Isle Of Wight Literary Festival – Part Two

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The second session at the IWLF I attended was with Jill Dawson whose latest novel “The Language Of Birds” I very much enjoyed this summer. I’m particularly glad I saw her (not only because at work when we tweeted what we were reading whilst I was half-way through it led very quickly to Jill following us at Sandown Library) but because she was able to clear up certain aspects which had not lain easily with me.

In my review, obviously, not knowing at the time that I would be seeing the author and in a way giving her a right to reply I picked up on the imagery that was going on in the title and within the text where there are references to bird communications, occasionally in human voices. I said “the relevance of this and the title of the novel has passed me by. It is not what I will remember this book for..” and then I went on to say what I would remember it for (read the review!) so I am delighted that Jill dealt with this very early on.

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Jill Dawson

I might just have been trying to read too much into the character Rosemary hearing birds speaking to her. It’s being used here as a symptom of schizophrenia. I’m more annoyed at myself at not picking up on the title. I suppose it shows what a well-adjusted twenty-first century man I am, forgetting that this novel is set in the 1970’s. “Birds” here is also being used in its context of the day referring to young girls and the “language of birds” the chat and perceptions of the two main female characters which was actually one of the aspects of the books which I had highlighted as really liking; “Mandy and Rosemary feel like two young girls new to the London of 1974.

This novel is a fictionalised account based upon the murder of nanny Sandra Rivett by Lord Lucan (with names changed). Although never formally charged because of his disappearance apparently we can legally say that he was the murderer as an inquest, in an unusual situation, deemed him to be so.

Jill Dawson, a patron of a charity supporting those suffering from domestic violence wanted in this novel to bring the focus back to the victim. Of the many reams of newspaper accounts on the absconding toff the woman he killed got short shrift. The statistics on domestic violence are still chilling. They work out that in 2017 a woman was killed by a partner or ex-partner every four days. Mandy was never a partner of the killer (nor was Sandra Rivett) it was a case of them being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The intended victim was Lardy Morven (or Lady Lucan in the real life case) who had endured domestic violence.

In the extract she chose to read aloud Jill Dawson focused on the class divide of the time where Mandy with no actual experience of being a nanny attends an interview and gets the job because it was assumed that young working-class women would just be able to do a job like that. Lady Morven herself couldn’t, she was falling apart at the seams. I must admit I’m not great at listening to extracts I tune in and out if they are out of context (I don’t read extracts at all) even if I am familiar where it comes in the plot, unless perhaps it’s the opening of a novel but I did like the extract the author chose because given the grimness of the case and the motives behind the book it did give a feel for those who had not read it of its lightness of touch, its real feel of the period and the vivacity of the main character which had all appealed to me.

There was an interesting discussion as to whether Jill Dawson felt things would improve in the future. She saw men’s greater participation in fatherhood as a plus (Dickie in the novel obviously feels strongly towards his children but they are viewed as possessions and the children are distant because that was what their relationship was- as indeed were many of our relationships with our fathers in the 70’s). What concerns here is an attempt to shift the culture towards women doing horrible acts, an example of which is “Killing Eve” and many recent novels and films which have posited women as assassins, which is not based on anything but may eventually lead to an acceptance by girls of violence as a solution just as boys can accept violence from their choice of playthings from early years. Jill said of the 99,000 people in UK prisons, 4,000 were women and only a minority of these have been convicted of violent crime. Our media and popular culture would suggest otherwise.

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I spent a couple of fascinating hours at the IWLF this year. It was the fact that I had already read and enjoyed the books featured that led me just the few miles to the venue, but I like to think I’d be back again next year as it seems to be going from strength to strength, probably once again avoiding the big names and focusing on the gems behind the headliners.

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Isle Of Wight Literary Festival 2019 – Part One

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I did something new last weekend and attended my first Literary Festival. I did go to the London Book Fair a few years ago but that was a much larger more impersonal commercial event which lacked the cosy meet-the-authors feel of the smaller festivals. This is the 8th year of the Isle Of Wight Literary Festival which takes place in Cowes, centred around Northwood House. This year spread over three days there were a diverse range of speakers including Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Morpurgo, Jo Brand, Jack Straw, Elly Griffiths, Sir Tim Waterstone, Dan Snow and Kate Adie. These were obviously the big crowd-pullers. Their talks took place in a marquee where the audience were herded around corrals and crammed in to listen to their heroes.
I, very sensibly I think, opted to attend two smaller events to hear authors who this year have thrilled me with their writing. The first of these was Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott whose fictional account of the later years of Truman Capote is certainly in contention for my Book of The Year and listening to Kelleigh talk about her work in the Ballroom of Northwood House on a very wet October Saturday has certainly made its challenge stronger.

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Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Swan Song” is a book which seems to have slipped a little under the radar, as when I read it I expected it to be one of the big publishing sensations of the year. It did get longlisted for the The Women’s Prize in Fiction but missed out on the shortlist and probably was never going to join the Booker longlist because it is so readable. Of the 24 or so people who attended her presentation it did seem only a handful had read it. I felt an urge throughout to let her know how much I had loved the book but kept quiet. When it came to question time I couldn’t frame my response to it as a question and what usually tends to happen is that people who haven’t read the book ask questions which is a little irritating for those who have made the effort, but then that is part and parcel of these sort of occasions as the author is there, in least in part, to shift and sign books and probably doesn’t want a roomful of people who already own a copy.

Kelleigh described her fascination with Capote beginning as a twelve year old when she read “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. She fell in love with his raconteur style and his ability to use words as weapons. With a background in screenwriting she might have been expected to focus in on a more filmic aspect of Capote’s life but it was the story of a literary crime which kept drawing her attention, not the murder of the Clutter family which cemented Capote’s reputation as a leading American writer with his true crime classic “In Cold Blood” but his betrayal in 1975 of a group of women who he loved and who loved him. He did this by publishing thinly-veiled secrets they had told him over the years and mocked them mercilessly in an extract in “Esquire” of his unfinished novel. A crime, because it destroyed him and a number of them indirectly and was almost certainly the cause of a suicide of one woman he dished the dirt on.

As much of her love for the work of Capote triggered this novel Kelleigh found the pull of these society women irresistible and over time came up with the ingenious third person collective voices- the chorus of Capote’s “swans”.

I was fascinated by a bit of back-story of his ambitious mother who almost reached the social standing she believed was her due until her husband’s arrest for fraud led to her suicide. Could this have been an underlying motive for Capote’s literary mauling of these high society women? The six “swans” were pretty much hand-picked by Capote probably because of their potential as characters. If this was a calculated move he certainly played the long game, there was a 20 year delay during which he became very close to all of these women before spilling the beans and devastating their own (and also his own) lives.

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I’m sure I will be talking about this book again at the end of the year which will give you a chance in the meantime to seek it out and become as seduced by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s writing as I have been.

Unicorn – Amrou Al-Kadhi (4th Estate 2019) – A Real Life Review

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Subtitled “The Memoir Of A Muslim Drag Queen” this book will be unlike anything that you’ve read before. It’s an extraordinarily unflinching account of a search for acceptance from an individual hunting for answers at odds with practically all aspects of life and the crushing need to find a place to fit in.

The title refers to a tattoo Amrou Al-Kadhi had inked because “ they are the ultimate outsiders, destined to gallop alone. They share the body of a horse and are similar in form, but are of a different nature, almost able to belong in an equine herd, but utterly conspicuous and irrefutably other.” This fits in with the author’s self- perceptions exactly as well as the unicorn being “also a symbol of pride, of a creative flaunting its difference without shame.” I’d be hard put to think of a more fitting image in any book this year.

I’ve read a lot of coming out tales and accounts of individuals feeling out of sync with society. Amrou Al-Kadhi has battled with issues of sexuality, gender (preferring to be referred to as “they”), family, religion, drugs, mental health issues and OCD and I’ve probably not covered all of them. If this sounds depressing, wrong, the result is an uplifting extraordinary read.

As a young boy in Dubai and then Bahrain Amrou was totally obsessed with his mother and would do literally anything to keep her attention, which provides the first of the book’s many jaw-dropping moments. His behaviour, perceived as feminine, damaged the relationship with his father and an early declaration of his sexuality cemented that sense of rejection as it was so at odds with the family’s view of Islam. A move to the UK saw Amrou obsessively adopting the new Western culture and a determination to succeed in a manner which could only reinforce his sense of isolation.

This desperate striving for academic achievement led to time at Eton (which was equally miserable) and Cambridge University where the formation of a drag night and then a troupe of performers provided both a reason for being as well as bringing all the underlying tensions up to the surface.

This is Amrou’s first book but there is a background in writing and direction in film work, unsurprisingly, as Amrou is a born story-teller who can vividly recreate events that are often painfully honest in every muscle-clenching detail. It’s a journey towards accepting the self and also beginning to acknowledge situations from other’s points of view. At one point this is likened to quantum physics and parallel events which is a little over my head but allows the author to make some sense from the life story. As a writer, there is definite talent and the emotional intelligence with which difficult issues are conveyed shows great potential for future work. It’s touching, very powerful, outrageous, laugh out loud funny and extremely sad. As a read it both shocked and entertained. Whatever Amrou might have felt at the time the life experiences are almost certainly not unique but they have never been aired in this way before. The search for love, especially within the family and the potential catastrophic pitfalls when this is not forthcoming are expertly expressed. The subtitle, appropriate as it is, might suggest something different but this is a thoughtful, learned, literary work.

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Unicorn was published by 4th Estate on 3rd October 2019 . Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.

100 Essential CDs – Number 20- Rhythm Divine 2

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Rhythm Divine 2 (Dino 1991)

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I did own this CD compilation’s predecessor, the unsurprisingly named Rhythm Divine on vinyl.  There were quite a lot of tracks squeezed on over four sides and that compression and the fact that it was in the latter days of vinyl when the industry wanted everyone to purchase CDs meant that the sound was a little flat compared to the original singles and it wasn’t an album I played too often.  The follow-up I purchased on CD and because it was the second in the series the selections were less obvious, the sound was beefed up for the CD format and it became an album I played a lot.  We are back again on the dance floor with tracks dating from 1968-84 with the emphasis on the funkier, more soulful side of disco.  There are tracks which overlap with other of my Essential CDs compilation choices, eight of the 34 on show here spread out between Disco Classics, Funk Soul Anthems and Native New Yorker but there is plenty new here to provide a joyful couple of hours revisiting tracks from my youth.  With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD 1

1.Dance To The Music – Sly & The Family Stone (1968) (UK#7, US#8) (also on “Disco Classics”)

2. Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) – The Jacksons (1979) (UK#4, US#7)

3. That Lady – Isley Brothers (1973) (UK#14, US#6)

4. Best Of My Love – Emotions (1977) (UK#4, US#1) (also on “Disco Classics)

5. Backstabbers – The O’ Jays (1972) (UK#14, US#3)

This features one of the greatest introductions in soul music, a melodic swirling, menacing yet absolutely lovely example of the Philadelphia International house orchestra MFSB before the O’Jays make their entrance with their emphatic “what’re they saying”.  This was the first hit for soul trio Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell and as far as I am concerned  it was never bettered, a musical warning about those who will talk about you behind your back.  This year Levert, Williams and Eric Nolan Grant released what they say will be their final recording entitled “The Last Word” which was a great way to round-up the group after 61 years together for the two originals and which felt like a tribute to the quality of the music of the past with enough of a contemporary feel to make it a relevant soul music release.

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6. Rock Your Baby – George McRae (1974) (UK#1, US#2) (also on “Disco Classics)

7. That’s The Way I Like It – KC & The Sunshine Band (1975) (UK#4, US#1)

8. Boogie Oogie Oogie – A Taste Of Honey (1978) (UK#3, US#1)

I had a friend who worked in the record department of WH Smith and in those days they used to put out the Top 20 charts on a peg board using plastic letters.  There were obviously a lot of “o’s” both in this song title and in the charts one week and she found that they had run out so had to put this up on the board as “Bogie Ogie Ogie” which she got her a telling off from the shop manager (bogie being an unacceptable word for WH Smith to have on display in the 70’s) but it is how I have always thought of this song since.  A Taste Of Honey featured a unique double of female vocalists and guitarists Carlita Dorhan and bass player Janice Marie-Johnson.  In 1978 it was still unusual to see female artists playing and performing which made A Taste Of Honey seem like the sound of the future and this first single release was a huge seller and gained the group a Grammy.  Sadly, they struggled with follow-up material and the group dwindled down to a duo.  In the UK they are officially one-hit wonders but Dorhan and Johnson managed three years later to get back into the US Top 3 with a ballad cover of the Kyu Sakamoto hit “Sukiyaki”.  They will always be remembered for this hook laden, funky slab of disco which had the feel of Chic with the girls emulating the guitar-rich sound of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards.

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9. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems”)

10. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (1979) (UK#1, US#1)

11. When Will I See You Again – Three Degrees (1974) (UK#1, US#2)

12. Contact – Edwin Starr (1979) (UK#6)

Ex Motown artist Edwin Starr re-emerged in the late 70’s on the 20th Century label and scored a big European hit.    His US hits had dried up not long after his chart-topping “War” in 1970 and within a couple of years he decided to relocate to the UK, where he would stay until his death in 2003.  Amazingly, this did not cross over to the pop charts in any big way in his homeland despite topping Billboard’s US Disco chart.  It’s a big, chunky production which suits the stridency of the great Starr’s vocals.  His Motown hits were great but I have always loved this reinvention of his sound on this track.

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13. This Is It- Melba Moore (1976) (UK#9)

Songwriter/producer Van McCoy’s work always really succeeded when there was a strong voice which could cut through the natural sweetness of his productions.  There was no way his string laden orchestra could dominate Melba Moore (nor David Ruffin who he also worked with around the same time).  Melba’s voice had the experience of both gospel and Broadway and fitted perfectly into this joyous number.  Music was in Melba’s genes, her mother was R&B singer Bonnie Davis who had topped the R&B charts and her father sax player and band leader Teddy Hill. The always critically acclaimed Moore has never had a pop hit in the US.  In the UK chart success continued in the early 80’s when she scored another couple of Top 40 hits “Love’s Coming At Ya” (#15 in 1982) and “Mind Up Tonight” (#22 in 1983) and became one of the leading lights in the “Quiet Storm” soul ballad revival in the early/mid 80’s which saw a duet with Freddie Jackson top the R&B charts.  Melba is still going strong today but there is no doubting this is her finest moment.  Dannii Minogue’s 1993 revival of the track introduced the joyfulness of this to a new generation and saw the song back in the UK Top 10.

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14. More More More – Andrea True Connection (1976) (UK#5, US# 4)

By the mid 70’s in the US porn had gone mainstream and its stars, especially Linda Lovelace had become household names.  The overlap between sex and disco which found success in tracks such as Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby” tempted some adult movie actresses into the recording studio.  The most successful of these was Andrea True.  The story goes that Andrea found herself in Jamaica after an attempted coup which meant that money could not be taken out of the country.  True had to spend her earnings and decided to fly in producer Gregg Diamond to make a record with her.  Remixed by Tom Moulton and sporting an unforgettable “pop pop” sound “More More More” became a huge hit worldwide.  It’s lyrics “keep the action going/keep the cameras rolling” reference her alternative career in a way which would not cause offence and would see the song covered successfully in later years by Rachel Stevens (#3 2004) and Bananarama (#24 1993).  Andrea True was not a great singer but she did have some great songs in the early years of her career and is very under-rated as a music artist.  I love the almost relentless latin flavours of “NY, You Got Me Dancing” and the disco pick-up of “What’s Your Name What’s Your Number” which gave her a second UK Top 40 hit two years later.  Also tracks such as “Keep It Up Longer” and “Party Line” are certainly worth seeking out.  Of her former film career I know nothing!

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15. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel – Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#15) (also on “Disco Classics)

16. Rock The Boat – Hues Corporation (1974) (UK#6, US#1) (also on “Native New Yorker”)

17. Hang On In There Baby – Johnny Bristol (1974) (UK# 3, US#8)

Here’s a man who should have become a household name.  A Motown songwriter and producer (often with Harvey Fuqua) Bristol worked on all time classic tracks by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Edwin Starr, David Ruffin and Jnr Walker and the All Stars and as a vocalist is the male voice featured on Diana Ross and The Supremes’ swansong “Someday We’ll Be Together” which he also produced and co-wrote.  By 1974 he had signed a solo contract with MGM and the success of bedroom based songs by male R&B stars such as Marvin Gaye and Barry White led to this recording which combines some fairly cheesy lyrics which turns love-making into a life or death situation with thunder roaring and lightning striking as Bristol gets it on with his “sweet virgin of the world” with a great production and a real hook laden song which is just irresistible.  UK cool boys Curiosity Killed The Cat dropped most of their name for a comeback single in 1992 (as “Curiosity”) and matched their highest ever chart placing (as well as the UK chart position of Bristol’s original) with a cover of this.  Bristol, maybe because of difficulties at the MGM label struggled to get his follow-up compositions  to chart, although one of these “Love Me For A Reason” became a UK#1 when covered by The Osmonds.  There were glimmers of potential success, a duet with Amii Stewart in 1980, a stint working with Ian Levine in the UK in the late 80’s but he just couldn’t follow up his classic hit.  He  passed away in 2004.

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18. Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale (1975) (UK#8, US#2)

 

CD 2

 

1.Celebration – Kool & The Gang (1980) (UK#7, US#1)

2. Don’t Stop The Music – Yarborough & Peoples (1980) (UK#7, US#19) 

Although they sound like a firm of solicitors Texans Cavin Yarborough and Alisa Peoples were childhood sweethearts who signed with the Total Experience label and this was their debut hit which is both funky and wacky with speeded up voices for which they would often use puppets when performing “You don’t really want to stop! No!“.  Maybe this shifted them into the novelty act category in their homeland where this was their only Top 40  hit.  In the UK they had another three singles which made  the Top 75 over the next 6  years, one of which (“Don’t Waste Your Time”) reached 48 in the US coming closest to giving them a follow-up hit in 1983.  They eventually tied the knot in 1987 after which they set up their own music production company.

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3. Use It Up And Wear It Out – Odyssey (1980) (UK#1)

4. Shame – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978) (UK#39, US#9) (also on “Native New Yorker”)

5. Don’t Take Away The Music – Tavares (1976) (UK#4, US#34)

Two of the very best Tavares track on these CDs.  This was another Freddie Perren production which closed their most successful album “Sky High” which had also featured “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.” and “The Mighty Power Of Love”.  This is their Tavares at their most singalong, which is no way a criticism, as anyone who has heard me belting this in the shower would be able to testify.  Great track which matched the success of “Heaven” in the UK but which fell a bit short in their homeland.

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6. Swing Your Daddy – Jim Gilstrap (1975) (UK#4)

7. Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – William De Vaughan (1974) (UK#31, US#4)

8. Respect Yourself – The Staple Singers (1971) (US#12)

9. And The Beat Goes On – The Whispers (1980) (UK#2, US#19)

10. Love Town – Booker Newbury III (1983) (UK#6)

11. Somebody Else’s Guy- Jocelyn Brown (1984) (UK#13) (also on “Funk Soul Anthems”)

12. Change Of Heart – Change (1984) (UK#17)

13. Burn Rubber On Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me) – The Gap Band (1980) (UK#22)

14. You Gave Me Love – Crown Heights Affair (1980) (UK#10)

A veteran group by the time they notched up this UK Top 10 hit Brooklyn based group Crown Heights Affair had been around since the late 60’s and were one of the early leading lights of Disco  in the mid 70’s with tracks such as “Dreaming A Dream” and “Dancin'” lengthy workouts which became club classics without making the commercial breakthrough the band would have hoped for.  This came in 1978 with their excellent space-flight track “Galaxy Of Love” (UK#24). Their 1980 commercial peak was with this track which was not as good but does have a very memorable driving vocal hook “do doo doo doo doo doo” which lifted them into the Top 10 for the only time in their career.

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15. The Message – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982) (UK#8)

Look at the chart placings.  This seminal slab of hip-hop which took the to this point recent phenomenon of rap music to a new level was not even a US hit.  The US charts have been full of rappers for years and Grandmaster Flash is arguably the Grandaddy of them all.  Up until this point rap music had the hint of novelty about it stemming from labelmates The Sugarhill Gang and “Rapper’s Delight” with its one-upmanship which sounded fresh but a little trivial but here in the charts and on the radio was as the title rightly termed a “Message”.  What we were being told about here was injustice and prejudice and  R&B music shifted from this point onwards things would never be the same again.  It’s up there with my favourite hip-hop records joined near that pole position by a track a year later when Grandmaster Flash joined forces with Melle Mel for the anti-drug epic “White Lines” which got to number 7 and hung around the UK charts for almost a year, although the power of this track was diluted by a pointless 1995 cover by Duran Duran.

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16. I Found Lovin’ – The Fatback Band (1984) (UK#7)

Rhythm Divine 2 can currently be purchased on Amazon in the UK for £4.07 new and used from £1.54.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One’s Home – D M Pulley (2019) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Every month Amazon Prime subscribers are offered a free “First Read” of an e-publication. I generally take them up on the offer but until now haven’t actually read any of them. I chose this from the August selection.

It’s American author D M Pulley’s 4th novel. Her debut “The Dead Key” won an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2014.  Her latest is a creepy house novel with an acknowledged nod towards Shirley Jackson’s horror classic “The Haunting Of Hill House” and there’s references also to the movie “Poltergeist” within the text. It also brought to mind the first season of “American Horror Story” known as “Murder House”, the residence within Pulley’s novel also very much fits this description.

Everything we would expect from a haunted house tale is here, beginning with the house being for sale and being purchased by a not particularly likeable family before the odd things start to happen. In this case there’s a lot of individual members of the Spielman family spooking themselves by wandering around the house when alone. Obviously, to begin with this new family to the house, Myron, Margot and awkward teenager Hunter know little about the history of the place other than it was a bargain buy. We get to know about previous owners through parallel narratives and for most, things do not end up well. The house has been built on the remains of a Shaker community and from the Rawlings family who lived there in the late 1920’s lives have been steeped in tragedy. In many cases the presence of ghosts are fuelled by characters’ inability to communicate with one another, making it a tale of outsiders haunted by their pasts which influences how they deal with the present.

These parallel narratives make this novel seem less formulaic with echoes of one generation touching others. I can’t say I was particularly chilled at any point but I was intrigued by the interweaving of the past with the present. At times plausibility is strained which is not uncommon with tales dealing with the supernatural. Anyone looking for a creepy (ish) read in the run up to Halloween might wish to consider this.

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I read a Kindle edition of No One’s Home which was published in 2019 by Thomas and Mercer.

Company Of Liars – Karen Maitland (2008)

 

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Karen Maitland is an author I’ve been meaning to get round to for some time.  I have a few of her books unread on my shelves, I’ve been tempted into buying them by the darkness suggested by their titles and cover design.  This, her second of her to date nine fictional works is subtitled “a novel of the plague” which with its mid 14th Century setting suggests a read rich in atmosphere and gloom, perfect for these unseasonal Indian Summer days!

 I like the premise of a group of individuals with varying backgrounds and dark secrets in their pasts bonding together to escape the plague.  The disease stalking and occasionally overtaking them is superbly done and adds to the atmosphere and tension of the novel.  I realised midway through that I’m never as much of a fan of the “road” novel as I think I am.  For some reason I like characters to get to their destinations rather than just travel there, books which focus purely on a journey such as “Lord Of The Rings” as well as countless others have not appealed to me as much as I would have liked.  (Already I’m thinking of exceptions to that statement, Steinbeck’s “The Grapes Of Wrath” immediately springing to mind).  I think this is a personal quirk which can affect my enjoyment but is not a slight on the quality of the story-telling.

 It is narrated by a character referred to by the others as “Camelot”, a peddler in ancient relics of dubious provenance.  Amongst the group fleeing to safety is a couple of musicians, a couple approaching parenthood, a magician and a very strange child with a talent for interpreting runes.  A couple of my favourite characters get bumped off before their time which I found a little disappointing.

 Long medieval travels inevitably means story-telling and there are a number along the way which gives the work a Chaucerian feel.  There’s a mystical element appropriate for the beliefs of the time where even the Church acknowledged the presence of werewolves and vampires. 

 It is a heady mix of history, crime with a touch of fantasy and horror but the elements do not quite come together in the way I was hoping they would.  It’s been a valuable introduction to the work of Karen Maitland and I am sure I will enjoy other of her novels even more than this.  “Company Of Liars” just misses out on a 4* rating because I save that for those books I would be keen to read again and this is one that I’ve read, enjoyed and am ready to move on from.

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 Company Of Liars was published by Michael Joseph in 2008.  I read the 2009 Penguin paperback edition.

Donna Summer: The Thrill Goes On – Nik A Ramli (2012) – A Real Life Review

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What is the right thing to do when just as your biography is going to press the subject dies? Do you hold back publication and revise its contents? I think I would probably say yes to this. Do you carry on and publish anyway after all, knowing that not many readers will know when a book actually came out, that’s a possibility. What Nik A Ramli does in his first piece of biographical non-fiction is acknowledge the passing in an author’s note at the start of the book, use the dates of the life (1948-2012) prominently on the cover but does not change the main text one iota. I’m not sure whether that’s appropriate.

That decision leads to a slightly off taste as Ramli focuses on the legendary disco star’s past, present and future in later chapters such as “Still Going Strong: A New Departure” and “Into The Future” when he makes it clear elsewhere that he knows that there isn’t going to be any future.

Now I, like Ramli, who is better known as a Malaysian Interior Designer who specialises in “laid back glamour” am a big Donna Summer fan. I have included four of her albums in my Essential CD listings. I feel that up to now she has not been served well by the printed word. I read an early 80’s unauthorised biography which said little and even “Ordinary Girl” her 2003 autobiography written with Marc Eliot was a disappointment which just skimmed the surface. There is room for a definitive examination of the life and career of one of the most successful female artists of all time whose record sales reputedly exceed 130 million. I’d always hoped that someone like J. Randy Taraborrelli would apply his thorough, analytical eye to her and produce something very entertaining but this hasn’t happened.

Ramli has produced what is very much a fan’s viewpoint which borders on hagiography. I have no problems with that, the whole work comes across as a labour of love and I always admire these. He’s done tons of research and seemingly watched and read everything and has carried out interviews with people qualified to comment on Donna’s career including DJ Paul Gambaccini, fellow disco-diva Gloria Gaynor and her one-time producer and great supporter Pete Waterman. Unfortunately, what he hasn’t done is put this research all together very well. This is a first-time writer in need of support to structure a convincing narrative and that support (and editing) obviously wasn’t there. The style is breathless throughout, which becomes a little overwhelming, there is so much repetition, an over-reliance on listing the same statistics and song titles to illustrate laboured points, a cheesy use of song titles within the text of the she certainly “works hard for the money” type, factual errors even I’ve spotted, non-sequiturs a-plenty and a tendency to go off on odd tangents, but mainly it’s the repetition that wearies.

He rattles through her whole career in the first few chapters and with a considerable amount of the book to go a clearer structure would have helped matters. He’s read Taraborrelli’s superior music biogs according to the bibliography, it is disappointing that from these he didn’t get a clearer idea of how to put together his work.

What Ramili does well, however, is to get a global perspective. He’s more obsessed about listing chart positions than I am, we get to know how Donna Summer’s work performed in many markets together with listings of weeks spent in both US and UK charts. I also like how he has got contributions from Malaysian performers about the influence of this American girl from Boston who found fame initially in Germany.

The issue that affected the performer was how much “Donna Summer” was a creation of her producers and then her record label. She was created to fit in with the hedonism of mid 70’s disco, with an aura of soft-porn chic which captured the zeitgeist of the time. This image was different to how Donna Summer wanted to be seen both in terms of her beliefs and her need not to be pigeonholed as an act of a moment. Her disco days were glorious with some superb tracks, brilliantly performed, but she wanted to see and she had the talent to see beyond that, sensing that disco might not last forever. When it did end in the US with that notorious record burning in a Chicago sportsfield which I’ve mentioned a number of times before (see “Turn The Beat Around” by Peter Shapiro), Donna was ready to move on and embrace rock, new wave and more mainstream pop. Over time chart positions dwindled and an alleged comment about AIDS alienated a large gay fanbase. That disco ball would never entirely go away, however, and the demand for the back catalogue of the Disco Donna Summer, like the Disco Gloria Gaynor, would keep re-appearing over the decades. In latter years Donna began once again to fully embrace this and saw a career revival and a demand for new material in the years up to her sudden and shocking death from lung cancer aged 64.

She should be seen as one of the greatest performers of her era, alongside Barbra Streisand (with whom she famously vocally duelled with on “No More Tears”), Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Diana Ross. The fact that she does not always share a pedestal with these artists critically means she is still due for reappraisal. Ramli’s work provided a welcome opportunity for this but he doesn’t quite pull it off.

twostarsDonna Summer; The Thrill Goes On was published by Book Guild Publishing in 2012.

100 Essential CDs – Number 25- Native New Yorker: Disco Classics

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Native New Yorker: Disco Classics (Camden 1997)

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This twenty track CD appeared on the budget Camden label in 1997 and according to the sleeve notes written by one Michael Dunnington references a time “when Jason King ruled the TV air-waves and men’s trousers “flared” like no tomorrow.”  For a one disc collection of 70’s music it is spot on and there is no overlap with any of the tracks featured on the other compilation CDs I have so far considered to be essential.  What it isn’t really, despite its subtitle, is an album of “disco classics” unless we are counting a school disco where tracks by artists such as Sweet and Barry Blue would have got played.  That disco would have also had to have a closing “slow dance” section to incorporate ballad tracks from the Delfonics and the country-tinged soul of the Pointer Sisters doing Bruce Springsteen, but okay, I’ll let it go because this is a CD which gets the memories flowing and brings me a lot of pleasure.  True, some of that pleasure might be guilty as the majority of the tracks are from the more poppy side of dance than those that appear on the “Disco Classics”, “Chilled Disco” and “Funk Soul Anthems” sets with its mix of American tracks, Eurodisco and British pop soul.  There are three UK number 1s and 1 US chart-topper and 13 out of the 20 tracks performed better in the UK and Europe than they did in the USA.

 With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

CD 1

1.Native New Yorker – Odyssey (1977) (UK#5, US#21)

What a track to open with, important enough to give the whole compilation its name and one of my all time favourites.  Odyssey’s later UK chart-topper featured on “Funk Soul Anthems” but this is their debut hit which was their only success in the US.  It’s a beautifully performed song by the Lopez sisters with Tony Reynolds which drips with sophistication and a classy glamour which makes it stand out as a song compared to so much repetitive disco. It sounds like something from the Great American Songbook (it for me is reminiscent of the Rodgers and Hart song “Manhattan” as made famous by Ella Fitzgerald).  The writers of this 70’s gem are Sandy Linzer and Denny Randall who wrote it as a track for a Frankie Valli solo album.  These two had been responsible for some classy pop songs prior to this such as “A Lover’s Concerto”, “Opus 17” and “Working My Way Back To You” for the Four Seasons .  Linzer  has made a previous significant appearance on my Essential CD listings for his production work on the innovative first album from “Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band” one of the great disco albums of all time.  Esther Phillips also did a great version of this song but this is definitely the definitive version.

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2. Yes Sir I Can Boogie – Baccara (1977) (UK#1)

The ultimate guilty pleasure?  This surprise UK chart-topper still delights me every time I hear it. I’m not sure whether it’s the Eurodisco production with its out-of-place heavy-breathing intro giving it a touch of the Donna Summers, the English as a second language phrasing, the “boogie-voogie” or the song which turns back in on itself and contains lines such as “I  already told you in the first verse/ and in the chorus”.  Spanish female duo Baccara were certainly one of a kind.  I saw them perform at “G-A-Y” in the 1990s and they still had the audience eating out of the palm of their hands by swirling scarves as they eased through their repertoire which also contained their equally bizarrely lyrics of “Sorry I’m A Lady” and their 1978 Eurovision entry “Parlez Vous  Francais (strangely enough representing Luxembourg) where they were robbed finishing in a lowly 7th  place losing to Israel’s nonsensical “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” which lyrically made the Baccara song seem more like Bacharach.  Sophie Ellis-Bextor had a go at making this song her own but that just isn’t possible it just has to be Mayte Mateos and Maria Mendiola in their quizzical Spanglish.

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3. Disco Nights (Rock Freak) – G.Q (1979) (UK#42, US#12)

4. Ms. Grace – Tymes (1974) (UK#1)

5. Shame – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978) (UK#39, US#9)

6. Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely – The Main Ingredient (1974) (UK#27, US#10)

7. Sunny- Boney M (1977) (UK#3)

Euro-disco’s biggest stars actually heralded from the West Indies but with this their second UK hit cemented their association with Germany’s Frank Farian on what is head and shoulders their best track.  The song is a cover version of a 1966 hit by Bobby Hebb, having much of its warmth stripped out to produce an almost icy slab of Munich  disco-funk.  It’s a near-perfect reconstruction of a song.  That said, I’m not sure what we are listening to here because the vocal arrangement sounds a tad different from my old 7 inch single.  I’m wondering whether it is a different mix or the album version.  I’m pretty sure its not a re-recording (a peril of the budget CD) as I’m sure this would have been highlighted in the info.  It’s in no way bad, just ever so slightly different and if I hadn’t listened to this song so many times over the years I probably would never have noticed.  What I have noticed also, however, is that this song is given the wrong title on the inner sleeve of the CD.  Doesn’t anybody proof read these things before they are printed?

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8. I Can’t Stand The Rain – Eruption (1978) (UK#5)

9. Jack And Jill – Raydio (1978) (UK#11, US#8)

The late 70’s group Raydio could not for long contain Ray Parker Jnr who for a time in the next decade looked like he could be one of the biggest solo acts.  A gifted guitarist, vocalist, song writer and producer with a great pop sensibility, Parker’s career was both made by his theme song to the movie “Ghostbusters” and hampered by it, as the spectre of the term “novelty artist” hung over him.  He was no novelty he just had an excellent sense of what was commercial.  This was evident on his debut hit which is one of two nursery themed tunes on this album, but this tale of the couple who went up the hill is nowhere as twee as the Moments’ “Jack In The Box” which appears later.  In fact, nursery rhyme referencing was not as out of place as it may seem in 70’s R&B, think The Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head” and even Earth Wind and Fire did it on “Saturday Night” . This is a good piece of pop-flavoured mid-tempo funk made memorable by the echoing vocals of the names of the two main characters.  I’ve always had a soft spot for both this and their UK hit follow-up “Is This A Love Thing?”  Back in 1978 I won a copy of “Jack And Jill” in a competition in “Blues And Soul” magazine which for someone who relied on saving up pocket money for music purchases was quite a big thing!

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10. Givin’ Up Givin’ In – Three Degrees (1978) (UK#12)

11. Rock The Boat – Hues Corporation (1974) (UK#6, US#1)

12. La La Means I Love You – Delfonics (1971) (UK#19, US#4)

13. There Goes My First Love – Drifters (1973) (UK#3)

14. Blockbuster – Sweet (1973) (UK#1)

15. It’s In His Kiss – Linda Lewis (1975) (UK#6)

I can’t miss an opportunity to herald this singer, not until she is recognised as one of the great British female artists.  A singer who may have been too versatile for her own good is here on her biggest hit which like its follow-up “Baby I’m Yours” which I highlighted on the “After The Dance” CD is a cover version of 60’s girl pop.  (I was young enough not to know this when this first came out). Here the pace is ramped up to fever pitch and it sounds like Linda has had a blast of helium before letting rip into this song which is just brilliant in giving the innocence of girl-group pop a 70’s glam makeover.  Notes are hit that zoom off into the stratosphere.  If you want to hear a vocalist putting 100% into a recording this is a prime example .  It certainly, for me, puts Cher’s 1991 chart-topping version into the shade.  It’s not even Lewis’ best recording.  That would be a stunning version of a song based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” from “The Mikado”, “The Moon and I” which I love so much I had it played at my wedding ensuring there would not be a dry eye in the house!

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16. Fire – Pointer Sisters (1979) (UK#34, US#2)

17. Can’t Get By Without You – The Real Thing (1976) (UK#2)

18. Dancing On A Saturday Night – Barry Blue (1973) (UK#2)

19. Jack In The Box – The Moments (1977) (UK#7)

20. Get Dancin’ – Disco Tex & The Sex-O-Lettes (1974) (UK#8, US#10)

Native New Yorker: Disco Classics is currently available to buy from Amazon in the UK for £14.98 and used from £0.90.

The Language Of Birds – Jill Dawson (2019) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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This is not exactly a crime novel, although a murder is very much at its centre and it focuses on a case most readers would have some sense of familiarity with, that of children’s nanny Sandra Rivett killed by absconding aristocrat Lord Lucan in what was believed to have been a case of mistaken identity (Lucan had intended to kill his estranged wife).

The real life events from 1974 are here turned into fiction with changed names, Dawson’s reasons for this are stated in an Afterword; “The life of a victim is a hard story to tell when there are living descendants (of the Lucan family too) and others who might still be hurt. My solution was to invent new characters whose story you have just read.” I think we as readers will respect the author’s decision here. Since reading this I haven’t gone into what was known about this grubby case other than what Dawson has told us in the Afterword and my vague recollections but she does seem to have followed the framework of events closely.

The narrative switches between a third person retelling and the first-person views of Rosemary, a friend of the doomed nanny. The two meet as voluntary patients in a psychiatric hospital and when a recovered Rosemary finds work as a nanny in London, Mandy follows and finds herself in charge of the two children from the fractured Morven family assisting the fragile and not-coping Lady Katherine who is trying to break free from the enigmatic but charismatic Dickie, wrapped in underhand tactics in a custody case. The two girls waver as to who should get their sympathies.

I think what Jill Dawson does very well here is to get the feel of the mid 1970’s just right not only in its many references but particularly in the attitudes. Mandy and Rosemary feel like two young girls new to the London of 1974. There’s a lot of anger in the novel, rightly so, in a case in which time has tended to lionise the disappearing perpetrator. In many ways just as Hallie Rubenhold aimed to reclaim the victims from the hype of Jack The Ripper in her non-fiction work “The Five” Dawson here has managed to move the focus back to the real-life victim Sandra Rivett perhaps even more effectively, especially as the character of Mandy is so vibrant and well-drawn.

There’s an element of imagery going on in the title and on occasions within the text based upon bird communication. At one point it takes the form of auditory hallucinations by swans and pigeons which caused Rosemary’s mental health episode but I’m not sure that this fits into the feel of the novel or understand why it is there. The relevance of this and of the title of the novel has passed me by.  It is not what I will remember this book for which is the great feel for the period, strong characterisation and the build up of dread as to how what we know is inevitable will pan out and the ramifications for those caught up in the grisly events.

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The Language Of Birds was published in hardback by Sceptre in April 2019.

100 Essential CDs – Number 28- Funk Soul Anthems

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Funk Soul Anthems (Sony/BMG 2005)

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To be honest, this 44 track 2005 double CD set from the mighty Sony/BMG conglomerate is sloppily put together with errors in spelling, partial song titles, no sleeve notes, incorrect running order and one track which appears which is not even listed on the back cover. I’m not sure if they got round to putting it right on later pressings but I think it might have been the reason why I picked this up cheaply not long after its first issue and when it comes down to it it’s what in the grooves that count and here things are very impressive indeed with some real funk and soul classics. Most of the tracks date from the 80’s, five of the mainly earlier tracks do overlap with another of my essential recommendations “Disco Classics” but there’s plenty here which still sounds fresh 30+ years on. Spanning from 1972 to 1986 it contains four US chart-toppers, an impressive 25 UK Top 10 singles as well as some which have become funk/soul standards without breaking through commercially at the time.
With these essential CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.
Track Listings

CD 1

1.One Nation Under A Groove – Funkadelic (1978) (UK#9, US#28)
“So high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it” is one of the many hooks in this sole hit from George Clinton’s Funkadelic. Clinton’s main group was Parliament, which went from being soul/doowop journeymen The Parliaments and by dropping that  “S” became the prime exponents of 1970’s space-age funk. They produced some great tracks (and some bonkers ones too) and were apparently incredible memorable live. There were US successes but over here they did not make the commercial breakthrough. Clinton was the mastermind behind other acts such as Parlet, The Brides Of Funkenstein and one of his proteges Bootsy Collins is also featured on this CD with a track which has become a funk classic without charting, Funkadelic were a more rock orientated, less commercial outfit than Parliament yet they were the act that made the showing in the UK Top 10 with this track. Albums such as “Maggot Brain”, “Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow” and “America Eats Its Young” would not have screamed radio airplay in the 1970’s but this track proved irresistible and was the title track of an album many claim is the best all-time funk album. However, it is no surprise that album track “Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doo Doo Chasers)” did not follow it to the upper reaches of the pop charts. I always felt that if George Clinton, a maverick if ever there was one was able to rein in slightly the more hallucinogenic, cartoon and scatological elements in his output that Parliament and Funkadelic could have become absolutely massive.

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2. Can You Feel It – The Jacksons (1981) (UK#6)
3. Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976) (UK#9, US#1)

Perhaps the best use of handclaps ever in this song. The introduction made it instantly familiar and it’s no surprise that this debut hit made it to the top of the US pop charts in 1976 and began a great career for Rose Royce (a group, not a person). The title track of a small but charming film ex Motown producer Norman Whitfield proved there was life after The Temptations with his work with this group. I loved also the aching ballads which appeared on the “Carwash” soundtrack “I Wanna Get Next To You” and “I’m Goin’ Down” and although primarily a funk group Rose Royce did become known for their ballads with tracks like “Wishing On A Star” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” but that was because not many funk bands at the time were blessed with a vocalist as pure as Gwen Dickey.

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4. Rockit- Herbie Hancock (1983) (UK#8)
5. Let The Music Play – Shannon (1983) (UK#14, US#8)

“He tried pretending a dance is just a dance but I see/He’s dancing his way back to me”.  Brenda Shannon Greene’s electro track, an early example of what came to be called freestyle,  sounded like a breath of fresh air in 1983 with its sinuating groove and lyrically it’s a cracker of a track.  There’s a really effective personification of love here who is resorted to for advice in a manner which would not have been out of place in a Shakespearean comedy.  Universal themes over a cooking arrangement and a good enough vocal performance looked like Shannon would be here to stay.  This was her only US hit but it did begin a run of three more UK hits in the 80’s which were not a patch on this and she had a revival in the 90’s when DJ’s looked for diva voices to front their tracks and scored chart hits with both Todd Terry and Sash!

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6. I Can Make You Feel Good – Shalamar (1982) (UK#7) – Also on “Disco Classics
7. Word Up – Cameo (1986) (UK#3, US#6)

Cameo had been around some time before they made the commercial breakthrough which had been expected from them.  Larry Blackmon was the codpiece wearing mastermind behind this group which formed in the mid 70’s with 14 members.  Obviously, it was going to prove difficult to pay the bills., there was a lot of coming and going over the years, Wikipedia lists 33 members.  They should have made their big impression with “Find My Way” a great dance track which was included on the 1978 “Thank God It’s Friday” soundtrack.  By 1986 they had shrunk down to a trio and found themselves with UK chart success with “She’s Strange”.  “Word Up” with its spaghetti western funk feel and Blackmon’s snarling vocal performance gave them their first US hit and is probably their best ever track, certainly their most successful.  Bizarrely, in 1999 Mel B covered this song and got to number 14 in the charts without matching the joyfulness in the original’s performance and production.

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8. Last Night A DJ Saved My Life – Indeep (1983) (UK#13)
9. Going Back To My Roots – Odyssey (1981) (UK#4)

In 1981 Odyssey decided to zip up their boots and score their fourth UK Top 10 hit.  This song which was written and originally recorded by Motown legend Lamont Dozier tapped into the fascination in black ancestry triggered by Alex Haley’s book and TV series “Roots” and this combined a thrilling disco track with African chants.  In the US at this time Disco had been officially declared dead which meant that many missed out on great tracks like this.  The trio which consisted of two sisters from the Virgin Islands Lillian and Louise Lopez (Lillian having a great distinct lead voice) and by this time Bill McEachern were one hit wonders in the US (but what a one hit, the sublime “Native New Yorker) but we certainly took to them in the UK.  A version of Odyssey still exists today based in the UK and led by the deceased Lillian’s son Steven Collazo and I’m sure this track would still go down a storm.

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10. T.S.O.P – MFSB ft The Three Degrees (1974) (UK #22, US#1) – Also on “Disco Classics”
11. It’s Just Begun – Jimmy Castor Bunch (1972)
12. Oops Upside Your Head – The Gap Band (1980) (UK#6) – Also on “Disco Classics”
13. Stretchin’ Out (In A Rubber Band) – Bootsy Collins (1976)
14. Walking In Rhythm – Blackbyrds (1975) (UK#20, US#6)
15. Hi, How Ya Doin’ ? – Kenny G ft Kashif (1983)
16. Lowdown – Boz Scaggs (1976) (UK#28, US#3)
17. The Groove Line – Heatwave (1978) (UK#12, US#7)
18. Zoom – Fat Larry’s Band (1982) (UK#2)
19. Let’s Groove – Earth Wind & Fire (1981) (UK#3, US#3)
20. I Found Lovin’- The Fatback Band (1984) (UK#7)
21. Get Down On It – Kool & The Gang (1981) (UK#3, US#10)
22. Theme From “Shaft”- Isaac Hayes (1971) (UK#4, US#1) – Also on “Disco Classics”

CD2

1.Love Train – O’ Jays (1973) (UK#9,US#1)
2. Somebody Else’s Guy- Jocelyn Brown (1984) (UK#13)
3. Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn (1979) (US#12) – Also on “Disco Classics”
4. All Night Long – Mary Jane Girls (1983)(UK#13)
5. Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye (1982) (UK#4, US#3)
6.Give Me The Reason – Luther Vandross (1986) (UK#24)

It always seemed to me that Luther Vandross never really in life or music moved too far out of his comfort zone.  There was a tendency to play it safe unlike the great male R&B singers of the past who were prepared to take risks.  But there was no denying that what Luther did he was amongst the very best at.  He knew the right formula for the big soul ballads, the party jams and the uptempo dance numbers.  He was an acknowledged soul legend before he broke through in any consistent way commercially and it was really his 1986 album from which this was the title track which pushed him into the superstar bracket.  This was the track the Epic label did not want to give up on and it was issued three times before it made #24 in the UK.  There were bigger hits from this album but I’ve always had a fondness for this song.  My ultimate favourite of his tracks is from his time as lead vocalist for the group Change with a song which was lyrically and musically edgier than much of his material “Searching”  but it is always good to hear this one.

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7. Hold Me Tighter In The Rain – Billy Griffin (1983) (UK#17)

Billy came to prominence aged 20 when he took over lead vocals after Smokey Robinson left The Miracles and was the voice on one of their biggest hits “Love Machine”.  By 1983 he was going it alone and this was his only Top 40 hit.  It’s a great piece of pop disco with a great vocal performance.  Billy struggled to make much headway with his solo career after this, he relocated to the UK and became the first artist to be released on the Motorcity label which began a long-lasting connection with producer and songwriter Ian Levine who was instrumental in bringing ex-Motown stars back into the studio.  Griffin worked with Levine on early hits for The Pasadenas and Bad Boys Inc and was a co-producer on the first album by Take That.

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8. Running Away – Roy Ayers (1977)
9. Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent – Gwen Guthrie (1986) (UK#5)
10. Twilight- Maze (1985)
11.I.O.U- Freeez (1982) (UK#2)
12. Lessons In Love – Level 42 (1986) (UK#3,US#12)
13. Make My Dreams A Reality– GQ (1979)
14. Expansions – Lonnie Liston Smith (1975)
15. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) – Sylvester (1978) (UK#8,US#36)*

This is the track which is not even listed on the back of the CD and it is always a surprise when Sylvester makes his flamboyant entrance.  US vocalist Sylvester James was probably a decade before his time.  An openly gay, gospel-voiced, high octane diva who was a real one off and this relentless tour-de-force of an electro track was arguably his best and his biggest UK hit.  In the US they preferred the almost equally excellent “Dance (Disco Heat) which was more of an ensemble piece with his back-up duo Two Tons O’Fun who went on to become The Weather Girls.  Sylvester made another couple of visits to the UK Top 40 and was the vocalist of choice for pioneer electro/Hi NRG producer Patrick Cowley.  There hasn’t been a definitive career retrospective of Sylvester’s music which shows his ease as a gospel-drenched disco performer and a great vocal artist on less frenetic material.  He did a great version of the pop standard “I (Who Have Nothing)”

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16.Harvest For The World – Isley Brothers (1976) (UK#10)

Seventeen years after their first hit “Shout” the Isleys were back in the UK Top 10 with this message track which deals with global hunger the title track of their 4th studio album.  This is such a cool track with great vocals and real chunky use of percussion which gives this track a depth.  A higher chart placing was scored by The Christians with their cover version twelve years later but the Isleys’ original is certainly the one to seek out.

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17. Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell (1984)(UK#6, US#2)

If you’re the son of Motown supremo Berry Gordy surely chart success would seem inevitable, especially if you sign to your father’s record label.  But how about if you do this without your father even knowing, changing your name from Kenneth to Rockwell.  At least there would be no charges of nepotism there but how are you going to get a hit?  Well, Rockwell’s answer was to enlist Michael Jackson to help out with the vocals on this tale of 80’s paranoia, the lyrics of which seem very appropriate coming out of Jackson’s mouth.  That way you can score a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic and much publicity when the ruse is uncovered.  But can you get a long-lasting career out of that? In Rockwell’s answer it was no.  He obviously liked dark themes as his only further Top 40 appearance in his homeland was with the #36 follow-up “Obscene Phone Caller” which I can say I’ve never heard.  This debut was made memorable by Jackson’s contribution as it his hook-lines which stay in the mind.
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18. Solid- Ashford & Simpson (1985) (UK#3, US#12)
19. Mama Used To Say – Junior (1982) (UK#7, US#30)
20. Love Come Down – Evelyn “Champagne” King (1982) (UK#7, US#17)
21. Forget Me Nots – Patrice Rushen (1982) (UK#8, US#23)
22. What A Fool Believes – Aretha Franklin (1980) (UK#46)

The majority of these tracks certainly do deserve the anthemic status given to them by this release.  25 of them were bigger hits in the UK than in the US, which is unusual for an album which features predominantly American artists.  The UK never had that backlash against club music which happened in the US following the much publicised Death of Disco (Peter Shapiro is good on this) but by the early 80’s there were so many great radio-friendly club orientated tracks being produced that the US could no longer ignore its artists who were recording them.  Even British R&B influenced acts like Junior, Heatwave and Level 42 were making waves on the US charts.  This double CD is always a joy to listen to and even within the field of Soul and Funk showed what great variety of sounds was available to the listener.

Funk Soul Anthems is currently available from Amazon in the UK used from £2.72