Lovely Honeybus cover

I chanced upon this cover of one of my favourite Honeybus songs, Colin Hare’s Be Thou By My Side.



The band is LA based Electric Guest.  Most of what they do seems much poppier but this is such a sympathetic cover enhanced by the hilltop setting and an all round natural vibe.


The Sound of George Martin

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George Martin, 1965


Yesterday’s string quartet and the ambitious, skewed arrangement of I am the Walrus might be held up as among the pinnacles of George Martin’s contributions to The Beatles’ sound.

But I think it’s in the smallest of his additions that his presence is perhaps most keenly felt, the way he introduces a particular instrument at a particular point for a particular purpose.

Immaculate precision

The half-speed piano of In My Life and For No One’s French horn solo are good examples.  Each shows imagination, economy and immaculate precision, a combination which is characteristically his, applied with the same skill as an artist might select a specific hue and use it just so, subtly at this point, so as to assist the entire painting but without drawing attention to itself.  Both clavichord-like piano and French horn arrive, say what they have to say and leave.  Both show deference, a quality in short supply in pop and rock.

George’s contributions are as integral to both songs as the voices of Lennon and McCartney themselves, his instrumental solos so ideally realised as to be the placement of another voice.  The solos very much stand alone – it’s not hard to imagine piano and French horn silenced for the duration – yet the songs are incomprehensible without them.

Discreet flamboyance

Often George Martin’s inspirations were classical, unsurprising given his background.   Whilst he added a ‘trained’ element, his ideas were not overly refined.  That he was able to introduce classical elements without them seeming at all grafted or imposed is testament to his great skill.  Of course he was fortunate to have as George Martinhis framework the consummate songwriting of Lennon-McCartney.  Martin’s choices are surprising, daring even but are always (just like Ringo’s drumming) in service of the song.

Yet both the examples I mentioned above work against the overall tenor of the songs; the discreetly flamboyant clavichord of In My Life is almost jaunty* amidst such ‘sighing introspection’ (as Iain MacDonald so perfectly puts it) whilst For No One’s French horn seems removed from the unfolding chamber tragedy.

This is also what makes George Martin’s contributions so great, not merely their understated elegance but their refusal to add an overt emotionalism which would have been out of keeping with the anti-romanticism of The Beatles.  He steadfastly avoided both the obvious and the lush (Something comes closest but remains adept, apt and justified).

Is Sir George’s influence still heard in music today?  I leave that for others to comment upon.

*though it does, to my ears, suggest a kind of rapid flick through life’s back pages or an old film reel spinning by in under twenty seconds.

Sir George Martin:  3rd January 1926 – 8th March 2016.


Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black

The Tyranny of Pop: could it be about to end..?

Shopping centres might be about to become a lot quieter…

Shopping Centre

An interesting report on today’s BBC TV News – Does music affect what you buy? – contrasts the effects of pop and ‘quiet’ music in a shopping centre.  At last someone is listening…

How does music change shopping habits?

But what if they find that whilst most people prefer quiet, pop makes us buy more?  Then I suspect the urge to treat us as customers rather than citizens means the pop will remain.

Still, the quietest quest must continue…

Photo Credit: <a href=””>sandragxh</a&gt; via <a href=””>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

The Tyranny of Pop – Roger Scruton’s Point of View 
Music to eat food by – the unquiet of a Devon restaurant

The Tyranny of Pop

Tyranny of Pop

Being forced to listen to endless pop in pubs and restaurants…

In Friday’s A Point of View Roger Scruton said it a lot better than I ever could but then unfortunately he goes on to say a host of other things besides, like the old fogey’s dislike of ‘like‘ – like it’s a symptom of short attention spans amongst young people (I suspect it is more a slightly staged expression of stunned inarticulacy in the face of something deemed really amazing, to get the sheer awesomeness across).

More importantly I don’t agree with his implied narrowing of the musical canon to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms – otherwise why would anyone ever try to write, let alone listen to, anything else?  His theory on ‘the vast change in the human ear brought about by the mass production of sound’ is a genuinely interesting one though.

It seems strange for a blog ostensibly about ‘pop music’ to link to a Point of View that is pretty much down on all pop music.  But I would estimate I don’t like 95% of all pop ever produced  – a foolish claim, I know, since I haven’t heard even 50% of it but in a way, that’s my point.  There’s just too much of the stuff.  Everywhere.  And we have it inflicted on us whether we like it or not.

Right on Roger!

A Point of View • tx.13.11.15. 8.50-9.00pm /15.11.15. 8.48-9.48am • BBC Radio 4

Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) via Compfight cc

iPlayer also BBC Magazine

Music to Eat Food By

Music to eat food by

If the food is bad, you call for the chef.  But what if the music is ‘off’? 


When you choose a place to dine, it’s probably because of the quality and type of food, possibly the standard of service, the décor maybe or practical considerations such as catching the last bus home, not to mention the bill.  It probably isn’t because of the music.  And yet what you hear can make or break an enjoyable occasion.  Isn’t well chosen music as vital an ingredient in a good meal out as fresh basil or the aroma of newly ground coffee?  FoodSomehow this isn’t quite acknowledged to be so.

A couple of days ago, I came back from a pleasant (though stubbornly grey skied) stay in north Devon.  I travelled alone and therefore ate alone each evening, always something of a gamble as at busy restaurants, single diners can be made to feel unwelcome when they are effectively hogging a table for two and halving the takings.  But I was made very welcome at – well, I’m not going to name the restaurant as the purpose of this piece is to illustrate a point not to name and shame.  Suffice it to say, on two consecutive evenings I had a pleasant experience at this eatery – good food in agreeable surroundings, served by friendly staff.  And on both evenings the music was a selection of pop hits from across the 60s which, although I’d be equally happy with no music at all, suited me just fine – in fact, I almost congratulated myself on a happy coincidence.  The Hollies, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Mellow Yellow … a little predictable maybe but really fine.  Silly me for being so smug.  Because on the third day, the music was very different indeed.

My problem here is that I can’t tell you exactly what was being played except that it was mostly raucous, badly sung, thrashing guitar rock at a good few decibels higher than the nights before.  And a very poor accompaniment to tenderly cooked French beans it was.  In fact, guaranteed to induce indigestion, I would say.  On a menu it might read thus: leg of mutton drumsticks served with roughly shredded vocals, tossed on a bed of guitares flambé.


Should I stay or should I go?

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Having endured this for perhaps half an hour, I asked if I could sit away from the speaker positioned to my left shoulder and that was ‘no problem’ but the move seemed to only mildly reduce the aural onslaught.

As I hurriedly downed my mushroom risotto I could feel my hackles rising.  What I had reasonably expected to be a pleasant evening in the manner of the first two had been entirely dashed thanks to an anonymous other’s arbitrary and careless selection of music.

I skipped dessert and expresso.  As I asked for the bill, a ‘singer’ was yelling what sounded like ‘Ditch! Ditch! Diiiiiitch!  DIIIIIITCCCHH!!!” with great fervour and I was quite baffled to see that there was not a flicker of disturbance on the faces of anyone present.  Was it just me?

The waitress asked “Was everything OK?” and of course I replied breezily “Yes, fine thanks!” in true English, uncomplaining fashion.  I’m ashamed to say I didn’t leave a tip which was very mean and not a little passive aggressive of me.  It wasn’t the waitresses fault.  And yet someone was responsible for the sonic desecration.  If the food is bad you call for the chef.  But what if it’s the music that is ‘off’?

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Obviously it’s not the end of the world if, on one occasion, a single diner comes away offended by the particular choice of music in a restaurant.  And I accept that the experience was amplified for me because of eating alone – everyone else looked too wrapped up in their conversations to really notice or care.

And yet I suspect similar scenes are being played out, even as I write, in restaurants across the land; at many you may find seated on a table alone a rather grumpy man (or woman) silently fuming into his (or her) cheese soufflé as a sweaty tenth rate Smashing Pumpkins wannabe lathers and slathers across the speakers.


The food of love    

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Why is so little thought given to music in public places?  I recall an Indian meal in elegant surroundings accompanied by relentless techno.  It’s actually impossible to enjoy food at 120bpm, believe me, I have tried.  The techno presumably was designed to ensure high customer turnover (it worked).  Perhaps worst of all is commercial radio.  Who wants to be sold car insurance over a romantic dinner for two?

But my main gripe is with the unpredictability of it all, the element of ‘you takes your chances’ when that shouldn’t have to be the case.  A restaurant wouldn’t switch from providing cordon bleu one evening to chicken nuggets the next so why an abrupt change in music?

Restaurants by law have to display priced menus outside for the benefit of prospective diners yet it is only upon venturing inside that you hear what is set to caress or pummel your eardrums for the next couple of hours.  And by then, it already feels somehow too late to about turn.  If the music was live, you could peek through windows to see a string quartet or perhaps a flamenco guitarist and know what is to greet you and that might well inform your decision as to whether to step inside or move on.  But when the music is invisible there is simply no way of knowing.

Some good came out of it all.  The next night, my last, I discovered a gem of a place – and I am going to name this one – ‘The Vanilla Pod’ in Lynton – delicious Moroccan/Middle Eastern inspired food in intimate, congenial surroundings and yes, the music was good too.  It enhanced the atmosphere rather than destroyed it.  Someone had shown a little care.  And that’s all we ask.  Isn’t it?

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Who you gonna vote for, in the general election?

In Parasite Child, Bill Fay directs this question to a young drop-out neighbour – a junkie and a chewing gum kid according to his granma and Uncle Sid.  It’s an accusation fired across generations.  ‘Parasite Child’ embodies the truism that, even in 1970, young people were less likely to vote.

The vote least likely to

The Conservatives’ promise to introduce commercial radio if elected in 1970 would have had an allure for many young people who remembered the excitement of the pirate stations in the 60s.  I’ve even heard it said that the reason the Tories won that year was partly because of the youthful appeal of this very policy.  It was a clever move – equating freedom and choice with opportunities to expand youth culture achieved through commercial means. Populism not paternalism became the order of the day in the Conservative Party, a transformation they completed in the 80s.  TheBill Fay election byline championing of commercial radio was one of its earliest manifestations.

Against all predictions, Ted Heath’s Conservatives won in 1970 and the first Independent Local Radio Stations – Capital and LBC – went on air in 1973.

Maybe I’m amused

I don’t know whether the prospect of commercial radio might have enticed Bill Fay’s ‘head like a sieve’ parasite child to place a cross on a ballot paper come polling day.  It feels unlikely from the perspective of the song.

The ‘who you gonna vote for?’ question is meant as much as a plea to ‘For God’s sake – think!’ as it is a call to political involvement.  But although Bill begins the song siding with the accusations of an older generation, he sounds unsure of his own response, as bemused and confused as the parasite child.  At times their voices seem one.  Perhaps he recognises that he and the young drop-out share a common humanity even as he despises his narcissism and apathy.

He ends with ‘The world seems slow, it’s stopped turning, it’s stopped learning’ but unlike the parasite child, he hasn’t given up on the need for daily struggle, to see evermore clearly, to not accept things as they seem or the world as given.  ‘I’m not the only one’ he declares optimistically, though not as confidently as John Lennon in Imagine the following year.

Parasite Child – Bill Fay

Grandma’s disgusted – the neighbours told her you’re a junkie
She said “It’s like I always said, he’ll be a parasite child”.

Maybe I’m amused, maybe I’m confused
But I know I’m not the only one
Everywhere I go, so much to know
The world seems slow, it’s stopped turning,
It’s stopped learning.

And your Uncle Sid said, “He moves like the whole world is after him
He’s a chewing gum kid, got a head like a sieve.”

Everything about me, it seems to me
I just can’t be what you want me to be.
Ain’t no use surrounding me, hey can’t you see?
I just can’t be what you want me to be.

Who you gonna vote for, in the next election?
You got no direction, parasite child.

Maybe I’m amused, maybe I’m confused
But I know I’m not the only one.
Everywhere I go, so much to know,
The world seems slow, it’s stopped turning,
It’s stopped learning.

‘Parasite Child’ can be found on Bill Fay: from the bottom of an old grandfather clock – a collection of demos and outtakes 1966-70 [Wooden Hill WHCD012, 2003]

Percy Sledge: when a man cuts a record

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Sad to hear of the passing of another great voice of the 60s.

Hearing the name Percy Sledge almost immediately calls to mind his huge 1966 hit When a Man Loves a Woman.  In fact, the song begins playing in my head even before his name has rolled off my tongue.

That Pavlovian connectivity put me in mind of artists who are inextricably linked with just one song despite having produced a wealth of material over many years.  The obvious candidate is Procol Harum’s millstone/milestone A Whiter Shade of Pale.

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There was a neat synergy in discovering that Percy Sledge recorded his own Whiter Shade of Pale though I’ve been unable to find out when.  The arrangement is sparse and unimaginative, as if it stands back a little nervously from the baroque splendour of the original.  The song is carried alone by Percy’s voice.

In covering A Whiter Shade of Pale, Percy was perhaps acknowledging its sympathetic relation to When a Man Loves a Woman.  The similarities are clear – an organ introduction, descending basslines and a combination of soulfulness with an overall hymnal quality.  But as it’s usually the Bach influence which is cited, I had never considered the Percy Sledge inspiration to be a direct one.  It’s only recently I discovered that Gary Brooker himself acknowledges the debt.

Somehow that completes the circle.  It’s good to know that Percy Sledge – as well as J.S. – had a hand in crafting one of the timeless classics of psychedelic pop.

Percy Sledge 25th Nov 1941 – 14th April 2015.