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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