I started buying records in the early 70s. I didn’t consider myself a collector then, I just bought them when I could afford it. It would have been around 1976 I started to accumulate records – when I started work and had some spare cash for the first time, and then started DJing. I still didn’t think of myself as a collector but in hindsight I was by then demonstrating collector traits. For one thing I started to concentrate on particular genres and types of record – soul/funk, punk/new wave 45s, and disco 12”. But more significantly, I never gave records away or swapped them or sold them. I say never, but I do distinctly remember owning Barbara Mason’s 1973 album Lady Love, and then not having it anymore. I do seem to remember it was a conscious decision to release it back into the wild based on the fact that a) it didn’t really have any tracks on it that I could play out as a DJ, b) I couldn’t convince myself I liked Barbara Mason’s voice and c) it really wasn’t very good(?). At the same time I freed a few more records from my fledgling collection I think but can’t remember what they were (hang on, I do remember one – Roberta Flack Blue Lights In The Basement, and I replaced that one a few years ago), and I can’t think of any other purges.
The fact that I distinctly remember that Barbara Mason album is strange though. Was it because it was the first album I ever thought about purging? Or was it because it was something originally pulled from a cut-out bin (fond memories), in my favourite genre, and I’m sure a blind purchase? That’s it, I think. It was an early representation of my obsession with vinyl at the dawn of my collecting bent - especially of the soul variety – and, as such, I have felt ever since that I gave away a piece of my life.
I have never come across a copy of Lady Love in the wild since. In fact I had never come across any other Barbara Mason albums in the wild until earlier this month. I was idling away my lunch hour in a local ... er ... “spot” for want of a better description. It used to be a garden centre, but now seems to be in a state of semi closure and appears to have turned into a sort of static indoor car boot sale. People can rent a small area, or just a table, and sell whatever they want, generally of the 2nd hand flavour. I quite often mooch around it but this latest visit was the first time I had ever seen any records there. At last, I thought. Rooting through them it was a pretty motley collection of easy listening, pop(pap) and big bands, but in amongst the stack I did find a Mighty Diamonds 12”… and a Barbara Mason album. They weren’t priced so I left them and went to ask. “It depends which ones you’re talking about” the old guy said “I know a bit about records and there is some good brass band stuff in that lot” (!), or something along those lines. Here we go I thought, he has no idea but he’s going to ask silly money. “Oh, just a Barbara Mason album and a 12 single is all I’m interested in”, I replied betting he would never have heard of Barbara Mason. I was right and he named his price “50p each for those”. Right, almost free then. I went to get them. (Incidentally, as I was paying, the old guy commented on the Mighty Diamonds 12”: “Cor, they go back a bit”. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking of the reggae group).
So now, after all these years, I own a Barbara Mason album again, and it’s title is… A Piece Of My Life !
This was her penultimate album before turning her back on recording to focus on a publishing career in 1984. She recorded her first album - Yes I’m Ready - as an eighteen year old in 1965. The title song was a massive pop and R&B hit. Ten more albums followed, on a variety of labels, with moderate success throughout the early to mid 70s in the R&B charts. She bowed out in 1984 with another sizeable hit, at least in the clubs - Another Man from the album Tied Up.
Barbara certainly has a distinctive voice. It reminds me of honey. Sweet then? No not really. To me honey (or at least the few varieties that have graced my toast) tastes sweet and sour/bitter all at the same time. I like it but I often wonder why I like it. And that’s the same feeling I’m coming around to with Barbara Mason’s voice.
On first play I was immediately quite taken with this album, but after a second play I wasn’t so sure. Now I’m playing it again and yes it has some merit, especially side 2. Eight of the ten tracks are written by Barbara Mason – she should be known as a singer-songwriter really, but for some reason that has never really been a term bandied around in black music circles. The tracks, with the exception of the dancefloor pitched opener, are very much late night low light music and on the face of it are all much of a muchness. Or are they? In America alone there are over 300 varieties of honey apparently, each with their own flavour, although I’m sure, in many cases, the flavour differences are very subtle. Perseverance may allow me to identify ten subtly different flavours of Barbara on this album, and eventually to love Barbara Mason’s voice as I do honey. So I will not be setting this one free again just yet.