Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Flames - Soulfire!!

I took a walk in Mortlake yesterday. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in a pretty part of town; with lots of Chazzers, needless to say. As I had a couple of hours to kill before the Missus returned from her piano lesson I thought it opportune to indulge my hobbie, which the wife has taken to calling my obsession. In among the yummy mummies, strange crockery and Beckham biographies lay this little gem, about which I knew nothing. What to do? Of course, there is only ever one thing to do, and I gladly handed over my pound, thinking I had probably acquired a priceless slab of pentecostal praise-pop.

(those doubled exclamation marks just kill me), by The Flames? Reeks of faith. And that semi-abstract cover puts one in mind of a holy visitation.

But turn it over and you get four very young dudes in matching Nehru suits. Now I was confused. But thank the Gods for the internet as (oh happy day!!) I now know a great deal about this classic relic of psychedelic soul-pop from, of all places, Durban, in South Africa. The Flames were a fixture of the 60s scene in SA. This is their fourth album and things have got a little trippy, particularly on Solitude, which features sitars, a slow, stoned, conga rhythm and some sort of bass wobble-board that may or may not be a jug.

It appears that records by The Flames are highly collectable, not least because two of their members, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, joined The Beach Boys in 1972. (The Beach Boys!! Can you credit it?!!) There is an excellent web-site dedicated to this band, my thanks go to its author, Baz Möllenkramer, for providing everything one would ever need to know about The Flames:

Monday, 23 June 2008

Mel Tormé - I've Got The Whole World On A String!

Yesterday, it was the British Moto GP at Donington, where the Aussie sensation and reigning World Champion Casey Stoner put in another explosive performance, finishing at the front of the pack. British hopes rested with James Toseland, who put in an characteristic home grown performance by crashing on the first corner of the first lap and limping home in 17th place. Earlier in the week, I had witnessed a BBC breakfast newsreader flirt outrageously on the interview sofa with this biking hunk, as her middle aged male co-host looked on enviously at the young hunk, ruminating on the facts that all his mature witty banter in the world wasn't ever going to be a match for a twenty years less girth, a chiselled chin and a promise of a 1500cc thrillride. This morning, on the same programme, he enjoyed rather too much, cueing up the V.T of a montage showing all of Mr Toseland's crashes/going off track mishaps from his 'weekendus horribus'

All of this two-wheeled talk brought to mind this album cover featuring a very cool crooning cucumber indeed. Mel Tormé might not have as fast a bike as Mr T, but he certainly has got the girl and she looks pretty pleased with the power of his engine as well. This is a U.K release on Allegro from 1964 which is basically a reissue of his 1958 classic 'Prelude to a Kiss' a concept album based around a brief fling between Mel and a woman, whose voice appears in dialogue segments before each song. However, this release conveniently leaves out all the chit chat thus leaving us to enjoy his velvety voice poured over masterly crafted lounge tunes. It is generally agreed that this was Tormé in top form on this record and is a high point from his back catalogue. Norton beats this.. a triumph, possibly matchless! no BS(a)... ahem, I'll get me leather coat.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Thos Henley

'Summer On The Thames' is a charming slice of rural pop loveliness, soon be released through Tapeclub Records, from up and coming young minstrel Thos Henley. He is a former member of Rival Joustas, hails from Winchester and is a contemporary of that other folky buccaneer Johnny Flynn, whose just released 'A Larum' album has been gaining plenty of favourable national press. Henley's vocals float on a breeze of traditional instruments such as ukuleles, accordions and glockenspiels on songs steered in the right direction by a strong pop rudder. The alt folk vibe has echoes of Sufjan Stevens' output and also reminds me of The Incredible String Band's gentler moments. This boat is on an introspective current but artfully avoids the whimsical shallows and so this troupe are set course for a favourable journey.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Heaven Knows I'm Biodegradeable Now

Proselytes of a freak-Folk anti-movement have sprung like mushrooms since the turn of the millennium. They bring a welcome and long overdue return of bare-arsed loopiness in what we still call popular music. Whatever one's views on Devendra Banhart one cannot deny the joyful nonsense that he sprayed around in every direction. Hippy ridiculousness, or optimism if you must, has always been hilarious when watched from the sidelines and I have enjoyed myself mightily as this new form of expression wafted, like a summer breeze of pixie love-spore, over the popular mind.

Folk is, of course, a four letter word, and in England it gives rise to a deep seated pavlovian response, gushing unstoppably from our most primitive wellspring of national identity, guarded at a secret location somewhere in Devon. Once tickled with the Folking-stick it can only be a matter of time before any Englischer finds a finger, hopefully their own, buried in their right ear.

But something miraculous appears to be underway. A plucky young tribe of musicians are daring to hoist the musty flagon of Folk to their mouths while retaining their personal vision and sense of muscial adventure. Both Scratchy and I are big fans of Johnny Flynn and I am waiting very impatiently for Rough Trade to source my copy of his new album. In the meantime I have struck upon a couple of albums that, without doubt, bear evidence of something heartfelt, fun, fragile and, in one case perhaps, not quite finished.

Ellis Island Sound, The Good Seed. A truly beautiful and atmospheric record, brimming with a soft melancholy and the briny breeze of the east coast flat-lands.

Virgin Passages, Distance. I may be wrong, but this feels more than a touch acid-drenched. Shambolic? Perhaps. Brief? Definitely! But utterly compelling.