Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Imagine: Ray Davies - Imaginary Man (BBC documentary)

Have just finished watching the above BBC TV documentary about Ray Davies and a review in the Independent, readable here, gets it roughly right, so I probably won't say too much more. The review ends:
if there was a lingering sense that Davies was being indulged, that his nostalgia was slipping into downright despondence, we could forgive him on the grounds that he has done so much for us.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Valentines - Christmas Prayer

As a reluctant nod to the season, herewith Christmas Prayer, a lesser-known Valentines track from 1955 - at least it isn't on the Collectables Best of collection that I have. I first came across it on a UK compilation  of Christmas-related songs from "the Roulette family of labels" on the now-defunct Westside label, which issued quite a lot of doo wop.

As the Collectables CD of the group's Rama recordings includes an amusing but hardly essential snippet of song in praise of Boston DJ Joe Smith, I'm surprised by Christmas Prayer's absence. It was released at the time and an A side, and it isn't just a novelty: the rough edge to the singing and harmonising is highly pleasing to these ears, despite the corny saxophone quote ("jingle all the way") just in case anyone should be in any doubt about the seasonal nature of the song.

I presume Richard Barrett, the man who discovered Frankie Lymon, and later achieved fame as a producer, is the lead vocalist, and we're definitely talking gospel-inflected, soul-anticipating mode. And it sounds like there was a bit of leeway in the harmonising too - it's not that the singing is ragged, just that it doesn't sound rehearsed to death, and that another take might have been different again. Anyway, have a listen and see what you think.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

"Was there a LP soundtrack for Three Hats for Lisa?"

 I see from the magic of statcounter that someone who googled the above question today was directed to the Gnome Thoughts ... 25 post on this blog rather than, say, post 3, which is all about the film. Presumably google picks up words from the labels on the right as well as the posts, which is unfortunate, but if that person should chance to revisit this blog then I think I'm fairly safe in saying: no. There wasn't. I've certainly found nothing online and have searched thoroughly.

Ah, you say, but what's that image above?

Mark, King of Rockabilly, Mark

I can't pretend I listened to every single edition of Mark Lamarr's BBC Radio 2 show Shake Rattle and Roll - too much non-Carl Perkins rockabilly for me - but I am very sorry indeed to see it go.

Last night I listened to the final edition, which will be accessible for a week on the Radio 2 website here. He has circulated an email about his resignation, readable in full at the end of this post, but towards the end of last night's show he acknowledged that Shake Rattle and Roll had a "tiny but dedicated" audience, with the clear implication that the BBC were no longer able to tolerate the "tiny" part of that. Er, isn't that rather the point of the BBC?

It is a great pity, not only because of his presenting style (the true voice of an enthusiast) but because there sure won't be much chance of hearing almost any of the tracks he played anywhere else on the Beeb - the odd Bo Diddley number, perhaps, on Paul Jones' blues show, but that's about it.

Last night was all listener requests, and the final track was an inspired choice as a sign-off, one which I knew well but never, ever imagined I would hear on national radio ... well, never anywhere but there, and a final, fine example of his tradition of playing a doo wop number as a closer.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Took-off Earl (Ian Whitcomb's new radio show)

This is to alert readers that Ian Whitcomb's peerless radio show has moved from Luxuria to XM 24. My post about his Luxuria programme, readable here, still holds good, although the blurb on the XM 24 website here says it rather more succinctly:

The Ian Whitcomb Show is an hour-long fun fest featuring an eclectic and exciting panorama of American and British popular songs, ranging from Tin Pan Alley ragtime through 1920s crooners and dance bands to raunchy pioneer 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. Join host Ian Whitcomb, 1960's Brit Invader, music historian and ukulele maven, on The Music Summit.
Details of the currently free to download podcast version here.
Shows run for one hour rather than two but  the shorter format, or perhaps a different hand on the production tiller, or something, makes the shows sound a bit tighter.

And either his voice has suddenly become richer and deeper or the quality of broadcast microphone employed has drastically improved with his transfer - or both? I shall forbear from using the word "slick" as it's still the essential Ian, although I suspect this version of the Ian Whitcomb Show will gain more converts among people who don't already know much about some of these genres. Which can only be a good thing: as I said in my earlier review:
Whitcomb's awareness of the deep, tangled roots of popular music means that he is able to make the most illuminating comments in his show en passant, seeing the sort of connections others wouldn't
so why not download a few shows and get yourself illuminated? The most recent programme is entitled Whistlers, Yodellers, Zithers and Such, featuring, among others, The Waikiki Swingsters, the Pan American Marimba Band, Reginald Dixon, Guy Mitchell ... and Rolf Harris. Now that's what I call eclectic.

At the time of posting you can also download shows about accordion music, what he calls "Transcendental Tunes" (more Mills Brothers and Flanagan and Allen than the Lemon Pipers) and others. His British Invasion Revisited show studiously avoids the Beatles in favour of the names less often played and towards the end of  he let slip a detail which will be of interest to regular readers.

Apparently, when the New Vaudeville Band's Winchester Cathedral first became known in the States, so many people assumed it was Ian that eventually he got tired of denying it and went along with it, even singing it in his act, thus adding to the already impressive list of his musical and literary achievements over the years  "self-confessed surrogate Alan Klein." How many others can make that claim, even today?

Actually, I've just listened to the programme again and it seems his impersonation actually took place in the happy no-time between Geoff Stephens' intention to make the New Vaudeville Band flesh and the actual hiring of members. So who can blame him for spying a gap in the market?

"With it" to a certain extent: the Lemon Pipers

For a while I though it was so obscure there might not be an image of the above album cover online, but of course there was. I bought it, I suppose, because of the Marble Arch brand. Marble Arch was Pye's quality (ie the records were sonically good) budget label, a reassuring sign because the very first album I bought was Donovan's Fairytale in that form. Marble Arch covers always had white bars at the top and bottom and you were informed of key song titles.

So the series was easily identifiable, the records themselves were substantial - ie fairly heavy pieces of vinyl, even though the running time was never overgenerous. Donovan's album had a few tracks knocked off, for example, presumably so that, a la the Fabs' American issues, there might be eventually be enough material to enable a new album to be fashioned out of those offcuts.

But other than the reassurance of the tried and trusted label, whatever made my ten or eleven year old self decide that my next purchase had to be an album devoted to the Lemon Pipers?

I must have heard and liked Green Tambourine, and at some point, during some family holiday, my immediate elder brother told me he had just heard a broadcaster announce, just before playing Rice Is Nice, also by the Pipers, that he didn't really look this newfangled pop but that "One must be 'with it' to a certain extent."

But that was about it. I knew nothing else by them and I hadn't particularly hungered and yearned to hear more. Nor can I remember the act of buying the record or seeing its cover - as had been the case with Fairytale - tantalising me from the window of a now-vanished shop. And if you look above, you'll see that Marble Arch's graphics team hadn't exactly pushed the boat out for this American act.

And pretty soon I had sold the album on, to a sister of a schoolfriend, if I remember correctly. I don't know what she made of it, as I never met her, though I can probably date the transaction to 1970 at the latest - or maybe even 1969, the year of the album's issue. And I haven't thought much about the album, or the group, in the intervening forty years: when Green Tamourine crops up in a compilation or on the radio it's a pretty period piece, but I only half-listen.

So why am I writing about this album now? Blame the magic of the internet, and spotify in particular. I was compiling a vaguely psychedelic playlist and remembered one of the songs from the album whose title, at least, spoke about the times: Love Beads and Meditation, and I listened to a few other songs I dimly remembered from the LP I'd quickly recycled.

And my verdict: no, not a neglected masterpiece, but what with the overfamiliarity of more well known artists of the time, it felt refreshing to hear those who had attempted to cadge a lift on the bigger names' coat-tails. That song title sort of gives it away that the Lemon Pipers were not unaware of the Beatles' existence but there are other songs which owe clear debts to individual tracks by the Fabs. And it's good to hear them after all this time: to hear, for example, Shoeshine Boy which, like the Bonzos' Equestrian Statue, is a "response", shall we say, to Penny Lane. And actually Love Beads and Meditation may owe more to the group who also stayed with the Maharishi in India, the Beach Boys. And then we have Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade), though this is less druggy than it might appear, more about the fantasy world two lovers can inhabit.

The one incongruous track on the album was Turn Around and Take a Look, which seemed corny, though I can sort of hear they may have been going for a Lovin' Spoonful-type feel (their labelmates back in the States, in fact). And I think Paul McCartney admitted Good Day Sunshine on Revolver "borrowed" from Daydream, so no one is innocent.

The others I don't remember, though I can see they included a cover of Wasn't Born to Follow.

Having written the above, I realised I ought to find out something about the group, so headed for wikipedia, as you do, where I see that Turn Around and Take a Look was an initial and unsuccessful attempt by a band member to come up with a hit song, and that many of the group's songs were by Brill Building writers Paul Leka and Shelley Pinz. When their Green Tambourine was a hit, their record company, Buddah, put pressure on the group to stay in the bubblegum genre. An article by Larry Nager, here, quotes band member Larry Nave on "the duality of the Lemon Pipers":
We were a stand-up rock 'n' roll band, and then all of a sudden, we're in a studio, being told how to play and what to play.
They left Buddah in 1969 and later "dissolved", which seems an appropriate term. But there is a small footnote: three band members,
Bartlett, Walmsley and Nave formed Starstruck, whose recording of a Lead Belly song, "Black Betty" was reworked by Super K Productions producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, and released in 1977 under the name of Ram Jam, featuring Bartlett.
That was a big hit in the UK, and I actually heard it sung live a few months ago, by Joe Brown. Whose success predated the Beatles. Ee, it's all cyclical. And members of Beatle-influenced 10cc worked with those producers. But rather than getting lost in my own jelly jungle of connections, a final quote, taken from the wikipedia page, taken from the book Bubblegum Is The Naked Truth.
It was the Pipers’ way with a tough-pop gem in the under-four-minute category which was most impressive by far: "Rainbow Tree", "Shoeshine Boy" and especially "Blueberry Blue" each sported a taut, musical sophistication worthy of The Move and, dare I say it, even the Magical Mystery Beatles.
A lightly clad truth, but very pleasing pop nonetheless. Here's Shoeshine Boy:

Monday, 13 December 2010

Now We Are One

If the title of this post has already made you think of Dion and the Belmonts' Teen Angel ("Our love is young,/Now we are one") then congratulations: you've probably arrived at the right blog.

If, however, it doesn't, then it's statistically likely that you have been directed here by google images and are in search of non-existent David Bowie downloads and will leave after - eh? Wha - ? Ohhhh ...

Ee, they might have had the courtesy to allow me to finish my sentence, at least. Anyway, for those happy few who remain, in order to mark today's anniversary (One Glorious Year of Blogging), for one day only the title image for this blog will be the original photograph of the Cheapo Cheapo Records shop by Laura Appleyard (see her flickr photostream here) without my embellishments.

Though that wasn't the original title image: I used a detail from a Medallions publicity photograph - Vernon Green's eyes - as, I think, the first, or one of the first, pictures to indicate what that these posts would be about. After all, if anyone held the secret of pismotality, the mystery at the heart of doo wop, it had to be the man who coined the word.

As I've explained elsewhere, I took Pismotality as a username on the Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop website simply because my own name, Tony, had already been taken, but I've retained it as much of what I write is about doo wop - plus it makes my work easier to find via google.

I can't remember just when I made the change of title image, but it may have reflected the blog's expansion from doo wop, once all the available Kewl Steve material had been reposted, to all the music of my formative years - and at one time or another Cheapo Cheapo Records, late of Soho, held just about all the albums I had ever bought - or borrowed from my local library back home in Scotland - so it seemed ideal. And the fact the shop had closed down also made me want to commemorate it. I still miss it a great deal.

As there is now a year's worth of blog posts to ferret through, for the busy executive here is a - well, not a top ten, exactly, but a quick list of some entries which may be worth reading if you like anything you've already read here. Well, I enjoyed writing them, anyway, although I appreciate that that may not of itself be an infallible guarantee of quality.

Golden Teardrops - this is my original piece about the record from the ol' Doo Wop Shop board, but with a commentary added when it was reposted here in December 2009. I began to realise that blogs were about going wherever your inclination dictated, which in this case involved an artist who had used a cover from  Springboard International's Original Oldies  series as inspiration. The reason? I first heard the Flamingos' classic - guitar overdubs and all - on a compilation in that series. Also I accuse a (probably) innocent man over the theft of Lou Reed's doo wop collection. The post was just going that way.

You Have Two (I Have None) - an attempt to capture another great doo wop recording, but at least I have the humility to cite Robert Pruter. Warning: may contain unnecessary traces of Elizabethan poetry.

14 Karat Soul - a longish piece about the best young doo wop group I ever saw in live performance, including The Mysterious Case of the Gesture at the Neck. I still say I was singing in tune.

A Wreath for Cheapo - the most substantial piece about the importance to me of the vanished Cheapo Cheapo Records shop.
The TRUE Story of How I Fell Out of Love with Donovan - reassessing a former hero, but Gently, gently, with love.

On Again! On Again! or Strangers on a Train - Jake Thackray in my life, despite my immediate elder brother's objections. (But can you trust someone who mistook a Bolan fan for his wife?) Plus my time alone with the great man: now it can be told.

Stand By Me Part One - first of two posts exploring the origins of Ben E King's song, looking at the singer's early doo wop years and the signficance of Clyde McPhatter during this period. Part Two focuses more on the song's gospel roots and the beginnings of soul with Sam Cooke and others.

They Turned Me On - Part Three: Hubert Gregg - from a series celebrating the broadcasters who opened my ears to a world beyond pop. I'm happy to say that Hubert Gregg's widow, Carmel Gregg, has read this and seemed to like it.

Aurelian Chimes - not - various  doo wop records and their personal significance.

[Add title which punningly alludes to all songs mentioned] - a farewell of sorts to a friend via thoughts about the music he liked.

Billy J, don't be a - eeeeeuuurgh! - the title says it all, or as much as can be said without spoiling the piece.

Gnome Thoughts ... 3 (Three Hats for Lisa) - the best film ever - well, sort of.

Gnome Thoughts ... 8 (Waterloo Sunset) - what it means to me and why Wordsworth may be involved. Oh, and Stanley Spencer.

Gnome Thoughts ... 11 (Well At Least Its British) - a long piece about Alan Klein's neglected 1964 solo album in the context of other comic songwriters. Links at the end to other Klein-related posts.

What? Oh, go on, then. As you've been good.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Reflections in a Golden Teardrop [note to self: think of better title later]

I started writing this blog one year ago tomorrow, which prompts a post-length period of reflection: is there anything I have learnt? Any wisdom to pass on to regular readers, other bloggers or those considering a blog?

Spoiler alert: No. Well, not really. Not much, anyway.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Breakfast Special aka We Are the Eggmen

Guided Missiles

As a postscript to recent entries linking rock'n'roll to the atomic age, here's a doo wop recording well known to me which is both a cash in and a fresh take on the subject.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Danny Dyer's Chocolate Homunculus

This clip from last night's episode of the UK sitcom Peep Show demands a wider audience. And it's music-related (after a fashion), thus qualifying for this blog. In later reviews of sitcoms over the decades the phrase "Danny Dyer's Chocolate Homunculus" will, I am sure, rank alongside Alan Partridge's "Monkey Tennis."

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 36

With the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon's death coming up, I'd like to share my memories of that time, even if this turns out to be an exercise exclusively of interest to me. Other options are available, such as the LENNONYC podcasts where those directly involved with Lennon are asked how they reacted.

Gnome Thoughts ... 35 (If John had stayed with Mimi)

This is a very simple, not to mention infantile, idea which could be catching, if any Beatle people are reading this. Hey, maybe it could even be a competition, with some kind of marvellous prize which I haven't yet bought - but it'll be great, believe me.

Anyway, the idea has certainly been floating around in the recesses of my mind for some time, demanding to be shared with others. So here goes.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 34 (The first rock'n'roll record?)

This series started as an exploration of David Bowie's early influences ("Gnome" as in The Laughing Gnome) but has drifted some way from its moorings: in recent posts about rock'n'roll's impact on fifties Britain, Bowie has been mentioned only in passing.

But then again - and do correct me if I'm wrong - the country's denizens in that decade did include one David Robert Jones, born in 1947. And according to wikipedia, as with Alan Charles Klein (b.1940) and so many others, Master Jones's musical epiphany occured in the magical year of 1956, even though he was only nine at the time:

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 33 (fifties radio comedy)

By way of an extended footnote to the previous post, more about repression in fifties Britain, this time through the prism of radio comedy, plus further evidence of intertwangularity between John Lennon and The Goon Show

But before the Goons, The Glums.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 32 (That Was Fifties Britain That Was)

You can find out more about the the Britain in which John Lennon, Alan Klein and so many others grew up in Humphrey Carpenter's book That Was Satire That WasIt's actually about the satire boom which began with Beyond the Fringe in 1960, but there's a prologue describing the decade which led to that moment of release.

Staid as fifties Britain may have been, Carpenter dates the impulse for social change back to the forties. The need for everyone to pull together during wartime temporarily created a "comparatively classless" society, he says, and the mantra of Other Ranks (ie the non-officer class) was that "things are going to be different after the war."

Sure enough, a Labour government was elected in 1945, despite outgoing prime minister Winston Churchill's warnings about incipient Communism. But when this led to an era of austerity - the country had been "virtually bankrupted" by the war - the electorate got cold feet, voted the Conservatives back into power in 1951, and British society reverted to its "pre-war heirarchichal norm."

So what eventually caused that structure to buckle?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 31 (The Man from Mendips)

Listened last night to another of the very highly recommended LENNONYC "Beyond Broadcast" podcasts discussed in post 29, this time an interview with Colin Hall, curator of John Lennon's restored childhood home, Mendips (above).

The Liverpool slant has meant that none of the material was ultimately useable in the forthcoming documentary, part of PBS's American Masters series, which focuses on Lennon's reinvention as a New Yorker and is due to air in the US on November 22nd.

But as Hall speaks so illuminatingly about the significance of rock'n'roll for British teenagers like John in the fifties it's perfect for this point in the Gnome Thoughts ... series, so I have taken the liberty of transcribing a section below with a few edits.

You can download the complete podcast, which also features an interview with Quarryman Colin Hanton, at the American Masters site here. Hall is the only interviewee so far not to have had any direct contact with Lennon, but he paints a vivid picture of the times, and seems to have been only slightly younger. Dedicated Beatle people will already know many of the details - American records brought into the port of Liverpool by US-infatuated merchant sailors dubbed "Cunard Yanks," for example - but when Hall describes the spectacle of a friend's brother stepping off the boat in all-American gear then it really comes alive.

If you have read recent entries in this blog about the 1950s charts you will find much that is reinforced or confirmed by the interview, especially the comments about the moribund state of British society in Dennis Potter's 1956-set Lipstick On Your Collar quoted in post 19. And it's good to see that he links The Goon Show to rock'n'roll, as at the end of post 22.

New visitors to this blog, or incurious regulars who haven't explored its inner recesses, may also be interested in an earlier blog entry about Nowhere Boy, here. It features quotes from UK reviews of the film, including that of Philip French, who praises its portrayal of a Britain still in the grip of postwar austerity.

The LENNONYC interviewer is Michael Epstein; his questions and comments are italicised throughout. He begins by asking Colin Hall about the initial response to rock'n'roll in Liverpool.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 30 (1959 charts and early Britrock)

Only one more volume of the Fabulous 50s to go, but if you're not so keen on the tracks which don't come straight from the fridge (like L7, Daddio, you dig?) maybe I could draw your attention to an inexpensive box set which focuses exclusively on British rock'n'roll from the initial 1956 explosion to the early sixties - and not a Ronnie Hilton or a David Whitfield in sight.

I bought it recently on a well known shopping website for 6.99 - the price has now gone up a bit but it's still very good value. If you have access to spotify, here is a link. Doublelick on the image below for a readable tracklisting:

In fact, if you are looking to buy just one cheapo box set which includes, in the sleevenote writer's words, "almost every area in British rock music's rise ... from Big Bands to the Beatles" then this may well be it.

Admittedly, not every single track on this 5 CD set of homegrown rock'n'roll will make the liver quiver, the knees freeze and the bladder splatter (Little Richard's infallible tripartite test for the real thing), but for the average listener - and especially at such a bargain price - this collection provides an excellent overview of the pre-Beatles British rock era, illuminating that time, from the mid fifties onwards, when the likes of Lionel Bart, penning ersatz rock'n'roll hits for the likes of Tommy Steele and Anthony Newley, started the ball rolling for the Fabs.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 29 (1958 charts, Humph & Big Joe, 50s Lennon)

Here's the tracklisting (including some youtube links) for the 1958 volume of the Fabulous 50s series, plus some brief notes made at the time of purchase:
We are now approaching the end of this series whose major benefit is that you get to see the sort of thing which was in the UK charts that year, not simply the mostly American items which have subsequently become classics.

So in addition to the international biggies on this edition which need no introduction there is also Lord Rockingham (a successful attempt by contemptuous British jazzers including Benny Green to cash in on the rock'n'roll craze, as it was then); Lonnie Donegan still riding high on the skiffle craze; a forgotten Tommy Steele track entitled Nairobi; the non-international Max Bygraves with Tulips from Amsterdam; "Elias and his Zigzag Jive Flutes" plus some early CLiff Richard from the days when he was (briefly) seen as the British Elvis - I think Schoolboy Crush was originally intended as the A side to Move It but the latter track's quality (one of the few British rock'n'roll tracks which would not have disgraced an American company) was unmissable.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 28 (Ringo forever?)

Talking of those darlings of the Cold War, a current British TV comedy show has a regular sketch based on a very simple premise: the Beatles are still together, still recording, didn't take drugs, are still with their first wives.

Oh, and didn't die.

It's funny but sort of heartbreaking too: they are now grey-haired moptops, jolly schoolboys bantering with each other as though they're still in Hard Day's Night (the writer gets the style just right), kept in order by a Norman Rossington figure. George Martin features as a strict but fair headmaster type.

It's heartbreaking because you know the ridiculousness and the impossibility of the situation and yet part of you wants it to be true, wants them to be restored at last to their cheeky, unreal selves.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 27 (The Atomic Mr Haley and others)

"C'mon, lads - let's reck not of the morrow!"

One thing I haven't yet addressed in this scamper through the 1950s UK charts is just why that general audience split into two irreconcilable halves mid-decade - in America as well as Britain.

I had assumed it was essentially economic, ie the targetting of a new group of people with disposable income, as typically summed up below:
In 1955 teenagers had economic power, often accompanied by a consumer frenzy to equal that of their parents. They created a new market, which from that time on was flooded with products made especially for their consumption [...] And, of course, records. The 45rpm single had just made its appearance, and the portable record player allowed teenagers to take over the world of sound. Until then, to play music they had been dependent on the good mood of their fathers, who were usually in charge of the cumbersome record player enthroned in the front room.
But an article by Jon Savage in today's Guardian traces the origins of the divide back to the first atomic bomb - and offers a related reason for the scale of the Beatles' success in Britain:

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 26 (Private Hopper, public Craddock)

Below is one of the few clips from Lipstick On Your Collar currently available on youtube, though I don't know how long for, so hurry.

It's a fantasy of Hopper's some time before the unfortunate business in the 2i's Coffee Bar: he has been briefly introduced to the one he thinks is The One, though they haven't yet talked or gone out together, let alone discussed The Seagull.

But that first fleeting encounter is enough for him to fashion her into a key worshipper at the shrine of Hopper-as-Craddock: "Maybe you should take a cold shower," as the girl's uncle, interrupting this ill-advised workplace reverie, suggests.

Gnome Thoughts ... 25 (1957 charts, Lipstick, Macca plays The Fool)

The main point of looking at those 1950s CDs was to see what was in the charts before rock'n'roll, but I'm going to reproduce the tracklistings and my brief prewritten notes for the last three volumes anyway. 

 This is the first volume to have a subtitle - "Over Easy" - which suggests there may be a companion volume reflecting the increasing popularity of rock'n'roll in the charts but I haven't come across it yet. Compare the 1956 volume which has at least four rock'n'roll classics; it didn't all stop the following year, y'know.

I do, however, note that among these big names of easy listening there are only about four I'd be surprised to find in the US charts at the same time; some earlier volumes have been more evenly balanced.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 24 (1956 charts, Hullensian overtaken)

As we cruise into the second half of the fifties in this series rock'n'roll is really kicking in, though big ballads and old-fashioned razamatazz can still be found in this representative cross section of what the British public were being subjected to over the airwaves. Rock With the Caveman, an early and not wholly convincing British attempt to rock, was written by Lionel Bart. Ronnie Hilton's No Other Love is the old guard, still in good voice.
Interesting footnote: Anne Shelton's corny but cheerful Lay Down Your Arms, which features at the end of Lipstick On Your Collar, was engineered by ... Joe Meek, producer extraordinaire: the future was just around the corner. And note this volume ends with Heartbreak Hotel, which was to change the lives of the young Lennon and McCartney.

Gnome Thoughts ... 23 (1955 charts)

As this compilation series heads for the mid-fifties there are one or two portents of what is to come: the Sinatras and the Mario Lanzas may still be present and correct, but the last two tracks are Pat Boone doing Ain't That a Shame and - even more worrying - Bill Haley's recording of Rock Around the Clock, the number which caused cinema seats in the UK to be ripped up when it featured on the soundtrack of The Blackboard Jungle (Glenn Ford as a do-gooding teacher, although he actually listens to jazz in the film; the song was stuck on as an afterthought).

Rock'n'Roll split listeners: no longer would kids listen to the same stuff as their parents. Yes folks, the "pop filth" rot starts here, this year, even if the majority of the tracks on this compilation are still geared towards wholesome family listening.

Haley was soon to have his own comeuppance: when he toured Britain and people saw a podgy middle-aged man with a kiss-curl, his appeal waned and Elvis Presley quickly took his place, inconwise, and in later years he went slightly bonkers and paranoid, according to Ian Whitcomb, but this moment was his. Pat Boone covered Fats Domino and Little Richard, trying to sanitise their raunchy records but such was the power of the originals that gambit couldn't last too long. Little Richard said the kids might have had Boone records in open view but his, Richard's, recordings would be under the bed.

Gnome Thoughts ... 22 (1954 charts, Goon Rock)

As 1955 approaches this world is not set to last much longer. Johnny Ray, the final artist on this compilation, is not rock'n'roll, exactly, but the OTT delivery is taking us away from that world of politeness and kids listening to the same records as their parents. Beware the 1955 volume ...

Gnome Thoughts ... 21 (1950-53 UK charts, Hoagland concedes)

Having talked in recent posts about the sickly nature of the pre-rock'n'roll British charts, now seems a good point for a quick look at some typical fare.

The Fabulous 50s is a CD series on the Xtra label, an offshoot of the ultra-cheapo Delta Music. I bought the first few volumes for work purposes because they were there - specifically, going cheap in the Bond Street branch of HMV - then my male need for completion forced me to buy later volumes as the UK's public domain laws permitted each subsequent issue.

Gnome Thoughts ... 20 (Stop Dreamin' at Guildford)

 I have just seen Stop Dreamin' at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, where it's running till 6th November.

Sad to report that it didn't really work for me - though I did hear audience members say otherwise, both during the interval and at the end.

In fairness to Ray Cooney, he has dropped a character since a tryout in Windsor (Royce Mills, the imaginary "Mr Music" who only the dad could hear) so there must have been a lot of frantic rewriting, and perhaps all it needs is more time to develop.

But on the basis of what I saw last night, despite the verve of the performances and the effective use of some of the Chas and Dave songs, it seemed less than the sum of its parts, and I'm afraid that was down to the book - in other words, the Cooney end of things.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 19 (Reasons to be Cheerful, Lipstick on Your Collar, Joe Brown)

Further musical connections, presented in more fragmentary a form than usual; an explanation will be furnished for the above image in due course.

Engaged in the happy task of buying books for work for work on Thursday, I chanced upon a tome entitled Desert Island Lists. Yup, it did what it said on the tin: several decades' worth of the choices made by Plomley's guests.

On the offchance, I skimmed the index for Alan Klein: nope.

But Lionel Bart was there, and one of his choices was ... Peter Seller's Lonnie Donegan-style rendition of Any Old Iron.

Did that collision of things American and English - skiffle and music hall - help inspire Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be? Listening to it again (post 15, here), it rocks, however comical the intent. Which brings to mind Dave Marsh's summary of the Diamonds' cover of Little Darling (quoted way back in the Doowop Dialog[ue] here): a recording "as exciting as it is insincere."

On Friday I saw Reasons to Be Cheerful (above), a new musical featuring the songs of Ian Dury, at Theatre Royal, Stratford East - yes, the very same stage where the Fings ... mob and Alan Klein's characters in What a Crazy World first strutted their stuff. I'm not going to give a detailed review of it here except to say that it was a joyous occasion: the theatre is the right size to make musicals seem intimate, not overpowering.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 18 (Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks programme)

Have just listened to, and thoroughly recommend, "Right", Said Ted and Myles, which can be heard until October 26th on BBC Radio 7 by going to the page here, where you can even find a link to my earlier entry about the pair (it seems I constitute the "buzz").

The programme, presented by Philp Glassborow, was first broadcast in 2004 and appears to be drawn from a single interview in which Myles Rudge (lyrics), Ted Dicks (music) and Bernard Cribbins were all present, plus some additional contributions from George Martin.

But this is not going to be a review so much as a noting of points in the programme which have a bearing on this series of posts: in other words, how do these songs fit alongside those of Alan Klein and others of that era?

Monday, 18 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 17 (more songs by JP Long)

Further investigation into JP Long takes us back to Stratford East as, along with M. Scott, he wrote Oh It's a Lovely War, the 1917 music hall song which helped inspire the Theatre Workshop musical.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 16 (JP Long and My Old Man's a Dustman)

Have just found JP Long's lyrics for the original version of My Old Man's A Dustman, actually entitled What D'Yer Think of That?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 15 (Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks alert)

This is to alert readers that a programme about the writers of Bernard Cribbins' comedy songs, Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks, is going to be broadcast on BBC Radio 7 on Tuesday 19th October at 2.30pm if you're in the UK. And even if you're not, Radio 7 has a Listen Again facility for one week.

Don't bother clicking (or, armed with this new knowledge, refrain from further clicking of) the above image, which is a screengrab. Instead, go to the relevant BBC 7 page here, where it should be available on the BBC iplayer soon after the broadcast.

I'll be very interested to hear the programme, as I don't know much about the writers (Rudge is on the right, above), although I do remember reading Noel Coward praising one of the Cribbins hits on Desert Island Discs.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 14 (Alan Klein: corrections & clarifications)

Consider this post a Guardian-style Corrections and Clarifications column for earlier entries, as this is the first opportunity I've had to read the sleevenotes for the Well At Least Its British and New Vaudeville Band CDs.

Most of the information below, including direct quotations from Alan Klein, comes from these sources; Kieron Tyler and Mark Frumento are the respective writers.

First of all, the friend with whom Klein toured Europe before turning professional wasn't necessarily George Bellamy (above): Klein formed his "country and western duo" with Bellamy after the season at Butlins where the Tornado-in-waiting had been the guitarist with the Al Kline Five, though I suppose they could have been friends before that. And I note the pair played folk as well as country - which helps to explain the range of styles on Well At Least Its British:
Success seemed assured: appearances on the BBC's Saturday Club and billings with Alma Cogan and David Whitfield meant George and Alan [as the duo were called] were on their way.
But Klein eventually "had enough of interpreting the transatlantic sound and split from George," so it would seem that What a Crazy World was the result of his disenchantment with playing rock'n'roll at Butlins and country music with George Bellamy- plus a hefty dose of irritation with the charts:

Everything was so Americanised. All the hit records were covers of American songs.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Gnome Thoughts ... 13 (Alan Klein interview)

More information about Alan Klein, thanks to Spencer Leigh, author of Halfway to Paradise, who very kindly sent me a 2008 interview from his On the Beat show on Radio Merseyside. 

This post also makes reference to sleevenotes by Kieron Tyler and a 1962 press release I assume was written by Ken Pitt, Klein's publicist (not manager, as I thought) at the time, but Spencer's interview is the backbone of this piece so I'm indebted to him for allowing me to transcribe it here.

According to wikipedia, Alan Charles Klein was born in Clerkenwell, London, on 29th June 1940. Ken Pitt (if it is he) takes up the story:
After leaving Grammar School, and being interested in Commercial Art, he studied at St Martin's School of Art. He bought a ukele, learned to play, and started composing. His father then bought him a guitar, and Alan worked hard at it, playing in pubs, clubs and anywhere they would let him.

Spencer Leigh (italicised in bold throughout) begins his interview with Alan Klein by asking:
Rock'n'roll came along in 1956, so is that what turned you on?