Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ten Twentieth Century Britons That You Need To Investigate

This isn't in any particular order, in fact it's just ten British folks who've made my life more interesting because of their arts.  Being a lifelong Anglophile this was not an easy task. I've recommended my personal favorites by them after a little paragraph on each.  Most of these recommendations are available from Amazon and/or Netflix and I've painstakingly made sure not to list anything that isn't too difficult to access.

Donovan can claim he in essence "invented world music" in rock n' roll but I'm sorry Dono, Davy Graham was using Middle Eastern/North African/Indian slants on his guitar picking while you were still aping Bob Dylan.  I'm not going to go into detail about the late and sometimes tragic life and career of Davy Graham but let's suffice to say his eclectic mix of folks, blues, jazz and various "world music" sounds merits investigation if you're even remotely enthralled or enthused by any or all of these genres.  Thanks to my old friend Larry Grogan who made me a CD-R of various things by him ages ago I set off and tracked down more of his stuff and was rarely disappointed so long as I kept to his 60's 4 A.D./Decca catalog.

Suggested Listening (LP/CD):
"Guitar Player"
"Folk Blues And Beyond"
"Midnight Man"
"Large As Life And Twice As Natural"

Friends here at "Anorak Thing" will no doubt be familiar with Macinne's book "Absolute Beginners" (and the disgusting 80's film abortion/adaptation by Julien Temple).  Macinnes was a personally complex man but an interesting author.  Openly gay and somewhat introverted at times he was quite in touch with London's immigrant black community in the late 1950's and the seedy netherworld of vice which allowed him to somewhat authentically portray it in his novels "City Of Spades" (1957)  and "Mr. Love And Justice" (1960). He was fascinated with the culture and the clubs where white and black Londoner's could freely mix.  Never entirely comfortable with mixing socially mixing outside his race, MacInnes nonetheless used this as his basis on a world he hoped would one day exist in his most famous work "Absolute Beginners" (1959).  He also was one of the founding members of an organization to promote racial understanding in the wake of the 1958 Notting Hill riots that included a veritable who's who of late 50's British film, music, stage and print stars.

Suggested Reading:
"City Of Spades"
"Absolute Beginners"
"Mr. Love And Justice"
"The London Novels" (compilation of the above three)

Don't let Bill's scruffy Charlie Manson appearance on his second LP cover scare you off.  Bill was first introduced to me via his one and only Deram 45 (see January, 30, 2010 entry) on a Deram compilation LP called "Deram Dayze".  I'd read about his subsequent Deram/Nova (a label Deram set up for their more "progressive" artists) LP's for years and never quite got around to checking him out till my friend John "Bluesman" Rahmer graciously supplied me a slew of his stuff. Maudlin, talented and eclectic his music reminds me of Nick Drake if he wasn't afraid to add some horns or electric instrumentation to his music.

Suggested Listening (LP/CD):
"Bill Fay" (1st LP)
"Time Of The Last Persecution"
"From The Bottom Of An Old Grandfather Clock"

All of you here will no doubt be familiar with the famous 1971 Michael Caine tour de force "Get Carter".   What few realise is that it was based on a pulp novel by Ted Lewis called "Jack's Return Home" (1970).  Most of the book made it into the movie though the Jack in the book is far more villainous than the character in the film and the ending was different.  Ted Lewis wrote a trilogy of "Jack Carter" books as well as many other pulp novels all about hard men, the underworld and the like.  They are interesting because they hail from a time period where this life was sensationalized at the time by real life gangsters like the Richardson brothers and their less than successful but much more famous rivals the Krays.  Lewis output was slim compared to most authors with just nine titles produced before his death in 1982, but he will always be remembered as the man who gave the world "Get Carter".

Suggested Reading:
"Jack's Return Home (aka "Get Carter")"
"Billy Rags"
"Jack Carter And The Law"

Unless you've been beneath a polar ice cap you'll know who Ronnie Lane is.  As the bassist/founding member for both The Small Faces AND The Faces Ronnie was, on occasion, permitted to display his excellent songwriting capability and decent voice, though not enough in the latter obviously as it led him to move onto a third phase that was his solo career.  Sadly his life was cut short after nearly a decade and a half of suffering with M.S.  Ronnie was always my favorite S.F.'s member because he seemed so whimsical.  When he was in his last few years of life I was fortunate enough to obtain his home address and I sent a letter telling him how much his music meant to me.  Knowing he was in the midst of all the legal wranglings over unpaid S.F's royalties I was awarded a bonus of  $1,000 from my job and decided I owed him something for all the music of his I'd had the pleasure of hearing.  I duly cut Ronnie a check using an unspecified amount of it which was cashed and hopefully came to some good use. Sadly he never lived to see the settlement of his musical legacy. His story is far more poignantly told in the documentary DVD "The Passing Show:The Life And Music Of Ronnie Lane" so let's just cut to the chase....

Suggested Listening (LP/CD):
The Small Faces:
"Small Faces" (2nd LP 35th anniversary 2 CD edition)
"Ogden's Nut Gone Flake"
The Faces:
"First Step"
"Five Guys Walk Into A Bar..." boxed set
"Slim Chance"
"How Come" (compilation)

Suggested Viewing:
"The Passing Show:The Life And Music Of Ronnie Lane"

Tony Richardson was not only perhaps one of Britain's most talented yet horribly misunderstood directors he was also, apparently something of rascal.  He was married to Vanessa Redgrave (9 years his junior) for several years and were divorced on the grounds of "adultery" with Vanessa naming Jeanne Moreau as the source!  Well he certainly knew how to pick his women.  And he certainly knew how to direct too, especially his gritty, early 60's b&w British "kitchen sink/angry young man" films which made good use of then taboo themes and his widely varied choices in different types of films from 1967's "The Charge Of The Light Brigade" to 1969's creepy "Laughter In The Dark".  Sadly the apex of his career seemed to be his 60's work as it was "Ned Kelly" in 1970 and then downhill from there.

Suggested Viewing:
"Look Back In Anger"
"A Taste Of Honey"
"The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner"
"The Loved One"
"Laughter In The Dark"

Guy Stevens is a legend.  Any mod worth their salt, especially an English one, should be thankful he was born.  After working for Chris Blackwell in the fledgling days of Island records Guy set up the (U.K.) Sue label which was exclusively devoted to bringing black American music to England and in the process turned a whole nation AND generation onto those sounds.  He was also the in house D.J. at London's legendary mod Mecca in West Ham Yard, The Scene.  Many a band (The Who included) traipsed over to Guy's pad to make tapes from his record collection (for a small fee) to cop material to cover.  When the U.K. Sue label finally was finished and mod was dead everyplace but in the provinces Guy tried his hand at record production working with ex-V.I.P.'s/pre-Spooky Tooth Art, ex-Action members Mighty Baby, Mott The Hoople and finally The Clash on their brilliant  "London Calling" LP.  Sadly Guy died at just 38 shortly after his work with The Clash from an O.D. on a drug he was taking to help curb his alcoholism (shades of Moonie?).

Suggested Listening (LP/CD):
"The U.K. Sue Story: The World Of Guy Stevens"
"The U.K. Sue Story Volume Two: Sue's Rockin' Blues"
"The U.K. Sue Story Volume Three: The Soul Of Sue"
"The U.K. Sue Story Volume Four"
"Mighty Baby-Mighty Baby"
"The Clash-London Calling"

Everyone knows who Sir Peter Blake and David Hockney are.  How many of us, certainly my fellow Americans, have ever heard of Pauline Boty?  In an art world pretty much dominated by men here was a British female pop artist who was not only talented but strikingly beautiful.  Originally she took up working with stained glass at the R.C.A. (Royal College of Art) because it wasn't thought that a woman should be painting !  Eventually she managed to paint and attended with other legendary artists like Hockney (who was one year behind her) and Blake. She first came to the world's attention in a BBC documentary (also starring Blake and several others) shot by a young director named Ken Russell.  Incredibly hip and quite sexually liberated as well as being incredibly talented, she was a regular on Redifusion TV's "Ready! Steady! Go!" where she can be glimpsed in photos and videos dancing in the crowd of similar hip, young, smart attired people of the era.  Her most famous work was a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, "The Only Blonde In The World".  It exists today in the Tate Liverpool. Sadly like most talented people she died young, though unlike her contemporaries in the art and entertainment world it was not from excess.  Just weeks after the birth of her daughter (with husband/agent Clive Goodwin) Boty Goodwin, she succumbed to cancer in 1966 at the age of just 28.  Her works are scattered throughout the U.K. and can be easily viewed on the web by Googling "Pauline Boty paintings".  I was privileged to see one of her works ("Countdown To Violence") on loan to the New York MOMA in the late 80's and through an acquaintance (who was herself an aspiring pop artist) and as a result became familiar with many of her other pieces.

Suggested Viewing (Paintings):
"The Only Blonde In the World"
"Monica Vitti With Heart"
"Pauline Boty, With Love To Jean Paul Belmondo"
"Countdown To Vilolence"
"Scandal '63" (pictured above with Boty)
"It's A Man's World II"

The late Adrian Mitchell first came to my attention in the late 80's when there was footage of him at the legendary 1965 Albert Hall poetry festival in the film adaptation of Derek Taylor's book "It Was Twenty Years Ago Today" reading his brilliant, inflammatory, anti-Vietnam war poem "To Whom It May Concern" (later re-written shortly before his death to include a brilliant anti-Iraqi war line).  I'm not much on poets, especially 60's beat poets.  I've long disliked most poets from the 60's because of people like Allen Ginsberg and his lot because they could afford to lay around and drink/take drugs, screw, philosophize, be pretentious etc because they didn't have to worry about being drafted and crawling around in a rice paddy with an M-16 while Charlie Cong tried to kill them.  That said I think I like the English perspective because, well, they weren't draft dodging and they were a bit more sophisticated than American poets of that era, or so I think mainly because they weren't as privileged and let's face it from what I've read and heard from firsthand account, the U.K. in the late 50's/early 60's was a pretty bleak place.  Further investigation of Mitchell's work opened a new door to me because he wrote/spoke about everything, not just politics and didn't need the "shock value" tactics.  You've got to love/appreciate a man who could write:

"He breathed in air, he breathed out light, Charlie Parker was my delight"

Mitchell outlived most of his contemporaries passing away in 2008 at the age of 76.  Sadly a great deal of his collections of older work are now, sadly out of print.

Suggested Reading(collected works):
"Heart On The Left: Poems 1953-1984"
"Greatest Hits"
"Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965-1999 (w/ Paul McCartney)"
"Tell Me Lies:Poems 2003-2008"

Duffy Power would've be just another forgotten late 50's British rocker who'd had his name changed by Svengali/impresario Larry Parnes (aka Larry Pounds Shilling Pence) had he not, like fellow Parnes escapee Georgie Fame, moved onto r&b.  Duffy started out as a sort of faceless 50's rocker on Fontana records before moving onto ballads (some of which are quite good). Then he discovered American r&b and blues and it was all over for the quiffed 2 I's rocker and we underwent a sort of "mod" metamorphosis (see above pic, with "herbal jazz cigarette" intact) and moved onto EMI's Parlophone label where his sound blossomed into a perfect example of homegrown 60's British r&b.  Duffy was one of the first British musicians to cover a Beatles tune (he did an r&b version of "I Saw Her Standing There" backed by the mighty Graham Bond Quartet) and he recorded a slew of tasty r&b singles (including one with The Paramounts who later morphed into Procol Harum) before moving to more of an "acoustic blues" where he cut some nifty records with just guitar, stand up bass, drums and harp that though not issued on 45, came out on an LP on Spark (later reissued as "Vampers & Champers").

Suggested Listening (CD):
"Leapers And Sleepers" (2 CD compilation)
"Vampers And Champers"
"Sky Blues: Rare BBC Sessions"


Anonymous said...

Very informative post. Though I'm familiar with the work of a few of these people, I'm definitely going to follow up on the others. Great blog! Thanks, Marie

Monkey said...

Great piece. Wouldn't know where to start with something like this - but wouldn't agrue too strongly with any of your list.