â€Ś your heart out
rainsongs & painsongs â€Ś
PART ONE Tales of FiNiN by Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer is, by far, the most rewarding record of recent times. Each listen reveals new depths and delights, and aesthetically it is a total joy. It is a two-CD set beautifully presented in a sumptuous fold-out format, featuring gorgeous watercolours by Julie, with an exquisitely lettered booklet featuring the ‗tales‘ containing so many striking lines, which even plucked completely out of context can be relished, like: ―Untamed like rain In gusts of painsong – Long come flying – Sifted and uplifting In yellowing air‖ I only found out about this remarkable record, by chance, via a review by Edwin Pouncey in the April 2011 edition of The Wire. That short (250-ish words) piece was enough to pique my curiosity, and I was prompted to speculate on what seemed like an intriguingly different project. There was, admittedly, a certain amount of loyalty involved, as I had been listening to a lot of Julie‘s recordings over a sustained period of time. Nevertheless I realise now what a good job Edwin did in his review of capturing something of the spirit of the LP, and I‘m grateful to him. Musically, there is so much going on within the two CDs that it takes time to absorb it all. Given the roots and interest both Julie and Martin have in freeform and improvisational composition, the Tales of FiNiN set is arrestingly accessible and intricately structured. Those seeking or fearing caterwauling concatenation, squawks and screeches, hiccups, honks, and a relentless rattling of pots and pans will instead find a wonderfully strange and inspiring tangle of electronics, jazz, dub, dense drama, all of which fuses together perfectly. There are some incredibly bold and beautiful moments, and each listen exposes some new feature to zoom in on. Lyrically, the Tales of FiNiN is just as fascinating as the music. Julie‘s text leaves much to the imagination, but the elaborate story lines, or overall concept, suggest myths and legends which are almost Arthurian in terms of armies stealthily invading or laying siege to neighbouring foes. But at the same
time it doesn‘t take took much of a leap of fancy to draw modern day parallels, to think of current conflicts, with glimpses of grieving families, struggling to take each day at a time. In the present tense, with the record industry strangling itself with greed and stupidity, the Tales of FiNiN could seem like a fantastic defiant gesture, casually tossed into the market place, as if to say: ―This is what you could come up with if you allowed your imagination and ambition to be stretched‖. If there were more extravagant bursts of creativity like the Tales of FiNiN the music business would be a better place, in all ways. One of the things I particularly like about the Tales of FiNiN is the absence of distracting elements. There are, for example, no star names participating in the project to help stimulate interest. It‘s easy to imagine a Robert Wyatt here, a Stewart Lee there, but thankfully there‘s nothing like that. The closest thing to a celebrity collaborator present on the record is Charlie Collins helping out with drums and percussion. I am assuming, given Martin‘s Sheffield connections, this is the Charlie Collins whose name I know particularly from Clock DVA and The Box, although then it was his woodwind work that he was known for. In a strange kind of way I can find distinct similarities between Clock DVA‘s great work Thirst and Tales of FiNiN, and on a literal level there are moments when TofF gets positively close to the early ‗80s punk-funk 99 Records type of sound. Thirst, both then and now, has been overshadowed by the likes of Metal Box, Y, The Correct Use of Soap, Unknown Pleasures, but it should be the other way round. What is astonishing about Thirst is the tautness, the barely-constrained tension, and this has a lot to do with the instrumentation and in particular the way Charlie is used with his woodwind. I am struggling to think of any other record from that post-punk whirl of activity where a flute was used, for example. And the way the saxophone is used is remarkably restrained, in direct contrast to the ordinary way woodwind instruments were played in that era which was very much in the Magic Band ‗honk wildly‘ way of doing things. On Thirst, in particular, the woodwind is the magic ingredient which sets that incarnation of
Clock DVA apart. It‘s interesting how words written about Clock DVA focus on the Industrial and Sheffield scene connections, and I have to confess it was only recently that I have found myself thinking more about other activity the group‘s members may have been involved in pre-punk. Charlie Collins was certainly active within Sheffield‘s jazz and improvisational scene, which makes sense, and you can easily see where the connection to Martin Archer would be, given his own roots in that same Sheffield free jazz world. Tales of FiNiN is the not the first time Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer have worked together. In 2009 they released the exceptional collection Ghosts of Gold. This is largely a spoken word set, with Julie reading, and occasionally singing, her poetry in a variety of perfectly complementary musical settings. Julie‘s non-singing voice is precise but every bit as affecting as her singing. Her accent is impossible to pin down in that elusive classless way that seems to be disappearing. There is a real sense of intimacy, suggesting the spontaneity of a soiree where music and poetry mingle freely. This is borne out by Julie‘s note on the sleeve: ―To use track 8 as an example, Martin brought this wonderful ingredient to the pot as an after-thought on our last day of recording. I went straight to the text, and within minutes was in front of the mic, and Rainsong was born. No rehearsal, no prior thought or decisions, and yet it gives the impression of being a structured composition. That‘s what I love about working in this way. The magic of the unexpected.‖ The music itself on this unexpectedly magical track is predominantly electronic, abstract and folksy, closer to the world of Warp, another Sheffield musical tradition, than you might imagine. ―Sweet it comes – Seeping in – like treasure. Elder blossoms dipping With the weight of it Sway against the wind – Playful in the tussle. The gentle muffled thrum On the roof-top soothes And slows my breathing to a sigh. Always the hum of rainsong Caresses like a lullaby – Smoothing the roughest nerve. Stilling the wildest disquiet‖
Tales of FiNiN is not the first time Julie Tippetts has worked on an intricately themed project. Her own 1999 set, Shadow Puppeteer, is a story (told through music rather than words) about a young woman called Esha, who gets burned and scarred in an accident, but finds love and redemption through a Shadow Puppeteer, loses him but finds a new self. It‘s an intricate web-like record, with Julie building up tracks, painstakingly, using just her voice and occasional ‗small instruments‘. At times this works incredibly well, with Julie creating a sense of a gospel choir singing doo wop numbers for fun. I think, as they say, it‘s on such occasions that her roots show through. At other times she uses her voice in a more conventional ‗free jazz‘ way, if that‘s not a crazy contradiction.
Over the years many singers have tried to use their voices in different ways and break away from literal interpretations of lyrics, sung straight. There have been those who have done spectacular acrobatics with their voices, there have been the scat singers, the improvisors, the pioneers in vocalese. It is possible to point out names like Jeanne Lee, Karin Krog, Meredith Monk, Cathy Berberian, Yma Sumac, Yoko Ono, Flora Purim, Patty Waters, Diamanda Galas, Brigitte Fontaine, Catherine Ribeiro, and many more. The more you look the more you discover. And beyond Western music there are so many more examples of how the human voice can be used in spectacular ways.
I do have a certain fascination for the way some singers tried to do something different with their voices in that very particular late 1960s-into-the-1970s progressive milieu, where in Britain the avant-garde, jazz, rock, folk and other sounds were beginning to get pleasantly mixed up together. Within that circle there was Maggie Nic(h)ols, there was Julie Driscoll‘s metamorphosis into Julie Tippetts, and there was Norma Winstone, each trying to do something different, trying to stretch themselves, striving to find new voices, new forms of expression, I guess. Gradually, almost by stealth, I have become a particular fan of Norma Winstone‘s singing. I am still at that phase where it is a delight to put the pieces together of what she‘s recorded and with whom. I think that process is such a valuable part of the musical experience. I am pretty sure I first heard Norma‘s singing on a Vocalion reissue of The Heart is a Lotus by The Michael Garrick Sextet, a 1970 set featuring a great Val Wilmer shot of Michael and Norma on the back cover. I was instantly a fan of Norma‘s adventurous approach to singing which seemed to my mind a perfect balance between free jazz and vocalese, and a successful attempt at using the voice as an instrument on equal terms with the brass and woodwind. I think what was particular important for me with that record was the way Norma‘s singing seemed to join the dots between the self-consciously avant-garde and what, say, Barbara Moore was doing with singers on library recordings, or with how Morricone and other Italian soundtrack composers were using voices to add colour and drama to their scores. The Heart is a Lotus is a record I have a special fondness for, partly because it (and John Cameron‘s Off Centre) opened the door on British jazz for me and helped me start to get an understanding of that brilliant burst of activity in the late ‗60s and early ‗70s which produced so many great recordings and collaborations. But beyond its symbolic significance, The Heart is a Lotus is an incredibly beautiful record. Garrick‘s compositions are exceptional, and the ensemble playing wonderful. I love how at that time there was a pool of great musicians that recur in numerous permutations on a series of superb recordings. Here, the dependable Don Rendell and Ian Carr guest.
Coleridge Goode is also featured on bass, and ironically his was the name most familiar to me (when I bought the CD) from the few Joe Harriott records I had. I realise now the close bond between Joe Harriott and Michael Garrick, and know more about the incredible music they made together. I think I‘m right also in saying that just before The Heart is a Lotus Norma Winstone made her recording debut on the magnificent Hum Dono, a collaboration between Joe Harriott and Amancio D‘Silva, supervised by the visionary Denis Preston. Norma would go on to feature as an integral part of a series of Michael Garrick recordings for Argo in the early ‗70s, including Homestretch Blues and Troppo. Troppo is particularly striking, with its incredibly moving tribute to Joe Harriott, Fellow Feeling, where Norma sings it straight – from the heart – and Don Rendell‘s flute dances around her, until they move into a particularly beautiful devotional passage where everything begins to flow freely, unrestrained, in a way Joe would surely have approved of enthusiastically.
The sleeve notes for Troppo were written by the jazz critic Alun Morgan, and it‘s great fun trawling through the online archives of Gramophone magazine reading some of AM‘s forthright reviews. He seems to have been particularly enthusiastic about Norma‘s singing, and I love him for that. I suppose it‘s slightly perverse, but of the Michael Garrick records which Norma featured on, and which I‘ve heard, I have a particular soft spot for Mr Smith’s Apocalypse by Garrick‘s Fairground.
There is a part of Norma‘s singing that, away, from the free jazz connections, reminds me of a chorister, something peculiarly pure, and much of Michael Garrick‘s work had a spiritual aspect that was rooted in a distinctly English church tradition. Mr Smith’s Apocalypse is very much in that style, with its use of choirs and organ, but it‘s anything but pious with John Smith‘s poetry every bit as challenging and provocative as Sydney Carter‘s wonderful folk-hymns. My favourite piece on Mr Smith’s Apocalypse is I Took Myself Off To The Doctor, which really has a Sydney Carter feel to the words while the music is a real latin or ska style knees-up that makes wonderful use of the fairground organ. I boldly assume it is Norma on lead vocals, and there‘s a real Cockney lilt to her delivery, betraying her roots and her time singing in east London clubs in the days of the Krays when you could just imagine her doing a beautiful jazz interpretation of something from Oliver! Curiously I Took Myself Off To The Doctor could easily fit on Lionel Bart‘s own contemporaneous masterwork … Isn’t This Where We Came In? which itself features a number of the leading British jazz players. Much of what Norma recorded in the ‗70s and ‗80s was as a collaborator or as a guest, and there are some remarkable performances among these. She made an addictive, haunting series of albums for ECM with John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler as Azimuth. She sang Mike Westbrook‘s exquisite love songs. She was on Labyrynth by Ian Carr‘s Nucleus, and there her singing on Ariadne is so beautiful with the music edging towards the fusion sound that would shape much of the jazz related recordings later in the decade, including Neil Ardley‘s Harmony of the Spheres, on which Norma features, occasionally sounding not a million miles away from what A Certain Ratio with Martha Tilson were looking to do on Sextet. Norma, however, made only a couple of studio LPs under her own name in the ‗70s and ‗80s. One was Edge of Time (on Argo) from 1971 with a stellar cast including John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Mike Osborne, Paul Rutherford, and Alan Skidmore. Alun Morgan‘s Gramophone review was extremely enthusiastic, about the ensemble playing but in particular about Norma‘s singing: ―But the star is very much
Norma Winstone whose range alone puts her in a class almost of her own. I wrote 'almost' because the control she exhibits as she swoops and climbs against the might of the band reminded me on occasions of Yma Sumac (and I hope Norma will take that as the compliment I intend). Norma Winstone has helped to bring about a reappraisal of the term 'jazz singer'.‖ What I think was Norma‘s second solo LP, Somewhere Called Home, was recorded for ECM in 1986, but I only heard it for the first time recently. So, 25 years late perhaps, if that matters, but it‘s a record very much made for now. Is it absurd to suggest it‘s a recording that oozes a certain maturity, a certain air of experience? Norma sounds confident enough in her ability to sing the lyrics straight, and the accompaniment from John Taylor on piano and Tony Coe on sax is impeccable and beautifully discreet.
The choice of songs by Norma is intriguing. The enchanting opener is an adaptation of Egberto Gismonti‘s Café. And while I‘m familiar with the Brazilian composer, and know a couple of his records, I am very aware just how much of his work I have yet to hear, in particular the series of LPs he has made for ECM, and I actually find that incredibly exciting. The LP‘s title comes from a Fran Landesman lyric, and her words are as ever exquisite in a musical context. And while I had no idea Norma or this record existed in the 1980s I am sure I would have loved Sea Lady if I‘d heard it many years before. This Kenny Wheeler/Norma Winstone composition has that same beautiful ache I love so much in the work of Alison Statton and Spike, with and
after Weekend, such as Tidal Blues which features some wonderful trumpet from the great Harry Beckett. Norma also visits jazz standards, and her interpretation of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer‘s Out Of This World almost whisks you back into a world of intimate, understated Bethlehem ballads. Like Norma, Julie Tippetts has been heard more often singing as a collaborator or as a guest. She has few sole credits to her name, but I suspect that doesn‘t concern her. It must be harder at times to be an interpreter of other people‘s ideas. It is more of a challenge, perhaps. So, for example, Julie is heard as the lead voice on Carla Bley‘s Tropic Appetites, from 1974, singing the poetry of Paul Haines in such a wonderful way. I can remember buying the CD reissue of this set after falling totally in love with the Liberation Music Orchestra LP which Carla and Charlie Haden made for Impulse! And, again, incrementally I have become a massive fan of Carla‘s compositions and arrangements. Even at their most abstract and wild and complex they have a certain magic and beauty that keeps the listener involved. Tropic Appetites is a lot of fun, with some show-stopping performances from the players involved, like Gato Barbieri, Howard Johnson, Toni Marcus and David Holland. But there is the one deceptively simple ballad I keep coming back to, where Julie‘s singing is just perfect for the setting. Caucasian Bird Riffles is just so achingly gorgeous, and would have to feature on any personal collection of Julie‘s finest moments. It really defines the territory for the sort of irregular torch song Robert and Alfie Wyatt have gone on to claim as their own.
PART TWO ―August, '68. It was dark and it was late AN 24 was the first, but there were more fighters, in close formation ready for the invasion I remember going to a country where people were warm, and people were ready for changes Iron tanks from everywhere smash down everything that's there … Czechoslovakia.‖
It seems so strange that This Wheel’s On Fire has been the only hit Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity have had. It got to number five in the UK charts in the spring of 1968, but its impact has been incredibly farreaching. Its success at the time was dizzying, and Julie was soon doing her best to escape the yoke of pop stardom. Nevertheless that hit single is emblematic of a particular moment, and that tale from Dylan‘s basement still reverberates. The image of the ultra-hip Jools is one of the more enduring pop statements, and it‘s easy to understand why at the time people wanted to be like Julie Driscoll. Beyond that special single the first I really heard of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity was on the Streetnoise double-LP with its remarkable Ralph Steadman Hogarth-ian cover of London in 1969. I‘d picked it up sometime in the late ‗80s during that remarkable period when all the old hippies were getting rid of their old vinyl and you could pick up all sorts of gems for next-tonothing. And Streetnoise is a record that has fascinated me ever since.
In many ways it is a record very much of its time. The choice of songs to cover is quite telling, with selections from Nina Simone, The Doors, Hair, Oscar Brown, Richie Havens, and naturally Laura Nyro. The end of the ‗60s and the very early ‗70s was a great period for enlightened and inspired choices of material to interpret. So, for example, the great jazz singer Annie Ross had on her 1971 You And Me Baby LP an inspired selection that includes Laura‘s Stone Soul Picnic, the Beach Boys‘ Vegetables, King Crimson‘s Cat Food, Bob Dylan‘s Country Pie, Luiz Bonfa‘s Gentle Rain, Tom Jobim‘s Wave, Marcos Valle‘s Crickets Sing For Anamaria, Barbara Keith‘s Free The People, Randy Newman‘s Love Story, and a couple of James Taylor songs. It‘s almost like a snapshot of a particular moment in time. It was, however, a couple of Julie Driscoll‘s own songs on Streetnoise that really hit me. One was Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge, which is one of the great London songs, so beautiful, with Jools‘ anonymous wander along the stretch of the river she knows so well: ―I walked down by the Thames Vauxhall To Lambeth Bridge, And as I walk I see Big Ben Winking his eye at me. He looks down and he gives a smile Tryin' to be grand 'n strong, But I can tell and I know all the while Tonight he's feeling lonely too. I looked down into the lapping water That's dark and black. When I look up I see a man standing all alone And he too is looking into the water That's dark and black. What are you thinking of man? What are you searching for? I hope you find your answer, But I don't think you'll find it there... But where... but where?‖ The other song that really struck me was Czechoslovakia. For all the words written about 1968 and protest songs I can only think of Julie‘s song that directly refers to the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. And I think her own first-hand experience of the ‗ dizzying liberalization‘ under Dubcek‘s administration adds a definite poignancy. I seem to recall picking up a copy of Streetnoise shortly after seeing Phil Kaufman‘s film adaptation of Milan
Kundera‘s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I realise that the author hates the film, but I hadn‘t read the book at that stage. And I adored Juliette Binoche. And Jools‘ song and the film fitted together well in my mind. I am never sure how much I like Kundera‘s novel. I do return to it occasionally, so that says something. And I have noted certain lines. One could almost be a line from Julie‘s song: ―The Russian invasion was not only a tragedy; it was a carnival of hate filled with a curious (and no longer explicable) euphoria‖. And there is the passage that reverberates still, for some, I‘m sure: ―She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison. But she knew she would never be able to make them understand. Embarrassed she changed the subject.‖ Just as there will inevitably be a glut of texts on the Arab Spring, so back in 1968 there was selection of books which were quick-fire commentaries on current affairs. I picked up one recently, for a song. It is a Penguin Special by Z.A. B. Zeman, titled Prague Spring: A Report on Czechoslovakia 1968, and it‘s refreshingly accessible. It‘s interesting to read about Milan Kundera away from his own literary narratives, and Zeman recounts a speech the novelist made at the Congress of the Writers‘ Union on 27 June 1967 and how ―years of frustration and thought had gone into its making‖ One line of Kundera‘s speech is particularly striking, where he describes how ―the guarding of frontiers is still regarded as a greater virtue than crossing them‖. In Zeman‘s report and in The Unbearable Lightness of Being there is no significant mention of young people and pop music. Kundera does write: ―But what if a Czech had no feeling for music? Then the essence of being a Czech vanished into thin air‖. This seems more of a reference to the classical tradition of Dvorak and Janacek. Nevertheless in Czechoslovakia, as the ‗60s unfolded, so there was a creative boom in pop music just as remarkable as anything that happened anywhere in the West. The crushing of the
Prague Spring had an impact on this ‗uprising‘ but the music didn‘t end.
but Wheel’s On Fire set many things in motion, I‘m sure.
The most famous example, internationally, of the Czech pop boom is Marta Kubisova, and the VampiSoul collection of her ‗rougher‘ soul influenced recordings of the 1960s is one of the most exciting salvage operations of recent years. Marta‘s own progress from jazz/pop singer to outspoken symbol of resistance almost encapsulates the story of Czechoslovakia and the 1960s. The wilder, untamed style she developed is at times reminiscent of Julie Driscoll at the peak of her ‗60s success. That could be coincidence, but the main Czechoslovakian label Supraphon certainly released a compilation of recordings by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity in 1968 as part of an exercise in releasing LPs by foreign artists, such as the Bee Gees, Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin.
It is easy to imagine how much Julie‘s song about Czechoslovakia will have meant to her fans there. And even without that it‘s only natural she would have acted as an inspiration to those who saw and heard her. And the more you look, the more great Czechoslovakian music you can find from that era. YouTube, naturally, has changed everything, and granted us access to secret histories. Scratch around and you‘ll learn about outfits like Flamengo and Prudy. The latter recorded a particularly excellent LP, Zvonte zvonky, in 1968 which reflects the worldwide psychedelic drift, with some gorgeous songs that occasionally suggest something of The Zombies, partly thanks to Marian Varga‘s flamboyant keyboards. Marian would go on to be a pioneer in Czech symphonic rock with Collegium Musicum.
It wasn‘t only in Czechoslovakia that Julie Driscoll‘s influence can be heard and seen. It‘s tempting to detect traces of Jools in performances by Josipa Lisac and perhaps Zdenka Kovacicek from Yugoslavia, Ada Rusowicz from Poland, Annisette of the Savage Rose in Denmark, and closer to home perhaps Carol Grimes with Delivery and Linda Hoyle with Affinity. There were others working in a similar area, like Sharon Tandy and Beryl Marsden. And there were those that provided the necessary inspiration, like Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. That‘s pure speculation,
It‘s even possible now to sit and watch in one go the hour long film The Road That Leads Nowhere, a document of Czech pop in 1968 laced with the characteristically surreal humour of the time. The first group featured in the film is Atlantis, performing Don’t You Break It Again, which is pure Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity, and gloriously so. It features the forceful lead vocals of Hana Ulrychovi, and the group also features her brother Petr. Hana had already sung and recorded with the Bluesmen in 1968 on an EP featuring the phenomenal track Nevidoma divka. In 1969 Hana and Petr with Atlantis recorded the incredible LP Odyssea, a concept album or rock opera based on the story of Ulysses. It is a magnificent and wildly ambitious mix of beautiful folk sounds, psychedelia, and spoken word with elaborate jazz and orchestral arrangements, in the same spirit as other works of the time from Pentangle, Moody Blues, Zombies, Fairport Convention, and so on. The orchestral arrangements on Odyssea are provided by Gustav Brom with his orchestra. Gustav‘s big band is legendary, inside and outside Czechoslovakia, within and beyond jazz circles. It‘s quite probable he is best known now for some of his late ‗60s and ‗70s recordings which have found favour with lovers of dancefloor jazz and funky breaks. In
particular, Calling Up The Rain from the 1976 set Plays For You Pop Jazz & Swing is a fantastic track with fiery Afro-Latin rhythms, swinging Hammond, blasting brass and fuzzed guitars which is more than a match for what some of the German orchestra leaders like Ambros Seelos, Peter Thomas and so on were doing. Another unmissable Brom moment is Sumpf from the 1967 LP Swinging The Jazz which features fantastic wordless vocals from the great Helena Bleharova. I don‘t know how many of Helena‘s own wonderful recordings Gustav provided orchestration for, but he is said to have featured on over 500 records of one sort or another.
The period of ‗normalization‘ that followed the Soviet invasion naturally had an impact on what was allowed in terms of artistic activity, and the Odyssea LP was one that fell victim to the censors‘ sensitivity. It was shelved and didn‘t get an official release until 1990, after the collapse of the Communist administrations. The irony is that for all the ill-feeling against the repressive administration before the Velvet Revolution of 1989 we are in some ways no better off under the capitalist free market. It is still ridiculously difficult to get to hear Odyssea, and nigh on impossible to buy a copy at this moment in time. YouTube does offer salvation, and features videos of Hana and Petr performing tracks from the LP, such as the magnificent Ticho and the incredibly beautiful Fairport-esque Za vodou, za horou. We live in an age where we are told everything is instantly available and we are running out of history. But the music of the old Eastern Bloc
is all too often still frustratingly unavailable. That in a way makes it all the more of a thrill to keep on discovering new delights if only in the form of YouTube postings. Sally Sellingová‘s Chmýri and Eva Olmerova‘s Čajová růže are among the Czechoslovakian recordings and performances available on YouTube that have made me punch the air in delight. The one I keep coming back to though is the performance by Blue Effect of their ‗prayer‘ Slunecny hrob (Sunny Grave) from 1969. It‘s an incredibly beautiful ballad, and though the debt to the Dartford delta is immediately apparent the circumstances of the Prague Spring and subsequent Soviet invasion add incredible emotional power to a song, even without the aid of translation. The period of ‗normalization‘ of course made life difficult for artists. While many left Czechoslovakia, and some like Marta Kubisova were silenced, others found ways of to be creative in difficult circumstances. The authorities may have been overly sensitive about lyrics, but this didn‘t affect Blue Effect‘s attempts at mixing jazz and rock in a pretty uncompromising way. In this they were perhaps evolving in a manner no different than Soft Machine were doing in the UK. In other words maybe they would have done the same thing, regardless of ‗normalization‘. And the first two instrumental LPs the group were involved in at the start of the ‗70s are incredible fusions of heavy rock and out-andout jazz. The first of these was Coniunctio from 1970, recorded with Prague‘s Jazz Q, featuring some great heavy John McLaughlin style guitar playing from Radim Hladik and some perfectly complementary free jazz colouring. The second of these LPs was recorded the following year, with the group credited as Modry Efekt, a name that might be familiar from the infamous Nurse With Wound list. This time the group performed with the Czechoslovakian Radio Jazz Orchestra, and the interplay between the big band and rock group formats works perfectly. Coniunctio prominently features the fantastic flute playing of Jiri Stivin. Jiri had already been playing on the jazz scene with Karel Velebny‘s SHQ (who had an LP released on ESP-Disk). They had also featured on the jazz
side of Jazz Feeling, the 1968 debut LP by the remarkable singer Eva Olmerova. Although ostensibly a collection of jazz and gospel standards sung in English it becomes something far, far beyond that drear description, perhaps on account of Eva‘s tumultuous life story which allowed her to sing something like Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen with more feeling than most jazz singers.
in 1973. It reflects a worldwide interest in fusion sounds, inspired by the likes of Chick Corea, which in Czechoslovakia was particularly understandable given Miroslav Vitous‘ role in Weather Report. On this LP Jazz Q are at the progressive rock end of fusion, and the sound is refreshingly stripped down – the synths would come later, and Frantisek Francl‘s guitar is particularly prominent. The vocals are provided by Joan Duggan, who was I believe married to Francl and they‘d both recorded as part of Flamengo previously. Joan‘s vocals add a certain rawness to the proceedings, and I don‘t think it would be too unkind to make a connection to the likes of Julie Driscoll and Linda Hoyle. The CD edition of Symbiosis adds Předzvěst, a track with a strong latin influence that features some wonderful wordless explorations from Joan, with some strong suggestions of Flora Purim or what Norma Winstone would do as part of Azimuth. It would be great to hear more of Joan‘s singing.
I wouldn‘t want to be quizzed too closely about Jiri Stivin‘s career, but I‘ve heard a few of the titles he recorded in the 1970s and they are exceptional. I confess, however, to being a massive fan of jazz flutists, so that clearly helps. So, for example, 5 ran do čepice, from 1972 (known in the West as Five Hits in a Row) is a fantastic collection which reaches out beyond Czechoslovakia, featuring Barre Phillips on bass and the Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert. Rudolf Dasek provides some frantic guitar playing, which is wonderful. Stivin and Dasek later made a few LPs together, ‗in tandem‘ as they called it. The Stivin title that I have grown to love incredibly much is Zodiac from 1977, which also features Gabriel Jonas on keyboards, the Kuhn Mixed Chorus and the Talich Quartet. This title is a real find for anyone who has a soft spot for conceptual records where folk traditions, choral vocals and string quartet are incorporated into the jazz context. Jazz Q, led by keyboard player Martin Kratochvil with whom Jiri Stivin played on Blue Effect‘s Coniunctio, would go on to make a number of LPs of their own. Particularly worth seeking out is Symbiosis, which was recorded
PART THREE ―It‘s going to get hotter, the papers say There‘s a storm of light and it‘s heading this way. And I‘ll meet you here in London Town We talk and laugh and walk around …‖
The first time I came across the name Julie Tippetts was when she sang on the glorious bluesy Storm of Light by Working Week, produced by Robin Millar in May 1984, with a fantastic blasting brass section courtesy of Larry Stabbins, Hary Beckett, and Annie Whitehead, and swirling Hammond organ from Mike Carr. It would be many, many years later that I got to see the video for the single, with Julie vamping it up, in the company of what look like models for a Hard Times photo shoot in The Face, perfectly capturing the sultriness of the song. Storm of Light is a fantastic single, but there remains an element of surprise given Julie‘s commitment to free jazz expressionism. Nevertheless there was a direct precedent, which is the 1978 Encore reunion with Brian Auger where she is on spectacularly strident and soulful form. Encore is a record I had no idea even existed at the time of its release, which is a little ironic as it would have been about then that I first fell in love with Wheel’s On Fire. I‘m not sure if I would have appreciated it at the time, either. I think it‘s got some fantastic performances on now, and some intriguing choices of songs, like Traffic‘s No Time To Live and Jack Bruce‘s Rope Ladder To The Moon, as well as Freedom Highway and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
The magnificent Storm of Light was overshadowed by its predecessor, the epic Venceremos 12‖ featuring Tracey Thorn, Claudia Figueroa and Robert Wyatt on vocals, one of the most truly significant releases of the 1980s. I really don‘t think Simon Booth is given enough credit for the musical vision he had in the early ‗80s, from Weekend to Working Week, via Everything But The Girl‘s Eden and even Vic Godard‘s T.R.O.U.B.L.E. which was virtually a Working Week record in terms of personnel. That whole drift postpunk towards jazz and bossa influenced naturalism, the only possible revolution at the time, to which you can also add the Pale Fountains, Carmel, Swamp Children etc. was tremendously important. For those who dismiss this drift the perfect rejoinder is the Working Week 12‖ of Stella Marina, another track that stretches the format to the limit. In many ways it is a perfect snapshot of the mid-‗80s in terms of the influences percolating and the avenues being explored. Jalal from the Last Poets provides the rap, Julie Tippetts is featured with wordless singing to add drama and colour, the rhythm merges electro and latin sounds, and Larry Stabbins‘ sax soars wild and free. And yet Weekend, Working Week, etc. are still airily dismissed by the Barthes boys as ‗faux jazz‘, which is ironic as the same critics and commentators will bristle about notions of authenticity in other texts. The idea of Working Week being ersatz is an intriguing one when you look at the people involved. Of course, over many, many years jazz musicians have taken paid session work to get by, but there has always been the sense that those involved with Weekend and Working Week were doing it for fun and because they wanted to be a part of it. The sax player Larry Stabbins was certainly as much a part of Working Week as Simon Booth was. They had already worked together in Weekend, whom Stabbins had been involved with since that incredibly influential debut single, The View From Her Room. Keith Tippett had played with Weekend, too, on the Live At Ronnie Scott’s set from March 1983. The links between Stabbins and Tippett are quite intricate. They were both from Bristol, and had played together frequently in different
projects since the early 1970s, starting I think with the Centipede big band extravaganza. The first Working Week single, Venceremos, had been issued on the Paladin label, through Virgin, which was run by Paul Murphy and Dean Hulme. Paladin over the course of a few years put out some intriguing titles, though I do readily admit I had no idea they existed. Understandably a number of the Paladin releases had Weekend/Working Week connections. Harry Beckett, for example, had a great LP out on the label, Pictures of You, with Elton Dean on sax, which is every bit as vibrant and uplifting as his Flare Up debut from 1971 which featured the likes of John Surman, John Taylor, Alan Skidmore, Mike Osborne and Frank Ricotti.
Another Paladin release was Annie Whitehead‘s Mix Up LP, a wonderful and very appropriately titled record, which covers the many musical areas Annie was involved in around that time, from jazz to afrobeat to ska to calypso to latin sounds, often in the course of the one song. Among Mix Up‘s guest stars was Laka Daisical, literally, who played and sang with the feminist jazz collective The Guest Stars, who also featured Deirdre Cartwright on guitar who found fame of a strange sort on the BBC‘s educational programme Rockschool. Also involved with the recording of Mix Up, playing saxes and flute, was Louise Elliott who had played with the Laughing Clowns.
Both Harry Beckett and Annie Whitehead have had close links with Robert Wyatt. Harry, for example, played on Robert‘s cover of Violetta Parra‘s Arauco back at the start of the ‗80s, while Annie has featured on more recent records such as Cuckooland. They‘ve both played live with Robert, and featured in the Soup Songs project celebrating Robert‘s music, as indeed have Julie Tippetts and Larry Stabbins. In fact, it has to be mentioned that the recording of Julie singing her own composition Mind of a Child from the Robert Wyatt and friends concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, on the 8th September 1974, is one of the most beautiful things ever. The first Paladin release was by the Onward International collective, who put out the Foot In The Door 12‖, a joyous blast of jazz funk. I think this was their only record, though they certainly recorded a couple of sessions for John Peel‘s radio show in 1984. The group featured the likes of Dave Bitelli, Kim Burton, Simon Edwards, Dawson Miller, Bosco D‘Oliveira, and Roberto Pla, several of whom played with Working Week and appeared on many other sessions for the likes of Sade, Wham! etc. The pronounced latin and Brazilian rhythms and percussion flavours colliding with uplifting Light of the World style horns creates an irresistible blend on that 12‖. Another Paladin release was the Look Inside LP by Latin fusion outfit Paz, led by vibist Dick Crouch. It‘s another great LP and features a neat cover of Milton Nascimento‘s Cravo E Canela, with vocals by Bosco D‘Oliveira. The very useful Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Jazz, published in 1986 by Salamander, mentions that it sold 2,000 copies in its first week of issue ―on a small, under-resourced independent label‖ in 1983. It‘s a good indication of the appeal fusion sounds had, among a mixed audience that included the burgeoning jazz dance scene around the country on which Paul Murphy as a DJ was an increasingly influential figure. It‘s really worth getting hold of Mark ‗Snowboy‘ Cotgrove‘s book on the history of the UK jazz dance scene to find out where Paul fits in to the story. The book itself is a vital piece of the pop jigsaw, and shows the intersections between different scenes, from the jazz funk crowd to the mod revivalists to the interesting side of the
Factory/Manchester thing with A Certain Ratio, Kalima, the Jazz Defektors, and so on. Simon Booth realised early on that what he was doing with Weekend dovetailed perfectly with the jazz dance scene, although he was oblivious to what was going on when The View From Her Room came out. With Working Week he was rather more knowing, and the Julien Temple-directed video for Venceremos featured the legendary fusion dance crew IDJ. Working Week‘s song Who’s Fooling Who name-checks the Paul Murphy hosted club night at the Sol y Sombra in Charlotte Street, central London. The Snowboy book, however, also highlights internecine struggles and ego clashes within what was a rapidly changing world. And Working Week kind of got lost along the way as rare groove then Acid Jazz took over the scene. I certainly lost track of what they were doing, and didn‘t realise until much later that the 1989 Fire in the Mountain LP featured Keith and Julie Tippett. I suppose those of us in love with the idea of that kind of collaboration featuring Keith and Julie were richly rewarded with the release in 2009 of the Nostalgia 77 Sessions set featuring the Tippetts. This was a completely unexpected treat, and thankfully not a fleeting collaboration. It was, instead, a full-length fully immersed work which is completely uncompromising and incredibly beautiful. I suspect it was a lot of fun for Keith and Julie to work on something fairly conventionally structured and turn it inside out and get enthusiastic support from young jazz musicians willing to stretch out in what they were doing. Again, in a typically Tippetts way, it is an LP you can keep coming back to and discovering something new in songs like the exceptional Rainclouds. I understand the project came about when Nostalgia 77‘s bassist Riaan Vosloo worked with Keith Tippett on an educational scheme, and one thing led to another. I rather love the fact that, according to his label‘s website, Nostalgia 77‘s leader Ben Lamdin‘s introduction ―to Keith and Julie Tippett‘s music was a dusty copy of their 1971 LP Septober Energy (written for the 50-strong band Centipede), and the sheer wealth and freedom of creative endeavour enjoyed by that pioneering group of musicians resonated strongly with him.‖
In some ways it is perfectly logical the Tippetts should choose to work with Nostalgia 77 as what Ben and the group have been doing in recent years is very much in the spirit of Simon Booth and Weekend/Working Week. Where Simon & co. grew out of a post-punk world into the jazz thing, so Ben‘s background is in hip hop production but like many people before him the interest in jazz developed into a desire to work with real instrumentation. I first got interested in Nostalgia 77 through the 2005 LP The Garden which I found a promotional copy of in a charity shop and bought because the criminally underrated singer Alice Russell was featured and because I liked some of the other things the label Tru Thoughts was putting out. I still do: the Zed Bias & Omar single Dancing is great pop, as is Rodney P‘s Live Up. Among the Tru Thoughts releases of recent times has been a stunning LP by Stonephace, essentially a collaboration between Larry Stabbins and the DJ Krzysztof Oktalski. The feel is a real end of the ‗60s jazz meets rock thing, Harold McNair and Harry Beckett sitting in with Soft Machine, that type of session with something of a ‗90s Bristol sense in there at times. That‘s fair enough, Stabbins is from Bristol, and also involved on the Stonephace LP sessions were Adrian Utley and Jim Barr. Intriguingly the most recent Nostalgia 77 LP has a real Bristol ‗90s Cup of Tea feel too, suggesting for example the wonderful In Deeper Life EP the great Tammy Payne recorded with Jim Barr. This particular Nostalgia 77 record, The Sleepwalking Society, has more of a folksy almost Pentangle feel than previous LPs, but it manages to avoid sounding too tasteful, maintaining something of an edge and plenty of space in its arrangements.
PART FOUR ―Feels like a storm in the air, And the sky is swiftly changing, The drops begin to spatter down From the constant re-arranging Of the heavy, sodden clouds, Which form a dampened under-blanket – For the sun But now the wind is rising, To disperse that darkened pillow. And the whiteness finds a place to shine – With blinding rays that shimmer Those drops to glisten silvery – From boughs of trees – upon the leaves. Where once the rain had fallen, The storm is gone – leaving behind – This days last golden hour – For the sun.‖
engaged in extra-curricular activities. The Blossom Toes‘ personnel were part of a pool of progressive players at the end of the ‗60s who grew out of the rhythm ‗n‘ blues/psychedelic scene and played on one another‘s recordings. Study the credits of a series of records around that time and you will spot members of The Action/Mighty Baby, Blossom Toes, Traffic, Family, Spooky Tooth, as well as Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger, and so on, in different permutations.
At the start of the 2000s Disconforme had a pretty intensive reissue programme, releasing many of the great progressive rock/jazz titles on CD for the first time. The Andorra-based label‘s series included quite a number of Brian Auger and Keith Tippett related titles, and so it was I first came across Julie Driscoll‘s 1969 and Julie Tippetts‘ Sunset Glow, and became quietly obsessed with these two wonderful and madly adventurous records. Sunset Glow, of the two of them, is I guess the more cohesive set. The pool of musicians participating was a more settled one, and drew equally upon the Keith Tippett group and what had been the group Blossom Toes. The astonishing title track is perhaps perfectly midpoint between Julie‘s free jazz abstract expressionism and her incredible gift for beautifully interpreting ballads with folk and blues roots. It‘s also another of Julie‘s compositions that perfectly capture something of the English climate in the most fundamental sense, just Julie musing on the elements, and trying to express the impact a sunset can have on our lives and how it can put all the other nonsense into perspective. Keith Tippett‘s horn section of Elton Dean, Nick Evans and Mark Charig feature on both of Julie‘s 1970s solo sets. Being a valuable resource, collectively or individually, they were in demand as session players, appearing in different permutations on records by Soft Machine, King Crimson, Reggie King, and so on. It wasn‘t just jazz players, though, that
The Blossom Toes 1969 LP, If Only For A Moment, is one of those pivotal records that seem to sum up the end of the ‗60s. It captures a moment where things got harder, stranger, more creative, more complex, with no real concession to commercialism in terms of the pop market or the heavy rocking audiences. At times the record feels like the missing link between the Small Faces and Television. A great example of that era‘s fluidity in terms of ideas and personnel is Andrew Leigh‘s 1970 LP The Magician. Brian Godding from Blossom Toes is there on guitar, and his old colleague Kevin Westlake is there too. Reggie King provides piano and vocals, Gordon Jackson plays sitar, and Gary Farr helps out with harmonica and guitars. Tony Priestland from Titus Groan plays woodwind. And members of Spooky Tooth are strongly represented, which is understandable as Andy Leigh played with the group for a while, notably on the wonderfully ambitious Celebration, an
electronic mass featuring Pierre Henry which it has to be said is rather less pop than the Electric Prunes/Axelrod mass but it is fantastic nevertheless and all the better for being deranged and in its way as ‗out there‘ and uncompromising as any free jazz session of the time. Andy Leigh would go on to play with the very great Matthews Southern Comfort. Gordon Jackson‘s one and only LP Thinking Back, from 1969, is similarly blessed with a stellar supporting cast. Traffic are strongly represented, which makes sense as Gordon had previously played in groups with Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason, and branches of the Family tree feature too. Among the backing vocalists are Reggie King, Julie Driscoll, Blossom Toes, Meic Stevens, and Luther Grosvenor. The invaluable Sunbeam label has made this great lost record available again, and it is a perfect example of a very British post-mod, acid folk rock sound that emerged from the rhythm ‗n‘ blues milieu. There is a specific toughness there, for all the sense of improvisation and the let‘s-give-it-a-go looseness. I think it is that sinewy sound that sets such recordings apart from the work of less substantial folk troubadours just making their way in the music world. I think it also explains why people like the Mighty Baby guys were so in demand as session players.
The Gary Farr LPs, Take Something With You and Strange Fruit, are perfect examples of this new wave of folk/soul sound. The music is essentially provided by the Mighty Baby collective, with Richard Thompson helping out on Strange Fruit which had a little more of a country feel. Gary‘s musical apprenticeship was as an r‘n‘b journeyman on the ‗60s live
circuit. His dad was the boxing champ Tommy Farr and his brother Ricky had been The Action‘s manager. Gary looked fantastic, though, particularly on the cover of Take Something With You, and sounds in great voice on these two LPs. The first one was produced by Reggie King, and it‘s got a particularly beautiful sound, with Ian Whiteman‘s flute used perfectly and poignantly. In fact, it‘s very much the record Reggie should have made. Although, having said that, Reggie‘s own meticulously put together demos from that same late ‗60s period are occasionally have a similar sound and feel . Gordon Jackson, Gary Farr, and Reggie King were for a while all part of the Marmalade stable that the godlike genius Giorgio Gomelsky put together. Marmalade was a label that Polydor allowed Gomelsky to play with in the late-‗60s. Reports suggest that they saw it as a convenient tax-loss, which may be the case. There were a number of such ‗boutique‘ labels at the time. I don‘t know to what extent Andrew Loog Oldham‘s Immediate concern influenced events. Gomelsky, however, struck gold straight away with Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity smashing into the Top 10 in the spring of 1968 with This Wheel’s On Fire. Although only active for a short period of time, Marmalade‘s output and activity was particularly fascinating, even by ‗60s standards. In many ways that‘s not surprising as Gomelsky is one of the era‘s great visionaries. Indeed it seems absurd that his own story has not been captured in books in great detail, time and again. There was a Marmalade compilation that captures perfectly the breadth of musical activity Gomelsky was promoting. Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger are prominently featured, naturally. Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley appear, giving a hint of what the ‗70s would bring. Blossom Toes and Gordon Jackson have tracks included. It seems it wasn‘t unusual for live performances to become a sort of Marmalade revue, with singers like Jackson, Reggie King and Gary Farr getting up to sing and jam with Blossom Toes or whoever was around. Perhaps a little more unexpectedly the Marmalade compilation features Chris Barber‘s fantastic Battersea Rain Dance. Perhaps this
is not unexpected, at all. Barber, too, it can be claimed is one of the great British visionaries, and without him the second half of the 20th century would have been a far duller place. He may be closely associated with the trad jazz and skiffle scenes, but at the same time he was of incredible importance in promoting electric blues music and encouraging young musicians. As an indication of his open-mindedness he released a great mod dance 45 as Chris Barber‘s Soul Band featuring Brian Auger and Ronnie Scott in 1965 – Finishing Straight/Morning Train – so the ‗progressive‘ electric sound on Battersea Rain Dance was not unprecedented. There is an elusive Chris Barber Band LP from that late ‗60s period, also called Battersea Rain Dance, with the intriguing production credits of Chris Barber, Giorgio Gomelsky and Reggie King. The sleeve notes by Mike Hales make it quite clear what the thinking behind the record was: ―Imagine an eclectic ensemble embracing pure pop, progressive pop, big band jazz, small group modern jazz and trad jazz. Think of the multitude of ideas which stream in insular courses rarely merging, ever inward-looking and always scornful of their fellow musical travellers. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the invisible barriers between pop, classics, jazz, folk, blues, soul, and Gregorian chants, are being crushed as music and musicians bring to the fore their ideas gleaned from their experience. Music and musicians like this album and Chris Barber's Band.‖ Gomelsky had always been someone who embraced cross-functional activity. The clubs he is famous for running, like the Crawdaddy out Richmond way, had a history of jam sessions, and when in 1965 he got Sonny Boy Williamson in to make an LP the line-up he put together was Brian Auger‘s group augmented by Jimmy Page with Joe Harriott and Alan Skidmore on horns. Before him Denis Preston had a track record of pitching musicians from different disciplines and scenes together on a record with often sparkling results. Gomelsky‘s links to the UK jazz scene go back to the late ‗50s when he first came to the UK and got involved in filming what was happening in the clubs at the time. He would know Chris Barber extremely well from that time, as well Ottilie Patterson who was Chris‘
wife and sang with his band. There is a brilliant passage in Val Wilmer‘s invaluable book Mama Said There’d Be Days Like These where she describes Ottilie as ―a diminutive Irish woman who wore lace dresses and floral prints with disarming simplicity, then proceeded to stun everyone when she opened her mouth in a fair imitation of Bessie Smith‖. Val goes on to describe how Chris and Ottilie took her under their wing for a while, introducing her to blues music and people: ―Chris and Ottilie made it easy for me to get to know such musicians and never made fun of my naivety and earnestness‖. Otillie also recorded an elusive LP for Marmalade and if The Bitterness of Death, the track featured on the label sampler, is very special, in a mystical folk way, while the single I‘ve heard by her on Marmalade, Spring Song, is jaunty and oddly psych‘d up. Some raucous soul sides Ottilie made with Ivor Raymonde for Columbia are also well worth seeking out. Marmalade, like Deram, was particularly good at throwing progressive sounds in together. On the jazz side, Marmalade issued what is one of its best known titles, John McLaughlin‘s exceptional Extrapolation, with fantastic contributions from John Surman and Tony Oxley. There was also an LP by John Stevens‘ prolific Spontaneous Music Ensemble, featuring two extended tracks, Oliv, with wonderful vocals, haunting wordless extemporisation, from Maggie Nichols. Kenny Wheeler, Trevor Watts, Derek Bailey also feature on this great record.
Bassist Jeff Clyne from the Spontaneous Music Ensemble played with the Keith Tippett Group on its 1970 debut You Are Here … I Am There, alongside what would become Keith‘s trusted horn section of Elton Dean, Nick Evans and Mark Charig. I really like the fact that Dean and Charig had previously played together with Long John Baldry, Reg Dwight and Caleb Quaye in Bluesology. I think that rhythm ‗n‘ blues background added a certain muscularity to the Tippett sound, as it began to evolve rapidly to the wilful adventuresomeness of the June 1971 sessions for the Centipede big band sprawl that was the Septober Energy project. Interestingly most of the featured vocalists would be reunited later when in 1973 Julie Tippett, Maggie Nichols and Mike Patto provided backing vocals on the (Zoot Money and Steve) Ellis LP Why Not?, a criminally lost record which often beats the Faces at their own game and finds Steve on particularly impressive blue-eyed soul (searching) form while the presence of Mr Money is always a welcome one. The featured guitarist on Septober Energy was Blossom Toes‘ Brian Godding. This was the first of the jazz collaborations that would follow for Brian. Mike Westbrook invited him to play on Brain Damage, the second LP recorded by his Solid Gold Cadillac ensemble in 1973. The two Solid Gold Cadillac LPs are great documents of a time when ideas were being wilfully jumbled-up, with jazz meeting rock meeting drama meeting traditional folk sounds from various sources, thanks to major label funding. Above all, though, what I love about records like these is the collective sense of ―okay I‘m up for this, let‘s give it a go, and see what happens‖. Phil Minton is the main singer on these Solid Gold Cadillac records, and as he is someone so closely associated with using his voice in an improvisational or irregular way it is almost shocking to hear him occasionally sounding so soulful on Technology and Let It Shine from the first LP. The bass player on the first Solid Gold Cadillac set was Roy Babbington, who had played in Carol Grimes‘ Delivery with Lol Coxhill. Pip Pyle, Phil Miller, and recorded the exceptional Fools Meeting LP. He‘d also played with Keith Tippett‘s group and Soft Machine. Brian Godding, himself, would after Solid Gold Cadillac, go on to work with Mike Westbrook over a long period of time.
Somewhere along the way Blossom Toes became B.B. Blunder, having lost Jim Cregan and regained Kevin Westlake. As B.B. Blunder they put out the Workers’ Playtime LP on United Artists. Essentially this was the third Blossom Toes LP. Julie Driscoll was hanging out with them a lot, and features on backing vocals. Although a little too democratic at times, the LP contains some incredibly beautiful and intense tracks. There are some very deep, heavy soulful songs. Mark Charig provides trumpet and Nick Evans on trombone on funky opener Sticky Living. Other moments recall the painful ballads on the Reg King LP. The vocal interplay with Julie on Seed is particularly striking. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is gets positively pugilistic, although as though the guys have finally snapped and are taking out all their frustrations at the music business. It‘s followed by the beautiful ballad Rise, which has some lovely vocal harmonies and soaring guitars of the sort you might associate with The Action/Mighty Baby. The title and spirit of the LP‘s closing anthem of optimism was borrowed by Peter Swales of Sahara, for the New Day Concert at the Roundhouse, 27 February 1970, which was enthusiastically reviewed in International Times. Jess Roden‘s Bronco and then Peter Swales‘ protégés Gypsy were the first groups to play. Reggie King had been billed to play with Mighty Baby, but circumstances conspired against this. Instead he played a short set with Brian Belshaw, Brian Godding and Barrie Jenkins. Gary Farr and Kevin Westlake played a set together, and I often think when you listen to their song Green how logical it was for Kevin to go on and work with Ronnie Lane. It really can be argued that what Ronnie and the Small Faces were doing in creating a new
folk music sound with Afterglow and The Universal, and so on, laid the foundations for what would happen next. And their engineer George Chkiantz was central to a lot of the Marmalade recordings and other ones related to the set-up/scene, including 1969 and Sunset Glow.
The passionate IT review of the concert states: ―Julie Driscoll sang solo accompanying herself on guitar and she was lovely. Then with Brian Godding on a soft edged electric guitar, she held the audience of dedicated freaks, some of whom, I don't think, realised the relevance of what was happening, with a beautiful song about her childhood dedicated to her sister, (Brian Godding's old lady). Then Brian Belshaw plugged in his bass and Jenkins got onto his drums and the four of them, Julie still playing guitar, got into an incredible set. One number, Czechoslovakia, the subject matter of which isn't too hard to deduce, again held the audience in awe. It was revolutionary music, sung with commitment and force, to a potentially revolutionary audience — something WAS happening Mr. Jones, just for a fraction and you could feel it. But the climax was Godding's incredible song, New Day, which contains the same ingredients as Hey Jude i.e. an insistent, gradual, repetitive crescendo coupled with a strong melody line. The entire evening's cast took the stage for what must've been the warmest and most expressive finale ever to've dislodged the shit from the Roundhouse rafters. Like, EVERYBODY, was up on their feet, musicians and audience alike digging it and digging each other because, for two completely different reasons, they knew each other, they recognised who they were and why they were there and they sang this fucking amazing song, on and on and on and it worked.‖
The review concludes: ―New Day, as I'm sure Peter Swales is well aware, is an appropriate choice for not only the dawn of a new decade but the beginning of a new musical era.‖ I don‘t know too much about Peter Swales, I confess. I know about his Welsh roots and that he was involved with Meic Stevens. I know the story about how he got money out of the Rolling Stones to fund his Sahara enterprises (publishing, promotions and a label). I know that the Sahara thing in a way picked up the pieces from the collapse of Marmalade.
I am aware that, as part of the Sahara thing, he managed to get B.B. Blunder, Reggie King, and Gypsy signed to United Artists. Billboard even enthusiastically reported the artists were each on three-year deals, and would put out a minimum of two LPs a year. Somehow the optimism of the New Day event seems misplaced. B.B. Blunder and Reggie only released the one LP. Gypsy, I think, had two LPs on UA. The first of these, co-produced by Peter Swales, is an exceptional snapshot of a moment, with a real Mighty Baby/Byrds feel and a great soul rasp to the vocals and the intricate guitars right up front. Reggie would often sing with B.B. Blunder and a single they recorded together of Little Boy and 10,000 Miles was released. Reggie‘s story is such a sad one, and sometimes when I play Julie Tippetts‘ Behind The Eyes (For a Friend, R), the closing track on Sunset Glow, I can imagine it being about Reggie. I don‘t really suggest it is. R could be anyone. But this is
such a beautiful song – just Julie and pianos – and it‘s got a lovely Laura Nyro or David Ackles ballad feel to it (and remember, for many of us our first exposure to the brilliance of David‘s songs was via Julie singing about the road to Cairo). ―Behind the eyes – I cry for you. Beyond the laughter – we weep with you, We feel for you – that‘s all. But dear friend – that‘s not all at all. Behind a cloud – the sun always shines through, Beyond any sorrow – a smile or two. We care for you – that‘s all. But dear friend – that‘s not all – at all.‖ The beautiful song about rediscovering a lost childhood referred to in the New Day review, which Julie dedicated to her sister Angie, has to be I Nearly Forgot – But I Went Back, which became the closing track on 1969. It‘s just Julie with Brian Godding on acoustic guitar, and it works perfectly. Julie is in a really confessional, purging mood. And more elaborate instrumental embellishments might just break the spell. And that is it, for while 1969 is exciting as a record, with the involvement of the jazz players, I have to admit it is the stark beauty of the tracks where
it‘s just Julie and Brian that really moves me. Brian, I guess, playing the Lee Underwood role to Julie‘s Tim Buckley. This is displayed perfectly on the song Lullaby, which achieves the very difficult by simply expressing something as fundamental as sitting watching the rain fall, washing away the painful, through a window and feeling warm and protected. It takes a special person to achieve all this. ―Sitting here at the window Looking out upon the rain Nothing much is coming to mind Troubles all just float away On a raindrop …‖
Tales of FiNiN by Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer is available from Discus Records. It is very highly recommended. And it was very much the inspiration behind this celebration of Julieâ€™s work. Many diversions were taken while putting together this edition, and I apologise to the many people who will know much more about the music and artists covered along the way.
â€Ś your heart out