A musical Damascus moment

As I hope this blog makes abundantly clear, music is – to quote Frank Zappa – ‘the best’.

Consequently, I type this surrounded by my guitars, recording equipment, amps and shelves and shelves full of recorded music.

Several years ago – when I had hundreds of cassettes and vinyl LPs (remember those?)  – I once worked out that I could play my collection for several weeks and not hear the same track twice.

Now, it’s several months at least…there’s music on MP3 CDs, MP3 DVDs and hard disc drives.

We’re not talking mere gigabytes here – it’s terabytes of the stuff…

So, there’s a shitload of music here – and of all kinds, from classical to avant-garde jazz.

Indeed, to coin a phrase, from Abba to Zappa.

My current tastes have been steadily with me for a few years now. I find myself listening to a lot of blues, some country and a hell of a lot of jazz.

Heh…I suppose I’m in a bit of a rut – albeit a very, very pleasant one.

However, I’ve just had my musical world totally fucking rocked by what’s probably the most refreshing and involving album I’ve heard in years.

It’s giving me major goosebumps right now listening to it, and I think I could quite happily get marooned on a desert island with nothing but this beautiful music to keep me company.

Basically, it’s an album of Steely Dan songs sung by two Swedish women with minimal accompaniment – mostly piano.

It’s this:

fire-in-the-hole

It’s called ‘Fire in the Hole’ and it’s by Sara Isaksson and Rebecka Törnqvist – although they don’t look like the cover seems to suggest they do.

Here they are:

 

rebecka-sara

 

That’s better, isn’t it?

Here’s the Dan songs they cover:

  • Rose Darling
  • Barrytown
  • Gaucho
  • Green Earrings
  • Your Gold Teeth
  • Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)
  • Don’t Take Me Alive
  • Josie
  • Do It Again
  • Fire In The Hole
  • Pearl Of The Quarter
  • Midnite Cruiser

What surprised me was that if someone asked me to list a dozen Dan songs I’d like to hear covers of, very few of the above would have made it to my list.

However, Isaksson and Törnqvist make the songs their own, and, with minimal accompaniment, the songs are stripped down to the essentials – melody, harmonies and chord changes – and then sung in such a way that each one becomes a small jewel of dazzlingly radiant beauty.

They’ve made me aware of subtleties in songs that I very often skip through when listening to the original albums on which the tunes appeared. I just know that I’ll revisit the Dan versions with fresh ears now.

Their voices are simultaneously plaintive, vulnerable and sensuous but with an inner strength that supports a format of basically two female voices and an acoustic piano.

Yes, there are other instruments – occasionally you’ll hear a mandolin, a sax, a clarinet, an acoustic guitar, a synth, an electric piano or a kick drum – but it’s basically kept very simple and these other instruments just used for texture and seasoning.

Even the voices reinforce this simplicity, with solo and unison singing used when appropriate, and so the glorious harmony sections are made to really stand out .

Some of the instrumental lines – such as the guitar figure in ‘Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)’ – get sung in a vaguely ‘scat’ way, although what could have been a ‘jazz’ album gets elevated to a sort of a melodic purity by dint of the clarity of the singing and an overriding urge to display the inner lyricism of the tunes.

It’s an absolutely fantastic piece of work.

Fortunately, I can share it (sort of) with you on here.

YouTube has a couple of live versions which are almost as good as on the album.

Here they are:

 

The album’s not a work of genius – it’s something a bit more unique than that.

Just as the planets will occasionally align, the sun will be eclipsed and you get a phone call from someone you were thinking about a minute before the phone rang, it just happened – because it did.

The two voices came together on a few pieces of music and something just happened – something so unique that it became more than just a series of circumstances or a fortunate situation.

Call it serendipity or coincidence, but whatever it was, it all gave rise to some of the most beautiful music I‘ve ever heard…

PS I’ve just read this on a blog regarding this musical gem and I agree 100%:

The fact that it even exists gives me hope for the future of humanity.

 

 

100 Great Guitar Moments – #80 to 71

Yes, it’s that time again when another 10 guitaristic delights get featured here for your listening pleasure.

It’s worth reiterating that this is a very personal choice that will vary over time and the great guitar moments are placed in no particular order of merit – apart from the last one, of course, which will be my current all-time favourite.

Steve Winwood – Night Train: He was great with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, but it’s his solo work which has some obscure but essential gems scattered amongst it. This track from his second solo album showcases him as a guitarist, although he played all the other instruments himself. It’s really just a jam, but it shows that he can play as well as any of his contemporaries – including Clapton.

 

The J.B.s – Doin’ it to Death: Two guitarists for the price of one here – the legendary Jimmy Nolen and the lesser-known Hearlon "Cheese" Martin. This is funk, with an illuminated capital ‘F’. OK, it’s simple stuff, but decidedly tricky to play for so long and keep the groove. Of course, this is really a James Brown song, but dear old James created so many band offshoots that it’s hard to keep track. Without JB’s prescription for funk, no Funkadelic, no RHCP – no funk at all. Dig the key change from F down to D. Take it to the fridge! Er…bridge!

 

Steve Vai – Blue Powder: I could have picked quite a few tracks by Vai to illustrate why he’s one of the few shredders who has something to say and not just wank away at. This version was issued as an exclusive Guitar player flexidisc and I prefer it to the later album version. It’s not exactly soothing music, but it has little lagoons of calmness within it. I love the subtle and Hendrixy guitar at 1:55 and the way the whammy bar opens this section. Vai plays with feeling here, but also a great deal of humour, and – to my mind at least – that’s an important and rather rare quality in rock music.

 

Robert Johnson – Stop Breakin’ Down: OK, Johnson’s been hyped and mythologised way more than anyone deserves. There are plenty of other great singers, writers and guitarists who contributed to the blues in a significant way. However, that doesn’t mean that Johnson isn’t worthy of all the plaudits that have come his way since his untimely death. It’s hard to listen to his guitar playing when the vocals are so plaintive and prominent, but it’s worth the effort. That’s real driving guitar and his thumb keeps a rock steady rhythm throughout. Essential blues guitar.

 

Les Paul and Mary Ford – How High the Moon: It’s Les’s tone which blows me away in particular. No-one before him had such a deep, rich sound and so much tonal variation. I have this hunch that he had his amp turned up almost to the point of distortion – certainly his guitar has an edge to it that no-one else had at the time. Of course, that’s all without actually mentioning the superb playing and the groundbreaking multitracking…

 

Duane Eddy – Peter Gunn: OK, it’s really easy to play, but tone is all here, with Duane playing the riff in unison with a piano, a bass, another guitar (I think) and possibly even another guitar – a six string bass? Whatever’s going on in the mix, it all adds up to a monster riff that just powers along. Sometimes less really is more…

 

XTC – The Mayor of Simpleton: Two for the price of one! Dave Gregory plays electric 12 string against Colin Moulding’s highly complex bass lines to produce a swirling piece of poptastic goodness. Gregory’s an excellent player who’s taken onboard virtually every style of playing but still manages to sound original. The lines he plays at about 1:50 – the end of the bridge section – are just beautiful. Moulding’s bass playing is just as uplifting and original. Throw in Andy Partridge’s clever lyrics and immaculate vocals and you have pop perfection. Andy’s no slouch on guitar, either…

 

 

Deep Purple – Highway Star: The line up with Blackmore that produced this track has to be one of the all time greatest hard rock bands ever. Yes, it’s headbanging music, but it’s intelligent too. The solo section starting at 3:50 with the harmony guitars is Richie Blackmore in a nutshell – no overt pentatonics, a dash of classical influence and melodicism in spades. At 4.43, he starts a rapid picking section which deserves special attention as the double-tracked guitars play catch up with each other and what seems ostensibly straight forward is really quite complex. There’s a multitrack of this knocking about on the net which will enable you to isolate the guitar tracks and study Blackmore’s contribution in depth.

 

Albert Collins – Collins’ Mix: To be frank, Albert was a bit of a one-trick pony, but when the trick’s so good, you don’t really give a fuck. Playing with a capo and a tuning all his very own, Collins cranks out angular lines which sort of spit out at you but sit well over a funky accompaniment with organ and horns. Collins started out as an organ player and it shows in his playing. I wish he’d explored the idea of a small organ/guitar combo rather more than he did. I have this idea that with the right person, he’d have ended up with the blues equivalent of Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith…a blues organ combo – now that’s a very tasty prospect indeed!

 

 

Masters of Reality – Kill the King: Stoner rock from its uncrowned king, Chris Goss. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the guitar lines are just beautiful, with acoustic, whammy bar lead and what is absolutely one of the monster riffs of all time. There have been occasions when I’ve played this track upwards of a dozen times in a row, cranked up to the absolute max.

 

4 dusty gems from the 1970s

I don’t know about you, but one of the most rewarding ways of spending a few idle moments is a good old fussock around YouTube looking for musical gems.

Here’s a few that I’ve bookmarked recently…

10cc…they were always a bit too clever-clever for me, but I seem to have become a real fan of late. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is a great song – witty lyrics, an interesting chord structure and great ensemble playing. This is a live version with a nice jam at the end…note the changed lyrics…

 

Another fantastic 1970s band were Be Bop Deluxe, with the sublime guitar playing of Bill Nelson.  I used to play this tune in a band called ‘Spud and the Fabs’ – and sing it too…

 

The early to mid 1970s were great musically – it was still OK to be able to play your instrument well, as the Edgar Winter Group show in this 10 minute version of ‘Frankenstein’. It was OK to look as if you were actually enjoying yourself, too…

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mott, with Ian Hunter’s flawed yet consummate ability to live and breathe rock and the way that the band were so shambolic yet never quite fell apart.  Incidentally, Mrs Shark went to school with two of the band – Buffin and Overend Watts…and yes, he really does sing ‘cock in hole queen’, the rude little monkey…

 

Free – the best band ever?

Having found the lead that connects my laptop to the TV, I’ve been able to watch YouTube videos in large-screen luxury.

In the course of viewing last night, I found some superb video showing the band Free in their magnificent heyday.

Arriving on the scene a little too late for the mid 1960s ‘British Blues Boom’, Free had a lot in common with the movement and were named by the late, great Alexis Korner – sort of. He suggested ‘Free at Last’, which was shortened to ‘Free’. Or did he suggest they shorten the name? Fuck knows…

What a lot of people don’t know is how young Free were when they started playing together.

Free

Lead singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were both 18, guitarist Paul Kossoff was 16 and bassist and keyboard player Andy Fraser only 15.

Within 6 months they’d recorded their first album ‘Tons of Sobs’ which was very blues based, but showed their funky side, which was what made the band stand out from the rather leaden groove that most hard blues/rock bands seemed to fall into.

There must have been real chemistry at work when they got together .

Rodgers on lead vocals had – still has – an amazing voice. With Free he took centre stage and used the mic stand to great effect as he strutted about and indulged in some proper groin-thrusting.

Kossoff on guitar had a great Les Paul/Marshall sound and he played using a very distinctive vibrato. Whilst he didn’t stray too much from the pentatonics, he used them melodically and his rhythm playing was sparse, with some interesting chords using the open strings together with fretted ones. No power chord thrashing for Kossoff!

Fraser on bass was amazing. Using a short scale Gibson bass, he played a heady combination of melodic lines on the upper frets and heavy root notes on the bottom ones. Above all, he left spaces in his bass lines which remind me of reggae bass styles and really let the music breathe.

Making up the quartet was drummer Kirke who always kept it simple, powerful and exciting. Using an extremely small kit – snare, kick, two toms, ride and crash cymbals and hi-hat – he could be almost jazzy at times, which tied in well with Fraser’s syncopated and spare bass lines to create a rhythm section that floated and skipped but never plodded.

The old adage ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ applies to Free very, very well. The combination of the instruments and Rodger’s charismatic and souful demeanour combined to produce a drive that was intense, but never bludgeoning and their use of dynamics was second to none, with the band dropping back when necessary and then cranking it up in complete contrast.

Not only was the band a musician’s delight, but in their glory days, they were a pop phenomenon, too. Live recordings at the time of ‘Alright Now’ (their biggest hit) reveal teenage girls screaming in the same way that the Beatles experienced and the band became pin ups.

But what of the band today?

Rodgers went on to form Bad Company with drummer Kirk, ex-King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell and ex-Mott guitarist Mick Ralphs. He then went solo, joined Queen (a disaster in my opinion; as fine a singer as he is, he’s no Freddie Mercury) and then reformed Bad Co last year. He’s still a force to be reckoned with, solo, but has never regained the success he once had.

Kossoff left Free in a heroin haze. His playing was so erratic that he was sacked. He went on to form Back Street Crawler, which was OK, but then died of a drug realted heart attack at the age of 25. A total waste of a great talent.

After Bad Co Kirke didn’t do too much until their reunion, although today he’s on the Grammy awards committee and still plays in bands.

Frazer has possibly the most interesting post-Free career. When Free broke up, he went on to form the underrated ‘Sharks’, ‘The Andy Fraser Band’ and then …very little else. He contracted HIV, came out as gay and then embarked on a bizarre but pioneering series of projects that culminated in the formation of the McTrax group of companies.

Nothing that they went on to do, however, comes anywhere near approaching the magnificence that was Free, and that magnificence stands out best in a live situation.

Fortunately, a fair amount of footage still exists to illustrate this and there’s one show in particular that captures the band perfectly. Iit was produced by Granada TV and shows the band in a TV studio with a fair-sized and appreciative audience. It’s well-shot, with good sound and the cameramen made sure that they gave equal attention to all four players.

It’s astoundingly good.

Actually, it’s better than that.

It’s totally fucking amazing!

Rodgers struts about like some randy cockerel, Kirke plays his tiny kit with his typical high arm movements, and Kossoff gurns a lot (although I think he means it) and plays some beautiful guitar.

However, it’s Fraser who really shines, as far as I’m concerned.

His body movements and playing just scream exuberance as he rocks back on one foot and just soars over and rumbles under the rest of the band. There’s such deep joy in his playing and I’m certain that he’s not putting on a show. He’s just happy playing what he’s playing, who he’s with and tyhe zone that he’s in.

Enough words.

Here’s some of that footage. Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled on the ‘All Right Now’ video, so you’ll have to go straight to YouTube to watch it. It’s worth the detour though!

Over 40 years old and still as fresh and vital as it was back then.

It really doesn’t come any better than this!

Headline of the century?

 

Capture

The truth, almost the truth and nothing like the truth

So, the inquest into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests is well and truly underway.

Today the police officer who pushed Tomlinson over, minutes before he died, was giving evidence.

Pc Simon Harwood stood by his statement in which he said Mr Tomlinson’s posture was “almost defiant”.

Almost defiant?

So not defiant then.

I’m glad we’ve got that sorted.

Carry on like that and we’ll have criminals pleading ‘almost guilty’.

Giving evidence for the third day, Pc Harwood said he had not expected the newspaper seller to fall over and he had not helped him while he lay on the ground because it was not part of his training.

So, Harwood doesn’t expect someone to fall over when he pushes them. OK, that might not happen every time you push someone, but surely you expect it to happen sometimes.

Oh, and heaven help you if this police officer arrives first on the scene at an accident because there’s fuck all he can do for you due to his lack of first aid training.

Are we really expected to believe that standard basic first aid training is not given to serving police officers out amongst the public?

Matthew Ryder QC, for the Tomlinson family, said Pc Harwood was denying events clearly visible on the video.

He asked Pc Harwood: “Do you agree he had his back to you? We’re all here in this room looking at the video.”

Mr Tomlinson was filmed moments before he died on 1 April 2009

Pc Harwood replied: “No.”

Mr Ryder said: “You’re lying Pc Harwood, I suggest, and you know it.”

To that, Pc Harwood said: “No. I’m just trying to help.”

 

Tomlinson quite clearly has his back to Harwood.

Harwood was trying to help by lying?

Trying to help himself more like…

The officer maintained that “from his angle” it had appeared Mr Tomlinson had not been moving away.

I thought minimum eyesight requirements were rather higher for the Met, as it appears Harwood is virtually blind.

Pc Harwood has already apologised to the Tomlinson family for “any way” he may be responsible for the death.

He has admitted Mr Tomlinson was no threat to him or his colleagues before he hit him with a baton and pushed him.

So, Harwood admits he may be responsible for the death of Tomlinson and, moreover, that he assaulted Tomlinson twice prior to his death.

Members of Mr Tomlinson’s family walked out in tears after hearing the policeman’s denials.

Hardly surprising after Harwood’s behaviour up to that moment.

Pc Harwood, who is suspended from the force on full pay, has been told he will not face any criminal prosecutions over what happened – but he is still facing a Met Police misconduct hearing, due to take place after the inquest.

Off work with full pay and exempt from criminal prosecution?

Now that really is adding insult to injury.