Saturday, 19 August 2017

Sir Bruce Forsyth RIP

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Sir Bruce Forsyth obituary: a TV presenter in a class of his own
Entertainer who began his career in variety and became an enduringly popular TV host

Michael Coveney
The Guardian
Friday 18 August 2017

Bruce Forsyth, who has died aged 89, was associated with some of the most successful shows in television history, from Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the late 1950s to The Generation Game in the 1970s and, for a decade from 2004, Strictly Come Dancing, a light-entertainment phenomenon that attracts a third of the viewing audience to BBC1 on a Saturday night.

As a compere, game-show host and fleet-footed comedian, he was in a class of his own, providing an authentic link between the old days of variety, where he started as a youthful sensation during the second world war, and the new craze for audience participation and reality television. He had appeared in variety (and indeed on the golf course) with the great Max Miller, admiring the way Miller put his foot on the footlights to lean over and reach out to the audience, but his real idol (and good friend) was Sammy Davis Jr, and he aspired to the same distinction as an all-rounder on the variety stage.

His flashing, sometimes tetchy-seeming, personality and distinctive “edge” paradoxically endeared him to audiences – he wasn’t lovable, or “cuddly” like Ronnie Corbett, for instance; he used the game-show participants or the celebrity dancers on Strictly to feed his own performance and impeccably timed double-takes (expressions of mock disbelief or patronising, po-faced quasi-pity), to the camera, in the style of Eric Morecambe.

Forsyth sometimes expressed regret at being sidetracked by game shows, but his stage career never really took off, and his films were few. His resilience as a personality on television, however, was remarkable. He bounced back from the disappointment of being moved to the afternoon schedules by television executives at ITV; there was a huge bust-up in 2000 when he left Play Your Cards Right and denounced David Liddiment, the new controller, as someone who had stripped him of his dignity.

But having launched a comeback as an unlikely guest host on the BBC’s satirical flagship Have I Got News for You in 2003, he regained his place in the national affection with Strictly, and in 2011 was knighted following a noisy public campaign.

He retained a trim, dapper appearance – his trademark Rodin’s Thinker pose in silhouette dates from The Generation Game – with his skateboard chin and natty moustache, and a hairstyle that had been remodelled over the years from tidy teddy boy quiffs at the Windmill theatre to an ever more carefully structured coiffure of corn-coloured thatch.

And he displayed a true vaudevillian’s talent for catchphrases; as Tommy Trinder (whom he succeeded on Sunday Night at the London Palladium) had “You lucky people”, or Arthur Askey “I thank-yeaow”, so Forsyth patented “I’m in charge” at the Palladium followed by “Nice to see you … to see you, nice!” and “Didn’t he do well?” on The Generation Game.

In a 2011 interview with Mick Brown in the Daily Telegraph, he attributed his longevity, and extraordinary energy, to his experience in variety: “This other person turns up, and thank goodness I’ve never known him to be late. He just gets into me, and I go and perform, and that’s what I do.” In 2013, at the age of 85, he became the oldest performer to appear at the Glastonbury festival, in the same year that the Rolling Stones also made a belated debut there.

Forsyth, who was born in Edmonton, north London, was the third child and second son of John Forsyth-Johnson, a relatively prosperous garage owner, and his wife, Florence (nee Pocknell), both Salvation Army members. He was educated at Latymer grammar school, Edmonton, but left without any qualifications, having become obsessed with tap dancing after seeing Fred Astaire movies at the local Regal cinema; he made a BBC television debut in 1939 on the Jasmine Bligh talent show.

On the outbreak of war, he was evacuated to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, but insisted on coming home after just three days, continuing his dance lessons with Tilly Vernon and even running his own classes in one of his father’s garages. He launched his career as Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom, at the Theatre Royal, Bilston, in Staffordshire, in 1942, wearing a satin suit made by his mother and playing the accordion, ukulele and banjo.

There followed a long, hard slog of 16 years of variety halls and summer shows around the country, interrupted only by two years of national service with the RAF in Warrington and Carlisle after the war (in which his older brother, John, was killed on an RAF training exercise in Scotland in 1943; his body was never found).

Forsyth, who led a busy and sometimes complicated private life, with a penchant for showgirls, singers and beauty queens, made his Windmill theatre debut in 1953, performing impressions of Tommy Cooper (already a cult figure); he also married one of the Windmill dancers, Penny Calvert, and they formed a song-and-dance double act.

During a third summer season at Babbacombe in Devon in 1957, another dance act recommended Bruce to their agent, Billy Marsh, and this contact with a key figure in the all-powerful Bernard Delfont organisation led to a booking on a television show, New Look, followed by the breakthrough Sunday Night at the London Palladium gig in September 1958; in black and white, and always broadcast “live” on ATV, Forsyth demonstrated his genius for improvisation and ad-libbing as he shuffled and chivvied the audience participants in physical competitions and word games in the show’s Beat the Clock segment.

On that first show, he also hosted the comedy act of Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss, the singers Anne Shelton and David Whitfield, and a fellow Windmill alumnus, Peter Sellers; a contract for three weeks was stretched to three years, and at Christmas he headlined the Palladium pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, alongside Charlie Drake, Bernard Bresslaw and the singer Edmund Hockridge.

By 1961 he was compering what he called the best ever Royal Variety Show –Kenny Ball, Morecambe and Wise, Arthur Haynes, Shirley Bassey, George Burns, Jack Benny, Davis, Frankie Vaughan and Maurice Chevalier; Forsyth read out a poem written by AP Herbert for the Queen Mother – and he was earning a then-enormous salary of £1,000 a week.

His jazz piano playing, influenced by George Shearing and Bill Evans, was better than competent, and his high level of versatility was fully apparent in 1964 when he made a cabaret debut at the new Talk of the Town (his impressions included Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Anthony Newley and Frank Ifield, as well as Davis) and starred in Little Me, his one West End musical, at the Cambridge.

Little Me, with a book by Neil Simon, songs by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, and choreography by Bob Fosse, involved Forsyth in seven roles and 29 costume changes as he played the various lovers of an old movie star, Belle Poitrine (Real Live Girl is the best known song). The show had starred the great Sid Caesar on Broadway but Bruce made the roles his own – they ranged from a virginal doughboy and goose-stepping movie director to a scaly old miser and billionaire newspaper baron. He scored a critical success, although the show ran for only 10 months.

A film debut followed in Robert Wise’s Star! (1968) with Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence – Bruce played her father and did a music hall turn with Beryl Reid as her mother – and Daniel Massey as Noël Coward, and then he stalled badly in Newley’s self-indulgent autobiographical fantasy Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969) with Joan Collins and Milton Berle. He showed up to better effect as a vivid spiv in the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), which starred Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson.

By now he was established on The Generation Game, an early evening “hook” (attracting a peak audience of 21m viewers) for the BBC’s now-legendary Saturday stay-at-home night of Doctor Who, Morecambe and Wise, The Duchess of Duke Street, Match of the Day and Michael Parkinson’s chat show. “Let’s meet the eight who are going to generate,” said Brucie, after encouraging his gorgeous blonde assistant, Anthea Redfern, to “give us a twirl”. (Redfern became his second wife; he had met her at a Miss Lovely Legs competition in a London nightclub.) The contestants (an older and a younger member in each of the four family duos) played for prizes they had to memorise as they passed by on a conveyor belt laden with kitchen appliances, fondue sets and cuddly toys.

During this decade, Forsyth also toured with his one-man show and realised a lifelong ambition in taking it to Broadway in 1979. The New York Times raved but other reviews were mixed and Forsyth never really recovered from being branded a Broadway flop with jokes older than Beowulf.

He was always uneasy with the press, which had relished his colourful private life. After his first wife, Penny, and one daughter sold stories to the tabloids, he instigated a 10-year ban on talking to them and made a digest of selected favourable commentary in the programme for his show when he reprised it at the Palladium, under the heading “Some Reviews You Might Not Have Heard About”.

In 1983 he married for the third time, to Wilnelia Merced – a model and beauty queen whom he had met as a fellow judge on the 1980 Miss World contest. He maintained his popularity throughout sundry ITV game shows in the 1980s before returning to The Generation Game in 1990 for four more years, with a new assistant, the singer/dancer Rosemarie Ford.

A lifelong golf fanatic, Forsyth lived in a house on the Wentworth Estate in Surrey from 1975; he could walk from his back garden straight on to the first tee of the golf course. In 2010 he appeared on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? programme, and was grimly affected – though he never shed a tear; he didn’t “do” crying – to discover that his great-grandfather, a landscape gardener, had deserted two families and died in poverty.

He was voted BBC TV Personality of the Year in 1991, and was made OBE in 1998, CBE in 2006 and a fellow of Bafta in 2008.

He is survived by Wilnelia, and their son, Jonathan Joseph, or JJ; by three daughters, Debbie, Julie and Laura, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce; two daughters, Charlotte and Louisa, from his second marriage, which ended in divorce; and by nine grandchildren.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Dead Poets Society #46

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Bagel Shop Jazz by Bob Kaufman

Shadow people, projected on coffee-shop walls
Memory formed echoes of a generation past
Beating into now.

Nightfall creatures, eating each other
Over a noisy cup of coffee.

Mulberry-eyed girls in black stockings,
Smelling vaguely of mint jelly and last night's bongo
Making profound remarks on the shapes of navels,
Wondering how the short Sunset week
Became the long Grant Avenue night,
Love tinted, beat angels,
Doomed to see their coffee dreams
Crushed on the floors of time,
As they fling their arrow legs
To the heavens,
Losing their doubts in the beat.

Turtle-neck angel guys, black-haired dungaree guys,
Caesar-jawed, with synagogue eyes,
World travelers on the forty-one bus,
Mixing jazz with paint talk,
High rent, Bartok, classical murders,
The pot shortage and last night's bust.
Lost in a dream world,
Where time is told with a beat.

Coffee-faced Ivy Leaguers, in Cambridge jackets,
Whose personal Harvard was a fillmore district step,
Weighted down with conga drums,
The ancestral cross, the Othello-laid curse,
Talking of Bird and Diz and Miles,
The secret terrible hurts,
Wrapped in cool hipster smiles,
Telling themselves, under the talk,
This shot must be the end,
Hoping the beat is really the truth.

The guilty police arrive.

Brief, beautiful shadows, burned on walls of night.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Can't Help Falling In Love
Just My Imagination

Da Elderly: -
I'm Just A Loser
In The Morning Light

The Elderly Brothers: -
No Reply
Mailman Bring Me No More Blues
When You Walk In The Room
It Doesn't Matter Anymore

A mostly packed night with plenty of players and an attentive audience. There were several new turns including an open mic debut by two young lasses who blew us away with their tight harmonies, excellent guitar playing and spot-on diction. Also a young lad surprised us by playing J J Cale's Call Me The Breeze and the bluegrass standard Momma Don't Allow. In recognition of the 40th anniversary of Elvis's passing, Ron gave a soulful rendition of Can't Help Falling In Love and had everyone singing along. The Elderlys went on at 11:45 and finished with a 'new' song - Buddy Holly's It Doesn't Matter Anymore. The usual unplugged session went on for a full hour. With a Neil fan or two in the house, I was able to indulge with a few rarities including Vampire Blues from my favourite album, On The Beach. The evening was complete when, during drinking-up time, the bar staff put Willie The Pimp from Frank Zappa's Hot Rats on the 'juke box'.

P.S. there will be no set lists next week as Ron is away and I shall be at SJP for the cup game.

Friday, 11 August 2017

David Grann - Killers of the Flower Moon - review

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David Grann – Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (352 pages, Simon & Shuster, £20) – review

Frank Black
11 August 2017

Years ago, I recall seeing Mervyn LeRoy’s hagiographic The FBI Story (1959), a fictionalised account of the birth and development of the FBI. It might not have been the greatest film ever but, as always, the presence of Jimmy Stewart made it palatable. One episode, however, stood out for me: the FBI’s role in putting an end to the killing of  Osage Indians in Oklahoma, who had suddenly been transformed by the discovery of oil on their reservation to the richest people per capita in the world in the early 1920s.
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Osage Indians meeting President Coolidge in 1924

Former New Yorker staff writer David Grann expands on the events of that period, highlighting the spate of murders which enabled local white men to bilk the Indians out of their new-found wealth, stories of which had spread far and wide, not always eliciting admiration: a feature in Harper’s Monthly Magazine warned, “The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.”

When oil was discovered on the reservation, prospectors had to lease lands from the Osage, who weren’t thought capable of handling their own financial affairs, so white ‘guardians’ were appointed to supervise them. These men were, it will come as no surprise to learn, often unscrupulous, money-grabbing crooks, who, despite being leading citizens among the local white communities and despite their profession of friendship to the Indians, would purchase items for their new best friends from either their own companies or those owned by friends or relatives at ridiculously inflated prices.

Tales in the national press of Indians spending thousands on luxury items were soon supplanted by those of an altogether darker nature.

The headrights to the oil remained with the Osage, but they could be inherited by family members, so whites married into the tribe and that’s when their venality plumbed new depths.
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Minnie, Anna and Mollie Burkhart

Grann’s story revolves around Osage women in the Smith family. Minnie died of a mysterious wasting disease at age 27; her sister Anna was murdered with a gunshot to the head in 1921; another sister, Rita, was killed alongside her husband in a bomb attack which blew up their home; their mother, Lizzie, died under similar conditions to Minnie. The remaining sister, Mollie, also took ill but managed to let a local priest know that she felt her life was in danger, not knowing that her husband, Ernest Burkhart, was one of the men at the heart of her family’s misfortunes.

The authorities who initially investigated the case were stymied by graft and corruption and were sometimes involved themselves; in two cases, white men who got near the truth were murdered  – one in Washington DC where he was seeking help, indicating the extent of the corruption and the rich rewards at stake.
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William K. Hale

If all this sounds straight out of the roaring twenties – corrupt officials and businessmen; gangsters, huge amounts of money; the murder of innocents; heroic FBI agents; national press coverage – it has never captured the imagination of the public and the popular media to the same degree as Al Capone, Elliott Ness and contemporary events in Chicago, although the chief antagonist, businessman William K. Hale, uncle of Ernest Burkhart and self-styled ‘King of the Osage Hills,’ was a charismatic figure who had the support and admiration of many of his neighbours, including – initially – the Osage, who had at first sought his aid in getting to the bottom of these mysterious deaths.
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Tom White

This is also the story of the nascent FBI. Even at this early stage, the bureau had been tainted by corruption during the Harding administration in the early 1920s; its new director, appointed in 1924, was the ambitious and zealous J. Edgar Hoover, who was keen that to make an impact and to this end, he appointed Tom White, an intrepid Stetson-wearing former Texas Ranger, who headed up a small group of similarly dedicated undercover agents to work with the Osage and investigate what became known as the ‘Reign of Terror.’ White was clearly a formidable-but-just character and was able to root out and bring to trial the villains of the piece in face of constant threats and appalling corruption. The FBI bathed in White’s glory and claimed to have solved the murder of 24 tribal members; in fact, the success of the investigation created an atmosphere of trust between the Bureau and Indians in general up until the late 1960s and early 70s when civil rights activism at Alcatraz and Wounded Knee brought them into conflict.

The final section of the book sees the author in Oklahoma visiting relatives of those killed, learning about the tribe’s own investigations and digging a little deeper himself to unearth more guilty parties, including the doctors who were 'treating' the Osages by poisoning them, and he comes to the conclusion long held by the tribe itself that the number of victims far exceeded the FBI’s figures and actually ran into the hundreds...

This well-researched book is part thriller, part journalistic account – and I have to say that I wish there had been a little more of Grann’s own enquiries amongst the modern day Osage – that shines a spotlight on a series of events almost forgotten outside of the Osage tribe and while this sort of thing has been going on in the Americas since 1492, it seems particularly pertinent considering the current struggle over the Dakota pipeline.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Last night's set lists

At The Habit York: -

Ron Elderly: -
House Of The Rising Sun
Dedicated Follower Of Fashion

Da Elderly: -
Romancing Tonight
Love Song

The Elderly Brothers: -
I'll Be Back
The Boxer
Then I Kissed Her
I Saw Her Standing There

It was a strange night at The Habit - plenty of players, but a dearth of punters until quite late on. Regular Deb surprisingly covered Dan Fogelberg's To The Morning from his 1973 debut Home Free. Dave from Leeds paid tribute to the legend that was Glen Campbell with covers of Gentle On My Mind and Wichita Lineman. Between our solo and duo sets I was asked to support taxi-driver Chris on Birds and Only Love Can Break Your Heart from Neil Young's 1970 classic After The Gold Rush. The Elderlys introduced a 'new' song Stay covered originally by The Hollies and later by Jackson Browne. Closing proceedings for the evening we finished, as we started, with a Beatles song.

And because we love you, here are last Wednesday night's set lists too:

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
One More Cup Of Coffee
Suspicious Minds

Da Elderly: -
Baby What You Want Me To Do
Harvest Moon

The Elderly Brothers: -
When Will I Be Loved
Then I Kissed Her
All I Have To Do Is Dream
Walk Right Back
Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues

Right from the off, the place was packed with punters and players, right up until last bus-time. Just as last week more punters arrived around 11:30 and we had a good crowd in until chucking-out. There was a fine array of players doing their own songs and covers. Two lads (acoustic guitar and electric bass) entertained us with The Ink Spots' I Don't Want To Set The Earth On Fire, Scarborough Fair (with flute replacing guitar at the end) and The Doors' People Are Strange. The Elderlys played on unplugged after the open mic had finished and the usual sing-song continued till closing time. A fab night once again.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Glen Campbell RIP

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Glen Campbell: the guitar prodigy represented the best of pop and country
The man Dolly Parton called ‘one of the greatest musicians’, who played with Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, was also one of America’s most relatable stars

Mark Guarino
The Guardian
Wednesday 9 August 2017

Glen Campbell may always be associated with hits such as Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman and statistics like 50 million in record sales, but the legacy he leaves behind is one even more expansive, spanning musical genres, time periods and even instruments.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum CEO, Kyle Young, told the Guardian: “Had he ‘only’ played guitar and never voiced a note, he would have spent a lifetime as one of America’s most consequential recording musicians. Had he never played guitar and ‘only’ sung, his voice would rank with American music’s most riveting, expressive, and enduring.”

In an emailed statement, Dolly Parton called Campbell “one of the greatest voices that ever was in the business”. “He was also one of the greatest musicians. A lot of people don’t realize that, but he could play anything,” she said.

Campbell, who died on Tuesday, aged 81, of Alzheimer’s disease, was a guitar prodigy at age 10. He spent his childhood on an Arkansas farm with no electricity, where he was the seventh son in a family of eight boys and four girls. Not one for manual labor, he left at age 16 and worked the south-west honky-tonk circuit for eight years until landing in Los Angeles. It was the early 1960s and his impressive guitar skills earned him a place in the Wrecking Crew, a collection of LA session musicians who played on hundreds of recordings for the era’s biggest names – Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke, Dean Martin, Simon and Garfunkel, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, and many others.

His guitar touched the landmark recordings of his time. That’s his rhythm playing on Sinatra’s Stranger in the Night, his comeback hit from 1966; his ringing lead riff on I’m a Believer by the Monkees; his guitar ringing out on Viva Las Vegas by Presley; and, on the Beach Boys’ landmark album Pet Sounds, Campbell’s guitar and vocals are heard throughout. His association with Brian Wilson was particularly fortuitous. The Beach Boys auteur co-wrote Guess I’m Dumb, Campbell’s first single. Even though the song failed to chart, Campbell joined the band for a five-month tour in 1964-65 where he replaced Wilson, playing his bass and singing his falsetto leads, after Wilson suffered a breakdown and refused to go on the road.

All that experience meant, by 1967, Campbell was a different kind of country artist. Despite a few attempts to go solo during the Wrecking Crew years, it took Campbell’s association with songwriter Jimmy Webb where he forged his own territory between country and pop. Songs like Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, and Where’s the Playground Susie told strong narratives, were draped in melancholy and, through the use of stirring string arrangements, transported the listener into three-minute dramas that had cinematic sweep.

Campbell credited the fact that he and Webb grew up within 150 miles of each another as one of the reasons why they had similar sensibilities.

“That’s what we grew up with – the good songs, the good lyrics, the good big-band stuff. I miss that era,” he told this writer in 2005. Webb’s “melodies and chord progressions were as good as anything I’d ever heard”.

As the Woodstock generation emerged later that decade and tastes changed, Campbell remained deceptively clean-cut despite his own demons. He was the type of star the crosscurrent of America could relate to. While his peers Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and other country stars claimed to be outlaws, Campbell’s songs were middle-of-the-road relatable, and often cast in a sad light.

Charlie Daniels said in an emailed statement that Campbell “filled a niche in American music that very few people have ever reached … He represented the best of the pop and the best of country, and he pulled people in from both sides. It was a great thing for country music, and frankly, for pop music”.

Campbell racked up 48 country hits and 34 pop hits under his belt between 1967 and 1980 – a remarkable accomplishment, considering such versatility in reaching both audiences predated the new country trend that Garth Brooks and others would develop in the early 1990s. Like Cash, Campbell hosted a popular television show that defined genres in the artists it showcased. When disco dominated the pop charts, he showed an uncanny ability to adapt by releasing Southern Nights, the Allen Toussaint song redone with a stomping dance beat, and Rhinestone Cowboy, which became ubiquitous at dance clubs and roller rinks across middle America.

“He was a multimedia star before almost anyone else – music, film, television, he mastered all of it with a totally unpretentious charm and joy,” said singer-songwriter Cait Brennan.

Once the hits dried up, Campbell struggled with alcoholism and turbulent marriage battles. He also became a born-again Christian and recorded religious albums while never cutting back on touring. By the late 1990s, he discovered a new generation of younger artists were citing him as an influence – partly due to a massive reissue campaign by EMI/Capital, but also to a new wave of interest in Americana music spurred on by artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Freedy Johnston, Michelle Shocked, and REM, who all happened to cover Wichita Lineman.

Songwriter Peter Himmelman said: “There are so many songwriters and players wondering how to ‘make it’ in today’s music industry. It’s not hard – just sing, write, and play your ass off like Glen Campbell, one of the greatest American music-makers ever.”

In fact, Campbell’s 2010 album, Ghost on the Canvas, released following his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, features songs written for him by latter-day rock statesmen Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices, Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, Jakob Dylan, among others, and features guitars by Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick. Campbell waited until this year to release Adiós, his final album, which came out in June.

On that album, for one more time, Campbell turned to the songs of his old friend, Jimmy Webb, among others including Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and Willie Nelson. The songs hold true to his early days, when AM radio emphasized songs, not the sound.

“I felt my music wasn’t aiming at anybody. Everything I was doing was because it was a good song,” he told this writer in 2005. “Music is music. It doesn’t matter if I am trying to aim at country or trying to aim at pop. I am just trying to do a song the best possible way I can.”

Saw him with a small band on his very last tour, after the diagnosis had been made public and there was a lot of love for him in the house. He occasionally stumbled and didn't always know where to put himself between songs but his singing and playing were in another world. I couldn't help wishing that more of his released songs hadn't been swamped by strings. Grown men cried when he played a stripped down version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Well, I did anyhow. RIP, Glen.

Here you go:

Friday, 28 July 2017

Wednesday night's set list

At The Habit, York: -

Bouquet Of Roses
Hold Back The Tears

With Ron away there was no Elderly Brothers set this week. The place was full for most of the night until just after 11pm when it thinned out rather unexpectedly. One or two players who had brought friends all left to catch last buses I guess. The audience were very attentive and keen to join in with songs they knew. Regular Tony got them singing along with The Boxer and Deb with Hard Times. Taxi driver Chris who usually sings acapella was accompanied by our host and got everyone singing Dock Of The Bay, Let's Stay Together and a sublime Summertime. As everyone was having such a great time I introduced my set as "two of the most miserable songs" I could have chosen and assured folks that things would improve when I'd finished. Shortly afterwards I was stunned when a stone-wall George Jones lookalike walked in - it would have made a great FNBs moment, but I doubt anyone else in The Habit noticed. After the open mic finished someone asked if anyone knew Harvest Moon, it appeared we had some late-coming Neil fans in the house! There followed a run through most of Zuma and excerpts from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After The Gold Rush, Harvest and On The Beach with vocal and instrumental support from audience and players alike. I do enjoy a full-on Neil session.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Station East, Gateshead - Tuesday night's set list

At the Station East, Gateshead: -

Out Of The Blue
The Road That You're Travellin'
Once An Angel
Never Let Her Slip Away
You're Sixty*
Tell Me Why
I Don't Want To Talk About It
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Things We Said Today

Returning to the Station East for another night of open mic fun, about a dozen or so punters and players filled the back room. The 2 hosts held the floor for the first hour, including an unexpected and very creditable attempt at Layla.
To much amusement, I introduced You're Sixty* by explaining how unseemly it would be of me to sing Johnny Burnette's classic with the original lyric You're Sixteen!!

The photo was taken at last week's event and recently posted courtesy of Jason Toward Photography.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Long Road from Jarrow by Stuart Maconie - review

The Long March from Jarrow by Stuart Maconie review – ‘a tribute and a rallying call’
In retracing the steps of the Jarrow march of 1936, Stuart Maconie finds that much of the past remains with us

Rachel Reeves
The Guardian
Monday 24 July 2017

“Our people shall not be starved … If we cannot do this, what use are we as a Labour party?’ asked Jarrow’s MP, Ellen Wilkinson, at the Labour party conference in October 1936. To make her speech she had dashed to the conference in Edinburgh from the route of the Jarrow Crusade, an event that has “stitched itself into the warp and weft of British history”, as Stuart Maconie elegantly puts it. Jarrow, an industrial town on the south bank of the Tyne, had seen the closure of its steelworks and shipyard, leaving 80% of its population unemployed. Wilkinson helped organise a march of 200 men from Jarrow to London, to present a petition to parliament demanding jobs.

The question Wilkinson posed encapsulates the thrust of Maconie’s Long Road from Jarrow, a social commentary reflecting on the parallels between the 1930s and today, as he retraces the steps of the marchers. His book is an exercise in giving the mundane its beautiful due, to use John Updike’s phrase.

Walking for most of the journey, Maconie traverses the contours of A-roads and rambling countryside from north to south, meeting a wide range of people along the way. He speaks to a restless waiter in a Ferryhill curry house about his “feeling that there must be something more, something else out there”, who has an urge “to see a bit of the world”, but resolves: “I suppose I’ll stay here.” He talks to a member of the Darlington Women’s Institute, who as a little girl in 1936 became convinced that a tent peg she found in a field belonged to the marchers. In Wakefield, he reflects on the role of religion in establishing communities as he receives the generous hospitality of the Sikh Gurdwara. And in Bedford, he learns of the family history of a pizzeria waiter in “the little Italian provincial town”, formed by a wave of immigration during the 1950s.

The book is a celebration of a certain kind of approach to politics – one of sympathy and personal connection with working-class people – which was championed by one of the first women in parliament, Ellen Wilkinson. She was a passionate feminist and socialist committed to the Labour party and to advancing the position of the working classes. Earning the nickname “Red Ellen” owing to both her politics and her flaming red hair, by 1936 she had become one of the most famous women in the country.

As Maconie’s book attests, the question posed by Wilkinson in 1936 is just as relevant for Labour now as it was then. In 1936, economic depression, unemployment and hunger were everywhere. One of the marchers was witnessed packing the ham from a sandwich he had been given into an envelope to send back home for his wife and children, who hadn’t eaten meat in weeks. Today, while unemployment levels are low, we live in a society in which work does not guarantee the absence of poverty, with a sharp rise in self-employment and zero-hour contracts; under austerity, the number of people going to food banks has soared with the Trussell Trust giving out more than a million food parcels last year. As Maconie writes: “The 30s in some ways start to look very much like Britain today, once you’ve wiped away the soot and coaldust.”

Maconie argues that class is still the defining division of British society. He also reflects upon the north-south divide as he travels from the ex-industrial northern towns of Jarrow, Ferryhill (“a mining town with no pit”) and Barnsley, to the southern market towns and suburbs of Market Harborough and Edgware. With London receiving £5,000 more per head of capital investment than the north-east, it is no wonder that marginalised northern communities voted predominantly to leave the EU in 2016. In the aftermath of the closure of the mines and the emasculation of the trade unions by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, once cohesive communities have been dissolved and fractionalised. Wilkinson saw the impact that this dislocation had on Jarrow in 1936 and you can see it today in many towns across northern Britain. Mining communities in their heyday cultivated social bonds and a sense of intimacy that have since been eroded. Maconie recalls that in a conversation with a group of ex-miners, one of them could still remember the pit number of every single one of his fellow workers.

In 1936, Labour was so anxious to dissociate itself from what it considered to be communist hunger marches that it condemned the Jarrow Crusade. Two years earlier Ramsay McDonald, then leader of the National government, had urged Wilkinson to look at the bigger picture: “Ellen, why don’t you go and preach socialism, which is the only remedy for this?” Wilkinson viewed such a response as “sham sympathy”, devoid of human feeling and connection with the very people who sustained the life force of the Labour party. Yet simultaneously, she recognised that the poverty of her own constituency was part of a bigger picture that demanded urgent reform: “Jarrow’s plight is not a local problem … it is the symptom of a national evil.” The personal was political.

When Wilkinson and the rain-battered marchers arrived in London after 26 days on the road to present their petition to parliament, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, refused to meet them. Wilkinson was grief-stricken by the abandonment of her constituents by parliament and her party, and was seen “sobbing broken-heartedly” in a quiet street near Westminster.

The last survivor of the Jarrow march, Con Shiels, who died in 2012, said it “had made not one hap’orth of difference” and had been a waste of time. It may not have been a political victory, but it was a personal one; it re-established social bonds between people – the marchers and their communities at home. When Wilkinson returned to Jarrow, she was greeted by waves of cheering and triumphant crowds. As someone Maconie spoke to in a pub in Ferryhill recognised: “It achieved something in that we’re talking to you about it now.” And in talking about it by walking in their footsteps, by viewing the march through the filter of “the roads, tracks, streets and riverbanks they walked … the pews, pubs, cafes, and halls they visited”, Maconie’s book is not only a heartfelt tribute to Wilkinson and the marchers, but a reaffirmation of the role of the personal within the political, and a rallying call for anyone stirred by the story of Jarrow.

• Long Road from Jarrow: A Journey Through Britain Then and Now by Stuart Maconie is published by Ebury (£16.99). 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

John Heard RIP

Image result for john heard
John Heard Obituary

Frank Black
25 July 2017

John Heard, who has been found dead in a hotel room after back surgery, is probably best known for his roles as the father in the Home Alone movies and as Tom Hank's adult rival in Big. In more recent years, his on-screen appearances have become marginalised, mixing 'guest star' roles in serviceable television shows like CSI Miami and The Chicago Code with awful cinemtaic fare like Sharknado.

A look at his whole career, however, reveals an extremely talented actor, initially on stage in controversial plays like Streamers and G R Point, before moving into film with Joan Micklin Silver's excellent Boston underground newspaper drama, Between the Lines in 1977. He played Jack Kerouac opposite Sissy Spacek and Nick Nolte in Heart Beat and followed it with one of his best roles as the obsessed alcoholic Vietnam veteran Alex Cutter in Ivan Passer's conspiracy noir, Cutter's Way, alongside Jeff Bridges; this was a film so imbued with the intelligence and ideals of late 60s - mid 70s American cinema that it comes as a shock to realise it was released in 1981. The studio originally wanted Richard Dreyfuss for the role and - allegedly - Passer went to see him as Iago in the Shakespeare in the Park production of Othello, but he was more impressed with Heard's portrayal of Cassio. The roles that followed varied from those obviously targeting box office success, like Big, to more mature fare, such as his excellent cameo as the mysterious bar owner in Martin Scorsese's underrated After Hours and Robert Redford's take on John Nichols' magic realist novel, The Milagro Beanfield War.

In latter years, good roles in good films were few and far between, but he was remarkable in Bernt Amadeus Capra's Mindwalk, a daring philosophical three-hander that is, in essence, a conversation about potential and perspectives on various social and political issues facing the world.

He had a long career in television too, from guest-starring in shows like The Equaliser to meatier roles such as Abe North in Dennis Potter's less than wonderful 1985 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night for the BBC, where his performance was head and shoulders above anyone else's. His best role in recent years was surely as, Vin Makazian, the detective who was Tony's informant in The Sopranos - before he committed suicide during a bout of depression.

In 2008, he told, "I think I had my time. I dropped the ball, as my father would say. I think I could have done more with my career than I did, and I sort of got sidetracked. But that's OK, that's all right, that's the way it is. No sour grapes. I mean, I don't have any regrets. Except that I could have played some bigger parts."

Friday, 21 July 2017

Wednesday night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Just My Imagination
The River

Da Elderly: -
You've Got A Friend
I Don't Want To Talk About It

The Elderly Brothers: -
The Price Of Love
All My Loving
I'm Into Something Good
I'll Get You
Mailman Bring Me No More Blues

Another fun night at The Habit open mic with plenty of players and a constant turnover of punters, the last hour being extremely busy. Regular players entertained us with superb renditions of seldom-heard tunes: Deb with Christine McVie's Songbird and Dave with CSN's Marrakesh Express. A young chap pitched up with a ukulele and brought the house down with his 2-song set: a medley of Scottish fiddle tunes and an amazing Honey Pie (from The Beatles White Album). The Elderly Brothers dug out a couple of tunes which we haven't played for a while by The Beatles and Herman's Hermits. An unplugged session followed for the final hour with several punters joining in. As always, a most enjoyable night.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The Station East, Gateshead - Tuesday night's set list

At the Station East, Gateshead: -

I'm Just a Loser
Into The Light
Love Song
In The Morning Light
Is It Only The Moonlight?

A new venue and a new open mic night. In the back room of the bar the acoustics are, well, boomy to say the least, but everyone coped admirably. The majority of players were, I think, from The Sage music school and some fine skills were on show. There was even a saxophonist who accompanied one or two of the players. At about 10:15 some of the 'lads' from the Cumberland Arms arrived and an unplugged jam session ensued. A fun night!!