Saturday, June 29, 2019

Haiku From The Far East

Sea swell Osaka
liquid lead and white
Suddenly the sun

Tokyo. Tokyo yo
So many minted faces
One could never know

Canals in Suzhou
Gliding fresh concubines to
Light the royal wick

Japan to Shanghai
Sea skin smooth as mercury
Belly full of fish

Tokyo dolly bird
I smile lift my camera
She turns her head away

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Professor Bebe Hopo. Hat Fitz and Cara. C.W. Stoneking.

I have decided to republish some of my reviews and publish new reviews. The corporate websites
which published them originally cannot be relied upon to maintain them on the increasingly over populated web. The first republished review, Malian diva Oumou Sangare's Seya can be found at
Also, I wish to thank my fellow music blogger in Paris, Professor Bebe Hopo,
for publishing my review of Aussie blues performer C.W. Stoneking and my photos of Hat Fitz and Cara on his generous website.

Check it out. Do yourself a favour!! The Professor's website which some might describe as zany – who uses 'zany' these days? – ok idiosyncratic and some might say weird – promotes mainly American, British and French roots music ie rockabilly, rock n roll, soul, jazz, r'n b, blues etc etc. It is a rabbit warren, some might say treasure trove, of information, musical opinion, and links to the professor's playlists of rare and obscure tracks.

My recent April 2019 post on Facebook:

A great night during the week at the Harmonie German Club, 'Home of the Famous Pork Knuckle', to see Hat Fitz and his partner Cara Robinson. I remember Hat from his early days at the Byron Bay Bluesfest playing in the packed, sweaty Juke Joint, bellowing like some old 20's bluesman searching for his soul, Son House, Charlie Patton, some Blind Willie raging against his fate. He and C.W. Stoneking were the real deal. Check out the early risque Yo Yo Blues with Itchy on percussion
recorded at The Pot Belly in Canberra.

Now, with Irish partner Cara Robinson, the sounds are more sophisticated, some soul, gospel, Celtic and still some blues, with power. Check out the version below from their first album of Blind Willie McTell's Deliah. Quite fabulous. Much better than Bob Dylan's version.

They now write their own material and here is their current single, the soulful Hold On.

C.W. Stoneking performed at the ANU here in Canberra a few weeks back, unfortunately when we were in China (although the China trip was great). Here is my review of the first album King Hokum from C.W. Stoneking which can also be seen at the Professor Beeb Hopo link above. C.W. has had two releases since King Hokum, Gon' Boogaloo and Jungle Blues, both well received.

Here in Australia we are blessed with some fine blues musicians, some surprisingly in the raw, primitive, rootsy style. Three artists stand out for me, Hat Fitz, the group Collard, Greens and Gravy and the inimitable C.W.Stoneking. How does Oz produce living anachronisms like Fitz and Stoneking when the genre emerged almost a century back in the U.S.A. born out of the black experience? Well there may be similarities in the culture apart from Australia’s natural propensity to produce quirky offspring.

C.W. Stoneking spent his early years way out of the Alice on an aboriginal settlement, so the bio says. His West Virginian father was a teacher there. The parents split up, his mother returned to the U.S. Who knows, the bio may be Stoneking’s story to flavour his art, much as Bob Zimmerman concocted his bio in the early years.

In fact there are many similarities between early Dylan and C.W. Stoneking. Both excellent songwriters, interpreters, singers, musicians, appreciators and appropriators of roots music, entertainers. Dylan with his Chaplinesque comedy on stage and C.W muttering away between songs in a rustic black American/aboriginal patois which requires subtitles and some tangential imagination to follow. Both artists steeped in the form, in its many guises. Both artists with a touch of sly wit, put on, hokum.

King Hokum is an extraordinary album. C.W. Stoneking is a deceptively fine guitarist and banjo player, not flash but subtle, spare and gutsy. The years of solo performing bear fruit. The addition of the Primitive Horn Orchestra on several tracks provides superb backdrop which finds you immersed in a New Orleans saloon in the late 1920s. The production by J. Walker is marvellously empathic; a warm atmosphere where less is more – a lesser producer with a modern brush could easily have ruined the album. Various ambient noises, the caw of a crow, toll of a bell, bustle of a bar add to the atmosphere.

Musical highlights are many. Mike Andrews’ piano, particularly on the boogie piece ‘Goin The Country’, Chris Tanner’s clarinet on ‘Rich Man’s Blues’, Kirsty Fraser’s sassy vocals on the vaudeville blues pieces, the rich, loose punctuation of the Primitive Horn Orchestra, but above all C.W.’s vocals and playing. His voice is tough and ragged, loud and languid. You hear echoes of Son House, Charlie Patton, Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Willie McTell and in ‘Bad Luck Everywhere You Go’ the screech of the Memphis recorded Howlin’ Wolf – used also by Tom Waits, if memory serves me. In the guitar work you can hear Robert Johnson, Lonnie Johnson and Memphis Minnie.

His dialogue intros depict a rare understanding of the form and are witty and droll. There is a danger of pastiche but C.W. is too clever or honest for that. In the 20's style the double entendre and sexual metaphor is present, however it will fly over the heads of any teenagers listening. Unless you laugh. In which case you may have to explain why Willie’s long necked lizard went limp or why she wanted a cockatoo!!

Each track is a gem, delivering more with further listening. Such conviction and artistry would lead lesser bluesmen to the crossroads. C.W. Stoneking is in his early thirties. We can look forward to further expression of his art. In the meantime, give praise.

This is Stoneking's unique recording of Seven Nation Army, recorded for the Triple J 'Like A Version' series.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Elegy For An Honoured Guest

Our blue bowl beauty cracks under the sun;
it groans, and constricts before our eyes
scientists warn that its time has come,
yet Keith 'Riff'' Richards is still alive.

The Rosella turns brown beneath this heat
the bees diminish and lose their direction
the ants have retreated beneath the ground
and old Keith still gets no satisfaction.

Our rivers are stagnant the fish are upended
heaving and gasping one eye to the sky
in dark green pools of still putrid waters
once fresh and flowing, now somewhere to die.

The loony deniers still dance their denial
of science, in greed and gormless myth.
It's said that Keith smoked his old man's ashes
just one more swaggering rock and roll riff.

Is that what we're doing with our inaction,
smoking the ashes of a wonderful world?
Is this the gift we pass down to our children;
a danse macabre: a disaster in twirl?

Whose world transfigures through our excesses?
We've fired the leaves, fouled water and air
no gods will warn us, scorn us or save us
we reap what we sow: no less than despair.

This Earth will receive an honoured guest
When Keith 'Riff' Richards is laid out to rest.

Note: The final two lines are reworked from WH Auden's elegy for WB Yeats.
Keith Richards is a member of the Rolling Stones rock band. He was infamous for his dissolute lifestyle, apart from his music. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Absolution: Cardinal George Pell and the Pontiff

Absolution is the conclusion
of the sacrament of Penance,
a jewel of the seven sacraments.

If a Cardinal lies to a Pontiff...
a minor misrepresentation perhaps..,
or all that his memory provides...
We are nothing if not imperfect beings.
If he lies for the Church? A venial sin surely..?
The Pontiff senses the existential crises.

The reputation of all that was blessed
is shredded by special commissions laying
bare the beasts within, those who succumbed
to the works and pomps of The Devil
those who entertained their base nature
those who made the little children suffer,
the innocents who should have been sheltered
and were horribly violated.

You must return and clear your name,
if you are certain as you claim,
that you are snared in political folly,
a victim of those who would harm our Church?

I am, Your Holiness. But despite
my innocence, the rumours and the press
have painted me guilty. It is impossible
to receive a fair trial now. It is quite possible
that I would be imprisoned, probable
in fact, the scales are tipped against me.
And I am old now, my health is ragged
Your Holiness, it deteriorates rapidly.
A pacemaker regulates my heartbeat.

There are popes and there are popes. This one
is too moderate... too holy perhaps.
If only Ratzinger were still here, he would say
let them rattle their cages,
let them stack their faggots,
let them howl for blood, you are here within
the bosom of Mother Church; rest easy, within.

For some reason an image of that girl,
the one mother made me take to the final
primary year dance, appears now.
She wrote as an 'old friend with a word of advice'.
The rumours have embarrassed her;
if only I would return and clear my name.
God was with me, God will care for His own.

Priests are lonely people, and some more than others.
Some, like Ridsdale are weak. Everybody
has his Achilles Heel. I kept it under
control, mostly. An occasional lapse.

I despised the weak. Man up! I said to him.
Say a decade of the rosary and ask
for the grace to overcome temptation.
It was in his nature and I forgave him.
A priest's life is a lonely one.

But George, he said, there's no one else here.
I am afflicted, why did He make me like this?
I told him, I said, During the sacrament
of confession you will address me as 'Father'.

I was hard on the weak in the confessional.
Mine was the Voice of God. That girl, the one
made pregnant by her father, so she said.
I told her. If you have an abortion
I cannot forgive you. So I will go
to Hell? She asked. You will receive your just
punishment. But what can I do? She asked.

These are simple folk. The flock ha. Humanity.
Beer, footy and a root on a Saturday.
They need to know where sin lies. You sin,
and you risk damnation for eternity.
My God is to be feared. He is not a loving god.

All that Vatican 11 kumbaya skippy stuff.
Not for My God. That's why we are where we are.
The rabble needs rules, a stiff rod.
In essence they are stupid. But they can lynch you.
The pack mentality. I hear them now,
they slaver and howl.

Cardinal, our flocks diminish, our shepherds die.
You must return, for your sake and for the
sake of Holy Mother Church. Say a decade
of the rosary and ask for God's mercy
understanding and blessing in your future trials.
Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat...

So, that's it. It has come to this. Me...
The Sacrificial Lamb. Such heavenly irony.

Well, my lawyers will see about that one.
I will be Pontiff one day. The Church needs
my guiding hand. My God knows it. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019


When I die there will be no more tinnitus.
The insistent ringing will be replaced
by a limitless space, the peace and silence
I knew as a child in sleep, and if a voice
were to say 'Welcome home my son, step inside
and rest now from your journey,' I need not reply
'What was that? I'm arrested for a burglary?'

Vision. I shall cast away my specs. Done.
I will have the eyes of a raptor. I can spot
a prey miles away. And remember where.
Oh yes, my memory will be mint perfect.
No more 'Oh where did I put those keys,
my wallet, my specs, my phone, my knees?

My white hair will flush back to red.
But not the freckles, oh no. The skin will be
brown and tough, or maybe black and tough.
Tough is good so I can walk barefoot,
no more white Scots' thin skinned impediments
of broken and knitted bones which feel
every seed and stone no, now I can bound
from rock to rock claiming territory.

My voice shall have a rich resonant quality,
a presence. I shall cast away ego as something
superfluous. Dispatch conceit with a raised eyebrow.
I shall have a messianic aura. Part seas
or simply walk over the top. Ladies will
flock to touch the hem of my garment.
Chaps will seek to crucify me.

Yea next time I come flying down the tube
I'll be six foot two in bronze and as strong
as a bullock and as quick as a fish.
With a dollop more intellect for math
and science, and artistic too
with an outrageous sense of humour
and drop dead Adonis. And the Grandda
will say, 'Where'd this lad come frae, oor Dot?
We dinna breed 'em like that in Glasgae.'

Apollo eh bro?

'Ok dudes. Who's got it??'

Review Oumou Sangare - Seya

This is a fabulous album, so musically rich, vocally, instrumentally and lyrically; the production is superb. Savour it and allow it's beauties to unfold. We have been fortunate this year in that two Malian divas have released albums, Rokia Traore with Tchamantche and now this, Seya by Oumou Sangare, each different styles, each excellent.

This is Oumou Sangare's fifth release including the Oumou compilation from 2004. She is called the Songbird of Wassoulou, a region south of the Niger known for its music which has developed from traditional hunting songs. On this album Oumou writes her own material, some based upon traditional songs, but make no mistake, this is modern music with modern themes.

In her songwriting she assumes the responsibility of her position, as she sees it, by using lyrics to address complex and traditional social issues such as the forced marriages of young girls, emigration, family unity, hope and support within the community and general respect for women. Indeed the song Koundaya is about using God given luck well, as though she reminds herself to do so. The lyrics are rich with metaphor, morality tales, proverbs and local sayings. I imagine that Oumou might have some resistance within her community from conservative elements.

Although the lyrics may appear weighty, the overriding impression is one of joy and hope. Seya itself means Joy. The music is exuberant with both male and female call and response, buoyant and colourful with a mix of traditional and modern instrumentation, and above all Oumou's supple, muscular voice sweeps, soars, dives and punctuates. It is a rhythmic vehicle, unforced and natural.
She is accompanied by 49 musicians over the 11 tracks, including Pee Wee Ellis, Tony Allen, Cheick Tidiane Seck and Bassekou Kouyate, and the blend of the traditional n'goni, balafon, flutes and percussive instruments with organ, guitar, sax and trombone is organic, not ornate, vibrant but not jarring.

The CD is attractively packaged and includes English and French lyrics with an explanation of each song, although not Oumou's singing tongue(s), however you can easily enjoy the music without following the lyrics. If you are new to African music this is an excellent starting point. Mali is blessed with rich music from it's cultural diversity; there are 32 ethnic groups. If you wish to delve further into the variety which Mali offers I suggest you try the following, mainly recent, releases:
the late Ali Farka Toure - Savane,Talking Timbuktu(with Ry Cooder),
Rokia Taore - Bowmbo├», or the latest Tchamantche,
Salif Keita - The Mansa of Mali...A Retrospective, or Moffou
Bassekou Kouyate and N'goni Ba - Segu Blue
Toumani Diabate - In the Heart of the Moon(with Ali Farka Toure), The Mande Variations
Amadou & Miriam - the popular Dimanche a Bamako (produced by Manu Chao), or their latest Welcome To Mali(I haven't heard it yet, but it had good reviews),
or the desert blues band Tinariwen - Aman Iman: Water is Life, or Amassakoul,
or anything by Issa Bagayogo, the Malian boogie man - Mali Koura, Tassoumakan or Timbuktu.

These are all differing styles and all appealing, and this is just Mali! To delve further into 'world music' check out the UK Songlines (with free CD of sample tracks from recent releases) or fRoots (also with CD) magazines and/or the two Rough Guide publications called World Music. There is a whole world of music waiting to enrich your life; get into it !!

An earlier track, Djorolen - sublime, from Oumou Sangare. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Impossible Gift

This is not the smoke of colonial rod
of scarred encampments, the prodding stick,
of the fires where infants were tossed.

This is not the smoke of the gift of grog
of paternal authority, of children stolen
of lubras raped, of smug denigration.

This is not the gift of denied genocide
of suicide in the white washed cell
of herding and terror and shrieking mothers.

No! This is the gift of purification
This is the gift of cleansing the spirit
This is a blessing, an impossible gift.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Clean Hands

Clean Hands

They hover, tentative at first, these hooded
birds pecking for sustenance on the shore
of the South China Sea.

Massahh papa? Foot massahh? Pedicure papa?
You buy? They show me their beads and bangles
their packets of crinkles, chips, their cold drinks,

their pineapples on sticks. They carry their hopes
across their shoulders, these slight pecking
Vietnamese ladies.

Massahh mama? Foot massahh? Pedicure mama?
Just over there a plump golden dame from WA
is showing pictures of her grand house,

with gilded bathroom taps, her awesome garden
and swimming pool to these slight creatures.
A lot of work from hubby and more than a little

luck honey, if you get my drift? She winks.
How much is your massahh for an hour sweetie?
You have to be kidding me. I'll pay you half.
I hope your hands are clean.

Haiku From The Far East

Sea swell Osaka liquid lead and white Suddenly the sun Tokyo. Tokyo yo So many minted faces One could never know Can...