A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it You’re welcome, we can spare it – yellow socks (Ian Dury)

I first heard about Ian Dury from Frank, the first actual Cockney, born within the sound of Capital Radio, I knew. Frank’s metropolitan motormouth stories of big city life, inventing unlikely rhyming slang as he spoke, entertained & intrigued a young student straight out of the English provinces who had visited that London all of 2 times (that would be me). He introduced me to his wonderful, welcoming family & to the grubby charms of Harlesden High St (blimey !). When he dropped his “more front than Southend” persona he was an articulate, cultured guy but don’t tell him I said that. Frank’s passions were Fulham Football Club & cinema. He had put me on to the films of Luis Bunuel, the greatest achievements in the history of moving pictures. One weekend in 1973 he was raving about a new band he had seen in a West London pub, an anarchic rag-tag bunch led by an interesting character, a stimulating change from the groups with their po-faced prog, sixth form poetry & all that hair so typical of the time. Kilburn & the High Roads would have to be checked for.

Pub Rock was never a unified musical movement ,  more an opportunity taken by groups around London to find places to play informal gigs which found an audience wanting the same. The Kilburns were there at the beginning of the scene, this clip is filmed at the Hope & Anchor, the Victorian battle cruiser (boozer) on Upper St. Islington which became the place to play. The band is crammed on to a small stage, there’s a small dancefloor &  drink has been taken by all in attendance. It looks like a good time & it was. By the time Kilburn & the High Roads came to record an LP the line-up had changed & “Handsome” (1975) didn’t quite cut it. The ingredients are all there, Ian’s witty & stylish stories of London low life, the rock & roll, jazz, reggae influences but there’s a lack of seasoning which meant the record was not as tasty as the live act.

Ian had no recording contract while “New Boots & Panties !!”  was assembled. Blackhill, his management, anted-up & found just the label to release it in an office below their own. Stiff Records had been started by Dave Robinson, a man with a colourful CV, a former manager at the Hope & Anchor. They started with their pub rock mates  but there were younger bands coming around, hyped up on Dr Feelgood, Eddie & the Hot Rods & cheap amphetamine,  eager to make a 3 minute (or less) rock & roll racket not a triple album space opera.  Something was happening & the Stiff  crew knew what it was. Ian Dury, with his new collaborator Chaz Jankel, caught this energetic, irreverent new wave (a-hem !). With a rush & a push, more confidence & aggression, “New Boots…” is a great British pop record.

“New Boots…” was released in September 1977 & the following month the “Live Stiffs” package tour hit the UK concert halls & what a great night out that was. Nick Lowe & Rockpile were short & sharp, no messing about, they had drinks waiting at the bar. Elvis Costello & the Attractions were terrific but seemed to be taking it a little too seriously. Ian Dury, on drums with Wreckless Eric, fronting his new band, the Blockheads, on a hectic charge at the LP then, as a grand finale, leading everyone still standing through “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, an anthem to living well, was at the heart of a very spirited evening. His stage presence, a thrift shop Dickensian dandy, movement limited by his childhood polio, a cheeky chappie nudge & a wink allied to some blinding words & music, made for a memorable, unique show.

I don’t know if Ian invented the phrase “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”, it became accepted into general use, still is, as shorthand for a good time. (I had the 3 lapel badge set, worked well individually too, there were nights when the first 2 were enough). On “New Boots…”  from the opening  lascivious & affectionate “Wake Up Make Love With Me” through to the stonking closer “Blackmail Man” his East End patter, his Thames Estuary flow,  never falters. Outsiders like the junkie from Plaistow (Patricia) & the jack-the-lad up in Billericay (Dickie) are insightfully & compassionately introduced. “My Old Man”, a song for his father is nice not sentimental. A tribute to his hero Gene Vincent is black & white & beautiful. Ian’s love of language, the rhyme & the reason on “New Boots…” provides a perfect series of snapshots of life & how we tried to live it in mid-1970s Britain. My favourite…”shoes like dead pigs’ noses” from “Blockheads”, oh yes…the decade that fashion forgot.

In the following year, while the LP sold steadily, Ian Dury & the Blockheads became pop stars. The singles “What A Waste”, “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” ( #1, Top of the Pops) &  “Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3” were all Top 10 UK hits. The songs were good, “Rhythm Stick” an unlikely & welcome new folk song. 18 months after release “New Boots…” reached its highest chart position. The band was everywhere & life was hectic for them. In May 1979 the follow up LP “Do It Yourself” came around with some original Stiff hype, over 30 different wallpapered sleeves. The songs seemed less fully developed, the music more democratic, less varied. Too much funk, not enough punk. The 6-piece band were still a great live experience, bassist Norman Watt-Roy is a virtuoso, former Kilburn Davey Payne going off like a frog in a sock on sax, Ian, with his big rock & roll heart, a ringmaster ensuring that everyone had just the best time.

There were other records with other musicians, Ian acted, wrote a musical, “Apples”, which I would like to hear. He was asked to write the libretto for “Cats”, a right earner. ” I said no straight off. I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. He’s a wanker, isn’t he?”. Dury and the Blockheads reunited now and again. In 1996 he was diagnosed with cancer & he had to get back on the road, the last gig was in London just 6 weeks before he passed in March 2000. It was great having Ian Dury around. He was a brilliant lyricist & when he talked he was eloquent, honest & right. His song “Spasticus Autisticus”, a condemnation of 1981’s International Year of the Disabled, was banned by the BBC. His own disability gave him more right than most to voice his opinion but it was, y’know, for charity ! Ian Dury was a right tasty geezer, a clever bastard with a love of poetry & rock & roll, his understanding of life’s imperfections & its potential created an LP that will entertain you, cheer you up, get you out of the house with a spring in your step. “New Boots & Panties !!”, Jah bless it & Ian Dury. Oi Oi !

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Hey, Y’all Prepare Yourself (The Spinners)

The Spinners, a 5 piece vocal group from the Detroit suburbs, was formed by school friends in the mid-1950s. There were some personnel changes before their first record, “That’s What Girls Are Made For”, was a US Top 40 hit in 1961. Through the next decade they were in the Tamla Motown orbit which made the sound of Detroit a wonder of 1960s popular music. In 1972 a change of record label & a move to the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia produced immediate success, a string of hit singles, 5 consecutive gold LPs & being chosen as the opening turn at the 1975 Grammy Awards ceremony.

 

 

Holy Moly ! How great is that ? The Detroit Spinners, as they were known in the UK to avoid confusion with a cable-knit sweatered folk group, made their early records, Sam Cooke-influenced pop R&B, with Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi label. Harvey’s  lead vocal on The Moonglows’ Doo Wop classic “Ten Commandments of Love” is something to hear. He ran his labels with his wife Gwen, sister of Berry Gordy, the founder of Tamla Motown. When the couple moved across to the more successful branch of the family business they took their acts along too. The Spinners were never able to break into the Motown A-team. Their 1965 Top 40 hit “I’ll Always Love You” is a Funk Brothers’ formula floor-filler (so it’s a cracker) but they never received the Temptations treatment, working with a number of  staff producers, playing down the bill on the star-studded Motortown Revues. The 2nd of their Detroit LPs, on the subsidiary VIP label, included the first track that Stevie Wonder produced for another act. “It’s A Shame” was a Top 20 hit in the US & the UK  raising the group’s profile just as their contract was ending &  life after Motown was being considered.

 

The Spinners transferred to Atlantic in 1972. 4 of the group, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson & lead vocal Bobby Smith had been around from the very beginning. They had adapted to the many changes of style & fashion in African-American vocal groups, were a consummate, smooth professional act. After a decade of sporadic success they were about to find their place in the spotlight & they were ready to make the most of it. Thom Bell had set the benchmark for sweet, symphonic soul with the Delfonics. Together with producer/songwriters Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff his arrangements for the horns & strings of the Sigma Studios house band MFSB made Philadelphia a new hit factory for the new decade. With his associate Linda Creed, Bell established the Stylistics at the forefront of the city’s lush but still funky proto-Disco sound. Hooking him up with the Spinners was a very smart move.

 

 

G.C. Cameron, the lead on “It’s A Shame”, stayed with Motown as a solo act. He recommended his cousin Philippe Wynne as his replacement. Phil is the guy taking the Grammys to church on “Mighty Love”, his urgent, individual voice lifted the Spinners to another level, his ebullient stage presence gave the group a distinctive edge that they had perhaps lacked. Thom Bell’s studio craft, using Wynne & Bobby Smith on lead, ensured that after the success of the “Spinners” LP & “I’ll Be Around”, the group’s 1st million selling single, the world-class pop-soul kept on coming. When “I’ll Be…” was nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Group Performance it was alongside “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (The Temptations), “I’ll Take You There” (Staples Singers), another Philly hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (Harold Melvin/Blue Notes) & “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (Gladys Knight/Pips). The O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers” didn’t even make the list ! The Golden Age of American Soul music was not over yet.

 

It’s a strain to select just 3 highlights from the Spinners’ winners. “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”, you know that one. The rather sublime “Love Don’t Love Nobody” was recently highlighted on The Blue Moment, Richard Williams’ fine blog. On a live version of  “How Could I Let You Get Away” Phillipe sings impressions of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding & Al Green, perfect soul-cabaret. At the 3 day festival in Kinshasa, Zaire, held to promote the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle (see the movie “Soul Power”) the band tore the place up. Bell hooked them up with Dionne Warwick & “Then Came You” became their only US #1. You know where to find all of these. The live clips are fine, the guys dance up a storm & do the thing they had been doing for 20 years. However capable the backing band, it’s tough to match the shimmering gloss of the studio versions.

 

 

“Wake Up Susan” was not the biggest hit but is a personal favourite. It’s an uptempo, sweet 3.22 minutes, a Friday, 5 to 5, the weekend starts here, crackerjack that never misses. In 1977 Phillipe left the group for a solo career. “Starting All Over” is a self-produced LP, his own songs with Philly’s & New York’s finest musicians, which failed to find an audience. He hooked up & toured with Funkadelic which seemed unlikely but Wynne had sung with Bootsy Collins back in the day. He sang on “(Not Just) Knee Deep” & George Clinton produced the “Wynne Jammin'” (1980). The voice is still a lovely thing but even the best songs still serve as a reminder of just how good the Spinners were. Unfortunately Philippe suffered a heart attack onstage in 1984 & a great talent was lost at just 43 years old. This is him in full P-Funk flow…

 

 

Of course the Spinners kept on keeping on with replacement John Edwards. They stuck with Thom Bell until 1979, their version of “Are You Ready For Love”, recorded by Elton John on a visit to Sigma Sound, is a disco-tastic delight. The group’s biggest later hits were crossover revivals of old hits by the 4 Seasons & Sam Cooke. Those 4 life-long Spinners remained with the group for 50 years. Billy Henderson left in 2004 when he had asked his lawyers to investigate their financial affairs. Both Pervis Jackson & Bobby Smith, a consummate singer & frontman, were members until they passed away in 2008 & 2013 respectively. Now Henry Fambrough remains as the keeper of the flame. The Spinners remained a popular & welcome live act, a great show with oldies that were truly golden from that time when they were one of a kind.