Label / Cat No: Polydor Special 2482 292
First Released: 1972
What The Album Blurb Says:
None - just some blurb about other albums in the series (if you're interested, Big Band in HiFi stereo, HiFi Stereo Festival, HiFi Stereo In concert, Golden instrumentals in Hi Fi Stereo and Love Songs in Hi Fi Stereo.....)
What I Say...
We start 'Happy Season' here on Forgotten Albums with this little gem, a compilation from 1972, but made up of tracks recorded within the 10 years prior to this collection. This Polydor 'Special' album was clearly made to be played on high end home stereo's of the time, and the fact that 'hifi-stereo' is in much bigger typeface than the album title bears this out. You'll notice that the cover indeed features a hifi stereo, and the make and model are even catalogued on the reverse of the sleeve, such is the focus of the equipment.
More interestingly for me though is the Happy South American lady on the front who looks like she's from Chelmsford. There is absolutely nothing Latin about this young lady, except for the props she's been made to pose with. Her slightly khaki Dorothy Perkins blouse doesn't seem quite in keeping with her Mexican sombrero and Peruvian poncho, not to mention the revolver. That is some mighty weapon she's packing - are we to infer that all happy South American's are also banditos? Is the defining quality of the entirety of South America revolutionary gun slingers? If only they had pasted on a Zapata moustache as well, we'd have the full set for stereotype bingo. What lack of foresight the designers had there.
The record itself is in pristine condition. For a cover and the vinyl to be in such good nick 45 years after production would seem to imply that the previous owner didn't play it much. Unlike many records in the collection, there's not a scratch and barely a crackle anywhere. Actually, I suppose it could have been treasured beyond Inca Gold, and kept in climate controlled conditions to preserve the magnificence of this album. But I doubt it.
I'll be honest. What with the proto-Sloane Ranger on the front, and the fact that most of the recordings were made by people with German names, I didn't hold out high hopes for the quality of this collection. But I was wrong. So wrong.
Side 1 opens with the sound of sleigh bells. Well, they may not be actual sleigh bells, but something that sounds exactly like sleigh bells. This rapidly morphs into the throbbing Latin drums before a smoky voiced lovely starts seductively whispering short phrases over the top. If ever there was an opening to an album to draw you in, this is it. I have no idea what this woman is saying - for all I know she could be reading the football scores, but I don't care. I just know that I'm hooked.
And so the scene is set - lots of thumping rhythms, lots of pipes (which sound suspiciously like flutes to me....) lots of squeaky trumpets, but sadly no more sultry temptresses whispering Spanish nonsense. Can't win them all I suppose.
'La Machine' or 'The Machine' for you non native speakers out there is a curious one. We get some xylophone, and our first significant guitar of the record, though not the acoustic you might expect, but a perfectly plucked electric. To my uneducated, ill-refined ears, this sounds less like Latin America and more like Highlife from Nigeria. I wonder if in those pre-Peter Gabriel days the good people at Polydor needed a filler for their South American compilation, and popped this in hoping that nobody would know any better. To me it sticks out like a sore thumb, but in 1972 would it? Would it?
And that's not saying it's not a great track - it is. Bumps up the happiness quotient well, just not sure it fits with this album too well.
'Guantanamera' starts like it's an outtake from Grease, then picks up a melody that wouldn't be out of place on the football terraces. Once I found myself singing along with 'There's only one Kevin Keegan, there's only one Kevin Keegan', I couldn't stop, and can't unhear it.
On a related note, when my sister was at University in the mid / late Eighties, she was asked why she had a picture of a 70s footballer on her wall. She didn't. It was a contemporary picture of me. Outrageous.
And so on to track four - Para Los Rumberos. If any track were a westernized, 60s interpretation of South American music, this is it. The pace is frantic, the bongos (or SA equivalent) are battered for all their worth, the brass is at it's squeakiest, and the electric guitar over the top of it is straight out of 1967. The combination is joyous and uplifting in the extreme.
The album goes on in this vein, pretty much until the end. The only dip in the high-energy feel good tunes is the closing of Side 1, 'El Condor Pasa', which is a low-energy feel good tune. Until recently I only knew the Simon and Garfunkel version of this, which for all it's loveliness, does come across a bit twee now. This version, although falling on the muzak spectrum, has a certain charm about it, if only because it's not the S&G version, and now falls firmly into second place in my personal El Condor Pasa Top Ten, after this gorgeous version by Richard Durrant. Yes, I have a personal El Condor Pasa Top Ten. You want to call me out on that? Do you?
Moving on. Side two is very similar to side one, unsurprisingly enough. If 'El Condor Pasa' gave you a breather at the end of the first side, 'Amparita Roca' pulls you straight back in for side two, starting with a Mariachi fanfare, clip-clopping drums and full on bullfighting grandeur.
I spent ages trying to think what the next song, La Boliviana reminded me of until it came to me in a flash. Jump to 3:07 for the full flavour.
You get the idea by now. I can't help but feel that a lot of these songs are western appropriations of South American ideas, melodies arranged and produced to within an inch of their lives to please the aural palette of the European. Take the final song on the album - Desafinado. This is smooth jazz, as smooth as smooth can be. It's only the drumbeat, low in the mix barely holding the gossamer threads of the delicate saxophone. These songs owe as much to their South American roots as my Mum's 1980s curry owed to subcontinental cuisine (sorry Mum). Some are clearly South American in origin, but clearly not in the arrangements, whereas others are South American only in the sense that they'd pass muster in a Ballroom Latin class.
Speaking of European ears though, although the writers of the songs do tend to have mostly Spanish names, the performers are very much more Teutonic sounding. We have songs from Ladi Geisler, Kai Warner, Max Greger and Kurt Edelhagen. My remaining hope was for Roberto Delgado as the sole genuine purveyor of Latin music, until I found out that Delgado was the stage name of Horst Wende from Saxony. Ladi Geisler was Horst, sorry Roberto's bass player, and also played for Bert Kaempfert and James Last himself. It seems that the tracks here are all from James Last contemporaries, both in time, and it would seem, place. For some reason Germany was a hotbed of South American rhythms in the 1960s, and this album is a distillation of that.
So is it Happy? Surely that's the point. James Last always wanted his albums to be a party, adding whooping and hollering to keep the excitement going. It's a tactic that worked, although not employed here, but the music was always arranged perkily. Well, I'm pleased to say that it is, very happy. With expertly orchestrated songs, frenetic rhythms and expertly played arrangements, this may not take you any closer to South America than Leipzig, but it provides song after song of upbeat entertainment, and I'm really glad to have it in my collection. Taco, anyone?
1. Salambo No. 1
2. La Machine
4. Para Los Rumberos
5. El Paso
6. El Condor Pasa
1. Amparita Roca
2. La Boliviana
4. Caballero Ole
5. Cha Beat
9 out of 10
There's only one Kevin Keegan, there's only one Kevin Keegan
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
I mentioned in my review of 'Sincerely Yours' about my first experience of listening to The Malcolm Wilce Duo. However, I feel that I didn't do it justice, so have lovingly recreated that moment using the original cast and made a short film about it. A very short film. About 40 seconds kind of short. Short. It's short. Watch it. It's very short. Thank you.
Older readers of Forgotten Albums will know that I like to try and do what I laughingly call 'research' on the albums I feature here. Of course, what that really means is that I do a quick google search and hope for the best, regurgitating any tasty morsels that I find. And yet 'The Malcolm Wilce Duo' remained a bit of a mystery for me. Most of the results I could find were catalogue entries listing a whole career's worth of albums, but no hard facts about the Duo themselves.
Ah, but then, but then, nestling amongst the text under the link on the final page of my search were the words 'former drummer with Malcolm Wilce Duo'. Hope bursting in my heart, I clicked on the link to MTH Dancing, and there on the front page was the man from the cover of 'Sincerely Yours' looking back at me. Older, wiser, but unmistakably the same man.
A couple of e-mails and a few texts later, I found myself on the phone to Mark for in interview to try and find out more about The Malcolm Wilce Duo, and Sincerely Yours....
(All photos are ©Mark Helmore 2017, and taken from his website - link below)
Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. First things first - how did you get involved in the Malcolm Wilce Duo?
My dad was a dance teacher in Banbury in Oxfordshire, and I was in a band playing in the General Foods Sports and Social Club. The organist who was in that band, my Dad asked him if he'd be interested in playing for Sequence Dancing. He thought he'd give it a go and we started playing as the band - it was just the organ and drums then for the dances. But then he got ill and needed a kidney transplant, so he was laid up just as my Dad had a big dance we needed to play for. Malcolm's name was given to my Dad, so he called him and explained there was a big dance coming up, and asked if he'd be willing to play with a drummer. Malcolm said yes and that's how it all started.
FA: After that start, how long was 'The Malcolm Wilce Duo' out gigging for?
MH: We were operational from 1982 until, 2014. That was a long time!
FA: And in that time, how many gigs to you think you played?
MH: Crikey! I wouldn't like to say to be honest. I mean, we did so much it's unbelievable. I mean not only did we do one night gigs, but we also did weeks away, fortnights away for dance holidays. We literally covered the length and breadth of the country in the early days.
FA: Forgive my ignorance, but is this Ballroom Dancing, old time dancing, or is there a different terminology for what you do?
MH: No, the recordings we did with Maestro [the record label] are what you would class as 'Modern Sequence'.
FA: Modern Sequence? And is that for a group, for couples, individuals?
MH: Basically, it's ballroom dancing, but for Modern Sequence the dancing, the steps are put into 16 bar sequences. So in other words people will dance 16 bars of a sequence, and repeat that all the way through until the sequence stops. And they name them, so rather than say you're going to play a waltz, you'd announce it's The Waltz Catherine, which is a particular dance made up of these 16 bars which are repeated.
FA: My only exposure to ballroom dancing while growing up was 'Come Dancing', and that seemed to belong to my parents or grandparents generation. I got the impression that in English culture it was tailing off, but obviously from what you're saying, there was still a demand for the music you play.
MH: That's right, and there still is today to a certain extent. There's been a bit of a resurgence recently since 'Strictly', but more for the Ballroom side of it as opposed to the sequence. What tends to happen from our experience is that people have perhaps learned to do Ballroom, and then they look at the Sequence.... a lot of people don't like Sequence, they're brought up with Ballroom and Latin and they stick with that. But then there are another group of people who enjoy the Ballroom and Latin, but like the fact they can put their steps into certain dances and enjoy Sequence as well. It's quite a mixture right across the board really.
FA: And it feels very much like a community thing, that people are going for the social aspect.
MH: That's right, it is a social evening really.
FA: I've listened to the album a few times now, and from my experience drummers are people who like to have a bit of freedom, to improvise and hit things hard. Your style is very different - very precise, very controlled which goes with needing to keep a tight beat for the dancing. But did you ever feel restricted in your drumming by the style of music you played?
MH: Yeah, you do find with that side - Ballroom or strict tempo you are restricted with what you can do. But as I said, with my Dad being a dance teacher, that's what I was brought up with. And obviously when I was younger in bands that were more than just keyboards and drums, like a five piece band or something playing for a dance, I'd always sit there with the drummer and they'd let me have a go sometimes, and that's how I learned. I'm self taught, but I have played everything - Jazz, Pop and Rock, I've done it all. It's always good to let your hair down a bit!
FA: And are you still playing now?
MH: I still play now, but not touring so much now, not since I stopped playing with Malcolm. But there's a keyboard player called David Last who plays the same sort of thing that Malcolm and I did, and I play with him, but it's not so much touring now as one-night bookings. I've also done a few recordings with him too.
FA: So are the records, the recordings made for people to play at their own dances, or were they made as merchandise, giving people a reminder of a night out.
MH: Maestro, the record label are specialists in strict tempo dance music, and the records and cds are designed for people to have their own sequence dances, and they still produce all that kind of music.
FA: I did find a flaw though - my copy of the album was well played, and skipped in places. Surely that would have caused problems.
MH: Yeah, that would put them out of sequence!
FA: My copy also has a sticker on the front, as it was previously owned by Brenda from Barrow-in-Furness. Is sequence dancing a peculiarly British thing?
MH: No, not at all. In Australia, they have sequence dancing too, but the CDs go all over the world. (side note - I've since noticed a lot of sellers on eBay have copies of Malcolm Wilce Duo CDs on sale from the USA....)
FA: I have to ask you about the sleeve notes - they were written by Terry and Ethel Grundy, who I see are still active and running their own tea dances in Cannock. How did you know them?
MH: Well, they used to run their own dances in Birmingham, and they had all the records that we'd recorded. In the early days, what we used to do was ask someone we'd worked with and who'd used our music in their dances to do the write up for us. But Terry and Ethel we met at Butlins when we used to do the dance festivals, mainly at Bognor Regis & Minehead and they were the MCs there. We run dance holidays ourselves now in places like Bournemouth, Paignton, Dawlish and so on.
FA: So there's still a large enough following for the Sequence Dancing movement
MH: We're well placed here (Weston super Mare) as people aren't that willing to travel more than an hour or so, plus we have the ballrooms down here. You wont find so much as you travel north. But I think we had the best of it. There are still people playing this music, but a lot of the sequence clubs aren't around any more.
FA: Do you think that's a demographic problem, with this being an older person's social activity?
MH: Yes, that's right. A lot of people have passed on, and there's nobody coming up to replace them. But there is a future, as I said, it is going more to social dancing, which is what you'd class as ballroom, latin and social sequence which is the easy sequence dances that people know. You combine it all in one evening now, whereas when we used to play for a sequence dance, everything was sequence all night so everybody would be doing the same thing at the same time. Whereas by the time we finished we were playing more social dancing where you'd be doing a mixture of ballroom and sequence and latin, so right across the board.
FA: It sounds to me that there is a similarity between the idea of sequence, and that of line dancing. Did line dancing have any impact on the world of sequence do you think?
MH: We do incorporate that as people enjoy line dancing, so we've brought that in to the social side of what we do.
FA: If I can ask about the album sleeve, I've noticed that almost all of your other album covers are very formal, with you and Malcolm in suits or DJs, but this was taken in a park in Weston. Was this a deliberate change of style?
MH: That's right, we came out of the dickie bows and the dinner jackets, to go for a more casual look. I look a lot younger in that photo, and I had more hair!
FA: So, the big question. Do you dance yourself?
MH: I do, after a fashion!
My massive thanks to Mark for his time and patience. You can find out more about his work (and I would encourage you to do so) at www.mthdancing.com
Label / Cat No: Maestro MTS22
First Released: 1988
What The Album Blurb Says:
What a pleasure to be asked by Maestro records to say a few words about this very popular Duo and their latest release.
with festival time at hand, dancers everywhere will be keen to listen and dance to the to-tapping, inspirational tunes contained on this album.
With such a wide variety of melodies, we are sure that this recording will meet with everyone's approval and for many people, bring back many happy memories of times past.
Congratulations once again to Malcolm and Mark, and the team at Maestro Records.
Terry and Ethel Grundy.
What I Say...
1988, eh? What a year that was. I entered adulthood by turning 18, and on the same day Fish left Marillion and Roger Hargreaves, author of the Mister Men series died. Yeah, thanks universe. (On the same day one year later, Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 9-0, so clearly a crappy date all round). But what musical joys did 1988 bring? Well, Public Enemy released 'It Takes A Nation...', U2, 'Rattle & Hum', Prince, 'Lovesexy' and there was, of course N.W.A.'s 'Straight Outta Compton'. There are several 1988 albums which are still staples in my collection, look....
OK, to be properly transparent, I didn't hear Thomas Dolby until about 1996, or Idlewild until about the same time. Oh, and I didn't know about the Malcolm Wilce Duo until this year. But these are all albums I keep on coming back to. Well, OK, I keep coming back to 'Sincerely Yours' because I needed to give it a fair hearing for this review. Hmmm..... to be fair, I would probably never have listened to it if I hadn't found it languishing in a box in a stall in Hereford Market.
Once again, it was the album cover that intrigued me first. Two men of seemingly mismatched age in the middle of a municipal park in fine casual-wear. You don't see that every day, do you? Argyle sweaters, a good pair of slacks and a sensible coat, not really your average rock star outfit, I admit. But I think the point is they look like someone you would see every day. If I'm being honest, I looked more like a member of The Malcolm Wilce Duo in the 80s than I did a member of Bros or Dexys or Duran Duran. And I suspect you did too.
This was my first epiphany. You can't judge this album by 'pop' standards, because it's not a 'pop' album, not by a long chalk. My second epiphany (and also only an excuse to use the word 'epiphany' again) is that this isn't an album to listen to in the traditional way.
'Sincerely Yours' is an album with a very distinct purpose. It's for people to dance to - old timey style dancing, not like Chico's Non-Stop Dance Party which clearly was designed purely for you to wig out to. This is formal dancing in the traditional style. The track listing even tells you what dance the track is for - Quickstep, Waltz, Cha Cha and so on. I'm not sure if this is a complete set - do you put it on, dance your way through the variations, turn the record over and do the same, or do you take the waltzes from this album, then the waltzes from another and so on? I simply don't know, but I'd guess that this provides an evening's or half an evening's entertainment.
I was sold from the beginning, in part due to circumstance. I'd accidentally recorded the album at 45 r.p.m., and listened the first time as I was leaving work. I had the car window open, and as I drove off, a jolly ditty provided a live action soundtrack. A colleague of mine was grinning from ear to ear and doing a little jig, proving that The Malcolm Wilce Duo were made to make you dance. And also proving that we all need a personal soundtrack to our lives. Sadly, I think the muted trombone would feature largely in mine.
From listening (and from not reading the sleeve notes) I assumed that both of the fine gentlemen on the front were organists, and that the drumming was provided by the inbuilt organ rhythms. When I realised that Mark Helmore (the one who the Duo's not named after) was in fact the drummer, I had to reassess again. Clearly Malcolm can find his way round his organ (you knew I was going to make that joke sooner or later) with aplomb, creating melody, bass and pads, but Mark was a bit of a revelation. His drumming is extremely tight, very controlled - it'd have to be for me to mistake him for a drum machine, and also to keep a regular beat for all the dancers out there. Nobody wants a sloppy foxtrot now, do they.
Forgotten Albums has had drummers under the leash before - the wild, beating heart of The Kaye Family, Adrian, was clearly under strict instructions to play to the song, on the understanding that he could end every number a la Keith Moon. I get no such sense of the untamed beast in Mr. Helmore, this is pure discipline. That's not to say that there isn't flair either - you can tell he enjoys the faster numbers, and by this album's standards is positively unhinged by the time we get to the album's closer, 'Zambezi', but it's his steady hand that guides us unswervingly, patiently through the slower dances.
Malcolm certainly knows how to get the best out of his instrument. Though not an organ fan, I can at least appreciate that he gets the most out of a limited set of voices, and fills out the arrangements enough that a duo can provide a full(ish) sound. For me, I would like to hear a little more flexibility in the timing of some of the melody lines - it's very regimented, but again I suspect it's a necessity to keep people like Terry and Ethel Grundy in time when out for a trot around the parquet flooring. And why aren't more people called Terry and Ethel Grundy? You don't hear names like that any more. If I ever get another cat, I'm calling it Terry or Ethel Grundy, and you can quote me on that.
This is definitely an album of two halves. I have a soft spot for the faster numbers, they're jolly, jaunty and good wholesome fun. The slower numbers though..... to my non-dancing ears (and who has dancing ears anyway) are a bit of a dirge. 'Oom Pah Pah' feels painfully slow, 'Say Wonderful Things' is forgettable, and the previous owner of the album (Brenda from Barrow-in-Furness - there was a sticker on the front with her name and address) was clearly displeased with 'Skye Boat Song' as she'd written on the sleeve, in red pen no less, 'Don't Like'! However, I still get that these are paced for dancing, and it's the rhythm and tempo as much as the tunes that define what goes on this album.
Amongst my high points are the whole of 'Zambezi', the part of 'Winchester Cathedral' where Mark Helmore turns into the one in Chas and Dave who isn't Chas. Or Dave. You know, the drummer in Chas and Dave. He must have a name...
...Oh, I wish I hadn't googled that now. He did. It was Mick Burt, and he died in 2014.
But my favourite few seconds of the album are during 'Roulette' where it sounds like Chas & Dave are trapped in a 1973 episode of 'Vision On'. Sound clip below - just don't have dreams that Noseybonk is coming to get you.
However, my biggest issue is the inclusion of 'The Old Rugged Cross'. Going out for an evening of unbridled ballroom dancing, I don't think I'd want my hedonistic impulses being corralled by having to dance to a mournful hymn. It's like trying to do the conga to 'Abide With Me' - they just don't go together.
I must be getting older. If I'd written this when I first started Forgotten Albums, I'm sure I would have judged on the dated clothes and unfashionable music, but I'm a mellower man now. Sometimes. The very fact that there was still a market for this in 1988 and beyond shows me that there is a world out there about which I know very little. And while knowledge has never handicapped me from having an opinion in the past, I'm kind of glad that in the years between Wogan on Come Dancing and Strictly, there was a hardcore underground movement keeping the dance alive. You Can't Stop The Beat.
1988, the CD was still only a few years old - I didn't get a CD player for another 3 years. It couldn't come too soon. The fundamental flaw of this album was that my copy skipped and jumped through years of happy playing. I struggle enough to dance at the best of times, this would have finished me off.
1. Putting On the Style
Does The chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour......QS
2. Pistol Packin' Mama
The Runaway Train...................................QS
3. Deep Purple
That Lovely Weekend......................FT/saunter
4. You'll Never Know
5. The Old Rugged Cross................................W
6. Skye Boat Song
Comin' Thro' The Rye.................................W
1. Mornings At Seven.....................................R
Isle Of Capri.............................................R
3. Winchester Cathedral.......................Cha Cha
4. Roulette.........................................Cha Cha
5. Oom Pah Pah
6. Say Wonderful Things......................OT/Waltz
7 out of 10
You're not safe down here....
Label / Cat No: Music For Pleasure - MFP1414
First Released: 1970
What The Album Blurb Says:
Hits on Parade is an album which incorporates a wide variety of popular tunes. Each has a well defined, bouncy rhythm and lends itself to a march theme, the theme of this record. Puppet on a String proved to be a winner for Sandie Shaw in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest and the following year Cliff Richard came close to winning the same contest with Congratulations. The Scaffold burst into the pop scene with their jaunty records and their Lily the Pink forms quite a contrast to the delightful tune of Those were the days that took Mary Hopkin sailing into the hit parade. Leapy Lee obtained his first chart success with Little Arrows as did Esther and Abi Ofarim with their Cinderella Rockefella although Esther and Abi were very well known on the continent beforehand. All these tunes, plus many more can be heard on this record, excitingly recreated in stereo by talented studio artists who successfully capture the original atmosphere of each hit in turn.
What I Say...
It's been a while since I took the writer of the sleeve notes to task, but the blurb here irked me because it seems to have been dashed off in the last ten minutes of a Thursday afternoon. Verity Stevens appears to be the 'Music for Pleasure' in-house sleeve note writer, and judging by the output from that label alone (4000+ titles at least), I can't expect her to be an expert on everything and everyone. But why is it that groups 'burst' onto the pop scene, eh? Surely they graft and rehearse and gig and tour and build a following and eventually get a modicum of success. That's not bursting, that's slogging, and it seems to undervalue their achievements. And while I'm at it, if Verity is going to deal in cliches, surely it's burst on to the pop scene, not in to. Grrrr.
I suppose it could be my reading, it could be clumsy sentence structure, but she seems to be saying that The Scaffold are crap in comparison to Mary Hopkin. I think she's contrasting the 'jauntiness' of Lily the Pink with the 'delightfulness' of Those Were The Days, but it looks like she's saying that one is delightful, and therefore the other isn't. Maybe I'm just being fussy. It has been known.
Tunes "excitingly recreated in stereo by talented studio artists who successfully capture the original atmosphere of each hit in turn" is it? What about a somewhat cynical cross market appealing album recorded by a bunch of jobbing musos who sound like they were recruited from a Soho jive club on a promise of a portion of chips and the chance to get jazzy on a couple of tracks. Of course they don't capture the atmosphere. They rob it of all character and transplant an alien structure and instrumentation onto it.
Calm, calm, calm. So, what we have here is a collection of songs which have been shoehorned into a military march arrangement. Is your pop music not formal and regimented enough? Is your military music too stuffy and pompous? Well here's the album for you. To be absolutely honest, when I introduced this album to the very lovely Mrs. ForgottenAlbums, her first comment was 'oh, my Mum would like that', so there clearly was a market out there for this kind of crossover.
Unlike our previous genre-bending experience, this at least makes a bit more sense. Rather than playing one band's songs in the style of another, this at least takes loads of different songs, and corralls them into a singular format. Actually, that's probably not that different from The Beatles and Glen Miller now I come to think of it, but I know what I mean. I think.
I remember as a child, my sister had a magic robot game. You'd point the robot to a question, move it to a circle of answers, and it would give you the right answer. If you don't know what on earth I'm taking about, or you really want to see it in operation, watch this.....
Although I can't be certain, I'm pretty sure that Alan Moorhouse used one of these to arrange the album. On the questions side it'd have Introduction, Verse, Chorus, Middle Eight etc, and on the answers side it would have Drums, Pipes, Drums, Brass, Drums, Loud Drums, Loud Brass and so on. Pick your section, get the answer, bingo, there's another song completed. Loud drums, loud drums, brass, pipes, drums, loud drums, loud pipes, brass swell, end. If you love drums, this album is for you. If you love pipes or brass, this album is for you. If you want subtlety, nuance and variation..... probably not so much.
That's not to say that this all sounds like the Red Army Band circa 1982, although an awful lot of it does. I can just see them goose-stepping on the Mayday parade through Red Square to 'Cinderella Rockefella' in an attempt to prove to the proles that the Communist Government was really very groovy. But there are some tracks which stand out.
'When the Saints Go Marching In' for example is pure Trad Jazz. I'd be happy to have the band play this behind my coffin when the time comes. While the strictly military tunes keep the musicians in check, you can hear the joy in the freedom that this version brings.
And then there's the 'Rock 'n' Roll March', which unlike the other top tunes on here was actually written by Alan Moorhouse. Ahhhh, Alan Moorhouse. I'd actually forgotten until I tried to research him that I used to work with someone called Alan Moorhouse. OK, that may not be that interesting, but at least it's true. Or at best it's true, I don't remember which. Anyway, I'm getting off the point. The 'Rock 'n' Roll March' sounds to my ears exactly like the music a British film of 1966 would play during a scene in a seedy underground club with striptease artistes shaking their tassled brassieres at the camera in red light in close up. Maybe I've given this too much thought, but take a listen below and tell me I'm wrong.
I have a feeling that Mr. Moorhouse may have had a falling out with the sleeve designer. No, not because the young lady on the front is not in regulation military uniform (she's missing her hat, not to mention her trousers), but because the red splash that says 'Alan Moorhouse and his Bond Street Brigade' is not printed on, but is a sticker applied after the event. His name isn't on the spine either. It's clear that this omission was serious enough that the follow up album (oh dear Lord yes, there's another one of these out there) prints his name in almost sarcastically large lettering on the cover.
It would seem that this album was popular enough to warrant a second go, and Mr. Moorhouse's penchant for rearranging other people's work into themed collections doesn't end here, oh no. There are albums called "McCartney, Mendelssohn & Mancini Go Marching With Alan Moorhouse", and yet more intriguingly, "Beatles, Bach, Bacharach Go Bossa". It seems that consistency of genre is less important to our Alan than alliteration. That's obviously the secret to his success.
I seem to have been very harsh on this album, and the truth is that although I hate the conceit, and the constant military style gets on my nerves, musically there's nothing wrong with this album. It delivers what it says it's going to, and just because it's not my thing doesn't mean that it's a bad album. In fact, I've been quite happy to just have this on in the background as I'm driving to work, and compared to some of the drivel I've been listening to lately, it's actually not that offensive. In fact I may take that as my new personal motto - "Actually, not that offensive". Works for me. You'll either like this or you won't, but I think a predisposition to drum and pipe music is a must.
One final thought? Who's that scruffy little 'erbert running along behind these fine marching men? Oh, that'll be the traditional military bass guitarist who is also represented in this brigade.
1. Yesterday Man
2. I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman
3. When The Saints Go Marching In
4. Little Arrows
5. Rock 'n' Roll March
6. Lily The Pink
1. Cinderella Rockefella
2. Hello Dolly
3. A Walk In The Black Forest
5. Those Were The Days
6. Puppet On A String
5 out of 10
Label / Cat No: Music For Pleasure MRP 50179
First Released: 1974
What The Album Blurb Says:
Regular listeners to BBC Radio 2 will be familiar with the infectiously catchy stylings of Chico Arnez, thanks to all year round appearances on programmes such as "Late Night Extra", "Night Ride" and the tony Brandon, Charlie Chester and Joe Henderson shows.
twenty years on the business has brought the ultimate degree of professionalism to Chico's music, and he has a dazzling stage show to back it up, utilising strobe lights, slides, movies and a machine which blows bubbles over the audience!
but the essence of it all is the happy, good-time dance sound itself - ideal party fare as is obvious from one listen to this non-stop collection of some of the best numbers to grace the pop charts in recent years.
Chico carries a 14 piece line-up including a rep-roaring brass section, pulsating rhythm and four voices. their distinctive brand of excitement has carried them around the world, playing in such places as Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and Europe as well as here in Britain.
Chico himself sings, as well as directing the band and playing double-bass and a little piano, while the inventive arrangements stand to the credit of Chico, John Clark and John Osborne.
Over the years half-a-dozen albums have helped carry Chico's talents to the public and each time h has gone one better. On this record there are the soul classics Land Of A Thousand Dances, a hit for Chris Kenner and Wilson Pickett, Do The Funky Chicken, which marked the greatest triumph of Memphis Sound veteran Rufus Thomas, and Pickett's memorable In The Midnight Hour. Sonny and Cher's The Beat Goes On, the infections Resurrection Shuffle, the gospelly Put Your Hand In The Hand and the heavy rocker spirit In The Sky also get a new lease of life.
The fourteen exciting new arrangements on this album make it right for any party - so get ready to dance - non-stop!
Roger St. Pierre
What I Say...
This album has been one helluva ride..... Really. I've had more ups and downs with this record than a Trump Tower elevator. So let me take you by the hand, and lead you through the streets of... Streatham, as I take you on a journey of lies, betrayal and deception.
I picked this album up just a few short weeks ago in a charity shop in Winchester. As ever, it was the gaudy cover that first appealed to me. An early 70s slack-jawed beauty with unnecessary nipplage (yes, nipplage. That really is a word that I haven't just made up...) poking through her chemical yellow tank-top vest type thing. Standard fayre of this vintage, but more usually associated with the studio cover type albums of 'Top of the Pops', or 'Top Hits', it immediately piqued my curiosity that this was for a single artist. Chico Arnez.
I'd never heard of Chico before, but he was clearly a bit of a radio favourite, and as the album notes say, he was a regular on Radio 2 back in the day. Plus we see that man Joe Henderson popping up again. Looks like I'm getting to know far more about Joe's friends than I'd ever imagined.
There's not a lot of information about Chico out there in internetland. Over his career (which apparently is well traveled if you believe Mr. St. Pierre), he only released a handful of albums, of which I can only find this to be the fifth. Often with 'His 'Latin-America Orchestra' or 'His Cubana Brass', the albums were understandably heavily latin-influenced. This group of musicians don't have the benefit of being 'His' anything, but I entered expecting those exciting South American rhythms, but I got more, so much more.
On playing the album, I thought within moments of the frenetic opening number that I'd struck gold. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to compare my job here at Forgotten Albums as being romantically akin to that of a gold-panner. I spend hours in dark, cold places sifting through piles of murk and grime in the hope, the oh so distant hope, that the one shining nugget will gleam through, making my life immeasurably richer. And with this album I thought, at last, that I'd hit pay-dirt.
This album is choc-full of brilliant tunes, amazing arrangements and unexpected choices. This 14 piece band cavorts through 34 minutes (yes, it is quite short) of great music. From the opening duo of 'The Locomotion' and 'Put Your Hand In The Hand', you expect this to be a high-energy, densely musical foray into the mind of the party animal of 1967. The style is so drenched in sixties' tropes that you expect Austin Powers to come bursting through the window at any moment. Swinging London at it's apex.
It's the mix of fast paced bass guitar, wah-wah rhythm guitar, twiddly hammond organ and hi-hat led drum riff that gives this that loving 60s feeling, and the addition of the frankly amazing brass section gives this whole band depth and diversity. And diversity there is aplenty. He doesn't just stick with pop numbers, but we get blues, soul, funk, gospel, country, tv themes, traditional folk tunes, rock, and even proto heavy-metal.
I've listened to this album over and over now, and there's another factor at play here. The non-stop element, clearly designed to prevent the poor over-stretched party host from having to change 45s over on their radiogram every 3 minutes, has thought out the playlist. Fast tracks to get you going, through to solid legitimate tunes to keep you on the dance floor. A couple of slow songs to bring the mood down, then Hava Nagila for the community dance, and then back to the luscious 'Love's Theme' to play you out while you smooch with your chosen special one. It's a whole night's playlist condensed into a well packaged 34 minutes.
And so as you can tell, I clearly have a real affection for this album. It's just fun. That's all, no pretence to anything else, just fun. But then, oh, but then the doubts started to creep up on me...
Firstly, there was the fact that when I looked closer, I realised that the album was published in 1974, probably recorded the same year. This was 7 years later than I would have dated it from the music alone. This means, surely, that rather than being a pioneer of that 60s sound Chico's arrangements were, let's be kind, and call them a homage. Let's be less kind and suggest that maybe he was an opportunist with a talent to copy others' styles.
But what really led me down the path of surprise was reading the album notes again. It's only a small thing, but the arrangements "stand to the credit of Chico, John Clark and John Osborne". I know that Chico was London-based, but for someone with the flamboyance of Sr. Chico Arnez, surely he wouldn't be working with blokes called John, whether it's Clark or Osborne, it just feels to pedestrian.
With a little more digging, I finally found the truth. At least, I think it's the truth - it is repeated in more than a few places, but it seems that Chico Arnez never existed. Chico Arnez was a persona created by a bassist. Called Jackie Davis. From Streatham.
There is apparently a story that does the rounds of the BBC about Chico. I quote here from The Independant:-
I don't know why I felt so disappointed, so cheated. Maybe I cursed myself for being caught up the excitement of those pulsing latin beats. And so I remind myself, Jackie or Chico, it doesn't really matter. The music speaks for itself. And it's bloody brilliant.
Oh, and the engineer on this album, John Kurlander - he was only assistant engineer by request on the Abbey Road album, and has a handful of Oscars and other awards for his music for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. See, Chico may be a sham, but at least this album has pedigree.
And compare the pace of this Elvis version with the madly frantic Chico one below!
1. The Loco-Motion
2. Put Your Hand In The Hand
3. The Resurrection Shuffle
4. Do The Funky chicken
5. Soul Finger
7. Hawaii Five-O
1. In The Midnight Hour (You Can't Love Me)
2. Spirit In The Sky
3. The Beat Goes On
4. Land Of A Thousand Dances
5. I Had A Sad Dream
6. Hava Nagila
7. Love's Theme
9.5 out of 10 for Chico, 4 out of 10 for that charlatan Jackie.
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