Saturday, August 27, 2011

Layer 480 . . . Summer Was Cancelled, The Arab Spring, Libya, A People's Army, Comedy, Music, Intelligence, Musical Genres

The rain lashes down; there are shouts and squeals from the children who are out playing peacefully in a nearby garden. Barely ten minutes ago I was contemplating sitting outside to read the newspaper. Then the rain hammered down in a sudden, heavy discharge - out of the blue, you could say. This is the way it's gone this summer, and with my son's birthday and the late Bank Holiday looming up I suddenly realise summer is over - before it ever started.

We had a perfect winter followed by three months of perfect Spring followed by three months of absolutely crap so-called summer. Can we now assume we're about to have a perfect autumn?


This has been the year of the 'Arab Spring'. Revolutions have rolled back and forth across most of North Africa. Tripoli is for the most part now in the hands of the revolutionaries (the so-called 'rebels') - Libya currently has no government, and Gaddhafi has gone into hiding. It seems like only a matter of time before the mad colonel is captured and a new government is formed.

The revolutionary army in Libya has been something to behold - guerillas in everyday clothing moving fast in improvised vehicles - cheap pickup trucks cheaply converted into carriers of heavy weapons - powerful multi-barrel anti-aircraft guns used to devastating effect on regular army tanks, artillery and fortified positions. There's no way the regime and its regular forces could have anticipated being up against such an effective armed uprising.

The Tunisian and Egyptian non-violent revolutions must remain the models for all future uprisings of citizens against despots and their corrupt regimes, but the events in Libya must surely give food for thought to any current despots who think they can put down legitimate demands for change through the use of armed force.

Of course NATO air power made a huge difference to the speed with which the revolutionaries in Libya were able to move, but there are those who claim that the revolution would have taken place and would have been successful in Libya without the support of NATO, sooner or later.

It'll be interesting to see what level of support the citizens of other countries - such as Yemen and Syria - get from the Libyan revolutionaries - if and when it's required. Once the people of Libya have control over their own financial resources and oil revenues it'll be interesting to see how they use those billions - for their own benefit and also for the benefit of their Arab brothers and sisters.


"Most good comics are obsessed with music." So said Mark Steele on Chain Reaction (Radio 4) this week. Interesting observation. Good comics (and humourists, such as Ian Hislop) are highly intelligent, witty people. But why should intelligence correlate with a love of music? This brings to mind a previous blog about Einstein and his obsession with music, which he played as a means of expression for emotional and spiritual release.

Oxzen has also previously noted that most of the desperately dull, self-obsessed celebrities who wander on to Desert Island Discs clearly care nothing at all for music, and have no musical taste.

Personal observation also tells me that the people I enjoy spending time with all have good or great collections of music, and they need to listen to (and sometimes play) music every day of their lives.

At the top of the pyramid of self-actualised people are lovers of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, John Lee Hooker and BB King. You don't get to be seventy years of age and still play massive concerts that sell out all over the world and also achieve critical acclaim unless you have some special quality and something important to communicate. Intelligent lovers of good music recognise this, and respond to it.

Of course the likes of Cliff Richard are also still performing and making records - but that's another story.

Have a look at the previous programme featuring John Cooper Clarke here -


Michaelangelo Matos is a name to conjure with. Mr Matos this week has a whole page in the Guardian's music and film supplement to tell us about musical genres - "an exhaustive catalogue of music's phrasemakers and trendsetters". And a right load of anoraky rubbish it turns out to be. There's a fair bit of stuff in it I didn't actually know - but then again, I didn't want to know it and have already forgotten it. I've spent years avoiding musical 'trends'.

There's also stuff in the article that's just plain wrong. The only interest was in finding out that, according to Matos, Rhythm & Blues "came to be" in 1947 "when Jerry Wexler began using it to denote the kind of postwar black pop that he went on to pioneer with Atlantic Records."

In the first place, the output of Atlantic was rhythm & blues and soul music - not 'black pop'. But the more important point is that rhythm & blues was being played way back before WW2 - by the likes of the sublime Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, T-Bone Walker  and Slim Gaillard.

According to Wikipedia

Although Jordan began his career in big band swing jazz in the 1930s, he became famous as one of the leading practitioners, innovators and popularizers of "jump blues", a swinging, up-tempo, dance-oriented hybrid of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie. Typically performed by smaller bands consisting of five or six players, jump music featured shouted, highly syncopated vocals and earthy, comedic lyrics on contemporary urban themes. It strongly emphasized the rhythm section of piano, bass and drums; after the mid-1940s, this mix was often augmented by electric guitar. Jordan's band also pioneered the use of electric organ.
With his dynamic Tympany Five bands, Jordan mapped out the main parameters of the classic R&B, urban blues and early rock'n'roll genres with a series of hugely influential 78 rpm discs for the Decca label. These recordings presaged many of the styles of black popular music in the 1950s and 1960s, and exerted a huge influence on many leading performers in these genres. Many of his records were produced by Milt Gabler, who went on to refine and develop the qualities of Jordan's recordings in his later production work with Bill Haley, including "Rock Around The Clock".

As for T-Bone Walker, Wikipedia says

By 1942, with his second album release, Walker's new-found musical maturity and ability had advanced to the point that Rolling Stone claimed that he "shocked everyone" with his newly developed distinctive song upon the release of his first single "Mean Old World", on the Capitol Records label. Much of his output was recorded from 1946–1948 on Black & White Records, including his most famous song, 1947's "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)".

On the origins of rock n roll Matos says this -

Radio plays a big role in the history of the term rock'n'roll itself – though it had been used in blues records dating back to 1922 (Trixie Smith's My Man Rocks Me with a Steady Roll, for example) and, as Preston Lauterbach's superb new book The Chitlin' Circuit makes clear, was basically everyday talk in postwar R&B: Roy Brown's 1947 Good Rockin' Tonight (later cut by Wynonie Harris and, on his second single, Elvis Presley); Wild Bill Moore's We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll (1947); the Dominoes' Sixty Minute Man (1950) ("I'll rock 'em, roll 'em all night long").

The late 1940's may have seen the birth of electric rock n roll, delivered by Gibsons and Fenders, but it had a very long gestation period, thanks to all those brilliant pre-war jazzers and blues people.


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