Sunday, January 28, 2007

Freeman, Hardy & Willis

Wow! Two weeks since my last post. I have been engulfed by a mid-winter torpor. Getting home from work all I have felt like doing is reading the paper, vegetating in front of the TV and going to bed early (well, before midnight at any rate, which is early for me). I have managed to turn the computer on a few times but even blog hopping has seemed like a chore. As for actually compiling a post – no chance.
It seems that this was always on the cards, at least for those of us living in more northerly latitudes. Hopefully I’m back in the groove now.

As a relatively long time has passed since my last post it’s worth reminding you that this is the second in a short series of posts with titles taken from names of shops past and present in the British high street. Why? Why not - I like tenuous links, and it’s a bit of fun.

Today’s track is from Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr. As a group name it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue does it? What has it got to do with Freeman, Hardy & Willis I hear you ask?
On a forum somewhere (possibly Soul Source) sometime ago I remember somebody referring to the group J, H, T & D as Freeman, Hardy & Willis. That made me chuckle.
And who or what is/was Freeman, Hardy & Willis? For those of you not familiar with the British high street of yesteryear Freeman, Hardy & Willis were one of the first shop chains, selling shoes. A common sight in the 70s, I believe they originated as a boot and shoe manufacturer in Leicester in the 19th century. I thought they had completely disappeared but a quick trawl of the interweb threw up a few listings of what appear to be currently trading shops dotted around the UK.

That’s it, as I said a tenuous link. But when you are casting around for witty or punchy (or just plain daft!) blog post titles such a tenuous link is like gold dust.

I bought this 45 blind a few years ago for next to nothing. The Capsoul label attracted me. I already had another Capsoul 45 in my collection acquired many years ago and again bought blind. That record didn’t disappoint and neither does this one from J, H , T & D.

“You Can’t Blame Me” is a great soul record. The intro is both eerie and wistful at the same time. Throughout there is quite a lot going on in the arrangement – vibes; guitar; listen carefully and there some strings too buried in the mix; Virgil Johnson’s strident falsetto barely stays under control and there are some sublime backing vocals from the rest of the guys. It’s a brave record, I think the arrangement is complicated and sophisticated but at the same time it has the distinct feel of being home made, which, in a way, it was. Recently just about the entire Capsoul output was documented and immortalised on "Eccentric Soul: The Capsoul Label". The label was evidently put together and operated on a shoestring and featured local artists form the Columbus, Ohio area. Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum, & Durr had just two releases on the label and then split, but if only for “You Can’t Blame Me”, their name, however awkward, will live on with this soul music fan at least.

I will feature the other Capsoul record in my collection in my next post. Those with a knowledge of both the British high street and the Capsoul label could probably hazard a guess as to the title of the next post.

Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr - You Can’t Blame Me 1971

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Boosey & Hawkes

The titles of next my few posts will see me “moving through the high streets of my life” (to mangle an Isley Brothers lyric!).

I’m not sure now what exactly provided the initial spark for today’s post. What’s not in question is that, in the last few days, I experienced a sudden yearning to hear some Junior Walker. The question is did that feeling appear from nowhere or was it prompted by something?

Well, as I say I’m not sure, but it may have been sparked by an article on record shops in this month’s Word magazine. The article looks back, lovingly, at 50 years of record shopping and those now fast disappearing shrines to vinyl and all the new-fangled formats that have followed since. It recalls the early outlets. Typically they were shops selling sheet music and instruments, or electrical goods such as wireless’s and stereograms, that eventually branched out to sell records as well (I think that’s an example of either horizontal or vertical marketing but as I’m no marketing expert I’m not sure which it is).

My own love affair with recorded output really started in 1971, and for the next 10 years at least I spent a probably unhealthy amount of time in record shops. There was no better way of killing a couple of hours than by riffling through stacks of LP covers (or, of course, 45s if they were out on display), even if you didn’t have enough money in your pocket to be able to buy anything. By the Seventies shops specialising in selling just records (and cassettes) were well established. But you could still find outlets that harked back to an earlier era and the original template. One such establishment was Boosey & Hawkes in Bath. I remember it being on two floors, it sold musical instruments and sheet music, plenty of classical music, and some ‘popular music’ too. It wasn’t a regular haunt of mine but I do remember it used to occasionally have good sales. And I distinctly remember this is where I bought my copy of Junior Walker & The All Stars Anthology. I think I came away with four albums on that particular visit, happy that I had secured some bargains. They are probably all still in my collection, but for some reason the Junior Walker album is the only from the haul that sticks in the memory.

All of Junior Walker & The All Stars big hits were scored between 1965 and 1973 as a Motown act and, while there was an underlying conformity to ‘the sound’ on a number of their tracks, they nevertheless sounded different. Difficult to categorize, their records were, by turns, laced with R&B raunch, house party jive, supper club jazz, and straightahead soul. But regardless of whether they were doing the “Boomerang”, urging us to “Shake And Fingerpop”, or effortlessly wooing us with tracks such as “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)”, they were unmistakably Junior Walker & The All Stars. I can’t remember the last time I heard them on the radio, can’t recall them appearing on a film soundtrack (not that I’m a great moviegoer), and can’t think of an ad that’s used one of their songs. And I can’t understand that as the music is so accessible, it sorts of wraps you in blanket and makes you feel good.

Go on, get some Junior Walker in your life and feel good.

(Buy the Ultimate Collection).

Junior Walker & The All Stars – Pucker Up Buttercup 1967
Junior Walker & The The All Stars – Walk In The Night 1972

(PS I’ve just noticed that today -14th Jan - is the 42nd anniversary of the US release of their first national hit “Shotgun”. I love coincidences.)

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A green triangle

Well, the Birthday Blues didn’t really kick in this year. Maybe the act of writing about it (see previous post) proved cathartic.

So that was it then, the Christmas season is over again, the decorations have been put away for another year, and now all that remains is a mountain of mince pies and chocolates and the pressure is on (the belt buckle!) to finish them all before the best before date.

I don’t think I have a particularly sweet tooth, and as far as chocolate is concerned I like to think I can take it or leave it but put some in front of me (or in my Christmas stocking) and I usually end up eating it. No discipline.

As with chocolate so with sweet soul. Sweet soul is like a tin of Celebrations, or Quality Street. If you put the tin on your lap and dive in, sooner or later you’re going to be sick. So it is with, for example, a Stylistics album, no way could I listen to a whole album at once. On the other hand “People Make The World Go Round” is by The Stylistics and it’s scrumptious - just like the mini Bounty Bars in Celebrations. So the trick is to root around and pick out the plums (I know, plums have nothing to do with chocolate, but they can be just as sweet and they are much more digestible).

When it comes to Quality Street there’s only one variety that really does it for me – the green triangle of solid chocolate, and nowadays I find these very hard to come by. So, back at work the other day idly rooting through a half-empty tin of QS leftover from before Christmas (as you do), I consider myself very lucky to have found a single green triangle nestling at the bottom of the tin. Result! It’s a bit like crate digging really, these moments are what you wait for.

So today I will share with you that perfectly formed green triangle – presented as a vinyl 45 by Tomorrow’s Promise that is the very essence of sweet soul. I know nothing about the group Tomorrow’s Promise apart from the fact they would appear to have released just five singles between 1973 and 1975, three on Capitol and two on Mercury.

“You’re Sweet, You’re Fine, You’re Everything” has actually been comped. A bit of Googling also shows that their singles would appear to be coveted by the Japanese at least. Just for fun I used the translation feature of Google on one of the hits and this is what it came up with:

Recently, covering with the new album of Glenn Jones, in the Seoul fan of part topic (?)Famous musical work in hydrangea Seoul of Tomorrow's Promise famous musical work Sweet, You’re Fine, You’re Everything. Well the ~, it can cry in any case, it is splendid! . Hundreds times hearing, you scratch the heart of this melody and the hydrangea fan, in the insect [ru] rust, indeed the storm of the impression tear. In addition don't you think?, just single release is the maniac crying.

I don’t think I can add anything to that!

Tomorrow's Promise - You're Sweet , You're Fine, You're Everything (mp3) 1973