Friday, 4 April 2014

"Eat your heart out, Temptations!"

Doo wop being on my mind in the last few posts, perhaps now is a good time to remind you of the documentary Life Could Be a Dream, which I have reviewed here. It has been uploaded to yout*be, though who knows how long it will be there, so it's worth having a look. Thanks to the magic of the internet I can even take you to the precise place I mentioned in the review, namely the sequence at the end when lots of singers, including one of the Teenagers and Earl "Speedo" Carroll, have a bash at a couple of Smokey Robinson songs. It's ragged but will bring a smile to your face if you are anything like me.

You could say it's a slightly odd choice - these songs are associated with Motown - but doo wop and soul are, as Kenny Everett would have put it, intertwangled. There is also something odd about hearing these songs performed by what is, in effect, a large choir, not a quartet or a quintet: not much time for subtlety, just a general affirmation that this music is important.

Those of you who haven't just alighted on this blog may be wondering what happened to my plan to do a one hour presentation on doo wop. The answer is that it's ongoing - and the next couple of weeks may actually be an ideal time to do it. So watch this space. Possibly. The trick will be to feel that whatever I have written is a clear and concise intro which also satisfies me. If I do complete it I will put an audio link up.

There are several doo wop-related projects I have on the go, actually. I can't promise that any of them will be completed but as readers of this blog are the ideal audience I'm beginning to realise it would be silly not to have a go.

I don't really have much to add to the review of this documentary. It's not thoroughly satisfying and exhaustive but it certainly gives a taste of the music. Pity the DVD doesn't have lots of extra interview footage; the programme feels like it has been carefully cut down in order to fit a slot. Still, it remains (as far as I know) the nearest to a clear introduction on film.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

On the Beat doo wop special featuring interview with Little Anthony available on BBC iplayer until 29th March

I have now listened to the On the Beat doo wop special and it can be thoroughly recommended. I think it's possible for US readers to access it too, so click here, wherever you are, if you want to hear an engrossing interview punctuated by lots of doo wop. The programme, which is on BBC Radio Merseyside and presented by Spencer Leigh, lasts two hours. I don't have the time to give a blow by blow account but will add a few thoughts here.

My main impression is, I suppose, of relief - hearing a singer from that era who still sounds like he can sing, and who is being offered more opportunities to do so.

Although Little Anthony was, I suppose, the first doo wop singer I ever heard (on Mike Raven's R&B Show on BBC Radio 1) I haven't followed his fortunes particularly closely so it was interesting to hear how much he was bound up with figures I do admire. First of all, it was pleasing to hear that the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops was a major influence on him:
That is the song that made me say I want to be a singer, I wanna do that stuff.
And we then heard it. Yep, Golden Teardrops on the BBC. That made my weekend.

We also got to hear early sides like You on Winley Records, a delightfully raw performance and a local hit in the New York area. This attracted the attention of a neighbour needing a lead singer for his group; Anthony agreed to go along, and they auditioned for Richard Barrett and Gone Records. They had a song called Just Two Kinds of People and based the arrangement on the Channels' The Closer You Are. Richard Barrett called in George Goldner, and both were excited that they had another Frankie Lymon on their hands, eagerly asking if their parents could come around at five and sign contracts.

And so a career was started whose longevity and variety Anthony is careful to credit to the good men around him, especially Richard Barrett (above), who saw him as a crooner and started him off on standards, as Barrett and Goldner also did with the Flamingos. In fact, Anthony sort of distances himself from doo wop, or at least points out that doo wop is not all he is. And with Teddy Randazzo and Don Costa he certainly went on to create a series of songs in the sixties which were something else again. He didn't meet Sinatra but Costa passed on that Frank said: "Tell the kid he sings good." And when we hear Sinatra's record of Goin' Out of My Head it doesn't sound as good as Little Anthony's version.

I was also interested to learn that his gospel-style song I'm Alright benefited from being finished off by ... Sam Cooke. It was a number worked up for his live performances which George Goldner noted didn;t have a bridge and Cooke was eager to oblige. It also sounds, to my hears, that Cooke might have schooled him in how to sing it: as with his proteges on SAR, the label Cooke set up as a pet project, Anthony's phrasing is recognisably Cooke-ish.

Anthony is aware of his impact and importance - more than once he says "we were barnstormers of that kinda stuff", referring to his willingness to experiment with different styles - but this is balanced by a genuine belief that he possesses a gift. Only one of the Imperials is left, although the group really ended in 1973 in terms of being a close-knit group of  brothers - though Anthony recognises that that's not what the fans want to hear.
But I'm still here, and I've been gifted and blessed with a voice [... ] on loan.

[Spencer Leigh] So you genuinely feel it's a gift -

I know it's a gift because it ain't natural. I'm not supposed to sing like this at my age. I was told by one of the acts here, he said Man, my gosh, I was listening to in the wings, he said, you're singing better now than you ever sung. I remember the great Michael Jordan, he once made a tremendously difficult shot, and when he made it it was almost like he wasn't even looking at the basket, and when he made it he was like how come I did it and when I go out it's the same thing, I don't know how, it just comes out I go on stage, and there is my world, there is where I'm at peace with everything.
In addition to work with Paul McCartney and a planned duets album, Anthony Gourdine will have an autobiography out shortly. I look forward to reading it.

You can learn more about Richard Barrett's work with Little Anthony and the Imperials here. It's part four of a series entitled The Musical Legacy of Richard Barrett which can be found on the Classic Urban Harmony website - main page with all sorts of other links here. The Spectropop obituary of Richard Barrett can be found here.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

On the Beat Doo Wop Special on BBC iplayer soon

This is to alert readers that there will  be an On the Beat doo wop special with Little Anthony and the Imperials available on BBC iplayer shortly for one week - I only caught the very end of the progamme live so can't review it yet. Anthony Gourdine was part of the David Gest soul package in Liverpool recently but only got to sing two songs - though he is still in good voice, according to Spencer Leigh, who relayed the happy information that there might be a bit of a Little Anthony renaissance on the cards: he has a track on an album with Paul McCartney, there will be an album of him singing with other big names, and he has an autobiography coming out soon.

I will be interested, in particular, to read about his relationship with Richard Barrett, a name who ought to be more widely known to the general public.I have read in an excellent series of articles about Barrett that Anthony Gourdine resented, at the time, Barrett's disciplinarian and seemingly overprotective ways but now he understands what it was all about. You can find a series of articles about Barrett on the Classic Urban Harmony website here; scroll down and you will links on the left. Part 4 focuses on Little Anthony and the Imperials.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Now you can listen to some of those Decca sides ...

Seven of the nine Decca sides on Jasmine's Time Was Flamingos compilation can be found on yout*be. Sound is reasonably good except in the case of Jerri-Lee (a girl rather than the pumpin' piano man), which is a pity as the vaguely Spanish or South American backing is rather nice. Anyway, here, to save you effort, are those available recordings and handy notes. Think I'll stop now.

Helpless (everything but the kitchen sink: bells, white-sounding chorus and ending OTT in a bad way)
Where Mary Go (not unpleasant: sounds vaguely Jamaican-y in a Harry Belafonte way)
The Rock and Roll March (this is very corny, like something even  the Ravens would have turned up their noses at - possibly it was meant for them as there is a bass lead)
Ever Since I Met Lucy (a pop confection I can take or leave which doesn't seem to fit the group)

Kiss-A-Me (almost very good but production lets down)
Jerri-Lee (pleasant, Spanish-tinged pop)
Hey Now! (bit like Chance recordings but sounds a bit more regimented, formulaic - wonder if hearing higher quality recording would make a difference?)

Now click below if you can't see the clips.

The Flamingos 1953-1962

Below are my reviews of the two Flamingos compilations as posted on a well-known shopping website. They don't really contain anything which hasn't already been said on this blog, but they may be more concisely expressed.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

New Flamingos compilation includes Decca sides

Wow! At last there is a Flamingos compilation which includes the sides they recorded for Decca.

It's issued by public domain label Jasmine, responsible for the earlier Dream of a Lifetime 2CD set, and the perfect complement to it in terms of track selection as it collects the End label recordings they missed out before - there was just a selection - so if you have both sets I presume that that will cover everything commercially issued by this superlative group up until the end of 1962.

Rather cannily, that earlier collection ended with I Only Have Eyes For You on the End label, thus ensnaring the casual purchaser, but at the expense of chronology as their Decca sides came in between Chess and End.They only included Ladder of Love from Decca.

There is an earlier post about the Dream of a Lifetime collection here. But to cut a long story short, it was the first compilation to assemble their Chance, Parrot, Chess and a selection of their End recordings in one place and was fairly cheap, as befits a public domain issue.

To my ears, however, sound quality was okay rather than great. If you listen to the Flamingos CD issued as part of the Chess 50th anniversary celebrations, or the Chance recordings issued alongside those of the Flamingos in 1993 (by what seems to be Vee Jay itself) then you can hear just how clear and full those original recordings really are. Jasmine, by contrast, don't seem to want to get too trebly and exposing of their (presumably vinyl) sources.

The Chess CD even includes what sound like master tapes masters from Parrot which far outshine the sources on Jasmine - or, for that matter, Donn Filetti's two Golden Era of Doowops: Parrot Records compilations. As to how those masters ended up in Chess's vaults, who knows? And annoyingly, it's only a few Parrot sides. Wonder if the others still exist somewhere?

If I'm getting in too deep for some readers the main point is that the Flamingos' best recordings are so good if you like this kind of thing that it is worth searching out the best sources - or at least I am impelled to point such sources out in the belief that someone else might also care. 
For those happy few who remain reading, I am - just for you - listening to the Decca sides just now, but as it's only on Sp*tify (the free version, so not the highest quality) I can't really judge them sonically. They are certainly seem a step up from the low quality mp3s on which I've heard most of them up to now. Kiss-A-Me can be heard on yout*be from what sounds like a vinyl source - rather scratchy and tinny.

Once the Decca sides are done, however, we are, for the most part, on the aural valium trail. Very pleasing for late night nodding-off but far removed from the sublimity of Golden Teardrops.

And yet ... listen to their rendition of Marvin and Johnny's Dream Girl. Alright, it doesn't have the magic of the original pair's rough Specialty recording (a demo which couldn't be improved upon, I believe) but it is certainly an excellent fit for the valium-era Flamingos and works on its own terms.

I will give a comprehensive list of links to the Flamingos material which peppers this blog at the end of this post but I'm pretty sure I've said something along the way about the group's ability to endure - and that was about adapting and surviving. They became a self-contained unit, playing instruments, so didn't have to be reliant on the vagaries of backing musicians as Johnny Keyes of the Magnificents recounted in his memoir Du-Wop. If they had to change with the times the longevity of their career is all the argument that's needed to justify that.

If you haven't worked it out aleady I won't be visiting their End sides all that often, but I'm very glad they've been collected, and that their Decca recordings are finally out there in digital form. The set closes with a very nice Drifters-style song I hadn't heard before entitled Come on to My Party:

Talking of less than pristine sound quality, I note that Charly, a label not renowned for care in that department, have issued a 10 (count 'em!) CD set of Vee Jay material - bit of a step up from their earlier 4CD set, which I have. On a well-known shopping website there was an argument between punters about the relative merits of the Charly set and a Shout Factory package. Someone said the sound on Charly was fine. Well, it wasn't, but as I bought it for my place of work, and it only cost £9.99 that wasn't too big a deal for me. The selection of tracks was certainly good.

If you're wondering why I'm going on about this in  post dedicated to the Flamingos there is a reason. (I'm not just writing at random, you know) Unlike their earlier set, the 10 CD collection includes the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops. It was originally issued on Chance but was later reissued on Vee Jay with a guitar overdubbed. As this was the form in which I first heard Golden Teardrops I am still sort of attached to it - and I have never, ever come across it on a CD. Will this new Charly set be the one to include it at last? Sadly it won't be available in North America and I don't fancy spending £45 to check it out so I can only hope that some UK reader might be able to enlighten me.

:See the complete track listing for Chicago Hit Factory - The Vee-Jay Story 1953-1966 on Charly's UK website here. I haven't heard it.

Links to selected Flamingos-related posts on this blog:

On first hearing Golden Teardrops (part of the "doo wop dialog" with Clarke Davis)
Earlier Flamingos set on Jasmine (includes more Flamingos links at end)
The Flamingos' Decca sides Part 1
The Flamingos' Decca sides Part2
Johnny Keyes' memoir Du-Wop (part of a post about the Magnificents)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Perfect by name ...

A new clip show entitled The Perfect Morecambe and Wise is currently being broadcast on Saturday nights. Yes, there have been quite a few programmes about the pair recently but - based on the first two episodes - this particular assembly has the advantage that some of the sketches aren't overfamiliar through exposure on documentaries and other clip shows and their earlier ATV work is also represented.

I'm drawn to the little dance they do halfway through a Syd Lawrence number. Watching it you think: "Ah, maybe we're seeing some of the musical interludes to give a flavour of the original context," but then on they trot. If you are in the UK and reading this within five days of its being posted then go to BBC iplayer here, and start watching about 3.20 in.

Is it a classic clip? I dunno. But you can see the contrast between the two men: Ernie's transparent delight in the moves and Eric maintaining a kind of solemnity. The overall shape is pleasing: they are decorous, city-suited, and there is slow build to their climactic jitterbugging, the whole rounded off by a simple but smile-inducing bit of business.

But in the end there's not much point in comparing it to other, more celebrated routines. It's them. It's like that feeling I remember when once watching Oliver Hardy (sans Stan) in a less than great film called Zenobia listening to his daughter sing. Whatever these men do I want to watch it. And maybe it's also about seeing Ernie giving the lie to the idea that Eric Morecambe was really a single act. Anyway, if you can watch it, do so. Think I'll try it one more once ...

More Morecambe and Wise stuff here, here and halfway down here.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Freddie Davies autobiography (Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy) to be published July 31st

As I have a vested interest in promoting this I can't comment on its inherent quality but this is to let readers know that Freddie Davies' long-awaited autobiography Funny Bones: My Life in Comedy will be published on July 31st.

An apt date, as it's the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Freddie's debut on Opportunity Knocks on August 1st 1964 when he told the budgie joke, already honed in the clubs, which brought him and his antic alter ego Samuel Tweet overnight fame. Read more about the book on the Scratching Shed Publishing website here. It will be available as a paperback and a limited edition hardback which you can pre-order via the website.

If you have read my earlier post on Mr Davies, here, you will know that the book has been in the planning stages for quite some time. Has it been worth the wait? Well, Stafford Hildred, writer of a great many biographies and autobiographies, calls it "The fascinating autobiography of the ultimate showbiz survivor." And Alwyn Turner, who has a very interesting page about comedians' biographies and memoirs here, describes it as "a good 'un." You can read about Alwyn's own books, including a biography of Terry Nation, on his website here.

And in case you were wondering - yes, Freddie is still performing. He can be seen at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, on Wednesday May 28th at 2.30pm and 7pm as part of a Music Hall bill. Samuel Tweet lives - and it looks like 2014 could be the Year of the Parrot.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sedaka's Backstory or Neil Sedaka: King of Song (BBC 4 documentary available on iplayer until 24th February)

I almost didn't watch the recent documentary about Neil Sedaka, thinking it was a repeat of something which had been on BBC 4 a couple of years ago.

Nohow and contrariwise. Well, alright, not too contrariwise, as this programme, like its predecessor, was firmly in Mr Sedaka's corner: "more tribute than assessment" as the Daily Telegraph said here. I wiped the earlier show from my hard drive so can't make a detailed comparison but it's certainly my impression that Neil Sedaka: King of Song is several notches above the previous effort.

Maybe it was down to the carefully chosen talking heads: you got Phil Cody, his post-Howard Greenfield lyricist; you got a producer; a guy from Rolling Stone; a biographer; wife Leba and not too many other voices apart from Sedaka himself, always willing to demonstrate the secret workings of a particular song, beaming at a just-off-camera interviewer as he plays piano and obliges with the relevant section. This happened all the way through the programme so you got, straight from the horse's mouth, handy little encapsulations of how his songs work, and even if you know nothing technically about music it's not difficult to see that this is a man with a justifiable pride in his achievements and one who has worked hard to get to where he is.

I didn't quite appreciate quite how much effort, how much determination there had been until this programme: Leba talks about his working the tough clubs in the North of England in the early seventies when there was no work in the States, competing with drink and conversation (and Leba was doing the lights). An image (above) of the famed Batley Variety appears in the programe, but that represented the cream of those clubs, so we can only guess at the worst which this one time teen idol had to contend with.

This was partly forced onto him when his mother and her lover seem to have spent the earnings which ought to have bolstered the lean years - something which was certainly touched on in the earlier documentary but not, to the best of my recollection, hammered home in quite the same way.

He wasn't instantly restored to his previous status by "the 10ccs" as Sedaka calls them, and it took a repackaging of UK tracks and a helping hand from Elton John to make him successful in the US again. But Elton saw in the intrinsic quality of his music what others had forgotten: "It's like handing me gold bricks."

Straight after the documentary was aired there was a live performance from, I think, the eighties and early on a rather slimmed-down Sedaka (he boasted of losing three stone) essayed a bit of a dance or, more accurately, a jump around, a polite pogoing. 

This reinforced the unspoken but inescapable impression I suspect most viewers had already formed from viewing footage in the documentary: charisma is something Sedaka doesn't have, at least not in the conventional sense. But he has those great songs, is able to immerse himself in them (he is in tears even in the act of recalling Solitaire) and so transparently enjoys performing that you cannot help but respond.

One of the drawbacks of documentaries about most of the artists I admire is that they - the artists - are inevitably showing signs of age. For a while Sedaka seemed to eschew a toupee but now it's back on. Maybe it's for the best. He is fleshier about the neck and a slight lisp or blurriness is now evident in his speaking voice. But when he tirelessly demonstrates yet another song he is alive, animated, and the drive which kept him going through those Northern clubs and the drinking, chatting punters, is still in evidence. So see it if you can.

The programme is available on BBC iplayer here until 12:34AM GMT Monday, 24th February - though you probably have to be in the UK to see it. 

Read my post about his early flop Crying My Heart Out For You (a personal fave) here.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

What a Crazy World to be released on DVD

Great news!What a Crazy World, the film version of Alan Klein's Stratford East musical, is finally going to get a legitimate release on DVD ... Alright, it's in June, so you'll have to hang on for a bit, but it's still worth marking.

The company is Network, which is also good news: they have recently issued Joe Brown's later film Three Hats For Lisa in an excellent print. And according to a well-known shopping website What a Crazy World will be "a brand-new transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio."

Not a great cover - they have taken it from a publicity picture of the actors not in character - but I suppose it indicates their target audience: not film buffs but fans of the individual stars. Nevertheless this is a great film, not simply a pop star vehicle, and if it reaches as many people as possible that is a Good Thing. I have written about it, and the work of Alan Klein, at length in this blog already. Go to this page for a guide to earlier posts.

This release may also be an incentive for me to update my posts about Alan Klein. I have gone through all the newspaper reviews of the shows he has been involved with over the years, mostly at Stratford East, so watch this blog.

I do hope Alan Klein is going to make some money from the release of this DVD and that it will get the film more of the recognition it thoroughly deserves. In an interview with Spencer Leigh (which can be found in one of the posts in the guide above) he talks about how the release of A Hard Day's Night a few months later made his film suddenly seem dated.
 It was changing fast from when I started writing the stage show in 1962. The Beatles had a big impact, they swamped the business. By the time the film came out, it was probably starting to age already. It was a document of its time, even though it's dated. All I was doing was saying what people felt.
 But the verve of What a Crazy World still shines through - and not having to rely on a ropey off-air copy will make it even better.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Lost Lover - the Magnificents

Talking of the Magnificents' Lost Lover (see previous post), it has recently been uploaded to youtube, so here 'tis, as the B side of Off the Mountain, their soundalike follow up to their big hit On the Mountain.

It's an odd track - it's not really doo wopified, as, say, the Flamingo's version of I Really Don't Want to Know is. Is it a sendup? Not sure, but the guitar is a big part of the record and the singers do seem to be taking a back seat. Could it be as simple as their being told to record what sounds like a country song and their hearts weren't in it?

Yet there is a certain charm. I've listened a few times to the youtube version, which I presume is the original release, and it sounds like it might not be the take I'm familiar with on the Charly CD Smoochin' in Chicago, unless I'm hearing tiny differences which aren't there. But the possibility that the side on the Charly CD may be an alternate take is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility with that particular company. I've a Flamingos CD on their Instant label and the take of Get With It is one I haven't heard before. Anyway, have a listen to Lost Lover, about 2.30 in: 

Taking of the Magnificents, I am in the middle of reading lead singer Johnny Keyes' Du-Wop [sic], a first hand account of being in a doo wop group. It's not that long, and there are lots of photographs to fill out the pages, but I would say it's well worth hunting out if this is the kind of thing which interests you. It gives you all sorts of small details you won't find in Phil Groia's book or elsewhere.

I was interested to read, for example, that the backing musicians in the studio would take their cue from groups' acapella arrangements as worked out on streetcorners, but would then take exclusive credit for the subsequent instrumental arrangements, with no acknowledgement of their inspiration. This is partly explained by the fact there was usually an age gap between musicians and groups, and a snobbishness from the jazz-oriented elders, about what the young singers were doing.

This was a constant hazard of live performance as well as studio work: it was rare, according to Keyes, that acts would get a chance to rehearse properly with musicians for live gigs, leaving audiences disgruntled when the performance didn't sound like the record. It wasn't just about bands assuming the song only had simple changes. If musos became annoyed with a group they might deliberately play in the wrong tempo or favour another singer or group who had paid them, as in this example from the book:
"Well, this last tune is kind of strange. It's got a funny intro, and there's a spot in the middle that has a clean break."
"Now Junior, don't worry about that. We play that one all the time. Like I told you, no sweat. We got you."
That's exactly what he meant, too. They had us. They did what I mentioned earlier - the slow one's fast, the fast one's slow, including the main tune, the one everybody wanted to hear us sing ... the audience ... didn't know that the band had purposely messed us up because they were old and we were young dudes with a hit record.
When the band start to play On the Mountain in waltz time (!) the group stop and sing it acapella - but the audience only care that it's not like the record. Later, as they pass the headline act's dressing room he tells them: "That's my band. I pay them to make me sound good."

I spoke a few posts ago of my plan to give a talk on doo wop which would encapsulate everything in the space of sixty minutes. I still intend to do this, but it may have to wait a while. I have a play to work on - it's going to get a couple of performances at the end of January - so I may resort to a few reposts over the next month or a few youtube clips and brief notes.

Unca Marvy's page on the Magnificents can be found here. The top image is taken from there.

As far as I can tell, Johnny Keyes is still active - I saw an ad for a gig with other doo wop groups in June 2012. There is a page here which offers the book for sale directly (there is a postal address) but as the site is dated 1998 I don't know whether it's still active. I found a couple of copies relatively cheaply online.

Quiz Answers

Quiz answers below - the questions are in the previous post. No prizes - it's just a bit of fun. For some.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Yes, despite that drubbing by that OFSTED-type body (see previous post) I have decided to battle on until this blog is forcibly removed from the net. And what better way of doing so than the annual Pismotality Christmas Quiz? It's like a Round Britain Quiz in which the contestants actually know something about popular music ... so not like a Round Britain Quiz at all, really, then. And it was a bit too hard to produce questions which were all in that style, so it's a bit of a hybrid. But if you have elected to read this blog then you will know what to expect - and that's fun with a small "f". Let it begin ...

1 What name links Golden Teardrops with a very specific wake-up call by way of a Merseybeat band?

2 "One mint julep was the cause of it all." Yes, yes, we all know it's the Clovers, nobody's impressed, shut up. 

What I was going to ask - no, really, wait a minute, I've got it - was the name of the 70s rites of passage song with cringe-making rhymes and a fourteen year age gap between the two main characters in which that drink also features?

3 "It's just my job, five days a week." 

"A five minute break is all you take" 

"He's been workin' and slavin' his life away." 

Name these labour-intensive songs and the artists.

4 "You're always window shopping but never stopping to buy" 

"Stand in the mirror and dig yourself" 

"I kept buying china until the crowd got wise." 

Identify these examples of conspicuous consumption (thwarted or otherwise). And if you have to google them you've already lost.

5 The Tremeloes, Marillion, and the Textile Display. Why might you find them all in the news?

6 Three songs about children but three separate questions to answer. 

"Mr McCann was a practical man,  [BLANK] was his only son." In what sense is this song streetwise? 

"There'd be no one there to raise them / If you did." Who penned this out of this world lyric? 

"We'll have a kid / Or maybe we'll rent one." What's the connection with Yellow Submarine?

7 "I'll tune into you, you tune into me" 

"I'm a country station, I'm a little bit corny"

"Sit you down, father. Rest you." 

Name these radio-related songs. (If the first one eludes you, use a bit of common.)

8 "And meanwhile I'm still thinking ..." Who quoted this line at the end of which song, and where you would have originally found it?

9 "I meet the man who owns the ghost train, he says 'You're just great / I'll pay you top class wages if you'll just step through this gate.' " 

"Remember a holiday in a north of England town, / You slept in a room upstairs in a bed of eiderdown." 

Can you identify the near-homophones in these song titles?

10 "Drifting like seaweed under the sea, / Like a wanderin' ship bring your love home to me." 

Identify this song. If you can, without recourse to google or anything else, you have won the quiz, even if you got everything else wrong. 

Answers will be posted on the 27th of December.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Now We Are Four ...

As it is now the fourth anniversary of that day in December 2009 I started this blog with the intention of archiving posts from Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop written in 2000 I decided to commemorate my achievement by submitting the contents to OSTMB, the UK-based Office for Standards in Music Blogs.

This was done on a voluntary basis and I'm not sure what I thought might be gained from doing so. Above is a scan of the printout I received in the post today. After much waiting on the telephone I managed to speak to one of the inspectors for ten minutes (he put the phone down mid-sentence which I thought was discourteous, to say the least).

But I surreptitiously recorded the last eight minutes of the conversation so thought I would give a report here. My advice to other bloggers, however, is don't bother seeking out this organisation. If you gain pleasure from writing posts then go on doing so. Anyway, here are the "highlights" of what I was told combined with a more detailed email.
 We can't really see who this blog is for ... There is very little original research, or nothing that other people couldn't have found for themselves by surfing for a few minutes. To put it crudely, your blog started off as a doo wop archive, but what is it now? Anything goes, it seems: comedy of variable quality and whatever else momentarily occupies your thoughts ... Those who might be attracted to individual posts aren't given much encouragement to linger. And while there is a pleasing turn of phrase here and there why should you assume your fleeting enthusiasms must be of interest to others?

Crucially, the number of posts which explore a subject to an acceptable level seem to be mostly in the past. You seem to be claiming that some mysterious "project" is taking up your time but that can be of no interest to your online audience: either deliver the goods in a more consistent manner or our recommendation will be that this blog be closed down as no longer fit for purpose.

Our key suggestions are as follows:

1 Focus on one genre of music exclusively, and coin a more direct and informative strapline to encourage new readers. 

2 Post at least once a week, each post to be no less than 500 words.

3 Post titles must include a clear description of contents. Puns must be justified. 

4 The loosely-connected series of posts is confusing to casual visitors who cannot be expected to understand references to earlier posts. Either each post must start with a recap or posts need to revised in order to stand alone. 

5 Overall, there is insufficient evidence of  consistent effort being applied in the writing of blog posts and in a market of competing bloggers with  more specialist knowledge it is our opinion that this blog is unlikely to survive without a major change in attitude. 

So there we are. Not sure what I should make of it all. It seems unlikely that a single body like that has much power over the internet, and I'm beginning to regret paying for an analysis (£20.00 via paypal). I'd hoped there would be some phrase I could use to promote the blog but there isn't much. Still, it's Christmas, so here is a song by Nick Lowe which I recently heard on Spencer Leigh's On the Beat and enjoyed very much.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

They turned him off (Russell Davies show axed)

Big news in my little world, and I regret to say it appears to be a done deal, though there is a campaign: Russell Davies' Sunday night programme on the art of the songwriter on BBC Radio 2 is no more.

And so ends a line which stretched, for me, from the seventies and Benny Green in the same slot (before it was shunted from the afternoon, during the Davies era, to make room for the chumminess of Ms Paige).

It's also a source of sadness because although I believe he will still be presenting the odd programme for Radio 2 this marks the end of regular broadcasting of the last of those presenters who educated me in pre-rock'n'roll music, most notably Benny Green, Hubert Gregg, Ken Sykora and Robert Cushman.
Of that quartet only Robert Cushman is still alive, although as far as I know he is no longer broadcasting.

I'm not going to go into detail here about why the decision to drop Russell Davies is so wrong. Others have already done so (links at end). But to put it briefly, the "presentation reason", as we psychiatrists say, is that he isn't, apparently, cost-effective for a programme only lasting one hour - even though one hour is precisely the right amount of time for something which demands more direct attention than most of Radio 2's output.

The suggestion - made by Mr Davies himself, among others - is that his show being dropped is part of the plan to make Radio 2 into "Radio one-and-a-half", catching those who have grown out of Radio 1.

By and large I have approved of that scheme in the past, and enjoyed the music documentaries and spots for different genres on Radio 2. But there has to be room for the popular music which preceded the rock explosion.

Is it about time passing? I can't remember exactly when  "Radio one-and-a-half" was first mooted - I suppose around the time of Matthew Bannister's cull of dinosaur DJs at Radio 1, and he was appointed controller twenty years ago.

Has somebody therefore made the pragmatic decsion that Radio 2 cannot go on infinitely expanding its capacity and so the earliest decades - the thirties and forties - must perforce be jettisoned?

It sort of makes sense, I suppose ... provided, that is, you don't believe that any of the subsequent songwriters benefited from the example of those who came before. (Wonder what Macca would have to say about that? Or Lennon, come to that, who was taught Scatterbrain, a song I first heard on a Hubert Gregg show, by his mother.)

It's significant, I think, that the majority of the broadcasters I have mentioned were working from a script - in other words what they were giving us was something polished, not just chatter to fill the moments in between recordings. And (like Russell Davies) Benny Green and Ken Sykora were musicians, and Hubert Gregg was a singer, songwriter and all round man of the theatre.

Robert Cushman is a journalist and critic - he may play an instrument, for all I know, but the point is that in all of these cases you were getting something which hadn't been thrown together, and there was an implied respect for the audience. More than that: you had the sense that they were sharing something which was precious to them, but their knowledge was worn lightly. You never felt you were being lectured.

I'm sorry to say I missed Mr Davies' last few shows. Blame technology: I had grown to depend on Radio Downlo*der, now outlawed, for my fix of BBC radio shows in mp3 form, and it was fatally easy to stockpile. The first mention of the show coming to an end had apparently been by Gillian Reynolds in the Telegraph in July, and I had missed it.

In terms of world events I suppose the end of a radio programme means - well, not that much. But regular listeners will know that with the closing down of this show something important is going from Radio 2 and from our lives. We will no longer be introduced to songs, and odd pairings and coincidences, by someone who had taken the time to shape his thoughts for us, and who opened our ears to the richness of the catalogue of music before Chuck Berry.

You can, if so inclined, read my longer tributes to the broadcasters mentioned, along with Ian Whitcomb, via the links below. Ian Whitcomb is still around and currently recovering from a stroke.

There is a brand new website dedicated to his warmly recommended radio show, here (above image is only a screengrab), where you can listen to excerpts or buy cheap downloads or CD versions of the show, and there are links to his monthly "Letter from Lotusland."  


Part One (Ian Whitcomb)
Part Two (Ken Sykora)
Part Three (Hubert Gregg)
Part Four (Benny Green & Robert Cushman)
Part Five (Russell Davies)
Part Six: (Those Unheard  or There is a Balm in Islington)

Mick Brown on Russell Davies here. There is a petition to save the show here, where you can also read comments by those who have signed it.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Lou Reed

 I have just heard that Lou Reed has died so I am reposting this piece from 2012.

The Word - a magazine I ought to have read more often than I did - is shortly to be no more; its final edition is in UK shops just now.

Others will be better placed to eulogise; I only mention it because skimming through its last hurrah reminded me of an early post on this blog, and a matter which has been occupying me on and off for some time, namely the content of Lou Reed's record collection, stolen in the sixties.

In an interview with John Medd in the final edition of The Word he mentions a few artists presumably among those purloined, and it's gratifying to see that he liked "anything by the Flamingos" and the Diablos' The Wind, a near neighbour of Flamingos recordings at their ethereal best:

Below is part of that original blog post, dating from 2009, the time when I first discovered the delights of blogging and was happy (and time-rich enough) to let posts go where they would. I was looking over one of the messages sent to Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop in 2000 (click on page above) before reposting them on this blog with additional notes. This led me to remember the album on which I first discovered the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops: a cheapo compilation of Vee Jay material licensed by Springboard International. (And it was the Vee Jay version, with a guitar added to the original Chance recording to accentuate the chord changes.)

But I didn't know then that Lou Reed was a Flamingos fan, so how did I get to him? Well, searching online in 2009 for images of the cover of that cheapo compilation (the above is another volume in the series) I came across an exhibition by the French artist Francis Baudevin, who had appropriated the simple but effective geometric shapes common to all those Original Oldies LPs issued by Springboard International.

This simplicity and appropriation of popular culture set me to thinking about Andy Warhol and so, by degrees, to Lou Reed:
Suprising that Andy Warhol never cottoned on to their graphic potential before M. Baudevin - but then, maybe he already had the original Vee Jay albums. Or could it be, in fact, that Warhol was the brains behind the notorious theft of Lou Reed's entire doo wop collection, only to find warring sensations of guilt and delight serving both to check his enjoyment of the purloined discs and stifle creative stirrings in the area of doo wop-related graphics ever after, for fear of inadvertantly exposing the source of his inspiration to Lou? A case, you might say, of The Tell-Tale Heartbeats ...

The above puerility discharged, I couldn't resist checking the chronology of Reed meeting Warhol and getting his records pinched. To my surprise (as I presumed it happened long before the two met) I found that his records (and his Gretch guitar) were stolen while he was performing as part of Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable in New York in April 1966 - so it is technically possible that Warhol could have been the culprit, sneaking off to do the deed when Lou was safely onstage. Unless it was some earlier theft of the teenage Reed's records which I'd vaguely registered while surfing and he was forever dogged by ill luck in the matter of vinyl retention.

Either way, I would love to know which particular doo wop records he favoured, although I strongly suspect that Dion and the Belmonts' insouciant Love Came to Me would have been among them: at one point Dion gives a kind of laidback chuckle during the bridge ("Love makes me, uh, makes me feel so good") which makes me think of Sweet Jane. 

Well, now The Word can help fill in some of the gaps - and point towards further information. Asked about musical influences, Reed told John Medd:
I got the Sound of the Hound out of Buffalo, New York ...and other stuff on the soul station. Everything was from the radio ... all the soul guys, the rockabilly people, everything that Dion was listening to, and I was listening to Dion. Later on I inducted him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was pretty great for me ... Smoke From Your Cigarette, Lillian Leach and the Mellows ...
I hadn't heard Smoke From Your Cigarette  before today, but it sounds awfully familiar. Partly because it either draws on or inspired, other records, or maybe just because it carries the authentic doo wop ache.

The interview in The Word as a whole is somewhat disjointed - Medd complains that that the two of them never found a common rhythm and that, even though the conversation had been face to face it had been like "conducting a transatlantic phone call across a small table." - but it set me looking for the speech Lou Reed gave when inducting Dion - and, having found it, it was easy to understand why Reed might have felt impatient at having to give the same information in a debased form when he had once polished it and delivered it to the ideal audience.

Here is that speech, taken from Dion's official website, with more details of the artists Reed listened to:
It was 1958, and the cold winds of Long Island blew in from the ocean, their high-pitched howl mixing with the dusty, musky, mellifluous liquid sounds of rock and roll -- the sounds of another life, the sounds of freedom.

As Alan Freed pounded a telephone book and the honking sax of Big Al Sears seared the airwaves with his theme song “Hand Clappin’,” I sat staring at an indecipherable book on plane geometry, whose planes and angles would forever escape me. And I wanted to escape it and the world of SAT tests the college boards — leap immediately and eternally into the world of Shirley and Lee, The Diablos, The Paragons, The Jesters, Lilian Leach and the Mellows (“Smoke from Your Cigarette”), Alicia and the Rockaways (“Why Can't I Be Loved?” — a question that certainly occupied my teenage time). The lyrics sat in my head like Shakespearean sonnets, with all the power of tragedy: “Gloria,” “Why Don’t You Write Me, Darling, Send Me a Letter” by The Jacks.

And then there was Dion — that great opening to "I Wonder Why" engraved in my skull forever. Dion, whose voice was unlike any other I had heard before. Dion could do all the turns stretch those syllables so effortlessly, soar so high he could reach the sky and dance there among the stars forever. What a voice — that had absorbed and transmogrified all these influences into his own soul, as the wine turns into blood, a voice that stood on its own remarkably and unmistakably from New York — Bronx Soul. It was the kind of voice you never forget. Over the years that voice has stayed with me, as it has, I'm sure, stayed with you. And whenever I hear it I'm flooded with memories of what once was and what could be.

It's been my pleasure to get to know Dion over the years and even, my idea of heaven, sing occasional backup for him. He doesn't know how long I'd rehearsed those bass-line vocals. I was ready to back up Dion. He had the chops, and he practically invented the attitude. "Ruby Baby," "Donna the Prima Donna," “The Wanderer” … "I'll tear open my shirt and show her 'Rosie' on my chest," a line so good that twenty-odd years later I couldn't resist doing a variant on it for one of my own albums.

After all, who could be hipper than Dion?

Reuben, Reuben (1983 film with Tom Conti)

Have just watched Reuben, Reuben for the second time - with a gap of about thirty years in between. The first time was, if memory serves, at the former Glasgow Odeon, now gone or translated, the second time was last night, with the film shrunk to the dimensions of my fairly small telly screen.

Is it a good film? Not sure, although I didn't stop watching it last night, which must mean something. Mind you, I'd mislaid the remote, so maybe I just couldn't be *rsed with all the kerfuffle of stopping and starting.  The ending is quite something, and I'd retained that from the first viewing; avoid the w*kipedia page as it gives everything away - and I mean everything.

Although I momentarily fancied myself as a critic in those days - I did a few pieces for the student paper - I think I saw films as purely entertainment. I was studying Drama, and it was quite nice to feel free  not even to shape critical thoughts in my head if I wasn't sitting watching a play. The Glasgow Film Theatre, or GFT, would give out a closely printed A4 for most of its films as you filed in; I would read these but I think I made a conscious decision not to join the game.

Anyway, that's by the by. What it means is I don't have a handy set of notes to compare my reactions then and now. All I really remember is that the ending made an impression. And that I was in two minds about the film as a whole, while accepting that the central performance was a piece of bravura acting.

Which is roughly how I feel today, except that I can see the theatrical origins more clearly, perhaps, than I did then. Based (or so I've read) on Dylan Thomas, Gowan McGland, played by Tom Conti, is a larger than life creation, and perhaps better suited to the theatre: there's a sense of his, meaning McGland's, performing for an imaginary audience. He's not unlike another male monologue machine, Simon Gray's Butley, as played by Alan Bates. This was a play, though I saw the cinema version (at the GFT, as it happens), and it made a big impact on me. My first rudimentary attempt to write a play as part of a university course featured a kind of Butley transferred from the university where Gray's creation strutted to a secondary school.

Reuben, Reuben was a novel which was adapted into a play before becoming a film, and I can well imagine that one of the devices - he reminisces or reflects into a miniature tape recorder for the benefit of his ex-wife, now his biographer -  originated in the stage version, or was seized upon for it. There's a moment near the end, crucial for an understanding of a certain relationship, where we are shown and then told as well, as though the director didn't have the confidence to let the audience take it in for themselves. It feels like this might have been a monologuey bit in theatre and at some point the scriptwriter forgot to snip off the section now made redundant, or else this was a bit of narrative in the original novel which someone couldn't bear to lose even though it was no longer needed.

The link with the novels of JP Donleavy is made explicit when characters pass a restaurant or pub called The Ginger Man, and it does seem to be that kind of world, which perhaps fits better in a novel or in a monologue (I'd love to know whether the stage version was a proper play). The focus is almost wholly on Conti's character, and you have to  buy into his charm to enjoy the film. The mask rarely slips and, as I say, I suspect it would be less of a problem in the theatre, where our laughter makes us complicit.

Obviously that can happen in the cinema as well, though I can't remember now how the rest of that long-ago Glasgow audience felt. Given that he was a beloved son of Glasgow, it would almost certainly have been indulgent, but I still think there may have been something about the medium of film which might have provoked a colder stare at his escapades.

I once saw Tom Conti perform - well, more than once, but dodgy late period Arthur Millers don't count. An actor friend was appearing with Conti in a Neil Simon play and I went to a matinee late in the run. There was a certain amount of corpsing from the star, and it made me angry: as a colleague  in the business says, you need to remember that they've paid their twenty quid or whatever. But then I wasn't a particular Conti fan, had come to see my friend doing sterling service as a feed, in effect. Also in the cast was a woman who had been a major TV star, and the hoped-for big bucks accompanying a West End transfer were diverted to paying her, so my friend was playing a thankless role with not much in the way of concrete gratitude from his employer.

None of that is Conti's fault, apart from the corpsing, and the suggestion that he is deserving of some special dispensation, that the prize of seeing him perform, however badly, is quite enough for his fans.

But that does suggest why he fits the role of McGland so well - even if film may not be the best medium. In later years he has played famous drinker Jeffrey Bernard in Keith Waterhouse's Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell - not a monologue, but a man likewise trading on charm. The same could be said of his role in Slade in Flame.

Anyway, I am running out of steam here, so what am I saying? Is Reuben, Reuben a film worth seeking out?

I'd say yes, even if you are not wholly captivated by Mr Conti as a rule. Maybe it would have been better in one of its earlier incarnations (I haven't read the novel or the play so I can only speculate), and maybe you won't (as I didn't) completely surrender, but there are rewards if you stick to the end.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Crackerjack May 1964

Clips from this edition of Crackerjack have has featured in several documentaries (Danny Baker's programme on Peter Glaze and The Unforgettable Leslie Crowther) but I haven't seen it since a repeat on TV in the late eighties.

It's Eamon Andrews' final programme and although I probably saw it as a kid I don't remember it from then: for me Crackerjack was always presented by Leslie Crowther, but Pip Hinton and Gillian Comber  and of course Peter Glaze are present and correct in memory, though I seem to remember Gilliam Comber as more maternal, less glam.

The finale is as usual, with pop songs stuffed into the burlesque of a Prisoner of Zenda type story - apparently it had recently been a TV serial. At the end, Andrews, as every presenter since, makes an appearance, and Crowther presents him with a silver salver before they start singing again.

Throughout, you're aware that Andrews is not the most natural of performers though I don't know whether he chose to leave or not. I suppose this would have been the time of his chat show (mercilessly and repeatedly parodied in Round the Horne as the Seamus Android Show), so the answer is probably yes, but it's interesting to see a performer without the ability to paper over the cracks, and he is clearly moved and awkward at the end.

Of the two women, Pip Hinton (an experienced revue performer) is obviously the more able comedienne and makes a good double act with Leslie Crowther; a tiny little burst of a dance routine in The Unforgettable Leslie Crowther can now be enjoyed in full. And you're always aware that you're watching something live. The quiz and the game I can take or leave, but the rest of this show will awaken many happy memories for British readers in their mid fifties and over.

I wonder how many other editions are in existence? The Danny Baker programme featured a clip of a finale with a parody of Nervous Norvus's Apecall from the Eamon Andrews era, and I've seen a clip featuring Ronnie Corbett when he was a resident performer, but I'd love to see the programmes from Leslie Crowther time as a presenter, though I doubt whether many now exist. All together now: "It's Friday ... it's five to five ..."

Anyway, I'd never seen this edition of Crackerjack on youtube before so thought I'd share. For those who aren't aware of it I once tried to do a Crackerjack finale-type version of King Lear and set up a blog devoted to that purpose. Stupidly, however, I put a lot of posts into draft form in order to revise them whereupon they promptly disappeared. It's not really worth resurrecting but the introductory post, supposedly written by a deranged Crackerjack fanatic, is here and it's the only one which has survived if you want to look at it. I admit that the idea had diminishing returns with each successive post anyway.

May 1964. That's almost fifty years ago. And August 1964 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Freddie "Parrotface" Davies' appearance on Opportunity Knocks. You can read a post about Freddie here. I understand that his autobiography will be out soon, so that's one to watch for. A longtime TV star in the UK, Freddie may be best known in America for the cult film Funny Bones.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

They're not juvenile delinquents ...

A clip of 14 Karat Soul not seen before (by me) is cause for celebration. Presumably this is Sesame Street as the background is the same as for their version of the ABCs of Love. Stay tuned for developments re my doo wop presentation. Forty years boiled into an hour. How can I do it? I did jokily suggest to the kind person who has encouraged me that five hours would be more realistic but he wasn't wholly convinced. Also going back to basics, the play which I occasionally alluded to in my posts on the Kewl Steve site may be more realistically within sight of a production, and one of the lead characters is obsessed with doo wop. Ee, it's all happening, or it might be. Also in the pipeline is a book but, cursed as I am with the ability to talk a good game I shall shut up until matters become more concrete. I ache for the moment I hold a hardback in my hands. Anyway, here be the group:

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

There'll be fifteen minutes of expoundin' my thesis, and then you'll holler "Please, DO stop!"

No time, I'm afraid, to write a detailed post, so consider this an interim bulletin for those who might care. This blog is going back to basics as I have been asked to prepare a presentation for students about doo wop music. I will post audio when it's done and add the occasional entry here as I go along if you want to keep up with my progress.

Which task has made me think back to Phil Groia's They All Sang On the Corner, the first book I read devoted to the subject. I have to admit it didn't live up to my expectations. Not that there wasn't good info in it, but as the first book I read specifically about doo wop, there was a bit too much of the trainspotter about it. Yes, I know: following the changing members of the Cadillacs, etc is important, and there were some great phrases in the book, for example describing Frankie Lymon as the little boy who "lit up like a Christmas tree" whenever a microphone was placed before him. But the "list" aspect seemed - to me, anyway - to devalue the book a bit.

Against that, of course, you could say what's a history of the subject for if not to set the record straight? And such books may be better regarded as reference books than sparkling single-sitting reads. 

I mention this partly because I have just received Johnny Keyes' book Du-Wop (sic), have already read half, and it really puts you there, in the middle of a group. It's fairly short but it answers questions I've often thought about but don't think I've seen answered before.

In particular, Keyes says that the backing musicians for doo wop groups in the studio would compose arrangements which essentially came from the singers' acapella version of the song, though it would be the musicians who would get all the credit. Interesting, too, to note that the musicians were usually older and could be contemptuous of the groups. If a band was supporting a group or groups live, it could be that a current hit might be played at the wrong tempo, either through negligence or a deliberate attempt to mess the singers up. But the main thing is that, according to Keyes, the real creativity was in working out the vocal arrangement then bringing it into the studio, whereupon the band would quickly work up a backing.

I will have more to say on that and maybe some other books in my next post. So join me, why don't you, in my quest to boil down forty years' enthusiasm for streetcorner sounds into one measly hour. Which gives a whole 'nother meaning to Sixty Minute Man, hence the above title.