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?)

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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

Marking time

It is marking season at the university where I work. I love my job, but not this bit of it. I once wrote a song about it:

The unmarked essays pile high
I start to scan with dread
The words of those who cannot write
‘Bout books they have not read

To make the task more bearable, I listen to records. An LP by Gordon Lightfoot, the great Canadian singer songwriter, is on the turntable now. GL DQ

Don Quixote was released in 1972, and it is one of those albums they call “solid”. A critic opined: “The album contains little innovation on Lightfoot’s trademark folk sound”. Maybe so, but it is a good collection of songs, well performed and produced, and it is cheering my day. As a caffeine addict, I can particularly relate to this song.

I’m on my second cup of coffee and I still can’t face the day

Yup. Been there. Now, back to the marking.

  • Artist: Gordon Lightfoot
  • LP Title: Don Quixote
  • Side 2, Track 2: “Second Cup of Coffee”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Reprise
  • Catalogue: MS 2056
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1972

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

 

Sun filtering though curtains

She was a southern belle with big hair and a husky voice, and for a short time she was the biggest thing in country music. Born in Mississippi in 1944 to dirt-poor farmers, Roberta Lee Streeter managed to get to college, where she studied philosophy and music. She was good at both, and adopting the stage name Bobbie Gentry, she had a smash hit in 1967 with the swamp-gothic story song “Ode to Billie Joe”.

Bobbie_Gentry_1970

Bobbie Gentry. Picture: NBC  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Later she went more mainstream, recording covers albums and duets with Glenn Campbell, hosted some fairly bland television shows, then retired from performing. But in between, she recorded an album, The Delta Sweete which was, writes Dorian Lynskey in the Guardian, “her second record and her masterpiece: a multi-faceted quasi-concept album about Gentry’s Mississippi delta roots”.

I discovered this astonishing work via one of the singles released from it. The A-side is a vivacious version of the Doug Kershaw song “Louisiana Man”: Gentry’s take leaps out at the listener, fresh as a kicking catfish. But it is the B-side, “Courtyard” which dazzles, even on the scratchy disc I found. A Scots folk ballad meets Astral Weeks in a graveyard on a sticky summer’s day: understated, lovely, chilling.

Lynskey again:

most of The Delta Sweete‘s innovative, sophisticated sound is down to Gentry herself, who played piano, guitar, banjo, bass and vibes. Swampy southern grooves mingle with the latest Nashville trends, blue-eyed soul [and] whispered intimations of psychedelia … each track blurs, dream-like, into the next … the earlier tracks chime with her public image as a husky, sensual southern belle but [elsewhere] her voice enters … like sun filtering though curtains.

And he is right. The LP sank with little trace at the time. This single peaked at 100 on the US charts, and did not even register elsewhere. The Planet Vinyl manifesto declares:

We are archaeologists of sound, at a dig. We value the pot shards and door knobs and belt buckles, and we sometimes find riches unimagined.

Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete is one of those.

“Louisiana Man”

“Courtyard”

  • Artist: Bobbie Gentry
  • Single Title: Louisiana Man
  • Tracks: A “Louisiana Man”; B “Courtyard”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Capitol Records
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Catalogue number: CP-8325
  • Year: 1968

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

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain music

The things I know about Nepal can be put in dot points:

  • Mountains (generally, and one very big mountain in particular)
  • Sherpas (who help rich westerners climb said mountains)
  • Kathmandu (the city, not the clothing franchise)
  • A Maoist insurgency
  • Yaks

That’s about it.

640px-Bos_grunniens_at_Letdar_on_Annapurna_Circuit

Two of the things I know about Nepal. Image: travelwayoflifeFlickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Of the music of the people of Nepal, I had never heard any until this random op-shop LP came my way. In the 1970s, a man called Stefano Castelli visited Nepal with a microphone and tape recorder, and captured the music of the people of the mountains. I can learn nothing about Castelli, except that he was probably Italian (the LP was first issued in Italy). The LP does not have much in the way of notes, and I know nothing of the Nepali language (or, probably, languages).

Even so, the sounds Castelli recorded are fascinating, absorbing.

Some are obviously religious ceremonials. Others are folk songs, and even in a strange tongue you can tell that they are telling a story. It is one of these which I want to share. It is titled “Soldier’s Letter”.

The LP sleeve tells us nothing else: not even the name of the singer, or where or when it was recorded. So I’m just guessing, but to me it sounds as if the song is about a soldier writing home. Could be an ANZAC in France, or a GI in Vietnam, or a Roman soldier on Hadrian’s wall: the message is the same.  He is enduring danger and boredom and physical hardship, but worse than that is his yearning for home, for his wife and children. Will he ever see them again?

  • Artist: ‎Unknown (Field Recordings – Stefano Castelli)
  • LP Title: Folk Songs of Nepal
  • Track: A5 “Soldier’s Letter”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, stereo
  • Label: Lyrichord
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Catalogue: LLST 7330
  • Year: Unknown (c. 1977)

Kali or an octopus

The uilleann pipes is a musical instrument of such extraordinary complexity it could only have been invented by the Irish.

pipesIt is related to the bagpipes, but you don’t blow into it. The uilleann pipes is inflated with a small set of bellows, strapped around the waist and the right arm. It has three sorts of pipe: the chanter (on which you play the melody) , drones, and also regulators. There are three of these (tenor, baritone and bass), and each one has a set of keys to play chords accompanying the melody. It is astonishing that this instrument can be played by anything short of the many-armed Indian god Kali. Or maybe an octopus.

2060 sleeve full

But played it is, and it is a beautiful instrument, quieter and more subtle than the bagpipes. Among the bands which kept is use alive was the Gallowglass Ceili Band, part of the Irish cultural revival. This track comes from an LP released in 1968, the same year as The Beatles’ “White Album” and the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. It was, in short, irredeemably square even at the time of its release. Just look at the bloke playing the pipes on the album sleeve.

2060 sleeve Pot-smoking flower child on the Summer of Love? Not so much.

Ah, but we respect all music here on Planet Vinyl, and we have a special place in our hearts for those dedicated souls who keep alive ancient traditions by playing impossible instruments. And Gallowglass could pump out a mighty tune. Just listen.

  • Artist: The Gallowglass Ceili Band
  • LP Title: Irish Night
  • Side 1, Track 4 “McDermott’s Reel”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Hallmark
  • Catalogue number: Hallmark
  • Manufactured in: UK
  • Year: 1968

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.

 

What became of her?

Somewhere in his sprawling masterpiece, Moby Dick, one of Herman Melville’s characters muses that “It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians”. We are all interlinked and intertwined and astonishing coincidence happens so often that we should cease to be astonished.

Even so.

I was listening to an old LP, a compilation called Hootenanny Vol. 2. It is a bit of silly name, but Hootenanny was a TV program back in the early 1960s which showcased the emerging American folk scene, the Greenwich Village coffee-house crowd. It is a great LP, with a wide range of styles – gospel, blues, flamenco, bluegrass – consistently excellent performances. But one track stood out, sent shivers down my spine. It’s a nonsense song, “Hooka Tooka”, and it doesn’t mean anything, but somehow the singer’s voice makes it rich and poignant and sad and joyful, all at once.Henske crppped

So, I looked at the sleeve. Judy Henske? Never heard of her, but an amazing talent. What, I wondered, became of her?

Half an hour later, I picked up a music magazine I had bought earlier the same day, and flipped it open at random, and this is what I saw.

henske magHenske, I learned, had married Jerry Yester, and together they made an album, Farewell Aldebaran, which flopped at the time but is now regarded as a classic and has been re-released. Might track it down.

Meantime, have a listen to “Hooka Tooka”. Nonsense about chewing tobacco, but maybe also saying that it’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians.

  • Artist: Judy Henske
  • LP Title: The Original Hootenanny Volume 2 (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1 Track 6 “Hooka Tooka”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Crestview
  • Catalogue number: CRV-807
  • Manufactured in: United States
  • Year: 1963

Many of the records featured on Planet Vinyl are for sale on Discogs.