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Posts from the ‘R&B’ Category

Allen Toussaint takes requests

Allen ToussaintSomething magical happened at the very end of Allen Toussaint’s solo show at Ronnie Scott’s last night. A very enthusiastic fan in the front row, who had been permitted to sing most of the lead vocal on “Brickyard Blues” earlier in the set, invited Toussaint to play “On Your Way Down” — a song that appeared on his album Life Love & Faith in 1972 and was unforgettably covered by Little Feat on Dixie Chicken a year later — as his encore. The great man complied, and immediately led us into territory we had not visited in the preceding hour and a half.

Much of his performance — including a medley of the hits he wrote for Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman and Lee Dorsey in the early ’60s, and other classics such as “Shoorah, Shoorah”, “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”, “Yes We Can”, “Southern Nights” and “What Do You Want the Girl to Do” — had been genial, expansive, discursive, showcasing his wonderfully witty and flexible New Orleans-bred piano playing. There was also a sweetly elegiac rendering of Jesse Winchester’s heartbreaking “I Wave Bye Bye”, which Toussaint recorded for the tribute album to the singer-songwriter last year, and a gorgeously plain “St James Infirmary”, as heard on his most recent album, The Bright Mississippi (2009).

But the encore was something different. For a couple of minutes we were transfixed by a 76-year-old master’s journey to the essence of the music with which he has lived his life: to the heart of the blues, of which “On Your Way Down”, with the sober elegance of its contours and its wry reflection on the human condition, is one of the very greatest examples.

Georgie Fame: back home in Soho

Georgie Fame 1“I never thought I’d get to sing a Bob Dylan song in Ronnie Scott’s jazz club,” George Fame said tonight, and proceeded to dedicate “Everything Is Broken” to David Cameron’s cabinet. He and his Blue Flames made it sound like a Mose Allison song set to a Horace Silver boogaloo rhythm, an arrangement that worked quite beautifully.

This was the first night of a week’s sold-out residency on Frith Street, and Fame’s serious illness last year meant that it was the first time he and the modern Blue Flames – Guy Barker (trumpet), Alan Skidmore (tenor), Anthony Kerr (vibes), Tristan Powell (guitar), Alec Dankworth (double bass) and James Powell (drums) — had played together in many months. The good news is that the leader was in great form, and that the reunion seemed to have infused the band, which includes his two sons, with a terrific freshness.

Between 1964 and 1966 there was no band I looked forward to seeing visit the Dungeon or the Beachcomber in Nottingham more than this one: the Blue Flames were the coolest of the cool. Put me near a Hammond organ — in my view, an invention to rank with moveable type and penicillin in the history of western civilisation — and I’m not going to stop smiling all night. Back then, the addition of musicians like Eddie Thornton, Mick Eve, Peter Coe, Glenn Hughes, Colin Green, Cliff Barton, Bill Eyden, Mitch Mitchell and Speedy Acquaye guaranteed a blissful experience.

Their successors live up to the legend, and so does Georgie, sprinkling his songs and introductions with anecdotes and references that illustrate his unflagging love of jazz and R&B. There were mentions of Count Suckle’s club on Carnaby Street and of Strickland’s, the jazz record shop on the corner of Old Compton and Dean Streets. Introducing “Preach and Teach” (the B-side of “Yeh Yeh”, the song with which he knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts in 1965), he mentioned its composer, the pianist Johnny Burch, whose wonderful octet — including Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker — happened to be the other featured attraction on the night Fame made his BBC radio debut on Jazz Club. When Dankworth took a lengthy and impassioned solo on the tune, his leader encouraged him with the famous utterances of Charles Mingus on “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me”: “Don’t let them drop it… stop it… bebop it!”

“Moondance”, in an arrangement borrowed from Van Morrison’s great 1993 live album A Night in San Francisco (on which Fame was the organist), cleverly adapted a chorus of “Blue Moon” to the song’s contours, while Barker’s solo made references to Johnny Coles and to Gil Evans’s arrangement of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” for Miles Davis, and Kerr showed how important he is to the band’s overall sound. Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’”, the battle hymn of the soul-jazz era, was given a first outing, with Georgie putting lyrics to Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo from the Jazz Messengers’ version and Barker responding with a dramatic solo of his own, and the singer also quoting from Nat Adderley’s “Work Song”. Introducing Willie Nelson’s “Funny (How Time Slips Away)”, a perennial Fame favourite and the last song of the night, he spoke fondly of the late Denny Cordell, who had produced the version on the 1966 album Sweet Things, the last real Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames album; the current arrangement gives it a mid-tempo Chicago soul feel, allowing the singer to namecheck Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, Billy Stewart, Phil Upchurch and other Windy City greats.

This was a great night on Frith Street, in the old style: a lesson in the kind of authentic hipster cool for which Soho was invented. If somebody were to record the show this week, in the spirit of Fame’s 1963 debut, Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo, they might find themselves with a candidate for the list of all-time great live albums.

* Quite properly, Ronnie Scott’s don’t allow photography while the musicians are performing, but they won’t mind this shot of the stage and Fame’s Hammond organ waiting for the band’s arrival.

Memphis in the meantime

stax-records-10The purple melamine egg chair, suspended on a chain from the ceiling, swung slowly around above the white shag-pile carpet, disclosing a first sight of its occupant. This was the shaven-headed Isaac Hayes, the recipient that very day in February 1971 of an award for the sales of Hot Buttered Soul, an album released two years earlier and something of a game-changer. Its success had announced a new era, one that promised undiminished creativity and infinite success.

Outside the building on East McLemore Avenue in Memphis, the sign that said SOULSVILLE U.S.A. was still to be seen above the entrance to the old cinema. The special magic, however, had left by the back door. Stax-Volt Records still made hits, and would make many more in the next three or four years, but no longer in the organic, all-for-one-and-one-for-all manner that had characterised the label’s true golden era in the 1960s.

Otis Redding was dead, along with four of the Bar-Kays. Sam & Dave had gone, whisked back to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler along with the entire Stax back catalogue upon the expiry of a distribution deal that ended in severe acrimony and tore the heart out of the company started by Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton in 1959. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper, no longer wanted on the payroll, had decamped, in Booker’s case to Los Angeles and in Cropper’s to his own Memphis studio. Hayes and his erstwhile partner David Porter had ceased writing together.

True, as I drove around Memphis that week on assignment for the Melody Maker I was listening to Johnnie Taylor’s “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone” on WDIA, the great R&B station that had once numbered B.B.King and Rufus Thomas among its DJs. Here was a newly minted Stax classic in heavy rotation alongside Gladys Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman”, the Chairmen of the Board’s “Pay to the Piper”, Candi Staton’s “He Called Me Baby” and Diana Ross’s “Remember Me”. And back in the Stax offices all was brightness and optimism as I interviewed Hayes, Porter (then attempting to launch his own solo career) and others, watched the reconstituted Bar-Kays prepare a recording session in the studio, and met various members of the hierarchy, including Stewart, Al Bell and Deanie Parker.

But, as Robert Gordon describes in Respect Yourself, his new history of the label, just published in the US and the UK by Bloomsbury, bad things lay just around the corner. Bell, an energetic, charismatic, visionary wheeler-dealer brought in by Stewart to lengthen the company’s reach, had big plans for expansion, decentralisation and community involvement, which would eventually lead to the filming of the Wattstax movie in Los Angeles. But the Atlantic debacle — caused by Wexler’s lawyers inserting a clause that Stewart failed to read before signing — turned out to be the first of many reverses that led to the company’s closure in January 1976, under siege from a variety of creditors.

In the beginning Stax was a modest operation run by a core of perhaps a dozen enthusiastic and talented people to whom skin colour was never a consideration and who were surprised and delighted by their success. Then, having been screwed by the business, it decided it had to play by the business’s rules, which meant learning about payola and hiring men with guns. And there, with growth, was where it started to go wrong. “Employees wandered the halls not knowing each other’s names, even what their jobs were,” Gordon writes, and quotes Stewart: “I couldn’t go to the studio and solve people’s problems like had had before. Six people, eight people — you can do that.”

Gordon sets the story in the context of the civil rights struggle, including school busing, union activity, riots and the murder of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King in 1968 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, where Stax’s artists, writers and producers often hung out. It was at the Lorraine, two years earlier, that Hayes and Porter had got together with Mable John, who had just been signed to the label after an unsuccessful spell with Motown.

“Isaac and David said, ‘Did you bring anything with you to record?’” she told me a few years ago in an interview for the Guardian. “I said no. I didn’t take anything to Motown to record. Motown told you what they wanted you to do and how they wanted you to do it. That’s how Motown was created. So Isaac and David said, ‘We’ll get something together for you.’ Since I was only going to be there for four days, they would come over to the Lorraine Motel, where I was staying, and we would use it as a place to write.

“They had a piano brought up to my room, but by the end of the second day they still didn’t have anything for me. So I said to them, ‘There’s a story that I need to tell. It’s about a bad marriage.’ Isaac began to play. David had a pad and pencil and he was standing beside me, with the pad on top of the piano. As I talked, he’s day, ‘You could sing that. If you take the last thing you just said and we put that at the beginning of the verse, we could do it just like that.’ And Isaac carried on playing. I had no idea how the music or the melody should go. I just knew it was a story that was inside of me. It was a pain and it need to get out. And when we got finished that night, we had it.”

The next day, over at the converted cinema on East McLemore, in company with the A-team, they recorded it. And of all the great records Stax made, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” remains my favourite.

I had a great time in Memphis that week in 1971. There was an evening at a club called TJs, a musicians’ hangout where the blind singer-pianist Ronnie Milsap, some years before his move to Nashville and swift transformation into a country superstar, played a couple of sets of dynamite blue-eyed soul, including a version of the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” that I can still hear today. Another night some college kids who were working at a hamburger joint took me to an after-hours bar in West Memphis, on the other side of the Mississippi, where the four-piece house band was good enough to have been the understudies to the MGs or the Hi rhythm section.

But at Stax, for all the cheerful sales patter, there was a sense of unease. It all seemed a little too bright, a little too brittle. Were Margie Joseph and Billy Eckstine, their latest signings, really the heirs to Carla Thomas and William Bell? I went to interview Cropper, who was at his new studio, TMI (Trans Maximus Inc), cutting tracks with his old friend Eddie Floyd. They were good to talk to — Cropper later wrote me the only thank-you note I’ve ever received from an interviewee — and the music sounded great, but you could tell nothing was quite the same as it had been only four or five years earlier.

Some people were willing to admit, although not on the record, that things had never been the same between black and white after Dr King’s murder. In Gordon’s view, race was certainly a significant factor in the tragedy that overwhelmed Stax: once Al Bell took effective control, there were plenty of powerful people in Memphis and elsewhere who did not want to see a black man running an operation that was making it possible for black artists to get rich and ride around in limousines.

Gordon relates how in 1981, after lying derelict for several years, the Stax building was sold to a church for $10 (that’s right: ten dollars). They demolished it in 1989. A decade later, realising what had been done, the city rebuilt it to the original specification as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, under the guidance of Deanie Parker. Respect Yourself is a terrific book, and a reminder of some wonderful, timeless music, but it’s a sad, sad story.

Give the session drummer some

If they still awarded grants for projects of genuine cultural significance, I’d want one for research into the great American session drummers of the 1960s. Which Motown records featured the playing of Benny Benjamin, Richard “Pistol” Allen or Uriel Jones? Exactly when did Al Duncan gave way to Maurice White on all those great Chicago sessions (Impressions, Major Lance, etc)? Precisely how did Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine divide the work-load in the Hollywood studios? I’d uncover the answers, and the world would be a better place.

Those questions came to mind when I found myself listening to Chuck Jackson’s “I Need You” a few nights ago. It’s a Goffin/King song (in fact you can find it on Honey & Wine, the second volume of Ace Records’ series of CDs devoted to their compositions), and it’s a beauty. Cover versions would come from the Walker Brothers and the young Wailers, but  none could match the performance of Jackson, one of the greatest of a generation of uptown soul singers that included Lou Johnson, Jimmy Radcliffe and Jerry Butler. Recorded for the Wand label in 1965, it was arranged by Ed Martin and produced by Stan Green and Steve Tyrell. In the hit parade, it made No 75 on the US Hot 100 and No 22 on the R&B chart, which was a disappointment for the singer after the success of “I Don’t Want to Cry”, “I Wake Up Crying” and “Any Day Now”.

What stuck out as I listened to this stately deep-soul ballad, however, was not the wonderful lead vocal. It was the arrangement, featuring strings, acoustic guitar and female vocals — and particularly the drumming, which makes use of the sort of emphatic tom-tom fills that Blaine brought to Phil Spector’s records, and Duncan (or possibly White) to those of the Impressions. And something about their architectural precision made me think of one name: Gary Chester.

Chester was the first-call session drummer in New York during those years. He’s the guy you can hear on the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “On Broadway”, the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, Gene Pitney’s “Every Breath I Take”, the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back”, Dionne Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “Walk On By”, Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party”, the Shangri-Las’ “Remember (Walking in the Sand)”, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City”, Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” and many, many others. He was born in Sicily in 1924 (as Cesario Gurciollo) and died in New York 62 years later, having played, by his own account, on some 15,000 sessions.

He wasn’t the only session drummer in New York  in 1960s, of course, but something about the playing on “I Need You” sounded familiar. So I dug around on the internet, and found an email address for one of the producers. I sent a message to his assistant. Sorry to bother you with such a bizarre request after almost 50 years, I said, but could you ask Steve Tyrell if it was indeed Gary Chester on that record — and by the way, were the backing singers Cissy Houston and her nieces, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, which was how it sounded to me?

Forty eight hours later, quite miraculously, the reply arrived, short but very sweet: “Showed this to Steve and he said: Dee Dee and Cissy. Probably on the same session as ‘Since I Don’t Have You’. And it was definitely Gary Chester playing drums. Could have been Dionne as well but he doesn’t remember that.”

I don’t know why it gives me such satisfaction to pass that information out into the world, but it does.

For more great New York session drumming from the mid-’60s, listen to the Four Seasons’ “Dawn”. I used to think that was Gary Chester, too, but it isn’t. It’s Buddy Saltzmann, who also played on Little Eva’s “The Locomotion”, Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes”, the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and Laura Nyro’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. And, of course, countless others. In the drum booths of the New York studios, he, Chester and Panama Francis were the men.

Now, about that grant…

Anna Gordy Gaye 1922-2014

The Originals — I’m pretty sure it’s Freddie Gorman, Walter Gaines, Hank Dixon and a replacement member, Dixon’s daughter Terrie — singing “Baby I’m For Real” in Pittsburgh in 2003, reprising their No 1 R&B hit of 1969. What a great record that was, and here given a performance epitomising the art of growing older with dignity utterly undiminished. This stuff just doesn’t get weary. And, like “The Bells”, its successor, it was co-written by Marvin Gaye with his first wife, Anna Gordy, whose death at the age of 92 has just been announced.

Every time I find myself writing the obituary of one of the great women of Motown, particularly those who existed in the background, such as Esther Gordy Edwards, Maxine Powell or now Anna Gordy Gaye, I’m reminded of what an extraordinary story it all was, from the moment in 1959 when, at a meeting to listen to Berry Jr asking to be given seed money from the family start-up fund, Anna and her sister Gwen sided with their brother, pleading his case so effectively that eventually Esther, the eldest sister, whose scepticism of his ability to get a business going made her the last obstacle, finally gave way.

As anyone who’s read a biography of Marvin Gaye or listened to Here, My Dear will know, Anna Gordy’s story wasn’t one of unrelieved happiness. But she was part of something which left us music, like “Baby I’m For Real”, that will be cherished for a long, long time.

The groove abides

Tony O'MalleyOf all the British bands I went out to hear during my time as an A&R man in the mid-1970s, the one I really ached to sign was Kokomo, a 10-piece soul outfit who played the clubs at the time when pub rock was about to give way to punk rock. Unhappily for me, they had already fallen into the clutches of Steve O’Rourke, Pink Floyd’s manager, who secured them the sort of deal with CBS, a major label, that must have looked like a guarantee of fame and fortune. My souvenir of the nights I heard them play is a cassette tape that includes a live recording of their sublime version of Bobby Womack’s “I Can Understand It”, a great song to which they always did justice.

The tape captures them in their full glory: Tony O’Malley playing keyboards and singing lead, Dyan Birch, Frank Collins and Paddy McHugh singing back-up, Mel Collins on saxophones, Jim Mullen and Neil Hubbard on guitars, Alan Spenner on bass, Terry Stannard on drums and Jody Linscott on congas. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I went to see three of them — O’Malley, Collins and Hubbard — at the 606 Club in a Chelsea basement the other night. I don’t believe in making requests because I think that musicians should be allowed to play exactly what they most feel like playing, but I had my fingers crossed that, almost 40 years later, Womack’s song would still be in the repertoire.

The first reassurance was that, reunited on this occasion under O’Malley’s leadership, the three of them retain all the qualities that made them outstanding almost 40 years ago. The brilliant Collins does the Texas tenor thing, when the circumstances are appropriate, so convincingly that you wouldn’t be surprised if his passport gave his place of birth as Fort Worth rather than the Isle of Man. Hubbard brings the understated soulfulness of Cornell Dupree to any band he’s in. And O’Malley’s lovely warm-hearted Ray Charles growl makes him one of the great blue-eyed soul singers. With Jennifer Maidman on bass guitar and Brad Webb on drums, they blew up a storm.

And, to my joy, they did “I Can’t Understand It”, giving it full value. If you want a taste of it, here and here are clips of a Kokomo reunion at the Sheen Club in Barnes five years ago, Parts 1 & 2 of that very song. And here is a version with a slightly different band at the 606 a year later. You don’t quite get the impact of the way they sounded amid the steaming ambience of the Hope & Anchor on a hot night in 1974, but you get the idea. And, as I was shown on Friday night, the groove abides.

* The photograph of Tony O’Malley, Brad Webb, Jennifer Maidment and Neil Hubbard was taken by Graham Webb, to whom many thanks.

Bayou Maharajah

James BookerAs I came out of Bayou Maharajah, Lily Keber’s documentary on the life of the brilliant but ill-fated New Orleans pianist James Booker, I looked at the faces in the line of people waiting for the second of two sold-out London screenings and wanted to tell every one of them what a wonderful thing they were about to experience. Instead I sought out the director and told her that I couldn’t think of a single way in which her film could have been improved.

Booker, if you don’t know, was maybe the greatest of all the New Orleans piano wizards. Allen Toussaint, one of most distinguished of that line, puts it very simply in the film. “I consider Booker a genius,” he says. And Toussaint is not a man to get carried away. Booker had everything in his playing: the jazz of Jelly Roll Morton, the rumba of Professor Longhair, the rolling R&B of Fats Domino, the gospel of Ray Charles, the gumbo of Dr John. And he could play it all at once, blended with his own ingredients. The saxophonist Charles Neville, trying to describe his playing, says: “He was flowing… not like a river… like an ocean.”

In career terms he was a disaster, and Keber doesn’t flinch from exploring the reasons. You can get a a hint of his picaresque life in the film’s trailer. But you can hear how exceptional he was in these versions of “Besame Mucho” and “Black Night”. The second of those is from an album recorded in Europe in 1977, called New Orleans Piano Wizard. That must have been the trip during which he appeared at the 100 Club, the perfect London venue for him: at least two people watching the film on Sunday — my friend Martin Colyer, once of the band Hot House, and I — were present that night. (There’s a fine description of the gig just here, on Mike Butler’s blog.)

The film certainly gives me a new respect for Harry Connick Jr. First, sitting at the piano, Connick shows us how Booker did it, examining his keyboard virtuosity. He takes apart the way his mentor’s hands worked on a treatment of “Sunny Side of the Street”, demonstrating the way in which, all fingers occupied with bass line, melody and inner harmonies, he would “roll” one of them to produce the grace notes that ornamented his phrases.

And then Connick talks about meeting Booker in childhood, with his father, Harry Connick Sr, who was the district attorney for the Parish of Orleans, which includes the city of New Orleans. Booker and the boy bonded over music, with the blessing of Harry Sr, a lifelong fan of New Orleans music. But Harry Jr remembers being at home in bed when the phone rang in the middle of the night: it was Booker, wanting him to come out for some reason or other. “I can’t, dude,” Harry Jr recalls whispering into the phone while his dad, the DA, slept upstairs. “I’m 12.”

Only in New Orleans, huh? Through strategic use of atmospheric archive footage and well chosen interviews, Keber captures the soul of the city before the tourists and Katrina did their worst. And the soul of James Booker, who died in 1983, aged 43, of the effects of kidney failure while waiting in vain for attention in the emergency room of the city’s Charity Hospital, a place where he was far from unknown. A bluesman’s life, a bluesman’s death, and a truly great film to remember him by. Let’s hope it finds a distributor; it deserves to win every prize going.

 

Bobby Parker 1937-2013

Bobby ParkerWhen my son was home on holiday this summer, I got him to put down the Fender Jazzmaster I bought him for his birthday a few years ago and listen to a 45 that had, I told him, the greatest guitar sound ever committed to wax: Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step”, recorded in 1961 for the V-Tone label and released in the UK three years later on Island’s Sue imprint. It was gratifying to observe his response. Here is the record in question, in all its explosive, spine-tingling glory.

Parker died last week, aged 76, one of the last of his kind. “Watch Your Step” was a key recording of the early ’60s, particularly among young musicians forming beat groups. Like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” or Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man”, it taught us the power of the riff and the power of distortion. Lots of people learnt and adapted Bobby Parker’s jolting two-bar figure, but none more effectively, to my mind, than Robbie Robertson when he was coming up with a lead guitar part for Bob Dylan’s “Tell Me, Momma” on that celebrated world tour in 1966.

Parker was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, but spent most of his life in Washington DC, which is where “Watch Your Step” was recorded. A very nice obituary in the Washington Post tells his story, including the tale of an unsuccessful visit to the UK. It turns out that Parker got the idea for his riff from Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca”, which makes perfect sense — just like Pee Wee Ellis being inspired by Miles Davis’s “So What” when he came to finish off the James Brown jotting that became “Cold Sweat”.

“Watch Your Step” was one of those rare great 45s that boasted an almost equally valuable B-side. “Steal Your Heart Away”, another Parker composition, was a slice of gospel-blues that would have fitted very nicely on to Ray Charles’s classic album The Genius Sings the Blues, alongside “I Believe to My Soul”. Parker sold both copyrights for practically nothing to Ivan Mogull, the owner of V-Tone, so he never received the rewards he deserved, or the status to bring him level with such contemporaries as Albert and Freddie King. But we’re still listening to him, and marvelling at the sound he made.

The meaning of the Strypes

The StrypesMy friend Mats Olsson, a columnist with the Swedish daily paper Expressen, asked me an interesting question the other day, knowing that I was listening to Snapshot, the debut album from the Strypes: “Any theories why a young, British, Dr Feelgood-ish band comes along every 20 years or so?”

I gave him a slightly facetious answer: “To remind Americans of their heritage, probably.” But even if Mats’s chronology was a big askew, along with his geography (Cavan, the Strypes’ home town, is in the Republic of Ireland), it’s certainly worth thinking about why this quartet of teenagers has come along to evoke so precisely the spirit of the Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things, the Downliners Sect and the Eel Pie Island scene back in 1963 and the Canvey Island sound of the Feelgoods and Eddie and the Hot Rods in the mid-Seventies.

It’s a matter in which I have a personal interest, since — like hundreds of others — back in the early Sixties I was a member of one of those first-generation English R&B bands, with a repertoire largely borrowed from Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed. And a decade later, working as an A&R man for Island Records, I made the decision not to pursue an interest in Dr Feelgood – something that’s caused me the occasional sleepless night over the past 30-odd years, and certainly every time that excellent Julien Temple documentary Oil City Confidential gets shown on TV.

There were three reasons why I didn’t try to sign the Feelgoods. First, they were virtually promised to United Artists’s Andrew Lauder, who had been courting them with some ardour. Second, I wasn’t convinced by their original material. Third, I couldn’t really see a proper long-term future for something that, in essence, I felt we’d all lived through a decade earlier.

I was wrong on the last count in particular. I was certainly waiting for something new to happen, a sense of frustration mounting by the month as I waded through unsolicited prog-rock and singer-songwriter demo tapes, but I failed to recognise that the Feelgoods represented an important first stage on the route to whatever that new something was going to be. They didn’t need to be the last word in original thought.

Something similar could turn out to be true of the Strypes, whose music is based firmly on those earlier templates. The first thing to be said is that Ross Farrelly, Josh McClorey, Pete O’Hanlon and Evan Walsh may be aged 16 and 17, but so were we, back in 1964, and it didn’t stop us from having a decent stab at this kind of R&B. And the quartet from Cavan are very good at it, indeed better than we were in their versions of both sides of a great Diddley 45, “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” and “I Can Tell” (in which they replace the great original guitar riff with their own, equally good).

Farrelly clearly has what it takes to be a convincing front man, and the playing is sharp and smart, suggesting in the extended version of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” that they may have the musical imagination to create something worthwhile when they venture beyond the basic forms into new territory — as the Stones, the Yardbirds, the Who and the Kinks once did. Even at this extremely early stage, their original songs sound fine — and will sound even better to young audiences inevitably unfamiliar with the roots of this music.

So they’ve got the sound, the energy and the look (hair long, shirts polka-dot or striped, trousers and ties narrow). It’s a living heritage, and they’re making the most of it.

* The photograph of the Strypes, taken by Jill Furmanovsky, is from the cover of Snapshot (Virgin EMI Records).

Where the Stones were fourth on the bill

Odeon, NottinghamIf you look carefully at the top of the building in the photograph, you’ll see the faintest shadow of the long-gone neon sign that read ODEON. I took the picture on a raindy day a couple of winters ago, while passing through Nottingham, my old home town. How many of the hundreds of people walking along this pavement every day know that it was here, in this cinema on Angel Row, a hundred yards or so up from the Old Market Square, that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones played, in 1963 and ’64? And now it’s finally vanished. The demolition crew have done their job and the construction workers are in, filling the space with a building apparently intended to provide housing for students.

Buddy Holly played the Odeon in 1958: three shows on the night of March 8, during his only UK tour. I missed that one, being only 10 at the time (although I’d already saved up to buy the Crickets’ “That’ll Be the Day” on 78), but three years later I saw Cliff Richard and the Shadows, just after Brian Bennett took over from Tony Meehan on drums — a source of some regret, since Meehan was my first drumming hero. The screaming meant that not much could be heard. But at least Hank Marvin gave me my first sight of a Fender Stratocaster in action, and they were still doing the famous Shadows walk, much copied by we schoolboys in front of bedroom mirrors.

OK, I’ll own up: I missed the Beatles there — three times, on the first occasion with Roy Orbison — and the Stones. Absence of cash, I expect. I wouldn’t have been able to hear them above the hysteria anyway, although I’ve always kicked myself for not making it to the Stones’ show in October 1963, since it also featured the Everly Brothers, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, all of them above the Stones on the bill when the tour started. My friend Phil Long remembers Little Richard’s set: “One of the best I’ve ever seen. He jumped off the stage, ran all the way round the theatre, then got back on the stage and started taking his clothes off and throwing them to the audience… there was a riot.”

The most memorable concert I did manage to attend at the Odeon was on May 12, 1964, the fourth date of a 22-night package tour headlined by Chuck Berry, with support from Carl Perkins, the Animals, the Nashville Teens and King Size Taylor and the Dominos. It was great merely to see Chuck, who provided so many of us with the inspiration for our own bands, but he gave a pretty uninterested performance — as indeed he would do on every subsequent occasion I saw him. He was accompanied by King Size Taylor’s excellent band, and I seem to remember that about half the set consisted of throwaway instrumentals; has any great songwriter ever taken a less obvious pride in his achievements? But it was enough to hear those guitar intros ringing out, and to witness his perfunctory demonstration of the duck walk.

Carl Perkins was not exactly spectacular, either, in his very short set. And so, curiously, the musical highlights were provided by two English bands. The Animals, of course, were excellent. “Baby Let Me Take You Home”, copied from “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” on Bob Dylan’s first album, was nudging the Top 20, and their act still had the R&B edge honed in Newcastle’s Club A Go-Go. But they also played their epic four and a half minute version of another song from Dylan’s debut: “House of the Rising Sun”. It hadn’t yet been released, or heard on the radio, and its arrangement — featuring Hilton Valentine’s arpeggiated guitar, Alan Price’s wailing Vox Continental organ and Eric Burdon’s baleful vocal — was nothing short of stunning. Five weeks later it would enter the charts, on its way to No 1.

It was the same with the Nashville Teens, whose set included John D Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road”: another dramatic song, its structure and mood inspired by the compositions Willie Dixon provided for Muddy Waters and other blues stars. The group, from the Surrey stockbroker belt, did an enthusiastic job of impersonating the sound of the Chicago stockyards, and by July they were on their way to the UK Top 10. By August “The House of the Rising Sun” was on its way to No 1 in Billboard‘s Hot 100, while “Tobacco Road” topped out at No 14 in the US a month later. Heard for the first time in live performance, both made an immediate impression.

And now the Odeon has disappeared. I suppose it’s not exactly like losing the Cavern or the Marquee. But it would be nice, when they finished its replacement, if someone thought it worth putting up a plaque to remind passers-by of former glories. Buddy Holly, The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. The Everly Brothers. Little Richard. Bo Diddley. Chuck Berry. Not bad, eh?

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