Taylor Swift – Wembley Stadium 22/6/18 notes

It is easy to write off modern pop music when you are buried beneath records from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It’s all the same type of electronic noise, the same tempo, the same message.

I thought the same way for a long time, too. Then, one day when I was flicking through a music magazine, I found an interview with Neil Young. He reeled off a list of artists and mentioned Taylor Swift, praising her songwriting ability. I listened to a few of her records, and after several listens, got what he meant: she could really write a great song.

The show she put on at Wembley Stadium would have been exactly what the fans would have wanted: glamour, fireworks, flames. But the bit that struck me the most was when she strapped on an acoustic guitar and played two songs (Dancing With Our Hands Tied, So It Goes…) alone.

Playing the songs in this way showed the audience the bare bones. Each moving part was laid out. There was no hiding behind pyrotechnics and stage lighting, the music just stood there under the microscope. And it really worked.

Maybe one day we’ll hear all of these songs stripped back.

The Music of Running

Sometimes you need a break from music. You need to clear your head and wait for something – an album, a concert, a song – to inspire you. At least, that’s how my mind works.

I was in one of these phases, waiting for inspiration, as I watched my wife lace up her shoes and go on another long run as part of her marathon training.

I hadn’t been for a run since October 2015. It was the Royal Parks Half Marathon. My knee blew up about a month before I headed for the start line, which meant I couldn’t run for the four weeks leading up to it. I stood there, waiting for the gun to go off, feeling ok. I’d rested my knee enough, I thought, to at least be able to run the race. Without training in the weeks prior to the race, I knew I wouldn’t get the best time I could achieve, but at least I would finish pain free.

The gun went off and I started running. My knee was ok. A hundred metres in, it was still fine. A hundred and fifty metres and a pain shot through my knee, an intense bomb of agony. Each step was a lesson in torture. I hobbled along and eventually made it to the finish line. After that, I vowed to hang up my running boots.

Two and a half years on, I missed the endorphin buzz. My knee was well and truly rested, so I decided to chuck on my shoes and head out for a couple of miles.

Of course, even having a week off of running makes the first one back a bit of a struggle. Surprisingly though, I felt good. Each run got a bit easier, as I nudged up the weekly mileage slowly, slowly.

I don’t run with headphones. I suppose this is for a couple of reasons: firstly, this is alone time, where I can clear my head. I like to be aware of what’s going on around me, too. I also want to hear the primal noise of running.

Breath in, step, step, step. Breath out, step, step.

The sound is hypnotic. With your heart racing, and the sound of air escaping your tired lungs, you literally feel life flowing through you.

Is there is anything else that can make you feel so alive?

Small Faces – Son of a Baker

I keep returning to this video, so thought I would share it here.

I think the reason that I keep repeating it is because of Steve Marriott’s performance.

The opening chords, how he strikes the guitar, his vocals on the refrain, his guitar solo. It’s magical.

The footage is taken from Colour Me Pop, recorded in 1968.

Here it is:

Lonnie Mack – The First Guitar Hero

The sound of the guitar hits you. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard before. After the song finishes, you skip back and start the track again from the beginning, listening to it several times over.

Lonnie Mack.

His name isn’t overly familiar these days, but if you have picked up a guitar within the past sixty years, you almost certainly would have been influenced by him, directly or not.

Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman and Keith Richards were all inspired by his innovative guitar playing. He was a virtuoso, of a type that the world had yet to see.

His guitar solos swirl. Nothing chains them down, nothing anchors them: the notes are buoyant, free to do their own thing.

Lonnie Mack. Perhaps the first ‘guitar hero’.

Wilko Johnson – Interview

Wilko Johnson. For any fan of Dr Feelgood, the name itself conjures up images of a crazed man pacing a stage slinging a guitar around.

His influence on British music and the punk movement is incalculable and it was a pleasure to sit with him and discuss his songwriting methodology, guitar playing technique and music in general.

Click here to read it

Chuck – Chuck Berry (review)

Chuck Berry. The name means so much: rock and roll, some of the finest guitar playing known, inventive and playful songs. 

To think that everyone from Buddy Holly to The Beatles covered his songs is mind-blowing. Without Chuck Berry the world would be a different place. 

I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry live on one of his later trips to London. Even in old age, he played the guitar like no one else, attacking the strings, duck-walking and bouncing off of the audience reaction. 

I was thrilled to write a review of his last album, Chuck, for Songwriting Magazine. Read it here.

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