Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Flamingos # 9: Blues in a Letter & Jump Children


The Flamingos' penultimate session for Chance took place on Christmas Eve 1953 and consisted of four sides: Blues in a Letter, September Song, Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit) and Listen to My Plea.

The first, "a stone solid blues", is primarily a vehicle for Johnny Carter, as the rest of the group don't have much to do beyond the requisite early 50s R&B vocal group moaning; unlike the similar Plan For Love there is no attempt by Sollie McElroy - or, indeed, Carter himself - to embellish the song with falsetto.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Flamingos # 8: Hurry Home Baby


Hurry Home Baby is the only song from the Flamingos' first session yet to be discussed in this series, although Robert Pruter's succinct dismissal has already been quoted:
... an imitation Ravens number that made nobody forget about the Ravens.

Flamingos # 7: You Ain't Ready


Guitarist Lefty Bates can be heard to good effect on You Ain't Ready, another side from the same August 1953 session as Plan For Love. He may not get a solo, but after the whole band have set up the song he can be heard momentarily on his own before Sollie McElroy's vocal, and later his playing under Red Holloway's exuberant saxophone solo gives it even more bounce and interest; small wonder, according to his own testimony, that everyone wanted him on their sessions.

The whole band, in fact, is really firing on all cylinders throughout. I know that, in the UK at least, many doo wop fans have a strong attachment to Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit), which has been released on many compilations, but for my money the playing here is more fluid, less brash, perhaps aided by the fact that the band is, I think, slightly smaller.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Flamingos # 6: Plan For Love


Plan For Love is an interesting performance in the context of the Flamingos' other work at this time, although it's not hard to see why this bluesy number wasn't a success when released.

Recorded around August 1953 it is, unusually, a Johnny Carter lead. It's also distinctive because two falsettos are heard during much of the song. Sollie McElroy's is the main one, I believe, with Carter joining him as other duties permit. It's an interesting and unusual effect, although the combination of the two voices is less pleasing,  to my ears, than Carter's solo decoration on so many other sides.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Flamingos # 5: Someday, Someway



As pulpit denunciations of faithless lovers go, Someday, Someway is rather lighthearted, which suggests that Sollie McElroy is buoyed up by the thought that retribution must surely follow:

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Flamingos # 4: If I Can't Have You


If I Can't Have You was recorded by the Flamingos in 1953 and reworked three years later, during their stint at Chess Records. The arrangements on the two versions provide compelling evidence of that musical sea change mentioned earlier:

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The hottest exhibition ever curated?


A Guardian report today about a new exhibition of artefacts associated with Philip Larkin suggests all manner of revelations await its visitors.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

"Virtually mistake-free": a doo wop group in the studio



Following on from the previous post about the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops, here are two accounts of the process of recording a doo wop group in the 50s.

One comes from Du-Wop, the 1987 memoir by Johnny Keyes of the Magnificents briefly mentioned in that post, the other from an interview given by Red Holloway - who backed the Magnificents as well as the Flamingos - to the UK-based Blues Unlimited magazine in 1975. It is included in a recent collection of interviews published by University of Illinois Press - see details at the end.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Flamingos # 3: Golden Teardrops


Golden Teardrops, the undoubted masterpiece of the Flamingos' Chicago recording years,  was recorded during their second session for Chance Records, in August 1953.

That's My Desire, from their January date, was "racking up strong regional sales" but King Kolax and his Orchestra were not chosen to back the group again. Instead, Red Holloway and his band turn in a self-effacing performance with some instruments more felt than heard, and no solos; the saxophone is a distant sympathetic murmur. Lead singer Sollie McElroy would later describe the record as "almost acapella," which may be overstating it, but the band is definitely subordinate.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Waterloo Sunset on BBC Radio 4's Soul Music



 [screengrab]

The Kinks classic Waterloo Sunset is fifty years old this year - ample excuse to repost a piece about the song. I don't know what other celebrations may be planned by the Beeb or others, but today it was the first subject of the new series of Radio 4's Soul Music (above). This programme blends personal associations with musical analysis and, as ever, made for a compelling half hour. On first listen, I had the feeling that one story featured perhaps a little too prominently, but on reflection the balance was right - and that particular tale had something important to say about the power of the song.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Lives of Sam (Sam Cooke plays and biopics)



Have just finished The Life of Sam, a 2010 stage play by Robert L. Douglas. An easy and enjoyable read, it was written, we're told in the playwright's introduction, "as an effort to address the dearth of modern day media about the life of Sam Cooke and to elevate his name to its rightful place among America's greatest entertainers."

Friday, 27 January 2017

New play at Theatre 503: Years of Sunlight by Michael McLean



For readers in London, I have just seen a preview performance of Michael McLean's new play Years of Sunlight at Theatre 503 and can recommend it highly. Previews continue until Saturday night and the play starts on Tuesday. You can book at the theatre's website here.

I first became aware of McLean's work with The Ducks, a two-hander which was, for me, a highlight of the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe. That mantra invoked in the previous post, "Complexity not complication", also applies to that piece, which explores the strange relationship which develops between two young men on community service.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

New film features the El Dorados (Manchester By The Sea)


I rarely review films on this blog, but I'd like to say a few words about writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester By the Sea. I've admired Lonergan's work for a long time, and have had occasion to analyse his stage plays Lobby Hero and This Is Our Youth. He exemplifies the mantra of writing guru Tim Fountain: "complexity, not complication." Which is to say that rather than adding extraneous plot material, the focus in Lonergan's work is on the gradual revealing of character.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

What a Crazy World to be shown on TV


I'm delighted to report that Talking Pictures TV, available on Freeview and elsewhere, will be showing What a Crazy World (1963) on Saturday January 7th at 8.05pm and Sunday January 8th at 8.00pm. Its website is here. And for anyone new to this blog, here's an introduction to the film.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

It's Trad, Dad - Deal With It



The British Trad Jazz boom of the 1950s and early 60s has been much on my mind, and in my ears, recently. It started when I came across the soundtrack for Dick Lester's It's Trad, Dad!, his first full length film, and found the whole strangely enjoyable, despite the collision of jazz and pre-Beatles pop.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Four in the Morning (Anthony Simmons) on London Live tonight


The late Anthony Simmons' Four in the Morning is on London Live tonight at 8pm. In one sense this is a slight piece, but only if you're expecting the cinematic equivalent of a novel rather than the poetic short story which this seems to be. It offers a glimpse into two relationships, one soured by the arrival of a child, and the other perhaps about to blossom, although one of the partners has had such a bad experience earlier that it is unlikely to be smooth going. These stories are framed by the discovery of a woman's body in the Thames and the subsequent cleaning and storing of the body.

It's certainly not a thriller and there is no epiphany for the characters in either of the two tales; as Jude (Judi Dench) says they are no further forward by the end of the night about what to do, and the short bursts of happiness and unease in the case of the other relationship don't provide much in the way of closure either.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

14 Karat Soul live on Switch, Channel 4, 1983


Searching youtube for any new videos of 14 Karat Soul I was delighted - no, make that gobsmacked - to find a recently uploaded clip from 1983 from a Channel 4 programme called Switch broadcast in between the first and second series of The Tube. The announcer is the actress Yvonne French.

The year is important because this is the original lineup of the group, which I remember with enormous affection, and of all the clips I've seen this is undoubtedly  the one which comes closest to the experience of seeing them live. One of the numbers is Take Me Back Baby, which founder Glenny T (above, right) revived with a version of the group in a 2011 appearance, and which I heard during their week-long residency in the unlikely locale of Glasgow's Mitchell Theatre in 1983.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Neil Brand's original radio version of Stan


If you read the earlier post about Jeffrey Holland's Stan Laurel play I bring the happy news that the Neil Brand radio play, Stan, can now be heard on archive.org here.

I have to admit that I hadn't got around to listening to Stan until today - I mean, ever, even though I'd been presented with a CD of it. Having been put off by the TV version the original incarnation wasn't an immediately exciting prospect, despite a former colleague's praise.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Gnome Thoughts ... 38 (Toll the Bell for Minnie Dyer by Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks)



I thought this series of posts about David Bowie's musical inspirations had come to a natural end, but something I read online today demands to be recorded here. Searching for the Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks song Toll the Bell for Minnie Dyer, I happened across a transcript of Bowie chatting to fans in 2001. Asked if he likes the Carry On films and Kenneth Williams in particular, Bowie replies:

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Jeffrey Holland in play about Stan Laurel at the Jermyn Street Theatre


I have just seen Jeffrey Holland in ... And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel, a one man show about Stan Laurel at the Jermyn Street Theatre until Saturday. It's an ideal venue for what is an intimate experience, starkly staged, with a chair and the frame of a bed as the only props (plus, of course, the inevitable hat).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Barely Remembered Lil's


So 53 Rupert Street, once the home of Cheapo Cheapo Records, has transformed itself once again. Having been a mango dessert cafe, then a restaurant called Lil's, I passed the site on Saturday to see that it is now offering Italian fast food (excluding pizza, it seems) under the name of Mister Lasagna.

It only launched a month ago, and more can be read about it here, if you are so inclined. Apparently "Lasagna pans and fresh sandwiches line the counter as diners walk through the door and there’s a subtle waft of garlic in the air."

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Freddie Davies Performing Masterclass London, May 31st



Within reach of London? If so, this is to let you know that Freddie Davies, the man also known as "Parrotface" - and a comedian, actor, producer, you name it, with over fifty years' experience - is about to present his performance masterclass in London, at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square, on Tuesday May 31st. Full details including booking are available at the Stage One Productions website here. (A student discount is available.)

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Flamingos # 2: That's My Desire


The opening blast of unison singing seems to herald a performance more suited to rowdy boozer than the "dim cafe" of the lyrics, but the Flamingos' rendition of That's My Desire, a song best known via Frankie Laine's earlier hit, is mainly an exercise in emotional restraint. Discreetly aided by a sympathetic backing band, passion is allowed to build gradually, in stark contrast to some later doo wop recordings of the tune.

Monday, 21 March 2016

We ask: "What's the deal with Martin Kelner's sacking from BBC Radio Leeds?"


Very sad to hear that Martin Kelner (above) has been sacked from his lunchtime slot at BBC Radio Leeds. Although I am not a local listener, I acquired the iplayer habit a couple of years ago via a certain psittacine comedian - Martin interviewed Freddie Davies when our book Funny Bones was still looking for a publisher - and the regular, wholly pointless but compelling film club competition (a daily excuse for weak puns) soon got me hooked - not that the regular diet of Northern Soul and sixties and seventies pop proved any kind of hindrance in this matter, you understand. And for a few shining hours - I mean days, or possibly even a week or two - there was even a regular doo wop slot, though it didn't seem to attract much attention from anyone other than me and was quietly dropped.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Weald (play by Daniel Foxsmith at the Finborough with David Crellin)


I have just seen Weald by Daniel Foxsmith at the Finborough Theatre. Unfortunately this is its last night, so I can't drum up business for it, but I want to explore why it was so good.

First of all it's the mesmerising performance by David Crellin, owner of a small stable of horses, a man who never achieved his dreams, and whose remaining props are tottering. It's a two hander, and Dan Parr as Jim, the young man who has returned to this remote rural location after a spell in London, gives fine support, but it's Crellin's character, the older Samuel, who has the more painful journey and is pushed over to the edge, though their fates are intimately intertwined.