Concert for Billie 2011

Last Friday saw the fifth annual Concert for Billie, which was once again a heart-warming mix of school choirs and impromptu bands, junior jazz, professional musicians, special guests, a raffle and presentations of new musical instruments to nine competition-winning schoolchildren

Amongst the special performances this year was harpist Fiona-Katie Roberts who premiered her self-composed ‘Billie’s Tune’, and actor Steve Huison who swapped Coronation Street for Featherstone for one night and stepped out of his comfort zone to perform the Bob Dylan song ‘Forever Young’. As always, the star of the show was Edward Clayton, who has played piano at all the concerts. Starting in 2007 when he was 10 years old, the concerts have charted his development both as a pianist and as a growing boy. His entrances to the stage are becoming increasingly more protracted and the swagger in his step is starting to show itself. Here he is above, filmed from the middle of the audience, playing along to Mark Witty’s saxophone.

The concert is the annual prize-giving concert for Billie’s Violin Trust, a charity that donates musical instruments and tuition to the schoolchildren of Featherstone. The trust was founded by Ian Clayton and Heather Parkinson in memory of their daughter Billie Holiday Clayton, Edward’s twin sister. For more details on the trust visit: www.ianclayton.info/next.html

Booktunes Interview with Amadou and Mariam

Booktunes is a new website we feel is worthy of your attention. It is an infant idea of Erik de Loor of Amsterdam, and it makes the link between books and the music that surrounds them.

It is said that 90% of success is turning up, and here’s a small anecdote to support that idea. We recently got an email from Erik at Booktunes to request a review copy of Away From the Light of Day as he felt it was something that would fit nicely on the site. We replied saying we were happy to oblige, then Erik rang through saying that he’d seen the London launch event publicised and he was going to jump on a plane or train and come over to see it. Impressed by his dedication we managed to find an interview slot for him with Amadou and Mariam. Here was a young man backing his idea own idea for a new website and on the strength of a phone call and a dedicated manner, he was slotted in between two BBC interviews and one with the Sunday Times. He was also the only interviewer of the day to get Amadou to open up on his love of the Bee Gees.

Erik has recently posted the interview and a selection of 21 tunes that accompany the reading of the book. It’s a neat idea. Here’s a small extract from the interview. Follow the link below to see the whole of it and to read/download Erik’s accompanying music.

Booktunes: Which songs by Amadou & Mariam would serve as a soundtrack to Away From the Light of Day? Which songs illustrate the story being told in this biography?

Amadou & Mariam: ‘À chacun son problème’, ‘La Realité’ and ‘Terre La Sebin’.

BT: What about songs by other artists?

Amadou: ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees really inspired me, I love the way they use harmony in their songs. ‘Money’ by Pink Floyd also really helped us. And we both love Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’.

BT: Are there any other African artists we should listen to when trying to get deeper into your story?

A: Tabu Ley Rochereau with his ‘Pitié’ and Youssou N’Dour’s ‘Immigrés’ are both favourites.

BT: And what about you Mariam, in Away From the Light of Day you refer to French music. Which songs in particular?

M: ‘Pendant les Vacances’ by Sheila and Nana Mouskouri’s ‘Soleil Soleil’. Ah, I shouldn’t forget Sebastian Iradier with ‘La Paloma’.

BT: James Brown?

A: Yeah before I started playing with Les Ambassadeurs (du Motel de Bamako) I played in a group from Koutiala called Koulistar. That was definitely my James Brown period. ‘Popcorn’.

BT:
Soon you will start working on the new album. Do you have plans on working with any of your favourite artists?

A&M: It’s a work in progress…

Click here to read more of the interview on the Booktunes website and the list of accompanying tunes.

Click here for more details on Away From the Light of Day.

Bamako Bus Stop

A recounting of the famous incident in which Amadou and Mariam came into contact with their now long time manager, Marc Antopine Moreu. This extract is taken from a feature in The Sunday Times written by Mark Edwards.

Back in 1995, Marc Antoine Moreau, an A&R man at a French record label, was in Senegal visiting one of his artists, Ismael Lo. Deciding that he couldn’t come all the way to Africa and not see more of the continent, he took the train from Dakar to Bamako, the capital of Mali. After a few days in Mali, he was ready for the next stop on his itinerary, so, as he remembers: “I went to the bus station to take a bus to Ivory Coast. It was a small bus station, and the company I took the ticket with was just starting. They wanted to wait until the bus was full before they would go. So we had to wait three days.

Moreau had little money, so he basically stayed at the bus station for three days. “One day, a little boy came to me with a big box full of tapes. I looked at one. The cover said, ‘The blind couple from Mali — Amadou & Mariam.’ I looked at the title of the first track, A chacun son problème [Everyone’s Got Their Own Problems]. I liked the title, so I played the tape. I loved it.

While he was playing the tape, the woman sitting next to him on the bench said: “That’s my sister you’re listening to.” At first, Moreau assumed she meant it in the sense “We’re all brothers and sisters”, but, astonishingly, it really was Mariam’s sister. The couple were on tour in Burkina Faso, and Moreau didn’t have the money to stay and wait for their return, so he asked Mariam’s sister to pass on the message that he liked their music.

Over the next year, Moreau played their tape to friends and colleagues. Then, one day, someone who had heard the tape told him Amadou & Mariam were playing at a restaurant in Paris. Moreau headed down there and introduced himself. “Ah,” said Amadou, “you’re the guy from the bus station.”

Click here for the article in full.

Click here for Away From the Light of Day, the autobiogrpahy of Amadou and Mariam

Indispensable advice to deal with anything

A review of Ian Clayton’s Bringing It All Back Home by Gary McMahon

Bringing It All Back Home, by Ian Clayton (Route publishing), is a beautiful lark that becomes profound so naturally that you’ll probably get the bigger picture in the middle of a belly laugh.  Buddha had much the same experience, so it’s said, but Buddha didn’t have Dylan and the Stones and the Pistols and Johnny Cash and Scott Walker and Elmore James and Buddy Bolden and Billie Holiday for travelling companions.  Or George Formby.  Music informs every page of this book, every outing and every route back home.  Anecdotes come thick and fast — the one about composing ‘Homeward Bound’ is priceless, even if you don’t believe a word of it — and the character sketches are rich.  The prose goes a-roving the world over with music as its guide but touches base, in the language and wit and earthy honesty, in Featherstone, Pontefract, where Ian Clayton was born and still lives, fifty years on.  There’s a Yorkshireman’s memoir at the heart of this but it’s inseparable from Ian Clayton’s sense of community and heritage and his kinship with cultures far from home.  I’m reminded of Geoff Dyer.  Now there’s a compliment.  And here’s another: I’m reminded of the early days of Channel 4 Television, when that station was honest and happening.

What this book does, it seems to me, is mind-map paths from locals to legends, so we wind up with Jimi Hendrix in a chip shop that is, locally, as legendary as he is, and a quiet student of Clayton’s local creative writing class turns out to be cousin and regular Castleford correspondent of — c/o Harvard University — Seamus Heaney!  And all of this makes the high end of talent and the deep end of character accessible to anyone with any soul…because it turns out legends are locals, too: they all come from someplace local, even on the other side of the world.  Which means you can transcend your background and the future mapped out by your career’s officer when you were 15, you can put an ocean between you and someone else’s idea of your capabilities and reinvent yourself according to your talent and the sheer neck to say fuck this…but look back and you’ll see Wakefield in your wake, say, because roots will always have their say in your future and a stake in your community.

And so one week a chap called Fasker is tyre-fitting in Featherstone and playing bass in his spare time, and the next week he’s picked up to record with Saxon in Holland in a studio next to Elton John’s, and the day after that Fasker is jamming with Elton John instead of tyre-fitting.  And when Elton John has a Bentley and an Aston Martin parked outside because he can’t decide which one to go back to the hotel in, it all comes down to this, from Fasker’s point of view:

“By fucking hell.  Tyres on them’ll be five hundred pound apiece.”

Roots!

The sentences are shuffled and cut like an honest game of cards — you don’t know what hand you’ll be playing next.  Time and place rendezvous by free association and any piece of music — “I met a gin-soaked bar room queen in Memphis” — might trip a detour down the scenic route — from the South Wales Striking Miners Choir to Beatles to The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.  A series of candid sentences like snapshots in a bar in New Orleans might follow a sepia flashback to Featherstone, followed by, oh, a visit to the grave of Old Mother Riley.

There are no political messages to parade on a flag.  Politics is merely subtext — and yet a left-wing ethos rooted in mining communities is the spine of this book.

“My gran had four uncles who were all killed in the First World War before they were twenty-five.  She had two brothers who left the mines for the second war and never came home.  During the miners’ strike, Margaret Thatcher called miners and their families ‘the enemy within.’  My grandad swung his boot at the television and refused to ever watch the news again.”

BBC Radio 4 should broadcast this book. All of it.  Not abridged.  Serialised.  It reads beautifully on paper, but it’s also a book that should be read aloud.  It’s anecdotal enough and the chapters are self-contained enough to make this feasible, and this book has a long shelf-life.

There is a heartbreaking coda which was never part of the original design of the book.  Like Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans, and while reader and author both are thinking Bringing It All Back Home is done, we must deal with one more powerful scene, which I don’t have words to talk about.  It leads into Ian Clayton’s follow-up book, Our Billie, just published by Penguin.

“You’ve no choice, it’s not a matter of trying to, you have to!”  That earthy wisdom, straight from the coal face, won’t mean much to you now, but by the time you’ve finished Bringing It All Back Home it’s indispensable advice to deal with anything.

Gary McMahon is the author of Camp In Literature (2006, McFarland) and
Kurt Vonnegut & the Centrifugal Force of Fate (2009, McFarland)

Click here for details on Bringing It All Back Home

Bright Lights, Big City

Ian Clayton and Friends perform a medley of Jimmy Reed songs on the occasion of Ian’s fiftieth birthday party. Ian’s band includes two blues men, a club turn on bass, a rock star on lead guitar, a soap star on drums and his son Eddie on the keyboard. Ian sings Baby What You Want Me To Do and Bright Lights, Big City while downing a pint of ale.

There is a new Facebook page for Bringing It All Back Home, a Facebook page to bring together a community connected Ian’s book, a love of good music, good stories and good books. Click here and then ‘Like’ to stay in touch.

Click here for more on Broinging It All Back Home