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Viewing Posts in December 2008

Sean

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 18-Dec-2008 by neil_p

Ewen and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Sean Body, author, rock bookshop proprietor, sometime Hearsay contributor, and all-round gentleman. Sean was one of our earliest supporters when Hearsay moved into its second, better phase and I well remember receiving a phone call from him, out of the blue, asking to stock our mag in his about-to-open shop. This was Helter Skelter on Denmark Street, the first bookshop dedicated to books on rock music, already garnering some glowing press (including a memorable double-page spread in Q magazine). I hesitantly lugged a bag of back issues down to WC2 one sunny afternoon in 1995, immensely flattered by the endorsement. I found Sean in the middle of pre-launch chaos but was struck by his gentle and sanguine nature in its midst. Within minutes of meeting, we were discussing classic American literature. We didn’t see him often but watched Helter Skelter grow and develop a publishing arm, and felt hugely proud when Sean’s biography of Mark Eitzel, the very definition of a labour of love, hit print. He sent us exactly the sort of feedback on Hearsay we wanted. I remember getting a note from him which read: ‘Bought Joe Henry’s Trampoline on your recommendation. Weekend well and truly made.’ He was the sort of person we compiled this site for: an ideal, careful reader and listener. The Guardian obituary is here.

 

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On writing reviews and listening to Jules Shear

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 09-Dec-2008 by ewencadenmoore

One of the key elements of Hearsay which is not represented on these pages was in-depth album reviews. We published hundreds of these during our print lifetime, and many were upwards of a thousand words in length. Typically, this was an opportunity for us to really get to grips with an artist’s newest release, placing it in their canon and analysing or appreciating what had gone into producing it. It was sometimes a bit of a struggle when we had a box of CDs containing new releases (which was kept under Neil’s hi-fi) that we felt we ought to cover but about which we cared little or knew nothing. But when it was a new release by one of our favourite artists, we had to operate a strict system of rotation to ensure that we didn’t descend into the music magazine equivalent of the English civil war.

 

At present, we have no plans to revive this part of Hearsay. As Neil says, elsewhere on this site, it’s a real pleasure to be able to listen to new music without feeling that we have to constantly pick it apart, ready for review. But occasionally an album comes along that, in the grand Hearsay tradition, is a magnificent work of art which gets totally ignored by the world at large. It’s a pleasure to report that More, the new album by Jules Shear, is one such.

 

As I said, I have no intention of reviving the old-style Hearsay reviewing technique here and now. I’m well out of shape and it would take many weeks of limbering up before I was prepared to inflict anything like that back on the public. But I will say a few words here, if only to draw the album to your attention. Anyone who knows anything about Hearsay will be aware that Jules was a staple of the magazine – one of the only people to be interviewed twice and a singer-songwriter who collaborated at various times with many of the other people we interviewed. If you don’t know much about him, I refer you to the interview section on this site. However, I haven’t seen a single review of his newest album (or the last few either, come to that) anywhere in print.

 

What’s exciting about this album for me is that it’s a real return to form after a few interesting blind alleys and enjoyable but, perhaps, unessential releases. This is easily his strongest collection in over ten years. One of the things which led to the gradual demise of Hearsay was the feeling that many of our favourites had their best days behind them. It was often getting harder to feel passionate about new records from people we’d once loved to bits. Of course, the likes of Jules Shear have more than earned the right to explore a few blind alleys. Nevertheless, when I pause and think about it, of all the Hearsay cover stars only a couple are still producing work that is both consistent and vital (Jules is, in this respect, one of the most consistent of Hearsay favourites.) That’s a subject for another blog post, I think (‘what they’re all doing now… and why’) but the new Jules Shear album is, it must be said, a beautiful work.

 

It doesn’t necessarily feature his best songs of recent memory - certainly 2006’s sombre and challenging Dreams Don’t Count contains some wonderful numbers, including one called You Anymore which is among the saddest and most perfect songs ever written – but what makes it work so well is that it breathes confidence. It kicks off with a strident call to arms called I’m Coming Back and follows this up with a slew of catchy, brilliantly-produced, incisive songs that, once again, ably demonstrate how popular song can be turned into a vital and profound art form.

 

So, yes, this isn’t a Hearsay review. Although, come to think of it, I’ve passed as much critical comment on the album as a review in, say, Q Magazine would do. That shocking thought makes me think that maybe we should start reviewing albums again, if only as a public service. But for now you’ll have to take my word for it – if you ever enjoyed Jules Shear’s masterpiece The Great Puzzle but stopped paying attention sometime during the 1990s then now’s the time to part with some more cash and return to the fold.

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Other music magazines are available

 0 Comments- Add comment Written on 02-Dec-2008 by neil_p
Has the Hearsay spirit re-emerged anywhere in better-resourced arts criticism since our mag’s demise? Having run two-score 5,000-word interviews, it’s surprising to see how much conventional journalism shirks that level of depth. So many interviews to me read like soundbites, or stop the moment they’ve begun. While the other extreme, our own approach of running unexpurgated splurges and allowing the reader to edit as they read, eyes alighting on whatever engages them, is perhaps too far the other way, where do we go to read nothing more than the transcript of a good chat with an interesting person? Well, online I’ve enjoyed the Onion’s AV Club enormously over the last few years, and their interviews (style and subject matter) are probably closest to ours. Getting Ben Gibbard to interview Mark Kozelek resulted in a moving and thoughtful discussion with someone (MK) we always tried, and always failed, to interview ourselves. In print I enjoy Word magazine a great deal, for the tone which seems to blend appealing disdain for the ephemeral and nonchalance regarding fashion with a real love of music, comedy and art. They seem to choose just the right sort of interviewees, whether it’s Randy Newman or someone from Radio 4, who emit wisdom. I like the way every page lets you know they’re playing the long game. And one of their youngest writers, Kate Mossman, is a wonderful talent, who caught the myriad complexities of Joe Henry’s style in a couple of elegant paragraphs. The cover-mounted CDs are hit’n’miss but I’m glad to have discovered the Czars, Corrina Repp, Blonde Redhead and others through their colourful playlists. A colleague told me that Word is for people who think they’re too cool to be Mojo readers but are actually even worse. I’ll say to you what I said to him: ‘When you’re 35, you’ll understand.’ I randomly picked up an issue of Paste magazine in San Francisco earlier this year and enjoyed it a great deal. Like Hearsay, it doesn’t care if someone is perceived as cool, embarrassing or legendary: it’s all about the quality and integrity of the work under discussion. I’ve only seen one print issue but enjoy some bits online and was pleased to note we have interviewed four of their 100 Greatest Living Songwriters. I’m not convinced there’s anywhere decent for Hearsay/GLR-type stuff on the radio these days. If I listen to the radio, it’s a blend of occasional BBC London shows (the more loyal to the GLR template the better), odd scraps of Radio 2 (who would have thought?) and very occasional blasts of 6music, when they can be bothered to move on from teenage boys-stuff/landfill indie. Adam and Joe are great and the music seems to have improved in the last couple of weeks. For a while I toyed with KCRW online, which has a dream repertoire, but it all sounded too intimidated to express an opinion or a personality of its own, and the music, however sporadically wonderful, seemed to have been chosen algorithmically rather than from the heart. Oh well. I’ll plough on.
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