andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Forthcoming Incoming

I’m off to Edinburgh for a couple of days, to soak in the atmosphere through a straw. Stay tuned next week for news of upcoming projects, reviews (maybe), and my next blog entry – The Coldplay Effect: or, when good bands go bland…

 

 

 

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Shome shimply shuper shupermarket wines

I describe myself on this blog as, amongst other things, ‘drinker of wine,’ but frankly there’s not been much evidence of that so far. However, I have been researching some reds for you recently, and the good news is that supermarkets have started to stock some good cheapies recently. Still a lot to get through, but in the meantime:

French Pinot Noir, Vignobles Roussellet, Aldi, £4.39

I’m not a big fan of French wine, and I took this example of the tricksy Pinot Noir grape off the shelf purely because your woman in the Saturday Times recommended it. As so often, she was bang on – it hits you with gentle raspberry first, and then enters into this long, complex relationship with the back of your throat you don’t ever want to end.

Morrisons own Chilean Carmenere, £5.99

Don’t be put off by the naff label with the big red face, this is top damson-y jammy Carmenere, which will go with just about anything.

Enjoy!

Latitude, Day 2: Booker T Jones, Afghan Whigs, Oliver Wilde, Bombay Bicycle Club, Catfish and the Bottlemen

It was either that’s the shit or that isn’t the shit, no matter what kind of music you were talking about. I really liked some pop music if it was the shit. But there was a very definite line of what the shit was and what wasn’t the shit. Very strict.

Keith Richards, Life (paperback edition, p. 94)

So saith the Gospel according to Keef, and who am I to disagree? Our second day at Latitude, the Saturday, was fortunately full of music that was, very definitely, the shit.

Unfortunately, due to a late-running bus (perhaps like our two taxi drivers he was subject to a bout of geographic elasticity when he ran over a ley line: see review of Day One) we only caught the end of Booker T Jones, walking into the Festival itself and all the way up to the Obelisk Stage to the unmistakeable strains of Green Onions. He finished his set with a spirited rendition of Time is Tight, perhaps a comment on the rigidity of set lengths at Latitude (of which more later).

I would have liked to have seen more of the Stax legend, particularly if (as one of the images from the Festival suggested) he switched to guitar at some point. By the time we got there he was firmly installed behind the Hammond, which was turned up to eleven: the roving camera at one point caught the session guitarist’s expression, which suggested he was less than impressed with this turn of events. But then, he not da man. Booker T da man.

Next came something of a cock up on the organisational front which saw us waiting in vain for Afghan Whigs in a packed Radio 6 Tent hot enough to baste a turkey in. We realised our mistake when a largish type with blond highlights bounced on stage and began singing Maneater. Now, your blog had only hazy memories of what Afghan Whigs looked like from a three-glasses-of-wine evening in front of Jools Holland, but was pretty sure a Hall and Oates cover wouldn’t be part of their usual repertoire. Yep, the Whigs were on the other stage, and this was Darryl Hall sui-meme, with presumably Mr Oates in close attendance.

What we did see of Afghan Whigs when we trooped back up to the Obelisk was good, although there was again that sense of the sound dispersing quickly into the vast open spaces beyond the audience. Although they seemed in fine form, and were well received, I couldn’t help thinking they would have been better on the Radio 6 stage, with Hall and Oates delighting their 40-something fans in the sunshine.

Next, food. Regular readers will recall I promised to report back on the food; unfortunately the combination of a four-course tasting menu in Norwich on the Thursday night (good, but a bit fiddly and cheffy in places, and the wine choices were classic French at the expense of a good match) followed by the inevitable big hotel breakfast the next morning and the equally inevitable fish and chips on arrival in Southwold meant your man was, by Friday afternoon, like a bony-armed python still trying to digest a goat (that’s the animal, not the band, Goat: that would be ridiculous). Seriously. No food or drink required for about 18 hours. Daughter and Heiress, with her teenage metabolism, did have recourse to a half pizza with pepperoni that she thought perfectly decent.

On the Friday, however, appetites were back at normal levels, and a short perusal of the many food outlets up and down the slope that led to the Obelisk Stage ensued. The Festival website had not been exaggerating in terms of breadth and variety of selection, although I’m still looking for the tapas. The hog roast on a roll with apple sauce was really good; a later burger from another stall less so. Your correspondent then opted for a lager from one of the bars, who were serving them up in industrial quantities and at eye-watering prices (to be frank, everything in the Festival was think of a number and double it, so you just had to roll with it). On a limited review, then, the food and drink was pricey but good enough.

The hog roast went down to the strains of Oliver Wilde, on the Lake Stage. The beefy bloke with the hair and beard introduced himself as Oliver Wilde. Ah, so the band was called Oliver Wilde, and he was Oliver Wilde! I kind of admired the big chap’s self-confidence. Backed, therefore, one has to say, by four minions consisting of second guitar, drums, bass, and violin, Oliver delivered an enthusiastic performance which almost lived up to the programme’s billing of ‘ethereal, gorgeous music.’ Apparently, his second album – following a brush his own mortality – ‘explores the small matter of the abstract relationship between unrelated things.’ Bristol-based Oliver Wilde is 26 years old.

However, listening to Olly’s ‘melancholic, hushed poetic vocal delivery,’ (according to his Wikipedia entry, which can’t possibly have been put in by his Mum) left room for reflection. As the quote at the top of this indicates, I’ve been finally catching up with the Keith Richards autobiography, and the counterpoint between his tales of what it was like to get started then, and what it’s like for the likes of our Olly now, did have me thinking.

First and foremost, the early Sixties world that the Stones were born out of – blues clubs, jazz traditionalists, folk purists, and a vast, disaffected war baby generation looking for a musical mast to nail their colours to – has long gone. I mean, the blues, jazz and folk clubs are still there, but they’ve been shouldered out of the mainstream by this huge juggernaut that HMV would call rock and pop long ago. The Stones, in other words, were in at the ground floor. And whilst the baby boomers still go to events and buy music – your blog was by no means the oldest swinger in town at Latitude, let me tell you – the way we do that has been splintered and mutated by technology and market forces for decades. Who stays up to hear the singles chart on Sunday nights now?

Second, the tech has become much kinder to musicians. Keith Richards carried a soldering iron to his early gigs to carry out running repairs to his kit; rather unkindly, he suggests the main reason Bill Wyman got in the band was because he had a decent Vox amp to bring to the party, and they couldn’t work out a way to separate the amp from the bass player. Keef had a trusty tape recorder to record demos: astonishingly, he says that even the recorded version of ‘Satisfaction’ had its origins in overloading the tape with a signal from an acoustic guitar.

Nowadays sound equipment is ten a penny, especially second hand; and no self-respecting indie guitarist, however callow, is without his or her pedal board of effects. Which, in terms of producing a unique sound, almost means they have too much choice; ditto their musical influences, which in terms of rock alone, can now mean riffling through fifty years’ worth of stuff. Gone are the days of the early Eighties, when I was just starting to get into student bands, when the scrawled postcards in the music shop window cited the influential Holy Trinity of Lou Reed, Velvet Underground and the Doors.

My point, if I have a point, is that in such a crowded landscape, everything starts to sound a bit like everything else, and even if the means of getting the music to an as-yet unadoring public weren’t complicated enough, the sheer volume of material coming at music fans via the internet means everything has to be packaged, categorised and labelled in some sort of way to provide a thread of meaning through the noisome clatter. Hence monikers like post-punk, indie, fusion, psych, yada yada… love the Rolling Stones? You might like, er, the Beatles.

Whilst that may be our friend Oliver Wilde’s problem, our next band, Bombay Bicycle Club, are well on the way to pulling themselves up from the depths of the tangled undergrowth into the upper branches of mainstream visibility. I find it quite hard to describe BBC’s sound, having seen them twice live now; it bases itself on the interplay of two guitars in true rock style, but the riffs are spiky, complex affairs, sounding at times almost African-influenced (particularly on one of their best known tracks, Always Like This). Similarly their rhythm section can do far more than deliver simple four-to-the-floor rock beats, switching to a bhangra feel for Shuffle, for example, and of course the Bollywood-influenced Feel.

As they were limited to an hour (one suspects the main headliner, Damon Albarn’s, request that he play longer put paid to any suggestion that they play an encore for the ecstatic crowd) the set was a tightly focused hits package; the three songs already mentioned, plus a rapturously received How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, and Carry Me, being other highlights. It was, we thought, a fitting end to our two days at Latitude – daughter and Heiress’s favourite band.

However, the Festival had one more surprise for us, as, on our way past the Lake Stage, we were arrested by the sight of a more than decent sized crowd going radge bongo (a technical music reviewer’s term, I believe) for Catfish and the Bottlemen on the Lake Stage. Confusingly described in the programme as ‘hotly tipped English kids hailing from Wales,’ further seconds of research suggests the band members come from places like Accrington, Sheffield, and, er, Australia. Frontman Van McCann (the one from Oz) formed part of the reason for us to stop, look and listen: a proper climbing-the-walls-with-his-guitar kind of frontman, he generated enough energy to power the amps, the stage lighting, and half the surrounding food outlets all by himself, and still have something to put back into the National Grid.

 

Partly also it was the sound they generated: songs like their current single, Rango, a good old, old-fashioned, heads down, no nonsense bit of rock and roll. The Sage of Deptford himself would approve, I reckon. They play the Caves, Edinburgh, on November 12 amongst other places.

…and finally…

Daughter and Heiress and I had just the best time at Latitude this year. If the reviews above carp a bit about sound quality, that’s not to detract from the musical enjoyment to be had. Just as importantly for your Festival Dad aged 51 ¾, the whole atmosphere of the place was relaxed, friendly, and safe-feeling. Having heard horror stories of T in the Park (the previously mentioned sledges of alcohol, the early morning cavalry charge for the newly-cleaned toilets) there were some fatherly apprehensions as we approached on the first day. These soon disappeared. There was very little drunkenness to be seen, and the only drug-taking we experienced was the two girls in front of us at Bombay Bicycle Club sharing a spliff. If that’s the worst that happens, and a bit of jumping around if you’re in the thick of it, I think the organisers have done all right.

We will be back.

 

 

 

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Latitude, Day 1: Kelis, Temples, Norma Jean Martine, Anna Calvi

There is something distinctly odd about Southwold, Suffolk. On the surface, a well-to-do, tea and scones, Edwardian seafront and shops selling pricey driftwood kind of place, the concept of distance, and interrelationships of physical locations, seem to have an elasticity that belies the town’s outward respectability. After three sets of directions along the lines of ‘you just go straight down there,’ we were no closer to finding our rental cottage, or even the place where we picked up the keys. Eventually, we saw the latter – an old water tower – away in the heat-blurred distance, across The Common, which seemed to lend itself to a dramatisation of an MR James short story in which the hero is pursued by some nameless horror as the fog rolls in menacingly over the salt-spiked grassland.

Daughter and Heiress and I left the Redoubtable Mrs F to it, to catch the bus to Latitude. She was subsequently to discover that, by taking a short step further along the High Street, she could reach the water tower in about two minutes flat. And the whole of Southwold just seems to be like that – you walk for ages, and then turn down a side road to discover you’re nearly back where you started. Probably ley lines involved somewhere. Sound, too, seems to travel in unusual ways.

More of sound bleed later on. In the meantime, there were some bands to see, once we’d oriented ourselves in the Latitude site. For those of you who haven’t been, you approach through a wooded area which slopes steeply down to the river; there’s one small stage on that side, but over the bridge things open out to a rising slope which houses most of the rest of the stages, including the Radio 6 Music tent. Then, over the top of the rise, there’s the main stage, the Obelisk, where we encountered Kelis, our first act (apart from a rousing final chorus of I Don’t Want to Change the World, by Billy Bragg).

Kelis is an interesting chameleon of an artiste. The early part of her career featured her as a pop/R & B/dance style diva, with mainstream hits such as Milkshake. In her latest incarnation, after a gap of some four years between her previous and current album, she cooks up a wholesome diet of funky, brass-laden soul that James Brown or one of Saturday’s highlights, Booker T Jones, would nod approvingly along to. Her latest album, Food (she is a cordon bleu chef as well, so the culinary puns are a bit more warranted than usual) features one track, Friday Fish Fry, which is my personal favourite: a sassy, knowing, old-school slab of soul with a great, hook-laden, chorus.

The challenge for Kelis is to produce a live show that makes sense of the differing phases of her career, and marries the current material with her older songs in a way that makes sense. She managed this pretty effectively live, in a set that featured old favourites like Milkshake and Bounce, although highlights for me were the aforementioned Friday Fish Fry, and another song during which she and the backing singer – no mean chanteuse herself – did a vocal run that ended with the Kelis hitting a note that was just about audible only to non-humans. Boy, can that girl sing!

If Kelis didn’t quite manage to engage fully with the crowd beyond the front ranks, it wasn’t really her fault. The main stage is, like all main stages, a great big block of wood, canvas and electrics in the middle of a field, and allied to the rapidly dispersing acoustics that entails, she took on probably the hottest period of the afternoon when the thermometer was pulsing way past thirty and the audience was wilting. I would see her again, but only in a smaller venue with walls (I guess I say that about everything, to be fair). Special mention to her tight backing band, with the horn section most obviously to the fore, but also some nice guitar work (again, take into account guitar player’s bias, but soul music isn’t exactly natural territory for the guitar to stand out).

Next up were Temples, a very now band. In fact, the lead singer, James Bagshaw, told the audience it was exactly two years since he and his co-writer, Tom Walmsley, had gone to Latitude as fans and written their first songs. Now here they were on the Radio 6 Stage, tearing the place up.

To call Temples a guitar-based band is like saying Westminster Abbey is mainly stone-based in construction: the songs start and end on riff-heavy contributions from Bagshaw’s Gretsch, or on a couple of numbers, a 12-string Rickenbacker. This latter guitar, in particular, gives a clue to the style: Temples are solidly, irredeemably retro, with the Sixties jangly/psychedelic heritage evoked by the use of effects that derive solidly from that period. To be honest, when I heard their CD I was disappointed it was so completely rooted in that tradition: drenched in reverb-heavy, swirly guitars, it could have been recorded in 1967.

Live, though, the band were an enjoyable proposition; the songs-well constructed, and the sound having a bit more crunch and bite than the recorded sound in the confines of the Radio 6 Tent. Plus points also included the Walmsley’s hair, which Daughter and Heiress thought better than most girls’. An advertising jingle for Tresemme can only be a phone call away. More seriously, these guys are just getting going, and if they’re currently reaching backwards for influences, their musicality on stuff like Colours to Life suggests they might well develop into something entirely new.

Back to that sound bleed issue. We came upon our next act by accident – the Lake Stage is down by the water, and we were relaxing with a quick bite on the grassy slope above it, when we became aware of someone rather good on with an electric piano. Initially thinking this was Rae Morris, whom I had previously reviewed less than generously, I was interested to have a second listen – but to do so, we need to get much, much closer. Uphill and to our right, Goat were doing their goaty thing in the Radio 6 Tent; and much further away and behind us, Rudimental was pounding away with his heavy artillery on the Obelisk stage. Closer and closer we drew, to discover the curly-tressed songstress was not Bombay Bicycle Club’s former backing singer at all, but Norma Jean Martine.

Only in my Mind evokes K T Tunstall a bit, but it was really when she switched from guitar to piano that her songs really took off, perhaps partly for the pragmatic reason that the combination of the keys, another guitarist and drums were a bit more able to carry the day against the Rudimental/Goat bombardment. A New Yorker, vocally she bears some comparison to Regina Spektor, although her music and lyrics are just a bit more direct. She wisely finished with what I thought was her strongest song of the set, Game Over. Definitely the find of the first day.

Anna Calvi finished our first day. Previous listenings on Jools Holland’s show had convinced me enough to buy a CD of hers, but I hadn’t been totally convinced. Calvi just strikes me as doing her thing more with her head than her heart. That may be unfair. However, I wasn’t at all surprised to read in the programme that she was influenced by her father’s musical tastes, which ranged from Captain Beefheart to Maria Callas. Her vocal style incorporates an operatic element, and there were certainly a few runs on guitar which owed more to symphonic instruments than the usual blues-derived rock tropes (although she could do them too). Certainly, this is one woman that knows how to tote a Telecaster. However, I remained admiring but unmoved, I’m afraid.

And with that, we decided to cut out early, having decided that Lily Allen wasn’t as much our cup of herbal tea as Two Door Cinema Club (having said that, good wishes and peaceful intentions to Ms Allen: I hope the crowd was kinder to her in person, than some people had been on Twitter). Thereafter, there was only the taxi ride back to the holiday cottage to survive. Neither our taxi driver tonight nor the one on Saturday was to know where Church Street, which has surely run off the High Street for many decades if not centuries, is. That old geographic elasticity at work again, obviously.

Report on Saturday to follow.

 

 

 

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Diary of a Festival Dad Aged 51 ¾ Part Deux: What Not to Eat (and Drink) (and Inhale)

Now then, as they say in Yorkshire (usually before they say something like, this talk about soft Southern nonsense like tungsten carbide drills is all very fancy, but what about your mother and these bloody galas? (If you don’t get this bit in parentheses, follow the link to the relevant Python sketch and be educated)) that soft Southerner Shakespeare might say music is the food of love, but anyone who knows this blog personally will know that it is an army that marches on its stomach, so the issue of what to eat at Latitude is not one to be taken lightly.

 
A reminder of the importance of Festival catering came during the recent interview at T in the Park with Mr Tinie Tempah, who seemed more keen to talk about the availability of different kinds of roast meats on the Sunday than his key musical influences (not necessarily a bad thing, some might think.) Apparently, having been given a plateful of roast chicken, Tempah Minor was crossing some kind of invisible catering line by asking for a bit of roast beef as well, and only got a tiny – or indeed, tinie – wee bit. Shame. Perhaps the chef wasn’t a fan.

 
But then T in the Park is, you might have noticed if you saw any of the coverage, based in Scotland, a country where, as Mike Myers once proclaimed, most cooking is based on a dare. Besides, if you’ve been drinking the sponsors’ beer all day it probably doesn’t matter what you eat. (Tennent’s was once described by our Justice Minister, Kenny Macaskill, as ‘cooking lager:’ Like most politicians, he immediately recanted his honest comment as soon as the headlight glare of the media caught up with him).

 
At Latitude, things look a bit more promising. The website is a little coy – this blog would have liked to see actual menus – but promises tapas, for example. Having travelled and eaten in Spain quite a bit, we look forward to coal-black, oozing chunks of morcilla, the Spanish black pudding; some gleaming, freshly carved slices of bellota jamón, cured from pigs in the Northern uplands who cavorted daily on a diet of acorns; perhaps a plateful of gambas al ajillo, prawns arching their backs on a bed of garlic, made golden by the intoxicating spice mix the Valencians put in their paella dishes. We will report back.

 
Burgers are also mentioned, but being Latitude, we can probably safely assume they’re posh burgers, hand-minced with ineffable care by cheery, smiling red-faced men in striped butchers’ outfits called something reassuringly old-fashioned like Arthur or Percy; while outside, the burgers’ cousins still frolic happily in the fields beside the village. In the nearest farm, happy little pigs grunt contendedly, knowing – and indeed accepting, of their fate of being, one day, pulled pork in a granary bun to be eaten to the distant strains of an indie guitar riff.

 
Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, the point is, I’m sure the food will be fine, and let’s not get into the politics of how, in our enlightened times, you now have to pay a premium for food that might not have come from mistreated animals or chemically poisoned crops. As an aside, though, why is it you pay more for unwaxed lemons than waxed ones? How can that be?

 
Of more concern perhaps is what one can’t bring into Latitude. The Festival website is quite particular on that. Excessive amounts of food – well, I get that: no one wants to stand in the hot sun next to the guy with a rucksack full of enough egg mayonnaise sandwiches to last him the entire weekend.

 
Excessive amounts of alcohol. Hmmm. This sounds like a challenge, especially when one hears tales of T in the Park goers using sledges to bring in their supplies. Yes, sledges in July. We Scots are famed for our ingenuity. On the other hand, I’m not sure jiggling a bottle of reserva-level Ribera del Duero on the bus from Southwold is going to provide the best complement to the aforesaid bellota ham.

 
Other prohibitions are more troubling. No nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide? What are these people going to do – perform dentistry on each other? I know some might say having a tooth pulled is better than listening to Tinie Tempah’s set, but he’s not even on the bill. Nitrous oxide. I must be missing something.

 

Ah. Daughter and Heiress knows about this. It appears that laughing gas – although I always thought that something of a misnomer, never as a kid having been greatly inclined to chuckle when exiting Mr Simpson’s surgery, clutching my mouth and leaving a trail of blood spots to encourage the next child on the vertiginous staircase with the gaps between the treads as I went – is classed as a legal high.

 
Oh well. I suppose you could always bring in a bottle of that pink mouthwash stuff the dentists insisted on having you swill to help you spit out the combination of enamel, amalgam, blood and metal left over when they had done with you. Perhaps that would induce similar memories, and give you a sort of psychological high.

 
What we shouldn’t be doing, eating-wise, of course, is exactly what we are doing the night before the Festival – staying in the Maid’s Head Hotel, Norwich, and shelling for the full bhoona of a Wine and Dine menu. The sample menu offers such delights as ‘Ballotine of Cromer Crab Mousse and Cucumber, Tomato Concasse, Tomato Gel, Crispy Seaweed Salad, Avocado Oil’ all washed down with a glass of Pouilly Fume. And that’s just the course between the starter and main. Four courses in all, different wine with each, and then port with the cheese. It doesn’t actually say that they offer a personalised service where the weakly bleating remains are carried up to their rooms by the staff, but one would think so. It may be Percy’s pulled pork in a bun goes entirely untouched at Latitude the next day. Either way, we’ll report back on that too.

 
Now then. Next up, the music itself.

 

 

 

 

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News from Venus

More to follow soon, but I just wanted to share news of our forthcoming EP – the first two tracks are uploaded to Soundcloud, including the downloadable one, Highway Tonight. It’s all quite exciting!

More news, including the promised posts on Latitude, once I’ve wrestled Soundcloud to the ground. And, in fact, now I have:

Venus Returns – Real and Virtual EP Launch
After an enforced lay off Tribute to Venus Carmichael, the only known tribute band to the eponymous singer-songwriter, come back with a bang. Two Free Fringe shows and their very first EP, showcasing their own take on 5 of Venus’s classic songs!

Check out the EP contents on Soundcloud – and until 9th August, download Highway Tonight free. Then, on 9th and 10th August, come to a very special Free fringe event – Tribute to Venus Carmichael play the songs, and spoken word performers read from her blog, telling you a little of her extraordinary life story.

We don’t know where Venus Carmichael is right now. Her blog is only updated once in a blue moon; she left no forwarding address, and her gigs are so low key they don’t make the music press these days. We do know that cassettes of previously unreleased material still make their way to her tribute band’s door. Some of these new songs will be performed for the first time on 9th and 10th August.

So come along, or tune in, to hear the story and songs of Arbroath’s most famous daughter who, back in the day, traded songs with the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Neil Young. Unlike any other show you’ll see on the Fringe – and it’s free!

Venus Returns, Cortado Cafe, 244 Canongate, EH8 8AB; 13:35 Sat 9th and Sun 10th August (1 hour)

 

Festival Dad-dom beckons

One last push uphill of the Sisyphean rock that is my day job tomorrow, and then I run away on holiday before it rolls back down on top of me.

Which means, I hope, dear reader, you’re in for a virtual feast of blogging as we approach the trip to Latitude Festival next week. Planned are:

Diary of a Festival Dad Part Deux: what not to eat; and

Diary of a Festival Dad Part the Third: your actual music.

However, this blog reserves the right to be utterly capricious and write something else entirely. I might post a picture of one of the resident goldfish, who has partially changed colour from chocolate brown to black (too much nitrate in the water, apparently – not good) and now sports a Hitler moustache. I might well post about Tribute to Venus Carmichael’s new EP – a thing of beauty. I might write a poem in praise of modern Germany’s mighty footballers: probably feels more like a prose thing, that, though.

Whatever, it’ll be unsponsored, unpasteurised, and under 2,000 words. Keep the dial here.

Right better go for now, and stop that fish trying to invade Poland. I’m convinced he’s got a Panzer Division hidden under that artificial cave thing at the bottom of the tank.

 

 

 

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The Orphan Guitar: or, the De Ville and me

Years and years ago, I mean, like decades, there was an advert for what was then the UK’s business listing telephone directory, the Yellow Pages. It featured an elderly gentleman going round some bookshops, looking for a copy of Fly Fishing by J R Hartley. ‘It is rather old,’ he tells the latest head-shaking bookshop owner.

 

Back home, his daughter – perhaps concerned about the codger’s ability to navigate his Austin Allegro between bookshops, even in those less-congested times, or maybe just looking for a bit more presence on the baby-sitting front – suggests he try Yellow Pages. Within seconds a copy has been located – think of it – by phone! The geriatric bibliophile clasps both hands round the receiver, in a transport of ecstasy similar, one imagines, to the moment he first hauled in a twenty-pounder on the end of his Old Peculiar Half-Twisted back when he was a lad.

 

The punchline, of course (SPOILER ALERT: I’m about to tell you the punchline of a decades-old UK advert which I’ve already given you the link to a YouTube clip of) was that the old buffer was very same J R Hartley, desperately seeking a copy of his own book in his dotage. Unlikely as the scenario may seem to any published writer (I mean, up in the attic I still have copies of sf magazines with my stories in them twenty five years back, although they are going in the Next Great Purge, I promise you) the advert did well. There was even a spoof version of Fly Fishing by J R Hartley produced for the Christmas market soon after.

 

Nowadays, of course, dutiful daughter would park grandpa in front of an internet connection and get him googling for his magnum opus. Google would ask him if he meant flying fish, there would be about ten adverts for hotels next to salmon rivers, and after half an hour of searching and swearing he would have found the number of a shop down the road, the very one he’d been in at lunchtime which had sold their only copy just the other day but hadn’t updated their website yet.

 

I was reflecting on this as I went on a cyberspace voyage of my own the other day, looking for a guitar manufacturer that, it seems, never was.

 

On the basis that one is just never enough, I own three working guitars. One is a Freshman 12 string that is fully acoustic (i.e. it has no onboard electronic pickups to enable it to go through an amp); a LAG semi-acoustic; and another, older semi-acoustic with the name ‘De Ville’ on the headstock. (For non-players: semi-acoustics are handy critters if you ever do play your guitar outwith the comfort of your own living room; depending on the quality of the onboard equipment and how it talks to whatever amplification set up there is at a gig, it allows you to plug in and get going the same way you could with an electric guitar.)

 

Here’s a couple of pictures of the De Ville. Isn’t she gorgeous? I saw her in the window of my then most local guitar shop, Sound Control in Kirkcaldy, and couldn’t resist her. She has a lovely, close action – the set up between neck and strings that tends to dictate how easy to play a guitar is – and, played with no amplification whatsoever, has a pleasant, if unspectacular sound. However, amped up, or even when routed direct into my home studio set-up, she can sound fantastic: in the headphones, she has a caramel-flavoured, throaty voice which is I think quite unusual; routed through the Vox AGA 30 amp I previously reviewed, she has a silvery, crunchy quality that meshes well with electric guitars. As I hope you’ll soon be hearing, but more of that in the coming weeks, I hope.

de ville 1de ville 2

 

However much I love my De Ville and her distinctive slim, rounded rear end, though, I have to admit in my heart of hearts she’s fake. For, like so many guitars, electric or acoustic, she is a copy – in this case, a copy of an Ovation (I think the Ovation Adamas, although without so many soundholes). This is a topic I’ve long wondered about, being one of those few cases where the lawyerly part of my forebrain and my musician’s medulla both light up in interested colours when I think about it. Why is it that the guitar industry is so accepting of imitations?

 

In any other area of mercantile capitalism – a Louis Vuitton handbag, to take a random but frequent example from my spam filter – the official maker would be taking all steps available to them in intellectual property law to pursue the copiers, across jurisdictions, to stop them producing knock-offs. Indeed, a significant proportion of local and central government money – the tax-payers’ money, in other words – is spent on tracking down and prosecuting fake brands.

 

One difference, of course, is that most of the ‘copy’ guitars don’t pretend to be anything other than copies: it may look like a Fender Stratocaster, it may even sound quite a bit like a Fender Stratocaster, but the name on the headstock will be different. All the same, I’ve never quite understood how the big names like Fender and Gibson haven’t tried to enforce the design rights against other manufacturers who, almost invariably, undercut them on price.

 

Maybe it’s just the nature of the product. Anyone who shells out for a ‘real’ Fender Strat, for example, will tell you there’s just no comparison between the sound it produces and, say, a Squier Strat, which, incidentally, is also produced by Fender. In fact, Fender and Gibson now own quite a few names, some of which make copies of guitars made by them under the original brand name. Confusing, huh?

 

For me, if a guitar feels right in my hands and sounds right in my ears, then she’s a good guitar, whatever the name. Ovation, the original guitar maker in this tale, has itself an interesting backstory: it was founded by Charlie Kaman, the owner of a company which made, in the main, helicopter parts. Kaman was a keen amateur guitarist, and experimented with innovative guitar designs because, he reckoned, the conventional joins between the parts of the body, could be improved upon, as well as the potential to reduce feedback. What he came up with – a slim-bodied semi-acoustic with a plastic, moulded back that fit the contours of a human frame far more comfortably than conventional acoustics, and multiple soundholes rather than the usual single big one in the middle – was debuted by bluesman Josh White, but really got attention when in the hands of the much more mainstream country singer Glen Campbell in the late Sixties.

 

Ovations kind of had their heyday in the Seventies and Eighties, when they were used, typically, in the rock arena by poodle-haired lead singers for the acoustic bit of the show that showed they had a, y’know, sensitive side, ladeez, before handing back to the proper guitarist with the Strat turned back up to eleven. To be fair, it was also used by bona fide singer-songwriters like Lennon and Paul Simon. Kaman died in 2011 at the grand old age of 91 [check]; the Ovation brand was sold to Fender in 2007, who recently closed down the New Hartford, Conneticut facility where they’d traditionally been made, and moved production to the Far East. So it goes.

 

Which brings me back to Google. I’d wondered, over the years, who had made De Ville guitars. They weren’t obviously Japanese in origin, like the Kiso-Suzuki Corporation that made my – now-retired – Gibson J200 copy. My interest was piqued more recently by seeing, in that retail repository of broken hopes and dreams, Cash Converter, a De Ville Stratocaster copy. It was something like 40 quid, and I would have been tempted to shell for it if I hadn’t been put off the idea of Strats for good by Tony Blair buying one when he was Prime Minister. I mean, what was he going to do, get back together with his old Oxford Uni pals and reform Ugly Rumours? Please. And anyway, he was the lead singer.

 

However, the sight of the name led me to a Google journey which, unlike J R Hartley’s fulfilling quest for Fly Fishing, led only to more and more questions.

 

First, as always, I had to wade through all the things Google thought I was talking about. So I glanced into various blind alleys concerning C C Deville, former lead guitarist with Eighties metal band Poison, who gained the dubious distinction of being voted in at least one poll the worst metal guitarist ever; although recent revisionist historians of Eighties metal (such a tributary of academia, it seems, exists) reckon actually he wasn’t that bad at all, just that rare breed of rock guitarist who was ‘understated.’

 

Likewise the twinning of Fender with Deville in a number of search results soon turned out not to be proof of a noble lineage after all for my plastic-bottomed sweetheart; there’s a Fender amplifier of that name.

 

The sponsored sites all beckoned me in with promises of De Ville guitars for sale. They lied, of course, all of them, offering instead guitars, the aforementioned Fender amp, and, bizarrely, t-shirts of Robert Johnson at his historic crossroads doing his Mephistophelean thing. I backed out of their digital doorways at speed as they scrambled to evade my anti-cookie control and know me to the depths of my consumer soul.

 

What I did find of interest were a couple of discussion sites about guitars, and ‘gear’ generally. These generally took the form of queries from equally baffled De Ville owners, wondering if anyone had heard of them, and where they came from. The general consensus seemed to be that someone, somewhere, had made a wide range of Fender, Gibson and other copy guitars under this name, but had since disappeared. One theory was that, in the vast multiverse of cheap guitar manufacturers, this was just one here-today-and-gone-tomorrow outfit, probably from somewhere in Asia.

 

The other possibility was that these guitars were, in fact seconds, which the manufacturers were unwilling to put their name to – a bit like, in the wine industry, when there’s overproduction in a particular wine region, and the surplus is released as so-called ‘Cleanskin’ wines.

 

Here’s my problem with that theory: given that people have Gibson, Fender and – in my own case – pre-Fender takeover Ovation guitars, for them to all be seconds, there would have to be some sort of conspiracy between all those guitar manufacturers to use the name De Ville for their seconds. And that’s just crazy talk, isn’t it? Although, like so many conspiracy theories, there’s a big part of you wants it to be true.

 

To me, all these theories are missing the obvious: that these guitars, innocently sold and then sold on through the years, are actually the work of the Devil! De Ville. Devil. He’s used that before, at least in Hammer films, right? And who, traditionally has all the best tunes? Why on earth wouldn’t he be secretly be sneaking out instruments to play them?

 

Consider the evidence. The blues condemned by preachers as the Devil’s music. Robert Johnson goes to the crossroads. Elvis Presley, simply by swivelling his hips in a hypnotically sexy manner, invents rock and roll. The Rolling Stones write Sympathy for the Devil. Cliff Richard. Well, ok, maybe not him, but you get the picture. Although he did write ‘Devil Woman.’ Old Nick recognises that guitar-based, blues-derived, music is a great way of attracting new converts.

 

But something just isn’t quite right. To Beelzebub’s exquisitely musical ear, the guitars Leo Fender and the rest turn out are just too … well, just too damn good. I mean, not all luthiers are saints, but they’re at the very least nuanced characters. And some of the good in them keeps leaching into the instruments they produce. So Nick sets his infernal imps to work, a hellish production line of copies which, by being all bad, are the best you could have for the Devil’s music.

 

The ability to play them like the Devil comes as a separate package, I presume. Note to self: see what comes up as ‘Robert Johnson Crossroads’ on Google Maps.

Selling Your Digital Soul: Or, the Slight Return of Doris and the Spambots

You’re probably too young to remember The Clash the first time round. A heady mix of left-wing leanings, high cheekbones, no little talent and a bucket-load of attitude, for a time in the early Eighties they were uncrowned Kings of Rock for all those earnest young lads like me who thought music had to mean something. They even conquered America, with Rock the Casbah.

Anyways, one of the things that impressed me about Joe Strummer and comrades was their consistent refusal to go on Top of the Pops. I mean, the whole politics of it – even for an earnest young chap like myself – wasn’t totally clear: going on ToTP was described as ‘selling out,’ even though the show was on a publicly owned station, and the money for going on, we can safely assume, was not exactly fantastic.

Perhaps the lads had an early inkling of what Jimmy Saville and some (but not, it must be said for legal reasons, all) of his fellow DJs were up to on the show. Perhaps they just felt that not going on a deeply cheesy round up of whatever crap had risen to the surface in the undifferentiated chart of what was still referred to as ‘pop’ music wasn’t too bad an artistic statement. Jools Holland’s show might be a tad formulaic some nights, but the quality of the stuff on that is light years ahead of what we had to endure a generation back.

All of which seems a long time ago, back when there was only one phone in the house, in the hall; we all drank water from the garden hose, drove home seatbelt-less and blind drunk every night in cars with no power steering or even working headlights, and regularly sucked on our fingers and plugged them into the nearest wall socket just to give the younger kids a bit of a laugh. And no one ever came to any harm. Back then, punk bands were proper bands, who could play their own instruments. Well, apart from most of the Sex Pistols, obviously. And Paul Simonon in the early days.

Nowadays, though, we live in a gentler, digital age, where you can watch your concerts on YouTube and spare yourself the bother of washing the spit out of your hair when you get home. Because you’re already home, on your iPad or tablet or mobile phone, watching stuff for free and scaring the bejasus out of the commercial interests who prowl the internet, stalking its darker, jungly reaches, like predators caught on the wrong side of an evolutionary curve, desperately trying to change their spots to blend in.

Because the Internet is a puzzling, slightly frightening place to advertisers and other interests desperate to monetize it. Incidentally, is monetize really a word now? MS Word has recognised it as such: o tempora, o mores! (Word doesn’t recognise tempora, of course).

Long term readers of this blog may recall a previous post about an approach I had from a company called Media Discovery, who wanted to advertise on my blog. Just give us a page on your blog, said a nice-seeming woman called Doris; we’ll advertise and will pay you. I agonised about it all for a while and then decided that, like the Clash but on a much smaller scale, I didn’t want to sell out.

Then something else happened. Like millions of others, I use WordPress as a platform to launch my musings and meanderings at the world. It’s free. It’s easy to use. And … er … it carries adverts on your blog? A little message started appearing at the bottom of my posts, saying ‘occasionally, some of your visitors may see an advert here.’ Eh?

I clicked on the ‘tell me more,’ link, and discovered that, yes, WordPress had found a way of monetizing my blog, by sticking adverts underneath it. Maybe. I couldn’t tell from my end. I could purchase a no-ads option for $30 if I wanted, though.

Now, I may be a bleeding heart liberal, but I’m not actually stupid. Of course WordPress has to make money to survive in the internet jungle; even out of bozos like me who only sign up to the free stuff, don’t buy any premium ‘themes,’ or generally succumb to any of their money-making blandishments. Even they must try to get money out of a Scotsman.

However, this just seemed a little bit, well, cheeky. It nearly drove me back into the arms of Doris, that nice-seeming woman at Media Discovery. If I’m selling out without meaning to, I reasoned, then I might as well sell out to someone called Doris who, it appeared, gave me some control over what I was endorsing.

Doris, I said, make me an offer (for like all of modern life, we were on first name terms immediately). Well, Andrew, Doris said, I ran your site through our client services team and the closest match we have is a gaming client for 125USD per year.

Well, Doris, I replied. Here’s the thing – not quite sure what you mean by gaming. If you mean playing computer games, I don’t do that, so I couldn’t really endorse any of them (I was assuming they weren’t going to be promoting my good friend Gavin Inglis’s game, Neighbourhood Necromancer).

If, on the other hand, Doris, I continued, you mean a gambling site, while I’m not actually ethically opposed to that, it’s again not something I do, and I guess I have some concerns about online gambling, and addiction, and all that.

Doris was very understanding in her reply. How about you look at the article first, she suggested. Well, okay, I said, but I still have those concerns.

The draft article, was ingenious, I have to say: all about how listening to music while you’re playing online poker can help concentration. Apparently there’s a New York Times article. Motivational rock such as Eye of the Tiger could work. And while you could say what you like about most of Kenny Loggins’s ‘inoffensive smooth jazz output,’ the article went on, it was a fact, apparently, that Danger Zone remains one of the most ‘terrifyingly-motivational’ (sic) songs ever written.

Warming to its theme, the article (which, apart from the grammatical schoolboy error, above, was pretty well written, to be fair) went on about how, if you were playing poker, you were really better listening to instrumentals, such as trance, house, or classical music. Beethoven’s 7th was particularly recommended.

I politely declined Doris, for a second time. I may say she took it very well, and sent me a nice note thanking me for my interest. I didn’t go into reasons with her, but principal amongst them, of course, was Kenny Loggins. I mean, Kenny Loggins! Inoffensive jazz output, indeed! As Arnold Brown once said, I don’t call that easy listening. I could give them Eye of the Tiger, but Danger Zone? I don’t think so.

The other reason I decided not to get in bed with Doris – in the commercial sense, I mean – (actually, that sounds worse…) was I did a bit more research on Media Discovery, and found that, yes, there was a price to pay for your 125 bucks. The links that Media Discovery put on your site are picked up by Google, who demote you on their search engines, so that you lose about 90 – 95% of your traffic through search engines.

Not ideal. I think it’s probably a bit strong to call it a scam, but it’s certainly not something I would want to happen.

So my digital soul remains pure – at least for now. I do remain open to offers. If Fender want to lob me whatever their latest incarnation of a Telecaster is, I’d be happy to review it. Hell, I’d put out for Gibson, too. Especially after they let me on their Guitar Bus that time in Nashville – another story.

But Kenny Loggins. I mean, Kenny Loggins.

 

 

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Secret Diary of a Festival Dad aged 51 ¾ Part 1: What Not To Wear

So the tickets for the Latitude Festival have been bought (in fact, somewhat overbought – anyone looking for Sunday tickets, please apply here) the cottage booked (well, there are limits, don’t’cha know – no mud-slicked tent in the family area for this blog) and the train tickets for the way down secured. I am to go with Daughter and Heiress (aged 15 ¾ ) and become, officially, a Festival Dad.

The aforementioned term has become, at best, less than complimentary, and rightly so. I mean, back in my day, Dads would be left at home, smoking a pipe or other such manly pursuits; a spot of carpentry, perhaps, or maintaining the family saloon, before the advent of computerised engine management systems put that way beyond us, or cutting the grass in diamond stripes, weedkilled with the kind of lethal chemicals now classified as WMDs under the Geneva Convention.

Dads certainly didn’t go along to sit, stand, or otherwise present themselves in a field with a bunch of plaid-shirt wearing hipsters, to listen to that bloody racket the youngsters seem so keen on these days: nope, a dash of Mantovani, or at most, a spot of Sinatra would be what your Seventies Dad was expected to listen to.

In fact, a Dad would most resemble Inspector Thursday off the Morse prequel, Endeavour: pipe-smoking, hatted, slightly crumpled, and staring off into the middle distance pensively when the war was mentioned. Unless he were a younger Dad, in which case he might be more commonly spotted arse upwards in the engine of a Ford Escort RS2000, changing the spark plugs in an ageing Elvis quiff and a pair of jeans.

Ah, yes, jeans! How we laughed in those days at anyone over the age of thirty-five who dared to wear denim; how sad they seemed, hanging on to the vanishingly small vestiges of their youth when, really, they should be in sensible stay-prest bri-nylon, all of them. In those days, too, brands of jeans were generally few and far between: in the simpler corporate universe that brought you the Coca Cola/Pepsi wars, denim-wise you had Levi’s, Wranglers, or if you were really pushing the boat out, Lee Coopers (this last brand, incidentally, now seems to be undergoing some sort of life after death in that temple to the shell suit, Sports Direct – what up with that, Lee Cooper?)

Nowadays, of course, the rules for what youth and non-youth may wear are somewhat more nuanced. Just as the modern rock band can draw on an ever-increasing grab-bag of musical influences from the mid-Sixties onwards, so everyone feels increasingly confident that more or less anything goes clothes-wise. However, there are some rules, as we shall see, as well as some things that are so irredeemably stuck in their period that they seem incapable of revival – we’re still waiting, so far as this blog is aware, for the kipper tie and the wide lapel to reappear, although there were flares and rumours of flares recently.

So far as jeans are concerned, there is now a bewildering array of styles and materials. You can have them straight, or bootcut, or skinny. You can have the crotch of them set so low it looks as if you need to accommodate something unfeasibly elephantine down there. You can have them waist-high, hip-high, or hanging off your arse with the grim determination of a mountaineer clinging by a fingernail to the north face of the Eiger, last ice-axe spinning hopelessly into the unfathomable ravine below. And jeans are just the least of it.

Being a performer chappie has allowed me to branch out a bit more than your average Joe 51 and ¾ year old, it has to be said. A bit of vintage tweed here, a dash of piratical cravat there, and so on, and so forth. Not wearable in Glenrothes on a night out, necessarily, unless I’m actually looking to get my head kicked, but all right for the low-lit stage life I lead in Edinburgh, whether or not accessorised by a guitar. Glenrothes demands a slightly more conservative dress code, although again I do try to push the boundaries. However, there are boundaries.

Firstly, there are those which are self-imposed. Although things are a bit more laissez-faire these days, no-one wants to look like the oldest swinger in town (at least not in this town, where the demographics are unfavourable, let’s just say) or as if you’ve not actually changed your dress code since 1975. The latter risk is accentuated by all these circular fashion movements: I was around for the granddad shirt’s first moment in the sun, and if it made my neck look scrawny then, things won’t have improved all these years on.

No-no’s include:
– almost anything from the Joe Browns catalogue. This is generally because it’s just too damn young for this blog, although the accompanying text along the lines of, Woah, dude! Check these awesome prints/Bermuda shorts/granddad shirts worn with a twist we found when we rocked up in our camper van in Cuba! Surf’s up, dude! Is discouraging, when even with rapidly advancing sea levels surf is unlikely to be up, in any sense, in Glenrothes any time soon.

- Anything with more than one dot on the iron symbol in the washing instructions. This blog and this blog’s wife have developed an actual physical allergy to ironing over the years, and Daughter and Heiress shows no sign of being any different. On that topic, why is it that everything we wear now is 100% cotton? I mean, stay-prest bri-nylon aside, isn’t there any, like, better fabrics that don’t actually crumple in the bag on the way home from the shop?
– Polo shirts. I know, one sees all sorts of young hip dudes wearing these, but all they do is remind me of Mike Butler circa 1972, and, apologies Mike, for you had (and indeed probably still have) many fine qualities, but being the sharpest dressed kid on the block wasn’t an obvious one.

Then there are the boundaries imposed by Daughter and Heiress:

- No flowery shirts.

- No paisley pattern either.

- Or polka dot.

- No skinny-leg trousers (a pity, because my legs are actually pretty skinny).

- No v-necks – not a problem, since that garment to me is forever associated with Bruce Forsyth and Jimmy Tarbuck.

- No check shirts on a day D & H is wearing a check shirt.

This last cut is in many ways the deepest, as a fairly large proportion of my wardrobe choices involve the check shirt and t-shirt combo. However, there is no arguing with youth. Besides, I don’t actually want her abiding memory of her first festival to be pretending to be my community care assistant.
So what does all this leave me? Surprisingly, there is something left:
– Chinos. Somewhat to my amazement, these no longer seem to be perceived as preppy, nerdy, or any of the other things they appear to me have been at various points over the decades. The trick seems to be to keep them a darker tan colour, and fairly skinny legged (don’t tell her!)

- Check shirts on days D & H isn’t wearing hers, so we don’t look like The Swiss Family Plaid;

- T-shirts. There seems to be no objection to any of the t-shirts. There have even, occasionally, been favourable comments, and birthday and Xmas presents of them.

- Tweed jacket. Again, this seems now to be not an old fogey garment, if worn ironically.

- A pair of what I can only describe as granddad trousers bought in H & M – not normally a happy hunting ground for me clothes-wise, but these are so bonkers in their horn-buttoned and thin-braced Mumfordian tomfoolery they just had to be had.

- Certain other overshirts, jackets, and shoes. I have a treasured pair of Lee Cooper baseball boots (as they used to be called, back in the 17th century).

- Hats. I have a collection of trilbies. The world and his whippet wears trilbies nowadays: I’m not quite sure why. She can’t touch me for it.

- Jeans, as long as they’re sensible, non-skinny, arse and underpants-covering, jeans.
Of course, this is all on the very shaky premise that the heavens won’t open at Latitude and that we won’t experience rain of biblical proportions, turning the whole arena into a highly topical re-enactment of conditions at the Somme, with wellies the only possible hope of avoiding trench foot. In which event, that bi-colour cagoule out of the Cotton Traders catalogue will look alluring in retrospect.

Not to mention the prospect of being back home, smoking a pipe, and contemplating a spot of bri-nylon-clad carpentry to the strains of Mantovani later on.
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