Blues album of the month

Elmore James remembered. Featuring Tom Jones, Keb’ Mo’ and many others besides.

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[A]n abyss divided left and right even during years of relative calm, when political issues were not particularly prominent. The way of thinking of the two camps, their mode of expression, their whole mental make-up, were different. Just as a man of the right would not dream of attending a performance of a Krenek opera, not to mention one of the plays staged by Piscator, a left-wing intellectual would take no interest in right-wing literature about the war. Each camp had its own newspapers, literature, theatre, music, cinema; it was perfectly possible to live without meeting representatives of the other side. If the cartographer of ancient times had marked “terra incognita” with inscriptions such as “Hic sunt leones”, each side believed that outside its own camp there were only skunks and asses.

Walter Laqueur, “Weimar: A Cultural History, 1918-1933”.

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After the rain 

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Reading list

Advice from Niall Ferguson in a Q&A with the New York Times:

If you could require the American president to read one book, what would it be? And the prime minister?

I agree with you that it would be wonderful if both Mr. Trump and Mrs. May read one book. I don’t much mind which one it is.

And there’s a plug for Richmal Crompton, author of the “Just William” stories: “She was the Dorothy Parker of provincial England.”

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The listener

Nick Coleman’s book on the singers and musicians who mean the most to him has its pretentious moments, but you’ll be rewarded if you make it through to the end.  From my review in The Times:

All of us who have made a living from the posher end of the music press have a cleverer-than-thou sixth-former hidden inside us; Coleman isn’t shy about letting his run free. He is quite at home with the “psycho-architecture” of a 45rpm. And while the 1970s Top of the Pops audience saw Suzi Quatro’s Can the Can as something to dance to, he interprets it as “a Grand Guignol of violently stereotyped female sexual jealousy, ending not in reconciliation but with the gleeful restraint and incarceration of male prey”[…] After 80 pages of this sort of thing, you might be tempted to give up and go back to wandering around Spotify. But it’s worth persevering…

He gives us a lovely digression too on jazz. Intrigued by the countercultural imagery of bebop, he went through a beret-wearing phase in his younger days and manned the counter at that Portobello Road landmark, Honest Jon’s record shop. Jazz singers weren’t actually his cup of gin: it was people such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane who really did the business. Was it the music or the nonconformist values it represented that mattered most to him? It’s rare for anyone to look at that question with quite such clarity. He is similarly honest about his inability to fall in love with Frank Sinatra. Above all, there is another important theme, although it does not emerge until the final section. Coleman has already written about his experience of sudden hearing loss and tinnitus in his earlier book, The Train in the Night. It is only at the end of Voices that he makes it clear how profoundly his affliction has shaped his approach to music.

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cock marsh

Cock Marsh, Cookham.

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Soul man

Blasts from the past. My review of R&B singer Decosta Boyce:

Is that a Commodores riff? And a hint of Sam & Dave too? Part of the pleasure of this energised gig was trying to spot the different influences. Cool and charismatic, Decosta Boyce is a British R&B singer who was raised on his mother’s record collection. His album Electrick Soul — one of the funkiest releases of last year — is laced with references to illustrious names. James Brown, Prince and Otis Redding are just some of the artists in his bloodstream.

If that makes him sound like a wannabe from Stars in their Eyes, his personality and songwriting skills mark him out as much more than a retro act. He is, in any case, a little old to be described as an absolute beginner. If that face and impressive afro look vaguely familiar it is because Boyce previously released a disc when he was making his way in the world as Nathan Watson. (His full name is — deep breath — Nathan Daniel Decosta Boyce Watson.)

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For weeks I would get up, dress, drive to work, see my patients, try to present a normal appearance. But inside I was dead, as lifeless as a zombie. Then one day as I was walking down Bronx Park East, I felt a sudden lightening, a quickening of mood, a sudden intimation of life, of joy. Only then did I realize that I was hearing music, though so faintly it might have been no more than an image, a memory. As I continued to walk, the music grew louder, until finally I came to its source, a radio pouring Schubert out of an open basement window. The music pierced me, releasing a cascade of images and feelings – memories of childhood, of summer holidays together, and of my mother’s fondness for Schubert (she would often sing his Nachtgesang in a slightly off-key voice). I found myself not only smiling for the first time in weeks, but laughing aloud – and alive once again.

I wanted to linger by the basement window – Schubert and only Schubert, I felt, was life. Only his music had the secret of keeping me alive. But I had a train to catch and kept walking. And I fell into my depression again.

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

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Life of leisure


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Blind spots

We all reach reach a point in life where we just have to accept that certain books, acclaimed as classics by everyone else, just aren’t going to click with us. P.G. Wodehouse’s works fall into that category, as far as I’m concerned. I recently made my third attempt to get through one of his novels, and gave up yet again after half-a-dozen chapters. Very embarrassing. I mean, I like to think I have a good sense of humour. Still, after stumbling across this 2004 entry in Alan Bennett’s diaries I don’t feel quite so guilty:

I start off, though, at a disadvantage in that, inspired though his language is, I can never take more than ten pages of the novels at a time, their relentless flippancy wearing and tedious. I am put off, too, by the Wodehouse fans, particularly since they’re pretty much identical with the cricketing tendency. Waugh is entitled to call Wodehouse a genius but even with Waugh there’s some feeling of self-congratulation at being the one to point it out. Nor does it help that Muggeridge was such a fan and the general chappishness of it all.

I don’t suppose Bennett struggles with “War and Peace” too, does he?  That would really set my mind at ease. I’ve tried The World’s Greatest Novel four times, once in French (it actually reads much better that way) but I’ve never made it to the halfway point. As a matter of fact, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed anything by Tolstoy, mainly because of the  feeling that he’s preaching at me. Whereas I read “Fathers and Sons” every few years and never get bored. Is it simply because less is more?

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