Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Vinyl log 7 - 28 April

28April1972The BunchRock on

I don't have any memory of buying this, but I think that by April 1972, Virgin Records had opened a branch in Bristol. My vague memory places the shop about a mile from my school, but in the wrong direction from my home, so coming home would have been longer. There were two advantages in buying from this shop - it was cheaper and the bags had a certain social value. 

For years I had thought that The Bunch (i.e. various members of Fairport and Fotheringay) were allowed to make the record in order to test the facilities of the first residential studio in Britain, The Manor. In the recently published Sandy Denny biography, writer Mick Houghton draws attention to this fallacy. Apparently, the first record to be made at the Manor was by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band ("Let's make up and be friendly").

As for the record itself - being several years younger than the people who made the record, I didn't have the same fondness for songs recorded between 1958-1962. That said, there were some interesting songs: Richard Thompson singing Dion's "My little girl in the summertime", Ashley Hutchings drawling Chuck Berry's "Nadine" and the duet between Sandy Denny and Linda Peters (as she was then), "When will I be loved?".

I don't know whether this record was ever issued as a cd. I have a cd-r copy somewhere which someone made for me, but I haven't listened to it in years (I'm not even too sure where it is).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Easy walking

My power walks for the past few days have been cut short by pains in my right leg; maybe I was simply out of condition after not walking for a few days. The pains came before the problems with the phone battery so I can't even use that for an excuse.

But maybe those days were training me, getting me back into condition. Today I walked 5.17 km with nary a hint of pain. Using my new technique with the mobile phone, the battery capacity was reduced from 100% to 92% - negligible.

I'm fairly happy.

[SO: 3889; 3, 16, 37]

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Vinyl log 6 - 26 April

26April1975Richard and Linda ThompsonI want to see the bright lights tonight

I wrote about buying this record a few months ago; I see that I even wrote that I bought it from 'a short lived record shop in West Hampstead'. I don't know whether the part of the road where the shop was sited was already  West End Lane or still Fortune Green Road, but it was opposite the fire station. The past two times when I have been in London (2004 and 2012), I've stayed at a bed and breakfast a bit further down West End Lane, and it's always a pleasure to revisit the stamping grounds of my youth.

That shop opened at the beginning of 1975; I recall that they had some big display for 'The electric muse' 4 lp set which came out at around that time. During the autumn term of 1974, I walked down Fortune Green Road and West End Lane twice a day on my way to the West Hampstead underground station, from there to travel via the Bakerloo line to my university near the Elephant and Castle. But in the spring and summer terms of 1975, I transferred my allegiance to the Golders Green station and the Northern line. It might have been a slightly longer walk but the trains were less crowded in the mornings.

So now I wonder how I knew about this record shop. Maybe they opened in December 1974. 

Funnily enough, in that blog from January, I wrote about walking. What I didn't mention was that a walk lasting 50+ minutes whilst running a program ('MapMyWalk') on the mobile phone would frequently end with an empty battery. It's happened more than a few times in the past two weeks that the phone has turned itself off before I've completed my walk, which means that my records are somewhat incomplete.

I think that I've found the solution to the battery problem: I can start the GPS and MapMyWalk, then remove them from the display (I don't know what this functionality is called). MMW continues working in the background but doesn't continually update the display. This should save a great deal of battery power. I am going to try this out tonight.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More home movies

Emboldened by the success of the 2014 Italian movie, I started work on creating a movie from the 2013 footage, which was shot in Barcelona, London and Edinburgh. There isn't that much footage from Barcelona, which puzzled me until I remembered that at this time I only had the original battery for the camera, which limited the amount that could be filmed each day. I bought a second battery in London.

I was fairly ruthless with the footage, cutting out a great number of repetitive shots; this was most apparent in filming from the London Eye or on the bus trip around the Edinburgh centre. 

The holiday ended with the MBA ceremony; whilst my wife filmed bits of this, I also have the professionally filmed version. I have decided to discard almost all of what my wife filmed and instead use sections from the professional version. But - and there is always a 'but' - the program which I am using to extract portions from the dvd creates a vob file, which is the native format of dvds. Such files, of course, are not suitable for Microsoft Movie Maker, which wants WMV files. I found an internet site which performs the conversion online (albeit slowly), so after extracting the most important minute from the dvd, I sent it to this site, then later was able to import the new file into the movie.

I have also discovered that one can import static pictures into the movie and also define how long each picture is displayed, although I get the feeling that this time setting is for the entire movie and not on a per-picture basis. I would also like to crossfade between pictures, but I haven't been successful in doing so yet, although I have only experimented for a few minutes with this functionality.

I don't have any more time at the moment to play with movies as I am very busy, both at work and at home, and making movies is at a very low priority.

Today is the 37th anniversary of Sandy Denny's death.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Making a movie

As I wrote yesterday, I started putting together a movie of our Italian holiday from 2014 in Microsoft Movie Maker 2.6. The project is almost completed so it's time to document what I did, probably as a guide for myself in the future but also in order to help anyone else in the same position.

Step One: converting MOD files to MWV
The raw footage in the camera is in MOD format, which is viewable on its own but not suitable for MMM. So all the clips have to be converted to a different format, WMV, which MMM can use. I found a program, Wondershare video converter, which performs the necessary conversion (it can handle a variety of formats). This program - at least, on the mobile computer - can convert four files at once, which makes converting all the files in a directory very easy. 

The video camera creates one directory per day (with 'useful' names like PRG001, PRG00A, etc); each video clip is saved into the day's directory with sequential names MOV0001.MOD, etc. The files are numbered in hexadecimal which isn't a problem for me but might cause a neophyte to scratch her head - MOV000F comes before MOV0010. Whilst this organisation is helpful, it also causes problems. 

This is important after the converter does its work as all the converted files end up in the same directory; there would be name clashes (i.e. MOV0001 from directory PRG001 and MOV0001 from PRG002 have the same name, which causes the latter to become MOV0001(1).WMV) which can be distracting. I once wrote a program to rename files, replacing a constant part of the file name (such as MOV00) with a new prefix; I think it time to find that program and to ensure that it works in the new situation.

Step Two: importing the files into Movie Maker
Once the files have been converted, it's time to introduce them to MMM. The converter stores all the converted files in one directory, but I moved them from there to another, project specific, directory. Apart from anything else, this will make backing up easier. The files - or clips, as MMM calls them - have to be imported into MMM; this doesn't create a new copy of each clip, but rather creates references within MMM to the files. 

MMM has two ways of ordering the sequence of clips: timeline and storyboard. Storyboard is a more abstract method, but it's better to use this at first. Several clips can be dragged into the storyboard at one go, saving time. The clips can then be organised according to subject matter. This is very useful as one might have footage of the same subject spread over several days; an establishing shot might be out of sequence with the footage that it is establishing. 

MMM allows one to split existing clips - this is useful if the beginning - or more frequently, the end - of a clip is unnecessary. There were one or two clips which petered out into an out of focus sky; I split these clips and removed the unnecessary parts. This way, only the interesting parts of the clips remain.

Another advantage of storyboard - and a valuable function of MMM - is that transitions between clips can be added easily. The most useful transition is what is called in music terms a cross-fade - film makers call it a dissolve. Simply put, the end of one clip fades away and is replaced by the beginning of the next clip. Scenery clips are not staged scenes of acting, so there is no natural beginning or end; a dissolve works very well. MMM has about twenty different types of dissolve, so whilst it's natural to use 'fade' most of the time, the other types have their uses.

Once all the clips have been set up in the storyboard, it's time to move to the timeline

Step Three: titles and fades
MMM allows one to introduce title cards into the flow of clips. There is one at the beginning of the movie and one before each section, explaining to the viewer what they are about to see. The timeline allows one to fade clips in and out (as opposed to cross-fading). I used this when I had a title card: the clip before the title card would fade out to black, and the clip after the title card would fade in from black. This makes the transitions smooth.

Step Four: sound
Some of the clips had natural sound: for example, when we were in the bus, traveling around the Amalfi coast, the guide was talking for most of the time and this narration was recorded cleanly. There is also a clip in a limoncello 'brewery' where someone is explaining how they create the drink. 

But there are also clips filmed from the top of an open air bus which have a great deal of extraneous and distracting noise. Obviously, I want to keep the sound in some cases and I want to lose it in other cases. It took me some time to discover that MMM - when viewed by timeline - allows one to set the volume on a per clip basis. I decided to mute every clip, then remove the mute on selected clips. So all the Sorrento footage is silent whereas the Amalfi footage has narration.

Step Five: music
Obviously, I'm not going to leave huge parts of the movie silent. MMM has an audio track which is intended both for music and post-production narration; I ignored the possibility of the latter. I allowed myself some humour in selecting music for the soundtrack: most of the footage of Capri is set to two different versions of 'The Isle of Capri', one sung by Frank Sinatra and the other by Al Bowlly. Most of the footage in Palermo has tunes from 'The Godfather' soundtrack. There are two short clips of Sorrento in the rain: here I used a song which we have on a disc with the approximate name 'Melancholy in September'.

For the rest of the movie, I found some generic Italian music on YouTube ('Guiseppe plays romantic music from Venice') - a long file which is an instrumental medley of various tunes. All of them sound 'Italian', but I don't know most of them. I cut this file up into various sections, dependent of the lengths required, then slotted them into the audio timeline.

The audio tracks can be split and faded in the same manner as the video clips. I only used this functionality once as I edited the tracks outside of MMM, but this would be useful for someone who isn't used to editing music.

Step Six: finalising and burning
Once everything is correct in the movie, it has to be finalised. Basically, this creates one long WMV file from all the parts. This takes about 25 minutes on my mobile, for a movie lasting 64 minutes.

The resulting WMV file can then be watched with a video player program. Doing so was useful, as I discovered a few mistakes in the movie (a missed transition and an extraneous clip were the major errors). But it's not enough: a dvd can't be burnt from such a file.

Enter DVD mastering software. This program takes a WMV file and creates an ISO image file which can then be burnt onto disc. This program also inserts chapter breaks (every five minutes), allowing easy navigation within the movie. I would prefer that the chapter breaks be logical, according to the subject matter, but I haven't figured out how to do this yet.

To be honest, I haven't actually succeeding in creating a dvd either. In my next attempt, I'm going to create an ISO file and burn this via Nero instead of allowing the mastering program to burn the DVD - my previous attempt failed with some mysterious error message.

I successfully created an ISO file with the DVD mastering software - this took about twenty minutes. Then I copied the resulting 3GB file to my thumb drive - another thirty minutes. Strangely enough, it only took four minutes to copy the file from the thumb drive to my home computer. Then I burnt the disk image onto dvd - and now I watching the result on television! It seems that the mobile computer is very slow at copying onto external media.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ken Kesey and home films

I once wrote about finding Tom Wolfe's book about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters ("The electric kool aid acid test"). That period in history has always intrigued me, so I was very pleased to see that a documentary television channel was screening a film comprised of footage shot in 1964 when the Merry Pranksters drove from California to New York. Naturally I recorded this.

Whilst Wolfe describes the trip fairly accurately, the film reveals details of which I hadn't been previously aware. Here's an example: Jane Burton, someone who appears in the early days, was a professor of philosophy at Stanford University and was also pregnant at the time of the trip. 

As one might expect from a film made by people stoned out of their gourd with hand held cameras (and no sync between the video and the audio), some of the footage is hard to watch. Fortunately, the film's producers made a wise decision and included archive footage from other sources, including Kesey talking about his first acid trips; these inserts make the film easier on the eyes and brain.

Talking of home movies, I installed Microsoft Movie Maker 2.6 on my new computer; although this is not the latest version of the program, it's the one which works best with Windows 8.1 (so I read). The raw video footage which we took in Sorrento is in .MOD format, which does not show in WMM, but once the clips were converted to WMV format, I could import them and start making a film.

Some parts of the holiday have too much footage - especially the trip down the Amalfi coast - but other parts are lacking. Whilst we were on holiday, I backed up my wife's mobile phone onto the computer, so I had immediate access to the videos which she filmed; these extended the available footage. Whilst we had a good deal of footage around the hotel and Marina Grande, it turns out that we have almost no footage of the Sorrento streets and market. 

I resolved that when we are next on holiday, I will save and review the footage each evening, thus giving a chance to film local places which I neglected to film previously. I've always found that after the holiday, I prefer watching the environment (the hotel/apartment and streets) where we stayed as opposed to the 'attractions'. This might be because the attractions are generally covered in guide books and commercial dvds, but of course, no one else filmed our hotel.

[SO: 3889; 3,15,36]

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Vinyl log 5 - 16 April

16April1970Blodwyn PigGetting to this

I presume that this album was also purchased from the strange shop at the bottom of Christmas Steps, although I imagine that by now I had discovered that records were sold in other places. I and my colleagues frequented a shop which might well have been part of a department store which was very close to my school; most of the records purchased in Bristol came from there.

I have written about this record at greater length here, so I'm not going to repeat myself. Instead, I'm going to write about a related record: "Stand Up", by Jethro Tull. Let us not forget that Mick Abrahams was part of Jethro Tull for their first album, then left to form BP.  

From 1970 until 1973, I used to go to a youth club which met in rooms connected with a local church. Despite the apparent religious problems of this for me, there was actually very little connection between the church and the club. It might well have been that there was a chaperone but I seem to have edited this out of my memory. What we did was talk, play table tennis and listen to records (lots and lots of records). I was introduced to this club by my former scout leader, Andy Vowles (not the Andy Vowles of Bristol group Massive Attack, who was only a toddler at the time of these events). Most of the boys went to direct grant grammar schools like me, although only a few went to BGS. Again, most of the girls attended the girls only direct grant schools in the city.

Sometime in the spring of 1970, I bought the sheet music album for "Stand Up"; I would have been familiar with Tull's contribution to the "Nice enough to eat" compilation which was compulsory listening at the time. At some unknown stage, I bought a copy of SU, although I doubt whether I bought it new. I didn't care for it that much as I probably sold it shortly afterwards. I do remember a picture of me taken in my bedroom with the cut outs standing up, but I haven't seen that picture in years.

I did go and see Tull when they came to Bristol in September or October 1970, touring "Benefit", but my interest in them waned. It wasn't until the early 1990s when Tull came to Israel that I saw them again - this time, Daves Pegg and Mattacks were in the group, so I was able to score a free backstage pass due to the Fairport Connection.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Vinyl log 4 - 14 April

14April1971Soft MachineFourth
14April1976Van der Graaf GeneratorStill life

My concert diary shows that on 1 April 1971, I attended a concert by the Soft Machine at the Royal Festival Hall in London. My memory is not clear as to where I had heard SM - presumably on the radio - but I do recall that I was staying in London for a few days with my friend Jeremy and I arranged beforehand to buy tickets for this concert. My friend Robert joined us for the show.

All I remember about the concert is the plush seats of the hall. Obviously I must have been sufficiently impressed to buy their album. Every now and then I still listen to it - I preferred the second side with its four part 'Virtually' as opposed to the first side. I was chuffed with myself when I realised many years later that most of the first two parts of 'Virtually' are in 7/4 time.

I saw Soft Machine a few months later in Bristol. I must have been enamoured with them as I remember securing seats in one of the first few rows. By that time, Robert Wyatt (the drummer) had been sacked from the group and had been replaced by John Marshall. He was the opposite of a laid back drummer - he played all over the music and hit the drums very hard. I regretted sitting so close to the stage as all I heard was drums and cymbals

I suspect that I bought the VdGG album whilst on a Passover break at my parents' house in Cardiff as I remember leaving a message for the same Jeremy on the phone, telling him that the track "Childhood's end" was indeed influenced by the Arthur C. Clarke novel of the same name. 

We didn't know at the time that two of the tracks, the opening "Pilgrims" (possibly the quintessential VdGG song) and "La Rossa" had been recorded at the "Godbluff" sessions some time previously but held over. I did note that they seem to be more integrated, but I had that down to the erroneous 'fact' that the band had been playing them for longer.

The title track has the curious distinction of being the only song that I know whose lyrics contain the word 'defecation'. In context, it makes sense.

For some reason, I didn't connect with the opening track on side two, "My room" for about a year. It wasn't until a concert in February 1977 (IIRC) without Hugh Banton and David Jackson that they played the song and suddenly it make sense. The final verse has, over the years, become a key text for me

Dreams, hopes and promises, fragments out of time,
all of these things have been spoken.
Still you don't understand how it feels when I'm
waiting for them to be broken.

Keen readers of this blog will have known that I recorded a cover version of "Pilgrims".

Monday, April 13, 2015

Vinyl log 3 - 13 April

13April1979Richard and Linda ThompsonFirst light

In or around January 1979, I read about the release of this record in 'Rolling Stone' magazine, a copy of which I picked up in the old central bus station in Rehovot whilst waiting for a bus to take me to my kibbutz. I think that I was surprised at reading this as I had the impression by the time of my emigration in September 1978 that the Thompsons had seemed to have given up music. I wasn't to know that around the same time, Joe Boyd convinced Richard to contribute on a record fronted by Julie Covington (who was a hot name that year, having sung the lead part in 'Evita') and then continue to record a duo album with Linda, backed by some of the musicians who also contributed to Covington's record.

In those days, there was no possibility (or maybe I never considered the possibility) of purchasing the record in Israel. There would have been no local pressing and there were few specialist record shops in Israel which would have stocked an imported copy of an obscure British act. I had to wait a few months until my father came to visit me, bringing with him the record.

Unlike most of the Thompson genre, this record is heavily produced, but I think that the production actually helps some of the songs. From what I have read, I seem to hold a minority point of view regarding the production. There are several songs which have made their way onto the Thompson compilation stored on my mp3 player so I hear them frequently. It's very interesting to hear 'Died for love', along with its many instrumental parts (recalling the coda to 'When I get to the border'); it's even more interesting (at least, to me) to consider how the American rhythm section (Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark and Neil Larson) handle what sounds like classic British folk rock.

Years later I was able to identify the oboe played on 'Strange affair'; at the time, I thought that it was the guitar synthesizer that Richard was credited with as playing. Of course, this track went on to become the title of a DCI Banks novel (which was very good).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

How not to display data in graphs

A few months ago, I wrote about how I discovered a website which helps people to communicate with numbers - although most of the time, the site gives examples of how not to communicate. I wrote that I came across an example of a graph whose bars had no relationship whatsoever with the data that they represented.

Finally that graph has been published here along with a few other examples of how not to display data in graphs. Fittingly, the graph was published on 1st April.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Sandy Denny: songwriting and production

Following are my opinions on the subject.

Songs can be classified (very crudely) as to falling into one of four structures: strophic (verse only), verse/chorus, verse/verse/bridge/verse and unstructured. The latter 'structure' is fairly rare in modern music as both musicians and listeners prefer repeating structures. Almost all of the songs that Sandy Denny wrote have strophic structure, for example "Who knows where the time goes", "Late November" and "Full moon". There are a few with bridges, for example "Autopsy" and "The north star grassman", but these are very much the exceptions. Off hand, I can't think of one SD song with a chorus; I would consider "One more chance" to be classified as having a bridge.

The problem with arranging and producing Sandy's songs is not that they are slow and sad, but rather that they are strophic. This wasn't too much of a problem in the early days, especially when Sandy was accompanied by Richard Thompson, but it was the major problem in the later days. 

How would a producer solve the problem of making a strophic song consistently interesting to the listener? By changing the arrangement. The 'mother of all strophic songs' might be considered to be 'Matty Groves'; despite the seventeen sung verses, the arrangement changes throughout the song, and there are even a few instrumental interludes which both heighten the drama and maintain the listener's interest. 

An external example of solving the 'strophic problem' would be some of the songs on Leonard Cohen's first album; John Simon (later to work with The Band) surrounded the bard with accompaniments which changed almost on a per-verse basis (it should be said that I don't consider some of Simon's choices to be good, but at least he made choices).

In what might be considered to be her 'prog' album, "The north star grassman and the ravens", each song has a different line up of musicians and instruments. Although "Late November", the opening track and a remnant of Fotheringay 2, is strophic (five sung verses as well as one instrumental), there are a few breaks and the arrangement alternately brings forward the lead guitar and the piano (especially at the beginning). "Next time around" is also strophic but has a very good string arrangement by Harry Robinson which varies from verse to verse.

The eponymous "Sandy" album was the first to be produced by Trevor Lucas and the cracks are beginning to show. Interest is maintained in "It suits me well" by changing the sounds used (I still have yet to identify exactly which instruments are used) or else by Richard and his inventive licks. "For nobody to hear", an odd one out, is saved (or not, your mileage may vary) by the horn arrangement by Alain Toussaint; I always imagine this as an attempt to copy The Band (Toussaint did the arrangements for their "Rock of Ages" live album which would have been released just before the sessions for "Sandy").

"Like an old fashioned waltz" is composed almost entirely of strophic songs, blanket strings arranged as dully as possible by Robinson and a lack of other instrumental leads. One song is partially saved by a modulation (up three semitones from D to F, then back again; a trick which Sandy was to recycle), but otherwise dull, dull, dull. Producer: Trevor Lucas.

"Rising for the moon" provides a glimmer of hope; this was produced by Glyn Johns and it shows. The combined instrumental force of Sandy, Jerry and Swarb was put to extremely good use on "One more chance" (but remember that this song is not strophic). "After halloween" might be strophic but it has a very careful violin solo in the middle. Listen also how there are acoustic guitar strums from alternate sides of the stereo. On the other hand, the title track is yet another strophic outing from Sandy whose attraction wears off fairly quickly.

"Rendezvous" does show a few interesting attempts at making something new: "Gold dust" and "All our days" are hardly standard fare for Sandy. But as for the others.... The classic mis-produced song for me is "Full moon": excellent lyrics but strophic structure (four verses and one instrumental). The strings are generic and even Sandy's piano is formulaic. A good producer would have noticed how soporific this track is and would have done something to improve it. Even holding the strings off for the first verse would have made a difference.

There may well have been mitigating reasons why the records turned out the way that they did; after having read the Houghton biography, the first word that comes to mind is 'budget'. The second reason is that they (Sandy and Trevor) might well have thought that the production was sympathetic and cast Sandy in the best light possible. They came from a musical background in which 'production' and 'arrangement' were anathema.  John Wood was a well known 'string freak' and Trevor may not have been able to stand up to the combined forces of Wood and Robinson. One also has to take into account that Richard Thompson was missing in action during the mid-70s.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Trevor Lucas trivia

Continuing my Sandy Denny/Fotheringay festival, I finished reading the biography and listened to all the discs in the box set (and watched the video). As a result, this blog entry is going to be a motley mixture of trivia.

I probably read the biography too fast, especially the end. One nugget, however, stuck with me - a footnote to be found on page 236. Trevor Lucas wrote a number of songs with Peter Roche in 1970 and Roche has long been a subject of speculation among fans. Roche edited Corgi's best selling poetry anthology 'Love, Love, Love' in 1967.... Trevor confirmed his writing partner was the same Peter Roche in an interview ..  in 1985.

I bought 'Love, love, love' from a shop in the Clifton High Street, probably in the spring of 1973. I too noticed that Peter Roche wrote some lyrics for Trevor and wondered whether it was the same person; now I know. As it happens, probably my favourite poem in the book was written by Roche which is called Somewhere along the way. The opening stanza is

I wanted to say a lot of things:
I wanted to say how often lately
Your bright image has wandered through
The dusty old antique shop of my mind;
I wanted to say how good it is
To wake up in the morning
Knowing that the day contains 
Something that is you.

The final stanza is
I wanted to say a lot of things,
But they all seem to have lost themselves
Somewhere on the way; and now I'm here
There's nothing I can say except
Hello, and
Yes, I'd like some coffee, and
What shall we find to talk about
Before the night burns out?

Whilst the other three Roche poems in the book have a copyright dated 1967, 'Somewhere along the way' is not mentioned. Strange.

I remember reading a poem around that time (probably in the Penguin Modern Poets series) and thinking that the words were familiar. It turns out that the poem had been set to music by an unknown Welsh duo called 'The sun also rises', who released an album on the Bristol based Village Thing label. The song was called Fafnir and the Knights and was written by Stevie Smith. The song appeared on the label's sampler, "We".

I am still undecided about Trevor Lucas' guitar playing. The Fotheringay box set includes eight songs played live at the Rotterdam festival from the summer of 1970, one of which is 'Banks of the Nile'. As it's clear what Jerry Donahue's contribution was, it's also easy to discern what Trevor was playing - a simple picked figure. But he keeps the figure going throughout the song which is not bad. So maybe he did play better than I give him credit for. On the other hand, his playing on the four songs in the video is simply average: strumming.

To be fair, the balance on those videos is not too good. Whilst Sandy's vocal is mixed to the front along with Jerry's guitar, Pat (bass) and Trevor can barely be heard. Gerry Conway (drums) can be heard but I would have liked to hear more of him and slightly less Jerry. Sandy's piano playing on 'John the Gun' is sadly inaudible; it's not much louder on 'Nothing more', either. I would have preferred them to have played 'The way I feel' as Trevor's vocal spot, as opposed to 'Too much of nothing' ; the former has a 'real' arrangement with Sandy supplying harmony vocals, as opposed to 'Too much of nothing', which is simply bashed out. Trevor does get to play three guitars for four songs:  'Nothing more' - acoustic 12 string; 'Gypsy Davey' and 'John the Gun' - electric six string; 'Too much of nothing' - acoustic six string. Jerry gets so much more out of his Telecaster.

Rereading bits of the book again, Joe Boyd comes over as much more negative regarding Fotheringay than he has done previously. It's difficult to know now how things really were at the time, whether he was more circumspect in previous interviews or whether his opinions have hardened over the years. Some of the songs (but not all) are sublime which tends to make me believe that Boyd let his feelings overcome his judgement.

Also the book places a slightly different emphasis on the events leading up to Sandy's death. I found myself doubting slightly the story that Miranda Ward personally told me in 1998. Miranda (Sandy's best friend) posted a slightly incomprehensible letter to the Sandy mailing list a month ago - I am afraid I am disgusted that ...so many lied to Mick Houghton, giving him the impression I was either not reachable for another book on Sandy or not interested!  Too many revisionists in that camp - I reckon TL knew that, which is why he dumped on me.  If his version was the truth then his sister would have been the obvious person - or one of the band crowd!

I'm not too sure what she means by that although by reading the credits, it can be seen that she was not interviewed for the book (presumably she feels that people lied about her level of interest to Houghton). But I can't understand the sentence about Trevor, who died in 1989 - how can he have 'dumped on her' now?

I spent most of my time at the Cropredy festival in 1998 with Miranda and again in 2000. I reveled in her stories, but now I wonder whether she too had a vested interest.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Vinyl log 2 - 8 April

08April1970Blodwyn PigAhead rings out

This is probably the first 'real' lp which I purchased - thus conveniently ignoring 'Nice enough to eat' which I had bought a few months earlier, several cheap 'Woolworths' albums (such as songs from 'Hair') in the previous year and even the Monkees' debut album. After having seen the Pig in concert the previous December and having heard them on the radio, I decided to buy their debut album. 

I knew that their second album 'Getting to this' was due to be released shortly, and I had some strange idea that record prices became discounted after a year or when there was new product to be obtained. When I realised that this idea was false, I thought it time to buy the record. If I recall correctly, the purchase was made from one of the strange shops that inhabited the lower reaches of Christmas Steps in Bristol at the time.

I was already familiar with the third track on the record, 'Sing me a song that I know', as it appears on 'Nice enough to eat'. This track still astounds me for its inventiveness, forty plus years on. I also knew at the time 'The modern alchemist' and 'The change song' but quickly became familiar with the entire record. As I have written previously, I have never cared much for the song 'Up and coming', not liking the blues. 

I have often wondered why so many British musicians played the blues in the 60s; a clue was given in Graham Nash's biography, 'Wild tales', when he writes how people of his generation - working class musicians born during the war years - felt very hard done by and even oppressed. What might be termed the second generation of British musicians - born from 1945 to about 1951 - were less enamoured with the blues and also tended to be more middle class (I'm thinking primarily of Van der Graaf Generator, Genesis and Fairport Convention).

Although I did have some BP songs on my mobile music player, I don't have any currently so I haven't heard the songs on this record for quite some time. Some of the material still comes over as strong as it did then.

My earlier - and more detailed - take about the music can be found here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

I've always kept a unicorn

I'm in yet another Sandy Denny cycle. This one started a few months ago with the announcement of a new box set, The Collected Fotheringay, along with a new biography (whose title is the title of this blog). The cycle picked up steam a few weeks ago with David Hepworth's podcast with the biography's author, Mick Houghton, and reached its apogee today with the simultaneous arrival of the boxset and the biography.

Intriguingly, the biography has two signatures. Following is the explanation from Elizabeth Hurtt-Lucas, widow of Trevor Lucas (Sandy was his second wife) and keeper of the archives: Yes, indeed it is Georgia's signature. Mick has agreed to sign the first 100 copies from Burning Shed and it so happened that the first 50 arrived at his house a couple of days before Georgia visited for afternoon tea – we thought it would be a nice idea for her to co-sign those first 50 copies (post to the Sandy Denny mailing list, 23/03/15).

So this means that I have one of the first 50 copies. Considering that I only ordered it two weeks ago, it implies that the book is not selling well.

I've been reading it for about an hour and a half and have got up to the middle of 1969 - post crash, pre-L&L. It's too early for me to have an opinion of the book. This is the third biography that I have read about Sandy, and whilst obviously it covers the same story, there are different quotes. Certainly, the pre-Fairport days are covered more extensively and there is also a chapter on pre-Sandy Trevor Lucas. 

Interestingly, the book makes a strong case for Trevor Lucas, guitarist, although Swarbrick descibes him as a rock steady rhythm player. As coincidence would have it, Sandy was on the mobile mp3 player last night, and once again, listening to the Fotheringay, tracks, I wonder how much guitar he played on that album, especially 'The pond and the stream' and 'Banks of the nile'. I wish I had Jerry Donahue's email so that I could ask him.

One surprise on the boxset is the inclusion of demos - several for the first Fotheringay album. The most interesting of these is a demo for 'The pond and the stream', composed during the summer of 1969. Obviously, Sandy is singing and it doesn't take a great stretch of imagination to conclude that she is playing the guitar which accompanies the singing. Here and there are small glitches in the playing which lends credence to the supposition that it's her playing. What is so interesting is that the mainly finger-picked accompaniment is very similar to the final version (or rather, the final version is a polished edition of the demo). Could it be that Sandy plays on the released version??

I was disappointed to see that there weren't song by song credits on the album, so I am still left in the dark. I shall investigate.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Vinyl log 1 - April 5

05April1974Peter HammillThe silent corner and the empty stage

I was in my gap year in Israel when I was given this record. My parents came to visit me from Britain and this is one of the gifts which they bore. As I recall, the visit wasn't very successful, probably because I didn't arrange anywhere for them to stay. After a few days on the kibbutz, they went to stay in Netanya with people they had met on a previous visit.

As for the record: gatefold sleeve with a strange picture of Peter and hand written lyrics. As frequently happens, the first side was very strong whereas the second side required more effort to appreciate. Most of the songs from this record are on my mobile music player so I hear them fairly frequently.

I had been in sporadic communication with Peter for a few years at the time of this record's release, but I don't remember that he wrote anything about 'Silent corner'. Unfortunately those letters got lost several years ago so I can't refer to anymore. 

[SO: 3881; 3,15,36
MPP: 582; 1, 2, 6]

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Introducing the vinyl log

Whilst power walking last night, I was listening to 10cc, primarily songs drawn from their second and third albums ('Sheet music' and 'The original soundtrack'). Listening to those songs brings up powerful memories, so after wallowing in them for a while, I thought of a way of making those memories more permanent.

After returning home, I created an ordered list (by month of purchase) of vinyl records which I own/ed; I intend  to write about them over the coming year on the anniversary of their purchase. For example, on April 5, 1974, I became the possessor of "The silent corner and the empty stage", a solo album by Peter Hammill, so I shall write about the acquisition of this record (and possibly about the songs) in three days time.

Obviously, I was anal enough in my teens to write the purchase dates on each record (I suspect that I am not alone in this). The data was transferred to cd sleeves when I updated the media and from there to the cd database program which I wrote years ago. I obtained about two thirds of the dates for my list from the database but there were obvious lacunae in the data. As a result, I had to find all the original vinyl records and record their purchase dates.

There will still be records missing from this list: those which I discarded at some stage. A few which come to mind are "Cricklewood Green" and "Watt" by Ten Years After which I bought in 1970 but tired of some time later. I bought the three record version of Woodstock at some stage but sold it after moving to London, the same as with King Crimson and 'Lizard'. Out of sight, out of mind (although I bought a 30 year anniversary cd remix of 'Lizard' whilst on holiday in Eilat about fifteen years ago).

Whilst compiling the list, it became clear that whilst I generally remember the circumstances surrounding records bought before I emigrated to Israel, the circumstances of those bought/acquired afterwards are somewhat hazy. But this is a general problem and I think that it's because pre-emigration, I was always doing something different and memorable. When I became an adult, I would go to work every day and one day would melt into another.