Sunday, 24 April 2016

Maybe the best we can do is do what we love as best we can...

I've just finished Peter Ames Carlin's biog on Bruce Springsteen. It's an efficient if oddly bloodless overview. What seems evident is Bruce's overwhelming integrity and almost myopic focus on HIS cause; his undaunted bloody minded self-belief. Narcism is invariably pitched as a negative but not here; here was a man with limited options but a God gifted talent that gave him only one real outlet for his creative energy. He recognized early that his 'everyman' appeal would somehow elevate him above the mundane, even though that was his very subject matter. He didn't always offer answers but he did articulate the confusions and frustrations of a baby boomer generation, offered the possibilities of... everything, but with little chance of collecting. It made me think about my own musical ambitions: the fact that perhaps I've been hobbled by comfort; maybe too many choices and 'outs' made this Jack a dull boy. Intent is often thrust on folk who have no option but to succeed. The alternative is unimaginable to them. We all dream about horizons from the comfort of our beds and awake to sleepwalk through our days. Part of the power of Springsteen's early work is in how he seized on that lackaday ideal: the power of dreams, and somehow gave luster and energy to the unlikely possibilities; he harnessed the energy of that transient light that inevitably become shadows in most of our hearts. He believed in magic; he made the magic real by his unquenchable belief in it; primarily in recognizing the spellbinding power of music but also in the belligerent belief that gave magical shape to his spells. Spellbound by the spell, he is like a hypnotist, charming himself to believe in his own smoke and mirrors.

I'm unsure why I feel the need for this rambling... maybe as more and more of my musical heroes drop off the planet I'm learning to cherish the legends whose living vibrant voices are more than just revenant wails of souls departed.
Odd how we lament loss.
There is nothing quite as sweet as the grey warbling of a bird near extinction. We push things towards extinction, and only when we're fearful of their loss, do we cherish them. Why do we need to make things rare, when we should celebrate the common place?
There are certain people that inspire us to keep eyeing the horizon, yet offer shelter and safe harbour should things go awry. We bottle their benevolence and call it ‘home’. These kindred spirits are not pious custodians, just ordinary folk with the same vulnerabilities as the rest of us, but they are somehow able to focus their energy and intent. Something sets them apart, moving us to burden them with our wellbeing. They become the keepers of our faith in other people. The American poet Galway Kinnell said ‘Maybe the best we can do is do what we love as best we can’. His countryman Springsteen is an abiding bellwether for me: his imperfect poetry rings true daily, encouraging me to find the best in myself and learn to love it. Di keeps reminding me that you can't love other folk until you truly love yourself. If you see that as narcism then... you can kiss my ass and call me shorty.
Here's a reminder of the power of dreaming. 
This could be my favorite live vocal performance.
It's magical.
Watch it twice and then tell me that is doesn't give you a reason to believe...

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Lovesong: Chris Wood: Hollow Point

Thanks to Tom Rose at Reveal Records I am the very happy recipient of Chris Wood's 'Trespasser'/'Lark Descending' on Triple Vinyl. The 'limited edition' made more preciously collectable in the knowledge that many of the 300 pressings were lost in a warehouse fire.
Both albums are wonders of dexterous devilment and heartfelt humour. Chris played The Hat Club last year and awed a select few with his curmudgeonly caustic wit and wayward wisdom. There's an edge to his world weary cynicism that renders his tender moments doubly moving. His feet are firmly set in Olde England but his concerns are very current affairs. This isn't lazy Nationalism but these are songs informed by a history and heritage that is fast fading. He focusses on the things that divide and unite us as a nation. Wood recognises in his sleeve notes that many of his songs are about 'enclosure' in some form or another: "... spiritual, geographical, cultural, legislative, imaginative... they are an invitation to step upon those places we have been lured into believing are no business of ours."

Chris Wood is fiercely protective of our liberties, the oft imperceptible daily whittling of which has now somehow made it illegal for a man to sing a song in a 'public' house without written permission. His irascible and crabby countenance does not make for easy company. But he cares keenly enough to stand tall and tell: Tales of the past that echo resoundingly and relevantly today.

"The law will hang the man or woman
Who steal the goose from off the common
But lets the greater thief go loose
Who steals the common from the goose"

If you want your heart broken have a listen to 'One in a Million' or 'My Darling's Downsized'. If you want your blood chilled with harsh reality look no further than the cold reportage of 'Hollow Point' which somehow manages to be passionately dispassionate.
I love Chris Wood's music.
He has a keen eye, an admirably sharp tongue and a huge heart.
Long may he give a shit.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Oogy or Corry?

Can I get a witness?
It's Sunday morning and I'm doing that finger poised over the checkout button on Amazon thing. My digit's currently dangled over the recently remastered Born to Run, Grant-Lee Phillips' 'The Narrows' and 'Paradise is There', Nathalie Merchant's reimagining of 'Tigerlily'. They'll be bought on vinyl (£20 each? Really?) but... can I get a witness? Someone who has perhaps tasted Ardbeg's Uigeadail and moved on up to their Corryvreckan.
The last time I tasted Uigeadail?
Can I tell you about that?
This is how I remember it:
It was last summer at the end of the Aarhus Festuge.
Folmer Jepsen's last stand as Festival Director.
After a fabulous late dinner of Spanish Tapas (understatement) at Jimmy Holm's CanBlau we sat outside our hotel on wicker sofas and in good company: I'd scared Joe Henry and Jim White away with my over attentiveness. Some saw it as 'stalking' but... sometimes admiration cannot be contained or suppressed, nor should it be. With Joe and Jim harangued and dispatched to their rooms I'd moved on to Dylan's bassist Tony Garnier who giddily enthused about Bob's latest album - appropriately entitled 'Shadows in the Night' - which he'd arranged and MD'd. Grant Lee Phillips chewed the fat with M Ward, Diego Schissi and Gustaf Ljunggren whilst Rhiannon Giddens demonstrated her Operatic vocal dexterity to Billy Bragg with an Aria or two. People in the bedrooms above hushed us when they should've been buying tickets. Daniel Lanois lingered in the shadows after his brilliant show of dub 'n' folk. We knew he was there but tried not to stare. Howe Gelb had earlier mischievously danced his way through a chaotic but inspired 'Deconstructing Standards' performance with Yasmine Hamdan, Steve Shelley & Thøger T. Lund. Mr Gelb shoots his cuffs and holds your eye with a cantankerous twinkle; like a second hand car salesman who's actually offering you the ride of your life. Thankfully he wasn't selling puppies...

Yup, Howe was happy but unwell. Man Flu. The bar was closing. Where was Sylvie Simmons? She owed me a drink or two... I looked to Folmer. I'd just gifted him a bottle of Uigeadail; Ardberg's finest, as a present to recognize past kindnesses and as a salutary send off. Everyone took a belt leaving poor Folmer with nowt but a couple of fingers of his prize. Howe took it as medicine. And medicinal it is; at 54.2% its potent smoky sweetness never fails to reinvigorate. A couple of tumblers however sent Howe to bed with a sidewards shuffle and seaside smile, at which point Lanois came forth, out of the shadows offering an empty glass. Everything after that is a bit of a blur but the next morning I woke up in a cheap Las Vegas motel, between Daniel and a sheep's head (betwixt a crock and a herd's face so to speak) wearing nowt but a tutu, a wedding ring and Howe's seaside smile...
That last bit isn't true but truth and a bad joke are uncomfortable bedfellows... All of the other name dropping stands. I've got witnesses...
It was an appropriately stellar way to see off Folmer and one of my more memorable nights out on the tiles. Amazing what you can take for granted when you're standing too close to see it.

Thanks Folmer. Thank you for placing me in such fine company and reminding me that musicians are the salt of the earth; wounded but walking conundrums: lusty and liberal; anxious and cocky; strutting and stumbling souls; vital and verbose vagabonds. Strong and silent partners. Always intriguing. Always engaging. Always needing...
Which brings me back to my need of Ardbeg's Corryvreckan.
Can I get a witness?
Anyone got a thought or two?
Particularly my Scottish mates who are closer to the source and surely the wiser for it.
Apparently its 57.1% charms offer a 'wonderfully wild and complex experience'.
At £75.17 a pop perhaps it is best to buy as a present for a good friend and then just... hang with them.
At £75.17 a pop it would need to be a beloved friend.
At £75.17 a pop I'm expecting smoke and sparks...