teaching unplugged – in brief

Archive for This week's music

Flow river flow

Many weeks ago I was touched by a tweet from Mark Andrews, and reminded of a song that somehow fits his searching, life-affirming blog: Sandy Denny singing Ballad of the Easy Rider, her voice like air: ‘The river flows, it flows to the sea, wherever that river goes, that’s where I want to be.’

I googled Sandy and discovered she was born down the road at the South London hospital we took our daughter to when she was tiny – while the cover for Unhalfbricking was shot in a Wimbledon road I used to know.

Rivers flow through our lives in different ways, taking us to new places and reconnecting us with our past. Mark’s unique blog is its own kind of river, and it was his tribute to his dad that encouraged me to talk about my mum here.

Beyond onefortywords: Fairport Convention, feat. Sandy Denny, performing Roger McGuinn’s Ballad of the Easy Rider


Trippin’ on blip

Ten days ago I finally dived into #nightshift on Twitter (the nightshift hashtags tend to appear at dusk, like swallows). I was coaxed into setting up an account at, and immediately found myself listening to music I love. It was good to sidestep my obsession with Finnish composers and revisit some Gillian Welch and Northern Soul.

#nightshift is a nice example of the ‘long tail’ – niche content sustained by online enthusiasts. Lady Ga Ga can look after herself, but when a shared admiration for Alela Diane put me in touch with Laura Ponting in Vietnam, Laura responded: ‘Oh my – didn’t know anyone else in the world knew her’.

I was reflecting on the need to start a scrapbook of online learning sources and references from the internet – turns out does just that for online music. Thanks, nightshifters.

Magnus Opum

Leaving a happy conference is depressing; my way of dealing with it en route to London from Harrogate was to abstract my mind with some new music.

I had decent (ok, large and silly-looking) headphones on me and decided to give Magnus Lindberg’s violin concerto a proper go. Like his clarinet concerto (2001-02), it comes in three segued movements, but I think the violin (2006) is better – visceral, swooping, even swooning at times.

Heard loud, it was physically thrilling. My blues didn’t know what had hit ’em. You can hear violinist Lisa Batiashvili breathing heavily at times – there is a serious warp factor to Lindberg’s instrumental writing – and I wouldn’t be surprised if her violin needed to go into the garage afterwards. Paired with the Sibelius violin concerto, it’s well worth a download.

So Rebellious A Lover (Gene Clark and Carla Olsen, 1986)

Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders writes affectionately of Gene Clark needing to crank up his voice before recording backing vocals with the band in 1984. This album features Gene cranked up good in partnership with Carla Olsen; as his tone veers at times to the lugubrious, and hers to the stentorian, the match benefits both. The playing and production are surprisingly idiomatic for the 1980s, and perfectly attuned to Clark’s ragged charms. It’s a hard-nosed album – the drifters of folk legend recast as illegal immigrants – with a soft and sunken heart, like a fire in the woods in the rain. The best of the songs are deeply affecting; Gene’s diction is starting to let him down, but Carla’s voice cleaves to his like the image of a happy relationship where someone might just settle down. He never did.