Sunday, 21 May 2017

DON BRYANT - 'HOW DO I GET THERE?' (2017)


Here, straight outta Memphis, Tennessee, is Don Bryant with your Sunday sermon, ‘How Do I Get There?’

Don has cut a phenomenal amount of records – dating back to the late 50s with Willie Mitchell, to his soul sides for Hi Records in the 60s, before taking a backseat as a staff writer for the label in the 70s where his benefactors included Otis Clay and wife-to-be Ann Peebles.

This month, aged 75, Don has a new album, Don’t Give Up On Love, out on Fat Possum Records and it should rejuvenate his career in much the same way as fellow soul survivor William Bell's This I Where I Live did last year. It's an album in that bracket and that's praise.

Many thanks to congregation member @IanPople1 for bringing this home.

Monday, 8 May 2017

THE TRUTH at the 100 CLUB, LONDON



With a face like a bowl of mixed fruit Dennis Greaves was few teenager’s idea of a pop star but in 1983 there he was, kicking balloons skyward on Top of the Pops and splashed across the pages of Smash Hits as The Truth infiltrated the charts with their first two singles, ‘Confusion (Hits Us Every Time)’ and ‘A Step In The Right Direction’.

In the summer of ‘83 The Truth played an under-16s matinee show at the Marquee on Wardour Street. It was the first gig I ever attended. Not only was it a great gig, with the band giving it everything they had even though they had a ‘grown up’ show to do after, but the way they mingled and signed autographs for us kids beforehand left a lasting impression.

Despite Greaves’ claim “You won’t find our audience wearing parkas or Jam shoes” that’s precisely what you would have found them wearing. With a following born from the cooling ashes of the mod revival or, as I like to think of it, the lit match of a new post-Jam modernist movement, The Truth found favour with a young fan base searching for a fresh band to pin to their lapels. Ill plead not guilty to the parka, guilty to the Jam shoes.

After that initial success, they unfortunately released the limp ‘No Stone Unturned’, deservedly a flop in ‘84. Dropped from their label, increasingly keen to distance themselves from anything mod, they lost their way and their audience. By the time debut album, Playground, was released in ’85 it was too little, too late. The production was flat, there was no spark, the songs sounded tired and the bright happy faces of their early days had given way to the dark, cold, miserable looking scowls that adorned an uninviting album sleeve. Things then got really shit but let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s go back to 1984 and the second gig I ever went to, The Truth at the 100 Club on the night they recorded their Five Live EP, with a new rhythm section and where, a mere 33 years later, the band returned at the weekend. It’s a risky business, this nostalgia. Some things are best left in the past, memories intact, untainted by retrospective analysis, but this was reaffirmed everything I felt as boy. I didn’t get everything right but The Truth were, then and now, superb.

Their live shows always far outshone their records and they’d lost none of it. Swirling, snappy, bobbing and weaving Brit-Soul played from the heart. I’d love a new band like this to exist now. The Truth didn’t studiously examine Motown records and attempt to recreate them in sterile, laboratory-like conditions; they had a crack at them – both through covers and originals – in their own style, infusing them with vibrancy and earthy, geezerish charm; their frequent call and response exchanges less Detroit church and more London terrace.

The set was strikingly similar to those old shows – ‘From The Heart’, ‘Exception of Love’, ‘Second Time Lucky’, ‘Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby’, ‘Is There A Solution’, with a few later additions such as ‘Playground’ and ‘Spread A Little Sunshine’ thrown in. Plus the hits of course. No new songs. Dennis Greaves and Mick Lister led from the front, trading harmonies, keeping energy levels high, keen on audience participation. ‘I’m In Tune’, ‘Ain’t Nothing But A Houseparty’, ‘I Just Can’t Seem To Stop’, and ‘Reach Out, I’ll Be There’ were always big frenzied favourites but the more measured ‘You Play With My Emotions’ was stunning. Perhaps because it wasn’t one to jump around to I’d never fully appreciated how good that song is, real depth, and Dennis’s vocals packing a mighty punch.

The audience were less exuberant than 30-something years ago but despite not leaping around in a seething mass of sweaty teenage boys I enjoyed this just as much as I did as a pizza-faced 15-year-old in Jam shoes.  

Sunday, 7 May 2017

THE PRIMITIVES - NEW THRILLS EP (2017)


I once asked Paul Court what he did when not occupied with Primitives business. Paul’s a quiet man of few words anyway but he appeared particularly stumped by this question and I didn’t get a straight answer, more a feeling that he didn’t actually do anything if he could help it.

"I like to sit around” he sang tellingly on the Primitives ‘Working Isn’t Working’ from their 2014 Spin-O-Rama album, “I just want to sit doing nothing”.

It’s a theme the former Lazy recording artists continue on ‘I’ll Trust The Wind’ the storming lead track from their brand new 10-inch EP, New Thrills. ‘I think that I’ll just trust the wind, it might seem aimless but I’ll get there in the end”, sings Tracy Tracy before bursting into a typical buoyant Prims do-do-do-doo hook. Led by one of Paul’s sharpest razor guitar riffs and a thumping rhythm section ‘I’ll Trust The Wind’ will blow a gapping hole through many people’s Top 5 Primitives songs. It’s two and a half minutes of infectious fizzy, fuzzy fun. An instant classic.

'Squeak ‘n’ Squawk’ follows in the same manner and is sure to be a highlight in their live sets; Paul gets his usual quarter of lead vocal duties on the gently rocking ‘Oh Honey Sweet’; and ‘Same Stuff’ is Tracy back with a bang and a sugary twang.

Whatever Paul Court and the Primitives method of working, or not, it is working for me. This EP is as good as anything they’ve done. The only slight disappointment is this is an EP and not the first four songs on an album but who knows how long that would take so let’s not quibble about being gifted these ten minutes of new thrills.

New Thrills is out now on Elefant Records. The Primitives play the 229 Club, London on Friday 26 May 2017.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

APRIL PLAYLIST


1.  Los Aragon – ‘Zoologico Negro’ (1963)
No dancefloor should be without a touch of Mexican exotica with animal and monkey noises.

2.  Human Expression – ‘I Don’t Need Nobody’ (1967)
A messy production but haunting vocals from Jim Quarles and guitar playing that tears through to the soul with a million cuts prove here that garage punk doesn’t have to yell about putting-me-down. Their Manicsesque titled ‘Sweet Child of Nothingness’ covers similar moody territory on the flipside of an amazing double-sider.

3.  Paul Gayten – ‘For You My Love’ (1956)
Paul Gayten’s song was first cut on Larry Darnell in 1949 and as good as that is it’s his own pots and pans piano clattering New Orleans’ R&B that most excites. Unissued until Jukebox Jam stuck it out as a bogus Argo repro in recent years.

4.  Sonny Rollins – ‘Who Cares?’ (1958)
Who indeed? From the LP Brass/Trio, this Gershwin standard is the opening cut and the first recorded example of Rollins blowing with a large orchestral backing. The trio side of the LP is good but the brass side is great.

5.  Cleveland Robinson Jr – ‘A Man Goes Out’ (1965)
Robinson made a few singles for his local Cleveland label, Nosnibor Records, the best known being the superb and super-rare yet wonky ‘Love Is A Trap’ (feels like being on an unsteady ship whenever dancing to it). I’m also very partial to the smooth soul of ‘Mr Wishing Well’, which can be picked up for peanuts, and this one, the jazzy ‘A Man Goes Out’, the first release on the label.

6.  The Hygrades – ‘Rough Rider’ (1971)
Nigerian Afro-funk led by guitarist and producer Goddy Oku. Just check those mean licks and that taut sound on this irresistible instrumental groover.

7.  Fela Kuti & Africa 70 – ‘Expensive Shit’ (1975)
When cops planted a stick of marijuana on the self-styled Black President he swallowed it and the ‘evidence’ was only retrieved after Kuti had passed it through his bowels and the sample sent to the lab. On examination, it came back clean. Clever stuff.

8.  Five Thirty – ‘Barbie Ferrari’ (1992)
I'm confident Five Thirty’s Bed is the album I’ve played more than any other. For over 25 years it’s been a constant. Whenever stuck for something to listen to, on it goes and like a trusty friend it never lets me down. Modish power pop, throbbing sleazy blues, technicolour wah-wah, heavyweight looping drums, even one part that sounds like the Hovis advert; it’s got the lot. Album number two never got finished and the strength of this demo, which saw light of day on the 2013 reissue of Bed, we’ve all been robbed.

9.  Stone Foundation featuring Bettye LaVette – ‘Season of Change’ (2017)
It’s a fair bet Stone Foundation have in Street Rituals made the album many Weller watchers less than enamoured with his recent squiggly experimentalism will have wished him to make under his own name. The influence and contribution of Paul is dominant throughout (appearing on all tracks), echoing the laid-back soul groove of his debut solo album and peak Council meetings. ‘Season of Change’ hands the lead vocal to Bettye LaVette whose earthy rasp adds a welcome smudge to the polish.

10.  Kamasi Washington – ‘Truth’ (2017)
At well over 13 minutes the new Washington single isn’t going to be available on 7 inch any time soon. Despite the title this is no angry sermon but a breezy then soaring, heavenly journey from the acclaimed saxophonist.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

DANIEL ROMANO - 'WHEN I LEARNED YOUR NAME' (2017)


It’s difficult to keep up with Daniel Romano. Every few months he’s shifted style and image.

Romano’s latest album (following two last year alone), Modern Pressure, is released on 19 May and promises to be a long way from his country phase. New wave new single ‘When I Learned Your Name’ channels late 70s Costello/Lowe mixed with a Shot of Love Dylan. Like almost everything Romano touches, it’s fantastic.

Previous single ‘Roya’ is slower burner but even better and the live track, the unreleased ‘You’d Think, I’d Think, I Had Enough But Something Keeps Me Coming Back For More’, was probably something Daniel cooked up for breakfast that morning.

These three only touch the surface from a prolific period; check out also the pedal steel treatment given to his punk phase 'I Wanna Put My Tears Back In' and the super stylish video for 'I Had To Hide Your Poem (In A Song)' filmed on the Queen Mary II.  

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

STAN FIRM INNA INGLAN: BLACK DIASPORA IN LONDON, 1960-1970s at TATE BRITAIN


Photographs by Neil Kenlock
One of the rewarding things about having a mooch around Tate Britain – apart from having a gander at the various pieces by Bacon, Blake, Tilson, Riley and the rest - is it throws up unexpected temporary mini-exhibitions tucked away within the more permanent works.

A case in point is the current BP Spotlight sponsored Stan Firm inna Inglan: Black Diaspora in London, 1960-1970s, its title taken from the poem ‘'It Dread inna Inglan' by Linton Kwesi Johnson, which selects work by eight photographers who documented black communities in London during those years.

Neil Kenlock, along with Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe, who died this month, was a member of the British Black Panthers, loosely modelled on their more illustrious American counterparts. These London Panthers existed between 1968 and 1972 and Kenlock adopted the role of official photographer, documenting their meetings, marches and members as well as the hostility faced by new immigrants in the UK as exemplified in his ‘Keep Britain White’ Graffiti, Balham image. 

When Saffiyah Khan calmly smiled in the ugly faces of the EDL last Saturday while wearing a Specials t-shirt, an image since 'gone viral', it recalled the Rock Against Racism campaign of the late 70s. Syd Shelton documented that fight against the National Front via demonstrations, carnivals and gigs and, by chance, a fertile period in youth movements with rude boys, skinheads, punks and mods embroiled in Britain’s political turmoil.

Colin Jones is best known around these parts for his 60s photos of The Who but his series The Black House, commissioned by The Sunday Times, features the conditions of Islington Council’s project Harambee, a halfway house for vulnerable young people. Despite daubing ‘Black Power’ on the outside of the property these people, according to Jones, “weren’t interested in politics – it was the black middle class who tried to get them involved in black power – they were too busy trying to survive from day to day.” Even with that struggle it’s impossible to miss how visually striking they were, as Jones told Time Out in 2007, “Style came naturally to them. They would look good in anything. The women loved clothes and all borrowed each other’s dresses, although they were too proud to accept hand-me-downs – especially from white people. They liked being photographed as it gave them a feeling of importance and broke up the monotony of the day.”

Dennis Morris captures Hackney and Dalston when they were still desolate areas, a far cry from their recent gentrification. Less overtly political, James Barnor’s portraits for Ghana’s Drum magazine show African culture embracing Swinging London (psychedelic fabrics, red pillar boxes, pigeons in Leicester Square); Raphael Albert depicts beauty contests and the glamour of everyday folk; Bandele ‘Tex’ Ajetunmobi photographs include integrated couples enjoying the hospitality of a Whitechapel nightclub; and Al Vandenberg scoured the streets looking for interesting people to photograph.

Stan Firm Inna Inglan: Black Diaspora In London, 1960-1970s is at Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RQ until 19 November 2017, admission free.
Top left & right by Syd Shelton
Bottom left & right by Raphael Albert
Photo by Colin Jones

Monday, 3 April 2017

THE SUNSHINE MAKERS (2017)


The names Timothy Scully and Nicholas Sand might not be at the tip of your tongue but if you’d taken acid in the late 60s then their brand, Orange Sunshine, possibly would’ve been.

Cosmo Feilding-Mellen’s documentary (and with a name like that I’m guessing Cosmo’s parents were no strangers to recreational drugs) tells how the pair attempted to change the world via lysergic acid diethylamide. Scully and Sand possessed a heady mix of idealism and ambition believing if they, as patriotic American citizens, “could turn on everyone in the world then maybe we could have a new world of peace and love”.

Having served as apprentices under Timothy Leary and Owsley Stanley, when LSD became illegal in California in ’66, Scully and Sand set up their own factory in Denver and proceeded to manufacture 3-4 million doses of their market leader, Orange Sunshine. As they witnessed a psychedelic nation expanding around them they estimated – based on little more than intuition - three-quarters of a billion people would be willing to take a trip and it might take a couple of years to reach them.

Their distribution network was run by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the so-called hippie mafia, who according their leader, Mike Randall, ruled by love rather than fear. These previous stickup men allegedly turned in their guns to instead smuggle mind altering substances throughout America, Europe, India, Afghanistan and beyond. Randall, who even now you'd be wary of accepting a glass of water from, looking back says, “You have to break some eggs to make an omelette; you’re gonna have to break some laws to make a revolution”.

The real stars though are Tim Scully and Nick Sand – both thankfully still alive to tell their story – who make an odd partnership. Scully is a shy, bookish, nerdy, scientific genius with a touch of Asperger’s, who lived for 30 years on a diet of white spaghetti and white cheese until medically unsafe to continue while Sand is all New York hustle, bold and bullish, a stirrer of the pot, a ‘madman psychedelic commando’ who wanted to become The King of LSD and is happy to let it all hang out and practice yoga, naked, in front of the camera.

They weren’t driven by financial profit but by the sheer idealism. Scully wanted to give all their product away for free; Sand was less keen although his main motivation wasn’t money either, saying he heard a voice while tripping, “Your job on this planet is to make psychedelics and turn on the world”.

Centred around new interviews with Scully, Sand, plus their former girlfriends, associates and even the drug cops looking to bust their sorry asses for the degradation of mankind, The Sunshine Makers is a well-made and engaging film with a cracking soundtrack (Charles Sheffield, Slim Harpo, Cymande, Joubert Singers etc). With the protagonists now able to view their escapades with a mixture of mild embarrassment (Scully) and pride (Sand) this is a look at a different innocent age.

Running a huge scale drug production factory is morally open for debate but these outlaw chemists, with charming 60s naivety, genuinely believed they could change the consciousness of the world in a positive way, create a revolution of the mind, that people would become gentler and the planet would not be destroyed through recklessness and war. You’ve got to admire that.

The Sunshine Makers is available on Netflix.