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!  – http://www.britishrecordshoparchive.org) 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.





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