We need to tell the story again

The World at War was, when it was made in the early 1970s, the most expensive documentary series ever produced. Mixing archival footage and survivor interviews, in 26 episodes it told the story of the Second World War, skillfully shifting the focus between grand strategy and colossal battles, and the individual lives and experiences of combatants and civilians.

world-at-war-1973-74-opening-credits

The underlying drive behind making The World at War was that the lived experience of global conflict was fading. The producers wanted to capture the voices of those who had lived through the horror of death camps and carpet bombing and total war, so that the lessons of the tragedy might not be lost.

Right now, with the rise of Putin, Trump, Brexit and harsh intolerant nationalist governments from Poland to India, from France to Brazil – it seems we are forgetting those lessons again. Someone needs to reboot The World at War, update the effects and graphics, bring in some new and fresh material, and tell the story again.

I saw the series first as a boy, perhaps forty years ago. It made a big impression, not least because of the opening titles. They showed words being burned away, like the pages of a book being consumed in fire. The theme music – an original score by veteran screen composer Carl Davis – played over these images. It was perfect: beautiful, tragic, unsettling with its jumpy shifts in tempo. Here it is, taken from the LP released to accompany the series. Just listen!

  • Artist: Various artists
  • Album: The World At War
  • Track: A1 The World At War Theme (composed by Carl Davis, performed by the London Festival Orchestra)
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: SPA 325
  • Year:  1973

Up-tempo Dutch cowboy swing

Here on Plant Vinyl, we love weird. The strange and the unexpected, the bizarre find at the bottom of the crate of LPs. And De Chico’s – a Dutch trio formed in 1947 – well, they raise weird to new heights.

The Dutch-language Wikipedia page describes De Chico’s “een hillbilly-trio uit Amsterdam”. Which sounds dreadful. Cowboy pastiche, wearing clogs.

de chicos

De Chico’s. Image: Discogs

And yes, there is a bit of that. Harmless hollerin’ fun like this:

But here’s the thing. Yes, it is tacky, but behind the rootin’ tootin’ farce, isn’t the music, well, good? Something like the Andrews Sisters. Only singing cowboy songs. In Dutch.

They had an early hit with “Koel Helder Water”, which is, yes, a Dutch language version of the Hank Williams’ classic, “Cool Water”.

Better, I reckon, is ‘Domme Cowboy, Wat Heb Je Gedaan’ (roughly idiot cowboy, what have you done?). If you have to label the genre, this is up-tempo Dutch cowboy swing. Yep, weird. But it’s great. Just listen!

  • Artist: De Chico’s
  • Album: Koel Helder Water (compilation)
  • Tracks: A1 Koel Helder Water (Cool Water), A3 Domme Cowboy, Wat Heb Je Gedaan
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, vinyl
  • Label: MFP
  • Made in: Netherlands
  • Catalogue: MFP 5089
  • Year: 1970

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

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

 

 

Lie, cheat and hope for a miracle

It is a strange experience to revisit the Grimm’s Tales as an adult. When you hear them as a child, you just go with them. That’s the story: Red Riding Hood, Snow White, many others. The stories become so familiar that you don’t pull apart the elements. This is, perhaps, just as well. These stories are treasures of our shared culture, but don’t look to them for moral guidance.

Take the story of Rumpelstiltskin.

Here is what happens. A miller, hoping to win favour with the king, lies that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king is fooled, and imprisons her. He demands she produce the gold or be killed. A mysterious dwarf appears and does a deal with the young woman: he will make the gold and save her life, but only in return for the woman’s first child. The king, fooled again, decides not to kill the woman but marry her instead. The new queen has a baby, and the dwarf appears and demands payment. The queen stalls for time, eventually manages to cheat the dwarf, and saves her child.

Moral? Lie and cheat, and with amazing luck you will get away with it and become rich. The queen’s love for her baby – though she had previously sold it – is pretty much the only admirable thing in the entire story.

The Brothers Grimm collected their famous stories in the nineteenth century, but they are much, much older. The reflect the moral world of pre-Christian Europe. The Christian faith has copped a lot of criticism in recent times. Fair enough. We deserve it. But the Grimm stories, when you look more closely, show what came before: a pagan world view which is cruel, violent, and ruthless.

Great stories, mind!

Here is “Rumpelstiltskin”, as read by “Uncle Mac” (real name Derek McCulloch, a popular BBC Radio presenter). This shellac recording was obviously intended to be played as a bedtime story for children. Pleasant dreams!

  • Artist: Uncle Mac (Derek McCulloch)
  • Title: Uncle Mac’s Bedtime Story – “Rumplestiltskin”
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: His Master’s Voice
  • Made in: England
  • Catalogue: B.D. 1095
  • Year: 1944

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

 

The name suggests a gangster

Muggsy Spanier. The name suggests a gangster from the Al Capone era, but Francis Joseph “Muggsy” Spanier was a musician. Given that the mob controlled all the best nightclubs in those days, and that, like Capone, Spanier was a native of Chicago, they might have crossed paths.

Muggsy played the cornet. The what? It’s a cousin of the trumpet – same basic design but a bit smaller, and the tube is differently shaped, and has a mellower sound. For many years it was the preferred instrument in jazz bands. The trumpet was all a bit bold and, well, brassy.

Spanier was just outside the absolute top flight of jazz musicians in the 1930s and 1940s. He played with the big guys: Fats Waller, Sidney Bechet, Bob Crosby, many more. Just didn’t quite crack the A-list, but surely not through lack of talent.

Trumpet playing evolved, and that instrument became king in jazz. The cornet – well, it’s still around, but a minority thing. But, man, does it sound great? Certainly in the hands of Muggsy Spanier it does. This is a 1941 recording, a shellac cutting of a sort of Dixieland-meets-swing version of a gospel tune, “Little David, Play Your Harp”. Actually, no harp is played, but there are lots of horns, played with skill and exuberance. Just listen, especially to Muggsy on the cornet.

  • Artist: Muggsy Spanier And His Orchestra
  • A side: Little David, Play Your Harp
  • B side: Hesitating Blues
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Decca
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: Y5972
  • Year: 1941

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

One minute to midnight

We make a bit of a hash of New Year’s Eve in Australia. There is a tradition that on this night, you go out, drink heavily, and watch fireworks. No different to many places, I know, but here in the southern hemisphere, it is high summer. The day is often hot, and lots of people will be sun-struck and shicker well before sundown. So when the crowds gather, there is often a nasty edge in the air.

Events are managed better now than they used to be, and drunken brawls are not such a fixture, but even so – an over-rated festival, methinks. Perhaps reflecting this, there is nothing like the number of songs celebrating New Year’s Eve as there are for Christmas. There is “Auld Lang Syne”, my dear, but not a huge deal else.

Holiday_Inn_poster

Image: Movpins

Here is one exception. Like “White Christmas”, Bing Crosby performed “Let’s Start the New Year Right” in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. It is a tight Irving Berlin number, smoothly performed by Bing and the John Scott Trotter orchestra. Flimflam, in truth, but pleasant, and there is a place for that. Happy New Year!

 

  • Artist: Bing Crosby
  • EP Title: White Christmas
  • Track: A2 “Let’s Start the New Year Right”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, mono
  • Label: Festival
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DX-10,212
  • Year: 1961 (original release 1943)

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