NewMusicMondays – 7 September 2020

Lockdown has been a challenging time for all of us including those furloughed and facing highly uncertain futures in workplaces that, where they are safe, will look very different to before; those freelancers in the entertainment industry left out of the scheme where my old union, Prospect, has been very active; and, most recently, the belittling of the contribution made by people working from home.

Music and has suffered more than most and while BBC 6Music – which I listen to frequently – is back to its normal schedule today, some of its DJs in the evenings are still likely to be recording their programmes from home (not at all phoning it in) for some time to come. Artists have suffered immensely from the loss of live music – music is meant to be played, not just listened to – and DJs for whom gig-going is a vital part of their own music appreciation have no idea what works well live. Indoor live music has returned, at least in some way, but it will not result in musicians being able to return to their living – with the model in the downloads era being based on touring and merchandise rather than sales of actual music – while the Musicians Union comments that the Cultural Recovery Fund, as with entertainment freelancers, is unlikely to reach the majority of musicians.

One of the DJs still recording from home, and whose programmes I pick up at least bits of most nights, is Gideon Coe, whose programme last Monday was a lockdown special featuring only music recorded by artists at home. This has been a real phenomenon with music recorded even on smartphones, while musicians zoomed their collaborations, and then despatched over the wires for mixing elsewhere. Thank goodness for fibre broadband: it does save a round trip between New York and London these days. Quite a bit of the programme was, quite frankly, a bit too trippy for me – but it did feature two Kathryn Williams versions of Bob Dylan songs – ‘Don’t Think Twice’ and ‘Not Dark Yet’ – recorded actually for an earlier special celebrating the release of Dylan’s new album.

I can’t link to the tracks directly – they were specially recorded for the Beeb and they’re not otherwise released. Neither does Kathryn seem to have recorded them previously, despite the prolific nature of her output, although I don’t know whether they have formed any part of her live sets. But you can pick up Gid’s programme at the website (for the next 23 days only) – these particular tracks are just a few seconds after the 2-hour mark. And if you enjoy them, Kathryn Williams’s Bandcamp is right here.

Now, I’m not especially a Dylan fan, and I’ve not heard either one before. But these strike me as being beautiful (and beautifully arranged) songs, the first apparently jaunty, the second dark and brooding, infused here with Williams’s own trademark soul-searching honesty and vulnerability, and taking Dylan back to his folky roots. Sometimes these recordings (or, at least, versions of them) do see the light of day in the end – and I hope something is being worked on for that because they deserve a wide audience.

Secondly, if you ever thought that The Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’ owed a bit of a debt to Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’, firstly you’re not alone; and secondly, musician Laurence Mason is here to help by bringing such a thing brilliantly to life. Mason’s rhythm section essentially plays ‘Take 5’ while the pianist (who may nor may not also be Mason) plays the distinctive harpischord riff from ‘Golden Brown’ and Mason himself contributes a lovely piece of alto work taking on the vocal line. The video is Brubeck and band themselves in action cut not faultlessly – it could hardly be – but well enough.

Recorded as a tribute to Dave Greenfield, who died earlier this year, this is one of those youtube phenomena – over one million hits for something recorded originally as a demo without an expectation of much in the way of feedback [EDIT 16/9/20 and now over 2.3m for the original video]. A release date was planned, and now brought forward – formally now for this coming Friday – and you can get it via Bandcamp right here.

Really must fetch down my own alto again from its temporary home on top of the bookcase right behind me…

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