Gigs – as in getting paid to perform musically.

Sometime in the 1950s? We lived three doors from the Peninsula Hotel, Maylands. Dad got us engaged for one night in the Saloon Bar (the other one was the Public Bar). I played piano, reading from Dad’s large collection of printed music, with Dad on bass. No idea how much I got paid. My only recollection, which is so good I could have invented it, is some drunk leaning on my shoulder (that might be an exaggeration) and asking if I could play ‘Please release me’. Dad looked through our collection.  We didn’t have it.

1962, the Busselton … Festival? and a few of us were the ‘University Folk Club’, which didn’t exist: Bill Greble, some Kiwi chick, some guy called Saïd.
We sang on one side of a river, with the audience – if there was one – on the other. After our first set, we wandered off, got chastised from an organiser for not being there, and sang again, tho I think there was almost no-one still there across the river. We may have sung ‘Go away from my window’ and some song in Maori. Stayed in something like a motel. Vague memory.

Early 1960s. Joan Pope (I think) directed a production of the Alice in Wonderland as a Xmas production (I think) at the Playhouse (I’m sure about that) in Pier Street. (It’s been demolished since.) John Beaton and I were the orchestra, playing two pianos. I can still remember the tune for ‘Beautiful soup’, which I suppose had to do with the mock turtle soup in the story.

I think that might have been all three times I got paid for musical performances. There were of course many other occasions when I did it for fun.

Classical Collection

Jenny bought the Classical Collection as CDs that came with a magazine (I think). For whatever reason, she didn’t want them any longer and passed them on to our daughter – who passed them on to me.
So I’m copying them all into my iTunes collection – all 100-odd CDs – as you do.
I’m not listening to every track. One very good reason for not doing so is that many (most?) of the performances are third-rate. They were sold – and therefore also bought by the label – cheaply, because they are not by the most sought-after artists.
So that’s one thing I’ve learnt: that better artists actually cost more.
The other things I’ve learnt is that third-rate artists actually are (unsurprisingly) not very good, even tho their performances get released for whatever reasons. They may play all the notes, but there’s more to a great – or even good – performance than just doing that.
The reason I’m writing this is that I was had the Boccherini cello concerto passing through the process, and my attention kept getting drawn to what I was half listening to. Not only was Boccherini sounding like an interesting writer, but the cellist was sounding particularly bonzer. So I had a look, and it was … Pablo Casals.  I suppose the recording was so old that it was no longer worth much in monetary terms – although it sounded like quite an acceptable ‘modern’ record (Casals died in 1973).
My point is that Casals was a particularly fine artist, and it’s quite noticeable, even if you’re only paying scant attention.
My other point is that I’m now listening to performances, as well as works. (OK, I always did, but the difference between good and ordinary is suddenly much more obvious.)

You Must Unload

Blind Alfred Reed sang this hymn by John B. Vaughan that Ry Cooder recorded on Prodigal Son, 2018.

I am taking it to heart, getting rid of a couple of thousand books – not to get into heaven, but just to tidy up before I die.
This is the short version, what Ry sings. The original song is longer.

Now you fashion-loving christians sure give me the blues
You must unload, you must unload
You’ll never get to heaven in your jewel-encrusted high-heel shoes
You must, you must unload

For the way is straight and narrow and few are in the road
Brothers and sisters, there is no other hope
If you’d like to get to heaven and watch eternity unfold
You must, you must unload

And you money-loving christians, you refuse to pay your share
You must unload, you must unload
Trying to get to heaven on the cheapest kind of fare
You must, you must unload

And you power-loving christians in your fancy dining cars
You must unload, you must unload
We see you drinking whiskey and smoking big cigars
You must, you must unload

And you power-loving christians in your fancy dining cars
You must unload, you must unload
We see you drinking whiskey and smoking big cigars
You must, you must unload

Richard Thompson Live at Rockpalast

This has just been released in 2017 tho it was recorded in 1983 and 1984: RT Live at Rockpalast, as two DVDs and three CDs – of two performances, one in Hamburg and the other in Cannes. After the Hamburg gig, there’s an opportunity on DVD1 to watch a brief interview between RT and the German Rockpalast guy. This was after both performances, I now think, because Thompson is asked about his reception, and he mentions that whistling means different things in different countries. When I watched that, I wondered why he said that – because he was well received in the Hamburg Markthalle.  But now I’ve watched the Cannes gig, where a couple of slower numbers, particularly Night Comes In, seem to be badly received, with a great deal of whistling. If I’ve understood the audience behaviour correctly, I don’t know why the French weren’t expecting what they got.

The Hamburgers were insistent that they got more, bringing the band back to the stage twice for another six more songs than Cannes got – as either the French didn’t ask RT back, or he wouldn’t go. One result of that is that the first disk is a DVD9, but the second needs only to be a DVD5 🙂 Maybe he should have included Ça plane pour moi, which he does in perfect French, at great speed.

Martin Simpson’s rubato

Martin Simpson seems to be widely regarded as being among the best instrumentalists in folk music. He is a very good musician indeed.

So why is he such a terrible singer? In the musician sense of singing.

It’s not just his voice, which is ordinary. It’s his … um … rubato. You know that thing that Frank Sinatra has always just got away with – singing behind the beat? Martin S delays so long on the last word in the phrase that he has to really rush to catch up in the next one.

And he does it again and again, and has done so through his whole career. Why has no-one ever been brave enough to tell him to just sing in time?

It means that his only good album is Cool and Unusual  – the only one in which he does not sing.

Pretty Polly

Some time in the Pre-Cambrian era I was sent to Vines Road.
At that time, Deakin University was only in Geelong, and had taken over a institute of technology and a former teachers college, to become a ‘university’. And the teachers college was in Vines Road.

This was in the 1980s, so I can remember very little about the campus.
But it had a music department, and so it had a record collection – meaning ‘long-playing record’ (LP) – disks that you stuck a stylus onto to access the analog recording – what a weird old idea! Lucky we’ve left that behind 🙂

And in this record collection was a boxset – it probably had two disks in it – called the Folk Box. This might not have been the first, and certainly wasn’t the last collection with this name, but I haven’t ever been able to recover just which ‘folk box’ this was.

What I *do* remember is the first song on the first side. A performance like hardly anything else I’ve ever heard. The song was called ‘Pretty Polly’ – and there’s no mystery about that: it’s been recorded scores of time. But it took me three decades to finally recover the performance that I found so astonishing.

The banjo-player and singer attacks the song like his life depended on it. It’s not easy to understand the words – and it doesn’t matter: it’s the ‘life force’ in the wild, energetic performance with which one is forced to engage.

There are more than one ‘old-timey’ singers who recorded this murder ballad, including John Hammond and Dock Boggs, but the guy who gets my attention is … Lee Sexton, b. 1928.

Tinnitus … sux

Tinnitus. Last time I was free from this was something like a year or two ago. I am currently again in this blissful (and very rare) state.

I have taken the opportunity to listen to my favourite singer in his best recording. Carpe diem.

It’s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012), and  the second of his three recordings of the Bach cantatas BWV 82 and 56.

The first was 1951 with Ristenpart, then 1968, with Richter, and finally 1983 with Rilling (aged 68).

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded BWV 82 and 56 three times. I can now announce – having just bought it at last – that the second of the three is the best recording put down by any singer … ever.
Unfortunately, I can’t listen to it as one would wish, as I have tinnitus. With this condition, at least in my case, as you turn up the volume of sound, so does the presence of the tinnitus increase. However, at a low level, I can still be aware that DFD sings like the finest artist I can imagine.

Ich Habe Genug

Bach’s cantata BWV 82 can be translated as ‘It is enough’. I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, in a music store in Perth in about 1959. I bought the DGG LP you see in the previous post at about that time, and sold it at the end of 1967 when I left the country. I thought I would never hear it again, because Fischer-Dieskau recorded the cantata twice more, and I didn’t think anyone would think it was worth their while to keep it available. But I reckoned without the deep pockets of Apple, and perhaps the enthusiasm of people like myself. I found it available in the iTunes store – so 51 years later, I am able to listen to it again. It is enough.

It would have cost about £5 ($10) back then, and today was just a bit more (i.e. a lot less!) at $16.99.

Favourite recordings

People are doing a ten top recordings thing in Facebook. Not sure I’ll be able to manage as many as ten – or fewer than 100. The trouble with ‘classical’ music is that you have to specify the performance. Anyway, you can see why I like this one: great cover art!

It’s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s first recording (of three) of Bach, Cantatas 56 and 82, conducted Karl Ristenpart, oboe Hermann Töttcher, DGG 14 004 APM, 1951. That’s the original cover.


Bach, Sacred Cantatas, Harnoncourt/Leonhardt

Bach, Mass in Bmin, BWV 232, Collegium Vocale, Ghent, Philippe Herreweghe, 1989/2009 (that’s two recordings)

Gustav Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, James King, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Leonard Bernstein, Vienna Philharmonic, Decca, 1966

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli, Peter Phillips, Tallis Scholars, 1980

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet op. 130 in Bb, La Salle Quartet, DGG 2530 351, 1973

Joni Mitchell, Hejira, 1976

James McMurtry, Walk between the Raindrops, 1998

Ry Cooder, 1970