Friday, 18 April 2014

Tony Bennett - Music "controlled by corporations who think the public are ignorant"

Tony Bennett and Judy Garland, 1963

Mind The Gap
I grew up on the crooners when I was a kid and, of course, did not appreciate them at all at the time. Their music was not rock and it was not cool. How could it be? It was my parents' music. However, with the passing of time, I have come to appreciate the grace, sensuality, lyricism and wonderful jazz timing of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the other crooners who were ever present on TV. I can now see the artistry my 15-year-old self was blind to.

But then I grew up in a time when there seemed to be a massive cultural and generational gap between those of us born after the war and those born before. My parents' generation hated what I listened to and couldn't see any merit in it at all. It was all an awful racket that was always too loud and very definitely needed to be turned down.

I don't think that massive gap exists any more. After all, modern festivals have become family affairs and parents take their kids to see the Rolling Stones. However I must admit that in my advancing years I also, on occasion, take a rather jaded view of contemporary music. There does seem to have been a triumph of marketing over soul in recent years but maybe it's just me.

In fact that generation gap seems strange to me now as I can see that the golden age of American music is not just the 60s or the 70s, it's a period of unrestrained musical expansion which runs from the jazz age of the mid 20s right through to the punk / reggae / rap era of the late 70s / early 80s after which, for me, popular music became corporate, predictable and bland. The beast had been tamed. But that's half a century's wealth of music which surprises, fascinates, thrills and also seems to react with and reflect the times which created it. Blues, Folk, Jazz and Rock are the art forms which dominated 20th Century culture (along with the cinema of course) and it is no surprise that as the USA grew and found a confidence in itself the best of its popular music reflected that. It was also a time when each generation seemed to have its own soundtrack, fashion and philosophy. Beats, Hippies, Punks... Each new decade brought new heroes and new surprises. There didn't seem to be a script. If there was, it was being written as we went along.

Tony Bennett 

In this interview for the BBC Tony Bennett starts talking about his signature tune, his favourite song,"I left my heart in San Francisco" and then goes on to express strong views about the state of contemporary music. "The songs written today are terrible" he says. The music business is "controlled by corporations who think the public are ignorant" and just focuses on the young. I'm not sure that hasn't always been true, certainly since Elvis and the invention of the "teenager" in the 50s but then who knows... sometimes when I turn on the radio I wonder if he doesn't have a point. The surprises, once so common, now seem few and far between.

Take a listen

More on stranger than known
"Cool" - BBC Arena documentary

Gregory Porter - The Gijon Jazz Festival 

The Cool Sound of Asturian Jazz - Carlos Pizarro...

What is Bebop? - The Subject is Jazz 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

1970 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival Documentary

A short Woodstock style documentary on the 1970 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival.

The program for the 1970 festival included headliners Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King, Bobby Blue Bland, Otis Rush and Son House - unfortunately none of them are included here. Were they even filmed?

The first festival was in 1969 and both festivals lost money. The all-blues program couldn't bring in enough people to break even and, like Woodstock and the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, many crashed the fences and got in for free.

Funnily enough after a quick look on google I can't even find a poster or program for the 1970 festival so one wonders how well publicized it was and whether that also contributed to its financial shortcomings.

It's a great little documentary resonant of its time. A time when large scale festival organization was still in its infancy. If only there were more music. 

More on the festival here
The Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival – A Brief History by Michael Erlewine (official historian for the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz festival)

Michael Erlewine's video history of the first two festivals

The Ann Arbor Chronicle -  Singin’ the Ann Arbor Blues. 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival was Midwest's Woodstock

More on stranger than known
Cream live at the Spalding Bar-B-Que, 29th May 1967

Freddie King live on POP2 - September 1973

Texas International Pop Festival with Led Zeppelin... 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Ten 21st Century Summer Psychedelic Nuggets

© D. Mainwood
The eternal return
I don't know about where you are but where I am it's now spring. And summer's coming...

Spring always seems to me to be one of nature's great psychedelic events. The eternal return. The relaunch into the high flytes of summer. Life is reborn, colour replaces the bleak monochrome of winter and our senses seem to refocus and intensify. The air is warm and fresh and people start taking most of their clothes off...  and head for the beach.

And for me therein lies the sound of most of the music featured in this post. For me "Psychedelic" pop has a warm bright shimmering quality. Like distant movement seen through a desert heat-haze. Sunlight flashing on waves... It makes the perfect soundtrack for summer.

So, to celebrate these new incandescent manifestations of spring in all their psychedelic or otherwise glory here are 10 of the best new psych bands of the last 10 years or so. And psych in the 21st Century is not so much psychedelia reborn as the long strange trip just going further.

Some of the tracks selected below may have a strong whiff of the 1960s about them but they are far from yellowing photocopies of a bygone age.There is a freshness about all these tracks. A timelessness. This isn't just nostalgia.

Anyway, time, as any Dr Who fan knows, is not linear. It's "like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff". Presumably it's all wet and gooey then... Or maybe time is like the sea. Vast and forever in movement. We just lose ourselves in the light speckled waves.

So when you listen to some of these don't be too surprised if you start floating and you're not quite sure of when you are...

Enjoy the summer. And don't forget a towel.

1) Quilt - Arctic Shark
Let's start with a track from Quilt's recent new album "Held in Splendor". Quite a step on from their first rather jam oriented CD. On this album they've obviously been concentrating on the song writing. It's a much more satisfying listen and sonically references David Crosby, The Byrds, Mamas and Papas and even Country Joe and the Fish.

2) Woods - Size Meets The Sound.
The Woods are one my absolute favorites here (along with Beechwood Sparks). They have been putting out consistently high quality albums for nearly ten years now. They have matured from their lo-fi beginnings into a great 60s inspired rock / pop band with some interesting experimental tendencies to spice things up a bit. Some of their instrumental jams come over like a cross between German Kraut rockers Neu and early Quicksilver Messenger Service. They also have the pop sensibility of Lovin' Spoonful or the Byrds. They have a new album out this month. Their last two albums Sun and Shade and Bend Beyond (from which this track comes) are particularly recommended.

3) The Smiles and Frowns - When The Time Should Come
Adam Mattson and Christopher James are a an American duo from Phoenix, Arizona who recorded a short (25 minutes), somewhat ethereal album full of very catchy songs in 2009 but now seem to have disappeared. The album takes inspiration from classic UK bands like the Kinks and more notably the Zombies and ticks all the psych quirky boxes.

4) Real Estate - Had To Hear 
This is opening track from Real Estate's new and excellent album Atlas. Their third and best yet is a superb dreamy series of hazy summer afternoon suburban vignettes.

5) The Allah Las - Tell Me What's On Your Mind.
Is it 1965? Are we on the Beach? When are we...?
The Allah Las have a kind of chilled but perfectly evoked 1965 garage sound.
Their recently released first album is perhaps a little monotonous in its choice of tempos but I have high hopes for the second. This is one of the high points.

6) The Paperhead - Do You Ever Think Of Me?
The Paperhead are from Nashville, Tennessee but actually sound like a lysergically inspired creation of Syd Barret's slightly distorted consciousness beamed out to Alpha Centauri somewhere around 1968 and now returned to land in a swamp in deepest Tennessee. Their first album was a very Syd / early Floyd inspired affair. It is a little too loose instrumental jam oriented for me however this song is a classic.

7) Ty Segall - She Don't Care
I'm not a great fan of his electric stuff but last year's acoustically oriented and very melodic Sleeper album shows some distinct Marc Bolan influences at times. Here's a taste.

8) Grizzly Bear - Knife
Imagine an alternate universe where Brian Wilson didn't have nervous breakdown in 1967, finished SMiLE with the full support of the Beach Boys and achieved massive success with it. What pop complexities would a confident Wilson have followed SMiLE up with? Grizzly Bear's albums, especially Yellow House (2006) and Veckatimest (2009), seem to me to take some of the ideas Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks were kicking around on SMiLE and take them further out. A kind of prog rock Beach Boys? Maybe...

9) Jonathan Wilson - Dear Friend
For my money Jonathan Wilson's two albums are nowhere near as good as he is live. Check out what I wrote about his live show here. After a Beach Boys / Beatles style intro the jazzy instrumental second half of Dear Friend from last year's Fanfare album reminds me of what the Grateful Dead were doing around 1972 / 1973 on their mammoth live work-outs of Playing With The Band and gives an idea of what Wilson and his band can do live.. 

10) Beachwood Sparks - Mollusk
Possibly my favourite band here. I've written about them here. Very Byrdsian I know. Doesn't this sound like it would fit right on Notorious Byrd Brothers?  2012's Tarnished Gold album is sublime summer music and my favourite album of the 21st century so far.

And what finer way to finish this set of psychedelic summer nuggets...

"You control the space and the time
How it shines
I am like your shadow,
And I am like your shadow
Happy faces, gleaming eyes
Reflect the music in your hair
Birds laughing, upon the golden sand".

Bonus track
Quilt in the park on a sunny day playing what sounds like it could have been an instrumental out-take from Country Joe and the Fish's Electric Music For The Mind And Body. The expansive spirit of spring psychedelia resounds here. Chill...

More on stranger than known
The Tarnished Gold of Beachwood Sparks

The Sadies - This Week's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World live... 

The Intergalactic Sofa - A Radio Kras Podcast

Jonathan Wilson - Retro-Futurism at the Centro Niemeyer, Aviles, Spain...