As busy as a fizzy sasparilla
A friend mentioned to me this week that in one respect, grass roots music is just like soccer. If kids have nowhere to play football today, we won't have any professional footballers tomorrow. It will become an elitist sport, restricted to people who are rich enough to own a mansion with a massive garden, but at the same time not quite rich enough to own a stable of horses and a polo set. We cannot let that happen to music. So tally ho chaps, here is some jolly spiffing acoustics from our Sunday sessions at The Wheatsheaf.
The video starts with Puppet Mechanic singing about orbital dynamics, followed by James from Juniper Nights doing a solo acoustic slot for us, Waterfahl providing virtuoso harmonica, and all topped off with a piece by those guys from shark-infested Aylesbury, The White Tips. Note the interesting technique of playing a cajon with a small rain stick.
The godmother of rock'roll?
Following on from my writing last week about a female drummer who had broken the mould in music, James of Beaverfuel told me about Sister Rosetta Tharpe who was a legend of gospel. Yes, you heard me right. James, the leather-jacketed motor-bike straddling geezer, the punk-pogo-popping, shoulder-biting, scrotum-gurning bass guitarist with the manic cackle,.... yes, that James, that's the same James who turns out to know a bit about gospel music. He told me how Sister Rosetta changed the nature of the genre by upping the tempo, introducing the electric guitar, and was indulging in feedback long before Hendrix. James found some old videos for me, and I especially enjoyed this one:
As I read more about Sister Rosetta, I found people asking time and again "Why isn't this woman in the rock'n'roll hall of fame?" Good question.
New rubber boots, ten dollar suits
One of my own favourite pioneering woman clips is Deadwood Stage from Calamity Jane. Not only is this a wonderful piece of comedy acting by Doris Day, in an era when very few women landed lead comedy roles, but the image of the androgynous geeky girl in dusty trousers must surely have been challenging sterotypes when that movie was released in 1953. In this song, I love the way the tempo dances up and down, and it is interesting to note how gunshots and backslapping are used for percussive musical effect.
Did you notice that almost the whole of the indoor scene is shot as a single sequence, no cuts. The timing and choreography is really impressive.
Modern music? It was better in my day
I grow weary of people who think music was better in their day, whether that was twenty years ago, or two hundred, (which is roughly where Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to think he lives). Talented as Mr Mozart may be, the big problem I have with him is that he's never produced anything new since his Requiem In D Minor, 1791, and there's only so many times you can re-release Wolfgang's Greatest Hits. I'm not anti-classical, not at all. I just think treating "classical" as if it represents the golden age of music is rather pretentious.
If you were to look through my own dusty vinyl collection you would find Bach and Beethoven, sandwiched between Led Zep and Alice Cooper (life is too short to alphabetise record collections). Somewhere in there you'd also find a twelve inch version of Tchaikovshy's 1812 Overture, complete with booming canon that scared the Shostakovich out of the cat first time I played it. Here is a slightly lighter and utterly magnificent three minute version of the 1812, played by a US two-man combo. One is the principle trumpet with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the other has a masters degree and is a teacher and composer, so I hope you don't think it is all too highbrow for you. They don't have the full range of orchestral instruments at their disposal, and its a bit tricky fitting field artillery and cathedral bells into a bedroom.
Bonus points if you knew the significance of donning the Fawkes mask at the end of the piece.
Too posh for pop
Opera is ridiculously expensive, grindingly long, and they really don't like it if you try to join in with the chorus. Ask a hundred people if they can name anything from opera, and ninety nine of them will say the Go Compare man, yet over half of the money handed out for music by the Arts Council, (£53 million out of a £92 million music budget in 2018), goes to just three opera companies in England and one in Wales.
My favourite piece of opera is probably The Ride Of The Valkyries, maybe because of its association in my mind with my most memorable role in an extremely short-lived career as a film extra: "Costume party scene, Student in background snogging Nordic Shield Maiden". I was the student, not the shield maiden, obviously. But I digress. For a bit of modern opera, you must surely remember the Diva Dance from the Fifth Element movie. I say modern. You can tell it was last millenium because Bruce Willis still had hair.
Instead of being mere backing music, there is a beautiful synchronicity of movement cutting between the two scenes. Similar to Calamity Jane, gunshots, grunts and headbutts become part of the musical score. The voice of the tentacled blue alien is provided by Albanian opera singer Inva Mula, although it had to be electronically augmented because the human larynx unassisted cannot cover the octave range and rapid vocal shifts that the song requires.
Have you ever pirouetted into an accidental Nutcracker?
What about ballet? I've had the pleasure of being a front-row guest of the Bolshoi Ballet in Belarus, yet here in the UK it so exclusive that I had to be smuggled into the control box by a sound engineer. I had hoped to see Swan Lake, but it turned out to be The Nutcracker Suite. "It's all bleedin' Tchaikovsky, what more do you want?" said the lights guy. Ballet dancers have superb skills, but does that make them more artistic than the unfunded Morris dancers who have to hold down day jobs? Here is a clip of some punk Morris with jangling baubles and poles of percussion.
I filmed that almost exactly 12 years ago in Cornmarket, Oxford. Unfortunately I have absolutely no idea what the troupe was called or who any of them were. If anyone can enlighten me,.....
We don't do all that arty stuff here
There is also inverted snobbery by rock fans who wouldn't be seen dead listening to something labelled classical. Well just for you restrosepctive denialists, here's the incredibly talented and digitally dextrous Tina S from France giving it large with a bit of the old Ludwig. She would only have been 16 or 17 when she recorded this one. If you couldn't see the composer credit below the video you'd be raving for weeks about how this was the most amazing head-banging metal shredding six minute solo you'd ever witnessed.
The thing to understand is that the music doesn't know which genre it's supposed to be. The music doesn't care.
Keep yourself safe
Keep wearing that face mask and keep yourself healthy in both mind and body. Remember, the end is in sight, and we are getting safer every day.