Small Faces : Wasp-Waist and Swivel-Hippy (Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake)

The first time a good friend of mine saw “Professor” Stanley Unwin”, the peerless purveyor of mangled mumbo-jumbo known as Unwinese, he was a little thrown. It was a quiet night in, just us two, the TV & a nice bag of magic mushrooms. Was this craziness his own psilocybin twisted perception or…well, what was this ? Carl was born too late to have heard or seen Stanley’s TV & radio appearances. He had missed out too on the long summer holiday of 1968 when our teenaged gang of four wondered at the circular sleeve (how mad was that !) and delighted in the Cockney Psychedelia of the Small Faces’ LP “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake”. It was #1 on the charts for 6 weeks & Stanley Unwin was a pop star. So, “are you sitting comftybold two-square on your botty? Then we’ll begin.”

In 1966 Small Faces had taken residence in the UK Top 10 with 4 hit singles, 3 of them written by the partnership of guitarist Steve Marriott & bassist Ronnie Lane. The major pop players, the survivors of the British Beat Boom, had invaded the USA, they were less inclined to make the teen scene. The shift from wanting to hold your hand to spending the night together was a little too forward for some. The younger kids wanted some new posters on their bedroom walls, someone to scream at. These 4 young, sharp-dressed London mods, with a bright Soul/R&B inflected take on pop, were just the ticket. When I say sharp I mean best-dressed. Small Faces sounded great & looked better.

The group spent the first half of 1967 extricating themselves from an unfavourable contract with manager & all-round hard-ass Don Arden. Like kids in a toyshop Marriott, Lane, organist Ian McLagan & drummer Kenney Jones had thought that the Pimlico flat & the raids on Carnaby St boutiques were pop star perks. The hit records put clothes on their back but little money in the bank. They signed with the coolest record label around, Immediate, started by Andrew Loog Oldham, rolling in the profits from managing the Stones. The music was growing up & Small Faces, wearied by teen stardom, wanted to play with the big boys. In June they released the “Small Faces” LP, the bridge between “All Or Nothing” & what followed, all original tracks none over 3 minutes long. A great record, R&B lightly brushed with the new psychedelia, & not a hit record among them.

They revelled in the new freedom at Immediate. Recording at Olympic Studios with Glyn Johns Small Faces had 3 more Top 10 singles before the release of “Ogdens…”. “Itchycoo Park”, an English take on “Groovin'”, Mod growing it’s hair with some fine tape-wizardry flange work. The scorching “Tin Soldier”, a rocking band fronted by Steve Marriott, a great rock singer. “Lazy Sunday”, a lovely, cor-blimey, modern East End knees-up & a preview of the new LP.

“Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” came wrapped in colourful parody of a tobacco tin from back then. The sleeve was round (how mad was that ?). Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, states that the said company had produced a Nut Brown flake since 1899. This has been copied & pasted by the Internet but oh no they didn’t. Ogdens’ built their huge Liverpool factory in 1899 & opened it in 1901, they were established in 1860. It was Adkins, a London firm, who made the Nut Brown brand not Ogdens. So, let’s get this right & you read it here first. Me, I was always a ready-rubbed kind of guy !

The LP opens with the bass-boom instrumental title track written by the whole band. I have no idea where Mac was in the above clip, he’s around in the rest of the programme. This was a heavier Small Faces sound, touched by the experimentation of the times. Marriott & Lane (especially Ronnie Lane ?) had hit their stride as songwriters. Soul shakers like “Afterglow” & “Song of a Baker” (see below) shook more effectively. The lighter tunes “Rene” & “Lazy Sunday” were confident & funny. Side 1 of “Ogdens’…” is stoned rather than psychedelic.

Side 2 is a fairy tale, the story of Happiness Stan’s quest for the missing part of the moon, it’s tuned in & turned on. On “Sergeant Pepper’s…” the Beatles acknowledged music hall & influences from the days before rock & roll. From way, way back in the 1950s Small Faces enlisted Stanley Unwin to narrate their story, an inspired decision. Unwin delivered his unique take on the English language with relish. His love of language picked up on the studio patois, “called to see you man hah, what’s been your hangup man huh ?”. Monty Python was a year away but they were already around the TV & radio. We were right on this surreal goonery. British psychedelia always had a high whimsy content , the imaginative writings of the likes of Lewis Carroll & Edward Lear are part of our humour as children & adults. Small Faces were not grooving with a pict in a field overlooking a university town, theirs was a much more urban outlook. At times attempts to write about their East End roots touched on jellied eels & mash stereotypes but they were a great unit who couldn’t help but turning it up for some muscular Mod rock & roll & “Ogdens’…” is still one of my favourite LPs of the time. They did not take themselves too seriously. Stan, with the assistance of a giant fly, completed his quest. The meaning of Life ? “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran, you wake up every morning and it’s there”. Gertcha !

“Itchycoo Park” was a Top 20 hit in the USA. A kerfuffle involving Ian McLagan, the police & a lump of cannabis resin on the mantelpiece restricted their transatlantic activity. This very English LP was unlikely to find an American audience. The band found it impossible to play “Ogdens’…” live & anyway the young fans wanted to hear “Sha-la-la-la-lee”. A frustrated Steve Marriott quit onstage at a New Year’s Eve gig at Alexandra Palace. He & Peter Frampton, another reluctant teen idol, wanted to boogie so they formed Humble Pie. The remaining 3 of the gang had lost their Artful Dodger, their great showman/singer. They needed to find another & they did but they were no longer Small Faces. Finally, like at Decca with Don Arden, they never saw the money they made for Immediate either.

Some years later, in the “Noughties” (spit !) the very same Carl & myself were visiting a friend in Liverpool. We happened to be driving down Boundary Lane & passed the impressive Victorian Ogden’s tobacco factory. Our Scouser pals were confused as their nut-gone passengers stopped the car & jumped out to admire an inspirational rock & roll relic, all ” folloloping in wonderboldness & deep, deep joy”.

She Looked Good She Looked Fine… (Paul Jones and Privilege)

In the Swinging Sixties British Music Explosion it was all about the beat groups. There were singers of extraordinary individuality who stood out front in the spotlight but the boys in the band had got their back. This gang mentality became so entrenched that young solo singers, particularly the men, seemed a little solitary, like something was not quite right. The charts show that Tom Jones, Engelbert & others had big hits but our parents were still buying records…that was nothing to do with us.

Manfred Mann came out of the same West London rhythm & blues scene as the Stones & the Yardbirds. They were pretty wild & the 3rd single, “5-4-3-2-1” was the theme for the coolest show around “Ready Steady Go”. In the same year, 1964, they covered a song written by Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich out of New York’s hit factory, the Brill Building. “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, smashed it around the world. There were a lot of good bands caught on the “you’re only as good as your last single” treadmill in those pre-Sergeant Pepper’s times but the Manfreds made the move from Blues Brothers to pop poppets with a touch too much haste.

Out front was singer Paul Jones (Mann was the beardie, Jazznik keyboard player). Handsome, articulate, smiling & telegenic Jones was Jagger-lite. No stranger to soap, Jones was the rocker you could bring home to meet your mum. He was at Oxford University before the music thing got serious. The screams from the audience in this live appearance are for him. “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is one of a run of assured commercial choices, a good Dylan cover usually worked out. The next single, the lovely “Pretty Flamingo”, was a 2nd UK #1 then Jones left the group. This was big pop news. The singer remained with the label while the group were moved along.

“High Time” was the teen idol’s debut solo single &  boy does it suck. Producer John Burgess had worked with Manfred Mann, both he & writers Chas Mills & Mike Leander were pop people. Any tinge of R&B had vanished. The hip-shaking, harmonica playing Jones was reduced to bouncing around to bubblegum. The song was a hit, he was prepared to work for his money. There is a certain nostalgic camp about the jingle but “Paint It Black” it is not. In 1966 a couple of young Stevies, Winwood & Marriott, spent a lot of time in the Top 10 with their bands the Spencer Davis Group & the Small Faces. These sharp dressed, blues-influenced shouters were the thing. In comparison Paul Jones seemed old-fashioned. In 1966, this was not the thing.

When he left the band Jones said that he wanted to act. His debut was in “Privilege” (1967), the first made for cinema project by the faux-documentarist director Peter Watkins. Now I’m the wrong guy to be telling you about Peter Watkins. His films have always stirred conflicting opinions. His committed, innovative, emotional style of film-making captures an honesty which gets his work banned or marginalized.  “Privilege” was trashed as “hysterical”, “amateurish” even, by the cinema owners, “immoral”. It is none of these things. The film is a companion to “If” (1968), Lindsey Anderson’s classic about youth revolt.

Paul Jones, the real pop star, plays Steve Shorter, the same only allegorical.Shorter is used by the media, religion, government, all those bad boys, to subvert popular culture in favour of profit & power. It all gets a bit much for Steve & the grass seems greener on another side when he meets an artist played by Jean Shrimpton. I’ll write that again…Jean (supermodel) Shrimpton. Bad craziness & an exaggerated satire ensues. Within a few years the US Government are commercializing thus controlling the anti-war/counter-culture movement. Here in the UK the cynical manipulation of public opinion by Thatcher’s government so that they could fight a war with Argentina…well, it reminded me of this movie. The full movie is on the Y-tube right now, just a couple of clicks away. Patti Smith’s take on the film’s theme is just one click away.

Paul Jones did not make too many films or too many hit records after “Privilege”. His old band hired another good-looking, articulate, presentable young singer & retained their place in the UK Top 10 for the next 3 years. Jones retained his boyish looks for far too long, he did work in a lot of musical theatre. I have an almost forgotten memory of his starring role in a very forgotten musical in Birmingham. He was, always, the guy who sang “There she was just walking down the street singing…” & that counted for a lot.

He gigged regularly with the Blues Band & the Manfreds, a band with some of his old mates. He now has a well established national radio show playing the best of traditional & modern Rhythm & Blues. The last Blues DJ held in such high regard was Alexis Korner. Way, way back in the early 1960s, before any of this show business stuff seemed at all possible, Paul Jones (P.P.Pond) duetted with Brian Jones (Elmo Lewis) at the Ealing Club, home of a Blues scene centred on Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Man, those West London boys got around & stuck around !

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.

I’m Not In Love With T-T-T-Twiggy (Ready Steady Go !)

In 1959 the Royal Cinema, you know it, on Gilliatt St, near my Nana’s, stopped showing films because everyone was at home watching TV. I think it was that year that my family rented our first set. I wonder what we pointed our furniture at before that. The Royal became the Star Bingo Club, a new thing allowed by an Act of Parliament which liberalised gambling. There were lots of new things at the beginning of the decade… a Labour Government, the Twist, bouffant hairdos (well, ding dong !). Philip Larkin knew the score…

” Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP”. (Annus Mirabilis)

Yeah Man ! The Mersey Beatles, they certainly felt like a big new sexy noise for a big new post-war baby boom teenage bulge. That’s why a queue sinuated around the Star Bingo Club on a Saturday afternoon waiting for the “Teen Beat” music session to start. Live bands, records & soft drinks for the under 18’s. All down the line the juveniles, delinquent or otherwise, were chatting about the previous night’s TV programme which brought the best of the new British Beat to a living room near you.

“Ready Steady Go !” began in August 1963. The Stones first single “Come On” was still in the Top 30, the Beatles released “She Loves You”. The commercial & creative surge in British music had not been well served by the 2 TV channels (really !). Groups were shoe-horned awkwardly into light entertainment shows between the  juggler & the mother-in-law jokes. The BBC’s flagship music show played records at a “Juke Box Jury” of 4 know-nothings who decided “hit” or “miss” &…erm…that’s all. RSG surrounded the music with its young, fashionable audience, capturing some of the excitement & informality that a TV studio/schedule still often deflates. This stuff caught on. The Fab Four appeared in October (Paul judged a miming contest !) & the show got its highest audience when they took over the show in March 1964. This clip has received a sound upgrade but “You Can’t Do That” is so good it should be heard at its best. John’s finest Arthur Alexander style songwriting , George’s shiny new Rickenbacker 360 Deluxe 12-string…a B-side as well.

I missed all of this. The vagaries of regional scheduling meant that, in my provincial backwater, the early Friday evening show did not come around until after 10.30 & that was…after my bedtime…hours after! These new bands from that London, the Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, the Kinks, playing the Thames Delta Blues, I would not get to see them until they made the charts. The BBC opted for quantity over quality with a new music show based on sales. The discourse on the concourse about “5-4-3-2-1”, the theme tune, or about that group who smash their instruments (the what ? The Who !)  sounded so exciting, proof that the real fun only started when the kids were asleep. Something was happening in 1964, the RSG crew had a handle on what it was. The young production staff ditched the lip-synch & ran with a new national early evening slot which meant that I could finally see the thing.

The first young Modernist magpies about town favoured Italian fashion, New World rhythms, French cigarettes & philosophy. By 1964 Mod was more about dressing sharp, looking good on the dancefloor & while knocking over the local chemist looking for the pharmaceutical amphetamine or giving a rocker a kicking on a Bank Holiday, your getaway scooter waiting. The symbols of the next big youth movement were in place…you’ve seen “Quadrophenia”. “Ready Steady Go !” made the move from Mersey Beat to Mod giving impetus to its spread out of London up the new motorway system to the rest of the UK. I know, those original Mods viewed this dilution & subsequent commercialisation as the end of it all but, in the mid-60s, provincial British youth were better dressed, with better haircuts, than they had ever been.

RSG’s dance lessons & fashion tips were stiff & lame but there was just so much exciting new music around & whoever was booking the turns or picking the sounds was making plenty of good decisions. In March/April 1965 a roster of Tamla Motown artists had toured the UK to sparse audiences. RSG, prompted by producer & fan Vickie Wickham, filmed an hour long special “The Sound of Motown” featuring Martha & the Vandellas, the Miracles, 14 year old Stevie Wonder, the Temptations &, Motown’s only UK Top 20 act, the Supremes. Wickham’s best friend Dusty Springfield hosted the show. Dusty had been in a faux-folk trio, recorded overdramatic Euro-pop ballads but she had a heart full of soul & she was sheer class. The show was a blast of energy, a blur of hand clapping, foot stomping, funky butt Detroit Soul. We were able to match some faces to some tunes. Tamla Motown was here to stay.

This wonderful clip, Dusty getting some help on “Wishin’ & Hopin'”, her Bacharach & David US Top 10 hit, from Martha Reeves & the Vandellas is what live music TV can be & rarely is. Dusty & Martha seem to have been left to work it out for themselves & are liking what they have done. The gospel boost to finish makes for a unique performance by the Righteous Sisters.

The groups at “Teen Beat” was the first live music I saw. I think that I was a little underwhelmed at first, it was hardly the Swinging Blue Jeans was it ? Now I remember them as good bands from around the North of England who were ahead of those Top 20 fans. The reference point was the first LP by the Rolling Stones, released in April 64 (May in the US as “England’s Newest Hit Makers”). They all played approximate versions of “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” & surprisingly the soul-jazz groove of Phil Upchurch’s “You Can’t Sit Down”. Y’know if you saw a young bar band playing these songs tonight you would be impressed with their good taste. That was then, 1966 was Now ! & every group was expected to play some new songs.

“Knock On Wood”, “Hold On I’m Coming”, “Mr Pitiful”, this was the new canon. Motown was perhaps a touch too much what with the harmonies & the choreography…at the same time. The music made at Stax Records  was raw, even more basic when there was no horn section, just 4 young energetic kids could fill the dance floor with  these tunes. In September 1966 RSG handed over the show to the label’s figurehead Otis Redding. It was a case of light the blue touch paper & retire to a safe distance as Otis, backed by the Bar-Kays, made a compelling case to be considered as the most exciting act in music. Blue-eyed soul Brits, Chris Farlowe & the great Eric Burdon were invited along & joined in this clip of the closing “Shake”, Sam Cooke’s soul stormer. Eric never looked happier & rightly so. Years later I carried a video tape of this show around, ready to share the greatest 30 minutes of music TV ever. When Stax brought their tour to the UK there were full houses everywhere because people wanted a bit of what they had seen on RSG.

Then, in December 1966, the plug was pulled. Mod probably was past its sell-by-date, the Beat Boom was over but British music was as vibrant in 1967 as it had ever been. The commercial TV network were having none of it, having cancelled the other music show “Thank Your Lucky Stars” in June. Just 2 weeks before RSG ended the UK TV debut of Jimi Hendrix tore up the rule book & knocked us sideways. I had seen the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, for the first time on the show, I was going to have to dig a bit deeper to see the Doors or Jefferson Airplane because ITV would be not be helping. I would too, no longer get my weekly fix of Cathy McGowan, the Mod Dolly Bird next door who so successfully replaced the stiff DJs for hire with a naturalness, an enthusiasm & well, take a look, we were all a little in love with Cathy.

And They’ve Been Working All Day, All Day, All Day! (Cat Stevens)

In 1966 17 year old Steven Georgiou had got it going on. He had a new name, Cat Stevens & he had a new wardrobe too. The Carnaby Street boutiques were just a short stroll up Regent Street from his family’s Soho restaurant. The current thing was the Edwardian Dandy look, velvet suits, ruffed shirts. Young “Cat” had a few of those. He was also recording his first LP, all his own songs with a little help from heavyweight friends Leon Russell & Kim Fowley.

“Matthew & Son” was in a UK chart Top 3 along with “I’m A Believer” & “Let’s Spend The Night Together”. England was swinging like a pendulum do & Cat Stevens was smack dab in the middle of this whole new thing. The Beatles & the Stones had grown up with Rock & Roll  & the Blues respectively. Those musicians who were part of the great creative rush of the British Beat Explosion had been born in the Second World War, Cat was the first of the post-war Baby Boomers, the Beatles fans, to make the scene. For him it was no big deal that he was a singer who wrote his own songs or that those songs drew from Dylan, the musicals in the theatres  next door or anything else that took his fancy. Pop Art had been around as a theory & a movement for 10 years. By 1966 these young Brits were making Pop Art up as they went along.

Cat’s music sounded new, fresh & bright on the new. fresh…you get me… pirate radio stations. His mentor & producer was Mike Hurst, one third of the hit folk trio the Springfields (alongside the wondrous Dusty). Hurst had a hook up with Decca to launch a new “progressive” label Deram. His flamboyant, biff-bang-pow productions were of the moment. There could be a touch of novelty rather than innovation about them but hey, it was Pure Pop, the young me was impressed & liked to hear them.

The first Cat Stevens LP, also called “Matthew & Son”, is full of folk-rock melodies boosted by imaginative instrumentation & arrangement. It is, more than many of its contemporaries, in the orbit of “Rubber Soul”. I know, I’m not claiming that it is of the same quality but it is from a time when British pop music was let loose in the toyshop, when it was Mod, flash & fun. It is a gem & announces a new talent.

Cat had a lot of songs & Hurst kept him busy in the studio. A second LP was released just 9 months later in December 1967, a post-Sergeant Pepper music world now. The cover of “New Masters” registers that things have become a little more serious, the teenage singer going for gravitas but looking solemn. He’s a pop singer for flip’s sake. “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, a pop-soul classic, is still around today. This live clip, Cat with a band & happy doing what he’s doing, obviously rocking his new furry coat, captures him at his best in this early stage of his career.

Things were happening too quickly. The quirky singles were not on the LP. There was a split between Cat & Hurst as the singer wanted more control & less whistles & bells. The label & the lawyers had too much say in what went where on the record & it was not a success.

Blimey ! Where is the fresh-faced young man from earlier in the year ? As a solo singer, a rare thing at a time when it was all about the groups, Cat often seemed awkward & adventitious selling his big, busy, beaty balladry on a conveyor belt of unsympathetic European TV programmes. Stood standing by himself, lip-synching, what can a poor boy do ? A young man’s first attempt at facial hair is never a good look & Cat just seems tired. He was not living healthily, he needed to keep those hits coming & he was getting ill.

I used the money from my paper round to buy my copy of “A Bad Night”. I played it as much as you do when you only have a small stack of vinyl. The grooves are packed, the tune a little lost but I really did like a bit of polished baroque pop back then. I knew that these everything & the kitchen sink productions could be, in the wrong hands, a hard way to go. From the sappy children’s chorus of “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” to the crappy melodrama of “Bat Out Of Hell” culminating in the counterfeit classicism of “Bohemian Rhapsody” bombast & superfluity produced some strictly ersatz music. But OK, I reckon that Mike Hurst & Cat Stevens fall on the right side of imaginative here & I still like “A Bad Night”

There was no more music from Cat Stevens for 3 years. He contracted tuberculosis & needed a long period of convalescence. When he did return everything was new. There were a bunch of new songs for a new label. He was a man now, a serious singer-songwriter riding  the acoustic swell which was becoming an international thing. His facial hair was convincing this time around too. That young Mod singer had been replaced. It was the first of Cat’s musical lives & there were to be more in the future. I liked some of his new music, certainly admired the principles he has adhered to in later years. I liked the cocky young teenager & his new pop songs too. We were so much older then…you get me ?

When There’s Things To Do Not Because You Gotta (Summer of 66)

The Summer of 1966 is a very strong contender for an inter-equinox/solstice type of deal Hall of Fame. At loosehandlebars we are often caught looking back but none of us have turned into pillars of salt because we are down with Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” No room for nostalgia here. With an unlikely cultural leap we summon “Dragnet”s Joe Friday,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. In that summer I was 13 years old. On the 30th of July England’s football team beat Germany’s 4 goals to 2 to become the Champions of the World. For 2 weeks in July the #1 record in the UK was “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks.

Image result for the kinks magazine coversThe charts belonged to the Beatles in the Summer of 66. When “Paperback Writer” was released in June the next double sided smash, “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”, had already been recorded. For the 6 weeks of non-Fab Four omniscience the chart-toppers were Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, the Troggs & the Kinks. Britpop carried the swing but acts were having to raise their game because the competition was unforgiving. You were only as good as your last single & who wants yesterday’s papers…you get me ? The Kinks had got the hit single thing absolutely down. After “You Really Got Me” 11 of the next 12 45s made the Top 10 (the other reached #11). There are some great songs in that run, “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” did not match the sales of the big guns but maybe should have. Ray Davies was developing an acerbic, more expansive (did I hear anyone say smug ?) style. “Well Respected Man” was a tentative start, “Dedicated Follower” was just original, funny & brilliant. “Sunny Afternoon” is a multi-layered satire on either the old Imperial aristocracy or the nouveau rock rich & the reaction to Government tax policy. It is a Lovin’ Spoonful song with added cynicism. It is 4 pints in a British beer garden, the dolly birds in their mini dresses. It is languid, lovely & it was everywhere.

There was no cricket season in 1966. Well not until the football was done with. This was the first & the only World Cup to be staged in Britain in my lifetime. It was the first one when TV technology & space hardware meant that the whole world (except the USA) really was watching. My friends & I kicked a ball about all day, new international heroes to admire & to emulate, before watching 2 games in the evening. The first week saw a great victory for Hungary over the champions Brazil. My Uncle Erno, a refugee from the 1956 uprising, was able to show his pride & his enthusiasm for his country for the first time since he fled…splendid. England became the World Champions at the first tournament I had watched so carefully. It seemed to be the natural order of things, Swinging London would surely always be the cultural centre of the world. I wish someone had told my 13 year old self that I should appreciate & relish England’s victory because it would NEVER bloody happen again in my life !

Image result for the who magazine coversThe Who, like the Kinks, were on an inspired run of singles & were reliant on the creativity of a single member of the group. Ray Davies & Pete Townshend were intelligent but fragile talents who did not react well to the demands of their musical partners, business associates & audience. Their respective autobiographies are a litany of complaint, dissatisfaction, even damage when they were living the dream of so many. It may have been tough, it may have been hell but man, it produced a shed load of fantastic, original, world class pop songs. “I’m A Boy” was released in August 1966, the first of a twisted, thrilling trilogy of hit singles. Pete was already beyond his smashed/blocked Mod anthem phase & this clip shows the confidence & talent of the whole band. Not yet the best rock & roll band in the world but maybe on their way. Most of Pete’s work seems to have been part of a more ambitious song cycle. It took some time before he was able to balance the rock operas & the hit singles. “Happy Jack” & “Pictures Of Lily” kept the Who in the Top 10, these strange & wonderful songs of adolescence. I was never dressed as a girl by my mother but…”I wanna play cricket on the green. Ride my bike across the stream.Cut myself and see my blood.I wanna come home all covered in mud”. I was 13 years old & so did I.

Our family holiday was 2 weeks long in 1966. We usually had a week in a caravan (I loved it) but this year we went further for longer & stayed in a B&B. Did we have more money ? I have not the slightest idea ! As the eldest of 5 I had 3 younger brothers to play with/look after. No problem, I loved them then & still do now. My parents arranged for my best friend to join us for the 2nd week as company for me. Y’know I thought that was great then but now…how cool & kind were my folks. Wink & I had a great time. On a rainy day my Dad took us to a snooker hall, a wonderful fuggy place of dim light, green baize, stale smoke. A man’s place. He paid for our game & left us alone to our Fast Eddie Felson fantasies…we loved it. In 1966 there were still illegal pirate radio stations in the UK. Our Yorkshire resort had one moored nearby so reception was loud & clear. In the evenings we took a radio to the cliffs & we listened to a lot of music. Released on the same day as “Eleanor Rigby” & its successor at # 1 was this classic.

Mod was provincial by 1966. Those sharp dressed young men of 1963 inspired by an R&B existentialism were moving from purple hearts to Gold Lebanese, to a new dandyism supplied by Carnaby St boutiques. Out here on the perimeter an army surplus parka, a scooter & a liking for Tamla Motown got you into the club. Hey, it was OK, working class kids still wanted to look sharp, there was still plenty of business for the local tailor, but the first steps from Hard Mod to Skinhead were being taken. In 1966 the Small Faces were absolutely the top Mod band in the UK. They took up permanent residence in the Top 10 with 4 singles & every day of the year they looked as great as this. Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane learned how to write the pop/R&B belters & “All Or Nothing” was their biggest hit. They were becoming a great band but things were changing by the end of the year.

Image result for small faces magazine coversIn May 1966 the Beatles played their last UK concert. There was anyway, a new generation of young girls looking for their own idols. The Small Faces were all good looking boys, they attracted screaming teenyboppers to their gigs when being heart throbs was no longer quite the thing. There was not a lot of money around, they helped themselves to the best clothes in London, living the life while the bills were sent to the manager. When the band’s parents called on Don Arden he grassed them up about the marijuana habit…oh oh. Keyboard player Ian McLagan got busted which hampered US visas at an important time. The band did get away from Arden. He sent his heavies to dangle one potential suitor from a window but they went with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham & his new label Immediate. Still no money but still the talent & interesting times ahead.

We were back at school when the Small Faces were at #1. In that same chart was “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” & “Working In A Coal Mine”. Soul Heaven…sitting on those cliffs, with my best friend, listening to Wilson Pickett shriek “1-2-3 !” that was great. There have been better summers, great places, great times & people but I doubt that there has been a better soundtrack. The day after my Dad took us to the snooker hall it rained again. He asked us what we wanted to do. We said that we wanted to go back there again. He was not too keen but we said, hey, you pay & leave us to it. It’s said that an ability to play a decent game of snooker is the sign of a misspent youth. Well we were doing the best we could back then.

Stepping In And Out Of That Manchester Beat

The first fulmination of British Beat music is always going to be known as Mersey Beat. Brian Epstein may have thought that his lovable Mop Tops had the potential to make a record or two but he also managed a stable of Scousers ready to follow the ‘Pool pathfinders into the chart limelight flaunting their provincialism, their youth, their “fab” & “gear” & “wacker”, their swinging blue jeans. Down the East Lancashire Road, at the other end of the North West megalopolis, Manchester, Liverpool’s civic & commercial rivals since the Industrial Revolution, had to watch as the British youth coup which spread across the world’s turntables had a distinctive Merseyside twang. Now, 50 years later, Manchester’s musicians have made their mark on our music but their beat group hit-makers were a little exiguous.

The Hollies were bang on it from the very start. The first 45s were the R&B covers from their stage act, lively Coasters harmonies, the music stripped to a basic beat . Success was incremental until Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” took them to the Top 3. From record 1 the b-sides were their own songs. “Now’s The Time” is credited to Graham Nash & Allan Clarke (for the next record Tony Hicks would join in). It is the flip of “Stay” & is featured in the 1963 film “It’s All Over Town”, a forgotten flim-flam which was passing its sell-by-date as it was filmed. What an early shot of the group, the leather look was not a great one, they still have the original drummer, Don Rathbone & their pre-Fab Four haircuts. The song though is a simple variation on the Lennon & McCartney template showing that the Hollies were quick learners.

The band were certainly helped by the production talents of Ron Richards but they made the smart moves at the right time. they began to record original songs, the move across the Atlantic in 1966 made them very successful. So many of those first beat groups were left behind after that first energy burst. The Hollies were better than most , they were talented & had got it going on. More from them soon.

The Swinging Sixties had not yet been declared open when, in 1961, George Formby, a singer/comedian who had been the UK’s highest paid entertainer, passed away. Formby’s appeal was not too apparent to my generation, novelty songs, an innocent demeanour, an exaggerated accent, a “Lancashire half-wit” said one Liverpudlian (though George Harrison was a fan). Peter Noone, a young actor from Manchester was 16 years old when he had his first #1 hit as the singer of Herman’s Hermits.  When he was just 17 (you know what I mean) he & his group had 7 Top 10 hits in the US. Peter was cute, America was in thrall to a rampant Anglophilia, The songs were R&B covers,( think Pat Boone “Tutti Frutti”) or novelty songs, the syrupy “Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”, a Cockney knees-up, “I’m Henry the Eighth I Am”, which were both awful & both hit #1. Peter was innocent, he exaggerated his northern accent & the Yanks just ate him up. What the…? I have no idea what any of the Beatles thought of him.

Mickie Most, the band’s producer, kept the hits coming until the end of 1967 when Peter handed over the title of Sweet Young Mancunian Boy to Monkee Davy Jones. The Hermits still had access to hit songs & had continued success in Europe. Before the Top 10 hits stopped they released this version of “Dandy”. The clip is from “The Dean Martin Show” & OK the song has been sedated & de-clawed, “Well Respected Man” it is not. It is, though, a Ray Davies song at #5 in the US charts & that is a thing.

Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders took that same ride to the top of the US charts. It must have been such a blast for these young men who had grown up in the black & white world of 1950s Britain. “The Game Of Love”, a song by an interesting American writer, Clint Ballard Jr, was the group’s 2nd UK hit & a #1 in the USA. Man, if you were British & in a band in 1965 you were a prince !. So Wayne Fontana (erm, Glyn Ellis) had his head turned & split from the backing group. He did have some smaller hits in the UK but there was an increasing look of desperation in the man’s eyes with each attempt to recapture past glories. Instead, would you Adam & Eve it, the backing group hit paydirt with their very first record post-Wayne. “A Groovy Kind Of Love” is a hit record waiting to happen, an easy lope through one 2-minute hook. Whoever got hold of the song first was the winner. It was a sign of the 1965 times that a young British band, with no great track record, got first refusal of a new American tune. The Mindbenders were not able to repeat their success but were around until 1968. Singer/guitarist Eric Stewart had learned the ropes, used his earnings to build a studio just outside Manchester & came right on back with 10cc. Wayne Fontana came around in 2005 in some weird-ass court case.

And that is about it for Manchester 60s hit-makers. Freddie & the Dreamers were around too but that line between child-like & childish was very quickly crossed…not great. There are those who claim Georgie Fame but he was from Leigh, close but not a Manc. John Mayall played in his first blues bands in the city but he, like Georgie, had to leave for London to find the scenes they wanted. Hey, it was just a short time & the Hollies are just the first of a line of great groups from a music city. It just stung a little that all that music was coming from just 30 miles up the road.

Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys They ain’t gonna fight no doggone wars. (The Equals)

If the Equals are at all remembered it is for their 1968 #1 hit “Baby Come Back”, an energetic soul/ big beat stomp which was a B-side 18 months earlier but which caught that new wave of simple catchy pop, an alternative to the post-“Sergeant Pepper’s” experiments & seriousness. The group has been on here before because their similarly indefatigable original of “Police On My Back” inspired that cover by the Clash on “Sandanista”. A rummage around the dusty recesses of long neglected memory files, reinforced by some vintage video on the Y-tube proves that the Equals deserve a little more consideration.

The 5 man band from Hornsey Rise in North London, you know just up the road from the Arsenal ground, were formed by schoolfriends Eddie Grant, a Guyanan, & the Gordon twins, Derv & Lincoln, from Jamaica. “I Get So Excited” began 1968, their gold disc year, & almost made a breakthrough. It’s a cracking steal from Sam & Dave’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know”. The very word is rambunctious & that’s enough. The band look as if they have grabbed the first items of clothing they had seen down a Holloway Road boutique, nothing seems to quite go together but they all seem to be committed to putting on the style & a show.

The Equals were a snapshot of our capital city that those of us in the provinces did not always see. Young, boisterous & multi-racial, the first generation of black & white British youth to grow up alongside & to play out with each other. They were musical magpies, mixing & matching their influences to create some classic Britpop. They were alright, even cool, but they did try a little too hard. The group were the only hitmakers for the President label & subsequent releases, chasing the success of “Baby Come Back”, tended to be a little simple & gimmicky. There were nursery rhymes, “Rub A Dub Dub”, & football chants, “Viva Bobby Joe”, which had mixed success. When they added a little substance to the novelty they could be this good.

Oh yes. “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is a Britfunk rush of a song. multicultural pacifist pop & a Top 10 hit. Of course the talent in the band (no offence to the twins & the other boys) was Eddy Grant. Eddy was young & ambitious. There was just too much going on & he wanted to a taste of all of it. So the music could be all over the place, a little bit of soul, an attempt at acid rock. Eddy had a blonde ‘fro for a while which was at least distinctive, the long blonde wig was just silly. He even  had a side deal with President  for the Little Grants & Eddie to make some novelty rock steady 45s. Eddy knew he needed distinctive hooks for his songs to stand out on the radio but it took some time (like 10 years time) to strike the balance between a lack of pretension & naivety.

Of course in the early 1970s being pretentious was the thing to be in UK music. The Equals, still able to gig in Europe, were not really about at all. The Wikipedia tells us Eddy suffered a collapsed lung at the beginning of 1971, left the group & returned to Guyana. He did get ill but here from 1972 is the full on & funky “Stand Up & Be Counted”, proof that the band were listening to Sly & the psychedelic soul boys but still wanted to keep it pop. Eddy’s trousers are still not quite the thing as well.

That Equals greatest hits collection sounds pretty uplifting on the journey home from work. It’s a lot more than 4 or 5 songs too. Go for the one with at least “Stand Up & Be Counted”. When Eddy Grant got a second shot a music he owned the label, the studio & the songs. That first time round he could have, with some more imaginative encouragement, pushed the band towards the only other black guitar player around. He may not have become as great as Sly Stone but a British Chambers Brothers is a fine thing to ponder on. No matter, the Equals made more good music than most of us, including me, know about.

 

Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies. (More Pop/Psych)

There is a definite shortage of  tangerine trees and marmalade skies at the moment. The summer is a long time coming around to these parts this year but I keep finding these shiny happy British pop-psych gems which are made for sunny daze, green fields, good company & perhaps (y’know, for the kids) something decent to smoke. This is the kind of music I mean.

What can I tell you about the Kinetic ? I could put names to faces but would that really help ? The lead guitarist Bob Weston made a couple of records with Fleetwood Mac in that period between blues busting & La-La Land lame. The other 4 Dapper Dans ? Well, I think that “Suddenly Tomorrow” was as good as it got & I think that it is pretty good. The nifty threads allow the musical paleontologist to place this absolutely nearer Mod than Hippie on the pop/rock continuum. It is early 1967 & just a year later the bass player would be picking brown rice out of his beard, the goofy singer tripping over his kaftan & that short, smart guitar solo would be twice as long. The Kinetic worked & recorded their only LP in France where every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man. They certainly seem happy enough in this clip. “Suddenly Tomorrow”…cool song.

There are 2 clips on the Y-tube of World of Oz & this is the rare one, like less than 1500 views rare. “The Muffin Man”, that was their hit in Europe but not in the UK. Click on the link at your peril because it is a song of nursery rhyme simplicity that sticks in your head for a little too long. “Jack”, from the sole LP & a b-side on one of the 3 singles, is similarly facile. The lead singer called himself Christoper Robin…it’s a clue. World of Oz were a little too heavy on the pop & light on the psych for my taste but they loved it in Holland & Germany. The orchestral flourishes, by Mike Vickers off of Manfred Mann, are fine enough but a bit more guitar & more substance would help.

There were big plans for the Birmingham band. They shared management with the Foundations, a successful pop-soul unit. There was plenty of work but cracks showed before the LP was finished & half the group had left before its 1969 release. This is 1968, the singer’s trousers are a crime against humanity & the bow-tie a misdemeanour. The Mod haircuts are growing out but these guys have their eyes on being pop idols…will you tell them or shall I? Hey, I’m a nice guy…it’s a period piece.

Jeez…I find out about these almost-forgotten bands so that you don’t have to. I’m a geek, it’s my job. Rupert’s People are proper work, at first there was a 45 which was getting some attention but no actual band. Later there was less attention & a revolving door on the tour van as no-one stayed for long. The first single “Reflections of Charlie Brown” is a song by Sweet Feeling which was given an “Air On A G String”/Procol Harum revamp. “Reflections” is a minor British psychedelic classic, it’s on the “Nuggets” box set, it’s around. The record was made by Les Fleur de Lys, also in that box with “Circles”, a Who cover .FdL were there & abouts when so much of this freakbeat/psych scene was being made. The only live clip of them was filmed on a day that a member told the others he was leaving. It is desultory, they were a better band than that. When asked to be Rupert’s People they declined.

A new band was formed which did not record. Sweet Feeling, around from the beginning, took on the name & made 2 singles. So here is the last one “I Can Show You” from 1968 & here, amazingly, is a promo film for the record. I could try to name the band but I would be guessing. The boys, in their ritzy Carnaby clobber, visit that trendy thoroughfare, loon about on the Heath &, for little good reason, get muddy by the Thames. All with their best dolly bird by their side.It’s not as magical or as mysterious as some were at the time but the song has the Small Faces R&B vibe with a beefed up organ & it’s good. Man, the 1960s is the gift that keeps on giving & I am a little trapped in that decade. I do love these Brit pop-psych 45s that I can just about remember the first time around. To find actual video of these tunes…well one day I’ll just go Meh ! Not yet though.

That girl could sing (No. 2)

This madly over-choreographed clip, clearly an influence on the “Austin Powers” movies, stars the shiny red Aston Martin, Austin Healey and Jaguar E Type Mk 1 (and I know nothing about cars). Centre stage is the most internationally successful of the British female singers of the 1960s. New York, Paris, London, Petula Clark was there. A massive worldwide smash in 1964, “Downtown”, was parlayed by “Pet” and writer-producer Tony Hatch into 15 consecutive Top 40 singles in the U.S.A. Pet’s sounds (sorry !) were upbeat, clearly enunciated, big chorus kind of things. She was in her early 30s, married with children. She had been in the business since she was 9 years old and could sell a song with the confidence of the experienced trouper she was.

Petula  enjoyed British hits in 1960-61 as a young English rose Julie Andrews type. She married a French guy and lived in France where she raised her family. She was able to avoid the Year Zero of the Beatles arrival where everyone in the business of show was suddenly so over. On her return with “Downtown” she was grown up with a chic Gallic elegance that was lacking in both the leftovers from the 1950s cabaret scene or the new younger would-be dolly birds. Petula was never really cool. It was Jane Birkin, with “La Chanson de Slogan” (1966) who defined the entente cordiale of Swinging London and Parisian chic. Petula’s songs were for drunkenly singing on the way home from the pub. “Don’t Sleep In The Subway DARLING !!” that was a good one. Looking back at them now they still have a charm and appeal.

Here is the queen of the 60s scene. There were other contenders but Dusty Springfield was the class of the field. All of these girls, Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Lulu, were quickly assimilated into the mainstream of the TV variety show. Any artistic development was subordinate to sticking to a hit formula and pretty soon they were all dressed up with nowhere to go but workingmen’s club cabaret. Dusty was bigger than these three, her records were better and so was her TV show. She still met resistance to moving away from the blonde beehived, heavily made up, evening gown balladeer the public expected.

Dusty sang these, often overwrought , ballads peerlessly. Her interpretations of  “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ” and “Goin’ Back” are smooth accomplishments which set the standard for these classic songs. There was, however another side to Dusty which her hit 45s did not always reflect. She was the best white soul singer of her generation. I always thought that she looked more comfortable, even happier, when she performed those great 60s soul songs. I chose this clip of “Nowhere To Run” over something more obvious because I think that she looks and sings amazingly. She also throws some great shapes. I loved Dusty when she got her groove on.

In 1968 she signed with Atlantic Records in the US. She recorded with Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin. The Sweet Inspirations and the Memphis Cats provided musical assistance. The resultant “Dusty In Memphis” LP is her crowning glory. A record for the ages and maybe only a few years too late. I cannot do better than to quote a review from Rolling Stone… “Most white female singers in today’s music are still searching for music they can call their own. Dusty is not searching—she just shows up, and she, and we, are better for it.”…We liked and still like some of those 60s pop girls, we loved and still love Dusty Springfield.

Now this, to use the vernacular, was a game changer for the 15 year old me in 1968. I was well versed in pop’s rich tapestry. Music was getting serious but I was still a sucker for 180 seconds of pure pop distraction (I still am). Then I hear the most innovative and challenging song ever made by a British female singer. I check it out and discover that the said singer is the most beautiful young woman I have ever seen ! Well…roll over Diana Rigg and tell Julie Christie the news. It was love at first sight. Julie Driscoll seemed to be the first hippie chick I’d seen who was not styled by Vogue or some other glossy rubbish. I am sure in that London the streets were full of such women. In my small provincial front room she was an exotic bird of paradise.

With Brian Auger and the Trinity she recorded some of the best new songs of the time. “This Wheel’s On Fire” was one of Dylan’s Basement Tapes which did the rounds during his hiatus. It was a hit and I imagined a long and beautiful musical friendship. By 1971 she had left the rock scene for more experimental vocals with her (lucky) husband, jazz pianist Keith Tippett.

In 1969 my friend Butch and I would sit in his bedroom with nothing stronger than a can of cider and a blue light bulb for atmosphere. We would listen to “Electric Ladyland” and the Driscoll/Auger double LP “Streetnoise”. Praise Jah that we discovered drugs and had to leave the house to buy them. We just may still be sat in that room saying that “Indian Rope Man” is the best song ever, that Julie is the best dancer ever and the best looking woman on the planet. Come to think of it I have had worse decades…I wonder what Butch is up to now.