Got Live If You Want It 2019

Three live performances from the Y-tube, from 2019, that have demanded & rewarded repeated viewing. I don’t get to many gigs nowadays, the good ones are some distance from my small town & I don’t, can’t, won’t drive (carbon footprint & as Miller in  “Repo Man” says “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are”.) so Jah bless the Interwebs for bringing this energy into my living room.

 

 

Image result for fontaines dc boys in the better land"We are a friendly bunch here at loosehandlebars so it was an easy & amicable decision to leave it to bass player of the Gatefolds, original contributor Joe Brown to big up “Dogrel” in his forthcoming pick of the year’s pops. The debut LP from Fontaines DC, a young, talented gang of Dubliners is a cracker, an expression of what it is to be young, talented & Irish in 2019. Isn’t “The Boys in the Better Land” one of everyone’s songs of the year? We’re not stepping on Joe’s turf here because there are other tracks on the album that are candidates for that title.

 

Image result for fontaines dc"Here they are introduced by someone called Jimmy Fallon who I once saw in a film about Baseball & now, for reasons that are not apparent to me, has a talk show on prime time US TV. Fontaines DC come on strong, confident that they have something worth listening to & the ability to make people pay attention. A 21st century garage band (like the Modern Lovers…anyone?), fronted by singer Grian Chatten wearing Ian Curtis’ grey shirt & stare, declaiming like Mark E Smith & finding a style of his own. Bassist Conor Deegan III makes it acceptable to go out of the house in your favourite band tee shirt & a pair of Mayo GAA tracksuit bottoms which I know will please a friend of mine. These guys are “gonna be Big”.

 

 

Image result for mavis staples 1972"It’s been a good year for Mavis Staples. February saw the release of “Live In London”, a distillation of two shows at Islington’s Union Chapel, with no reliance on the golden hits she enjoyed with her family’s group the Staple Singers. There was plenty of material to select from the four albums with Jeff Tweedy & one with M. Ward she has made in her much-appreciated resurgence since 2010. This was followed in May with “We Get By”, 11 new songs of Faith, Hope & clarity written for her by producer Ben Harper. It’s a statement of the obvious that both records are as classy, inspirational & delightful as Mavis herself. The power & integrity of her message & her voice are undimmed by the passing of the years.

 

Image result for mavis staples michelle obama"It was in May that Mavis reached the milestone of her 80th birthday &  celebratory concerts were held in New York, the Apollo, Nashville, the Ryman & Los Angeles. She was joined on stage by David Byrne, Norah Jones, John Prine, Nick Lowe, a long list of others I know & those I probably should know.  Some of these unique moments are captured on Y-tube clips where the visuals are shaky & the fidelity is low. So, moving forward to the end of June in a Somerset field, let’s have Mavis & her small, tight, long-serving band finishing her Glastonbury Festival set with the Staples’ hit “Take A Hand, Make A Friend”. With their luggage lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean everyone is dressed casually in the festival tee shirt & stretching out (a shout to guitarist Rick Holmstrom) for the encore. This woman is beautiful & a legend. Just press play, it’s all there.

 

 

Image result for jason isbell ryman auditorium 2019"Jason Isbell joined Mavis at all three of her birthday shows. There’s been no new music from him this year but he kept busy as part of backing band for his wife Amanda Shires’ new venture The Highwomen, a Country supergroup who have done very well for themselves with their debut LP. In October he & the 400 Unit returned to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for a third annual residency, six sold out shows over nine nights. To change it up audiences were asked to select the songs they would like to hear. I don’t know if they had any say in the tunes the band chose to cover, whoever it was they did their job well.

 

Image result for jason isbell ryman auditorium 2019"A 10 minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”,  with guest Hammond organ player, invokes the spirit & memory of Duane, Gregg, Dickey & all the original Allman Brothers. Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms” is a more surprising choice. Sadler Vaden may be the 400 Unit’s guitar hero, this is Jason’s solo turn. It’s an exhilarating, turbo-charged run through Tom Petty’s “Running Down the Dream” that makes the cut. Isbell has deservedly received accolades for his finely wrought roots-oriented songs but when this band makes some noise it’s the best American Rock currently around. The 400 Unit are the Heartbreakers, the E Street Band & Jason Isbell, he’s the Boss.

 

Image result for mavis staples ben harper"

Midnight Walker, Sweet Soul Talker (Soul November 1969)

Another month, another Cash Box R&B Top 10 dominated by “the Sound of Young America” Tamla Motown. On November 15th 1969 four entries were releases from the Detroit company & across town former writing/producing team Holland-Dozier-Holland were responsible for “Crumbs Off the Table” by Glass House, a fine single by a short-lived group featuring Scherrie Payne, a future Supreme. There were to be two more chart-topping Motown records before the year was out so this month let’s see what else was coming around.

 

 

Image result for syl johnson poster"If you own a copy of the 81 track “Complete Mythology” collection of the works of Syl Johnson then you will know that he suits the tag “legendary”. Born in Mississippi Syl moved north to Chicago when he was a teenager. He & his brothers acquired their musical skills alongside his neighbour, Blues guitarist Magic Sam, a young man who had made the same journey. In a decade of recording his music, whether it was Blues or more contemporary Soul, was always dynamic & entertaining. By the mid-60’s he was socking it to us with with bright songs about different strokes, mini skirts & the latest dances & making an impression on the R&B charts. “Is It Because I’m Black”, at #32 on the chart & rising, was a different kettle of Blues-Funk, a straight ahead, no punches pulled commentary on race in America in 1969. I’ve selected the full 7 minute long album version here because it’s a monumental track, a classic record. A message from a mature Black man, telling it like it is.

 

Image result for syl johnson"The hit single & subsequent LP were by no means a case of bandwagon jumping. James Brown was saying it loud but this was a year before significant albums by Marvin Gaye & Sly Stone placed social consciousness at the forefront of Black music. Syl’s new vision was helped by the Pieces of Peace, the new hit sound of Chicago, the band behind the success of Tyrone Davis & Young Holt Unlimited,. After a disagreement with producer Carl Davis they brought their talents to Twinight Records & the singer made good use of them. The funked up covers of the Fabs’ “Come Together” & Joe South’s “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” complement Syl’s impassioned songs of discrimination (“Concrete Reservation”) & hopes of integration (“Together Forever”). The closing track “Right On” is a tower of Funk power, singer & band hitting the groove & just not stopping. A fine end to an absolutely outstanding & significant album.

 

Syl hooked up with his friend Willie Mitchell who had something good happening at the Hi studios in Memphis. In his time there less use was made of his own material. While he may have been overshadowed by the success of Al Green & Ann Peebles, Mitchell’s productions at the time were second-to-none & Syl recorded some fine sweet Memphis Soul. Extensive sampling of his music brought renewed interest & he later resumed his recording career. If you are not too familiar with Syl Johnson then you know the drill.

 

 

Image result for johnny adams it can't be all bad 1969"Stalled at #41 was a single by a wonderful singer, another one who never enjoyed the success he deserved. Johnny Adams had been working & recording around New Orleans for a decade with just “A Losing Battle”, produced & written by Mac Rebennack (Dr John) grazing the national R&B chart in 1962. A potential move to Motown was thwarted by a previously signed contract & some of his records were selling no more than a couple of hundred copies. In 1968 Johnny was signed to SSS International in Nashville & his fierce version of the country classic “Release Me” shamed Engelbert Humperdinck & put him back on the R&B Top 40. The label matched Johnny with country writers Myra Smith & Margaret Myers for the gorgeous “Reconsider Me”, as good as Country Soul got & a Top 30 Pop hit. “I Can’t Be All Bad”, from the same team, has a marvellous Bluesy feel. I have no idea who was the Nashville cat in the studio that day but his guitar playing is as clean as country water, wild as mountain dew.

 

Image result for johnny adams 1969"Johnny Adams, “The Tan Canary”, had a range & versatility, accomplished in many styles, powerful but still smooth, that few singers could match. He recorded 4 singles for Atlantic, no album, & one of them Jagger/Richards’ “Salt of the Earth” is from the very top shelf of Stones covers, a hit that got away. Johnny was in his fifties when he began a series of records for Rounder, Jazz, Blues, Soul, tributes to Percy Mayfield & Doc Pomus, all accomplished & classy. In 1970, with his name more visible than ever, SSS assembled the best of his recordings up to that date &”Heart & Soul” is the Johnny Adams primer, an entry into the good stuff.

 

 

Image result for bobby womack poster"I’m really spoiling myself this month, I hope you feel the same. At #39 was “How I Miss You Baby” by Bobby Womack, a man who, from his involvement with Sam Cooke in the 1950’s until working with Gorillaz in the 2010’s, remained relevant & influential. While still in the family group, the Valentinos, he co-wrote “It’s All Over Now”, the first #1 hit for them Rolling Stones, Bobby wasn’t too pleased until the royalty cheques arrived. His marriage to Cooke’s widow, Barbara, less than three months after his idol’s death met with some disapproval & his records were not played on the radio. He found a place as a songwriter, with hits for Wilson Pickett, & as a session guitarist around Memphis. In January 1969 “Fly Me To The Moon” was a fine start to his solo career. The title track, an old standard & “California Dreamin'”, a new one, put him in the R&B Top 20.

 

Image result for bobby womack 1977"“How I Miss You Baby” is the lead single from “My Prescription”. More of the same, Bobby’s strong raspy gospel-inflected voice, clearly enunciating just like Sam taught him, telling his own stories, finding the Soul in sometimes unlikely easy listening classics (“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”), perfect accompaniment from the Memphis Boys at American Sound Studios. This was his most successful single yet before a change of label, with increased promotion, & a move down to Muscle Shoals in Alabama brought a regular R&B Top 10 presence. This string of early 1970’s 45’s, often employing a trademark introductory monologue, is a long, impressive list. I would be remiss of me if I did not at least mention “Across 110th Street” & “Harry Hippie”. Of course Bobby Womack kept on keeping on, a Soul Survivor adjusting to changing taste, always the real deal. “The Poet” (1981) is probably his most well known LP, one day I’ll take the time to tell you just how good “So Many Rivers” (1985) is.

 

I’ve had the company of some fine fine music this week. I’m aware that my recent selections have been predominantly male singers. Next month’s #1 is by America’s most successful female group of the 1960’s so that’s a start & I’ll have no problems ending the year by redressing any imbalance.

Some Of That Old Moonstomping (Reggae November 1969)

This year I have enjoyed looking back 50 years to both the Soul music from the US & the, as we called it at the time, “Progressive” sounds coming out of the UK in 1969. Of course there was still plenty of popular, more straightforward Pop around. In November, “Sugar Sugar”, the made-to-measure bubblegum of cartoon group the Archies had been the UK #1 for like forever (it was actually 8 weeks but seemed longer) while “Call Me Number One” by the Tremeloes was close behind. More significantly lower down the UK Top 10 for 23rd of November were three records from Jamaica, the first time this had happened. In 1969 Reggae was a thing so Pop Pickers, at #8, down from #5, is one that when it hits you feel no pain .

 

 

Image result for return of django"There was this girl I saw around college (not a US college, a UK place for 16-18 year olds). Friends would notice the pretty blonde she was usually with but, purely on first impressions, I was attracted to the tall, skinny one with long straight hair. She had a Saturday job on the local town market & I would make a point of passing her stall. There was no more than an “Hi, how are you doing?” acknowledgement, hardly a “stop & chat”. I was 16 & hadn’t quite got this talking to women thing down yet. Then, during another such brief encounter it started to snow & as my army surplus olive green combat jacket (oh yes!) had no hood I was invited to take shelter under the stall’s canopy. She was friendly, funny & I hope that I was too. She had a ready smile & I had a goofy fixed grin. The clincher was that she had spent a portion of that day’s wages on “Return of Django” by the Upsetters, the infectious, cool sound of Kingston that was filling UK dance floors & had broken into the national chart. This girl had got good taste. When I left the market an hour later I was smitten & resolved to ask her out. Unbelievably I did just that, more improbably she said yes &, to cut a long story short, 5 years later we knew a lot more about Reggae & were about to be married.

 

The Western movies were always big in Jamaica & it showed in the titles of Ska tunes like “Tall in the Saddle” & “Vera Cruz”. The new Spaghetti Westerns caused an even bigger fuss & groups like the Upsetters were inspired to check for cowboy heroes in the titles of their instrumentals. “Return of Django”, coupled with “Dollar in the Teeth”, Val Bennett’s saxophone leading over an eager drum & bass rhythm was Rock Steady on the cusp of becoming Reggae & the first international hit for the now legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. Perry’s inventive, intuitive sonic experiments, influential far beyond Jamaica, were in the future. The two LP’s he made at this time with the Upsetters (same name, different line ups) display his ability to craft a more simple song & give a hint of what was to come.

 

 

Image result for skinhead girls 1969"It was the Skinheads what done it. A retort to the changing styles of dedicated followers of Mod fashion the cropped hair, boots & braces look appealed to the predominantly working class hard Mods of London. Along with the new dress code Ska music from Jamaica, heard in local clubs & at parties, was embraced. In the late 60’s British youth liked a fight at the football on a Saturday afternoon. The visibility of Skinheads in this violence encouraged the fashion & led to a new moral panic in the media. The same model citizens who had spent the past five years moaning about long-haired youths were now complaining that hair was too short. There’s no pleasing some people! There were enough Skins to put their favourite records into the lower reaches of the chart & so catch the attention of the single national music radio station. Long hair, short hair, what the hell do we care? It’s a credit to UK youth, dancing fools all, that this music, new to many of them, sold in such large quantities.

 

Image result for harry j the liquidator"The Upsetters’ Winston Wright’s swirling then stabbing Hammond organ is the featured instrument on “The Liquidator” by the Harry J All Stars, fast rising from #17 to #9. Harry Johnson was a successful Jamaican producer, his All Stars, the new session band in town, the Hippy Boys, included the Barrett siblings Aston (bass) & Carlton (drums) later to become the rhythm section for the Wailers. The song was quickly adopted as an anthem by football fans, played as the teams ran out at Chelsea, Wolves, West Bromwich Albion & others. Harry hit big again the following year with “Young, Gifted & Black”, a duet by Bob Andy & Marcia Griffith. With the proceeds from the two hits he built a state-of-the-art studio in Kingston where Bob Marley & his group recorded four LP’s, a major contribution to Reggae going truly international.

 

 

The third hit of the times, at #7, was the upfull “Wonderful World Beautiful People” by Jimmy Cliff. Jimmy had returned to Jamaica after a debut LP recorded in the UK had not been successful. With his original mentor, Leslie Kong, at the controls a self-titled LP included “Many Rivers To Cross” & the anti-war “Vietnam”. There should have been more hits for the singer but his time would come with a starring role as Ivan in the film “The Harder They Come” (1972). Meanwhile Leslie Kong, “The Chinaman”, was enjoying his greatest success.

Image result for desmond dekker it miek 1969"Desmond Dekker was pivotal in the advancement of Jamaican music to a wider audience in the UK. In 1967 “007 (Shanty Town)”, with support from the pirate radio stations, reached the UK Top 20. It may have been something of a novelty hit but DD’s name was in the frame & in April 1969 “Israelites” (you know it, everybody does) was at #1 & broke into the US Top 10. The record’s massive sales & extensive international success opened up new possibilities for the vibrant Jamaican music scene. The equally lively follow up “It Miek”, like the others produced by Leslie Kong, entered the Top 10 later that summer. It was 30 years later that I saw Desmond Dekker perform when he topped a bill of mostly tribute acts. His energetic, joyous performance of his greatest hits (there were more) was perfect for a sunny afternoon in the park.

 

Image result for trojan records 1969"All of this would not have been possible without the founding of Trojan Records in 1968 by Island label boss Chris Blackwell & his partner Lee Gopthal, both champions of Jamaican music, both expert in the release & distribution of records for the Afro-Caribbean community. Initially they had the shops where Reggae could be bought & when the explosion of interest came they had the infrastructure to ensure that these discs were available on the high streets of every town & city. In late 1969 the British group Symarip released the popular “Skinhead Moonstomp” & followed that with an album full of similar titles. At that time there were probably three Skins in my small town (when there were more I had no trouble, I went to school & yeah, fought on the terraces with the top boys). When I went out with my new friend the Soul was not yet “Northern” & the Reggae soon to be but not yet “Skinhead”. It was all just the best music in the world to dance the weekend away.

 

A shout to the records not mentioned here that were DJ staples & crowd favourites back then. “Long Shot Kick the Bucket” (the Pioneers), the salacious & banned “Wet Dream” (Max Romeo) were hits & the 1967 almost hit “Train to Skaville (the Ethiopians) were all that & all there. We’ll get on to Laurel Aitken & Derrick Morgan some other time.

Nobody’s Fool And It’s Cool (UK Pop Psych October 1969)

The timeline provided by the interesting & entertaining Marmalade Skies website has been the basis for irregular posts on the British underground music scene of 50 years ago. Their listings for October 1969 included “Five Leaves Left”, the wonderfully poetic debut album by singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Terrific, it was 1971 when I became aware of this record & many pleasant evenings were enhanced by its company. Pick a track, any track, two maybe three paragraphs extolling its & its creator’s virtues…job’s a good ‘un. Unfortunately my “research” showed that the album, named after the run out slip from a pack of rolling papers, was released in July of 1969! Now I’ve been doing this Internet thing for 40-odd years & I haven’t lied to you yet so that’s out. The lesson here is “never trust a Hippie” but you good folk knew that already. Right, what music did have its actual Golden Anniversary in this month.

 

 

Image result for family no mule's fool"Family, a five-piece group from Leicester had released their second LP in March 1969. “Family Entertainment” consolidated the reputation they had made with their debut “Music in a Doll’s House”, produced by Dave Mason off of Traffic, as one of the most interesting, innovative new groups. Not as experimental as the likes of Pink Floyd or Soft Machine, the imaginative instrumentation they brought to their varied, agile psychedelia & the raspy vocals of Roger Chapman gave Family a distinct & recognisable sound. They were a formidable live act, making new fans with every appearance & “…Entertainment” found a place in the Top 10 of the UK album chart.  “No Mule’s Fool”, written, like most of their songs, by Chappo & guitarist Charlie Whitney, was surely the 45 that would put the band on TV’s Top of the Pops. Well, I thought so when I bought it.

 

Image result for family band 1970s"Family’s first hiccup of 1969 came when bassist/violinist Rick Grech left the group to become the least well known of new “supergroup” Blind Faith. John Weider off of Eric Burdon & the Animals could play both of those instruments & was quickly drafted in. His violin break on the pastoral, mellow “No Mule’s Fool” moves the song up a gear for the race to the end. While recording the next LP multi-instrumentalist Jim King was the second member to split. King added nuance to many of Family’s tunes, there’s a John Peel session where his saxophone replaces the violin on the single & it’s most effective. Poli Palmer stepped in, “A Song For Me” proved to be the group’s most successful LP & that elusive hit single “The Weaver’s Answer”, was there on “Family Entertainment” all the time. Family never enjoyed the international acclaim of many of their contemporaries, were perhaps never as distinct as they had been on those first two records. Looking back to changing times in British music they deserve a wider hearing.

 

 

Image result for slade wild winds are blowing"Earlier in 1969 Ambrose Slade (formerly the ‘N Betweens), Wolverhampton’s premier live band, had released their debut LP “Beginnings”. A varied selection from their onstage setlist the diverse covers included two from Steppenwolf, the Fabs’ “Martha My Dear”, Marvin Gaye & even Frank Zappa. The record & the single “Genesis” made little impression. By this time the group were managed by Chas Chandler, former bassist of the Animals with plenty of money from his time with Jimi Hendrix. Chas’ big idea was to abbreviate the name to Slade, get the quartet to to crop their hair & adopt the boots & braces of the current Skinhead youth. “But Chas, Skinhead music is Reggae not Rock” said, apparently, no-one.

 

Image result for slade magazine cover"“Wild Winds Are Blowing” was the first 45 for the group with the shorter name & hair. The image did generate a deal of press & Chandler persuaded his old Animal mate Alan Price to include them on his TV show. The song, written by Saker & Windley, two guys who wrote little else, is given a rowdy enough treatment, not as aggressive as you might expect from a bunch of “bovver boys” & was, like the next two singles, not a success. Encouraged to write their own material, leather-lunged singer Noddy Holder & bassist Jim Lea proved to be an effective team. The skinhead thing was ditched, Doc Martens replaced by a platform booted stomp, Ben Shermans by glitter & glam. An album, “Play It Loud”, had no hit single & it was an old Little Richard song that finally put Slade into the UK Top 20. In October 1971 “Coz I Luv You” hit #1, the first of a string of eccentrically spelled records that made them a permanent fixture in the Top 10, eminent in the British Glam Pop Explosion & Noddy Holder, deservedly, a national treasure.

 

 

It says here, on the Marmalade Skies register of this month’s releases that Terry Reid had a new album called “Superlungs”. I’m sure that the folk at “The Home of British Psychedelia” were adhering to a pretty strict drug regimen to keep their minds, you know, limber but there was no LP of that title until 2004. A 45 of  “Superlungs My Supergirl”, a Donovan song was released in 1969 along with a self-titled LP. OK, because I think Terry Reid is a lovely man who should have been a huge star, I’m going to go with that. October 1969? Possibly!

 

Image result for terry reid superlungs my supergirl"How about that band? 19 year old Terry, brimming with confidence, backed by Keith Webb on drums, keyboard player Pete Solley &, bringing the groove to the Blues-Rock, bassist Lee Miles, formerly of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. “Terry Reid” the album was the second he made with producer Mickie Most whose extraordinary success in the British Beat Boom confirmed an undoubted Pop acumen which was now meeting resistance from artists, the Animals, Yardbirds, Donovan, looking beyond the three minute single. Both albums showcase Reid’s extraordinary voice & range from Blues shouter to a more restrained, still soulful  intimacy. The grandstanding cover versions of familiar songs, “Season of the Witch”, “Stay With Me Baby”, are less successful than the fine moments provided by Terry’s developing talent as a songwriter.

 

Image result for terry reid 1969"

Terry with B.B. King

Of course turning down the Led Zeppelin gig still hangs around. Peter Grant, manager of the Yardbirds/Led Zep, was Most’s business partner but Terry had his own thing, committed to an extensive touring schedule in the US where his reputation was growing. His absence from the UK didn’t help with promotion of the LP. Surely if the magnificent “Silver White Light”, a joyous rocker, had found its way on to the playlist of Britain’s only music station things would have been different. It sure sounded like a hit to me but then, what do I know?

 

Reid wanted away from Most & it became a prolonged legal matter. With a new stellar band, Miles still hanging out, drummer Alan White off of the Plastic Ono Band & master guitarist David Lindley, his music had a looser, rootsier feel (think the Black Crowes only better) but they were unable to record. It would be 1973 before “The River”, his best collection, was finally available. That one’s for another time & I’m not leaving without including the delicate beauty that is “Mayfly”. If you need something to warm you as Autumn turns to Winter & the nights get longer then here it is. Good man Terry Reid.

 

Loan Me Your Funky Mind (Soul October 1969)

Tamla Motown started 1969  with Marvin Gaye at the top of the US R&B chart &  the Hitsville studios in Detroit kept the number ones coming throughout the year. Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin again & Jr Walker & the All Stars all, according to Cash Box, reached that pinnacle & in October, for the whole of the month, it was the turn of the Temptations. Since a breakout hit in 1964 with “The Way You Do the Things You Do” the Tempts being top of the R&B pops came around almost every year.

 

 

Image result for temptations 1969In 1968 the Temptations had parted company with David Ruffin, a charismatic performer whose delectable baritone had come to predominate on a string of outstanding 45’s. The group knew that you gotta walk & don’t look back & while for many the music made by the “Classic Five” line up remains their best there was no dip in popularity when Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards. The three LPs released in 1969 (two more with the Supremes) were all successful. “Cloud Nine” was producer Norman Whitfield’s big new idea, a heavily arranged/orchestrated take on the Psychedelic Soul of Sly & the Family Stone. Most of the LP was familiar Temptations fare but the title track won the Tempts a Best R&B Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental Grammy. The future was freaky & Funky. “The Temptations Show” is a mix of the old, the new & slick show biz, the soundtrack to their very own TV special, that’s how big a deal the Temptations were.

 

Related imageOn “Puzzle People” there were still cover versions (“Hey Jude”, “It’s Your Thing”, even “Little Green Apples”) but Whitfield & Motown stalwart Barrett Strong provided more original material. This new sound used all five voices on lead, Edwards was recruited for his strong vocals, Eddie Kendricks (that’s the great…) sang lead on many of their hits, it had been some time since Otis Williams, Paul Williams & Melvin Franklin had been stood at the front for the singles. “I Can’t Get Next to You” doesn’t have the social commentary of some of these new epic songs, it’s an urgent, brilliant slab of Funk but I’m telling you something you already know here. A massive hit, their second Pop #1, the ninth time at the top of the R&B chart, the Temptations were the leading vocal group of the time, a new face, a new phase but taking care of business as usual with so much more fine music yet to come.

 

 

 

Funkadelic…the clue is in the name. The highest new entry on the chart of October 18thImage result for funkadelic  1970 was the second single from a new group. It could have been luck, more likely it was George Clinton’s judgement that, when he needed instrumental backing for his vocal group the Parliaments, assembled a young talented crew whose innovative lysergic fuelled jams on a framework provided by Sly Stone & Jimi Hendrix placed them in the vanguard of the new breed of Funk groups. George had mislaid the rights to the name of his own group so the expanded collective signed a new contract as Funkadelic. “I’ll Bet You” reached back to Clinton’s times around the Detroit music scene. In 1966 the song had been recorded as an uptempo dead-stone floor filling Soul stomper by Theresa Lindsey. Funkadelicised, with a little help from some of Motown’s Funk Brothers, the song is a raw, dense, insistent blend of Rock & Soul, one of the first tracks you play to those less versed in the ways of Parliament-Funkadelic.

 

Image result for funkadelic  1970The self-titled LP, a landmark record, did not appear until the following year. Guitarist Eddie Hazel, Billy “Bass” Nelson & drummer “Tiki” Fulwood were given plenty of scope by producer Clinton to blow our funky minds. On tracks like the opener “Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?” & “What is Soul?” George laid the foundations of the P-Funk lore which, after extensive recording, exciting live shows & tweaks in personnel, finally saw the group recognised as one of the foremost African-American units of the time. (Soul is apparently “a ham hock in your corn flakes” or “a joint rolled in toilet paper”, your choice!). Funkadelic were signed to Armen Boladian’s Westbound Records & Boladian later gained control of all Funkadelic’s publishing rights by allegedly forging George’s signature. A litigious man he sued every artist who used a sample of their music, that’s like over 50% of the US Rap scene. Screw the “allegedly” let him sue me, I’ve got no money. Fly on baby, fly on.

 

 

Image result for lee dorsey give it upFurther down the Cash Box chart, a newcomer at #46, was an artist who had experienced success over the past decade. Lee Dorsey, a former boxer turned singer out of New Orleans had his first million seller in 1961 with “Ya Ya”, later covered by John off of the Beatles, but similar nursery rhyme based lyrics probably deservedly failed to connect. In 1965 a partnership with the Big Easy’s master songwriter/producer/arranger Allen Toussaint created a string of 45’s which re-established him in the US & made him a firm favourite on the UK Mod scene. It’s an impressive list, good enough to make a “Best of…” collection essential. Everyone knows the jaunty, irresistible “Working in a Coal Mine”, a Top 10 hit in the Pop charts on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1980 the Clash invited the still spry Lee Dorsey to open on their US tour.

 

Image result for clash lee dorsey

Lee & the Clash

The Dorsey/Toussaint connection continued to make fine singles which met with less commercial success. Lee always had his auto repair shop to fall back on when he was less in demand. In 1969 the team’s statement record was “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)” & “Give It Up” showed that they walked it like they talked it. This was a mature New Orleans take on the New Groove. Toussaint’s songs were stronger, his horn arrangement on “Give It Up” sensational. (When the Band needed charts for a brass section they knew who to call). The studio band, the Meters, confidence high from their own success, provided diamond-sharp backing for their city’s premier vocalist.

 

The singles, issued on the small Amy label, made little impact but in 1970 Lee got to make his first LP for 4 years, a proper one not a compilation of past releases. There were some great R&B LP’s coming round & “Yes We Can”, not a big seller, was among them. The title track endured as a political slogan for young Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. “Who’s Gonna Help a Brother Go Further” is another example of a growing modernity & social awareness of the lyrics. “Riverboat” was picked up by Little Feat, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” by Robert Palmer. Now the record has the highest of reputations, back then Lee Dorsey was regarded as being from the old school. That’s a pity because a lot of people missed out on something very good.

 

A Way With Words (Robert Hunter 1941-2019)

In the first hour of my first day on my first visit to the Glastonbury Festival I was assembling the necessary refreshments while watching my companion attempt to erect a tent I’d borrowed from a professional chess player of my acquaintance. She was no more an expert camper than myself but I was still surprised at the amount & volume of complaint coming in my direction. Please, I was trying to listen to the music drifting across the site, an acoustic version of a familiar Grateful Dead song, Of course it was, we had come to the festival for 3 days of Peace, Love & Music. As a Dead Head my interest was roused when another of their songs followed. I needed to get closer to the stage & investigate further. I left a joint for H, I’m sure that the weekend’s accommodation would be sorted by the time I returned.

 

 

So the first live performance I saw on Worthy Farm’s landmark Pyramid Stage was by Robert Hunter, the illustrious lyricist & collaborator with Jerry Garcia & the Grateful Dead, who unfortunately died this week aged 78. I’m no obituarist & it’s tough to settle on three selections when there are so many significant songs. I do have to mark the loss of a great American poet, someone whose contribution to our music & certainly to my own musical experience, has been considerable.

 

Image result for robert hunter jerry garciaHunter & Garcia were a thing before the Dead, even before Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. There’s just one credit for him on the group’s second album, “Anthem of the Sun” (1968), next time around his name was on all 8 tracks of “Aoxomoxoa” (1969). “Dark Star” is known as the apex of their improvised instrumentals but it has words & Hunter provided them. In 1970 the Dead’s recordings transitioned from being a psychedelic dance band to embracing their & America’s musical roots. Hunter’s stories of gamblers. losers, drug-addled train drivers & other working men, new myths of the West,  complemented this blend of Folk, County & Blues.  On the perfect “American Beauty” the Grateful Dead were singing sweet songs to rock our soul & the considered, philosophical lyrics made the listening experience transcendent.

 

 

The Grateful Dead records, live & in the studio, the solo albums & side projects, were all part of our collections. Robert Hunter’s “Tales of the Great Rum Runners” (1974) & “Tiger Rose” (1975) may not have got as much play as some of the others but they were good to have around, fine additions to a body of work from the extended Dead karass & an indication of songs that would have been more familiar if the band had picked them up. As the group matured so did Hunter’s lyrics & there were still those good enough to become long-standing inclusions in the live set. Bassist Phil Lesh said this week, “”As much as anyone, he defined in his words what it meant to be the Grateful Dead”.

 

Hunter continued to write with Garcia right up to the guitarist’s death. His intimate connection was established & he was still able to distance himself from the excesses of Rock & Roll by living in England for some years. I guess that’s how he ended up on the Glastonbury stage. He wrote with other people too, most notably with Bob Dylan on the “Together Through Life” LP (2009) where he shared credit on 9 of the 10 tracks. I could go on, checking for songs that mean more to me than they do to you, cherry picking some of his oracular lyrics, but I wont. Instead here’s Elvis Costello’s version of “Ship of Fools”, one of the outstanding songs Hunter wrote for “From the Mars Hotel” (1974) perhaps the last album from the Grateful Dead’s Golden Age.

 

 

Image result for robert hunter jerry garciaOne sure thing is that Robert Hunter’s words will be part of my funeral service, a reflection of the long, strange but hopeful trip it’s been. Problem is which song to settle on. It’s been “Box of Rain” for some time now though only a fool would not consider “Ripple”. Coming up on the outside is this beauty from Jerry’s first solo record. “To tell sweet lies, one last time and say good night”, thanks for your stories Robert Hunter. Fare Thee Well.

 

 

 

The Sound Of The Funky Drummer (Soul September 1969)

September 1969 began with Aretha Franklin at the top of the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations (what?). Lady Soul achieved her 7th R&B #1, there were to be 10 more, with “Share Your Love With Me”, a song from way back in 1963. I have the original of this song by Bobby “Blue” Bland, fine versions by the Band & Van Morrison but I must admit that  Aretha, the Sweet Inspirations, the Muscle Shoals band & King Curtis’ horns make a very classy combination. The Queen’s successor enjoyed a 7 week stay at the top of the chart, it’s one that you know but one that will wait until next month.

 

 

New Orleans’ groovy gumbo of multicultural rhythms had been moving on up the Mississippi, influencing American music since, possibly before, the turn of the century when cornet player Buddy Bolden flavoured Ragtime with dashes of improvisation, Blues & Gospel & invented Jazz. The second line tradition had its beginnings at the city’s funeral processions but its sinuous, upbeat  rhythms were by no means sombre. In 1969 The Meters released their debut LP & New Orleans Funk, particularly the 45 “Cissy Strut”, was on the national charts. The door was opened for other artists who played that good stuff.

 

Image result for eddie bo posterFirst to step through was Eddie Bo whose “Hook & Sling (Parts 1 & 2)” was at #13 mid-month & had been as high as #6. Eddie had been recording for 15 years, lots of singles, no albums. If you were in a club on Bourbon Street in the early 1960’s & Eddie Bo was playing his brand of piano R&B then it would be a perfect evening (I’m not sure how to dance “the Popeye” but I can dream!). His talents as a musician, composer, arranger & producer were much in demand. He had regional hits but never broke out into national recognition. At the small Seven B label he sang on & rearranged a track by Earl Stanley & the Stereos released in 1966 as “Pass the Hatchet” by Roger & the Gypsies, an iconic New Orleans record. “Hook & Sling” is in that category too.

 

Image result for eddie boBy the late 1960’s Eddie had got the Funk & his drummer of choice was James Black, a Louisiana man who had left to make the Jazz scene in New York before returning to R&B sessions. In 1969 James was on it, his percussive pyrotechnics on Betty Harris’ “There’s a Break in the Road” were spectacular & on “Hook & Sling” were equally so. Along with Zigaboo Modeliste, drummer for the Meters, James Black was a key figure in creating the city’s distinctive Funk sound. On the back of the hit Eddie made more 45’s & started his own label, Bo-Sound. He finally released an album in 1977 & their were others, new tunes & compilations until 2016. There are many music legends from way down yonder in New Orleans & Eddie Bo’s contribution was significant enough for him to be included among them. I’m just going to put “Check Your Bucket” right here, I know of no better tonic to be taken with the day’s first cup of coffee.

 

 

Image result for dyke and the blazers let a woman be a womanOver on the West Coast Sly Stone was making music that was not only innovative & influential but also selling by the lorry load. It would be a year or so before other groups from Los Angeles would have a major impact on the R&B chart but in 1969 there were signs that LA was coming up. There were two records made in the city on the chart. Two different groups, the same musicians involved with both. Dyke & the Blazers’ “Let a Woman Be a Woman, Let a Man Be a Man” had stalled at #44 but it was too good a record to miss out & did reach a higher position.

 

Related imageArlester “Dyke” Christian, originally from Buffalo, based in Phoenix, Arizona had scored a Top 20 R&B position in 1967 with his group’s single “Funky Broadway”. Wilson Pickett made it into an even bigger hit & Dyke, struggling to keep his band together, began to record in Los Angeles. His raw, gutbucket Funk, a variation on James Brown’s template, scored a hit with “We Got More Soul” & “Let a Woman…” was more of the same. Dyke’s studio crew were gaining a reputation of their own, the two hits tailor-made from long, improvised jams. The drum breaks, played by the outstanding James Gadson, ensured a long life for the much sampled “Let a Woman…”. There were smaller hits to follow but unfortunately Dyke was fatally shot outside a club in Phoenix in 1971. By this time his talented backing band were working on their own thing.

 

 

Image result for watts 103rd street rhythm bandThrough the 1960’s the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band had a complicated narrative. Led by singer Charles Wright for the 1968 LP “Together” the group was on to its fourth incarnation. This more stable unit displayed its wide range of talents on the album, Jazz-tinged ballads, excerpts from the set of the best live Soul covers band in California, the primal Funk of “Do Your Thing”, a breakthrough hit employed so effectively in “Boogie Nights” when William H Macy is doing his thing. The insistent,  very groovy “Till You Get Enough”, #38 in the chart, was the lead single from “In the Jungle Babe”, a more fully realised set, the covers receiving an individual take, from a more confident combo. For the next couple of years the music made on 103rd Street was some of the best around.

 

Image result for watts 103rd street rhythm band till you getSo who were these guys providing the raw but always tight & in the pocket backing for both Dyke & Charles Wright? Drummer James Gadson was complemented by bassist Melvin Dunlap, guitarist Al McKay was around until 1969 when he joined Earth, Wind & Fire, the slack taken up by Benorce Blackmon. There was a horn section & the whole thing was tied together by keyboard/arranger Ray Jackson. James was unsettled by a lack of credit for his input on the smooth perfect “Love Land” on which he sang. In 1971 he, Dunlap, Blackmon & Jackson left to join the very successful Bill Withers. They can be heard at their consummate best on Bill’s “Live at Carnegie Hall” record & seen on the star’s in concert Y-tube clips. The band do their thing sitting down too, James Gadson always smiling because it’s that good. Imagine how hard that groove would have been if they had bothered to stand up!

 

 

“How Are You?” “Old” (Almodovar And More)

Are there more films around concerning the passing of the years & reflections on childhood or is it just that now I’ve reached a certain age I’m paying more attention to them? In 2016 “The Distinguished Citizen” (“El Cuidadano Ilustre”) entertainingly told the story of a Nobel Literature Laureate (Oscar Martinez from the brilliant “Wild Tales”), wealthy & now unmotivated to write, accepting an invitation to return from Spain to his hometown in Argentina where his memories & the often resentful characters from his novels await. Last year Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” lovingly & painstakingly captured his own upbringing in 1970’s Mexico City & was deservedly awarded the Oscars for Cinematography, Direction & Best Foreign Language Film (though my vote went to “Shoplifters” from Japan). While I’m interested when others share their cogitations there’s ample contemplative retrospection in my real life thank you. It’s OK because this week I saw “Pain & Glory” (“Dolor Y Gloria”), the new film from Pedro Almodovar & I’ll bet my pension that it will be some time before I need to watch another movie about love, loss & Life.

 

 

In the photo a Caucasian male and a Hispanic female can be seen.

Pedro y Penelope

Pedro Almodovar, a master of cinema, is 70 this month & has been directing films for almost 40 years. Since his international breakthrough in 1988 with “Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown” his sophisticated, subversive, sometimes melodramatic or outrageous observations on modern Spain (it’s a list…a long one) has established him as the legatee of their genius Luis Bunuel & worthy of a placing alongside the great directors of cinematic history. “Pain & Glory” is the most autobiographical of his films, thematically & stylistically Almodovariano, casting two of his greatest stars while delivering a singular personal statement with integrity & honesty.

 

Image result for pain & glorySalvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, grizzled, handsome, sensational) is a film maker who no longer makes films, preoccupied with psychological & physical ailments. A revival of one of his movies reconnects him to the estranged star & to heroin, a drug he had some experience of. His opiate induced absorptions return him to childhood living in a cave with his mother (Played by Penelope Cruz with the sensuality of Sophia Loren) & a love for cinema smelling of “piss, jasmine & a summer breeze”. There’s a reunion with a former lover, Salvo’s first feelings of homosexuality & meetings with his dying mother (Julieta Serrano cast as Banderas’ mother for the third time). All of it is at a perfect emotional pitch &, employing a palette of red & white, looks absolutely gorgeous. The soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias is similarly evocative. Almodovar’s films are not always as fully realised though different folks see different strokes of inspiration in each of them. “Pain & Glory”, with its closing reminder that we have been watching a film, is a masterpiece from a director in absolute control of his undoubted talents.

 

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OH!

 

 

Image result for once upon a time in hollywoodIt was an early start on Sunday lunchtime for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. It would have been earlier but the multiplex staff forgot about us though the delay meant that we were spared the interminable commercials/trailers time waste & went straight to Los Angeles in 1969. Well, into Quentin Tarantino’s version of La-La land. QT’s movies, steeped in popular culture references, all have an element of anamnesis. The movie homages (steals?), artfully placed posters, the kitschy-cool Pop soundtracks all reflect his life-long preoccupations. This time around Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a star on the wane, is constantly reminded of his successful past. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) his former stunt double now a gofer is similarly reduced, living in a trailer adjacent to a drive-in cinema. They can’t buy a break in the New Hollywood. Rick’s boozing & Cliff beating up Bruce Lee when he does get a job doesn’t help. Meanwhile Rick’s next door neighbours, Roman Polanski & Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) are living the life.

 

Image result for margot robbie once upon a time in hollywood

OH!

“…in Hollywood” is packed with references to movies & TV shows, real & imagined. The director has some fun morphing Rick into “The Great Escape”. There are some fine scenes, Rick does proper acting, Sharon goes to see one of her movies, Cliff’s visit to the Spahn movie ranch with those damned Manson Family hippies. Then there’s Tarantino’s whipcrack dialogue, it’s a long film but listening to his characters shoot the breeze is always a reason to hand over the entrance fee. A fair chunk of the Internet & the commentariat likes to snark at such a visible, sometimes controversial director. There’s a new Charlie’s Angels film coming up, you’ll be OK. The ending has raised some kerfuffle, violence in a Tarantino movie…who knew? The clue is in the “Once Upon a Time…”, it’s a reverie, only a movie. Jeez, in one of his films he killed Hitler, that didn’t really happen either.

 

My companion & I had seen every Tarantino film & on the way home we talked about wanting to return to them (me, “Jackie Brown”, him, “Reservoir Dogs”). Damn, if “Kill Me Now Ringo, Said The Gringo”, a Spaghetti Western Rick made in Italy, exists then we would pay to see that too. We’re already on the lookout for  the flame thrower-heavy “The 14 Fists of McCluskey”. “Anyone order fried sauerkraut?”

 

 

Related imageBong Joon Ho returns to South Korea for “Parasite”. He went to Hollywood to make the sci-fi classic “Snowpiercer” (2013), on to Netflix for “Okja” (2017), a capable satire about corporations starring a very big pig. “Parasite” concerns a poor family of four struggling to get along in the gig economy, living in a shabby basement. The son, Ki-woo, catches a break & after a little fakery gets work with a very wealthy one-percenter family. A plan is hatched to change their luck & the rest is their story. South Korea’s first winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes is an intricate film, a biting social commentary on the class divide, an amoral, absurd black comedy, a drama which becomes a tense thriller. Each tonal shift is wonderfully & entertainingly handled by the director, the dispassionate camera lens allowing you to make up your own mind about the protagonists. A nod to Hye-jin Jang as the cynical, profane mother, my favourite character. Things I learnt from “Parasite”, the rich don’t like the smell of the poor & the best plan is no plan, then nothing can go wrong.

 

It’s evidently been an outstanding week’s viewing round here. I’ve already handed out the ultimate “masterpiece” tag to Almodovar’s film so I’m reluctant to pin the same accolade on “Parasite”. I’ll probably regret that after another six months of the usual Hollywood dreck but for sure this is another Hit From the Bong (thank you!). Catch it if you can.

Sumpin’ Funky Going On (Donnie Fritts)

Donnie Fritts, the songwriter & musician who sadly died this week, once said that he would retire if Ray Charles ever recorded one of his songs. When this actually did happen Donnie cried tears of joy & thankfully for us all, kept on doing the thing he’s always done. He may not be as familiar a name as some of his contemporaries but the frequency he shows up on record label credits endorses his reputation as a reliable & influential personality beyond his Muscle Shoals base.

 

Donnie Fritts was born in 1942 in Florence, Alabama, a teenage drummer, part of a scene raised on Country & Western, influenced by the Rock & Roll of Elvis Presley & by the R&B played by disc jockeys like Hoss Allen on WLAC in Nashville. This crew of young white boys had a local studio where they could learn how a song went. When Tommy Roe, a teen idol, was sent to the Muscle Shoals FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) studios to record Donnie & his old band mate Dan Penn had a song for him. “Sorry I’m Late Lisa” became the b-side of “Everybody” a 1963 Top 10 hit. Donnie was in at the very start of something big.

 

 

He was around again when Penn moved across to American Studios in Memphis & broke big with a trio of hits for the Box Tops. The bluesy “Choo Choo Train” kept the run going. I liked the Box Tops & I liked this song. So, evidently did Quentin Tarantino as it turns up in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. Donnie always had a song, usually written with someone, for whoever was around. “Behind Every Great Man There’s A Woman” is a great re-write of “When A Man Loves A Woman” for Percy Sledge, all the better for not having heard it a million times. There were others for Percy, a single for Sam & Dave, an album track for Tony Joe White. When Dusty Springfield came to Memphis in 1968 Fritts & regular partner Eddie Hinton brought the languid “Breakfast In Bed”, the next best known song, after “Son of a Preacher Man”, on a landmark record. The following year Atlantic repeated the trick & brought Lulu to Muscle Shoals where the same pair had “Where’s Eddie” waiting for the Scottish songstress.

 

 

Image result for donnie fritts kristoffersonDonnie was a piano player now but there were others, Spooner Oldham, David Briggs, around at Muscle Shoals. As a songwriter the deals were done up in Nashville & it was there he got the gig, which lasted for 25 years, of playing in Kris Kristofferson’s band. Theirs was a close friendship, “Funky” Donnie Fritts is name checked on the introduction to Kris’ “The Pilgrim” (used by Scorsese in “Taxi Driver”) & he had co-writing credits on the early albums. The KK connection took Donnie to Hollywood for small roles in “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”, two other Peckinpah joints & Monte Hellman’s fantastic “Cockfighter”. Nice work.

 

 

Image result for donnie fritts dan pennIn 1974 Donnie made his own LP. The title track of “Prone To Lean” was written for & about his economy of movement, the Alabama Leaning Man’s propensity to find the nearest wall for support, by Kristofferson. A Muscle Shoals all-star band, including the impeccable rhythm section, David Hood, Barry Beckett & Roger Hawkins, showed out for a swampy Shoals Funk session, a self-possessed’ easygoing, heartfelt collection with no lack of dry humour. Donnie now had a portfolio of melodic songs, simply but strongly constructed, which lent themselves to the full spectra of Country & R&B. Dozens of artists wanted to record them.

 

 

Ray Charles was not the only one who recorded “We Had It All”. Written with Nashville Hall of Famer Troy Seals the ballad originally appeared on “Honky Tonk Heroes” the 1973 album by Waylon Jennings, a milestone of Outlaw Country. It’s been covered by an extensive & diverse range of artists, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, Scott Walker, Tina Turner, I’ll stop there. Oh yeah, in 1978 while recording “Some Girls” Keith Richard showed his love & respect for Heartbreak Country with a wonderful version which didn’t make the final album but is the one that makes the cut here.

 

There was another solo record in 1997 when many of Donnie’s friends, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Waylon, happily gave assistance. In 2004 the old gang had a reunion as the Country Soul Revue, something would have been missing if he had not been involved. He was given the opportunity to to record again in 2015 & was joined by younger artists, Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, who had grown up listening to & admiring his work.

 

 

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Arthur, Dan & Donnie

Donnie met Arthur Alexander Jr when he was 16. They became teacher & student, friends & collaborators, as “June” made the first hits from Muscle Shoals with his thoroughly modern, influential (the Beatles & the Stones!) Pop Soul songs. In 1972 he contributed to Arthur’s marvellous eponymous LP & again to 1993’s “Lonely Just Like Me” which included their stunning “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way”. Last year, 2018, aged 75, Donnie released a tribute to his friend, a gorgeous, sincere, of course sentimental collection of Southern Soul which makes me smile & then chokes me up.

 

Image result for donnie fritts dan pennDonnie Fritts lived a long & happy life making the music he loved with his friends. Back in the 1950’s, when the alternative was picking cotton, he couldn’t have imagined that his weekend hobby would make him a living, take him around the world & that his songs would endure for & affect generations. He was part of a small, talented group who rode their luck & made their mark on American music. I apologise if there are too many clips in this post, I could have chosen twice as many & I’m sure there are others to be discovered. Funky Donnie Fritts was one of the good guys.

 

Back To Someone Else’s Garden (UK Pop-Psych August 1969)

So 50 years ago this month the Woodstock Festival happened. There’s a 38 CD, 432 track collection to sell to the millions of us who first listened to the original double album, saw the film many times & took enough acid to convince ourselves that we were one of the 400,000 who did get to Yasgur’s Farm. We’re lucky that the Woodstock Generation now has £655 ($800) to spare on such an artefact. Me, I’ll stick with “National Lampoon’s Lemmings” double LP where, among others, John Belushi, Chevy Chase & Christopher Guest celebrate mass suicide at the “Woodshuck Festival of Peace, Love, and Death”. That whole kit & caboodle box set won’t include the Motown Manifestos singing “Papa Was a Running-Dog Lackey of the Bourgeoisie” or Farmer Yassur’s quote “long hair, short hair, what the hell’s the difference once the head’s blowed off?”

 

 

Image result for isle of wight festival 1969Not to be outdone in the UK just two weeks later 150,000 music fans went to the Isle of Wight, a rock off the South Coast of England, for their very own festival. After a smaller event in 1968 the organisers, showing no lack of ambition, acquired the services of Bob Dylan & the Band. The future Nobel laureate had not performed for the 3 years since his motorcycle accident, it was a coup & the 3-day event became a very big deal. The Who, Joe Cocker & Richie Havens had also appeared at Woodstock & the rest of the bill was made up of the Folk Rock & Progressive Blues bands prevalent in 1969. From the accounts of those who can remember that they were there everybody had a good time & the return to the stage of Dylan made for a very significant occasion. The following year, when festivals were absolutely a thing, over 600,000 hippies came to the island. Thank goodness those types never washed, there’s no way there were enough bathrooms for that many folk.

 

 

Image result for fairport convention unhalfbrickingFairport Convention had covered a Dylan song on each of their first two records. When the young group were given access to a cluster of unrecorded songs now known as “The Basement Tapes” like kids in sweet shop they greedily grabbed three of them for “Unhalfbricking”, their third LP. Fairport’s range of influences, from traditional Folk songs across to the West Coast of the USA & contributions from 5 of the 6 members made for an eclectic (I never use that word!) mix that was assured & attractive. “What We Did On Our Holidays”, released earlier in 1969, was a move forward. Island had put the track “Meet on the Ledge” on their successful (& cheap) promo sampler “You Can All Join In” & it served as their calling card.

 

 

Image result for sandy denny 1969There’s only good things to be said about Fairport & about “Unhalfbricking”. They were all accomplished & in guitarist Richard Thompson & singer Sandy Denny the group incorporated two outstanding talents. Just 20, Richards songwriting was developing (“Genesis Hall” is one of his) & he was becoming a distinctive, stylish instrumentalist. It was on this record that Sandy, who had joined for “…Holidays”, confirmed her unique, beautiful gift. Of the Dylan covers “Si Tu Dois Partir”. a French version of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” & “Million Dollar Bash” are ramshackle fun, something I’ve always been a fan of. The other, “Percy’s Song”, is as much a highlight as the one take, 11 minute long, interpretation of the traditional song “A Sailor’s Life”. Folk Rock had become a thing in British music & Fairport Convention were advocates, instigators & masters of the fusion. On Sandy’s song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” the dazzling interplay of her vocal & Richard’s guitar transcends any labels making for a stunning, gorgeous, timeless classic which. 50 years on, still stirs & moves anyone with a soul.

 

This was a difficult time for Fairport Convention. Just two months before the release of “Unhalfbricking” the group’s van was involved in an accident which resulted in the death of teenage drummer Martin Lamble & Richard’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn. Such a tragedy obviously instigated a period of mourning & introspection which jeopardised the group’s future. On the new record they had been augmented by Dave Swarbrick, a virtuoso on the fiddle. When he & drummer Dave Mattacks became permanent members the Folk force was even stronger. Fairport’s success was consolidated with their next LP “Liege & Lief”, the ‘most important folk album of all time’ according to the BBC. If you don’t know that one then I recommend that you get to it, after you’ve given “Unhalfbricking ” a listen.

 

 

Related imageOf course we were all Moonstruck in August 1969. The previous month a quick visit to our sole satellite confirmed that the the technological possibilities of the human race were endless. The colonisation of space, jetpacks for all & a diet of tasty pellets of dehydrated food seemed to be just around the corner. To commemorate such an auspicious event President records issued a psyche-sploitation 45 by the Cape Kennedy Construction Company. Very little is known is known about the group, “First Step on the Moon” is co-written by Barbara Ruskin, a singer-songwriter who made records in an assortment of mid-60’s styles, Johnny Hawkins, her producer at the label, had something to do with it & er, that’s about it. It’s a good, interesting example of Harmony Pop tricked up with plenty of extra-terrestrial effects (Joe Meek would have been just the man for the job). The B-side “Armageddon” is even more out there but both tracks made little impression at the time. Their inclusion on Psych-Pop collections & an endorsement by that bloke off of Oasis has recently increased their visibility.

 

The C.K.C.C’s thunder was stolen by another opportunistic orbital opus. Now I know that David Bowie is one of the most influential, innovative & important artists of our generation but the stylophone-drenched “Space Oddity” struck me at the time as yet another of his gimmicks. His first hit followed an unsuccessful trio of 45’s, “Rubber Band”, “The Laughing Gnome” & “Love You Till Tuesday”. This was the “try anything for a hit” period, the wannabe Anthony Newley times which I could take or leave (usually the latter). Bowie changed, I did too but I’ve just said this last paragraph out loud haven’t I? Blimey, I hope I don’t lose any friends over this!