Thursday, 5 January 2012

Right On!

Manifesto December, 2011

As we enter the final month of a year which on a global scale has seen financial turmoil, I’m bound to report that record sales seem busier than for some time, perhaps it’s like the world of football where money bears little relation to the world outside and what stays within goes around and around.  Whatever the truth your money seems safe in vinyl…

A couple of minor points from previous ‘Tim Brown Talks’ cleared up by friends.  Neil Rushton informs me that Canada’s stranger-than-strange Right On! Label was a Bill Downs project (ex–manager of the Ad Libs and Jellybeans amongst others) with the approval of Dave Godin (who denied all knowledge of it to me).  It still seems a strange set of releases – rich in irony, tainted with plagiarism, almost mocking the Soul Beatnik in fact.  In October’s Manifesto I mentioned the demise of the Coaster’s Carl Gardner and speculated that he might be the ‘Crazy Baby’ singer.  I should have taken a look at the single which is in fact almost totally a Billy Guy effort.  He wrote and produced the record as well as singing it – without the other Coasters!  Thanks to Beatin Rhythm’s Derek Howe for pointing that one out.

Staying with Octobers’s Manifesto and Simon White speculates on that odd Chris Jackson Soul City release of ‘I’ll Never Forget You’ with its different flipside to the US Jamie release.  Godin told me that Chris and Marke Jackson were different artists, a circumstance supported by ‘Forever I’ll Stay With You’ on the UK issue, but of course ‘I’ll Never Forget You’ is identical.  Clearly Godin got around any licensing difficulty by claiming ‘Forget’ to be a re-recording, not wishing to over-egg the situation a different flipside lent a little credibility and they used a different vocalist for it.  I think we can safely say that Marke Jackson and Chris Jackson (possibly Chris Bartley too) were the same person (excepting that Soul City flipside).  Keep the faith, right on now.

George Best in a soul magazine eh?  Well I never!  It has long been urban myth that the United star attended the Twisted Wheel, possibly in its two locations he did do this, but I don’t think the emergent, secret, ‘new’ Northern Soul allnighter scene was ever for him.  I’ve got a few Bestie stories of my own but I’m reminded here of an early attempt by my father to convert me from the Reds to Burnley back in season ’66/’67 by taking me to Man United’s visit to Turf Moor.  It could hardly have back-fired more, for when the Manchester men ran out – George, Bobby Charlton, Law, Stiles, they seemed like gods – Andy Lockhead or whoever else was in the Burnley team that day (even Willie Morgan) were rather faceless mortals.  I was smitten.  Shame the dream was later purloined by a few inbred Americans with dodgy facial hair.  Burnley meanwhile, remains a ‘proper’ football club.  As Eammon Dunphy once indicated in his book about United, it’s ‘A Strange Kind of Glory’.  Strange indeed!

Keith Rylatt’s October article about looking for records in Pennsylvania also tweaked the nostalgia button.  Pittsburgh in particular, one of the USA’s most characterful cities in many ways and one with a strong musical tradition not often recognised outside of the States.  Records were frequently local hits there that didn’t make it anywhere else and someone like blue-eyed soulster Chuck Corby is a hero in the city whilst remaining almost unknown elsewhere (a common occurrence in the US in truth).  I’ve travelled extensively around the US and it often strikes me now that many cities look very much the same as each other – one or two places buck the trend, San Francisco for instance, Pittsburgh is another.  Hardly glamorous, it has a depth and texture that comes from industrial roots and suburbs such as Millvale and Carnegie are a real throwback to small town America of the 50s and 60s (or at least they were when I was last there 8 years ago).  Keith left a few places unmentioned and as a professional dealer I aren’t about to make it easy but you can buy a huge load of 45s and albums in Pittsburgh for $3 million if you have the money – beware tho’, Martin Koppel and myself have been all the way through them.

I have to take issue with Soul Sam’s assertion in October’s Manifesto that Keb Darge ‘discovered’ all (surely I misunderstand this) the funky tracks played at the moment.  I don’t want to be picky but when these things appear in print they are in danger of becoming the truth – I owned Joseph Webster for 15 years before it started getting Butch spins for instance and I’m sure the likes of John Anderson would take exception to Keb Darge being touted in such a way as well.  I will say that around 8 or 9 years ago Keb started offering large sums for certain uptempo disco-ey 45s in my collection that had been failed mini-spins in the 80s, but that does not amount to ‘discovering’ them.  True, he took on this type of record, as did Butch, but I’m bound to say that James ‘pain in the butt’ Trouble also managed to shift the axis a little as well.  I know exactly what Sam meant in the tone and tenor of his article but Keb Darge was an innovator rather than a discoverer and it is incorrect to think of him as the latter.

Onto compact discs and an American label called Light In The Attic have put out a Mowest compilation entitled ‘Motown’s Mowest Story 1971-1973’.  The release fails to capture the heartbeat of the label as far as UK soul fans are concerned and what could have been a really neat item falls between a number of stools.  Mowest ran from August 1971 to March 1973.  It was a time when Motown became rather experimental with its artists; for instance Motown itself had Bobby Darin and Irene ‘Granny’ Ryan releases in the same period.  Perhaps Mowest did not go as broad-spectrum as the M.O.R. crooner and the Beverley Hillbillies star but artists such as Lesley Gore, Mike Campbell and the Repairs do not constitute any kind of soul music either.  Light In The Attic’s release almost falls into the label trap by including the likes of Lodi and Suzee Ikeda.  Of course 16 tracks can hardly be representative of almost 50 singles and a number of albums – so, given that situation, why not go for the best of the soul?

There is a nod to the UK market and it’s a nod which also embraces a certain peculiarity whereby one or two key tracks (to us) came out in Britain only.  Not only these key tracks but many others saw a release on UK Mowest which continued for over two years beyond the American imprint and with a large number of artists not known to the label over the Atlantic.  The eventual UK success of FRANKIE VALLI’S ‘The Night’ is recognised on the CD but not the fact that it was a reissued Mowest release (3024) spun initially by the scene as a not-available rarity on Mowest 3002.  The sleevenotes also hint at a US promo release for ‘The Night’ on Mowest 5025, a situation quite well known but never in actual fact any kind of reality.  Over in Holland the track was actually released on Rare Earth.  Russ Winstanley also championed another Valli Mowest UK-only release in the shape of ‘Thank You’ (3034).  I’m in a bit of a dilemma with Frankie Valli in that he definitely does not sound black, yet on a number of records (‘You’re Ready Now’, ‘I’m Gonna Change’ etc etc) he has touched the very zeitgeist of the Northern Soul scene, whilst pointing heavily towards soul music.  I was always mystified by ‘The Night’ as it never sounded much like soul at all to these ears but I can recognise that its dark, broody, overtones and humming bassline make it one hell of a record whatever the genre.

THE SISTERS LOVE also endured the UK-only Mowest syndrome with ‘I’m Learning To Trust My Man’ (3009) which is not on the Light In The Attic release (although two worthy tracks by the group are included).  For sure this is one of the label’s greatest moments, if not the best, and it is a sad reflection on the scene that the track is rarely played now (aw c’mon, ‘When We Get There’?).  If  the Sisters Love ever stood for let-it-all-hang-out, testifying, gospel-soul then this is the epitome of the syndrome as exemplified by Vermetta Royster’s searing single-note wail near the very end.  What a track; and if I may be permitted, yet another moment of unadulterated nostalgia. I need only close my eyes when listening to ‘Learning To Trust My Man’ to be transported back to March 1975 and a cavernous hall in Wigan, I’m breathing fetid Casino air, sweating for England and loving every second of it.

THELMA HOUSTON’S original version of ‘I Ain’t Going Nowhere’ is on the ‘Mowest Story’ and, once more, is a UK-only oddity.  What is more the track is album only – and although Houston’s eponymous Mowest album garnered a US release ‘I Ain’t Going Nowhere’ was for British consumption only (as was the excellent crossover number ‘Nothing Left To Give’).  Overall this is a superb album and I’m bound to say that although Thelma Houston has had a decent career, she has not been the soul superstar she should have been, i.e. up there with Aretha, Gladys, et al. Her Mowest album amply provides evidence of this.  Regarding ‘I Ain’t Going Nowhere’ the track was first played, by Thelma Houston, at the Highland Room to be soon overtaken by Jr. Walker’s version which was also played as a brand new release.  It has been nice in recent years to see a little renewed attention focused on Thelma’s version although her album is now hard-to-find.

Another track which finds this compilation looking to the UK is ODYSSEY’S ‘Battened Ships’ from their self-titled Mowest album.  For some time now this cut has been popular with the seventies faction of the modern scene.  The group are nothing to do with the late 70s hitmakers but were a light rock, four-man outfit.  I’m forced to say that I don’t love this track, I hate it!  It may have the right rhythm and some correct production values but the group sound like they look on the can – very white.  Together with tripe like that John Valenti thing there is a certain amount of evidence that the modern scene too can be immune to the essential blackness of soul if other circumstances fall together.  The Commodores, The Nu Page, G.C. Cameron and Syreeta (I’m no fan of her vocal style) are worthy acts included on ‘Motown’s Mowest Story’ but often on multiple occasions, while Devastating Affair, Blinky and Bobby Taylor are left out altogether.  Art and Honey’s great ‘Let’s Make Love Now’ was pulled from Mowest 5048 to appear on Motown but has never been on CD to my knowledge so that one might have been nice too.  We await the real soul of Mowest Records therefore.

'Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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