Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The better half took herself off to Turkey last week with her bestest buddy (incidentally whilst there they both went to the dentist – out of choice! Top quality work and dirt cheap, apparently). As a consequence I have been busier than usual with household chores, and simultaneously lazy on the blog front.

Humphrey Lyttelton died last Friday. As a trumpeter and bandleader he was a stalwart of the British Jazz scene. His Jazz was primarily of the Traditional variety, a style that, to be truthful, is not really my cup of tea. As well as being a jazz musician he was also a writer and broadcaster. For many years he presided over the madcap proceedings at BBC Radio’s “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”, and also presented a Jazz records program on BBC Radio 2. It was his Jazz program in particular that I will hold fond memories of. I must have started listened to his program in the 70s. My parents would tune in, and I sort of got hooked too. My taste for Jazz music comes and goes, and I wouldn’t enjoy all that Humph played, but I liked his presentation style, respected the depth of his knowledge and his undoubted love of the genre, and just loved the sound of his voice. If I found a few tracks that I liked along the way that was a bonus.

In that respect, thinking about it, he held the same attractions as John Peel did. I can’t say I have always listened to Humph’s Jazz program – the same way I didn’t always tune in to John Peel’s show. But it was always a comfort to know he was there, and when I did tune in the attraction was to listen to Humph talk at least as much as the music he might play.

Humph did play some great music of course, and broadened my knowledge of Jazz music. The track here I remember hearing on one of his shows, probably in 1980. I think I managed to capture it on tape. In any event I never forgot it and finally acquired the album it appears on a few years ago.

The album in question is “Blues For The Fisherman” on Mole Jazz. This was a live recording of a Ronnie Scotts date by pianist Milcho Leviev in a quartet that included Art Pepper on saxophone. I have featured this track before and it is definitely worth a “re-up” as well as being appropriately titled in the circumstances. Also appropriate were the words that finished the post that originally featured this track - so today let the applause at the end of this track be for Humph.

The Milcho Leviev Quartet – Sad, A Little Bit 1980

Monday, April 21, 2008

Goodbye Mister C

Sooner or later it seems all good things come to an end. Last Friday after nearly 20 years, Mister C graced the WFMU airwaves for the last time. Once a month Mister C would sit in for Mr Finewine at the rare and wondrous Downtown Soulville. Now there is no debating that Mr Finewine’s show is astonishing, and essential listening for any self respecting soulhead. But over time I have come to realise that it was Mister C’s shows that really did it for me. I loved the old radio adverts with the inevitable deeeep voiceover. I loved Mister C’s old school cool DJ rhyming delivery (if you’re from the UK think laidback Rosko). But above all I was tuned in – locked in - to Mister C’s musical frequency (pops and clicks included). The records he played were consistently of the soul persuasion closest to my heart. Thanks for the great shows Mister C. I, like many others I’m sure, will miss you.

Philly and Southern were I think Mister C’s soul of choice. I was heartened to hear him play Candi Staton on his final show (“I’m Just A Prisoner”) – and of course he pronounced Stay-ton correctly, it always irks me that so few do – and was expecting him to play something from Betty Wright too, an obvious favourite of his. But in the end he didn’t. So I will.

Some time ago Mister C played “Gimme Back My Man”. The track comes from Betty Wright’s 1973 album “Hard To Stop”. That album had been on my mental (as in tucked away in a corner of my brain) wants list for over thirty years. Somehow I had never got round to buying it – but then we all have those lists I’m sure. Anyway the track blew me away and prompted me to – finally - go and buy the album (that is some hairstyle, isn’t it?). I was lucky to pick up the original album for next to nothing. If you were to cast your eye over Betty’s 45 release history you could count no less than 33 singles, and that's only up to 1979. Inexplicably “Gimme Back My Man” isn’t one of them. In 1973 Alston, like many soul music labels, were predominantly a singles label, and I can’t help thinking Henry Stone missed a trick by not releasing this as a single.

The last record (ever?) Mister C played on his WFMU show was “A Woman Needs To Be Loved” by Tyrone Davis. Another record that Mister C put on my radar some time ago. This was Davis’ first single on the Dakar label. As you can see from the label scan it started out as an A side but was soon relegated to the B side of the 1968 R&B #1 hit “Can I Change My Mind” released on the newly colourful Dakar label. “Mind” proved a template for a number of subsequent Davis singles (in that mould my favourite has to be “Is It Something You’ve Got”) but he continued to feature “deep” soul tracks on the B sides, and it’s those that I prefer. There is more than a hint of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland about Davis’ delivery on “A Woman Needs To Be Loved”. Davis is rightly recognised as one of the great soul voices, but I can’t help thinking that if he had stayed with his Deep Bluesy side, although lasting commercial success would have most probably eluded him, we would nevertheless be heralding him as a true giant. You can find "A Woman Needs To Be Loved" on this.

WFMU is quite probably the greatest independent, Internet based, radio station in the world. Show archives go back years. So although Mister C may have packed away his microphone he’s still there in the archives. Go and catch a show now (well maybe listen to the tracks posted here first).

Betty Wright – Gimme Back My Man 1973

Tyrone Davis – A Woman Needs To Be Loved 1968

Friday, April 11, 2008

This one's for you Mark

Jonathan Ross may be paid squillions of pounds a year but the BBC should realise their real crown jewel is Mark Lamarr. He is currently some way through another of his occasional Reggae series on Radio 2, which is consistently blinding.

It’s almost time to stump up the cash for the licence fee again but I am quite happy to pay it as long as I know Mark will entertain me. When he fills in for Wossy on his Saturday morning show it’s always worth the entrance fee and that’s just a side project. His Reggae show, the Alternative Sixties, God’s Jukebox, and Shake Rattle & Roll are all top quality. The guy must be a workaholic. But I know it can be no chore. He just love’s music, has great taste, and is lucky enough to get paid for sharing it with us.

While he’s at it I’m sure he could put together a great Soul show. The BBC often seem to miss the mark with their attempts at Soul shows. Craig Charles gives it a good go with his show on Six and I think the Soul content on that show has been getting better and better recently. Beyond that there isn't too much. Stuart Maconie panders to the Northern crowd now and then. Now Trevor Nelson has started a new show. But I think at just an hour long it may fall into the same trap as many other shows have – playing to the masses by featuring too much that is already well known, when there is so much Soul music criminally overlooked. Give the job to Mark I say, and let’s get serious.

On the subject of “specialist” music not sure how Mark is with Jazz, but the BBC surely has the credentials to step in to fill the void left by the recent demise of The Jazz. Digital Radio is turning into a damp squib. The Jazz was excellent. If the BBC think they can dedicate the vast majority of Radio Three to Classical music surely they could find it within their means to start up a Digital Jazz channel. If Jazz is a turntable too far for Mark Lamarr – and of course he couldn’t do it all on his own - I’ve no doubt there are plenty of other committed Jazz aficionados that could ably man the decks and the new digital super airwaves (ha!).

The BBC, of course, has the listen again feature on it’s website for most of it’s shows, curiously - or perhaps typically - somewhat antiquated in it’s operation and the short up time of the shows. Anyway, I urge you to catch Mark’s reggae show from last night, a great hour of Studio One, so good it prompted me to write this. If you’re not already familiar with Mr Lamarr then check out his other shows too. With three hours to fill in God’s Jukebox he really gets to stretch out but it’s not aired at the most convenient of times so that listen again feature is essential.

Mash it up, Dread!

Rod Taylor – If Jah Should Come Now/Africa Just Free 1980

Buy Where Is Your Love Mankind (from the same era as this 12”)

Rod Taylor discography

Monday, April 07, 2008

Shifting strands

Just purchased a copy of “Home Sweet Home”, a book about Banksy the graffiti artist from Bristol who manages to be celebrated and anonymous at the same time. The book is full of pictures of his early, and now lost, work on the walls (etc.) of Bristol. It has been produced by a friend, Steve Wright – and he is evidently a close friend as some of Banksy’s work only lasted a few days in situ before being erased by a dubious City Council. Banksy is definitely “in” at the moment with lots of celebs now paying silly money for his work. But I wonder whether this popularity will last, or will he prove essentially ephemeral, just like much of his street art.

The pictures in the book are backed up with a good commentary and one, as a Bristolian myself, I can easily enjoy with all the name dropping from the local scene - and the pinpointing of the sites of his work. As I said much of his work didn’t last long, but some has, and reading the book makes me feel I’ve been travelling around my home city with my eyes closed all these years. My excuse is that, being a good few years younger than me, Banksy’s prolific “Bristol period” came after my youth. Around the time Banksy was transforming (or vandalising, depending on your point of view) Bristol’s various vertical planes I had a young family and when I did step out in Bristol it was usually to the park with the kids, to the local DIY store as we decorated - in a highly non graffiti style - another room in our house, or to the local pub (in a locality not it seems ever frequented by Banksy).

The book also talks about Bristol and why it seems to have spawned a healthly “graffers” culture – initially inspired by the New York scene - and also a slightly off kilter and individual music scene – think trip-hop, Massive Attack, Portishead. It suggests Bristol as being particularly laid back, easy going (which of course could also be easily interpreted as slow or backward), multiculturally well established, and – well - a little bit different than your average British city. But it is also not afraid to put forward other viewpoints such as The Bristol Blogger’s who thinks pretty much all of the above is basically a load of tosh. Depending on my mood I can happily support both viewpoints!

By now you’re probably thinking “ah, any second now a link to a bit of Bristol based music will come”. No, I am from Bristol after all, so that would be too obvious a destination. But, yes, we have now reached the music bit.

The book, Banksy’s take on art, and the possibly rose tinted view of Bristol, brought to mind what is probably my favourite ever album title – sub-title, really, to be precise:

I love it, it has a wonderful symmetry about it – the exchange of two letters is a simple dislocation, rendering the whole phrase subtly different - and it also perfectly describes the content of the album -“Mutant Disco” - which presents some of New York based ZE Records early output. Mixing elements of punk, post punk, and latin with disco it presents something distinctive and just a little offbeat.

It’s April, but it’s 1981. Ian Penman has just finished the notes for the album. They come across as a fantastic stream of consciousness, thrown up onto the wall that is the back sleeve, rather like a “graffer’s” tour de force. Tracing a brick half way along and half way down he has this to say:

“August Darnell – Kid Creole The Action Man, the man in the white suit – is something akin to this generation’s Cole Porter: a songwriter’s songwriter. The sly saviour! Tight, he’s right! Probably one of the last poets we’ll get. His lyrical country is there for the touring. It is cavalier, cinemascope and carnal. It’s a subliminal carnival, a bit of a circus, a sip of a cocktail: highly amorous, light-headed and heavy lidded.”

Then, a few bricks down, this:

“Side One of this albums reveals – and conceals – The Coconuts muse/ruse splintered into all its shifting splendour. All three tracks are shots off the main block: Coati Mundi’s super rapper’s ego on the analyst couch. Gichi Dan’s gangster rap ….. and Don Armando Bonilla’s deputy in song, Ms Fonda Rae. Spot the similarities, rearrange the resonances, do what you will – but dance, just dance.”

Wonderful stuff, as is Coati Mundi (aka Andy Hernandez of Kid Creole & The Coconuts) and “Que Pasa/Me No Pop I”. This is the kind of ephemera that really does it for me.

Blimey! We’ve got there (somewhere? nowhere?) in the end!

Coati Mundi – Que Pasa/Me No Pop I 1981

The original album had six tracks which are now available, together with other Ze output across two CDs. You can find the Coati Mundi track on Volume Two.