Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Beatles: There's gonna be a revolution,,, and there was

Probably, like me you have commuted to work on public transport. No matter how good the service, the day finally arrives when your bus is late leaving you to wait for what seems an eternity. Then out of the blue, three of the blighters turn up, all at the same time. What that has to do with the Beatles might not appear immediately obvious to you now, but allow me to explain.

In the world of the Arts, things follow a recognised pattern until all of a sudden something happens, and like our three buses there is a burst of activity where creative minds explode simultaneously in the same place and at the same time. Perhaps a good example of this was La Belle Époque in nineteenth century, Paris where bohemians of all sorts gathered together to create new movements in the world of Arts. Well, something similar happened in the Swinging 60s, in England which might be typified by the Beatles.

Throughout their recording career the Fab Four always used their albums to showcase a spectrum of popular music which demonstrated not only their wide musical influences and song writing talents, but also determined everything that happened there after in the audio-visual world until the next album was released. They were a key stone in popular culture, suffice more than half a century later, few among us cannot name and hum a Beatles’ tune.

The lads from Liverpool made in total, four feature length films over a period of seven years. Yellow Submarine, (the feature length animation) had little to do with the mop tops themselves, other than one song which may have been written specifically for the project. (All together now). The character’s voices were voiceovers done by actors. Not all the Beatles films were, box office however, but the sound tracks certainly topped the charts worldwide.

Now clearly, John, Paul, Ringo and George were not alone and attracted about them many creative people but part of their success was the group’s refusal to accept that which had gone before them, and instead, they wanted to break all the rules. Their venture into cinema was as ground breaking as neither Lennon nor McCartney, were happy with the tried and tested musical format of the day, where characters just burst into song for the benefit of the narrative, instead, they preferred the music to be incidental to the plot.

In their debut film, A Hard Day’s Night (1963), a title coined by Ringo after a gruelling all-nighter in the recording studio, Lennon wrote the song but could not reach the high note, so Paul took lead vocal.

The screen play was written by Alun Owen and the film directed by Dick Lester. Owen had previously been successful with the play. ‘No Trams to Lime Street’ which featured Liverpudlian dialogue. The Beatles felt comfortable with this and relished working with him. Lester shot the movie in black and white in a style akin to Cinéma vérité. This was a new documentary filmmaking format developed by the French and combined improvisation with the use of the hand-held cameras to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.

An ideal medium for the fly on the wall glimpse into a day in the life of a successful 60s pop group. Here the princes of pop played themselves, casualties of their own fame, confined by a punishing schedule of performances and studio work. All over the head of the majority of fans who just wanted to see the Fab Four on the big screen. However, the film truly revealed what it was like to be a Beatle.

Many of Lester’s stylistic innovations became conventions of modern musical videos, in particular the multi-angle filming of a live performance.

Lester went on to direct their second film ‘Help!’ (1965). By contrast, this was a big budget technicolour project, set on several exotic foreign locations. Surrounded by the cream of British and Australian character actors, the four working class lads this time, felt trapped like extras in their own movie. Shot in a "haze of marijuana", the title track. ‘Help’ said more about life the fast lane than most of us could ever have realised at the time.

Clyde Valley Stompers (Ian Menzies 1932 - 2001)

The Clyde Valley Stompers were formed in 1952 in Glasgow, Scotland. The amateur trad jazz group quickly found a following at the Astra Ballroom in Glasgow and when band leader Jim McHarg (bass) immigrated to Canada two years later he was replaced by trombone player, Ian Menzies (1932 - 2001). Soon after the band became a full-time professional group. During the 50s the moldy figs like Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttleton, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball became popular and the Clyde Valley Stompers extended their popularity beyond Scotland and released several records on the Beltona label.

Essentially they were a live act and the recordings never quite caught their energy subsequently their records did not sell especially well beyond their loyal following. The band members included, successively, Charlie Gall and Malcolm Higgins (trumpet), Jimmy Doherty, Forrie Cairns and Peter Kerr (clarinet). The rhythm section included pianists John Doherty, John Cairns and Ronnie Duff, banjo players Norrie Brown and Jim Douglas, bass players Louis Reddie, Andrew Bennie and Bill Bain, and drummers Bobby Shannon, Robbie Winter, Sandy Malcolm and Billy Law; and vocalists Mary McGowan, Jeannie Lamb and Fionna "Fiona" Duncan.

Dubbed ''the most travelled jazz band in Europe,'' they appeared in village halls and big venues alike and even topped the bill at Liverpool’s Cavern. As their popularity grew internationally the band moved to London, and signed for Pye Records.

There they were managed by Lonnie Donegan and toured with him as well as other top names including Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.

Sometimes the band were billed at the Clyde Valley Stompers and others as Ian Menzies and the Clyde Valley Stompers.

In 1962 they had a UK Top 30 success with ‘Peter And The Wolf.’

“Stompermania” predated the Mersey Sound but had all the same intensity. The Clyde Valley Stompers were the first trad jazz band to appear on the Royal Variety Performance, when it was held in Glasgow Empire. Their popularity in the UK was enhanced with guest appearances on television's Morecambe & Wise, Russ Conway, and Thank Your Lucky Stars shows. In 1963 the band appeared in a British musical called It's All Happening (The Dream Maker) and starring Tommy Steele..

As the fad for Trad Jazz passed the group disbanded in 1963. Over the decades the band has occasionally re-formed to perform as The Clyde Valley Stompers Reunion Band which included Jim McHarg.

Worth a listen
Lonnie Donegan Presents Ian Menzies and Clyde Valley Stompers
The Swingin' Seamus (EP) (1959)
Roses of Picardy/Beale Street Blues/
Gettysburg March/Swingin’ Seamus

Ian Menzies and Clyde Valley Stompers
Big Man (1961)
Play the gypsy (1961)
The fish man (1966)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Harry Robinson (1932 – 1996) aka Lord Rockingham’s XI

Henry MacLeod Robertson was born in Elgin, Moray, Scotland in 1932. His professional music career began in 1957 as composer and conductor for TV shows such as Six-Five Special (BBC) [1957] and Oh Boy! (ITV) [1958].

He also worked for record labels EMI and Decca, and was musical director for many artists including Craig Douglas. When Jack Good wanted a backing band to segue together the guest stars on Oh Boy! He asked Harry to put the band together.

Robinson gathered ten session musicians including Red Price and Rex Morris on tenor sax, Benny Greene and Cyril Reubens on baritone sax, Ronnie Black on double bass, Cherry Wainer on organ, Bernie Taylor and Eric Ford on guitars, and Don Storer and Reg Weller on percussion. Kenny Packwood (guitar) and Ian Frazer (piano) joined the group later. Good decided to call the house band Lord Rockingham's XI i.e. on a play on the words "rocking 'em” and they were billed as Good Presents Lord Rockingham's XI. This would later become a bone of contention but meantime the house band proved very successful playing a wall of sound with a stomping beat. They recorded "Fried Onions" b/w "The Squelch “but it failed to chart.

A second single "Hoots Mon" (based on the traditional ‘A Hundred Pipers’) was however an instant hit and became UK #1 in 1958. The first instrumental to do so and the hook line 'Hoots Mon! there's a moose loose aboot this hoose’ proved an international success. The record was one of the first rock and roll songs to feature the Hammond organ.

At the end of Oh Boy! problems arose concerning the rights to the name Lord Rockingham XI. The legal case that followed was settled out of court and the group began recording and touring. They made several records including “Wee Tom," (1959) “Ra-Ra Rockingham," (1959)"Long John ," (1959) and "Newcastle Twist" (1962), but they would never repeat the same chart success.

The group eventually disbanded to pursue their own solo careers.

Harry Robinson went on to become a very successful film composer writing dozens of UK film scores including, ‘It’s Trad, Dad! ‘(US title: Ring-A-Ding Rhythm) released in 1962.

He was also involved with many Hammer Horror film scores. He continued to work in television as an arranger, songwriter, and composer and is also credited with the string arrangement on Nick Drake's track "River Man" (1969).

On the West End stage Robinson arranged and conducted the Lionel Bart musicals Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be (1960) and Maggie May (1964).

EMI did attempt to resurrect Lord Rockingham's XI in 1968 and released an album of contemporary covers directed by Harry Robinson called The Return of Lord Rockingham, but it failed to chart. Harry Robinson continued to work until his death in 1996.

In rather an unusual twist Harry Robinson married model and photographer Myrtle (Ziki) Arbuthnot who inherited the Wharton Barony in 1990. She became Lady Wharton, 11th Baroness Wharton and sat in the House of Lords.

Worth a listen
What The Butler Saw EP (1958)
Lord Rockingham's Lament/ Fried Onions
Blue Train/ Lord Rockingham Meets The Monster
Wee Tom/ Lady Rockingham, I Presume? <1958)
Ra-Ra Rockingham/Farewell To Rockingham (1959)
Newcastle Twist/ Rockingham Twist (1962)

Nick Drake
River Man (1969).

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jackie Dennis : The Kilted Choirboy

Jackie Dennis was born in Leith, Edinburgh in 1943. He grow up in Canonmills and loved to sing. He started performing aged 14 and became popular with US Servicemen regularly appearing at an American Air Force base in Prestwick. The spiky haired teenager covered pop tunes dressed in a kilt and his likable cheeky persona earned him the title, “The Kilted Choirboy". Mike and Bernie Winters (a comedy duo) spotted him and made the introduction to their show.

Business agent Eve Taylor signed him and he recorded for Decca. There under the watchful eye of Harry Robinson (Lord Rockingham’s XI) he recorded a cover version of Billy and Lillie’s US hit “La Dee Dah.” The single went to #4 in the UK Charts in 1958.

Meantime Eve Talyor secured him a spot on the Six-Five Special (BBC), television program and subsequent movie spin off. The tartan teenager proved a popular novelty act.

When Jerry Lee Lewis controversially withdrew from his British tour Jackie Dennis replaced him.

He also toured the US and appeared on the Perry Como Show billed as 'Britain's Ricky Nelson.’

On his return he continued to perform and released several singles. Despite his initial success his subsequent works were less commercial. A cover of Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater” did make it to the UK Top Thirty which would prove Jackie’s last chart success.

Musical tastes were changing and Jackie found it difficult to break free of the cocky Scotty image. After he was dropped by Decca he retired from show business in the early 60s.

Worth a listen La Dee Dah / You're the Greatest (1958)
My Dream /Miss Valerie (1958)
The Purple People Eater / You-oo (1958)
More Than Ever / Linton Addie (1958)
Lucky Ladybug / Gingerbread (1959)
Summer Snow/ Night Bird (1959)
The Wee Cooper O' Fife / Come Along (1959)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A brief history of radio jingles

In the US direct advertising was banned by the National Broadcasting Company so radio jingles were used to overcome the embargo. These took the form of sound branding as bite sized tunes used to advertise products and for other commercial uses. These usually contained one or more hooks and lyrics that explicitly promoted the product being advertised. Product advertisements with a musical tilt can be traced back to the street cries of the seventeenth century and probably before. Prior to the Great Fire of London (1666) it was common place to advertise commodities through the medium of street criers. The features of food, clothing and personal services were typically sung by a quartet.

The lyrics were crude but often the tunes were composed by up and coming composers. The celebrated English composer, Orlando Gibbons (1583 – 1625) was a prolific jingle writer before he became better known for his madrigals and music for the Anglican Church. Gibbons never forgot his humble beginnings and composed a poignant fantasia for voices and viols based on the traditional cries of London street peddlers. After the great fire (1666) less and less reliance was put on advertising through the medium of street criers although it did last for another 200 years. By the nineteenth century a few commodities were still successfully sold including corn plasters and cough mixture.

Commercial radio started in the US in the early 20s principally to sell radios . The Westinghouse radio station KDKA broadcast the results of the presidential election and to keep the interest of their listeners played live banjo music and phonographic recordings between ballot reports. The popularity of commercial radio continued to be met with a one hour nightly broadcast. As more people began listening to commercial radio, 600 radio stations sprung up throughout the United States. The stations relied entirely upon advertising revenue to fund themselves. The first ever broadcast commercial advert was for a local real estate developer aired in 1922 in New York. It aired in 1922 and within a year radio jingles became a fixed feature.

In 1926, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) formed the first national radio network called the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and in the same year General Mills began promoting a breakfast cereal called Wheaties. The jingle, “Have You Tried Wheaties?" and was sung by four male singers. It first aired on Christmas Eve in the Minneapolis-St. Paul radio market. As a result the product sold well and the group became known as "The Wheaties Quartet." Encouraged by the results, the company purchased nationwide commercial time advertising "Wheaties" which instantly became a proprietary household brand.

After the transistor was invented in the 1940s transistor radios became a new phenomenon in the early 50s. More Americans now heard the same songs and news faster and radio jingles was the perfect platform for selling products from soap to tobacco and candy to beer. The right jingle got a brand’s name embedded in the heads of potential customers. Jingles became a vital part of commercial radio and were soon used to identify radio station branding or identification (i.e. imaging). Radio jingles were typically broadcast in between songs or into and out of commercial breaks. In the UK the introduction of Pirate Radio Stations which played non-stop pop in the 60s saw heavy use of American style radio jingles

A change of UK government policy in 1970 broke the monopoly of the BBC and introduced commercial broadcasting. The introduction of the new commercial stations now by law require to provide a public service radio and not just non-stop pop funded by advertising saw a major rise in the uptake of radio jingles. These popular sound bites were reworked and rerecord. A very lucrative boutique jingle making industry sprung and companies like PAMS Productions of Dallas, Texas, made thousands of station ID jingles in the 1960s and 1970s. Like the experience of the town crier before them some notable singers and musicians were often involved. New stations used these better quality jingles as imaging to promote their station.

When the BBC opened Radio One for the younger demographic, Aunty employed many of the popular pirate disc jockeys were employed and along with them came their now familar sounding radio jingles.

When the Who released their The Who Sell Out album in 1967 it featured a collection of unrelated songs interspersed with faux commercials and public service announcements. It was a concept album purporting to be a broadcast by pirate radio station Radio London. The company that owned the rights to the jingles brought a lawsuit against The Who for using them and a settlement was reached.

More recently the BBC announced they would drop sung jingles on their Radio One breakfast programme. A scandal had previously broken when it was discovered DJ Chris Moyles was being paid royalties every time he played his jingles on his show. As a result when the BBC now use jingles featuring the voice of an employee they own it on an "all rights basis", with the creator just holding the composer rights.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Michael Holliday (1924 – 1963)

Norman Michael Miln was born in 1924 in Liverpool, UK the son of a New Zealand seamen. He grew up in Kirkdale (north of the city) in St Agnes Road, off Melrose Road. Young Norman had a talent for singing. During the war he worked as a merchant seaman sailing the Atlantic. On shore leave in New York Norman was persuaded by friends to enter a talent contest at Radio City Music Hall and won. The experience was so enjoyable he vowed to become a professional singer. When he left the navy in 1950 he started singing around Liverpool dancehalls calling himself Michael Holliday. Michael won a local talent contest called ‘New Voices of Merseyside’ and joined Dick Denny's band playing summer season at the Butlin's Holiday Camp in Pwllheli, Wales. In 1953 he joined the Eric Winstone Band and started touring and appearing on BBC Radio. The good looking young man got a break on television in 1955 and appeared on The Centre Show (BBC). Norrie Paramor spotted him and Michael Holliday was signed to Columbia label. Michael Holliday sang in a Perry Como style heavily influenced by Bing Crosby. ‘Nothin' to Do' became his first Top 30 record in 1956, and he made the Top 20 with the double-sided hit ‘The Gal with Yeller Shoes' and ‘Hot Diggity' later that same year.

Michael recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studio and covered many US hits including: The Yellow Rose of Texas (1955), Sixteen Tons (1956), Hot Diggity, All of you, and Old Cape Cod and enjoyed UK chart success. Michael had two number ones hits: The story of my life (1958) and Starry eyed (1959).

Relaxed style made him an armchair favourite with young and old alike and he appeared in the Six Five Special (BBC) as well as hosting his own TV series, Relax with Michael Holliday (BBC). Michael released 16 extended players (EPs) one of which included “The Runaway Train,” which is an evergreen favourite among young children.

By the beginning of the 60s music tastes had changed and Michael’s chart success was over. Despite his continued popularity as a performer behind the scenes he was suffering and had a mental breakdown in 1961. A year later he appeared in the film ‘Life is a Circus' but never recovered his best form and died two years later from a suspected drugs overdose.

Worth a listen
The Yellow Rose of Texas (1955)
Sixteen Tons (1956)
Nothin' To Do (1956)
Hot Diggity (Dog Diggity Boom) (1956)
Ten Thousand Miles / The Runaway Train (1956)
I Saw Esau (1957)
All of You (1957)
Old Cape Cod (1957)
The Story of My Life (1958)
Stairway of Love (1958)
Starry Eyed (1959)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

David "Honeyboy" Edwards (1915-2011)

David Edwards was born in Shaw, Mississippi in 1915, the son of a sharecropper, the grandson of a slave. As a toddler he earned his nickname "Honey Boy" from his sister, who told his mother to "look at honey boy" when he stumbled as he learned to walk. His father played guitar and violin in bars, and bought his son a Sears Roebuck guitar for under $10 from another plantation worker. From the age of nine, “Honey”, worked on the plantations picking cotton by day and learning to play the guitar at night. When “Honey” was 14 he left home to travel the South as an itinerant musician with bluesman Big Joe Williams.

He hoboed across the Delta with a guitar playing for nickels. During this time, he met and played with many of the leading Delta bluesmen, including: Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Son House, Johnny Shines, Rice "Sonny Boy Williamson" Miller, Howlin' Wolf, Peetie Wheatstraw, Sunnyland Slim, Tommy McLennan, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Walter, Little Walter, Magic Sam, Muddy Waters, and the legendary Robert Johnson.

After spells in prison “Honeyboy” decided to return home and there he teamed up with the harmonica player Big Walter Horton, and later Robert Johnson. Now known for his intricate finger-work and bottleneck-slide guitar, Alan Lomax recorded fifteen sides of Honeyboy's music for posterity for the Library of Congress in 1942.

Like many other Mississippi blues men, he made his way to Chicago in the early 1950s. There he worked as a factory machine operator and building labourer, and at night played the blues in Chicago’s clubs and in the open-air market on Maxwell Street. During this time, he played with Floyd Jones, Johnny Temple, and Kansas City Red.

In 1951 he cut "Build A Cave" as 'Mr. Honey' for Arc Records and "Who May Your Regular Be" as Honeyboy.

In 1953 he recorded “Drop Down Mama” for Chess Records.

Although he never attained the fame of Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon or his other blues contemporaries he did enjoy the patronage of the new age white blues men of the British Invasion and enjoyed novel international popularity through their recordings. By the late Sixties he appeared with Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy on sessions that produced the two-volume album Blues Jam in Chicago, by the British rock band Fleetwood Mac.

Honeyboy Edwards became a popular performer on stages around the world. By the 70s he formed the Honeyboy Edwards Blues Band, with Michael Frank (harmonica player) who later became his manager. Honeyboy’s album I've Been Around was released in 1978 on the independent Trix Records label by producer/ethnomusicologist Peter B. Lowry.

When Michael Frank later founded Earwig Records in 1979 Honeyboy and his friends Sunnyland Slim, Kansas City Red, Floyd Jones, and Big Walter Horton recorded "Old Friends".

Edwards had photographic memory and enjoyed telling biographical stories between songs at his shows. He published his autobiography, The World Don't Owe Me Nothin': The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman, in 1997 which is now considered a definitive social history of the Delta Blues genre. Undimmed by age, “Honey” continued to perform and tour up until 2011, until illness forced him to stop.

Later the same year David Honeyboy Edwards died from heart failure.

Worth a listen
Wind Howlin' Blues (1941)
Who May Be Your Regular Be (1951)
Build a cave (1951)
Drop Down Mama (1953)
Just Like Jesse James (1997)
Long Tall Woman Blues (1997)
Bald headed woman (2000)
The Army Blues (2008)
Roll and Tumble Blues (2008)