Archive for the ‘Newsletter’ Category

Ashley Hutchings – Gold Badge Award

Posted by

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

October dates and US Gov’t shutdown

Posted by
Greetings Mailing List –
A few dates coming up that may interest you.This Sunday, October 6 at 1pm Eastern Daylight Time  (6pm Greenwich Daylight Time), I will do a live interview on the  Atlantic Tunnel internet radio program(me).

Then the following Sunday, October 13 at 6pm, I will take part in a “Classic Albums Sunday” session devoted to Nick Drake’s Bryter Later lp at The House of Barnabas in Greek St, Soho, London. We will listen the vinyl all the way through and talk about the recording.

Two Sundays later, October 27 at 3pm, I will talk about Sixties Psychedelia as part of “The Rest Is Noise” weekend at the South Bank. Tickets can be bought here.

There are some new links up on my website (and Facebook page) that you may not be aware of – one is a segment from the filming of my Chinese White Bicycles evening with Robyn Hitchcock at Chicago’s Old Town School of Music

 
(Show link)
Joe Boyd & Robyn Hitchcock (Chinese White Bicycles) – “Way Back in the 1960s” & “To the Aisle.”
chinesewhitebicycles
Robyn Hitchcock and I have a double-act, where I read from “White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s” and he sings the song I’ve written about. The great documentarian Peter Gilbert filmed us at our show at the Old Town School in Chicago and I’ve put up a section of the film here. Watch this space – there may be more film to come in future…. (Because he sometimes sings Mike Heron’s “Chinese White” after I talk about the Incredible String Band, we sometimes call the show “Chinese White Bicycles”. When we think that might confuse people who don’t know the reference, we call it “Live and Direct from 1967″) Download ‘White Bicycles: Audible – http://bit.ly/whitebicyclesaud Amazon – http://bit.ly/whitebicycles Follow Joe Boyd: http://joeboyd.co.uk http://facebook.com/joeboydproducer

a couple of years back and the other is the YouTube Channel that follows “White Bicycles” from beginning to end with my selection of clips showing all the musicians I talk about.

And don’t forget – “White Bicycles” is now available as an audio book, read by yours truly.

I’ll keep you posted about other things that may be of interest.

In the meantime, with the US Gov’t shut down, the Right Wing rampant in almost every democracy, the Middle East in violent turmoil, Fukushima spewing millions of gallons of radioactive water into the Pacific, why am I in a good mood? Because the Pirates are in the Playoffs for the first time in 20 years and QPR is top of the League! Sports is the opium of the people! At least this people…..

Later

Joe

News from the Boyd Cage

Posted by

Dear Mailing List,

News from the Boyd Cage has been thin on the ground for a while, but Change Is NOW! So much to report, I might even resort to bullet points….

  • “Way To Blue”, the live cd of the Songs of Nick Drake concerts of the last three years is out April 15 on Carthage/Navigator in the UK and Carthage/StorySound in the US. And, if you must, you can buy it then from iTunes and other ‘low down’ – I mean ‘download’ – sites. A single of two out-takes is being released for Retail Store Day in the UK.
  • The audio book of “White Bicycles”, read by yours truly is available at www.audible.com. It should also now be available at amazon.com and iTunes. If any of you are new to audio books, I get a nice bonus if you use “White Bicycles” as your initial order upon becoming a subscriber to audible.com. And you can follow the music as you read – or listen – on…

Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on April 23

http://www.thecedar.org/about/tickets

and rounded off by an event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles April 29. (tickets on sale soon)

Each event will feature clips from the Barbican concert and live performances by excellent singers paying homage to Nick’s songs

– more info on that to follow

  • I am doing a bit of talking about Nick Drake and his songs at the Laugharne Weekend in Wales on April 5. Robyn Hitchcock, Charlotte Greig and Keitel Keinig will interrupt me to sing a Nick Drake song or two. http://s452743659.websitehome.co.uk/
  • A double cd of the Kate McGarrigle concerts in London, New York and Toronto called “Sing Me The Songs” will be released in June by Nonesuch, coinciding with the release of the film of the New York Town Hall concert – “Sing Me The Songs (Which Say I Love You)”.
  • There will be a two-day event at Brooklyn Academy of Music June 25 and 26 with a screening of the film on the 25th followed by a discussion about Kate’s legacy as a songwriter, then a concert starring Kate’s children Rufus and Martha Wainwright with a glittering array of guests.
  • And speaking of Brooklyn, I will host two rare US screenings of “A Skin Too Few” at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg at noon on Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14. www.nitehawkcinema.com/
  • On Thursday April 18 at 6:30pm I will give a keynote address to the EMP Pop Music Conference on the NYU campus in New York. It is free and open to the public.  www.emppopnyc2013.com.
  • And yes, loyal readers, on airplanes, in hotels, in borrowed offices, at home and anywhere I can find a flat surface and some peace and quiet, I will continue to write my as-yet-untitled book on World Music….

I was intending to reflect on what this all means in an engaging literary fashion, but I need to get this info out into the cyber-ether NOW – so stay tuned, I’ll fill you in with the appropriate platitudes at a later date.

Hope to see you here, there or everywhere!

best

Joe

Graceland and Google

Posted by

Dear Mailing List,

It’s been quite a while. The usual excuses, I’ve been busy etc., travelling a lot. Rajasthan for research on the book (about World Music, no title yet), Toronto for a Kate McGarrigle tribute concert and Australia (with Way To Blue) and South East Asia at the end of last year. A kind of pathology builds up – falling behind on the book, I feel guilty if any peaceful creative time at the computer is devoted to something other than the Primary Task At Hand! I have also, you may be pleased to hear, been working on Live CDs of the Way To Blue and Kate McGarrigle concerts.

But a couple of recent events have prodded me to sit down and write to you, my treasured Mailing List. One involves a present-day madness and the other a reminder of madness from the not-so-distant past.

Let’s start with the latter. Stuart Jeffries, reviewing “Under African Skies” (a film about the making of Graceland) in the Guardian, reprised the attacks on Paul Simon – “the flouter’”-  for his “disrespect to the black men and woman of the ANC and Artists Against Apartheid”.

His review took me back to a time in my own life, before Graceland, when I got involved with a musical play called Poppie Nongena. I had seen it off-Broadway and was so inspired by the music, the cast and the story (an anti-Apartheid drama about the insanity of the Bantustans project) that I ended up bringing the show to the Edinburgh Festival on my credit card. That led to a run at the Riverside Studios in London (April 1984), rave reviews and a move to the Donmar Warehouse in the West End. Working with that (mostly Xhosa) cast and (white) director Hilary Blecher was a joy, an experience to treasure, to say nothing of seeing audiences on their feet in tears every night, singing Nkosi Sikel Iafrica along with the cast.

We didn’t get any Jeffries-like attacks, but why not? The play was based on a book by a white South African writer; it had been created at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre; the cast was a mixture of actors still resident in South Africa and others in exile. In other words, a walking, talking violation of the Cultural Boycott. But its subjective credentials as a rebuke to apartheid gave it safe, hypocritical passage.

Which leads me back to Graceland. The UN and the ANC condemned it when its release was announced, but both withdrew their condemnation when they realized what a profound boost it gave the anti-apartheid cause (and just in time for the Grammy ceremonies). There is a lot of credit to spread around for the world-wide surge of sympathy that led to Mandela’s release from prison and the first free elections in 1994: Tony Hollingsworth and the Mandela Birthday concert at Wembley and Jerry Dammers’ great Free Nelson Mandela single, for example. But it must not be forgotten that the US Congress over-rode Reagan’s veto of the bill enshrining the Boycott in U.S. law an intriguing 8 months after the release of Graceland. I remember feeling at the time that the work of activists over decades might never have succeeded without that final, emotional push fuelled by the inexorable power of Graceland’s message that the culture being suppressed in South Africa was far more rich, interesting and exciting than the culture of those doing the suppressing. I am convinced this shift in attitudes was fatal to the Boer cause. It certainly wouldn’t have unfolded as it did without Simon’s ‘treacherous’ trip to Johannesburg.

(The film, by the way, is very much worth seeing. Good as it is, I was relieved to see that it didn’t touch on a number of fascinating aspects of the Graceland story I have included in the South African chapter of my book!)

The Cultural Commissars eventually found a way to torpedo Poppie Nongena. As we were preparing our move from the Riverside to the Donmar, an official from Actor’s Equity came to see me. We would have to re-cast at least two of the leading roles with black, UK-based Equity members. I explained that the cast had created the play with Blecher – many of the lines were their own improvisations. The English dialogue was surrounded by Xhosa asides, while the music was all traditional songs full of clicks impossible for a non-Xhosa to replicate. Replacing my cast with Anglo-Caribbean or Nigerian-born actors would kill the show. Too bad, he said, that’s not my problem, it’s yours.

In desperation, I persuaded one of Thatcher’s ministers to write to the Employment Secretary about the matter, thereby kicking the issue of our Work Permit extensions into, as they say, the long grass. We were able to run for four months at the Donmar before it reached the top of the pile at the Department of Employment and they confirmed Equity’s dictum – replace members of the cast with locals or close the show. We found a refugee from the cast of Ipi-Tombi (a ‘70s “happy natives” musical that had a run in London before being shut by anti-apartheid pickets) who spoke a bit of Xhosa (but was a hopeless actor). It was too dispiriting, so we packed it in. (We went on to runs in Australia, Canada and Chicago.)

I have often reflected on the irony that if Labour had been in power, they would have been far less willing to defy, however briefly, the actors’ union and we probably would not have been able to move to the West End at all. In so many countries today, the Left is on the back foot, out-manoeuvred by the forces of Reaction. Could this have something to do with the rigidity of thought represented by the likes of Jeffries’? Do his ilk really believe it would have been worth more years of apartheid, more deaths, more blighted lives, rather than allow for flexibility in the struggle? I suspect many of them do.

An issue occupying at least as much attention as apartheid did 25 years ago, is the Internet. I took part one recent Saturday, in a panel discussion (in a tent in Glastonbury) about the Internet’s effect on music. I think the delegate from Google was expecting accolades for the resulting ‘democratization’ of music and was a bit shocked by the push-back from panellists and audience. Moderator Kirsty Lang was relying on me to be the nay-sayer (a role I was, as you can imagine, happy to fill) but the other panellists also expressed reservations. What was most interesting was that my little injection of bile got such a hearty round of applause!

I voiced three gripes, starting with the quality of sound. The notion that a generation has grown up listening to music via Mp3 files on ear-buds is depressing, and it has the knock-on effect of encouraging recordings in dead rooms with close mic-ing, sampling, and all the other modern scourges of the kind of sonic richness people now pay £75 pounds for in the ever-growing vinyl racks of music shops.

Another obvious complaint involves remuneration. Piracy and free downloads are just part of a general de-valuing of artists’ (and producers’) right to be paid for the music people enjoy and share. This is, to my mind, part of a downward spiral involving ever thinner, shinier, digital recording, the lowering of prices, the ease of purchase (or theft) and the reduction of quality in the music and sound that gets released into the avalanche of new music every week.

Which brings us to the third point. The man from Google proudly showed us clips from a YouTube site of a classical pianist of moderate talent whose entire career has been based on viral internet distribution. The fact that she had circumnavigated the stuffy, closed world of classical promoters, agents and record labels was, we were told, something to be celebrated. I confess to not being certain we should celebrate the fact that this mediocre talent is now better known and perhaps better paid than Murray Perahia. This leads to my central curmudgeonly point – is the avalanche of mediocre music on the Internet a good thing? As we Americans say in support of good lawyers and rigorously fair trials in capital cases, better to let a few killers walk free than to execute an innocent man. Is it likewise true that it’s better to endure so much mediocrity so that one Laura Marling (who is good, I admit) gets her big break?

Playing King Canute to the tides of modernity is obviously pointless, but it is worth noting a conundrum. The ‘60s “record label / A&R man / expensive studio” filter may have been hard to break into, but for whatever reason, it seems to have produced a lot more artists whose box sets are piled by the register than any decade since.

A bizarre punch line to this panel was provided by the man who raised his hand to express his gratitude to YouTube for providing him with an annual income of £200,000 a year. We were all so stunned that no one had the presence of mind to ask him what was on his lucrative (thanks to sponsorship) YouTube channel. The same fellow approached me later outside another tent to say he appreciated my comments etc. I asked him what his content was. Looking around furtively, he leaned close to me and muttered…. “fox hunting videos”.

So there we have it. Musicians’ creations are valued ever lower, none I know makes any kind of a living off the Internet and a bunch of right-wingers in Barbour jackets get their companies to sponsor footage of beagles tearing foxes apart. (This is conjecture – a cursory look on Google for ‘fox hunting’ failed to produce any evidence – but how else would someone make £200,000 from fox hunting videos?)

This seems like an admirably hypocritical moment to announce that I am in the process of launching a “White Bicycles” YouTube Channel. I’ve trawled the Internet looking for decent footage of the artists and the music I describe in the book. It will be organized by Chapter and is tied to the upcoming (this autumn) release of the White Bicycles audio book, read by Yours Truly.

More news to follow in a forthcoming letter – I have tried your patience enough.

Later

Joe

November Dates

Posted by

Hello Music Lovers, (as Spike Jones used to say at the start of his 1950s television shows… he was kidding, I’m not!)

Every time I take a shower these days, I am transfixed by the whirlpool of the drain and reveling in the thought that soon I will be watching water leave the building THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! Yes, I am going South of the Equator, where Stars and Loos work quite differently. If you know anyone who lives in the distant land they call DOWN UNDER, please tell them that:

* Robyn Hitchcock and I are presenting our “Live and Direct from 1967″ two-hander at THE BASEMENT in SYDNEY on November 9 at 9:30pm.

* The “Way To Blue” concert in tribute to the music of Nick Drake is on November 11 at the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE. The band includes usual suspects such as Danny Thompson, Zoe Rahman, Kate St John & co (& strings) with local guests Shane Nicholson and Luluc joining regulars Lisa Hannigan, Robyn H, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Krystle Warren and Scott Matthews.

* The “Way To Blue” show then moves to the MELBOURNE RECITAL HALL for a three-night run November 13, 14 and 15.

For those of you who reside in the so-called “Northern” half of the globe (keeping in mind that in space, “up” and “down” are arbitrary ‘north-ist’ concepts) and are thus about to put on your warm clothes and brace yourselves for WINTER, you can warm yourselves in the glow of Hitchcock/Boyd reprising our Antipodean exploits at:

* THE PURCELL ROOM in London on December 1 at 7:45 pm.

I will no doubt be flogging and signing books and cds in the various lobbies, so please say hello and give me the Mailing List’s Secret Handshake.

And for those unable to be present at any of these evenings, console yourselves with the knowledge that the AUDIO BOOK of WHITE BICYCLES, read by Yours Truly is in production and will soon be available to download. More on that soon…

I will report in due course on our adventures in Botany Bay. I suspect that given the parlous state of Euro-American finances and the rude health of the Aussie dollar, we will be treated much as Barry McKenzie was in London on his first visit in the 1960s. Wish us luck!

Ciao for Niao

Joe

Late Junction

Posted by

Dear Mailing List,

The Late Charlie Gillett used to do something on his radio show he called “Ping Pong”. A guest would bring a stack of recordings and he would answer each selection with one of his own that related to it somehow. I was fortunate enough to play the game with Charlie once and came away with a list of records I had to track down and buy. Plus it was fun.

Nick Luscombe on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” has revived the practice in his own fashion. I will be his guest this coming Tuesday night from 10 to midnight; we’ve already recorded it so I can alert you to the fact that I played a live recording of Teddy Thompson singing a Kate McGarrigle song at Town Hall last May, a rare Zulu harmony track I just bought on vinyl via the internet, a wonderful 1930s calypso about how “of all the singers on the movie screen, the negroes are the best ever heard and seen” and a couple of the examples The Lion uses to make his point. And that’s not all! I even play a few WPSEs that have made it through my exceedingly fine singer-songwriter filter.

For those of you out of range of the BBC, or who better things to do of a Tuesday night, you can hear it for 7 days thereafter via www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/latejunction.

I have also confirmed more “Chinese White Bicycles” date with Robyn Hitchcock:

Oct 4: Santa Fe NM / James A Little Theatre

Oct 7: Austin TX / Cactus Cafe

Oct 8: Houston TX / Mucky Duck

and not to forget Dec 1 in London at the Purcell Room.

Final piece of news is that, never able to resist an opportunity to enjoy the sound of my own voice, I will be recording the audio version of “White Bicycles” in September for audible.com. I’ll let you know the release date as soon as its ready to go.

Now I’m off to hear the steel bands rehearse for the London Carnival.

salut

Joe

Chinese White Bicycles

Posted by

Dear Mailing List, 

I’m setting off this weekend for Great Malvern and the Big Chill Festival. Robyn Hitchcock and I are bringing our ‘double-act’ on Sunday afternoon at 1700 to the White Rabbit Lounge there. If any Mailing-Listers are present, please say hello! 

Meanwhile, you can all see the miniature version of the show we did in Washington DC earlier this year in the office of National Public Radio – the American equivalent of the BBC, sort of…

http://www.npr.org/2011/07/08/137702245/joe-boyd-and-robyn-hitchcock-tiny-desk-concert

We’ve been doing this ‘dialectic’ for a few years now, off and on, and great fun it is, too. It began at SXSW in Austin, Texas over four years ago, when Robyn came to a Q&A for the US launch of White Bicycles and invited me to read something about Syd Barrett at his web-site broadcast the next afternoon. He sang the relevant song and the audience seemed to like the combination. We’ve done it in all manner of locations and regions since then. 

I particularly enjoy the memory of performing “in the round” at a sold-out Poisson Rouge in New York (the old Village Gate). I circled the stage with a wireless mic telling stories of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, some scenes taking place in bars less than100 yards away. I told of my minor role in the Lovin’ Spoonful story, setting Robyn up for his performance of “Daydream”. On “Back in the 1960s”, his opening song, Robyn had approached the mic stand from one side, then straight ahead, then moving to the other side as he glanced anxiously at the section of the audience behind his ‘front-on’ position.  Now, as he strummed the opening chords to “Daydream”, he suddenly fell down on his back, guitar across his chest like Gregor Samsa in a rock ‘n’ roll version of “Matamorphosis” and motioned with his eyebrows for me to crank the microphone down over his mouth. At least this way, no one would be facing his back!

We’ve done the show we sometimes call “Chinese White Bicycles” or “Live and Direct From 1967” about 15 times now, from Norway to Los Angeles. We’re bringing it to London on December 1, at the Purcell Room on the South Bank. Some October dates in the US southwest are currently under discussion. And we’re going to slip out the side door of the Sydney Opera House and do it during the Australian “Way To Blue” tour in November. (More info on that to follow.) 

Robyn explains that, as a provincial teenager with his nose pressed up against the glass of the Sixties, he relied on Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake Lps (and Dylan, of course) for his education. I became his “Frankenstein” and he my “monster”. All I know is that Robyn channels the spirits of those records I made and the music I heard back in the decade of our Glorious Revolution and sings them all with the vivid and authentic spirit for which he is so renowned. 

We always try to include “local content”. New York was a breeze, but other cities have been trickier. I wanted to read my chapter about Bob Horne’s Bandstand when we performed in Philadelphia and Robyn recalled vaguely that he had sung the doo-wop classic “To The Aisle” by the Five Satins. His brilliant version was preceded by a speech concerning the song’s relevance to everyone in the audience, charting as it does the progress from “a little conversation” to procreation. He then forced all of us to ponder the fact that our presence was proof that our parents had committed sexual intercourse at least once and that said act had provided satisfaction for “at least one of them.” 

I have forced Robyn to refresh his memory of Chicago blues, the Move’s version of “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and, at a festival in Egersund, Norway, to learn “Sunny Girl”, an early Hep-Stars hit composed by Benny Andersson. He never complains, although he did refuse to learn Jesse Colin Young’s “Hippie From Olema”, a piss-take of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” from the ill-fated Medicine Ball Caravan film during our visit to Los Angeles. 

White Bicycles is being published this autumn in Russia. I am trying to persuade the Muscovites that bringing “Chinese White Bicycles” to Moscow, St Petersburg and Perm would be a wonderful idea. I’m sure some interesting additions to Robyn’s repertoire would result. 

I don’t just talk on these tours, of course, I also listen. My favourite story came from Joe Thompson, founder of the wonderful Museum of Contemporary Arts where we performed in North Adams, Massachusetts. Having started the project under the benign, arts-encouraging regime of Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988, he was being thwarted by the new budget-cutting Republican Governor William Weld – sound familiar? He managed to clean up one small room in the immense derelict mill complex he had acquired and installed an exhibition of David Byrne photographs, complete with a specially composed, completely obscene tape by Byrne which accompanied the viewing experience.

Weld had, over a couple of years, warmed slightly to the project and had taken to stopping by occasionally on his way to hunt ducks in the Adirondacks. Shortly before the exhibit closed, on a deserted Thursday afternoon, Weld appeared and asked to view the exhibit. Terrified at the idea of this rather right-wing Republican hearing Byrne’s foul-mouthed tape, he tried desperately to put Weld off the idea. Then, as he ushered the Governor in, he began planning for his future as an insurance salesman. Weld emerged, sat down, fixed him with a beady stare and said: “name a David Byrne song”. “What?” “You heard me, name a David Byrne song, any David Byrne song.”  Thompson threw out a title from Remain In Light and Weld sang it, beginning to end, word for word. 

“Name another”, said Weld to the speechless Thompson. He sang that one, too. The governor, it seemed, was an obsessive fan. Mass MOCA got the funding and is now a flourishing hub with exhibits, concerts, restaurants etc, which has rescued the moribund mill-town of North Adams. What are the odds against a member of the Tea Party being a David Byrne fan these days…..

Come see the show, buy a book afterwards and tell me a good story. 

Ciao for niao 

Joe 

EVENT NEWS – LOTS OF IT!

Posted by

A NEW YORK CELEBRATION OF KATE MCGARRIGLE AT TOWN HALL MAY 12 AND 13.

A U.S. TOUR WITH JOE AND ROBYN HITCHCOCK MARCH 9-19 “LIVE AND DIRECT FROM 1967”

“A GOOD READ” ON RADIO 4, MARCH 8

JOE TALKS TANGO AT THE TABERNACLE AT “5 X 15” ON FEBRUARY 28

“LUCKY 13” ENTERS ITS FINAL MONTH – ALL EPISODES STILL PODCAST AT RESONANCE FM

A NEW YORK CELEBRATION OF KATE MCGARRIGLE AT TOWN HALL MAY 12 AND 13.

You know about the Celebration of Kate’s music I produced at the Festival Hall in London. This is a reprise of the same event with many of the same participants plus some new ones. Anna, Rufus, Martha, Chaim, Emmy Lou etc will all be on hand plus some surprise guests we are not yet at liberty to reveal!

IMPORTANT! – I felt badly that tickets sold so fast in London many of you weren’t able to secure any. There is no way to provide a head start for my list here, either. I can only hope that anyone who wants to go takes the bull immediately by the horns and clicks on Ticketmaster . Tickets are on sale from 12 noon Monday, February 7 (Eastern Standard Time = GMT -5)

A U.S. TOUR WITH JOE AND ROBYN HITCHCOCK MARCH 9-19 “LIVE AND DIRECT FROM 1967”

Robyn H and I are doing 6 more US dates in March. If we come to your neck of the woods, please come to the show and say hello. I’ll be signing books and cds after the show. For those who haven’t heard about this, it’s basically me reading or telling anecdotes and Robyn singing the relevant songs. He has been known to sing “My White Bicycle”, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, “Chinese White”, “Bike”, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” and “The Deserter”. Only Robyn could sing all these songs so convincingly – as if it were the mid-‘60s once again….

Tickets available from the venues:

March 9:  Alexandria, VA:  The Birchmere

March 11:  NYC, NY:  Le Poisson Rouge

March 12:  North Adams, MA:  MASSMoCA

March 14:  Philadelphia, PA:  World Cafe Live

March 18:  Detroit, MI:  Detroit Institute of The Arts

March 19:  Chicago, IL:  Old Town School of Music

“A GOOD READ” – ON BBC RADIO 4 MARCH 8 AT 430 PM GMT, REPEATED FRIDAY MARCH 11 AT 11PM – AND ALSO AVAILABLE FOR 7 DAYS ON THE BBC iPLAYER.

Many Brits among you will be aware what a good programme this is – presenter and two guests each bring a favourite book the other two must read, then we discuss them. There have probably been many such instances, but I must say I can’t imagine three more disparate sensibilities than those represented by Muriel Sparks’ Memento Mori, (presenter Harriet Gilbert), Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (Mat Fraser) and George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England (yours truly). A popular British novel from the 1950s, a cult ‘80s book about a family of carnival freaks and a waspish history of the momentous 1910-14 period in British history that has been obscured by the terrible World War that followed. Should be interesting!

From March 8 for 7 days, you can go to BBC iPlayer , click on “radio” and search for A Good Read.

JOE TALKS TANGO AT THE TABERNACLE AT “5 X 15” ON FEBRUARY 28 AT 6:45PM

5 x 15 is a series inspired by the “TED” lectures, where speakers are limited to 15 minutes. I will devote my quarter hour to “Mano a Mano”, a famous tango sung by Carlos Gardel (Each chapter of my upcoming book on World Music will finish with a detailed history and translation of a song and this is the song for the Argentina chapter.)

My fellow speakers include: James Brabazon who will discuss the notorious attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea that involved Mark Thatcher; Andrew Simms talking about the fall of BP and the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico; Justine Picardie on Coco Chanel, and Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues discussing her work. (I have met Eve Ensler and she is an extraordinary woman now doing a wonderful project in the Eastern Congo where rape has become a weapon of war.)

5 x 15 usually sells out, so go on line for tickets at Ticketweb

The Tabernacle is on Talbot Rd in Notting Hill Gate.

 “LUCKY 13” ENTERS ITS FINAL MONTH – ALL EPISODES STILL PODCAST AT RESONANCE FM

I’ve had fun doing the first 13 episodes of “Joe Boyd’s Lucky 13” on Resonance FM radio. It is inspired by the fact that 4 years ago I moved flats and decided to re-organize my vinyl collection, all 5,000 of them!  I deliberately jumbled them up, then started counting 13 with a divider, listening to whatever came up and filing it in the new system (or giving it to Oxfam if it was crap). It was such a pleasure being surprised every day with some unexpected music that I decided to turn the idea into a radio show. Fortunately, I have also marked the good stuff and figured out a way to combine my vinyl and cd collections (plus the cassettes I am transferring to cd…) so that I can start at arbitrary points and count 13 good ones and pull out a plum. Then I use my favourite track on the album the system gives me as part of a short set of tunes related by genre, location, artist, subject matter or whimsy. I’ve rather reluctantly provided Resonance with a track-listing – in an ideal world you wouldn’t be able to view it until you’d listened to the show! I like people being surprised by what comes next…

I plan to revisit this once I have my new book under control. I found  myself sitting on buses and tubes thinking about what tracks to combine instead of thinking about how to begin the next paragraph. And that will never do!!

If you want to check out one of the episodes, go to Resonance FM , then click on “Podcasts” and my name is under “J” in the left hand column. There are 10 up now, with three more coming before the end of February.

I hope to see you at one of the events

All the best

Joe

Way to Blue and Robert Kirby Memorial

Posted by

Greetings, Mailing List

More Nick Drake concerts coming up. Following the January shows and the BBC’s broadcast of the Barbican show this past spring, we’re doing 6 more shows, 2 in Italy and 4 in Britain.

The lineup and dates for the UK are:

Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Scott Matthews, Karine Polwart, Teddy Thompson, Krystle Warren

Thur 14 October
7.30pm
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Tel: 0151 709 3789
Website: liverpoolphil.com

Sat 16 October
7.30pm
Usher Hall
Tel: 0131 228 1155
Website: usherhall.co.uk

Sun 17 October
7.30pm
Sage Gateshead
Tel: 0191 443 4666
Website: thesagegateshead.org

Mon 18 October
7.30pm
Bridgewater Hall
Tel: 0161 907 9000
Website: bridgewater-hall.co.uk

The UK Press Release can be found attached to this email

The lineup and dates for Italy are:

Roberto Angelini, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Scott Matthews, Violante Placido, Teddy Thompson, Krystle Warren

Sunday 10 October
9pm
Teatro Kursaal Santa Lucia,
Largo Adua, 5
Bari

Tuesday 12 October
9pm
Auditorium Parco della Musica, Teatro Studio
Viale de Coubertin, 30
Rome
Website – www.auditorium.com

I’ll be at all the shows and doing on-stage interviews in Bari at 6.30pm on Friday October 8 at Teatro Kursaal and in Rome at 11am on Sunday October 10 at Auditorium Parco della Musica. After both of these events there will be a special screening of the Nick Drake documentary ‘A Skin Too Few’.

There is also a tribute concert to the late Robert Kirby at the Cecil Sharpe House in London on Sunday Oct 3 at 2.30pm (doors 1.30pm), organized by his son Henry. The lineup includes the following artists Teddy Thompson, Ben & Jason, Vashti Bunyan, Luke Jackson, Steve Ashley, Harvey Brough & Clara Sanabras, Fab Cabs, and Danny Thompson. For tickets and further details please visit Robert Kirby’s website

ciao for now,

Joe

Lives that touched mine

Posted by

My (very) occasional newsletters are usually upbeat reports of visits to exotic festivals or great concerts. This will be more somber, focusing instead on lives that touched mine – and many of yours – and which reached their end during these past months.

* * *

Kate McGarrigle grew up in the Laurentians outside Montreal. She and her two sisters joined their father and mother around a piano in the evenings and sang. Parental praise was earned by finding a good harmony part. There was no tv. Their father was born in the 19th century.

In their teens, she and Anna joined various folk groups and Kate travelled a small circuit of coffee houses before returning to Montreal to complete a chemical engineering degree at McGill University. She went back on the road after graduation, met Loudon Wainwright III, started writing songs, married him, gave birth to Rufus and settled in New York City.

I met her in the mid-Seventies because Maria Muldaur, whose first album I was producing, wanted to sing Kate’s “Work Song”. The album included “Midnight At the Oasis” so Kate earned something from the song-writing royalties. When Maria was ready to make her next album, Kate sent her a demo of songs. We picked one called “Cool River”, with delicious, earthy-but-ethereal harmonies I assumed were Kate double-tracked. We invited her out to Los Angeles to add them to Maria’s version and she asked if she could bring Anna. I approved the extra ticket thinking she needed help with the baby. But that unforgettable day in the studio they all turned up, Kate and Anna stood around the piano with Maria and sang while Rufus kept quiet in a basket in the corner.

The sound of those voices together was one of the most astounding things I had heard in my musical life to that date. I persuaded Warner Brothers give us studio time to make a demo. Kate & Anna signed a contract and with engineer John Wood and co-producer Greg Prestopino we embarked on one of the richest – and proudest – recording experiences of my life. I have always loved recording and mixing harmonies; memories of blending those voices into the stereo master of the first McGarrigle album still give me a thrill. We mixed “Heart Like A Wheel” in short snippets cut together; in those pre-automation days the balances were so tricky we could never get more than a few lines right at a time.

Between demo and recording Kate split up with Loudon, but they got back together before the album was released so Kate was too pregnant with Martha to go on tour promoting it. I thought the Warner Brothers art department let us down with the cover. The album didn’t sell – one of the great disappointments of my life. A second album didn’t do any better.

Over the years, Kate & Anna began touring and slowly built an audience. Eventually, everyone realized how much they loved the first album. The British embraced them, so they came to London every few years. Kate and I argued about the touring band – they wanted a Hammond B3 player and a drummer, the cost of which meant tours were rarely profitable. They hated being pigeon-holed as folkies.

Linda Ronstadt and Emmy Lou Harris recorded their songs, their children began to grow and to sing, I licensed their records for my Hannibal label and they had a reunion with me and John Wood for The McGarrigle Hour. Rufus and Martha recorded two of their earliest compositions for it. Loudon came up for a couple of days and sang “What’ll I Do?” with Kate and their two kids. Not a dry eye in the studio.

I visited Montreal and St Sauveur from time to time. Kate turned me on to her favourite historian, Francis Parkman, and I turned her onto mine, Lesley Blanch. She and Anna and Rufus and Martha sang at my 60th Birthday party (cleverly located next door to their concert at the Newport Folk Festival). I shared her pride in her two remarkable kids and their growing success – which brought her through London more and more often. She was the proudest of mothers at the premiere of Rufus’ opera Prima Donna last summer at the Manchester International Festival.

By then she had been diagnosed with cancer and had had multiple operations; I rang her about a week after the last one and she was out of breath. I asked her if she felt OK, she said she felt great, having just walked in the door from a 3-hour cross-country skiing trek.

The family asked me to produce the annual Christmas concert, in London last year at the Royal Albert Hall instead of the usual Carnegie Hall in New York; there was an unspoken understanding that this might be her last. When Martha came to town for her Piaf shows in November, seven months pregnant, she went into pre-mature labour and a tiny son, Arcangelo, was born (now doing fine). Kate flew over, brought food and grandmotherly affection to the hospital and in her spare time worked with us preparing the concert. She wrote a new song, “Proserpina”, about the goddess the Greeks called Persephone and how she created winter because her daughter was far away and not coming home.

The week before the concert, Kate flew to Montreal for a scan and discovered things had gotten worse. She underwent exhausting treatment and travelled back to London in time to rehearse. She was at her shining best that night; everyone I spoke to said it was one of the most remarkable evenings of music they had experienced. (YouTube has some clips from the show filed under “Not So Silent Night”.)

Back in Montreal, Kate held court on the sofa, then in her bedroom. I visited her in early January; she was as witty and sardonic as ever. She died on January 18, surrounded by her family, everyone singing. There was a cathedral funeral in Old Montreal with lots more singing; she was buried behind the church in St Sauveur-des-Monts, near the start of her favourite cross-country skiing trail.

Kate occupied a central place in my personal Pantheon of the greatest musicians I have known. Her songs are smart, romantic, cynical, tuneful and deeply rooted in the traditions she loved. She was demanding, determined, fierce, gentle, loving and never, ever dull. We could start a conversation about a recording or a concert and end up talking for an hour about the Ottoman Empire. I miss her terribly.

* * *

On June 12, I am organizing a tribute concert to Kate as part of Richard Thompson’s Meltdown at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Her family and other well-known guests will sing her songs. I know, it’s the day England plays the USA in the World Cup, so we’ll start it at 430 so someone’s iPhone doesn’t reveal an England (or American! – it’s possible) goal while Emmy Lou Harris is singing “Mendocino”, Linda Thompson performs “Go Leave” or Martha does “First Born Son”.

This link will take you straight to the South Bank ticket site  – seats go on Sale Thursday April 14.  I gather tickets are expected to go fast, so if you want to go, I advise buying immediately…!

* * *

It would be hard to put together a memorial concert for Charlie Gillett; far too many different styles of music would be involved and too many grateful musicians would demand to take part. It would have to be a three-day festival, really. Which actually isn’t such a bad idea.

Some years ago, Charlie suffered an unusual malady that attacked his immune system. The steroids prescribed confined him to a wheelchair and made his face puff up into a smiling moon. I say smiling because nothing fazed Charlie. Whatever torments he may have endured when the outside world wasn’t looking, one of many remarkable things about Charlie was his cheerful equanimity. He was positive, inexorable, curious about music of all kinds and I can’t think of anyone who wasn’t convinced Charlie was a great guy. Typical of Charlie is that here was someone who probably knew more about football (by which we mean soccer, Yanks) than any of us, yet he seldom took part in the ‘did you see that Arsenal goal on tv, yesterday?’ banter. Charlie didn’t watch much football, he just played it every weekend. That was the hardest thing about his affliction, giving up the weekly match; but he fought through, recovered completely and started playing again, often the oldest guy on the pitch but one of the quickest.

I played ‘Ping Pong’ with Charlie once. By that, I don’t mean miniature plastic tennis, I mean Charlie’s rich and delightful radio game where guests bring a bunch of their favourite records and Charlie passes the baton back and forth – ‘you play one, then I’ll play something in response.’ It was a disc jockey’s version of ‘whisper down the lane’ and it could start in Memphis and end in Okinawa. I suspect that aside from Charlie’s vision that it would make brilliant radio, the real motive was that he discovered so much new music that way.

As the radio outlets for decent music shrank over the years, Charlie’s ears came under more and more pressure. Getting a play on his shows on the BBC World Service, Radio 3 or BBC London meant a valuable shard of exposure. One of the side benefits of giving up running my label in 2001 was I no longer needed to keep up with new releases and could retreat crankily to my vinyl, leafing quickly through the reviews in newspapers and magazines. But Charlie kept listening; every year, not only would he fill the airwaves with new artists from every corner of the globe, but he’d put out a compilation of his favourites, most from small companies. Charlie was a born entrepreneur and knew what it felt like to run an indy label.

Many were closer to Charlie than I was and many will write more thoroughly about his books, his radio shows and his generous gestures to so many. But I can say that the calm pillar around which much of the World and Roots Music scene in Britain revolved has been removed with his untimely death. It was comforting knowing Charlie was there and many of us gauged our commitment to music and the community surrounding it by keeping an eye on him. No one competed with Charlie; he didn’t take up anyone else’s space, he expanded yours as he created his own. He glowed so brightly we’re all a bit in the dark now.

* * *

Over the past year, there have been a further six sad and very English funerals. Each honoured someone I have known for most of the years I have lived in London.

* * *

I met Robert Kirby against my better judgment over forty years ago. I was so convinced of Nick Drake’s monumental talent and potential that the idea of hiring an amateur fellow-student of his at Cambridge as our arranger seemed unwise. But the professional we tried didn’t work out and un-assertive Nick was startlingly confident about Kirby. When we met, I found him delightful, full of confidence and affection for Nick and his music. I’ll quote from White Bicycles on our first session together:

“They started with a song I hadn’t heard because Nick didn’t play it on the guitar. As John (Wood, the engineer) isolated the sound of each instrument, adjusting the mic position or the equalization, I could barely contain my impatience to hear the full sextet. The individual lines were tantalizing, unusual and strong. When at last John opened all the channels and we heard Robert’s full arrangement of ‘Way to Blue’, I almost wept with joy and relief.”

Working with Nick was a pleasure to begin with because his music was so rich and because underneath Nick’s shyness was a highly intelligent and skilled musician. But having both John Wood and Robert on board raised the experience to another level. It is a rare privilege to be part of a team of such talented and dedicated individuals without an iota of ego-driven dissent. We might disagree, but there was never any static; we were all moving passionately in the same direction. The two albums the four of us made together are among my most enjoyable and proudest professional achievements.

I believe Robert’s arrangements for Nick had a huge effect on the musical landscape. Not at first, of course, because hardly anyone heard them until years later. Robert’s opportunities to work were limited – his style was a difficult fit with the ‘70s. Eventually he took a ‘day job’ in market research and music became a hobby. My reconnection with him in recent years coincided with such an increased respect and demand for his work that he was able to commit himself full time to music.

It would be wrong to call Robert ebullient – he had an English reserve about him, but his joyful and delighted take on life was impossible to ignore or fail to be affected by. The musicians we assembled for the Way To Blue concert in Birmingham last May all adored working with Robert. His commitment to young musicians and his love for Nick’s music endowed that concert with an extra dimension that elevated singers, players and audience. We were all looking forward to more such concerts with him when his heart failed last October.

He was buried in a family plot behind a village church in Norfolk. His arrangements sounded glorious in our January concerts. His influence has been heard more and more as years went by, but no one ever sounded like him. His sensibility remained unique and audiences will continue to be entranced by his arrangements whenever and wherever we present Nick’s music.

* * *

No sooner had I returned from Robert Kirby’s funeral than I learned of the death of another friend. I suppose that is what happens when you get to my age, but the fact that everyone experiences these losses later in life doesn’t make it any easier. Many of you are familiar with the work of the first three subjects of this newsletter but few of you know of Julian Hope, whose death at 59 was terribly cruel and sudden.

Julian was the grandson of Somerset Maugham and for many years we lived near each other and played tennis from time to time. I knew that he was managing the Maugham Estate and had been instrumental in the adaptation of his grandfather’s work for stage and screen. I was also aware of his background as a conductor and his love for opera, but our stimulating conversations were always aesthetic rather than practical.

That all changed the day he asked if I could help him get in touch with Caetano Veloso’s office. I had worked with Caetano on the Virginia Rodrigues cds for Hannibal, so I asked what he needed. It turned out Caetano’s management represented the estate of Vinicius de Moraes, one of Brazil’s great poets and author of Black Orpheus. The upshot was that Julian and I became partners in a project to combine the film and stage scores for de Moraes’ Black Orpheus into a concert production. Our timing was bad. The creators of The Lion King chose that moment to propose developing a Broadway version of Orpheus and the rights slipped from our grasp.

Julian knew so much; mention any composer, performer, film-maker, opera singer, writer – Julian could quietly impart the most astute and erudite insights. I moved away from his neighbourhood and an eye problem made me give up tennis, but we never stopped talking of other ideas we might do together. A few weeks before his death, he joined me and another friend to watch Murnau’s pioneering film of the South Pacific, Tabu. Julian knew everything about the background of the film, about Murnau’s fateful trip to Hollywood in the early ‘30s and tragic death. It was a typically rich, enjoyable and thought-provoking evening with one of the best-educated (in the best sense of those words) people I ever met. I had heard he was ill but didn’t realize how grave it was. Two weeks later, he was gone. His funeral was full of wonderful music, performed by his many friends from the classical music world.

* * *

Almost a year ago, John Michell died. He was best known for his books on stone-circles, ley-lines, crop circles and other such phenomena. For the non-English among you, ley-lines are die-straight magnetic paths across the landscape that mysteriously connect hundreds of pre-historic monuments such as Stonehenge, Glastonbury etc. I first met John when he donated his basement as headquarters for the London Free School in 1965. Across the street was the All-Saints Anglican Church where John’s funeral took place. In 1966, we used the church hall there for the fund-raising shows that marked Pink Floyd’s debut on the London underground scene.

The Guardian published a letter from me as an addendum to his obituary. 

Dear Guardian,

 

Your obituary of John Michell treated his writings about Ley-lines and the operation of magnetic fields upon pre-historic travel and communication as an endearing eccentricity. I am not qualified to refute this view, but feel compelled to report on a day spent in Michell’s company in 1968.

 

I mentioned to him that I was driving to Pembrokeshire that weekend with Robin Williamson & Licorice McKechnie of the Incredible String Band. John asked if he could get a lift as far as a friend’s house in the Welsh Borders, so four of us set out on a beautiful cloudless summer Saturday. John came equipped with a compass and some Geological Survey maps and asked if we would be interested in helping him conduct an experiment in the countryside around Avebury (home of one of England’s most remarkable stone circles).

 

During a fuelling stop, John took out a map of Southern England and drew on it the most important Ley-line, the one connecting Glastonbury Tor (in the SW of England) with Bury St Edmonds (in East Anglia) which passes through a remarkable number of towns named St Michael or St George as well as many ancient places of worship. Getting out his 1-inch map of the Wiltshire Downs, John proposed that we leave the A4 near Ogbourne St George and attempt to follow this Ley-line Trunk Route across the downs towards Avebury.

 

When we entered the village, John led us to the church, where his map and compass proved beyond a doubt that the Line passed straight down the aisle of the church, dissecting the nave at 90 degrees. We followed a dirt road out onto the Wiltshire Downs, turning into smaller and smaller tracks as we attempted to stick close to the Line. Eventually we parked and continued on foot, compass and map keeping us on track. From the top of a rise, Avebury lay below us. The line we were following cleaved the stone circle below directly in half. More remarkable still was a long barrow (burial mound) placed at right angles to it along the crest of the hill. In the centre of the barrow, exactly where the Line crossed, stood a dolmen (standing stone).

 

Standing with our backs to the dolmen, we looked west along the Line. At 45 degrees to the left, our eyes could follow an absolutely straight road. When the road turned, the straight line continued along an avenue of trees. At 45 degrees right, the same thing was clear: verges of fields, roads and rows of trees stretching in a die-straight line as far as the eye could see.

 

John’s explanations for these clearly observable phenomena included the prosaic fact that Romans built roads along existing tracks, Anglo-Saxon wagons followed suit as did property boundaries and the 20th century highway builders who referred to long stretches of the ‘old straight track’ as “the A5” or “the A1”. That afternoon, and, I confess, to this day, John’s explanation for the geometric string of St Michaels and St Georges seemed almost as plausible. Those names indicate ‘dragon-slayers’ and saints, as we know, often originate in pre-Christian legend and mythology. The ancient Celtic word for dragon, he said, was derived from root words meaning ‘fiery, flying, coiled serpent’. If you were an Ancient Celt, how else would you describe a flying saucer? And how else would UFOs travel around our planet except by following magnetic paths?  (Let me declare at this point that at age 15 I saw a flying saucer in Puerto Rico. It was observed by thousands and made the front page of the San Juan daily paper.)

 

Whenever I met John, I thought of that afternoon and those lines stretching across the countryside to the horizon. And I wondered if he mightn’t have been closer to a profound understanding of our world than are the rest of us.

 

 

Joe Boyd

London

* * *

Those Powis Square shows by Pink Floyd led directly to my starting the UFO club with John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins. Once we were up and running, we decided to commission a poster in a suitably psychedelic style. My friend Nigel Waymouth was running the shop “Granny Takes A Trip” and had designed the shop’s brilliant front window as well as all other related graphics; I felt he should be the one to create the poster. Hoppy, however, had an artist he liked who had done design work for the International Times. True to the spirit of the times, our solution was to invite them to design it together. They immediately set about creating the gold, peppermint-stripe UFO poster that was the centrepiece of the ‘60s poster exhibition a few years back at the Victoria and Albert Museum and went on to create dozens of posters, the originals of which fetch huge prices at art auctions and are constantly utilized to evoke the spirit of London 1967.

The other artist was Michael English who died last autumn. After the last of his “Hapshash & the Coloured Coat” collaborations with Nigel, he went on to a successful career as a painter and designer. Michael was a warm and engaging guy of whom I wish I had seen more over of the years. A worn copy of the gold-and-candystripe UFO poster greets me in my hallway each morning. He and Nigel stood at least toe-to-toe with the great San Francisco poster artists of the era, creating a body of work that transcends its time.

* * *

Since the publication of White Bicycles, I have been working on another one about the World Music phenomenon. During these recent years, I have become more aware of a parallel movement consisting of individuals and groups proposing a re-orientation of how we feed ourselves and our planet. My father’s favourite maxims concerned the compatibility of aesthetics and pragmatics – and World Music followers and food revolutionaries share a vision in which things that taste and sound wonderful also have a good effect on our environment. (No, I won’t take up space here defending that thesis – you’ll have wait for the book!) As Charlie Gillett is a hero of the World Music movement, Rose Gray, who died recently, can claim a place in the Food pantheon.

I knew Rose before she became the co-founder with Ruth Rodgers of the River Café and co-author of the River Café cookbooks. Our paths crossed only occasionally in recent years, but she never failed to be warm and gracious whenever we met. Everyone who knew her or worked with her has similar reports. Trips to the River Café on special occasions confirmed her remarkable culinary skills. I have since come to appreciate how much Rose and Ruth’s insistence on sourcing food locally and seasonally means to our planet, more even than sourcing our music that way! We’ve lost a noble warrior in one of the fundamental causes of our time.

* * *

Fellow collectors have always held a special place in my heart and in the late Hercules Bellville, I recognized a fellow obsessive with a completely individual taste and approach. Hercules’ name was rarely forgotten once heard, but he avoided limelight or credit. He worked for 40 years in the film industry, mostly behind the scenes with directors like Roman Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci and Michaelangelo Antonioni. (It is his hands scarily breaking through the wall in Repulsion.) There are warm and thorough obituaries online from the Guardian and Independent and many knew him better than I did, but from our first meeting in the early ‘70s, I relished talking with him about recordings he had discovered or books found in dusty out-of-the-way shops.

He was as eccentric as anyone with such a name should be, calling in advance of coming to dinner to ensure I had an interesting beer in the fridge – he wouldn’t drink wine. Perhaps the fruit of the hops inspired him to insist that I purchase Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job And Shove It” so that I could enjoy the wonderful beer-centric b-side “Colorado Kool-Aid”. Conversation with Hercules was an adventure from which you emerged wiser.

* * *

I end this litany of loss on a brief encounter with someone who lived to an advanced age and was able to look back with satisfaction on a life well-lived and accomplishments widely recognized and honoured. He was not a friend, but a hero whose hand I had the honour to shake one afternoon three years ago in Memphis, Tennessee.

My arrival there for a book-reading at the Folk Alliance conference coincided with the onset of a miserable cold. I got through the reading, then reluctantly kept a date with local journalist Andrea Lisle, who had interviewed me in advance by phone and promised to take me for a ribs lunch. After an agreeably authentic meal, she proposed a visit to Sun Studios. I was feeling tired and grumpy: “no, that’s just a museum now, not a real studio”, I said.

“How about Stax?”

“Nah – I read somewhere the original building’s been torn down and re-built!”

Determined to stimulate my interest in her local heritage – and cheer me up –  she finally pulled out her hole card: “Maybe Willie’ll be over at Hi Studios this afternoon”. Now you’re talking, I said.

We parked in the middle of a run-down housing project, with boarded up buildings and garbage piling up under the utility poles and entered a non-descript former movie theatre – the hallowed building where Al Green and Ann Peebles made all those great records in the 1970s. Willie Mitchell and his son Boo were sitting in the reception area. We chatted for a while; when I told Willie about seeing the Hi Review in LA in the early ‘70s, he cursed and said “I was so mad that night! Ann had been drinking! And the band played terrible.” I remember a magic evening, of course, but Willie had higher standards.

Boo took us into the studio. It had an incredible acoustic – the sound just popped off the walls. A drum kit was set up where it had clearly remained for forty years. Al Green’s vocal mic was in the sweet spot; where the carpet ended and the cement floor began were the horn mics. It wasn’t a versatile room – it had been perfect for that Willie Mitchell sound in the ‘70s and it remained so these many years later. Clients, some from as far away as Japan or Spain, came looking for that sound and here they found it.

The control room was a 1971 time capsule: no automation, no Pro-Tools, an Ampex 24-track 2” tape recorder, tape boxes, trol room was a 1971 time capsule: no automation, no Pro-Tools, an Ampex 24-track 2” tape recorder, tape boxes, an echo plate. In the middle of the studio was a stairway to a long-unused doorway halfway up one wall.

“What’s up there?”, I asked Boo.

“Dad got a bit carried away after he had all those hits in the ‘70s and built a quadraphonic mixing room up there. I don’t think anyone’s been up there since about 1980!”

When we got back to the reception area, a cheap cd console was playing Al Green singing “I Can’t Stand The Rain”.

 “I never knew he recorded that”, I said.

 “He didn’t until now”, said Willie. “That’s a rough mix for the new record.”

As the sparse vocal-and-rhythm track played, Willie’s left hand toyed with a cheap octave-and-a-half Casio keyboard perched awkwardly on the desk next to the receptionist’s typewriter. Duh-duh, uh-duh-duh – the squeaky little chords coming from the Casio sounded familiar. Horn charts! Willie was figuring out a classic Memphis horn arrangement on a Casio while we chatted in the Hi Studios reception area. I had witnessed the great man casually creating more inimitable music.

Willie Mitchell passed away in January, one more loss to our world this twelvemonth.

Joe Boyd