Monday, 21 December 2020

KEITH HUDSON - Michael Talbot Affair


As sound clashes developed in Jamaica in the 1970s, the dub plate, where the popular reggae tunes were stripped down to rhythm and drums providing the sound systems with the space to lay down their own sounds as well as the toasting and improvised toasting of the DJs that were invited to perform against each other, took on an energy of it's own. This intense competition between sound systems and the need to deliver to exclusive versions to match and outplay the rival sound systems led to an intensively creative period in Reggae music with the reworking of tunes using the sound studio to weave or drop in musical and vocal phrases over the drum and bass, often accented by dub or other effects before fading out. Each sound system developed its own highly prized style to attract large followings as well as outplay rivals in the musical duels as it revealed new dub plates that offered original reworkings of tunes and innovative dub sounds to dazzle. The originality of sound engineers meant that their studios and output became as famous as the sound systems, musicians and vocalists, singers and toasters. Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock and “Lee Scratch” Perry were key to these developments and their fame spread far and wide, including the UK where British sound systems in its metropoles, such as Sir Coxsone Sounds (named after the famous Coxsone Dodd sound system in Jamaica), Jah Shaka and Chanel One (a little later) in London as well as many others in London and the UK, set up and imported the latest dub plates to acclaim.

In the mid-1970s in central London the two places to hit were Colombo’s where Sir Coxsone played and the Thursday night reggae session at the 100 Club where virtually every single reggae artist played when they passed through London, including Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minot, Lone Ranger, Cedric Myton and the Congos among a plethora of other great Jamaican musicians. Daddy Kools sound system from the reggae vendor Daddy Kools in Hanway Street off Tottenham Court Road played the sounds at the 100 club and people would bring in the latest dub plate from Jamaica for them to play, including one week in 1976 the classic King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown by Augustus Pablo that had been circulating as an exclusive dub plate. The next day I rushed round to Daddy Kools to buy a DJ white cover copy from their fast diminishing stack of King Tubby’s which they had bought the previous night. King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry, with his Dub Blackboard Jungle are perhaps the two most recognised dub originators with many classic dub records to their names but another who is much less well known as a dub originator is Keith Hudson, whose song The Michael Talbot Affair was part of his dub album Pick-a-Dub. This was the first thematic album in dub released in 1974 and was the first dub album to be released in the UK.

One of the truly great dub albums it presented a seemingly austere focus on drum and bass but reworked classic tunes with Aston and Carlton Barret (from Bob Marley and the Wailers) laying down bass and drums that opens up to repeated hearings while Keith Hudson, Big Youth and Horace Andy add vocal phrases. However the Michael Talbot Affair is for me the apex of the album and I listen to it on a regular basis right up to the present day. It has a complex interweaving of melody lines by a range of instruments, including Augustus Pablo’s melodica, that shape the dub rhythm and as it plays, its different interposed elements and phrases enrich each other while the progression of both the rhythm and the melodies offer a satisfying resolution by its end. It is a classic and truly great original cut that can match any comparable example in other genres.


I have to admit, I’m a total novice with regard to Dub. I’ve since done a small amount of reading up about it online, and I can’t believe I never knew what a crucial role toasters played. I do now. 

I’ve always found it hard to get into the laid-back groove of Dub though, always preferring the more upbeat stylings of Ska; but this instrumental based on House of the Rising Sun had a bit more to it for me. Being largely in a minor key it has a mournful feel to it, which seems to tally with one youtube poster who says that it’s “In memory of Michael Talbot from Bristol who lost his life in a racist incident in the '70s”.  

The twinning of the guitar & sax after the stripped down introduction works really well and the melodic lines merge nicely: the guitar seeming to take Eric Burdon’s vocal line from the original and the sax playing a variation alongside it; but the guitar is lower in the mix so it’s not necessarily the first thing you hear.  

The guitar repeats this melodic line afterwards, with the sax comping alongside it – and that’s where the hook became more obvious to me. Then the sax takes over for the last half of the song, which reprises its earlier theme in a very unassuming, discreet fashion – occasionally drifting out completely to allow subtle piano & organ to quietly fill the gaps. The only thing which jarred ever so slightly was the errant C in the fadeout, but it’s such a tasteful solo – and I rather like it when the occasional bum note is left in. 

Given the dedication mentioned above, this song seems to me like a hugely dignified response to a tragic incident in a racially charged period of our nation’s history, and I’m grateful that I’ve been made aware of it now. 


I went looking for a coffee table the other day. A small coffee table. I’d just moved flat and realised I’d reached the point where all was in place except this, a place for my mug of tea. So with impending national restrictions on my shopping options in the air I ventured out in search of said item with headphones on bleeding the works of Keith Hudson into my ears. A cold heavy rain set about the streets around Olympia where nearly a hundred years before Oswald Mosely had entertained a monster gathering of British fascists and where in December 1967 the psychedelic underground had its final fling with the Christmas on Earth Continued event with Hendrix, Soft Machine, The Move, Pink Floyd, Traffic et al elbowing each other out of the way on their mad dash for overground success. I was heading south as Shepherd’s Bush had surprisingly offered nothing at all in the shape of second-hand furniture. That seems odd doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s what happens when the largest Shopping mall in Europe sets itself down on a locale like some gleaming spaceship. “What is this thing called dub?” I thought to myself, as I carefully stepped over puddles that I judged may engulf my Jermaine Genius-style white sole trainers, recently repaired via stick-on-soles from Timpsons. With it’s booming bass-lines and echo-treated drums it struck me it’s just another colour on the great aural palette of mind-altering music intended to achieve the Rimbaudian disordering of the senses. It also struck me that the great Westfield shopping centre could possibly have been accommodated within the confines of the Olympia exhibition hall, maybe leaving Shepherds Bush with more space for crazy alleyways of bric-a-brac shops and…second hand furniture. Wasn’t Steptoe and Son set in Shepherd’s Bush? I think a certain music fan always reaches out for stuff that promises an other-worldly sensation. Music as a drug perhaps for those of us who prefer a pint of beer than dangerous meetings with shadowy figures in Camden doorways. When I was young in the late 70s and 80’s I can see the path had been pre-destined for me to term this sort of musical quest as psychedelic; the dry vacuum of the 80’s could do nothing but half-remember more colourful days. It was a catch-all phrase for the way-out which I soon applied similarly to my enjoyment of jazz with it's Pollock abstracts on the Ornette Coleman gatefold sleeves. The long soloing passages of Coltrane clearly inspiring the improvisational efforts of the 60s guitarists and keyboard virtuoso’s to come. I thought of this as I crossed Gunterstone Road where Hendrix was first deposited from the newly christened Heathrow Airport in 1966 and where he jammed with Andy Somers, later to find fame in The Police, and from where he set about dismantling the London psychedelic movement. Hendrix was fond of the echoed guitar sound drifting away into the background, like his B52 bomber raid solo during the Star Spangled Banner. Interesting to hear the same effects adopted by Jamaican studio freaks just a few years later. Down North End Road I finally found a coffee table small enough to carry home. I held it over my head to keep off the rain and darted down a side street maze back home. The Michael Talbot Affair came on just as I turned down Beaumont Crescent where I found a plaque to the home of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. And speaking of coincidences the last time Hendrix played it was at Ronnie Scott’s in the company of Eric Burdon the vocalist on The House of the Rising Sun. I like the way London can send my thoughts adrift in kaleidoscope patterns and this thing called dub is a welcome addition to my palette.



As instructed I’m going to ignore the monumental contribution this recording offered to the music industry spawning the commerciality of remixing. Creating the notion that everything that had ever been recorded could exist in multiple commercial editions is perhaps the greatest contribution Dub made, together with opening the door of aesthetic intellectual pretensions normally reserved for the jazz set to descend to lesser technicians of the musical fraternities. Dub also bestowed musicality status to the mixers and studio engineers who had been silently building greater reputations in the industrial production cycle of popular music.

The Michael Talbot Affair takes the Animals standard “House of the rising sun”, strips the lyric about brothels from the piece. Drops the chord structure down two tones to a G Sharp tuning, and speeds up the rhythm from 125 BPM to 143 BPM. The chords are Dbm / Ebm / Gb / Abm / Db / Bbm / Bd / Eb

The mix favours the drum and bass end. Pleasing but the vocal is missed, being too recognisable to the original.

Sunday, 6 December 2020



It’s impossible to adequately characterize the music of Frank Zappa: it’s rock, blues, jazz, classical, doo-wop, vaudeville, satire, avant-garde and more, all rolled into one (and often, all rolled into one song). I remember my first feeling of listening to Zappa: through chunky old, industry standard headphones in a small booth in my uni record library, I thought “this is incredible, what the fuck is it?”. 30 years on and I still get a similar rush of discovery, even though the LPs are familiar to me now.  

People at the time maybe saw Zappa as counter-culture because he wrote weird music and had unkempt hair like all the other freaks, but that’s only a bird’s eye view of the man and his work. Look at the disdain he shows for the ‘institutionalized hippiedom’ (as High Fidelity referred to it) and its burgeoning commercial appeal on We’re Only In It For The Money and on Flower Punk in particular, and you’ll see him calling out all the fakes and the Johnny-Come-Latelies: the ones jumping on the corporate-approved bandwagon with the hope/expectation of making some coin and getting laid. 

Flower Punk sets the scene with the choice of cover, ripping off the cliched standard Hey Joe (there was also a taste of this on Absolutely Free, with the cack-handed opening chords of the already hackneyed Louie Louie on Plastic People) but this time played in 7/8 to cock a snook at the non-musos, and sped up twice as fast on Zappa’s Variable Speed Oscillator. 

The lyrics nail all the Scott McKenzie stereotypes one by one: Hey punk, where you going with those beads around your neck/ that button on your shirt/ that flower in your hand/ that hair on your head – with the responses as shallow as the image drawn: I'm goin' up to Frisco to join a psychedelic band/ to the love-in to sit & play my bongos in the dirt/ to the dance to get some action, then I'm goin' home to bed. As he says calmly to the enraged punter screaming at a “uniform” at the end of Little House I Used to Live In from Burnt Weeny Sandwich: “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don’t kid yourself.” 

For me, the real cynicism is in the spoken musings of said Punk though: in the left channel, sped up, Zappa is talking about how he’s just learnt the guitar, can strum some chords pretty well and hopes a girl in the audience will notice him and hook up with him; in the right channel, regular speed, he’s wondering what he’ll buy with all his imagined future royalties – a bike, no - a car, no - a boat, no – real estate… and then hopes that girl in the audience will notice him and hook up with him. Tellingly, the song ends and both left and right channel voices have to ask the band if it’s finished. Ouch. 

Zappa deliberately made music that was awkward, disjointed, askew, out of step with the regular beat; commercial or critical acclaim weren’t even a consideration. Ironically, We’re Only In It For The Money was Zappa’s most commercially successful LP of the early period. Maybe the twisted Sgt Pepper parody cover - complete with alternative celebrities on the inside gatefold and band members in drag on the outside - helped gain some notoriety.  

His music is challenging, complex, original, genuinely funny, indulgent, shocking, thought-provoking, infuriating at times – but never compromised. Maybe the best way to categorise Zappa is that he was exactly what everyone else wasn’t. If you don’t get it, that’s your problem. 


Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were always striking for their versality in playing and often switching genres in mid-song on record and in live performance. Their musicianship live was impressive if under the tight control of Frank Zappa. Zappa himself was a gifted guitarist which was most apparent in live performance as some You Tube recorded performances highlight. For me his best albums were Cruisin with Ruben and the Jets (1968), Hot Rats (1969)  and Weasel Rip my Flesh (1970) where his artful genre explorations appeared to veer between enjoyment of the music. Thisis exemplified in Cruisin with Ruben and the Jets where he explored and celebrated surfing music and the heritage of rock and roll which contributed to it, such as bands like the Coasters with their consummate lyrics written by Leiber and Stoller that documented (as did the songs of Chuck Berry, “the poet Laureate of Rock and Roll”) teenage life in the 1950s. We Are Only in It for the Money  where Flower Punk featured was recorded in the same year as Cruisin with Ruben and the Jets in 1968. It along with Hot Rats and Weasel Rip my Flesh shift Zappa’s attention to the explosion of rock as the emergent rebellious music of a new generation. As an inventive composer Zappa always played with the genres he explored often verging on parody and pastiche, if wittily done. He seemed caught between the desire to have a major world wide hit in each genre he encapsulated and a contrary desire to show his total mastery of a genre by outdoing songs that were already highly successful. Such is the case with We Aare Only in it for the Money whose cover parodied the Beatles innovative album cover for Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band created by John Haworth and Peter Blake and ridiculed the values of the psychedelic hippie movement with its emphasis on all things free, including love, as response to the conservatism that had preceded the early sixties as well as the ongoing power of the corporate institutions to dictate the lives of its employees. Flower Punk parodies the track Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix and for good measure to show Zappa’s mastery throws in riffs from Wild Thing,  while ridiculing the flower power advocated by the hippie movement with its rejection of the Vietnam war and the enforced draft of those without political connections to evade its call up (such as ex president Trump). The lyric mercilessly targets Scott Mckenzie’s popular if gentle hit If You Are Going to San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair) as Haight Ashbury in San Francisco was then regarded as the epi-centre of this emergent counter-culture, if already in decline. Zappa visited London in 1971 to play at the Rainbow Theatre and notoriously was pushed offstage by an irate fan, breaking ribs and suffering other severe injuries. I saw him play on his next visit to London where he seemed, for obvious reasons, wary of the audience. The musicianship was impressive and Zappa’s skill with the electric guitar was of the highest order but constant switches of genre in mid song became irritating and the quality of musicianship lacked heart, rendering it for all its sometimes bizarre yet impressive changes of tempo to this viewer an academic exercise. 




I can see a teenage Zappa and the even stranger Beefheart sucking back on their root beers at the Drive-in. Snickering in unison with feet on the dashboard, peeking through their toe-gaps at the giant clicking ants in the cold war B movie flashing before their eyes. A block away the looming antennae shapes casting shadows across the walls of the Mojave Army installation where “Pop” Zappa earnestly mixed batches of experimental mustard gas. Over the course of time perhaps the leaking chemical clouds escaped over Suburb-a-ville into the school rooms and general store and maybe mutating down at the Hop it sent the assembled straights writhing and frothing to music that was an unholy mix of doo wop pap, Lenny Bruce rap and free jazz scapings. But no it was just Zappa Jnrs deep-seated despair of the world around him that created this music. A provocateur so frustrated and angry with everything around him that he tore up the rule books from the start and tore into the heart of a Great Society on its inevitable manifold destiny towards Trumpism.


On Sunset Strip Zappa trooped in behind Brian Wilson, the only two genius' (other than Phil Spector) allowed to conduct the Wrecking Crew. On his “Lumpy Gravy” composition these long in the tooth paid by the hour Pro’s mocked him but once he'd made them follow his sheet music it seems they kinda revered him. Zappa was a very intelligent musician and writer.You can hear him thinking in the space of a song, which was part of his problem. Maybe he was too clever. Where Wilson was a doomed romantic so Zappa was prophetically nihilistic and in retrospect it makes perfect sense why he and The Monkees were not so strange bedfellows.

 The Mothers Zappa dragged out of this fault-line to play the music, had the genuine look of recidivist sex-offenders discharged from a Peckinpah Bordello scene. Tex-Mex scary hippies long before Manson made that idea a going concern. I mean they looked like the only band that could have possibly recorded "Brown Shoes Don't Make it". A song that to this day makes me feel very uncomfortable. (“What would you do Daddy?”). There was a conscious effort to surround himself with freaks (Beefheart Wild Man Fischer, Flo and Eddie) it was part of a grand surreal plot to jolt the normal world. I makes me think of Vic and Bob’s employment of Uncle Peter et al. (ED.I note the one in the middle is currently incarcerated for sexual offences with minors) 


By the end of the decade he'd already moved on, pushing his band towards jazz-rock breaking point with long complex instrumental movements which set the template for many others to follow such as the Soft Machine (listen to “King Kong” and then Soft Machine II). Behind he left three complex pop oratorios that matched Wilson's cut and paste “Smile” ambition in both scope and multi tracked over-dubbed execution (and I mean over). Freak-Out, Absolutely Free and We’re Only in it for the Money turned the flashlight on a riot torn racially divided America, where teens idiotically fucked up on their way to becoming dad whilst dad fucked up on his way to becoming dead. They're complex records worthy of multiple re-play, crammed full of hidden movements and jokes and snatches of ideas that most other bands would have milked a whole career out of. 'Flower-punk' gives a taste, inverting a garage staple into a gently humorous satire of the Plastic Frisco-bound.


If you’re so inclined, try Uncle Meat next up to the end of '69's Hot Rats. Then switch back to Beefheart. Then stop.



I must confess I never really ever got Frank Zappa. I have been aware of him. I have been told he’s worth listening to. I think because I haven’t found my own way to his music I have an appreciation block that I’ve never been able to shift. 

“Flower Punk” is described as a parodic reference to Hendrix’s Hey Joe that lampoons the hippy movement, whilst at the same time deliberately exploiting it by encouraging the counter culturals to consume it whilst explicitly dissing them. Zappa was a jazz musician who evolved a formula to represent his less structured music as mainstream. Musically I found the sped-up track with the tape speed variation lyrics unimpressive in 2020. I have heard the same analogue experimentation performed to greater effect and more obvious musical purpose. Culturally I can see a musician defiantly trying to stay one foot in front of his marketeers without losing access to the golden goose that feeds him. Maybe this was the sound of the death knell of 1968, or at least a reverse echo filtered through several valve based distortion units before being reverted to nonsense. The moral of the story being don’t complain about being a cartoon if you want to be a grand master. Be a grand master, even if the cartoon pays more. This is what Zappa did in his later career, but at this stage he’s still fumbling around.

Monday, 16 November 2020

NIRVANA - Black Flower


I think of the Black Flower as some sort of benevolent mushroom cloud ballooning over the Kensington rooftops. It’s purpose somewhat obscure. Like something out of a pulp Sci-fi novel, Aldiss and Ballard. “Black Flower grow, easy, easy take it slow”. The scarlet chimney pots lined up like soldiers on parade amongst the spidery branches of the trees in Holland Park all pointing upwards. Upwards like the skeletal hand on the cover of the “Dedicated to Markos III” album sleeve, caressed by the disembodied red finger-nailed hand. Something like an Amicus film poster, something full of portent and gloss. Like the song. It’s beguiled me for thirty years and it refuses to let go. I bloody love it.

It came from the back-streets of those glorious 60’s. Hidden away in the rehearsal rooms, of songwriting teams hammering away at pianos with scratch backing bands formed in the queue on the stairs, waiting to pitch their weekly offering to the men with the golden ears. A time when David Jones was studying Scott Walker and Freddie Bulsara, was doing the same with Barry Ryan and somewhere above Oxford Street Reg Dwight was practising on being everyone to anyone who'd listen. The collective known as Nirvana were at their core an Irish rocker and an exotic Greek living la vie Boheme along the length of the Uxbridge Road. If Pat Campbell-Lyons voice was fey then Alex Spyropoulos’ was even feyer. (on this selection he's like a lounge Donovan). Songwriters first and foremost they briefly dallied as a baroque in-concert group assembled from the classical music students they stalked hanging around outside the Royal College of Music. It was all kaftans and harpsichords for a spell with a repertoire of ethereal morsels such as “Pentecost Hotel”, “I Believe in Magic” and “Tiny Goddess”, the latter memorably covered in French, German and Italian by the highly erotic Francoise Hardy. Incongruously they became the first band signed to Island Records and hot on the heels, their phased ”Rainbow Chaser” charted as a minor hit in the UK and a major one on the continent. By 1968 it was almost over, they’d scaled down to a duo and were promoting the record across Europe, clutching only their string charts and the assistance of whoever the record company had arranged to meet them at the airport. But along the way they filled out the soundtrack to the bizarre “The Touchables” film and took a trip to Rio to help launch the international singing career of Jimmy Cliff. There was also a naked appearance in front of teenage girls on Belgian TV save for angels wings and underpants. And in Paris one memorable Sunday afternoon they appeared on a TV happening with Salvador Dali where a couple of Bengal tigers prowled around a studio filled with paint pots and expensive chocolates.


And the muse propelled them on and on and like the Black Flower it grew and grew …until inevitably Island Records rejected the new album. The title sounded too much like “Black Power” and the music sounded too much like Un Homme et Une Femme and not enough like "All Right Now".

But that’s just history, it was done and its with us now. Over 3 days at Pye’s Marble Arch studios in the Spring of 1969 with a cavalcade of arrangers clocking-in and out including Mike Hurst, Tony Visconti, Mike Vickers and Johnny Scott, they gathered to score the new batch of  euro-pop sounds. There were songs about the blind and the beautiful, about Aline Cherie, about Island boss Chris Blackwell, a duet with Lesley Duncan and a Webb-like western about Illinois (not Wichita). And against Skis on Sunday strings they nailed the perfect anglo-chanson "The World is Cold Without You" and capped it all off with the monumental "Black Flower". 

It starts like the opening of a movie with Spyropoulos softly enunciating obscure couplets …

Pick a black flower

Girl in the supermart

Holy man in the monastery

With all your mystery

It's simplistic and strange and floats about in an ambience of easy strings that sit on the edge of a larger orchestra that promises something far more disruptive. And then it comes with the rush of a an unexpected wall of sound chorus,“Black Flower grow, easy easy take it slow…” The skies darken - think Jean-Pierre-Ferland’s “Le Chat du Café des Artistes” (c’mon you know the one) and then a press of the switch and the candelabra is turned back on, the mood restored and all is well again. And back we go into this mysterious lyric that with closed eyes behind tinted specs could be coming  en direct a L’Olympia ou Bobino:

Paradise found

The world is breaking up

Now the devil can spread his wings

And everybody sings…

The devil indeed.The ending is devastating. It just breaks out into a long raucous multitracked guitar solo over jittery military drums that stutter and collapse like grenadier guards tottering in the heat at Horse Guards Parade. On it goes, on it goes like a curtain falling over the whole Nirvana project. The summit of their blink and you'll miss it moment in the sun. It could have ended the album. When I taped it in 1990 from Stoke-on-Trent Public Library it was on a compilation that started with it and that really worked I have to say. Label stable-mates Spooky Tooth were on the sessions for this album but I don’t think this is the work of Luther Grosvenor. The other guitarist cited is Billy Bremner who went on to play with Dave Edmunds Rockpile in the 70’s. So take a bow. I think.  

Nirvana carried on in various guises and someone needs to do some intensive work gathering their 70's output together. It's a very mixed bag but chock full of interesting items taking in prog-rock, jazz-piano noodling, Xian-pop, odes to John Conteh, session work with Diana Dors offspring, songs for Demis Roussos and Frankie Vaughan and of course the theme tune to childrens TV's Cloppa Castle. 

As I said "Black Flower" really was their towering glory. 



My first experience of Nirvana was in the late 80s when as a teenager I bought the Back On The Road prog compilation, including their most famous song, Rainbow Chaser. At the time the song was a little too twee for my taste, it didn’t sate my hunger for loud guitars, strident Hammond organs and nonstandard rhythms – a hunger which persists today, albeit to a slightly lesser extent – but as a piece of pleasant psych pop fluff (as I saw it then) it was still a worthy inclusion to the collection. 

I’ve since tried to get more into their sound and have been frustrated by the patchiness of their LPs. The Story of Simon Simopath was interesting and had some great moments; All of Us likewise had its high points, but both were let down by too many cutesy, childish tunes and throwaway, overly-simplistic song ideas. To Markos III had a slightly darker feel to it, but suffered from the same problem as the previous two LPs – evidently enough for Chris Blackwell to call time on their Island tenure and the album tip-toed out on Pye records instead, to little fanfare. It featured the typical Nirvana setup of many hired hands to provide a heavily orchestrated sound, fronted by regulars Campbell-Lyons and Spyropoulos.  

Black Flower is the best song on the album by far, transitioning from easy listening to psych pop to freak out rock rather well. After the dramatic intro, the listening is so easy it could’ve been warbled by Charles Asnavour (ED.That is criminally mispelt!) on a Saturday afternoon variety show; very middle of the road, nothing special at all (unless you happen to love Charles Aznavour ).(ED.I managed to correct this one!)  

Then the psych chorus comes in and it all gets much more interesting… I start getting hints of Donovan with the melodramatic refrain “Black Flower, grow – easy, easy, take it slow!”, and the chromatic descending chords lend a hint of threat and menace to disrupt the tranquillity and calm of the verses. There’s a brief return to that calm, then another dark chorus until a twittering-flute-and-staccato-strings palate cleanser, which sounds like it’s going to resolve to an easy verse again to fade but no… 

POW! Searing twin tracked psych fuzz guitars come in over the repeated descending chorus motif, and the effect is mind blowing. It’s such a contrast to the easy listening verses, but because the familiar chorus chord progression is kept, it absolutely works within the structure of the song. Simultaneously sticking out like a sore thumb and blending in with the structure is no mean feat… and it sounds fantastic. Freak out to fade and I’m reaching for the repeat button before it can finish. 

In revisiting the Nirvana catalogue I’ve also developed a new-found soft spot for the follow up LP Local Anaesthetic, released on Vertigo a couple of years later – an album I had previously dismissed as crap but evidently I was wrong, as a complete LP it might even be their best (further listenings required to confirm this…)  

But Black Flower deserves to sit alongside Rainbow Chaser as an essential ‘in’ for new listeners, it’s a cracker. 


This song is the tombstone of the Nirvana project that lasted as a musical collaboration between London-based songwriting partnership of Irish musician Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Greek composer Alex Spyropoulos. It formed the centrepiece of their third album, an album their mentors at Island declined to release. The band were melodic, symphonic, marked with lush productions, performed by an Asgardian selection of session musicians. Campbell-Lyons has a distinctive strut to his voice, which despite being slightly too thin for the material he is draping over Spyropoulos’ orchestrations, is pleasing from an aesthetic point of view, but it lacks the passion shared by his contemporaries who sold better. This is the same year as Bolan’s Unicorn, Fripp’s Court of the Crimson King, Townshend’s Tommy and Beefheart’s Trout-Mask Replica who all score higher for cerebral conceptualisation not to mention raw sexuality.

(This song) has a lovely verse and a lovely chorus, it’s beautifully orchestrated and confidently performed, but I don’t know who it was for when it was made and I suspect that was the problem all along. I guess calling your ex- boss Lucifer doesn’t help your long-term recording relationship either, even in free and easy 1969.


Hats off for an esoteric submission that I had never heard of. I have to state that this is not my type of music, in part from having heard too many records in this style with lyrics making a nod to Donovan (but not to Dylan, please note) and in the music evoking a very English scenario of pleasant chord progressions souped up in the production to show it has expanded horizons (but not to the psychedelia of Hendrix or the acid of early Grateful Dead, please note). For me it evokes that part of John Major’s famous quote that “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county [cricket] grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs and dog lovers”, something that is perhaps less solid than it seems. This record gives me the same ambivalence, especially to warm beer, and is not my cup of tea

(ED. Here is a very interesing clip of the band around the time this song was recorded. We see PC-L  attempting to hang up his coat, a very awkward interview and a great moment capuring the limited cuisine back then at La Giaconde on Denmark St (London's Tin-Pan Alley). 

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

FRANCO & T.P.O.K. JAZZ - Salima


François Luambo Luanzo Makiadi and his band TPOK Jazz released this song in 1975. This is from his mid period, having started playing guitar in 1955 and continuing until 1989. According to his biographer he produced over 80 albums and he is credited with inventing the Congolese Rumba which this is a classic example. In the West music is structured around the pattern of the bass and drum parts, with guitar offering rhythmic emphasis and melodic counterpoint. Rumba reverses this. The guitars form the bed of generally a two part piece, a slower toast followed by a faster section. Drum, brass and vocals are the leaves on the tree of the trunk of the guitar. In the last section of the piece the guitar master syncopates a surprise melody  within the structure imposed by the companion guitarist. I encountered Franco initially on the recommendation of Rise Kagona of the Bhundu Boys who explained to me after a gig he had performed in Whalley Bridge Civic Hall, that if a white man was ever going to understand African Music I should seek out the music of Franco. I initially couldn’t get past my colonialist processing and interpreted the music as backing music from a James Bond Carribean adventure. Youtube allowed me to deepen my exposure. The song is about a woman called Salima but also a celebration of Franco poaching a rival guitarist from the band Afrisa who were beginning to eat into Franco’s sales. This song was written by Michelino Mavatiku Visi ( the one with the big Afro). He performs the first solo and Franco performs the second. The three part vocal harmony is traditional and was performed by Josky KiambukutaNdombe Opetum and Wuta Mayi. The music is always interesting and the guitar rhythm is difficult to imitate because it leads the song. Music should offer the listener a familiar territory and a surprise and Congolese rumba reminds us it always important to listen to the end even if it is just to see who comes to the party and we discover what wonders they bring.



Africa speaks and I listen. This band hit a very intoxicating groove on this tune, which actually seems a lot shorter than it’s 9 mins or so. The repetitive guitar picking floods into the sub-conscious and the choral vocals immerse you trance-like. It’s a big band sound with trumpet fills familiar across the musical diaspora, I hear the Caribbean, I hear Gilberto Gil’s Bahia tropicalia, there’s a lot of Mexicana in those horns too, almost Herb Alpert tooting away on the Andy Williams Show at times. The little saxophone fills remind me of Sonny Rollins calypso “St Thomas”. Overall it’s a fairly easy listening experience (not a bad thing I hasten to add) but the guitar picking keeps it interesting. On the live version I love the descending riff at 8.05 which makes me think they’re about to tackle “Corn Rigs” from the opening Wicker Man credits. I admit I find it more exotic than essential and would need to study the genre a little more to really appreciate what I’m actually listening to. I mean is this a good example of this music  or a very good example? Repeated listens reveal the layers and changes but ultimately my immersion into the ambience doesn’t pull too hard on my obsessively Western-centred thoughts.



Franco, or to give him his full name, François Luambo Makiadi, was one of the giants of African music creating a brand of Zairean (the nation known as Zaire between 1971-1997 but now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo) music which conquered the continent and then captivated the remainder of the world. Franco, born in 1938, started out as a local musician at 15 years old in what is now Kinshasa, the capital of the nation. In 1956 he became part of the O K Orchestra, transforming into Franco and the OK orchestra and then adding the additional initials T P Tout Puissant (all powerful) to the O K as its profile massively expanded. It was one of a handful of new innovative bands drawing on musical forms that had travelled to the new world and back multiple times throughout the twentieth century. Rumba music with its Afro Cuban roots had become very popular in the USA and South America from the 1930s onwards and this form was taken up as part of the insurgent modernism of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This accompanied the approach of decolonisation from the long and heavy history of Belgian occupation, firstly as a fiefdom of Emperor Leopald II known as the Congo Free state and then in 1908 taken over by the Belgian nation state in order to mitigate, but not desist, the massive and brutal extraction of resources, including rubber, from the Free State. This extraction led to the genocide of local populations to such a scale that even other European colonial governments considered the Free State of the Congo to compromise the entire colonial project.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the rumba as a joyous global form that drew on Africa and the new world was taken up and developed within Congo contexts as an innovative shift in urban music. Indeed it became a popular musical form along the Atlantic coast of Africa from the Congo to Senegal and articulated the new possibilities that the prospect of decolonisation heralded. Moreover it moved away from the musical forms of French and British domination as an alternative  that chimed with the longstanding ideas of Pan-Africanism and the Negritude movement (that emerged in Paris in the 1930s onwards where African and Carribbean intellectuals and artists wrestled with the shared commonalities of colonial domination, discrimination and racism).

The relatively tight melodic structure of the rumba was taken up by Franco and other bands in the DRC but were stretched out, especially in live performance to an appreciative audience in the clubs of Kinshasa. The tight melodic patterns were repeated to generate rhythmic pulses that linked to local traditions and modes of drumming and whose tempo could build up through a song. Counterpoint rhythmic patterns could be woven in to finesse the tune while layered horns added to the mix. As Franco’s profile developed in Kinshasa, they were also sung in local languages with a resurgent confidence. 

It was a new music that heralded the modernity of postcolonial DRC and Kinshasa, although the new nation state emerged with high costs such as the usurpation of its first democratically elected prime minister Patrice Lumumba. Mobutu Seko, commonly known as Mobutu, was the head of staff of the army who took power after having Lumumba executed supported by an intervention by Belgian troops and the UN who were responding to the dictates of the then cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union and seeking to retain political influence over the DRC and its mineral resources. Mobutu held power until 1997 as a dictator organising the DRC as kleptocracy for his personal benefit. Franco as the celebrity musician, who dominated all others, had an ambiguous relationship with Mobutu, offering occasional critiques but also paeans of praise to him in his songs. However many commented on everyday life and its difficulties and struggles for those trying to make a daily living. A celebratory aspect of this was the attention paid in some songs to romance and the joys of the clubs where music featured. Salima is one such classic song by Franco which starts as a conventional rumba in the attention given to the lyrics which seem to determine its progression at the outset. However this transitions to a masterful interlocking of different elements underpinned by the rhythmic melodic patterns of the guitars which play out counterpoints to the main structure with the horns having the last say. A masterpiece!


A few bars into this beautiful song and I'm no longer in a small Kent village on an overcast autumn day: I'm on a small boat setting out from Cuba 20-odd years ago, going to a tiny nearby island for the day. Part of our ticket includes fruit, free flowing Havana Club rum and a small band of musicians who play rhumbas for us on the way there and back. It's magical, the close harmony singing melts my heart (probably aided by the copious amounts of rum) and my love for the music is cemented. 

Here the vocals come in and the wonderful close harmonies are there in perfect unison, but of course this being a Congolese rhumba it's not Spanish - I assume it's Lingala? Forgive my ignorance if I'm mistaken. 

There's another difference, the rhythm seems more fluid here: although it's constant, there's less of an accent on the syncopated beat as with the Cuban version, its more of a suggestion and you have to find your own 1,2,3&4. And vocals come in on the 4th or the 2-and-a-halfth beat, so the effortless feel of a flowing current keeps you moving downstream... Left guitar overlapping with right guitar, beautiful clean tones and rolling motifs with the bass just bobbing along softly... 

Then the tempo seems to change from a strolling 4/4 to a much more upbeat 2/4, although the bass hardly wavers - this feels to me more like a Cuban rhumba for the rest of the song. Now it reminds me of the open air nightclub we went to down the road from our hotel, where beautiful, elastic-spined locals twirled each other with ease while we sunburnt stiffs looked on in envy and soused our egos with endless rum. Glorious

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

GLORIA ANN TAYLOR - Love is a Hurtin' Thing


For many years long after its release in 1971 and subsequent mix in 1976 for the rare groove scene, this was a tune coveted by many who paid highly to acquire it on vinyl. It was initially the first release of the Selector label set up 1971 by Gloria Ann Taylor, her producer husband Walter Whisenhunt, and her younger brother Leonard as vehicle for Taylor’s songs. Love is a Hurtin’ Thing had been a hit for Lou Rawls but the trio stamped a distinctive style on their version with a complex mix of sounds from smouldering gospel R&B vocals to a Spector influenced layered approach to tune-making, incorporating orchestral strings that echoed the Philly soul sound and soul imbued psychedelic guitar work. However its production was more complex and adventurous than this characterisation. As Andrew Jervis points out in his liner notes for the recent release of the album (Love is a Hurtin’Thing, Ubiquity Records 2015), Taylor and the band played live, where encouraged by Whisenhunt, they would jam improvisations during the performances. Extensive time was then spent in the studio with the musicians brought together by Whisenhunt (who had worked with James Brown, Bootsy Collins and notable Motown acts and other session musicians) often reworking the same songs across a recording session and incorporating variations developed from the live performances. These different cuts were dubbed together in creative and original mixes to produce the final recording with the  vocals layerd at the last moment.

Gloria Ann Taylor had grown up in Toledo and sang in churches in the nineteen fifties from childhood onwards along with her brother Leonard (who developed as a musician, song-writer and producer) and performed with two gospel ensembles. In 1966 she left church music to sing R&B in Toledo clubs where she garnered an enthusiastic local following. It was here that she was introduced to Whisenhunt and they started to collaborate musically. Among her early releases was You Gotta Pay the Price which gained a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal performance in 1970 and won that year by Aretha Franklin for Chain of Fools which highlights Taylor’s vocal peers. In the 1970’s Columbia took her up but did not promote her enough to advance her career and Whisenhunt ended the contract prematurely. As the marriage fizzled out Whisenhunt released in 1976 the EP with three tracks Deep in Your Eyes, What’s Your World and Love is a Hurtin’ Thing extended and remixed. Love is a Hurtin Thing in this extended version has overdubbed drumming and mixes in, or perhaps more accurately blends in, other Taylor tunes with panache and creative flair. This EP was released in small quantities due to a lack of funds which reduced its impact but with time became one of the stand-out rare groove records, celebrated both for its musical originality and scarcity

Discouraged perhaps by the initial nearness of success and then it’s recession by the mid nineteen seventies, as well as the breakup of her marriage, Taylor withdrew from the professional music scene to solely sing in church. But Love is a Hurtin’ Thing and her other notable tunes, such as Deep Eyes, What’s Your World, and even a cover version of Dolly Patton’s Jolene, compare favourably with far more famous R&B and soul vocalists and her distinctive vocals underpinned by dynamic tunes and innovative production have an originality and brio that asserts a unique creative perspective, perhaps engendered by the collective collaboration with her then husband and brother as well as participating musicians (Ed.That’s a long sentence). Her records and Love is a Hurtin’ Thing in either version are well worth a listen for soulful classic yet innovative takes on R&B that, despite lack of recognition, has stood the test of time and stand out.

Ref.Andrew Jervis, liner notes, Love is a Hurtin’Thing, Ubiquity Records 2015.


For every little kiss there's a little teardrop

For every single thrill there's another heartache

The road is rough

The going gets tough

Love is a hurtin' thing

Oh, love is a hurtin' thing

When you're in my arms I'm a king on a throne

But when we're apart I walk the streets alone

One day happiness

The next day, loneliness

When love brings so much joy why must it bring such pain

Guess it's a mystery that nobody can explain

Maybe I'm a fool to keep on loving you

'Cause there may come a time you'll break my heart in two

But I want you so

I want you though I know that

Love is a hurtin' thing

Oh, love is a hurtin' thing

Cover of soul standard by Gloria Anne Taylor and Husband producer Walt Whisenhunt. Released in 1973 to a different audience. Taylor, touted as another Aretha Franklin, clearly has strong gospel roots in her lyrical delivery and singing style. Walt Whisenhunt clearly has other influences. Having discovered Gloria, he proceeded to marry and move her to California whereby her career stalled by 1977. The intrusive psych guitar wig out which introduces the song is recorded at a louder level than the vocal. The verse remains sweet, but the chorus gets buried in the mix and the song ends with another guitar excursions to somewhere west coast. When compared to the original the song doesn’t really make sense any more. The individual parts are all there but they don’t belong together. Music’s loss was the Ohio chicken industry’s gain. Taylor saw a brief revival in 2010 during the vinyl mining boom.


This is a stunner. It takes me back to those sweaty nights at “The Twisted WheeI” that I never had and those long nights on the Piccadilly Station forecourt I had far too often. Missing trains, eating chips, sleeping out. It kicks off like Link Wray getting tangled up in his own strings, then almost immediately Eddie Hazell-like stuff, fresh outta “Maggot Brain” comes bubbling in. In fact I believe Parliafunkster Bootsy Collins is actually on this session. A great session, pretty lo-fi but ambitious too. Was the orchestra in the bathroom and the horns in the wardrobe? Rawls and Axelrod did the original back in 1966 and that’s good but this is something else. (Ed*.Axelrod did a great version with David “Man From Uncle” McCallum on French Horn at the same time.) Listen to those frenzied ejaculations at 1.13 and 1.38 where she lets riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip. It’s 72-73 an interesting time for black music – paradigms shifting – funk morphing towards something

else. Wobbly strings suggesting a veneer of high-heel glitter ball sophistication,, the lank sweaty fringes of the fruggin’ mutton-chop Manc teens suggesting something else. What an ending, with that long guitar coda picking itself  from South Central all the way down Great Ancoats Street, carried home by a chip and curry sauce stagger, pissed and high. There’s a longer 7minute session but for me the 3.23 version is the one. So good it passes in a heartbeat.

*(Ed. But I am the Ed)




I hadn't heard of Gloria Taylor before hearing this, and I can sort of see why. A quick spin of her 1969 hit You Got to Pay the Price was welcome - disciplined, catchy, memorable, if unspectacular - but this from a few years later is frankly a bit of a mess. 

It starts with a sprawling bit of sub-Jimi fuzz guitar which has no apparent connection to the orchestration which comes directly after, and I struggled to get a hook on the song at all. It's a bit like an over-complicated soup and you can't work out which is the main ingredient. 

After a couple of minutes one of the singers (can't tell which one) says "oooh can't you feel it?" and before I could answer "not really", a lovely bit of echoey guitar came in to rescue it for me - and then moments later, all the reverb suddenly drops off and it sounds like he's moved out of the hall and into the control room - and I can't tell why the producer would do that, it just detaches him from the rest of the players. Dry guitar solo to fade, a bit more oooh-ing and that's that. 

It's clearly recorded live in a massive room, with dozens of musicians and no apparent overdubs - fair play there - but because the voice is competing with strings, piano, backing vocals and guitar for the same part of the stage, they all get mixed up in the same mush. You can let it all hang loose with fewer people, but the more you bring in, the tighter the rein needs to be. 

Artist and producer should be applauded for attempting to mix different styles together, but a more disciplined and focused approach would have worked better than just chucking it all in and hoping for the best