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Saturday 28 February 2009

Kelly Hogan

I love Kelly Hogan's voice. She can make anything sound magical - if you don't believe me one day I'll post her version of "Rubber Duckie" from Sesame Street. It will make you wish you were cute and yellow and chubby too (and if you already are, you can pretend she is singing it just for you). Unfortunately I'm only one of the three.

Here are two other cover versions: "Papa was a Rodeo", originally by the Magnetic Fields, and "Dues", taken from a remake of the soundtrack to Robert Altman's "Nashville" which also features Carolyn Mark, Neko Case and others.

In the unlikely event that anyone who has an influence on this things reads this, please please please give her a record deal. She hasn't released an album since 2003 and that is far too long to wait.

I would love to hear Kelly do a version of this song, although to be fair even she would be hard pressed to improve on the original. Here's Carlene Carter with "Unbreakable Heart":

Friday 27 February 2009

Hugh Masekela

There is a loose thematic link with yesterday's post. You may recall that Lord Melody fell for the charms of Madame Rasta while strolling through a street market. Well it turns out that exactly the same thing happened to Hugh Masekela in the Congo. Markets are clearly the place to go if you are looking for romance, so I'll be off to Petticoat Lane on Sunday morning in the hope of bumping into the future Mrs Goggins. In the meantime, here is Hugh to tell us about his experience. The song is called, simply enough, "Market Place".

I am sure you are familiar with Hugh Masekela - he started out in South Africa in the 1950s before going into exile in the early 1960s, had a number one hit in the US with "Grazin' in the Grass" in the mid-1960s, and is still going strong and is as good as ever today. As well as his own records, his distinctive trumpet sound can be heard backing innumerable other acts, including The Byrds on "So you want to be a rock 'n roll star" and Tsepo Tshola on this track - "Nonyana". Tsepo is from Lesotho, the tiny mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, and this is from his 2002 album "A New Dawn", which Hugh co-produced.

Thursday 26 February 2009

Lady Rastas Special

I'm back with a special theme: songs about female Rastafarians. And after agonising for hours over which of my extensive collection of such songs to feature in the end I thought "to Hell with it, let's do them both".

Both of them come from Trinidad. First up is the immortal Lord Melody (real name: Fitzroy Alexander), one of the greatest calypsonians that ever lived. He was the main rival to the Mighty Sparrow in the 1950s and 1960s (when he died Sparrow recorded a lovely tribute to him called "Play one for Melo" which I must put up one day). By the time he recorded "Madame Rasta" in 1979 soca was in his infancy and he was trying it on for size, in his usual melodious mid-tempo way. The album this comes from, "Sugar Jam", is one of my all-time favourites.

Fast forward to the mid 1980s and soca as we recognise it now was up and running. Explainer (real name: Winston Henry) had a couple of radio hits in the UK with "Notting Hill" and "Lorraine". Here he is with "Rasta Girl", which is less an affectionate tribute and more an excuse for a bit of single entendre involving the word "ras".

I tried to find a decent quality clip of Explainer performing "Lorraine" on YouTube but failed, so you will have to make do with this Lorraine instead:

Saturday 21 February 2009

Charlie Rich, King of Soul

I'm away working for a few days from tomorrow which means there will be no "Mpharanyana on Monday" this week, so to compensate here is some stuff by one of my other favourite soul singers - Charlie Rich.

Yes that one. Those of you who only know of him through his big hits of the early 1970s might be pleasantly surprised by many of the other things he has done, starting with Sun Records in the 1950s and including a stint with Hi! Records (home of Al Green etc) in the late 1960s, where he recorded the original version of "When something is wrong with my baby".

He could turn his hand to any musical style and always infused it with a lot of soul. As an indicator you only have to look at the number of soul and blues singers who covered his songs - Bobby Womack, Percy Sledge, Little Milton and these next two among many others.

What I have for you today are two Charlie Rich originals, and two cover versions of the same songs.

First up, "I take it on home" - by Charlie and Bobby "Blue" Bland

Next, "Life's little ups and downs" - by Charlie and Latimore

And, finally, here is the great man hamming it up on "Mohair Sam":

Friday 20 February 2009

World's Twinkliest Man

Van The Man Live!

If you haven’t already heard Van Morrison’s new album “Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl”, I would recommend you do so. It is the latest in a series of excellent live albums by Van dating back to “It’s Too Late To Stop Now”.

But it is not the new live album that we feature today – I am not quite that flagrant in my disregard for the copyright laws (although Joe Shirimani may disagree). Instead, from a bootleg recording from 1971, here is Van laying into Lonnie Donegan’s “Dead or Alive”.

And as a bonus, here is Lonnie himself with “Fort Worth Jail”.

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Tsonga Disco: Joe Shirimani

Welcome to Part 2 of our two-part Tsonga Disco special. Today we bring you "Basani" by Joe Shirimani:

As we have already established I am no expert, but I reckon that in the Tsonga Disco firmament Joe is a bigger star than yesterday's featured artist, Madlaks (despite the latter's claim to be the King of Africa Tsonga Disco). Joe's music is more polished and more immediately catchy; he is signed to a major label (Sony) in South Africa; and he has produced a rather endearing low budget - or badly copied - video for "Basani". I love the bit at about 1:16 where he faints.

And that is it on the Tsonga Disco front for the moment. After yesterday's selection I finished with an uplifting message from Madlak's CD sleeve asking us to do our bit to spread the word. I looked at Joe's CD to see whether there was anything similarly inspiring I could quote today. After all the usual thanks to his family, producer, label etc he concludes "Please Let's Stand Together Against Music Piracy".


Tuesday 17 February 2009

Tsonga Disco: Madlaks

The Tsonga Disco is here!!!

Now after all the hype I have a confession to make. Until a couple of months ago I had never heard of Tsonga Disco, and my collection currently consists of two CDs which I acquired in Cape Town over Christmas. But I flatter myself that it is still probably one of the larger collections outside Southern Africa - but not for long hopefully if me and Madlaks have anything to do with it.

The Tsonga people (also known as the Shangaan) live mainly in North East South Africa and Southern Mozambique. Their language is also called Tsonga. Disco you know.

Enough in-depth cultural commentary, on with the music. This slightly nervous-looking chap is Madlaks:

As you will have gathered I'm no expert, but I suspect Madlaks is guilty of exaggeration when he calls himself the King of Africa Tsonga Disco. However I can't deny that he and the uncredited female vocalists have a certain appeal, particularly on this track.

"Jikavonunu" - Madlaks

On the inside sleeve Madlaks says his intention is "to take Africa Tsonga Disco to the world", and says "your support in this effort will be highly appreciated". Well I've done my bit, now you do yours - tell your friends.
Tomorrow: the other CD!!

Mpharanyana on Monday (4)

You may have noticed the strapline at the top of the blog: “Bringing Tsonga Disco to the Masses”. You may also have noticed that to date I have not posted any Tsonga Disco. That is because I have been waiting for the masses to arrive before attempting to convert them. Now we have passed the 100 visitors mark I think the time has arrived, and you lucky people will be getting your first burst of Tsonga Disco later this week.

To get you warmed up, for this week’s "Mpharanyana on Monday "– a regular feature devoted to the work of the late, great South African soul singer – we bring you “Disco”, his attempt to get down with the kids.

Sunday 15 February 2009

Mellow Magic Orchestra

I see we had a visitor from Japan earlier today - welcome. By coincidence, today's post features a couple of pieces of mellow 1970s country-rock from Japan. Both tracks also feature future members of the Yellow Magic Orchestra.

First up is "Citron Girl" by Sadistic Mika Band. Most of their stuff was more glam-rock or hard rock and it doesn't do much for me, but I think this is lovely.

Next we have "Natsu Nandesu" by Happy End. Best known in the US and Europe for the song "Kaze Wo Atsumete", which featured in the film "Lost in Translation", they made a couple of excellent, gentle albums in the early 1970s.

Later on Yukihiro Takahashi of Sadistic Mika Band and Haruomi Hosono of Happy End got together with Ryuichi Sakamoto to form the Yellow Magic Orchestra. So to round things off here is a clip of his ex-wife, Akiko Yano, doing her version of "Natsu Nandesu". I much prefer the original but couldn't find a clip of that. If you type "Happy End" into YouTube you get 133,000 results, most of which seem to feature Avril Lavigne.

Saturday 14 February 2009

We Fought The Post-Punk Wars, You Know

While up in Yorkshire for work this week I took the opportunity to meet up with my old friend David Ford, who now owns the Saltaire Bookshop. It has an excellent stock of new and second-hand books and second-hand vinyl, and it is well worth popping in if you are in the area. More details here:

Back in the early 1980s David and I used to co-present a show on University Radio Essex, between 2pm and 6pm on Thursdays. For students this is the equivalent of the breakfast show, so it was a highly prestigious slot and we had a small but dedicated band of listeners. However it was mainly an excuse to get together for a chat and to play records.

Here are a couple of favourites from that era. First up, "An Old Man's Dream" by The Red Krayola, featuring Gina Birch (The Raincoats), Lora Logic (X-Ray Spex and Essential Logic) and Epic Soundtracks (Swell Maps) as well as the main man Mayo Thompson.

Second, here's Fatal Microbes with the wonderful "Violence Grows" (featuring a 15-year-old Honey Bane on vocals).

Tuesday 10 February 2009


As this will be my last post until the weekend I thought I should make a bit of an effort and come up with a theme. And the theme is songs about mariners having strange encounters. "Oh no", I hear you say, "not that old chestnut again". I'm afraid so.

First up are Bread, Love & Dreams with "The Strange Tale of Captain Shannon and the Hunchback from Gigha". They were a bunch of Scottish hippies who probably suffered for being perceived as Incredible String Band wannabes, but are worth a listen in their own right.

They are right, it is a strange tale, but perhaps not as strange as that told by Andy Roberts in "The One-Armed Boatman and the Giant Squid".

Blossom Dearie R.I.P.

The legendary singer/ pianist/ all-round cool cat Blossom Dearie passed away at the weekend, so here are a couple of tracks to mark the occasion. The first is "I like London in the rain" - which, if true, makes it all the more a pity as she would have loved the last 24 hours or so - and the second is "Long Daddy Green".

Monday 9 February 2009

McMurtry And Graham (2)

The James McMurtry and Jon Dee Graham gig at the Luminaire last night was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be. Two very good songwriters backed by a very good bar band (which is meant as a compliment) + Ian McLagan on keyboards + a good venue + no mark-up on the beer = excellent night. As Mr F said, it is too early to talk about gig of the year but the others will have to go some to top it.

As a special treat, here from his 2003 live album is James McMurtry with "Choctaw Bingo", which was one of the many highlights of last night's show:

Mpharanyana on Monday (3)

Part 3 of my ongoing campaign to bring the music of South African soul great Mpharanyana to a wider audience. And how appropriate that we should have our first visitor from South Africa today. So a special "Howsit" to whoever it was in Parow who wandered by. This one is called "Dimakatso".

Sunday 8 February 2009

McMurtry And Graham

Off to the Luminaire in Kilburn tonight for what should be a very good double bill: James McMurtry headlining with support from Jon Dee Graham. Here is one from each of them.

First, James McMurtry with "We Can't Make It Here". This is his State of the Union address, released in 2005 but even more accurate now.

Second, Jon Dee Graham with "Kings" from his 1997 album "Escape from Monster Island".

Whittaker in 2010: Update

New visitors to this blog may be unaware of our campaign to get Roger Whittaker inducted into the International Whistlers' Convention Hall of Fame - for full details and to download the nomination form click here:

I have been in touch with the organisers, the Franklin County Arts Council of North Carolina, to check the position on nominations and have heard back from the very helpful Emily Barrick. She confirms that we have missed the deadline for the 2009 inductions - these will be made at the annual Convention in April - but that it is not too early to start nominating Roger for 2010. So let's get started.

Emily adds "Are you a whistler? You should certainly plan to come to the convention and enjoy some seriously good whistling". I was a bit disappointed she didn't add "y'all" at the end, but she was only addressing it to me I suppose. Sadly my own whistling is a long way short of competition standard, but the convention sounds fun. If others are interested we could look into hiring a minibus.

In case you are doubtful whether Roger merits a place in the Hall of Fame, here is a quick reminder of his gifts. This is called "Mistral":

You will have noticed that he also sings on that one. Just one Roger but double the pleasure.

And on that sort of subject, here's a shop sign I saw in Haarlem in the Netherlands yesterday:

Which begs the question: Why? And, perhaps more pertinently, how? Or it is perhaps a reference to some form of bartering system?

You will be reassured to hear that I didn't buy anything there. I saved my money until I got to a flea market in Amsterdam where I was able to purchase a large number of Dutch singles mainly from the 1970s for 50 cents a go. I am sure you will be as keen as I am to dig the groovy sounds of Spooky & Sue, Lucifer and Dizzy Man's Band, and you will be able to do so as soon as I get my vinyl digitalising thingy working again (it doesn't like Microsoft Vista). The one I am particularly looking forward to hearing is the intriguingly titled "Bobby the Flobby" by Bourbon Family.

Thursday 5 February 2009

The Saints And Sinners

Weather permitting I am off to Amsterdam tomorrow for a couple of days' work. To get myself in the mood I have been listening to "Biet-Het", an excellent compilation of 1960's Dutch beat and garage bands - featuring, amongst others, the magnificently named Ruud Knolraap and The Sweet Vegetable. With Amsterdam's reputation, this track seemed particularly appropriate: "Lady Sex" by Eddy Dyan and The Saints.

As a bonus, here is some top notch Brazilian soul: "Idade" by Tim Maia. This is to mark the arrival today of our first South American visitor, from Sao Paulo. Just Africa and Antarctica to go now. Come on you penguins/ polar bears (delete as applicable).

He was a strapping lad, our Tim, as you will see in this 1978 clip. Good singer, not very good mimer.

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Boom Chicka Boom

After the 'American Recordings' started in the mid-1990s there was a tendency to dismiss everything Johnny Cash had recorded in the previous 20 years as an unfortunate aberration. Obviously in terms of overall quality that period doesn't match up to what went before or after, but he still produced plenty of good stuff. And he didn't need Rick Rubin to find him songs by contemporary artists that he could improve. From 1987, here is his rambunctious rendition of Elvis Costello's "The Big Light":

As a bonus here he is doing it live with assorted Carters. If anything this is even better:

Tuesday 3 February 2009

From Katlehong to Kakamas

Our musical tour of South Africa continues. Today we move from Katlehong to Kakamas, a small town near the Orange River and the Namibian border, but otherwise in the middle of nowhere.

David Kramer has had two parallel musical careers. The one for which he is best known outside South Africa, if known at all, is as the co-writer with Taliep Petersen of musicals about the lives of Cape Town's Cape Coloured community (a term covering people mainly of Malay ancestry). They include "District Six" and "Kat and the Kings", which had an award-winning run in the West End in the mid 1990s.

But since the early 1980s he has also been a chronicler of small town (white) South Africa. He is as well known for his chirpy songs as for his serious ones. "Christmas in Kakamas" is definitely not one of the chirpy ones.

He sings in Afrikaans as well as in English, and this song features a few Afrikaans words. You don't need to understand them to get the drift of the story, but in case it helps:

Dominee = priest
Braaivleis = barbeque
Ou = bloke
bakkie = pick-up truck
Meneer = Sir
veldt = bush

Monday 2 February 2009

Mpharanyana on Monday (2)

This is the second instalment of my attempt to bring the music of Mpharanyana to a wider audience (all 46 of you). It is not exactly "bringing Tsonga Disco to the masses", but then it is not Tsonga Disco either - that treat is still to come.

For those of you who missed last week's post, the late Mpharanyana (real name: Jacob Radebe) was a South African soul singer of the 1970s. A number of compilation CDs of his work are now available in South Africa but, as far as I know, not elsewhere. Here is a picture of the great man:

This week's effort is "Katlehong". Soul music is full of songs where the protagonist realises, after moving to the big city to chase success, that he was never happier than in his old home town (for example, "Midnight train to Georgia" and "San Francisco is a lonely town"). "Katlehong" is Mpharanyana's contribution to the canon, Katlehong being a township 20 miles or so east of Johannesburg.

I have no idea whether Mpharanyana was actually from Katlehong. I rather suspect it got chosen because it rhymes with "where I belong". But I like to think that its success would have led to a series of copycat tributes to the townships of the East Rand - "each step takes me closer/ to dear old Thokoza" has a nice ring to it, as does "I'm taking the bus/ back to Vosloorus".

Anyway, here is "Katlehong":

I'm not going to work today

Honestly. A tiny little bit of snow and London grinds to a halt. What is this country coming to?

There are no buses and very few tubes, so in the words of Joe Tex, "I'm not going to work today". I'm even more upset about it than he is.

This is dedicated to Helly and Izzy, who I know are fans of this song.

Sunday 1 February 2009

Four Tops Reggae Style

As the title suggests, here are two reggae cover versions of Four Tops' hits:

"Still Water" by Jerry Jones
"Do What You Gotta Do" by Pat Rhoden

The Four Tops' version of "Do What You Gotta Do" is one of my favourite records of all time, but this version is pretty good too.