Thursday, 16 February 2017

Louis Hayes - Jazz Legend

'Tis true that there are some jazz musicians that simply get better with each passing year, and so it is with Louis Hayes.

I won't re-publish his biography here, suffice to say that Louis has drummed alongside some of the greatest names in the genre, Oscar Peterson to name just one.

Louis is just some weeks short of his 80th birthday, and so he is on tour to mark that fact.

 And such a tour it is.

Playing some of the great European cities, he rocked up, with his band, in what can only be described as an insignificant  Belgian village, and I wondered why the Hell he was there. I wondered why until he started to play.

Belgians love jazz, and Louis was welcomed in such a way that I realised why he was there. He was playing to the people who love his music, regardless of where they are. There was no pretension here, this was a jazz legend playing to, and for, the people who matter to him. His fans.

I have witnessed some great performances over the years, but this was special. I rather suspect that when I enter into my mid 60s I might be attending Louis' 90th birthday celebrations. I look forward to it, it will be great!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Feb 3rd: The Day The Music Died

On this day in 1959, Buddy Holly, J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, and 17 year old Richie Valens died, along with pilot Roger Peterson when their Beechcraft Bonanza came down in bad weather conditions on farmland near to Clear Lake, Iowa.

This was the tour Holly did not want to take part in - it meant leaving his pregnant wife, Maria Elena - at home in their newly acquired New York apartment. But having trouble being paid by his manipulative manager, Norman Petty, he had little choice. He needed the money.

The rest is history.

Given the astonishing amount of music he left behind him, and the influence he had over musicians from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Eric Clapton and Don McLean, it is difficult to believe that he was just 22 years old when he died.

In the late 1970s a 'definitive' album set of what was supposedly every recording appeared to a great

However, even now, some 40 years later, obscure recordings on reel-to-reel still occasionally appear.

Some are mere curiosities, others are real gems that give us a great insight of how he played with every song until he got it exactly right. Some, which never saw the light of day for decades, have assumed great popularity among aficionados, such as myself, in their own right,

I'm particularly fond of this, which was recorded in his home in January 1959, just days before he died.

The great appeal for me personally is that this is unadulterated Buddy. Many of his most famous records were actually released after his death, and the aforementioned Norman Petty took the liberty of adding vocal backing tracks that were totally out of place.

His music is still played widely on the radio, and is constantly being reissued. Although overshadowed by Elvis Presley as a stage performer, his contribution to Rock n Roll was much greater.

Friday, 27 January 2017

One for the ladies, Dick?

I just love Dick Clark's intro "this is a song, I guess, written for women..." I always admire a chap who is unafraid to flaunt his politically incorrect credentials, although I suspect that if he made a remark like that now, what was to become one of the longest careers in showbiz would have been terminated very quickly.

The song is actually brilliant, and you don't have to be a woman to realise that.

Despite the forgetfulness that comes with being 55 years and 2 months old, I have incredible recall when it comes to the music. I can remember when I first heard this one - it was in 1979, on Mike Allen's excellent Saturday night show 'The American Dream', back in the days when Capital Radio was broadcasting on medium wave. He played the show out with it, and it really grabbed me. This is Doo-Wop at its very best.

At the risk of drifting into Dick Clark territory, I assumed that the Passions were a black group (the management at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem made the same mistake with Buddy Holly and the Crickets in August 1957, which is how they came to be the first white act to play there).

Just to emphasize the sheer greatness of this song, and its importance in Rock n Roll history, before it was given to the Passions, the original demo was recorded by none other than Carole King and Paul Simon.

Paul Simon himself performed on a number of early RnR tracks, but under an assumed name. I know exactly where to find him, of course, and perhaps I will share one or two of his early, and largely unknown, gems in a future post.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Ilya Yashin: A True Human Rights Defender.

Its not every day that I get to meet and interview a chap like Ilya Yashin.

Ilya is a prominent Russian politician, who just happens to be a major opponent of Vladimir Putin.

After Boris Nemtsov was so brutally murdered outside the walls of the Kremlin, in 2015, it was Ilya who picked up the torch, and has been a thorn in the side of the Russian dictator ever since.

Of course, he has paid for this, with the occasional spell behind bars, and worse, and has been declared by Amnesty International to be a 'Prisoner of Conscience'.

Nice to see that there are, even in Russia, still men who are prepared to stand for freedom and democracy.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Look out, Mr Putin; Rock n Roll is coming to Moscow!

The Evil Empire, aka the Soviet Union, really hated western popular culture.

There was a real fear in the Kremlin that if Russian youth (note: 'Russian' - the Kremlin didn't care less about any of the other 'Soviet Republics') were exposed to western culture than they might realise that they were living in a socio-economic hell-hole.

In the 1950s there was a particular fear about Rock 'n' Roll. The Politburo really did not get this at all. The idea that working class people could really lead a cultural revolution really spooked the geriatrics in charge in the Kremlin.

The  official line was that Rock 'n' Roll was an American plan to subvert the minds of the youth - and God forbid that black people could be involved!

Tommy Steele (right) with actor Richard Todd  (left)
It all started to go wrong for the Evil Empire when a young chap named Tommy Steele turned up in Russia. One of Britain's greatest recording stars of the 1950s, (and a major showbiz star to this day), he defied the KGB and managed to be photographed in Red Square.

Russians have their own take on everything.

Their church, which professes to be Christian, but which is in the hands of the security services, does not even recognise other churches as being Christian.

I remember, after 9/11, attending a lunch at the Russian Orthodox Church in Gunnersbury, West London, presided over by a priest who was later demoted after being exposed as a sexual predator, and being shocked by the statement by said priest that "Russians should not pray for the victims as they (the victims) were not Orthodox". 

Actually, a number of victims of the 9/11 attacks were members of the Orthodox Church.

But back to the music.

I am therefore delighted to learn that there is, currently, a terrific Rock 'n' Roll station broadcasting out of Moscow. are playing great R'n'R, with a mix of western classics and Russian and other European versions.

To be truthful, there is no original R'n'R coming out of Russia, nor is there likely to be in the forseeable future (although Russia is particularly strong on Neo-Nazi skinhead music).

Otherwise, Russian popular music is about 50 shades below Dire. It's awful. It has not one single saving grace.

If you don't believe me, then listen to this garbage:

The perpetrator of this atrocity is Alla Pugacheva, (pictured right) one of Russia's most popular singers. I tried to watch this, and lost interest after 10 seconds. 'Nuff said.'

This, believe it or not, is about as good as Russian popular music gets.

But have the balance just right... R'n'R, Rockabilly, DooWop, R'n'B... great tracks, some cover versions and some original, from all across Europe and beyond. This is serious R'n'R, and the chaps at 101 should be commended for this.

Perhaps, like before, proper western culture will awaken the proles to their fate...

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Deja Vu for the residents of Brussels....

 You see some strange things in Brussels - and how many times have I used that line?

I recently came across this interesting scene nearby St Katherine's, the old fish market.

As soon as I started to take photographs I was accosted by security guards demanding that I stop, as "taking photographs is not allowed - it is forbidden!"

"Forbidden by whom?" I asked.

"Forbidden by my boss", came the reply.

"Didn't he die in a bunker in Berlin in 1945?" I asked.

My sense of humour, combined with my total lack of respect for authority have often gotten me into trouble, and this was looking like becoming one of those moments. So I took my pics and faded into the background.

Although I really cannot say it for sure, I believe this was, in fact, a film set. Belgians, however, are very sensitive about Nazi imagery. Its a guilt thing.

Little history lesson: During WW2, a young Catholic politician, Leon Degrelle, realised that the only way Belgium could survive the occupation was to make itself useful to the Germans. He founded what was to become the Waloonian Division of the Waffen SS (although in reality it was no more than a single battalion), and went on to achieve great things on the Russian front.

Adolf Hitler once said of him "if I had a son, I would want him to be like Leon."  

I know a bit about this, as many years I wrote a paper on the subject.

So, this leads us to the real reason for Belgian's extreme sensitivity over this chapter in their history.

After the war Degrelle was given sanctuary by Franco in Spain. He was Europe's most wanted man for a while, but he actually offered to give himself up to the Allied authorities, albeit with one condition. He would only surrender himself if he was guaranteed a fair and open trial in Brussels.

Degrelle knew he was on safe ground as the last thing that the Belgian royal family wanted was an open debate on collaboration, and one being led by the man who knew exactly where the bodies were buried. That simply would not be allowed to happen.

It is worth mentioning that fact even today, whilst I can write this in London with impunity, to publish it in Belgium could cause me serious problems.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Cornwall: Dark Coastline, Dark History.

"Dark and brooding", is how somebody once described the Cornish coast (was it Guy de Maupassant? - he took a generally miserable approach to most things).

Mariners apparently prefer the expression "bloody lethal." There are reasons why the Cornish coastline is littered with shipwrecks, many going back centuries. It is a country of pirates and smugglers, of sailors and soldiers. 

Having spent numerous snowy Christmases in Brussels (one of which infamously lasted until March, resulting in a surge in the already high suicide rate) George and I decamped to soggy Oggie land for the festive break and a long overdue catch up with family, to enjoy the beautiful landscape, and to marvel each night at the totally unfettered view of the Milky Way, which never ceases to captivate us city-dwellers. And, of course, to consume too many Oggies (Cornish Pasties).

Despite a welcome on arrival from Storm Barbara (very mild by Cornish standards) the weather has been terrific, which is not what one normally expects from Cornwall, even in the height of summer.
This particular part of Cornwall, which I have enjoyed since I first saw it in, I think, 1973, was once the scene of a tragic event in English history. The spot at which I took this photo is about 200 yards to the east of Looe harbour.

In 1625 something dreadful happened here that has been largely forgotten. Forgotten, I wonder, or airbrushed out history for reasons of political correctness?

On a July Sunday morning, as the townfolk were at prayer, a ship appeared in the small fishing port. It had sailed from the Barbary coast, and the arrival of African sailors would have been something of a cultural shock to the folk of Looe, most of whom would never before have seen a black person.
It was to be even more of a shock - these were slave traders.

Around 80 men, women and children of Looe were taken away into captivity, most never to return, their ultimate fates never to be known. Only 2 were to find their way home. All in all, more than 200 were taken from the South-West coastal towns and villages in this one raid, with 27 ships being destroyed or taken away by the African pirates.

One English captive who did escape would later describe the corsairs as "ugly onhumayne cretures" who struck the fear of God into all who saw them. "With their heads shaved and their armes almost naked, [they] did teryfie me exceedingly." They were merciless in their treatment of their victims and captives. According to one eyewitness, 60 men, women and children were dragged from the church alone and carried back to the corsairs' ships.

At the same time, a second fleet of Barbary corsairs were sighted in the waters off the north Cornish coast. These Africans captured Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel and raised the flag of Islam. It temporarily became their  base, from which they attacked the unprotected villages of northern Cornwall. They had "seized diverse people about Padstow" and were threatening the town of Ilfracombe, on the North Devon coast.

By the end of the summer of 1625, the mayor of Plymouth reckoned that 1,000 villagers had been carried off to be sold into slavery in the markets of Morocco.

Even in Looe itself, with its many memorials to the fishermen of the historic town who have been lost at sea, and the grand war memorial which carries the names of the disproportionate numbers of men killed in two world wars, most who served in the Royal Navy, there is nothing to mark this atrocity.

I wonder why? I suspect I know the answer..... The slave trade, over which we British are expected to self-flagellate, was largely driven by Africans and Arabs themselves, and we were also victims. Perhaps we are not supposed to mention that.

Monday, 14 November 2016

94 Years on, Mencken has been proven right!

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken, July 1920.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Abellio Greater Anglia have done it again!

Due to a broken down train, this morning all services on the Cambridge to London line were either delayed or cancelled.

The train broke down at 6.15 am, and as of the time that I left Bishop's Stortford station in despair at 8.15 it was still awaiting a train to come and shunt it out of the way so that services could be resumed.

I understand that services were eventually resumed, but too late for me - I had missed my connection in London and had to try to find another way of getting back to Brussels.

One has to wonder at the wisdom of running the Cambridge to London service (8 trains per hour at peak times) plus the London to Stansted express service through stations with only three tracks. On problem, and the whole network comes to a standstill for hours.

And why did it take so long to get a train to move the one that was broken out of the way? This is the line into Liverpool Street that serves the City of London.

And why was there only sketchy and inadequate information for passengers, and no staff on hand at the station to deal with the situation: the platforms become so crowded that would be passengers were at one point queueing on the footbridge to get to the platforms - a disaster waiting to happen.

Of course there are no staff, they were all made redundant to save costs and boost profits. In fact, the entire Abellio Greater Angia operation is clearly based on the idea of sucking out every penny of profit whilst providing the minimum level of service.

On most journeys passengers are forced to stand as there are not enough seats, a situation made worse by the lack of storage space for luggage, which on a line that serves a major airport is an absolute scandal.

The cause of this disgracefully inadequate service, and ticket prices are very high on this line, is of course privatisation. Reliable and safe service has been replaced by the desire for ever greater profit.

It saddens me to think that tourists and business travellers coming into the country through Stansted will have this as their first experience of the country.

I have managed to rearrange my journey, at great inconvenience and some additional expense. I have to be at Victoria Station at 2pm. It should be around one hour's journey, but in order to have any chance ofarriving on time I will allow myself three hours. It really is that bad.

Read also:

Monday, 31 October 2016

Fings Ain't Wot They Used To Be!

Yesterday, George and I did a bit of a whirlwind tour of the East End.

Sunday morning is exactly the time to do that - Petticoat Lane, Brick Lane, & Colombia Road Flower Markets - just wonderful.

George got to see where I was as a youngster. Also where my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, and so many others may have spent their Sunday mornings.

He also got to experience, for the first time, a Salt Beef Beigel in Brick Lane. Being somewhat fond of his food, he rather liked this. Jewish cuisine could never be described as 'subtle', but this is something really special. About half a pound of tender beef, pickles and mustard in a Beigel that just came out of the oven - mmmm.

I showed him where Jack the Ripper disemboweled his victims, and where Flanagan & Allen were inspired to write 'Underneath the Arches'.

We strolled up Vallance Road, hung out in Vallance Garden (just yards from where the Kray Twins were born, and were to go on to run the most vicious criminal empire in the history of London), and I saw ghosts of some old pals. The demographics have now changed, and Bethnal Green is now a Muslim district. Ronnie & Reggie would not recognise it now. Actually, neither do I.

Of course, much else has changed.

Brick Lane is now full of 'street food' stalls. The traditional Costermongers are largely gone. Instead of Cockneys doing the weekly shop, there are students with dreadlocks trying to look cool whilst drinking 'double skinny de-caffe lattes to go'. 

They don't look cool to me.

There are not so many stalls there now, and there is very little that is there could be called traditional. Petticoat Lane is now just an outlet for cheap stuff knocked out in eastern sweatshops.

Half of Romania is in Brick Lane selling counterfeit Marlboro Lights, as it seems to me. The Sclater Street bird market is long gone, which might not be such a bad thing, but it was something to see at the time.

Things change. But I do miss the Cockney traditions, and I just wonder where, whilst everybody else brings their culture to the East End, I might go to find my own culture....

Isn't England Beautiful?

I am very lucky, I guess. My work has always meant that from a very young age - I joined the military at the tender age of 16 - I have traveled rather a lot. I have seen many things.

Our world is a beautiful place, although we appear to be determined to destroy it.

Whilst I have yet to achieve my ambition of visiting a jungle (I once volunteered for a deployment to Northern Ireland in order to get out of a stint in Belize with the Harrier force on account of the fact that I heard that there were spiders the size of dinner plates out there- I hate spiders and crabs - never trust a chap who wears his skeleton on the outside!) I rather hope to do that one day. I saw a bit of a desert in North Africa once, but I am always thirsty, so that might not be the best environment for me.

I remain restless, but sometimes I see something like this and I just stand and stare, and I realise that wherever I may end up, I am lucky to have been born in the most beautiful country in the world. England.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Bobby Vee: The Passing of a Legend

I don't have precise details, but I learn that the great Bobby Vee has passed away this afternoon.

73 years old, and suffering from Alzheimer's, the last I heard he was working on a new album with his sons. Despite his difficulties, he could still play guitar and sing.

He was first picked up in February 1959, after Buddy Holly died. The organizers of the Winter Dance party tour needed to replace Buddy.

Bobby Vee was a local guy who had a similar sound, so he was hired, and the rest is Rock n Roll history.

His early recordings were similar in style to the early Crickets' sound, and to his fans it was always his ballads that caught us: but in the 1960s he developed a more contemporary style. The Night has a Thousand Eyes, and Rubber Ball sold millions of copies.

I suppose everybody has their favourite track, and for me, as always, it would have to be an epic ballad. Suzie Baby was one of the early recordings, (Bob Dylan covered the song in his early career) but as great as the original release was, I of course stumbled across an alternative take (on You Tube) which was too long and complicated for the commercial market, but so wonderful.