Saturday, 20 January 2018
It's now almost eight years since the death of Phil Cording, owner of Cheapo Cheapo Records in Soho. Two months later, on the 29th of March, 2009, the shop was closed once for all.
Since I came to London Cheapo had been a kind of haven: many an evening had been spent within its doors, ferreting through a mix of tat and marvels. Others online have praised its stock of Northern Soul rarities in particular, but for me just about all the stock had an appeal.
That's because my musical tastes were shaped jointly by David Essex and Hubert Gregg. The film That'll Be The Day, replete with echoing doo wop classics in its fairground scenes, started me on a lifelong exploration of rock'n'roll just as Gregg's radio shows (along with those of Benny Green, Ken Sykora and Robert Cushman) were introducing me to the music of the thirties and forties.
Cheapo had no shortage of either decade. As a teenager I had followed up what I'd heard on the radio with visits to my local library, and when I found those same LPs many years later in the cramped and dingy surrounding of Cheapo it felt like a home from home in the middle of the metropolis; it even had the That'll Be the Day soundtrack other goodies of more recent vintage which my library had considered infra dig.
A few months after discovering that Cheapo was no more I began to explore my feelings in this blog, keeping a record of occasional forays to Rupert Street to check what had happened to the premises, and writing about the closure (of sorts) which I eventually achieved - in Alperton, of all places. What follows is an attempt tell the whole story in a single post, using summarised versions of the original pieces.
Saturday, 30 December 2017
Another Christmas, another Morecambe and Wise drama and/or documentary ...
The formative years of the duo having been covered already in Peter Bowker's 2011 offering Eric and Ernie, this year's drama Eric, Ernie and Me, by Neil Forsyth, moves on a decade or so and shifts the focus to Eddie Braben, the writer who gave Ernie the rather pompous and prissy Victorian-type character who helped boost the duo to their greatest television success.
Saturday, 9 December 2017
Directed by Leslie (father of Barry) Norman, who produced The Cruel Sea, and starring Max Bygraves as an idealistic teacher, the young Richard O'Sullivan as a pupil, plus Geoffrey Keen and Donald Pleasance, this is a film to slot in with Violent Playground and other late fifties/early
sixties British films which illuminate the times.
Tuesday, 28 November 2017
If, like me, you've been tantalised by the many clips on youtube of a TV show entitled Rock & Roll Graffiti, the good news is that most of that show, hitherto available only as an expensive DVD box set, can now be obtained on two reasonably priced 3 disc sets; I'm based in the UK and bought them from America for around £14 each. These are the covers to look for:
Thursday, 5 October 2017
Possibly anticipating renewed interest in his work with the release of the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, Bello Books have recently reissued a range of titles by A.A. Milne, available as ebooks or print on demand copies.
For those already acquainted with his writing for adults, the most intriguing among these will undoubtedly be Lovers in London. A collection of pieces originally written for the St James Gazette, one of the many evening papers hungry for material when the likes of Milne and P.G. Wodehouse were starting out in the early 1900s, it didn't have much success when originally published in 1905. Milne later took pains to ensure it wouldn't resurface, so it's no surprise to discover that it's not exactly a masterpiece, but its reappearance after over a century is still worth celebrating.
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
I have now seen Goodbye Christopher Robin, the new film exploring the relationship between A.A. Milne and his son. As mentioned in the previous post, the screenwriter Frank Cottrell-Boyce has preempted criticism from those who might have read Ann Thwaite's biography of Milne:
Tuesday, 26 September 2017
There is likely to be a renewal of interest in A.A. Milne when the film Goodbye Christopher Robin is released this Friday. Neglected novels and short story collections have already been reissued by Bello and a new biography is in the pipeline, although I can't imagine how this could possibly replace Ann Thwaite's superb and comprehensive A.A. Milne: A Life. (The forthcoming book, by Nadia Cohen, was credited as the source of a rather skewed piece about Milne in the Sun a few days ago, which does not inspire confidence.)
Monday, 25 September 2017
A radio adaptation by Ray Connolly of his screenplay for the 70s film That'll Be the Day has just been broadcast and will be available - to US and UK listeners alike - on BBC Radio iplayer for one month. Above is the image used to illustrate it on the BBC website.
As would be expected from the original writer it's a pretty faithful adaptation, although the different medium does bring about a change in emphasis: with Jim as narrator, the reasons for his actions can be made more explicit. He talks, for example, of detecting a sense of triumph in his best mate Terry when the latter occasions Jim's humiliation at a university dance, which helps explain Jim's later decision to sleep with Terry's girlfriend on the eve of his own wedding - though he also admits he did it partly because he could.
Tuesday, 29 August 2017
Listening to the first episode of Robert Webb's memoir How Not to Be a Boy, serialised this week on Radio 4, I was surprised to hear a reference to No Place Like Home. Of all the sitcoms in all the world this was the one which inspired him to become a performer - or at least set the seal on his decision.
Not that he offers an unqualified tribute to the writing ability of Jon Watkins. Watching an episode of the show in the afterglow of his own comic triumph in a school play, the young Webb is far from uncritical:
Monday, 21 August 2017
Have just heard, and strongly recommend, a fascinating interview with Tommy Hunt, one of the two last surviving members of the Flamingos from their glory days, on Spencer Leigh's ever-dependable On the Beat programme on BBC Radio Merseyside. It was broadcast yesterday and will be available on BBC iplayer for another 29 days; it's radio rather than television so I believe US readers can also access it; the iplayer page is here.
As ever, Spencer's wide-ranging musical knowledge helps him draw the best out of his subject, a man who is an important part of several strands of music history - and, remarkably, still performing at the age of 84. He will be appearing at London's 100 Club in October.
He was born, we learnt, in a carnival tent in Pittsburgh - his father was a jazz drummer - but he is now living in Pontefract in Yorkshire, of all places, having fallen in love with a woman at a theatre in Wakefield. The marriage has not survived but he is still there - a perfect location for a Northern Soul legend.
Thursday, 10 August 2017
One significant name was left out of the recent series of posts about the Flamingos' early work: Bill Putman, who ran Universal Recording. The technical quality of the Flamingos' Chance and Parrot sides reflects the fact that both companies used Putnam's studio at 111 East Ontario Street, situated off Michigan Avenue. He would have engineered their tracks, although presumably label bosses Art Sheridan and Al Benson would have been the respective producers. Johnny Keyes' memoir Du-Wop places Putnam in the studio when the Magnificents were recording Up On the Mountain early in 1956:
Sunday, 6 August 2017
The Flamingos had a larger backing band than usual for two numbers in their final session for Al Benson's Parrot Records. The website devoted to the Parrot and Blue Lake labels notes:
They had been recently performing with Paul Bascomb's group at Martin's Corner on the West Side, but Al Benson preferred to use a studio band led by Al Smith on the date. A four-horn front line (Sonny Cohn, trumpet; Booby Floyd, trombone; Eddie Chamblee, tenor saxophone; and Mac Easton, baritone sax) lent a big-band atmosphere to the two uptempo numbers: "I Found a New Baby," which was held back from release, and "Get with It."
Thursday, 3 August 2017
Some time ago in this very blog I dared to suggest that Robert Pruter's assessment of the remaining song from their first Parrot session was mistaken. Mr Pruter had claimed that the arrangement on the country song I Really Don't Want to Know "drags and sounds confused" - but now I'm inclined to think he may be right.
"Swoonsome" is the term which springs to mind for the opening of If I Could Love You, though not in the teen idol sense. Right from the start the combination of guitar (Lefty Bates) and sax make this little number too darned sensual ever to cross over: if there wasn't an "exotic dancer" present in the studio, those boys must have had awfully good imaginations.
On My Merry Way was also recorded at the Flamingos' first session for Parrot. Robert Pruter describes it as "a routine jump written by the ubiquitous Chicago nightclub entertainer Walter Spriggs." There is certainly no crossover potential here: it is as far removed, in subject matter and feel, from Dream of a Lifetime as you could get. After a token attempt at reasoned argument -
I want you by my side- the song lurches into another area entirely. Imagine Pat Boone trying to wrap his tonsils around lines such as these:
Hey-ey, can't we compromise?
Wednesday, 2 August 2017
There was no dramatic change to the Flamingos' sound when they switched their allegiance from Chance to nearby Parrot Records. Nate Nelson had not yet joined the group; that awkward jobshare which would ultimately force McElroy out was some months in the future.
Saturday, 29 July 2017
Listen to My Plea was one of the last sides the Flamingos recorded for Chance. An earlier attempt at the song during their Christmas Eve session in 1953 must have been deemed unsatisfactory as they remade it the following year. The website devoted to the label states:
Thursday, 27 July 2017
It's hard to single out a version which might have served as a particular inspiration for the group. The Ravens' 1948 attempt might seem a likely suspect, given that Robert Pruter has accused them of imitating the Ravens on another occasion, but Sollie McElroy brings more passion to the lyrics than Maithe Marshall's rather dreamy caressing of them, beautiful as that is.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
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
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.
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.
Saturday, 15 July 2017
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.