Sunday Morning Coming Down

I mentioned in passing the other day that I went to see Billy Bragg & Joe Henry play, promoting their album “Shine A Light : Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad”.

It’s a record I would heartily recommend if you like old American folk, bluegrass and country records, or even if you fancy owning a decent beginner’s guide.

The idea behind the album is that Bragg and Henry went on a long train journey across America; when the train stopped to refuel or change crew, they would try to find somewhere that they could hunker down and record a song for the album. And as well as being recorded on the train line, all of the songs have some links to the railways too.

The gig was great; they pretty much played the whole album, with both artists having a part of the gig to themselves for a while; Henry played some of his own songs and one by Allen Toussant, whose records he often produced; Bragg played the Anaïs Mitchell song I posted on Tuesday night, for all the good it did, along with a couple of old favourites from his own back catalogue. I sensed that quite a few in the crowd were hoping for more from him, but most, including me, came away more than happy with the show we’d just witnessed.

One of the songs on the album is “The Midnight Special”, which has been covered by a multitude of artists from Leadbelly, to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to Burl Ives. It’s a song I was familiar with, a little, but the introduction and explanation they gave on the night – as they did with pretty much every song on the album – certainly added a greater clarity to the lyrics for me.

Here’s a version from 1959 with a slightly amended title. I’ll leave you to ponder the lyrics unassisted:

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Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper – Big Midnight Special

More soon.

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Just Sayin’

It must be nearly Christmas. The stores are laying all their Christmas stock out for us to pick through in the hope of inspiration. I’ve yet to hear “Merry Xmas Everybody”, but it’s only a matter of time.

When I was a kid, I used to look forwards to some of the TV Christmas adverts, most notably Woolworths, which seemed to have a different cast list of stars each year (most of whom are now either dead or in prison), or maybe Brut 33, to see if there was a new “‘Enry’s Hammer” soap-on-a-rope to add to my list to leave out for Santa.

Nowadays, it seems the most fuss is over whatever schmaltz the ad-men who have the John Lewis account have conjured up this year. I understand from Twitter that it’s been shown – I haven’t seen it, but then it’s only November 12th so there’s plenty of time – and I’m led to believe (again, from Twitter, so you know…large pinch of salt, and all that) that it involves a dog on a trampoline.

If they haven’t got a piano based rework, by an unknown winsome female singer, of this as the soundtrack, then they’ve missed a trick:

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Julian Cope – Trampolene

More soon.

Get Out of My Head!!

Comedian Frank Skinner tells quite a funny story about a practical joke he used to play on people before he got famous. Frank had found an industrial size bolt; he kept it and when the funfair next came to town, he queued up to go on the Ferris Wheel, bolt in pocket, as Chrissie Hynde almost once said.

As you’ll know if you’ve ever been on one of these, it can take quite a time for the ride to get started, as they have to let the people from the last ride off before allowing the next lot to get on. Consequently, if you’re among the first on, you find yourself slowly moving round, stopping to let the next set of folks on, before moving round one position again. Eventually, you find yourself stationary at the top of the wheel for a time, and it’s at this point that he would implement his joke.

Having smuggled the bolt on, he would surreptitiously drop it onto the floor of the cab so that it made a loud “Clunk”. He’d then bend down, pick it up, look quizzically at it, then up at the mechanics of the machine, keeping one eye on his now terrified co-riders.

He tells it a lot better than I do, admittedly.

I’ve never really been very good at coming up with, or implementing practical jokes. (I may have already told this story, forgive me if I have, I can’t be bothered with trawling through all my old posts to check). The closest I came was at Secondary School when I orchestrated all of the bells throughout the school being hidden during one break-time, the logic being that if the bells couldn’t ring then break couldn’t end. I thought I’d be a hero; instead, we missed one bell which rang to signal it was time to return to lessons, which we then found ourselves trapped in when the bell didn’t go to signify home time. I had to sneak out of the classroom with a bag full of clunking bell-ends to rectify the situation.

A friend of mine in Cardiff told me that he had one which he used to do a lot. I’m not really sure that it qualifies as a practical joke, but it would sure weird me out if he’d done it to me (and I didn’t know him).

He would get into a lift, and when there was just him and one other person in there, he would suddenly start pounding the sides of his head with fists clenched, shouting “Get out of my head!!!”

I mention this just so that I don’t have to mention the word “earworm”, as I don’t want you to think that I only steal ideas from features on BBC 6 Music. However, for the past week or so I’ve had a song stuck in my head that I can’t shift, and which there is no logical reason for it being there.

So I thought I’d pass it on to you lot.

This one:

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The Dooleys – Wanted

No need to thank me!

More soon.