Box of delights


You might have to be a vampire to enjoy it, but there’s loads of ace music on the box these days.

Working unsociable shifts on a morning daily does curtail a number of music-related happenings, but one ‘upside’ of living the existence of a night porter is being able to take in the renaissance of music television.
Being a night owl, I’m not really complaining – and the added late-night screenings of some truly first-rate viewing – particularly on the digital channels – has been an unexpected pleasure.
Up until the dawning of digital, music on terrestrial television was a barren landscape where you had to fester in post-drunken withdrawal to the likes of Pop World, with perma-ace Simon and Miquita, to get even a smidgeon of decent sounds.
Post-Britpop (an often overlooked golden age of music on the box where the likes of TFI Friday, The White Room and even Top of the Pops featured a host of superb established and upcoming artists) there was zero by way of credible music broadcasting.
But now, the archivists, in the main at the Beeb and Channel 4, have sifted through their vaults to serve up some bonza offerings.

One of the first treasures which caught my eye was the chemically and caffeine-enhanced California Dreaming which documented the rise of the West Coast coffee house scene with the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young uniting in their love of acoustic-based folk rock amid the surrounds of the Topanga Canyon.
With expert analysis from the likes of David Geffen and the original madhead David Crosby, you couldn’t help but be drawn into the intoxicating music which slowly transformed into a paranoic haze thanks to the deadly cocktail of coke, excess and The Eagles.
Most bizarrely, it opened my ears to the fact that Jackson Browne was actually worth listening to.

Joni Mitchell: California, October 9, 1970.
More recently, The Seven Ages of Rock on BBC2 was a triumph away from the usual montages of well-worn archive footage while a long-overdue chronicle on the riches of progressive rock was stretched to the absolute brilliant max in BBC4s Prog Britannia as jewels from the likes of King Crimson (never have I seen a saxophone used so devilishly), Yes and Genesis were given the treatment.
Perhaps the best bits though were reserved for the scene’s fringe acts like the wonderous Egg and Gentle Giant while Rick Wakeman’s anecdote about converting chests of draws to hold his many mellotrons underlined just how inventive these musical innovators truly were.
But it’s not just retro which has experienced a renaissance. Channel 4’s Skins, may be the ultimate in Marmite viewing, but you simply can’t knock its bang on soundtrack.
Take episode one. Opening with Fucked Up‘s Son The Father as Freddie ripped up the high street on his skateboard was a perfectly executed statement of intent before the likes of Method Man‘s Release Yo’ Delf and the Wu‘s Shame On A Nigga soundtracked the shamefully OTT wigga lifestyle of a lower division football player.
It’s rare these days to hear songs crop up in televsion that truly shock you, but Skins has done this several times already, just three episodes in; Pink Floyd‘s One of These Days, Fleetwood Mac‘s beautiful Songbird, Aphex Twin‘s Untitled 10 and Wilco‘s I’m The Man Who Loves You all cropping up unexpectedly, brilliantly, soundtracking the neon cartoon carnage unfolding.
Rather more relaxed, but equally as beguiling was Elbow‘s fabulous live set on BBC4 last week. If ever a showcase proved how deserving of the Mercury, their Seldom Seen Kid record was, this was it.
Understated and yet magnificent. It’s always a joy to see Guy rocking, quite literally back and forth, with that twinkle in his eye acquiescing with his band mates (who’re quite clearly his bezzie mates too) on the splendour of their creation.
If there’s a finer violin-led crescendo than that provided on One Day Like This then I’m yet to hear it.

Elbow with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Radio 3 choir of the year Chantage.
Final mention goes to the BBC4s Folk season. Let’s be straight there’s good folk and there’s bad folk. And there’s a lot of the latter. So it was hardly on my radar to bother with this one, but a late night session down the local led me to catching Folk America live at the Barbican hosted by Seasick Steve – whose stories are actually better than his music.
As billed, the set featured a ragtag of ‘Hollerers, Stompers and Old-Time Ramblers’ – and what a bunch; from the vaudeville hillbilly swing of The Wiyos, Louisiana ragtime courtesy of Cedric Watson and Bijoux Creole and Nashville purist Diana Jones.
But there was no doubting who stole the show, Australian growler, CW Stoneking. Resembling the religious extremist from There Will Be Blood, but sounding like Tom Waits’ voodoo offspring, Stoneking was both a terrifying and compulsive watch.

CW Stoneking: Ragged & Dirty.
As much as they’re known for their music, storytelling is integral to the folk scene – and sessions by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Neil Young completed the season with first-rate archive footage from the 1970s, and while each proved their remarkable talents it was the in between banter which really caught the imagination.
Mitchell; excitable, giggly, at times flirtatious and always cerebral was juxtaposed by Young’s crafty magneticism. Awkward, mysterious and yet utterly engrossing. While Taylor, best of all, had the audience laughing uncontrollably with his humour and expert one-liners. Each a remarkable musician making marvellous music television.

James Taylor: Highway Song (1970)




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