It might be quite hard to sustain writing about the beauty of vegetables, but I found a really beautiful broccoli today at Thornes the greengrocers. Our friend Biggles has referred to it as “The Green Brain” which sounds like he’s been watching as much Star Trek as us. (The Green Brain is also a book by Frank Herbert, the man who wrote Dune.) After I’d been at the shop where they sold green brains I noticed that the charity store across the way was open, so I popped in hoping for the antennae of a Venusian or perhaps a Martian skull. I always find something in a charity store, not always extraterrestrial but you never know. Today it was all about a book that seemed to fit perfectly into blog land. In 1841 Henry Mayhew and wood-engraver Ebenezer Landells established a satirical magazine called Punch which endured for 100 years, but this is not about the magazine. The Diary Of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith was first serialized in Punch in the 1880s and in 1892 was printed as a book that has never been out of print. Evelyn Waugh’s quote from the back cover was, “The funniest book in the world”. I’ll let you take it from there.
Dare and I were in the studio all day today ‘braining’ on the Ahad project. Our drummer Ed is coming down from Bristol on Tuesday for four nights so we have to get a measure of the tracks and what we want from him and how we are going to approach recording this album. I’ll be playing the bass and the guitars on the album and we will build it up until Ahad needs to come over from Istanbul to sing. We are wondering where we will be with the quarantine restrictions in England by the time we need him? At the moment with some of the shops open and yellow arrows everywhere inside and outside, a cautious optimism is in the air, but is it just that everyone is sick of the lockdown? Despite the opening, I’m not seeing much hugging, strangers still walk around you like you have the bubonic plague, not just potentially the virus and it’s hard to get a measure of where this virus is really at. In Penzance if you cross one of those 2 metre lines in the shops, the people working there get edgy and yet nobody said anything when Domino Cucumber was seen in Penzance running naked into all the stores coughing and denying he was there. In America the arse trumpet is telling everyone the virus is dead when it’s in fact the Tulsa audience that will be finding out who and what is dead. We’ll see.
I’m hoping to spend the next couple of days putting records away and catching up with emails. The problem with the latter is that your response means you will get another response, so the less you respond the more time you have to respond. It’s quite a conundrum. You don’t want to seem like you are ignoring communications, but then if you just responded solely to communications you would never do anything else. I like to fill up my days and nights (more nights than days), but it’s better when it’s writing songs, writing, playing, making records and doing sessions. French lessons today were interrupted by the Duolingo website being down, it came back for a very short while and then disappeared again. You need to do it every day otherwise you’ll forget the word for owl (chouette, female). You never know when you are going to be in France and need to say, “Excusez-moi, avez-vous la tête d’un hibou?” (male) and the importance of getting the gender right which in Hungary seems to be a sick obsession.
I wonder what I could have learned if I spent more time thinking about learning. Knowledge as an addiction. “I awoke and grabbed the bottle of pills by the bed, it was empty. I felt the panic, the beads of sweat appearing on my forehead, I sat up and stared around the room as if the answers were laying on the floor with the remnants of the night before, the overflowing bowl of pistachio shells, the empty glass that held the fresh carrot juice, the herbal tea bag, string still attached and hanging over the lip of the cup. It was becoming apparent that today was going to be hot and cold sweats, vomiting and an aching in my whole body, today I would have to face the realization that I would learn nothing”.
Music today has the question on everyone’s lips, do you have any records by Vera Lynn? The answer to that is, of course I do. I was always interested in my parents’ record collection even though they had no interest in mine. Anything from the forties they loved, my Mum was into big bands and my Dad Sinatra, but of course they loved Vera Lynn and Gracie Fields, wartime entertainers. Whilst growing up I heard Vera’s big hits, White Cliffs Of Dover, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and We’ll Meet Again, often, all mixed in with The Beatles and sixties Pop although by the time I discovered Hawkwind in the early seventies Vera wasn’t making much of an impression – until:
She was known as ‘The Forces’ Sweetheart’ and the album Hits Of The Blitz might have found its way into my collection just for the cover art, but as an archive and a child of parents that lived through those years it seemed relevant not too pretend that music began with the Beat groups. Vera by the way had a lovely voice, she died today at the age of 103. RIP Dame Vera, condolences to friends and family.
The Boswell Sisters were a close harmony group from New Orleans, active from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties. Martha, Connee and Helvetia. These girls rehearsed, the timing and the arrangements, the perfect blend, they are said to have linked black and white music and made Jazz more commercial, reaching a wider audience. The bands that backed them were populated by amazing sometimes unknown and mostly forgotten musicians from in case mainly The Dorsey Brothers’ orchestra. The people that recorded them in the studio were so technically brilliant, this album was produced by French pianist Henri Renaud. Being there and seeing these people work together in those days, executing their skills must have been really something. They were the precursors to The Andrews Sisters who are generally better known. The Boswell Sisters were active from 1925-1936 and in that decade they had 20 hits. They appeared in the film Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round where they sang the song Rock And Roll…it was 1934.
LaVerne, Maxene and Patty Andrews were making Minneapolis and Minnesota famous long before Prince, long before Bob Dylan. There’s a story that when they won a local singing competition and were hired by a band that they were so young that they had to wear false eyelashes to make themselves look older, but the eyelashes were so heavy that they couldn’t keep their eyes open and they kept falling asleep. In 1937 they had a big hit with Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (with/to me you are beautiful), singing it using the Yiddish pronunciation. They were the world’s most famous vocal group in the forties and fifties till Patty left to go solo. The harmonies were amazing, but the group were certainly not harmonious and they had a lot of internal relationship problems. Although Patty did return, elder sister LaVerne the peacemaker died early and Patty and Maxene were estranged. Maxene was gay in a period when it was tricky to be so. This is one of the most famous acts of the era, I always wonder about the forgotten ones. Who are the forgotten singers of the thirties, forties?
In the fifties and the sixties there were The Beverley Sisters, Joy, Teddie and Babs. They were essentially a later British version of The Andrews Sisters, but with a smoother sound. They were born in Bethnal Green in the twenties, one imagines that was quite a place in those days. Teddie and Babs were twins and their parents were music hall performers. They were known at the time as the highest paid female performers in Britain. They had some hits between 1953 and 1960, but they were more of a live act and they appeared more often in cabaret and on television. They had a hit in the US with Greensleeves (No.41) in a lovely sixties version. In 2002 they were in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world’s longest surviving vocal group with original members.
Song Of The Day is the most opposite thing I can find to today’s music, White Spots On My Jupiter Finger, Jupiter Blue On My White Shirt from Art Attack (1988). I often wonder what kind of amazing music could have been made by talented people like these if they’d been willing to experiment.
Art Attack (1988)