The Demise of “The Word”

I’ve written several times before about my reading habits of magazines and comics, most notably here. I used to be a real mag junkie, subscribing to around twenty monthlies at the height of my addiction. These days, apart from a couple of literary quarterlies, the only one I still subscribe to is The Word.

I’ve read Word, as it was first called, from issue one (left), subscribed from issue 3, and looked forward each month to it plopping onto the doormat.

I was really shocked when the announcement came at the end of June, that the mag was folding, and that issue 114 (below) of The Word, as it became, would be the last.

Always more than just a music mag, Word also included all areas of popular culture – films, TV, and even gave pages of space to books each month.  Longer in depth articles combine with short ones, reviews, regular columns, and the always hilarious Worst … and Best pages each month.

The Word’s demographic was essentially anyone who grew up with Q magazine, graduated to Mojo, and then started looking for something else, away from the big corporate publications.  That something was The Word – an independent magazine developed by the team who started Q and Mojo – David Hepworth (who blogs here), and edited by Mark Ellen, whom many of you will know from The Old Grey Whistle Test.  The calibre of the writing has always been wonderful and Hepworth, Ellen and co with their long experience in the music industry have wonderful contacts.  Regular columns from Andrew Collins (who blogs here), Rob Fitzpatrick et al have always been a joy to read.  The free CD which was brought in several years ago has always delighted too – concentrating on less well-known artists.

The last issue arrived while I was on holiday, and I’ve devoured since. It is as wonderfully eclectic as usual – what other magazine would juxtapose an in-depth interview with Robert Smith of the Cure, with a shorter piece on book cover designing with David Pearson (who designed the Penguin Great Ideas series amongst others).

I shall miss The Word.  I loved its mix of subject matter; I don’t feel the need to read dedicated music and film mags any more these days – The Word fitted the bill perfectly for me.

If you’ve never read it – Get it while you still can! 

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Hot Rats, it’s Zappa …

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa.

Not so much a memoir as an appealing opportunity to “say stuff in print about tangential subjects” this book is an absolute hoot.  Forthright,  and by turns and hilarious and serious, Zappa is a brilliant host as he intersperses anecdotes from his life with his views on music, musicians, politics, life in general and rock’n’roll. While I only own one Zappa album (Hot Rats), I have encountered lots over the years, being partial to his jazzy infusions.  What always comes over is that for someone obsessed with sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock’n’roll in his song lyrics, he’s deadly serious about his craft.  I wanted to share a couple of contrasting extracts with you to show the measure of the man (bad language alert!)…

On Conducting an Orchestra:
“From the podium (if the orchestra is playing well), the music sounds so good that if you listen to it, you’ll fuck up. When I’m conducting, I have to force myself not to listen, and think about what I’m doing with my hand and where the cues go.”

In 1975, Zappa ended up in court in London over a thwarted plan to get round the musician’s union rules on pay-scales for recordings with an orchestra, by hiring the Albert Hall for a rehearsal for a concert which was permitted. When one of the orchestra members apparently complained that the lyrics they were playing to were obscene, the concert was cancelled a trial ensued at the Old Bailey. The following excerpt is hilarious (well to me anyway)…

“Q: Then “She painted up her face,” to which objection has been taken. What do you say about that?
A: (Zappa) Well, I think that this is an important piece of material, lyrically.
Q: What is the concept about it?
A: To my knowledge, it is the only song in the repertoire that deals with the subject of a girl who is a groupie.
Q: What is a “groupie“?
A: A “groupie” is a girl who likes people in a rock-and-roll band. She likes them very much.
JUDGE: She likes what very much?
A: She likes “the members” of the band very much.
Q: A sort of fan, like a football fan?
A: Only of “the members.”
Q: Like film stars have fan mails?
A: Yes
JUDGE: I did not gather that. I thought you said that this delt with a girl who was in fact a member of a rock-and-roll band.
Q: No, my Lord.
A: I am sorry: girls who “follow members“.
JUDGE: I.e. a follower?
A: Yes.
Q: A sort of fan.
A: Shall I continue with an analysis of this song?
Q: Please do do.
A: It is the only piece of material that deals with a look of the motivations of the girl. Many groups have done songs about groupies, but coverage of that subject has been superficial and the lyrics to this song represent some kind of landmark in the way in which the subject has been dealt with.
Q: Is it intended as a serious song?
A: Well, I would say it is as serious as anything else I do.”

This was one of those books that had sat in my bookcase for several years, and I only picked it out initially to decide whether to put it in the charity pile. But I started reading and got engrossed. This book’s a keeper! (9/10)

* * * * *
I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa (with Peter Occhiogrosso). Picador pbk, 1989, 352 pages.
Hot Rats CD – 1969

A Hollywood Musical Interlude

Hooray for Hollywood at the Proms with the John Wilson Orchestra

I was lucky enough to manage to get tickets for my Dad & I for what will be the musical event of the year for me –  to see the wonderful John Wilson Orchestra playing music from the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

This is Wilson’s third annual visit to the proms with his invitation orchestra and singers.  In 2009 they gave us an evening totally devoted to the MGM musicals – the scores of which Wilson and his team had had to re-create – the originals were lost.  Last year, they played Rodgers & Hammerstein. This year we got a grand tour of fifty years of Hollywood musicals with a brilliant array of songs from all the other major musical producers.

Wilson’s orchestra is something else! His handpicked orchestra produce a sound that is truly amazing.  The strings are so lush, the brass have a fantastic timbre, there’s a huge percussion section, a big band rhythm section, two pianos and two harps!  All this goes to make a truly authentic Hollywood sound and they are also the tightest orchestra I’ve seen. What’s more, all the players are really enjoying playing the music – even when they’re chugging away in the background accompanying the others.  They’re augmented by a small choir, the Maida Vale singers, who also sounded lovely.

Then there are the soloists – drawn from the world of Big bands, West End & Broadway musicals, and opera.  All were matched up with songs that showcased their own styles, and all were brilliant in their own ways.

The highlight for me was Broadway star Caroline O’Connor, who was in the Sondheim prom last summer. She sang Judy Garland’s The Man Who Got Away amongst other songs. During the encores, she did a near perfect Ethel Merman impression in There’s no business like showbusiness which brought the house down to end the show on a real high.  The jazz singer Claire Teal did a lovely job of Doris Day’s love song from Calamity Jane, Secret Love, she sounded rather like k d lang .  Lyric tenor Charles Castronovo charmed the whole house with Serenade from The Student Prince (1954).  The lighter songs were mostly sung by Matthew Ford, (new to me, but has sung with the Syd Lawrence orchestra for some time).  He had a lovely softer voice with a lot of humour, and dared to take on Dick van Dyke’s mockney accent in the one Disney song in the mix – Funny Holiday from Mary Poppins. Then there were the two sopranos, Sara Fox trilled the high notes in a Deanna Durbin number, and Annalene Beechey sang the lighter fare. Some of the men from the chorus also got little cameos and they ably stepped up to the mark too.

All in all it was a magical evening. John Wilson is a both a genial conductor, and a musical genius for recreating all the lost scores, and I cannot overstress how brilliant this orchestra is – if only my shaky flashless photo taken on my phone was so good! Our seats were great – in a box on the Grand Tier halfway down the side – we had a wonderful view.

The good news is that the concert will be broadcast on the BBC on Saturday 3rd of September.  I am so looking forward to seeing it all again from a different angle.

The other good news is that the CD+DVD of the first MGM musicals concert is now out too – click for a link to Amazon UK: That’s Entertainment: A Celebration of the MGM Film Musical.  The orchestra is also on tour in major UK cities at the end of November (click here for dates and more info).

… and finally, reading the programme, I saw that Wilson and his orchestra recorded the soundtrack for Kevin Spacey’s biopic of Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea [DVD]. I thought this was a brilliant film, and Spacey sang all Darin’s songs with aplomb too!

I do hope he’ll do another show next year!