Adam Stafford Plays…Tommy Johnson

I never know what people are going to suggest when I ask them for something new or rare that they’d like to share: it differs from band to musician and it’s generally – and importantly – nothing like I’d ever expect. Most of all I love the stories, getting to know how a track or an artist which could easily have been missed is discovered and becomes important to someone.
Adam Stafford is a musician and filmmaker from Falkirk, known for his experimental and often hauntingly beautiful solo work, as well as being the singer songwriter in Y’all is Fantasy Island. I discovered his music through random chatter and I’m glad I listened. Here’s what the man himself had to say about one of his favourite songs…

Tommy Johnson – Cool Drink of Water Blues
The first time I heard Tommy Johnson’s Cool Drink of Water I was eighteen and it hit me like a brick. It came during an intense period of discovering and listening to the pre-war blues of Blind Willie Johnson (no relation) and Skip James, me – a perpetually stoned teenager sulking about Falkirk as it was The Delta of Central Scotland. I suppose it was like that for a lot of white middle class British kids, then and now. I bought a slide and invented a new genre: thrash blues, a hybrid of Willie Johnson and Nirvana. We would lie on the roof of an abandoned hospital on weekend nights, getting drunk on red wine, endlessly smoking cigarettes while arguing about who was better – Dr. Dre or Slint.
 
Through these hissy, primitive, archaic blues recordings though, we heard a truth and authenticity that punk rock could only scratch the surface of. Voices so raw and disenchanted and haunted they were practically unlistenable. Out of the whole Delta Blues cannon, what is it about Tommy Johnson’s song that sits above the rest? It must be his ghostly falsetto, the melancholic chords and funeral pace of the song, the tremolo solo over the verses, the allusion to Satan or being lost and far from home. But probably most of all it is the fact that it sounds like music from another world, intangible and alien rising slowly through a dimension from somewhere absolutely forgotten.
 
Not much is known about Johnson other than he was an alcoholic who made bad decisions in the music industry, was the possibly the first guitarist to play behind his head and he gave Canned Heat their name (after one of his songs). It is also reported that he sold his soul to the devil to gain prowess on the guitar – a tale he would gladly tell others, perhaps to enhance his stage persona. This myth was later inherited by Robert Johnson’s legend, who bore no relation to Tommy. He was loosely portrayed by Chris Thomas King in the Cohen Brother’s film O’ Brother Where Art thou? in 2000.
An incredible slideshow of images, set to Cool Drink of Water Blues:

 

Adam Stafford’s most recent release is a split single with Rick Redbeard of Phantom Band fame and released on Gerry Loves Records…listen to ‘Vanishing Tanks’ really loud, it’s all spurts of air and cut through vocal – ‘Russian Glass’ is a cinematic, straightforwardly stunning song.

 

Stafford’s solo album Build a Harbour Immediately should be listened to on rotation, swooping from upbeat vocal loops – see ‘Shot-Down You Summer Wannabes’ – to delicate melodies – ‘Build a Harbour Immediately’ – and poignant lyrical work  – ‘Fire and Theft’ and ‘Temple of the Holy Ghost’. I guarantee it will take you by surprise.

 

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I’m playing…Amsterdaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam!

So the title of this might be misleading, the post is actually about a trip I just took to Spain – not eating gouda, drinking Heineken or riding a bicycle over canals. It’s why I’ve been a little quite as a blogger, led by some of my best pals I instead spent hours and hours sitting by the pool, playing poker, playing snooker and opening our outdoor Mexican themed bar post siesta (true story).

We did need one thing constantly in the background – great music.  Conjure images of sunshine, driving through Spanish mountainsides and proper laughs – here goes a musical journey…

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Here is a picture of Amsterdam, March 2012

Peter Bjorn and John, Amsterdam

I’m not really sure how, but Swedes Peter Bjorn and John completely passed me by. I’d kind of heard their name thrown around but never frequently enough to make me want to look them up, I now believe I’ve been missing out big style.

Amsterdam is a track from the trio’s 2006 album, it’s so summery and catchy I can’t quite believe they didn’t release it as a single (ah the magic of an internet search). It’s also the kind of song that you learn all the words to the first time you listen to it. Cue whistling and head bopping…

Ghostface Killah – Kilo

‘I don’t think Jo will really like Ghostface’ was the consensus when I pulled out this CD. True, I’m not known for my love of gangsta rap. But this is a tune.

Calexico & Iron & Wine – History of Lovers

Calexico are just the perfect band for sunshine countries. The Tucson based collective are masters of a kind of cherished storytelling, Spanish influenced melodies and retro rhythms making up their lovely material. We listened to ‘Carried to the Dust’ and this track, which I discovered was a collaboration with the mighty fine Iron and Wine. 

Deerhunter – Nothing Ever Happened

Some of the best guitar you’ll ever hear. This one’s a keeper.

The Shins – Those to Come

Ever had a moment when you realise everyone around you is singing along to something you never knew they liked with total nostalgia? Yes lovers of indie it’s The Shins and more specifically their album Chutes Too Narrow. This is my all time favourite track from the band, the stunning simple delivery and vivid lyrics lending it a surprising poignancy…

French Wives – Younger

I have listened to this song almost to the point of no return, it’s a proper hit in my book. From the Glasgow band’s debut album ‘Dream of the Inbetween’ it’s jubilant and brilliant if you haven’t heard it listen to it, if you have listen again. 

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