The Songs Live On
Shop Around Ö part 44

Iíve just been reading a Tilda Swinton interview, where as ever she is eulogising about the late Derek Jarman. I was very interested in her quotes about at the time they saw the Ď80s as a very restricted time, but with the benefit of hindsight itís evident they got away with murder.

The films of Derek Jarman have never really worked for me, and I genuinely think The Last of England is ridiculous. For all the wrong reasons. But I do have a soft spot for Jubilee, which is even more ridiculous in a rather sweet way. It may have been the first punk movie, but the links are often pretty tenuous except for moments like the archive footage of Siouxsie. My favourite bit is where the Slits, as a street gang, set about demolishing an abandoned car. They look fantastic.

I noticed the Slitsí take on 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' is included in an absurd article in The Wire on cover versions that changed the shape of songs. Ironically that recording is my least favourite Slits moment. In general though I approve of covers, and mourn the passing of contemporaneous versions where two or three performers would have the same song out.

But, covers, yes when they work, theyíre special. Last weekend my mum was singing along to Elvis and 'An American Trilogy', and I mentioned Mickey Newbury in passing but the name didnít seem to register. But Mickey put 'An American Trilogy' together, and Elvis immortalised it. Just as he did with numerous other wonderful songs in the late-60s/early-70s. It was a good time to be a songwriter like Joe South, Mickey Newbury, Jim Webb, Kris Kristofferson, Chip Taylor, and so on. The renditions of their songs live on.

Some of the greatest songwriters of my generation were not so lucky. Cherry Redís salvage set of June Brides recordings proves the point. Their Phil Wilson really was an exceptionally gifted creator of songs. The recordings he made with the June Brides and briefly as a solo singer sound remarkably fresh. And while I approve wholeheartedly of the way the guitars clang away, thatís largely irrelevant. What really should have happened is that all the industry visionaries should have set Phil (and others like Vic Godard and Dan of the TVPs) down and had him churning out a string of songs which would have provided fantastic material for a whole range of soul singers, boy bands, old crooners, soap stars, dancehall divas and desperados down all the days. Itís one of my generationís real failings. Yeah, and we thought we were so clever.

The sleevenotes accompanying the June Brides set are great, but I just wish they could have said something slightly unexpected like they were a great soul group. For they were. We should be speaking about them in the context of say the Five Stairsteps rather than the Pastels. I have been listening a lot to a wonderful collection of the Five Stairstepsí greatest recordings this week which I picked up incredibly cheaply, and wondering why Iíve missed out so long on these exquisitely beautiful performances. And in my daydreams I think of how Curtis Mayfieldís role in nurturing this first family of soul could have been mirrored by Phil Wilson grooming a group of dead end kids.

Another soul treat I picked up this week (thanks to a prompt by Norman Jay OBE through his excellent Radio Two funk show) was the Soul Brother set The Wants List 2, which features a track from the great Ruth Copelandís lost 1976 LP Take Me To Baltimore, and on the strength of the Heaven featured here itís got to be on my own wants list. Does anyone out there have a copy? I always suspected it was unreleased, but as the sleevenotes say this is exceptional blue-eyed soul.

Ruth is one of the great UK exports, criminally overlooked still, and Iím minded to go dig out her 'Suburban Family Lament', which was the Slits five years early. Now if only they had covered that.

© 2005 John Carney