The unexplained cancellation of the 6 o’clock fast train from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour via Guildford last night caused me to take a slow train that went round the houses, stopping everywhere, and as it did I settled back in a hot and crowded carriage that crawled out of West London towards those Surrey stations where the car parks are full of posh cars belonging to rich commuters. It was too cramped to read the paper so I settled back with the iPod and jotted down a few notes on my iPhone which I’ve just tidied up.
First up tonight is ‘I Need You’, the George Harrison Beatle song by The Webb Sisters. I don’t think I’ve heard this before but it’s really nice… from a Mojo George compilation that I must have downloaded and forgotten about. Lovely little vocal flourishes, especially in the instrumental break and towards the end.
‘Berlin’ by Kirtsy MacColl. I used to know the lovely Kirsty MacColl who of course sings the female part in ‘Fairytale of New York’. For a short while in the early ‘80s – before she eventually married Steve Lillywhite, U2’s record producer – she went out with a friend of mine who lived near me in Hammersmith. They sometimes came around to my flat after the pubs shut and Kirsty liked nothing better than to stick my headphones on and listen to my vinyl Beach Boys albums. She had a gorgeous voice and sometimes sang along, forgetting that we could hear every word. Kirsty was killed in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000, drowned after a speedboat crashed into her as she was swimming with her two sons whose lives she saved. The driver of the speedboat was allegedly the son of a multi-millionaire who got off scot free, so it was both a tragedy and a scandal. There is a bench in Soho Square that commemorates Kirsty, bought by fans in her honour, inscribed with the lyrics of her song ‘Soho Square’: “One day I'll be waiting there / No empty bench in Soho Square.”
Paul Simon – ‘God Bless The Absentee’, from One Trick Pony, a catchy piano riff, a nifty guitar break and its central portion seems like a re-write of 'Homeward Bound'. ‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam, from a rock compilation. I know this song well but I’d have been hard pressed to say who recorded it. Were they one hit wonders?
‘Eden’s Wall’ by Little Feat, from their box set Hotcakes & Outtakes, and just the opposite... I know the group well but don’t recall this song, probably because it’s from a version of the band after Lowell George died. This is pleasant enough but a bit MORish for LF, and too much going on for my taste, too long too. They’d never have recorded this if Lowell had been alive.
‘I Wanna Be Free’ by The Monkees. Soppy ballad, ’nuff said. Davey Jones was cute but he was responsible for some real drivel, the one member of that band who had no allegiance whatsoever to rock’n’roll.
‘Wonderful One’ by Page & Plant from their No Quarter album, a slow-paced, slightly North African sounding piece with downtuned guitars, deep percussion and Robert in good voice. Embracing world music was a laudable move by these two, in many ways mitigating the rather questionable blues ‘interpretations’ from their Zep days that could be traced back to old black dudes.
‘I Met Her Today’ from Elvis’ Nashville To Memphis album. Another soppy ballad, seems like a recurring theme in my iPod posts. And I have so much great Elvis on it too.
Next up is this evening’s big surprise, Trio Bulgarka, with ‘Mari Tudoro from their album The Forest Is Crying. I got this CD because the Trio were mentioned in Graeme Thomson’s Kate Bush biography Under The Ivy, and the way Graeme described them really left me no choice. Here’s an extract: “The Trio consisted of Yanka Rupkina, Eva Georgieva and Stoyanka Boneva, three middle-aged women who had been singing traditional Bulgarian music both together and apart for a couple of decades and had contributed to the semi-legendary compilation Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, first released by a Swiss label in 1975 and later reissued, in 1986, on Britain’s hip indie imprint 4AD. Bulgarian folk had already exerted a small but appreciable influence on western popular music. In the mid- to late-Sixties, the State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir’s album, Music Of Bulgaria, The Ensemble Of The Bulgarian Republic, was released on the Nonesuch label and reached the likes of David Crosby and Graham Nash, soaking up the vibes a world away in the blissed-out, false idyll of Laurel Canyon. They were stunned by its otherworldly sound. ‘Those women sing rings around everybody in the world,’ said Crosby many years later. ‘They make the Beach Boys sound loose. And they were a huge influence on Nash and myself both. We listened to that album probably a couple of hundred times. There is no question they influenced me, strongly. I thought that was the best part singing I have ever heard in my life.’ Kate Bush was evidently “devastated” by its emotional purity, likening their voices to those of angels, although there was nothing sweet or mellifluous about it. Singing from the throat rather than the chest, the trio employed diaphonic stylings, the lead vocalist singing the melody while the others sustained a single drone note, creating an effect much like that of a bagpipe. Punctuating the dissonant, brittle harmonies in sevenths and ninths with strange whoops, trills and yelps, the results were raw and powerful, utterly alien to western ears and yet touching the receptive listener at a profoundly deep level.” After reading that I simply had to investigate and the Trio certainly make for an arresting sound, although it’s a bit of an acquired taste.
Next up is Paul McCartney singing ‘Here Today’ from his 2009 live album Good Evening New York City, which largely comprises faithful interpretations of Beatle songs performed by the young and enthusiastic group he’s employed for the last 15 years or so. I bought this (double) CD at a Motorway gas station because it was a) cheap, b) I’d forgotten to bring any CDs on this trip, and c) most of what was available was modern chart rubbish. ‘Here Today’, of course, is a heartfelt song to his former Beatle partner, perhaps made all the more poignant in this version as he is singing it in NY where John died. Unadorned, with Paul facing a huge audience, it certainly shows he’s got plenty of bottle. Then again, with the crowd on his side he can’t go far wrong.
It’s always a treat to hear The Mamas And The Papas’ ‘I Saw Her Again Last Night’, its harmonies as lovely as ever. The only surviving member of the group, Michelle Phillips, turned 70 in June and still looks gorgeous.
‘Miles Ahead’ by Miles Davis from the Complete Columbia Sessions brought a touch of gentle swing as the train began to empty, and next up was Albert Lee & Hogan’s Heroes playing ‘One Way Rider’ from Live At The New Morning, a Paris rock club. The greatest unsung guitarist Britain has produced, Albert is one of the best country pickers in the world, a living legend and a lovely bloke too. We’ve met on a number of occasions and I once found myself sat next to him in a box at the Albert Hall for a Clapton concert. I think he’d left Clapton’s band because he was fed up of playing ‘Slow Down Sally’. A couple of years ago I went to watch him do a master class at hotel in Guildford. He was showing off really, but when you can play like him you have every right to show off.
We were breezing through Clandon now, coming up to Guildford and the last track to come up was ‘Arc Of A Diver’ by the wonderful Steve Winwood, with lyrics by Vivian Stanshall for whom the royalties were no doubt very welcome at this time in his life. Many years ago I interviewed Viv in a Greek restaurant on Charlotte Street and he was particularly taken with some extra hot peppers that came as a side dish. He asked the waiter for a handful and when we’d eaten we headed off to the Ship in Wardour Street for a quick pint. On the bar, in a plastic case, were some open sandwiches into which Viv slipped a pepper or two when no one was looking. No doubt some poor sod got a bit of a shock when he bit into it. The last time I saw Viv was at Kempton Park Racecourse many years ago when the Charisma Handicap was being run. He looked very strange in those days, strange clothes, strange glasses, strange hair. Our daughter Olivia, aged about three, was with us and I introduced her to Viv. “That’s a very funny man,” she whispered in my ear afterwards. “Yes,” I said. “He is a very funny man.”