Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Stuart Henry (1942-1995)

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Stuart Henry was born in Edinburgh and trained as an actor. By chance one of his first role as a professional actor was to play a DJ. He liked it so much he joined Radio Scotland as pirate jock.

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Chronic sea sickness prevented him from broadcasting from the ship (Comet) so many of his programs were pre-recorded or broadcast from the mainland. Stuart’s show was immensely popular and he was selected to join the Radio 1 stable when private radio was made illegal.

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Stuart was the master of understatement and spoke with a gentle East Coast accent which endeared him to his audience. He presented 'Midday Spin' (1967 -1974) as well as the Saturday Morning show (1966 -1967). When Stuart began to slur his words regularly on air his superiors thought he was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Somewhat controversially, Stuart’s contract with BBC was not renewed and he left to join Radio Luxembourg in 1974. Soon after the DJ was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

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Throughout his career with Radio Luxembourg he battled with the progressive disease and continued to broadcast until the illness finally overtook. By his side always in the studio was his wife Ollie. Stuart was always enthusiastic about the records he played and did much to introduce new acts to the listeners of Radio Luxembourg. He was a compassionate man and expressed his concern for ecological issues, as well as the plight of runaways living rough. Stuart died in 1995.

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Reviewed 22/07/2021

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Downliners Sect

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In 1962 Mick O’Donnell started a band called the Downliners. Their name was taken from the Jerry Lee Lewis song, "Down The Line" and they soon were playing locally in Twickenham. After a short but ill-fated tour of US air bases in France, the band broke up. A year later, Mick O’Donnell (now Don Craine) and Johnny Sutton (drummer) formed the Downliners Sect who quickly established themselves as a popular r&b act playing many clubs in London. The line-up was Don Craine (rhythm guitar and vocals), Johnny Sutton (drums), Keith Evans/Grant (bass), and Melvin who was quickly replaced by Terry Gibson. The Downliners Sect were raw much akin to the Pretty Things but a most definitely the match of the early Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. The band’s interpretation of blues classics was both loud and aggressive and they gathered a loyal following.

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Rod Steward, Stevie Marriot (Small Faces) and Van Morrison (Them) were all fans of the group. On stage, as a gimmick Don Craine wore a Sherlock Holmes-hat which he felt added to the mystique of their name. Their first recording in 1963 was an EP (extended player later known as maxi single) featuring the band playing live at Studio 51, London. The release had minor impact in the UK but became popular in Sweden mainly due to airtime given to it by a Swedish pirate station (Radio Syd).

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Although the band did other recordings these were not released for two decades, by which time the Downliner Sect recordings had become collectable. The Sect became the resident band at Eel Pie Island and Ray Sone (harmonica) joined them in 1964 with his distinctive harmonica playing. They signed with Columbia and released "Baby What’s Wrong" but it failed to chart in the UK.

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Their first album "The Sect" was recorded later that year and although it too did not sell well it has subsequently become a classic album of the 60s R&B genre in the UK.

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Unsure of their lasting appeal as an R&B outfit, Columbia released ‘Little Egypt’ which was a novelty single. Little Egypt shot up the charts in Sweden and gave the group a Number 2 hit.

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Pip Harvey replaced Ray Sone in 1965 and the Sect went to have a successful tour of Sweden. On their return the group followed up this Scandinavian success with the release of a four-track EP called "The Sect Sing Sick Songs". This was a quartet of death songs, a genre which had enjoyed some popularity in the charts at the time, including hits by The Shangri-Las’ (Leader of the Pack) and Twinkle’s (Terry). Eccentric, Screaming Lord Sutch also enjoyed some chart success with Jack the Ripper and whether ‘The Sect Sing Sick Songs’ was an endeavour to jump on the bandwagon of rhythm and horror genre is not quite clear but the band had abandoned their R&B roots. The songs were banned by the BBC which gave them some degree of cult status but little else.

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Country music had been predicted as the likely successor to the English Invasion with the early successes of Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdict in the charts

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DLS's tried to catch 'the new trend' with the Country Sect album in 1965 but it was a complete commercial disaster.

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The group’s change in style had not endeared them to their old fans nor had it won them many new ones. Now reduced to a four-piece (harmonica player Pip Harvey had left) they tried to retrieve past glories by returning to R&B basics with the album "The Rock Sect’s In" (1966). However, the quality was not there and punters were no longer listening to beat groups.

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Later in 1966 they released "Glendora" which was an attempt to emulate Ray Davis’s satirical Dedicated follower of fashion, but it did not hit the spot.

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Terry Gibson and Johnny Sutton quit the band and although Don and Keith Grant carried on as Don Craine’s new Downliners Sect it had little success and in 1968 the Downliners Sect split up. Whilst the band seemed to lose their direction by either trying to follow popular trends or just being mis-managed they slipped out of the main stream.

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However, the impression the Sect left with younger listeners was to prove important to their future in the decades that followed. In the 70s many of the punk generation regarded the Sect as early forerunners to punk music.

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Realising this Charly Records re-released the three original Sect albums plus the EP "The Sect Sing Sick Songs" and the band was resurrected. They reformed with some of the original members and more or less have continued to entertain and record ever since. Currently they enjoy a following on the retro circuit.

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Reviewed 21/07/2021

Geno Washington & The Ram Jam - Foot Stompin' Soul (LIVE) 1966

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Monday, July 19, 2021

From 'I Love Lucy' to pop music, Cuba's influence on America runs deep (MSNBC)

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In From 'I Love Lucy' to pop music, Cuba's influence on America runs deep 2021. Aliyah Frumin and Emma Margolin outline the social importance of the two countires and their influence on US popular culture.

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Mike Raven (1924-1997)

(Mike Raven Image via The Pirate Radio Hall of Fame )

Austin Churton Fairman was born in London in 1924. His parents were classical actors and the young Austin trained as a ballet dancer. He also became an accomplished flamenco guitarist and worked as a photographer and conjuror at one time or other. In 1964 he became a pirate broadcaster and joined Radio Atlanta presenting a program called All Systems Go.

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Now known as 'Mike Raven' he felt this was a name more suited to his new employ. He later moved to another pirate station called King Radio as program controller but the venture was short lived due to underfunding and the station closed down. Radio 390 replaced King Radio in 1965 and was better equipped, broadcasting from a more powerful transmitter.

(Mike and Mandy Raven Image via National Portrait Gallery)

,br> Mike and Mandy Raven co-presented 'Raven Around.' and because they were both blues enthusiasts played a lot of blues records which had been all but ignored by the mainstream media. They soon won a devoted following.

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He left Radio 390 in 1966 to join Radio Luxembourg and present a soul show. A year later he was with Radio 1 (BBC) presenting an R&B show on Sunday night called "The Mike Raven Blues Show ". The two hour program ran for four years. The theme tune for the show was Soul Serenade performed by the Mike Cotton Sound which was also produced by Mike Raven.

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Although unsung, Mike Raven’s shows established a major influence in bringing Blues and Soul music to a British audience.

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In his private life Mike was always fascination with the occult and gave up broadcasting in 1971 to become an actor after he left the BBC. Tall, bearded and dressed in black, he had the perfect appearance for the horror genre and featured in a number of movies including: Lust for a Vampire (1970) Crucible of Terror (1972) and I, Monster (1974).

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The films met with meager public interest and were mostly panned by the critics. Despite looking the part his acting was wooden and he faded quickly from the acting scene to retire to Cornwall to rear sheep.

( Austin Churton Fairman Image via Bodmin Moor)

He reverted to his original name and became a successful sculptor. Refusing all invitations to reappear as Mike Raven, he was well aware of his influential role in promoting Delta Blues in the UK.

(Paul Oliver Image via Chicago Tribune )

Mike always referred to himself as “a poor man’s Paul Oliver”. Paul Oliver MBE (1927 – 2017) was an English architectural historian and writer on the blues and other forms of African-American music.

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Austin Churton Fairman ( Mike Raven) died in 1997 aged 72.

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Reviewed 16/07/2021

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Why Bascom Fought For His Appalachian Mountain Music

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

A brief history pop charts : 'Not 'arf!'

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The term hit parade originated in the late 1930s and initially was a list of the bestselling songs and instrumental sheet music. At the time record players were rare and people listened to the wireless, be entertained by live music at clubs, dance halls and theatres as well as entertain themselves and friends at home playing pianos, accordions etc. Sheet music was very popular and simple enough to create a ‘hit parade’ of the bestselling copy. Lists were prone to manipulation often with only selected outlets ever asked to contribute their sales information. As record players replaced radios and recorded pressings became more available and leagues of bestselling records were compiled based upon popular airplay or actual record sales. These became known as The Top Forty or Top 40 and represented the most-popular songs in a particular genre e.g. Country & Western or Pop. When used without qualification, it typically referred to the best-selling or most frequently broadcast pop music songs of the previous week.

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Singles charts based on actual record sales were first published by the American Billboard magazine in 1940. Similar charts started to appear in the UK from 1952 onwards and were published in the New Musical Express. Initially these were based on an ad hoc survey but later as the information became critical to the industry and a succession of market research companies including the British Market Research Bureau (1969) and later Gallup gathered independent information. Today the UK charts are produced on behalf of the British record industry by The Official UK Charts Company (OCC) formerly the Chart Information Network. When the recording industry agreed upon a standard recording format for higher fidelity music in 1954 they also introduced new single records on 45 rpm. This meant people could buy cheap commercial pressings which meant those who sold well and appeared on the league of best sellers became hits.

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Broadcasting the top 40 became a dominant program format on radio with jingles, contests, listener dedications, news updates, traffic reports, and other features designed to make Top 40 radio particularly attractive to listeners. The chart week ran from Sunday to Saturday and most singles were released on a Monday. The term ‘hit parade’ was used to describe the league of bestselling records and the term was later incorporated into a title of radio and television program which dealt specifically with the most popular tunes of the day. In the US, Your Hit Parade was broadcast on radio (1935-1955) and television (1950 to 1959). By the mid-50s the term Hit Parade had passed into the common vernacular. The first British record sales chart appeared in 1952 and Radio Luxembourg had previously broadcast a sheet music Top 20. The template for the hit parade shows was forged in the US and consisted of showcasing the top ten (sometimes 20) best sellers for that week and several other potential best sellers from the list of new releases. The order of the charts was reversed and the top three songs were presented with an extra flourish as the listening/viewing audience would speculate among themselves as to which tunes would climb to the top three positions and how long they would stay there. This pattern of chart shows has rarely changed over the decades and the term ‘count-down’ was frequently used. In Australia during the 70s and 80s there was a TV program called ‘Countdown ,’ (ABC).

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American Bandstand (1952-1989) was a television program which aired nationally and featured teenagers dancing the latest dances to Top 40 music. Although Dick Clark was not the original host he became synonymous with the show and introduced a ‘rate a record’ segments where teenagers (the main consumers of pop music) were interviewed about their opinions of the songs in the Top 40. The catch phrase, "It's got a good beat and you can dance to it" is credited to this source. Bandstand (1958 – 1972) was an Australian musical/variety television show based on American Bandstand and was hosted by Brian Henderson . The show showcased mainly Australian Acts, all of which were popular across the country.

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Pick of the Pops was a BBC radio programme based on the Top 20 UK singles chart and was first broadcast on the BBC Light Programme in 1955. It later transferred to BBC’s Radio 1 in 1967 before it was axed in 1972. There was a series of presenters starting with Franklin Engelmann (1955), Alan Dell (1956), David Jacobs (1956-61 and 1962), Don Moss (1963) and then the late Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman (1961-62, 1963 and 1964-72). The Pick of the Pop charts was based on an average of the Record Mirror and NME singles charts (and probably the Melody Maker from April 1956). Alan Freeman split his shows into four segments: chart newcomers, new releases, LPs and the Top 10. The programme achieved big audiences and primarily was the only pop music on BBC radio. Freeman continued with the show when Radio 1 replaced the Light Programme and stayed until the programme ended in September 1972. Alan Freeman ’s original opening to the show was “Hi, there pop pickers! (which was later changed to “Greetings, pop pickers?”) and he ended the show with ' 'Alright? Stay bright!'

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The longest running UK ‘hit parade” styled TV show was Top of the Pops , (TOTP) BBC and was originally broadcast on the first of January 1964. The program ran until 2006 when the BBC axed the show. The successful format was each programme consisted of performances from some of that week's best-selling popular music artists, with a rundown of that week's singles chart. In the 1990s, the show's format was sold to several foreign broadcasters in the form of a franchise package, and at one point various versions of the show were shown in nearly 100 countries. For most of its history the show had very strict rules about which singles could be featured. A song could not appear if it was going down the charts, nor could any track appear on consecutive weeks unless it was at number one. These rules were abandoned in 1997, possibly as a response to the changing nature of the Top 40 (in the late 1990s and early 2000s climbers in the charts were a rarity, with almost all singles peaking at their debut position). In its heyday in the 1970s, TOTP attracted 15 million viewers each week.

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Reviewed 07/07/2021