Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tapping My Feet #9

Last week on University Challenge on a music question all the team had to do was identify the singer on a music clip. The clip was from “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison. None of them knew.

On Sunday I caught a bit of Dave Pearce’s show on BBC 6 Music – “30 years of dance anthems”. That therefore excludes the first three years of the 12” single and means this classic from Ashford & Simpson wouldn’t qualify for inclusion on Dave’s program.

Oh dear, it’s enough to make you feel old (what do you mean – I am?).

Ashford & Simpson – Don’t Cost You Nothing 1978

Find it on this: Warner Brothers Years – Hits, Remixes & Rarities

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Off to a good start

So here was a recording made by an American artist - Michael Franks - sometime in the 70s, pressed and sold in South Africa it would appear, now finding itself lying in a dog-eared box in a second hand shop in the UK – after sleeping for how long in somebody’s record collection?

And here was an itinerant vinyl junkie (me) on his first forage of the year, doing what he likes best – picking through boxes of cast off records. An album catches his attention, he looks at the tracklisting, and the title of side 1 track 1 immediately stirs a long dormant memory.

Whatever twists and turns of fate brought us together the album’s title “Sleeping Gypsy” seemed somehow perfectly apt in the circumstances. The hunter and the game, different but the same, and happy in our new found company.

Getting “Sleeping Gypsy” home and on the turntable the sound of the first few bars of “The Lady Wants To Know” piqued the memory some more, although not enough to pinpoint when or where I had first heard it. As it played through it was probably the first time I had heard it in, I’m guessing, 30 years. But it was really odd, I seemed to recognise every nook and cranny, anticipate every nuance of the melody. I felt a rekindled intimacy as if it was a song that held fond memories, or one that had been on constant repeat in the soundtrack of my life (perhaps as a track on an old, cherished and much played mixtape). But to the best of my knowledge that was never the case. I feel like my memory is holding something back.

I have another Michael Franks album, “The Art Of Tea”, bought many years ago in a cut-out bin. It’s pleasant enough but I sometimes wonder why I was attracted to it. I had thought maybe because I liked the title. But now I think I have discovered a better reason. I was attracted to it because I had heard “The Lady Wants To Know”.

As well as “Sleeping Gypsy” in that dog-eared box I found a couple more albums worth bringing home. One of them was Rufus’ first album and the other “New Improved Funk” by George Freeman, which looked like it had possibilities, besides which it was on the Groove Merchant label which I liked the look of (FleaMarketFunk featured the single last year, which I think I must have missed at the time. You can read more about George and his brother Von there). There were also other Rufus albums and a couple of other things I already had which left me with the impression that whoever had owned these records had been on the same wavelength as me musically. And the dog-eared box was also not tightly packed, leading me to wonder what other gems it might have held that I missed out on. (Ha ha! There speaks someone hopelessly hooked on the pursuit of vinyl).

All in all an excellent start to my crate digging year.

Michael Franks – The Lady Wants To Know 1977

Rufus – I Finally Found You 1973

George Freeman - Daffy 1972

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The road less travelled

Motown anniversary programs are all over the airwaves at the moment. And why not? The music the label produced, particularly in the 60s and 70s, proved a soundtrack to many of our lives. And what a soundtrack!

Martin Freeman, actor and Motown fan, paid his own homage to Motown on BBC2 last week (you can catch it here on BBC iPlayer – albeit only the 30 minute version). Martin is not a natural presenter, and if he is a true afficionado he was keeping his anorak credentials well hidden. So the program came across mostly as a gentle amble through some of Motown’s better known places and faces – an ordinary fan’s view you could say. In fact he seemed generally to be a bit in awe of his surroundings, like someone who couldn’t believe their luck in being asked by the BBC to go to Detroit (and LA) to meet some of his heroes and heroines.

I love Motown music but now for me it is like travelling on the motorway, and I prefer the B roads, the scenic byways, whether driving or hunting out music to listen to.

Right at the beginning of Martin Freeman’s Motown trip he visits Detroit’s legendary People’s Records. Although he may not have realised it, when Mr Freeman walked into that shop he briefly turned off the Motown motorway, and I immediately got very interested (whilst salivating over all that vinyl!). Whilst in the shop, owner Brad Hales introduces him to a guy that bears a resemblance to George Clinton. He is introduced as Hermon Weems. ‘I know that name’, I thought, ‘he wrote that Dee Edwards song I have been obsessing over’. (If you are a regular around here then you will know I was smitten by this record a few months ago). Hermon proceeded to fill Mr Freeman in on his pedigree and then Brad Hales put a copy of a record on the decks as an example of something Hermon wrote. ‘Who is this?’ asks Martin – ‘Dee Edwards’ was the reply – ‘right, OK’, is all Martin can say in response, sounding distinctly as if he had never heard of her (I admit neither had I until a few years ago). That record was the self same one I was, and still am, obsessing over: “Why Can’t There Be Love”. (At the time I was watching this program I was actually bidding for a copy on eBay! I said back in August that I would quite easily pay more than I had ever done before for a single record to secure a copy and I was going for it, and winning with 10 minutes to go too. But the last 10 minutes is a lifetime in the land of ebay bidding, and alas it ended up at over a $100 which was too much for me – six months ago when the pound was still a proper currency things might have been different).

Maybe it was Hermon’s appearance, maybe it was editing, but I thought Martin Freeman seemed a bit underwhelmed by Hermon Weems. Following the program I did a bit of research on him and amongst other things found this. Hermon Weems maybe a scenic byway on Motown’s map but to my mind he is deserving of a documentary all to himself. Co-writer of numerous hits for the likes of The Detroit Emeralds, Fantastic Four and Al Kent; drummer on many of the Ric-Tic recordings; the man who introduced George Clinton to LSD (and the mad beardy look?); album covers artist (Temptations’ "Psychedelic Shack"), and logo designer (Funkadelic, and bang up to date - Mayer Hawthorne & The County). See what I mean. If the BBC don’t make a documentary about him the producer of Martin Freeman Motown program deserves the sack!

Without checking the writing credits of all my records I can only think of one I have with Weems in lights. He’s quite possibly playing drums (tom toms) on this too. Unmistakably Detroit.

Al Kent – Where Do I Go From Here (mp3) 1967

There is actually only one place to go from here - another Detroit byway - go on, press repeat and get drenched in the sound of Detroit circa 1970, it’s pouring out of every groove of Dee Edwards “Why Can’t There Be Love”.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A jewel

I’m emerging from two weeks of general inactivity with the realisation that it’s back to work tomorrow. I always feel the Christmas/New Year break seems to be a bit of a twilight zone, and this one has certainly been no exception. I have done virtually nothing of note for two weeks, and certainly nothing on the blog front. I have eaten too many chocolate biscuits. And as a family we have sat down together (which has got to be a good thing) and watched more TV and DVDs than we have for a while. That’s about it really.

With our children both out all night at friends’ houses, and no parties in the calendar, for the first time in years the better half and I we spent New Year’s Eve in front of the telly. A straw poll of some of our friends indicated that this seemed to be de rigueur this year.

With the days of Al Stewart thankfully long gone New Year’s Eve telly in the UK now means Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. This year’s line up could be said to have had a distinct soul flavour. For instance Duffy and Adele were both on the bill. In 2008 they were both lauded (or is that hyped) as great new talents with a strong soul influence. I have to say I’m not impressed. Adele’s rendition of Chasing Pavements left me thinking that she must have been taking singing lessons from Vic Reeves Shooting Stars club singer persona (Uvavu!). Meanwhile Duffy seemed to get squeakier with each song she sang and by her final number I think she was actually in danger of disappearing up her own squeaker!

As for top billed Martha Reeves (with the Vandellas, who are excused from my following comments) “squeak” does not adequately describe the sound she was making that was passing for singing. Judging by the comings and goings of our cats I think they were probably following more of it than I was. I know Martha's knocking on a bit now and maybe she should consider hanging up the microphone.

It wasn’t all bad, I have developed a soft spot for the Ting Tings, and on the soul front proceedings were rescued by Ruby Turner. Jools has surrounded himself with an impressive big band and Ruby has joined the ranks as a lead singer. Now Ruby can sing - as Jools Holland has said: Ruby can sing soul, gospel, blues, boogie woogie.

I’ve always thought that Ruby has existed under the radar and has been under appreciated as a singer. Like many British (actually she was born in Jamaica but moved with her parents to Handsworth, Birmingham when she was 9) grown soul singers it seemed she missed out on the success, stardom if you will, that she deserved. Or so I thought, but that is not really true. Now I’ve read up on her I realise that she had a string of charting UK singles hits during the 80s and a US R&B number 1 no less in 1990 (“It’s Gonna Be Alright”). Her chart exposure coincided with a period in my life where I wasn’t following the music scene too closely so Ruby’s success didn’t exactly slip under my radar, rather my musical radar was completely switched off. Still, chart success and stardom alone shouldn’t be used as a measure of talent. You only have to listen to her sing to realise she’s got it, and she’s proving to be a soul survivor of our times.

I remember seeing her a few years ago in a soul revue of sorts called (I think) “Blues Brother, Soul Sister” that was produced in my home city, Bristol. I also hadn’t realised she had released so many albums (16 in all if you count her latest collaboration with Jools Holland), and one of those, released in 2001, was called “Live In Bristol”. Well I never!

Thank you Ruby for lighting up our New Year’s Eve. We raised a glass to you.

I admit to having only one of Ruby Turner’s records (but “The Informer” will soon be joining it). Her fifth album was “The Other Side”, released in 1991. I picked it up a few years ago in Atlanta of all places. Many of the tracks have a Soul II Soul feel to the production. The thrust of the album (contemporary – at the time - R&B) maybe doesn’t allow Ruby to demonstrate the true power and range of her voice but I will leave you with a track anyway.

Ruby Turner – A Little Bit More (mp3) 1991