Tough love

The Beatles throw a long shadow, such that other parts of the rich musical tradition of Liverpool can get a bit lost. Like many other ports and industrial centres, Liverpool drew waves of migrants in search of work. Each community brought their own music, and the result was a melting pot of influences from all over Britain and Ireland and beyond. This is not to gloss over the poverty, discrimination and sheer hard grind Scousers often faced, but there was creativity, solidarity and humour as well.

spinners guardian

The Spinners. Image: The Guardian

One face of Liverpool as the Singing City was the Spinners, a folk group (not to be confused with the Detroit soul outfit of the same name) which formed in 1958. The Spinners became a fixture on the folk scene, and then took their music to wider audiences. Their repertoire was a mix of their own original material, traditional songs, and the work of other songwriters. This is one, “Liverpool Lullaby”, written by fellow Scouser, Stan Kelly-Bootle. It is a song of tough love, and is funny, dark and tender, all at the same time.

Just listen.

  • Artist: The Spinners
  • Album: The Singing City
  • Track: B1 Liverpool Lullaby
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Philips
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: 6382 002
  • Year: Unknown (early 1970s?)

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Understanding Angel

Pretty much everyone who celebrates Christmas will put an angel on the tree. Ever wondered why?

I was chatting on the phone to my stepmother yesterday, as I won’t be able to see her for Christmas. At her church she has been part of a group studying angels and how they have been depicted and understood (and misunderstood) over time.

It made me think of this recording. The Littlest Angel, by Charles Tazewell, was first published in 1946. It was hugely popular and remains one of the best-selling children’s stories of all time. It was adapted to all sorts of different media, including this sound version, read by actress Loretta Young.

It was a deluxe item: three shellac gramophone discs, held in paper sleeves in a heavy card folder. This was “an album of records”. When LPs appeared, each one held the same amount of music as an album of records, so an LP got to be called an “album”, even though it wasn’t.

LYTLALike many a much-loved children’s story of this period, The Littlest Angel is a tad twee to modern ears. But just accept that it is a sentimental Christmas story, and go with it.

Among the characters you will meet in the story is the Understanding Angel. When my parents were divorced, and my father married my stepmother, my brothers and sisters and I were all teenagers. We were distressed and confused and did not always express these emotions well. Not our fault – it was a difficult time and we were children still. But thinking back, my stepmother showed great patience and kindness, sometimes in the face of great provocation. She was, in fact, something like the Understanding Angel.

To my stepmother: this is for you.

Happy Christmas everyone.

  • Artist: Loretta Young, with Ken Darby Choir
  • Track: Whole album (three discs, six sides)
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DA 23452-4
  • Year: 1950

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

When the boat comes in

If you were around in the 1970s you are likely to remember When the Boat Comes In, a television drama set in a working-class British town in the years after the First World War. It was a drama about disillusion. The men who returned from “the war to end all wars” struggled to deal with their personal trauma, and the poverty and injustice they faced as workers.

wtbci

James Bolam and Susan Jameson in the TV series When The Boat Comes In, 1976. Image: Newcastle Chronicle

The theme to the show, “Dance Ti Thi Daddy”, became an unlikely hit. A traditional song from the Newcastle region, it is a bold and skillfully executed piece of music – a semi-funny, semi-dark traditional song, sung in full Geordie, with an ingenious arrangement, incorporating the sounds of a brass “works band”. It is wonderful.

The singer was a man called Alex Glasgow. I didn’t even know the name, though I remember the song well. A native of Newcastle-on-Tyne, he absorbed the musical heritage of that city: a mix of music-hall comedy, folk traditions, union songs, church music, and pub singalongs. Glasgow was a singer and songwriter of great versatility, and his music drew from all those sources. He was a political man: a working-class warrior. But what is most impressive is the maturity and depth of his songs. He was on the side of the union, but he was awake to the bullshit that unionists and progressives often spin.

“I Shall Cry Again” is a lament, sharp-edged and honest, of a true believer whose beliefs are being tested. Just listen.

  • Artist: Alex Glasgow
  • Album: Now & Then: Tyneside Songs Old & New
  • Tracks: A1 Dance Ti Thi Daddy; B5 I Shall Cry Again
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label:    MWM Records
  • Made in: UK
  • Catalogue: MWM 1011
  • Year: 1976

C-grade Christian

Johnny Cash sometimes described himself as a “C+ Christian”. Robert Hilburn, in his wonderful biography of Cash, observes:

Most thought this American icon was just being humble. To those who’d been close to him at various points, it appeared he was being a bit generous with his evaluation. But there was  no question Cash believed. He wasn’t using his religion as commercial strategy.

Cash was a flawed man, and he knew it. His honesty about those flaws were part of his greatness. He made a gospel song, even one which was perhaps a bit twee, meaningful precisely because of that.

Cash ISAMThis is one of those songs. The arrangement could be better. No need for the backing vocals! Simple, spare would suit the song. But Cash’s voice carries it. It is the voice of a common sinner, the C-grade Christian, asking for forgiveness. Again.

Just listen.

  • Artist: Johnny Cash
  • Album: Hymns of Gold (compilation of various artists)
  • Track: B1 “I Saw A Man”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: K-Tel
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: NA451
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1975). Song recorded 1958.

Pelted with bourbon bottles

To dare question the might and majesty of AC/DC in Australia is to risk being pelted to death with empty bourbon bottles.

They are an iconic, much-loved band, titans of popular music. They are Australia’s most successful international act, for decades. Not just success: AC/DC has street cred as well. They have a lane-way in Melbourne named after them. Bon Scott, lead singer in the band’s glory years, has a bronze statue in Fremantle. People come to see it, and all.  The hip and young as well as the plump, middle-aged and nostalgic love them.

BON

Notes TripAdvisor: “Great statue of Bon. Was surprised it was a bit small  … Not sure what Bon would make of the seagulls landing and pooping on his head though.

Now. I am happy for AC/DC that they followed their dreams and made a lot of money and in course of doing so thrilled millions of fans. I am sad for Bon Scott that he drank himself to death. I remember when they burst onto the scene with “Long Way to the Top” and a surfie’s panel-van-full of other hits. I quite liked them then. But I was eight years old then. I have moved on.

ex hits 75Not that they need me. Their early records are valuable collectors’ items. I have this track only because it appeared on Explosive Hits ’75, one of those compilations the record companies used to put out each summer. This LP makes for strange listening now: Al Martino, the Bay City Rollers, Frankie Valli … and AC/DC! This is their take on the blues-rock classic “Baby Please Don’t Go”. Me, I think they make a meal out of it. A Jim Beam bottle flies overhead, shattering on the wall behind me. But this is Planet Vinyl. Ignore me, and just listen!

  • Artist: AC/DC
  • Album: Explosive Hits ’75 (compilation of various artists)
  • Track: A6 “Baby Please Don’t Go”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: HMV
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: TVSS.19
  • Year: 1975

Aimee Mann is alive and well and playing bass

I feared for Aimee Mann. She was the lead singer, bass player and chief selling point of ‘Til Tuesday, a band which was, in the mid-1980s, the Next Big Thing. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Another casualty of the star machine?

‘Til Tuesday was a Boston synth-pop outfit with a hint of punk, which burst onto the scene in 1985 with “Voices Carry”. With the help of a striking video featuring Mann, she of the platinum hair and wide eyes, it was a huge hit.

TT VC 1985

Industry executives looked at her and saw dollar signs. There was a rash of publicity. I remember reading a profile in Rolling Stone. There was a picture of Mann, looking moody. The caption: “C’mon, Aimee, how can someone who looks so good feel so alienated?” This remains possibly the stupidest thing ever written, even in Rolling Stone.

Early success was not replicated. Label heavyweights demanded hits. The hits failed to come, and the band fell apart under pressure. ‘Til Tuesday; gone Wednesday.

I looked up Aimee Mann, expecting a sad story of bitterness, break-up and drug abuse. I am happy to be completely wrong. She built a solo career, worked on film music and a variety of other projects, and still performs. She has won Grammy awards, done heaps of stuff. This is her in 2008: looking healthy and happy, a woman in control of her own destiny.

Aimee_Mann_October_2008 Against all expectation, Aimee Mann is alive and well and playing bass. Her most recent album is called Mental Illness, and it is, frankly, wonderful. I have bought the download — I encourage you to do the same.

Here she is, back in the ‘Til Tuesday days, with “Don’t Watch Me Bleed”, a B-side breakup song with angsty vocals and moody bass to suit the title.

  • Artist: ‘Til Tuesday
  • A Side: Looking Over My Shoulder
  • B Side: Don’t Watch Me Bleed
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Epic
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: ES 1057
  • Year: 1985

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

 

 

 

 

Likeable rogue on guitar

Astonishing, the human stories which lie behind the neat gold lettering on a gramophone label. “Never heard of him,” I thought of Vic Lewis, placing this 1946 shellac disc on the turntable. Lowered the needle. And, wow. Lovely jazz guitar in front of a tight band. But not just tight, there’s real feeling in this. That extra “something” – indefinable but unmissable.

So, who is this Vic Lewis? An Englishman, he was born in 1919. Inspired by American recordings, he became one of the pioneers of jazz guitar in Britain. He visited America and at different times played with the cream: Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli, George Shearing. At least, he claimed to have played with them, and this was mostly true. Vic Lewis was, you see, not the most reliable witness.

viclewis

Vic Lewis

He served in the RAF during the war, and it was there that he met the other musicians on this record. He was successful as a band leader and arranger after the war.

When rock’n’roll arrived, he shifted into management. He worked with Brian Epstein, and was involved in the careers of Cilla Black, Elton John and The Beatles. Like most managers, he was a bit of a spiv. His business dealings were not always honourable; his word, not always his bond. But people liked him: he might cheat you, but he was also generous with his time, his talents, his connections and his money.

And he never lost his love for jazz. And that shines through on this recording. “That’s a Plenty” is an up-tempo stomper, with a Dixie feel; “Singin’ the Blues” more mellow. Something special about them both, I reckon. Just listen!

That’s a Plenty

Singin’ the Blues

  • Artist: Vic Lewis and Jack Parnell’s Jazzmen,
  • A side: That’s a Plenty
  • B side: Singin’ The Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Parlophone
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: A7551
  • Year: 1946

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