When the loud gets louder (Klub Kakofanney Lockdown Letter)

When the loud gets louder

Still all quiet on the Wheatsheaf front I am afraid, so to remind you of better times, here is a blast of the electric past from some of our Klub Kakofanney gigs. It starts loud and gets louder. Included in this compilation is Cora Pearl, Spinnerfall, Juliet and The Raging Romeos, Old Ernie, and Monkfish. If the stage setting for Old Ernie looks unfamiliar, that is because it was from the night when we had to relocate to Modern Art Oxford because the Wheatsheaf was closed for decorating.

Those were the days when we could enjoy a night out with the minimum of fuss, and the vaccines are our best route, perhaps only route, back to that normality. Yet each week the call grows louder from armchair experts for covid passports. Journalists and media reporters repeat the dogma that we "have" to do this to beat covid, and say it is the price we have to pay. But do we really? I have yet to find any proper scientific analysis to support this idea, and believe me I've looked. I can find no estimate of how many people would be excluded if we become a checkpoint society, how many lives, if any, it would save, or even if it would increase risks by kettling the unvaccinated people together in less-safe environments? Show us the science!

The giant mistress of the skies

I discovered this week that if I don't drive my car for six months, it doesn't do the battery a lot of good, and even worse, that messes up the radio so now it only wants to play Smooth FM. I wonder if British Airways will have the same problem with their planes when they start flying again? Will the pilot be leaning out of the cockpit window shouting "can someone get the really big jump leads?" Will we be going back to hot air balloons? There must be a music connection here. Jefferson Airplane? The Flying Pickets? Lieutenant Pigeon? No, let's go for a bit of Led Zeppelin, the antidote to syrupy radio stations. Here is a track you may not have heard before. The song is called "When the levee breaks" and it's from the Led Zep IV album. Pay particular attention to the booming drumming. (As always, apologies for the ever-more annoying YouTube adverts)

The top YouTube comment for this video says "In my opinion, this is their greatest song ever". I'm not sure I would go that far but a lot of people on YouTube gave the comment a thumbs up. Anyway, did you notice the ba-boom drum sound? A common musical urban myth repeated ad nauseum on the internet is that this effect was achieved by recording it in a stairwell, but the truth is that echo is all down to the sound engineer Andy Johns who used a Binson Echorec magnetic tape echo delay device.

The world's in trouble, there's no communication

What's the connection between Joan Jett and Joni Mitchell, apart from the initial J? The answer might surprise you. Twenty years ago, when Rolling Stone magazine and its panel of music industry experts put togther a list of what they considered to be the hundred greatest guitarists of all time, it was hardly a surprise that they were going to put Hendrix at number one or that Led Zep's Jimmy Page would be in the top 10. More surprising was that out of the remaining 98 places in the top 100, Joni Mitchell in position 72 and Joan Jett at 87 were the only two women on the list. I've also seen a version of this list where Joan Jett has been replaced by blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt, but that's still only two women. So here is the noisier of the two, Joan Jett, playing her 1981 track "Bad reputation". The rich studio lighting in this video gives brilliant colours and tones.

It still has the hacksaw guitars but the tempo has increased since Jett's original recording, 32 years ealier, and the vocals are even more raucous. Jett never released this track as a single, but it has been featured in the movies Shrek, Kickass, The Easy A, and probably many more.

Giving birth to a genre

The Rolling Stone list could easily have included Poison Ivy, the guitarist who, along with vocalist Lux Interior, put together the band The Cramps, which is widely credited for first creating the fusion of rockabilly, honkytonk, and punk rock in the late 70s, giving birth to the whole psychobilly subculture today. I'd say that was a pretty influential guitarist who just happens to be female. For those of you unacquainted with The Cramps, here is a live piece from a Norway gig in 2006.

Blame it on Bugs Bunny

You'll have heard the expression "cotton-picking" but might not be sure where it comes from. It is, of course, a southern states slur dating back to cotton plantation days, although it only came into more common use after 1952 when it was used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. As a guitar technique, the correct spelling is Cotten Picking, and comes from Elizabeth Cotten, born in 1893 in Carolina, and her style of finger-picking the bass string. This style developed because she was a self-taught guitarist, and left-handed but only had a right-handed guitar which she played upside down. This is an old recording of her in later life playing a song she originally wrote back in 1904, when she was just 11 years old. It is a song you must know:

In the 30s, Cotten was working in a department store and helped a distressed little girl who had lost her mum. That act of kindness saw her become the housekeeper for the girl's family, and the little girl grew up to be Peggy Seeger.

Fantasies, dreams, and desires

Memphis Minnie, born in 1897, was a guitarist and vocalist, and one of the great early country blues singers. She was recording for Decca in the 1930s, and recorded over 200 songs during her career, but by the 60s she was ill, penniless, and died forgotten. In 1996, Bonnie Raitt tracked down the grave and had a headstone made for it. An inscription on the stone reads: "Listening to Minnie's songs we hear her fantasies, her dreams, her desires, but we will hear them as if they were our own." Why don't you have a listen too? This is "Dirty mother for you".

One of Minnie's early songs was called "When the levee breaks". Yes, that's right, the same song that was recorded by Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, which one YouTuber thinks is Led Zeppelin's greatest ever song, was written by a black woman born in the 19th century. Strange how Memphis Minnie and these other great women guitarists never made it into the Rolling Stone list. Do you think that the magazine's judging panel consisting of 54 men and just three women had anything to do with this?

Use protection, you know it makes sense

There is an interesting video article on the BBC this week about British actor Riz Ahmed who has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in an indie film called The Sound Of Metal where he plays a punk drummer who is losing his hearing, and laments he should have worn ear plugs.


As you know, I am a big fan of earplugs, and will always wear them, even at "acoustic" gigs where there is very little amplification, to stop my ears becoming fatigued and to protect against sudden spikes in volume. You would happily wear sunglasses when the sun is blinding so why not wear ear plugs when the sound is deafening? The music is still just as immersive while wearing earplugs, just as visceral, and it greatly reduce the chances of hearing damage. I always try to take spare packs of disposables with me to gigs, for people who have forgotten their own, or people who didn't realise how loud a gig can be. So if you are at a gig and need some plugs, please don't hesitate to ask me, and that applies just as much to musicians, sound engineers, bar staff and door staff as it does to people in the audience. Please take care of your ears. They are the only pair you get.

9th April 2021
The Lockdown Letters
Klub Kakofanney