Friday, August 26, 2016

Beck Bogert & Appice

The thing about Jeff Beck is why is he not more prolific? Indeed, why is he famous at all? Hi Ho Silver Lining  was huge in the early Seventies but it was recorded in 1967 and not released until a year later when it failed to make the Top Ten. It is also atypical of Beck's work, being written by American commercial tunesmiths and produced by Mickie Most. Since then Beck has always been referred to reverentially as a Guitar God. Where's the evidence? Not here, I'm afraid. I truly believed it was when I eagerly sought out the album in '73-'74 but hearing it again today I realise that the catchy riffs on Black Cat Moan and Superstition are in fact bass riffs and presumably the work of Tim Bogert. Actually, when Beck's lead kicks in on Superstition the track wanders off into meaningless axe whiffle.

Just as with Hi Ho, the standout tracks here are the work of others - Stevie Wonder, obviously, for Superstition, and Don Nix for Black Cat Moan and Sweet Sweet Surrender. Nix also produced the three standouts whilst the other five tracks are the work of 'The Boys'. Of these Why Should I Care is my favourite of the moment. It would make a fabulous Ramones-style punk anthem if only it could be shorn of the self-indulgent solos in the middle.

Tim Bogert and Carrmine Appice joined Beck after Vanilla Fudge disbanded in 1970. Both are still working today. Beck's career is now in its sixth decade. He still shows up from time to time on other people's albums. Every couple of years he pops up accompanying someone more current on Jools Holland's TV show Later. What I feel he has failed to do is establish a solo identity or signature sound. You can usually tell when Clapton is playing. You can always tell when J J Cale is playing. How do you know it's Beck?

Beck, Bogert & Appice the album is a milestone in the career of all three members. It stands as an antidote to the prog rock nonsense of Yes and ELP which was big at the time. It is simple, honest and at its best when most bluesy. Black Cat Moan should really be as well known as Hi Ho Silver Lining and is a classic of its kind. Beck, Bogert & Appice the band came together at the end of 1972 and had broken up by the middle of 1974. This and a live album of their one and only tour are memorials to a moment.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The Secret Agent TV dramatisation BBC 1

I've very much enjoyed Tony Marchant's three-part dramatization of the Conrad original. It's been twenty years or more since I read the novel, so I only remembered certain aspects. I remembered the name of the agent (Verloc) and who it was got blown up by the anarchist bomb. But I hadn't remembered Winnie's fate or a confrontation between Stone and the Russian. I certainly hadn't remembered anything at all about Ossipon. Indeed I wondered why such an obviously peripheral character was getting so much airtime. Then came the multiple twists at the end of Episode 3. Are they actually in the novel? Only one way to find out.

Some critics objected that Episode 1 was too talky. I assume they allude to the political discussions hosted by Verloc at his pornography emporium in Soho. These were critics in rightwing broadsheets and they are instructed that only media pundits are allowed to discuss politics in the UK, especially on the BBC. Marchant, thankfully, is too well-established to care what the Murdoch/Barclay Press has to say about anything. He gave his anarchists due consideration, as did Conrad, who of course shared their Eastern European lineage if not their beliefs. It is always hard with Conrad, in his later works (The Secret Agent was written in 1907 though it is set a generation earlier) to judge where his personal sympathies lie. He is a writer of extraordinary complexity and depth. Marchant was rightly content to leave the viewers to make their own judgements.

The acting was first rate. Toby Jones is a major star and brought a servile, pathetic quality to Verloc which I had not seen in earlier adaptations. It therefore became clear that the only way he could marry a fiesty younger woman like Winnie (the magnificent Vicky McClure) was by taking on her mother and half-witted brother. Stephen Graham was compelling as Inspector Heat and I have never seen Tim Goodman-Hill give a finer performance as his socially and politically ambitious superior. Ian Hart  gave a bravura cameo as the bomb-making Professor and Raphael Acoloque may well become a star on the back of his performance as Ossupon. He has a great face for film and TV.
The direction was good, apart from one weird cut from Goodman-Hill leaving the Russian embassy to a tight close-up on Winnie in Soho, and the production sumptuous.