Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton - Not Dark Yet

Clapton. Now there's a name I never associated with this blog...

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern - review

Robert Rauschenberg in his Pearl Street studio
Robert Rauschenberg, Pearl Street Studio, c1955

Robert Rauschenberg review – six sensational decades of work finally reveal the man in full
Tate Modern, London
Driven by an insatiable curiosity, the groundbreaking artist took the triumphs and wreckage of American life and turned them into art – and this brilliant show captures his extraordinary range

Adrian Searle
The Guardian
Tuesday 29 November 2016

From first to last, Tate Modern’s Robert Rauschenberg show is almost impossibly rich and rewarding. Paintings made with dirt and paintings of nothing at all, images that encapsulate the achievements and disasters of 1960s America, a stuffed goat that looks like it has been feeding from a painter’s palette, and a mud-bath gurgling liquid cement like a lava pool. The exhibition moves through a life and career at gathering pace, from the early 1950s to the artist’s death in 2008. Room after room arrest us with yet another creative swerve, a shift in medium, scale, formal attack and presence.

Estate, 1963

In the 1950s, Rauschenberg dragged wreckage from the downtown streets of New York to his cold-water loft and made plangent, sour and lovely art that reflected his surroundings. He got Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning, whom he greatly revered, to give him a drawing so he could erase it. He used a car tyre to track a drawing across a scroll of paper, and made blank paintings of uninterrupted rollered-on whiteness that inspired his friend John Cage’s never entirely silent 4’33’, where ambient sounds fall before a silent piano. Rauschenberg’s white painting reflects only light, gathers dust, stands as mute potential. You need only do this once. He made red paintings and black paintings and paintings that combined and complicated the medium in unexpected ways. Each new move was a foil to the last, and he kept on moving.
Robert Rauschenberg, Charlene, 1954, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Charlene, 1954

Rauschenberg’s early work was inspired by his surroundings, by a trip to Italy with his then lover Cy Twombly, and by the artists and poets he met at Black Mountain College in the late 1940s, including Bauhaus expatriots Josef and Anni Albers. Albers taught the relativity of visual experience – how the experience of colour, for example, was entirely dependant on its surroundings – and this relational approach stayed with Rauschenberg throughout his career. In his art, one thing always leads to another in an endless chain of relations and reactions.

Canto XIV: Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, 1959-60

Just when you think you have the measure of him, he is off again. Weaving and feinting through the years, via artistic collaborations and relationships (with Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham, with Cage and Warhol, with dancers and scientists), stepping aside from the mainstream and going his own way, Rauschenberg stayed ahead of the pack.

Accounting for the dramatic shifts that accompanied his insatiable curiosity, the exhibition risks incoherence, or diminishing the variety of his art and preoccupations in favour of an abbreviated and smoothed-out pocket-book history. Yet the show maintains surprise, even though he was so prolific that much is missing.
​Robert Rauschenberg Retroactive II 1964, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago)
Retroactive II, 1964

His art used what was around him, repurposing and recontextualising the everyday. Rauschenberg could be downbeat and beat-up, he could be slick and sharp and glossy, or move from the glutinous red paintings to the sheer, glamorous surfaces of the silkscreen paintings, with their blown up images of Jack Kennedy, old masters and astronauts. He adumbrated the flavour of his times.
Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1988-56, Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Monogram, 1955-59

“What was great about the 50s,” remarked American composer Morton Feldman, “is that for one brief moment – maybe say six weeks – nobody understood art.” But somehow Rauschenberg kept definitions at bay throughout his career, allowing himself less the task of understanding than that of making. Sometimes it must have seemed as if his art almost made itself. He never tried to sew things up. That is the unenviable job of exhibitions.
Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Spread), 1983, The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation (New York)
Untitled (Spread), 1983

Other Rauschenberg shows have afforded a tighter view; here we see the man in full, or as near as we can get. This retrospective considers the variety and development of Rauschenberg’s art over almost six decades. While his relationships with other artists remain key, it is his own achievement that counts. Never has the phrase “losing yourself in the work”, the ego suspended, felt so appropriate as with Rauschenberg, who said he never had the equivalent of writer’s block. Even when he was caught for years in cycles of drinking and depression, the work went on: umbrellas and parachutes, full-body X-rays, dead radios and stopped clocks, tin cans, dead presidents, dances and pratfalls.

Bed, 1955

There is a painting made with a real sheet, quilt and pillow, like a gloriously squalid and filthy painter’s lie-in. He made paintings incorporating handkerchiefs, parasols; one has a plaster dog tethered to it. There are two almost identical paintings – even the paint smears and drips are the same. The same, but different. I spent ages staring from one to the other. I found myself stuttering between one moment and the next.

Another incorporates a One Way street sign, pointing out of the picture, redirecting our attention away from art and back to real life, a place where illusions end and life begins. Go on doing this sort of thing too long and the gags become boringly rhetorical. So he stopped making them.
Pelican, from 1963, in which Rauschenberg rollerskated

Rauschenberg’s restlessness and curiosity are invigorating. One minute he is in the studio, the next painting on stage with Merce Cunningham, or careening about in his own dance piece on roller skates, or making an artwork on a microchip to be sent into space. The filmed performances in the show are tantalising glimpses of an art that was lived.

Signs, 1970

Mourning JFK, Martin Luther King and Janis Joplin, he spliced their images with borrowed images of the war in Vietnam, peace protesters and race-riots. Commissioned as a Time magazine cover in 1970, it was rejected, as if the montage were too much. It was the 60s itself that was the problem. After this comes a light-filled room of eviscerated cardboard packaging, opened-up boxes and hanging fabrics, abstractions as lovely and sparse as the earlier works were dense and complicated. Rauschenberg’s works from the 70s seem a deliberate counterpoint, as relaxed as they were terse.

Stop Side Early Winter glut, 1987

Then he starts recomplicating things again, revving up after letting go, travelling, taking photographs, rescuing bits of mangled metal and letting them stand for themselves. The inkjet paintings in the last room, with their juddering montages of photographic imagery, both hark back to the density of his combines and silkscreen paintings, and predict the visual and mental cacophonies of the internet age, which was only just beginning in the artist’s last years.
Robert Rauschenberg Mirthday Man [Anagram (A Pun)] 1997

 In one late work a skeleton X-ray is surrounded and besieged by a welter of signs and snapshots: a zebra drinking, a wall calendar’s flurry of expired dates. Rauschenberg’s art is still timely. It’s time.

Robert Rauschenberg is at Tate Modern, London, 1 December to 2 April.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Los Lobos at The Fillmore 2016 - review

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Los Lobos - Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, 2nd December 2016

Richard Perdik
4 December 2016

For many years, the hottest ticket in town in San Francisco for the first weekend in December has been the annual Los Lobos Fillmore shows. Now legendary amongst Lobos fans, the shows are a get together where people can celebrate this most under rated and hard working of rock bands.

Your reviewer, an 18 year veteran of these events, has seen many a memorable evening. Back in the day, there was both a Friday and Saturday show, often with different support. Past guests have included Calexico, Dave Alvin and David Lindley.

The last couple of years have seen a single show with LL performing two extended sets, which was the case this year - a potential sensory delight.

The Fillmore is the closest thing to musical history in San Francisco, and it is always a treat to arrive early and view the poster room, replete with posters from the venue's past. Walls are covered with posters from the 60's through to the present day, and including just about every conceivable artist from the Dead, Byrds, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane et al...Taking a look around the audience, it's easy to believe they were present then as well...

The band eventually took the stage through a veritable fog of pot smoke, and from the opening notes of "Will the Wolf Survive?" to the final extended cover of the Grateful Dead's "Bertha", they gave a near flawless performance, laced with little played gems from their back catalogue, as well as a few well chosen covers.

For anyone familiar with LL by way of the hit single La Bamba, it is worth stressing what a multi-faceted band they are, with live performances ranging from traditional acoustic Mexican music through to Ritchie Valens covers and onward into blues laced rock. This show rocked. After all, the core of the band, guitarists Cesar Rosas, David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, along with bass player Conrad Lozano have been together 43 years; newcomer Steve Berlin on sax and keyboard, a mere 32. Touring drummer Bugs Gonzales is probably a couple of generations younger...

Mostly Hidalgo gets the plaudits for his searing lead guitar work, followed closely by Rosas, who in any other band would be the star guitarist. Perez splits his time between drums and guitar, specialising in the jarana, a small Mexican acoustic guitar, whilst Berlin contributes jazz laced sax and keyboard. The heartbeat of the band is the beaming Conrad Lozano, surely the happiest bass player around, pounding his Fender bass. At the end of each set he looks down at his fingers as if to say "how much longer can I do this for?"

By the end of the night, the audience have heard two 1.5 hour sets of intense, focused
playing. The Fillmore shows give the band an opportunity to stretch out and escape the shorter format festival sets; they can indulge in jam sessions and show off a bit. The audience love it of course, and that's why the Fillmore shows are special.

Maybe it was a combination of the pot smoke and tincture, but this was probably the best ever...but then again, I say that every year...

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Andrew Sachs RIP

Image result for andrew sachs guardian
Andrew Sachs obituary
Actor renowned for his role as the hapless Manuel in Fawlty Towers

Dennis Barker
The Guardian
Friday 2 December 2016

Andrew Sachs, who has died aged 86, was never more effective than when playing a bewildered victim unfailingly eager to please his sometimes equally comic tormentors. The most popular and inspired example came in the role of Manuel, the waiter from Barcelona who spent most of his waking hours being abused by Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) in the BBC’s Fawlty Towers (1975-79). Manuel – short, shoulders sloping in submission – was a star of the television show, which attracted more than 15 million viewers and became a comedy classic.

Sachs was grateful to Manuel for making him famous, but often counted the cost. He tried to persuade Cleese, who co-wrote the series, to stop short of actual violence in rehearsals, but there was still plenty of hitting – often involving a spoon on the head.

One memorable episode had Manuel setting fire to himself and later, as a reprise, emerging from the hotel kitchen with smoke billowing behind him. The “fire” was heat-free, but some of the chemicals used to produce the flameless smoke caused acid burns to his arms. Nonetheless, Sachs still felt that Manuel was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Andreas Sachs was born in Berlin at the time when the Nazis were beginning to persecute Jews. His father, Hans, was a Jewish insurance broker who had been awarded the Iron Cross in the first world war. His mother, Katharina (nee Schrott-Fiecht), a Catholic, decided to remain in Berlin with her children after their father fled to Britain in 1938. She thought that as her son was only half-Jewish he would be safe – a supposition that became increasingly shaky.

The family eventually joined Hans, who died in 1944. Andrew left William Ellis school, north-west London, two years later, then went to a local acting school for just two terms, before making his first professional appearance in 1947 in a seaside repertory production of Ronald Millar’s Frieda at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex.

The play concerned the German bride of a British soldier who finds a mixed reception in the postwar UK. Sachs put the essence of his art down to detachment, an ability to sit on emotional and intellectual fences that had been produced by his birth in Germany and his residence in Britain.

He admitted that he had at first wanted to act in order to be a “star” and only later had discovered that he was motivated to do the work for its own sake. The outcome was a wide range of stage parts, from romps of the No Sex Please: We’re British, Not Now Darling, Dry Rot and Let Sleeping Wives Lie genre to John Mortimer’s touching A Voyage Round My Father, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and, for BBC TV, The Tempest, as Trinculo in a 1980 production led by Michael Hordern as Prospero.

After undertaking national service in the Royal Armoured Corps (1949-51), for the next couple of years Sachs was in repertory in Worthing and Liverpool. His first West End appearance was at the Whitehall theatre as Grobchick in John Chapman’s Simple Spymen, which ran for more than 1,200 performances between 1958 and 1961. Recruited by Brian Rix, he gained his introduction to Whitehall farces, which supported him for 20 years until his television work brought him wider fame.

Following Fawlty Towers, he played a vague and bespectacled vicar in the ITV series Lovely Couple (1979). His films included Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) and Consuming Passions (1988).

Sachs was also a writer, contributing sketches to the Yorkshire TV series Took and Co (1977), with Barry Took, but never made a mark in that activity. He wrote radio plays, including one without words, Revenge (1978), in which an escaped prisoner communicates with the audience only by his heavy breathing, running footsteps and other special effects.

His stage play The Stamp Collectors was produced in Worthing in 1977. Another, Made in Heaven, staged at Chichester two years previously, was said by Michael Billington of the Guardian to be the product of random jokiness rather than a sustained comic vision.

Fortunately his acting was better received. His performances in Fawlty Towers gained him the Variety Club of Great Britain award for most promising artist of the year in 1977, although he was no youth. He became a familiar face on television through the 80s and 90s, taking the title role, Alfred Polly, in the BBC version of HG Wells’s comic tale The History of Mr Polly (1980), and in Every Silver Lining (1993), a sitcom in which he played opposite Frances de la Tour.

Detective stories on BBC Radio 4 provided a rich seam. Sachs took the role of GK Chesterton’s Father Brown (1984-86), and played Dr Watson to Clive Merrison’s Sherlock Holmes (2002-10). Radio was a favourite medium of his, and brought the opportunity to play another great scene-stealing subordinate, PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves, valet to the upper-class buffoon Bertie Wooster, played by Marcus Brigstocke, in The Code of the Woosters (2006).

He also supplied the voices for several children’s animations, such as William’s Wish Wellingtons (1994-96), and Asterix and the Big Fight (1989). A popular narrator with a distinctive voice, Sachs can be heard on all five series of BBC’s Bafta award-winning TV show about business life, Troubleshooter, as well as two audiobooks of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. In 2000 he reached a new comedy audience by narrating That Peter Kay Thing, a spoof documentary series on Channel 4 created by the Bolton comedian. He also appeared in Coronation Street (2009), playing Norris Cole’s brother, Ramsay, in 27 episodes.

All his roles seemed to be marked by good nature, and this made him a much-liked figure. He retained it even under provocation, when, in 2008, rowdy telephone answering machine messages were left for him by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross during Brand’s BBC Radio 2 show. At one point Ross shouted out that Brand had “fucked your granddaughter”. The result was recorded and then passed by BBC executives for broadcasting. Sachs was not amused and the public sympathised.

So seriously was the Ross-Brand incident regarded by the BBC top brass that Ross was taken off air for three months, effectively fining him £1.5m from his £6m yearly contract. In the subsequent media inquest, the attitude of Sachs himself was that he really did not know what the telephoning had been about; that he had no personal animosity towards whoever had phoned; and that he had scarcely noticed the whole business since his wife was in hospital at the time. As for suggestions that some newspapers were using him to boost their circulations, he said: “Oh yes, but that’s their job.” He also said: “My profile’s up – great! They did me good. Thank you very much.”

At the time he had written 40,000 words of his autobiography but had only got as far as the age of 14. He said he doubted whether Brand or Ross would play a prominent part in the book. When it appeared in 2014, he drew on a memorable Fawlty Towers line for the title, I Know Nothing!

His final film role came in Quartet, Ronald Harwood’s story set in a home for retired musicians, directed by Dustin Hoffman and released in 2012, the year that Sachs was diagnosed with vascular dementia. His final TV role was in 2015, as Cyril Bishop in EastEnders.

In 1960 Sachs married the actor Melody Lang. She survives him, along with their daughter, Kate, and sons, Bill and John.

• Andrew (Andreas Siegfried) Sachs, actor and writer, born 7 April 1930; died 23 November 2016

Friday, 2 December 2016

Dead Poets Society #18

For The Union Dead by Robert Lowell

Relinquunt Ommia Servare Rem Publicam.

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sign still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
a girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half of the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die-
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic

The stone statutes of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year-
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns…

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his 'niggers.'

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statutes for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the 'Rock of Ages'
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
when I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Dock Of The Bay
Dedicated Follower Of Fashion
Just My Imagination

Da Elderly: -
Romancing Tonight (new song)
Swinging On A Star
Out On The Weekend

The Elderly Brothers: -
When Will I Be Loved
Bus Stop
Out Of Time
You Really Got A Hold On Me
If I Fell
I Saw Her Standing There

A busy-ish night, certainly for the first 2 hours, when the bar was full; including a dozen or more visitors from Norway. A lass from the Norwegian party got up and played a couple of songs and nearly brought the house down - great stuff! There was also a visitor from Nashville who took the opportunity to flog her CDs. Dave from Leeds performed his self-penned tribute to John Lennon (anniversary on 8 Dec) bookended with the more tasteful lines from Working Class Hero.

Yours truly introduced a new song (written on Monday afternoon - still a bit rough round the edges, but worth finishing properly) and an old favourite "would you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar.....etc".

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Donald Fagen Interview

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Interview: Donald Fagen

Marc Myers
8 July 2011

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, co-founders of Steely Dan, wrote life's soundtrack for anyone who attended college in the 1970s. Their music was adored by dorm-bound jazz heads who sought contemporary music but didn't want to give up the sound of horns and an acoustic piano. In today's Wall Street Journal (go here), I interview Mr. Fagen, catching up with him just before the start of Steely Dan's world tour last Saturday. My outtakes from our conversation are below.

In addition to original melody lines, slinky riffs and sophisticated harmonies, Steely Dan's appeal rests heavily in Fagen and Becker's lyrics. They are complex and random, in a poetic way. At times, lines seem joined just for the sake of hearing them bang against each other, like row boats roped close together.

Steely Dan's music hits jazz fans particularly hard. This may be due partly to the '70s cutlure, when jazz was played too loud and too fast by many fusion artists. The music also tends to be personal. Back then, you owned something called a stereo. Which usually meant a receiver, turntable and a pair of heavy speakers, You had to burn the plastic ends of cables to expose the wire to attach your speakers. You also needed to know how to balance your turntable's tonearm once the cartridge was attached. And then there were the many milk crates of LPs—heavy and highly organized. Music at college was a physical experience, and you were intimately involved with the records you owned.

Steely Dan was part of that scene for those who cared about music. Fagen and Becker's recording technique was pinpoint sharp, and a good stereo system teased out all of the texture. But for years, most people had no idea what Donald Fagen or Walter Becker looked like—or whether Steely Dan had a consistent band personnel. They never toured, and were reportedly highly introverted—the equivalent today, I suppose, of computer hackers.

When I told friends of a certain age a few weeks ago that I had interviewed Donald Fagen, their email answers were remarkably similar: "Fagen? A God. So envious." For years I've wanted to tell Mr. Fagen how much I appreciated Ajaand how it got me through the Boston Blizzard of '78. I finally had that chance a couple of weeks ago. Talk about closure.

Here are the outtakes from my Wall Street Journal interview with the 63-year-old Donald Fagen:

Marc Myers: Sorry to hear about the passing of Roger Nichols, your long-time engineer. For the average listener, what did he bring to your albums?
Donald Fagen: Thank you. Roger was able to execute the kind of production we were looking for in terms of sound. From the beginning in the early 1970s, Walter and I were looking for the hi-fidelity sound that you didn’t hear too much in rock music at the time. Roger was familiar with the jazz records that Walter and I used to listen to growing up. Roger taught us about recording—what mikes to use and so on. The ideal engineer for all of us was Rudy Van Gelder. The technique he used was simple but not that easy to get down in a studio. A studio isn’t live. It’s kind of dry and clear.

MM: Who specifically named the band after a sex toy?
DF: It was a spur of the moment thing in '72. We needed aname quickly. They had an album cover made up, and Walter and I were both fans of William Burroughs. We would have come up with something else but we went with it. Now, of course, we’re stuck with it. I like it, though. It’s a good name. We weren’t trying to shock or anything. In those days you didn’t think much about those things. It's not like today, where every inside joke is immediately exposed.

MM: Do you see a lot of people under age 45 at your concerts?
DF: We don’t care as long as people come [laughs]. We’re sort of free of audience influence. We want everyone to have a good time. We figure that the both of us are our ideal fans and figure that they’re going to like what we like. Who says audiences know more than we do about what’s good?

MM: Did you have music training before or after Bard College?
DF: I took some piano lessons but I trained myself by ear. I did it the way jazz musicians used to learn—by slowing down jazz records and playing along until you figured out what they were doing. At first I used to imitate Red Garland. Of course, I never achieved that level. Then I listened to Bud Powell and Bill Evans. I liked Horace Silver but not a lot. I was so snobby in high school. I didn’t like funky jazz that much. I never bought Blue Note records. I thought Alfred Lion had too much influence over the music that was being played and recorded. Now, of course, I like those albums.

MM: Do you and Walter Becker still care what each other thinks?
DF: We’ve had our moments. Between 1980 and 1985, we split up. The break wasn’t really anything personal. We just ran out of steam. A few years later we started writing again. Our relationship is based on entertaining ourselves.

MM: Which poets did you read?
DF: In high school I was heavy into W.B. Yeats. I read Richard Ellmann’s biography of Yeats. I read all of his works. I also liked William Blake. And Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I had older cousins who were jazz fans and sort of beatniks. I’d see these slim volumes of Ferlinghetti's laying around their house and I’d pick them up.

MM: How do you come up with such imaginative word combos in your lyrics?
DF: It’s mostly intuitive. I grew up in New Jersey and traveled into New York a lot. I went to public school, and the way kids used to talk got into the songs. It's demotic slang. Walter and I enjoy making up our own slang. We'd make up slang advertising slogans.

MM: For example?
DF: For example, in Josie [from Aja], a street gang uses a weapon called a "battle apple." I don't know what that is, but it sounded better than anything else we could come up with.

MM: What else did you read?
DF: Walter and I enjoyed reading science fiction as kids.Writers like Alfred Bester, Fredric Brown and Robert Heinlein. They were mainly writing satire under the guise of science fiction. They created this alternate reality that's sort of like this one. They all had a sense of humor. Frederic Brown, Theodore Sturgeon and Frederik Pohl also were great science fiction writers. Cyril Kornbluth, too. They got you to think expansively.

MM: Was Horace Silver a major influence?
DF: How do you mean?

MM: I hear Peg in Outlaw and Aja in Moon Rays. Or am I hearing things?
DF: Interesting. There was no thought of that.

MM: What about the intro to Rikki Don't Lose That Number and Silver's Song for My Father?
DF: There was never a conscious thought about picking upHorace Silver's intro. We wrote this Brazilian bass line and when drummer Jim Gordon heard it, he played his figures. As for the piano line, I think I had heard it on an old Sergio Mendes album. Maybe that's where Horace heard it, too [laughs].

MM: Do you still enjoy Woody Herman’s Chick, Donald, Walter & Woodrow from 1978?
DF: Very much. We were invited to the session back then, and it was a lot of fun meeting Woody and the guys in his band. I thought the charts of our songs were smart.

MM: Among rock musicians, you have perhaps the strongest affinity for jazz and jazz musicians. Is it the outcast thing?
DF: Being an outcast is secondary. The primary motive is the music and freedom. Walter and I started out as hardcore jazz fans. When we were growing up, there were still late-night radio shows. Walter and I were both insomniacs. We'd find these jazz shows on the radio and go into them. We were 10 or 11 years old.

MM: What were you listening to in the late '50s?
DF: I was buying Chuck Berry records at the time—or I had my mother buy them for me. Around the time rock went vanilla I discovered all these radio shows. So I gave all my rock records to my younger sister and only listened to jazz. I loved the mystique of the nighttime radio scene. You’d see these pictures of Coltrane, Monk and Miles—these dark blue photos on album covers. After a while I subscribed toDown Beat. When I was 13 or 14, my cousin started to get me into the Village Vanguard, where I saw Coleman Hawkins, Charles Mingus, Count Basie and so many others. [Owner] Max [Gordon] got to know me and let me sit near the drums and nurse a Coke.

MM: What about a Donald Fagen jazz album?
DF: I’ve always thought of my style as quirky. I always thought I could do something the way Thelonious Monk does, where he has his own eccentric way of improvising that wouldn't require great speed. But it seems the more I practice, the worse I get. I started late, and muscles and reflexes don't develop properly. Fingers four and five don't work so well.

MM: You're married to Libby Titus. What’s it like for two Type-A songwriters to be married to each other? Do you fight over the piano?
DF: [Laughs] Libby got out of music years ago to produce. She was producing some live shows in small venues when we met. She's no longer producing.

MM: I wonder why her albums are no longer in print? They're quite good.
DF: Yeah, I think so.

MM: Your upcoming tour schedule looks like a triathlon. Is touring as arduous as it looks?
DF: At this point I’m used to traveling. We travel well. We have a chartered plane for a lot of it. And nice hotels. I’m 63, so I get tired. On these tours, you tend to do a lot of sleeping. You don’t go back the hotel and cut loose.

MM: Sometimes you don’t seem comfortable on stage. Is it boredom? Stage fright?
DF: I’ve never been comfortable as a lead performer. I never wanted to be a singer particularly. But we couldn’t find anyone to be the lead singer who had the right attitude to put over the material. We tried. At one point we asked Loudon Wainwright but he was underwhelmed by the idea. The music needs that smirky feel. I just do it without thinking.

MM: From the creator’s standpoint, what makes Aja magical?
DF: That’s for the listeners to decide. We just make ‘em.

MM: But isn't there something special there?
DF: The only thing I can say is that we used a lot of session musicians then. We were hiring session musicians who we thought were right for the material. Right around that time, in the mid-‘70s, there was a style change, a paradigm shift, in the way session musicians were playing. Younger players had started to add more jazz flavored stuff in their playing. In the early days, it was hard to find a player who was familiar with r&b's backbeat and could negotiate jazz harmony with ease. And a jazz player tended to play much looser than we required. But by the mid-‘70s, there were players like Steve Gadd and Larry Carlton who could do both. They had no trouble playing jazz chords and also had a very rhythmic sense.

MM: Aja is very much a jazz album.
DF: Well, I don’t really label them. When I think of jazz, I think of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The change in our sound had to do with the musicians we were using more than what we were doing.

MM: What haven’t you ever told anyone before about the album Aja?
DF: Wow. Well, I know that halfway through we decided we wanted to go back to NY and do some tracks with some of the people we knew in the city. We felt that although there were great musicians in L.A., we were missing a little bit of soul from the days we were doing New York sessions. Half the album was done in L.A. and half was done in New York. We brought Larry Carlton back with us to New York to supervise. Other than Larry, we used New York players. It gave the album soul. We were able to use Paul Griffin and Don Grolnick on keyboards and engineer Elliot Scheiner—guys we knew from the early days. Also drummers like Rick Marotta and Bernard Purdie.

MM: You seem to take special pleasure in singing Hey Nineteen. Why?
DF: I know the audience likes it, and also it’s maybe a little simpler than our other stuff. It’s easy to sing. I don’t have to think about it that much. By the way—getting back to something you said earlier—if I seem uncomfortable on stage, it’s because I am. Not being a trained singer—I mean, I have had some coaching over the years—In order to sing what’s not the easiest stuff to sing, because I’m basically singing a lot of horn lines and stuff like that. I have to really concentrate. You know, I’d really rather be playing in a way. But I’ve come to enjoy the singing part as well.

MM: You seem to be playing different characters up there.
DF: Everyone has a stage persona. It’s hard to escape that. I don’t really have an act. That’s just it. Sort of what you see is what you get. I sort of have to psychologically prepare myself to not give a shit—what I look like and so on. Then I just go out and do it. That’s just it. I just grew up that way. I can’t help it.

MM: In your band, is Michael Leonhart related to the jazz bass player Jay Leonhart?
DF: Yes, Michael is his son. We have two of his children in our band. Michael is the trumpet player and his sister Carolyn is one of our singers.

MM: Will the Steely Dan catalog finally be remastered with today's technology? What’s holding it up?
DF: You got me. They don’t really communicate with me. As the years go by, you kind of lose touch with that stuff. We have always been very careful with the mastering process.

MM: But you’d be open to it now?
DF: Yeah, sure. 

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Fidel Castro RIP

Cuba’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, dies aged 90
The comandante overthrew Batista, established a communist state and survived countless American assassination attempts

Rory Carroll
The Guardian
Saturday 26 November 2016

Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90, bringing an end to an era for the country, Latin America and world.

The revolutionary icon, one of the world’s best-known and most controversial leaders, survived countless US assassination attempts and premature obituaries, but in the end proved mortal and died late on Friday night after a long battle with illness.

Given the former president’s age and health problems, the announcement of Castro’s death had long been expected. But when it came it was still a shock: thecomandante – a figurehead for armed struggle across the developing world – was no more. It was news that friends and foes had long dreaded and yearned for respectively.

Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2006 after Fidel suffered a near-fatal intestinal ailment, announced the revolutionary leader’s death on television on Friday night.

“With profound sadness I am appearing to inform our people and our friends across [Latin] America and the world that today, 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm, Fidel Castro, the commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, died,” he said.

“In accordance with his wishes, his remains will be cremated.”

Raúl Castro said that further details of the posthumous tribute would be released on Saturday, concluding his address with the famous revolutionary slogan: “Onwards to victory!”

Castro survived long enough to see Raúl negotiate an opening with the outgoing US president, Barack Obama, in December 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961.

After outlasting nine occupants of the White House, he cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a month-long silence.

The thaw in relations was crowned when Obama visited the island earlier this year. Castro did not meet Obama and days later wrote a scathing column condemning the US president’s “honey-coated” words and reminding Cubans of the many US attempts to overthrow and weaken the communist government.

As in life, in death Castro was deeply divisive. The announcement of his death was widely greeted online with celebration and condemnation of a “cruel dictator” and his repressive regime.

Others mourned the passing of “a fighter of US imperialism” and a “charismatic icon”.

In Miami, home to the largest diaspora of expatriate Cubans, people took to the streets celebrating his death, singing, dancing, and waving Cuban flags. As pots and pans were banged in jubilation, there were chants of “Cuba Libre!” (Cuba is Free) and “el viejo murió” (the old man is dead). Previous false reports of Castro’s death have triggered cavalcades of cheering, flag-waving revellers.

Cuba’s Communist party and state apparatus has prepared for this moment since July 2006 when Castro underwent emergency intestinal surgery and ceded power to his brother, Raúl, who remains in charge.

Fidel wrote occasional columns for the party paper, Granma, and made very occasional public appearances – most recently at the 2016 Communist party congress – but otherwise kept a very low profile.

Despite the mixed reactions to his death, one thing all could agree on was that this extraordinary figure had left his mark on history.

More than half a century ago, his guerrilla army of “bearded ones” replaced Fulgencio Batista’s corrupt dictatorship with communist rule which challenged the US and turned the island into a cold-war crucible.

He fended off a CIA-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 as well as many assassination attempts. His alliance with Moscow helped trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a 13-day showdown with the US that brought the world closer to the brink of nuclear war than it has ever been.

The US had long counted on Castro’s mortality as a “biological solution” to communism in the Caribbean but, since officially succeeding his brother in 2008, Raúl has cemented his own authority while overseeing cautious economic reforms, and agreeing the momentous deal to restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US in late 2014.

By Raúl’s own admission, however, Fidel is irreplaceable. By force of charisma, intellect and political cunning the lawyer-turned-guerrilla embodied the revolution. Long before his passing, however, Cubans had started to move on, with increased migration to the US and an explosion of small private businesses.

His greatest legacy is free healthcare and education, which have given Cuba some of the region’s best human development statistics. But he is also responsible for the central planning blunders and stifling government controls that – along with the US embargo – have strangled the economy, leaving most Cubans scrabbling for decent food and desperate for better living standards.

The man who famously declared “history will absolve me” leaves a divided legacy. Older Cubans who remember brutal times under Batista tend to emphasise the revolution’s accomplishments. Younger Cubans are more likely to rail against gerontocracy, repression and lost opportunity. But even they refer to Castro by the more intimate name of Fidel.

Since largely vanishing from public view he has been a spectral presence, occasionally surfacing in what became a trademark tracksuit, to urge faith in the revolution. It was a long goodbye that accustomed Cubans to his mortality.

Latin America’s leftist leaders will mourn the passing of a figure who was perceived less as a communist and more as a nationalist symbol of regional pride and defiance against the “gringo” superpower.

Fidel Castro’s funeral and cremation are expected to attract numerous foreign heads of state, intellectuals and artists.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Dead Poets Society #17

Image result for siegfried sassoon

Suicide in the Trenches by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
My Home Town
The Way You Look Tonight
I'll See You In My Dreams
Autumn Leaves

Da Elderly: -
Love Song
In The Morning Light
Mellow My Mind
There Stands The Glass

The Elderly Brothers: -
The Price Of Love
Country Roads
You Got It
Yes I Will

Just when you think you've seen it all - only at The Habit open mic night would someone bring a piano!! Said piano just made it through the door, something it had failed to do across the road at the Snickleway Inn - note to performers...always check the width of the doorway before wheeling your piano all the way to the gig!!

All told it was a rather quiet night performer-wise with some folks getting a second chance to play - and there was room for 4 songs each this week. There was a strong showing for the songs of Elton John, David Bowie and Ray LaMontagne. After the open mic finished, The Elderly Brothers kept the audience entertained with unplugged requests including songs by Elvis, Neil Young and The Beatles. Another fun-packed night.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Geoff Hattersley - The Only Son at the Fish 'n' Chip Shop

The Only Son at the Fish ‘n’ Chip Shop

He lived with his mother till he was forty-five
and no one was allowed to touch his head.

He worked on a novel for twenty years
without writing a word. He didn’t like people

who wrote novels. He often drank. One glass of beer
was too many, two glasses weren’t enough.

Travel brochures were as far as he went.
A football match, one time. He often said

Why would anyone want to think about a potato?
He painted his door with nobody’s help.


From Back of Beyond: New and Selected Poems (Smith/Doorstop Books, 2006)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

David Tindle Retrospective at Huddersfield Art Gallery

Barges on the Regent’s Canal, 1954
David Tindle RA: A Retrospective review – lush yet spectral
Huddersfield Art Gallery
One of the finest figurative painters of his generation, David Tindle remains unknown to many. This retrospective is long overdue

Rachel Cooke
The Guardian
Sunday 20 November 2016

Unless you live there, or close by, Huddersfield isn’t particularly easy to reach. The journey by train from Wakefield can take up to 40 minutes, the puttering two-carriage engine that works this route no match at all for the town’s magnificent neoclassical station. But never mind. Who cares about bad connections and too-weak Costa tea when at the end is one of the loveliest small exhibitions you’re likely to see this side of Brexit, and perhaps far beyond it?
Garden on the Edge of the Village, 1976

The painter David Tindle was born in Huddersfield in 1932, and though he grew up largely in Coventry, it’s this connection that has given the town’s art gallery an excuse to stage a long overdue retrospective of a career that began in the late 40s and continues still. Will this ignite new interest in him, an artist whose name is now far too little known? I hope so, and the show may yet (fingers crossed) travel. In the meantime, seek it out and you will discover, over the course of just two oblong rooms, an uncommonly exquisite painter whose sensibility, imbuing as it does the quotidian with the numinous, can be traced back to Samuel Palmer and forward to another Coventry man, George Shaw.

Baltais Dzidrais, 1979

Tindle, who now lives and works in Italy, wasn’t always unknown, of course. In a vitrine at Huddersfield Art Gallery you can see the newspaper reports that greeted his arrival on the scene in the early 50s: an angular, floppy-haired fellow who, by the critics’ account, was coming up hard on the heels of Prunella Clough, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Keith Vaughan. After a six-month stint at junior art college in Coventry and two years’ graft at a commercial art studio, Tindle had his first London exhibition aged just 19, having moved to the city to work with the theatrical scene-painter Edward Delaney (the business of painting backdrops, “working in a big flow of colour”, was to have a profound and lasting influence on his work). The exhibition changed everything. An admirer of John Minton, Tindle found the artist’s number in the telephone book and rang to invite him to see it. Minton did, and the two became friends. Also in the vitrine is Tindle’s 1952 pencil drawing of Minton, tender and reverent.
Mother and Child, 1954

Through Minton, Tindle met Freud, Vaughan and the rest – older men who helped build his sense of himself as an artist. He was then “very susceptible to influence”, and you see this in the early works: Barges on the Regent’s Canal(1954, ink and watercolour on paper) shows what he learned about line from Minton; Freud exerts a clear hold on the wondrously detailed Mother and Child(1954, oil on board), a portrait of Tindle’s baby son, John, on the breast. The more abstract Paddington (1961, oil and sand on canvas) links to Frank Auerbach’s work of the same period. But already Tindle’s paintings have an extraordinary presence: there is something sacramental about the arrangement of the objects in his still lifes. Broken Egg Shell (1954, oil on board) is an extraordinary picture. At first sight it belongs to the school of William Nicholson, a study in beauty, light and shadow. But look closer and the eggshell in question seems to be out of proportion, almost planet-like on its white plate, which is itself balanced on a moonscape rather than a tablecloth. Here is the first whisper of the atmosphere that will pervade Tindle’s mature work, which plays in the most delicate way with the idea of realism.
Broken Egg Shell, 1954

The sea change came in the early 1970s, when he swapped oil and acrylic for egg tempera, an exacting medium that helped him achieve a “crisper articulation of form”, a quality closer to a photograph. The result was, and is, stunning. He used it for still lifes and portraits (Tindle is a gorgeous, empathetic portraitist, and several are included in this show, including a study for a painting of Dirk Bogarde commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery), but its most perfect expression can be seen in the series of gardens – verdant rooms, really – that he painted through the 70s and well into the 80s: Garden, Evening (1979); Garden on the Hill, 7am (1984); Egg on a Table (1985). These have recurring motifs: doors and windows to form pictures within pictures, a theatrical framing device that may be traced back to his scenery painting days; a carefully placed chair, often featuring some kind of basketwork, and on it, perhaps, an apple. However, it’s their atmosphere, lush yet spectral, that hangs in the mind like mist.

Egg on a Table, 1985

Tindle has said that in these works “memory and presence are very close”. They are, in other words, depictions of real places, recollected in the tranquillity of the studio. I can’t really describe the powerful effect they have on me. Only the work of Michael Andrews, his near contemporary and with whom his work shares a certain tone, moves me more. The finest of them all, Garden on the Edge of the Village (1976), depicts those few moments on a cold but bright winter’s day just before dusk. We are in an allotment or cultivated field close to a farmhouse, where a small bonfire still smokes; the sky is mottled, like an old enamel mug. It is a painting that is at once both calm and urgent, an eternal scene but also a vanishing one. Tindle, you finally realise, is as interested in time as he is in place. How to capture it? Light is the key. It illuminates his work, warms it seemingly from within, humanising his extraordinary skill. But it is also a metaphor. Beyond the trees, the wall, the hedge, darkness is creeping ever closer.

David Tindle RA: A Retrospective is at Huddersfield Art Gallery until 4 February 2017