The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Beckett analogy is not out of place with Marvin Gaye. Let us be clear on a key point – What’s Going On?, the album, is not Noam Chomsky set to music, is not an exhaustive yet pertinent blueprint for a perfect society, is not Socialist Worker editorials set to music, sets no agenda, does not pretend to speak for anyone except the man who was responsible for it, and – crucially – those who cannot speak for themselves. It is routinely voted into all-time top ten album lists for the wrong reasons. It was not recorded to justify the existence of Neil Kinnock or Paul Weller, or come to think of it Jamiroquai. It is an intricate (more often than not painfully intricate) examination of the assumed disintegration and disordering of a man’s mind.

In many ways What’s Going On? was, implicitly and explicitly, an anti-Motown record; explicitly because Gaye wanted to do things his way, wanted the title track released as a single and refused to record or release anything else until Berry Gordy wearily agreed. Why introduce reality into the fluffy kitten of a world that was Motown in 1970? We’ve got along fine doing it our way…don’t spoil our fun (or, more importantly, our profits). Arguably, though, Norman Whitfield, who had done such a subversive job arranging and producing “Grapevine,” had already ventured (albeit comparatively shallowly) into political waters with the Temptations of “Cloud Nine” and beyond, and the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” wasn’t far away. But What’s Going On the record? Gaye knew exactly what he wanted, and Gordy eventually conceded and requested that he record an album around the concept of the song. This Gaye did in March 1971 with most of the Motown regulars on hand, including strings arranged by David Van DePitte (credited the “Fastest Pen Alive” on the sleeve) and major musical and lyrical input from Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops.

And there are personal reasons why What’s Going On? might be considered anti-Motown; Tammi Terrell, Gaye’s preferred female singing partner, had died in 1970 of a brain tumour, having collapsed in Gaye’s arms onstage some months previously. It was said that the onset of her tumour was a direct result of an injury sustained to her head by her then partner, ex-Temptation David Ruffin, at the time still the epitome of full-on “maleness” in Motown music. So it was made in the light of bereavement, both personal (Terrell) and symbolic – his younger brother Frankie was away fighting in Vietnam.

The first thing we have to consider about What’s Going On? is the duality expressed by the presence of the two saxophone soloists, Eli Fountain on alto, and Wild Bill Moore on tenor. Both were given the master tapes and asked more or less to solo throughout all the tracks; their contributions were then edited and faded into the foreground when aesthetically required. Fountain represents the female or “mother” side of Gaye’s personality, his graceful, kind and warm tone very reminiscent of the then recently deceased Johnny Hodges (and his playing is significantly predominantly featured); while Moore’s tenor is the male and (sinisterly?) the “father/he-man” side of Gaye, hard-toned and thrusting forwards, explicitly under direction to do a Pharaoh Sanders or Archie Shepp – indeed, both Sanders and Shepp were approached to solo on the album, but were contractually bound to ABC/Impulse Records at the time (this in itself lends an interesting perspective to Shepp’s curious near-miss of an album, 1972’s Attica Blues, which quite openly is his attempt to do a What’s Going On?). Moore’s playing suddenly comes into the spotlight when a particularly emphatic point (or anger) has to be made (or expressed).

The utopia to which ‘70s soul music repeatedly returns was primarily constructed out of the title track of What’s Going On? In the album mix, Gaye parties with members of the local football team (stoned or not stoned?) in the background, while the (apparently accidental) duality of his various vocals is made more prominent – the voice singing, the mind thinking something else. The duality comes back again and again throughout the album. And there is never any “soul” singing as Brown or Pickett would have recognised it – the approach of Gaye’s light tenor we now can appreciate more fully in light of his expressed admiration for Jimmy Scott; and indeed it is virtually asexual, as though he is looking down with great reproach at the world to which he remains umbilically attached.

The album is essentially a half-hour extrapolation on the title song. The same main musical motif introduces the second track (and the rest of side one segues continuously) “What’s Happening Brother.” Constructed as an imagined dialogue between Gaye and his Vietnam-based brother, the viewpoint alternates freely between either; Gaye’s own personal day-to-day agonies (“Can’t find no work, can’t find no job my friend”) set against Frankie’s heartbreaking attempts to hang onto some sort of recognisable reality (“Are they still gettin’ down where we used to go and dance/Will our ball club win the pennant, do you think they have a chance?”). The climactic final lines “What’s been shakin’ up and down the line/I want to know ‘cause I’m slightly behind the time” could be said by either. At that point the music decelerates, goes into momentary dissonance under Gaye’s anguished falsetto croon before mutating into “Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky).” Here the “utopia” becomes a woozy anaesthetic, James Jamerson’s inverted bassline (compare with John Cale at the close of the Velvets’ “I’m Waiting For The Man”) commenting ironically on Gaye’s mental destabilisation as he attempts to seek refuge in drugs, always aware (“so stupid minded”) that there is “self-destruction in my hand” and that he has become “hooked…to the boy who makes slaves out of men.” In the background one of his alter egos muses “Nobody really understands.”

But he can’t destroy himself when others are set to be destroyed through no fault of their own. So the music re-focuses into the orchestra and chorus waltz of “Save The Children” where Gaye’s song is echoed deliberately by his far less certain spoken voice. Can he believe what he is singing about the end of the world? The music stealthily builds in tension and both Gaye’s singing and speaking voices rise – perhaps tearfully, perhaps orgasmically. As both of their voices decide to “save the babies,” the pent-up tension of the music suddenly breaks free into an ecstatic rhythmic 3/4 groove over which Fountain’s alto floats in a heartbreakingly brief expression of freedom. But Gaye the realist quickly stops it all with an extended “But…” before the “What’s Going On?” music starts again and he modifies it into “But who really cares?” He still has to care, so it’s a return to ecstasy for the glorious “God Is Love” where for the first time on the record the music is in an unambiguously major key, trumpets (of the Angel Gabriel?) joyfully blaring as Gaye reasserts his own faith. The attendant irony of “love your father” is of course only detectable retrospectively (and hear the whisper behind “Don’t go and talk about my Father (i.e. God)” which warns “Don’t talk ‘bout spiritual lust (i.e. his own father)”) but the grievous punctum comes when he reaches the line “Love your brother” and his alter ego suddenly screams “MY BROTHER!” and briefly overwhelms the entire track.

The vision is there, its articulation as yet incomplete. We now move into the climax of side one, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” where a bewildered Gaye asks “Where did all the blue skies go?” before musing on the “poison in the wind that blows from the north and south and east.” Moore’s outraged tenor rips through the musing for a moment or two, before the opening “What’s Going On?” motif yet again returns and remains unresolved, culminating in what is still one of the most frightening endings in all popular music – the sudden and completely unexpected appearance of the Moog synthesiser, not quite for the first time on a Motown record but certainly the most pronounced, as the song/sequence grinds to a halt, giving way to the terrible horror of the closing inhuman “voice,” Gaye’s piano issuing a repeated, crashing, dissonant toll as though he is smashing his own right hand. Another Dies Irae for the world’s end.

Side two is where Gaye tries to find some answers. “Right On” begins as a typical early ‘70s soul-funk workout, very much in the Isaac Hayes/Curtis Mayfield mode, Danya Hartwick’s flute well to the fore. Eventually Gaye’s voice enters. He begins what you eventually realise is a prayer of salvation, a list of those who will survive:

“For those of us who simply like to socialise.
For those of us who tend the sick…
For those of us who got drowned in the sea of happiness.
For the soul that takes pride in his God and himself and everything else.”

Fountain’s mothering alto watches over him from above. Because it is love that will save us. Yes it’s that simple, yes it’s that unattainable. The tempo briefly quickens up as though it is to COME

and the music metamorphosises into Sinatra (with one further blast from Moore’s tenor). Apostolic strings, Gaye’s voice pleading just as it’s coming on: “PURE love can conquer hate every time” – he finds as many variations on expressing the word “love” as Van Morrison did in “Madame George” – and, inevitably, the need for personal love becomes evident and finally predominant. Listen to him inviting you: “And my darling, one more thing/If you let me, I will take you/To where Love is King/Ah, ah, baby” – the final line is wept. PLEASE KEEP ME ALIVE.

and then the groove restarts, briefly, then the percussion and alto clip-clop in unison, and then it is time for the epiphany – “Wholy Holy” where Gaye now pleads for the entire world, all humanity, to become his Other. “We can (and how close to “can’t” his voice seems to sound) conquer hate forever…we can rock the world’s foundations” – if only you’ll let me. So peaceful, yet so confident a prayer (the graceful if ever so slightly regretful descending chords – proto-Badalamenti), he asks us to believe in Jesus and almost uniquely in popular music you want to believe it too. He very nearly persuades you.

Except of course that it’s a dream, a utopia, which cannot yet – if ever – be converted into reality. And even Marvin Gaye has to wake up to what is the most tangible and most perceptible “reality” – the world, America, as it stood in 1971. “Inner City Blues” is where, having reminded us of how high we could reach if we wished, we have to have our faces rubbed in how things actually are. We have to confront the shit in which, if we look at the sky for too long, we may end up buried. Another list, this time of things which will kill; the inability to pay one’s taxes, the banality of one’s own “hang-ups, let downs” set against moonshots (don’t be flying high, give your love and money to the have-nots), capitalism (for years I thought he was singing “Inflation, no chance/Too many creeps finance” though actually it’s “to increase finance”), and finally (could it ever be firstly?) apocalypse (“Crime is increasing/Trigger happy policing/Panic is spreading/God knows where we’re heading”). Is my alternative really so woolly, he is asking. The music is low cast, Bob Babbitt’s bass flowing like cynical blood through the aorta of the strings and the death march piano chords. The piano finally takes us back to a reprise of the key lines from the song “What’s Going On?” to complete the cycle:

“Mother, mother (my God, how he emphasises the “mother,” how right it’s Eli Fountain’s alto which should take us out of the album)/Everybody thinks we’re wrong/Who are they to judge us/Simply ‘cause we wear our hair long?”

Sung by someone who would never be seen dead in long hair, who appears on the sleeve wandering around a children’s playground in the rain, dressed in a smart black raincoat, black suit and a wide gold tie, smiling benignly.

And we do not quite return to a loop – just Gaye’s wordless vocals, Fountain’s alto and percussion. God knows where they’re headed…except that eventually Gaye would move from his dissertation of big deaths into a microscopic examination of the little death. More about that shortly.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Sunday, November 25, 2007

I began this weblog just under six years ago on the explicit advice of the psychotherapist I was seeing at the time as a part of the Kobler-Ross five-stage bereavement programme. An element of the latter involves looking at or listening to things, artefacts, which the bereaved shared with their departed partner, to remind the bereaved of what was so valuable and good about their time together. Since I could find no useful way to listen to music in late 2001 - there were plenty of useful ways but it was dark and I could not find them - I used this model as a means of tentatively mastering the difficult and frequently painful task of re-learning how to listen to music, much in the same way as a major trauma victim has to learn to read, write and/or walk from scratch.

By learning this it was my principal intention at the time I began CoM to create a memorial to Laura, my late first wife; the parallels with Stanley Spencer were fully drawn in the first post I made to the blog. But as one cannot live any useful or hopeful life by firmly looking at the past until one becomes mummified and not "alive," it was also a means of trying to rediscover and find what had been lost, or taken away from me, in August 2001; not seeking a duplicate or a replacement, but something - and, ultimately, someone - new who could restore the old magic but in a different way which would guide me back into the future (and by "the future" I mean reasons to continue living).

The story is fully documented, both here and elsewhere; frequently traumatic, self-destructive and littered with false dawns and dead ends. It has not been the easiest of lightless tunnels to traverse. I was under no illusion that the journey would be long and that the above emotional debris would accumulate.

Typically, when the answer revealed itself it not only took a very long and patient time to become apparent, but also became cumulatively startling because of the parallels. A long-distance epistolary friendship conducted between two different countries but by two people with uncanny amounts of beliefs, loves and passions in common, which took the best part of three years to come to full fruition; it is not difficult to draw conclusions from this incorporating words like "parallel" and "second chance."

And it has led to now, today, the last piece of writing which needs to appear on The Church Of Me but also the first entry which I have contributed as a married man. Lena and I wed yesterday, in Toronto, from whence I am composing this; there is a new home in London to prepare upon my return (for Lena's hopefully imminent arrival) and I seem to have not exactly stumbled back but perhaps walked with less than direct aplomb to what more or less constitutes the type of life I lived, as one half of a devoted couple, in a different decade, a separate but connected century.

The tunnel is now behind us - and I emphasise that "us" - its blackness receding into gratifying invisibility; there are plans to make, bits of business to sort out, and the music can be written about in The Blue In The Air which serves only to mark the beginning of my writing about music as an ecstatically happy and thoroughly content married man and might give you some idea of the type of writing I might have posted to a blog in, say, 1982 or 1992 or perhaps even 1967. The pain barrier has been transgressed and found to dissolve almost instantaneously; so all that remains is for me to thank all of the readers who have habitually browsed through these words (and their blog relatives elsewhere) over the last six years, and most of the readers who have communicated with me about the writing in one way or another. Why write a public blog if you do not want your words to venture out into the world and perhaps react with a light dimly glowing a long way away? And eight thousand miles away, in what was indeed another country, or perhaps simply a reflection of my old country, these words of mine struck and touched someone else, someone whom I would never have met or known had I not followed the advice of that West Norwood psychotherapist or indeed not heeded the default safety valve which always switches on in my mind in times of crisis, and a few hundred words led to a few dozen more, and the accumulation was steady and gratifying, and you've read the story enough times now; we are now together, the purpose of this weblog has been realised, and so the ultimate and most infinite thank you must go to the reader who stretched out her graceful hand and dared to insert it into the morass of my 2003 life with a view to rescuing me from it, even if it took two more years for me to see that hand clearly. But I cannot conclude with the thought of a mere salvage operation; we have to look after each other, see each other through (rather than see through each other, as too many other people have attempted to do) - it is a partnership in the truest and most equal sense. That was all I wanted to do with this blog - not just to restore my life, but also to give me back the capacity and ability to reach out and help restore another's life. To learn to be a human being again. To paraphrase one aside on an early Mike Westbrook record: Lena, I think I've got it now.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Monday, September 17, 2007

The recent avalanche of well documented personal life developments, combined with the ongoing necessity what I shall diplomatically call my "private writing," and the completely unexpected onset of commissions for Actual Paid Writing About Music (at this late stage? What are they thinking?), has meant that I haven't had much time of late to devote to the venerable Church. Rather than starve my parishioners I've set up another, relatively straightforward blog so that you've all got something to read - the premise is (or should be) self-explanatory (it's basically the expansion of a stalwart CoM feature rather than a Brave Experimental New World) and while I cannot promise daily postings I will at least aim for those. In addition, certain readers may be thrilled to notice that I am once again experimenting (bravely?) with the concept of comments boxes, and I would like quite a lot of feedback on the posts since they are to some extent designed for interaction...but I will be monitoring these boxes closely and will not hesitate to filter out spammers, trollers and flamers of any description. Caveat flameur!

Thus, for a while, I'm going to be
here. Hope it works.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Friday, August 24, 2007

Just as I get to the point where I can, with some persuasion, tolerate the efficient idiocy of broadsheet music writing, the Guardian always seems to find a way of raising the bar to a new low. I present for your aghast anti-entertainment this
truly sad display of towel-flicking, tongue-sticking sarcasm which Mike Love would have been proud to have written.

For a start, note the description “harmless ditties” applied to songs like “The (sic) Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” two of the most tortured expressions of scarcely alloyed grief and self-hatred to grace the Top 40 (at least in America; “Phoenix” surprisingly didn’t chart at all here) – no doubt as opposed to the Vanilla Fudges or Iron Butterflies whom Queenan presumably considers Real MAN’s Music. The antecedents of loss are already evident through Webb’s previous work, while the sneer that “MacArthur Park” had no sequel displays a level of historical ignorance which perhaps should be expected from the hangers-on, failed TV presenters and Buggin’s turn occupants whom the Guardian prefers to employ as writers – for instance, the entire second Harris/Webb album The Yard Went On Forever acts as a sequel, but also the record inspired a wave of five minute plus epics – “Hey Jude,” “Those Were The Days” and “Eloise” being but the most immediate 1968 beneficiaries – and helped further demolish the notion of the pop single as three minutes of primary coloured toothpaste (though of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with that).

As far as “no one can say for sure what the song is about,” a cursory reading of Webb’s own sleevenote to Harris’ Webb Sessions compilation reveals that it was about a lost love, and by extension a lost innocence which couldn’t ever be recaptured (he doesn’t explicitly say that it was about losing his virginity but has suggested it strongly in other interviews over the years). From there, though, it is easy and understandable that the metaphor could and should be extended to cover the lost utopia of ’67 and the burning angst of ’68; although written before the King and Kennedy assassinations, it can hardly be denied its posthumous effect when it strode semi-imperiously onto the airwaves. To suggest, in triplicate rhetoric, and especially as a joke (because Lord help us if we start taking anything seriously again), that Jimmy Webb, nobody’s idea of a Republican, should have been responsible for Nixon’s re-election is the sort of ninth grade brain candy which properly belongs in the pages of the late, lamented Weekly World News.

Queenan’s assertion that “given the relative sophistication of the genre, being one of the most complicated songs in the history of pop music is like being the zaniest stand-up comic in Estonia” betrays his underlying contempt for pop, mentally still stuck in his 1968 dorm, laughing at Lester’s Count Five album and blasting out Butterfield and Clapton all fucking night. This is only reinforced by his jibe at the Association, a far more complicated group of musicians than is usually and lazily assumed by Queenan and his ilk; Webb wanted to offer them a 20-minute “MacArthur Park” to cover one side of Birthday but the group were doubtful, not so much because of the song but for the same reasons that they had split with Curt Boettcher as arranger and producer; they were suspicious of being manipulated or moulded into somebody else’s vision, however innovative, and wished to preserve their autonomy – and listening to the rather fabulous Birthday album itself, one can’t really say that they were wrong to do so.

And so it wears on – Donna Summer’s “bouncy cover” (just under eighteen minutes in its uncut 12-inch version, nearer to what Webb had originally envisaged, and as stark a curtain pulled down over the disco era as “Good Times”), endless sarcasm, a complete misreading of the Wu-Tang’s usage of the tune as the bloody climax to their brilliantly and intentionally overblown Wu-Tang Forever, and did he mention “Dreamy Days” by Roots Manuva? What a surprise that he doesn’t. Of course I am biased; the song’s emotions radiate with me in ways which the Queenans of their world could never hope to understand (especially as it is about Los Angeles…”there will be another dream for me, someone will bring it”…it’s you and me, L…). All more ammunition in the Guardian’s continuing war against anyone and anything which doesn’t fit into their tidy, spoken-for, media empire arm-friendly demographic. Dated, pathetic and lamentable even by the standards of 1968 music writing; but then I suppose that’s the difference between “real journalists” and writers like me; they write in what they think is the correct way to write, whereas I write me.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The obvious thing to say is that it doesn’t feel as though a full year has passed since we made it official at Marine Ices, although I suspect the next few months may feel like a couple of years in terms of everything I have to cram into them. But it is worth all the cramming - more than worth it. Last summer was the first summer in five years which I had been looking forward to rather than dreading; it was the turnaround which made all the five years of work here, and elsewhere, worth doing.

So I am not too concerned about Saturday; I acknowledge the loss but the important thing now is to continue to acknowledge the future – it is the only way to live. When we return to Oxford at the end of October there will two renewed people entering that city, rather than the pale, solitary ghost of hitherto.

Expressions of intimate gratitude are by necessity private, but all that really needs to be said here is that I’m listening to and loving music with the old passion, six years after I thought I could never bear listening to music again, that all which had previously constituted a shrine now lives and breathes once more, that life has been restored when once restoration seemed hopeless – and it is she, the noble she, who has made me complete again; I think it safe to say that this writer, in terms of a fully functioning human being and about-to-be happily married man, is open for business once more.

Thanks and love to the one who did not turn away and dared to kiss the scars so that they might heal even more soundly.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Monday, August 13, 2007

It was all about playing. Playfulness. Having the ability to play, leaving time for play, realising that work is the most refined form of playing imaginable, and thereby reintroducing the word “imagination” into work – do you see what he did there? You were never going to see him hosting The Apprentice since that systematic deconstruction of the work ethic demonstrated its ultimate failure on account of its inability to admit concepts like flair and play into its scrupulously monitored and costed anti-world. Would you want Sugar’s 800 million (800 million what, exactly? Holes in Borough, SE1?) if you saw how miserable and monodimensional it made him?

Tony Wilson realised, too late to save himself maybe but not before he managed to save others, that none of it mattered; what cost resources, or assets, against the importance of making an indelible stamp, not in the Hitler sense but in the sense of changing the atoms of the world through which some of us still walk such that we’d be affected by the chain which this absurdist antecedent of Richard Madeley initiated. I recall childhood holidays in Blackpool, watching Granada Reports at rainy teatimes and already noting the Situationist waiting to break out of his flared suit, and then late at night, there he was again, on a journey somewhere from Alan Freeman to Jonathan Meades, on So It Goes, a flailing mess of a show; I saw the one with Patti Smith, and also the one with the Pistols, and also the one with AC/DC after the Whistle Test had laughed them away from their door; Clive James and Peter Cook sat around talking about nothing as though it were everything (mercifully); Alain Stivell strolled his lute, Stephan Micus, obscure even to ECM buffs in 1976, was there with his treated flugelhorn, chimes and chamberpots.

He waited for his moment, grabbed it when the Pistols played the Free Trade Hall, and everyone laughed at him for doing so in a Richard Madeley-doing-the-Twist-to-Wiley sort of a way, including possibly even Richard Madeley, and then he bounded around like a COBRA Group John Noakes, signing up bands, promising worlds to others, treating Vini Reilly like his no-longer-wayward son…

…and Factory was it, the ECM, Ogun and Incus of punk combined, catalogue numbers for people, thoughts and elements of the air as well as music; A Factory Sample I bought, complete with stickers, for the then exorbitant price of 79p out of Bloggs’ Record Shop in St Vincent Street; despite my three decades of Saturday music shopping since then, nothing has quite equalled the intense thrill of those Saturday mornings, going through the new singles boxes (in those days it was hardly ever albums), picking up exotic or cheapskate sleeves housing absurdly or improperly named acts and yet you knew you could pick them up on trust, that there would always be a new dynamic, a new perspective on the world to cover. It was the equivalent of going to a record shop and never knowing what you’d come out with in exchange for your pocket money; there was no satellite PR industry excitedly emailing me four months in advance about their prized new clients, whereas I have always favoured the music I’ve managed to find by myself, or the music my dad, or Laura, or Lena, helped or help me to find where I would otherwise have overlooked and overstepped; and A Factory Sample certainly came under that territory and thus onto mine – Durutti Column, a guitarist seemingly reading from a John Abercrombie Play In A Day manual as he worked his sumptuously inexpensive instrumental songs out, Cabaret Voltaire as though Berio had singlehandedly hauled Joe Meek out of the grave, John Dowie the necessary comic relief, and Joy Division, the former Warsaw whom I kept getting mixed up with Warsaw Pakt who recorded and released an album in 24 hours, but “Digital” and “Glass,” this wasn’t exactly Sham 69, nor quite yet Situationist 68…

My thoughts on Joy Division and New Order are beyond the range of public writing – some things you have to keep to yourself, or to those closest to you, and the one brief paragraph I have previously written on them in CoM is all that needs to be said about them here – but beyond the FACT that Factory were putting out some of the greatest music of all time (my CoM paragraph should have been FAC 812) was the truth that their records were as cherishable as any Rothko or Bonnard canvas; Peter Saville who, encouraged by Wilson, turned every Factory record and gesture into true art (if art is to be regarded as the subtlest of untruths), just so that those of us who lived through Factory know in our bones that the White Stripes calling an album De Stijl is the contemporary equivalent of Swinging Blue Jeans, The, naming one of their long-players Karel Appel.

Then there was the club, the openness, the biggest-selling 12-inch single ever which lost Wilson and Factory millions, the Durutti, ALWAYS the Durutti, A Certain Ratio reopening the road between “Family Affair” and “Breakout,” even the flipping Crispy Ambulance and Stockholm Monsters who certainly added to the gaiety of indie record shop basements of their day, especially to Bobby Gillespie and The Wake, to Section 25 and especially Sumner’s remix of “Looking From A Hilltop” which was the missing link between “Pink Moon” and “Jack Your Body,” even unto the Wendys and the Adventure Babies if you must, leaping over the James which Wilson kept only briefly, and the Roses and Pulp and Oasis which he never got in the first place (but then there was Quango Quango)...

…and the Mondays, the anti-group’s group who became so fused together with their own blissfully determined non-reason that they were the intact link between a Britain of 1967 and a different but broadly similar Britain of 1990; I listened last night to “Reverend Black Grape,” a top ten smash from a number one album which existed after Factory and the Mondays had ceased to exist, and marvelled that such an honest bullshitter like Wilson had somehow enabled this…

Was Tony Wilson the most radiant example of how to run a socialist business? His obtusely heroic refusal to tie his company to his artists was, financially, his undoing; the Hacienda prospered, then lost money, then Shaun and Bez took too long as Tina and Chris shook their heads and it all went bust and eventually – despite all of this, still holding down his Granada Reports day job – so did he. But so what if he lost everything? It was all in his head; the memories, the still vibrant realities. And of course, even if he lost every thing, he didn’t lose anyone, not even the musicians who reluctantly left him for absorption into larger corporations. But Engels was in his head, too, never left the head of Mr Manchester; how could it? He didn’t want to be a Northern McLaren stuck in Little Venice, shuffling it out with the other blue ghosts in the capital; he saw what happened with punk and wanted to make it happen in Manchester – and as a teenager growing up in Glasgow, I wished to Marx that we’d had somebody like that, so shameless, so visionary, so useless, so indispensable, to make Glasgow matter – and what he made happen by necessity became greater than anything anyone could have achieved in London.

Even after the business collapsed, he carried on, an In The City partner and spokesman who didn’t hesitate, in 1988, to remind the likes of Derrick May where Techno and House had really come from; the man who, in a spotless, crease-free cream suit, stood proudly in the 1991 city centre on TV and welcomed rave as the future (he pinpointed “Rhythm Is A Mystery,” a top three hit for Manchester’s K-Klass, as the true spirit of punk continuing and self-refreshing). He remained affably available for outraging comments as a media pundit; he could live with ruination since what he had inspired was indestructible. He was a nitwit who couldn’t run an egg and spoon race, let alone a record company; he was the greatest record company boss who ever lived. He made no money out of it but money wasn’t the point. It was a life curtailed, in large part because he didn’t have the money to spend on the new cancer-relieving drugs and neither did his primary care trust, but he was an artist, a charlatan without the capital C, one of the only socialists in the media I can think of who lived absolutely as he meant life to be lived, and without an aorta of bitterness inside him. A knowingly naff TV personality who enabled some of the greatest of all music to be voiced. An eejit and a genius. A glass or two to him tonight, and label those FAC 682 and the man himself FACT Eternal, though no doubt he would have preferred FAC Off. What a player.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
. . .
Tuesday, August 07, 2007

It’s true. When someone of stature dies, then it always seems to happen that two others follow suit soon afterwards. And it always seems to happen at the weekend. First, Art Davis, who vied with Henry Grimes for the title of jazz’s forgotten bass maestro, and was latterly a doctor of psychology, passed away from a heart attack aged 73. I felt rather guilty at hearing about his passing since he was one of those musicians so withdrawn from the general daily bustle of the music world that firstly I didn’t realise that he was still alive, and secondly I imagined him to be far older than he was. But there was a failed racism lawsuit regarding his day job with the New York Philharmonic in the seventies, and the blacklist kicked in.

Prior to this he is probably best remembered for being Coltrane’s second bassist whenever he chose to use two basses – a practice which soon became obligatory in most post-Coltrane large jazz and improvising ensembles. His other experience, however, was unusually wide-ranging; a regular member of Max Roach’s groups (heard to especially good effect on Percussion Bitter Sweet and Abbey Lincoln’s Straight Ahead), he also worked with everyone from Jack Teagarden to Quincy Jones, from Bob Dylan to Pharaoh Sanders, and most points in between. But Coltrane opened up something within him; on albums like Ole and Africa/Brass he begins to improvise, using his bass as a virtual horn, leaving Reggie Workman to maintain the basic pulse. On Ascension Coltrane even listed Davis among the horn players rather than alongside the rhythm section in the sleeve credits, and the Davis/Garrison bowed bass duet which climaxes that particular beginning of time is a starkly inviting precedent of what was to follow in its wake.

Then Lee Hazlewood went at 78 after a well-documented, but strangely peaceful and accepting, battle with cancer; the man who effectively invented Duane Eddy and went on, with Nancy Sinatra, to form one of the unlikeliest but most permanent professional female/male relationships in all of pop. “Boots” still sounds strikingly modernist, even by 1966 standards – again, note the use of two basses - but even that premature feminist anthem was a mere taster for the extraordinary phantasmagoria of pulp Gothic and Southern whimsy which framed their best collaborations; “Lightning’s Girl,” “Sand” and “Some Velvet Morning” are indispensable pieces of the 1967 jigsaw, as though the Shangri-Las had been thrust out of Queen’s and placed in Skylab with a Brontë library hastily scribbled over by Burroughs. His “I doubt it” ad lib in the middle of “Jackson” is one of the funniest inserts in all of pop; he also gave Dean Martin a late hit with the song “Houston” which made even weary old Dino grin again.

After that he fled to Sweden in order to avoid his son being drafted, and his sequence of seventies albums – Cowboy In Sweden, Trouble Is A Lonesome Town and Requiem For An Almost Lady amongst them – are, if not quite the masterpieces they’ve been subsequently painted, a rather bewitching series of country noir miniatures, not that far removed from Scott Walker’s work of the same period (Stretch, We Had It All), and Requiem is nearly a roughneck equivalent of Drake’s Pink Moon – a compact sequence of minimalist songs, lasting less than half an hour in total, all circling around one absent centre. Largely ignored and ridiculed at the time – Charles Shaar Murray’s famous 1973 NME review of Poet, Fool Or Bum (“Bum”) springs to immediate mind – it was down to the Cockers, Caves and Tindersticks of the next world to revive his reputation, in logical parallel with latterday Johnny Cash; he did some more work with Nancy, played sellout concerts in London and was amazed that the youthful audience knew every word of his most obscure songs, bowed out gracefully with last year’s Cake Or Death? – not a great album per se, but a very dignified last statement – and died rich, respected and loved.

Finally, and closest to my particular bone, the trombonist Paul Rutherford died yesterday, aged just 67. In truth this was scarcely unexpected either; frequently his worst enemy when it came to health, there had already been a number of scares and several benefit gigs, and I still shudder to recall a late nineties performance by the London Improvisers Orchestra with a drunken Rutherford attempting to conduct and howling incoherent diatribes against Thatcher (who had stood down in 1990).

Nonetheless he was a player of exceptional vision, grace and unfettered expression. He did his National Service in the RAF, cooped up with John Stevens and Bob Downes; upon demob they had already got the Ornette bug, and Rutherford was an indispensable member of the very early line-ups of Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble; listen to his work on the Challenge and Withdrawal albums (both from 1966) to see how he negotiates the group’s move from George Russell-style modernist charts into total improvisation; the quiet but intense fleetness with which his trombone moves (and it is one of the most difficult of instruments to be fleet on) along with Bailey’s scurrying guitar and Stevens’ knitting needle percussive whispers already marks him out as a player of importance.

On sharing a bill with the SME, Mike Westbrook heard Rutherford and invited him to join his band – the tag team he formed with fellow Westbrook trombonist Malcolm Griffiths became one of the most enduring in British jazz and improv. Always rather bitter about how his German counterpart Albert Mangelsdorff got the credit for introducing multiphonic trombone playing into improvised music – that is, simultaneously playing notes on the trombone and humming or singing through the instrument’s mouthpiece to create chords and overtones – Rutherford actually provided the first recorded incidence of trombone multiphonics in his “Folk Song No 1” solo feature on Westbrook’s 1968 Release album. He stayed with Westbrook’s various line-ups for a decade, outstanding on the “Other World” movement of 1969’s Marching Song where he portrays the disorientated soldier staggering through a foreign and utterly alien battlefield, a founder member of his pocket-sized Brass Band (see 1974’s Plays For The Record) and superb in tandem with Griffiths on the second side of 1976’s Love/Dream And Variations. Much in demand by large ensembles for his selfless but penetrating playing, he enjoyed long associations with the Globe Unity Orchestra, the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Keith Tippett’s various big bands and many other one-off projects including Manfred Schoof’s European Echoes (1969) and the Don Cherry/Penderecki Eternal Rhythm Orchestra (1971). He also worked to great, plunging effect as part of the great Tony Oxley group which recorded 1970’s Four Compositions For Sextet (even, at one stage in the proceedings, doing a remarkable impersonation of fellow band member Evan Parker!).

But it is for his solo and small group work for which he is likely to be cherished; in particular, with the trio Iskra 1903, also involving Derek Bailey and bassist Barry Guy – their eponymously-titled debut album, originally released as a vinyl double in 1973 and subsequently expanded to its present triple CD status, is punk-improv a decade ahead of schedule; politically bold and proud (the name Iskra came from an early Lenin tract), the music remains insolent, boundary-breaking, dizzying, gargantuan, intimate, hilarious, solemn and one of the very few drop dead masterpieces of recorded European improvisation. And 1974’s entirely unaccompanied recital The Gentle Harm Of The Bourgeoisie is a virtual dictionary of what can and cannot be done with the trombone, though were it merely a display of pyrotechnics it would count for nought. What was most striking about Rutherford’s playing is that, while always committed, it never descended to the level of incoherent bombast which the layout of the trombone sometimes seems to demand; instead, there is an incorrigible composer’s logic to what he plays, as well as the high-speed technical mastery of J J Johnson, the inherent romanticism of Vic Dickenson, the melancholy of Jimmy Knepper, the same delight in exploring and sustaining the instrument’s wonderful tones as Jack Teagarden – as well as the Tricky Sam Nanton raspberry when the situation required it. 1983’s Gheim finds him especially concentrated, recorded live at the Bracknell Jazz Festival in a trio setting (Nigel Morris on drums, a young Paul Rogers on bass), on music which is unmistakeably jazz-derived but endlessly exploratory (at the end of the set, to an ecstatic audience, he announces the group as “the Kenny Everett Trio”), but there are many further delights and revelations to be found in his later work – the revised Iskra 1903 with Phil Wachsmann’s violin and electronics replacing Bailey, the eerily lovely Trio (London) 1993 with Parker and Braxton, his eloquent contributions to Kenny Wheeler’s Music For Large And Small Ensembles (1990) and the only album recorded by Elton Dean’s Newsense (1997) featuring a trombone dream team of Rutherford, Annie Whitehead and Roswell Rudd, not to mention his very late entry into the world of the South Africans (although he was a sometime member of Harry Miller’s Isipingo in the seventies, he never recorded with the group, and only played once, as a guest, with the Brotherhood of Breath, since they already had their own pair of bootboy trombonists in Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti, though he did contribute some very funny sleevenotes to the latter’s NicRa quintet album of 1977) – he appeared in the tribute big band the Dedication Orchestra (though I recall promoter John Jack virtually having to frogmarch him from bar to stage at their debut 100 Club gig on New Year’s Day 1992) with other surviving Brotherhood veterans and younger players and in the latterday line-up of Louis Moholo’s Spirits Rejoice! ensemble. An elegant and forceful player, a musician of justified international renown, my last memory of Paul Rutherford will be of him with the London Improvisers Orchestra in the spring of 2002 (the performance was recorded and issued on the Freedom Of The City 2002: Large Groups CD set), now sober by doctor’s orders, featured in Steve Beresford’s "Concerto For Paul Rutherford"; concentrated, intense and quietly devastating in the cumulative power of his playing – a man finally at peace.

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