Mhairi McFarlane’s second novel doesn’t disappoint. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to, although following ‘You Had Me At Hello’ must have been a daunting prospect. In ‘Here’s Looking At You’ once again her cast brim with life and burst off the pages, which sparkle and fizz with wit and racy dialogue.
McFarlane’s powers of observation are stunning. The result is characters that are utterly convincing. You love them, hate them, pity them and ultimately feel slightly bereft once they are gone. I go from wanting to re-arrange Fraser’s film star good looks with a few well directed punches to feeling like offering him my shoulder as he pours his heart out about Eva over a couple of pints of Guinness. In fact, McFarlane gets under the skin of male psyche like few other. A feat in itself.
A comparison. Not long ago, I read a critically acclaimed novel by an established author (No names!) Great plot, great Mediterranean location – but the characters were tissue-thin. Reading It reminded me of the way children perform in a nativity play: “Onceuponatimelonglongago…”
Not so here. With an enviable ability to create the magical from the mundane McFarlane, with her surgical skill, strips the layers of sexual politics and manners (or lack of) from relationships, until you get to the bare bones … and where does that fine line lie betweeen freindship and love?
AND how refreshing: a book which doesn’t make you feel you ought to go take a shower after reading.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is some sort of twee Rom Com. This is a Grown Up’s book for a Grown Up audience. Enjoy!
… and then it dawns, part way through the Chuck Berry number, that has become for me, at least, an anthem to mediocrity; that he is singing about himself. ‘Johnny’ is him. John Wilkinson. And at once the song takes on a completely different resonance and poignancy as its singer raises his hands to wave his goodbyes.
Last night, me and my minder, Stig went to see John Wilkinson play his second and final London full house of the week, under his stage name, Wilko Johnson. In fact, it was quite probably his last London show ever, because Wilko has been diagnosed with terminal Pancreatic Cancer. He is still in a state of ‘euphoria’ he describes it over the news which he received after falling ill during the tail end of a UK tour last autumn. Typically, Wilko decided that what was needed was a new album and a ‘farewell’ tour which has seen him play dates in France and the UK and which finishes in Guernsey at the weekend.
Dr Feelgood: you really wouldn’t want to take these boys home to meet Mum and Dad.
A strange response you might think, but not if you know any thing about Wilko Johnson, probably best known as founder member of the influential Canvey Island upstarts, Dr. Feelgood.
For a start, he is no mug. In fact Wilko has a very interesting CV, of which the Feelgoods are only a small part. He went to Newcastle University where he read English, specialising in Middle English and the Norse Sagas. Got a good degree (though he never collected his certificate: he was ‘tripping’) Travelled widely in India and Afghanistan, and taught English in a secondary school, is an accomplished painter and a keen astronomer with his own observatory on his roof at home in Southend.
Stupidity. Wilko and Lee
Interest in Wilko has been on the up over the last couple of years, largely thanks to Julien Temple’s documentary film about the Feelgoods ‘Oil City Confidential’. But it has soared since his diagnosis was announced. There have been radio, newspaper and magazine interviews as well as TV appearances.Tickets for the original show at Koko, Camden Town last Wednesday sold out within an hour so a second date was added. The touts last night were reportedly asking £200 a ticket
And it was rammed: nowhere have I experienced such a density of bodies within a given space. I don’t know what the capacity for Koko is, but I’d be willing to bet it was well over last night. They were even standing in the toilets, doors open so they could watch on one of the numerous TV screens dotted about. Also, I was staggered by the number of photographers buzzing around the stage. All slightly ironic, since Wilko has been for years doing the circuit, performing to the same small hardcore crowd, forever it seems consigned to that dullest of musical genres: Pub Rock.
Pub Rock it definitely wasn’t. Backed by the muscular rhthym section of drummer Dylan Howe and one of the world’s most underrated bass players Norman Watt-Roy, Wilko worked his way through All Through the City, Dr Dupree, Roxette, Sneaking Suspicion, Keep On Loving You, When I’m Gone, Paradise, Don’t Let Your Daddy Know, Back In The Night, Wooly Bully and She Does It Right – as only he can do. Eyes all speed-freak-stare with trademark robotic movements across the stage. There is no one else. He is a total one-off. But don’t be mislead.There was no room for sentiment. There was more than a glint of steel in Wilko’s performance.
When I first saw him in my teens, I thought how does he move across the stage like that? Well part of the reason was evident from my vantage point last night. Wilko still uses his trusty red coiled guitar lead; last in fashion when the New Seekers were riding high in the charts, and it is plugged straight into his amp. That’s right, not an effects pedal or stompbox nor the plateloads of spaghetti that accompany them in sight. Thus reducing his chances of tripping over same by 100%.
There were no embarrassing speeches no ‘surprise’ celebrity guests, Wilko seemed genuinely touched that people had bothered to come out and see him in such numbers and looked, as did the rest of the band, like they were having a blast.
God bless you Wilko Johnson and remember when you get back to Southend if the ‘euphoria’ starts to wear off and the old black dog starts following you again:
‘Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucinations of day and night … it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death’
Wilko Johnson Koko Camden Town London 10th March 2013
See Wilko’s excellent autobiography written with Zoe Howe ‘Looking Back at Me’ Cadiz Music 2012
No, no I don’t mean I have just been into the nearest Wal-Mart and bought a semi automatic assault rifle and a shedfull of slugs to put in it and am heading for the nearest school (Now here’s a thought: why don’t these tough guys ever try to shoot up a prison maybe, or a military establishment: find themselves a bit more challenging opposition than unarmed toddlers?). No, I mean, since getting hooked on the Danish TV thriller, ‘The Killing’ I am watching all the back episodes of the first two series. And very satisfying it is too.
So if you are suffering withdrawal symptoms from Lund’s jumpers, dense plots, and impossible language, then suffer no more. ‘Sitting Comfortably’ is right here with a bumper collection of ‘Killing’ – related facts and activities to tide you over until Soren Sveistrup can be persuaded to write more.
Did You Know
The word ‘Forbrydelsen’ means ‘Killing’ in Danish. ‘Killing’ means ‘Kitten’
Actress Sophie Gråbøl often phones freinds by mistake on her mobile while on the set. Actually it happens less often these days, as her number of contacts has dwindled.
Denmark is such a small country that it has only ten professional actors. So they have to double up. That is why you sometimes get confused: is the guy I’m watching Lund’s police partner – and perpetrator, or is he the Prime Minister’s husband in ‘Borgen’? (Oh! you haven’t seen series two yet? … I’m sorry)
Sarah Lund has had to work with many partners in her police career. Here are just a few:
‘The Killing’ is shot one episode at a time.
The actors never know who the guilty party is until the penultimate episode.
Study the two pictures below. List discrepancies between the two. Which is the real Sarah Lund and which is the imposter?
Having trouble understanding Danish?
Allow ‘Sitting Comfortably’ to give you some help. English and Danish are related languages which share a comon root in Old Norse. Read the following:
Nonsense isn’t it?
Not when you translate it into English:
Have you any eggs?
Now try this example yourselves. Ordering breakfast at your hotel.
Tsk, what a time to get hooked to a TV crime/thriller series; three shows before its last ever episode.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m schizzling on about, ‘The Killing’ is a stylishly gloomy Danish cop series, now into its third and final series. It features constant drizzle, faceless housing developments, windows with no curtains, a surfeit of deserted premises (apparently) without lighting, causing the cops to draw torches and make lots of pretty patterns in the dark, evil villains with sensitive eyes (see above), top of the range knitwear and a beguiling heroine, Sarah Lund.
Just read the pacy, tension-filled dialogue of the penultimate scene of series three as Lund and colleague Borch, in their car discuss her new jumper and where she got it from. If you don’t want to know how it ends, look away now.
Can I borrow your knitting patterns then?
Borsh: Så, Sarah Jeg kan lide din yoomper. Lund: Min yoomper? Borsh: Ja det er rart. Jeg kan godt lide rensdyr mønster Lund: oh tak. Borsh: hvor har du den yoomper fra? Lund: Er … Debenhams …
(Lund’s mobile rings, she picks it up)
(She looks into the middle distance listening to the voice, then suddenly cuts the caller off mid sentence. Still looking into the mid distance, she slowly returns the mobile to her pocket) Borsh: Er … Debenhams? Lund: (Still looking distracted) … Ja. Borsh: Åh, jeg troede, du altid gik yoomper til Marks and Spencer? Lund: Marks and Spencer? Borsh: Ja Lund: Nej. Mine yoomper? Fra Marks and Spencer? … Nej. Borsh: Oh Lund: Ingen altid gå til Debenhams Borsh: oh. hvor meget var det? Lund: 30 kroner Borsh: du sjov? Lund: de har uld og mønstre så godt. Borsh: Uld og mønstre? Lund: Ja, du kan strikke din egen. Yoomper Borsh: Oh. Lund: Det regner meget er det ikke?
For those of you who maybe have not seen the series and therefore find your Danish a bit under par, here are some helpful words and phrases to help with the above.
Jeg kan lide din I like
rensdyr mønster reindeer pattern
hvor har where did you get
jeg troede I always thought
du altid gik til you went to
hvor meget var det? How much was it?
du sjov? You’re having a laugh?
Det regner meget er det ikke? It’s pissing down isn’t?
That’s better! Actress Sophie Gråbøl
For those of you who may be interested Lund’s ‘yoompers’ are hand knitted from Gudrun & Gudrun at 280 euros a pop.
… And ‘Hey Presto!’ There you have the secret of the Rubik’s Cube in under 20 seconds. Easy isn’t it when you know how? Now then.
I went to see Todd Rundgren. last week. Not everybody’s cup of tea I know, but for me, his complete understanding of the dynamics of a three minute pop song (‘Hello it’s Me’, ‘I saw the light’), plus his skill as a musician and producer (his production credits read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the last 30 years of popular music, albeit a copy with a few pages missing here and there but pretty impressive nevertheless: Patti Smith, Cheap Trick, Psychedelic Furs, XTC, Grand Funk Railroad, New York Dolls, Hall & Oates to name a few.) mean he’s safely up there in my Top Five. In fact, probably Top Three. Yep. When Todd’s firing on all cylinders he is a sight to be seen/ sound to be heard. And as if that weren’t sufficient, he seems to possess a God-given ability ‘get a lot out of a little’; as in the case (if I may I be so bold) of Meatloaf.
Ah yes – it’s all coming back to you now isn’t it? 1977. ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ the surprise multi-million seller sung by a rotund half-wit and written by a ‘never-gonna-git-me-a-girl-dork’. None of the majors would touch it with a bargepole. In fact, nobody would touch it with anything. Until Todd says: ‘I get it. Yeah, I’ll do it’ He steps up to the plate, and the rest is history. ‘The hardest thing was getting Meat to sing in tune’, he remembers (sort of ) fondly. However, tonight, the Steinman phenomenon and the Fat One are put to bed early. ‘Ya want Meatloaf, ya gotta pay to get out!‘ Todd good-naturedly warns the crowd.
Indeed Rundgren’s longevity coupled with a consistency of interesting and credible output, even now, as he nears his mid sixties, suggest he’s doing something right.
In fact, Rundgren is more resolute and singular now than ever in satisfying his eclectic interests: playing and recording exactly what he wants, confounding critics and fans alike as he first jumps this way, and then that. For example, in the last six or so years, he has recorded and toured ‘Liars’ a well-crafted thematic collection of songs, written on a laptop using a ‘softstudio’, played a number of acoustic dates (51 or thereabouts) sharing the billing with Joe Jackson and Ethel, string quartet, done a fairly extensive stint on the road with The (‘Who’s going to drive you home’) Cars, recorded a ‘Rock’ album ‘Arena’ on which he allowed himself to focus on his guitar playing (which he had come under fire for from some quarters of his audience for neglecting – not that for a minute I am suggesting that is why he did it) He also took the opportunity to use the tunes to give ‘a nod’ in the direction of a number of innovative, creative players whose work has happened to strike a chord with him over the years. (Ho, ho.)
The last year, he revived, and toured in its entirety his ground-breaking 1973 oddity “A Wizard A True Star.” It is an eclectic (that word again) and ideosyncratic stream of consciousness, sequenced as a continuous medley and featuring a ‘varied range’ of songs set in dazzling arrangements with innovative production; Rundgren experimenting with and exploiting virtually every studio effect and technique then available. Although it featured predominantly original material, it also included a version of “Never Never Land”, and a medley of soul classics* sadly packaged in one of the worst covers ever.
‘AWATS’ Awful, awful cover!
At the time, Todd was making his money producing, and was thus able to make the record he wanted to make rather than the one the record company wanted.
‘My attitude was substantially different than what it is for most artists, because I was making a fine living as a producer and therefore didn’t feel that I was constrained to be especially commercial in my own music.’ – So the ‘hits’ were kind of accidental then? ‘I continued to make records on my own but that was only because I had musical ideas I wanted to express and get out of my brain. I accidentally had hit records, and more or less got drawn back into being an artist.’ … So yes, they were.
On tour here in the UK in 2008, his promoter mentioned that the album had been cited by a number of new bands such as Daft Punk and Hot Chip and the like, as an influence, and suggested a one off performance.
On last year’s visit to London, Todd combined ‘AWATS’ (as it is known by those in the know) with a ‘support’ live set of songs from his most recent project, the album ‘T. R’s Johnson’; the reworking of some of the songs of influential Delta Bluesman Robert Johnson (1911-1938). Johnson’s legacy, one of the most powerful bodies of music to emerge from a blues figure resounds down to us through the years of the second half of the twentieth century through that of artists such as Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Junior Parker, John Hammond Jr, the Stones, John Mayall, Cream, Clapton, Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield, Bonnie Raitt, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Cassandra Wilson and many more. So what was Todd’s take?
Apparently, just as he completed ‘Arena’, and was looking for distribution, the people he agreed a deal with had an additional project they wanted him to take on. They had recently acquired the catalogue for Robert Johnson, but they had no recorded masters even though the songs had been covered by many artists. They wanted to have versions to offer for sync licensing, master licensing, that sort of thing. So Todd agreed to do it.
‘Towards the end of my high school years I became fascinated with the blues. My first paying gig as a guitar player was in a blues band, so it was not that unusual a challenge, I suppose. That’s why I considered taking it on … I knew that I wasn’t going to do literal versions of Robert Johnson songs like, for example, Eric Clapton did. I decided instead to tribute the bands that influenced me when I was first becoming a guitar player. And many of those bands were playing Robert Johnson songs, for instance Cream’s version of “Crossroads” and things like that. That became part of the standard guitarist lexicon at that point. So I decided I would make a record in the style of a 60′s Blues Breakers or Yardbirds, English-style, white blues record’. Sounds reasonable enough for me; and to be honest, I thought those bleating about wanting the ‘hits’ during his ‘Support Set’ at the Appolo, (and apparently too on the last night of the current tour at Ronnie Scotts) instead of ‘this stuff we don’t know’ were being downright rude. I could tell you exactly what Johnson tunes they played at Hammersmith, as I have in my possession – somewhere – Rundgren’s personal set list, annotated with little instructions: particularly copious I seem to recall over one tricky introduction, which in the event they screwed up any way. Personally I’d pay good potatoes to go and listen to him sing the phone book. But then I am, a little sad to say, a fan.
Rundgren is a musician who has been a particular favourite of mine since the late ’70s. He is an enigma. For instance, has written and recorded some sublime music (‘Verb to Love’) but also has some shockers in the closet. At times, he appears to be one of the few musicians around who has a clear vision of how popular music and the buying/selling of it and the relationship between artist and listener will be shaped and subtly shift balance in the future; yet on other occasions prone (embarrassingly often on record) to talking what can only be described as bollocks. AND he is guilty of a whole string of serious crimes against Taste during his unfortunate ‘prog rock’ era. But then again, it is quite common for him not only to produce his own recordings, but Todd cocks up the two part guitar harmony in the solo ‘I saw the light’ (Again) play all the instruments as well. Russ, my ‘Minder’ asked about Todd and drugs. Initially, like Zappa, he disapproved, but in the ’70’s began to experiment with marijuana, LSD and the little-known stimulant, Ritalin, now of course known as the ADHD ‘wonder drug’. Which explains a lot!
Funnily enough it was Alan (“Alright Pop Pickers?!”) ‘Fluff’ Freeman who proved to be the link. To digress a little; before Punk, like thousands of other ‘lost souls’ I used to listen to the mainly turgid shite that he played on his Saturday afternoon Radio One ‘Prog Rock’ show, bless him.
‘Fluff’ On The Needle
I say ‘lost souls’ because, at the younger end of his audience, I think many, like me, listened almost out of duty. There wasn’t anything else. We were just waiting … That’s why when Punk came along, we were off! Barclay James Harvest, Tangerine Dream and Yes? Nah! I wanted to listen to The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and the Pistols. Neverleless, Freeman’s show along with (it almost goes without saying) John Peel was a pivotal factor in engaging with non-chart music of the era.
It’s wonderful broadcasting isn’t it, Looking back? I met ‘Fluff’ once. Charming bloke. Wasn’t sure about his handbag though…Where was I? Well, anyway ‘Fluff’ had a jingle he used to play which I couldn’t get out of my head. Of course, Sod’s Law the excerpt above does not include the one I am referring to and I have not been able to find it elsewhere. It was a snippet of a song. It was clearly live: you could tell by the ambience, and which featured what sounded like the chorus to a song sung acapella, the audience joining in whilst clapping a slow heavy rhythm along to it. It fascinated me. As well as sounding ‘live’ it sounded ‘alive’ like real people at a real gig.
It took me a while. None of my mates were into Rundgren, so none of them recognised it, but eventually I did track it down. It appeared to be “One More Victory” on a live album, “Another Live”. So on the strength of ‘Fluff’s few snatched seconds, I bought it, second hand mail order from Cob Records in Wales, and that was it. I still have it. If you are able to stomach the bizarre band photos which seem to depict a group of cross-dressing Mafiosi and Rundgren’s occasional self-indulgences, is a great record. One which for me, sits comfortably alongside other favourites from the same period: “The Modern Dance” Pere Ubu, “Natty Dread”, The Wailers, “Never Mind The Bollocks”, The Pistols and “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings Songs of Christmas”
Todd. He’s our flawed genius. I say ‘our’, because shortly after arrival at the Jazz Cafe (with wheelchair, stick, medication and faithful ‘minder’ Russ, all 6′ 2″ of him) at about the same spot we saw Bobby Womack from a few weeks ago, we are immediately engaged by the couple next to us, in conversation about ‘Our Hero’: When did we first see him? Best gig? Favourite Song? Favourite Album? (Russ: Never, none, none, none. Should have been wearing white really …) I have found this typical, people want to talk about him, and do so with a familiarity that gives the impression he is a Mate or member of the family. His successes are joyously acclaimed, his indulgences soon forgiven.
And so, to Monday night, when Todd hits the stage, he is as relaxed as I have ever seen him. He performs a set of songs, unofficially billed as a ‘Greatest Hits’ tour with material collated from virtually areas all of his career from ‘Something Anything’ to ‘TR’s Johnson’. A collection that Rundgren felt, were the band to accept requests (“which we don’t”) his audience would have selected. And he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. The band ( Prairie Prince: Drums, Kasim Sulton: Bass, Jesse Gress: guitar and -it sounded like John Forensic to me! – Keyboards) long time associates of Rundgren were relaxed too, but not so much that they lacked punch. Set list went something like this:
Love of the Common Man
Can We Still be Friends
Espresso (All Jacked Up)
Love is the Answer
I’m So Proud/Ooh, Baby Baby/La La Means I Love You/I Want You
I Saw the Light
Couldn’t I Just Tell You
Hello It’s Me
A Dream Goes On Forever
(Give or take)
I think my highlight of the night had to be the version of ‘Hawking’ for which I had wormed and weedled my way (to the immense irritation of many of my fellow concert-goers, especially those holding pints) to the front. ‘Fuck it’ I thought, ‘If I can survive an hour and a half in at the old Rainbow in a Clash or Bad Manners moshpit, disabled or not, I think I’ll be able to look after myself here should the need arise, thankyouverymuch, Mr. Grumpy who keeps giving me dirty looks.
It was well worth it. Electrifying, it got the hairs up on the back of my neck. I stayed for ‘I saw the light’ to see Todd cock up the solo for the second time live. Then went back to rejoin Base Camp.
What can I say? Had I been asked what would make a perfect evening with Todd Rundgren, this would have been it: performer in good – even high spirits, voice intact, intimate venue, great band, a fine collection of songs. The only things missing, which would have put the ‘Gold Seal’ on it for me: a rendition of ‘The Verb To Love’ and the stamina to wait around long enough after close of play to meet the main man.
Video credits: Steven Budd /Pic Credits: Thierry Allaouchiche
*The album was also notable for its extended running time—over 55 minutes in length, compared to around 40–45 minutes for a typical pop-rock LP of the period. (I didn’t know this. Did you know this?) This reflected Rundgren’s skills as a mastering engineer, since this extended running time took the album close to the practical maximum for an LP—Due to the inherent physical limitations of the vinyl LP medium on records with running times over 45 minutes there is an unfavorable trade-off between duration and the audio quality and volume.
I was fortunate enough to see Bobby Womack on Monday night at Camden’s Jazz Café, the first of four sell-out shows. In such a small venue as the Jazz Cafe, it promised to be something special.
Almost everything I’ve ever read about Bobby Womack, whether it be the back of a CD sleeve, preamble to an interview, live or album review, seems to have been taken from the same template. It is invariably a chronological one and runs ‘Born Cleveland… gospel group… the Womack Brothers… Soul Stirrers… Sam Cooke… the Valentinos…”It’s All Over Now”… the Rolling Stones… Chips Moman… Muscle Shoals…yadda, yadda. In many, the bulk is devoted, not to him in fact, but to the luminaries he has worked with at one time or another. I don’t intend to do that, so you might have to haul off to Wikipedia or similar if it’s background facts you want. Anyway, Bobby Womack should need no introduction. He is simply a Music Legend (you will notice I didn’t say ‘Soul Music’ or ‘RnB’ Music I think it’s more than either)
Monday night. Bottle of Becks if you can spot me
And it was. Special. Monday night, I mean. We go a long way back, Bobby and Me. (He doesn’t actually know this as we’ve never met – yet) but I guess for twenty five years, give or take a few months, he has been who I’ve turned to for solace, someone to build me up when someone’s let me down, or when I just want to listen to some good music. Music which has a common touch. For those who think Womack a second string to the likes of Stevie, Marvin, Prince, Michael etc. Have another listen. Listen to how broad it is (Okay, you may have to hide some of the album sleeves on grounds of maintaining good visual taste) but listen for the Country influences, listen to the guitar playing and look at his words. I’ve been a bit self indulgent below, with a pretty poor attempt at a BW bio, using only lines from songs. To be frank, I’m a bit embarrassed by it, so I may well have lopped it off by the time you read this. What it did do, however, was re-confirm that when he is good as a songwriter, he is very good.
Despite the dominance (or perhaps because) of a faceless, conglomerate, corporate music industry, which often relies on homogeneity and an easily-digestible diet; for much of his career, Womack has resolutely ploughed his own furrow, making music which is unafraid to deal with the mundane in life, the every-day and commonplace and which, plays to a backdrop of his deep scrutiny of relationships and sexual politics. These strands run through his work, from his earliest days.
Well, no surprises there you might argue, the last half a century of modern popular music has been predicated on just that. But Womack is different, there is at once a personal rawness, and courage with which he lays himself bare, something he does in distinctive and inspirational ways: ‘talking’ to his audience in his songs – asking them the same questions that he is wrestling with. And there’s empathy, in bucketloads. We might expect his view of life to be non too focused after breathing from the rarefied atmosphere we reserve for ‘Stars’ and suchlike for so long. (In fact, I think a look at the pattern of Bobby’s career and while we’re at it, Bank balance would probably reveal his enjoyment of ‘Star’ status has been more patchy than people think) but through his songs, you can tell – he knows what you are thinking and feeling.
Stylo – Great. I wait for Womack’s lines like I wait for Springsteen’s climactic ‘Born to Run’ chorus
It says something that an artist of his stature and age embarks on his biggest ever tour, effectively as a walk-on for one (two?) songs to audiences who would have had no idea who he was. My son saw Gorillaz at the Benecassim festival in Spain. He knows I am a big fan of BW, but didn’t even realise he’d performed!
And I’m not having a pop at Damon Albarn. Far from it. He is a musician I have the utmost respect for; besides it seems as if Gorillaz has revitalised Womack, prompted the current tour and God-willing, recovery from treatment for Prostate Cancer permitting, moved Womack’s already distinguished career onto a new trajectory. For which, much thanks.
Indeed, it was the deliciously sinister bass line of ‘Stylo’ that almost imperceptably slid into the Jazz Cafe, curling, swirling and eddying around the feet and ankles of the assembled and opened the evening. Before we knew it, that bass was thumping its way into our very muscle fibres, sinews and bones: a foil for as fine a snap-punch of a snare drum I have ever heard.
And there he was!
I’m too white
A man old enough to be my Dad (in fact, suffering the same complaint as my Dad) looking decidedly … not frail, but …’mortal’ shall we say. A man I’ve waited about seven years to see since his last London gig (an unhappy affair at Hammersmith Appollo. I was cross, because I felt it, by his standards was a half-hearted show. Him or just me? I dunno, but I felt it all ran rather too slickly, while I found the ‘talkovers’ indulgent to the point that they detracted from the songs.) A man who I first saw in 1985, and whose voice (I think, judging by what I have seen on You Tube, we were lucky to have got best night) can still send shivers down my spine, move me to tears, or groove like … well, a groovy thing. We were truly spoiled with the addition of the band, namely, Hense Powell – keyboards, Rustee Allen – bass, Arnold Ramsey – drums, Victor Griffin – percussion, Alex H. Marlowe – keyboards, Woodard Aplanalp – guitar, Michael Davis – trumpet, Michael Harris – trumpet, Louis Van Taylor – sax, John Roberts – trombone and backing vocals from Lisa K. Coulter and the great Alltrinna Grayson. All, if you’ll excuse the phrase – tighter than a camel’s chuff in a sandstorm. They rocked the house, the street, it felt like the whole of Camden.
We were treated to, among others ‘Across 110th Street’, ‘Nobody Wants You When You’re Down And Out’, ‘Harry Hippie’, You’re Welcome to Stop On By’, ‘That’s The Way I Feel About Cha’, ‘Daylight’s Gonna Catch Me Up’, ‘I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much’, ‘A Woman’s Gotta Have It’, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, ‘If You Think You’re Lonely Now’ ‘Jesus Be A Fence Around Me’. It was so good, I didn’t mind that some of my personal favourites didn’t get an airing. Big voice, big band, small stage, small room, small wonder for the most part I was in seventh heaven.
And at this point I feel I should apologise to the people standing nearby me. Not knowing how my Parkinson’s was going to treat me on this ‘Once in a Blue Moon’ night out, I came with my minder, Russ and wheelchair. We arrived – thankfully before the bulk of the punters and got a good spot, right of stage. As it happened, my Parkinson’s ‘behaved’ – up to a point. I was at the mercy of bad Dyskinesias (uncontrollable movements, result of Parkinson’s medication side-effects) all evening, but despite that, was able to walk unaided. Always a difficult moment, when you have a wheelchair. So I decided to stay seated as I felt it would cause least disruption. About two thirds the way into the gig, I could stand it no more. I am sorry if this apparent sudden ‘healing’ of my affliction caused you distress, or indeed rapture. I know my progress from wheelchair-bound enthusiast to ebullient wedding ‘Disco Dad’ mover was followed with interest by many fellow concert-goers. Bobby’s good, but he’s not that bloody good.
Bobby and Me
I had a hunch he might hang around somewhere after, and thankfully I was right. The double-parked white Mercedes on Parkway was a giveaway. Members of Bobby’s entourage (who, incidentally were politeness itself) officiated and allowed people into the Cafe to meet the man. He looked very tired. So to cheer him up I said ‘Ey! man, you’ve still got another 3 nights to go!’ (Why is it when … well, you know what I’m going to say …) In fact, he looked so drained I immediately felt guilty for taking up his time when probably all he wanted to do was get back to the hotel and relax. ‘No, no trouble’ they insisted. Mr. Womack was gracious, generous with his time and thoughtful. He gave me a copy of the ‘Raw’ DVD, signed, with a personal message, even though I didn’t ask for, nor expect one. And a photo too! Okay, it’s not exactly Rankin: I’ve looked better, though never photogenic and yes, I’d like to have a word with the halfwits in the background. But that is Bobby Womack with his arm around me!
I think I may have come away a little ‘healed’ after all.
Who, who’s holdin’ who?
A few thoughts prompted by a superb performance in a suitably intimate venue by a true giant of popular music.
People say he’s a living legend in his time, but I thought I’d let you know where I’m coming from.
I’m standing at the crossroads, wondering which way does life go, where does that river flow? – turning the pages of my life’s storybook.
I was the third brother of five doing whatever we had to survive. I see that old house standing alongside the road, where Pappa laid his plan and he let us go. He’d say ‘Education is the thing’ and Mamma ‘Get up and try it again’: The roads of life are sometimes hard.
Night after night, my job takes me all around the world. Wild and crazy, chasing the ladies, we sure had a lot of fun. I spend all my money getting drunk with my buddies, wasting every cent I own. Where the champagne is flowing, you know Bobby is going I found it hard to say no.
But who’s fooling who? You see, games, once they start they never seem to end, and I can’t be in two places at one time. Money? It’s just a part of life, you can use it wrong, or you can use it right. Every now and then we all have to get away, to break away to find ourselves. Sometimes we get lost along the way. You know I often wonder sometimes what does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul in return? I was drifting away from reality, too far away from the roots in me.
I know today won’t be like yesterday, because I’m seeing it all in a different way. Funny how one thing could change at all when you watch the closest thing to you almost fall. It’s easy to be swayed by the gleaming lights because those lights will have you thinking that everything is going right. Just like they play your favourite song: they play it over and over and over again till the grooves are gone. But I can’t overlook the tears especially when those tears seem to be brought by me. You can’t get away from your destiny.
If you think you’re lonely now…
So, as I get used to the pain maybe then I’ll understand why tears fall down like rain. Everybody needs some kind of love in their life in some kind of shape, form or fashion. Looking back now I still wonder how I ever made it out alive: you came and saved me, with the love that you gave me.
Time has a story and how you play the game is all up to you: I’m talking about friends of mine. People like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. You’ve got to make your moves while you can still win them but you can never let the moves close in on you. Still, you find yourself asking: ‘Did I do right? Did I do right?
I know nobody wants you when you’re down and out, but they know I’m dependable, make the rounds and I take the blows and though my heart can’t take it and my feet don’t want to make it, I’m the only survivor left still standing here.
There are so many sides of you, so many sides of you that I like, while no matter how high, no matter how high I get, I’ll still be looking up to you.
However, BBC 2’s first in a series of five programmes featuring Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo was a cracker. It was the best thing I think I have seen on TV in ages.
Gennaro was Jamie Oliver’s mentor, but Antonio was Gennaro’s and now the two of them are returning to Italy to find out if anything has changed since they left their homeland almost 50 years ago. Basically, it’s a sort of Italian ‘Hairy Bikers’ with Italia as their stomping ground; while they get about in a vintage Alfa Romeo Giulia instead of the BMW R1200GS, F650GS or the Triumph Rocket III of Myers and King. The premise of ‘Mama knows best…’ is the same too, and during the course of the programme the boys cook up 3 recipies.
However, if you are looking for a ‘working Italian cookbook’ off the back of this series. Don’t. This is not the programme for you. For although Food is very definately at the heart of Antonio and Gennaro’s project; it is Food in the wider context that is of interest to the them: the part it plays in society, its social functions, how it is a means for skills, knowledge and tradition to be kept alive as recipies are handed down from generation to generation.
Justa like Mamma used to make
On wednesday 4th May the theme was ‘The Family’. Antonio and Gennaro visited a factory which makes pasta: something which is becoming more and more popular in Italy, especially with working Mums, as opposed to home-made. Modena where eight women from three generations of the Giacobazzi balsamic vinegar family were preparing a family feast in the grounds of their palazzo. Bologna, home to “the most beautiful women in Italy” where Gennaro decides to help Antonio find love by cooking a romantic, candlelit dinner for him and the young woman he has somehow found through a dating agency. Then Rimini, and a community that rehabilitates drug addicts by teaching them to cook and which is funded through the sale of its produce. Far from being some kind of wet ‘community service’, it is huge, and seems at least, to do exactly what it says on the tin.
Funny, touching and agreeably half-baked, it was a joy to watch. I expect the ‘I love you – but not in ‘That Way” jokes will start to wear thin after a while, but it certainly promises to be a very entertaining series.
If you missed it, do yourself a favour and catch it on the BBC I-Player, or pick it up next wednesday, BBC 2 at 8.00 pm.