R.I.P. Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker, Blind Faith, 1969.

Ginger Baker’s lithely syncopated grooving on Cream’s cover of Born Under A Bad Sign was the catalyst that sparked a soulful musical reaction in me that has ultimately shaped my whole life.

I loved the spatially funky unison guitar and bass riff as well, and that has remained another albeit rather more minor fascination. But Baker’s rumbling, clattering drumming, loose to the point of bagginess, cyclic yet subtly morphing all the time, that really was like a psychic spear through my musical heart.

Rather strangely, perhaps, in that small musical moment, Peter Edward ‘Ginger’ Baker, a white guy in an all white band, playing a song by Bluesman Albert King, distils into a form of new funk-rock, with a distinct whiff of jazz legacy, the whole chain of Afro-American music that fascinated him all his life, from the ritual drums of Burundi via jazz and the blues to modern rock.

Ginger Baker
The young jazz/beat Baker.

Even more oddly, Baker does this channelling act more potently on this cover than Albert King – with the legendary Al Jackson, Jr. on drums – do on the original! And more bizarrely still, when the reunited Cream performed this number at the Albert Hall, in 2005, Baker didn’t revisit his earlier voodoo gumbo. I’m sooo glad I wasn’t at that show*. That might’ve shattered my iconic respect for the drummer who is, for better or worse, the keystone influence on my career as a rhythmatist.

Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker

I’m not a Twitter reader, but reading various online obits on Baker eventually lead me, inevitably, to his Twitter feed, where, amongst tributes from the Jack Bruce estate, Macca and Jagger et al, was this ‘official’ statement:

‘We are very sad to say that Ginger has passed away peacefully in hospital this morning. Thank you to everyone for your kind words over the past weeks.’ 

‘This morning’ being Sept’ 6th, 2019. Despite his wild and often very intemperate life, the old dog made it to 80!

The tradition in official obituaries is to go over the deceased’s whole life (as in this BBC one). But as this is my personal tribute to the man, I’m going to stick to the stuff that really affected me.

For me Baker was, when I look back, an unusual ‘flash in the pan’ inspiration. I didn’t find much else in his career, outside of Cream, that I ever really dug. Indeed, even within Cream, it’s only a few choice moments that do it for me, both in respect of Baker individually, and the band as a whole.

Eric Clapton went on to a much more consistently top flight career, both in terms of the quality of the music itself and the success that can go with it. Baker by contrast floundered around in semi-obscurity, his collaborations usually looking better on paper than they sounded.

He wasn’t someone easy to love, as is painfully clear in the film Beware of Mr Baker. And his visage in later life is a clear outward manifestation of inner pains and strife. A sad and cautionary image when set against the cocky smiling Baker  of the early Cream era.

Ginger Baker
The latter-day Baker.

His love of jazz and his bitter mix of snobbery and contempt regarding rock drumming as a whole, and other famous drummers of (more or less) his own generation, like Bonham, showed a crabby, cantankerous meanness of spirit that hardly make for a saintly halo.

But far all that, thanks to his channelling of the spirit of ‘the groove’, and his position as a key formative influence on me, I’ll always love him. Perhaps now the ornery curmudgeon is physically gone from this vale of tears we can celebrate the best of his legacy?

I don’t believe in a literal afterlife. It’d be lovely to think Baker was up there, at the great jam-session in the sky, slugging it out with his jazz idols. But certainly folk like him get a stab at an afterlife down here. His recorded legacy can and should be remembered and treasured.


* This reminds me of how disappointed I was when I made my pilgrimage to Edinburgh to see Tom Waits, in 2008; arriving massively late on stage, he performed a – by his own standards – bog-standard short set comprising almost entirely his current repertoire. He played just one of his ‘early years’ songs (I can no longer remember if it was Tom Traubert’s Blues or Invitation to the Blues). It was the earlier Waits that had captured my heart. I was gutted. It was such a disappointment. And such an expensive disappointment.

Lost D-Day Film on YouTube

I recently posted elsewhere (here) about the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

For use elsewhere – a forum that I can’t load pics to unless they have a url! – here’s an image of the link:

Music: Louis Cole, Heaven, London, 16/5/2019

May 16th was the tenth Anniversary of my wedding with Teresa. Unfortunately I booked a ticket to a gig on the same day without noticing the clash of dates. When it drew nearer, and I realised, I tried to convince Teresa to join me, in attending the concert, but she didn’t want to, alas.

Anyhoo, I wound up going anyway, as I was determined to see Louis Cole live, having only recently discovered him, and so often missing such events. Going down to London for a gig was great fun. I drove all the way. I didn’t need to worry about the Congestion Charge, as it was after 6pm.

I had the car parked in a hotel, by a valet! This was arranged through Just Park, and was great. The gig was at Heaven, where I used to go to the club night Megatripolis (or Mega-Triple-Tits, as we sometimes knew it). Those were strange days, when I was something of a lost soul. I didn’t like the techno/trance clubbing or ‘rave’ scene that these nights were part of. But the crowd I was hanging out with at the time were really into all that shit. And tumbleweed soul that I was, I drifted along with it.

Anyway, all that is another story, perhaps for another time. On this occasion I was there to see/hear some music I love. There is a bit if irony inasmuch as I would’ve preferred, I think, to see Cole with other supporting musicians, as opposed to performing solo.

His solo act consists of looping stuff played via keyboards, using a laptop running some sort of sequencing software, singing along, and occasionally hopping on the drums to go ape. It’s a strange mix, frankly. As a drummer I really enjoy the kit segments. And I’m quite surprised how much others appear to enjoy this part to.

However, the singer/songwriter aspect of his craft suffers a little in this format, as he has to layer the sounds live – on this occasion, impressive as he was, it was far from flawless – and he tended to cut the songs, once they got going, rather short.

Now, my memory might be failing me here, but whilst I heard a good number of his ‘hits’, I missed a few I particularly would’ve like to have heard, such as ‘?’, Blimp and Things.

I was also a trifle disappointed at the merch’ stall, which had just the one rather crappy tee-shirt, and only his most recent Time album, on CD and vinyl. I bought a copy of the CD. I had been intending to perhaps buy several CDs, by which I mean I was hoping to acquire both other discs if former recordings, and multiple copies to give to friends/family. But in the end I only bought the one, for my own personal ‘stash’. Partly ’cause only the one was available, and also cause I wasn’t sure who, if anyone, might appreciate it.

My final thoughts on this concern the child of our times type idea: I’m now in my late forties; Cole’s in his early thirties, and the audience was mostly very young (teens/twenties). This impinges on several factors: the energy/vibe, which was very much that of youth. And then there are the ‘fashion’ aspects, which affect both the music, and his Cole and his fans present themselves.

As I grow older I care less and less about the tribal identification that’s part and parcel of modern culture, and modern pop-culture in particular. And whilst Cole’s music speaks very directly to me, the visual presentation aspect isn’t quite so concurrent.

His goofy dancing in, for example, Weird Part of the Night, I absolutely love. But his sartorial choices – goofily postmodern, part kitsch, part lazy slob (witness the towel nightgown in the Things video) – is a little alien to me. It seems to partake of a dayglo trashiness (and his Knower musical stuff even more so, esp. in the visuals aspect) in a way that revels in the junkiness (and I mean disposable tibbish, not drugs) of contemporary culture.

All of this comes to a head in his spoken word recitation, to the backing of ‘More Love Less Hate’, which I both admire for its unabashed retro-beatnik candour, and find slightly awkward. I guess this sums up Cole and his music, as it currently stands: impassioned, admirable, and slightly awkward.

Like his performance, this was less than perfect. And, in some respects, that in itself was as much a strength as a weakness: it was real. The most ‘jazz’ thing about his performance – and he’s been schooled in the jazz tradition (taught by big-band dude ‘?’ and citing hearing Tony Williams’ Lifetime as life-changing) – is that at its core, and despite the use of tech/loops, it’s live in-the-moment improv.

Folk like Vulfpeck and Cole give me hope that modern music still has a human heart, or – dare I say it? – soul. Vulfpeck’ connectedness and indebtedness to traditions of funk, soul, etc, are more trad and obvious. Cole’s somewhat more chameleon and magpie like, and consequently both a bit more radical and uneven.

Still, I’m glad I made the effort to get out and see him play live. It’s not something I do much anymore. In truth it’s not something I’ve ever really done that much. And despite flying solo on this occasion (actually it’s a lifetime M.O. with me) it was both fun and worthwhile.

 

 

Music: Louis Cole

Well, I have to say it again, I love YouTube. Once again I find a new artist, to add to others I’ve discovered there, such as the brilliant Vulfpeck and, going back a bit further, the interesting antipodean King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

The last of these – KG&tLW – was a refreshing blast of young prog strangeness, a little off my usual map, but overlapping in areas (odd time signatures, some stuff leaning towards the jazzy/funky or even folky spectrum), whilst Vulfpeck (and Jack Stratton, Theo Katzmann and the Fearless Flyers, etc.) were gobsmackingly poifeck for me.

Louis Cole is somewhere between these two, in that his output is quite prolific, and kind of balanced between Knower, a duo/band project with singer Genevieve Artadi and others, and his own eponymously titled output.

The stuff he does with Knower is very interesting, and most often also very good.  But like KG&tLW, it’s a bit off my usual musical map. And, like the proggers from Down Under, that’s partly due to youthful exuberance. Knower has a level of intensity – I find their video-songs more enjoyable than the many live performances that are online – I find wearying!

You might say, ah, you sorry ol’ duffer. But, truth be told, I’ve always preferred the mellower thide of sings, even though I do like everything from Coltrane’s Interstellar Space to Slayer or some Meshuggah. And I love intense funk and rock, prog, folk, etc. It’s not intensity per se, it’s the particular qualities, or specifics of how it’s done in any given instance.

So, Knower aren’t always my cup o’ tea. But Louis Cole? Now that’s another matter! I love Vulfpeck and Jack Stratton. I really love ’em! But Louis Cole is somethin’ else. For starters, he’s a phenomenal drummer. And as a drummer I love that. Actually both Jack Stratton and Theo Katzmann (no to mention the many guest drummers they’ve had, which includes Louis Cole as it happens) are superb drummers. But LC is at an altogether ‘nother level.

There’s a drummer that used to live local to me, Ric (Byers?), who does stuff under the 05Ric moniker with Gavin Harrison. Any knowledgeable drummer will know Harrison is choptastically mind-boggling. But I actually prefer Ric’s ‘chaos jazz’ drumming style, over Gav’s metronomically polished super-clean super-tight style.

Louis Cole, on the other hand, can do everything from tight simple minimalist drumming to clattering jungle or chaotic jazz, and has that kind of bubbling polyrhythmic intensity that conjures all sorts of potential influences, from Tony Williams and Rashied Ali to Mike Clark, or possibly even Jake Leibezeit, or Dave Garibaldi?

Funnily enough (funkily enough?), however, it was only after I’d listened to him quite a lot that I realised how great a drummer he is. This was partly because several of the times I first encountered him found him playing with other folk (e.g. sitting in with Vulfpeck), or not drumming, but singing, playing keys, etc. (e.g. the monstrously magnificent Thinking Live Sesh, on which Nate Wood is drumming).

But even just seeing him pumping out the groove to Vulfpeck’s It Gets Funkier made it very obvious there was something different and special about him: looking like he’d just got out of bed, and still had on his jammy’s, he plays a deceptively intense funk groove open-handed – left hand on hi-hat, right hand on the snare – and looks like he’s in a world of his own.

And that last observation kind of captures the essence of LC: he really is in a world of his own. A musical one-man-band world of his own making. And it’s a beautiful world. It really is. Cole looks much more comfortable multitracking and multivideoing himself on YouTube than he does in most his collaborations (Knower excepted). As he says in an excellent talk he gave [where? Link?], when it comes to his own music, he’s a bit of a control freak, he knows what he’s aiming for, and he’s the best placed to realise his own audio and and visual visions.

I think he’s been putting stuff out, mainly/mostly via YouTube, for about a decade now. The vast majority of it is simply sublime. And even the stuff I’m less keen on (and there’s actually very little of that) is both very interesting in itself, and… well, I could blather on. Just check it out yourself.

His earlier material is slightly more lo-fi, not unexpectedly, seeing as he’s learning on the job as an online content creator. But it’s also more varied and eclectic. Some is downright weird, whilst other stuff can be quite ‘sweet’, it’s all both very good and very interesting. It’s still early days for me, in terms of exploring his complete back-catalogue, but at present my favourite of his earlier material is Below The Valleys:

That was a more recent discovery for me. The stuff I’ve been mostly diggin’ on is more recent, i.e. within the last year, and includes all of the following: Blimp, Weird Part Of The Night, Things, Sometimes, Thinking, Phone, Drive, blah…

So, not only is he a brilliant drummer, but he’s a superb singer – those high notes in Sometimes! – a sublime songwriter (and mixer/producer, etc.), an excellent keys player, and a dab hand on sundry other instruments, such as guitar, percussion, and so on. And as if all that wasn’t enough, he’s witty, edits/directs fantastic videos, and looks like (and appears to be) an incredibly cool cat! Damn!!

But whereas all this talent might make one nauseous, envious, deflated, or all three, Cole’s music, indeed his whole vibe, is so beautiful, so joyous, that many (clearly, from the comments on his YouTube videos), myself included, are utterly seduced and charmed, captivated and inspired, by his creative output.

I’m a bit of an occasional one man band myself. And I’ve got a fairly huge back-catalogue of music languishing on hard drives. The blissful intensity of experiencing the sound worlds of Louis Cole is making me wonder if perhaps I should pick up my own musical threads, and put it all out there.

Snooker: Bureaucrat Nearly Bosses Beefy in Comeback Special

After the drama of the world number one going out to an unseeded amateur, I watched Judd Trump go four-nil down to his older Thai opponent, Un Nooh. And now I’m watching two of snookers least charismatic players slugging it out at nine frames all.

In an interesting little article about how the BBC are wrecking TV sports coverage by changing the theme music from great originals to pale characterless modern imitations (e.g. the current snooker theme), the journo also bemoans the predominance of such ‘characterless bureaucrats’ as Graeme Dott in the modern game. Harsh!

But whilst ‘Beefy’ Bingham looks like a cabbie, and Dottie does indeed look like an accountant (in fact, he looks quite  like my accountant!), they both prove themselves to have some character after all, in a match which first sees Bingham go eight-one ahead, then nine-four. And finally, after Dott takes five frames in a row, they’re at nine all.

Bingham eventually won. Just. For two rather colourless players, this was a surprisingly exciting game.

Cahill Ousts Ronnie!

I was unable to follow this match closely, as I was working on teaching admin at the time. But I had it playing (glitchily!) on BBC iPlayer, in the background.

I came into it with Ronnie down, five frames to Cahill’s eight. Ronnie then took three rapid frames to level, at eight all. His eighth frame was so quick I missed it altogether by merely popping downstairs momentarily!

Then, as I did my Summer Term timetabling, for one of my schools, Cahill took his ninth frame, in a game thatcsee-sawed excitingly both ways, with Ronnie looking certain to win towards the end. But Cahill stole it in the end.

And then he took his tenth and the deciding frame, potting right up to the black, after Ronnie had an unlucky red in-off whilst potting the blue. What a win! An amateur and Crucible debutant beating the World number one in the first round!

Ronnie seemed out of sorts the whole game, only occasionally showing brief flashes of brilliance. Mostly looking irritated and unfocused, making numerous odd shot selections.

Film: Elizabeth, The Golden Age, 2007

ElizabethTGA

Oh dear! I bought this for Teresa, for 50p, from a local charity shop. She likes her period dramas. And, if they’re good, so do I. This was pretty dreadful.

I could tell it was going to be duff right from the opening sequence, in which some stained glass is rendered in a very modern way, finishing in a portrait of Elizabeth I as a very easily recognisable Cate Blanchett.

Unlike the Catholic Church, who were upset by the way they’re villainised in this film – and they are a set of sallow faced pantomime devils, no mistake! – what offends me is the way that modern filmmakers seem obsessed with rendering history as soap opera.

ElizabethTGA_Raleigh
Walter Raleigh, in his Chippendales period.

Clive Owen’s Walter Raleigh is a smugly self-satisfied himbo, and Cate Blanchett’s Queenie and her coterie of giggling ladies are about as Renaissance as cellphone selfies.

The music is sub LOTR. Kind of what one might expect from scene-setting sounds in a made for TV fantasy series with delusions of grandeur.

Rhys Ifan’s villainous Robert Reston is, whilst allegedly based loosely on Robert Ballard, pure fiction. Indeed, the whole film is a ludicrous patchwork of fictions. More like a fantasy film than a historic epic.

ElizabethTGA_Queenie
More Vogue than verité.

Art critic Kenneth Clark observes that a great leap forward was made when Renaissance artists realised that they needed to depict other ages not as reflections of their own times, but as they might actually have been. We appear to have stepped backwards in time, in this respect.

Like so much modern media, it’s all about surfaces. As a Cambridge local, member of the National Trust, and someone who likes visiting beautiful old buildings, it was fun to identify numerous locations as they appeared (the River Cam and The Backs standing in for The Thames, and Ely Cathedral’s Lady Chapel all dressed up, etc.). It is visually sumptuous, but that actually becomes annoying when there’s no real substance underneath.

ElizabethTGA_PhillipII
Naughty King Phillip II of Spain.

The idea that some viewers might watch this garbage and take it for a historical account is more than mildly worrisome. It also panders to the very strong and growing tendency here in England these days to airbrush royalty, be it ancient or modern, into some chocolate box idea of ‘real’ nobility.

Not sure if I saw the earlier Elizabeth movie, by the same director. But watching this does not incline me to make sure I have. Nor would it surprise me to learn I had actually seen it. And then forgotten it completely. If it’s anything like this, forgetting I’d seen it would be a blessing.

ElizabethTGA_Armada
Naval-gazing…

I remember seeing trailers for Elizabeth, The Golden Age, at cinemas around the time it came out. I half thought I’d like to see it, in particular for the recreation of the Spanish Armada. But even that, impressive as it is on some levels, was actually a real disappointment, being ridiculous in its panto level rendering of events.

Visually lush, in most other respects it is, at best, anodyne, and at worst, mawkishly sentimental. History and substance fall prey to set dressing and fantasy. Don’t bother.

Home: Putting Up Pictures

Putting up pics
A few small acrylic studies.

Getting on for three years in our new home now, and still not put up any of our own artwork. I decided to put that right today, and put up six fairly old acrylic abstract painting ‘studies’, plus a print of a Brice Marden.

I also put up a small Samuel Palmer postcard in the lounge.

Part of the idea behind putting up my own stuff is to motivate me to start doing some new artwork. The same goes for Teresa. I’ve recently unearthed the printing press I/we bought her for her 50th, as well, with a view to getting her going on that (and, I hope, me to!).

Misc: Brexit stuff…

Teresa and I signed the ‘revoke article 50’ online petition. When we signed there were about 3.6 million signatures. It looks like it’ll exceed 6 million very soon. It’s by the far the largest number of signatories in a U.K. Parliamentary petition ever.

We, the signatories, have already received an email reply, saying the government will not revoke article 50. However, since then the Scottish parliament has voted in favour of revoking article 50. So the move to remain in the EU appears to be gaining traction even amongst some (S)MPs.

As well as signing the petition, I posted on FB encouraging everyone I know who shares similar pro-European feelings to do likewise, and I’ve also written both to my local MP, Stephen Barclay (Tory), and even Theresa May.

I doubt either will ever know I wrote to them, as I doubt either email will get past the filtering processes both undoubtedly use. So I thought I’d post my message to May here as well:

Theresa May

I have read online, in numerous places, that you have said to revoke Article 50 would be a ‘failure of Democracy’. In my opinion democracy as practised by the Conservative Party has already, and for a long time, been an abject failure.

For example, the Conservatives conducted a shameful and misleading campaign on proportional representation, a form of voting that could and should increase the real strength of democratic representation, which, like the Brexit issue, included the cynical use of a referendum.

In both instances the Conservatives were not seeking the best outcome for the people they supposedly represent, but the outcome that they themselves favoured. Properly implemented proportional representation would weaken the Conservative grip on power, and if the Conservatives really want to conserve anything at all (aside from, all too often, their own wealth) that grip on power would be it. And you’ve done a good job, occupying the position of ruling party for 75% of the time since WWII.

Mention of WWII brings me back to Brexit: one of the key reasons for almost all of the aspects of Pan-European cooperation since WWII has been to prevent the resurgence of petty nationalism, such as stoked the fires of the two World Wars. Yes, the institutions of Europe may be far from perfect. But many of us believe it is far better to work from within. If we leave the EU, we will almost certainly be precipitating further political fragmentation that may well usher in a more volatile nationalistic era in politics.

Do the Conservatives really want their international political legacy to be to return us to a pre-WWII state of affairs?

Whilst I doubt that you will see/read this, I hope that you do. And even more fervently I hope that you have the political and moral strength to admit that pandering to the anti-European factions in both your own party and the country at large was a mistake. Be strong, be courageous, be a real leader: revoke article 50.

Sebastian Palmer

What I think May really means, when she says there’s been ‘a failure of a Democracy’, is that there’s been a failure of Tory policy. The Tories opened this can of worms, but they don’t want to eat it. May now wants to worm out of her onerous responsibilities, by quitting her post when a firm steady hand is needed most.

The Tories have no fear or compunction about betraying or upsetting that part of the electorate that doesn’t agree with them. Their desire to ‘stand firm’ and not revoke Article 50 is entirely about conserving their own political following. Just as they didn’t want PR, ’cause it’d weaken their grip on power, they don’t want to alienate their hardcore anti-European followers. Screw the rest of us!

Interestingly, and tellingly/unsurprisingly, the way the Tories are handling Brexit, including their use of referenda, relates very notably to their approach to PR, by which I mean proportional representation. The 2017 general election saw a difference of approx 2% in the number of votes cast for Labour and the Conservatives. And yet, with our current system  that translated into an 8% difference in number of seats. That’s the kind of ‘democracy’ the Conservatives are so keen to, erm… Conserve!

And the will of the people? Which people? The turnout for the Brexit referendum, from a potential total of just over 46 million voters, was about 72%. And of that 72%, about 50% voted leave, and 48% voted remain. So, just as the first past the post system we currently employ can and does deliver a party into government on an approximate one-third support basis (and not even necessarily the party with the highest number of votes*), so too with Brexit. As things stood at the time of the referendum, the leave vote represented roughly one-third of the eligible electorate.


* This has cut both ways: in 1951 marginally more people voted Labour than Conservative, but the number of seats didn’t correspond, and the Tories won. In 1974 the roles were reversed, when a fractionally higher Tory turnout returned a Labour government!

Misc: Revoke Article 50 petition.

Right, first off, a  link to the petition so you can find it and sign it quicker than I did. Every piece I read online about it appears to omit this.

Teresa and I signed it this evening. The number of signatures when we signed stood at about 3.6 million. I’m encouraging everyone I know to sign it. Ok, so Europe and her institutions are far from perfect. But better to work from within, than outside.