Monday, 25 November 2013


This Saturday I'm guesting behind the decks at the Mousetrap R&B Allnighter in Finsbury Park. Been a fair few months since I last DJed at a proper rhythm and soul do, so looking forward to spinning a number of 45s I've acquired recently, plus cranking out personal favourites in this little basement bar.

Promoters the New Untouchables recently interviewed me for their Nutsmag. The result, should you wish to ridicule me, is here: Hey! Mr. DJ  

Also joining residents Chris Dale and Rob Bailey on Saturday are the esteemed Callum Simpson, fresh from opening his Monkey Jump club in Manchester last week, and young gun Louie Thompson from Nottingham making his Trap debut.

Expect the finest Rhythm & Blues, Northern & Club Soul, Ska/Reggae, Jazz and Boogaloo.

Sunday, 24 November 2013


The sadly unavailable Ronnie Lane
1.  Lou Rawls – “Trouble Down Here Below” (1966)
Lou Rawls testifying from the mountaintop. Gospel music taken from the church to the dancefloor.

2.  The Turtles – “Wanderin’ Kind” (1966)
I blame/thank The Higher State for making me think to dig out the first Turtles album.

3.  Hindal Butts – “In The Pocket” (1967)
There was part of me which bought this record because it was by Hindal Butts. Not because I knew anything about him, I just like the name. Hindal Butts. Fortunately it’s a funky, snap-tight Hammond instrumental. Mr. Butts was on sticks, no idea who was letting rip on the organ, and Monkey Snr. speculates the tenor player came from Chicago. 

4.  Elli – “Never Mind” (1967)
When not working as a painter and decorator in Swinging London, Calcutta-born Elli Meyer sang in a string of middling beat combos before friends Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker wrote and recorded this intricate gem on him for Parlophone. It would be Elli’s only release until a collection of ’67-’70 recordings appeared on a Dig The Fuzz album in 1999. Well worth looking out for.

5.  Velvet Underground – “Foggy Notion” (1969)
Oh man, the Velvets really swing on this, one of my very favourites of theirs.

6.  Ebony Rhythm Band – “Soul Heart Transplant” (1969)
As the house band for Lamp Records in Indianapolis, the Ebony Rhythm Band cut a few 45s of their own including this funky-as-hell breakbeat goldmine.

7.  Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance – “Anniversary” (1975)
It seems every other week another newly packaged Small Faces collection taps on the wallet. Just how many times do people need those songs? What the world is crying out for though is a proper reissue of all Ronnie Lane’s albums. Where’s the boxset with all his Slim Chance recordings, eh? It’s a sorry state of affairs.  

8.  The See See – “Featherman” (2013)
The See See have made a couple of albums straddling the twin horses country-rock and West Coast psychedelia. This recent stand-alone 45 is the best thing they’ve done so far, with carousel organ and a great use of strings added into the mix.  

9.  Midlake – “The Old And The Young” (2013)
They’ll never match the brilliance of The Trials Of Van Occupanther but new album Antiphon takes some of their familiar themes and adds a futuristic psychedelic twist.

10.  Beachwood Sparks – “Desert Skies” (1998)
What would’ve been their debut album only now, this month, sees release. “Desert Skies” is the Bandwagonesque title track.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


Jerry Williams was no lazy dog that’s for sure as Alive Records release four more remastered albums in Swamp Dogg’s Soul and Blues Collection with original artwork and new offbeat liner notes from the Dogg himself. Unlike Total Destruction To Your Mind, Rat On! and Gag A Maggott, these were cut on other artists but with Dogg on writing, recording and production duties they’re very much his babies from a prolific early 70s period.

Doris Duke’s I’m A Loser is the most familiar album having seen previous reissues and being, quite correctly, considered a deep soul classic. Swamp Dogg, then still plain Jerry Williams, signed Doris in 1969 as the resulting I’m A Loser was released early the following year.  

Nobody does wounded quite like this Doris. There’s a ragged bruised quality to her voice which perfectly suits the songs given to her. Her man leaves her in the opening track and things seldom get much better as she catalogues a series of broken relationships and tough living. In “I Don’t Care Anymore”, she’s destitute, alone on a lumpy bed in cheap hotel room, and doesn’t “know if I’m better off alive or dead” until a smooth stranger offers her a job. Street-walking. Them’s the breaks honey.

Yet despite the title and heaps of misery, I’m A Loser isn’t a particularly depressing listen, thanks to Swamp’s clean and airy production. It’s not overwrought and at times it can sound mildly uplifting if the lyrics aren’t concentrated on too closely. “I Can’t Do Without You” (one of the two non-Dogg penned tracks) is more upbeat although the chorus “Like an addict hooked on drugs, I can’t do without you,” is hardly radio friendly. After the preceding tracks the minor hit single which ends the album, “To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)”, is a strange sort of triumph as Doris convinces herself she’s better off as a mistress than a wife.

As Doris Duke’s star grew, so, according to Swamp’s never-less-than-frank liner notes, did her ego and her drinking, carrying around a half pint of cognac in her purse at all times. “I just couldn’t figure out why I was a sweetheart during the first part of the day and as night approached, I became a sack full of motherfuckers”. With her increasing unreliability Swamp sent out Sandra Phillips in her place to cover appearances. “Thank God all black people look alike”. Not only did they not look alike, they didn’t sound much alike either.  

Signed in 1970, and groomed in Swamp’s mind as Duke’s replacement Sandra Phillips’s Too Many People In One Bed featured eleven of his (sometimes co-written) songs, including a couple already released by Doris.

Swamp couldn’t afford to add horns to Doris’s album but they’re used to good effect here; not too overpowering. Phillips has a wonderfully soulful voice (less battered than Duke, she appears of sounder mind and body) and Too Many People In One Bed is a great southern soul album which improves on every listen and Swamp once again demonstrated his remarkable talent for writing from a woman’s perspective. “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking)” where Sandra listens to another woman bragging about her man, only to realise she’s talking about her own husband, is a masterpiece.

Too Many People In One Bed didn’t see a proper release at the time (Canyon Records going downstream) so Phillips found her vocation as star of stage and screen Williams developed his Swamp Dogg persona, plus created one for Tyrone Thomas, who he named Wolfmoon.

The idea was to create a spiritual theme to Wolfmoon’s self-titled album and Swamp provided a light but funky gospel/R&B groove. Some of the titles alone: “Cloak Of Many Colors”, “If He Walked Today”, “What Is Heaven For” and “God Bless” make the concept clear enough and they’re bolstered by a trio of interesting covers. I usually can’t stand “If I Had A Hammer” – it’s a dreadful song – but Wolf’s Muscle Shoals-style version works far better than any other I’ve heard. An eight and a half minute reading of “People Get Ready” goes from church recital to the outer limits of freaky space travel and “Proud Mary” is the funkiest thing this side of Bootsy Collins’s boot collection.

Swamp’s notes are short on recording details and long on character assassination (“Wolfmoon’s a treacherous, two-faced song thief; with possible cannibal tendencies”) but as far as I can work out Wolfmoon was another album which fell between the cracks in record company shenanigans and only saw a limited release. It’s another strong showing from Dogg’s stable/kennel and deserves belated recognition.

Last up is The Brand New Z.Z. Hill which, as expected from Hill, is a more soulful blues affair. This one definitely did find release; sneaking into the Billboard Top 200 in 1971 and scoring a few hit singles on the R&B charts. It’s okay but not really my bag and especially not when compared to the other three albums here which I’d recommend in the order of writing. 

All releases in the Swamp Dogg Blues and Soul Collection also including albums by Irma Thomas, Lightnin' Slim and Raw Spitt are released by Alive Naturalsound Records.

Monday, 18 November 2013


This is the incomparable Curtis Mayfield - a model of heavenly restraint in a sea of funky soul brothers and sisters trying to out do each other with their moves - and a "sho' nuff killer" from his second solo album, Roots. Footage from an episode of Soul Train, first broadcast 25 March 1972. Get down.

Friday, 15 November 2013


The world isn’t blessed with an abundance of great American 60s folk-rock albums yet, maybe improbably, The Higher State from the South-Coast of England have made one in 2013.

That might be factually debatable but aurally it’s undeniable. Not that it should cause much of a surprise as after four albums The Higher State have got this stuff down to a fine art. What is noticeable here is a slight shift of emphasis and greater focus. Their unshakeable commitment to authentic 60s recording methods is evident as always (recorded in their own 8-track analogue State Studios) but whereas previous album, the excellent Freakout At The Gallery, was more experimental and had a harder psychedelic edge, this new one is more-or-less straight folk-rock, with the stress on the rock part. There’s no wishy-washy acoustic numbers, everything is resolutely plugged in and a cynical disgruntlement bubbles beneath the surface.  

It’s a tight, economical album – it contains no flab, no wastage, nothing out of place; just neatly picked lead guitar lines running through strong chiming songs containing memorable melodies and ear-catching lyrics.

I’ve written before about "Potentially (Everyone Is Your Enemy)" and it’s the wildest track here and the best single of the year, no question. “Why Don’t You Prove It” also drives fast and angrily and "I'm Going Home Now" owes a debt to Love's "You'll I'll Be Following". Those are among the most immediate tracks (plus the harmonica led "What Is The Deal") but with the pace knocked down a notch on some others they soon shine through.

“You’ve Drifted Far” is a beautiful and gently reflective whilst “Need To Shine” is among the many more Byrdsian moments. Any band adopting anything half resembling a jangle gets a Byrds comparison even when they sound nothing like them and don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. The Higher State capture the feel and spirit of the early Byrds (think of the Byrds 1964 Preflyte demos rather than the cleaner sound which made their name). Yet whilst Preflyte and The Higher State could’ve been made in the same studio one after each other they each retain their own identify.

Twelve songs, none touching three minutes, and the whole album over within half an hour. Their record label, 13 O’Clock Records, call The Higher State “the UK’s foremost exponents of authentic folk-rock”. Just the UK? They’re selling them short.

The Higher State by The Higher State is out on Monday 19th November. Available here.  

Monday, 11 November 2013


Discovering, collecting and DJing old soul and R&B 45s reveals a host of acts where little is immediately known about the people on the record. Records are bought on the strength of the individual track, not necessarily the performer who may have only made one side suited to a dancefloor.

Young Jessie’s “Big Chief” – cut for Mercury Records in 1962 – exploded into Mod/R&B consciousness around 2003. I remember this clearly, as having travelled back from seeing QPR lose the Second Division Play-Off Final in Cardiff, my mood was greatly lifted by hearing Alan Handscombe play it in a club off Mayfair and it jumped to top of my wants list. Once tracked down it was a staple of my DJ sets for a good few years. Yet as the booming novelty of “Big Chief” wore off it was replaced by another Young Jessie number, the classy, gliding “You Were Meant For Me” from the following year, which, thanks to a subtler arrangement , has remained in set lists ever since. Completing a hat-trick, his rarest 45, “Brown Eyes”, is a moody, atmospheric in-demander for the early hours of the morning.

If the 60s R&B crowd were, like me, slow to pick up on Young Jessie’s catalogue the same can’t be said of the 50s scene who were already well versed in his earlier exuberant cuts “Mary Lou”, “I Smell A Rat”, “Oochie Coochie” and “Hit, Git and Spilt” for Modern Records, and his association with Leiber and Stoller, even singing on the Coasters’ classic “Searchin’”.

Seeing Young Jessie – still young aged 76 – perform all these songs and more (minus “Big Chief”) on Saturday was such a pleasure, a real joy. The superb venue, The New Empowering Church - hidden in a dark alley and having the feel of an old semi-legal warehouse party – was packed with a predominately rockabilly crowd (bolstered by a small Mod contingent) who cheered every moment as Jessie oozed charisma and style from the stage. Looking the dapper gentleman in his sharp suit and hat, and backed with a cool rockabilly band led by Big Boy Bloater, he patrolled the stage, shoulders proudly back, and was in good gravelly voice and shape, only occasionally using the wicker chair to take the weight off his legs during the slower numbers.  

Ten years ago Young Jessie was just another mysterious name on a record label to me, now I know he’s an artist with a fantastic collection of recordings. To see him with my own eyes brought him and his music to life in a way I couldn't have imagined a decade ago. A tremendous experience. 

The night was put on by Jukebox Jam to launch Jukebox Jam Volume Two, a double-LP compiled by Liam Large of rocking R&B, so huge thanks to them for bringing Jessie over from America especially for this show.

Jukebox Jam Volume Two is released today on Jazzman Records.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


I love the song “Shake”. Sam Cooke’s original; Otis Redding’s electrifying version with Eric Burdon and Chris Farlowe on Ready Steady Go; Brenda Holloway; Ray Charles; Rod The Mod; The Supremes – it doesn’t matter, it’s such an uplifting number it always lifts the mood.

None of the above versions mess round with the original structure, so hats off to The Monks Kitchen for their new interpretation, completely unlike anything that’s gone before. The Monks Kitchen's Shake soup is beautifully served and extremely moreish. Released yesterday as a limited edition single ahead of their new album, Music From The Monks Kitchen, out 18th November on Wonderful Sounds Records. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013


I’ll be honest with ya, for years I thought Muscle Shoals was simply the name of a recording studio not an actual location on a map. Tucked away down in Alabama with a population of around 8,000, the place is synonymous with the full-fat, funky sound cut deep in the grooves of classic 60s soul sides and beyond.

Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s film tells the story of the small city’s rich musical heritage through contributions from artists who recorded in the otherwise tranquil surroundings of trees, swamp and dirt roads at both FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios within a splash of a gator’s tail from the Tennessee River. An impressive roll call of talking heads (most filmed for the movie with occasional stock footage spliced in) takes their turn to pay tribute: Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Stevie Winwood, Jimmy Cliff, Candi Staton etc. All these and more recorded in Muscle Shoals but why the irrelevant Bono gets his slappable, sanctimonious face on screen without having any connection I known of – physically or spiritually - to the place is never explained. It’s a shame that for all the greatness contained within the 111 minutes it’s the image of Bono’s ego wrestling limelight away from the film’s intended focus which lingers most unnecessarily.

Muscle Shoals covers a wide base and therefore individual stories are kept brief. A lot, like Jerry Wexler at Atlantic sending new signed Aretha - a yet to be crowned Queen of Soul hitherto fumbling around for direction - down south and coming back with “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)” with the help of Spooner Oldham’s chord sequence, followed by five albums of hits, or Leonard Chess packing off Etta James during a lean period to be rewarded with “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” are well known vignettes but the main focus isn’t on the established acts whose names appeared in bold letters on record labels but the guys like producer Rick Hall and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section house band, nicknamed the Swampers, who were lucky to make the small print.

Rick Hall is the central figure and his musical highs are offset by his candid disclosure of personal hardship and family tragedies. He’d cut Arthur Alexander’s “You’d Better Move On” in ’61 and followed it with another hit, Jimmy Hughes’s “Steal Away” recorded in his FAME studio. From there the hits kept coming, due in large part to his meticulous approach and the distinct yet adaptable sound of the Swampers, built around a nucleus of Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), Barry Beckett (keyboards) and David Hood (bass). Muscle Shoals shines a light on these musicians and gives them a voice in the same manner Standing In The Shadows Of Motown did for the Funk Brothers in Detroit.

That Rick Hall (who now sports a very stylish and covetable moustache) and the Swampers were Southern white guys playing in such a gritty soul style – even helping to define soul music itself– was a source of regular surprise. A sceptical Wilson Pickett wondered of Rick Hall, “What does this white man know about the blues?” before clocking the cotton picking fields outside FAME and leaving with “Land of a 1000 Dances”, “Mustang Sally” and all his other smashes tucked in his bad ass pocket. Even Aretha – all dolled up, plonked on a chair and filmed from the other side of an empty room as if the bailiffs have removed the rest of her possessions – recounts her shock of how “greazy” the Swampers were; disproving the notion Caucasians ain’t got no rhythm.

In 1969 Hall struck a deal to work for Capitol Records. Meeting the Swampers to share the good news they suddenly announce they’re quitting and setting up their own studios with the help of Wexler and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios is born. After picking himself off the floor Hall assembled a new band, The Fame Gang, and in effect the music world got two for the price of one although both would diversify into fields outside the soul patch.   

Within two years Rick Hall was crowned Producer of The Year and his rivals, after a slow start, got a huge boast to their fortunes after Keith Richards’ snakeskin boots led the Rolling Stones into town to cut “I Gotta Move”, “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses”. A member of the Swampers now insists the Stones – in 1971 remember – were model professionals and weren’t indulging in any drink or drugs; Keith and Mick (good value throughout) both have a cheekily smirk at such a claim. Such was the apparent naivety of the Muscle Shoals musicians Stevie Winwood says Traffic felt guilty taking them on tour with them and exposing them to certain (unnamed) practices.

A squillion recordings have taken place since then – some massively successful, others less so – and Hall and the Swampers have kissed and made-up. Muscle Shoals is ultimately a feel-good movie with a brilliant soundtrack - what I like most about films like this is how they breathe fresh life into familiar songs - and one which puts helps put firmly fix Muscle Shoals to the musical map for many more years to come.

Muscle Shoals is in selected cinemas now.