I Hate The Charlatans

Big Beat, as part of the Ace stable, has put out a collection of Makin' Time recordings. That's great news. In a contextual and aesthetic sense though it is a disaster. For example, I hate The Charlatans, so it doesn't help when the sleeve boasts that the CD features Charlatan Martin Blunt's debut recordings. Oh come on, he's a bass player for goodness sake. It's worse than putting a sticker on Dragnet saying it features the boy Lard.

Anyway the sleeve for Makin' Time's Rhythm! should scream that it salvages the first flights of fancy from Fay Hallam: prodigious organist, surprisingly soulful singer, blessed songwriter, and gorgeous beat angel. For it was her way with pop that prompted the best music journalist of his generation Dave McCullough to write in London listings weekly City Limits that Fay Hallam's God.

This was McCullough's protest against the new rock orthodoxy, epitomised by REM/Smiths/Mary Chain and so on in 1986. The appeal of finding beauty in an ostensibly second wave, second generation mod outfit from Wolverhampton outfit was immense. Finding flowers growing through the pavement was still irresistible then.

Five years earlier McCullough had written in Sounds that Vic Godard was God on releasing 'Stop That Girl' as a single, when the great man was championing the idea of a new form of inventive MOR pop as a reaction to parts of punk becoming a new rock orthodoxy.

At their best Makin' Time veered towards a timeless potentially MOR ultra-pop form, nodding towards bits of the Zombies and Style Council soulful beat noise. I thought them more slyly subversive than Sonic Youth. I yearned for Fay to evolve into a perverse Laura Nyro or Julie Driscoll (or Julie Tippetts) enigmatic figure.

Instead she wrongfooted us all, and faded from pop, married Graham Day, once of The Prisoners, becoming I guess Fay Day in the process. I hate The Prisoners, but that's a different story.

Incidentally I understand Fay returned to pop a while back, as Phaze (Fay's) to record a version of Richie Havens' 'Indian Rope Man', presumably in the style of both Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll. Which is a great excuse to mention the Streetnoise set by Julie, Brian and the Trinity from 1969 which features 'Indian Rope Man'. Better still, it features Jools' 'Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge', one of my favourite London songs, and one of the loveliest and strangest songs about my Capital city. The LP closes with a rousing rendition of the Laura Nyro spiritual 'Save The Country', appropriately.

Appropriately too, the Ace label's essential Where The Girls Are 5 set features Laura Nyro and Labelle's lovely interpretation of Spanish Harlem. Femme pop scholar Mick Patrick's in his sleevenotes oh so poetically puts it: "The Bronx Ophelia ... she was the Shirelles with lyrics by William Burroughs, the love child of Emily Dickinson and John Coltrane. She was George Gershwin cooking with the Miracles, a youngster who spent many teenage hours with her friends, doowopping in the subway, 'looking for an echo'." To which we can but say Amen!

I am listening to Laura's Smile set now, from 1976, and it makes me at times shiver and purr with pleasure. It's funny. I hate Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. But Laura is the real McCoy, a poet with a unique soul vision. I love her madly.

Ah! Imagine if someone at Stiff had pushed Makin' Time into covering a Laura Nyro song rather than recording a lousy Elvis Costello number (I hate Elvis Costello too!). The world may be a different place, and my Black Country Ophelia would not be languishing in Medway garageland. Aww, sing it for me Fay. Just my imagination running away with me ....

© 2003 John Carney