Monday, 8 March 2010
separated at birth?
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.