The RBP podcast with Martin Colyer

IMG_4485.jpgIn this week’s RBP podcast, Mark Pringle and Barney Hoskyns consider the enduring influence of soul giant Curtis Mayfield with special guest (and RBP co-founder) Martin Colyer (in the middle, with a framed Mario Testino shot of Princess Di, part of Martin’s “rider” for appearing on the podcast… don’t ask).

The trio also hear a snippet of Julian Henry’s 1985 audio interview with the absurd Sigue Sigue Sputnik – and talk about how Tony James and co. crashed down to earth despite their stratospheric ambitions. There’s a brief discussion of pieces by featured writer Mac Randall on Robert Wyatt & Bill Nelson, Linda Thompson and Beck, leading on to a rundown of what’s new in the archive for the subscribers, led by chief archivist Mark Pringle: specifically, articles on Del Shannon, Diana Ross, Keith Richards, Vivian Stanshall, Andrew Weatherall and Missy Elliot, as well as a lengthy feature on the drug Ketamine from 1976.

Martin, Mark and Barney then take a journey back in time to the origins of Rock’s Backpages itself, explaining how the idea for the archive originated… and what steps they took together to make it a reality.

get out

Get Out

“I knew my deepest dread had not been of getting robbed or even shot. I’d been afraid of blackness itself.” Nik Cohn, Tricksta

 

Haunted by the trickle of the blood,

the tears that coursed along the skin –

the scenes I watched in horror as I flew –

I never felt as white as I feel now.

 

Around me sit black men and women:

descendants all of men and women

bound and shackled on the ships,

bought and sold five hundred yards from here.

 

How deep the rage must run, how much I’d hate

the pallid man sat here.

How vile the colours of his skin,

how smooth and smart the darkness of their cheeks.

 

There is no end to this, no change is gonna come:

there’s war and more. And even Dan Penn voted

for the blotchy pig, the vicious troll who sports

the honeycomb that’s spun of lies.

 

Get out! Get out!

For even in our blandishments,

our Jazz Age negrophilia,

we’re rotten to the core.

 

Charlestown, Nevis, January 2019

Etta James in the Rock’s Backpages podcast

Etta James

They were so much older then, they’re younger than that now: me ‘n’ RBP’s Mark Pringle reel in the years and riff on all that’s new this week in the world’s biggest library of music journalism – definitive interviews with legends of the last 60 years by the pop press’ greatest writers … and much much more.

In this week’s RBP podcast , the great ETTA JAMES considers her life in R&B up to 1978—‘Roll With Me Henry’, Johnny Otis, Chess Records and working with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals. Your hosts in turn consider her impact on singers from Janis Joplin to Adele and discuss the late Rob Partridge, Royal Trux and pioneeringly “out” glamster Jobriath. Their attentions then turn to Burl Ives, Marc Bolan, Willie Nelson, Portishead and the Fugees.

A Song for Her: Back to Amy Winehouse

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I was honoured to be asked to contribute to Charles Moriarty’s book of photographs of the great Ms. Winehouse. My essay “A Song for Her” is included in Back to Amy, published this week by Octopus. I dropped into the piece this review of Amy’s awesome show at London’s Somerset House in July 2007:

From Silver Lake to Somerset House, via a Miami wedding and a Mercury Prize nomination: would Amy stand me up a second time? Well, she didn’t, and she told us – more than once – how she’d looked forward to this for “months”. I’m guessing she’s caught a show or two here herself, experienced its summer-piazza feel for the pleasant change it makes from your average concert venue.

I was instantly smitten by Winehouse’s sophomore opus Back to Black: not by novelty item ‘Rehab’ per se (I’m bored to fuck by Priory Rock) but by the album’s other treasures, which all did something I didn’t think possible: take the basic Sixties soul template, tweak it just enough for a tattoo’d post-hiphop generation, and turn the whole ritual into something vitally personal and contemporary.

Me? I was never convinced by Joss Stone and never will be. But this little slip of a Jewish street princess comes over 100% credible, customising her soul and ska influences to fit her fucked-up persona. Someone said Winehouse’s lyrics read like pages from a drunken teenager’s diary, but they’re more than that: they’re piercingly believable, achingly sharp, rid of cliché.

Great artists combine artfulness with something that’s rawly their own: the key is that we can’t separate the two from each other, to the point where it ultimately doesn’t matter anyway. With Winehouse we’re drawn in by an uncanny mix of hip (hop) toughness and about-to-implode vulnerability (which might just be part of her “act” – how can we know and why, frankly, should we care?)

Here she is, this skinny slumming hiphop Ronnie Spector with her mascara mask and piled-high beehive, the sole female onstage with a besuited band that look like rude-boy bodyguards: the two black dancer-singers, the three white hornmen, the guitarists and drummer who resemble some late Sixties Kingston session band.

Here she is, underplaying every vocal flourish and girlish provocation, and we can’t tear our eyes from her dark elfin figure. We want to know more, to know how dangerous this really is. The remarkable thing is, she’s not a brat at all. She lets her music do the talking. (Stop the press: she’s a total pro!)

She sings brilliantly, saving herself and placing every line just so, periodically letting herself go in a melismatic cry from the heart. The voice is essentially Lauryn Hill’s, as the passage from ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ tacitly acknowledges, but you don’t actually think Fugees or Miseducation when you hear it.

While the whole effect – the iconography and the choreography – is a hair’s breadth away from Stax-Motown pastiche, it never feels like that. In fact, the essential feel of Back to Black isn’t Stax/Motown at all but the early Sixties girl-group soul that came out of Chicago and New York’s Brill Building, infused with the street-sharp mood of ska and bluebeat (and even 2-Tone, as the cover of the Specials’ ‘Hey Little Rich Girl’ makes clear). ‘Me and Mr Jones’, perhaps her most startling song, almost feels pre-soul. ‘Wake Up Alone’ and the heartbreaking ‘Love is a Losing Game’ are more Luther Dixon or Berns/Ragovoy than Berry Gordy or Booker T. and the MGs. The genius of Back to Black is that it recreates the ornate feel of that music while emphatically yanking it out of the museum.

“What kind of fuckery is this?” I’m not sure I know, other than that Winehouse gets me deep in my gut. I dare say she’ll crash and burn like every other codep dipso celeb in London, but even if she does she’ll have left behind at least one remarkable record. As she winds up with the Zutons’ ‘Valerie’, everyone is smiling and jumping with untrammelled joy: live music doesn’t get any better than this.

O-o-h child

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A Friday, Fleet Street, and a flow

of men and women power-dressed

and knocking off for weekends

in the rolling Cotswold hills.

 

And me, who never had a proper job at all,

now gazing over hipster latte

at the stripey men and at the women in stilettos

as the next song in the café starts.

 

A blast of brass and then a slinky groove,

a woman’s warming voice intoning to her child

that things will soon get easier, that life will brighten

in the darkness of their struggle to survive.

 

The suits and the stilettos pass, but in my mind

I see the starving child and hear her momma’s words,

their chances less than average of finding

ease and sunlight on the lethal streets.

 

The world still fortified against their kind,

designed by men in suits

and ladies in stiletto heels.

Stan Lewis, 1927-2018

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In southern soul news: I confess I only just registered that Jewel/Paul/Ronn owner and Shreveport legend STAN LEWIS passed away a month ago.

Here’s a great shot my pal Muir Mackean snapped of Stan outside his record store, on the 1985 travels that produced (the newly-reissued) Say It One Time For The Brokenhearted… more detail at https://www.offbeat.com/news/stan-lewis-obituary/