Sep 172014

Just home from seeing Joan Baez at the Royal Festival Hall. We sauntered up a bit late so missed the beginning but what we saw was mostly pretty stunning. Catch The Wind gave me chills, Joe Hill was powerful, There But For Fortune was perfect. Not so good was an overlong ballad I didn’t know, House of the Rising Sun, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and trotting out Imagine (and bizarrely telling us the lyrics so we could sing along… I mean who doesn’t know the words to Imagine!?).

I’m sure she introduced Seven Curses by saying she hadn’t played it for 30 years – YouTube suggests otherwise.

Another highlight was Diamonds and Rust, which was a treat because those early early 70s albums were often so much more interesting than the folk ballad 60s LPs (I wrote about my favourite last week).

Here’s Joan’s original, written in 1974 about her relationship with Bobby Dylan ten years previously.

I just discovered that Judas Priest covered it (I can’t believe that I never knew this – although I was never that big a fan of Judas Priest) and my first search of YouTube found a thoroughly dreadful recent live version but they originally recorded it in 1976/7 and the version released on their album Sin After Sin is actually pretty good.

… and here’s a live version from 1983 with Priest in all their hilariously camp, studded glory

Sep 092014

Joan Baez - Blessed Are... (1971)
My dad’s a Joan Baez fan so we had plenty of her albums around the house. Blessed Are… is the one I listened to more than any of the others, and doesn’t it look like it? I’m not sure who was responsible for the failed sticker removal, it could quite easily have been me – I know that at some point I decided this album was mine, and not my dad’s.

I’d guess that it was those high profile cover versions that got me listening in the first place (The Band, The Stones, The Beatles), but the more I listened the more I started to notice the other songs on the album, both Joan’s and those by songwriters whose names meant less than Robertson, Jagger/Richards and Lennon/McCartney. It’s been a good few years since I’ve dug this LP out (last time I listened to it I expect that Joan’s version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was the version I was most familiar with) so hearing it again was a treat, I was surprised how familiar the whole thing was.

Next week I’m off to see Joan at the RFH as my dad can’t make it and he off-loaded his tickets on us. We were very glad to take them.

Aug 302014

… and classic Hitch really kicks in with The Lodger. The conceit is superb, the mood is as beautifully dense as the London fog, and the performances he elicits from his actors are impeccable. Throw in a blonde, a twist, some fun with the camera, and a (possibly) innocent man, and you have a recipe that the master cooks to near perfection.

The DVD we have (from a German box set) has a decent orchestral score, no idea where it’s from.

Lesson learned: Sometimes a poker is just for poking the fire and a knife just for whipping the top off your boiled egg.
Watched: 2014-08-30
Source: DVD
Rating: 8/10

Hitchcock wiki
BFI Screenonline

Aug 282014

The Chameleons - What Does Anything Mean? Basically?
I hardly ever listen to The Chameleons, and I know I should. They’re another band that I was aware of for a long time before I actually gave them any serious time, and by the time I did they were long gone.

This, their second album, is a fine album. Listening to it makes me wonder why you don’t see the young kids walking around with Chameleons T-shirts they way they walk around with Joy Division ones, or Smiths ones. I don’t think any of Joy Division’s albums are a patch on What Does Anything Mean? Basically.

I guess they’re the best band to come out of Manchester then?

Aug 272014

The “50 films” project faltered early when 1966 was supposed to be Larisa Shepitko’s Wings, but the DVD hadn’t arrived… it then fell by the wayside… 1966 was nabbed by Gambit and when the DVD finally arrived it was filed away for later. We finally got around to watching the film on Friday. So long since we decided to watch it that we can barely remember why it was picked.

The film is a beautiful and sad discourse on loneliness and heroics, of a mundane life after excitement, of posttraumatic stress disorder, I guess. Nadya was a pilot and hero during the Great Patriotic War but is now getting on with life as a school head teacher. She is successful in her job but has not come to terms with an ordinary life, and is struggling in her relationships with Tanya, her adopted daughter, and with Pasha her museum-director boyfriend.

Aug 242014

I rather love The Pleasure Garden, the plot is simplistic but the characters have vivacity and there are some wonderfully constructed scenes and sequences. The humour is pitched well and the secondary characters are given enough depth that you care about them as much as the leads. The benefit of hindsight allows me to say that can spot the hand of the master on The Pleasure Garden (Hitchcock’s directorial debut)

Miles Mander’s villain is a sort of early cinema, moustache-twisting cliche to the point that if the height of his villainy had happened somewhere with trains (rather than an ocean) it would have involved his mistress being strapped to a railway line.

I first saw The Pleasure Garden in 2012 at Wilton’s Music Hall, in a restored version with a rather lovely live score by Daniel Patrick Cohen. I liked it even more that way!

Lesson learned: The dog always knows best
Watched: 2014-08-22
Source: YouTube
Rating: 6/10

Hitchcock wiki
Silent London
BFI Screenonline

Aug 132014

Today on A Head Full of Wishes I posted Damon & Naomi’s cover of The Beatles’ (well George’s) While My Guitar Gently Weeps… it’s a lovely cover but not in my top 6…
actually these aren’t really my top 6 either… just the first six that popped into my head right now! #1 is probably #1 though!

We’d like to start off with some Rock ‘n’ Roll, we’ll throw it out, you throw it back

#1 – The Pink Fairies – Tomorrow Never Knows from Finland Freakout 1971

#2 – The Unthanks – Sexy Sadie

#3 – Bobbie Gentry – Here, There and Everywhere

#4 – The Breeders – Happiness is a Warm Gun

#4 – The Feelies – Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me and My Monkey)

#6 – Galaxie 500 – Rain – Ha! as if I could leave this out…

I’ve no idea why I found that picture funny… but I’m still smiling.

Aug 112014

4 - Walker, Scott - Scott 4 - UK - 1969
Scott 4 is one of those albums it’s assumed that people who love music will love. To the point where, I suspect, that there are more people who “love it” than have actually listened to it. That’s not to say that it’s a difficult album to like, it’s not. It’s actually a very easy album to like. It has simple but lush arrangements, it has Scott’s rich baritone, it has some nicely obtuse lyrics. It is almost the very epitome of easy listening.

I guess I first heard the album in the early/mid 90s but probably found it a little too easy, also my natural contrariness meant that I was never really likely to love an album I was expected to love. But I do keep going back to it, I’ve never loved it but I have learnt to understand why I’m expected to love it. I expect one day in the not too distant future I will love it.

Also, 32 minutes… that’s pretty much the perfect length for an album. I know the CD came along and messed things up by being capable of taking 74 minutes and suddenly we all expected to get our moneys worth. But 32 minutes is perfect.

Another reason to hate CDs

I have, however, decided not to buy into the mythologising of Scott Walker.

I like Scott 4 more than some of those other albums I’m supposed to love (I’m looking at you Pet Sounds).

Here’s a lovely cover of Duchess by Trembling Bells with Bonnie Prince Billy

Aug 102014

Against the Wind (1948) – poster

At work on Thursday a couple of colleagues and myself were discussing this splendid blog post discussing the training and “prop design” of the Special Operations Executive (“Britain’s secret warfare organisation during the Second World War”).

Coincidentally on Friday Hazel and I watched the 1948 Ealing film “Against The Wind” and the amount of cross-over between the film and the blog post was quite a surprise.

Here are some observations…

In the blog:

Camouflage wasn’t just for people – it was also for ‘props’. Walter ‘Wally’ Bull [...] helped SOE develop explosive fake coal for sabotage [...] other camouflaged curiosities made by the section included fake animal droppings, for placing on roads and bursting the tyres of enemy vehicles, and explosive stuffed rats for damaging enemy facilities.

In Against the Wind: Scotty, a sabotage expert shows off, explosive coal, explosive animal droppings and explosive rats!

Scotty: Everything here blows up, this is explosive coal it’s filled with plastic and is set off by a detonator

Scotty shows Michelle a table full of exploding rats

Scotty: These rats, they’re filled with explosive and thrown into the boiler room in a German explosive works, a chap sees one lying about, picks it up, throws it in the furnace and…
Michelle: Bang!
Scotty: Aye, aye just like that. Of course Jerry’s got wise to the dodge now, but he spends an amount of time studying dead rats. Real ones as well as ours

… and some exploding horse poo

Scotty: Lumps of… mud.
Michelle: Looks to me like horse manure.
Scotty: Well, yes, it is actually. Put down in the road to wreck cars.

In the blog:

Camouflaged items [...] were displayed in the Demonstration Room at the Natural History Museum, for the benefit of SOE personnel

In the Against the Wind: Father Elliot goes to the Natural History Museum for his initial recruitment into the SOE.

In the blog:

There was also a make-up team, which could make delicate (or radical) changes to a person’s face, allowing agents who were known to the enemy to re-enter occupied territory and continue their work in disguise.

In Against the Wind: Emile Meyer has his face altered in preparation for an assignment, to the point where his wife doesn’t recognise him

I was quite surprised that a film made so soon after the conflict was so open in discussing the methods used, I’d guess that the film-makers had a copy of the Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies.

Funnily enough a contemporary review of “Against the Wind” from the NY Times suggests that it…

has the aspect of contrived melodrama and a minimum of the truth behind the sabotage of World War II

… and describes it as “unconvincing fare”. The National Archives’ blog post clearly suggests otherwise!

Here’s a blog post that includes exploding rats along with nine other exploding animals!