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Rock's Backpages

They were so much older then, they're younger than that now: Mark Pringle and Barney Hoskyns reel in the years and riff on all that's new this week in the world's biggest library of music journalism – definitive interviews with legends of the last 60 years by the pop press' greatest writers ... and much much more. Produced by Jasper Murison-Bowie.

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    E44: Simon Witter on Cameo, Zapp & House + Robbie Robertson audio

    In this week's episode of the RBP Podcast, Mark Pringle and Jasper Murison-Bowie are joined by Simon Witter to talk about his career in music journalism, from acid house to Zapp by way of Cameo and his forays into the early days of Chicago house music with pioneering DJs Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy. Simon's interviews with Larry Blackmon and Roger Troutman inform conversation about afro-futurist funk and D.C.'s go-go music. Your three hosts also discuss what kinds of powders taste better dissolved in cream soda and the impact of said powders (and other drugs!) on the second summer of love in 1988. Mark, Jasper and Simon briefly talk about free feature Pixies and pay tribute to Daniel Johnston before moving on to the week's audio interview with Robbie Robertson, conducted by Tony Scherman in 1991. Robbie talks about his pre-The Band days with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, about how they weren't allowed to have girlfriends (not 'on-brand', as it were) and tells a riveting story of getting kicked out of a barbecue joint with Sonny Boy Williamson by racist cops. In the archive section, Mark picks some highlights including an interview with Marc Bolan as Tyrannosaurus Rex are dropping the 'yrannosaurus' and the Village People doing their damnedest to remain ambiguous about their campness, while Jasper picks a review of Burial's Untrue and an interview with Anderson 'best teeth in the game' .Paak.

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    E43: The Story of Electronic Music + Slade + Status Quo with David Stubbs

    In this week's episode of the RBP Podcast, Mark Pringle and Jasper Murison-Bowie are joined by David Stubbs to talk about his book Mars By 1980, which traces the story of electronic music from its beginnings in the mechanical experiments of the late nineteenth century through Stockhausen and musique concrète to Stevie Wonder's cosmic funk, the 80s electropop of bands like Depeche Mode and beyond. Mark and Jasper hear how David got his start at Melody Maker after co-founding Oxford magazine Monitor as a student; he confesses that at the time he was in a 'slightly pompous phase' where the only music he was listening to was avant garde classical and jazz or funk. These areas inform much of the discussion that follows, as the three of them consider the initially slow and then suddenly meteoric rise of the synthesizer in popular music. The week's audio interview is with Francis Rossi of Status Quo in 2010, with the chosen clips concerning the adjustment of Her Majesty the Queen's undergarments as well as his relationship with bandmate Rick Parfitt. The free feature is Slade, with three pieces about Noddy and co up for grabs. In the archive section, Mark highlights a few pieces including Cecil Taylor's hands blurring with the speed of his playing live in Hammersmith, Muddy Waters interviewed by Max Jones and Dennis Wilson opening up about his time with Charles Manson for the first time to Joel Selvin. Jasper selects Evan Parker playing the Invisible Jukebox game with Mike Barnes for The Wire plus a piece by their illustrious guest about whether humour and music can mix.

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    E42: Dusty Springfield + Alicia Keys + Taylor Swift with Lucy O'Brien

    In this week's episode of the RBP podcast, Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle are joined by Lucy O'Brien to talk about her life in journalism, from her days distributing copies of Spare Rib magazine at her convent school to being part of the 'soulcialist' faction at the NME. They discuss how creeping consumerism and confusion about the paper's identity caused it to lose much of what set it apart, precipitating its eventual demise. To celebrate the new edition of her Dusty Springfield biography, they discuss what set Dusty apart as a singer and the problems she faced as a result of her sexuality. In the context of another of Lucy's books, She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Popular Music, the three of them consider a number of female artists including Skin of Skunk Anansie, Madonna and Taylor Swift, before listening to a clip from the week's audio interview with Alicia Keys. Finally, exploring what else is new in the archive, Mark reads from some of his highlights, including a somewhat mystifying Iggy Pop interview, Lemmy being classic Lemmy, and Tim Westwood's cultural appropriation and all-round unpleasantness.

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    E41: Easy Rider + Arthur Lee with Richard Williams

    In this week's episode of the RBP podcast, Barney Hoskyns and Jasper Murison-Bowie are joined by Richard Williams to talk about his long and august career in music journalism, starting with writing about Albert Ayler for a local Nottingham newspaper, through to his stewardship of Melody Maker and beyond.

    They discuss Richard's analysis of how Ayler brought wild, primitive feelings back to jazz while nevertheless being highly technically proficient, plus a piece on Laura Nyro and an interview with Bob Marley, the latter of whose talent Richard recognised early on and wrote about at a time when reggae was still seen as a novelty genre. Asked what sort of music excites him these days, Richard pre-empts an article from the archive section by enthusing about the London jazz scene.

    The week's free features are a collection of articles about Easy Rider in memory of Peter Fonda, including contemporaneous reviews by Charlie Gillett and Miller Francis Jr, sparking a discussion of the cult classic film and its magnificent soundtrack.

    The three of them also listen to clips from a 1980 interview with Love's Arthur Lee in which he toys with the idea of getting the band back together ('twas not to be) and reminisces about meeting Jimi Hendrix for the first time in 1964.

    Finally, they round out the episode with a look at what's new by way of articles, including an early Pink Floyd interview (back when they still had a definite article), a review of Panjabi MC's The Album and a live review of the extraordinary and eloquent rapper Dave at Koko.

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    E40: Ian Penman on Prince + Charlie Parker + ZZ Top audio

    In this week's episode of the RBP Podcast, Barney Hoskyns and Jasper Murison-Bowie are joined by Ian Penman to talk about his recently published essay collection It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track, as well as his time at the NME and The Wire. And so commences a wide-ranging conversation about everything from Frank Sinatra to Charlie Parker to Prince, via John Fahey, Nina Simone and Kate Bush. Along the way, Ian makes a compelling case that his reputation for having brought down the NME by making too many references to poststructuralist French philosophy is undeserved. The three of them also consider how his writing manages to be approachable while maintaining an academic rigour, and conclude that it has much to do with the heart and warmth of his writing, which brings the music itself closer to the reader. They also listen to clips from a 1990 audio interview with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons in which he talks about meeting Muddy Waters and remembers Stevie Ray Vaughan. Finally, having had too much fun with the rest of the podcast, your hosts run swiftly through a few new pieces available to RBP subscribers.

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    E39: Tammy Faye Starlite does Marianne Faithfull + Miles & more

    In this week's episode, Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle are joined by cabaret performer and Marianne Faithfull-imitator extraordinaire Tammy Faye Starlite to talk about the grande dame, both in the context of Tammy's upcoming run of shows at Pangea in NYC and the week's RBP audio interview with Marianne herself. They chat about her extremely high opinion of herself, wondering if it's partly what keeps her going, plus her relationships and/or friendships with Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg. They also discuss parallels between her and Nico, another subject of Tammy's mimicry—starting with the fact that they were both blonde, at least for a bit. Talk then turns to David Dalton, featured writer of the week (who happens to have ghostwritten Marianne's autobiography) and the three of them mark the recent passing of filmmaker D. A. 'Penny' Pennebaker with a pair of interviews conducted by Dalton and Adam Sweeting. The free feature on RBP is Miles Davis, to mark the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking ambient album In A Silent Way, sparking discussion of how those sessions came to be and how Miles was influenced by Betty Davis (née Mabry) both in terms of fashion and music. As usual, Mark picks his highlights from the archive pieces, which include a rare interview with Arthur Lee of Love, a review of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall and Nick Coleman talking to Anita Baker in 1986.

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    E38: Woodstock '69 + Shirley Collins + Mark Anthony Neal

    Content warning: This episode contains references to sexual violence and domestic abuse. In the wake of the cancellation of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, regular RBP Podcast hosts Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle, joined by occasional host Jasper Murison-Bowie, discuss the ongoing legacy of that fateful 3-day stretch in summer 1969. They look at two contemporaneous reports which paint rather different pictures: Danny Goldberg's report for Billboard is all optimism, likely because he got to hang out in the press area, whereas Miller Francis Jr.'s is altogether more varied and highlights the survivalist nature of attending the festival as a punter. Featured writer of the week is 'rockademic' Mark Anthony Neal, with pieces on (more-than-just-)blue-eyed-soulster Lewis Taylor, the demise of Vibe magazine and the remarkable vocal of Linda Jones. The three of them then listen to an excerpt from an interview with doyenne of British Folk Shirley Collins, conducted by John Tobler in 1991 ahead of a reissue of her classic album No Roses. She talks about the recording process, and how making an album with 26 musicians was never the intention, and reflects on the wide variety of different musicians involved. Mark then presents his highlights from the archive, including a report on controversy surrounding Otis Redding following an unfavourable review by Norman Jopling, a Tina Turner interview that gives rise to a discussion of bigotry in music journalism, and a report on the drug ecstasy. Jasper rounds out the selection of archive highlights, and the episode, with a live review of reggae singer Shaggy, aka Mr Boombastic/Mr Lover Lover/Mr Romantic.

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    E37: Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb and The Wichita Lineman with Dylan Jones

    Joined by special guest Dylan Jones ahead of the publication of his new book, The Wichita Lineman: Searching in the Sun for the World's Greatest Unfinished Song, RBP podcast hosts Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle chat about the songwriting talent behind the song that inspired said book, Jimmy Webb. Dylan explains how the book came to be, and the three of them enthuse about Jimmy's ability to tell stories, both in song and in person. They then listen to an excerpt from a 2005 audio interview with the man himself in which he laments what he sees as a lack of complexity in the pop music of today and talks about his use of harmony and chords before Mark and Barney quiz Dylan about what compelled him to hire Boris Johnson as car correspondent for GQ magazine. Talk turns briefly to politics as they consider how David Cameron might feel about having called the referendum, but returns to music shortly afterward, with Mark presenting some of his highlights from the archive. These include an interview with Robin Gibb shortly after he left the Bee Gees, a report from The Wailers first trip to London (before they were 'Bob Marley and...') and a Diana Ross press conference about having to de-Chic-ify the album she recorded with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.

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    E36: KLF + Echo & the Bunnymen + Julian Cope with Mick Houghton

    This week, Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle are joined by Mick Houghton, journalist for Let It Rock and Sounds (among others) turned publicist for Echo & the Bunnymen and the KLF (among others). They talk about how the former band never made it to the level of worldwide success they could have because they didn't want to leave Liverpool and about how Bill Drummond was forever pushing up the stakes. Discussing Mick's new book, Barney picks up on a passage in which Mick describes how angry he was at a bad review in the NME of Julian Cope's World Shut Your Mouth ... which just so happens to have been penned by Barney himself. The three of them then listen to excerpts from a fascinating conversation between Dave Bartholomew, Red Tyler and Earl Palmer, convened by Tony Scherman, in which they talk about what makes New Orleans musically different and hence tricky for non-NOLA musicians to apprehend. Finally, Mark presents the highlights from the archive, including a live review of Joni Mitchell getting off to a rocky start at the Isle of Wight festival, an article about the John Fogerty/Saul Zaentz 'Zanz Kant Danz' lawsuit, and an interview with a young Britney Spears, prompting Mark and Barney to laud the pop genius of hits like '...Baby One More Time' and 'Oops!...I Did It Again'.

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    E35: P. Funk Special + Hal David audio with Lloyd Bradley and Tom Vickers

    In this week's episode of the RBP podcast, Barney Hoskyns and Mark Pringle are joined by not one but two guests: Lloyd Bradley and Tom Vickers. They tell the story of how they met, Lloyd blagging his way into a singles reviewing session with George Clinton at Blues and Soul magazine while Tom was Parliament's 'Minister of Information'. This gives rise to a lengthy discussion about all things Parliament, Funkadelic, and George Clinton as well as Lloyd explaining how he managed to go from sneaking into gigs to a long and illustrious career in music journalism. The four of them listen to clips from the week's audio interview, with Hal David of the David and Bacharach songwriting partnership, in which he talks about recording 'Make It Easy on Yourself' with Dionne Warwick as a demo, and her subsequent upset when they gave the song to Jerry Butler. Finally, Mark presents the highlights from the articles added to the archive, including Jimmy Page waxing astrological, Mick Jagger feeling intellectually limited, and Eminem getting booed off stage in London—leading the group to consider whether, and how, hip-hop can be successful in large venues.

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