Heroes with clay feet

As I mentioned over on the Mothership, Pete Townshend has always been ambivalent (to say the least) about heroes and leaders.

All his iconic characters have clay feet as a mandatory component (think about the message of Tommy, none of the experts are worth a fart and even Tommy himself is used). This failed hero thing is brought to a peak in Quadrophenia. Jimmy idolises the Ace Face, the mod leader, who turns out to be a humble bell boy in a top hotel. However, the song that epitomises the dichotomy between heroes and followers is this one, The Punk and the Godfather. It is a kind of dialogue between a fan and a pop star (presumably one aspect of Townshend himself?)

Heroic horns Nr. 1

Given this week’s topic and Toffeeboy’s promised Go-betweens retrospective I’m reminded that I made a rash statement a while ago to post an overview of 3 Miles Davis tracks.

At the time I was trying to quell the natural inclination to go off on a rave about my favourite artist, list 50+ tracks and, in doing so, rapidly end up somewhere no-one’s particularly keen to follow. So three it is; I’ll post them in instalments.

I’m not claiming these are his three best tracks; however, they are among my favourites and are not so well known, so may offer some perspective for anyone interested in getting into his work.

First up, Milestones, from the eponymous 1958 album. This has the distinction of being the only album I have ever bought in the U.K. incidentally, from Mole Jazz in north London. Milestones is a deceptively simple piece; the theme is stated in two parts, once with all three horns in unison, and once with the trumpet setting a counterpart and “slurring” slightly to establish tension with the two saxophonists; this tension is then released by a return to the more up-beat part of the theme.

The solos are played by Cannonball Adderley, followed by Miles, who darkens the tone, and then John Coltrane on tenor, just starting to develop his “sheets of sound” style. Drummer Philly Joe Jones plays his famous “rimshots” throughout, hitting the rim of the drums to keep a snapping pulse going.

The theme of the piece is quietly carried by the pianist Red Garland, while the mood is set by bassist Paul Chambers, who alternates between “walking” the bass and sitting on a repeated riff during the second part of the theme to create tension.

The solos look forward to the famous “Kind of Blue” album in that the players are starting to create their own melodic or “modal” lines based on the chords of the theme, rather than just “playing around” the individual notes bebop-style, although the harmony remains static and each of the rhythm players has quite a constrained role.

A perfectly balanced piece of music, glowing with freshness, clarity and invention.

Milestones

Wild West Heroes, They Change the World.

Apologies for posting a link I think I’ve posted before, but….


(Audience video from The Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh, this spring)

CaroleBristol beat me to it for this weeks nominations – we’ll have to let Maddy judge whether or not it fits the progressively narrower definitions of this week’s subject.

Not many songs I know where I actually knew the person who the song’s about, but this is one of them. The personal connection makes it stronger, for me at least. RIP, Howard. You were taken from us far too soon.

Unfinished Business

Unfinished BusinessThis post is dedicated to the memory of one of my all time musical heroes, the late, great Grant McLennan. Together with Robert Forster, Grant founded The Go-Betweens in Brisbane in 1977 and over the next 28 years they recorded nine of the best albums you’d ever hope to hear. I had the great pleasure of seeing The Go-Betweens live in the mid-80s – standing right at the front of the audience in a small venue looking up at Robert Forster singing ‘Part Company’ is one of the greatest experiences I have ever … err … experienced at a live gig – the moment will stay with me forever.

The particular reason for posting this now (other than the tenuous hero link) is a comment made by nilpferd a couple of weeks ago in which he referred to 1988′s 16 Lovers Lane as the last Go-Betweens album. Which, of course it was – until they reformed in 2000. They then went on to record three more albums (including some of their best work) before Grant’s tragic death (as a result of a heart attack) in May 2006.

So nilpferd, this is for you – the rest of you are allowed to listen in of course. A small selection of tracks from the final three albums – three from each but in no particular order – which I hope will convince you to take the plunge and invest in the recordings themselves.

If any of you don’t feel up to listening to all nine tracks, please at least listen to Crooked Lines, The Statue and Unfinished Business – the latter, considering what happened soon after he recorded this beautiful song, has to be one of Grant’s most poignant lyrics.

Further reading:

Free downloads

Robert Forster’s new album

More on Robert’s new album

I put you on a pedastel, you put me on the ‘Spill…FP’s heroic playlist

Someone mentioned Grace Darling over on the Mother Ship. She was one of the very first heroic beings I was aware of. Indeed, any kid growing up in the North East of England in the seventies was told of her exploits, taken to her museum, shown the grave and bought the compulsory mug, tea towel or t-shirt. Grace’s parents were the keepers of Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands, just off the coast of Northumberland (that’s the North East of England) and nowadays reachable by car at low tide. One stormy September morning in 1838, Grace looked out of the upper window of the lighthouse and saw a stricken ship and a group of people clinging for dear life to a nearby rock, lashed by the wind and waves. Their boat, the SS Forfashire, had hit the rocks and broken in two some hours earlier. Judging by the weather conditions, there wasn’t enough time to call the lifeboard from nearby Seahouses and so Grace and her father put out to sea in their rowing boat which was some 21 feet (6 metres) long. They reached the rock where 9 people including a woman still clutching her two dead children were holding on in desperation. In lashing wind and waves, Grace Darling, who was 22 years old at the time, held the boat steady while her father clambered onto the rocks and hauled the survivors into the boat. They managed to save 5 of them on their first trip back to the lighthouse, and then her father made a second trip to pick up those remaining. Grace Darling became a household name after this event and was feted by no less than William Wordsworth. People even wanted locks of her hair and she was made offers of London theatre appearances, all of which she declined. She died of TB at the age of 27 and is buried in St. Aiden’s churchyard in Bamburgh.

Given the rough weather and waves we experience on the Northumbrian coast, I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must have been to keep that large rowing boat steady, just near enough the rocks to be of use, but at the same time prevent it from being smashed to pieces, thus adding two more casualties to the list. It was an incredible act of bravery for any era, but bear in mind also the context and womens’ position in society. Hell, the girl put out to sea wearing a long dress and petticoats. Imagine the sheer weight once she was drenched through with salt water…A true heroine….

As for the playlist, I’ve left a symbolic space for The Waterboys and Whole of the Moon which is not on deezer. I do know that Fanfare for the Common Man was NOT written by Emmerson Lake and Palmer and am very familiar with Copland’s original. I just included the rock version as I do think it brings something, an added dimension which I like very much.

And the question to go: Who are your heroes? You’re allowed one dead and one alive. I’ll have David Bowie for all the obvious reasons – I think he’s the only person whose presence would reduce me to gibbering incoherence or tears. And Beethoven. For the simple fact that, when he went deaf, he sawed the legs off his piano and played it with his ear to the ground so he could pick up the vibrations and continue composing. Now THAT’s heroic…