Put That Sun Back In The Sky

Lots of reissues have dropped onto my desk recently. A ton of intriguing stuff has arrived from the Cherry Red stable, variously on the Rev-Ola, Five Four and El labels. I like all this stuff enormously, and wish I were better equipped to write about it. Naturally with the copyright restrictions on a load of great material expiring now, it’s very much a case of having an eye and an ear for the most intriguing and poignant moments, and whilst others peddle the same old tired stories, these labels excavate the more esoteric sides that maybe would otherwise pass us by. For example I can’t think why I might otherwise be spending afternoons listening to the likes of this great Boswell Sisters collection. Maybe this is just the sort of thing one starts listening to at this age, who knows. And who cares? For this is a charming crackly and cracking sound that captivates and casts the mind back into era’s glimpsed only through faded or romanticised media. Now I somehow knew that the Boswell Sisters were pretty much the blueprint for the Andrew’s Sisters but I did not know that Ella Fitzgerald patterned her vocal stylings after Connee Boswell. I love that story, and I love it because it points out the two-way dialogue between ‘black’ and ‘white’ music and culture that has made Pop so great. Those who insist on a notion of ‘authenticity’ based on anything other than the concept of whether something is great or not great surely misses the point. And they miss the point so many times.

Elsewhere on El there have been great collections of material by Carmen Miranda, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Tito Puente, and remember that these kinds of things really were the kinds of source texts that all those hipsters making records for the ‘80s incarnation of the label would have been digging. It’s all to do with a fascination for the unexpected, the glamorous, exotic and of making strange connections.

So if El covers the exotic end, Five Four certainly pours on the cool factor, with the fabulous Brubeck in Wonderland and Ahmad Jamal Trio’s Pavanne For Ahmad sets. The latter is a classic of modern jazz piano; effortlessly elegant, immensely cool. The Brubeck offering is equally so, and showcases some essential moments of the Dave Brubeck Trio and Quartet from 1946-55. Sure, it’s not the wild-eyed manic release of, say, the Charlie Parker sides so beloved of the Beats, but it’s nevertheless essential listening, conjuring as it does visions of headlights on the ocean highway down to Santa Monica; beach houses populated by sharp cats in Italian suits and impossibly svelte young things in Dior sipping cocktails and discussing existential dilemmas.

Speaking of which, the Giant Steps label gives us the fabulous thirty-one track Crime Scene USA collection of “classic Film Noir’ themes and jazz tracks”. All the great moments are there, from The Maltese Falcon, Asphalt Jungle, High Sierra, The Big Heat and The Man With The Golden Arm to my own personal favourite, Kiss Me Deadly. But then I’m a sucker for Mickey Spillane, so go figure. Va Va Voom, indeed.

Rev-Ola meanwhile has given us some treats too. The H-Bomb Ferguson and Tiny Bradshaw collections are great snapshots of early ‘50s R’n’B and blues, but the real treasures for me have been the Octopus and Bonnie Dobson sets. The Octopus CD collects their sole 1971 Restless Night album with a brace of extra tracks, including some the group recorded under their previous moniker of The Cortinas. It’s quintessentially early ‘70s UK rock, with marvellous psych undertones and guitar riffs that thankfully owe more to the proto-metal/prog blueprints laid down by the The Kinks than to the likes of Black Sabbath. That I prefer the softer moments, like the lovely ‘I Was So Young’ or ‘Council Plains’ to the harder rocking ‘Summer’ or album closer ‘Tide’ is likely inevitable, but regardless, this is a fine spotlight on forgotten pop-psyche sounds from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Bonnie Dobson on the other hand is surely more well known. Surely you have heard at least her 'Morning Dew’, possibly via Fed Neil and Vince Martin? Or through Lulu? The Jeff Beck Group? Perhaps via the excellent Episode Six? Maybe even through The Grateful Dead? For all of them covered the song, almost contemporaneously, and as John Carney has said in the past, it’s a great loss to the world of Pop that such vogue for the widespread variety of simultaneous versions of the same song has long since disappeared. Dobson herself didn’t record the song until 1969 when she made this orchestrated version for her RCA ‘comeback’ set, and it’s that epoynmous album that Rev-Ola have issued as the first of a promised series of Dobson titles. There’s a neat return nod to Fred Neil on the album with a glorious upbeat take on the classic ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’, whilst elsewhere there are classy highlights in the likes of her versions of J P Bourtavie and Hal Sharpe’s ‘Time’ and Gilles Vigneault’s exquisite ‘Pendant Que’. For anyone with a penchant for either orchestrated baroque pop or folk, this is a splendid treat. Her Good Morning Rain set is the second release in the series, out at the end of February. I can’t wait.

Speaking of series, the Hyped To Death label out of Westminster, Massachusetts, is home to one called Messthetics. I have two volumes that I’ve been playing today, each of them collecting ‘D.I.Y.’ recordings from London and the Home Counties between 1978 and 1981. They are fantastically intriguing sets, heavy on the kinds of punk and post-punk intrigues that made the times such a fascinating treasure trove. There is even a link out to the Cherry Red and El labels, with Mike Alway’s band Scissor Fits opening up Messthetics #101 with the very fine ‘I Don’t Wanna Work for British Airways’. Many of these tracks originally appeared on ludicrously rare independently pressed 7” singles or as part of the cassette label scene that hit it’s peak around 1981. There are numerous highlights on both collections, such as the Steve Treatment tracks recorded at the same time as Swell Maps’ A Trip To Marineville (Swell Maps play on the recordings), the Metrophase track that similarly features Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks, the Lines’ fabulous Subway Sect sounding ‘On The Air’ and of course Rejects’ ‘Stir Crazy’ just because I can never resist songs about school. There should be further instalments exploring D.I.Y scenes outside the Capital, and it all promises to be a rather stimulating archaeology lesson.

© 2007 Alistair Fitchett