He was Butch But I Was No Sundance (1969-70)

I was not the only clever kid at our school. Our whole form was force fed facts so that we could pass our exams a year earlier than others our age. It was some bullshit exercise in school pride but if it reduced the time spent under the archaic, cruel (the cane was still used by the headmaster) & unusual (an English teacher made transgressors write out chapters of Genesis) punitive system then we would go along with it. This meant that I entered the sixth form when I was 15 going on 16. The 17 year old girls in my classes were a lot further on down life’s road  & 68/69 was Peak Mini Skirt as I remember. I was amazed that they would even acknowledge my presence, it was months before I was able to say anything that made any sense back to them. The guys were already drinking at the weekend (only a year underage so…y’know) & that seemed better than the Youth Club. On their 17th birthdays some of them got cars. That was certainly an upgrade on taking the bus !

 

 

Image result for morris 1000Butch had a Morris 1000, a classic car now, cheap & cheerful in 1969. His name was Keith but his Dad had a butcher’s shop on the High St so…His girlfriend, Natalie, worked in the local record shop Rushton’s, a place that sold instruments & sheet music before awkwardly adjusting to the demand for small discs of vinyl. After college Butch & I would drive into town to keep her company for the last hour of her working day. To keep us out of further mischief she gave us free range in one of the soundproof booths to listen to any of the latest records that took our fancy. They didn’t always hit the spot. That second Blood Sweat & Tears album, David Clayton Thomas singing, no Al Kooper, may have sold by the lorry load but it was no “Child is the Father to the Man”. One non-album single with a red Atlantic label, “Comin’ Home” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends featuring Eric Clapton, had us opening up the booth for the other customers to hear & irritating our favourite shop assistant.

 

Image result for delaney and bonnie comin homeDelaney & Bonnie Bramlett had done musical time before they were married, D as a member of the house band of the “Shindig” TV show, B as a fake-tanned Ikette. Their first LP was recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis with Booker T & the MGs. By the time of the follow up they had assembled a smoking band, people who would go on to make a pile of good music. Their brand of Southern Soul, Gospel & Rock attracted an influential friend in Eric Clapton, happy to play the sideman after all the attention attracted by Cream & Blind Faith. Eric brought along the newly ex-Beatle George & his stinging, ringing contribution to “Coming Home” made it more than notable. Delaney’s mate Leon Russell needed to assemble some Mad Dogs to back Joe Cocker on a hastily arranged tour & he borrowed the whole band except keyboard player Bobby Whitlock who left for England to write with Clapton. When these two needed a rhythm section for “Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs” they were joined by Carl Radle (bass) & Jim Gordon (drums) to form Derek & the Dominoes. Now that is a good record !

 

 

Butch lived above the shop, just a walk away from mine & I would go round in midweek to listen to his records. At night the front was closed up & you entered the house through the back of the shop past simmering pots of pig’s heads. Brawn is some kind of peasant jellied terrine (my Mum loved it). It’s apparently called “potted heid” in Scotland & in France “pate de tete” & that sounds no better. Now I’m a Big Meat Eater (yes I am…now there’s a movie you have to see) but I don’t always choose to get that close to its production. I would hurry through that steamy, funky room. Butch had some good records. I particularly remember 3 double LPs, Cream’s “Wheels of Fire”, Jimi’s “Electric Ladyland” & “Streetnoise” by Julie Driscoll, all good long listens as the music got & was taken more seriously. We had a couple of bottles of cider & a coloured light bulb for atmosphere…that’s all. We didn’t know where to buy any hash back then. Our town had not yet done with Modernism. The cool kids were robbing chemists of their good stuff, waking up in the park with blood leaking from their ears. That sounded like not much fun at all.

 

Image result for julie driscollThere were no women like Julie Driscoll in our town either. Julie, with organist Brian Auger, Long John Baldry & Rod Stewart had been part of Steampacket, a Mod Soul-Blues revue who, despite their popular live act, never recorded. In 1968 her & Auger’s take on Dylan’s “This Wheels on Fire”, an urgent psychedelic classic, shifted the ground for British female singers. Her expressive, distinctive vocals put Cilla, Lulu, Sandie, even Dusty in the shade. She became a beautiful, instant icon of cool, replacing Emma Peel as the object of my affections. “Streetnoise” reflects the times, musical boundaries were to be ignored. There are old songs, new songs, Jazz & Blues songs, all given the individual stamp of Driscoll & Auger that still sounds fresh today. “Indian Rope Man”, one of the band’s best, written by Richie Havens, is promoted here on German TV but was only released as a b-side in the UK. Julie married jazz pianist Keith Tippett & stepped away from Rock & Roll to make more experimental music. Whatever she chose to do was just fine by me.

 

 

Image result for family a song for meAh Family…Leicester’s finest. Butch had their 3rd LP “A Song For Me”, released in January 1970 & a Top 5 record. At the end of 1969 the single “No Mule’s Fool”, a gentle daydream of a song had totally hit my spot but only grazed the Top 30. Their debut “Music in a Doll’s House” (1968) was a more than interesting slice of post-Sgt Pepper’s British psychedelia & “Family Entertainment” (1969) consolidated a reputation as a band on the rise. The loss of 2 founding members, multi-instrumentalist Jim King & bassist Rick Grech (he joined the aforementioned Blind Faith) was a setback just as they were ready for prime time. The idiosyncratic, forceful presence of vocalist Roger Chapman made Family’s live show memorable.They were one of the first big concerts I attended & Hull City Hall rocked that night. The new-ish group were possibly less textured, a little more full tilt, than previously. There were 3 Top 20 UK singles, an LP a year until 1973 before diminishing returns & a failure to make an impression in the US called a halt. Family don’t really get the credit they deserve. If you have an interest in psych-prog they merit further investigation.

 

Image result for bath festival 1970We hung out a lot over the next year. The 4 of us (rather surprisingly I had a girlfriend too) tore around in the Morris looking for pubs, parties & places of interest. We both studied Geography & a week’s “field study” in North Yorkshire became an alcohol-fuelled exercise in besmirching our college’s good name. Butch was a good guy to have around, a dry sense of fun & humour, a little more grown-up than the other happy idiots I called friends back then. He was the perfect companion for an adventure to the Bath Festival of Blues & Progressive Music in June 1970. Over 2 days we joined 200,000 others to see a musical line-up that can only be described as awesome. We saw a lot of things that you didn’t see in our small town that weekend. The Hell’s Angels were cool & the casualties of the purple acid were not. It was a great time, we could see the attractions of this Hippie thing but we were Northern lads, this stuff wouldn’t really fly back at home. I’ll repeat myself, he was the right guy to share the experience with. He drove me there, he got me home & we had approached things correctly.

 

Butch left college that year. I had to hang around to make up for that year I had jumped. The next year I left town & only returned for flying visits to see my family. Keith is actually on Facebook & we live in the same town though we would probably pass each other in the street these days. I’ll send him this & hope that he has the same good memories about the short time that our paths intertwined all those years ago.

 

 

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.