100 Awesome Things – Part 19

I'd love to give you reasons for my absence which are exciting – "I've been on the Nostromo!" or "I was recruited by James Bond for sekrit spy work!" or even "been on holiday" but no, nothing like that. No good excuse, in fact. I haven't even really been editing the Novel O' Doom…

I did, however, play a gig last week with a fab bunch of musicians. We call ourselves Clarabella and the Crypt Kicker Five and we play 'pre-decimal blues', that is to say, mostly blues songs which are from before 1971, which was when Britain went decimal.

As an aside, I'm incredibly grateful for this because my maths skills are not super and I have enough issues counting decimal currency.

So we played a show in a little basement club on one of the most musical streets in London. The Rolling Stones recorded their first album in the same building, so on that basis you can expect tickets to my shows in 2060 to cost about a million quid. Start saving.

I'm fortunate enough to work with a bunch of people who are super musicians away from the electronic yoke of our office jobs. They don't seem to mind that my aforementioned issues with numbers mean I sometimes get stuff a bit screwy. Funny that music, which is so crucial to me, is fundamentally about The Math. Counting bars and figuring out key changes and stuff are actually tough for me because it's maths. Ugh. They're patient with me, anyway. We don't play together very often but when we do it's fabulous fun.

Last year we did a Christmas thing where we performed a Sleepy John Estes song called "Drop Down Baby" (ripped off by Led Zeppelin for "Custard Pie") in a later, Lonnie Donegan/Rory Gallagher arrangement (no prizes for guessing who suggested it, and unfortunately no YT link) which has fantastic slide guitar going on, "Please Mr Jailer" by Wynona Carr which some of you might recognise from John Waters' movie Cry-Baby and 'Got My Mojo Workin' by Ann Cole..

"Mojo" is probably one of the most famous songs in the blues canon. It's also a good example of the many issues around 'borrowing' and 'copying' and 'homage' and 'plagiarism' and 'copyright infringement' one finds in blues.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, Ann Cole did the original. Muddy Waters heard it and put his own version together. Lawyers then made some money but both versions of the song retain their own copyrights. You can probably make a decent argument that Muddy's version is pretty different. Certainly they feel different.

As far as that goes, fine. I love both versions and I'd no sooner choose my favourite child than say which is 'best'. Mind you, I have no children…

There's something about performing a song which (if you're doing it right) gives a person a deep feeling and understanding of a song. Or for me, anyway. I'd been shrieking along to Rory's version of the song for ages, and felt I knew it. I did… to an extent. But standing on a stage and putting it across as one's own self is, for me anyway, a different matter.

Who was I singing to? Who was I singing for? Why?

Remembering the words comes with repetition. Hitting the right notes comes with practice. Feeling it requires effort. That's why there are people with good pitch, decent tone, never get a word or note wrong and leave me cold (see Buble, Michael) and yet there are singers who are barely able to get in the same room as the right note that move me to tears.

It's why I'll put my heart and fucking soul into every damn thing I sing even if there's only five people in the audience. It's why I needed some idea of the answers to those questions.

When it comes to Mojo, the answers are actually pretty simple: I'm singing to every lost crush, every unrequited lover as every frustrated, heartbroken crusher. Pretty universal… more specifically, it's me to every single person who fails to recognise how totally brilliant/fantastic/wonderful/awesome/continued superlatives here I am with all the impotent rage of the unsung genius.

My ego-monster loves Mojo. My inbuilt self-bullshit meter recognises the tragedy of it. After all, not all the black cat bones and hoodoo ashes in the world change the outcome. To me, it's far more than just 'girl can't catch guy's eye', and that's before even dipping into other interpretations – the stalker language, the different vibes born simply of the performer's gender, different arrangements and interpretations of the music.

Intrepretation is at the heart of anything creative shared amongst humanity. It takes different forms depending on the medium, of course, but it's what makes the work live. It's what transforms passive consumption into passionate engagement. Incidentally, this is what 'non-fans' so often misunderstand about fandom. They don't see – don't feel – the effort, the emotion, the work fans put into their item of interest. Go to FictionAlley and you'll find Harry Potter fans still going at it years after the publication of the last book… or hang with Ulysses fans (both of them) on Bloomsday… it's not so very different to me diving into 'Only the Lonely' or all those Thin Lizzy songs I've sung over the years.

Interpretation is also what makes singing someone else's song an entirely different beastt to performing something of one's own. Not better or worse, but different. I have to try harder with someone else's choons than my own. With my own, I've already done the hard work. I've already stabbed myself in the heart and let the results run across the page, after all. I already have the key to the song because I built the lock myself.

It keeps the songs alive, too. I'm not talking about dull-as-scuff identikit covers, or that terrible habit of getting a girl to sing with nothing but an exaggerated Generic American accent, acoustic guitar accompaniment and calling it 'stripped down' and 'reimagined' because most of those are only fit for TV adverts for middle-class lifestyle products.

Now, to the song I'm actually featuring in this post. As well as as the three songs mentioned, we did a few others last week. One was Big Mama Thornton's "I Smell A Rat" which we kicked off so fast I practically rapped it; I had the audacity to think I could take on "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and did OK precisely because I did my way and not Marvin's. We also did Ike Turner's "She Made My Blood Run Cold" which feels different just by switching genders. And we turned Memphis Minnie's "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" into what I would almost describe as electrified country-blues for want of a better description.

We finished with the many-times-covered "Rock Me Baby". I think most every blues band and every wannablues band has probably done it over the years. You know, people with names like "Hendrix". I like the Doors' version, of course. Otis had a go. I've got more than one of Big Mama Thornton's version on my iPod…

I cannot speak highly enough of the brilliance that was Willie Mae Thornton. Singer, songwriter, just fantastic. As she says in this very video "I can't sing like anyone, but I have to do it my own way." Which is why when we did it last week, we used her tremendous interpretation as a start and moved on from there to something entirely our own.

As Madam Yevonde said: BE ORIGINAL OR DIE!

It's actually really easy to be original: be yourself.

*
Previous Editions:

Part 18 – Thin Lizzy – "The Boys Are Back In Town"
Part 17 – Nat King Cole – "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll"
Part 16 – Rory Gallagher – "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 – The Shadows – "FBI"
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"

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In the Dark Moment Before Dawn

I am really not sure what this is, but I do know it's been in the back of my head for awhile…

In The Dark Moment Before Dawn

'Come back,' she whispered into the freezing air. 'Come back to me.'

He had been sat on the end of the bed, back ramrod straight, for an hour. Shivering, shaking, sobbing: lost to her, to here and now. She does not know what made him this way because he will not tell her. He will not tell her in the bright sunshine of the day and he will not tell her in the anonymous shroud of night.

She knew enough to understand a little. She recognised the names of places he went because she read every scrap of newspaper she could find, every single day. She was sat up in bed recovering from Vicky's birth when she read about the liberation of a place called Belsen. She had no idea that he might have been one of the liberators of such a place.

She had no idea that he was one of the soldiers who entered the camp to find thousands of corpses and thousands of inmates so sick and mistreated that it was difficult to tell who was dead and who was alive. As the newspapers began to fill with details, she had no idea that her Bill, who had once been the gentlest of men, was directing captured SS guards to bury the dead in graves the size of football pitches.

When he returned in January 1946, he was a shadow of himself. She hated her friends whose husbands had come back uninjured, unbroken. She fed him with what rations she had, and those her family forced her to accept. As his body returned to the frame she remembered, she hoped his character would do the same.

She gave him plenty of time. She did not comment when he returned from the pub three hours after closing time and she didn't mind when he would go out on a Sunday morning to walk, not to return until almost dinner time.

In all that time, he said very little beyond trivial small talk.

He hit her on 15th April 1948. It was the first emotion he'd shown and she was almost glad that he'd responded at all, even if she had to cover up the black eye for days.

With Little Bill and Vicky he was gentle and quiet. He liked to sit and read them stories before bedtime, and he took understated delight in Vicky's insistence on sitting on his lap whenever they listened to the Light Programme on the wireless. She loved the silly voices of The Goons, so Bill learned to imitate them. He was able to accept Vicky's easy but insistent affection in a way he couldn't from his own wife, probably because his daughter wasn't there in the darkness.

She was there in the darkness. She was always there, and she pulled him back every time the demons emerged from the shadows.

'Come back to me.'

She did not know why it worked, but it did. He never spoke of it, so she never knew that recalling her soft nocturnal whisperings from the early days of their marriage was what kept him going during the never-ending night of the war.

He taught Little Bill and Vicky how to whistle like the birds, taught them their times tables and joined-up writing. His endless patience with them – especially with easily distracted Vicky – swelled and warmed her heart. She did not know that he clung to every single moment of normality, of pleasant because they kept the darkness at bay for awhile.

He began to sleep through the night once more. By 1957, she believed his nightmares were over. She was not to know that he had just learned to sleep through them.

Their children grew, as children do. Times changed, as times do. Little Bill got a job at Ford Motors and moved to Dagenham with the girl he married. Vicky cut her hair like Twiggy and moved into a flat with three other girls from her typing pool. The house was silent without them.

When England won the World Cup in 1966, she noticed Bill's jaw clench every time Kenneth Wolstenholme said a German player's name. As everyone else in the pub celebrated the victory, Bill sat and sipped at his pint of bitter.

In 1969, his nights became disturbed once more. There was so much about the war in the newspapers and on television because of the anniversary of its beginnings, she supposed that it had brought it all back to him. She was so much older and it was harder to deal with night after night of disturbed sleep. She could've moved into the kids' empty room but she didn't, because her voice was still the only thing she knew helped.

'Come back to me.'

In 1976, he was knocked over by a Morris Minor coming back from work. The painkillers he was given for his broken leg made the nightmares worse. He retired from work a year later, worn down by life, the war, strenuous work, his injuries and the effort of surviving. The nightmares only got worse.

Little Bill provided them with a grandchild in 1978, a chubby-faced girl called Lucy. Bill responded to her as he had his own children, with gentle patience. A year later he was fitted with dentures after years' of grinding had worn his own teeth down.

In 1984, she found him sat at the edge of the bed like so many times, but the cold winter's night had grabbed his frail body. The fever put him in hospital, the pneumonia which followed put him in the ground.

She thought it was a mercy, in the end. For her as much as for him. The funeral was full of people speaking of his kindness and quiet ways. He was admired and respected by the community. Few people remembered that he had not always been quiet. Nobody knew that the shadows around him had not always been there.

'Poor Mum,' she heard Vicky stage-whisper to Little Bill during the wake. 'Married to one man for so many years and now he's gone. How will she cope?'

Vicky knew nothing, of course. She had been married to two men: Bill before the War and Bill after it. Vicky did not know that it was a relief to sleep without fear, without interruption. Vicky did not know that she felt liberated and despised herself for it, nor what it was to love another person in their troubled entirety. She did not know what it was like to live with a stranger, for that is who had come into her house in 1946.

Her own dreams began in 1998. 'Come to me,' he said. 'Come back to me.'

Bill, with his gregarious smile and twinkling eyes restored, held his hand out and she took it without hesitation. She had missed him.

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Archive of our Own

Hi Gang,

Does anyone have an invite for AO3 I might be able to nab?

Thanks!

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100 Awesome Things – Part 18

I have a new (to me) computer for which I bought some speakers which came with a subwoofer. I did the obvious: hopped over to YouTube for some funk music to appreciate said subwoofer. It's not big but it does what I want it to.

I've always been fond of a stonking bassline. I love how they can move me from stillness in a way that few other things can. A nifty drumline might get my fingers or feet tapping, great guitar riffs stick in mysoul forever, but fab basslines move my entire being like nothing else.

So I suppose it's not much surprise that one of my favourite bands was led by the bass guitarist.

Yes, it's Thin Lizzy time again! I wasn't going to post them for awhile, but they've been in the news again.

Bad News: Mitt Romney thought it was acceptable for him to appropriate "The Boys Are Back In Town" during the US Presidential campaign.
Good News: Philomena Lynott is still a fierce old thing who won't take that lying down from gobshites like him. And so has Philo's widow, who actually has the copyright.

Weird News: "Thin Lizzy" are recording again.
Bad News: Philo is still dead.

The Guardian also republished an old interview with Your Man which brought a little sunshine into a stressful day, which featured the song "The Boys Are Back In Town" heavily.

I forget, being a devoted fan, that most people only know Thin Lizzy for that song. I forget because to be honest it's not my favourite. I love and adore it, but it's not my favourite. It's not even my favourite song on Jailbreak because I'm the kind of mad fool who loves strange album cuts like "Angel from the Coast".

Of course, "The Boys Are Back In Town" was my introduction to the group. I couldn't tell you exactly when I first heard it. It was probably some unimportant, unimpressive day during an unimportant, routine journey in the car. My mum would've been driving, I woudl've been in the seat behind her and my brother would've been in the seat behind the passenger. Maybe my dad was there too. The radio was almost always tuned to Capital Gold when I was young, because that's the music my dad loved and my mum disliked least.

Car journeys always seemed to take such a long bloody time back then. I would read, but that made me feel sick. I have so many memories of staring out of the window, as I'm sure many of us do, as unknown and often very dull landscapes would pass by. Memories of journeys in the dark with the orange glow of a town's street lights in the distance or below as our car climbed up a road. The endless line of lights on a motorway, or the eerie blackness of unlit country roads.

There's one time we went on holiday somewhere without my dad but with my granny. We must've got lost or something because it just seemed to take even more than forever and it was so dark and ugh….. all that to end up in a caravan for a few days in a place so unimpressive I don't remember anything but that long journey.

All that kept me going on journeys like those was the music on the radio. It's a double-edged sword: a holiday during the summer of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" was ruined by its constant presence on the radio – we were out of Capital Gold range – and same with the summer of 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" by Bryan Adams. Our holiday in Florida was defined by "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow which I swear was playing every single time we got in the damn car and was always followed by "Oh What A Night!"

It's in that realm I would've heard "The Boys Are Back In Town." Probably it was one I sang along with the chorus, like I did for anything which caught my ear. I knew it, is what I'm saying, very well by the time I fell in love with the group.

Philip. I suppose I really fell in love with Philip. Not him exactly, though I adore him. I fell in love with his songs and the beauty of his lyrics. I fell in love with his combination of hard and soft, of tough and romantic. A heavy rock band which could produce such heartrending songs as "Still In Love With You" would always be a winner with one such as me. Hard shell, soft centre. Darkness with just enough light. The rough end of town, but fun.

Philip was a storyteller, above all things. Poetic in it, yes… but first and foremost a storyteller. There's a grand tradition of those in Ireland. Travelling bards, or the folks in town who you could depend on to spin you a great yarn guaranteed to be 99% fantasy (please, let's not call it blarney) and 1% tragic truth. Stories to make you laugh while you're weeping, to rouse your soul as they break your heart.

I do love this song, but it's almost too universal for me to truly devote myself to. It is about anything, therefore can be everything, about anyone therefore about everyone. That is its true genius. Maybe "The Boys" are returning from war, maybe from prison, maybe just from a trip out to the desert or from the big football game. Who knows? They're back, and everything just got interesting because of it.

In the specific version which plays in my head, they're a rock and roll band. Young, impossibly gorgeous, hugely charismatic. incredibly naughty. Thin Lizzy, in other words. Or for me, Shadowlands. They are everything a rock and roll band should be, and they're back to entertain, carouse and leave you wanting more.

I can't tell you that it's my favourite Thin Lizzy song, not even my favourite on Jailbreak. Without it though, I don't think I'd love the band as much as I do. It is their calling card, their mission statement. "The Boys Are Back In Town" is the sound of a group at their best, now that's summer's come. Things may never be as good again (and for Lizzy they weren't, truly) but it's ok because the nights are getting warmer and it won't be long…

Many years ago when I was a callow youth, I wrote a series of probably not very good wish fulfilment short stories based around a nightclub in heaven where all the rockers and rollers hang out. Naturally I went to visit them there. I hung out while the house band played, got a dancing lesson from Gene Kelly, hit on by Errol Flynn (I was young enough for him then). The Works. The name of that club? Dino's. Not just because I love Dean Martin (though I do) but because of this song. Why? The notion of getting to spend time with The My Boys listening to them play, while my heroes and dearest people are around me? That is heaven. Philip wrote it for me, many years ago.

I rather think I love "The Boys Are Back In Town" even more than I thought.

An observation about this series so far: I almost always end up talking about something completely unexpected and unrelated to my intent at the beginning. Hmm.

Part 17 – Nat King Cole – "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll"
Part 16 – Rory Gallagher – "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 – The Shadows – "FBI"
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"

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100 Awesome Things – Part 17

Once upon a time, when I was an impressionable teenager, I saw a TV documentary about a man called Dean Martin. This was around 1997 or 1998 when suddenly (or rather, part of a marketing strategy), the Rat Pack dudes were back everywhere. Dino's tune "That's Amore" was used in a Pizza Hut commercial here and suddenly everyone was singing it. It must not have been long after Sinatra died and the coverage that got… and since then, marketing people have been misusing swing/easy listening/lounge to their selling advantages.

Anyway, I liked it. I loved Dean's voice. Wrote poems about it at one point. I was screwed up, OK? After awhile listening to Dean, and somewhat to Frank and Sam, and boosted by seeing Ken Burns' Jazz when I was in my first year at Lancaster, I started to stumble more onto another fantastic voice

Nat King Cole. Love that voice. Love the piano too. Just a fantastic performer, even when made-up what I can only really describe as 'whiteface' (see here) or any number of humiliations. However, this post is not about that. Better-qualified people than I have discussed the racism Cole endured and the ways in which he dealt with it.

I'm going to post my most favourite Cole track ever. I mean more than 'When I Fall In Love" or "Unforgettable", "Smile" or even "Nature Boy".

It's a live track, nearly eight minutes long and is called "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll". Recorded aroundabout 1960, during the last true great hurrah of the old singers.

Let me exlain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.*

Rock and roll was to singers like Sinatra what Sinatra was to Crosby. Rock and roll was to Sinatra and his pals what punk was to the rock giants of the late 70s. A fresh new sound which made everything before it sound old and fusty whether it truly was or not.

Picture this: Elvis, in his pre-army gloriosity: slick quiff, jeans, sports jacket, smouldering gaze and curled lip. Most of all, recall his barely-caged, hip-swinging masculine sexuality on stage. Now set that next to Frank Sinatra in his tuxedo, baldness-covering fedora, middle-aged swing. I happen to think both Presley and Sinatra were hitting music peaks in 1956, but they're very different notions. The gorgeous Nelson Riddle strings-and-swing of Songs for Swingin' Lovers is for grown-ups. Elvis Presley, featuring "Blue Suede Shoes" is for the young.

Tom Lehrer hilarious refers to "rock and roll and other children's records" on one of his comedy records. He's right, of course. Early rock and roll was simple and sometimes crude. There were some real stinkers released, especially once the big labels got hold of the genre. A lot of the crap then deserves lampooning.

Enter Nat King Cole, 1960. What I love about "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll" is that it is hilarious. The mockery is spot on. The versions of his old tracks – "Pretend" becomes "Pretend you're sloppy when you're blue.." and "Answer Me" becomes "Answer Me, Daddio" and "Mona Lisa" becomes "Moaning Lisa, you're too wholesome. Won't you dig me at the coffeehouse tonight? Many cats have been drug on your doorstep…"

But the one I love most is "Nature Boy": "There was a cat, a very strange enchanted cat. They say he traveled very far, played guitar, in his hopped up car. He said come dwell in Heartbreak Hotel, I think Elvis was his name. And then one day, the crazy day he passed my way. And while we spoke of many things, hot rod kings, Daddio said he. The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to rock and be rolled in return."

The first time I heard the song I thought I might die laughing. I love rock and roll music to the core of my soul. It is the first music I loved, the first stuff I had spinning on my record player. Once upon a time, Elvis was music to me. But you see, I love the older stuff too. Again, not all of if. There's as much rubbish, commercial "swinging" music as there is the same for rock and roll… both can and should be lampooned. For me, there's enough room for the good stuff of both.

I loved that "Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll" was so funny but didn't seem to be bitter. It wasn't churlish or contemptuous as so many people were at the time. It was clever (written by Jimmy and Noel Sherman) and did a good job of exposing some of the weaknesses in those early rock and roll tunes. It even poked a little gentle fun at Nat's music.

But then right at the end, as he's singing that "Mr Cole won't rock and roll!" he says "…could if I wanted to, though."

I suppose that if he really wanted to, Cole would've made some passably good rock and roll-style songs. But I can't see how it would work. His "thing" was neat, cool, swinging music. HIs piano-playing was bright and delightful. He could do dark, of course, but it's all very dignified and grown up. He was forty in 1960. Elvis and Jerry Lee were 25; Little Richard was 28. Frankie Avalon and the Everlys were in their very early 20s.

So, I'm not convinced he necessarily could have rock and rolled… but I wouldn't have wanted him to. Music doesn't have to be one genre all the time. It doesn't have to be rock OR swing OR punk. The endless variety of music is what makes it so beautiful. On my iPod Enrico Caruso and John McCormack share space with Rory Gallagher and Howlin' Wolf. There are one-hit wonders like Baccara and "Whispering Grass" by Don Estelle & Windsor Davies next to The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Dean Martin has his own dedicated playlist, as does Julie London. The dark psych-pop of Love sits near Luke Kelly. A broad church from A-Ha to "Zorba the Greek", Abba to the Yardbirds. Bernard Cribbins. Betty Hutton, Big Bill Broonzy. Cream, The Clancy Brothers, The Connaught Rangers. You get the idea.

Mr Cole wouldn't rock and roll, but he didn't need to. Being Nat King Cole was much more than 'enough.' It's about playing the music you love to the best of your ability. His abilities were extraordinary, just as Elvis was a great purveyor of his music. There's room enough in my heart for both of them, and many more besides.

Music at its best transcends everything, including labels, genres and pigeonholes. All that matters is this: do you love it?

*Thanks to Inigo Montoya

Part 16 – Rory Gallagher – "A Million Miles Away"
Part 15 – The Shadows – "FBI"
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"

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100 Awesome Things Challenge – Post 16

I was going to post about a Certain Irish Guitarist but decided to dodge the bullet again. I was going to post some Dean Martin or something.

And then Lou Martin died.

Almost every truly great musical legend worked with other great musicians. They might not be as flashy or as charismatic. They might not be songwriters, but behind practically every single Golden God there is a backing group of brilliance.

Jimi Hendrix had Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell in his Experience.
James Brown had the likes of Alfred Pee Wee Ellis
Freddie Mercury had Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
Elvis had Scotty Moore and Bill Black
Miles Davis… basically just worked with the best.
Philip Lynott had his revolving door of guitarists, but he also had a fantastic constant in drummer Brian Downey.
It's not a coincidence that Clapton did his best work with Bruce & Baker and then with Duane Allman.

Rory Gallagher was no exception. One of the real great guitarists, he was also a charismatic frontman with a decent voice, but even he needed something behind him. He, like the other legends, knew the importance of working with the best.

Lou Martin was a great pianist. He could do blues, boogie-woogie and rock for sure but he wasn't a slacker when it came to classical. This link pretty much proves my point.

Funny thing is, Lou died on 17th August 2012. On 17th August 2008, I walked into the Cork City branch of HMV and bought my very first Rory Gallagher record: The Essential 2-disc compilation. It was raining on and off of course, it was a Sunday and I'd been wandering the town since 8am waiting for things to open. I'd even gone to Mass at the cathedral for something to do.

I wandered, listening to The Dubliners on my iPod. Ronnie Drew had died the day before and I was dealing with it in the only effective way I knew: immersing myself in his voice. I had french toast at a trendy cafe and continued my wander.

Rory Gallagher was a name I knew, but I didn't really know the music. I could've told you he was a blues rock guitarist, a dead Irish one no less. I had one of his songs – "Born on the Wrong Side of Time" on my iPod. The title appealed for obvious reasons. There in his hometown I decided I really should buy some record of his. In HMV I was confronted by a giant poster of Ronnie Drew, of all things.

I'm so glad I was in Ireland that weekend. Ronnie mattered there. Not so much here. 'They' knew how I felt. I was at home, geographically and musically. I couldn't summon the necessary to walk into a pub on my own so I didn't check out any of Cork's famous live music scene. I stayed in, watched the Ronnie Drew documentary on RTE 1 and read the liner notes of my new CD.

I went to Cobh, a pretty little port with a strong feeling of grief sewn into itself thanks to the Titanic, the Lusitania and the dreadful legacy of the famine and emigration. I read the liner notes again.

I got on a train to Dublin, where I ate at Gallagher's Boxty House as usual, ate at O'Neill's as usual and went to see Philip on his birthday, as usual. I stared at the Music Wall of Fame in Temple Bar, caring for the first time about the guitarist with the long brown hair. I nipped up Grafton Street to visit Philip's statue and there got into a conversation with two Dub rock fans about Rory.

It wasn't until several days later, back at work, that I actually listened to the CD. A secret: at first I wasn't all that impressed. I mean it was good but it didn't grab me totally. I liked the second song, "Moonchild", for sure. Then I listened to "Barley And Grape Rag". But I didn't get sucked in immediately. I'd be silly to, right?

According to this very blog, I listened to "Barley and Grape Rag" one hundred and eighty-seven times between late August and the end of 2008. I sang it at the work Christmas gig while wearing a Rory t-shirt. It was awesome.

But I wasn't sucked in. Oh no. I was up all night watching videos on YouTube, but I wasn't sucked in. I literally bought the t-shirt, but I'd have to be really fucking stupid to get obsessed by another dead rock star, right?

By 2008 I'd already carved plenty of other names on my heart. Lennon, naturally. Harrison. The lizardy fellow. Philip. Dean Martin. Valentino. Flynn. You pretty much know them if you've been here before. I'd be really daft to left someone else come along and gouge another scar, right?

I am that fucking stupid. By the time I even noticed, I was much too far gone. I should've noticed when I was on the tube late one night, returning home from being in the Just A Minute audience and I was dancing in my seat to the delta-like sound of "Who's That Coming" and I should've noticed when every visit to HMV began with a trip to the 'G' section of Rock and Pop. I should've noticed when the panic of leaving my gymbag in Starbucks was more to do with losing the newly-purchased Against The Grain CD than my sneakers.

No, I should've known exactly what was going to happen on 17th August 2008. He is a dead Irish rock musician who was fantastically good at his job. King Cnut had better odds against the tide.

Truly though, I didn't quite get it right away. It took a little while for my ears to get attuned to his work. It took even longer for me to beleive that he meant it about not selling out, about being dedicated to the music and even longer than that to believe he wasn't secretly a bastard.

Turns out he was that dedicated to the music and I've still yet to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the man himself.

Four years later, I love that man's music more than I can tell you. That's why it's taken until now for him to be the subject of the challenge, because I can't speak about it. I can't tell you how I love it, only that I do. I can't tell you how deeply it is now scored into my soul, as if forty years had passed with me stood by the side of his stage every night.

I picked one video above all for this post. It is the song which probably ensured a part of my heart will be forever Rory's, because he wrote down my pain and gave it voice:

Rory Gallagher – "A Million Miles Away" – which incidentally features footage of Cork City and some excellent Martin organ.

"There's a song on the lips of everybody/There's a smile all around the room/There's conversation overflowing/So why must I sit here in the gloom?…. I'm a million miles away, I'm a million miles away, sailing like the driftwood on a windy bay."

I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected. Sometimes I still get close to it. Knowing that one of my heroes was able to write a song which so exactly described the state of my soul worries me: I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That he might have felt the same breaks my heart, and I hope it was one of those occasions where a writer was able to portray a world without inhabiting it.

I have been that bleak, adrift and disconnected and that song was, ironically if you like, an anchor I used to drag myself back to shore. That's one reason I love his music so.

Most of it is Rory's guitar and his voice, his songwriting, his grasp of the genre he loved so much. But he wasn't alone on that stage. First with Taste, then with his various Rory Gallagher line-ups, the classic of which involves Lou Martin's keys.

I can't tell you what I love and why without writing a dissertation, and I already wrote one of those for Jim Morrison. You have to listen to the music itself and decide for yourself. It's between me and the music and it's between you and the music. The contract is personal and non-transferable.

For me, the most succinct I think I can be is this: It is a deep scar on my heart and I wouldn't have it any other way.

*

Part 15 – The Shadows – "FBI"
Part 14 – Marilyn Monroe as Elsie Marina – "I Found A Dream
Part 13 – Kenneth Williams as Ramblin' Syd Rumpo – "The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie"
Part 12 – Chas and Dave – "Rabbit"
Part 11 – The Beatles – "I'm Happy Just To Dance With You"
Part 10 – Duke Ellington – "The Mooche"
Part 9 – The Doors – "Who Do You Love?" featuring Albert King
Part 8 – Queen – "These Are The Days Of Our Lives"
Part 7 – Thin Lizzy – "Don't Believe A Word"
Part 6 – The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – "Monster Mash"
Part 5 – Craig Ferguson – "Doctor Who Cold Opening"
Part 4 – The Bees – "Who Cares What The Question Is?"
Part 3 – Marvin Gaye – "Got To Give It Up"
Part 2 – The Dubliners – "Octopus Jig"
Part 1 – The Allman Brothers Band – "Statesboro Blues"

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