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.

 

If You Remember the 60s You Weren’t There

Well, the music of the 1960s and Y-tube are the gifts that keep on giving. The classic British TV performances are all there, I can get lost trawling through the American shows that we never saw over here…so that’s what the Bobby Fuller 4 looked like ! Then there are the big surprises. Here are 3 songs which were not hits on release but were favourites then, I bought 2 of them, and still are. A big thank you to the kind souls who put these into my computer so that I can keep them in a safe place & never be more than a couple of clicks away from hearing them again.

The Equals were North London boys, Hornsey Rise, Kentish Town, probably Arsenal fans. They were the first visible inter-racial group in the UK and in 1968 had a #1 hit with the irresistibly catchy “Baby Come Back”. There was a smidgeon of ska, a soupcon of soul but mainly they were meaty, beaty, big and bouncy. Their small record label insisted on releasing simple singalong singles and the Equals never really established themselves. They did have something to say about being young and black and living in London but we did not always get to hear it.

“Police On My Back” was not a single but is a stomping classic of a song. When the Clash recorded the song for “Sandanista” they did not have to change a great deal, the breathless punk pacing, the ringing siren of a guitar, it’s all there already. The Equals were always open to new sounds, the 45 “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is nascent funk. There’s a clip from French TV where they do a Hendrix impersonation. In 1971 the guitarist and songwriter suffered a heart infection and collapsed lung, the band disappeared. Eddie Grant, the very same, recovered and prepared for a second assault on the music industry. It took 10 years but in 1983 he got us all to rock down to “Electric Avenue” & showed that he knew how to write a hit song.

P P Arnold came to Britain as an Ikette in 1966 and stayed. The Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was pursuing his Phil Spector fantasy & looking for talent for his new label Immediate. Mick Jagger put him on to P P & she was signed. She made some classy records with help from label mates Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart. Top of the bill at Immediate was the Small Faces, young hit-making mods looking to expand their R&B inflected pop and embrace the new psychedelia. Singer Steve Marriott took  a more than professional interest in the beautiful Ms Arnold. She shared vocals on the band’s earth-shattering rock anthem “Tin Soldier” and, in doing so, made her mark on our music.

“(If You Think You’re) Groovy” is a companion piece to “Tin Soldier”. Similarly written and produced by Marriott and Ronnie Lane, it did reach the British Top 20. What can I say ? An over the top production tamed by P P’s strong vocal, this is a landmark in British R&B/Soul. To promote the record she, the Small Faces and duo Twice As Much went down to Camber Sands, got high and rolled about on the beautiful beach. It’s one of the best ways to spend a day in the South of England & makes for an engaging  piece of film. I recently saw P P Arnold singing in a Sandy Denny  tribute concert. She is still beautiful and still has a wonderful voice, she’s a charm.

(Since this post was published the clip of Tea & symphony has been removed from the Y-tube. So it goes, I did get to see them though)

Blimey ! It was only 2 hours ago that I found this clip on Y-tube. My young self bought this piece of psych-folk whimsy in 1969, played it to death and I had never actually seen any moving pictures of Tea and Symphony until today. “Boredom” is a Fisher/Brooker/Reid song from Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” and it seems to be marimba week round here. This more upbeat version by a Birmingham band of no fixed number just seemed so well produced and to be such fun. Less precious than, say, the Incredible String band I guess that it is stoned folk rather than acid-folk. The Y-tube comments on this (not usually a good indicator) are from Brits of a similar age to myself wondering why this was not a hit record and how come their friends didn’t quite see it either. I’m with those guys. I have never heard the tea and Symphony debut LP, “Asylum For The Musically Insane” but with a title like that…Harvest Records…Jah love ’em.