Archive for the ‘Article’ Category

In a year of the deaths of giants we say goodbye to George Martin. The fifth Beatle, the producer who made them sound like The Beatles. The man who framed those songs in those patchouli psychedelic frames, or equally in those woody bucolic or cut-glass European classical frames.

The Beatles were the first band to break the hegemony of the popular artist in the early 60s – usually a solo singer whose songs were written for him by profession songwriters, then arranged and produced by his record label. The Beatles brought their own songs and presented as a four-headed entity entirely, it seemed, self-contained. Martin’s ever-sympathetic arrangements and recordings brought out every wonderful nuance and flavour – paisley, bitter-sweet or child-like sweet – in those wonderful songs; however cinematic the arrangement (think ‘I Am The Walrus’ or ‘All You Need is Love’) the song was always to the fore.

Even from the very beginning, he seemed to entirely ‘get’ the songs – the splashing hi-hats of ‘She Love You (Yeah Yeah Yeah)’, the surreally moonlit space of ‘And I Love Her’ or ‘Yesterday’s bare acoustic guitar and silvery strings. Perfect.

They used to sneak weed behind the old man’s back like naughty schoolboys – then go back into the classroom and, giggling and chilled, create Revolver. But despite his pin-sharp, conservative appearance, Martin wasn’t a fuddy-duddy at all – he had been around the entertainment and comedy scenes (he had worked with the anarchic and surreal Goons) long enough to create a picaresque world view. So when he was called upon to wrap ‘Walrus’ or ‘Lucy In The Sky (with Diamonds)’ in a psychedelic wizard’s cape, he could call upon a lifetime of artistic experience, which he sharpened with a keen sense of innovation and imagination.

John Lennon said at one point “George Martin was always more about Paul’s songs than mine” and used Phil Spector on his solo albums (and on Let It Be, the final Beatles record). Yet Martin had seemed to know just what to do with Lennon’s songs – putting his trippily dry vocal against the  throbbing shamanic tribalism of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, cutting up tape and playing avant-garde games for the lysergic circus background of ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’ from Sgt Peppers – in a way that Spector never could have.

Martin constructed an entirely new world for every song – especially during The Beatles’  hyper-compressed creative explosion that began with Revolver. Although an academically schooled musician and orchestrator, he happily flung tape splices in the air with Lennon or ran George Harrison‘s guitar solos backwards. His sense of play, though a generation apart, was equal to that of the Fab Four. martin conducting beatles2

It is one of the sweetest serendipities of modern art that Martin found The Beatles and he, them.

Suggested listening? Too many to list – in fact, the entire Beatles catalogue – but some peaks always stand out to me. The bad trip orchestration of ‘I Am The Walrus’; the children’s merry-go-round of ‘Lucy In The Sky (with Diamonds)’; the movie-for-your-ears of ‘Eleanor Rigby’s strings (double tracked, close-miked string quartet); the cut-ups of ‘Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite’; the stoned green pasture of ‘Mother Nature’s Son’; everything (every single thing) about ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and Sgt Peppers ‘A Day In The Life’ (it’s final monster E-major chord made by three pianos and a harmonium).

Hello. Goodbye.

 

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A friend rang me yesterday and said “Have you heard? Bowie has died.”

I had only just come off Facebook and there had been no mention. How could he have passed? He looked in apparent rude good health and had only a few days ago released his new album, his twenty-seventh studio collection, Blackstar. All appeared good in BowieWorld.

I prayed his death was a cruel social media hoax, so I jumped back on. The entire wall was Bowie, top to bottom, as long as I scrolled. The news had just come over… and it filled the world.

Such is the universality of David Bowie and his music. One of those rare, rare artists – I can only think of The Beatles as the other – who could truly be all things to all people. Wherever they were in their lives.

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Bowie came into my life just in time to save me from Trinity Grammar School.

I had not been aware, nor did I care of his earlier incarnations as the Mod rocker, David Jones, as the opaque folkie of Hunky Dory or the proto-glammer of The Man Who Sold The World (all of which I would come to love). I was only dimly aware of his chart hit ‘Space Oddity’, which at the time, looked to be his first and last stab at fame.

For Christmas I had been given The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars and it turned my world around 360 degrees. Each school day I would come home and disappear into my bedroom, where David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust would take me away into his mirror-maze universe, making the grey strictures and eon-long boredom of School fade far far away.

His universe – slightly dystopian, endlessly new – was rich in imagery and characters, all told in a poetry that I could not always fathom and yet which spoke directly and strongly to me. What it said was that I could be me, and Bowie gave me permission to be so. If he, with his orange fright-wig hair, girlish moves, androgynous clothes and wonky eyes could take on the world, then I certainly could take anything Trinity Grammar School could level at me.

And it took some time to introduce this strange new music into our boys-school circle – we were all Status Quo, Led Zep and Free fans: hairy hetero denim rockers to a man. It was now lyrics such as “Inspirations have I none / just to touch the flaming dove“. And as for our parents: to them David Bowie was a queer Pied Piper who threatened to take us away to Gay Glam Land and keep us there (he could have with one wink). He really messed with their minds. David_Bowie_-_TopPop_1974_10

To we 70s kids, Bowie was ours – he was neither of our parent’s post-War culture that threatened to suffocate us, nor of the counter-culture, the Hippie movement of older brothers and cousins that was passing. He was entirely New and entirely Ours.

The irony is of course that he was not entirely New, far from it. David Bowie’s genius lay in his remarkable artistic ability to sift and riffle through the Twentieth Century and to fashion the Pop Culture odds’n’ends he found there into shiny new shapes that dazzled, and still do. These exquisitely cracked mirrors also served as a lens through which we could make some sense of the cultural shit-storm that made the Century so dizzying.

Like Andy Warhol – the subject of one of his finest songs – he seemed one of the very very few ‘modern’ artists who truly grokked (Google it) the times he lived through.

Bowie – like Miles Davis, like The Beatles – leaped so far forward with every release and dragged so many in his wake, his influence is still being analyzed and considered today. This influence is obvious, and immense. Would contemporary rock and pop sound the same without Bowie? Would Punk have so quickly ditched the yobbos for the art-students and forked out into indie, New Wave, post-Punk and all their sizzling tributaries without the possibilities he revealed and hinted at?

His latest album (and its videos) were created in the knowledge he was dying ­– it is littered with messages and farewells to us all. Even in the terrifying knowledge time was slipping away, he still performed.

If that is not an artist whose Life is inextricable from his Art, I can’t imagine what is. But that is what he has always been.

Bowie came into my life just in time to save me from Trinity Grammar School, and over the years, through the challenge, vision and plain ecstasy of his music, he has saved me over and over again.

Farewell.

Published January 2016 on megaphoneoz.com

 

 

 

Recently I took one one of those Facebook ‘challenges’ where one posts various pet picks every day. This one was ‘7 Songs in 7 Days’ – selecting songs or pieces of music which are significant to you.

Of course this could be interpreted in almost infinite ways, so I thought I would keep it simple and post seven songs that shaped me over the early part of my life as a fan and musician. I also included a song which shows that I continue to be shaped, maybe a little less cataclysmically, by music I hear up to the present day.

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#1: ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum

1970. I was 13, very geeky and more interested in model hot rods and Marvel comics than music.

Then this thing came on the radio.

To this day I wonder what possessed the producer to underpin this sappy hippie-happy-clapper song with such a malevolent, heavy, fuzzed out boogie. Spirit of the times I guess.

Whatever… I was hooked. Something about the sound of the guitar on this song – beyond the lyric (daft) or melody (perfunctory) – just got inside me and made 13 year old me feel strange, a little scared and yet, good. (By the time I took drugs a couple of years later, I had already felt their delicious disconnect through musical and visual art experience).

I dreamed about this song and waited and waited for it to reappear on 2SM and when it did, I stood before the radio in a trance for 3:47. There was nothing else like it on the radio, there was nothing else like it in the world.

Of course, as with most drugs, you need more, and more, and stronger. So the search was now on for The Sound. I didn’t have to wait too long…

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#2: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin

Through a strange quirk of misread marketing, disc jockey taste and the wrath of Odin, Led Zeppelin’s five and a half minute ‘Whole Lotta Love’ also came out of our radios in 1970.

Intended to be the B-side of the one vaguely ‘pop’ single on Led Zeppelin II, ‘Livin’ Lovin’ Maid’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was (strangely) preferred by radio station programmers. Once again, spirit of the times. Soon there was a trimmed down version being played but not before the full heavyweight opus had done irreversible damage to my child’s fragile eggshell mind.

A toughened up reading of Muddy Waters’ ‘You Need Love’ (or callous racist rip-off, your call), ‘Whole Lotta Love’ remains to this day, the template of hard rock for me. A full, phat and badass bottom end of bass drums guitar, with sky scraping vocal and nothing much in between (which is why I prefer Maiden to Metallica any day, and love working with women vocalists in my current bands).

Too much wonder in this mini-symphony: the scraping slide guitar figure in the chorus, the kick in the balls when JPJ’s bass enters, Jimmy Page’s scratching and spitting guitar break, Robert Plant’s animalistic howls and choir-girl sighs and John Bonham, just John Bonham.

And the middle bit. You know, the bit where your mind splits in two and sonic magma runs out.

The whole thing roars like a machine: dead on in purpose, yet frightening in potential. Chills me to this day.

Did its European-ness awaken some Germanic race-memory in me? Did it clad a scared schoolboy in Asgardian armour to do battle with Trinity Grammar School? Maybe – all I know is it knocked my fucking socks off.

After ‘Whole Lotta Love’ I was gone. What would the wond’rous radio ensnare me with next? It was about to get strange…

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#3: ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix

Still too young for a record player, I depended on the radio for my moments of musical satori. And there, among the Mary Hopkin and Brotherhood of Man pop fluff would come some dark jewels that made me shiver in my boots.

Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ (if mainly for the grinning sarcasm of his overloaded guitar break), Melanie Safka’s ‘Candles in the Rain’, The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ and The Four Top’s ‘Reach Out’ made life worth living, but it was ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that really made my hair (short, back and sides that it was) stand up.

Jimi Hendrix came to me fully formed, godlike and alien. His name alone was future-primitive and his music was something I had strangely always known, down in my bones. Ancient, flamboyantly filigreed and above all, fucking trippppppy. When I finally saw a picture of him, I loved him even more.

Producer Chas Chandler’s vision for this nightmarish Dylan tune was widescreen with sets by Dali and lighting by Cocteau. And Hendrix does it to perfection – his Dylanesque droop at the end of every line, his stoned but wise delivery, his space-ace blues lines throughout.

His guitar break seems to be a show-reel: whammy bar dips, wah-wah retorts and Curtis Mayfield-style lead-rhythm chops. Like the best late-period Beatles, Hendrix and Chandler fit almost too much in and it all works, every note.

A couple of years later, my mother threatened to jump out the window if I played ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ again, that loud. It made me renew my vows to Hendrix, as I have done regularly my whole life.

Oh, and it also made me want to get a guitar. But first, I would have to own a small Dansette-size record player. And a David Bowie LP…

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#4: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ by David Bowie

Bowie was our Beatles.

I was born a little too late for the first flush of Beatlemania and only came upon them after they had gone ‘serious’ and split up. The void was filled by Bowie.

Bowie, like the Beatles, was such a perfect Pop creation, and so utterly of his time that he became an iconic object of adoration for an entire generation, equal in fame and influence to the Fab Four.

Importantly, as with the Beatles, his art not only was blindingly brilliant and challenging, but also consistently led the pack, effortlessly breaking new ground with each new quantum release.

It has been said that Bowie was not more than a clever bower-bird, picking through the Twentieth Century and modelling the scraps and bits into new and shiny shapes. Even if that is true, which it may well be, those shapes blinded us to all else and gave us an almost religious hope.

I finally had a tiny, mono record player and my second album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, for Christmas. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’, from the Ziggy Stardust album, has that disconnected, collage feeling. Bowie sings from a Ballardian dead-night dystopiascape, yet, as the song rises, the feeling of hope rises.

Even though I was a straight little schoolboy and he was something from another planet, I felt – as i lay in the dark, playing this over and over – that he was speaking directly to me, and me alone. It is what I have in common with One Direction fans and indeed anyone who has become besotted with a Pop artist. Musical worth really comes a distant second to such ecstasy.

But soon I would have a Guitar. And my days as a shining-eyed fan would be numbered, as I would become a Musician. Sadly, after that, I could never really listen to music again the same, simple and sweet way.

Of course, it was all Frank Zappa’s fault…

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#5: ‘It Must be a Camel’ by Frank Zappa

Studying jazz and jazz-fusion guitar with Australian guitar shaman, John Robinson opened me up to music that buzzes me to this day.

All I wanted to do was play like the guy in Steely Dan but Robbo put me through the ringer – Boulez, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg. Heavy shit, Jim. And I greedily gobbled the lot and begged for more.

He also got me listening deeply into Frank Zappa – not the ‘comedy group’ stuff that had us in stitches as we loaded the next bong, but Zappa as a composer and musical mind.

‘It Must be a Camel’ is from the Hot Rats album and when I first ‘got’ it, it moved me deeply and fundamentally, as it does to this day. It is extraordinarily beautiful, yet of a beauty that only exists in its own world. If the mark of genius is to envision and create something that has not existed before, then ‘It Must be a Camel’ is that.

Rhythm, harmony and melody are pure Zappa and the band play it as if they jam this shit every day (gold star to drummer John Guerin, Joni Mitchell’s beau at the time – dig his drum break: tuned tom deeeeelite).

Zappa’s personal quirks and curdled world-view seemed to make him shy away from writing more swooningly beautiful music like ‘Camel’ in favour of jarring or shocking his listeners – but when he did (‘Watermelon In Easter Hay’) he could bring you to tears.

Through listening to this stuff, I became infected with that malady called Jazz. It took me a long time to fully recover…

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#6: ‘Funky Tonk’ by Miles Davis

I really took to jazz while I was studying with Robbo – I loved the harmonies, scales, rhythmic mathematics of it all. The stars of jazz blew my mind – Coltrane, Monk, Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter – and turned me into a kind of jazz zealot who would sniff dismissively at rock music and berate people for not knowing who the drummer was on ‘Milestones’. Yep, a royal pain in the jazz ass.

I had fallen in love with the Miles Davis Quintet’s albums Working, Steaming, Cookin’ and Relaxing and for Christmas asked my Dad for anything by Miles Davis – thinking that it would be more of the same: toughly swinging post-bop, elegant and sharp.

It wouldn’t be the first time Miles would throw me for a loop.

What Dad unwittingly bought me (at our local record shop!) was LIVE-EVIL, a cauldron of wigged-out electric, free rock that could not have been further from ‘Relaxing’. I still remember the jolt it gave me: I was all-at-sea, with this music thrashing and crashing around my ears.

Miles plays his trumpet through a wah-wah, the band leaps across hot coals. He had said to them “If I hear you playing any of that jazz shit, you’re fired…’

The utterly wildness and ‘fuck you’ element in this music shocked something out of my system: after I heard it, I was never the same again, musically, or personally – it seemed to express a permission to truly do your own actual thing. In spades.

My jazz nerd self realised I wasn’t in Kansas any more, and for the rest of my life, I have gone wherever Miles has led me…

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#7: ‘Pyramid Song’ by Radiohead

The last band that blew me away with any great force was Radiohead. And mainly the two very inspired albums they made within a few months of each other in 2000-2001, Kid A and Amnesiac.

The sense of adventure I took from these incredibly creative and idiosyncratic albums was the same as I felt from when I first came across Pink Floyd.

Radiohead seem to use every trick in their trick-bag, musically and production-wise on Kid A and Amnesiac: they both crackle with electronica and whim. And it all works exquisitely and elegantly.

‘Pyramid Song’ does not go for any sort of electronic palette, but simply uses piano, bass, drums and orchestral strings. Its stately grandeur rises from the urban space-port of Amnesiac like a cloud-castle.

I finish my seven days with this anthem to sorrow and beauty.

I remember one night with my hairy Hills District friends, sitting around in a circle at the Dural Memorial Hall. We were in a band and decided to sleep over the night before our rehearsal – somehow we had permission to do so (it was the freewheeling ’70s, not the nanny-state, actuary-driven 2010s) and we had no food or mattresses/sleeping bags – just music and dope. Tony Dunshea had brought his new quadraphonic record system and we sat in a circle with the quadraphonic (4 speakers for two ears) system in a circle around us.11032698_10204092489264108_5995010883240137524_n

We passed joints and bongs and got into a mindspace very receptive to the beauty of music. I dimly remember a David Bowie (and the Spiders from Mars) bootleg – shitty recording and a great version of “Hang Onto Yourself” and an awkward version of “Space Oddity”.

I very very clearly remember “Close to The Edge” – the YES track, a suite of tracks really, which covers side one of the eponymous album. The album sounds like nature – warm, myriad-leaved, churning with life (dig also the factory of Spring thudding in Igor’s “Rite of Spring”) – the intro alone, that of a humid forest’s insects and wing’d creatures buzzing & whirring & clicking until the crescendo bursts into sunshine and eternally returning Spring. The album moves through all the seasons and all the days of our lives – the frosty mornings, the golden afternoons, the endless rocky coasts (thank you, Roger Dean), the tiny city gardens.

We took it all in and talked about it, lying on our elbows and then we all shut up and were in our own private zones and zoning in our zones, and it was bliss to be all together as the music raised oaks and twirled vines among us all.

And into my life just at the right time comes Sydney’s On The Stoop.

Saxophonist/accordianist/vocalist Serge Stanley‘s 6-piece (sometimes seven, sometimes nine-piece) superband is my new favourite Zappa-flavoured, Spaghetti Western, gypsy-eyed, banjo powered, 1920’s/2040’s, Newtown,  Balkan wedding band. They are wild and silly, drunk and serious. They leave roomfuls of people with huge grins across their faces – people who really couldn’t give a shit about the jazz luminaries who people On The Stoop, people who should (and do) give a shit about Serge’s choicely barbed lyrics – sticking it to the bankers and wankers and wowsers and posers (while making your whole legs tap and jig).

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From Eastern European skirls to corduroy banjo songs, from truck-sized Big Leg Emma (Google her!) funky rockers to Da Blooz par excellence, I think I really do love it all. Their self-titled debut album is all this and more. Go buy it.

I asked Serge Stanley a few questions about the where, why and how of On The Stoop. And this is what he said.

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1. Where does On The Stoop come from; how did the band start?
A stoop is an American word for the stairs in front of a tenement building. I used to live in New York City from 2003 – 2007. Living the dream in the big apple made me write a lot of very dark songs, some of them while standing out front on the stoop. When I came home, Dirk our guitarist and a musician I have been playing music with for many years, suggested we call the band On The Stoop. The initial material we played was quite dark and brooding, reflecting my time in NYC. Gradually however the sound of the band however has gone through a kind of phoenix-like cathartic revolution. Our music has evolved to become uncompromising and ultimately optimistic. I’d like to make music that flies in the face of the madness and adversity that life can throw at us.
2. You have some heavy-hitters on board from the world of jazz and experimental music. How did you pick your players?
It’s true we are very fortunate to have musicians in the band who are as accomplished as they are. I’ve admired the playing of everybody in On The Stoop by seeing them play in other bands. The rhythm section is composed of the most versatile musicians I’ve played with. Many of my tunes have these massive atonal horn lines so it was fun getting people to play who wanted to play kind of semi-unusual stuff. As a saxophone player myself I’m influenced by jazz, even though I wouldn’t consider myself a jazz musician. So most of the people in the band inevitably have jazz and experimental music backgrounds. I’ve made squeaky noises previously in other experimental music bands so it wasn’t hard to incorporate that into On The Stoop as well.
On the Stoop33. I hear Balkan music, country, Zappa, 20’s jazz and raw blues in there. Where does your music come from?
I always wanted to be in a punk rock band. When I was a teenager I went to private school in the inner city. I remember cruising down Yurong St Darlinghurst in my school blazer in the 80’s and seeing all the dodgy looking rocker people. Skinny black jeans, lank black hair, lanky pale arms and legs. I wanted to grow up to be just like them. The obstacle was I was 13, living in the Eastern suburbs, was healthy and played clarinet. Since then I’ve always been perennially uncool. But I love punk rock. A lot of the music I like has a nihilistic, I don’t care energy in it. For that reason I’m influenced by musicians like Mark Simmonds, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy. Bands like The Buzzcocks, Wire, The Fall, The Beasts of Bourbon, Tom Waits, Howling Wolf, John Hurt, Captain Beefheart, Taraf de Haidouks and many more from all sorts of genres.

4. You seem to wrap your satirical and fight-the-power lyrics in rollicking good time music – is it more important to get the message across or to get people boogying?
These days I like to have a rollicking good time when I’m playing gigs so that’s the kind of music I’ve been doing lately. I’m not interested in whether people agree with my views, my ideas aren’t that unusual and we live in a free country. As long as I play well and have a good time and the audience likes it then that’s what I call a satisfying gig. Social justice is in this country is definitely on my mind as well. I guess it’s made it’s way into the tunes. I’ve always had a healthy distrust of preachers, and I think wiser people tend not to hang on to their opinions too tightly. However if you’ve got something to say and manage to say it respectfully and keep people listening and having a good time then you’ve probably done a good show.

5. What is next for On The Stoop?
I’d like to do some more touring. Our last few trips have gone really well. Lots of fun, the band had a good time and was well received. I’m writing a bunch of new tunes, got a lot of material for a new album. The new music is going to be pretty angular I think. Hopefully a little more dangerous. A lot rockier. The band is in a good creative position at the moment to stretch the paradigm to try some interesting things. Lately I’ve been listening to a band called James Chance and The Contortions and a Japanese 80’s group called The Plastics. I’m hoping my next recording will be inspired by a bit of that stuff.

6. What are you thoughts on music today: jazz in particular and the wider range of music in general?
I love the state of the music industry at the moment. In Sydney there are some wonderful musicians doing some very cool things. We’re lucky in this town to have such a great pool of talent. There is the tendency for us to think that there are better or more inspiring musicians overseas however that’s not necessarily true. I’ve certainly been massively inspired by the musicians in the local scene here. I’ve been getting into listening to random music on Spotify and have found some fantastic music I’ve never heard before. They say it’s hard to make a living as a musician, but it’s always been hard. So what’s changed? And that has never stopped me writing or playing.

Published May 2015 on theorangepress.net
 

I have seen recently departed blues grandmaster B B King live in concert twice in my life. The experiences were separated by almost forty years in time and by an unmeasurable distance in spirit.

The first time was at Sydney’s 70’s concert-box-du-jour, the Hordern Pavilion. It was 1976 and B B King was riding high on a crest of fame and massive popularity. The Rolling Stones – respectful blues lovers to a man, and riding pretty high in the early 70s themselves – had asked him to open shows for them across a 1969 US tour. Despite having been a working musician since 1949, King found himself suddenly massively popular among young rock music lovers.

And no surprise. He came across as an accessible, enormously charismatic and easily loveable face of the Blues. Unlike the rawness of Muddy Waters or the downright frightening (if tongue in cheek) hoodoo of Howlin’ Wolf – both of whom found new white audiences in King’s wake – BB was regal, proud and calmly righteous.

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Unlike the dangerous sexuality of John Lee Hooker, King’s sexuality was slow, sweet and erotic; not the dominant, subjugating act of many a Blues lyric but a true lovers’ twinning of souls. This was reinforced by the emblematic call-and-response of King’s singing voice and that of his guitar, Lucille.

King would declaim, plead, beg forgiveness, argue, seduce and Lucille would answer – high, sweet, needling in anger or in pleasure. Deep pleasure. The legions of (mostly white) blues guitar heroes that followed King missed this point almost to a man. Their guitar interjections were entirely unrelated to the conversational, dramatic flow of the tune and lyrics. Rather than entwining with their Lucilles they happily and noisily masturbated away into the void, oblivious to her needs. (Not all: Duane Allman got it; so did Mike Bloomfield).

The 1976 concert showed King to be a consummate professional. This was urban blues, not grimy collared country blues. This was bowtie suits, a crack band (Sonny Freeman’s show band, from King’s Live at Cook County Jail album) and chunks of well-rehearsed schtick. Which by no means took anything at all away from the blazing performances and time-stopping atmosphere of the show. It had the stop-watch precision of an Atlantic Records Soul review, but it also had B B King, whose sincerity, big big heart and humility filled the room, your head, the whole night, for that two hours.

It is remembered by 70’s Sydney rock fans as the concert where B B King collapsed. Halfway through the show, he sat down, wiped his brow with a handkerchief and apologised to us all, saying he just could not go on. He had been relentless touring the world and it had taken its toll; he needed to rest. Not a one of us called for our money back; the talk outside afterwards, in the fragrant haze of post concert spliffs, was concerned for his health. We loved him and hoped he would be ok.

I saw B B King again at the 2011 Byron Bay Bluesfest. He was the reason I had gone to Byron that year: to pay my respects to the man who made me want to play the guitar all those years ago. I also had wanted to be like him: a strong man, not brutal and physically powerful, but a man with a gentle yet unbreakable strength of spirit.

At Bluesfest, looking dangerously overweight, and appearing aged even beyond his 85 years, King was helped on after a twenty minute warmup by his band. For a further twenty minutes the King of The Blues struggled to sing and play his guitar. Despite flashes of the old strength and fire, B B was sadly off-game. The enlarged close-ups of his face on the screens both sides of the stage were meant to show his face in contortions of feeling and passion but they showed only frustration and eons of weariness around his eyes.

We are in an age now when any artist who has managed to stay alive for more than fifty years is a legend, an icon and a living treasure. Gleaming Halls of Fame are full of them. The down side of course is that, at an age when most humans are allowed to slow down and rest, these legendary artists are whipped around the world doing show after show. B B King’s recent controversies concerning his manager’s mishandling of his illness cast that meal-ticket circus mentality in a harsh white light.

B B King is at rest now. He has died and the world is hushed with mourning. The level and sincerity of the mourning – across demographics far from the Blues or even music itself – is as befits a Mandela or a Marley or a John Lennon.

What better testimony to the beauty of the man that he has transcended a music birthed in the dirt and pain of slave plantations to focus the world’s love like a lens. That is a beautiful man.

Published May 2015 on megaphoneoz.com and theorangepress.net

Queensland musician Ben Craven describes himself as a cinematic progressive-rock singer-songwriter-performer-producer. But internationally he is regarded as a true Prog Lord.

His last album – Great and Terrible Potions – was entirely created, performed and recorded by Craven. Great and Terrible Potions gained kudos from the international progressive rock community, including Beach Boys’ collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Cover art was designed by YES album-art wizard, Roger Dean and Craven’s album track ‘No Specific Harm’ was included on a UK PROG magazine cover-mount CD.

tuneleak1‘No Specific Harm’ sounded powerful and lush on its own, but set amongst the beautifully sequenced suite that is Great and Terrible Potions – complete with overture and coda-outdo – it is something else again: part of an experience as rich and dramatic as a film or novel. It is meant to be heard as part of the larger work – but in today’s world of fragmented, half-digested, fast-forward pop culture stream that experience seems almost lost.

Ben Craven has gone beyond just creating astounding, world-class music. He has applied some truly progressive thinking and some impressive web skills to creating his own digital music platform, TuneLeak – a unique hybrid of individual tracks and album-consciousness that allows listeners to absorb the album as it is being built, ever mindful of the symphonic architecture of the thing.

I asked Ben a half-dozen questions on this idea (and others). He was generous with his responses.

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1. What is TuneLeak?

TuneLeak is a release and funding platform for albums. It features albums as they’re being recorded. It allows artists to “leak” early versions of tracks, and fans to download and purchase them. When the album comes out, fans get a discount equal to the total amount they spent purchasing the leaked tracks.

2. What is the idea behind it?

I’ve been watching fan-funding models with interest for a long time. The ones I’ve supported in the past generally involve the artist asking for funds up-front, then they disappear for a while and eventually deliver an album, or a book, or whatever it might be.

I’m not all that comfortable asking people for money up-front. And I think the radio silence that can happen between funding and delivery is a wasted opportunity. I’d much rather see people get something for their money immediately, and often.

This idea fits in perfectly with the way I record albums. That is, I tend to take my time. The downside is for most of that time I’m sitting on music that I’m pretty excited about but have to keep to myself. TuneLeak is the excuse I need to release songs as I record them, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to be completely finished yet. Plus I get to engage with people during the whole recording process, so it becomes an event rather than a secretive activity.

3. Why is the idea of the ‘album’ so important to you?

I spent an unreasonable amount of my childhood and teenage years listening to music, both in the foreground and the background. I took many long journeys, figuratively speaking, absorbing albums from start to finish and embedding them in my consciousness. Most major events in my life I can remember by which album I was listening to at the time.tuneleak2

And that was before I started recording music myself. Now I see the album as a snapshot in time of a musician’s journey through life, and hopefully an important cohesive artistic statement.

Not everyone sees it that way of course, and it was much easier when I was younger and had a much smaller music collection to invest the time to appreciate it. One thing I’m trying to do with TuneLeak is to recreate some of those circumstances where someone can get to know an album gradually over a meaningful period of time.

4. Do you think platforms such as iTunes and Spotify are hurting music – or can all platforms, yours included, co-exist in a valid way?

Unfortunately for musicians, a new generation of listeners has grown up not paying for music. The horse has already bolted. Music now has no value. Spotify reinforces this notion by tapping into what’s left of the market and making it uneconomical for people to even bother pirating music. It’s terrific for consumers and might be a useful tool for discovery. But I don’t think any artist can reasonably expect to make any significant income from Spotify unless it’s part of a greater business model that includes touring, being a judge on television shows and endorsing fast food.

Another one of the aims of TuneLeak is to get listeners involved early-on during the recording process, so they can appreciate and feel invested in the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Maybe that way we can help promote the idea that music still has value.

5. Your chosen genre of Progressive Rock has seen many changes since its inception in the 1970s. What are your thoughts on the current state of the genre form?

I don’t know what the current state of the genre really is. On the one hand we have “progressive rock” which refers to an ambitious but static style of music that peaked in the early-to-mid seventies and featured fantasy-landscape artwork. And then we have “progressive rock” which is now applied to anything from metal to post-rock, whatever that is!

Today though I suppose “progressive rock” is a rallying cry to a specific audience which enjoyed the 70’s prog bands and finds little pleasure in any music in the charts today. That audience can be incredibly loyal and incredibly demanding, not least because most of them are probably musicians themselves. It’s not hard to imagine some of the classic prog bands feeling trapped within the genre, yet they’re incredibly lucky to have such devoted fans.

But ask anyone outside of that fanbase what “progressive rock” is and they’ll probably stare blankly at you.

6. And finally, what are you thoughts on music today in general?

There is still great new music being produced. It’s just harder than ever to find it amongst all the background noise. The old adage they tell you, that in the end it all comes down to the song, is wrong. It doesn’t matter one bit if you don’t have anyone’s attention.

 

Ben Craven’s site is www.bencraven.com

TuneLeak can be found at www.tuneleak.com