Friday, 22 February 2013

Guest Top 5 - Early Blues Musicians by MaRaineyBlues

I got to know MaRaineyBlues thanks to the power of Twitter and Cerys Matthews Sunday morning show on 6music. My Sunday morning routine used to involve cooking a roast for lunch whilst listening to Cerys and trying to get myself name checked on air. Ma is one of a number of regular listeners who I got on with really well and who helped the show feel really interactive (Cerys is still making ace radio by the way but we now have the roast in the evening so I listen live less often). Anyway, it was pretty obvious Ma had a huge love of music and an amazing depth of knowledge to back it up. I'd been hoping I could convince her to do a top five for ages and persistence finally paid off.

This is the first top five I've published without an order as Ma decided she liked all five so much she couldn't place them. I think she's right so make sure you check out those video links 'cos they're all amazing.

Led Zeppelin. Cream. The Black Keys. The Rolling Stones. Jimi Hendrix. The Alabama Shakes. Janis Joplin. Jack White. Valerie June. Just a few of the new kids on the block and some of the legendary old guard who make or made music which comes directly from the blues or is influenced by it.

The importance of blues in music history cannot be underestimated. Academics say it is the very backbone of rock and roll. But I'm no academic, merely a fan. Here are 5 of my favourite blues artists from the era when blues was first being heard outside of the Deep South plantations, the illegal juke joints and the travelling shows, when performers were making tentative, ground-breaking steps into making records.

These five all made their first recordings pre-1935.

Skip James - Labourer, sharecropper, Baptist Minister and one of the first Delta blues singers to cut a record. Highly influential on people such as Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton and re-discovered in the 1960s, where he was feted for his mournful voice and virtuoso finger-picking style.

Skip James "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues"

Lead Belly - Schooled in part by Blind Lemon Jefferson, multi-instrumentalist blues & folk singer Lead Belly was discovered by musicologist Alan Lomax whilst singing prison hollers as an inmate at Angola State Prison. Lead Belly's first recording was made inside the prison walls. Following his release,the Lomax family took him to New York, where, styled as 'King of the 12 string', he began a long association with left-wing causes.

Leadbelly "The Gallows Pole"

Son House - One of 17 children, it wasn't until he was in his 20s that Mississippi's Son House picked up a guitar. After reportedly killing a man in self defence in the juke joint where he was playing, Son House was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Although he made records in 1930, he faded into obscurity, to be rediscovered by younger generations in the 1960s blues revival. It was here that Son House first spoke of the legend that Robert Johnson had sold his soul to the Devil in return for his talent, a legend that continues to be talked of today!

Son House "Death Letter Blues"

Lonnie Johnson - Believed to be the first person to record a single string, guitar solo. Johnson won a blues talent competition in 1925, the prize included a recording deal with Okeh Records. Despite working with some high profile names, Johnson's career floundered & he was forced to take a job in a steel mill, only returning to blues singing & guitar playing in the late 1930s.

Lonnie Johnson "Life Saver Blues"

MA RAINEY - The 'mother of the blues' who i took my Twitter name from! With a deep, raw, country blues style, she fronted jug and washboard bands and, so it is said, was singing the blues in a touring minstrels band more than a decade before genre became well known. In the early 1920s she made her first recordings. A great influence on Bessie Smith who she knew, Ma Rainey paved the way for all female blues singers who followed.

Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"


Friday, 15 February 2013

Top 5 Gigs of 2012

I'd intended to cut back a little on gigs last year but somehow that ended up with me going to more than I'd managed for a good ten years. I also started a new blog under a similar false impression that doing so would help me spend less time blogging. To be fair to myself, it was only supposed to be a way to capture set lists but typically spiraled into something more extensive. My number one was never in doubt but picking the other four was hard as I had at least seven good contenders for the remaining places.

1. Japandroids at Upstairs at the Garage (29th May) - It seems it doesn't matter that I'm now in my mid-forties, I still enjoy a gig that involves leaping around like an idiot in the middle of a bunch of sweaty strangers. Japandroids are a great live band and this was the second of three times I saw them in 2012. It was also my first visit to the Upstairs venue at The Garage. I was really impressed. The sound was really good and the band were on top form.
Chopper's Gigs: Japandroids Upstairs at the Garage

Photo courtesy my crappy HTC camera phone - it's of a bloke from the crowd singing Darkness on the Edge of Gastown

2. The Jim Jones Revue at The Concorde 2, Brighton (24th October) - The Jim Jones Revue proved they'd lost known of their rock'n'roll swagger despite broadening their horizons on the latest album. I went down with a car load of pals to this one and had a fantastic night.
Chopper's Gigs: The Jim Jones Revue at The Concorde 2

Photo courtesy @TrevorMakey

3. Laura J Martin at The Little Chapel behind The Galley Cafe (9th May) - I'm pretty sure anyone who's read this blog will be familiar with my ongoing obsession with Laura. I saw her three times last year too but this show, in the tiniest and most intimate of venues, was my favourite.
Chopper's Gigs: Laura J Martin at The Little Chapel, Gallery Cafe

Photo courtesy Annie Hall

4. The Low Anthem at Bush Hall (29th August) - A gig of two halves would you believe? The first part saw the band crank out some of their rockier numbers alongside a couple of Tom Waits covers. The second saw them turn on the "Moth Machine" and everything taking a turn for the psychedelic. To be honest the strobes gave me a bit of a headache after a while but I was no less captivated. There was even time for a comedy interlude sung by drummer Jeff Prystowsky, including a brilliant tune in praise of Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants.
Chopper's Gigs: The Low Anthem at Bush Hall

Photo courtesy @Boring_Craig

5. Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy at The Union Chapel (6th May) - Another special show. I'd not seen Bonnie Prince Billy before so that was a bonus but I was really here because I was desperate to catch Trembling Bells live. Their joint set spanned the best of their collaborative LP as well as a fine selection of tunes from Will's back catalogue and a couple of cracking covers. For those that got there early, there was the added treat of seeing Alex & Lavinia (of Trembling Bells) perform an a capella set with Harry & Katy of Muldoon's Picnic.
Chopper's Gigs: Trembling Bells at The Union Chapel

Photo courtesy of vicaviber on Twitter


Friday, 8 February 2013

Top 5 Books I Read in 2012

2012 was a good year for books. I managed to read almost two a month, which I reckon is pretty good going by anyone's standard. 2013 may not be so fulsome as I've not even finished one yet. That total did included two kid's books (The Borrowers & the 2nd Artemis Fowl story) and a Jim Thompson novel that (I only realised halfway through) I'd read once before. I read four of the 2011 Booker shortlist (all excellent & very easy to read), three of the 2012 Booker longlist (thanks mainly to the Library), three books about music, two other non-fiction books, two books off my reading pile, one e-book (written by a pal), one Bond, one Sherlock Holmes and one Agatha Christie. I enjoyed them all though, if I'm honest, I struggled with Will Self's stream on consciousness novel Umbrella.

1. "Half Blood Blues" Esi Edugyan - A captivating story of a group of Jazz musicians caught in pre-WWII Nazi Germany, cutting the disc of their lives but then being separated by the impending war and their own fears and jealousies. This treads the line between historical fact and narrative fiction really well and provides some insight into what life at the time was like as well as being a gripping story. It's a well crafted tale that doesn't attempt to hide any truths from the reader but leaves much unsaid by it's choice of narrator. I like that this left some room for reader interpretation. I read it in under a week whilst on holiday in Cornwall which helped me get fully immersed in the lives of the characters and felt a pang of sadness when it was finished.

2. "Do It For Your Mum" Roy Wilkinson - Ostensibly the story of the band British Sea Power written by Roy, former manager and elder brother of BSP's Scott (Vocals & Guitar) and Neil (Bass & Vocals). It's typical of the band that this biography is much broader than your average Rockopic and some of it's best passages dealt with how the band's success affected the Wilkinson family, particularly their BSP obsessed Dad. Ronald Wilkinson, 87-year-old veteran of World War II, is the real star of the book. The band's biggest fan who gets frustrated as one weak indie band after another leapfrogs his boys on the rise to popularity. Better still, as Ron's appreciation of the deepest recesses of alternative music grow broader, he is constantly pushing them towards more left field explorations.

3. "Lowside Of The Road: A Life of Tom Waits" Barney Hoskyns - I'd tiptoed around the periphery of Waits' discography before reading this book. I struggled with a couple of listens of Swordfishtrombones, enjoyed Mule Variations but had only recently made a proper breakthrough thanks to Small Change. I picked this up after seeing a glowing review in Mojo and attempted (thanks largely to Spotify) to get to grips with Tom's albums chronologically as I read. This is a fine book by Hoskyns, who is clearly a huge fan, and packed with detail. It certainly proved to be the breakthrough for my enjoyment of the music and I've now filled in a lot of the gaps in my collection. I suspect I will enjoy reading this again once I've got to grips with Waits full body of work.

4. "The Sisters Brothers" Patrick deWitt - The second book on this list from the 2011 Booker shortlist, I thoroughly enjoyed this darkly comic Western though I think I'm going to struggle to explain why. Eli and Charlie Sisters are infamous assassins sent to kill Hermann Kermit Warm who is accused of stealing from their boss. There's not much plot beyond that but there are a series of short events along the journey. The story is told from Eli's perspective and it seems like he's the less cold-hearted of the two, however, there's a suggestion that he's actually the more dangerously psychotic. Hermann Kermit Warm turns out to be extremely likable and the denouement is well played out.

5. "Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics" Jonathan Wilson - I'd heard good things about this book and when I found it for £2 in a bookshop near work I couldn't resist. A fascinating study of the development of football tactics from it's earliest days in the 19th century to the early 2000s. It's well structured to provide good chapters on the key moments in football development including the great teams like 1950s Hungary, 1970s Holland and the many eras of Brazil. Wilson writes really well, so this never feels like a scholarly discourse but nor does it stint on detail. He's also keen to point out that football success is not just about tactics. I'm now better equipped than ever to win an argument in a pub about why Fulham will only achieve success when they find a mobile central midfielder who can put his foot on the ball.


Friday, 1 February 2013

Top 5 TV Shows I Saw in 2012

I watched A LOT of television in 2012. We got a TiVo box at the end of the previous year so 2012 was the first year for some time that I'd been able to record everything and anything that I might want to watch (we still had a video but I could no longer be bothered to find a tape that had space on it or work out the complicated series of operations that allowed me to record over night or when we were away). The TiVo made things a little too easy which inevitably lead me to go slightly over the top. I'm now in a constant battle to keep the box below 50% despite knowing that I record more each day than I can watch.

My top five turned out to be full of foreign imports (at one point it was almost entirely Scandinavian subtitled imports) so to bring a bit of balance to proceedings this week provides a bumper edition with three top fives for the price of one! I can only apologise.

Top 5 TV Shows in 2012

1. The Bridge - This really was the stand out television programme of the year for me. I was on the edge of my seat for most of it and reckon even the most sub-title averse viewer would enjoy it. At times it was laugh out loud funny, with the brilliant but flawed partnership between Saga Norén (Sofia Helin) and Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) at the heart of all that was good about the show.

2. The Killing II - The first series of The Killing had left me somewhat drained (in a good way) so it took me a while to summon up the courage to dive into the second series (similarly I've not yet watched The Killing III which was aired just before Christmas). In the end I devoured this series in a number of days and wished I'd watched it sooner. It had a lighter touch that series one, as well as a new jumper for Sarah Lund. There was less angst over the murder and more mystery over what has really gone on but it retained the same tense drama and interesting character moments of the previous story.

3. Homeland (Series 1) - This was more gripping TV that belted along and built to a thrilling conclusion. Clare Danes occasionally annoyed with her attempts to convey someone coping with a bi-polar disorder whilst trying to hold down a senior role with the CIA. I was also bemused by the likelihood that Brody would even consider cheating on his, frankly, seriously hot wife with anyone but I guess captivity can do funny things to your brain. I watched the second series later in the year too but that struggled to maintain the drama as it stretched the story beyond believable parameters.

4. Spiral (Series 2 - Gangs Of Paris) - I think Gangs Of Paris built successfully on the character foundations laid down in series one. Caroline Proust (as Captain Laure Berthaud) is the main draw still but seems less in control of events this time round, particularly in her personal life. The surrounding cast are more familiar now and that helped give the story more momentum. I particularly enjoyed Philippe Duclos' portrayal of Judge Roban and his knack with an off-hand put down.

5. Lilyhammer - Continuing my fixation with subtitled telly though with a more American slant. Steve Van Zandt, long time member of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band, plays a character not a million miles away from his role as Silvio in The Sopranos. Van Zandt contributed to the writing and also selected much of the music, a feat highlighted by the regular show ending appearance of a live band in his Flamingo club.

Top 5 UK TV Shows in 2012

1. Fresh Meat (Series 2) - The second series of Fresh Meat was a sharply scripted as the first. The cast is brilliant and seem to be able to push their characters in new directions. Zawe Ashton as Vod steals most of the best moments but I'm a big fan of Greg McHugh as the socially inept geology student Howard MacCallum too. I suspect this is really aimed at a younger audience (it could be a Young Ones for the modern age) but is one of the few things on TV that makes me laugh quite so heartily.

2. Twenty Twelve (Series 2) - Perfectly timed to coincide with the final few weeks before the Olympics and, I suspect, frighteningly close to what was happening in real life.
3. Episodes (Series 2) - Picking up four months after the end of the first series with Sean and Beverly trying to find a way to continue working together after Beverly's fling with Matt LeBlanc.
4. Line Of Duty - Not quite as gripping as last year's The Shadow Line but this was still BBC drama at it's best. Lennie James is brilliant as DCI Tony Gates who is under investigation by the anti-corruption unit.
5. Getting On (Series 4) - A forth season of Jo Brand's brilliantly observed and poignant hospital sitcom.

Top 5 Documentaries in 2012

1. Storyville: From the Sea to the Land Beyond - Ostensibly just archive footage of the British coast set to a soundtrack by British Sea Power. I'm a big BSP fan obviously but there was something about the way the footage was spliced together that made the programme a transfixing watch. Check out the landbeyond website here or look for the show on Amazon or the BBC iPlayer.

2. Punk Britannia - Three part documentary about the growth of Punk with some brilliant footage from the time and some contemporary interviews with many of punk's leading protagonists.
3. Jon Richardson: A Little Bit OCD - Following on from his book, It's Not Me, It's You!, Jon Richardson explored the truth behind OCD and how crippling it is for those people who suffer. It was lighthearted and revealing but put paid to me ever "humorously" referring to myself as a little bit OCD again.
4. Rich Hall - Inventing The Indian - Comedian Rich Hall goes in search of the real American Indian with the help of his friend, Native American, Dallas Goldtooth. Rich is fairly scathing in his assessment of how they have been portrayed by Hollywood but manages to be very funny at the same time.
5. Horror Europa with Mark Gattis - Follow up to his three part series about British Horror this was a more compact assessment of European horror from a castle in Slovakia where FW Murnau shot Nosferatu in 1922, to the hotel in Ostend where Harry Kümel filmed his erotic vampire classic, Daughters Of Darkness in 1971.