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)
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/
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
“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
This piece, also published on The Guardian online, explains everything. – happy viewing!
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?
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.
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!”
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
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.
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.
Ciao for niao
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!
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.
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
Joe Boyd & Robyn Hitchcock (Chinese White Bicycles) – “Way Back in the 1960s” & “To the Aisle.”
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…..