A Groovy Boy Has Brought Us Joy (Georgie Fame)

In 1959, 16 years old Clive Powell left his Lancashire home town for that London & a contract with Larry Parnes, a manager who controlled much of British rock & roll before the Mersey Beat kerfuffle. While undoubtedly a man of influence Parnes’ only big idea was to give his stable of young male singers assertive, aspirational surnames. There was Eager, Wilde, Power…a bunch of them with limited talent & perfect hair. Clive Powell became Georgie Fame, finding regular work as a backing musician to Billy Fury & visiting US rockers. The Fury gig didn’t last but the band stuck together. The Blue Flames added the prefix “Georgie Fame &…” as the keyboard player became singer & leader.

The band found good work. Trad jazz, a worthy but backdated New Orleans revival, was over.There was a new type of music club in Soho & around London, if these places wanted to be in with the In Crowd they needed the Blue Flames as a resident band. Their jazz-blues mix was sweetened by the R&B brought along by American GIs on leave & by the bluebeat/ska of Caribbean immigrants. It was a potent, infectious brew. Georgie’s Hammond organ channeled Jimmy Smith, Booker T & Jackie Mittoo as required. In 1964 the Blue Flames had recorded a live album, made 5 appearances on “Ready Steady Go” & found themselves with a #1 record in the new year. “Yeh Yeh”, neither  sweet Beatle-pop nor the raw blues that was coming up, is a Latin soul swinger transformed into a sharp dressed Mod anthem. If you have heard “Yeh Yeh” you know it. I liked it, I bought it. When the song was the toppermost of the poppermost “I Feel Fine” was #2 with “Go Now” by the Moody Blues close behind . British pop music was ripening.

“Sweet Georgie Fame”, as jazz singer Blossom Dearie sang, was now a face. The cool, assured Hammond organ & brass sound was a distinctive addition to 60s Brit-pop which kept them around the charts.The band were invited along on the Motown UK 1965 tour. Georgie’s charm was cool & assured too. Then in 1966 the Blue Flames disbanded & he became a solo act. His first recordings were with a big band, “Sound Venture” was a move towards jazz which still sounds pretty good but was a little out of step with other Songs For Swinging London from that year. The path followed was towards becoming an “all-round entertainer”, turning out on TV variety shows for a forced chat with an unctuous host before lip-synching  his latest single. I didn’t get it, Fame seemed to have more substance than those cabaret crooners. What did I know ? It was not long before he was back at #1 in the charts.

In a crowded, quality market “Get Away” was a big hit in 1966. At the time I found it too lightweight, too catchy (I know…what a teenage too-too I was). Listening now I hear a upful slice of Swinging Sixties perfect pop. OK it’s not “Eleanor Rigby” but not much was. The track doesn’t make it here because there were better songs which kept Georgie in the UK charts for some time. “Because I Love You” is written by Fame, “Sitting In The Park” a cover, both tastefully produced by Denny Cordell. There was a third #1 in 1968. “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” is a rank piece of novelty nonsense, a cash-in with no connection to the movie. At a time when Pop & Rock were becoming more separate Georgie Fame, a serious jazzer, chose a short term success which pleased his new label but harmed his career in the long run.

He hooked up with Alan Price, another keyboard guy & solo act since he ran off with the royalties from the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”. They had residencies on BBC shows, square pegs in round holes, a cabaret interlude from complacent comedians. Their own show, “The Price Of Fame”, was a little more hip, Eric Clapton guesting with Delaney & Bonnie but they were still not encouraged to let the music stand up for itself. “Seventh Son” will not be out of place when it is copied by the next Austin Powers flick. There can, of course, never be too much of Pan’s People in your life but they are a little in the way here. There is, I’m sure, a time & a place for dancing barefoot while wearing a djellaba but…think on Georgie. Any road up, “Seventh Son”, produced by Price, is one of those quality Georgie Fame records.

I’m being too hard on Georgie Fame. There were times when his music was as cool, as sophisticated as British pop music got. Throughout the decade he introduced this young boy to some original & innovative talents. “Yeh Yeh” is written by Jon Hendricks off of jazz vocal giants Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. “Seventh Son”, a Willie Dixon song from Mose Allison’s landmark 1963 album. His cover of “Sitting In The Park” led me to the great Billy Stewart. So he got good taste but he struggled for a while. When he joined a band, “Shorty featuring Georgie Fame” did not get a UK release. However class is permanent, a connection with Van Morrison led to a long stint as Van’s musical director & some pretty tasty music getting made.

Georgie Fame is remembered as a sharp Mod musician, a harbinger for some choice rhythms who made some quality pop records. He often combined his latest smash with some serious jazz-blues & he, perhaps, confused the  two sides of his audience. “Peaceful” is an example of a good song being shaped into lovely polished pop, my favourite of all of his songs. The record made the Top 20, a few more of these & Georgie would have been a contender. Give it a try.


Liam McKahey and the Bodies In Living Colour March 2014

It is nothing but good news that someone with a good heart & a steady hand has finally managed to point a couple of cameras at a stage filled with Liam McKahey & the Bodies. The shout is out to Jarbo Productions for doing the right thing & furnishing a quality record of a quality band.

Liam & I go way back when we were painting parts of a city magnolia. Click here for that story & some solid music from his band Cousteau. Many of us hold fond memories of that band but, y’know, Cousteau was then & this…you get me. 2014 has to be all about Liam McKahey & the Bodies.The band play plenty of gigs around Canberra & the Australian Capital Territory. I know…just how many of us are likely to be in the correct hemisphere never mind on the right continent. All we see are the tempting, self-designed posters for gigs we can’t get to.

PhotoBoy Oh Boy, Mr McK is right on form here at this month’s Canberra Enlighten Festival. Let’s start with the deep, rich rumble of his voice. It really is a special & impressive instrument that, I think, is still improving & maturing. “Dirty Mind”, his own song, is a fine showcase for both the vocal & the band. There’s an assurance, a velvety strength which commands attention with no need for in-your-face dramatics. I’m loving the subtle horn section fills, smoother than honk & squawk of the “soulful” option. I’m loving “Dirty Mind”, it shakes you to your boots…cracking.

Here, I guess, is a loosehandlebars exclusive. “Long Black Train”, from the same set, is still unlisted on the Y-tube & is not yet around on social media. Liam was kind enough to send me this great clip &…well…get me yeah ! “Long Black Train” is another atmospheric belter with good work by guitarist Jenny Spear. I can hear the influences because I know what they are… Johnny Cash, Lee Hazlewood. What I do like is that the song, like “Dirty Mind” avoids the obvious murder ballad/train song thud & blunder in favour of a more melodic approach. (I am going to whisper “Jimmy Webb” because that really would be blowing smoke up his butt).

Photo: West Bank festival photo by PlingNew music comes at us so randomly nowadays, from any decade & many styles. It’s tough for a new band to find an audience even when, as in Liam’s case, your former group had an international reputation. There will, hopefully, be a new collection of songs by Liam McKahey & the Bodies in 2014. Fans will do what they can to spread the word but, seriously, this stylish music deserves as wide a hearing as possible. If you are a grown -up who likes music for grown-ups made by …you get me, then this group’s work will sit nicely in your collection. These two tracks are a fine start, more later.

So Mr McKahey has an outstanding voice, writes great songs, leads a cool band, designs good posters & is not a bad guy (hey we all have our faults). What actually makes him a Renaissance Man is none of that stuff, it is that he was born in 1514, is 499 years old & only comes out at night. I’m giving away the secrets here…I’m off.

His Body Abused, But His Mind Is Still Free You’re So Blind That You Cannot See

  1. Our crew gathered for Saturday brunch…well, coffee & cigarettes…at the Camberwell commorancy that we had all called home at some time. June 28th 1986, a sunny London summer morning. We had a full, exciting day ahead of us chanting down Babylon, attending the Artists Against Apartheid rally just down the road at Clapham Common. There was still an element of having to tiptoe through those Tory twats, apologists for white South African racist exploiters. Today was no street-fighting urban warrior deal, more a picnic in the park with some speeches, some music. A chance to state the obvious truth that supremacism must be superceded & that Nelson Mandela must be released from his prison cell. Say, what’s the word…? These good companions hit the mean streets of South London (joke) in an almost vivacious (steady there) disposition. Della & Helen had not met before. They both had something to say, liked to laugh. I expected an easy affinity & was enjoying being proved right, right there on the busy pavements.

Busy ? You ain’t seen nothing yet ! We reached Oval tube station & the place was just rammed. Everyone was showing out for this one. Under & overground was a road block leaving no option but to join the pedestrian swarm to the Common. The turn out was estimated to be between 200-300,000 people. A hubbub on the street bubbled bemusement & exhilaration as our city was usurped by those of us who opposed the South African regime & supported the African National Congress, a body our own government considered to be terrorists. Up in Clapham this impressive congregation sorted itself out with an easy, amicable grace. Man, this was a popular picnic !

Here’s a taste of the music from that day…great stuff eh ? We had a bit of a wait before things were shaking though. I suppose that it was good to see Boy George out of the house. The Summer of 86 was not his best, what with the arrest for cannabis possession, a guy dying round his yard, his own addiction. Did the little girls still love him ? Then Sade brought her sumptuous, spurious soul from #1 in the US charts. A bloke off of Spandau Ballet was instantly forgotten. Just don’t get me started on Paul Weller, pretend punk, mock mod, now sham-soul style councillor, plodding through Curtis’ classic “Move On Up”.

All this style over substance was a bit much. This was a worthy cause so kudos to them all for showing out when they were usually showing off but this was becoming a little underwhelming. The local pub, the Windmill, was inundated…out of the question. On the Southside, Bedford Hill way, the Nightingale was a little treasure unknown to over 250,000 of those massed around us. OK let’s go get a beer before Bananarama turn up.

Back in time for Big Audio Dynamite…we’ve got the moves today. B.A.D. was Mick Jones’ next gang in town after being sacked by the Clash. He went back to the Westway but not to the garage, this time around there were dance beats, samples, technology. If anyone was playing the “I’m still a punk & you’re not” in 1986…ever had the feeling  you’ve been cheated ? B.A.D. sounded like the London that I could hear just like his other group used to back then. “E=mc²” is a tribute to the films of Nic Roeg, more mature & a guitar-heavy live version. Mick Jones has always written great tunes, I really like B.A.D., more later.

This thing was starting to fly. Speeches by representatives of the African National Congress & leading anti-apartheid figures were always going to hit the spot. The music had already picked up & you can never see Elvis Costello & the Attractions play live enough times. It made Helen’s day, Elvis was her boy. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love & Understanding”… the very thing for all these good people who stood up for, pure & simple, respect for humanity. We could have torched some stuff that day, broken some things, the cops or stewards could not have stopped us. This festival, it seems inappropriate to call it a demo, showed a great many responsible, well-intentioned people cared about this injustice & that it was time for others to listen up. It was a point very well made.

I knew about Hugh Masekela back in 1967 when he played trumpet on “So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star” by the Byrds. His early talent was mentored by Trevor Huddlestone, a prominent opponent of apartheid. The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 exposed the dangerous reality of life in South Africa. Masekela got the fuck out of Jo’burg & remained in exile for many years. Through the Byrds thing, the hit singles, the deeper jazz, you could always hear the roots of his rhythms. You can take the man out of Africa but…you get me. Those records on Jive Africa are proper world music, respectful of tradition, no trace of cultural tourism…Afro-funk, “Don’t Go Lose It Baby”, oh yeah !

Round our house in the mid-80s we made our own video mix tapes for after the pub gatherings. No high-tech, dual-deck editing, knob twiddling, just being near the right place at an appropriate (approximate ?) time & our own innate good taste (ha !). One of our pride & indeed joys of hours of music was “Stimela”, a landmark work of art by Hugh Masekela. A story of forced upheaval & disturbance, a coal train blues, a serious, beautiful, soulful song. It was something to be with this crowd listening to this music. We had not expected to hear this monumental tune today, Mitch & I exchanged a glance. This was as good as it gets. Click that clip…this performance is one of my greatest musical memories.

And the hits just kept on coming. Peter Gabriel, the inventor of world music (wink), behooved with “Biko”, another serious, appropriate tune, before whoever happened to be in the Specials that day came to do their thing. It had been some time since Jerry Dammers & his group had carried the swing in British music. He was front of house on this occasion, relied upon to do the right thing. Their music, with the confidence of rebellious youth, moved from ska revival to social commentary. There’s a case to be made, mostly by myself, that “Ghost Town” (1981) was the last time that such an assured lyrical & musical provocation was the most popular song in the country. “Free Nelson Mandela”, angry, celebratory & conciousness-raising, was the only way to end a day which surely placed South Africa in the political foreground.

Two year later there was another day of action. A Live Aid template filled Wembley Stadium & attracted international television coverage. Last time around it was the numbers, the attitude of those making the scene which…made the scene. This time there were less people…in a football ground…the celebrities were bigger so that’s better…OK ? Sting, Simple Minds, Dire Straits…rock & roll. Intros by Emily Lloyd, Corbin Bernson…who & why ? Any notion of political protest became so diluted that poor befuddled Whitney Houston wasn’t sure if she was fighting the power or attending a birthday party. Fox TV just wanted a Summer gig in London, anybody got too direct at the “Freedomfest” missed the cut. I thought the whole thing sucked.

Still, millions now knew about Mandela. In February 1990, an emotionally charged “walk to freedom” proved that sometimes the good guys win. In South Africa the majority of the population were no longer victims of state oppression because of their colour. Nelson Mandela became an international symbol of political honour & human decency. To mark his passing Jerry Dammers, who had so adroitly caught the mood in the 1980s, assembled his Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra for this furious, relevant, version of “Free Nelson Mandela”. Now this is what I call music !