review page

on this page I will investigate some wider associations
to popular culture

DVD : "The Wigan Casino"
book : "Jack Bruce"
book : "Becoming Elektra"
DVD : "The Byrd Who Flew alone" (Gene Clark)
VoiceprintTony Palmer : The Wigan Casino -dvd- (UK,rec.1977,re.2010)***

Tony Palmer has made numerous music documentaries spanning pop, rock and classical music. In this 26 minute documentary from 1977 he showed something of the essence of a local blooming youth culture and what the Wigan Casino club meant to people. There’s a certain emotionality in the story line, showing the contrasts between the ugly and dull grey industrialised environment of Wigan, with even more contrasts with old photographs of poor local workers around the turn of the century (of which a few survivors were interviewed too) and the dancing youngsters in the hall during the 70s. Also the fact that some folk songs are used to accompany some of the images makes the imagery and setting pretty much and powerful. Because the dance hall didn’t serve beer they were open the whole Saturday night, giving something to live for in this dull environment. With innocence and conscious thoughts that’s how we hear youngsters talking about it, telling what this subculture meant to them. But some suspicion from local citizens led to the closing down of the place not too many years after the film, the tension in the movie is already there, as if this could happen any minute, and then, what would have been left for them. Knowing this reality has become true, having seen the documentary leaves in fact a sad afterfeeling. We now only are left the break dancing style which according to the video came to existence here (while dancing to soul music, and specifically to a more small labels related music form, which became know as ‘Northern Soul’ which became associated with the area and its dance halls and also record collecting subculture, while discovering some rarities from Motown and the Mods areas finding a second life of recognition in the North Western England area).

It is a short but effective documentary, even when it gives at times a feeling this is about some very local and rural area and place, the social structure and needs expressed behind it are and still remain universally, a lesson.

-(But if you really want to know which music was involved in the Wigan Casino, you have to search elsewhere)-.

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Genuine JawboneHarry Saphiro : Jack Bruce : Composing Himself -book- (UK,2010)***

I was hesitating whether I should check, read and review Jack’s Bruce biography or not, but I realised that my starting point must have been very much like the average music lover, knowing Cream, loving their wildest moments*, but having lost track of Jack Bruce’s other albums, almost tending to preconceptions regarding the post-Cream years, and towards the less effective R&B-scenes and influences in their lives. I also wondered if the career of such musicians wasn’t too much about depending on genre-based music, being addicted to music itself as a field on its own rather than being able to develop as a composer on a distant with visions to express from beyond or outside music, or even with new sounds and composition. But after all Jack Bruce has shown certain technically gifted visions as a musician so the book was another way to find out more about it. I also personally never understood the over-attention given to Eric Clapton, only because he gave a white expression to blues, used a wa-wa pedal as one of the first in the UK, and wasn’t Cream a bit more a Jack Bruce thing ? So it seemed. Thanks to the book I found out a lot of answers to my personal questions.

There’s a foreword by Eric Clapton. I found myself lucky to understand he didn’t want all the attention to him for the reasons invented by critics, as if he reinvented the blues or as if he was such a good guitarist because of that. After all, Rolling Stone wanted headlines with guitarists. After all, they’re still a bit more a magazine looking for the mainstream hero than being completely in a choice of music as it is. Knowing very well music scenes from Germany, Italy, Belgium and Holland, this book, describing the lifestyle of Cream and beyond gives the impression that in the UK music in the rock world was less an adventurous world as always presented (especially when dealing with its its circumstances), but had a lot more involvement in a survival of the fittest, trying to convince with a popular song effect on the public so that musicians could survive. And did they ? Cream and Jack Bruce obviously suffered from crooked and cooked management (their manager once said “give the kids their toys, but never tell anything about the family money”), probably supporting them with drugs and gain even more money, while charging them again, and when the bands return from gigs they still come with the idea they only owe them less now.

For the rest there hardly is said anything about Eric Clapton. Much attention goes to the love and hate relationship between drummer Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. About the amazing stories of fights, also with the public, described with a portion of humour, but I would never like to have been in their place, hearing all these incredible stories, from Mafiosi invitations to a public trying to kill them (Glasgow) or steal their equipment. You can hear all the side projects, like with Graham Bond or John McLaughlin of which the description of some tracks made me curious to check these out. Of course, there’s also honest talk about the heroin addiction. We wonder how much life and music might have been without it. Before all that there’s a good description on the setting, socially, politically and in the family where Jack Bruce grew up. But the blurring fragmentation of the post-Cream years I still find confusing, a labyrinth, while the story did prove me the fundaments from before, at and after Cream has parallels and evolutions, first of all because that’s where Jack Bruce very much was involved and showed his signature. Luckily before too much confusion becomes apparent the last few paragraphs goes thematically over a certain emphasis, before describing the last few years. I’m sure the musicians gave themselves 100 % from beginning to end. But in the end I would never like to switch lives with the lives and falls of what here still is that of a rock star.

*(even though I prefer it much heavier and creative, like what was done in Danmark or Sweden)

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Genuine JawboneMick Houghton : Becoming Elektra -book- (UK,2010)****

Last few years there has been some attempts or efforts to promote a new interest in Elektra's past. There has been another book (“Follow the music”involving Jac Holzman) and a box set (“Forever Changing”) with several articles about these in important magazines. This new book focuses entirely on the vision behind the label over the years, especially Jac Holzman's and with those who guided the label with him. This story is well documented so that you can get a picture of the how's and why's with interesting background stories.

I never had the impression myself that Elektra was one of those standard labels I should check blindly, where other labels like Polydor or Vertigo were a bit more predictable because their visions were more clearly focused or boxed in. Elektra's vision however was the result of an open and growing process which was influenced by a number of things. It was founded first of all on personal visions and talent. The first and earliest influence was also of a technical nature which even involved the recording process itself. It is a reason why it attracted the involvement of the inventor of the 33rpm record, Dr.Peter Goldmark, and how also a series of audio fidelity records was made. In the fifties the goal was mainly to make cheap records of good sonic quality and it involved its own record front covers design. This included also the recording of some local and world folk roots artists, before a few more labels took over the interest in these sub-genres. This led of course to the interest into singer-songwriters with their own distinctive personalities, with Judy Collins as the label's longest house artist. And it discovered artists like Tim Buckley amongst many others. Of course the business aspect played a certain role in keeping or leaving interest in some of the artists involved. The artists not only had to be good, but it had to bring in some regular cash flow to enable the continuation of the label's interests. So also a few more pop/rock-orientated bands were signed too, like The Doors or The Stooges, who both were very distinctive in style and stood very much on their own. And a few UK bands were also distributed, like The Incredible String Band (included for the same reasons) or the involvement of Queen for getting them to the US. It was from artists like Jim Morrison (Doors), -from whom I have read already a lot-, or bands like MC5 and Iggy Pop that the book gave me much more insight about the (also psychological) evolutions of the front men of these bands and on the efforts undertaken in the studio to make it to a good end. I also learned according to this book about the so called importance of the neglected Bob Gibson on many artists at the time (although I guess there is reason for it, from what I heard, he sounds dated). History luckily followed up the best moments of artists like Phil Ochs to the mainstream for a second appreciation in time, just like the recent renewed attention given to Fred Neil. A person who I personally think still is sadly neglected is David Stoughton, which perhaps still remains a bit unclassifiable amongst the singer-songwriters or mainstream genres. I hope already for years for a reissue of his sole album and unreleased demos. And there were a few more names which still puzzles me when only reading about them, for this is only a book, without audio, leaving me with a few attempts or searches on youtube perhaps to fill in the few question-marks. Only some of the 60s/70s artists still get some attention on the new Elektra website, which are especially those who could still sell something more easily on the big labels governed by populists journalism magazines and generalising attention.

Jac Holzman left the company soon-after the label came under the wings of Atlantic when certain choices  thoroughly became more fragmented or less primal, it was time for J.Holzman to carry on. Reading about how much Jac had a second life after that, predicting the importance of video clips in that degree where one thing led to another until MTV was established, or the making of the first digital only label, this shows once more how also every involvement on Elektra's label has been something like the evolution of a personalit-y's  involvement. Reading all about this very much stimulated my own future plans further to one day establishing my own label, where I am also thinking of involving art books with DVDs that have tracks compiled the same way as LP's, something I think I miss as a more free availability of such works under this format. So in that way I must say that the book is a stimulating read working in a comparable direction as being described well in a story by compiler Mick Houghton.

I wished only the front cover of the book looked a bit less like a commercial paint catalog. Once opened, the book nourishes and delivers all necessary backgrounds before the music. Very positive is also a complete cover picture gallery discography of the label together with other rare pictures.

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Four Suns Productions  Paul Kendall & sons : "The Byrd who flew alone" (US,2013)***
-The Triumphs And Tragedy Of Gene Clark-

In Europe, Gene Clark as a solo artist or songwriter wasn't too known, while everybody until now still remembers the Byrds, who were perfect counteract for The Beatles, it was especially for their guitar sound combinations and its vocal harmonies and a couple of highlights that they are for ever engraved in our collective memories. The Byrds sound with which also Gene Clark became associated, he started to consider it a bit like a burdon of expectations for which he did prefer not really to fall back upon to too likely or too much, it still followed him for much longer than he expected. A lesser number of people also still remember Dillard & Clark. But as far as I know in Europe, hardly anybody followed the rest of his career.

The documentary quickly makes clear that there definitely is something of let's say an Americana singer-songwriter approach present in nearly every song, with also a returning tragic, terminating and lonely tone that penetrates its whole life and career. In that way, the documentary title, “the byrd who flew alone” couldn’t be better chosen. Throughout the documentary this title get a whole lot of layers of meanings: it refers to the highlight with the Byrds that was a bit too much to bear, where he falls back upon his insecurity, then it could also refer to his 100 % dedication to music, not wanting to focus upon the loudest performance or upon a full focus on the ego, in a way he could also not go too far in it either. There always was this element of escapism louring, the desire to fly high on drugs and alcohol so that this flow could carry away that insecure part. The title also literally shows another reference, which is his being afraid to fly, which made touring with the Byrds difficult for him. While the Byrds might have shown him the high winds, the country ground of reality had its own tendency to bring him down, so that this, once again, needed to be compensated. This sort of reality clearly showed a very dualistic and tragic influence to his character. His friends seem to have loved him, even adored him, while the Hollywood scene spoke high about the lows. This documentary makes this all very clear. It is also a bit kind of sad, this sort of dramatic side in a human being, with his exiled escape which even pushed him deeper into being the 100% musician, ever on the road, ever further on the run of life, that becomes life...

You might remember how I have described before the life of Cream’s bassist Jack Bruce when reviewing the book about him (also on this page). Both musicians do not show too much of a different the way their lives were lived. For Gene Clark, it seems as if his life was almost forced to it to be filled up constantly, at the same time this still feels like being surrounded by all that is empty and boring, like a desert environment simply is, as if life is like a bottle of booze without a bottom; it just gets you drunk easily where you forget why you started drinking it after all, but then in this same life, you also still learned to share this part with others, and that is in the end what people most liked about you as well.

From the documentary I can also conclude that Gene himself saw himself as a singer-songwriter mostly. And that everything that became associated with it, in song and singing, it still never really became totally de-attached from its surroundings. It became like a life form for all the people that were involved without really direct reference to the things themselves except for really being with these things, sharing them directly, just like sharing a bottle.

The DVD includes interviews with David Crosby, members of the Clark family, Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Carla Olson, Taj Mahal and Jerry Moss and in the background shows some music from Gene’s career from the 50s until the late 70s until he crossed over, driven forth from the consequences of the kind of life he lived.

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