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Apr 05

Bizzy Bone achieves transcendence

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It’s indescribable. But the guy who was interviewing him does his very best. And you know, Bizzy’s enthusiasm is incredibly infectious. When he starts essentially freestyling over the background music, it’s even better. (It also helps that the introductory Missy/Cam’ron combination is killer.)

EMP FALLOUT #2: I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Rolling Stones

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The Rolling Stones – “Wake Up In The Morning (Rice Krispies)”

One of the most enjoyable presentations at EMP was Douglas Wolk’s piece on the secret history of bespoke jingles recorded by seriously credible rock bands and soul artists, specifically the “Things go better with coca-cola” jingle that Coke ran with throughout the later 60s. Each band would record something that could be one of their own tracks, and then seque into their version of the coke jingle.

The paper was fascinating not only for the glimpse it gave of a pop/commerce interzone at the height of rock’s most fetishized period (a franchise in Eden, so to speak) but also for the demonstration of how easy it is for most musicians to pastiche themselves. The coca-cola jingles show how consciously reproducible “style” is for a band – as an insight into how ‘filler’ is created they’re a rich resource.

The Rolling Stones did not record a coca-cola song. But they did, at the dawn of their fame, do this jingle for Rice Krispies, a rockin’ endorsement of the rather unhip breakfast snack. I mentioned it at a post-EMP meal to general gogglement so I said I’d let them hear it when I got back to England. And now I have.

Hi Records show at the Barbican

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If you want to know how I feel about the Hi house band, backing for Al Green and other soul greats in the ’70s, I revere them at length in this article. I was disappointed at the absence of Howard Grimes, the nest best thing to Al Jackson on drums, and Charles Hodges especially – no one else ever played organ like he did, and it didn’t feel at all right with a different sound in there with his brothers Teenie and Leroy. This was, I admit, a bit unfair. Percy Wiggins was the first guest singer, and he’s a really good mainline soul singer, but I wasn’t getting into it. Then he sang the first (a capella) words of one song, and I felt myself tense.

I’ve written some about great moments in music recently. I’d been working on one about the moment after Al Green’s first lines of ‘Love And Happiness’, when Teenie Hodges gets going on guitar. It was when Percy started on this that I knew instantly that this was a make or break moment for my feelings about the gig. Would they retain the perfect simplicity of that, or fuck it up. My hands came together in a prayer position and I was wishing so hard… and Teenie nailed it perfectly, as if it had never been in doubt. I don’t really imagine their playing got better after that, but from then on I was theirs.

I was surprised when Ann Peebles came on next – I had assumed she was headlining – and with two new musicians. She did a couple of fine quiet numbers with them, then the house band returned and she did some classics – with her organist being intensely annoying, gesturing at the Hi musicians as if he was conducting them. They were obviously paying no attention. Peebles looked, I thought, better than she did in the ’70s, which is remarkable for a 58 year old, and sounded great – she’s lost nothing of her strength, range and control. Why the hell wasn’t she top of the bill? I mean, I like Syl Johnson a lot, but could he really top her?

Of course, I’d not seen him live. A minute in, and it was hard to imagine many bills he wouldn’t top. He’s a better singer than I’d grasped, a good harmonica player, a very good guitarist, a terrific mover and dancer (at 67, an astonishing one), great at patter, like stand-up comedian good, and overloaded with charisma. Suddenly it felt like he was in charge, that these people I revere like few others were his band. As impressive and commanding a performance as I’ve seen from a singer since, I should think, Jarvis Cocker a decade ago – though maybe a bit too much of the patter and not enough serious singing at times, but he can get away with it easily.

Before his biggest number, the great ‘Is It Because I’m Black’, he said he’d sign things for people afterwards, then pulled out two CDs and said “But don’t ask me to sign these. They’ve been out for a few years from Ace, and I’ve not seen a dime.” A guy in the audience jumps to his feet and says he’s something or other from Ace, and he could discuss this after the show. “I don’t want a discussion, I want paying.” “We can discuss that after the show…” Cue a list from Syl: the Wu-Tang Clan used this song on one of their records. They paid me good money… And others who’d covered or sampled his songs, labels that had reissued things and so on. I should add that I’ve no idea of the truth of anything there, it’s just what he said.

Anyway, it was a storming and triumphant show, from that key point on, and I felt honoured to see these people playing in the UK for the first time.

The Torch Is Passed

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Just as we long ago nicked the idea for the Focus Group from ‘legendary’ US zine Radio On, so the Focus Group itself has now been borrowed by Stylus magazine for a weekly feature in which a panel of the great and good – now including me – review each week’s UK single releases. It was with immense satisfaction that I discovered that my harsh marks on my maiden outing may have prevented the completely execrable Helen Love from winning it this week. (Originally I thought I’d run the reviews not picked by Mr Swygart here but it seems bad form somehow, plus he seems to have picked the right ones.)

EMP FALLOUT #1: More tubas

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Akwid – “No Hay Manera”

The EMP pop conference mixes journalists and academics to good effect. They form a continuum whose parameters are argued and sketchily defined over three super-stimulating days. At one end of the continuum are the heavily jargonised theory papers which make zero concession to the untrained: the giveaway here is people using “speak to” when they mean “talk about” (“Can you speak to the specificity of identity in your ideas of the cyborg?” “I’m glad you asked me that”). At the other end are extended magazine features – hey hey listen to THIS and THIS! and THIS!!?. All my favourite papers were in the middle but some of the most useful were on that kind of fannish tip. Elijah Wald’s paper on the intermingling of nortena and hip-hop, for instance, liberally sprinkled with sound samples of which the most fascinating were by a band called Akwid. Here is an Akwid album) Wald concluded by exclaiming “We NEED more tubas in hip-hop”. I tracked down an Akwid track and was delighted to find that the band sounded just as entertaining as they did splashing colour into the EMP auditorium.


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You will notice:

– a new logo.
– the staff Top 10 is back.
– we are going to be an MP3 blog from now on, except for those entries when we’re not. We’re going to try and think of interesting ways to present and discuss MP3s.
– I’m going to have a purge/rebuild of the sidebar links to make them a bit more useful.

Apr 05


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We will be injecting illegal monkey glands into this old blogging warhorse over the weekend, ready for a relaunch next week.

(Until then all contributors please post using ‘draft’ mode only, thanks.)

Apr 05

Sun Records night at the Barbican

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1. Clothes. I’m a middle aged man who pays less attention to clothes than just about anyone: but I have never seen so many unappealing looking old people at any gig. The audience was 100% white, as far as I can tell, maybe 80% male, with lots of old people in jeans (white ones in some cases), bomber jackets, corduroys. Then the first act came on, Sonny Burgess and his band, all tubby old men (actually one was youngish) in bright blue jackets. It would have looked like a holiday camp were it not for a few unironic trucker hats. Billy Lee Riley’s band was very young (the pianist looked about 15) and in black suits, Billy Lee looking rather wannabe Vegas in a white jacket. The Kings Of Rhythm looked great in terrific maroon suits over black t-shirts, the old trumpeter and sexy young bald tenor saxophonist looking like two of the world’s coolest men. Then there was Ike: a 73 year old, looking much the same as always, in a white jumpsuit with romance-comic women and splashes of pink on it.

2. Old-time music. I’m very resistant to nostalgia. I’m not generally interested in people rehashing long-past glories (and attempts to move with the times are almost always appalling) but I couldn’t resist Ike in concert. The support acts did a good job of reproducing their ’50s sounds, Burgess with mainline mid-’50s rock ‘n’ roll, Riley with rockabilly, Cowboy Jack Clement singing with Burgess’s band trying to do a more country style, not very happily. The newest sounds in Ike’s set were some pseudo-synthy organ on Nutbush City Limits, and otherwise it was all old styles – but varied styles, even some shitkicking country picking, and with Ike finding fresh sounds and flourishes.

3. Backing musicians. These were all very good indeed. Charles Watson stole the first half of the night with a stellar fiddling performance on ‘Orange Blossom Special’ by Sonny Burgess and his band. The twat on sax balanced him – just because you’re only in your ’50s doesn’t make you young and cool and fun. Riley’s band were tight and organised, and allowed little scope to shine. Ike’s band is one of the best I’ve ever seen, often dazzling. If I had to highlight one it would be veteran pianist Ernest Lane, but the bassist, organist and both sax players were great too.

4. No Tina. Ike seeks new Tina. Similar looking, similar dancing, but a third the age, sexier, blonde, much more powerful singer. You wouldn’t think an ad like that had much chance, but he has found someone who fits that. Audrey Madison looks like a cross between Tina and Rosie Perez, and seems breathtaking at first, until the roaring and bellowing became rather wearing. I was in the front row, and did enjoy her singing “Do I love you my oh my” straight at me at one point.

5. Ike. The fact that I was thrilled to be just a few feet from him as he came onstage may indicate my objectivity may be lacking. He started with some fine, varied and exciting piano work, but I was glad when he picked up a guitar. He’s one of my all-time favourite guitarists, and this was the best guitar performance I’ve ever seen, and maybe the most fun too. I had a sense that every note was controlled and deliberate, just right in its context, but also often thrilling and surprising. There were too many songs and not enough instrumentals (no ‘Ho Ho’, my favourite of his), but it was magnificent nonetheless. There was rather too much of Audrey for me – the band became more contained when playing songs behind a big voice, less inspired.

I’d just seen a gig where the combined age of the four performers was 291. I had a great time, but when Sean Paul came on my walkman on the walk to the station, that felt like a much-needed refresher.

Apr 05

Who’s Who in the Purple Gang

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I was reading Revolution in the Head, and the writer told me that the song You?ve Got to Hide your Love Away had no queer content at all?and I always thot it was the most queer song in pop before the rainbow broke ca 1970, reading the lyrics again and talking to the always astute Martin Skidmore, he called the lyrics of you?ve got to hide your love away slight?that it was almost impossible to read anything into it. We didn?t really talk about Jailhouse Rock

Jailhouse Rock works as both coded and uncoded—lines like ?Number forty-seven said to number three:/You?re the cutest jailbird I ever did see./I sure would be delighted with your company,/Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me” abut lines about slide trombones and purple gangs. It is unequivocal in its celebration of sodomy. But it is sodomy in a prison, a signifer of appropriate same sexual activity. (at least outside of prisons–i am talking generalizations here)

You?ve got to Hide your Love Away is filled with filling ins and legends?how it is a secret anti-love song concerning john lennon, brian Epstein and a beach in spain?but there is nothing at all said in the work at all. There is no reason given and everything is hidden. The reflection of middle class sexual identities as a binary of homosexual and heterosexual could exist here, with the langageu of secerts and desire placed somewhere in the middle. Or it could not.

The ambiguity then, of desire, the complications of finding love outside an approite milleiu, make the beatles song deeply queer?but it is not something Richardson notices, as astute a critic he is in dealing with musical minutiate, he doesn?t plumb well the emotional kind.

the question, then, i guess–is why do we assume that ambiguity means complexity and not just poor writing ?

Apr 05

The Girl From Un Cool

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I mentioned here how lousy Be Cool is as a movie. I want to reiterate here how uningaging, and uninspiring its version of the music industry is. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the music industry is a dog eat dog world where little favours work and big favourites get the rewards. Payola, back handers, etc – I’ll accept that. Organised crime cannot be far away. But really, is everyone still hung up on Aerosmith?

The celeb music cameos in the film are Aerosmith (playing a surprisingly small venue for them) and the Black Eyed Peas (playing in a piano bar!). The rap contingent including Andre 3000’s comic foil we never get to hear. Basically the film, about music, is scared of music. Look at its soundtrack.

Nothing more so than in its climatic scenes starring Christina Milian as Linda Moon, r’n’b superstar. She wins an MTV award for best song, and best video. Despite the video being a very boring straight performance, with a man burning to death in the background. And despite the song being dull as ditchwater. For Be Cool to convince, the song itself would have to potentially be a hit. Instead it is a dull r’n’b standard with even duller guitar licks. Your star is Christina Milian: come on, she shits out better records than this. For Be Cool to convince as a music satire, its music has to convince. Instead it embarrasses.