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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 doesn’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.

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Maurizio #

    No mention to Johnny Mac who did play guitar with Fame quite often during the sixties?

    April 8, 2014
    • Strangely, I never saw McLaughlin with Fame. The list is of Blue Flames I actually witnessed in that era.

      April 8, 2014
      • Maurizio #

        Richard, maybe this is a subject to investigate, asking mr. Powell (aka Fame). I’m in contact with Colin Harper who wrote a bio focused on the FIRST part of JML’s career, the more interesting in my humble opinion. Do you know Colin? Have you read his book called Bathed In Lightning?

        April 8, 2014
  2. Delighted to read of Georgie’s renewed health and of what sounded a great evening. Like you, Hammond is my favourite sound, with Georgie and Booker T its finest exponents.

    April 8, 2014
  3. Sid Griffin #

    My first wife was in the Van band at the time of One Night In San Francisco. They did a fine gig and then Van was reluctantly convinced to fix all errors on the album. Of course such little fluffs are what make a live album special in many instances.

    The tapes were set up in the studio and, like Springsteen’s sprawling box set live collection, extensive repairs were done. (My pal Paul was the engineer on the Springsteen box re-recordings.)

    It got so out of hand that after a couple of weeks Van snapped “this is supposed to be an album called One Night In San Francisco, not One Month In The Studio!!”.

    Sent via a Top Secret process available to the public soon!

    >

    April 8, 2014
  4. Name Dropping and Walking Wounded recorded by Fame’s band (with the addition of Peter King) at Ronnies in about 1998 are two of the coolest albums in British jazz, Let’s hope there is another live album soon. The Hammond is sublime in Mr Powell’s hands.

    Nice story about One Nice in San Francisco Sid. A fabulous and very smooth live performance, and now we know why!.

    April 8, 2014
  5. Michael Rüsenberg #

    Richard, this new text inspired me to mirror it: http://www.jazzcity.de/index.php/jazzpolizei/1447-georgie-s-back Best Michael Rüsenberg

    April 8, 2014
  6. Don’t forget, you can get another fix of Hammond B3 tonight, when Decoy appear for the second night of their residency at Cafe Oto with special guest Joe McPhee. Dr Alexander Hawkins will be at the controls!

    April 8, 2014
  7. Completist that I am, Name Dropping and Walking Wounded were recorded in November 1995. That’s 18.5 years ago. Funny how time slips away…

    April 8, 2014
  8. Jeff Gifford #

    Didn’t realize thst Glenn Hughes played with Georgie Famme. I don’t know why I find that interesting but I do. Mitch Mitchell? Now that makes sense. Thanks Richard.

    April 8, 2014
    • Mick Steels #

      Baritone Sax not the rock bass player

      April 8, 2014
  9. Charlie Banks #

    Thanks, Richard. My times of seeing Georgie in his own right go way back to when he would make the trek to The Club A’Go Go in Newcastle. Never lost the affection and admiration for him. Pleased to hear that his health has improved and back to playing. As ever….wish I could have been there. Your piece is a very nice alternative

    April 13, 2014
  10. charlie banks #

    ….Apropos of nothing really, except for Georgie’s love of things Caribbean, there’s potentially a brilliant 30mins programme on BBC R4 this coming Friday at 11am, Its called The Caribbean Domino Club. Might interest you
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2014/15/r4-caribbean-domino-club-friday.html

    April 15, 2014
  11. GRAHAM ROBERTS #

    A bit late posting this comment, but just in case anybody with some influence over release schedules has checked in to read this fine piece on his recent gigs at Ronnie’s, when will Georgie Fames’s 60s albums on Columbia – including ‘Sound Venture’ – be the subject of a decent re-issue programme? It seems unbelievable (to me) that, a couple of compilation CDs aside, these wonderful recordings are unavailable.

    April 30, 2014
    • I couldn’t agree more, Graham. Rhythm and Blues at the Flamingo, Fame at Last, Sweet Things, Sound Venture, plus the many out-takes, singles A and B sides, the two Blue Flames 45s on the R&B label, etc: what a box set that would make.

      April 30, 2014
      • Charlie Banks #

        Yeh, Yeh – seems appropriate. Great idea. I wonder if Ace could be persuaded to take an interest….?

        April 30, 2014
      • My experience says the problems will lie with the owners of the master tapes, not the record company or a reissue specialist label. Georgie’s Columbia recordings were issued under licence from either Lansdowne or Robert Stigwood – can’t remember which. You can best Ace/Charly, you name them, will have asked many times.

        April 30, 2014
      • Charlie Banks #

        Thanks, David. I see what you mean. I’ve the Mod Classics compilation that came out on Ace (as a companion to Beat Classics on Polydor) but I guess it’s another proposition and involved to gather together complete albums/45s etc. But, I might just make a naive enquiry of Ace….

        April 30, 2014
  12. Jennifer #

    Saw George fame with Alan price ar the kontki club,Wakefield. .best night ever

    July 18, 2015

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