‘Obscure English singer-songwriter’

It says in the Bible:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

That is the King James translation, at any rate. If you want to get all-1970s and groovy, there is the Message version:

I took another walk around the neighbourhood and realized that on this earth as it is— The race is not always to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor satisfaction to the wise, Nor riches to the smart, Nor grace to the learned. Sooner or later bad luck hits us all.

Hmm. Not perhaps the finest moment in the Message. Anyway, you get the point. Life ain’t always fair. Sometimes, people do something wonderful, and get no recognition.

Leno BCase in point. In 1974, Sam Leno released his one and only LP. It was on Anchor Records – not a major label, but home to Alice Cooper among others, so big enough. I am a researcher by trade, so to find out more about Leno did not seem like a challenge. Mainstream release, mid-1970s: should be easy. But no. The sole reference I can find to Sam was written four decades later – in a piece mostly about someone else.

John Apice, in the roots music journal No Depression, compares a contemporary artist, Comrad, to “an obscure English singer-songwriter named Same Leno”, who:

had one wonderful album called “Ordinary Man,” … these two artists are on the same wave-length, kindred spirits, soul-brothers. … It’s a rich, ignored musical style … Tin Pan Alley, pop songs of the 1920s and dance hall frivolity … Leno’s album was filled with these kinds of light, well-recorded, fun to sing melodies … Comrad is not imitating Sam Leno. How could he? I doubt Comrad ever heard of Sam Leno.

Neither had I, but Apice is apt in his description and justified in his appreciation. This is the B-side of one of Leno’s handful of singles. It is a gem. It deserved to succeed, but didn’t. No further albums followed, and I don’t know what happened to Leno. The race is not always to the swift.

  • Artist: Sam Leno
  • Single Title: Oh, Joanna
  • Track: B-side, “You Know What I Mean”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Anchor
  • Catalogue: ANC-10646
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Pacific Rim

Allegations are flying that Planet Vinyl has sold out. A puerile head of state, who shall remain nameless, has Tweeted: “So-called ‘obscure’ music blog writes about ROLLING STONES in failed attempt to boost LOSER ratings. Sad.” Well, Sir, normal service has been resumed.

I had never heard of Rim D. Paul, but one of his records came my way. And, wow! Yes, it is derivative. There is some Wilson Pickett there, and a lot of James Brown. But, who cares? The band rocks, and Rim gives a stellar vocal performance.

0638Rim, I learned, is a legend in New Zealand, a pioneer of Maori music breaking into the mainstream. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Like the indigenous peoples of my own country, and indeed pretty much every colonial-settler society, the Maori have had a rough road. But they are resilient, proud, adaptable, and a people with an amazing feel for music. Listen, just listen, to a Maori choir. A whole community singing together, weaving in Maori tradition, mission hymns, and the popular music of the world.

Rim Paul was a bridge builder. Back in the 1960s he led groups, such as the Quin Tikis, bringing Maori musical talent into the mainstream – first in New Zealand and later in Australia as well. He also worked with or led the Howard Morrison Quartet and the Maori National Choir, exploring an extraordinary variety of musical styles.

Wanting to learn more, I found an interview Rim did with Radio New Zealand a few years ago. He talks of his long, varied career, his journey exploring and recovering his Maori identity, the struggle to make a living as a musician. He shows an undiminished voice and love for music, not to mention a dignity and grace which the odd world leader could learn from.

  • Artist: Rim D. Paul
  • Single Title: All God’s Children Got Soul
  • Side A “All God’s Children Got Soul”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Philips
  • Catalogue: BF-454
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Wealth, status, friends, etc

“The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse,” wrote John Heywood in his collection of “all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue”, published in London in 1546. A modern dictionary explains the meaning of this durable saying: “a person who does not settle in one place will not accumulate wealth, status, friends, etc … with allusion to the proverb, moss is occasionally used to denote money.”

0847 upI don’t know what John Heywood would have made of the Rolling Stones, 500 years on, but the band’s story rather gives the lie to its name. They accumulated a great deal of wealth, status, friends, etc, not to mention a legion of fans who have made Mick’n’Keef the joint subjects of an annoying personality cult. It’s a bit off-putting, the whole hero-worship thang.

But Planet Vinyl is an open society, the fellowship of the fair listen. When seven inches of Stones came my way, I cleaned off the moss and gave it a spin. I already knew the A side,  “The Last Time,” which was released in 1965, and was a number one hit in the UK. Good, bluesy rock.

But the B side was a surprise. “Play With Fire” belongs to that sub-genre of songs in which a working-class lad scoffs at a society girl for her privilege and lack of life experience. You ain’t lived in the real world, honey. The lyrics are a tad trite, but the mostly acoustic arrangement (the work of Phil Spector, who also plays bass) is lovely, and there is subtlety to the delivery.

  • Artist: Rolling Stones
  • Single Title: The Last Time
  • Side B “Play With Fire”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Decca
  • Catalogue: Y 7217
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1965

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

The Deadly Hume

Highway 31 runs between Australia’s two biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney. The Hume Highway, it is also called, and there is not a lot of love out there for it. It used to be both boring and dangerous, especially on the New South Wales side of the border.  There was even a rock band named after it: The Deadly Hume. These days it is well-made dual-carriageway the whole distance: still boring, but safer.

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Only 800-odd Ks to Sydney …  some locals have added welcoming bullet holes to the sign.

Back in 1969, though, it was still possible to conjure some romance from Highway 31, and this is what Johnny Chester did. I recently sold some of Chester’s records to a man in Western Australia. Not knowing much about the artist, I asked about the buyer’s interest. It was a lovely reply:

I have known him all of my life but not so much in recent years since we moved over here to WA (used to live in Vic). He’s a great guy (very modest), his career started out back in the late 50s. He sang rock & roll back then which then morphed into the pop scene in the early ’60s. He toured Oz with the Beatles when they came out. In the late 60s he got into country music. He’s in his 70s now. I picked up some of his old sheet music just for a keepsake. Then of course I started to think about getting some of his old 45’s and here we are today!

This is Johnny Chester’s take on the Deadly Hume, a sort-of up-tempo Australian version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, in which a man leaves his lover and puts miles and place names between them. No great pretension, but it rocks along, features some nice guitar, and is good fun.

  • Artist: Johnny Chester
  • Single Title: I Just Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye
  • Side B “Highway 31”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Philips
  • Catalogue: BF-456
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

A tall man in a blue uniform

A little boy lost! Heroic police! A fruitcake competition! This child-safety record from New Zealand has it all. Music, jokes, and possibly the silliest “stranger danger” song ever performed.

7012One thing you won’t hear is a New Zealand accent. The record is undated, but it comes from a time when anyone seeking to make a living as an actor in the antipodes had to acquire a British accent. Thus it is that My Friend the Policeman sounds as if narrated by the Presbyterian Ladies’ College lacrosse coach. And the man who plays the honest bobby on duty at a country show – well, he must have taken elocution lessons.

Ah, but who cares. From the opening riddle, to the instruction to turn the record over, to the deeply entrenched gender-stereotypes, this bizarre record is a hoot.

  • Title: My Friend The Policeman
  • Author: Kay Mayo
  • Performers: Kate Harcourt, with Peter Harcourt and Marjorie Orchiston
  • Format: 7”, 45rpm, mono
  • Label: Kiwi
  • Catalogue: EA 168
  • Manufactured in: New Zealand
  • Year: Unknown

Many of the records discussed on this blog, and more than 1000 others, are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

 

Liquorice stick

On Sunday, my wife and I saw a jazz band, Sandra Tulty’s Swing Quartet. Australians all, and all stellar musicians: one of those jaw-dropping jazz ensembles, which sing, play multiple instruments, and take on solos without so much as raising a sweat. I was particularly impressed by the clarinettist, Michael McQuaid. He moved in and out of the music, soloing with extraordinary power and dexterity.

It reminded me of the great Artie Shaw – one of those musicians I have discovered through Planet Vinyl. Shaw was a contemporary of Benny Goodman, and they were built up as rivals, though the two men liked and respected each other. They were both Jewish (Shaw was an anglicization of Arshawsky) and they both took the jazz clarinet, the “liquorice stick” as it was called, into aural spaces no one had ever even thought of.

IMG_2241This is Artie Shaw’s recording of “Begin the Beguine”, released in 1938. The record has been played so often that the label is hard to read, but it once belonged to someone called Dawson. Whoever that was, they took good care of their records – the shellac still plays well, letting the smooth, sinuous clarinet sound shine.

  • Artist: Artie Shaw And His Orchestra,
  • Track: “Beguine the Beguine”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue: EA 2369
  • Year: 1938

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

 

After the movie finished

Australia and America have been close friends for a long time. It dates back to the Second World War, when Australia found itself facing a Japanese invasion. Traditionally, Australia had looked to Britain for protection. But Britain was in a desperate struggle for survival herself, and unable to help. So on 27 December 1941 the Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, made one of those this-changes-everything speeches:

Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.

One result was a huge influx of US servicemen. At the peak, some quarter-of-a-million Americans were based here.

IMG_2240 (002)This gramophone record is an artifact of this period. Specially made, it has the same track on both sides. It was not allowed to be broadcast, and was played many, many times – note the wear around the central hole. And the music? An unknown brass band plays the first few bars of God Save the King (which was then the Australian national anthem), segueing into John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

I think that this strange record was played at cinemas inside American military bases. In those days, it was routine for the national anthem to be played after a film had finished. The first section is a polite nod to the host country, before they launch into America’s national march – which, it must be said, is far and away the better tune.

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: God Save the King followed by Stars and Stripes, march
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: Special Record No. 1
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1942?)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs