Bridget St John – Two Lps and A short introduction


Dandelion Days

It’s been over two years since I posted anything on this blog, shame on me!
More importantly it should be of some indication as to the esteem in which I hold this lady to get back to posting and to write something about her and her music.

So for a good long time I’ve been trying to find my female voice, my female singer. As a collector of records I have over the years realised that my collection is highly male centric, and it’s been a difficulty finding a female voice I really like. I’ve dabbled with Grace Jones, Marianne Faithful, Nico and those that just happened to come along; but just recently I stopped for a second to realise that it’s the English female folk voice I hold highest and went off to search further. Subsequently checking out Anne Briggs, Maddy Prior, June Tabor, Sandy Denny and more before alighting on Bridget St John.

Bridget initially appeared playing at Sheffield University, disappeared off to France for a bit, reappeared and hooked up with John Martyn; Martyn introduced her to John Peel and Dandelion Records the now famous (and highly collectable) Peel funded and often Peel produced label was formed initially to release her material. It released three Lps. She later did one more for Crysalis records, critical acclaim.. shorthand for didn’t make enough money for the label.

Later she gave it up or at least that’s how it reads to those that didn’t live a life, her life, she moved to Greenwich Village, and now happily gigs infrequently in the US and UK. Potted history. She does wonderful things like speak beautiful French to the French crowd that come to see and hear her play at the filmed gig I watched months ago on Youtube.

Sounds?

Like a deeper Nico, a velveteen female Nick Drake. A serious contender, passionate, mature, connected to nature, bound by cosmic debris, wistful, romantic, poetic, mystical, wonder-full, original, a one off, a superstar that didn’t superstar like Joni and thank goodness.

Lps?

Her Lps are not cheap to get in their original form, frankly you’ll probably have to spend over £100 for the first two and a little less on the third for the Dandelion Lps. For you will want to get them in decent and listenable condition. Worth doing as with quieter acoustic passages, you really don’t want too much snap crackle and pop. It detracts.

The first Lp – Ask Me No Questions

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So.. fairly standard fare as far as arrangements and instrumentation, but beautifully written songs with more than one featuring John Martyn too. The title track, I will admit made me uncontrollably boo my little manly eyes out, such was it’s love connectedness.

I love it and as with other Bridget St John Lps don’t expect to gain entry to it straight away, you get value for money with her output, it takes at least two listens, two concentrated listens where you aren’t distracted by the ironing or cooking something to feed your growling belly to get into it.. This is one of the things I do like about her, yes the original Vinyl may set you back (there are lots of reissues) but you get your money’s worth! Her guitar playing is subtle and understated, nothing is too ornamented, everything is there for good reason. It’s very much a debut Lp, feet finding, slightly bigger than baby steps for sure, but you get the feeling throughout that there’s something very grown up going to arrive in later career, and there is… the next Lp, which is one giant leap for mankind and a pretty giant leap for Bridget St John and popular music in general.

The second Lp – Songs For The Gentle Man

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This is the one I think, Ron Geesin takes the production credit and arranged much of the strings, Ron is the Dad of a friend of mine, I know Ron, he’s a bit of a genius, mad genius, but genius all the same and now I want to talk to him about making this Lp.

It’s actually a bit beyond description, there aren’t easy to pluck reference points to throw at you, happy little musical links with other people’s output, it’s too original for that, too special.
It’s going to perplex you a little, widen your ears a little, ask you to engage a little more than most, you may have to work a bit to absorb fully this Lp, but it’s worth it. It also has one of the most beautiful labels ever created, anywhere, ever, or at least one side of the record does. I’ll put it somewhere below for you to enjoy.

 

Dandelion Three

Bridget St John actually recorded three Lps for Dandelion, but look I’ll be honest here, I haven’t got the third Lp yet, sure I’ve heard bits and it sounds damn good, but I was so excited about the first two, I had to write this blog, while I’m saving up.. again.

Get all three!

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HOTFOOT SPECIALS KICKIN’ UP THE DUST CD ALBUM REVIEW


The Hotfoot Specials – Kickin’ Up The Dust Cd Album Review

Firstly I have to state a conflict of interests here, this is my brother’s band, BUT and it’s a big BUT (that’s why I put it in capital letters!) he and you should know that I am utterly and independently critical and will not pull my punches, hold back from the truth, or as he knows all too well, restrict myself from telling it like (I think) it is.

001Frankly this is a whirling dervish of Cajun music, as authentic as Cajun gets outside of Louisiana. Leader and Melodian player Chris (my Bro) Murphy is an American born, but most importantly American folk culture bred, Cajun Melodian player with a deep and dark history as keyboards player in various bands, signed bands, pro bands, really proper amazing Pop bands with US tours and stuff.. he comes from a long line of musical family and swore that he would never perform live again (after years of torturing himself in Los Angeles). Thank GOD he met Kirsten Hammond one of the best Violin (Fiddle to you Folkies) players I have ever seen heard and enjoyed who encouraged him to leave the swamp of his front room Bayou and, with her, move into the real mainstream world of performance again.

Together and with Dan Stewart a fine Guitar player (he plays other stuff in other bands including ‘Fiddle’ and Banjo), Grant Allardyce a choice drummer of subtle stylings, who is a teacher of drumming, an also session player and chief drumming personage from Brighton Sussex band ‘The Mountain Firework Company’, and my Mom, Mary Murphy, ace triangle player, they have formed a truly kick arse Cajun outfit that could get your dead Granny up out of her seat and two steppin’ ’till the break of day.

They all live in East Sussex and hail from far and wide geographically and culturally, but they sound like the band members could’ve all been born and raised on Shrimp (go on say it without sounding like Forest Gump!). There’s a lot of touting people as the best sounding ‘British’ Cajun band, the most this, the most that, the most authentic, yawn, snore, break wind, but, and I know I’m saying it myself, they are the best UK Cajun band I have ever heard… and yes you would have seen me at too many Womad festies in the 80s and checking out ’nuff folk music far and wide..

Check ’em out, they seem to be playing just about everywhere these days, Gloucester, Cantebury (opening the Cantebury festival) the North Shropshire Cajun Weekender Broadstairs Folk Festival, Cecil Sharpe House’s File Gumbo club, their home territory of the South Coast and the Cajun Barn in Tunbridge Wells and probably somewhere near you.. soon.

The cd is cheap, the cd is fab, the cd, particularly track 10 – Opelousas Two Step ( a nod to Cory) will have you twirling on a higher plane, in an outer body experience, rapt with the hypnotic sounds of the Hotfoot Specials.

BUY IT

You can buy it via their website. – http://www.hotfootspecials.co.uk/item/kickin-up-the-dust/

Hear some of it here – http://www.hotfootspecials.co.uk/player/?playlist_id=2

The cd is a well recorded ‘live’ recording and really captures the sound of the band going to it. Well balanced and most importantly well played it let’s the players talents and skills shine forth, there are no in studio histrionics, effects, no overloading the ‘mix’ with production values and to all intents and purposes it’s a Mono recording, with EQ left to do the work of pulling the instruments out of the mix. A little compression and off to the pressers it went. I should know I mixed it.

Kickin’ Up The Dust

PRICE £11.50 inc Postage & Packing UK Mainland

Track Listing

1. Two Step d’Amédé
2. Eunice Two Step
3. La Valse Criminale
4. Les Flammes D’Enfer
5. Port Arthur Blues
6. La Valse d’Orphelin
7. Bosco Stomp
8. Tits Yeux Noirs
9. Opelousas Two Step ( a nod to Cory )
10. Johnny Can’t Dance
11. Jolie Blonde
12. Tout Ca Cest Dur A croir
13. Acadian Two Step

Total Running Time 52mins

 

How to write a song – a personal view


Writing a song

I grew up around music, and people who could really play. I never excelled at any individual instrument but after I got my first guitar I did plug-in a microphone and record myself singing and playing almost straight away. I guess in an effort to make these recordings more interesting to my imagined listenership I wrote some words. At some point I must have realised that I might need to theme the ‘song’ or somehow tell a story, or make it about something, people might get bored if I didn’t. I think this is pretty much how I’ve continued with song-writing; the rest is just adding a shine or emoting more effectively in my opinion. The core to writing a decent song is storytelling, but using the extra power of music to support the words you want to deliver. You can get all fancy about it, use the music to express a subtext, play with the form in some self-conscious way, but in the end it’s about packaging up and sending off as much connection and emotion with the song as you can.

During the process of writing connecting one’s heart and soul to the words, the music and to the playing of your song are for me all essential elements of successful song-writing. I feel that this is the key to creating something with longevity, a song which will speak both privately and in a wider sense to your listeners. I always hope that the resultant song, even though it is only words on a piece of paper will have a hint of the spirit and magic of your emotional connection with it, somehow captured in the moment of your writing of it, if you keep live that spirit of emotional engagement present when creating it. Basically I believe this is what separates a good song from a bad one.

Here’s how I try to do it.

There are lots of ways to get to the point of having created a finished song and some work better than others, I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way; there is only your own way to get to that point. A few ways work better for me than others, I’ll list them here.

1.       Starting with the title! – Probably the worst way to begin the process and normally the precursor to a world of pain, struggle and multiple re-writes. However there are times when you just can’t ignore the idea or concept expressed by an imagined title popping into your head. Sometimes the title alone can summarise the concept of the song, and so makes a decent point at which to kick off the process. A good trick is to let this happen, but keep yourself open to letting the concept drift, or to throwing the title out of the mix at some point. I guess the trick here is not to hold on too tightly to your original concept as prescribed by that wonderful title idea you came up with. This is a sort of upside down way to do things, personally, more normally I would write the song and go looking within it for a catchy one liner that echoes the song’s concept, but was arrived at by way of creating the body of the song. I have heard it told that titles are very important to publishers and to anyone touting your tunes, frankly I think you should call it what you want, after all as the writer, you’ve probably got considerably more creative nouse than someone who sits behind a desk.

2.       Rolling with a riff – This approach works well for me as I love to just sit and noodle on my song-writing instrument of choice, the guitar. I’m always on the search for a new set of chords that work nicely together, or create a vibe. Sometimes this atmosphere gives rise to some thoughts and words, a theme and the start of a song. Get it down; keep a scrap of paper, your writing book/pad or a portable recorder with you when you play in case you need to get some ideas down when you hit a creative patch. Often I find this method of playing the guitar and just opening up to saying or singing words a wonderful way to get things flowing, you just never know from one second to the next if you are going to spark the next million seller, or just mumble incoherently for the next half an hour, until you give up and go off do something useful. It’s probably not the sort of advice to give, but I find that a glass or two of red wine in particular just lets me take the edge of self-conscious efforts to verbalise my thoughts. Of course it can lead you up the garden path too, so in moderation and carefully if you want to utilise any stimulants to your writing.

Generally, once I’ve got some of these ideas down, I leave it, pursuing the finished article at this point can cause problems I think. In your enthusiasm to complete your work it’s easy to distort the ideas you’ve got down in that moment of clarity and creation. This sort of energy is worth holding on to and it’s all too easy to iron then out, edit them away as you try to impose ‘the song’ on the nascent ideas you have now committed to paper or tape. So go back to it later, it’s like reviewing a song you’ve recorded, last night after 9 hours of trying to perfect the Bongo take you thought it was utter rubbish. Then the following evening you spark up the mixing desk and play the rough mix, and it sounds great. Song writing is a bit like this too, so going back to review your work at a later date can give you the editorial distance to see things clearly and work towards the finished product. If you like I find it very difficult to see your work from distance and judge it accordingly; this is a worthwhile ‘trick’ to employ.

3.       Write about what you know – This is really simple, no one wants to hear a song written by an eighteen year old about the travails of a long-term relationship breaking up. But they would listen to an eighteen year old telling them about divorce from the perspective of a teen whose parents have split. Authenticity is important. Not to say that I’m not guilty of going against my advice in the pursuit of some goal I feel is worth it, it’s all about balance and you’ll be the one that knows where that balance is struck, listen to your heart, and trust your instincts. For example I’ve written a song about Black Rhythm and Blues performers from 40s and 50s New Orleans, I’m not Black, I’ve never been to New Orleans and the closest I’ll get to a direct experience of this is listening to old 78 records of the original artistes, but the story I want to tell is about how their music and culture was taken and used by later White artistes and the parallels with White abuse of Black people. I decided that this was something I could tell from my perspective, I’m not speaking for anyone, and my general knowledge of the subject is good. It’s personal, writing is, trust your position and know in your heart that you can trust your judgement.

Write about what you feel – As distinct from the above, writing about something you have an emotional engagement with is important too. Of course if you are going to write professionally day in and day out you may want to ask yourself to write about any old thing, the latest thing or someone else’s perceived ‘thing’. But hell, let’s be honest, what of real worth are you going to create doing this? It won’t mean anything to you, it won’t engage you, and why did you start doing this in the first place? Wasn’t it to express yourself and to give your version of events, your view of the world? Isn’t it a bit of immortality that you are seeking with this something that you may leave behind you when you’re gone? Well what’s the point in spending your hard-earned time and energy on anything but something that is meaningful to you?

4.       If something isn’t right, you’re right, it’s wrong – Basically don’t let your standards slip, if you aren’t happy with an element of what you are doing, then you’re right, it’s not right and your song isn’t finished yet. There is a point though where a balance is struck and you will adjudge it to be ‘good enough’. If you get to this point you might just have a finished song on your hands. You might also get to a point where you keep on polishing but the sheen you’ve created isn’t getting any brighter, the song isn’t improving, in fact it might be getting worse. Careful, you’re probably overworking the tune.

5.       Sometimes fresh is better than perfect – It’s easy to think that everything you write has to be a heavily worked example of song-smithing, the truth is sometimes awkwardness, less than perfect alliteration, poorly chosen rhymes or previously well-trodden themes can all be easily ignored or forgotten in the face of a raw rendition of something emotional played out on paper when you’re writing. Sometimes it just so happens that you’ve got something urgent and real on paper, on your guitar and in your heart and working on it will destroy that reality, urgency and soul. Learn how to recognise this, integrate it into your work and to trust your instincts. You may want to take this energy and refine it somewhat; this I think works very well if done carefully and sensitively. Let it go, let it flow, get it down and then refine it, trim it, compress it. But be careful, again, not to overwork it. It’s a fine balance.

6.       Try different mixes – Play around with what you have, move lines, keep trying new ideas, particularly in the early stages of piecing something together. Just like recording, you can with writing a song keep more than one take, write the song out on another sheet of paper and then go and destroy what you’ve written elsewhere, you can keep going and going until it all just slots into place.

As an aside to this, I find often that my first verse is weaker than subsequent verses. I think this is probably because when you write this first verse it’s the one that establishes your idea for the song as you begin the creative process, it is this verse that is the point where you originally negotiate the idea. Because of this it can be less well-formed or complete than the rest of the subsequent verses. It’s a cheap trick, but you could try moving this verse further down the line. Sometimes it’s not worth keeping at all, so chuck it out and try again, but if you like it, but just not enough for your strong opening verse, as I say, move it on down the line and replace it with a later verse. Only if this works of course, in many cases this won’t work within the structure of your song.

7.       Sing as you write – You won’t thank yourself for making it impossible to breathe when later performing your masterpiece, and if you are lucky enough to find someone who feels like creating their own rendition of your hit song, don’t make it impossible to sing. A good way to create a song that is comfortable to sing is to sing while you create it. This way you won’t create any passages that lack the natural resting places a singer needs to find their breath. This way you will naturally integrate resting places, and doing this may also inform the way the song is written, the structure of it and therefore, sometimes, the very essence of the song.

8.       Write stuff down – Keep a pad, write anything down, if it’s a line, an idea, a title, a rhyme, a concept, whatever, loads of these ideas will never come to anything, but, and this is born of experience, years later you may be looking for that one idea or line to complete your song and fall across the answer you’re desperately looking for in your notes.

9.       Play with your friends – Play with other people’s songs, look for tricks of the trade, ways they get round problems, themes, ideas. Every song that needs to be written, probably has been, in the end the only thing that will help your song to stand head and shoulders above everything else out there is YOU. Your way of doing and seeing things. On the way to finding out how to do this, it’s not bad idea to copy others, play with their ideas, nick them, purloin them, steal them. Don’t feel bad about being a copyist, it’s part of the learning process, and lots of fun. Most people’s songs are copies of other people’s songs, it’s really really hard to come up with something truly fresh and new.

Good Luck

Blue Monday – Fats Domino and the lost dawn of Rock n’ Roll – Book Review


Blue Monday – Fats Domino and the lost dawn of Rock n’ Roll – Rick Coleman

FATSI’m part of a Facebook group called ‘The Record Den’ where like-minded sad O.C.D. suffering record collectors and enthusiasts of a superior popular musical past share their likes; in this case mainly Rhythm and Blues from the 40s and 50s, Soul from the 60s and Progressive Rock Lps from the 70s (yes there’s always at least one truly sad Chemistry Teacher who clings to his Yes and Rush Lps with a sweaty desperation and requires public validation for his self-imposed disability).

A short while ago and whilst suffering from a lack of reading material I asked for suggestions for my next book and bedtime indulgence. I focussed my fellow collectors on what I felt I required. A book that would illuminate the popular 40s and 50s world of Rhythm and Blues music. And ‘Blue Monday’ was suggested to me, in amongst a few others as befitting my requirements. My fellow record junkies were flowing in their praise of Rick Coleman’s book.

I was shocked to discover that it is the ONLY biography of a man who was essential to the world of Rhythm and Blues and centrally important and present in the operating theatre at the birth of Rock n’ Roll. ‘It’s a boy, and he’s got a D.A. and a white T-Shirt on, with 20 soft pack Marlboro already tucked into the short sleeve, Mr. Domino, you must be very proud…’

The book

The book rather wonderfully features as a first step a map of New Orleans, detailing the various districts and locating for all to see important and key features of the city’s music-scape and Fats Domino’s present and historic placement in that geography. Before even beginning to read I found myself wandering the streets, and linking the locations of his various family homes with photographs in the book, shortly thereafter going on Google Earth to street view the various locations as they appear now. Sadly one or two destroyed entirely by Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans City Governments fraudulent re-claiming of unattended and un-mended land left behind by people too poor to return to it in the stringent allotted time-frame. As you can see, I was fully engaged with this book within seconds of opening it. No mean feat, as I generally don’t get past the first half chapter of books that are poorly conceived or poorly written or both, as is more normally the case.

Rick Coleman takes the reader through Fat’s history, his childhood, his background, placing it strongly and forcefully within the context of New Orleans as a city formed from the sweat and blood of the African diaspora, Catholicism and the indivisible early French settlement of Louisiana. I found the section that revolved around Congo Square, an area established as a location of Black African cultural expression from the city’s earliest days, incredibly interesting and engaging.

Rick Coleman uses the location as a cypher for the changing role and social mobility of a multi-layered Black city culture that shifts and moves with changes in the religion of the region and the political upheaval of Civil War America and ingress of Protestantism. All the time keeping the reader in touch with the music soil of the place, that same substrate that gave rise to a crop of musicians, singers, writers and producers, that included Fats Domino.

The book touches on Fat’s links with other musicians of the era, his long and fruitful if sometime difficult relationship with Dave Bartholomew his writing partner, arranger and frequent band leader. We hear about other movers and shakers of the City at the time; Smiley Lewis and Professor Longhair feature amongst fellow New Orleans musicians and the shifting line up of Fats Domino’s own touring band and the individuals mini stories are well told. We learn about his rise to fame, his signing to and early career with Imperial Records, and movement onwards to other labels, the never-ending tour schedule and the tragic loss of band members to the musicians seeming drug of choice at the time, Heroin and the tragedy of car wrecks reaped through too many miles on the road.

In short the book is well-formed and paced, tells the tales well, fills one in on just who Fats Domino was, what and where gave birth to him and in turn Rock n’ Roll. It’s a real lesson and a Rockin’ Good read. Heartily recommended. If I have one minor criticism it is that the last decades of an artist no longer truly central are skimmed over and compressed in a way that leaves the finish of the book underperforming like a damp firework. A pity as the rest of the book is an explosion of images, information, sights, smells and a vivid retelling of one of the greatest and least lauded artists of the Rhythm and Blues and Rock N’ Roll era.