Joan Baez’s “Fare Thee Well” tour

The folk queen is on the road one last time, or so she says. Her voice may be darker than it once was, but that actually is no bad thing – the lengthening shadows give the lyrics extra resonance.  The material from her new album, “Whistle Down the Wind” is very classy indeed, and the standards, of course, still ring out:

Her political idealism certainly seems undimmed. The Times They Are a-Changin’ was dedicated to the school pupils campaigning for a change in America’s gun laws. And if she didn’t mention her country’s president by name — his name, one senses, has become the ultimate swear word — the fact that Barack Obama was the subject of Zoe Mulford’s ballad, The President Sang Amazing Grace, was an eloquent verdict on his successor. Populists, though, would argue that Baez’s homily on refugees and immigrants, delivered between songs, is a gift to the Steve Bannons of this world: “We have so much, they have so little. Let ’em in.”

[…] If Baez remains a political animal, it was her meditation on mortality and loss on Another World — borrowed from Anohni of Antony and the Johnsons — that made the biggest impression. The song, she explained, “probably reflects how I feel better than any song I know”. Conjuring up a dirge-like beat on her guitar using the flat of her hand, she peered deep into the abyss without losing her nerve.

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A rare glimpse of blue skies. The Thames at Cliveden.

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“What’s going on?” my mom said.

“Oh, Nombuyiselo,” she said. “Trevor is so naughty. He’s the naughtiest child I’ve ever come across in my life.”

“Then you should hit him.”

“I can’t hit him.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t know how to hit a white child,” she said. “A black child, I understand. A black child, you hit them and they stay black. Trevor, when you hit him he turns blue and green and yellow and red. I’ve never seen those colours before. I’m scared I’m going to break him. I don’t want to kill a white person. I’m so afraid, I’m not going to touch him.” And she never did.

My grandmother treated me like I was white. My grandfather did too, too, only he was even more extreme. He called me “Mastah”. In the car, he insisted on driving me as if he were my chauffeur. “Mastah must always sit in the backseat .” I never challenged him on it. What was I going to say? “I believe your perception of race is flawed, Grandfather.” No. I was five. I sat in the back.

Trevor Noah, “Born A Crime”.

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PS: “Chan Chan” is the song that everyone knows – it became the anthem of the Buena Vista Social Club – but of the many, many other pieces he recorded “Macusa” has always been my favourite.

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Sandra Bernhard clearly loved being at Ronnie Scott’s. Wouldn’t it be fun if she became a regular visitor? Mr S himself would probably have enjoyed her brand of humour:

Who would have thought she would end up here? Sandra Bernhard is a rock chick rather than a standards singer, but this show, full of impromptu asides, hot riffs and, yes, the occasional awkward pause, was as exhilarating as the very best jazz gigs. There’s never been any question about the American entertainer’s all-round talent: remember how she managed to steal scenes from Robert De Niro in that criminally under-rated Scorsese satire The King of Comedy? On stage though, Bernhard can be her own worst enemy: without the right material that caustic outsider wit can sound like the whining of a B-list celebrity who thinks she deserves a stretch limo and a larger swimming pool. A hint of petulance is ever-present, yet this time Bernhard — dressed in a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and figure-hugging skirt — kept it under stricter control. Perhaps because we were in an ultra-intimate setting, we saw the more vulnerable side of her too. 

Meanwhile, Rickie Lee Jones was as mercurial as ever at the Barbican:

It didn’t start well. Fans who had fought their way through wretched weather can’t have been best pleased to hear the announcement, at the moment when the concert was due to begin, that Rickie Lee Jones was going to be 20 minutes late. Nearly half an hour later her two musicians — the multi-instrumentalist Mike Dillon and the guitarist Cliff Hines — finally made an appearance and embarked on an extended bout of jazz-tinged improvisation, Dillon displaying his double-mallet technique on the vibraphone while managing to add splashes of bongos and cymbals. Not everyone was impressed, though. As their first number died away, there came a plaintive American voice from the stalls: “Is Rickie Lee here yet?”

When Jones finally did walk on stage, huddled in a coat, her face shaded by a broad-brimmed hat, we discovered the reason for the delay: she had felt so cold, she explained, that she had decided to have a bath. And since she has long been one of music’s true eccentrics we decided to forgive her. In return she took off her coat and hat and delivered a set that sometimes shimmered, sometimes wobbled, but resolutely avoided following a predictable path.

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The panicky listlessness that attends theatrical failure is an atmosphere that everyone within the walls of the theatre has no choice but to breathe, and worst affected, because most responsible was Ken Tynan… On my way to the theatre on the first night I ran into Ken and we walked into the foyer together where we at once collided with Olivier. There was a moment’s pause while the two men mentally circled each other. Olivier got in the first thrust. “Ken, baby, on behalf of the National Theatre and from the very bottom of my heart I really must thank you for bringing this brilliant, audacious play into the repertory of the Old Vic.” He didn’t get much further because Ken, shaking his head and grinning nervously as if he knew exactly what his boss was up to, swiftly parried “Y-y-y-you know very well, Larry, that the decision to do the play was t-t-t-taken by the two of us.! You read it and you said you absolutely l-l-l-loved it!” The hot potato was passed back and forth between them, then we went our separate ways into the auditorium, leaving the blame for the evening we had yet to endure to settle where it would.

Michael Blakemore, “Stage Blood: Five Tempestuous Years in the Early Life of the National Theatre”.

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Almost spring

Holy Trinity, Cookham.

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In this week’s Spectator…

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I sit in the front of the car with Elke and doze as we listen to David Hasselhof  songs on Bob! Radio (fuck me) and head to Potsdam for a live radio interview on the way to Berlin. At the start of the interview they play the whole of Pulp’s “Disco 2000” (it’s a rock station evidently), chat with me and then say it’s time for some Bach. I get so excited because I’m in Germany, home of my musical heroes, and they’re going to play the Aria from the Goldberg Variations performed by Glenn Gould on a rock station, and as the Aria starts I think “Man, this country is cultured,” but after thirteen seconds the presenter cuts it off and goes back to talking. Classical music: a universal herpes.

James Rhodes, “Fire on All Sides”.

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Nige swings George

My review of Nigel Kennedy’s Gershwin gig at Ronnie Scott’s:

Fist-bumps all round. Nigel Kennedy never disguises his pleasure at being on the same bandstand where, as a teenager, he once played alongside his mentor, Stéphane Grappelli. Nearly half a century later Kennedy was in retrospective mood as he led his unorthodox chamber quintet — featuring cello, two guitars and double bass — through a lyrical set dominated by Gershwin standards. It was a long way from the overbearing power chords of his Hendrix project. This was, in a sense, a return to the introspective mood of one of his earliest albums, on which a Bartók sonata was paired with a languorous violin-and-bass adaptation of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige suite.

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