... your heart out
... look sideways
Blimey, this turned out to be a bit of an odyssey ... Ah but Alec Guinness, writing about his Journal, A Positively Final Appearance, hit the nail on the head ... â€œIt is, I suppose, like a sort of sluggish river meandering hopefully towards the open sea but diverted by various eddies, pools or tangential tributaries.â€?
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On a bad day the smallest of things can wind you up. Like the video shop that has a poster in the window advertising pre-owned DVDs at bargain prices. I realise these are difficult times, and I have the utmost sympathy with anyone trying to make a go of things. But, pre-owned? What is that all about? Pre-owned as in previously owned? Or is it some special phenomenon where you can buy DVDs before they have been owned by anyone at all? On a good day the daftest thing can make you smile. Like the video shop trying to tempt in customers by offering pre-owned DVDs for next-to-nothing. I like that. It makes me think of other phrases like preteen as in the disco I would attend regularly in the scout hall down our road, where initially it was so popular kids were queuing up outside but over time its popularity paled though I never missed a week, dancing the evening away to The Sweet, Slade, Suzi Quatro and all the soul stuff like George McCrae, Hues Corporation, Limmie and the Family Cookin’. Now on a bad day nothing can soothe my savage breast more effectively than sweet slices of ‘70s soul from that same era. I may be a recalcitrant mod recidivist, or something similar, whose soul should belong to the ‘60s sounds but it is actually the silky symphonic soul of the ‘70s that really works when all else fails. And maybe, just maybe, that’s got something to do with all those soul 45s they
used to spin in that scout hall. Those exquisite male vocal sounds, with harmonies arranged like some complex choral work. Ah. All those hits by the Stylisitcs, Delfonics, Manhattans, Floaters, Chi-Lites, Detroit Spinners, Detroit Emeralds, Tavares, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, O’Jays, Moments, Tymes, Trammps, Intruders, Main Ingredient. Mmm yes the Main Ingredient. Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely. The only hit they had in this country. But Kent Records (as part of the Ace family) has a fantastic compilation out of their singles and songs like Everybody Plays The Fool seem strangely familiar. There is a fantastic clip posted on YouTube of the guys performing this song on the US TV show Soul Train, and I still watch in awe at the dance routines all these guys without exception had down to a fine art. And, of course, YouTube is a treasure trove of old ‘70s soul TV performances. The thing that strikes me now is how pretty much without fail these guys were a little, shall we say, on the mature side. They’d all been around the block a few times, paid their dues, served their apprenticeships many times over, and were going to make the most of the opportunities the soul explosion presented. And that same soul explosion resonated in all sorts of strange places, influencing music the world over. Carole King’s Fantasy, Bowie’s
Young Americans, for example, and blurring the lines further at my pre-teen discos the Glitter Band went Philly with People Like You, People Like Me, a song I could never get out of my head. No different in its way to Cabaret Voltaire hearing Planet Rock and thinking this is for us. I liked the way too that a little later the Cabs’ driving force Richard H Kirk changed his game only ever so slightly to fit right in with the Warp Records and wider bleep ‘n’ bass scene, when no one seemed too concerned about how many blocks he had been round.
Anyway, in the same way I have never been able to get the Glitter Band’s hits out of my head, I have had The Motors’ Forget About You driving me mad for some time now. It’s a song I’d all but forgotten about. Maybe I last heard it as a theme tune on the sports show Grandstand or something. It was one of two hits The Motors had in the summer of ’78. There was Forget About You and Airport. Absurdly poppy numbers with almost universal appeal. I have vivid memories of being on holiday somewhere on the coast, being in a cafe, putting Airport and White Man In Hammersmith Palais on the jukebox, and thinking this is it!. The Motors were around for a very short time. I recall John Peel being a keen supporter when their first LP came out in 1977 at the height of the punk explosion. With the benefit of hindsight the punk/new wave umbrella was generously broad, and a wonderful mish mash of chancers crept under its cover. The Motors were among these opportunists. But when you’re 13, musically proverbially knee high, as I was, it
really doesn’t matter. You’re listening without prejudice, without preconceptions. And that first Motors LP sounded fantastic, particularly the lead track Dancing The Night Away in all its six and a half minute glory. It remains a positively avant garde experiment in mixing 5D Byrds with Neu! Motorik boogie with no guitar solos. The rest of the LP may have its share of choogling but it contains some surprises. A case could be made for Cold Love being the first new wave funk outing, for example. The funny thing is that I can remember the confusion I experienced when it became apparent the Motors could never be cool, as certain of its members had been in groups prior to punk. Right. I could understand they didn’t look particularly appealing next to say Subway Sect, but this antipathy to pub rock was all a little bit confusing. Still is really. You can argue about the whys and wherefores until the sun goes down. Pub rockers as stuck-in-a-rut philistines. Or pub rockers as resistance fighters and heralds of change. You can play it either way. My own feelings about this are mixed. But if you take pub rock as part of a wider ‘60s afterglow and punk foreplay, then it is part of a fascinating tangle of links and chains, where for example you can have fun finding members of the Motors and Wire in the same group covering the Flamin’ Groovies, and Wire’s producer playing bass for David Essex. It can be argued that many pub rockers were able to seize their opportunities come the punk revolution through the aegis of the Chiswick and Stiff independent labels. Chiswick would become part of the Ace group of labels which has played such an important role in salvaging sounds from so many different sources, but its roots were in the Rock On record outlets through which Ted Carroll and Roger Armstrong sold old blues, beat, rockabilly, r’n’b, and other raw source sounds to a growing gang of dissidents attracted by the arcane delights of import French EPs in exotic picture sleeves and old Sue singles. The insurgent/resurgent r’n’b boom taking place in London’s pubs appealed to Carroll and Armstrong, and they decided to cut a record with the Count Bishops, considered by many to be the cream of the crop of the new
wave of pub rockers, mixing an exaggeratedly aggressive presence with a stripped down, high octane sound, mixing blues and garage greats with a handful of neat, melodic originals. They were in the vanguard of emerging future primitives follow the trail being burned by Canvey Island’s Dr Feelgood. The impact of the Feelgoods is well documented, and the intimidating persona of singer Lee Brilleaux and the manic performance of guitarist Wilko Johnson, wielding his guitar like a tommy gun, staring out the audience, and jabbing away with taut, choppy r’n’b riffs, would influence many such as The Jam and Gang of Four.
Another group capitalising on the way the Feelgoods kicked open doors was Eddie and the Hot Rods, whose sound was closer to the beat noise of The Who or The Kinks by way of the MC5’s poppiest moments. Their great assets were the neat songs written by guitarist Dave Higgs, his choppy buzzing sound, and the charisma of Jack-the-lad frontman Barrie Masters who I’m sure was aiming for a Jagger meets James Dean look but appealed all the more for coming across like Robert Lindsay would in the John Sullivan created TV sitcom Citizen Smith, where the lead character was a young urban Marxist revolutionary, living in south London, wanting to be Che but struggling to get out of bed, and having trouble with the girlfriend and the local gangsters. Counteracting the old lags image of pub rock Masters did have a certain teeny bop appeal,
leading to a few minor hits on the verge of the punk revolution, which for many would have been the first intimations of what would be, and certainly there’s a case to be made for the Hot Rods’ importance as influences on groups like the Undertones, whose Teenage Kicks debut combined the Rods’ choppiness and the Bay City Rollers’ bounciness according to writer Dave McCullough. The appearance of the Hot Rods on Top of the Pops and kids’ TV shows would be vital for the emergence of a new generation. The Hot Rods big moment came with the infectious, irresistible Top 10 smash hit Do Anything You Wanna Do in the summer of 1977 right at the height of the punk explosion. One of the TV shows that the Rods appeared on performing this was Marc Bolan’s, which was specifically aimed at a very young audience. The show was fascinating in that it mixed the old and the new, and is particularly poignant in that Marc was killed before the series had all been broadcast. Appearances on this show by The Jam and Generation X will have been many people’s first glimpse of punk in action, but somehow it all seemed perfectly natural rather than a huge epiphany or Damascus type conversion. I have always argued that kids like me who were 13 in 1977 recognised something in punk. A something that tapped into the first musical awakenings that came via the power and glory and glamour of The Sweet, Slade, Glitter (and remember Johnny Rotten played Gary Glitter and The Creation on his infamous Capital Radio show). Even the rock ‘n’ roll revivalisms of Mud and Showaddywaddy that at least led to the discovering of the originals, specifically via the Cruising show Roger Scott hosted Friday evenings on London’s Capital Radio, where he would play old doo wop and rockabilly which had a rawness akin to punk, and had enormous appeal. In early 1976, for example, the fledgling Charly label had reissued an old rockabilly nugget Jungle Rock by Hank Mizell which had become a massive hit. Kids who picked up on punk at 13 in 1977 had missed out on the whole heavy/progressive rock thing, and this gave them a unique perspective.
Of course being 13 the young punks didn’t have the preconceptions of more informed elders so absorbed it all like a sponge. So on the first edition of the Marc show Bolan introduces his old friends Radio Stars, and it all seems great. Radio Stars were another outfit enjoying a new (wave) lease of life thanks to Chiswick Records, and their lineage is perhaps the most fascinating of all, drawing together proto punk strands by way of John’s Children, Jook and Sparks which are so wonderfully inter-connected it’s quite scary. It also assists in making the case for a trouble-making mod/hard pop continuum.
Bolan was together with Radio Stars singer Andy Ellison in ultra-mod outfit John’s Children, and on occasions they sounded as good as they looked with those white ensembles and perfect haircuts. Drummer Chris Townson would go on to join Jook a group managed by old comrade John Hewlett. Jook’s speciality was a form of hard pop, with plenty of crunching chords and terrace singalong choruses, both spectacularly out of time and ahead of its time, owing more to The Who than the socalled progressive sounds of the day. They looked great too, with a boot boy/smoothie look, and haircuts that were short and mod on top and grown out at the back and sides. Their timing was lousy though, and when they weren’t losing personnel to Sparks they were having the Jook look bowdlerised and plagiarised by the Bay City Rollers, Hello, Kenny and so on. At least thanks to the salvage work of RPM it’s easy enough now to appreciate fully the brilliance of Jook’s sound and songs. Jook/Sparks and indeed latter day Radio Stars member Trevor White has acquired a sizeable cult following for his solo Crazy Kids single, and there is as there is for pretty any sort of music a whole group of aficionados for hard pop of this vintage. A website named in
affectionate tribute to Crazy Kids has a link to a brilliant video/documentary of the lost Australian early ‘70s Sharpies youth cult, where the kids looked like a bizarre cross between skinheads and Ziggy Stardust, sort of cropped on top, with longer bits at the back, rather like the skinhead girls of closer to home, but these guys seem to be of the hard-as-nails hooligan variety with a passion for crunching hard pop like The Sweet, Slade, Suzi Quatro, and Lobby Loyde and the Coloured Balls whose music features in the footage. Now I have to admit I didn’t know anything at all about the Coloured Balls but you can see what was happening with this high octane MC5/Raspberries sound that prompted teenage rampages among sharpies in Melbourne. Loyde had earlier been in the Purple Hearts, a primitive r ‘n’ b outfit suggesting I should have been paying more attention when Big Beat (as part of the Ace family) were issuing compilations of garage sounds from down under, and it’s easy now to see where the links lead on to the Saints.
Chiswick would later issue a Jook memorial EP, and another group Chiswick gave a break to was the Hammersmith Gorillas, whose frontman Jesse Hector has achieved a certain apotheosis at last. The Gorillas image was mesmerising with Hector’s hair as work of art, being cropped mod on top, with exaggerated Stevie Marriott style centre parting and huge sideburns like the rockabilly guys would have. That was Hector setting out his stall, and it’s a look he’d been
face, heavy argumentative stuff. And I don’t recall a word in any of the official punk tomes. Now at least both Third World War LPs are available on CD, and Terry Stamp and Jim Avery have ‘celebrity’ champions in Steve Albini and others. Third World War may have been the real thing. They may have been method actors. But the pitch was perfect as an antidote to hippy passivity. Working class blokes in worn boots and leathers peddling belligerent blues, with pummelled power chords, and snarled slogans about class war, everyday violence, and revolution. Something between Bronco Bullfrog and the Angry Brigade. They courted outrage, but the public and the establishment just shrugged and looked the other way.
persevering with for some time, when it will have been positively dangerous to do so. Hector, rather like the guys in Jook, was someone for whom pop was all about Small Faces, Hendrix, The Who, and he was intent on keeping the flag flying stubbornly for that particular revolution when all about him was soft and flaccid. At the turn of the ‘70s Hector was ripping it up with Crushed Butler, whose brand of high octane mod noise does genuinely deserve the epithet proto-punk, with songs like Factory Grime. Crushed Butler would gradually mutate into being the Hammersmith Gorillas, and their 1974 cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me was an early warning blast of nostalgia for the punk age yet to come. It was a big seller via the Rock On outlets with its neat pic sleeve, and a link up with Chiswick seemed natural. The Gorillas would also go on to record for the Raw label, a natural home for future primitives. The name Hammersmith Gorillas itself was adapted from a song by Third World War, who were perhaps the most intentionally unpleasant of the very early ‘70s trouble makers. I remember years ago coming across their debut LP in a charity shop, buying it out of curiosity, getting it home, playing it and thinking what on earth is this? It’s pure punk rock. Really nasty, in your
I find this whole ‘teenage wasteland’ prepunk ‘70s thing fascinating, with ideas being bandied around and ignored if not exactly derided which would later become common currency. You can hardly blame a whole coterie of these characters seizing the moment come the advent of punk. Some got away with it. Some got it right. Some got it horribly wrong. Nobody got it more right than genial Joe Strummer, once of arch pub rockers the 101’ers then all of a sudden in the forefront of a new revolution with The Clash. It was perfect casting. I always thought it was cheeky Chiswick issuing the 101’ers Keys To Your Heart as a single at the outbreak of punk as they must have known it would throw people, sounding as vital and visceral as The Clash could. The connections and linkages that lead to and from the 101’ers are fascinating too, including Tymon Dogg, Richard Dudanski, Clive Timperley of The Passions, and even Martin Stone who would play with them in their final throes, thus providing a link back to mod ultras The Action, who Stone joined to add psychedelic flourishes at a time when they were evolving from soul interpretations to a more Byrds/Association aligned sound, scaring the mods with 20 minute Coltrane covers.
Stone would survive the transition to Mighty Baby, the UK’s answer to The Band/Gram Parsons whose Jug Of Love LP is so sublimely beautiful. After the demise of Mighty Baby Stone would become immersed in the London pub rock scene with variations of country rock as part of Chilli Willi (with an occasional Resident and a future Attraction) before becoming immortalised by Iain Sinclair as one of the great ‘truffle hunters’ of the book world: “He inspired fictions. He punted at mythical immortality, but let some other bugger do the work ...”.
crucial in relation to the punk approach roads.
I like the fact Sinclair was oblivious to Stone’s musical pedigree but later came up with a great sentence about how when success threatened, Martin made his excuses and left. Sinclair instead revered him for his frighteningly comprehensive knowledge of books, ability to track down treasures, and live the life of the boulevardier in Paris. Sinclair unwittingly perhaps comes up with one of the best descriptions of pub rock, which is one of elective bohemians playing swamp music for beer money.
It was, however, the spin-off soundtrack of period music used in the film that retains the most importance. The soundtrack was widely advertised on TV and probably had a wider circulation than the film itself (though that was one of the great British pop movies) and it will certainly have provided the first introduction for many ‘60s sounds at a time when you didn’t hear oldies on the radio.
The roster of Stiff Records provided further opportunities for pub rock survivors to have another crack at fame, and to varying degrees several succeeded. Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric, and of course Nick Lowe who as part of Brinsley Schwarz was very much part of the pub rock/country rock milieu. The part he played to perfection on the peripheries of punk was perfect, but it’s his connection with Dave Edmunds that is
For Edmunds played a vital part by participating in the 1974-ish David Essex film Stardust, appearing as one of the Stray Cats (Essex’s backing group in the film, which also featured Keith Moon and our local likely lad Karl Howman who would appear in another classic British film, Babylon, as well as Brush Strokes, the TV sitcom Kevin Rowland wrote the theme song for) and being responsible for the music on the soundtrack.
So many people will have heard the Zombies, Lovin’ Spoonful, Jimi Hendrix, Martha and the Vandellas, and so on, for the first time via this set. Most significantly hearing The Who doing My Generation on this double set will have turned many a teenage head, and I believe the seeds of the mod revival were sown right there, along with the occasional ‘60s soul single that seeped into the charts during the ‘70s, like Robert Knight’s Everlasting Love, Roy C’s Shotgun Wedding, James & Bobby Purify’s
I’m Your Puppet, and so on. Dave Edmunds was one of those characters who through the ‘70s kept the torch burning for rock ‘n’ roll primitivism, occasionally with considerable commercial success, which allowed him to draw up at a Rock On outlet in his flash car, walk in, and say I’ll have all the stock on the right hand of the shop. I could be making that up. It might have been the left hand side of the shop. Some of his singles were great, like Here Comes The Weekend, and dovetailed perfectly with shows like Cruising one. The same would apply to Robert Gordon, who at the height of punk had adopted this wonderful rockabilly persona which was spoton in terms of detail, and he worked with Link Wray, providing the first opportunity for many to make the Rumble man’s acquaintance. Robert Gordon’s Red Hot was a big smash at the peak of the punk explosion. His cool credentials would be sealed a handful of years later when he appeared in The Loveless with the wonderful Marin Kanter and William Dafoe. 1976 with punk looming on the horizon would find Dave Edmunds at his Rockfeld studios working with the Flamin’ Groovies, who had been fighting away in a similarly dogged fashion to keep the spirit of raw r’n’r alive. The ensuing set, Shake Some Action, saw the Groovies looking like Wilko Johnson followers, and sounding like folk rockers on a mission. There could be endless arguments about the merits of the Groovies’ mission, but who cares about time when something is as glorious as Shake Some Action. Bill Drummond’s called it one of the most uplifting 45s of all time, and he’s spot on. The funny thing is it really is an unprecedented and peerless performance which invalidates the querulous quibbles. Particularly those trying to talk up new music while doing their best to ignore the fact Mark E Smith was saying: “I still believe in the r’n’r dream. R’n’r as primal scream”. Words I suspect the Flamin’ Groovies had tattooed on their hearts. There’s a story you sometimes see quoted about when Malcolm McLaren was trying to get his dream group together, desperately
looking for a lead singer, and how one of his targets was Mike Spencer, the frontman of hard rocking r’n’b primitives the Count Bishops. It’s tempting to play with ideas about what might have been. What would the world be like now if McLaren had succeeded in capturing the services of Spencer? Would the Pistols have had any impact? Would the world ever have become aware of John Lydon? Would the music business world have indulged Malcolm’s whims when it came to making his own records? It’s tempting to come up with a script, like a punk twist on It’s A Wonderful Life. I know, understand, and appreciate the importance of characters like Malcolm McLaren and Tony Wilson. The things that they helped to shape in turn shaped me, and all that. But I do have a love/hate thing with these guys. I have always been intrigued about exactly what their relation is to music, about how important music itself is/was in their lives. In other words, what they did, could it ever have been just about the music? Or was it more to do with the thrill of the chase, the love of adventure, the ideas, the scams, the concepts, the vision, the perversity, the role playing, the messing with the media, the getting people going? There have been many things about McLaren and Wilson I have loved, and many things that have made me despair. But the one thing I admire more than anything is their selfconfidence, their self-belief, which may be a polite way of saying their arrogance and effrontery. Oh, how I envy them that. What better example than the conceit of McLaren choosing to put together a paean to the Paris of his dreams, and the way he went about creating what is actually quite a lovely work. There’s a terrific account of McLaren’s way of working on Robin Millar’s website. McLaren had enlisted the aid of Millar as a producer simply because he spoke French, rather than for his pedigree and successes with Sade, Everything But The Girl and Weekend. Millar’s account sets out McLaren’s ‘bull in a china shop’ approach, and the way he went about trying to secure the services of Jeanne Moreau, Juliette Greco, Catherine Deneuve, and Francoise Hardy.
Jeanne in Lift To The Scaffold with Miles, in Les Liaisons Dangereuses with Art Blakey, in Eva with Tony Middleton singing the theme song and Jeanne lounging listening to Billie Holiday sing Willow Weep For Me.
McLaren thought these legends needed to be involved in this project to capture the romance and mystique of Paris in the ‘50s and ‘60s. The old Europe Robert Wyatt and Alfie wrote and sang about. The Paris of, well, as McLaren puts it, the Paris “this collection of songs attempts to inscribe a map of feelings over this jazz drenched city. A city where I have been lost in a daydream, listening to Eric Satie, Art Blakey and Serge Gainsbourg. Some of their blood and smells remain.” Straight away he offended Jeanne Moreau, who sent him packing with a flea in his ear, and then he alienated Juliette Greco, who sent him scuttling with her withering views on his lyrics: ‘I have had the greatest poets in France write for me, and you are asking me to sing this!’ He did succeed in convincing Françoise to take part. And he got Catherine Deneuve involved, convincing her Moreau and Greco were taking part so she couldn’t afford to miss out. Catherine played her part perfectly on the track Paris Paris, duetting with Malcolm coquettishly. I’ve heard her sing with Serge Gainsbourg, indeed seen her sing with Serge on Dieu Fumeur De Havanes, and so you’ve got to admire the gall of Malcolm casting himself in that role. The whole Paris project works remarkably well, and perhaps is the most personal of any of Malcolm’s conceptual works. While I’m sure Malcolm was amused by his ability to provoke a strong response, it would have been great to involve Jeanne Moreau, as she maybe more than anyone captures that certain romantic, elusive something. And if Paris is about jazz, then it has to be about
I suspect that for someone of McLaren’s generation Jeanne Moreau’s performance in Truffaut’s Jules et Jim remains the epitome of French new wave cool. Her presence. Her singing of Le Tourbillon. The song written for her by Serge Rezvani or if you prefer Cyrus Bassiak. Jeanne would go on to record two sets of Rezvani compositions in the mid-‘60s (and these have been collected by the fine people at él Records). The second of these is particularly wonderful, with quite stark guitar accompaniment from Elek Bacsik. Rezvani would also contribute songs to Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou with Anna Karina and Jean Paul Belmondo. I have to confess to not knowing much about Rezvani, other than scattered facts like he was born in Iran, is a respected painter and writer, and recently had his name brought back to life by Helena Noguerra. One of the records of 2008 was Helena’s project of Rezvani interpretations, featuring contributions from Philippe Katerine, Bertrand Burgalat, and the venerable composer himself. Admittedly I’m totally biased, but Helena is one of the great figures of the moment, as a singer, writer, actress, beautifully and effortlessly switching between high art and pop. As part of the French chanson/pop renaissance she has released an idiosyncratic
body of work, often in partnership with the enigmatic Katerine. Her background is equally as fascinating. Belgian born, Portuguese parents escaping a fascist regime, multi-lingual model and TV star, part of the Ollano triste-hop project, half-sister of Lio the pop icon whose back catalogue was salvaged by Ze, with whom Helena herself has connections if you search them out. Lio is fascinating enough herself, and in many ways too good even for Malcolm McLaren to invent. Her story and Helena’s reads like the Minogues’ created by Raymond Queneau or the Paul Morley of our dreams. Along the way from being a teen pop sensation she has had Sparks write English lyrics for her, worked with Marc Moulin and Etienne Daho, been produced by John Cale and Michel Esteban, and is now a judge on a reality TV talent show, which I bet makes for better viewing than the UK equivalent. Not that I have ever watched it, you understand. Ironically Helena recorded a very nice acoustic version of Kylie’s Can’t Gey You Out Of My Head on her Nee Dans La Nature set. It’s a record well worth seeking out. As is her Azul set, where she sings in Portuguese, adding an authentic bossa flavour, though there is more of a late ‘70s feel to the sound than you might expect. Jeanne Moreau herself has interesting bossa connections. She made a fantastic record in 1965, Jeanne Chante Jeanne, for which she wrote the words, which you would swear is from a good few years later. I’ve seen it compared to early Tim Buckley, and tracks
occasionally turn up on the more esoteric bossa compilations. She would later take part in Carlos Diegues’ film Joana Francesa, for which the great Chico Buarque wrote the soundtrack. Much later she would work with Maria Bethania, performing Vinicius de Moraes’ Poema dos Olhos da Amada in a way that will just break your heart. Vinicius de Moraes is such an intriguing figure. A career diplomat and genuine poet, right there at the start of bossa, he was 45 at that start of that particular revolution, enlisting the aid of the very young Antonio Carlos Jobim to create the music for his play Black Orpheus, which featured the immortal Felicidade, Manha de Carnaval, and so on. Among the other songs he would write with Jobim are Insensatez, Girl from Ipanema, and Chega de Saudade. He would go on to work with guitarist Baden Powell, creating the amazing Os Afros Sambas, featuring a very young Quarteto Em Cy. With guitarist and composer Toquinho he would record a number of records, often collaborating with female singers. All of these trio recordings sound fantastic. One of these was with Maria Bethania. Another was with Maria Creuza. Another would be with Italian singer Ornella Vanoni, and their 1976 work is a total delight. It’s interesting. Some while ago there was a resurgence of interest in the world of Italian soundtracks from the ‘60s and into the ‘70s. Piero Piccioni, Alberto Baldan Bembo, Piero Umiliani, Bruno Nicolai and of course Ennio Morricone. Scores from films these guys must have forgotten even existed were exhumed and devoured. There seemed to be so much wonderful music to devour. Loads of reissues, compilations, blog postings. Maybe we overdosed. As if you could. The way things were so mixed up in the music was amazing. And in particular the way bossa nova permeated the sound. And I know Astrud Gilberto recorded her vocals in Italian for an LP. That was a fine tradition. Sandie Shaw, for example, did fantastic Italian interpretations of her songs in the ‘60s, which worked wonderfully. Interestingly, the great singer, writer andcomposer Chico Buarque spent some
years in Italy as a child, and he returned there when exiled by the Brazilian dictatorship in the late ‘60s. Appropriately I first heard Buarque via his 1971 Construcao LP which features a number of writing collaborations with Vinicius, who would earlier visit the family home in Italy to listen and play sambas while working as a diplomat. Buarque during his exile recorded with Ennio Morricone, making a fantastic LP. Well, actually he made it twice. Once for an Italian audience, and once for the Brazilian market.
Morricone. Ah! I have no idea how many singers were fortunate enough to have dedicated (nonsoundtrack specific) works created for them by Morricone. I suspect the number is pretty small. And certainly when it comes to vocal works Morricone is best known for his collaborations with childhood friend Allesandro Alessandroni and his Cantori Moderni, and the extraordinary powers of Edda Dell’Orso.
The amazing cinecitta beat recordings perhaps piqued an interest in the wider spectrum of Italian music from the ‘60s and into the ‘70s. The San Remo song festivals. Mina, Ornella Vanoni, Patti Pravo, Rita Pavone, Caterina Casselli, Iva Zannichi, Ana Identici, and I’m sure many more. It’s an intriguing area. If not as extensively excavated it is as rewarding as its French equivalent, and arguably stranger for its distance from North American trends and nearness to Italian folk/classical pop strains.
For me though if you mention Morricone and singers my thoughts turn immediately to the soundtrack of the 1971 film Sacco e Vanzetti, featuring a fantastic performance by Joan Baez. Well, the whole score is astonishingly beautiful, haunting and moving. I suppose that’s only appropriate, though I was just wondering how familiar the world is today with the story of Sacco & Vanzetti, and the grave miscarriage of justice that led to their execution in 1927 for robbery and murder they clearly did not commit, but being immigrant Italian labourers and avowed anarchists didn’t help their cause.
It is for example difficult to think of a UK equivalent of Milva. She is of particular interest for her working with particular themes. An Edith Piaf set. A Brecht set. A set of Italian resistance songs. A set of tangos (of particular interest at the moment having fallen in love with Tomas Eloy Martinez’s The Tango Singer, which is an amazing book, and the Milva one is an astonishing record, so …). And a set of songs scored and directed by Ennio
It is a tale very pertinent to our times. I was just trying to remember where I first came across the story. It may have been in John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy, which had such a huge impact on me when I read it. I suspect it was actually in a fanzine that featured a piece on Kurt Vonnegut and Sacco and Vanzetti. If I remember rightly the book would have been Jailbird, and the fanzine Adventures In Bereznik. I dug out the Morricone/Baez soundtrack again after seeing a mention of a book on Sacco and Vanzetti as part of Ocean Books’ excellent Rebel Lives series, which used a quote from Emma Goldman in its hard sell: “Sacco and Vanzetti died because they were anarchists … because they believed and preached human brotherhood as freedom. As such, they could expect neither justice nor humanity”. In her own memoirs Goldman writes how her “comrades organised a memorial meeting” and how “she consented to speak, though I knew no paean of their valour and nobility could raise them to greater glory in the eyes of posterity than Vanzetti’s own beautiful
song or Sacco’s last simple and heroic words.” Well, now their names live on through the music of Morricone and the singing of Joan Baez. I actually first heard the song itself, The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti, via Scott Walker’s interpretation of it on his undervalued 1972 The Moviegoer set, which was maybe the first original record of Scott’s I found following the release of Julian Cope’s compilation which came out via Zoo. I still like the way the sleeve notes billed it as the ultimate easy listening experience, and it’s got some great performances on. Best of all is Scott’s cover of Joe Hill, which I still think of every time I play a Paul Quinn recording because the vocal delivery on that is so Quinn-cey. Joe Hill is another song closely associated with Joan Baez, via her performance of it on the Woodstock soundtrack, which I never realised until recently though I give Joan credit for her choice of song given the irony of singing about a labour leader who refused to give in even when facing a death sentence to an audience of stoned hippies in a huge field. I guess there is also a tie-in here with Scott’s strong allegiance to European traditions in music, via Jacques Brel, Aznavour, Becaud, implied existentialism and so on. The record Milva made with Morricone in 1972 is equally as beautiful, and quite easily available. It features the instantly
recognisable Metti Una Sera A Cena. The following year Milva would record a set with Francis Lai, another composer known for his soundtrack work, though perhaps without generating quite the same devotion as Morricone. And yet when Lai worked with Milva his reputation was right up there, following the success of his Love Story score and the lead song Where Do I Begin? Permeating the Milva/Lai record also is the theme from the soundtrack of A Man And A Woman, which is another of those instantly recognisable works we may not know we know. That soundtrack, Lai’s first success, in collaboration with Pierre Barouh, also included another song we may not know we know, which is Samba Da Bencao as composed by Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell, with French lyrics sung by Pierre Barouh as Samba Saravah. Barouh would go on to start an important record label named Saravah, and direct a documentary in 1969 of the same name about music in Brazil which featured some astonishing performances from Maria Bethania in a club setting. I find as the years go by that I am increasingly mesmerised by Bethania’s voice, particularly on some of her early ‘70s records. In some ways, her voice, it seems so strident, almost as striking as Catherine Ribeiro in full cry, working not exactly in a North American soulful way then certainly reminiscent of the way that the Italian (pop) performers like Mina and Milva soar and swoop like birds of prey in their dramatic delivery. Then again at times she makes me think of Miriam Makeba. And it’s quite hard to reconcile this with the subversive sweetness of the way her brother (Caetano Veloso) sings, which is a style far closer to the intimacy, perhaps the vulnerability, we may associate with Brazilian music. A style perhaps typified by Maria Creuza on the recordings she made with Vinicius and Toquinho. I have to confess I know very little about Maria Creuza, but part of the beauty of finding out music is realising how much we don’t know. And discovering how some of the so-called minor characters have made moments that can change your world, even if
they have not left behind a substantial body of work. And isn’t it absurd how still so often the significance of an artist is measured by bulk? Yet we know the Fire Engines are more significant than Neil Young, that Patrice Holloway matters more than Bob Marley. Of all the trio records that Vinicius and Toquinho made the best was with Marilia Medalha. Again, I have to put on the hair shirt and confess to knowing very little about Marilia, apart from the fact that just about everything I have heard by her is quite exceptional. From what I can work out she made half a dozen or so LPs, from around 1967 onwards, and is still active, out there on MySpace, has a number of recent performances posted on YouTube, and still has a remarkable voice. That voice. It’s absurd. As in absurdly wonderful. Deep. I don’t know. There are times it makes me think of Nico. A warmer, more fiery Nico. A young Nico. I was just watching a fantastic promo film of her singing I’m Not Saying. I was thinking more of These Days though. “Please don’t confront me with my failures. I have not forgotten them.” The times I used to play that track. I keep hearing Glen Campbell singing that now. There’s something about Marilia’s voice that makes me think of Chet Baker too. That’s meant as a compliment. A big one. And anyway Chet’s singing was a huge influence on the early days of the bossa nova revolution. Anyway. Marilia. I’m not even sure there are any of her records readily available in the real world. But use your initiative. Take a fishing trip, then write petitions to the likes of el Records asking them what on earth they are playing at. There’s a record Marilia made with Vinicius in I think 1972. You need to hear this as it’s simply beautiful. Words by Vinicius. Music by Marilia. Fantastic cover. From around the same time there’s the Caminhada LP. That’s just beautiful too. Arrangements by the great Rosinha de Valenca. Take my word for it. Track down anything with Marilia’s name on it. Particular the 1968 self-titled LP, with arrangements by tropicalia alchemist Rogerio Duprat. Songwriting credits include Joyce, Tom Ze (Sao Paulo Meu Amor is gorgeous), Caetano
Veloso, and Edu Lobo. She duets with Edu on Memorias de Marta Sate, and if you search YouTube you will find a number of clips of Marilia and Edu singing together, including prize-winning festival performances from 1967 and 1968. There is also a later clip of them singing Porta Estandates with a large Tuca image in the background. I was just thinking about Chet Baker, and a record he made with Bud Shank, Laurindo Almeida, Joao Donato, Joe Pass and Clare Fischer in 1966 called Brazil! Brazil! Brazil! which is brilliant. But with a line-up like that it’s hardly going to be anything but brilliant. In the link-up between the musics of north and south America characters like Shank and Fischer are what holds the whole thing together, with influences and ideas flying around. It’s astonishing how the music of Brazil and bossa nova particularly revivified areas of the US jazz scene in the early ‘60s. There are I’m sure literally scores of records that came out in the US that were permeated by the bossa influence which have had repercussions of their own. Fischer for example was closely involved with the Hi-Los whose intricate vocal and musical arrangements were huge influences on the Beach Boys, Herbie Hancock, and the Mamas and Papas. I would eagerly encourage everyone to track down a copy of the Hi-Los Happen To Bossa Nova, which was one of the earlier US interpretations of bossa and which I’m sure in turn influenced others like MPB-4 and Quarteto Em Cy. It’s gorgeous.
necessarily in the way people would have you believe. I have always maintained an early interest in Brazilian music was piqued by the whole Pale Fountains/Weekend thing that was taking off in 1982, and which also took in Everything But The Girl, Vic Godard, Carmel, Jazzateers, French Impressionists, and which I have called the only possible revolution after punk/new pop. An oft overlooked strand of this was A Certain Ratio and the Manchester/Factory connection, and it could certainly be argued that the latin/Brazilian flavours present on Sextet played an important part in suggesting possibilities.
Around the mid-‘80s Chet Baker found himself in Brazil at the same time as Lizzy Mercier Descloux, and it was only natural they should work together on her One For The Soul set. Two lost souls. Two doomed romantics. One For The Soul is a lovely record, and naturally features a version of Lizzy singing Chet’s signature tune, My Funny Valentine. It just had to be done. Produced again by Lizzy’s compadre Adam Kidron, who is in many ways to the ‘80s what say Clare Fischer is to the ‘60s providing the special something that binds together recordings by Red Crayola, Essential Logic, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Raincoats, Delta 5, Scritti Politti, David Thomas/Pere Ubu, Zounds, Panther Burns, Helen and the Horns, Cabaret Voltaire, and Rip Rig & Panic. Although One For The Soul features Brazilian musicians like the great jazz accordionist Sivuca somehow Lizzy’s great work doesn’t sound specifically Brazilian, with even Sivuca’s presence suggesting something about Paris. I couldn’t claim therefore that One For The Soul provided some great epiphany converting me to Brazilian music. I never even heard it at the time. I never even knew it existed. It fell into that black hole where a number of latter day Ze related things disappeared, such as Coati Mundi’s fantastic Former Twelve Year Old Genius set which featured a very special version of Captain Beefheart’s Tropical Hot Dog Night. Life by then had moved on, but not
Actually it’s often overlooked that Carmel as a group also has roots in Manchester, and in the group Bee Vamp whose name came from an old jazz tune and whose sound was as mixed-up as the times allowed. Carmel as a singer. Wow. I can still remember the first time I heard her sing Storm. And every time I hear Duffy or see a photo of her at some awards soiree I want to scream about Carmel and how great her recordings were. Just go and listen to what Mike Thorne did with her. It’s a logical extension of what he did with Wire. And Carmel’s Mercy was produced by Eno. Duffy’s Mercy was produced by the guitarist from Suede. I rest my case. Tony Wilson would often affect a pose of sneeringly dismissing jazz music as a whole. This may have been genuine. It doesn’t really matter. One of the more appealing aspects of his perversity was his loyalty to the label’s underdogs. Factory affording a freedom other outlets certainly would not have allowed to groups like Stockholm
Monsters (hey, check out the Soft Babies and The Longing clips on YouTube! Factory’s relatively early interest in videos thankfully provides us with some valuably accurate snapshots of the early 1980s which don’t get covered in the history books), The Wake, Section 25, and certainly Kalima. So if Wilson was so dismissive of jazz I wonder what his position was on the Jazz Defektors. Well, I guess the fact (pun intended!) that it took the JDs a few years to get an LP issued says something. As does the fact that it only got completed thanks to the patronage of Paul Weller. The JDs were an outfit that evolved from a jazz dance crew that were part of the scene in Manchester where people like Colin Curtis (a genuine DJ legend covering a wide range of musical styles in his time from northern and modern soul and fusion to electro to be-bop to house). Quite rightly the JDs claimed to be punk in approach, with enthusiasm and attitude conquering over musical experience. Their late-‘80s Factory outing is a lovely LP, all the better for having a bit more edge than say Working Week, though that’s a little unfair if you’re thinking of the original Working Week version of Venceremos with Tracey Thorn, Claudia Figueroa and Robert Wyatt which remains exquisite and inspiring. The Jazz Defektors can still be seen on one of the Factory Ikon videos (Shorts – well, I still have mine!) and dancing behind Sade in Absolute Beginners. They can also be heard adding wonderful backing vocals on Kalima’s cover of The Smiling Hour. And there you go again. Wilson as a man adverse to jazz sticks doggedly with it as the Swamp Children evolve into Kalima. And thank goodness he did. There are so many shadows and suggestions of A Certain Ratio haunting the works of Swamp Children/Kalima that it’s worth a book all for itself. The Swamp Children have an eternal mystique/appeal for being so early on that picking up on the possibilities of jazz as an extension of a punk education. And coming from a punk background there was a sense of wanting it all and wanting it now in terms of giving jazz a go, rather than
spending years and years serving an apprenticeship, learning your trade, working your way up. Brash and rash, sure, but it drives me mad still when people attach the faux epithet to what these guys were doing, or at least wanting to do. Essentially Swamp Children and then Kalima were Factory insiders Ann Quigley on vocals and brother Tony on sax/bass, with a pool of friends and comrades helping them explore a jazz/latin/funk direction. At various times these friends and comrades included nearly all of A Certain Ratio, and Simon Topping was involved with production on the early singles. I still belong to a school of cool where it is decreed that any involvement of Simon Topping is enough to stimulate interest, where careful study is made of the finer details of Topping’s haircuts, and the meanings of his gradual withdrawal from the public gaze, from behind the mic to behind the marimbas to disappearing all together, are discussed in detail. I still argue that A Certain Ratio’s Sextet is without exception the record that makes Factory important, and that as a record it strikes the perfect balance, sums up the perfect point where punk would be left behind and so many new vistas would open
up, from jazz to salsa to samba to funk. And the Swamp Children were part of that opening up, and if there was a certain lack of technical expertise and experience then what the heck! There were enough ideas and enthusiasm to make it all work. Somewhere along the way Swamp Children became Kalima, and put out the Smiling Hour single in 1984, complete with a fantastic video which appeared (I think) on the Factory Shorts VHS. More recently it has appeared on the LTM Umbrellas In The Sun DVD, and 25 years on provides a perfect snapshot of city life. Nice story line, too. Ann Quigley as office worker, packing up, heading home, buying some fruit at the market, drops something from her carrier, and handsome guy picks it up, and they smile, oh you know. Cut to the night time, Ann heads for a basement bar, where aha the handsome guy is working, and various ACR types are hanging out like it’s a ‘50s jazz club in Paris, and eyes meet and smiles take over. Aww. Fantastic song, too. The Jazz Defektors’ backing vocals making it really work. It would be many years later that I would hear Sarah Vaughan sing the same song, on one of the sets in her Brazilian trilogy. Sarah would have been I guess around 56 when
she recorded that song. She had covered a lot of ground, had her ups and her downs. Coming back in from the wilderness at the start of the ‘70s she had recorded a series of great LPs with Bob Shad/Mainstream Records, then lost her way again. Her first Brazilian set, recorded at the height of punk in 1977, was a real return to form. And it’s fascinating how many of the great singers made fantastic Brazilian related sets. Sinatra’s set with Jobim spring to mind, of course. Sarah’s second Brazilian outing was in 1979, and it was on this record she covered Ivan Lins’ The Smiling Hour. Full marks then to Kalima for picking up on this. The last complete record Sarah made was 1987’s beautiful Brazilian Romance, with Milton Nascimento and Sergio Mendes. I am a huge fan of Milton Nascimento’s work, and in particular the records he made in the ‘70s, Clube da Esquina with Lo Borges, Milagre Dos Peixas and so on. Amazing music which it is impossible to stick a label on, thank goodness. And among the songs of his people will know without knowing they know is Nothing Will Be As It Was Tomorrow. Sarah Vaughan does a lovely performance of this on Brazilian Romance. Mark Murphy does a great rendition too on his 1984 Brazil Romance set.
Ah Mark Murphy. Word association. Thought association. The jazz dance scene comes immediately to mind. The scene that in Manchester via Colin Curtis and (the Hacienda’s) Hewan Clarke would nurture ACR/Kalima. The scene that in London would lead to Acid Jazz and Talkin’ Loud, though a lot happened before that. The most significant thing though was Radio London giving Gilles Peterson a weekly show, Mad On Jazz, in the mid-‘80s as part of a late weekday evening ‘youth orientated’ schedule. For those on the outside of the jazz dance club scene this was the first opportunity really to hear some of the more funky floorfillers. I remember reading in a mod fanzine about another London DJ Paul Murphy, who is often credited as being the catalyst for the London jazz dance scene, playing upstairs at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, and giving Gilles Peterson his first DJ’ing break. Anyway, it was Gilles who was the one who was good at self-promotion, and he did a lot of good, getting his foot in the door at the BBC. I can remember first hearing him play Mark Murphy’s Stolen Moments, and thinking wow! Being young and stupid I had the sense that all the good jazz had been made in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a head full of Jack Kerouac and Colin MacInnes. I had no idea Mark had only recorded his interpretation of Stolen Moments a handful of years before. I had no idea the original was by Oliver Nelson, and that when I would eventually hear The Blues And The Abstract Truth I would similarly think wow! The Colin MacInnes and the Absolute Beginners thing is crucial here. Via Weller, the mod thing, the Richard Barnes book on Mods!, and so on, a curiosity about jazz, a fascination with all the mystique and mythology, had been piqued. It was seemingly the epitome of cool, and it’s no wonder many of the mod persuasion spent the 1980s working their way back to the source sounds, so that the jazz dance by the mid-‘80s became a strange cultural melting pot with the mods thirsting for knowledge mixing it up with those from a more straightforward soul boy/jazz funk casual background and those who had graduated
from the post-punk thing via A Certain Ratio and The Pop Group and their offshoots. There wasn’t a lot of jazz around to buy either. Not in the mid-‘80s. So you kind of stuck with the radio, following Gilles then Patrick Forge wherever they roamed. Making notes, tapes, of things to follow up. Rather like now there’s a show on Rinse FM called Mixed Nuts, presented by Alexander Nut and occasionally others like Mr Beatnick, which covers a lot more ground than the station’s usual dubstep/house agenda would suggest. Going out weekly each Saturday lunchtime, funnily in the same slot Gilles had on Jazz FM where I remember him playing Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy and the Young Disciples’ Apparently Nothin’ for the first time in the same show and then pretty much straight away getting the sack for playing anti-war songs as things were getting nasty in the Gulf. Hearing new names and sounds, Bullion, Muhsinah, Ahu, Shuanise (below), Floating Points, and so on on Mixed Nuts has made me more excited about musical developments which you can’t quite put your finger on than I have been for some time, and at least now there is a slight chance that if I forget to listen then there will be the show posted on the Rinse FM blog to play or download, and how much simpler life could have been if such technology existed when I was younger and was out watching some group rather than listening to Gilles Peterson playing some jazz permutations.
And Mark Murphy got played a lot back then, fitting right in, fitting the bill perfectly. I’m not sure how much Mark Murphy means to people. He means a hell of a lot to me. He must still mean a lot to Gilles as he pretty recently put together a wonderful mix/podcast of Mark’s music which would serve as a perfect introduction to his recordings and indeed features several songs I don’t even know, and anyway according to Amazon there are an awful lot of Mark Murphy recordings that are not officially available, though it will come as no surprise he is a huge favourite with the conscientious jazz community out there in the blogosphere should you feel the urge to go fishing. So Gilles played Stolen Moments a lot. And the name stuck in my mind. Then I saw the cover of the mid-‘60s set, Who Can I Turn To? in a book. Wow! Mark Murphy in cool, stark black and white on Immediate! I wanted that. Oh how I wanted that. Yet it would have cost a small fortune assuming I could even find a copy. But it would not be reissued for years. Instead the first record of Mark’s that would be available widely on CD was Rah! A record that an old comrade of mine, Dr Marino Guida would write these beautiful words about: “Murphy is the man who wears shades with such conviction you feel embarrassed to attempt to emulate him. The same kind of intensity worn so well by Miles on the Birth of the Cool cover. The sleeve of Rah from 1961 pictures him as a college hipster, with an economics book on his knee and a sign with
the slogan 'RAH' emblazoned in sharply etched black letters in hand. He looks at you, you feel confronted. Cool Mark with a rage in his message, but if you don't look properly you'll miss it. Seductively easeful, impeccably stylish, but he doesn't have to labour the point. The kind of combination which makes the record itself such an unalloyed delight'Angel Eyes' may be an old standard but the way he breathes life into the words, "Idiot Wind" is scattered into the distance and revealed as bad sixth-form confessional by comparison. He chooses to end the song on an unearthly note of disaffected alienation, in keeping with the line "excuse me while I disappear". Yet his delivery of the syllable "dis", almost a scream, almost a hysterical plea, breaks every barrier of polite etiquette you might associate with 60's jazz vocals. Excoriating rather than the excruciating martyrdom of preacher Bob hanging out his wet blanket to dry.” What a writer! If a little too hard on Bob. Yet you just know you need to hear a record when you read words like that. Rah! would also be the record where I first heard of Tommy Wolf and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. It also featured a terrific interpretation of My Favourite Things (and didn’t the Mo-Dettes cover that live?) where he goes into a well I suppose I should call it a rap, though maybe it was more Lord Buckley than Lord Finesse, about his favourite things. It’s a trick he would later repeat on his version of This Train from Who Can I Turn To? Here Mark slips effortlessly into a rap about how on his train there would be no Mersey Sound or Motown, only pros and swingers, going on to namecheck Stan Getz, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and others. Who Can I Turn To? was eventually reissued at the end of the ‘90s as part of Sequel’s Immediate salvage operation. It’s a great record, though maybe too pop for some hoping for an out and out jazz excursion fully exploring the possibilities presented by the presence of top British jazz players like Kenny Baker and Tony Coe. On this outing Murphy mostly plays it straight, sounding closer to Matt Monro or Jack Jones, which is fine in my book, and it’s
easy to discern how he would have been a big influence on Scott Walker. The original sleeve notes even make Mark sound like a real Scott Walker figure. I can remember hearing a story how, and this would have been around 1984, a friend was hanging out with Simon Booth who had this bottle of rare Scotch malt which he’d been encouraged to open and share round, but Simon kept refusing a glass on account of being too excited about going to see Mark Murphy play live that night. Simon was such a central figure in that whole drift after punk into new musical territories that were anything but rock ‘n’ roll, but particularly jazz, bossa nova, latin, soundtracks, easy listening, via his work with Weekend, on Everything But The Girl’s Eden project, on Vic Godard’s T.R.O.U.B.L.E (though the gorgeous Nice On The Ice was produced by Robin Millar whose pioneering work on the new naturalism at the time was so vital), and then Working Week and of particular note the original version of Victor Jara’s Venceremos (which was on Virgin via Paul Murphy’s Paladin imprint). Simon’s brother Paul was covering similar ground as part of Manchester’s Dislocation Dance and their Midnight Shift LP is one of the treasures buried in Rough Trade’s back catalogue though they had their trumpet player purloined by the Pale Fountains. Having said all that it has long been my intention that the forgotten part of the move beyond punk towards easy listening or an inventive middle of the road sound is Poly Styrene’s 1980 solo set Translucence, which is quite beautiful in its simplicity and filled with gentle bossa nova flavoured pop and quite wonderful words. It’s a record that’s all the more significant for being in stark contrast to the sometimes quite depressingly heavy sound of X Ray Spex, though even with their work there were exceptions, like Germ Free Adolescence. And even now I don’t know how much strategic planning there was behind the solo Poly. It rarely gets mentioned, which is why I keep on, and I think has only had the most shameful and shoddiest of reissues. So I don’t know how much the presence of G.T. Moore helped to shape the sound. G.T. Moore & his Reggae Guitars were, having evolved from the very
great folk/pop ensemble Heron, part of the London pub rock scene, perhaps helping to show it wasn’t all boozy r’n’b and country rock. Actually there were all sorts involved, in playing the pub rock circuit such as the more funk/soul orientated like Kokomo, Carol Grimes and Gonzalez, and lots of jazz players who would resurface many times in different ways, including working with groups like Weekend and Working Week. Anyway, there we were with Simon Booth beside himself with excitement about going to see Mark Murphy perform live sometime around 1984. Quite right too. That would have been around the time Mark released Living Room, which for today at least is just about my favourite Mark Murphy set. And there is a part of me that wishes I’d been hip enough to pick it up on its release but why beat myself up? I was probably too busy hanging out in an altogether different Living Room, dancing to the Jasmine Minks, June Brides, The Loft, The Jesus and Mary Chain. It took me more than 20 years to catch up with Mark’s Living Room, but what does that matter? You find things when it’s the right time to find things. There’s reasons for these things. In 1984 I was a snotty young punk who wanted to kick over the statues. In 2009 … well, don’t even go there. But now I’ve heard something like 20 Mark Murphy LPs, and not heard one I don’t like. I bet there’s probably another 20 to hear. Great. I love learning new things. I’ve just caught up with Abbey Lincoln’s original version of Living Room, which she wrote for her totally brilliant 1973 People In Me set.
Abbey is still out there fighting her corner, of course, doing her thing. In the same way, for me the revelation with Mark Murphy when I eventually caught up with a lot of his works was how some singers can improve with age, like that bottle of rare malt whisky, which would have been hard to understand for my teenage punk self, simmering with intolerance, restless and wanting it all now. And in stark contrast, in 1984, someone like Mark Murphy had been working away already for 30 years, refining his craft, staying true to what he believed, not really caring about what was popular and what was hot and what was not, yet finding people around the world who cared about what he was doing. What Mark was doing was singing jazz. Simple as that. Yet he really had turned it into an art form. Making it sound mellifluous. Making it seem easy. Taking an old song. Maybe playing it straight. Maybe taking it apart and twisting it inside out, going off at tangents, improvising, scatting, sermonising. Taking chances. Finding new songs. Making them his own. The jazz singers’ jazz singer. The hipsters’ hipster. Still believing in that old be-bop. Quoting Kerouac. Reciting that passage from is it On The Road where Ti Jean says god is Pooh Bear before slipping into an exquisite version of Tommy Wolf’s Ballad of the Sad Young Men. And in a strange twist of fate I heard Davy Graham sing that song today, and it made me cry. I’m not just saying that. And it’s not just that we lost Davy recently. It’s just such a stark, haunting performance. The jazz dance scene. There’s a fascinating web resource put together by Seymour Nurse that tells the story from the London perspective, his brother Gary and the IDJ (the capital’s equivalent of the Jazz Defektors), the clubs, the DJs, the sounds, and his personal quest to find his holy grail which was the true story behind the track The Bottom End. All of this was well before the mod resurgents hooked up with the scene. Nevertheless Mark Murphy would capture these times perfectly on his track Dingwalls, from the 1990-ish What A Way To Go set. It’s a paean to the jazz dance scene, delivered as a breakneck speed rap, where Mark rattles through a tale of coming to London in the ‘80s, being amazed to find young kids listening to jazz, dancing to jazz
in small clubs, upstairs at the Electric Ballroom, Sunday afternoon at Dingwalls in Camden Lock, and his rap just catches something about London, even leaving aside all the music references and ego massaging for Gilles and whew it’s no wonder he played that song to death on his radio shows because let’s face it who wouldn’t? Murphy’s ability to spin a tale, and put it to music, is something else. I think the only thing I’ve heard to match Dingwalls is Earl Zinger’s Saturday Morning Rush, which is the story of Earl haring around London, from Hackney to the west end one weekend early trying to track down the latest elusive 12” by the hip hop producer Skitz from 23 Skidoo’s Ronin stable. Again it captures something about London life and its times (early 2000s) and I guess the Dingwalls tie-in is no coincidence as Earl Zinger was the alter ego of Rob Gallagher, once of Galliano and very much part of the Dingwalls/Talkin’ Loud scene. Oh the story telling or poetry thing is so undervalued and underused in music, which would go some way towards explaining why Ursula Rucker is so undervalued nowadays. And I’ve just realised that I would have first heard Ursula via her work with 4Hero and the revolutionary and revelationary records they made for Talkin’ Loud. One track that appears on Gilles’ Mark Murphy mix is Why Don’t You Do Right, which was a track I first heard on one of the fantastic Jazzman collections that seemed to be appearing annually for a while, starting with the Whatiswrongwithgroovin’ set in 2001, then Soulfreedom in 2002, Thatswhatfriendsarefor in 2004, Hunkofheaven in 2005, Powwow in 2006. Quite beautiful artefacts. Why Don’t You Do Right was on the third on the series, along with France Gall’s Zozoi and Byrdie Green’s Return of the Prodigal Son, and life doesn’t get much better than that. Volume One was a revelation when I first came across it, billing itself as “a compilation of collectable and hard-to-find jazzman sevens featuring the rarest scorching latin, oddball library gear, Canadian deep funk, heavyweight dancefloor jazz, forklift truck adverts and so much more …”. It featured the Dee Felice Trio’s Nightingale, Freddie
Cole’s Brother Where Are You, you know the sort of thing you might hear Gilles Peterson play and think grrr where’d he get that? Carleen and the Groovers were on there too doing Right On, and around the same time they appeared on The Funky 16 Corners rare funk 7”s compilation on Stones Throw, which was compiled by Egon who was one of those characters like Jazzman’s Gerald Short, like Dante Carfagna, DJ Shadow etc who were working back from hip hop and excavating and researching the whole area of funk 45s which appeared in small runs on local labels all over the states as the ‘60s became the ‘70s. These guys did a lot of important work. The highlight of volume one for me was the title track courtesy of Letta Mbulu, though it would be a few more years when I would be able to join the dots properly and learn more about Letta via an absolutely essential 2-on1 CD reissue via Stateside of the two LPs she made with David Azelrod in 1967/8. This was part of a salvage operation capitalising on the interest in Axelrod’s works that was itself piqued by his association with Mo’Wax. These Letta Mbulu recordings rapidly became some of my favourite things, and it was fascinating to trace her story from South Africa, how having escaped apartheid she arrived in the US in 1965, began working with other South African exiles like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, made that 45 Jazzman picked up on, came to the attention of Cannonball Adderley and his manager John Levy who passed on a tape of Letta
singing to David Axelrod at Capitol who immediately fell in love with it. This led to Axelrod overseeing the two LPs, Letta Mbulu Sings and (what has to be just about my favourite LP title) Free Soul. These are extraordinarily infectious recordings, mainly featuring songs Letta wrote with her husband Caiphus Semenya, with Letta’s extraordinarily powerful and sensationally soulful vocals, and wonderful mixed up sounds that take African township roots and twist them into a whole new r’n’b direction that sounds like boogaloo or voodoo soul, which is fitting really when you think of how latin American music had a lasting impact on a lot of African music. To a certain extent, these amazing Axelrod collaborations were trumped by 1970’s Letta LP where she worked with a pool of top jazz players like Hugh Masakela, Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder and Joe Sample, but that record seems to be still frustratingly unavailable. Of course if you fish around … I actually came to realise that What Is Wrong With Grooving was not the first time I heard Letta sing. It would in fact have been on the soundtrack of Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of An American Family. Both Letta and Caiphus Semenya contributed to Quincy Jones’ soundtrack for what was a major talking point and cultural phenomenon in its day (the height of punk funnily enough), when what was on TV really could have an impact and the subject of black slavery was put very much on the agenda. This was just one of many significant soundtracks Quincy Jones worked on in the ‘60s and ‘70s though I don’t think he’s received enough credit for what he achieved artistically in the way say John Barry or Ennio Morricone have. Jones is a fascinating figure full stop, particularly for the way he overcame racial barriers to become a top player in the industry, working with all sorts of performers from vocal jazz pioneers Les Double Six in Paris in the late ‘50s to Peggy Lee on the exquisite 1962 If You Go set to Michael Jackson’s world changing Off The Wall and beyond.
works in its original context. The area where soundtracks and shall we say the more progressive elements in rock mix is quite fascinating, and I can understand people getting het up about Goblin’s soundtracks for Italian Giallo films, for example. And I can see how new mischief/beat makers like Paul White are attracted to this area. It all fits together, as they say. And of course there’s Can and their own Soundtracks collection.
But it’s his soundtrack work that fascinates me the most. He seems to have nailed down the defining moods of various times. Moody jazz noir scores, swinging sophistication, funky wah-wah workouts. Some the world knows. Some that seem to have disappeared into oblivion. Something like The Italian Job is so well known that you almost become deaf and blind to how great it is as a popular work of art. Michael Caine and Noel Coward. And Matt Monro’s performance of On Days Like These, the title track written by Quincy Jones and Don Black, which still makes me shiver inside no matter how many times I hear it. Then Sidney Poitier and In The Heat of the Night and its follow up They Call Me Mister Tibbs! which set the scene for all the blaxploitation scores we played to death some years ago. Then there’s Mirage. In Cold Blood. For The Love of Ivy. The Lost Man. The Getaway. The Hot Rock. And several others I’ve not had the chance to hear. The blogosphere is rife with soundtrack aficionados digging out scores from all around the world to share with us, and you can end up in some strange and worryingly wonderful places, like Manfred Mann and Sandy Denny on the soundtrack of Swedish Fly Girls from 1970 which I’m sure is an intellectually stimulating film and all that, and of course people who study popular culture would only ever watch it to understand better how the excellent music
Can’s ‘unofficial’ second LP, as Julian Cope put it, was a collection of film theme works the group had been involved with, and there are some fantastic things on it, just as there were so many fantastic passages in Julian’s Krautrocksampler, and it had such an impact, on me at least, when it first appeared mid‘90s, having me chuckling away at JC’s enthusiasm (yet again) and scuttling off to spend too much money on CD reissues of Kosmiche Musik and occasionally realising Copey was spot-on. Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation, Cluster’s Zuckerzeit, La Dusseldorf, and all the Can stuff. I remember getting 1969 Delay and thinking yup see what the guy means about the Martin Bramah guitar thing going on, but what about that Uphill track? That’s surely the Mondays’ 24 Hour Party People? Got to be! Can’t be coincidence. And yet the media would have us believe they didn’t know whether they were going or coming. Yeah, right, who’s zooming who? Anyway, we know don’t we? We were like the Master and Margarita. We were there. We saw the anything but hapless Mondays a handful of times in ’86 and ’87, occasionally with a handful of people like at Bay 63 when they might have been on the bill with Bid and the Young Gods or that might have been the Submarines who I bet no one remembers but I still love that song about I Saw The Children. Then in March ’87 when they were playing at the Black Horse in Camden and this guy was coaxed by Shaun to come up with his sheet of foolscap and before you know it he’s rapping to Little Matchstick Owen. I have no idea who he was or what happened to him and whether he made a habit of this, but if I’d been anyone connected to Factory I would have stuck him in taxi or radio car there and then and whisked him off to a studio to capture that
flow once and for all. And the Squirrel and G-Men LP was only just out then, and Cale captured something on that didn’t he? Then in May the Mondays were back at the Black Horse, and the 12” of Party People was out, and the audience was backing off but we were dancing down the front, and Shaun was handing out cans of Stella or whatever, and it would have been rude to refuse even though I didn’t even drink. Oh the Mondays weren’t dumb, and I can forgive Wilson just about anything for getting it right about them. But there was such a gap, or jagged time lapse, between Party People and the next LP, 15 months or so, and that was such a disappointment that I called it Gummed because that’s what I think Hannett did to the sound. It was all gummed up, but then I think he did that to Pauline Murray too, and actually I don’t really buy into that whole myth where he is concerned. I wish Barney had produced the second LP, or someone totally away from the Factory floor. But there were a lot of duff productions around that time that looked good on paper. I mean, I think Mayo Thompson is one of the greatest people in the history of pop, but his dalliances with Primal Scream didn’t work out did they? Anyway, where Can was concerned I took Julian Cope literally and only went as far as Ege Bamyasi, which I absolutely loved. I should have known better. I fell into the same trap with Love and people who said they were finished after Forever Changes, and there’s loads of other examples. So, it would be many years later I caught up with Future Days, and of course it’s brilliant, and then the penny dropped about Moonshake. I really hadn’t twigged that one of my favourite pop people Callahan had taken the name of his group from that song. And I’d been a huge fan of Moonshake and the way they mixed up loads of different elements, but kept this undercurrent of disgust through it all just to spoil the party and stop things becoming too comfortable. Moonshake evolved out of the Wolfhounds, who were one of those outfits around in the mid-to-late ‘80s working in the beat noise, roots and beyond, sphere, and using words, guitars and drums to come up with something new and vital. At least the
Wolfhounds’ music has taken on a new lease of life thanks to their presence on the soundtrack of Tomorrow Attacking where a couple of their tracks rattle away alongside Tackhead, Maceo & the Macks, Bhundu Boys, Colour Box, Makin’ Time, Men They Couldn’t Hang, Cameo, Kinks, Maxine Brown, Eric B & Rakim, Go-Betweens, T-Coy, Dinosaur Jr and others in what could well be a modern day equivalent of what Stardust was to my preteens. Tomorrow Attacking seems to be one of those out of leftfield shock box office hits, but it’s struck a chord somehow. It works too as an adaptation of the unexpected bestseller, a cautionary tale of the dangers of lumping things together and sticking labels on things, the stupidity of tarring things with the same brush, and what happens when mud sticks. It’s one of those pulp pop sociopolitical neo-realist or brutalist romps that sort of followed the surprise success of John Carney’s allegorical short story series The Outside of Everything which used music as a metaphor for ‘80s everyday life. You know the dichotomy of dole culture versus style culture, the dialectics of where the dividing line lies between ducking and diving on one side and the enterprise culture on the other, and what happens when parallel lines get blurred. Of course the film itself in some ways is just
a modern day Quadrophenia or American Graffiti, but it at least seems to get its period detail right. There’s a great scene, for example, where the (anti) hero goes down to collect his mail, and there’s an A4 buff envelope with a Manchester postmark, and we see the envelope contains a copy of the fanzine Debris with one of those Everything But The Girl style bombsite shots on the cover, and our boy sits at the breakfast table reading it while eating peanut butter on toast. And I’m sitting in the cinema, nudging the missus and saying hey, I still have my copy of that. Neat! Debris was the work of Manchester DJ/writer Dave Haslam, and he was ahead of the pack in many ways in the music he covered, and the non-music things he included in his publication, but he was more together and more organised than most kids messing about with fanzines. The issue in question I think would have come out late summer 1986, and it’s worth mentioning a couple of the things it features like a piece on Manchester group Twang (below), who describe their sound as "pervy disco rhythms" and argue that "if you strip down a Fats Comet song to its basic components and then compress it all into two minutes, it would sound like us". Interesting how much experience there was in Fats Comet/Tackhead/Maffia via Le Blanc, Wimbish, McDonald, Sherwood, while in 1986 Twang were stumbling towards having the ability to translate ideas into sounds while at the same broadening their own horizons,
being still at the Pop Group rather than the Mark Stewart & the Maffia stage in their development, but still sounding great. The question of experience also permeated another interview in that issue where Kalima were explaining the context to their Factory release, Night Time Shadows, and singer Ann Quigley is explaining about learning to use her voice as an instrument. She also gives a fascinating insight into her own background, moving through her Pop Group and Slits thing, and how when she finally got interested in singing it was Flora Purim and Airto on to Mark Murphy, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Betty Carter. Now those names are a major part of my life now, but I would be surprised if I really knew anything much about their work in 1986. But then Ann goes on to explain how she and her brother Tony were brought up by their mum on a diet of Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, and how that environment more than anything influenced her. There’s another edition of Debris from a year or two later I kept for some reason which has a nice tribute to Raymond Williams (and you can see paperback editions of a couple of his books in the film, Keywords and the prophetic Volunteers) and an interview with the Cookie Crew in. The Cookies are a huge favourite still round these parts, and their Fade To Black LP still sounds great and has one of the great London sleeves ever. Anyway, the Cookies are talking about how great Eric B & Rakim are; how they’re cool, calm and collected compared to Run DMC or
neat. This was way, way before you could pick up Meters reissues for next-to-nothing.
Public Enemy; and suddenly I’m back in the day listening to Paid In Full over and over again, and I Know You Got Soul is blaring out of all the pirate stations, along with rare groove sounds like Bobby Byrd, Charles Wright, and whatever, all the house imports, and of course the soft soul selections, the late night between-the-sheets quiet storm sounds immortalised in the Jasmine Minks’ Ballad. There’s another great scene in Tomorrow Attacking where our oh-so-human hero is arguing with his girlfriend about a night out. She wants to go to a ‘60s soul all-nighter at the 100 Club while he is insisting they go to see the Jasmine Minks and Laugh at The Black Horse in Camden. She’s yelling at him about how many times she’s given in and gone with him to gigs, and he’s sulking and brooding like a spoiled brat. Again I’m nudging the missus, and saying hey, I was there, I’ve still got a tape of that gig, and she hisses to tell me to shut up. It was a great night, though. Two of the best groups on top of their game. Laugh singing about pouring their heart out. I still love those groups. And Laugh looked so good. They were another group working their way towards utilising the electro/soul/house music they listened to into their own music, and they managed it too. But before that I remember when Laugh had a session on the John Peel radio show, and I stayed in for a change to hear it, and I remember him playing a Meters song which they’d requested, and I thought that was pretty
Laugh appeared on a charity VHS compilation, performing Paul McCartney, and this clip’s been posted on YouTube along with Wolfhounds footage from the same video. And back to that film, where the couple of arguing about where to go to dance the night away, you can see a copy of another magazine lying on the kitchen table between them. The magazine is Underground, something I thought was long forgotten, but this particular issue had a pretty decent article on the Wolfhounds and McCarthy, which had distinct repercussions. It’s interesting how the Wolfhounds and McCarthy were on the same label at the time (Pink), how they both came from the same part of east London/Essex, how they continued the area’s tradition (the Purple Hearts, David Essex, and so on) of bright, articulate, contrary working class kids, too sharp to be allowed to make it. I have to confess I sort of lost interest in both the Wolfhounds and McCarthy as the ‘80s fizzled out. I think this general sense of disillusionment is captured quite well in the film by way of failing relationships, people losing touch, getting caught up doing their own things rather than working together for a common cause. I couldn’t handle the way the Wolfhounds’ words got buried under a blustering noise storm, which was very much influenced by the artier end of American rock and people like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Band of Susans, Big Black, and so on. I can understand the appeal, but it’s not really my cup of tea. So I never really noticed when the Wolfhounds were put down, and singer Callahan re-emerged with Moonshake. When I really did sit up and take notice was in 1994 when I came across their The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow LP in a bargain bin at a price that could not be resisted. And I liked what I heard very much. The howling guitars had been ditched, the co-front person lost, and lots of contemporary elements brought in, like jazz touches, which worked well with the dubby bass lines, malignant atmospherics, the Krautrock traces, the sampled sinister and unsettling sound effects. That and its successor, Dirty and Divine, are fantastic records, and actually
D&D has Michael Rother on drums, which is pretty neat assuming it’s the old Krautrocker, and I have to confess I’ve never checked and it’s possible it’s just some guy from the outer reaches of east London who just happens to be called Rother, or maybe he’s from Rotherhithe. But the idea is a good one as seemingly everyone was listening to Neu! and Harmonia at the time, getting into that motorik groove. Groove is the word. I could argue till the cows come home that the Wolfhounds created great dance music, and if you can’t dance to The Anti-Midas Touch you’ve got no sense of rhythm. But with Moonshake they got to a stage where what they were creating genuinely did coalesce with what was happening on the more adventurous dancefloors, as is borne out by the credit on Dirty and Divine for Tim Goldsworthy of Mo’Wax (and later DFA) and that was a good time with a sense of openness in what people were listening to, which sort of found a focus for a while in Mo’Wax which really was one of the great labels though I’m trying not to think of the Can remixes. I still have an unabashed soft spot for that period, and seem to have acquired an unfortunate habit of collecting what I call charity shop trip hop and bargain bin drum ‘n’ bass, picking up all sorts of cast out turnof-the-millennium CDs by acts who probably don’t even remember their attempts to try a bit of Massive Attacking, but still appeal to people who are tickled pink Ben Watt played a bit of guitar on a Roni Size record as well as a Style Council one. What really works on The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow and Dirty and Divine is Callahan’s rancorous words and disdainful delivery, very much continuing what made the Wolfhounds rise above the morass. Callahan has a way of observing the grim details of everyday life, balancing horror and humour, in the way writers like Shena Mackay can, capturing the outlandishly ordinary in a simple and poetic way. Funnily enough Callahan was one of several scathingly and touchingly observant writers who were working in the UK pop underground of the 1980s, like Michael Head, Robert Lloyd, Phil Wilson of the June Brides,
Malcolm Eden of McCarthy, Adam Sanderson of the Jasmine Minks, Dave Read of The Claim, Lin Sangster of Send No Flowers/Kit, Colin Pennington of the Hellfire Sermons, Dave Jackson of The Room/Benny Profane, Simon Rivers of The Last Party. The children of Vic Godard and Mark E Smith, in many cases, which explains a lot. It’s interesting that with so many heavyweight wordsmiths mooching around what happened was that music would become dominated by sounds instead, via rave, MBV, and so on, where lyrics were seemingly a secondary consideration. And with the way the history books are panning out it seems a little unlikely the roll call of lost underground poets will really become revered in the way, say, a writer from a different age like Johnny Mercer may be, but while there’s still a world to win we’ll give it a good old go eh? In the meantime, I’m just listening to Ella performing her interpretations of Mercer compositions from the Great American Songbook, and thinking about actually falling in love with the idea of Ella before really hearing many of her recordings. But that’s what you get when you grow up on a diet of Colin MacInnes’ writings. There was an anthology of MacInnes’ journalism, England Half English, published again in the mid-‘80s with a foreword from Paul Weller, and among the articles was one on Ella, which really caught my imagination at a time when I was feeling my way towards
the jazz world, albeit one where Billie Holiday was singing Johnny Mercer songs like Fools Rush In and One For My Baby And One More For The Road, and Frank Sinatra would be singing Laura. While MacInnes graciously acknowledges his unease at writing about jazz what he put together with the help of others still resounds: “She has an intense affection for the words and, above all, the meaning of each phrase, which she delivers with no condescension whatsoever, without smart twists of intellectualisation and with no condescension towards intrusive sentiment”. Absolute Beginners as a book had such an impact on me as a kid, I could recite great chunks of it, though it has only just struck me that when the book was published he was the same age I am now. It was the same year he wrote this passage about Ella: “it is also the voice of a great lady with a wonderfully crazy streak to her – the grande dame presence with undercurrents of entirely uninhibited, unselfconscious mayhem. Often, in her songs, she seems most graciously to descend the stairs half way … then leap on the banisters and slide the rest, though arriving always entirely the right way up at her destination”. Great stuff. MacInnes would cover the area of popular music (in the loosest sense) in more detail a decade or so later in Sweet Saturday Night, a pioneering study of the British music halls and pop song from 1840 through to 1920, which is a great read and an early attempt at examining the ramifications and impact of a popular art form. I suspect that when it was published MacInnes was unaware of a resurgence of interest in that tradition via the Kinks, Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (and interesting to think of all the young punks and their exposure to the world of Viv Stanshall via John Peel’s radio show), and I wonder what he would have made of Ray Davies’ cameo in the ill-fated and ill-judged if fascinating film of Absolute Beginners, and indeed the work of Ian Dury, Madness, Vic Godard keeping alive the spirit of music hall in odd ways. There could be a book in this: Treading The Boards: From Marie Lloyd to Robert Lloyd. I like the way most of us will know some of the songs Johnny Mercer has been involved with even though we many not know we
know them. Often it will be the tune that sticks in our mind, but without the words would the songs be as memorable? Take Moon River, and Audrey sitting on the window sill singing. Unforgettable. And unimaginable without those words. Johnny Mercer’s story is quite an interesting one itself, as a Southern gentleman with his very early interest in black musical forms and involvement in the setting up of Capitol Records. It was in those early days of Capitol that Mercer’s destiny was very much entwined with that of Ella Mae Morse, a singer with a similar Southern background (she really was from Paris, Texas!) and a very real passion for the black music she grew up with. I guess you could argue that in her way she was the Dusty Springfield of her day, and existing recordings she made in the ‘40s and ‘50s are as wonderful as anything Dusty did. On the occasions when I have actually remembered to listen to Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour I have loved the way he has tried to explain how (pre-rock ‘n’ roll, preanything) music was much more mixed up than people would have us believe; how a song was a song and could just as easily end up as a western swing number or a torch song or rootin’ tootin’ boogie workout. I absolutely adore Ella Mae Morse for the way she managed to mix things up so madly, and I realise she was partly able to get away with this because some music industry insiders like Mercer were tuned in on her wavelength. So she was a bit of everything, from
outrageous boogie to cool as a cucumber jazz balladry, via sultry swing, cute country, raunchy rhythm and blues and pretty as a picture pop. Cow Cow Boogie, Captain Kidd, Buzz Me, House of Blue Lights, Money Honey, Forty Cups of Coffee, Blacksmith Blues, Razzle Dazzle, Pig Foot Pete. Rock Me All Night Long, Seventeen, Have Mercy Baby, T’Aint What’Cha Do, The Thrill Is Gone, Ya Betcha, Milkman Keep Those Bottles Quiet, Teardrops From My Eyes. The list of classic recordings she made goes on, and there are even times she gives Hadda Brooks, Ruth Brown and Lavern Baker a real run for their money. I keep looking at a box set the Bear Family has put out of Ella’s recordings, but I guess it’ll have to wait. There’s always a cheaper Rev-ola selection of her ‘50s recordings. There was a while back there when I almost overdosed on old r’n’b and the rockin’ blues. A blogspot which was criminally closed down diligently posted all 26 volumes of a series called Stompin’, which covered all that stuff spectacularly well, as well as other series like the black rock ‘n’ roll Savage Kick sets. It was only recently when I came across a mix posted on the web by Paul Murphy that my interest was reignited. On that post Paul wrote: “There used to be a really great radio programme on BBC Radio London back in the day, Honky Tonk, hosted by renowned author, record producer and music expert Charlie Gillett. I learned more about music from that programme than any before or since. He used to play a huge amount of rhythm and blues, rock and roll and modern (at that time) funk and soul. I first heard Big Chief by Professor Longhair and The JBs’ Hot Pants Road through him. Many years went by and I got into other things and Radio London became Radio Bigot. I went to Japan with Gaz “Rockin Blues" Mayall in 1986 where we both were dj'ing , me jazz, latin etc, him playing 1950s black rhythm and blues. He blew my mind completely with his tunes. When I came back I started to buy 'em and play 'em in the clubs I was dj'ing at, the Sol y Sombra in Charlotte Street, London and also playing them at a West Indian "blues" in the Euston Road where the old dudes taught me a hell of a lot about the roots of reggae... "It’s arrl from
Roscoe Gordon and Bill Doggett marn!"... But that’s another story.” I wonder if anyone has written a book on the etymology on the word boogie? It’s a fascinating subject. The word crops up in all sorts of odd places, at odd times, from Louis Jordan to T.Rex to Earth, Wind & Fire to James Kirk. And it’s amazing what you learn. I had no idea, for instance, that Marcia Griffiths’ Electric Boogie had become known all over the world thanks to a line dance routine called the Electric Slide? Hmm, somehow that hadn’t made it into my little world. But it throws up all sorts of interesting issues. While the idea of Marcia Griffiths’ music reaching a whole new worldwide audience is appealing, there is the question of people treating line dancing like a form of aerobics, and even doing it for the social side of things rather than for the music. Eek. That’s a minefield. Why do people dance? Go into a club and ask the people there why they’re dancing? No thanks. I might not like what I hear. I know there are people who like the dancing more than the music. I know for some the music is almost incidental. I bet there are many people doing the Electric Slide who have never even heard of Marcia Griffiths, let alone be able to discuss the finer points of her time with Studio One or Sonia Pottinger. Does that matter? The people, as Marc said, may just like to boogie. And actually there’s a whole different debate about people dancing too well that it puts you right off having a bit of a shuffle yourself. You know, breakdancers, jazz dancers, lindy hoppers, jitterbuggers, northern (soul) dancers. People who know all the right moves, and have it all down to a fine art, putting on a bit of a show, like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and you’re like what the heck I just love the music and want to do my own thing out there on the dancefloor not take part in some Olympics gymnastics event. It’s like Tomas Eloy Martinez amazing book The Tango Singer. It’s about the singing. A guy who sings these lost, forgotten tangos, which have special resonances and secret connections with places and events and people all gone, and the dancing hardly even gets mentioned because people lucky enough
Here I Am, Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely, Lean On Me, First Cut Is The Deepest, Band of Gold, When Will I See You Again, and so on. Often these interpretations were even better than the originals or the hit versions. And I think the way Jamaican reggae stars adapted soul music is an undervalued art form in the same way Ella Fitzgerald interpreting the Great American Songbook is a high form of art. It’s taken me a long time to realise that, but Marcia singing First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is a sight more spiritual than some old guy chanting to Jah.
to hear this singer just stand there mesmerised, and I have never myself understood that not everyone is as obsessed with music in the way that I am, and for example there is so little music in the writings of Iain Sinclair. So I have no idea how to do the Electric Slide. But oh those old Marcia Griffiths recordings. You can’t help but think immediately of her singing with Bob Andy, doing Nina’s Young Gifted and Black, Trojan sounds and skinhead youth club dances of legend. I hate the almost sinister fetish fad for late ‘70s skinhead photography, but there is a real appeal in the original ‘60s incarnation. There was a Pama or something similar cashin collection called This Is Reggae, archly copying the famous This Is Soul set, with just about the best cover ever, black and white kids looking as cool as hell, and the girls in their suede coats and shaggy crops look beautiful. I saw this LP sleeve at a boot sale, and there was no record inside, but I bought it anyway. It’s an interesting concept. I’ve often thought shops should have given customers the option of just buying a sleeve, sans record. Or the other way round. What I love nowadays particularly about those old Marcia Griffiths recordings, with or without Bob, at Studio One, with Sonia Pottinger, and so on are the interpretations of contemporaneous soul songs. These account for so many of the best things Marcia did. Sweet Bitter Love, Gypsy Woman, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,
So I melt now listening to Bob and Marcia do It’s Too Late or Marcia singing You’ve Got A Friend, and think why on earth didn’t someone just have her do all of Carole King’s songbook? I have a real soft spot for reggae covers of American well I suppose middle of the road hits. Marcia’s interpretation of David Gates’ Everything I Own is ridiculously good, and surprisingly upbeat and uptempo like a Northern Soul floater. And the famous big hit in the UK Trojan version by Ken Boothe triggers all sorts of memories. Would you believe I won a copy at our local preteen disco one week for being the best dressed there? I was so proud of that, and kept that 7” for years. And I so pleased to learn later that Ken Boothe was far cooler than I ever suspected, and even covered The Whole World’s Down On Me like my hero Mark Perry. Ah. As Alec Guiness put it, “the sense of continuity, going both backwards and forwards, I find endlessly rewarding.”