Mike Clark Blues Band at Studio 64

The Mike Clark Blues Band at Studio 64 in Kimberley

Saturday November 19, 2022 – This was the last concert of the 2022 Fall Jazz and Blues Concert Series.

For a Blues artist being born and growing up in the “Delta” is almost a stamp of authenticity. Well, Mike Clark really is a ”Delta Blues Man” but not of Mississippi river fame. Originally he hails from the Fraser River Delta in Richmond B.C. His musical and geographical domain isn’t one of humid heat, flat lands, cotton fields and Afro-Americans slaving under a hot southern sun. No, it is more like cool temperate weather conditions peopled by South Asian immigrants picking strawberries and blueberries all within reach of the towering snow-capped coastal ranges of British Columbia. The work is still back breaking but without the violent racial overtones of the American South. This is not the usual recipe for Delta Blues. And yet, despite this more genteel environment of his youth, Mike has managed to develop a searing blues based tenor sax and vocal style that would not be out of place in Memphis or New Orleans.

The Studio 64 Organizing Committee managed to pry the Mike Blues Band from it’s home town hang out in Mickey’s on 12th Avenue in Calgary to perform in the wonderful performance space of Studio 64 at the Kimberley Art Council building in down town Kimberley. This band included veteran blues artists Mike Clark on Tenor Sax, Guitar and Vocals, Don Muir on keyboards, Brian Pollock on Bass, Tom Moon on Drums and, holding up the youthful end of the age spectrum, Brett Spaulding on lead Guitar. Brett’s use of guitar pedals was outstanding. This is a solid working blues band with a good repertoire of Willie Dixon tunes (Spoonful, Hoochie Coochie Man), Al Green’s Take Me to the River, some James Brown (I Feel Good), a Ray Charles tune, The Crusaders (Put It Where You want It) and a number of original songs that included Dark Waters and Down Where the River Meets the Sea. All great songs spiced up with searing tenor sax solos, rollicking keyboards and very tasty lead guitar lines  that was unpinned by the solid rhythm duo of Tom Moon and Brian Pollock. As I said this is a solid working band that if it returns to Kimberley should not be missed.

For this wonderful night of music, we should thank the Stage 64 Organizing Committee and its Volunteers. Also the corporate sponsor  Overtime Beer Works, the City of Kimberley and last but not least the chair of the committee Keith Nicholas who is retiring as the chair person. His replacement will be Peter Kearns.

Here are some images from a rollicking night of music……..                        

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Banjo Pickers – Listen Up

Full disclosure – I play banjo but I am not ” A Banjo Player”…… Understand? I know enough to pick up a banjo and have some understanding of a few of the tuning systems and playing styles, but I am not prepared to play one in public. I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the instrument. After years of playing guitar I find the banjo heavy and the strings too soft. I love clawhammer, folk music, old times styles and Celtic tunes on tenor banjo but do not care for rapid-fire blue grass. It was once described to me as “heavy metal” played on banjo. I love Bela Fleck’s non-bluegrass performances and the Chris Coole’s clawhammer tunes I regard as gifts from God.

The banjo is a uniquely American instrument with roots that can be traced back to pre- civil war days, the slave trade and further back to Africa. In the film Throw Down Your Heart Bela Fleck tried to do exactly that. It is a full length movie that probably says more about African music and culture than about the modern banjo. However, it is well worth spending 90 minutes to watch.

There are many YouTube tutorials and video performances out there. Most are about the more common aspects of the instrument. However, as people explore the history of the banjo some unusual aspects of the instrument are becoming available. Interest is growing in the Gourd and Civil War Minstrel banjos and several master musicians are now  playing the instruments in public. The first clip is by Laurel Premo, a Michigan based multi-instrumentalist with strong academic credentials  and folk music roots. She is playing a Gourd banjo. She is accompanied by Anna Gustavsson on the Swedish Nyckelharpa.

The second clip is Rhiannon Giddens, a conservatory trained musician with deep folkloric roots,  performing on a reproduction of a Minstrel Banjo.

Both instruments are recognizable as banjos but not the usual music store models that we would readily recognize. Both instruments have fretless necks, nylon strings and sound like they are tuned lower than a conventional banjo. Modern banjos are usually strung with metal strings while the older instruments would have been strung with “gut” strings. In this day and age that is neither practical or even environmentally sensible. There are a number of nylon substitutes now available.

To effectively play a fretless instrument is probably beyond my capabilities.  I have an 100 year old Washburn banjo that is a little fragile but maybe could be a suitable candidate for nylon strings. It is an option that I am in the process of exploring. I have done my home work, read the reviews and have decided to try the Aquila Classic Banjo – Red Series. The product information describes “A unique feeling and a strong, consistent sound. Until now, it was necessary to increase the gauge of a string for it to produce a lower-pitched note. But increasing the string’s diameter also increases internal dampening. That makes the string less bright, less responsive and more muffled; the thicker the string, the duller the sound. Our revolutionary new approach — unique to us — changes the specific weight of the material, increasing it progressively to leave the gauge almost unchanged.” Depending on the basic note required for the individual string the composition (density) of the string is designed at the point of manufacture. “The result is amazing: instruments sound brighter, more powerful and more responsive through the entire range of the fret board. The strings also maintain their intonation better, because thicker strings need to be fretted harder, pulling them further out of tune. ” At least that is the claim.

Fresh out of the packet the first thing to notice is that the plastic envelopes for the individual strings are color coded. For a banjo tuned in the traditional G tuning (gDGBD) the coding is (g) yellow, D white, G green, B blue and D red.

The second thing to notice is that the strings do not have the usual loops for attachment at the bottom end. At first sight that is a little disconcerting. However, here is a video demonstrating how to overcome that problem. The solution is pretty simple and straight forward.

Attaching the string at the top end requires threading the string through the tuning peg and cinching as described below.

Here is another video on Nylon Strings.

As an after thought I might try tuning the nylon set down at least a tone to either (fCFAC) a tone down from standard G; or (f Bb F Bb C) a tone down from Double C. The fingering you are used to be will be the same. Only the Key will change.

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Postscript: Just because of the huge variety of instruments and string sets available it may be difficult to purchase some speciality sets locally so I tend to buy strings on line from https://www.stringsandbeyond.com/ . I have been purchasing strings from this site for years without problems.

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Black Umfolosi at Centre 64

Black Umfolosi – The Second 2022 Fall Jazz and Blues Concert; 8pm Saturday, October 29th, 2022.

Some years back I stumbled onto a YouTube video of Bonnie Raitt and slide blues guitarist Roy Rogers performing at a Austin City Limits event. As expected it was a fine performance. But what was unexpected was the second act of the evening performed by a musician from Zimbabwe. Bonnie and Roy are, in essence, blues musicians and up until this particular performance I had never fully realized how much “a downer” the blues can be. Essentially it is “victims” music and has an aura of depression, repression and “Oh Woe is Me”, “My man treats me awful mean”, etc.   When the Zimbabwean musician stepped up to the microphone all that depression disappeared. With sinuous bass lines and dancing rhythms there was a monumental shift from depression to joy and, although the songs were in another language, they sounded so happy that one could only feel the same way. When Bonnie and Roy returned to the stage for their second set the music went crashing back down  down into instant depression. I have never been able  to listen to the blues the same way since. From that time on I have paid attention to the multitude styles of African music and, regardless of geography, that sense of joy and community  seems to ring through all African music. When I heard that that the Zimbabwean cappella group Black Umfolosi was going to perform in the newly renovated Centre 64 Theater in Kimberly it would be a rare opportunity to experience music that, in this part of the world, is way out of the ordinary.

Black Umfolosi are a multi-discipline performing arts group, based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The group began as a means of entertaining themselves while still at school in 1982. They have since become an internationally acclaimed harmonic cappella singing and traditional African dance group The original six members have developed their skills and their organization to a point where the now 18 members provide a multitude of services in the performing arts industry in Zimbabwe and are internationally. compared to the likes of Lady Smith Black Mambazo of South Africa. Black Umfolosi, tour extensively from their homeland Zimbabwe to the UK, Australia, Asia, Europe, Canada and the USA. They have released a number of recordings that feature the singing styles of Imbube, Mbaganga and Township songs. Their dynamic live performances showcase the traditional dancing styles of the Southern African region as well as the more contemporary styles and movements they have developed themselves. Black Umfolosi is much more than a performing group; they are active in training others, particularly the youth, in dance and voice. They try to identify and develop up and coming groups and mentor them along their path to success. They provide workshops and residences in dance, voice, theater, costume design, poetry, mime and also address various issues affecting society today. In short, Black Umfolosi are a community driven organization aiming to give back to people what they themselves have received. The group run various outreach programs both at home and internationally, and does a lot of development educational work with universities, hospitals, prisons, community centers and other arts institutions.”   ………. WIKIPEDIA.

Kimberley was the first stop on the Canadian tour and this was the first time the two ladies had been out of Africa. After 45+ days in the UK and the USA their fondest wish for their time in Canada is “to see snow falling from the sky”. In the photo below the featured musicians from left to right are  …….

  • Sotsha Moyo (Lead)
  • Sandi Dube (Alto/Soprano)
  • Thomeki Dube (Tenor)
  • Luzibo Moyo (Alto)
  • Austin Chisare (Bass)
The First Set
The Music
Black Umfolosi sing in a vocal style from southern Africa called Mbube (Zulu for Lion). It is a style of music that was developed amongst the tribal migrant workers in Southern Africa in the 1930s and on up to the present time. It is just another example of when people are separated from their main cultural roots then they just go on and create and build a “new” culture. It happens all the time and is probably happening as we speak in ways of which we are unaware.  Just think back, where did Ragtime, Jazz, Calypso, Salsa, Reggae,  etc come from? The most striking feature of the Mbube is that it is entirely vocal and  the most well known song in the Mbube style is When the Lion Sleeps Tonight. And everybody knows that song. There is no instrumental component in Mbube music. It is described as “homophonically rhythmic unison vocals” that are used to create intricate harmonies and textures.  The nearest to an instrumental accompaniment is the slapping of the “gumboots” in the appropriately name Gumboot Song Although some of the performances in the concert were in English the majority of the songs were sung in Nguni (a Zulu dialect) and the performers provided enough commentary to inform the audience of the content and meaning of the songs.
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First Concert of the Kimberley 2022 Fall Jazz and Blues series

WIL & Heather GemmellCentre 64 Gallery and Stage 64 performing space. 8:00 pm, Friday, September 30, 2022. This is the first show of the fall Jazz and Blues Concert Series. The featured act was the Indie Folk-rock duo WIL from Calgary.

The evening’s entertainment was kicked off by Heather Gemmell in the gallery. Over the years this local performer continues to musically grow and develop. At the beginning of her musical career, she was a singer / guitar player in a kind of folksy mold. She morphed into a “Blues Babe”, “Rocker Chick” (with a full-on electric guitar band), “Country Girl” (in the acoustic Rosie Brown Band), “Singer Songwriter” and, now in this instance,  to a rootsy banjo playing solo act.  Her acoustic set of vocals, original songs and clawhammer banjo tunes was a perfect fit for the gallery.

                  

In Studio 64 WIL, William Mimnaugh on acoustic guitar and vocals was accompanied by drummer Keith Gallant though the two sets that rocked the house though out the evening.

     

The organizing committee of the Kimberley Arts Council would like to thank the volunteers and the sponsor Overtime Beer Works for another successful concert.

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Read Any Good Books Lately (#24) – Down the Rabbit Hole

There are masses of literature out there devoted to politicians and geopolitics and it is a realm that one enters with some risk. Many preconceived notions go there to die or be forever altered. In the search for what is true or real, one book always leads to another and another and the whole effort ends up being a trip down “a rabbit hole”. Here are some books I encountered in a recent trip down “the rabbit hole”.

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ASSASSINATION ON EMBASSY ROW  by John Dinges

“Edgar Award Finalist: The gripping account of an assassination on US soil and the violent foreign conspiracy that stretched from Pinochet’s Chile to the streets of Washington, DC, with a new introduction by Ariel Dorfman.

On September 10, 1976, exiled Chilean leader Orlando Letelier delivered a blistering rebuke of Augusto Pinochet’s brutal right-wing regime in a speech at Madison Square Garden. Eleven days later, while Letelier was on Embassy Row in Washington, DC, a bomb affixed to the bottom of his car exploded, killing him and his coworker Ronni Moffitt. The slaying, staggering in its own right, exposed an international conspiracy that reached well into US territory. Pinochet had targeted Letelier, a former Chilean foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, and carried out the attack with the help of Operation Condor, the secret alliance of South America’s military dictatorships dedicated to wiping out their most influential opponents.

This gripping account tells the story not only of a political plot that ended in murder, but also of the FBI’s inquiry into the affair. Definitive in its examination both of Letelier’s murder and of the subsequent investigations carried out by American intelligence, Assassination on Embassy Row is equal parts keen analysis and true-life spy thriller……… Amazon Books”

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Of course it can’t end there one must investigate what actually happened in Chile back in the 1970s and there is no better guide than –

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

https://i0.wp.com/icanonlyblamemyshelf.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/The-Shock-Doctrine-e1562429703149.jpg?fit=1024%2C995&ssl=1

“The shock doctrine is the unofficial story of how the “free market” came to dominate the world, from Chile to Russia, China to Iraq, South Africa to Canada. But it is a story radically different from the one usually told. It is a story about violence and shock perpetrated on people, on countries, on economies. About a program of social and economic engineering that Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism.”

Based on breakthrough historical research and 4 years of reporting in disaster zones, Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically, and that unfettered capitalism goes hand-in-hand with democracy. Instead, she argues it has consistently relied on violence and shock, and reveals the puppet strings behind the critical events of the last 40 years.

“The shock doctrine” is the influential but little understood theory that in order to push through profoundly unpopular policies that enrich the few and impoverish the many, there must be a collective crisis or disaster—real or manufactured. Klein vividly traces the origins of modern shock tactics to the economic lab of the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman in the 60s, and beyond to the CIA-funded electroshock experiments at McGill in the 50s which helped write the torture manuals used today at Guantanamo Bay. She details the events of the recent past that have been deliberate theatres for the shock doctrine: among them, Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; and, more recently, the September 11 attacks, the invasion of Iraq, the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. And she shows how—in the hands of the Bush Administration—the “war on terror” is a thin cover for a thriving destruction/reconstruction complex, with disasters, wars and homeland security fuelling a booming new economy. Naomi Klein has once again written a book that will change the way we see the world.” ………. Amazon Books

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I have always had a belief that as a nation or a culture we are trapped by our mythologies that some times bears no relationship to what actually happened way back when. Americans are trapped by myths surrounding the Founding Fathers, the Wild West and so on. Australians  and Canadians are trapped “Birth of Nation” myths spawned by the ANZAC Tradition and involvements in The Great War.

The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America 

A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation – democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America has a new symbol: the border wall.

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history – from the American Revolution to the War of 1898, the New Deal to the election of 2016. For centuries, he shows, America’s constant expansion – fighting wars and opening markets – served as a “gate of escape,” helping to deflect domestic political and economic conflicts outward. But this deflection meant that the country’s problems, from racism to inequality, were never confronted directly. And now, the combined catastrophe of the 2008 financial meltdown and our unwinnable wars in the Middle East have slammed this gate shut, bringing political passions that had long been directed elsewhere back home.

It is this new reality, Grandin says, that explains the rise of reactionary populism and racist nationalism, the extreme anger and polarization that catapulted Trump to the presidency. The border wall may or may not be built, but it will survive as a rallying point, an allegorical tombstone marking the end of American exceptionalism.” …… Amazon Books

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Here is another myth that has little or no basis in fact. It didn’t happen the way it has been portrayed in earlier books and films. There was no last stand and Mexico prohibited the owning of slaves and was actually on the side of freedom. This is one of a number of recent books that has exploded the myth. One wonders how the Texas tourist industry will address the demise of the myth.

Exodus from the Alamo: The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth

“A startling new analysis of one of America’s most glorious battles . . . Contrary to movie and legend, we now know that the defenders of the Alamo in the war for Texan independence—including Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William B. Travis—did not die under brilliant sunlight, defending their positions against hordes of Mexican infantry. Instead the Mexicans launched a predawn attack, surmounting the walls in darkness, forcing a wild melee inside the fort before many of its defenders had even awoken. In this book, Dr. Tucker, after deep research into recently discovered Mexican accounts and the forensic evidence, informs us that the traditional myth of the Alamo is even more off-base: most of the Alamo’s defenders died in breakouts from the fort, cut down by Santa Anna’s cavalry that had been pre-positioned to intercept the escapees. To be clear, a number of the Alamo’s defenders hung on inside the fort, fighting back every way they could. Captain Dickinson, with cannon atop the chapel (in which his wife hid), fired repeatedly into the Mexican throng of enemy cavalry until he was finally cut down. The controversy on Crockett still remains, though the recently authenticated diary of the Mexican de la Pena offers evidence that he surrendered. The most startling aspect of this book is that most of the Texans, in two gallantly led groups, broke out of the fort after the enemy had broken in, and the primary fights took place on the plain outside. Still fighting desperately, the Texans’ retreat was halted by cavalry, and afterward Mexican lancers plied their trade with bloodcurdling charges into the midst of the remaining resisters. Notoriously, Santa Anna burned the bodies of the Texans who had dared stand against him. As this book proves in thorough detail, the funeral pyres were well outside the fort—that is, where the two separate groups of escapers fell on the plain, rather than in the Alamo itself. PHILLIP THOMAS TUCKER earned his Ph.D. in American History from St. Louis University in 1990. The author or editor of more than 20 books on military history, several of which have won national and state awards for scholarship, he has worked as a U.S. Air Force Historian for nearly two decades in Washington, DC.”  ….. Amazon Books
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This recent rewriting of history is having  almost explosive consequences for our perception of race and racism in the USA. I found there was a lot of poetry and padding in the book that I tended to skip over. However, the essence of the premise is compelling.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

“ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, NPR, Esquire, Marie Claire, Electric Lit, Ms. magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist

In late August 1619, a ship arrived in the British colony of Virginia bearing a cargo of twenty to thirty enslaved people from Africa. Their arrival led to the barbaric and unprecedented system of American chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. This is sometimes referred to as the country’s original sin, but it is more than that: It is the source of so much that still defines the United States.

The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning “1619 Project” issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself.

This is a book that speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today. It reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation’s founding and construction—and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation, but continues to shape contemporary American life.

Featuring contributions from: Leslie Alexander • Michelle Alexander • Carol Anderson • Joshua Bennett • Reginald Dwayne Betts • Jamelle Bouie • Anthea Butler • Matthew Desmond • Rita Dove • Camille T. Dungy • Cornelius Eady • Eve L. Ewing • Nikky Finney • Vievee Francis • Yaa Gyasi • Forrest Hamer • Terrance Hayes • Kimberly Annece Henderson • Jeneen Interlandi • Honorée Fanonne Jeffers • Barry Jenkins • Tyehimba Jess • Martha S. Jones • Robert Jones, Jr. • A. Van Jordan • Ibram X. Kendi • Eddie Kendricks • Yusef Komunyakaa • Kevin M. Kruse • Kiese Laymon • Trymaine Lee • Jasmine Mans • Terry McMillan • Tiya Miles • Wesley Morris • Khalil Gibran Muhammad • Lynn Nottage • ZZ Packer • Gregory Pardlo • Darryl Pinckney • Claudia Rankine • Jason Reynolds • Dorothy Roberts • Sonia Sanchez • Tim Seibles • Evie Shockley • Clint Smith • Danez Smith • Patricia Smith • Tracy K. Smith • Bryan Stevenson • Nafissa Thompson-Spires • Natasha Trethewey • Linda Villarosa • Jesmyn Ward ” ….. Amazon Books

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Although I haven’t finished reading this book it did seem appropriate to add it to the list.

Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U.S. Police Operations in Latin America

A “devastating” exposé of the United States’ Latin American policy and the infamous career and assassination of agent Dan Mitrione (Kirkus Reviews).

In 1960, former Richmond, Indiana, police chief Dan Mitrione moved to Brazil to begin a new career with the United States Agency for International Development. During his ten years with the USAID, Mitrione trained and oversaw foreign police forces in extreme counterinsurgency tactics—including torture—aimed at stomping out communism across South America. Though he was only a foot soldier in a larger secret campaign, he became a symbol of America’s brutal interventionism when he was kidnapped and executed by Tupamaro rebels in Montevideo, Uruguay.

In Hidden Terrors, former New York Times Saigon bureau chief A. J. Langguth chronicles with chilling detail Mitrione’s work for the USAID on the ground in South America and Washington, DC, where he shared his expertise. Along the way, Langguth provides an authoritative overview of America’s efforts to destabilize communist movements and prop up military dictators in South America, presenting a “powerful indictment of what the United States helped to bring about in this hemisphere” (The New York Times). Even today, the tactics Mitrione helped develop continue to influence operations in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and black sites around the globe.”……… Amazon Books

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Last, but not least, this book is a recent addition to my reading list. It was prompted by a reader’s comment “That this book exists at all is a small miracle. When it was published in 1950, to one good review and one mixed, it disappeared from store shelves overnight. It wasn’t a hit; the CIA bought up every copy it could for destruction. That’s the workaround for a country that does not ban books per se.” How could one not want to read it?

All Honorable Men: The Story of the Men on Both Sides of the Atlantic Who Successfully Thwarted Plans to Dismantle the Nazi Cartel System

“A scathing attack on Wall Street’s illegal ties to Nazi Germany before WWII—and the postwar whitewashing of Nazi business leaders by the US government

Prior to World War II, German industry was controlled by an elite group who had used their money and influence to help bring the Nazi Party to power. After the Allies had successfully occupied Germany and removed the Third Reich, the process of reconstructing the devastated nation’s economy began under supervision of the US government. James Stewart Martin, who had assisted the Allied forces in targeting key areas of German industry for aerial bombardment, returned to Germany as the director of the Division for Investigation of Cartels and External Assets in American Military Government, a position he held until 1947. Martin was to break up the industrial machine these cartels controlled and investigate their ties to Wall Street. What he discovered was shocking.

Many American corporations had done business with German corporations who helped fund the Nazi Party, despite knowing what their money was supporting. Effectively, Wall Street’s greed had led them to aid Hitler and hinder the Allied effort. Martin’s efforts at decartelization were unsuccessful though, largely due to hindrance from his superior officer, an investment banker in peacetime. In conclusion, he said, “We had not been stopped in Germany by German business. We had been stopped in Germany by American business.”

This exposé on economic warfare, Wall Street, and America’s military industrial complex includes a new introduction by Christopher Simpson, author of Blowback:America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Destructive Impact on Our Domestic and Foreign Policy, and a new foreword from investigative journalist Hank Albarelli.” ……. Amazon Books

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There you have it. Welcome to the “rabbit hole”
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Black Cherry Perry’s Mississippi Medicine Show

Black Cherry Perry’s Mississippi Medicine Show – Stage 64, The Final show of the 2022 Spring Jazz and Blues Season, Friday 2022-06-17

Perry Gangur, in his own words, this is how the Black Cherry Perry’s Medicine Show evolved: “In 2003, I had a life changing experience. 2003 was the 100th anniversary of WC Handy discovering and then publishing blues music. I took a trip to the Mississippi Delta, just south of Memphis, to see it all for myself. I met a young gypsy woman in West Helena, Arkansas who completely changed everything for me. She told me about my past, my present and what my future could hold. My challenge was to use my new path to heal myself by immersing myself into my music and performance, and to help heal others along the way.

“In 2005, I met ailing Canadian blues veteran Back Alley John, in Calgary Alberta, who took me under his wing. In addition to harp lessons, Back Alley let me sit in with him at his jams and gigs. After a while he was too sick to host his jam at the Point on 17th. I was asked to take it over.”

That same year Black Cherry Perry’s Mississippi Medicine Show came into being and has developed into a dynamic original recording act that reaches back into the heart of the Mississippi blues of the last century. This a music that is so dark and powerful that it has virtually changed the face of modern music. Where would we be without the music of Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt and Elmore James? The blues stars were and are big time entertainers. Audiences are looking for a show. They want to be entertained. They want to let their hair down, and they want to cut loose. In Black Cherry Perry’s Mississippi Medicine Show we have some theatrical background, and we can’t just stand there. The music takes over us… It’s like we’re men possessed”.

For the Studio 64 show Perry enlisted the help of guitarist Quintin Rybuck, Willy Garcia on drums and the “goto” Calgary bass player Tommy Knowles. The idea was to not just collect a group of fine blues musician together but to “put on a show”.  To that end the evening was a success. The opening song was the appropriately named Mississippi Medicine Show. Perry dedicated the tune Bar-BQ Bob to a long time friend in Vancouver. Other songs included T-Bone Walker’s Shuffle, an original tune called Mama’s Kitchen and a magnificent cover of the classic J.J.Cale’s They Call me the Breeze with a great open guitar riff and a chuga-chuga rhythm and bass line.

They Call me the breeze
I keep blowing down the road
Well now they call me the breeze
I keep blowing down the road
I ain’t got me nobody
I don’t carry me no load

Other tunes included Where’s there’s Smoke there’s Fire, Choke the Chicken, and  Disco Blues.

                 

This concert was the end of the Spring Season, and it is now time to turn our thoughts and expectations to the coming fall season. As always special thanks should go to the staff and volunteers that make the series possible and we also need to thank the new sponsors Overtime Beer Works.

Red Dirt Skinners at Studio 64

Studio 64 (Kimberley) Spring 2022 Jazz and Blues Concert Series – Red Dirt Skinners.    – 2022/05/13,8pm

This was the original poster for the Red Dirt Skinners concert  but as we all know the pandemic has ruined many a plan of mice and men and here we are two years further down the road………..

Music is a performance art that, at its best exists at the moment of creation. It requires performers (obviously) and an audience in a physical environment that promotes the interaction between the two. Given the right mix the experience can be transcendental. During the pandemic there has been no shortage of downloadable digital music. Music is just about every where, but live performances have virtually disappeared. This has been extremely hard on performers. Incomes have disappeared and the emotional feed back required for the self actualization of the artist is non-existent. That has been the situation for over two years but now appears to be becoming to an end. The Pandemic is not over but restrictions on social and cultural gatherings are easing to the point where live music is emerging from its enforced hibernation. The Kimberly Arts Council Spring Jazz and Blues Concert Series is part of the renewal of the live music scene in Kimberley. The Melody Diachun Quartet concert in April was the very first in the 2022 Spring Jazz and Blues Concert Series. It was a very tentative step with only about 40 patrons in the audience. In this, the second concert in the series, the audience has been  increased to around 75. It is anticipated that for the third and final concert in the series the audience numbers will be back up to full capacity.

Keith Nicolas, on behalf of the Kimberley Arts Council, has been negotiating with The Red Dirt Skinners for over two years and after numerous cancellations and postponements, The Red Dirt Skinners (Rob Skinner – guitar, vocals and foot percussion; Sarah Skinner – back up vocals and soprano sax) finally made it to Kimberley for a much-anticipated concert. “The Red Dirt Skinners are an Anglo-Canadian multi-genre duo, who formed in 2011”. They had been very active in Britain and Europe before their “accidental” relocation to Canada about five years ago. As the duo explains it, they were contacted by the Stratford Festival for an engagement. It wasn’t until the festival organizers sent them airline tickets that they realized that it was Stratford Ontario and not Stratford, England. Driving to the gig would not be an option. They ended up doing 12 shows over 17 days. During that time they were exposed to some Canadian cultural norms such as Bear Spray and a whole new understanding of distances between gigs.  The engagement was so successful that the duo started looking at the possibility and final relocation to Canada.

Patrons may have a hard time categorizing their music. Based on the Kimberley performance I suggest they have a very unique blend of a “classic rock” vibe, singer/song writer sensibilities with jazzy melodic enhancements provided by the soprano sax. Their acknowledged musical influences include Supertramp, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Queen.  Their repertoire is mostly original material with the occasional cover songs. As with the best of song writers their songs and stories have come out of a wealth of personal encounters and experiences. Currently their use of soprano sax in a rock environment is unusual. The only other similar use of the soprano sax that I can recall is Branford Marsalis performing with Sting in the mid 80s and 90s.

The evening kicked off with an original song advising young performers to follow their muse (“Why Don’t you listen to your own dreams?”). What followed was a number of songs that included an ode to the pandemic A Life on Pause; Hey Crawford – a nod to a long-time teacher they met in Ontario; Your Hearts Not Here – a song lamenting dementia; Bad Apple; Brighter Days Ahead; Blossoms and Rain (a day in Brussels); Lay Me Down; Day Break and a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity (“Ground Control to Major Tom”). For me the best story of the evening was “Frank’s” persistent request for Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. The final song of the evening, Feet of Clay, celebrated Fionna Campbell’s eleven-year 20,000 mile walk around the world.

Here are some images from the evening ……..

    

     

Once again thanks must go to the Kimberley Arts Council,  the organizing Committee and the volunteers who made the evening possible. In keeping live music, well “Live”, they have stepped up to the plate in these difficult times. Thank you, Thank you, Thank You.

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POSTSCRIPT:

Here is a Youtube video that I think captures the essence of the Red Dirt Skinners in performance. It is a cover version of Dave Bowie’s Space Oddity. The vocals are spot on, the guitar is nice and crisp and the soprano sax intro and solo has a nice wailing aura. I have never been a fan of Dave Bowie’s music but after hearing this version perhaps I will have to reevaluate my opinion of his music.

Here is another couple of clips:

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COVID 19 – An ill-wind that blew some good.

In late December 2019, a previous unidentified coronavirus, currently named as the 2019 novel coronavirus, emerged from Wuhan, China, and resulted in a formidable outbreak in many cities in China and expanded to every country on the globe. Millions of people have become infected and many millions have died. It is the greatest pandemic since the “Spanish Flu”  of 1919.  We have all experienced enough death, disruption and economic hardship to agree with the notion that the Covid-19 pandemic is an ill wind.

However, there is one impact of the pandemic that cannot be denied. The Covid-19 pandemic ended Donald Trump’s dream of a second term as the President of the United States. Despite a record number of lies, political fumbles and gross incompetence he had every chance of winning a second term but his mishandling of the pandemic brought that possibility crashing down. Personally I think that was a good thing. Consider the political events in the Ukraine over the last six months. Donald Trump had managed to muddle through most of his first term, by lying, firing staff, ignoring sound advice, shifting blame and, as I said muddling through. But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine imposed a whole new set of realities. Ones that could not be dismissed with unthinking random off the top of the head solutions. It required a realistic measured response based on good advice, knowledge of the issues, sound judgement and an ability to work with allies. So as terrible as it has been just imagine how much worse it could have been if Donald Trump was still in the White House with his finger on the “Nuclear button”

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Postscript: UNFIT – A trailer of an Anti-Trump documentary

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Melody Diachun Quartet at Studio 64

Studio 64 (Kimberley) Spring 2022 Jazz and Blues Concert Series – Melody Diachun Quartet. (2022/04/16)

When starting out on a new project it is always a good idea to have a clear goal in mind. It provides stimulus and focus. Last time round (2017) the Nelson musician Melody Daichun zeroed in on the music of Brazil and the Beatles. It informed the program for a brilliant concert held on October 28,2017 at the Studio 64. This time round the goal of choice for Melody and her quartet was the music of Sting. Now, Sting is best known as the front man for the band The Police. This loud, powerhouse trio of Sting (Bass, vocals), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (percussion) dominated the international pop scene in the years 1977 through 1986. While, I always thought that Sting was a bit of a poser, the band’s mixture of Punk, Reggae and Jazz appealed to me. Once I overlooked the abrasive loudness and hype of the band I realized their music had substance. Maybe it was just the jazz influences that appealed to me.  Post-Police, with his strong song writing skills, Sting emerged as a solo performer with musicality and an uncanny ability to form brilliant collaborations with musicians from across the musical spectrum. At one stage he was fronting “the best jazz band in the world”. An exaggeration perhaps but not by much. That band included saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pianist Kenny Kirkland and they definitely had solid jazz credentials. Their performances provided a whole new sophisticated way of presenting the music of Sting. In light of this new perspective it is no wonder that Melody Diachun (vocals) Doug Stephenson (bass), David Restivo (piano) and Tony Ferraro (drums) chose a program of Sting’s music. Originally, the intent was to go into the studio and record the material for a new CD. Of course, the Covid pandemic put that on pause for over two years. We are slowly emerging from the shadow of the last two years and the recording project is back on track. This concert was a preview of the CD that will be released later this year.

The first tune of the evening was the reggae inspired Walking on the Moon. Originally recorded by The Police in October 1979 the title is a euphemism for walking on air i.e.. “falling in Love”. The second song was The Shape of my Heart, a song that reveals Sting’s nice gift for crafting words.

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

Fragile is my all time favorite song by Sting and the 5/4 bass intro by Doug Stephenson took the performance to another level. Don’t Stand So Close to Me, also from The Police repertoire, is a rumination on the mixed feelings of lust, fear and guilt. Roxanne is one of those songs that lends itself to a myriad of interpretations. From a soft bossa nova to ear numbing power house rock. The songs and the brilliant interpretations rolled on through the evening with sparkling instrumental solos on bass, piano and drums interspersed among the lyrics. It was nice to hear David Restivo on the Centre’s grand piano and, of course, the Kootenay’s “go to drummer” Tony Ferraro with all his tasty licks, fills, punctuations and sonic shadings.  Other songs included When we Dance, Tea in Sahara, Love is a Seventh Wave (with some great brushwork by Tony Ferraro), Consider Me Gone (based on Shakespeare’s Sonnet #35 and featuring a great bass line explored on the piano), We Worked the Black Seam, I Burn for You and Fields of Barley. The song lyrics for  Russians, written in another time, in another place and in a different set of circumstances are  so appropriate for today that they could have been written any time in the past month.

There is no monopoly on common sense

On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too

The audience participation on the final line “I hope the Russians love their children too” was a nice touch.

The evening had some touches of humor. Melody gave up on her high, high, training heels and opted for gym shoes in the second half and we thought we had lost her for the rest of the evening when she accidently locked her self out of the performance area when the musicians were taking extended solos on a tune.

The audience for the evening was small. That was a shame because it was a stellar performance and if the musicians decide to come back and do a repeat show then it should not be missed. The numbers of patrons  may have been low because of pandemic hesitancy or just the fact that it was Easter Saturday.

Thanks must go to the Kimberley Arts Council and the organizing Committee. In keeping live music, well “Live”, they stepped up to the plate in these difficult times. Thank you, Thank you, Thank You. And thanks Ray for the excellent sound and lights.

I am looking forward to the release of the CD later in the year. In the meantime here are some images from the evening………….

          

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POSTSCRIPT:

Rick Beato’s interview with Sting –

Fragile – The Jazz Baltica 2003 Performance –

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Shortly after this concert Melody and a crew of musicians went into a studio in Vancouver and recorded the album Sumners Tales – The Music of Sting that will be released in October 2022. This is Fields of Barley from the album.

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The Name Has Changed ………

I knew it as “The Bower”, short for Fairy Bower, a right hand reef break off the headland just beyond the south end of Manly Beach in Sydney Australia.  In days gone bye, as the story goes, the bush land trails there about was notorious as a meeting places for gays.  But that is another story. The break was not often in good condition but when the swell was up and coming from the right direction it was a magnet for aspiring “hard men”. There were a number of ways to get to the break. You could walk the promenade from Manly beach to the Milk Bar mid-way between Manly and Shelley  Beach and hop the sea wall to a  convenient launching spot for the short paddle across the bay.. Alternatively one could drive to the side road that lead down to the Milk Bar and that adjacent launching spot. Because of the lack of parking that was not usually advised. The final route was to drive to the parking spot on the top of the Fairy Bower headland, unload your surf board  and walk down through the bush or down by Shelley Beach  to find a convenient launching spot at the base of the cliff. The surf was the stuff of legends. The take off spot was as close to the cliff as one dared to go. The idea was to  jockey for the ideal take off spot, paddle in, drop down into a bottom turn, climb up the wave high enough to navigate around Surge Rock then settle in for The Race Track out into the channel. In days before leg leashes it was inevitable that at some time during the day you would take a tumble and have to swim out into the middle of channel to retrieve your surf board. It was always a little unsettling to look down as you swam over the reef and watched it drop away below you into the deep dark water of the channel. I often wondered who or what actually lived down there.

A lot depended on the tide and the direction of the swell to create a quality wave but when the quality arrived the  spot had its legends and heroes. In the mid-1960s “Nipper” Williams, Glenn Ritchie and Robbie Lane were the acknowledged masters.  There was one very famous photo of “Nipper” Williams taking off way “inside” and navigating around the top of Surge Rock. One day, in a monumental breach  of surfing etiquette I made the mistake of “dropping in” on “Nipper” Williams as he came roaring out of the inside take off area. At the end of the ride he reminded me of my breach of etiquette. No harsh words,  just a gentlemanly reminder to do the right thing in future.  Those were kinder, gentler days and in modern times it might have lead to a punch up in the water or a later altercation on the beach. Over the years surfers started pushing the boundaries of what was possible by moving into more dangerous take off spots closer and closer to the cliff face.  Warren Smith opened up one such spot that became known as Winky Pop. At the time we thought he was insane.

I did have one monumental day. I think it was an early morning session before heading off to work.The surf was up, way, way up. I drove to the Milk Bar and parked the car. There were lots of available parking spaces. That should have been my first clue. Even though it was very early in the day it was still unusual for so many parking spots to be available. I looked across the bay and it did look big. That should have been my second clue.  I paddled across the bay and further and further out to what I assumed would be the take off spot. I was getting more nervous by the minute. The swell was absolutely massive. Probably fifteen foot plus and thick, thick, thick…….. and the roar of the breaking waves that filled the air was thunderous.  Eventually, I realized I was the only surfer in the water and maybe there was reason for that. That was clue number three. In the past I had ridden beach breaks of over ten feet or so and I thought maybe I could handle this. But on reconsidering the situation I realized that this swell was way out of my league. If I got into trouble it would be big, big trouble and I was out here all alone. In the end I chickened out, counted my blessings and paddled back across the bay to the Milk Bar. I can’t remember if it was the same day, same weekend end or even the same storm swell but around that time there was a photo story in the local surf magazine of a big surf day at the Fairy Bower. It featured a photo of  Billy Hannah racing across the bottom of a massive twenty foot face that hovered over him like the “hammer of doom”. He took a pounding and lost his board. It was last seen being swept out to sea. It was never recovered. For all we knew it could have ended up in New Zealand.

That was then and this is now. We are fifty years further on into April 2022 with big storm swells hitting the East Coast of Australia. There are many YouTube videos of a surf spot called Deadman’s at Manly Beach in Sydney Australia. I had never heard of this spot but after viewing the videos it became evident to my eyes this was the old surf spot I knew as The Fairy Bower. Somewhere along the way the prissy name had been replaced with the more threatening Deadman’s. Considering the size of the waves, “the do or die” take off spot right in front of the cliff it is a very apt name. Over the past fifty years big wave riding has evolved to the point where surfers are attacking giant swells in a manner that in former times would have been considered suicidal. This is a big wave surfing spot almost in the middle of big city suburbia that rivals some of the legendary big wave spots in Hawaii and California. Check out the following video of a big day at Deadman’s ………

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