Thursday, March 17, 2011

Final Rio Despatch (for now!) CARNIVAL OVER

So that's it. The Carnival is over. Although the main part is just 4-days in length, Rio's carnival holiday stretches over a good 8-days. This year saw the welcome return of the free street carnivals 'blocs' that were so popular of old. And they were back with a vengence with some 340 all over the city!

In theory, these street parties are meant for the locals of a particular block or neighbourhood. Each one has its own special carnival band featuring massed drumming, banjos, 'cavaquinhos' (similar to a ukelele and trumpets. A voclaist leads the chorus as the bloc winds its way through the neighbourhood with a long trail of happy, drunken, singing dancers in its wake. The music is a mix of samba and typical 'marchinhas de carnival' songs. Some blocs have a reputation and attract huge crowds. The 'Bala Preto' (black ball) and 'Mono-bloco' attracted somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 each onto the streets. It's an experience you don't forget!

This year saw the launch of a new bloc: 'Sargent Pimenta'. Fifty drums of various sizes, eleven guitars and some odds and sods of wind playing Beatle songs, carnival style. The bloc was held in a street in Botafogo, a neighbourhood of Rio. About 100,000 attended. I tried but could get no nearer than 80 metres to the band, who wisely substituted a stage for the traditional 'parade'. I could just about hear them, though. And it sounded fantastic!

The Beatles are just amazingly popular here. Every Brazilian artist of note covers Beatle numbers at some time. The shops are full of Bealte merchandise. The bookshops stock a great range of publications. Beatle tee shirts abound. The number of people trying to groove to Sgt Pimenta, a first-time bloc band testifies to the continuing popularity of the Fab Four.

Thankfully, the better bloc bands have a life throughout the year, with some even touring overseas. Imagine Sgt Pimenta playing at Liverpool's annual Matthews Street Festival! They's be a bit too big to fit on the Cavern Club stage but St George's Square might just about hold 'em! I can't wait to see it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Syd Barrett Exhibition

There´s a very time-limited exhibition on in London this month (and until early April) that´s a must for Pink Floyd fans.

Celebrating Syd Barrett’s creative output as a visual artist, the exhibition brings together the largest and most comprehensive collection of his artwork and photos to date. Revealing a lesser known side of Syd’s creativity, the original artworks will be exhibited alongside previously unseen photos of Syd and his band mates and the letters he wrote to his first loves Libby and Jenny.

It´s open from the 18th March until 10th April at The Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, E2 7JB.

Walking Bossa Nova History

Followers of this blog will be well aware of our ´mission´ at Access All Areas; to identity, preserve, protect and promote world-wide rock heritage. You´ll also be aware of our antipathy towards politicians and administrators who either willfully ignore their local heritage or do little to protect or promote it. It is gratifying to see that the Rio de Janeiro ´Prefectura´ are wise to their musical heritage, and its potential for generating tourism visits and jobs.

Rio is the cradle of many musical styles but perhaps the most famed (and alas perhaps under-appreciated) is bossa nova. Bossa Nova grew out of samba in the 1950s. It was a distinct musical revolution which may have had an even greater impact outside of its birthplace had not the ´beat-boom´ of the early 60s taken place. What makes boss nova so uniquely attractive is not only the gentle, summer-invoking rhythms (Rio boasts of being the city that invented summer´) but the lyrics. Early bossa was basically poetry set to music.

Some of the bossa names and tunes are of course known world-wide; Tom Jobin and Vinicius de Moraes with ´The Girl from Ipanema´, and Óne Note Samba´, Sergio Mendez, João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, and the vocals of Elis Regina. Sinatra, Bennett and a host of others paid homage by covering Brazilian-written songs. Inevitably, given it was usually sung in Portuguese, many more composers and performers never made it big on the international stage.

A visit to Rio can now include an ´education´ and an enjoyable voyage of discovery through Bossa Nova history (and discovery of contemporary sounds) as buildings and sites important in bossa heritage are having plaques erected on them (with more promised). Most visitors here manage to find the Ipanema bar where Jobin famously wrote ´The Girl´ but other sites, especially in Copacabana, were in danger of disappearing so well done Rio.

If you take a very short ´plaque trail´ walk (to the rear of the Copacabana Palace, you past clubs, homes, and an excellent music specialist shop. The photo,above, of the plaque identifying the legendary street of clubs, ´Bottle Alley´, is the shop location. Nearby, there is the Baden Powell theatre (not the BP or the boy scouts, but a legendary bossa/sama musician, named after him ) where you can hear music nightly for a pittance. And on Coapacabana beach front there´s a statue to another great, Danilo Caymmi.

It´s forward thinking by a city that´s gearing up to host the World Cup and Olympics. What a pity the good burghers of other cities with musical heritage don´t have the same forward-thinking approach.

Death of a Long-serving Friend ...

And everywhere it’s the same; the forced closure of great record shops due to the ‘download revolution’.

Modern Sounds in Copacabana was an institution. As a retail outlet for CDs, old vinyl and even second-hand hi-fi, it was incomparable. It was a treasure trove; a light, spacious ground floor with case upon case of Brazilian and international music covering every genre, and a part-hidden vinyl basement to set the pulses racing! Add to the mix knowledgeable staff, headphone listening points and a fantastic café that regularly featured artists launching new product – with free attendance – and you get one of the world’s greatest ‘record stores’.

It’s no wonder that visiting stars from Madonna to Page would make Modern Sounds one of their first stops when in town.

And it has shut. Just like that. It was here in December, but it ain’t now. There should at least have been a wake.

RIP Modern Sounds, another victim to modern sound distribution chan