… your heart out
the historical romance …
CHAPTER ONE “When one’s personal history is systematically omitted from public records, one loses the sense of having lived at all ...” – Ian Svenonius, The Psychic Soviet
The film, ‘Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris, is a beautiful thing. Jazz fan and film maker Raymond De Felitta has put together a moving documentary that tries to illuminate the life and work of a cruelly forgotten, spectacularly gifted singer. There is so much to like about the film that it seems almost absurd to quibble. And yet there are moments when one wonders whether we need quite so much of De Felitta in the film, and whether we need to know quite so much about Paris’ personal life when what we really want is the jazz? Actually that’s a little unkind and a little unwise. One way or another we would all put a lot of ourselves into such a project, or pilgrimage, obliquely or explicitly. And anyway De Felitta deserves credit for remaining focused on his subject, the lionising of the singer, the search itself for Paris. It would be too easy to get distracted and go wandering way off the script, and having fun with connections. Even in this internet age there is a dearth of information widely available about Jackie Paris. His records remain ridiculously out of circulation. Even the blogosphere seems short on illicitly shared Paris works. It was nevertheless thanks to the internet’s jazz community that I first came across Jackie Paris and his mid-‘50s Skylark set, by chance, which I fell totally in love with. Searching for more, I was rewarded with his early ‘60s Sings The Lyrics of Ira Gershwin collection, which was to my mind even better. Regularly searching for more I found out that the ‘Tis Autumn film would soon be available, and was ridiculously excited about the prospect, if a little apprehensive because generally I’m not very good, not shall we say easily pleased, with films and books about music.
As the man said, context is all, so it’s worth explaining that when I came across the singing of Jackie Paris I was going through this strange time. For all sorts of reasons I was listening almost exclusively to old Brazilian bossa, raw rockabilly, and vocal jazz. And most of the vocal jazz I was listening to was of the female torch variety. Anything a bit dark, moody, haunted, and cerebral seeming. It was a fantastic time to discover new names, seemingly lost voices, like Betty Blake, Nancy Harrow, Beverly Kenney, Pinky Winters. It was a joy to dig deeper into the works of Peggy Lee, Chris Connor, Julie London, Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Helen Merrill, Anita O’Day, June Christy. It was incredibly exciting to get really into the mod jazz thing, to find recordings like Freda Payne on Impulse! And other names. Like Pat Bowie, Abbey Lincoln, Ernestine Anderson, Betty Carter, Etta Jones, Ethel Ennis. Male jazz singers? I dunno. Somehow the crooners’ corner was less appealing. Sure, I loved Sinatra, Bennett, Tormé. I loved Johnny Hartman and Jimmy Scott. Mark Murphy, of course. And Chet Baker, definitely. Then I heard Jackie Paris, and pow! And watching ‘Tis Autumn you realise how right that first reaction was. De Felitta’s starting point, understandably, is how he heard Jackie Paris for the first time, by chance, and thought wow! Becoming a big fan of the man’s singing wasn’t easy, but he is rewarded when he discovers that Jackie Paris is playing some New York club dates. Learning that these will be Paris’ final shows, the singer bidding adieu to his city and the world, De Feliita seizes the opportunity to start work on a documentary about Jackie. And the portrait of Paris that emerges is pretty much what you want a hep jazz singer to be. Where the film works well is early on where the talking heads’ testimonials capture the enigma of Jackie Paris. It helps that these talking heads include the likes of Billy Taylor, Mark Murphy, Harlan Ellison, Ruth Price and Billy Vera. Certain phrases pique the imagination. Images and allusions stick in the mind. Paris as the illfated hipster’s hipster in his full length suede coat with the coolest chicks. Paris being evanescent, criminally under recorded. References to Thomas Wolfe, beatnik theatre and Cassavetes. A hint of danger and darkness. Prickliness. A chip on the shoulder. A guy who didn’t sound like anyone else. Chet Baker times ten. What happened? Why was Paris allowed to disappear from view? After all he was intimate with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He worked with Mingus. Was the first to sing ‘Round Midnight. Recorded for Impulse! Peggy Lee and Lenny Bruce went into bat for him. Yet here was an Italian guy who turned his back on the mob, had these destructive urges, lacked the killer instinct, but knew he was the best. Whatever your pop proclivities you will recognise the underdog, the great unknown. The one, as one of the film’s commentators says, that separates the die-hards from the dilettantes. The ones that those in-the- know alone know. And if it may seem Jackie Paris pretty much could have been invented by Kerouac, it’s all very well saying everything belongs to me because I’m poor. Well, that didn’t pay Jackie Paris’ bills, and while I don’t think he was quite like Porter Waggoner’s Skid Row Joe or Goodis’ Whitey in Street Of No Return, well there must have been days when he was mad at the world. And anyway I still haven’t heard the record Jackie made for Impulse!
“I remember shaking my head a few years ago when I discovered, amid numerous footnotes, that the reputedly hip annotator of the Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac failed to identify Wynonie Harris in an October 1950 letter to Neal Cassady that spoke of a ‘feeling for music’ that favoured the ‘art-of-life Wynonie’.” - Nick Tosches, note on the 1999 edition of Unsung Heroes of Rock’n’Roll Jazz singing. What makes a singer a jazz singer? A ballad singer. A jazz singer. What’s the difference? When does someone singing a ballad become a jazz singer? Is it something to do with not playing it straight? With taking the occasional detour perhaps? With stretching the notes? With improvising? Maybe it’s about using the voice as an instrument, creating intricate arrangements, like filigree. Not even needing words at times. Perhaps. Around the time I was discovering the exquisite mellifluousness of Jackie Paris I would also become a huge fan of the work of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral. While their roots would stretch back to the ‘40s, the bebop era, the highlights for me of a 50 year career singing and performing together, most of that as husband and wife, would be a series of LPs made in the early ‘60s/early ‘70s as they struggled to adapt to a changing musical climate, succeeding spectacularly with some gorgeous vocal work that fit perfectly alongside the Association, Mamas and Papas, Sergio Mendes, Fifth Dimension, Carpenters. And while the image may have looked homely and wholesome, that superficial view is belied by their early ‘70s recordings for Creed Taylor’s CTI label. In particular A Wilder Alias has a depth and ornate beauty that’s more in keeping with Brazilian works of the time by Quarteto Em Cy, MPB-4, Karma, Jaime & Nair. The arrangements are quite out there, courtesy of Don Sebesky, featuring fantastic vocalese experimentation and the full-on CTI fusion treatment, with Hubert Laws on flute and everything you could wish for.
Jackie and Roy could count Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Miles Davis among their friends and fans early on, and with the bebop thing going on, the beat generation, the pair were seen as a little offbeat, playful, sophisticated, hep. They made a point of supporting less well-known but more adventurous songwriting teams. And while I love the standards, as sung by Jackie and Roy,
which they can really make swing, like their fantastic version of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (“fortune’s always hiding, I’ve looked everywhere”) for not purely partisan reasons, they were significantly in 1955 the first to record Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. The music of Tommy Wolf, and the wonderful words of Fran Landesman, the sharpest beat angel on the scene. The pair would continue to collaborate, and would work on the musical of The Nervous Set, a beatnik musical with a story written by Fran’s husband Jay about his time running the avant garde/beat publication Neurotica, which published Kerouac & Ginsberg’s Pull My Daisy and ruffled a fair few feathers along the way. And while the show was a real failure financially it did give us Night People which June Christy used to devastating effect on her Ballads For Night People set. The musical also gave us The Ballad of the Sad Young Men, one of the all time great songs, sung by many people, like Anita O’Day and Mark Murphy but perhaps never more poignantly than by Davy Graham on Folk, Blues & Beyond. Tommy and Fran would go on to write another musical with Nelson Algren, based on his book A Walk On The Wild Side, which was spectacularly unsuccessful commercially but did give us I’m A Born World Shaker, which Ernie Andrews gets to sing on his live session with Cannonball Adderley. The Landesmans’ is quite a story, the beat generation and the move to London and the bohemian/hippy lifestyle, the trials and tribulations of trying to make it as poet, publisher, performer, personality. And it’s one that their son Cosmo makes great play out of in Starstruck, his musings on the nature of fame, failure, success and celebrity which uses his parents’ tale to illustrate the contradictions inherent in revelling in being glorious failures while conversely craving real recognition, betraying a weakness in us all. But at the end of the day, come what may, Fran did write these words, which Tommy Wolf beautifully set to music: All the sad young men Sitting in the bars Knowing neon lights Missing all the stars All the sad young men Drifting through the town Drinking up the night Trying not to drown Sing a song of sad young men Glasses full of rye All the news is bad again Kiss your dreams goodbye Another singer Tommy Wolf would be closely associated is Irene Kral, who had a voice of astonishing purity, and just happened to be the sister of Roy, which may have made life easier or harder. Irene’s name may perhaps be familiar from her beautiful rendition of Going To California from one of Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Digs America round-ups. I stumbled across her though via the online jazz community, and soon after that came across her Better Than
Anything 1963 set with the Junior Mance Trio, which had sleevenotes by Tommy Wolf so that all fitted perfectly at the time. Irene was at her best in small jazz combo settings, and if you have the chance to hear Kral Time, recorded not long before her tragic death in the late ‘70s, you’ll hear what I mean. The cover of that record is a strange psychedelic explosion, almost as spectacularly out of time as Irene’s performance which is very much of the strippeddown dark torch songs of your dreams, watching them melt with the ice at the bottom of your glass type thing. Most of Irene’s best work is like that. And again she had a gift for choosing or commissioning the more offbeat of writers to provide material for her. Fran Landesman would be among those that wrote words for her to sing. Irene would also sing a couple of numbers on Laurindo Almeida’s 1964 Guitar From Ipanema, including the heartbreaking Old Guitaron. Thankfully some elusive footage of Irene Kral performing has surfaced on YouTube thanks to clips posted from Frankly Jazz, a half-hour television programme produced in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, hosted by DJ Frank Evans. Each program featured one or more prominent West Coast Jazz performer of the day, and we get to see Irene sing Forgetful, in stark black and white. Other clips include Terry Morel, one of the girls of Bethlehem, Gus Wildi’s jazz label, which was a real let’s-give-it-a-whirl concern which turned out just perfectly, with Creed Taylor involved early helping to direct it in more of a cool West Coast direction. Home for a while in the ‘50s to Mingus, Mel Torme, Johnny Hartman, Kai Winding, Bob Dorough, Nina Simone, Herbie Mann, and many others, Bethlehem is perhaps most fondly remembered for its female singers, including Chris Connor, Carmen McRae, Helen Carr, Frances Faye, Betty Blake, Betty Roché, Paula Castle, Audrey Morris. Among the things Bethlehem is fondly remembered for is the almost revolutionary way it exploited the potential of LP sleeve art. Among the most striking example is Moody Marilyn Moore from 1957, available again as Japanese import with one of those beautiful stiff cardboard facsimile sleeves. It’s a fantastic record, ridiculously like Billie Holiday, but then again why not? It doesn’t hurt Karen Dalton’s cool standing. Anyway Marilyn was well connected, well respected in jazz circles, and Billie was by all accounts a friend and a fan. Interestingly the Billie’s blues thing is less pronounced on the following year’s jazz recording of Oh Captain, which she recorded with Jackie Paris. She seemed to disappear after that.
CHAPTER TWO While I’m very aware of the fact that Marilyn Moore is a track on Sonic Youth’s EVOL set from 1986 or thereabouts, I have no idea if it is a knowing nod in the direction of the jazz singer. I have always desperately hoped so, and I really don’t want to be disillusioned. Certainly Sonic Youth knew their jazz and liked to toss in the occasional neat cultural reference. Ah Sonic Youth. I’m aware of the lively debate about the institutionalisation of Sonic Youth, how they’ve become seemingly untouchable cultural icons, increasingly meaningless. But I wish them well. I can’t get too excited about this issue. We could have far less interesting corporate ghosts. After all that handful of ‘80s LPs, which EVOL is pivotal to, is peerless in terms of American rock, with the exception of UT naturally, and significantly both groups have their roots in the New York No Wave scene. But, strangely, it’s Sonic Youth’s cultural activity in the ‘90s that is more interesting, and certainly more interesting than their music at the time. And that was a horrible time. Nirvana, Pavement, Sebadoh. All that stuff. But Sonic Youth’s extra-curricular activities, and I don’t mean the music though Kim Gordon’s work with Free Kitten, were wonderful. I was thinking of things like the positive way Sonic Youth used its power and connections to educate and set itself apart. As if to say we may be part of the machine but we still have something a little more about us. I was thinking specifically of Kim’s X-Girl clothing range, tapping into the whole skate punk/hip hop thing indelibly associated with the Beastie Boys and X-Large, the look, the magazine. Particularly the magazine, which was often completely cool and occasionally ridiculously infuriating, but in the second issue (and the first I saw) Thurston Moore did a beautiful introduction to free jazz, all the ESP-Disk stuff and beyond, and the significance of this in such a publication couldn’t be underestimated. It wasn’t quite as cool as reprinting an old fanzine interview Luscious Jackson had done with Viv of the Slits back in the day. But close.
In the ‘80s when Sonic Youth was, with the benefit of hindsight, untouchable I kept finding problems. I can remember Edwyn Collins, around the time of the third Orange Juice LP, conceding that the OJs were not actually the true progeny of the Velvets, and that perhaps that privilege belonged to someone like Glenn Branca or Sonic Youth. And I remember going, yes but Edwyn that’s just the Sister Ray side of things, and perhaps the Marine Girls and what comes next (which was Grab Grab The Haddock) are as revolutionary in turning rock structures on their head, like when Maureen sings After Hours. The first Sonic Youth record I remember being aware of, and indeed buying, was the Death Valley 69 12”. I loved the b-sides. Brother James and all that stuff, but hated the main track, which was odd because I loved Lydia Lunch (and still do and indeed loved The Crumb which she later did with Thurston) but it was something about the way that single was seized upon in the summer of ’85 which didn’t feel right, as though people felt instinctively comfortable with that song’s solidity, which made me very uneasy. Still does. But later Thurston said something brilliant about the difference between the American and British groups, and how in the US there’s likely to be a background of college rock radio, Black Sabbath, Boston and all that, while in the UK there is more likely to be a pop thing going on. And there should have been. I’d grown up on the Mo-Dettes and Josef K and found the Banshees and Joy Division a bit too rock, so Death Valley 69 felt all wrong the same way. The funny thing is that despite my antipathy to Death Valley 69 most of my comrades at the time were really into Sonic Youth straight off. Certainly Sonic Youth was benefitting from there being something of an underground network, fanzines, clubs etc. Among performances in the UK would be one at Splash One in Glasgow, an irregular club night curated by the Primal Scream/Pastels coterie, where they would put on the likes of the Jasmine Minks, June Brides and Felt. The Thirteenth Floor Elevators reference in the club’s name would provide a clue to the context. A Psychedelic Punk Rock disco would be billed. This was important. It was like in a series of Venn diagrams, how this would be where various things intersected. I might come from more of a mod/’60s soul/Postcard thing. Others might come from a Cramps/Ramones perspective or a Swell Maps/TVPs one. But the ‘60s punk thing was where we all met. The Pebbles compilations, and lots of lovingly put together cassette tapes of stuff like The Haunted, The Litter, Seeds etc. All the songs The Cramps taught us. I was particularly excited by the punk/soul crossover. The Outsiders, Human Beinz, the Ed Cobb thing, and particularly the Standells and Chocolate Watch Band records that were appearing. While the Nuggets compilation of ‘original artyfacts from the first psychedelic era’ , the original collection of punk rock, had such an impact on an emerging generation of punks, it was out of circulation by the end of the ‘70s. And for a younger generation the introduction to these sounds may have come via the October 1978 edition of music monthly Zigzag which gave away a free flexidisc of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators doing Reverberation and the Red Crayola doing Hurricane Fighter Plane (which if I remember rightly the Pastels used to cover). This would be for many the first introduction to ‘60s garage/punk/psychedelia or whatever, and the flexi itself was a trailer for Radar’s programme to reissue the first LPs by the Elevators and the Red Crayola.
And this is where it started to get confusing because the Red Crayola seemed to become the Red Krayola and the group’s Mayo Thompson seemed suddenly to appear at the epicentre of what was happening with punk, putting out new recordings on Radar (and wasn’t the version of Hurricane Fighter Plane itself a new recording?) where suddenly they were label mates with the Pop Group, Yachts, Mac Curtis, Richard Hell, Nick Lowe, Bette Bright, Tanz De Youth and La Dusseldorf. There was a single called Wives In Orbit and an LP called Soldier Talk, which both still sound fantastic, in terms of fragmented, jarring, disorientating pop, and yes it was very much pop.
And before you knew it Mayo Thompson seemed to be at the heart of what was happening with adventurous pop, playing with Pere Ubu on The Art of Walking and Songs of the Bailing Man, collaborating in various ways with the Raincoats, Essential Logic, Blue Orchids, Swell Maps, and so on, like appearing on the soundtrack of Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames, the title song of which is perhaps Mayo’s finest moment, and it’s a fine film, featuring also The Bloods and Adele Bertei. And by the time the legendary NME/Rough Trade C-81 cassette came out Mayo was pretty much the central figure to that one way or another. Yet it shouldn’t be forgotten that at the time there were raised eyebrows, and questions asked about who this old dude was and what was he up to muscling in on this scene, and that only goes to show the strange ideas there were in the punk era about age, but things moved so fast. The Red Crayola were what first around in ’67? The Nuggets compilation of gems from that era came out in about ’72? Maybe a bit later? The punk thing exploded in ’77 and the golden age of post-punk was what ’79 to ’81? It would be about ’84 and ’85 that there was a real resurgence of interest in garage punk. And how old were the flamin’ Stone Roses when they supposedly burst onto the scene in ’89? Positively ancient by punk standards. I bet they were older than Johnny Thunders was when he was singing about how you can’t put your arms around a memory.
I always liked Mayo Thompson. I liked the way how even at the epicenter of the Rough Trade thing you’d see him in a suit and tie, always professional and gentlemanly, which is an impression borne out Phil Wilson who was among a group of artists produced by Thompson in the late ‘80s along with Primal Scream, Felt and others. I think I last caught sight of Mayo Thompson a few years back, when Drag City had been doing a great job of reissuing much of the Red Krayola’s back catalogue, and a new LP called Introduction was coming out , with some great tracks on which should have established Mayo as a legend of Tom Waits/Beefheartian proportions. This record featured John McEntire as part of the line-up, which was interesting in itself, as once McEntire had been about as ubiquitous as Mayo had been, playing with Tortoise, The Sea and Cake, Stereolab and so on in that part of the mid to late 1990s where there was a brief outbreak of open-mindedness and that scene’s musical misceticism would get mixed in with aspects of hip hop, jazz and electronica before the rhythmic abstractions and meandering got too much and there was a new need for some primitive punk and funk 45s, and there are few things more showstopping than Boston punks the Remains and their Don’t Look Back, with pretty much the greatest guitar sound ever on a song written by the great Billy Vera.
One of the most poignant parts of the Jackie Paris documentary is Billy Vera talking about Paris and the difficulties of being a singer’s singer, being a legend and not making any money, and the struggle to stay nice. And he said it with feeling, but then he’s every right to. The story goes how, working as a staff songwriter, Vera had written a number called Storybook Children, a duet which he initially sang with Nona Hendryx but Jerry Wexler suggested doing it with Judy Clay instead which of course worked an absolute treat. And they would go on to make a brilliant LP together, which was sort of successful given how radical it was for a blue-eyed soul singer to be working with a black artist, except that as Vera puts it: “Our little revolution was never televised. We were never taken up as a cause by the limousine liberals of the day. This may have something to do with the fact that our audience was mostly everyday blacks and working class whites.” Vera seems to suggest Judy Clay had a bit of a chip on her shoulder. She was an incredible singer, but couldn’t break through into the big time, despite her connections, with Dionne Warwick, the Sweet Inspirations, and that extended soul family. “This must have been no small source of frustration. You can’t have a voice as good as hers and not know how good you are.” But Vera maintains that beneath that tough façade, Judy was vulnerable, sensitive like his own sister Kathy McCord who similarly never made it, despite her making a brilliant LP for Creed Taylor’s CTI label at the end of the ‘60s. Anyone who delved deeper and deeper into the soul scene via the Kent catalogue will have gradually realised how magnificent the music Judy Clay made was, despite it being scattered across labels like Stax and Scepter. There was You Busted My Mind on Dancing Till Dawn, and Turn Back The Time on the Big City Soul Sound. The down the years, drip, drip , drip. My Arms Aren’t Strong Enough, Haven’t Got What It Takes, Lonely People Do Foolish Things, I Want You, The Greatest Love, Since You Came Along, He’s The Kind of Guy. Every track a show stopper, a scene stealer. There was also an elusive Scepter round-up shared with Marie Knight, and an overview of her Stax years shared with Veda Brown
which featured fantastic performances like Bed Of Roses and Remove These Clouds. But no Bear Family style career spanning boxed set. The Billy Vera and Judy Clay LP had been produced by Chip Taylor, who had spotted Vera’s potential and worked with him as a songwriter. Taylor himself is gradually becoming recognised for the vital part he played in the ‘60s tapestry as songwriter, musician, producer, performer, mentor, without ever being something anyone can quite put their finger on. A little bit country, a little bit soul. A lot of r’n’b. A lot of pop. There’s the hits The Troggs had with his songs, the same with The Hollies and I Can’t Let Go, there’s Dusty singing Don’t Say It baby, Billie Davis doing Billy Sunshine, Jackie De Shannon doing I Can’t Make It With You, Baby Washington doing I Can’t Wait Till I See My Baby’s Face, Tommy by Reparata and the Delrons, Picture Me Gone of course, and the whole thing about the curse of Angel Of The Morning and what happened or perhaps more appropriately didn’t happen to Merrilee Rush, PP Arnold, Billie Davis and the great, the very great Evie Sands.
If Jackie Paris was unlucky, if Judy Clay was ill-fated, then what on earth can you say about Evie Sands? Is there a word stronger than tragedy for the way such incredibly talented individuals have been overlooked, have not got anything like the credit they deserve? And while I am not by any stretch of the imagination a fan of Belle & Sebastian I am at least grateful for the way their love for Evie has given her music a new lease of life, and the Rev-ola reissue of her Anyway That You Want Me LP which seemed to be part of a winning series also taking in Lori Burton, Merrilee Rush and Nancy Priddy. The Women In Prison LP country soul Lucinda Williams and Estate of Mind kind of adult Janis Ian thing. But it wasn’t just Evie that seemed doomed. The story is well known, for example, about how Jackie Ross ‘stole’ Take Me For A Little While, another occasion where Evie was beaten to the punch, as her follow up to Selfish One – but Jackie too was plagued by bad luck, moving from Chess to Brunswick singing the brilliant Keep Your Chin Up, drifting and doing that Mary Wells thing skipping labels, seemingly drifting, but at least giving us the astonishing The World’s In A Hell Of A Shape along the way.
CHAPTER FOUR It’s an interesting thing the way De Felitta has put himself so much at the centre of the Jackie Paris film. In a marked contrast, say, unusually Jeff Chang’s account of the hip hop generation, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, seems to be strikingly free of selfreference, though naturally his own experiences and involvement with the hip hop scene will have shaped what he wrote. And actually that’s a bit of a shame as he is one hell of a writer, and I particularly like what he calls the idea of ‘dub history’. As he puts it: “A history, some mystery and certainly no prophecy. It’s but one version, this dub history – a gift from those who have illuminated and inspired”. So Chang’s own story, and that of Solesides, the Bay Area, San Francisco, LA, independent hip hop, the jazz influence, the godlike Freestyle Fellowship, Hieroglyphics, The Coup, Blackalicious, DJ Shadow, Dan Dan The Automator Man, Latyrx, and so on, would make for a fantastic film. It’s a story that needs telling. Especially if that story is placed in the wider context of what was happening with Mo’ Wax and Grand Royal, with drum ‘n’ bass and trip hop too. Aww that whole mid-‘90s thing. It has with the exception of the end of the ‘70s and turn of the ‘80s got to be my favourite period for music, the time when it was the most fun to be a consumer . And Mo’ Wax was absolutely pivotal to that time, and with the exception of Postcard Records no other label has connected with me in quite the same way in terms of going beyond the music and getting all aspects just so right in terms of being a complete aesthetic thing, which had so much to do with the design aspect being so spot-on thanks to Will Bankhead and Ben Drury. Although funnily enough if there were one record or song that captures that time it would be Luscious Jackson’s Naked Eye, the bass line from that, the rap, or the track LP Retreat on their Natural Ingredients set, which was so ahead of things in the organic inference. How did it go? “You see me spinning records ... Forget how the culture we come from divides us. This is the culture of dusty old vinyl. This is the tribal record of love.” Many years later the LJs’ Jill Cunniff would be filmed on a subway train with a portable record player, singing her Lazy Girls track off the City Beach LP which perhaps captured something of a mood thing for still hep forty odd year old punks now at home playing Brazilian bossa, old school hip hop and folk pop. Intriguingly writer Vivien Goldman would share writing credits on one track, explicitly providing another link back to post-punk misceticism, when her Launderette/Private Armies single would appear on 99 Records, home of Liquid Liquid, ESG, etc, and if NYC had 99 and Ze the UK had Rough Trade, Y and Fetish. This was the period that shaped Luscious Jackson and the Beastie Boys. The mythical downtown NY scene where punk, disco, jazz, early rap, reggae, rockabilly, ethnic sounds, pretty much anything was being thrown into the pot, and in turn reflected by the big names of the day like Blondie and The Clash.
But in the mid-‘90s, this was one of the great lost periods of music, ripe for rediscovery. This was before Mo’ Wax and its invaluable round-up of Liquid Liquid tracks helped to change things. If you’d typed Ze Records into a search engine then you would have got next to nothing, and in the UK pretty much only A Man Called Adam were reissuing the Garcons’ Ze work, while in the US Henry Rollins was running a one-man campaign for that era with his Infinite Zero imprint, digging up some Bush Tetras rarities and putting out the first Contortions’ records, evoking the words Adele Bertei had sung some years before on her lovely Rickie Lee Jones like Babes In Moneyland: “When Nicky and Jim and the gang hit the East Side back in ’79, you know life was bittersweet and cash was obsolete. It was runnin’ thru the holes in the pockets of our clothes. Jim had a saxophone, Nicky had a keyboard. She was beatin’ it like a conga drum. We were busy breakin’ down the walls of Babylon. These crazy visions kept the fools on the run. But times keep changin’ hands when Angels With Dirty Faces turn into Babes In Moneyland. We were placin’ bets on who was gonna make it thru’ the billy-whiz nights, when we believed that street fightin’ girls all over the world knew that when you’re hungry, you gotta take what you need”. There’s something in Jeff Chang’s sleevenotes for Solesides’ Greatest Bumps that suggests how as things got more mad in terms of attention and success so it all became a lot less fun. There’s a sort of implicit longing for the innocence of a gang going round old record shops with a portable record deck to search through the crates for long lost beats and breaks. And so the same surely could be said for Mo’ Wax which really was in the spotlight, and sure things began to drift but like Ze 15 years before some if its most intriguing and most adventurous records came out towards the end, or certainly at the turn of the millennium. Andrea Parker, David Axelrod, Urban Tribe, and Blackalicious’ Nia.
And by starting off those sleevenotes of his in that way, Jeff Chang very cleverly positioned the Blackalicious guys, the Quannum crew, as above all vinyl addicts, and no matter what else they captured in terms of this beat boho cool, non-sexist, peacenik forward thinking underground thing, they loved their hip hop, and were so pro the music, as opposed to those who came out dry and arid and had about the worst name ever in the Anti-Pop Consortium.
Of course, ostensibly through the DJ Shadow records on Mo’ Wax the Solesides thing exploded, and reached a certain fever pitch by the time DJ Shadow’s first LP came out, and that has to be the saddest LP title ever. Endtroducing. The end of something. And yet. Oh about the time that record appeared the Shadow was doing an instore appearance at the Rough Trade store in London’s Covent Garden, and this was one of the coolest places on the planet at the time, far cooler the original Ladbroke Grove store. It’s gone now, sadly, and went downhill long before that, but around about then the staff were very switched on, and what was his name, D or Daryl or something, little guy who looked like Messi, who was into remixing and so on, he was always playing some cool stuff, new or old, liking what I was buying. But the bizarre thing was there can’t have been many more than 20 or 30 or so people at this Shadow showcase, on a Saturday afternoon. It was basically Shadow playing around with tracks from the LP, showing off his turntable skills, then it got fun as he got people there to grab sleeves from the racks and the staff would dig out the vinyl and he’d mix the record in to what he was messing about with. As you would imagine a fair bit of one-upmanship was going on, and people very self-consciously choosing specific records, hip hop, jazz, Basic Channel techno, and then someone trumped everyone else with something by Sonic Youth and Shadow’s face definitely lit up, and you knew which way the world was going. Outside Dan Nakamura would be lounging against a wall in Neal’s Yard, and for many he would be the lynchpin of that whole scene, for his A Better Tomorrow EP and then his Dr Octagon collaboration with Kool Keith which was oddly the record, and specifically the track Blue Flowers, with echoes of a Tenessee Williams short story, that got a lot of riot grrls and moddy moody litle boys into the sound and the possibilities of samplers and beats and madness. And with all that going on there really hadn’t been any need for the orthodox guitar, bass and drums thing. But when the scene began to drift towards the Radiohead/Verve widescreen sweeps of sound there became a real need for some back-to-basics contrariness which came in the perfect shape of Clinic, who at least gave the impression they’d heard a few DJ Shadow tracks and had learned a thing or two that could be added to their soul stew. Away from that drift towards epic quick/slow quiet/loud soundscapes the turn of the millennium was a good time for music, with no one sound dominating, and odd things capturing the imagination like Broadcast, Company Flow, Missy Elliot, Nectarine No 9 or Boards of Canada. Clinic were in there too, and have been pretty much ever since despite seeming perpetually and spectacularly out of time with their punky gumbo. It’s funny how some people can indulge in a bit of name-dropping and it just makes you cringe, while with others it’s like YES! YES! YES! And that was how it worked with the carefully and artfully constructed collages that accompanied early Clinic releases and came across like statements of intent. Off the top of my head I seem to recall that among those featured were Roky, Ronnie Spector, Dr John, King Tubby, ‘Trane, Serge, Tim Buckley, the Modern Lovers, Poly Styrene, Beefheart, Bardot, Irma Thomas, Crime, Residents, Pharaoh Sanders. It was like some special invocation. And there were all these little touches. Like the use of the melodica. It was the whole thing with that, and not just because of the Blackalicious EP on Mo’ Wax which had such
an impact but the whole Pablo thing and even early New Order at their very coolest with Bernard playing the melodica. I like the whole looking for clues thing. Like DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist’s Brainfeeze or the Panther Burns’ The World We Knew. I liked Clinic a lot because of all the different emphases you could draw on. A bit of Crash! Smash! Crack! Ring! Something primitive but futuristic. An outfit with the egos subsumed. The trademark masks literally masking the individual. Anonymous but distinctive. Certainly with one of the most distinctive voices in pop, the hissing through clenched teeth tones of Ady Blackburn whom I wouldn’t even recognise if I passed him on the street. But I love the way he sings ballads, coming on very vulnerable like Smokey or Roky. And while I love the way Clinic run the voodoo down I have never seen them live, and I don’t always remember to check out their new records. But that doesn’t really matter because pop doesn’t come much better than The Second Line, which is like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, LL Cool J, and Liquid Liquid, and is phenomenally cool. Clinic though are the third coolest group to come out of Liverpool. I do like the fact that Clinic take the trouble to dress up, the gang thing, and I guess it’s no coincidence one of their earliest and most explicit reference points would be San Francisco’s original punks Crime who dressed up like state troopers just to annoy everyone and made one hell of a racket just to annoy everyone. For a long, long time Crime would be known for its incredible but unobtainable debut Hot Wire My Heart, which was an astonishing blast of primitive punk energy perhaps only matched in the UK by The Users’ Sick Of You. Sonic Youth would cover Hot Wire My Heart on its 1987 Sister outing in a neat piece of positioning as if to say don’t forget this is what punk rock was supposed to be all about pre-hardcore. Crime was billed as the ‘Bay Area’s Number One Problem’, and its members adopted names like Frankie Fix, Johnny Strike, Ron the Ripper, and Hank Rank, and sing about San Francisco being doomed and play at San Quentin’s maximum security yard before 500 cons, surrounded by barbed wire and concrete, belting out what Zigzag called its aptly-titled songs like Murder By Guitar, Crime Wave, Frustration.
CHAPTER FIVE This, all this, whether this is the end and it all just fades away or whether it continues and thrives, started with a sense of despair and disgust at not being able to find any magazines to read, or rather worth reading. But you still keep on searching. And I recently noticed a big glossy mag with Thurston Moore on the cover, which obviously the store wasn’t quite sure should be in the music section or the fashion section. Inside there was a Bobby Gillespie piece, where he picked as his iconic image Johnny Thunders on the cover of Zigzag in 1978. I’ve still got it upstairs somewhere, said Bobby. Of course. And if it’s the issue I’m thinking of, then so have I. Issue number 89. November 1978. The one with that piece in about Crime playing at San Quentin. And actually the issue after the one with the Ramones on the cover, and that Red Crayola/Thirteenth Floor Elevators flexi inside. Good times. This was around the time Johnny’s So Alone came out, and it was a huge thing in Zigzag. It’s funny looking back because I had no real concept then of what Johnny Thunders was. I knew next to nothing about the New York Dolls. I definitely didn’t belong to the generation for whom the Dolls were a beacon of hope. I was a young punk, so loved the Heartbreakers’ Chinese Rocks though I doubt if I really knew what it was about. But You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory just tore me apart as soon as I heard it. Still does. “So touching, so powerful, so wasted … and so alone!” That’s how Kris Needs put it in Zigzag. That track, and Ask Me No Questions. The ballads. The guitars held back in restraint. Those songs make you ache. And while for years and years and years I’ve kicked against the alltoo-easy punk myths, that whole wasted rock ’n’ roll thing, You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory transcends all that nonsense. It’s a record to cling to. Pure soul, we would have said once. And anyway Johnny always had a pop heart, and tellingly the only other JT record I know (and indeed love very much) is Copy Cats, where Johnny and Patti Paladin reprise their double act of a decade or whatever before when they did Give Him A Great Big Kiss on So Alone. I love Copy Cats, and the way they work their way through a selection of golden age of rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop, swamp pop, soul, whatever vignettes like Love Is Strange, Craw Fish, Baby It’s You, Treat Her Right, which are incurably romantic and irredeemably twisted, like Barry Gifford’s stories of Sailor and Lula, Perdita Durango, and so on. In fact the video of Patti and Johnny doing Craw Fish looks like it’s scripted by Gifford. Or Jim Dodge with one of his tales of outlaws and outcasts, like the great Not Fade Away. Patti really was the perfect foil to Johnny, and has one of the most distinctive and alluring but nevertheless under-recorded voices. She’s brilliant on the Flying Lizards’ Fourth Wall, if you get the chance to hear it. Criminally, though, even her work as half of Snatch seems still to be unavailable, but the way at the height of punk they mixed sassy sneering girl group dynamics with performance art was fantastic, and the almost hit All I Want (is all you know) had such a ridiculously glamorous scary sleeve.
Her Snatch partner Judy Nylon would in 1978 tell Jon Savage that she was aiming towards a “jungly oppressive type of drum sound and two basses and a guitar sound more like ... chewing. Post-technical primitive.” This would be an eerie statement of intent for her much later Pal Judy set on On-U Sound, another record ridiculously still out of circulation, and actually it’s one of On-U’s overlooked strengths that strain of dramatic American performance art with Judy and Annie Anxiety/Little Annie. Johnny Thunders’ vulnerable and romantic side is often overlooked amid all the junkie mythology, though the cover of You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory by Wah! that appeared on the 12” of The Story of The Blues did in its brevity and acoustic beauty capture all that, but then Wylie was the biggest incurable romantic going. Just out of curiosity I looked romantic up in my battered, ancient Collins English gem dictionary and it says “preferring passion and imagination to proportion and finish”. I like that. So Wylie like all great romantics, being chivalric chancers and fantastic figures, had his great moment with The Story of The Blues, certainly his most romantic moment, which was part-Kerouac, partRagged Trousered Philanthropists, singing how you’ve got to hope against hope, like Kevin Rowland, with that brilliant Mike Hedges riding high after the Associates wall of sound production and the way Wylie enounces the phrase “an ounce of power” is pure magic. Bouncing back after being the butt of Alan Horne’s jokes with Nah Poo the art of heavy metal or whatever he dismissed it as in the Postcard Records brochure, Wylie and Wah! regrouped, escaped from the scrapheap, emerged from the wilderness, victorious with welcomingly back-to-basics The Maverick Years official bootleg, the highlight of which was the single Remember which surprisingly sounded as clanging and as urgent as The Chords, which was backed up by rumours of Wylie walking round in a parka and Fred Perry, and then he was calling the group Shambeko in honour of opponents to Hitler’s Nazi regime who were big jazz fans, and Wylie was singing Sinatra, and how it was a very good year. He wasn’t alone.
Around the same time, roughly the end of 1981, the ninth issue of the Making Time fanzine came out (and it’s the only one I have left). Based in Herne Bay, Kent, Making Time was a vaguely mod publication for people with particularly open minds, and this edition featured articles on TV21, the Bunnymen, lots of poetry and local round-ups, and a great feature on getting into the music of Frank Sinatra and particularly his more swingin’ affairs. In addition there was a nice little article on getting into swing music itself, which interestingly made no mention of Vic Godard or Club Left but instead used as a reference point the soundtrack LP from Pennies From Heaven, the Dennis Potter story that had been adapted for TV a few years before. The series had a dramatic impact, not least for the way in which Potter uses the music of the 1930s. As Making Time’s Rob puts it: “Pennies From Heaven is full of these songs. They are heard, quoted, danced to, used often in highly original ways – to comment on the characters and their sometimes tragic straits and to tell their story through their lyrics. Always they are heard in original versions by the British dance bands and singers of the time. There are indeed Pennies From Heaven, falling for me and you, however tough the storm, however bleak the day ...” In a later set of sleevenotes Potter’s partner Kenith Trodd outlines how the dramatist had been quietly and steadily using the dance music of the ‘30s in his work leading up to Pennies From Heaven. That music being a particular passion of Potter’s but one that was considered then very much an oddball or minority interest. Several of his plays had titles from or echoes of that music about them. One, Moonlight On The Highway, used the name of one of Lew Stone’s hits (and Stone’s music would make up great chunks of Pennies, like the version of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes which also reappears as a song in Potter’s magnificent The Singing Detective when Marlowe quotes the line: “Good writers who once knew far better words now use only four-letter words”.) and have a main character obsessed with the singer Al Bowlly, who similarly is essential to the whole Pennies thing. Bowlly’s quite a fascinating figure, and perhaps the first real popular singer active in Britain able to compete with the American crooners on more than equal terms. Colourful character too. Born in Mozambique of Greek and Lebanese parents, grew up in South Africa, travelled around, singing and whatever, eventually coming to England, enduring some very dark days, but getting to sing with dance bands of the day when the ‘30s arrived, making a bit of a name for himself with Ray Noble on numbers like Goodnight Sweetheart,
Love Is The Sweetest Thing, and The Very Thought Of You, and even going on to make it in the States, but seemed to be dogged by bad luck somehow, and tragically died at home in his Piccadilly flat in 1941 during a Nazi air raid. And if there is one Bowlly number to track down it’s his exquisite bitter sweet rendition of Noel Coward’s Twentieth Century Blues, which Vic Godard sang on T.R.O.U.B.L.E, and when you consider what happened to Bowlly oh these words: Twentieth century blues are getting me down Blues, escape those dreary twentieth century blues Why, if there's a god in the sky, why shouldn't he grin Up high above this dreary twentieth century din In this strange illusion, chaos and confusion People seem to lose their way What is there to strive for, love or keep alive for Say, hey hey, call it a day Blues, nothing to win or to lose, it's getting me down Blues, escape those weary twentieth century blues Why is it that civilized humanity can make this world so wrong In this hurly-burly of insanity, our dreams cannot last long We've reached a deadline, a press headline, every sorrow Blues value is news value tomorrow Once upon a time Potter’s plays were big news, the subject of heated debate, controversial, but now? At least there are DVD issues of Pennies From Heaven and The Singing Detective, which still make for compulsive viewing and are symbols of a time when drama made for TV could change lives, or at least inspire. Works like several of Potter’s, and Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke trilogy, Edge of Darkness, the Smiley adaptations, Bleasdale’s Scully and Boys From The Black Stuff which inspired Pete Wylie to write The Story of the Blues. People, high-up executives, did at least sanction such works but there were surely struggles before works were realised. And the story of Potter’s determination to stick to his guns and how he would not compromise with Pennies From Heaven, feeling he had to use the British dance music of the ‘30s, the songs like Down Sunnyside Lane, You Rascal You, Life begins At Oxford Circus, March Winds and April Showers, The Glory of Love. I can understand that.
What was important about the fanzine Making Time running the articles on Sinatra and swing was the context. Importantly and loyally the same issue ran a feature on the Purple Hearts’ return “after a one-match ban” (brilliant line!) and ran through details of eleven or so demo recordings which didn’t actually surface until 20odd years later on the Smashing Time compilation only serving the emphasise the missed opportunities and the impact of petty prejudices. The same theme underlines a piece that bids farewell fondly to The Chords, and just about avoids quoting the group’s own words: “We were over before we’d be-gun”. And oh the fluctuating fortunes of the Purple Hearts and The Chords, but hopefully posterity puts a proper perspective on those two groups and their astonishing catalogue of gritty kitchen sink three-minute dramas. The Chords and the Purple Hearts would have come to many people’s attention for the first time via the special mod themed edition the New Musical Express ran in April 1979 which featured Penny Reel’s magical narrative of The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story. In the days, months and years to come that tale would be pored, pawed, poured over, and all its secrets, all the detail about the music, the clothing, the deportment would be absorbed, so that even years later chancing across a copy of Blue Spoon you would find yourself thinking about flecking Lea Davis’ brother, one of only three real mods, who was said to have the best collection of Jimmy Witherspoon records in London.
The narrator tells of how he chances upon his friend, Lenny Tyler, and how Lenny is an intense, temperamental brooding character, and that he would go around to Lenny’s house to listen to his Jack Jones records and ogle his younger sister. That struck a jarring note for many a year. And I don’t mean to cast aspersions of Lenny’s sister. I’m sure she was a dream. It was the Jack Jones thing. He seemed to be this ultra-suave smooth crooner, on endless variety shows and the cabaret circuit, always immaculate in his tuxedo and ne’er a hair out of place. What I would come to realise was that the way the likes of Jack Jones, Andy Williams, Matt Monro made the singing thing seem ridiculously effortless was in itself an art form, and I grew increasingly appreciative of the records they made in the ‘60s. And anyway didn’t Andy get to marry Claudine Longet and didn’t he have
the likes of Marcos Valle, Quarteto Em Cy, Barbara McNair and many others on his TV specials back then which was subversive in a way. And these guys made the complex and complicated seem deceptively conservative like Lennie Tyler’s dress sense. The epitome of lounge. Urbane sophistication. Yet Jones would be a big favourite of Sinatra, and a big influence on Scott Walker. And you can pick out just about any of his ‘60s recordings, She Loves Me, Wives And Lovers, Sings Legrand, and so on, and find number after number of real quality. No histrionics. No scat diversions. No attempts to use the voice as an instrument. None of the shadows or spikiness of a Mark Murphy or a Jackie Paris. But he reached audiences they would never get to sing to. Would Jackie Paris have wanted to find success by playing it straight? A rhetorical question really, as he never got the chance. It is perfectly ironic that he would be one of the few singers to record for Impulse! I believe he would be the only white male singer to make a record for that impossibly cool imprint, although there’s little on this in either the film or indeed Ashley Kahn’s lovely book on Impulse records. The godlike Bob Thiele was certainly told by the higher-ups at ABC that any vocal jazz would be out of place at Impulse! But he sneaked a few records through. Johnny Hartman, of course; and Lorez the Great, the masterwork by Lorez Alexandria; and a very young Freda Payne got to make After The Lights Go Down in 1964, a mixture of big band workouts and low key sultry small combo numbers.
Intriguingly Freda Payne missed out on the opportunity to be one of Berry Gordy’s earliest protégées at Motown, and headed out instead on more of a jazz path, aspiring towards being more of an elegant Nancy Wilson/Ethel Ennis figure. Recording a set for Impulse at such an early age was quite a coup, but it’s a great record. It’s certainly the slower, moodier numbers that work best, like ‘Round Midnight and in particular the interpretation of Lonely Woman, which arguably features the greatest of songwriting credits with the music of Ornette Coleman being wed to words by jazz scholar Margo Guryan who had herself been a secretary/assistant to Creed Taylor when Impulse started, well before her famous Beach Boys epiphany which would lead to the astonishing beauty of Take A Picture and so on. After making his one-off record for Impulse in 1962 it would be many, many years as far as I can tell before Jackie Paris made any more LPs (though I understand he did work with Mingus during the ‘60s). Thankfully Freda Payne would not be quite so cursed, and before her success with Invictus she did at least make a live LP in Stockholm with a very arresting cover, and a 1966 set for MGM produced by Tom Wilson which has recently been reissued by Poker Records, one of Cherry Red’s innumerable imprints, with sleevenotes by one of our folk heroes, Mick Patrick. This LP, How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore, captures perfectly that mid-’60s Nancy Wilson/Leslie Uggams sophisticated soul, uptown urbane jazz, perfectly poised pop mixed-up milieu where it’s de rigeur to cover a Beatles and Bricusse/Newley number or two, preferably Feeling Good, with a couple of big band floorshaking, showstopping, irresistibly danceable numbers, and the occasional heartbreaking beat ballad like in this case It’s Here For You where it would make perfect sense if the songwriting credit for Daryll was for Ted Daryll, Chip Taylor’s partner, but that’s just a guess, but it is easy to imagine Evie Sands singing it. Sadly How Do You Say I Don’t Love You failed to set the world alight, despite Tom Wilson’s magic touch (and isn’t it time someone salvaged the record he made with Esther Ofarim?), and the end of the ‘60s found Freda label-less, living in New York, in the same apartment block as the great Tamiko Jones who just happened to have Freda’s old Detroit schoolfriend Brian Holland over visiting, at just the time the songwriting team of HDH was striking out on its own, freed from Motown’s shackles. The rest is history, and the recordings Freda would make for Invictus are immortal and magical. Fate, Freda called it. “-I believe in no systems, no ideologies, no religion, nothing like that. I simply think – Oh, it’s very very boring this. Very – I just think that from time to time, and at rando, you are visited by what you cannot know, cannot predict cannot control cannot change cannot understand and cannot cannot escape – Fate. (Little shrug.) Why not? ‘S good old word.” -
Marlowe speaking in Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective
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