On this day in 1929, Alfred A Knopf published Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest”, which had been serialised in the pulp magazine Black Mask in the previous year. It became the template for the hard-boiled detective novel. Its hero is the nameless Continental Op (he’s an operative of The Continental Detective Agency) who is called to Personville by the local Press Baron. Personville is known as “Poisonville” by the locals, and the plot turns on police corruption and gang warfare, and Red Harvest refers to the staggering amount of bloodshed that ensues, caused (mostly deliberately) by the Continental Op. It inspired Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which in turn influenced Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name in the Dollars trilogy. The Coen brothers’ film Blood Simple takes its title from a line in Red Harvest, and In the early 1970s, Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci considered filming an adaptation of the novel with Jack Nicholson or Clint Eastwood in the lead, but it never happened. I took the name Poisonville to use on a project with Mark Pringle and my daughter, Jordan, a decade ago, where we recorded skewed versions of songs from the 60s. Here’s a song called “Hammett” which uses cut-up loops and samples welded onto a narration of a dream sequence from the 21st chapter of ”Red Harvest”, which we recorded as a kind of theme song for the project. It features a sonorous cello part by Mark, as well as a guitar solo that, to this day, is one of the greatest I’ve ever heard. Read the book — it’s a cracker.
For fun, a slow-burn version of “Smile”, written by Charlie Chaplin, and based on the instrumental theme that he’d composed for his 1936 film, Modern Times. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s use of strings and pedal steel on his Sinatra album, Shadows in the Night, I’ve incorporated those elements, along with the usual curdled guitars.
On an interesting episode the other day [May 28 2021] of Desert Island Discs, Alexei Sayle [another ex-Chelsea School of Art-er] chose “Joe Hill” as one of his eight discs, recalling that it was performed at his mother’s funeral. I first heard “Joe Hill” on the Woodstock soundtrack, sung by Joan Baez. Never a lover of her precise and pure voice, I nevertheless loved the song. I next heard it in the 1971 Bo Widerberg film biopic, for which guitarist Stefan Grossman did the score. When I listen to it sung, usually as a folk ballad, I always think it’s too sweet — and the version by Baez played on DID was a Nashville studio recording, with a prominent and syrupy pedal steel part. I recorded it a few years ago with the aim of making an angry industrial version, piston-driven and distorted. At one point I felt it needed a rap section and cast around for someone that may fit the bill. My friend Mark put me in touch with painter and wordsmith Nathan Detroit, who, with no real brief from me, came up with something he calls Cyborging — an abstract and impressionistic flow of words. Sounded great to me, so one afternoon we recorded it. Here it is. Play it Loud.
Written at the tail-end of 2020, a hopeful plea…
Songwriter and singer Percy Mayfield was a scribe for the loveless and lost, but also for the man railing against the possibility of Armageddon. Even in the most plaintive and beautiful lovesick ballad, his apocalyptic bent creeps in. Here’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”:
“Show the world how to get along
Peace will enter, when hate is gone
But if it’s not asking too much
Please send me someone to love…”
“River’s Invitation” conjoins his missing sweetheart with thoughts of suicide:
“I spoke to the river
And the river spoke back to me
It said man you look so lonely
You look full of misery
And if you can’t find your baby
Come and make your home with me”
Even a visit home was no fun. “Stranger in My Own Hometown”, cut famously by Elvis, finds the singer bemoaning his lot…
“I came home with good intentions
About 5 or 6 years ago
But my hometown won’t accept me
Just don’t feel welcome here no more…”
His most famous song was for his mentor, Ray Charles – “Hit the Road, Jack” was a monster hit in 1961. But on the B-Side, cut at the same session, was “The Danger Zone”, blessed with one of Ray’s greatest ever performances. Here’s a lovely piece about the song, and its relation to Leonard Cohen’s “Almost Like the Blues”, at thebluemoment.
Its refrain has been running around my head for the last few months, to the point where I had to record a version of it. So forgive me the gall. Here it is.
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
In the Bleak Midwinter
Love Came Down at Christmas
Silent Night (Aleppo)
Martin Colyer (born 1955)
Discount Fireworks, June 2017
20 tracks of instrumental music, recorded over the last ten years, on Compact Disc
Disc made of polycarbonate/Cover & Liner Notes printed ink on Paper/Glassine Bags
6 pages of liner notes plus a small free gift!
Price: $15 [includes postage anywhere in the world]
Handmade in London to order
If you’d like a copy, make a payment to: paypal.me/MartinColyer/15
Then send your name & address to firstname.lastname@example.org
That’s it! Here’s a preview track, “K2”…
Blake Mills, “If I’m Unworthy”. He’s a monstrous guitarist, but this is a great song and an impassioned but minimal performance. It would work just as well with a band in a more “Southern Soul ballad” style.
Bob Dylan “I’ll Remember You”. Long-forgotten song from a very flat bit of Bob’s career, a little like an earlier version of “To Make You Feel My Love”. Don’t think he really does justice to the melody that could be found with a little more focus, but it’s a great song.
Robbie Robertson “Straight Down the Line”. A little Rock n Roll history set to a cool beat…
Van Morrison “I’ll be Your Lover, too”. An under-appreciated Van song, with great tune, great lyric. I first heard it used over the end credits of a Russell Crowe/Meg Ryan kidnap film in the 90s.
Dan Penn “Zero Willpower”. Less well known than his “Dark End of the Street” or “Do Right Woman” but up there with them.
Suzie Vinnick, “The Danger Zone” written by Percy Mayfield for Ray Charles, here done as a solo bass number.
Robbie Fulks, “As Sweet as Sweet Comes”. Lovely, indeed sweet, song:
“Baby I’m coming as fast as the law will let me
If it wasn’t for the money I’d never leave you alone
Being close by you just lifts the whole world from me
Your arms are my home sweet home…”
Here’s the mp3 as I can’t find it on YouTube:
A bit left-field! Paul Buchanan “I Can’t Give Everything Away”. From David Bowie’s Blackstar, here sung in a completely different arrangement at the BBC Bowie Prom…
Here’s the mp3 as I can’t find it on YouTube:
Kenny Edwards, “Will You Still”.
Hot House, “Take This Pain”. And lastly, cheekily, one I co-wrote, with due acknowledgement to Shakespeare, and sung by Heather Small.
(Martin Colyer/Mark Pringle)
We’re taking out the rich – and their acolytes,
It’s the end of the road, and the start of the fight.
Revolution’s in the air, and the time is right,
Why the wait? Let’s go tonight!
In their basement pools and their panic rooms,
They watch the fray, sat on heirlooms…
But are the troops amassed, or scattered blithe?
Did we hesitate, or are we alive?
Are we alive?
Are we alive?
Are we alive?
Mark Pringle: Lead electrical guitar, Strings
Martin Colyer: Electric guitars, rhythm track, vocals
Recently heard on the soundtrack to an episode of Mad Men, my continuing project of finding songs to cover leads to an attempt on Brian Hyland’s 1962 puppy-love pop classic (#3 on both US and UK charts). It has a naggingly dark/slightly hysterical melody that stuck in my head for days after watching the programme. I thought that a kind of moody, dragged-out beat would suit, and ended up close to an Angelo Badalamenti mugginess. Having roughed it out thus, Mark added his tensile guitar to it at the end of a day when we’d been playing “Next!” – a game where I play Mark tracks in various states of completion and he either responds to them, or doesn’t (and hence “Next!”). He has no knowledge of what I’m going to serve up, and sometimes it hooks him in enough to play multiple takes and work a part out. Sometimes it’s just one or two takes. He played, I think, three passes on this song.
An idea had occurred to me, a while before, to hire a bona-fide musician (Mark’s one, but he works with me for lunch and wine). And I thought of horns on this, so I emailed the wonderful Paul Taylor, who I’d seen with improv outfit the Horseless Headmen. I trepidatiously waited for a reply to my request that he write horn charts for a couple of songs, and was hugely thrilled when he said yes. Paul’s a great musician and a wonderful chap to spend a day with. We discussed a ridiculous range of music, from trad to bebop, from The Bureau via Improv to Trombone Poetry. Having tuned up the part of my brain needed to cope with engineering a live trombone session – we set to. Paul methodically and with great precision overdubbed the trombones that you hear here. It was only at the end that I played him Mark’s guitar part, and it was interesting to find how well the parts meshed. So here it is, folk fans: Sealed With a Kiss.
True fact: Hyland’s In a State of Bayou album found him working with the late and most certainly great Allen Toussaint. Who knew?
Note: The photograph above was taken in Uppsala during a performance of silent movies accompanied by live piano. It’s the cinema where Ingmar Bergman watched films as a child and the theatre hasn’t been updated since. Before the performance there was a selection of eccentric music videos from the late 30s, all accordions and gypsy guitar and very flimsy story lines, as witnessed above.
Credits: Lead guitar by Mark Pringle, Trombones arranged and played by Paul Taylor, Rhythm guitars and vibes played by Martin Colyer, who also arranged the song and sang it. There is no bass.