Monday, 29 March 2010

a song for every season

Now that we are into the "borrowed days" it seems appropriate that bad weather is the order of the day.  As you are obviously aware, there is a story - around since the sixteenth century - that March "borrowed" three days from April. John Brockett claims in Glossary of North Country Words (1846), that:

March borrowed of April
Three days, and they were ill
The one was sleet, the other was snow
The third was the worst that ever did blow.

Unless you live in sunnier climes, if you look out of your window you may have noticed that these words are, indeed, prophetic.  Having spent tonight at a parents' evening for our forthcoming DofE venture, I feel sure that our trip to Kinder Scout two weeks hence, may require some rather warm clothes.  And the power of prayer.  Not being a terribly Christian fellow, some thermal underwear may be a better bet.

If days are being borrowed, surely July or August may be better months to borrow from?  Just a thought.

Bob Copper's wonderful book A Song For Every Season tells us of how when the sudden change from Winter to Spring happens it's "quite unmistakable when it happens".  Simon Barnes talked of a similar feeling in Saturday's Times. Despite tonight's weather, there's a definite feeling that the seasons have changed.  After a funny story about his grandad Jim, Bob quotes the traditional song O Good Ale:

It is of good ale to you I'll sing
And to good ale I'll always cling
I like my glass full to the brim
And I'll drink all you can bring.
O, good ale, you are my darling
You are my joy both night and morning. 

Well, come rain or shine; seasons come and seasons go, but the beer goes on forever.  Cheers.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

the trouble with normal

. . . is that it always gets worse, as Bruce Cockburn is wont to say.

I started the weekend being surprised by some orange lights in the sky.  As I walked out of my house I looked up and saw two orange lights that could easily have been aeroplanes but looked suspiciously like Spielbergian SFX.  I turned right and headed down to The Fludyer Arms (this is Suffolk, okay?) which is about 300 yards or so from my front door. The gibbous moon was - as reported on Friday - hanging low and brightly over the sea.  The orange light I then saw really shook me.  Its jet trail was huge, grey and shocking (I mean it was HUGE - it looked like it came up from Tracy Island).  There really is nowhere - unless Harwich Council* have decided to enter the Space Race - that this phenomenon could have come from.

During the rest of the weekend I have fended off comments about my sanity along with various other interesting conversations.  I checked the orange light story and discovered that lots of reports have been filed over the last few years.  Now, I'm not a crank (stop sniggering at the back) but I know damn well that I did not see any "Chinese Lanterns" ( what the  . . . is that all about?  To my knowledge "Chinese Lanterns" are not huge and whizzing about miles above us).  I'm not really claiming that we're in the middle of The War of the Worlds, of course, but I know what I saw.

Anyway, I've ended the weekend by looking back at how much The Moon has been involved in my life this week:

Monday - Friday: American Werewolf In London; much discussion about the moon, lunatics, songs about the moon
Friday: orange light shooting by with a huge grey trail; blogging about Earthrise
Saturday: tried to watch Moon by Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie) - it wouldn't work, faulty disc.
Sunday: various comments on the blog; Earthrise constantly on my mind.  Incidentally, I've also just ordered a re-release of Los Lobos' Kiko and the Lavender Moon.

All of these things happened unconsciously. It's not a conspiracy, I know, but sometimes things play on our minds.  Oh, I don't know, I'm probably rambling now.  I started with Bruce Cockburn so I might as well end with him:

busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
where wild things have to go
to disappear 

These thoughts are wild things that are playing on my mind . . .

*I don't live in Harwich - it's across the water. I'm not aware of Council Tax payers getting upset about this attempt to beat the Chinese in the Space Race.

by the way

A quick update, then.

Whilst the kitchen seems full of people making rhubarb recipes by Delia Smith and others are listening to Rowlf Waits, I seem superfluous until the dinner is nearly ready.

Tantalisingly, I will talk about orange lights in the sky at another time.  However, for those interested parties you may be interested to know that Nanci Griffith's album Other Voices, Too has an interesting "sing-around" version of Desperadoes Waiting For A Train on it that features Guy Clark and RT (We're not worthy).  Well worth a listen. I'm sure iTunes has it.  Although not a Times reader - I happened to read it yesterday and they gave a £5 voucher for iTunes which meant that if you buy a £25 voucher from Smiths, you get it for £20.  Too good to miss.

And just in case you're sitting there wondering why there aren't any good songs about mobile phones, as I'm sure you all are, check out the song 'cept You and Me Babe by Greg Brown (.79p well worth spending). It was written in 2000 but still stands as current.  Fantastic guitar work - great deep bass voice.  Take my word for it - don't think about it, just do it.

And then there was the thing about orange lights in the sky . . .

Friday, 26 March 2010


 Regular readers (either of you) may remember the "time and distance" blog.  The working lyrics are*:

Two new lovers
Reach out across the void
Wondering about
What will never be.
Is he a fool, is she annoyed?
They both stare out to sea.

Their minds meet
Across the vast distance
But they only touch oh-so-briefly.
And it's only by chance:
Like the moon touches the sea.

Earth rise,
Earth fall,
Like Empires rise and fall - 
It lives on in memories.

They say a photograph can last forever,
Even after it's been deleted
And there's a polaroid I had of you,
Never to be repeated.

Earth rise,
Earth fall,
Like Empires rise and fall - 
It lives on in memories.

And somewhere out there tonight, it's still Christmas Eve 1968.
They're still sailing round the moon,
And the ghosts of Borman and Anders still fight
Over the taking of AS8-14-2383 - 
Another one locked in my memory.

Earth rise,
Earth fall,
Like Empires rise and fall - 
It lives on in memories.

Nothing like I wanted it to be, I guess, but feel free to make suggestions.
* Or more likely, the non-working lyrics . . .

thanks, dan

After the weekly debriefing session at The Hand In Hand I returned home to find that I was alone for the evening. Mrs Dave was out with "the girls" whilst First Born was at The Fat Cat in Ipswich.  God knows where Third Born was (somewhere in the aforementioned town).  So I decided that I should walk the 300 yards or so to the local hostelry at the end of my road - it overlooks the sea.  Despite my reservations about "The Chef's own batter" on the cod, I went with it. However, before entering the hostelry . . .

I looked up. Across the gibbous moon shot what I can only liken to a rocket ship - possibly captained by Dan Dare himself - leaving a huge grey  trail in its wake.  An emergency, I'm sure.  We'll all sleep better for knowing that Colonel Dare and Digby were racing off to the nearest reaches of the Universe to save our skins. Possibly from the Mekon himself (I'm beginning to sound Irish here, to be sure).

Not that long ago we walked back along the sea front and saw a Russian Satellite re-enter our atmosphere and burn up at almost exactly the same point.

I have no idea where the rocket ship took off from as the nearest airport is Stansted and that's miles away.  It must have been a rocket from a secret lair - planes don't leave that amount of a trail.

I'm glad I live in a science fiction world.  I feel so much safer.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

dazed and confused

As I was driving home along the sea front road I spotted a bird standing on a wall.  It had red legs - nothing unusual there until I looked harder.  It was a Red-Legged Partridge. Not one of our well-known waders or sea birds.

As I was driving I obviously couldn't take a picture, which is a shame. 

The Red-Legged Partrridge is also known as The French Partridge - introduced into Britain in 1770.  They are more likely to sit in trees than our indigenous species. Not generally on walls next to the sea, though.

I must admit, it did seem to have a slightly bewildered look.  As did I.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

tie me at the crossroads

Well, all that bated breath can be released now - I wasn't convinced and Tom Waits still sounds like Rolf the Dog from The Muppets.  Sorry, but it is a taste still un-acquired.

On to other issues now.

An enjoyable weekend that took in a 10 mile walk by The River Stour and a meeting with old friends.  The weather held - as did my new boots - and we saw plenty of evidence that spring is sprung.  New-born lambs, daffodils, snow drops and catkins all in evidence. A highlight was walking into a field and seeing three red deer staring at us suspiciously, a hare running at full pelt towards some shelter and a lark rise up behind us and sing its melodious little heart out.  Welcome to Spring. After a welcome pint of St Edmund Ale from The Swan at Bures, we drove home to get ready to drive up to Stevenage to spend a pleasant evening with old friends.  Great food, copious bottles of wine and a real craic.  I think I got to bed about 4 o'clock.

Back home and a pleasant meal for Mrs Dave as it's Mothering Sunday and now we have the week ahead to look forward to.  Plenty of marking and planning, a haircut and there are still doors to put on to the wardrobes.  All-in-all, a normal kind of week.

I thought I needed a change of guitar this week so the Fylde is in its box ("I don' wanna get in de gox") and out comes the bottleneck - it's a poor man's Dobro made by Ozark.  Probably in China.  It's a couple of years old now (bought in Cambridge) but with really heavy Resonator strings on (Dunlop - difficult to find but well worth it) and it instantly transports you to the delta.  In my case the River Orwell Delta.   It's got what's known as a lipstick pickup (look at the style of the pickup) and tone and volume knobs.  They're not terribly effective but it does have that great metallic clang to it that sounds authentic.  I will post an item about slides and bottlenecks later - this week may see me making notes on that very subject.  It's a loud and unsophisticated guitar.

And I feel loud and unsophisticated at the moment.

Monday, 8 March 2010

separated at birth?

Rather than do some work, I thought it would be far more productive if I spent my time creating the second in our occasional series of themed albums.  Whilst this sounds rather Nick Hornby as Mike pointed out after the last one, it has the serious intention of introducing a group of culture-starved teachers (all male, of course) to some music they probably would never come into contact with any other way.  So, on with the show. . .

The cover you may have recognised as a parody of Born To Run.  Unfortunately I didn't have a small plastic saxophone so a real harmonica stood in as a replacement.  Why the title?  Well, it's about Cover versions - er, never mind about that, it made sense to me.

If you've been paying attention, you'll be aware that you can only have 12 tracks and there are a few rules attached to the creation of the mini-masterpieces.  You can't have an artist doing a cover of their own song - so, for instance, Clapton's Unplugged Layla isn't allowed.  There were some other rules but I tended to ignore those.

First up is Steve Hillage's cover of Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man. The song itself  is a classic psychedelic track from the 1960s - and Hillage was a sort of second generation hippy.  After he left Gong he toured making slightly more commercial music for a while - it was all very far out, man for a second time.  Great use of drones on late 1970s synths and  the Shenai lending it an Eastern air.  After some nice lead guitar, Steve forgets the words and starts singing about the  "Roly Poly Man"; then the band all get bored and start making lots of funny noises on their various improvised electronic "instruments".  Steve shows he can widdle with the best of them even when stoned and it all speeds up and the tape gets swallowed up.

Next up is John Cale's version of Presley's Heartbreak Hotel.  As I was at the recording of this - as a member of the audience - it was always going to be on here. It was recorded at The Rainbow on June 4th 1974 (which happens to be the title of the album) by ACNE (Kevin Ayres, John Cale, Nico and Eno). The late, great Ollie Halsall plays some very  James Bond twangy guitar whilst Eno pretends he can play an instrument in the background irrespective of the actual song being played - much like members of Hillage's band in the previous song.  John Cale gives the song some real angst.  As much of the concert was improvised, it's all very moody and jolly good fun.

Martin Simpson plays the traditional blues of Highway 61 and segues into Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.  A fantastic live solo slide version which really shows Martin's understanding of the blues form and total mastery of the slide guitar.  He's on in Colchester in May, one not to be missed - if he's touring then try to get to see him, you won't be sorry.  It's actually unfair that Simpson can play like this, someone should break his fingers to give everyone else a chance.  Mind you Django Rheinhardt only had two fingers and he could play quite well.  Perhaps I should chop a few fingers off to improve my technique?  I was going to use Dave Alvin's version of this but really thought I should put Que Sera Sera on from his recent Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women cd.  I'd love to see Alvin live - I think I like him because his voice isn't that brilliant.  It's still better than mine, at least he can carry a tune in a bucket.  Mind you the female vocalist goes off-key a bit.  But it's good fun - anyone covering this song has to have fun with it.  The whole idea of Alvin travelling around the States with a band of top class female musicians must have lead to some great festival performances.

I've followed this up with John Tams singing Girl from Rubber Folk - itself a tribute to Rubber Soul.  What do you mean you haven't got it? Tams has a lovely warm voice and is usually heard singing his own traditionally-inspired songs.  You might remember him as Rifleman Daniel Hagman in Sharpe.  Here he sings the song straight with just a ukelele and his foot.  Oh, and a bit of whistling (not my favourite form of musical expression - I was traumatised by Roger Whittaker when young).  It sounds like they wouldn't let him into the studio and he recorded it outside. Quite a few of the songs I've chosen are short, well, except Hillage and Simpson. Next there's another appearance by Shelby Lynne - she was on the album of female singers - this is another one from the same album, A Little Lovin' - which is tribute to Dusty Springfield.  A lovely quiet version of Anybody Who Had A Heart with mainly piano accompaniment.  I know most people think that awful woman from Liverpool did the original.  Sorry, I can't bring myself to type her name.  You know, the one with the really irritating voice. But actually Dusty recorded it before her and anyway, Dionne Warwick got there before either of them. 

A nice version of The Everly Brother's When Will I Be Loved? next sung as a duet by Sandy Denny and Linda Peters (later Thompson).  RT himself plays guitar.  Basically, The Bunch was literally a bunch of folkies from the Fairport family tree who got together in The Manor to record their favourite Rock'n'Roll songs on an album called Rock On in much the same vein as Morris tunes were done on Morris On. There's just lovely singing and a nice, almost innocent charm about this album.

Peter Gabriel has recently released an album of covers and Waterloo Sunset is from that.  It's not on the ordinary version - this is from the extended download from iTunes.  This has always been a favourite song - let's face it, I don't know anyone who doesn't love it.  The album has been promoted as a "no guitars and no drums" album. I think that means "orchestral backing".  Old Ray himself has recently been working with an orchestra, I believe.  I've always loved Gabriel's voice. Originally I was going to use an obscure version of Strawberry Fields Forever that he recorded before he left Genesis but unfortunately when I found it on the internet it hasn't aged well.  If you can imagine Kermit the frog with a sore throat, you might get the picture. This is much better.  I'd love to be able to sing like Gabriel.  Actually, I'd just love to be able to sing.

What can I say about RT's Oops. . .I Did It Again?  Absolutely cracking.  Evidently Playboy asked various musicians what their favourite songs of the last 1000 years were.  What they meant was the last 50 years - ie since the R'n'R years.  RT gave them a list of songs that genuinely covered the last 1000 years.  Funnily enough they didn't use his list, but it gave him a great idea for a show.  It's well worth catching if you can (even if he does do an ABBA song - and you won't see that palindrome on these pages again).  He takes the song completely straight and it's recorded live with just an acoustic guitar.  It sounds ridiculous until you hear it.  Brilliant.  My son prefers this to the original.  I wonder if Britney will respond in kind - I can imagine her singing 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Or possibly Killerman Gold Posse. Well, perhaps not.

Keeping the RT theme going, The Blind Boys Of Alabama are next singing Dimming Of The Day.  They used to be The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama but some of them have died.  Eventually there will only be one.  I wonder if he'll go solo then or go out as The Blind Boy Of Alabama?  Anyway, this is from Beat The Retreat which has REM, Bonnie Raitt, David Byrne et al doing RT songs.  Everyone's doing Dimming now, David Gilmour does it and believe this or not, I hear that Michael Ball has covered it!  My mum liked him so I won't be rude.  David Hildago from Los Lobos (they're on it too) is playing the lap slide - I want one of those but my wife won't let me buy anymore guitars.  Unless Ikea start selling them. Simpson uses one well too. Anyway, where was I?

I was going to put 10,000 Maniacs doing Cat Stevens' Peace Train on here but you can't get it now after all that silliness about Rushdie's fatwa ( actually . . . no, I'd better not say it.  But I don't actually know anybody that reads his books) so I went for this excellent live Unplugged MTV version of Patti Smith's cover of  the Springsteen song (Ah! A connection to the cover!).  Natalie Merchant.  What a voice.  What a great band they were.  I believe she covered Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, so I must seek that out.  Acoustic guitars, drums and an orchestra and such a great powerful song.  Patti Smith is flavour of the month on Radio 4 at the moment.  It had nothing to do with this choice.  I'm not a Smith fan.

And finally, how could I not end with Ry Cooder covering Ledbelly's Goodnight Irene?  Joe Brown performed this on a ukelele at George Harrison's tribute gig - I think he may have played it at his funeral too.  Ukeleles, eh?  Cooder uses the full Chicken Skin Music band with old Flaco Jimenez wailing away on accordian.  Great song, great version.  I love that great fat Fender Strat sound Cooder used in the 1970s with a nice interplay between Ry and Flaco - this is done in Mexican waltz time and is a great way to finish . . .

. . .But then I couldn't resist a bonus track.  I saw Ade Edmundson & The Bad Shepherds last year at Cropredy.  Their version of old punk songs performed as folk songs is a brilliant crowd pleaser.  This version of The Jam's Down In The Tube Station At Midnight is spot on. It uses mandolin, acoustic guitar and fiddle to great effect.  A slightly querulous voice tells us of the unfortunate victim and the pathos of the last few lines as he realises in his dying moments that they have the keys to his house where his wife is waiting for him is quite touching.  When the song speeds up to lead in to the beating sequence and the backing vocals sing the "oh-oh-oh-ooohs" it all has the excitement of a ceilidh band.  Live they're fantastic.  This may be a little underpowered but it's good fun.  Okay, Edmundson isn't a great singer but I think they're great.  Catch them live.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

st ikea's day

I seem to have spent the last 48 hours of my life involved in building wardrobes.  Some people may find that an enjoyable way to spend a sunny day - I just know that it has to be done.

The amount of cardboard used in packaging is phenomenal - I had to take it all down to the tip as soon as possible - we have a tiny garden.  When I got back from the tip, Mrs Dave inquired as to whether I had enjoyed my trip.

"Oh yes, great fun," said I.

"Have you seen the little pack of screws and bits for the drawers?".

"Er . . . I'm sure they must be around somewhere."

When I got back from my second trip to the tip having rescued said objects from the huge council skip we were able to carry on making up the drawers.  I guess St Ikea must be both the patron saint of flat pack furniture and of good luck as well.  Would life be worth living having managed to throw away the complete pack of "bits and bobs" supplied to make up a vital part of the wadrdrobes?  I think not.

Still, all's well that ends.  Well, that's enough of that. 

It's about time that I re-strung my 12 string guitar but that will probably be as about as much fun as building Ikea wardrobes.  I was told when I bought it that it's a "lady's guitar".  It's something to do with how light it is - it has a fairly wide neck, which I find a little cumbersome.  Perhaps he was just taking the . . .

Friday, 5 March 2010

st piran's day

Today is St Piran's Day.

Now, I know what you're thinking - especially those who know me well - what's a heathen like me doing spending his time explaining obscure Saints' Days?*

St Piran was the Patron Saint of Cornish Tin miners.  On the 5th March each year, they would take the day off and get really drunk to celebrate his special day.  That's the sort of saint I'm interested in.  If only as a child these sort of wondrous characters were brought to life by telling me stories of debauchery and drunkenness then I might have not strayed so far away from the righteous path.  Or I might not have bunked off from Sunday School and hidden in that tree . . .  another story for another time, perhaps.  Perhaps I wouldn't have ended up living amongst Catholics - not that I have a problem with that.  They're the ones with the problem (me).

* boredom.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

st winwaloe's day

We should, of course, not let the day pass without comment that today was St Winwaloe's Day. St Winwaloe for those of you asleep at the back was an obscure Breton saint.  So obscure, in fact, that no-one seems to be able to agree on how to spell his name.

Evidently there was a cult in medieval England mostly in Cornwall and East Anglia (my neck of the woods).  There were some churches dedicated to him and fairs were held in his honour. There was also a feast in his honour too - evidently there was a rhyme that predicted stormy weather:

First comes David, then comes Chad,
And then comes Winneral as though he was mad.

St Chad's day is 2nd March.

Today has been a good day.

Possibly a little boring . . .

time and distance

I've been struggling with trying to write a song.  It's not writer's block. For a long time now I've wanted to write a song about the taking of the photo "Earthrise".  I researched the story about Apollo 8 and made notes a while ago. Tonight seemed as good a time as any to write it. I thought I was doing quite well but somehow there's something else on my mind.  The song is about a photograph but there seems to be another song about a different photograph that wants to get written.  Actually, there seem to be several photos that want to be written about.

Years ago someone asked if I'd take a photo of them, which I did.  Later they became embarrassed and asked me to destroy it.  It's about 30 years later and I can still remember that photo - they've probably long since forgotten about it.  Photos can get lost or destroyed but if the image is an important one, it can stay locked away in your memory forever.  I once saw a Symbolist painting of a green angel in Paris.  This was 1978. I spent years trying to find the gallery again, find out what the painting was called and who it was by.  I haven't yet but I'll know it if I see it again.

Anyway, the key images are time, distance and, of course, the moon - which seem to be recurring ones in my songs.  I've ended up with what looks like about three songs that don't make sense.  I know what I mean and as it's just for me I suppose it doesn't matter really.  Oh well, I have one line I like: "they touch oh-so-briefly, like the moon touches the sea".

Time is moving on and I need to sleep.  Perhaps time and distance will sort this song out.

Monday, 1 March 2010

desperadoes waiting for a train

I first heard this song properly at The Red Lion Folk Club in Woolmer Green near Knebworth in 1980.  I was vaguely aware of it, as I may have heard Captain Beefheart's Magic Band's version (then called Mallard - possibly after the train not the duck.  Hear them on the ubiquitous YouTube - it's not very good.).  It's all a long time ago, now. But the first time I heard it properly was performed by Martin Simpson, played solo.  Later he recorded it on Special Agent (1981) where he plays a beautiful slide guitar solo.  More of that later.

Guy Clark's version - the original - recorded on his first album Old No.1 - had been released in 1975 but was difficult to get hold of over here in Blighty.  I'd read a big interview with him in Melody Maker and was intrigued by his stories of growing up in Texas. The whole album is full of dusty landscapes and old cowboys looking back on better days.

The song tells the true story of a character Clark hung around with when he was a kid who was brought up by his grandmother.  She ran a hotel and this old man had been a well-driller.  The song tells of  the great times Clark had driving this old bloke around ("when he's too drunk to") and "he'd wink and give me money for the girls".  The story has a killer pay off, a real tearjerker.  Clark's version features piano and Clark's own acoustic guitar (he builds his own).  There is some light bass and drums in the background along with some steel guitar and a little violining on an electric guitar.  Emmylou Harris sings backing vocals. The imagery of old guys "with beerguts and dominoes,  lying about their lives while they played" is very filmic.  The song returns to the kitchen that it starts in.  The man was the closest Clark had to a father figure - the complete opposite to Johnny Cash's imaginary one in A Boy Named Sue.  The sound conjures up old sepia photographs and an era not unlike Walter Hill's Last Man Standing (1996; yet another attempt to remake Kurosawa's Yojimbo).  You know, the one with Bruce Willis playing Clint Eastwood's part from A Fistful of Dollars.  No? Oh well, the loneliness of the long distance Film Studies teacher, I guess.

Martin's version starts with a quiet tune played solo on his acoustic, gradually a bass joins in.  The drums are a little tub-thumping (that's the curse of English folk singers in the 1980s) but they don't overpower.  In the background Martin introduces a slide part played on his hybrid Dobro/Fylde.  Simpson's voice is slighter than Clark's gruff old cowboy croak but he sings it well.  But his slide playing is (of course) so emotional.  One of our absolutely greatest guitarists who is beginning to get the recognition he deserves.  As the song ends, there is a short uptempo semi-jig in that way Martin has of frailing his guitar ( a banjo term I believe - quite legal).

There we have it, one of the finest songs out of America from last Century - already a classic.  It's been recorded many times since I first heard it - Nanci Griffith recorded it on Other Voices, Too.  Try to hear Guy Clark's version if you can.  Unfortunately YouTube has got loads of cover versions but not Clark's own - plenty of him on there though. Plenty of Martin too - but not Desperadoes.  Oh well, there's always iTunes.