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Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Neil Cowley Trio have very nearly got a hit


I went to see the Neil Cowley Trio play a short gig in an underground garage this week. They did some tunes from their new album "Spacebound Apes". These days the words "new album" only cause excitement among the people who have made said new album. It's like back in the old days people used to come round and make you look at their holiday snaps. You paid attention largely to be polite.

Nowadays the precious currency is not the recorded music. It's the audience's undivided attention. That's a fact. You can waste your time mourning the world that's gone and is never coming back or you can take notice of the fact that new opportunities may arise from time to time in this new dispensation. People's attention can no longer be demanded but it can be piqued.

Neil talked about a tune called "Grace". A few weeks ago he noticed that it had been streamed 30,000 times on Spotify. He was quite gratified about that but he knew it wasn't going to amount to much. But then next time he looked it had gone up a lot. Then it went up even more. Next thing he knew it had been streamed over a million times, which is a lot for a barely-known British act operating in the space dangerously adjacent to jazz.

The reason it had been streamed this many times is Spotify had included that one tune in one of their playlists of new material. It had popped up on people's playlists and since they hadn't skipped it it appeared to have met with their approval. I've just looked again and the total number of times it's been streamed is over four million. That's not going to keep Adele up at night but it's not nothing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Leon Russell was at the height of his powers in 1971

I was never a fan of Leon Russell's voice but as an arranger/producer/ringmaster he made a lot of great things happen. Quite a few of them happened in 1971.

He produced and played piano on "Watching The River Flow", which was one of Bob Dylan's great singles. He was the musical director of the Concert For Bangla Dash.

And he was instrumental in one of the very few blues/rock crossovers that worked and still works, Freddie King's 1971 album, "Getting Ready".

 It's got all Russell's signature touches: barrelhouse piano, swelling female choruses, the ear for a good song and driving rhythm. Best track is this one, which, I note, still sounded fresh enough to make the sig tune of the U.S. comedy show "Southbound And Down" a few years back. Take it away.

Friday, November 11, 2016

How a cheap marketing gimmick made Leonard Cohen a star

Seemed like my whole generation of college students bought "Songs of Leonard Cohen" in 1968.

Actually first of all they bought "The Rock Machine Turns You On". This was a cheap sampler album of all CBS's new "alternative" acts. Leonard Cohen's "Sisters Of Mercy" was at the end of side one. This was a time when Bob Dylan was writing happy songs and so there was an untapped market for a bit of dark. Leonard fitted the bill, particularly because he was an actual published poet. When Dylan was awarded the Nobel recently I couldn't help thinking it ought to have gone to Leonard Cohen. His songs had the discipline of poems.

I met him once, in the 80s at a party in New York, thrown by his record company to mark how many records he'd sold outside the United States. He wasn't a rock star; he was too polished, too comfortable with formality for that. Somebody from the record company made a speech. Standards aren't high when it comes to record company speeches. What I do remember is Leonard responding with one courtly-sounding sentence: "I'd like to thank you all for the modesty of your interest in my work."

Every time I saw him he always seem to be surrounded by a phalanx a beautiful young women, who clearly admired him greatly. That's one of the reasons I always got irritated with the jokes about "songs for swinging suicides" and the like. Far as I can see Leonard lived a full life and he always saw the funny side.

Thanks to the embezzlement of his retirement fund, he went back on tour late in life and got to enjoy a lap of honour such as no other artist has known. He died surrounded by his family, his affairs settled and his reputation higher than it had ever been.

I don't know if he knew the outcome of the U.S. election. This morning I heard him sing the line "There's a mighty judgement coming", which gave me a shiver. Then he adds "but I may be wrong." Cheers, old boy.