Thursday, November 27, 2008

Woolies and Woodies

As famous High Street names such as Woolworth's and MFI slide towards obscurity there's been an outpouring of nostalgia from various Woodies. I find it hard to work up much enthusiasm for MFI, which never failed to underwhelm me with its tatty flat pack furniture. But Woolies is another matter. In West Wickham where I grew up Woolworth's was probably the largest store in town when I was a kid - not that that's saying much. As I recall, it had wooden floors with sawdust scattered around and rows of counters selling sweets, Embassy records (which I'm proud to say I never bought) and toys. I spent my pocket money on cheap toys, especially marbles which were a Woolworth's speciality.
Talking of nostalgia, the death of Reg Varney the other day brought back memories of On The Buses, a series that was incredibly popular in the 1970s. Reg was such a big star that Barclays used him to launch the world's first cash machine in, of all places, Enfield in 1967 (pictured). As a PR man for Barclays we brought Reg back to Enfield in 1992 to celebrate the silver jubilee of the ATM - on an open top bus of course. On The Buses was of course very non-PC, with the main characters - Reg as driver Butler ("I 'ate you Butler!") and conductor Jack - ogling the clippies in their miniskirts and winding up the Inspector. Not as non-PC, though, as Love Thy Neighbour, a clip of which I saw on YouTube the other day, which looks unbelievably racist today. The seventies - eh! The decade that taste forgot. Don't you just hate it.
* There's a belated obituary of Rudy Ray Moore in The Times today:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Endless sleep

In a week that has been notable for the deaths of those whose initials are MM (Mitch Mitchell and Miriam Makeba) another less noticed death is that of Jody Reynolds, whose Endless Sleep was a top hit of 1958. Aged 75, Jody's later recordings could never match the doom laden atmosphere of his initial million seller, but his place in rock and roll history was assured as a result of Endless Sleep, which was of course covered by Marty Wilde in the UK.

Mitch Mitchell made his name initially with Georgie Fame's Blue Flames, but became a rock legend by default as Jimi Hendrix's drummer. In a trio he had to really bang those drums to make any sort of impression behind Jimi's virtuosity. He died in Portland aged 61, appropriately enough in a Hendrix tribute band.

Miriam Makeba, who died in Italy at the age of 76, was much more than just a singer. Married at various times to Hugh Masakela and Stokely Carmichael she was a leading anti apartheid campaigner and had her South African passport revoked in the early 60s after associating with Harry Belafonte in the US. She was eventually persuaded to return to South Africa by Nelson Mandela. Even in death she was fighting injustice - she suffered a heart attack at a concert campaigning against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation in southern Italy.
Meanwhile , back in London, bluesman Sherman Robertson put on a first rate performance at the 100 Club, well up to the standard of his shows over the years.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Byron Lee and Nathaniel Mayer RIP

The Vinyl Word says goodbye to two more artists.
Byron Lee, who has died at the age of 73, was one of the best known and most prolific artists of the ska era. His career began in the 1959s before the ska era began and encompassed other Caribbean musical forms including mento, calypso, soca and jump up. With his band the Dragonaires he recorded literally dozens of albums and singles and backed numerous ska and rocksteady acts including Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, Millie Small, the Maytals and Ken Boothe. He first recorded for future Jamaican prime minister Edward Seaga's WIRL label, which he later bought and renamed Dynamic Sounds, but his records also appeared in the UK on Atlantic and Parlophone (pictured is one of his Atlantic LPs which, strangely, isn't listed in the Rare Record guide). In later years Byron focused on the soca and mas styles of Trinidad but the Dragonaires continued to be a popular band throughout the West Indies. Coming so soon after the deaths of Alton Ellis and Roy Shirley it seems that we are losing the ska greats with increasing frequency. Farewell Byron.
Nathaniel Mayer was a fairly obscure R and B singer who had a US hit in 1962 with Village of Love on the Fortune label with his backing group the Fabulous Twilights. After a couple of less successful singles he dropped out of sight before making a belated comeback a few years ago, including impressive appearances at the Ponderosa Stomp. He was a pretty wild live performer and recorded an album for Fat Possum in 2004 followed by a further album released last year.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Out of Africa

I'm back today from my African trip so no music to report, but plenty of travel. I escorted a party of journalists on a three country tour in just five days, to see a variety of my company's mines.
First stop was Madagascar, where the company is building an ilmenite mine in the south of the country. Madagascar is a really poor country and the locals live in wooden huts and have a hand to mouth existence. As well as building a mine, a port is being constructed which it is hoped will attract more industries and tourists to this beautiful region, roads, a school and electricity supplies. They are also saving what is left of the rain forest, which has been largely destroyed by local people burning trees for charcoal, and protecting the flora and fauna in partnership with various NGOs. I saw a fosa, which looks like a cross between a cat and a dog, and three species of lemur, as well as crocodiles and and chameleon. Truly a fascinating and unique place, but don't drink the water and beware of mosquitos.
From Madagascar we travelled to a copper mine in Soutb Africa - another remote location next to the Kruger National Park. The group dressed up in helmets, boiler suits and rubber boots to go to the underground mine. The seams were a lot higher and less oppressive than you might expect, but I wasn't persuaded to take up mining for a living. The game drive around the golf course attached to the hotel where we stayed later in the day was another highlight with giraffes, hippos, impala, springboks, wildebeest, zebras and monkeys all in evidence. While we were there there was a huge thunderstorm - the first rain since last Christmas.
Final stop was a uranium mine in Namibia, a huge open pit in the middle of the Namib desert, where there is nothing to see apart from sand dunes. It's fairly close to the Skeleton Coast, where many ships have run aground over the years and it's a pretty desolate place. But dinner at a tent in the middle of the desert was quite an experience.
The trip involved a total of seven flights in small private jets. This is definitely the way to travel. On one of the flights, after we'd dropped off our CEO and a couple of journos in Jo'burg, I had the eight seat jet to myself for the trip back. That's what I call a jet set lifestyle.