TODOS SANTOS CUCHUMATAN – GUATEMALA.

Lately I’ve been poking around at WordPress trying to understand their obscure system for posting multiple photos, I think I’ve finally got it, or at least enough to get started. I’d like to do an occasional post devoted to photography rather than music. I’ve always thought of myself primarily as a photographer, I wore all sorts of other hats but generally speaking, wherever I went I was always carrying a Nikon F or an F3. But not just a Nikon, often/usually I also had my camera bag on the other shoulder, that contained another Nikon with a different lens, plus both of them had motor drives. A Nikon F with a 180mm, f2.8 lens, with a motor drive with 8 AA batteries in it and loaded with a 36 expo roll of Ektachrome 200 weighs about 5.5 – 6 lbs. I carried two of those plus several spare lenses, spare batteries, plus a lot of various misc. photo gear and lots of spare film. I’m not complaining in the slightest, it was a chosen way of life. Generally speaking, wherever I went, that’s what I carried, particularly whenever on ‘holiday’ or at a musical event.
So I was walking along a rural lane in the village of Todos Santos Cuchumatan, It is situated in northeastern Guatemala in the the remote Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountains at an elevation of about 8,000 ft. My fiend John and I had driven there in the VW camper van when we visited Guatemala in the late 70′s. The population of Todos Santos is predominantly indigenous, of Mayan descent, most of whom still speak the Mayan language of Mam. The town is one of few places in Guatemala where the indigenous population still make and wear their traditional clothing.
As I walked along that lane that morning I glanced up and saw a young boy walking towards me, my Nikon was in my right hand at about thigh level, the lens must have been pointing forward.
When he was about 10-12 ft from me he suddenly bent over from his waist to look directly level into the camera lens, I suspect that he’d never seen a professional camera with a long lens before. Instantly I dropped to one knee to be at his level and fired one quick shot and as I did so I remember saying to myself “That’s probably the best photo I’ve ever taken” but at the same instant I knew that it was out of focus. I straightened up and instantly fired another but the magic had passed, he was no longer looking into the lens. There was no auto-focus in those days, every shot had to be manually focussed. I should mention that the reason for using a motor drive was because the film was instantaneously advanced whenever a shot was made, the camera was always ‘cocked’, always ready to shoot, a huge advantage.

This is the first shot I took that day, to the non-critical eye it might look OK but if you look carefully you’ll see that it is out of focus.

best copy

This is the second shot, it’s OK, it’s in focus but something’s missing.

the kid2 copy
If you click on them they will become larger.

Here’s a selection of photos of people from that village, notice the similarity of their clothes, the women make them on primitive looms in their cottages and every family has a different traditional design. This is not uncommon in Guatemala and you can often tell where a person’s from by the design of his/her clothing. I’ve read that the design of these clothes originates with the Spanish conquistadors who came to Guatemala in the sixteenth century, check out the codpieces, the shoes and the elaborate collars. I started buying examples of their clothes and came home with a large collection. They were not dumb about selling them, I recall at one cottage paying about $440 for several items, a huge amount considering that the men usually worked at seasonal agriculture for less than $1 per day! The women were the only ones who made and sold the clothes and these were not tourist items, there were no tourists, these were the clothes that they wore. They’re absolutely beautiful. I have them hanging in the house.
I very rarely asked permission to shoot photos, had I done so the moment would have been lost, instead if I saw a shot I’d point my camera and smile and a return smile was my OK. I can only ever remember one time where someone was upset at my shooting, it was in this village and I was standing against a wall at the edge of the market shooting with a 300mm lens, suddenly there was a ‘whack’ up the side of my head, a woman had hit me with a stick; I took the hint and quit for the day. Generally speaking most people were happy to have their photos taken.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Notes from the underground

Nothing to do with Dostoevsky here, just me musing on the split between chart music and all the underground stuff that was such a big part of the musical landscape in the late 1960s and early-to-mid 70s.

Hoshino Sakura’s Slade post was the inspiration for this ramble through the past and it will be a ramble, because I am not really going to advance a grand theory here.

The 60s really was the golden age of chart music, probably only really equalled by the first part of the 1980s, times when the charts actually reflected what the young, the fashionable and the alternative communities were listening to and buying. I can remember when the charts mattered, because you would hear bands like The Who, The Stones, The Kinks etc, people who were making the thing up as they went along, following in the wake of The Beatles. You also heard a lot of black music courtesy of Tamla Motown. This was when the charts mattered, back when the Sixties were Swinging, or, to paraphrase George Harrison, back When We Were Fab.

I think it all changed after 1967, that was when the music changed, when it all got weird, when things got longer, be they hair, hemlines or pieces of music. You really couldn’t imagine something like Interstellar Overdrive getting much airplay and once people like King Crimson got going, you knew that there were things that wouldn’t be on Top of the Pops ever.

Of course, there were people like John Peel, Annie Nightingale and Bob Harris flying the flag for underground music on late night BBC Radio 1 and, for some of us, those shows were massively important. Where else, I ask, would we have heard Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Gnidrolog, Gentle Giant, Kevin Coyne, Gong or Kevin Ayers, to name just a few.

There was a huge amount of music coming out, music that was too varied, too long, too experimental or just too weird for the charts and for daytime radio. You just had to be in the know.

Being in the know generally meant having older friends, maybe elder siblings, who listened to The Grateful Dead or The Groundhogs or The Pink Fairies. It was a kind of rite of passage, an initiation, to be admitted to the world of the underground. It was also a kind of admission that you were consciously being different. You had nailed your colours to the groovy, psychedelic mast of the Good Ship Freaky. You were almost duty bound to dismiss the charts as uncool or a sell out.

There were exceptions, a few brave souls who would venture out from the patchouli-scented, dimly-lit fug of the clubs and the souks of Portobello Rd to release a single occasionally, maybe people like Atomic Rooster;

Now, I really like that one, but it is definitely at the poppier end of the Rooster’s output. There are plenty of other bands who wouldn’t have got on daytime Radio One, maybe like The Edgar Broughton Band?

Very Captain Beefheart in places there, I’m sure you’ll agree, and a long way away from Ballroom Blitz or Telegram Sam.

Anyway, not only did you listen to different music, you looked different, you tried, as best as you could, to look alternate. Of course, your Mum and Dad didn’t like it, mine even threatened to burn my Afghan coat because it smelt of goats. It was a sign of who you were, the music, the clothes and certain other things that all basically said Not Mainstream, Not Trendy.

I think that occasionally we all listened to stuff that we didn’t really like, nor understood, but it was part of being apart. If Peel played it, we listened, if TotP played it, mostly we sneered.

Buried Christmas treasure

christmas small
I recently received an early Christmas present in the shape of a pen drive loaded with the entire Buried Treasure back catalogue, and as Tom Petty’s radio programme is currently in its eighth season and there are 24-5 programmes per season with 20 or so tracks per programme you better believe that’s a fair old amount of music. I’m currently listening my way through Season Two and I came across this Christmas show which I thought you people might like. He does play two of his own recordings, which isn’t usual, but those of you who don’t like TP&TH can always skip those.

Happy Christmas!


1 Theme Song
2 I Feel OK – Detroit Junior
3 Merry Christmas, Baby – Otis Redding
4 Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
5 Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas – Staples Singers
6 Silver Bells – Booker T and the MGs
7 White Christmas – Otis Redding
8 Tom’s Mailbag
9 Christmas Comes But Once A Year – Albert King
10 Santa Claus Is Back In Town – Elvis Presley
11 Merry Christmas – Lightnin’ Hopkins
12 Santa Claus Baby – The Voices
13 Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Sir Mack Rice
14 The Christmas Song – King Curtis
15 Run, Run Rudolph – Chuck Berry
16 Red Rooster – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
17 Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter
18 Happy New Year – Lightnin’ Hopkins
19 Christmas Song – The Chipmunks
20 Feels Like Christmas – Al Greene
21 Little Drummer Boy/Silent Night/
Auld Lang Syne – Jimi Hendrix
22 Jingle Bells – Booker T and the MGs

Sunshine Daydream

I’ve been intending to post something about the GD May ’77 box set that arrived three months ago. It contains some great music (particularly on the more delicate songs) but this week’s arrival has rather put it (almost literally) in the shade.

The official release of the 1972 Springfield Creamery Benefit concert and the film made of it, Sunshine Daydream, is a marvellous thing. A long-available soundboard recording and bootleg copy of the film on YT have hinted as much but the properly-mixed 16-track sound and a beautifully-restored set of visuals confirm it in spades.

Jerry Garcia couldn’t understand why anyone would want to film the band on stage (“We just stand there. We don’t do anything.”) but, with the addition of Prankster animations and copious shots of roasting hippies, the film is a fantastic document of a communal celebration of life through music. For example:


(Warning: contains naked human wobbly bits)

The film shows the final Dark Star/El Paso/Sing Me Back Home sequence, in which a star dies, two cowboys are killed and a prisoner walks to his execution. Whereas much of the show is suitably sunny and joyful, this is not: it is difficult, harsh and desperately sad. Yet also wonderfully cathartic.

This is the end of Dark Star. It is some of the most involving and intricate acid jazz* collective improvisation you’ll ever hear. To watch it being constructed from thin air is a jaw-dropping delight.


*Acid jazz = jazz improvised whilst under the influence of LSD.

Linda

So i never did get around to making a plug for Linda Ronstadt for my severely lapsed Best Cover Artists Ever series.  And now she quite sadly has Parkinson’s and can’t sing a note anymore. So a bit of a tribute is in order i think – she wasn’t a songwriter but a world class singer and cover artist who did very proud the bulk of artists she covered. Imagine, to sing like that with no autotune. You can hear maybe a bit too much 70′s California production in some of the songs, but that was also her era and the artists that she covered as well. They’re none the worse for it either, really. Peace and best wishes to you, Linda. And thank you.

Continue reading

Nile Rodgers & Jean Pierre Muller: An Indigo Night in F

Edinburgh has played host to many artistic collaborations over the years, with none more intriguing than the 7×7 project between artist Jean Pierre Muller and seven musicians: Nile Rodgers, Robert Wyatt, Mulatu Astatke, Archie Shepp, Sean O’Hagan, Kassin and Terry Riley. The project commenced last year at the Summerhall venue with the creation by Jean Pierre of a street of individual houses to explore with the soundscape provided by his seven collaborators.

Last weekend saw a further development with Muller and Rodgers presenting their Indigo night in F – a broadening of the artwork, live performance and some engaging storytelling, drawing on Rodgers’ life story and career which had been joyously detailed in his recent autobiography.

The two tiered stage is bare and the soundtrack is 30′s jazz, a nod to their Harlem Nights sub-theme. Gradually the stage is filled with a series of pop-art style cut-outs and then Muller arrives at the easel to paint an introduction in art and words using a stencil to link the various ‘F’s: freedom, family, fate, frustration and so on. Nile Rodgers then appears between the cut-outs to introduce the first of the pre-recorded movements – a very contemporary sound with the sort of insistent groove and vocoder work one could readily associate with his most recent collaborators.

Rodgers’ storytelling is vivid and what a tale he has to tell, having been raised by hippy heroin addicts, he joined the Black Panthers and played in the house band at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. A life-size cut-out of the late Bernard Edwards is placed beside him as he introduces us to the collaborator with whom he became musically inseparable. What Rodgers brought to the table with melodies was matched by Edwards’ gift for arrangement, and we get a fantastic insight into their talent for creating music that appears on the surface to be simple and sing along, but is awash with innovation, jazz chords and a love of chromatics.

A series of terrific stories about Grace Jones, Club 54 and Diana Ross is interspersed with solo runs through Good Times/Rappers Delight, Upside Down and the fabulous Thinking About You and some entertaining banter with Muller, still at the easel on the upper tier. Towards the end of the performance Rodgers (thankfully) narrowly avoids decapitation as a mobile of Cab Calloway’s head – which was suspended from the ceiling – slips its mooring and crashes down onto the microphone.

The two artists are presenting this project as a work in progress, and have been in negotiations about taking the project further. The mix of pop-art, hit music and the pair’s engaging personalities are certainly a winning combination and it is a measure of the man that Rodgers has made the time to see this project through at a time when his currency is so high. Mamma Mia is certainly ain’t and, whatever happens, if you get the opportunity to see it just go!

A little vinyl to clear the air.

 
vinyl

Some time back I spent a day digitizing a lot of vinyl, most of which I hadn’t played in years, it was basically much of what we on the west coast were listening to through the late sixties and into the seventies. Finny, another westcoaster,  just posted the Youngbloods on Earworms and and that was enough to send my off to my iTunes file to find some of those vinyl cuts, always loved the Youngbloods.  So here’s a short playlist, I suspect that many of them will be familiar, but you, like me might not have heard them for a while.

I think it’s what those square DJ’s call ‘A trip down memory lane’ or ‘A blast from the past’.

A good way to start a week?

Spill Challenge # ≥ [ x → ∞ ]

Dinosaur Shepherd

Our founder Saint Owsley & Little Ergot

The Asafareans (Ancient Mystical order of the Revered Dinosaur – Lahontan Branch) are once again holding their Memorial Day fundraiser concert at the Fillmore. An over zealous member has booked 11 bands with only 10 spots available. Won’t you, our parishioners, would be parishioners or even barely interested pagans please help us by picking one band to headline & one to go on next years list of hopefuls. Be gentle they’re all great folks &  just want to help others get their freak in order. Remember – Dinos are fond of a large aural space to frolic in so if you have speakers with a large set of woofers it’ll make them smile.  Play thingy on this side to listen to in a blissfully unaware state or play thingy with playlist for those impatient for knowledge on the other side.  Click gently so you don’t disturb the dinos.


Continue reading

Which Cut Is The Bestest?

true love Waits




It may be a song much used & abused by karaoke maniacs, bedroom youtubers, & egotistical pop stars but let us not forget what a phenomenal tune it really is. Cat may have sold it to PP for £30 back in the day – but which version of the three do you prefer? Or do you know of a better one (I have looked for a noisy indie rock version, and failed, but would love it if there was one in existence)?

‘Spill points are available, and there are bonus ‘Spill points if you can explain why Tom Waits is holding a bunny. caption the Tom Waits & bunny photo.

PARIS 1919/GRAND HOTEL.

I mentioned in El Blimp’s EOTWQ that I am dismantling my RV, yesterday as I was taking out the radio I found a stack of tapes that have sat hidden for about 20 years, there was one I used to play a lot. John Cale’s ‘Paris 1919′ on one side and Procol Harum’s ‘Grand Hotel’ on the other, haven’t listened to either in years. Thank god for youtube.

He Says ~ She Says ~ Hello My Old China ! ! ! Chinese Language Music from 40′s, 50′s, 60;s and 70′s

“But Sakura ! ! ! Why I do I have to wear the ears?”

She Says:

This week we are moving in a new area for me.  We are going to share some tracks from an interesting period in Asian popular music.   I think that the Chinese are a maybe a  little like the Italians of Asia.  They tend to talk  a lot, are very funny, and are very romantic and nostalgic and this is reflected in their popular music.  The 1940 – 1980 period saw a huge change for Chinese speaking peoples.  The war and revolution in China lead to the establishment  PRC of course  but also Taiwan became an independant country and Hong Kong, as the last colony in Chinese territory grew into a wealthy centre for trade and finance for the whole of Asia.  Chinese language music was now developing in three very different environments, but some how there seems to be thread holding it together.

He Says:

China. Still, in some ways, a land of mystery to us in the West. So big, so many people. How on earth can you get your head round somewhere so vast, so different, so ancient ? We’d like to introduce you to some Chinese tunes this week. Many of them heavily “Westernised” and , therefore, somewhat easier on the ear than traditional Chinese music. Hope you enjoy them

Continue reading

The Music Stopped

A Magnetic Tape Reel Label: recording in the Steam Age

40 years ago, after almost two months in Yurp*, the Grateful Dead tribe of 50-odd (some very odd) musicians, roadies, managers, techies and associated ‘other halves’ packed up their equipment and belongings and headed back to the San Francisco Bay Area, taking with them an estimated 17 miles of music-coated magnetic tape. By all accounts, they had enjoyed themselves and accumulated good memories that would last for some considerable time. Continue reading

The Wigan Woodstock

From the Bolton Evening News, May 8th, 1972:

THE sponsors of the Bickershaw Pop Festival were today counting the cost of the big flop. They spent thousands of pounds promoting the three-day festival which ended in the early hours of today. One of the sponsors, market trader Mr Harry ‘The Count’ Bilkus [real name Harry Cohen] commented at his home just over the road from the festival site: ‘It’s a total disaster. I have lost everything. I don’t know what to do.’ Just 40,000 fans turned up to the festival, braving ankle deep mud during rain storms – only one third of the number which organisers had hoped for. In all, it could mean a £60,000 loss.

…which is well over half a million pounds in today’s prices. Musically, however, it was anything but a flop. And a ‘bloomin’ catastrophe’ on the tower was avoided…


Click Here for more details (in an unashamed attempt to remind you of my on-going trip).

Hyperinflation hits Argentina: S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y out costly

New peso coin specifications; Argentina, 1974

In 1974, Argentina came out with a new peso coin (the peso leya).

It was 2mm thick, weighed 5 g, and was made of aluminum-bronze. It was generally described as round, and had a narrower rim than the 1976 peso coin. In addition, the sun on the 1976 peso coin was larger than on the 1974 peso coin. The edge was milled. Lettering on the coin read: REPUBLIC ARGENTINA on one side and 1 PESO on the other.

This was a period of high inflation in Argentina. It took 11.90 pesos to buy one American dollar at the start of the year, and by February it had jumped to an exchange rate of 12.30 pesos. There was little change in March, but in April it jumped to 13.30 pesos. By the end of May it took 14.40 pesos to purchase one American dollar. There was again only a modest increase for one month, but by the end of July the exchange rate was 16.60 pesos to one American dollar. In August the exchange rate increased to 17.55 pesos per American dollar. By the end of September the exchnage rate was 18.70 pesos, and by the end of October it had risen to 20.05 pesos. November saw a minor increase to 20.90 pesos, and by the end of December you would need 22.00 Argentinian pesos to purchase $1US.

Meanwhile, also in early 1974,  in the UK  Les McKeown was hastily re-recording lead vocals on the Bay City Rollers’ forthcoming single, “Remember (Sha La La La)”. It was the break the Edinburgh pop/rock/pop rock/bubblegum pop/glam rock quintet needed as it became a sizable hit and a lead-in to a series of UK chart hits.

Continue reading

Genesis Of The Eurozone: Another Snake Metaphor

In a first attempt to introduce some stability to their currencies in relation to the US dollar, the six member states of the European Economic Community (West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) agreed, at a meeting in Basel 40 years ago today, to create a currency exchange rate system.  It became known as the ‘snake in the tunnel’: the ‘snake’ being the various intra-European exchange rates and the ‘tunnel’ being the limitations created by the dollar’s exchange rate with them. Continue reading

Die Alte Graupfeifenprüfung?

Beat-Club was a TV music program that ran from September 1965 to December 1972, broadcast from Bremen, in what was then West Germany. Many UK and US acts, and Kraftwerk, performed on it and a fair number of clips from the show – including performances from the likes of Alice Cooper, King Crimson, ELP, Deep Purple, The Doors, Canned Heat, BB King, Jethro Tull, Cream and The Who – can be found here.
[Achtung: Sie verlassen jetzt die Totenfreizone!] Continue reading

American Crazies on TV

Unlike television in their homeland, Danish TV was willing to broadcast the Grateful Dead live, in stereo and without numerous ad breaks. They didn’t air the hour-long Dark Star/Sugar Magnolia/Caution but a fair number of the earlier songs were supplied to the Danish public’s ears and eyes. What seems to be the full broadcast show from the second night at the Tivoli on April 17th 1972 is now on YouTube (see below).

To add some visual interest to the show (let’s face it, there’s not a lot of snazzy stagecraft in a Dead performance), they donned their Bolo and Bozo masks to play Big Railroad Blues (at the hour mark in the video).

Continue reading

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, …er, now?

On the same day that the penultimate voyagers to the Moon lifted off from Florida in Apollo 16, the Grateful Dead played a concert to 700 people in the very crowded cafeteria of Aarhus University. They opened the first set with Bob Weir’s speeding rocker, Greatest Story Ever Told, the first line of which is Moses come riding up on a quasar, setting up this post for me 40 years later, in which I connect their blazing start to that of Apollo 16 (and Moses).

Except they didn’t really blaze. Bobby stumbles over the lyrics, Garcia doesn’t hit it right and even Phil fails to nail it (although Keith makes a good fist of the piano part). Donna, whose vocals add to the mayhem of the song when it’s played right, went completely AWOL for the night. Typical! Continue reading

Ace Of Bass

The source I’ve been using for the ‘40 years ago’ events says of April 14th, 1972: The Grateful Dead played their first paying concert in front of a foreign language crowd, in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Tivolis Koncertsa. (They played a free concert in the grounds of the ‘Honky Château’ in Hérouville, France in 1971, meaning good old Wikipedia is technically correct). So, as I don’t need to construct a tenuous link today, I’ll just play a song from what was the first of two nights at the Tivoli.

This is one of several from Ace, the ‘solo’ album they’d been helping Bob Weir to record just before coming over the Atlantic: Looks Like Rain. Continue reading

Speaking In Tongues

On April 11th, 1972, the United States Conference of Roman Catholic bishops was opened to the press for the first time and 75 reporters turned up to the meeting in Atlanta to hear Cardinal John Krol deliver his speech. In Latin.

The Cardinal told reporters, “We told you we’d let you in. We didn’t tell you what language we’d talk.” Pranksters can be found in the most unlikely of places, it seems.

There were also language issues when the Grateful Dead buses headed up to play the Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Hall on the same day, expecting that it wouldn’t be until they sailed across the North Sea that they’d have difficulty understanding the locals….

Fortunately, music is a universal language. Continue reading

It Hurts Me Too

Almost everyone has used Elmore James’ version as a template for their cover – it’s more of a standard 12-bar blues song than Tampa Red’s earlier composition – and the Grateful Dead were no exception. But they played it slower than most and, as ever, their interpretation is not just the singer and lead guitar over a formulaic blues backing.

Despite Pigpen’s deteriorating health (he died a year later), he makes a valiant attempt to emulate his bluesmen heroes and plays some decent harmonica on this performance from Wembley on April 8th, 1972. Garcia set a much slower pace for most of the later versions on the tour, causing poor Ron to hold those harmonica notes even longer, but this is just about right, I reckon. The overall performance is subtly understated, delicate even, and what Ron’s voice lacks in power is made up for by the excellent tone and dynamics of the instrumentation.