Wednesday, 20 June 2018

But I do know something about the record labels ...

If you aren't already familiar with the longrunning Something About the Beatles podcast, it can be heartily recommended - always assuming, of course, that you are the kind of person capable of being drawn to a regular podcast about that much-discussed group.

One of its cofounders, Richard Buskin, left the show a few months ago, and I have to admit I miss the give-and-take between him and Robert Rodriguez, now presenting solo, which was a considerable part of the podcast's appeal: an occasionally spikey conversation between two friends, each acutely aware of the other's predilections and never above some gentle mockery when the opportunity presented itself.  With that comradely framework withdrawn, recent shows have perhaps been a little more variable, or maybe it's just that so many topics have already been covered in detail over the run that it's harder for a regular listener to be surprised. There is also the possibility that, after fifty five years of listening to them and thinking about them and writing a play about the non-appearance of one of them I am finally edging towards the condition of being All Beatled Out - but we both know that can't be true.

Anyway, there is a large archive of podcasts - 140 to date, averaging around two hours each - to allow you to come to your own conclusions. When they are taken as a whole there's no doubt it's a considerable achievement when compared to most other podcasters operating in the same field: throughout, pains have been taken in the hunting down of recordings, outtakes, isolated tracks and interview snippets, and shows are long enough to feel that the chosen topic has been covered in satisfying depth.

My introduction to the show was a programme about Mal Evans, which seemed admirably even-handed (and which I happen to know was enjoyed by a relative); thereafter I gorged myself on the archive for several weeks, delighting both in new discoveries and the acquiring of a more keenly  appreciative awareness of aspects of the Fabs I thought I already knew backwards. I remain especially grateful for the industry of both gentlemen - and, I suppose, Fate, as the discovery of this resource happened to coincide with a period of enforced exercise which was suddenly made tolerable... not, perhaps, the kind of phrase which tends to be seized upon for use as a testimonial.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

How George Benson Was Banjoaxed By Bird

Such is the magic of onlinery that the above photograph, tweeted last night by Kliph Nesteroff, swiftly led to an explanation of a piece of musical jargon which had long puzzled me in Johnny Keyes' memoir Du-Wop. It's a good read, as described here and here, and is one of the few books that I know of which contains a detailed first hand account by a doo wop group member of the experience of recording and performing.

Keyes, a member of the Magnificents, says in the book that jazz musicians tended to be contemptuous of the young groups they backed, so I had assumed a studio conversation he quoted would be resistant to deciphering - that it was just an unlovely case of jazzers deliberately using esoteric terms to affirm their musical superiority over these upstarts:
"Right, right, I've got it now. And in that four-bar interlude we can play a 'we want Cantor' phrase underneath in unison."

"That’ll work," says one horn man to the other.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Inez Andrews

Discovering that this great 1965 gospel record by Inez Andrews and the Andrewettes is, at long last, on youtube has prompted memories of when I first heard it.

It was on the double album Black Gospel, was released in the UK in 1985 to coincide with the book of the same name by Viv Broughton, and presumably compiled by him. (The book was  updated in 1996 as Too Close to Heaven, with a little more about British gospel in the intervening years, and linked to a documentary series of the same name made by Channel Four: details here, although be warned it seems to be priced with institutions in mind.)

Black Gospel is not a comprehensive collection - it's drawn mostly from Peacock and related labels - but there are many stunning performances. On the sleevenotes Broughton calls it "a calculated slice right through the middle of [gospel music] history:

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Come to the Sabbat or Crossroads in My Life

I can pinpoint the moment I succumbed - at least, I think I can.

When I call the details to mind they seem fantastical: a young couple atop a scooter in various shades of white and gray - the overall fuzzy picture, I mean - are haring off to attend, or more likely prevent, some sort of Satanic ceremony.

And as they drive off the bottom right of the screen while the already familiar theme starts to swell, something changes in me. Until then Crossroads had been background noise while I chatted to my mother, enjoying my liberation from school. But now, as the two young people - the possibly white-helmeted passenger possibly Jill, daughter of the soap's matriarch - disappear not into the middle of next week but the same time tomorrow, and credits crisscross the screen, for the first time I find myself experiencing a strange sensation.

I actively want to watch the next episode.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Stand By Me - the short(ish) read

Knowing of my regard for Ben E King's song Stand By Me, a friend emailed to share his unease that it had been "so casually appropriated for such a trivial event" as occurred last Saturday.

He assumed I'd share his pain but, as it happens, I didn't. Not that I felt particularly moved by what seemed a sedate and streamlined rendering of the soul classic, although its inclusion in a royal wedding is certainly noteworthy as an illustration of just how much the song has become part of mainstream culture, adaptable to any circumstance. It has survived being a film theme, being used to peddle jeans, and it's still around, unaffected, uncheapened, bigger than any of the uses to which it has been put.

And still wedded indivisibly to Ben E King's original recording. Almost all those who attempt the song copy his phrasing, as was audibly the case in Windsor  - even though in live performance King himself didn't, feeling it afresh each time, or at least giving a pretty good impression of doing so.

Which may be partly why I couldn't oblige my friend with some semblance of wrath: even in the ropiest cover version of Stand By Me there is still an echo, however distant, of the man who wrote and first sang it.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Of Lame and Pregnant Ducks: Donovan's UCS Benefit Concert at Green's Playhouse, 1972

Forty six years ago, almost to the day, I went to my first concert: a 1972 benefit gig for Upper Clyde
Shipbuilders, headlined by Donovan, at Green's Playhouse in Glasgow.

At the time I was only vaguely aware of the reasons behind the fundraising. The UCS consortium had gone into receivership in 1971 when the Conservative Government refused to allow them any further credit; in response they had organised not a sit-in but a "work-in" to complete existing orders, shop steward Jimmy Reid declaring: "There will be no hooliganism. There will be no vandalism. There will be no bevvying ... because the world is watching us."

The government didn't want to subsidise "lame ducks" - a phrase used by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, John Davies - but mass demonstrations of support eventually forced them to back down, especially after a leaked memorandum from 1969 revealed it had been the Tories' intention to carve up UCS and sell off what was left even before they had been returned to power.

Sympathy for the cause was worldwide - as suggested by the depiction below of Davies as "Heath's hatchet man" - and it's said that the day before the benefit concert John Lennon arrived at the yard gates with a bouquet of red roses, making a substantial donation to the fund in exchange for two tickets. I do hope that's true.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Pre-Flamingos recording of Dream of a Lifetime

If you have already read about the Flamingos' early sides (list of posts here) you may not be
aware of a postscript recently added to the piece about Dream of a Lifetime. The group recorded it in July 1954 for Parrot Records and remade it a couple of years later during their time at Chess.

I lazily presumed the number was written around the time of their first recording but in fact there is a 1947 disc credited to Bill Johnson and His Musical Notes with "Vocal refrain by Gus Gordon and Trio." The composition is credited only to "Gene Rowland", however; Mack Kemp's name does not appear on the record label.

It's a beautiful performance in a style which brings the Ravens to mind: Gordon's lead may not be quite as distinctive as Maithe Marshall's but the gently jazzy backing has a similar feel to many records by the better-known group even if there's no fathoms-deep bass to provide vocal variety.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Spencer's Risk by Andy Greenhalgh

I don't normally review fiction on this blog but I'm going to make an exception for Spencer's Risk, a hugely enjoyable first novel by the actor Andy Greenhalgh. An essentially comic tale of a man on the run to escape a gambling debt, this is no heartless romp, more an accidental voyage of discovery for its self-destructive hero with many unexpected twists and turns en route to keep the reader guessing right till the last page. It is also rich in descriptive detail, creating a convincing world: those with a toe in drama teaching will surely recognise Greenhalgh's hilarious account of its indignities, anxieties and infrequent triumphs.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman documentary and books

I have just watched AKA Doc Pomus, a documentary about the songwriter best known for his partnership with Mort Shuman in the late 50s and early 60s. The mix of images, interviews and the obvious taking of pains has resulted in a compelling and satisfying account which feels like the last word: we see, for example, not only footage of Pomus's wedding but also the song ideas he scrawled on the backs of unused wedding invites - including the one which was to result in Save The Last Dance For Me, one of Ben E King's finest moments as well as its writers'.

And if that isn't enough Pomus's wife, the addressee of the song, is on hand to talk, with understandable emotion, about her response when first hearing it - although here and elsewhere you never feel the director is exploiting the situation, merely recording the depth of feeling which these songs and their creator evoked in so many.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Ian Whitcomb and Jim Dawson back on LuxuriaMusic

It has been some time since the writer, singer and all-round force of nature Ian Whitcomb was mentioned in this blog, so this is to alert readers to the happy news is that Ian, along with his pal Jim Dawson, is currently presenting a weekly show on internet radio station LuxuriaMusic which can be downloaded as two one hour podcasts; at the time of writing (March 2018) eight shows have been archived for your listening pleasure and you can help sponsor the show by buying a book or CD via the show's online store here. They are trying to raise enough money to ensure the station continues on air for another year.

Those who have followed Mr Whitcomb's fortunes in recent years will understand why his voice may be a little depleted on these broadcasts; be assured, however, that his passion for popular music in all its many forms still rings out loud and clear. Where else can you find Bill Haley (with his Saddlemen, not the Comets) rubbing shoulders with Noel Coward and Ken Dodd? Not to mention the Flamingos, the Dominoes and the Ravens ...

Friday, 23 March 2018

More about John Watt and Davey Stewart

After rediscovering the parody of Jennifer Juniper mentioned in the previous post, I looked around to see what else could be found out about its perpetrators, John Watt and Davey Stewart, on the internet, and tried to recall more about the concert in which they featured at the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow around 1976.

Jennifer - I mean, Annabelle Rosabelle - was sung acapella by Davey Stewart at the gig, as far as I recall, though written by Watt; it had quite an effect because there was no preamble, no coy reference to its origins: we were suddenly hit with it - I recall Davey Stewart being very close to the audience - and it spoke for itself, with no need for hammy facial contortions or gestures to reinforce the comic aspect. Stewart lived in the 60s in Maryhill, where Donovan spent his earliest days, so there is a logic to his singing it. As far as I know Donovan's publishing company never pressed for compensation, which I'd like to think was a conscious choice by Mr Leitch. Assuming he even knew about it.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Wine + Meat and Two Veg + Trapped Wind = The Berries, Juniperwise

A few days ago, surfing the net in a rare moment of relaxation, I came across a Fairport Convention parody from 2013 by John Watterson, aka Jake Thackray tribute act Fake Thackray. The "refreshed" lyrics make friendly mockery of the toping habits of individual members of the group, with whom he has performed:
In desperation Simon might
Have to resort to Diamond White ...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Ken Dodd

I was saddened to hear of the death of Ken Dodd, who contributed a generous and funny introduction to Funny Bones, the book I wrote with Freddie Davies; he can be seen, above, with Freddie in a photograph taken for the book at one of Ken's Good Turns charity functions in his beloved (the attraction was mutual) Liverpool.

In the chapter entitled Surviving in the Clubs Freddie talks of the inspiration which Ken's act provided when the younger comedian was still trying to find his way:

Friday, 9 February 2018

Does 1973 McCartney song date back to Beatle days?

Paul McCartney fans may be interested to learn that one of the songs from the Red Rose Speedway album may actually date from Beatle days. McCartney has yet to confirm the story, disclosed to a British newspaper this week by an anonymous source "formerly involved with the Beatles",  but it seems that a photostat of a sheet from one of the exercise books in which Paul used to jot down song ideas has recently come to light - though the precise circumstances of the discovery have not been revealed - and the page contains what is clearly an embryonic version of the song Single Pigeon.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Cheapo Cheapo Records Memories

Oh Lord, Rupert Street 1975. Cheapo Cheapo Records would have been just there on the left, chock full of gold & wonder. I'd give a kidney to get into that pic right now.
Having shared my own feelings about Cheapo in the previous post, here are some extracts from pieces and discussions found online in order to fill out the story.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Cheapo Cheapo Records - the complete story

It's now almost eight years since the death of Phil Cording, owner of Soho's Cheapo Cheapo Records, on the 29th of January, 2009; two months later the shop was closed once for all.

Cheapo had been a kind of haven since I first came to London in 1985: many a Saturday evening had been spent within its doors, ferreting through a mix of tat and marvels. Others have praised its stock of Northern Soul, but for me just about everything had an appeal, possibly because my musical tastes were shaped jointly by David Essex and Hubert Gregg. The film That'll Be The Day started me on a lifelong exploration of rock'n'roll just as Gregg's radio shows were painlessly educating me about the music of the thirties and forties. Cheapo had no shortage of either decade; finding the same LPs I had loved as a teenager in its cramped and dingy surroundings made it a home from home in the middle of the metropolis.

A few months after discovering that Cheapo was no more I began to explore my feelings in this blog, writing about going through through "a kind of mini-grief process", aware of that how ridiculous that sounded. I didn't know then that Phil's death had been the cause; I was mourning the loss of the shop itself and its significance in my life.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Eric, Ernie and Me by Neil Forsyth & Morecambe and Wise's Home Movies

Another Christmas, another Morecambe and Wise drama and/or documentary ... The formative years of the duo having been covered already in Peter Bowker's 2011 offering Eric and Ernie, this new drama, Eric, Ernie and Me, by Neil Forsyth, moves on a decade or so and shifts the focus to Eddie Braben, the writer who gave Ernie the rather pompous and prissy Victorian-type character who helped boost the duo to their greatest television success.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

All-New* 2017 Christmas Quiz

Welome to the All-New 2017 Pismotality Christmas Quiz. (*May include traces of questions from earlier years.)

1 " 'Oh why don't we play cards for her?' he sneeringly replied."
 a) Name the song in which this enquiry features. b) Alright, Smartypants, now find a likely link to George Layton.

2 "Levitation's as easy as pie / Come on and hold hands with me in the sky." 

Who or what links these lines to Michael McIntyre, The Female Eunuch and an alleged bribe by an MP's wife?

3 True or false: at the height of the British Invasion, Freddie Garrity's group played in Canada, and the band was introduced by Dick Cavett. The elderly Groucho Marx, Cavett's guest, was called onstage and upon seeing the endless sea of faces in front of him, momentarily inhaled, in the manner of Neil Kinnock at Sheffield, and smote his breast, declaring to a delighted crowd: "I'm a Dreamer, Montreal!"

Spare the Rod (1961 film with Max Bygraves)

Directed by Leslie (father of Barry) Norman, who produced The Cruel Sea, and starring Max Bygraves as an idealistic teacher, the young Richard O'Sullivan as a pupil, plus Geoffrey Keen and Donald Pleasance, this is a film to slot in with Violent Playground and other late fifties/early
sixties British films which illuminate the times.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

In praise of Rock & Roll Graffiti (1999)

If, like me, you've been tantalised by the many clips on youtube of a TV show entitled Rock & Roll Graffiti, the good news is that most of that show, hitherto available only as an expensive DVD box set, can now be obtained on two reasonably priced 3 disc sets; I'm based in the UK and bought them from America for around £14 each. These are the covers to look for:

Thursday, 5 October 2017

A.A. Milne Part 3 (Lovers in London)

Possibly anticipating renewed interest in his work with the release of the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, Bello Books have recently reissued a range of titles by A.A. Milne, available as ebooks or print on demand copies.

For those already acquainted with his writing for adults, the most intriguing among these will undoubtedly be Lovers in London. A collection of pieces originally written for the St James Gazette, one of the many evening papers hungry for material when the likes of Milne and P.G. Wodehouse were starting out in the early 1900s, it didn't have much success when originally published in 1905. Milne later took pains to ensure it wouldn't resurface, so it's no surprise to discover that it's not exactly a masterpiece, but its reappearance after over a century is still worth celebrating.

The reason that the original articles weren't written for Punch, whose editorship Milne had seen as his destiny since leaving Cambridge, is simple. Although he had already started contributing to that magazine he considered that it hadn't yet started to reward him appropriately. Assuming the rate would go up after a few pieces had been accepted, he learnt that the proprietors felt "the honour of writing for Punch was considered to be sufficient reward at first." Milne decided that "I had had the honour, and I couldn't afford to sustain it."

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

A.A. Milne Part 2 (Goodbye Christopher Robin)

I have now seen Goodbye Christopher Robin, the new film exploring the relationship between A.A. Milne and his son. As mentioned in the previous post, the screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce has preempted criticism from those who might have read Ann Thwaite's biography of Milne:

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A.A. Milne Part 1

There is likely to be a renewal of interest in A.A. Milne when the film Goodbye Christopher Robin is released this Friday. Neglected novels and short story collections have already been reissued by Bello and a new biography is in the pipeline, although I can't imagine how this could possibly replace Ann Thwaite's superb and comprehensive A.A. Milne: A Life. (The forthcoming book, by Nadia Cohen, was credited as the source of a rather skewed piece about Milne in the Sun a few days ago, which does not inspire confidence.)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Radio adaptation of That'll Be The Day on BBC iplayer

A radio adaptation by Ray Connolly of his screenplay for the 70s film That'll Be the Day has just been broadcast and will be available - to US and UK listeners alike - on BBC Radio iplayer for one month. Above is the image used to illustrate it on the BBC website.

As would be expected from the original writer it's a pretty faithful adaptation, although the different medium does bring about a change in emphasis: with Jim as narrator, the reasons for his actions can be made more explicit. He talks, for example, of detecting a sense of triumph in his best mate Terry when the latter occasions Jim's humiliation at a university dance, which helps explain Jim's later decision to sleep with Terry's girlfriend on the eve of his own wedding - though he also admits he did it partly because he could.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

No No Place Like Home, no Peep Show (sort of)

Listening to the first episode of Robert Webb's memoir How Not to Be a Boy, serialised this week on Radio 4, I was surprised to hear a reference to No Place Like Home. Of all the sitcoms in all the world this was the one which inspired him to become a performer - or at least set the seal on his decision.

Not that he offers an unqualified tribute to the writing ability of Jon Watkins. Watching an episode of the show in the afterglow of his own comic triumph in a school play, the young Webb is far from uncritical:

Monday, 21 August 2017

Tommy Hunt on Spencer Leigh's On the Beat, BBC Radio Merseyside

Have just heard, and strongly recommend, a fascinating interview with Tommy Hunt, one of the two last surviving members of the Flamingos from their glory days, on  Spencer Leigh's ever-dependable On the Beat programme on BBC Radio Merseyside. It was broadcast yesterday and will be available on BBC iplayer for another 29 days; it's radio rather than television so I believe US readers can also access it; the iplayer page is here.

As ever, Spencer's wide-ranging musical knowledge helps him draw the best out of his subject, a man who is an important part of several strands of music history - and, remarkably, still performing at the age of 84. He will be appearing at London's 100 Club in October.

 He was born, we learnt, in a carnival tent in Pittsburgh - his father was a jazz drummer - but he is now living in Pontefract in Yorkshire, of all places, having fallen in love with a woman at a theatre in Wakefield. The marriage has not survived but he is still there - a perfect location for a Northern Soul legend.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Bill Putnam and Universal Recording

One significant name was left out of the recent series of posts about the Flamingos' early work: Bill Putman, who ran Universal Recording. The technical quality of the Flamingos' Chance and Parrot sides reflects the fact that both companies used Putnam's studio at 111 East Ontario Street, situated off Michigan Avenue. He would have engineered their tracks, although presumably label bosses Art Sheridan and Al Benson would have been the respective producers. Johnny Keyes' memoir Du-Wop places Putnam in the studio when the Magnificents were recording Up On the Mountain early in 1956:
"OK, let's try another one fellas. Move in on the mike a little, mid-range voices," a voice boomed through the playback speakers. It was Bill Putnam, the staff engineer. He was also one of the faces that was glaring down at us from the control room.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Flamingos # 17: Get With It & I Found a New Baby

The Flamingos had a larger backing band than usual for two numbers in their final session for Al Benson's Parrot Records. The website devoted to the Parrot and Blue Lake labels notes:
They had been recently performing with Paul Bascomb's group at Martin's Corner on the West Side, but Al Benson preferred to use a studio band led by Al Smith on the date. A four-horn front line (Sonny Cohn, trumpet; Booby Floyd, trombone; Eddie Chamblee, tenor saxophone; and Mac Easton, baritone sax) lent a big-band atmosphere to the two uptempo numbers: "I Found a New Baby," which was held back from release, and "Get with It."
There is no mention of Red Holloway who, it may be remembered, was present, according to the same website, on the other two numbers from that session:
On "Ko Ko Mo" and the ballad, "I'm Yours," the group was accompanied by just Red Holloway, with Horace Palm (piano and organ), Quinn Wilson (bass), and Paul Gusman (drums).
Did Holloway also contribute to the two big band-style numbers?

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Flamingos # 16: I'm Yours & Ko Ko Mo

[Marv Goldberg]

The Flamingos' second (and final) session for Parrot also yielded some notable sides. The pick of the bunch is the ballad I'm Yours, even though it was only a B side for their cover of Gene and Eunice's Ko Ko Mo.

Flamingos # 15: I Really Don't Want to Know

Some time ago in this very blog I dared to suggest that Robert Pruter's assessment of the remaining song from their first Parrot session was mistaken. Mr Pruter had claimed that the arrangement on the country song I Really Don't Want to Know "drags and sounds confused" - but now I'm inclined to think he may be right.

It starts off powerfully enough, with Sollie McElroy asking the question: