March 2014 Playlist

28 Mar

By the skin of my teeth for this one, but these are doing it for me just now (new releases or re-releases only, so reasonably easy to get – we’re not about rarity here!).

1) Esther Phillips ‘Baby I’m For Real’ (Raven)

4 of her Kudu albums on 2 CDs, these include ‘From A Whisper To A Scream’ and ‘Performance’. Contains probably the best version of ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’, however…

2) Gil Scott-Heron ‘Pieces of A Man’ (BGP)

…this has just been re-released by Kent as a mid-priced Cd with bonus tracks. So you can decide which really is the best version of ‘HIWTHI’ – Gil’s original, or Esther’s version (the answer really is that they’re both great). You need this if you haven’t already got it – top 10 soul CDs of all time easily.

3) V/A ‘Real Side Records Presents – Soul On The Real Side’ (Outta Sight)

Nice comp with some re-recorded versions of modern soul classics like ‘The Whole World Is Going Crazy’, together with some classic originals: Larry Saunders ‘On The Real Side’ and Madagascar ‘Rainbows’.

4) Nicola Conte, V/A ‘Presents Mystic Prestige’ (Universal Japan)

Follow up to his ‘Spiritual Swingers’ set from a few years ago, this puts together some deep stuff from 50s/60s Prestige and Riverside releases: John Coltrane, Gigi Gryce, Yusef Lateef…you get the idea. Nice comparison to BGP’s forthcoming Paul Murphy comp ‘The Return of Jazz Club’ (of which more later).

5) Mary Love ‘Lay This Burden Down’ (Kent)

Great (updated – it’s been out before in a different version) career-reterospective of the late Mary Love (Comer)’s work – from the Motown-esque early dancers to her funkier early 70s work right up to the gospel dancefloor fillers of the 80s, it’s all here. Really gives you an idea of the breadth and overall quality of her work. Hugely underrated.

6) Sam Dees ‘One In A Million: The Songs of Sam Dees’ (Kent)

And talking of underrated…Sam Dees is the pre-eminent soul songwriter of his generation, a fact that has probably undermined what would have been a great solo career as well (‘The Show Must Go On’, finally given a proper re-issue last year, is another top 5 soul album, and can definitely be compared to other classics of its era such as ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Curtis’). This fact seems to have escaped most British music critics, but it hasn’t escaped the absolute A-list of US r’n’b royalty – Sam has written million sellers for Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, George Benson and Aretha Franklin. This CD, in typical Kent fashion, doesn’t follow the easy route, instead picking a selection of Sam’s best songs sung by a wide variety of (in some cases unexpected) artists. Can’t recommend this enough, and there are apparently further volumes in preparation to take account of Sam’s huge output and incredibly high quality standards (btw if you wonder why I feature so much Ace/Kent/BGP material, it’s no mystery – pound for pound it’s the best vintage black music label out there).

7) Dionne Warwick – complete Sceptre/Warner Brothers albums (Rhino/Edsel

Not much to say about these, other than the fact that these are double (and in one case treble) CD resissues of some of the most timeless records ever made, completely remastered and annotated with preditably excellent notes from the great Tony Rounce – all for a tenner a pop! 4 sets, all good, but the first one (containing her first 4 albums: ‘Presenting Dionne Warwick’ / ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ / ‘Make Way’ / ‘The Sensitive Sound’) probably takes the prize just because of the amount of classics it contains.

8) Lack of Afro ‘Music for Adverts’ (Freestyle)

New retro funky soul and jazz from Brit collective Lack of Afro, with an impressive set of vocalists involved. Best tracks for me feature the Northern-ish vocals of Jack Tyson-Charles, who sounds great (and is the son of Craig Charles, looking the spit of his dad!)

9) Irma Thomas ‘Full Time Woman’ (Real Gone Music/Rhino)

Great reissue of New Orleans stalwart Irma’s ‘lost’ Cotillion album (basically she recorded the single ‘Full Time Woman’ at Malaco Studios, which was released, but subsequent tracks from that session, plus a follow-on session, remained undiscovered until 2004). Lovely country influenced soul, if you like the Candi Staton Fame and Bettye Swann Capitol reissues from the same era, this will definitely be your thing.

10) Young-Holt Unlimited ‘Born Again’/’Mellow Dreamin” (Water)

OK, not a new record, or even a new reissue, but I was listening to this whilst typing the above, and had to reference it. Already mentioned on these pages as an example of the sublime moment when soul, jazz and MoR met in the late 60s and procued sun-dappled music for driving to the beach (or anything really!), this is really too good for the lounge set. First brought to my attention via the excellent Jamie Cullum show on Radio 2 (btw you should put aside your prejudices and listen to him, he’s fantastic), this is music to love and share – check their version of the peerless ‘Wichita Lineman’ and feel that longing:


English Riveira: Art Gallery Clothing SS14 new styles/colours

27 Mar

First of the SS14 collections from our friends at Art Gallery Clothing (they do two drops per season to keep things fresh), this time Alex and the boys have introduced a few new styles, plus some additional colours in existing styles.  I think they’re really refining their style now, and these would look equally great walking along the seafront with a pair of white jeans, or worn with sta prest in a dark, sweaty club. Usual great quality and service as well, if you haven’t discovered this outfit yet you really need to.

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1984 to 2014: Funny how time slips away

27 Mar

No, that’s not the period since my last post (sorry – best intentions and all that) but a few apparently unrelated events and anniversaries recently got me thinking about time, and how perspective changes, and how some things stay constant in your life. I suppose I’m becoming a bit elegiac for a few reasons that mark the passing of time for me personally. I turn 50 next week (god), and next week also marks the 30th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s shocking and untimely death.

One of the few nice things about getting older is that you can place these random events into the structure of your life and realise what they mean to you as time goes by. So, 30 years ago I took a couple of days off from my dead-end job (20 seemed such a big deal then) and on my first day off work put the radio on, and had that weird thing you get where they’re playing someone’s music, and you initially don’t know why….So I listened to ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Mercy Mercy Me’, ‘Too Busy Thinking About My Baby’ and sat down and for the first time felt that bleakness you feel when someone you feel you know dies. Even though of course I didn’t know him at all (in fact I didn’t know all of his records then). I can remember reading how at the Caister soul weekender  that was held the following weekend Chris Hill played ‘Abraham Martin and John’ to a completely still dancefloor in tribute, and I knew then the power that this music would always have over peoples’ lives.

Two days later (on my birthday) I schlepped out to a tiny record store I’d read about in ‘Blues and Soul’ that was supplying long deleted records to the likes of Bob Jones and Chris Brown, and spent the whole morning looking through a huge mound of (un-ordered) records at what was the back of an antiques shop (from memory!).  I’d gone down with a list of records I’d read people discussing (Grant Green’s ‘Green Is Beautiful’, with the great version of JB’s ‘Ain’t It Funky Now’ springs to mind, but I’m sure there were others), and guess what….after a 2 hours plus train ride in what felt like ‘Trains & Boats & Planes’ to get there they didn’t have a single record I wanted.  The older guy behind the counter (Adrian Wise I think, whom Blues and Soul endearingly referred to as ‘Fagin-like’!) tried to sell me a number of other great records (that in years to come I’d pay a lot more for – Grant Green ‘Visions’, Eddie Jefferson’s brilliant Prestige comp ‘There I Go Again’) but my 20 year old self still clung to the ‘one great record’ theory, in that I felt you had to have the tune that your favourite DJ played, and that you had one opportunity to buy them, and that was it…so I passed on them, and initially it felt like a wasted trip.

So to make up for it I bought a couple of other records I’d read about that the more hip ‘Soul Mafia’ DJs were playing.  Lonnie Smith’s endlessly re-packaged ‘Afro-Desia’ (I bought a cheapo Italian copy) had a storming latin funk workout on it called ‘Apex’ that still sounds great today, but it was the other record that I bought that had the most lasting impact on me, in ways I’d never anticipated.  I’d heard the name Terry Callier in connection with some plays of a track called ‘Ordinary Joe’ in the Jazz Room at Caister (which was far more open-minded than the ‘shorts and shaving foam fights’ cliché that history has given it).  But of course never having been there (I didn’t know anyone who’d go with me!) and with the radio limited to the BBC and Capital (with two hours per week of Robbie Vincent on Radio London constituting the only soul and funk coverage available) I’d never hear the record, had no idea who Terry Callier was, or his previous recording history (on the cover of the album, ‘Turn You To Love’, he looked like a typical late 70s soul man)….all that I became aware of much later.

I don’t remember listening to the record in the shop so I made that endless return journey with my ‘Musicwise’ bag (see below for pic – thanks for that to a great site devoted to British record shop bags – now there’s a site that’s probably never had a girl knowingly visit it!  – and played ‘Ordinary Joe’.  Once, twice, and then all evening.  And felt myself transported….















Of course I didn’t know then Terry Callier had already had a career recording amazing folk-jazz-soul albums for Cadet (including a slower, deeper version of ‘OJ’ – but for me this is the first!), had recorded with Charles Stepney of EW&F and Rotary Connection fame, and that when he recorded this album his recording career was coming to an ignominious end due to changing musical tastes and record company indifference.

And that in the future was ‘Don’t Want To See Myself’, which rode that pre/post House wave of optimism and seemed to unite every club scene in the UK in the late 80s (I remember hearing it at modern soul, acid jazz and house clubs at the time), his rebirth (especially in the UK off the back of those 100 Club and Jazz Café gigs) and his subsequent recording career, producing another set of peerless recorded music until his untimely death in 2012.  But that’s the great thing with the past – you never know what the future’s going to hold.

So, back in 1984 the tragic passing of one soul hero is forever associated for me with my discovery of another soul great.  And they’ve both given me so much pleasure over the years.  So, at this poignant anniversary, I just wanted to reminisce a bit about Marvin and Terry.  And a trip 30 years ago to a little record store in Egham.  Thanks for the indulgence.




On getting it right: Bill Nighy

6 Mar

Sometimes it’s the simplest sentences that tell.  You can keep your endless treatises and academic hard-back books on Mod, for me the reasons why we do the thing we do is all in this couple of lines from an interview with the excellent Bill Nighy in today’s ‘Shortlist’ magaizine.  You can argue about the brands listed (I’m sure we all will) but I think the sentiment is spot on.  Mod as anti-fashion?  Damn right!

You’re a dapper gent. Have you always been into Mod fashion?

It may have started out as being fashion, but now it’s more anti-fashion. I make no concessions to the current trends. I always go to the same shops – Margaret Howell, John Smedley for my leisurewear; John Pearse and Anderson & Sheppard to construct my suits; Church’s for my shoes and socks, and glasses from Cutler And Gross. But I’m not into parkas and I’m not into helmets. I do like the idea of being smart, it’s cool. But also it’s a sort of defensive thing – “You may not like me, but check out my outfit.”

Read the full interview here:

February 2014 Playlist

11 Feb

A top 10 of sorts to keep those stormy February blues at bay:

1) Robin McKelle & the Flytones ‘Heart of Memphis’ (OKeh) – lovely recreation of the Willie Mitchell/Al Green Hi sound – will be one of the best contemporary soul albums of 2014 (and it’s only bleedin” February!)

2) Mighty Mighty ‘See The Light’ (Schema) – great jazz dance from Finalnd, via the always reliable Schema Records – check their version of ‘Too High’.  Rhodes-tastic!

3) V/A ‘Kent’s Cellarful of Soul’ (Kent) – some classics and some not so well known tunes – the best 60s soul comp for ages .

4) The Stairsteps ‘2nd Resurrection’ (Solaris) – reissue of their comeback (and final) album for George Harrison’s Dark Horse label, this is great 70s soul infused with the spirit of the great soul groups of the 60s (the Impressions and Miracles especially) – check ‘Throwing Stones Atcha’ and ‘Pasado’.  Described by Mojo magazine (in 2001!) as one of the best 100 soul albums of all time, I’d put it top 20.

5) V/A ‘Studio One Rocksteady’ (Soul Jazz) – the sweetest soul voices over those shuffling rhythms, this is lovely stuff from reggae’s greatest period.  Usual high quality packaging from Soul Jazz as well.

6) Zara McFarlane ‘If You Knew Her’ (Brownswood) – not a dance album by any stretch of the imagination, this is stripped down and moody to the extreme – just voice, some piano, bass, the occasional trumpet solo.  Amazing moody late night jazz vocals…good to the last drop.  Check her amazing slowed down version of ‘Police and Thieves’.

7) Andrew Hill ‘Grass Roots’ (Blue Note) – new (reasonably priced) Jap reissue of Andrew’s ‘soul jazz’ album from 1968.  Check ‘Mira’.  Happy 75th birthday Blue Note!

8) V/A ‘Dusty Heard Them Here First’ (Kent) – original versions of the tunes that Dusty covered in the 60s, this covers all the bases (well known and not so well known): the Velvelettes, Aretha, Marvin, Garnett Mimms….you listen to this and can’t make your mind up whose versions you prefer.

9) Floyd Taylor ‘Shut Um’ Down’ (Artia) – modern southern soul from Johnnie Taylor’s son, features a great version of his dad’s ‘What About My Love’ amongst a host of other deep and soulful tunes.

10) V/A ‘Without Limits’ (Outta Sight) – second volume of modern soul classics from the ‘Modern Soul Collective’, they keep the quality count high by featuring lesser-known tracks from established acts.  Check the opening ‘When Temptation Comes’ by the Chi-Lites to see what I mean (and is this the distant cousin to Eugene Record’s ‘Overdose of Joy’ perhaps?).  Great comp.

Today I Started Loving You Again: Bettye Swann – ‘The Complete Atlantic Recordings’

9 Feb


Her name kept alive by those Northern acolytes who’ve always kept the flame burning, and a few clued up radio DJs (stand up Peter Young), Bettye Swann hasn’t made a new record in 38 years, and yet her influence continues to echo across the decades and is even now acknowledged by a wave of younger performers (with Joss Stone recording her ‘Victim Of A Foolish Heart’ on 2003’s ‘Soul Sessions’, and Duffy name-checking her in recent years).  Bettye had early success in the 60s for the Money label, and after nearly signing for Motown, recorded a number of sides for Capitol and latterly Atlantic in the late 60s and early 70s, where, despite the quality of the music she produced, she enjoyed little commercial success before leaving the music business in 1980.  She was 36 years old…

Her country-influenced sides for Capitol were released on a great Honest Jon’s compilation a few years back (highly recommended as well:, this latest release focuses on the sides she made for Atlantic at the end of her career.  Recording for the likes of Rich Hall at Muscle Shoals and the Young Professionals in Philadelphia, these sessions only resulted in 6 singles, despite their obvious quality.  A combination of poor promotion and changing musical tastes meant the remainder of these tracks remained largely unreleased and ignored until now, so its great to be able to listen them together.  And what shines out is the sheer quality and sophistication of Bettye’s performances of these songs of love and regret and heartache – never did longing and desire sound so grown-up and knowing.

A record you’ll keep going back to, I can’t imagine that there’ll be a better soul reissue this year.  Thank you Bettye.

‘Today I Started Loving You Again’

‘When The Game Is Played On You’

British Swagger, Italian Style: Pellicano Menswear

9 Feb

Capturing the continuing love affair that style-conscious British youth have with all things Italian (think Bar Italia, scooters, cool girls in Capri pants, spaghetti ala vongole served in little bistros just off the Kings Road), Pellicano Menswear filter that original ‘jazz club’ mod spirit into a small but perfectly formed set of shirts plus accessories.  Think penny collar shirts with multi-coloured knitted ties, with some lovely pocket squares to give a hint of colour to that midnight blue mohair suit.  All made in Italy in strictly limited editions, they’re the perfect items to help you create you own Soho Friday night…wherever you are.  Bellissimo!

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