With the best of intentions …

It would appear that ‘Northern Soul’ the movie has been directed by, and with the assistance of, people steeped in the experience which has led to a loving portrait of a scene, although over 30 years old, still keeps the faith for many.

If only the same could be said of ‘Absolute Beginners’ which although did not have an instantly identifiable ‘movement’ like NS when it was made, was riding on the crest of the jazz dance resurgence across the UK. Instead the result was a ham-fisted compilation of musical numbers you would expect to see on MTV giving very little of what the original book was about.

So, after re-reading Colin Macinnes’ London trilogy I feel was unduly harsh on this novel when I first read it many moons ago, and in keeping with it here’s an alternative soundtrack minus Bowie, Sade, Ray Davies etc. but with a bucketful of tunes that accompanied the rise of the late ’50’s teenager in addition to what the hero of AB tries to describe :

“And that’s what jazz music gives you: a big lift up of the spirits, and a Turkish bath with a massage for all your nerves. I know even nice cats (like my Dad for example) think that jazz is just noise and rock and sound angled at your genitals, not your intelligence, but I want you to believe that isn’t so at all, because it really makes you feel good in a very simple, but very basic, sort of way. I can best explain it by saying it just makes you feel happy

26 thoughts on “With the best of intentions …

  1. It was a truly awful film, wasn’t it. I read the novel ages ago, I remember feeling a bit Meh about it. I might have to revisit it sometime. I’ll listen to the playlist later today.

    • A good book to read about the time around the Absolute Beginners film and its effect on the Jazz Dance scene is Snowboy’s book ‘From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: The History of the UK Jazz Dance Scene’. I think coming to AB with no expectations makes it a more pleasurable experience as it was punted constantly by NME etc. in the early ’80’s

      • Yeah, the NME tried far too hard to be hip and intellectual (and punch above it’s weight) back then. I am listening to the playlist as I write. Some excellent stuff, particularly with the more modern jazz and the American rockers. Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran really had something extra that the Larry Parnes roster of British rockers lacked.

        Thinking about the jazz, I’ve never really understood why Trad became so popular in 50s Britain. If you could listen to the MJQ, Sonny Rollins or Horace Silver, why would you choose Ken Collyer or Chris Barber?

        I am loving the Anita O’Day track, excellent and Dizz afterwards. Lovely stuff.

        I was born in 1955, so I was a small child when all this was going on. My parents, who were born in the 1920s weren’t really into this sort of thing. Their music was big band swing and singers like Anne Shelton, although they did like Joe Brown and some of the more showbiz British rock and roll singers, like Tommy Steele, and my mum liked Edmundo Ros, so the Afro-Cuban bob thing came through a bit, in a watered-down way. One of the few modern records I can remember my parents owning was Eddie Calvert’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” and also, weirdly Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm”.

        My first real musical memories of things that meant something to me, as opposed to things my parents listened to, are The Tornadoes doing “Telstar” and The Shadows instrumental tracks and then, of course, The Beatles came along and swept it all away.

  2. OK, having listened all the way through, there were things that my parents would have liked; Johnny Dankworth, Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra and, maybe Billie Holliday as well.

    I thought that it was an excellent couple of hours music, really enjoyable.

    It reminded me though of the endemic, casual racism that was all all-pervasive part of British life in the 50s and 60s. It is sad to say it but my father was pretty racist in his outlook and he didn’t like calypso songs and, once West Indian families moved into the area, he used to get massively angry at weekends when the local black families had parties and played Bluebeat and, later Ska until quite late on Saturday nights.

    It is that all-too-common disconnect between what goes on in people’s heads and the music they listen to. He liked big band music and some of the more mainstream jazz, but seemed to be able to divorce it from the fact that it was essentially black music. He didn’t seem, looking back, to listen to too many black musicians though. I know that he didn’t like Louis Armstrong.

    Mind you, most of the big bands that were popular were pretty much exclusively white. Certainly, you didn’t see many black performers on the BBC. Well, not unless they were blacked-up white ones.

    It is also worth remembering that many of the thugs involved in the Notting Hill Riots were Teddy Boys, fans of Rock and Roll who didn’t want black people living here. More disconnect again.

    I suppose Eric “Enoch Was Right” Clapton is the most glaringly bonkers example of that way of thinking.

    Perhaps that is why most, if not all of the rock and rollers you saw on the telly were white?

    Anyway, I loved the music. Fantastic playlist.

    • I’m ‘umbled Carole, thanks. Although my parents had emigrated from the Indian continent post-war, they liked popular songs from movies (Bing Crosby) and swing a la Glenn Miller. We had no record player to speak of when I was small, but listened to the radio a lot which for them was ‘Sing Something Simple’ and yes the ‘B&W Minstrel Show’.

  3. So much things to say right now….
    First off, is there any way to see that playlist without sitting and staring at a computer screen for two hours and wondering ‘What’s next’. I’ve scrolled through it stopping momentarily at each song but that’s not very satisfactory and I’ve googled it and searched the internet to no avail. So much music there from my teenage/formative years, I knew and loved most of them and hadn’t heard them for 50 odd years, so many familiar names on there. In my opinion probably the most interesting playlist ever posted at the Spill, so come what may I’ll listen to it, might even record it.

    On to Carole, “why Trad became so popular in 50s Britain,” Actually it was 40’s, right after the war which might be a part of it, Trad was already established and popular in the US except it was called jazz, it was New Orleans jazz but it was new to most British ears, specifically mine. I loved it and can clearly remember my discovery of it. English trad evolved from Skiffle which was a primitive English discovery of Country blues, a very DIY phenomenon where most ‘instruments’ were either ‘found’ or home made and most ‘musicians’ were on par.
    Trad jazz, also rather DIY, evolved in pubs and the holy grail of trad was the Red Barn pub in Barnehurst, about a mile from where I lived when I discovered Louis Armstrong at age 14. Every week there was a group there led by an Australian bloke called George Webb, it soon included a young bloke just demobbed from the army, Humphrey Lyttleton. I wasn’t old enough to go into a pub so I’d sit outside and hear the music drifting out through the doors and windows. My stepmother was a teacher, one of her students was Humphs wife.
    Well as stated I loved jazz, initially trad but I quickly evolved to appreciate every style, even bebop, so MJQ, Dankworth, Joe Harriet, Rollins et al. became part of my listening repertoire, something that became a lifelong obsession. I’m so grateful to trad for starting me on such an enjoyable feature of my life.
    Ken Colyer was an hero of mine, he quit his job, joined the merchant navy to get to New Orleans and lived there studying trumpet with the masters, a serious musician. Chris Barber evolved a clean individual style, listen to his version of Bechet’s Petite Fleur with Monty Sunshine on clarinet, nothing wrong with that. Humph formed his own group which evolved into a great band, I still have all my Humph LP’s from that era, wouldn’t part with ’em. These guys plus others were laying a foundation for British music that generations have built on; Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Eric Clapton et al, basically the nucleus of the British/US invasion of the 60’s.
    When I left in 1958 as the West Indian migration was getting underway I was very conscious of what Carole calls ‘the endemic, casual racism that was an all-pervasive part of British life in the 50s and 60s’, absolutely, I’ve often thought that it was a factor in my departure though I think it was a case of ‘frying pans and fire’. Sadly I’m still very aware of it whenever I visit the UK.

    • It may well be that I am guilty of something which, as someone with a historical bent I should guard against, namely looking at the past through the lens of more recent times. Perhaps I hear Trad as old-fashioned because I know that it predates bebop, cool and other kinds of modern (or more modern) jazz? Perhaps, also, I associate Trad with horrible 1960s light entertainment versions of New Orleans jazz? I am thinking of people like Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk here.

      I can grasp the concept that trad is somehow looking for a more authentic version of the music than 30s radio dance bands or big band swing were offering, but that is something perhaps that I can only understand in hindsight?

      • I could be wrong but in addition to GF’s answer above were the post-war restrictions put on musicians to be able to enter the UK which saw the bebop generation go to mainland Europe instead.

      • Carole: I’m sure we’re in sync re. Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk et al and all those others who needed to wear straw hats and silly dress, plus they called it ‘Dixieland!’ The trad that I grew to love was as pure as country blues and just as traditional, that must be where the name comes from. And as jazz evolved so did trad, Humph soon had an Afro-Caribbean group and after that a 10 piece Kansas City style group.

    • Here you go GF :

      1.Rock With The Caveman by Tommy Steele & The Cavemen
      2.Mambo De La Pintaby Art Pepper Quartet
      3.Honeycomb by Marty Wilde
      4.Just Goofin’ by Joe Harriott
      5.Teenage Heaven by Eddie Cochran
      6.That’s Alright by Mose Allison
      7.Soulville by Horace Silver
      8.I’ll Die Happy by Jon Hendricks
      9.Petit Fleur by Chris Barber
      10.High Class Baby by Cliff Richard & The Drifters
      11.Cataract Rag by Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen
      12.Woody ‘n’ You by Sonny Rollins
      13.Patricia Gone With Millicent by Mighty Terror
      14.Do It The Hard Way by Chet Baker
      15.Concorde by Modern Jazz Quartet
      16.Cat Man by Gene Vincent
      17.Interlude (A Night In Tunisia) by Anita O’Day
      18.Melancholy Baby by Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie
      19.People Gotta Talk by Joe Brown
      20.Ominira by West African Rhythm Brothers
      21.Black Nightown by Gerry Mulligan/Shelly Manne
      22.Angel Face by Billy Fury
      23.Rhythm-a-ning by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers/Thelonious Monk
      24.Party Time by Alma Cogan
      25.I Am The Captain Of The Pinafore by D’Oyly Carte Company
      26.Sweet Sixteen Bars by Ray Charles
      27.Get Out of Town by Ella Fitzgerald
      28.Royal Ascot by Johnny Dankworth Orchestra
      29.We’ll Be Together Again by Frank Sinatra
      30.The Blues Are Brewin’ by Billie Holliday
      31.Trouble by Elvis Presley
      32.Minor Holiday by Kenny Dorham
      33.Fight Dem Back/Brain Smashing Dub by Linton Kwesi Johnston
      34.New Rhumba by Miles Davis +19
      35.London Is The Place For Me by Lord Kitchener

      • Alba: Thank you for that it makes so much more sense now, thank you.
        Re. your above comment re ‘post war restrictions’, what you’re referring to might be a personal conflict between the presidents of the AFM – American Federation of Musicians [James Petrillo] and the UK Musicians Union, who’s name I can’t recall. One or the other issued a proclamation that none of their members would play in the others country, of course his counterpart did the same so for some years it was stalemate. Louis Armstrong broke the ban with two London concerts in the early 50’s- I was at both, Chris Barber’s band toured the eastern US to reciprocate. The ban was ignored by a group of UK jazz musicians who brought Sidney Bechet to London from Paris and then had him ‘walk on’ as a guest artist, I was at those performances also.
        Linton Kwesi Johnston seems out of place here, he didn’t record until the 70’s whilst the rest are 40’s – 60’s.

          • I didn’t realise, well done. Many personal faves on there, many memories also.
            I met my first true love at a Johnny Dankworth concert in Chesterfield when I was in the RAF in about 1952/3; head over heels. JD has always been a favorite, he retired to Napa, just a few miles away and I’ve always wanted to talk to him. Some personal faves; Art Pepper, Joe Harriott, Mose, Horace, Jon Hendricks, Sonny Rollins, MJQ, Anita, Charlie Parker/Dizzy, Mulligan, Blakey and Ray Charles, I’m glad there’s someone else here that shares those tastes. Thanks again.

          • You’re welcome GF, it was the book that fired the curiosity – need to get the whole ‘Live At Newport’ LP. On a different theme just finished the Chris Saleciwz Marley biography – very good

          • Alba: Are you referring to ‘Songs of Freedom’ by Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz? if so I’m in total agreement, I have about a dozen Bob bios and that’s the best. Since Bob died I’ve bought everything I’ve seen about him, books, records, videos etc.
            Which Live at Newport are you referring to? I’ve got several.

  4. Alba: Are you referring to ‘Songs of Freedom’ by Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz? if so I’m in total agreement, I have about a dozen Bob bios and that’s the best. Since Bob died I’ve bought everything I’ve seen about him, books, records, videos etc.
    Which Live at Newport are you referring to? I’ve got several.

  5. Only half way through the playlist and loving it. I haven’t read the book I’m afraid. I did see the film and it was, indeed, complete tripe.
    This is a far, far better thing. Especially love the changes of tone; e.g. Art Blakey to Alma Cogan.
    Haven’t heard that Cliff record for years. He was quite good them, wasn’t he?

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