Friday, March 27, 2020

20 albums in 20 days The Planxty Collection by Planxty

I've been nominated to post 20 album covers in 20 days to Facebook. But I've been a little distracted lately. So I've failed the deadline. It seemed a suitable distraction. The 20 album covers represent music that has had a significant impact on my life. No explanations or commentary is expected. However, I thought this blog seemed a suitable place to write a comment or two about the albums.

A couple of times in the mid-70s my cousin used to invite me to stay with him for a weekend. Click here for a post that goes into a little more detail about those visits. On one of those visits, Jeff played me this album. I don't know why but it left an incredible impression on me. Jeff is six years older than me. Back then in 1974 when he was 21 I was an awkward and uncomfortable 14 year old.  He was the coolest guy I knew. But that album hit me hard. I bought it very soon after my visit when I got home. I played it once and never played it again until 1977.

I'm often like that with music. If it doesn't hit me immediately then it's gone. Usually forever.  But in 1977 I was seriously ill. I was recovering from a disease and still suffering from it. District nurses used to come between once and three times a week to dress the wounds on my legs. One District nurse was Irish. She came from Dublin. She was great and we got on well.

So one day I fished through my growing collection of albums and found this one collecting dust. I suppose I wanted to thank her for all her help. She was quite a character. So whenever she came I played it. I played it often. Again and again over weeks or months. It really got into me. By the time she'd finished coming, I was hooked. It was in my blood. Suddenly the world of Irish Traditional Folk music opened to me. It was years before the invention of 'World Music.' This music was real, visceral and absolutely compelling.

Click here for a performance of Planxty playing one of the songs from the album.  It's an incredible performance of The Blacksmith, I think.

Amazing to see Christy Moore - playing the harmonium. He's barely visible for the first half of the performance, dominated by Andy Irving and Donnal Lunny on mandolines. Then the camera switches from stage left to stage right. Its focus is Christy Moore's hands playing the harmonium. Then pans back to the brilliant Liam O'Flynn. His uilleann pipes lie across his lap. He's sitting patiently for his moment. He could be waiting for a bus. But then his moment comes. He's just off-screen. Then we see the band from centre stage. My eyes are on Christy Moore and the Bodhran balanced on the back of the chairs no one is using. Suddenly he picks it up with the beater. We are now somewhere else. A heart beating full of desire, urgently pounding out this rhythm. 

Here is a band at the very peak of there short-lived but brilliant career. I'm still completely blown away by the freshness and energy of their performance.  

In fact, why not Click here for another performance. This one's probably recorded in 1973, a year after the first one.  I love how Liam O'Flynn's uilleann pipes now take centre stage. He takes charge of the instrumental that follows the song.  

But for me, it's hearing Christy Moore's voice, that really lifts this song onto another plane. He's still unaware of its quality. He's belting out these lyrics unselfconsciously, seemingly unaware of the treasure he holds in his throat and vocal cords. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

20 albums in 20 days A Kind of Blue Miles Davis

I've been nominated to post 20 album covers in 20 days to Facebook. But I've been a little distracted lately. So I've failed the deadline. It seemed a suitable distraction. The 20 album covers represent music that has had a significant impact on my life. No explanations or commentary is expected on Facebook. However, on this blog, I can make a few comments about these albums.

I don't have much to write about my encounter with this album. But if you pass the cursor over most of the names that are mentioned you can see they are links to performances on YouTube.

I'd heard about jazz and there was something about it - the concept - that fascinated me. But no one I knew in those years was listening to Jazz. So it meant very little to me. I didn't know where to begin. My dad loved the voice of Ella Fitzgerald - that's Joe Paz playing the guitar backing Ella - and Nat King Cole. He also liked musicals like Showboat and Oklahoma. He liked Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra. But this was his music. I liked it but it wasn't mine. 

I saw Stan Tracey in concert back in 1977. Hearing his adaptation of Under Milk Wood was a by-product of my mother's love of the play for voices. So that doesn't really count. Does it? I heard Jazz on the radio but never felt at all connected to it. This went on for years. I remember hearing and then buying an Oscar Peterson LP. That's Ray Brown playing bass on the YouTube link. And of course Louis Armstrong.

I remember walking into a record shop - possibly Discoveries in Harrow - and asked the guy over the counter for a jazz record. Another customer came over and suggested I listen to Joe Sample. Wow! I really enjoyed the 2 albums I bought of his. One of them called Carmel I think. Or did that customer recommend the L. A. 4. I'm a bit confused. But I've fallen completely in love with this unbelievable adaptation of the slow movement of Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto - the piece linked here is probably one of my Desert Island Discs. Oh, and that's Ray Brown playing bass.

But I was still an outsider.

In 1978 I was studying A-Levels at a Further Education college in North West London. A friend got me listening to Weather Report. A jazz fusion group. Oh my goodness. This group were amazing. I saw them live in Hammersmith. It must have been in the early 1980s. There on stage before me was Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and I think, Jaco Pastorius.

Then in the mid-80s, a friend suggested we go to a jazz festival. I think it was a one day festival in Knebworth Park. Capital Radio sponsored it. They brought together big names from the States and the UK, as well as up and coming bands. We may have gone to the festival over a couple of years.

Here's a list of the musicians I remember seeing there:
Chuck Berry
Dave Brubeck
Benny Goodman
Dizzy Gillespie 
Spiro Gyra
Wynton Marsalis
Muddy Walters

But still, I wasn't really following any jazz.

Years later, someone must have mentioned A Kind of Blue and its significance and influence on modern jazz. So I bought it, played it and loved it. I still do. 

Click here for my favourite track from the album. This piece is one of my Desert Island Discs.

Monday, March 23, 2020

20 albums in 20 days Ten New Songs by Leonard Cohen

I've been nominated to post 20 album covers in 20 days to Facebook by my friend Stephen Winfield. No explanations or commentary is expected on Facebook posts. The 20 album covers represent music that has had a significant impact on my life. 
But I've been a little distracted lately. So I've failed the deadline. 20 days has turned into about 6 weeks. 
However, it seems a suitable distraction while self-isolating to write an explanation or comment on the album covers I've posted. My blog seems a suitable place for these. We do live in extraordinary times. I realise that many of the pieces here 

When I was at school a friend came by holding the album Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen. It must have been in 1975. He thought I'd really like Leonard Cohen. We played it. I didn't like it much and never heard it again. However, at some point in the 1970s, I must have heard other Cohen songs because in 1981 I remember seeing The Best of Leonard Cohen in the record collection in my bedroom at Hatfield Polytechnique. I have absolutely no recollection of buying it or even playing it. Maybe I played it in my sleep because some of the songs from that LP were really familiar to me.

In 2001 I watched the film Shrek with my family. I remember hearing the song Hallelujah - I think they use John Cale to sing it. I remember thinking the song was familiar. A vague memory that I'd heard the song long ago. But I hadn't heard it on The Best of Leonard Cohen. Hallelujah wasn't released till 1984. 

Also in 2001, a friend came round for the evening. He bought with him the cellophane-wrapped new album by Leonard Cohen. He said he thought I'd really like Leonard Cohen's music and wanted to share it with me. We sat opposite each other in our sitting room as I watched him unwrap the CD. I can still hear the cellophane crackling up in his fist.

I fell in love with it immediately. I loved the electronic backing music against Cohen's extraordinary cracked, deep and rich voice. It never occurred to me to buy the CD. But in the months that followed the songs kept slipping into my memory. I couldn't get them out of my mind. Until eventually - maybe a couple of years later, I bought the CD. I think the album is magnificent. I've loved every album Cohen released since then. My friend and I met up on the day of each release. We unwrapped each CD and then just listened.  Old Ideas, Popular Problems, You Want it Darker and Thanks for the Dance. I've been listening to his other albums over the years. Some I love. Others?? I'm not so sure about.

Click here for a recording of one of my favourite songs from 10 New Songs.

20 albums in 20 days Faure's Requiem

I was nominated to post 20 album covers in 20 days to Facebook by a friend. The albums posted have had a big impact on my life. No explanations or commentaries are expected. However, it did seem appropriate to make a comment or two on the albums on this blog.

So, I think my memory is a little hazy on this one. I think in 1985 a friend came to visit me in Colchester. He brought with him this album. He wanted me to hear it. He put it on and I was immediately transfixed by it. I've been playing it ever since.
I've heard a few recordings of this requiem over the years. But it is the one my friend bought that I've found so captivating. Maybe it's the overall softness or fullness of the sounds, Willcocks imbeds the organ within a full orchestral and choral setting. It never feels too loud or too quiet. 
After I married we used to play music to help us get off to sleep. I used to suffer from bouts of insomnia. This was one of the albums we played to help. We had it on a cassette recorder and each night we'd rewind and press the play button. For ages, we'd hear the whole requiem but gradually over a period of weeks, we'd fall asleep, at In Paradisum, then gradually the Pie Jesus and later still the Sanctus. At one point we'd be asleep just after hearing the opening chord of the Introit et Kyrie. And then we began to fall asleep just hearing the tape rewinding.
I began to realise that this became a form of self-hypnosis. For some time - years - it was very effective.

Click here to hear and watch a performance of the exquisite  Pie Jesus from the requiem.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

20 Albums in 20 days Dances of Dowland Julian Bream

When I was in my mid-teens my cousin Jeff invited me to stay with him. It might have been a couple of times over a few years.
I can't remember much about what we did during the day. Once he took me to see the new Monty Python film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. That was my first encounter with Monty Python. It was 1975. I thought that film was amazing. Another time he took me to a folk club where I heard Leon Russelson and Roy Baily sing. I remember one of them singing, The Rose of York. And another song, I Don't Want to Die.
But late at night in his bedroom, he played me music. He played this once. I've never forgotten it. I have it on vinyl, CD and on a Spotify playlist. It's one of my Desert Island Discs.

Click here to hear Dances of Dowland

Click here for Leon Russelson singing, The Rose of York.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood

I read this to prepare myself for reading Atwood's Booker prize-winning follow up novel, The Testaments. Written 35 years later. 

But it's a classic and I should have read it years ago. Actually, I don't really know how I escaped it, as so many of my students studied it for A Level English.

Anyway, an incredible novel. I was totally drawn from the start. The plot follows Offred - a handmaiden of Gilead. The novel's set in a post-civil nuclear war. In what was the United States of America. That old world has gone. What's replaced it is a patriarchal dystopian dictatorship. 

Offred's life is changed. Separated from her partner - Luke and her daughter. She's accepted life as a handmaiden sent out to live with a childless couple to produce a child. 
She's an object. A baby-making body, sent out to produce children for the infertile elite.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Girl, Woman, Other Bernaridine Evaristo

Follows the interconnected stories of twelve black British women. Some old - Hattie, some young -Yazz. Some gay - Dominique, some straight - Shirley. Some rich - Carole and some poor - well Carole's youth and her mother - a cleaner in Peckham. 

Their lives connect through friendhip, lovers and blood relations. Themes of feminism and being a black woman in a society dominated largely by white Britsh men, run throughout the novel. 

I really enjoyed it.

Click here for a better review of the novel from The Guardian 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

20 albums in 20 days Prayer of the Heart John Taverner

I was nominated to post 20 album covers in 20 days to Facebook by a friend. The albums posted have had a big impact on my life. No explanations or commentaries are expected. However, it did seem appropriate to make a comment or two on this blog.

Image result for John Taverner portrait cover

The copy of the CD I have was filched from my very good friend Alex. In exchange I gave him my copy of Arvo Part A Portrait. A reasonable swap I think. He told me to listen out for Prayer of the Heart.
I kept the CD in my collection but didn't play it for over a year. Then one day I came in from college flung my bag onto the sofa and picked the CD up from the shelf. Katy was at work and a friend from church was in the house doing some DIY in the hall.
I played Prayer of the Heart first. I sat down and just listened. By the time Bjork's voice began I was completely hooked. But then her voice - I was mesmerized. Then taken onto an even deeper level with her heavily accented English. I was completely blown away by the piece.
When it finished I sat speechless and in wonder. My friend came into the room. Tears in his eyes, exclaiming, "What the fuck was that!"

Here's a link to the piece John Taverner wrote for Bjork. Click here. Mind-blowing!!