Friday, 2 March 2012

Number fifteen . . . 

15 Happy New Year Beverley

More Jews. It’s written by Randy Newman and sung by a 19-year-old woman from Coventry who was born Beverley Kutner and who later played the Monterey Pop Festival, invited over by her long-term friend, Paul Simon — she has a speaking role on the Bookends album.

Ralph McTell talked about her in an interview — they played together in a folk outfit called the Levee Breakers (oh, dem cotton fields of Mitcham and Merton). ‘Beverley at that time was very strikingly beautiful in the kind of Mediterranean-looking way. The boys all loved her. She was only about nineteen. She sang with such maturity and expression. She was absolutely fantastic.’

Then, in 1969, she met John Martyn, with whom she had two children and made a series of albums. Despite her contribution, as singer and writer, her name only appeared on the first two. Her career never recovered. Martyn hit her, too. (I met him a little later, at a show in south London. He didn’t hit me but he wasn’t nice, either.) One of her songs was Primrose Hill — later sampled by Fat Boy Slim, for North West Three, the London postal district which borders the hill.
Cut in 1966, this was her debut single, the first release on Decca’s ‘hip’ label, Deram. This was an attempt to turn her into a Ready Steady Go! girl, like Lulu, Dusty, Cilla, Sandie, that kind of thing. It didn’t work. Well, it wasn’t a hit, of even the smallest kind. Like so many records from that period, the band includes Jimmy Page (guitar), John Paul Jones (bass), Nicky Hopkins (keyboards) and Andy White (drums).

I happened to meet Beverley’s sister a few years ago, not far from the location of Beverley’s most famous song, Primrose Hill. She was still bitter about what John Martyn had done to her sister’s career and life. Really bitter. Really really bitter. Though, still, can it really be called bitter when it’s so rooted in truth?

Next Tom Waits, me  . . . and his wife

Thursday, 1 March 2012

On the fourteenth day of Xmas . . . 

14 Joy to the World Kate Rusby

The words were adapted, by Isaac Watts from five verses of Psalm 98. Watts (1674-1748), a Southampton grammar school boy, has been referred to as ‘the father of English hymnody’. Son of a preacher man — whose nonconformity took him to jail not once but three times — he became a minister himself, till illness forced him into early retirement. 

He lived, till his death, in Abney House, Stoke Newington. The grounds have long been a cemetery. My grandfather is there. Though Watts isn’t — he’s in the next borough, Islington, at Bunhill Fields (just south of Old St), with those other renowned nonconformists John Bunyon, Daniel Defoe, William Blake and the inventor of life insurance, Richard Price.

It is no longer sung to Watts’ tune, though. The one now used was written in the early 19th century, by Lowell Mason who was to American Presbyterian hymnody as Watts had been to its English predecessor. This was published in 1836.

I’m not sure this version uses either of them, as it happens. Like a lot of Kate Rusby’s seasonal songs, it takes its own course. Often, she uses variants from her local area, south Yorkshire.

In an interview, she said: ‘There is a tradition round these parts of congregating in certain pubs on Saturday and Sunday and singing these glorious carols, with a pint in hand of course, that's a must to lubricate the vocal chords of course... kinda like medicine really, you understand.

‘It begins every year on the first Sunday after Remembrance Day and continues until New Year's Day and is a tradition going back many, many years. The carols are passed down the generations, and as a child you kind of just soak them up as you sit with your pop and crisps, every year knocks them a bit further into the brain and then all of a sudden you find yourself singing along to songs you weren't aware you had learnt, quite strange. Some of the carols have the same words as carols you may have learnt at school or church, but the tunes are usually different.’

She’s made two albums of Christmas songs. This is from the second, While Mortals Sleep (2011).

Sometimes described as The Barnsley Nightingale, she’s actually from Penistone, eight miles or so to the west, along the A268. Details are important to Rusby herself. She corrected the birthdate on her Wikipedia entry, from December 1 to December 4, and pointed out that she had divorced the man it had her married to. 

Next Coventry's second most famous woman — ie after Lady Godiva. This one keeps her clothes but has troubles all her own.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Lucky thirteen?

13 Cold Dark Night Sam Phillips

Written and sung by a woman with the same name as the man who discovered Elvis Presley but who first found fame as a Christian (ie evangelical) singer, with the same name as a British comic actor, Leslie Phillips. 

She claims she got out of her Christian label contract by invoking its ‘immoral behaviour’ clause, telling them she’d slept with someone. ‘Everyone was doing it, but you weren't supposed to say it. It was hilarious to see the executives' faces. They were so terrified I would talk publicly about it that they let me go.’

She married T-Bone Burnett, creator of the Coen Brothers’ movie soundtrack — she sings back-up on it. That's them in the picture. Together, they toured as support for Elvis Costello. She wrote and recorded this around the time her marriage broke up. I think they still get along, though. One of her songs, Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, made its debut on Robert Plant’s T-Bone produced 2007 album, Raising Sand.

She has also done a little acting. She played a mute terrorist in Die Hard With A Vengeance. It’s easy to spot her. She’s the one who is Jeremy Irons’ lover and says . . .

Next It's off to Barnsley — and Penistone

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Twelfth . . . night

12 Silent Night The Miracles

Written, on Christmas Eve 1818, for the parishioners of St Nicholas’, in Obendorf, Austria, by Catholic priest Josef Mohr and his organist Franz Gruber. Legend has it that the organ had broken earlier that day so Mohr and Gruber had to come up with something quickly for the next evening’s Christmas mass. The tune they wrote — Stille Nacht, in its original German — was for two voices and a guitar. They sang it themselves, perhaps with a backing from a small choir of girls.

It quickly entered the Christmas folk canon right across the German-speaking lands of central Europe. It was probably spread across Europe by The Strasser Sisters. Though first published in in 1832, it only reached the rest of the world when it was included in a Methodist hymn book in 1849.

It was the first holiday song recorded by Bing Crosby, in 1935. I’ve no idea where this version by the Miracles comes from. I’m not even sure it’s Smokey Robinson singing on it.

Next A woman who has worked under two different names, both of them other people's

Monday, 27 February 2012

And so to eleven . . .

11 I Saw Three Ships Don Dixon

The performer is from South Carolina and was both a central member of a band from North Carolina, called Arrogance, and a producer, of ‘jangle pop’. He produced REM and had a track on the Heathers soundtrack, Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It).

His collected works appear on one of the best titled greatest (non) hits collations ever, (If) I’m a Ham, Well You’re a Sausage: The Don Dixon Collection. This track comes from a seasonal collation put together by Chris Stamey of the dBs — a name which either means a great deal to you or, more likely, nothing at all.
The song is a variant of Greensleeves and has been around since at least the 17th century, when it was first printed. There is, though, clearly something of a problem about its geography.

I’ve been to Bethlehem. On Christmas Day, in fact. And I can’t see how three ships came sailing into it. There’s certainly no sea. Or river. Or even much in the way of water at all. Just lots of young kids trying to sell me single cigarettes and a Greek Orthodox priest giving us a private tour of the Church of the Nativity. He jumped the queue for us to the grotto where Christ was born — or so I was told. He pushed Japanese tourists out of the way so we could get a good look at the altar thing. Then I noticed there was another altar on the other side of the crypt. What’s that? I asked. Oh, that’s where the Catholics think he was born, he said. And whisked us off out the back of the church, through the monastery, out into an empty back street and  . . . a souvenir shop owned by ‘my cousin — he will give you very good price’.

The three ships? I’m told that’s a reference to the three ships that took relics of the three wise men to Cologne cathedral in the 12th century. Again, I must poop on the party. Three ships? How many fucking bits of magi did the Cologners order for their new cathedral? Did they get a job lot?

Next time Shhhh . . .