This pioneering site is where new journalism meets oral history. It contains fresh and archive long-form audio interviews with interesting people, largely uncut and free to the user for non-commercial use. Please also visit our extensive archive of print and photo posts at the main Generalist site here.
Friday, August 10. 2007
Michael Gray is best known as the author of ‘Song and Dance Man’ the first ever book-length critical study of Bob Dylan’s work, published originally in 1972. Over the years it has grown and developed to the point where ’Song and Dance Man III’, published in 2000 and reprinted five times in the years since, is now 918pp long including the index.
Not content with this mountainous achievement, Gray has also authored the equally monumental ‘The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia’, a treasure trove of facts, opinions and insights, and has now turned his considerable talents to a fascinating and detailed biography of the blues singer Blind Willie McTell, best known most as the composer of ‘Statesboro Blues’, a song that afforded The Allman Brothers Band a million-selling record.
Combining extensive and unparalleled genealogical research into McTell’s origins (much of it conducted by his wife food writer Sarah Beattie) with a number of long trips to the Southern states, Gray has revolutionised our understanding of Blind Willie about whom precious little was previously known. In addition, he sets McTell in his historical and social context and brings to life the prejudice and barbarity that still existed in the Southern states during his lifetime.
Michael Gray, in person and in print, has a unique style very much his own, as you will hear on this hour-long interview, recorded at the office of his publishers in Soho Square.
‘Hand Me My Travellin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell’ is published by Bloomsbury (£25.00)
More details and links to be found on The Generalist’s main site.
Monday, July 30. 2007
Californian-born Marybeth Hamilton teaches American History at Birkbeck College, University of London and we’re in her office there one recent Wednesday afternoon talking about her fascinating new book ‘In Search of the Blues: Black Voices, White Visions.’
What began as a project about Little Richard turned into an examination of the myth of the Delta Blues - that blues originated in the Delta and that the sound typified by Robert Johnson, Skip James et al is the real ‘uncorrupted’ primary blues music. Such assertions have found their way into most of the major blues histories and are by and large accepted as gospel truth.
Marybeth Hamilton’s book makes these comfortable certainties hard to sustain. In clear and measured tones, with a clarity of thought and a depth of research, she takes us in the footsteps of the white song hunters and record collectors who went in search of uncorrupted Afro-American voices, carrying their prejudices with them.
The myth of the Delta Blues, she argues, arose in the early 1960s in the mind of a virtually destitute occult eccentric outsider James McKune whose legendary record collection of just 300 carefully selected ‘78s that he kept under his bed inspired a group of aficionados and fellow collectors called the Blues Mafia.
This is a real gem of an interview with great sound quality (but with strange noises off from time to time which add to the atmosphere somehow). For deep bluesologists and blues newbies alike.
In Search of the Blues is published by Jonathan Cape [£12.99]
Thursday, July 19. 2007
Expect the unexpected. When I arrive at Jonathon Green’s London flat for our 2pm interview appointment it is to find that taping is virtually impossible due to the fact that two men with angle grinders are cutting up a set of large metal water tanks on the roof of the apartment block opposite – and making a searing din in the process. We were both flummoxed as to what to do but decided to sit it out. Three hours later, after several coffees and much catching up with each other, the grinders clocked off at 5pm. We had outlasted them and were then able to capture the following bravura interview.
Jonathon is one of the world’s leading lexicographers of slang – a subject which is of endless fascination. Over the last 25 years, he has published numerous dictionaries and other related books on the subject but his meisterwork is the yet-to-be published, as-yet-untitled, 3-volume slang dictionary which will be the most detailed book of its kind ever published.
What makes it so special is not only it’s huge extent - it will contain some 100,000 headwords, accompanied and underpinned by more than half a million citations.
He and his partner Susie Ford have tried to supply for each word or phrase, and for each alternative meaning of that word or phrase, a citation in every decade from the word’s first use to the present day.
To see an example of their work - that Jonathon has given exclusively to The Generalist - go to our main site here:
Jonathon is hopeful that his dictionary will be published in 2009. It will also be available on-line and he and Susie will continue to update it ad infinitum. Dictionaries in the digital age are never completed but always evolving.
Mention is made throughout the interview of Jonathon’s book ‘Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made.’ [Jonathon Cape 1996/Pimlico 1997]. The full history of all the main characters mentioned in the interview can be found there.
Tuesday, June 19. 2007
Upstairs at the Lansdown Arms, Lewes 22 February 2005
Photo: Mick Hawksworth
Recorded at the Thistle Hotel, Barbican, London. It was a bitterly cold day and Jack had just flown into town with his daughter for a short but intense British tour and to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Radio 2 Folk Awards. I was interviewing him for a piece in The Telegraph. We sat at a small table in the hotel restaurant and Jack regaled me with stories and songs. About Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. About sailing ships, cowboy poets and rodeo clowns. About Jack Kerouac and adventures in Ireland. Settle back and enjoy.
Full text of Telegraph article here
The full story behind this interview and my encounter with Jack can be found here:
Read about Aiyana Elliott’s documentary ‘The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack’ in ‘Legend of Folk: Jack and Aiyana Elliott Ramble On’ by Pam Grady.
Tuesday, June 19. 2007
Photo: Alan Toussaint by Grant Scott. An award-winning portrait photographer, Grant Scott is creating a photographic archive of performers appearing at the Brighton Dome over the course of one year. ‘The Dome Sessions’ project will culminate with a major exhibition held at Brighton Dome at the end of 2007. To see more of Grant Scott's work visit grantscott.com
It was a rare privilege and opportunity to meet one of New Orleans most important musicians when Allen Toussaint came to play a concert at the Brighton Dome, on a double-header with the New Orleans Preservation Band.
Throughout a long and sustained creative career as a writer, arranger, producer and pianist, he has known and worked with remarkable figures in many areas of New Orleans music including Fats Domino, Dr John, Professor Longhair, Lee Dorsey and The Meters, who were the house band at his studio for many years. His contribution to the city’s music was recognised in 1998 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame.
His life and work are deeply grounded in the Crescent City and it has taken Hurricane Katrina to dislodge him to New York City for a period, while he waits for his house to be rebuilt.
At the age of 69, his energy and enthusiasms of music remains undimmed. Next month he will return to Britain as part of a European tour with Elvis Costello, playing material from their excellent 2006 collaboration ‘The River in Reverse’.
He is looking immaculate with an extremely stylish suit and some fine and very natty black sandals with white socks. His manner is extremely polite and reserved.
This recording illustrates the difficulty of this on-the-run audio journalism – and its unexpected rewards. We began our conversation in the back stalls of the virtually empty Dome and had just got settled and working our way into a conversation when there was a most unexpected interruption of a celestial kind (I won’t spoil the surprise).
There is an abrupt transition and the conversation picks up. In between we had walked down into the backstage labyrinth of the Dome and found his dressing room. The air conditioning is so loud that we decamp across the hall into a large cupboard of a room with big mirrors with bulbs round it – a makeup room of sorts. We sit there in front of the mirror and that is where we get in deep to some serious musical conversation. You can hear his fingers constantly moving on the table as he demonstrates the shapes and styles of certain musical chords. There is magic in the air – and maybe the ghost of Professor Longhair.
A great conversation with Harry Shearer, best known as Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap, on Le Show, Shearer’s weekly syndicated public radio programme In Sept 2004
New York Public Radio WNYC’s Soundcheck. (September 2005)
Costello, Toussaint Team for New Orleans CD
See THE GENERALIST for more information
Saturday, June 2. 2007
We’re in a small conference room with smoked glass walls in the office of the publishers Chatto & Windus, on the second floor of Random House publishers on Horseferry Road, London. Jon comes in looking smart as button and right from the off the conversation flows.
Jon is one our best music and culture writers, who cut his teeth on Sounds and Melody Maker in the 1970s and The Face in the 1980s and penned the single best account of the punk period in his wonderful book ‘England’s Dreaming’, for which he is perhaps best known.
Since then he has continued to write prolifically for the mainstream papers and music magazines, to compile some excellent cd collections and produce documentaries, while writing another major work – ‘Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945’ – that has just been published and is the major focus of our interview.
We begin with Jon’s own teenage years and trace the whole genesis of the project, reflecting on the punk years in the process. We examine the book in detail, which runs from the invention of the concept of adolescence by one of America’s first famous psychiatrists to the invention of the teenager as the ultimate consumer in the late 1940s – a fascinating journey.
In addition, Jon has much to say about Nick Hornby and Tony Blair, the digital revolution, why music shouldn’t be free, and the death of Nirvana. Never less than fascinating, hear one of the sharpest minds around in full flow.
See The Generalist’s main site for more information and links on Jon Savage.
Tuesday, May 22. 2007
It’s been 20 years since I last saw Julien and suddenly there we are yakking away again on the balcony of the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton. The sky is a beautiful blue and, as the beers go down, he visibly relaxes. He is in the third week of promotion for his new and splendid documentary ‘Strummer’ and is here to do a Q&A session with the audience, moderated by Ian Haydn Smith, after they have seen the film.
He had been editing a pop video until 5am that morning and was wearing wraparound shades as a result. He was heading back to his home in Somerset that night and then was off to the Cannes Film Festival, followed by the Berlin Festival, then flying direct to Australia, where he is filming an opera on-stage as well as on the streets. Then on to Seattle and New York I think he said. No rest for this man. Meanwhile he is laying plans for his next major project – ‘Kinkdom Come’, a full length documentary on the Kinks.
I had been chasing Julien for weeks and this was the only opportunity we could snatch for a chat, in the cinema’s café, which means there is a lot of ambient atmosphere on this recording – people coming and going, sirens in the street, the sound of the bar staff in action. But Julien’s voice cuts through the clatter and what he has to say is, as ever, interesting and thoughtful.
‘Strummer’, now out on a general release with a DVD package with added extras to follow, is his celebratory tribute to his friend Joe Strummer, who is still sadly missed. It is a brilliant piece of work which follows his equally stunning and valuable documentaries on the Sex Pistols. (‘The Filth and Fury’) and on the history of the Glastonbury Festival. All three will stand for all time as important records of these major cultural figures and events. It’s about time he was recognised and celebrated as one of Britain’s most innovative and hard-working filmmakers.
See official film site
Tuesday, April 17. 2007
It’s been ten years at least since Nick and I met face to face but, as with all true friends, it seemed like just yesterday. We’re at the Academy Hotel in Bloomsbury, Nick being over in the UK from Paris, his home for a couple of decades, to promote the new version of his book ‘The Dark Stuff’, his legendary collection of rock journalism.
First published by Penguin Books in 1994, a revised edition with additional material came out from Da Capo Press in the US in 2004 and now Faber are issuing another new edition with even more new essays: ‘Sly Stone’s Evil Ways’, ‘A Portrait of Serge Gainsbourg’, ‘Phil Spector’s Long Fall From Grace’ and a concluding piece ‘Self-destruction in Rock and Elsewhere.’
Inspired by the New Journalism in general and the legendary Lester Bangs in particular, and captivated by the raw power of Iggy Pop (who writes a brilliant foreword that begins ‘I read this nasty book with an unusual degree of interest …’) Nick was to revolutionise British rock journalism through his stand-out work for the NME in the 1970s and 80s.
He took us behind the masks and the pr and actually made you feel that you were in the room with some of the most talented and disturbed musicians in modern music. Rereading these encounters with the likes of Syd Barrett, the New York Dolls, Miles Davis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Young and Brian Wilson, to name just a few, the thrill of his work is still intact. Younger readers discovering him for the first time in this new edition will recognise that he is the real deal.
Uniquely amongst rock scribes, Nick lived the life to its fullest, undertaking a Dantean journey which included his well-publicised battle with heroin addiction, which he has long conquered.
He is man of great passion and integrity as you will hear in this interview. Age has only enhanced his gravitas and given his words added depth. The passion still burns brightly and will find full flower in the major book he is now writing
Listen to this man and you’ll realise that modern rock journalism has become flaccid, tame and commercialised by comparison and that we need his spirited writings more than ever. “I am in the soul business,” he says and that fact shines though in everything he says and writes.
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