Tuesday, October 31, 2006

21 Songs

We take it for granted now - we can take all our music with us, wherever we go.

I mean, lookit, I've got 7,360 songs on my iPod, and it's only half full.

The much-loved High Fidelity-esque bar games of the '20 Songs you'd take RIGHT NOW if you could only take 20 ON PAIN OF DEATH!!' variety are only ever academic.

Aren't they?

Well....for the first time (fortysomething late adopter) I own a mobile phone that can accommodate MP3s on its 'media card'. But here's the deal. It'll only take about 20.


Without much thought (no, really), turning off the head, turning on the heart and the short-term memory that holds the things that I'm liking NOW and In This Season rather than The Things I Know Are Classics And Must Always Appear On These Lists (TM), from a potential list of thousands I ended up with these 21 songs....

Some certainly are Songs I Could Not Live Without - others would never make that cut. And some pretty Big Ones are missing (no Marvin Gaye??!!! No DYLAN???).

But do you know what? For me, it's a good personal collection that'd pass the 'music for an emergency' test. This month.

Perhaps it's the beginning of a TGOE manifesto....

The 21 Songs (in no particular order)

Barefoot In The Head (acoustic) - A Man Called Adam
Coast Is Clear - Curve
Coles Corner - Richard Hawley
London Calling - The Clash (might consider this as a ringtone kids)
Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division
Song To The Siren - This Mortal Coil
Blue Canary (from Slava's Snowshow) - Fiorino
Ramblin' Man - Lemon Jelly
Way To Blue - Nick Drake
The Ocean - Richard Hawley
Hong Kong - Gorillaz
I'm 49 - Paddy McAloon
Who Knows Where The Time Goes - Fairport Convention
No End - Sandy Denny
Thieves Like Us - New Order
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais - The Clash
Atmosphere - Joy Division
Tell It Like It Is - Bettye Swann
All Flowers In Time (demo) - Elizabeth Fraser & Jeff Buckley
Arnold Layne - Pink Floyd
Autumn Leaves (Irresistible Force Full Chill mix) - Coldcut

Friday, October 20, 2006

Blues Run The Game

Reading the Clinton Heylin biog (see previous post) clued me in to a player in the mid sixties London folk scene I had never heard about before: his name is Jackson C. Frank and his story is extraordinary.

Traumatised, and badly injured, at just 11 years of age when a gas boiler exploded at his school in Buffalo, NY, killing many of his class mates, Frank took up guitar during long spells in hospital. Haunted in ways we can only imagine, he showed up in London in the early 60s as the folk clubs were burgeoning and fell in with a crowd that included countryman Paul Simon, also then an unknown singer/songwriter; they shared a flat - and Frank began dating a 19 year old nurse called Sandy (Denny).

A song Frank had written on the boat to England, 'Blues Run The Game', became a kind of standard in the clubs - performed, and later recorded, by Simon, Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny and others. Painfully shy, Frank was persuaded to record an eponymously-titled album of his material in 1965, produced by Paul Simon. Featuring just Frank's rich baritone and acoustic guitar, it is a lost classic.

Dogged by mental illness and addiction, Frank fell back into obscurity and onto hard, hard times, living penniless and homeless for a time after showing up in New York City in the mid-70s searching for, but not finding, the by-then internationally-famous Paul Simon.

He was persuaded to write and record again in the 1990s by a fan called Jim Abbott, but his voice was largely shot.

He died in 1999 aged just 56.

TGOE most seriously recommends you check out this man's extraordinary music.

A 2CD compilation called 'Blues Run The Game' is available here.

You can sample Frank tracks at the always excellent music blog Keep The Coffee Coming (look for the September 13th post).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Across The Evening Sky, All The Birds Are Leaving

Sandy Denny (1947-1978) wrote and sang so beautifully and so often about the lovely, sad season of autumn that a crisp October morning seemed the right kind of time to visit her grave at Putney Vale Cemetery, London.

It is a very plain grave - at the foot of a tree, right by the path, facing west - and unadorned by any of the left-by-fans paraphernalia that weighs down the resting places of other 'rock legends'. 

Sandy's brother David, who also died in his thirties, is buried just behind. There are many more elaborate monuments nearby.

Unlike Nick Drake, that other great articulator of English melancholy in song, with whom she shared a record label and management team, Sandy was famous during her lifetime.

Not Royal Variety Performance famous, but then she'd have hated that.

Famous enough to sell-out decent sized venues in Britain either solo, or with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay (and combinations of both); famous enough to have been twice named Female Vocalist Of The Year by Melody Maker (RIP); famous in the folk-clubs (and famously fond of a good time and a few or more brandies there) long before that.

Since her death, her star has risen still further and her status as the finest British female singer/songwriter of her generation (and a master interpreter of songs by Richard Thompson, Dylan, Joni Mitchell and many others) is assured.

More and more of us are discovering that clear, sad, pitch-perfect, very English voice for the first time - and discovering in it something that is very special indeed.

Sandy would have turned 60 in January 2007.

Hard to imagine, because she's now, in Dylan's words, forever young.

Here's Ghost Of Electricity's completely subjective list of 17 of her greatest recordings (a CD full, if you will) in rough chronological order...

With Fairport Convention
Fotheringay (from 'What We Did On Our Holidays')
I Don't Know Where I Stand (from 'Heyday - The BBC Sessions')
Who Knows Where The Time Goes (from 'Unhalfbricking')
Autopsy (ditto)
Crazy Man Michael (from 'Liege & Lief')
Farewell, Farewell (ditto)

With Fotheringay
Nothing More (from 'Fotheringay')

Blackwaterside (from 'The North Star Grassman And The Ravens')
Next Time Around (ditto)
It'll Take A Long Time (from 'Sandy')
Listen, Listen (ditto)
The Music Weaver (ditto)
Solo (from 'Like An Old Fashioned Waltz')
Friends (ditto)
No End (ditto)
No More Sad Refrains (from 'Rendezvous')

One More Chance (from 'Rising For The Moon')

Buy Sandy albums at Amazon.

For more about Sandy, TGOE recommends Clinton Heylin's 'No More Sad Refrains - The Life And Times Of Sandy Denny' (Helter Skelter Publishing) - out-of-print, but you can still get it if you try hard enough (thanks to a very nice man at Helter Skelter for mine) ....

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs....or, to be specific as I was (relatively) young and tipsy upfront at the Reading Festival (1991)...we were all caught up in that 'shoegazing' thing: Ride; Slowdive; Curve; and from the former colonies (Hello America!) - The Drop Nineteens. We didn't use the 'shoe' word, of course: it had been invented by a Smart Person From The Music Press who I am sure had spent too much time in the VIP tent drinking sambucas with Shane. Bless! But never mind...

There was a band from Oxford (or possibly Reading or Newbury or Bracknell...very Home Counties this 'scene') called Chapterhouse. Their Big Song was 'Pearl'.

The cover of their debut (and I suspect only) album had on it a picture of a Big, White Fluffy Sleeping Cat curled up in a tight swirly ball. The album was called 'Whirlpool'.

Bet you didn't know that...

1) The cat's name was Albert.

2) He belonged to a Frenchman called Marc who designed the sleeve.

All this is true. Would I lie to you?

Today - so much fatter, older and balder - I 'upgraded my Blackberry' (yes, I know) to the new Pearl model.

I remembered Albert. And Home Counties kids painting white-noise washes with guitars.

And I thought: I'm going to Glastonbury next year. Without the frickin' Blackberry.

Buy 'Whirlpool' here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

And One More For The Road

Late night Saturday, drinks run dry, needing to go to bed. I play Frank Sinatra's vocal-to-solo-piano version of 'One For My Baby'. Never released in its time. A studio run-through. Just Frank and longtime accompanist Bill Miller. Just perfect.

And I go to choose something to follow it, though what would be suitable I do not know.

The iPod freezes. The reset does not work. The 'sad iPod icon' appears.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: sleep is a good thing; all hard drives eventually fail; you cannot follow Frank.

Buy Frank Sinatra - 'The Capitol Years' (box set).

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Slava Polunin is a 56 year old Russian clown who makes magic happen in theatres across the planet.

His stage world is an indeterminate snowscape in which his innocent and bewildered clowns wander and wonder: playing, dreaming, worrying, making friends....trying to keep the snow swept. It is a funny, sad, quirky, confusing, sometimes frightening and frequently beautiful world.

To spend two hours in a theatre with Slava is to be five years old again. You leave full of joy - and probably with your pockets full of paper snow.

'This is the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen in a theatre in my life' - Simon Callow.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Skeleton Keys And The Rain

How are you doing?

Come in out of the rain and pull up a chair.