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.
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: Gusto Records - SD-968X
First Released: 1976
What I Say...
Something strange is happening in Forgotten Albums land (yeah, it's a real place. Shut up.) You see, in the past I've listened to these albums once, maybe twice and reviewed almost as a knee-jerk reaction. But in relaunching this site, and almost by accident I've heard this one now maybe a dozen times, and something strange happened. Despite hating it the first couple listens, I think in this case at least, familiarity has bred content rather than contempt. I'm not going to be adding this to my list of top 100 favourite albums anytime soon, but if you persevere past the two opening tracks, there is something of merit here.
A very quick recap - This album opens with the two 'recitations' - Red Sovine ladles on the emotion in a spoken word short story over a competent country music background. But, but.... at the end of track 2, 'Little Rosa', he finally bursts into song and shows us what he can do, and boy can he do it. It's a great country voice, even if he overreaches at times (listen to the soundclip of 'It Ain't No Big Thing' to see what I mean). It's not one of the all time classic voices, but it's warm and emotive and perfectly suited to this kind of material.
I think it's fair to say that Good Ol' Red isn't breaking any new ground here with either the arrangements or the subject matter of the songs. But then why would he. This is traditional country from Nashville in 1975 - he's hardly likely to be the godfather of disco now, is he? I did find that after a while I was giving more honest subtitles to the songs which I think give a flavour is what we have here.
1. Teddy Bear = Disablement of a child is sad
2. Little Rosa = Death of a child is sad
3. It Ain't No Big Thing = My gal is leaving me
4. Last Mile Of The Way = My gal doesn't appreciate me
5. Bootlegger King = Redeemed by love and Jesus
1. Daddy = My Dad is better than your Dad
2. Love Is = Love is cliches
3. 1460 Elder Street = I'm responsible for the death of a man
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took a Walk = My Dad is worse that your Dad
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home = I love my truck - in a healthy way, of course
6. Sad Violins = Sadness is sad
In line with my more usual musical tastes, this album reminded me of Frank Zappa for two reasons. Firstly, there's the fact that when the PMRC were looking to censor or ban records for inappropriate content, one of the leading opposers to any legislation was Zappa for fairly obvious reasons. However, an unlikely ally in the fight against censorship was the Country Music fraternity. Because Country music deals with death, alcohol, and the darker side of the human condition it was ripe to become a target of a blanket censorship created by more sensitive individuals. It may be packaged in a traditional, homely format, but this tradition of Country song is folk music in its essence, songs that deal with the dark realities of life and living.
Secondly, there's more than a touch of 'Truck Driver Divorce' about this album, see...
There are another couple of songs I'd like to highlight. 1460 Elder Street is what you'd get if Porter Waggoner and Roald Dahl had joined forces for an episode of 'Tales of the Unexpected'. A soldier, about to be drafted out to Vietnam picks up a married woman who confides that she's lonesome as her husband is away fighting. After a torrid night of love (my interpretation, I add - Red is far too much of a gentleman to give any of the details away), she decides that she wants to be with the narrator, and tells him that after he comes back, he can live with her at 1460 Elder Street.
Some weeks later, in the heat of battle a grenade lands near our 'hero', and another soldier with nothing left to live for leaps onto the grenade killing himself but saving our chap. When he looks through his effects, he finds a 'Dear John' letter from the late soldier's wife. The return address being.... I won't insult your intelligence.
But this troubles me. You see, the woman in this story gets together with our man because she's lonely as her husband is away. And yet the man she chooses to replace him with is also a soldier and is also going away. How is this going to make things any different or better. And a man died because of this inconsistency. I shouldn't let it bother me, I really shouldn't. But it does.
For me though, there is one standout track on the album, and that's the side one closer 'Bootlegger King'. So it's a trite tale of a dirt poor boy who turns to crime, but is ultimately saved by the love of a good woman, the birth of his child, and finding Jesus. But it's a wryly observed bit of writing, and the music is just excellent. All those ingredients - piano, guitar, steel, fiddly are balanced just perfectly, each taking it in turn to shine, all over a rolling Johnny Cash style beat. It's a catchy little number, and no mistakin'. If there's one lasting tune from this album that makes it into one of my regular listens, it'll be this one.
I'm not ashamed to say I actually quite like this album. Well, I am a little ashamed, and I am of course excluding the title track, but overall it's a good Country album. The musicianship is brilliant, the arrangements excellent, and Red Sovine has a warm and inviting voice. I can't help but with he'd put it to slightly better use, but hey, it was a different time.
And for those of you who remember those heady, carefree days of part one of this review, this is the two minutes of scratched vinyl that was a welcome relief after the first two songs.
1. Teddy Bear
2. Little Rosa
3. It Ain't No Big Thing
4. Last Mile Of The Way
5. Bootlegger King
2. Love Is
3. 1460 Elder Street
4. Does Steppin' Out Mean Daddy Took A Walk
5. 18 Wheels Hummin' Home Sweet Home
6. Sad Violins
3 or 7 out of 10, depending on whether it's the first listen or the sixth...