Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Closer Walk in New Orleans

Later this year I will be visiting New Orleans for the umpteenth time for the Ponderosa Stomp and the Blues and Barbecue festival. I've lost count of the number of times I've been to this, my favourite city, but it's nearly every year since my first trip there in 1989. Many of the New Orleans music greats have died during this time and venues which were once regular music haunts have disappeared. But despite this, and the changes brought about by Katrina, it remains a wonderful place, a city I know well and always enjoy.
This year I will have a lot more places to search for as a result of an online project called A Closer Walk.  Supported by the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation and the community radio station WWOZ, it has huge amounts of information about places associated with the city's music history, interviews from the Stomp's conference sessions, music by many New Orleans musicians, suggested tour routes around the French Quarter and elsewhere, and what they called 'lagniappe' - bits and pieces about New Orleans such as dances popularised there and musical styles. Contributors include music writers John Broven, Jeff Hannusch and Red Kelly.
The key theme of A Closer Walk (the name of a gospel tune often played by New Orleans jazz musicians), is the wealth of places, past and present, where the various musical styles (jazz, blues and
New Orleans R and B) evolved. These include Congo Square, Storyville (the red light district which operated for 20 years until 1917), the original homes of jazz artists such as Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and the still surviving Preservation Hall. There is info on many places where R and B stars have performed, including the Dew Drop Inn, The Little Gem Saloon, Iroquois Theater, Valencia Hall, Tipitina's and Ernie K-Doe's Mother In Law Lounge (pictured below). There's information too about Cosimo Matassa's studio and those operated by Sea-Saint and AFO. There's a mention too of the Dooky Chase restaurant. I learned a lot from the site - for example I now know where there is a monument to Gram Parsons and where Earl King and Ernie K-Doe are buried.
The festivals this autumn look excellent as ever. The Stomp has some interesting names, including Evie Sands, Gary US Bonds, Warren Storm and country singer Frankie Miller, although very few New Orleans legends this time. The line up for the Blues and Barbecue Festival, announced today, looks even better, with Bobby Rush and Robert Cray headlining and a strong under card including Walter Washington, Grady Champion and King Edward, who I've seen a couple of times in Jackson. I'm looking forward to taking a closer walk in the city this time.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Catching up on a few more deaths

It's time to catch up on a few deaths that have occurred over the last few weeks - not as many as we've seen previously (although only a summer lull I'm afraid).
The most recent was that of influential Cajun accordionist Belton Richard at the age of 77. He was
one of the leading exponents of  south west Louisiana music and recorded extensively for the Swallow label with his group the Musical Aces. Originally from Rayne, Louisiana, he first recorded in 1959 with Un Autre Soir Ennuyant, a French version of Jimmy Clanton's Another Sleepless Night. Other Swallow recordings included Cajun Waltz, How Does It Feel To Be In My Shoes and Behind Closed Doors.
I really couldn't let the death of Anita Pallenberg, at the age of 75, go unremarked. Known as the muse of the Rolling Stones, she
had relationships with Brian Jones and Keith Richards and starred with Mick Jagger in Performance. But to me she is best remembered as The Great Tyrant in the 1967 movie Barbarella. She looked stunning, sharing the glamour stakes with Jane Fonda, and was bewitching as she called Barbarella her 'pretty pretty'. The only trouble was that it wasn't her voice uttering those seductive lines. It was most likely Fenella Fielding, although Joan Greenwood has also been credited. Either way, Anita was undoubtedly a gorgeous looking woman and it's not hard to see why she was such a favourite of various Stones.  Here is a clip from Barbarella
A belated farewell also to Curtis Womack, second oldest of the Womack brothers and a member of the family group the Valentinos, which also included Bobby, Harry, Cecil and Friendly, who recorded for Sam Cooke's Sar label. After Bobby left to go solo and Harry was murdered in 1974 the Valentinos broke up amid family tensions. Cecil, who went on to form Womack and Womack, married Mary Wells but Curtis had a long affair with Mary, an abusive relationship apparently. Curtis continued to support various artists and I well remember seeing him with Mary Wells at the Town and Country in London in 1989 on a show that also featured Marv Johnson, Kim Weston, Caroline Crawford and Martha and the Vandellas. Those were the days, especially as two days later I went back to watch a show with Willie Mitchell, Lynn White, David Hudson, Ann Peebles and Otis Clay. Those were the days indeed.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

2nd Blackpool International Soul Festival

The Impressions have always been my favourite soul group, so it's sad that they have now played their last ever UK show. But what a show it was. They headlined on day one of the 2nd Blackpool International Soul Festival at the Winter Gardens and were on superlative form. Long time members Fred Cash and Sam Gooden were joined by a new young lead singer Jermaine Purifory (pictured below), who has replaced Reggie Torian, who died last year. He has the looks of a young Sam Cooke or Eddie Kendricks and a voice that fits in perfectly with the traditional smooth harmonies at which the Impressions have always excelled.
Backed by the excellent Snake Davis Band, they ran through many of their back catalogue from the Curtis Mayfield era, including I Can't Satisfy, Woman's Got Soul and Nothing Can Stop Me. Fred took the lead on You've Been Cheating, but mostly it was the new boy who took that role with strong support from Fred and Sam, and fulfilled it to perfection. The inspirational Choice of Colors was included, along with This Is My Country, I Need You, I've Been Trying, Stay Close To Me and You Ought To Be In Heaven. There was no It's Alright, Amen or People Get Ready, but the encore, inevitably, was Move On Up, which brought a tremendous response from the large soul loving audience in the Empress Ballroom. The group members seemed to be enjoying themselves throughout, which makes it all the sadder that this final show should also be Jermaine's first in the UK. With his looks and voice he will surely go on to big things as a solo artist. All three of them spent several minutes after their set shaking hand with anyone they could, their faces beaming with huge smiles. The end of an era, but a great way to go out
As soul shows goes this was among the very best, but it was equalled the following night by Little Anthony, performing a full set for the first time in the UK apparently. Sounding very much as he did when his career began in the fifties, with a light but strong voice and a range which is still very much intact, his set was short but excellent. All his major hits with the Imperials were included, beginning with Tears On My Pillow, from 1958. His set was nicely balanced with up tempo numbers such as Gonna Fix You Good, doowop with Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop, classics such as I'm On The Outside Looking In, dramatic ballads such as It Hurts So Bad and It's Not The Same and the beautiful Going Out Of My Head. He left the stage, just 30 minutes after arriving, but returned to sing the Northern Soul favourite Better Use Your Head. So, only eight numbers in total, but all performed brilliantly and I don't think anyone felt short changed. This was a class act and a real pleasure.
One of the attractions at this year's festival was a chance to hear from Georgia-born George Kerr (pictured below with US music fan Noah Schaffer on his latest UK visit), an arranger and producer who was the man behind many Northern soul favourites by the likes of Linda Jones, the Shirelles. the O'Jays, Edwin Starr and many others. Interviewed by Kev Roberts, he proved to be an interesting interviewee, with detailed recall of his origins in New Jersey, time at Motown in the sixties, work with Jerry Ragavoy, prison recordings with the Escorts, a vocal group comprising long term inmates, and brushes with gangsters such as Maurice Levy and Joe Robinson of All Platinum. He came across as an engaging guy, who did everything wrong from a musical point of view but somehow made records that sounded great. Afterwards he signed copies of a typescript memoir which was also available as an audio book.
This festival looks destined to become a regular feature of the soul calendar and a star studded line up has already been announced for next year, including Patti Austin, Margie Joseph and Ann Sexton. The Winter Gardens is a perfect venue, with six rooms specialising in different types of soul, including crossover, modern and mod, ska and reggae. The attraction for many is the dancing, and there are many fine exponents of the Northern soul style, including a couple of guys in sleeveless T shirts and loon pants, who constantly spun round at excessive speed. Very dizzying. This year's festival sold out several weeks ago, so don't leave it too late to get your tickets for 2018.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

One Love Manchester

I don't have much interest in today's pop music. Most of it is sterile and dull compared with what I grew up with. I found myself watching the One Love Manchester concert tonight partly because I used to live in Manchester and worked at the Co-op HQ across the road from where the suicide bomber blew himself up and therefore felt a connection, But also because it was a chance to see quite a few of today's pop stars live all at once, as it were.
To be honest, I had never heard of Ariana Grande before the terrible incident two weeks ago. Most of the others, such as Miley Cyrus, Marcus Mumford, Pharrell Williams, Little Mix, Usher and Katy Perry I have heard of but know little about, although some of their records are well known. And, of course I am only too familiar with the likes of Coldplay, Robbie Williams and Justin Bieber. All of them did just one or two numbers and were received ecstatically by the crowd. The many video contributions from artists as famous as Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul, and many others who are way off my radar, all of them 'standing with Manchester' added to the excitement for the 50,000 people at Old Trafford cricket ground, who showed that, far from being cowed by the atrocity, it had brought them together like never before. I've always liked Don't Look Back In Anger, and Chris Martin did it well. I was wondering where Manchester's most famous band Oasis were, but fortunately Liam Gallagher turned up, even if the rumoured reunion didn't take place.
Following last night's atrocity in London the concert had an extra edge for many people, including me. I also worked just to the north of London Bridge in Lombard Street for many years and know Borough Market well.
Whether events like this have any impact on the maniacs who cause such destruction is doubtful. But I think it is important that life goes on as normal regardless of these evil individuals. We cannot let them impact on our way of life. So congratulations to Ariana and all the other artists who appeared at very short notice. And to the people of Manchester of course.