B is for Beatles fan

The Beatles, Abbey Road studios, 1964. Photograph by Terry O'Neill.
The Beatles, Abbey Road studios, 1964. Photograph by Terry O’Neill.

I was a bit of a late starter with the Beatles. I got into them ten years after they’d stopped working together as a band. It was like shopping for clothes at Kensington Market in 1981, because that’s the only place where you could find classic items and that’s what it is with the Beatles – some of the greatest designs ever made. I was too busy surfing the waves of youth culture during my teenage years to discover them, but like cherished corduroy jackets with exactly the right sleeve lengths, lapel size and pigmentation, I got into the Beatles and now rarely take them off.

I can talk about them for hours, but it’s when they catch you out driving with gems like ‘Michelle’ and the sun’s shining and it’s spring and there’s bird song coming in through the window, it can set you alight again like your first time. Of course, it’s only one of many sublime songs, but it’s also the captured period of recording and culture that I see as completely unrepeatable. We can hear great live versions of those songs, but the recordings are simply magical. Ethereal. Almost otherworldly, like this stuff was being beamed down to them from other stars, galaxies and black holes. Maybe the Beatles wore black polo necks because they actually came through black holes. Maybe we all come from black holes, but that’s another blog.

It may be because I’m in creative mode at present – writing and recording new songs – that my antennae are picking up on melodies like an ant coming in through the bathroom window (which happened to our lounge windowsill lately). We gave them lemon juice, but they seemed to like it, so we warned them that they could be sent to the light, as this windowsill is very important for eating next to and generally feeling good about sitting in front of. They got the message and some coffee granules and even a strong ticking off and now the window is clear. Beetles are welcome, Byrds, Beach Boys, Bee Gees, Billy Joel, Blur, Beechwood Sparks, Burt Bacharach, Belle & Sebastian, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Beautiful South, Ben Folds Five, Bernie Taupin, Tony Bennett, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Norman Blake, Blondie, Bobby Darin, The Blockheads, Boston Symphony Orchestra, David Bowie, Breeders, Broadcast, James Brown, Bronski Beat, Finn Brothers (ha!), Sam Browne, Jeff Buckley, Buddy Holly, Kate Bush, David Byrne, Gary Burton, and last but not least the very, very wonderful Bellamy Brothers. Most bands beginning with B are welcome, but things beginning with A, I need to investigate. In the Meantime, there’s no ants in the carpet (dirty little monsters) and the writing and recording is going great, thanks to all artists beginning with letters.

I have a feeling cinnamon is going to influence these new recordings in some small way, but that’s because I’ve just eaten a small cinnamon & walnut cupcake. Is cupcake a band? I wonder how many bands beginning with C appeal to these taste buds. Anyway, back to the Beatles. Great band. I love bands. I love towns and I love bands. I love this universe and even though it’s bonkers, I’d like to smack its little bottom as it gets on the coach for the next pop concert.

Nick

Happy Holidays

A lovely reunion in Key West with Mr Ian Shaw. Great to see him! I made Kite with Ian when we were just a pair of nineties nippers. Now things have channelled beautifully and we both have twitters More fun vicars! 20140108-203457.jpg To be flap packing my merry way around the bars and cafés of Hemmingway Central this late in life is ever so slightly elemental. Enjoyment is my middle name. Love is all around and it’s wet wet wet, just like the UK.

I met Flip outside the The Green Parrot listening to Bill Blue. Flip’s been coming here to listen to bands for twenty years and says that “everyone here is one human family“. Certainly feels that way – Key West is lovely and dinky. 20140108-203625.jpg Immense regardenings,

Nick

The 3 Nicks Charity Cook-Off – a 5 star review *****

A photo posted by Sara (@mssarajohnson) on

The night of Sandra Dickinson’s 3 Nicks Charity Cook-Off began with a fantastic sunset. I attempted to Instagram it, but couldn’t quite do it justice. Later, I tried capturing my curry, but it was a bit blurred. Must have been the heat of the kitchen tension affecting my phone 😉 I took one blurred picture of Nik Kershaw and one clear picture of Nick Beggs throwing a rock shape, but couldn’t get the colour right. So, I didn’t Instagram those either. This isn’t a blog about not Instagramming pictures, by the way. It’s about the (old) spice of life.

Nik cooked a lovely beef bourguignon, Nick B cooked a lovely vegetable chili and I cooked a lovely Sri Lankan salmon curry. There’s cooking for two at home and then there’s cooking for 89. It’s quite something. This was the first time I’ve chopped up 10 enormous onions in one go, but thanks to our helpful assistants, I know now how to chop one properly.

My original recipe was based on Rick Stein’s Sri Lankan fish curry. Loved his programme. He was so passionate about curry and visited unpretentious local restaurants. I’ve only been to India once, but the programme has inspired me to visit again – this time to explore all the nooks and crannies and back yards like Top Cat.

Fortunately for this Nick, one of the chefs happened to be from Sri Lanka, and this helped give my curry a new coconut twist and transform it into something more authentic and fragrant than I’ve made at home. Tragically, I didn’t have my newly acquired spice grinder with me, so I didn’t crunch up my cinnamon sticks properly and had to pick all the bits out one by one. Treat others as you wish to be treated I say. I wouldn’t want big chunks of cinnamon bark in my mouth!

When our cooking time was up, we all had our pictures taken and began mingling with our lovely diners. I felt great in my apron – kept it on all night.

Bigger Than Mary, led by Mark Osmond (Sandra’s husband), who had been entertaining us all night, invited us up to play a few songs after dinner. First up was Nik with Wouldn’t It Be Good. I sang along during the choruses and it felt … good! Watching the chord structure unfold like an origami swan was fascinating. Ben, or was it James(?), handed me his fabulous Gibson SG. So, with some slight distortion on it, I launched into Fantastic Day like it was the very first time I sang it to my chocolate brown bedroom wall. I never tire of singing this song (unless somebody wants to play it one more time in rehearsals!) Nik might feel the same with I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, which he sang next. I’ll have to ask him, but when he began singing it, it smelt as fresh as a fantastic daisy. What a cracking chorus. I somehow managed to find myself singing the high harmony – must have sung along to it on the car radio at some point because it felt nice and easy. Nick B was Too Shy to play any of his own stuff, but suggested doing a funky jam which turned into Favourite Shirts, which turned back into a funky jam. What an amazing musician this man is! Ability, rhythmic synchronicity and passion, that’s what he is. It was an honour to play with these guys. It was our first time and totally unrehearsed, which always puts hairs on your chest.

The food was a three-way draw, but Nick B got the biggest cheer. Lots of money was raised for our charities and that will be a three-way split too.

Our charities:

MS Society
Down’s Syndrome Association
Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice Service

Kind regardenings,
Nick

New album update

Trumpets play
Trumpets play
I have five new species of flowers (songs) ready in the greenhouse (home studio) and I’m very happy with all of them. So, when we make it to a happy ten I will mix them all, master them all and share them all.

It’s a joy recording with my son, Oliver. We’ve worked together for years on live shows and it’s great to finally work together in our greenhouse. This flowerbed (selection of songs) is turning out to be quite a mixed media affair of left-field pop, not dissimilar to the direction I took with Kite. Anyway, whatever it is, it feels nice and natural. If it suddenly veers off and goes jazz, I’ll let you know. (I do want to do a jazz album next, by the way. It’s in me. It’s in there somewhere!)

Kind regardens,
Nick

Nick’s holiday top 10 listening post

This was my holiday soundtrack while in Santorini this past May. (I went early in the year because I didn’t think we had summers in the UK anymore. How wrong was I?!) Anyway, I went nostalgic, I went current, I was swept away, in fact, by the whole caboodle. Music is the food of love. Read on and enjoy!

1. New Radicals – Get What You Give
I got to know Gregg Alexander through my friends Steve and Liza. When I first met him, he put his mobile phone to my ear and played me his answer phone message, which was ‘ring and a ring and a ring…’ from the chorus of ‘Love Plus One’. I know Susan too, who Gregg wrote the song about. But it just so happens to be one of my favourite songs when I want to feel inspired. I totally love it. It’s like Todd Rundgren on a quadruple espresso.

2. Shearwater – The Hunter’s Star
Shearwater are one of my girlfriend’s favourite bands. I initially thought they were quite noisy (not that she’s a noisy band lover), but then I began to listen to this one song over and over. I can play it five times in a row and it’s fresh as a daisy every time. It’s ethereal work – hooks me up like a vicar. I melt every time the double bass comes in and when the cellos come in, I evaporate. And rhyming robin’s breast with lioness fills my slippers with gladness.

3-4. Supertramp – Logical Song and Dreamer
The 1970s was a very special time for pop music, wasn’t it? Supertramp just came up with a bunch of beautiful juicy surprises. ‘There are times when all the world’s asleep’ – when this simple lyric collides with a simple melody over a subtle chord change – it can transform my whole world. The way these songs have been crafted and the musicianship is just so creative. It’s like musical storytelling at its best. How well do these guys play together too? That’s the magic of bands – people that spend time together making music is more potent than people forced together to play music for a living. I’ve often observed expert classical musicians at concerts playing the greatest music ever written with the passion of a delinquent teenager. It simply doesn’t compare to groups who regularly play together. Take a look at the film The Late Quartet for a prime example of this. Basically, if a band can put up with each other that’s when the magic happens. It’s all part of the creative process. Right, I’m off to read Rudyard Kipling’s “If” again.

5. Villagers – Set The Tigers Free
This song is like short holiday train journey. It starts off partly cloudy in the built up areas of the town, becomes brighter just after lunch and ends up by the sea in full sun. You grab your bucket and spade and make a sandcastle in anticipation of the tide coming in at the end of the day. This tune is a perfect clear landscape. I love how everything is simple and close by. It’s a nice tidy frame too – natural wood, painted white. Lovely.

6. Bill Evans & Jim Hall – Skating In Central Park
Ok, the sun’s going down. Your skin feels sunblessed, your heart is rested and your mind peaceful. It’s time to pop back into town for something to eat. You find the perfect place and to your utter amazement, Bill Evans is on the piano and Jim Hall is on the guitar. Maybe you’ve gone to jazz heaven. So, where’s my dad? He’s at the bar ordering a pint. This music is so organic, it’s like watching two whistling spiders weaving a web together. The thing is, it’s a more like a bouncy castle, more fun that getting stuck in a web. Actually, I just remembered I got stuck in a bouncy castle once. It was one of those big moving ball ones. I think they’re banned now. See where music can take you? Into a fight or flight memory. Music is healing. I will heal this now. Thanks guys. Cheers.

7. Gaz Coombes – One Of These Days
The first time I heard this song on 6music, I thought, ‘hmm I like that.’ The second time I heard it on 6music, I thought, ‘beautiful strange sketchy feel. I wonder who is making such lovely music.’ The third time, I nipped over to the radio quickly to see who it was and to my utter delight saw that it was Gaz Coombes. I’m a Supergrass fan and I hadn’t recognised who it was. The fourth time I heard it was when downloading it onto my phone to listen to it for a fifth time. On the sixth play, it’s a classic. It’s an absolutely lovely song. Love is strange. So here’s proof of the importance of a radio station that supports great artists such as Gaz Coombes. In a healthy music business, sad reflective songs like this would be sitting in the top 10 happy as Larry. I do believe a healthy music business is on its way back after a rough night out. But if it doesn’t make it, we’ve got 6music and we’ve all got our own charts.

8. Billy Joel – She’s Always a Woman
Only Billy Joel is able to capture the essence of such a female with this precision – glad he was the canary in the coal mine here. Had he not experienced it though, we would’ve never heard this song. And for that I tip my hat and respect to you, Billy. Not only as a supremely gifted composer, but also as a fellow human being. Your vocal delivery and piano performance is like that of Aramis, from The Three Musketeers – graceful and effortless. This recording captures an artist at the height of his abilities and here he is giving us a display of his swordsmanship. En garde!

9. Gabriel Fauré – Requiem Op. 48-7. In Paradisum
I’m writing this in an easyJet queue – apparently not considered to be a paradise situation. Maybe I should listen to it because it’s a fast track to paradise. Again when the deep double bass arrives I arrive into the sound of gold (quite close to easyJet’s orange, isn’t it?) Paradise? It’s always here, whether I’m connected to it or not. Taking a deep breath or two in a very stressful queue does work wonders though. Take that paradise situation and put it right! Actually, as I reach passport control it’s “The Last of the Melting Snow” by The Leisure Society that’s put a tranquil smile on things. What an amazing recording.

10. The Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive
Right chaps, chocs away! Here I am in this metal tube with my fellow brothers and sisters ready to return home to the green and pleasant valleys of the English countryside. I haven’t listened to this song in ages, let alone on this holiday, but here it is, “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees. The metal tube now throbbing with love and we’re bouncing over clouds. Turbulence means nothing. Bring it on! We’re stayin’ alive. Wooooo! The weaving guitar, the frantic pace, the ace musicianship, the brass lines, the string lines, all perfectly placed to get the heart pounding. This aeroplane is alive with the sound of music! Why, if I had lederhosen on now, I would slap my bare knees and get everybody up boogying on down. It’s a nice windy day and quite a bumpy landing as it happens. Great to be back home.

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