MEDiA: Waterwalker, 1984

Wow! I do love YouTube, for giving us all the chance to stumble across gems such as this. Thanks also to the NFB, or National Film Board of Canada.

Bill Mason, who made this film, and ‘stars’ in it, is Canadian. I have Canadian family and ancestry, on my dad’s side. So these facts set up something of a sympathetic resonance for me.

Then there’s Bill Mason himself, the man: he is, or rather was, an outdoorsman and artist, who made, I’ve subsequently discovered, numerous utterly gorgeous and fascinating films, of which this is one of the best.

The chief charms of this are simple yet kaleidoscopically rich, like the environment in which the film is set, on and around Lake Superior.

One of the things Bill addresses, a vexed issue for me, is spirituality. This was the only note struck in this otherwise perfect reverie of sound and vision, nature and culture, that – if not necessarily jarring – gave me pause for some (Indian!?) reservations.

But I’d like to take this post as an opportunity to consider a few things, and there are many, that this film either touches upon directly, or stirred in me by association.

First there are the ‘renaissance man’ and self-reliance aspects. Bill, who formerly worked as a ‘commercial artist’, was a conservationist, famed canoeist, artist, writer, family man, and all sorts. I love all of that! I have my own aspirations to living a multi-faceted life. Richer, one hopes -not fiscally perhaps, but in other better more important ways – than the monomaniac furrows our society drills us into pursuing.

So, there are many things Bill’s example encourages: to spend more time in, and pay more attention to, nature, and indeed all our environments. Art, get up, and out, and make some. Buy or build a canoe; get out and start messing about in the water!

It was also interesting to learn that Bill’s health wasn’t terrific. A sickly child, he has severe asthma all his life. And yet he didn’t allow this to stop him from adventuring. Maybe his derring-do contributed to his early demise? But then again, maybe not? And at least he lived a rich and inspiring life while he lived.

Some might laugh reading this next bit. And it may indeed sound facile. But I truly couldn’t care less! And that’s the fact that I like his style. And I’ve gone as far as to add elements of it – some were already there, others just a little tweak in already beloved themes – to my own sartorial repertoire.

I already had the neckerchiefs (though mine are too small!), and brown leather walking boots, and many a checked shirt. But the red outdoorsman socks are new! And so too is the very particular red and black check ‘lumberjack’ shirt!

Bill’s particular style of art – he favours palette knives over brushes, and cites J. M. W. Turner as his chief inspiration and influence – is terrific, albeit not entirely to my normal tastes. But that he does it all, is inspiration. It was interesting to see that he, like myself and several artists I’ve known personally, is highly self-critical bout his work, and often destroys what others. Might regard as decent work, because he’s unhappy with it.

Then there’s music. In other Mason films he strums guitar or plays harmonica. It amazingly, one might add. And his family aren’t exactly fulsome in their appreciation (does this remind any of us of our own domestic musical life? Or is it just me!?). But for Waterwalker, the music is supplied by (?) and (?). (?) is a star in his own right. And the music totally suits the subject!

Some of it, such as the actual ‘theme tune’, might induce cringing amongst some listeners. I’d understand why. It has a ‘new agey’ earnestness. But I love it.

Another facet of the whole thing that some might find they react to differently than I do, is the whole tenor of it all. It’s definitely dreamy, romantic, and perhaps even somewhat solipsistic? And it’s no surprise such movies helped created a cult of Bill Mason. But as a ‘fellow traveller’, and sympathetic romantic introvert soul-mate, I love it all. As did critics, numerous of his films, inc’ this one, winning a variety of awards and accolades.

Also interesting to me, is how stuff like this leaches into other areas. For example, I noticed, whilst watching a recent Jack Stratton ‘Holy Trinity’ episode, on YouTube, that he had created a logo and a whole invented Vulf Films thing suspiciously akin to the Canadian NFB (National Film Board) doodad.

Just as Bill Mason’s film is simultaneously about following one’s own individual and sometimes lonely paths, it’s also about connections. Be they to nature, or each other, immediate or indirect. Love it!

MUSiC: Abandoned Luncheonette, Hall & Oates, 1973

Isn’t it funny how things pan out in life?

Many moons ago, we – dad and my sister and I (and Claire) – travelled to Canada, my grandfather’s home nation, and stayed with my dad’s brother, Nick, and his family.

Whilst we were there, we visited Toronto, and my sister and I bought a bunch of music at Sam Sam’s. I believe my sister bought this album, on vinyl, all those years ago.

I’ve always quite liked the few Hall and Oates tracks I knew, even if only vaguely. She’s Gone, Rich Girl, and maybe one or two others. I’d never paid them much mind, though, to be honest.

And now, donkey’s years later, I decide to buy this on CD, only to discover I absolutely love it! In the last few days I’ve been listening to it repeatedly. And it remains fresh and invigorating and beautiful on every spin.

There is not one duff track on it. And there are quite a few that are pretty doggone sublime. She’s Gone is the obvious diamond, but the title track is wonderfully evocative. And the three that lead up to She’s Gone are all top notch.

It a kicks off with the very winning When The Morning Comes, slipping into the very tender Had I known You Better Then. Track three, Las Vegas Turnaround, is the second most familiar, and a real corker.

As I say there’s nothing here but excellence. I’m Just A Kid is fab, and Lady Rain also. Laughing Boy finds Daryl Hall alone at the piano, save for the superb Arif Marden arrangements and the flugelhorn of Marvin Stamm.

And the disc ends with the rather epic Everytime I Look At You, which morphs from funky soul, to epic ballad rock, and finally gets a bit country! What a stunning album.

MUSiC: Moonshake, CAN

On the four track Future Days, embedded amongst three giant sprawling liquid psychedelic sound sculptures, is this little gem, CAN’s only real ‘hit single’.

As usual, Jaki Leibezeit grooves like a mother. How any drummer can make such a simple part so difficult to emulate is astonishing. It’s all in the feel. Truly awesome.

CAN’s fourth album, a complete meisterwerk!

Holger Czukay shows that less really CAN be more, and Michael Karoli supplies one of his best rhythm guitar parts; melodic, funky, and fairly unique in the CAN canon. Irvin Schmidt’s keys pepper the piece with perfect piquancy, and there’s a solo – a music concrete solo, no less – that is an absolute masterpiece.

And this track got them on ze German hit parade! Crazy times, eh!? Can you imagine this charting anywhere in the world now? Only in the private top-tens of the cognoscenti!

MUSiC: Lucky, Lewis Taylor (Acoustic)

The recent news from Lewis Taylor Central, via FaceBook and YouTube and his own (rather minimal) website, of a new album due out in 2022, has got me revisiting LT’s reasonably extensive back catalogue.

And in amongst that very varied body of work, this stands out, for numerous reasons. Firstly it’s a track from his self-titled debut album (released in ‘96!). But here it’s a much more stripped down take (which, going by the accompanying artwork, came out as part of the 2004 Limited Edition release).

I don’t know that I might not prefer this version? The album recording is brilliant. But somehow this more minimal version reveals quite starkly how strong a song it is. It also sounds more vulnerable, less cocky and swaggering, than the fuller rendition (these latter effects were also amplified by the videos made for the song at the time).

Okay, the artwork thumbnail for this (and some other LT recordings) is pretty dreadful, not at all suggestive of the musical brilliance it represents. Is or was LT doing all his own art works and videos as well? Or was or is someone helping out? Some of the recent videos are superb. A great example being his reworking of the Bee Gees Night Fever.

Anyway, I’m super excited at the prospect of a whole album’s worth of new Lewis Taylor to feast upon. I think I’ll do a separate post on that, and the teaser video he’s put up that contains various snippets of some of the new material.

My only slight reservation – not with this version of Lucky, as the following doesn’t apply – is one I’ve had with his music all along, and in particular his ‘one man band’ stuff – massively impressive as it is – and that is (perhaps unsurprisingly, me being a drummer) the programmed beats.

Didn’t he have Gavin Harrison, Frank Tontoh and Ash Soan, amongst others, contribute rhythms at various times? Do the fans need to run a Patreon campaign to fundraise the budget for real drums and percussion on future recordings? … Just a thought!

But for now, re this post, and this version of Lucky, just sit back, put some headphones on, and luxuriate in the rich sonic repast LT serves up. Stunning!

MUSiC: Silk Sonic, 2021

Well, modern pop music, eh!? Anyone who knows me will know I’m not usually a fan.

I was quite worried that this new album from Mars and Paak would just be derivative, a pastiche as much as an homage. And in some respects it might be argued that it is.

But I think it’s also clear that these two cats do really and genuinely love the music of yesteryear that this whole Silk Sonic bouillabaisse is marinaded in.

In our now long-term postmodern magpie culture – mind, the new has always leaned on or borrowed from predecessors – collaging the old to make the new is, um… nothing new. I guess it’s how that’s done that might make some kind of difference.

On An Evening With Silk Sonic, to use the full title, it’s done with loving care and even, perhaps, reverence. Having Bootsy Collins on board as ‘narrator’ is a clear gesture of respect to the ‘old guard’.

It’s interesting to contrast how, in different expressions of reverence and respect, hip hoppers would sample and name check their influences, Vulfpeck actually work with the old guy’s – they’ve collaborated with Bernard Purdie, James Gadson, David T Walker, and so on – and Silk Sonic reference them by assimilating, very adroitly and convincingly, the styles, sounds, and feel of that whole era

One reason this gets just four stars from me, however, is to do with lyrics, and the whole lifestyle vibes that emanate from this cocktail of sounds. The sounds themselves I love. This is an expertly curated feast of vintage soul, funk and r’n’b, but benefitting from up to the minute production values.

Whereas many of the late ‘60s, ‘70s and even early ‘80s artists in the genres this mines were much more progressive and message conscious, with Mars and Paak it’s that same ol’ Gucci/Vegas* limos and champagne fantasy world, with sex, sounds and beaucoup self-love thrown in.

But I’m not going to dwell on the vapidly shallow ‘bitch got ass’ type ideas that float like big fat booty-blimps all around this project. Instead I prefer to see it as a love letter to a now bygone era, and a quite artful and sincere attempt to bring those old sounds and production values back into the mainstream of our own times. On that count this is a five star record.

The publicity campaign around Silk Sonic is very self consciously retro.

Paak’s drumming is fantastic. The sound of his kit is super crisp and dry, and either he’s robotically metronomic, or else some studio trickery is helping enhance his ‘pocket’. Whatever, as they say nowadays; I don’t actually really care. The end product, rhythmically, is pretty phenomenal. Hats off lads! (1)

Intriguingly, it sounds as if Mars gives Paak the primary vocal role; I may be wrong, but Anderson appears to take the lion’s share of lead vocal duties, as well as supplying all the drums. Mars trades some verses, and is more prominent in the lushly harmonised and often strikingly high choruses.

The music is very warm, organic and old-school sounding, with just a few wee touches of more obviously modern tech. And it’s all ’real music’, played by real musician folk, as opposed to programmed robotry. I approve!

It’s a very short album, by normal album standards. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes! And the key note is, I would say, joie de vivre. In interviews the duo have acknowledged that they deliberately didn’t address issues such as the pandemic and BLM related news, as they wanted to make a record that brought people together.

Well, for my money, they’ve succeeded. This is a terrific feel god album. If it had been a bit more lyrically mature, less Vegas, I’d have happily given it five stars. Musically it’s very satisfying. Not stunningly original, of course, as indebted as it is to classic old school soul n’ funk and suchlike. But it’s lovingly crafted. And sounds fine!

* If you visit their website, and look at where they’re playing live, it’s just Vegas, capital of the tawdriest most commercial blingy aspects of the American Dream.

NOTES:

1) Paak drums, superbly, on all but one track. And that one exception is track five, Smokin’ Out The Window, on which Homer Steinweiss, of Dap Kings fame, takes care of trap duties.

MUSiC: Scary Pockets ft. Cory Henry, Everybody Wants To Rule The World

Holy Guacamole!!! Every now and again something pops up on my YT feed that blows the cap right off my noggin. This is one such…

The Tears For Fears original of Everybody Wants To Rule The World is superb. It’s an epic song. Scary Pockets take it and turn it into a terrific funky soul jam.

Jack Conte and Ryan Lerman are – I think? – at the core of the Scary Pockets revolving door cast. Here they’re joined by (?) Salomon on bass, Louis Cato on traps, and Cory Henry on keys. And boy oh boy oh boy do they cook up a righteous bouillabaisse of groove and soul!

The energy, the joy, is palpable, oozing from the music, and dripping out of the screen like a tsunami of warm golden honey.

MEDiA: The Tourist, BBC, Pt. 1

The Pt. 1 in the title of this post refers to a two part review, not the series itself.

Hmmm! Watched one and a bit episodes of this. Not at all convinced. Why all the hype in the press/media? Jamie Dornan isn’t compelling. When I found out he’s a model turned actor it was like, ‘well, that figures’.

Structurally it ought to work. We should want to know how The Man wound up in hospital with no memory, and why there’s a guy buried alive in a barrel. But I found myself struggling to engage with any of the ‘characters’, many of whom seem paper thin.

Let’s start with Dornan’s The Man – who may or may not be the titular ‘tourist’: his reaction to a huge truck attacking him, prior to the crash and resulting amnesia, is that of a macho jerk, and not very believable. So, from the get go, I dislike him.

‘Mystery truck want fight? Le’s boogie!’ FFS!

And from then on he carries on, in sub-Western genre brooding silent tough guy mode, as an assortment of ‘other folk’ all behave as if they’ve got serious chunks of personality missing, in order to collude in the prolongation of something I wasn’t interested in to start with.

So in episode two I started scrolling through the many interminable bumbling functionary type scenes, before finally thinking, screw this.

I even read reviews suggesting this was a great comedy. Seriously? The Helen Chambers character, is she funny for constantly seeming diffidently embarrassed? Not in my world.

‘Oim handsome, yoor ugly. So jus’ feck off!’

A scene that sums it all up for me is when The Man, and what appears to be his ex, get held up on a road due, it turns out, to copulating turtles (ok, that sounds funny written down here, but believe me, on screen it isn’t). The Man reinforces his tough guy jerk persona, and my initial dislike starts turning to hatred.

One suspects that prior to the accident he was a bad man doing bad things. And perhaps that’s why his ex isn’t telling him she knows who he is? (Why was she ever with him? Why is she still hanging around him?) He’s such a cock! So I simply don’t care.

One thing I noticed on some of the comments sections of positive reviews (e.g. Guardian and Independent) was the preponderance of women digging it. The cynic in me says this must be down to them fancying JD. How depressing!

The Tourist: ‘Only Gap model’s lives are worthy of your interest.’

Not going to waste any more time on this. Rather like a male model type, this thinks it’s good looking and therefore interesting. I found it a grinding bore.

Pt. 2

Ok, so the following day, having written the above, I find myself going back to The Tourist. And, I guess, maybe I need to eat a little slice o’ the ol’ ‘umble pie?

I won’t totally disown all of the above. But, to be fair, as the saying goes, this isn’t as bad as I initially thought. I’ve gradually warmed to Elliot Stanley, and in staying with it, it finally wound me in.

So what did I get most wrong? Well, it is, occasionally, a bit funny, for starters. And I am sufficiently intrigued by it all to want to know what it’s all about. Or at least where it’s all going. On the other hand it is still an odd assemblage of a load of jumbled old clichés. And some of the characters are wafer thin.

It also partakes of the modern TV/film ‘trope’ (eugh!) of never-ending plot twists; pile ‘em high, an’ keep em’ coming. But all in all, I’ve warmed to it sufficiently to decide I will follow it to the end. All I know is it’ll be pretty dark and prob’ also a little bit funny,

Watch out if you’re a ‘Moody Richard’!

One of the things I still don’t like about such ‘black comedies’, however, from the darkly brilliant Fargo, to this lesser essay in that tradition, is the normalisation of ‘collateral damage’; many the innocent bystander is butchered, in pursuit, essentially, of couch potato consumer entertainment.

Does the normalisation of such violence feed into the same culture in which despicable lunatics like the Christchurch shooter see themselves as gunslinging ‘heroes’ in a first-person shoot ‘em up console game?

Any road, I’m revising this up from one and a half to three stars. Better than I initially thought, but a long way from classic or essential.

Pt. 3

Ok, so it’s now several days later, and after the Part 2 post, above, I’ve finally finished The Tourist. And, I have to say, I’m back to a downer on it.

I thought I’d post part three here – not that anyone knows or cares! – as opposed to doing a new post, just to keep it all in one place. Truth be told I’m expending way more time and energy on all this than the series or my interest in it merits. But, well… whatever!

So, there’s a gurt big ‘doors of perception’ segment (an idea developed quite literally), when Elliot accidentally imbibes a big dose of Kosta’s LSD-laced water.

As a one-time psychedelic psychonaut, of sorts, I find such scenes quite intriguing (and potentially unsettling!). This one was done, initially – the onset of ‘the trip’ – quite well, tailing off into something – the whole doors of perception bit, alluded to above, done almost too literally – much less psychedelic, but, I suppose, easier for viewers to digest.

I’m not quite sure what I think about this whole segment, which comes in either episode four or five (can’t quite recall!?). It’s not as weird as many a bit in Twin Peaks (not that I watched all of that!), but it is bit weird in the context of it’s own otherwise quite humdrum mode of delivery. The only other element akin to it is Kosta’s whole ‘imaginary’ or hallucinatory brother.

One of the biggest issues I wound up having with The Tourist in the end, is how little likeable humanity there is in it. Elliot Stanley both is, post bump on the head, and was, much more so pre-amnesia, a sociopathically selfish man; Luci, his ex, is a vacuous damaged opportunist thrill seeker; and the potentially nicest person, copper Helen Chambers is, in actual fact, such damaged goods, that really she’s not so nice after all.

And these are, one assumes, the folk we’re supposed to root for and take to heart. Aren’t they!? Their antagonists – Kosta, Billy Nixon and cold-hearted bent career-cop Lachlan Rogers (potentially one of the more interesting characters) are all well and truly horrid. Only the most cypher like peripheral characters might be just about alright. They usually wind up as uninteresting bit players, or else get killed.

And this brings us (partial spoiler alert) to the end. Like the litany of complaints I have about the folk populating this drama, it is, ultimately, crushingly bleak and negative. Is the emoji of a burrito Helen sends Stanley, as he expires (we assume; all the signposts indicate this) by his own hand, part of the comedic thread?

If it is, it’s obsidian dark comedy. Comedy that laughs at the futility of life. I have to confess, when this ended, having initially loathed it, then mellowed to it, I once again came to dislike it. And so, after all the above, I’m settling on two stars. Not the best investment of my time I’ve ever made.

SPORTS: Snooker – Robertson vs Williams, Masters, ‘22

Woah! I’ve been saying this a lot lately. But I love snooker. And this match was, to use the modern parlance, amaze-balls!

We got home from helping a friend in his garden earlier, and I stuck the TV on hoping for some snooker, with the Masters being on.

And boy oh boy did my wish come true!

I really like both Mark Williams and Neil Robertson. And when I came in the score was 5-2 in favour of Williams. Amazingly Robertson fought back to 5-5.

And then – as the players walked in to the decider to a standing ovation – we were served up a semi-final of acutely and epically dramatic proportions.

Safety play can sometimes be excruciating. But in this frame it was exhilarating. There was a passage of play that looked like it might get kind of stuck; as two reds and the black fit ever tighter to the top left pocket.

Williams was only one or two point off taking the deciding frame. And then this impasse developed. How on Earth were they going to get out of it? Never mind one of them finding a way to win!

If I am to be totally honest, I was, for some reason, rooting for Robertson. Was this my old allegiance to the underdog? Having witnessed him battling back to parity, to see him defeated would be a jarring prospect.

In the end it came down, I guess, to the mounting pressure of the situation, and Williams fluffed what was probably an erroneous choice of shot; aiming to screw down on the cue ball and curve around green to the object ball, yellow, instead he bounced the white onto the green.

Robertson had come to the table needing one snooker. Play had progressed such that at one point he needed two. Now, however, thanks to the penalty points and the lay of the balls resulting from Williams’ mistake, he was in a position – if he cleared up all the remaining colours – to steal the frame by just a few points.

And this he duly did.

His response to winning was extremely moving. First there was the obvious disbelief on his own part. And the relief. All the stress and pressure, which Ted handled amazingly, suddenly gone. I could feel the tension, the weight, quite palpably, lifted off his shoulders, and the rush of exhaustion that followed.

True gent’ that he is, he then apologised to Mark for winning. He needed a while to compose himself, as he readied and steadied himself for the post match interviews. The clarity of his emotions in that moment was very powerful to witness, amplified by a crowd on their feet, clapping and cheering.

Rob Walker’s interview with Robertson was ace!

Rob Walker – a terrific boon to Snooker as a fan, pundit and commentator – showed exemplary taste and restraint in how he handled this moment. He gave Robertson the time and space to come down off his cloud a little, and when he did get the interview started, it was pitched perfectly to elicit a very candid and even moving response from Neil.

Walker was spot on in observing that no one who witnessed the event – he was referring to those privileged enough to be there in person, but it was no less true for me as a viewer at home – will never forget what they’d seen.

And Robertson ‘broke the fourth wall’, so to speak, turning to face the camera and the audience watching wherever the may be, and said ‘I just want to say, to any kids watching, never give up!’ What a sublime moment. Truly sport at its exciting and inspiring best.

And then, later in the day, this heartwarming exchange:

MUSiC: New Lewis Taylor Album!!!

Wow! There’s a YouTube channel calling itself Lewis Taylor, and it looks and sounds, for all the world, like it might be genuine.

And the most exciting thing is not the archive of old videos and music that’s going up there, but the promise of new material.

I can’t recall exactly when I first heard this news. It was some time last year. Maybe around mid-2021? But now, in Jan ‘22, there’s the new video, above, with actual snippets of music.

The first LT song I ever heard.

Whoever was the very first LT song I heard, courtesy of Gilles Peterson, on one of his radio shows. And given I almost never listen to such stuff (contemporary music on the radio, that is), looking back that’s quite miraculous!

[I have to confess I find the video posted above a bit annoying – the visual style of it; too much movement/cutting (and other stuff I dislike, but I’ll not go down that rabbit hole!) – and advise listening to the track I headphones, eyes shut!]

As a result of listening to that show, and poss’ also reading glowing reviews in the magazine Straight No Chaser, I bought two albums: Leon Parker’s Belief (1996), and Lewis Taylor’s self titled debut. Both albums are good.* But the latter is truly great.

I got LT’s debut the year it came out, way back in ‘96!

As well as his YouTube channel, LT appears to have a website, which is fairly minimal, but includes links to purchase his back catalogue, and news on the latest impending release.

Given the eclecticism and range of music LT has made, it’ll be interesting to hear more fully the whole new album. Can’t wait! From the snippets in the online teaser video, it seems to follow on pretty seamlessly from the ‘core’ LT sound(s) he established with his first two or three albums.

I think I’ll save further ruminations – I could digress, esp’ on the potential for more off the beaten track style music (don’t forget he did a Trout Mask Replica homage!) – on all things Lewis Taylor for another post. For now, this is just a brief ‘halloo’ in excitement and anticipation, re the news of a forthcoming release of long and eagerly awaited new LT material.

* This post is actually a reminder to me to go back and check out Belief again!

Must go back and listen to this again!

BOOK REViEW: The Green Man, Mike Harding

I arrived at the point of collecting a few A Little Book of this, that or the other titles, all by Mike Harding, in a roundabout way.

Having adored the Cosgrove Hall animated film of The Wind In The Willows, I was seeking out other similar stuff. This lead to Cosgrove Hall’s much harder to track down The Reluctant Dragon, another Kenneth Grahame adaptation.

It transpired that Mike Harding did the music for the latter. So I wound up checking him out a bit more. And so it was I found the series of Past Times titles from which series this comes.

An alternative edition.*

I got four – on green men, gargoyles, misericords and tombs and monuments – all of which are roughly six inches by six inches square. So far I’ve only looked at this Green Man entry. It has approx 60 colour images of its subject, along with a little explanatory text for them all.

I hope they’re all as good as this one. It’s delightful. Harding speculates on their origins, meanings, etc, and the ways in which green men can be found in many traditions and places. But his main focus is on how these so very pagan images populate so many Christian sites in the UK.

A rare full-bodied green man, St Leonard’s, Linley, Shropshire.

And he also draws some more secular and even up to the minute inferences from the study of his subject; ‘the Green man … has a story to tell – if only we knew how to listen.’ Amen to that, brother Harding, Amen!

A great little gem of a book. Highly recommended.

* A better and nicer cover image and design than the edition I wound up with, which is pictured at the top of this post.