Down At The Sombrero Club (Jamaican Soul)

The James Bond theme tunes are still a big deal. It is only a couple of weeks ago that Adele picked up an Oscar for “Skyfall”, the latest in a series which ,I must admit, I kind of gave up on when Sean Connery quit. The very first Bond movie “Dr No” (1962) is the only one of the films to have 2 opening themes. The well known John Barry composition is there & alongside it is “Kingston Calypso”, a tune by the premier big band in Jamaica, Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. As a better British actor than those who have played 007 would say, “Not many people know that” !

Byron Lee & the Dragonaires were a very adaptable & professional unit. They gigged in Kingston’s tourist hotels & backed the US stars who visited the island. Jazzers who turned their hands to calypso, rock & roll, R&B,whatever style was required. When Ska became popular they were on that too. In 1964 the island’s head of Social Welfare & Economic Development Edward Seaga organised a showcase of Jamaican music to perform at the New York World’s Fair. Seaga, a future Prime Minister who had sold his record label to Lee, chose the Dragonaires as the backing band. Incredibly, this is how that show looked & sounded.

Oh Yes ! The Blues Busters, “the Jamaican Sam & Dave”, who hit big 2 years earlier with the Lee produced “Behold”, a startling slab of ska-soul. I only discovered these boys a couple of years ago & I love their stuff. The sound of a penny dropping as the influence of US vocal styles would obviously be around. I just had not heard such a raw sound in ska before. Out of my way, I need to be near the front for this ! The ‘Busters, Philip James & Lloyd Campbell, will lift you at any time. “I Don’t Know” is just one of a set of great singles which switched easily between ska & soul. The 26 track Trojan anthology includes the 1967 sessions in Muscle Shoals when they tried to make it in the US.

And what about this clip? The Sombrero Club in Kingston, 1964 is buzzing, the clothes are sharp & the dancing is just the ticket. The nearest I ever got to this was nights down Gaz’s Rocking Blues in Wardour St. Off to the time machine. Set the controls for the heart of the ska !

The emerging Jamaican recording scene intrigued a young man who had spent his childhood on the island & in the UK. Chris Blackwell was involved in the production of “Dr No” but turned down an opportunity in the film business to concentrate on music. In 1962 he transferred his label to the UK intending to sell to the niche market of West Indian immigrants. He took with him his discovery, a young talented singer/songwriter, Jackie Edwards who helped out around the fledgling Island label. In 1964 Blackwell produced an international hit with the teenage singer Millie Small. “My Boy Lollipop”. This financed an expansion of Island & he signed Birmingham R&B band the Spencer Davis Group. 4 singles were released with minor success before the breakthrough with 2 successive #1 records in the UK in 1966. These hits were not  soul-blues re-makes but new, upbeat pop songs written by Jackie Edwards.

“Come On Home” is from a 1965 LP  & is as sweet as. Maybe the strings are too sweet but Jackie was writing such good tunes at this time & this is Jamaican soul at its best. Jackie was always sweet anyway. His militant 1976 tune “Get Up”, the inspiration for the Clash’s “Revolution Rock”, is cool & honeyed despite the angry lyrics. His own version of “Keep On Running”, that first hit for Spencer Davis, is a stomping floor filler. Jackie continued to record, leaving Island in the late 60s, Chris Blackwell made his label into the world’s leading independent record company. He did more to popularize reggae music than any other individual. Jackie Edwards played his part in establishing Island as more than just a vehicle for the obscure records of the Caribbean & American R&B.

Back to the Sombrero Club for more of that 1964 showcase. The best of Jamaican music had gone to the World’s Fair. Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster & Millie “lollipop” Small among them. Apparently there was a little friction between the “uptown” Dragonaires & the new, less sophisticated singers. The cabaret calypso confections were now a colonial curio. This newly independent country was confident & was finding its own voice. Here, out of Coxone’s Studio One are Raleigh, Jerry & Toots, the Maytals. Jamaica’s star vocal trio. I love the trio tradition in Jamaican music, the Wailers, Culture, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru (& Wailing Souls, Heptones, Mighty Diamonds, it’s a fine list).

After winning the first ever Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Contest the Maytals carried the swing through the decade. They did not add the “Toots &” until 1971. To see as well as hear the teenage Toots perform is such a treat. With the boys gathered around one microphone there is less of the showmanship of his later shows. There does not have to be because his husky, gospel-tinged voice is just beautiful. I have written about Toots before here. It was 1976 before Toots sang “Reggae Got Soul”, those of us who had heard his records knew that thing already. Here is “Sweet & Dandy” again just because it will make you happy.

Well, there is no time machine so I’m grateful that I am able to see these great performances, this music that went from ska to rock steady to reggae &  always had true emotion, honesty & soul. One Love !

Advertisements

There’s A Guest In My House (Papir)

loosehandlebars is pleased to welcome a friend into the fold & gives a warm hand to the entrance (oo-er !) of Fergal Corscadden, the guitarist off of the Gatefolds. Our management & shareholders would like to state that the views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author but will be passed off as their own the next time the conversation turns to Danish music. OK, after the jump the next voice you hear will be Fergal’s mellifluous Derry timbre.

Papir (Danish 3-piece psyche/space/avant-garde/whatever really – rock band) are all about nailing their sound into your head with guitar angels on a mission to steer you away from your worst fate ever (if you believe in that shit – I don’t) – on your day off – downtown, like (drug analogy 1) coming up on heavy Hallucinogens or (drug mention 1) other drugs [enter text here] – not too fast – but they do love to climb – and then, they mad-rush you (drug analogy 2) [obviously] until you reach a ‘high’ – and then the come down… –… a spectral guitar chamber packed with bass and drum harmonies that somehow slip you the on switch and you’re obliged to go into horizontal positioning with or without syncopated head nodding [well definitely the nodding in my case – and then you settle down] – an experience, to be fair, for me anyway in all great bands/acts is magically the guitar with drums and bass – individually, sonically, layering melody as well – and for Papir providing the 2nd and 3rd or is it 1st and 2nd lung to a perfectly formed being = a listening pleasure…but you gotta want to be there in the first place…live!

The Gatefolds are playing their 2nd gig on the 29th of March when they support the Bonnevilles at “The Long Good Friday” at Sandinos in Derry. Their Facebook page has the details as well as some fine musical selections. “In Review” is another track from the 4 track EP/LP “Hullabaloo” which you can download, share or just help to spread the word.

OK, I hope that Fergal will be returning to these parts because that Papir track is some good stuff. Here is a shorter live jam by the band so that we can see just how it is done.

 
 
 

We’ll Make ‘Em Turn Their Heads Every Place We Go (Ronnie Spector)

Those Amy Rigby songs on “A Working Museum”, the new LP by her &  husband Wreckless Eric are pretty, pretty good. I always look favourably upon any woman from the relatively recently civilized parts of our planet who combines the perspicacity & the luck to marry a British man anyway. There are 6 solo LPs by Ms Rigby, that’s a lot of music to investigate. I am, though, the man for the job & in no time at all I was listening to & loving this cover version of this song of hers.

Ronnie Spector…2 words guaranteed to increase the heart rate of men of a certain age. When, in 1963, as lead singer of the Ronettes, she sang “Be My Baby” the queue that formed was a long but far from orderly one. The girl groups of the 1960s made some great & enduring pop music. The Ronettes were royalty & Ronnie  the Queen. Their sound has inspired & influenced across the rock & roll generations, from Brian Wilson to Amy Winehouse. “All I Want” is on the 2006 LP “Last of the Rock Stars”. On that record the Raveonettes “Ode to L.A.” is a cool Scandinavian homage improves when Ronnie enters for the 2nd verse & steals it. Composers & contributors to the LP include Keef, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Raconteurs, Johnny Thunders & some Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

This was a repeat of earlier LPs. You want to work with Ronnie Spector ? Another long queue, don’t trip over Springsteen & a Beatle !

Ronnie’s marriage to Phil Spector meant, among other things, a withdrawal from music. In 1971 a 45 was released on Apple. “Try Some Buy Some” uses the same backing track Spector produced for George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”. It may be projection on my part but the vocal lacks the predication of the early hits. The obsessive control freakery of her husband may have worked studio divination but it had an adverse effect on people.

“Say Goodbye To Hollywood” is from 1976. It is produced by Silvio Dante/Steve Van Zandt & has backing from the E Street Band. It is the only Billy Joel song you will ever get to hear around these parts too. Ronnie had escaped from Spector’s asylum & obtained a divorce. The stories told by herself & others are haunting & awful. Eventually someone was going to get killed. She made irregular recordings in a number of styles but none regained the earlier commercial success. There are some good songs &, man, Ronnie Spector walks onto a stage & it is hers. Tina Turner was able to turn her career around but that was very carefully managed & meant a move into the middle of the road. Ronnie was never going to put in the work that Tina did & that 2006 LP did not get a US release for 3 years. I guess that she was just too tied in to the “Wall of Sound” & those great records from a more innocent time.

Well, I’m no different, so I have to include the beautiful, bee-hived, elegant trio of young New Yorkers from when they were at the top of their game. The Ronettes only had 1 Top 10 hit in the USA but they left an indelible impression on our music, just as they did on the Beatles, the Stones & every British teenage male when they visited in 1964. The girl groups of the 60s made great music & we all have our different favourites but at the hub of the sound, the look, the appeal, is Ronnie & her girls. Here is Brian Wilson’s delight on hearing Ronnie’s version of “Don’t Worry Baby” & then, all together now, WHOA-OH, WHOA-OH-OH-OH.

She Probably Lives In Tahiti (Wreckless Eric Amy Rigby)

A couple of weeks I was excavating for the standards of the British New Wave led by the mavericks of the Stiff label. “Whole Wide World” by the amiably ramshackle Wreckless Eric is an undoubted classic of the species. I saw Eric on the Stiffs tour, I bought his first LP & wish that it was still around because “W.W.W” was not the only good track on that vinyl beauty. I decided to check for Eric’s later work, I knew that he was still around & gigging with his wife, Amy Rigby. Then, before I was able to get any handle on his sporadic recordings over the last long times along comes this absolute cracker from right about now.

Well OK. It’s Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, “Rebel Girl Rebel Girl” from “A Working Museum” released in October 2012 & a terrific Byrds-pop sound all lo-fi & lovely. I will make it lovelier now by telling you the song is a tip of the hat to Hazel Dickens, the American bluegrass singer/activist, & to Poly Styrene off of X Ray Spex (“Oh Bondage…you know it !) who both unfortunately passed away in the same week in April 2011. It’s Amy’s song & of her 6 solo LPs I only know the splendid, & finely titled, track “Dancing With Joey Ramone”. Her debut “Diary of a Mod Housewife” is another smart title. Mmm…one more for the list to check out.

I had approached Eric’s work a little randomly & what I was hearing I liked. Eric was in the great Len Bright Combo…who knew ? So I asked a man, who I knew was a fan of the man, to point me in the correct direction. His messaged reply was not only the very thing but it turns out that my contact has actually released a Wreckless Eric record on his own label. Ask the right question of the right person & away you go. The first recommendation was a solo LP made in 1991 after Eric had been in other bands. I had heard some of “The Donovan Of Trash”, liked what I heard & wondered why it had taken me so long.

“Joe Meek” is a tribute to the 1960s wunderkind of early British pop music who’s pioneering ingenuity & experimentation created worldwide hits for,, among others the Tornados & the Honeycombs, from a North London flat while the folks downstairs banged on their ceiling. An explosive cocktail of both work & personal problems resulted in debt, depression & a tragic death aged 37 in 1967. Eric’s song tells the story, the swirls & washes of the “Telstar” sound a fitting accompaniment. “The Donovan of Trash”, made with the Medway maverick Billy Childish, is a record fit to sit at the same table as that debut.

There is plenty of other work to discover. “12 0’clock Stereo” recorded as the Hitsville House Band & “Le Beat Group Electrique” from 1989 are 2 LPs that I have been pointed towards. However it is the 3 records by Eric & Amy that will take my immediate attention because loosehandlebars is all about the 21st century, all about the Now…and again.

Now that is great ! Amy’s song about the pair’s meeting is as smart as you want & the video is just the sweetest, funniest thing I have seen this year. the first record has a song called “The Downside of being a Fuck Up”. Take it from me there are a couple.

Currently my friend Wilko Johnson is receiving a tsunami of love & respect after the bad news about his health. It comes from the best of intentions but for 30 years Wilko played in small halls to small audiences despite being, as I wrote here last year, a national treasure. There are others who have pursued the road less traveled, translating their individuality even eccentricity into fine work. In music there’s Robert Wyatt & Kate Rusby, poetry John Cooper Clarke, art Ralph Steadman & in cinema Mike Leigh. None of these artists aim for the mass market but their essentially British qualities are undervalued in this country. Wreckless Eric Goulden has probably no intention of being considered alongside such company but his laconic often cynical lyrics, his rough and ready take on pop music deserves to be heard more widely & to be celebrated.

Here’s Eric’s version of the Clash’s “The Crooked Beat”. rare, ramshackle & respect !

Hollywood is hype, New York is talk, Chicago is work (Chicago Soul Men)

As a teenage boy I was just beginning to differentiate between the the stabs of energetic soul of Stax Records  & the sweeter pop soul of Tamla Motown. You could get a handle on it when Wilson Pickett’s frenetic “Land of a 1,000 Dances” was played alongside “Baby Love”, the Supremes’ honeyed hit but when the 4 Tops shouted/sang  “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, hey, Memphis or Motown, this Soul Music was a thing ! In that year of Levi Stubbs, 1966, I heard a record which made me sit up & pay some serious attention.

“Unbelievable” that was the title of the LP & the vocal pyrotechnics of Billy Stewart seemed to be just that. I didn’t know Porgy & Bess from Adam & Eve. George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is like the most covered song ever. Whatever the template I did know that this version was over the top of it. I loved Billy’s “brrrrrr-a-cha” & the blazing brass backing. The record was a big hit in the US but here you had to take it where you found it. At a time when pop music was innovative & causing a commotion Billy Stewart’s “Summertime” had a style & an energy unlike anything else around.

Billy had come to Chicago & Chess records from Washington DC at the behest of Bo Diddley. The chunky crooner was known as the “Fat Man”. It was the creative head at Chess, Billy Davis, a former cohort of Berry Gordy & later a big wheel in advertising, who moved Stewart towards these classic covers. There are 2 LPs of them & they do try a little too hard to impress you with the same trick. However, there were earlier recordings by Billy which showed just what a talent he was. A year earlier “Sitting In The Park”, a straight from the fridge soul ballad which can be best described as groovy had national success. This song, a favourite of & an influence on that greatest of Jamaican rock steady trios the Heptones, was not the only classy cut. The 1965 LP “I Do Love You” is the one to seek out for a showcase of his ability.

Billy Stewart stayed in Chicago with Chess for the rest of his career. Unfortunately this was all too short as he was killed in a car accident in January 1970. A great loss of a unique voice.

Spotlight on Lou Rawls y’all. As a young Chicagoan Lou was connected with the burnished star of the city’s gospel scene Sam Cooke. When Sam left for Los Angeles it was Lou who replaced him in the Highway QC’s. After a spell as a paratrooper he was touring with Cooke when he was almost killed in a car accident. On his recovery he recorded with the star & began his own solo career. In the early 60s the  other role model for Afro-American singers was Nat “King” Cole, Lou’s first records were jazz oriented but his smooth assured chops could be turned to any style. In 1966 2 LPs, “Live” & “Soulin'”, found an audience. As Lou says, “Soul is truth, … no matter where it comes from, no matter how it is presented”.

“Dead End Street” is a hit from 1967 & my favourite of Lou’s singles. It’s a song about growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the “Windy City” & it convinces this Englishman who has never been there. This clip is from the Playboy mansion. I have seen a few of these clips & they all seem a little incongruous. None of the acts have actually spat at the desperate hanger-on scum in the audience but maybe that is wishful thinking on my part. Hey, for Lou it is just another gig I am sure. He continued to have hits for 20 years & won 3 Grammys for best Male R&B vocal. His stuff is not part of the classic Soul canon but when you hear it you know who is singing & you sure do like it.

Oh yes, I love me some Jerry Butler ! Jerry grew up & sang with the other great Chicago Soul legend Curtis Mayfield. He wrote & sang lead on the Impressions first hit “For Your Precious Love”  when he was just 19 & Curtis 16. He left the Impressions for a solo career but he did not leave a partnership of great commercial & artistic merit. Jerry had hits all through the 60s. The early run was split between crooned classics, “Moon River”, “Make It Easy On Yourself” & the simple, sweet Curtis Mayfield soul songs, “He Will Break Your Heart”, “Find Another Girl”, “Need To Belong”. He was known as the “Iceman”, a suitably cool sobriquet.

He hooked up with producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, young guns from Philadelphia who would go on to form their own label, Philadelphia International. The string of inventive pop-soul singles this team created over the next 3 years makes for a quality “Greatest Hits” collection. The LP “The Ice Man Cometh” hits you bang, bang, bang. The biggest hit was “Only The Strong Survive” but plenty of others hit the spot & “What’s the Use of Breaking Up” is one of them. Jerry continued to have hits but he did not return to work with Curtis when his friend formed Curtom records. Curtis was getting deeper & funkier while Jerry was getting smoother. In 1985 Jerry Butler was elected as a Commissioner for Cook County Illinois. He has served Chicago well as a man & as an artist.

It’s The Truth That The Truth Makes Them So Uptight (Sly and the Family Stone)

The stories about Sly Stone, tales of drug related paranoia & craziness, have become legendary. The will he/won’t he show up for the show, trouble  when his bass player, Larry Graham, hired a hit man to sort out some differences. Luckily Sly was adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen of cocaine & PCP to keep his mind limber. None of this business should deflect from the fact that Sly, with his group the Family Stone, created trailblazing, innovative music which fused musical & social trends into something unique & then sold by the shed load. Sly & the Family Stone did not break the barriers they just ignored them.

How beautiful is this clip ? The band are on prime-time US TV to promote the 1968 #1 single “Everyday People”. After some sound advice from Sly,”don’t hate the black, don’t hate the white. If you get bitten – just hate the bite”, they rock into a medley to which even Ed Sullivan’s audience know, resistance is futile. This band could play. Yes they were multi-racial, yes the women were not just backing singers, the band took current trends in soul, funk & rock & cooked up their own irresistible groove. Whether you were sitting in the Sullivan audience, listening to the radio or tripping your tits off at Woodstock, Sly & the Family Stone were gonna take you higher.

The early hits were strictly positive vibrations, simple songs about everyday people having hot fun. The sunshine of a brave new world was clouded by money, fame, drugs & a move from their San Francisco base to Los Angeles. Sly’s increasingly erratic behaviour led to conflict with the band & with promoters. Between 1969 & 1971 there was only one new single released. It was a #1 hit while the “Greatest Hits” release was the 60th best LP ever made according to Rolling Stone. Sly Stone was alone in either his home studio or a specially built room in the Record Plant working out his personal demons. The result was “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” a remarkable blend of the social & personal implications of the death of the 60s. It is, wrote Robert Christgau, “darker than the Velvet Underground & Nico & funkier than shit”. The first single from this stygian funk classic was at #1 in the USA for 3 weeks…of course it was.

♫It’s A Family Of Bears♫ as my friend Mo would chirrup in the greatest example of a misheard lyric I know. “Family Affair” , a spare reflection on luv & Haight , is as perfect a pop song as  you can find. The Family Stone were barely functional at the time. Sister Rose duets with Sly who programmed this new drum machine toy he had (this is the first #1 to use such a thing). Friends Billy Preston & Bobby Womack made contributions too. Because the band were elsewhere, bass player Larry Graham (inventor of the slap-bass) left to form Central Station, drummer Gregg Errico played with Weather Report & Bowie, there are no clips of “Riot” being given the proper treatment. There is a charming & restrained duet between Sly & Rose here.

“There’s a Riot Goin’ On” is a murky masterpiece. Sly, singing while lying on his bed, can no longer summon the optimism of 1968. Lyrically there is cynicism, even pessimism, but musically he still hits the spot. The closing 7 minute long “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” is funkier than a junkyard dog & is a delight. This was the commercial peak for Sly. The following records were still good, especially “Fresh”. However, an addict’s world gets smaller & he never caught the moment again like he did in 1971.

He did though get the band back together in 1974 & this clip from “Soul Train” is another thing of wonder. “Thank You(Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)” was that one record released in 1970 & this jam captures the magic of Sly’s loose groove. Brother Freddie is still around, as are the beautiful Cynthia Robinson & sister Rose. There’s a new rhythm section, Rusty Allen & Bill Lordan, while that’s gotta be Sid Page off of Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks on funk violin proving that Sly Stone was still listening & still moving his sound forward.

Sly Stone has been so very influential on so many musicians. Miles Davis got funked up on “On The Corner”, Parliament/Funkadelic & the Isley Brothers brought new guitarists forward. Prince just fell in love with the whole deal. Hip Hop samples ? Just the few thousand. In fact LL Cool J’s “Mama Gonna Knock You Out”, based on “Trip To Your Heart” still sounds good. When any art is said to be ahead of its time there is an implication that the rest of the world took some time to catch up. The music of Sly & the Family Stone was ahead of anyone else but it was creating the future for an audience which accepted & were carried along by it. For a time there the most innovative music was also the most popular. Different world now ? Maybe.

Sly Stone is recognised for his artistry but has been down on his luck for some time. He only makes news when there are money or drug problems. Man, you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I wish him luck in the future.

Friday Night At Sandinos (The Gatefolds)

On Friday the 1st of March the Gatefolds played their first ever live gig at Sandino’s in Derry, Northern Ireland. As I have become more familiar with their music it has become more obvious that they are a class act. I listened to a fine hour of radio from Derry & “Out of Line” was a genuine stand-out, not just because I know some of the band. You can hear & buy the 4 tracks they have recorded by clicking here. From a lively night in Derry here is “Out of Line”.

From what I hear there are quite a few lively nights over there. It really is a blast to get news of a vibrant music scene where mutual support & encouragement seems to be part of the package as does a love of music. Fergal Corscadden of the Gatefolds has been sending me new tracks by psych bands I’ve never heard of. I will ask him to select 3 of the best & will put them together on to here because they are sounding pretty good to me. Meanwhile in Derry there is a 16 year old girl who is getting a lot of attention & deservedly so because she is frighteningly talented & very memorable. This is SOAK & “Sea Creatures”.

Of course I go back to the old days when the Undertones, That Petrol Emotion & Bam Bam & the Calling  carried the swing. The Everlasting Yeah are keeping the Petrol’s flame burning & I hope that the fine songs from their live shows are recorded in some form this year. It’s great that Joe Brown from Bam Bam is making new music too. Here from a simpler time when life revolved around Echo & the Bunnymen, Tom Verlaine & a lorry load of hair product is that fine band’s “Talking Aloud” from when they were on the telly.

Is There Any Music You Like That Is NOT Underrated ? (Steve Mason)

A new record by Steve Mason is always worth a listen so I’ll be watching out for his new LP ‘Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time’ which is released on March 18th. The title refers to a Buddhist term for an easily distracted brain & Mason has had side projects & other things on his mind which have prevented his music being more widely known. There is a single released on the same day & “Oh My Lord” sounds pretty good to me.

In “High Fidelity” Rob Gordon (John Cusack) the king of his own record shop says “”I will now sell five copies of The Three E.P.’s by The Beta Band”. He plays their classic “Dry The Rain” & does that very thing. (Wh’appen to Iben Hjejle?  She was lovely) The Beta Band made some of the best British music post-Britpop. The soft swerve and succinct logic of their studio jams left you humming tunes you had only heard a couple of times. Their trip-hop was never precious, the samples pulled from a broad range of sources. There is though self-deprecation & pronouncing that your first LP is “fucking awful”. It’s a fine line isn’t it.

Two more LPs followed, both filled with calm,cyclical melody and Steve Mason’s distinctive voice. Even when they were happy with the music things did not always go to plan. The first single from “Hot Shots II” (not part Deux !) had a video & was ready to go when “Daydream In Blue” by I Monster beat them to the use of the sample on which “Squares” was based. Calling their next record “Heroes To Zeros” perhaps indicated a degree of resignation that the beta Band were not going to make the breakthrough that many people expected.

The band finished in 2004 . Steve was left in debt & suffering with depression. He made some music as King Biscuit & Black Affair but I don’t hear a lot of electronica & it passed me by. I still listened to the Beta Band though, it has a soothing calming effect on a room. In the Summer of 2010 he released his first record under his own name. “Boys Outside” sounds like the Beta Band, the same crafted songs. It was co-produced with Richard X who began by making odd intriguing mash-ups before contributing to the wasteland of mid-2000s British pop. It worked, there’s more texture to the songs. Someone to say that something is finished I guess. “Lost & Found” , a cracker, has a video which features David Dixon from the TV “Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. he used to live in Sheen just two doors down from my great friends Phil & Billie.

So, after a dub version of “Boys” with Dennis Bovell, there is a new record. Steve promises that the new songs have a righteous, undaunted anger. There are few dissenting, overtly political voices in music at the moment & it will be interesting to hear what he has to say & play. Steve Mason’s music should be in the mainstream but I’m just not sure how he will get this record to be widely heard. Screw it, I’ll be listening & making others do so too.

That Girl Can Sing (70s Soul)

In 1970 Willie Mitchell took over the output of Hi Records in Memphis. His production talents & his nonpareil house band made Al Green one of the biggest soul stars of the early part of the decade. While O.V. Wright was not on his label Mitchell made some definitive Southern soul with the singer. Another protegé, Syl Johnson, released some fine tunes that sound like impressions of Green. It was his female star, Ann Peebles, who made the most distinctive records of this time that were not by “the Prince of Love”.

Ann is known for her biggest hit “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, covered by many artists of taste & for “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. “Rain” was sampled in 1997 by the always interesting Missy Elliott. From 1969 to 1975 she collaborated with Willie & made a run of great records which all have the unmistakable feel and precision of the Hi house band, the 3 Hodges Brothers, Al Jackson Jr & the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson & Andrew Love). “Beware” is from 1975. There will be no more of these gems. A collection of Ms Peebles’ work, including B-sides if possible is a lovely thing.

From a year earlier Syreeta’s “Spinnin’ & Spinnin'” is from 1974’s LP “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta”. The couple were divorced in 1972 after an 18 month long marriage. They continued to work together, This is the 2nd record that Stevie produced for her &  all the songs are either his or are co-written with Syreeta. It is a delightful record, Stevie had produced “Perfect Angel” for Minnie Riperton (Oh My !) in this year & there is a similar lightness of touch. He was also working on “Fulfillingess’ First Finale” at this time & Syreeta’s record fits right in there with his unbeatable music of the first half of the 70s.

Well, I’m too old to make a fool of myself on a dance floor but in Chaka Khan’s case I may make an exception. “Once You Get Started” is a 1975 single from “Rufusized” the 2nd of 6 Top 20 LPs in the US. The band had gotten started with a hit “Tell Me Something Good” written for them by Stevie Wonder. The “& Chaka Khan” was added for the 2nd LP. You can see why. The young & beautiful Chaka was compared to Tina Turner & Aretha, she was a star. In 1978 her first solo LP included the Ashford & Simpson written smash “I’m Every Woman” but she did return to Rufus to record with them. A final recording session with the band produced “Ain’t Nobody”, a prized possession for anyone who had the 12″ vinyl single. Then it was off to Prince for “I Feel For You” & deserved legendary status. Watch the clip again…she’s great.

In the late 70s the sweet soul drifted into Disco &, I feel, some individuality was lost. I mean Donna Summer was good but…It was soon impossible to go a whole day without hearing something by the Bee Gees &, Jah knows I tried. These lip-synch clips from a Dutch TV programme are a high quality chance to hear some great music & see some great artists in their prime.

The Routine Grind Drives Me To Drink. Tragedy I Take Straight (Cutters Way)

There is a book, OK maybe a pamphlet, to be written about the great European directors who grew up learning everything they knew about America from watching Hollywood movies  before coming to that very place to make their own wonderful contributions to cinema with accurate scrutinies of  American society. I am not the person to write about Karel Reisz, Roman Polanski, Milos Forman, Wim Wenders & others. I am the guy stood just behind that person insisting that the name of Ivan Passer & his marvelous movie “Cutter’s Way” is included.

Ivan Passer worked alongside Milos Forman in the Czech New Wave cinema. When, in 1968, the Russian tanks rolled into Prague the pair rolled out to the USA. In 1975 Forman’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” became the first film to claim the 5 major Oscars for 40 years. Passer made some interesting films & for “Cutter’s Way” he had some talented, heavyweight assistance. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenworth worked on the film between “Altered States” & “Blade Runner”, an artist at the top of his game. The soundtrack is by Jack Nitzsche, a man who began the 60s working with Phil Spector, hung out with the Rolling Stones & Neil Young before writing or supervising the scores for “The Exorcist”, “Cuckoo”, “Blue Collar” & “Cruising”. The opening credits, a slow-mo street parade seeps from black and white to colour, musical saws & zithers, combines these talents to set the mood for a dark journey which can truly be called a modern film noir.

Alex Cutter (John Heard) is a Vietnam veteran who left an eye, an arm & a leg in country. He is angry & bitter, spraying venom from a scattergun mouth. He drinks & screws around while his beautiful, sad, alcoholic wife Mo (Lisa Eichhorn) mourns the loss of any positivity in the man she married. Their friend, Richard Bone, is an amoral rich boy, getting by on his looks & his cynicism. That would be Jeff Bridges then. This triangle becomes involved in a mystery which involves murder & the city’s movers & shakers. For Cutter this will not stand. Those bastards are maybe not responsible but they are sure to blame for something.

“Cutter’s Way” has an intricate, subtle & sometimes surreal exposition. As study of a tragic menage it is uncompromising & moving. It’s post-Vietnam, post-Watergate cynicism & paranoia places it alongside such films as “Coming Home”, “Dog Soldiers”,”The Conversation” & “The Parallax View”. There is an ambiguity about much of the film. Bone is told “sooner or later you’re going to have to make a decision about something”. The film was released in the year Ronald Raygun became President of a country which had little patience for innocence & idealism.

John Heard gives the performance of his life in this film. His anger blazes, his manipulation repels and his energy thrills. Jeff Bridges gives perhaps the last of his turns as a young man moving between different levels of society & enjoying what is on offer with little thought for the future. Lisa Eichhorn has a more complex role than I précised & absolutely nails it. I left the cinema blown away by this film. I neither know nor care if it is a cult movie or is just forgotten. This crepuscular work is comparable with Philip K Dick’s “A Scanner Darkly” as a caustic elegy for a generation. Here is how it ends.