Archive for the ‘Newsletter’ Category

Amazing Grace

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Dear Mailing List,

Long time no see!

The subject of this newsletter is one of the reasons you haven’t heard from me lately. I don’t believe I’ve previously mentioned my involvement in Amazing Grace, the film of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 gospel recording sessions, but I’ve been working on it for some years, helping to get it into the theatres.

I trust Amazing Grace’s release is not news to most of you – it’s had a huge splash of press in the US (where it was released April 5) and the UK (it came out here last Friday). In the coming months it should reach every corner of the world. Finally seeing it with huge audiences at festivals in New York and Berlin over the past few months and reading critics’ and audiences’ reactions has been a gratifying coda to the years of frustration.

The story goes back to 1972 when I was living in LA and working for Warner Brothers Films as ‘Director of Music Services’. Parts of the job were really interesting, like helping Stanley Kubrick put together the music for Clockwork Orange or inviting a Greenwich Village folk-billy down to Georgia to record ‘Duelling Banjos’ for John Boorman’s Deliverance. Others not so much, like the endless stream of directors who rang me up two months before their film had to be ready for release begging me to get them ‘John Williams or someone like him’.

I eventually persuaded the studio to let me make the Jimi Hendrix documentary and slowly morphed from being a bureaucrat into what I was deluded enough to think would be my new career – filmmaker! But before that happened, in December of 1971, Atlantic Records (which was then part of the same corporation) told us they were coming to LA to make a gospel album with Aretha Franklin. It would be done live over two evenings at James Cleveland’s church in Watts. Might we be interested in filming it?

Might we?? I jumped at it and told studio boss Ted Ashley I would find an experienced team of 16mm cameramen to shoot the two nights. Once we’d shot it, there would be time to consider whether it was a TV special, a documentary or simply an elongated promo for the album. But before I could finalize a deal with the crew, I got a call from Ashley. He had mentioned the project to the famous director Sydney Pollack, who turned out to be a huge Aretha fan and wanted to film it himself. I remember saying, ‘do you think that’s wise? Filming live music is a very specialized skill.’ But to no avail; in came Team Pollack and I sat on the sidelines, digesting my lesson in Hollywood studio politics. On the first evening at the church, I asked one of the cameramen how they were going to synch picture to sound; they told me they ‘had it under control’.

Reader, they didn’t. The editor called me a few days later to say he couldn’t do anything as there were no synch marks. Pollack moved on to his next feature and the footage was consigned to the Burbank Studio vaults. Over the years, I occasionally wondered if anyone would try and resurrect it. The answer came in 2010 when I arrived at the LA stop on my ‘Chinese White Bicycles’ tour with Robyn Hitchcock (there’s a six-camera shoot of one of those shows sitting in a vault in Chicago in case anyone’s interested….). Into my Inbox popped an email from one Alan Elliott; he had the Amazing Grace footage – did I want to have lunch?

Alan is a producer/composer/a&r man who once worked at Atlantic, where Jerry Wexler (who had produced the album) told him about the lost film project. Warner Brothers proved willing to let Alan have a go and delivered the film stock and a copy of the audio tapes to his Hollywood garage: no notes, no labels, no instructions. After a few head-scratching weeks, Alan met a woman named Beverly Wood at a party who revealed that she a) had grown up listening to Amazing Grace and b) worked at Deluxe Lab restoring films. She sent a truck to pick up the film and brought it back a few weeks later all synched up. Alan then proceeded to assemble a brilliant and deceptively straightforward 90-minute film. I had the impression from a few 1972 conversations that Pollack was planning to interview all the principles and build an interview-filled music documentary around the footage of those two evenings. Alan turned in the opposite direction: no talking heads, no analysis, no one leading the audience by the hand, no alerts about what you’re about to see. The viewer is simply immersed in the events and music of the two nights at Cleveland’s church.

In some ways, watching the film now is even more astounding than being there. (see photo below of me and my moustache talking to Sydney Pollack on the first night) For one thing, we had to wait after every take while Aretha, Wexler, Cleveland and Arif Mardin walkie-talkied about whether the last take was a keeper, then we’d often hear the same song over again. But perhaps even more important is that we now have a perspective lacking in 1972. I was thrilled to be there, awed by the musicianship, the virtuosity and by the surprise co-star, choirmaster Alexander Hamilton. But with the arrogant optimism of youth (as well as that of the only recently deceased Sixties), I fully expected my life would continue to be full of such musical high points and thrills – bring ‘em on! I’m ready!

Me and my moustache talking to Sydney Pollack, January 1972, Watts

 

What I had no idea of at the time was how, only a few years later, disco would sweep across the world, someone would invent the drum machine, Aretha would start making pop records with Teddy Pendergrass and the gospel ‘warriors’ would all stop touring. I now see the film as the final bow of a way of making music perfected by an extraordinary generation of music-makers with the skills and influences that bounced back and forth between African-American secular and religious music. Think about it as you watch Amazing Grace (and you will watch Amazing Grace) how no one makes music like this any more, to say nothing of on this timetable: a double album in two nights, live.

If Alan Elliott were a well-organized, linear, cautious, lawyered-up filmmaker, you would never have been able to see Amazing Grace. He charged ahead, heedless of Aretha’s demand for a huge amount of money, heedless of lawyers who said he had to take care of this company or that person before cutting a single frame. Amazing Grace is the ultimate ‘facts-on-the-ground’, a document so magical and irresistible that a team of producers – myself and my lawyer brother included – have just shrugged and set about picking up the contractual pieces.

Aretha was on record saying she ‘loved the film’, but she wanted the sort of fee that would give any documentary distributor a heart attack. She never had much time for contracts and lawyers and bridled at the bureaucratic complexity of the film industry. When Alan showed her family the film last autumn, they immediately offered to work with us to bring it to out. The process has been hugely complicated; for months, it’s kept me away from my book, from my wife and from my friends. But even now, having seen it again and again, whenever I introduce it at a screening or a festival and tell myself that I’ll leave as soon as I’m sure the sound is loud enough, I find it impossible to tear myself away and end up staying for the whole 87 minutes.

Amazing Grace represents artistry on a level we’re unlikely ever again to see at such close range. It’s an homage to a form born in 1932 when blues singer Georgia Tom’s wife died in childbirth and he turned his back on saucy lyrics, became Thomas A Dorsey again, and wrote ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’, the first modern gospel song (which Aretha performs in a brilliant arrangement in the film.) Gospel music lives on, preserved by talented choirs and singers, but the Golden Era ended that second night in Watts in January 1972. I was lucky to have heard Mavis Staples sing with her family in a Roxbury high school auditorium when she was 16, to see Claude Jeter and the Swan Silvertones destroy the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre one Sunday afternoon in 1963 and watch Dorothy Love ‘fall out’ after an astounding performance at a store-front church in Newark, New Jersey. I am not religious, but I am happy to gaze in wonder at Italian religious paintings from the 15th century and I remain convinced that between 1932 and 1972, American gospel produced some of the greatest and most influential music ever made. It entered the mainstream via Ray Charles and Aretha and other stars of rock ‘n’ roll and r&b and changed the way the world listened.

Over those two nights, Aretha summed it all up, bringing it, as her father proclaims in the film, ‘into a SYNthesis’ and providing a document for the ages.

Joe

If you want to read more about Aretha and the film, check out Josh Jelly-Shapiro’s piece in the NYRB:

Aretha’s Grace

and/or Mikal Gilmore’s obituary, which includes a link to a brilliant podcast about her life.

The Queen: Aretha Franklin

If those two aren’t enough, then get ahold of Anthony Heilbut’s book “The Fan Who Knew Too Much” with its fascinating long chapter on Franklin.

 

Geoff Muldaur

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Hey! I’m still alive. No particularly good reason for the long silence, but I can assure you I’ve been working on the book each and every day – the end is in sight! And of course, I’ve been on a few little tours with our Albanian group, Saz’iso (standing beside the sound man and kibitzing, mostly). I have a couple of other newsletters up my sleeve but they’re a bit ambitious and I haven’t had the time to finish either of them.

This one is short and sweet: Geoff Muldaur is touring the UK starting at the Green Note in Camden Town (London) Friday June 1. I have always resisted plugging gigs other than my own since I want this to remain a simple, unambitious newsletter and don’t want it to become a bulletin board. But this is different. Geoff and I grew up in the ’50s (!) listening to records together. I can still hear Lonnie Johnson, Don Redman, Claude Jeter and Skip James in his singing and he just keeps getting better with age. Last week he was invited to sing ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ in NYC’s Town Hall at the Dylan anniversary concert and a lot of younger people are starting to realize what a remarkable musician he is. The rest of the tour looks like this – if you’re in the vicinity, you won’t regret going – promise!

3rd June Whitstable, UK Whitstable Sessions (whitstablesessions.co.uk)

5th June Menai Bridge, UK Victoria Hotel (www.vicmenai.com

6th June Hebden Bridge, UK Trades Club (thetradesclub.com)

7th June Milton Keynes The Stables (stables.org)

Saturday Knowledge in East London

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Do you any of you live east of Camden Town in London? You can enjoy a hearty Dalston breakfast this coming Saturday (Nov 18th) at an event I’m taking part in called “Porridge and Knowledge”. I’m going to talk there, probably about Nick Drake and how I like to produce records. There’s also music from a cello/violin duo plus Hackney organic farmer and local food pioneer Sarah Bentley. It’s organized by Sam Lee and the wonderful Nest Collective so how bad could it be? thenestcollective.co.uk/shows/porridge-knowledge

We’ve just finished two weeks touring the UK with Saz’iso – it was a great experience and a great success – good crowds and wonderful performances. While we were on the road, the cd – “At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me” was included in the year’s top 10 by both fRoots and Songlines. Now life returns to normal and I go back to finishing my book. I will, however, take some time out to write a long-ish newsletter I’ve been pondering over the course of the past year while attending one fascinating performance after another, from festivals to small rooms, leaving me with a few ideas about music in 2017 that I will consider out loud, or at least on the page.

Until soon – as they say in Germany – bis bald!

Saz’iso On Jools!

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A big week for Southern Albanian music! Saz’iso will perform tomorrow night (Tuesday 31st October) on Later with Jools Holland – 10pm on BBC2. Then again, a different tune on the longer version Saturday at 1045.

The Saturday appearance will come just after the end of the sold-out London concert at St Luke’s, which is part of a 10-concert UK tour Nov 1 – 11. Information here – www.makingtrackslive.org.uk/saz-iso

Come say hello at one of the concerts – I’ll be lurking at the sound desk at all of them.

And while you’re at it, Saz’iso violinist Aurel Qyrio and I were guests on Cerys Matthews’ 6Music show. You can hear it here: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09byh8t

Saz’iso: At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me

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As promised, here’s an update on the Albanian record I told you about last year (and badgered you for Kickstarter contributions to fund it).

We (my wife and co-producer Andrea Goertler and our partner-in-music Edit Pula) raised the money – thanks to many of you – and recorded it in Tirana last autumn. It was mixed in London in January and we then set about finding a label to release it.

At the 2015 Womex conference in Budapest, I met an American named Chris Eckman who runs Glitterbeat label. Ever since then, I kept seeing that name: Glitterbeat as “Womex Label of Year” three years running; Glitterbeat releases raved about in the Guardian; fRoots and Songlines; Glitterbeat on top of the European ‘world music’ radio play charts. Why not start at the top?

Eckman responded immediately upon hearing the mixes – Glitterbeat loved the record. He runs the label from his adopted home of Ljubjana, so he flew to Tirana to meet us and a deal was quickly done. Our all-star group of musicians and singers was named “Saz’iso”, and the album was titled (after a line in one of the songs about a boy yearning for the girl next door) “At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me: the Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song”. Release date for this is October 13 – UK tour starting November 1.

Agonizing over the running order, organizing photos, commissioning transcriptions and translations of the lyrics, and asking Albania’s great Saze expert, Vasil Tole to write a historical essay; the seemingly endless work of preparing the package and promotional materials began. Andrea has been tireless – cajoling and researching, reconciling different opinions about regional dialect in the Albanian lyrics and nuanced translations; her life-long appreciation of good cd packages has not been for naught. I think everyone will agree that the texts in the cd booklet – and the vinyl package – reveal a fascinating world previously invisible to non-Albanians.

OK, enough backstory. Here’s a link to the Glitterbeat soundcloud site where you can hear the album’s opening track:

https://soundcloud.com/glitterbeat/saziso-tana/s-9G2wk

And, for those of you who live in the UK – or are interested enough to cross Channel or Ocean to hear them live – here is a link to Making Tracks’ (the tour promoter) website:

https://www.makingtrackslive.org.uk/saz-iso

And this is the Glitterbeat artist page with the full press release (including a plug from Ry Cooder…)

So thanks again to all of you who encouraged and supported us – I think you’ll like it! I’ve really enjoyed being back in the studio again and seeing an idea take shape and manifest itself as an object! (I always liked that about records as opposed to films or books – the shorter time gap between impulse and result.) Working once again with Jerry Boys, the engineer I’ve travelled the world with in the past, has been great, as has collaborating with my co-producers. If I’d had partners like this in the past, I’d have been a way better producer!

Enjoy.

The Official Edinburgh Incredible String Festival

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Some of you may have heard me bemoan the post-Sixties fate of the Incredible String Band – renowned and successful for about five years, their fame declined as the Seventies dawned. One fateful moment occurred Friday night at the Woodstock Festival when rain led them to postpone their appearance to the following afternoon; by then the magical atmosphere of the previous wet evening had been blasted out of existence by blazing sun, drugs and exhaustion. They sounded pale after Canned Heat and were left on the cutting room floor of the film and the album.

Their flowery image was destined to be the first thing jettisoned and mocked by generations looking back at that wondrous decade. A decline in the quality of their song-writing didn’t help matters, nor did their flirtation with Scientology. But I still love listening to the early albums – the first five to be precise. (Rhino has just put out a box set of those classics – only £12 on Amazon when I last checked.)

Could this be a sign of a small revival of interest? Another positive sign is that the Edinburgh Festival has commissioned us (me and my colleagues Catherine Steinmann and Bryn Ormrod) to produce a tribute to their songs this year: August 17 at the Playhouse. Come to Scotland! Hear some of the best songs to emerge from the Sixties!

I’ll sign off with the official press release (which I wrote). See you in Edinburgh! And like buses back in the old days, you wait months for a Boyd Newsletter and two come along in rapid succession – Friday I’ll give you the good news about the Albanian recording project.

Press Release

“The music of The Incredible String Band always defied categorization. Was it psychedelic folk? World Music ahead of its time? The avant-garde end of the Sixties singer-songwriter movement? In truth, it was at heart an outgrowth of the fertile and strange world of early ’60s Edinburgh, with its deft folk musicians, its world-travellers, its Bohemian fringe and its psychotropic explorers.

“VERY CELLULAR SONGS”, a tribute to the songs of the Incredible String Band” boasts a Politti” was a seminal ’80s pop modernist; he had left his native Wales under a cloud after inserting a single gold ear-ring in emulation of the other half of the original ISB, Robin Williamson. HITCHCOCK and GARTSIDE represent the individualistic, even eccentric, sector of British music that could be said to have been carved out by Heron and Williamson in the 1960s.

Never forgetting how fundamentally Scottish the band was in inspiration and in spirit, our concert also features three of the most original and important voices in this land’s current music scene: KARINE POLWART, ALASDAIR ROBERTS and WITHERED HAND. POLWART is well known to EIF audiences from her triumphant one-woman show “Wind Resistance” in 2016, while Roberts has forged acclaimed and original paths with his solo work and in collaborations such as the Furrow Collective. Dan MacCOLL, son of Ewan, who has recently been featured in a glorious show dedicated to his father’s McGUINESS, a keyboard marvel of similar varied pedigree from the Concerto Caledonia to collaborating with Scots folk aristocracy including Alasdair Roberts, and GEORGIA SEDDON, Mike Heron’s daughter, a keyboardist and musicologist who accompanies Mike when they perform with Trembling. Bells.

The concert is curated by JOE BOYD, who produced the Incredible String Band’s records and managed them in the 1960s and has written about that period in his book, “White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s”.

Book Tickets Here

You can buy tickets to the show from the Edinburgh International Festival website by clicking here (https://www.eif.co.uk/2017/incrediblestringband#.WW4oDSMrKlk )

 

American Epic Sessions

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Some of you may recall some time ago when I raved about seeing a screening of a film called ‘American Epic Sessions’. It’s finally arriving on UK screens this Sunday evening at 10 pm and for the next four weeks. In the US, it began this past Tuesday and will continue for the next three Tuesdays on PBS. (Not sure how PBS handles second showings, viewing the archive etc)

This piece, also published on The Guardian online, explains everything. –  happy viewing!

Joe

Imagine the music business in crisis – at a click, anyone can listen to music whenever they like, for free! Why would anyone ever buy a record again? Sounds like 2010, doesn’t it?

But it’s not, it’s 1925, the year network radio swept across America with live broadcasts from big city ballrooms that could be heard from Seattle to Miami. A remarkable series of documentaries, Arena: American Epic (BBC4, Sunday 21 May at 10pm and three Sundays thereafter)tells the story of how this existential moment for the record industry coincided with the arrival of electrical recording. Victor and Okeh Records’ response to the crisis laid the groundwork for popular music as we know it today.

Some bright spark came up with an idea: let’s make records for people without electricity or radios – the rural poor! With their wind-up gramophones, they may be our only market left. Thus began the extraordinary saga of turning Mississippi Delta blues and Appalachian hillbilly music into commercial products, exposing the country – and eventually the world – to authentic Southern roots music. On one afternoon in Bristol, Tennessee, producer Ralph Peer discovered both the ‘yodelling brakeman’ Jimmy Rodgers and the Carter Family, cornerstones of the country music industry. For the ‘race’ catalogue, he recorded the Memphis Jug Band, Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Willie McTell while competitors Paramount immortalized Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton. Other scouts and producers ventured into Louisiana Cajun Country, the Hispanic heart of Texas, the Hopi Indian Reservation and the island of Hawaii. The reverberations of this avalanche of great recordings have shaped our musical world.

Bob Dylan has spoken and written about the effect of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Music on him. Like Dylan, I, too, was entranced by tracks like “Henry Lee” by Dick Justice on the Smith box; the voices then were disembodied, floating ghosts with little context save the obvious colour of their skins. Arena: American Epic puts flesh on those wisps of sound as we hear of the terrible lives of Justice and the magnificent Frank Hutchinson in the West Virginia coal mines.

Film-makers Bernard MacMahon and Allison McGourty have wisely focused on key individuals and archetypal stories, bringing the characters and times to life with great sensitivity and thoroughness. We see the birth of ‘race records’ and ‘country music’, the strands of the fast-expanding record industry that converged in 1954 with Elvis and the rock ‘n’ roll revolution. The films show us how the record industry introduced America to its true self, selling hundreds of thousands of records in the cities as well as in the sticks and developing a world-wide taste for the rural roots of urban music. The headline music between the wars may have been Rudy Vallee, Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley but the attitudes, accents and frames of reference of today’s most popular artists hark directly back to recordings made far away from Tin Pan Alley.

While the first three films delve into history, making up for the absence of live footage with great interviews and a stunning assemblage of still photographs, the fourth crowns the achievement with something different. T-Bone Burnett and Jack White were involved in the project from the beginning and this climax finds them in a Santa Monica store-front studio hosting an array of contemporary heroes – Taj Mahal, Willie Nelson and Los Lobos among them – recording the old fashioned way. An obsessive named Nick Bergh reconstructed the original Western Electric amplifiers, cables and cutting lathe of the first electrical recording studios. Prior to this technology, performers would sing and play into a horn, the sound would vibrate a spiralling stylus in a soft wax disc which would be coated in metal to stamp the shellac discs which repeated the process in reverse on those wind-up gramophones.

1925 saw the first microphones powered with electricity, which sent a far more vivid signal into the cutting stylus, rendering those magical moments in Mississippi and Georgia hotel rooms many times more lifelike than the 78 rpm discs of earlier years. For two hours, we revel in filmed performances in front of that single microphone, as the camera lovingly follows the sound through anaconda-like cables to the cutting head. As soon as the blank disc starts spinning, our soundtrack switches from the film-maker’s 21st century hand-held digital stereo to the glorious mono of the single microphone. There are no faders; if Burnett or White want more of this musician and bit less of that one, he moves them closer or further from the microphone. It’s brilliant theatre, beautifully filmed and makes for glorious television. Miss it at your peril.

The Albert Hall’s Summer of Love

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I plead travel and work keeping me busy and under the radar.

But I’m about to surface. This Saturday, I will be a guest on Loose Ends (Radio Four 1815 and BBC iPlayer thereafter – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n1ybh) talking about the Sixties and various related up-coming events. For example, on Tuesday May 2 at 2130 at the Albert Hall* (up in the Elgar Room, not the big hall…) I will join a few other ‘60s Relics to present the Pink Floyd / Alexandra Palace / 14-Hour Technicolor Dream film by Peter Whitehead. That’s the one with John Lennon on LSD wandering around staring at the lights and his not-yet-met future wife Yoko cutting the underwear off a beautiful girl in a bit of performance art, as well as close-ups of Syd Barrett improvising in the studio on Interstellar Overdrive.

Then on May 14 @ 1900, I make my first visit to Spiritland, the new hi-fi sound-bar in Kings Cross (http://spiritland.com/) for an evening talking about Nick Drake with Peter Paphides. Peter has a special place in the story of Nick’s posthumous career – he was one of the first journalists to write an extended appreciation of Nick’s music (in Time Out).

And finally, on July 3, I will be back at the Albert Hall to present the film “Jimi Hendrix” that I co-produced back in 1973. It includes those iconic Jimi moments such as setting fire to his guitar at Monterrey Pop, Star-Spangled Woodstock and throwing his guitar down for the last time at the end of a great Isle of Wight set. It also has memorable interview moments such as: Pete Townshend talking about Eric Clapton asking him out to the movies so they could share their anxiety about how much better Jimi was than they were; pre-London girlfriend Fayne Pridgin recounting how Jimi spent the grocery money on an lp by someone she’d never heard of (“Bob Dylan? Who the fuck is Bob Dylan?”); and Little Richard explaining how Jimi’s playing “made my big toe shoot up in my boot!”

In advance of the Friday taping, I’ve sent the Loose Ends producers on what is probably a wild-goose chase. In 1968, I took part in a Radio 4 discussion on the subject of the “Cultural Revolution”. Besides me, the panel included Frank Kermode, David Sylvester, Jeff Nuttall and one other whose name escapes me. If they find the tape, there won’t be many scintillating highlights, however. This is due to the fact that the panel blew all its spark and energy during an explosive pre-taping lunch. In those days, they served you cocktails and food at 1230 in the bowels of Broadcasting House. When the rubber chicken and peas arrived, there was a conspicuous empty chair with David Sylvester’s name on it. Sylvester was a respected art critic and curator, a champion of Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud.

A quarter of an hour into the lunch, Sylvester arrived, sweating and nervous, hauling a fat leather briefcase bulging with notes and papers. His seat was between me and Nuttall, who had helped provoke the student strike at Hornsey College and was the author of “Bomb Culture”, a popular text for the 60s underground that attacked most received notions of what constituted art. Nuttall was, in short, David Sylvester anti-matter.

About five minutes after taking his seat, while I was talking to Kermode across the table, Sylvester suddenly knocked Nuttall out of his chair with a haymaker right hand. Cigarette ash, gin and crockery splashed across the table and fell onto the floor. The two were quickly separated and the producer ushered Sylvester out of the room. After a stunned silence, we resumed eating our chicken.

When the producer returned and announced that Sylvester was very contrite, apologizes to everyone and accepts the fact that he could no longer take part in a discussion to which he had been very much looking forward. Nuttall immediately asked where he was: “in the pub around the corner” said the producer. Off went Nuttall. Half an hour later, as we were heading upstairs to the studio, Nuttall and Sylvester appeared, slightly tipsy, arm-in-arm. What could have been an edgy argument about art and culture became a polite love-fest and, as I recall, not particularly interesting radio.

What does it say about the state of our culture today that there is as much chance of fisticuffs between members of the Loose Ends panel as of QPR becoming the dominant football club in West London. Sic transit Gloria mundi, I say.

*I avoid the word “Royal” on republican grounds

You say you want a revolution?

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Sixties Weekend at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Nigel Waymouth and I “in conversation” at noon on Sunday. Free admission! Then I introduce the film “Performance” at 2pm – also free; first come, first served.

A few days ago, an Albanian journalist wanted to know how I connected producing Pink Floyd at the start of their career (and mine) with producing a record of Albanian Saze music last week (“Saze The Day” on Kickstarter). I managed something banal about always being interested in music outside the mainstream and you couldn’t really find music much farther outside the mainstream than what the Floyd were up to in the autumn of 1966 or what my co-producers and I recorded last weekend in Tirana.

But it can seem like a kind of cultural whiplash to go from one to the other (in real time, of course, it took half a century). So yes, there is a soupçon of incongruity running into Albanians on the flight from Tirana to London yesterday who had seen me interviewed on Albanian tv; one wanted to talk about Saze, the other about Syd Barrett.

For me, it’s just part of my life’s rich – and very fortunate – pageant, going from recording a beautiful song from the Southern Albanian city of Permet around noon last Sunday to sitting down at the V&A with my old pal Nigel Waymouth exactly seven days later to talk about London in the Sixties.

Nigel is not only an old and dear friend, he is also a key figure in the London of that era, being a partner in the shop “Granny Takes A Trip” and co-designer of the great UFO silk-screen posters. The big question is who will get a word in edge-wise, as we both love to talk. I’m usually of the egocentric view that I’m non-stop interesting when I get going, but I have to bow to Nigel here; he’s got even more fascinating facts at his fingertips than I do, plus the ability to wield them effectively in a discussion. So I’ll do my best not to interrupt him. For anyone who likes listening to me rattle on about the Sixties, come along on Sunday and listen to someone who can talk circles around me – in a good way!

I have also persuaded Nigel to stick around and help me present the Ur-Sixties film “Performance”. I am sure many, if not most of you, have seen it. But it is definitely worth another look; I never tire of it and always find new things I hadn’t noticed before. For a start, did you know how closely it is linked to the writings of Jorge Luis Borges? Whose face do you think is at the bottom of that bullet-hole at the end? Borges!

I can bang on about the film endlessly, but will only do so briefly on Sunday. Nigel, on the other hand, has first-hand knowledge of the film’s backstory, having been a friend of David Litvinoff (whose head appears on the mysterious paintings stacked in the hall closet and who introduced the film-makers to the ‘boxing’ figures who play themselves in the movie), as well as being involved with the actress playing the French girl staying in “Turner’s” flat.

And of course, if you haven’t spent an hour or two at the Exhibition itself, now is the time to do so. It’s ‘YUGE’ as Trump would say, but unlike the Republican candidate’s ‘fingers’, scale in this case is very rewarding.

One exhibit that can only be seen on the V&A’s website is my edited interview (along with some other 60s veterans): https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/meet-the-rebels

If you like links, another one you might enjoy is this: https://soasradio.org/music/episodes/madera-verde-meets-joe-boyd when I guested recently on “Madera Verde’s” show on SOAS radio.

Come and say hello at the V&A on Sunday if you’re there.

Ciao for niao

Joe

Ashley Hutchings – Gold Badge Award

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I had a most enjoyable evening last at London’s Kings Place Hall. During a Christmas Concert by the Albion Band, I presented its leader, Ashley Hutchings, with the EFDSS Gold Badge Award for Lifetime Achievement. For the uninitiated, EFDSS stands for “English Folk Dance and Song Society”. Don’t laugh! Folk music is hip again in England, 48 years after Dylan put an electric knife in its back…

Here is the speech I gave (my second Gold Badge speech – I presented one to Eliza Carthy a few years back):

Nearly 45 years ago, an electric bass player for a band known for its American West Coast style, walked into the Cecil Sharp House Library. Looking back, it could be said that his arrival there was one of the most fortuitous events in the modern history of traditional music in this country.

Listing an honoree’s accomplishments can be a tedious business, a scroll down worthy events that blur in their repetitive similarity. But not so for the recipient tonight of the EFDSS Gold Badge, that bass player – Ashley Hutchings.

Let’s start with the bands he created. In 1967, he was part of the founding core of Fairport Convention, a band that, two years later, was searching for a new path in the wake of a tragic car crash. With Ashley taking the lead, Fairport created Liege and Lief, an album which has been hailed as the most influential folk album of all time, opening up the world of traditional music to an entirely new audience and to this day, setting a very high bar for any musicians wishing to enliven rock music or folk music by combining elements of the two.

Ashley’s immersion course in British traditional music set him on a path that eventually led out of Fairport and into a collaboration with Martin Carthy and Maddy Prior called Steeleye Span. Footnote here – are there any more enduring insititutions in the world of English folk music than Fairport and Steeleye or any rituals beloved by so many as Fairport’s Cropredy Festival every August?

It was another visit to the EFDSS library that drove Ashley into his next phase.  When he arrived at Cecil Sharp House that day, he overhead an old recording by William Kimber. By the time he left that afternoon, Ashley’s career had taken a new direction – from the “British” traditions that had formed the basis of Fairport’s and Steeleye’s repertoires, to the strictly “English” music that would form the basis of the rest of his life’s work. From that revelation emerged the immortal Morris On album and the ever-evolving lineups and incarnations of the Albion Band.

And he quickly found yet another outlet for his talents and his new enthusiasms. Bill Bryden was creating a body of very English drama at the National Theatre and Ashley brought to The Mysteries, The World Turned Upside Down and Larkrise to Candleford the music that transformed those productions from worthy exercises in historical drama to unforgettable evenings of theatrical magic. I was very fortunate to witness all those plays as well as a special evening that would mark the start of yet another string to Ashley’s bow, those projects that blend musical tradition, story-telling and history in his own signature fashion. The evening was called The Compleat Dancing Master and included recitations by such luminaries as Michael Horden and Michael Gough and comprised an unforgettable journey through the history of English dancing, both rural and urban.

Dancing Master also became a recording, the first of many such projects, including: 

Rattelbone & Poughjack, which explored Molly and Welsh Border dance traditions via readings, actuality, dramatisation and new and archive recordings

Twangin & Traddin, a record that reimagined traditional dance tunes as rock n roll and vice versa – Horse’s Brawl a la Eddie Cochran and Telstar as a Galliard.

An Evening with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings – arriving on a bike, Ashley spent a couple of hours in the guise of Sharp, describing his life and career and playing old cylinder recordings.

Kicking Up Sawdust – commissioned by EMI who wanted an LP of traditional dance tunes to aid the revival of folk dance in schools

Street Cries – an album on which Ashley updated some of the best known English folk songs including songs created as part of his “Public Domain” project that encouraged schoolchildren to work with traditional material to develop their own original songs.

These last two projects pointed the way to one of the most important aspects of Ashley’s career, his school workshops that introduce students to folk song and dance.

But we mustn’t forget that Ashley is a consummate professional, a wonderfully original and skilful bass player,  a musician’s musician, whose vision has been realized not only in theatre and schoolroom, but also on the indelible recordings he has created. With Fairport and Steeleye, he helped create perfect settings for two of England’s greatest singers, Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior. With the Albion Band, he provided the foundation for some of John Tams and Shirley Collins most memorable performances. An argument could be made for Shirley’s album with the Albion Band, No Roses, to stand with the better-known Liege and Lief as the benchmark for modern settings of traditional music.

But we can’t conclude without touching on yet another crowning achievement of Ashley’s career. A few years ago, I attended a weekend at the South Bank celebrating Morris Dance. There were teams from all over the country including the all-girl Belles of London, David Owen’s brilliantly witty graphics, and crowded workshops in every direction. Morris Dance was, finally and amazingly, hip! At the core of the weekend was a concert tribute to the recording that made it all possible, Ashley’s Morris On. It was great to hear young musicians rendering those immortal tracks in their own style, but nothing will ever top the brilliant original.

If forty five years ago, someone had predicted that a rock bass player would almost single-handedly transform the image of Morris dance in this country and provide so many of the sparks that have led to a tectonic shift in the way England looks at its own musical traditions, they would have been called crazy. Call me crazy, but having known Ashley for 47 years, having been the beneficiary of his acute ears in tipping me to the music of Nick Drake, as well having enjoyed many collaborations with him over the years, I have to say that nothing he accomplishes surprises me. And I think the EFDSS has learned that in Ashley Hutchings English folk music possesses a treasure and a more than worthy recipient of their Gold Badge Award.

Ladies and Gentlemen – Ashley Hutchings.

See you at the Morris Dances next May!

Joe