Sunday, 17 April 2011


Way back, before before, there was a cadre of respectful, if not always respectable British blues players - Alexis Korner, Davy Graham, Bert Jansch, John  Renbourn, guitarists all, and cool jazzheads like Chris Barber & Ottilie Patterson, trad jazz men, like Lonnie Donegan, scuffling around for a gig, a record.  All these people saw themselves as ambassadors of the Blues, some of them setting up UK tours by Uncle Sam's  finest sub-humans, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Howlin' Wolf,  Muddy Waters, and  Sonny Boy Williamson.  Many of the great US bluesmen were dead - Blind Willie McTell, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Joe Williams and of course Robert Johnson, and could only be heard on scratchy acetates;  it's true, nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell. Or Jimmy Reed or Little Walter or Elmore James;

  there were legions of country and urban bluesmen, and some women, picking and sliding and slashing magically at cheap guitars, thumping rolling twelve-bars from out of tune pianos, rasping bent notes out of tiny mouth harps, summonsing the mojo of the grateful dead, their slave parents, passed over to Beulah Land, no more auction block for them, no more masters' whips. Heavy shit.

These people were just poor nigger trash, busted flush sharecroppers, no 'count cottonpickers;  the great,  the divine  Mississippi John Hurt,  the most fluid, enchanting and original of country fingerpickers, was recorded in the 'twenties and then consigned back to  the Delta's poverty stricken, racist  oblivion, before being rediscovered  in the 'sixties, by white college boys  like John  Sebastian and Country Joe McDonald, who plagiarised his double-timed Corrina, Corrina, his Candy Man, his Make Me A Pallet Down On Your Floor;

  Nearer My God To Thee, he sang, on his handful of Vanguard albums, and so it was - those who've suffered the most have to be better connected than those who are most content.  But those early British players, anyway, intuited the grace and the power of the Blues, electric or acoustic,  and proselytized it, as best they could, an  act of devotion, almost.

Those  early, Mississippi Delta  blues were tunes shipped across the Atlantic in  slavers, played originally on fife and drum, gourds and bamboo, songs originally to other gods and then adapted to a new misery, a new, endless,  manacled sorrow, relieved only by the slave masters'  foreign God - Jesus, gonna make up my dying bed;  Meet me, Jesus, meet me, meet me in the middle of the air.  And with the partial passing -  the sanitisation -  of slavery came songs of grinding poverty and cruel, smirking AnafuckingBaptist segregation - Me and a man was workin' side by side, it didn't make no sense, They was payin' him a dollar an hour, they was payin' me fifty cents, they said,  If yous White, yous alright, If yous Brown, stick around, but if yous black, Oh, brother, get back, get back get back.  Leadbelly and Broonzy sang of a different reality to that of formal slavery,  but it was no less shameful.  As the  white twentieth century lurched between recession and world wars, the nigger music became a little more risque, If you don't want my peaches, honey, don't ya shake my tree;  I am the little red rooster, too lazy to crow for day;  Good mornin' little schoolgirl, can I come home with you;  but lamentatious or salacious,  the cultural nigger  product of Uncle Sam's great experiment with freedom was powerful Juju; while Robert Johnson was down at the crossroads, dealin' with the Devil,  in England we had George Formby, leanin' on a lamp post, at the corner of the street, in case a certain little lady comes by.  No wonder that 'forties and 'fifties musos gazed longingly across the great divide. No wonder that Donegan, a largely tuneless, nasal  excuse for a singer created  a bastard singalongablues and called it skiffle, singing US prison songs, railroad songs, in a high , white whine to a crude, amateur accompaniment of guitar, washboard and one-string, tea-chest bass;  such was the dire state of UK popular music that Donegan was a runaway success, happy, eventually to abandon  his Limey blues interpretations for novelty recordings about chewing gum and dustbins, no, as we never tire of saying here, no  business like show business.

But then came the insufferable John Mayall, Britain's self-styled professor of the blues and in his wake, under his tutelage,  a whole slew of grasping wannabes, like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, posturing, absurdly, their heart-on-sleeve identification with the music of the slaves,  their like, total, man, immersion in the culture of, like, blackness, man. Just gotta get my shit together. Arseholes.

There were thousands of them, tens of thousands,  into the blues, man, really into it,  paid their dues, they had, not exactly on the road gang, or in the county farm or down on that killin' floor but in the wardrobe  mirror, in their Surbiton or Stourbridge bedrooms.  It was the biggest,   most maladroit cultural misappropriation of the twentieth century, as though the Welsh had claimed bullfighting as their own; Eric Clapton's facially contorted,  tedious stringbending seen by gullible teenagers as divine, bendingness is next to Godliness. And there was the rot - hairy,  white middle class boys, bearing the new WhiteMan's Burden, stealing the BlackMan's Blues, and selling it back to him, all in the best possible taste.

I read a few years back that Eric was feeling  really down, his new Ferrari was six months overdue, what a bummer, woke up this mornin', my sportscar still hadn't done arrive;  still, he was able to advertise those gaudy Rolex watches, or timepieces, in Time magazine, musta eased his troublin' mind no end, that.

And at the end of the 'sixties so-called Blues Boom, from the squabbling ruins of Page's awful, pretentious  Yardbirds came the clunking, sybaritic behemoth that was Led Zeppelin, managed by the loathsome bullyboy and racketeer manque, Peter Grant,

 a twenty-stone fuckpig and dyed in the wool moron who would nevertheless  guide Zeppelin to Devil-worship, to orgiastic, underage rough sex, to fatal drug overdose and to fortunes almost beyond the dreams of avarice.

I never went for that androgyne stuff, so popular back then, David Bowie and  Lou Reed were at the head of it, so to speak,

I thought it was unwholesome, nothing to do with me, gender benders,  can't stand them, one thing or the other, anything else endangers the spacecraft, nothing to do with rock and roll, nothing to do with music, even, dragging-up and queening all over the shop. Buddy Holly never did shit like that, that'll be the fucking day   and maybe Phil Spector did wind-up shooting folks and taking our childhoods to jail with him but he never dressed up  as  a  woman.  The great Little Richard is as bent as  a nine-bob note - or a forty five pence piece - but you wouldn't ever catch him faking fellatio on his guitarist.  Bowie hanging out in Berlin, acting as if he was Isherwood on amphetamine, he and his mental Mrs,  banging the same poxed-up rentboy,  what a load of old shite, pretentious art school wanker. And while I could understand young women  being turned-on by  Led Zeppelin's vulgar, bombastic,  ostentatious and meaningless cock-rock, I could never figure out why so many young men in greatcoats had a hard-on for Robert Plant.  Although, on the strength of last night's evening with Plant, on BBC 4, the biggest hard-on in town is the one he has for himself.

Mark Radcliffe is a stupid as deejays can get, not as universally, unequivocally fawning as Paul Mr Pretentious Gambuccini, for instance, but certainly as mindless as Tony Blackburn in his prime, as insincere and jumped-up as Simon Bates, Radcliffe is an affront to anyone interested in music, rather than in "the industry."  I heard him once before and only once,  he was interviewing the great John  Prine, on Radio Two.  Prine,  the gentle songster,  has more talent in his little finger than Radcliffe has in his entire charmless, epsilon body, save that of patronising  a quiet, unassuming artist of great stature, a typical BBC celebrity wanker, is Radcliffe, and he was obviously thrilled to be interviewing the great rock god and cock-waving numbskull, Robert Plant,  about his lemon-squeezing life and career.

Even by the abysmal, pathological standards of showbusiness, Plant emerged as  almost uniquely self-obsessed, seeing himself as, I dunno, rock catalyst, Svengali, mover and shaker  but mainly as just, well, great,  his greatness being the vocal icing on the dodgy battenberg of Page and Jones and Bonham, his co-Zeppers,  them all being great together,  their greatness, collectively and independently, greatness, like Handel or Beethoven, really, truly great. Almost, like the cunt, Clegg, third-personing himself, Robert was all, There I was,  doing this, with so-snd-so, it was incredible. I was incredible. I was a new incredible thing, a new greatness.

I wouldn't have gone to see them if they were playing in my back garden,

but I heard a few of the albums, back then, histrionic rubbish, noisy, vulgar and flashy, twin-neck Gibsons, guitars  played with 'cello bows,

wow, man,  and drug-crazed, interminable drum solos where a couple of bars would have done,  and Planty, bare-chested, shrieking and howling, a cucumber down his kecks, a study in pointless homoerotic excess.

His Zeppelin drummer, wotsisname, Bonham,  had been his mentor, had got him the gig and so, when the stupid fuck had drugged himself to death,  he and Pagey and the other clown just couldn't, you know, couldn't....

And so Stourbridge's greatest son has  proudly gone his own, irrelevant way, forming  bands and closing them down, disappointing legions of poor Zeppheads, all bleating for a reunion between Plant and the ridiculous Page and the other one.  Doctor Bob Dylan has been unable for forty of his fifty career years, to  carry a tune and is the sort of out of tune, out of time, wrong key  player who, if he wasn't who he is, nobody in their right mind would want in their ensemble, not even if he was playing outside in the carpark and yet he is never short of sidemen and women.  Plant's career highlight has been howling lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely lonely with all the finesse of that other great entertainer, Tom can you  lower your voice to a shriek, you fucking moron, Jones. And he, too, seems able to at least brush shoulders with people whom you wouldn't suspect of giving him houseroom, much less of sharing a stage or a studio with him. He has had several bands of often competent and original players but none have lasted. He's tried the African connection, too, both with Page and without him, but to no effect; greater talents, proper musicians, rather than cock-waving shriekers, people like Maestro Ry Cooder and the ever accomplished and tasteful Paul Simon have made fabulous albums with local musicians, Cooder with Mali's Ali Farka Touree and Simon with loads of them,  South Africans, notably Ladysmith Black Mombasa;  Nick Drake went to Morocco and came back with a feast of new tunings, novel arrangements  and an album still highly regarded;
Plant's adventures have resulted in video clips of him waving his hair around rythmically, man, and of a Moroccan  ensemble busking along, for the cameras, bemusedly,  with Whole Lotta Love.  It's a sign of his greatness, perhaps. 

Plant's latest project, however, his new Band of Joy, is to recruit a load of grizzly,  boringly competent, sixty-year old players, like himself, and crunch out a few limp covers;  their concert, of the album, screened last night, at the Roundhouse, featured songs by Richard Thompson, Townes van Zandt, fragments of early  Bob Dylan  interpretations and a typically shamefully unacknowledged version of an Incredible String Band arrangement of I Bid You Goodnight. We finally found  the perfect song to close the show, he smirked, never mentioning that the IBS, often an inspiration to the creative desert which was Led Zeppelin, had arranged that piece to close their own concerts, way back in the nineteen sixties.  Man's a cunt.

As well as the white-haired old guys in woolly hats, with banks of expensive instruments, there's a desolate looking bint, too, upstaged by Percy, Patty Griffin, a harmonising country singer and songwriter, Jesus, how many are there, but in the perfectly predictable solo breaks, where she should properly be doing a bit of coloured girl bump and grind, Planty himself is, after a fashion, dancing vainly around the stage, flexing his OAP arse, but mainly standing, rocking cross-legged, in his cowboy boots, like some gross  chanteuse naive ancien, his snuffler's beard not quite hiding the jowls, the turkey neck, Christ, he's revolting. Nothing wrong with being old, it's just his being old and acting young. Never mind rock god, more like a nightmare Kylie Minogue. The industry, of course,  loves it and will probably "award" the album a score of Grammies, just like it did with  Raising Sand, the truly great,  handclapping  extravaganza he recorded with  the great Allison Kraus and  the great T-Bone Burnett. Just all great people, great musicians, doing greatness together. If you saw a bunch of old geezers doing this down the pub, you'd say, well,  fair play to them, it's not half bad.  But as full-price, new music it's shit, really it is.

The long hair, why do you keep it, enquires Radcliffe,  fearlessly, towards the end of this orgy of Plant worship and self-worship. Ah, well, we old hippies made some really nice and profound changes to the world., and so we keep the hair to remind us.  Right, Robert, changes, groupies, smashing up hotels and bad example, fatal drug use.

Finally, listing all the incredible and great musical directions he's hollowed, I mean followed,  since he first heard the blues, listing all his personal greatnesses, Mr Plant, wriggling in delight at himself,  enquires,  of the air, How many Mes can there be? One's enough, Robert, plenty, perhaps even one too many.

The choir, the new Stratocaster, everybody's doin' it,
Ray Davies, Mumfords, Manic Street Preachers,
Even this silly old fart.


mongoose said...

Dear God! The Seventies, eh? Def Leppard at the Quay Club, nancy boy jackets with lapels wider than your shoulders, I had a Dr Who knitted scarf... Oughta have been a law.

Dick the prick said...

Astonishing how much money they made - straight into the back pocket, thank you very much.

call me ishmael said...

It was the widespread deification of mediocrity, the burden iof my song, still, some fell on stony ground.