Category Archives: Music

On a Mission From God – Music In Film (Part II)



Amadeus (Miloš Forman 1984) was adapted for the screen by Peter Shaffer from his own play. The largely fictional story of a rivalry between Mozart and Vienna court composer, Salieri, takes its inspiration from an 1830 play, Mozart and Salieri, by Pushkin and the subsequent opera of the same name by Rimsky-Korsakov.
The film sets out two principal themes; the process of artistic creation and the excellent being the enemy of the good. Mozart and Salieri are devices to these ends. Moviegoers hoping for accuracy and truth will be disappointed. This is a movie, not a history lesson. Genius is God-given. Nothing to do with the gene pool. Mozart was as much on a mission from God as Jake and Elwood Blues.
I still find Tom Hulce’s turn in the title role to be affecting as it moves between the poles of behaviour. In the final scenes, a dying Mozart dictates the Requiem Mass in D minor to Salieri who transcribes the score. Genius and mediocrity resolved in tragic union. The essence of great cinema, it seems to me.



Song of Summer (Ken Russell/BBC 1968) is a black and white film made for the Omnibus series on BBC television. Its subject is the final 6 years of the life of composer Frederick Delius and his relationship with Eric Fenby, a young composer who offers to transcribe Delius’ work as Delius is blind and partially paralysed.
This film is part of a body of work that Ken Russell did for the BBC in the 60s. He wanted to redefine the biopic – dispense with the clichés, the blandness and create detail and realism. In this he is aided by a brilliant cast, particularly Max Adrian as Delius. Just as ‘Amadeus’ argues the dichotomy of brilliance and mediocrity, so ‘Song of Summer’ argues the conflict between Delius’ lyrical, haunting music and his tyrannical, vexatious nature. (Although some scholars argue that this ‘disposition’ was largely due to Delius being in the tertiary stages of syphilis) In any event, this film stands as an extraordinary testament to Ken Russell’s own genius – which dissipated significantly in his later years.




Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier 1986) is set in 50s Paris and tells the story of sax player Dale Turner, played by Dexter Gordon. As with the two movies above, the story concerns itself, primarily, with a relationship –  as Dale is befriended by Francis, a poster designer, who idolises Dale and sets about rescuing him from alcoholism.
Dale’s character in the film is a composite of jazz musicians, Bud Powell and Lester Young. Powell had been befriended, in 50s Paris, by young writer, Francis Paudras,  on whose memoir, ‘Dance of the Infidels’, this film is based. The authentic locations, Herbie Hancock’s score, the appearance of several top jazz musicians, including Hancock, and Gordon’s central performance all combine to create the beautiful fragility of a life played out to a jazz score. A lovely film.




Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby 1976) tells Woody Guthrie’s story as he emerges from Oklahoma into mid-30s depression America and in particular, the  California of the dust bowl refugees. As Woody travels the land, hitching and box car riding, he writes and plays his music.
The movie looks and feels authentic. Ashby’s attention to period detail is winning and Garrett Brown’s Steadicam, the first time his invention was used in a movie, gives David Carradine as Guthrie –  and the ever-present panoramic scapes – real presence. But it’s all very earnest, very calculated. You want Carradine’s rictus to break into a toothy smile. I’m sure Woody had a sense of humour but Carradine plays him as if the sheer weight of becoming the national troubadour was breaking his back. But 70s movies were often a bit like that, I suppose.
When I first saw this film in the 70s, I remember thinking that ‘This Land is Our Land’ would make a much better National Anthem than the ghastly incumbent. I still hold to that view.

Well, I’ll take another break and return with the final part shortly.

Closing Trivia; When he lived in Denmark, Dexter Gordon, star of ‘Round Midnight’ became friends with the family of the future Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, and subsequently became Lars’s godfather.







A Very British Music

What kind of fool am I that sits on a hill?
Well well well, I won’t get fooled again
Shattered as I am, I’ll pick up the pieces
Because I’d like to spend my life
With a girl like you

Baby please don’t go into the mystic
Baby come back
To your little tin soldier
Your man of the world
Yeah, yeah – walk right back

I’ve never known a girl like you before
You are so beautiful to me
How do you do what you do to me?
I, who have nothing
But a ticket to ride on the carousel, the roundabout
Ruby Tuesday

I’m a hog for you babe
I’m a gnu, a g-nother gnu
And I love my dog more than I love you
When that albatross flies
All around my hat
Jean genie

Over bridge of sighs
To rest my eyes
With a head full of snow
The L.S. bumble bee and the hurdy gurdy man
Would love to turn you on


Original Sin

I’ve been in and around music for a hell of a long time – certainly most of my adult life. Over the years, I’ve developed some ideas about quality, permanence, ability and relevance. I’ve tried to be discriminating you might say. But above all, I do love music. And I love musicians and what they give to the world. That’s why, mostly, I don’t buy into the bagging of musicians when they’ve aged and no longer have much to say, much that’s worth hearing. I guess most of these old boys and girls have only ever had one job and that’s the only one they know. Whatever. I don’t have to buy their new albums, not even for old time’s sake. I did write an earlier blog on this subject which focused on Rod Stewart.

So, that’s one bugbear. There is one other and it’s about covers. A few months back I got into a discussion with friends about Jimmy Barnes and his recording of ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’. This great song was first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. It was written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright who were part of The Esquires, Sledge’s band at the time. The majority opinion in the room was that Barnes’ version was better than Sledge’s original. I took issue with that for two good reasons, as I saw it. Firstly, Jimmy Barnes cannot sing and he slaughtered this fine ballad like only a character from one of Billy Connolly’s Glasgow pub stories could. Secondly, accepting that my opinion in the matter of talent may not be universal, no cover can ever be ‘better’ than the original. You can prefer it – but it can never be better. There can be no besting of being first, being original, having uncompromised integrity. I can admire a good forgery, perhaps be taken in by it – but it is still just a forgery. Something that exists only by dint of an earlier original that inspired or provoked imitators. Having got that off my chest, I’ll happily admit to admiring many cover versions of great songs. And I’m happy for them to co-exist alongside the originals. It doesn’t need to be an ‘either/or’ decision. Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’, for instance is a fine example of Green’s coy juxtaposition of sensuality and spirituality. But when David Byrne and Talking Heads took the song on, lust and religion were thrust together in one pounding, insistent punk-fuelled rhythm. Genius. But not better.

There are also many examples of cover versions that have superseded the original to the point where the original is all but forgotten. The cruel irony for some of these songs is that, often, the original is infinitely superior to the cover. I’m not going to make a list but if you’ve got this far you may like to check out Gloria Jones’ 1964 recording of ‘Tainted Love’ which ought to obliterate all memory of Soft Cell’s 1981 cover. An even better choice would be Bessie Banks’ 1964 recording of ‘Go Now’ which is several light years distant from the 1965 version which became a hit for the Moody Blues – a band whose music, I might add, should have been consigned to the Atlantic’s Puerto Rico Trench years ago.

In closing, I need to pay tribute to my all-time favourite cover of a great original. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is one of Paul McCartney’s greatest songs and covered by The Faces on ‘Long Player’.  Macca has acknowledged that his own live performance of this great ballad was influenced by how Rod and the Faces performed it. Not better. Not either/or. Just great.




American Music

American Music is my private dancer
It dances across the water
And the water holds me down
Letting the days go by
Into the blue again and out of the black
My my

American Music woke me up this morning
And asked me to loan it a dime
to buy some black coffee and cigarettes
While we waited at the crossroads
For the slow train coming by
Have mercy

American Music? Ah um says the preacher
It gonna make you get up – get on up
To seize everything you ever wanted
But first we take Manhattan
Then we take New York, New York
One time

American Music gonna mess your mind
And you’re still a fool time after time
If you listen to the music in a fever
And see white rabbits eight miles high
With some guy in the sky
Strange days

American Music on Beale Street
On Broadway
On Green Dolphin Street
On the street where you live
Skyscrapers bloom in America
Cadillacs zoom

American Music rocks around the clock
In the ghetto and the length of Route 66
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
On the lonely highway perhaps?

Life don’t work out my way……


Let Another One In – Gospel Song For Wavering Atheists

If I’m ever standing up at the pearly gates
I’ll need to speak to Peter but not in front of my mates
When it comes to contrition, don’t know where to begin
But can you please ask the Lord and let another one in?

Oh Lord I’m sorry ’bout my sinnin’
The whiskey, wine and women
I need a new beginnin’
So let another one in

Hey Pete, I said some things I never shoulda said
’bout science being God and there’s nothing once you’re dead
But just lately I’ve a feeling my conviction’s wearing thin
So can you please ask the Lord to let another one in?

Oh Lord I’m sorry ’bout my disbelievin’
The lying and the thievin’
But can’t you see I’m grievin’
And let another one in?

So hear me Peter, I really think I’ve made my case
Won’t you please help this sinner reach a state of grace?
I don’t have a doubt now ’bout original sin
So won’t you please ask the Lord to let another one in?

Oh Lord I’m sorry ’bout the Marx and the Lenin
All these bets I’ve been hedgin’
But can’t you see I’m beggin’
And let another one in?
Please let another one in
Yes another one in
Please let me in.


Allegro Doloroso – The Short, Sad Life of Carmen Costigan

Just recently I watched the movie, Hilary and Jackie (1998 Anand Tucker) which deals with the life of the celebrated cellist, Jacqueline du Pré. That story brought to mind a contemporary of du Pré, Carmen Costigan, whose life, accomplishments and tragic death closely mirrored those of the more famous musician.
Carmen was born in 1946 – the only child of Michael and Ysabelle Costigan. Her father had been involved with Sinn Fein, in Eire, but moved to London at the conclusion of WWII, where he owned and operated a garage business in Norwood, near to the Costigan home. Carmen’s mother, Ysabelle, was of French Moroccan extraction and had been a member of The Comédie-Française in Paris before the war. In their tidy Norwood ‘semi’, she gave acting and singing lessons to the sons and daughters of the South London middle classes.

The young Carmen prospered in this creative environment but it was clear to Ysabelle that her daughter’s real talent lay with the piano. And so, from the age of 6, until she was 14, Carmen received the best tutoring available, including a spell with the redoubtable Joyce Hatto at Crofton Grange. It was clear that Carmen was something of a prodigy and she won many accolades and prizes for her playing in the recital competitions that took place all around Britain.

In April, 1961, Hatto arranged for Carmen to give a short recital as a prelude to  her own appearance as a soloist in a concert at the prestigious Wigmore Hall in London. The whole concert was to be broadcast live on BBC radio.
The evening was a triumph and brought Carmen to national attention. She played pieces by Satie, Poulenc and Debussy with such fluidity and precision that musicologist, Denis Stevens, urged Walter Legge, who was also present, to use his influence to persuade EMI to put Carmen under contract.

Ysabelle now became Carmen’s full-time manager but the pressure of dealing with Carmen’s formal education and continuing musical tuition, agents, journalists, venue owners and EMI soon proved to be beyond her capability. Also, Carmen, an attractive teenager in the public eye, was dating a series of young men. One of these suitors was emerging jazz talent, Roy Budd, another product of the competition circuit. Budd proved to be the only fixed star in Carmen’s life as, over the next ten years, she seemingly wasted all of the talents, prospects and relationships that defined her future on that April evening in 1961.

What followed was not a steep decline. Rather, there were troughs and peaks scattered along a gradual descent. There were bouts of alcoholism punctuated by times of stability and success notably her appearance at the Albert Hall in 1966 with Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim. And in 1967, her recording of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major for EMI won the coveted Gramophone Magazine’s Editors Award. But her appearances and output were becoming increasingly sporadic and her relationship with Ysabelle had all but disintegrated by 1968. Her affairs, too, were public, noisy and always disastrous. George Best, Tom Jones, David Hemmings and, briefly, Daniel Barenboim were amongst a string of lovers that provided lurid fodder for the tabloids and chat shows.

It could only end badly – and it did – with Carmen collapsing at a party for her 23rd birthday in May, 1969. Ysabelle, of course, rushed to her side and persuaded her to return home to Norwood to complete her recovery, once released from hospital some three months later.
Back with her parents, Carmen entered what was probably the most tranquil and productive period of her life. Starting with giving ‘advanced’ tuition to promising young pianists, she also began to develop her own playing and repertoire – concentrating on the classical period composers such as Bach, Mozart and Telemann. (Curiously, in the summer of 1970, Carmen spent a month at the Salisbury ashram which had attracted Peter and Abe Savage. This episode is recorded in an earlier blog Lost Treasure of the Aztecs)

By mid-1972, Carmen was fully recovered and – now 26 – better equipped to reconcile the demands of her public life with her need for a private life. It was at this time that she met Michael Stokes, son of Donald Stokes (later Baron Stokes), the Chairman of The British Leyland Motor Corporation. Michael believed himself to be something of an entrepreneur and soon persuaded Carmen to allow him to manage her career. Initially, the new arrangement bore fruit. Some well-chosen appearances on radio and television, discussing her past and the come-back; a few guest appearances at concerts and festivals – and then a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 10 for two pianos, with Daniel Barenboim in Paris in December which was widely acclaimed.

At the beginning of 1973, both HMVand Deutsche Gramaphon approached Carmen to discuss a recording contract. But Michael persuaded her to sign a special deal with British Leyland in conjunction with HMV. At that time it was not unusual for recordings, particularly of classical music, to be sponsored by private industry. Tobacco companies frequently released albums under their proprietary ‘label’. In this case, Leyland were about to launch their new family vehicle, the Austin Allegro, and Michael’s plan was to produce an album entitled ‘Allegro’, featuring Carmen.
So in June that year Carmen went into the HMV studios to record the 12 selections for the album together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. As part of the publicity campaign for the album, Carmen was given the keys to a new, Series I Allegro. Michael also arranged for David Bailey to do the photography and sleeve design for the album. Carmen and the RPO completed the dozen tracks within a week and the tapes were ready for mastering. But on a wet friday night on her way back to Norwood from the studio,, Carmen was killed instantly when her Allegro skidded out of control and hit a power pole, about a mile from her home.

The media storm that followed ensured that the true tragedy of Carmen’s life and death was ignored in favour of speculation as to her state of mind, her alcoholism, her lovers, her ‘chequered history’ as the Daily Mirror put it. The album, ‘Allegro’, was canned,  as was all associated promotional material. No one at Leyland wanted to be associated with the accident. In a short while the story fizzed out and Carmen became just another 27-year-old musician that never made it to 28.

Author’s note;
Research was often difficult for this piece. However, an old friend with contacts has told me that he may be able to obtain access to some of David Bailey’s art work for ‘Allegro’. If that comes to pass, I will publish a post scriptum to this blog.

Lost Treasure of the Aztecs

During the past few weeks I’ve been trying to make some sense of all the LPs, CDs and other musical stuff that fills up our apartment. This has been tried before – but this time I’m really, really serious about it. Okay?
Previous attempts to create order have always yielded some long-forgotten gem (or clunker) that might bring on nostalgia, revulsion or even puzzlement. Last night, foraging in some old cardboard boxes I made a truly amazing discovery. In amongst some long discarded 70s party albums, like a diamond in some dog shit, there it was.
A promotional copy of  ‘Blondel’s Last Hurrah’ by The Aztecs seemed to levitate magically, like the Holy Grail, out of the box and into my trembling hand.

Peter and Abe Savage were brothers from Bristol. In the 60s they had been in the vanguard of the folk rock movement as Gog and Magog and gained notoriety with their stage show, described as ‘bacchanalian‘ by the New Musical Express. Their success heralded the now familiar steep decline fuelled by an excess of just about anything and everything. Ralph J Gleason wrote a famous faux obituary for them in the December 1969 edition of Rolling Stone.
But the music community gathered around them and the brothers spent a year getting clean at an ashram near Salisbury. And this is where legendary producer, Mike Vernon, had found them in the spring of 1971. Vernon had worked with the Savage brothers at Decca in the 60s and was now looking for an act to headline his own, new, Blue Horizon label.
Peter had been working on a concept album built around a mediaeval song cycle of roundelays and madrigals,, loosely based on the story of the minstrel Blondel‘s search for the imprisoned King Richard I – ‘The Lionheart’. Vernon was enthusiastic for the project and in short order the brothers were back in the studio, as The Aztecs, with a host of luminaries from the British rock scene, Eric Clapton and a young Christine McVie amongst them.
Apparently, the first six tracks were recorded without a hitch in 2 days. But when the brothers’ erstwhile manager ‘Campy’ Campion, arrived uninvited, the situation disintegrated rapidly. Campion had only recently been released from prison where he had served time for supplying prohibited substances. Vernon tried to intervene but Campion had a Svengali-like hold over the Savage brothers and within hours the situation had deteriorated to the point where most of the other musicians and technicians simply left the studio, never to return.
To his credit, Vernon stayed on and, augmenting the six tracks already completed with some earlier demo tapes, he patched together an album of 10 tracks lasting about 43 minutes.
The album only ever appeared in promotional form because the various legal complexities and court actions that emerged following the debacle in the Blue Horizon studios injuncted a commercial release. The Savage brothers returned to Bristol and developed a plastic extrusion plant – which they still own.
Listening to the album again last night was an odd experience. The music has certainly dated but its intensity, particularly the title track, remains undiminished. Abe’s sole contribution, ‘King John in the Wash’ made me laugh a little. It made me think of Pentangle fed through a Led Zeppelin strainer somehow.
But I’m pleased to have rediscovered The Aztecs. They hold a special place in the pantheon of hippy icons and, best of all, the rare and vintage record site tells me that ‘Blondel’s Last Hurrah’ will pay for a week in Queenstown.


Author’s Note
The (apocryphal) explanation for the name ‘The Aztecs’ lies in Peter’s amusement at his brother’s discomfort following a trip to Mexico – where it is said that Abe suffered from a bout of Montezuma’s Revenge.

The Triumph of Everyman. John Mayall – Crusade (1967)

I have to say right off that I’ve neglected John Mayall. Shunned him, forgotten about him, flicked past his discs, undervalued him. I’ve taken him for granted. Yet Mayall was as much a part of my discovery of blues music as, say, Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters or Alexis Korner.  I need to take stock.
I saw the Bluesbreakers play often in the London of the mid-sixties. In their first incarnation they’d struggled to get a foothold. I didn’t think that John was much of a frontman. But with the arrival of Eric Clapton in 1965, things changed for the better. The Bluesbreakers album was hugely successful and is now considered a classic.
In those days, line-ups were fluid, to say the least – and between 1965 and early 1967, Clapton and Peter Green job-shared with the Bluesbreakers. Green was on hand to record A Hard Road, another acknowledged classic. But by May, 1967, both men had left – Clapton to form Cream and Green to start up Fleetwood Mac.
The vacancy was filled by 18-year-old (soon to be very , very famous) Mick Taylor. And it’s Taylor who plays lead on Crusade. John McVie (probably flitting between the Mac and Mayall) is on bass, Keef Hartley on drums, Chris Mercer and Rip Kant on tenor and baritone respectively. Mayall plays everything else and does the vocals. The album, recorded in 2 days in July, 1967 at Decca studios, is a cracker.
The original mono album has 12 tracks, some of them penned by Mayall, some of them covers. All of the material is strong and repays repeated listening. In particular, Mayall’s The Death of J B Lenoir stays in the mind. Its haunting piano line and Mayall’s impassioned vocal, as he mourns his hero, creates a fitting elegy to a great bluesman.
Of note, too, is Snowy Wood, an instrumental written by Mayall and Taylor, that showcases Taylor’s playing.(I’ve been listening to some Buddy Guy recordings from when Guy was in his pomp. It’s fair to say that there are similarities of brilliance in the styles of the two men)
What the album does, is allow Mayall to stretch out, show his range and enjoy himself. Everything from jazz-tinged or funk-driven through to 12 bar straight ahead Chicago is here. It really is a tremendous listen.
So – there it is. I should have listened harder the first time around. But I’m making up for it this time around. John is approaching 80 and he’s still touring  – still playing the blues.

Author’s Note
There is an expanded version of this album available on CD. It contains a further 10 tracks from the 1969 compilation Thru the Years. I believe that Hughie Flint plays drums on some of these tracks.

Song for Aggrieved Gospel Choir

All you ever do is justify
You never ever want to tell me why
Like the margin on this song
You only justify

All you ever do is hint and lie
I never ever see you pause or sigh
Like a jury never wrong
You only justify

You really oughta
Wade in the water
Don’t chastise
Your sons and daughters
Cos you only ever

Sweet disposition coming by and by
A plated head beneath the glowering sky
And like Salome’s John
You only justify

You really oughta
Wade in the water
Don’t chastise
Cos you only ever

You only ever

5 Albums I’m Loving Right Now

I recently contributed an article to Simon Sweetman’s blog. Here is the link for it.

I’d like to send seasonal greetings to  all readers of Wise Blood and thank you for the feedback and encouragement during 2012. I look forward to posting more articles in 2013. May your God be with you.