Thursday, 29 December 2011

Spencer Leigh On the Beat Christmas Special and Clarke Davis and the Big Show Pt 43


Have just been listening to Spencer Leigh's Christmas Special On the Beat and wanted to recommend it while it's still available on BBC iplayer (until 8pm GMT Saturday evening). Click on the link here.

As ever, an eclectic mix of music - he says he wanted to open up with Louis Armstrong's version of The Night Before Christmas but couldn't find it anywhere on the internet, so there's a version by Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns instead. I think I heard it a while back on Russell Davies' programme - Louis Armstrong's recitation, that is. Tracks follow by Kate Rusby, Anthony Newley, James Taylor, Perry Como - and a beautiful version of Pretty Paper, the Willie Nelson recorded by Roy Orbison, sung live by My Darling Clementine. Oh, and I should mention that the Kate Rusby song is a carol sung to the tune of On Ikley Moor - and, as he must, Spencer makes the connection with Bill Oddie's spoof of Joe Cocker. The programme ends with what may be a 1971 rehearsal of a bluesy Christmas ditty by Elvis, in very good form. Re the future of On the Beat, he says:
All the submissions to the BBC Trust have gone in now about the future of local radio. I hope that I'm going to be doing this show throughout 2012 but who knows? But I'm definitely going to be here next week - we've got a big show next week, from 5 to 8, New Year's Eve Special. I've got a lot of guests coming in and I've given them all a rock book for Christmas, so we'll see what they make of them.

As radio has been on my mind in recent posts I'd also like to put in a plug here for Clarke Davis, whose forty-third show devoted to the music of 1963 has just been uploaded to the Rock-It Radio site, findable here. You can download it as an MP3 or a realplayer file. (And if you are new to this blog, you can read our dialog[ue] about doo wop music by clicking on "Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop" above.)

Clarke's shows are sheer joy for me: although a great deal of American pop filtered through to Britain, I've discovered through these broadcasts just how much didn't: and hearing such a broad spread of pre-Beatles riches has been an education.

Clarke did play a Beatles track in a recent programme but really the British Invasion (and I speak as a Brit - a Scot, even) was the beginning of the end. I reviewed a documentary about doo wop a while back (full review here) and still remember the sense of resignation when one deejay was speaking, several decades on, about the effect of the Fabs on the music he loved:
"Things changed," he says, simply - and again you have a sense that the afficiandos have had a long, long time to accept the fact that while this music may never go away it is unlikely ever to be a huge force again.
And the beauty of Clarke's shows is that it's not all trashy-but-loveable pop: there is doo wop, soul and so much else still being made at that time. Which ties in with Spencer Leigh's Christmas show: there ought to be room in our hearts for Perry Como and for Elvis, especially when the latter is in such fine form.

And not just at Christmas.

Oh, and I see that I can now embed the Orioles' Oh Holy Night, as referred to in the previous post, so here it is. Bit late but a thing of beauty. And if you tell me that Elvis Presley never heard this, I must beg to differ.



Postscript: The On the Beat New Year's Eve Special has just aired and will be available on BBC iplayer here, until next Saturday evening. The second track played was this:

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Where Elvis learnt to sing

I make no apology for featuring once again the Valentines' A Christmas Prayer. I love the soulful, ragged feel. And no Richard Barret, no Frankie Lymon. It really is that simple. I like the detail that Barrett lived above the shop where the young Lymon worked. Also Barrett's overprotectiveness towards (I think) the Chantels, which I suspect may have been related to his inability to protect Lymon. On the half hour documentary Promise to Remember, filmed around the time the surviving Teenagers were regrouping - the final shot of the PBS shows that Frankie's replacement for a gig at Stitt Junior High (which Barrett used for rehearsals) is ... a woman. No chance of the voice breaking, and time will bring in changes more slowly. But the line which stays with me from the doc is Barrett saying that Lymon's early demise will haunt him for the rest of his days.

Anyway, that's not very Christmassy. So here is A Christmas Prayer. This is doo wop singing as I like and understand it, and I commend it to you:



Oh, and if you're wondering about the strapline, that's because I was going to embed the Orioles' superb version of Oh Holy Night but the PC in the hotel where I type this can only access some aspects of youtube. Still, there's a pool and the food is delish. Merry Christmas one and all. And try to listen to Oh Holy Night yourself. Go here. It's listed as an alternate take but it sounds like the version I know from CD. Anyway, the point is that towards the end ("Oh ni-i-ight, oh hooo - leee ....") Sonny Till bends the notes in a way that suggests Presley must have been a keen student.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Of Spencer Leigh and other radio reminders




[screengrab]

Before I say anything else, can I remind readers who also listen to Spencer Leigh's On the Beat show on BBC Radio Merseyside that the deadline for responding to the BBC Trust's online questionnaire about local radio is Wednesday December 21st?

If you want to show your support for the programme, please consider answering at least Question 7 of the eight questions provided. The above image is only a screengrab so read more in the previous post if you haven't done so already or go direct  to the BBC Trust questionnaire here.

On his show yesterday Spencer thanked listeners for Christmas cards and gifts but modestly said it wasn't necessary as the BBC license fee paid for the programme. But the questionnaire is a way in which all fans of the show, like me, can show our appreciation and perhaps extend the life of the programme - and you don't have to live in the Radio Merseyside region, as BBC iplayer makes locals of us all. I have filled it in myself and forwarded the comments which readers added to the previous post. Fingers crossed that On the Beat will continue for a lot longer.


I've written in the past about broadcasters who influenced my musical tastes but it occurs to me I never wrote  to them at the time to say so, and in several cases it's too late, so it's good to be able to do something in this case. 

But the fact that it never occured to me in the past even to drop a brief note of thanks to those broadcasters whose enthusiasms did so much to shape mine does make me think more generally that the job of deejay or broadcaster (one can't imagine Hubert Gregg thought of himself as a deejay) is, at least in part, an act of faith: the tangible signs of appreciation which come the broadcaster's way must be only a small fraction of the listenership. But the broadcaster must sit in the studio, imagining a sympathetic ear for his words - which is more or less the meaning of Vernon Green's word "pismotality."

Let me whisper sweet words of pismotality


Green was imagining a lover, but the intimacy of listening to the radio - especially late night shows, under the covers - is not dissimilar.

So as this is an anniversary of sorts - two years and a bit since I began this blog - and as my thoughts are with radio, let me salute once again those voices who shaped my tastes, with brief extracts from the series of earlier posts about them. Click on the names in bold to be taken to the full posts. Ken Sykora is pictured below, right, with Stephan Grapelli, former partner of his hero Django Reinhardt. The original post includes a link to Sykora's own version of Honeysuckle Rose, which nods to the Reinhardt-Grapelli recording.Here's how I summed up the effect of his 1970s late night Radio Clyde programme on me:



The title of his programme, Serendipity with Sykora, allowed him to play whatever he wanted, assuming some chance connection with the previous piece could be found, and the result was a beguiling mixture of novelty songs and jazz, knitted together with odd anecdotes and what came across as an absolute ease in the studio. I really wish I'd taped some of those shows at the time; alas, I have no record of any of them. It felt like a friend was informally guiding you through some records he happened to like, saying whatever came into his head about them or any loosely related matter, wholly at ease.


I'm happy to report that Carmel Gregg, Hubert Gregg's widow, read my piece on the great man and seemed to approve. You can find out more about his career and buy his autobiography, which details his long theatrical career, here. Comparing his broadcasting style with that of Sykora, I wrote:
You could say that Gregg's presentation was more mannered than Ken Sykora's, but it didn't seem like that in the execution. Even if the programmes were audibly scripted, as opposed to Sykora's air of an informal chat, a similar intimacy was conveyed. In an age of prattle, that careful preparation felt like a courtesy, not a barrier. And so you learnt to accept phrases which would have sounded artificial coming out of any other presenter's mouth, like "No more for a se'enight," when the half hour had sped by yet again, and even grew to relish the inevitability of the pause you could have driven a car through during the middle of his sign-off: "And au revoir ... to you."


Just as it's said that Hutch (a Gregg favourite) had the power to make the audience in a vast variety hall feel as though they were enjoying a recitation in an elegant drawing room, these and other Greggorian turns of phrase had the effect of drawing listeners into a happy band of fellow conspirators who refused to acknowledge the end of a golden age of English and American music which stretched from the twenties to, I suppose, the late forties. 


Whatever I didn't learn from Hubert Gregg or Robert Cushman I absorbed, almost unknowingly, from Benny Green; cruel friends used to delight in pointing out that all my spoutings about music were cribbed from his programme, which may have been truer than I cared to admit.

I didn't know it at the time, but Green was gradually and painlessly filling me with knowledge which was ultimately to prove professionally useful as well as a source of pleasure and metaphorical enrichment. 
But I can't leave out those names whom I discovered later, once my tastes were more or less established. They have enhanced the pleasure of listening and brought some unexpected discoveries to my ears, but we're talking consolidation, not Damascene conversion. First of all, the one who carried on Benny Green's work:


Like Ken Sykora, Benny Green, Hubert Gregg and Ian Whitcomb [discussed below], he is also a musician, which may have helped foster the catholicity of taste on display; the programme's subtitle is "The art, craft and inspiration of the popular song." 

The show appears to be scripted, but he has a real gift for succinct, accessible phrasemaking. It's different from Hubert Gregg's conscious stylisation, more like ordinary speech - but in a more compact, vivid form than the unscripted alternative, just as a current advert on British television for some kind of wonder yoghurt (or some such) boasts of its invigorating effects with the slogan: "You - but on a really good day."

Lorenz Hart, for example, is summed up as "Pint-sized genius of the lyric and tragical boozer" and we're told Spike Jones is "well known for taking the sweetest rose and crushing it till the petals fall - with a thunderous crash."

These brief quotes don't do justice to his links, where four or five interconnected ideas may whizz by in the transition from one record to another, with his trademark waspish understatement in a slightly raised voice inviting you into a joke. 


I only discovered Ian Whitcomb's radio show about eighteen months ago - not long before happening upon Spencer Leigh's, in fact.
Like many another in the 60s, Whitcomb had an epiphany on hearing Zimmerman. In his case, however, this happened to be ragtime pianist Professor Dick Zimmerman, who "rescued me from rock & roll, setting me on the road backwards" - in which direction he has been strolling ever since, stooping to pick up discarded tin pan alley sheet music as he goes; he has even written an acclaimed book about the development of the popular song from its late nineteenth century roots, After the Ball.
Both Ian Whitcomb and Spencer Leigh have written extensively about music. Their areas of expertise may differ but I think another remark I made in the post might stand equally as an argument for the importance of Spencer Leigh's On the Beat programme. I said of Ian Whitcomb that
[His] awareness of the deep, tangled roots of popular music means that he is able to make the most illuminating comments in his show en passant, seeing the sort of connections others wouldn't.
And that's it for me - that is what drew me to most of the broadcasters above: Ken Sykora would play Peggy Lee and Spike Jones but also the Lovin' Spoonful's Nashville Cats, no doubt because it was about the joy of guitar playing, and that transcended boundaries - and I remember that, like Ian Whitcomb, he was also drawn to Hawaiian music. Popular music of the twentieth century is all interwoven, and Spencer Leigh's show also demonstrates that. So a final reminder: if you value On the Beat, as I do, please consider that BBC Trust questionnaire (direct link at top or see previous post) before it's too late. Again, the deadline is December 21st. (2011, if you're reading this many years hence.)
That would be a rather good place to stop, except that there are two more things I want to say, as evidence of what Kenny Everett might have called "intertwangularity."The first is that I recently heard Spencer remark on his show that he loved Russell Davies's programme.



And the second is a recent memory. I saw  the New York cabaret singer Steve Ross perform a few weeks ago in a cabaret venue, the Pheasantry in the King's Road, Chelsea and had the chance to talk to him briefly afterwards.
The show, a tribute to Irving Berlin, featuring a mix of well known and more obscure numbers, made a big impression on me, for several reasons. The act of listening, staring across the otherwise empty table, called to mind a former partner with whom I associate the recordings of Hutch: they formed a soundtrack to to our time together, especially in the earliest days when one little room really was an everywhere.
I'm not sure whether it was a particular Berlin song also recorded by Hutch, or simply the conviction which Steve Ross brought to the songs, but either way I felt a sharp pang for an irretrievable past.

And there was another thing about that performance, which is related to my decades of radio listening to the likes of Hubert Gregg and Ken Sykora. Odd as it may sound, although I have been listening to and loving that sort of music for over thirty years, I don't think I had ever sat down at a cabaret style show like that before. Ever. The songs seemed alive in a way not possible through archive recordings broadcast over the airwaves.

And when I mentioned to Steve the people I had admired, like Hutch, and Mabel Mercer - familiar to me from both Benny Green and Robert Cushman's shows - I learnt they were known to him too: Mabel Mercer in particular had been, he said, a big influence. And the name of Robert Cushman was fondly greeted: he even praised his singing - which, I admit, is further than I would be prepared to go.

You could even say that the evening was a kind of culmination of a process - that is, if you were minded, like me, to tie a ribbon of sorts around this post. Let's have a go, anyway. Ahem. (clears throat, assumes solemnity of manner)

I listened as a teenager to love stories in song whispered through my transistor late at night.

Later, the whispering served another purpose: a backdrop to my own particular notion of some semblance of The Real Thing.

Now, thanks to the passion and the artistry of Steve Ross on that recent evening, the songs have been foregrounded once again. But this time I am more aware - and I'm talking about Berlin in particular, though it could equally apply to others - of the magic, or the vitality, or whatever you want to cry it, of these artefacts.

They are at once simple and profound. Direct, universal statements which somehow feel personally tailored at the same time. They are not The Thing Itself - real or otherwise - but they remind us of The Thing Itself. And they suggest that it's important. And they, at least, endure and they bring consolation as well as the odd stab of pain.

Most of all, maybe, they make me feel part of a larger world.

You can find Steve Ross's website here. He says:
So much of cabaret is about love. It's the emotion we're always trying to be reminded of most of all.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Violent Playground to be released on DVD


At the boy's home, his gang is having a rock'n roll party. The radiogram is going full blast, the room is full of frenzied boys.


McCallum's face grows strained. He leaves Baker in the doorway and joins the gang, who make way for him in the centre of the floor.


It looks like Violent Playground (screenplay by James Kennaway and directed by Basil Dearden) is finally going to be released on legitimate DVD, mid January 2012. As I've written about the film in passing in some earlier posts I thought it might be worth collecting those scattered notes here.So this isn't a full-blown review, just some observations which may be of interest.

The title music, a horrible cinema-type idea of rock'n'roll, was written, incredibly, by Paddy Roberts (the South African Noel Coward to Jake Thackray's Yorkshire model), but there is, nevertheless, a disturbing scene where young David McCallum and his hoodlum friends, sans females, do a strange kind of trancelike dance to this would-be crazy beat as a gesture of defiance and contempt when Stanley Baker's juvenile liaison officer dares to enter his home.




The film, written by James Kennaway (Tunes of Glory) has elements of On the Waterfront - there's a moment where you feel McCallum's character could go either way but Peter Cushing (in the Karl Malden role, if you will) misses his opportunity - and pays pretty heavily later.



The ending, as with Jame Kennaway's screenplay for Tunes of Glory, directed by Ronald Neame, is bleak - even bleaker, you might say, than Tunes of Glory, in which Jock's crackup (superbly played by Alec Guinness) at least indicates he feels the enormity of what he has done. McCallum's character in Violent Playground proves to be beyond redemption, however, so the focus shifts to saving his younger brother and sister from going the same way.


But it's that scene in which McCallum and his pals obscurely threaten lawman Stanley Baker which is the most memorable, and the fact that they do it not with knives and fisticuffs but by the simple device of surrendering absolutely to the hypnotic effect of the devil's music.


There, in a single scene, you have rock'n'roll from a terrified adult perspective: the boys do nothing, beyond swaying a little; maybe they're even so stoned (metaphorically speaking) by the music that they're incapable of violence, but that makes it more disturbing, somehow. Throughout that scene they are, to Baker's Juvenile Liaison Officer, an alien tribe, wholly unknowable, not the kind of loveable artful dodgers you can at least get some kind of a handle on. No cuff on the ear will team these demons in waiting.

It's a great cinema moment, however unfair it may be, as this article, quoted at the start of this post, suggests:



A piece on the film on the BFI's screenonline website (readable in full here) makes clear that
James Kennaway's script was inspired by an actual experiment that was carried out in Liverpool in 1949.There, a small number of policemen were rebranded Juvenile Liaison Officers and given specific responsibilities to familiarise themselves with local youth crime from the incidents themselves down to the root causes (a theory that anticipated the Labour Party's "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" approach unveiled over forty years later).
Interesting to note, too, the response of locals (the film is set in Liverpool) to the filming:
In order to emphasise an almost drama-documentary feel of authenticity, Dearden shot the film on location amongst the art deco tenements of Gerard Gardens, believing them to be representative of a Liverpool slum. However, his set dressers nonetheless had to exaggerate the dilapidation, and the locals later objected to the way their home had been co-opted into Dearden and Kennaway's central thesis that poverty breeds crime.


Find lots of pics from Violent Playground on the davidmccallumfansonline website here; several images above have been taken from there. The Reel Streets website, here, has then and now images of the Liverpool locations used in the film.

According to a well-known shopping website, the DVD is to be released by Spirit Entertainment Ltd on January 16th. I have preordered it and will add a postscript about technical quality when I have seen it. Below, Gerard Gardens shortly before demolition: 





Original posts mentioning Violent Playground: 

On Again! On Again! Or Strangers on a Train (Jake Thackray - the connection is that a Thackray-loving penfriend lived in nearby Caryl Gardens)

Gnome Thoughts ... 5 (Part of a series speculating on David Bowie's early musical influences, this mentions Paddy Roberts) 

Gnome Thoughts ... 6 (David Bowie/Ken Pitt culture clash)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Spencer Leigh and On the Beat to be axed?


If, like me, you like a range of popular music from the fifties onwards - and you probably do if you're reading this - I strongly advise you to listen to Spencer Leigh's programme On the Beat, broadcast on Saturday evenings on BBC Radio Merseyside, while you still can.(Links at end.)

Future programmes have been announced on his personal website until around mid-January, but after that it's anybody's guess how much longer the show will continue to be run.

This is as a result of cuts affecting the budget of BBC local radio. You can read a fuller account in a Liverpool Daily Post article here but the gist is that the BBC is trying to save 20% from its overall budget and local stations will be more likely to share programmes with other regions, especially in the evenings. And at weekends there might be shared programming from 1pm - apart from the football, which is sacrosanct, apparently. Spencer has said in recent editions of his show that he is trying to cram as many interviews in as possible in the available shows in case that's his last chance.

The report says there is anger at the station that Radio Merseyside, "the most popular BBC local radio station outside London", is being targeted. If On the Beat does end, this will be a real pity - and I speak not as a local, but a listener  in London for the last year via BBC iplayer.

I only started listening in the last year or so, partly because of an interview with Alan Klein which I have made use of on this blog, but I've really grown to enjoy Spencer's wide-ranging musical knowledge and his unshowy delivery. Performers seem to open up to him because they know that he knows his stuff and he cares about it. He has written books about various aspects of pop music: he has a particular interest in Merseybeat and the Beatles but his knowledge of rock'n'roll and 60s/70s pop seems pretty far-reaching.

One small detail, because it was an area I knew something about, was that his was the only UK obituary of Pookie Hudson (in the Independent) which gave any indication of familiarity with the Spaniels biography. And recently on a Steve Cropper interview he was able to make the leap between the Beatles' 12 Bar Original and Green (not Glass) Onions. Not to mention a discussion with (I think) one of the Searchers about just what sort of kiss it was in Sweets For My Sweet which "thrilled me so." Or pointing out the pinch from the Diamonds' version of Little Darling at the end of the Beatles' Misery.

Do these things matter? Yes, because they indicate the knowledge below the surface. Small moments but highly significant. And the programme isn't parochial. Yes, it's partly about announcing local gigs and his knowledge of Merseybeat and the Beatles will come to the fore but the scope of the programme is much wider than that. If you could weep when you think of the amount of time you have spent in the past listening to interviews by DJs or TV figures who haven't done their homework or simply don't have that much invested in the interaction then in a quiet sort of way Spencer will be a revelation because he does care - and he can make the musical connections which can illuminate things for the listener. Or he will just know the right song with which to make a comparison.

There is, in short, a foundation of wideranging knowledge which means that his interviews are more rewarding than in many other cases, and you can hear it in the performers' response to his questions: you can hear them relaxing and opening up, because it sounds like they're being talked to by a human being who has actually enjoyed their music, not a Radio Personality.

When I began writing this blog, almost two years ago now, I thought I would only write about doo wop, having a lot of messages from an old doo wop messageboard I wanted to preserve. I thought maybe I'd write the odd new piece as well, but keep it to doo wop.But over time, other music I'd grown up listening to crept in, and of course it was all connected. Why not just celebrate it all? Which is what I've tried to do.

And what I get most strongly from Spencer's show is that he too thinks all this, the broad sweep of popular music, is important. On his personal website he says of On the Beat:
My radio programmes contain many interviews with a wide variety of people from the world of pop, rock, country, soul ....everything in fact. I hope to provide an insight to their music, and give the listener an opportunity to hear the unusual as well as the familiar.
Well, for my money he does - frequently. And it will be a crying shame if money is what takes this longrunning, genuinely informative and delightful show off the air for good. In an email I wrote to Mick Ord, the station manager, I ended:
So if you can, Mr Ord, please don't allow the axe to fall. The
programme may promote local events, but I can confirm that to lovers
of the broad sweep of popular music its appeal is national - at the
very least.

Update 4th December:

BBC Trust consultation about local radio

If Radio Merseyside is your local station and you wish to show your support for On the Beat or other programmes under threat, you can  fill in a questionnaire which is part of  the BBC Trust's online consultation about local radio. The relevant page can be found here. It is open until December 21st.

You can answer as many or as few of the eight questions as you wish, but perhaps the most relevant for On the Beat is Question 7, which focuses on local radio's music and arts commitments. In particular, it asks how well you think you think your local BBC station does the following things:
  •     provides opportunities for new and emerging musicians from the local area
  •     supports local arts and music events by providing event information
  •     plays a wide range of music, including music relevant to the local area.
Bear in mind that other Radio Merseyside programmes like Folk Scene are also under threat so if you enjoy other shows you may wish to mention them too. Question 8 is an "any other comments" one so anything else you want to say could be put there. 

And it's not just online: you can email or post your response. You can also call into Radio Merseyside reception in Hanover Street for more information. 

So if, like me, you value On the Beat, please take advantage of this opportunity to declare it to the BBC before the consultation deadline of December 21st.





Spencer Leigh's own website here. Click on "Radio Programme News" for a list of programmes and guests until January 14th 2012.
 His Radio Merseyside page here.  
 BBC iplayer link for most recent programme here. 

Update, 17th December: the iplayer link will take you to the 17th December show, which features an interview with Mike Redway, who recorded for the Woolworths label Embassy. More about his career here. There is also an interview with Richard White, author of a book about Dexy's Midnight Runners, who is currently working on a book about the spiritual and religious aspects of the Beatles music. There are also some pleasant musical surprises in the show. The next two shows will be Christmas and New Year specials. 

* A REMINDER THAT THE DEADLINE FOR RESPONDING TO THE BBC TRUST QUESTIONNAIRE (SEE ABOVE) IS NEXT WEDNESDAY - 21ST DECEMBER.*

Oh, and if you're wondering, the above is a song I was introduced to via On the Beat recently. 

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Little Ern! (biography of Ernie Wise)


The public may be more aware of Eric Morecambe's showier role, but Ernie Wise was one half of Britain's most successful double act, contributing as much to the pair's success as his partner. His importance has been downplayed in recent years - indeed, there are times you could be forgiven for thinking that Morecambe must have been a solo act - so it's good news that a biography devoted to Ernie has just been published..You can read an article about it (not a review) by Sheena Hastings in the Yorkshire Post here.



My recommendation, however, at least for fellow devotees, has to be a qualified one. While the book certainly offers a fuller picture of Ernie's life post-Eric than I have read elsewhere, drawing on interviews with his widow Doreen, there's no getting away from the fact that much of the main part of the book, namely the pair's rise to fame, will already be familiar, thanks to the proliferation of books about the pair. Additional details and observations newly supplied by Doreen and other interviewees do illuminate certain aspects of an oft-told tale, but we're not exactly talking blinding revelations on every page.

Inevitably, then, it's the bookends - earliest days and declining years -which will be of most interest to diehard fans. Those early days have been covered in the past, but I don't think I've read elsewhere of Ernie's family's attitude to his cash-making potential: Doreen, uniquely placed to judge, sees Ernie's early years as a kind of slavery, that his childhood was stolen from him, explaining his later enjoyment in the "toys" which his success bought him.


The account of the later years serves to redress the balance of a mean-spirited documentary about Ernie, although it doesn't shy away from sadder moments: a member of the Edwin Drood cast talks of Ernie retreating to his dressing room when it becomes clear the show is going to fail, although the finger of blame is also pointed at the American production team who apparently decamped en masse immediately after the reviews instead of staying around to fix things.

This book does give you a clearer sense of Ernie than in other books to date: his relationship with his father and the forces in his early life which shaped him; the central importance of his marriage; his unselfishness as a feed; his unflappability as a negotiator on behalf of Eric and himself. To reclaim a phrase from that notorious documentary, let's hope that this book serves to remind readers of the importance of being Ernie. But there's no doubt you'll enjoy it as a whole a great deal more if you haven't already read one of the many joint biographies out there.



Earlier post about Eric and Ernie biopic here.
Extract from book here (warning: it's the Daily Mail).
Review on Morecambe and Wise tribute site here.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Ravens on Matt the Cat's Juke in the Back show


An hour of the Ravens can be heard on Matt the Cat's Juke in the Back radio show by clicking here for the prx (Public Radio Exchange) website. Matt gives a history of the group in between their records on National.

I'm listening right now, and sound quality is pretty good to these ears.I'd forgotten how infectious and swinging Mahzel was - and as Matt says, that's not a record you will hear on the radio. If you are unfamiliar with the group, then they form a kind of musical bridge between the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots and the "proper", gospel-inflected doo wop groups. Jazzy and sophisticated, but with the unmistakable, fathoms-deep voice of Jimmy Ricks putting something earthier into the mix. There are corny elements, but the Cliff Adams Singers they ain't. And as with the Flamingos' and Moonglows' recordings on Chance a few years later, there is a pleasure in picking up details of the backing musicians. Not as bluesy, but not polite either.

And Matt has just announced that Billy Vera is guesting to talk about (I presume) Count Every Star. But I have to stop now, as There's No You has begun, and that will require all my concentration. Goodbye.

Oh, question: did the Flamingos hear the Ravens' recording of September Song? Listening to this just now, in better quality than I'm used to, is a delight.


Earlier post about the Ravens with some youtube clips here .

Friday, 30 September 2011

Reginald "Briz" Brisbon


Following on from the previous post, I have found a bit of information about Reginald "Briz" Brisbon online and a clip of him singing lead with Stevie Ray Vaughan's band, embedded later in this post. The above image comes from a Paul Simon concert.



What I remember most about him from the residency in Glasgow discussed elsewhere (link at end) is the extraordinary sense of propulsion he gave 14 Karat Soul; I think I read he had originally been a drummer, and it showed. In the above image from an album cover he is far left.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Try Them One More Time (14 Karat Soul)


Wow! I have just found some clips of my favourite ever doo wop revival group 14 Karat Soul, apparently reunited, however briefly, for a performance at the Morris Museum's Acappella & Doo Wop Concert #1, July 15, 2011, in Morristown, NJ, according to youtube (the group, originally came from New Jersey).

You can read my main piece about the group here, if you are so minded. But what makes this new find exciting - to me, anyway - is that when I saw them most nights of a one week residency in the early eighties, one of the songs was Take Me Back, Baby, which as far as I know was never recorded by them. And suddenly here it is below, the closest I will probably get to that initial thrill, even though Glenny T, the group's founder, is the sole constant across almost three decades:

Monday, 26 September 2011

Lounge Music


If you have arrived at this blog by conscious choice then it is not unreasonable to assume you might already be familiar with the studio recording of Ernie K Doe's Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta. So I won't insult you by embedding a youtube clip for that recording below.

Instead, please to bear witness to " 'The Emperor of the Universe' Ernie K-Doe in action at his Mother-in-Law Lounge with The Egg Yolk Jubilee. April 27th 2001". according to the youtube putter-upper. I like this clip for several reasons - reasons which may well seem self-evident after a viewing, but this time I want to insult your intelligence by telling you anyway..

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

American Hot Wax - essay by Charles Taylor


American Hot Wax

by Charles Taylor


It's 1959 and in Floyd Mutrux's film "American Hot Wax" the legendary disc jockey Alan Freed is staging his big rock 'n' roll show at Brooklyn's Paramount Theatre. It will be his last --only Freed doesn't know it yet. In the movie's B melodrama terms, the forces of repression, a/k/a/ the DA's office, suspicious of kids letting loose, and more specifically, of white kids and black kids letting loose together, are closing in for the kill. And Freed goes down fighting, telling them, "You can stop me. But you can never stop rock 'n roll."

The real story isn't so pretty. Driven off the air by the payola scandal, hounded by the government for tax evasion, Freed died, an alcoholic, in 1965 at the age of 43 -- two years more than Tim McIntire, the actor who plays him here, would live to be.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

He's back - and this time ...


More from the Holman tribute act. This time he's gone from the sublime to ... well, you decide. But what makes these performances so appealing is that he seems able to take it seriously while revelling in the stupidity of it at the same time. And sterling support, of course, from sundry holy rollers. Whether such items are reasonable and appropriate inclusions on a blog which started out as a celebration of doo wop only you can decide - but hey, as quite a few doo wop records, not least the Medallions' The Letter, are both deadly serious and sublimely silly, then why the heck not? And that's swearing. Let's roll:

Monday, 12 September 2011

Mort Shuman interviewed in 1983 by Spencer Leigh (On the Beat)


This is to alert readers to a hugely enjoyable and informative interview with Mort Shuman conducted by Spencer Leigh and broadcast on last Saturday's On the Beat show on Radio Merseyside. It's available till September 17th on BBC iplayer (link below).

Spencer says at the beginning of the programme that the interview, conducted in 1983 in London in a house Shuman had just moved into, took place in a room which didn't yet have any curtains or much furniture and the recording was deemed too echoey for broadcast until recent technology made listenable. It certainly sounds okay now; there is at times a vague rumble in the background from builders working  but that's it.

It's available on iplayer until 8:02PM Sat, 17 Sep 2011 BST if you want to be precise about it, and I think it will be accessible to US readers as well.

Shuman is relaxed and charming, and not afraid to spill the beans - well, no, that's not true, in the sense that it's not really a "Lennon Remembers"-style tell-all scenario, but he does sound miffed, as well he might, with Andy Williams, who apparently announced Can't Get Used to Losing You on his television show as the B side of his record, to indicate his disdain for it. As Shuman says, he's entitled to his opinion but why record it then?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Ben E King on Letterman or Not Yet Awhile the Guiro


The great Ben E King on David Letterman in 2007, with a proper orchestral backing, maybe even bigger than on the original recording - and they've even taken the trouble to get the right percussion (no, it wasn't a guiro - read the posts below).

What a joy to hear - and long may he endure.

Hey There Lonely Girl by the Kenyon College Chasers featuring Nathan


If you have read much of this blog - no, no, why should you, absolutely; but if, as I say -and the thing is remotely possible - you have, then you will know that the clip embedded here is not something that I should, in the normal course of things, like.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Thomas Hardy goes doo wop


The Kool Gents featuring Dee Clark. Pic from Unca Marvy's highly recommended site - view page about the Kool Gents here. Superb, painstakingly assembled accounts of the tangled histories of many doo wop groups.

And you know how people always go on about how, ooh, if Charles Dickens was around today he'd be writing Eastenders - what, so Emmerdale or Corrie aren't good enough for him, then? As Don, or possibly Baby Boy Phil (and I don't mean Mitchell) would say:
You know the sort - always putting on ... airs.

Anyway, don't mind me. What I intended to say was please click below if you wish to hear a song which sounds, to these ears, anyway, like something Thomas Hardy would have written had he been born in rather different circumstances - always provided his first marriage had followed roughly the same trajectory, of course. If the youtube clip is not visible, click below.

Tonight Kathleen - the Valentines



No pontificating on this occasion, no stupid pun in the title - just one of my doo wop faves which continues to give pleasure. But of one thing I am certain: it is not Richard Barrett who is on trial. It is YOU.

Click below if you can't see the youtube clip.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Optimists of Nine Elms


In writer/director Anthony Simmons' words, Peter Sellers gives "a great gut performance" in the 1973 film The Optimists of Nine Elms as the variety performer, reduced to busking, who is befriended - and ultimately redeemed - by two children.

It's a role which fits him like a glove, and it's surprising that it's taken so long for this film to be issued on DVD (and still not in its natural homeplace of Region 2), and that it's not one of the pieces automatically cited as an example of Sellers at his best.

That could be because of the associated negative connotations of a "children's film", which it could be argued this is. It certainly has lots of music (Lionel Bart and George Martin), and it mostly favours the children's point of view; indeed, the original, rather less complex, novel is told by one of the kids. But it's to Simmons' and Sellers' credit that there is very little in the film which is sentimental (meaning unearnt emotion), so the music could be seen as a way of sugaring the pill.

Don't by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller


Just found this clip, below, on youtube of Dave Gilmour's beautiful performance of Don't, the song associated with Elvis Presley, from the 2001 Leiber and Stoller concert at Hammersmith Apollo. Read my review of the show here.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Jerry Leiber



Very sad to read that Jerry Leiber (above, left) is dead.

Click here for a link to a 2001 interview with Leiber and Stoller at the NFT to promote a documentary about their work. I remember it well because I was present and even got to ask a question. It covers most bases and is well worth reading in full. Below are some brief extracts.

But if you're in a hurry, what with your busy schedule and lack of any sense of musical history, the gist is: they put in the hours and we all benefited.
Q: How unfinished was the song Stand By Me when Ben E King brought it to you, did you make the arrangement on the spot?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Gnome Thoughts ... 37 (Over the Wall We Go)


There hasn't been much to add to this series of posts about Bowie's early influences lately, but idly looking through post 16, about the original version of My Old Man's a Dustman (you can read it here), I suddenly remembered where I'd heard the term "nana" used on a record before, namely a composition by one ... David Bowie.

Stands back in amazement, as Eddie Large (ne McGinnis) used to say. Actually, the version I heard, on BBC Radio 2's Sounds of the Sixties a while back, was actually by Oscar (aka Paul Nicholas), embedded below, alongside what sounds like a pretty rough demo version by Bowie.

The arrangement on the Paul Nicholas recording is brassy and bouncy, calling to mind Quincy Jones's This is the Self Preservation Society, though I'm not sure, and can't be bothered to check, which came first..

While it would be a cheap gag to describe the "Oscar" version as winning, there is one detail which I can't resist pointing out as further evidence of what can only be termed intertwangularity in these posts. There is a direct  quotation from Spike Milligan's Wormwood Scrubs Tango produced by George Martin: we hear a prisoner who is desperately attempting to file the bars exhort the musicians, who've suddenly stopped: "Keep it up lads - another chorus and we're out."

Trouble is, that explicit invitation to compare this song with the material Martin produced for Peter Sellers or Spike Milligan in the fifites does show up the limitations of Master Jones's composition.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Radio programme featuring the Flamingos' Chance recordings




If you have explored further than the most recent posts in this blog, you will know that it was set up to archive posts from a doo wop messageboard, and that a favourite subject of those messages was the Flamingos' recording of Golden Teardrops. This was recorded for the small Chicago label Chance, before the group went to Parrot Records then found success at Chess Records.

Imagine: Ray Davies - Imaginary Man (BBC documentary) available again


As Julien Temple's documentary Ray Davies: Imaginary has just been repeated on the BBC, it's once again briefly available on BBC iplayer here, this time until 1:09AM Mon, 25th July. Below, a repost of my response to its original broadcast.

 Have just finished watching the above BBC TV documentary about Ray Davies and a review in the Independent, readable here, gets it roughly right, so I probably won't say too much more. The review ends:
if there was a lingering sense that Davies was being indulged, that his nostalgia was slipping into downright despondence, we could forgive him on the grounds that he has done so much for us.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

LENNONYC BBC (Imagine: Lennon: The New York Years)


This is to alert UK readers that the PBS documentary about John Lennon's final years, LENNONYC,  has just been broadcast on the BBC - as part of Alan Yentob's Imagine documentary strand, appropriately enough - and should be available on iplayer  shortly, I presume for the usual time of one week, so hurry, hurry, hurry if you didn't catch it last night. (BBC website page with iplayer link here.)

[Update looks like it's not going to be on iplayer after all - which may suggest to the cynically minded that a UK DVD release is planned.]

I don't know how much Mr Yentob interposes himself between the viewer and the material on this particular occasion, as I missed the start, but on the BBC website the film is clearly credited to the director, Michael Epstein.

Mr Epstein's is a name is etched in my mind because of the excellent series of free-to-download podcasts of raw interview material for the documentary in which he can be heard gently prompting - and occasionally prodding - interviewees to talk about matters which, in some cases, they haven't discussed publicly before.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tripper's Day (Leonard Rossiter sitcom)


A DVD has recently been issued of Leonard Rossiter's last sitcom, Triipper's Day, written by Brian Cooke. It will, I imagine, sell on the strength of Rossiter's name - and it is indeed worth acquiring for his performance if you are already a fan.


The casual purchaser needs to be warned, however, that this is not another Rising Damp or Reggie Perrin: but a broad and knockabout sitcom of the sort which might have been more common when it aired in 1984.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

In Praise of Freddie "Parrotface" Davies or We'll Always Have Didsbury


This is to draw readers' attention to a DVD which features a selection of clips from films and TV shows in which Freddie "Parrotface" Davies has appeared over the years, including the very first TV appearance of his Samuel Tweet character on Opportunity Knocks from 1964.

He tells a single joke, really a shaggy dog story (appropriately, the setting is a pet shop), but what comes over is the performer's enjoyment in the relaying of what is a fairly simple gag and the sense of his knowing how to work the audience.

That was the moment which "started everything" for the former Redcoat - even though, acccording to an interview with Martin Kelner, it was entirely fortuitous:

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Alastair Dougal songs

Click below to hear two songs by Alastair Dougall, he of the ode to Phil Cording and Cheapo, which can be downloaded for free at bandcamp:

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Donovan Albert Hall reviews or How Do You Like Them Gold Apples?


[Last update: October 8th 2011. I have read that an official DVD of the gig is to be released at some point, and some of the clips embedded below have been removed from youtube so they won't play. I have read that there are plans to release an official DVD of the gig, which would explain it. Nevertheless, at the time of this note, a fair number of the clips below are still operational.]

No, I didn't go. I will add to this post over the next few days with reviews by others - y'know, people who actually went there, who took the chance and sat and sweltered on the tube in the hope of happiness to come by being present at Donovan's recreation, at the Royal Albert Hall last night, of the Sunshine Superman album.

The only review I have come across to date is by Kieron Tyler on the Arts Desk website, readable in full here. He notes that "the voice is not what it was" but concludes:

Friday, 3 June 2011

Donovan: why I'm not going tonight. Probably.


Have been thinking more about the Donovan Albert Hall gig tonight (above, same location in 1973). Not entirely unexpectedly, no mysterious benefactor has offered to pay for a ticket so far (so that cruel contributor Mr F, was right), and I've rather lost hope in that direction.

But in a way the money is not really the issue. Funds have been severely diminished but I could go if I really wanted to - and had a good look at the Royal Albert Hall website today, where good seats are still available, though sales seem to have been pretty good.

No, it's more about the level of disappointment. That there will be disappointment I am reasonably certain; that there will be flashes of enjoyment in between I am less certain, but that, too, seems, on balance, probable. But will those flashes be enough?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

American Hot Wax revisited (Alan Freed biopic)


Saw American Hot Wax today for the first time in about thirty years. Enjoyable enough, although more bitty than I remembered. There are good moments when Tim McIntyre as Alan Freed shows that the music matters to him, but as the film is given over to a concert after around the one hour point there isn't a lot of time to develop character.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ode to Nightingales (Paul Makin)


 I mentioned the sitcom Nightingales in a recent post about BBC 4's new series The Night Shift. Originally broadcast on Channel 4 in the early 90s, it is now available on DVD and deserves the very highest praise.

Bigging Up PhoneShop


Still in new (or newish) sitcom mode  - I can't pontificate about doo wop all the time - I'd like to put in a word for PhoneShop, already broadcast on E4, but which has just started a run on Channel 4 last night.

In the Friday night slot, too - which would suggest a certain amount of faith in its potential, even if it's been securely sandwiched between very old Peter Kay material and Ricky Gervais.