Monday, June 27, 2011

Vintage 2011

Imagine a time before the internet. Before Social Networking sites. Before contemporary music, and access to it, was so darn easy.
Imagine it is 1978.
Imagine two men, armed only with a guitar and a kazoo, going into a recording studio and recording a three track EP.
Imagine this wilfully amateurish endeavour being issued as a record and imagine that that record remains one of the great visceral glories of its age.

Thankfully we needn't just imagine.

6000 Crazy by Spizzoil, a two man group made up of Pete Petrol on guitar and Spizz on vocals, was issued in 1978 by Rough Trade records.

Rough Trade was an independent record label which grew out of a West London record shop, inspired by the D.I.Y ethic embodied in The Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP from the previous year. 6000 Crazy was their sixth release.

Spizz would undergo several name changes and the line up would expand and contract throughout the years but when the first weekly Independent (indie) Charts were published in January 1980 Spizz sat atop the singles chart with his glorious anthem Where's Captain Kirk?

Spizz were only one of multitude of bands that tested the very boundaries of what music could be in a glorious rush to be heard in the wake of Punk rock.

In much the same way, twenty years earlier men and women had driven from their farms to store front recording studios in through out the US having heard themselves in the noise of Elvis Presley and anxious to continue the dialogue .

Like Spizzoil, many of these hillbilly cats had little more than a couple of instruments and a need to be heard.

Also like Spizz, who's lyrics drew on science fiction imagery from 2000AD comic and Star Trek, many of those early rockers were also inspired by sci fi. Spaceships and aliens abounded from Billy Lee Rileys Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll to Gene Vincent's Spaceship to Mars.

But it wasn't just aliens that rocked in the immediate wake of the Memphis Flash, if the huge outpouring of records that followed are to be believed everyone and everything began to rock, from Grandad (Grandaddy's Rockin' Mac Curtis) to Grandma (You Oughta See Grandma Rock Skeets McDonald) to animals (Jungle Rock Hank Mizell) to inanimate objects (Uranium Rock Warren Smith), nothing was safe.

Of course with so many records being made and with so many of them being issued on tiny local labels it is not surprising that some would lay unheard for so long, what is, perhaps, most surprising is the sheer quality of some rockabilly gems that didn't see the light of day until some thirty years later when European collectors unearthed them.

The 1976 UK chart success of Hank Mizell's Jungle Rock inspired enthusiasts to explore what else may lay in the vaults. It's strange now to think that such rockin' classics as Put Your Cat Clothes On were not even deemed worthy of a release in rockabilly's short lived fifties heyday.

The Rockabilly Scene that grew up in Europe in general and in the UK in particular around these unearthed gems came to fetishise not just rockabilly's crazy beat but also second hand cars and clothing.

It was called the Rockabilly Revival but in fact it was more of a re-imagining.
Today's rockin' enthusiasts would have looked bizarre to citizens of the 1950's, with girls sporting tattoo's and boys bleaching their hair. The look of the new rockabilly owed more to a British imagination fired by B- Movie bad guys and burlesque than it ever did to mainstream fifties America.

Still that sound, that urgent wish to communicate that can't be denied, that can do spirit that is shared by Spizz and by those early rockers is what pulls me toward Let It Rock at Vintage 2011.

Then, of course, there is the Soul Revue featuring Percy Sledge and Booker T .

Denied an official voice Black American's had for a long time found a voice in the entertainment industry. This voice was recorded by small label's, operated by white guys who saw a market, or perhaps heard the art, before they saw the skin colour.

Phil Chess in Chigaco, Syd Nathan in Cincinnatti and in Memphis Sam Phillips, who would bring Elvis to the world, would all record what was then called race music.It was another white guy, Jerry Wexler, that would rechristen it Rhythm and Blues.

It was the same Wexler, who as A&R for Atlantic Records, would help bring twenty five year old hospital orderly Percy Sledge' s first great hit When A Man Loves A Woman to the world.

Peter Guralnick, that great chronicler of American Roots music wrote of it:

"Here was a song uncompromised, I thought at the time (many thought at the time), by concessions to the marketplace, unbleached and unblemished by the endearing palliatives which Motown always brought to bear, an expression of romantic generosity and black solidarity(I thought again). I didn't even like the song all that much,but I took it as a harbinger of a new day, when a mass audience could respond to black popular culture on it's own terms." (from Sweet Soul Music)

Legend has it that, blown away by this records success and the rigours of touring that followed it, Sledge, suffering from nervous exhaustion, booked himself into Colbert County Hospital, the same hospital he had worked in as an orderly before the record that had made him a star.

Sledge would never repeat the commercial success of When A Man Loves A Woman but that doesn't mean he didn't still cut some of the finest soul sides you could ever wish to hear. I for one would love to hear him doing Something Wonderful or his 1974 release I'll Be Your Everything when he plays the South Bank on Saturday night.

One Sunday in 1962 the aforementioned rockabilly singer Billy Lee Riley was meant to be at Stax's Memphis studios to cut a jingle and Booker T &the various musicians who were beginning to coalesce as the house band of that great soul label were sitting round waiting for him. he never showed.
'We just started jamming,' recalled Booker T (the other head liner at The Soul Revue on Saturday at Vintage) 'It was an idea Steve an I had worked on, and we just cut it.'

You and I know this jam session as Green Onions.

Green Onions was a number three hit in the US in 1962.

It didn't hit the UK charts until December 1979.

The release of the film Quadrophenia and it's soundtrack, which featured Green Onions, that year saw a huge explosion of interest amongst post punk punters for all things Mod. DJ's at The Wigan Casino saw more and more punters arriving on scooters and sporting mod styles. So Casino Classics, the record label wing of that legendary Northern Soul night spot, attempted to licence Green Onions from Atlantic for reissue. Atlantic refused but assured the Casino Classics crew that they would not be reissuing it themselves. Using a session band called The Nicky North Band Casino Classics released a version in December which they dubbed Mod 79. It reached the lower parts of the UK charts. Then Atlantic did to reissue the original which hit number 7 in January 1980 and remained in the charts for 12 weeks, killing the Wigan boys effort stone dead.

Much has been made of Vintage being a different sort of Festival, as much a celebration of design and fashion as it is anything else but that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Vintage also affords one the opportunity to see and hear some of the great musical artists who have helped shape the world we live in now.