French Power Pop – What is the magic?

The first French band that grabbed my attention was Les Rita Mitsouko in the ’80s.

Upon listening to my random YouTube mix today, a French band that I had never heard before called Manceau popped up in the mix and I was instantly transported away:

This reminded me and sounded like another unheralded and brilliant French pop band a have always loved: Tahiti 80:

Both bands share a love of highly-compressed, radio-friendly tunes driven by jangly guitars, punchy bass, dance grooves and tuneful hooks.

I think these French bands love disco as much as they love British guitar bands of the 60s. You get the tunes, and you get the beat. You can sing along, and you can dance.

The apotheosis of this type of music outside of France has been the music of Phoenix.

Why did Phoenix make it when Tahiti 80 or Manceau are relatively unknown?

Better marketing or management? More extensive touring? All I know is all of these bands are unmistakably French and they all sound great.

Some other French bands to explore:

http://www.frenchmusicblog.com/french-bands

 

 

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Lawrence of Belgravia

Question:

How can a musician so disciplined that he releases 10 classic albums in 10 years in the 1980s (with the band Felt) produce minimal output in the years that followed?

Short answer:

By being true to himself.

Long answer:

See below.

Lawrence get things done, but in his own way and on his own terms.

In the documentary Lawrence OF Belgravia, filmmaker Paul Kelly followed the little-known musical legend Lawrence around for five years. The film came out in British theaters in 2011, but is just being released on DVD this week (five years later). The film is worth the wait because the music is brilliant, and just like Brian Wilson, you want to get inside the mind of the musical creator.

Take an authentic eccentric (in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes) as only the British can produce, a dose a megalomania, and ear for a tune, a dash of sartorial excellence, and you have an indie hipster, but not a star. The Beatles were cool too, and they appealed to the masses. Where did Lawrence go wrong?

In Lawrence’s mind, he should be a superstar. That is why he only has one name. Like Sting or Madonna.

But unlike Sting or Madonna, Lawrence takes the Tube (underground) and has difficulty paying the rent.

Lawrence does not collaborate on outside projects. If you want Lawrence to sing on your album, even if you are famous, forget it.

After Lawrence achieved his goal with Felt of recording 10 albums in 10 years, he moved on to form Denim. Unlike Felt, which had and indie music vibe, Denim took its inspiration from ‘70s bubblegum pop and glam rock. Denim released three albums in the ‘90s, but to Lawrence’s dismay, he did not conquer the charts.

His next (and current) band, Go Kart Mozart, is more of a B-sides band. His idea to was to capture the magic of the B-sides of great 45 singles – where the forgotten B-side was uninhibited, more experimental and often more musically adventurous than the radio hit. Again, though received well by critics, Go Kart Mozart did not tear up the charts.

The music business is both music and business. Perhaps all Lawrence needed was a great manager to handle the business side of things. Maybe one day he will get one.

Most of Lawrence’s music is great, and worth a listen. It will challenge your mind, and maybe even get you onto the dance floor.

In 2018, in his own slow yet meticulous way, Lawrence is releasing new music: it is the fourth Go-Kart Mozart record, called Mozart’s Mini-Mart. 

You can read all about it here:

https://noisey.vice.com/en_us/article/vbpdpm/lawrence-felt-go-kart-mozart-interview-profile

Paul Weller – the big boss is still grooving

Paul Weller was born May 25, 1958, and grew up in Woking, a working-class suburb of London.

Rooted in British culture, a certain Englishness has infused all his work, which has endeared him to Anglophiles around the globe.

And from a young age, Weller has always understood that good clothes and good music go hand in hand.

As a principal figure of the 1970s and 1980s mod revival, Weller is often referred to as The Modfather.

The great irony of all this is – although being a Mod is a uniquely British phenomenon – the Mods’ biggest influence is American R&B music.

The Jam (1976–82)

The Jam created many crucial albums which should be a part of any discerning music collection – the most notable are:

In the City
This is the Modern World
All Mod Cons
Setting Sons
Sound Affects
The Gift

The first time I ever heard of The Jam was when I saw the video Town Called Malice on MTV. This tune combined an infectious blend of the hard-hitting Motown sound with a punk edge and a Londonesque, Eastenders-type melodrama evoked in the lyrics – all of which came across in the video. Weller has said he drew the images for this song directly from his experiences in Woking. Unfortunately by the time I discovered this band around 1983 – The Jam were no more.

Around this time, I walked into Northern Lights record store in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue – when it was just a hole in the wall – and saw The Jam’s SNAP! compilation – Weller looked so cool – I knew the music had to be good!

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But The Modfather was gravitating to a new sound – more Marvin Gaye, less Pete Townshend.

This was neatly summed up in The Jam’s final single – Beat Surrender.

The Style Council (1983–89)

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The Style Council comprised Weller and keyboardist Mick Talbot, previously a member of Dexys Midnight Runners, The Bureau and The Merton Parkas.

The Style Council reflected an entire movement of politics, style and music. It took the youth explosion of The Jam to the next level.

The spokesman for this new philosophy was The Cappuccino Kid, aka Paolo Hewitt, who provided voluminous liner notes – actually political Manifestos on life – with each new Style council LP or 12-inch single. A compilation of these writings can be found here:

http://www.wellerworld.co.uk/CK.htm

The music recorded by The Style Council  between 1983-85 is some of the best of that, or any, era – reflecting a wide variety of musical styles. You can feel Weller’s sense of freedom as he casts off his old identity.

Notable tunes include:

Big Boss Groove
Headstart for Happiness
You’re The Best Thing
The Paris Match
Speak Like a Child

The Whole Point of No Return
Here’s One That Got Away
A Stone’s Throw Away
A Solid Bond in Your Heart
Have Your Ever Had it Blue?

The permanent line-up grew to include drummer Steve White and Weller’s then-wife, vocalist Dee C. Lee. Other artists included Tracey Thorn (Everything but the Girl) singing on The Paris Match.

Solid Bond Studios and Productions

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Paul Weller bought Phonogram Studios – renaming it Solid Bond Studios –  in 1983 and recorded there until 1991 when his father and manager, Jon Weller, stated that the rent had become unfeasible.

Solid Bond not only provided the creative space and expertise for many Style Council recordings, but a stable of other artists as well.

Here is an interview with Weller circa 1984 at Solid Bond Studios:

A history of the studios and a list of who recorded there (including Dusty Springfield and The Walker Brothers in the pre-Weller era) can be found here:

http://philsbook.com/philips.html

Solo Work

By 1991, Paul Weller was solo.

Although Weller has said he was not feeling inspired when he started as a solo artist, he knew music was in his blood. He also knew he had to basically “fake it until he made it.” The strategy worked, as his solo worked gradually became more inspired and he found his authentic voice not only as a singer, but as a songwriter. Weller recaptured the energy and creativity of The Jam and early Style Council days (without sounding anything like that era) with his landmark album 22 Dreams, when Weller made the conscious decision to work from a more experimental space.

One of his latest albums, Saturn’s Pattern, maintains his high standards.

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Live

Paul Weller is a physical, dynamic live performer – feeling the music as he leads the band center stage, singing, with or without guitar. He also often sits down at the keyboard to belt out several tunes during each show.

On July 31, 1992, I saw Paul Weller live in San Francisco at the Warfield Theater. Weller showed that, as a solo artist, he could still be a great performer – and he still had something to say. There were a lot of Japanese fans at this show, which is not surprising as the Japanese have always appreciated good music and style.

The last time I saw him live at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis in 2014, Weller was not resting on his laurels – rather performing a mix of classic tunes from his Jam and Style Council days that he was clearly proud of, along with songs from his latest album, which stand up well with the classic tunes. His band was tight and rocked and chilled as needed.

Personal life

Paul has several children and is happily married with designated “band mum,” Hannah Weller.

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Paul with daughter Leah
http://paulweller.com/discography/

Paul McCartney – in praise of live music

On the initial leg of his Driving USA tour in 2002, Paul McCartney (affectionately known to his fans as Macca) was not coming anywhere near Minneapolis.

The Driving USA tour was part of the Driving World Tour, which was Paul McCartney‘s first concert tour of the 21st century and of any kind since 1993.

So I drove to Denver to see him. This was the first time I saw and listened to what the man said in person.

The date: May 7, 2002.

The the opening act was not a band, but rather Cirque du Soleil characters milling about the crowd and on stage creating a festive, circus-like atmosphere.

The first image you see of Macca on stage is a silhouette with that famous Hofner violin bass from the early Beatles days raised aloft.hofner-5001-electric-bass-guitar-free-vector-800x565

It’s a little jarring to see that this person – the dude who has created the soundtrack to so many moments of your external and internal life – is a real person!

It’s a strange feeling – like your internal landscapes have become animated in 4-D technicolor with a killer sound system.

But that wears off quickly and you realize Paul is not resting on his laurels – he is, besides being perhaps the greatest songwriter of all time – an entertainer. Macca is going to give you your money’s worth.

What songs did he play? All the classics like Hey Jude, more obscure numbers like C Moon, a sprinkling of tracks from his current CD at the time called Driving Rain, as well as the theme song to the movie Vanilla Sky. He did not disappoint. Lots of charisma. The banter was maybe a little too well-rehearsed between songs, but who cares? We all love to hear a story from Macca, right?

I saw him again October 26, 2005 in Saint Paul at the Excel Energy Center with my erstwhile musical collaborator David F. and his friend from Poland, Pivo (Polish for beer), who belted every word from every tune aloud and aloft.

Macca played Target Field (Minnesota Twins outdoor baseball stadium) in Minneapolis August 2, 2014 – I saw him there with with Lisa and Anna. Due to rain, it seemed like the show might become an extremely damp one.

In fact, the rain flooded some seating areas (including ours).

To make up for this, an usher handed us the perfect tickets – about 15 rows back right in the center.

This was the best Macca show I have seen (even better due to our perfect location) – we were treated to over three hours of Beatles, Wings and solo Macca tunes. Paul was 72 at this time, and his enthusiasm was showing no signs of flagging.

The visuals on the screen were always cutting edge, and thematically tied to each song. But one of the coolest parts of this particular show was the preshow. Instead of an opening band, music was played through the sound system – an interesting chronological mashup of Paul’s Beatles, Wings, Fireman and solo music, accompanied by a film, photo and animation montage scrolling down on screens on both sides of the stage. The video below should give you a flavor of it.

The most recent time I saw Paul play live was May 5, 2016, at Target Center in Minneapolis. This was a smaller venue that his previous concert here – an indoor basketball arena instead of the outdoor baseball stadium he played previously.

Macca was in a great mood that night, constantly chatting with the crowd and inviting a mother and daughter on stage for a group hug and an autograph.

The preshow visual montage was similar to his previous show in 2014 – but this time the videos where projected onto two round kiosks (think giant cans) – one on each side of the stage, which created a distorted, psychedelic effect as the images and films moved from right to left across these curved screens.

Although the mid-range of Macca’s voice is partially gone – Eleanor Rigby was a bit wobbly, he more than makes up for it with his charisma – and the screaming high notes are still there on Live and Let Die and still sung in the original key. His musicianship remains flawless (still the greatest bass player of all time) and the enthusiasm of his bandmates remains undimmed and unjaded in all the right ways.

Due to Prince’s recent passing, Paul and his band pulled out a moving little trubute to Prince in the form of Let’s Go Crazy and the end of Hi, Hi, Hi:

As demonstrated above, this is still a tight little band that will rock your socks of for close to three hours…

Kudos here also goes to Paul’s band – whom he has worked with since 2002.

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It should be said that all of these guys are massive fans of Paul’s music, and their enthusiasm comes through in their performances. The band includes:

  • Brian Ray, Etta James’ former band leader, on bass and guitar. Like his band mates, Brian is an accomplished studio musician as well as a rocking live performer. His blond hair and giant smile makes him look far younger than his 60 years. For the most recent 2016 show I saw, he played more lead guitar as well. Brian and Rusty (see below) still often bounce around the stage like teenagers.
  • Rusty Anderson on lead and rhythm guitars. Like Brian Ray, Rusty comes from a session musician background in Los Angeles. Rusty has been a professional musician since age 14. Also like Brian, Rusty knows how to have fun with the music onstage, while still playing every part with the right balance of perfection and looseness. For his debut solo album Undressing Underwater, Anderson invited Paul McCartney to play bass and the rest of the McCartney band to sing backup vocals on the lead track, Hurt Myself. Hurt Myself is a great song worth checking out: https://youtu.be/2oxCTU9OYNI
  • Paul “Wix” Wickens on keyboards. Wix is the mad scientist of the band, and as a member since 1989, the one who has been with Paul the longest. If you need a horn part recreated on the keys from Got to Get You in to My Life, Wix is your man.
  • Abraham “Abe” Laboriel, Jr. on drums. Abe not only nailed his drum parts with an absolute joy of abandon, he sings angelic harmonies with Paul that belie his enormous frame. He is the son of jazz legend and Mexican bass guitarist Abraham Laboriel, Sr. Abe has been the drummer for Macca as well as the talented French singer Mylène Farmer, among others.

See the musicians you love live if you can, because to truly get a sense of who they are and what they do – you need to be there in person to hear, see and feel the full force of their creativity.

 

 

What is music? – Chapter 1. The Beatles and the universe

What is music?

rhythm

melody

harmony

ratios

stories

resonance

creativity.

find a means of communication

a medium: voice, guitar, piano

tune into the transcendent

communicate from within to the universe

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what you have to say.

learn some technical things then forget about them

moving on, most importantly –

tell a story

create an arrangement, and architecture that can work with any music style

Lennon said that’s what The Beatles did – their music could be played in any style and still work

their production was great (thanks George Martin, Geoff Emerick, Ken Scott, etc.) but the four lads from Liverpool were not limited to one style

they started as a boy band.

how did they get to The White Album just four years later?

Willingness to change and an attraction to creativity more than repeating the old

most importanly: a love of music.

how

keep the rhythm consistent

or

you

will

lose the listener

inhabit the story of what you are singing

sing it like you mean it

communicate something important

even if it is something trivial

sing it like you live it

have something worth communicating

before you start music

take

a moment

tune into the muse(s).

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