The Eyes Of a Painter by Kate Wolf
Rene and Georgette Magritte by Paul Simon
Let The Picture Paint Itself by Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris
Maybe I Can Paint Over That by Guy Clark
Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats And Dogs by Brian & Michael
Mona Lisa by Matt Monro
Painter Song by Norah Jones
Painting Box by The Incredible String Band
Sketches Of Spain by Miles Davis
When I Paint My Masterpiece by Bob Dylan
We are building our series of Sidetracks And Detours playlists by concentrating each list on a revenue-funded art form supported by the Link4Life financial arm of Rochdale MBC. If you are wonder how much good for the community can be achieved by such organisations check out https://communityartsunwrapped.com /
The site has archives dating back to 2014 and includes writers of the quality of Geri Moriarty. The front page currently on display was of tributes to artist Mic Smith, who died earlier this year, and discussed topics like ‘culture, democracy and the right to make art.’
Many of the revenue funded art forms available in Rochdale were featured at some time or another at Touchstones Arts & Heritage Centre in Rochdale has, among its three exhibition rooms, a People’s Gallery annually housing ‘The People’s Art’ exhibition. The main galleries have delivered multi discipline work and even collaborative work by international artists. The venue also remains the home of Rochdale’s largest creative writing group and incorporates a museum, arts and heritage galleries and local studies and tourist information centres all under one roof.
It also delivers a successful and unique annual education programme for local schools each year. I am proud to have been a long-serving practitioner there for many years.
Of course, Touchstones was and is primarily an exhibition centre for the visual arts, especially paintings, and it is paintings that are the focus of today´s suggested playlist.
I spoke at my dad’s funeral in Rochdale a few years ago, to convey his sense of humour, his love of music and passion for work, but it is hard to retrieve moments of light heartedness when your own heart is so heavy with grief. How difficult it must have been, then, for the late Kate Wolf when writing a song celebrating a grandfather who was obviously very special to her. She managed that ‘celebration’ perfectly, though.
Those who ever attended any creative writing courses I delivered will know I often talked about ‘the perfect selection of the precise word’ and as I listen to Kate’s song again now, I realise I would cite The Eyes Of A Painter as being the perfect example of that skill.
That phrase, ‘the eyes of a painter’ seems a practice of the maxim to ‘show don’t tell’ as we visualise the perceptive eye for detail but, like all great writing, it leaves room for us to paint by numbers as we ‘colour in’ the pupils. Kate then caps even that with a line that says ‘he had the heart of a maker of songs.’ Did she mean he had her heart? Who knows? And maker, not writer, of songs is another perfectly fine distinction.
Kate died tragically young from Leukaemia but there exists today a prestigious folk festival held in the States in her name. The venue is Beautiful Black Oak Ranch, in Laytonville, California and this year´s event was held in June, with a line-up that included Kris Kristofferson and John Hiatt. Those of you living in Rochdale, and playing in the town´s ukele band, might like to know that this Sunshine State festival also featured a ukelel circle jam session facilitate by Jerri Miller !
This year´s headline guest was Madeleine Peyroux. Now known as a jazz pianist and singer writer, Madeleine grew up busking on the streets of Paris before becoming a recording artist of best-selling albums of her own songs and excellently selected covers.
Her debut album of fifteen years ago included her version of Dance Me To The End Of Love and a performer at her own sold-out concerts and now helping to perpetuate the song-writing traditions of artists like the late Kate Wolf.
Simon And Garfunkel, for me, had all the right production values for contemporary folk music. They had lyrics of Cohen-esque calamity, James Taylor’s triumphs and Beatles-ish bounce. The melodies were always glorious and beautifully played and not all, perhaps even not many, of their songs were love songs.
Memories plays tricks in that they never fall to rest in the chronological order of their occurrence, so whether Vincent, Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats and Dogs or Paul Simon’s solo recording, on his Hearts And Bones album, of Rene And Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War was the first song to introduce me to visual arts I cannot honestly say. I’d have to look up composition dates and release dates and stuff, but I’d rather work with an unreliable memory.
The song was clever, artsy even, and included a French phrase, with lyrics through which Paul Simon took it upon himself to introduce me to doo wop,…….. and even though I’d heard its faint echoes in pop music, I couldn’t have then identified it. I fell in love not just with the music, though, but even the names of the groups,…. The Orioles and The Five Satins and The Moonglows.
Rochdale artist John Cooke has always kept very close to his chest what might be his formula, even if indeed he has one, in producing his unique, vivid photographs or paintings of the town. He seems to imply that he just lets the process unfold, or as one of my favourite songs has it, he will just ‘let the picture paint itself.’
Rodney Crowell had been an outstanding performer with Emmylou Harris And The Hot Band for several years before he released a solo album in 1994 of that title. Although he became a major country music solo act in the years that followed, neither this album, nor the three singles released from it (Big Heart, I Don’t Fall In Love So Easy and the title track) registered at all on the American Billboard charts.
The album also includes Rodney´s collaboration with Guy Clark, Stuff That Works, seemingly sharing similar sentiments with Let The Picture Paint Itself. Both songs seemed to advocate a que sera attitude to life,…. the kind of ‘let’s wing it, it’ll be ok’ philosophy that many artists pretend to adapt to disguise how hard they work.
Songs as good as Crowell´s later Keys To The Highway, however, didn’t happen by accident.
Crowell´s great friend and occasional collaborator, Guy Clark, was another of the Austin, Texas based song-writing enclave of the nineteen eighties and nineties. Might have shared his let´s just paint it and see attitude. Nevertheless, Guy later wrote a song called Maybe I Can Paint Over That, a metaphor for the mistakes we make in life, perhaps. Nevertheless the title and the attitude of the song reflected on an attention to detail that well served all his songs even if it made him a little less prolific than his peers. By painting over any blemishes, however, Guy showed a desire for perfection that would well reward, even today, any new listener.
I’m not sure what pop songs become adapted by Rochdale football fans for chanting at Spot land, (drop us an e mail to our info@ address, please if you me know any) but I will never forget the look on the face of American song-writer John Stewart when I told him that his Daydream Believer was sung by Sunderland supporters, with a lyrical re-write, as ‘Cheer Up Peter Reid.’
So I would imagine that Michael Coleman might have been surprised to hear his Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs re-interpreted by Celtic fans to celebrate a long ago hero.
Nevertheless, the song was homage, to Salford artist L.S. Lowry, who saw football as part of the community, with one of his most famous paintings being inspired by the crowds arriving at Burnden Park every Saturday. (Crowds watching Wanderers, by ‘eck !)
The song was recorded by Michael Coleman and Keith Parrot (Brian for contractual reasons) who had previously worked together in various line ups. They were joined here by St. Winifred’s School Choir and the Tintwistle Brass band from Derbyshire.
The lyric captured Lowry’s style that became symbolic of Rochdale and the rest of Greater Manchester, with its ‘kids on the corner o’ the street ‘oo were sparking clogs.’
There is a short story, about a man who, in a public place, loses his temper with a woman and begins shouting at her. Things become increasingly heated and suddenly he is brandishing a knife. As he makes a lunge at her he is intercepted by security guards who lead him away and call the police. He struggles against their grasp and turns to look at the woman as they tighten their grip.
“You’ve changed’’ he shouts over his shoulder to her, ‘you’ve grown hard.’
She doesn’t reply and her expression never changes as he led out of the gallery.
Mona Lisa is a song my dad and my Uncle Sid used to sing when I was maybe ten or eleven and aware of versions on the radio by the likes of Nat King Cole and Matt Monro. Those guys were really square, though and their music meant little to a young pop fan.
Nowadays, of course, I recognise Nat King Cole as one of the great jazz pianists of the twentieth century and I find myself belting out From Russia With Love to accompany Matt Monro when my wife plays his greatest hits almost nightly through her i pod.
Norah Jones is ‘pretty high cotton’ for an ordinary Rochdale bloke like me. She has sold over fifty million albums and was voted the top jazz artists of the noughties. Not yet in her forties, but with nine Grammy awards already, Norah is the daughter of Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and half-sister of Anoushka Shankar.
She came to global attention in 2002 with her debut solo album Come Away With Me to which I paid attention because of the inclusion of great covers of writers as disparate as Hank Williams, John D Loudermilk and Hoagy Carmichael. She also featured some of her own compositions.
As a child, she says, she played ‘over and over again’ one particular disc out of an eight disc anthology of Billie Holiday, who has featured on a previous aata playlist, celebrating photography, with Strange Fruit. However, Norah also offered on this album a version of Painter Song, a title which was always going to end up on this aata virtual playlist celebrating the Rochdale visual arts scene.
Typically, I was a little late to the party, not really being convinced of her innate good taste until her second album saw her cover a song of my friend Townes Van Zandt.
When we used to tune in to John Peel’s Radio 1 show over the weekends, in the last century, we´d hear musicians like or Tractor, from our home town of Rochdale, or The Incredible String Band who gave the first live gig I ever saw at the end of the sixties. It was the line-up that included Liquorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson as female vocalists.
ISB chart in our Sidetracks And Detours; Visual Arts playlist with the appropriately titled Painting Box. Despite that phrase, and the jollity of the tune implying a child-like simplicity, it was, as ever with songs written by their members, a complex and somewhat darker tale of ‘purple sails’ and a ‘little ship that is sinking.’ However, the singer ‘kind of likes’ the sea he’s on ‘and I don’t mind if I do drown.’
Mike Heron was the band member to write this song but other regular contributions came from Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer and Malcolm Le Maistre. This psychedelic folk band played in varying line ups for more than five decades and even gave an incredible performance at the Woodstock Festival.
I saw them play one last time, old men with the merriment and invention of children, at Wrexham in 2006. For a much wider view of the ISB check out our archives of Guest Writers for Dave Espin´s report.
Any writer exiled on Lanzarote compiling musical playlists to celebrate Rochdale’s visual arts culture would surely contrive to include Miles Davis seminal Sketches Of Spain. For me, though, a real link does exist.
The first visitors we had here in Playa Blanca were a couple well known throughout the Borough Of Rochdale. The Bewicks, (Steve and Marlene) came over to stay and thereby hangs a tale. Steve and I had been mates for a few years by then and, indeed, co-presented a weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio. A far more experienced radio presenter than was I, Steve also delivered, and still does, a weekly jazz show, Hot Biscuits, for fcum radio, https://tunein.com/radio/FCUM-Radio /
His love of jazz was deeper and far more knowledgeable than mine. In fact my relationship with jazz at that time was mere flirtation with some of its more popular products. I was only vaguely aware of, but somewhat enchanted by, the work of Miles Davis, particularly an album called Sketches Of Spain.
One morning, during the holiday Steve sat himself down on the patio with pencil and paper, drawing the view and creating his own incredible Sketches Of Spain !
Members of Touchstones and some other Rochdale creative writing groups might remember how I would frequently question them verbally about what they were writing and why. I was always pleased when replies showed an awareness of what their current work entailed and their determination to finish it. Alliteration can be effective but those who dilly and dally are usually not.
The work of Bob Dylan continues to be turned upside down by those determined to find new meaning and unidentified techniques in his writing. My advice to those people would be to look at the certainty with which he writes. He didn’t shilly shally about whether the sixties were a revolution or merely evolution, but shouted that The Times They ARE A Changing and nor did he dawdle or dither with small talk about the weather but said, with certitude, that A Hard Rain’s GONNA Fall.
Many aspirant writers look away embarrassed when asked about their ambitions but Dylan talked of the day WHEN I Paint My Masterpiece, and he has written many songs worthy of such a description.
That title, of course, is a perfect fit for our aata playlist about the visual arts. However, if you wish to send us your own version of a Painting By Numbers playlist of ten songs celebrating famous artists or their works, please contact us via our info@ connection elsewhere on site. We´ll publish and accredit if you´d like us to.