andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Tag Archives: bruce springsteen

Musical Advent Calendar Day 24: Bruce Springsteen – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town/Mariah Carey – All I want for Christmas

I’m not a great fan of the modern, non-geographical, use – or over-use – of the word ‘journey,’ to describe a period of personal development of some kind. So I’m going to call this month’s musical advent calendar a trip instead.

It’s not been without its dilemmas (and one discovery has been how to spell that word). Each piece of music carries with it some sort of freight: I haven’t consciously tried to be unduly ‘cool’ in my choices, but, for example, there’s not been any Abba, when there clearly could have been.

Beyond that, though, the songs and the act of choosing them have stirred up memories, almost all good, of various things: events and periods in my life I associate them with; gigs I’ve been to; but most of all, the familial and other relationships they evoke.

Frozen Spider’s Web in Fife, earlier this year

I write this morning from our flat in Edinburgh, where we’re spending Christmas with Daughter and Heiress. It’s the first time we’ve done that: and yet, even though we still live full time in Fife, coming here still feels like coming home. Who knows, this could be the start of a new Christmas tradition for us…

…and as daylight slowly breaks over stormy, red-edged skies, I know that the rest of my small but perfectly formed family are gathering together elsewhere. In Canberra, my brother and his wife will be preparing for their two sons coming round, along with my younger nephew’s girlfriend; my sister’s in London with her Son Number 2 and his girlfriend; my older nephew will be with his wife, his own daughter and heiress, and his in-laws near Stirling. And wherever we are, I know two things: we’ll be raising a glass to those missing, and there will be music of some kind going on.

I’ve always considered myself the least musical of my siblings: I mean, they’ve both got Grade 107 or whatever in proper instruments like piano, violin and viola, and sing in choirs. I’ll never be much more than an average guitar player, and my singing’s not really up to much. But music, this month has taught me if I hadn’t known before, is a part of me. It’s been the soundtrack to my happiest moments; it’s kept me going through the most laborious of workaday chores; and in my darkest times, it’s been my salvation.

Grandpa Anderson’s Christmas Rose Pics: Alison Ferguson

So of whatever religion or none, celebrating the winter solstice or the longest summer day south of the Equator, I hope Bruce, Clarence and the rest of the band soundtrack a great day for you all, and thanks for listening!

I could have left it there. But Mariah Carey is a guilty pleasure. Yeah I know it’s cheesy, and she’s a total diva etc etc, but that joy in her voice when she hits the final top note: you can’t tell me that was a chore for her. You can act all cool and say, huffily, ‘well, I was going to give him Springsteen, but Mariah Carey! ‘ sake…’ all you like. I bet you click on the vid when no-one’s watching.

Last chance to donate to the Myanmar Red Cross Appeal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’ll be selling you stuff down here. Why not wait and see what’s under the tree for you

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A Musical Advent Calendar – Day One

Image result for liberty advent calendar 2017

Liberty’s beauty one prompted people to queue for hours back in October. RRP was £175, but you can still get it on Ebay if you shell £450 or so. The Fortnum and Mason £125 wooden one with chocolates seems almost a snip in comparison; Edinburgh Gin has one with 25 miniatures (£100); Debenhams has a pork scratchings one, apparently. Hell, you can get one which gradually assembles a screwdriver set, or if you prefer, gives you a sex toys a day.

What on earth am I talking about? Advent calendars, of course, which have come a long, long way from my childhood, when we had the same cardboard effort come out of the loft every year, with the increasingly ajar doors revealing pictures of nativity type things like angels. Or shepherds. Or, on Christmas Eve, the Nativity, with our Redeemer in a manger surrounded by adoring adults and farm animals. Our Redeemer, mind. Not a sausage roll in a manger, Gregg’s the bakers! Bad Greggs.

Anyhoo. Here’s an advent calendar you don’t have to pay a thing for: in the lead up to Christmas, I’m going to put up a link to a song I like every day, and, if I have time, some sort of story about either its making or why it means something to me. Or both. They won’t all be the type of music you expect, and they sure as hell won’t be Christmas-related. Unless you count ‘Hallelujah’ (it’ll be the Cohen version, before you ask). And Springsteen’s cover of ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town’ will be the Christmas Eve one, I’m telling you right now. I might even take requests!

To kick things off, here’s a well known track – predictable, perhaps, but still ranked by some polls as the greatest rock song ever. It reminds me, somewhat counterintuitively, of Birmingham, a place I’ve visited three times: once to see England beat the Aussies at Edgbaston; once for a science fiction convention (back when I was masquerading as an sf writer) but, the first time, to see Dylan.

1987, his so-called ‘Temples in Flames’ tour, when he was backed by the late, great, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Roger McGuinn came on first and did a so-so solo set; then Petty and the others emerged from the shadows and assisted him on a transcendent ‘Mr Tambourine Man.’ Then, after their own set, they provided a perfect foil to the wee man from Minnesota.

Dylan was still coming out of his Born Again phase, so we had a few Christian numbers to put up with. This version of Like A Rolling Stone made it all worthwhile though. I’ve seen Dylan three times, but I’ve never seen him better. This is from the Australian leg of the same tour.

Just before I go, here comes the money bit – instead of the Liberty calendar, you might want to think about giving some of your hard-earned to the Red Cross Myanmar appeal. I’m sure the politics of it is more complicated than the media’s portrayed, but bottom line is around 600,000 people are living in camps as winter closes in because of political, ethnic and/or religious differences. These guys are suffering, and could do with your help.

(Feel free to post your own thoughts and reflections on the song, His Bobness, or anything else you fancy)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below here be monsters. Or at least WordPress-generated advertising. Which might not be all that monstrous, to be fair.

 

Bruce Springsteen and the Isaac Brutal Band

Bruce Springsteen and the Isaac Brutal Band

In the lead up to Bruce Almighty, I hope to interview some of the guys n’ gals bringing you the noise on the night. We start with not one, not two, but three members of the band that backs the man we call The Boss, Isaac Brutal (pictured above): Graham Crawford, the band’s resident lead guitarist, producer and player of any instrument you throw at him; lead singer Emma Emz Gow; and on bass, the legend that is Murray Ramone…

How did you first meet Bruce Springsteen – what song, or album, was your first encounter with him?

Graham: Norman Rodger introduced me to Bruce Springsteen in 1980. He was a big fan and I was a fan of Norman’s band TV21. (Norman will also be performing on the night, with his band The Normans – Ed)

Murray: Born to Run in the 70’s, thanks to an older brother.

Emma: 1993/94, when I first saw the movie Philadelphia, the title track for which was written and performed by Bruce. Great movie, great soundtrack. I was just hitting my teens and finding my own taste in music at that point.

(Mr Ramone in action, at Jeffest5 this summer. Photo: Vikki McCraw)

You’re a band known for its own, unique, original material. What attracted you to doing a Springsteen tribute?

Graham: We will play any gig we are offered. I can’t remember the last time we said no.

Murray: We were asked. Personally I hate doing covers, but as I’m not the main writer in the band it’s always someone else’s song I’m adding bass to. I treat it the same way, think about what I’m going to do, not what the demo or in this case the original does.

Emma: We were invited to do it, but it was also an opportunity I jumped at, a) because the material is so different to what we as a band would normally do, and b) because I love a challenge and the idea of being The Boss for an evening appealed to me.

(The band in full flow at Henry’s Cellar Bar. Photo: Kenny Mackay)

Unfortunately, the E Street Band were unavailable on the 25th. Tell us a little about your band. Do the Springsteen songs fit your sound, or have you changed your usual sound (instrument wise or otherwise) to fit what you imagined for the songs?

Graham: There’s a lot of us in this band and we like to layer up the sound of the band in a similar way to the E Street Band. Playing other bands’ music gives us a chance to explore what we are all doing. When we first start on a project like this it sounds chaotic until we all work out how our own instruments fit in with the overall sound. Working out the details in someone else’s song is fun and keeps us interested. When we go back to our own songs we can add in what we have learned.

Murray: Any good song will work in any style.

Emma: Isaac Brutal are very much a country punk band with a penchant for bile black humour and great story telling. I guess great story telling is something we have in common with the Boss. We didn’t really change anything to fit the style of the songs though. We were lucky to have Kenny involved to help us pick, and play lead guitar for our set as he is a massive fan. But have we changed anything? No, not really. It’s just been an exercise in versatility for us.

(Mr Crawford, also rocking out at JF5. Photo: Vikki McCraw)

Any songs that didn’t make the cut? Any you wish you could do, but feel you can’t?

Graham: Kenny and Mark choose the songs. I am a hired hand just like members of the E Street Band.

Murray: I’d tackle something off Born in the USA. The songs would be much improved without the terrible bombastic production.

Emma: Kenny and Mark picked the set. I genuinely hadn’t heard any of these songs until a few months ago, but I have grown to love them. I wanted to do Thunder Road and was overruled. Probably a good thing in the end as we’ve had to work hard enough on the songs we did wind up going with and they are simpler. (Plus the harmonica solo’s tougher than you’d think – Ed.)

(Emma: Jeffest5 again. Photo: Vikki McCraw)

Finally, any news about your band you’d like to share with us – any albums/tours/interesting merch available on the night?

Graham: Not 1 but 2 albums in the can waiting to be released. Both are sounding very good and it is a fight to see which will be released first.

Emma: Our album The Falcon Has Landed is coming soon, the release of which will undoubtedly coincide with an album launch show early next year at some point (but don’t quote me on that). Also, Prostitutes, Junkies and Bums, an acoustic side project mostly by Mark and Andrew but featuring some work by myself, Graham and Stuart Munro is just about ready to go too. We may or may not have CDs available at the merch table….?

 

Bruce Almighty

Bob Dylan. Nick Cave. Leonard Cohen. What have they all got in common, apart from the obvious? The obvious being, of course, I’ve been involved in organising tribute nights to all of them. And now, it’s Bruce Springsteen’s turn to be inducted into the Fergusonian Hall of Rock and Roll Fame: mark Saturday, 25th November in your diary, because that’s when you can hear four of Edinburgh’s finest bands pay tribute to the Boss.

However, this night’s very far from being about me. For a start, I think it was legendary guitarist Kenny Mackay who first suggested it, and despite being involved in other bands, he’s been drawn back into Isaac Brutal for the night to add his own unique axe-troubling style to our set.

Secondly, though, this wasn’t exactly the hardest sell in the world to other musicians. Leith Depot’s a great wee venue – the Brutals had a great time, and arguably gave one of our best performances there, back in March, when we supported Véloniños along with Elvera and the Arcatis. And Bruce’s songs – well…

I remember, back when I was a student, reading a review of a Nils Lofgren album, that said something like, ‘If you think all Springsteen songs are about, girls, speed and night, listen to Nils Lofgren.’ Back in the early 80s, it was perhaps easy to categorise a lot of Springsteen songs that way, and I grew up listening to those classic early albums Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and The River.

In many ways he made much more sense as a hero for me than Dylan, whose own first imperial phase coincided with my drooling a lot, throwing food, and generally being a toddler. Born to Run, on the other hand, hit the record shops (as they were known then) in 1975, when I was 13; Darkness on the Edge of Town when I was 16, that year of rebellion and ridiculously hard maths exams. Complicating things at the time were bands like the Stranglers proclaiming that there were no such things as heroes (No More Heroes being released a year later, in 1977). It was interesting to read more recently that Springsteen was acutely aware of punk’s rise, and was painstaking in his song choice for Darkness (still one of my favourite albums) to reflect the rock n’ roll toughness that he tuned into, coming from the likes of the Ramones.

As I think I’ve said before, I’ve never quite forgiven two of my Uni pals for going off and queuing for tickets to see Springsteen at the Playhouse when he toured The River. To be fair, I suppose, mobile phones hadn’t been invented then, so getting me down there too would’ve involved one of them chancing his place in the queue to run to the phone box on Greenside Place, remembering my number out of his own head, phoning the payphone on my floor in student halls, and hoping someone would pick up that wasn’t too drunk or too stoned to pass the message on. Not surprising really, then, that I missed what was to be my last chance to see The Boss outside of a stadium gig.

Those are just my few reflections on his early work. However, you’ll all have memories of the vast Springsteen canon, and how it first touched you: the huge, gated drums and synth intro of Born in the USA, for example, misappropriated by the Reagan campaign, much to Bruce’s Democrat-voting chagrin; the more downbeat, reflective early 90s albums, Human Touch and Lucky Town; or the haunting, Steinbeck-inspired Ghost of Tom Joad. Springsteen’s work perhaps doesn’t have the sprawling span of some of the other greats, but it’s certainly harder to categorise than being all girls, speed and night.

And of course he’s still working: his latest album, High Hopes, came out in 2014, and besides a well-received autobiography he’s currently performing an 8-week run of his songs interspersed with the stories behind them on Broadway – coincidentally, ending the day after our tribute night.

In the lead up to Bruce Almighty I hope to bring you some interviews with members of the bands that are providing your night’s entertainment on Saturday 25th. In the meantime, feel free to share your own comments and thoughts on the Boss, his music, and anything else you feel like, really!

 

 

Journeys Deep in the Land of Bruce: a review of Cory Branan’s Adios

I’ve not listened to nearly enough music in my near 55 years on Earth. I mean, even my CD collection – which seemed at one point big enough to cause stress on the house foundations, or at least make an indelible dent in the carpet – is a tiny, tiny, fraction of the rock, country, soul, blues and what d’you may call it committed to tape since I was old enough to know there was something rum about Gary Glitter.

And in case I didn’t realise how ignorant I was, there are magazines like Mojo and Uncut to rub my nose in my own vacuity. Here’s a typical example of the type of review I read as I attempt to navigate my way through the roiling rapids of new music, and pick out something I might drop a few quid on and actually listen to:

‘David Barbe is best known as a producer for the Drive-By Truckers, Deerhunter and other local and national acts… “Why You Gotta Make It So Hard?” recalls the weirdo pop of the Elephant 6 Collective…’

Ok. I know Drive-By Truckers: that’s who Jason Isbell used to be with, and I’ve even heard a couple of their tracks. Deerhunter? I feel I should have heard of them. I’m sure I’ve read about them, in Mojo and Uncut. Elephant 6 Collective? Nope. No clue.

I know. I should be ashamed of myself. To be fair, most of the time, I will have heard of the bands these reviews reference. It’s just that, were I put in front of a firing squad of musos and told to whistle one of their greatest hits, I might be hard pushed to even make a start before the vinyl collectors pulled the trigger.

So this review is proceeding from a state of ignorant, if not bliss, acceptance that I will never, ever, be able to reference someone obscure. Full many a flower may, indeed, be born to blush unseen, musically speaking, and, as a matter of empirical fact, waste its sweetness on the desert air. I’m afraid my time to surf Youtube for all these mute inglorious Miltons is, well, pretty limited by other stuff.

So I’ll come right out and say it. Jason Isbell and Cory Branan sound a lot to me like Bruce Springsteen.

To be fair, I’m not the only one to make the connection. Isbell was described as ‘Springsteen-endorsed,’ in his recent interview with Acoustic Guitar; Uncut’s review of Branan’s new album, Adios, explicitly references the Boss.

Let’s start with Branan. I first heard a song of his a couple of years ago, as the standout track on one of the taster CDs of new music you get with these music zines. It was called ‘Survivor Blues’ and there was one line in particular, ‘leaned, and lit a cigarette,’ that I especially liked for its economy. I then promptly failed to put in the hard yards online to hear more of his stuff.

It was only recently, when I saw the review of Adios, that I got my act together and ordered up a copy online.

For me, it’s a truly great album in the fine traditions of the best work of Bruce Springsteen. Some things are obvious musical Springsteen references: the honking sax on ‘Imogene,’ for example; the pounded piano at the start of ‘Blacksburg,’ or the Roy Bittan-like keyboard sounds on ‘You Got Through.’

The Uncut review specifically compares Branan’s style to Springsteen’s 1980 classic ‘The River,’ and the musical similarities are there for all to see. The meld of soul, folk and early rock n’ roll (‘Only I Know,’ for example, with its Buddy Holly-style chord progressions) has the same roots as the Sage of New Jersey.

There’s another link, which only became obvious when the recent reissue of ‘The River’ sent Brucie on the interview trail: country. Springsteen described listening to the likes of Hank Williams to get that sense of ‘three chords and the truth’ into his songwriting.

Now, I’ve described before how I came to country late. When I was a teenager, that whole glitzy, teeth n’ sequins commercialism seemed alien to me, a kid from a place where (arguably too much the other way) the emphasis was on telling things as they really were, no matter how grittily depressing that might be.

(I’ve never thought of the connection up to now, but you could say that as much about the traditional Scottish folk songs as you could about punk. The guitars are different, obviously.)

It was only as I grew older that I realised that country was exactly about telling things as they were, and the plastic smiles and rhinestones of the big country stars that reached our TV were a long way from Nashville’s darker heart, and the likes of Willie Nelson. I still can’t stand that production line alternating bass figure you get on a lot of Johnny Cash songs, and too much plaintive pedal steel turns me off, but I get it, I really do.

Apart from the ones previously mentioned, there are three particular favourites for me. ‘Don’t Go,’ a story of a life long love ending up with the wife’s death, walks the fine line between mawkishness and tugging at the heart strings and, for me at least, makes it to the other side of that canyon unscathed. ‘My Father was an Accordion Player,’ is another (it would seem) personal family tale of a father-son relationship which is bittersweet but funny. My favourite of all of them, though, is ‘The Vow,’ a tribute to Branan’s late father that combines affection with realism in a truly touching way.

Branan is his own man so far as lyrics go, and all the better for it. Take these lines from ‘the Vow,’ as an example:

‘I said, well I just thought, and he cut me off, and said that’s what you get for thinking,

I remember thinking, that’s probably not the best lesson for a kid,

And although that was just something he said,

And when I see where I get with my thinking,

I get to thinking that there may have been some kind of genius in the effortless way

He just did…’

I’ve not even mentioned some of the other superb songs on this album: the bluesy ‘Cold Blue Moonlight;’ the protest song against the shooting of black civilians by police, ‘Another Nightmare in America,’ the rambunctious ‘Visiting Hours.’ I have listened to this album again and again, and got new pleasures from it each time.

As for Isbell, well, I’ll keep it short, as I’ve already headed north of a thousand words and tried your patience. In addition, I’m hoping for a guest review of his latest offering ‘the Nashville Sound,’ shortly, so we’ll see then whether his run of solo work starting with ‘South Eastern,’ and moving through ‘Something More Than Free,’ continues at the same level or not.

So for the sake of brevity I’ll offer as evidence of Springsteen influence just one track from the latter album, and that’s ‘Speed Trap Town.’ Protagonist with a conflicted relationship with his father? Check. Reference to State Trooper? Check. Storyline involving busting out of small town, and driving till the sun comes up? You bet. Moral complexity? Spades of it.

I appreciate this type of music won’t be for everyone: any synths in evidence are strictly in service of the guitars, and there is no word, anywhere, of whether or not it’s a rainy day in Manchester. The guitars are crisp, and generally, undistorted. Many of the songs extend past the three minute mark. Despite all that, it behoves you to listen.

Unless you’re way too busy with the Mute Inglorious Miltons’ back catalogue, of course. In which case, crack on, and do come back to me with the highlights.

The War on Drugs: Preview

And so, at the end of a challenging week, to see The War on Drugs (don’t forget the ‘The’) at the Usher Hall tonight (Saturday). The band first crossed my and Daughter and Heiress’s radar (as so often these days) with a slot on Jools Holland; since then, their latest album, Lost in the Dream, has come out to universal acclaim, gaining five stars in the Guardian and Uncut, amongst many other places. Any band that invites comparisons with Dylan and Springsteen will invite attention from yours truly: as well as a modicum of suspicion – are they too derivative?

In fact, on listening, the band’s sound is anything but. It’s a subtle wash of ambient guitars and brooding, throbbing synths. The lyrics – principally a meditation on front man Adam Granduciel’s downward spiral into paranoia and depression when he finished touring the last record – do take a bit of a left turn into Springsteen territory at times, particularly on the title track; and the opening song, Under the Pressure, could be renamed A Bit Like Dylan without losing the scan of the chorus line, and would provide a fair summation of Granduciel’s vocal stylings.

However, this is scant criticism coming from someone who, on waking up yesterday morning, scribbled down the lyrics to The Greatest Song Bruce Springsteen Never Wrote.

The portents are promising for tonight’s gig: by all accounts their recent appearance at the Brixton Academy was a success – see, amongst others, the Digital Spy review. For those of you without a ticket, here’s some recent footage taken by one of those annoying types who can’t live in the moment and insist on holding up their iSam. I haven’t watched it: that would feel a bit like skipping to the last page to find out whodunnit.

For what really happened tonight, Daughter and Heiress is writing a review for altmusicbox – her first for them – so stand by…

 

 

 

 

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