Last night Richard Williams and Kate Mossman were guinea pigs for our experimental evening in the small upstairs room to the Betsey Trotwood. In my dreams we were going to have two huge armchairs for our guests and would find a massive vintage-looking record player on which the guest would play their records. In the end we settled for a bunch of stools on the tiny stage and the tunes were played in from CD. No matter. I think everyone – we were sold out, for which many thanks – got the idea.
The categories I gave them were as follows:
Something from my teenage years
Richard went first with Love Her by The Walker Brothers, one of the many reasons he regards 1965 as the annus mirabilis of the single, and talked about hearing it for the first time on Ready Steady Go as he prepared to go out to see Bob Dylan. Kate, on the other hand, painted a vivid picture of what it was like to grow up in an era when the parade had apparently already gone by, and chose Princes Of The Universe by Queen, the tune she used to listen to again and again while walking the family dog up and down the same field in the wilds of Norfolk.
Something you used to like but don’t anymore
Richard said there wasn’t really anything that he used to like that he doesn’t like anymore but he recalled the heyday of progressive rock when his admiration of the skills of the musicians didn’t automatically translate into affection for their music. He chose Cat Food by King Crimson, the would-be hit single that got them on to Top Of The Pops, guest pianist Keith Tippett and all. When we played it we decided that we quite liked it after all. Kate chose I Never Met A Nice South African because it was the B-side of The Chicken Song, the first record she bought at the age of four, and marvelled at the power of Spitting Image in those days to make current affairs come alive. When we played it we decided that it’s based on Cool For Cats by Squeeze.
The “I Was There” round
Reaching into his bag, Richard produced the original reel-to-reel demo tape that Bryan Ferry sent him in 1971 and talked about how Roxy Music were perceived in those far-off days. We then listened to the Bryan Ferry Orchestra’s recent recording of Back To Black from the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby. Kate talked about Glen Campbell who she has seen many times, mainly in his 70s, and how his failing powers may be evident in his on-stage patter but are not an issue when it comes to singing the songs. We then listened to a recent live recording of Rhinestone Cowboy.
The most impressive musical figure you’ve met For Richard it was Curtis Mayfield who came back from his terrible accident to make one last record New Word Order. We listened to the title track. For Kate is was that most driven of contemporary pop stars Janelle Monae who does every interview in character. We listened to Tightrope.
And finally both chose the one track they would pick to get a party started. For Richard it was Saturday by Norma Jean, an early Chic production. For Kate it was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama for the simple reason that it bypasses the normal defences and simply works in terms of getting people on the dance floor. Thanks again to everybody who came. We’d like to do it again in the future.
You can follow Richard’s music writing on his blog here. Kate writes for The New Statesman.
The next Word In Your Ear is at the Old Queen’s Head on October 9th and features top Beatles authority Mark Lewisohn, musician, films producer and journalist Bob Stanley plus the hilarious chap hop stylings of Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer. More details here.
Thanks to Steve Hurrell for the picture.