Something I’ve remarked on before is that these posts don’t properly reflect the ubiquitous presence of music in my daily life. Occasionally I do mention a new album that has made an impact, and I do record here all the live music events that I attend. But there’s always so much more. So here is a roundup of some of the music which I have particularly enjoyed in 2016. The post ends with a playlist of the music mentioned. Continue reading “The music in my head in 2016”
Patti Smith’s performance of Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm was truly magnificent, perhaps the song’s greatest interpretation. I was moved to tears by the deep feeling that flowed through her rendition of a song even more germane now than when it was written. The moment when Patti was overwhelmed by the imagery of the second verse and her own nervousness only made it even more moving, increasing the humanity of her performance. It was one of the great musical moments of 2016. Continue reading “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall: Patti channels Bob in her moving performance of a song even more relevant in 2016”
On my last birthday, my lovely daughter gifted me Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run. For any Springsteen fan, it’s an absorbing read and even though I had already consumed Peter Ames Carlin’s biography Bruce, I learned much about the man’s early life and family, and the grind of his early music-making days with his first bands playing along the Jersey shore – many details that only the man himself could know. Though the reviews focussed on the book’s revelations about the periods during which he has suffered from depression, for me the most enthralling sections were those where Springsteen describes a couple of hair-raising and eventful road trips across America.
I was reminded that I’d never got round to writing about Springsteen’s book when I read a report about President Obama bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom (America’s highest civilian honour) on Springsteen yesterday in a ceremony at the White House. Springsteen’s book is over 500 pages long. Here’s the concise version, courtesy of Barack Obama. It’s rather good: Continue reading “Barack on Bruce: ‘sprung from a cage out on Highway 9’”
Back when the 50s had just turned into the 60s, in the days of listening to Radio Luxembourg at night on a valve radio that glowed in the dark; in my early teenage days, before the beat from out of Liverpool had shaken things up – in those days, one of my favourite singles was ‘Blue Moon’ by the Marcels. I was just a kid and with the innocence and ignorance of youth I had no idea that I was listening to a Rogers and Hart show tune from the thirties: what I heard in the animated nonsense ‘bomp-baba-bomp’ of the bass man’s intro and the unrestrained wails and chants of the rest of the group was teenage magic.
So it was with great pleasure that I read this post by Thom Hickey on his always enjoyable Immortal Jukebox blog. It’s such a wonderful piece of writing that I felt compelled to share it here. Continue reading “Blue Moon: not once but four times (a teenage dream re-blogged)”
2016 has scythed down yet another musician. This time it’s Sharon Jones, at the end of a week in which we have already lost Leonard Cohen, Mose Allison and Leon Russell.
A powerhouse of a soul singer in the great tradition of the sixties, Sharon Jones breakthrough only came later in her life. She didn’t release her first album until 1996, when she was 40, and it was only in this century that she started to receive serious attention, fronting Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Continue reading “Sharon Jones: 2016 takes yet another musician. Let’s celebrate her version of ‘This Land Is Your Land’”
Sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, on a trip to London, we were lucky to see Mose Allison perform a set at the Pizza Express which included such characteristically witty and sardonic songs, rooted in the blues, as Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy, I Love The Life I Live (I Live The Life I Love), Gettin’ There, Tell Me Somethin’, and Your Mind Is On Vacation.
Today, in his Guardian obituary of Mose Allison, who has died aged 89, John Fordham writes:
At the PizzaExpress jazz club in London, which he took to visiting twice a year in the 90s and early 2000s, Allison would sometimes seem to be in a fascinating private reverie, in which stomping bluesy figures would wrestle with swirling, wind-in-trees melodies, or turn into a jerky clatter like a silent-movie soundtrack. Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues, Trouble in Mind and Knock on Wood might hurtle by in a blur.
‘Pizza Express has been a real godsend for me,’ Allison once said. ‘I’ve been working there for several years, six weeks a year. You can go to work every night and play. It’s a nice little club. It’s just about the right size for me, about 150 people.’ Continue reading “Mose Allison, the William Faulkner of jazz, dies aged 89”
Once again, we made the journey down to the capital to sample three events during the opening weekend of the London Jazz Festival. The music began with what was, for me, a welcome second helping of Tord Gustavsen’s collaboration with the German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander on songs from their ECM album, What Was Said. The weekend concluded with a strong set but not totally convincing set from the Jan Garbarek Quartet at the Royal Festival Hall. But the outstanding event was a masterclass of breathtaking jazz improvisation by pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman. That alone was worth the journey. Continue reading “At the London Jazz Festival: Mehldau and Redman deliver a jazz masterclass, but the Garbarek quartet disappoints”
Last night, before the news came of Leonard Cohen’s departure from this life, I was privileged to see an outstanding show by another great poet of song, Paul Simon.
On our way into Manchester I said to my travelling companions, ‘He must, surely, do An American Tune.’ He hadn’t the previous night in London, but I prayed that in Manchester he would sing what is truly a song for these times.
Not for the first time this year, a musician has departed this life, but not before leaving us with a final album whose words have a decidedly premonitory aura – as if, first David Bowie and now Leonard Cohen, sensed that they were, in Cohen’s words ‘out of the game’.
For the 50 years of my adult life the songs of Leonard Cohen, who has died at the age of 82, have been a source of insight, inspiration and healing. He has been, in the words of Rolling Stone today, ‘the dark eminence among a small pantheon of extremely influential singer-songwriters to emerge in the Sixties and early Seventies. Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equalled him as a song poet.’ Continue reading “Goodbye Leonard: You let in the light for us all”
On Tuesday evening we sloshed our way through the first real rain of this autumn to the Philharmonic for a performance by a man whose lyrics have revealed a man who loves nothing better than to walk in gardens wet with rain – Van Morrison. With a notorious reputation for grumpiness and offhand behaviour in his concerts, we were a little apprehensive about what we might get. But Van was in fine form and, supported by an excellent band, crammed 90 minutes with a stellar selection of songs from a career in which he has recorded an astonishing 36 albums. Continue reading “Van Morrison at the Phil: in good voice and totally committed”
If those newspapers and politicians that last week denounced judges as ‘enemies of the people’ ever proceed to brand certain composers or artists with the same obloquy, then we’ll know that we are indeed entering a very dark place.
This thought occurred to me after reading Julian Barnes’ novella, The Noise of Time, a fictional biography of Dmitri Shostakovich which enters into the mind of the composer whose opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, was denounced in a 1936 newspaper article approved by Stalin as ‘muddle instead of music’. ‘The people expect good songs, but also good instrumental works, and good operas,’ ranted the (very) senior Party official who wrote the piece, before concluding with a sinister threat: ‘The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, ‘formalist’ attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.’ Continue reading “Dmitri Shostakovitch, Julian Barnes and The Noise of Time”
Can a medieval poem meditating on the suffering of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she stands at the foot of the cross have any relevance to these times, or to someone like me who adheres to no faith? The answer given by the performance of James Macmillan’s new setting of Stabat Mater at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall was a resounding yes.
The singers of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the strings of the Britten Sinfonia combined to produce an electrifying performance of Macmillan’s elegiac, angry and often discordant cry of grief and personal commitment in the face of tragedy. I don’t think I’ve attended a more enthralling concert of contemporary music in the classical tradition. Continue reading “The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity”