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.