Ben Watt, half of Everything But the Girl (and still a collaborator with his wife, Tracey Thorn, EBTG's singer), recently released a solo album ... no less than 31 years after his first. You can buy it from his own label, Buzzin' Fly.
If you look closely at the cover of Rick Wakeman's Six Wives of Henry VIII, which was photographed at the Madame Tussaud's in London, you can see a wax figure of Richard Nixon in the far background, his head just above a couple of the wives.
It's always amazed me that Britain, which gave us the Beatles (not to mention the Kinks, the Who, the Stones, the Faces, David Bowie, Queen and Dusty Springfield, just to get some names roling), have had a bizarre habit over the years of putting godawful songs at the No. 1 position in the charts. I still remember Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce, which somehow made its way to the top in 1981.
This week, courtesy of the BBC Radio 4 serial drama The Archers, I learned of another. The characters in the fictional village of Ambridge are getting ready for a Seventies-themed party. The fantasy of the younger folk is matched by the weary "well, we were actually there" of the older ones. Jazzer, one of the characters, remembers a band he recalls being called "Captain Pigeon, was it?" with "somebody's mum playing the piano."
I was curious, and found the band was actually Lieutenant Pigeon, which went to the top in October 1972 ... and yes, somebody's mum actually did play the piano on the song, Mouldy Old Dough. And yes, it was No. 1 for four weeks in a row!
And ... it's wretched! As best I know, the song did not travel much across the Atlantic.
1972 turns out to be a spotty year for No. 1 singles in the U.K. Yes, there was Rod Stewart's You Wear It Well and T. Rex's Telegram Sam, but there were also appearances by Donny Osmond and Jimmy Osmond ... you can see the full list here.
Daft Punk got the hardware at the Grammys last night, and won the spotlight, too, with a version of Get Lucky that featured Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder and of course Nile Rodgers, in a medley that included Chic's Le Freak, Wonder's deep-tracks gem Another Star and a bit of Daft Punk's Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.
Who stole the show, though? That would be drummer Omar Hakim. Just watch him.
I must say, I get a real kick last year knowing that teenagers were grooving to music that was built around a groove by Rodgers, Hakim and bassist Nathan East, who are still in their prime decades after hitting their stride. Remarkable, really.
Every now and again, I pick up one of those compilation albums that Starbucks puts on the market. Yesterday morning, we bought Twist & Shout, which pulls together a bunch of tunes from the early and mid-Sixties. We listened to it through twice in the car as we moved through the day. There are some staples of the era of the Watusi and the Frug, including the Isley Brothers' pre-Beatles crack at the title track, Shakin' All Over by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and naturally Wilson Pickett's Land of 1,000 Dances.
The first tune is Let Her Dance by the Bobby Fuller Four; it took me a little while to recall that the song was used so well for the ending of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Last fall, Martha and I had the good luck to see David Byrne in concert in Toronto, during his tour with St. Vincent, a.k.a Annie Clark. They were supporting their album Love This Giant, and the backing band matched the horn-centric sound, and then some; there was a drummer and a keyboard player, and then eight (that's right, eight) brass players.
This video, from NPR, was recorded in January and captures the tone of what we saw. For a treat, skim through to 32:55 or so to see the whopper cover of Burning Down The House (one of three Heads song the band did during the Toronto date).
Here's the full length of a BBC 4 documentary on Nile Rodgers, the guitarist who helped found Chic and then went on to produce all kinds of things, some of them huge top 40 hits. It's remarkable to see the lineup of interviewees in this doc, from collaborators like Bryan Ferry (there was definitely a mutual admiration society between them) to fans like Debbie Harry and Johnny Marr. The "hitmaker," incidentally, is the nickname of Rodgers' guitar.
There's plenty of tidbits for music fans, including confirmation (for me, anyway) that Le Freak had started off with a title that can't be said in polite company. (That will be your language advisory, too, by the way.)
I learned this morning that Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have collaborated on an album that will be released later this month on Rounder Records. Love Has Come For You is focused on banjo and music supplied by Martin, and lyrics and vocals supplied by Brickell.
The other surprise: it's not, evidently, bluegrass, which has been one of the non-comic obsessions of Martin for many years.
There's more to be learned from this publicity video, which features scenes from the shoot for the album cover.
The annual chance to celebrate your friendly neighbourhood record store, and perhaps pick up a collectible, is this April 20. Here's the site. The local participating store is (surprise!!) the venerable Fred's on Duckworth Street in downtown St. John's.
A few months ago, we got to see one of my favourite performers, David Byrne, live in concert, in Toronto. Just before he took the stage with his band (and co-headliner Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent), he spoke over the P.A. with some witty advice. Fans were welcome to take pictures and all that, he said, although he kindly reminded people to be civil and not keep a screen in someone else's face.
He got a good laugh, and for good reason: there's been an annoying tendency of some fans to not just snap a pic, but to in effect make a movie, regardless of a) the quality of the product and b) what the production means to the folks in the surrounding seats.
Hey Rosetta! (see below!) is among the great! (sorry, can't stop using exclamation points!) artists in this year's holiday sampler from Paste magazine. A very fine annual tradition. Alson on this year's sampler: Great Lake Swimmers, Sufjan Stevens, Rosie Thomas and B.C.'s Current Swell.
You can't beat free, either ... although you may want to look at the tip option on the way to the download clicker.
Proceed as you were. Enter your particulars in the box below, and a link will appear quickly in your inbox. You'll get a zip file that can be opened up in a snap.
Playing For Change remains a remarkable project, particularly as what I assume was a one-off project (to connect street musicians from around the world, playing "together" through a well-edited video) into something that truly now has legs, with ambitions to do something substantial about international equity and musical education. Along the way, it has continued to connect musicians, including a project last year built around the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter.
Check out this video, posted earlier today, on how Playing For Change is maturing.
This entry from someecards resonated, if only because I've been subscribing for several years (and occasionally listen live) to KCRW and their podcasts. The California station is dedicated to new music, and it has great ears; and, yes, it's true that you'll hear a tune long before it becomes a hit.
But I also know that it can be really irritating to whine about having like a song before, well, everyone else did.
Which is why this entry in the Willy Wonka meme also rings true!
I read Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap Stories over the last week or so; it's a breezy read, perfect for the summer months, and I enjoyed capping each night of my vacation trip with Bachman's anecdotes from 40-plus years in the music business.
I quite like Vinyl Tap, and while I'm not religious about catching it, I like the tunes and Bachman's tone and how they fit into Saturday night. (The show airs on CBC Radio One here in St. John's at 8:30; it comes at 7 in most other time zones.)
I finished the book admiring Bachman. The stories, many of which come from the show, are genial, friendly, and a good many illustrate how Bachman has been impressed by the kindness of others, including his heroes, like guitar legends Les Paul and Chet Atkins. There's no bitterness or backstabbing (just passing references to mud being thrown when Bachman left the Guess Who at the height of their fame), but stories about an ordinary guy from Winnipeg who found himself in extraordinary circumstances. (And who, of course, knocked out one famous guitar riff after another.)
One of the items in the book is the pitch that Bachman put together for Vinyl Tap, which first launched as a summer replacement show in 2005. Program pitches are generally not made lightly, with a great deal of effort made on securing a pivotal meeting with the right pair of ears. Bachman, instead, typed a note that he gave to a technician for The Vinyl Cafe, who was good enough to pass it along the CBC food chain.
Here's the pitch:
Dear CBC Radio,
I'm a big fan of CBC Radio. This past Saturday's show of Finkleman's 45s I noticed that Danny said he was retiring. I would love his time slot, and my proposal is that I play music from my record collection and tell personal stories about the artist, song, etc. Instead of Finkleman's 45s you could call the show Randy's Rockin' Records or Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap, like Spinal Tap
from Randy Bachman
And that was it. Simple, no embellishments, and apart from a near-miss for the title that didn't get used, a clear and direct description of what the show would be, and still is.
I saw a link to this documentary produced by BBC 4 in 2010, and was expecting a trailer. Instead, I got the full documentary. It's a pretty indepth look at how synth music in England got started (and got over the Keith Emerson hurdle). Nice to see the Clockwork Orange score get a nod for its downbeat influence.
The South By Southwest festival may have started off all about the music, but it's basically a business conference these days, with a strong focus on tech and innovation. While the audience is not exactly grey, it's definitely grown-up, and with the salaries to match. Check out some of the details in this infographic, which I found on Cool Infographics.
[Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, February 16, 2012.]
We’re going to hop, skip and jump around the digital neighbourhood, with stops for wine lovers, music buffs and aspiring Star Wars villains.
Let’s not waste a second.
Darth Maul Me The re-release of the Phantom Menace didn’t exactly stir my excitement, but I have to admit I had a laugh with this free app available from the official Star Wars site. Take a new picture or one from your library, make some taps and tweaks, and voila: you have the red, tattoeed and horned face of a Sith master. (Or Sith apprentice, to be precise.) It’s even more fun with kids.
Natalie MacLean: Wine Picks and Pairings Based in Canada, MacLean has earned a global reputation as a wine writer, and now has an app to complement a growing list of publications. Her newest book is Unquenchable, which focuses on bargains in the wine store; MacLean will be in St. John’s soon to promote it. The app is free, although you can pay for full access to reviews. A great feature: a barcode scanner that you can use while browsing at the NLC. MacLean also offers exhaustive suggestions for finding a good wine to match your food, and vice versa.
One Brilliant Bottle A couple of years ago, St. John’s novelist Kevin Major undertook an ambitious blogging project: picking one wine each week, and producing a small essay about it. Each was illustrated with rich photographs. The idea was to do 52 wines (Major specializes in organic and biodynamic selections) in as many weeks. Encouraged by the response, Major kept it going for another year. Now that 2012 is underway, Major has happily decided to keep updating the site, and few would be upset that the new entries come at a more leisurely pace. It’s one of my weekend reading pleasures.
Coffee Music Here’s a blog in a similar vein. Creator Josh Hooten intends to take a photograph every day this year of a coffee as he enjoys it, with a note about the music he’s listening to at the time. These happen to be two of my most favourite subjects, so I am a little biased. A daily pace is a bit of a grind and Hooten has been struggling to keep pace, although I intend to keep checking … in part for some random musical inspiration as I enjoy my own coffee break.
Valentine Abbey Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but Downtown Abbey fans will relish these amusing virtual cards, any day of the year.
40 Noises that Built Pop From Word, the excellent British music magazine, here is a tribute to specific noises that made rock music what it is, from the sweeping glissando on a piano (think of the opening sound of Abba’s Dancing Queen) to the power chord (thank you, Kinks) to the fretless bass (a little jazz making its way into the rock world). The best part? You can play an audio sample to hear precisely what each entry is describing.
Donna Ramsay Photography Ramsay was among the recent winners of the Newfoundland and Labrador Bloggers’ Choice awards, in the photo category. Her blog showcases her work, particularly in portraits, and largely in black and white. The drawback? It’d be nice to see more frequent updates.
Scale of the universe Play a little big bang theory from the comfort of your own home, with a slider that shows you things that are small (an earthworm) or incredibly small (the nucleus of an atom, which is many times larger again than other options) and things that are large and then incredibly … well, you get the picture. Consider it bit of mind-blowing activity to put everything else in perspective.
John Gushue is an editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue.
I came across this tidbit this evening: Fierce Panda, the well-named indie label, is compiling a double-disc tribute album to Talk Talk, featuring the likes of Arcade Fire, Joan As Policewoman and Bon Iver tackling tracks from the rather small output of Mark Hollis & Co. Oddly enough, I was humming a Talk Talk tune earlier in the evening, and was thinking about what an odd band they were: launched as a cute-ish new wave-like band with white shirts and skinny ties, and then evolving into The Colour of Spring, from 1986, which is one of my all-time favourite albums. And then they got even more interesting ... and then Hollis just dropped off the planet, musically at least. Apart from the forgettable synthpop stuff at the start, they were years and years ahead of their time.
KCRW posted this today: a portion of a performance for Morning Becomes Eclectic, which usually features indie and alternative artists, by Icelandic pianist Johann Johannsson, accompanied by a string quartet. I bet you'll like it too.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.