Ry Cooder : Maria Elena, Secret Love (lazy, hazy, days of Summer)

We drove West.

We drove past the sacred mysteries of Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury.

We circled the Standing Stones.

We crossed the forbidding Moors.

We drove as far as we could go only stopping at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was late when we arrived.

The Moon was silvering the waters.

Dazzled and drowsy we settled into familiar surroundings and breathed the salt tanged air as deeply as we could before sleep beckoned.

I woke, as always, at 6am and joined the joggers and dog walkers patrolling the golden sands.

The surfers in their camper vans were already readying themselves for the fabulous waves the tides would surely provide today.

Later on the whole family including our grand daughter, now almost 1 and an enthusiastic paddler, established camp on our own stretch of the beach.

That lucky old sun rolled around heaven all day as we intermittently swam and sprawled under its reviving rays.

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The picnic basket was looted of every treasure and urgent patrols were sent out for relief supplies of fruit and ice creams.

As the Sun set we meandered back to our cottage with the adults fortified by just the right number of Gin & Tonics.

Perhaps it was the power of the Sun amplified by the G&Ts that led me to start humming a tune that seemed to have the, ‘Spanish Tinge’

What was that song?

I set my music library numbskulls to work as I watched the waves crash on the rocks outside our windows.

Then, praise be, I began to sing in my (very) halting Spanish :

Era la medianoche, when oimos the scream
“Se requieren cien taxis en el almeria de Chavez Ravine.

As soon as the words Chavez Ravine formed in my mind I knew the source of the sun dappled melody that held me enthralled – ‘Onda Callejera’ from Ry Cooder’s wonderful album from 2005, ‘Chavez Ravine’.

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Now I was able to hit the button and luxuriate in the masterly musicianship of Ry and Joachim Cooder, Mike Elizondo, Joe Rotondi, Gil Bernal, Mike Bolger, and Ledward Kaapana.

Now, I could provide the harmonies for the true vocals of Little Willie G and sisters Juliette and Carla Commagere.

I doubt the Cornish Coast has ever heard such a midnight choir before!

Estupendo!

The interplay between the musicians here is very special.

Listening it’s as if you’ve slipped into a dream state where all your senses flow together and your imagination is released to free float into the welcoming ether.

This is not a sound you can achieve by mere practice or calculation rather it is the result of inspiration grounded on vocation and spiritual immersion leading to musical bliss in the moment.

Catching such bliss on record is very rare so I lift my Sombrero high into the sky to salute Ry and his compadres!

This is the kind of performance which permanently changes the weather inside your head.

And, that’s a feat Ry Cooder has serially achieved throughout his career as he has searched the world seeking out new rhythms and textures to delight his own musical appetite and in consequence ours too.

Ry has since his boyhood has responded to the music, in all genres, that has attracted him by determining to meet the musicians who were masters of that sound and through playing with them inhabit the mystery too.

His whole career is essentially a musical pilgrimage with each record or collaboration a way station where he draws strength, nurture and inspiration for the road ahead.

From his third solo record, ‘Boomer’s Story’ here’s a song from 1932, ‘Maria Elena’ that in the care of Ry’s all star band continues to cast a tender spell.

Now was that 6 minutes or 6 Hours?

Musicianship of this quality makes a mockery of old Father Time’s supposed regularity.

When the above performance was recorded Ry’s Band was dubbed, ‘The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces’.

And, Aces they were everyone.

Attend to the gorgeous sway of Flaco Jimenez on the Accordion.

Attend to George Bohanon’s warm breeze in the night air Trombone.

Attend to the joyful elegance of Van Dyke Park’s Piano.

Marvel at the supernaturally supple rhythm section of Drum maestro Jim Keltner, Miguel Cruz on Percussion and Jorge Calderon on Bass.

Surrender and swoon as Ry orchestrates the whole magnificent ensemble as they lead us to musical nirvana.

Now, a simple miracle.

A collaboration between Ry and the great Cuban Guitarist Manuel Galbán.

There are no words of mine that can capture the glory of this take on, ‘Secret Love’.

Close your eyes, sit still and let the magic begin.

This is collaboration becoming communion.

Ry has a wonderful generosity in his musical life.

Foregrounding the talents of his collaborators through the acuity of his arrangements he creates the space for the magic to enter and bloom.

I wish Ry well on his continuing Pilgrimage for following in his footsteps has been an education and a blessing.

Notes :

As always if a particular clip won’t play for you in this Post you will certainly be able to find a playable clip via YouTube in your own region.

The Albums, ‘Chavez Ravine’ and ‘Mambo Sinuendo’ (where Secret Love features) are unreservedly recommended.

Manuel Galbán is a legendary figure in Cuba.

His work with Los Zafiros is imbued with deep joy in music making.

Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans : Smile

Exploring the genius of Charlie Chaplin featuring :

Chaplin himself, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Lyle Lovett & Toots Thielmans.

Genius is an extremely overworked term when applied to popular artists of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, without any hesitation I can assert that Charlie Chaplin was a genius.

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He was a master of every aspect of film making – writing, acting, producing and directing.

And, he did something only the very rarest artists do – he created an iconic character (the Tramp) who has become part of the very fabric of popular consciousness.

He was a Poet of  the Cinema with a deep tragi-comic vision.

A vision whose beauty and truth was recognised and welcomed whatever the age, language and culture of those who encountered his films.

The best definition of genius I know comes from Arthur Schopenhauer :

‘The genius … lights on his age like a comet into the paths of the planets, to whose well-regulated and comprehensible arrangement its wholly eccentric course is foreign.

Accordingly, he cannot go hand in hand with the regular course of the culture of the times as found; on the contrary, he casts his works far out on to the path in front …

Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see.’

Charlie Chaplin fully meets that definition.

Oh, and in addition to the honour board of talents listed above he was also a talented composer who wrote the music for one of the most affecting songs of his and any other era – ‘Smile’.

Chaplin, of course, thought in cinematic terms so let’s kick off this tribute to his genius with ‘Smile’ in its first incarnation as part of his score to his masterpiece from 1936, ‘Modern Times’.

Every element of this scene reflects the enormous pains Chaplin took to achieve the exact effects he was seeking.

Chaplin knew all about the Fear and Sorrow that beset so many lives.

He knew that a smile was often your best disguise and perhaps your only defence against the sadness that might otherwise overwhelm you.

The Tramp always keeps alive a spark of Hope, of determination to survive – to be present for what, who knows, may, just may, turn out to be a better tomorrow.

Chaplin’s whole cinematic persona – in the delicacy of his facial gestures and the gamut of his physical pantomime amounts in a sense to an alertness to the promise of Life – no matter how dire the circumstances.

With his mastery of mime and the balletic grace of his movement he was able to convey more nuances of emotion than a hundred lines of dialogue could convey.

His genius was both to acknowledge the Fear and Sorrow but not to surrender to it – to grandly and magnificently literally laugh in the face of it.

And, if Charlie can survive so might we.

As cinema goers, a spring anew in their step, left a Chaplin film they were reassured that light and laughter could outshine the darkness.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you ….

The lyric and a title for Chaplin’s melody came from John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons in 1954.

The Premier recording was by a peerless balladeer of Golden Age American Song – Nat King Cole.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile.

There is no grandiloquence in Nat’s performance.

Knowing that he had a rare treasure here he simply presents the song allowing the beauty of the melody and the poignancy of the words to travel into the hearts and minds of the audience.

‘Simple’ for Nat King Cole because of the burnished gold of his voice which makes us all gladly share any emotion he is evoking.

If I imagine an exhausted couple slow dancing to Nat’s version in the sanctuary of their home I can only imagine the next take as a solo dance underneath a waning Moon.

Judy Garland.

If ever an artist was born to sing a song it was Judy to sing, ‘Smile’.

Fear and Sorrow and Heartbreak surrounded her all her days.

And, those circumstances were fully incarnated in her voice when she sang – especially when she sang, ‘Smile’.

Her Version is filled with tears and sadness – the gladness and the smile is in the going on, the going on.

I am going to repeat something I wrote about Garland before because I don’t think I can say what I mean to say any better.

Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of Smile but not a single one sounds anything like the depths that Judy Garland does.

And now for something completely different!

Jimmy Durante brought his own very real magic to Smile.

A straight from the shoulder, Hey Bud, have one on me, growl that’s surprisingly affecting.

Lyle Lovett knows songs having written many fine ones himself.

There is always consideration and deliberation involved in the way he approaches a song.

So, his Smile is ruminative, baffled and melancholic.

 

To conclude here’s something really special.

The great Jazz Harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmans, at 90, bringing a lifetime of craft and experience to bear on Chaplin’s insights into the changeable weather of the human heart.

In a previous feature on, ‘The Third Man’ I noted that it had one of the great endings in the Film Canon.

Well, Charlie Chaplin was a supreme master of ending a Film in a highly memorable and emotionally satisfying way.

The melody plays, the camera rolls and our hearts are uplifted.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just Smile

If you just Smile.

Declan O’Rourke, Eddi Reader : Galileo (Someone Like You)

Love can make you ask funny questions now and then.

Who puts the rainbow in the sky?

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Who lights the stars at night?

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Questions we, and all those who have gone before us, and all those who follow after us, will ask as long as we live.

Ptolemy and Herschel and Hipparchus looking up into the heavens observed, recorded and wondered.

Kepler and Tycho Brahe and Copernicus pursued the same quest.

Eratosthenes and Messier and Hubble were fellow seekers.

As was Galileo.

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Looking up, we can be sure all of them sighed and sometimes cried because though the stars are fixed in the sky the course of love, as we all know to our cost, is always erratic.

Ah, what is the stars? What is the stars?

Mansions built by Nature’s hand.

Dome and vault and nest.

Steadfast watchers of the moving waters and the snow upon the mountains and moors.

Light streaming.

Light Years. Light Years. Light Years.

Dropping silently, thick as stones, into the picket of trees.

Catch a falling star and teach me to hear the mermaids singing.

Look at the stars!

Look, look up at the skies!

O look at all the fire folk!

Circle citadels.

Diamond delves.

Airy abeles aflare.

Borrow a bonnet of the Lark and a Chamois’ silver boot and go.

The heart leaps beholding the rainbow in the sky.

A perfectly ordinary rainbow.

The morning stars sang together.

Signs in the Sun and in the moon and in the stars.

Seven stars in the right hand.

A crown of twelve stars.

Love can make you ask some funny questions now and then.

Who dreamt up someone so divine – someone like you and made them mine?

Lonely, unhappy, lips as cold as ice but you kissed me and good heavens!

No more a dark and distant star.

Now I’m here in Paradise.

Paradise.

Who put the rainbow in the sky?

Who lights the stars at night.

 

Galileo (Someone Like You) – a divine song written by Declan O’Rourke and Seamus Cotter.

Sung by Declan, on his debut Album, with innocent assurance.

The assurance of someone who sounds a true note.

Galileo will always be the signature song of Declan’s career though he has subsequently written and recorded many very fine songs.

When he recorded it in 2004 he thought that the song was an indulgence and that nobody outside him and his family would be interested.

Yet, when people heard this song there was an immediate sigh of recognition.

For, who has not looked up and wondered who put the rainbow in the sky?

Who has not wondered who lights the stars at night?

Who has not been lonely and unhappy with lips as cold as ice?

And, good heavens, who has not, even once, for once is all it takes, been kissed and found themselves in paradise?

Who invented such a joy?

Who has not wondered then who dreamt up someone so divine and made them mine?

So don’t be blind and don’t cry.

Look up high and gladly sigh.

Eddi Reader, as true and fair a voice as you can ever hope to find, lights up the heavens here accompanied by the RTE Concert Orchestra.

Look up and gladly sigh.

Look at the stars!

Look, look up at the skies!

O look at all the fire folk!

Don’t be blind and don’t you cry.

Look up high and gladly sigh,

And you might find you’re in Paradise.

Love can make you ask some funny questions now and then.

Who puts the rainbow in the sky?

Who lights the stars at night?

We will all have a blind and dying day.

Until then …

Look up high and sigh and be thankful.

 

Notes :

I highly recommend all of Declan’s recorded output :

‘Since Kyabram’, ‘Big Bad Beautiful World’ ‘Mag Pai Zai’, ‘Gold Bars in the Sun’, ‘In Full Colour’ and ‘Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine’.

Declan has an informative website declanorourke.com which features a fascinating documentary revisiting the making of his debut Album.

Paul Weller said about Declan :

‘He writes the sort of classic songs that people don’t write anymore, songs that sound like they’ve been around forever. Listen to Galileo, which is possibly the greatest song written in the last thirty years.’

Galileo has been recorded by Eddi Reader, Mary Byrne and Josh Groban among others.

There is a stunning version by Camille O’Sullivan which I will feature when I write a Post with her as the subject later this year.

Credit for starry inspiration properly due to :

William Wordsworth, John Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Les Murray (RIP), Sylvia Plath and The King James Bible.

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.

Teddy Thompson : Dreams of Blue Tears and A Change of Heart

The Ague.

The Lurgy.

Viral Gastroenteritis.

Whatever you call the malodorous malady the effect is the same.

Total exhaustion moderating to laid low lethargy.

So, for the last few days no morning runs for me.

No Scotch, no Bourbon, no Beer.

The height of appetite – a slice of plain toast.

The height of visual concentration – one paragraph of a book or two minutes of TV.

Is it 3 in the afternoon or three in the morning?

Sleep. Restlessly doze.  Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep.

Can’t concentrate on the radio.

What I need is music that is melodious and comforting and hauntingly familiar without being hackneyed which will faithfully abide with me as my state of consciousness veers from ten fathoms deep slumber to stunned heavy eye lidded awareness.

So, for the last 72 hours on constant repeat as the moon and sun replace each other in the heavens and my mind races with scudding dreams I have been listening to Teddy Thompson’s magnificent tribute to the Country Ballad : ‘Upfront and Downlow’ and marveling at the way his love and respect for these classic songs gives them new dimensions of beauty without any disrespect to the wonders of the original versions.

if I could sing this is exacttly how I would want to sound like singing songs of hard won wisdom and care worn truth.

Teddy is not imitating anyone.

Neither is he intimidated by any of the great artists who have taken on these songs before.

He gives an extra patina to these songs – burnishing their brilliance.

My mind performs slow aquatic somersaults as the songs flow in and out echoing each other and the all voices that sang them.

Don and Phil. Hank and Ernest. Elvis and Dolly.

Fragments of Fractured dreams abound.

Goodbye to all those castles in the air.

Guess you had a change of heart.

A change of heart.

Sing it for me Teddy.

Oh, oh, if we only could go right back to the start.

But the river flows. The river flows one way. One way.

Everyone wants, needs to believe the things the loved one says and everyone feels the same pangs when it turns out not to be that way.

In my hallucinatory dreams songs and images entwine and drift apart.

Entwine and drift apart.

Echoes echo on into infinity.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein relentlessly pursues me through the splashy salt marshes as a fireball lights up the sky.

Elisha Cook Jr gibbers as he pulls out his gat ready to drill me full of holes.

He would have done it too if Ida Lupino hadn’t beaten him to the trigger.

Echoes. Echoes. Echoes.

There’s an emptiness tonight.

There’s a longing in my heart.

Though we said that we were through …

I’ll be waiting here for you.

Waiting here for you.

And, diving to the deepest depths of my deepest dream the entwined voices, balm and blessing, of Teddy Thompson and Iris Dement.

The heart echoes every time it beats.

Til the day it echoes no more.

What time is it?

What day is it?

Where am I?

Have a care! Chap here’s run absolutely amok.

Lilian Gish rocking on her armchair cradling a shotgun.

Is it 2019 or 1959 or 1969?

Ah, I must be sick but it’s ok my mum will be coming up the stairs soon with my favourite comic, a glass of orange squash and some ice cream.

There’s a baby crying somewhere.

Is that my sister, my daughter or my granddaughter (or my son)?

Too many questions and riddles.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep . Sleep.

What’s that Elvis song you’re singing now Teddy?

Well you tried to tell me so.

But how was I to know.

Guess I’m not so smart.

You’re right, I’m left, She’s gone.

I’m left all alone.

Right. Left. Gone.

Gone.

Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac as the propeller turns and the fog descends.

You’re right, I’m left, she’s gone.

Gone.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

A boy and his father and a bicycle.

How many songs with Goodbye in the title?

Good. Bye.

See you later Alligator.

I’ll see you, even if I don’t want to, in my dreams.

Let me tell ya something sister.

Just so you know and for the avoidance of doubt.

Youve messed with my mind and heart enough.

Enough.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

I’ll help you pack.

I’ll call a cab.

I’ll pay the fare.

I ain’t building my gallows for you anymore.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

Goodbye.

 

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Mitchum and me never should have trusted Jane Greer.

Those string arrangements swirling around my head – there’s a signature there.

Whose?

Ah .. 1974. I’m in my room in college listening to the music of a previous alumni – Nick Drake and the strings are arranged by another Cambridge alumni – Robert Kirby.

Soft sift in an hourglass.

Soft soft.

1956. 1966. 1974. 1990.

Photographs fading into photographs.

The river flows.

Soft sift.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

What’s that bird at the window?

Where’s that light coming from?

I’m in no mood for sunshine today.

Waste not your warmth.

What’s that song?

What’s that song?

Fly away little blue bird.

Fly away.

Go spread your blue wings.

Go light your blue sky.

Leave me here.

Leave me here.

Me?

I’ll shed my blue tears.

My blue tears.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Thanks to Teddy and Iris and Tift and Don and Phil and Elvis and Dolly and Felice and Boudeloux for seeing me through.

Thanks Teddy.

 

Note : As always if for corporate/copyright reasons any of these clips fail to play you will find they or an alternative clip can be quickly found by a quick Google/YouTube search.

Christmas Alphabet I for In The Bleak Midwinter : Shawn Colvin & Bert Jansch

We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.

But, for millennia it was not so.

We lived in a world lit only by Fire.

Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.

The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.

By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).

We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.

No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.

At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.

In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.

The light comes once more to the dead.

Heaven and Earth are joined once again.

In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the 2013 Winter Solstice at Newgrange. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

‘First light like share-shine in a furrow

 Steadily deeper, farther available,

Creeping along the floor of the passage grave

To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle

Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’

At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)

Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.

The light returns.

Hope returns.

Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.

Shawn lets the Mystery Be.

Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.

His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.

His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.

Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.

If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.

The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t miss One!

 

Pete Townshend, Willie Mitchell, Robert Parker : Barefootin’

My Uncle Joe was, in the hierarchy of his own mind, first a Kerryman, next a Gaelic Football fanatic, then an Irishman and finally a Farmer.

He was at once; very strong and gentle, full of strong opinions and quietly spoken.

He was not much given to offering advice – least of all to his bookish, non stop talking, citified nephew over from London for the Summer Holidays.

So, on the very rare ocassions when he did offer advice I listened closely.

As we were companionably going to The Creamery one August morning, our conversation proceeding at the steady pace of the donkey pulling the cart we rode, I told Joe I wanted a new pair of shoes, nay Beatle Boots!, for my 9th Birthday.

Joe was not a devotee of the four lads from Liverpool but it turned out to my surprise that he was very interested in the subject of Boots and the necessity, nay the duty, to purchase the very best Boots you could afford (and maybe those that were more expensive than you could truly afford) as a ‘Proper pair of Boots was an investment, an Investment, that would repay you many times over as the years passed by’.

He went further, ‘If you’re not going to wear a proper pair of Boots you might as well go barefoot. Barefoot!’

Accepting his argument a fine strong pair of countryman’s Boots we’re wrapped up before the week was out and once opened I barely took them off for the next year.

Joe died tragically young when he was not yet fifty.

I think of him every time I buy a new pair of Boots ; mentally composing a letter :

’Joe, I spent the money I got for my college scholarship on a pair of Tricker’s Boots – a pure investment!’

’Joe, you’ll never believe it! I found a pair of Redwing Boots  (the ones from Minnesota) in a  charity shop for £15!’

‘Joe, there’s twenty guys in this office and I’m the only one who had invested in a decent pair of Boots – sure they might as well be barefoot!’

‘Joe, if I get that pay rise I’m going to invest in a pair of New and Lingwood Chukka Boots (actually I’ve bought them already – bound to get that rise!)

Of course, in the right circumstances, being barefoot is just the thing.

If you ask people to supply an image of being carefree I’ll guarantee you a healthy percentage will paint a picture of walking barefoot along a sun kissed sandy beach.

Sure works for me.

I’m also reminded of a lovely (though possibly apocryphal) about two Irish athletes lining up at the start of the 1960 Rome Olympics Marathon.

Looking around at the assembled greats of the long distance running world they were startled to see a rail thin African runner who seemingly had neglected to bring his running shoes with him.

They agreed that whoever else they had to worry about they would surely have no trouble in outpacing this competitor!

As it turned out the mystery runner was none other than Abebe Bikele from Ethiopia who would run barefoot every step of the 26 miles through the glorious rubble of Rome before cruising to the Gold Medal!

Sometimes barefoot is just the thing.

Come on … Everybody get on your feet … you make me nervous when you in your seat … take off your shoes!

Barefootin’ … Barefootin’ …. Barefootin’

Doin’ a dance that cant be beat!

Barefootin’!

No word of a lie – can’t be beat, can’t be beat!

Robert Parker from 1966 with yet another classic from New Orleans which became a huge R&B and Pop Chart Hit.

Brilliantly arranged by the great Wardell Quezergue, ‘Barefootin” showcases the superb rhythmic sense of Crescent City musicians.

Robert’s vocal is graced by ambrosial guitar and a horn section that demands you dance and keep dancing as long as your feet hold out!

Take off your shoes and Dance Now!

Take off your Shoes!

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Robert Parker was already a veteran of the New Orleans music scene in 1966 when his name briefly hit the headlines.

Growing up with Huey Smith and Sugar Boy Crawford he haunted the Caldonia Inn to watch the legendary Professor Longhair strut his stuff,

By 1949 Robert was playing with The Shuffling Hungarians (got to get that T Shirt!) and recording Mardi Gras in New Orleans with the great man.

He moved on to lead his own band at The Tijuana where he backed up Bobby Marchan, Guitar Slim and Little Richard.

Taking his band, The Royals, on the road he laid down the groove for R&B stars like Roy Brown, Big Joe Turner and Solomon Burke – what I wouldn’t give to time travel back to those days to catch them burning the house down in a club in Florida or Texas!

Robert’s recording highlights before ‘Barefootin;’ include appearing in 1959 on the wonderful, ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo’ with Huey Smith  and on Irma Thomas’ characteristically smouldering, ‘Don’t Mess with My Man’.

The same year he also made his solo record debut with, ‘All Night Long’.

All this time Robert was primarily a Sax Man and Bandleader who could handle a vocal when required.

Though Robert was well known around New Orleans and on the southern touring circuit I doubt anyone was expecting him to write and record an R&B classic that would sell a million copies and have a continuing afterlife in cover versions both in America and the UK.

Strange things happening everyday!

One day Robert fetched up at Tuskegee University in Alabama and he noted that as he began to play the college girls all took off their shoes in front of the bandstand.

This incident was filed away and when about to start a show in Miami he heard the Comic/MC announce – everybody get on your feet; you make me nervous when you’re in your seat’ the creative tumblers turned and clicked and Voila! a song was born.

Now when Robert took the song to Wardell at NOLA Records it was swiftly recorded … but.. but .. the other powers at NOLA didn’t hear a Hit so it languished in the tape vaults for a year until sharp earned local DJ Hank Sample heard it and persuaded NOLA to issue some copies to his Record Store.

They promptly sold like hot cakes and Robert had a great big fat Hit on his hands!

The crowd at New York’s Apollo Theatre went wild when Robert kicked off his shoes and kickstarted the band into, Barefootin’’.

Robert never had another Smash but he remained a much loved figure in The Crescent City and he was properly inducted into the Lousiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Regular readers will know that I would take some persuading that any other city can truly rival New Orleans for the accolade of being dubbed the premier Music City.

However, one of the few cities that might be considered a genuine rival is Nashville.

And, from there comes the next version of, ‘Barefootin’’ featured today courtesy of some of the finest players ever to record there – Barefoot Jerry.

Key members Wayne Moss and Charlie McCoy had been part of an A Team that gathered around Bob Dylan when he brought his kaleidoscopic imagination to Nashville in yet another of his artistic rebirths.

Take off your Shoes!

We got ourselves a Hootenany and a Hoedown!

 

 

Next we move downriver to Memphis which cedes to no City in musical eminence.

So many great singers, songwriters, musicians and producers!

And, right at the very top of that tree undoubtedly one Willie Mitchell who is one of the all time great exponents of finding the secret alchemy for making classic records.

Find a great band of musicians and find the songs and the arrangements and groove!

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It worked countless times with Al Green and Ann Peebles in particular.

Less well known are the addictive sides Willie made under his own name.

Once the band locks into the groove here even Zombies would be getting Barefoot with some despatch!

Take off your shoes and throw them away!

 

I was born far, far away from the fabled Music CIties above yet it turns out that London, the home of some of the most knowledgeable and fanatical music devotes on the entire globe, was just the place to imbibe the sounds of all those great American conurbations.

Whatever kind of music you groove to someone in London knows all about it in exhaustive detail.

Growing up in London, one Pete Townhend fed the creative muse that would make him one of the most gifted and celebrated songwriters of his age through deep immersion in the traditions of R&B, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Soul Music.

And, that love of the drive of those 40s and 50s sounds fed into the astounding attack of his records and live shows.

Wonderful to see him celebrating his musical heritage in the  joyous performance below.

Surely Pete has been Barefootin’ ever since he was Two!

Anyone sitting in their seat as this one plays must have a serious back problem!

Doesn’t he cut a mean rug!

I like to Mambo.

I like to Samba.

Never go too long without Twisting the Night Away.

Always ready for The Locomotion.

I’m partial to a Polka and never weary of The Waltz.

But, today ain’t no other Dance will do.

Everybody get on your feet!

Let’s do a Dance that can’t be beat!

Come on!

We Barefootin ‘

Barefootin’

Barefootin’!

 

Note :

This Post written wearing Redwing Boots.

Playback dancing strictly Barefoot!