Friday, 28 May 2010

A timeless Kind of Blue

A new two part collaboration between the Kind of Blue Sextet and Paul Lashmar is shedding an unexpected new light on Miles Davis' seminal album Kind of Blue.

Long recognised as one of , if not the most important Jazz albums of all time, Kind of Blue has been examined from enough angles to make a nun blush. Quadruple Platinum selling, placed 12th in Rolling Stone's top 500 albums of all time and inspiration for everyone from James Brown to Pink Floyd. Yet against these odds, Brunel University lecturer Paul Lashmar has teamed up with a specially arranged band to offer a take on the album that is both new and surprisingly timeless.

Part of the Brunel University Jazz Outreach Project, which aims to make Jazz more accessible, the show begins with a history that finishes at the album being cut. Perhaps surprisingly, this evening of Jazz and lectures is likely to appeal to hipcats and square Jazz novices alike.

At the core of the show, titled simply Kind of Blue: Homage to Miles Davis, is a live performance of the album. This is delivered, in its entirety, by a band of the highest calibre musicians under the leadership of veteran Band Leader Frank Griffith. If arranging and orchestrating a band to replicate the sound of the two Manhattan recording sessions that created Kind of Blue weren't enough, Griffith also plays an active part in the first half of the show.

Lashmar's introduction to the scene that first created Miles Davis then Kind of Blue avoids indulgence at every step. No mean feat from a man who is visibly passionate about his subject. Key points on the road are expounded, explained and then it's off to the next stop. Punctuation in this whistlestop tour are provided by Griffith, who, along with his band, provide musical examples which make real every place, era and mood.

It looks likely that this show will be a small part of the Brunel University Jazz Outreach Project. If it's anything to go by, they will no doubt be a flawless juggling of musical history and toe-tapping music. And it should go without saying that if you don't own the album, you should daddy-o.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Where to feel blue this summer

As I sit down to write this the air is full of the warm smells of charred flesh on BBQs and the equally burnt meat on the fat, red Englishmen manning them. If that wasn't enough, the site of novelty aprons and the sound of overly eager ice cream men sing the praises for the time of year: Summer might just be here.

Putting aside that sensual feast, what does British Summertime mean? Festivals. But where does the committed Blues peg their tent to get the most of this year's musical offerings?


Glasto does a good line in returning artists, their performers being just as loyal as their patrons. This year Seasick Steve returns to capitalise on last year's performances, no doubt with his goodybag full of homemade instruments. Joining him are the Skiffle Punk Blues Folkies Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs and Alabama 3, a band who can be utterly relied on to be both wasted and entertaining.

Seth Lakeman provides his own brand of heartache-twinged folk and smouldering good looks, a trade that Jackson Browne has been plying for years and continues to do so. At the other end of the spectrum, flying the flag for old, haggard and classic are the country legend Willy Nelson and king of the New Orleans Jazz scene Dr John.

Newer acts gracing this years festival are Frank Turner, The King Blues and the comedian Adrian Edmondson performing with his band The Bad Shepherds.

And if all that lot doesn't sink your battleship, then dance your socks off to John Allen and The Blues Band.

Carling Weekend

Known for satisfying the heavier, more mosh-heavy brand of music, Carling's Reading and Leeds festivals still manage to hold their ends up for some quality Blues.

Frank Turner and The King Blues both make appearances here, as well as at a few other major festivals. Whilst neither have the shot-to-stardom-after-50-years fame of someone like Seasick Steve, both are as entertaining as a barrel full of drunken chimps. The end result of said barrel would probably be a mixture of Blood or Whiskey, which incidentally is the name of an irish folk-punk act with bluesy edges playing this year's festival (there would be some chimp carcasses too, but unfortunately there isn't an act called that).

Perhaps the biggest name on Carling's line-up are the Brighton-based Mumford & Sons, whose stock in trade is a mixture of folk instrumentation, timeless fashion and god-questioning lyrics so beyond their years you'd find it hard to believe Lenoard Cohen hadn't written them. You'll dance, you'll cry, you'll stay near the front of the stage too long and will get punched by a Slayer fan.


Known for gracing the party season with a middle-class, middle-aged combo of books, theatre and just a little music, Latitude provides a more mature festival. This doesn't stop them playing host to Frank Turner and Mumford & Sons too. Nor does it stand in their way of clearing a stage for the suprisingly dark musical stylings of Richard Hawley. The ex-Pulp and Longpigs member uses his acoutic six-string and a mellower than mellow voice to captivate an audience and shouldn't be missed.

For fans of 60s and 70s Soul, Jonathan Jermiah will hold the floor at the Word Arena on the Friday. His mix of Blues-Soul is served acoustically on a bed of orchestral strings with the faintest garnish of wise and heartfelt lyrics.

So whether you want to dance, dwell or just enjoy yourself, there's big Blues on offer at even the most mainstream festivals this summer.

Monday, 17 May 2010

"I'm not venturing into film" Liam Gallagher on his upcoming film

Having long been accused of ripping off the Beatles, Liam Gallagher has snatched a page from the bands' Apple Corps days and has started a film production company. However, the singer, tambourine botherer and clothing designer insists that he intends on only making one feature film. At the Cannes Film Festival he said "I'm doing this one thing then I'm back on the dole."

The film will be an adaptation of Richard DiLello's memoir 'The Longest Cocktail Party'. Taking the same name as the book, it promises to be an affectionate and humorous take on the inner workings of the Beatle's record company in the two years leading up to the band splitting up.

Gallagher insists he wants the film to be more than just another biopic. He told reporters "It's a between the scenes thing", going on to say that it would tell the whole story of Apple. "No one will be auditioning for John, Paul, George and Ringo. It's about the characters behind the scenes".

Andrew Eaton, the film's producer, said talks were ongoign with Apple to license some of their music from the period. The soundtrack is likely to feature acts such as Badfinger and Billy Preston, as well as original material from Gallagher's new band.

Full details of the film are to be released later this month at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Which 3 songs made the man that made the Blues?

Happy Birthday Robert Johnson.

Despite there being no known records of Robert Johnson's birth, all the most informed guesses have it as May 8th or 9th in either 1911 or 1912. As one of the truest traditions of Blues is not letting a lack of evidence ruin a good story, it seems like a great time to look back at works of the man who is possibly Blues' brightest star.

The influence Johnson has had on the genre borders on the immeasurable; Clapton called him "the most important blues singer that ever lived", he was among the first ever people to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. All of which isn't too bad when you consider he only made 41 recordings in his short life.

What can you say about a man who is a celebrated as this? Very little that hasn't already been said, which is why here we're celebrating his own words with the three of his songs that tell his story.

Ramblin’ on My Mind

“Running down to the station, catch the old first mail train I see

I got the blues about Miss So-and-So and the child got the blues about me”

As with so many of his song, ‘Ramblin’ on My Mind’ recounts Johnson leaving a woman who did him wrong. However, it could just as easily tell the story of his childhood. Born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, the young Robert had to leave an early age after his mother entered into a dispute over land with a lynch mob. In the following years he was passed backwards and forwards between his mother and father before joining his mother more permanently in Robinsonville, Mississippi in 1919.

Spending his youth wandering set the pace for Johnson’s life. Like many Americans, he spent the 20s and 30s of the great depression wandering the country looking for work. The recordings we have of him now all date from two sessions in this period, in San Antonio Texas. The recording roster shows he laid down the tracks between two other ‘ethnic’ acts, a hillbilly band and a Mexican guitarist.

Cross Road Blues

Around 1929 Robert Johnson met the musician and lay-preacher Son House, who had moved to Robinsonville to be closer to his musical partner Willie Brown. The elderly bluesman recalls the young Johnson following him around trying, and failing, to imitate his style. The legend then goes that Johnson disappeared for a few months and returned with an unnatural ability to play any song in any style. You can hear the debt Johnson pays to Son House’s traditional style in the younger man’s versions of ‘Preaching the Blues’ and ‘Walking Blues’.

So many legends surround Robert Johnson, from the cause of his death to the things he saw wandering the dusty American roads, that without his recordings it would be hard to believe he ever really existed. One, however, captures the imagination like no other.

The story of the crossroads has been added to various parts of Johnson’s life. It tells of his insurmountable desire to be a great Blues musician and that he is told (as we don’t know, let’s say it was by a wise old man with only one eye) to go at midnight with his guitar to the crossroads by the Dockery plantation. There he was met by a tall, black man who tuned his guitar, played a song and handed it back. When he received it, Robert could play anything he wanted on it. The crossroads and magical abilities he is given tie this story in with much older Voodoo and Black Magic rituals and the Christian idea of a Faustian pact, in which the devil gives you superhuman powers in exchange for your soul.

Whatever the truth or history behind this story, and overlooking the fact that ‘Cross Road Blues’ makes no mention of the Devil, it has certainly helped to make the myth of Robert Johnson so appealing.

Kind Hearted Woman

“Aint but one thing,

Makes Mister Johnson drink,

I’s worried ‘bout how you treat me, baby”

A two-in-one love letter to the women of the world and the drinking they drive men to, ‘Kind Hearted Woman’ is a song that has helped to prop up one of blues oldest clich├ęs. The image of the travelling bluesman, living for whiskey and women, is one of the few that truly fits Johnson’s life.

After his first wife died during childbirth, Johnson reportedly had a string of female dalliances. These were probably helped along by his burgeoning musical career. Whilst he recorded his 29 songs (some of which had two or three takes) in just two sessions, taking to the road again as soon as he’d finished, that was enough to give him some fame within his own community. About as far from noble as a down-home bluesboy could get, Johnson exploited that fame to get girls.

Just as with his birth, nobody knows for sure the circumstances in which Robert Johnson died. According to one story, his womanising was his downfall. After a string of affairs with married women, a jealous husband poisoned the singers’ whiskey with strychnine, killing him at the age of 27.

Happy Birthday to you...

In his few short years, Robert Johnson helped to define what the Blues is. Never limited by genre, style or the seemingly impossible, he set the stage, put out the chairs and even baked some snacks for the generations of singers and guitarists that followed him. So, on his birthday, why not stick on some of his music (it's all out of copyright, so you can listen guilt free online), put a dash of strychnine in your whiskey and enjoy one of the greatest guitarists and singers of all time.