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Rookling in black and white

Art Every Day – A schedule of inspiration for late lockdown

I imagine I’m not alone in feeling short on inspiration.

My response is to ask for help from the very best. So I’ve set myself a listening schedule. I’m sharing this for those of you who are people who are also short on songs or spirits during Covid-19 lockdown. Join me whenever you can, on & off, discover new music, send your recommendations.

If you really get stuck into any one theme, I’ve given extra articles & programmes that give background knowledge.

WEEK 5 (25th May)

You’ve sent me so many recommendations that I scrapped the schedule for the week and filled it with your tips, two per day. With one exception: a very special final day…

Mon: Kate Bush – Hounds of Love / Laura Marling – Song for Your Daughter

A British heavyweight belt unification bout! Recommended by Jessica Denzer and Lotta St Joan.

Tue: George Harrison – Living in a Material World / J. B. Paterson – Young Man for a While

A pioneer of the past joined by a troubadour of the present. Recommendations: James Michael Rodgers and Michael Brinkworth.

Wed: Ravi Shankar – Chants of India / Swing Slow – Swing Slow

The esoteric day. Music without lyrics. India and Japan – what better way to travel under lockdown than through music? Recommendation: James Michael Rodgers and Ulysse Blanc.

Thu: Billy Bragg – Brewing up with Billy Bragg / ???

This is practically a double album so it might do the trick on its own. A man with a guitar making big noises with his poetry – you can understand the attraction, I hope. Recommendation: Luca Bosatta.

Fri: Rookling – the back catalogue

What was the point of all this? Why learn to listen to others? Because perhaps, I hope, it might change the way I listen to myself. I might try and love my neighbour as I love myself – but if I’m my own worst critic, I won’t get on very well with my neighbours after. A bad critic isn’t someone who always gives bad reviews, but rather a critic who lets prejudice get in the way of honest response. The ability to take an objective stance with yourself, to experience your work as if for the first time over and over again – is this what makes an artist an artist? Maybe I’ll find out on Friday afternoon.

WEEK 4 (19th May)

Tue: Nina and Piano

How many songwriters are singers? How many singers are songwriters? I’m not talking about the present day and its hasty crazes. I mean in the history of song. I reckon it’s a very small intersection. It took a while for me to see myself as a singer and I’m still in the process of working out a truth that would is, I expect, incredibly obvious to most of the singers that history has seen: you bring out your own truth, no matter the words. Nina Simone is most famous not for her own songs but the songs that she made her own. And it’s that latter ability I’m listening for.

If you only have 5 minutes:

Wed: Thomas Tallis – Spem in Alium

Sometimes music hails down treasures and you must grip tightly onto every word, note, texture; sometimes it asks you to simply let yourself be washed in a flood of pure magnum mysterium. But when you’re challenging yourself to listen anew, try and let those treasures rush past you, and sink your teeth into what you’d normally let rush past. Today I’m listening hard to choral music.

If you only have 5 minutes:

Thu: Bob Dylan – Rolling Thunder Revue (Documentary)

I should be grateful that people compare me to Bob Dylan, but I’m not. I can’t decide what I detest the most, his personality or his harmonica. I’m convinced that if Bob Dylan was a youngster today, he wouldn’t be idolizing some old singer from half a century ago, and so I won’t either… But there I go, trying to imagine what Bob would have done, trying to emulate the very same deity that I’m denigrating. And so no matter how fast I flee from that name, I always get pulled back. He’s the centre of gravity of the this great galaxy of singer-songwriters, for better or worse. So here I go.

If you only have 5 minutes:

Fri: Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

So I lurch from a cultural heavyweight to another, this time more readily. “I’m our country’s greatest poet,” he says, and I tell myself that’s bravado but I can’t name anyone who keeps me so hooked on every word. His ability to tell stories without linguistic traps and devices sounds like the peak of poetry. Still, this schedule is a chance for me to sink below the level of the words and thereby step out of my comfort zone.

If you only have 5 minutes:

WEEK 3 (12th May)

Tue: Duke Ellington – Black, Brown & Beige (Symphony)

The colour of jazz is a struggle that has defined the genre. In its early days, it was born of the synthesis of white marching-bands and black blues; nowadays, commentators and performers scratch their chins to see historically white institutions – conservatoires and museums – filling with jazz. This wartime “composition”, “symphony” or simply “work” speaks to the colour struggle on many levels: its title; the fact that it premiered in Carnegie Hall, the classical cathedral of the States; and Ellington’s own concert notes. I’m listening for the retelling of history and the forging of the future.

Wed: Jeff Buckley – Live in Frankfurt 1995

When I learnt to drive the family car, I didn’t just gain independence of movement but also of music. High volume, windows down, and anything I liked, unlike in my thin-walled house. Cue my discovery of “Grace”, Jeff Buckley’s first, last & only. His voice was a supercar. He could have run rings around any musical world he wanted. So I’m listening to how he drives his Ferrari, not just in the big notes but the scruffs and scrapes: balancing technique and emotion, and the power of imperfection.

If you only have 5 minutes:

Thu: Les Enfants de Django (Django Reinhardt Documentary)

The other week, I was telling a friend on the phone about my current obsession with gypsy jazz. He didn’t recognise the term, but I told him, “listen to the music – you know what I’m talking about.” I think just about everybody has heard this kind of music, even if they know different ways to describe it, or no way at all. Since I’m on a course, I hardly need to put time into listening hard. But I want to learn more about the history & legacy of the great Django Reinhardt and the Sinti & Roma people, especially with so many Holocaust memorial events at this time of year.

If you only have five minutes: this is my teacher, Filippo Dall’Asta, making the most of his lockdown!

Fri: Childish Gambino – 3.15.20 (Album)

Some artists have the Midas touch. It seems like anything that comes out of Donald Glover’s creative workshop, I like. Whatever medium or genre he turns his hand to, he manages to reach me. But I’ve never dug into a whole album of his, so I’ll start with his latest. He says it’s his last, but I don’t think many people believe that.

If you only have five minutes: Compare this with the CG original

WEEK 2 (4th May)

Mon: Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool (Album)

My musical life started with trumpet lessons and a quick infatuation with jazz. My great aunt bought me Kind of Blue, my first album, but it was a bit slow for a ten-year-old. I found my favourite soon after when my trumpet teacher gave me a bootleg Birth of the Cool. Any time I listen to this album, I feel like I’m listening alongside that ten-year-old, and with every other version of myself that has sat down with this album. I’m not just here to be blown away by Miles and his band – I’m listening out for echoes of the past.

Tue: Salif Keita – Live (Concert)

When I play to someone without any English at all, I’m suddenly made aware of how complacent I am that my lyrics will tell their own tale, rather than being carried by my musicianship. Putting myself in the reverse situation – when I’m listening to a song in a language I don’t understand – is a very reliable source of inspiration and learning. I find Modern Malian guitarists, in the wake of Ali Farka Touré and Salif Keita, can always reach me with their fresh musical vocabularies. Here, I’m listening for how six strings and a voice can conjure landscape and heritage, and the individual’s place in them.

If you only have five minutes:

Wed: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (Album)

I have a very special way of procrastinating on good things. I tell myself they’re unworthy of half-hearted listen. And then, inevitably, I never make the time to listen. This album is one of those good things, and now is the time. Hip-hop isn’t my home turf (who knew?) but it’s hip-hop I pay visit to any time I want a lyrical masterclass. There’s an entire podcast series on this album, or you can listen to the man himself talk to MTV.

If you only have five minutes:

WATCH KENDRICK LAMAR’S PERFORMANCE AT THE 58TH GRAMMYS

Thu: The Joni Mitchell Interview (YouTube)

Joni has everything. She broke out of the folk revival to dip into dozens of cultural ponds. She seemed to never suffer from the hubris and fall of other young stars. A half-century at the top – and she’s a “painter waylaid by music”. I’ve got her Morning Glory on the Vine illustrated lyric book, I’ve got 1h44 of her wisdom and a Best-Of. Tuck in.

If you only have five minutes:

Remind yourself of the original, then listen to her own epic re-arrangement.

Fri: Jacques Brel – Olympia ’66

When I’m playing guitar, my hands are tied. This is a limitation, but I also have to resist the urge to hind behind the guitar. How would my expression change if I was only singing? How much braver, how much more exposed! Here’s a man who didn’t hide behind anything, whose stage was also a theatre. I’m watching him (even if the quality is poor) for that theatrical sensibility; I’m listening for his actorly vocal delivery, as well as storytelling without whimsy.

If you only have five minutes

Sat: Samuel Beckett

WEEK 1 (27th Apr)

Mon: D’ANGELO – VOODOO (Album)

Question: D’Angelo and his band give us the groove. Listen for rhythms that are loose yet tight, harmonies that are completely wrong yet just right, and exhilarating thrills in laid-back tempos. EXTRA: Listen: Switched-on Pop podcast on Voodoo / Read: Chicken Grease Analysis / Watch: Chicken Grease (Live)

If you only have five minutes:

Tue: CLAUDE DEBUSSY – SUITE BERGAMASQUE (Concert)

My idea of Debussy is modernism & minimalism. This suite features Clair de Lune, which I know well. But how does the rest of the suite build up to that moment of pure beauty? EXTRA Listen: WDR Meisterstücke

If you only have five minutes:

Wed: JAKE THACKRAY – LIVE PERFORMANCE (Live album)

Apparently he suffered from crippling stage-fright and he taught himself the guitar without any musical theory. Ironically, I’ve chosen this live album to learn from the effortless crowd control in between songs, as well as the well-balanced nylon guitar accompaniment. EXTRA: Listen: BBC Great Lives on Jake Thackray.

If you only have five minutes:

 

Thu: LEONARD COHEN – BIRD ON A WIRE (Documentary)

A documentary whose second half is nowhere to be found, but whose first half is extremely compelling to make up for it. Or so I’m told: my friend James Michael Rodgers told me to watch this urgently.

It’s difficult to listen with fresh ears to something that you know so well. There’s two ways to break out of this:

Listen to a cover version (Leonard Cohen has inspired hundreds).

Listen to a live version – like the tracks at 11:00, 18:00, 31:00 and 38:00 in this video.

Extra listening: an interview with the man himself.

 

Fri: BARBARA – CONCERT A CHATELET (Concert)

Barbara imitated no-one, and no-one’s ever taken her throne since. But somehow she’s universally known and loved in France as one of the canonical greats. Listen out for leading and following, the interplay between voice and accompaniment. EXTRA: Listen: France Culture on Barbara’s life (FR)

If you only have five minutes:

Sat: GRAYSON PERRY (Interview)

Saturdays are given over to non-musical inspiration. Here’s a man I’ve been growing ever more curious about, and I’ve just bought his book, ‘The Descent of Man’. I’m watching this to see where it takes me. There’s something I admire in his stance towards the performance and role-playing of the artist.

Photo by Stephanie Qui.

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