Monday, 12 December 2011

Turning Back The Hands Of Time

Manifesto October, 2011

It’s 9 am on a Saturday morning and I’m making my regular visit to Hebden Bridge Co-op before the locals breathe all over the crusty loaves. The in-house music system plays ‘September In The Rain’ causing conjecture amongst staff filling shelves as to who it is. Predictably they can offer no more than Amy Winehouse (yawn) – cue blank expressions upon being informed that it was Dinah Washington. “Y’ Know, ‘Teach Me Tonight’, ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’ ”. I might as well have been talking to next door’s cat! Think yourself lucky, very lucky, that you chose to explore a musical genre because most folks simply have no idea….

Turning back the hands of time I would like to pick up on a few points from September’s Manifesto. Something of a senior moment from Simon White, when he explains that Lorraine Chandler’s ‘I Can’t Change’ came out on Black Magic, it was of course ‘What Can I Do’ that backed that curious-but-actually-great cover of ‘Love You Baby’ that isn’t really Lorraine. Even Simon S didn’t want to challenge RCA, it seems, with ‘What Can I Do’ coming out on Giant before the major. Of interest (just) is the fact that myself and Martin Koppel now own the Black Magic label and have done for some time. With Eddie Parker’s ‘Love You Baby’ being generally accepted as the top oldie back in ’75, I’m really surprised no-one tried to track down label owner Jack Ashford at the time choosing instead to record covers (Ian Levine did it with the Exciters of course). They would have sold thousands and thousands I’m sure. Funny, you don’t hear it much these days which is a) a great pity because it is Northern Soul at its best and b) about a million times better than ‘When We Get There’.

Keith Rylatt took a look at Jerry Butler’s Vee Jay years. Amazingly the Chicago maestro has never charted in the UK, even ‘Moody Woman’ didn’t do it, which is a real surprise. And in strictly Northern Soul terms he has never had a real biggie except for ‘Moody’ which entered allnighter infamy via the ‘Move On Up’, “it’s common but it’s great” Mr M’s syndrome. It is one of those Northern Soul quirks that his brother Billy is much more popular with UK rare soul fans. Jerry has a number of modern spins to his UK curriculum vitae and he did his own stab at ‘Right Track’ during the Mercury years, a cut which appeared on his retrospective double CD ‘Iceman’ in 1992. Of course he would be a more than welcome visitor to these shores but in strictly Northern terms he is a bit of a fringe character illustrating almost perfectly the essential perversity of the allnighter scene.

It was interesting to see Soul Sam give us a brief history of his musical origins – and revealing too that even by the time that Northern Soul was emerging as such, Sam was in his late twenties hence his referring to his taste being the same as that of the ‘youths of the day’. Nor did I quite realise that Cleethorpes was actually Sam’s first allnighter gig, although I don’t particularly share his opinion that the Pier avoided ‘many but not all of the pop stompers’. The truth is that the venue missed the main years (’74 and ’78) when these kind of records were in ascendancy. For all that, Sam’s longevity as a rare soul deejay is remarkable especially when, for most of it, he has been on the cutting edge, which takes a lot more hard work than picking up the latest oldie that takes your fancy.

Onto the music per se then, and you would normally look in vain at Garry Cape’s Soulscape label for Northern Soul. Whilst not doubting the overall quality of these releases going-to-a-go-go is not normally their thing and whilst neither the latest Charles Smith or George Soulé retrospectives throw up ‘Too Late’ or ‘We Were Made For Each Other’ both have tracks on them of interest to the more broad-minded 60s dancer. As always we head to the Deep South for Soulscape’s output and most of CHARLES SMITH’S recordings on ‘Ashes To Ashes’ are mournful ballads often with a slight country influence. I have to say however, that the beaty ‘Reach That Mountain’ fuses gospelesque sentiments with a pacy rhythm to great effect and I’ve been unable to stop using the repeat button on this track in my car. The added bonus is that it is a previously unissued record so entirely new to me. Possibly a little ‘downhome’ for some – I love it. The cover of the GEORGE SOULÉ (pronounced ‘Soolay’) CD would hardly pull the uninitiated soul fan towards it with the youthful white artist looking like a refugee from a Hank Williams twanging session: Of course Soulé has credentials a-plenty with Soul fans due the brilliant ‘Get Involved’ Fame 45 although we stay away from those sessions on this particular collection. Most noteworthy here is the first track the original version ‘Cross My Heart’ which had minor spins on the allnighter scene via Tamiko Jones on Metromedia but was recently found to exist on a Muscle Shoals Sound test press and thus exposed to the UK. It really is a much better effort than Tamiko’s and should have been a dancefloor monster – however, these things take years and there is time yet tho’ I get the feeling that there isn’t too much momentum behind it (shame quality like this is hard to find today). Other tracks on the CD include versions (Soulé co-wrote both) of ‘Catch Me, I’m Falling’ and ‘You Can’t Stop A Man In Love’ which are rather disappointing. I must admit Soulé was/is a bona-fide soul man despite his skin colour but I’m bound to say that on a large percentage of the 25 tracks he does sound white, ‘Cross My Heart’ is worth the price of the CD on its own however, and very highly recommended.

Returning briefly to Soul Sam we were pleased to receive him at Anglo American recently whereupon a fan of R&B–based material was spinning some music. I was surprised to hear the ex-teacher refer to one or two of them as rock and roll, which they weren’t, and I personally see a big difference between that music and blues-based early soul. Slim Harpo and Marty Wilde were never any kind of bedmates! All of which means that Mr Barnfather will hardly appreciate a rather interesting 45 to come out of Germany recently. All across continental Europe R&B is as popular as it ever was (perhaps more so) so it is no surprise that Berlin’s Hip City Soul Club has put out a previously unissued Little Willie John acetate as an anniversary 45. Although club owner Marcus Forrest has gone to considerable lengths to legally license the track, the record is still entitled as before by LITTLE WILLIE ‘J’ in order to undermine any controversy. That vocal style is totally recognisable however and an absolute pleasure to welcome (unlike Sam’s Betty Boo cover-up sorry mate!). Not a million miles removed from ‘Fever’ (which is hardly a surprise). I would guess the track to be from ’61 or ’62 placing it firmly in John’s King/Federal era. Oh, and by the way, it is called ‘The Pressure’, don’t expect to find it too easily, Hip City 45s tend to vanish.

Until Simon White pointed it out I must confess to having missed the passing of GENE McDANIELS in July this year. McDaniels followed the tradition of some Big City soul artists in not sounding particularly black much of the time – Jerry Jackson was another example of this syndrome. ‘Walk With A Winner’ finds much of its soulfulness through lyrical sentiment and dramatic production rather than gritty anguish for instance. In some ways I’m not surprised that Frankie Vaughan thought he could take a McDaniels song like ‘Tower of Strength’ and go with it in the UK. Many of McDaniels’ records found a UK release but a later release than ‘Winner’ in the shape of ‘Hang On’ remained confined to US shores and takes an approach more akin to uptempo Northern Soul than the famed beat ballad. Yet again, you would have to know that the artist was black to place it any differently than any number of beaty pop artists on the allnighter scene, but Northern it is and given the amount of fans for the Nomads, Chapter Five, Bobby Paris and many more then ‘Hang On’ stands up. And I like it, as I do ‘Walk With A Winner’. Rest in peace Gene McDaniels.

'Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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