Friday, 3 January 2014

Everything's Gonna Be Alright

Manifesto December, 2013

As another Northern Soul film threatens to peek at us over the popcorn stands and attempts to explain, via a narrative, what it was all about to the man-in-the-street of today, we will doubtless be due another blinding flash of the media spotlight.  In fact it’s just happened ….  

Whether by coincidence with the above, or design, the BBC’s ‘Culture Show’ decided to ‘do’ Northern Soul via economics presenter Paul Mason (who I believe hails from Leigh).  I was aware of this back in June when a young lady researcher telephonically picked my brains regarding the potentiality of the Culture Show featuring our beloved subject.  Given that virtually every televisual treatment has gone the same way – ‘Ooh, they stay up all night y’know… and take drugs.  By crikey, they can’t half dance as well!’ and that both the Wigan play and the film ‘Soul Boy’ had very similar storylines (or rather non-storylines) I was anxious to point them in another direction; not easy to do when much is reliant on Granada’s 1977 exposé regarding footage from the time.  In some ways the Northern Soul scene doesn’t have the originality it often claims (or at least is thrust upon it).  It wasn’t the first scene by any means where devotees stayed up all night (trad jazz fans were doing that in the fifties), and modern jazz fans were no strangers to amphetamines either.  Lots of dance cultures saw their aficionados dancing like dervishes and America’s doo-wop collectors knew all about high prices for old records before Northern Soul had really got going.  But it was the first meaningful youth culture built around music from another time and place (Belgium’s ‘popcorn’ scene could also rival that claim, but it was never anywhere near the size of the Northern scene);  music that had largely failed in its country of origin, music that it in its originations and its availability put it beyond the control of the UK record companies and British radio.  That the kids couldn’t be told what to do and that the makers of the music had no conception that a latterday demand existed is to my mind the essential facet of the Northern Soul enigma.  In promoting music, often of real quality, that had been left, covered in dust of the ghettos, there is a sense of some worth and pride.  At first the Culture Show looked like it might go there (as I suggested they should) but no, we ended up in ‘hands, knees, and boomps-a-daisy, everyone do the Northern Soul’ territory.  And what was the nonsense about Northern Soul borrowing its moves from the Kung Fu epidemic of the early seventies?  I think a few thousand Torchites and Wheelites might have something to say about that!

Not too much to reflect upon in August’s Manifesto although I almost choked on my volauvent when Sean Chapman compared L.J. Reynolds stentorious vocals on ‘What’s A Matter Baby’ to Steve Marriott!!  Rather like comparing Pele to Shaun Goater (well they’re both black I suppose).  What’s next codman?  Suzi Quatro and Aretha Franklin? Nice to see at least that Grimsby Town’s remaining fan raves over Gene Chandler’s ‘In My Body’s House’ (Checker).  Actually I should make reference to Keith Rylatt’s Blues and Soul pages.  It’s worth mentioning that the Solitaires, who Keith mentions via some of their last Old Town recording, pushed on into the early soul sound in 1964 with ‘Fool That I Am’ and MGM Records. ‘Fool’ really is an outstanding example of the hybrid between soul and duo-wop that was typical of the time, even slightly past its apogee really.  The song is, surprisingly,   courtesy of Neil Diamond, and Chris Towns, who knew a thing or two about Uptown Soul, arranges and conducts.  The line-up of one of those giants of fifties R&B was subject to considerable change and on this, their final disc, I’m not too sure who the impassioned lead actually is.  That he sings with considerable soul is beyond debate.  Just at the moment the demand flame for early soul (as opposed to a more vigorous R&B sound very popular on the continent) is perhaps a little dimmed, which is a great shame, but if ya liked Stafford you’ll like this one.

In the Shop Around section of the last Manifesto, Keith quite rightly raves of the new History of Soul CD series issued at remarkably low prices recently, but fails to mention that these are the price they are, courtesy of the current UK laws on public domain which take the tracks to no later than 1962.  Not so much the history of soul then, as the history of the genesis of soul, despite absolute thoroughness.  Courtesy of such paupers as Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney there is every chance that this door to democratic copyright (we are talking 50 years for goodness sake) will be closed soon via a change in the rules.  When I contemplate the depth and accuracy of the History of Soul series then I can only consider that the consumer, the fan, the black music lover, is the loser.   We might never see complete accumulations of the output of, say, Donald Height or Jimmy Lewis in one place due to the sheer difficulty and/or cost set against demand, and I can honestly question what good purpose that circumstance actually serves?  Certainly not the purposes of the dwindling band of folks that really care about it!

Talk of compact discs takes me onto that subject.  A few years ago I was one of the people behind the retrieval of various masters from Don Davis’ Groovesville/United Sound/Solid Hitbound setup.  That this should include the almost immortal Darrell Banks was to my absolute and total delight – after all, was there EVER a better double-sider than ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’ coupled with ‘Our Love (Is in The Pocket)’?  And don’t forget – that was his FIRST record!  Don, or rather his brother Will, was adamant that Don’s productions were not licensed out to other labels in perpetuity so Goldmine’s double CD ‘Darrell Banks – The Lost Soul’ covered tracks that saw the light of day on Revilot, Atco, Cotillion and Volt in the manner that would be such a problem with the above-mentioned Donald Height.  I was therefore delighted nay, proud, to offer what I considered to be the complete output of a genuine ‘great’.  Imagine my surprise then to see a new Ace/Kent Darrell Banks compilation hit the shelves recently.  Entitled ‘I’m The One Who Loves You’, the CD manages to unearth four new demo tracks on this great artist as well as featuring all of his other Stax/Volt recordings.  As ever, attention to detail is the key here and I have to confess that even I had never realised that the Volt singles had slightly different mixes to the same tracks on the ‘Here To Stay’ album.  There are four genuinely unissued cuts (with others listed but not found), which aren’t fantastic but it’s so good to hear Bank’s voice on ‘new’ material once more.  That these are ‘mere’ demos matters hardly at all.  Amongst the ‘listed’ is ‘Please Let Me In’ (which Johnnie Taylor had a then-unissued go at of course, with some success) – the mouth waters, even foams, but there is no evidence that Banks’ actually made a version.  As usual annotator Tony Rounce does a wonderful job in explaining the tracks by virtue of dated studio sessions.  Only two complaints on that count then, the first is that the untraced  ‘Recipe For Love’ is very likely to be the song that  Davis recorded on L.V. Johnson and which Goldmine retrieved from the tapes by him. Secondly, that Mr Rounce manages to keep Goldmine unmentioned throughout the whole 14 pages!  Anyway, the point is that Don Davis’ opinion or no, Tony Rounce’s omissions or not – this Darrell Banks compilation is one of the best things to happen in 2013.

Keeping the connectivity going here we can stay with previously-unissued material on a limited edition 45 from Soul Tribe Records of Canada in the shape of Wallie Hoskins and Rosemary McCoy’s ‘Switch Around’.  Around ten years or so ago this persistent sixties dancer on a Beltone acetate saw considerable action from Rob Thomas and Andy Rix when they briefly threatened to become the new Ginger and Eddie as a deejaying duo (these partnerships are something of a rarity on the Northern Scene, Ginger and Eddie’s was broken at St Ives when Eddie spun ‘Car Wash’ only to be sat on for two hours by Ginger until he agreed to retire!)  Anyway Rob and Andy saw quite a few bookings in London at the dawn of the current millennium (was it Scenesville? perhaps the Dome as well), the point being that ‘Switch Around’ became genuinely popular, particularly in the south east.  When I was deejaying I used a cut of it too and found that it was one of those useful ‘newies’ that didn’t necessarily clear a dance floor straight away (the Mayfield Singers and Joe Jama were two others like this at the time).  Recently the afore-mentioned Ginger has been playing it as well.  The days are long gone when a one-off acetate could rise to genuine, all-round popularity via weekly gigs at Wigan or Stafford, and the most popular new spins (as opposed to oldies) are always the ones at least a few deejays have.  With an intro not unlike Jessie Johnson’s ‘Left Out’, which in turn borrows from Eddie and Ernie’s ‘Outcast’, ‘Switch Around’ is at the one and the same time familiar-but-not-familiar and it was overdue a degree of availability to vinyl.

I usually finish my articles here in Manifesto with a few original 45s and I’m not going to change that now.  Ian Levine has been rather resurgent of late with a new personal theme tune of ‘Soon Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ (Third Time Around – get it?) and some kind of podcast, whatever they are (actually I know, but I’m happier having less to do with computers rather than more).  Knowing Ian well, I can honestly say that when he’s into something I know of few people who can be more single-minded, and over the last couple of years he’s applied that mindset to record collecting once more.   Even allowing for the fact that the bespectacled one has a different yardstick to blue-eyed Northern than I have, I must concede that he has turned up some very interesting tunes, at least one of which was a current cover-up.  Also interesting is Levine’s ability to look at some records which have been around (but are perhaps nonetheless uncommon) with fresh eyes and ears.  In this category we must place the CAMOTIONS with ‘Sonny’ on La-Ro-Ke – known to the scene since the late seventies for the flipside ‘Motown’, from which Simon Soussan got the idea for ‘Uptown Festival’ by Shalamar and which segués together, in sixties style, various songs from Berry Gordy’s empire courtesy of Clarence Lawton and Bert Keyes.  Flip it over and ‘Sonny’ is a tremendous piece of midtempo harmony recalling groups like the Elgins and Monitors which mixed male and female leads.  I could do with this female lead having perhaps a stronger voice but the whole mix is decidedly pleasing, a case of the whole being much stronger than the parts.  As for the mantra ‘oh well it’s around, it isn’t very rare’ then check the various internet sales sites, or compilations of such, and a different picture emerges despite the current low price.

Given the essential rarity and obscurity of much of our music it never fails to surprise me how many times certain songs or even backing tracks were used.  And how did UK pop groups get to hear things like ‘You Don’t Know Where Your Interest Lies’ or ‘You Got Me Where You Want Me’ years before the scene found them?  I suppose, as far as the United States is concerned, studios and labels were so ubiquitous that an attempt at a hit single wasn’t such a big financial risk, whereas a UK act had to head to London with it’s formal studios and unionized musician’s rates.  This, and the regional nature of the US (only one national newspaper I can think of outside of specialists), account for a vast difference between the US record industry and that of any other country.  So it was that in Los Angeles three different labels went with one song, one backing track, three different vocalists and one outcome – uber-obscurity.  The song, with its track, was twice known as ‘Crazy, Crazy’ so perhaps that is our best point of reference.  On this title we have both male and female versions by TOMMY MARKS and LITTLE JEANETTE respectively.  It would seem that Zel and The Green Lights labels are related with exactly the same dull, black, label and silver/grey typeface although the two releases are separated by exactly two years – April ‛66 in the case of Little Jeanette, the same month in 1968 for Tommy Marks.  Musically, the track has a skipping 80 mph beat with brass injections that screams ‘Northern’ i.e., reaching out to Motown but not quite there.  Neither singer is particularly outstanding rather than competent. In fact it appears that Marks is singing over the Little Jeanette track and that she is still in there from two years before.  The same flip ‘Please Come Back Again’ is employed but Marks genuinely goes solo on this one.  Thus far, ‘Crazy, Crazy’ had been an A-side but then, in mid-1969, it crops up once more, as a B-side and with a different title ‘Joey’, (although it’s the same song).  This one is on the Boss label (unconnected to others of that name) and ironically, given the song’s relegation to flipside status, is the strongest of the three from singer JO JO PETITE. The A-side is ‘You Make Me Come Alive’ and although a little messy, in itself could set a few Northern hearts a-flutter.  Not one of the above trio will set you back less than a couple of hundred pounds today, but illustrate perfectly the world of diverse vinyl waiting for ordinary British folks to stumble across over 40 years ago.

AND DOUBLE FINALLY… although I write this whilst green leaves are still on the trees, let me wish all of you a very Merry Christmas with the thought that a not unuseful Christmas present may well be advertised in this very edition of Manifesto.

‘Til Next Time’

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