, Joe claims to have tried skateboarding. Anyway, the usual upshot is the other thing is not a success or not as fulfilling or simply the wrong thing so here they are on stage once more which is lucky for us. I know the industry is hard and have written at length on how great talents lie undiscovered, some of them playing to smaller and smaller audiences when by rights they should have the world at their feet. You know who I mean: the Jackie Levens and Grant Harts of this world, now sadly lost to us. But what's important is that they kept producing music to the very end. If that's what you do, it's what you do. Grant always told me that acclaim didn't matter to him. And it was just as well. Anyway I have written on this elsewhere.

The Cavalcade* join him after a couple of songs. I really meant to pick up the setlist after but forgot. What surprises me is that people leave before and during his set. What’s wrong with them? It’s baffling. Some tracks we know from Spotify like Moscow and Half Gone, both slightly bitter and lovely, the latter containing my second favourite lines from a song at the moment:
You buy everything you break with me/I just put it on the tab),* oh and: You'd make a terrible nurse/It's like you're ripping off a plaster/So slow that it hurts and even an allusion, possibly accidental, to one of my Dad's favourite Pink Floyd songs.
*Apologies for not knowing the names of the members of the Cavalcade. They deserve a mention here as they're fantastic, so please supply if you know.
*All-time favourite is: Men looked like Jesus in crushed velvet flares (The Osmonds by Denim).

That band that Brian Wilson had ...
There’s some stage banter about the latter (and later a bit of stage banter about stage banter), that Joe has told a Cavalcader the way to remember the intro is by thinking of the late Tom Petty’s Free Fallin' and it is rather similar. They joke around and start playing Free Fallin'. My only criticism is that he doesn’t tell us what the songs are called. The guy behind us requests Fables but not loudly enough and I understand why – it’s hard for a member of the audience to call attention to themselves and then be ignored so we do that very English thing of saying something, hoping it’ll be heard but not putting ourselves out there in case we look like idiots. I don’t know. Perhaps if he’d called louder and we had all joined in … But it’s almost as if the band had already decided to pack up; I hope this isn’t because they’re demoralised by people leaving. The sound that Joe and the Cavalcade make together is a sort of ragged perfection. Brilliant. Also recommend Sweetheart Revolution 1 that I now sometimes wake up singing. And the only song I liked the first time we saw them, God Only Knows I Tried (such a pretty intro, weirdly when I type 'Joe Innes God' into YouTube, it suggests 'of war' as the next words) with its Brian Wilson/Beach Boys reference, from the album: Brian, I'm a Genius Too

I have to applaud The Harrison and Matt (Glover?) the man who hosts the Folkroom for organising these brilliant fortnightly shows. Thank you all for continually reaffirming my faith in music.

Anyway, any changes/mistakes in the blog, people, let me know. I hope to publish this simultaneously (doesn't this sound grand? 'publish simultaneously') with a short appreciation of the song, Fables, which you can find at:

You can find a blog on Benedict Benjamin here

Monday, 4 September 2017

Flowers in the Rain – Dave Davies


Like a perfect spider's web
Almost unbearably pretty, delicate, like a perfect, intricate cobweb spun across your path on a summer’s day, ephemeral, evanescent, something that cannot last, that a casual hand or gentle breeze might accidentally sunder. An evocation of another era, the innocence of all our childhoods. Suffused with sadness, regret, longing, tenderness, but also the understanding, forgiveness and acceptance that accompanies the passage of time. It reminds me in a way of Fleetwood Mac's Say Goodbye, written by Lindsey Buckingham.

A wistful but philosophical meditation on young love, from the vantage of the present, with Dave’s voice even more affecting as it breaks slightly reaching for a note, as if what he feels can't be restrained by his physical ability, that it transcends something so corporeal. A melancholy refrain gives way to a chorus that gently takes flight, never soaring but remaining in harmony with the simple restraint of the song. It refuses to aggrandise the sentiment into something it’s not.

More Artful Dodger than Oliver
in Dead End Street, wicked boy
The video of this on YouTube was my first sighting of a grown-up Dave. I only started liking the Kinks, as you can tell from these blogs, in 2011. And the fact that he was so much older than the wicked boy I had seen in Kinks videos, physically almost frail (post-stroke), increased the song’s poignancy, as a reflection on a youth that was over and the exuberance, purity and intensity of first love.

Pretty boy
Every time I heard this song I used to cry, particularly if I were watching Dave sing it live at those unforgettable Satsang events, detailed in Dave Davies Breaks My Heart (Again): Satsang I and Dave Davies: Satsang II: April 2012: You Only Live Twice. It’s like a snippet from someone’s diary, personal, intimate, authentic. I’m not sure that Ray could write a song like this because he has too much self-awareness. Dave has an emotional intelligence that, put into song, can transcend some of Ray’s writing. And here there’s something unadulterated, a truth, something that Ray perhaps can't access as easily (or chooses not to access) because his intelligence, his craft, get in the way, advising an ironic distance; he has too many options, too many personae, too many angles and ideas. He sees each side. And Ray rarely opens his heart like this. He keeps his heart under wraps, keeps it safe. Here Dave shares an experience, private and precious, at once individual and universal, lets his guard down, exposes his vulnerability. It was this song that made me like Dave. I went on to love the dis-ingenu Dave of the early Kinks, always more Artful Dodger than Oliver, the wicked boy.
Today as I'm sifting through these photographs of you/Never thought I'd feel this way/All these memories keep calling me to you/How I wish they'd go away/All these visions just remind me of better days/And I miss you most of all/When I see Flowers in the Rain/I see you laughing as we run across the fields/Through the thunder and the rain/Finding shelter in each other's arms that day/All the things I didn't say/All these words keep going round and round in my brain/And I miss you most of all/When I see Flowers in the Rain/Wish I could do something about it/Life can be cruel, no doubt about it/In life's many mysteries/It just wasn't meant to be, oh no/I miss you most of all/When I see Flowers in the Rain.
Another pretty boy
Ray’s style is more masterful, more knowing, more constructed, an artifice, in words and music. There’s truth and power but it’s one step removed. His songs make you think as well as feel. But when they’re simple and seem heartfelt, you know it’s a decision, the reflection of a thought, that this is how he meant them to sound although early Kinks songs had a similar immediate charm. I would say that Ray is probably a deeper thinker than Dave generally (and I'm sure that Dave would take issue with that), that Dave doesn't always consider before he acts, is more impetuous in life. And the result is songs that don't always make sense lyrically, don't necessarily follow any standard template but seem to arise organically and have an added impact because of that, for instance, This Man He Weeps Tonight and Mindless Child of Motherhood. I'm not going to say Ray's work is not emotionally affecting because I'm moved by so much of it, from the super successful (Waterloo Sunset - unbelievably, this seems to be the first time I've mentioned this fantastic song in any of my Kinks blogs, as if I didn't appreciate its consummate artistry) to the, to non-Kinks fans, relatively obscure (Get Back in the Line), not to mention the incredibly rousing I'm Not Like Everybody Else (this live version is particularly amazing). But he will never let his guard down (in his work at least). Dave is unguarded. There is an honesty and directness in this and many other Dave songs. It’s as if the song were born, rather than carefully crafted, although I know it wasn’t. There's something  uncomplicated, unostentatious, sincere, instinctual that we react to instinctively.

Dave then
This song is almost like when you pick a scab off a cut to reveal fresh skin underneath. It’s still tender but it’s healed, it's new. Love is lost; love is found; we lament, but scars fade and life goes on. Dave moves on, often burning his bridges behind him.

So, I’m out of love with Dave, but songs like this still touch me. And that’s not nothing. It’s something: to be moved by a tune, a lyric, a delivery, all of which are in their way, Dave’s way, immaculate here. Flowers in the Rain is a direct call from Dave's heart to our hearts to which our hearts cannot help but respond.

Dave in 2017

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Eagles & Glenn Frey: Beyond Cool, A Band for All Time

Looks so innocent but is probably about to say something totally incendiary

First of all, I have to say it’s simply crass to use a band member’s untimely demise as a platform to attack a band as Gersh Kuntzman does in this vitriolic diatribe for the New York Daily News, in which he calls the Eagles a horrific band. Why he is then astonished by the strong reactions of already grieving fans amazes me. It seems that the New York Times agrees, recently publishing an article on how to speak of the dead, partly as a reaction to these anti-Eagles tirades, the gist of which is summed up by this comment: 'Hey, it’s ok to not like the Eagles. It’s also ok to shut up about it for a few days when one of them dies.' Try to remember some of us are heart-broken.

Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley, Glenn Frey – Eagles
I’ve already written a blog riposte (‘Kick ’em When They’re Up'), to a similar wave of ‘cooler-than-thou’ journalism, which extended across most of the British broadsheets,and in this, there’s a link to the idiotic article that inspired it (trashing Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and any band who dared to have longevity as if their still being around was an affront to the world).

They invariably act like these bands were always dinosaurs and should be extinct by now. But to longtime fans, part of the appeal is their endurance and the fact that the songs, which were fresh and exciting when you first heard them and immediately memorable are now like old friends who you don't see that often but always get on well with when you do. They're as familiar and comfortable as the flannel shirts Don and Glenn wear onstage.

Heartfelt thanks to those, like Bob Lefsetz, who wrote moving tributes to Glenn. It's a shame that for every positive, there's a negative, like the aforementioned Kuntzman and a venomous piece for the Houston Chronicle that I can no longer access.

Jeff Bridges, The Dude in The Big Lebowski
Kuntzman's is the typical hipster's response; it runs along these lines: ‘The Coen brothers are cool, therefore their films are cool, their characters are cool, therefore the Dude must be cool (and Jeff Bridges of course), and the Dude doesn’t like the Eagles therefore the Eagles can't be cool, therefore, in order to be cool, I have to dislike the Eagles’. Do we care what these people think? Probably not as it’s their loss but it’s still incredibly aggravating when someone is ignorant enough to dismiss a band’s entire oeuvre.

With Don Felder
The Eagles don't need to be rehabilitated for the modern age or regarded from an ironic distance like people have a tendency to do with Abba (which is always so condescending). This sometimes happens when bands are inordinately successful. They exclude themselves from the cult of cool. Or cool of cult. There's always more cultural cachet to be had from supporting a little-known or even vaguely obscure artist and believe me, I'm crazy about a number of artists who fit the latter category, from Benedict Benjamin to XC-NN. I can see the cult in cultural. There aren't many people who want to believe that their taste is run of the mill and mainstream and there's an understanding that once you attain this universal popularity, you are somehow no longer worthy of it. You know the build 'em up to knock 'em down approach.

So, to rebut some of his assertions. Don't get me wrong, I know he has a right to his point of view, as much as I have a right to disagree. 

1 The Eagles were a lousy band (or 'horrific' as he puts in the title)
This is a statement designed purely to provoke attention and response. Surely no one who's heard Hotel California can really think this? Even if you think you don't know it, you know it.

2 The Eagles produced 'pop pap'.
To label One of These Nights, a song that could set my heart racing, it was so exciting, so atmospheric, 'pop pap' just beggars belief. It's possible that GK's childhood was a lot less mundane than mine. Either that or he has no imagination. Has he ever heard Outlaw Man (listen to that banjo), No More Walks in the Wood, Waiting in the Weeds, Doolin' Dalton? Pop pap would be Calvin Harris and his ilk.

3 The Eagles have too many songs with 'easy' in the titles.
Well, this does seem to be his point. Delve a bit deeper. There are plenty that don't.

Jackson Browne
4 Jackson Browne’s version of Take It Easy is sexier than the Eagles' one.
This is plain crazy. Only a man could have written this. Ok, I know that JB was a ladies man in his day but sexier than Glenn, who simply oozed pheromones? I don't think so. I always thought of Jackson Browne as sensitive and thoughtful while Glenn was master of the snap retort, every hair toss replete with unabashed sex appeal. More on this in Glenn Frey, Cowboy Casanova and in this appreciation of Timothy B. Schmit. Plus only Glenn could have written these immortal lines: 'It's a girl, my Lord/In a flatbed Ford/Slowing down to take a look at me'. Or have the humour and self-awareness to sing in Already Gone:* 'Well, I heard some people talkin' just the other day/And they said you were gonna put me on a shelf/But let me tell ya/I got some news for you/And you'll soon find out it's true/And then you'll have to eat your lunch all by yourself'. 
* Already Gone was written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund but the lyrics seem to be quintessentially Glenn.

5 You can't like the Clash if you appreciate the Eagles.
Hmm, I'm pretty sure that I bought a Clash album and an Eagles album on the same day. They're not mutually exclusive. Although the Adverts are my favourite band from the punk era. Yes, and that was a totally gratuitous nod to the One Chord Wonders, simply because I could and more people should.

Bernie Leadon
6 There's an implicit assumption that, if it weren't for the Eagles, people who the author deems more deserving (because they  have a smaller following or because they're less marketable) like Gram Parsons and Gene Clark would have been more successful. This is a fallacious argument. I would propose the opposite. For many, the Eagles were a ‘gateway’ band into obscurer terrain. Bernie Leadon’s My Man was in fact a tribute to Gram Parsons. If it hadn't been for the Eagles, I might never have listened to Poco or Gene Clark. It doesn't really matter who came first or who was more successful. And I expect there are those who believe that with the Eagles, it's all about the money. I appreciate their honesty - even when they were young, they admitted they wanted to make a lot of money. Because of this and because of funny items like this spoof of band members talking: 'Henley: Uh, I think what Glenn was trying to say was that sure, the album came out just fine, but do you not remember the torture it took us to make it? How Azoff had to ply us with $100 bills in a trail from our houses to the studio?', people have assumed that the music is secondary. They don't seem to realise that these are jokes but even so, doesn't it somehow make them cooler? For instance, this from the same cruel but funny article: 'Schmit: I can’t afford Eagles concert tickets. Henley: Well, I can. And trust me. You’d stay in your seat the whole time. Every time you turn your head away from the stage, you’ve wasted approximately 27 dollars.'

Joe Walsh
7 'This diatribe has one caveat: Joe Walsh. The greatest of all Eagles always kept his soft-rock comrades at arm’s length'.
Another thing you’ll notice about these carping critics. They always make an exception for Joe Walsh because they think he’s a card-carrying rockstar (complete with drugged-up past) with street cred because of his previous cool (read 'bad') behaviour, and his skill on the guitar. All the hipsters think Joe is cool – partly because he used to smash things up. Sure, he adds something but he’s not the Eagles (no offence to Joe fans, who are legend and legion), neither is Timothy B. Schmit (much as I like him now). They’re the Johnny-Come-Latelys, the New Kids in Town. Although I do make an exception for Don Felder. Whatever people say now, he'll always be an Eagle to me.

There were some straightforward but perfectly crafted country rock songs, but country rock itself wasn't even a proper genre then and what there was had little purchase on the music scene until the Eagles arrived. There was (the) Buffalo Springfield then Poco, but their reach was limited. And that's not to mention the influence the Eagles have had: Fleet Foxes, Jayhawks, Golden Smog and so on, all building careers on the template of exquisite harmonies, contagious melodies and something to say. Protest songs are now sadly a thing of the past but I love it when a writer cares about a cause or a situation. although I focus on some of my favourites here, in a list that includes Jackson Browne's tour de force, For America.

And there's so much wit and so much self-awareness in the title of their comeback tour: Hell Freezes Over. They simultaneously don't take themselves seriously while being deadly serious and cashing in on their previous pledge.

The trouble is that the Eagles are too successful and this kind of unprecedented achievement leads people to carp and moan. Once, when I was younger and more arrogant, I used to like to say that I thought the Beatles were overrated, in order to provoke a reaction. Now I think it's sort of great that I like some of the same music as my Dad and can take him to see the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac.

Glenn Frey, RIP Outlaw Man
Yes, as Bob Lefsetz mentions, they lived the American Dream, but they also analysed, deconstructed and dismantled it in songs like Hotel California and The Last Resort, showing how quickly it could turn into a nightmare. Henley’s lyrics roll off the tongue because they sound so natural but they’re still clever, polemical, insightful (surely there isn’t anyone too soulless or too secure to identify with the sentiment in Wasted Time?), or incisive, dismissive, satirical (Get over It: 'Victim of this/Victim of that/Your Momma's too thin/And your Daddy's too fat'). They’re not glib. But compare them with the subject matter of chart songs today – see my blog on ‘Modern Music’ – they raise issues, are often poetic and thought-provoking. They’re not about having a party or waving your hands in the air or being sexy in the club. So, you might say music is changing but subject matter, melody, scope are all decreasing. No longer do we have pop songs about boys being molested on school trips. Name that tune.

I’m not saying that I love every Eagles song – there are some on each album that I consider Eagles by numbers but these very tracks are other fans’ favourites: Busy Being Fabulous, Chug All Night (well maybe not Chug All Night) and so on.

And I'd like to ask: When does the Dude lose his 'coolness'? And surely, if everybody thinks he's cool, he's now too mainstream to actually be so. But what I meant to say was that Eagles music is timeless and will hopefully move and entertain future generations. They're not this week's fancy or last year's trend. They are much more than this, they are beyond cool and, as Glenn said, 'a band for all time'.

Every time I start to listen to an Eagles song now, I get all choked up and I know I'll feel this way for some time. I really wish I didn't have to write this but

RIP Glenn Frey.

The thrill has gone.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Rise Like a Phoenix – Conchita Wurst: The Best Bond Theme That Never Was

Dignified and defiant
Song composers: Charley Mason, Joey Patulka, Ali Zuckowski, Julian Maas, Robin Grubert
Singer: Conchita Wurst
[Conchita Wurst is the female alter ego of Tom Neuwirth.]

[Quick Kinks connection. Another contender would be Ray Davies’s ‘Oh, What a Day It’s Going to Be’, performed here by Mo and Steve (whoever they might be). I think this is the closest Ray ever got to the Bond oeuvre, for overblown passion, bordering on the histrionic.]

Conchita: 'I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard.'

Conchita: 'It's just art.''

I didn’t encounter the phenomenon that is Conchita until this year, not being a huge Eurovision fan, when I caught the Eurovision’s Greatest Hits programme. In 2014, Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest for Austria, with ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’, her victory a testament to tolerance and a tribute to her inordinately disarming personality and incredible charisma as much as her voice and the song (and to persistence as it looks like this was her second attempt at Eurovision; in 2012, she narrowly missed out on representing Austria with 'That's What I Am' and specialises in delivering inspirational, life-affirming songs, such as 'Unbreakable' and 'You Are Unstoppable', with total conviction, although ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ is the only one that sounds like it should be played over Bond credits).

I think there’s a real case for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ to be the theme for the next film in the Bond franchise. I’m by no means the first person to think so – just search on YouTube for ‘Rise Like a Phoenix 007’ and you’ll see what I mean. You could even call the movie Phoenix, in the tradition of the one-word title. Ok, there’s no tradition yet but who says there can't be? We had Skyfall and now Spectre. It even sounds like a Bond title, making reference to a fantastic, mythical creature (much like Conchita herself) rising from the flame (you only live twice and all that). Oh, I'm so annoyed. Someone's just released a film called Phoenix.

Golden Lady I
This song seems to have been written with Bond in mind, with all the requisite elements – the lush soundscape and accomplished arrangement of an archetypal Bond theme.  Reminiscent of those glorious John Barry anthems, immortalised by Dame Shirley Bassey, ‘Goldfinger’ (lyrics: Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley; coincidentally this and another Bassey classic, 'This Is My Life' (Bruno Canfora/Antonio Amurri/Norman Newell) were sung by Tom Neuwirth on a talent show – there's evidently an affinity over and above their fashion sense; Shirley's version rocks) and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (lyrics: Don Black; here's The X Factor's Aiden Grimshaw’s more electronic take), with all the heightened melodrama and emotion of the thwarted diva destined to rise resplendent. I gather that Barry used to ‘Bondify’ (my term) the other artists' songs so that they fitted his aural vision for the Bond canon. All the themes have a particular feel, an elusive essence that is as hard to define as it is easy to recognise. It’s as if ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ has already undergone this process; it's already perfect.

[John Barry composed many unforgettable movie themes – the incredibly touching ‘Born Free’ which I never hear without shedding a tear, the gorgeously romantic and evocative ‘Out of Africa’.]

Golden Lady II
With the subjects of metamorphosis, transformation, self-realisation and adversity overcome as well as the promise of retribution, it could fit any movie script but is perhaps particularly apposite to a Bond narrative. Like other Bond numbers, it can be appreciated and understood on a personal and a universal level as a hymn to resilience, resurgence and self-empowerment. Bold, fearless and unrepentant. Hearing and looking at Conchita, you can't help but be reminded of Gloria Gaynor’s paean to individuality ‘I Am What I Am’ a little, in particular, the line ‘I am my own special creation’.

The lavish orchestration and Conchita’s perfect vocal delivery emulate and almost exceed those Shirley Bassey numbers but the lyrics and Conchita’s unique image (although there are some parallels with Dame Shirley here too, as can be seen in the pictures) – magnificent, figure-hugging floor-length gowns, the old-school glamour of the night-club siren, combined with full make-up (her make-up video on YouTube has had three million views; Shirley didn’t shirk on make-up either) and beard – help to reinvent and revitalise this tried and tested template for a new era. A daring blend of the familiar and the innovative that challenges the norms, just as any movie franchise should after fifty-odd years.

Make-up tutorial
'Waking in the rubble/Walking over glass/Neighbours say we're trouble/Well that time has passed/Peering from the mirror/No, that isn't me/Stranger getting nearer/Who can this person be?/You wouldn't know me at all today/From the fading light I fly'
A sweeping string intro before a muted piano accompaniment to Conchita’s at first deliberately portentous and subdued vocal, building excitement and the sense that something is about to happen. Cue the chorus.

Not one to shirk the make-up
'Rise like a phoenix/Out of the ashes/Seeking rather than vengeance/Retribution/You were warned/Once I'm transformed/Once I'm reborn/You know I will rise like a phoenix/But you're my flame'
Conchita exudes mystery and sex appeal as well as an engaging blend of strength and vulnerability. Her utterly commanding interpretation makes the most of the majestic chord change for the obligatory soaring and triumphant crescendo of the chorus: proud, fierce, conveyed with defiant dignity. Or even dignified defiance.

‘Go about your business/Act as if you're free/No one could have witnessed/What you did to me’
The suspenseful strings here could easily be lifted and used as build-up to a thrilling Bond set piece.

The next Bond villain?
'I rise up to the sky/You threw me down but/I'm gonna fly'
The finale is suitably grandiose and simply glorious. Conchita's control is absolute.

When asked if she would like to play a Bond girl, Conchita  replied:
'No, that would mean nothing to me. But I would love to play a Bond villain, who fights to the very end.'
To be continued I hope.

A Radio Times poll has Conchita as an overwhelming favourite to sing the next Bond number. She scores nearly 82 percent, with her nearest rival on about 2 percent. That’s a pretty convincing win.

Tom Neuwirth
Here's a poem that captures the Conchita effect.

[I’m a bit confused about my reaction to Conchita. I’m a straight woman (though sometimes wish I wasn't) but I find the Conchita persona completely captivating even though she’s a man (yes pronouns don’t really work with Conchita), dressed and made up like a woman (hyper feminine and always elegant) with a beard. Of course, Conchita is really a gay man in drag (Tom Neuwirth) but still I wonder, is it just me? Or do some people’s charms simply override usual gender preferences? I sort of fancy Conchita but I don’t fancy Tom.] 
Never less than ravishing

Monday, 9 February 2015

Shakey Graves: 'Are you trick or are you treat?'*

alejandro rose-garcia aka shakey graves
* From 'City in a Bottle'. Links to songs in the titles. For tenuous Kinks connection, see end.

Happy Shakey Graves Day!
Thought I would post this to celebrate.

Random, arbitrary, magical – how we hear new music these days
A musical segment on the TV series Third Watch showcased a distinctive tune and I thought, finally some good new music. However, investigations led to the revelation that this great new band was an old favourite, no other than Fleetwood Mac; the song was ‘Peacekeeper’. You didn’t know it was me who discovered the Mac, did you? Remind anyone just a little of Paul Simon's ‘Kodachrome’?

I first heard Citizen Cope on a trailer for a TV show that I never watched: Sons of Anarchy. Of course it was difficult to find out more about the singer and the song without knowing his name or the title but anything is possible with YouTube and Google so tried various lines from the short snippet I had heard until I identified the song as ‘Son’s Gonna Rise’. Now one album and two gigs later ...

On the plane, watched Boyhood and found myself humming an exquisitely pretty song from it all the way home so tried to remember one line of the lyric so that I could search for it online: ‘Hero’ by Family of the Year. Every time I hear this song, it cheers me up so I wouldn't be without it.

Was there life before YouTube? And why?
I’m not particularly techno-savvy. I haven’t even progressed to being able to download anything and don’t really understand people who go for long country walks while glued to their iPods. Don’t you want to hear the birds, the wind, someone yelling at you that you’re trespassing? But even someone as digitally retarded as me can cope with YouTube and I use it to check out new music although eventually I like to own a physical artefact, something to hold, like a CD/DVD. 

So how did I stumble into Shakey Graves?
I watched a movie and it was complete nonsense (Nora Roberts histrionics) but there was this totally sweet-looking guy in it, outshining the rest of the cast in a cameo as the evil brother. Read my review here. The film was Midnight Bayou. The actor’s name was Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

gotta love someone who looks like this ...
Early Graves
I was curious – he didn’t seem to have been in many movies so I checked him out on YouTube; thought this was really cute, ‘Ali, Ali, Julie, Julie’. I realised he had this alter ego or other title: Shakey Graves. I tried to listen to several tracks (emphasis on ‘tried’) but didn’t get it. Some of it was live and occasionally seemed like self-indulgent caterwauling, some supremely lo-fi, soft and understated, that left little impression on me but even though I’m not someone who usually has the patience to acquire a taste, I kept listening (I'd say partly because he’s not exactly hard to look at, but in fact most tracks I liked only had a pic of the CD cover from Roll the Bones. I wasn't ready for Shakey live).

... but uses this on his cd sleeve
These songs were like shy children (and I’ve always had a soft spot for shy children), standing behind me, tugging at my skirt, politely asking for attention, particularly ‘Built to Roam’, with the chorus quietly but increasingly insistently reiterating till it’s almost a threat: ‘Watch out/Cause here I come bored and lazy/Here I come no dignity/So long, sad city of angels/ You ain’t been very good to me’, this compounded with a laden pause (for effect) before the second instance – Shakey really knows how to emphasise a stanza or line with a breath beforehand or a sigh after. Subtly, slowly, they infiltrated my consciousness. They clung to me like teasels, attached themselves via static. I brushed them off but they would regroup and reconnect and so they insidiously crept up on me, spun gossamer strands around me, saved me till later.

some strange enchantment
I was beguiled by the girl-nextdoor prettiness of ‘To Cure What Ails’ (fantastic title, lyrics: ‘I think I’ve grown a little thinner/Without you riding my coat tails/I would trade it all again/For a nice stroll in your skin/Just to cure what ails’), the lilting loveliness of ‘Word of Mouth’ (‘When anybody tries to tell him what to do/He holds his breath until he turns blue’) and the sunny plaint of ‘Proper Fence’ (‘Well she said kiss me/And lord I listened’).

To begin with, they seemed like shadows of songs, sort of ethereal. I thought them insubstantial but gradually they began to exercise some strange enchantment on me. The plucking and finger-picking created delicate melodies, intricate patterns, falling like summer rain on ‘Business Lunch’ and ‘Roll the Bones’ (upbeat tune with downbeat message, a spoonful of sugar as Julie Andrews might put it: ‘Yeah so struggle all you like/Yeah put up the good fight/They say some day everybody dies alone’) or generating shades as subtle as a hand-coloured postcard on ‘Bully’s Lament’, sometimes with weirdly distorted vocals, often overlaid with syncopated handclaps, background vocals a nanosecond or so behind the lead.

The lyrics were intriguing, clever, full of allusions and mystery, and new ways of expressing interesting ideas. Take ‘Unlucky Skin’ (favourite line: ‘No monetary value(s) have I’; me neither), ‘Stereotypes of a Blue Collar Male’ (‘Church and stuff church and stuff/I never thought God would call my bluff/But he did/Yes he did/Yes he goddamn did’) or the rowdy live version of ‘City in a Bottle’: ‘If she was six teeth younger and I had half a mind/You know I'd carry her away from that wicked thing outside’. ‘Six teeth younger’! I love it. Atmospheric, sultry horns seem to stagger drunkenly through what is surely the seediest, sleaziest, sexiest swing tune since ‘Mack the Knife’ (Bobby Darin – accept no subsitute).

boy from the backwoods
I can only compare them to those Magic Eye pictures where you have to alter your focus in order to see something in the image, which isn’t immediately apparent, perhaps a completely different picture. But with Shakey, once you’ve altered your focus, you remain in this altered state, you can't go back and you wouldn’t want to. You can't unsee it. Or rather unhear it. It’s always magical to you.

Some songs were on the Roll the Bones album or The Donor Blues ep (only available via download on Shakey Graves Day) but many only exist on YouTube. Waiting for a recording of 'Bully's Lament' (unbelievable right?), ‘Once in a While’, ‘Where a Boy Once Stood’, ‘Word of Mouth’, ‘Late July’ (didn’t even rate this till I heard an astounding live version in Louisville), ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Parliament’ (SG as backwoods boy/hillbilly hobo), ‘Coat of Arms’ (‘When is the last day of school/Today is the first day of class’). I've made a list if anyone's interested ...

 boo and shakey
Vampire slayers
The new songs were a different proposition. Bolder, brasher, bolshier cousins to the earlier ones. They didn’t tap tentatively at the door; they high-kicked it down like vampire slayers. However, I was initially put off by a frantic, scary version of ‘Dearly Departed’, with Esmé Patterson that everyone else loved. I still prefer it when he does this alone or with Boo (Chris Boosahda) and she’s not there (inadvertently continuing the undead theme with this Zombies classic). I love the way Shakey and Boo whip each other up into a frenzy, into a perfect pitch of intensity. Boo adds a certain something to the Shakey experience until ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Compare the 2013 Pickathon version of ‘Where a Boy Once Stood’ (admittedly a different time, place, audience) with this from Stetson Center Stage 2014.

I think it was ‘Hardwired’ (which is on the new CD And the War Came) that did it for me. That was a song and a half. My reservations fell away. This is my favourite version – he doesn’t alter the tempo too much and the song retains its momentum more.
‘Well water was wine/Back on blue mountain time/While I watched your lovin' expire/While I lay close to you/As the lace on the shoe/And that's when I knew/We were hardwired’. The English grad in me loved the interline rhyme of ‘lay close to you’/‘lace on the shoe’. I might be wrong but I think originally the lyrics were: ‘Well I bumbled like bees/While you boiled like the seas’ but now he mostly sings ‘Well you bumbled like bees/And I boiled like the seas’ and he’s altered ‘But you are as you came/Mostly bliss and cocaine/A match just beggin' for fire’ to ‘But you are as you came/Mostly bliss and cocaine/Just a match beggin' for fire’ but I prefer the first version – it not only scans better but alters the stress too, making the girl (we assume it’s a girl) sound even more combustible. Like she can't wait. And the melody was instantly memorable; the backing reminiscent of early Hall and Oates – never a bad thing ('I'll Be By', for instance).

wild card
Next I was mesmerised by the stunning ‘Wild Card’ here from Stetson Centre Stage.Like I say when Christian Kane sings 'Rattlesnake Smile': it should be illegal for anyone to sound this sexy. This epitomises the Shakey/Boo dynamic: organic, symbiotic. The guitar and drum kick straight to my heart. ‘The Perfect Parts’ I wasn’t enamoured of to begin with, thinking it too rocky but now I'm particularly partial to the rowdy version. The way he delivers the line ‘Well I used to take my women on the rocks’ sends a thrill through me. And I love the image ‘The city’s put me through the wash’. Definitely felt like that. 'House of Winston' is irresistible, with sparkling, iridescent guitar work, coupled with the adorable line ‘I wanna waste your time’.

His lyrics are a mischievous mix of humorous and profound. ‘The Pansy Waltz’ always makes me smile: ‘Well I dusted all the bones out in my yard/I fixed the screen door, raised the barn/But still you call me from the moon/Every single afternoon/Tell me all about the astronauts you've come to love/And how the earth looks from above/And how I should've been a better friend to you’. Again, the natural connection between the musicians, their obvious joy in performing together (although illicit substances might be playing a part here) all add to the appeal.

‘It’s sort of a rediscovery on stage. I’ll write a song … you get thrown in a room with a bunch of people, I like to change it.’

the diumvirate
The live versions were always totally different to the studio tracks and I found this offputting at first. I thought he changed the nature (or what I perceived to be the nature) of the songs too much, slowing to a crawl when I thought he should be in the fast lane, yelling when I anticipated a whisper. It felt like he was constantly dismantling them, rearranging them and I didn’t understand why. There are still some I can't listen to. But I mainly heard the newer songs live first and found, with the exception of ‘Only Son’, one of those songs like 'Where a Boy Once Stood’  or ‘Wild Card’ on which he effortlessly ratchets from sublime and tender in the verse to a regular maelstrom in the chorus (Shakey the storm and the calm at the eye of the storm at the same time) – a satisfying contrast, although this live performance from Lagunitas showcases the Shakey/Boo diumvirate (ok, I admit I made that word up); they play as if they were two strands of the same cloth, interwoven to create an elaborate tapestry.

a man possessed
But now I see that a song is not an object set in stone that has to be reproduced as perfectly or accurately as the track on the record.  Grant Hart often alters lyrics for different situations. With Shakey Graves, everything could change; the song is a living thing, endlessly manipulable, and he can play it whichever way he wants, depending on his mood or maybe the mood of an audience. With his crazy musical skills and vocal range and power, he sees limitless possibilities so opts to explore them. He can pare them down or fill them out, purr or roar.

So sometimes the songs are like old friends in different clothes or they appear to be complete strangers who strike you suddenly as a little familiar, just a frisson of déjà vu. There's maybe one mannerism you recall. He continually confounds expectations. It doesn’t always work but it ensures each gig is an exciting experience with songs that sometimes sound brand new.

And I could never doubt his fervour as he howls till the veins cord in his neck, his face reddens and sweat streams, he sings like a man possessed, could never doubt his absolute commitment to performing them with utter focus and intensity. See this ‘Dearly Departed’ for instance or this electrifying, impossibly sexy rendition of ‘Call It Heaven’ from Telluride.

So anyway, I’m hoping that Shakey will come to the UK this year since we travelled all the way to the US last year (having not had a vacation for three years) to try to catch him live two nights in a row but the first attempt was a disaster. Even though we had bought tickets in advance and won tickets in a competition for the same show (what are the odds? didn’t find this out till we got back home), we weren’t allowed in at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville because my sister failed to bring any ID. I had my passport and we’re twins but there was no budging the management and the draconian laws of Tennessee. Did get to see him at the Mercury Ballroom in Louisville and the gig was incendiary but made us even sadder we’d missed him the first night. So just one UK gig please?

'I can be the city boy that I make fun of and I can also be the country boy that will get dip on you.'
Trick or treat, I don’t care. Just get over here.

A poem about Shakey’s version of  ‘I’m on Fire’ (akin to being serenaded by the devil) is here and another fan's perspective on Shakey is here.

Anyone searching for a Kinks connection, there is one. Shakey and some renegades sing a version of 'Dead-End Street' here. You know, given the title of the blog, I should always add one.