GMT 24 Feb 2012
What to make of the news that there are to be not one but two Olympic closing ceremony concerts? The announcement today of an all star symphonic event in the stadium itself featuring everything “from Adele to Elgar” seems like a bit of an insult to Blur, announced as headliners of an Olympic concert at Hyde Park earlier this week. When you hear the names being bandied about for a simultaneous mega event in the actual Olympic stadium, it starts to feel like the so called Best of British has been specially created to pen off potential protesters and party poopers, with the arch anti-patriotism of Blur, The Specials and New Order shunted into a corner to keep troublemakers occupied away from the cameras.
Meanwhile, the VIPs and global TV Broadcasters will be waving their flags for a superstars super bill featuring Adele, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Queen, Take That and all the rock and roll sirs, McCartney, Elton and Eric, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Olympic Stadium closing ceremony concert has been rather dubiously described as a Great British mash up. Actually, Artistic Director Kim Gavin, a man best known for his work with Robbie Williams and Take That, described it an “elegant mash up”, which seems like a contradiction in terms, like a robust puree.
February 8th, 2012
Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Tom Jones and Dame Shirley Bassey. Can you spot the connection between the headliners of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert? I suppose if you accept a title, it would be churlish to decline to perform for Her Majesty. (I wonder if Sir Paul will actually be tempted to perform Her Majesty for Her Majesty, or would that be deemed a bit cheeky?)
Among the supporting bill, Jools Holland and Annie Lennox are both OBEs, and presumably this show of loyalty won’t do their title aspirations any harm. Youngsters like Jessie J, JLS and Ed Sheeran may have been lured less by the prospect of an audience with the Queen, and a TV audience in the millions. As for Madness, well, the nutty boys have always had a streak of patriotism, though it’s hard to imagine them ever being offered official recognition for their ability to cheer up a nation in times of hardship with classic little England songs like Baggy Trousers, Our House and Embarrassment. It would be nice though, wouldn’t it, if only to hear the words ring out, “Arise, Sir Suggs!”
Rock and roll surrendered its counter cultural credentials a long time ago, forgoing the rebellious posture of its youthful origins. Yet something still recoils in my old punk’s heart whenever pop doffs its hat to the establishment. For me, against all evidence to the contrary, the romantic spirit of rock remains inherently egalitarian and underpinned by anti-establishment instincts. Yet in the recently published list of people who refused honours, there was a notable absence of musicians.
October 14th, 2011
Last week, there was a rumour that Bob Dylan was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature which, to be fair, was quickly dismissed by anyone who had actually read past the first two lines of his 1966 stream of consciousness tome Tarantula. Yesterday we heard that Jarvis Cocker has been appointed editor at large at Faber & Faber. Britpop’s favourite speccy geek’s “broad commissioning role” in the publishing company will commence with an annotated collection of his lyrics, entitled Mother, Brother, Lover. Sadly, there are no plans to give him his own Pulp Fiction imprint, but he will be encouraged to help Faber “continue to build a reputation as the home for exciting and original writing on music.”Has rock and roll gone literary? There is a lot of excitement in the publishing industry about rock star authors at the moment. But, as editors snap up every old guitarhero with literary pretensions, hoping to emulate the runaway success of Keith Richard’s autobiography ‘Life’, there are three crucial points that need to be made:It was Keith Richards.He’s lived more life than almost anyone else.He didn’t actually write the book himself.Next year, we can look forward to autobiographies from Pete Townshend, Billy Idol, Morrissey and Greg Allman. Good luck with the last one. I interviewed Mr Allman this year. He’s certainly lived quite a life, the problem is he was drunk and stoned for most of the interesting stuff, and doesn’t seem to remember any of it.Rumour is that a whole host of other rock stars are currently putting pen to paper, or at least chatting with a trusted confidante over drinks and telling them to fill in the blanks.
October 3rd, 2011
Martin Scorsese has made a three-and-a-half-hour documentary about George Harrison, which will be in selected cinemas in the UK for one night only tomorrow (Tuesday 4th) before being released on DVD on Friday.
Being a Beatle obsessive, I absolutely loved it, though it might be hard going for the less partisan. I watched a preview a couple of weeks ago in a cinema, and I had some sympathy for the well-known radio DJ and his partner who slipped out about two hours in, after the Beatles broke up. This very long documentary is a bit like Harrison’s career. It all goes downhill after 1970.
Given that this is a lovingly crafted film about a major pop-cultural figure of our times by one of the great directors of modern cinema, it is hardly surprising that reviews have generally been good. However, the many critics who have commented to the effect that Scorsese’s achievement is to show that Harrison was the most interesting Beatle, the creative equal of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, are being overly kind, perhaps swept away by the warmth with which the film evokes Harrison’s winning personality. It’s a lovely, intimate portrait of a fascinating man of contradictions, caught between his higher spiritual aspirations and a more earthy side, between peace and love and sex and drugs.
It’s a good documentary about a man, but less so about the music, perhaps because there just isn’t enough of it to sustain three and a half hours.
13 Jul 2011
Strange stories have been circulating this week that The Beatles will reform for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games.
You might have thought this difficult to achieve without necromancy but questioned on US TV, Paul McCartney dropped hints that he “might be involved” and, pressed on the Beatles question, added “I hear they’re planning this sort of music.” There have been further suggestions that his last surviving band mate, 70-year-old Ringo Starr will perform with 68-year-old McCartney, although I think we can dismiss as internet fantasy the rumour that John Lennon and George Harrison might be represented by their musical offspring, Sean and Dhani (although, come to think of it, maybe they could retire the old folks altogether, get James McCartney and Zak Starkey in, and run it as a family enterprise, Beatles & Sons).
If ever there was a band defined by its original members it is the Fab Four.
Somehow the Terrific Two just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
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Once upon a time, rock music was young – and its stars were, too. As Bob Dylan turns 70, are the old ones still the best?
18 May 2011
Bob Dylan will be 70 years old next Tuesday, May 24. Seventy! From one perspective, looking through the prism of youth-obsessed pop culture, it seems such an extraordinary thing. Pop freezes its icons in moments in time, and Dylan will always be there at the explosive birth of the modern pop age, manning the barricades of the Sixties revolution, captured in black and white: a skinny, grave-faced, curly haired, visionary twentysomething, strumming his acoustic guitar, blowing bony notes through his harmonica, warning the adult establishment to get out of the way (“Senators, congressmen, please heed the call/ Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall”) because the times they were a-changin’.
Well, the times have changed all right and Dylan with them. This year, he has toured the once mysterious and inaccessible land of China, allegedly submitting his set list to censorship by the powers that be. He didn’t play The Times They Are a-Changin’ but he did play his world-weary postscript from the year 2000, Things Have Changed, in which he growls with a defeatism that borders on defiance: “People are crazy, times are strange/ I used to care but things have changed.” Yet he ended his set in Beijing with his beautiful 1974 hymn Forever Young, in which he elegantly celebrates the most positive virtues of youth: “May your heart always be joyful/ May your song always be sung.”
We are still singing Dylan’s songs, in all their poetry, wisdom, contradiction and complexity. His sombre, gospel-tinged ballad Make You Feel My Love from 1997 has just spent more than 40 weeks in the British top 40, delivered with worshipful authority by 23-year-old star of the moment, Adele.
Shift the pop-culture prism, and Dylan at 70 starts to make a different kind of sense, because he has been here, right in front of us all this time, hair greying, jowels sagging, wrinkles spreading across his face, voice slowly turning from the barbed wire ululations of a youth in thrall to the ageless depths of folk to a rubbed raw bullfrog croak of an old man giving it whatever his ragged vocal cords still can.