Label / Cat No: Columbia Records 33SX 1683
First Released: This Compilation - 1964
What The Album Blurb Says:
Nina and Frederik started singing together, so the story goes, by accident. the setting was a student party in Copenhagen after the war - Frederik was invited and duly arrived. he just happened to bring his guitar along. He sang a few Calypsos and the beautiful blonde girl just happened to join in singing the descant. One version says the event occurred in Nina's kitchen; another when they were both four years old. Whatever the facts, is one really to believe that such golden things happen by chance?
The story goes on to say that someone then had the idea they should sing together professionally. (rumour has it that the 'someone' was Nina and Frederik.) So it began. After a great deal of work, nerves, excitement, they opened at Copenhagen's "Mon Coeur" in cabaret, on July 1st 1957. They received a rapturous reception and success was assured.
They were, at once, pursued, cajoled and contracted. In a very short space of time they were known throughout Europe and even further afield. Trinidad offered them the Freedom of the City - and quite right too!
It is very appropriate that their story should be so romantic because Nina and Frederik are romantic people: beautiful, elegant and graceful. But the world they create when they sing is a very real world. It is their gentleness that makes it bearable. There is romance wherever they go, always of a very national kind. Scandinavians possess them, Germans are their devoted slaves, and the English think of them as English. Their appeal is widespread. In every section of the community, in every age group, there are those whom Nina and Frederik charm and captivate. Romance, fittingly, enters into their private life. They were married in 1960, and now have two children, Nicholas and Kirsa.
They have won a large following through the medium of radio, television, films and, of course, records. But those who have not seen them in the delightful flesh, so to speak, have missed a rare treat. Their appeal is visual, and once having seen them perform, one is left with a vivid, lasting memory of the warmth they engender.
This new long-playing record, then, is something of a departure for them in recent years, for they have been preoccupied with cabaret and concerts, spreading their net wide round the world. They have developed a performance of wit and insight, always remaining faithful to their songs which are loved best, and new ones which they hope will come to be loved.
When you have heard and enjoyed this record your pleasure will be made complete by seeing them in person. You are very likely to get the opportunity, Nina and Frederik love to travel, and have the habit of popping up in the most unexpected places. Their most recent conquest was the wooing and winning of Hong Kong.
It has become a cliche to say of a great many singers that their special gift is an ability to make each listener feel that the song is being sung for them alone. it is, in fact, true of very few, for it is an extremely rare gift. Ella Fitzgerald certainly has it; so have Nina and Frederik. I had this strikingly proved to me not long ago when, along with my wife, and a friend, I had the pleasure of visiting Nina and Frederik in their hotel room, late one night. They sang us some of their new songs, and we sat round, listening, into the early hours of the morning. Of course, it is not surprising, with so few of us present in the confines of an hotel room,, that we should feel we were being sung to individually, but the point was made dramatically clear a few nights later at their highly successful concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London. There, being one of a large audience, attentive and enthusiastic, I had the same selfish impression as before. They were singing for me! Likewise the guests in the hotel that night. No-one had banged on the wall, or thumped on the ceiling, or complained to the manager. One has a picture of them reaching angrily for the telephone and then, suddenly being magically lulled by the music, thinking, like us, that Nina and Frederik were singing for them personally. I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
Recently, Nina and Frederik have been asked if they are becoming singers of a message. Their reply is that they are entertainers. They do not seek to impose a message or a point of view. If it is a good song it is worth singing, but, travelling as they do, and being perceptive people, it is understandable in the world today that some songs are more worth singing than others.
On this record Hush Little Baby is "traditional Nina and Frederik", and there are also two new ones which can be especially recommended. There is the haunting melody of Strange World and the powerful lyric of One More Parade.
Nina and Frederik are unique entertainers and rare people. In a world often noisy they produce a gentle sound; to a world often vulgar they bring dignity. I know you will get pleasure from listening to them sing again... and again... and again.
What I Say...
Blimey, where do I start? I've had this album kicking around for at least 8 years but I remember picking it up simply because I thought it was stylish. The handsome couple on the cover - her looking like a young Doris Day, him looking like a newly-qualified chemistry teacher, it was all so glamorous. Well, not so much the chemistry teacher bit. But this LP was a thing of quality - proper studio shots on the cover, heavyweight card with a nice glossy sheen, and the vinyl itself a good weight, all on the famous Columbia label, this stood out amongst the other albums I tend to pick up.
Yet I had never heard of Nina. Or Frederik. That in itself doesn't mean they're 'forgotten' in the way that this site usually means it, but this was clearly a Duo with the record company behind them, and from the sleeve notes alone it seemed that they enjoyed a degree of success, and yet I'd never heard mention of them until I was an adult. When I mentioned at work that I was reviewing this album, my boss said "What? You can't do that one. I've heard of Nina and Frederik!", and yet between himself and another colleague, they could only name two tracks. Take a look on Spotify, and there are hundreds of them, and yet in the 21st Century they are all but forgotten.
I usually like at this stage to say a little bit about the artists, but the true story of Nina and Frederik would take up far more than a usual entry here, and I have a feeling that this is going to be a long one anyway. Lucky you. So, at some point in the not too distant future I'll do a separate thing about the artistes, but here I shall focus on the music.
In another break from tradition, I'm going to lead you by the hand, track by track through this album in its entirety. Full tracks, or links to full tracks on YouTube or Spotify are available, and I would urge you to give each track a listen and see what you think for yourself.
I'm also going to talk about (whisper) *feelings*. Well, to be fair, more about the kind of feelings that this music evokes in me which is no doubt a peculiarity, and in you will create other associations or *feelings*. I'd be interested to know what you think. Or *feel*.
And so, with no further ado, Little Boxes (and other favourites) by Nina and Frederik
1. Little Boxes
Thinking back, I probably acquired this album in part because this was a song that I kind of knew, I think I'd heard it on the radio once or twice in my lifetime, and sort of felt it was significant in some way. I have a distant memory of my Mother telling me that it was socially important, but I didn't know much more about it than that. As I'm sure you know, it's a folk song gently damning uniformity and conformity, and paving the way for the following counter-culture revolution. It's a gentle melody, and I know that I was fascinated by the phrase 'ticky-tacky' without any real understanding of its meaning. Ticky-tacky. Nice phrase. Sits pleasantly in the mouth. Ticky. Tacky.
So, with no expectations I started the album, with this pleasant enough flute opening. A fairly expected, English sounding bloke starts us off, and it's all very much within expectations, and then in comes Nina with her harmonies, and everything changes. Everything.
I'm a really sucker for a good harmony, and these two deliver in spades. I really wasn't expecting this, such accomplished, beautiful harmonies. I spent ages trying to work out why they appealed to me so much, what made them different, and I think I've narrowed it down.
Firstly, they aren't simple, lazy harmonies, but rather take the pairing in unusual or unexpected directions. Where you might expect her to go up, she goes down, and vice versa. I suspect this might be where 'counter melody' comes in, but as a buffoon in such matters, I'm not going to commit to this term yet.
Secondly, in many (though not all) cases, Nina sings in a similar range to Frederik, but takes the lower part, effectively providing the bass with her silky smooth voice. The sleeve notes call this 'descant' singing, which helped to provide a description, but the technical definition implies that descant is sung higher than the melody, and that's not always the case with these two. Nina takes the low road often enough to be noticeable, and I find that rather lovely.
There is a definite difference in the quality of their respective voices - Nina's flows like warm syrup, while Frederiks is competent, but that bit more pedestrian. Over the course of the album, they both take 'lead' vocals with minimal input from the other on occasion, as well as full on harmonised songs. There's enough of a mix to keep it interesting, but overall I think where Nina takes the lead of the equal descant, those songs stand out slightly more than those where Frederik is more prominent.
Anyway, moving on....
2. Those Who Are Wise
Ahhhh.... our first Spotify link. And of course, it doesn't bloody work right. The link for this song takes you to another, unrelated Nina and Frederik track, in German. So for the first one, here's a playlist where you'll find 'Those Who Are Wise' as Track 4. Sorry. Just click on the Spotify logo. Go on. It's a lovely song.
After the bouncy, upbeat opening of 'Little Boxes' we move onto the far more laid back, cowboy swing of 'Those Who Are Wise'. Despite being branded as folk singers, there is more than a hint of a country influence on this album, and this is the first example right here.
It's on this song that the first curveball comes. The harmonies at the end of the first musical phrase, but halfway through the lyrical one swoop keep you hanging on, waiting for a resolution with is what drives the song forward. Again, these two people are creating interesting harmonies which I don't think are matched even when you add a third person into the mix, as in this example by the Kingston Trio...
The song itself doesn't particularly appeal - it becomes repetitive very quickly, but it's the gut reaction that it produces that keeps it interesting. There was something about the nature of this song which reminds me of soap or cold cream adverts from my youth. I'm sure you know the kind of thing - a wide eyed housewife holding her hand at an improbabe right angle at chin level, a coiled mound of lotion on her outstretched fingers, rubbing the cosmetic goodness into her cheek with three fingers. The sense of luxury that was implied to a 5 year-old me, the ability to let a little luxury transport you is replicated in me by these harmonies. They impart the same sense of indulgent little luxuries that I understood as a child, and I can't help but wonder how this happens, but it does. So there's that. Next.....
3. Try To Remember
A fragile, gentle little song that showcases the smoothness of Nina's vocals. It was by this stage of listening that I realised one of the things that sets this apart from more modern music is the importance of diction. No wonder the English claimed them as their own, as there is not a hint of an accent, and the RP is flawless. Every word enunciated with absolute clarity.
There's also a sense of melancholy and nostalgia going on here, though nostalgia for what I couldn't tell you. Maybe it's a trick of using the word 'remember' in the title.
4. Scarlet Ribbons
We veer unexpectedly into the twee here. Another song that sounds like it should be a country number, and indeed was covered by people like Jim Reeves. Here it has a lilting swing beat that doesn't quite convince, but plods along merrily enough telling the tale of a little girl who prays for the 'scarlet ribbons' of the title, a mother who can't find them in the town, yet checks on her daughter in the morning, and finds her bed festooned with miraculous red hair adornments. Clearly this was meant as a semi-religious tract, highlighting the benevolence of a mysteriously moving God, but sounds to my ears like people using God like Argos, placing their orders for earthly goods and getting next day delivery. Doesn't sit comfortably. And this isn't the last time that we'll meet over-indulged children on this album. I can't help but feel that this is the kind of song that would have ended up on a Tony Best or Maralene Powell album.... so of course I googled it, and while I can find no evidence that they did, I found out that the song was written in 15 minutes, and has been recorded by Cliff Richard. Says it all really.
5. The Old Maid Song
And again, Spotify let's me down. I copied the link for the song, but when I paste it back in, it takes me to a version of 'Little Donkey'. So back to the playlist - track 7 this time....
This isn't the version on 'Little Boxes', but rather a live version from 'Nina og Frederik - 100 Go'e' which is a much more catchily named album. In terms of style, the recording here is much more like this version by The Highwaymen:-
They claim in the introduction that this was a song they found in Australia, but there are versions recorded by Pete Seeger amongst others, so I'd be surprised if it wasn't a regular on the folk scene beforehand. The tune doesn't stand out particularly, and feels like a bit of a filler. However, it has my new favourite lyric ever in the second verse.
"I have a sister Sarah, she's ugly and misshapen
Before she was 16, she was taken"
The whole song is the lament of an old maid who clearly has been saving herself, while her younger sister who apparently put it about a bit in her youth is settled with two children, and has been since she was eighteen. The 'Old Maid' herself, it transpires, is only 36. That's a mere child, surely! Well, whatever the circumstances, this narrator is now throwing herself on anyone who might take her, and the overall effect is a bit saucy to say the least. I might be applying a 21st Century sensibility here, but I strongly suspect that this whole song was quite racy for the time.
6. One More Parade
So now we see the other side of Nina and Frederik, particularly Frederik. This Phil Ochs song sounds at first listen like a bombastic recount of war, and if it's bombast you want, Frederik delivers in spades, while Nina is at her least smooth, most emotional self on this song. After a couple of listens, it became clear that this song is in the tradition of using the tools of the enemy against themselves, as it's a quietly damning statement on the human cost of war, and of the anonymity of the losses. I can't find a copy of this on the internet, but as the next best thing (and it's a corker), here's a version by They Might Be Giants.
This, and one other track stand out for being political on this album, and I'd imagine show the shifting social awareness that took place between the 50s and 60s, championed by the folk movement before moving into more mainstream pop. Looking back 60 years later, this kind of gentle(ish) questioning of the status quo seems incredibly mild, but I suspect that in context, the temerity to ask or doubt the leadership on such decisions was profoundly shocking. I find it strangely comforting that two upper-class people such as Nina and Frederik were not so comfortable as to not question the world around them. I suppose this could possibly be the result of being so well travelled for the time, but I'm conjecturing, and Puff the Magic Dragon's waiting. Hold on, here he comes...
1. Puff The Magic Dragon
Let me be honest, until my 47th year I hated this song. Hated it. I'm not sure if it was the contrived tweeness, the clumsy rhyming, the assumption that people, especially children were meant to love it, or what. But I did not like it at all.
That is, until I got this album. This version is lovely, from the zingy, flutey opening to the cheerful delivery, and once again, the magical harmonies. The whole thing is, for me for the first time, a gorgeous children's song.
A large part of the love may come from the fact that by coincidence, it was this song that came on the car stereo just after I'd picked up my son and his girlfriend. They like to sit in the back, canoodling while I drive them chauffeur style. Which means that unlike our usual trips, he wasn't able to control the volume knob on the stereo. So in true Dadly style, I turned it up to full, opened the car windows, and sung along. With gusto. Through the streets of Presteigne. In terms of embarrassing my children - something I consider a serious parental duty - this was up there with the best of them, if not a personal best. So this song is now bound to have a place in my heart. Moving on....
This one was a bit of a puzzler. A predominantly Nina vocal, it kept on reminding me of film music. Actually, that's not surprising, as it seems this was a Henry Mancini / Johnny Mercer composition as the title song from the 1963 film 'Charade'. But that's not the film I was thinking of. Imagine if you will a James Bond film called 'Charade' where the titular lead was played by Jayne Mansfield (or other siren suductress of your choice), then this would be the Bond Theme. It's sultry, the music feels like a vaguely threatening undertone to the downbeat lyrics, but most of all it's that chord progression. Seriously - it has Bond's fingerprints all over it. If you listen to nothing else, try the last 20 seconds and tell me it's not classic Bond. Still, good song though.
3. Hush Little Baby
You know the score by now..... Playlist Track 8 this time.
If Nina and Frederik redeemed 'Puff The Magic Dragon' for me, they singularly failed to do the same with this song. Again, one I've hated for years, and the soft jungle stylings here don't elevate the song above the mundane. Sweet, unthreatening, even my 9 year-old daughter listened to this once and said 'that girl's very spoilt'. I couldn't agree more. Next.
4. Strange World
Weirdly enough, I can't find a version of this on Spotify or YouTube. If you're that curious, there are places you can download it, but I'm fairly sure that the artists will see none of the benefits if you do that..... So how can I describe this? It's another of the good duo songs with refreshing melody and harmony with a surprisingly downbeat style, with a little bit of mystery thrown in. The strangeness in question is 'why aren't people nicer to each other', which seems reasonable to ask. Not a standout track by any means, but a good solid standard.
See, here's the reward if you've managed to read down this far, here's the good stuff! Track 9 on the playlist this time.
Although you need to bear in mind, this is either a re-recording or a live version, either way it's different enough from the version on this album to need a bit of clarification.
My grandparents had a sideboard in their dining room which was like the tomb of Tutenkhamun. It contained probably every jar of pickle, condiment, sauce and dressing that they'd ever bought, and they remained in there, preserved for ever, a snapshot in time. Because they remained in a sealed tomb for most of the time, the very fabric of that sideboard became impregnated with the unique smell of all the ancient bottles and jars. As well as bringing out the natural wood smells, there was a sweetness, an earthiness and something else I can't quite identify, but it all combined to make an aroma that was a genuine one off - I've never come across that smell anywhere else.
Synaesthesia is "... a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway." It's a condition which leads those with it to combine experiences, so they call smell words, or music has colours - one sensory input leads to a connection with another in the brain, making associations that do not occur in the majority of us. I am not synaesthtic, but on two occasions in my life, I have been left with the incredible impression of being able to perfectly recall (or, it seems, smell) my grandparent's sideboard.
The first was when I discovered this really annoyingly addictive game. I assumed that it was something to do with the colour palette which was very 1950s which in my mind is clearly associated with my grandparents for some reason. I think that was the last time their house was decorated.... However, it happened again when I first heard this song, which makes me think that it must be some weird connection in my head between the Jazz Vibraphone and my grandparent's sideboard.
In the Spotify link above, the Vibraphone isn't as prominent as on this album's version, so you may not get to smell the sideboard quite so much....
So, smelly digression aside, this is a weird song. Part Negro spiritual, part Jazz and part 'Happy Birthday', it sees Frederik doing his best Paul Robeson impression with varying degrees of success. It doesn't quite fall into Black and White Minstrels territory, but it teeters on the edge.
One thing that did occur to me though - if there is a trajectory that runs from Cab Calloway to Tom Waits (and if there isn't, there should be), this song seems to fit half way along that line. Who'd have thought a European aristocrat would be the missing link between a big band leader and a massively original innovator?
6. Blowin' In The Wind
If 'Puff The Magic Dragon' made me like a song I'd previously hated, this here track does the exact opposite. Maybe I have the glorious benefit of hindsight and can see what a groundbreaking, iconic song this became. Maybe it's because I have fond memories of singing this in assembly at junior school (I swear I didn't dream this - I'm sure it was one of the standard songs along with the usual hymns and so on - there were big word sheets hung from walls. Anyone? Anyone.....?) But I think as a general rule, Bob Dylan doesn't translate well to cheesy Latin beats. Just doesn't work for me.
Putting that aside for a moment, let's assume that Nina og Frederik (yes, I'm going native with their name) realised the importance, the universality of the song. That doesn't mean that you need to ladle on the emotion and the amateur dramatics to get the point across. There is something that I find so annoying in the way they sing "How many deaths will it take 'til he knows / that too many people have DIEEED!!!?!%&!" that it takes away any chance I had of finding something redeeming in this version.
For me it's the great let-down of this album, that the closing track, the big final number, the lasting impression that this leaves you with is not even remotely in the class of the rest of the album.
And this album does have class, tons of it. Don't be put off by their mangling of Bob. Let the rest of it wash over you and soothe you. Go on. You know you want to.
1. Little Boxes
2. Those Who Are Wise
3. Try To Remember
4. Scarlet Ribbons
5. The Old Maid Song
6. One More Parade
1. Puff The Magic Dragon
3. Hush Little Baby
4. Strange World
6. Blowin' In The Wind
8 out of 10
Label / Cat No: Warwick Records WW5001
First Released: 1975
What The Album Blurb Says:
Here you have, on one tremendous L.P., two of Britain's most talented entertainers.
BERNARD MANNING, the Lancashire comedian, singer and recording artiste, who in recent years has become one of the country's most popular television personalities through such shows as "THE COMEDIANS", and more recently, the highly successful "WHEELTAPPERS & SHUNTERS SOCIAL CLUB" programme.
At the piano is the great JOE "MR. PIANO" HENDERSON. Joe's inimitable style of piano playing has made him one of the busiest piano men in Europe. the "JOE HENDERSON SHOW" is always a firm favourite on B.B.C. radio and we frequently find Joe cropping up, as a guest artiste, on many of the top T.V. shows.
These two artistes, together with Joe's rhythm group and the Michael John Singers, make "40 ALL TIME SINGALONG PARTY HITS" a perfect party L.P., or, indeed, just the record to play at almost any time, whether on your own to cheer yourself up, or with a happy singalong group of friends around you.
What I Say...
There are some questions in life to which you don't really want to know the answer. How is the sausage made? What is my child doing in there? How did he/she get into that position? To add to this, I said in my 2008 review of 'Join In With Joe', "I'd like to know more about Joe. And his friends." And now I wish I had never asked, because this album provides the answer.
I'm not going to go into an appraisal of Bernard Manning's career here, not because I don't want to, but because there's more of Mr. Manning to come on Forgotten Albums, and I would prefer to keep my powder dry for now. If by any chance you aren't aware of Bernie's legacy, everything you need to know is right here, (Warning - NSFW, contains 'language').
When we last met Joe, I discovered that his hit, 'Trudie', had been a best seller, and recipient of an Ivor Novello award for songwriting. Fair enough, the bloke's got talent. Which makes it the sadder to see that the first of the 'Singalong Party Hits' listed on the cover is..... 'Trudie'. What circumstances befell 'Mr. Piano' in the intervening years that reduces his work to being thrashed out by a racist crooner?
Just a note on the 'Mr. Piano' sobriquet - Joe is indeed 'Mr. Piano'. I'm not sure if he legally changed his name by deed poll or anything like that, but everywhere you look, it's 'Mr. Piano'. So why oh why is he listed on the front of this album as Joe "Piano" Henderson. Where's the title gone? No 'Mr.' in sight. Is this a slight on the character of Joe Henderson? Did he annoy the graphic artist to the point where petty revenge was in order? Or is this just the result of a hastily botched together album, cashing in on the rising popularity of one artiste, and the waning popularity of the other? I'll leave you to decide on that one.
The album itself is pretty much what you'd expect from the title. If you were to eat a lot of cheese, drink yourself into a stupor, and then dream of all those half remembered songs from your childhood that your grandparents used to sing, you could pretty much recreate this album without having to go to the expense or embarrassment of going out and buying it. The conceit that this is a spontaneous singalong is stretched at times by the close harmony work of the backing singers, especially at the start of 'We'll Keep A Welcome', but they do try and keep up this idea that it's a genuine good old knees up.
I suppose it's only natural, what with Joe being "Mr. Piano" and everything, that his friends would include a banjo player, a clarinettist, a bassist and a drummer, but it's a really good job that they were all able to come to his party, and that they knew all the songs, in order as this spontaneous singalong kicked off.
It is this very conceit of 'the party' that has led me to the inevitable conclusion that this album is a lost masterpiece from the golden age of Progressive Rock. No, no, bear with me. Firstly, this is truly a concept album - there is a thematic subtext that runs through the whole of the album, that we are experiencing real time at a party.
Secondly, the songs are suites that chop and change between tempo, blending from one to the next to make a thematically satisfying whole.
Thirdly, if you listen closely, it's clear that Joe Henderson is wearing a cape and pointy hat, just like Rick Wakeman.... oh. Well, maybe it breaks down a bit there, but it'll take some convincing to make me change my mind.
There are only a couple of highlights on the album, which are available below. I genuinely like the arrangement of 'Saints Go Marching In'. It takes a standard, and mixes it up just enough to make you take notice. And 'Boomps A Daisy' is just mad - think ITV light entertainment circa 1983 and you're pretty much there.
But my favourite part of all is the ending. Not just because it's the end, but also for Bernard Manning's hearty attempts to make us believe that he really was a party - "Wonderful party, Joe!", and that he's now leaving. Makes me laugh every time.
A Horror For Your Eyes And Ears
Skip to 2:20 for the full effect!
I can't help but notice that Bernard calls Joe 'Joe 'Piano' Henderson', and not Mr. Piano. Maybe Bernard got to the cover artist and made his change it. Maybe there was a feud, and this is Manning's revenge. In terms of conspiracy theories, I think we may have hit the mother-lode...
1. Opening Medley
Little Brown Jug
Don't Dilly Dally On The Way
2. Flanagan & Allen Medley
Underneath The Arches
3. Scottish Medley
I Love A Lassie
Stop Yer Tickling Jock
Donald, Where's Your Troosers?
A Hundred Pipers
Just A Wee Dreoch an Doris
Scotland The Brave
4. Let The Rest Of The World Go By
5. Irish Medley
Paddy McGinty's Goat
If You're Irish Come Into The Parlour
Dear Old Donegal
6. If You Knew Susie
7. Saints Medley
Coming Round The Mountain
Old Folks At Home
Poor Old Joe
Saints Go Marching In
John Brown's Body
For He's A Jolly Good Fellow
1. Seaside Medley
I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside
Hello! Hello! Who's your Lady Friend?
Hold Your Hand Out You Naughty Boy
Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo
I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts
2. Harvest Moon Medley
Oh! You Beautiful Doll
You Made Me Love You
Shine On Harvest Moon
3. Welsh Medley
All Through The Night
We'll Keep A Welcome
4. Goodnight Medley
She Was One Of The Early Birds
After The Ball
5. Boomps A Daisy
6. Cokey Cokey
7. Knees Up Mother Brown
8. Lambeth Walk
9. Auld Lang Syne
4 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: PYE - NSPL41005
First Released: 1971
What The Album Blurb Says...
Every now and again in show-business an exciting piece of talent comes to the surface - it happened with Tom Jones and Barbra Streisand, but it doesn't happen often.
Stars are not made by managers or impresarios, they are made by the public - sure, managers or agents recognise a star quality and then groom it, but most stars are there because of that contact with an audience, because they are selling the goods the public wants and because that public wants them as people.
I first saw Rostal and Schaefer perform to a live audience in Johannesburg; they were closing the first half of a bill I was appearing on. From my dressing-room I heard shouts from the auditorium of 'encore!' and 'more!' - it sounded sweeter than the music they had been playing. On this night I witnessed not one but two stars being born and to watch them blossom over the past twelve months has pleased me more than I can say.
No wonder they have been booked for television shows, concerts, and asked to record sounds like you have here on their first major disc.
Although in their early twenties, they have somehow packed twenty-odd years between them in practising at the keyboard - no wonder the powers that be decided to include them in the 1970 Royal Variety Show, some entertainers work a life time for this honour - they achieved it in twelve short months.
Fly away Peter, fly away Paul and keep delighting us with your magic. It is a privilege to have this record, almost a first edition, I shall treasure it.
Most sincerely, Max Bygraves.
What I Say
I bet that Paul Schaefer rues the day he met Peter Rostal. Fine, they share interests, they work together well, and conveniently enough, they both play the piano. But in the wake of 'Peter, Paul and Mary', Paul was only ever going to get second billing. 'Paul, Peter & Pianos' just sounds wrong, even though it's in lovely alphabetical order. I bet Paul is still kicking himself that he didn't change his name to something with three syllables - Francisco, maybe. Anything to make him stand out head and shoulders above Peter.
Yet it wasn't to be. I notice that in later years they became known as 'Rostal and Schaefer' which is infinitely more exotic than 'Peter & Paul', but it means that Peter still gets top billing. The swine.
Max Bygraves seems to be pretty taken with these two young men. And who wouldn't be? Look at the pair of them with their sensible haircuts and dinner jackets. Fashionable pink shirts, and bow-ties that you just know, you just know are made of velvet. The wry smile on Paul's face, the confident 'trust me' grin on Peter's. yes, these are clearly the kind of young men that you could take home to mother. And even when they're not in their concert finest, they clearly know how to dress to impress.
Why, just look at them in their casual fineries. Cravats, Crew-necks
and Crimplene trousers. What more could a girl ask for!
But I'm being unfair. Those were wonderful clothes in 1971 and I'm judging them harshly purely because fashions have changed. This is supposed to be all about the music.
Ah! The music. I have a small confession to make - I recorded this album to review ages ago - months and months, and had the file kicking around. On listening to it this week, I loved the frantic, furious opening number - only to hear my past self go back and switch the album from 45 back to 33 1/3. It didn't seem quite so lively after that. Bum. But still and excellent opener showing these two lively guys at their best. It has a bit of an Eastern European feel, Balkan possibly.... though of course, I could be talking out of the back of my head.
The rest of side one is an odd mix. Popular standards, arranged to show off the pianists virtuosity make this album the audio equivalent of a doily - all frills and fluff, but with little obvious purpose. I mean, you could put a cake on it I suppose, but what's the point of that? And it would leave crumbs in the grooves.
Anyway.... I digress. Despite the knockabout between the two pianists, there's no killer punch. The version of 'Tonight' from 'West Side Story' is actually an arrangement of the quintet (For once I know what I'm talking about - I was two (count 'em, two) of the Jets in an amateur production in 1989, so I'm completely qualified and everything....) is artfully done, but has none of the aggression that the song should have.
Maybe that's the point though - Paul and Peter (as I shall refer to them in an effort to restore the balance) aren't in show-business to break new territory, or to threaten the Status Quo. Though that's a fight I'd pay to see - Rostal & Schaefer vs Rossi & Parfitt. Hmmm... I feel a celebrity tag boxing blog coming on... where was I? Oh yes, they don't offer anything new, but why should they. Like Max says, they give the public what they want.
And sometimes the public don't know what they want. I went into this album thinking I was going to hate it. Pre-packaged, bland cover-versions, I thought. But if you don't expect anything more from this album than a few nice tunes, then you won't be disappointed. I mean, I doubt this is going to make it onto any playlist, but it's pleasant enough. And for today (and probably only today), I'll settle for 'pleasant enough'.
1. Hejre Kati
1. Love Story
2. As Long As He Needs Me
3. Love Is Blue
4. Ritual Fire Dance
5. Clair De Lune
7 out of 10
1. His Name Is Wonderful
2. Every Moment Of Every Day
3. He Lifted Me
4. When I Kneel Down To Pray
5. I Would Be Like Jesus
1. Sweet, Sweet Spirit
2. His Gentle Look
3. Take Up Thy Cross
4. He Touched Me
5. Beyond The Sunset
2 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Sacred SAC 5064
First Released: 1972
What The Album Blurb Says...
SOUNDS OF FRESH WATERS are exciting new sounds from Merv and Merla Watson, two remarkable musicians, well-trained and refreshingly creative. The music from this husband-wife team is a rare find in its up-to-date lyrics and original sounds that communicates with any audience.
Merv and Merla are not like some folk singers you've heard. They have a different drive, an unusual commitment to their music and its message. The songs they sing are a part of them, for they have spent many long hours in composing, scoring, searching for the right words to please their audiences across their native Canada and the United States.
Merla is accomplished as a vocalist, pianist and violist. In 1962 she toured the Middle East as soloist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation concert party entertaining U.N. troops. Merv, outstanding with the guitar and accordion, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has taught music in the Toronto schools. Together the two originated the idea of the Schoolhouse Concerts in Toronto to stimulate interest in the performing arts as a means of Christian witnessing.
The concert series met with immediate success, as did Merv and Merla, as they sang their own folk music at each concert. Recognition for the two came quickly and they began touring with their folk-gospel music, receiving acclaim for their ability. Audiences everywhere responded enthusiastically to their music that moves naturally, uninhibited by tradition or boundaries.
This album is their finest work, sounds and feelings that are jubilant, some haunting in the contemplation of God, others crystal clear in lyric, all fresh and new, a symbol of their faith.
What I Say
I don't think I've ever met or known of anyone called Merla. To my 30something English ears, there's a certain exotic ring to the name. It conjures up 1950's mid-west diners, gingham and bitter coffee. For all I know, it could have the same connotations as 'Doris' or 'Mabel' over here, but there is a certain glamour I can't help but imagine.
The picture of Merla in a very 1972 dress with her racy gold shoes does nothing to dim my excitement. The only thing that can do that is to listen to the album.
I know that the job of the album blurb is to sell the album to the casual record browser, but you can't help but wonder how they can promise so much and yet deliver so little. In the case of Merv and Merla, I had considered a line by line breakdown of their claims against the reality, but I can feel a rant coming on, and would need a couple of aspirin and a good long lie-down if I went down that route.
But there are four key issues that I think do need to be addressed:-
1. The up-to-date lyrics reflect a two-millenia old system of religious beliefs. Not the most up-to-date now, is it?
2. Communicates with any audience? Surely that's the point of an audience, or am I missing something here?
3. Merla is "accomplished as a vocalist, pianist and violist". So why picture her on the album cover holding a guitar, an instrument which you seem to be saying she wields with all the grace of a lump-hammer?
4. Merv is a graduate of the University of Toronto is he? In what subject? Zoology? Physics? What?
One other thing that bugs me is that poor Merla is relegated into second billing, even though alphabetically her name comes first, just. Is poor Merla just another victim of the misogyny of patriarchal society, or does 'Merv and Merla' just sound better than 'Merla and Merv'? You decide.
The music itself is an odd blend. The album starts with a guitar sounding like a harpsichord, which leads into liturgical-influenced melody. It seems to be tripping over itself, but never quite falls.
At times this album conjured up 1960s Leonard Cohen (that'll be the folk element then), and at other times, it reminded me of the soundtrack from 'Hair' (though being Christians, I kind of doubt that Merv and Merla would be cavorting naked, covered in body paint during their "Schoolhouse Concerts".) Some of it was quite Jewish in its influences, and it was only subsequently that I found out that Merv and Merla now reside in Israel.
There's talk on that site of 'Merla's Miracle', a book detailing how Merla defied the surgeon's predictions after a 'bizarre' accident where a piano crushed her hand, and in fact did play professionally again. You will of course be pleased to know that in the cause of furthering my knowledge of the artists I present to you here, I have tracked down and purchased a copy of 'Merla's Miracle', and I will of course let you know in due course what the book's like.
The most bizarre track however is 'The Time of The Singing Of The Birds' in which Merv and Merla whoop, holler and tweet like a pair of demented magpies. Sadly this track jumps on my copy, meaning I can't present it in it's fullness. But thanks to the wonder and diversity of YouTube, I found that someone had used it to enhance some video of some birds.
So ladies and gentlemen, kick back, relax, and enjoy the freakish sound of Merv and Merla.
1. O Sing A New Song
2. Consider Him
3. The Time Of The Singing Of The Birds
5. Hear My Prayer
6. Just Before Midnight
1. I Will Sing
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd
3. It's Gotta Be Great
4. In The Night
5. The Seed Of Joy
6. Grace Be To You And You
5.75 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Telstar STAR 2293
First Released: 1986
What The Album Blurb Says...
None, sadly. I’ve never thought about why or when the sales pitch on the back of record sleeves declined, but I doubt you’d find many from about 1983 onwards. Are we too knowing now to be swayed by hyperbole from paid critics? Is music so compartmentalised into tiny sub-divisions of genre that we can’t just buy a ‘jazz’ album or a ‘swing’ album, and have a fair chance of enjoying it?
Or was it simply that people got wise to the fact that the glowing praise plastered across the back of almost every album bore little or no relation to the contents of the disc?
Maybe my new year resolution should be to form a pressure group to advocate the reinstatement of album blurb.
Or maybe not.
What I Say
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I had really wanted to enjoy this album. After all, I do have a real affection for Chas & Dave. And Christmas. I quite like Christmas too. Put them together, and you should have a winner, and yet this combination is so much less than the sum of its parts.
As far as I can make out, there are three elements that should make up this record. The Cockney musical stylings of Messrs Charles and David, the traditional brass ensemble of the Cambridge Heath Salvation Army Band, and a number of good old fashioned carols. Put them together in any combination and you’re onto a sure fire, 24-carat gold winner. Surely there can be no doubt, and yet…
This is probably best explained through the medium of the Venn diagram. Allow me, if you will…
What saddens me is that this is a missed opportunity,
a fudge if you will. Chas & Dave are (despite initial impressions) talented musicians. After all, Chas was taught to play piano by Jerry Lee Lewis. They’ve been sampled by Eminem, and covered by Tori Amos on more than one occasion. These boys have the potential to compete at a world-class standard.
Their ‘Cockney Rock’ or ‘Rockney’ as I believe they call it, is a distinct style which deserves its place in the English Folk-Music pantheon.
But this isn’t a ‘Rockney’ album. It’s a Salvation Army album with a bit of Dave’s Bass Guitar over the top of traditional brass band arrangements, and a bit of pub-rock drumming for good measure. Nothing more.
I suppose that Chas & Dave fans would buy the album because it’s got Chas & Dave on it, and Salvation Army fanatics (of which I’m sure there must be a few, though I wouldn’t like to imagine Salvation Army Band groupies) won’t be too alarmed by what is a fairly traditional Carol with Chas Hodges gruff vocals replacing those of the more traditional angelic choirboy. If it came to punch up, my money would be on Chas & Dave over Aled Jones any day.
This is not to say that there isn’t some value in this album. Firstly, I’m intrigued by the cartoon character cover. This isn’t the only Chas & Dave album that’s been done in cartoon style. Was this part of a mid-80s ploy to try and create a Chas & Dave animated series? Can you imagine how redundant the Simpson’s would have been had we been graced with ‘The Adventures of Chas & Dave’? It’s not too late, people. Together we can make this happen.
And there are moments of sheer oddity – Chas & Dave, the beer-swilling terrors of the East End singing medieval yuletide songs? Listen to Coventry Carol, and you’ll see what I mean - we’re only short of a couple of ‘Hey Nonny Nonnies’ and we’d be laughing. And that gives me an idea. ‘The Time Travelling Adventures of Chas & Dave’. It would be like Dr. Who, but with a pair of lovable Cockneys, solving problems through time and space with a knees-up round the old joanna. Really. Write to the BBC and demand that your license fee is used to commission this programme.
And just once or twice you can tell the boys are just itching to bash the piano keys and stomp their feet. The bass gets a bit more twitchy, Chas’ vocals start to run away with him, but we never quite achieve the breakthrough. The first part of ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ is pure Chas & Dave, and it works precisely because the Salvation Army keep their horns shut. When they do come in, they’re so low in the mix, I can’t help but wonder if the sound engineer on this album shared my misgivings. I was waiting for ‘The Rocking Carol’ to really see the boys let their hair down, but sadly it’s just a Carol with the refrain ‘We will rock you, rock you, rock you’ referring to the baby Jesus, rather than in a Queen way.
But my favourite part of the whole album is the very last song, ‘We Three Kings’. During the introduction, I’m pretty sure the drummer is so distracted, that he’s actually playing ‘Delilah’ by Tom Jones. Listen to it – you’ll see exactly what I mean. But it’s a shame I had to listen through 21 poor songs to find that gem.
So, a missed opportunity all round. Sad, but probably predictable. Which pretty much sums me up too!
And as an extra treat (and by way of an education to my overseas readers who probably don’t have the first clue what I’m blithering about), please find below a master-class in the Cockney style of music. Merry Christmas Everyone.
1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
2. Unto Us A Child Is Born
3. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
4. Long Long Ago
5. Good King Wenceslas Looked Out
6. Coventry Carol
7. Wassail Song
8. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
9. Hark The Herald Angels Sing
10. Good Christian Men Rejoice
11. Silent Night
1. O Come All Ye Faithful
2. See Amid The Winter Snow
3. Yes Jesus Loves Me
4. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
5. The Rocking Carol
6. In The Bleak Midwinter
7. The First Noel
8. Once In Royal David City
9. Away In A Manger
10. We Three Kings
4 out of 10
Label / Cat. No: Hallmark Records HMA 230
First Released: Sometime After 1963
What The Album Blurb Says...
Comfortable. At first glance it doesn't seem the ideal word to sum up the sound of Miki and Griff, but listen a little closer to the kind of songs that they sing to the way in which they're presented and you may, after all, find it a rather apt appraisal.
They're comfortable because everything that they do vocally is easy on the ear and has a warm and friendly approach, rather like the greeting of an old and much loved friend. It's an approach that this two-some have found success with ever since they teamed up and began delighting stage and television audiences. And in the late 1950's they began to find recording success, notably with "Little Bitty Tear" which, despite the formidable competition offered by Burl Ives, gave the couple a solid chart hit.
This collection of songs encompasses titles that Miki and Griff fans know and love. "Vaya Con Dios" "Can't stop loving you" "Tennessee Waltz" and "Hold back tomorrow" are the sorty of songs we expect Miki and Griff to sing and because they perform them so delightfully and with their own natural charm, listening is, well... comfortable?
What I Say
I had no idea that there was an English country movement in the late 50s. However, I should have guessed - growing up in Suffolk in the 70s, where the populace was 20 years behind the times, the proliferation of Country bands (I'm told I mustn't call it Country & Western) should have been a giveaway.
I'd also never heard of Miki and Griff, but the album cover just oozed drew me in. The slightly older lady with pearl necklace (ooer missus) and very 50s dress sitting on a mock stile while a slightly leering gentleman in acryclic cardigan and a side parting you could use as a set square leans in in a vaguely threatening way is classic charity shop record cover. There's even the kind of toy cat that causes nightmares in over-sensitive children lurking between the happy couple.
The music? Well, the music is incidental - I could look at these two all day, but the assessment of 'comfortable' is one I'd go along with. If only because all the tunes seem vaguely familiar. The title track, which opens the album, is just a distillation of every country-lite tune you've ever heard. The steel guitar is understated, and you can just feel the guitarist wanted to break out and wail all over it. Rockin' Alone tells a sad story of geriatric abuse, and in what was obviously a more innocent time, Griff (and I am assuming Griff is the male in this partnership) says he knows of some teenagers who would love to have an old lady like this to look after, as if she were their own granny. These days the teens would nick her pension to spend on cider. Probably. Yes, yes, I know there are some perfectly lovely teenagers out there, before anyone starts complaining. Which is unlikely, really, seeing as nobody reads this yet. Or possibly ever....
Anyway, yes, so the tunes continue. Vaya Con Dios.... well, it probably sounded exotic in 1962. I don't speak Spanish, so for all I know it could mean "take twice daily with food". I don't remember what 'I can't stop loving you' was like, and 'The Tears Break Out On Me' is a maudlin tale, comparing crying to some kind of nasty rash. What where they thinking?
I have to admit that my mind wandered by the time I got to Side 2, mainly because it was all so samey. There were moments where you could just tell that Miki & Griff wanted to rock out a little more, let rip, scare the older generation. This is evident by the Chas & Dave style chorus in Crystal Chandeliers. But thankfully they managed to just about keep a lid on things, and their light country stylings won out.
So in short, probably what you expect from the cover. Inoffensive British take on American country music. Comfortable? Like a pair of tweed slippers. But perhaps 'Predictable' is a better word for it.
A Little Bitty Tear
Rockin' Alone (In An Old Rocking Chair)
Vaya Con Dios
I Can't Stop Loving You
The Tears Break Out On Me
Hold Back Tomorrow
I Want To Stay Here
Have I Stayed Away Too Long
6 out of 10