Rock's Backpages Writers' Blogs » Barney Hoskyns Rock reviews, rock articles & rock interviews from the Ultimate Rock'n'Roll Library Sun, 19 May 2013 03:11:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Forthcoming history of 4AD Mon, 13 May 2013 10:38:36 +0000 Barney Hoskyns

The first official account of the iconic 4AD label, from RBP scribe Martin Aston…

This Mortal Coil, the Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Breeders, Dead Can Dance, Lisa Germano, Kristin Hersh, Belly, Red House Painters.

Just a handful of the bands and artists who started out recording for 4AD, a record label founded by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent in 1979, a label which went on to be one of the most influential of the modern era.

Combining the unique tastes of Russell and the striking design aesthetic of Vaughan Oliver, 4AD records were recognisable by their look as their sound. In this comprehensive account of the label’s first two decades (up to the point that Russell left), music journalist Martin Aston explores the fascinating story with unique access to all the key players and pretty much every artist who released a record on 4AD during that time, and to its notoriously reclusive founder.

With a cover designed by Vaughan Oliver this is an essential book for all 4AD fans and anyone who loved the music of that time.

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BOWIE MEETS THE PRESS, STOCKHOLM 1976 Fri, 10 May 2013 15:07:42 +0000 Barney Hoskyns

Swedish writer Pontus Holmgren contacted RBP t’other day to say he is researching a book on David Bowie in Scandinavia. He referred to Bowie getting lost in Russia, with the result that the Scandinavian press had to wait for 24 hours before he finally arrived in Helsinki.  Then, in a hotel suite in Stockholm, Bowie talked about how Britain would gain from a fascist leader. Pontus wanted to know if NME journalist James Johnson was in the photo, which prompted the following from the latter:

“Yes, that’s me in the photograph in the top left hand corner. I was working for the London Evening Standard at the time. Briefly – after the show I was told by Bowie’s American PR that I’d be able to talk to Bowie without a tape recorder for five minutes. She suggested I talk to him about right wing ideas and fascist leaders. He did say Britain might benefit from a fascist leader. My story the next day made a large splash in the Standard. But when other daily papers got in touch with him, he denied saying what I had reported. It was quite a big story at the time.  Frankly , I think I was the victim of a PR stunt, but an RCA employee at the time agreed with me.

“Bowie arrived  at Victoria station the following weekend for London concerts waving from the back of a Mercedes in a vaguely I-am-your-leader sort of way. In Stockholm, he was in the company of Iggy Pop and Marc Bolan  amongst others. There were also various tennis championship stars in the hotel hanging around the entourage. His show earlier in the evening – black and white lighting etc – was brilliant.”


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AN INCREDIBLE STRING NIGHT: MESSRS. ELLEN, HITCHCOCK & GARTSIDE AT THE RBP ALBUM CLUB Fri, 10 May 2013 08:59:38 +0000 Barney Hoskyns Continue reading ]]>

Last night’s RBP Album Club was really something, especially if you’re a paid-up member of the Incredible String Band cult – as Robyn Hitchcock (centre, above), Green Gartside (left) and our “host for the evening” Mark Ellen so clearly are.

All three of these immensely tall gentlemen were insightful, funny and very moving about their deep love for Mike Heron and Robin Williamson (and Rose, Licorice et al), plus the “transformative” impact of 1968′s Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter and the pain of the occasional abuse they’ve taken as worshippers of the ISB.

In addition to the learned and always illuminating conversation, we were treated to scintillating renditions of “Swift is the Wind” and “Three is a Green Crown” – Hangman’s tracks that by Robyn’s and Green’s own admission are fiendishly tricky to play – that set a new benchmark for the Album Club which will be tough to match in the months to come.

Our gratitude to these three amigos for the time and care they put into what was a “very cellular” evening for all concerned!

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V.D. PARKS & LOUDON III (LONDON 5.5.13) Tue, 07 May 2013 09:53:46 +0000 Barney Hoskyns Continue reading ]]>

Van Dyke Parks and his friend Loudon Wainwright III mug for my iPhone after Parks’ sublime show at London’s intimate Borderline on Sunday night. It was my cherry-on-top birthday present after Chelsea’s late three points at Old Trafford.

Parks was magnificent in a set that included “Cowboy”, “Orange Crate Art”, John Hartford’s “Delta Queen Waltz”, “Sail Away” and “FDR in Trinidad”, performed with a small and respectful quartet (cello/harp/drums/double bass), and a superb solo encore of “The All Golden” (on RBP’s Spotify playlist this week); also a duetted rendition of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” (a version of which was included on Discover America, lest we forget) with the impressive Guatemalan singer Gabi Moreno.

Between songs, Van Dyke was at his wisest and inimitably funniest. “My mother told me, ‘Don’t try to be interesting’,” he said early on; “‘instead, stay interested.’” Sage advice, though Parks couldn’t be uninteresting if he devoted the entire sum of his energy to the effort – as the rapt gathering at the interview I was privileged to conduct with him at Oslo’s By:Larm conference in February would surely attest.

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JARON LANIER’S CHILLING FUTURE Fri, 03 May 2013 11:04:58 +0000 Barney Hoskyns Continue reading ]]>

I’d barely started Who Owns The Future?, the sobering sophomore tome by Silicon Valley maverick Jaron Lanier, when my eyes fell on this paragraph:

“As much as it pains me to say so, we can survive if we only destroy the middle classes of musicians, journalists and photographers. What is not survivable is the additional destruction of the middle classes in transportation, manufacturing, energy, office work, education and health care. And all that destruction will come surely enough if the dominant idea of an information economy isn’t improved.”

I loved Lanier’s first long-player, You Are Not a Gadget (2010), and am gripped by his grasp on what is happening out there in an ever-more networked world where everything non-vital is getting cheaper and more accessible but fewer and fewer of us can afford to buy any of it. Lanier is an optimist but it’s hard to see how things will turn around any time soon. Meanwhile we all continue to “work” gratis for Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Only the other day my RBP colleague Mark Pringle was asked by the Amazon-owned business Audible if they could use one of his author photographs for free. “We’ll give you a credit,” they bleated when he remonstrated with them. The illogic of this is only too self-evident: if Amazon won’t pay you for a photograph, then what use is a credit?

If everyone in the devastated “creative classes” joined hands and refused to work for free, the undercutting, tax-avoidant likes of Amazon would be screwed. It’s hard to see how that could happen – or how almost everything else (including education, health care et al) won’t go the same way as music, journalism and photography.

At some point, lack of customers will force a rethink and a U-turn, but right now the future (owned by the digital giants with their super-computed algorithms and “siren servers”) looks bleak indeed.

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Welcoming the Eagles to the Hotel Connaught… Mon, 29 Apr 2013 13:57:03 +0000 Barney Hoskyns

Messrs Schmidt, Henley, Frey & Walsh line up for their press conf. last Thursday at Mayfair’s Connaught Hotel. See my report on RBP today

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FAREWELL TO THE POSSUM Mon, 29 Apr 2013 09:45:47 +0000 Barney Hoskyns My old friend Julian Keeling wrote (the substance of) this obit of George Jones 15 long years ago…

Here’s what I wrote about George ‘n’ Tammy at the Hammersmith Odeon even longer ago than that:

LONG AGO, in the days before hats and hi-tech rednecks, country music was a soap opera and George Jones and Tammy Wynette were its Dirty Den and Angie Watts. Twenty years on from their messy divorce they’ve combined forces for one last trawl through all those brazenly quasi-autobiographical hits.

So-called “First Lady of Country” Tammy Wynette is now more Nancy Reagan than Hillary Clinton. Frail but dignified after a long illness, Tammy appears to be in some pain as she kicks off the show, reaching for high notes with a slight grimace. But trooper that she is, she can still belt ‘em out like a cowgirl howling at the moon. “I may not be the best,” she confides, “but I am the loudest!” All credit to her, she sings the hell out of ‘Stand By Your Man’ – “written in 20 minutes and we’ve been defendin’ it ever since” – dredges every drop of heartbreak from tearjerkers like ‘Till I Can Make It On My Own’.

Some of us have been waiting 20-odd years to hear George Jones sing live. I don’t know if Sinatra really said he was “America’s second greatest singer”, but if he didn’t he’s still got time. Initially the feeling is of mild disappointment: the weird hair architecture is in place, but there’s a certain diffidence in his singing. Just our luck that when ol’ no-show finally shows he’s only gone and picked up a throat infection.

He finds his stride on James Taylor’s ‘Bartender Blues’, all fears apparently laid to rest. With Jim Buchanan’s fiddle weaving through every vocal phrase, the Possum lets loose those inimitable swoops and slides, dropping down to a deep baritone and then just as suddenly soaring up to his airiest tenor range. The artistry is completely instinctive, the precision almost uncanny. That he scarcely seems aware of the beauty of his singing only makes it the more spellbinding: Jones is a singer like Hendrix was a guitar player.

Nowhere is his genius more evident than in the medley of ballads that begins with ‘I’ll Share My World With You’, takes in ‘Window Up Above’ and ‘The Grand Tour’, and winds up with ‘Walk Through This World With Me’. Nothing is oversung here. Every note seems to dance within the swirl of his bizarre vocal lines. It’s utterly transfixing. And when he gets to ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, a deathly hush spreads through the auditorium. This is better than anything we’d ever dared hope for.

If anything mars the performance, it’s only Jones’s evident peevishness at the way contemporary Nashville had put its old-timers out to grass. Along with the periodic references to “kids” and “whippersnappers”, there’s a mournful rendering of ‘Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes’, with its nods to departed heroes, and a double-barrelled blast through ‘(I Don’t Need No) Rockin’ Chair’.

There’s a slight reprise of this thorny theme midway through the final segment of the G&T show, when ‘They’re Playin’ Our Song’ is introduced as a “salute” to “the kids who’re fillin’ our shoes in country music today”. The duets portion of the evening is, as it happens, a considerable letdown after Jones solo; all the mock-bickering in the world can’t change the fact that the famous voices aren’t blending tonight, not even on ‘Golden Ring’ or ‘We’re Gonna Hold On’. Jones himself is clearly unhappy, clutching at his throat and complaining about the monitors. “Should we apologise or what?” he asks Tammy. They finish with ‘Someone I Used To Know’ and quit while they’re still (just) ahead.

At least one fan spills out into the damp night knowing he’s seen something truly transcendental. A little Tammy goes a long way, but you could listen to George Jones for the rest of eternity.

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KANDIA CRAZY HORSE ON THE LATE RICHIE HAVENS Tue, 23 Apr 2013 09:23:42 +0000 Barney Hoskyns Continue reading ]]>

Richie Havens at the Bottom Line

Remembering “the Eternal Flame of Woodstock” with a great piece by Kandia Crazy Horse from PopMatters on 7 August 2002…

MOST OF MY generation (“X”) peers – especially indie rock & dance music critics – and a wide swathe of bitter boomers relentlessly disparage veteran folk artist Richie Havens.

The next sarcastic words out of these cynics’ mouths, upon hearing his instantly recognizable voice, is that his unique blend of gospelly grit sends them spinning into some Woodstock Nation nightmare. The indie and dance enthusiasts would no doubt be little impressed by Havens’ recent “hip” collaborations with Groove Armada. And the aging boomers, beyond the rabid crowd present at last Friday’s Bottom Line shows in Manhattan, seem generally dismissive of Havens’ continuing commitment to folk advocacy.

This persistent indifference is more than a pity for Havens in concert was magnificent. Having not seen him since before 9/11, the tone of his performance, accompanied by a three-piece combo of guitar, congas and violinist/percussionist, was one of healing and uplift. One of the last times I’d caught his concert, at the Knitting Factory, Havens was visited pre-show by my late “Uncle” Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and I subsequently spent the bulk of the performance with the latter reminiscing about old days in DC and hearing about his time in Guinée.

Henceforth, I always associate the musician who was my first true introduction to the importance of rock (via my father and an early ’80s PBS screening of Woodstock) with fond memories and the best spirit of Uncle Kwame, a freedom fighter like Havens but somewhat at the opposite end of the spectrum, reviled for being far more confrontational (to say the least).

A score of the songs at the historic Bottom Line, drawn from the latest, exceedingly fine album Wishing Well (Stormy Forest), harkened back to the deep blues of earlier masterpieces such as Alarm Clock (recently reissued by Stormy Forest . . . hallelujah), Mixed Bag II and The Great Blind Degree and looked unflinchingly at an American landscape riddled again by crisis.

A key strength of Havens, despite having emerged from the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, is that his oeuvre — covers and all — transcends the broadside tradition of forebears like Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs to arrive at something infinitely more personal and soulful. Perhaps this characteristic is due to Havens’ upbringing as a child gospel singer in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Whatever the reasons, his indelible combination of sweet croon and passionate rasp infuses a voice that remains stronger and more flexible than those of the majority of his “classic rock” colleagues.

Ideally, before his sun sets, Richie Havens’ great talents as an arranger (some of the biggest applause was garnered by his famous cover of the late George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes the Sun’) and guitar hero status will finally be recognized (particularly by the emergent “black rock” caste so in thrall to Arthur Lee, Prince and Havens’ friend Jimi Hendrix). One of the lone black voices in a predominantly white idiom, Havens’ signature playing style of merging open E-chord tuning and haunting percussive beat with a jaw-dropping deft right hand deserves its place in the annals of rock. Old footage in rotation on VH1 Classic demonstrates what a haunting spark the spare gathering of two guitars and congas can be.

Indeed, by the concert’s end – which also featured up-and-coming, deep-throated singer-songwriter Dayna Kurtz and an incredibly rousing version of the chestnut ‘Freedom/Motherless Child’ – all the myriad people crowded into the nightclub were moved to their feet, ecstatic cries ringing through the space. There were even a few junior aspirants to Afro-Bohemia (of which Havens has been designated an Old Master) who’d intrepidly dared to represent rocking out in the blue gloom.

The pervasive sense was that as long as Havens’ percussive left foot kept time and his fast right hand kept strumming all would be right with this turbulent world. When ‘Freedom’ came to its fadeout, he jumped off the stool with his guitar and kicked his legs completely off the ground to the fans’ delight. And luckily this sense of carefree joy returned with the final encore, ‘Run Shaker Life’. While the Voices of East Harlem’s version remains the ne plus ultra, the song framed an electric portrait of the well-matured master, hunched over his guitar, rocking side to side in alt, the many rings on his fingers clicking together in polyrhythms like a dancer in a West African court.

Richie Havens is a genius minstrel who continues to evolve; he’s hardly stuck in the halcyon daze of Aquarian Age phantasy except in adhering to humanism first. If y’all wanna be perpetually stuck on the notion of him self-mythologizing across the split screen of Woodstock, you’re welcome to your myopia. The rest of us who respect and honor the man will be rockin’ and rollin’ aboard the peace train.

© Kandia Crazy Horse, 2002

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HUGH McCRACKEN RIP Fri, 19 Apr 2013 10:12:39 +0000 Barney Hoskyns Nice to see Pierre Perrone’s obit of the great New York session guitarist Hugh McCracken in the Indie today… his playing on Laura Nyro’s early albums was nonpareil, but he also played on everything from Van’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” and Aretha’s “Young, Gifted and Black” to Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” and The Diary of Alicia Keys. One of the best.

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BLEECKER BOB’S R.I.P. Thu, 18 Apr 2013 09:24:17 +0000 Barney Hoskyns See Mitch Meyers’ story about the closure of Greenwich Village legend Bleecker Bob’s… another sad day in the slow erosion of popular music as we knew it and loved it.

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