Saturday, August 01, 2020

Precision engineering

July was a quiet month again on this blog. It coincided with a quiet month on the turntable too. This quiet period (at least in terms of playing vinyl) was initially prompted by my hi-fi set up which suddenly (again) developed a loud hum. Some sort of grounding issue with the turntable undoubtedly which was seemingly introduced when a dropped my record cleaner which just knocked against the cabinet. It was finally solved by sliding the turntable forward on its shelf by no more than one inch! Yes this could have nudged the ground wire back into the right position – but in trying to solve the problem I did grab that cable and the other connectors and gave them a good jiggle and that had made no difference. So, a mystery really. I don't dare touch the turntable's plinth now.

Soon after this I was shocked to find that Mrs Darce and our daughter had suddenly decided that our spare room was looking too much like a junk shop and had embarked on a major tidy up and a hatched plan to turn it back into a habitable room (a bedroom – which will be used as such once in a blue moon by my reckoning). This room has housed a significant part of my record collection for some years now. I was having palpitations.

I retreated into the garden to do a bit of pruning, wash the car, and contemplate the way forward.

Back in the house a couple of hours later and into the “dining room” (which is now almost exclusively now functioning as my main record room) I was confronted with this:

What you see is two 4x2 Ikea Expedits, only one of which had been in the dining room before I had beaten my retreat into the garden. Mrs Darce and our daughter had removed one of these from the spare room, and all the records, carried them downstairs and placed them on top of the other one! I was impressed. But apparently this is only a temporary measure whilst redecorating and construction takes place. Our daughter has measured up an alcove for shelves which can then be dedicated to records (and will result in more space than a 4x2 Expedit offers). The top Expedit will then either be removed , at least that is the plan as it stands. I think I have enough records around and about to fill the new shelves and most of this second Expedit. Granted, I could (should) pare down the collection so that it wouldn't be required but I'm thinking it looks OK in its new home. Or I even maybe able to get it back upstairs into the repurposed spare room as general shelving space – which I could very gradually (so that it isn't noticed) fill up with records again! :)

Following this the strange thing is, despite having more of my records immediately to hand, I have not been playing much in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly confronted with too much choice at my fingertips possibly, or maybe I am still in shock after the events I described above.

I might not have been playing many records but I have still been accumulating them. (Actually, I have been selling some too, so the net effect on my collection maybe zero).This, for example, is a stack of 45s I have bought, mostly on ebay, in the last few weeks some of which are still awaiting their first spin.

This 45 by The Precisions had its first spin on my turntable today. This is one of those records you just have to play again as soon as it has finished. The A side, Why Girl , is a good dancer, appreciated on the Northern scene I should think, but its the B side that does it for me. Why Girl was produced and arranged by Mike Terry, a giant on the scene in the Sixties, and someone has written Mike Terry on this record's sleeve to prove that point. On the other side of the sleeve they should also have written Dale Warren, because he was responsible for production and arrangement of the B Side – What I Want. If I see his name in the credits on a record I know it's that record I want - satisfaction will be guaranteed as far as I am concerned.

Dale Warren was a violinist and had classical training. Through most of the 60s and into the 70s he worked as an arranger at Motown and other Detroit labels, and then at Stax. Later in his career he returned to working as a classical violinist. This classical background can be heard in his arrangements which are often complex and dramatic, and make for a deep listen. I don't believe there is a compilation of his work as arranger and writer, but there should be.

The Precisions were one of many Detroit male vocal groups around at the time. The Drew label was created especially for them and remained true to that premise with no other artists receiving a release on the imprint. They went through a few personnel changes and I'm not sure but I think Billy Prince was the lead on the track here. They got their “big” hit with the follow up to this Drew release – If This I Love – which is still a big favourite in Northern circles.

I would go far as to say What I Want reaches all round perfection. Perfect arrangement, perfect length, perfect vocals; and its tempo - mid tempo verging on slow, and its melancholic, dark feel are perfect too.

Precision engineering! Featuring chief engineer Dale Warren!

The Precisions - What I Want 1967

PS: I understand there is a better mix of this track on (I think) a styrene issue of this 45 that has a different label design. But this one is good enough for me right now.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Fresh stock

I have retrieved the small batch of singles from the hole in the ground at the bottom of the garden. Good job too as it's raining now. The unseasonably high winds we have been having lately certainly should have seen off any lingering virus particles that may have been lingering on them :)

I can now reveal the small batch of singles with the Week27 price sticker on them (see last post). These are not the usual charity shop fodder, in my experience at least. Three are on the Tru Thoughts label and one is on Red Earth, and they all date back to around 2008. The recent past you could say, although that is already twelve years ago!

A nice little batch, all are well worth the 99p each I paid.

Kinny – aka Caitlin Simpson – was the buzz of the DJ world back in the late 00s. This was her first single. Two albums followed, in 2009 and 2011. Earlier in the decade she had been recording with producer Espen Horne as Kinny & Horn, and Kinky & Horne. Since her second album almost nothing, at least in the recorded form, has been heard of her. This single has two good sides, which would I guess fall into the Neo Soul genre (I am no expert in recent trends!).

Nostalgia77 – aka Benedic Lamdin – was another darling of the Tru Thoughts label and also very active during the 00s, but again his recorded output has tailed off significantly in the last few years. On this single he collaborated with the jazz couple Keith & Julie Tippett (nee Driscoll) to create a gorgeously moody piece. Keith passed away just a few weeks ago. RIP Keith Tippett.

Kinny– Enough Said 2008

Nostalgia77 featuring Keith & Julie Tippett – Film Blues 2008

Thursday, July 02, 2020

What's in a number?

I went cruising in the car yesterday. No, not doing that! I was looking for charity shops with an open door. Yes, I really really wanted to dig. And I found one! And I bought some records too! Get the bunting out.

It did feel a bit strange, as I walked up to the boxes of records – reassuringly in the same place as always - I wondered if I was just supposed to gaze at them from a distance of two metres? I felt like I was being a bit naughty as I dug in. I was almost waiting for a tap on the shoulder and a voice saying “should you really be doing that, sir?”. I mean, all this riffling through records, picking the occasional one up for a closer look. Can this be safe? The feeling soon eased as I found some records that were worth a punt!

This particular chain of charity shops always puts a week number on the price sticker, so you know how long it has been in the shop. Which can be quite helpful. My first post-lockdown real world find (presented to you here) had week number 4 on it meaning it was first put on the floor in late January. So it was a pre-lockdown veteran, it's charity shop life had entailed being passed over by I don't know how many diggers for about seven weeks, and then being hunkered down it its box - with the likes of Mozart and Johnny Cash for company - in an eerie silence for the last three months or so. As such it was sort of comforting to know that it would certainly be virus free. Or would it? When did this shop re-open? And it was three in the afternoon – how many, potentially infected, diggers had already riffled through it or, perish the thought, sneezed on the whole box of records it was sat in?! I couldn't resist a dip into the pocket for a reassuring touch of my own personal mini bottle of hand sanitiser.

Madness ultimately results from such thoughts of course. So. allowing the paranoia to take a back seat for a moment, let's talk about the record I found. First things first, it is probably quite rare, but rare doesn't always mean valuable. I am sure this album will never be described as a “holy grail”, and it will never grace the wall of a record shop. I was attracted to it because a) I had never seen a copy of it before; and b) it was obviously some form of jazz record; c) it had a rather nice multi page gatefold sleeve; and d) it was in great nick. Simple pleasures.

The sleeve contains extensive details by way of a track by track personnel breakdown and there are some notes too (with some slightly inaccurate English spellings resulting from what was evidently a “home made” translation from Dutch). From all this I got the distinct impression this was most probably going to be trad or swing jazz. Not my favourite jazz landscapes, but my hopes were raised somewhat as I read the words “[the group's] enthousiasm [sic] made it possible to 'cut in wax' this diversity of songs and styles”. That was the clincher, into the buy pile it went. A little nugget or two of something more adventurous in the jazz world may lie in the grooves, I thought.

Alas no. Zenja Damm and the various band ensembles here give us fairly faithful reproductions of early jazz idioms throughout, with a blues touch here and there. So, nothing arresting, but no matter, the bands are very competent, Zenja Damm sings well, and the whole thing swings well. The sleeve notes tell me it was recorded in Holland, January 3-10 1979.

Looking at the back cover I think the charity shop staff have actually gone the extra mile with this particular record. It looks to me like they have given Madam Zenja a face mask to wear (she is, of course, just “wearing” .. er .. wear), and have also allowed her to venture into a pretty (if rather chilly) park, but reminded her she needed to do some serious social distancing.

As you can see as I walked down the road clutching my purchases and the daylight shone on the front cover this caused Madam Zenja to awake and ask “Was It A Dream?”

The other records I found have week number 27 written on the price sticker, meaning they were fresh stock. A completely different kettle of fish from a virus potential point of view (and musically too as it happens). Had they had the 72 hours lay over treatment as the charity shops have promised? Who knows? I think for my protection and yours it is best I do not speak of them further right now. They will spend a few days in a hastily dug hole at the bottom of the garden and I will reveal them in my next post.

Zenja Damm with Wik's Big Band – Stop, You're Breaking My Heart 1979

Zenja Damm with Wik's Big Band – I'm Pulling Through  1979

Monday, June 15, 2020

R.I.P. Bonnie Pointer

Over the weekend I caught up with the news that Bonnie Pointer passed away last Monday.

She was just 69, another one leaves us much too young.

This is a bit spooky really. Only about two weeks ago I pulled out her debut solo album from the collection and gave it a spin. Since then she has been sat on a chair next to the turntable looking at me. I think I better put her back into the file again, next to her sisters, where she may gain some comfort.

I have always been a big fan of the Pointer Sisters, especially their 70s albums, when Bonnie, Anita, June and Ruth were all together. It seems Bonnie made the wrong move going solo in 1978, it was not long after that her sisters really hit paydirt with a string of more commercial songs that were big hits – Automatic, Slow Hand, etc. After signing Bonnie, Motown didn't seem to pull out the stops for her. Only two albums appeared and both contained versions of many old Motown songs, the second album being almost full of them. Her first album – the “Red album” (the one pictured here) - was the better of the two I think. It seemed to be very much an album of two halves. Side one was upbeat, production heavy, and aimed at the dancefloor. Side two on the other hand was much more stripped back and reflective and much to my liking, and I wonder if this was the true Bonnie trying to make her mark?

Here is a track from that side:

Bonnie Pointer – I Wanna Make It In Your World 1978

And here, from 1974 when she was together with her sisters, is Bonnie singing (live) Black Coffee, which appeared on The Pointer Sisters album That's A Plenty

Rest in Peace Patricia Eva “Bonnie” Pointer (July 11th, 1950 – June 8th 2020)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The bubbles are forming

For all of you in your little bubbles tonight.

This was just about the last record I bought in a charity shop, back in March, seemingly a lifetime ago now.  

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Stop! My Soul boxes need more love

Listening to a a mix/radio show on Mixcloud the other day this a jumped out. I thought: I've got this. A dive into the Soul boxes confirmed the thought.

This is such a great record. I've definitely had this in the collection for at least twelve years now, probably longer. My immediate thought was that it would have been one of my earlier ebay purchases, but then in the back of mind something is telling me this may have been a real world purchase that went back quite a long time. Whatever, it has languished in the boxes unplayed for far too long. As have so many others. Why do I keep pursuing more records when I have so many great ones like this already?

Playing it again after so long on my system – and really listening - I was struck by the real quality of the musicianship behind Howard Tate's great vocal. It sent me onto Google to do a bit of research . Howard had a run of consistently solid singles released on Verve in latter half of the 60s, and I have a few of these. They were produced by Jerry Ragavoy who used a number of New York session musicians including Paul Griffin, Chuck Rainey, Richard Tee, Eric Gale and Herb Lovell. Some familiar names to me there – Rainey, Tee, Gale at least – those names must adorn the back sleeves of a significant number of jazz-funk albums in my collection, as well as some in other genres too. All those albums would have been recorded in the 70s and into the 80s, when these guys were really go to session musicians. And that would have been when I first became aware of them; I hadn't previously explored their careers to understand they went back further. Now this has me wondering how many other singles in my collection they are playing on.

I did know the basics of Howard Tate's life story, very much one of ups and downs, but it was good to get a refresher here.

The bass guitar was one instrument which leapt out of the speakers at me when I played this single, so that was most probably Chuck Rainey playing. I've learned something today.

This little episode has also taught me my Soul boxes need more love. I don't need a reason to do that but of course there is a simple one staring me in the face anyway – dig 'em out and share 'em here. After all, it's not as if I don't have the time. Could I be organised and dedicated enough to do that? Hmmm.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

In our lifetime?

It feels like we've stepped back in time, to the 1960s. A rocket went into space and it made the news. But that was just happenstance. What really makes it feel like we've gone backwards is another event – George Floyd's awful murder, and the resulting protests that are happening across America - and the world. It seems like a lot has changed in the last fifty odd years but nothing has changed. I have always found it difficult to believe that in my early lifetime segregation still existed in America, and horrendous acts of racism seemed commonplace (not only in America I'm sure, but it was supposed to be the land of the free, democratic, a seemingly advanced and developed country, so that makes it all the more difficult to understand). 

In 1970 Syl Johnson released his album It It Because I'm Black. On that album was a track written by bassist Bernard Reed – Together, Forever. The book Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (Aaron Cohen) tells us that Bernard wrote the song after an incident on a Michigan Avenue bus where, while travelling with members of the band Pieces Of Peace, he was accused by a white passenger of being a thug. Bernard chose to write a song of hope. I wonder if Bernard's hope has run out yet. Fifty years and counting, I think we still have a way to go.