Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Shadows and Light

Its so super now to have the full concert dvd of Joni Mitchell's 1980 SHADOWS AND LIGHT tour. Its a great concert in a sunny California afternoon in 1979 with Joni looking great and enjoying herself, with that incredible band she had then: Jaco Pastorius on bass, Pat Metheny on guitar, Michel Brecker on sax, Don Alias on drums and Lyle Mays on keyboards. The band play Joni's songs with terrific energy and its just a buzz. Joni's 70s albums introduced me to Jaco and Metheny so I got their albums as well, and still play them. There are some nice video moments and nifty camerawork here, on songs like "Coyote" and "Amelia". I loved the album version of "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" which I used to play all the time, not only for the music but that vivid imagery.

This concert captures Joni at an interesting time - she had released an album a year since 1968 - we had that great trio in the early 70s: BLUE, FOR THE ROSES and (it has to be my special favourite) COURT AND SPARK. They were the soundtrack to my life then, as the Beatles and Stones had been to the '60s. Then the first live double: MILES OF AISLES, and then that next influential three (which may though have alienated some of her earlier fan base) HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS, HEJIRA and DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER - they all still sound amazing today. After MINGUS and SHADOWS AND LIGHT her imput slowed down as she had married - WILD THINGS RUN FAST in '82 has a lot of nice stuff as she celebrates her new happiness - and had 2 new songs I particularly liked: "Man to Man" and "Be Cool". The later albums were less commercial but there is lots I like on them, particularly NIGHT RIDE HOME. Her 2000 album BOTH SIDES NOW was and is spell-binding, as she revisits songs like the title track and her mature voice does justice to those great jazz standards like "I Wish I Were in Love Again" and "Don't Go To Strangers". Its sometimes nice to go back and put on those earlier ones too, particularly the laid back LADIES OF THE CANYON in 1970. That used to be my "Sunday morning record" back in those days... it was also good seeing her as part of the ensemble at that recording of THE WALL in Berlin organised by Pink Floyd vetern Roger Waters in 1990 where she does those two tracks "The Tide is Turning" and "Goodbye Blue Sky". Its now on dvd.

Joni now has been very outspoken about the music business in all those interviews and profiles in magazines in recent years, she probably won't be recording or touring any more, she paints a lot now, but she will always be THE female singer/songwriter with that great combination of voice, lyrics and music - which are all so distinctive. She is the template for legions of girls with guitars... and she still smokes non-stop too !

Joni now gets covered a lot - I love George Michael's version of "Edith and the Kingpin", plus Ronan Keating's version of "River" and that Ian Shaw album of covers with that delightful "Barangrill". She must make a good living from her back catalogue which are all still available and must get discovered every year. She never played the hit single game though - perhaps only "Big Yellow Taxi" is her enduring hit single - though I did like "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio". Janet Jackson's "Got Till its Gone" is a lovely tribute and very funky with those re-mixes.

A Joni story: I met her purely by chance in 1972. She was touring that year with the young Jackson Browne and they had done a concert with bad sound problems at London's Festival Hall (I had also seen her there in 1970, a very reverential concert when she was the reigning hippy princess). A week or so after this 1972 concert I was on a bus going down Kings Road in Chelsea, London to visit a friend who had just moved there, and while the bus was stalled in traffic I was looking out the window and noticed someone who looked familiar looking in a shop window. What it someone I knew? I was sure I saw him recently. I then realised it was Jackson Browne so I wondered if Joni was with him. Just then a long haired blonde in a safari suit came out of the shop and they walked on together. Without seeng her face I knew it had to be Joni. Without thinking I got off the bus and began walking behind them. He suddenly ran on ahead leaving her on her own so I said "Joni Mitchell?" and she turned and smiled and was actually very friendly. This was after BLUE and before FOR THE ROSES so she was quite well known and revered by her fans, but was not that famous to the general public so could easily walk around cities and travel undisturbed. I was 26 then and she 2 years older - so we walked along having a pleasant conversation about the recent concert. They were trying to find an art gallery before it closed and I knew where it was and walked her along to it. One thing she said was that she could not run very well after that polio she had as a child. So that's a pleasant memory of being young in London and walking along Kings Road with Joni Mitchell. The friend I was visiting (who also liked Joni) would not believe I had just been walking along with her. Later that year I moved to Chelsea myself, just off Kings Road, we loved FOR THE ROSES when it came out that winter. I also got to know the early Elton John then as he often visited the record store run in Kings Road by disk jockey Noel Edmunds (who is now an annoying gameshow host!) - Elton would be in the shop several Saturday afternoons, signing records and chatting. I was once walking around Harrods store with him (Elton in a pink suit) and his manager John Reid, and saw several early concerts of his, one with Marc Bolan as guest - as we liked those early albums, particularly

Back to Joni: These days of course when performers have bodyguards and minders one would not dream of approaching them, but maybe we were more laid back back then. I went to her next concert when she was back in London in 1974 and it was the new jazzy Joni with the John Guerin band - I was in Italy at the time and dashed back across Europe by train from Milan to Paris and then to the ferry to Dover and got to London just in time for that evening concert - and somehow got a seat in the middle of the stalls. Perfect, just perfect.

She remains a brilliant lyricist, poignant, visceral, profound, moving, a brilliant musician and artist with that unique voice and phrasing. Those gatefold albums and songs like "A Case of You", "Good Friends", "Chinese Cafe", "For Free", "The Circle Game", "Marcie", "All I Want", "River", "A Strange Boy", "Tin Angel", "The Last Time I Saw Richard", "Both Sides Now", "Urge for Going", "Let The Wind Carry Me", "Down To You", "Chelsea Morning", "Car On a Hill" and "Just Like This Train" and "Peoples Parties" will always be important to me. That run of albums from SONG TO A SEAGULL in '68 rate from great to absolutely essential. In many ways she stands alone in popular music, with her reliance on unusual open tunings and jazz inflections... one of a handful of truly original and lasting figures to emerge in the past half century, often compared to Dylan of course, she is at least his equal. Her last album SHINE was well-received a year or so ago, as was Herbie Hancock's tribute album THE JONI LETTERS. That Tom Rush album THE CIRCLE GAME from '68 is also very nostalgic for me now, with its early covers of Joni and James Taylor numbers, a reminder of how we lived then in our twenties.

The recent book "Girls Like Us" by Sheila Weller is a must-have analysis of the lives, work and influence of Carole King, Joni and Carly Simon - recording Joni's journey from the prairies of Saskatoon to the laid back LA music scene of the '70s up to today. I also like that video collection of Joni's [pity its not on dvd] COME IN FROM THE COLD particularly the video for that song "Dancing Fool" where she is in a good mood, washing dishes at the sink and boogieing around the kitchen, playing with her cat and of course smoking. Delicious! Her website is very comprehensive too and well worth investigating.

Coming soon: that Doors concert in 1968, and meeting Freddie Mercury...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Speaking of glamour ....

Marilyn, Liz and Gina !
Could this be the only picture ever of MM and Liz Taylor together? - at a Sinatra concert in 1961!. Gina and Marilyn look terrific here in '55, and La Lollo and Liz look like mirror images (are they wearing the same dress?) in this early 60s photo, and there's Gina with that up and coming Sophia Loren and also Yvonne De Carlo back in the early fifties. I like this shot of the lush Gina from the '57 THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME - I love it as much as her SOLOMON AND SHEBA, both already reviewed on here. I did an appreciation on Gina over at IMDb, a while ago, at:
and how about this star trio: Loren, Schneider and Delon presumably at the Cannes Film Festival in about '62 ?
and Dirk Bogarde, Monica Vitti and Julie Christie at the DARLING premiere in Sep. '65. Dirk and Monica must have been filming MODESTY BLAISE then.

People We Like: Dolores Gray

Broadway star Dolores Gray was a tall, blonde, shapely actress-singer with a big contralto voice who appeared in just a handful of movies at MGM in the mid-50s but they certainly are collector's choices! She also appeared on radio and television and in nightclubs, and, in addition to her original cast and soundtrack recordings, recorded for two major labels and scored a handful of chart entries. I loved ITS ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER when I saw it at a matinee in 1955 (being all of 9 or 10) - not only Gene and Cyd Charisse (and Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd also being terrific) but the movie is stolen by the star turn of Dolores as Madeline the spoiled star of the tv show "Throb of Manhattan" - Dolores is at her most artificial here exploiting the 3 guys on their reunion and she sings that knockout number "Thanks A Lot But No Thanks" in that ritzy red dress.

(right: DESIGNING WOMAN - the look MAD MEN aspires to) She does not have much to do in Minnelli's KISMET but is better used in his 1957 stylish DESIGNING WOMAN as the ex- (a Broadway star naturally) of Gregory Peck who has gone off and married Lauren Bacall - that restaurant scene where she tips the plate of ravioli into Greg's lap is endlessly amusing. She also gets to don some 50s fancy dresses and sing too of course.

Comedywise her best role is in that 1956 remake of THE WOMEN, THE OPPOSITE SEX which I like a lot, as I did back then. Dolores is fab as Sylvia Fowler out to wreck nice June Allyson's marriage by telling her that husband Leslie Nielson is seeing homewrecker Crystal Allen, who is Joan Collins here. Its a great collection of '50s gals in those '50s dresses - watch out for Ann Miller, Ann Sheridan, Agnes Moorehead, Carolyn Jones, Charlotte Greenwood, Joan Blondell and Alice Pearce (Lucy Schmeeler from ON THE TOWN!) as the "Jungle Red" saleslady! See Dolores/Sylvia and Joan/Crystal tangle over that Buck Winston !

Dolores also starred in the London original production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, and died in 2002. Pity I did not see her in that revival of FOLLIES - I saw the Eartha Kitt version - but I have just discovered there is an album of hers "Warm Brandy" which I have just ordered on Amazon, and there there are lots of her songs on iTunes! My ipod will be much more glamorous now...

Nancy Wilson - Lush Life

Nancy Wilson - that '60s singer on Capital Records - is still going strong. I have just discovered her website. She was (and is) up there with Peggy Lee and Julie London and also made lots of albums and had several hits. I particularly liked "How Glad I Am" back in the mid-60s, and had several of her albums which were an interesting crossover at the time between the jazz and pop worlds, capturing that fabulous honeyed voice with great phrasings, like that terrific version of "Lush Life". Good to see they are still available now on cd, so one can easily stock up.

The first concert I saw here in England was actually by Nancy, back in 1965, when I was 19 - programme cover at left. She was of course terrific though (like seeing Peggy Lee in 1970 at the Albert Hall) the venue was too big - one should really see her in an intimate cabaret club atmosphere. (That concert venue was ideal though for seeing Aretha Franklin there in 1968 and 1970). "The Nancy Wilson Show" from that time captures her act perfectly - and is a terrific live album as good as those other favourites of mine: "Nina Simone At Town Hall", "Marlene Dietrich In London" or "Aretha At The Fillimore"!

Other Nancy favourites of mine include her versions of "On Broadway", "Satin Doll", "You Can Have Him", "Quiet Nights", "Over The Weekend", "West Coast Blues", "Free Again", "10 Good Years" and "Guess Who I Saw Today". She did a great theme tune for that Lana Turner drama LOVE HAS MANY FACES and she appears in the tense Siegel thriller THE KILLERS in 1964. Viva Nancy ....

Lush Life

Billy Strayhorn lived his too-short life in the shadow of Duke Ellington - between 1940 and 1967 [when he died aged 51] much of Ellington's orchestra repertoire (among the most significant bodies of music of the century) was written and arranged by Strayhorn, who rarely shared the limelight with his mentor and leader, and was friends with the likes of Lena Horne and other song stylists.

His compositions, of which "Lush Life" and "Take The A Train" are some of the best known of their time giving Strayhorn classic status among jazz composers. His life though, like that other back American writer James Baldwin, was marked and shortened by tragic levels of stress and self-destruction - Strayhorn also being a cultured black intellectual who was also openly gay at a time when this was brave and unusual and in a culture unsympathetic to gayness. Billy though took comfort in the world of cafe society, late nights, alcohol ....

There is a splendid book LUSH LIFE by David Hajdu which captures this period perfectly, and several recordings are available. I particularly like "THE PEACEFUL SIDE" [Capitol Jazz Cd, recorded in Paris in 1961] where Strayhorn plays his best compositions like "Passion Flower", "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" and "Something to Live For" accompanied only by a double bass and string quartet. He does not sing himself but a terrific vocal group supply wordless backings that just manage to avoid the cheesy in favour of the divine. Its not exactly dressing-up-to-go-out music (unless you are flying out to Paris) more the kind of album to save for seductions or perfect evenings in.

"Lush Life" with its stylish, melancholy lyric and great imagery which begins: "I used to visit all the very gay places, those come what may places, where one relaxes on the axis, of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life, from jazz and cocktails", and ends with "Romance is mush, stifling those who strive, I'll live a lush life in some small dive..." continues to be recorded by almost everyone - I particularly like Nancy Wilson's on her album of that name - and oddly enough there is a superlative version by Donna Summer on that album she did with Quincy Jones, though it is not currenly available on cd or download! Billy's work though shines on.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Glamour through the decades ...

Gary Cooper and Marlene in DESIRE / Cary Grant and Randolph Scott - just one of the many photos of them in the '30s / Katharine Hepburn / Monica Vitti in L'ECLISSE / those '50s guys: James Dean, Dirk Bogarde (from his album cover, yes he "sang" too! / Alain Delon in PLEIN SOLEIL. 50s glamour: those LES GIRLS (Mitzi, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg), Bacall as the height of 50s chic in Minnelli's DESIGNING WOMAN, those THE OPPOSITE SEX gals; Suzy Parker and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, Clifton Webb and Arlene Dahl in WOMANS WORLD ('54 - pity I could not get a shot of her in that green sheath dress she is poured into with the divine fur trimmed bolero which she wears at the end) and Marilyn in that red swimming suit - my first introduction to her, in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. Of course any of her ritzy outfits in NIAGARA would be terrific too...and then there is Kay Kendall, Cyd Charisse and later Capucine ... all terrific clothes-horses.

1963 Glamour: Cortina D'Ampezzo in THE PINK PANTHER where the beautiful people ski: there is Princess Dalah (Claudia Cardinale), society hostess Brenda De Banzie, Inspector Clouseu (Sellers) and his wife Capucine, jewel thief David Niven and his nephew Robert Wagner, as Fran Jeffries sings that Henry Mancini number "Meglio Stasera" .... all together now ... its on YouTube.

'60s glamour has to of course include a shot from BLOW-UP and Audrey's '60s look in TWO FOR THE ROAD. Then we have Franco Nero (here in QUERELLE), and Jean Sorel in one of those Carroll Baker farragos, but really in the '60s one could include everyone from Anouk Aimee to Vitti all looking terrific, particularly Aimee in JUSTINE and THE MODEL SHOP or Vitti as MODESTY BLAISE, but I have included those further back in my Anouk and Monica tributes. '70s glamour starts and ends with Richard Gere and that apartment in AMERICAN GIGOLO. I am doing whole separate posts on those two '50s glamour girls: Anita Ekberg and England's glamour girl the ill-fated Belinda Lee.
Below: Arlene Dahl in that outfit in WOMAN'S WORLD!