21 March 2020

When the Eyes of the World Were on the Clyde (radio documentary about Upper Clyde Shipbuilders)

Those who have read an earlier post about Donovan's 1972 concert to raise funds for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders may be interested in a radio documentary which fills in more of the background to that event.

Entitled When the Eyes of the World Were on the Clyde, the programme was originally broadcast in 2011, not long after the death of Jimmy Reid, one of the prime movers in the story. He was the shop steward who, before the "work-in", famously said:
There will be no hooliganism. There will be no vandalism. There will be no bevvying ... because the world is watching us.
It was repeated today on BBC Radio 4 Extra, and as far as I can tell will remain available, for UK and US listeners alike, for at least a month - very possibly longer.

I provided some basic details in that earlier piece, drawing on a memoir by Jimmy Reid kindly provided by Doug Holton, but the opportunity to hear the voices of those directly involved in the struggle for survival, the rawness of their emotion and anger, undoubtedly gives the tale a far greater immediacy.

Some all-too-human details emerge during the programme. The story about John and Yoko donating a bouquet of roses along with financial support is corroborated - the sum is £1000 in this telling - although there is no word either way on whether the Lennons really attended the show in body. I've been listening to some old Lennon interviews which suggest he and Yoko gave financial support to any number of causes in those times, though the personal connection with Donovan means that his presence at Green's Playhouse that day can't be ruled out - unless a chronicler of Lennon's solo years with a Lewisohn-like tenacity can account for his movements on the afternoon of the 30th of April. (If you are out there, please get in touch.)

But that's just setting the scene. The detail which leapt out for me is that the ex-Beatle's flowers were not kept by UCS but given away to a local hospital. A lovely touch, you might think, but no: the female staff just couldn't agree among themselves about who was going to keep them.


Donovan has been on my mind over the past few weeks for reasons unconnected to the above. He was due to play a concert at London's Cadogan Hall in April, and despite the my reservations when seeing him perform in recent years, chronicled elsewhere in this blog, I went ahead and bought tickets, wanting to see him at least one last time - especially as it is approaching half a century since the Sunday afternoon of that UCS gig, my first ever rock performance - just as Donovan's early album Fairytale was the first LP I ever bought.

I kept revisiting the Cadogan website: concert after concert at the hall was officially cancelled but Donovan's show seemed to be hanging on, almost as though he still believed that asking the audience to clap their hands would be enough to make it stop raining. But it was eventually postponed for six months - and we can only hope that it will indeed happen then.

But in time-honoured news announcer fashion let's end on a happier note (UK readers of a certain age, please to picture the rictus grin of Alastair Burnet as he prepares to dangle the latest Royal titbit).

Those who have read some of the other Donovan posts (there are quite a few of them) may remember that after the disappointment of buying a lo-fi tape of the UCS concert - not to mention the experience of being berated by the bootlegger when I dared to complain - I cut out the middleman and made my own illicit cassette recording of a later Dono-gig at the same venue, by then renamed the Apollo.

In all probability the quality wasn't that much better than the shoddy souvenir of 1972 - but it was mine, and listening to the concert  in my darkened bedroom through the warmth of a valve amplifier my memory was just about able to fill in the gaps.

And then, at some unspecified point, that precious cassette ... just ... disappeared.

(Actually, my father probably threw it out along with other items unwisely left behind in the family home, but that's not such a good story.)

What? No, I didn't suddenly unearth the tape yesterday, sounding an unlikely note of hope amidst the uncertainty which now faces us all, but - well, the next best thing, I suppose.

I found, on the Sugarmegs website, a fairly well recorded  gig from around the same time, and recognised roughly the same order of songs, beginning with Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, and going through quite a lot of the Essence to Essence album, only far more appealing in barebones form. He steadily plays quite a lot of new or newish material before making with the hits and it's a strong, assured performance.

My only regret is that no performance of There Is A Mountain has ever matched the one committed to my little cassette recorder that evening at the Apollo. In addition to the different stresses I have heard on various live renditions - "lock  upon my garden gate's a snail" - he bursts into scatting. I have a feeling that this was earlier in the show than the one available online - possibly he felt he had to seize his home audience more firmly - and I've never heard it the same way since. "Nought happens twice thus", as Ramblin' Tom Hardy so rightly said.


Since writing the above yesterday, I  have been idly searching for more Dono-stuff on youtube and discovered tracks from a tribute album to Harry Belafonte in, I think, 2019, therefore representing Donovan's voice pretty much as it is now.

Listening is an odd experience: strain is often apparent, but there is still something moving in the experience. Donovan has been part of my life for so long, and whatever the joshing in some of the pieces listed below he always will be.

Here's his take on Scarlet Ribbons. I've chosen it partly because it's less demanding vocally than some of the other selections but also because it describes a moment of simple magic. Or idiotic, irrational hope, if you will. You remember idiotic, irrational hope, dontcha?

When the Eyes of the World Were on the Clyde can be found here.

Other posts about Donovan - best read in chronological order:

The TRUE story of how I fell out of love with Donovan


Donovanagain - again

Donalert aka Belated For-Albert-Hall Plea

Donalert Part Two: A Sign

Donovan: why I'm not going tonight. Probably.

Donovan Albert Hall reviews or How Do You Like Them Gold Apples?

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

He just went grey all of a sudden ...

12 March 2020

Grimful Glee Club (radio play about Thomas Hardy)

I have just heard Adam Thorpe's 2003 radio play Nought Happens Thus Twice, about Thomas Hardy's second marriage, to Florence Dugdale.

1 February 2020

Happy Birthday Spencer Leigh

A couple of weeks ago, during an interview with Joe Brown, Spencer Leigh let slip that he would be 75 on the first of February, the date of Brown's gig at the Liverpool Phil - which Spencer will, of course, be attending.

15 January 2020

The Flamingos: A Complete History of the Doo-Wop Legends by Todd Baptista

The Flamingos are one of the greatest, and most enduring, doo wop groups of them all, so it's a pleasure to report that Todd Baptista's biography, the first full-length study of the group, doesn't disappoint: this is a meticulously researched and very well organised account of their fortunes and changing personnel. The Flamingos' many permutations may not quite be in the Drifters' league but I can't have been the only one who found them confusing before Mr Baptista laid them out in these pages with such admirable clarity.

I confess to having been a little apprehensive when first picking up the book. With all the original members now dead, might the story turn out to be weighted in favour of Terry Johnson, the musical force behind what one might call the Mark II group? Encouraged by George Goldner, he helped steer them in more of a pop direction during their time on Goldner's End Records, leading to the huge crossover success of I Only Have Eyes For You ... but that was six years after Golden Teardrops, regarded by many as the greatest doo wop record of all, had been recorded for Chance Records in Chicago some time before Johnson joined.

11 January 2020

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs (new book and podcast)

This is to draw readers' attention to Andrew Hickey's podcast A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs and the accompanying book which covers his first fifty choices. 

New podcasts are coming out at the rate of one a week, and although he has not chosen all the songs yet Mr Hickey plans to take the story up to 1999. That's a decade or three outside my area of keenest interest but on the basis of the podcasts released so far - 64 to date in roughly chronological order, with Reet Petite the most recent - this ambitious endeavour can be recommended as a painless way of learning a great deal in the shortest possible space of time about the history and development of R&B and rock'n'roll. Mr Hickey has read the right books - and I'm pleased to note he gives Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks website the credit it so richly deserves - but, crucially, he does not assume any pre-existing knowledge on his listeners' part: you can start here if you know nothing about the history of this music.

5 January 2020

Interview with Henri Harrison (former member of the New Vaudeville Band)

[videocap from jazzandjazz]

A few months ago I made my way to the village of Lemsford, in Hertfordshire, to meet Henri Harrison, former drummer of the New Vaudeville Band, and see his current group, Henri's Hotshots, in action at Lemsford Jazz Club.

I particularly wanted to find out more about Alan Klein's time with the New Vaudeville Band, especially as Mark Blake's recent biography of their manager Peter Grant doesn't have much to say on the subject. But the ways in which performers adapt and survive when fame has ebbed away is an abiding fascination, so I was also looking forward to the opportunity of hearing the band's story from the one man who had been there from soup to nuts. Henri played on the recording of Winchester Cathedral alongside other session men when "The New Vaudeville Band" was just a thing in songwriter Geoff Stephens' dream, and was still behind the drumkit of the flesh-and-blood group, by then long mutated into a cabaret act, when they finally called it a day some twenty years later.

30 December 2019

Early Wiggle

Just before Christmas I visited a friend in Scotland who is also a doo wop and rock'n'roll fan. I brought a magazine with me which had an article about some new Carl Perkins finds - four roughly recorded sides predating his time on Sun - so was delighted to learn he already had the 10 inch Bear Family album (above) which contained these, along with some Sun alternate takes already issued on CD.

28 December 2019

14 Karat Soul one more time

Does anyone else actually know or remember this group? Sometimes it seems they were only a thing in my dream: an unattainable vision (and sound) of doo wop perfection, never seen by waking eyes or heard with unclogged ears (I'll explain later).

And yet there they are on youtube; CDs can be bought; they're mentioned in Jay Warner's Billboard book of vocal groups and there's still an official website online - even though to all intents and purposes they called it a day in 2003.

14 Karat Soul were undoubtedly an accomplished act, slaying live audiences time after time, as I can testify, yet they never made it big in America or the UK, only attaining the scale of recognition they deserved in Japan. And that's why I want to do my bit to commemorate a group who deserve to be revered all round the world.

27 December 2019

John Shuttleworth podcast and tour

This is to draw the reader's attention to Richard Herring's recent podcast featuring Graham Fellows, otherwise hapless middle-aged musician and songwriter John Shuttleworth (above). It can be downloaded here.

The interview is leisurely, and fairly frank as well as funny, perhaps helped by the fact that Herring once gave Fellows a fiver in the nineties when the latter was having no joy at a cash machine. (Herring framed the cheque he received in return, making his act of kindness doubly kind.) But it's clear, as the conversation progresses, that they do have a certain amount in common, that act of charity aside: both have forged unusual paths in the business of comedy after an initial bout of fame.

13 December 2019

Teardrops of Burnished Gold

By way of commemorating ten (count 'em!) years of this blog I've uploaded the rare 1961 Vee-Jay release of the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops to youtube, as it doesn't seem to be available there or on spotify or anywhere else. You can find any number of transfers of the original 1953 Chance recording in variable sound quality - as well as a spurious "echo version" which would have turned Bill Putnam's stomach - but not the Vee-Jay pressing, which features an overdubbed guitar. Readers who have explored the earliest posts here will know how significant that recording was to me.

30 November 2019

New biography of Ken Dodd by Louis Barfe

A new biography of Ken Dodd, the first to be published since his death, has just come out, and it's a good 'un: streets, if not whole counties, ahead of the book by Steven Griffin published in Dodd's lifetime, cheekily entitled Ken Dodd: the Biography.

24 August 2019

New book about the Flamingos! (No, really this time ...)

I am delighted to share the news that there is finally to be a book-length study of that enduring doo wop group the Flamingos - and for sceptical readers calling to mind a similarly-titled post from a few months ago I swear that the above image is the real thing this time.

2 August 2019

Born Again Cockney: an interview with Pete West

A while ago I was contacted by Pete West, who played lead guitar in Alan Klein's group the Al Kline Five. Pete was in the lineup which auditioned for Butlins Skegness in 1960 although in the end he and another group member decided not to go. I recently spent the day with Pete and his wife Dierdre on the Isle of Wight to find out more: not just about his time with Alan but the larger story of how he got involved with music - and how, after a gap of many years, he eventually returned to it.

14 July 2019

Ridin' But Walkin'

Remember those far-off days when music was either good or bad? Well, here's a track which undoubtedly falls into the "good" category. I first came across it on a Jack Teagarden compilation (above) in my local library, and ever since then have assumed - without actually bothering to investigate to any great degree - that any RCA LP in their "vintage" series with the distinctive winerack cover must perforce contain any number of equivalent goodies.

13 July 2019

14 Karat Soul in 1980

Have just noticed that some videos of 14 Karat  Soul have been uploaded to youtube recently. I have written at length about the group here and elsewhere: seeing them in the mid-eighties at a week-long residency at Glasgow's Mitchell Theatre remains one of the most thrilling concert experiences I have ever had and I curse myself for not making a surreptitious recording during one of the several nights I attended. Whether there exists a high quality recording of their live act I know not; but there are odd bits and pieces on youtube: a BBC radio session here, a Channel 4 appearance there, and so on.

7 July 2019

G-Clefs biography

It has to be said at the outset that this is not, in the technical sense, a well written book: there are  grammatical errors and infelicities which meaning you occasionally have to rewrite a sentence in your head to make sense of it - and don't get me started on the apostrophes. Was there really no one to cast an incisive eye over musician Mike Devlin's MS before it was shared with the world?

30 June 2019

Antidote to Life's weary chase now available on youtube

I note with pleasure that Joe Venuti's recording of Tea for Two has finally made it to youtube - which is all the excuse I need to revisit an earlier piece about it - and embed the audio below, so that those immune to the lure of streaming services may also savour of its joys.

New book about cult 90s UK sitcom Nightingales

I don't often review books on this blog but this was placed into my hands by its author and it's an astonishing piece of work ... well, maybe not that, precisely, but it's certainly rather surprising, to say the least.

2 June 2019

It was 52 years ago yesterday ...

Yesterday marked the 52nd anniversary of the release of David Bowie's first LP - which is surely excuse enough to alert new readers of this blog to my "Gnome Thoughts ..." series about David Bowie's early musical influences.

12 May 2019

Peter Mullan's Orphans and related documentary on BBC iplayer

 For UK readers, Peter Mullan's film Orphans, and an accompanying documentary reuniting the cast, will be available on BBC iplayer, or whatever it's cried these days, for the next four weeks; search for BBC Scotland.

Seeing it on the big screen at the time of its release was, for me, a cathartic moment, and this is what I wrote about it afterwards:

5 May 2019

Its (rhythmic) wails were as of Jaspar, or Why I got a kick out of Sanky

I bought it on a Saturday in 1975 or 1976 at a jumble sale or record fair - or some compromise between the two - held in the McLellan Galleries in Glasgow. Neither side of my purchase, an obscure 78, proved to be a masterpiece, but I would dearly love to hear them again. Which is unlikely, because there is almost no trace of this record online.

4 May 2019

It ain't no sweet thing, the toll of the bell ...

Well, this is unexpected - gobsmacking, even.

You may recall that some time ago, in the Gnome Thoughts series about David Bowie's early influences, I briefly alighted on the Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks song Toll the Bell For Minnie Dyer, recorded by Kenneth Williams on the album For Pleasure Bent with an arrangement by Baz Booth.

The song can be heard on Mr Booth's own website but tonight I searched youtube to see whether a higher-fi version might have been uploaded there. The answer is no - at least, not as recorded by Kenneth Williams.

27 April 2019

New book about the Flamingos?

Well, actually ... no. But in my defence there is no mischievous intent in the above mock-up. I simply want to alert new readers to this blog's song-by-song survey of the Flamingos' recordings for their first two record labels, Chance and Parrot, several years before they cut I Only Have Eyes For You.

14 April 2019

Music for Pleasure: Holding My Own (Peter Skellern)

A memory which lingers, rather pointlessly, from schooldays is of the moment an elderly invigilator was presented with a cup of tea while we were toiling over an exam. "For me - not for you," he announced - which was a) distracting and b) not very funny, even though it had probably been c) conceived as a friendly sort of thing to say to a group of nervous scribblers rather than d) an attempt to gloat about the pettty privilege thus afforded him.

2 April 2019

Radio play about Tony Hancock on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 3rd April

The radio play Hancock's Ashes, a neatly executed and witty piece about bringing the great comedian's remains back home from Australia, is about to be repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra. If you are unaware of it, it's well worth catching. Here's what I wrote after its original broadcast in 2014:

25 March 2019

A distant signal

The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore, as recorded by the Walker Brothers, is one of those rare non-Beatles songs remembered from childhood before I became any kind of conscious music fan (the Beatles, part of a fraternal bond, were obligatory). But even when I started buying records, for a long time I didn't have - didn't want - a copy of it in any form, fearful of holding the experience up to the light. This went beyond stereo/mono snobbery or any notion of good taste or coolness: for me the magic was in the memory of the warmth and fuzziness of first hearing it on a medium wave radio in another room in another house.

23 March 2019

Andy steals doo wop Lou digs?

Not sure whether the above is an actual release or merely a figment of someone's imagination but this is such a good, and obvious, idea it ought to be summoned into existence forthwith: a compilation of doo wop records favoured by Lou Reed and Frank Zappa.

20 March 2019

Return to the sauce

I first read Joe Brown's autobiography Brown Sauce, ghostwritten by Graeme Wright, in the late eighties, and enjoyed it very much. A few days ago I found myself devouring the contents with even greater pleasure, which is not always a given with such books.

17 March 2019

Top Five Doo Wop Songs

I recently joined a music forum which asked its readers to name their five favourite doo wop records - an impossible task, but fun to try. I reminded myself of the five titles I had nominated many years ago on the messageboard of the long-gone Yahoo group Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop and substituted a few others - although frankly I'd be equally happy with the original list, and my selection could change again tomorrow.

16 March 2019

New David Bowie musical

I was surprised - no, make that gobsmacked - to learn that there are plans to fashion a stage musical out of David Bowie's Deram era songs. While I'm very fond of many of these whimsical or bizarre numbers and would be delighted to be proven wrong, I can't help thinking that the idea is destined to fail: Sister Josephine Kicks the Habit all over again.