Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Baseball Project/Minus 5 Tour

I've heard a few of the shows from the McCaughey, Wynn, Pitmon, Buck extravaganza and I'll come back to them in a little time. For now here's something to warm the heart. Last night they played the 40 Watt Club in Athens and towards the end got some special guests up. Here's the very rare sight of Bill Berry behind a drum kit with Peter and Mike (and Scott who's played every REM show since 1994). Enjoy, and thanks to AthensMusicJunkie.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Phil Ochs tribute show

I was surprised how many people just didn't know who I was talking about when I said I was going to a Phil Ochs tribute show, even some of the London folkies. It seems sad if he's slipping away from the collective memory, though I can't really believe that's true. Certainly hearing a whole series of his songs on this evening I was struck anew by what a great songwriter he was, and how cheated I feel that he's been gone so long.

There's a tragedy about his story; he's the one they couldn't save; and a sense of if only. If only he hadn't been too fucked for them to risk asking to go on the Rolling Thunder Revue. If only he'd somehow got through that darkness in Spring 1976. One can't help feeling he'd have found a new lease of life as punk days flowered. He'd surely take pleasure in Grant McLennan's 'Get outta the car, Ochs' t-shirt.

The reason this happened now, aside from the fact that Martin 'Hungry Dog' Dowsing and Ed Baxter of Resonance FM are big Ochs fans, is that Bob Rafkin is in town. Bob played with Phil at the infamous Gunfight At Carnegie Hall in 1970 and he's on various of the albums. A regular visitor to London he's a direct link to the man. Some years ago I conducted an interview with him, trapped now on a busted hard drive I believe, in which he talked at length about Phil, Eric Andersen, and others of the Greenwich Village fraternity.

It's an evening of joy and reverence but not too much of the latter. At one point Rafkin quips "His and my lives ran in parallel, but when I tried to hang myself the rope broke". Everybody chooses excellent songs and everybody's nailed them. It's certainly not a night where people dash off a half-learned version of something simple and then go on to play three of their own songs.

Ed Baxter handles the compering with an easy, informal intelligence. He recalls the slogan of the Yippies 'Abandon the creeping meatball', reminding us that Phil was there in Lincoln Park, Chicago, in 1968. He talks about his decades-long obsession with Ochs and music, recalls Henry Cow who did an intriguing cover of 'No More Songs' in 1976.

Hungry Dog opened proceedings with the Broadside song 'If I Knew', 'No More Songs', and 'When I'm Gone'. He was followed by a brace from Onions; 'You Can't Get Too Stoned' and 'What Are We Fighting For' the latter embellished with glorious 12-string. Then came Ellen Mary McGhee with what's perhaps my personal favourite Phil song, 'Flower Lady', in a magical rendition. She followed this with an unaccompanied version of the traditional song - sometimes called 'Molly Bawn'- about the boy who shoots his sweetheart thinking she's a swan.

Bob Rafkin then came up and as well as playing 'There But For Fortune' and 'Changes' he told the tales about Phil, Greenwich Village, clubs like The Dug Out and The Tin Angel, David Blue, Eric Andersen, and eventually told the Carnegie Hall story. Still Innocent gave a lovely rendition of 'Days Of Decision' and then 'In The Heat Of The Summer. Bravely and entirely rightly Suzy Almond sang 'The Highwayman' Phil's adaption of the tender, tragic poem of Alfred Noyes.

It might have been then that the evening would wind down but quite the opposite it took off in another direction. I've noted AJ Dehany before, but here with three monstrous guitar assaults he took on 'I Aint Marchin' Anymore','The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns' and 'Crucifixion' and made something new and wild out of each of them. It seems that he's about to take a sabbatical, and projects like The Edgar Allan Pogues are currently on hold but on form like this I want to hear more. Same can be said for Glassglue; the Teutonic vocals of Marcel Stroetzler certainly offer a very different gloss on 'Love Me I'm A Liberal'.

So an excellent, worthwhile evening. A salute to Martin for putting it together, an hoorah for the ensemble for all taking it seriously, and a glass raised to the memory of one who is gone.

Got No Chains - A Walkabouts Tribute

GOT NO CHAINS – The Songs Of The Walkabouts various artists
Glitterhouse Records GRCD 698


01 Grand Theft Auto – Chris Cacavas
02 Cold Eye – Hugo Race
03 Got No Chains – Terry Lee Hale & The Seattle Clams
04 Acetylene – Walter Salas-Humara
05 This Rotten Tree – Willard Grant Conspiracy
06 Sundowner – The Bambi Molesters
07 Christmas Valley – Jon Langford
08 Fuck Your Fear – Chris Brokaw
09 Nightbirds – The Minus 5
10 Jack Candy – Steve Wynn & Linda Pitmon
11 Specimen Days – Savoy Grand
12 Wondertown – Whip
13 Nights Between Stations – Al DeLoner
14 Unholy Dreams – Gary Heffern & Beautiful People
15 The Light Will Stay On – Locas in Love

Comes with a booklet with liner-notes from John Parker and Tony Kroes and every contributing artist.
It's a double album with a bonus CD containing the original Walkabouts songs remastered.

Released by Glitterhouse on 25th September

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The House That Horse Built

Last Tuesday evening I went to the book launch of Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann at the invitation of my friend Joe Hurley. McCann's a New York-based Irish writer and Joe's written a bunch of songs relating to the new book. I didn't know anything about it and hadn't seen the ecstatic review it got in The Observer the previous Sunday. However it was clear from the brief extracts that McCann read that it was rather special. It reminded me, in both its sweep and its intricacy, of DeLillo.

Then Joe sang a song called 'The House That Horse Built'. This is based on a episode in the novel around a black prostitute who loses her daughter. It's an epic song of almost ten minutes duration in four parts: 'My Name Is Till (You Can Call Me Sweetcakes)', 'Let The Great World Spin (I Am Of This Earth)', 'Hanging From The Pipes (Leaving The House That Horse Built)' and 'Coda (Let The Great World Spin Without Me)'. Just reading the titles gives you an extent of the ambition involved, and met.

On a single hearing the chorus stuck. Now I've got my hands on the recording, currently only available on a mini-album that Joe's selling on the rest of the publicity tour. The album has four tracks; first the ten minute version and then three outtakes of shorter extracts. It's good to say that my instincts from last week were quite correct; it's a phenomena. Lyrically compelling, wondrously sung, and superbly produced by Don Fleming.

The roll-call of supporting musicians is impressive; Tony Shanahan, James Mastro, Paddy Moloney, and Dennis Diken, to name but a few. And then there's Tillie's Choir - Tami Lynn, Antonique Smith, and Faith Hahn - who, in a moment of quite spine-chilling intensity, revisit the chorus to devastating effect.

And there's more to come. Next Spring there'll be a full album of around ten tracks which Bloomsbury are very interested in having to coincide with the release of the paperback - so watch this space.

Meanwhile catch Joe on the tour, at the projected London show (late September or November), or in the States in between.

European Dates:

September 18th Hamburg, Germany

September 19th Berlin, Germany

September 21st Cologne, Germany

September 22nd Zurich, Switzerland

September 23rd Halle/Innsbruck, Austria

September 24th Vienna, Austria

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

I Phil Therefore I Am: A Tribute To Phil Ochs

Wednesday 16th September

Various Artists play a PHIL OCHS tribute night, with SUZY ALMOND + AJ DEHANY + GLASSGLUE + HUNGRY DOG + ELLEN MARY McGEE + VINCE McCANN + ONIONS + former Ochs guitarist BOB RAFKIN + STILL INNOCENT + EMMA TRICCA + others £6

Dogfishtrombone presents

I Phil Therefore I Am: A Tribute To Phil Ochs

Dogfishtrombone and 12 Bar Club are delighted to present a night entirely independent of the corporate promotions occurring elsewhere in this city. Instead of paying £20+ to drag around from venue to venue in the hope of catching a “buzz” act, you can settle in for a night here and see a fantastic range of artists paying tribute to one of the great protest singers and artistic activists of our time, Phil Ochs, who, although he never saw his 36th birthday, wrote hundreds of songs, many of them covered by more mainstream artists, and inspired hundreds of other artists and thousands of fans.