Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tapping My Feet #5

Sorry, no time for words today. We're off to (hopefully sunny) Cornwall for a few days - and I haven't started the packing yet!

I've always loved the colours on this label. The A side is their take on "Love Hangover", in delicate shades of pink and orange.


The Players Association - I Like It (mp3) 1977

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our Shirl

Shirley Bassey hails from Cardiff, just like my Dad. Shirley grew up in Tiger Bay, a dockside district of Cardiff that had always been cosmopolitan, and also working class. My grandfather had worked in the docks there and dad grew up in another working class district of Cardiff – Splott. Both are charming names in their own way but Tiger Bay sounds somewhat more alluring than Splott doesn’t it? Lucky for Shirl. It’s bad enough that she always has to suffer being referred to as Burly Chassis (so inappropriate), imagine if she had been Burly Chassis from Splott!

I’m sure the Cardiff connection is, at least in part, the reason my Dad has always had a soft spot for her (incidentally, my Auntie Joyce has always been mad on Tom Jones: the Welsh stick together). So there are a few albums of hers at my parents house. One of these is “I Capricorn” which I think I bought for Dad as a present on its release in 1972. It contained what would prove to be her biggest hit, “For All We Know”, which was seemingly ever present in the UK pop charts in the latter half of 1971, just at the time I was discovering music. I really liked that single. Undoubtedly it would have been qualified as a guilty pleasure at that time – Shirley was Dad music, I couldn’t admit to liking it, at least not to my friends. Anyway, I also admit now that there was probably a bit of self-interest in me buying this album for Dad, as I secretly wanted to hear it. Dad played it occasionally but I was left with the impression that he preferred her earlier work, Shirley could belt ‘em out in the sixties and I think Dad preferred that style, “I Capricorn” for the most part had a much more lush and soulful feel. Which is what attracted me to it and so every now and then I snuck it on the turntable and enjoyed my, then, guilty pleasure, and from that point on I also have had a soft spot for Shirl.

Due to the material that Shirley has chosen to sing over the years, and the style and arrangements that typify her output – by turns lush and relaxed in an easy listening sort of way, or bold, brassy, showy – she would never be categorized as a soul singer. However, there is no doubt she is a soulful performer, she puts her heart and soul into the songs and is really living them.

The other day, dropping in at the parents house, I spent a few minutes trawling through the albums there – I was surprised by how many of mine are still there – and dug out “I Capricorn”. I had forgotten what a great album cover it had. Shirley's ethnicity is there for all to see (her mother was in fact Nigerian) and she looks stunning in a straight on head shot with some tasteful artwork behind her, and framed in gold with, top and bottom, her name and the album title in bold black lettering*. Classy. This could easily be the cover of a classic soul album, and in fact it does bring to mind the cover of one, one that I will feature here next time.

I was going to feature "For All We Know" here but in fact it didn’t sound as good as I remembered it - nothing wrong with Shirley’s voice but the arrangement is a little twee and lightweight in places. Ah, you were thinking of the Carpenters version, I here you say. Well no, I don’t think so, the version that plays in my head definitely has Shirley singing. Maybe my mind remixed the backing.

There are a few show tunes on the album – very much par for the course in the musical world of the time that Shirley was inhabiting – but I’m steering clear of those, not that there’s anything wrong with them. I just think some of the other tracks are more soulful and have better arrangements. For example Shirley’s interpretation of “The Look Of Love” is powerfully sensual and has groove that I think sets it apart from other tracks on the album. In a way it reprises the feel of her take of the Doors “Light My Fire” that did indeed light up her 1970 album “Something” (if you haven’t heard her version of "Light My Fire" then you should, and it’s becoming something of a rare groove classic).

Shirley is 71 now and has enjoyed hit records over five decades. She has sung the theme song of no less than three James Bond films. Last year she made an appearance at the mudfest that is Glastonbury, famously sporting diamante wellies. This is not the first time she has been seen by the masses wearing strange footwear – those of us of a certain age and British will no doubt remember a classic sketch on the Morcambe & Wise show where she ends up wearing… well watch it and see:

Shirley is a private, and even mysterious, person, a true professional but also somebody who evidently retains a good sense of humour.

I’ve only just caught up on the fact that Shirley underwent a stomach operation recently. Get well soon Dame Shirley and keep on doing it, we love you!

Shirley Bassey – The Look Of Love (mp3) 1972
Shirley Bassey - I Capricorn (mp3) 1972 (sorry about the scratch in the intro)

*I’m afraid my scan omits the lettering on the album cover, I haven’t got the ability to “scan and stitch”.

“I Capricorn” is available on CD (with a slightly different cover to the original album).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rain rain go away....

.... come again another day (preferably next year).

Gwen McCrae - It Keeps On Raining (mp3) 1975

Friday, July 11, 2008

Jean Genies #2

Well back in business after a couple of Internetless days that turned out to be caused by the latest Microsoft security patch and Zone Alarm not singing from the same hymn book! It was my daughter who picked up on this fact before me and got us going again – I’ve taught her well!

Now, on with the show, as they say.

It must be strange to know that, quite possibly, in some way, you could live forever. Jean Caliste was born in 1943 and at 65 is, as far as I know – and hope - not about give up the ghost anytime soon. It is also true though that one day, like us all, she will physically be no more.

However, in 1971, as Jean Knight, she recorded what would prove to be just about the biggest hit Stax would ever have, the multi-platinum selling “Mr Big Stuff”. That song is proving to have a long and healthy life on the radio, in adverts, and on TV and film soundtracks. Combine that with the fact that Stax, like Motown, has become an iconic label and Jean, through “Mr Big Stuff” at least, could live forever.

In 1972 following Jean’s big hit and an album she was named “Most Promising Female Vocalist”. In fact Jean had started her recording career several years earlier. She had begun singing at her cousin’s bar in New Orleans and eventually recorded a demo of “Doggin’ Around” (at Cosimo Mattassa’s French Quarter studio?) which had been a hit for Jackie Wilson in 1960. Huey Meaux picked up on this and released it at the beginning of 1965 on his then fresh Jet Stream label. After considering Caliste too difficult to pronounce she adopted the name Jean Knight (although the B side of this single was written by her and credited to "J Caliste"). Jean would have two more releases on the Jet Stream label but strangely not until 1967/8. Singing wasn’t paying the bills it seems and Jean took a job as a baker at Loyola Univeristy. Then in 1970 her singing talents were rediscovered by songwriter Ralph Williams. And that brings us back to “Mr Big Stuff”, for which Williams has a co-writing credit. You can read much more about Jean Knight, and particularly this phase of her singing career, over at Home Of The Groove.

Jean is still performing and is once again based in New Orleans. She appeared at last years New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival. Her own website hints at a new album to be released on her own Comstar Records label.

I love both sides of Jean’s first ever single. Basically voice, organ and drums is all there is in the mix. They have a really primitive quality – completely authentic considering these tracks were probably laid down in 1964 which was close to first light in the age of Soul music.

Jean Knight – Doggin’ Around (mp3) 1965
Jean Knight – The Man That Left Me (mp3) 1965

If you can track it down both of these tracks are on "Blue Soul Belles Vol. 2"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Drink and migrate

First things first, thanks to all of you who left your good wishes for Dad. I passed them on and I think he was chuffed to think that people from all round the world were thinking of him. He is back at home now, and Mum is happy although she has even more of a caring job to do now (with our help when we can). In the end I am not sure precisely what Dad's problems were(are) and I am left with the impression that his body just got confused with the seemingly constant mix of pills he has been prescribed over recent years and said “enough!” That and his advanced years of course. Anyway the doctors conferred, and it was a split decision, but he has made it home with a fresh collection of pills and potions to take – no doubt with a fresh collection of side effects. Excuse me if I sound a bit cynical but in the end I wonder whether all these drugs really do any good. One thing that has deteriorated a lot in recent weeks is his sight – effectively he can no longer watch TV, nor read it seems. Hey, it’s a b*gger getting old!

My work took me to Hungary again the weekend before last. Prepare yourself for a bit of jargon. The project I’ve been working on – with many colleagues – was a computer system replacement, and it reached its climax – the ‘go live’ over the summer solstice weekend. A ‘go live’ incorporates the moving and validating of all the data from the existing system to the new one. This is known in the trade as ‘data migration’. The various stages of this migration required us to work, repeatedly, well into the night. So little time for r and r (= drinking) you may think. But no, we managed to fit that in too. “Drink and migrate” was our mantra. It just so happened there was a wine festival in town that went on well into the night. For three nights running we left the office after midnight and got a taxi straight to the festival, and three nights running a few of us returned to our hotel with the sun rising and the birds singing. I didn’t know I could still do that! (In fact flushed with the realisation I could still go to bed almost after I got up the next day and still function I did it again this weekend when the wife and I went to an old friend’s wedding reception at the weekend. This could become a habit!).

Anyway, returning to Blighty after a long weekend of ‘data migration’ I turn on the radio in the hire car and what should I hear? – a program discussing trends in migration of birds and insects! (It included the cuckoo, which I always think provides one of the quintessential sounds of an English spring and early summer, although the birds we hear in England in fact come from Africa).

This coincidence of migrations must be cue for a track on Feel It I thought to myself. (It’s now a week after this coincidence occurred but I’ve finally got round to it). But what to play? Tracks with migration as a subject are pretty thin on the ground, at least in my collection, but I have settled on a track that at least hints at it in the title. It’s from the 1979 Azymuth album “Light As A Feather”, which also featured the storming and irresistible “Jazz Carnival”.

The normal beat of posts may return now. Unless, of course, by some slim chance, the famously elusive British summer suddenly decides to make a prolonged appearance!

Azymuth – Fly Over The Horizon (mp3) 1979