Thursday, August 14, 2014

knowing your arts from your elbow

Having roundly mocked the Desert Island Discs choices of both Hilary Devey (in a post mostly dedicated to Margaret Thatcher) and Sister Wendy Becket, as well as mocking the musical illiteracy of Heather Rabbatts, it behooves me in the interests of fairness and balance to give credit where it's due on hearing a generally interesting and excellent series of choices last week.

I suppose it's almost axiomatic that a professional musician would take a bit more of an interest in music and be a bit more generally knowledgeable about it than Joe Public, so it probably shouldn't be much of a surprise that Guy Garvey of Elbow came up with some good stuff. I suppose the surprising bit is that he managed it despite his own band putting out stuff that I find, in the main, grindingly dull. I recall having a Twitter conversation a while back wherein I described their best-known song and the new wedding first-dance tune of choice One Day Like This as "a great lumbering flightless turkey of a song", a description I stand by unreservedly. I also feel obliged to invoke Alan McGee's splendid description "bed-wetters' music"; although he coined that in reference to Coldplay I think it does the job here too.

Anyway, Elbow's musical failings, myriad though they are, are not the subject here. In general, Garvey came across as a pretty decent bloke, and, though one might quibble over the specific song choices, Tom Waits, Joan As Police Woman, Public Enemy and Sly And The Family Stone are pretty irreproachable. I can't claim any knowledge of Joseph Canteloube, other than that he seems to have been named after a type of melon, but a few observations about the remaining selections:
  • Talk Talk's New Grass is the best thing on their last proper album, 1991's Laughing Stock. This is not music you can listen to while doing the washing up, this is music that demands your full attention and rewards you for it. Here's some fascinating audio of Talk Talk's main man Mark Hollis talking about the album's recording process.
  • Joni Mitchell's A Case Of You is one of the best things on her classic 1972 album Blue, but interestingly Garvey specifically chose a much later version because he liked the sound of her voice. Fair enough, but I think the fresh jangly charm of the original is much better. That's some sort of dulcimer she's playing in the clip. Sadly these days Mitchell seems to be spending a lot of time campaigning to have the entirely imaginary Morgellons syndrome recognised as an actual thing, instead of something useful like making music.
  • I know very little about Jolie Holland, but the song she's singing here is an adaptation of the WB Yeats poem The Song Of Wandering Aengus, which has special significance for me as it was the poem I chose to be a reading (read, impeccably, as I knew it would be, by my sister Emma) at my wedding to the lovely Hazel back in June 2011. 

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