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Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Storm Clouds are Clearing

The man has got his artwork in more homes than Picasso, Monet, Rothko, Van Gogh and dozens of others put together.

His work is truly iconic. And we are on first name terms.

Clang!!! It's a name dropping kind of week.

Storm Thorgerson is not a familiar name but his most famous image is in over thirty million homes.

He designed nearly every Pink Floyd album cover as well as ones for the Cranberries, Muse, Genesis, Paul Young, 10cc and Ian Dury.

Last year I asked him for an interview and he is a curmudgeonly so-and-so and declined with a 'Do I have to?'

So I thought sod you.

In the last year or two he has been heavily restricted in his activities by a stroke and he has cancer too so I can understand if he might not be in the best of spirits at times.

But when I saw him on Tuesday in the restaurant he visits practically every day without fail, he couldn't have been happier.

The sun was shining and his current artists who help create his visions were busy sketching on one of the outside tables.

He knew that I had been to see Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon and said that 'Sean' had called him the other day with a view to creating his new album's artwork and we had a very pleasant chat.

I think it's time to approach the subject of an interview again.

I just hope he doesn't have another 'Momentary Lapse of Reason' 

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Reaffirmation of Rock Gods

It’s 1992 and I am off down the shops for a Dime bar.

It’s a chilly day and the Krypton Factor starts at 7 so I dust down the Racer and wheel it to the end of the driveway.

I get the tape out of my puffa jacket pocket and put it in the Walkman.

It’s only a cassette single so I will have to turn it over when I get to the shops and as it plays the same both sides I will have to listen to it twice.

I end up listening to it about 15 times and miss the Krypton Factor as I sit in my room, chomping the calorific delight and reading the latest NME, the one with Miles Hunt on the cover on tour in America. The one with the critics top 100 albums of all time.

“I am the son and the heir, of a shyness that is criminally vulgar”

The lyrics and sardonic singing is the top layer of a complex cake, which saw some of the finest effects-driven guitar ever to see the light of day provide the filling over a skipped backbeat thumped with malice.

‘How Soon Is Now?’ backed with ‘Hand In Glove’ on a reissued single showed me what I had missed back in 1983 when the Smiths lorded over youthland.

And here I am 17 years after really hearing and understanding them for the first time and 22 years after they tetchily imploded and I have just met the architect behind some of the most beautiful guitar lines in the last quarter of a century.

Johnny Marr is a gent. A truly nice guy.

I approached him after the Yoko One gig at the Royal Festival Hall and he was talking to another musician, one I recognised but could not place.

I got the name right but not the group.
It was Mark Moore and I thought he was from Bomb the Bass. It was only on the train on the way home that I thought to myself ‘S’Express’.

Still I bravely said “Hi Mark” even though I wasn’t 100% sure.

Then, onto the main event.

I presented Johnny with my copy of Jon Savage’s ‘England’s Dreaming’ and my wife’s expensive eye-liner pencil.

I couldn’t have presented the situation with a better ice-breaker if I had produced a pick axe.

“What a great book,” the curiously jet black-haired Marr said.

And then he continued with a little pitch of why the book is good, how it engages with the reader and lo and behold he namedrops that he knows Jon Savage.

“Yeah, he’s a good mate of mine”.

Why didn’t I work harder at being a music journalist? This guy is revered among musicians.

He then poses with me for a photo and smiles and waves me goodbye.

There Gillespie, that’s how you deal your fans your grumpy little troll.

Ono's Senses Working Overtime

There isn’t a part of Yoko Ono I haven’t seen.

When she bared all on the cover of Unfinished Music Part 1: Two Vigins with her hubby John Lennon she was declaring she had nothing to hide.
The media could dig around all they want, the Ono-Lennons had gotten there first. From that moment on, Ms Ono gave herself to the world and she could take anything they were willing to throw back.
And they threw the lot.

Unhappy with her openness, she was portrayed as a loony Oriental who had contrived to break up the best loved band in history.

Flying in the face of popular opinion yet again, she becomes not just muse but musical partner of the adored Lennon.

And 40 years on she is still booking time in a recording studio. Obviously not with John, but she has collaborated with many top artists and even picked up a lifetime achievement award from Mojo magazine this month.

Taking the stage at the Royal Festival Hall’s Meltdown festival, she was visibly nervous and very slightly overwhelmed by the love and support shown by a sell out crowd.

Her Plastic Ono Band consisted of her son Sean, the producer Mark Ronson, ex Cibo Matto genius Yuka Honda, various members of the ever inventive Cornelius’ band, the torch singer Antony Heggarty and a predictable ‘surprise’ guest at the end.

The band, under the musical directorship of Sean, was tight, driven, funky and powerful.
John was always, in someway, present of course.
Like George Harrison’s son Dhani, Sean has picked up some mannerisms of the old man. As he plays his guitar he leans slightly back and bent the knees whilst chewing a piece of gum nonchalantly. It is classic John from his own Plastic Ono Band days.

This first version of the band from the late sixties featured John, Yoko, Ringo, George, Clapton, Keith Moon and Klaus Voormann among others.

The current incarnation is more than a match.

The drummer, a pocket dynamo who looked like a Japanese Grayson Perry, was the true star. She never broke into a smile once and poured all her energy into keeping an inventive rhythm for a well oiled machine.

Sean was waving instructions to the sound men in the wings all through the show as well as counting in all the various break downs and crescendos.

Oh, and he dabbles with drums, bass, guitar and piano too.

Yoko looked lost out in front but had a steely determination to open her soul.
She wailed and screeched, sobbed and sang her way through an hour and half’s worth of material.

At 76, she looks fab, with the ever present floppy cap and rectangular glasses framing that familiar, wide face.

She bantered with the crowd and was funny without realising it for most of it, especially when reminiscing with Sean about his teenage years.

When the imposing frame of Antony of & the Johnsons fame moved into position and gave Ono a hug, it was like Andre the Giant enveloping Mr Miyagi, unintentionally hilarious.

But then, of course, he sings.

It’s a fragile glass tumbler of a voice and when matched with Yoko’s off-key harmonising you could understand why Sean asked for the big’un’s mic to be turned up.

At the end of the day Ono is a conceptual artist and had great success in the early 60’s and beyond as part of the Fluxus movement and it was with her still quite vividly shocking film Fly that she finally hit the right note.

The tiny carefree insect crawling over a pink nipple and into the dark groin of a young woman was offset by Sean, kneeling and gurning, almost masturbating his guitar into a feedback frenzy.

The vagina on screen was 15 feet high and the noise could have woken the dead but the fly just went unflinchingly about its business. A superb use of the space they had for the evening.

The night ended with more controlled mayhem as the special guest, festival curator Ornette Coleman, wove free form patterns across the uneven mesh of Yoko and the band with his sax while the audience flashed ‘I Love You’ with their Ono torches which were given to us on the way in.

A topsy-turvy night finally made total sense as she provoked most of our senses. She achieved what she has always asked of the world – to make us think.
Our preconceptions were stripped as bare as the cover stars of that album from 1968.

Friday, 12 June 2009

DOTD1: London Xpress: Mixed by Harvey, Andrew Weatherall and David Holmes

On the way to work, I annoyed Bob Dylan by plugging into my iPod and wheeled through the playlists until I found something I hadn't listened to at all, or for a very long time.

I wound up with this little beauty.

When the NME was no longer a must have for me in 2000 they made me do a double take by pasting this free CD to its front page.

I was peaking as a DJ around this time and was very, very familiar with the mighty Nuphonic label. It was a mark of quality, eclectic music.

Each 12" release was eagerly stashed away until payday when I was squirreled away in the basement of HMV sticking the price labels to endless copies of the Best of Speed Garage 9.

Real US garage was released on Nuphonic, Roy Davis Jr for example.

World music was represented by Femi Kuti. Block 16 released a magnificently uneven album with Morning Sun but when it shone, it burnt through everything else for a while.

The label even gave us the best of the Notting Hill Carnival with Norman and Joey Jay's Good Times compilations.

So when XFM joined forces with the NME and the label they created a free CD I would gladly have stumped up decent dollar for.

Free CDs are ten a penny now and the quality control can be seriously lacking.

This has fine breaks and house, and to top it all off, one of my favourite tunes to drop at the start of the evening - Ella Fitzgerald injecting heart and soul into Cream's classic 'Sunshine Of Your Love'.

If you are browsing the charity shops and you stumble across this - get it. It will be among the best quids you will ever spend.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Rock gods? Not all that.

Ambling across the stage like a directionless bluebottle unable to escape from a room, Bobby Gillespie is a very odd rock god.

He limply shakes the mic like it’s irksomely stuck to his hand and it’s a wonder he remains on his feet. His hair whips his eyes and he stumbles about like the stage is balancing on a giant ball.

He is a truly, strangely mesmeric front man, though not for having anything approaching a fantastic voice.

Rock gods sit astride the planet, stepping from one continent to another in a single step. Larger than life, skinny as their wife, the hair of a pride of taut lions and in thrall to no man.

So you don’t expect to see him coyly stepping up the stairs of the Gower Street branch of Waterstone’s, looking nervously around as though they are half expecting someone to come up behind them and tickle their 12” waist.

But there he was, the singer who got his rocks off and got loaded was attending an hour-long discussion with the author, nee music journalist, Jon Savage.

Savage was already milling around the art history books where the chairs had been set up on the first floor. There were only around twenty-five of us there to hear his thoughts about journalism, music and specifically Punk, following the publication of the transcripts to the universally acclaimed book on that scene’s music and culture England’s Dreaming.

Savage is a very well-dressed middle-aged man with tiny circular black rimmed specs perched permanently atop the tip of his nose. A trendy black jacket and buttoned-to-the-top white shirt reminds me of a Vivienne Westwood collection I had seen, and he carries it off better than a younger man ever could. His grey and white hair stands erect in a flat top and finishes off the twenty-first century upper- middle class punk.

His interviewer for the evening is another revered author Michael Bracewell, who has written extensively on matters music with a particular passion for Roxy Music.

They converse like the old friends they are and cover Savage’s love of Punk, his undying, almost still unrequited love of Punk and the gap in the market when he wrote it in just 6 months in 1991.

Since then Punk has exploded into the public sphere once more with other histories and coffee table books, photography books and films and biopics and documentaries. Does Savage think he spawned a monster? On the contrary, the book did what he wanted, it opened the floodgates and brought his scene back to life.

The Sex Pistols reform, Lydon and Iggy Pop do commercials, four films featuring Joy Division are unleashed, the Clash release long awaited live albums. You only need hang around Camden Town tube station or even shop in Urban Outfitters to see the influence Punk still has on fashion. If it’s not the tartan trousers it’s the timeless Pistols image of the Queen adorning the fronts of t-shirts.

Savage is, however, quite modest and accepts the praise heaped upon his influence and writing with a nod of the head. It’s very hard to disagree, his writing is staggeringly, truly vivid. He cites Burroughs and Rechy as influences and his hefty tomes reflect this.

You can smell the sweat, the puke, the filth and the fury.

At the end I look across to Gillespie who is humble in his presence. I wonder how the tides have turned, the writer more respected than the subject. Savage said at one point he never wanted to meet his idols. I can see his point.

The mystique is lost forever.