Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Beat-less is now more

If you listen to Spencer Leigh's On the Beat programme via BBC iplayer, you may have been puzzled to find that the show appeared to start mid-interview with Gerry Marsden and later gave way to a football match. The problem has now been sorted - hooray! - and you can hear the show in its entirety (two and a half hours) on iplayer until Saturday, so hurry.

If you haven't heard it before, and if you like the range of music described in this blog, I recommend On the Beat as a regular listen. Although there are references to local gigs you don't need to be in Liverpool to enjoy his interviews nor the wide knowledge underpinning them. At the end of his interview, Gerry Marsden even says that Spencer knows more about him than he does himself.

This week's is a characteristically rich mixture: in addition to Gerry Marsden (who has a bizarre anecdote about touring with Ben E King, painted as a kind of gangster), there is live music from Phil Brady and Mick Kinney singing Hank Williams then, shifting the tone a tad, an interview with Samantha Fox (more musical than you'd think), the whole concluding with a review of Ian Whitcomb's book Ukulele Heroes with another Radio Merseyside DJ, Billy Maher, uke in hand (rather the banjo above), to provide musical demonstrations.

Regular readers will know that Ian Whitcomb is another broadcaster (as well as writer and musician) whose catholic taste I greatly value; newcomers may wish to read a post about him here. And this is the cover of his book, Mr Whitcomb himself mid-strum on the left:

This final segment of the programme really becomes more of a general discussion about the instrument than a detailed review, although Billy Maher praises the book's scholarship, describing it as a fun read which he wants to read again - which is perhaps all the recommendation you really need. Spencer ties things together at the end:

SL: So to sum up, would you say that this was a book which would interest even non-musicians?
BM: Yes, definitely, definitely. The lifestories of composers and musicians are always good, and these are exceptional ...
SL: And they're told very affectionately, and there's lovely pictures of sheet music cover which I always like I just think the whole book has been done so lovingly and I enjoyed reading it an awful lot. And it puts these people in perspective - I hadn't really considered George Formby and Tiny Tim, Tessie O'Shea, and even the Beatles, together before.
Me neither, although it's in such programmes as Spencer Leigh's (link here) and Ian Whitcomb's (link here) that you can find any number of happy musical connections.

And, whether online and on air, I hope that both of these gentlemen continue unimpeded in their quest to share the riches of popular music with us for a long time to come. Ditto Russell Davies on Radio 2, whose programme also remains a delight. By way of tribute to Hal David, he played Stacey Kent's recording of What The World Needs Now last Sunday on his BBC Radio 2 programme last week. It's piano and vocal only, which brings out the simplicity and directness of the song. Davies said that he talked to Hal David once for his programme, and David confided that the song had taken him a couple of years - more specifically, the middle eight. He had been thinking of not needing any more buildings until he realised that they were manmade - and with that, mountains came to mind, and lo, the song was complete.

Generally speaking, Russell Davies' programme stops short just before rock'n'roll; hearing Johnny Preston's Running Bear on one show was quite a jolt. His usual focus is on old school songwriters - ie the type who wrote for other people, so Bacharach and David sort of fit. And where there is a question mark about authorship you can be sure that he will raise the matter.

Spencer Leigh also played a record in tribute to Hal David this week, and other records played in between sections in the current On the Beat included Louis Armstrong's take on You'll Never Walk Alone, Bob Dylan's recent tribute to John Lennon, not to mention Tiny Tim's unique performance of Nowhere Man, played during the Ukulele Heroes segment, and a demo from Christie, the group briefly famed for Yellow River, plus another airing of a recently discovered Rory Storm and the Hurricanes live recording.And - appropriately, once you have heard the Ben E King anecdote - the great man singing How Can I Forget?

Incidentally, I don't know whether it's deliberate or not, but there is a particular moment in the uke discussion which will please Ian Whitcomb, as Billy Maher rattles off a quick version of Lady of Spain, a composition by his uncle, as testified here.

To close, an unlikely conjunction, found on youtube but in keeping with the spirit of On the Beat. I mentioned a few posts ago that I was recently in the Panopticon, the Glasgow music hall which has recently been rediscovered. I bought a DVD entitled Music Hall Memories which featured some acts who had played on their makeshift stage recently.

I can't remember the performer's name, but there was a rendition of Ukulele Lady which seemed to transmit warmth. Bette Midler's recording was played during On the Beat, but when searching youtube for a clip, I came across a performance of the song by folk veterans which manages to weave into itself If Paradise Is Half As Nice, the Amen Corner hit which dates from my early years watching Top of the Pops when I knew not the doctrine of James Bolam, nor dream'd that any did. (Look, just read the previous post, okay?)

So this clip makes me think of the Panopticon and a pan-pop icon (well, sort of) but, most importantly, it guides me, like the above shows, to a place where warring musical forms melt into each other - somewhere, as you might say, where it's always fair weather.

Oh, and while we're on the topic of broadcasters who expand musical horizons, a word about Ken Sykora. If you sign up to the Ken Sykora Radio Station on Soundcloud you will get regular information about new uploads of the many broadcasts which Sykora preserved. About fifty programmes have been uploaded so far.