From Ashton Lane to the Albert Hall

Belle and Sebastian serve up The Last Night of the Fey Proms in south-west London


 

 

 

Credit: Twitter/Tatianaargh

Credit: Twitter/Tatianaagh

 

 

If You’re Feeling Sinister was an odd cove twenty years ago and it’s an odd cove now. Fey Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian formed in a room in music college in January by Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David, recorded Tigermilk in three days in March and released in June. The slackers took until November to put out If You’re Feeling Sinister.
And yet this record, with its strange weaving of Christianity, the star of track and field who threw discus for Liverpool and Widnes, corking tunes and full of couplets like…

“Hilary went to the Catholic Church because she wanted information/ The vicar, or whatever, took her to one side and gave her confirmation”

…reached 59 in the charts. The realisation that in the intervening two decades, the band have won a Brit, been namechecked on (500) Days of Summer & High Fidelity, sold out the Hollywood Bowl and played the album in full to a packed Royal Albert Hall audience on Thursday.
After the album, the band – not always as dynamic live as they are on record – selected ten oldies including The Blues Are Still Blue, 1997 deep cut Put the Book Back on the Shelf and Seymour Stein. Murdoch visibly relaxed and told the story of the lady he’d seen while out walking in Kensington who, on seeing him for a second time, called security. Stevie Jackson offered to be a butler for anyone in the vicinity, and support act Trembling Bells who had a member dressed as a sheep and one as a horse were invited up on stage to dance with the audience.
It was like a Chic gig for skinny bearded men in Birkenstocks and pale girls with floral print dresses.
In that context, as Murdoch followed that song with Lazy Line Painter Jane and then The Party Line where he proceeded to dance round the whole of the Albert Hall, well the downstairs bit, while holding on to members of the crowd so he wouldn’t fall over.
He looked close to calamity on occasion but kept dancing and avoided falling on his backside. Quite Belle and Sebastian in its own way.
It was that kind of strange, joyous, communal evening.
If You’re Feeling Sinister may have got to number 59 in the charts, but all those who bought it seemed to be in the one room in west London on Thursday night.
And they’d probably all gladly hire Stevie Jackson as their butler. He looked pretty attentive on keyboards, guitars and vocals in Kensington. Far from catastrophe waitress status.

It’s Margherita Time for Just Eat to Change Their Ads


Like most ads (Carlsberg is Probably not the best lager available on tap in your local, I’ve thought about going for a run sitting in Nike trainers and Just Not Done It), the Just Eat proposition is misleading. You don’t “Just Eat.” You download an app. You pick the food. You order the food. You presumably give the address and your credit card details. You then Just Pay – the bit they really care about.
But the most misleading aspect of the commercials (on busses, tubes and telly) is that young Millennials (hence the Backstreet Boys, Groove Armada and even The Automatic) are the target audience instead of a more middle-aged audience. Time for Just Eat’s ad team to get more realistic. Not enough to mention Chubby Checker, The Fat Boys, Biggie Smalls and Fat Joe, or go for George Harrison’s My Sweet Lard, but more realistic.

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The current ad roster needs revamped. Here are some suggestions:-

Chinese Food Tonight (Inspiration – Backstreet Boys’ Backstreet’s Back)
Boyband and junk food. Yeah, right. Other than Heartbeat-era Gary Barlow, obviously

Suggested alternative: Everybody wants Kung Pao Chicken. (Carl Douglas)

Sashimi I’m rollin’, they hatin’ (Inspiration – Chamillionare featuring Krazy Bone’s Ridin’.)

A krazy bone is a the last thing you want to find in Japanese food.

Suggested alternative: Why You Wanna Eat Miso, Bad? (Prince)

Woah, here she comes, she’s a naan eater (Inspiration – Maneater featuring Hall and Oates)

Maneater doesn’t sound too nutritious. Hall and Oates sounds healthier but who’d order that when they want a curry?

Suggested alternative: Samosa See you, Samosa Want You (Chris Montez)

Insane in the Chow Mein (Cypress Hill)

Anyone in Cypress Hill’s posse…Just Eat? The munchies for those guys are normally preceded by something.

Suggested alternative: Do You Know What? Chow Mein! (Oasis)

What’s that coming over the hill, is it Moussaka? (Inspiration – The Automatic’s Monster)

Moussaka would be cold by the time it went over any hill. And The Automatic.

Suggested alternative: She’s a mezze lover, it’s got a hold on you, believe me.

Dishonourable mentions go to…Halloumi kind of love, Little Red Courgettes, Balti Young Dudes, White Rice (Do Do Do It) and of course Jalfrezi (after all these beers)

Just Eat’s copywriters, thank me later.

The wonderful warmth of John Grant


By any standards of atrociousness, this week in the context of this year has been Full Metal Awful. Any seven days bookended by the events of Orlando and the inexplicable killing of a committed mother, campaigner and constituency MP ought by rights to be soundtracked by lift music. Lift music featuring Kenny G on saxophone, Sherlock Holmes on violin and Michael Bolton bringing along a blackboard down which to scrape his nails.
In the midst of all this horror, a lacuna of loveliness. John Grant at the Royal Albert Hall delivered a performance of such aural joy, such precision, such sense of play that it made me want to rush down from the upper circle, jump on stage and give him a massive bear hug. The big guy looks like he gives good bear hug.
That would have been unwise, of course. Because you don’t interrupt an artist when he’s working.
The Texan troubadour since relocated to Iceland is one of the joys of modern music and in a year when we’ve been losing artists the way 21st Century London loses bits of its skyline, now is as good time as any to treasure him.
Grant’s first album, the masterpiece, Queen of Denmark, made with Midlake, introduced him to the world (or those who hadn’t heard his band The Czars) as a deliverer of contemporary torch-song beyond compare. Tracey Thorn called him her favourite singer. When he’s singing, she said, “you feel like nothing can go wrong.” Can’t vouch for everyone in the Albert Hall that night, but the room sure felt they agreed.

John Grant. That's why mums go to Iceland.

John Grant. Why mums go to Iceland.
The follow-up albums, Pale Green Ghosts and Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (something he reminded us on stage was an Icelandic term about the onset of middle age) took him in a more electronic and experimental direction and three albums, in, he has a paintbox from which he can create all sorts of stunning landscapes. A piano-and-John ballad like Caramel leaves you awestruck but a different shock, a “What Tha….” quality is elicited from the band’s rendition of newer track, Snug Slacks. A song this uncategorisable produced the same reaction on first listen as Reverend Black Grape, Wannabe, Tomorrow Never Knows, Evidently Chickentown or Pump Up the Volume.
“What is this?”…“How did he”…”why did he?”….”but I’m glad he did.” It’s more left-field than Left Field choosing not to turn right and record in a field owned by Frank Field. It’s a pick-up track where the man it’s sung to could be forgiven for running a country mile. And unlike these other records, it namechecks the Poison Dwarf from Dallas so technically it could be argued it’s better than all of them.
What made Wednesday night at the Albert Hall so refreshing was the breadth of musical adulation he has earned from the wide open spaces of music. Cate le Bon joined him for Mary McGregor’s Torn Between Two Lovers (you’d love to hear Grant’s version of Crystal Gayle’s Talking In Your Sleep or Charlene’s I’ve Never Been To Me).
Richard Hawley wigged out on guitar on Disappointed (“the stage is about to get 65% sexier”, said Grant displaying his love of percentages as heard on GMF) and Kylie Minogue duetted on Glacier, five days after Orlando. Sometimes a song will do a job even a picture can’t, and this was the window for it.
Three very different performers, united by a love for a very distinctive one, making a sucky week suck a little less.
It is a special artist who can take a song and make you delirious and distraught in the same chorus. ABBA, the Pet Shop Boys, The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Aretha can. There aren’t many others outside of disco, but the big guy with the shaggy beard is one.

Britain in Europe, and how we can save it

Eurovision is the one place where Morrissey waving a Union Jack might be all right


Nul façon. Our embarrassment at Eurovision – positions of 24th, 24th, 17th, 19th, 25th, 11th and bottom since 2010 have led us to the kind of pass where even Sid James, Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey wouldn’t carry on. Olly Murs ruling himself out of Eurovision before he’s been asked means something needs to change. Adele, Calvin Harris, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Brits conquering the global charts, wouldn’t touch it with Sandie Shaw’s bare feet right now. But in five or ten years time, other than an impending tax bill (and to be fair, there’s always Strictly or the jungle for that), what would make them? Here are ten suggestions.

The talent show idea has to go the way of Jemini, Electro Velvet and Bucks Fizz’s skirts

Every so often, some wag pipes up that we should put Simon Cowell in charge of our Eurovision entry. To all intents and purposes, Simon Cowell is in charge of our Eurovision entry. Every time they make a TV show to pick the winner, it ends up X Factor-lite, and those shows have never been about the strength of songs but the performers. We’ve had also rans (not even winners) from Pop Idol, Fame Academy, The X Factor and now The Voice. Stop, before the seventh-placed entry in the 2013 Britain’s Got Talent, finishes in next year’s relegation zone.

Scrap the BBC team picking the entry

In fairness to them, they tried. They persuaded Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren to write a song when you imagine they had better things to do. They lured Pete Waterman out of retirement (about 20 years too late and the result was Josh Dubovie) and it could have been an interesting way for Blue to relaunch their career if the song had been right. It wasn’t. The thought process behind Engelbert Humperdinck (he’s big in the Balkans, apparently) was admirably thorough. Joe and Jake, Scooch and Daz Sampson were the results of lame talent shows.

Letting the Great British Public, via a talent show, especially a BBC4 show, will lead to duffers. But letting the BBC decide leads to Electro Velvet and Molly.

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Five years of cred

A committee of undeniably great figures from the world of British music (thinking Annie Nightingale, Trevor Horn, Jools Holland, Norman Jay, Brian Eno – pick your own) gathers over email, and draws up a shortlist of great British songwriters over the past 20 years and the head of the committee personally asks them. And if it’s rubbish, they get to veto it. Have the following been asked if they’d submit a song to be put in front of 200m people? The list could include Disclosure, Pet Shop Boys, Paul Weller (ideally with the help of Mick Talbot – it should sound like The Style Council and not Solo Weller), Paddy McAloon, Jarvis Cocker, Guy Garvey & Elbow, Difford and Tilbrook, Laura Marling, Lianne LaHavas, Laura Mvula, Naughty Boy, Amanda Ghost, Fatboy Slim, the Chemical Brothers and David Byrne (technically British, if Antony from Antony and the Johnsons was for the Mercury). What’s the worse that can happen? If Brian Eno was writing the letter, would they all say no? Keep that structure in place for five years, and then good people might want in.

The previously stated interest option

New Order and Morrissey have in the past suggested they’d like to represent Britain at Eurovision. Call their bluff. Rumour has it Morrissey cried off, understandably, when the BBC suggested it would involve the idiot ‘talent’ contest and competing against the likes of Katie Price and Nicki French in front of Natasha Kaplinsky or one of the two from Bake Off. You can see why he passed.

The Ivor Novello option

This award celebrates songwriting. Eurovision is meant to. Our last really good entry, Gina G’s Just a Little Bit, was down to Motiv8 being two of the most in-demand producers of the time, having just remixed Saint Etienne’s He’s On The Phone.  Ivor Novellos are often won by the most interesting and in-demand (but not always the biggest selling) songwriters of the time – plus a couple of token legend awards. The Ivor Novello winners are all notified that after the awards in May, they can all pitch a song to compete at Eurovision which they can perform or choose a performer. The committee chooses the best one.

Ask the KLF

Self-explanatory.

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Avoid the temptation for campness

Look at the other entries in Eurovision. They’re bonkers, scary, sometimes unsettling or off the wall and, of course, a fair few dull X Factor-style ballads, but they aren’t, by and large, that camp. Finland won with Lordi and that was ten years ago. Scooch as air stewards or Jemini just made us look that we haven’t bothered to watch  the competition in a couple of decades.

It shouldn’t be a hothouse for developing talent

When ABBA burst on to the scene, they didn’t have Soundcloud, MySpace, professional PRs, TV talent shows, YouTube, celebrity patronage (Ne-Yo signing Connor Maynard, Ronan with Westlife, or Lily Allen discovering Tom Odell). So picking an unknown singer or songwriter may be appealing but the suspicion will fester. If they were any good, how come they’re reduced to this?

…or for the SAGA option

If their career was any good, how come they’re reduced to this?  Questions which may have been asked to Engelbert and Bonnie Tyler (and to some extent, Sonia and Michael Ball before them). It just led viewers to cry “oh, THAT’s where their career is at now. Next stop, Buttons at the Theatre Royal, Margate. Whoever’s representing the UK has to be either reasonably up and coming or someone with some stature. Before you say “impossible”, how about…..

Pitching it to the right star could be a wheeze

Robbie Williams has played Knebworth three times, challenged Liam Gallagher to a public fight, joined, left and rejoined Take That, duetted with Nicole Kidman, fronted a Spanish coffee commercial.  Most things but he remains a massive star. If you pitched him the idea of releasing a single in March, touring Europe with it to launch his new album, and play to that enormous audience in May, with an album launch in June, he’d be hard pushed not to see the whole experience as a bit of a laugh. If he finished with nul points, is that the end of his career? Hardly. It’s another chapter in his next book with Chris Heath. He survived Radio 1 writing him off, dating Geri Halliwell, the cover version of Freedom, the Do What You Like video, he’d survive this. If not Robbie, there are other big stars who might consider it a birrova laugh. Lily Allen. The Pet Shop Boys were rumoured. George Michael. Sir Tom Jones. They just have to be big and therefore bullet-proof  enough to avoid the blast that flopping in Eurovision would bring. In other words, bigger than Blue.

“…Feeling” – Good!

Justin Timberlake and Max Martin serve up something for summer tastier than a 99 with two Flakes


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5RobDomh5U

This site was dedicated to pop music, old and new, which made me get out of my seat, lost myself, find myself, get emotional, stop me in my tracks or just smile or dance. Not asking much.
Its name was inspired by Prince and just as I was getting it off the ground, we lost him. So ever since then, I’ve been listening to his music and there hasn’t felt the need to listen to someone else. Why would you when you’re wading through a catalogue as vast as his with the vault still to be discovered, right?
Then a song stops you in your tracks. The new James Blake album popped in my ears, and the new-ish PJ Harvey song landed late towards me, but then another song, destined to be this year’s Blurred Lines/Get Lucky/Uptown Funk rolled into town.
Justin Timberlake has long been trying to fill the loafers of Michael Jackson (“that’s a big glove to fill” as he told THE FACE ahead of Like I Love You), but with Can’t Stop the Feeling (let’s gloss over the fact it comes attached to a cartoon he’s voiced), he’s madde his most perfect lift of what made Jacko great. Max Martin (who else but Max Martin) has thrown the kitchen sink and the whole John Lewis utensils department at it. There’s a sneaky bassline (like Le Freak), a guitar break like Stevie’s Do I Do, a slowed down and speeded up vocal (like George Benson’s Gimme The Night), fingerclicks like Patrice Rushen’s Forget Me Nots) and a choir singing at the end (like Wanna Be Starting Something). It helps if you have a great chorus and you know how to sing. Whatever he and Max Martin were going for, they hit.
And it’s summer. No 1 all over the world guaranteed.

The Revolution Will Be Televised (We Hope)

Let's have the ultimate talent contest to find a new frontman for The Revolution. It's Time. To Face. The Musicology.


Viva The Revolution!
A sad event led to Bobby Z, Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Brown Mark and Doctor Fink meeting this week to reminisce about their much-missed friend.
Talk has turned, as it seems to on these occasions, about bringing the band back together.
The fact The Revolution are missing one rather crucial member could be seen as rather important. Like the High Flying Birds without Noel Gallagher and unlike Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, who did all right once the Peter Green element was phased out.
Prince famously marshalled his bands like a Panzer division (or if he was in really sadistically fierce mood, like James Brown) with an ability to change song, mid-song, and riff for 20 minutes into a freeform dance party. Or play three songs in two minutes.
These are tremendously accomplished musicians playing, one presumes, Prince songs.
It could be great. Bring on The New Power Generation and 3rd Eye Girl’s tour. And Sheila E’s and Candy Dulfer’s too. If you’ve played with Prince, you never need to stay off the road for long?
But who could front the Revolution? Which frontman or woman would have the versatility, scale and vision to sing the songs the Revolution could play?
(Out of courtesy, am assuming they won’t be doing new, or their own, material. If they are, stop reading now and I’ll stop writing).
The Revolution’s new singer doesn’t have to be bandleader of Prince’s calibre. Shouldn’t be really. That’s impossible. But a great singer is a must and when the songs are that good, how high do their qualifications have to be?
Here’s an idea.
Scrap the X Factor this year. Make every week Prince Week. Have Wendy, Lisa, Brown, Matt Fink and Bobby as the judges.
If the public picks the wrong winner, the judges get to override the decision. Well, because the public didn’t play on Pop Life, did they?
It could be the longest career an X Factor winner had yet. And the best lives shows yet.
Loser gets to go on tour with James Arthur.

“Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here Tonight…”

Seeing Prince felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, if you were lucky enough to see him eight times, they're worth remembering.


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Birmingham, NEC 1990 The first time was worth the wait. Tickets for the Sign O’ The Times tour had been discussed with friends, where all were summoned wearing peach and black, but UK dates were pulled. The Lovesexy tour, where Prince emerged from a cat with Cat (of “Cat! We Need You To Rap!” fame), had pulled out the stops but broken the Paisley Park bank. The Nude tour was stripped down, back to basics stuff. Or it would have been without the incendiary guitar-playing, dancing in heels and call-and-response to a dragoon of hits. If there had been a budget cut, no one noticed.
Memories: being so excited led to two loo visits in the half-hour leading up to the concert, buying two T-shirts and listening to the Sign O The Times double album four times on the bus down. Prince got everyone to sing along to Take Me With U, and it was still ringing in my ears when the bus dropped me off at Buchanan Street seven hours after the concert.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/1990/nec-arena-birmingham-england-63d49eaf.html

Celtic Park, 1992 The Diamond and Pearls tour
A funny period in the wee fella’s character as with any stadium tour, the Diamonds and Pearls tour the pre-match hoopla threatened to get on the nerves. He was pushing the merits of future Baywatch star Carmen Electra (the video messages on a loop kept telling us “Carmen Electra is inevitable”) but they didn’t say it was inevitable she’d end up on Baywatch and commercials for Taco Bell and hair colour products.
The moment he walked out to a Mahalia Jackson song, he reminded you who he was, and why one of his shows could never be Just Another Stadium Tour. Seguing from Bambi, into Delirious into the freeform jam of Willing And Able demonstrates the myriad ways he could make a crowd move.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/1992/celtic-park-glasgow-scotland-53d16f01.html

London Hammersmith Apollo, 2002 He was in a jazz mood at this point of his career, as you would be with Candy Dulfer and Maceo Parker in the band. one of his big hits, When You Were Mine, being the 12th song in after the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster and Track 15 before he slid into mega-hit mode with Take Me With U and Raspberry Beret. Ending a three-hour set – which contained no Let’s Go Crazy, 1999 or Kiss – or with Anna Stesia was bold, surprising and entirely Prince-like. An artist like this reminds us there aren’t really mis-steps just Prince decisions.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2002/carling-apollo-hammersmith-london-england-5bd98738.html

London O2, 2007 Snuck in under the wire to see the last night of the 21 dates (ahead of the aftershow with Amy Winehouse singing Love Is a Losing Game) and he started with I Feel For You and pretty much crammed in most of what you’d want including a sublime Sometimes It Snows… in the piano segment and 36 songs, many of them superhits from I Wanna Be Your Lover to The Most Beautiful Girl…, defined and then re-defined crowd-pleasing. Playing the same venue 21 nights in a month might leave some artists looking crumpled and sick of their songs. When you have a catalogue as rich as Prince’s, not a hint of it here.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2007/the-o2-arena-london-england-23d2bc5f.html

Madison Square Garden, 2010 This was incredible. Sheila E was back in the band and there were so many hot spots from a 150 minute set, it feels perverse to pick one. But so what? The version of A Love Bizarre with Sheila on vocals and drums and a guest spot from ?uestlove, reinforced the image of Mr. Nelson as the Pied Piper of music. Spike Lee, Jamie Foxx, Naomi Campbell, Professor Cornell West and Alicia Keys were up on stage dancing by the end of the song in the most upscale conga New York has seen for a long time.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2010/madison-square-garden-new-york-ny-4bd2870e.html

Hop Farm, Kent 2011 He did about two and three quarter hours in a field in Kent. A fifteen year-old boy near me was screaming and crying after this set. “I thought I liked music but this has changed everything! I’m going to buy all his records.” It was great to be reacquainted with that feeling.
He brought out Larry Graham for the encore saying “look who it is!” and I’m guessing the 15 year boy didn’t. No matter. They played Sly and the Family Stone’s Everyday People, and I Want To Take You Higher as well as The Beatles’ Come Together. He also played The Time’s Cool, MJ’s Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, three encores and some Prince songs too. His all-female band, a proto-type for 3rd Eye Girl, smoked it. The performance of Controversy in the encore was a memorable stand-out. If you can produce something that funky, and then bring out a founding member of Sly and the Family Stone, you probably doing more than one thing right.

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2011/hop-farm-paddock-wood-england-63d36e93.html

First Direct Arena, Leeds, 2014 The Hit N Run tour saw Prince make guerilla manouevres in Manchester and London for last-minute gigs which for those of us with day jobs necessitated making plans to go to the bigger venues – in this case, Leeds O2. There were sections of a crowd of undecideds who felt it was OK to talk through The Beautiful Ones on piano. Or maybe that was a sign of this writer’s age. Although he touched on funk, airing Vanity 6’s Nasty Girl and Musicology, it was arguably his rockiest band yet with Donna Grantis, Hannah Ford and Ida Nielsen.
Prince has been through just about every musical incarnation, channeling Count Basie and Cary Grant in Under the Cherry Moon, Rick James on Dirty Mind, Earth, Wind and Fire through his Musicology period and this was obviously the point he fancied being in a gragae band. So playing a slowed-down Let’s Go Crazy, as well as Funknroll, Screwdriver and Guitar really suited this period.
http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2014/first-direct-arena-leeds-england-53c08b35.html

Camden Roundhouse 2014 This was a 5.30pm matinee before the second Roundhouse show, and there were queues round the Chalk Farm Morrisons to let fans in. They were turning folk away without photo ID and for some reason, only a Scotland Supporters Travel card at the last minute saved me. Highlights: all of it really, but the sublime piano cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You, an 18-minute Purple Rain which invoked the crowd to a level where it reached prayer, and closing with She’s Always In My Hair left the poor sods who hadn’t bough a ticket for the second show skulking around in reception hoping against hope that might sneak them into the second show (it didn’t). Oh well, there would always be another visit to London, wouldn’t there?

http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/prince/2014/roundhouse-london-england-3bc0280c.html

Nothing Compares 2 Him

When it came to playing live, there was no substitute


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It’s been seven hours and umpteen days since Prince was taken from us and of course it still hurts.
The natural thing is to pay tribute, and that should cheer us up. From Adam Levine at a party for Howard Stern to Bruce Springsteen opening up his Barclays Centre gig (both Purple Rain) to LCD Soundsystem playing Controversy at Coachella or Nerina Pallot’s
Sometimes It Snows in April, which she’d been rehearsing before the sad events of April 21st.
And they’re all fine. The Bangles, Chaka Khan, Alicia Keys and Sinead O’ Connor have shown you can perform one of his songs and make it sound great.
It’s just…it’s not this, is it?
Most bands play the hits, occasionally wig out with a solo (and Nils Lofgren’s on Purple Rain is by most standards, excellent) but they can’t turn on a sixpence to
It wasn’t just Prince’s songwriting or musical talent which led people to compare him to Mozart. It’s not even the outfit.
But this performance shows the playfulness, the versatility, the breadth of content and the fact sometimes only he can do this. Please note: this is before you acknowledge his dancing or guitar-playing.
Little surprise that some like Elton John and Noel Gallagher have played it safe, paying tribute with one of their own songs, respectively, I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues in Las Vegas and Live Forever in Glasgow.
The fact London could see the Prince and a Piano dates should make any music fans purple with envy.
There’s a reason there are no (decent) Prince tribute acts. Nothing Compares.

Prince: 1958-2016

Amy and Janis: two films, two brilliant singers, one heartbreaking story

The concept of “one last job” or, to quote Al Pacino in The Godfather III, “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” is a tired, overtrod path one in movie plots.


But two 2015 non-fiction music documentaries, to give them another pompous title tell heartbreaking stories of two women who thought they were out before being pulled back in.

During Asif Kapadia’s Academy award-winning Amy, you may have seen the devastating part where Amy wins a Grammy for Record of the year and everyone around her is jumping for joy at which point she tells one of her best friends from school “this is so boring without drugs.”

Amy by Asif Kapadia, and Janis: Little Girl Blue by Amy Berg

In the film, as in real life, the question of whether Amy’s death was preventable is a grey area. She had got herself clean, had recorded with Salaam Remi in Miami without a drop of alcohol touching her lips, and her record company was trying hard to keep her on the straight and narrow.

In Janis: Little Girl Blue, Joplin had fallen in love and cleaned herself up in Brazil at the start of 1970 before falling – hard – off the wagon and dying in October at the same year. Family in both films had suggested that both singers wanted to clean up their act.

More than this, and their age of death, Janis and Amy had much in common. Phenomenal voices, acceptance from unlikely sources (Mos Def and Tony Bennett in Amy’s case, The Who, The Grateful Dead, and many posthumously for Janis), and it took them both a while to find their voice on record, and live.

Once they did, a rocket took off to the moon. Janis’ live rock rasp and Amy’s 21st century jazz lounge confessional were almost genres to themselves.

Documentaries can help us understand an artist, their thought process and methodology and what made them loved by millions.

In the case of both these singers, there is still too much, even after a combined time f four hours, that is unknowable. Such is the formula for lightning in a bottle. Listening to the records will help for the simple reason that the ingredients don’t matter, it’s what’s on your plate.

Their early deaths are the most irritatingly unknowable part of their stories

The kind of restless unhappiness through two creative women is not worth trying to analyse in passing, even through a documentary, except perhaps to make us all nicer to the next towering talent of that ability to come along.

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Who knows when that will be? Singers like these however neither grow on trees, or come along like busses.

Janis once told Rollling Stone’s David Dalton, a contributor to Little Girl Blue, that a crowd at a famous Madison Square Garden gig watched “every note with ‘Is she gonna make it?’ in their eyes.”

Another thing they had in common.

The genius of Garry Shandling – he got musicians to play the right notes


“No flipping.”
“The better you are, the better Larry is.”
“Hey now!”
If these phrases mean nothing to you, get yourself to a DVD retail outlet and purchase, as a matter of urgency, The Larry Sanders Show.
No show, not Extras, not 30 Rock, nor even the mighty Curb Your Enthusiasm, detailed the minutiae of behaviour behind the velvet curtain of
Garry Shandling’s death triggered outpourings of grief and gratitude from Steve Martin, Judd Apatow (who was mentored by Shandling), Albert Brooks, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Amy Schumer, Conan O’ Brien and so many others.
Shandling was intuitive enough to drill into the essence of an actor to produce a performance which other more feted writers and directors had hitherto been unable to draw from them.
The ones who entered this orbit with glee from 1992 to 1997 ranged from Robin Williams to Sharon Stone to Warren Beatty. If the secret to comedy is timing and hitting the mark, you’d expect musicians to know a thing or two about this as well.
Sanders, via Shandling, didn’t just ask performers to play. If they had comic chops like Elvis Costello (who subsequenty ended up standing in for Letterman), he ended up selling Larry’s sidekick Hank Kingsley a dodgy car in season five. Tom Petty watches deflated in the dressing room as Jim Carrey highjacks the finale episode. kd lang berates her neighbour Hank for walking around in the nude, and he berates her back for not using capital letters in her name. Donny Osmond calls producer Artie to ask him to work on his and Marie’s chat show when Larry’s show is winding down. Country star Clint Black gives Larry relationship advice.
And Hank introduces himself to the Wu Tang Clan mortifying guest host Jon Stewart in the process. (“Where’s Dirty Old Bitch?”)
The show ran from 1992 to 1997 and so Britpop in the shape of Blur, Oasis, Radiohead and Pulp did not feature, although talent booker Paula (Janeane Garofalo) did speak approvingly of Pavement.
Sometimes the band, such as Perry Farrell’s Porno for Pyros, Shawn Colvin or Warren Zevon just played as a musical guest on a chat show would but even those were used to nudge the story along – respectively, conflict between Larry and Artie, Larry and Hank or between the guests themselves.
While we all understood that the Chris Martin in Extras who ran home because “Gwyneth’s doing drumsticks” is not the same as Chris Martin in real life (and the same with Prince in New Girl, or Chris Isaak in Friends, Bono in Entourage or Michael Bolton in Two and a Half Men), the rock stars on Sanders felt as close to their characters as was reasonable to expect.
The genius of Garry Shandling was that you barely believed the musicians, like the experienced comic actors who guest-starred, didn’t have to break character.
Because the better they were, the better Larry was.

Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn and Garry Shandling: Donny Osmond not pictured.

Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn and Garry Shandling: Donny Osmond not pictured.