By Richard Williams Now I think about it, interviewing Roebuck “Pops” Staples 21 years ago was one of the great moments of my life. How could anyone not feel that way about shaking the hand of a man who, while growing up on a Mississippi plantation, had learnt to play guitar from listening to Charley Patton and Son House?
By Rhona Martin You may not be entirely familiar with Adam Green, nor his partner on their self-titled album, Binki Shapiro – but they have quite a pedigree.
Before embarking on his solo career, Green was probably best known for his work with New York based, lo-fi indie favourites The Mouldy Peaches. The band gained something of an international following thanks to European support slots with label-mates The Strokes, and a push from the inclusion of ‘Anyone Else But You’ on the soundtrack of culty movie ‘Juno.’
By Juliet Harris It’s my Dad’s birthday later this month. As ever, I struggle to know what to buy him. He’s a 72 year old man that lives in an unmortgaged house in rural Sussex. Quite obviously, I am none of these things. But, as with everything in my life, I’m going to use music to help me. I use music as a way of navigating my emotions, of working out and expressing how I feel about things generally and people specifically.
When I think of my Dad, I think of Graceland by Paul Simon.
By Rhona Martin The whispers started getting louder this week, on the eve of My Bloody Valentine’s warm up gig in London. Kevin Shields announced to the gathered disciples that their fabled new album would be released within the next “two or three days.”
“Yeah yeah” I thought, reading this the following day on Twitter. Over the years, my devotion to this band during their hiatus has felt akin to finding myself in a devoted, but one-sided, relationship – built on promises which never amount to anything. Yet I couldn’t part from one of the loves of my life; somewhere inside I knew the promise wasn’t deceptive or shallow. It would happen … in its own good time.
by Juliet Harris I was busy grabbing a snack (an apple, if you must ask) on my way to work today when I overheard two men in front of me talking about potential redundancies at their shared place of employment. From what I heard them say, it sounded like an incredibly traumatic and worrying time. But they seemed good-natured and steady about it all. “Ah,” shrugged one, “Que Sera Sera!”
Que Sera Sera. What will be, will be. This reminded me of the song, of course. It also reminded me of a traumatic and worrying time of my own life.
It’s October 2010. I’ve just turned 26 years old and have been working for a small firm since 2007. At first it went well. But since I qualified in 2009, it hasn’t been going so well. In fact, it’s going pretty hideously. I am flailing around in a sea of dangerously varied and difficult work which would tax an experienced mind, let alone young, new me. For the first time in my life, whatever I do isn’t enough. The person that is meant to be helping me is busy throwing as many bricks through the floor of my metaphorical lifeboats as he can find. The firm itself is an unhappy ship, but the vast majority of passengers instead choose to smoke on the deck as the ship blithely glides towards danger, rather than help me in my lifeboat.
by Lisa Cordaro ‘Ethereal’ is an overused word when it comes to Brian Eno. However, it is an apt one, so I apologise for using it again here. Wordless and ethereal is where I am right now musically: I’m listening to a lot of Thomas Newman, Michael Hedges and Eno’s back catalogue. As the godfather of ambient himself says: ‘In the early seventies I found myself preferring film soundtracks to most other types of records. What drew me to them was their sensuality and unfinished-ness – in the absence of the film they invited you, the listener, to complete them in your mind.’
To be honest, I lost my way with Eno a couple of years ago. I wasn’t sure about ‘Small Craft on a Milk Sea’ as an album, or exactly clear where he fitted into the collaboration. To me, ‘Small Craft …’ sounded more like a Jon Hopkins production circa ‘Contact Note’: a mismatched collection of mood music and industrial, with Leo Abrahams thrown in for good measure. Somehow the album doesn’t gel – it’s a challenging listen for those who are used to the Eno canon.
by Juliet Harris I am utterly wearied by the unremitting, blanket overuse of the term ‘televisual event’. Has-beens eating earwigs, never-will-bes belting out-of-tune power ballads for their ailing grandparents. It all upsets me so much because it dampens the effect when an ACTUAL TELEVISUAL EVENT happens.
This year, one such event is happening.
On Christmas Eve at 8pm, Channel 4 will be featuring the premiere of the sequel to ‘The Snowman’ – ‘The Snowman and The Snowdog’.
by Lisa Cordaro As a fully paid-up Sicilian, I’ve come to Inspector Montalbano unforgiveably late. BBC Four began showing the series in February, but over the last year I’ve been chary of the foreign language crime shows on TV. Most of them seem to be shot through blue filters and permeated with Nordic bleakness. Let’s face it: life’s hard enough already without looking to Pinteresque silence and frozen murder scenes for entertainment.
How wrong I was. Montalbano brings Mediterranean sunshine to the genre, and it’s inescapably Italian: think A Touch of Frost but younger, sexier and livelier. I watch with fondness as I recognise all the national characteristics: food, family and gesticulation. In one of the episodes Salvo Montalbano arrives at his favourite restaurant, only to find it closing down. Crestfallen, he wails at the owner: ‘What will I do now?’ A crisis indeed, because if you know anything about Italians, you’ll know they march on their stomach.
by David Hepworth I first met Danny Baker in, well, it was probably 1975. I was working in the HMV Shop in Oxford Street, which in those days was near Bond Street station. There’s a Foot Locker there now. They used to say that before fame the Beatles had made some kind of demo in the stockroom on the first floor. Anyway, it was a big store in the days before megastores. This was in the days when confused-looking middle-aged parents up in London for the Rugby League Challenge Cup or the Ideal Home Exhibition would approach the counter carrying a piece of paper on which was written “ZZ Top” or “Sex and Soul by Roy C”. In those days you didn’t believe those records existed until you saw them in places like HMV.
Danny worked round the corner in the far trendier Harlequin (late One Stop) in South Molton Street. He used to come round occasionally to pick up something mainstream for one of his star customers. He was only a teenager and very handsome. “That’s Danny,” said one of my fellow drudges. “He’s David Essex’s brother.” I nodded. It seemed to make sense. He wasn’t, of course, but it was a good way to get the attention of girls.
by Lisa Cordaro I have a confession to make: I can’t make my mind up about The Doors. Thirty years of listening to their music, from ‘Alive, She Cried’ on a battered cassette to ‘LA Woman’ on pristine re-master – and still I’m undecided. In a recent Rocking Vicar podcast our colleague, Terence Dackombe, declared The Doors a singles band, and in a way I’m inclined to agree. Doors tracks have become part of the wallpaper, and as much a victim of the Morrison myth as they are iconic works.
So it was that I made my annual pilgrimage to the Cambridge Film Festival, to test myself. This year the selection panel had unearthed the only footage in existence of a complete Doors concert, and arguably their greatest: Live at the Bowl ’68. Directed by Ray Manzarek in 1987, the revival of this film is typical of the Festival’s excellent choice of music documentary, and a premiere of its general release to DVD this month. It’s a great opportunity for those who weren’t there – either in spirit or the flesh – to see the band performing live at their best.
by Lisa Cordaro My love affair with fingerstyle guitar began in 1987, and I owe it all to a university friend, Chi. While our contemporaries were listening to The Smiths, Chi was the first person I’d met who was not only a true audiophile, but thought out of the box musically. He owned a Sondek turntable and other ludicrously expensive separates, and being dragged around the Linn shop was not uncommon. At the time, The Blue Nile were signed to Linn Records and their tracks used for in-store demos, (they went on to be the stuff of legend, of course).
by Joe Rivers Aged 16, I found myself facing a long coach journey to Brussels for a school trip, inexplicably funded by the European Union. The day before, I went to the local newsagent in search of reading material, and came across a magazine I hadn’t seen before. The cover picture of Elvis Costello wasn’t exactly your typical, teenage boy fare, but a quick flick through revealed enough to keep me interested and I thought I’d give it a shot. Over the next 48 hours, in between getting caught up in anti-war protests in Ghent and taking furtive swigs from an illicitly purchased bottle of toffee vodka, I read the whole thing from cover to cover. That was April 2003 and the magazine’s name was ‘Word’.
by Christian Ward The internet has killed the gatekeepers. 20 years ago, if you managed to scrape enough money together to put out a 7 inch (and your music was good enough) single, you were pretty much guaranteed a review in the NME and a spin on John Peel’s show – a direct line to your target market, basically. Now, even if you’ve conjured up the best song since ‘God Only Knows’, you put it up on Spotify and iTunes and watch it get lost in the noise of a million other tracks liberated by the democratizing nature of the web.
by Carolyn Drake Here’s the thing: I don’t often watch documentaries about people with disabilities. Until now, I’ve never really thought about why. It may be because I’m afraid of being hypocritical.
My daughter has Prader-Willi Syndrome, but first and foremost she’s my daughter. It’s part of her and it’s the way she is. As a family we learned to accept it and live our lives. I would hate for her to be judged or laughed at because of PWS.
So when there’s a TV programme featuring a disabled person, I get a little defensive. Are they going to be treated with respect by the programme-makers? Are they going to be a figure of fun, an oddity, someone ‘other’ served up to fascinate or titillate?
by Shane Kirk I have been recording for about thirty years now. It hasn’t always been a matter of free coffee and biscuits in the private lounge, while a highly trained engineer replays the most recent take of a tricky middle eight, looking for stray plectrum clicks on my behalf. Oh no.
On a very early session I remember balancing the condenser mic on the case of the cassette I onto which I was recording, this fed into the sort of portable tape player more usually employed in bootlegging Top of the Pops off the telly. Local byelaws, strictly enforced by the austerity government of the time, insisted these machines were then passed on to a younger sibling for the purposes of either recording their own radio show (girls), or committing their nascent musical compositions to tape (boys) – which the latter would then attempt to impress the former with. Over the years, the technology has changed, but the general principle remains very much the same.
by Lisa Cordaro This programme fascinates me. Recent episodes have been so engaging, from Tom Jones’s unadulterated passion for a life in music (and much more), to Johnny Vegas’ touching recollections of his life as a youngster.
It set me thinking about the songs that provide the soundtrack to my life, as well as some of the tracks I really couldn’t do without if I were marooned on the eponymous island. So here goes…
by Joe Rivers Anyone who has the temerity to call themselves a music writer without having heard The Dark Side Of The Moon needs a good excuse. I don’t have one.
I’m by no means a classic album refusenik and I don’t automatically assume new music is better than old. In fact, I grew up in a family where there was a copy of this album in the house. So I haven’t gone out of my way to avoid it and yet it has somehow eluded me. Until this week, that is.
by Joe Rivers This week sees the presentation of the twentieth annual Mercury Music Prize. The award, originally conceived as an alternative to the BRITs, seeks to recognise the best, most exciting and innovative of new British music. And it certainly stimulates debate.
Some of the choices have been somewhat out of step with the public mood (1994 saw M People’s Elegant Slumming pip Blur’s Parklife to the crown) and as we recently noted on this site, the subsequent weight of expectation makes winning the Mercury often seem a backwards step (think Talvin Singh or Klaxons).
by Sienna Rogers There has been a massive buzz around this book; in fact it could be described as a clamour. I was quite looking forward to reading this semi-autobiographical memoir, full of feminism and funniness – yes, both! Simultaneously!
Now, I wasn’t expecting an instruction manual as such, but a little more direction would have been great. I’m her target audience.
I’ll start from the top. The aesthetics: call me old-fashioned, but I can’t stand the CAPITALS FOR EVERY PUNCH-LINE USED IN ORDER TO REALLY EMPHASISE THAT IT’S FUNNY or the italics or the repeated punctuation?????!!!!!!!!!!!!!
by Joe Rivers The 70s were great, weren’t they? Playing out in the street until sunset, summers that lasted forever and top quality pop. We had proper music back then, remember?
Actually, I don’t. Without wishing to sound too smug, I’m probably a fair bit younger than the average Rocking Vicar parishioner, which means I didn’t experience even a minute of the 70s. I grew up in the 90s as a music fan but not one in thrall to the NME, therefore my knowledge came second-hand: a cavalcade of “classic” tracks on the radio, retrospectives in magazines and stories from my elders about how much better things used to be in the 1970s. Of course, there were some phenomenal songs and albums from the decade and I’ve come to love Nick Drake, The Faces and Stevie Wonder. But there’s also been plenty of good music in every era since the birth of pop, so I figured people were just being nostalgic.