Catching up with Jools Holland last night reminded me that I’ve always had a blokey record collection.
This thought arose after Jools was twittering about all the women artists on the latest edition of his show. Now I like Jools and his twittering. I have done ever since his Squeeze days when he showed me his gold discs mounted on the wall of his loo.
A programme accidentally devoted to women singers seems like a good idea, until you hear that one of them is Bjork. And she gets to sing three songs: approximately three too many. Apologies if you are a fan, but I have never got Bjork and her wearisome idiosyncrasies.
The only guest who leapt to attention was Hailey Tuck, a young Texan jazz singer with a Louise Brooks hair-do and a voice like a slowly smoking fuse. She was great fun and worthy of further investigation. But she only got to sing one song.
Yes, those men do line up in the CD collection and slump together in vinyl. It’s always been like that, a boys’ chorus of Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Van Morison, Ry Cooder, Bruce Springsteen, John Martyn and Dire Straits, backed up by more recent discoveries such as Craig Finn and The Hold Steady.
It was the same when I was young. A flirtation with prog rock produced a liking for Yes and King Crimson. Then it was over the Atlantic for Grateful Dead, Steve Miller and Cooder (Ry’s always been there, sliding around in the background).
So where are the women? Lost in the crowd, that’s where. Joan Armatrading used to share the student turntable with Costello. Much later, I developed a bit of a quiet passion for Lucinda Williams; she now holds her own in bloke alley, as she does in life. I like Joni Mitchell, but seem only to have her tenth album, a jazz outing with Charles Mingus.
The sweet-voiced Christine Collister is another real favourite; the Yorkshire folk duo of O’Hooley and Tidow are a more recent treasured addition.
One of my favourite albums is Sarah Gillespie’s In The Current Climate. But here’s the thing: that album is a collaboration with the blistering saxophonist Gilad Atzmon. What makes it so good is the interplay between Gillespie’s songs and Atzmon’s fluent playing.
Here’s the thing again: some of Richard Thompson’s greatest work is to be found back in the days when he sang with his ex-wife Linda, especially the classic Shoot Out The Lights. It’s the vocal blend that does it, his robust baritone and the soaring sweetness of her voice.
I do like a great ‘boy-girl’ duet, too. Steve Earle has done a few, singing with Lucinda Williams, Allison Moorer and Emmylou Harris, among others.
And if you really want to cheer yourself up, listen to Dr John sharing vocal honours with Shemekia Copeland on Louis Armstrong’s Sweet Hunk O’Trash.
Sometimes the best music comes when men and women sing together.
I realise I have got this far without mentioning Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Sharon is dead now, sadly, but her album Give The People What They Want will stay with me forever, not least for the fantastic pop-soul protest song, People Don’t Get What They Deserve.
Turns out there a few women hanging around in bloke alley, but not as many as there should be.