Revenant Records from a Recovered Time Capsule

"revenant, rav-na, rev'a-nant, n. one who returns after a long absence, esp. from the dead..." –
                                                                                                 Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary

A vinyl time capsule has returned to haunt me. It happened that I squirrelled away a bunch of records in Dad’s loft in an attempt to free up some space in my cluttered flat. This was long enough ago for me to forget all about it. But when Dad cleared his loft, it pleased him to return my LPs. He entrusted delivery to brother Ant, who drives a car. The lapse between commission and execution lasted a year, until finally, just before Christmas, I took receipt of eight cardboard boxes containing around two dozen LPs apiece. I had mixed feelings about this. What might I find? My record collection is anyway a refuge for the unloved and unwanted. Rejects from the Mike Butler Home for Vinyl Waifs and Strays must be very, very bad indeed. Or so you might think.  

What I found was… well, a surfeit of Duke Ellington and a glut of Mahalia Jackson. Both artists crossed from being top of their respective fields to mainstream popularity (they collaborated once), and both recorded prolifically. The crumbs off Duke’s table were eagerly pounced upon by the small Stardust label. Stardust #204 is called simply Volume Four, and documents a concert at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, on April 30th, 1947. It could be a bootleg, for the minimal, handmade packaging (pasted text on front; blank white on the back), which betokens genuine love and enthusiasm. The knowledgeable notes are prefaced by an unsourced quotation, presumably from Shakespeare: 

Who governs here? A noble 
Duke, in nature as in name. 

Where should this music be? 
i’ the air or the earth?

Resolutely lo-fi, in fact, but clearly a magical night. 

Mahalia Jackson fell into the clutches of small labels too, but majors abused her talents more grievously. Here, the Columbia (GB) and Columbia (USA) mix-up becomes a live issue, because Mahalia Jackson appears on both labels. Columbia (USA) – let’s call them CBS for the sake of clarity – were the worst for turning sanctimony into saccharine. My Faith, CBS 62944, burdens the great gospel singer with a choir and strings, plunders Chopin (‘Tristesse Etude Op. 10 No. 3’ appears as ‘My Faith’, credited to ‘G. Howe/A. Hansen’), wilfully ignores the scepticism  of ‘Lost in the Stars’ and is generally tailored to the tastes and pieties of Middle America. Garden of Prayer, CBS 62841, is heading that way – the choir on track one, the title song, sound impeccably clean-cut, starchy and white – but matters improve. Indeed, Garden of Prayer rivals Mahalia’s pre-CBS recordings on Apollo. These were licensed in the UK by Columbia, the EMI subsidiary. No Matter How You Pray (Columbia 33SX 1712) – dig the eerie organ! – and In The Upper Room (Columbia 33SX 1753) clearly derive from the same sessions. The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer (Philips B 07077 L) is best of the lot. Mahalia always excels with a small combo, and any record with the legend “accompanied by the Falls-Jones Ensemble” is a guarantee of excellence. As Sister Rosetta Tharpe is to guitar (i.e. a holy roller precursor of rock ’n’ roll), so is Mildred Falls to piano.   

I was clearly over-dosing on Mahalia at the time, with all the above, plus the double album compilation, This Is Mahalia Jackson, The World’s Greatest Gospel Singer (CBS S 66241) and Mahalia (CBS 62659) consigned to the time capsule, presumably because of musical value and/or condition. What did I choose to keep? What, in other words, is my choice as the defining statement of Mahalia Jackson’s art? Readers, Mahalia (so many Mahalias!) on Columbia EMI 33SX 1698 contains the essence of Mahalia.    

Those other Duke Ellingtons, by the way, are The Duke Steps Out (RCA, RD-7731), At the Cote D’Azur (Verve, SVLP 9170), and, with Johnny Hodges, Back to Back and Side by Side (VSP 11/12). It's slightly disconcerting to find Ellington sounding so silly on RD-7731. The collaborations with Hodges are pretty indispensable, but I have the two originals in better shape. 

If I undervalued Duke Ellington, I was also guilty of seriously undervaluing Muhal Richard Abrams. A bunch of mid-80s recordings on Black Saint sound wonderful. Namely View From Within (BSR 0081) and Spihumonesty (BSR 0032). I exclude Duet (BSR 0051), a collaboration with Amina Claudine Myers (piano duets often grate: it’s something to do with all that clashing, jangling activity in the same tonal register). Conclusion: it takes between 85 and 35 years for me to catch up with what the most advanced musicians are laying down.

Or as Swamp Dogg put it, Finally Caught Up With Myself. That’s here (Musicor, MUS-2504). It’s lightweight, low budget, but typically irrepressible Dogg. And here’s another production by Jerry Williams, aka Swamp Dogg: Ruby Andrews’ Kiss This (Ichiban, ICH 1104). No disgrace, pretty nifty, albeit hampered by a cheesy 80s production sound. Kiss This was actually recorded in 1991. Not a great year for soul, but neither was 1980, on the evidence of Candi Staton’s self-titled LP (Warner Brothers WB 56 803), which finds the soul belle comprehensively steamrollered by Disco . But, hey, 1974 was a year of wonders. What’s Danger High Voltage by Betty Wright (RCA SF 8408) doing here?  The sleeve is worn, but the music! Good times, good lovin’ and good grooves are joyously affirmed. 

Also in the ‘What Was I Thinking Of?’ category is Dr John, 16 Greatest Hits (Trip, TOP-16-1). Perhaps the unappealing picture of the Doctor on the cover put me off, or the budget label, or the ragbag nature of the collection. Whatever, no matter what the source (plainly someone else – Ronnie Barron? is singing the wistful ‘Did She Mention My Name’), this is definitive Dr John. ‘Cat and Mouse Game’ prefigures ‘Such a Night’ (love the eccentrically prolonged coda), and Mac sounds as smashed on ‘Trader John’ as he does on Gris Gris; ‘Xmas in New Orleans’ is one of the great unsung Christmas songs and ‘Woman is the Root of All Evil’ has a winningly nonsensical pay-off line (“Money is worse, but it’s legal”). 

And a 12” single of 1979 vintage, ‘One More Chance’ by Linval Thompson, on Greensleeves, has it all: roots rocking groove, sweet harmonies, a Dub vanishing trick in the extended version: even an irresistible rude toast on the flip, ‘Long Time Me Na Rub You in a Dance’. I must have been mad to part with this! 

This becomes my refrain as superb LP follows superb LP. What can I say? To open your ears is the basic requirement of music appreciation, and my callow self clearly had hearing issues. It’s becomes particularly useful (opening your ears) when it comes to a spot of jazz. Irina by the Barry Altschul Quartet (Soul Note, SN 1065) is graced by sidemen of the order of Enrico Rava and John Surman. This, in 1983, so just before Surman’s hermit-like withdrawal to the ECM Ivory Tower, and a steady string of one-man albums. Yet Surman’s finest moments are group endeavours, like, oh, Extrapolation, How Many Clouds Can You See and Irina. Did I somehow get the notion that drummers couldn’t also be leaders or composers? If so, I blush at my stupidity, and beg the pardon of Paul Motian, Max Roach, Asaf Sirkis and Barry Altschul. 

More faulty logic is exposed in this further example of sloppy thinking: if you’ve got Bobby Bland, do you need Geater Davis as well? 

The short answer is, yes please. The urge to elevate one artist at the expense of another has to be resisted at all costs. So what if some of Geater’s vocal mannerisms recall Bobby Bland? Sad Shades of Blue (Charly, CRB 1132) is gritty, funk-tinged Deep Soul at it’s most assured. And let’s not fall into the Northern Soul trap of venerating the obscure and denigrating the popular. Let’s have James Carr and Otis Redding, Betty(e) Swann and Aretha Franklin, J.J. Barnes and Marvin Gaye. And for that matter, let’s have Bobby Neuwirth and Bob Dylan, Trees and Fairport Convention, Faust and Can. Some broad-minded listeners even find it possible to like both Jim Morrison and Van Morrison, though I remember clashing with a friend of my youth, Andy Shearer, on the point. 

I banished a lot of smoochy soul to outer darkness. Some of it is rather good. William DeVaughn’s Figures Can’t Calculate the Love I Have For You (EMI, EMC 347) contains an unnecessary remake of his greatest hit, ‘Be Thankful For What You’ve Got’, and a piece of regrettable nonsense called ‘Boogie Dan’, but the ballads project the singer’s sincerity and what I can only describe as a sense of natural goodness, enhanced by an uncanny vocal resemblance to Curtis Mayfield. (So I dissed Geater Davis for sounding like Bobby Bland, and hailed William DeVaughn for sounding like Curtis Mayfield! That's inconsistency for you.) 

Feeling Good (United Artists, CH-LA656-G) by Walter Jackson is more penthouse than boudoir, but there’s no gainsaying that impeccable baritone voice. Misty Blue by Dorothy Moore (Malaco #6351) captures the moment when refinement replaced sweeping emotion in soul music. The album’s success established the fortunes of Malaco, a small label operating out of Jackson, Mississippi. By providing a home for veteran old-stagers like Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland, Little Milton and Shirley Brown, it could be argued that Malaco rescued Southern Soul Music from extinction. But at a cost. Soul was now a tamed force. Malaco may not have made a bad album, but they haven’t made any great ones either. Typically, Misty Blue slips down smoothly and leaves not a trace.   

What else? The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips (Buddah, BDS 5663); essential, but it’s a spare copy. Call Me by Ann Peebles (Naylo, WAY 269509 1); a long way from her glory days. The Sweet Inspirations, Estelle, Myrna and Sylvia (Stax, STS-3017); marooned without Cissy. Talking of whom: Cissy Houston, Mama’s Cookin’ (Charly, CRB 1158). A preponderance of lovey-dovey ballads, a skip or two on one track and the inclusion of ‘I Believe’ consigned Mama’s Cookin’ to time capsule oblivion, when in fact the album approaches soul perfection in quite a few places, notably ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’, which predates Gladys’ version above, and is more down-home, a ‘Long and Winding Road’ that glides as it winds, and a stomping ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’, a lot less glossy than niece Dionne's rendering. 

Aretha Franklin’s Let Me In Your Life (Atlantic, K50031) is simultaneously the best and worst of Aretha; it misses the good old Muscle Shoals mud. Aretha Franklin, Who’s Zoomin’ Who (Arista, Al8-8286); no comment. Two albums by Joe Simon, Get Down (Southbound SEW 013) and Drowning in the Sea of Love (Southbound, SEW 021); I never really got Joe Simon (I mean nice voice, but...). Oh, and Chuck Jackson, Passionate Breezes (Capitol, SW-11775). 

A historic album in it’s way, Passionate Breezes defines the budding sub-genre Boudoir Soul, which went on to become the dominant force in the soul/R’n’B market, for better or worse (worse). Boudoir Soul projects a state of blissful sexuality, and tends to carry the pleasure principle to ridiculous extremes. I might be tempted to laugh Passionate Breezes out of the bedroom, were it not for ‘The Train’, first track, side two, which is very, very good indeed: shimmering guitar, a slow groove and pleading vocals. At one point Chuck takes the phrase “I remember the time…”, repeats, expands the statement, and repeats, adding more words again, all the while squeezing the syllables to fit into the limited space of the musical metre. It’s a trick I associate with the folk song ‘The Barley Mow’. Ah, but George Spicer, when he sang ‘The Barley Mow’ (at The Half Moon, Balcombe, Sussex, on the 17th June 1962: cf. The Voice of the People: They Ordered Their Pints of Beer & Bottles of Sherry) didn’t double-track his voice, like Chuck Jackson does here. Is this the first time Chuck Jackson and George Spicer have been mentioned in the same paragraph? Anyway, I digress. It’s significant that the only song on Passionate Breezes that deals with romantic loss, as opposed to gratified desire, is the stand-out cut. 

Was I down on the blues at the time, I wonder? You Got to Reap What You Sow by Jazz Gillum (RCA Camden, INT 1177) is typical of the pre-war Chicago blues style and there’s nothing wrong with it. Big Foot Country Girl by Mel Brown explores the musical and cultural roots of Brown, a guitarist from the B.B. King school, and incorporates spoken reminiscences and singing from his father, John H. Brown. It’s a funky, bare-arse masterpiece. 

Faulty logic #2: you can be editor of the foremost folk and roots magazine in the UK (that is, Folk Roots) or a notable bluesman, but not both. I think my issues with Carrion On by Hot Vultures (Best Seller, 4C054-96947), basically Ian A. Anderson and Maggie Holland With Friends, were a) there were no originals by Maggie Holland, whose songs became a fixture of June Tabor’s repertoire, and b) if I wanted to hear ‘You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover’, I would go direct to Bo Diddley. Oh dear! Talk about false premises. 

In fact, Carrion On is a little gem: modest, unpretentious and brimful of the joy of casual music-making. If I only looked beyond ‘YCJABBTC’, Carrion On could have opened up an entire cosmology of fabulous, mythical (mostly) USA artists. Carrion On includes covers of tunes by Derroll Adams (‘The Sky’, described as “relatively recent”), The Holy Modal Rounders and (related), the enigmatic Antonia. As it was, I took the long way around to get to the Holy Modal Rounders (it was the connection with Michael Hurley, and where did I find out about Michael Hurley? Why, I read about him in Folk Roots!). Even now, some artists highlighted by Carrion On await discovery. Tracking down Tucker Zimmerman’s self-titled LP on Village Thing might be the task of a lifetime (two Zimmerman songs appear and both are beauties). And skiffler John Pilgrim turns up playing washboard on ‘The Midnight Special’. If anybody knows the whereabouts of John Pilgrim, I would love to talk to him. Not to be mysterious, but my reasons are another story altogether.


And that’s where the original posting left off 24 hours ago, rather abruptly, on the cliff-hanging digression, ‘Where are you, John Pilgrim?’ (It’s just that I’m researching a book about Bill Leader, and Pilgrim’s name has cropped up more than once.) Shall I say, simply and directly, some things I omitted to mention, or was going on to develop? 

Firstly, the reason there is a preponderance of soul, jazz and gospel – did I mention the copious gospel? To keep it brief, can I just say, Myrna Summers and Singers, Give Me Something to Hold On To, Savoy SL 14520 = Good; Rev. Jasper Williams, Jr. Eulogises Rev. C.L. Franklin, A Good Soldier, Church Door Records, CDR-22032 = Bad. As I was saying, the reason there’s such a lot of soul, jazz, gospel and other USA forms is because two thirds of the records came from Yanks/Power Cuts, the record shop, now defunct, which operated from the basement of Canada House, just off Oxford Road (Manchester), and which specialised in cheap cut-outs from the USA. Clearly, I was taking Power Cuts for granted. It’s now second only to Alan Fearnley Records, Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough, as the record shop I miss most in the whole wide world. 

Here’s a typical Power Cuts product: Toby by the Chi-Lites, Brunswick BL 754200. It has the trademark Chi-Lites sound – symphonic soul, lush harmonies, ballads that blur the boundaries between extreme romance and extreme creepiness – but I want to mention it because of the inclusion of a cover of ‘The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)’, credited to Chesley McCaull! What was that all about? Were Ewan MacColl’s royalties being siphoned off to a Harlem dealer? 

On the subject of unlikely folk connections – only one LP in the entire batch is overtly folkie and that’s Poetry and Song 3, Argo ZPL 1096 (non-PC; that is, non-Power Cuts), which is a companion to the Voices series: readings and folk song (extended to classical on Voices), a book tie-in, designed for school audiences in the late sixties/early seventies: the producers did the obvious thing and rang Ewan MacColl, who farmed the work to his followers in the Critics Group... While we’re on the subject of unlikely folk connections, as I say, items of Leader interest (because all roads lead back to Bill), include Let Us Get Together by Rev. Gary Davis, on Kicking Mule SNKF 103 (present only because of its distressed condition) with two (very fine) drawings of the Rev. on the back cover by Gloria Dallas, the first Mrs Leader.  

I didn’t mention the classical contingent, did I? Oh, the usual tatty Pictures at an Exhibition and battered Planets. Best of the bunch is Songs From the Land of the Midnight Sun by Brigit Nilsson, Decca LXT 6185, which I notice fetches up to £50 at current prices. Popsike was a resource we didn’t have when I stocked the time capsule.       

But the harsh fact is – and this is the reason why there will be no Revenant Records Part 2 – I must get rid of them, and pronto. If I needed to declutter back then, now the situation is far, far worse, and the strain on my shelves has reached crisis proportions. So it’s eBay for the best (apart from the ones I decide to keep, of course), and maybe Wes, my favourite illegal street trader, for the rest. 

What the hell? Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disneyland DQ-1201. How did that get here? Whereas the musty smell, and this is corroborated by personal memory, reveals that Mauricee Jarre’s Academy Award Winning Music From Doctor Zhivago as played by The Metropolitan Pops Orchestra, MFP 1200, is a relic of my own dear parents’ record collection, sneakily slipped into the time capsule by Dad when I wasn't looking. Did you know that John Hartford penned ‘Gentle On My Mind’ in half an hour flat, directly upon returning home from a screening of Doctor Zhivago? And all it makes me want to do is throw a brick at the nearest passing troika.     

Nine Great Men and One Oddbod, featuring The Third Man, Odd Man Out, The October Man...

When Screen on 4 showed The Third Man recently. I missed the greatest belated entrance in screen history (a cat snuggles up to someone’s shoes in a darkened doorway) but came in time for the cuckoo clock speech, the moment when the true subversiveness of the film is made clear. Evil is charming and sexy; virtue, on the other hand, is bumbling, strangely passive, and ineffectual, reduced to mumbling in a state of catatonic numbness, “Who’d have thought a parrot could bite a man?” This is the kind of virtue that betrays his best friend, and signally doesn’t get the girl in the final reel (ah, that closing scene, in the tree-lined avenue, so quietly devastating on first viewing, and inevitable thereafter). And still Holly Martins can’t leave Vienna, just like Harry Lime was a captive in the Russian Quarter, and stateless Anna lives in Limbo. The film perfectly captures the post-war slide from hell into Purgatory. The story and screenplay are by a Catholic convert, Graham Greene. It’s strong meat. and altogether too dark for a cradle Catholic like my mother, who, to my surprise, disliked the film intensely.  

Anyway, I was moved to make a Top Ten of Men, that is cinematic and singular Men. They’re all excellent except for one, which is a horror. 

1. The Third Man (1949)
Every frame and every line is iconic. My favourite film of all-time. 

2. Odd Man Out (1946)  
Carol Reed again, so more tilted angles, and a further study of humanity in extremis. The setting is Ireland, and the context is the liberation struggle of the old IRA, but the theme is nothing less than the passage of the soul from life. 

3. The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936) 
Roland Young is splendid as a human worm randomly given supreme power on a whim of the gods. Again the author of the original tale provided the screenplay: in this case, H. G. Wells. It’s a better film than short story, and a rich entertainment derived from all the dusty debates Wells had with his Fabian chums, e.g. would a world without want and disease be desirable even if it was possible?    

4. The Man in the White Suit (1951) 
Coincidentally, that’s also the question posed by this Ealing cracker, a study in contrasts, and a razor-sharp exposition on the irreconcilability of idealism and pragmatism, science and capitalism, workers and industrialists, men and women, cleanliness and dirt. All this, and Joan Greenwood at her kittenish best and gurgling test-tubes. Sublime. 

5. My Man Godfrey (1936)
The Depression fairytale opens with a savagery worthy of Bunuel – rich socialites hunt “forgotten men” in a decadent party game. It then waters down the social criticism and decides that wealth and poverty are equally ludicrous: the classic screwball compromise. 

6. The October Man (1947) 
A brooding and mentally fragile John Mills comes under suspicion of murder in that now obsolete institution, the provincial lodging-house. It’s a splendid Eric Ambler thriller, with all the incidental pleasures of the black and white British films of the era (every minor part played by a beloved character actor), which doubles as a profound study of human alienation.   

7. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
Monte Woolley, Bete Davis, and Jimmy Durante. More bleak than intended, in it’s brittle, jaded sophisticate and stagey way, is my hazy recollection.   

8. A Man Escaped (1957)
The ritual of prison life is equated to the austerity of monasticism, and escape is given spiritual uplift by the deployment of the Mozart C Minor Mass.

 9. Man of Aran (1934)
A heroic celebration of life on a rock in the mouth of Galway Bay: so bare and sea-lashed that potatoes have to be planted in seaweed. Epic and exalted and eternal, and no, I’ve never seen it. 

10. The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
The trailer intrigued me as a kid. To describe the film as a “disappointment” when I finally caught up with it would be an understatement. Poor old Basil Dearden. I have a soft spot for The Blue Lamp and The Smallest Show on Earth too. “Don’t tell your friends the ending… let them experience the shock,” proclaimed the trailer. It would be kinder not to let your friends see the film at all. With Roger Moore. 

Poor Old Alan Turing: Historical Inaccuracies in The Imitation Game by Someone Who Has Read the Book

Spoiler alert: don't read this piece before seeing The Imitation Game, if you want what happens to be a surprise. The blogger can't keep a secret himself...  

The Imitation Game is an enjoyable film, but I overheard a very telling conversation on exiting the cinema, last Orange Wednesday. 

She: This is something I would like to know more about. 

He: I wonder how much of it is true? 

She: Probably not much. 

God bless the scepticism of youth! The old folk, the mums and dads of this beautiful couple (by which I really mean my dad and grandma), only had to be see the line “based on a true story”, to swallow any fanciful farrago or manipulative and mendacious half-truth. So how much does The Imitation Game apply Hollywood tropes to reveal the poetic truth of Alan Turing’s life, and how much of it is complete cobblers?  

I’m no expert. I mean, I’ve read Andrew Hodges’ book, Alan Turing The Enigma, and my partner is a member of the Turing Centenary Advisory Committee, and Keeper of History at the School of Computer Science, Manchester – – and I have met Professor Bernard Richards, Turing’s last MSc student, and met the late great Stan Kelly, who attended a lecture by Turing at Cambridge. Hmm! One degree of separation x 2. This probably makes me an expert. Competent enough, anyway, to point out some of the more obvious howlers of The Imitation Game

Alan Turing possessed a high-pitched squeak of a voice, not at all like Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb, rounded, thespian tones, even if he does throw in a stammer to convey moments of high stress. 

The hostility of his co-workers and superiors at Bletchley Park is overplayed. This, to satisfy the sacred Hollywood rule that the maverick must overcome the establishment against insuperable odds all the time. Of course,  Turing didn’t go over his boss’s ahead to appeal directly to Winston Churchill. It happened that the wartime leader visited Bletchley Park and it became his pet project. There wasn’t only one machine for Enigma analysis, but several, and they were known plurally as ‘Bombes’, not, singularly, as ‘Christopher’. And ‘Christopher’ wasn't installed at Bletchley, but the Bombes were dotted around various obscure corners of Buckinghamshire, maintained and monitored by Wrens, female members of the Royal Navy. The military top brass, far from attacking them with spanners, spoke of Bombes with affection, as “Eastern goddesses” and “oracles”.  By all accounts, Bletchley was the happiest period of Turing’s life, and the camaraderie among the code-breakers was warm. 

The sub-plot about the Russian spy is pure hokum; the idea that the Nazi salute “Heil Hitler” provided the key to cracking Enigma is fatuity itself: confirmation that Artificial Intelligence can out-do Hollywood Scriptwriter Intelligence every time. And the idea that the workers in Hut 8, as well as cracking Enigma, decided which information to act on and which to let go to lull German suspicion, is preposterous. The scene when a fellow code-breaker realises that his brother’s convoy is about to be attacked might be a neat way to dramatise a moral dilemma, but it’s pretty risible as history. 

Joan Clarke didn’t look like Keira Knightley, but even Keira Knightley doesn’t look like Keira Knightley in some scenes, which is to her vast credit. Joan certainly wasn’t recruited to Bletchley on the basis of her ability to solve crosswords. Nobody was, and there was no examination supervised by Turing, so no opportunity for him to side with Joan against establishment stuffed shirts. (As a schoolboy, I used to fantasise about crosswords replacing exams: I hated exams, and wasn't very good at them, whereas I reckoned myself a dab hand at crosswords. That wasn't going to happen, but it's still more likely than the scenario depicted in The Imitation Game.)  

There is just a hint that Joan is smarter than Alan, albeit stymied by the sexist attitudes of the day. The model here seems to be the 1975 Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman film, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. And the slap on the face that signals the end of Alan and Joan’s engagement mirrors a scene I saw just the night before in an old episode of Frasier – season three, episode 11, ‘The Friend’, to be precise. In both, the hero (Turing/Frasier) feigns emotional coldness to bring closure. On the surface, his behaviour is contemptible; in secret, it is heroic. How noble! How self-sacrificing! How Hollywood!

And it goes on. In the fifties scenes, Manchester University might not exist, and the film gives the impression that Turing built the world’s first stored-program computer, the Baby, single-handedly in his living-room in Wilmslow. But it’s in the depiction of his arrest for indecency that the film tips into libel. We’re supposed to accept that Turing broke his vow of secrecy and told the policeman all about his wartime activity to save his skin. This is manifestly untrue (the role of Blechley Park in WW2 didn’t enter public consciousness until 1974, with the publication of F.W. Winterbotham’s The Ultra Secret) and it's senseless in terms of narrative. If Turing managed to convince the policeman that he was a war-hero, and not a spy, it didn’t do him much good: chemical castration was the same end result. So does the business with the policeman serve as a formal framing device to aid the flow of the narrative? Not really: clunking captions like ‘Bletchley, 1941’ and ‘Manchester, 1952’ still fill the screen to signpost the obvious. 

There’s nothing about morphogenesis, so the film draws a veil over Turing’s discovery of the building blocks of life and focuses on his other main achievements: inventing the computer and winning the war. The Imitation Game is the last stage in the process described in the quote:

“First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”

(Sometimes attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, in fact the words were those of Nicholas Klein, a union activist, from 1918.)

Poor old Alan Turing! But spare some sympathy for Andrew Hodges. After meticulously reconstructing Turing's life, and offering the fullest and most convincing portrait we're likely to have of the (morpho)genius, the credits of The Imitation Game include the damning line – ‘Based on Alan Turing The Enigma by Andrew Hodges’. Screenplay writer Graham Moore will likely receive an Oscar for his efforts: Andrew Hodges might never work again. 

Troubled Soul, or In Search of the Perfect Spin: Revisiting Northern Soul

Thanks to the film of the same name, Northern Soul is everywhere. Not to be left out, I’ve exhumed  a piece I contributed to a small magazine (‘Saturday Night Fervour’, The Buzz, July 1996), given a slight make-over here. The idea was to get movers and shakers to choose the ultimate Northern Soul record, and I then filled in with a bit of social detail and personal bias. At this distance, 1996, the date of publication, falls midway between the actual phenomenon and Elaine Constantine’s cinematic celebration. It’s long enough ago to evoke a bitter-sweet feeling itself. Of the contributors, Dave Godin died in 2004. Ace Records’ four-CD series, Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures (the first one appeared in 1997), is his legacy. Steve Parry, whose chaotic lifestyle outstripped anything seen in the film (it’s hinted at in the text), finally got in too deep and ended it all by throwing himself into the North Sea. So let’s dedicate this blog to the memory of Steve Parry, who was a True Believer and a great lad. 

The Four Tops’ ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ provided a blueprint: a sincere, heartfelt statement delivered by a histrionic singer to a frenetic dance beat. Back in the sixties, countless small US labels poured out thousands of 45s in an attempt to emulate the glories (and profits) of Tamla Motown. These records barely dented public consciousness and met, at best, with some limited regional success. By a strange quirk of fate, foremost among these regions was the North of England. 

In 1967, Dave Godin was the proprietor of Soul City, a specialist record shop on Deptford High Street. He noticed how visitors from the North, invariably in town for football matches, stuck loyally to Chicago/Detroit-based sounds. Godin coined the term Northern Soul to distinguish this music from JB-styled funk, its streamlined successor. 

So the term applies to English geography, and not to its country of origin, the USA, notwithstanding the fact that the biggest record-producing centres – Detroit, Chicago, New York – are North American cities. In fact, Northern Soul can come from anywhere. Benny Spellman’s ‘Fortune Teller’, a great club favourite, is pure New Orleans. It can also, on occasion, skip racial boundaries. Country singer Ronnie Milsap’s ‘Ain’t No Soul (In These Old Shoes)’ was a firm favourite at Wigan Casino, and, for a while at least, his ethnicity was a closely guarded secret. 

‘Southern Soul’, on the other hand, exclusively refers to Afro-American music made in the Southern states of the USA, which tends to be slow, stripped back and searching and tortured in feeling. There was some crossover. ‘Get Out of My Heart’ and ‘My Elusive Dreams’ by Moses and Joshua Dillard and ‘Any Day Now’ by Chuck Jackson, exemplars of Southern Soul, could be frequently heard at The Twisted Wheel. Generally, the North/South divide in soul music is a thorny, textual matter, and best side-stepped altogether by dropping ‘Southern Soul’ and adopting ‘Deep Soul’, another Dave Godin coinage. 

But let me throw open the floor to assorted back-flippers and spinners. A random cross-sample of movers and shakers were each asked to nominate a disc that embodied Northern Soul. This was the response.  

Tim Brown, Goldmine/Outta Sight: – 

Darrell Banks, ‘Open the Door to Your Heart’ 

The perfect combination of Detroit groove and Southern emotion. ‘Open the Door’ has a good melody, and great words. It has everything. The flip, ‘Our Love (Is in the Pocket)’, is very strong too. It qualifies as the best Northern double-header. It’s a Twisted Wheel record, really. It was far too slow for the Wigan Casino.

Tim Brown, in 1996, co-owned Goldmine, and these days is involved in another reissue label, Outta Sight. He is author of The Wigan Casino Years, a study of the Golden Age of Northern  Soul (1973-1981). ‘Open the Door to Your Heart’ can be found on the CD, The Twisted Wheel Story (Goldmine Soul Supply).   

PC Mark Bridges, first generation North Soul fan and a community policeman with a beat in the Manchester Gay Village: –    

The Salvadores, ‘Stick By Me Baby’ 

This was a massive club anthem and monstrous at the Casino. I think Richard Searling discovered it. You heard it and you just had to dance, it grabbed at your heart, and pulled you down the stairwell to the dance floor.

Bridges is enlightening on the accessories and favourite shops of True Believers. The t-shirts (two or three were needed over the course of an all-nighter), Fred Perry bags made to measure at Harvey and Ruperts on Brown Street and, the heaviest item of all, Church’s brogues made by Jones’ in Bolton. “They cost £50 even in those days,” says Bridges, with undiminished incredulity. 

Steve Parry, Middlesbrough-based DJ (Soul Survivors): –


Dena Barnes, ‘If You Ever Walk Out of My Life’ 

Way back in the halcyon days before House and Garage, Disco Music was in its infancy. A band of fanatical followers of sixties soul music with a passion for frantic dancing and collecting obscure American Soul 7” records gathered each weekend in such exotic locations as Wigan, Wakefield, Sheffield and Warrington to engage in their passions, not unlike the trainspotter anorak we know and love. I was not a teenage werewolf, I was a Teenage Northern Soul Boy. My friends and family couldn’t understand my passion for travelling hundreds of miles every Saturday evening to listen and dance to records like Richard ‘Popcorn’ Wylie’s ‘Rosemary What Happened to Your Baby’ or Dana Valerie’s ‘You Don’t Know’. What they didn’t know was that the whole Northern Soul scene was more of a religion or a cult in the real sense of the word. The unbelievers were to be either scorned or converted to the ‘faith’ by the Chosen Few. As I write this I still believe we were just as fanatical as the followers of Charles Manson or David Koresh.

Ominous words. His wife, when I rang on a Wednesday tea-time, said she hadn’t seen Steve since 6am on the previous Monday. Her scorn suggested that this state of affairs wasn’t entirely novel. If You Ever Walk Out of My Life, indeed. 

Dave Godin’s experience at Soul City suggested the link between football and Northern Soul. Harry Pearson alludes to the subject in an excellent book, The Far Corner (subtitled A Mazy Dribble Through North East Football). In this description of Darlington on a typical mid-seventies Saturday afternoon, Pearson’s describes a shabbier Soul Boy than PC Bridges’ paragon. 

“And then there were the Northern Soul Boys in their star-patterned tank-tops, flapping about the place in Oxford bags with the button-shut pockets running from hip to ankle. Once, in a record shop in Darlington, I heard one say to another, ‘Well how many spins can you get off a push then, kidder?’ It was the only time I’ve heard one man threatening another with dance steps.” 

Raymond ‘Ginger’ Taylor, DJ, Todmorden Ukie Club, Burnley Rose Room, Cleethorpes Catacombs, Wigan Casino etc: – 

Ruben, ‘You’ve Been Away’ 

Within a month of surfacing in the States, ‘You’ve Been Away’ was bootlegged under the name Eddie Parker. The singer sounded like Eddie Parker, who was a real singer, and had a monstrous record in Torch days with ‘Love You Baby’. I located a copy of the original, on the Kapp label, down in Texas on a record-hunting tour of the USA. It’s certainly worth £100. 

The Roman Empire provides a precedent. Signs of decadence and decline are clear at the moment of its greatest height. The mid-seventies zenith of Northern Soul was marked by rampant piracy, inflated prices and self-absorbed collectors who prized obscurity above all else. DJs would routinely scratch off the artist’s name from the labels of 45s, to guard the source of the groove from rivals. Bogus Northern Soul records were manufactured by record producer Ian Levine under the name Wigan’s Ovation. A bad end was nigh. Steve Parry’s screed, quoted above, continues: 

As time progressed and the word spread the inevitable happened: the cracks began to appear, the hierarchy or high priests (DJs) sold out and the Northern Soul phenomenon became the subject of newspaper articles, TV documentaries and eventually a victim of pop chart success. 

“I became disillusioned with the whole affair as did many of my fellow devotees and we hung up our dancing shoes for the very last time. Or so we thought. In the mid-eighties we travelled to a Soul Weekender at Southport to see what all the fuss was about. The fire was rekindled as soon as I heard my all-time favourite Northern Soul track: Dena Darnes, ‘If You Ever Walk Out of My Life. I was reborn as a devoted follower of Soul Music but this time embracing the whole Black Music spectrum, and not just the Northern Soul sect. In time I became one of the high priests myself, as I now run the highly successful Soul Survivors, providing quality DJs at soul venues all over the country. 

Dave Godin, founder of Soul City record shop and label, compiler of Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures, commentator and soul lexicographer: –

From a fax dated 14 May 1996: 

Dear Mike, 

Many thanks for your letter which I got this morning. As your deadline is looming so threateningly, I thought I’d fax this small contribution. 

The problem is when you ask me to choose a record which “defines Northern Soul”… There were so many subtle, and almost imperceptible changes in the sounds this term was applied to from when I first coined the term, but right at this precise moment in time (next week it’d probably be a different one!) I think I’d nominate: 

Jimmy Robins, ‘I Can’t Please You’, Jerhart 2016 

A thunderous and almost ominous beat which is startlingly defined, matches Jimmy’s superb vocal which is soulful, impassioned and declamatory. In many ways this record brings together so many different threads and influences from Blackamerican music, and, like all Soul records, it’s all about the difficulties we all have from time to time with affairs of the heart. Mean and yet apologetic; angry and conciliatory; indifferent and yet still besotted; these contradictory elements (so true to life itself) produce what all great creativity should contain: tension! And, it is in the relating to the lyrics, and the ability to work along with the tension through dance, that makes ALL Soul records such a powerful weapon in our fight against what Reich termed the emotional plague of mankind. We ignore the important need for ritual in our psyches at our peril, and records like this, whether they realise it or not, help induct young people into the world of “adult” knowledge; when we are kids we think that when we are “grown-up” everything will then “be alright”. Records like this teach us that this was a very serious error of judgement on our part! This may sound a bit pseudo, but by god, the therapy of the music works as well for us as it has for any Blackamerican over the years. Just ask any Soul fan!! 

As an added bonus, I also consider this single the best double-sider EVER, since on the flip, Jimmy Robins has one of the greatest Deep Soul outings of all time too [‘I Made It Over’]… but that’s another story! 

Hope the above is of help. Please ring if you need to. 

With best regards, 

Dave Godin 

Plainly, Godin’s analysis goes deeper than most Soul Boys would permit. In his urge to link social (and emotional) reality with the music, Godin is akin comparable to writers like Amiri Baraka or Valerie Wilmer. But neither does Godin over-intellectualise. His commentary, like his taste, rides on pure emotion. As he says, “I need to talk about what the grooves are saying.”  

Mike Butler, the present author (why not?): –

For me, soul music is the best pop music there is, and delivers on the promise of the best pop: uncomplicated pleasure, excitement and romance. I didn't insist on up-tempo beats and manic high energy, or even obscurity (I mean, Aretha Franklin is alright by me), so I was content to watch Northern Soul from the sidelines, and it was many years before I visited Wigan, and then not the Casino, only the town, and I was sorely disappointed.

But Northern Soul is great because it comes up from below; that's the music, the musicians, and the fans.

My sole Northern Soul intervention happened in 1975, when I still at school, and held down a Saturday job selling singles on a stall outside Alan Fearnley Records on Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough (I might add, the legendary Alan Fearnley Records…). I was at my post when a large consignment of USA cut-out 45s arrived from the States. Stylistically diverse, the 45s were mostly old; all had been previously mouldering away in one of those mythical warehouses that could be found in the USA in 1975 and are virtually extinct today. I was told to mark the records with the price Al Fearnley thought appropriate - variously 5p, 15p and 28p – and he gave me a thick marker pen to carry out the task. The word spread, and soon Northern Soul collectors descended from all points to pick through this treasure trove. I still have conversations with ageing Soul Boys who say things like, "with hindsight, the 5p's were probably better than the 28p's," before chastising me for scrawling on the labels of their most treasured 45s with an ungainly hand. (Lofty, I mean you.) 

My choice of Soul 45 came from the 15p box. 

Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson, Picking Wild Mountain Berries b/w Pure Love and Pleasure, SSS International  

It’s Deep Soul rather than Northern Soul, but I don’t care, and though the A-side with it’s propulsive backbeat and breezy sexiness is the obvious floor-filler, I’m nominating it for the B-side, which is an explosion of raw emotion that has rapture bouncing off the walls as Peggy and Jo Jo commit in wild, tuneful screams. Note, the instrumentation is as stripped back as it’s possible to get – just bass, piano and drums – and it’s as far from Wigan as heaven is from hell.

Jon Vipond, DJ, rig-worker, chef: –

There was one other contribution to the piece which didn’t get included at the time (whether because it missed the deadline, or was omitted for reasons of space, I can’t remember): a letter from Jon Vipond in Middlesbrough. I came across it in a folder with the other materials for the article. I include it here, in the awareness that Jon Vipond was another wild and doomed working-class lad. It seems that ‘Troubled’ and ‘Northern’ are interchangeable as a prefix for ‘Soul’. (Or would any charting of random working-class lives from a distance of three decades produce as many tragic stories?) 

Dear Mike, 

Regarding my favourite record at Wigan Casino. Although this record was better known at the Blackpool Mecca, I first heard it at Wigan Casino in about the Summer of 1977. The record is... 

Eloise Laws, ‘Love Factory’ 

History: (Holland/Dozier/Holland). Time: 3.24. Gold Forever Prod. Holland Dozier Wylie. Licensed from: Demon Records Ltd in association with the Holland Bros 1973. When first hearing this record, if most definitely sent shivers down my spine and pointed me in the direction of the soul music that I still listen to today. The record had more of a Southern Soul feel with a mid-tempo beat which was quite unique, as most of the records played at Wigan were very up-tempo. Even now it is still one of my favourite records and when I DJ I still play it regularly. 

I hope this information is helpful to you. 


Jon Vipond 

Jenny Hval & Susanna, Meshes of Voice

Jenny Hval & Susanna 

Meshes of Voice 


Apparently, Jenny Hval and Susanna’s Meshes of Voice is partly influenced by Maya Deren’s 1943 film Meshes of the Afternoon. This moved me to try listening to Voice with Meshes accompanying on youtube. Naturally with the sound down: as a silent, Meshes of the Afternoon has thrown the gauntlet to every budding electronics composer who spends too long in his bedroom. May I say that the soundtrack Jenny Hval and Susanna provide is definitive. Try playing part two – (the split is arbitrary, imposed by youtube – – alongside track seven of Voices, ‘Thirst That Resembles Me’. The result is the perfect pop video, as good in its way as Madness, but more profound and disturbing. 

An ominous drone and the sight of a hooded figure on a garden path. A key issues from a mouth (Maya’s own: she is the director and plays every part except one). A door opens onto a domestic interior, a mysterious wind source ruffles Maya’s hair. The hooded figure, silhouetted, carrying a flower, ascends a staircase. Maya follows, is buffeted, recovers herself, at once awake and swooning, she is radiant. Above the protracted drone Hval suddenly breaks in: “There is a thirst that resembles me / Sparks do find us…” Susanna picks up the line in softer, more dulcet tones, and now the voices multiply, making the “mesh” real. “How do you know?”, “How do you spell it?” come the senseless questions, soothing and lulling enough to weave a spell of incantation, aiding the drift into a deeper, subconscious state. Just the kind of state expressed in Maya’s images, in fact. “This is a thirst to enter…” 

The shrouded woman has no face… The key turns into a knife… Maya, in a sinister pair of oculist’s glasses, hovers threateningly with the knife over a sleeping Maya in an armchair. A man appears, and, carrying a flower, he leads her upstairs… The ambient drone is pulsating now, and the choir of voices is cracked and fractured, but a single word can be heard above the clamour: “Dark-ness”. Maya slumps in the same armchair, blood trickling out of her mouth. 

Meshes of Voice offers a glimpse into a woman’s interior world. It’s sensuous and yearning, and more than a little disquieting, with recurring words (“honeydew”) that are lingered over and caressed and corrupted. 

It gains its force by its assimilation of two contrasting female types, which, extrapolated from the strange idiosyncrasies of Hval and Susannah, are universal enough to be archetypal. Jenny Hval bravely explored the far frontiers of sex and desire with her last, Innocence is Kinky, a compelling outburst of prime psycho-sexual Scandinavian freak rock. Whereas Susanna is the living embodiment of innocence. The charm of her 2006 covers album, Melody Mountain, lay partly in hearing jaded rock ’n’ roll anthems like ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top’ and ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’ delivered with such freshwater purity. Her retreat from repressive desublimation (that is, the permissiveness that Hval embraced) culminated in her exploration of the courtly love songs of Henry Purcell in If Grief Could Wait

But surrealism is not surrealism if it doesn’t overturn all the old certainties, So here, Susanna surrenders low-key chamber music for sonic expansiveness, just as Hval trades angst for euphoria. Meshes of Voice is as personal as a dream, and, like a dream, everything is permitted, and self-censorship is evaded by a resort to mystery. 

Xylouris White, Goats

I’m getting behind on my album reviews. Here are a few of the most immense new releases to come my way… 

Xylouris White 


(Other Music Recording Co.) 

It’s the lute, but not as Julian Bream would recognise it. That is, George Xylouris comes from Crete, and plays with a madly uninhabited feel, full of Arabesque tonalities and Mediterranean fire, yet with an elegance that comes from long immersion in the culture (his father is famed lyra wildman Psarantonis). Jim White adds an unpredictable element on drums, and rattles around those unspooling lute lines like a goat in springtime on a Cretan mountaintop. And though the music is often beautiful (‘Psarandonis Syrto’) it never settles or stays still, so that serene harmonics might evolve into brooding unease (‘Suburb’), or, just as spontaneously, the duo might conjure up a rustic rumble of thunder (‘Chicken Song’). George’s vocalising on ‘Fandomas’ expresses an ancient sublimity that free jazz seldom achieves. 

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