One last gasp of winter's wrath in Chicago, combined withAnne E. Johnson's mention of misheard lyrics elsewherein this issue, led me to the title above. I hope that you're somewhere snug and warm, enjoying your discs---or downloads, streaming, or whatever.
The recentAxponashow outside Chicago was an overwhelming success---literally so overwhelming that half a dozen fast-moving reporters might've been to cover it all, but I surely couldn't, by myself. Some of my impressions can be foundhere; we hope to have additional coverage inCopper#58.
Dan Schwartz's marathon chat with legendary promoter/raconteur Rikki Farrcontinues here,covering everything from English gangsters to discovering Keith Emerson, toyet another thingYoko screwed up.
Everyone here is here: Larry Schenbeckfocuses upon musical offerings that provide simple, uncategorizablepleasure; Dan Schwartz tells us producer Bill Bottrell's thory ofMix A vs. Mix B; Richard Murison provides a different perspective onBeethoven;Jay Jay Frenchis back with a new series on his guitar influences, starting withMike Bloomfield; Roy Hall comes of age with his 21st column--- about the wrong woman; Anne E. Johnson brings us the well-crafted and surprisingly-upbeat pop ofThe Sea and Cake; andIlook at things madeby hand, and why we obsess overold stuff.
Copper#57 concludes withanother desert islandtake from Charles Rodrigues, and aTwin LakesParting Shot from Paul McGowan--- that I may turn into a screensaver.
Woody Woodward andIndustry News will both return next issue.Annewill also be back with anotherSomething Old/Something Newsurvey review.
Normally, I’d think twice about visiting Chicago in April—winter has a way of ignoring the calendar around Lake Michigan, and those April showers are often white and fluffy. The lure ofAxponain a big new venue was too much to resist in spite of the weather.
The pre-show buzz was that the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel/Convention Center would be the biggest, nicest setting of any audio show in the US, and that proved to be the case. While it looked like yet another anonymous blocky building complex from nearby Interstate 90, once inside it was open, airy, and bright: not what we generally think of in association with audio shows. A multi-story atrium area emphasized the sense of openness and space, as you can see in the following pics.
This was what it looked like outside. Bleahh.
Inside: the very pleasant main lobby of the Renaissance Hotel.
Looking down on to the lobby from above.
The Expo Hall, site of headphone exhibitors, record vendors, and miscellaneous table exhibitors---before the insanity began.
Pre-show: already starting to gather.
Show registration before Friday's opening. This is 9 AM on a Friday!
Outside the PS room before Friday's opening.
When I wrote about the last RMAF, I said it had the strongest Friday of any audio show I’d every attended. That was true then, but is no longer true: the level of attendance at Axpona on Friday was staggering, especially considering the show opened at 10 AM. Over the weekend, attendance was so heavy that I was often room-bound; as a consequence, my coverage here is less-comprehensive than I’d like. When I was able to get out and about, many popular rooms were packed to the point where entry was impossible, and photography? Fuhgeddaboutit.
We’ll have additional coverage of the show in the next issue of Copper to make up for my deficiencies. —Well, at least my deficiencies in show-coverage.
Sprout-owner Julie Mullins from The Absolute Sound, checking out the new Sprout100.
Colorado neighbors who only see one another at shows: Paul McGowan and Steven Stone from The Absolute Sound and Audiophile Review.
The Expo Hall, up and running.
In 30 years of attending audio shows, I've never seen Linn with a booth display.
To my credit, I didn't laugh at this Goldberg-esque contraption. If you figure it out, tell me.
Record vendors mostly all look the same, no?
This was an unexpected delight in the Expo Hall. Exotic car fans will know that the lack of "eyelashes" on the headlights of this Lamborghini Miura mark it as an ultra-rare SV model. This was a billboard for Gayle Sanders' new Eikon speakers, shown upstairs.
SOTA turntables, still alive and well.
Back in the PS room, Dave and Carol Clark from Positive Feedback.
Stereophile's John Atkinson with Paul McGowan.
The Schroeder guitar amp exhibit, out in the lobby.
Out and about: Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom with Sound & Vision Contributing Technical Editor Michael Trei.
New father Mat Weisfeld from VPI; Kevin Hayes from VAC; Greg Weaver from The Absolute Sound.
The hard-to-photograph Ruel line-source speakers from Canada. Think of the Dali Megaline, only with each module using a slot-loaded fullrange driver.
Quintessence Audio's impressive Sonus faber/Audio Research room.
No, it's not a drone: the bizarre Sonus faber Sf16 next to a subwoofer.
They look like Ohms, but they're new from scratch: HHR Exotic Speakers.
The interesting omnidirectional-sorta Larsen loudspeakers from Sweden.
The massive Avant Garde Trio horns and Basshorns were in a room that could've been bigger.
Air Tight amps always impress, both physically and sonically. Built by Mr. Miura---who is not a Lamborghini.
Both electronics and speakers from Prana Fidelity in Denver. Steveen Norber's designs always sound terrific.
Inexpensive speakers from Gryphon---which means only $30,000.
Joseph Audio's room is always a refuge of good sound and music.
In the shadows: Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio; Lucien Pichette and Jeff Rowland from Jeff Rowland Design Group.
Exogal and Ryan Speakers, sounding terrific, as usual.
Tough to photograph in a dark room: Eikon speakers from MartinLogan founder Gayle Sanders. Multi-amped powered dynamic speakers utilizing DSP.
Frank Van Alstine of Audio by Van Alstine and Michael Levy of Alta Audio.
Too late: Rogers High Fidelity and Burwell and Son packing up.
Hard to photograph in front of a bright window: the big new subwoofer from Emerald Physics.
Even harder to shoot: the 24" woofer of the Emerald Physics sub.
A big prototype amp from Western electric. The 300Bs will be coming again, soon.
As far as I could get into the High Water Sound room. Herb Reichert's on the right.
Yet another terrific Raidho setup with the affable Rune Skov.
Axpona 2018 was huge and spread out, with hundreds of exhibitors. I’m sure we’ll get some numbers in the weeks to come. I regret I was unable to convey more of the range of exhibitors, but the scale was pretty daunting.
An unqualified success, by any standards—but could it be better? A press/trade day—or at least a few hours—might be useful. Other than that, Axpona offered more of a mix of exhibitors and of demographics than any show I’ve seen in the US. Here’s looking forward to 2019!
“Goodbye” I said with a smile as I stepped over the two bodies twitching on the ground.
Many years ago I almost married the absolutely wrong person. We had met when her boyfriend at the time asked me to give her guitar lessons. In those days, (late sixties) I was part of a folk group that occasionally played the clubs in Glasgow. We weren’t nearly as good as we thought we were but that never deterred us from performing. As a sideline I taught guitar. I was self-taught and my playing was good enough. I had picked up the guitar at the age of thirteen, after seeing an older friend playing guitar with his girlfriend sitting at his feet, gazing adoringly at him. I wanted to be that guy with women at my feet. This method worked wonderfully for years and I wooed many a lass. With the exception of the tale I am about to tell, it served me well as it was one of the ways I courted my wife of 48 years.
My fiancé (lets call her Marylyn) was from the start, not for me. She didn’t read much (just trash), wasn’t particularly attractive, had lots of phobias and lacked intellectual curiosity. This last thing was very serious as most of my friends were smart, highly educated and articulate. But an animal magnetism drew me to her and one night, late in the evening after a romantic tryst, I stupidly asked her to marry me. She immediately said yes. This started a cascade of events that deteriorated so rapidly that I was popping Librium (similar to Valium) every day.
Marylyn’s parents were very successful. Her father, David, had been a major in world war two and had been awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth. A handsome imposing man, he ran a very successful garment business and was beloved by all.
Celia, her mother, was a different kettle of fish. She was attractive, clever, driven and devious. She was involved in all kinds of charities, which on the face of things seemed admirable. But her real motive (as I found out later) behind her good works was to also get a queens award to match her husband’s. Much as she loved him, she was jealous of him and resented his success. Marylyn was adopted and had a tortured relationship with her mom. One day, in the midst of a fight, Celia turned round to Marylyn and said, “I’m glad I’m not your real mother. I would have hated to give birth to you”.
Into this dynamic, I blithely entered.
My parents put on a good face when I told them of the engagement, but they were obviously not thrilled. On the other hand her parents were delighted and immediately started to make plans. (Rich people do this). Within days an engagement party was arranged, announcements went out and presents started to arrive. There were so many presents (mostly from her side) that my sister kindly offered her spare room to store them all. I counted more than 500 gifts.
In this whirlwind of activity, I seemed almost irrelevant. Other more insidious things were going on behind the scenes. Celia suggested that I use her husband’s hairdresser. This was the era of the Beatles and my hair was getting longer. Marylyn took me shopping to a store she liked (think Brooks Brothers) and I gave up my fashionable, Carnaby Street pastels for a blue blazer and beige slacks. I was star struck by their glamour and money and went along for the ride.
After about two or three weeks I developed a pain in my chest, which I recognized as anxiety. I also admitted to myself that I did not love Marylyn and that I had made a big mistake. Of course I told no one of this. I started jogging to ease the pain but apart from making me leaner, it didn’t help. I visited my doctor who prescribed two things: Librium and ending the engagement. I felt trapped. The Glasgow society I was raised in was very judgmental and I didn’t yet have the balls to break it off.
The engagement party was massive with hundreds of guests and plans were being made for the wedding, an afternoon tea for 500 guests. My parents were livid about this because they wanted a more traditional evening wedding with fewer guests. But Celia was running the show. The coup de gras was the phone call informing me that they had bought us the, “sweetest little house you could ever imagine”. What they had actually done was to put a deposit down on a house and taken out a mortgage in my name with monthly payments greater than twice my salary. I surmised from this that I would soon be brought into the family business.
I was going crazy when fate intervened. Marylyn became pregnant and we had to tell her parents. In those days it was a big deal to be pregnant out of wedlock. It was considered immoral and shameful. The meeting with her folks was one of the most difficult conversations I have ever had. Celia wanted to murder me and David was heartbroken. I suggested we move the wedding forward but that idea fell on deaf ears. We decided to continue the conversation on the next day and I went home to face my parents and listen to their disappointment.
The next day I drove over to see Marylyn but she wasn’t there. Her father did not know where she was. None of her friends or relatives had seen her and Celia was also gone. I suspected foul play but with no way of contacting her, I had to sit tight and wait. She returned a week later and told me that it was all a mistake, she was never pregnant and had seen a doctor who had given her, “a wee clean out”. In those days abortion was illegal so this Scottish euphemism was appropriate. This really was the end. To have an abortion without consulting me was wrong and I let her know this.
A few days later at around 2a.m. after an evening of crying and arguing, she returned the ring and I drove her home. I returned to my house, woke up my folks who were delighted by the news. By the time we finished talking (celebrating) and had gone to bed, it was around 4a.m. At 7o’clock the phone rang and my sister informed me that a truck was outside her house wanting to take away all the gifts. My first thought was how did Celia manage to arrange a truck between 2.a.m and 7a.m? My second thought was to tell the trucker to leave. I was no longer under Celia’s control and she would have to wait.
I did allow the presents to be taken away at a later date.
After a few weeks had passed I decided to have a talk with David. He was a really good guy and I had hurt him deeply. I called him up and arranged to visit him that afternoon. When I saw him I returned two gifts he had given me. One was a gold Star of David and the other, an 18 carat, rose gold, Patek Philippe watch. (It would be worth a fortune today.) I told him how sorry I was for all the grief I had caused the family. He was grateful and thanked me for coming over. As I opened the door to leave his office, two bodies, his sister and his nephew, fell down in front of me. They had been leaning on the office door listening.
“Goodbye” I said with a smile as I stepped over the two bodies twitching on the ground.
In the dark, dim past, on a dark and stormy night, Bill Bottrell would rant to anyone who would listen (usually just me) about Mix A and Mix B. As I despair of ever getting him to write about it, I’ll now take it on.
There are all kinds of ways of expressing what the idea is supposed to be about, but for want of a better phrase, it’s aboutWhat Went Wrong With Music. This is something that must cross everyone’s mind from time to time:What Went Wrong With Music.
Here’s Bill’s theory — which I find kind of inarguable: Mix A represents the musicians in charge; Mix B represents the engineers in charge.
Think about what that means for a few minutes: in the days of few (or fewer) tracks, we first began with capturing music — thinkMeet the Beatles, or some of the oldRCA Living Stereorecordings. As the musicians got more used to the process, and they became more involved in it, collaboration between the two respective teams began, culminating in works likeSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or Simon & Garfunkel’sBridge Over Troubled Water, or evenTubular Bells,for that matter.
I think about my first experiences in a studio: my band and engineer Doug Sclar were equal partners in shaping our work — Doug effectively functioning as a non-playing musician. Although now I think we kinda sucked, we were certainly ambitious — all of us, Doug included. And rather than giving us orders, he was, in addition to capturing our sounds, performing what we might call “cat-herding”. This strikes me as an ideal: everyone’s opinion is given equal weight.
Certainly, George Martin never gave the Fabs instructions. He would offer suggestions, they might take them, and gradually a record would emerge.
But: as tracks became more plentiful, and options increased, the power began to shift to the other side of the glass. And this here is the crux of the matter, of Mix A vs. Mix B:power. By the late 70s, we (the players) were taking our cue from the engineers. By the time I moved into Hollywood, many musicians were jumping through hoops of their own to meet engineers exacting demands. At one group of sessions I was involved in, players were clapping their hands in an attempt to cover the sound of a metronome, trying to clap in such flawless time — metronomic time — that the two sounds became one. With the players, the music, so subjugated, is it any surprise that punk music rose up in the midst of it?
Bill himself started as a player, built his own makeshift studio in a warehouse in which he had a job, worked his way up to being house engineer at a small Hollywood place called California Recording (home of the Wah-Wah pedal), and eventually became Chief Engineer at Soundcastle Recording in Silver Lake, L.A. And then the Jacksons came calling, and Jeff Lynne, and…
By the time we met, he was about to open Toad Hall, his private studio in Pasadena. And it was in Toad Hall that he started to put his beliefs into practice: Mix A, the restoration of power to artists.
When you think like this, suddenly most pop music becomes an example of one way of thinking or the other.
Misheard lyrics are an age-old, unavoidable problem in rock music (and the inspiration for some great YouTube satires), but one band took advantage of the phenomenon. While listening to fellow Chicago indie groupGastr del Sol, they misheard the title of the song “The C in Cake.” And so,The Sea and Cakewas born. Sound crazy? Not when you consider that they’ve been performing and recording together since 1994.
Lead vocalist/guitarist Sam Prekop started the band with bassist Eric Claridge, adding drummer John McEntire and guitarist Archer Prewitt (who had the coolest day job at the time – as a colorist for Marvel comics!). They wasted no time in releasing their first CD, a self-titled album that immediately earned them attention for its opening track, “Jacking the Ball.” Of course, that’s a play on “Ballin’ the Jack,” an early 20th-century popular tune made famous by Danny Kaye.
Although the lyrics don’t have an obvious meaning, and Prekop is famously hard to understand, the song became an instant indie classic. It even has its own entry on UrbanDictionary.com, which describes its title thus: “Used in the right context it can be interpreted as some sort of bizzare [sic] sexual innuendo that no one gets.” Come to think of it, that’s not a bad overall definition of indie rock.
What you immediately notice about “Jacking the Ball” is the irresistible opening instrumental hook and the skill with which it’s played. In the early albums, The Sea and Cake focused on acoustic textures (I’m including electric guitars and bass used with non-experimental sounds). The style is simultaneously energetic yet laid back, combining elements of ska, Latin, and jazz. Prekop’s guttural vocal, alternating with quiet falsetto, sells the nonsensical lyrics as if they were profound insights. If that’s not the job of young songwriters, I’m not sure what is.
The title track from their second album,The Biz(1995), shows that the fragmentary style of the “Jacking the Ball” lyrics was not a fluke. It’s how Prekop and Co. write songs. At least with “The Biz” you get a better sense of a meaning, with lines like “I may try to stay misunderstood.” There’s a whiff of solitude and rebellion.
The dissonance caused by the choppy, breathless vocal line against the whining drone of a synth is its own kind of rebellion. Forget irresistible hooks – this one challenges you to dare to keep listening, let alone find the downbeat. Prekop’s voice has a remoteness that reminds me of Robert Smith (The Cure):
Skipping past the other 1995 album,Nassau, takes us to 1997’sThe Fawn,a benchmark in the band’s stylistic development. From this album to the present they have let electronic sounds drive their arrangements. The title song, “Fawn,” is an unbroken wall of synth, completely different from the individualized playing on earlier albums. Even Prekop’s voice is changed — breathier and smoother — and the melody lines more mellow, the lyric lines longer.
But just when you think you’ve pegged their new act, The Sea and Cake reaches back to its influences. “The Ravine,” also fromThe Fawn, is a breakup song relying on a range of acoustic hand percussion for its winsome tone:
No grass grows under this band. In the early 2000s they made the albumsOuiandOne Bedroom.I’ll fast-forward toEverybody,from 2007. “Lightning” has a bossa nova vibe and typically enigmatic lyrics but an appealing beat. It’s a good demonstration of the band’s typical emotional distance; it’s partly Prekop’s vocal delivery, but it’s also the instrumentals – arranged without any dramatic arc. The title of the song might refer to just watching lightning in a natural setting, but then there are lines like “And we thought you’d come alive / but you broke down on me” that hint at a Frankenstein reference. The music itself offers no clue, of course.
The Sea and Cake comes across as grown up, even middle-aged, in the 2012 album,Runner. Their sound is smoother and energy-efficient, relying on rhythmic tricks like the perpetual motion. The song “Neighbors and Township” seems to be about settling into life, maybe giving up on certain dreams. You’ll hear phrases like “washed-up thoughts,” “ephemeral,” “year after year”; in case you haven’t figured it out yet, this band has no truck with poetic clarity. The jazz-like sound comes from adding a dissonant note to major chords to form what’s sometimes called a “mu chord,” common in jazz and the go-to harmonic building block for Steely Dan.
After nearly two decades of band stability, fans of The Sea and Cake must have been traumatized when Eric Claridge said farewell in 2013. It looked like the end: Prekop and Prewitt got busy on solo albums, while McEntire poured energy into his producing and engineering business. But, as it turned out, there’s still more cake in the sea. It just took a few years to drift ashore.
The beginning of 2018 saw the release ofAny Day,written and recorded by Prekop, Prewitt, and McEntire with help from colleagues such as legendary session flutist/clarinetist Paul Von Mertens. (It’s well worth mentioning that the band has been with the same indie record company, Thrill Jockey, since they started in 1994.)
In the title track, the band is sounding more down to earth, more acoustic. The synth is pushed to the background when it does finally come in. They still have their jazzy, toe-tapping groove. The message is clear: these guys are not going anywhere.
I have been asked on several occasions to write about the guitar players who have had the greatest influences on me.
While I have talked about this short list in interviews, I have never gone into any specifics as to the what, when & why of my choices.
Here then, for my loyal readers of Copper, is a more detailed description of the guitar players who have had the greatest impact on my life.
Everyone who creates finds a portal. That is the entry point by which a world of wonder and learning descends upon one’s imagination and literally pushes out everything else that could get in the way of learning about and a deep desire to figure out why one feels so enveloped by what one has just experienced.
Yes, at the age of 10 I learned my first guitar chords from my brother and my summer camp counselor, Mike Meeropol. Weavers records were always being played in my house.
Through both my brother and Mike Meeropol, I learned at the age of 10 how to “Travis Pick” because, in 1962, folk music was all the rage.
I know how to play this pretty complex style of playing but have never needed to use it and it remains just an interesting sidebar to my blues/metal style.
For the next 5 years, especially through the love of the Beatles, my love of guitar playing was relegated to bass playing because there were never enough bass players for the local bands and I was studying upright bass playing in junior high school.
As much as I loved the Beatles I strangely never liked their guitar sound particularly and, though both John & George were great players in their respective positions, never looked up to them as guitar heroes.
It wasn’t until I joined a blues band at the age of 15 and watched a local guitar hero, Nick Katzman, copy the guitar style of Mike Bloomfield, that the fire of inspiration began to burn through me.
I was given a copy of the first album byThe Paul Butterfield Blues Bandbecause we were playing many songs from that album. Although the opening song “I Was Born in Chicago” is one of my all time favorites, it wasn’t until the opening guitar riff from the song “Blues With a Feeling” that nailed it. The sound of his guitar and the fluidity of the opening guitar riff followed by the guitar solo became the gate with which I entered the world of lead guitar fascination.
I had to know how it was played.
I had to know how that sound was created.
I played the album and that song especially, over and over.
Shortly after I got the album I bought my first electric guitar. It was a Fender Telecaster because that is what Bloomfield was holding in the photo on the back of the cover. This was very early 1968, and I went down to 48th street in NYC to a store called Jimmy’s because the famous Manny’s Music wanted $147.50. I only had $135.00 and Jimmy’s took it!
In the spring of 1968 I got a very bad case of mononucleosis and was ordered by my doctor to stay home from school for 3 weeks. It was during that time that I played 8 hours a day. I slept with my guitar in my bed.
All day I practiced the guitar riffs of Mike Bloomfield.
As the days rolled on, I began to understand the placement of the notes and the timing of the lead parts.
When I finally recovered for mono and arose from my sick bed that spring, I was a lead guitar player!
This desire was so overwhelming and the passion so deep that even today, when I wonder if I can play well enough, I can always go back to that time where anything and everything was possible.
Thank you Mike Bloomfield for being that guiding light andhand.
That’s a punch line! It belongs to the joke about a guy who falls off a ten-story building. As he passes the sixth floor, someone calls out to him from a window: “How’s it going?”
But I digress. Our topic today ispleasure, simple pleasure. In 2018 so far, which recordings have really floated your boat? Here’s my own list of boat-floaters; feel free to add yours.
BF1:Claude Debussy: Piano Music.Stephen Hough, piano. HyperionCDA68139. It’s a Debussy centenary year. The master Impressionist (a label he despised) died in 1918, so brace yourself for another eight months in which you’ll be assaulted by dozens of memorials to someone whose music is already inescapable.
Choose your poison! (Considering Hough’s album art, maybe that should bechoose your poisson.) Stephen Hough, my choice, is a master pianist in a number of repertoires, and this is a beautifully recorded, well-chosen sampler. Try a taste ofCloches à travers les feuilles(“Bells [heard] through the leaves”):
Debussy did have his own dry sense of humor, something Hough acknowledges by programming the marvelously childlike-but-never-childishChildren’s Corner,including this little number, “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum”:
For some of us,Steps to Parnassusmay call to mind to Fux’s infamously thoroughtreatise on counterpoint, but Debussy had in mind three volumes of piano exercises byMuzio Clementi(just practice these faithfully and someday you, too, will dwell among the gods!). To judge from Debussy’s music, Parnassus is a realm of innocent wonder and absolute perfection. Or, as the composer told his publisher Durand:
Dr. G. ad P.is a kind of progressive, hygienic gymnastics. It should be played every morning on an empty stomach, beginningmoderatoand ending upanimé. I hope you will be impressed by the clarity of my explanation.
Weareimpressed—with your music, at least. Happy Anniversary, Claude.
BF2:Black is the Colour (Berio, Ravel, De Falla). Anna Stéphany, mezzo-soprano, Labyrinth Ensemble.Alpha Classics 5837. I was still in high school when I discovered Cathy Berberian, feisty American mezzo who premiered some great avant-garde vocal music in her day. She made it fun! About the time Spider-Man got his career underway, she was creatingStripsody(1966), her own zany take on all sorts of comic-book comedy. Luciano Berio also composed for her. His “soundtrack for a play never written” is calledVisage; check it out below. There are no words. Literally.
In 1964, the last year of their marriage, Berio made Cathy an attractive assortment ofFolk Songsfrom many lands. They’re far tamer thanVisage,but they offer far more lasting pleasures. Now Anna Stéphany has taken them up, accompanied by top-notch Zurich chamber group Labyrinth. Here’s a sample:
YouTube also offers a miscellany of Labyrinth/Stéphany rehearsal and performance videos dating back to 2015. Beware: these donotexemplify the warmth, polish, and superb sonics of the new Alpha Classics set. Besides the BerioFolk Songs,it includes two works by Ravel:Histoires Naturelles,on witty and erudite poetry by Jules Renard, and theIntroduction et Allegrowith harpist Julie Palloc. If Berio’s songs suggest a tasting menu, exquisite but miniaturized, don’t fret: Ravel’s six-course meal will satisfy entirely. (And for dessert, De Falla!)
BF3:Four Composers – Four Pieces – Four Pianos.Alexander Melnikov, piano(s). Harmonia MundiHMM 902299. Mr. Melnikov collects pianos. I’d love to see what his living room looks like. (Maybe he keeps half a dozen tiny apartments, each housing a single heirloom instrument.) In any caseFour Composerspresents an intriguing argument for his obsession. We get to hear Schubert’sWanderer-Fantasieon a Graff (Vienna, c. 1828–35) with something called a “bassoon register”; Chopin’sÉtudesop. 10 on an Érard (Paris, 1837), with Érard patent “repetition action”; Liszt’sRéminiscences de Don Juanon a Bösendorfer (Vienna, c.1875); and finally Stravinsky’sTrois Mouvements de Pétrouchkaon a 2014 Steinway D. Yes, you can hear the differences. No, they’re not that subtle. Yes, it does make a difference to the music. Here’s one such moment in the Schubert:
Chopin may sound slightly more Chopinesque on an Érard, too.
The instrument that comes through least well is the Bösendorfer, possibly because Liszt—whoselast pianowas in fact an Érard—never met a piano he couldn’t slay in mortal combat. (On aprevious recordingof this piano, I actually enjoyed hearing Melnikov play Brahms, who was never bent on besting Bösendorfers.) Listen to this bit from theRéminiscences:
Sadly, Liszt never encountered a Steinway D. Its advantages seem obvious. In audiophile terms, they amount toheadroom: if this piano were a power amp, it would run cool at 600 wpc and put out effortlessly consistent, rich sound from high to low, soft toveryloud. The Stravinsky work was well-chosen for its role here, by the way. Commissioned by Arthur Rubinstein as a display piece, it’s absolutely “demonstration level.”
I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be playing this record. It’sinterestingrather than compelling. Melnikov usually plays sensitively, so maybe it’s the engineering. The instruments sound closely mic’ed in a studio (Teldex, Berlin) that’s oddly reverberant. This is probably not the sound Chopin and his devotees heard in Parisian salons, with their oriental carpets, heavy velvet drapes, and overstuffed furniture. Melnikov’s engineers let you hear every noise the old actions make, every variation in timbral response and the attendant problems of voicing and balancing. Was my boat floated? Mainly by Melnikov at the Steinway, if I’m going to be honest.
BF4:Which brings us to a terrific recorded performance I will mention only briefly because, in a just world, that would suffice:Le Sacre du printempsand other Stravinsky works in arrangements for two pianos, the benches of which are occupied by Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes (Hyperion CDA 68189).Wow.Whatever is lost in orchestral colorings is made up for with textural clarity and astonishing rhythmic drive. These two know how to phrase,how to shape a statement, how to layer as they reveal. You will hear things you’ve never heard.
Stravinsky and his pal Debussy first played thisSacrearrangement for their colleagues in 1913, before the ballet itself was premiered. They couldn’t have done much better than Hamelin and Andsnes, though. This is not just interesting, it’scompelling.
BF5:LikewiseDeux(Alpha Classics 387), featuring violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and pianist Polina Leschenko in works by Poulenc, Bartók, Ravel, Dohnányi. Fizzy, gutsy performances from two of classical music’s current “mavericks.” If you want some sense of why Kopatchinskaja is considered such a rebel, check out these telling moments from the finale of Poulenc’sViolin Sonata:
Here and elsewhere she is not afraid to use her instrument in ugly ways—scratching, moaning, whispering, coaxing the blues (okay, microtones) from woozy long notes.Galamianwould not have approved. But it’s real and true, as by 1943 that crazy oldflâneurPoulenc knew only too well. Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko make an ideal team for this desperate music. Highly recommended.
BF6-7:Finally, two symphonic albums, one devoted to a composer you’ve never heard of, the other devoted to someone who, like Debussy, you can’t avoid this year. We’re speaking of Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990), whose centenary is being celebrated worldwide. Not least by record labels, including BIS, who have just issuedOn the Waterfrontfrom The Royal Liverpool PO and trombonist-turned-conductor Christian Lindberg (BIS-2278). It features the symphonic suite from Elia Kazan’s film and a bunch of other familiar orchestral fare (see the hyperlink for full listing). Is it as breezily idiomatic as Bernstein’s own recordings? Probably not. Nevertheless it’s full of all appropriate energy, played by a band that’s arguably in better shape these days than the NY Phil. And it’sextremelywell-recorded. I couldn’t help myself: it definitely floated my boat.
The composer you’ve never heard of is Norwegian Finn Mortensen (1922–83). HisSymphony op. 5(Stavanger SO 3917-9; all formats!) is well worth hearing. Jim Anderson, known for his enlightened engineering of Jane Ira Bloom and others, was kind enough to send me a copy. Mortensen’sSymphonyis a youthful work, equal parts Bruckner, Nielsen, and middle-of-the-road Neoclassicism.
Even though young Mortensen was still finding his way, this is enormously assured music. It just soundsright. I do wish the SSO gave us more than the 37-minuteSymphony(another recent recordingoffers op. 5 plus opp. 12, 23, and 30). But the Stavangers’ musical conviction is apparent in every note they play, and it is stunningly recorded.
Within the span of a couple weeks, I went from a vintage equipment show,Vintage Voltage, toAxpona, a show with a ton of brand-new gear where the only vintage items were the attendees (badda-BOOM).
That’s really not fair: there were more youngish attendees than at any show I’ve been to in ages. However, while wandering the halls looking at the megabuck systems, it occurred to me that one of the significant differences between new gear and old is that the old gear has a history. I don’t just mean historyin general, “McIntosh Laboratory was founded in 1946….” or whatever, but that individual vintage models or units invoke apersonalhistory related to either former ownership or associations.
Here’s what I mean:
Why do 65-year-old men buy ’69 Camaros? Beyond the innate coolness of the car, it’s usually because they either owned one at some point and have fond memories of the cars, or—and I think this is more often the case— they lusted after it when they were 16, but had no ability to buy one at that time. You certainly don’t buy a 50-year-old car for everyday transportation: the noise and lack of comfort or reliability would rule that out in a heartbeat. There has to be something else behind the purchase. And that something else is the miasma of mental and emotional associations surrounding the car. Back in the day, there was repeated exposure to the car through stories in Motor Trend, ads on TV, the much-read brochure from the local Chevy dealer.
If it’s aspecific’69 Camaro, one that belonged to a friend or relative, there may be memories of 12 people packed into the car going to a drive-in movie, making out with Mary Jane in the tiny back seat, narrowly losing a street race to that jerk with the Challenger…well, you get it. It’s not just a car, it’s a rollingRemembrance of Things Past, the trigger of a string of life memories—or even potential memories, what could’ve or should’ve been.
Guess what? Audio gear is exactly the same. We hunt for the JBL 100s that sounded so insane in that dude’s dorm room— never mind the fact that we were likely wasted when we heard them, and we’ve become far more discerning over the intervening years. The thing is not the thing itself, but a touchstone.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. In a weird way, we buy new gear for the same reasons, hoping for pleasant future memories, recollections of time spent enjoying music with family and friends.
As a late Boomer (as well as a late bloomer) I’m clearly a child of the industrial era. Perhaps because of that, I have an inordinate appreciation for those who can do things well with their hands—and little else.
Having worked around machine shops, I’ve tried my hand at operating a variety of mills, lathes, files. The results were not pretty. The machinists who tried to teach me, ultimately found me unteachable. I just didn’t have “the touch”, and my projects would end up as amorphous chunks of metal, accompanied by a pile of chips. While that may sound like an appetizer at a Mexican restaurant, the results were not at all appetizing.
My friend Jeff is the polar opposite. He once built a wooden fence around my back yard, all perfectly square and plumb, just by eyeballing the job—all in the time it would’ve taken me to dig one post-hole and set the post. He can also pick up any musical instrument and play it well, whittle by hand with museum-quality results, adjust any machine within a thou or two. All by eye and ear.
I hate Jeff. —Not really, but his abilities confound me.
My father was a dentist who could carve perfect replicas of teeth, so the genetic ability should be there. And when I let myself, I can kinda sorta draw, though not as well as I’d like. What I lack is confidence and the10,000 hoursof practice Malcolm Gladwell claims is required to gain expertise. That’s 4-5 years working at something as though it were a full-time job. That’s a lot of damn hours.
When it comes to audio, I have yet to master the skill of producing a solder joint that actually conducts electricity. Massive dead-short bubbles of dull-looking solder are my specialty. As you can imagine, I’m thwarted by minor repairs, much lessbuilding a kit. I’m sure that if I could suppress my fears, I really could learn how to do this— but I’ve always been told that friends don’t let friends solder drunk. So it goes.
An extreme example of hand-made audio, admittedly with the assistance of some big-ass machines, is the work of the group at Wheel Fi. The guiding light at Wheel Fi is Jeffrey Jackson, known for his custom steampunk tube amps and horn speakers under the nameExperience Music. Paired with transformer guru Dave Slagle ofIntact Audio, Jackson has also done business jointly asEMIA(Experience Music plus Intact Audio).
The Wheel-Fi website has inexplicably vanished, but you can see their handiworkhere. The group builds massive conical horn loudspeakers out solid walnut, winding and building their own field-coil drivers, powered by wall-hanging vacuum tube amplifiers reminiscent of Western Electric theater units—complete with the violet glow of ancient mercury vapor rectifiers. The aesthetic may not be to your taste, but the worksmanship, the wrangling of walnut and bronze, is impeccable. The video showing the Wheel-Fi design and construction process is beautifully done—a work of art itself.
In the video you’ll see every step from creation to execution, planing planks of solid walnut from whole trees, machining and patinating bronze for the loudspeaker throats. It’s immensely impressive, and sets a high-water mark for anyone who aspires to build their own.
That high standard of workmanship can be a little off-putting, like seeing someone who built a car from scratch in their garage—while you’re struggling to do an oil-change on your own.
Peter Ledermann working at the ‘scope. Think this isn’t stressful? Peter’s only 27!
Also off-putting is the handiwork of phono cartridge makers, like Peter Ledermann ofSoundSmith. Can you imagine putting together tiny bits all day, working under a microscope? I can’t, but that’s what’s required to precisely assemble the miniature generators that are phono cartridges. Cartridges vary wildly in their type (moving coil, moving magnet, moving iron, strain-gauge, and so on) and also in their sonic characteristics; I’m amazed that the tiny things work, and in fact often work miraculously well. I feel about the functionality of phono cartridges the way Dr. Johnson did about the dog walking on its hind legs: “you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Not terribly relevant, but who can resist?
Computers can be useful and versatile tools, but I’m saddened by the gradual disappearance of illustrations that are drawn, printed, or painted by hand. Computer graphics have come a long way in the last few decades, but they tend to have a certain uniformity. Magazines and websites tend to rely upon rapidly-cranked-out computer illos or photographs, and they lack the richness of the works of illustrators past…like Virgil Finlay’s detailed stipple and scratchboard works.
I shouldn't be surprised that computer art dominates the field: it can be produced almost anywhere, generally in less time and with less expense. Haven't we also seen ease of access and convenience trumping quality in audio, for the most part?
[Part 1 of Dan Schwartz’s conversation with Rikki Farr appeared inCopper#56. As we concluded Part 1, Rikki was running for his life from Germany and ” I got out and met the boys (the Beatles), and put on some shows…”—Ed.]
D.S.: In Liverpool?
R.F.: In Liverpool. And I realized – I was looking at a book that had some of the early posters – and this was a little bit later, I started putting on some town halls, and they generally had a beer license; you could rent them really cheaply. You’d put up posters…
D.S.: Rent what?
R.F.: Town halls. You know. Like Macklesfield….you could rent town halls and put posters up in the city, which was illegal, but we used to do it. So we’d go to places and take out adverts in the local newspaper. There was no radio advertising because the BBC was the only radio station at the time.
D.S.: When did Radio Caroline come in?
R.F.: That came in with Ronan O’Rahilly, my dear friend, Ronan O’Rahilly. That came in later. That was an old fishing trawler that he took. Had to go three miles off. That thing was a problem, that boat!
D.S.: What about Radio Luxembourg?
R.F.: Radio Luxembourg was earlier.
D.S.: Oh! I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg.
R.F.: Luxembourg was before Radio Caroline, yeah. Well, of course, my dear friend, John Peel, who passed away a few years ago, and his wife, “The Pig” – that was his name for her, affectionately – but John and I were very close and did a lot of shows together. He had that lovely…
D.S.: Him doing the emceeing?
R.F.: No, John was the DJ. In his show, “The Perfumed Garden”, he was – his show was picked up by the BBC and he became hugely popular. But he would come on and play records at the Roundhouse, the Electric Garden, all sorts of places…
D.S.: Oh, I see.
R.F.: ..and the Floyd, King Crimson, Soft Machine…all of those bands at the time – this was where we had Liquid Land and we had cotton wool done in big fluorescent…being lugged around in giant balloons with naked ladies in the same balloons…body art…you know, it’s all coming back to me now, but it seems so long ago, but it was a very, very cool time.
D.S.: So—if you hadn’t met John and hadn’t become a promoter of concerts – what would you have done?
R.F.: I’d have been an actor. Because Joe Liverwood had a repertory theater in Lewis called Center 42. And I got recruited with this guy called Pete Wilson to join his repertory theater. And Bill Folk, who was actually the younger of the Folk Brothers, whom we did “The Other Way” with, Bill was at the Royal – he was with RADA – Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. And his school project was to choose a film about the Reformation when Henry decided to take all of the Catholic churches out of England, which was part of his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. When
Rome – when Pope Clement decided to turn him down, he said, “Well, then, I’ll be Pope of England.” So he re-wrote the Bible, and he had the Anglican church…
D.S.: ..and led to 400 years of strife?
R.F.: That’s right. And that led to Oliver Cromwell and the Pilgrim fathers…not to give a history lesson, but I’m fascinated by this, I love it..
…I actually went to the tree on the Isle of Wight where Charles hid and was captured on his way to France, and brought back by Cromwell and beheaded. Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads. And of course, that persecution led to the founding of the Pilgrim fathers who left and moved to America. They brought their diseases, their horrible attitudes…
D.S.: …and the relentless hysteria.
R.F.: Most people don’t realize that at Thanksgiving, that when the Huron Indians came out in the middle of that terrible storm and brought turkey and corn to these people who were basically a week away from death, and fed them, gave them blankets and comfort – they turned around, once they got healthy, and built their stockades, and started robbing their corn, giving them diseases, and as they say – the rest is history.
And when I see the cynicism and crazy crap coming out of the leaders of our country now, and they have no sense of where the bad immigration really was (laughs)…
D.S.: Make mythology great again.
R.F.: Exactly! So we digress…
D.S.: You probably couldn’t get into the country now. A rock n’ roller trying to come over here in ‘78? Against this government? I don’t think so.
R.F.: I have a letter that I’ve got in a box somewhere from Margaret Thatcher, who actually became a good friend of my mother and father, as he was a national hero. He had a column in the national newspapers, and a TV show, and he was much loved. Margaret Thatcher wrote me a letter, asking me to please come back. “We understand that you exiled yourself over what was an unbelievably unfair tax thing.” But you know, I love the sunshine. I had bought a beautiful house off of Toluca Lake. I had two children – one child here…
D.S.: And you started managing The Tubes.
R.F.: I was managing The Tubes and I was working with Jeff Beck. And my production company was emerging really successfully. I love America and I love Americans. I love this country. I’m very saddened by what’s happened on the political surface. And when I see this morning, this young kid with an AK…And I see these kind of guarded apologies to the parents of the dead children…but at the same time this sort of corner bubble of bad bile coming from the corner of their mouths that we must protect the NRA…and it’s this doublespeak – this mentally ill kid who’s been expelled, who’s already printed all this stuff out, able to walk into a school with an assault rifle. And nobody wants to take responsibility. Because there’s a huge wedge of people in this country…I don’t want to say necessarily that they’re Trump supporters, but it looks like there’s some synchronicity there – that approve of whatever it takes to bear arms. And you know…wait until you’re burying your child.
D.S.: When I lived in England, the police were not – when I lived there, there was a protest against the Vietnam War. In Grosvenor Square.
R.F.: Oh! I remember that! Yes!
D.S.: And the bodies…the protestors ended up dancing in a circle around the Square, arm in arm. And I thought, “Man – that would not happen in America.”
R.F.: Do you know how many murders there were in the United Kingdom last year? I think it was 62. You have more than that in a week in Chicago. It goes on and on. In Australia, when they did their ruling on the gun laws…
D.S.: You don’t have to convince me.
R.F.: I’m just sharing.
D.S.: Were any of those killings in England with guns?
R.F.: Knives. Predominantly knives. Predominantly knives or strangling. And most of them were mentally…very few of them were premeditated. But then, you have the Richardsons and the Kray Brothers, who I knew at the Marquee. They’d send deaf and dumb Ginger there to empty out our…
D.S.: Now this is worth talking about here!
R.F.: They would send…The Gunnell Brothers, who had the Flamingo Club down the road – they were hard cases. But because my father was Tommy Farr, and you know when you are a champion boxer, you know everyone from every walk of life, and the one thing you don’t do is: you don’t mess with the champion. ‘Cause he makes a phone call, and all of a sudden, you’ve got East and West and North and South and all sorts of things happening.
So I had a cloak of immunity from…and I was pretty tough myself. You had to, when you were running clubs in Soho…I remember sailors coming in with scissors to give everybody haircuts. And I garnered a reputation by picking up a mic stand and getting into a row. Actually holding them at bay on the pavement floor while the Navy police came and took them away. These are the things that got me a reputation for being a sort of hoodlum. But that was purely to protect my crowd; my kids in the club. We didn’t have big bouncers. We had a couple of guys at the door, but once you were in the club…
D.S.: You let Chas Chandler use the Marquee for Hendrix, didn’t you?
R.F.: No, no. There was a club I was associated with called The Bag Of Nails. It was on Carnaby Street. And I got the Bag of Nails to let Chas rehearse Jimi, Noel and Mitch. It was pouring rain, and my office was in Soho Square. The Marquee’s offices and the National Jazz Federation’s were in the same building. And we were managing or agents or both for The Yardbirds, Moody Blues, Gary Farr and T-Bones, John Mayall…a whole variety of different artists.
And Harold and Barbara, of course, ran that. I was the guy…what was I?…I was the guy who’d say, “I’ve seen this band, We’ve gotta have them!”, like The Action or The Heavy Metal Kids or The Sex Pistols. I was leading the wagon train looking for fresh water and green grass. And I loved it; it’s kind of like my role here. I just think of interesting ways to make music sound better.
So Chas called me, and you know he’s from Newcastle, so he goes, “Hey Eric. C’mon over and have a listen to this; c’mon.” I said, “Chas, it’s pissing rain.” And he goes, “No, you’ve got to come over.” So I put on my hat and coat and went out in the rain because it was just right across from Carnaby Street, and I opened the door, and BANG! I got hit by this wall of sound!
And I’m looking, because the stage was so small, and the ceiling was so low that the Marshall stacks were up to the ceiling. And Mitch, who’s not a big guy, was behind his drum kit, and you could barely see the top of his head with those massive 44” double Ludwigs. I just heard and saw it.
So they stopped playing, and Chas said, “Jimi, come over.” I had known Mitch and Noel, “Hey man, how are you doing?” Jimi came over, we met one another – and I loved him. And Chas said, “I’ve got a real difficulty in people believing in him. They think he’s a freak.” I said, “Ok. Well, let’s put some shows on. I’m having dinner with Robert Stigwood tonight, let me talk to Robert about it.” And Roger Forrester, who was working with Robert Stigwood and later became Eric Clapton’s manager for many years. And at dinner, I said, “You’ve got to believe in him.” And he said, “Well I’ve got some drinks in the saddle.” And my contribution to that was making sure we had a reasonable sound system, and Eric Barrett helped with that. And I went out next store to the Bitter Royal, to a little newsstand there, and bought a little bottle of Ronson lighter fluid – you know where this is going. And we had these things called “jobs worths”. You know, “That’s more than my job’s worth!” (laughs)
So we had this jobs worth trying to pull the asbestos curtain down cause it [Jimi’s guitar] was on fire, and I go, “No, no!” and he’s going, “That’s more than my job’s worth!” (laughs) And that was the start of it.
And the press, and Chris Welch from theNME [New Musical Express—Ed.]wrote this beautiful piece saying, “I’ve just seen the future of guitar music.” I was involved in his first show and, sadly to say, I promoted his last show, at the Isle of Wight. He was actually coming over to play for Eric Burdon, who had just joined War. They were going to play for Eric’s birthday, and Jimi was going to play. So we sent someone to find him, and when they opened his door, they found him dead. To me, there’s more to that story than what the coroner said.
D.S.: Really? So that gets to another question: Of all these acts -who’s your favorite?
R.F.: In terms of favorites…I had a very special relationship with Bob Marley. I had a very, very special relationship with Jeff Beck. I had a very special relationship with Peter Gabriel. And Steve Winwood.
D.S.: Special in what way?
R.F.: We became friends and I understood what they were trying to do. The reason you see all these awards is like – this concert here with Rod Stewart at Wembley – that was a concept that I had…I’ve never had an original idea. It’s always come from seeing something that I could adapt to what I do in music. And I saw – I was in Sweden, I was there with ABBA – I saw at the Gothenburg border – these two oil legs. And I thought they could support the roof on a stage. And I thought, well, we could do this as a concert in the round. And that’s still the record at Wembley to this day – Rod Stewart in the round.
D.S.: When was that? ‘95?
R.F.: Yeah. So I went to Rod, “Do you want to play Wembley in the round if we can get permission?” It’s like when I went to see Prince Charles to put the Oval Cricket ground with the Who and Mott the Hoople and Emerson, Lake and Palmer…or putting on Frank Zappa at the Royal Albert Hall and having him open up on the giant organ playing, “Louie, Louie.”
You know, I just love to break the rules. Well, not break, but disrupt, because things get so comfortable. This was the very first stadium show for Led Zeppelin. Peter sent Richard Cole to the Isle of Wight as I’d become a bit of a mental hermit. I’d fused all my brains on that event. Sent Richard Cole down to this little cottage I was hiding out in. So he goes, “Come on. Peter wants to see you. He wants you to put on Zeppelin. We’re ready for a stadium show.” I sat with the guys and I loved them. I knew them from the Yardbirds and other things. So I said, “Let’s do something different.” So Peter goes, “Nah, we’re a rock band.” So I said, “Peter, what do you think about doing it like a medieval fair?” ‘Cause they were using madrigals, like the intro to “Stairway to Heaven”…
D.S.: But this was way before “Stairway to Heaven”?
R.F.: Yeah, but they were already using a bit of madrigal sound, where they would go from the riffing to this, (hums celtic melody). So I said, “Let’s do a magical show with sword swallowers and fire eaters and trapeze artists.” We even had dancing pigs wearing policemen’s helmets. We just did crazy shit. God, it’s so sad that it wasn’t filmed or recorded. Peter really had a thing about..but that show was really magical.
D.S.: Peter had a thing about…?
R.F.: About the band being filmed or recorded. And that’s why there’s so little of what Led Zeppelin did, and that was, in fact, the genius of what made them so mystical. And unobtainable. When they announced the Led Zeppelin show at ‘02? Twenty million demands for tickets, worldwide.
D.S.: But do you have a favorite?
R.F.: Well…I do. Rod Stewart and I spent a lot of time together. Rod and I were very close, we were very good friends, we’d go on [inaudible] together, we’d go to World Cups together. We had a soccer team together; we were very, very close. I’ve seen him – I was one of his best men at his marriage to Rachel. We were very close, but with Rod – you could only get so close. Because he has – he barricades himself a little bit.
My brother?Gary Farr and the T Boneswould sell out every club. They’d go to France. You can see behind here [gestures at photo] It’s very sad….I discovered Keith on Worthing Pier. There was a music scene in Worthing and he was actually working a summer job selling Wall’s ice creams. And we came down there – the T Bones had just finished “Ready, Steady, Go” and were playing Worthing Pier and sold it out. Three to four thousand people. We used to travel in [inaudible] in those days. It was our car of choice. There was lots of room and you could sleep. It wasn’t a limo, but it was kind of cool.
And as we were going in, my brother and I were going to get a bite to eat, and they had this piano. There was playing, but everyone was gone. I went, “Are you kidding me?” So we went in, and there’s this guy with the Walls striped things, and the little paper hat with Walls Ice Cream, just sitting there, playing the piano on the stage. It wasn’t tuned very well; the piano tuner hadn’t come yet. So Gary looked at me and we introduced ourselves. He goes, “I’m so sorry! I was just on my lunch break so I thought I might play some piano. I’m Keith Emerson.”
“What’s your favorite?” He said, “organ.”
And I’m like, “Whoa! Really? Like Graham Bond?”
So that night, we went to his house, he packed his clothes up, kissed his mother good bye, and we took this virgin boy to London. Two weeks later, we took him to Paris, he lost his virginity…
D.S.: What town was he from?
R.F.: Worthing, Sussex. Keith killed himself, as you know.
D.S.: The Nice’s bass player was also in the T Bones.
D.S.: No. Lee Jackson. I assume they met there.
R.F.: Yes, yes. Lee – he was from Newcastle. Gary had some great bands – from Nice to Ace – but you know, he got ripped off with some songwriting. Gary was quiet like my father, but don’t get on the wrong side of him. “There He Is” – that was the record he made at Muscle Shoals. He went up and said, “You owe me the money.”
He said, “Well, come back another day.”
Gary goes, “No, you’ve owed me this money a long time. I want it.”
“Ah..I’ll give it to you later.”
So he opened up the window and and hung him out the window by his ankles. Then he pulled him back in and got the money. Then the police were called, so Gary took off and wound up living in a cave in Portugal.
D.S.: How did he die?
R.F.: We knew – when he was signed to A&M, the wonderful Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert – wonderful people; dear dear friends of mine.
D.S.: I did that – you know, the huge Sheryl Crow album 25 years ago? Herb was involved in that.
R.F.: Really? Herb and Lainie – you just don’t know two nicer people.
So we knew – like my father, he had an enlarged heart. And it was very easy to deal with it, but he wouldn’t. It was just – he was born in the wrong era. He should have been born with a feather in his cap, a sword, a horse..I mean, he would do stunts on films likeSalvador…he’d hang upside down from a helicopter taking shots of the tanks at the crossway. OnDances With Wolves,he was there on a side saddle.
D.S.:He worked as a cinematographer? I didn’t know that.
R.F.: Yes. And as a still photographer. And hugely popular with the directors, ‘cause he played the blues at night. He had an enlarged heart, there was medication for it – and he wouldn’t take it. He was so powerful – he would take a bike and ride to Santa Barbara and back. He’d do a 100 mile bike ride. He’d cook and …. Everything was larger than life. He’d sing and he’d play, and those that knew him, loved him. He had just done a movie with Gene Hackman calledHoosiers. About basketball. And he came back and found that his money had been overspent. I won’t go into details, but money had been overspent, and there was a furious row…and he went to bed. He’d actually had dinner with me the night before, telling me he wanted to change his life but he had to make sure his children were with him. And I said fine.
D.S.: Did you know what he wanted to do?
R.F.: Yes. He wanted to get his own place. He wanted to continue his photography but he wanted to make a new record. He wanted to play music again, but he wanted to change – his influences had been the blues. Sonny Boy Williamson once said to him, “I’m the real Sonny Boy! You’re the best white boy on the harmonica I’ve ever heard!” Gary played harmonica on Bob Marley’s records; he played really good harmonica. Live on stage – you heard Christine Keeler died the other day? Mandy Davis – these were all lovers of Gary back in the day. Women flocked to him. He was the Warren Beatty of Rock n’ Roll in London. (laughs) He out-Micked Mick Jagger, and Mick knows it. I mean, Lady Carinthia West was his mistress for four years. “Legs” West.
Gary was a real hot catch for the young ladies of London.
D.S.: I wonder – during the eighties, I was in a lot of social scenes with Carinthia. I wonder if maybe I met Gary?
R.F.: You’d know if you had. He sucked the air out of a room when he walked in. He had that sort of James Hunt charisma, because he was so good looking. When he came in, he was like this big lion on the prowl. I was a bit more gregarious. They followed me around like the Pied Piper because I was having fun, and at the time, I always had the drugs! (laughs) I was reasonably good looking, but my brother was the…
D.S.: I get it. There was something I’ve been wondering; I’ve seen the promos that Riva showed me – it gives a whole different explanation for your famous rant [at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1970—seen directly below.—Ed.].
R.F.: The rant is famous because – it’s funny you should say that, because you know who called me a few months ago? Murray Lerner [Producer/Director ofMessage to Love, the documentary film of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.–-Ed.]. He said, “Rikki, I’ve got so much footage; I need to get together with you. I’ve got a whole new movie to make. And I kind of want to make it around you, because with so much going on…” And I said, “No, I want the Foulk Brothers involved.”
I get a lot of credit because I was the front man. I had the BBC over the other day over Leonard Cohen.[?] And going onto London, we got four BBCs. There was a lot of stuff going on. Let me tell you something. If you actually look at the editing, the editing is [inaudible] and tells you the story.
There were two things: a priest wanted to come on and raise money for people who had lost their money or couldn’t get home; and I was getting collections. And I said, “This is a good way for you to play up the subject of cancer. Put whatever you’ve got and send it to the fund.”
And I had the priest come on and talk. And he was a wonderful guy; they had people sleeping with them in the church; event in the graveyards and everywhere. Using the bathroom facilities, hoses, whatever.
And then there were the Maoists and the draft dodgers, who were just bugs – you can see them in the film.
D.S.: This is what I wanted to ask you about, yeah.
R.F.: “Music should be free! I was at Woodstock and music should be free!” Music was free at Woodstock only because…
D.S. …only because they got overwhelmed.
R.F.: Overwhelmed. Right. And the government forced us, up to down, because they knew people on the hill had saw them for free and they had that smirk, “is this anyplace you have to have a license for?” We had the site which is where the Alaway [?] is now. Beautiful site. Perfect for everything. But they wanted to kill us. You see, we’d beaten the nine assemblies in Parliament. And Sir Mark would not MP. He was a wonderful man. I got on TV every morning while this thing was building up – and there I was, giving my reasons. I was in leathers, you know, Indian garb…all that stuff in those days. And I’m on TV saying, “No! Why can 50,000 Boy Scouts go up to Bangham and sing Kumbaya but not listen to “Purple Haze: by Jimi Hendrix? This is just a class distinction.”
And they said, “Yeah, but you’ll get many more.” And I said, “Well he had 120,000 here for Bob Dylan. He brought millions of dollars to the Isle of Wight. He put on a beautiful event, which was love and peace, and the islanders want it back.” I mean, we found the people who were gouging, but they want it back. It was a wonderful event. I got Bob Dylan to come out of retirement. We had Joe Cocker introduce “With a Little Help From My Friends.” We had the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.” The Who introduced “Tommy”…I mean, Marsha Hunt, Ravi Shankar…
D.S.: This is 1969?
R.F.: ‘69, yeah.
D.S.: When ELP introduced “Pictures at an Exhibition” – that was 1970?
R.F.: 1970, yeah.
D.S.: Ok. So ‘69…
R.F.: So in ‘69, we introduced The Band, who had a record called [Music From]Big Pink, which nobody had ever heard of, and it became a hit in England! And we had The Beatles there. And if Yoko had just shut up, The Beatles would have played. I had talked to all of The Beatles up at Saville Row. And I said, “Look – bring your amps, come on down, work out, rehearse, and play a couple of songs with Bob Dylan.” And they were up for it.
D.S.: All four of them? John too?
R.F.: John too – until Yoko said, “You could do yourself a lot of damage. You haven’t played live. You go out there…Stravinsky didn’t have to play live to prove he was a great writer.” “Oh…Yoko’s right. We can’t do that.” They still went down and jammed and played…
D.S.: Did she say that in front of you? 20
R.F.: Yup. Sitting cross-legged, on the sideboard. With a plastic lotus flower on her forehead. And I said, “Well…look – all of you have the sense of incredible respect and, to some degree, we all used to worship Bob Dylan. He’s come to the garden island of Partridge to play. I went to New York with Ray Folk and convinced him to come out of retirement after his motorcycle accident. He brought The Band; he’s bringing Richie Havens.This is going to be the who – I mean, Jane Fonda, Roger Vadim, everybody will be there.”
George, who was with Patti at the time, they all just played. They had their amps down there, because they were at a farmhouse, playing, and there was Remi Kabaka, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech, I mean, all of the musicians were down there, jamming all through the night.
D.S.: On the Isle of Wight? Including The Beatles?
R.F.: Yes! [to associate] Don’t you have a picture? Who was playing? It was John…
U.F.: It’s not an image that we own.
D.S.: That was there?
R.F.: That was taken at the farm. That’s the tennis court at the farm on the other end of the island, where everyone was staying. And at night, we had Remi Kabaka, Traffic, Rick Grech, Ginger Baker..everybody came there.
D.S.: Blind Faith was kind of born there too?
R.F.: Yes! And I’m like, “Don’t you just want to move those amps onstage and play?” And John was, “Oh no. Yoko’s right. We can go out there and make idiots of ourselves. We could turn out to be right monkeys.”
D.S.: Yeah, but that was what the Rock n’ Roll Circus was the year before!
R.F.: Yes. At any rate, that was then. He’s not here, but…and I was getting ready with Elephant’s Memory up in Canada, to get ready for him [Lennon} to go on tour with his film. He started my life in this business and I miss him. He was a man of many different…
D.S.: He wanted to go on the road with Elephant’s Memory?
R.F.: Yeah. That was the plan.
D.S.: Jim Keltner [ drummer in Elephant’s Memory and a zillion other bands/sessions—Ed.] is a very close friend of mine. He’s told me a lot of stories.
R.F.: Jim’s great, yeah. Send him my love. Call him up now. Tell him Rikki says hi. Is he still playing? Great drummer.
D.S.: Oh yeah. About the only drummer who works all the time, still. I could tell you some great Keltner stories, but not while we’re recording (laughs).
R.F.: I may have a few, too! (laughs) It’s amazing – I can never remember these names; if I could, I could write a book! But they only come when I meet someone like you, who just trigger names, and I don’t know where they come from. There’s some sort of cell back there that stores it all up. If you trigger, I start remembering names, places…it’s fascinating. [The third and final installment ofDan Schwartz’s conversation with Rikki Farr will appear in the next issue ofCopper. Thanks so much to Rikki, and special thanks to Christine McKibban at Riva Audio and Jim Noyd of Noyd Communications for arranging Dan’s chat with Rikki.–-Ed.]
If you were a professional orchestra conductor – or even a professional orchestra – it would behoove you to take steps wherever appropriate to promote the public perception of your musical qualities and talents. As a conductor, if your profile rises you will be retained to conduct ever more prestigious orchestras, on an ever widening basis. As an orchestra, you will attract higher profile conductors, more discerning musicians, and wider touring opportunities. And with a bit of luck, more lucrative recording contracts – although, sadly, such days are coming rapidly to an end, if they haven’t already ended.
One of the most established methods of raising one’s profile is to perform the major orchestral warhorses. That way you get to lay down a body of work that can be compared not only to your peers, but also to the greats and not-so-greats who have come before. Ideally, you want to lay down a body of recorded performances for posterity, for the cognoscenti to dissect and compare with the great reference recordings of note.
Orchestral warhorses traditionally don’t come any more major than Beethoven. There is hardly a conductor or orchestra around that hasn’t either laid down, or wanted to lay down, a marker in the form of a Beethoven Cycle – a cohesive set of performances of all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. In recorded format alone there arehundredsof these complete cycles. I myself must have at least eight or nine. Any conductor on a long-term appointment with an orchestra will traditionally be itching to embark on a Beethoven Cycle once he feels he has got the orchestra playing the way he wants. And audiences tend to want it too.
Why Beethoven? After all, Brahms is pretty popular; Tchaikovsky and Sibelius too. What makes a Beethoven cycle thene plus ultra? Well, the reasons are complicated and profound, and whole books have been written on the subject. But in summary, Beethoven’s symphonies lend themselves perfectly as a vehicle for interpretive examination. They are tightly structured – thematically, harmonically, and tonally. Beethoven revolutionized the symphony as we understand it today. He transformed it from a glorified sonata to a major compositional undertaking which thoroughly expresses a set of particular musical ideas in a comprehensive and structured manner. Beethoven established the symphony as the ultimate vehicle of expression of a composer’s musical vocabulary, and transformed it into a format which would be considered the cornerstone of most composers’ eventual legacies for the next 150 years.
He took it in new directions too … consider the utterly astonishing discordant outburst which occurs about 8½ minutes into the first movement of his 3rdSymphony, written as early as 1804. It was an extraordinarily radical device (although one to which Beethoven himself, most curiously, never returned), which wouldn’t reappear in the mainstream musical lexicon for another 80-odd years. Consider also the revolutionary 5-movement tone poem that is the 6thSymphony – the term“tone poem”itself didn’t even come into existence until after Beethoven’s death. And of course we can’t ignore the 9thsymphony whose revolutionary elements included a choir and vocal soloists (and much else besides), and which was written when the composer was all but totally deaf. Sure, Mozart wrote symphonies, and laid the structural groundwork upon which Beethoven built his edifice. But Mozart penned over 40 of ’em before dying at 32, of which only a handful can be thought of as ‘major works of great substance’. Haydn cranked the handle too, churning out over 100 symphonies. After Beethoven, though, everything changed. A symphony was now a statement piece, a signature work by the composer.
Arguably,nobodyafter Beethoven ever mastered the command of the symphonic format so completely (even as they continued to push the boundaries). Take the famous first movement of the fifth symphony: DA-DA-DA-DAAAAH! Beethoven took a trivially simple musical motif and asked what can we do with this? Over the course of just seven minutes he showed exactly whatcanbe done with it. He played it slow and fast, high and low. He inverted it. He played it as a question, and as an answer. He expanded it into phrases and contrasted it with a more elaborate melodic line. He wandered from key to key, using the motif to punctuate the changes. By the end of the seven minute movement he had neither short-changed us by a single note, nor over-stated his case. We feel we have heard all there is to be said about DA-DA-DA-DAAAAH. It is close to sublime perfection.
Since the dawn of the recording age, the Beethoven Cycle, whether in the recording studio or the concert hall, has stood as the standard against which every conductor and orchestra has inevitably been measured. But something strange has happened over the course of the last 20 years. Beethoven has gradually been dumped in favor of Mahler. No longer do conductors and orchestras feel the need to be validated by their Beethoven Cycles; it is now the Mahler Cycle against which they increasingly prefer to line up to make their mark. The reasons are both simple and complicated, starting with the fact that a Mahler Cycle is nearly three times as lengthy as a Beethoven Cycle thereby providing a lot more music to get your teeth into.
First of all, there are so many exemplary Beethoven Cycles out there that a new conductor coming to the cycle must wonder what is left for him or her to contribute to the discussion. Secondly, there seems (to this listener at least) to be a convergence of style around the interpretive genius of Carlos Kleiber, with so many recent cycles clearly being heavily influenced by Kleiber’s truly legendary recording of the 5thwith the Vienna Philharmonic. Third, a Mahler cycle represents a serious challenge to the orchestra itself, exercising its players’ technical chops in a more demanding manner than does the Beethoven cycle. Fourth, of course, are the interpretive challenges of the Mahler Cycle, and these are compelling indeed.
Whereas a Beethoven Cycle requires the conductor to work within a highly formalized musical structure, allowing (even mandating) the form itself to be the major actor in holding the central elements of the performance together, with Mahler the form, while more elaborate, is at the same time much looser and more nebulous, easier seen from 30,000 feet than from 30 feet. Indeed, much has been made of the airy notion that Mahler’s symphonies can be viewed individually as movements within some sort of greater symphonic whole. Whereas with Beethoven, form is an attribute of the individual piece – even of the individual movement – with Mahler form can be interpreted across symphonies. A conductor’s interpretation of Mahler’s 2nd, for example, must arguably inform his interpretation of the 3rd, something that makes relatively little apparent sense in the context of, say, Beethoven’s 5thand 6thsymphonies.
Mahler’s symphonies are built upon incredible layers of emotional complexity, which go far beyond mere programmatic expression. Like actors performing Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” a conductor directing a performance of a Mahler symphony teeters on the edge of a razor blade risking failure to convince on one side, and gauche vulgarity on the other. It is so, so hard to do, and few succeed convincingly. It is tempting to approach these symphonies as being overtly programmatic, especially as the composer does indicate programmatic themes in most of them, sometimes explicitly, sometimes indirectly. But for the most part they fail to respond well to a formally programmatic treatment, the possible exceptions being the overarching themes of redemption and resurrection in 2ndand 8thsymphonies (which are more themes than programmes per se). The payload from a Mahler symphony is inevitably delivered more emotionally than intellectually … or at least on significantly less of an overtly intellectual basis than with Beethoven. We respond to Beethoven with our heads, but to Mahler with our hearts.
Therein lies both the appeal and the immense challenge in conducting Mahler. Whereas with Beethoven the challenge is heavy on the musical and technical aspects, with Mahler the weight is on the emotional aspect in harness with the vision to hold together and unite an uncaged beast which is apt to wander off in unexpected directions. Not only are these challenges appealing to modern conductors and orchestras alike, but the appetite of the public to consume Mahler is apparently insatiable. Modern concert hall audiences can’t get enough of it. Not only that, they are far more knowledgeable and demanding of a Mahler performance than they ever were of Beethoven. So as a conductor you are going to be more exposed with Mahler – if I am trying to appeal to your intellect I can get away to a certain extent with telling you how good it was, but if I’m trying to appeal to your heart only you can know the extent to which I was successful (even as my Maestro’s ego fails to permit me to acknowledge that).
Finally, there is no Kleiber looming over today’s putative conductors of Mahler. Not even close. There was a time when it was obligatory to genuflect toward’s Bernstein’s benchmark recordings, and in truth ol’ Lenny played a significant role in the rehabilitation and elevation of Mahler’s reputation to the position it occupies today. But, like a Magnum of Chateau Latour 2010, these incredible symphonies probably have another 50 years of development left in them before the interpretive well will start to run dry. Today, there are very few new Mahler recordings that don’t have at leastsomethinginteresting going for them, and there are a number of marvelous cycles already in play. Which is the best? Well, there are as many opinions on that as there are people with opinions. Me, I kind of like Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, at least until I listen to one of the others … like Inbal’s unexpectedly powerful cycle with the Tokyo Metropolitan. And since I have about 150 recordings of Mahler Symphonies that’s a lot of chopping and changing.
So, roll over, Beethoven … and tell Mahler the news! But in the next edition of Copper it’ll be a new Beethoven cycle rather than a Mahler cycle I’ll be talking about.