Tuesday, 21 May 2013

14 Karat Soul as they should be heard

 Wow! Some kind person has uploaded a session 14 Karat Soul did for Radio 1 in the early 80s to youtube and it sounds the closest yet to my memory of seeing them around that time, much better than the studio recordings available.

I remember hearing 16 Candles on the radio in the evening before going out to see the group at their week long residency/tryout/whatever at the then new Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow. So many great songs I heard over the nights I attended are not included here but it is wonderful to hear a fuller, rougher, more "alive" sound which may give an idea to those who never heard the group during this period just how good they were. Not an elderly group straining to recapture past glories: all young, and the energy is palpable. I've written about them, and that Mitchell Theatre gig, in more detail in an earlier post. Below is an extract:

That week at the Mitchell Theatre is how I remember them. Aspects of the act changed from night to night, suggesting that it may have been a tryout base, although these were fairly minor. Essentially, they were good to go from the first night - and the first number - onwards.

I'm now going to try to remember as many of the songs featured in that week as I can. Quite a number are available on CD, although I cannot stress enough what a long way those antiseptic studio recordings are from hearing (and seeing) five figures with nowhere to hide blasting out at you. I think this is what draws me to acapella doo wop, and acapella in general: the knowledge that you're watching a balancing act, and if there is one weak link in the troupe they will all topple. You're seeing something vulnerable and human.

At around the same time, a lecturer at Glasgow University was trying to explain the twentieth century to us - a good trick in precisely fifty five minutes. His main point was that in previous centuries people were in touch with the objects which surrounded them - eg a door handle would have been carved out of wood, and you could visualise how it was made: by a man, as you were a man. You could have made it. (Unless you were a woman, of course, but that was a whole 'nother lecture.)

Come the twentieth century, however, the advent of mass production and the development of new, artificial materials meant people were surrounded by objects which they didn't really understand and so they lost a secure sense of their place in the world which led to social alienation and lots of depressing - I mean, challenging - literature.

The tutor probably put it better (it was over twenty five years ago) but when I see an acapella group onstage, vulnerable in way that no overamplified rock band can be, all I know is that I feel in touch with something fundamental. There's sense of intimacy involved: the directness of the human voice, rather than a lump of metal in front of the face, to provide the music; the self-exposure and risk in the sharing of that voice, in offering it to others for judgement. Then the magical-seeming, yet utterly human, way in which a group of people can temporarily subdue their egos to create a single entity. To go back to the image of the balancing act: when nobody falls - when, in fact, they all seem to soar - then that is a joyous moment which affirms your faith in humanity. And as the listener, you feel like an intimate part of that group.

[...]  Fast forward a few years and I'm living in London, going to see 14 Karat Soul at the Fridge in Brixton. I'm near the front of the stage, immersed in the performance, when I find I'm one of the people called up to add a few extra dum dums to Come Go With Me.

This is a task into which I throw myself with relish - only at some point one of the singers, grinning, makes a gesture. He slashes his throat with his index finger, which I know now almost certainly means "Shut the *&%! up as you cannot carry a tune in a bucket," but I thought then, and even now would like to present as a remote possibility, that it meant he envied my vocal command, joshingly indicating that he wished my prowess could be curtailed so as not to expose his own limitations quite so cruelly when he next stepped up to the mike.

But I admit it's a bit of a long shot.

You can read the rest, plus some links to other posts, here

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