Archive for June, 2012
One summer evening many years ago I was in flat in Edinburgh at festival time. I encountered a young man from Canada and started to talk about the little I knew of Canadian music. (This was around the mid to late seventies remember)……Who, did he think, really spoke with a Canadian voice that I should be listening to? Bruce Cockburn, he told me……Before I could say ‘who?’ he was quietly reciting to me….
Rain rings trash can bells /And what do you know / My alley becomes a cathedral..
It would be some months or longer before I was able to find a Bruce Cockburn record. (this was the seventies remember) I eventually tracked down Sunwheel Dance in Groucho’s in Perth Road, Dundee and my life started to take an interesting direction. What fascinated me then was the label: True North Records. I suppose it tickled my imagination that up in North America there was something going on which we hadn’t fully caught up with.
Every year around the end of June, Richard Murdoch and I have thought of doing something for Canada Day. This year we have finally got round to it and – you never know – it might become a fixture if we’re all spared. What propelled it this year was the amount of music and visits we’ve had from great Canadian artists. We’ve been raving about Lindi Ortega, Madison Violet and The Deep Dark Woods this year and last year we enjoyed the company of Anabelle Chvostek and Frazey Ford…that’s before we even start to think about the great music we’ve enjoyed for decades from Canada. Judging by your comments on the Facebook it sounds as if Canadian music has made its mark with you too.
Here’s a picture of my favourite Canadian in 1957……I’m sure you’ll recognise him, but if you don’t I can tell you now he’ll be the first artist on the playlist this week.
So this Friday we will celebrate Canada day early and fully by playing two hours of music written, recorded or performed by Canadians. You’ll hear artists you have probably never known were from the country and you’ll hear others who would be among the greatest of All North Americans…(North or South of The Border.) You’ll also hear one or two moments of genius which will make you realise that away from Leonard, Neil, Joni and Bruce, Canada has some amazing new music coming through which we need to get to know better. (this is not the seventies remember)
So for two hours this Friday we will be in the True North…….it all starts from five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
It”s time to tell the truth. I’ve never been to The Grand Old Opry..Nashville or Glasgow. I pass the Glasgow version every Friday night on my way home and metaphorically tip my hat. I often think it odd that the people inside might not know much about us down at the AC Coral and likewise we would be strangers to their local ways. (I’ve heard there are mock gun fights) For those who don’t know about this fine piece of Southside Glasgow mythology it is a country (and western) club/venue in Kinning Park to which all manner of stetsonned, nudie-suited Scottish cowboys and girls pay regular homage of a weekend.
It’s with this in mind that I have been reflecting on the nature of the country music we play. Sometimes we skirt around the edges and at other times we hold more towards the ‘Another” than the ‘Country.’ I’m guessing the secret is to keep the country purists – like a dear recent correspondent from Edinburgh who digs Hoyt Axton and Boxcar Willie -and those who like something dark and strange – like my music loving hairdresser pal John, who today was getting ready to buy Lera Lynn on the back of last week’s show – all listening together. Like any radio audience I’m sure we are a diverse bunch.
What probably holds us together is something we all heard once and immediately loved. Perhaps it’s that ‘High Lonesome’ thing talked of by Bill Monroe or that Sparkle and Twang so beloved of Marty Stuart or perhaps it’s just those harmonies from Emmylou and Gram that came into our consciousness so unexpectedly and made us realise perhaps we did love country after all. In my case the last two are to thank……..so God Bless The Broken Road. Sometimes, and this can happen in the States, you can tire of it. Save me from another city boy in a hat eulogising about his truck, beer or church attendance. Give me Johnny Cash’s struggle, Merle Haggard’s solidarity and Tammy Wynette’s heartache. Don’t think this means I’m only listening in the seventies. I’ve grown to love the authority of Alan Jackson’s voice and last week we celebrated the pipes of Josh Turner. As ever we will bring all this together and add in an artist seldom played on the AC - Todd Snider whose recent profile in Music City has been very high indeed. We’ll have some lovely new things from the current Queen of country pop, Carrie Underwood, Willie Nelson, Darrell Scott and Beth Neilson Chapman. It’s all good. Plus we’ll have a rather special second hour with these people…..
My Darling Clementine have listened to Dolly and Porter as well as Tammy and George and I suspect they have spent some time listening to Roy Orbison along the way. They have distilled all of this perfectly in their album, How Do You Plead and I’m delighted to say they will be with us live in Studio One tomorrow evening for the second half of the show, playing live and explaining where all that heartache came from. It all starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
I’m going to keep this brief……..
……………OK that’s the end of the puns.
I didn’t really understand a lot of the hoopla around Tom Jones. He was a big star in the sixties and he had some remarkable success. But when I heard of his collaborations with dance producers and various pop whizz kids it made me feel, well, slightly depressed. There’s a lot on the world of popular music that does depress me and I’m pleased to say I don’t ever have to deal with it in this blog or on the AC as there’s too much good stuff to celebrate. But in this particular blog I need to explain a Damascene conversion more remarkable than even the great stalwarts of the Labour Party’s conversion to membership of the upper chamber. Folks…I’m loving where Tom Jones has found himself and for that reason I’m pleased to say he is a returning star to the Another Country gallery of great guests.
I knew the inside track on this story a little from a friend who is working within Tom’s management office so I was not completely surprised when I heard the few tracks for Praise and Blame. However I know enough of the story to know that no one – including label or management quite knew what to expect. Ethan Johns – the man who has produced both Praise and Blame and the new Spirit In The Room is a man with a serious pedigree. Having produced seminal albums for Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne as well as many others he was in a position to dictate his own terms. From my inside knowledge I understand the most surprising aspect was that no one outside of Tom, Ethan and the immediate circle was allowed in. No one knew how long the process was going to take and it was all the more surprising when the smoke went up the chimney within a couple of weeks to say – “Our work here is finished.”
When Praise and Blame started to appear on our radar there were a number of people expressing love and admiration for the record. Although the song choice was less than impeccable (a little too many songs had been done by others for my liking) nevertheless, as in all successful albums, there was one song which stopped you in your tracks and made you want to play it to all your pals. For me that was Tom’s quite stunning version of Bob Dylan’s “What Good Am I?” Although I’d liked the song it had never appeared as visceral and human as on the Tom version and something in the voice of this septuagenarian reflecting on his own path made me stop and reflect that this indeed was a very special performance. The highlight of all this for me came in January of last year when Tom and his band performed the entire album as a piece of work at our own Celtic Connections. It was perfect.
I was therefore delighted to announce that Tom had not only done it again but, in all honesty, surpassed himself on Spirit In the Room. There’s so much to enjoy of the new record and again a heart stoppingly brilliant interpretation of a previously overlloked song – Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song. The second half of Friday night’s show will be Tom Jones and myself talking it all through. There’s much to learn friends – and it’s all good.
I’m writing this on my (long) way home from Nashville. As ever it rekindled the flame that always burns for country. highlights were seeing Stonewall Jackson with Marty Stuart, working with some great, great songwriters and hearing some brilliant country songs I’d never heard before on the radio. Look out for Josh Turner, Don Williams and the other man from Memphis on Friday. It all starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.
Trying to dig a little deeper this week I looked into the background of Nashville’s oldest and most famous radio station WSM I cam across an interesting pointer to the story of why Music City became the centre for country music. It seems the key is in the sheer power of WSM’s reach back in the day. The radio mast – now inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame – was so tall and it’s power so strong that country music and The Grand Old Opry in particular reached people all over the south and midwest of America.
It’s WSM’s AM frequency where you’ll find any resemblance to the country music we play here on the AC. For the other stuff you’d need to check out alternative stations like Lightning 100, where they are advertising the up and coming Grizzly Bear dates and playing people like Patty Griffin, Dr John and The Decembrists and for our other acts we sometimes play you’d perhaps need to find a college radio station. Of course you get all this in the one place and in two hours of commercial free radio on your own BBC. (we all own it)
This week however we will have a taste of the Nashville scene as we host one of our dearest friends, Beth Neilson Chapman live from music row this Friday. Beth has a hundred stories to tell and indeed, she is the most inspiring woman you may hope to meet. Having overcome huge health setbacks she approaches each new album project with an ambition that would defy lesser mortals. Last time round she produced a double album of sacred music from the world’s full list of faiths (well almost!) This time she’s going to space.
I’m also going to ask her if this space travel can explain why she seems to be wrapped in Christmas lights in the above picture….but there will be a reason. Hear Beth sing on the moon, the stars and other matters and join me to hear all her own recent adventures in the first part of our live show this Friday from Nashville.
It’s great to be here but slightly strange to be away from Glasgow when we are hosting one of the most interesting and ambitious singer songwriters to come out of this side of the Atlantic in a long time. I’d like to categorise Anais Mitchell for you but I can only tell you she is someone who fits in perfectly to our show. Her last album was an incredible take on a the Greek myth of Orpheus featuring Bon Iver and Low Anthem guests. (I know we’re getting a little far off country here but go with it, you’ll like it)
This time it’s less of a concept but musically it’s as striking, bold and brilliant as the last album. Anais will be playing songs from ‘Young Man In America” with her travelling ensemble live from Studio One at AC HQ. I’ll be here on Music Row playing music from this great city and telling you a little about what I’ve been up to this week…We don’t have that diamond shaped mast of WSM or the 50,000 watts of power but heck we have FM, Digital and the iplayer…you can’t miss us. It all starts at five past eight on Friday evening on BBC Radio Scotland.