… your heart out
it will never be over …
‚The more you know the more ignorant you become and the greater possibilities become open to you. A lot of people do ‘think’ they know it all and won’t go beyond that.‛ – Mike McGuire, Sudden Sway
There is something special about how learning leads on to finding a whole world of other things you don’t know but which seems to fit perfectly with other things you’ve long been aware of. It’s that perfect jigsaw feeling, where a piece of new information fits neatly next to another piece in a way you might never have expected. So, for example, following up some YouTube leads on vintage British soul sounds I stumbled across a post of Flower In My Hand, and then clips from other old 45s, by Joe E. Young & the Toniks which appealed enormously. And doesn’t the name Toniks just perfectly capture something specific of the interests of the audience their records would have been aimed at? The Joe E. Young sides seemed to be on the Toast label, and it was a short step on to another series of singles put out by that company in the late ‘60s which someone had uploaded by the likes of Rosetta Hightower, Doris Troy, Stockingtops, Sandpebbles, Coins and Cameos. It was all fabulous stuff, and it was particularly intriguing to note Vicki Wickham’s name appearing as producer. As is the modern wont, I shared my excitement at finding (virtually) all these slices of Toast recordings, and also asked about Vicki Wickham’s involvement. Michael Robson was among those who responded, confirming that Vicki did indeed run Toast’s operations (out of the Great Marlborough Street offices of Phil Solomon’s Major Minor label). He also politely pointed me in the direction of the Stockingtop Pop volume of RPM’s Dream Babes series which he compiled and which features a handful of Toast tracks. The curious thing about this Stockingtop Pop collection is that I really had no idea that it was even out. I must have the other seven titles in the series, and probably have more CDs on the RPM label than I do of most other labels beyond Blue Note or the Ace family. But this one completely passed me by, and that’s far from the first time this has happened with RPM releases. I quite often seem to be playing catch-up. That doesn’t really matter, I guess. I get there in the end. But it does say something about the amount of attention RPM is given. Even now I know very little about the label itself and its owner Mark Stratford. I suspect we should be building a statue of him, but perhaps he prefers to keep a low profile. Michael’s Stockingtop Pop collection (I’ve caught up, now!) is perhaps the best title in the superb Dream Girls series. It focuses on what he calls the ‚birds ‘n’ brass ‘n’ bass‛ sound that flourished at the end of the ’60s. It concentrates on
that glorious over-the-top blend of kitchen sink soul, a mix of big band blasts and free electrics, with the singers fiercely fighting it out with the orchestral excesses. If there is one track on the Stockingtop Pop set that encapsulates this approach perfectly it’s Pretty Red Balloons by Rosetta Hightower, a Toast cut that roars along at breakneck speed with a rumbling heavy bass line and a possessed propulsive orchestral arrangement, topped by scorching soul dramatics and an absurdly infectious bubblegum refrain. The arrangement on this Rosetta Hightower track is by Ian Green, and that fact alone is enough to stimulate interest. Ian’s name is one of those whose presence among a record’s credits will suggest it’s worth investigating. He’s part of a select group of British arrangers that I really love, like Arthur Greeenslade, Ivor Raymonde, Johnny Harris, David Whitaker, Keith Mansfield, John Cameron, Mike Leander, Alan Hawkshaw, Gerry Shury, and so on. I am no expert on the work of any of these people, but their work which I am familiar with really does contain some exceptionally inventive moments. I’m not sure when I really became aware of Ian’s name. It might well have been through the late ‘60s 45s he made with Timi Yuro which I believe passionately are right up there with the greatest pop moments I’ve come across. His work on It Will Never Be Over For Me, Interlude (Time), I Must Have Been Out Of My Mind and As Long As There Is You is steeped in drama. These are torch songs that are a little bit soul, a little bit country, and as sumptuously emotional as any piece of Italian operatic pop. Or perhaps it was noting Ian’s name among the credits of Madeline Bell’s Doin’ Things that I thought this is someone to keep an eye out for? That 1968 set, reissued almost inevitably by RPM, is among the very finest soul productions made in the UK.
arranged a few of the tracks on it, and John Paul Jones is very much in evidence as a musician and songwriter. Ironically it definitely was not via the arrangements on the familiar hits of Peter Sarstedt or Thunderclap Newman that Ian’s name became known to me. It’s more familiar from the exceptional Sharon Tandy collection on Big Beat which includes Ian’s name in the credits alongside the Fleur De Lys, Tom Dowd, Gerry Shury, Donnie Elbert, Ray Smith and Tony Colton, and so on. Ian’s name has also turned up in disparate places such as the beautiful string arrangements on the debut LP by folk rock outfit Bread, Love and Dreams and on the arrangements for the likes of the superb (UK) Chocolate Watch Band 45, Requiem/What’s It To You?, Scots of St James’ Eiderdown Clown, and the remarkable Bassa Love by Flamma Sherman on Simon Napier Bell’s label on which the Liberian diplomat’s daughters beautifully fuse African sounds with new pop thinking.
Stumbling upon what Vicki Wickham had done at Toast was a revelation. Naturally she should always be in any pop pantheon, for her work with Ready Steady Go and Labelle and for being a friend of Dusty. In the ‘60s apart from being a pioneer in terms of making things happen she seems to have been firmly on the soul side. And her label’s activity demonstrates this. Some of the singles were leased from Calla, the New York soul label, by acts such as Doris Troy and Sandpebbles. But generally the Toast productions were slices of home-grown soul.
Arrangers and producers like Keith
Mansfield, Derek Wadsworth and Pete Gage are among the credits. But it’s the sides Ian Green made with Rosetta Highpower for Toast that really hit home, particularly the storming interpretation of Eddie Floyd’s Big Bird. Yet, bizarrely, despite loving Ian Green’s unique take on soulful sounds I was until recently completely unaware that RPM had been so active in shedding light on the musical activities of Ian and Rosetta. I think I was only vaguely aware that they were a couple in ‘real life’, and I should hang my head in shame. But, as ever, it’s been fun catching up with what they recorded. So, one of RPM’s splendid salvage operations is the Ian Green Revelation LP, featuring Rosetta Hightower, M.B. and friends. It’s from 1969, and it’s very much of its time, in the best possible sense. The symphonic soul sound is embellished with electric guitar flourishes, heavy flowing bass, and there are complex jazzy twists to the arrangements. The vocals are multi-layered, and certainly Rosetta Hightower and Madeline Bell are featured but there are no real clues to whom the other ‘friends’ were. Some of the tracks are originals, while the others are startling re-workings of popular songs of the day like Cook/Greenaway’s Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, Traffic’s beautiful No Face, No Name, No Number, and the obligatory McCartney/Lennon numbers. It’s very tempting to make comparisons between what Ian Green was doing on Revelation with what David Axelrod was doing at that time, or with what Charles Stepney and Richard Evans were creating, or Quincy Jones or Norman Whitfield, and so on. There definitely seem to be similarities, and it seems entirely feasible to suggest Ian Green would have been very much taken with what these people were doing. But I hear or sense something too of the 5 th Dimension, the songs of Laura Nyro and Jimmy Webb, and in particular the arrangements and productions of Bones Howe which had already graced the Mamas & Papas, Turtles, The Association and so on. Their Age of Aquarius/ Let The Sunshine In medley is pivotal to the pop music of the very late ‘60s. These songs, of course, were adapted from the ‘tribal rock musical’ Hair which was having such an impact on popular culture at the time. Age of Aquarius, (The Flesh Failures), Let The Sunshine In, Ain’t Got No, I Got Life, Frank Mills, Good Morning Starshine, and
so on. These were all songs that took on a life outside of the hippy musical stage show, and some of the artists (Nina Simone, Julie Driscoll, etc.) associated now with the songs give a real sense of how seriously these numbers were taken. A perusal of the cast and band from the original UK stage show of Hair reveals an intriguing tangle of names such as Marsha Hunt, Paul Nicholas, Maxine Nightingale, J. Vincent Edwards, Alex Harvey, Jimmy Winston, Sonja Kristina, Oliver Tobias, Judy Loe, Linda Kendrick, Elaine Page, Annabel Leverton, Junior Marvin, and Paul Korda. Also involved were Ethel Coley, Joanne White, Bob Robinson, Jamaican singers who as The Coins had a couple of Derek Wadsworth-arranged 45s on the Toast label, including a cracking cover of The Sandpebbles’ Calla classic Love Power, a favourite of Dusty’s unsurprisingly. The show’s anti-establishment mien was genuinely shocking and exciting and its themes of peace and universal love were a heady combination as psychedelia spread its influence beyond rock groups. Inevitably other ‘rock’ musicals appeared as a consequence, including Jesus Christ Superstar which started life as a concept LP at the end of the ‘60s before becoming a stage production. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice may have plenty of crimes to answer for when it comes to musicals, but the original LP recording of Jesus Christ Superstar is a fantastic thing, surprisingly rocky, which has a lot to do with Decca’s vision as a record label and the people taking part, with almost as strange and stellar a cast as Keith Tippett assembled for Centipede’s Septober Energy or the one Vicki Wickham helped get together for Lionel Bart’s 1968 masterpiece … Isn’t This Where We Came In? on Deram thanks to the open mind of the enlightened patrician Hugh Mendl. The sound on the original JCS LP recording is miles away from what would become the trademark Lloyd Webber sound, and was perhaps closer to being a cross between some of the songs from Hair and Lionel Bart’s Oliver! with definitely nods in the direction of what Joe Cocker was doing with the ultra-emoting on With A Little Help From My Friends, together with the heavy guitars and astonishing choir pretty much stealing the show.
Henry McCullough and Chris
Spedding are on guitar, Jeff Clyne on bass, Harry Beckett and Kenny Wheeler on trumpets, Bill LeSage on drums, Mick Weaver on keyboards, Mike Vickers on Moog, and strings of the City of London Ensemble feature. Singers including Ian Gillan, Murray Head, Yvonne Elliman, Brian Keith, Mike d’Abo and Paul Gadd are involved.
The choir providing backing
vocals included P.P. Arnold, Madeline Bell, Lesley Duncan, Kay Garner, Tony Ashton and Brian Bennett. So while the Ian Green Revelation LP used religious imagery and explored the more experimental side of what the 5 th Dimension were doing on Age of Aquarius, other studio collectives in London were being equally as inventive with boldly populist pleas for peace, love and understanding, using a wonderful ultra-poppy soul sound, with a real communal gospel palmsoutstretched feel. Tony Hiller’s Brotherhood of Man project came up with a great bubblegum soul selection for Deram at the start of the ‘70s which fits perfectly alongside what Wayne Bickerton was doing there with The Flirtations. Hiller used some great session singers; including at various times Roger Greenaway from the Greenaway/Cook songwriting team; Tony Burrows whose voice could be heard on hits by the Flowerpot Men, Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, and so on; and Russell Stone who would later have success as part of R&J Stone with his beautiful wife Joanne Williams. Apart from the immaculate arrangements and exquisite vocal harmonies perhaps the reason why the Deram recordings of the Brotherhood of Man work so well is the presence of Sue and Sunny with their gloriously soulful singing on magical tracks like Love, Lines, Angles and Rhymes,
Tomorrow, and California Sunday Morning. And there are a lot of people that simply love the idea of Sue and Sunny finding some success and getting some success of their own after being an integral part of a UK equivalent to the Wrecking Crew as very much in-demand session singers, appearing to great effect on many recordings including memorably Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends. Sue and Sunny, chasing that elusive hit, recorded in 1968 as The Stockingtops, and naturally they feature prominently on the RPM Stockingtop Pop compilation. One of the Stockingtops’ singles was for Vicki Wickham’s Toast label while the other was for CBS with John Paul Jones doing the arrangements, notably on the Kenny Lynch composition I Don’t Ever Wanna Be Kicked By You. At the other end of the ‘70s Sue and Sunny would appear on a whole host of disco productions including several of the Alec Costandinos conceptual projects. Emerging pretty much simultaneously with Brotherhood of Man in 1969 was another collective, Blue Mink, put together by organist Roger Coulam with colleagues out of north London’s Morgan Studios (which later became Robin Millar’s PowerPlant). With perhaps a nod towards Judy Clay and Billy Vera, the featured vocalists were Madeline Bell and Roger Cook, the other half of Greenaway/Cook songwriting team. And Blue Mink hit gold straightaway in late 1969 with Melting Pot, a Greenaway/Cook song that probably still sends shivers down Norman Tebbit’s spine with its celebration of multi-culturalism and miscegenation. While the absurdly catchy nature of hits like Melting Pot
and Banner Man means they still make ideal ingredients for oldies radio stations, there was a lot more to Blue Mink. As well as a handful of hits in the early ‘70s the group also recorded as many LPs which contain all sorts of gloriously strange moments. In a way that’s not surprising, when you consider the ingredients percolating away. There was Madeline Bell, one of the greatest soul singers of her generation. There was Roger Cook, who as well as being part of a brilliant songwriting team was also a ridiculously good blue-eyed soul singer with a growing interest in country music which manifested itself in unexpected ways during Blue Mink sessions where the feel often seems like John Sebastian or Michael Nesmith getting together with top soul session players. Actually it is the session players that are central to the greatness of Blue Mink. The core group included Alan Parker on guitar and Herbie Flowers on bass, and it is easy to argue they were two of the most important figures in the pop music of the ‘70s. They were certainly two of the hardest working. It seems almost bewildering to take in all the projects they were part of, all the records they contributed to, while Blue Mink were busy recording and touring. They seem almost superhuman in their activities, and it is almost all wonderful stuff. If you were that way inclined it might even be fun to chart via a spreadsheet the different permutations the Blue Mink personnel popped up as or in. Some of the side projects were ridiculously obscure, while others were so high profile we are almost so familiar with them that they have become invisible. So, for example, Alan Parker and Herbie Flowers were members of CCS or the Collective Consciousness Society with Alexis Korner and John Cameron and many of the premier jazz and rock players of the day. Of course their version of Whole Lotta Love seeped into the soul of the nation with its repeated use as the theme for Top of the Pops. In the same way Herbie Flowers bass playing on Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side has a lot more to do with the song’s success than the ‘daring’ lyrics. Alan Parker had another hit in late 1971 with his project The Congregation and Softly Whispering I Love You, an old Greenaway/Cook song performed by a choir fronted by Brian Keith, formerly of Plastic Penny who had a hit with Everything I Am, giving Alex Chilton some stiff competition, and recorded a number of great heavy psychedelic soul sides. The Congregation formula was to take a modern pop standard, add massed vocals, some ornate orchestrations, then put Brian up front with his rasping soul bellow with Alan searing guitar lines blasting away. It probably shouldn’t work, but there’s two great LPs worth of their recordings out there and they are completely addictive.
Nowadays Alan is much admired by lovers and collectors of library music. Again he seems to have been incredibly productive in producing music for the likes of De Wolfe and KPM. Occasionally these recordings would be in partnership with the likes of John Cameron or Alan Hawkshaw. He also got Madeline Bell in on the game, when she added vocals to the Themes International Music LP, The Voice of Soul, from 1976 which has been reissued by Vocalion in tandem with the complementary instrumental set, The Sound of Soul. There was some overlap between The Voice of Soul and Madeline’s 1976 superb solo LP This Is One Girl which was recorded just before the disco thing broke big so it leans rather more towards the smooth Philly sound. Alan was also heavily involved with Madeline’s 1971 LP, writing four of the tracks on what feels like a wonderful adult-oriented soul set, and while there’s quite a bit of overlap with Blue Mink’s Our World LP it’s fantastic to hear more of Madeline singing the songs. Thankfully, RPM have reissued this Madeline Bell set along with the other two LPs she recorded for Philips. What is incredible about the records that Alan Parker was involved with during that early spell of success for Blue Mink is how great they now sound. Something like the 1971 Ugly Custard LP for Kaleidoscope may perhaps have been knocked-off quickly with an eye on the film soundtracks market, but the line-up of Alan Parker, Clem Cattini, Herbie Flowers, and Roger Coulam means that the sounds soar way above other ‘exploitation’ incidental music works on a theme of heavy psychedelic grooves. So, again, the 1970 Hungry Wolf collective, which recorded an LP for Philips, featured Alan Parker, Alan Hawkshaw, Clem Cattini, and had Peter Lee Stirling (the singer and songwriter Daniel Boone) on vocals, came up with a record oozing with glorious funky psych sounds. In the same year Alan Parker, Alan Hawkshaw, Herbie Flowers, and Peter Lee Stirling got together (pseudonymously) with Shel Talmy to make an LP as Rumplestiltskin which explored the heavier Deep Purple type rock sound. There was a follow-up set, Black Magician, in 1972 and it’s all absurdly good stuff which simply defies all the so-called logical rules of the music world. Herbie Flowers, beyond Blue Mink, seems almost to have been the foundation of the UK’s pop music in the ‘70s, with links to Bowie, T. Rex, David Essex, and so on. It’s impossible not to mention that Grandad, the song Herbie wrote with Kenny Pickett of The Creation, for Clive Dunn, was a massive hit at the end of 1970. Another Herbie and Kenny composition, Our World, was a success for Blue Mink around the same time. The LP of the same name featured a few songs written by the pair, including The Gap, a gorgeous ballad. If you examine the discographies of Alan Parker and Herbie Flowers one group they are both linked with is the British vocal ensemble Design. There
is, of course, the American outfit The Free Design whose recordings took on a new lease of life when people like Stereolab took up the cause with a vengeance. The UK group seems to have been working in a similar area, and a recent reissue programme by RPM has shed valuable light on the magic they created on their first four LPs which were released in the early ‘70s. Essentially the group were a close harmony vocal group with folk rock roots whose early recordings were very much in what has become known as the soft pop or sunshine pop mould. What is particularly appealing about the group now is the way they were coming up with these incredibly inventive pop records while flirting with the world of variety and light entertainment, appearing on all sorts of TV shows hosted by stars like Benny Hill and Tommy Cooper. The second Design LP, Tomorrow Is So Far Away, from 1972 is just about perfect. It catches the twilight of the ‘60s sunshine sound, Spanky & Our Gang etc., with arrangements by Alan Parker and orchestrations by Syd Dale.
Alan Hawkshaw and Clem
Cattini are there too, as well as Chris Spedding and Roger Coulam. But as intriguing as the illustrious personnel is it would be wrong to overlook the beautiful interaction between the voices in the group who could turn easy listening or middle-of-the-road sounds into something gloriously complex and incredibly uplifting. The third Design LP, Day of the Fox, from 1973 had Herbie Flowers assigned the task of bringing something a little different to the rhythm section’s arrangements and so provide a little more punch. The LP is another complete classic and features the group edging towards a more adult oriented sound which is very similar to the magnificence of the Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight at times. The vocal arrangements are just as complex, but the backing has more of a soft rock feel. And, yes, the Blue Mink guys are there in force. Kenny Wheeler contributes a gorgeous trumpet solo on the album’s closer When Morning Comes which is simply magical. Among the most magical moments in the RPM catalogue is the reissue of Hightower, the 1971 LP by Rosetta Hightower, which was arranged and produced by Ian Green. It’s a perfect example of the era’s progressive soul sound, and you can sense the influence of Traffic, Laura Nyro, Carole King and Norman Whitfield working away there.
The performances are
particularly impressive, and most of the personnel had worked together in different permutations as members of outfits like Joe Cocker’s Grease Band and Ginger Baker’s Airforce. Bobby Keys and Jim Price make up the brass section, with Henry Lowther adding occasional trumpet.
The real star,
undoubtedly, is Rosetta who gets her delivery just right without ever overdoing it. Four of the songs were composed by the partnership of Rik Grech and Harold McNair. They’d played together in Ginger Baker’s Airforce. And Rik Grech had played on Harold’s fantastic LP The Fence which was put out on the curious Trojan off-shoot B&C. The guitarist on that LP was Colin Green, a former Blue Flame, who also plays on Hightower and would play with CCS and on many other records as a session player.
According to the RPM
reissue sleeve notes the Hightower project was originally conceived as a vehicle for Rik Grech, but the former Family man was absorbed into Traffic which all seems to fit. Among Hightower’s highlights are a couple of gorgeous, gentler, folkflavoured tracks, co-written by Kenny Craddock who also duets beautifully with Rosetta on Michael and What A Day It’s Been. Kenny was also from the circle that contributed to Ginger Baker’s Airforce, and would later join Lindisfarne.
On these two tracks Harold McNair’s flute playing is
particularly lovely on these two songs. It really was a tragedy that Harold died so prematurely in 1971. One of the great things of the ‘progressive’ era is that flute playing featured so prominently, and Harold was rightly much in-demand. There are those of us who will cheerfully confess to exploring a particular record simply because of Harold’s presence. And sometimes this can have unexpected benefits such as revealing the greatness of the ‘progressive rock’ outfit Cressida who recorded two fantastic LPs for Vertigo. Harold played on the song Lisa from the second LP, Asylum, released in 1971, which also features the extraordinary Goodbye Post Office Tower Goodbye about a revenge bomb attack on the London landmark, presumably unrelated to the real life IRA bomb blast in 1971. For those that fear progressive excess heaviness the Cressida LPs are really delightful, being at the inventive melodic mod-jazz end of the prog spectrum. The final track on Hightower is a stormy cover of Labi Siffre’s Rocking Chair.
The track also appears on Labi’s
second LP, The Singer and the Song.
There’s a direct
connection there, too, as Ian Green produced (and arranged most of) the first two of Labi’s LPs at the start of the ‘70s. A programme that reissued the handful of Labi’s ‘70s LPs was another of those revelations that pop music makes possible.
The name Labi Siffre is
undoubtedly familiar to even the most casual of pop fans, via Madness’ cover of It Must Be Love and the big ‘80s hit Something Inside (So Strong). And Labi’s track The Vulture has a certain reputation among lovers of ‘rare groove’, as does I Got The … from the same Remember My Song LP. But, in general, it is
tempting to surmise that Labi’s strength has its downside in that it’s difficult to think of any other artist who quite so successfully evades categorisation, which in turn means his work is ridiculously overlooked and under-rated. Those first two Ian Green-produced LPs by Labi are quite astonishing. The songs are packed tight with gorgeous melodies and smart lyrics, and the orchestrations are lush and madly inventive. It’s tempting to think of Terry Callier and Charles Stepney but that just demonstrates how twisted historical perspectives have become. Labi himself on the sleeve of The Singer and the Song gives a great insight into what shaped his work, with a ‘map’ of influences which covers an amazing amount of ground.
numerous names mentioned are Bartok, Betty Carter, Genet, Jobim, Arthur Ransome, Art Farmer, Jimmy Reed, Laura Nyro, Archie Shepp, and the musical Guys and Dolls. He also, tellingly, names his favourite writers as Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. Labi’s ‘official story’, told in a couple of dozen paragraphs, is more revealing and more fascinating than all the lengthy biographies cluttering up the music sections of the remaining book shops. One of the names mentioned in the story and as an influence is that of Hamilton King.
Labi as a young
Londoner trying to take his first steps in the music business managed to get the occasional gig playing guitar with Hamilton’s Blues Messengers. The group itself seems to have at various times provided early career opportunities for a number of young musicians, including Ray Davies, Lol Coxhill and Pete Bardens. Hamilton himself would later in the ‘60s record a great single for Toast featuring This Love of Mine/The Cup Is Fuller, which was arranged by Derek Wadsworth. One of the musical directors on The Singer and The Song is Gordon Beck who also features on Hightower as one of the keyboard players.
reputation was even then very much in the jazz world, but then that was Labi’s background too. Labi was experimenting with pop music on his first recordings, and Gordon Beck’s Quartet had shortly before released Experiments With Pop on the Major Minor label. On this wonderful LP, which would fit beautifully into the Impulse! catalogue, Beck together with Jeff Clyne, Tony Oxley and John McLaughlin re-interpreted a number of the new pop standards including I Can See For Miles, Up Up and Away, Good Vibrations and Michelle. In the US this sort of project was thriving, thanks to performers such as Gary McFarland, Gabor Szabo, Howard Roberts, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, and so on, who took pop hits of the day and turned them inside out and stretched them into new shapes. In the UK this sort of thing was much rarer, sadly. Gordon Beck and Ian Green worked together again on the 1972 Seven Ages of Man conceptual project for the budget label Rediffusion, one of many curious
releases the company commissioned. The LP is yet to be salvaged, and is understandably much sought after and very elusive.
The line-up is
particularly strong, with Harold McNair and Colin Green featured again. The backing vocals are provided by the real royalty of the soul émigré community, Rosetta Hightower, Doris Troy, Madeline Bell, and P.P. Arnold. And on this occasion Kay Garner takes the female lead. Kay featured on goodness knows how many records as a very much in-demand backing singer, often in the company of the likes of Sue & Sunny, Liza Strike, Lesley Duncan, the Chanter Sisters, Barry St. John, Stephanie De Sykes, Katie Kissoon, Joanne Stone, Vicki Brown, and so on.
If you track Kay’s credits
you will end up in some fascinating places. For example, she is on Nigel Lived, the extraordinary concept LP Murray Head released in 1972 after his starring role on the Jesus Christ Superstar studio recording. While at the other end of the decade Kay was one of the regular vocalists on pioneering Euro disco recordings by the likes of Kongas, Cerrone, and Voyage. Rosetta Hightower and Ian Green also recorded an LP for Rediffusion in 1971, Every Little Bit Soul, which is almost emblematic of the British recording industry at the time. That is, artists commissioned to do cut-price covers which just happen to turn out to be better than the ‘real thing’. The whole explosion of budget labels whose products were available on the high street was a real early ‘70s phenomenon in Britain. And an odd assortment of lowpriced vinyl was a real boon for pop fans. Coincidentally at the time there was a resurgence of interest in ‘rare soul’ which grew into the Northern Soul phenomenon. Rosetta’s LP was not issued in a format to appeal to soul snobs, though her credentials were impeccable and as a record it’s perfect in terms of vocal performances, arrangements and production. Essentially Rosetta’s Rediffusion LP is a collection of recent and classic soul covers, often sounding better than the hits. Her version of Every Little Bit Hurts, for example, is astonishing. Now, stripped of its original context, and reissued by RPM with the Toast tracks as an added bonus, the LP has the feel of a genuine classic concept which could be placed alongside what Laura Nyro did with Labelle on Gonna Take A Miracle. There is a Vicki Wickham connection there, too. The story goes that Laura met Patti LaBelle when Vicki interviewed Laura once and Patti had tagged along with her manager, much to the delight of the Bronx Ophelia. Ironically, under the protection of Vicki the recordings of Labelle included covers of songs from beyond the soul source, such as The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again, the Stones’ Wild Horses, and indeed Laura’s Time and Love. Donnie Elbert is someone else who at the start of the 1970s had some success revisiting the Great American Soul Songbook when his cover of Where Did Our Love Go? became a huge hit.
He would go on to cover, perhaps
reluctantly but nevertheless brilliantly, other Motown classics. The Donnie Elbert story is one that needs to be written in detail, and the years he spent in Britain in the late ‘60s would make for a fascinating read, with connections to Peter Meaden, Norman Jopling, Sharon Tandy, and so on.
reasonable that Rosetta and Ian would have known him from those days, and at the very least there is the cover of Donnie’s fantastic protest song One Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Years on Hightower. The history of pop music is littered with stories of artists who have got themselves locked into unsuitable contracts, and cautionary tales of singers and producers who have found their talents misused. It’s difficult to discern how big a factor this was in Ian Green not becoming the biggest name of his generation. The original sleevenotes of the Ian Green Revelation LP are by Kenny Young who suggests (albeit flippantly) that Ian was wasting his talents by trying to excel at everything. But that is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, because Kenny’s pretty much done it all. As a songwriter Kenny is perhaps best known for composing Under The Boardwalk, and perhaps others like Don’t Go Out Into The Rain and Captain of Your Ship. It was when Reparata and the Delrons had a UK hit in 1968 with Captain of Your Ship that Kenny came to visit and decided to stay on and work on whatever came his way.
This included Clodagh Rodgers over
whose recordings he sprinkled some of his transformative magic dust. Ian Green was involved with some of these recordings as an arranger, notably the 1969 hit Biljo, which sounds curiously and gloriously like the missing link between Creedence and Abba, and its incredible flipside Spider which sounds very Bobbie Gentry and has some glorious fuzzed guitar, which just may have been played by Colin Green. There will have been many people who saw new wave fellow travellers Yellow Dog on Top of the Pops in early 1978, fronted by a curious Woody Allen type figure singing Just One More Night, or who a few years later heard the bizarre lyrics to the Chas Jankel song Ai No Corrida when Quincy Jones had a big hit with it, but probably didn’t realise the connection to Kenny Young the creative genius behind the group Fox. The holy trinity of Fox hits in the mid-‘70s (Only You Can, Imagine Me Imagine You, S-S-S-Single Bed) remains very close to the hearts of so many pop enthusiasts, and there are very few recordings as gloriously strange as those songs. But with the benefit of hindsight it is possible to see the progression from Captain of Your Ship to Biljo to Only You Can and glean something of an insight into how Kenny’s twisted creativity works. The unique selling point Fox had was undoubtedly Noosha Fox with her oddball vampish persona that drew on a vintage Marlene Dietrich style of glamour. Lynsey De Paul a few years earlier had already toyed with a
similar smart, waspish coquetry and kookiness on Sugar Me with a definite touch of Blossom Dearie. Lynsey adopted a brilliant persona, but she was a fantastic songwriter too, particularly when she composed with Barry Blue. And that form of successful and strange pop was a real ‘70s thing. David Essex, 10CC, Wizzard and Gilbert O’Sullivan all did it brilliantly, for example.
The recordings of Fox were very much in that mould, and
wonderfully mixed up, combining a sense of nostalgia and futurism (those synths), creating something that was immediately both suggestive of the tropics and the old Europe of, say, Joseph Roth. The hits of Fox may be magnificent but the three LPs are equally glorious and stuffed with singular and irregular numbers which fit together perfectly. Beyond the magnificence of Noosha’s exoticism and eroticism the team of Kenny Young and Herbie Armstrong conjured up wonderful songs. And the players taking part were first class. The final LP Blue Hotel, for example, featured Andy Roberts on guitar and Ann Odell on keyboards. Ann spent some time playing with Blue Mink, and put together her own group, Chopyn, in the mid-‘70s with guitarist Ray Russell who released the great LP Grand Slam which features the incredible prog-pop epic Space Nativity. A little earlier, in 1973, Ann had recorded and produced a fantastic solo LP, A Little Taste, with a line-up featuring Caleb Quaye and Ray Fenwick with Madeline Bell, Doris Troy, Liza Strike on backing vocals, which had a fantastic Laura Nyro, Janis Ian, Carole King feel and really strong songs. She also worked with Bryan Ferry a lot in the ‘70s and can be seen playing keyboards as part of his band in a number of clips circa 1977. Listening to the Fox LPs it’s really striking how apart from the occasionally strong country rock influences the dominant musical flavour is reggae. It’s generally argued that it was through punk that reggae influences permeated into the pop sphere, but that’s not really the case at all. Reggae was there all the time. If you read books like Sebastian Clarke’s Jah Music there are some quite shocking tales about the difficulties publicists and promoters working for the UK’s reggae labels had getting big sellers accepted by the musical establishment, even what are now accepted pop standards by John Holt and Ken Boothe. But some in the industry were paying attention, and were keen to absorb and explore the new influences, as the Fox canon proves. Doris Troy was someone else who chose to explore or incorporate reggae in the early to mid-‘70s, making the aptly named Stretchin’ Out LP which was released in 1974 by the People label, another curious Trojan subsidiary. Dandy Livingstone produced the LP, and he was never averse to stretchin’ out himself and trying different things, as his own stunning Conscious LP from the same era proves. Ian Green arranged the strings on Stretchin’ Out, and it is a major tragedy that the title track was not a major hit. Doris’ links
to the reggae world came about through the session work she did, Jimmy Cliff and John Holt and so on, but it is easy to argue her first hit for Atlantic, the monumental Just One Look had a real reggae feel well before the form really came into being in Jamaica. It’s easy to imagine the impact that the song had in the West Indies, and it is no surprise it prompted cover versions such as the Lee Perry-produced version by Annette Clarke. Doris was a remarkable figure who for a long time made England her home. She was a smart songwriter (often as Doris Payne) and as a session singer she appeared on so many recordings of the ‘60s and ‘70s. By all accounts Doris was a galvanising presence, helping the girls get organised, venturing into publishing, and so on. She turns up in some wonderfully odd places too, such as singing on the soundtrack of the early ‘70s film Kill!, a gloriously strange Romain Gary affair featuring Jean Seberg and James Mason, with an eye-popping cameo from Memphis Slim.
excellent soundtrack was by Berto Pisano and Jacques Chaumont, and Doris belts out the remarkable title song, which has since been included on one of the Beat At Cinecitta volumes. Doris famously was signed to Apple and made an LP for the label, but this was a classic case of how the ideas George Harrison had for the record really were not the right ones for the artist. Doris certainly seems to have realised this. For true imagination and flair there are far more inventive arrangements on the Calla sides Doris recorded, in particular the gorgeous guitar motif on Heartaches. Vicki Wickham and Toast picked up this track and leased it with I’ll Do Anything (He Wants Me To) in 1968.
These weren’t the only Calla sides they
leased. They also put out the Sandpebbles’ If You Didn’t Hear Me The First Time and Flower Power. Madeline Bell included a great cover of If You Didn’t Hear Me The First Time on her 1971 LP. Flower Power was a wonderful example of the songs the great Teddy Vann was writing for the Sandpebbles at the time: the psychedelic soul theme that brought all sorts of ideas together in one place in the summer of love with the remarkable voice of Lonzine Wright which had all the fire of the fiercest gospel performances. Swamp Dogg would later argue that Lonzine was one of the two best singers he worked with. The other just might have been Doris Duke.
Another great example of reggae crossover came from Tony Hall, one of the visionary pop patricians whose activities punctuate so much of British music history, when he finally got round to starting his own label, Fresh Air, at the end of 1973. The first release was a sweet reggae number, Shark Wilson’s Too Much Pain, which just happened to be a Leiber & Stoller production, quite probably with the Sweet Inspirations and some JBs involved in the recording sessions. Shark is probably now best known for the track Make It Reggae, with its urgent James Brown exhortations, which turns up on compilations of Funky Kingston recordings. Fresh Air, part of the Phonogram family, was a late addition to the tradition of small UK labels that treated pop music as something without frontiers. In that respect it reflected Tony’s own enlightened outlook, as befits someone whose name can crop up on account of his part in the story of, say, the Real Thing or Black Sabbath. His Record Mirror columns and America’s Hot 10 shows on Radio Luxembourg are revered by some among the soul community. Tony Rounce, for example, credits Tony with helping to break Otis Redding in the UK by getting his bosses at Decca to release My Girl as a single and getting a British release for Barbara Lewis’ Hello Stranger, among others. Tony’s roots were in jazz though. In the ‘50s he worked at the Feldman Club and the Flamingo as a compere, and used his position within Decca to persuade them to allow him to ‘supervise’ recordings for the Tempo imprint. And it is really thanks to Tony’s persistence that a lot of modern jazz in the UK got preserved for posterity on sessions between 1955 and 1961. Tony oversaw recordings of the important modernists active in the UK at the time, such as Dizzy Reece, Tubby Hayes, Tony Crombie, Ronnie Scott, Jimmy Deuchar, Victor Feldman, Vic Ash, Don Rendell and Wilton Gaynar.
He even managed through subterfuge to overcome a ban on
American musicians recording in the UK and get Donald Byrd to record a set in 1958 with Dizzy Reece and Tubby Hayes, which was released as Blues in Trinity on Blue Note with liner notes by Tony. While some of the modernists Tony Hall championed, like Dizzy Reece and Victor Feldman, fled to the States, Tubby Hayes stuck it out in the UK. Now his reputation has soared again, and his 1967 set Mexican Green is considered to be his finest work. This features the beautiful A Dedication to Joy, a love song for Joy Marshall, his girlfriend at the time. Joy was the American jazz singer, who moved to the UK in the early ‘60s. She married Pete King, and sang with Johnny Dankworth. Val Wilmer mentions her a few times in her
book, Mama Told Me There’d Be Days Like This. Val writes about the early ’60 and the Marquee club in London’s West End, when it was beneath the Academy Cinema in Oxford St. and featured modern jazz at weekends, Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott etc., and then on Sundays Johnny Dankworth’s new orchestra would be holding court, ‚with the unique voice of Cleo Laine or expatriate American singer Joy Marshall‛. Joy certainly signed to Jeff Kluger’s Ember label and then moved on to Decca. While there she had a minor Ivor Raymonde-arranged hit in 1966 with The More I See You, before Chris Montez overtook her. She also released the exceptional Heartaches (Hurry On By), arranged by Mike Leander, which was a superbly dramatic beat ballad, as wonderful and as classy as anything by Nancy Wilson or Jean DuShon. Jet magazine reported in November 1965 that Joy was seeing rather a lot of tenor sax star Tubby Hayes. She also appeared in Maggie May, the ‘mod musical’ by Lionel Bart and Alun Owen. But it was not always so easy. Val Wilmer wrote about seeing Blossom Dearie and Joy Marshall perform regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club, and noted that Joy had problems with audiences: ‚She was a strong, musicianly singer, who suffered unfairly from comparisons to Sarah Vaughan, to whom she bore a slight physical resemblance. One night Joy was singing her heart out to a half-empty room, a man slumped across a table at her feet, gently snoring. In the middle of a poignant number she jerked her thumb in his direction and gave us that same despairing look.
‘Jazz fan,’ she announced, laughing
mercilessly. Show business wasn’t always a bundle of laughs I was learning.‛ In 1968 Vicki Wickham’s Toast label released a Joy Marshall single, featuring the Brian Potter and Graham Dee song And I’ll Find You which with its topical mention of Mexico (where that summer’s Olympic Games were to be held) was written for Sharon Tandy and intended as a Eurovision entry but the timing went a little awry. Acid Jazz have recently salvaged Sharon’s version, as well as a whole CD of Graham Dee compositions performed by a variety of artists.
Joy’s performance of the song, arranged by Derek
Wadsworth, the jazz trombonist with close links to Dusty, is gorgeous but she tragically died in her Hammersmith flat that autumn from an overdose of sleeping pills mixed with alcohol. misadventure.
The official verdict was death by
Tubby Hayes would as a tribute perform the beautiful
composition Song For A Sad Lady as captured on a live performance for the BBC in December 1969, with some great soul jazz guitar from Louis Stewart. By the late ‘60s Tony Hall had left Decca and was working as an independent publicist and promotions person. Among those associated with the new
Tony Hall Enterprises set-up would be Marsha Hunt, who was hot property after her success in the London cast of Hair, and would go on to record I Walk On Gilded Splinters as a single for Track with Tony Visconti, followed by the great Woman Child LP, which featured some great covers such as Traffic’s No Face, No Name, No Number and the Marc Bolan songs Desdemona and Stacey Grove. Vicki Wickham was working for Track around this time, too. It is probably with the Real Thing that Tony Hall is most closely associated. He famously came up with the name when passing Piccadilly Circus one evening, and stuck with the group for six or seven singles from 1973 through to 1976 when they finally struck gold with You To Me Are Everything. He repeated this success later with Loose Ends in the ‘80s, working away to help promote genuinely inventive British soul music. Loose Ends, who featured Carl McIntosh, Jane Eugene and Steve Nichol (after he’d played with The Jam), were pure class and could compete on equal terms with any American productions. Despite his status within the music scene Tony Hall didn’t have any hits with his Fresh Air releases in the UK, which seems absurd. Velvet Glove’s Sweet Was My Rose, produced by Shel Talmy, was a massive hit in France, Italy, and Belgium during the summer of 1974, but oddly didn’t make the charts in Britain. Nevertheless the song, a sad sentimental story of the American Civil War, the missing link between The Band and Paper Lace, is naggingly familiar and has all the earworm qualities of Cook & Greenaway at their most lethal.
One half of the songwriting team Velvet Glove, Ken Leray,
would have some success in 1980 when Fern Kinney topped the charts with a gorgeous MOR pop reggae version of one of his old songs, Together We Are Beautiful. He also composed the music for the cult TV cartoon series Doctor Snuggles. It also seems incredible that Fresh Air didn’t have a hit with either of the Ellie singles it released. Ellie was Ellie Hope, who would later find success as part of the pop/disco outfit Liquid Gold of Dance Yourself Dizzy fame. Her 1974 single Tip Of My Tongue was written by the great team of Lynsey De Paul and Barry Blue, and produced by Barry. There is a fantastic clip of Ellie and her sisters performing this sultry disco number. The follow-up, My Love Is Your Love, was written by Mud’s Rob Davis and Ray Stiles, is another gorgeous piece of disco pop. Mud also recorded it, as a b-side.
Tony also put out a single by The Chants in 1974, the Eddie Amoo song Love Is A Playground, presumably the same one the Real Thing released as a b-side in 1977. Ian Green arranged The Chants’ single, incidentally. There really needs to be an in-depth telling of The Chants story, all the ‘60s recordings, how its members went off to the Real Thing and Ofanchi but undeterred The Chants regrouped and kept recording, a single on Fresh Air, another on the Chipping Norton label (which must have been a Mike Vernon concern), and more unreleased recordings at the end of the ‘70s which have emerged on YouTube. It is fun trying to piece together stories behind the Fresh Air releases. Someone somewhere knows all about Trax, who were also produced by Shel Talmy, and whose members sported uniformly dyed orange hair. It wasn’t enough to get the group a hit though. Their own song Black Boy is a fantastic slice of infectious funk, with a real Shaft or Eddy Grant/Equals feel to it. There was a Nola Fontaine single too. She is perhaps better known for her racy fiction or for being a ‘wifelet’ of the Marquess of Bath, but there was a 1978 single, produced by Trevor Horn, Love You Tonight coupled with Can’t Explain It, which has become something of a cosmic disco favourite. There were a few singles too by Richard Henry Dee (Rick De Johnette) who again had a great later single, the beautiful 1979 reggae disco single Where Have All My Friends Gone. One image of Richard Henry Dee that the internet does reveal is on the picture sleeve of a German single he shares with Mandy More, where their recordings are billed as ‘super funky discotheque hits of the English pop scene’ thus giving a glorious insight into the wonderfully odd world of the Europop market. Mandy’s track is Rose-Coloured Windows, the Ken Leray song Fresh Air issued as a single in 1975. It’s coupled with If I Smiled on Saturday, one of the songs from Mandy’s But That Is Me LP (a Tony Hall production) that has taken on a new lease of life after being salvaged by Sunbeam, interest having been piqued by Saint Etienne including her remarkable If Not By Fire on one of their musical pick ‘n’ mix selections. That Mandy More LP is a glorious example of how the major labels in the early ‘70s were prepared to invest in recording ‘great unknown’ singer songwriters, putting them together with top arrangers and the best session musicians, and letting them do their thing, like the Ann Odell and Murray Head debuts as well. More and more examples of this enlightened approach will emerge. Fresh Air itself put out at least four LPs and while they may have disappeared they make for a perfect snapshot of what an open-minded record label could be involved with at any one moment. There was a Velvet Glove LP, produced by Shel Talmy, featuring Alan Parker on guitar, and again songs like The Last Days of Summer and I’ve Been Out in the Rain seem absurdly familiar for some strange reason.
The Velvet Glove arrangements were by Tom Parker,
another figure very active at the time. Most of the line-up of session players who played on the Velvet Glove LP also played with Tom Parker in Apollo 100, who had some success on Miki Dallon’s fascinating Youngblood label with pop reworkings of classical themes. There was an LP on Fresh Air by Ram John Holder, You Simply Are, which seems to have disappeared. This was his third LP, the follow-up to his Black London Blues and Bootleg Blues sets, and features people like Bobby Tench, Max Middleton and Clive Charman who had played with Jeff Beck, Cozy Powell, and in Hummingbird. Barry Ford is on drums, and members of the jazz funk outfit Kokomo on backing vocals. Given the enduring interest in 1970s funk sounds it seems really strange You Simply Are is not in wider circulation. Another Fresh Air LP oddly out-of-circulation is Mike Cooper’s Life and Death in Paradise. Cooper recorded this set in 1975 after Tony Hall tempted him back into the recording routine following a couple of years of self-imposed exile in Spain. The record was made with jazz luminaries Mike Osborne on sax, Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums. Cooper had withdrawn his labour for a couple of years as part of a dispute with Pye Records. The label had gone against his wishes and issued his 1971 recordings as two discrete editions, Places I Know and The Machine Gun Company, rather than as the double-LP set Cooper envisaged. In 1996 BGO issued these sets, together at last, on one CD, though this seems now to be reforgotten. The Places I Know half was by Cooper’s own admission his singer-songwriter set, with a distinct touch of the New Morning Bob Dylan and Flying Burritos country rock thing about it. The sound is broken up at times by Michael Gibbs’ arrangements and Peter Eden’s production (echoes of Bill Fay, perhaps).
Occasional backing vocals are provided by Norma Winstone,
Gerald Moore and Jean Oddie (presumably of Glasgow University Media Group fame).
The Machine Gun Company is a looser affair, somewhere
between the Velvets’ Loaded and Tim Buckley’s Lorca, with great choppy rhythm guitar and some fairly free sax work going on. Cooper’s journey is a fascinating one, and it’s no surprise he is highly regarded by Ecstatic Peaceniks. He has progressed from the London blues scene of the ‘60s, where he was a peer of Tony McPhee and Jo Ann Kelly, to the present day and on-going adventures in abstract electronica and ambient exotica as beautifully displayed on releases such as Kiribati, not to mention fascinating diversions into rembetika, and numerous collaborations with G.T. Moore, Lol Coxhill, and Viv Corringham and many more.
Also on Fresh Air was an LP by an Ian Green project, Charge, with Rosetta Hightower and Lee Vanderbilt as the featured vocalists. Ian had also been involved with other Fresh Air releases, such as a single by Black Faith. His links with Black Faith go back to a couple of 1970 singles on Fontana which were Hightower Productions.
On the Charge LP there are plenty of
connections to the Brit Funk scene of the time with Gonzalez, Kokomo etc. and the older funky progressives like Wynder K Frog. Alan Spenner and Neil Hubbard who had been in The Grease Band and were founder members of Kokomo are on the LP, and were generating a lot of interest at the time with their live performances and the debut Kokomo LP. Bob Dylan even involved them on sessions for Desire. The link between Kokomo and what Ian Green was doing at the time seems entirely logical. There were a few slightly later singles as Mista Charge in 1976 and 1977 on Roger Greenaway’s Target label, which also issued singles by new incarnations of Marmalade and Blue Mink (with Mike Moran on keyboards). The label’s output features a lot of M.O.R. treats, with plenty of Tony Macaulay and Cook/Greenaway songs. Marmalade’s The Only Light On My Horizon is particularly worth seeking out for its abundance of soul-steeped saccharine
represented by the irresistible 1976 hit Falling Apart At The Seams. The Mista Charge singles, however, were very much on the modern soul and funk side, not in the codified disco sense either, and the Ian Green/Lee Vanderbilt composition Show Me What You’re Made Of seems to have been a real favourite in the clubs at the time such as Crackers on Wardour Street and The Global Village under the Arches at Charing Cross. But once again commercial success eluded Ian and Rosetta. Both Lee Vanderbilt and Rosetta Hightower at that time were signed to Biddu’s publishing company, and Lee in particular was very much a part of the producer’s set-up. Also a vital part of Biddu’s backroom staff was one of the true heroes of YHO Gerry Shury. He was first mentioned in YHO in the context of Dexys Midnight Runners and the pop/soul sides that helped shape Kevin Rowland, and in particular the live performances in November 1985 of The Fantastics’ Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue which Gerry had arranged. Gerry is one of those vitally important figures that pop up all over the place, joining things together nicely. And there is a real sense of not knowing so many of the lost pop and soul gems made in the 1970s which randomly appear, a Design single here, a Sylvia McNeil single there, and so on. Gerry was involved with the Fresh Air label, for example, doing arrangements for Ellie. His arrangement on the Christine Hope composed
Let Me Shout It Out, an Ellie b-side, has all the trademarks of the best Biddu related recordings he was involved with. Then there’s the 1975 Abraham Ali (aka Merseyside songwriter/playwright Dhanil Ali) single If You Need Me, arranged and produced by Gerry, which is glorious reggae flavoured pop/funk with more than a touch of the Stevie Wonders about it. Among Gerry’s early work as an arranger was the Steve and Stevie LP for Toast. This was the Australian duo of Steve Kipner and Steve Groves who in collaboration with Gerry came up with a masterpiece of baroque pop. It does sound very similar to what the Bee Gees were doing at the time, but that’s not too surprising as Steve Kipner’s dad Nat had close links with the Brothers Gibb back in Australia. Nat actually produced the Steve and Stevie LP and was working in the UK at the time for Major Minor with, for example, the singer John Rowles. That just may have something to do with why the Steve and Stevie LP appeared on Toast for as gorgeous as it was it seems a little out of step with Vicki Wickham’s soul vision. Steve and Stevie would soon be signed up by Robert Stigwood’s organisation, and go on to become Tin Tin and record a couple of great LPs with Maurice Gibb involved. These LPs had a little bit more bite, with a harder electric sound at times, but Gerry Shury was again involved supplying the ornate orchestral arrangements when needed. Around the same time Gerry would also work with the Bee Gees on their 2 Years On LP. Steve Kipner would have an enduring career as a songwriter, having a hand in such numbers as Olivia Newton John’s Physical and Cheryl Cole’s Fight For This Love. While it is with Biddu that Gerry would be most closely associated his name turns up on the credits for all sorts of treats, such as Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon’s Sally Put Your Red Shoes On, some of the early Real Thing recordings, Linda Kendrick’s superb version of Sympathy For The Devil, the Endeavours’ Baby’s Coming Home, and Polly Brown’s Up in a Puff of Smoke. While a lot of his work could fairly be described as ultrapop confectionary, there were meatier projects such as the Armada Orchestra and Ultrafunk. He also oversaw the mid-‘70s sessions for two of the best soul sets ever recorded in Britain, the Contempo titles, Woman by Doris Duke and Oscar Toney Jr’s Loving You Too Long. Lee Vanderbilt, as another of the backroom boffins in Biddu’s organisation, had songs recorded by Tina Charles, Jimmy James, Carl Douglas and the Biddu Orchestra.
His composition Funky Tropical is loved by disco
connoisseurs the world over.
Similarly, some of Lee’s work on the
soundtrack of the London-based film Black Joy is revered, like the Jimmy Helms title track and his own performance of Lonely I, a deep funky reggae track. Similarly, the 1974 Bell single Stand Up For Love b/w Pick Up Your
Troubles are exemplary slices of ‘70s soul, and were much loved at the time by DJs on the Northern scene playing modern tracks like Ian Levine. The Lee Vanderbilt story is a great one. The young Kenrick Des Etages moves to London from Trinidad, tries a bit of singing, gets noticed by Pete Gage, sings occasionally with the Ram Jam Band when Geno’s not around, goes on to make some great British soul sides as Ebony Keyes with John Shroeder. Kenrick was also a useful song writer, and among his compositions is What Love Brings which Kenny Bernard recorded beautifully and which later became a Northern Soul favourite. Kenny was another West Indian singer active on the British soul or r’n’b scene. While Kenrick wrote some of his own songs, perhaps the best known Ebony Keyes track is the Pete Gage composition If You Knew, which is another Northern Soul favourite. Gage is an interesting character. His creation Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band was a unique phenomenon, as perfectly captured in the Dexys song about that era’s live soul sounds. After that all ended Pete put together the group Dada, with the vocalists Paul Korda, Elkie Brooks and Jimmy Chambers fronting the progressive soul outfit.
Korda had been one of the members of the cast of Hair when it was first performed in London. Paul would go on to make a great folk rock record in 1971, A Passing Stranger, with Ray Russell, Andy Roberts, Chris Spedding, Madeline Bell and Doris Troy all contributing. Pete and Elkie would go on to have some success with Robert Palmer in Vinegar Joe, and Pete also produced the second Joan Armatrading LP, the beautiful Back To The Night from 1975.
He intriguingly seems to have
cornered production work for the ‘80s Klub Foot era psychobilly bands, though perhaps there was a clue there from when he’d managed the Wild Angels, the rock ‘n’ roll revival outfit, in the late ‘60s when they signed to Major Minor. Another soul act that Pete Gage was involved with was Joe E. Young and the Toniks, who put out a couple of singles and an LP, Soul Buster, on Toast. Both sides of the first single, Life Time of Lovin’ and Flower In My Hand, were written by Pete Gage and Ebony Keyes and are fantastic blasts of progressive soul. Joe E. Young (aka Colin Young) would go on to replace Clem Curtis as lead singer of The Foundations, notably on the hits Build Me Up Buttercup and In The Bad Bad Old Days which were classic examples of British bubblegum soul. The visionary behind The Foundations’ hits was Tony Macaulay. Along with the team of Cook & Greenaway he was very much the confectionary king of the moment. Interestingly the two camps worked together at the start of the
‘70s, producing hits for Bell Records with the classic bubblegum soul numbers Something Old Something New for The Fantastics and Blame It On The Pony Express for Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon.
They also wrote
Gasoline Alley Bred together which was a hit for The Hollies, and which Blue Mink did a beautiful version of. The Foundations really were a fascinating phenomenon. On one hand their hits are ingrained in the consciousness of even the most casual pop fan, but on the other they were an adventurous soul outfit straining at the leash, keen to do their own progressive thing. It’s a dilemma that’s been faced by pop performers since it all began, and in many ways it means fans get the best of both worlds. So, among the Tony Macaulay formulaic magic there are all sorts of stranger delights which reflected the group’s desire to do something more progressive. The flipside of Build Me Up Buttercup, for example, was a group composition New Direction which reflected just that, with a heavier psychedelic soul sound. And trombone player Eric Allendale pitched in with We Are Happy People, a song very much in tune with the times. Colin Young wrote both sides of the late Foundations single, the heavyweight soul piledriver I’m Gonna Be A Rich Man and the progressive soul instrumental In The Beginning which could easily fit on one of the era’s British jazz titles. The Foundations’ story is a fascinating and complex one, and it really needs telling in-depth one day. Val Wilmer’s obituary of Eric Allendale is a great place to start as she traces how having emigrated from Dominica in 1954 he gradually became involved with the London jazz scene, going on to lead his own trad jazz outfit, and eventually joining The Foundations.
founding member was Jamaican saxophonist Mike Elliott who had already played with groups led by Rico (for London’s Planetone label) and Tubby Hayes. Later incarnations of The Foundations would be valuable finishing schools for plenty of young musicians that would later reappear in outfits including The Glitter Band, Voidoids and African Head Charge. Colin Young, himself, moved from Barbados to London in the mid-‘60s, singing with The Toniks before joining The Foundations. After the group split he released one solo single in 1971, and the b-side of this, his own composition You’re No Good, is a cult favourite which has turned up on Finders Keepers’ Drive In, Turn On, Freak Out global experimental pop collection. Curiously it is described in the context of The Foundations’ past as ‚seemingly influenced by more esoteric fare than their leaders Pop Soul past would have us expect‛ and describing it as more Theme de YoYo than Build Me Up Buttercup.
There is actually an intriguing tradition of West Indian soul singers venturing into psychedelic territory. Hamilton King recorded as Mood of Hamilton, releasing the glorious Why Can’t There Be Love single on Columbia in 1967, with its message of universal peace, swirling organ, fuzzed guitar and choral backing. Kenny Bernard similarly released a couple of heavy psychedelic soul singles on Direction as Cats Pyjamas. The spectacular 1968 b-side Virginia Water was composed by Kenny with Pete Gage, and has appeared on highly-rated UK psychedelia compilations. The influence of Jimi Hendrix or even The Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today seems far too simple a way to explain all these progressive soul excursions. So, just as it seems all the bits of the jigsaw are slotting into place, and you’ve read up on the Toast label, another piece appears. In this case, it was an image on the internet of a Barry St. John picture sleeve for her Cry Like A Baby/Long and Lonely Night single on Toast. I had always assumed this single came out the parent company Major Minor, along with the According To St. John LP and another 1969 single that paired Barry’s version of By The Time I Get To Phoenix with Turn On Your Light – produced by Mike Pasternak aka the DJ Emperor Rosko.
What should be an illuminating search simply
muddies the waters when a vintage Billboard from October 1968 reveals that Rosko is producing a Barry St. John LP for Major Minor’s subsidiary label, Toast. Now Barry St. John and Vicki Wickham’s Toast label would have been a perfect pairing, so it’s a shame it didn’t work out that way for whatever reason.
According to St. John has
disappeared pretty effectively, like quite a number of the Major Minor releases actually. In the case of Barry St. John though this is pretty much a tragedy, and it seems not even RPM have come riding to the rescue.
Barry’s Rosko recordings are
exceptional, and oddly outdo the Dusty and Lulu records which were made in Memphis.
The two exceptional b-sides mentioned, which were both
written by Iain Campbell, are great examples of the southern fried soul sound raging on these Major Minor sides. Iain himself appropriately had an LP released on Major Minor called Campbell Country ‘n’ Soul, which sums up where they were pretty accurately. Iain, it seems, had been a member of Barry’s backing group and they’d both served their apprenticeships in the Hamburg clubs. He would briefly be in the early line-up of Stealer’s Wheel. Of all the British girls of the ‘60s Barry really had the voice if not the luck. Hers was the most soulful and the grittiest of the lot.
She could be
shockingly bluesy at times, almost frighteningly ferocious on occasions. Apart from the atypical cover of Come Away Melinda none of her singles were
anywhere near hits, and yet years later some of them had a new lease of life on the Northern Soul scene.
She worked with some of the greatest
producers, arrangers and visionaries, such as Mickie Most, Mike Leander, Andrew Loog Oldham, David Whitaker and Mike Hurst. And cuts like Hey Boy, Cry To Me, Mind How You Go, Gotta Brand New Man, and Everything I Touch Turns To Tears are among the best things to come out of the UK’s soul response and are in desperate need of a lovingly put together salvage operation. If her solo career didn’t take off Barry was certainly kept busy throughout the ‘70s providing backing vocals on many recording sessions, from Kevin Ayers and Kevin Coyne to Pink Floyd to Jorge Ben. One project she participated in was Roger Glover’s magnificent rock opera for kids The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast which was recorded in 1974. The Butterfly Ball is a real curiosity. Roger Glover had recently left Deep Purple when he was offered the opportunity to provide a musical setting based on the illustrated Alan Aldridge book which in turn had been inspired by the William Plomer poem. Glover resisted the temptation to put together an extravagantly symphonic progressive rock opus of the sort that was popular at the time. Instead he composed a quite beautiful suite of songs that seemed to echo the ‘flower power’ era with its openmindedness and themes of universal love and peace for all. Musically, despite the pioneering use of synths, there was also much on The Butterfly Ball that harked back to the end of the ‘60s and the era’s ultrapoppy heavy soul blasts. Among the musicians featured on the LP were Mike Moran, Ray Fenwick, and Ann Odell. The cast of singers is quite fascinating, too. Some of the top session singers of the day are featured, like Barry St. John, Liza Strike, Helen Chappelle, Joanne Stone and Kay Garner. Jimmy Helms is on there. And a number of the heavy rock guys are involved, like Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale, and Ronnie James Dio, taking on the roles of members of the insect community getting ready for a big night out. Others are, shall we say, playing out of position in front of the microphone like bass player John Gustafson of Big Three fame. At least one song from the rock opera, Love Is All, will be known to pretty much everyone, almost by osmosis. It explicitly references The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love, and perhaps has echoes of the Deep Purple’s 1969 single Hallelujah, a Cook and Greenaway composition. There is something about the project that feels gloriously timeless and it is difficult to think of any other ‘children’s project’ that challenges and delights its audience quite so much. For any adult discovering it now it will be a revelation.