Posts Tagged ‘music’

Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding for the BBC

7 November 2013

docks

A short-form Smashed Hits piece for the BBC News Magazine about Shipbuilding, pegged to the closure of the Portsmouth shipyards.

It would have sounded very different if Costello had written the song for himself – or written the music. Shipbuilding was originally a piano piece written by Madness’s producer Clive Langer for a gentler performer, Robert Wyatt. Langer bumped into Costello at a party and suggested they go out to his car and listen to a cassette of the tune. Costello subsequently called from an Australian tour to say he had “the best lyric I’ve ever written”. Wyatt’s song was made – and in 1983 Costello recorded it himself.

No room, sadly, for Chet Baker playing at London supper-and-jazz club The Canteen, approached by Costello and offering to play on EC’s version for scale. “I think we probably doubled it,” remembered Costello.

Party Conference Music: Primal Scream or Dandy Warhols?

5 October 2011

Staithes rocks

A rapid-response piece for the Guardian about Primal Scream’s outrage over being played at Conservative party conference:

“But whoever initially misidentified the music must have a tin ear. Bohemian Like You sounds like a Rolling Stones megamix with an emphasis on One Hit (To The Body) off Dirty Work, while Rocks sounds like a Stones megamix with an emphasis on Little T&A off Tattoo You.”

I am also compiling a Big List of all music played at all party conferences, politicians’ Desert Island Discs, etc. This will help.

The Clash’s London Calling for the BBC and NPR

28 July 2011

London punks

As the countdown to the 2012 Olympics kicks off with an unlikely theme song, I look London Calling and its zombies and heroin for the BBC.

“The Clash were supporters of pirate radio and considered launching their own station; this love song to the wireless signal recounts what, in punk terms, is up-to-the-minute and truthful news. But it isn’t saying ‘come and enjoy the canoe slalom’.”

Major hoorays to Marcus Gray’s Route 19 Revisited for the key fact that London Calling was originally inspired by Joe Strummer’s dislike of sports fans visiting London, as he explained to Kosmo Vinyl (Clash On Broadway box set booklet, 1991). Awkward [Update [1 Aug]: Praise be! Route 19 is imminently in paperback. There is nothing more interesting to say about 1979; I know – I tried! Buy it – it is The One.]

Sadly there was no space to mention Clash fan of Indian origin Harraj Mann, questioned in 2006 under the Terrorism Act after a taxi driver taking him to Heathrow airport became alarmed that he was listening to London Calling and called the police. The incident was seen as a massive overreaction, suggesting either that the song has lost its incendiary power, or that the authorities were being over-cautious – or both.

Also neglected was the way Strummer starts “doing” Tommy Steele’s Singing The Blues at the end (“I’ve never felt so much a-like…”), never better described than by Tom Ewing: “No consonant is safe with Steele around, words pool into one another in a shrugged gush of pre-meditated moodiness.”

Update [30 Jul]: Here is wireless nabob Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday yakking with me (see also NPR’s blog The Record):

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for the BBC and NPR

15 June 2011

the Alhambra in Granada

Radio 4 listeners have chosen Queen’s opera-headbanger as their favourite Desert Island piece of pop; I explain all in a feature for the BBC News Magazine, What is a Bohemian Rhapsody?:

“Freddie Mercury used a piano as the headboard of his bed. The double-jointed Mercury would awake with inspiration, reach up and back behind his head and play what he’d heard in his dreams. This was how Bohemian Rhapsody began.”

Update [22 Jun]: Here is Scott Simon of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday yakking with me about Bismillah and Scaramouche:

Just The Gist: A Twitter (and Tumblr) Music Quiz

2 June 2011

Just The Gist

Inspired by my own article about Google-proofing the pub quiz, I am resurrecting Just The Gist.

This was – and now is again – a music quiz where you guess the song title based on a precis of its narrative content. This is a “soft launch”. Later, there might be themes and prizes and that.

Inevitably, it takes place on Twitter: @justthegist.

Update 1 July: Answers, archives, video and extra at the Just The Gist tumblelog.

John Cage’s 4′ 33″

1 January 2011

I made an audio slideshow for the BBC about this year’s X Factor-botherer, 4.33. Headphones recommended, and you have to click on the link or image to get there.

oriental instrument