Hey Porter!

So, Porter Waggoner has died. He is credited (mostly by himself, it has to be said) as being the man who brought Dolly Parton to prominence. Prominence and Dolly Parton… what thoughts pass fleetingly through the mind, dear reader… send them away, they have little place in this particular missive. His rhinestone-encrusted besuited frame topped by the strange inverted triangle of his head and his extremely large ears (hang on… isn’t it strange that many male country singers – and Bryan Ferry – have larger than average ears…) are etched in my memory through the courtesy of RCA Camden and their range of budget LP’s, as sold in Woolies and as bought in large quantities by my Mum and Dad. We had several of their duet LP’s, and the material on those was pretty much your average (!) tearjerking country balladry, songs of orphans freezing to death in the snow, life’s great tragedies and of decent god-fearin’ folks snatched from the warm bosom of life way before their time. Classic stuff. Hallmark was another great label for country vinyl. Patsy Cline was a favourite in our house. My sister Pam can do an uncanny Patsy Cline impression. I really, really liked Patsy (and the Hank’s – Williams, Snow and Locklin. I found Red Sovine just a little too much to take, Jim Reeves – mmm, good singer but too much of a smoothie, although Bimbo’s a great tune… mind you, so is ‘This world is not my home’… time for a re-appraisal, I think…). I loved Marty Robbins, particularly ‘Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs’, home to the wondrous ‘El Paso’ and ‘Big Iron’, and anything by Johnny Cash (both CBS orange label – a tad more expensive!) and though I would never admit this to my Dad, I really liked his other main man, United Artist’s very own Slim Whitman. I think it was the fact that so many of his recordings sounded really spooky to me, like spirit messages filtered through a medium locked in an echo chamber with a steel guitar, and he looked amazing, really plastic and always soft focus, like an early version of Max Headroom. Boy, did I have an active imagination as a kid.

My introduction to country music came courtesy of my parents, when as a young child (maybe four or five years old) I received a red vinyl 78 of Roy Rogers singing ‘Red River Valley’, backed with ‘The Old Chisum Trail’ (my middle name is Chisholm, and my dear Nana’s family were Chisholm’s who had many émigrés in their history, so this set off fanciful flights of imagining about their role in the Wild West which I have recently found are much more accurate than I could have ever dreamed.). It was encased in an incredible picture sleeve, with Roy mounted on Trigger, his trusty steed (many years before he would literally mount Trigger – titter ye not, I mean upon a wooden plinth, stuffed and on display at his ranch) on the front. If Otis is the whitest baby in the world, then there is no doubt that Trigger was the whitest horse in the world. Even whiter than the White Horse whiskey horse, or the White Horses from the eponymous 1960’s children’s TV serial. Sorry, I’m diverging and digressing again. Lets get back on track… Roy Rogers… I really liked both songs, and at that time my heroes were pretty much either cowboys or spacemen, or my Dad, who I kind of imagined was Michael Rennie playing the role of a cowboy spaceman… which I suppose he did in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ … now there’s an obscure reference to something coming up in this blog very shortly…

TV was full of cowboys, and my favourite was Ty Hardin from Wells Fargo. Ty didn’t go much for shootin’, oh no, he favoured pistol-whipping the bad guys, and usually being pistol-whipped in return. This was very unfortunate for my younger sister Vanda, who found herself the recipient of a particularly vicious pistol-whipping from her beloved big brother, copying old Ty. I don’t recall the exact details, but my mother remembers my disbelief that poor Vanda didn’t just get up right away, rub her head and clamber back into the saddle and ride off into the sunset, as Ty was wont to do, but had to suffer mild concussion courtesy of the Milky Bar Kid (me).

All this reminiscing is getting me misty-eyed with nostalgia, so while we’re on a roll, let’s carry on. Dan Dare, Yuri Gagarin (I far preferred the Russian cosmonauts to their American counterparts – Gagarin seemed such a cheeky and likeable chappie – and Russian spacecraft were way more interesting, almost Heath-Robinson-ish in appearance. Remember Lunakhod, the Russian Moon-rover? I swear that was a bathtub with wheels on it…), Quickdraw McGraw, Robert McGregor from across the road and his huge collection of glossy music magazines, so many, many formative influences… but let us fast forward to the point where my burgeoning obsession with rock music collided with the realization that country music was a very real part of the whole kaleidoscopic jigsaw… step up and take a bow Mr. Alan J ‘Perce’ McPherson, the man who introduced me to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Perce was a little older than my friends and I, and he had a record collection full of many strange and wondrous things, but none more wondrous than his Creedence albums. He also became the drummer in our first band, Paranoya.

We started as a ‘front-room’ band in my friend Michael’s house, before graduating to ‘garage band’ when we began to get a little too loud. I suppose we were a very early example of art-rock as we used found or everyday objects as part of our equipment. Michael’s mum’s big radio was our PA system; his front room lamp stand became the microphone stand. Guitar amplifiers were built from mail-order electronic kits (Kids! Why grow giant mushrooms in your basement when you can build your very own ‘Eagle’ crackling high voltage electric shock dispenser that also functions as a signal amplifier for only £8-3/4d!!), speakers resembling inverted Kleenex dispensers were constructed from Planika. Our bass player’s mum and dad obviously had more faith in him as they bought him a guitar, amplifier (15 watts! Yay!) and a strap, bag and cable (ironically he went on to be the bassist in a real country band…) I didn’t have a guitar at that point, or indeed a purpose to my life, so I drew the short straw of vocalist, which was a bit strange as I was at that time chronically shy. (Which is not to say that I am not still chronically shy, because I am, albeit in a slightly more extrovert way.) One of our original two guitarists who had previously shown little interest in music didn’t like the idea of being left out of this latest digression so he toddled off down to the Music Shop, bought a guitar and a copy of Bert Weedon’s legendary ‘Play In A Day’ and stayed up all night, effectively learning to play in half-a-day, returning the next day to stun us with his new-found expertise. As I recall, the first song we practiced (nobody ‘rehearsed’ in those far-off days) was a song by the Kinks called ‘Took my baby home’, which I believe none of us had actually heard at that time, we learned it straight from a songbook. Some years later I did get round to hearing the original, and our version was pretty close.

Well, reasonably close…

I wish I could find a set list, as my memory of those days is pretty hazy now, but I’m pretty sure we did more than a few Creedence numbers – ‘Don’t look now’ for certain, maybe ‘Effigy’… ‘Travelin’ Band’, ‘Lodi’, perhaps ‘Bad Moon Rising’ (also known as Bare Moon Horizon… does that mean anything to anyone out there reading this??). I think Michael may have made some reel-to-reel recordings of the garage sessions, but he may well be sitting on these (if they still exist) in the unlikely event of any of that little group of people becoming famous for whatever reason… (News just in – Thurso man blown up in Cambodian minefield – Legendary Garage Sessions tape to be released!) .
Jebus, I’ve been rambling a bit, haven’t I? I’ve completely lost track, so let me finish with a recommendation. Buy ‘Revival’.

Must admit, first time I heard the single (well, actually saw the video for it– I do hope John is being ironic, though I would kill for the painted western acoustic one of the kids is playing… ), I wasn’t sure… Now I am. Absolutely. The real John C Fogerty is back with a vengeance. It’s simple and direct, maudlin in parts (like the best country music), and it rocks like an unhinged mountain man high on moonshine driving his truck at 110 the wrong way down the interstate highway in others… and dammit, yes, it really sounds like Creedence. The last time Mr. Fogerty released anything this consistently great was around the time my Dad died, so the memories that flood through me when I listen to this incredible album are tinged with a little bit of that ole country sadness. Like we all do with the people who matter and who have gone from our lives, I really wish my Dad was still around. I would love to tell him honestly how much I really secretly liked his music, and the incredible effect it would go on to have on my life, but I do have some amazing memories.

We once went to see Carl Perkins and Bo Diddley play… I’ll never forget looking around during Bo’s set to see my Dad grinning from ear to ear and almost bopping around with the sheer joy of the music. Music is all about moments, and in that moment on the stage it was country meeting it’s best buddy, rock and roll, and up in the stalls my dad and I realizing that we weren’t really as different as we thought we were after all…

…so this one’s for you, Dad

Keep on chooglin’…


Yeah I know – last night’s roll call of the mighty in the vocal field left many (hundreds in fact) out. Sorry. Blogging is often an immediate response, as was last nights – so apologies to all the wonderful voices who were not name checked in my ramblings but who deserve to be up there in the pantheon of vocal greats. Can I just give honourable mentions to Josh Rouse, Brett Sparks, Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, Neil Hannon, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Todd Rundgren, Evan Dando, Bic Runga, Alex Chilton, Donald Fagen, John Lydon, Jenny Watson, Dr John, Little Richard, Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, Rod Stewart (late 60’s early 70’s version) etc, etc..
Anyway – life is not all about music (oh yes it is…) … what have I me mine been up to in the long weeks since last blogging? Well, we survived a robbery… although our I-Pod did not, and led to me visiting the local nick. Have you seen Orson Welles’ ‘Touch of Evil’? That might give you some idea of what I was up against… the local police chief must have had extremely bad toothache, as he had obviously been gargling for several days with cheap whisky, and the array of ladies of the night who seemed to be his support staff were also highly amused by the foreigner in their midst… number one question was ‘…what do you want us to do about this?’ . I swear that if I had said ‘you must bring me the perpetrator’s heads on a silver platter!’ I would have had a better reaction than the one I got when I meekly asked if perhaps they might try and find out who did this and get the items back… my Khmer friends at the office were highly amused by all the shenanigans around my ill-advised attempts to report the incident, and seemed to suggest that the local constabulary might be fairly deeply implicated in the theft anyway…
Otis is now crawling everywhere with the manic intensity and superhuman agility of Ridley Scott’s Alien, and with pretty much the same horrendously destructive effect. We can’t wait for him to start walking. No, honestly, we can’t. He’s a truly wonderful little chap, and a constant source of amusement and bemusement to the Sutherland-Mathur’s. He also has top and bottom teeth now. Ouch. Next week we are taking him to Thailand. Please watch CNN 24 Hour News for further details and updates, as and when they happen.
I went to Nairobi a couple of weeks ago, to attend a course on gender in mine action, which was most entertaining and extremely illuminating, as mine action is still male-dominated and full of ex-army machismo. Things are changing though, which is good. There was no doubt that the feistiest and toughest people there were the women, which was very heartening – most of the men seemed stuck in a terribly British Terry Thomas/Leslie Phillips landscape which ceased to exist a long time ago… “ I say! That’s a bit unfair, old chap…”
I’m sorry, those last two or three paragraphs were really quite boring. So, life goes on. I’m a little tired tonight, so I won’t ramble or bore you any further. It’s time for bed, as Zebedee used to say. Tomorrow, who knows…
I think I’ll listen to a little Elliot Smith.
Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine…

Night Night

Sleep tight

pour le monde

…let’s think about voices. For my generation there are many instantly recognisable speaking voices – the pure Englishness of an Olivier or a Coward, the nasal sneer of the wonderful Kenneth Williams, the bluff northern tones of Les Dawson, the spluttering innuendo of Frankie Howerd, the comforting countryman of the late great Jack Hargreaves (hands up for ‘How?’, how monumentally magnificent was that as an example of perfect childrens TV!), Fenella Fielding’s incredible husky chocolate whisper (listen to her dubbing of Anita Pallenberg’s character in ‘Barbarella’ and… well, just melt…). My list goes on and on…
When I think of singing voices, I have those that spring to my mind as definitive in their genre also – for ennui and disinterest personified, Lou Reed. For mystic hub cap diamond star cadillac fairyland it has to be Marc Bolan. John Lennon and his spiritual heir Liam Gallagher for their northern beat group wit and wisdom… Jeff Buckley for Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a perfect singer singing one of the most perfectly realised songs, the Jagger of 68-72, the best Mick Jagger ever, Tom Waits, always the best Tom Waits, Gillian Welch, the wisdom of centuries distilled into a vocal instrument of staggering beauty, John Fogerty, Roger McGuinn and Tom Petty, my mythical America personified… this is another list that will go on and on and on and on…
Today I realised who (for me) does sadness best. I listened to a track called ‘Silent House’. It’s a song about a person suffering from Alzheimers disease, and that person is the mother of the singer. The singer is Neil Finn, and it’s a track from the new Crowded House album, Time on Earth. It is, quite simply, profoundly moving, very beautiful and incredibly heartbreaking. The whole album is suffused with melancholy, mostly manifested in the magnificence of Finn’s voice and his eerily beautiful songwriting and arrangements. Sometimes modern songwriting can appear to be glossy production values propping up gossamer thin conceits, huge castles built on rapidly shifting sand. Not so with this incarnation of Crowded House. Please, seek out this album and listen to “Silent House” and “Pour le Monde” first. Listen several times, as the magic takes a little time to do it’s work.
I hope you will agree with me then.
Nobody does sad like Neil Finn.