Thursday, 23 May 2013

Back In The Groove

Manifesto May, 2013

Good to see Manifesto back in the groove again, back to full colour once more, and in a paper quality which won’t curl up as it was prone to before! As ever one or two things to comment on from previous editions, and I’ll try not to make one or two big boys cry – honest…The October/November issue is rather too long ago to take in detail, but I really must put forward the alternate viewpoint on Ian Stebbing’s review of Manships ‘Guide For USA Rare Soul 45’s (6th Edition)’. Now, as a person who has also produced price guides to Northern Soul my opinions might be regarded as biased, or as Mandy Rice-Davies once famously said, ‘he would say that wouldn’t he?’ However, there has to be an alternative to the above writer’s lack of criticism, which quite honestly bordered on the sycophantic.  Placing aside for the moment the rampant disregard for any possible registered trademark that is commercial exploitation via the cover then what do the pages inside contain?  Well at first the glossy, photographic-quality paper appears impressive – until we pick the volume up, in which case the book takes on the garb of Dark Matter so heavy is it.  And there aren’t actually any photographs to justify this inconvenient truth!  Already after a couple of months this un-needed extra weight is tearing the pages from the spine.  Common sense on the scale of building a bridge from Liverpool to Ireland when there is a perfectly good ferry service I would have said.  As an indication of a large number of soul singles the book is useful, but by his own admission John Manship claims a database of 200,000 records, so what is the reality of a mere fraction of that number priced up and offered in a paper format? Well my age-old reservations about the Deep, Funk, and Sweet Soul titles remain.  These inclusions smack of pressing a button on a database rather than looking into the subject matter with fondness so incomplete are they.  It’s not as if it isn’t possible quite easily to find out exactly what the total output of a Willie Johnson or a Mighty Hannibal is and price it accordingly.  If you want to that is.  Presumably some would say that ‘something is better than nothing’ and it’s a good point, though obviously not one I concur with.  The Northern and Modern aspects of the book are more worrying in that quite a number of titles are missing entirely, again one is tempted to point to a reliance on a computer rather than any collector’s investigation and this must be the truth, although it beggars belief that the author wouldn’t look at other price guides (which he plainly didn’t).  As for prices – well some are up on my view of them, others down on that same circumstance, although at the more expensive end they often appear startlingly out of touch – the C.O.D.’s ‘She’s Fire’ and Kell Osborne’s ‘Law Against A Heartbreaker’ for instance.  Then again, if you ain’t ever had ‘em for sale and the computer button is your lord and master, what can you do?  So there you have it – the view from across the trenches as-it-were, but beware the price because the construction of this tome is such that if regular reference is your aim you’re going to need repeat copies. Not that much to argue with in March’s Manifesto excepting Sean Chapman’s inability to spell ‘Brighouse’!  This was no mere typo as he repeats it ad infinitum – clearly the boy has been taking spelling lessons from Brighouse supremo Ginger Taylor. And, at a more serious level a note to Soul Sam that Mr Percolater (‘I Can’t Get Enough’ on Wax-Well) was actually a rather wonderful singer by the name of Perk Badger (or Pearstine Badger) long beloved of Japanese Deep Soul collectors.  Also rather good for Northern fans on the same label by the same artist is ‘Burning Up For Your Love’. In the ‘trendy end’ of the last Manifesto Pete Haigh gives us his run-down on his top 30 releases from 2012.  This is much harder to do in rare soul land of course because these days the true point at which an old record actually discovered is often up for debate with quite a number of ‘new’ things having been around for a few years or even longer.  On compact disc things are much easier of course, and whilst I am not about to muse and cogitate over last year then Ace/Kent’s retrospective of the Spinners ‘Truly Yours’ would probably take top honours with at least 4 outstanding never-heard-before cuts on it, all of which should be top of current playlists, but aren’t due to an over-riding, obsessional, ‘look what I’ve got’ mentality which often promotes sheer rarity above commonsense.  As an example of this factor a few people have ‘discovered’ Little John on Gogate recently, oblivious to the fact that, a) it is an atrocious piece of nonsense from a guy that can’t sing and b) was played out, even bootlegged, 25 years ago.  Get to ‘We’re Gonna Be More Than Friends’ on the Spinners CD. Say I.
 Turning to the current year I did think initially that, even this early in the annus (that’s annus Sean and Ginger), Kent’s ‘Pied Piper Presents’ would be release of the year.  It’s impressive, that much is for certain, but after a week of constant listening in the car, the flaws started to emerge.  Let us, however, look on the bright side first, and bright is indeed the word – no less than a dozen tracks out of the 24 are previously unissued in any shape or form, with standout tracks from The Cavaliers, Freddy Butler, Willie Kendrick and Nancy Wilcox, even a bustin’, stomper of an instrumental ‘He’ll Be Leaving You’.  Other versions of tracks we know already are included of which Lorraine Chandler’s original, faster take of  ‘I Can’t Hold On’ amazed at first, then irritated later, as I realized the issued take (on RCA) was superior.  Rose Batiste’s ‘This Heart Is Lonely’ improves on ‘I Miss My Baby’ issued (by her or not, it isn’t quite clear) on Revilot with added handclaps.  How this ended up at Pied Piper is anyone’s guess.  September Jones’ ‘Stuttering Sam’ and ‘Chink A Chank Baby’ both utilize existing backing tracks to ‘Set My Heart At Ease’ and ‘Candle In The Window’ but are ultimately ruined by banal lyrics whilst previously released goodies abound, even if the Sandpiper’s ‘Lonely Too Long’ will be lonely forever to these ears!  Ady Croasdell’s booklet is worth the price of the compilation in its own right – an important work (and that’s not too strong a word) which places most of these recordings in a factual, even historical, context – much of it for the first-ever time. I flatter myself that I’m one of the few who offer up an accurate critique of Ace/Kent material for the simple reason that, because I buy their releases, I say what I like and I’m not in their pocket.  By and large however, they do a fantastic job worthy of high praise.  Such praise came from my Canadian sparring partner Martin Koppel recently when he nominated the Ace CD ‘Dan Penn – The Fame Recordings’ as his CD of the year (thus far, one presumes).  A few years ago Penn performed (with Spooner Oldham) a version of his song ‘I’m Your Puppet’ on television (Jools Holland’s show I think) and I realized that he was a much better vocalist than his recording career provided evidence for.  I’m pleased to say that the soulful Dan Penn is on show in this compilation of previously unreleased material that presumably were song demos at the time.  Even though we can clearly see Penn to be as white as the driven snow, his versions of ‘Keep On Talking’, ‘Slippin Around With You’ and ‘Power of Love’ are totally as credible as those issued by soul men of some credence and credibility.  His version of Ben Atkins’ ‘Come On Over’ is very similar to the Youngstown release, although in this instance both vocalists are blue-eyed of course.  And although readings of ‘Northern’ records are interesting enough, a ballad is usually the ultimate litmus of vocal prowess, Dan Penn does a fine job here as well on southern classics like ‘Feed The Flame’ and ‘Take A Good Look’.  Truly convincing white soulsters are scarce but I can honestly say that we have one here.
 Outside of Ace/Kent the Rojac/Tayster material has surfaced via a rather mysterious source (on a revived ‘Rojac’ label) which admits that the longer term whereabouts of owner Jack Taylor is not known after his 1980’s sojourn into the club business (Harlem World Club).  How this fell into anyone’s ownership is debatable therefore and as the material on ‘The Rojac Story’ is all of an issued nature the mastertapes have presumably not been located.  It is perhaps unfortunate that a U.S. source has claimed this material because the compilation falls fairly uneasily on two discs.  One of these goes down a funk route, or funk-ish at least, the other down a soul route of varying eras and tempos.  Often the ages of the product sits ill as ease with each other and the Northern Soul is scattered around without contiguity.  The label scans show the reissue of Lillie Bryant’s ‘Meet Me Halfway’ presumably without the knowledge that it was such a thing, and why the 635 label isn’t included I’ve no idea.  On the other hand I’ve never seen the disco/funk 80’s Rojec label before.  The sleevenotes aren’t too bad but don’t tell us much we didn’t know already (I already knew the Master Four were the International GTOS).  A number of great records are missing from the selection and whilst not being wonderful, probably the rarest one ‘Love Has Taken Wings’ by the Master Four is not included.  Interestingly the Rojac discography lists a Master Four disc I’ve never heard of so I wonder if anyone out there owns ‘The Mojo Man’ please get in touch.  It is quite clear that these labels were worthy of at least 3, if not 4 CDs even, to represent the good stuff.  A mere 44 tracks from over one hundred represents a poor return and a lost opportunity methinks.
 Not all American reissues operate at a level somewhat below that of the Old World, a notable exception being Numero Uno Records out of Chicago who continue to plunder the most obscure corners of black music not only with aplomb, but with a policy of commercial viability that frequently has this compiler scratching his head.  Both these circumstances apply to a little box set of 45s culled from the miniscule Boddie Recording Studio in Cleveland, Ohio which operated from 1965 to 1983.  As far as I know nothing particularly famous came out of there, and it isn’t the time and place to record their story here, suffice it to say that it seems to be firmly rooted in the black community.  The box set has 6 previously unissued sides, all uncertain or unclear origins, with even the artists un-named.  Of interest to the scene is a reasonable, rather basic, take on ‘Selfish One’ (female) and two good midtempo seventies dancers which are most likely the ‘other’ Montclairs, or sometimes Monclairs, on Sunburst and Comet.  These two sides are ‘Never Let You Go’ and ‘Let The Children Play’ – nothing earthshattering but the fact that someone has put them out on vinyl is perhaps a testament to the current diverse times old soul finds itself in.
 Just time for a few more bits of dusty old vinyl then.  A few years ago I formed a kind of vague impression that if the Northen R&B thing wasn’t necessarily over, then it was in a definite regression.  In terms of ‘main rooms’ then this was true, there hasn’t been a Charles Sheffield or a ‘Catch That Teardrop’ for some time but that was to ignore a little subculture digging out tunes away from the mainstream of the Northern Soul scene.  In amongst the above subculture are a plethora of great discs with a good deal of soul in their grooves (and some weary antiques to be fair) which I’m currently finding more appealing than some of the obscure disco on some of the modern scenes (yes there is more than one or two of those).  One of the best is a rare one in the shape of MARRY CLAYTON ‘I’ve Got My Eyes On You’ on the Los Angeles label Teldisc.  Quite clearly you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this is Merry Clayton on a Richard Berry song.  At one time this obscure 45 was touted for the flipside ‘The Doorbell Rings’ but the difference between the two sides does rather illustrate the way in which the new breed of R&B has progressed with ‘Doorbell’ coming over as a dated clichÄ“ very much of the pre-‘Heatwave’ era (‘Heatwave’ is arguably the most important record in pop history).  Flip the record over and ‘I’ve Got My Eyes On You’ is an insistent mover without much pop sentiment and with a raunchy gospelesque approach embellished by a croaking saxophone break that any fan of the black voice could surely not resist?  Although she was the original recorder of ‘The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)’ on Capitol, Clayton’s career was largely in the pop/rock side of things, as a result her powerful vocalising is rarely appreciated in our circles.  The rare and obscure ‘I’ve Got My Eyes On You’ won’t change that circumstance, but will remain as yet another piece of vinyl worthy of remembrance by collectors and dancers. The term ‘crossover’ first came to Britain’s rare soul scene in the mid to late eighties.  At that time modern records were rarely played if over ten years old and with Stafford firmly in the grip of sixties (including older sixties sounds than had ever been previously contemplated), a swathe of music from the very late sixties (say ’68) to the mid-seventies was being ignored.  Embracing a variety of tempos with soul always at the forefront, ‘crossover’ was born, and it’s twin peaks rapidly became Parker’s and the Canal Tavern, Thorne, climaxing together (sorry!) at Alex Lowe’s weekenders.  One of the real highlights of that first swathe of record titles was FREDDIE TERRELL’S ‘You Had It Made’ which emerged from Atlanta, Georgia to appear on the mainstream Capitol label circa 1971.  Terrell, who was primarily an instrumentalist, drafted in one Eddie Maxey to perform the caustic vocals on this one – Terrell had no shortage of available singing talent after working with the likes of Lee Moses and Herman Hitson (who co-wrote ‘You Had It Made’).  Upon re-listening to the song I’m left to reflect that it has some of a ‘steppers’ tempo with a gritty edge to it – but wait!  How can I have missed ‘Why Not Me? on the flipside?  It’s actually even better than ‘Had It Made’ coming in as a fantastic midtempo track layered with brass and more of those fiery vocals.  A quite astounding double-sider therefore that no serious collection of obscure soul music should be without.

‘Til Next Time’

Tim Brown

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Friday, 5 April 2013

Let's Talk About Soul

Manifesto April, 2013

Summertime and the living is easy… not around these parts unfortunately with at least two floods!  Now as I write this article cloaked in stygian darkness and as rusty-brown leaves swirl around the windows, I am forced to contemplate the long hard winter.  Still, the Vibrations are on the way at the end of it all.  With that pleasant thought in mind – let’s talk about soul…

The BBC gave me a call recently upon the sad news that Frank Wilson had shed his mortal coil – as the only known owner of an original copy of his famous record it seems that I’m entwined in the legend that is the story of ‘Do I Love You’.  I was asked if I ever played the original 45, to which I replied that with various reissues of the said track I hardly needed to do that – and what is more I’m ever-so-slightly bored with the record anyway!  Incidentally is ‘Do I Love You’ the only case of a credible Northern Soul 45 being permissible for a deejay to play on the reissue?  Good job really because I’m not behind the decks at the moment and the other copy is in ‘Humberside’ (according to some sources).

Over the many years that I’ve been a record dealer I’ve seen a number of people enter the fray and fail to make it as an ongoing concern.  In the late eighties we had Labeat Records – a short-lived enterprise out of the East Midlands but one which managed to shape the future auctioning of Northern Soul records (a now regular circumstance).  A few years later one Pete Lowrie of Carlisle made something of a splash courtesy of scouring Detroit – but it didn’t last.  Both of the above, and others, had the lifespan of an antechinus but another has just retired after 30 years or so of purveying rare vinyl.  Based in Wolverhampton, Richard Domar was a controversial figure once voted (in a manner) ‘worst record dealer’ by a soul website!  Nonetheless Richard offered many interesting singles in his time – my copy of Ray Agee on Soultown came from him and I ‘discovered’ ‘Love’s Stormy Weather’ on his shelves filed as a poor cover of ‘Soul Man’ (the other side).  He also found ‘the box’ of Boss Four’s ‘Walkin By’ on Rim, tho’ had long since sold out of copies.  It might also be noted that he produced 7 issues of a fanzine ‘The Owl’s Effort’ in the late eighties.  They make interesting reading, coming from an era that is dismissed by many as ‘doldrums’ but which was actually very vibrant in many ways.  Domar was the victim of his own kind of brusque honesty as a telephone voice, but I got on well with him and wish him well in his record-less future.

In the search for CD-only tracks, recent months see Ace/Kent dominate this particular scenario – but not before comment on a release of their’s with no previously unissued tracks at all in the shape of ‘King Northern Soul Volume 3’.  The release takes advantage of the ever-widening spectrum of Northern Soul to produce a 24 track compilation which even the label itself (Kent) had doubted could occur after the first duo of volumes over 11 years ago.  The result will surely shock the vast majority for whom Northern Soul means ‘Do I Love You’ or ‘Get It Baby’ or, well, records like them that have traditionally defined the genre. One instrumental huge in 1975 (not ‛76 please Ady) in the shape of ‘Thunder’ (curiously depicted by the reissue) is about the only memory-jerker, to which we can add the fabulous Stafford spin ‘House of Broken Hearts’ by Hal Hardy and a bit of current demand for Charles Spurling’s  ‘That’s My Zone (He’s Pickin’ On).  The rest, and fine mid to uptempo soul they frequently are, stretch any definition of Northern Soul almost to breaking point.  Unusually for Kent (and Ady Croasdell) the sleevenotes are weak and error-strewn making for a very frustrating CD compilation overall.  I reviewed one of the first King Northern Soul albums at the time as ‘starting like the Champions League and ending like the Carling Cup’ – well the latter is now the Capitol One Cup, and 7-5 and 5-4 results apart is still not the most enthralling of football competitions; using that same old analogy I could perhaps say that at best this CD is the first two rounds of the old League Cup before the big boys come in.

Elsewhere amongst the Ace/Kent compilations the southern states offer up at least one track off George Jackson’s ‘Let The Best Man Win’ CD subtitled ‘The Fame Recordings Volume 2’, in the shape of the outrageous pounder ‘It’s Not Safe To Mess On Me’.  I’m tempted to say one or two other tracks from this comp would cause a stir if they were on tiny, obscure labels – and ‘It’s Not Safe’ would probably be worth a small fortune.  ‘We’re The Soul Girls!’ visits the output of Jeanne and the Darlings plus the Charmels from Volt Records.  The first of these two girl groups offer the fantastic gospelesque midpacer ‘Changes’ which has seen release on CD before in the nineties, ‘I’m In Love With You’is possibly too mellow for Northern Soulers but is a rather wonderful just-below-midpacer.  The Charmels have no less than 7 unreleased-at-the-time tracks on this CD and both ‘Baby Hurry’ and ‘Oo-oh A-a-ah’ would not disappoint fans of Memphis stompers such as ‘Keep My Woman Home’ or ‘Changes’.  Seventies fans could do a lot worse than Darrow Fletcher ‘Crossover Records – 1975-79 L.A. Soul Sessions’ (Kent) even if nothing actually touches the released 45 ‘This Time (I’ll Be The Fool)’, tho even that one is the previously unreleased ‘album’ cut on the CD.  Many of our heroes now plough undistinguished furrows – in the case of Darrow Fletcher he is now a painter and decorator – so all credit to Kent for putting him in the spotlight after all these years. Not all is Kent on small shiny disc however, and Outta Sight’s compilation ‘Crossover To Modern Soul’ sees Deniece Chandlers ‘I’m Not Like The Others’ see the light of day for the first time.  This is a version, probably the original, of the Little Jimmy Gandy song on Roulette that had crossover popularity at one time.  Chandler was to metamorphose into Deniece Williams of course.  Also of note is the launching of Point of Views’ ‘I’m Superman’ (Instant) as a seventies in-demander which seems to be very rare.  Available at the moment is a double CD of Mary Wells’ 20th Century Fox (Soul Music Records) material which includes her two albums for the label, one of which, ‘Love Songs To The Beatles’ is quite awful, not due to the songs (which are classics of the pop genre) but the quasi-M.O.R. manner in which they are produced.  There are 4 tracks on the CD which didn’t make it to vinyl back in the day (mid-sixties) ‘I’m Learnin’ is up there with other Mary Wells post-Motown dancers on not only 20th Century but Atco and Reprise too.  Actually these tracks came out previously on CD in 1996 on John Abbey’s Ichiban imprint but that release is very difficult to find now…. So here’s your chance.

Onto vinyl and another interesting previously unissued cut that has its 45 is ‘Psychedelic Soul Part 3’ issued by Outta Sight on a Thomas lookalike.  In some ways it is rather more of a curiosity with improvising in less-than-serious style over the backing track, makes a refreshing change although my mum doesn’t like it much (she goes for Part 1 having been subjected to it so much in the middle seventies – quite true!).  Had an order recently from a dyed-in-the-wool Northern fan for a clutch of JAMES BROWN singles, it was bound to happen really with at least a part of the current scene going rather funky.  Amongst them was ‘Sexy,Sexy,Sexy’ on Polydor – a track that caused me to remember more from the middle seventies and the Barker boys from Todmorden who put me onto the above when the Mecca/Cleethorpes had started to play Black Nasty, East Coast Connection etc.  At that time the disc in question was not rare enough to be played but I loved its remorseless rhythm.  And it shares more or less the same backing track as the great ‘Money Won’t Change You’ (King) from 1966 as well.

Far away from the hit status that James Brown enjoyed we move on to L.A.’s Flodavieur label and a 1964 release from the grammatically challenged INCONQUERABLES.  This label first came to the notice of the UK’s rare soul aficionados via The Antellects ‘Love Slave’ in the nineties.  Often held up as the 8th wonder of the world, I always thought it to be somewhat dull and actually I prefer ‘For Your Love’ by the Inconquerables which is the release before it.  One thing that could be said in favour of the Antellects is that it sounds rather ahead of its time by a couple of years at least, whilst the Inconquerables is firmly of a 1964 vintage that saw doo-wop elements firmly incorporated into the new wave of soul music.  In actual fact these doo-wop influences impart a warmth to the record that Dell’s recordings on Argo and Vee Jay at, or before, this time.  Coming in at around 70mph ‘For Your Love’ has enough about it to encourage any dancefloor but I particularly appreciate the record when the lead singer injects urgency and passion into his pleas as the song reaches the finishing line.  Those who are into impassioned doo-wop ballads reaching out for the soul era really shouldn’t miss the flip ‘Wait For Me’ which in essence is a Deep Soul record with doo-wop overtones.  Incidentally, as if reputedly issued on yellow vinyl in addition to the more usual black.

A few issues ago, I reviewed the Kent Contours CD which included the infamous track ‘Do The See Saw’ – a previously unissued cut which escaped Motown’s vaults to emerge as the backing track to Tom & Jerrio’s ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ (ABC) which was a big hit in 1965, resulting in a successful lawsuit from Gordy’s company. Well, I can now inform Ace/Kent that ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’ wasn’t the only occasion on which the track was used.  Word has it that Andre Williams was allegedly responsible for returning to Chicago with certain ‘prizes’ from the Motown studio (hence ‘Boo-Ga-Loo’) and the band track to ‘Do The See Saw’ also ended up on the tiny Soulville label (nothing to do with Philly’s label of the same name) and MAURICE JACKSON’S ‘ It’s To (Sic) Late Baby’.  Jackson was eventually to join the Independents but additionally had a few obscure solo releases on labels such as Plum and Parral with ‘Lucky Fellow’ on Candle Light achieving quite a demand amongst crossover fans and the old rare groove crowd.  In all fairness ‘It’s To Late Baby’ is more of interest for the circumstances surrounding it than the quality on offer but it is another piece of the gradually emerging jigsaw of our music.

Far from the two obscure Los Angeles and Chicago circumstances above is London, England and the Island logo (which actually started in 1959 in Jamaica hence the name).  Proving that even our own nation has not yielded up all of its sixties treasures is LLANS THELWELL and ‘Lonely Night’ (Island 262).  Actually it isn’t Thelwell that we fixate upon here but a very accomplished West Indian singer by the unlikely name of Busty Brown (don’t Google it, you will only get in deep waters!), if you look around you will find a number of excellently sung reggae/ska numbers putting him up there with the best of the genre such as Jackie Opel or Phillip and James.  Thelwell reveals his true personata on the reverse side in the shape of ‘Choo Choo Ska’ which is a decent example of that kind of thing I suppose. Much more heavyweight is ‘Lonely Night’ which hits a somewhat between midtempo and a ballad over which Brown delivers in a style not unlike America’s Little Buster (for a convenient comparison).  True, there is the cavernous slightly ‘tinny’ sound of a West Indian band (Thelwell and his Celestials) but I think that this only adds to the charm of a great soul record sitting at the very top of those from such a background.  From 1966 this has to be a tough one to find and as it isn’t in the only UK price guide to Northern Soul, I would have to place it at least at a £100.

Finally, a last minute addendum due to an interesting new CD from Kent ‘Kent 30, Best Of Kent Northern’ (isn’t that missing “the”?). Basically Adey Croasdell celebrates the 30th anniversary of Kent Records with a selection of 30 tracks representing the afore-mentioned lifespan of the famous label. There are quite a few alternate takes and mixes of tracks like ‘The Magic Touch’, ‘You Only Live Twice’ and ‘I’m Shooting High’ plus three totally new-to-CD things of which the Marva Holiday is rather horrible, the Gary & Gary cut using the backing track from ‘Baby Without You’ rather interesting (but white) and Alexander Patton’s ‘(True Love Is) In The Heart’ totally fantastic. Of course I raved over the Alexander Patton in Manifesto some time ago only to have brother Croasdell inform me that it wasn’t up to scratch for a variety of bizarre reasons, now it seems it’s the primo piece on the compilation starring as the very first track! And I’ll bet good money that it ends up as a 45 too. Strange. Almost as good as the overall compilations is the 22-page booklet inside telling the story of Kent Records. In fact the whole Ace/Kent story would make an interesting book in its own right – yet another great suggestion from myself to the North London record company. Perhaps I should start charging a consultancy fee! 

Til Next Time

Tim Brown

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