Iain Cameron's Diary
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2010-04-06 - 2:36 p.m.

Its James’ birthday today – he is 26. I have sent him a birthday card and a text. He travels a lot – it was Vietnam at the New Year and Cuba last Summer. Sometimes he takes his sister along. He is researching the history of anti-ballistic missile systems in the USA. He is doing this at Cambridge although I think this year he will be going to the USA to look at original documents. When he did his MPhil he looked at an episode in Kosovo campaign where there was nearly a serious confrontation between US and UK troops on the one side and Russian troops on the other.

It was quite early in the history of nuclear weapons that the idea began to get around that it might be possible to build defensive systems. At one stage the thought was that the way to stop incoming Russian nuclear missiles was for the US to send up a missile with a nuclear warhead to explode in the upper atmosphere with the aim of setting off the warheads of the incoming missiles – real Dr Strangelove stuff.

I have been listening to the first CD of the Shelagh McDonald retrospective. I got it partly because Robert Kirby does some of the arrangements and I thought it could make a nice memorial item. One of his lushest arrangements is on a song called Ophelia’s Song which has quite adventurous harmonies – even in the solo guitar version. The overall effect is not unlike Joshua Rifkin’s arrangements for Judy Collins – which is fine by me. Indeed those arrangements are one of the reasons why I decided to order the Elektra history.

There’s no doubt in my mind that her second album is better than the first. The guitar writing is more adventurous – you can hear that even on the demos which remind me a bit of Songs to a Seagull. There are about four or five songs on the second album which are the business as far as I am concerned – one in particular has Richard Thompson in great form – not adding that many notes but really making his presence felt.Another has Ray Warleigh performing miracles with his sax. Danny Thompson on bass and John Wood is the engineer.

Shelagh M has the advantage that she can write and accompany herself at the piano pretty well as well as on the guitar. I actually think voice and piano version of Stargazer is better than the arranged one.

Someone has written a book about Joni Mitchell from Blue to Hejira. I am saving that for later as I am expecting the delivery any day of the book that looks at her whole work.

The obvious comparison with Shelagh M is Sandy Denny. I have just sent Robin a link to an article by Clive James suggesting that Sandy had the potential to be a great songwriter as in Who Knows Where the Time Goes but she was diverted by the amazing quality of her singing from realising her true potential. James puts songs like The Sea in the second rank. I have also come across a rebuttal of James which argues that The Sea is about as good as it gets and that the words make perfect sense these days in terms of nature threatening to overwhelm us. I am on the side of The Sea I think because of the blend between the voice and the lead guitar – Jerry Donahue.

Shelagh M writes about her immediate situation – the people she knows and the mostly urban surroundings (possibly Bristol) whereas Sandy writes in a more imagistic manner. I heard her version of Jackson Frank’s Milk and Honey yesterday – when there are images around she has an amazing power to breathe life into them.

Another referent is Tracy Thorn’s first solo album from 1982 – A Distant Shore – which is mostly her and an acoustic guitar. I think she was only 19 when she did this. More about TT another time.

I mailed Andrew K yesterday to say how right he has been about Judee Sill.

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