Monday, July 30, 2007

Unconventional reggae

This is a desperate attempt to kick start the summer here in the UK. For two days running now there has been a strange orange ball in the sky – yes the sun is out! - so I’ve quickly thrown some reggae on the turntable and turned the volume UP. This act is akin to throwing some more kindling on the fire in an attempt to keep it going or, in the case of this damp squib of a UK summer, to get it to burst into life and WARM UP!

In their relatively brief existence The Royal Rasses served up their own brand of reggae. The Rasses were led by Prince Lincoln Thompson who had been active on the reggae scene since the 60s, including on and off collaborations with Cedric Myton of Congos fame, who was probably singing backing vocals on “Unconventional People”. Their sound was a sweetly unique blend of roots, lover’s rock, a hint of soul, and a dash of disco, and featured Prince Lincoln’s soaring and swooping falsetto voice. The arrangements, instrumentation, and lyrics appeared to make them more than just another reggae band and took them into crossover territory. This was the late 70s and the mighty Bob Marley had crossed over big time. Could Prince Lincoln Thompson and his Rasses be the next Marley? Signed to London based Ballistic Records their first album “Humanity” and the 12” singles they spawned - “Unconventional People” and “San Salvador”/”Old Time Friends” - received a fair amount of marketing push. But to no avail. The Rasses continued for a handful of albums in a somewhat unconventional reggae style, and also remained underground. Marley proved to by very much his own phenomenon. In the end, perhaps, The Rasses fell between two (even three) stools, too sweet for the roots audience, not sweet enough for the lover’s rock audience, and as for the previously traditional (staid?) pop/rock white audience after gorging on Marley and his Wailers that proved to be all they ever needed at the reggae table.

The B side of this 12” is an instrumental version (that’s a dub then? Well it’s called a rhythm not a dub, and in true Royal Rasses style it is in truth a bit sweeter than a dub). I will put this up instead of the A side in a while.

I think “Humanity” was issued on a CD in 2001 but can’t find it for sale anywhere at the moment. You can find some of the later albums on CD, for example “True Experience”.

The Royal Rasses – Unconventional People 1978
The Royal Rasses – Unconventional Rhythm 1978

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Secret agents double-E soul

Eddie & Ernie – who? If the name is unfamiliar, and, moreover, you hail from the UK and are of a certain age, the chances are a lesser known 70s comedy double act would spring to mind; perhaps one that had never broken out of the working men’s club circuit. After all, we had the sublime Morecambe & Wise (Eric & Ernie) and the ridiculous(ly unfunny) Little & Large (Syd & Eddie) back then. So were Eddie & Ernie some desperate whippersnappers trying to follow in those comedy giants (well, at least Eric & Ernie were) footsteps? Or perhaps, after Eric Morecambe’s tragically early death, did Ernie Wise suggest to Eddie Large that Syd was a wet blanket, and wasn’t it time he ditched him in favour of working with a more accomplished straight man?

Of course you would be way off beam if any of those thoughts ran through your mind. Because, in fact, Eddie & Ernie can probably lay claim to being one of soul music’s best kept secrets. William Edgar Campbell and Ernest Johnson formed as a duo in the early 60s and their first release was credited as Ernie & Eddie. During the remainder of the 60s and into early 70s they released around 20 singles on various labels, most notably Eastern and Revue. Some of the releases were the same sides released on different labels. For example “Time Waits For No One”, their only real hit in its Eastern incarnation, had three separate releases, as did “Found A Love, Where It's At / Self Service”. They also released a few singles as solo artists and recorded as The New Bloods and The Sliding Doors in that time. Most of their output can truly be held up as classic examples of high quality soul music. Eddie & Ernie’s voices were beautifully matched, and their strongest songs came over as an effortlessly perfect mix of sweet and deep soul styles, boasting understated but catchy arrangements. Furthermore they seemed equally at home with both uptempo and slow numbers.

It was only a few years ago that I first became aware of their existence. I’m a bit vague now on the exact circumstances. I think I just stumbled across one of their singles whilst trawling eBay one evening (as you do) – Eddie & Ernie? that’s a vaguely amusing name, cue thoughts of Morecambe & Wise etc (see above), let’s find out a bit more about them, you know how it goes I’m sure.

I think it was subsequent to this that I learnt that the late great DJ John Peel had no less than three Eddie & Ernie singles in his now much talked about “special box”. Only two other acts had greater representation in that box – Charlie Feathers with five singles, and The White Stripes/Jack White with no less than twelve singles nestling in the hallowed collection, which must surely have been the result of a then current fixation of Peel’s. It’s funny, many people think that Peel was purely a champion for everything independent, alternative and "out there" at the outer edges of rock music, but of course his love of music extended much wider and he clearly loved and played plenty of soul music, much of it of the deep variety, and lots of reggae too. In fact, of 142 records in the “special box”, by my reckoning there were no less than 17 out and out soul/r&b records in there, which is a sizeable percentage. Eddie & Ernie’s “I’m Gonna Always Love You” (the B side of “Outcast”) was one of those records and it was actually played on UK television – it was one of those “yes!” moments for me - featured in a program about the box broadcast a year or so ago (if memory serves me correctly it was played over footage of Peel’s wedding to Shiela “The Pig” – was it actually played at their wedding, or was it chosen simply as an appropriate record for that point in the program? – can’t remember). How did Peel first come across Eddie & Ernie, I wonder? Were they a recent discovery for him also, or had he been in on the secret for a long time? The latter I suspect. I seem to remember reading somewhere that he was a lover of deep southern soul and was acquainted with John Anderson at the legendary Soul Bowl record outlet, certainly they both resided in East Anglia, and probably that’s where he picked up a lot of his soul singles.

Finally, in recent years, the secret that was Eddie & Ernie is getting out of the bag. First the late Dave Godin featured a number of their tracks on his Deep Soul Treasures series of CD’s, and then in 2002, together with the folks at Ace Records, finally issued a CD made up entirely of their material including some previously unreleased. You can read more about how that CD finally came to be issued here and buy “Lost Friends” here.

I’m featuring here three Eddie & Ernie singles I’ve picked up recently, two of which happen to correspond (not the same copies you understand!) to ones that were found in John Peel’s box.

I’m glad I’m in on the secret, you get in on it too.

Eddie & Ernie – I’m Going For Myself 1965
Eddie & Ernie – Outcast 1965
Eddie & Ernie – Time Waits For No One 1964

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Javan Dawn

Where did that week go? I’m finding it difficult to find enough time to put much together here right now. This post is therefore going to be short but, I hope you will agree, has a sweet end.

I’m decorating my son’s bedroom at the moment. I always play CDs when I’m decorating and as a result each room for me ends up with a permanent association to a particular selection of music. Going back a few years now, our bedroom is linked to Blur’s 13 and old John Peel program mix tapes. A couple of years ago our daughter’s bedroom got the treatment to a vinyl selection (the turntable was in close proximity at the time) including Peoples Choice “We Got The Rhythm”, various Earth, Wind & Fire albums, and Gil Scott Heron. Last year it was the lounge’s turn and lots of Reggae, Joan Osborne’s “Relish”, and Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” spring to mind.

Last time I decorated my son’s bedroom I was left with the lasting impression of Miles Davis' “Kind Of Blue”. As it happens kind of blue is the colour theme this time round for Ben’s room. As I slap on the Javan Dawn (a sort of deep turquoise – coincidentally very similar to the colour of the paint I had on my bedroom wall as a teenager) so far it’s been The Bees “Octopus”, Bjork’s “Vespertine”, The Be Good Tanyas “Hello Love”, and some of my mix CDs. And Terry Callier’s “Holdin’ On” was on one of those mix CDs yesterday and I thought that would be a good track to drop on here.

In an interview Terry did a few years ago he said this track was deemed too political for airplay! – oh dear, the roots of PC.

“Holdin’ On” is from the 1978 album “Fire On Ice” which was reissued on CD a few years ago and you could buy it here.

Terry Callier – Holding On (To Your Love) 1978

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hooked (Avalon revisited)

Once a year for as long as I can remember I hook up with a few old school friends, pack the camping and fishing gear, and head for the countryside for a long weekend of uninterrupted fishing (and drinking). Any of you who are regulars around here may remember a post about a year ago entitled Avalon. That followed last year’s event where we found a cracking lake near Glastonbury called Avalon. We liked it so much we went back for more this year and fished it three days running. We had varying degrees of success, but I was quite happy with the array of fish that decided to jump onto my hook.

As well as fishing at Avalon, the campsite we stayed at this time was called Isle Of Avalon. Of course lots of things around the Glastonbury area bear the name Avalon. For various takes on why, you could try here, here, here and here.

The legends, and more recently the Glastonbury Festival, have proven to be a powerful draw for a certain type of person – shall we say, the more mystically aligned - and many have stayed. I imagine it’s rather like California in that respect. I’m not really into all the mystical stuff but I have to say I’ve fallen in love with Glastonbury and its surrounding area. It seems to be full of friendly people and really has a uniquely magical air to it.

The magic extended to the weather and the fishing. The British summer has been a damp squib so far but we were lucky. The rain stopped ten minutes before we put the tents up and, save for a couple of downpours that were over almost as soon as they had started, stayed away until ten minutes after we took the tents down. On Saturday 07-07-07 Somerset was the sunniest place in Britain racking up 14.3 hours. That also was the day I caught the biggest fish of my sporadic angling career – a mirror carp that give or take a couple of ounces weighed in at, yes strange but true, 14.3lbs! Magic indeed! I tell you, legends have been formed around less. I’m betting we will be returning to the same venue next year.

Anyway, enough of my outdoor pursuits, it’s time for some music. The Mighty Hannibal’s “Fishin’ Pole” might be the obvious choice – but I’m not going to give you that – mainly because I don’t possess it!

I’ve settled for two versions of “I’m Back For More”. This beautiful song was written by Kenny Stover who with Johnny Simone were sometime backing singers and backroom hands on some of Marvin Gaye’s 70s output. Although uncredited, Stover is reported to have had writing input to Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” and “Inner City Blues”. Another claim to fame, if you can call it that, is that Stover lent Gaye his car after an IRS guy had driven off in Gaye’s car! In 1977 Stover teamed up with Simone and Alvin Few to form Leo’s Sunshipp. “I’m Back For More” appeared on their one and only album, the now much sought after (on Lyon’s at least) “We Need Each Other”. The album contains four vocal tracks and then “mini-tro” (instrumental) versions of the same. I always felt short changed by this when I bought the album. What I didn’t realise then was there was a good reason for this - Simone tragically died of cancer sometime during the recording of the album. It was released in 1978. Oddly though there was no reference or memorial to Simone’s death on the sleeve. “I’m Back For More” became a favourite in soul circles having been performed by a number of artists including Tavares, Marlena Shaw, and Bobby Womack & Lulu. The most well known version, and also best in my opinion, was recorded by Al Johnson & Jean Carn, which is here in it’s single form.

The title of the tracks I’ve chosen says it all about how I feel about Avalon, and the tracks mellow, slightly dreamy feel is in keeping with the pace of our weekend.

(In fact on playing it again for this post the Leo’s Sunshipp version is a lot faster than I remember it, so I’ve taken the liberty of slowing it down a bit).

Now I must go and hang out the dream catcher, and maybe I should buy some bells for my toes...

Leo’s Sunshipp – I’m Back For More 1978 [Darcy’s slower version!]
Al Johnson & Jean Carn – I’m Back For More 1980

Sunday, July 01, 2007

On a reggae tip...down with rain

Hope you like the new look. Need to do something about the header frame, and then see if I can get a bit more adventurous with the general layout, but all in all it proved to be a painless facelift. Just a quickie post today. I need to share some more reggae with you, and play a bit of ping pong with Davy H!

Thoroughly enjoyed seeing Culture last Friday and the gig certainly re-kindled my taste for reggae. It can rain as much as it likes (and it certainly is here in blighty) but it will no longer dampen my reggae taste buds.

My next post will return to a soulful vibe, but for now here are two more on a reggae tip.

Two Sevens Clash” is from the album of the same name and Culture’s first in 1977. Dhaima’s “Ina Jah Children” is also from 1977, I think. The DJ (or should that be sound system) at the Culture gig played this and prompted me to dig out my copy which, I’m glad to say, is in much better nick than his was!

Culture – Two Sevens Clash 1977
Dhaima – Ina Jah Children 1977