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My musical heroes
“Many people say that modern contemporary popular music, as in contrast with classical music, is not conducive to studying. As far as I am concerned, just for the sake of flying in the teeth of popular belief, I would argue that all compelling beautiful music makes me listen carefully, and could therefore draw my mind away from reading and reduce the concentration level. At a low volume, for instance, Girls Aloud may be easily neglected or ignored, whereas Bach’s six cello suites or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may entreat or call for my full attention. Having said that, my friends - if you are struggling with quantum mechanics, your best bet is probably to turn the radio off altogether.”
This is not a list of what I want you to think the very best is. And by all means, it is not in alphabetical order. It's not fully inclusive of all my favourite music either. Taste is taste, and everyone is entitled to their own. This is only me trying to share impressions, feelings and anecdotes; because inspiration – under the influence of some cognac - sometimes allows me to do so. Eric Clapton, for example, may not number in this list, but that doesn’t mean that his music isn't one of my many pleasures, as well as many other artists throughout time, not only to do with the “Western” tradition, but also those who we don’t yet know so well, and are not yet appreciated in the UK. Believe you me, over the years, I have listened to a lot of music, but I have many heroes and heroines still to marry. This page is only a lessened account of my life-long joyful listening. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
is my favourite living, all-round guitarist of recent times.
What follows is a slightly edited letter I wrote to Jeff a few years ago. At the moment, this is probably the most sincere way I can think of to honour him. Unfortunately though, this letter remains non-replied to as yet.
After talking to Eddie, a friend and a London-based bass player who mentioned you when joking about establishing who the best existing guitar player in the world was, I have come across your momentous Ronnie Scott’s concert, on youtube, featuring Tal and Vinnie, Imogen, Eric Clapton and others. I shit you not. Even though I am not a musician, as far as music is concerned, I can be a very hard to please and picky person, and I can confidently guarantee you that that concert was one of the most enjoyable and beautiful display of musicianship ever undertaken, surely my favourite so far as jazz-rock is concerned. Just for the honour of being there I would have, and still would now, pay my Disability Living Allowance fortnightly cheque 3 times over just to get in and listen. Indeed, more than what I would pay for the Stones, Dylan, U2, Dire Straits or even Miles Davis if he still was alive. Vinnie Colaiuta: I don’t know much about drums, but he sounds just as good as Charlie Watts, if not better. Plus he’s an Italian like me, isn’t he? Maybe not. Imogen Heaps: What can I say about her? Her vocal highs and lows are supreme. The way she articulates is unbelievable. Neither black nor white, just her own virtuoso style, her index-raising which compels you to take her very seriously. (Reader please check out her work with gloves too). You deserve each other! Tal Wilkenfeld: Whenever the guitar gets wild she grimaces like a baby tiger. Her facial expressions are an extra asset for the band. Where did you pick her up? Isn’t she the sexiest and most accomplished thing on the bass guitar ever existed? How much is she worth? If you were his father I could not help humbly ask you for her hand… I don’t know whether she’s into Italian fools with the child within, though…and, before that, my wife would have to die of natural causes, or something… Shame I believe in monogamy! You are the most humble of men, and quite probably the most versatile and greatest of all living guitarists, the legitimate heir of Jimi Hendrix. Thank you for all those magic moments.
Paco de Lucia
was/is my favourite Spanish guitarist. Flamenco is a beautiful type of music as well as a cool way of life.
You wouldn’t actually believe it, but I felt like I had to watch his funeral on youtube a few years after his demise, which took place in Algeciras, Spain, in February 2014. Flamenco, as Paco himself said, is a very easy type of music to understand. But, I would argue, a very difficult one to emulate, because of its own character and distinctiveness. In its modern ways, it probably traces back mainly to himself and Camaron de la Isla (the voice of Flamenco.) A lot could be added, but all I can say here is that when I listened to the classics – such as “Entre dos aguas”- something made me want to hopelessly become a virtuoso master, and also a good fisherman as he was! The simple things in life are often the best. For me, Mozart will always be a dilettante compared to him. Paco is a strong emotion and you should always quote him when submitting your “musical taste CV”.
sing about the sultans of swing: us.
Mark Knopfler's guitar has a very special place in my heart. I have listened to pretty much all the discography and I will never forget the rock classics of “Making Movies”, the album with a red and blue sleeve, the first vinyl I have ever owned, and had to listen to in secrecy – by sneaking into the back room - because my father wouldn’t share the stereo with the kids! Absolutely, I’d say, a big influence and definitely a personal induction into all things English that I would later – when I did eventually immigrate to London – still find relevant in some way.
is the best of all singer song-writers I have ever come across. A Nobel Prize well deserved.
What can I say about Dylan? I am wondering how someone still in his twenties already knew so much about life. When I desperate, the words of “Like a Rolling stone” hit the soul like bullets, as all things brutally true do: the humiliation of having to scrounge for your next meal, and the memory of the diplomat with the Siamese cat, which makes it so much more painful… It was a wake-up call, when I could eventually understand it, or thought I did. It was like an admonishing God reminding me of the chagrin, the downfall into a world for which there is no preparation for. (I hope that that God was not Zimmermann himself; he is scary enough as a poet, let alone as a pedagogue!) Anyhow, a place so low down in the human learning curve that your best bet is only try and plumb the depths of despair. The music, if I may put it that way, I did not only enjoy; I had to face it too. But also the later well-crafted “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which I tried to karaoke for my wife only for her to laugh at me… Hey man, an encyclopaedia could be written… it’s only contemporary history after all! But let me here remind you of “The visions of Johanna”, a true masterpiece dealing with some of the core human emotions, such as attachment (we are all here stranded), duty, (where is Johanna?) and dilemma (should I be singing along in the rain, or what?). Sorry I haven’t studied it all yet, because I still need to ameliorate my English and, like you, I still need to get my bearings! But yes. A wordsmith, a poet, and a singing genius with a powerful voice. For all times, strongly recommendable to all EFL students.
the ability of reinventing.
For me, he was quintessentially English and very classy, not that I yet know much about Englishness myself. Anyhow, the Star Man is the only one existing Entity which – still to this date - might have the ability to defeat the f****** devil. Believe me or not, when I was in Berlin, I stayed somewhere near where he stayed, but no idea whether this is only a mere coincidence, or a meaningful connection. It must be an all English thing, though. Thank you for letting me dream.
comes across as a barefoot sweetheart.
But she is also very powerful, versatile and some of the sexiest contemporary singers, and that’s why everybody in the business wants her (I guess). It’s an overall very good performance, with reggae that slips into funk, very nice slapping bass guitar, and a little taste of R&B for everyone to enjoy. I wonder whether my wife would allow me to hang up a poster of hers in one of the four walls of our bedroom, so that when she goes globetrotting - or travels to congresses - I might pretend that I am still able to play my own digeridoo, all by myself … imagining that Joss is on the vocals...
is the latest of my girlfriends
(How many girlfriends have you actually got?) Jokes apart, this is a brilliant jazz act. Exceedingly sexy, atmospheric, late night or early morning mellow, ideal mood for me, my cigar, and my glass of brandy. Thank you.
The memories of the various soundtracks of my life must surely number this particular approach to jazz too
It may not be as the gravitas of Chopin, but it is a sound that nonetheless puts me in thoughtful and nostalgic moods, and makes me want to indulge with Havana Cigars, which, for those who don’t yet know, are things that you can afford just before you develop lung disease, and maybe after that too if you don't have much time to spare. The Be-Bop trumpet tradition, here, slows down and waters down in less schizophrenic and more mellow phrases. Very cool and enjoyable, still to this date.
was an influential prodigy, but a saddo as well.
If you, like me, ever want to start learning and feeling any serious French, start here. Also, forgive me if I am a little old fashioned, but some things of the past are still more meaningful than what we think of coolness today.
is the heir of Paganini that springs to mind.
Also very beautiful, but not quite as powerful.
Strong country girl with a strong personality.
Hey Dolly, the songs are all beautiful American country masterpieces. Jolene is the enemy of my jealous wife; does that mean I am too supposed to beg her to forget about me? (Beg Jolene, I mean. Not my wife) Yes, Dolly. Because I am also monogamous, like you. And I have dreams that one day you will invite me and my Lady to Nashville, Tennessee, or Pidgeon Forge Dollywood, to share a brandy. If you come to pick us up at the airport (sorry there is no airport) I will cook for you in Heaven, which is a London borough. We love you, honey.
Hypnosis is rough and essential, but beautiful.
Again, in the Diane 6, guilty, with my Italian style valley girl (or was it the Essex girl?) sitting besides me, I am thinking I am of a different species and I should try and break through somewhere else. Does that mean that, as well as you, I should also patiently wait for my man? Or my woman? How long did you have to wait before he arrived? Was he a she? For me, more than 30 years after the the Diane 6, and still no joy.
Buena Vista Social Club
Latino music as I favour.
I think one of my favourite movie director, Wim Wenders, used this music in one of his films. Nice vibe.
Still sound and look great, it was probably one of the biggest live shows on earth.
...and you can also sense they’ve been around the block a few times. When sing-along melodies are very easy yet very cool, ambient guitar riffs become refrains and anthems for the worldwide psyche. That’s when the New Wave actually materialises as a commercial concept, with Bono and the Edge in our heads being some of the spokesmen and pioneers of it.
Jazz for all past, present and future seasons.
His music is a nice melodic induction to Proper Jazz, without gloom. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get a first interest in the “classy but classless” music, and is being bored by all the other trite things. Personally, I first developed my taste for jazz listening to Bird, having to acquire it the hard way, in the blue Citroën Diane 6 fitted with recycled stereo. This is still is one of the best schools for me today. However, when I say that Brubeck is easy to understand, I simply mean to diametrically oppose him to Thelonious Monk, for instance, who for me was a pianist of absolute great skill, but I could not understand.
are the soundtrack of my one and only all-time romance.
I will never stop believing that there is a quality of honesty and naivety, simplicity and beauty about all those tunes. An almost unique genre singing some of the real life love affairs. Muses for the people! Agnetha and Frida may have developed the odd wrinkle by now, but they are still today the girlfriends all boys wish for.
needs mentioning here
because The Police are posh, highly skilled, and the lyrics are deep . A band of only three can sound like an orchestra. At some points in my life, “Message in a bottle” was my favourite song of all times. Perhaps it still is.
hypnotic British rock par excellence.
We haven’t heard of them in such a long time, have we? Such a shame, because being possessed, dancing yourself silly, and stamping your feet on your scruffy jacket can indeed be a cathartic experience. If you still have the young energy for it, that is. Personally, if I was still in my teens, I would still give it a go.
Whoever had her as a partner, it must have been real hard work.
means to me Spiritual Jazz.
Through some experiences, an atheist could become an agnostic, or even a believer. By the way, “A Love Supreme”, as some argue, must have been an “air” inspired by God himself, because in it syllables and notes coincide, and the saxophone becomes the medium that recounts the human condition. Absolutely. A token for remembrance, for the sake of Suffering’s, my beloveds’, and my own soul too.
I suspect he's the one who has managed to set some of the most important standards and trends of contemporary music.
“Kind of Blue”, always very relevant if not necessary, can still today provide for an excellent musical lecture. For me as an adopted Londoner, it’s only a pity if Ronnie Scott’s Club never managed to get hold of him. But then again Ronnie’s has traditionally always been, as I can gather, a place more for the saxophonists, and not the trumpeters’.
excellent when you are miserable.
For me, the piano needn’t have existed if it wasn’t for Chopin, a drug addict who could actually play the bloody thing to sobs, someone who could indeed render the gravity of life and self-discipline with the best amongst all ever conjured phrases. Sensitive people all remember each other by the joyful aftermaths of a therapeutically relieving weep . Thank you for listening and, hopefully, sweet dreams after the tears.
I need this music when I feel lovesick. But no worries, that’s only a Frenchman with good English (oh boy!)
With the melancholy and the quiet icy country roads of Pas-de-Calais in the winter still engraved in my memory, as well as the unforgettable scent of her body, and all the other things I'd assumed were to do with her French quarters, this is the way he still gets into my sick-bed, in continuous yearning cycles. The atmospheres conjured up may also relate well to late night Berlin clubs, at times when cigars were still allowed in public bars. I don’t mean to displace you – buddy – but sorry, you have been the one who helped me recover from the sorrows of surrogacy, departure and estrangement (I will get over all this shortly, I think). But one thing here is for sure: my piano – too – has been drinking, and still does. Some types of disappointments are the exquisite stuff of life, no matter what they say. Never a bitter feeling, darling, those days were roses.
Italian heartfelt love songs at their brutal melodic best.
Il più bello tra i vestiti di mia madre – la madre che non ho mai avuto e mai avrò– era tutto nero. Con i fiori non ancora appassiti.
were/are the one and only one-off thing from Liverpool: a miracle.
Sometimes I have nightmares that I am locked, imprisoned in my own native environment. And – at the same awfully dark and wistful times - I cry and watch the old videos of The Beatles. No matter if Liverpool is a little provincial, a dreamer is a dreamer. And dreams can come true.
The Rolling Stones
feel like home. It’s only Rock & Roll but I like it.
One can hardly think of a more long-lasting, eternal legend rock band. Years go by and they are still very much in demand. All wannabe rock legends can only learn from them because the Stones are the biological heirs of a pure form of rock & roll - and blues - from America, but in a very English way. As ever, they perform with beautiful clothes on: the dress sense is a little flamboyant but immaculately decent. I will never forget the times – I was in my early twenties – when all alone in the nanny’s car (The blue Citroën Diane 6 fitted with recycled stereo) I would listen to “As tears go by”, and tears did shed. Indeed, the best amongst rock bands can do ballads too. I guess there can be a little magic and ambition in everyone's life, but some of us dare more than others. Keith looks a bit scary, not only because of his outstanding skill on the rhythm guitar, or the cheeky smile, but also because of the bandanna. Will you buy me a pint? The next one will be on me.
was/is/will always be the Almighty.
Watching Queen’s concert Live Aid of July 1985 must be one of the best rock experiences I have ever enjoyed. Freddie is full of himself and jostles the stage, because he is the boss. Brian May? Well, I don’t think many people can boast such an outstanding CV: campaigner, brilliant guitarist, and scientist too. What an eternal show!
still one of the best voices of modern music.
L’une de mes personnalités préférées, et sûrement si on me demandait de choisir entre des personnalités françaises du passé, est la chanteuse-actrice Edith Piaf. Tout le monde se souvient d’elle, de ses chansons immortelles telles que « La vie en rose », qui à la fin de l’année 1945 déjà était un succès de spectacle très célèbre. Surnommé « La môme », Edith Piaf a eu une vie très mouvementée. Une enfance sans attaches, les nombreux idylles, le chagrin dû à la mort de son seul grand amour, le boxeur Marcel Cerdan, qui l’accompagna jusqu’à la fin de ses jours. Selon moi, son morceau le plus bon, (musique de Charles Dumont), est «Non, je ne regrette rien ». Cela me rappelle que ce n’est pas la peine de ruminer sur le passé, sur des choses qu’on ne peut pas changer. Ce qui est fait est fait. La môme, elle a toujours vécu pour les autres, pour son public, pour ses amants. Pour moi, elle reste encore aujourd’hui l’une des voix les plus grandes dans l’histoire de la musique.
African cool on the kora, as I like it.
Because of my Italian temperament – I guess – African mellow music is not often my everyday choice. However, there is something about Sona that gets me going. She and her band would be the most desirable choice of “ideal background music” a posh restaurant could offer if I were to candle-lit-dine there with my lady, even though it most certainly would distract me from the lovey-dovey talk and repremanding jealous looks may ensue! Sona creates intimacy, and, apart from being so utterly skilled both on the guitar and the kora, has a most unusual and unique sexy charm. Her lyrics, I suppose sung in a Gambian language, are obscure to me, although in her voice I sense some gravity in the sense that a tinge of sad resignation might be at stake too. (All beautiful music contains a degree of sadness.) Please – oh diligent and dedicated Sona - if you ever happen to read this, leave me a message. I would be very pleased to hear from you.
Guns & Roses
If you feel frustrated, this is probably your very best bet.
That said, Guns & Roses, apart from slagging off the bitch, are very good at interpreting Dylan – in such a song as “Knocking on heaven’s door” for instance – probably even better than the original. If Guns & Roses are ever to be classed as “Heavy Metal”, “Heavy Metal” starts and finishes with them. This is not a band for the faint-hearted… my first listening dates back to the 90’s. I recall. At night, someone was driving me full speed across a provincial intersecting road, without stopping… Ah, but it was only a Russian roulette for the vitelloni of Fellini!! He was such an irresponsible bumpkin, my Sweet Child Oh mine!! Anyways, apart from these trivia, Axl Rose and Slash – at the moment - can only impersonate what we all mean by “American Dream Cum Reality.” Always live life to its full potential, buddies!
was an enfant prodige and still is wonderful: the sexiest thing on the bass guitar ever seen.
In one of her early interviews she said that when it comes to playing a musical instrument everyone is equal. Now, in order to fly into the face of such disarming naivety, besides having to acknowledge that myself as well as most other ordinary people are instrumentalists of absolutely no talent, I could also argue that even Johnny Marr had to admit to the press that The Smiths were not a band of equal, implying that himself and Morrissey were the major driving force behind that particular phenomenon…Please read more about Tal in my letter to Jeff Beck at the beginning of this page.
composed beautiful things for the guitar and the cello, but the organ is a bit of a drag I must say.
composed loads of things for the piano. I am only trying to get acquainted…
For me, the best Ave Maria these days is being interpreted by David Garrett, with the violin. But Bono and Pavarotti made me shed a tear too. Pathetic.
very important if you are into the origins and purest forms of blues.
Blues came from ragtime. Jazz came from Blues. R&R followed suit. So what? I guess I am only trying to suggest that surely Nirvana made more money than Lead Belly himself, without even possibly being too aware of the cotton industry.
classy melodies and lyrics that put in pensive moods.
His music is soothing, the melodies very soft. Not that I personally understand the lyrics very well, but they make you think. I bet all the women wanted him – you know. Some bastard stole his money! I wonder how many different categories of individuals there are in the world. If there were only either donors or takers, I would definitely put Leonard in the former.
with Vivaldi probably rated at the same level of taste, is my favourite composer of all times.
The Late Baroque is my favourite period: it’s all good music with a method that helps make sense of life. As I am getting older, classical music - and Paganini in particular - seem to catch my attention. I can never get enough of his guitar sonatas and ghiribizzi, which are superb study compositions all worthy of being recollected as classic exemplars of genial craftsmanship. Probably my favourite composer of all times. I am therefore hereby arguing that any of the themes of Paganini, such as the Violin concerto No 1 for one, should replace the Italian national anthem “Inno di Mameli”, which is rubbish. Don’t forget! Paganini was not only a fine guitarist and violinist, he was also known as a gambler and womaniser, an historical acknowledgement that endears him to us all. Caprice 24 on the violin is something that sends a 220 V electric shock up my rectum, and directly into the synapses of my brain neurons. And for such emotion to be fully experienced, I can only recommend the endeavours and the interpretations of a Lady of sexy unassuming looks and upright discipline, as Hilary Hahn.
smooth classical guitar.
Because of late in my spare time I began to very much enjoy the classical guitar, Fernando Sor is one composer that might provide good background music at my dinner parties. As far as I am able to appreciate, his guitar is far more melodic and slower than Paganini’s, who is my favourite. But I guess that his arpeggiation of chords can still be a point of reference for modern musicians and others who seek inspiration from the past.
I guess he was clinically depressed, as I used to be and maybe still am.
So, if you listen attentively to his music and lyrics, you are bound to share a portion of this disease. “Pink moon”, as I found out, is a metaphor for death or apocalypse, the whole meaning of the song being an idea that, if you are sane and happy, you would probably prefer heard by Massimo Troisi when in the movie “Non ci resta che piangere” says to comedian Roberto Benigni “Ricordati che devi morire”, who, in order to dumb down the patronising gravity of such remark replies: “ All right, all right. I'll jot that down in a minute.” However, if for any reason in the world you must continue to inhabit the poignant insanities, my dear friends and human beings, you might find it relieving to listen to “River man”, which is a masterpiece full of deep meanings, mystery, humility, and disconcerting beauty.
brilliant act for relaxation.
For me, this band is living proof that – mostly – the latest technologies are being embraced and fully exploited only when they are newly introduced, and later taken for granted in many cases. Pink Floyd, as far as beauty and quality of sound, are still difficult to rival. The transition from analogue to digital hasn’t really brought about any new substantial musical trend or radical innovation since, in my opinion anyway. What I feel and understand because of the legacy of psychedelia must have its roots somewhere in between Syd and David, and the guilt felt by the band that has almost become a collective emotion. “Interstellar Overdrive”, probably one of the coolest tracks. Ah! Those were the times! Pompei 72 can still be seen on the internet, quite an experience! I personally attended their Venice concert of July 87, which caused overcrowding and delays of the trains and was live on Italian national TV. The crowd, who didn't get charged any entrance fee, waited since the wee hours until night time for Gilmour to play the first notes on the guitar from a huge platform on the lagoon. I mean, there was actually quite a distance of water between the spectators and the band on the platform. At 9 am St Mark Square was already chock-a-block and full of take-away rubbish on the cobblestones. The smell of Mary in the air had been widely dominant throughout the whole day. The actual gig was good, but not as good as the wait itself, during which everyone was trying to get as stoned as possible, with great expectations unfulfilled, possibly because of the low volume – which – as rumours went, the mayor of Venice wanted to keep down not to damage the historical buildings! Not that anybody cares, but at one point during this long wait, I fell asleep like a canned sardine amongst all those wierdos with the hookah pipes, in the scorching sun, only to wake up a couple of hours later with a narrow strip of hot suntan in my ankle, between the end of my jeans and my sock. Why bother with the sunbeds, mate? PS Venetian reggae band Pitura Freska have dedicated one of their songs to this very momentous 1989 event.
may be the only one whose music could actually resurrect the dead.
Vivaldi was also known as the Red Priest, not because he was a commie, but simply because he was a ginger-haired fella. And possibly a wanking priest too. Played at my funeral I want Vanessa May’s techno interpretation of the Summer Storm, and not one of the Leonard Cohen’s dirges. If that won’t make me come back from the dead, chances will be that no other piece of music could do.