Friday, May 25, 2007

Soul Britannia: It's All Over Now...

It was their most intimidating audience to date.

As they entered the Co-Op Ballroom in Nuneaton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Ian Stewart did not know what to expect. Tension was high. They set up, were introduced, and began to play their brand of rhythm and blues...

The audience, mostly children from the age of 4 to 10, were not impressed, and proceeded to pummel the Rolling Stones continuously with cream cakes until they left the stage.

"They did not appreciate r&b", said Bill Wyman sadly, looking back on that ordeal.

For the fledgeling r&b band, success and recognition was not coming easy. It was all very well to play at The Marquee on the nights when Blues Incorporated were unavailable, but other venues and appreciative audiences were still very thin on the ground.

But, in 1963, while the Stones searched for gigs and practiced being jammy dodgers, the r&b scene that had grown around the clubs of London was now spreading. The Ealing Club grew from 100 members the first week to 200 memebers the next, to over 800 by the end of 1962, some having wandered to its doors in search of the blues from as far away as Scotland. By 1964, most of the clubs of Wardour Street and West London had gone over to featuring r&b over modern jazz. The Stones finally found a home away from the Marquee, this time in Richmond, at the Crawdaddy Club. Richmond could boast a number of other venues turning to r&b, such as the Eel Pie Hotel, The Station Hotel, The Imperial, and L’Auberge. Approximately 10,000 people were likely to enter the doors of these London clubs alone in a typical week to pick up the r&b sounds.

And the trend had spread outside the capital. By late 1963, rhythm & blues clubs were forming all over: from St Andrew's Hall in Norwich, the Olympia in Reading, the R&B Club in Andover, the Rhythm & Blues Club at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast, and the Downbeat Club and Club A-G0-Go in Newcastle, to the Starlight Rooms in Brighton. It must be said, however, that while now these clubs were bringing r&b closer to British youth, they are all situated in ports, near American bases or close to London.

Rhythm and blues was going to be the new musical wave, then, after all. It had not been inevitable, or even likely. But for a number of reasons, r&b now appealed. It is often suggested that this was simply because Britain was still haunted by the spectre of World War II, and had a yearning for the trappings of America. Yet as my dad told me recently, there had been a number of reasons why rock and roll had become adulterated and tamed in its British version by the early 60s:

"You have to remember, for a lot of people, even young people, rock and roll had been connected with the Teds. Many ordinary people thought they were violent, dangerous thugs. They were outcasts, troublemakers from the working class [so people assumed]... So a lot of people wanted nothing to do with anything these troublemakers enjoyed. In any given week, at least half of the Hit parade would be filled up with ballads and popular tunes by people like Alma Cogan. That's what most people wanted to hear, right up to the mid Sixties."

In fact, Britain benefitted from a veneer of prosperity and more spending power in people's pocket, largely due to the removal of rationing and a series of canny devaluations by the MacMillan government during the late 50s. More and more young people were growing up into a comfortable suburban life that had cultural, educational and creative advantages. There was more money for instruments, more opportunity to enjoy the nightlife, the chance for free university education and growing enrollment at art schools. Here, a relatively small number of young people were introduced to jazz and then the blues, and had a chance to play and experiment. So affluence, leisure time and money in pockets was making it possible to adopt new American trends, after a fashion, in a way that had never truly happened in Britain before.

Some have said that in fact it was easier for British youth to take up r&b than it was for their contemporary white Americans. This is perhaps an oversimplification, as it ignores the way southern soul in particular was formed interracially in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, to name but two examples. However, naively obsessed with all things American, with access to far fewer media accounts of the realities of American society, British youth were far happier than white Americans to simply accept that jazz, blues and r&b was at the heart of 'American' music. The main objection to r&b in Britain was its noisiness, young people's unprofessional musicianship and the length and cleanliness of the bands' hair.

Was the music that they made r&b? It was certainly different to the rhythm & blues Americans were used to, They couldn't play as well, they couldn't sing at all American, and they had nobody to refer to except for the twenty or so records they had in their bedroom. They had grown up with very different influences to their black American heroes, from skiffle, to old folk ballads, to music hall songs, and these influences naturally permeated the songs that they began to write for themselves. So ultimately, British r&b changed into something unlike its beginnings, and took a course far removed from the course of black American music in the late 60s and 70s. But it was inspired by and dedicated to the seven-inch pieces of vinyl they had listened to note for note in those early years...

SO, who was playing this r&b hybrid? Time for some more music posts!

Information quoted from the chapter 'Enter The Stones' in 'White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixtes' by Dominic Sandbrook, and 'Mod: A Very British Phenomenon' by Terry Rawlings. Blue Eyed Handsome Dad helped with some memories also!
NOTE TO READERS: Tomorrow I am starting to move house. So I have to wait for a few days to get my internet reconnected in the new flat. So I apologise in advance if there is a delay in posting more stuff next week. Of course, since I usually get sidetracked and delayed anyway, you may not notice any difference to the usual poor service ! :)

Soul Britannia: Stoned!

The early recordings of the Stones are going to be somewhat humourous to American soul afficionados. But they have their charms. And each song gives some indication of the influences of early British r&b and how a British r&b enthusiast perceived themselves in the early years.

With Come On, the guys attempt to do Chuck Berry for the first time. Clearly terrified of this strange music, the Decca producers constrict the band into a sanitised and clean arrangement that still resembles other tunes by British rock and roll stars of the time. Interestingly, it was not a hit with the r&b crowd, who were disappointed that it did not sound 'authentic', and it only reached No.29. What it does show is that rock and roll was a much bigger element in the influences of British r&b. The b-side, I Want To Be Loved, the Willie Dixon hit popularised by Muddy Waters, is a better track, kept tight by the professional drumming of the jazz musician Charlie Watts, who used to play in Blues Incorporated before joining the younger band. It's blues rather than rhythm and blues, and it's little wonder that early on, British r&b developed a heavy reliance on noisy guitar riffing, and on the power of the harmonica, due to the cheapness of the instrument in comparison with trying to organise a horn section, and the reverence in which blues artists were held by Chris Barber and Alexis Korner and other leaders of the scene.

Next, the Stones turned to songwriters that they idolised, Lennon and McCartney, who gave them I Wanna Be Your Man. Clearly unnerved by the poor response to their first single, both band and Decca Records looked for a sure-fire Beatleesque hit, the only r&b British record companies understood was saleable. The completely unexpected way in which the Beatles had suddenly reached No.1 on the US charts in January 1964 (not 1963 as I previously wrote in a hurry...) stunned everybody, not least themselves, and it had radically changed the way in which young r&b enthusiasts, starting up their own bands, saw their potential. Perhaps they could write their own songs as well as play their favourites.

On the b-side, Stoned shows that there was more to the Rolling Stones than so far meets the eye. It bears the unmistakeable influence of the 1962 hit Last Night by the Mar-Keys, although harmonica takes the place of horns. The British r&b fan was not just a classicist, trying to imitate a revered 'folk' music, however over-earnest some of its proponents sometimes acted (stand up Slowhand...). They were young people excited by an up to the minute sound. This is also a song with a lyric that hardly needs commenting was rather different for British music. The next year, of course, the Rolling Stones would return to the Stax stable to record Rufus Thomas' Walking The Dog for their first album.

The Rolling Stones first self-titled EP, recorded in late 1963, and their second recorded in Chicago in 1964, begin to reveal their true appreciation for some of the masters of r&b, and more closely resemble how they played live...

The Rolling Stones - Come On (Decca 1963)

The Rolling Stones - I Want To Be Loved (Decca 1963)

The Rolling Stones - I Wanna Be Your Man (Decca 1963)

The Rolling Stones - Stoned (Decca 1963)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Soul Britannia: The Modernists, The Marquee and The Music

Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies & Blues Incorporated1956. Back to Soho. Home of the jazz clubs and the skiffle clubs. Above The Roadhouse pub on Wardour Street, tired of skiffle and trad jazz, Cyril Davies and Alex Korner are setting up a club night, playing the blues. The night is called the Blues & Barrel House Club. The band is called Blues Incorporated. Who knows if anyone will come?

They come. Big Bill Broonzy and Otis Spann even come down to hear and play, and stay at their houses while they are in town.
The Flamingo Club on Wardour Street in 1964
They've come down from the Cold War US airforce bases around London, where they've been playing for the servicemen - the only place up to then you could hear the blues in Britain. Like many GIs, they come into Soho, looking for entertainment. First to clubs like the Americana for jazz; then on to Wardour Street to the Barrel House and finally down to the basement club The Flamingo for modern jazz and latest r&b singles from Ray Charles and Lee Dorsey. Mixing with student trad jazz fans, being beatnik in old jumpers and scruffy trousers, the GIs cut a style in suits and ties. Some of the skifflers and jazz musicians are interested: Zoot Money, Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames, Chris Farlowe and the Thunderbirds, are listening and learning.

They interest the younger kids too. From all over London they come to hang out in Soho, young mostly working-class boys who are fascinated by everything American, but can't find it in austerity Britain, can't dress like that, but they try and put on an attitude. They are not going into National Service like their older brothers, the Teds, and coming out aged and conformist. Thanks to the self-same GIs and thanks to mutually assured destruction, the country doesn't need their services. These boys are able to go to work, earn their money, buy clothes, go out, and spend it how they want. They aren't as rich as they make out - you can do a lot on the HP. They want a new kind of life all the same.

At the Flamingo, they can meet real Americans. The GIs can sell you buttoned Levi's for a fiver.
Where do you get those suits, those shirts? They just don't exist in the high street. So you need to find a way to alter things yourself. First, find something you like at Marks & Sparks, or C&A. Round the corner from The Roaring Twenties Club, where blue beat mixes with r&b from 1961, the tailor at Newmans on North End Road will make you a suit with the 'Billy Eckstine collar', or help you get the perfect 'Italian' drop to your trouser. Go to the cinema, and there are new ideas every week. La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni, Shoot The Pianist with Charles Aznavour, Rocco And his Brothers with Alain Delon, the New Wave. Always new, different, modern, changing. Think of a style, and take it to John Stevens in Fulham, Bilgorri in Bishopsgate. Now show it off at the clubs...

It's not just about the clothes anymore. It's about the music. The GIs have records to sell as well. Better than trad jazz, or skiffle, or Cliff Richard's tame rock and roll. Its a handy extra income, and a way to offload belongings before returning to the States.

March 17th 1962.

The Barasque Club, opposite Ealing Tube Station. Art Wood, singer with Blues Incorporated, asks if the owner wants a new resident band, a blues band. He agrees. Davies and Corner open a new club night, and the faces start to appear from other pockets of London, young, fashion-conscious, a little arrogant, interested in the new sounds. Soon, another club offers them a residency - The Marquee Club, at that time on Oxford Street.

Blues Incorporated in 1963, with a young Mick Jagger having a go on vocals...Clubs in 1962 mean live music, and there are a small but growing coterie of young people who have absorbed the r&b records they have bought, and are starting to play. You'd find Brian Jones in the audience at the Marquee, Mick Jagger taking a turn as a singer with Blues Incorporated, Eric Clapton and other Yardbirds not far behind, Chris Farlowe and especially Georgie Fame and his Blue Flames turning from jazz and skiffle towards r&b at The Flamingo.

A local phenomenon amongst young men and women in London, looking for whatever the latest styles and trends are, trying to make their own identity, has encountered a club life suited to the tastes of GIs and Caribbean-Britons, and heard a music that intrigues them. Something similar is happening in some other places, in Liverpool, and in East Anglia, in smaller towns near other airforce bases. People visiting the London nightlife are bringing back the news and the new sounds to towns across the south. The rest of the country hardly know anything about it, but soon it will become a national youth culture...

Here are some tunes from Blues Incorporated in the early years. The first is taken from an LP recorded live at The Marquee Club in its first few months back in 1962, and released on Ace Of Clubs. The second is the b-side of Blues Incorporated's first single, released in 1963, many years after the formation of the group. I think this reflects the assumptions in Britain at the time that the priority for a band was playing live, and perhaps also that for many British blues musicians, they did not fully consider the idea that they could make records like their own idols. This was about to change dramatically as the recording industry, soon to be bowled over by the public fervour for The Beatles, awoke to the potential of British beat.

Alexis Korner & His Blues Incorporated - Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound (LP 'R&B From The Marquee Club' ACL1130) 1962
Alexis Korner's & His Blues Incorporated - Please, Please, Please (B-side of Parlophone R 5206) 1963

Information gathered from The Georgie Fame site, The Marquee Club website, The British Beat Boom website (very good index of many bands), and from Mod: A Very British Phenomenon by Terry Rawlings.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Soul Britannia: Chris Farlowe Says Baby, You're Out Of Time!

Chris Farlowe In The Midnight Hour EP 1966Its the Swinging Sixties!

As I didn't know where to start, I'll start with some of the best!

Amongst the blue eyed soul singers that emerged in the early 60s in Britain, few were as well respected as John Henry Deighton, more famously known as Chris Farlowe.

He had begun like countless other teens in the mid 50s as a skiffle fan, worshipping the grating folksiness of Lonnie Donegan and his ilk. The John Henry Skiffle Band actually won the All-England Skiffle Championship in 1957. Over the next year or so, the repertoire of the rock and roll group gravitated more and more away from rock and roll numbers towards r&b. In 1962, John renamed himself Chris Farlowe, in honour of jazz guitarist Tal Farlow (who at that time had mysteriously 'disappeared' from the jazz scene, to much debate amongst jazz cats) and the band became The Thunderbirds. They got a residency playing at the Flamingo Club in Soho, and were noticed by Decca Records. On their first single, an innocuous number called Air Travel released in November 1962, you can clearly hear the impact that a certain Sam Cooke had had on the country during that year. However, nothing came of the record.

Click Here to listen to Air Travel by Chris Farlowe And The Thunderbirds.

Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds
The band then signed a deal with EMI. They were to release a number of singles on the Columbia imprint. Despite creating some great singles the Thunderbirds were not getting hits. Ironically in 1964, when they released a single as The Beazers, called The Blue Beat, in which guitarist Albert Lee mimics the guitar strumming of ska under a conventional r&b melody, they had a dance hit. Albert, who went on to have along career as a respected guitarist across blues and country, joined the band after playing guitar with a number of bands, touring England and doing regular stints in the clubs of Hamburg. He was impressed with what he saw in the Thunderbirds, and stayed for four years:

"In May 1964, I joined Chris Farlowe and I stayed with him four years. I thought it was a great band - the best in Britain at what we did...but we never got much in the way of recognition or public acclaim. It was very frustrating; we'd support bands like The Animals, who were terribly ragged in comparison, with very little feeling or finesse - and they'd go down a storm while we got a smattering of applause from the few punters who weren't in the bar. I've got tapes of some of our gigs and they still stand up - some of our stuff was killer! Farlowe was a dynamite singer! But there was practically no crowd reaction. We worked solidly for, one nighters, all nighters, doubles, trips to Germany and Scandinavia - we went all over the place, but we never cracked it beyond a certain level."

In 1965, another class tune, Buzz With The Fuzz, was released to much mod acclaim, only to be withdrawn from sale when EMI's management realised that it might constitute a provocation towards the police.

Andrew Loog OldhamThen in 1966 an offer came from Andrew Loog Oldham, manager of the Rolling Stones, who had set up a new label, Immediate Records, which was also distributed by EMI. Not only was Oldham more receptive to the sounds of r&b, he could also call on the songwriting of Jagger and Richards for his artists. Farlowe was impressed , and joined other similarly soul-inflected vocalists such as Steve Marriot of the Small Faces, and later P P Arnold, at the label.

Eric Burdon, of The Animals, was asked to produce Chris Farlowe's first two singles, and was faithful to Farlowe's r&b sentiments, though who knows what Albert Lee thought of him at the time. Some outstanding albums and EPs followed, three in 1966, starting with his showcase of soul classics, Farlowe In The Midnight Hour. Farlowe had garnered so much credibility with British fans that he and Eric Burdon were asked to appear on a special edition of the TV show Ready Steady Go! with Otis Redding.

Out Of Time No.1 July 1966 It was the third single, Out Of Time, however, written and produced by Mick Jagger, that struck the right vibe, reaching Number One in July 1966. I think that while often dismissed as a Rolling Stones cover (the Stones recorded it for their album Aftermath earlier in March), and derided for its powerful orchestration, it is a wonderful Deep Soul number, in which Farlowe positively delights in giving a woman the bad news that this relationship is not just going to pick up where she left it after leaving for another man. It was so powerful it enabled England to win The World Cup!

The Beazers (Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds) - The Blue Beat (Decca F 11827) 1964

Chris Farlowe - Out Of Time (Immediate IM 035) 1966

Sadly, by 1967 and 1968, the cultural influences arriving in the UK were no longer dominated by soul music, and while other bands were willing and able to adapt and embrace psychedelic culture, Chris Farlowe was struggling to continue in the same r&b vein he had always championed. Despite a series of outstanding relases, the hits dried up, and he was out of a record contract in 1970. Farlowe was not eager to go down the popular cabaret singer route that others like Tom Jones opted for in these years. It must have been a blow to see Rod Stewart that same year acheive a hit with his frankly inferior version of Handbags And Gladrags, a song that had been specifically written for Chris by Mike D'Abo of Manfred Mann. Sadly, it is the Stewart version that semi-Britpoppers The Stereophonics attempted to mimic with their recent hit.

The next few years saw him join up with a number of prog rock bands as a vocalist, including Atomic Rooster and Colosseum, suffer a two year hiatus after a nasty car accident, before leaving the business temporarily in the late 70s. In the 80s, Farlowe decided to return, this time trying to tap into the adult blues market, and has made a successful new career touring solo, with his 70s band Colosseum, a reformed Thunderbirds, and with Albert Lee. So once again you can hear the voice of Chris Farlowe in the North, South, East And West (yes, this is a plug for another great Farlowe track...)

Information about Chris Farlowe from many conversations and the voluminous mod record collection of John Bennett,, and the Chris Farlowe website. Albert Lee quote from O O'Connor's fan site. Photos from the collection of Lisa and Georg, two big Farlowe fans from Germany who were once part of German beat band The Fenders. Request to hear The Blue Beat came from Blue Eyed Handsome Dad!

Soul Britannia: The Jury's Still Out There...

While perusing the internet for info about Chris Farlowe, I read this excerpt from an interview with guitarist Albert Lee. It gives a little bit of an insight into the influence of US airbases, r&b, and the Caribbean community on the beat explosion:

"In 1961 ... I ran into this bloke called Bob Xavier, who asked me to join his band. So I wore a variety of open necked silky shirts and worked American airbases and London clubs for over a year.

Bob Xavier was West Indian, and the band was modelled on Emile Ford and the Checkmates. Most other groups around town were still doing rock'n'roll, but we were into Drifters/Brook Benton sort of stuff...but in summer '62 Xavier left and we became the house band at the 2Is [paid 18 bob a night].

We'd play in the cofee bar 5 or 6 nights a week - backing whoever wandered onto the stage...and at weekends we would go out of town doing one-nighters backing Vince Eager, Keith Kelly and Jackie Lynton (who were all managed by Tom Littlewood - owner of the 2Is at the time)."

The band were called Bob Xavier & The Jury, and recorded a single with Jackie Lynton after Bob Xavier left. I found a picture of an old gig poster, but nothing else concerning Bob Xavier, or what he went on to do. If anybody knows anything about Bob Xavier and The Jury, I'd love to here from you!