Here’s Jimmy Smith (growls and Hammond grooves), Nathen Page (guitar) and Charlie Crosby (drums) on Danish television playing “I Got My Mojo Working”. Dig it.
Monday, 18 May 2015
Sunday, 10 May 2015
The Who’s early managers, who guided them from cult Mod status to all-conquering rock superstars, were an unlikely pairing. Yet Kit Lambert, upper class son of classical composer and conductor Constant Lambert, and Chris Stamp, working class son of a stoker on the boats from Plaistow, made a complimentary and formidable team.
Working in the lower reaches of the film industry they shared a passion to make their own movie and settled upon finding a new pop group to centre their idea. When Lambert passed a row of scooters outside the Railway Tavern, popped his head in and witnessed both the High Numbers and their audience, he’d found what they were after. As Chris Stamp explains in James D. Cooper’s directorial debut documentary, Lambert and Stamp, they didn’t know what they wanted, more what they didn’t want, and misfits Townshend, Daltrey, Moon and Entwistle defied the accepted conventions of the time in their look, sound and attitude. It began as a perfect marriage.
They made a terrific partnership with the band, now reverting back to their previous Who moniker, willing to join in with any excitable plan their new backers concocted, even if their original film idea gently faded into the background as they became managers instead. Kit Lambert's encouraging and influencing helped bolster Pete Townshend's creative song writing in a way his bandmates couldn't and was fundamental to The Who's development. The story is told through interviews with Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, Richard Barnes, Heather Daltrey, Terence Stamp, Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall, Irish Jack etc, archive footage and, best of all, Chris Stamp, whose good looks, enthusiasm, cocky charm and charisma shine through; he could've sold anything to anyone.
What also is evident is how exciting and fearless they all were in the 60s. If they had an idea they’d go for it. Fancy making a film; managing a pop group; signing Jimi Hendrix to a record label they’d only just thought of; making a rock opera? Yeah, come on, let’s go. Money was no object, insofar as they didn’t have any and racked up huge debts with little regard to any future consequences. Everything was lived for in the moment. The turning point came five years into their relationship and the enormous success of Tommy and then finally having more money than even they could spend.
Things fell apart in the 70s and relationships broke down, exacerbated by Kit’s drinking and drug habit; the appearance of Bill Curbishley managing affairs in a more money oriented manner; and the band giving Tommy to Ken Russell rather than allowing Lambert and Stamp to finally make the film they’d always dreamed of. Keith Moon in this period comes out with a lot of credit as he refused to sign any papers to terminate the band’s relationship with Kit and Chris, mindful of what they'd achieved together. Days after Keith died the job was done with brutal efficiency.
One quibble in the film is the failure to mention Peter Meaden and his influence shaping the Who. When Lambert clapped eyes on them, peering through the darkness of a Harrow and Wealdstone pub packed with Mods on a Tuesday evenning, it was in part due to Meaden creating the band in his own image and deserves acknowledgement for gifting the raw product to Lambert and Stamp who nurtured it into something far wider reaching. Also, the circumstances of Lambert's death in 1981 are brushed over. Chris Stamp died from cancer in 2012. Those things aside, it’s a wonderful film for fans of The Who, the 60s, and dreamers and schemers everywhere.
Lambert & Stamp is released in UK cinemas on 15 May 2015.
Sunday, 26 April 2015
On the decks this month...
1. Jim Doval and The Gauchos – “Mama, Keep Yo! Big Mouth Shut” (1965)
Stalking garage version of the Bo Diddley classic. Love the lead guitar almost as much as I love the mangling of the rules of punctuation. That’s punk rock for ya man. What’s also punk rock is the record has the most sudden ending I’ve ever heard; like someone’s whipped the needle off in disgust. For that, I’ll turn a blind eye to their ponytails.
2. Brother Jack McDuff – “Snap Back Jack” (1967)
Brother Jack on the Hammond, flanked by the horns of Leo Johnson and Danny Turner, Melvin Sparks on guitar and Ray Lucas on drums open Jack’s third of four albums for Atlantic, Do It Now! There’s nothing surprising about the LP - it's standard McDuff fayre - but no less tasty for it.
3. Neil MacArthur – “World Of Glass” (1969)
This 45 on Deram, sung by Colin Blunstone and written and produced by Mike Hurst, is utterly exquisite. If you’ve never heard it, prepare for your mind to be blown with its beauty. If you have, listen again and marvel in fresh awe.
4. C.C.S. – “Boom Boom” (1970)
Tucked away on the flip of “Whole Lotta Love” (the old Top of the Pops theme), Alexis Korner leads the Collective Consciousness Society through a big fat take on the John Lee Hooker chestnut.
5. John Cale and Terry Riley – “Church of Anthrax” (1971)
Ten minutes of rumbling bass, squiggly harpsichord, soprano sax, pulsating rhythms, viola and goodness knows what else manages to be both hypnotic and invigorating.
6. The Soft Boys – “Kingdom of Love” (1980)
Robin Hitchcock’s love of Syd Barrett clearly worn on his sleeve on this single from Underwater Moonlight. I say single but more accurately it was the first track on their Near The Soft Boys EP which also includes a great version of Pink Floyd’s under-the-counter “Vegetable Man”.
7. Yoshida Brothers – “Storm” (2003)
According to Wikipedia the Yoshida Brothers are “performers of the traditional Japanese music style of Tsugaru-jamisen which originated in northern Japan”. Now, I dunno much about Tsugaru-jamisen but the Brothers’ use of synths and drum machines behind their shamisen playing probably upsets a few purists but that’s no concern of ours, this is pretty damn cool.
8. Mavis Staples – “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” (2015)
Your Good Fortune is Mavis’s new 4-track EP and finds her in fabulously form, real deep soul that draws in the listener to every heartfelt word, and with a slightly more contemporary accompaniment than usual. It works beautifully, especially on this old Blind Lemon Jefferson number.
9. Paul Orwell – “You’re Nothing Special” (2015)
Latest sold-out 7 inch from Paul Orwell – who, incidentally, plays, sings, records and produces everything himself – is a double-sider in the truest sense of the word and shows he’s less a one trick pony and more a talented ringmaster of his own rock and roll circus. “Like I Did Before” is a kicking bundle of beat-psych with punchy organ and a fighty guitar break, whilst “You’re Nothing Special” is built on Brill Building pop classicism with simple yet effective lyrics and a melody so strong one could hang a floppy hat on. As Orwell so succinctly said recently, “I’m an artist, not a genre”.
10. Joe Sarakula – “Northern Soul” (2015)
Joel Sarakula takes a tired Wiganesque northern soul template and creates a slick and stylish modern soul mover with precisely the right amount of out-of-reach anguish. It’s truly superb. Only surprise is it’s released on the tiny independent Heavy Soul label (full credit to them, and for the Orwell release too) as to me it sounds like something with wider commercial appeal.
Sunday, 19 April 2015
After a couple of years mooching about the house not doing much, everyone’s favourite grin and grunge crackpots, the Lovely Eggs, are back with a new single, album and tour.
“Magic Onion” is the super 45 taster, accompanied in the best Lovely Eggs tradition by a suitably colourful and wonky video which you can see above. The tour began on Friday and ends on 9th May, with an official launch party for the album, This Is Our Nowhere, taking place at the unlikely venue of London’s Jazz Café on Thursday 7th May.
All that is exciting enough but even more so personally as Holly and David Egg have very kindly asked me to spin the platters at the launch party. Any tourists wandering in to the Jazz Café expecting an evening of New Orleans Dixieland or 70s style jazz fusion are going to be, well, confused I guess with songs about magic onions, green beans, beef bourguignon and sausage rolls thumbs. Bring it on. Just don’t expect an encore…
For all your Eggy goodness, check out their site at The Lovely Eggs.
The Lovely Eggs play the Jazz Cafe, Camden on Thursday 7th May 2015 with support from Doglegs. Tickets here.
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
For a man with only one genuine hit record in the UK today’s announcement of Percy Sledge’s passing, aged 73, still garnered significant attention with coverage on the major national news programmes. But “When A Man Loves A Woman” wasn’t any old hit was it? It’s one of those songs, nearly fifty years old, which occupy a special place, woven into the very fabric of our lives.
Percy made plenty of other great records too of course: “Warm and Tender Love”, “Take Time To Know Her”, “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road”, “The Dark End of The Street”, “It Tears Me Up” and enough others to fill plenty of Best Of compilations no home should be without, but that record was the one.
I only saw Percy live once, back in 2011. That might’ve been his last London visit. I’m increasingly conscious to make the effort to catch people like Percy these days, whilst there’s still time to show appreciation in person. He was on a Soul Revue type show at the South Bank and the main reason I went. What I wrote at the time now looks, I hope, like a nice tribute to such a likeable fellow.
“Percy Sledge entered the fray wearing a tuxedo and what looked like a scouse calm down/calm down wig. If Eddie Floyd earlier in the week at his London show made a mockery of his passing years, fellow Alabaman Sledge had no qualms about playing the elder Soul Man. “People ask me, Percy Sledge, how come you talk so much when you used to just burn it up on stage. Well, I tell ‘em, I need to get my breath back”. He flashes that famous gap toothed grin of his and gets away with anything, including a bizarre, and very funny, Ride Your Pony type dance to one song. I can’t believe though he ever burned it up on stage even as a young man. The churchy chord changes to his expressive ballads had a different quality, dramatically described by Gerri Hirshey in her 1984 book Nowhere To Run as “his voice sliced through stone, bronze and petrochemical ages of human love”. Time has eroded some of the edge but he was sweet and “Take Time To Know Her” and “Dark End of The Street” were great to hear. “Nights in bloody White Satin” less so, but “When A Man Loves A Woman” was the big money shot and didn’t disappoint. Never have I seen a man fall so gingerly to his knees. He clambered up, did a false exit, milked the standing ovation, and was gone.”
Now he’s gone for good. Night Percy.
Thursday, 9 April 2015
Fifty years ago today, on Friday 9th April 1965, the Staple Singers were recorded during a service at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church. This was no pop concert or rock and roll circus, but as Pops Staples gently reminded the congregation from the start, they were there to worship and sing God’s praises. Despite the presence of recording equipment, “We’re not here to put on a show.”
The resulting 44 minutes album, Freedom Highway, was released on Epic and featured 11 tracks, mixed for radio with much of the ambient noise from the church edited out. It’s been a difficult record to get hold of, unavailable for years, but has now been afforded a new release with the complete 77 minute/18 track service intact and, importantly, with every ahem, hallelujah, handclap and cry from the assembled Chicagoans left in the mix loud and clear. It’s wonderful to hear Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis in their natural environment and the effect they have.
The Staples had been recording for over a decade and their biggest commercial success was still further down the road. Freedom Highway captures them at a transition point where they expanded their repertoire from old spirituals and traditional songs (“Samson and Delilah”, “When The Saints Go Marching In”) and Pops’ own worship songs (“Build On That Shore”, “Help Me Jesus”) to include folk music (“We Shall Overcome”) and more excitingly the beginning of their own topical freedom songs which now added commentary and a soundtrack to the civil rights movement.
A series of attempts to march from Selma, Alabama in response to the killing of civil rights worker Jimmie Lee Jackson began on 7th March 1965 and culminated two and half weeks later with 25,000 protestors at the capitol steps in Montgomery to hear an address by Dr Martin Luther King. The events stirred Pops to write “Freedom Highway” and it was performed days after completion here at the New Nazareth Church. The stirring performance and the reaction from those present already made it already sound like an anthem. “Made up my mind, and I won’t turn around” sang an impassioned Mavis. She's still singing it to this day.
Backed with Pops’ guitar, Al Duncan on drums and Phil Upchurch on bass, the Staples put on an incredible show, no matter what Pops said. Their voices come from deep within in their soul - whether singing in a mournful style or rejoicing and rattling and shaking the pews - and the interaction with the congregation warm and frequently funny. Pops though, for reasons best known to him, announces that after two beautiful children he had Mavis. “She was so ugly. I looked at my baby and I could hardly eat, she almost took my appetite”.
Quite what Mavis made of that heaven only knows but one man who wasn’t happy that evening was Rev. Hopkins who counted contributions to the collection plate during the mid-session interval. “This is awful. We’ve got less than 75 dollars. You know this is not right”. Rev. Hopkins had to practically beg, plead, cajole and embarrass to raise a hundred dollars. “We don’t charge anything but we must have some more money. The Staple Singers are one of the best groups in this country. This is their home. If anyone should support the Staples Singers, Chicago should.” He finally got it but rued “Sure takes a lot of time trying to raise money in a Baptist church.”
This whole CD is a pure delight from start to finish and puts the listener right there, up close and intimate with the Staples. I don't have a religious bone in my body, it matters not, this is powerful, moving, heartfelt music and, lest we forget, fun. What more could one ask? As Pops Staples says, “I want to make Heaven my home, but I want to enjoy myself a little down here too”. Amen.
Freedom Highway Complete by the Staple Singers is available now, released by Epic Legacy Recordings.
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
There’s nothing like having a quick nosey at Fred Wesley’s discography to make one wonder what they’ve done with their life. As musician, band leader, arranger, composer and producer Fred has shaped the sound of funk on hundreds of recordings with James Brown, the JB’s, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Parliament, the Horny Horns and many, many more.
In his 2002 autobiography, Hit Me, Fred: Recollections of a Sideman, Wesley calls himself “the greatest sideman in the world” – which in fact underplays his contribution, he isn’t just a horn player - but now he’s centre stage, perched on a stool, master of his own small but perfectly formed empire. The moment he blows his trombone the sound is as instantly recognisable as a JB scream or a Bootsy Collins bass run. Fred Wesley only doesn’t have the funk, he is the funk. His New JB’s aren’t new anymore, this current line-up has mostly been in place many years and it shows in their tight groove.
The JB’s classic “Damn Right I Am Somebody” underlines Fred’s a man in his own right; “Bop To The Boogie” is an early invitation for audience participation - “Bop to the boogie, boogie to the bop, bop to the boogie, bop bop” - which looks ridiculously easy written down yet many (or maybe only me with my stiff honky ways) fail to master; there’s Fred’s favourite track from the Horny Horns 1977 LP A Blow For Me, A Toot For You – “Fourplay”; Fred takes a lead vocal on Earl King’s “Trick Bag”; and Dwayne Dolphin takes a bass solo in “No One But You Baby” as his boss looks on and appreciates with a knowing nod. No sign of any fine for bum notes or clumsy dance steps.
The line between jazz and funk is thin one and on that line sits jazz-funk, which always strikes me as the musical equivalent of a lager-top: a less satisfying, watered down, compromise. Well, that's my take; I can't warm to it. There are a few numbers which epitomise jazz-funk and the audience get a little distracted during the one love song and shout for “Pass The Peas”. Don’t worry, says Fred, it’s coming. He’s been around long enough to know how to pace a show and bring it to the boil.
“Breakin’ Bread” from the first Fred Wesley and the New JB’s album is an odd song - early rap with a hint of country funk - but gets folk involved once more and leads into the final run of three massive JB’s tunes: the aforementioned “Pass The Peas”, “Gimme Some More” and “Doing It To Death”. These are what the crowd came for and they burst back into life as if transported back into the midst to the late-80s Rare Groove explosion when these tracks caught a second wind and became some of the biggest club tunes around. Fred has small pocket of south London tightly in his control as people are movin’, groovin’, doin’ it. To quote again from Hit Me, Fred: “The black people were dancing very well, as usual, and the white people, as usual, were enthusiastically doing the best that they could do.” Thank you Mr. Wesley.