… your heart out
… a restoration
Revanche, reveal, reveille, revel, revelation, revelationist, revenant, revendication, revenge …. That beautiful sequence of words is taken from a dictionary I picked up in a charity shop recently for £1.50. A quite beautiful thing. A 1960 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. In good condition, too. It even had a banking slip inside from 1961. So it didn’t seem to have been overused. Do people use dictionaries much now? After all, everything’s online. But it’s not the same as picking up an old dictionary, and flicking through at random, and finding words, unexpectedly, that have fallen out of use, out of favour. How does that happen? Who decides what words are worth? Who chooses which words can be forgotten? It sounds suspiciously like an Iain Sinclair subject. The reforgotten. Like words from that list. Revendication. The act of reclaiming. I like that concept. And Revenant. The return from the dead or from exile. Has there ever been a better name for an archival label than Revenant, particularly one that has been home to Albert Ayler, Charlie Feathers, Charlie Patton, Dock Boggs and Cecil Taylor? I like the care the label takes. I like this quote on their approach by Dean Blackwood who founded the label with the late great John Fahey: “It’s ‘raw musics’ (plural)—more of a taxonomy of sorts, I guess. Not a genre but a genus, or something. A class of things which hews to a similar line—not in terms of sound or approach or “type”, or even, as is commonly misperceived, in terms of a “rawness” in production values—but in terms of its fundamentally undiluted character.” Anyone who has read Iain Sinclair will know of his crusade to reclaim some of the reforgotten. The London writers, for example, the ones he takes great delight in, no doubt partly because they are the apparently forgotten. But it’s a fine line. The forgotten. The reforgotten. Almost by inference to be reforgotten you do at
least need to have been remembered or noticed. But the questions keep coming. Everything is noticed in some way. And is remembered by someone, somewhere. But at what point does something become re-forgotten or de-forgotten? Sinclair may have edited a book called London: City of Disappearances. I’ve not seen that. Maybe it’s disappeared too. But it’s no big deal. It’s easy to disappear in London. Like Mick Bevan’s Decorators. Start of the ‘80s. An auspicious start. Twilight View. A single on New Hormones. The other great record on New Hormones. The converse of Spiral Scratch. Lush, with Martin Rushent at the controls. More records follow. Lots of quiffs and shades and handsome oversized semi-acoustic guitars. A modelling session for The Face. But it’s not a good time to be a London group. Richard Boon saying much later that Mick was trying to do something no one else was. But there was the curse of being on an interminably uncool label called Red Flame. The Decorators had a great sound nevertheless. A bit of a Lou Reed and Bob Quine meet the Memphis Horns and the Sweet Inspirations up west at a shebeen in Soho for a night of poetry and poteen, in a missing link between the Saints’ Prehistoric Sounds and the OJs’ What Presence kinda way, with the occasional overwrought irregular ballad really hitting the spot with some splendidly tortured vowels and dramatic avowals. From their Tablets LP Red Sky Over Wembley is the best London song nobody sings. From the same record their American Ways is the song Felt would have die for, the sort of thing Paul Quinn might have sung a decade later. The Decorators were never invited to the party because they didn’t fit in. The Decorators never got to fit in because they were never invited to the party. Poets in exile. Left for dead. They may yet return or be reclaimed. But at least they left us Mick’s Girl, from their Rebel Songs set, which is one of the best love songs Smokey Robinson never wrote. Seek and ye shall find ...
“All the cathedrals in France are magnificent and truly grand All the stars in the sky, all of this and more It’s got nothing on Mick’s Girl All of those poets who are French, who satisfy my literary bent Baudelaire and even Rimbaud All of this and more, ain’t got nothing on Mick’s Girl All of the bitter malevolent ways I’ll send each A&R man’s way All the lights in the night, all of this and more Ain’t got nothin’ on Mick’s Girl ...”
Ah that fatal literary bent. The same one that’s responsible for getting excited about discovering words like bedight and bedizen. Oh that literary bent. That line keeps buzzing around my brain. Where would we be without books and literary bents? But walk into a bookshop, particularly an upmarket store, and have a look how much a new hardback is. In Foyle’s for a foray I saw the new Barry Gifford novella. The Imagination of the Heart. The final instalment in the Sailor and Lula series. I can’t wait to read it. But at £15 … So thank heavens for libraries, charity shops, the surviving secondhand bookshops, the remainder shops and the
web, and the unexpected pleasures they proffer. I’ve just been reading Suze Rotolo’s A Freewheelin’ Time, and it’s the classic example of picking up something for next-to-nothing and falling under its spell when you know only too well you’d not have touched it with a barge pole at full price, and anyway surely the last thing the world needs now is another Dylan memoir but then if anyone has got a right to write one then it’s Suze. And it’s a tale worth telling told in a quite beautiful way. Oh it’s not just those astonishing still incredibly romantic in all the best possible senses photos like the one on the cover of Freewheelin’ of Suze and Bobby walking down the street in the snow. It goes deeper than that. Freewheelin’ has always been my favourite Dylan records for its sense of things just falling into place and beginning to bloom and the sense of wondering what will happen, and if it’s not his finest work that is irrelevant and beside the point but it’s up there anyway and I don’t think it could have happened without Suze. You sort of sense that Suze must have been an incredible figure for the young Bobby, new to the city and determined to make it. There he was hiding his past, his oh so dreary small town ordinary family roots, while there is Suze who knows her blues and her Brecht still struggling with her own background that’s shaped by being born into a left wing working class family with Italian roots that seems to have stepped straight out of the pages of an E.L. Doctorow novel. They were thus a perfect match. And Suze beautifully describes their freewheelin’ days: “Unlike Van Ronk, who seemed to already know everything, we revelled in the joy of discovering something we had never heard before. And this wasn’t just for music; it was about books and movies too. We were a young and curious lot, but we all acted cool and hip and knowing.” Oh I recognise that desperate seeking that is tempered by the incredible arrogance of youth that thinks it knows it all. The likes of Suze and Bobby were fortunate to have people like Dave Van
Ronk and Paul Clayton around to learn from.
We each have our own equivalents of Dave Van Ronk and Paul Clayton. We acquire knowledge from all sorts of sources at the strangest but most important of times. I can recall picking up a cheap copy of a recently published book, Cool, edited by Gene Sculatti, in the early ‘80s while still a teenager and having my head completely turned around by its scattergun style round-up of all sorts of odd things that were, well, cool. The point was that so much of what it featured did not quite fit in with prevailing concepts of what popular culture was supposed to be all about, and it opened up so many new vistas, suggested so many things that needed to be explored, and in particular put forward the idea that a lot of trash shone just like gold. One person’s rubbish is another treasure. It’s an old line. Gene Sculatti’s catalog of cool billed itself as a hipster’s directory. It wasn’t just about music, either. It was books, movies, TV, radio, comics, clothes, cars too. There was also a rest ‘n’ rec section featuring cool board games, view-masters (odd mini 3D slide viewing machines – I’ve still got mine!), cigars, cooking with Swamp Dogg providing the recipes (corned beef cha cha cha!) and Richard Meltzer mixing the drinks. It had essays
on the birth of the cool where certainly I first came across Lennie Tristano, Lee Koonitz, Paul Desmond, Jim Hall and Chico Hamilton though it would be many years before I really appreciated these names. Lord Buckley was in there too. And Tom Wolfe when everyone was referencing his ‘60s journalism, the Noonday Underground and all that, though now that doesn’t seem to be the case. And try to find a Thomas Wolfe novel in a book shop these days. Speaking of which, Kerouac was in there too. And Robert Mitchum. The music Cool advocated was wonderfully and madly mixed up. Abba, Johnny Ace, Mose Allison, Syd Barrett through to Tom Waits, Mary Wells, Jackie Wilson, Yachts, Zombies via Nino Rota and The Sonics. And The Raybeats. “Ventures and Venusians meet for discreet instrumental sessions,” it said. Ah the Raybeats. Their Guitar Beat LP would have been released around the time the book was published. Twilight Zone, twanging, twitching, prodigious profane pop produced by the godlike Martin Rushent in his then brand new state-of-the-art studio in Berkshire. Criminally neglected, nevertheless the Raybeats’ pedigree is perfect, and provides the perfect context for their music. I realise there has been a flurry of books based around the whole late ‘70s/early ‘80s New York No Wave scene. But there is a ridiculous irony in there being a collection of coffee table tomes on a milieu which thrived on creating art out of necessity and next-to-nothingness. And I’ve not seen these books, so I can’t confirm whether there are copious chapters on The Raybeats’ provenance. I hope so. Yet in a funny kind of way I’m not bothered about these books as that leaves me with my own muddled memories formed painfully piecing together titbits about the NYC scene as a kid many many thousands of miles away. The idea of The Raybeats as an instrumental group was as I understand it floated by George Scott. By all accounts Scott was a real vinyl freak with a keen knowledge of old source sounds like surf,
doo wop, rockabilly, and so on. He had quite a reputation from working in New York record shops, and at the end of the ‘70s he had his curiosity piqued by a growing interest in instrumental tracks, funky breaks and beats, from what would be the early hip hop community, via records like the Incredible Bongo Band, Dennis Coffey, and so on, plus the emerging extended instrumental disco 12” mix. This all fitted nicely with his own love of the Ventures, Meters, Booker T, Shadows etc. The irony was that in his day job Scott was this roots enthusiast, while by night he played bass with The Contortions/James White and the Blacks, supposedly destroying rock ‘n’ roll, bringing about the end of music. Supposedly not funky enough for the way James Chance wanted the Contortions to go, Scott would join up with Lydia Lunch in her 8 Eyed Spy, which is where it got confusing for me. All this activity. All these personalities. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Contortions, Beirut Slump, James White and the Blacks. Aww. Then Lydia put out Queen of Siam on Ze with that amazing cover, that raven mane, that cat suit, those warped beatnik jazzy noir torch numbers, with the Billy Ver Planck big band, with Bob Quine on guitar. And then by the time that appeared she’s in Zigzag talking about 8 Eyed Spy, what she called her parody of being a girl singer, and described elsewhere as the missing link between Al Green and Creedence, though to my teenage ears it sounded like nothing on earth. Though apparently Ze were none too pleased Lydia was playing with 8 Eyed Spy rather than promoting Queen of Siam and the group wasn’t too pleased with Ze. Ah politics.
And all that Ze stuff was impossibly glamorous. Zigzag were the real champions of Ze too, whatever you read now. Lydia was in the July 1980 edition with Vic Godard and Grace Jones. Cristina was in the next issue with Buzzcocks and The Feelies, and Kris Needs writing; “She’s the real Queen of the offbeat Ze goldmine and epitomises the label’s unabandoned disregard for conventional good taste, which they substitute with a burning lust for rhythm, mood, loony tunes and the weird.” Cristina complains that the UK cover of her LP cuts off her legs, and that she should be full length looking like a “broken doll in a box”. I can remember some 8 Eyed Spy product emerging on Fetish records. One of the most important labels of early ‘80s. Snatch, Bongos, Bush Tetras, Love of Life Orchestra, Throbbing Gristle, 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA, Perry Haines, and those sleeves by Neville Brody. I still know very little about label boss Rod Pearce, can’t even claim kinship, but I did hear he was murdered in Mexico. Jon Savage’s farewell letter to the label on its Last Testament went like this: I’D IMAGINE IT TO BE SYMPTOMATIC that the word Fetish should have changed in the middle to late 70s, from being a slogan on an obscure Mail Art T Shirt to becoming the tradename of an internationally renowned record label—Maida Vale’s own ‘Home of the Hits’—but that’s showbiz. AS WAS PRACTISED FOR A BRIEF TIME: Fetish now appears a product of a particular period when the separate streams of pop and avantgarde—the difference being in selfestimation as much as anything else—were thought expedient, cool and all those things, to crossover. In practice, this tended to mean press coverage disproportionate to sales, plenty of amusing attitudes struck,
and streams of ill-advised people like myself being persuaded to view such artistes as are on offer here in dark and dingy basements. These last would always give the lie to pop’s brave new world pretensions. “IN THIS PULSATING SCENE, Fetish represented an opportune, if haphazard, meeting of New York, Sheffield, and Hackney. All of these spots have been glamourised to a greater or lesser degree, so you would have thought that this brand name was onto a winner. It is, however, an undoubted sign of human perversity that Fetish’s greatest success was to occur at the point when mogul Rod Pearce was shutting up shop: in early 1982, 23 Skidoo’s ‘Seven Songs’, produced by noted noisemakers Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson, became NUMBER 1 in the indie charts. Phew! Luckily, insufficient interest combined with too much time spent promoting the Bongos meant that this incredible success was nipped in the bud: disheartened at rock ‘n’ roll’s indifference, Pearcey announced that Fetish was to cease operating. People in polytechnics wept. MAY I NOW IMAGINE YOU holding what I hope will be a beautifully designed sleeve (although you never can tell) and wondering why you should part with the money? (And, as they used to say, if you’re not going to, please don’t leave fingermarks all over Neville Brody’s labour of love). Apart from all the usual ‘unreleased’ and ‘live tracks’ sales points, you will own 12 tracks from a brief, hothouse period, a temporary delay in the long slide from the Sex Pistols to ABC. You will find preoccupations of the times faithfully represented: the full flowering of ‘industrial’, mature
works from your favourite New York noisemakers, and the first UK meshing of punk and funk 1980! 1981! THOSE WERE THE DAYS! Those heady days of idealism are over. The fragile dividing line between art and commerce which Fetish represented has now shattered: Rod Pearce and Perry Haines are now prostituting themselves with King, Genesis POrridge and Peter Christopherson with Psychic TV, Adi Newton with DVA, and Neville Brody with the Face. I too, am deeply implicated, having sold my soul similarly to PTV and the Face. How worlds change! Isn’t life tough?” And when you read rubbish like that it’s no wonder that in 1983 there was a real movement towards naturalism and roots and shorter, sharper blasts of noise from argumentative and articulate trouble makers. The same sort of perversity that would have appealed to the Raybeats. You could see where George Scott was coming from. Lydia herself had this to say about George: “I still miss George Scott. Bigger than life. Beautiful. Baby-faced. A monster on bass. Big enough to pound the hell out of those four fat strings and make them sing like a beast in heat. On stage – dark, brooding killer intensity. Off stage – the same mania but with a wicked sense of fun, a contagious smile, and an immediacy that only hinted at how hungry he really was. Hungry for more of everything. And hot as fricking hell. Naughty rascal he was. Sometimes too damn naughty. There was something so raw, urgent, real about who he was, how he played. The music he made. Slinky. Sinister. Brutal. Beautiful. Rough-houser. Hooligan. Heart breaker.” Much loved perhaps. But you can understand why, having backed les enfants terribles, Lydia and James, the idea of a more democratic, anonymous instrumental outfit would be more
appealing. Recruiting former Contortions comrades, Jody Harris and Bob Christenson, plus 8 Eyed Spy cohort Pat Irwin, Scott and the Raybeats ventured forth, with a name neatly doffing its hat to Link Wray and the type of raygun toy Fay Fife might have been brandishing around that time. In the downtown context, this might have seemed the weirdest thing going. Guys dressed in suits, with twanging guitars. Though there were the Feelies and Lounge Lizards. And listen again to the Contortions, and the instrumental side of Off White and to what Jody Harris is doing on the guitar. Sadly Scott died long before there would be a resurgence of interest in what could be called exotica, butt and whatever else shakers. He died even before he got to record with the Raybeats. And there will still be a lot of people that have yet to hear the Raybeats. I never even heard their second LP, It’s Only A Movie!, until many years later. But it’s the one to track down. Recorded with Joe Blaney, who’d worked with Bush Tetras and The Clash and would go on to do a lot of Def Jam productions, some of it is straight to tape workouts, while other tracks are more experimental numbers featuring electronics, early drum machines, which sound a good decade ahead of their time, and wouldn’t be out of place in a Tortoise/Mo’ Wax context.
Among the contributors to the catalog of cool was Nick Tosches, who gave us a guide to the coolest country records, when those words didn’t necessarily sit comfortably together. He also contributed an essay on Louis Prima, a variation on the theme he visited again when he put together his book on the Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘n’ Roll, long before he became the Peter Ackroyd of rock ‘n’ roll and the rackets. I’d love to be able to say I bought that Nick Tosches book on the day it came out in 1984ish but mine is a much later Da Capo edition which, naturally, I picked up cheap. Nevertheless it’s a fantastic book. 30 or so pen portraits. Rapid fire essays on the pioneers and chancers who helped create rock ‘n’ roll one way or another via hillbilly boogie, r ‘n’ b, doo wop, swing and whatever else. Tosches writes in a wonderfully witty, pithy, profane way that’s both disdainful and doting, like I may be a loser but I’m better ‘n you ‘cos I know all about these losers, outsiders, outcasts too. And he did when no one else was interested, when there wasn’t even really a script to stick to. In the 25 years or more since the book was first put together some of the artists featured like Wanda Jackson, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Wynonie Harris, Ella Mae Morse have been reclaimed or resurrected thanks to labels like Ace and the Bear Family who have done so much vital excavation work. Those reissues do sometimes have the tendency to have fulsome sleeve notes that miss the magic of the music. What was radical about the way Tosches wrote was his ability to capture the immediacy and irreverence of rock ‘n’ roll. This opening passage on Johnny Ace is a great example of why this worked so well: “The boy called Johnny Ace was brought here by death. He was not like those who came before him; he did not know the Devil from the old days. He was the first fallen angel, the first lost mother’s son of rock ‘n’ roll, eaten up and spat out by fame before he’d had a chance to read Virgil’s words on the back of the dollar bill.”
That style of writing might not get you a job on a broadsheet but it at least makes you want to hear the music and dance to it. There’s a bit in Suze Rotolo’s book where she writes: “I loved to dance – fling-my-hair dance. Dance is a haven for shy people, or at least it was for me. Even as an insecure young girl, I never held back when it came to dancing. In the predawn of rock ‘n’ roll there was great music to dance to: Johnny Ace and his Pleading My Love, Earth Angel by The Penguins. When Bob and I were together, we both loved and listened to music not necessarily filed under the category ‘rock’.” And you can see in that passage where the Theme Time Radio Hour would come from where Bob would play much of the music Tosches wrote about. The pithy pen portrait format, snappy snapshot style, really works. It’s a blessed relief from the earnest careerists rehashing internet authorised versions written like dissertations. Barry Gifford, for example, has it down to a fine art. His Read ‘Em And Weep, for example, is a collection of mini-essays on his favourite books. Barry Gifford may be my favourite writer. I don’t necessarily mean that I love what he’s written. It’s more that I love the way he writes. He rarely writes a chapter that’s more than a few pages long. He loves the novella format. He learnt the art of economy in language from Jean Rhys. He learned a lot from Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels too about using very few words. The one book I treasure most among Gifford’s work is Out Of The Past, Adventures in Film Noir. One hundred odd short essays on noir in the broadest sense written as he “imagined many of the Cahiers du Cinema reviews of the 1950s were written, on the café or
kitchen table at one in the morning.” And no doubt with Godard’s words about all you need is a gun and a girl on his mind. Or was that Aztec Camera? Some of the films Gifford writes about are well known. Some are hopelessly lost. You feel like you need to see them all, though. Gifford knows his stuff too. “The first half of this movie moves ahead like an express train barely able to stay on the tracks. It’s absolutely relentless teetering on the edge of the rails as it tears around each corner. Photographer George Deskant, one of the noir masters, along with Joseph Biroc and Burnett Guffey, lights and angles the scenes as if they were bop tenor solos, spurting and quaking and falling loose at the most unpredictable moments. And the music by Bernard Hermann, who did so many Hitchcock scores, fractures the pictures, taking them apart, and then rewelding them so that the pace hits home like a whirling, bucking bronc, each concussion shattering the previous mood or moment.” That’s from the essay about On Dangerous Ground, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Ida Lupino, two of the real stars of this book. You have to warm to Gifford’s weakness for the femmes noir. They recur in his books too. Ava Gardener and her green scarf. The stunning beauty of Gene Tierney. And so on. But it’s Ida Lupino you find yourself looking out for. Born in England, star of hard boiled classics like High Sierra, They Drive By Night, Roadhouse and On Dangerous Ground, she got bored and became interested in direction and production, becoming the first woman to direct a film noir in 1953 with The Hitchhiker. Film critic Richard Armstrong has written that: “What remains significant is that a woman managed to direct, write, and produce in the Hollywood of the ’50s. What remains
exciting is how her films seemed to embody the music of chance, circumstance, and creativity that Bazin dubbed ‘the genius of the system.’ The evidence of her peers and the evidence on screen bear out what was rash about high auteurism, for here was a vision shaped in the crucible of history.”
Appropriately a track I have fallen in love with relatively recently is Ida Lupino by the Paul Bley Trio from the mid ‘60s LP Closer. Maybe once I would have thought it too stark, too static, but now I love it for its elegant piano and austere beauty. Ida Lupino is a Carla Bley composition that must date from the time, the early ‘60s, when she was still seizing every opportunity to be near to and learn about jazz, and if this involved working in cloakrooms and waiting on tables, then at least there was a purpose to it. I have to confess that I am not by any stretch of the imagination an expert on Carla Bley. You think you know it all, then turn a corner, turn a page, and there’s a whole load of new stuff to absorb, assimilate, though that’s what keeps you going, keeps things fresh. I did buy Carla’s Tropic Appetites many years ago because Julie Tippets was singing on it, and Julie’s singing hasn’t been heard enough so you have to seize every opportunity, and I had a real Julie Tippets/Julie Driscoll thing going at the time. The other record I knew was the 1970 Liberation Music Orchestra record Carla made with Charlie Haden for Impulse!
This came out on CD around 1996 in that fantastic reissue series with those exquisite digipak designs maintaining the extremely high Impulse design standards. It’s an amazing record. Heavily politicised but tinged with despair, so very much of its time, if you think also of Phil Ochs’ Rehearsals for Retirement and Gary McFarland’s America The Beautiful. It draws on inspiration from the songs of the International Brigade and the Spanish Civil War, and there’s a fantastic 20 minute suite arranged by Carla comprising adapted folk songs you might have heard Pete Seeger or Paul Robeson sing when it was dangerous to do so. The record also contains the beautiful Haden composition Song For Che which Robert Wyatt would cover quite beautifully. The line-up on the Liberation Music Orchestra was remarkable. Gato Barbieri, Dewey Redman, Don Cherry, Mike Mantler, Roswell Rudd, Paul Motian, Andrew Cyrille. So it was serious stuff. While Carla may have jested that for some the recording was just a job, Haden was passionate about the project and approached it in a very businesslike fashion, turning up to the sessions in a shirt and tie, and inviting surviving members of the Lincoln Brigade to sit in on the recordings. It was Bob Thiele who gave the green light to the project, as ever willing to give something different a go. This was right at the end of his time at Impulse! A heavy time. Other releases around that time were from Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders’ Karma. Thiele was having his own war with parent company ABC at the time. There is a hilarious story of ABC president Larry Newton physically trying to stop the recording of Louis Armstrong singing What A Wonderful World. Think of a world without that …). ABC were also very wary about putting out a record as explicitly political as The Liberation Music Orchestra, so credit to Thiele for fighting his corner. There’s a great photo of him with Carla and Charlie on the inside sleeve, where Thiele looks wonderfully like Alan Horne.
Haden had known Carla Bley since the early ‘60s, and was really keen for her to be part of his political song suite. Carla’s own stock had risen after vibes man Gary Burton recorded her song cycle, A Genuine Tong Funeral in 1967, which is another record I have recently chanced upon and fallen in love with. I have to be careful here not to start thinking of Jane Bowles outwriting husband Paul. That would be inappropriate. At the other end of the ‘60s Paul and Carla were big supporters of the emerging free jazz movement. Paul Bley would gain quite a reputation as an improviser, and in the early ‘60s played as part of the Jimmy Giuffre Three, along with Steve Swallow, recording the amazing Free Fall. One of my favourite pieces of jazz writing is in Robin Tomens’ essays on modern jazz Points of Departure where he explains how it took time for the record to register with him, but that when it did finally …
real or imagined cultural trappings of Art and Jazz meant nothing. To clever for his own good. So he recorded nothing for the next decade …” Free Fall is a strange, compelling record. A lot happens on it. But it’s not free jazz in the sense we tend to think of free jazz in the squawking, passionate, wild sense where art springs from a need to be heard, and to speak out. A classic example of this would be We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, which was recorded in 1960, and half a century on remains an astonishing work. Coinciding with the growth of the civil rights movement in America, a growing political consciousness among black American jazz musicians, the Freedom Now Suite developed out of a collaboration between Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr, who was at the time an unknown lyricist. It would be followed in 1961 with Percussion Bitter Sweet for Impulse! Booker Little and Julian Priester still there from Freedom Now but joined by Eric Dolphy on a set that’s just as fiery. Intriguingly the sleevenotes are by Margo Guryan at Roach’s request. Margo knew Max from her time studying jazz. She was well connected. There’s another great story of how she had purchased the painting "Fried Egg On A Polka Dot Tablecloth" (1965) by her cousin, pop artist Peter Shulman. She thought it might make a good album cover and interested Creed Taylor in the painting who chose the painting for her old songwriting partner Gary McFarland's The In Sound.
“I can only guess at his state of mind when making Free Fall. And whatever he thought, wherever he was at, he wasn’t about to resort to the blues as a vehicle for expression. And he wasn’t getting Angry either. He was playing out something, either innocent or knowing – perhaps simply playing with the naivete of a child for whom all the constructed –
The choral work on that Percussion Bitter Sweet would be developed more fully with Coleridge Perkinson on the following year’s It’s Time, produced by Bob Thiele which is one of the most beautiful records ever. Featured on that set, and on the two preceding works would be Abbey Lincoln. Her performances are particularly striking and strident and mesmerizingly scary on We Insist!
These are real excoriating exorcisms of African roots, completing a remarkable transformation from the sultry siren swathed in a clinging red gown in The Girl Can’t Help It. This manufactured vamp thing was an image she would become particularly uncomfortable with, and Max Roach would help provide the freedom to find herself. Beginning to stretch and challenge on her 1959 set Abbey Is Blue, where interestingly again Oscar Brown Jr was making his way, setting words to Herbie Mann’s Afro Blue, writing Brother Where Are You. Another highlight of the LP, Lonely House, would have songwriting credits from Langston Hughes and Kurt Weill.
Further out there was 1961’s Straight Ahead, which had a real harshness and confidence about it, particularly on Langston Hughes’ African Lady and her own Retribution. The power on the record was remarkable. But she wouldn’t make another record for another dozen or so years, when she returned with the amazing People In Me, featuring her interpretations of John Coltrane’s Africa and Max Roach’s Living Room. The latter of which Mark Murphy would cover in the mid-‘80s just as a new generation was being made aware of the possibilities of jazz via the dancefloor.
One of the things Carla Bley was involved with in the early ‘70s was an organisation to support independent jazz record labels of the sort featured on the essential Jazzman round-up of Spiritual Jazz. This exposes further the lie of the enduring punk myth about how the era fostered the independent label. Certainly after 1976 there was a DIY explosion, and many strange and wonderful singles appeared on small labels. But as Bob Thiele points out in his autobiography: “The record business was built by independent labels and distributors since, at the dawn of the industry, there was nothing else …” He goes on to write: “Independent distributors have never cared if labels remain alive, for they arrogantly believed that they would always survive while the vulnerable record labels they exploited came and went. The fallacy of this myopic approach can now be seen in the increased bankruptcies of independent distributors, as independent labels are increasingly viewed as poor investments. Thus they decrease in numbers, while, as a consequence the industry is further dominated and defined by the few megaconglomerates and the labels and distribution networks they own. Tragically, the small independents that provided invaluable excitement and creativity and gave birth to a vibrant industry are gasping to an inescapable extinction.” And somewhere the Stockholm Monsters are smiling. Thiele’s first label, Signature, was started when he was just 17 and still at school in New York, in 1939. He was from an extremely privileged background, but completely obsessed with jazz and getting his education in the clubs where he would hear so many great musicians who weren’t being recorded, and so he became determined to do something about it. He also at the same time started his own jazz publication, by fans, for fans, to spread the word. Thiele called it ‘neophytic’. A lovely word to use. Neophyte my Concise Oxford Dictionary defines as a new convert, novice, beginner or tiro. Tiro is a lovely word too.
People should not be afraid of being tiros. We all have to start somewhere. And we are all continually learning. For example The Numero Group continues to amaze and delight with its excavation work. You think you know a thing or two about music, and yet they come along with a series of collections of lost soul from labels you’ve not even heard of. In quite a beautiful way The Numero Group has demonstated how small, local, independent labels flourished in the ‘60s and ‘70s among the soul and funk music scenes, long before the punk explosion. Its ongoing Eccentric Soul series is perfectly named too, and they have successfully reclaimed the word eccentric, redefining it as being independent, offcentre, irregular, a determined dreamer.
The writer J.L. Carr (and, yes, he did call himself James) was a determined dreamer, often referred to as an English eccentric, and if he is best known for anything in particular it is his 1980 short novel, A Month In The Country. A very well thought of book. It remains part of the Penguin Modern and New York Review Books Classics series. Quite right too, as it’s a lovely little book, where an idyllicish month is fondly remembered many years on. A month shortly after the end of WW1, when two young men escape to pursue dreams, to discover, regret, forget. I thought of that book when I came across a fitting phrase in a Susan Sontag novel the other day: “Utopia is not a kind of place but a kind of time, those
all too brief moments when one would not wish to be anywhere else.” A Month In The Country is by far the best known of Carr’s works, though How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The F.A. Cup has its loyal followers who consider it the funniest and wisest book yet on football. Snootily dismissed as far fetched when published in 1975, it tells with a touch of the Ripping Yarns, the tale of how a village team went all the way to Wembley. The story of Steeple Sinderby Wanderers remains in print as part of what was Carr’s own Quince Tree publishing imprint. For, Carr, in despair at the ways of the book world, the way his books were not being distributed properly, set up his own publishing house, with considerable success. His first forays were a series of, well, booklets or pamphlets, sort of A6-ish size, and 16 pages long. Initially Carr issued small collections of sundry poets’ work (out of copyright, you see). He started with a selection of John Clare’s verse, though I don’t think that’s credited in Iain Sinclair’s Clare related work, Edge of the Orison. The series went on to include wood engravers’ picture books, mini-dictionaries, and inflammatory evangelical tracts. Great phrase that. Inflammatory evangelical tracts. Of these I cherish my copy, my exquisite copy, of Carr’s own work, The Poor Man’s Guide to the Revolt of 1381. Every home should have one. These beautiful little publications can stil be had in the unlikeliest of laces. I found sets of them in the Southwark Gallery on London’s South Bank recently, including the Forrest’s Dictionary of Eponymists and Carr’s Dictionary of English Kings, Consorts, Pretenders, Usurpers, Unnatural Claimants, and Royal Athelings. Whew. Atheling’s not even in my Concise Oxford Dictionary! Carr died in 1994, but his family keeps his publications in circulation. Of his dictionaries the most loved has been Carr’s Dictionary of Extra-Ordinary Cricketers. It’s a bit like that Rock Snob’s Dictionary that the OJs’ Steven Daly was involved in, but much sharper, stranger
and funnier. I’m not a cricketing man, but Carr was a true believer, seeing it as a metaphor for life, reflecting his values, and all that. And if this is sounding a little bit Ray Davies Village Green Preservation Society then that’s fair enough if you mean it in a positive rather than reactionary way. There were many sides to Jim. He was a man of many parts, many passions. These passions included old churches, stone carving, wood engraving, map making, painting, letter writing, postcard sending, bureaucrat hounding and pettifogger dogging. He was, I understand, a good Union man, romantically left leaning if not particularly pro the masses en masse. Professionally he was a teacher, and for many years a primary school head in Kettering. He sounds like the sort of head you wish you’d had. Passionate. Unorthodox. Principled. Protective. He retired at 55 abruptly to concentrate on publishing, writing and all his other activities. He ran his publishing house out of a small back room bedroom of his Kettering home, with a zeal and determination that would shame Billy Childish. Carr published his final novel, Harpole and Foxberrow, General Publishers, in 1993 when he was 80. It’s a gem, very funny, in that very important serious comic way in which Jonathan Coe, Beryl Bainbridge, Shena Mackay, Galton & Simpson, and Alan Plater have also excelled. As all of Carr’s books have foundations in his own life, it’s no surprise his own voice is often heard within them, and in this final book the master’s words are heard in a splendidly splenetic sermon delivered drunkenly to a shocked TV audience: “You snob townplanners in rural exrectories who’ve shoved other folk’s poor old mums up 17 floors! And you disgusting yobs who frighten the living daylights out of them when they’re trapped up there! You motorway slaughtermen! You assetstrippers of poor men’s jobs! You swine who batter the fruit of your loins or demand the NHS do a free job
murdering someone else’s! You supermarket defilers of the Sabbath! You politicians with sticky fingers in half-a-dozen honey pots, who’d sell your grandmas for a mess of potage at Buck House! You banks and building societies that lend and lend and cast and cast your debtors out of their semis and into the street! You dead-faced directors of collapsing companies voting yourselves long pay-packets against the day when you’ll need to buy short sentences!” Naturally independent labels and publishers are not inherently a good thing. Bitter experience has shown that most independent concerns are run by absolute idiots who have no vision or mission. But there are exceptions where small labels have stuck to their guns, and quietly gone about their business over the years steadily releasing a series of records that stands for something positive. Such labels, such exceptions, deserve support in a difficult economic climate and an environment where consumer habits are changing. You want to see such imprints keep their head above water and thrive. Apart from the Numero Group, a great example would be Far Out Recordings which has for many years now specialised in an impressive variety of Brazilian sounds, ancient and modern. Run quietly by Joe Davis (Joti Jopal), a West London lad whose love for Brazilian music grew out of the ‘80s jazz dance scene (via DJs like Paul Murphy, Gilles Peterson, and Patrick Forge), under his stewardship Far Out has been pivotal to giving a lot of gifted musicians a new lease of life. I love the story I read somewhere of someone from the same scene on holiday in Rio who went record shopping hoping to unearth some great lost bossa or tropicalia sounds, and on closely questioning an old guy in a record shop gets offered some Far Out compilations he could have got back home. There are always certain moments that stick with you as a tiro when cautiously and warily investigating new forms of music. With my own Brazilian love affair, it was very much the Joyce and Marcos
Valle compilations Mr Bongo put out which provided the epiphanies and the revelations, but right in there too was a compilation Far Out put out of material from the Quartin label, around 1997, which featured tracks from Piri. To this day I can’t tell you much about Piri, but their sound still brings me out in goose bumps and still seems like nothing on earth. Funky flute, layers of acoustic guitars and percussion, virtually vocalese singing. Incredible beautiful stuff. Particularly Reza Brava. Then in 2004 Far Out released a double CD of Milton Nascimento material, comprising soundtracks to two ballets, which although dating from the mid to late ‘70s had never before been issued on record. This would be my first introduction to Milton’s work. Significantly it came accompanied by sleeve notes from Sue Steward who had since her involvement in the magazine Collusion in the post-punk era been a vital catalyst in getting people to broaden their musical horizons. She wrote: “Milton Nascimento possesses one of the most immediately recognizable voices in Brazilian music: high and sweet and as breathtakingly sublime as that of any soul singer.” It may have been immediately recognizable to her, but I had a lot of catching up to do. Thankfully by that time it was becoming easier to do so, via the increasingly intensive salvage programmes and the opportunities presented by the internet to buy CDs at reasonable rates from anywhere in the world. I was soon having a whale of a time tracking down Milton Nascimento’s back catalogue. Courage. The Cluba Da Esquina records. And so on. I soon realised what Sue Steward meant about the influence on Nascimento of church and choral music and how “his love of this genre of music is apparent in both his celestial falsetto and vocal choral arrangements. This collection also displays his early fascination with evocative, non-verbal, scat-style singing, spare, harmonic guitar work and local folk music, jazz and rock.” I hated the word rock used so baldly but knew what she meant. Sort of. This urge to dig deeper, to delve and discover, I’m
sure would be exactly the response Joe Davis would have been hoping for.
More recently Far Out has salvaged recordings made in Paris around 1975 by Joyce with Nana Vasconceles and Mauricio Maestro. Paris was in the early to mid ‘70s quite a place of refuge for Brazilian musicians, and Vasconceles for instance would record for Pierre Barouh’s Saravah label. This set, Visions of Dawn, includes early sketches of songs that would become Joyce classics like Banana and Clareanna, and if you are a fool for Joyce’s wonderfully warm vocal style this set will be an absolute must. Far Out has quite a pedigree where Joyce is concerned, having released a number of her records, both old and new. Interestingly her new recordings are as lovely and as uplifting as her older work, which is all too rarely the case. Other relatively recent examples of artists whom Far Out has given a new lease of life to include Antonio Adolfo and Arthur Verocai. I was lucky enough to pick up a cheap secondhand copy of Destiny by Antonio Adolfo, recorded for Far Out in 1997, and while the name was new to me I was soon won over. I was intrigued that Joe Davis had specifically requested that the album be recorded in the same vein as the records Adolfo had made with A Brazuca in the late ‘60/early ‘70s. I hadn’t heard these. But if the music on
Destiny was anything to go by I needed to. And I did need to. The two Antonio Adolfo E A Brazuca records I’ve tracked down are now among my all-time favourites. Tracks like Juliana, Claudia and Caminhada are just so beautiful and strange and complex and catchy.
The whole thing of revisiting old styles and triumphs really doesn’t work anywhere very often except on paper. But somehow Far Out seems to create the right climate for such challenges to work. Antonio Adolfo’s Destiny is a quite beautiful set. As returns go it’s as good as anything that springs to mind. Though the Arthur Verocai set on Far Out, released at the same time, gives it a real run for its money. Verocai’s name was one I at least knew in advance, having fallen in love with his astonishingly moving and beautifully spiritual early ‘70s LP which had been reissued by Luv ‘N Haight. As records go, this is one of the best, though one seemingly very much overlooked at the time. Once again, like the Milton Nascimento records, or Edu Lobo’s Missa Breve, it seemed to have so much going on in it. Certainly since then I have learned that Verocai’s influences and inspirations included a real mix of Milton Nascimento and Tim Maia, Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery, Bach and Ravel, Frank Zappa and the Beatles, and while these diverse elements coloured the sound on that record it really is something quite
unique in the way its intricate arrangements are put together. But it never loses sight of the dancefloor, which is no doubt why it is such a popular source for samples among the more adventurous parts of the hip hop community. And following on from this it’s easy to see why critics clasp on to names like David Axelrod and Charles Stepney as convenient comparisons. Though these don’t really work. Just as it doesn’t work when something like Joyce’s Visions of Dawn is billed as acid folk. It is when artists have made records that have been so special but so ignored that there is a kind of poetic perfection to the way they may be recalled to life and given the opportunity to create something new that really is special. This is certainly the case with Arthur Verocai’s appropriately titled Encore set for Far Out. It’s just quite lovely. And housed in a typically elegant Swifty designed sleeve. But the real value of both the Antonio Adolfo and Arthur Verocai records is the way they have acted as lightning conductors, or water diviners, taking the listener, the explorer, in the direction of other works they were involved with in the early ‘70s. There were the big names like Nara Leao and Gal Costa, but it’s been a real joy to discover wonderful music by Anamaria & Mauricio, Eduardo Conde, Hareton Savatini, Celia, Guilherme Lamounier and Armaud Rodrigues. While what I actually know about any of these artists is next to nothing, the music nevertheless is out there to be discovered. Seek and ye shall find. I like the fact that Verocai on one hand was close to the Brazilian variant on soul & funk as exemplified by the great Tim Maia, while on the other working with some of the more progressive so-called rock elements. Though again rock is used in its loosest sense of kids with long hair and electric guitars. Certainly the eponymous records Verocai was associated with in the early ‘70s by O Terço and Karma are as exquisite as anything by The Association, Love or Mighty Baby. They really do need to be tracked down and heard. Some of the complex vocal arrangements are gorgeous. And just crying out for
someone to reclaim them and restore them to life. Of course it’s not just music that gets reclaimed or restored to life. Considerable trouble too is taken to salvage lost films. The Criterion Collection, for example, works in the same way as The Numero Group or Far Out by issuing beautifully presented DVD editions of classic and contemporary films. With books too there is a long tradition of titles being brought back from the dead. The writer John King, for example, is engaged with a project to republish a series of lost London-related books, Gerald Kersh, James Curtis, the sort of book that Iain Sinclair loved to cite, while in the ‘80s Barry Gifford ran the Black Lizard imprint, a division of Creative Arts in San Francisco. Black Lizard industriously set about reprinting forgotten crime or noir titles (with the occasional new work to boot) from the likes of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Charles Willeford, Paul Cain, and many more that remain far less known. These were writers who were long since out of print, out of vogue, and who ironically despite Black Lizard eventually being subsumed into Vintage Crime now run the risk of being reforgotten, having disappeared from book shops and library shelves. At least the pulp poets of noir have the cachet of cool that comes with being beloved by the auteurs and cineastes of the French new wave. Others are not so lucky. My local library, which I haunt, has a number of anonymous looking hardback titles published as part of the Black Dagger Crime Series. This series is dedicated to ‘outstanding examples’ of crime, mystery, detective stories, most of which have been out of print for many years. All of which seem to be British in origin. And it has become quite an addiction of mine. The books come without any background information on the authors, which somehow is irritating but leaves more to the imagination. Some are known names like R.F. Delderfield and Geoffrey Household, while others are entirely new to me.
I have for a long time had a soft spot for the British mystery writers, with their economy of language and ability to use a formal format to introduce strangeness and subversion. Like the best songwriters, in fact. And one of my most treasured moments is eagerly chatting with Cristina Monet about writers like Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, after finding we shared a passion for the spite of Patricia Highsmith. What I should have realised from my own pop obsession was that there would be many more names to add to that list, names that had fallen from grace, names that no longer were in circulation. So the work of the people behind the Black Dagger series is invaluable, and I have fallen in love with works by Isobel Lambot, Elizabeth Ferrars, Josephine Bell and have many more to consume. My real favourite so far has been Margot Bennett. The local library stocks two of her titles. And they are among the best things I’ve ever read, sort of somewhere between Patricia Highsmith and Shena Mackay and as smart as hell. The Widow of Bath, from 1952, has a wonderful passage that goes: “He was a romantic who hated ordinary life so much that had chosen to destroy himself rather than not escape at all ...” And 1958’s Someone From The Past has this: “We were very romantic. It takes a solid foundation of romanticism to build a good cynic”. But you try to find out more. The blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, at least has a little piece on her, mentioning she volunteered as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, and wondering why she gave up crime writing after Someone From The Past. “At the age of 47, and with the CWA Award under her belt, why would Bennett give up on crime? It may have had something to do with money: she did write for television in the ‘60s, contributing episodes to ‘Maigret’ and ‘Emergency Ward Ten’. She may have lost interest in the genre – she wrote two noncriminous novels, again in the sixties, but they made little impact. And she also published The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Atomic Radiation in 1964. But none of this explains adequately why she abandoned crime when she reached the
heights. She was once quoted as saying: ‘All through my books, the best I have done is to make the people real.’ It’s no mean feat. “
a heroic quality of its own”) and also Allende’s Chile where an old Communist worker asked if they had a chance and Greene replied: “I think you have a sporting chance” while even then thinking “of the generals in Brazil and Bolivia and of Mr Davis and the CIA, of the rain and the desolation ...”. In the book collector piece he writes: “I am still collecting Victorian detective stories: how many I used to find in the forties at Foyle’s at half-a-crown a time ... The value of a collection to the collector lies less in its importance, surely, than in the excitement of the hunt, and the strange places to which the hunt sometimes leads.” Barry Gifford in his collection Read ‘Em And Weep writes of Greene that: “He stayed cool and distant and lived in the south of France. Remember that when you read him.” Remember too that the final release from The Decorators would be a cover of Teenage Head, recorded specifically for the French market, a tribute of sorts to a country where the Flamin’ Groovies had at least been in the charts. A gesture from forlorn, fallen romantics that perhaps few noticed at the time. But there’s still time to drink a toast to the ghosts of possible adventure. Here’s hoping they return to haunt us ...
Interestingly Margot Bennett’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Atomic Radiation has become a much sought after item among book collectors for its striking cover and place within the Penguin Specials series. So the chances of stumbling upon it for a few shillings are remote but, as Graham Greene points out, part of the fun in searching for old books is the hope of an unexpected discovery or a mistake on the booksellers’ part. The subject of book collecting is something he addresses in an introduction to a memoir by David Low, published in 1973, and later included in an anthology of Reflections which I chanced upon in a charity shop rather recently. Reflections also contains some moving and optimistic memoirs of visiting Cuba in the early years of Castro’s revolution (“The war against illiteracy is a genuine crusade with