Thursday, 21 March 2013

Insight: The People. The Sounds. The Blogpost. (BBC 6 Music documentary series on iplayer)

I've really been enjoying the Insight series on BBC Radio 6 Music. You can find a guide to the currently available epsiodes here; the image above is just a screengrab. But hurry, as some are disappearing in a matter of hours or days.

I don't know when they were first broadcast - I mean originally, presumably on Radio 1 - but the fact that Pete Drummond is doing the portentous opening announcements suggests it wasn't all that recently. Late seventies, maybe? But don't let Drummonds' tones put you off because these hour long programmes are, at least the ones I've heard so far, little gems: very clear guides to musical genres, record labels, groups or individuals.

With the odd bit of quirkiness thrown in. There's a two part interview with Marvin Gaye, for example, where the star's responses remind me a bit of the beguiling - and mildly disturbing - raw footage of Jerry Lee Lewis which can be seen on the extras if you buy the big box set version of Taylor Hackford's documentary of Chuck Berry: both men are delighted by their own wit and not too bothered about how clear their intentions are to the listener. And it's a fair bet that neither has a PR person from their record company hovering within a five mile radius.

Asked if (I think) Mickey Stevenson is a mentor, Gaye professes ignorance of the term, asking if that's "like a tormentor", to which Gambo, perhaps not getting it, replies "That's for you to say." Did Marvin like working with Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol? Fuqua he knew from his time in the Moonglows but as regards Bristol he has difficulty working with people he doesn't respect - not that that applies to Bristol; he's just choosing, he says, to make a general observation at this point. "He's okay, you're okay, everyone's okay, I've read that book (chuckles)."

Actually, I'm doing Gaye a disservice: he is actually coherent, unlike the Ferriday Fireball; it's more that he just doesn't have the usual layer of caution or awareness which causes most performers to consider the implications of their words being broadcast to the nation. And Gambo's - well, not po-faced, but he is a natural straight man. So to speak. Actually, instead of Jerry Lee, maybe a better comparison is with Gerard Hoffnung and the American who interviewed him, ran with his flights of fancy, tried to stop him floating away altogether.

Anyway, no point in talking about that episode too much, as it seems to have gone from iplayer already, unless Part 2 is about to be broadcast.

Still currently available is a documentary about Sun Records presented by Charlie Gillett, with contributions from Roy Orbison, Sam Phillips, Rufus Thomas and others. Of course I know the essential story, and if you are a reader of this blog the chances are you will too, but like other docs in this series it's a reminder and a refresher, it's so well and clearly told that it enhances your knowledge, and coming across the familiar recordings in context makes you remember just why they are so good. I had a similar feeling during a programme about Norman Petty, when he was talking aobut setting up the recording of Peggy Sue, and suddenly there it was, and suddenly you're listening to it through Petty's ears as it's being recorded. This is worth any number of plays on one of those rather tarnished "Gold" stations where several decades have been stirred into the same soup.

The programme about New Orleans, also introduced by Gillett, benefits from having Allen Toussaint as a guide: again, he reminds you of what you already knew, whether or not you have articulated it to yourself: the rightness of the combination of Fats Domino's voice and piano; he even demonstrates for you the difference between Domino's playing and that of Huey Lewis; and Earl Palmer is on hand to talk about his drumming and where it comes from. Having absorbed the style from being brought up in New Orleans, hearing the playing at funerals he and fellow musicians had something which was ingrained, and sounded stilted if played by other musicians forced to read. And then, listening to selected recordings, you are suddenly aware of how very simple they are, in one sense, yet carrying with them something which can't really be explained.

There are also interviews with Roy Wood, including some very early recordings, and Fleetwood Mac, in what appears to be a single group interview conducted by Alan Black (remember him?). These are both decently done, but it's the New Orleans programme, maybe because it's the last one I've listened to, which sticks in the mind. At the time of writing it's available on BBC iplayer for another two days only, so hurry.

Normally I'd trick out a post like this with various youtube clips. I won't do that this time, but I do urge you to try the Insight series. Hearing the records within that context, especially when it's Charlie Gillett as your guide, makes them, or your reactions to them, seem brand new again.

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