Archive for June, 2009

JEFF BECK

28 June 2009

[Picture of Jeff Beck playing his guitar]What a brilliant gig tonight.  Last time I saw Jeff Beck it was at the Glasgow Apollo a zillion years ago.  That gig stayed with me; it was just astounding!

Back then I used to go to a lot of gigs, particularly at the Apollo.  I had got used to the whole thing, y’know, and then I was in my seat waiting for the Jeff Beck gig to start when I noticed that there was not all the usual massive columns of loudspeakers at each side of the stage.  It was very sparse looking.  I came away utterly amazed at the clarity of Beck’s sound that night; it was true High Fidelity.  Top notch quality, and that gig has always remained for me the benchmark ever since.  Quite simply the best sounding gig I have ever been too. It was even in stereo — the engineers would pan the guitar notes right round the place, especially on “The Final Peace”.

The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall is mince in comparison.  Beck still sounded really good, but it wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as the old Apollo that night back in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

The Concert Hall has no atmosphere at all.  Honestly, anywhere else and everyone would have been up boogying and dancing in the aisles, and surrounding the front of the stage. But, not tonight; everyone sat nice and clapped at the right bits. Gawd!

There were a few surprises in the set list — although he did “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”, it was just a wee bit — it merged into “Brush with the Blues”. He also did a version of Billy Cobham’s “Stratus” (a bass riff which I heard knicked sampled a few years back for some Ibiza dance trance crap). They also did a version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, which was a crowd pleaser.

Ever since I bought Beck’sBlow by Blow” LP back in the late 1970s, I have loved Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” — that was a massive influence on my playing style at the time (I was playing a Les Paul back then).  It was simply gorgeous tonight, what a virtuoso!

I am a fan of Nitin Sawney, and have all his albums, so I know “Nadia” intimately — and, I recently happened to be searching YouTube for Sawney’s stuff when we came across Beck’s astonishing version.  Played live was fantastic.  A real worth-it moment.

Teenie-tiny-wee Tal Wilkenfeld got herself going on the cheeky bass line start to “You Never Know”.  She’s a real find — reminds me of my Ruthie when she plays — same daft facial expressions and surprising licks. She was really solid on “Stratus” and “The Pump” and “Big Block” — those tracks are murder for a rhythm section, and far from being showy, just robotic power riffs… and bespectacled Vinnie Colaiuta was pretty amazing on these tracks in particular too — a big fat full drum sound. The rhythm section was tight and very solid (much needed for Beck’s style), and that included the supporting figure in the shadows, Jason Rebello.

Tal and Vinnie did solo spots, and they were “nice”.

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I was disappointed to be honest, because I wanted Tal to blow my socks off, but then it was Glasgow Concert Hall, and everyone was just sitting there like plums.

The night was about Jeff Beck.  He’s the man. At one point he joined Tal, and together they played her bass at the same time, he played at the nut and she played up the neck!  A 4-hander, that was the fun (and show-offy) bit.

They also did “Blue Wind” and the reggae-ish “Behind The Veil”, and I was again reminded that in the old days and places, there would have been dancing!

They did a couple of encores, and I queued at the toilet, exchanging banter with loads burstin’ middle-aged rockers before heading home to check out Tal’s website and listen to all the stuff he didn’t do.

Now, Beck played a Les Paul on “Blow by Blow” in 1975 and switched to a Stratocaster for the next album, “Wired“.  It’s the tremolo that makes the difference.  He’s played a Strat ever since — a nice white one. He gargles the tremolo, plays without a plectrum (he uses his thumbnail), fades using the pot (rather than a pedal), and really, really, takes risks.

For example, on “Blow by Blow”, years ago, he played a note, then pitched it up, bending the string — but in stages, precise intervals up and down on one pluck, note clear and pitch perfect.

Tonight, he did that, and a tremolo version of it, whereby he would strike the note, and play a melody using the lever of the whammy bar alone — again, precise intervals, small movements of the trem arm down and up – genius and virtuosity, and huge balls to take the chance.

He also did weird things with the glass slide — playing right up at the bridge (where a couple of millimetres is a big margin of error).  Honestly, from slides, pull-offs, tapping, fake harmonics, fake-harmonic-tremolo-pitched and heaven-knows what-else, Beck showed that the guitar is a part of him, that it grows out of him, that he communicates with it — it’s his voice. Angel (Footsteps) was mind-blowing, seriously:

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There’s no shredding or lead solos, but there’s no chord work, riffs or seriously fancy effects.  And he isn’t playing like a Spanish, classical or Jazz guitarist, either.  It’s just odd — he’s just Jeff Beck — a genre of his own, I guess.

Apparently he was ranked the 14th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. That doesn’t show what a massive influence on guitarists over the years, Jimmy Page was his bass player at one time, and when he left the Yardbirds, Eric Clapton took over — and when Eric left, that’s when Page took up the guitar!  They all had to learn Beck’s parts.

“Blow by Blow” and “Wired” created a new genre for the electric guitar, a sort of blues-jazz thing that was sort of rock — a genre for Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, Steve Khan and loads more to develop.  I really do think Beck is underrated and that he deserves Hall of Fame, knighthoods and everything else.

Oh, and a big happy birthday to ya, Mr. Beck — 65 a few days ago!

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PATRICK NAGEL

10 June 2009

[Nagel Picture]It is marvellous when you can confidently spot a style in art, when you can say something is impressionist, mannerist, cubist, Dada and so forth.

It is even more splendid when you can confidently spot the work of an artist, the signature style, that which makes whatever this artist has produced so tied to the artist’s name.

Patrick Nagel is such an artist; you can spot a Nagel from miles away!

Nagel Picture]He is so specific, so Nagel. Like so many others before him, Nagel seemed to me to be influenced by Japanese prints created by woodblock carvings.  But what defined his personal style was, I think, blending this with an Art Deco feel to create something unique and new.

[Picture of a geisha face]The result is a very stylistic image, usually of a young woman, a bit like an over-exposed or bleached out photograph, in an Art Deco graphic setting, with the result somehow a modern Japanese white-painted geisha.

[Picture of Duran Duran's Rio by Nagel]I came to Nagel, like so many others, through his work for Playboy Magazine in the early 1980s.  I remember being so excited when I first saw someone carrying a copy of the Rio LP by Duran Duran because the cover art was clearly done by Patrick Nagel. There was no mistaking the stray black hairs, the graphic lines, that limited and strange set of colours that launched a million 1980’s bedspreads.

[Nagel Picture]At that time, just before his death in 1984, Nagel was everywhere — his style was relentlessly copied for beauty salon posters, manicurist and hair dresser sales material, so he certainly would have been a great influence on the art and culture of the New Romantics and other post-punk, 1980s social groups. I know a lot of guys who had to produce stuff like this for a living.  Nagel was the primary artist of that period; he summed up that sassy Lady Di and leotard era.

His heavily stylised female forms were somehow very feminine, perhaps because they were vague and idealised.  I admire Nagel for having his own instantly recognisable style, but — at the same time — this means that something can be too Nagelish, and therefore his style can actually be something to avoid. In this respect he is similar to Jimi Hendrix or Charles Rennie Macintosh.

[Nagel Picture for grunewald art school] [Nagel Picture]

Anyway, whenever I see one of Nagel’s girls, I am immediately transported back to those fertile and creative years, oh, so long ago now…

[Nagel Picture]

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CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

2 June 2009

At university, I studied what-was-called “The Enlightenment”, and was taught about the Enlightenment values of Secularism, Humanism and Reason.  Of course, there was a “Politically Correct backlash” against the term “Enlightenment” which was as amusing as it was ironic.

Anyway, having an interest in such things brought me to the marvellous Christopher Hitchens — who has described himself as a believer in those “Enlightenment” values.

For many years now I have refused to buy a newspaper, so I have missed his columns, but I have always enjoyed anything of him that comes my way.  It is a breath of fresh air in a world of fake plastic celebrity, dumbing down and soundbite politics to hear a personal view, properly structured and thought-through.

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Christopher Hitchens wrote: “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything“, and I love that! He really doesn’t mince his words, does he?

  • He is anti-religion — all religions.

Perhaps he agrees with me that much of it is now of more cultural importance than anything else, I read somewhere that he thinks all educated people should have a knowledge of the Bible.

Knowing about the Bible is a precursor for making sense of what we are, what we have and how we got here, but then again, I am not restricting this argument to just the Bible — I would also have to include Greek mythology and a few other things.

Anyway, I came across some classic Hitchens on YouTube, tonight, and just had to share the love!

This one is called “Why Women Still Aren’t Funny”. Superb!

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This is his response to a response from Sarah Silverman and others to his article of that title.

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