Monday, June 29, 2015

Rocking at the Borderline once more

The latest Tales From The Woods all star rock and roll heritage show at London's Borderline last night kept up the high standards of recent shows, with some new faces, including Jona Lewie and Mike Sagar, as well as some artists who have starred on previous shows. Once again the Tales From The Woods band provided excellent support, with John Spencely again leading from the front on guitar, ably supported by Claire Hamlin on keyboards, Alex Bland and Sid Phillips on tenor and baritone sax, Jeff Tuck keeping time admirably on drums and Robb Davis on bass. Sadly there was rather a thin audience this time around, but those who were there certainly had their money's worth from a show that rocked from beginning to end. Keith Woods (pictured below) look well pleased with the music, although he must be concerned about the size of the crowd.
After a couple of numbers from MC for the evening Robb Shenton (Down The Line and My Babe), the show got off to a rocking start with Cliff Edmunds, a star of previous shows. He fairly tore into a series of rock and roll standards including Corrine Corrina, Be My Guest, Fannie Brown Got Married, Fats Domino's Hello Josephine - featuring a great sax break by Alex - and She Walks Right In. He slowed things down with Little Anthony's Tears On My Pillow, then rocked again with Sugaree and Smiley Lewis's Real Gone Lover, featuring some brilliant keyboard work from Claire. The Platters' My Prayer showed off Cliff's vocal range along with Teenage Heaven and, as an encore, I Can't Believe You Wanna Leave bringing this exciting set to a close. An excellent way to start but could the other acts compete? The answer, happily, was a resounding yes.
The next act was something of an unknown quantity - a double act featuring Mike Sagar, who had a 1961 hit with Deep Feeling, and his guitarist friend Richard Harding, who had some success in the same year with an instrumental version of Jezebel. Between them they brought some great Northern humour to the show with a series of amusing anecdotes and jokes. It was like Sunday night at the Wheeltappers and Shunters. Musically, both Mike and Richard proved highly effective, with Mike's voice and Richard's top notch guitar work working well together on a series of rock and blues numbers, plus their own hits of over 50 years ago. Mike began with Charlie Gracie's Fabulous and followed with Bye Bye Johnny, One Night, Matchbox, Goofin' Around (showing off Richard's expertise) and the country styled How's My Ex Treating You. Richard again showed off his guitar playing with Jerry Reed's Guitar Man and two tunes played together - Yankee Doodle and Dixie. Finally it was Bony Moronie, with John Spencely joining them on guitar, and Chuck Berry's Carol for an encore. A very good double act - and very funny.
It was back to hard nosed rock and roll for the next act Graham Fenton, formerly of Matchbox and another man who has appeared on Tales From The Woods shows in the past. Last time I saw him - in Spain last year -  he was doing a Gene Vincent impersonation, and I wasn't over impressed, but this time he was at the top of his game, even if there was a hint of Gene here and there, including his opening number Rocky Road Blues. Eddie Cochran's Something Else followed, along with Gene's Right Now, When You Ask About Love and Johnny Restivo's The Shape I'm In, which brought Alex Bland on stage. Carl Mann's Pretend was brought to life with a splendid guitar break from John, and Elvis's Give Me The Right, featured on Graham's Raging Heart album, slowed things down nicely. Then it was back to driving rock and roll with Buzz Buzz A Diddle It, the pleading I'll Try, I Got My Eyes On You, Southern Love and the ever popular Rockabilly Rebel. Graham encored with Ricky Nelson's Believe What You Say - a rocking climax to what had been an exciting and well received set.
Another Tales From The Woods favourite, Mike Berry, followed on stage and maintained the high standard. He focused on some of the lesser known rock and roll songs, and made a decent fist of them, even if he did have to read the lyrics from a stand in some cases meaning that he tended to look down, rather than at the audience. Once again the band provided superb backing as he ran through If I Had Me A Woman, Rock And Roll Ruby, Hurtin' Inside, Dick Curless's Travellin' Man, Try Me and Broken Heart, first recorded by the Moonlighters. Johnny Burnette's Little Boy Sad introduced an element of pop, as did Mike's own hit Don't You Think It's Time, but then it was back to the rock and roll with Foolish One, Jimmy Lloyd's Rocket In My Pocket and Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Another excellent set from Mike - a firm favourite at Woodies events and still on top form.
Final act was Jona Lewie, a man best known for his early 80s hits Kitchen At Parties and Don't Stop The Cavalry, but who started out as a boogie woogie pianist and bluesman. After a slightly nervous start - this was his first gig this year, he said - he got into his stride with a set which featured a number of New Orleans styled R and B numbers, including I'm Ready, Dizzy Miss Lizzie, Blue Monday, Lawdy Miss Clawdy and Sick And Tired. There were quite a few Jona Lewie fans in the house by this time, who will have enjoyed his Seaside Shuffle - recorded under the name of Terry Dactal and the Dinasours, while Jona was with Brett Marvin and Thunderbolts - and his synth pop hit Kitchen At Parties, played solo. Rock and roll fans may have been rather less impressed, but, after the instrumental Red River Rock, he got back into the groove with Fats's I'm In Love Again, Sweet Little Sixteen and Elvis's My Baby left Me - first recorded by Arthur Big Boy Crudup, a bluesman who he backed in the seventies. Overall this was an interesting set which went down well with the audience.
So, another triumph for the indefatigable Keith Woods - his second major show this year. His promotions are unique in bringing together British acts from the late fifties and early sixties and turning them into genuine rock and roll gigs with excellent support and imaginative set lists, rather than just oldies revivals, and long may they last. But let's hope that the next show attracts the crowd that these shows deserve.
Here are a couple of photos of the excellent Tales From The Woods band.
And a couple of Woodies in the crowd.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Harold Battiste RIP

Another day, another death - this time Harold Battiste at the age of 83. Battiste never had a hit but he played a key role in the career of Sam Cooke and in the development of New Orleans R and B. He was also one of the first black musicians to attempt to take control of the music produced by black artists. And although he was only partially successful, he left an indelible mark throughout a long career.
A jazz saxophonist, pianist and arranger from New Orleans, he started as a jazz musician playing in clubs in
the city  but made his mark when he arranged Sam Cooke's number one 1957 hit You Send Me for the Specialty label in 1957. On the strength of that, he became Specialty's man in New Orleans where he searched for local talent. This led to the label recording Jerry Byrne's Lights Out and Art Neville's first recordings. He also had success with Joe Jones's You Talk Too Much for the Ric label and also recorded early tracks by Ernie K-Doe and Edgar Blanchard.  In 1961 he began his AFO (All For One) project which aimed to give black musicians in New Orleans control of their output. Others involved included Alvin 'Red' Tyler, Allen Toussaint and Melvin Lastie. The label had early success with Barbara George's I Know and Prince Lala's You Put The Hurt On Me, and gained national coverage through a link with Juggy Murray's Sue record label. Harold then recorded Lee Dorsey's Ya Ya with Bobby Robinson's Fury label which upset Murray. This led to him taking Barbara George away from AFO and signing her to Sue, ending the relationship with Harold.
In 1963 Harold left New Orleans for LA where he teamed up once again with Sam Cooke and headed up Sam's SAR label as well as arranging and playing piano on A Change Is Gonna Come. He replicated the 'Soul Station' idea that he had set up in New Orleans - small studios which would encourage local talent - and with Sam's backing set up a similar project in LA, which helped the development of Johnny Morisette and other SAR artists. Among those to make use of the project were Sonny Bono, who he had previously worked with at Specialty, and his new singing partner Cher, which led to Harold arranging their smash hit I Got You Babe. While in LA he produced an album for New Orleans R and B artist Jessie Hill, who had previously hit with Ooh Poo Pah Doo, for Blue Thumb, and was instrumental in Mac Rebennack's transformation to Dr John with his Gris Gris album.
Harold returned to New Orleans in the early 1990s where he became a teacher and professor of music studies at the University of New Orleans. He also administered the All For One Foundation to support modern jazz in the city. The Vinyl Word raises a glass to one of the great unsung music pioneers. RIP.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Farewell to Mighty Sam

Very sad to hear the news that Mighty Sam McClain has died aged 72. Sam had a fantastic soul/ blues voice - one of the very best - and his late sixties Amy recordings produced by Papa Don Schroeder at Muscle Shoals are among the very best of the era. Born in Monroe, Louisiana, he began singing in church, making his recording debut in 1966 with a soulful version of Patsy Cline's Sweet Dreams.Follow ups included Fannie Mae (backed with the equally exciting Badmouthin'), When She Touches Me (Nothing Else Happens), both of which were issued on Stateside in the UK. Then came the excellent Papa True Love, released on Soul City, and the collectable Mighty Soul LP, also on Soul City (pictured above).
But then Sam faded from view, worked low pay jobs and even sold his blood while he was homeless. His comeback started when he recorded an album called Your Perfect Companion in New Orleans in 1986, was rediscovered by the Neville Brothers and toured Japan, resulting in the Live In Japan album. This sparked a new successful phase of his career. He took part in the Hubert Sumlin Blues Party project with Black Top records and moved to New England, where many of the artists involved with that were based. Successful award winning albums followed, including Give It To Love, Keep On Moving, Sledgehammer Soul and Down Home Blues, Journey and Joy and Pain, showing that he had lost none of his edgy 'red clay' soulfulness. Later work included a contribution to the Give Us Your Poor album fighting homelessness and a collaboration with artists from Iran and Norway. He played at the Porretta Soul Festival in 1996 but I didn't go that year unfortunately.
For me the early work was hard to beat, and here are three of those early 45s. The first one, Fannie Mae, is a review copy that I received back in 1966 when I was a journalist on the Croydon Advertiser, and the third one I picked up at a car boot sale just a few weeks ago. RIP Mighty Sam..
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8Y07yTAV1I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydL12BnmvNk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HSmUikNc_0

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cleethorpes Northern Soul Weekender

Northern Soul show organiser Ady Croasdell has a habit of attracting excellent and relatively obscure soul acts to his weekenders and this year's Cleethorpes Weekender was no exception with not one but two fine performers for the Saturday highlight.

First on was Jock Mitchell, a popular soul singer in Florida where he now lives, who proved to be a great showman with a soulful voice and superb stage act. He is best known among Northern fans for his mid 60s record Not A Chance In A Million, with which he closed his act and also reprised as an encore, but he
showed that he has a lot more to offer than just that one hit. He recorded variously as Arnold Mitchell, Jake Mitchell and Jake and the Soul Searchers, his first record Turn On Your Love Light, along with You Can Make It If You Try, appearing on the Philadelphia based Newtown label. I was surprised to find that I have the record in my collection and can confirm that it was recorded under the name of Arnold, not Arthur Mitchell, as the show programme suggested.
Jock came on stage wearing a white suit and cape and kicked off with his 1966 recording I Got To Know before moving on to Turn On Your Love Light. It was clear that he has a super voice and knows how to handle a crowd as he moved on to the slower No Mad Woman, recorded on his own Golden Hit label, before doing a soulful version of Hank Ballard's Work Me With Annie, which he also recorded, this time on Impact.
His soul credentials were underlined with a stunning version of I Found A Love, which saw Jock crawl on the floor in deep soul pain, only to be helped to his feet and covered by a cape James Brown style by his sax player. Finally it was the Northern soul favourite Not A Chance A Million, which got the crowd singing along.

If we thought that was the highlight of the evening we were mistaken, as there was much more to come with the arrival on stage of singer/songwriter Sharon McMahan. Looking very elegant in a red dress she began with That's What You Do For Me, a song she wrote for Deon Jackson, moving on to Some Day We're Gonna Love Again, first recorded by Barbara Lewis and later covered by the Searchers. Another Barbara Lewis song - Straighten Up Your Heart - followed (written, she said, when she was just 14), and then one of her own numbers Got To Find Another Guy, recorded for Ollie McLaughlin's Karen label on the same day as the Capitols' Cool Jerk. Next came the bluesy I Have No Choice, written for Johnnie Mae Matthews, Where There Is Love, Get Out Of My Life, recorded for Columbia in 1973, and finally I Can't Go On, a terrific track originally recorded by Deon Jackson - a song she said she had never sung on stage before.
Jock finished with his reprise of Not A Chance In a Million and was joined on stage by Sharon: two excellent and very soulful singers. It was a short set, barely an hour in all, but the seven piece band, along with two backing singers, did a great job and both artists deserved the tremendous reception they received. Yet another Northern Soul triumph.
Nick Cobban
Here is Sharon singing Straighten Up Your Heart.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWRvu-avrAY
And this is Jock Mitchell with Not A Chance In A Million.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdo3-SZpaz4

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Martin Carthy at Westcliff on Sea

Seamus McGarvey reviews a show by Martin Carthy at The Hoy at Anchor Folk Club, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, on June 9th 2015. 
At this South Essex folk club, celebrating its 45th year, I was recently lucky enough to catch an appearance by legendary folk singer-guitarist Martin Carthy, someone I'd not seen perform for some 20 years. This fine performer, now aged 74 and still a very powerful entertainer, proved himself a strong vocalist, an interesting and witty raconteur and story-teller, and an excellent guitarist. Known mainly as a highly individualistic interpreter of  traditional folk songs, he has collaborated with many other folk artists including fiddle player Dave Swarbrick, was a member of The Watersons, and a member of Steeleye Span in the early and late 1970s. 
Over two sets, Martin featured a mixture of tempos and styles, from his opening version of Ewan MacColl's 'Champion At Keeping 'em Rolling', a lilting number with wonderful lyrics, and 'Her Servant Man' from his 2014 album with his daughter Eliza, through to 'John Barleycorn' which he recorded in the mid-'60s. Other highlights included 'My Son John', an English version of the old Irish anti-war song 'Mrs. McGrath', 'Geordie' which he'd learned from John Pearse, and from The Shetlands, 'When I Was A Little Boy'. He wasn't afraid to shout 'come on!' when he couldn't quite get his fingers to do what he wanted them to do guitar-wise, or re-start a song to get it right, and he made everyone laugh with stories ranging from a cautionary tale about pickpockets, to his recollections about featuring at Weymouth Arts Centre songs collected and sung by a local singer from Upwey, Dorset, Marina Russell, only to have someone shout out, 'We all thought Gran was mad'! He showed great skill on guitar with his finger-style playing on instrumentals like the melodic 'The Heroes of Saint Valery' which he recorded as a member of Brass Monkey, and his encore, 'The Harry Lime Theme' from the film 'The Third Man', featuring some highly intricate chord shapes and finger-picking.  All in all, a great evening's entertainment. 
The club stages weekly shows featuring artists from around the world as well as local artists, and is well worth a visit. Their website is: www.ridgeweb.co.uk/hoy.htm . Seamus McGarvey

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

London soul demos

Demo records of the sixties are much loved by record collectors, often attracting much higher prices that regular issues. There was the Beatles demo of Love Me Do that sold for £3,000 of course, but soul demos often go for eye wateringly high prices as well. London demo 45s do not seem to attract as much interest as quite a few released on the Stateside and Tamla Motown labels, for example, largely because there were fewer Northern soul tracks released on the label, but some of them have a strong appeal. The early demos were one sided only, and I featured some of these on the blog some time ago, but from 1960 onwards they were two sided. Here a few from my collection, mostly soul flavoured.
1. The Miracles - Shop Around/ Who's Lovin' You.
The Miracles' first UK release is a great record and was a huge hit in the States - Motown's first R and B number one - but it made very little impression in the UK. (It reached number one in my personal top ten at the time, but that didn't count for much). Written by Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQGXa3FiXKM
2. The Mar-Keys - Last Night/ Night Before.
One of the earliest UK releases from Stax, this was the label's house band in fantastic form. Produced by Chips Moman, the prominent organ riff is played by Jerry Lee 'Smoochy' Smith and Steve Cropper also contributed - but not on guitar. 'I wound up playing the hold-down on the organ on the root note,' he said.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FX5T9GvSnbY
3. Don and Juan - What's Your Name/ Chicken Necks.
This was the high point for New York R and B duo Roland "Don" Trone and Claude "Juan" Johnson reaching number 7 in the US. A superb record, recorded for Big Top, it missed out in the UK (but was another number one in my personal top ten.) Johnson was previously with doowop group the Genies.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrZf3vRHmkw
4. Righteous Brothers - Little Latin Lupe Lu/ I'm So Lonely.
Well before You've Lost That Loving Feeling, the blue eyed soul of the Righteous Brothers produced a moderate US hit with this Bill Medley number. Another great record that failed to make a mark in the UK.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMS9niabUpA
5. Doris Troy - Just One Look/ Bossa Nova Blues.
The Hollies ruined this song when they covered it but in the hands of Doris Troy it was a soul classic. Co written by Doris under her then stage name of Doris Payne, it was recorded as a demo, but Jerry Wexler liked it so much he released it as it was and it reached number ten in the US.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tM_nfDPgcuI
6. James Brown & Famous Flames - These Foolish Things/ (Can You) Feel It.
This pre-war song written by two Englishmen for a BBC broadcast was something of a change of feel for James, but he pulled it off successfully and it featured frequently in his revue. B side is a bluesy organ instrumental.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8R8xzF2y5Jo    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJgNdxUY00U
7. Otis Redding - Pain In My Heart/ Something Is Worrying Me.
Otis's first UK release is an absolute classic but caused controversy at the time. The label states that the writers were Otis Redding and Phil Walden, but it bore a striking similarly to Irma Thomas's Ruler Of My Heart and subsequent issues, including the LP of the same name, attribute it to Naomi Neville, Allen Toussaint's pen name.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=158fwCG27zE   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um6zDTEqPro
8. Ronettes - Is This What I Get For Loving You/ You Baby.
By the time this rather downbeat song was released the popularity of the Ronettes was in decline, but it shows off Ronnie Spector's voice to perfection. It only reached number 75 in the US and it's something of a neglected classic, as is the B side.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HxcZ-IZJts    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8tDhAPSk5Y
9. Willie Mitchell - Everything Is Gonna Be Alright/ That Driving Beat.
Great double sider from the genius of Hi records.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I73iXXKzFI   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdliK6IwsYU
10. Freddy Scott - Are You Lonely For Me/ Where Were You.
After the atmospheric Hey Girl in 1963 Freddy Scott lost his way somewhat as Columbia tried to turn him into a middle of the road singer, but he was bang on form with this 1966 Bert Berns song, recorded for Shout, which gave him his biggest US hit. Back up singers include Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations. The Youtube video is not available for some reason - will have to put it on myself.

 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Beat poet Royston Ellis remembers

Royston Ellis is a travel writer, novelist and the UK's answer to beat poets like Allen Ginsberg. He's also the man who suggested, or at least encouraged, the Beatles to spell the group's name with an A rather an E, recited poetry to the backing of the Shadows, calling it 'rocketry' - a cross between rock and roll and poetry - and was the inspiration for two Beatles songs - Paperback Writer and Polythene Pam. Now resident in Sri Lanka, where he has lived for 35 years, he was in London yesterday for a special Tales From the Woods interview conducted by Jet Harris's former manager Peter Stockton, and a poetry reading in the West End. 
Royston's links with the early days of UK pop music go back to the late fifties when he met up with Cliff Richard and the Drifters, as they then were. He describes Cliff as an enigma, still with an Indian accent, Tony Meehan as the most intelligent member of the group and Jet Harris as his special friend, and the meeting led to the band backing him on his poetry readings, as did Jimmy Page on several occasions. His beat poetry preceded the American beat poets, he said, but he was influenced by Christopher Logue, who took part in poetry readings backed by jazz music. Royston was a regular at Soho's clubs and coffee bars, including the 2Is. He recalls listening to A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation on the juke box, while singer Terry Dene kept  putting money in the machine.
In 1960 he went to Liverpool - one of a number of cities he hitch hiked to for his poetry readings - and met
George Harrison, 'wearing a matelot striped T shirt', in a cafe. From there he met John, Paul and Stuart Sutcliffe and stayed with the Beetles, as they called themselves, in Gambier Terrace. 'John was the most 'riveting' personality, but 'innocent about London.' Royston introduced them to drugs - a strip from a Benzedrine inhaler and suggested to John that they spell the group name Beatles, rather than Beetles. 'John liked the VW Beetle car and Buddy Holly's Crickets. I said I'm a beat poet, you're a beat group, why don't you spell it with an A.' Their meeting resulted in a poetry reading at the Jacaranda bar in Liverpool, where the Beatles made their first appearance.
Paperback Writer was written with Royston in mind, and his friendship also inspired Polythene Pam from the Abbey Road album. According to Royston he met up with the boys when they visited Guernsey, where he was then living, where he introduced a girl friend to John. John 'said to her he would love to have sex between black leather sheets and ride a motor cycle through your thighs. No leather, so polythene would have to do.'
Royston was a spokesman for teenagers in the late fifties and early sixties and frequently appeared on TV, sometimes causing controversy, but 'retired' when he reached 20 in 1961. He moved to Guernsey and then to Las Palmas, where he met up with Cliff Richard again in 1963 when he was filming A Wonderful Life. At Cliff's suggestion, he tried to sort out a drink problem experienced by actor Dennis Price by taking him to a bar for a talk. It didn't work: Dennis mistook a cockroach on the floor for a Pekinese dog! From there he moved to Dominica, where he became president of the island's cricket club, and then to Sri Lanka, where he continues to write novels and travel books. He is something of a celebrity there and was invited by Sri Lanka Airlines to taste 50 wines that they were considering for their flights. He expected a small gift for his efforts but actually received two Business Class tickets to anywhere he liked, hence his visit to London, his first for three years.
Royston wrote about his early experiences of pop music in his 1961 book The Big Beat Scene and also wrote Driftin' with Cliff Richard, about his association with the band. Poetry anthologies include Jiving To Gyp and Gone Man Squared. His latest book, just launched in the US, is Big Time, and his travel books cover Mauritius, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, among others. He also wrote the successful Bondmaster novels under the name of Richard Tresillian.
**** After the interview Royston went on to a reading at the Poetry Cafe, where he was joined by Jimmy Page. Here's a photo of the two of them together which Royston kindly supplied. Photo by Neel Jayantha.