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Posts Tagged ‘National Health’

Sexism in classical music, and the brilliance of Dave Stewart’s liner notes

Thursday, August 24th, 2000

From from The Times (London): Cover up, conductor tells fat fiddlers. Offered without comment, only the following excerpt.

Nothing, however, can compete with an orchestra director who recently insisted that his female players did not wear underwear because it “spoilt the line of the dresses”. A friend of one of the musicians said: “He even wanted to inspect everyone to ensure that they weren’t.”

Basically the entirety of Dave Stewart’s length liner notes to National Health’s Complete is amusing, but I find the following excerpt particularly so. Incidentally, Complete, whether you like the music or not, is almost worth the price of admission for its liner notes. All formatting is directly from the notes:

“Drummer wanted. Must be able to play well in unusual time signatures” ran our ad in Melody Maker

…One drummer…made a big impression. For a start, he was almost 2 feet shorter than me, but more impressively, had sewn yellow satin triangles into the bottom of his trouser legs to convert them into ‘flares’. This was the man for the job! Despite my giving him an absolutely precise, explicit and unambiguous lecture over the phone about the status, ambitions and current requirements of this group, he arrived from the North of England convinced that National Health was the name of some kind of West End musical, and asked a bewildered Phil Miller [guitarist] when the show was going to open.

To ease the general air of discomfort, we attempted to break him in on one of our ‘easier’ sections, a riff from a piece called Elephants over which Alan [Gowen, keyboardist] used to play a serpentine Moog solo. It was in 25/8. The short chap was not a bad drummer, but this was beyond his musical experience. After a few minutes of floundering (which sounded like the riff from Elephants accompanied by a free form percussion concerto) we stopped, and I explained how the 25 quavers could be subdivided into 3 sixes plus a seven. This made no audible difference (riff from Elephants accompanied by air raid) so I further explained how the sixes could be regarded as half time bars of 3/4. This was a mistake. At the mention of “3/4″, the drummer’s eyes brightened, and before I could count in, he launched like a madman into a brisk waltz beat, punctuated at random intervals by a deadly even, robotic 7 beat tom fill in a different tempo. We tried to join in, but it was chaos - the resulting musical carnage is beyond my descriptive powers.

In the midst of this mayhem, looking around the room at the other musicians’ concerned expressions, it suddenly occurred to me that the whole situation was becoming cartoon-like, and I had to try desperately hard not to laugh. The same thought had obviously struck Alan, because when I turned to look at him for some kind of moral support or guidance, he had slipped out of sight down behind his Fender Rhodes, and was lying on the floor wheezing, weeping and convulsing with suppressed laughter.

This was typical of Alan’s qualities of leadership, which I came to admire tremendously.