Before the congestion charge

Before the congestion charge Piccadilly, c 1900

Piccadilly, c 1900. [Via @skintlondon @theretronaut]

Posted in History, Photography | Tagged , , ,

The jokes of Bob Dylan

“Nice to be here. One of my early girlfriends was from Milwaukee. She was an artist. She gave me the brush-off.” And lots more of that ilk from the man himself. You see, everything turns up on the Internet sooner or later.

[HT: @Andrew Male]

Posted in Comedy, Music | Tagged



We made the film and went off to preview it in St Louis. As much as I loved the comedy in the movie, my favourite moment was when Bernadette Peters and I sang a simple song on a beach, “Tonight You Belong To Me”, a tune that was a hit in the twenties and then again in the fifties, when it was recorded by two adolescent sisters called Patience and Prudence. I thought the scene was touching, and I couldn’t wait for it to come on-screen, hoping the audience would be as affected as I had been. The movie was rolling along with lots of laughter. Then the song came on. Mass exodus for popcorn. Song over, audience returned for more laughs. After the screening, I got a left-handed compliment of juicy perfection: A woman approached me and said, “I loved this movie. And my husband loved it, and he hates you.”

Steve Martin, “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life”.

Posted in Comedy, Film, Notebook | Tagged , ,


Marcello Cannes

I try to avoid the I-word wherever possible, but sometimes it’s the only one that fits… Marcello Mastroianni graces this year’s Cannes Film Festival poster.

Posted in Art, Film | Tagged , ,

Swinging it & winning it

My Sunday Times feature [£] on how Curtis Stigers, pop pin-up of yesteryear, has confounded the cynics and reinvented himself as one of the best jazzers around:

Over the past half-century, jazz has slowly turned itself into art music, which is no bad thing, except that the average gig too often has all the warmth of a semiotics lecture. Stigers is proof that an artist can engage the heart as well as the head, without dumbing down. As time passes — he turns 50 next year — he has come to understand the ­importance of not trying to ­dazzle his listeners.

“The older I get, the more I appreciate the jazz singers who pay attention to the songs,” he says. “That’s why I’m drawn to Tony Bennett, Sinatra, Chet Baker. I can still put on a Sarah Vaughan record and appreciate it, but I think to myself, ‘I wish you’d stayed on that note instead of singing those 10 other notes.’”

That urge to overelaborate, the bane of contemporary jazz, is often, he argues, a by-product of youth. “You have to find yourself. When I put out my first pop record, I was trying to be Ray Charles, trying to prove to people that I was a great soul singer, instead of just singing the song. When I listen to that kid now, I just want to talk to him and say, ‘Settle down, sing softer every now and then.’”

He has reached the stage, too, where he does not worry overmuch whether or not he wins over sceptical critics. I tell him how, a few months earlier, I had tried to persuade a leading pop reviewer who had not heard him in 20 years to go along to one of his gigs at Ronnie Scott’s. The critic resolutely refused, simply on the basis that Stigers had been “that long-haired pop singer”.

Stigers laughs. “The ones who haven’t been convinced by now, they’re never going to change their minds. If nine or 10 records don’t convince them, I don’t know what I can do. The important thing is that I have a career, I do what I want to do. I make enough to pay the bills and hopefully to put my daughter through college some day.”

Posted in Music

Cape Verde vision

“Ilha de Santiago” from Mayra Andrade’s new release “Lovely Difficult”, my Sunday Times album of the week [£].

“The island of Santiago/Has a cotton corset/A rope-tied cotton skirt/A pair of spinning top ear-rings…”

Posted in Music


I firmly believe that it is impossible to speak about music. There have been many definitions of music which have, in fact, merely described a subjective reaction to it. The only really precise and objective definition for me is by Feruccio Busoni, the great Italian pianist and composer, who said that music is sonorous air. It says everything and nothing at the same time.

Daniel Barenboim, “Everything Is Connected”.

Posted in Music, Notebook | Tagged ,

Twitter in a nutshell?

The nerve. Cartoon Via Comically Vintage.

Posted in Comedy | Tagged , ,

The curse of poptimism

Good piece by Saul Austerlitz on music critics who have lost their nerve:

I spend most of my time, professionally speaking, writing about movies and books, and during quiet moments, I like to entertain myself by imagining what might happen if the equivalent of poptimism were to transform those other disciplines. A significant subset of book reviewers would turn up their noses at every mention of Jhumpa Lahiri and James Salter as representatives of snobbish, boring novels for the elite and argue that to be a worthy critic, engaged with mass culture, you would have to direct the bulk of your critical attention to the likes of Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. Movie critics would be enjoined from devoting too much of their time to “12 Years a Slave” (box-office take: $56 million) or “The Great Beauty” ($2.7 million), lest they fail to adequately analyze the majesty that is “Thor: The Dark World” ($206.2 million). What if New York food critics insisted on banging on about the virtues of Wendy’s Spicy Chipotle Jr. Cheeseburger?

In the guise of open-mindedness and inclusivity, poptimism gives critics — and by extension, fans — carte blanche to be less adventurous. If we are all talking about Miley Cyrus, then we do not need to wrestle with knottier music that might require some effort to appreciate. And so jazz and world music and regional American genres are shunted off to specialized reviewers, or entirely ignored. If this sounds like a fundamental challengeof the contemporary world — preserving complexity and nuance in a world devoted to bite-size nuggets of easy-to-swallow, predigested information — it should.

[HT: Ted Gioia & Alex Webb]

Posted in Journalism, Music, Uncategorized

Maestro Melingo

The opening track of one of the most stylish releases of the year so far. He’s playing the La Linea festival on Sunday.

Posted in Music