I’ve been a member of the glorious Tottenham Community Choir for four years now (even though I haven’t lived in the area for nearly five) and was recently re-elected to the committee for my third spell as hon sec. To be honest it’s often easier to *not* be on the committee, and to not have to deal with all the various trivial (and not so trivial) issues that come up, but on the whole I’d rather be involved and have a say than not.
One of the problems with helping to run an open, inclusive, community choir is the sheer diversity of people that we get. And I don’t just mean in terms of age, ethnic background, religion, orientation or whatever (and we do have a pretty diverse mix of all those), I also mean in terms of what they actually want – or don’t want – from a “community choir”.
Whose choir is it, who does it ‘belong’ to, who does it exist ‘for’? The choir members? The choir as an entity? The community? The Musical Director/choir master? The committee that attempts to run it on behalf of all the other interested parties? Or an aggregate/conglomeration of all? Who makes the decisions – for example, if we are asked or invited to perform somewhere, who decides whether or not we should do it? Are we driven by the number of people that want to? We have several members that don’t really want to sing in public at all, and for whom even the annual winter concert is something to be tolerated, rather than relished (not me – I love being on stage & always have).
Should we make gigs compulsory, or create a smaller sub (chamber) choir that wants to – and does – perform more frequently? Would those who are not in this subchoir see that as a relief, or as an exclusion? Some people may not fancy a particular gig – it’s too far away, too early (can’t get there from work in time)or too late (have to get home for the kids/cats), or it’s their knitting or bridge night, or dance club, or whatever – or it’s just simply too inconvenient. But some of us would go out of our way to sing live – that’s what it’s ultimately all about.
But we can’t – and shouldn’t – perform in front of people if we’re not ready. Some people can’t – or won’t – learn the music. Some people won’t (or don’t) pay attention in rehearsals, some just want to chat and joke. Some people don’t want to do their homework or any learning in between rehearsals.
Some people can’t sing – and some know it and some don’t know it.
We try to be an inclusive choir, to be ‘for the community’, but how do you deal with someone that is painfully, loudly, out of tune?
All these problems…
My personal feeling is that when something comes in “would the choir like to perform at…?” we should say yes. Almost every time. And if we have to do a smaller cut down set with a smaller group, then so be it. Of course, I’m used to that, I’ve done gigs – hundreds – with just four singers in harmony. And I think that if we can get enough people who want to, and are prepared to do homework, and move away from the safety blanket of the music, and can commit to gigs, fantastic. But unfortunately all those things are a bit up in the air and by no means guaranteed.
So, for the moment, I – and the rest of the committee – serve the wishes of the choir as a whole, which means we recently turned down two local gigs (places we’ve done before and are ‘regular’ gigs on our home turf) because the ‘majority’ (? not even sure it was a majority, though probably enough to make a significant impact on numbers) of people didn’t want to – or couldn’t – make them. And I think that’s a pity, I think we should make every effort to support the community.
As for those people who won’t learn the words and music and still rely on the dots after months, or who won’t shut up in rehearsals and consequently miss what our MD is saying, or who always arrive late for rehearsals, or won’t do their homework, or can’t sing…
Well, what would you do?
Some time around 1969/1970, when I was about 13, my cousins, Mike and Tim Baker, introduced me to the music of – among others – Roy Harper.
Tim turned 60 last week and, in honour of the occasion, I decided to have a ‘Roy Harper day’ where I revisited my entire collection (I have all of these on vinyl and MP3) and played them all through from 1966′s Sophisticated Beggar to 1977′s Bullinamingvase, which was the album where I finally gave up on him. Punk was happening, after all, and to be honest I hadn’t really been ‘knocked out’ by anything he’d done since Stormcock. (Incidentally, and this may be unfair of me, I haven’t heard anything he’s done since then apart from when I saw him at the Albert Hall a couple of years ago supporting Joanna Newsom and when I did the sound engineering for him when he played at the Sir George Robey some time in the 80s – but I don’t remember much about that apart from that he had an ear infection and couldn’t keep his balance).
So, anyway. I ploughed my way – yes, it was difficult at times, particularly the horrible Lifemask album – through these nine albums and as I did so I wondered, not for the first time, why I was bothering (other than to mark Tim’s silver jubilee)?
The truth is (in my opinionated opinion) that, compared to many of his contemporaries, Roy Harper really wasn’t that great. He wasn’t the best songwriter, or the best singer, or the best guitarist, compared to many of the crowd that came up through Les Cousins and similar. But I guess he got the breaks and certainly his friendship with Jimmy Page and association with Pink Floyd didn’t hurt his career.
But the thing is that times have changed. There just weren’t that many people doing it in those days. These days almost everyone has software that allows them to produce an album’s worth of ‘music’ in their bedroom and, armed with a dozen songs and zero talent, everyone thinks they deserve to be a star. Even worse are those who don’t even bother to try to learn an instrument or create anything, they just turn up at an X Factor audition, armed with an adequate but unremarkable voice, and demand to be rich and famous for zero effort.
But in those days it was different. Musicians were a tiny minority (although, to be honest, ‘real’ musicians still are) and it was possible, with a fair bit of work and a bit of luck, to land a recording contract. A&R men (remember them?) Would flock to the Cavern, or Les Cousins, or wherever, and sign up anybody with a guitar in the hope of finding the next Beatles or Paul Simon. And most of these people could play, and write, and sing, but equally most of them were little better than average – but the thing was that even average players were few and far between, and of you were in that small group then there was a reasonable chance that you could get signed up. And then, if you were one of the lucky ones whose album actually sold and made a profit, you might even make a couple more and get some kind of longevity and even ‘career’ out of it.
So Roy Harper was one of the luckier ones. his first album (The Sophisticated Beggar) was made on a two track Revox and shows someone heavily influenced by Bob Dylan (who wasn’t?) with an attitude, a British outlook, and a few not very profound things to say. For his second album (Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith) he was signed to CBS and teamed up with Shel Talmy who had been responsible for, among others, the sound of the Mamas And The Papas, and produced a lush string-laden album that, for me, is one of the two lasting gems in his career. It may be atypical and a bit ‘mainstream’ for Roy’s liking, but sometimes a bit of discipline and an outside producer can make a world of difference. And it didn’t hurt to have the most ‘controversial’ song included on one of CBS’ million selling Rock Machine samplers.
Then it was off to Liberty Records for Folkjokeopus, his most obviously ‘Dylanesque’ album, and then on to Harvest – one of two homes for great British music of the time (the other was Island) – for Flat Baroque And Berserk. This was the album that turned the corner for Roy Harper (helped by a big budget and full page promotional ads in Melody Maker) and paved the way for the genuine stoned classic that was – and is – Stormcock.
If you haven’t heard Stormcock, please make the effort. It really is a masterpiece (and would be even without Jimmy Page’s input), one of the great one-offs of our time. But I really wouldn’t bother too much with any of Roy’s other albums unless you’re a ‘fan’; there are far too many better albums from that time (late 60s/early 70s) by better singers, musicians and songwriters. Try Andy Roberts, Keith Christmas, even (though Roy would hate me for saying this) Al Stewart.
As for me, I’m off to listen to another album that the Bakers turned me on to – Then Play On by Fleetwood Mac. Now that *is* a fucking masterpiece.
More fool me, I should have stolen it first (i.e. downloaded, like I normally do) then I’d have known not to buy it. But I rusted EC not to put out dispensable garbage. My fault. In future I will *always* download albums before I buy them (and I do buy them if I like them – as I did for the Beach Boys album).I bought Eliza Carthy’s new album last week.
So now the only people I will buy *without* listening first are Amanda Palmer and Kristen Hersh – both of whom encourage free downloads.
…that shouldn’t prevent me from making observations and having the odd rant.
I am paid to write clear, unambiguous UK English text and to present it nicely on the page. I am good at that and I am paid reasonably well for my work. I am also proud of my work and I tend to spend at least as much time on ‘post production’ as I do on getting the facts down in the first place.
(Incidentally, as I mention elsewhere, the same level of care does not necessarily extend to my informal writings – my blog posts, Twitter expletives and Facebook irrelevancies are as cliché-ridden and as devoid of punctuation and capitals – and sometimes of spell checks – as anybody else’s.)
But I am primarily a writer and as such my written output has to be of a certain quality, or else my bosses will find someone else to do the work.
So is it too much to ask that someone that is paid to make announcements over a public address system should be able to construct grammatically correct sentences, using words in the English language, and enunciate them clearly?
Long time followers will know where I am going with this. If I am standing on the platform at Vauxhall and the indicators are broken I rely on the person making announcements to tell me when – and where – my train is coming in. Luckily I have been making this journey long enough to be able to interpret the garbage coming out of the ancient metal horns, but I wonder what new commuters make of such destinations as ‘Sabbydan’ and ‘Renzbar’? (Surbiton and Raynes Park, btw – yes, I work out in Good Life land)?
We live in a rich and multicultural society and I wouldn’t wish it otherwise. Different nationalities and regional accents are part of life but please, if you need someone to make an announcement to a platform full of irritable people, choose someone that can speak clearly. I have never met anyone that speaks like the woman whose voice makes the announcements on the Victoria Line trains (‘Queens English’? None of the queens that *I* know talk like that) but at least it’s clear and cuts through the rumble of the train.
“Plea sallow Dee Passanchas off ditren befo boddin an yoos ollavillible dorce. Chan jeer var arnasharay sovvisis, Diztren is var jazzindan zard. Stan Cliddidas.”
(Please allow the passengers off the train before boarding and use all available doors. Change here for all National Rail Services. This train is for Chessington South. Stand clear of the doors.)
I downloaded the new Beach Boys album yesterday, for free.
I ‘stole’ it, if you like – I wasn’t supposed to be downloading it for free and the person who shared it wasn’t supposed to be doing that, either (not sure which of us was committing the greater ‘crime”, the sharer or the downloader). Anyway I listened to it and it’s a damn sight better than it ought to be (ok, it’s a bit weird hearing pensioners singing about cruising and picking up girls but hey, it’s a beach boys album, what did you expect?) – the voices are still there on the whole and Brian has created some of his best melodies and arrangements in 40 years.
So my next question is whether to buy it or not, and the answer is – I don’t know yet. If I decide I *really* like it, and would add it to my ipod, and choose to play it from time to time (or feel happy when a random track from it shuffles onto my playlist and appears in my headphones) then yes, i will. But if it’s just ok and I could quite happily never hear it again then no, I won’t. And if i decide that I would never consciously and deliberately choose to play it again (as opposed to not minding the odd track here and there) then I’ll delete it altogether. Life is too short to listen to music that’s just ‘OK’.
So morally, how do I feel?
Well, OK actually. There are certain artists (Amanda Palmer and Kristin Hersh come to mind straightaway) that I have sufficient trust and respect for that I would/will/have immediately paid for any new product from them on spec. I have about a dozen legitimately bought Beach Boys CDs, and about as many vinyl albums, and I paid for the recent SMiLE box set though it was easily downloadable for free.
There will always be ‘thieves’, people who will take something that isn’t theirs without paying for it and without any intention of paying for it.
There will also always be ‘fans’, people who will buy merchandise by artists that they like, irrespective of whether they could have got it for free.
But in the case of digital media (e.g. MP3 files), the ‘owner’ of the copyright/work does not lose anything as a result of a ‘theft’, all that happens is that they don’t *get* anything for it. That’s not like stealing a CD or any other physical media, where they would actually make a material loss.
Artists like Amanda Palmer and Kristin Hersh (and the Grateful Dead before them) understand that it doesn’t matter how much “free” stuff is floating around (legit or pirated) as long as there are enough people who are willing to pay for it. If only 10 people have paid for an album and nobody else has even heard it, isn’t it better if 1,000,000 people download it for free and then 1000 of them pay for it? The other 999,000 people wouldn’t have paid for it anyway so let them have a free copy. Who knows, they may play it to a friend who will then buy it.
For a similar reason, and with similar justification, from time to time I buy MP3s from the semi-legal iron curtain sites like MP3Fiesta, MP3Million, LegalSounds, etc. These sites *claim* to pay the artists what they are legally obliged to and that sort of eases my conscience. But I wouldn’t (for example) “buy” the Beach Boys album from there, if I decide to buy it I’ll go via Amazon or iTunes (and I can show you the receipts from there, and from KickStarter, and CashMusic, to prove that I have paid for music that I could have got – or already had – for free). I’ll reserve my Russian MP3 purchases for albums that I want to tread a middle ground with – normally albums that I already have on vinyl or early (unremastered) CD and don’t want to ‘steal’ but also don’t want to pay full whack for.
On a side (but sorta related) issue, I watched ‘The Secret Millionaire’ last night. Not quite sure why, because I really wasn’t particularly interested and I found the main bloke a bit of a dull and undeserving nobody. I was one of the earliest customers in the original Computer Exchange on Whitfield Street (just like I used to go to the original Virgin records at the back of the shoe shop in Oxford Street) and it was a really unwelcoming place (most of the CEX stores still are). Bored staff smoking dope & listening to music and occasionally serving the odd customer (and that was on the days when they could be bothered to open on time, or at all). But they hit upon a market that was wide open – people like me part exchanging two x 1MB SIMMs for two x 2MB SIMMs or trying to get a cheap VESA local bus sound or video card for less than the retail price. I don’t begrudge him his money, he got lucky and fair enough, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if he went bust and lost it all.
When I was a kid I read quite a lot, which was good. I enjoyed reading. I had ‘one-off’ books that I read once and then never again, and then I had ‘return’ books that I would read and re-read. As I grew older I went through a succession of series of books about boys (and the occasional girl) at my kind of age – The Secret Seven, William Brown, Jennings, Bunter, Molesworth, etc. – interspersed with Toby Twirl, RM Ballantynes ‘Coral Island’, the Alice books, and so on. There was a book that my auntie bought me, my first ever ‘grown up’ (I thought) hardback, called Cop Shooter that I loved to hold but never actually read.
But when I was about 12 or 13, music began to take over from books. This change was sparked by a number of things, but principally the fact that during a period of a few months I went to see a number of high profile ‘rock’ gigs (Country Joe And The Fish, Ten Years After, John Mayall, Deep Purple, Renaissance, and several other bands at The Albert Hall) as well as ‘Hair’ at The Shaftesbury Theatre. As a result of these my musical taste suddenly exploded beyond the pop charts and a few albums (mainly by The Beatles and The Monkees) into the realms of ‘rock’ music and by 1970 I was listening to Frank Zappa, Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention. And books took a very definite back seat, I doubt that I read much apart from Melody Maker, ZigZag, and my school ‘set books’.
A few years later I discovered science fiction. My dad had a few on our shelves at home (Silver Locusts, Last And First Men), and I read them, but it was Ben Weschke who introduced me to Robert Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and the rest. Dune I never got into, and Asimov and Clarke were enjoyable but I hardly ever felt like re-reading, but it was Heinlein that really caught my imagination – and particularly the Future History and Lazarus Long stories. I still return regularly to reread (ooh, spot the alliteration there) The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Time Enough For Love, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, and To Sail Beyond The Sunset.
And then there was Ray Bradbury, who died a couple of days ago. I reread ‘Dandelion Wine’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ recently, and ‘The Silver Locusts’ about 18 months ago, but to my shame I haven’t immersed myself in his short stories for far too long. I read Neil Gaiman’s brief piece on his blog the other day and almost cried (his wife is capable of having the same effect on me), I must listen to him reading his short story soon.
Bradbury was something of a god to me, as a writer. His use of language is almost unparalelled in modern literature aand every time I read that he had a new book out I praised the rabbit that he was still alive and writing.
And now he’s not. To be honest, his recent (ish) works aren’t quite up to his classic period but they’re still marvellous, rich, and enchanting. And now there won’t be any more. I’m going to miss him. And I’m going to make damn sure I reread all my Bradbury books before long.
And then I’ll do Heinlein, and then Kotzwinkle. My wife thinks I should read more modern stuff, listen to more modern music (though she likes 50s jazz FFS), see more modern films. I’m happy with the treasures I have – not in a sad sentimental nostalgic way, just in an ‘I know what I like’ way.
Not much of a blog post, really. Sorry. The intention was there. Come along to the choir one Tuesday and argue with me.
Last night on my way to and from choir practice with the magnificent Tottenham Community Choir my iPod continued to excel itself by offering up track after track of joyous racket for me to sing along to. Apologies to the innocent shoppers in Wood Green Sainsbury’s and, later on, in the 221 bus, for my loud, unsubtle, careless singing. But hell, I enjoyed it. And this is why (I’ll try to upload some or all of these soon). In general, I was feeling good – better than I have for a couple of weeks probably (yes, I do know why but I ain’t tellin’ *you*).
- Sea Of Joy – Blind Faith:
- Desiree – The Left Banke:
- Heaven On Their Minds – Jesus Christ Superstar:
- Sympathy For The Devil – Rolling Stones:
- Running Down Deep – Help Yourself:
- Eye Dance – Comsat Angels:
- Night Reconnaissance – Dresden Dolls:
- Happy – Rolling Stones: I’m not a massive Stones fan, it’s pure coincidence that two of their songs arrived so close together. This is Keef, of course – though last night, in Sainsburys, it wuz only me
- Half Jack – Dresden Dolls:
- Slark – Stackridge:
- Rescue – Echo And The Bunnymen:
- Summer 68 – Pink Floyd:
- Seven Screaming Dizbusters – Blue Oyster Cult:
- Ladies, Don’t Go Thieving – Bandoggs:
- With You There To Help Me – Jethro Tull:
- Panama Red – New Riders Of The Purple Sage:
- Hey Boys – The Dillards:
The actual lyric is “worn” but I don’t think that’s as good, and it doesn’t fit as well with the next line. Anyway…
With all the recent fuss about Amanda Palmer and Kickstarter it’s tempting for someone like me (who favours the underdog and champions the unheard of) to lose faith and forget what a talent she has underneath the hype. Not that everything that she does is exceptional – some of it is downright dross, which is why she needs a Viglione or a Folds to hold her in check – but when she hits the heights there are few to touch her. And, like the Grateful Dead (about whom I also rave), her live gigs can be a bit hit or mess – sometimes the enjoyment and self indulgence doesn’t leave enough room for the music.
However, when a song like Delilah (or Good Day, or Night Reconnaissance, or Lonesome Organist, or The Bed Song, or Do You Swear…) shuffles onto my iPod I apologise silently and thank bog that I have a ticket for her London show next month. And I resolve to share her talents, as I think she would want me to.
I had another blog, long ago and far away, where I uploaded albums that you can’t get on CD. I’m not doing that any more. But what I will do here is upload individual tracks that I really like, as and when they appear on my iPod (and only then – no requests, and no ‘because I feel like it’s), and in relatively poor (96k) quality. They won’t stay here long so you’ll need to check back regularly if you want to hear them all.
I will clarify and repeat. I have an iPod. It has a ‘shuffle’ function. I have a playlist of a couple of thousand *great* tracks that I play using the shuffle function. So – if a track that I feel like sharing appears in my headphones, then I’ll do that. But it won’t be great quality and it won’t stay for long – just enough for you to get an idea of the kind of stuff that I like and then go out and buy it if you feel like it.
So here are a few songs that I’ve heard this morning, in the order that they appeared in my headphones:
- Caravan – All The Way. Not their finest hour by a long chalk, but a track that I’m very fond of. From the Blind Dog album, which is really the last one that’s worth bothering with. This was also the last tour that I saw them on, until a gig in the Kentish Town Forum with Ozric Tentacles some years later.
- The Sound – Temperature Drop. If ever I were asked to do Desert Island Discs, this track would be on my shortlist until the very end. After that I’d ask Kirsty to pick ten tracks at random as I’d find it impossible to rate any of them above any others. This is sad, magnificent, resigned, tight, joyous… and the voice of a man who would commit suicide a few years later. Thank fuck for punk, without it this would never have existed. And while I’m on *that* subject:
- Siouxsie And The Banshees – Overground. Again, not their best, but this is the track that appeared on my ipod this morning. The Banshees were one of the crucial first wave punk bands and The Scream is an extraordinarily mature debut album – one of the best debut albums by any band, ever, in my opinion. Helped massively, no doubt, by the fantastic production of Steve Lillywhite.
- The Dresden Dolls – Delilah. I fucking love Amanda Fucking Palmer. Thank fuck (again) for punk. Although…
- Hatfield And The North – Halfway Between Heaven And Earth. Yes, some prog was overblown fatuous pretentious self-important pap but *some* was mind fuckingly amazing. These guys can really fucking play and this is joyous. Another contender for the DID final shortlist.
- Dire Straits – Single Handed Sailor. From the often overlooked second album, which (like Crimso) was a bit too similar to the debut for comfort. However, when they did progress it was for the worse and they never regained this easy laid-back simple confidence. Again, these guys can fucking play and it’s a real joy to hear them when they do. There’s never been a guitar like a Strat in the right hands (Knopfler, Clapton, Gallagher, Beck, Hendrix) but unless you know how to play, it can sound a bit too thin due to the single coil pickups – which is why lesser players opt for the built-in crunch of a Les Paul (or an SG – whatever happened to the SG? I always wanted an SG).
- Spandau Ballet – Gold. People are often (well, sometimes) surprised that I love great pop music as well as the more ‘serious’ stuff but every so often a band, or an artist, or an album, comes along that just can’t be faulted – and True is one of those albums. Wait till I start uploading David Cassidy or Andy Gibb (honestly!).
Had a disappointing experience yesterday. Nothing major in the grand scheme of things, just something I’d been looking forward to for ages was cancelled at the last minute. Put me in a bad mood for the evening – didn’t feel like going to choir & when I did I lost my rag with the fucking idiot behind me who wouldn’t stop nattering when our MD was talking to us. He’s a friend of mine, nice bloke, but it really fucking annoys me when he won’t shut up.
The choir is sounding bloody good though, I arrived late (went to the pub – well, two pubs) beforehand & when I got there they were already in full flight. even the bloody warmup sounded amazing!
I’m often asked (actually no, I’m not – I’m *never* asked but wish I were ’cause I’d love to have the conversation) which is the best Grateful Dead album for a beginner to listen to. And my answer is always the same – none of them.
With the Dead its kinda all or nothing, you have to immerse yourself in at least half a dozen to even begin to understand what they were about. And you can pretty much forget the ‘studio’ albums, and everything after about 1975 unless you’re totally bonkers. Which I’m not.
I have all the studio albums up to Terrapin Station and about 20 or so live albums from 67-74 but hardly anything after that. Oh, Dicks Picks 18 has nice versions of ‘Deal’, ‘Looks Like Rain’, and ‘Brown Eyed Woman’ but by 1978 Kreutzmann and Lesh have lost their fire and it’s generally pretty MOR stuff most of the way.
So give yourself a few days. Get hold of Anthem Of The Sun, Live/Dead, Europe 72, Hundred Year Hall, and the cut down 3CD version of the Fillmore 69 concerts. Add Mars Hotel (for ‘Unbroken Chain’ and the original ‘Eyes Of The World’) and American Beauty, so you get at least a sense of the studio Dead, and finally the ‘Skull And Roses’ live album because it’s probably the best of the briefer live albums and has a rudimentary ‘Other One’ and is pared down to the five essentials. Avoid anything with the awful Donna Jean Godchaux’s wailing, and Brent Mydland’s gruff and unnecessary vocals.
If you like psych music you’ll already know Live/Dead (won’t you???) And if not it probably won’t do a thing for you. But if do, and have somehow missed out, then you owe it to yourself to experience one of the most extraordinary 75 minutes ever committed to vinyl.
Otherwise, it doesn’t much matter where you start, you probably won’t be blown away by anything at first – and leave Cryptical Envelopment (from Hundred Year Hall) until your third or fourth day. But make sure you listen to at least two versions each of Dark Star, The Other One, Eyes Of The World and China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider. It’s almost impossible to find versions of EOTW, even in the later years, it’s such a glorious song.
In fact it’s so good, and I’m so confident that when you hear it you’ll want to hear more – and *buy* more – that I’m going to upload one of my favourite versions for you – go get it. Aren’t I nice to you? So please download this, listen to it (bear in mind it’s live and warts-and-all, and forgive the duff vocals – that’s not what GD were all about anyway), and then investigate further and buy some more GD. Your long strange trip starts here.
If you like psych music you’ll already know Live/Dead (won’t you???) And if not it probably won’t do a thing for you. But if do, and have somehow missed out, then you owe it to yourself to experience one of the most extraordinary 75 minutes ever committed to vinyl.