Category Archives: Music

Bowie in review: ‘Black Tie White Noise’ (1993)

Black Tie White Noise

First released: 1993 (LP, MC, Cassette)

1993 - Black Tie White Noise - Front 2

First some context: It’s been 20 years since Ziggy Stardust, 10 since Let’s Dance, and 2 or 3 since Tin Machine. Bowie has been through the career low of the mid-late 80s, lived through the ‘group’ experience (not entirely unscathed by either), redeemed his good name with the ‘Sound+Vision’ tour and has fallen in love and got married to Iman. Pop/rock music has also moved on – 80s artifice is being pushed aside for a return to ‘unplugged’ and the post-rave, grunge generation is pushing ahead. Now he’s back with a new solo album. Producer Nile Rogers is back too, and wants ‘Let’s Dance 2’. Let’s see how Bowie reacts. Continue reading Bowie in review: ‘Black Tie White Noise’ (1993)

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David Bowie (1947 –

More than two weeks after the shock announcement on David Bowie  and I still can’t bring myself to write ‘2016’ as the year of his death. Don’t get me wrong, I was never the world’s biggest Bowie fan. I never rushed out to buy any of his records on the first day of release, I’ve rarely delved eagerly into his back catalogue when remasters came out. Before last year I had never bought any of his records on vinyl (I bought two second hand, and one new), and I had only been the most casual of listeners of the key installments of his life’s work. Apart from the recent Nothing Has Changed compilation, David Bowie took up very little space on my CD shelves: another “Greatest Hits”  album, which I bought because it had the DVD with the videos, plus the Low and “Heroes” 1999 remasters which I seem to remember picking up cheaply from a closing down store. That’s about it. I recently bought his next-to-last album The Next Day partly out a ‘guilty’ feeling that i didn’t have that much Bowie in my personal collection, partly because the price dropped sharply after a few months of its release. It was played once then shelved. I bought 1997’s Earthling online a couple of years ago because I needed to make up a ‘3 for the price of 1’ CD purchase, and I asked a friend for advice. I don’t think I ever played it.

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Yet I was always well aware of his presence, his influence and his importance in the British music industry and indeed in popular culture since the early 1970s. Saying “David Bowie” was like saying “The Beatles”: it was British pop and rock, it was British culture however much ‘American’ or ‘European’ he had wanted to make it at times. Neither David Robert Jones or David Bowie could have been born anywhere else, and as such he is as much a part of me as the Union Jack, the BBC and beans on toast. As I stated in my ‘gut reaction’ post on my fb profile page, Bowie wasn’t always present but he was always there, he wasn’t always good but he was always great.

So perhaps now, I really can start to appreciate his music and the great body of work he left behind. Don’t get me wrong: in the seventies I knew the words and sang along to Starman, Space Oddity and “Heroes”. After more than a passing interest in Boys Keep Swinging in ’79, I caught up with him proper from 1980 onwards – I was thrilled when Ashes to Ashes got to no. 1, I heard the other singles but never got round to hearing the Scary Monsters album. As the eighties continued, how we danced to China Girl, Blue Jean and (appropriately) Let’s Dance, and how we sneered at his demise mid-eighties onwards (although I must say that Loving the Alien is always a song and a perfomance I’ve always held in high esteem). My interest was somewhat re-kindled with the surprise The Next Day album and even more so by the 2014 ‘single’ Sue (Or In A Season of Crime) a ‘kitchen-sink’ drama set to music which saw Bowie pushing forward barriers once more with atonal almost avant-garde jazz arrangements

Sue David-Bowie-Sue-Or-In-a-Season-of-Crime-New-Single-acid-stag

Sadly, much of the press and therefore public attention after his death has focused on his work in the 70s and 80s, and it would seem that he never produced anything of worth between the Let’s Dance album (1983) and the latest album Blackstar, released days before his death. Not so: Bowie ‘came back’ as a solo artist in 1993 after getting married, ‘settling down’ and generally getting back on track. It is precisely the ensuing albums (from 1993 to 2003) which interest me the most, and now finding out about what he was getting up to, how he was making and presenting his music, his art, and his persona during that period has become my latest curiosity (nay, obsession). My ‘gut reaction’ to Bowie’s death was to buy as many of these albums as I could: I quickly and cheaply sourced 1.Outside, Hours…, and Reality to add to the special 2xCD edition I had of Heathen bought second-hand form an Italian last year, again on a recommendation. ‘Classic’ albums such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Pin-Ups have little appeal to me. There’s no doubting the quality and breadth of any of these or indeed his work from Station to Station (first released forty years ago) and throughout “the Berlin trilogy” (’77-’79), but I feel these works have been discussed and analysed enough. My tendency is often to go for the ‘underdogs’, the lesser known, the minorities, so I’d like to go through those 93-03 albums as best I can in whatever time it takes. (Who knows, I might later want to do a total rewind…)

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In my upcoming venture I am grateful to the friends who have helped me source the necessary audio and visual material and of course to the internet sites such as Discogs, Musicbrainz for their meticulous cataloging of his work. Gratitude and esteem also goes to the mighty Pushing Ahead of the Dame aka bowiesongs.wordpress.com for links to songs, resources and general background information and trivia associated with each and every track. Don’t worry: i won’t even attempt to come near to that kind of writing, either in terms of quality or quantity.

Finally, thank you David Bowie, and I really am very sorry I missed you first time round, but perhaps I was too busy paying attention to music by so many other artists, the majority of which you yourself no doubt inspired and influenced through your own art. We were always all just loving the alien.

Bowie salute

 

 

Radio waves

After much deliberation, I recently purchased my first digital/internet radio. It’s the Weimar model produced by the Auna company in Germany. Appropriately it was sent all the way from Berlin. Just for the record here’s a few comments after a couple of days usage:

Radioland
First of all really nice looking .. (forgot to take pics) … if very ‘sparse’ but its beauty is also in its simplicity. I thought there was a remote control with it but I must have got it mixed up with one of the hundreds of others I looked at…but that’s not a big issue.

turn the dial with your hand ..
easy to set up, plug and play, and connect it to your home wi-fi setup and you’re away. You browse through the hundreds of channels either by location (country) or music genre or whatever and of course I went straight for the BBC and lo!..all BBC radio channels come through loud ‘n’ clear.

Intermission
You can then either memorise with pre-sets of which there are 10, which is just about enough for me.
There’s also a ‘favourites’ menu although this has to be done via the internet itself ie. laptop or home computer or whatever – a bit strange programming yer radio via the laptop but there are literally thousands of internet channels out there so it would be pretty much impossible with the tiny monochrome display, and via internet you can group channels into sub-menus and stuff which is neat.

tune in to the melody…
Another ace feature is the music streaming from your home computer, which is possible with Windows Media player (this was in the manual, I didn’t try it with i-tunes). Basically you can listen to all the music you have on yer computer through the radio set (via the home wi-fi set up of course), which for me is actually quite handy as I’m on different floors. This would be even more handier with one of those wee home-servers which you just leave on all the time. Needs more investigation.
There’s also a podcast function for listening to podcasts (oddly) and again there are thousands out there, although that is where the BBC has changed it’s methods recently which means that some you can’t listen to because they’re in ‘mp3’ format as opposed to wma or some such, although I’ve noticed that some of the more popular ones (Archers Omnibus anyone?) are in both formats.

it’s in the air for you and me…
there’s also the DAB function (digital radio) but I was unable to pick anything up on that, maybe because there is nothing out there to pick up? I must say that digital radio is rarely mentioned over here although I’d read stuff to say the there was coverage and stuff in my area. Again, needs more investigation but with the internet radio channels easily available it’s not an issue for now. FM also included but ditto.
The voice of energy..
ah yes the sound! Forgot to mention the sound quality! Actually this is very very good and it can go really loud! Of course you have the benefit of digital quality but there’s a nice bass to it . .heard some electronica stuff on Radio 1 and it even sounded interesting! There are some preset equalizer settings but haven’t investigated yet..
Distant voices sing..
bluetooth also included which I’ve already put to the test by listening to and transcribing a lecture recorded on i-phone. There’s also an aux connection for i-pod or similar (connecting wire not included), and a headphone input plug-hole. There’s also alarm and sleep function..not tried.
Ohm Sweet Ohm..
On the whole I’m really really pleased with the set and having shopped around quite a bit (it must have been years..) it’s really good value for money I reckon. My only gripe would be that it only works on mains, no batteries, so it’s not entirely ‘portable’ but thankfully if you do unplug and plug in again elsewhere the memory is intact. It’s not huge and heavy either so easily moved around. Internet radio stations often take a good 6/7 secs. to load which is a long time in radioland but that’s the internet I s’pose.

Musical accompaniment provided by Kraftwerk and their 1975 album Radio Activity

Winter’s Tale

Schikaneder_-_Zima

Since around this time last year I’ve been pondering on whether to look further into a work of classical music: Winterreise, a song cycle composed by Franz Schubert. I first heard extracts from it on the R3 Breakfast programme Specialist Classical Chart last January, continuing into February and perhaps even beyond. I say ‘classical music’ but don’t think big orchestras: Winterreise is actually written for and performed by voice and accompanying piano only. I’ve since discovered the 24 Lieder thaty make up the work were originally poems written by Wilhelm Mueller (1794-1827) and set to song by Franz Schubert a year after Mueller’s death, and tragically, during the year of Schubert’s very own death. The ‘journey’ is the somewhat tortured first person account of a forlorn lover, rebuked by his sweetheart, forced out of town and into the harsh winter landscape. The cycle describes his feelings, encounters and ultimate ‘point of arrival’ in a typically romantic style. All in German of course.

The whole work is a game of two halves: the 24 poems which make up Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller. Die Winterreise were published in two separate occasions and in two separate publications. Similarly Schubert also composed the whole piece in two successive winters, discovering the second set after already finishing the score for the first. He corrected the score for the second part on his death bed.

MI0003721576It’s not an easy work to approach yet I was determined to find a way into it, encouraged not least my Ian Bostridge’s recent fascinating Radio 4 programme on the work. The English tenor has performed, recorded, acted, filmed and now written a book about Winterreise, so he seems qualified enough to know all about it. Needless to say, recorded perfomances are plentiful and leaves one with some confusion about which would be ‘the best’ to get for a relative beginner. In the end I plumped for the 2014 recording by Kaufmann and Deutsch (pic. left), the one I’d been hearing intermittently on the Radio 3 chart, as it was the one I’d sort of got used to. Naturally, minutes after finalising my digital download I came across an enticing re-edition of a recording of Winterreise by Ian Bostridge, with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, together with two other works by Schubert as well as a DVD of Bostridge’s dramatised performance of ‘Reise (as I have affectionately come to call it), with video extras. Available at a relatively low price I had to go for that too.

I’m no expert in either music or singing but there are notable differences between the two. I’ve been enjoying both versions though over the past couple of weeks, especially on cold but crisp winter mornings during my daily commute, imagining our poor lonesome ‘traveller’ making his way through the frost and snow, lamenting the refusal by his loved one as he sets off into the cold dark winter night:

Ich kann zu meiner Reisen
Nicht wählen mit der Zeit,
Muß selbst den Weg mir weisen
In dieser Dunkelheit.
Es zieht ein Mondenschatten
Als mein Gefährte mit,
Und auf den weißen Matten
Such’ ich des Wildes Tritt.

                                                 “Gute Nacht

Further reading:

For a much more comprehensive and musically-orienatated account of Winterreise, see the Beyond the Notes blog written by Erica Ann Sipes, Winterreise label.

Ian Bostridge’s new book: Schubert’s Winter Journey, Anatomy of an Obsession, is published by Faber & Faber.

Ballardian New Year

A belated Happy 2015 to all my readers! I was pretty much tied up after Christmas and over the turn-of-th-year period, finishing off my dissertation with the final chapter concentrating on Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and a few selected novels of J. G. Ballard. I’m no expert on JGB, but I know what I like and I’ve concentrated on three novels The Drowned World (1962), High-Rise (1975) and Kingdom Come (2006), mostly becuase they have that kind of ‘dystopian’ theme running through them, albeit in a very ballardian way. I hope to be able to post some extracts of my labours here once the whole thing id done, dusted and ‘discussed’.

Meanwhile I can suggest this excellent South Bank Show documentary on JGB, presumably made just after Kingdom Come was published. It’s a kind of ‘Ballard for beginners’ with an interview by Melvyn Bragg, the bloke I wish I’d had as an English teacher at school.

My ballardian writings were also assisted by listening to selected musics of John Foxx, who has stated that during the recording of his seminal electronic album Metamatic he was “reading too much J.G. Ballard”. The fruits of that are adequately illustrated in this little pièce with accompanying visuals by Karborn, Foxx’s son and heir. I also took some stills off the telly which came out quite well, so I thought I’d share. (If you look hard enough you can see reflected the lights on my Christmas tree).

Pop has eaten itself

I was pleasantly surprised to read Paul Morley’s feature in the Guardian recently basically about how pop/rock music has effectively nothing more to say and that classical music is the only way forward. Readers of this blog (and I know you are many) will have learned that this has been my sentiment exactly since round about the beginning of this year when i started getting ‘back into’ classical music and finding ‘new’ pop and even re-cycled rock music toatlly boring and pointless.

As Morley says, listening to classical music may “seem like a classic, cliched, late-life move into a conservative, grown-up and increasingly remote world” but i really don’t see it like that at all. Ok, there is a cliché in there somewhere..my parents couldn’t understand what kind of music I was listening to in, say, 1980 although my Dad might have appreciated something ‘with a beat to it’ (no Jean Michel Jarre, eh then Dad?). Likewise I can listen to stuff my own children listen to, only if there’s a decent lyric and a tune. But having said that there’s hardly anything new or interesting around and even “old” rock/pop artists such as Bowie, Depeche Mode and others are just re-hashing old ideas, often with sub-standard results, not to mention U2’s rather pathetic attempt to ram their new album down your throats, or rather literally into your ears, with the free i-tunes issue that came with your latest update. As with theirs, and most new pop music, it is merely what Morley calls “skilfully engineered product design” (never been a U2 fan anyway). I saw that BBC documentary recently about music and fashion, where a famous ‘label’ is also launching a new musician as part of the package. Pathetic.

Sadly the days of Buzzcocks, Joy Divison, Tubeway Army or even Duran Duran are no more (although the latter do have quite a lot to answer for), so let’s find a real alternative and discover some music from 100 or more years ago which can actually tell us something new. I’m not going to make any suggestions or create a playlist like Morley did, you can discover it all for yourselves, just like we used to with pop music back then.

 

cartoon from lsned.com – click if you’d like to know a little more.

 

STOP PRESS! (and edit) Clemency Burton-Hill gets the balance right (somewhat) in this piece just up on BBC Culture.

 

The food of love

Just looking back over this wordpress I started a few months ago, it seems to have turned into yet another music-oriented blog, the likes of which I’ve been writing in various forms for what seems like a decade at least.
I really did intend to write about other subjects, such as literature, history, current affairs and so on but it seems as if I always come back to the same subject. Music.
I do do other things in my life: I read, watch films, watch telly, go to work, travel, study, eat etc. yet none of those other things really seem to preoccupy me as much as music.
One thing I don’t do is cook, so yes, music really does seem to be my food of love. Thanks for that one Willy…looks like I’ll just have to play on.

Music in the Great War

ImageRadio 3 are coming full on with the World War One centenary celebrations this and next week with a series of programmes under the Music of World War One umbrella. Full details here.

I must admit that my initial enthusiasm for such “celebrations” (I use the term loosely) has rather died down, possibly die to an overkill, especially by Aunt Beeb. But never mind, there’s plenty to choose from and to be honest I am looking foward to this special concert by the Vienna Philharmonic which will be broadcast live from the Vijecnica National Library in Sarajevo on Saturday 28th June. Among the composers featured is one Alban Berg, a new name on me so look forward to hearing some of his work for the first time.

 

The Beatles’ Secretary

La segretaria dei Beatles

..well, that was the Italian title of the “Good Ol’ Freda” docu-film about Freda Kelly we went to see last night.

I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment but let’s just say a kind of ‘missed opportunity’ in many ways. Let’s face it, Freda could have been a wealth of information: only she knows how much she saw / knew about The Beatles after 10 years as the “secretary” (she was actually secretary to Brian Epstein and sort of running the Fan Club at the same time).

But unfortunately not a lot came out of her…mostly because she is in fact a very reserved person (she says she had never talked about it until now, not even to her late son, which she regrets), but also becuase the film perhaps didn’t quite know how to “exploit” her fully.

It was kind of ‘low budget’, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was low budget trying to look like high-budget which can be a bad thing. Apparently they even had to struggle to get just four Beatles songs included (hello, Yoko Ono) although admittedly there were quite a few earlier photos of the Beatles band I’d never seen before, in my Beatles/JL research, including a lot of her photographed with them.

Interviews other than with Frida (and her daughter, Christmas coffee mug in hand – natch) were with the usual suspects  (the ageing press agent and a couple of other Merseybeat musicians) and aside from a 30 second contrubution from Ringo Starr (whom she affectionately kept referring to as ‘Ritchie’) just before the closing titles there was nothing from Paul McCartney or any other really prominent Beatley people (although admittedly perhaps there aren’t many around any more).

All in all, a pleasant enough hour or so, preceded by a live interview with Frida in Milan (it was all shown simultaneeously in about 30 cinemas around the country) but I don’t think it’ll be considered as one of the best Beatles documentaries ever. A bit of a wasted opportunity. Shame, but thanks anyway Frida.