Gordon Lightfoot, Nanci Griffith, Ricky Scaggs & Tony Rice : 10 Degrees & Getting Colder

Where you headed?

East to the Sunrise or West to the setting Sun?

South to the Jungles or North to the Forests?

Where you headed?

One time I was sheltering from the wind outside of Medicine Hat and when the 18 wheeler pulled to a halt the driver asked, ‘Where you headed?’ so I said, ‘North to Alaska, through the woods and the frozen lakes. I’m trying to find the straight path again’.

‘Hop in – I hope you like Gordon Lightfoot ’cause I got nothing but Gord on these tapes and we sure got a ways to go to get you to Alaska.’

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Where you headed?

It can be read as a very specific question or as a very general question or as both – like all the really interesting questions.

We are all headed somewhere or away from somewhere endlessly redrawing the map of our lives.

We all have miles to go before we sleep – we just don’t know how many miles we still have left on the clock.

Where you headed?

Sometimes the world falls on your shoulders and wherever you’ve fetched up, for whatever reason, you find it’s time to head back to where you were raised up to lick your wounds and get ready to ramble again.

And, if you want a true voice to accompany you down the road as you try to find that straight path let me tell you that you’ll struggle to find a truer one than that of Gordon Lightfoot.

Gordon knows all about the ramblin’, about the taverns, about the gamblin’, about the lovin’ and all the extremes of temperature we encounter on the road.

You know this is a man who has been places and seen things and heard all kinds of stories from all kinds of men and women.

Stories you can’t help but recognise when they’re told in Gord’s rich baritone croon.

‘He was standin’ by the highway with a sign that just said ‘Mother’ ….’

Now I don’t usually find the citations issued by august bodies when inducting an artist to the company of the great and good worth quoting but in the case of Gordon Lightfoot’s elevation to a companion of The Order of Canada I’m gonna make an exception :

‘A singer-songwriter, musician and poet, Gordon Lightfoot has been telling our stories for over five decades. He possesses a unique ability to blend contemporary urban music with our traditional roots. Genuine and reserved, he has a down to earth style that defies categorization’.

Where you headed?

Down the road a piece?

Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

Santiago de Compostela?

Rain fallin’ on your shoes?

Feet almost frozen?

World fallin’ on your shoulders?

Where you headed?

Keep on keepin’ on.

Someone might just pull off on the shoulder and you’ll be on your way again.

But, remember people don’t usually stop if you don’t put up a sign.

‘Won’t you listen to me brother ….’

Nanci Griffith has always had a very good ear for Songs.

She’s a troubadour like Gordon Lightfoot and knows that some songs bloom every time they’re played – season after season after season.

You just have to respect ’em, sing ’em right and let ’em fly!

Nanci sings, ’10 Degrees ..’ just right.

Where you headed?

Rome? Jerusalem? Mecca? Kedarnath?

I’d advise you to travel light – you’re carrying enough baggage in that heart of yours.

Where you headed?

Wherever it is you might never get there.

You might turn back.

You might find the road you set out on takes a turning you couldn’t have imagined from looking at the map.

You might find your steps matched by another’s and decide to set off together on another path altogether.

Where you headed?

Now, let’s turn to the high lonesome sound of Bluegrass aces Tony Rice and Ricky Scaggs.

When it comes to pickin’ clean and singin’ sweet you can’t, just can’t, beat Tony and Ricky.

They’ve logged up sideman credits with marquee names but I always like the taste of the pure drop myself so let’s hear their clear as a mountain stream version of, ’10 degrees …’

‘ .. he held the sign up higher where no decent soul could miss it .. It was ten degrees or colder down by Boulder Dam that day ..’

 

Where you headed?

Even if you’re following a path that’s been trod a million times before you’ll leave only your own footprints and no one can walk the way for you.

Where you headed?

Arcadia? Atlantis? Camelot? Elysian Fields?

Wherever you set out for you’ll find you’re changed by the journey even if you never reach the fabled destination.

Accept the wind – at your back or in your face.

Where you headed?

Lift your eyes to the sunny hill far ahead.

Walk on Pilgrim!

Walk on!

Where you headed?

‘Now he’s traded off his Martin but his troubles are not over ..’.

Sing it Gordon.

Where you headed?

Listen.

‘He was standin’ by the highway with a sign that just said ‘Mother’ when he heard a driver comin’ ..’

Where you headed?

Bon Voyage.

Maura O’Connell, SÍOMHA, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Lilian Davidson : Ceiliúradh Mhna Na h-Eireann (Celebrating the Women of Ireland 2)

We continue our celebrations today with :

Songs by Maura O’ Connell (Helpless Heart) &  SÍOMHA (July Red Sky)

A Poetry reading by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin (Studying The Language).

A Painting by Lilian Lucy Davidson (1879-1954) : Wicklow Goats.

A Paul Brady song sung by Maura O’Connell – it really doesn’t get any better.

Maura inhabits a song, finds its essence and then using all the considerable craft at her command sets it free to bloom in our imaginations.

There is a repertoire of traditional songs and modern folk classics that generations of Irish Women singers have returned to over and over again seeking to release and reveal the wisdom and mystery these masterworks contain.

Time after time I find it is to the Maura O’Connell versions I turn to first and last because these songs shine brightest and settle deeper in the heart when she sings them.

There is reverie and rapture here.

Reverie and rapture.

And, the video clip is enormously nostalgic!

 

 

Our painting today comes from Lilian Davidson who was born in Bray, County Wicklow.

Her work shows she was aware of movements in European Art and had secure painterly skills.

I am struck by the vivacity of the light and colour in her paintings which seem to gleam before the viewer.

In addition to her paintings she also wrote plays, poems and short stories under the name Ulick Burke.

The National Gallery of Ireland keeps her portrait of W B Yeats.

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Our Poetry reading today comes from Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

For almost half a century now she has been adding magical poems to the cairn of Irish poetry and the global word hoard.

In her poems language is thrillingly allusive and alive.

It is in the testing of thought and belief through charged engagement with language that Poetry is made.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has said that her Poems emerge out of her desire, need, to question – Is this true? Do I really believe this? Do I really feel this?

If the Poem lives the question is answered.

Often in ways that could not have been anticipated.

True Poetry is always surprising both to the Poet and the reader.

Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin has written many true poems.

 

 

SÍOMHA (Brock) is, in her music, wholly Irish and wholly international.

She draws deeply on the traditions of traditional music, folk music, chanson and gypsy jazz to create an alluring synthesis.

On stage she has an energy, expertise and magnetism in her singing and guitar playing which wins and holds audiences.

We are all going to hear a lot more from SÍOMHA!

 

This post in memory of Mary O’Sullivan and Nora McElligott.

If you enjoyed this post and know anyone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and you do!) share it with them and ask them to share it further.

Next Post on Thursday 14th March – don’t miss it!

Dolores Keane, The Evertides & Eavan Boland : Celebrating the Women of Ireland 1)

March now.

The sun shines hot and the wind blows cold.

Summer in the light and winter in the shade.

March is the month when the Immortal Jukebox, in the run up to the St Patrick’s day festivities, celebrates the enormous contribution Irish artists have made to the World’s treasury of Poetry, Song and Paintings.

This year’s posts are in celebration of the works, so often under regarded, of the Women of Ireland.

Each post will feature a song by an established singer and another by a singer or group who may not yet have gained fame outside of Ireland.

I will also be showcasing a Poetry reading and a Painting.

I hope I will be making introductions that will lead you to further exploration.

Today :

Songs by Dolores Keane and The Evertides.

Eavan Boland reading :

‘The Lost Art of Letter Writing’, ‘Quarantine’ and ‘The Emigrant Irish’.

A Painting by Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941) : A Murder of Crows

 

My admiration for Dolores Keane knows no bounds.

In her voice you can hear Ireland speaking with power and authority.

In her voice you can hear Ireland speaking of pain, exile and loss.

In her voice you can hear Ireland speaking with faith and joy.

Listen to Dolores Keane.

Listen to Ireland.

 

 

Our painting today comes from Mildred Anne Butler who looked deep into the domestic and the animal life all around her Kilkenny home.

She painted en plein air and there is a startling freshness shining from her works.

She is well represented in galleries and latterly was commemorated on an Irish postage stamp.

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Eavan Boland is a Poet of patience and fortitude.

Throughout her career she has attended to the whispers and looked unflinchingly into the dark shadows of Irish life and culture – particularly as experienced by Irish Women.

There is a complexity and precision of language and weight of thought in her work which is the mark of a major Poet.

 

The Evertides are a trio of wonderfully talented Irish Women – Ruth McGill, Alma Kelliher and Ruth Smith.

Their instrumental and vocal blend is that of Sisters in Song.

Their three part harmonies surround, enchant and elevate our senses.

The ability to enchant and to open doors into the numinous makes The Evertides a very special group.

 

In memory of Julia O’Sullivan and Hannah Hartnett.

If you enjoyed this post and know anyone who is Irish or of Irish heritage (and you do!) share it with them and ask them to share it further.

Notes :

In addition to her role in The Evertides Ruth Smith presents one of my, ‘Must Listen’ radio programmes, ‘Simply Folk’ which airs on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sundays at 10pm.

Seek it out!

The next Post in the series will be published on Tuesday 12 March – Don’t miss it!

Carole King, Dusty Springfield, The Byrds, Nils Lofgren & Richard Thompson : Goin’ Back

A babe in arms.

A babe in your mother’s warm embracing arms.

Lifted up in the chill night air surrounded by heady scent of white blooms all the moon long.

Blanketed in sulphurous Fog you walk hand in hand with Dad and though you can’t see road or pavement and don’t know where you are going you do know you are safe and will arrive – because you are hand in hand with Dad.

The Walnut of the radiogram gleams to reflect your face.

And, when the knob is turned a lovely green light blushes the room.

You know you’re not allowed to switch it on.

But .. and  from the speakers emerges something wonderful, miraculous :

Don’t want your love anymore
Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown.

Now, the room is filled and your heart is filled and your soul is filled and you will never forget this moment.

Happy Highways.

Blue remembered hills.

Shining plain forever in the memory.

When you are small you are told and might believe you know nothing worth knowing.

Ah! but to be the prince of apple town.

To be green and carefree, huntsman and herdsman, in the Sun that is young once only.

First knowing.

First morning song.

Young and easy, oblivious of the mercy.

Angel infancy.

Shadows of eternity.

Bright shoots of everlastingness.

Oh, to travel back and tread again on that ancient track to the land of lost content.

The slender tops of fir trees close against the sky.

Now there’s more to do than watch my sailboat glide.

No more games to only pass the time.

Living life instead of counting years.

I’d rather see the world the way it used to be.

So catch me if you can I’m going back.

Going back.

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In 1966 Carole King and Gerry Goffin gave us a magic carpet ride song that looked poignantly back to the childhood land of lost content and tremulously forward to a world where thinking young and growing older is no sin.

A world where the game of life can be played to win.

Catch me if you can.

Streaming, filled with light, through the eye of a needle.

Going back.

Sing it for me Dusty.

Take me back.

Dusty Springfield.

Unquestionably thev finest pop/soul singer ever to come from the British Iles.

A singer of both power and delicacy.

Dusty finds the deep melancholy and the fragile hope in Goin’ Back.

Dusty knew that great songs were rare and precious things.

Time after time Dusty found depths of meaning within songs few had even guessed at.

Time after time singing these songs Dusty found something within them that brought out aspects of herself she had barely guessed at.

Beauty emerging out of Hide and seek with her fears and ours.

Catch me if you can ….

Now let’s fly high, eight miles high, with The Byrds for a panoramic take on Goin’ Back.

I think I’m goin’ back to the things I learned so well in my youth.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

 

Carole King left an indelible mark on the 1960s threading veins of pure gold through the decade with the songs she wrote with Gerry Goffin.

Come the 1970s she was ready to move to the centre of the stage and put her own stamp on the songs she had gifted to other singers and groups.

Listening to her version of Goin’ Back it occurs to me that she has rarely received due praise for the singer element in the Singer/Songwriter appellation so often ascribed to describe her solo records.

There is aching truth and no little heartbreak in the way she tells herself and us that she could recall a time when she wasn’t afraid to reach out to a friend.

Hide and seek.

Hide and seek.

Carole King’s songs reach out in faith and friendship.

Thinking young and growing older is no sin.

Plaing the game of life to win.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

Goin’ Back.

 

Nils Lofgren – Guitar Slinger for the greats.

Neil Young. Bruce Springsteen.

Yet, too often forgotten a very fine artist in his own right.

From his early years with Grin and throughout his solo albums you hear the sound of an extravagantly gifted musician whose greatest gift was the depth of heart he brought to every performance whether on record or on stage.

With Nils Goin’ Back really does become a magic carpet ride.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

Goin’ Back.

Happy Highways.

Blue remembered hills.

Shining plain Forever.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

I’m Goin’ Back.

Streaming, filled with life through the eye of a needle.

Goin’ Back.

Now, here’s that hidden track you sometimes find when you think the CD/LP has no more gifts to give.

Guitar Gurus Roger McGuinn and Richard Thompson with a 6 string colloquy.

Starry eyed and laughing.

Bright shoots of everlasting ness.

Catch me if you can.

Catch me if you can.

Goin’ Back.

Goin’ Back.

Notes :

Thanks due to Dylan Thomas, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Hood, A E Houseman and Henry Vaughan for their wisdom and inspiration.

Look out for the annual St Patrick’s Parade series of posts starting on Sunday – this year celebrating Mná na hÉireann – The Women of Ireland.

Ian Dury & The Blockheads : Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3)

For most of last week as I took my early morning walk up the Ridge Top I all but vanished into an all encompassing Fog.

Confident in the way I have trod so often and leaning on my staff I pressed on.

I love the wreathing silence of the Fog and the air’s damp embrace.

High above the hidden sun would surely appear and the Fog would withdraw as silently as it advanced.

Descending, I met one of the local Farmers who said as he looked askance at the Fog and me – ‘Reasons to be Cheerful – Eh?’.

He was not a little taken aback when instead of responding with a pat motto I launched into the opening of Ian Dury’s late 70s leery litany of Reasons to be Cheerful;

‘Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly, Good Golly Miss Molly and boats!’

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‘Working folly is right enough, right enough! says he.

From the early, early mornin’ to the early, early night says I.

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And, as I bad him farewell I vanished back into the Fog my voice ebbing away singing:

‘Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet, Jump back in the alley and nanny goats!’

Let’s cede to Ian Dury now in his persona of part pirate king, part fairground carney, part ‘ain’t he awful’ top of the bill music hall maestro and all around diamond geezer leading his magnificent troupe of musicians The Blockheads in a proper celebration of the oh so many reasons to be Cheerful.

One, Two, Three ….

 

OY, OY ! OY, OY!

Ian Dury truly was a diamond geezer.

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Diamond like in the brilliance of his mind and talent as a lyricist and performer but also diamond like in the hardness of his resolve and the sharpness with which he could slice apart the ego of anyone foolish enough to imagine they could out banter him.

He could, according to his mood and alcohol intake, be the most brilliant raconteur and most charming man you could ever hope to meet or a manipulative demon searching out weaknesses with laser like focus.

Surviving Polio from childhood and the mental, emotional and physical savagery of subsequent boarding school left an enduring mark on his soul.

He was saved through his innate toughness, his intelligence and sharp wit.

Exposure to the discipline of a Painter’s necessary painstaking observation at Art School and the riotous anarchy of 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll informed an aesthetic credo which also took in the craftsmanship of Cole Porter, the rumbustious energy of Charles Mingus, the end of the pier vulgarity of Max Miller and the surreal style of Max Wall.

All carried off with a uniquely English ribald humour and brio.

The songs were the product of rich talent and the long labours of a true craftsman always searching for the exact word, the proper rhythm.

Some have said that, ‘Reasons ..’ is merely a shopping list song – well as Ian Dury observed, ‘You try writing one then!’.

Cole Porter wrote one in, ‘You’re the Top’ and there’s no doubt in my mind that Ian Dury would fit right into that song’s list of exemplary excellence along with Napoleon Brandy, Mahatma Gandhi, the Mona Lisa and Mickey Mouse!

Of course his undoubted genius as a lyricist needed The Blockheads for the songs to take flight in the studio and on stage.

The most important figure here was Chaz Jankel whose melodic inventiveness and rhythmic assurance made for irresistible songs that permanently branded themselves into the imagination and heart of the listener.

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Norman Watt Roy, Charely Charles and Davey Payne had the magical ability to meld the sound of Memphis Soul, English Music Hall and Free Jazz into a seamless funky whole.

And, with Ian as the louche and lecherous ringmaster centre stage they were an enthralling  live band seemingly inexhaustibly inventive and endlessly committed to maintaining a groove that just wouldn’t quit.

One, Two, Three …

Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
Why don’t you get back into bed
 
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
1 2 3
Some of Buddy Holly, the working folly
Good golly Miss Molly and boats
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats
 
18-wheeler Scammels, Domenecker camels
All other mammals plus equal votes
Seeing Piccadilly, Fanny Smith and Willy
Being rather silly, and porridge oats
 
A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it
You’re welcome, we can spare it – yellow socks
Too short to be haughty, too nutty to be naughty
Going on 40 – no electric shocks
 
The juice of the carrot, the smile of the parrot
A little drop of claret – anything that rocks
Elvis and Scotty, days when I ain’t spotty,
Sitting on the potty – curing smallpox
 
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
1 2 3
 
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Health service glasses
Gigolos and brasses
Round or skinny bottoms
 
Take your mum to Paris
Lighting up the chalice
Wee Willy Harris
Bantu Stephen Biko, listening to Rico
Harpo, Groucho, Chico
 
Cheddar cheese and pickle, the Vincent motorsickle
Slap and tickle
Woody Allen, Dali, Dimitri and Pasquale
Balabalabala and Volare
Something nice to study, phoning up a buddy
Being in my nuddy
 
Saying okey-dokey, Sing Along With Smokey
Coming out of chokey
John Coltrane’s soprano, Adi Celentano
Bonar Colleano
 
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
1 2 3
 
Yes yes
Dear dear
Perhaps next year
Or maybe even never
In which case
 
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
1:2,3
 
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be cheerful part 3
Reasons to be Cheerful – 1,2,3.

 

 

And, as a homage from me to Ian, here’s some further Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 4) :

Shredded Wheat and Did those feet …. Jimmy Greaves and Bicycle Thieves …

All of Buddy Holly – two cones and a Lolly ….

Red Socks and grandfather clocks … The Ragman’s Daughter and a pint of Porter ..

Sons and Lovers and a Four through the covers …

Beckett Sam and Blueberry Jam .. Ginger Rogers and the Brooklyn Dodgers ..

Dave Mackay and The Sheltering Sky .. Winterreise and a bottle of Tizer ..

A Citroen DS and The Orient Express .. Gerard Manley and Holloway Stanley ..

Ulysses S Grant and seeing things aslant … Redwing Boots and Pressure Drop Toots ..

Montgomery Clift and the Berlin Airlift … Martin and Vincent … Redgrave and Pinsent.

Reasons to be Cheerful.

Reasons to be Cheerful.

Notes :

I decided not to provide an annotated listeners guide here for Ian’s references and my own.  See what Mr Google tells you and you’ll learn a lot!

David Bowie, Nina Simone : Wild Is The Wind

 

The wind bloweth where it listeth.

Where it listeth.

And we, we are nought but chaff in the wind.

Chaff in the wind.

When the wind is northerly ‘tis very cold.

And, when we are in Love reason is buffeted like wind-blown smoke.

Our lives are but feathers helplessly teased and tormented by the winds of Love.

All the winds sigh for sweet things dying, dying.

The wind from all points of the compass; north, east, south or west gathers and remembers our voices, the whispers of our hearts, and broadcasts them in the calls of the birds and the threshing of the leaves and fields.

The wind feeds the fires of Love and in the end is there to extinguish the flames too.

The east wind brought the locusts.

Two riders were approaching.

The wind began to Howl.

Howl.

Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Say you do.

My love is like the wind and wild is the wind.

Wild is the wind.

Wild is the wind.

Wild Is the WInd was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington (previously featured here as composers of High Noon) for a 1957 romantic melodrama of the same name starring Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani.

Johnny Mathis gave the song a poised and polished performance gliding atop sweeping strings.

Yet, there is no sense in his reading of the desperation implicit in the lines :

’With your kiss my life begins .. you’re spring to me .. All things to  me …

Don’t you know you’re life itself’.

No, the song would have to wait until an artist of genius took possession of the song and through the alchemy of her art transformed a leaf trembling breeze into a heart shattering hurricane.

It’s the same song in tne way that someone returning home after the trauma of war is the same person who departed.

Nina Simone in 1959 at NYC Town Hall in her vocal and piano playing evokes layer after layer of bruised and battered feeling.

The euphoria of the sound of mandolins and the shocking abandonment and abasement of the wild wind of the obsessed Lover are made present in every breath and every note so that the listening audience must have felt emotionally wrung out as the last note subsided into exhausted silence.

Don’t you know you’re life itself!

Better to die than to live without this Love.

The leaf clinging to the tree.

We are like creatures, creatures, in the wind.

Cling to me. Cling to me. Cling to me.

Wild is the Wind.

Wild is the Wind.

Nina Simone would return over and over again to Wild Is the Wind.

In the tour de force version below, issued in 1966, the wind she evokes is a tornado that sweeps us into a tumult of a Love that is nothing less than Life and Death to the Lover.

An eternally entwined trinity.

Life and Love and Death.

Don’t you Know you’re Life Itself!

Creatures, creatures of the Wind.

The sound of Mandolins.

With your kiss my Life Begins.

Don’t you know you’re Life Itself.

Cling to me.

Life and Love and Death.

Wild is the Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

David Bowie in free fall after the Ziggy Stardust years found in the artistic persona of Nina Simone an anchor and a ladder.

Especially in her performance of Wild is The Wind which must have attracted him as the quintesssntial demonstration of how a true artist could summon and surrender to a tsunami of emotion yet remain in control through craft and discipline so that it is the audience and not the artist who is overwhelmed.

Bowie recorded the song for his bravura 1976 album, ‘Station to Station’.

Being the very smart guy he was he knew not to attempt to sing the song to piano accompaniment for that could only cast him into Nina’s Olympian shadow.

Instead, with extraordinary care, he arranged a version that had oceanic sway as intertwined guitars (Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick) and percussion (Dennis Davis) urged his vocal to reach, reach, reach until we are bereft – leaves clinging to the tree , helpless.

For we are creatures, creatures, sweet things dying.

With your kiss My Life Begins.

Don’t you know you’re Live Itself.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild is The Wind.

 

Tne wind bloweth where it Listeth.

Where it listeth.

And we are nought but chaff in the wind.

Chaff in the wind.

When David Bowie performed at Glastonbury in tne year 2000 he had been through many storms, many of his own making, and had survived them to emerge as a magus in complete command of his art.

The sound of Mandolins

Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Life Itself.

Cteatures In The Wind.

Creatures.

Life and Love and Death.

An eternally entwined trinity.

We are all helpless before the Wind.

Leaves clinging to the trees.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

Thanks due to The King James Bible. Truman Capote, Christina Rossetti and William Shakespeare for inspiration.

Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, (never forgetting Lonnie Donegan!) : It Looks Like I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

In late 1962 the sun was setting on the commercial career of Lonnie Donnegan.

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The man who had run up an astonishing 24 successive top 30 singles (31 in total) including 3 Number Ones in the UK as well as 2 top 10 hits in America, now, it seemed, couldn’t get a hit to save his life.

Perry Como wasn’t calling up to invite him back on his show (where he had appeared alongside Ronald Reagan!).

The man who had strummed the first immortal chords of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Britain with Rock Island Line in 1956 and who had inspired thousands of teenagers to form a Skiffle group found that the caravan of popularity had moved on.

Moved on to the Beat Groups whose members had almost all been electrified, transformed, by listening to Lonnie from the mid 1950s.

Moved on above all to The Beatles.

But the Beat Group Boys never forgot their debt to Lonnie.

Listen to Roger Daltrey of the Who :

‘I wanted to be Elvis  .. I knew that. But the man who really made me feel I could actually go out and do it was Lonnie Donegan’.

Listen to Paul McCartney :

‘He was the first person we had heard of from Britain to get to the coveted No 1 in the charts. We studied his records avidly. We all bought guitars to be in a skiffle group. He was the man.’

Lonnie had adopted his first name in homage to the legendary Jazz/Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson after the Chris Barber Band shared a Royal Festival Hall Concert with the great man in 1952.

Maybe it was thinking back to Lonnie Johnson’s smooth vocal delivery and elegiac tone on songs from the 1930s and his own melancholic situation that set Lonnie’s creative juices flowing when he came to write, ‘(It Looks Like) I’m Never Going To Fall in Love Again’.

Lonnie Donegan had developed since boyhood a deep love and understanding of the heritage of American roots music – Folk, Blues, Jazz and Country.

Songs from that treasury swirled about in his memory.

One of those songs was a wistful ballad, ‘Wanderin” or ”I’m Never Going To Cease My Wandering’ which recurred from the 1920s on in versions by Vernon Dalhart, Eddie Arnold and Milt Okun among many others.

Using that template and collaborating with Jimmy Currie he took ‘Wanderin” to the  piano and crafted a timeless classic.

Lonnie didn’t have the vocal prowess to sell the song in the bravura manner that it would later receive.

No, his own version is distinguished for me by its hesitant charm.

This is a man, a man wounded by love, singing the song softly, tenderly, to himself in regret after the storm of emotion has largely subsided.

There can be great beauty and sometimes unexpected peace in the stillness after the storm.

The song wasn’t much played on the radio and it wasn’t a hit.

Lonnie carried on playing clubs and cabaret always singing his heart out.

Singing his heart out.

But, like I’ve said here before and will surely say again – a true message always gets through.

Sometimes, it just takes a while.

So, scroll forward four of five years and Lonnie runs into an old friend, Tom Jones, and he thinks – now here was a man who can sell a ballad!

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In Lonnie’s home the two troubadours sat down, no doubt fortified by strong liquor, and talked about songs they had loved growing up.

Lonnie took out, ‘It Looks Like …’ and said.:

‘ Tom, I have this song – you’d sing the pants off it. I recorded it but I can’t really sing it (like you could)’

Tom remembered that, ‘Wanderin” had gone down a storm as a singalong in the pubs of his native Wales.

Listening to Lonnie’s song he knew that the chorus was just made for his own Alpha male full throated style.

And, so it proved.

Tom’s version hit Number 2 in the UK Charts in 1967 and appeared twice on the US Charts – top 50 in ’67 and Number 6 when re released in 1969.

When Tom Jones takes on a ballad you know there will be no half measures.

Tom has vocal power and range aplenty and is capable of bringing shade and nuance to a lyric.

Here, he takes us on a passionate journey through a man’s bewilderment at his current situation.

Though he thought he knew the score and cast aside his pride now, now, he can’t take anymore.

There is time for tears in the wake of lost love.

And, then, it will feel like you’ll never fall in love again.

Yet, Tom’s version has such force, such strength, even in defeat, that you are sure this is a champion who will, though he has to take a count, get up off the canvas and get back in the game again.

The eternal Game of Love.

A true message always gets through.

For there are always those for whom the message seems personal, heaven sent.

So scroll forward to the mid 1970s when Tom Jones appears regularly in Las Vegas.

And, of course, no Tom Jones show is complete without his scintillating take on, ‘It Looks Like ..’.

Frequently in the audience for Tom’s shows is another Vegas Star – in fact the greatest Vegas Star, Elvis Presley.

And, Elvis knows a storming ballad when he hears one.

When Elvis comes to record the song it’s sadly near the end of his storied career.

Now, though he’s still a Lion he’s a Lion in Winter.

So, Elvis brings a depth of melancholy to the song that’s beyond either Tom or Lonnie.

Though his royal robes may have seemed threadbare in those days he was and always would be The King.

And, when a King sings we should all pay full attention for there are many pretenders but only one King.

Only One King.

So, Lonnie’s little regarded song from 1962 had proved a true wonder and before his death in 2002 Lonnie must have reaped some handsome royalty cheques to add to the pride he had in his song writing.

And, that is where I had planned to end this Post.

But, what do I know of the strange forces of synchronicity and serendipity?

For, as I began to write it happened that Lonnie Donegan’s son, Peter, a fine singer and musician in his own right, appeared on the UK talent show, ‘The Voice’ and that also on the show as Judge/Mentor was none other than Tom Jones!

The format of the show involves the Judges listening to the contestants with their chairs turned away from the stage so that they assess purely on the basis of the voice rather than looks and age.

Listening to Peter Tom’s interest was immediately piqued and he was the judge whose chair turned around.

Then, in story book fashion, Tom learned that Peter was the son of his old friend and writer of one of his signature songs – Lonnie Donegan.

And then to make the movie complete Tom and Peter put on a tear inducing impromptu performance of, ‘It Looks Like ..’ that brought the house down.

Somewhere, the shade of Lonnie must have smiled and thought, ‘I told you so …’

 

Notes ;

It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Lonnie Donegan on Rock ‘n’ Roll In Britian.

Billy Bragg’s book, ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers’ is a fine primer on Lonnie’s role in the Skiffle movement.

Chas McDevitt’s book, ‘Skiffle – The Definitive Inside Story’ is filed with wonderful anecdotes from those who were there.

There are many fine single CD collections of Lonnie’s hits.

I listen with great pleasure to the 5CD, ‘Lonnie Donegan Collection’ on the Spectrum label which amply demonstrates the breadth of his talents.