Saturday 24 October 2020

Bless The Day ... Intro/Encore!: She Moved Through The Fair


There was an intention to provide an introduction to this Bless The Day series, but somehow there is a reluctance to reveal too much just now. Why not, instead of reading a preamble, enjoy a bonus chapter?  So, let’s consider ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ as sung by Jean Hart. It is just Jean and her voice, the singer unaccompanied, and it’s enchanting, without the folk form’s familiar quiver and instead with a warm torch ballad Chris Connor-style huskiness which is incredibly appealing.

Saturday 26 September 2020

Bless The Day #13: There But For Fortune


Joan Baez singing Phil Ochs’ ‘There But For Fortune’ is an incredibly beautiful thing. It is so very moving, and Phil somehow succeeded in striking the perfect balance between writing a particularly compassionate song and being quietly angry. The gently reflective way Joan sings it, well, sometimes it seems like it was meant for her: she sounds so wise, so understanding, and the recording is so stark and haunting that its magic lasts.

‘There But For Fortune’ is how many of us first unwittingly came across Phil’s work. Once it was often on the radio, the Joan Baez recording, or at least that’s the way it seems. Certainly, at home, it was one of those songs that would be listened to intently whenever it came on: a warning finger raised and the head cocked on one side to catch the words better, and woe betide anyone who interrupted. Joni’s ‘Both Sides Now’ is another one where this would happen, and lines from that song have been pinned up on the wall here for years and years: can you guess which ones?

Saturday 29 August 2020

Bless The Day #12: Stephano's Dance


‘Stephano’s Dance’ is an absurdly sublime spiritual jazz recording. It is credited to Joe Harriott and Amancio D’Silva, but it is one of the most truly democratic performances in the best possible socialist sense: everybody involved has an opportunity to shine, and oh how they do. Opening with Dave Green’s buoyant bass, strolling in, incredibly supple, then Bryan Spring’s percussion breaks up the flow perfectly, and Norma Winstone comes in with her siren’s song, leading the melody until Joe Harriott’s sax speaks so eloquently in response, and Ian Carr’s horn eases in like a cooling breeze before Amancio D’Silva, who all the while has been playing his guitar like part of the rhythm section, engages in a dialogue with Norma, sharing with her an ecstatic solo that seems to contain all the wisdom of the ages, and yes, you really do have to dance.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Bless The Day #11: Footprints On The Moon

‘Footprints on the Moon’, a Johnny Harris recording, contains a melody, delicately picked out on the piano, that is so exquisitely poignant that it hurts like hell. There is a sort of Satie-like simplicity to it, which is incredibly effective. Bookended by flute flutters, and pitched against symphonic strings and a celestial choir, while underpinned by a softly flowing rhythm, it still has the power to command attention. The whole thing is appropriately weightless and suggests a serene state of floating.

Saturday 4 July 2020

Bless The Day #10: Irracional

Hareton Salvanini’s ‘Irracional’ is a magnificently tormented work of art which, with its swirling strings and rich crooning, gets off to a gloriously dramatic start. The strings swell and soar until, a couple of minutes in, the tempo shifts abruptly and a mad sense of release kicks in as the velocity and intensity increases, with brass blaring out, all guns blazing, crazy percussion beating away, before resignation and despair seeps back in and the singer is suffocating, choking in the grey city environment from which there seems to be no escape.

Saturday 6 June 2020

Bless The Day #9: Don't Know Why You Bother Child

Gary Farr’s ‘Don’t Know Why You Bother Child’ is one of the most seductively melancholy of recordings. Its sentiments seem cynical yet it comes on like a welcoming embrace full of unsaid things. It is magical, from the opening acoustic 12-string ringing out, with Ian Whiteman’s flute joining in delicately, followed by Roger Powell’s drums, like menacing thunder just for an instant, then Gary’s exquisite crooning sounds so wonderfully jaded as he sings about how this old world won’t change because you’re trying, over and over, at times accompanied by a divine soul choir.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Bless The Day #8: Just Walk In My Shoes

Gladys Knight singing ‘Just Walk in My Shoes’ is one of the most riveting examples of Motown artistry, with such a wonderful sense of drama, especially in the way she urges her lost love, her betrayer, to walk-ah-walk-ah-walk in her shoes, the source and origin of that trademark tic-ah of M.E.S., and there is the way Gladys wants that traitor to grieve like her, to try and wear a smile that isn’t real and to don that all too familiar cloak of loneliness.
Oh yes, she does hurt so well, so convincingly, she is such a great actress, but then she’d lived the life, and survived. Here she is the embodiment of the ¡No Pasarán! spirit, the fortitude possessed in abundance by the women who light up the pages of Caroline Moorehead’s remarkable resistance quartet. Gladys seems to say: “I suffer, so should you; you wounded me, I hope you’re hurting too”. It helps that the song accelerates so smoothly from the off, slipping straight into a powerful flowing movement, and oh those celestial harmonies, flung to the far winds so sweetly, adding to the dangerous poignancy.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Bless The Day #7: What's Wrong With Groovin'

Letta Mbulu singing ‘What’s Wrong with Groovin’’ is one of the most glorious, defiant performances in the history of pop. She challenges directly, demanding to know why she can’t be left to be free, to live her life, to sing, to dance, and why the hell should anyone try to put her down, keep her down, follow her around, spy on her, talk about her, and try to stop her having fun and being herself.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Bless The Day #6: Righteous Life

‘Righteous Life’ by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 is one of those special songs, one which is guaranteed to generate a warming inner glow, with its rolling waves of thermal bass, shimmering piano, and the drums propelling things along, while the singers seem to share deep insights, and if the words are pleasantly elusive in terms of meaning they have just the right feel of poetry, politics and spirituality to suit the most reflective of moods.

Saturday 15 February 2020

Bless The Day #5: Stop This World

A casually caustic Mose Allison singing ‘Stop This World’ is something which seems very much of the moment, what with the way he suggests someone stopping this world, and letting him off, because there’s too many pigs in the same trough, too many buzzards sitting on the fence, and none of it is making any sense. Well, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from, and how it might be applied to the world today.

The song itself is a perfect example of Mose’s lightness of touch, the way he uses his wit as a weapon, with raised eyebrows and a studied nonchalance of manner. Mose and his piano are accompanied here by bluesy horns, which add to the drama. He may be down but he’s still the master of ironic inflections and acute observations delivered in a deadpan and detached wry way, the singer of songs which sting just as much as someone ranting and raving, yelling and hollering.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Bless The Day #4: Lazy Afternoon

‘It’s A Lazy Afternoon’ as sung by Lucy Reed is quite something. Discreetly accompanied by Dick Marx on piano and Johnny Frigo on bass doing the bare minimum beautifully, her precise articulation, the exquisite enunciation, the unforced projection, everything, it’s all so subtly sensual and seductive, the mood is incredibly dreamy, so intimate, so tempting, so indolent. When Lucy suggests spending a lazy afternoon with her, only a fool would hesitate.

She really works wonders with John Latouche’s carefully chosen words, his very vivid imagery, with those beetle bugs zooming, and the tulip trees blooming, the farmer leaving his reaping, the speckled trout no longer leaping, the daisies running riot amid the quiet. You really feel as though you are there, with Lucy offering her hand, and with that look in her eye. There’s absolutely no need to answer is there?