Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I CALLED HIM MORGAN (2016)


On a snowy evening in 1972, trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot dead between sets in the New York club, Slug’s, where he was playing. Morgan was 33.

Kasper Collin’s recent documentary looks at the life, and especially death, of one the stars of the Blue Note stable. It’s established from the opening scenes that Lee’s wife, Helen Morgan, fired the shots which killed him, the film then retraces the route to that point using interviews with friends, fellow musicians and, crucially, Helen herself, who finally gave an interview in 1996 to Larry Reni Thomas - a jazz fan, radio announcer and fellow high school teacher – years after he first requested it and only a month before she died. This revealing taped conversation is central to the film.

Those wanting a blow by blow account of Lee Morgan’s music career will perhaps be disappointed. This isn’t one of those type of films. Yes, we hear how he was a confident star in Dizzy Gillespie’s band at a young age and how he played with Art Blakey but there’s precious little else. There are snatches of music of course (all untitled on screen) but viewers wishing a full insight into his musicianship, recording sessions, legacy and landmark recordings will need to look elsewhere. His classic, The Sidewinder, one of the most recognisable jazz numbers of the 60s, which unexpectedly dented the pop charts, and a “gateway” track for many (one of the first proper jazz records I liked: bluesy, soulful, with an understated finger-snapping funk; and by “proper” I mean without a Hammond organ, that always felt like cheating) isn’t even get mentioned. In fact, almost no individual tracks are mentioned and only a few covers of the dozens of albums he made briefly appear on screen.

I Called Him Morgan is instead a portrait of two people: Lee and Helen, who both lived fascinating lives and conscious of its focus, it’s simply told. There’s no voice over narration or, like so many music documentaries these days, gimmicky animation to flesh out the lack of artist footage (not that there’s much of that here either) nor mercifully, unlike recent movies based on fellow trumpeters Miles Davis and Chet Baker, will you cringe at hammy acting or clunky dialogue. This sensitive study examines what led to the tragedy in Slug’s and gently tries to make sense of it through the reminiscing of uniformly engaging interviewees. It’s almost like a murder mystery except there’s no mystery over whodunnit and, without spoiling it, the New York cops hardly needed to give Columbo a call to discover the motive.

I Called Him Morgan draws attention to Lee Morgan once again. We know what happened in the end, the fun part now for new listeners is discovering all the music he left behind (there's a lot). Oh Lee, just one more thing, where did you get that amazing coat?

I Called Him Morgan is now available on Netflix.

Friday, 28 July 2017

JULY PLAYLIST


1.  Harmonica Slim – ‘Hard Times’ (1960)
A wickedly funky workout from Travis Leonard Blaylock. Despite the raw harp style this, to me, sounds a bit later than 1960.

2.  Dion – ‘Two Ton Feather’ (1965)
Dion’s lost 1965 album Kickin’ Child has finally been released this month and it’s a cracker of Dylanesque folk-rock in the style of Bringing It All Back Home. Some of the tracks did see light of day at the time, including this playful romp.

3.  The Temptations – ‘You’re Not An Ordinary Girl’ (1965)
No mistaking the hand of Smokey Robinson here but the track is credited to all the Miracles. The flip of ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’, with lead vocal by Eddie Kendricks, the backing track hints at the way forward for the Showstoppers’ ‘Ain’t Nothing But A Houseparty’.

4.  Fortson & Scott – ‘Sweet Lover’ (1968)
Sweetest soul on the Pzazz label (“Put some pzazz in your jazz!”) outta Hollywood. Fabulous. Nothing more to say.

5.  Guitar Ray – ‘You’re Gonna Wreck My Life’ (1970)
Talking of record labels, this one’s on Shagg, something Guitar Ray doesn’t seem to be getting much of listening to his beautifully sung soulful blues. No money, no place to go, old and grey, his woman can’t stand him no more. Still, he cut this 45 and so it wasn’t all in vain. Cheers Ray.

6.  Martha Reeves and the Vandellas – ‘I Should Be Proud’ (1970)
Martha’s Vietnam protest song doesn’t pull any punches as she tells how Johnny died not for her but “fighting for the evils of society”. Reeves believed the government put heat on radio stations not to play it and Berry Gordy to withdraw it. The other side of the record features the far less controversial, and more well known, ‘Love Guess Who’.

7.  Jr Walker & the All Stars – ‘Way Back Home’ (1971)
This down home countrified soul was blown in my direction care of Zyd Hockey’s recent Motown show on Fusion and has been a regular spin ever since. As I said at time, and think every play, this would have suited The Faces down to the ground.

8.  Spacemen 3 – ‘Rollercoaster’ (1986)
From their debut Sound of Confusion, Spacemen 3 set their aim higher than the sun with a thoroughly convincing bug-eyed interpretation of the 13th Floor Elevators classic.

9.  Redskins – ‘A Plateful of Hateful’ (1986)
It’s a pity the Redskins never made a second album. ‘A Plateful of Hateful’ featured on their final single, ‘It Can Be Done’, and hit a Brit-funk groove falling between The Jam’s ‘Precious’ and Pigbag’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’.

10.  Benjamin Booker – ‘Witness’ (2017)
Booker’s sings about seeing a crime but Mavis Staples steals the show, no surprise there, witnessing something far more holy. Oh, by the way, Mavis’s show at the Union Chapel this month was, as always, sensational. Being in her presence is to experience very magical joy and happiness. And wow, can that lady still sing.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

THE REDSKINS - A FLAME THAT CAN'T BE DIMMED


“Inspired by The Clash and militant soul music the Redskins burnt brightly in the 1980s. They raged against capitalism with fire, passion and revolutionary politics. The 1984-5 miners’ strike was the pinnacle of their power, playing benefit gigs, appearing on TV and raising support for the strikers. This ten-minute tribute brings together the best of their songs, videos and interviews. The Redskins are gone but their legacy lives on with a message much needed today. Radical culture is a crucial component for any movement for mass social change. Thanks and solidarity to all the musicians and filmmakers who made this tribute possible. Take no heroes – only inspiration.”

By Open Eye Film and Revolting Films.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

MONKEY'S WANDERING WIRELESS SHOW - SUNDAY 16 JULY 2017


The Fusion DJ roulette has landed on my number so I’ll be back in the chair again this Sunday to host Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show.

I’ve said it before but that one-hour slot every Sunday is one the highlights of the week no matter who’s entrusted to pick the records; there’s been a run of particularly brilliant shows in recent weeks. There’s always top-notch music and if you can listen live and join in the chat throughout the show it adds to the little Fusion family community vibe.

As usual the Wireless Show will be 60s-based but not tied to the decade, feature some classics, some semi-obscurities, some surprises maybe, and tracks will inevitably be followed by me saying how great they are or, to mix it up, saying they are great they are before playing them. I'm versatile like that.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

SIDEWALK SOCIETY - STRANGE ROADS: THE SONGS OF ROLLED GOLD (2017)


When The Action’s album’s worth of 1968 demos first sneaked out in the late 90s it offered an insight into their progression from exemplary covers band to a unit finally concentrating on their own material. With Reggie King still at the helm for a little longer, the songs were short and snappy, retaining elements of soul and incorporating a West Coast flavour influenced by The Byrds and The Association.

The Rolled Gold material was a work in progress with the audio quality less than pristine so, despite the obvious quality, there’s always been an element of ‘what if?’. What if the songs had been completed and recorded properly? What if it had been afforded a decent production? Would it sound more like The Notorious Byrd Brothers or Traffic’s second LP?

Sidewalk Society have taken up the challenge of rerecording the album. There’s no escaping this is the work of a Californian powerpop band (some of the cymbals crash a little loudly and there’s an occasional Who chord in the guitars) yet they’ve balanced being faithful to the originals and infusing them with extra touches: piano more prominent in the mix, a touch of brass here, a stirring of strings there. Few can sing like Reggie King so Dan Lawrence’s vocals are distracting at first but the ear gradually adapts and the songs are, even to a rabid Action fan, given a fresh sparkle with some of the original muddiness removed.

The Action were bold in their covers – Kentish Town lads take on The Temptations and The Marvelettes – and Sidewalk Society have been here, like the Action they’ve put themselves into the music. The brass and strings are highly effective, not too overpowering but enough to add extra layers so these recordings feel like the finished rather than simply copied versions.

Being an Action nut, I was sceptical about this project. My initial reaction was to expect one listen and to question the point but sustained plays has altered that view. It offers a greater appreciation how incredible The Action were during this phase before they morphed into a far looser incarnation as Mighty Baby. Such is the standard of material it serves to strengthen the bewilderment as to how such a set of musicians achieved so little commercial success. Strange Roads should escalate – if that’s possible – the esteem The Action are held in and does no harm to Sidewalk Society either. That’s got to be considered a success.

Strange Roads by Sidewalk Society is released by Fruits de Mer Records.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

JUNE PLAYLIST


Marshall Allen, Sun Ra Arkestra, Jazz Café, Camden, June 2017
1.  Sonny Rollins – ‘Saint Thomas’ (1956)
The opening track from Saxophone Colossus and from Rollins’ first notes instantly recognisable to me from Monkey Snr playing it countless times as I was growing up. Each play would have been swiftly followed by the shout of “Headphones!” from Ma Monkey so it’s only now I’ve heard the whole track.

2.  Sun Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra – ‘Angels and Demons at Play’ (1960)
Sun Ra reckoned his music could transform the world by the joy it would bring. Last week at the Jazz Café in Camden his Arkestra, now led by 93 year young “originator of avant-garde saxophone” Marshall Allen, which for at least the duration of their performance, banished the blues of the city and put beaming smiles on the faces of all those in attendance. It was a sight and sound to behold and, as impenetrable and intimidating the universe of Ra can seem, was far more inviting and accommodating in a live setting than the mountain of recordings and intergalactic gobbledegook may lead you to believe.

3.  Lula Reed – ‘What Makes You So Cold’ (1961)
Cracking R&B shuffler and just dig that twang. Honourable mention to the other side of this Federal 45 which wins Song Title of The Month: ‘Ain’t No Cotton Pickin’ Chicken (Gonna Break This Chicken Heart of Mine)’.

4.  Don Charles – ‘The Hermit of Misty Mountain’ (1962)
It’s songs like this – with Joe Meek’s superb production – that make me miss Brian Matthew and Sounds of the 60s on a Saturday morning.

5.  Madeline Bell – ‘Don’t Cross Over (To My Side Of The Street)’ (1964)
Ms Bell makes an appearance on the new Paul Weller album but from the other end of her career is this fabulous clippity-cloppity soulful pop from the flip of her debut 45.

6.  Tony Hestor – ‘Just Can’t Leave You’ (1966)
Detroit soul of the highest order by a man who managed to turn down the allure of Motown, not wishing to be tied down to a long contract. Released on the Karate label and includes the label credit ‘Features Mike Terry and his Adored Baritone Sax’. There’s nothing here to not adore.

7.  David Ruffin - 'I Could Never Be President' (1969)
Take David's advice, know your limits.

8.  The Dramatics – ‘The Devil Is Dope’ (1971)
More from the pen of Tony Hestor who knew at first-hand the dangers of the pusherman writing this and ‘Beware Of The Man (With The Candy In His Hand) for the Dramatics. Hestor was tragically robbed and slain on the streets of Detroit, aged 34.

9.  Thousand Yard Stare – ‘0-0 After Extra Time’ (1991)
Thousand Yard Stare seemed like such nice unassuming lads back in the day when they were the perennial local support act for bigger names passing through The Old Trout in Windsor in the early 90s. After seeing them at the 100 Club this month I can’t even dare to imagine what horrors have fallen upon them in the intervening years such was the air of dark unpleasantness they now emanate. Still, I did enjoy hearing this again.

10.  Cabbage - 'A Celebration of a Disease' (2017)
With the political bite of Dead Kennedys and the groove of Happy Mondays, Cabbage are the best band around at the moment.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

THE IMPRESSIONS at the UNION CHAPEL, ISLINGTON


I’ve not experienced emotion like it at a gig before. After a stunning rendition of ‘Choice of Colors’, a song banned by radio stations for daring to challenge racial prejudice, the audience rose as one for a standing ovation so long and heartfelt it reduced Impressions Fred Cash and then Sam Gooden to tears.

After 59 years “the most iconic soul group all time”, as described in their introduction and with no argument for me, are calling it a day and played London last night for the final time. It’ll be an evening no one in attendance will ever forget.

There is something truly magical about The Impressions. Not only the life-affirming, galvanising nature of their music but in the personalities of the group. Curtis Mayfield quite rightly takes the bulk of the plaudits but even without him on lead vocals, wingmen Fred and Sam amply demonstrated their vital contributions.

Young Jermaine Purifory was entrusted with the Curtis role, after long time Impression Reggie Torian died last year, and did it well but from the opening number, ‘It’s All Right’, the way Fred and Sam exuded sheer uncontrollable joy quite literally brought a tear to the eye. With their kind, beaming faces, gently rocking their shoulders and clapping their hands they looked like the two happiest men on earth, as if they’d hit the jackpot of life. Matched with Mayfield’s songs of comfort and hope and the result was soul stirring. Even the way the pair provided the gentle harmonies on ‘Gypsy Woman’, not even needing words, was spine tingling.

The set was packed with the irresistible dancers: ‘Woman’s Got Soul’, ‘I Need You’, ‘Can’t Satisfy’ ‘You Ought To Be In Heaven’ and ‘Stay Close To Me’ all sounding more Motownesque than on record while ‘You’ve Been Cheatin’’, with Fred handling the lead, brought the house down and another standing ovation, an occurrence which punctuated the show at regular intervals. The ballads including ‘I’ve Been Trying’ were no less affecting and let Purifory showcase his talent; there was a touch of Marvin Gaye about the way he soared on ‘I’m So Proud’.

The venue, the Union Chapel, was the perfect setting and the way a single purple spotlight shone down on Fred Cash at close of ‘People Get Ready’, when he sang the closing line “You just thank the Lord”, with his finger pointing skyward, moved even the sternness nonbeliever.

Before the close, on a count of one-two-three led by Purifory, another thunderous ovation. Grown men and women were weeping - on stage and, heaven help them, standing on the chapel pews. The finale of ‘Move On Up’ caught the band and group out of synch but it was understandable with emotions running so high.

No more tears do we cry and we have finally dried our eyes” they sang on ‘We’re A Winner’. I’m not sure that’s true yet, I’m welling up again just writing this. The Impressions - with your inspirational music, your message, your soul, your spirit - you’re winners. We might not see you again but you’ll live on forever. Thank you for everything.

Thanks to Glen Manners @Mamaroux78 for the photo.