22.5.18

KHRUANGBIN


For my birthday last week my daughter bought me two CDs by a Texas instrumental trio called Khruangbin, which, roughly translated, is Taiwanese for aeroplane though its literal meaning is ‘engine fly’. Succinctly, their website informs that they are influenced by sixties Thai funk – not a genre of which Just Backdated could claim any prior knowledge – and are “steeped in the bass heavy, psychedelic sound of their inspiration, Tarantino soundtracks and surf-rock cool”, which is not a bad way of describing a guitar-led, minimalist chill-out sound that to my mind has more influences than they are letting on.
The Universe Smiles Upon You

Though I was hearing Khruangbin for the first time there was something strangely familiar about their music, firstly a sort of Shadows-Ventures-Dick Dale friendliness, memories of ‘Apache’, ‘Walk Don’t Run’ and ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’, that I used to listen to before The Beatles swept all that asunder by singing at the same time as playing their guitars. Secondly, there was a hint of the more leisurely borders of Motown, Marvin on What’s Going On and James Jamerson’s languid bass. Khruangbin, however, place less emphasis on the melody so beloved of sixties instrumental groups or Holland-Dozier-Holland, and more on the mood, the atmosphere, which is graceful and thoughtful, and often awash in echo. In some ways their songs belong amongst the tracks selected for those CafĂ© Del Mar chill-out CDs that I discovered on a beach in France in the 1990s, but while the CDL compilations occasionally dissolved into blandness bordering on twee, Khruangbin, though similarly relaxed, are never insipid.

Con Todo El Mundo

Although the two recordings, The Universe Smiles On You and Con Todo El Mundo, were released three years apart, in 2015 and 2018 respectively, there is little discernible difference between them, and while adjectives like spacey, ambient and ethereal come to mind, there is more to Khruangbin than simple new-age or, heaven forbid, easy listening wallpaper music. Mark Speer’s spidery, probing guitar is far from repetitive, Laura Lee’s bass winds its way in and out of the loosely defined melodies, often setting the tempo, and Donald Johnson’s drum patterns are less rhythmic than passing accompaniment. The guitar, in fact, reminds me a bit of the sound that Ry Cooder got on his Mambo Sinuendo album, recorded in 2003 with the Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban. It is decidedly un-British, too, even if the occasional chanted vocal is sung in the English language.
The other overriding factor I like about this music is that it’s perfect for the time of year. Last weekend we were able to eat outside, and Khruangbin, playing softly in the background, was perfect late-night accompaniment to chicken and chorizo kebabs washed down with a glass or three of red. Thanks Olivia.

11.5.18

GIBSON GUITARS FACING BANCRUPTCY



The news that Gibson, manufacturers of top quality guitars, is facing bankruptcy saddens your man at Just Backdated and comes as a bit of a shock, but after reading reports of the company’s problems I can understand the reasons, if not exactly sympathise with them.
Regardless of what they make, manufacturing companies, especially American ones, stick to the principle that unless the company's profits increase each year they are dead in the water. In order to achieve this after saturation point for the product it manufactures has been reached, they diversify, usually into areas loosely connected with whatever it makes, in Gibson’s case premium headphones and hi-fi equipment. It turned out to be a disastrous move and according to a report in today’s Guardian the guitar maker is now £276m in debt.
It seems that the guitar market is static these days, probably a reflection on the way music is going, and that there is a glut of used guitars out there for sale. This isn’t surprising when you consider that many first-time buyers of guitars lose interest when faced with the reality that – like any musical instrument – learning to play with any degree of fluency takes time, patience and endless practice. There’s no warning on the box about this, so after a year their guitar is on sale second-hand. Also, in my experience, decent quality used Gibsons – or Fenders or any other good make – are as good as new ones anyway, sometimes even better. In view of this it seems a tad ironic that Fender now produce new ‘old’ guitars, ie replicas of vintage models, artificially scuffed and worn, at eye-watering prices, but either way there’s insufficient customers for new Gibsons, which are, of course, also a bit on the pricey side.  
About ten years ago, on behalf of Omnibus Press, I was involved in discussions with the MD of Gibson’s London branch, then located in Rathbone Street, to publish a photo book of rock stars playing their guitars. It never happened, largely because we couldn’t reach an agreement on who would pay the photographers, pay the production costs and how many free books Gibson would be entitled to once it was printed. All they offered to contribute was the right to use their logo on the cover. It seemed to me that Gibson was looking for a hi-end promotional tool for its products in the form of a coffee table book and wanted Omnibus to pay for it, a sort of have your cake and eat it situation. I demurred but there was something else that made me feel uneasy. I found myself out of kilter with this MD fellow who was a bit of a whizz-kid and not really a music man, just a chancer who looked on Gibson guitars as some sort of ‘product’, like washing machines or lawnmowers. He seemed oblivious of the company’s history, knew sod all about rock’n’roll and when I showed him the little book about Gibson guitars that illustrates the top of this post, he showed about as much interest in it as if I’d shown him a picture of my dog.
I was given the booklet by Gibson’s in-house PR man in 1974 when I visited the original Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Unlike the man in London 25 or so years later, he was genuinely proud to be associated with the company, and I wrote about my tour of the factory for Melody Maker and also in this post: http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-gibson-factory.html
It was a fascinating experience but since then, in their relentless pursuit of growth – or corporate greed, depending on your point of view – the factory moved to Nashville, and the company opened two more plants, one in Memphis (now closed) and another in Montana. I can’t help but think that if they’d stayed in Kalamazoo, where Orville Gibson founded the company in 1902, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

10.5.18

THE WHO: EBAY SELLS MY MEATY BEATY BIG AND BOUNCY REVIEW


It has been brought to my attention that, astonishingly, a cutting from Melody Maker dated December 4, 1971, specifically my review of The Who’s album Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy, is being offered for sale on ebay, priced at £2.
Here it is:



It’s not surprising that I gave the album an excellent review. It was, after all, the first decent compilation of Who hit singles. The first, Magic Bus The Who On Tour, released in the US September, 1968, was compromised by MCA’s choice of material and ill-disguised attempt to imply it was a live recording, while the second, The Who: Direct Hits, released by Track in the UK a month later, was flawed because Kit Lambert insisted that no Shel Talmy productions be included. 
I shall draw a veil over my feelings about the surfeit of subsequent Who hits albums, but I seem to have been unusually prescient by commenting that The Who ‘are making the most of their history in re-issues’.
I still have my original copy of MBBB, on the Decca label, given to me by Who tour manager Peter Rudge in Charlotte, North Carolina, on November 20 in the Holiday Inn where The Who were staying before their gig at the Charlotte Coliseum. He’d just received a box of them, couriered by MCA from Los Angeles, for the group, and we all gathered in his room to admire them. It occurs to me now that I was in the ideal position to ask Pete, Roger, John and Keith to autograph one for me but I didn’t. It simply wasn’t cool for music writers to collect autographs, more’s the pity.
         This was my first visit to America, though it wasn’t paid for by The Who or their record label. In fact, I’d flown to New York at the expense of The Kinks to attend a party thrown to celebrate their signing to RCA. At the same party were John and Keith from The Who and I wound up partying with them until the early hours at Nobody’s, a then notorious R&R bar in Greenwich Village, and discovering along the way that they were about to open a tour down America’s East Coast in two day’s time. Unable for reasons of managerial incompetence to interview The Kinks, I opted instead to join The Who in Charlotte, NC, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
         When I got back to London I wrote about both The Kinks and The Who for MM, including the review now offered on ebay. Here’s the link: