A hazy vision of English streets and playground chin-ups matching a sweet, unhurried love song, sung by a man making an England football shirt look cool.
Next Tuesday, September 24th, at The Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, I’m introducing Radio On, which is one of my favourite British films (it has a classic late ’70s soundtrack, too…). It starts at 6pm so please come along to see it on the big screen if you can.
This video is one of the most striking I’ve seen recently. It complements the airless, clean music (which, sonically, reminds me of James Ferraro’s recent albums) and evokes an unsettling, surreal environment, with one foot in the past and one in the future.
I saw this painting the first time I went to London and I still marvel at it each time I see it in the National Portrait Gallery. He was one of the first poets I read in my local library.
There is something fascinating about an artist’s unformed ideas contained in their sketchbook: a mood that hints at something bigger; an insight into the mechanics of creation; a raw, barely-contained enthusiasm; a collection of influences. Derek Jarman’s films have already been mentioned here, but his beautifully-presented sketchbooks are now available in a Thames & Hudson book for pre-order on the Guardian website, a destination to which I am unable to link, thanks to blog gremlins (Bloglins!?).
A tweet by the poet Lavinia Greenlaw alerted me to the Vintage book cover illustrations of Edward Gorey, as posted on the excellent Brain Pickings site. My blog doesn’t want to create a link at the moment, but you can find them here… http://www.brainpickings.org
Peter Kennard, Miner, 1976
I saw this painted-over photograph at MIMA a few months ago and it made me think of the hollowness and fragility of what lies beneath a hard-working, seemingly tough surface. It had a strange sort of power invested in it by the recent death of Margaret Thatcher and her connection to the closure of so many coal mines.
I love The Pastels and what they represent. Although I’d heard and bought this excellent new single, I hadn’t seen the video until today and I found it very celebratory. It made me feel good about being obsessed with music (rather than just obsessive!) and how music is such a communal and sharing thing. It also shows the beauty of Glasgow’s buildings in the sun, which makes me think of visiting my brother when he lived there.
I saw this video in an article about some of virtuoso bassist Thundercat’s favourite music. I’ve been listening to Bitches Brew by Miles Davis recently and John McLaughlin’s guitar playing links up to that very nicely. Some of Jan Hammer’s keyboard runs are a bit too fruity for me (!), but the rest of it is great.
Claire Adams, who played bass with me on the Margins tour, tipped me off about Dick Diver, a band whose name either makes people laugh or exclaim that it’s also the name of the main male character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s amazing Tender Is The Night. Actually, perhaps the latter urge is mine alone.
They remind me of so many great Australasian bands, like The Go-Betweens or The Clean, with their loose sound and random, affecting lyrics that tell stories of distinct lives being lived.
Bridget St John has a soothing voice, not dissimilar to her male contemporary Nick Drake. The songs on this 1974 LP meander along rather nicely, although the opening song, Sparrowpit ,sounds, weirdly, like a rollicking hippie precursor to Eleanor Friedberger:
Stanley Baker in 1960′s gritty Northern noir Hell Is A City, standing on the roof of one of my favourite buildings in Manchester, now the Palace hotel.
The cover of the first edition of this book is thrillingly of its time (1960), in a fine art context, but feels quite disconnected from the disillusioned Middle-American tale that unfolds within. Or, perhaps the inner turmoil and endless miasma of the main character, Rabbit Angstrom, are both appropriately reflected in the op-art sleeve. Either way, I’ve just re-read/finally finished this troubling, masterful book.
I was listening to this record today and as well as being an excellent jazz fusion LP by recently deceased trumpeter, Donald Byrd, it has a brilliant, cosmic sleeve. This whole blog could be dedicated to the sleeves of the Blue Note label, such is its mastery of the medium, but I suspect there are plenty of tributes out there. As Nick Cave sometimes says, “Google it!”
Madame Yevonde, Mrs Edward Mayer as Medusa, 1935
I have this photograph on my fridge! It astonishes me to think that it’s from 1935 – the colours are so modern and vivid, creating an unsettling image.
Captivating, world-weary interpretation.
Mesmerising song and mesmerising moves. I think this is what they call chutzpah.
I think I first saw this sleeve hung up in the Salsa Club in Newcastle. I fell for its modern, concrete curves and Larry Young’s hip dress sense. The music sounds like this.
This photograph by Bert Hardy shows engrossed browsers in HMV Oxford Street in 1958. I have spent a lot of my spare time doing the same thing, which only enhances this lovely image for me.
via this popular blog
Two of the most talented people you’ll ever see on the silver screen, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
Bleak and mysterious and rough around the edges. Derek Jarman matches up to Marianne Faithfull.
The fashions in this clip may be trapped in aspic but the joy of singing remains fresh and alive. Although this song sits on the borderline of a land called sentimental, Gladys Knight and her high-pitched Pips display a joyous example of control and release that looks effortless but requires such a degree of control that it leaves the technically impressive vocal acrobatics of today’s R&B ballad singers looking somewhat forced and emotionally cold.
I recently saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. I was so impressed by the two central performances by Joaquin Phoenix (whose contorted, bemused face you can see above) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The film continues to have an afterlife in my mind and today I was watching the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers musical Follow The Fleet when I heard the following song, also featured in The Master, albeit beautifully sung by Ella Fitzgerald. Both Phoenix and Astaire’s characters are sailors pining for lost loves.
I heard this song on an excellent mix by guitarist William Tyler. It has a depth of feeling that resonated with me and it perfectly captures a sense of perceived inertia and perpetual drift that can sometimes strike you down.
Angel Olsen’s voice is old yet fresh, familiar yet jarring. I like it a lot.
Nick Goss, Don Van Vliet Lounge, 2012
Making a spectacle of the unspectacular. If in London, go see.
Well, that’s my most convoluted pun in a while… perhaps it does an injustice to this photograph and book, which I came upon in a bookshop in Frankfurt. Its luminous nature beguiled me.
Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Woman, 1968, lithograph
I was in Washington DC a couple of days ago and there was a beautiful Diebenkorn exhibition of his Ocean Park paintings. I was going to post something about it, but when searching for images I came across this print and I felt like I had to share it because it appears both hesitant and confident. The pose is very ambiguous and it draws me in.
Josef Albers, Portrait Study, 1918 (ca.), ink and pencil on paper.
The fluidity of ink is equal to the fluidity of the self, which is always shifting.
Yesterday, trapped on a bus, travelling for twenty-four hours in a heatwave with a broken air conditioning system, I watched Heartworn Highways, a documentary about a new breed of country singers, filmed by James Szalapski at the mid-point of the 1970s. I’ve had the soundtrack for a couple of years, which features fragments of dialogue, so watching the songs come alive via the warm colours of Szalapski’s film was an enlightening experience for me. Townes Van Zandt is already one of my favourite country/folk singers from that era and his self-destructive personality is on show in the film alongside this moving example of his musical ability, which is evidently too much for those present to bear.
I saw this Jean Painlevé short film with subtitles last night, which allowed me to focus on the powerful soundtrack. I was rocking out in the back row of the cinema! I got home and looked at the original soundtrack by Pierre Henry and it was great, but totally different from the post-rock noodling that I’d just heard, which was played by the brilliant Yo La Tengo. I’ve posted both so that you can mute the original and experience the same nature documentary wig-out that I did or enjoy the spooky original should you wish to do that.
Kraftwerk were more than a bit cool, weren’t they?
And also partially responsible for a memorable scene from the unsettling Fassbinder film, Chinese Roulette:
I stayed up late when I was young to watch this – It’s a wild and uncontrolled performance of a thundering, propulsive song. It’s like they’re straining to contain the noises inside them as the song roars along.
Gunta Stölzl, Collage made for the portfolio ’9 Years Bauhaus’, 1928
This collage really leapt out at me when I went to The Barbican’s Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition. It feels full of joy and invention.
I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before! My favourite poet, Frank O’Hara, reading Having A Coke WIth You in his apartment in 1966. His poems blend flippancy with poignancy; the profound with the casual. I think it’s always instructive to see or hear a poet reading their own work, especially someone whose work relies on the rhythm and music of conversational speech.
You can hear William Carlos Williams reading this poem here at the Open Culture website. It has a beautiful melody to it.
The Three Graces by William Carlos Williams
We have the picture of you in mind,
when you were young, posturing
(for a photographer) in scarves
(if you could have done it) but now,
for none of you is immortal, ninety-
three, the three, ninety and three,
Mary, Ellen and Emily, what
beauty is it clings still about you?
Undying? Magical? For there is still
no answer, why we live or why
you will not live longer than I
or that there should be an answer why
any should live and whatever other
should die. Yet you live. You live
and all that can be said is that
you live, time cannot alter it–
and as I write this Mary has died.
Lyonel Feininger, Villa on the Shore, 1921
This woodcut is one of many great prints by Feininger that are included in a book I have. I couldn’t find a good enough image of his little watercolour and pen drawings of sailboats so I chose the more graphic stylings of his earlier work, which are equally strong and showcase his ever-present command of line.
Mark Hollis’s only solo album after Talk Talk is a minimalist masterpiece. I would love to eventually find this amount of space and control in the music I make. I could’ve picked any song from this album as evidence, but I’d forgotten how good this one is, probably because it’s so understated, even on a record of numerous slow wonders. Just before the two-minute mark, Hollis’s voice does something unexpected and the song begins to shift subtly before returning to its sparse, pastoral groove. Restraint enables release and it is such a powerful device.
Paul Buchanan’s voice and music is unfeasibly melancholy and beautiful as you can hear in this complementary video. In a recent Guardian article he said, “You work and work and work and have the life that you have, and once in a while, sometimes once in a decade, you see a few things you’ve got and think, yes, that’s authentic.” I think that’s an admirable attitude in a world where popular song is often churned out, devoid of any specific emotion or ‘soul’.