Tuesday, 28 February 2012

She Is...

I’ve written before about Shelby Lynne. I shall again in the future, no doubt. Last Saturday, we went to see her. We’ve done this before, DP and I; I wrote about it last March (Christ! Last March! Time’s winged chariot and all that…).

This time, as Ms Lynne is now catering to a more selective audience, she performed at the Union Chapel in Islington. I’d been there once before for an entertainment, DP had been there for a conference. It’s a beautiful building, set slightly back from the self-regarding fashionality of Upper Street’s bars and those who frequent them, the few scant yards that may as well be a mile or more into the country, so much does the area change.

The thing is, the Union Chapel is just that; a chapel. And as a house of religion it has no facility to offer a reserved seat within its pews. So; we arrived just before the opening time of seven o’clock, saw there were twenty or so people queueing outside, and decided to get a quick drink in before entering.

One swift gin and tonic later, the queue stretched several hundred yards and our plan to go for dinner before the gig lay shattered like a piece of Lalique in the hands of an angry toddler.

So we went in. Took in the mouldings, and the roof carvings, and the sheer size of the pulpit, and wondered if anybody who’d played there had ever sung from it. We got ourselves some drinks and we bagged ourselves a couple of seats nine or ten rows back.

And, eventually, a very small slim woman dressed in grey came out from a door behind the stage, carrying a guitar. She connected it to the chapel’s PA system, and she started to sing. She sang most – possibly all – of the songs from her new album, Revelation Road. She sang them all with no other accompaniment except that one guitar. She told us stories about the songs, about who and what they were about. She sounded raw and honest and her voice was astonishing, direct, freed from fancy embellishments; freed by performing solo even from the need to consider other musicians who would constrain her. An Anti-Whitney

About twentyfive minutes into this mesmerising evening, it struck me: every one of her songs was downbeat; not only following a leisurely tempo, but also a litany of misery, heartbreak, disappointment, loneliness… Actually, the thought that struck me was ‘For chrissake cheer up, love’.

This thought continued with the performance. When the Revelation Road songs were done, Ms Lynne surprised us – surprised me, anyway - by playing Jesus On A Greyhound from the maligned and neglected ‘New Dusty Springfield’ album Love, Shelby, which elicited a tiny, under-the-breath cry of surprise from me. She followed it with 10 Rocks from Identity Crisis, the nearest we’d get to an upbeat song despite its lyrics of damnation and pain. Then a stripped-down Your Lies, the first song of hers I’d ever heard, now shorn of the drums that had seemed so essential to it yet still absolutely stunning. Two more from Love, Shelby, which saw murmurs of appreciation rippling through an audience who beforehand had sat completely silent during the songs.  Most of the I Am Shelby Lynne album, with a little story about Leavin’ thrown in.  Audience participation during Where I’m From. Killing Kind and Tarpoleon Napoleon and Johnny Met June. Songs that had been drenched in strings and backing vocals and all manner of extraneous matter – but which sounded perfectly good despite that – were now reduced to bare chords strummed out of one guitar and the naked perfection of that voice.

She took off the guitar, and left. We clapped. She came back. She said thank you. Then she said ‘I know you wanna leave’; somebody shouted ‘no we don’t’, so she said “I can see it in your eyes’ and we realised she was starting to sing Pretend from Just A Little Lovin'. Just her. Just the voice, just a tiny blonde woman, standing dwarfed by the chapel pulpit, hugging herself as she sang, swinging one strangely long arm out to one side every now and then, and as I watched and saw the almost beatific look on her face, it hit me: no matter how downbeat the songs are, she has to sing them. They’re her. They’re her life, and singing them is what she simply has to do because singing is what brings her happiness. Right then, I couldn’t think of anybody I’d ever seen so happy.

Back on with the guitar, for the traditional show-closer Iced Tea, and she was gone.

We went back onto Upper Street, among the drunks and the staggerers, the badly-dressed and the desperate. We found a little Turkish place. She had cuttlefish, I had lamb.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Oh Yeah

We got burgled.

This house is never empty. Usually both myself and Dave The Lodger are here. If I’m out, he’s at home. Vice versa. That actually pisses me off at times as it seems that I’m the only one who ever leaves the house and a lot of the time I leave the house purely to get away from the constant presence of Dave The Lodger, and that’s not the kind of feeling a man should have about his own home, but there it is.

Whatever: this one Sunday I had a great-niece’s birthday party to go to because I am a Great Uncle, and Dave was off out to see his mate who lives somewhere a bit north of here. So the house was empty. Dave left around half one. I left around half three. Doors and windows locked. Cat asleep on the upstairs landing.

I came home around eight. Noticed a light on upstairs, thought ‘Dave’s home, that’s his bedroom light’. Had a slight doubt in that the light was obviously coming from his open bedroom door, which is usually a closed bedroom door. But the general feel was that Dave was home.

I put my key in the lock and felt it slide round in the double-lock way rather than the slight resistance of the tumblers, and wondered how he’d managed to lock himself in. Walked through the door, thought it felt colder than it should; called up to say hello, no response: bingo. Through the living room, see the back door wide open. Oh fuck.

My first thought was “where’s the cat?”  Second thought: “where’s my laptop?” Dashed upstairs to where the laptop is kept when not being used, saw it still sitting in its place. On the way, took in fact that Dave’s bedroom door was open, the light was on, and things were strewn all over the place.

In my room, a couple of draws had been opened, a box that had been on top of the wardrobe was now on the carpet as were a couple of mugs that had been on a low shelf and full of loose change. That was all, as far as I could see, the lightbulb having chosen just that moment to go ping.

Called Dave, got him to cut short his afternoon out so he could see what was missing from his room. Called the police. Dave got there first, had a look around, couldn’t see anything missing. I sized up the damage to the back door: the lock had been crowbarred and the frame around it had been smashed, the strike plate lay bent on the floor. Just then the police arrived two officers, neither of them over thirteen years old -  did the police thing, gave a reference number and left.

So what had been taken? Sod all. My father’s pocket watch, which grieves me more than I can say. And a small black plastic briefcase with a Batman symbol on the side, which contained some of Dave’s old music demos from when he played bass in a few bands. Demos which were on old-fashioned tape cassettes.

Not touched: four laptops, some external hard drives, a bunch of cash, some jewellery.

Which makes me question the sanity of burglars round our way. They’re obviously kids or junkies looking for something to turn into cash on the quick, but a bunch of cassettes? That’s going to make it worthwhile, isn’t it?

I got the door fixed and a new lock fitted, at a cost low enough to make it not worth claiming on the insurance without it bumping up the premium so far that the whole thing costs more in the long run that the value of the items taken.

And, of course, the revenge plan has been put in place. My former brother-in-law, father of my sister’s children, was a bit of a bad lad in his younger days. Reformed now, but he’s done plenty of time and he’s still both pretty handy and in touch with some of his old spars. Word went round among his community within two hours of the break-in that anybody with even a sniff of a suspicion about them would regret their actions.

Not that they didn’t do the same thing to a house not a hundred yards away, a few days later.

And finally, this very morning, I got out of the bath and decided to trim my finger and toenails. Reached for the spot where there usually sits a small black leather-cased manicure set that I’ve had for about ten years. Gone.

So; a gang of idiots with a taste for bad 1980s poodle rock and immaculate fingernails. That’s our perps.

As Shaw Taylor used to say about oranges: keep ‘em peeled.

Monday, 13 February 2012

We Have No Problem

 So anyway, Whitney Houston died.

Whereas any man’s death diminishes me, is anybody really surprised? There hadn’t been a good news story about her since she married the wife-beater, and in the last fifteen years or so, which she’d obviously spent on the sauce or on the powder, the most memorable thing about her was that rumour about Bobby Brown having to manually excavate compacted faeces from her bowel.

It’s a shame, because at her height she was inarguably beautiful and in possession of a stunning voice. And it’s a shame because her stunning voice was wasted, not only on manufactured pop music – she would have been astonishing on an unadorned gospel album, say, and if you don’t believe me Google ‘Whitney Houston Isolated Vocal’ – but also on the ridiculous melismae, the inability to actually sing a note without running up and down the scale and stretching it out way beyond its artistic boundary, that afflicted her as badly as it does Mariah Carey (somebody else with the potential to be an astonishing singer if only she’d just, y’know, sing).

Still, look on the bright side. Houston’s biggest hit was “I Will Always Love You”, which was written by Dolly Parton, who recorded the original, simple, delicate and heartfelt version, and who will doubtless soon be in line for a nice little windfall in royalties.

And, keeping it closer to home, that song was on the soundtrack to the film ‘The Bodyguard’, which will no doubt sell  by the boatload in the next couple of months. Also on that soundtrack: a version by Curtis Stigers of ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?’, written by England’s Glory, Nick Lowe. Nick says that when the film was first released and the soundtrack started selling in giant heaps, somebody reversed a truckful of cash up to his house and told him there’d be another one tomorrow, and that’s what let him record the kind of albums he does, albums like ‘The Convincer’ and 'At My Age’ and ‘The Old Magic’, albums full of intimate, personal songs about ageing and failure and proper long-lasting love, songs full of genuine emotion in a world of Ndubz and Jedward.

There should be another truckload backing up to Nick’s house soon.

Cheers, Whitney. 

Sumptuous Tales Of Flagellation

The other night I had a dream. In the dream I was the chauffeur of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, driving her around in a dirty great black Bentley.

I wasn’t very good at it. For a start I kept looking over my shoulder and asking Her Majesty if she was doing alright in the back there, but she took that rather well, smiled, made a bit of conversation about the corgis. Then I lost my way around Hyde Park Corner and went down Oxford Street the wrong way, but that was okay because, well, I had The Queen in the back and a flag on my bonnet so really, I could go where I wanted, couldn’t I?

Then we ended up somewhere around Camden, can’t tell you where, got no idea, Gospel Oak probably. I was on a double decker that get lost around that way once, you ever seen a night bus full of pissheads come up against a low railway bridge and have to do a three-point turn in a sidestreet?

The Queen was alright about it, she got off her seat and came and sat right behind me, leant over the passenger seat and pointed the way she thought we should be heading, so that’s where we went, but we ended up in a cul-de-sac and it wasn’t wide enough to do a three-point, you’ve seen how big those Bentleys are that she rides around in and this one had all the armour-plating on it as well so it was a bugger to manoeuvre. I said to her, ‘Ma’am, I can’t turn her round in this space, I’m going to have to reverse her up and out. That alright with you?’ She said it was, but she was going to phone the Palace and get them to put Phil’s warm milk on.

So that’s how it ended up, me twisted round in the driver’s seat, reversing this big old Bentley, trying not to scrape the paintwork; The Queen looking out of the back window telling me when I was going off the straight.

When we got back to the Palace, she said “Well that was a laugh” and went in.

She had her own key and everything.