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Adios, auf wiedersehen, Europa, Mein Amour – a song for Europe

A few months ago, I went to Maurizio Sarnicola's Goldmine studio two hours south of Naples and, with my German friend, the accordionist Hartmut Saam, and new Italian friends Fortunata Monzo (vocals), Giovanni Rago (guitar), Domenice de Marco (drums), Gianni Crescenzi (bass) and Mario Perazzi (engineer), we recorded this song. It was a happy international co-operation which somehow made the song even sadder. 'Europa, Mein Amour' is released this week and can be downloaded on CD Baby and Bandcamp. 'Some people claim I'm not quite the same Since I became European...' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfBAxGXALKc  

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Holidaying in a catastrophe: letter from Australia

Camping was off. That much was clear as we took our flight from Heathrow to Australia on the last day of 2019. Our first destination, a campsite at Cape Conran on the coast of Victoria, had declared that the risk of fire was too great. By the time we arrived in Melbourne, the risk had become a reality. That part of the state, near the border with New South Wales, was where the worst of the brutal bushfires were now burning, and were being spread fast by the wind. Soon the full horror which was to make headlines around the world became clear. Over a vast and spreading area of forest and farmland  - the equivalent of Lincoln down to the south coast and increasing every day  -  was devastated by fire. Human lives were lost, hundreds of houses and businesses destroyed, millions of animals have been killed. The world...

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Derek Hewitson, MY MEATLESS DAY (RP Weston and Bert Lee, 1917)

This week's Friday Song is so obscure that posting the video which accompanies it feels like a bit of positive musical archaeology. As far as I can see, this version of 'My Meatless Day, a wonderful comic song from 1917, does not exist anywhere online. In fact, apart from the original version sung by Ernie Mayne  (warning - it contains a nasty racist term) and a few shaky a capella versions, it's pretty much a lost song. Even its authorship is not entirely clear. I know the song because I used to accompany the guitarist and singer Derek Hewitson in the days when, with Tracey Baldwin, we were the trio Something Happened. 'My Meatless Day' was part of the wonderful and often strange repertoire of songs that Derek has collected and played down the years. Researching 'My Meatless Day' now, I find one reference to it having been written by...

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Daoirí Farrell, A PINT OF PLAIN (Pat Goode and Flann O’Brien)

My plan for the next Friday Song was to celebrate an intense, passionate and slightly strange love song (of which more later). Then I thought again. It's Friday the 13th. The mood today is exceptionally grim. If ever there were a moment when we a need song to lift the spirits, and raise a defiant two fingers to the world,  this is it. Cue this week's Friday Song, 'A Pint of Plain (is Your Only Man)'. Or 'The Workman's Friend', as it was originally called. 'When things go wrong and will not come right, Though you do the best you can, When life looks black as the hour of night - A pint of plain is your only man.' In my ignorance, I had never read, or even heard of 'The Workman's Friend', which was a poem included in the first novel of the great comic Irish comic novelist Flann...

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Friday Song, Rudy Vallee, LIFE IS JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES (Ray Henderson and Lew Brown, 1931)

Here's an odd one. Until a few years ago, I thought I couldn't stand the song I have now chosen as my Friday Song. I found it schmaltzy, melodically uninteresting  - the worst kind of middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser. I defy anyone to listen to  the Judy Garland version or the song, or Dean Martin and  Bing Crosby, without their mouse-finger involuntarily twitching for the next track. Then one day, listening to a compilation record, I heard an early version of it by Rudy Vallee. It was a revelation. Still a Tin Pan Alley song to its core, its tune was written by Ray Henderson, among whose credits is the amazing 'Bye-Bye Blackbird' , and its lyrics are by Lew Brown. Together they wrote 'Roll Out the Barrel' and one of my favourite 1920s songs 'I Want To Be Bad' . What makes the Vallee version different, apart from his great voice, ...

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Friday Song: Harry Nilsson, WITHOUT HER (1967)

When he died in 1994 at the age of 52, Harry Nilsson left behind several versions of himself. There was the almost spookily pure-voiced singer of 'Everybody's Talkin' (written by Fred Neil) for the film Midnight Cowboy; or the fringe figure who appears in documentaries about as the Beatles' favourite American band; or the misfit, swimming against every musical tide throughout his career; or the poster-boy for 1970s excess and self-destructiveness in the company of Keith Moon and John Lennon. None of that, so precious to pop historians, really matters. It is the songs that count. That's why Nilsson is re-discovered every five years or so as another director gives his or her film a lift by including one of his songs, and another generation of listeners ask themselves, 'Who is this and why isn't he a household name?' Even at the peak of his career, Harry Nilsson seemed destined...

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Friday Song: Andrew Bird, HOW YOU GONNA KEEP THEM DOWN ON THE FARM? (Young, Lewis and Donaldson, 1918)

Something rather interesting happens when a good contemporary artist decides to cover a song from the distant past.  When James Taylor sang 'Oh! Susanna!', a Stephen Foster from the mid nineteenth century came out out like a modern(-ish) folk song. Jen Chapin's version of 'Over There' the stirring patriotic song from 1917 turns it into something weirdly unsettling and threatening. Mavis Staples' 'Hard Times, Come Again No More' gives the original a political edge. None of them is quite as strange as this week's Friday Song, a novelty knees-up number from a century ago given a weird, otherworldly treatment by Andrew Bird. 'How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm' was written in 1918 as the troops were coming home from battle.  For many of those men, nothing was going to be the same again - conflict and travel had opened their eyes. 'Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking Said...

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Friday Song: Eddie Cantor, HUNGRY WOMEN (Jack Yellen and Milton Ager, 1928)

Should there be a trigger warning for listeners of this week'd Friday Song? Almost certainly. It makes gender assumptions that some might find offensive. Its premise is based on the patronising assumption that, on a date,  men will pay for dinner. And was it really acceptable to make a joke about hunger when the Great Depression was but a year away? No, it's undeniable. This is a song which has low- to mid-grade inappropriateness on almost every line. But, what the hell, for me  'Hungry Women' is still an innocent and gloriously funny song. 'Broke again, gentlemen I am ruined now. Wall Street's not to blame Nor the racing game. I have spent every cent, Let me tell you how. Listen one and all To the cause of my downfall...' The song dates from the golden year in the history of Tin Pan Alley, 1928,  and was written Jack Yellen...

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Friday Song: Clara Sanabras, THE DANCE OF SOLITUDE (DANCA DA SOLIDAO, 1972)

One of the more unusual CDs in my collection - and one of the most frequently played - is Clara and the Real Lowdown by Clara Sanabras,  which was produced by her musician husband Harvey Brough. It was this album which introduced me to the genius of Paolo Conte, a previous Friday songster, whose 'Sparring Partner' is covered on the CD. It also reminded me of that terrific song 'Put the Blame on Mame', written by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher for Rita Hayworth in the 1946 film Gilda. But my favourite track on the  album is 'Dance of Solitude', an English version of 'Dança da Solidão' from the first album by the Brazilian guitarist and songwriter Paulinho da Viola. In purist terms, I probably should have chosen the excellent version by Marisa Monte, who has performed it with da Viola, but I prefer Harvey's and Clara's production  - the...

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Friday Song: Paul Simon, STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (1975)

If ever there were a song which showed how far songwriting travelled in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it is Paul Simon's extraordinary, enigmatic 'Still Crazy After All These Years'. In its story, its melody, the atmosphere it evokes,  its general air of mysterious confession, it is in my view one of the best songs of its type ever written. With most first-person songs, you know where you are. The singer/narrator feels this, thinks that, and tells you how he or she got there. With this song, the very opposite is true: its whole point is ambiguity of feeling and fact. The lyrics start with what seems like a bit of conventional nostalgia. 'I met my old lover on the street last night She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled. And we talked about some old times And we drank ourselves some beers Still crazy after...

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