Monday, 30 January 2012

Bottom feed

Not sure how long it's going to be up for, and not sure whether it's only available in the UK, but the Guardian website is currently making available a live stream of Paul McCartney's new album of standards, Kisses on the Bottom. I am listening to it and not sure what I think of it yet, but if so minded you can hear it here.

I'll report back later. But it does occur that here is an alternative to the fantasy Beatle album of tracks taken from the the quartet's first solo efforts. Apart from Lennon - unless he sang a snatch of Scatterbrain in an interview, perhaps - the rest have recorded standards. Yes, George Harrison too: he's recorded the Hoagy Carmichael song Baltimore Oriole and Hong Kong Blues (the latter also covered by Jerry Lee, incidentally), not to mention Harold Arlen's Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea. Cherry pick from Ringo's Sentimental Journey then listen to Macca.

New Rock-It Radio Shows

Having an unpleasant task to do today, involving a long-delayed cleaning duty, I stocked up with  MP3 downloads of Rock-It Radio shows to make the time pass more agreeably. I've already written about Clarke Davis' show celebrating the prelapsarian pop, rock'n'roll and soul of 1963, but today I was particularly struck by - and grateful for - an edition of Denny McConnell's Music of Your Mind show, numbered #3994 - uploaded here on the 29th January, so it will be available for a while. Unlike some other Rock-It shows, nothing particularly rare but a very high quotient of doo wop records which I had loved for a long time. There isn't a tracklist on the website yet but if you haven't dipped your toe into the chilly waters of doo wop yet it could be a good place to start.

And for those wishing to hear the music of the late Johnny Otis, there are two separate shows commemorating his music currently on Rock-It - I don't imagine he will feature on Radio 2 over the following week, somehow. And where else would I have found out that his recording of Harlem Nocturne was a standard arrangement, as recorded earlier by Ray Noble, only speeded up a little by Otis?

Although I've mentioned Rock-It from time to time in this blog, I don't think I've been vocal enough in my appreciation. Do check it out if you like fifties/early sixties music, as you will find a huge amount to entertain you. There is merchandise you can buy on the website or you can buy good quality CDs of the shows - the downloads are pretty lo-fi, although for me that's part of the charm.


I didn't mean chilly, did I? I meant murky. Sonic murk.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

King Monster or He Never Could Forget

Heard this song on a recent edition of Clarke Davis' The Big Show on Rock-It Radio and couldn't resist sharing it. I didn't know who the writers were but am not surprised to learn it was a Goffin and King composition. It's witty and initially I couldn't quite tell whether it was a sendup - though I suppose the real answer is that it is and it isn't.

The essential joke is that just as parents react in horror to rock'n'roll in general, by 1963 (Clarke's current shows mine the lesser known songs from that year) the form had been  around long enough for older teens to feel nostalgiac about the dances which they learnt, back in what for them were the good old days, being supplanted by the likes of the twist:

I remember
You looked like a queen
You were only sixteen and so sweet then

I remember
How your eyes caught my glance
As we started to dance to the beat then

It was heaven
We were angel with wings on
Or devils with springs on our feet then

I'll never forget
The night that we met
And I did the ma - a - ashed
Potatoes with you

You were dancin'
With some other soul
And I went and I stole you from him then

I remember
How you held me so tight
When they dimmed every light in the gym then

It was magic
Though your kiss made reel
So it still made me feel so in trim then

I'll never forget
The night that we met
And I did the ma - a - ashed
Potatoes with you

As the saxophone played
And you told me you cared
And together we sha - ared a pizza
Just to know you were there
Was too much to bear

Now we're older
And the music is changing,
The dances are strange to our feet now

I get dizzy
Cause we go round and round
Back and forth up and down  to the beat now

Though we're twistin
I'll remember forever
One dance that we'll never repeat now

I'll never forget
The night that we met
And I did the ma - ashed
Potatoes with you

Then there's a great spoken outro, with just the right balance of crazed conviction and hint of amusement:
Honey, now everyone's dancin' the twist, and the stomp, and the bird - and even the watusi. But honey in this heart of mine there was only one dance with soul, and that was the ma - a - ashed potatoes. Oh honey the mashed potatoes was the only dance that ever had any soul at all, and honey you knooow what I'm talkin' about ...

And off he fades into Goffin-assisted immortality.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Good news about local radio cuts

Good news in my hard copy of the Guardian today, which I can share with you via the magic of the internet.

Other listeners to Spencer Leigh - and local radio fans in general - will be pleased to know that
Lord Patten is poised to announce a financial reprieve for the BBC's 40 English local radio stations, which are facing £15m of cuts that would have prompted changes including the merger of neighbouring stations' off-peak programmes.

The chairman of the BBC Trust will address the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday, and he is expected to ask Mark Thompson, the director general, to find money to mitigate cuts that would have led to the loss of 280 jobs.
You can read the full article here. [Update: BBC news page including audio clip here.]

But we're not out of the woods yet, as it remains to be seen how much money will still be cut, as the article continues:
BBC local radio insiders gave the news a cautious welcome. One BBC source said that any reversal of the planned cuts would be welcome but added that employees would want to see the detail. "If they only knock £1m or £2m off the savings target then it will only be scratching the surface. If they were talking about £5m coming back [leaving cuts of £10m] then you would start to see that making a real difference."
And will specialist music shows such as Spencer Leigh's On the Beat necessarily be among those saved, if cuts still have to be made somewhere?
The source added: "All eyes will be on what they want us to save. Is it the lunchtime show, is it the quality of the journalism, or is it a bit of both?"
But it's the first bit of good news about this situation, and an indication (I hope) that the protests of listeners to Radio Merseyside and other local stations have registered with the Beeb.

And looking at Spencer Leigh's website, here, I see that advance notice for On the Beat shows now goes up to February 25th. In fact, here are all the forthcoming editions currently listed:
Saturday 28 January 2012 (5.30-8pm) - My Darling Clementine, the country duo featuring Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, Curtis Stigers, plus a guitar pull from Kevin Littlewood (writer, "On Morecombe Bay"), Ian Prowse (Amsterdam) and Ethan Allen.

Saturday 4 February 2012 - Tony Cartwright (Part 1), the Huyton boy who managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck and associated with the Rat Pack and Elvis Presley

Saturday 11 February 2012 - Tony Cartwright (Part 2)

Saturday 18 February 2012 - Michael Hill who went to school with John Lennon

Saturday 25 February 2012 - Juke Box Jury

Link to most recent On the Beat here.

Update 26/1/12: 

A further article posted on the BBC website, here, seems to be saying that financial cuts will be minimal:

The Trust conclusions mean the BBC Executive must find an extra £10m a year to 2015 to replace the savings it would have made through these specific cuts. The Trust wants the money found through efficiency savings rather than output reductions.

But the Trust is not demanding complete abandonment of the plan for afternoon programme sharing between local radio stations in regions of England. Lord Patten said: 'We accept that in some cases that might still be the best option.'
Nevertheles, with specific regard to shows like Spencer Leigh's, the good news is that
The Trust also wants the BBC to try to retain more of local radio's specialist off-peak content and to minimise projected cuts in local radio newsrooms.
So I think we can be reasonably optimistic.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Serendipity in Cyberspace (Ken Sykora documentary)

Other fans of Ken Sykora (I wrote about him earlier, here) will be interested to know that a documentary, The Man With the Jazz Guitar, has been made and that The Ken Sykora Radio Station is being launched on mixcloud - go to mixcloud and put  his name into search. At present there is a kind of sampler lasting about twelve minutes with snippets from various shows and family members talking, but I hope that full editions of Serendipity with Sykora may be available at some point.

He kept copies of more than 300 programmes throughout his career (about a tenth of his output) so fingers crossed. Because of my vintage and where I grew up it was those Serendipity programmes on the newly formed Radio Clyde which I remember, but the likes of Paul McCartney would have listened to the BBC's Jazz Club

You can find out more about The Man With the Jazz Guitar here. The site includes the information that his personal archive includes 3 complete Guitar Clubs from 1958 and 1960, his first Django programme of 1956 and his appearance on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs. You will find on the documentary site links to some teaser clips of the film, and Radio Clyde's Andy Park appears, talking about working with him:

Ken was far and away the best programme maker, I mean he could have been an essayist or a storyteller. He could have been an architect sometimes I thought, because his programmes were so thoroughly well planned: he knew everything that was going in there from the word go and they were a joy. I never had to edit them or anything like that.

To close, an edited extract from my previous blog post about Ken Sykora, originally part of a series commemorating broadcasters who influenced my musical tastes:
He possessed an intimacy of manner perfectly suited to late night listening, fostering the illusion that the broadcast was intended solely for you.The title of his programme allowed him to play whatever he wanted, assuming some chance connection with the previous piece could be found, and the result was a beguiling mixture of novelty songs and jazz, knitted together with odd anecdotes and what came across as an absolute ease in the studio. I really wish I'd taped some of those shows at the time; alas, I have no record of any of them. It felt like a friend was informally guiding you through some records he happened to like, saying whatever came into his head about them or any loosely related matter, wholly at ease.

He was very fond of Peggy Lee but it's the oddities I remember: it was Serendipity which introduced me to Spike Jones and His City Slickers, in particular Cocktails for Two. Some records such as Hoagy Carmichael's version of Barnacle Bill the Sailor straddled the novelty/jazz divide, with Bix Beiderbecke and others blowing wildly between the verses - and Sykora had an eye for the pleasing detail, informing us that the use of a rude word - "I can't swim a bloody stroke" - had caused this to be banned at the time.

On the down side he seemed inordinately fond of the Stargazers, or maybe it's just that songs like Twenty Tiny Fingers and Close the Door, They're Coming in the Window (featuring what sounds like the return of Barnacle Bill), once heard, cannot easily be forgotten. To counterbalance that, the Lovin' Spoonful's Nashville Cats,  a paen to guitar picking, was a particular favourite of his.

I can remember the keen pleasure of the programme, the seemingly endless new (to me) discoveries it contained, but I've no idea how long it ran. I've got a feeling, in fact, that he was shifted to an earlier slot for a programme specifically about the big bands, but have no idea whether this was a matter of choice. I enjoyed that programme, too, although it meant the element of unpredictability which made the Serendipity show so enjoyable was lessened. But it strikes me now how artfully assembled his programmes were: those novelties were a way of hooking the casual listener into a programme which had no artificial musical divisions.

What was most important about his programme was a sense that the music and personality were one and the same - that you didn't wait for one to be over so you could enjoy the other - and that you were happy, above all, simply to spend time in his avuncular company. His sign-off - "From me, Ken, adios" - always seemed personal to you.

Update 18th Jan: 

The good - very good - news is that complete editions of Serendipity with Sykora will indeed be included on the Ken Sykora Radio Station.

Update 24th Jan: 
You can listen to Ken Sykora's 1956 BBC programmea about Django Reinhardt on mixcloud here.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Eric and Ernie by Peter Bowker with Victoria Wood as Sadie (repost)

This is a repost as Peter Bowker's drama has recently been repeated by the BBC. The link to the BBC player at the end of the first part below still works - the programme will be available to watch again on iplayer for a further four days, if you haven't seen it.

This isn't really to do with music - or only with music as an incidental ingredient - but I feel compelled to write something about Peter (not David) Bowker's dramatisation of the early years of Morecambe and Wise which was shown on BBC 2 last night and will presumably be available to readers in the UK for a further week on the BBC's iplayer here.

As with Beatle-related biopics I am both helped and hampered by my knowledge of the subject, so that it's hard to judge it - or, indeed, to submit to simple enjoyment.

Others can do that. Mine is another voyage.