Thursday, February 19, 2009

More U.K. 60's Ska R&B Sounds

GEORGIE FAME (& THE BLUE FLAMES)- Rhythm & Blue Beat E.P. U.K. Columbia SEG 8334 1964 (Madness/Tom Hark Goes Blue Beat/Humpty Dumpty/One Whole Year Baby)

For those not in the know Georgie Fame is an British r&b name steeped in ska/Blue Beat. His solo debut came in the form of two ska flavored instrumental 45's as The Blue Flames in 1963 on the small R&B label. He had spent a considerable amount of time at London's Roaring Twenties club where DJ Count Suckle turned him on to a host of Jamaican ska/Blue beat records. These nocturnal visits to Britain's premier ska club no doubt played a part in the track selection of the "Rhythm & Blue Beat" EP. Fame would continue his ska trek after the EP and cover Eric Morris "Humpty Dumpty" on his debut (live) LP "Rhythm & Blues At The Flamingo", go on to hold the honor of playing organ on Prince Buster's 1964 single "Wash Your Troubles Away (aka Wash Wash)" and cover Lord Kitchener's rude "Dr. Kitch" on his 1966 LP "Sweet Things".

It is without little surprise that his debut EP as Georgie Fame should be composed of ska material, though the sources vary actually. The lead off track is a cover of Prince Buster's 1963 Blue Beat (BB 170) smash "Madness". Fame's version is way slicker in both production and delivery with the horns being clearer and punchier. Fame, like in all of his ska covers does not seek to replicate the original note for note but turns it into a slightly more upbeat (and in tune) "party record" with obligatory Jamaican patois and ska scat singing. The second track is "Tom Hark Goes Blue Beat", a ska version of the number that was a 1958 #2 U.K. hit for a South African group called Elias and the Zig Zag Jive Flutes. (It was also covered on Blue Beat by Mickey Finn & the Blue Men, see Monday 12/15/08's Anorak Thing for the full story on their ska version). Fame and Co. ratchet up the pace considerably than anyone elses versions and Georgie punctuates it with impromptu skats of "Tom Hark", "my man" etc. It makes for an odd choice because it's tempo is almost equal to that of the preceding cut. Side two roars off with a version of the 1961 Eric Humpty Dumpty Morris Drumbago All Star's (Blue Beat BB 53) take on the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty". Once again the pace is quickened from the "original" . The EP's last cut "One Whole Year Baby" was originally cut by Earl Curry & His Orchestra in 1955 for the RPM label. I'm not certain but all accounts seem to indicate it was originally a big band number. Regardless Fame and the boys slap the same ska beat onto it with the repeat formula making it somewhat uneventful, but enjoyable.

The ska/mod revival of 1979 saw a sudden market for all things in this genre and RSO records released a reissue of the EP in 1980 (along with the indispensable LP that brought most of us new generation of Fame fans into the cult:"20 Beat Beat Classics"). Sadly the only place some of these tracks have been reissued were on a long out of print (but essential) German three CD box set "The In Crowd" from the late 90's which included "Madness" or the clever European bootleg CD of his LP "Fame at Last" which included all four tracks as bonus cuts.

"Tom Hark" on YouTube:

"Humpty Dumpty" in German on YouTube!:

BBC documentary "The Story of Jamaican Music, Part 1 - Forward March"
with some snippets of Georgie and his trumpet player Eddie Thorton:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mod R&B Supergroup?

THE SHOTGUN EXPRESS-I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round/Curtains U.S. Uptown 747 1966
In my younger years I'd buy anything that looked cool even if I hadn't heard it. I'd seen a See For Miles 10" EP by the Shotgun Express for almost a year in a record store at Wooodbridge Mall with a VERY mod looking Rod Stewart in all his backcombed glory with a guy and a woman all clutching shotguns. I couldn't go wrong as I'd bought a Davy Jones (David Bowie) & The Lower Third/Manish Boys 10" EP on See For Miles and it not only looked cool the music was amazing. I'd seen plenty of pics of Rod The Mod in various books ("Mods" and "Cool Cats: 25 Years Of Rock N' Roll Style") to KNOW he was a mod. Back then that was all that mattered. Well I didn't go wrong, all four tracks on the EP (both singles A's and B's of the band) were amazing and upon retrospect I believe I'd already heard "I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round" earlier that year on an EMI 60's comp called "My Generation". The Shotgun Express , it later transpired, were an attempt to replicate a band Rod had previously been in called The Steampacket (who also featured the vocal talents of Julie Driscoll and Long John Baldry and musical backing by the Brian Auger Trinity). Despite their musical prowess the Steampacket never released any music (stemming from the fact that all four of these artists involved were tied to different record labels). After Steampacket broke up Rod did a "guest vocal" appearance with a Rik Gunnel managed r&b band called The Peter B's in March 1966 at Klook's Kleek in London and soon joined the band on a permanent basis. A Liverpudlian singer named Beryl Marsden (no relation to Gerry) soon joined the newly revamped Peter B's (also known as The Peter B's Looners) , a loose instrumental combo who were led by organist Peter Bardens and at one time featured future Fleetwood Mac guitar hero Peter Green. They'd released one 45 "If You Wanna be Happy/Jordell Blues" for Columbia in March, 11, 1966 (read all about it here). The idea was to recreate the diverse/dynamic set the Steampacket had been known for and their name was changed to become The Shotgun Express in May 1966. In addition to Bardens the line up included Dave Ambrose on bass, Peter Green on guitar and Mick Fleetwood on drums . In July 1966 Peter Green moved on to replace Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, he was replaced by Phil Sawyer. In October 1966 they released their debut single "I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round/Curtains" on Columbia in the U.K. The Rod The Mod fronted Shotgun Express output was limited to just this single before he jacked it in in February 1967 to join the Jeff Beck Group. The band continued without him releasing one more single "Funny Cos Neither Could I"/"Indian Thing" on Columbia in October 1967, repeating the recipe of a sweeping strings backed A-side and an instrumental organ number on the flip. Both singles were compiled for a hideously rare 1967 French EP on Columbia which has been heavily bootlegged.

Many years later after taking a chance on their See For Miles 10" EP an acquaintance presented me with an American white label promo pressing on the Uptown label (home of soulstress Gloria Jones and CA garage legends The Chocolate Watchband). Of course I foolishly sold it in leaner times.

The A-side is penned by Tony Colton and Ray Smith. Tony Colton was himself an accomplished British r&b performer with many solid 45 rpm sides to his credit on the Pye label in the Georgie Fame-ish/Zoot Money "hammond n' horns" vein who's written a number of tracks for artists in this genre. He penned "Big Time Operator" which was recorded by Zoot Money, Australia's the Id AND Charlie Rich, "I Stand Accused" which The Merseybeats covered (Tony did a soulful version himself as well) and the magnificent "Red Number Nine" which was recorded by Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames (not seeing a release until the late 90's). "I Can Feel the Whole World Turn Round" is more or less a duet between Rod and Beryl. Now I know the term "ballad" brings implications that make most of us 60's music fans cringe (Gene Pitney or Englebert anyone?), but the uptempo swing with the organ/bass/drums getting the groove going being overlaid with a lush orchestral sweeping of strings is nothing short of brilliance. Rod's lower key registers perfectly with Beyrl's soulful higher voice and the whole thing really works. Flip it over and you've got a funky little '64 era Booker T. & the M.G.'s fast paced organ instrumental called "Curtains" penned by Peter Bardens. It's pure full tilt organ amphetamine mod jazz swing. Though both sides are incredible the record went absolutely nowhere and Rod The Mod jacked it in to join the Jeff Beck Group in February 1967.

As indicated earlier both songs wound up on a 10" EP on See For Miles. The A-side has not seen a proper reissue (unless you discount the bootleg Rod Stewart 60's era CD box set which features the A-side and many other 60's Rod tracks mastered at the wrong speed). "Curtains" however has turned up (alongside a slew of other UK 60's r&b gems, many of which are seeing their very first reissue ever) on the essential "Take My Tip: 25 Mod Gems" CD a year or so ago.

Listen to "I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round":

And "Curtains":