CATS, CANARIES, MUGWUMPS & DYLAN et al
By Norman Warwick
That title of The Lovin´ Spoonful hit, Nashville Cats, was a reference to the studio session musicians in Nashville who laid down guitar sounds with such precision across the country music recordings of the era. One line in the song claimed that ´there´s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar cases in Nashville´, with writer and lead singer John Sebastian then modestly insisting that ´anyone that unpacks his guitar can place twice as better than I will.´
Fifty years and more after I had fallen in love with that song and had come to live here on the island I attended a wonderful charity fund raising concert in Teguise. That night I came to realise there might be a similar number of brilliant musicians playing today across the eight Canary Islands. The admission fee was only ten euros to hear almost a dozen singer-writers and guitarists (and percussionists and shaker shakers too) playing for free to raise money for a charity called Accompanon, a well-respected organisation that provides palliative care when needed. The event had been organised by the local El Patio bar, a well-known musical venue and crépery, and I was pretty sure I recognised a young man I had seen play there many years previously when we had been here here on holiday.
On that occasion he had so impressed me with his instrumental skills and obvious ear for musicality that we purchased a cd, called Mas Que Son by him and two companions, which is now one of the most frequently included albums on my i-pod playlists.
Now, he seemed to be the host of this musical gathering and it was his enthusiasm and constant support for his fellow artists that helped sustain the remarkable quality of the programme.
It seemed throughout the evening that there must have been a set of revolving doors just out of sight, in the wings, because the musicians were in constant rotation. At the end of each number there would be a swapping of seats and the formation of new partnerships. There were solo spots for everyone, too, as the performers took the opportunity to showcase songs that, I guessed, were mostly self-penned.
The percussionist, almost a fixture throughout the set, played on a beat box most of the time, adding depth to the always dextrous guitar and timple work. The vocals were always excellent but it was the musicianship and occasional improvisation that really took the breath away.
Female performers delivered their songs with as much energy and sense of adventure as the guys and one of them even sang a song in English. That was such a rare treat for your reporter, who has so much difficulty with the spoken introductions and Spanish lyrics that he really hasn´t got a clue what´s going on. Now, suddenly, here came a song, in English, that took him so much by surprise that he forgot to take notes !
A lengthy raffle draw took place at the end of the show, with some excellent prizes there to be earned by any 1 euro ticket. It seemed that many of the restaurants in the area had offered free meals, and there must have been twenty or so prizes claimed. As you might imagine this was a fairly lengthy add on to the show, but it was very different from the days I remember in the UK when I played in the folk clubs of the sixties and seventies and eighties.
Back then, club organisers were in the habit of holding their raffle during an interval that always went on too long, after which it seemed usually my band would be performing as people ran for the last bus, clutching the prize they had really come for. This happened so often we even thought of changing our name from Lendanear to After The Raffle.
However, with an estimated three hundred and fifty people in the Lanzarote audience and a suitcase full of raffle tickets sold, this concert must have raised a lot of money for its very worthy cause.
There were, too, so many cds sold by the artists that by the time we arrived at the table after the show had finished there were only three left to choose from.
La Vida Es Hoy is an album by Sergio de Jesus and Yosan, and on reading the cd sleeve and looking at a photograph of the artists, we realised we had seen the two them perform in partnership on stage. Like those from most of the other artists, these are contemporary sounding songs and the album has high production values. It is reflective of the attitudes brought to the stage by the wealth of talent on show.
However, although I see it as my role to reassure new residents and anyone else concerned about stepping into an arts arena about which they have no clear guidelines, I am aware that in so often singing the praises of the arts and culture scene on Lanzarote I am in danger of blurring my message. Nevertheless, this has given us promenade street theatres, inspirational visual arts exhibitions, puppetry, choral singing, musical drama and countless concerts of this kind of quality and we have always been well received by audience and artists alike as well by organisers and front of house staff. The quality of performance has invariably been of a high quality, the cost always reasonable or even free and we have not once left feeling disappointed.
Because of my deficiencies in the Spanish tongue, I can tell you neither the titles of songs played in the concert nor the names of the artists who performed them. A total of eleven musicians took part as solo artists and / or as part of duos, trios or quartets and as an ensemble choir for the rock and roll finale. So that you can find them on your search engine and decide whether or not you would like to know more, or in case you later see their names advertised in future concerts and decide that this review might encourage you to take a look, we list their names. Those names are German Lopez, Maru Cabrera, (SEE LEFT) Elisa Felipe, Laura Cox, Estefana Carbelo, Ari Jiminez, Yoriel Carmona, Jesus Carriga, Sergio Padron, Yosan Peredo and Yarel Hernandez.
I am confident you´ll find your interest will be rewarded.
The evening had really been a glorious jam session by musicians who, in the home of country music in America over the last half century or so would have been deserving of the soubriquet Nashville Cats. So well did they play together and so well did each seem to know, understand and respect the music of the other and so easily did they seem to invent new patterns and riffs that they must surely have played together in various formations during their early careers, in the same way as the Merseyside groups apparently often swapped playing members until finally settling on the line-ups that so dominated British pop music in the sixties.
I love it when I can follow music down Sidetracks & Detours to discover ´new´ old music and learn about those artists who managed to fuse sounds from different styles and eras in to new genres. I love it when I learn from the lyrics of a song about the early ´unknown´ careers´ of players who went on to become major artists.
In fact, I have a bit of a fetish on the subject, really, having once serialised several magazine articles under the title of Their Names Fell Out In Conversation.
One important song in my selection was Creeque Alley by The Mamas And Papas, who emerged around about the same time as The Lovin´ Spoonful outfit that ´introduced´ me to those Nashville Cats.
The lyrics of Creeque Alley detailed a family tree, as clearly as any Pete Frame geneology, revealing that the two tall trees that were The Lovin´Spoonful and The Mamas And Papas had surely grown from the same roots, as so many of their members had played together in much lesser known bands as they honed their craft.
Creeque Alley was written by band members, John Phillips and Michelle Gilliam who in their formative years delivered a different kind of music in their own gigs. In telling the story of how they ´left the folk music behind.´ on that circuit they had known Zal xx and Denny xx, and even John Sebastain, later author of Nashville cats, who at that time was playing every evening as a solo artist at The Night Owl xxx.
There are plenty of other emerging artists to be found in the shadows of Creeque Alley, such as Roger McGuinn, who subsequently became lead singer of The Byrds and Barry McGuire who would later warn us all, (some sixty years before coronavirus came along), that we were on The Eve Of Destruction. In four concise lines Creeque Alley also tells us how Mama Cass Elliot arrived, almost on a teenage whim, in New York, met Denny Doherty, who called John Phillips who called Zal Yanovsky and they all got together and formed a band immortalised in the song as the Mugwumps.
Their career of ´high jumps, low slumps, big bumps´ was short lived however, and Zal Yanovsky, left to form The Lovin´ Spoonful with John Sebastian as Michelle Gilliam, John Phillips and Denny were ´getting very tuneful´ and were eventually re-joined by Cass Elliot as California Dreamin´ was becoming a reality.
This notion of songs from which ´names fall out in conversation´ is long established: think, for instance, of Moves Like Jagger.
In fact Bob Dylan, who emerged alongside The Lovin´Spoonful and The Mamas and Papas and who, at the time of writing is at number one in the music charts with his current album Rough And Rowdy Ways,, continues the trend to this day. He list scores of artists, some famous, some not but all influential, on the track Murder Most Foul and so well woven together are those names that they create a not very pretty tapestry of twentieth century America.
We will be bring a selection of reviews of Dylan´s album over the next couple of weeks and also a ´virtual´ radio programme, scripted in collaboration with jazz radio broadcaster, Steve Bewick, about that particular track.
If you follow our long and winding sentences down Sidetracks & Detours, you will become time travellers, cartographers and globe trotters. You will meet new frontiers, see far horizons and create your own points of reference. There might be times when you feel slightly lost and confused, as I´m told my writing can have that side-effect on people, but I promise you if you simply follow your art as we ramble around you will reach that fabled place where imagination begins. In fact we´ll be visiting that lovely location again very soon.