Abbey Road Revisited

Among a list of memorable album covers, the front of the sleeve for The Beatles’ Abbey Road still resonates in the public consciousness more than four decades later.  It shows John, Ringo, Paul, and George sauntering across the pedestrian cross-walk right in front of EMI’s Abbey Road Studios.  It’s an unusual graphic for the Beatles since it curiously doesn’t list the name of the band or the name of the album on the front cover.  Of course, by 1969 the band could have released an album in a plain paper bag and shifted several million copies.  The previous year, they had released The Beatles, aka The White Album, to test this theory.  The White Album’s cover is about as minimalist as they come, yet it still sold in droves.  Abbey Road likewise went on to be a fantastically popular album and its iconic cover has been imitated ad infinitum.

What you might not know is that the band and their art director were granted only ten minutes for the cover shoot.  With police temporarily holding back traffic, photographer Iain Macmillan climbed a stepladder in the middle of the road and snapped several shots as the band walked to and fro.  Sir Paul McCartney allegedly chose at the very last second to kick off his sandals and make the traverse barefoot.  In retrospect, this one spur-of-the-moment idea was like throwing gasoline on the fire of all the “Paul is Dead” rumours.

To this day, thousands of Beatles devotees per month make the pilgrimage to Westminster NW to check out the site in person.  I was lucky enough to see it for myself on a trip to England and Wales in August 2001.  We took the Jubilee Line tube for a visit on a Sunday morning, when the traffic was relatively light.  I’ll wager that at certain times of day, the cross-walk must be a veritable goat rodeo of vehicular traffic clashing with tourists pausing mid-street for photos.

You can check out a web-cam of the location at this website.  Watch for a few minutes and you will inevitably see somebody shooting their own virtual album cover.  Many people also bring Sharpie pens to scrawl their names or messages on the white brick wall in front of the studio; it’s painted over monthly.

The one drawback for serious Beatlemaniacs is that, unless you bring your own stepladder to St. John’s Wood, the perspective of your personal shoot will be different than the album cover.  I certainly don’t endorse setting up a ladder in the middle of a busy street, but in the name of authenticity I’m sure some looney tries it from time to time.

Despite some recent financial difficulties Abbey Road Studio is still a working studio and, last time I checked, do not do public tours.  Some day I would LOVE to see the inside of Studio 1 and Studio 2, just to walk in the footsteps of my musical heroes.  The list of influential albums either wholly or partially recorded in that building borders on ridiculous:

Abbey Road – The Beatles
Ceremonials – Florence and the Machine
Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Kid A – Radiohead
Odessey & Oracle – The Zombies
OK Computer – Radiohead
Origin of Symmetry – Muse
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn – Pink Floyd
Revolver – The Beatles
S.F. Sorrow – The Pretty Things
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Walking into Clarksdale – Page & Plant
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Year of the Cat – Al Stewart

Not to mention pretty much everything ever put to tape by The Shadows, and most of the symphonic music for the Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  It’s one of those places on the planet, like Sun Studios in Memphis, Tamla Motown in Detroit, Sunset Sound in LA, or Britannia Row and Olympia studios in London that just seem to be a nexus for great music from another dimension.

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Chavril

Earlier today, someone asked me “Hey, Craven, you’re a snarky indier-than-thou music blogger” (guilty as charged!)  “How come you haven’t weighed in on this whole Chavril thing yet?

Especially considering what I had to say about them just a few days ago.

There’s a few reasons why I’ve resisted the temptation to comment… until now.

  1. The quasi-romantic reason:  I’m actually pretty happy any time two people are able to find each other in this crazy, mixed-up world.  If they feel the spark and can stand each other’s idiosyncrasies without going mental, then good for them.
  2. The sporting reason:  Hating on Avril Lavigne is kind of pointless.  Nobody expects a male thirty-something indie rock fan to like her anyway.  Hating on Nickelback, meanwhile, is our national pastime (and a fun one at that).  Hating on BOTH of them simultaneously?  It’s just too obvious, too easy.  It’s about as sporting as fishing for rainbow trout in a 50-gallon aquarium.  With dynamite.
  3. The pragmatic reason:  By joining forces, there is a chance that Chad and Avril’s twin flavours of terrible will cancel each other out, like standing waves at a stadium rock show.  Your classic “two birds, one stone” situation.  Admittedly, there is also an outside chance that the marrying of their two styles of ‘music’ could lead to some unstoppable, terrifying new Suck hybrid that is dangerously immune to all of humanity’s anti-viral medications.  But at least all of the terrible is now piled up at one convenient location – making it easier for us to carpet bomb with nukes if things get out of hand.
  4. The hygienic reason:  There are very few things in this world that I hate, because hate is such a strong word, but tabloid culture is definitely one of them.  I’ve always found it morally repugnant that our society places so much interest in who some actress is sleeping with, or what kind of narcotic some rock star is injecting into his urethra.  It’s just so shallow and soulless and boring and irrelevant to my life.  By and large, celebrities are ordinary people with extraordinary jobs – they just happen to be more visible than your average machinist or grocery clerk.  It’s true that some of them ham it up and work the system to draw attention to themselves and/or their projects, so they don’t get a free pass either.  Narcissism doesn’t look good on anyone, regardless of how tiny your waist is or how white your teeth are.  But do we really need a couple of dozen infotainment programs on TV to document what Tom Cruise had for breakfast?  Talking about the personal lives of famous people makes my skin crawl.  I kind of feel like taking a shower just for writing this post.
  5. The missed-window-of-opportunity reason:  Frankly, the Twitterverse beat me to it.  A lot of people made snarky comments but @Adam_Newman said it best:

Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger from Nickelback are getting married? I didn’t know Canada allowed SAME SUCKS MARRIAGE

A Symphony of British Music

Some random observations on the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games:

It was previously noted in these pages that the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Games would enjoy the luxury of cherry-picking from amongst the greatest acts the popular music world has ever known.  This was evident during tonight’s ceremony.  In February 2010, Vancouver shut off their Olympic lights to the tortured strains of Simple Plan, Nickelback, and Avril Lavigne.  Canadians have been apologizing to the world for noise pollution ever since.  The British, in contrast, have nothing to apologize for.  Their gifts to the world of music are undeniably great.  The UK charts have been an embarrassment of riches for five decades.

Ray Davies emerged from a London taxi and, from a perch maybe a scant ten kilometres from his original muse, sang his Kinks masterwork “Waterloo Sunset”.  The perpetually stylish Pet Shop Boys vamped their way around Olympic Stadium to the immediately recognizable synthesized strains of “West End Girls”.  Even dancehall-pop group Madness were resurrected for a madcap version of their worldwide hit “Our House”.

For some unfathomable reason, David Bowie was not on hand to sing Olympian favourite “Heroes” – instead, we got Memorex Bowie and recordings like “Fashion”.  Larger-than-life actor Russell Brand filled in for John Lennon on a surreal take on The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus”.  Goo goo ga-joob!

There may be no more haunting, glorious sound on the planet than the sound of a Welsh men’s choir.  Something about that sound resonates in the ancestral lobes of my brain.

The Canadian television feed of the ceremony helpfully identified most of the performers, and even managed to show most of the performances, unlike a certain American network (earning the now-ubiquitous label #NBCfail).  But for whatever reason, CTV/TSN left out the name of one important act.  In case you were wondering which fantastic band played while the athletes were entering the stadium – that was Northern England’s own Elbow.  The two songs they performed, “Open Arms” and “One Day Like This”, are big favourites of the Craven Hermit.  If you would like to hear more of this band’s epic melodic genius, check out their 2011 album Build a Rocket Boys! or 2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid.

Annie Lennox could sing page 417 of the phone book and still sound amazing.

2009 saw the acrimonious split of Oasis, with Noel and Liam Gallagher pledging to never work together again (at least not until some concert promoter backs up a truck filled with a couple tons of gold bullion).  In the meantime, Noel continues to refuse to participate in all public spectacles on the principle that ‘they are all completely shite’.  On this night, it was left to Liam’s new project Beady Eye to perform “Wonderwall” for the masses.  If you think the symphonic strings on stage and on your television screen were actually part of the live music mix, then perhaps you’d be interested in some ocean-front property we’re selling.  In Saskatchewan.

Fatboy Slim emerged from an inflatable octopus at mid-field (drugs were taken) to ‘play’ “Right Here Right Now” and “The Rockafeller Skank”.  Although any half-way talented twelve-year-old with an iPad and a 99-cent app could have ‘performed’ it just as well.

Jessie J is basically the UK’s answer to Katy Perry except with bigger, err, lungs.  Her manager somehow talked the organizers into putting her into four (yes, FOUR) songs, which was at least 75% more Jessie J than anyone really needed.

Comedy legend Eric Idle appeared mid-ceremony to lead the assembled masses through a rendition of Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”, complete with gorgeous angels, roller-blading nuns, a Bollywood interlude, and a man fired across the stadium from a cannon.  Of course.

More than two decades after his untimely death, Freddie Mercury can still capture the imagination of a crowd of 80,000 punters with the immortal music of Queen.  Footage of Freddie singing at Queen’s 1986 triumphant gig at old Wembley Stadium inspired the audience to raise their voices in unison.  Despite a lack of critical acclaim throughout their career, Queen truly are the UK’s ‘People’s Band’.  Too bad they couldn’t rustle up someone more exciting to sing “We Will Rock You” with Brian May and Roger Taylor than Jessie J.  Hell, if George Michael was so insistent on doing a second song tonight, he could have sung the hell out of this one.

The Craven Hermit is a huge Muse fan, but the song they wrote for the Olympics is pretty much the definition of ‘meh’.  ‘Bombastic’ is not synonymous with ‘great’ or even ‘interesting’.  As their ancestral countryman might have said – Muse’s “Survival” is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  Hopefully this isn’t a sign of things to come on the next Muse record, which will be released in early October.

Once again, the ceremony made a point of covering up the crippling unpopularity of IOC chairman Jacques Rogge.  Much like the way that all pro hockey functions are obligated to trot out NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the company of a one-legged Nobel laureate orphan with an incurable disease, the Olympic organizers made sure that Rogge was always paired up with popular characters like indefatigable British sporting legend Sebastian Coe.  One imagines that if Rogge ever took to a stage alone, he would either be met with silent indifference or, worse, several dozen bottles of pee hurled at his head.  (Incidentally, bottled-pee-hurling would not be the most ridiculous of Olympic events, and British music festival attendees would take the gold medal in a walk).  But on this night, Coe did his best to inspire the crowd and keep everything civil.  Note to the IOC – if your chairman is so unpopular that you have to pair him up with the human equivalent of a baby kitten for all of his public appearances, maybe it’s time for a new chairman.  Just saying.

One could quibble with the ceremony organizers’ inability to feature Radiohead or Coldplay or Kasabian or Manic Street Preachers or Blur or the Stone Roses or New Order on this night (though New Order and Blur did appear at the Hyde Park after-party).  Even the petrified remains of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin were AWOL.  Imagine the goosebumps if Peter Gabriel had come out to do “In Your Eyes”, or even Robbie Williams for “Angels”.  And no offence to gifted up-and-comer Ed Sheeran, but it would have been nice to see either David Gilmour or Roger Waters amble on stage to join Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason for “Wish You Were Here”.  That said, surely there was enough musical talent on hand to reach a British quorum anyway.

As expected, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend closed out the ceremony, charged with reinvigorating the crowd after the extinguishing of the Olympic flame.  Meanwhile The Who’s original combustible drummer Keith Moon did not appear, despite rumours to the contrary, on account of still being quite dead.

And we here at the Craven Hermit blog don’t care what anyone says.  She might have left the group years ago.  She might not be the world’s greatest singer.  She’s not even a red-head anymore.  But Geri Halliwell, aka Ginger Spice, can still brighten anyone’s day.  There should be a gold medal awarded for singing from the roof of a moving taxi while wearing 4″ heels.

Last word goes to Bruce Arthur of the National Post, who tweeted this contrast between Vancouver and London:

No inflatable beavers in the Closing Ceremony.  Britain wins.

Upcoming Music Releases – Summer 2012

It’s been a pretty slow summer for notable new music releases, unless you happen to like Marcy Playground and Maroon 5.  In which case, you are a crazy person and you should seek help immediately.  If the very thought of a new Maroon 5 album is enough to compel you to burn down the nearest record store, then here is a brief list of alternative releases that you might enjoy instead.  And kindly leave the Molotov cocktails at home…

26-Jun-2012:

The Soundtrack of our Lives have released their swan song effort, Throw It To The Universe.  The Swedish rock band made their name over the last decade with near-perfect albums like Behind the Music and Communion, seamlessly blending classic rock influences (primarily Pink Floyd and The Who) with modern rock dynamics.  However, bandleader Ebbot Lundberg has recently been quoted that this year’s new release will be their last, having completed a perfect six-album cycle.

17-Jul-2012:

If you are into Hasidic rap reggae (and who isn’t?), rejoice, because Matisyahu is back.  Spark Seeker marks out a new direction for Matisyahu, after announcing in late 2011 that he is moving away from his religious studies and toward a more secular, power-pop future.  That said, we should probably expect his compelling hip-hop and Jamaican dancehall beats to remain somewhere in the mix.  And with Kool Kojak on board as producer, the bleeps and bloops should be hyper-polished.

24-Jul-2012:

Tapes is the new release from Oxford, UK math-rock band Foals.  Note that Tapes isn’t a new album per se – it’s actually a 21st century mix tape of other bands’ music.  With Foals on board as curators, the 22 tracks range from Afropop and Southern soul to techno and electronica.  Quite the Maxell XLII, then.

21-Aug-2012:

UK group Bloc Party return to the scene after four years away with their fourth proper studio album, helpfully titled Four.  Not to be confused with 1980s ultra-slick pop album IV by Toto, this Bloc Party record should feature angular guitars, spiky rock, and electronic flourishes.

Perhaps the least surprising story in UK rock in 2006 was that leotarded lead singer Justin Hawkins had stepped away from The Darkness to pursue a new career in rehab for a cocaine addiction.  After recording and performing the musical equivalent of a speedball for half a decade, it was really only a matter of time.  Hawkins returned to the fold in 2011 for some well-received reunion shows, and new album Hot Cakes promises to once again ‘rock out with its cock out’.  It also includes a cover version of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, which simply has to be heard to be believed.

Brooklynites Yeasayer are set to officially release Fragrant World, the follow-up to 2010’s brilliant Odd Blood.  The leaked songs circulating on the Series of Tubes suggest that Yeasayer are continuing in Odd Blood’s unsettling and challenging yet compelling synthetic-soul direction.  Expect a bearded and bespectacled record store clerk to spin this one (on vinyl, of course) at least once a day at your local record shop.

Back-Catalogue News:

Finally, 31-Jul-2012 marked the long-awaited re-release of the Blur back catalog.  All seven studio albums have been given the deluxe two-CD remastering treatment, just in time for Blur’s headline appearance at tomorrow’s London Olympics closing ceremony.  It has also been reported that all seven albums will finally be available on vinyl.  And if you’re REALLY keen, you can pony up for the new 21-disc Blur box set – featuring the seven twin-disc albums, four more CDs of rarities, and three DVDs.  That’s a lot of UK music nerd all in one place.  Whoo-hoo!

Day 4 – Take the Long Way Home

When lonely days turn to lonely nights
You take a trip to the city lights
And take the long way home

“Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp, 1979

Ordinarily, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  However, there is no such thing as a straight line when it comes to mountain travel.  With roads confined to the bottoms of meandering river valleys and selected mountain passes, you can really only hope to move in the general direction of your destination.

When the sun rose on Sunday morning, it was time to begin the journey home.  Pulling up the stakes and folding up the tent and tarps is often a bittersweet event.  This time it wasn’t so bad, because (a) the sun was shining and (b) it’s only July, so there’s still time to make another camping trip this year.  At least the sun was out and the temperature was mild; nothing sucks more than rolling up a tarp in the pouring rain.

There are two main routes that connect my home to Lake Louise.  One leads through Calgary and involves four hours of ultra-boring highways, the other takes a more circuitous path through the mountain scenery of the Icefields Parkway and David Thompson country.  I literally had all day, so I took the long way home.

The Icefields Parkway is one of the world’s most scenic highways.  Running roughly parallel to the Continental Divide, the Parkway connects the mountain towns of Lake Louise and Jasper.  It was originally built during the Great Depression as a federal employment program, and has been significantly upgraded since then.  The gravel switchbacks have been replaced by two lanes of nice pavement with plenty of turnouts at the major attractions.  Tourists come from all around the world to drive this parkway; Albertans are blessed with having it in our back yard.

This year, there was a record amount of snowpack in the Rockies.  Consequently, it seems like the bears have been spending more time than usual in the lower valleys, scrounging for food.  Grizzlies normally like to spend their summers close to the treeline (an elevation of about 2300 metres), but this year their favourite berries were buried in snow until very recently.  This grizzly was keeping an eye on me and other potential two-legged snacks from a sunny perch just above the Parkway earlier in July.

The Parkway was designed to bring tourists close to the glaciated peaks of the Rockies.  Not far north of Lake Louise, near Bow Summit, is the Crowfoot Glacier.  This glacier clings precariously to the northeast face of Crowfoot Mountain and, like virtually all Rocky Mountain glaciers, has been slowly receding for decades.

A little further north, visitors are treated to awe-inspiring views of Peyto Lake.  Each day in summer, hordes of people are bussed into the official Peyto Lake viewpoint, a few hundred metres from the Parkway.  While the views from the fenced-in platform are nice, be prepared to share your personal space with several dozen other people.  It’s a little bit like being squeezed through a cattle chute to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Sistine Chapel.  Fortunately, you can easily reach a much more secluded and spectacular viewpoint simply by making a 15-minute trek into the woods.  Once you emerge onto a rocky slope, you can peacefully enjoy the turquoise splendor of Petyo Lake.

I had just enough time to sneak in a short half-day hike on my way home.  A couple of years ago, I hiked to Chephren Lake and enjoyed the views.  This time, I took the left-hand branch of the trail from Waterfowl Lakes campground and set off for Cirque Lake.  The trail to Chephren Lake is notorious for being a little swampy, and with this being a wet season I wanted to avoid the mud.  The trail to Cirque Lake, meanwhile, is notorious for being pretty rough, and now I know why.

The first 2 kilometres start off easy enough, with a gradual climb through the hills west of Waterfowl Lakes.  It’s shortly after the tee junction between Chephren and Cirque Lake that things start to go downhill fast – both literally and figuratively.  After gaining 100 metres of elevation in the first half hour, you give most of it back in the next 30 minutes on the Cirque Lake trail.  Then things get even worse, as the trail is heavily ridden with exposed tree roots and stones.  And just when you’re starting to get a little disheartened, the trail turns steeply back uphill and, in places, degrades into little more than mud and silt.  Fortunately, the scenery along the Cirque Lake outfall creek is attractive, inspiring you to find their headwaters.

Finally, after about five kilometres of trudging over boulders and fording shallow streams, you arrive at the shoreline of Cirque Lake.  The first thing you notice is the way that Aries Peak dominates the skyline.  Once you catch your breath, you start to see the glaciers decorating the face of Aries.  While I sat on the lakeshore enjoying my lunch and a bottle of water, I was treated to the unmistakable ‘bloop-bloop-bloop’ of a school of trout having their lunch.  Which was pretty cool.

Once again, order and balance was restored in my universe.  It was time to go home, and the 5 km hike out of Cirque Lake wasn’t any more fun than the hike in.  But all things considered, it was an excellent hiking trip.  I even got to see another bear (a black bear this time) mosey across the highway near Nordegg.

I’m hoping to go back again soon – and I will definitely take the road less travelled to get there.  Taking the long way is just how the Craven Hermit rolls.