Wednesday, January 30, 2008

More photos from Rockin' at the TV Hop

The Checkmates, Brian 'Licorish' Locking (right), Jay Chance (with John Hills) and Dave Sampson.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

20 spine tingling moments - part 1

Here's something I wrote for Tales From The Woods, which first appeared in December 2003.
Sometimes a music gig is so good that you leave with a big smile on your face and a promotional CD which turns out to be crap when you play it. But now and again you experience a truly spine tingling moment - an event which leaves a deep and lasting impression. It's not always the music that's important - sometimes it's just the occasion which lifts it into a different plane.
I've picked my top 20 spine tinglers from the last 40 odd years which left a mark on my memory. In some cases the music was wonderful, in others the venue or occasion was special and in some it's just a reminder of part of my life, but in all cases the memory lingers on. It's quite an odd mix. What they have in common is that they seemed special at the time and still do in retrospect.
1. Sam Cooke/Little Richard, Tooting Granada, 1962. Sam Cooke was and still is my favourite singer bar none - his silky soul voice was as close to perfection as it's possible to be. And Little Richard in his prime was probably the most exciting act ever. So to see these two on the same bill was quite something - even more so because I had a school friend whose dad had a connection with the theatre and who got me backstage to meet them. Their autographs remain among my most prized possessions. And the show was great too, with Sam waving his handkerchief around and Richard setting the place alight. There were many great package shows in the early sixties but this, for me, was the best of them all.
2. Gene Vincent, Justin Hall, West Wickham, c1964. Where were you when you heard that John F Kennedy had been shot? I was at the Justin Hall for the weekly Friday night gig. Regular bands included David Bowie's first group the Kon-rads and Pete Frampton's Herd - and they were both pretty good as I recall. But the gig I've chosen was Gene Vincent, by now playing small venues, still dressed in his black leathers and singing well, but looking tormented, gaunt and a bit lost (well who wouldn't be in West Wickham?)
3. Sam and Dave, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, 1967. The Stax/Volt tour featured Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, Arthur Conley, the Mar-Keys, Eddie Floyd - and Sam and Dave. And great though all these performers were (Otis is my second favourite after Sam Cooke) the highlight that night was Sam and Dave, who raised the roof with 'Hold On I'm Coming'. I was a reporter on the Croydon Advertiser at the time and had a music column (I've still got some of the free demo 45s) and wrote a review of the show for the paper, part of which is quoted in a fascinating book called Rockin' Croydon, whicch is worth a read if you come across it.
4. Blondie, King George's Hall, Blackburn, 1977. What are Blondie doing here? you ask. Well for me the '70s seemed to be dominated by bubble gum and disco and my interest in music waned - not helped by a shortage of gigs once I moved to Shaky Lee country. When punk arrived I came alive for a while - the rebellion, raw rock and roll and rubber (that's enough alliteration) seemed so exciting compared with what had gone before. Blondie weren't really punk of course - I just fancied Debbie Harry - but the audience certainly were and I suddenly felt old, surrounded as I was by gobbing, pogo-ing punk rockers.
5. Ernie K-Doe, New Orleans Jazzfest, 1989. I always loved New Orleans R & B and after years of indecision I took the plunge and went solo to my first Jazzfest. The first act I saw was K-Doe - a dishevelled drunk of a man who staggered on stage looking like he would fall off at any moment. But I was mesmerised. His voice was still strong and the music was exactly what I had hoped for. A few years later John Howard and I visited K-Doe's Mother In Law lounge and chatted to him as he sat bleary eyed on his throne - a strange and rather sad experience. The last time I saw him was in 2000 - sober and looking smart. He was with his long suffering wife in downtown New Orleans and was about to do an interview for local radio. Now he's joined his mother in law in the sky and we have sadly said Te ta te ta ta to Ernie for the last time.
6. Irma Thomas, Lion's Den, New Orleans, 1989. I first met John Howard and one or two other TFTW regulars at Jazzfest. I saw a union jack flying in the crowd just as Irma, the soul queen of New Orleans, began her set with 'It's Raining' in steady drizzle. I went over and made contact with Dave Thomas and Scotty Mick and a couple of days later four of us set out to find Irma's Lions Den club on Gravier Street. It was definitely in the wrong part of town and at that time had few visitors from outside the neighbourhood. Irma welcomed us with red beans and rice and did two great sets with her band the Professionals. Some people, say she's too middle of the road these days (I don't agree - and neither, I'm sure, does big Keith), but that night was magical - a genuine superstar appearing in humble, down home surroundings before a couple of dozen people.
7. Aaron Neville, New Orleans Jazzfest, 1989. My first visit to New Orleans had so many spine tingling moments that it's hard to know which ones to pick. But Aaron Neville singing acapella in the gospel tent is hard to beat. That quivering, soaring, delicate voice - quite unlike anyone else's and so out of place in such a muscular body - is a thing of sheer beauty. I spent a long night at Tipitina's later listening to and enjoying Aaron and the rest of the Neville Brothers. but Aaron's exquisite voice is the key to the band's appeal and listening to him singing gospel was awe inspiring.
8. Dion, Town and Country Club, London, 1989.Back in the UK there were some great gigs in 1989 too, and none more so than Dion's concert at the Town and Country. Dion has to be my favourite white rock and roller (even ahead of Jerry Lee) and this was the first time I had seen him since he toured with Del Shannon in 1962. He was promoting his Yo Frankie album, which was well up to the level of much of his back catalogue, especially 'King of the New York Street'. The following year he made a cameo appearance with Dave Edmunds and Kim Wilson at the same venue - and despite the fact that he performed only three numbers it was another moment to savour in the memory.
9. Ronnie Spector, Town and Country 2, 1990. I remember watching the Ronettes on black and white TV in 1963 and being turned on by their slit skirts, heavy make up and long black hair. What a wonderful tarty look, which conjured up something so much more exciting and dangerous than suburban West Wickham. Now at last was my opportunity to see Ronnie in the flesh - a survivor of Phil Spector's neurosis and still singing as well as ever. She looked great, with a huge mass of red hair, and I had a big smile on my face all night. I even got my photo taken with her.
10. Johnny Allen, Weavers, London, 1992. The Weavers pub specialised in folk music (until it turned into a theme pub or whatever it is now) but the night that Johnny Allen played it really rocked. Hot and sweaty, the atmospheric was electric as he bounded through 'Promised Land', 'South to Louisiana' and other Cajun hits.
More soon...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rockin' at the TV Hop

The second Tales From the Woods tribute to British skiffle and rock and roll of the 1950s and early 60s - Rockin' at the TV Hop - featured a host of half-forgotten names from the period and attracted a good sized crowd to the 100 Club. But it was an American visitor who stole the show. Margaret Lewis from Shreveport, Louisiana, writer of country soul classics such as Reconsider me and I almost called your name, and reviver of the famous Louisiana Hayride, performed three numbers and went down a storm. Kicking off with Shake a leg, a rockabilly number she said she had almost forgotten, she then went on to perform her own Reconsider me (a song I love by Johnny Adams) quite brilliantly, before finishing with a lively version of Midnight Special.
For me it was the evening's highlight, but there was plenty more to enjoy, including several venerable UK acts who were not on the first 2 Is show last year, plus several who were. The Vipers (pictured)were above average skiffle at the time and proved that they can still get it together. So too did The Checkmates (minus Emile Ford - who I was told lives at Elephant and Castle and thinks he's in Barbados) who brought back memories of 1960 with What do you want to make those eyes at me for and Slow boat to China. With stand in performances from ex-Shadow Brian 'Licorish' Locking, Clem Cattini from the Tornados and Big Jim Sullivan, supplementing the TFTW house band at times, it was an impressive line-up. A faultless version of Apache brought a lump to the throat. As for the rest, Earl Sheridan (pictured) of Matchbox fame looked moody, Dave Sampson did his somewhat limited best, Jay Chance was lively and regulars such as Danny Rivers, Wee Willie Harris and Rockin' Jerry did their usual stuff. I missed Terry Dene this time around.

Someone remarked that Tales From The Woods promotions came of age with this show and he or she may be right. Certainly the audience enjoyed it and there seems to be an appetite for this kind of rather naff nostalgia. If the evening peaked too early with Margaret Lewis's performance it was a whole lot better than not peaking at all. Well done to Keith for putting it on.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Groovy situation

The line up for the New Orleans Jazzfest has been published and there are some mouth watering names on the list. Probably the top one for me, and I guess for quite a few others, is the 'Duke of Earl' Gene Chandler who I have never seen perform live. In a way it was Gene who re-started my record collecting in a serious way. In 1986 I travelled to Vancouver for the Expo (with the Royal Ballet but that's another story). On a quiet day I thought I would travel to Seattle by Greyhound Bus, but the journey took so long that I decided to get off halfway in the town of Bellingham. Killing time I came across a record shop and bought a couple of LPs, one of which was Gene's The Girl Don't Care from his Brunswick period. So thank you Gene, for inspiring me to get into vinyl seriously. I will definitely have to add an extra day to my stay in New Orleans to see him on May 1.
I won't be able to go to Jazzfest every day, but there's plenty to see and hear on the three days I plan to be there. For example on the first Saturday there's a reprise of some of the best acts from past Ponderosa Stomps, including Tami Lynn, Archie Bell, Roy Head and Dennis Binder, Big Jay McNeely, Warren Storm, plus Eddie Bo, Dr John, Patti Austin and Carol Fran among many others. The first Sunday is a total joy for soul fans, with not only Irma Thomas doing her customary set but Al Green as well, plus Allen Toussaint with Elvis Costello and Delbert McClinton. And on Gene Chandler day we also have Bettye Lavette among many others. It's looking good and for full details check out

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kiss tomorrow goodbye

I haven't featured much vinyl on the blog recently. That's largely because supplies of good quality stuff at bargain prices tend to dry up in the winter as boot sales shut down. But I keep looking, and I managed to pick up, albeit in a record shop, an original copy of the New Orleans classic Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Danny White. Recorded at Cosimo's studio, written by Al Reed and released on the short-lived Frisco label, it's a soul drenched piece of New Orleans R and B and an absolute classic. It sold thousands locally but never took off nationally, despite being distributed by the Arlen label in Philadelphia. The label says it was produced by Larry Martin, but I have read that it was in fact an early production by Wardell Quezerque, who I memorably saw at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2007 and hope to see again this year. Danny White, and his band the Cavaliers, recorded some of his later Frisco material in Memphis with the then unknown pair of Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy House no more

Sad to see that the end has come for the Happy House, Bobby Robinson's record store in Harlem, which closed its doors today. The nearby shop owned by Shikulu Shange will be closing soon. Last July The Vinyl Word reported the threat to the store and now this threat has been carried out. Bobby (see, now 91, is a true legend of R and B, having recorded acts such as Lee Dorsey, the Shirelles and Wilbert Harrison on his Fire and Fury labels and it's tragic that his life's work has been destroyed. What is the world coming to?
Another day and another passing - this time John Stewart, former member of the Kingston Trio and composer of Daydream Believer.
At least I have a trip to New Orleans, Memphis and Clarksdale to look forward to. And Porretta looks interesting, with a line up comprising Bishop Joe Simon, Etta James, Mable John, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Henry Butler and Davell Crawford. Davell apparently has his grandfather Sugar Boy Crawford as a special guest. That will be quite a treat as he rarely performs these days. Famous as the originator of New Orleans classic Jock-omo (better known as Iko Iko) in the mid 50s, I saw Sugar Boy at Jazzfest just once, in the early 90s.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Any old iron

No blog entries lately as I've been in Australia with a group of journalists looking at Rio Tinto's iron ore mines. It was hot - over 40 degrees - and exhausting, but made an interesting change. I didn't see much of Perth, where I flew to, let alone get the chance to check out the music scene. We flew up to the Pilbara region which is rich in iron ore and checked out a mine where the trucks are as big as houses and the diggers as big as churches (to quote the Sunday Times). Also took a look at the ports that ship millions of tons of ore to China and Japan, and at one of the largest heavy haul railway systems in the world. The journos seemed impressed, but whether their articles can help us achieve victory over the proposed bid from BHP Billiton remains to be seen.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The 1950s on BBC Four

'Lonnie Donegan was as important as Elvis Presley'. Discuss. This was the view of music writer C P Lee on tonight's BBC Four programme on pop music in the 1950s - part of its pop music series. Influential in his way as he undoubtedly was in the UK, this is a fairly ludicrous statement, but the analysis of the 50s scene was mildly interesting. The programme featured clips of Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Little Richard among others, as well as some of the tame stuff that preceded rock and roll. Joe Brown rightly commented that the genuine rock and roll of Little Richard killed skiffle stone dead. Ray Charles, arguably the father of soul music, was, he said, underground music beloved of musicians but unknown to the public at the time. And Chuck Berry was under rated, particularly with regard to his lyrics. Of course we all know this, but it's unusual to hear our music discussed in sensible terms.
Earlier the series showed an original edition of 6-5 Special. This was the UK's first pop programme, and what rubbish it was, featuring middle of the road ballad singers, trad jazz and Don Lang, a poor copyist. Pete Murray and Freddie Mills hosted, and they were completely lacking in credibility, but we knew no better back in 1957. Perhaps the best act was the Deep River Boys, now almost totally forgotten but then probably the only black act receiving any exposure in the UK.
What the two programmes showed was the enormous gap between genuine rock and roll in the US and the tame, pathetic imitations that existed in the UK at the time. Joe Brown clearly idolised Eddie Cochran (as well as exposing Gene Vincent's shortcomings), but who can argue with him? If he had lived, who knows what he might have achieved.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Stompin' to Juke Box Jury

Another new year and I'm looking forward to catching some good music this year. I've decided to join the Stompin' USA trip along with my girlfriend and will be taking in the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, Jazzfest and the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans and the Beale Street festival in Memphis among others. Not sure who will be performing yet, except in the case of the Ponderosa Stomp, where the acts I'm eagerly awaiting seeing include Ronnie Spector, Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, ? and the Mysterians, Syl Johnson, the Collins Kids, William Bell, Bobby Parker, Barbara Lynn, Eddie Bo, Roscoe Robinson and a load more. The Juke Joint Festival looks interesting. I remember visiting Clarksdale in 2005 when three of us went to the Hopson Plantation and saw some great blues. I had my photo taken with Pinetop Perkins, aged 94. He wasn't playing though because his daddy said that he shouldn't perform on Sundays and he always did what his daddy said. After a quick stop at the famous Crossroads, we went on to Red's Lounge which was a real juke joint, with some more great blues. I hope to check out one or two blues clubs in Memphis as well, and go to Shreveport to investigate the legendary Lousiana Hayride. All in all I can't wait.

Meanwhile BBC Four is running a series on pop music over the decades which seems worth a look. Tonight it's focussing on Top of the Pops and Juke Box Jury, with a programme on the girl group sound tomorrow. TOTP always played the chart hits, which was both its strength and its weakness, as tonight's show from 1968 demonstrates, with performances from important at the time, but basically second rate UK groups, and nothing from Memphis or Detroit.

Juke Box Jury was a must see show back in 1960, despite David Jacobs' very BBC accent and its predictable format. The panel of Nina and Frederick and David McCallum and Jill Ireland showed little appreciation of Johnny Tillotson's classic Poetry in Motion. although they narrowly voted it a hit. Lonnie Donegan's Lively they liked, a dirge like version of Till by someone called Colin Day was deservedly voted a miss while Adam Faith's dreadful Lonely Pup was deemed a miss by the audience after a two all draw from the panel. They loved Sinatra's awful version of Old MacDonald (thus showing their total lack of credibility) and even liked some complete rubbish from Pinky and Perky and voted both hits. They also voted something called Pursuit of Happiness by Adam Wade a hit. What the show clearly demonstrated was that mainstream pop in 1960 was shit. There were some great records around, but, Johnny Tillotson aside, they didn't make it onto the play list of JBJ. Jacobs in his suave way clearly had a better idea of what made a hit than his panel but was much too polite to say so. The only memorable line I can remember from JBJ was from Katie Boyle (a mainstay of panel shows in those days) who famously said that Freddy Cannon's The Urge was filthy - and she loved it.