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April 2020 Archive
30.04.20 > Lyric Card: Anniversary Song
29.04.20 > Katie to headline #TheTakeover Online Festival
#TheTakeover online festival is a FaceBook Live event taking place between Friday May 8th - Sunday May 10th. Katie is due to perform the prime slot on Friday at 9pm. Be there or be 🔳. Pop over to Facebook - #TheTakeover for deets. Or go to Right Chord Music to learn more about the event.
28.04.20 > Katie Bite: What It Says On The Tin
27.04.20 > Track Notes 90: Stardust
Hoagy Carmichael & Mitchell Parish
I barely know where to begin with this one. We are all made of stardust and maybe that is why this song resonates with me so much. In truth, I don't really know. I must have been 7 or 8 when I first heard it. My parents were playing a Glenn Miller album and it was all pleasant enough but then this song was played and it changed everything. It was my first experience of the power music has to manipulate your feelings. I'm no musicologist so I can't explain why this song affected me so deeply but to this day it remains one of my favourite songs ever. Hearing Katie perform it live in 2019 was one of the most magical 4 minutes of my life.
As with all diamonds, it took a lot of polishing to produce the end product. Hoagy Carmichael worked for months to refine a tune that had popped into his head and he was whistling one day in 1927. Initially, a jollier number performed at a higher tempo, Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1929 and the song was slowed down into a sentimental ballad. The rest is history. It has been recorded by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and even Bob Dylan. Willie Nelson's version woke up the crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-97. In fact, there have been over 1500 recordings of the song. I don't know how many I've heard—quite a few—but this version by Katie is my favourite and for me it is definitive. I simply can't conceive of it being done better; it is perfection and it made my mind up that she is the best interpreter of a song I have ever heard. A song is more than just words and notes, it is about painting pictures in the mind. That is why we refer to singers as artists.
If you are reluctant to take my word for it then have a look for yourself. There are a couple of performances on YouTube. Here's a cracker from 2016... Stardust (live in Lucern).
26.04.20 > Lyric Card: Jack's Room
25.04.20 > Katie performs live for LCKDWN
I really hope everyone managed to catch Katie’s performance with her brother Zurab last night as part of the 24-hour LCKDWN event. This is in aid of the PRS Emergency Relief Fund which was created to help songwriters and composers who may be facing financial hardship as a result of the lockdown. If you love music and you are able to donate then please do so by visiting PRS Presents: LCKDWN
As a writer, I have an empathy with this cause. People often assume writers and musicians are loaded—the reality is that most of us make less than the minimum wage and have to take what jobs we can to make ends meet whilst creating our magic in our spare time. Musicians are performing artists yet they can’t go out and perform right now. It’s a massive loss of income stream for them and there’s no end in sight yet. We are experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime global challenge and everyone needs to pull together and help each other to come through it.
Thankfully, YouTube Live is about the best live streaming platform around and the video quality was good, while the audio was clear and unbroken. One muppet was constantly moaning about the sound in the comments panel. Seriously, a superstar is singing live to you from their living room and you are bitching about the sound quality? How do these people think this works? Katie doesn’t have a BBC Outside Broadcast Unit in her living room utilising state of the art HD cameras with Dolby Atmos audio with satellite transmission—these things are done through iPhones propped up on the coffee table and uploaded through the home Wifi hub. Give it another decade and yes, we will see an improvement in the technology, but for now the fact that this can be done at all is amazing. And the quality on YouTube is way better than you get with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram live events.
One part of these events I don’t really get is the chat stream. This is a torrent of emojis and inane, pointless comments. In general, it is nice for the broadcaster to feel the love coming towards them but it is impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff in real time. The majority of people just say “Hello from Timbuktu” or wherever, others ask questions or request specific songs, all of which is simply a waste of time and bandwidth. Katie clearly stated at the beginning that she was going to perform a 5-song set that had been carefully thought about and prepared yet people were constantly asking for songs throughout. The idea of artists being able to connect with fans is nice but I’m not sure this free-for-all system is the way to go. It might help if people were limited to one comment per account. That would help to make people think more carefully about how they use their “go” and curtail the serial jabberers that chatter constantly throughout.
Katie’s set was impeccable. I’m always banging on about how her voice and acoustic guitars are all that’s needed to create the magic and she kindly proved me right again. It never ceases to amaze me how at ease and unfazed Katie is performing live. She must surely get butterflies but you can never, ever tell. It is quite a contrast to Zurab, who looks as shy as a shorn sheep in Sheffield.
She began with “Perfect World”, which sounded even more magical than it does on CD thanks to some sweet embellishments from Zurab and the odd bird outside trying to sing along. Then came “The Closest Thing To Crazy” and “Belfast”, both perfectly suited to this stripped back acoustic performance and delivered with the unparalleled feeling and sensitivity that sets Katie apart from the rest. For the fourth track, Zurab slinked out of view and left Katie to sing “Scarborough Fair” on her own. It was the best performance of it I have ever heard and if the song doesn’t end up on one of her albums then there is simply no justice in the world. The internet had goosebumps. The Terminator would have wept openly to witness it. Alien invasion forces listening in from deep space have turned their fleet around and headed back home, unable to continue with their evil plans. And all over our little blue marble people were sighing with the relief of a heart soothed.
It would take something really special to follow that and close the set without feeling flat. But as we all know, Katie eats special for breakfast and spits out extraordinary for good measure. “Maybe I Dreamt It” is destined to become one of her classics. A song she wrote with Zurab, these genius Georgian siblings gave us a sneak preview of what the future holds for her faithful fans and let me tell you this—we all gonna need sunglasses.
24.04.20 > Inspiration
People sometimes ask me where I get my ideas from, as though they are expecting me to say I buy them by the kilogram at the local farmer’s market on the first Saturday of the month. Of course, they come from my brain. But how on earth does my brain conjure up new thoughts and ideas seemingly from nowhere? I think the answer is that it doesn’t. That is to say, ideas don’t come from nowhere but rather they are born of inspiration. Inspiration is the seed that germinates and grows into new thoughts. So the question that should really be asked is where do I get my inspiration from.
Every writer, musician, artist or creative person of any kind needs inspiration before creation. But every person is different, we each have a unique brain that is wired quite unlike any other. Brains are not like computers at all. A really great computer is designed, tested and refined and then mass produced so there are millions of identical ones. Brains are not designed at all. When we are born they are little more than a blob of sponge in our heads, devoid of knowledge and experience and like an empty notebook they are just waiting to be filled with the sights, sounds and sensations of the wondrous world we are part of. And no two people, not even identical twins, will have the same life experiences. Just imagine a pair of twins sitting in the garden. One may see a bee work tirelessly flitting from one flower to another gathering nectar; the other may swot at a bee that comes too close and get stung for their efforts. In those moments the twins will have neurons and connections formed in their brains that give each of them an entirely different feeling about insects and perhaps nature in general. Our brains our individually tuned as we go through life and every new experience will create different pathways and connections. That is why even though a crowd of people may be seeing and experiencing the same event they will all perceive it differently. It is only when you start to comprehend how a lifetime of connections formed in the brain intertwine to form a unique and elaborate network if information within each of us that you can begin to understand how inspiration might work.
Inspiration is really little more than a trigger, a starting point in the mind. And as such it can be absolutely anything. It might be something you see or hear, a phrase someone uses, a smell or a taste. It doesn’t even have to be a new thing—you might see a flower that you’ve seen many times before but all of a sudden it fires a starting gun in your brain and impulses flow from neuron to neuron like a million tumbling dominoes and before you know it you’ve written a song. It might not even be a song about the flower, it’s just that something about the flower in that moment inspired you to write. On the face of it then, inspiration is a random chance thing and we have no idea when it might strike. It is true we can’t just stare at a flower and force ourselves to be inspired. It is a spontaneous event, a happy accident, or whatever you want to call it. Yet there are things we can do to perhaps load the dice a little. Probably the best thing you can do is to remember where your inspiration has come from in the past. Where were you at the time? What were you doing? Simply recreating the event is unlikely to work, like expecting lightning to strike twice, but doing something similar can pay off. For example, I seem to get lots of my best ideas when I’m walking. So if I’m in need of inspiration the first thing I’ll usually try is going for a long walk. Even if it’s a route I’ve walked many times before, each walk will be different—it will be a different time of year, the position of the sun will give a different light, different plants will be in bloom, you may see something you haven’t seen before. Only recently on my most common walk I saw a barn owl in broad daylight which was something completely new for that route. You just never know what might happen. Quite often, nothing does and you simply have an enjoyable walk. But many times an idea will pop into my head without my having any idea what the trigger was. Your brain is processing so much information every single second that it is often impossible to know what started the chain reaction of thoughts in your mind. Other times it is obvious such as when you witness a wondrous moment of nature and it stops you in your tracks. However and whenever inspiration strikes, you just have to make the most of it and be thankful for the gift that it is—the unique output from the only machine of its kind in the Universe: your brain.
23.04.20 > Katie Bite: Wonderful Life
22.04.20 > LCKDWN
Katie been asked to help raise awareness of the Emergency Relief Fund, by taking part in PRS Presents: LCKDWN, this Friday.
Join her and her live from home for a 20 minute set with her brother Zurab on guitars on Friday evening, 24th April at 7pm BST.
For details visit: PRS Presents: LCKDWN
21.04.20 > Music, The Mind Massage
Let’s face it—the whole world is in uncharted territory at the moment. I’m waking up to news that oil prices in America have gone negative. They are paying people to take their precious oil! Demand for petrol has nosedived because we aren’t allowed to go anywhere. It is little wonder that the global pandemic is beginning to mess with people’s minds. For people that are used to living fairly isolated lives it is pretty much business as usual, though there is little comfort to be had from seeing others forced into the same boat. But for those whose lives are all about social interaction it is proving an exceptionally difficult time. Like a fire starved of oxygen, they are finding their flame is barely flickering at the moment. Suddenly, mental health is an issue for just about anyone, including those who may previously have had little sympathy with the concept. Everyone is having to face slightly different challenges, whether living in isolation or being cooped up with several family members so there is no single magic solution to keep everyone happy.
Or perhaps there is. Music is once again proving to be the most effective medicine in times of stress. For the lonely, music puts the comforting voices of other human beings into your head. You can put a record on and wander round the house getting on with your day and feeling like there is another person there with you, serenading you as you work like a caring friend. In the madness of a manic household, music is also an escape. You can put on headphones and gain instant relief from the petty bickering and inane smalltalk as you are suddenly alone in your head with a voice you actually do want to hear.
One interesting development is the sudden proliferation of musicians performing live on social media. Ostensibly, it is seen as a way for musicians to “do their bit”, but there’s more to it than that. You have to remember that musicians are people too, and they’re stuck indoors going crazy just like the rest of us. So going live on Twitter or Instagram gives them something to do, a way to connect with others in real time. It is just as helpful to them as to their fans. Personally, it doesn’t really work for me. If I could see the artist in flawless high definition and hear them with crystal clear high quality audio it might be worth it but that technology is not yet with us. Live streaming on social media is all about jerky video and broken up sound. It also means having to be tuned in at the right time, just like good old fashioned terrestrial television. All the music I love I have in high quality audio on my computers and devices so I can listen to it at any time and get lost in it as the artist intended rather than being frustrated by streaming glitches and infuriating buffering icons. And you can watch past live performances on YouTube if you crave something visual. There is an absolute ton of video on there of Katie performing, most of it in high or at least decent resolution, and unlike social media, YouTube seems to cope pretty well with streaming. Better still, buy one of her DVDs. (Though she hasn’t released one of those in a while. Hint. Hint.)
But if these “live from my living room” events help people, be it the fans or the artists themselves, then that can only be a good thing. It remains to be seen if they are a temporary phenomenon until “normality” resumes or whether they become permanently entrenched in our culture. They are certainly cheaper than producing a music video. Either way, this global pandemic has once again highlighted the fact that music is the best medicine. Music is therapy, a massage for the mind.
20.04.20 > Lyric Card: Deep Purple
19.04.20 > Track Notes 89: Anniversary Song
Songwriting can be a bit like prospecting for gold. You can spend ages scratching around in dirt without reward. Some songwriters find the motherlode and can find gold almost at will. Others may just happen across one massive nugget and never get lucky again. Steven Digman is probably in the latter category. He wrote "Anniversary Song" and had a vocalist in mind for it but when he took it to Chris Biondo's studio in Maryland, Biondo happened to be looking for material for Eva Cassidy to record and he insisted the song be offered to her. Eva loved it, and of course smashed it. Digman co-wrote another song for Cassidy, "Say Goodbye", but otherwise hasn't dug up a great deal of gold in the thirty years since, which he has spent running a violin shop in Florida (always a good fall-back plan).
There is a video of Katie performing "Anniversary Song" on YouTube. It forms the second half of an eight-minute sequence which begins with "I Put A Spell On You", complete with Batty tinkling the ivories. But this little piece of film perfectly illustrates that whilst Katie can easily hold her own with a jazz band it is when she is alone with her guitar that she can make a thousand people hold their breath and journey to another dimension with her for a few special moments in time. The title of the first song turns out to be a declaration of intent for the performance of the second. Hermione Melua waves her wand again. "Musicus mesmerandio!"
18.04.20 > Katie Bite: No Better Magic
17.04.20 > Katie’s Songwriting in Numbers
They say you can prove anything with statistics. I’m sure that’s true and I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove here but if you like numbers then maybe it’ll pique your interest for a few seconds.
I’ve looked before at the number of songs Katie has written or co-written compared to those she has covered or had written for her. The results of that analysis showed that she has been involved in the writing of more of the songs on her studio albums than anyone, including Mike Batt. This may have come as a surprise to some people that may have thought old Batty wrote most of her songs. Well, there’s a reason for that misconception as well as for Katie’s greater involvement. Probably the reason why people think of Mike as having written most of her songs is that he wrote most of her chart hits—“The Closest Thing To Crazy”, “Nine Million Bicycles” etc. And as for Katie’s greater overall involvement, well Katie was involved in the songwriting for 11 out of 12 of the tracks on “The House”, compared to Mike’s 1, and of course Mike wasn’t involved with “In Winter” at all.
This time I’m looking at Katie’s songwriting involvement on a per-album percentage basis, i.e. the percentage of each studio album that is credited to her writing. And without further ado, here is the data:
The House 91.6% Pictures 50% Ketevan 45.4% Piece By Piece 41.7% In Winter 40% Secret Symphony 27.3% Call Off The Search 16.7% Katie’s average involvement per album: 44.7%
This throws up a lot of interesting figures. She was involved in exactly half of the tracks on “Pictures” but the only album where she went above 50% was “The House”. On that album she wrote two songs outright herself and co-wrote all but one of the remaining ones. That in itself isn’t particularly surprising—I think it was always the intention with that album for Mike to step back and let Katie loose on the writing. What is probably more surprising is the fact that she only wrote 40% of “In Winter” when you might have expected that figure to be much higher given it was her first album post-Dramatico. That said, she was out on her own for the first time so perhaps confidence was once again holding her back a little.
The remaining values broadly make sense. “Call Off The Search” sees the lowest involvement, and as a brand new, and very young, artist that is no surprise, whereas by “Pictures” she was finding her feet and gaining in confidence. “Secret Symphony” being second from bottom is perhaps another anomaly but can probably be explained as Katie having something of a writing hangover from “The House” as well as Mike chomping at the bit to get involved with full orchestral shenanigans.
Crystal ball time. We know a new album is imminent. What we don’t know is too much about what we can expect from it. What little clues we’ve had suggest Katie has been a busy little writing elf and that we can almost certainly see an involvement above 50% again, perhaps even challenging “The House”. That very much depends on how many tracks are on the album and how many, if any, are covers. What is tantalising is the prospect that her average involvement per album, currently at just under 45%, could just nudge over 50%. Why is that a big deal? Well, it is the magic number at which you can say she performs more of her own music than that of other writers. And I’d say that was a significant landmark indeed.
16.04.20 > What was the first single you ever bought?
This is a fun question isn’t it. I’m not usually good at memories, and I can’t for certain recall which was the first album I bought—possibly “Abba: The Album”, which I do remember buying. I own older albums of course, but they were bought later, whilst others may have been presents, so it is a grey area. However, I can recall the first single I bought. Unfortunately.
I remember Mum leading me by my hand through Woolworths to their little record section. And I surrendered my two shillings (or whatever it was—I have no recollection of the price) in exchange for “Two Little Boys” by Rolf Harris. Yes, I know. Had Mum known then what we all know now then maybe she’d have steered me towards the picknmix instead. But I was 6 years old and it was the best song ever written as fas as I was concerned. Apart from maybe the b-side, “The Court of King Caractacus”, which was the most impressive thing I’d ever heard. Odd thing is it went missing at some point and I’ve no idea when or how. Not that I mind, mind you. I have no desire to listen to it again. But it’s just weird how some possessions from your distant past seem to simply vanish in the mists of time. I still have a stupid ugly pottery fish I made at school that is neither use nor ornament. I also have, and still use, an actually fairly impressive book stand I made in woodwork class. Yet quite a few of my favourite childhood books are simply gone. I’m pretty sure I would never have thrown them out or given them away, or at least I’d remember if I had. If they’d all disappeared I’d probably think my Mum had had a clear out after I left home or something but the fact I still have some books, records and other objects from my childhood casts doubt on that theory. Mum wouldn’t have been selective, she’d have just thrown it all in a box and taken it down the charity shop. It is actually quite frustrating because there were books I loved so much and really long to dip into again but they are no longer in print. So it remains an X-file, one of life’s unsolved mysteries—the missing items of my youth, gone but not forgotten. I just hope they are out there somewhere still inspiring young minds like they did mine. (The books, I mean—I’m rather hoping “Two Little Boys” has made its way to landfill or better still been recycled into a plant pot.)
But at least I can answer the title question honestly, unlike, I suspect, many of you who I know will fib in an attempt to seem cool. Sadly, that’s human nature. I’m sorry but if you tell me your first record was something like Dylan or Springsteen then I point blank refuse to believe you without a signed letter of confirmation from your mother, and perhaps the till receipt too. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how uncool your first musical choices were, what matters is what they are like today, and the simple fact that you are here reading this tells me they are probably excellent.
15.04.20 > Katie Bite: Halfway Up The Hindu Kush
14.04.20 > All The Lyrics
Don't get too excited! I can only tease you with this. I have a wonderful book of Bob Dylan lyrics that sits on the coffee table. I thought how lovely it would be to one day have a similar book for Katie. Being an impatient sod, I went and made one. It isn't a physical book, only an eBook, but it still looks great on an iPad. Unfortunately, I can't publish it or share it with anyone. Katie has collaborated with so many other songwriters that sorting out all the copyright permissions would be a nightmare. But you never know, one day it might happen. Anyway, Katie hasn't finished making music yet so this is a long-term ongoing project that I keep updating. (It is already quite substantial though, with over 100 songs.) In the mean time, you can find all the lyrics of course, just by clicking on the third item of the menu on the left. So if you print them all out you can make your own book! Won't be as polished as mine but hey, bite me.
13.04.20 > Lyric Card: Shirt Of A Ghost
12.04.20 > What Makes A Song Great?
According to the late great Douglas Adams, the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything is forty-two, and if you don’t understand that then maybe you never really understood the question. That is what sprung to my mind when I thought about what makes a song great. Record company execs will tell you that a great song is one that sells millions. That’s nonsense. Of course, sometimes a great song will sell in the millions, but that isn’t what makes it great.
The truth is, there isn’t really one answer since the definition of ‘great’ in this context will be different for everyone. There are songs that are widely considered to be great yet even those will have haters that just don’t get what the fuss is about. So the first part of the answer is that a great song is one that you think is great, not one that you are told is great.
How can you set about writing a great song then? If you watch a genius musicologist like Howard Goodall deconstruct anything from a 13th century Gregorian chant to an Abba number one, it is fascinating and awe-inspiring and it makes you wonder if it is possible to reverse engineer classic songs into their basic components and then use those parts to build a new and equally amazing song. But it is one thing knowing what makes something tick and an entirely different proposition building your own clock. Just because people like Howard can tell you how a song was made doesn’t mean they can make their own. I mean, how many great Howard Goodall songs can you name? Zackly. (He’s good at theme tunes—he wrote the “Q.I.” theme for example.)
There is no foolproof formula for writing a great song (and again, I stress the difference between a great song and a commercial hit—you pretty much can create the latter by cynically throwing together tried and tested elements of other hits, and you can make your quick bucks before the song fades into obscurity again. If money is what you live for then go ahead, fill your boots). But if you really want to write a great song there are some basic guidelines you can follow.
First of all, just as when writing a novel, write about what you know and what you care about. Don’t try to second guess what people will like or want to hear—write the song for yourself. If you like it then it’s a fair bet plenty of other people will too. If I had to condense my answer to the question of what makes a great song I would boil it down to two short sentences.
Write it from the heart.
Perform it with feeling.
If ever you wondered what Katie’s secret is I think I may have just exposed it. Because those two sentences are exactly what she does time and time again. And the reason she is such a good interpreter is that she takes a song that was also written from the heart and performs it with just as much feeling as her own songs. Only good songs make it through her quality control process. Of the ones that do, many are great.
Naturally, Katie isn’t the first to understand that two-line secret. Bob Dylan knew it back in the early sixties. And he learned it from the likes of Woody Guthrie, and so on back through time from cotton field plantations and way back to the pioneers that first began to put words and music together. The rampant disease of commercialism in music may have been spreading for more than fifty years but the real foundation of music has always been built on those two little sentences. One day, money will no longer be a human motivation. But good songwriters will always be writing from the heart and performing with feeling.
I want to close with a single example of what I’ve been talking about. Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”, for me, is a perfect example of a great song. After more than 30 years it sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded. The haunting and hypnotising guitar pins you down whilst the calm desperation of Tracy’s voice demands your full attention. Tracy wrote it from the heart and performed it with passion. A hundred years from now, “Fast Car” will still be a great song, just like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Fields Of Gold”, “Yesterday” and so on. There are many. Katie will have her share in there too with “Faraway Voice”, “Spider’s Web” and many others. But fire up the current Top 40 singles chart and ask yourself how many of those will still be getting covered a century from now. Instant gratification is fleeting. Genuine quality is timeless.
11.04.20 > Katie on Instagram Live
Last night Katie appeared on a live feed for TheOtherSongs. She chatted and performed a couple of songs, accompanied by her brother Zurab. As always with Instagram and Facebook live events, it was amazing to be able to share a live experience yet also frustrating that the technology can’t yet cope with it. While it is working well it is wonderful, but then it suddenly stutters and freezes and leaves you cussing and wondering “is it just me?”, “is my broadband not good enough?”. But judging from the issues the interviewer was having, no, my broadband is okay, it is simply that the technology as a whole can’t quite handle the demands of what is being asked of it. One day it will all just work seamlessly, but for now it remains a bit hit and miss. But it is what it is, and what it is is better than nothing. And although the video and audio quality left something to be desired, Katie’s performances certainly did not.
Although “No Better Magic” is a track from Lisa Batiashvili’s upcoming album “City Lights”, Katie’s home-brew performance of it, sans-violin but with Zurab accompanying on guitar, left you in no doubt that it is a Katie Melua song. As exquisite as Lisa’s playing is, the song is easily strong enough to stand on its own and Katie’s rendition demonstrated this so well that I was left wondering if it was even wise for her to have done it. Yet it is her song so she has every right to perform it, and hopefully we will be treated to it again in her concerts later in the year.
Her second song was a carrot we’ve had dangled in front of our noses for eighteen months now—“Maybe I Dreamt It”. When Katie performed it on her last tour with The Gori Women’s Choir it sounded really epic. What came across hearing her perform it in her living room with just guitar accompaniment was just what a really, really good song it actually is when stripped back. The album version could well be a goosebump job. Finally, hallelujah, Katie is getting confident in her lyrics. And that isn’t just nice for her—it is wonderful for all of us. As amazing as it is to hear her interpret songs, words that are her own are truly special. It isn’t for the likes of me to criticise her for taking so long. I was blown away with “Faraway Voice” and, more importantly, so was Mike Batt. But I guess it must have been a double-edged sword being taken under the wing of someone with such a songwriting pedigree. You would gain confidence that someone like that could believe in you but you would also feel intimidated when he was writing songs for you and wonder if your own efforts were up to scratch. Yet Katie’s songs always were—“Belfast”, “Spider’s Web”, “Forgetting All My Troubles” and so on. She is a phenomenal songwriter, and Mike had no problem using her songs on those early albums. He has even said he wanted her to write more. Well, now his wish is being granted. Katie is no longer a beautiful caterpillar but has emerged as a breathtaking butterfly to dazzle us all and I believe her eighth studio album is going to do just that. We still don’t know exactly what to expect from it but if the songs we heard tonight are an indication of the level she has attained then all I can conclude is: prepare to be entranced. If only I could be around in 45 years' time for when she releases a 17-minute song as a thank-you to her fans...
10.04.20 > Murder Most Foul
If you are still wondering why Dylan got a Nobel Prize then why don’t you try putting out a 17-minute song when you’re almost 80? Bob has just done exactly that, releasing “Murder Most Foul” a few days ago.
It isn’t a new song—it was left off the 2012 album, “Tempest”, probably because it was 17 minutes long and the title track of that album was already a 14-minute epic—but it is the longest song Dylan has recorded (pipping the 16:31 of “Highlands”) and he has released it now as a thank-you to his fans for their loyalty over the years.
“Murder Most Foul” isn’t so much a song as an epic poem performed against a backdrop of quietly haunting musical accompaniment. Although ostensibly about the assassination of JFK, the track is also a nod to how music can comfort us in traumatic times and there are a ton of music references in the lyrics. Spot them all if you can! It is an apt track for our current lockdown, and of course that is why Bob has chosen to release it now.
I haven’t yet seen the lyrics listed in full but I imagine 17 minutes of them non-stop looks pretty mind-blowing. The aforementioned “Tempest” has 45 verses, and that is a mere 14 minutes and contains some instrumental interludes. When it comes to lyrics, Bob Dylan operates on a different level to anyone else. He is simply the master.
09.04.20 > No Better Magic Video
Here is the gorgeous video for “No Better Magic”. You may need to avert your gaze for a couple of seconds halfway through when a hideous tramp inexplicably makes the edit but other than that it is a divine blend of images of two shining beacons of Georgian talent and beauty and some random people doing everyday things in special places. And I've noticed this in other songs but never mentioned it: Katie is a wonderful hummer.
08.04.20 > Blinded By The Light
I finally got round to seeing the 2019 movie Blinded By The Light, and it didn’t disappoint.
It is based on a true story of a Pakistani teenager during the 1980s who dreams of becoming a writer but is knocked back by family expectations and racial abuse. It doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs, I know, and there are some uncomfortable scenes—it is hard to say if they are worse to watch for someone who lived through those times and saw it first hand or a younger person that finds it incomprehensible that the world was really like that. Well, it was. But whilst the film quite rightly makes no attempt to sweep the difficult bits under the carpet it does have plenty of moments of humour and plenty of dollops of feel good factor. One moment you could be watching a Mike Leigh family drama, then it suddenly goes all Mamma Mia and the characters are singing and dancing across the screen, only to Bruce Springsteen instead of Abba.
I can’t say how younger people might react to this. For people of a certain age there is a real sense of nostalgia for the period, and if you happen to appreciate Springsteen then it’s even more special. On the other hand, if both those things are alien to you then there may not be much to warm to here, other than the performances of the lead characters. But it is hard to imagine anyone watching this and not getting invested in the main character and willing him to succeed. And that investment ultimately pays off with a satisfying ending.
For me, personally, the film is particularly poignant since it is set at a time when I was having the most meaningful relationship of my life. At the time, I was a huge fan of Nils Lofgren and she was a huge fan of Springsteen. And all the stars seemed to be aligning when, shortly after we got together, Lofgren joined the E. Street Band. It seemed beyond serendipitous. Of course, stars don’t stay aligned long and things change, but that is another story. In the late 80s though, we went to see Bruce & The E. Street Band live in Sheffield and it was simply one of the best nights of my life. Bruce performed for four hours. Seriously, we were knackered never mind him. So I cannot say if you would like Blinded By The Light. All I can say is that I loved it.
07.04.20 > Katie Bite: Ghost Town
06.04.20 > The Silence Of Solitude
Some thoughts from strange times.
05.04.20 > Track Notes 88: Jack's Room
Katie Melua & Mike Batt
Another quirky collaboration between Katie and Mike. This one is about a mother finding women's clothing in her son's bedroom and confronting him about it but it turns out to be her husband's. One suspects it says more about Mike than it does about Katie, but hey, it's none of our business is it?
Yet another one of those photo slideshow jobs on YouTube. This one is a set of images of Katie pulling faces. God knows why. But it is hilarious. One thing it does prove is that no matter how hard she tries she’s utterly incapable of not looking lovely.
04.04.20 > No Better Magic
Katie’s track for Lisa Batiashvili’s upcoming album “City Lights” is now available in all the right places. “No Better Magic” can be downloaded and streamed into your head right now. And the timing of it could not be better. As the lockdown measures begin to nibble at our sanity, this is exactly what we need to restore our troubled minds to a state of sublime serenity.
A songwriter never stops learning but after listening to this song, one thing becomes abundantly clear—Katie is no longer an apprentice but a fully fledged wizard. Many of us thought this after “In Winter” but there is no longer any doubt, and it is fitting that the word “Magic” is in the title of this song. I recently compared Katie to Hermione Granger and she has now proved me right, for this is a song that will cast a spell you will find impossible to resist. Lisa’s playing is as bewitching as Katie’s singing is spellbinding and between them they will transport you to another dimension for five minutes of relief from reality.
We know that Katie has a new album of her own on the horizon and to say it is eagerly anticipated would be an understatement of epic proportions. She’s probably going through all the usual worries about how good it is and whether anyone will like it. Of course her core fans are going to like it but I have the feeling she’s going to gain a lot of new fans too. “No Better Magic” shows how incredibly talented she is and proves that there is No Better Music than hers.
03.04.20 > Fake News???
Throwback to that fateful day last December when disaster struck.
02.04.20 > Music, The Mystical Healer
It was so moving to hear the whole country clapping for our NHS workers last week, and so well deserved. But right now I’m sat here clapping for musicians, for they are healers too. There is no doubt that the NHS has saved my life in the past but I think I can probably say the same for music. Music has indeed been a friend when I’ve been in need of a friend.
In this stressful time of self-isolation and social distancing many people are finding it hard to deal with mentally. As social creatures it is really difficult for some to cope alone. Yet who can they turn to for help in their hour of need? Musicians. Music is playing a massive part in this war we have found ourselves in. It is lifting people’s spirits, massaging their mood, motivating their fitness and above all, keeping them feeling connected with the world.
There are many ways in which music affects us. It can rouse us and inspire our passion when we need to fight or it can put an arm around us and make us feel loved when we are down. It boosts our morale, makes our spirits soar, puts a spring in our step and a smile on our face. It reaches the parts no other medicine can and produces results that defy all medical knowledge. We already know that music can bring someone out of a coma. It can also suddenly cause some memories to return for those with dementia. Long lost moments in time can suddenly return to our minds as fresh as the moment they happened. There are many secret doors in our brain and music is like a skeleton key that can gain access where all other attempts have failed. It can shine light where darkness has descended. Nobody knows how this sorcery works but we should all be grateful that it does.
In a world that at times seems brimming over with malevolence, music is the guiding light that shows us the way to contentment and peace. The NHS are fighting on the front line of this battle but musicians have our backs to make sure no one has to wander alone in despair and confusion. In times of crisis, music is not a luxury nor is it a trivial matter. It is a vital weapon in our bid for survival and every musician you ever listen to is a hero. It is so easy to envy musicians, to think they aren’t working but just living the life of Riley. That is plain wrong. Music is work, and crucial work at that. Musicians are carers. They are social workers. They are healers. They are guides when you are lost. They are friends when you are alone. They are the guardian angels that are there when you need them. They are the spirits that talk to your soul. So, the next time you are asked to clap for health workers, clap louder and longer than before and include the musicians of the world with them as you do so.
01.04.20 > The Changing World
Time is a weird thing. As a child you are only concerned with tomorrow, and tomorrow seems to take forever to arrive. In the middle of your life it is all about now. You never have time to think about the past or what lies ahead, you’re just concerned with keeping all your plates spinning. But as you get old you don’t want to think about tomorrow at all. Tomorrows become yesterdays with dizzying speed. And you forget about some of your plates and they start crashing to the ground around you. Suddenly, it is the past that is important. You start reflecting on and reviewing moments in your life, and begin remembering silly, seemingly trivial events that pop out of the mists of time without warning.
I don’t know what made me think of glasses. It was a spontaneous thought. All I know is that it suddenly occurred to me that there no longer seems to be any particular stigma attached to people that wear glasses. Which is wonderful, but I just wonder why and when that changed. For I remember that when I was a kid there was huge prejudice shown to people who wore them. There were always cruel playground taunts about “four-eyes” since children that wore glasses were practically considered lepers or something. There was just as much prejudice about women who wore glasses. I recall being gobsmacked and puzzled in equal measure when my parents described a woman on television as ugly because she was wearing glasses. I didn’t understand the mindset of their generation at all. I’d been looking at the woman and fancying her, thinking she looked intelligent AND beautiful. I couldn’t get their thinking at all. Glasses were simply a tool. She could take them off any time and then what? Was she suddenly beautiful again? It seemed so perverse.
The first girl I fell head over heels for wore glasses. I used to see her most mornings near the back of the school bus. She always had her head buried in a book, oblivious to all the screaming and mayhem around her. And she was always immaculately presented, neat and tidy. Her shoulder-length brown hair was shiny and perfect. And, as I said, she wore glasses. Her name was Kay and my legs turned to jelly whenever I saw her. These days I can just about manage to talk to a girl without fainting but back then I was a total Shy Boy and on the odd occasions when we made eye contact I could barely mumble a “hi”. She went to the girl’s school and I went to the boy’s school and sometimes we’d be on different buses so my windows of opportunity to strike up a friendship were fleeting. It’s weird to sit here all these years later and wonder what became of her, what kind of life she had, if she found her dreams or had them shattered. And above all, what might have happened if I hadn’t been too tongue-tied to say “hi” to her.
I’d almost forgotten that my best mate at grammar school wore glasses too. I barely noticed at the time, apart from the odd comedy moment when they steamed up. But our interests and sense of humour were so in tune that it wouldn’t have mattered to me if he’d been a Martian. He was a superb piano player and I was always writing lyrics so it seemed a done deal that we’d be the next Elton John and Bernie Taupin. I don’t think we were ever going to be serious about anything for long enough for that to happen. And of course, it never did. We did try recording a song or two, but I couldn’t sing at all so I’d just put on a daft voice and we’d do comedy songs. I remember one called “Old Joe” I wrote about a guy on CB radio (anyone remember CB radio? Google it.) About the only line I remember is “Old Joe just sat there chewin’, I guess he liked the taste”. I was never a threat to Dylan.
One thing I do remember, unfortunately, is my “Ode To A Bowl Of Yellow Sea”—
There was a bowl of yellow sea
That always followed me
Wherever I did go
One day I had to stop
Outside a little shop
And the bowl of yellow sea
Crashed right in to me
Who needs Shakespeare? Anyway, now I’ve completely lost track of what this post was about… Oh yes, prejudice about glasses wearers and the changing world. So, in my lifetime I have seen many changes in attitudes and I would say most of them have been for the better. We still have such a long way to go before we can call ourselves a “civilisation” but I remain hopeful that day will come even if I’m not here to see it. There is still too much hatred and discrimination in the world. Any hatred and discrimination is too much. The internet and social media has brought people together all over the planet, but it has also proved a fruitful playground for vile trolls. Without doubt though, the greatest change I’ve seen in my lifetime is the rise of women. It is still a work in progress but it is coming on nicely and it is so exciting to see young women like Emma Watson, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai beginning to have voices that cannot be ignored. The future looks promising despite the threat of global calamity. At a time when the Earth needs saving it is women that are rolling up their sleeves. The world really is changing.