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Thursday, May 31, 2007

They divided his garments among them

The ritual abasement of Michael Jackson continues with today's Biblical division of his garments. We can all join in via eBay's live auction, apparently.
Nearly twenty years ago I was doing a special magazine with Paul McCartney and innocently enquired if he had any memorabilia we could shoot. He arranged for me to go and look at his "stuff".
This was kept at the time in an art warehouse in London's East End, which was the first surprise. What was I expecting? A damp attic somewhere or a cupboard under the stairs at MPL in Soho Square?
There were entire floors of things that he had put into storage, each item carefully catalogued. What kind of things? Well, his old Sgt Pepper jacket for a start as well as lots of stage clothes. Hundreds of gold, silver and platinum discs. The keys to every city in the United States of America. Old correspondence. Snide notes from John Lennon. Bits of artwork, exercise books full of lyrics. A hand signed letter from his local bank manager back in Liverpool pointing out that the first cheque from EMI had cleared but he'd better not spend it all at once.
At the time it seemed strange that he should have bothered to have squirreled all this away. But over the years his policy of buying up items from his own past such as the original Quarrymen acetate began to make more sense. It fitted into a plan. Whether it was a desire to claim his own past before it all disappeared into some glass case in a Hard Rock cafe or a far-sighted investment in some future Beatles museum we don't know. But I wouldn't mind betting he'll be watching Jackson's past go under the hammer today with more interest than the rest of us and thinking of his own collection, now presumably much expanded.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Darling, you look faaabulous"

NME have done a clever thing with their Beth Ditto cover. It probably won't sell any more copies to its Muse-loving readership but it does do something to restore its reputation for stirring up controversy. And Ditto's one of the few people who could get away with telling the truth about size zero models - that they're largely the creation of gay male designers, to which she might have added gay male fashion editors, photographers and stylists.
It's a strange accommodation reached between their aesthetic sense and the insecurity of the average woman, who still says "you look fabulous" when she means "you've lost weight". What it has nothing to do with is heterosexual male desire.
Whenever you research the readers of women's magazines and ask them if they'd like to see size 12 models they say "yes". But when you present them with size 12 models they run a mile in the other direction. Everybody in the business knows this.
Plus there's a form of inflation at work here. Models get thinner just as basketball players get taller, rugby players get bigger and millionaires get richer. It's Darwinism.

Secrets and lies

The Take That reunion was one of the cruellest occurences in pop music history. Because it worked so spectacularly it had the unfortunate side effect of making every other boy band think they too might have a second shot. 5ive got back together, even though there were only 4our of them, but then had to announce "with deep regret that their comeback is no more", which was something of a pop first. Last night Channel 4 showed their film of the no less abortive reunion of East 17.
This had the makings of quite a good Mike Leigh film. They all still lived in Walthamstow. One of them worked as a roofer to support his young family. Tony Mortimer, who had written their hits, lived in a half timbered executive home and had money in the bank. He's been through depression, anorexia and spirituality. My old colleague Alex Kadis popped up to vouch for what a difficult time he'd been through. Brian Harvey, who had hogged the limelight in their glory days, lived with his gran and bounced off the walls like a man who would never be able to settle into normal life again.
There was a reunion show, which went quite well. There was a skin-crawling meeting at the record company to listen to "the new songs" (though Warners were clearly only interested in putting some topping on a Greatest Hits). There was a new manager making optimistic noises intercut with an old manager warning it would never work. The final expression of musical and personal differences came in the form of a punch-up which took place off-camera. And at the end the three members who needed the money were playing discos in Essex with their backing tracks on an iPod while the one who fancied himself as the Brian Wilson of the group was sitting in his gazebo staring into the space where the ocean ought to be.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Slip Sliding Away

Lit a fire yesterday and read "Fiasco", which doesn't leave you feeling all that cosy. Setting aside the geopolitical consequences for a moment, this story could be read in the future as a management textbook. It's got lots of the features of your standard corporate catastrophe: delusional management crossing their fingers and hoping, a belief that sheer expenditure can solve all problems, an executive class so keen to avoid the mistakes of the last conflict that they drift into a whole new set and - don't laugh - an over-reliance on PowerPoint.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Something for a rainy day

Bringing It All Down Home

Delaney and Bonnie's "Motel Shot" was recorded in 1971 in the front room of engineer Bruce Botnick over one twelve hour session. There were no drums. Buddy Miles played a briefcase and Joe Cocker banged on the side of a piano. The key players, apart from the singers, were Gram Parsons, Duane Allman, Dave Mason and Leon Russell. The first side is gospel, the second side is blues. It makes more sense now than it did 36 years ago.

This green and pleasant land

In the previous post I referred to car dealers from Kent and cab drivers from Essex. Some people thought I might be confusing the two. I don't think I am. Obviously these are both cases of outmoded social stereotyping but if you read the Evening Standard you'll be surprised by how robust they remain.
"Car dealers from Kent" is supposed to summon up a picture of free spending blokes in top of the range Mercs, with wives who spend much of the day at the local health spa, who may have been known to occasionally stray into "off the books" transactions. Hence Kent, which police admit is the area of the country with the highest density of top level gangsters thanks to its verdant scenery, proximity to the coast and many quiet airstrips. Fact.
The other fact that a disproportionate number of cab drivers come from Essex will have been a discovery made by anyone who has attempted to get out of the capital in a westerly direction after midnight.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

In defence of Barbra Streisand

I won't be going to see Barbra Streisand but I'm getting huge entertainment out of her first European tour and it hasn't even started yet. Last night she cancelled the opening show in Rome because of "production issues". Her reps, who are legion, said it was absolutely nothing to do with high profile protests over the fact that her ticket prices were too high. On her official site, where massive pomposity presides just under a very thin skin, she claims that this tour will bring her into contact with lots of different cultures (London! Vienna! Stockholm!) while enabling her to make lots of money for her charitable foundation.
Obviously she is going to get as much out of the market as she can. Prices start at £100 and if you want to be in the first five rows at her London shows you have to post a bid starting at £600 and then slug it out with half the car dealers in Kent.
Are we bothered? Are we indignant? Are we cross? Is this something that the BBC should be getting steamed up as if it were an expense like road pricing or prescription charges that we couldn't avoid incurring? Here's a case for the defence:
  1. This is a unique event. All gigs are to some extent unique, which is why people will pay so much to see all kinds of people nowadays. A gig ticket used to cost half of what an album cost. It now costs five times more. Streisand has never played here before and she presumably won't again. It's not like Glyndebourne or Wimbledon, which take place every year. If it's that important to you to see her you'll pay.
  2. Things like this are not just for the rich anymore. We don't know who's got money. We only know who spends it. Thousands of weekly paid Scousers set off to Athens last week prepared to pay 800 euros to a tout for a European Cup ticket. Which was probably forged. Is there any system of price regulation that would have had any effect on that example of the madness of crowds?
  3. Some people get enormous pleasure from extravagant displays of expenditure. In fact it's a national sport. Last time I was in Tiffanys in Bond Street (quite a few years ago) it was full of cab drivers from Essex and their families spending bundles of folding money on tom. Chacun son gout.
  4. If the tickets were priced at a fiver they would still end up going for hundreds of pounds on eBay because of a thing called supply and demand. Promoters and artists are realising that millions of pounds of revenue are being raised around their concerts, revenue which they're not participating in. They're starting to figure "better to me than to the touts".
  5. Nobody has to go.

One small step for an incompetent

Ian Reeves, who's one of the contributors to Word, got me interested in the idea of video podcasting. I thought it might be interesting to see how it might work with my column in Media Guardian about magazines. After all, magazines aren't just vessels for "content". They're three dimensional interactive devices with touch and feel at their heart. So I've had a go all on my own. This is about the launches of Portfolio and Monocle. Anyone who wants to subscribe can just put this link into the "subscribe to podcast" box under the "advanced" tab on their iTunes menu. I love podcasting and we've put a lot of work into the Word podcasts. It's very gratifying to see how popular they seem to be. I've still no idea how they work and every step we've made has been an agonising achievement of trial and error. If anybody wants to tell me what I'm doing wrong and how to fix it I'll buy them a drink.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The legendary TMS outburst

The sound of people laughing is the only thing that always remains funny.
I want this played at my funeral.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Word Weekly 6

David Hepworth, Mark Ellen and Andrew Harrison see if they've got enough dosh to buy EMI, look at ways to win pop quizzes and contemplate the most expensive gig in the history of the world

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nine things that bug me about alt-bloody-country acts


Now clearly we shouldn't generalise but sometimes you come across a whole tribe of musicians who seem so bent on obeying the iron rules of their own category that they beg to be tarred with the same brush. I get sent hundreds of records by alt country acts. Soon as they pop out of the Jiffy bag and you catch sight of the first plaid shirt and the straggly beard you know exactly what you're dealing with. Been working up to this for ages.
  1. They all look alike. It's my contention that the acts who get filed under alt.country are more homogenous in their appearance than any other species of musical act, up to and including the guys who wear blankets and blow into panpipes in historic city centres. Their look is usually pitched somewhere between The Band round about their second album and the cast photographs from "The Long Riders".
  2. They sound the way they look. Alt country is the terrible revenge of specialism. Whereas the Flying Burrito Brothers sounded as if they had listened to everything from hillbilly music to New Orleans rhythm and blues to British beat, Son Volt sound as if they've listened to nothing but the first Flying Burritos album. The reissue with the interesting sleeve notes. They live in a tiny airless critical category when they ought to be out in the open air.
  3. They ache to be poor. Having grown up in the midst of the longest sustained period of prosperity in human history it naturally follows that they like to be photographed in a way that makes them look like undernourished, dust-blown migrant workers from the 30s. With rickets.
  4. Nobody knows what the bloody hell they're singing about. Whereas the people they purport to idolise, the Merle Haggards and Loretta Lynns of this world, sang about real lives in a way their audience could relate to, these guys wear their obscurity as a badge of honour. Go no further than Neko Case's "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood".
  5. They take weeks to get to the point. No alt.country record is complete without a long weedy first verse sung by a guy who's trying to sound consumptive, an "impressionistic" instrumental peregrination in the middle that only serves to prove that the steel guitar is a sight harder to play than they thought when they got it off eBay and an ending that takes hours to fade.
  6. They're about as country as Alan Sugar. They're all college educated middle class brats from the suburbs of America's great cities whose parents are academics or advertising execs. Their act is an attempt to atone for the comfortable circumstances of their upbringing by playing the banjo on the naugahyde bench seat of an old car in a scrap yard, hoping this will make it clear that they are down with the poor and dispossessed (who are actually watching Monday night football on the biggest flat screen TV you've ever seen.)
  7. They're just not catchy. Has anybody ever heard anything from Okkervil River or the Wrinkle Neck Mules or Corb Lund or Gillian Welch that you could describe as infectious? Has anyone ever found themselves cutting a rug to a bracing jig that turned out to be by Leftover Salmon? I think not. That's because these people are bent on taking something which is supposed to be for everybody and turning it into a narrow vehicle for their own self-image.
  8. None of them are successful. When you consider how long this whole thing's been around as a movement, when you count the number of specialist radio programmes devoted to its combined output and the number of mash notes addressed to it in the posh papers by clueless nitwits invariably including something along the lines of "think country music is all stetsons and lost dogs? Prepare to think again", what's amazing is that this genre hasn't thrown up one act that could be called a household name. Not one true front rank headliner. Not one magazine cover star. Not one person big enough to be anywhere near the top of the bill at Farm Aid, let alone Live Earth. Why is that? Public wrong again, huh?
  9. Alt country is living proof that rock critics are nearly always wrong. It's music for people who haven't seen all that much life but have read a deuced of a lot about it, who can sit rapt through "Paris Texas" bu can't understand what anyone sees in "The Dukes Of Hazzard" and wish that the people who like Willie Nelson hadn't voted for George W. Bush. It's a footnote, a commentary, an afterthought, a no-count ante chamber just off an enormous great tent in which educated people try to wrestle with the inescapable fact that some of the things that make popular music popular are some of the things they like least.

Kids do the darndest things


Ed Husain's The Islamist, the memoir of a young East Ender whose parents came from the Indian sub-continent and who was drawn into radical Islam as a teenager, is an earnest, repetitive read but it does shed some light on why, for instance, so many of the girls at the school round the corner from the office wear headscarves. This is not the upholding of the tradition of their parents. It's a simple way of achieving some kind of prestige in a youth culture that's becoming increasingly about display. And it makes them more attractive to boys.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The greatest recording organisation in the world

After years of doing the courtship dance with Warners, EMI is selling out to a private equity firm. There's a lot of not very well informed talk on the radio this morning about DRM and its supposedly magical effect on the business model but as Bob Lefsetz says, the mainstream record business appears to be finished. "There are no longer dominant acts that people believe in, only minor ones with relatively small colonies of believers. And if you don't have believers, you're fucked. Better off to manage a jam band than to own the masters of a pop group."
He may be right but the other big issue, with all mainstream record companies, has to be costs.
The other week I got a call from EMI asking me to do a voiceover for a John Cale ad to run on a couple of digital rock stations. I turned up at the appointed time at one of those flash Soho sound studios where there are two leggy girls on reception and they bring you coffee in designer cups. When the rep from EMI turned up - late because for some reason they'd ordered a car to deliver them into the West End during rush hour - it took about two minutes to do the ad. The studio is bound to have put in a four figure bill for their services, on a job that I could have done on my Mac at home.
The point of this story is, big record companies still make records in the only way they know how - expensively. Bob Geldof said years ago that bands were taking too long to make records and throwing too much money at the problem. It was true then and it's even truer now. Just go and look at the credits on a mainstream rock album and count the number of studios. Now imagine how much had to be spent on flights and hotels just to get between them. In the last ten years TV and film have done a far better job of adjusting their costs to the size of a fragmenting market than the record companies have. Despite the regular rounds of redundancies it seems to me that there are more people in the HQs of the big record companies than there were back in the days when the cotton was high. Many of them are doing jobs that either don't require doing or could be freelanced out.
When EMI wanted a cover for the first Beatles album in 1963 they called in Angus McBean who arrived in reception, looked up at the staircase, lay down on the floor, got them to look over and banged off half a dozen frames. "That's it," he said.
There's a lesson there.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Media Guardian magazines column

My Guardian column is here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

It all comes back

There aren't many things as susceptible to fashion and nostalgia as the naming of children. Most of my contemporaries, who were themelves named John, Michael, Peter, Susan and Helen, gave their own children Edwardian, officer-class names like Charles, William and Emily.
The next generation went for NCO names like Stan, Alfie and Maisie.
For years I have been waiting for some notable to give their child the name my dad, who was born in 1919, bore and hated so much. This weekend it happened, in a moderate blaze of publicity, as England bowler Matthew Hoggard announced the name of his firstborn.
Ernie.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Picking of Nits

The actual English language isn't quite good enough for some people without an overlay of hype and metaphor. During today's Cup Final John Motson said "the FA Cup Final is back at Wembley, its spiritual home". Wouldn't that be its actual home, John?

O Canada

I'm sure I would have liked this record if I'd just come across it on CD, but I love it for its record-ness. Jesse Winchester came from Louisiana and escaped to Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war. The cover of his first record, which came out in 1970, made him look as if he were escaping conscription into the army of Robert E. Lee. Bizarrely, it's on the Ampex label. Robbie Robertson produced it. It's one of the best half dozen things he ever did. On the face of it this song is a straightforward bucolic fantasy. However he leaves her in the end because he can't help doing the wrong thing. Until this week I hadn't played the vinyl for thirty years. I can't tell you how good it sounds.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Rising Damp Corner

I can't say I find Rod Liddle all that engaging a character but I take my hat off to last week's column in The Spectator in which he recalled the first time he shared a flat with a load of blokes.
"In the toilet," he writes, "which was never, ever, cleaned, someone — God knows who — had nailed a Birds Eye fish finger to the wall." I love these Withnail stories about just what slobs all men are during their twenties because no matter how outlandish the detail of the levels of filth and debauchery to which the writer descended, you just know that it's all true.
Next year my son leaves hall and goes into a flat. I will not be visiting.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sanctus

This is the "Sanctus" from "If..". It's by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin who were a choir put together from Congolese boys by a Belgian priest. Being a public school Marxist, Lindsay Anderson no doubt loved the irony of using them as the soundtrack for the rebellion at his old school. But what makes it work is it's just an unbelievable sound.

Accustomed as they are

To Lord's for the Test Match, through the good offices of Fresh Media. Middle of the afternoon they hauled down the flag of St George from above the England dressing room and replaced it with the Royal Standard. Then, during the tea interval, the players lined up to have their hands shaken by HM The Queen. The only official acknowledgement of her presence was an apologetic "welcome to her majesty" over the PA. It was bit like the Mayoress turning up at the Church Fete.

"Say bye bye, Sooty"

Load of old pictures of the Smash Hits team that Virginia Turbett took in the early 80s have just turned up at Music Pictures. This is me and the Art Director Steve Bush.
It was the week Sooty and Sweep reviewed the singles.
Happy days.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Little Malcolm and his struggle against the eunuchs

Rob has been to interview Malcom McDowell. He's doing promo for the DVD release of If..., Lindsay Anderson's 1968 film about an insurrection at a public school. I can't wait to see this again. Nor can this bloke because he's made his own trailer!
This clip is the famous cafe scene where Malcolm meets a beautiful girl and within minutes is grappling naked with her on the floor to the "Sanctus" sung by the Troubadours Of King Baudoin. It was the "Reservoir Dogs" of its day, one of the films that seemed to reflect the riots in Paris and elsewhere. Probably be rather dated now but Malcolm's still a star. My gay flatmate used to fancy him something terrible and I can see why.

I heart Katherine Whitehorn

Last night's "The Widow's Tale" on BBC 2 was as unvarnished as documentary gets. Six women - Anna Ford, Joan Rivers, Katherine Whitehorn, Alex Best, Lady (Tony) Banks and Jayne Zito - talked about the experience of losing their husbands to heart trouble, cancer, murder, drink or suicide. It was very good. I'm not sure it's relevant to point out that they all looked terrific, except Joan Rivers who has in her own words had so much plastic surgery her husband would no longer recognise her. And the one who looked most terrific was Katherine Whitehorn who's 80 next year. Katherine's the one who said "Outside every thin girl there's a fat man trying to get in."

Word Weekly 5

Mark Ellen and David Hepworth talk to Trevor Dann about what - if anything - is the matter with music radio


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Books aren't the only things that furnish a room


There used to be cheap furniture stores where you could buy a yard of books.
Somebody should do the same with LPs.

"If dreams were thunder..."

Much as I'd prefer to keep my mystique, here's what was in those pills you took:
Hewn From The Living Vinyl:
Wings: "Let 'em In", Dennis Wilson: "River Song", The Heptones: "Country Boy", T-Bone Burnett: "The Sixties", The Animals: "Club a Go Go", Bryan Ferry: "Shame Shame Shame", Modern Lovers: "Pablo Picasso", Shirley Collins and The Albion Band: "As I Went Out One Morning", The Passions "I'm In Love With A German Film Star", Peter Gabriel: "Here Comes The Flood".
Crackles On Wax
Arthur Alexander: "You're The Reason", Toots: "Dreams To Remember", Little Feat: "New Delhi Freight Train", Bonnie Raitt: "Angel From Montogomery", Andy Pratt: "Avenging Annie", Colin Blunstone: "I Don't Believe In Miracles", Beach Boys: "Kiss Me Baby", Otis Redding: "Hard To Handle", Bryn Haworth: "Let The Days Go By".
By the way, Bonnie Raitt's "Angel From Montgomery" is one of the great covers of all time. It's a John Prine song but she does it way better. For the way she sings "if dreams were thunder and lightning was desire this old house would have burned down a long time ago" she should be carried shoulder high for the rest of her life.

The Correct Use Of Paper

Portfolio is a sort of business magazine that's just been launched in the States. You can tell this has happened because you can't move for copies in London. That's the first thing posh American publishers do with launches. Ship as many copies into the English speaking countries as they can and hope they don't come back. Anyway, it has an excellent picture feature near the end with brilliant pictures of the new generation military hardware that's being used in Iraq. You can view them in a gallery here, but the interesting thing is they don't look anything like as large, terrifying, beautiful or shockingly real on a screen as they do on paper. It's like fashion. You simply can't do this kind of thing in any other medium.

Monday, May 14, 2007

And it stoned me

Hardly played a CD all weekend. Pretty much all vinyl. Don't know how long this enthusiasm will last but for the moment I can't believe just how much kinder vinyl is to your ears. Dug out the old copy of Van Morrison's "Moondance" that I bought in 1970 after hearing John Peel play "Into The Mystic" (probably the sum total of its UK airplay at the time) and just stood there looking out of the window at the garden through the whole first side. Felt transported, which doesn't often happen.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another Great Radio Cliché

Peter Day presents the excellent In Business on Radio Four. Just caught tonight's which is about marketing to teenagers: lots of blasé voices claiming to have cracked the code of what today's young people want and hoping to sell their expertise to panic-stricken brands. Anyway, this programme had one of the signature clichés of all radio programmes that deal with youth - the panel. This will always consist of one girl, one boy and one person with an identifiably "ethnic" accent or name. This trio will always say the same things: grown-ups patronise us, we're not impressed by that kind of thing, we only respond to things that are really subtle etc etc. The recourse to the panel is rooted in the the mistaken belief that people in their teens are more homogenous than people in their forties. It will also have fallen foul of the fact that people in the media only know other people in the media and therefore one of the children will have an amusing first name and a parent who runs a major media company. This did both.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Department of you couldn't make it up

Goodbye Bafana is the story of the relationship between Nelson Mandela and his gaoler. What does it say on the disclaimer at the bottom of the TV promo? "Contains racist references."

Hewn From The Living Vinyl via New Orleans

Because he was talented and good looking, Robert Palmer got the full treatment from Island in 1974. He said he wanted to record in New Orleans with the Meters and Lowell George and so they arranged it. These were the guys that everybody wanted to sound like in the early ’70s because they seemed to have a handle on a strain of funk that was polished but rootsy at the same time. Most of the songs on "Sneaking Sally Through The Alley" were provided by the likes of Little Feat and Allen Toussaint but this track "Get Outside" was his stab at writing in the same vernacular. They were the sort of band that proved the old adage "nobody's actually playing what you're hearing". And on vinyl it still sounds fantastic.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Last of the winter wine

The end of the football season draws near. The thing I'll miss most is The Game, the weekly podcast that Danny Kelly fronts for The Times. Danny has always had the kind of energy that's slightly frightening when you're in the same room as him. It works perfectly in this medium. He's joined in the studio by Gabriele Marcotti (a cosmopolitan Italian who's a permanent reminder of how insular British football can be), Alyson Rudd (the original one-eyed Liverpool fan who graces each show with a terrace anthem done solo) and Bill Edgar (whose anorak can actually be heard crackling in the background). The producers bring in guests, some of whom are OK, but actually it's the sameness of it all that's so appealing. I download it and listen on the way home from the office. Sometimes twice.
I don't know what I'm going to replace it with during the summer. Podcasting's a tremendous medium but I've heard a lot of rather shrill stuff in search of potential new friends. Any suggestions?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Never mind the inner man


I am thinking of introducing another meal into my daily routine because at the moment there are times of the day when I'm almost faint with hunger. Current routine is as follows:
  • rise at six, take tea and toast sometime during first hour
  • midway through morning (assuming working at home) more tea and toast
  • one a.m. lunch - something on toast (could a theme be emerging here?)
  • four o'clock - tea and a biscuit to stave off pangs
  • eight o'clock - cooked dinner
Clearly it's not enough. It's a routine first devised in my early twenties, when I used to get up at nine, and has failed to keep pace with my changing routine. But where should the additional meal go? And of what should it consist?

Radio Fun Time

Assuming you didn't take the day off to listen to it, you can hear "Three Minute Education" here.

"Some day, Dad, all this won't be yours..."

This is my column from the new issue of Word
It’s almost forty years since the Beatles stopped making music. The Beatles' organisation continues to make money, however, even with two of the principals tragically dead. Once you start a business as successful as this you can't wind it up. You can only sell it on.
Neil Aspinall, who has run the Beatles' affairs for forty-seven years, has recently parted company with them and the reins have been handed to Jeff Jones, a label professional who will no doubt be charged with making the company’s priceless catalogue crack. The end of their stand-off with EMI over back royalties leaves the road open to some sort of deal with iTunes which will probably see their catalogue available online. This will be a huge story for the financial pages and will pass wholly without comment down among the humans where our iPods are already full of all the Beatles music we want.
At the same time as this went on Julian Lennon entered into a deal with a music publisher called Primary Wave that gave them the right to collect royalties on theshare of of the Lennon/McCartney catalogue that he inherited on his father's death. Bundled into the deal was an agreement whereby Primary Wave would put out Julian’s new album. Julian is now four years older than his father was when his life was cut short and at the age when financial advisors suggest laying the foundation of a substantial pension while ego whispers that he could have one last swing at his dream of being a rock star.
When Courtney Love did a similar deal with Primary Wave last year for her share of Nirvana's catalogue informed speculation estimated that she got $50 million for her pains. If that’s what you can get for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" we can only guess at what the Beatles’ big songs might be worth. Larry Mestel, the boss of Primary Wave, who have presumably got some serious investment behind them, said “I felt the combination of Courtney's creativity and the things I can add can really help in creating more value for these copyrights” which suggests all concerned are embarking on a noble adventure and not simply living high on the proceeds of somebody else’s work. But they would, wouldn’t they?
God knows we should not minimise the aimlessness that is so often the lot of those whose parent is a rock superstar but it will be interesting to watch what happens in the years to come as the authors of pop’s great works go to their graves and bequeath their precious copyrights and the immense amounts of money that flow from them to offspring who, aside from a little modelling and some real estate dealing, have never done a day’s work in their lives. The originators were uniquely driven individuals who wanted to escape from unremarkable backgrounds. Their children, on the other hand, often raised amid opulent neglect, appear to have trouble getting out of bed.
Within thirty years time the majority of the value built up by the first rock superstars will be in the hands of people who had nothing to do with earning it. If they hang on to it we will see the creation of a whole new branch of the aristocracy freed from the obligations involved in owning vast country houses or having to turn up at church. If they decide to cash in then we could imagine a future in which "properties" like the Beatles, Nirvana, Harry Potter, Bart Simpson and Joni Mitchell are traded between conglomerates.
It's happened before. Elvis Presley was worth more dead than he was when alive. Walt Disney died in 1966 but his name is still all over the company and his adjectival value is undiminished. JRR Tolkien died in 1973. In 1990 Harper Collins bought his publisher just to get their hands on the rights to his books and benefit from the merchandising boom that followed Peter Jackson's films. Only the other day his son Christopher "completed" and published his last novel The Children Of Hurin.
The potent combination of technology and greed will continue to extend the lives of songs, stories and characters in ways their creators could never have envisaged. Who’s to say that in forty years time the music of Pink Floyd, Blondie, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, James Brown or even the Gypsy Kings will not be still part of the entertainment mix? The Beatles famously thought they might get out of the game with enough to open a couple of hairdressers shops. Nobody thought that they would be earning anything from their songs within ten years of their composition let alone within the lifetimes of their great-grandchildren. But they will and many a lawyer will grow fat on arguing claim and counterclaim. By that time they'll be best off out of it. And so will the rest of us.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Word Weekly 4

Mark Ellen, David Hepworth, Rob Fitzpatrick and Kerry Shale on Prince's curious plans for the Millennium Dome, the indecipherable Bob Dylan and the strange things boys do to pay tribute to their favourites.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Infallible Law Of Unintended Consequences

I never got around to watching "Life On Mars" because I'm too old to be attracted by the conceit that the 70s were some kind of Dark Age before the dawning of liberal enlightenment.
Anyway, that's by the by. Reading Faking It you're struck by this thought - whatever happened to all the blind musicians? I mean geniuses like Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ray Charles and Doc Watson, who became musicians because it was an acceptable career option for somebody whose disability prevented them doing "proper" work.
In those days it was considered acceptable to pity people in that situation. That's no longer the case, which may be why you'd be hard pressed to think of half a dozen prominent contemporary musicians who are blind. That and the fact that everyone's a TV entertainer these days and maybe disability offends our visual sensibilities.

"Up to a point Lord Copper"

Now that Patrick Moore has gone into print claiming that women have ruined the BBC, where does that leave Janet Street Porter, who's been saying for years that all the problems of TV were down to the fact that it was controlled by middle class, middle-aged white men? Are they both right? Or are they just that rarest of media commodities - available interviewees with no bridges left to burn who speak first and think afterwards?
I don't buy this idea that TV has a problem (let alone who's to blame) any more than the press has a problem. There's simply more of it than ever before and it's never been easier to find something that you'll like and avoid things you won't. I wouldn't have an opinion on anything on BBC 1 or ITV 1 for the simple reason that the only thing I ever go there for is football.

Monday, May 07, 2007

This is hep

Here's a bunch of things I ripped from vinyl this weekend through Audio Hijack Pro and then mixed with Pro Tools. I'll leave this mix up for a few hours.

The Hewn From The Living Vinyl Mix May 2007.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Musical youth

My son's just sent me a link to this remarkable display of guitar playing. It's a chap called Fred. He lives in South London and he's the younger brother of a friend of my son's. You may have known lots of people who had this much command of their instrument when they were still at school. I didn't. There may be lots of others like him. I've no idea.

Materiality

Fifteen years ago, at the time of the release of "Harvest Moon", I interviewed Neil Young. At the time I didn't think I'd got much out of him but in retrospect he said a great deal, albeit in very simple terms. He's the one who said to me that songs were "just thoughts", which is still the best definition I've ever heard. Anyway, he was in the midst of his anti-digital period and he said "CDs just don't make you feel good like vinyl does. The highs are too high and the lows too low."
Nick Lowe was talking about the same thing the other day. "These days there's a loud knob and everybody's reached for it."
This afternoon I cleared the piles of CDs off the top of the deck and played a load of vinyl: "Doctor John Plays Mac Rebbenack", "Shirley Collins and the Albion Band", Albert Collins's "Love Can Be Found Everywhere (Even In A Guitar)" and the first Joy Division and Pet Shop Boys albums.
I'm not a sound engineer so I can't explain why it should be so but I'm sure Neil Young's right. There's something sensual and forgiving about analogue and vinyl, no matter how high you crank it up.
The real revelation is Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express". You would have thought that the more mechanical the reproduction the better here. You'd be wrong.
The opening track "Europe Endless" is affecting on vinyl in a way it can never be on CD. In fact it breaks your heart.

The right profile

Profile of Presidential hopeful Barack Obama in the New Yorker points out how lucky he is to have his hair starting to go grey at such a young age. This is because the black politicians who have been most successful in attracting the white vote have traditionally been white haired. This makes them less threatening, apparently.
Alex Salmond did well in last week's Scottish elections. Another victory for the full head of hair, without which no British politician can command public support.
All this appearance stuff has never been more important than it is today. But it's not about looking like a movie star. You can overdo it, as Senator John Edwards has just found in the USA when this clip of him admiring himself escaped. Today we'll find out whether Segolene Royal is just slightly too glamorous to be elected President of France.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hanging on in quiet desperation

I'm developing a strange fascination with Geri Halliwell. Actually, I was looking on You Tube for the brilliant documentary that Molly Dineen made about her in 1997. No luck. It appears to have been driven underground. This will please Geri, who felt it was too candid. However, I did find "There's Something About Geri", a self-produced promo puff from 2005. The thing about Geri is that she's so desperate for attention that she's somehow doomed to look absurd. All the accoutrements of the 21st century pop diva on the wane are on display in this film: the fleet of black cars, the lap dog, the studio engineers who must be laughing at her, the woolly talk about developing as an artist and the inclination to take her clothes off at the slightest excuse. You should watch this clip for the bit where she goes into Virgin's head office and tells the entire team how important they are to her record. How these people resist the urge to yawn, scratch themselves or leave the room is beyond me.
I love these films where you see the music business trying to behave. There should be a channel devoted to them. Cal it "Phew! Rock And Roll!". I'd watch it all the time. I want to find the one where Boy George went to New York to restart his career and had the meeting with the A&R man who played his demo at deafening volume. Also the brilliant film about Status Quo from about eight years ago where they were on tour in Scotland and they stepped out of their sweaty denims in the hotel corridor every night and then went straight to their room service dinner.
If anyone's got any clues where I can find these I'd love to hear.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Down on the farm

I've always loved Molly Dineen's documentaries and now, having seen this short interview, I think I've got a crush on her as well. Last night's "The Lie Of The Land" was about hard pressed farmers in the West Country trying to make a living while up to their welly tops in mud, blood, carcasses and shot gun shells. We saw calves being shot because they weren't worth the money it would cost to raise them, sick horses being despatched as other, understandably worried horses looked on, a whole skin pulled off a calf with one tug of a Land Rover tow rope and a couple of terriers gleefully ripping a rat to pieces. And yet this wasn't a cheap appeal to sentiment or outrage. It was, like all her films, a massive issue reduced to a memorable story. This is the cost of what government is doing to the countryside. And behind the government is the electorate – that would be us – who frankly don't wish to think about the fact that Britain is no longer food secure but do want to whinge about the scandalous price of our weekly shop. In the 70s we spent a third of our income on food. Today we spend less than a tenth. In the ad breaks we had another much loved national celebrity, Victoria Wood, trying to make us feel warm about ASDA.

"American history, practical math, studying hard and hoping to pass"

My Radio Four programme "Three Minute Education" is on next Thursday at 11.30 am. The thesis is that pop music can teach you things if you're in any way receptive. A huge amount of what I learned about America as a kid I picked up from Chuck Berry. "Promised Land" is about a young man emigrating from miserable Norfolk, Virginia to the Golden State and mentions every stop on his route. Whatever else we may think about him – and we do – no rock songwriter has taken such pleasure in language or taken such trouble with it. It doesn't flag, even in the last verse where he's asking the operator to put him through. "Los Angeles, give me Norfolk, Virginia, Tidewater four ten oh nine, Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling and the poor boy's on the line". Here's a clip of him doing it on a French TV show in 1965. Cameras blunder into shot, the mike falls down, the band are hanging on for dear life but you can't stop the rock. The picture was taken at a show in the University of Virginia in 1965.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Nobody's business but my own

I'm reading "Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity In Popular Music" by Yuval Taylor and Howard Barker. They blog about it here. It begins with the story of Mississippi John Hurt, which has held a strange fascination for me for years. John was a farm hand in Avalon, Mississippi who played a little at weekends. He made some recordings for the OKeh label in 1928 during the brief window when it was worth the company's while to market records to black people. They didn't sell and he forgot about it until 1963 when some record collectors appeared at his door and asked if he was "the" Mississippi John Hurt. This "rediscovery" resulted in him starring at the Newport Folk Festival and playing concerts and coffee houses for the last few years of his life. He died in 1966. Taylor and Barker use him as an example of someone who actually played a wide rage of music but found himself placed in the blues bracket because that's what suited the market. Their argument is that "authenticity" is just a construct. Anyway, it's wonderful music.
Mississippi John Hurt: Nobody's Dirty Business

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On the next Word CD

Note from a small island

Bill Bryson is the new spokesman for the Campaign To Protect Rural England. This is a good thing. It takes a foreigner to go on the radio as he did this morning and point out that most countries in the world just don't have countryside like ours. It's land that's worked but is also very beautiful. In most countries the idea of going out "into the country" doesn't occur to people. The boy rang up from university yesterday to say that he and some friends had been taking advantage of the early summer to go out "into the country" in the evening and he'd seen a thing called a sunset. Said it was quite remarkable. There's hope. The picture's taken on top of Hambledon Hill, an Iron Age hill fort in Dorset. They say that General Wolfe used it to train his troops for the assault on the heights of Quebec. My pal the Major used it to tire out his dog.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The customer isn't always right

It's the little details of major trials that interest me. When the 21/7 "bombers" were gathering their ingredients they were combing every hair and beauty outlet in my area of London for enough peroxide to turn everyone in the London Borough of Barnet blond(e). A factory in Scotland had to start a special production line. None of the people behind the counter thought to call the police. One of the plotters who were sentenced yesterday turned up at an agricultural supplies centre in a customised Audi with rap playing and ordered enough fertiliser to cover five football pitches, claiming it was for his allotment. "What are you doing? Making a bomb?" said the guy behind the counter – and then sold him it. Luckily the people at the storage warehouse wondered why anyone would be spending £207 a month to store £90-worth of fertiliser (or, indeed, at all) and called the police.