Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Saturday, 29 January 2011


Can pop music be too clever?
Well in 1979, when this record was released, there were a lot of clever people making clever records. People like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, people like Talking Heads and Television, Brian Eno and John Lydon - all of them in their own ways being clever on record.
What about humour in pop?
Again, in 1979 there seemed to be a lot of that around too. The Cramps and the Rezillos with their pop trash aesthetic, XTC and Squeeze with their wry English-ness, Devo from outer space and the Damned from the Beano.
So you might think that a clever and funny record would fit in perfectly. Punk and New Wave were opening doors for all sorts of clever, clever and funny funny people. Unfortunately for Writz it seems that no one in 1979 was listening to them.
Writz was the brainchild of Steve Farnie, the dapper man with the Chaplin moustache and the terrible suit and shirt in the centre of the record sleeve, Steve Rowles, the guy in the red tie and mullet and Bev Sage, the lady in the rather dated one-piece Prince-of-Wales check button-down jump suit. People just don't dress like that anymore. Click on the photo and revel in the styles. I particularly like the guy behind Bev. If you can see he is wearing white sandals and socks under his leather trousers. Pretty way out!
But it's not fair to laugh at out-of-date fashion - I'm certainly not showing you photos of what I was wearing then!
But the visuals were important to Writz. They were as keen to have a striking and different visual presentation as they were to keep the music fresh. All three of the main protagonists had been to art or music college (a not uncommon story for bands). Farnie, particularly was certain that a merging of image and sounds would produce superior rock and roll.
So on to the music then.
Writz were greatly helped by having no only some very good musicians but some very experienced ones. Jules Hardwick on lead guitar was a session musician, Nick Battle the bassist had played with After the Fire while drummer Arry Axel seems to have been something of an enigma.
As I said earlier Writz are both clever and funny. Nowhere more so than on album opener and single Night Nurse.
From the opening klaxon call the song grabs your attention as Bev intones 'Night Nurse' in a chilling but sexy way. Then Rowles comes in singing about.... What? Its not really a song about a budding Florence Nightingale but perhaps more accurately about someone who might have worked for Cynthia Payne. For a band that liked to dress up, it's great that they should be singing about a woman who is also dressing up. Fading out with a rather sad trumpet line you are left wondering whether the Night Nurse is enjoying her nocturnal activities or whether they are really something she would prefer to avoid.
See it here
The record is very much of its time. This is not a criticism. After all you wouldn't expect a Hendrix record to sound as though it were recorded in the 50s or the 80s for that matter. It is, however, an attempt to fix the feel and texture of the music.
Other highlights are Luxury with a fantastic disco funk bass line, Private Lives and Muscle Culture.

Muscle Culture is a song about dictatorships and the use of the media and charismatic people to induce conformity. The live version on Youtube is better than the album version.

I was thinking about Muscle Culture the last time I went to the gym - body fascism? You can see from the clip how into image and fashion the band were. You can also hardly fail to notice the chemistry between Farnie and Sage. It would have been great if they had been given an opportunity to make some music videos but they were just slightly too early for the boom in videos.
The band's career can't have been helped when they were forced to change their name or face being sued by an American band who had the same name. Can anyone remember them?
As Famous Names they released Holiday Romance which is Blur's Girls and Boys avant la lettre. Another song brimming with ideas and wit it too failed to make a dent on the charts.

Effectively that was the end for Writz. Farnie and Sage reinvented themselves as the Techno Twins and released the charming Falling in Love Again which was a chart success. However, for some reason it was never followed up with greater success.

For all that they sound of their time I'd recommend you go out and track down the Writz album. No one can have too many clever and funny records in their collections.
For everything you ever wanted to know about the band go here

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Who is this psychedelic looking guy?
Well, he is obviously called Angel Parra and despite the image he is a folk singer. He is part of a family of folk musicians from Chile.
His mother was Violetta Parra and his sister Isabel Parra.
They were leaders in a Chilean musical movement called Nueva Cancion. It was a movement that sought to find an intrinsically Chilean form of music by using the folk music that was a strong part of the lives of the poorer people of the country. Like many folk movements around the world it was a very political movement and it became inextricably linked with the left wing Popular Unity Government of Salvador Allende.
In 1973 the Popular Unity Government was overthrown by a fascist coup led by General Augusto Pinochet and backed by the US. Allende was murdered as were many hundreds of others including teachers, students, doctors, social workers and musicians.
The most famous musician to be murdered was Victor Jara, the musical leader of the Nueva Cancion movement. Like many others he was detained and sent to the football stadium in Santiago. There he was tortured, his fingers broken, and finally killed.
There followed 17 years of fascist dictatorship during which indigenous forms of music, and the playing of indigenous instruments were banned.

At this point I think its best I come clean. I do not speak any Spanish and I really don't know very much about Chilean folk music.
There is a great deal of depth to Chilean music including not just folk and all its derivatives but psychedelic music, pop music and jazz.
My knowledge of this rich music is limited to just two records, both of which were found in charity shops.
Angel Parra's Canciones Funcionales and Isabel Parra's de Isabel Parra, both released in 1969 when the movement was strong and popular.
There is something about both of these albums that intrigues me. It is partly that they provide me with a window into the music of a country far away and therefore exotic. But is also partly that I am amazed that music could be such a political force.
In modern Britain the idea that any musician would willingly align themselves with a political movement is laughable - unless that movement had a nebulous aim such as to help the starving or 'raise awareness'.
I guess the last time we had musicians with a political conscience was during the era of Red Wedge in the 80s.
So political music interests me. But, as I mentioned before, I don't speak Spanish so I can't follow the messages of these songs. Perhaps reason enough to learn Spanish! Joking apart, I am really missing a great part of this music. It is like listening to Bob Dylan and not following the words - you miss a lot.
I am also intrigued by the similar trajectory of the folk movements of the UK, the US and Chile. Initially these all started as an exercise in preservation as people felt that this was music that we dying. From preservation the movement went to emulation - playing in the style of the musicians they were trying to save. The next step was to create new songs. And at this stage, politics came to the fore in the music itself. Perhaps it is not surprising that music from the poor members of a society should lead the middle class collectors of that music to realise what the effects were of a capitalist society on these people.
Angel Parra plays his own songs on the first side of Canciones Funcionales (Useful Songs). With titles such as La Democracis (Para Bien o para mal), El Drugs-Store (Tonada-slow) and La Television (Polca) even non-Spanish speakers such as myself can get an idea of the political content. The second side comprises covers of songs by Atahualpa Yupanqui an Argentinian singer and songwriter whose ethnographic work in collecting Argentinian folk songs was much admired by the Nueva Cancion. I suspect his opposition to the fascist Peron government might also have been admired. For these tracks he uses guitarist Julio Villalobos who went on to play in the strangely named Blops, a Chilean psych band.
I much prefer De Isabel Parra. I think that its that her voice is so much easier to listen to - although it seems to have been given a strange echo effect, perhaps to make it sound as though she is playing a concert.
Most of the songs on the record are written by her mother Violetta (who committed suicide in 1967) and have a rugged forceful quality that I find instantly likable. She also covers her brother's Ave Maria which is simply beautiful.
I have a feeling that is might be a 'best of' or a compilation of earlier records. If anyone can tell me I would be delighted.
I am also confused by the record labels - Isabel Parra is on  Pena De Los Parra - was this a family record label? While Angel is on Lince Producciones - about which I can find nothing.
By the way, if anyone want to know more about this shameful period in US and Chilean history I would recommend you read Joan Jara's biography about her husband Victor. It wonderfully captures a period of excitement and hope and then describes the horror of the coup and the dictatorship. Chilling stuff.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Exploito-psych # 4- The Generation Gap - Up Up and Away

I like this cover. There's something very strange about a girl's face in a psychedelic apple!
If you've ever wondered what Up Up and Away would have sounded like if it was sung by one person instead of The Free Design and then that person's voice was multi-tracked in a poor attempt to make him sound like a vocal group - then this is the record for you!
I'd hazard a guess that the voice belongs to Cole - it sounds very like his.
For the most part the vocal numbers are pretty disposable.
Once you've got over the horrors of the title track we are subjected to I'm A Man (sadly not the Howlin Wolf classic) and a rather strange, slightly country song called Make Up Powder and Paint.
So far so not very psych!
But then we get Lisa. Amazingly, for an exploitation record, this sounds like an original vocal song. And even more unusual its quite good with some very fine guitar work and a plaintive, hazy vocal. It's not impossible that this an out-take of the Id sessions.
I also like the next track, High On Love. Of course, this is in the context of this kind of record. We're not talking about an undiscovered popsike gem. Just a slightly catchy song.
Over on side 2 is where the Animated Egg/Id action is. Don't hang around on Woman of Mine but head straight to Hard Times (I Said She Said A Cid from the Animated Egg), Strange Shadows (Sure Listic from Animated Egg) and Fool's Luck (Our Man Hendrix from the Id out-takes).
The ex-Animated Egg tracks have lost the phasing and other effects that have been layered all over that record - they sound rawer and slightly more aggressive.
Then in true exploitation style the record concludes with an absolutely dire vocal number. But you got three great fuzz instrumentals - what more do you want?

Sunday, 23 January 2011


It's Sunday so I thought I'd pull out some Christian jazz.
Apparently this is the first jazz mass, recorded in 1964 by Paul Horn under the direction of Lalo Schifrin. In fact Schifrin arranged the traditional ecclesiastical music, conducted the orchestra and produced the record- so in many ways its more of a Schifrin record than a Horn one!
Schifrin and Horn were trying something that initially when I bought this record, seemed pretty strange but, on reflection, is perhaps is not so strange.
My initial thoughts were that religion and jazz just don't mix. After all, isn't jazz the product of music played in bordellos and gambling dens? Likes the blues, isn't it music for a Saturday night rather than for a  Sunday service? Like pop music there is something deliciously bad about jazz, the music that the cool kids listened to, the music that went with late nights, lots of alcohol, maybe lots of drugs, maybe sex, maybe all of the things that your pastor would disapprove of in church.
Charlie Parker didn't start jazz musicians taking drugs but his musical ability and inventiveness made a lot of people wonder if, by adopting his lifestyle, they could capture a part of what he had. The answer was invariably, a big fat no. But the number of successful jazz musicians who battled drugs is legion.
So jazz is often aligned with some pretty unconventional and frankly non-religious behaviour.
But then again in the early 60s what was happening in jazz, and lots of other music, was lending itself to a great deal of spirituality. Listen to Coltrane's early 60s records and then his wife Alice and Pharaoh Sanders. Listen to as slew of 60s musicians in many genres who were looking to the east, to spirituality, to transcendence, to belief.
So maybe in the early 60s Christianity wasn't that cool - but thinking that there was something else out there was not so weird.
I'm not sure if its at all relevant to a record that mixes jazz with Christian music but, in 1963 a man of the cloth called Martin Luther King Jr went to Washington and gave a small speech about racial equality. The civil rights movement was intrinsically linked to the Afro-American Baptist church.
Also, in 1964 the idea of merging jazz with classical music, the so-called Third Stream, was very current.
Miles Davis had recorded Sketches of Spain in 1960, the Modern Jazz Quartet were at the height of their popularity with their chamber jazz and jazz groups containing all manner of classical instruments, cellos, french horns or oboes were springing up everywhere, particularly on the West Coast. Both Horn and Schifrin were connected to some of the composers and musicians involved with the Third Stream.
So one might expect the music on this record to be polite and perhaps slightly staid.
It is in fact nothing of the sort.
To be honest, its a record that I don't put on the turntable that often. There is something very serious about this music. Serious because it is religious music but also serious because it is music that is exploring and probing and questioning.
One can, I think, hear elements of Schifrin's future cinema work, and Horn's future new age stuff. And at times I can't help but think about Gerry Goldsmith's score for the Omen.
Schifrin's arrangements are pleasingly beat heavy and very full and 'wall of sound'.
Horn's playing - albeit it brought to the front of the mix - is only one element of the music. Names you might recognise who are on the record are Bill Plummer, Larry Bunker, Red Callender and Emil Richards.
Does it urge me to go into a church? Frankly no.
But at times the music is very beautiful and moving. Schifrin manages to bring some of the emotion of the church to the record while not straying too far from recognisable jazz; and at time, particularly on Credo, the music goes into some very experimental territory.
Not something to put on if you are feeling a bit fragile on a Sunday morning. But if you want something to blow the cobwebs away before a relaxed Sunday, this could be the one for you.

Friday, 21 January 2011


There are some records that are just fun. The music is upbeat, simple, catchy, the vocals are cool and perfectly delivered, the lyrics are amusing with the right mixture of real-world observation and political intent. This is one of those records.
Girls at Our Best! also have one of the best names in British rock. Which makes it rather a shame that only one band member, the lead vocalist Judy Evans, was a woman.
Unfortunately Pleasure is their only LP, but like so many groups in the post-punk era they left an enduring, if small legacy.If you are so inclined I would very much recommend you track down their earlier singles, Going Nowhere Fast (later covered by the Wedding Present) which also has one of the most amusing single picture sleeves, Going for Gold and Politics. Strangely the lyrics for all these song can be found on the lyric sheet that comes with the LP.
I love bands with a female lead vocalist, from the Slits, to Prag Vac, to the Au Pairs, to Girls at Our Best! to the Shop Assistants,to the Primitives, to the Sundays. Its partly the challenge to male rock values, partly the great lyrics and partly the pleasure of hearing a beautiful voice rather than a gruff growl, wedded to great rock songs.
Pleasure - the title of this record. The music is a pleasure. Buoyant and upbeat it is music for dancing around to like a loon. Perhaps in a dark room with your friends. Perhaps after a few drinks. Perhaps with someone you fancy. I don't think it takes anything away from the music to say that its very straight forward and simple. There's no post-punk stuttering drums or disco bass-lines or choppy guitars. Instead we get music that reminds me of the Mekons at their best. Even the clarinet solo on Fun City Teenagers is charming. Thomas Dolby also makes an early appearance on synthesisers. And for all you beat hunters out there the runout groove one side 1 has a repeated drum break.
The  lyrics also deal with Pleasure in one form or another, not in a simple hedonistic way, but in a questioning, ironic and slightly wry manner. The main theme of the lyrics is that although the modern world is full of ways to get your pleasure we should be careful as many of these seemingly pleasurable pursuits are in reality ways to dull us, to silence us and prevent us from questioning the world around us. Everyone becomes nothing more than pawns in the system if you only take the pleasures that are offered to you. How much better would it be for us to get our kicks by being different and not conforming? Maybe I'm reading too much into it - what do you think?
Unlike a lot of female fronted C86 bands Girls At Our Best's Judy Evans seems to me to meeting attitude to women head on. There is a political aspect to the lyrics that, while not party political, challenges the status quo.
I was just about to select some songs as highlights but then I realised that I can't - each song is wonderful. A beautiful gem of a record and worth tracking down.
If you want to find out more about them the I reckon this is the place: http://www.girlsatourbest.com/

Thursday, 20 January 2011


One of the purposes of starting this blog was to make me pull out records I haven't listened to in a while.
You probably have records like that yourself. The ones that lurk in the back of the collection, sitting unlistened to for years and years.
As each new record is added to the collection, those that have not had an airing for a while see their chances of being put on the turntable slowly diminish until they must be weeping with frustration.
So it has been with Gary Burton's Time Machine. I bought it on  whim because of the cover (apologies for the dreadful photo). I guess I liked the time-delayed image of Burton playing away at his vibes, his distinctive four mallet technique clearly visible but always wonderfully blurred and confused. If you can see it, at one stage in the photo he has his eyes closed in concentration. I also like his thick glasses with no bottom rim. Cool daddio!
So its a record I got for the cover (not the only one in my collection I can tell you!) but why have I held on to it?
Its on the turntable now and, if you've only hear Burton in his fusion heyday, you would be very surprised to hear how organic it sounds. Of course, as the sleeve notes never tire of telling you, it is not organic. In true sleeve note hyperbole this record is described as "one of the most adventurous recording projects ever attempted". Like WOW! But all the instruments are acoustic - nothing electric just yet.
Recorded in 1966 this record slightly predates what is often referred to as the first fusion record, Duster which he recorded with Larry Coryell as well as Steve Swallow (who plays bass on this record) and the wonderful Roy Haynes in 1967.
But Burton's fascination with taking jazz to its outermost regions is evident here but mostly by his use of the studio to create music that is impossible to create live. The 'fusion' elements of his music that he is perhaps most well known for - the inclusion of rock and country influences-  are nowhere to be heard. Unless one includes his cover of Norwegian Wood!
Burton was a teacher at Berklee during the sixties and seventies and it was at Berklee that he met Mike Gibbs. Gibbs is from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and has produced some amazing music in his own right - I am sure we will get round to one of his records soon. He has also composed some pretty amazing stuff for Burton down the years.
This record has two compositions from Gibbs, the very short Childhood - which is very uncomfortable and I hope not at all like either Gibb's or Burton's childhood. However, Deluge is a different kettle of fish. Also slightly off-kilter but in a much more interesting way. Burton's vibes are very evocative of running and bubbling water. The sleeve notes go into great lengths to describe the studio wizardry that went into making the track - I won't bore you here, suffice to say the finished product could not be reproduced live!
The final track, My Funny Valentine is one of the highlights of the record. It truly sounds nothing like any of the versions you've ever heard before.
And in many ways this track sums up what this record is about. Burton had just come from playing with Stan Getz and was about as deep into the West Coast jazz scene as it was possible to be. You can hear that in his playing sometimes - and surely his choice of Jobim's Chega De Saudade owes something to Getz's dalliance with bossa? And My Funny Valentine has impeccable West Coast credentials having been recorded by Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and of course Miles Davis.
But overall there is so much more going on with this record. It's ethereal slightly other-worldly sounds, its  overdubbing and technical wizardry, its jerky rhythms and lack of melody take it far away from any cool West Coast sounds and into some very pleasing experimental regions.
Its not a record I would play often. There's something just too unformed and searching about it, something that is not quite fully formed, its a record that is not quite comfortable in its own skin. As clever as it is, as experimental and deliberately difficult, its not quite there. 
Should it be sent back to the wilds of the back of the record collection? Or worse, should it be ejected entirely?
What do you think?

Sunday, 16 January 2011


So I'm in Kalk Bay in the Cape. And I peel off from my wife and kids and look in an antique shop.

On the top of a rather tired looking chest of drawers are some records. Only 40 Rand each the tired looking lady at the counter tells me. I smile and after flicking through some 80s chuff I chance upon this.

At first I think about leaving it. I mean, its by Bud Shank! But then I notice that the cover says that its 'By Arrangement With the University of Natal'. Now that's interesting.

So I look at the back cover and what does it say? Well for once the back cover is very informative. It would appear that the Rag Committee of the University of Natal was somehow able to get Shank, who in 1958, the year of the tour and this recording, was already something of a star on the West Coast of America.to play a series of gigs in Johannesburg.

Shank played in Johannesburg alongside a number of other US musicians. Interestingly one of them was Claude Williamson who later recorded with Spokes Mashiyane.

Shank was a central figure of the West Coast cool jazz scene but prior to that had played in a number of big bands, most notably that of Stan Kenton. In many ways it was the big band sound that was still influential on the South African jazz scene - particularly bands such as the Harlem Swingsters and the Jazz Maniacs and the kwela sound - perhaps explaining Williamson and Mashiyane.

For the most part this record is very pleasant cool jazz. Shank is a fine player, equally at home on sax as flute. But of most interest is 'A Tribute to the African Penny Whistle'. As the sleeve notes explain:

"The penny whistle resembles a length of curtain rod flattened at one end to provide the mouth-piece, and bored with six tome holes of varying sizes. It is played with the mouth-piece in the cheek and the tone holes facing sideways. It is to the African what the guitar is to the Spanish peasant.
Bud had hardly set foot on the continent of Africa, when a group of admiring African artists presented him with an inscribed silver penny whistle. like many other musicians before him Bud was immediately intrigued by this primitive instrument. his leisure hours were spent in mastering the unorthodox fingering necessary for the production of 'notes that aren't there' - remember that the penny whistle only has six holes!
Bud decided to use a complete range of indigenous African instruments to provide the introduction and coda for 'A tribute to the African Penny Whistle'. Claude Williamson handled the chopi piano, and ingenious home-made version of the vibraphone, comprising slats of wood suspended above calabash of varying sizes. The piano is struck with mallets the heads of which are cut from old tyres. Jimmy Pratt discarded his drums for a beautiful carved drum as used by the Avando tribe in South West Africa. With his bass temporarily forgotten, Don Prell manipulated the Nigerian bamboo harp. Measuring 9" x 4",this instrument resembles a miniature raft of bamboo. Fine strands of cane are stretched lengthwise across a shallow bridge and tuned in quarter tones. The sharp biting sounds that help to keep the beat in this number are produced by this interesting instrument. Bud's composition runs into a wailing succession of choruses that last for exactly 8 minutes 6 seconds.
Never before was such music produced on the simple penny whistle. Normally used for producing the popular African Kwela rhythms, Bud has given it that extra something to make this track surely one of the most novel ever to be included in a jazz album of this nature."

Lets ignore the racist and disdainful treatment of South African musician when compared to white American ones. I don't think we can be surprised by the tone of the sleeve notes.

In the hands of a West Coast jazz musician kwela takes on a distinctly exotic air. To my ears it sits in the realm of Martin Denny and Les Baxter rather than in the world of jazz. Interestingly Shank would go on to record albums of bossa nova and Williamson would take a Latin jazz turn. Obviously both men were open to music from other parts of the world. In the case of kwela and bossa these were musics that had been influenced by the sounds of big bands such as that of Stan Kenton, with whom both me played. I like that kind of circularity.

In my view, this is a small example of what might had happened with South African jazz. On the back of the popularity of kwela in the UK, of the appropriation of South African songs by American and British jazz musicians (Tom Hark, Wimoweh/Mbube, Skokiaan etc) it is not inconceivable that South African jazz could have been brought into the pop mainstream of Europe and America in the way that bossa nova was to be. Whether this would have changed the lives of many South African musicians is debatable - but it might have meant that exile was not the only way to reach audiences outside of the country.

However, as the apharteid juggernaut  continued, this version of events proved impossible. Musicians such as Shank would refuse to play in South Africa and kwela, and South African jazz would remain a minority interest outside of the country.

An intriguing and unusual recording.

Friday, 14 January 2011


In 1958 a slightly unlikely single reached No 2 in the UK pop charts.

It was called Tom Hark and was by the wonderfully named Elias and his Zig Zag Jive Flutes.

The theme tune to a TV show called The Killing Stones it proved to be amazingly popular and was, undoubtedly, the first UK chart topper from Africa.

Tom Hark was kwela, a potent mix of jazz, highlife and rhythm and blues.

The pennywhistle was a very cheap instrument produced in Germany and similar to flutes played across Africa. The flute had traditionally been one of the first instruments aspiring musicians learnt to play. It was also associated with young boys in rural areas who would play the flute when herding cattle.

As South Africa became more urbanized kids did less cattle herding and needed another way to make money. Some of them, enterprisingly, started to busk using the cheapest instrument that came to hand. They copied the popular music of the day - often big band jazz by people such as Benny Goodman. The little pennywhistle proved to be very good at copying the sounds of the clarinet or sax and the music became popular.

The origin of the name kwela is a little unclear. It is a Zulu word that means climb up or get on. Policemen would often use the word when trying to get people into their vans and so the vans became known as kwela-kwela. But kwela was also a shout of encouragement during the pata pata dance - the subject of the famous song by Miriam Makeba. Finally Tom Hark starts, as do many kwela songs, with a spoken introduction. It exhorts gamblers to react quickly to the arrival of the police - they put away their cards and pick up pennywhistles instead!

Pop music in Britain and the US in the fifties was becoming very aware of the music produced by the rest of the world. In fact in many ways audiences were more receptive to music from non-European countries in the fifties then they would be until the advent of the so-called World Music movement in the eighties. Exotica was very popular in America, musicians from Cuba, Argentina and Mexico were carving out successful careers across Europe and America. People were listening to the music of Hawaii and South East Asia. Soon bossa nova would break out of Brazil and take off amongst jazz aficionados. Calypso was already a successful genre.

Of course this was all shot through with colonialism and usually overt racism. Look at the sleeve to the left. The music on the record is produced by urbanized black South Africans but the cover shows a traditional dance performed by women. It could not be accepted that the musicians on the record are at all like the white record buying public. The music can have jazz influences but those who produce it cannot be 'Westernized'. The sleeve notes start with the sentence - "Gone are the days when an African could produce elementary musical sounds only by beating a crude drum." Of course, Britain and the rest of Europe and America, were very racist places in the late fifties, especially when compared to today's standards. That is to understand but not condone.

I love kwela. There is something so unrelentingly happy about it, so upbeat and cheery that you can't help but tap your foot and smile. Most kwela is the product of one or more pennywhistles, a bass and a guitar. In that regard it is rather like skiffle - another fifties craze. It's music to dance to, music to throw away your inhibitions and have a good time. And, to my ears at least, like US soul, it is music that is infused with emotion and meaning.

Of course, like most seemingly happy music, there is a great deal of unhappiness going on underneath; its very name referring to police brutality and it is undeniably the music of slums and townships. Most South African jazz musicians were rather disdainful of this 'pop music'. It was too simple and too derivative - after all it was music from street corner buskers. But economic factors forced musicians to make compromises and even the erasable Kippie Moeketsi recorded a kwela track.

Kwela was also packaged as music for export. Amazingly my copy of the record to the left has a sticker showing that at one stage it was in the British Army Gibraltar radio station library. In the late fifties South Africa saw an amazing explosion of wonderful music - so called Township Jazz and Jive. Musicians such as Miriam Makeba, the Manhattan Brothers, Dolly Rathebe, the Harlem Swingsters and other were making wonderful, sophisticated and catchy music that blended Africa with America. But this was not music that often found its way to Europe or America. Instead kwela, a far rawer and less sophisticated form, was sent over. I'm not really sure why. It may have had something to do with the instrumental nature of the music - no strange accents or, heaven forbid foreign languages, to contend with. But I also think that it was more deep rooted than that. Jazz came from America. European musicians aspired to be like Americans. Jazz did not come from Africa. It would take a long struggle by exiled musicians to convince the record buying public that a blend of America and Africa could work.

The 'superstar' of kwela was undoubtedly Spokes Mashiyane although he had some stiff competition from Lemmy 'Special' Mabaso and 'Big Voice' Jack Lerole. Lerole would form Black Mambazo (Black Axe - apparently so called because they 'cut' their opposition) which would, much later develop into the completely differently styled Ladysmith Black Mambazo. However, Spokes Mashiyanepennywhistler.

Eventually kwela proved to be too simple a musical form to exist for very long. Rather like punk, it was simply impossible to keep making music that adhered to its original form. And like punk its influence was felt long after its heyday.

Initially many pennywhistlers upgraded to saxophones. Spokes became more sophisticated and he and his songwriting partner Alan Kwela began to really push the boundaries of the form. However, the partnerships was not to last and Kwela became one of South Africa's leading jazz guitarists.

I really believe that, had it not been for the insane apharteid policies of South Africa, kwela, and much other South African jazz could have 'crossed over' in the same way that bossa nova did. However, in a racist South Africa music made by black musicians could only be sold to black people. It was not a possibility for black South Africans to have an international career - unless they left the country.
So we have a form of music, initially born from imitation and using its limitations as strengths. It was a popular form of music that gained great mass support and found itself exported and some would say exploited - few pennywhistlers saw much money from their recordings. For a style of music that was not revered by musicians at the time it has cast a long shadow over South African music.

Try and get your hands on some of this great  music. And if you can find some Township Jazz and Jive I recommend that too.
It will be easier to find kwela in the UK because it was sent overseas. Surprisingly, since I have become interested in it, I have see prices for kwela sore to some pretty insane levels. Maybe I'm not the only one who has started to appreciate the sound of a cheap flute.


Harry the Hipster Gibson is one of those slightly marginal figures of 20th Century American music who plowed his own furrow and, in the way of many great musicians was both of his time and completely ahead of it.

Harry Raab was born in New York in 1914 and came from a family of musicians. Apparently his father was keen for him to study law but Harry had other ideas and from the young age of 13 he was playing barrel house piano in Harlem clubs. Before long he was embracing ever aspect of 1940's New York music - which at that time included hanging out with Charlie Parker and talking his way out of drug busts. I am sure that he and Charlie had a high old time!

He not only hung out with Parker but was also instrumental in getting Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to Billy Berg's club in California where they played in 1945. Parker famously stayed behind when Dizzy returned East.

But Gibson is not just a white footnote in the story of bop. He was a wonderful musician himself who graduated from Juillard. His playing is not straight ahead jazz, and certainly not bop. It owes a debt to Fats Waller and other boogie woogie pianists. But he was very much his own man. He played standing up, used his elbows and feet while playing and ad libbed to the audience.

Does that sound familiar? Could it be a description of Jerry Lee Lewis? Look again at his picture on the record sleeve. Is that a quiff he's sporting?

In my view Harry should have featured in Nick Tosches' Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll. His mix of blues, stride, pop and jazz was rock and roll just ten years too early. By the time that Elvis made rock and roll famous Harry had already done it all. Just listen to the two driving instrumentals on this record and tell me that they are not proto rock and roll!

But Harry was not just a piano player. He was a very funny comic lyricist too. His Hipster name was not just a persona but was really how he lived his life. His use of hip words and phrases was not an attempt the make himself seem cool - or indeed an attempt to ridicule the cool jazz world he was part of. In the fifties he became friends with both Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce - tellingly both comedians rather than musicians - both men who took hipster slang and used it for square audiences.

Listen to his signature song, Handsome Harry The Hipster. Add electric bass, drums and guitar and you have Jerry Lee Lewis - albeit singing some very funny lyrics.

They call him Handsome Harry, the Hipster
He's the ball with all the chicks
He plays piano like mad, his singing is sad
He digs those mellow kicks

They call him Handsome Harry the Clipster
'Cause he'll hype you for your gold,
He's frantic and fanatic
With jive he's as addict
I don't know, I was only told

And every night you'll find him around the club
Playing and singing so wild
And if you want to get straight with a solid stud
He comes on like a motherless child

They call him Handsome Harry the Drifter
He won't ever marry you, sister
He got a shape in a drape, his story is great
I'm talking about Harry the Hipster

They call her Careless Carrie the Clipster
She's the chick with all the tricks
She plays piano like mad, her singing is sad
She digs those mellow kicks

They call her Careless Carrie the Clipster
'Cause she'll hype you for your gold,
She's frantic and fanatic
With dope she's as addict
I don't know I was only told

And every night you'll find her around the club
Playing and singing so wild
And if you want to get straight with a solid stud
She comes on like a motherless child

They call her Careless Carrie the Clipster
She won't ever marry you, mister
She's got a shape in a drape, her story is great
I'm talking about Carrie the Clipster
She's the sister of Harry the Hipster
Yeah, that's right

The main reason I got this record was that I had heard Who Put the Benzedrine In Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine. How it got recorded in 1944 I will never know. There is no attempt to hide the drug references behind any kind of slang or double entendre. They are in your face and at the same time very funny. The lyrics are below:

Mrs Murphy couldn't sleep
Her nerves were slightly off the bean
Until she solved her problem
With a can of Ovaltine
She drank a cupful most every night
And ooh how she would dream
Until something rough got in her stuff
And made her neighbors screa. OW!
Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine?
Sure was a shame, don't know who's to blame
Coz the old lady didn't even get his name
Where did she get that stuff?
Now she just can't get enough
It might have been the man who wasn't there
No Jack, that guy's a square
She never wants to go to sleep
She says that everything is sold all reet
Now Mr Murphy don't know what its all about
Cause she went and threw the old man out - Clout
Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine?
Now she wants to do the Highland Fling
She says that Benzedrine'e the thing that makes her spring

This is the second chorus you know
The name of this chorus is called "Who put the Nembutals in Mr Murphy's overalls
I don't know

She bought a can of Ovaltine most every week or so
And she always kept and extra can on hnad
Just in case that she'd run low
She never never been so happy, since she left Old Ireland
'Til someone prowled her pantry and tampered with her can - Wham!
Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine?
Sure is a shame don't know who's to blame
Cause the old lady didn't even get his name
Where did she get that stuff
Now she just can't get enough
It might have been the man who wasn't there
No Jack, that cat's a square
She stays up nights making all the rounds
They say she's lost about 69 pounds
Now Mr Murphy claims she' s getting awful thin
And all she says is "Give me some skin. Mop!"
Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine?
Now she wants to swing the Highland Fling
She says that Benzedrine's the thing that makes her spring

Spring it now Gibson

Some incredible stories about his life that may or may not be true:
He owned a club but was forced to close it because he couldn't pay the cops and the Mafia
Playing with Charlie Parker in LA the two men played a game of draughts, each one moving his piece while the other soloed
He used to play in small towns under the name of Knuckles O'Leary
He was involved in a car accident in a Native-American reservation and while convalescing he fell in love with the chief's daughter. They got married and moved to New York but he had to divorce her when he found out she was a compulsive shoplifter
While serving time for drugs he became the conductor of the choir of the female prisoners' wing
He wrote a hymn that was accepted by the Vatican for the Marian Year

I would have liked to have met Harry. Somehow I think an evening in his company in the clubs of New York would have been a riotous laugh. In place of that I will have to listen to his wonderful music.

Here is a short video made by Harry's daughter and grand daughter -  flip your wig man!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Exploito psych #3 The Projection Company - Give Me Some Lovin'

 So what do we have here?

What a moody cover. I'm glad I never saw her what I was tripping!!!!

But its still kinda cool - don't you think?

And it sounds just like that Animated Egg record. Is that because some of the tracks are from the Id sessions?

No, its because ALL of the tracks are Jerry Cole Id/ Animated Egg songs. Some of them you know from the earlier records. But Kimeaa is a true stoned cold freaked out classic. Unless of course you've heard any 60s psych in which case it sounds like just what it is - a pastiche of psychedelic sounds.

But that's ok with me because I love the fake sounds.

The instrumental verion of Boil the Kettle Mother is the highlight - shorn of all the cod-Freudian babble its a fuzz monster of a track.


So, as usual, I'm browsing through some pretty dire records in a charity shop. This time I'm in North London, not very far from where I used to live.
At the back of the box I see this little baby.

Spaghetti Western soundtracks done in a steel guitar style by a Japanese band called the Blue Hawaiians.

Wow, what an amazing car crash of influences - music written in Italy for films influenced by America, played by a Japanese band on an instrument that has become synonymous with country and western music. The influence of America filtered through Italy being played by a Japanese band using instruments that again were filtered from Hawaii through America. Wow!
So a pound changes hands and the interesting record is mine.

I take it home with little expectation. I mean, after all, what can the music be like after my post-modern, cross cultural, multi-layered expectations?

The answer is it can be quite good!

Of course not all the tracks on here are from Westerns. Most are from other movies of the time but that's not a problem.

I guess that this record comes from the eleki period of Japanese music - slightly before the Group Sounds era. There is something slightly like the Ventures In Space - probably the eerie sounds of the steel guitar.
Yes its cheesy - particularly when the Blue Hawaiians tackle Strangers in the Night. But the steel guitar seems to fit perfectly with the windswept, hard man with no name, devil take the hindmost atmosphere of the best Westerns.

So when they get into the Western tunes - Django from the wonderful film of the same name, Johnny Guitar, from the film of the same name that was a huge influence on Lione's Westerns, Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu - For a Few Dollars More and A Man ..A Story from the rather obscure Blood For A Silver Dollar the music takes off into another space. The kind of space that you doesn't make any sense on paper but when you listen to it, seems to make the kind of sense that you know is right.

Try it for yourselves:

Sunday, 9 January 2011


I seem to be on a bit of roll with drummers at the moment - no pun intended!
So I've been inspired to pull this record out. 
This is the kind of record that my wife hates - too free, too wild, too unconventional.
Louis Moholo is a South African drummer who, together with Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, Dudu Pukwana and Mongezi Feza comprised the Blue Notes. Hounded by apharteid they left South Africa in 1968 ostensibly to play at a music festival in the south of France. They never went back.
After France, they made their way to London where they were to have a profound influence on the jazz scene. Their style of playing, their influences and their radical stance encouraged and nurtured other British jazz musicians who were looking for more experimental approaches. 
The Blue Notes soon split up as a band but the members continued to play together in many different iterations most famously the Brotherhood of Breath.
In interviews Moholo has said that he enjoyed playing with his countrymen Pukwana, Dyani and Feza above all else. Not only were they wonderful musicians but they shared the bond of being exiles, of being black South Africans in Europe, separated from their families, from their homes and cultures. They would often play with other South African exiles but they knew that they could never go back to an apharteid South Africa. All of the Blue Notes, with the exception of Moholo died young and in exile.

Moholo himself once said: "To leave South Africa and to go to Europe, that was my mistake. I did suffer. I even had a heart attack. And people like Mongezi Feza died from depression. Johnny Dyani also died from a kind of depression. We were not happy overseas, but we were free. We were free. I thank Europe for a lot of things, but for other things, we really missed in Europe: it was very, very hard!"
Political freedom and musical freedom, the two are often equated by Moholo. When one listens to the music the Blue Notes played in South Africa and compares it to the music they created when they came to Europe you can hear that their playing was becoming increasingly freer. Perhaps they felt that they could express themselves in ways that were not possible in South Africa. They were undoubtedly exposed to musicians and recordings that would have been impossible to hear at home.
But I like to think that the rage and anger of being exiles coupled with the sheer joy of being free (musically and politically) came together to make challenging and avante garde music. 
If you have trouble with free jazz - then don't listen to this record. However, what lifts it above and beyond most European free jazz in my opinion are the South African elements. I'm no musicologist so I'm not about the go on about marabi, mbaqanga, kwela or other South African styles of music. Suffice it to say that this is music that could only be composed by South Africans. 
The Octet comprises Moholo, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Nick Evans, Radu Malfatti, Keith Tippett, Johnny Dyani and Harry Miller - a mix of Englishmen and South Africans.
For me the highlight is Mongezi Feza's You Ain't Gonna Know Me 'Cos You Think You Know Me. It has a wonderful repeated theme that you will find sticks in the memory and refuses to become dislodged. Kenny Wheeler's trumpet is masterful, but I can't help but wonder what Feza himself would have made of if. By the way is you get the chance, listen to Zim Ngqawana's recent cover of this track. 

I also find the last track Wedding Hymn, to be very moving. Composed by Pat Matshikiza for the jazz opera King Kong it is a haunting and beautiful piece of music. King Kong played in London which gave many of the musicians in the orchestra the chance to escape apharteid. Musicians such as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Jonas Gwangwa and the Manhattan Brothers went into voluntary exile. I am sure that Moholo is commenting on his own exile and that of his countrymen by choosing to cover a song from King Kong. By slowing it down he turns a wedding hymn into something that sounds like a funeral march. Surely a comment on the double edged nature of finding your freedom but losing your country. Kenny Wheelers trumpet is again wonderful but Keith Tippett's piano solo is also commanding and Dyani's bass playing is as imaginative and creative as ever.
Throughout the record Moholo's drumming is exemplary - as you would expect. However, this is a recording of a band rather than a soloist and his backing group.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


With a blog that cribs its name from a zombie movie you'd expect a few horrors!
Blimey, the design department at Saga Records obviously had something more important to do than create an interesting cover for this record.
You can imagine someone taking the trio out of the studio once they'd finished recording, walking them to a park, standing on a box and taking exactly one photo.
Poor old Eddie, who is clearly the best looking and best dressed of the bunch, is squeezed into the bottom left hand corner and is actually a little out of focus. The dapper chap in the top left is pianist Tony Lee, who looks like he's just about to go to the golf club for a couple of sherries.
And then there's Phil. How old do you think he was when this photo was taken? He was only 42 but years of drink and drug abuse are clearly shown on his face.The dark bags under his eyes, the sunken cheeks, the jagged teeth glimpsed through the wane smile. I don't like his heavy knit cardigan either, but that's another matter. He looks a like he's in a bad way. And its entirely possible that he was.
Here is Coleridge Goode, another bassist, describing Seamen during the session for Joe Harriott's Swings High album which was recorded in 1967.
"Phil's health worried me a lot that day. He was in a bad way and I thought he didn't have long to live (in fact he died in 1972). But as always he sounded good: he was incapable of playing badly..."
That seems to be the consensus about Seamen. His heroin addiction made him difficult and unreliable off stage but once he was behind the drums he was a wizard. He played with most of the great British jazz players such as Joe Harriott, Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott as well as Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated and many visiting  US players such as Stan Getz, Roland Kirk and Freddie Hubbard.
He was resident drummer at Ronnie Scott's in 1968 when the Bill Evans trio played there and, according to the sleeve notes, he met Eddie Gomez at a party afterwards and they ended up recording this record the very next day. I guess it was a nice little earner for all concerned.
Seamen's playing is amazing throughout. His solos are captivating, exhilarating and always interesting. He really propels the music not simply through rock steady time keeping, although that is there too, but through interpreting the music and giving it depth.
Gomez, as you would expect, is also imaginative and creative in his playing and, although the two men didn't know each other, you can hear that they were musically on the same wavelength.
Poor Tony Lee, his piano is way down in the mix and he rarely gets a chance to shine. Having said that his playing is solid throughout.
What does let the proceedings down somewhat is the unimaginative choice of tracks. But I guess you have to stick to well known standards if you have never played together before!
Seamen gets the best of it on the opening track, Nigh Train, while Gomez plays at a furious rate through Salt Peanut, despite some powerful, almost overwhelming solos from Seamen.
If ever there was a drummer less suited to the soft brush work of bossa it was Phil Seamen and on Corcovado the trio start well but the track drifts off about half way through. How did A Foggy Day become a jazz standard? Anyway they give it their best and it really swings.
On side 2 they kick off with Toots Thielman's Bluesette and Tony Lee finally gets some space for his playing to show through. Gomez is particularly good on this track. Fish This Week also swings with Seamen really having a go at his (swinging) cymbal.
Autumn Leaves is Gomez's track and his playing is amazing. With the solid drum and piano backing he is just all over the place and really taking it as far as he can go.
And the record finished with another ode to rain, Here's That Rainy Day and Seamen, again on brushes, makes it sounds as though the rain is coming into the studio. Melancholy at its best.
He might look like a mod who's seen better days but as Coleridge Goode points out, he couldn't play badly. 

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Chance, fate, luck - strange and wonderful things.
Like many of his compatriots Gilberto Gil has put out a lot of records which are self titled and this can sometimes make it tricky to know which one is which unless you can see the covers.
So I bought on line what I though, was a copy of the record he made while in London in exile.
Imagine my surprise which this turned up! I hadn't even heard of it before. So I contacted the seller and he just said that I was lucky and that was that!
And he was right because this is an increadibly record.
Recorded during a concert in Sao Paulo in 1974, if it wasn't for the crowd noises you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a studio album - the musicianship is that good.
As far as I can tell none of the tracks here appear elsewhere - but do correct me if I'm wrong.
Backed by a small band Gil is at the very height of his musical abilities. It must have been a wonderful concert.
His band is soft and subtle but electric - electric organ, guitar and bass. Gil's voice and acoustic guitar together with some imaginative percussion keep proceedings from getting too rocky. Indeed throughout the record there are elements of bossa, samba, xate and jazz which fuse together to make a truely unique music.
The main focus however, is Gil's warm, assured voice. It is the central element in every song, the musicians really just providing backing for the voice with few solos and little improvisation. His scatting and falsetto keep each song alive with unexpected twists and turns.
One can see why so many Brazlian musicians became part of the US jazz-fusion scene. They were already used to taking different musical styles and mixing them up and the level of their musical ability was such that they could play jazz as easily as any other style.
Favourites are  Abra O Olho where he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and manages to be completely spellbinding, and the funky Menina Goiaba which starts slowly but ends at a furious pace that is perfect for dancing. The set closes with the very funky and cool Heroi Das Estrelas. It sounds as though the band were at last waking up after having provided polite backing for the earlier songs and were suddenly in the mood to get down.
Its just a shame that more of the concert wasn't captured - unless of course he only played for about half an hour!

Exploito psych #2 - 101 Strings - Astro Sounds Beyond the Year 2000

I've never been clear why this record seemed like a good idea at the time.
I mean, here you are running Crown and later Alshire, both cheap exploitation record companies and you get your hands of the original masters on some great west coast psych by Jerry Cole, intended for the Id album but never released.
So you do the obvious thing and put it out on record and give it a stupid 'hippy' name - the Animated Egg.
But what weird chain of thought do you go through that leads you to think that you can add strings, give it a space age feel and sell it to middle American 101 Strings buyers? Maybe they thought that times had moved on and people were ready for something different.
Well, something different was exactly what they got.
All of the Animated Egg tracks appear here - just with different names. Overdubbed on each one are some, frankly, freaky string arrangements. Amazingly it works!
In my opinion Astro Sounds is a better record than either the Inner Sounds of the Id or the Animated Egg.
Maybe those wacky guys in charge of Alshire Records did know what they were doing!

The spirit of the age was obviously catching, because in the same year Alshire released 101 Strings - Sounds of Today.
Although it has nothing to do with the Animated Egg it does have some great covers and some very good originals (Stone Baroque, Karma Sitar, Blues for the Guru and Strings for Ravi) by Monty Kelly who would arrange most of the best 101 Strings records in the sixties. These tracks would reappear on a number of other records - some of which we will meet in later posts!
I love this record. I love the wildly over the top covers of MOR standards. The imaginative mix of strings and small 'pop' group sounds. It a great record all the way through.


You all know about Art Blakey, right? The Jazz Messengers, Moanin', The Big Beat, Holiday for Skins, Orgy in Rhythm?
Blakey is the kind of drummer who makes you think he hates his drums. That's the only reason he could have for hitting them repeatedly and so hard. He must have been one hell of a drum-phobe. Have you seen the way he looks on the cover of Orgy in Rhythm?
Apart from his fierce attacking method, Blakey also knew a thing or two about musicians. Just look at the people who came through his Jazz Messangers!
By the late fifties and early sixties people in the US jazz world had become very interested in the music of Africa. Initially conflating African music with that of Latin American, in particular Cuba and Argentina, the jazz world began to incorporate increasing elements of 'exotic' musics.
It's no coincidence that this coincided with many jazz musicians finding Islam. Many black jazz musicians, as well as writers, poets, academics and others, began to turn their backs on Western modes of thinking and look to Africa for inspiration. As the civil rights movement in America became more prominent and, in some cases, more violent, many black Americans wondered what they owed to the modes of thinking and behaving that had come to them from white America. People wanted to shed their names, names given to them by slave owners. People wanted to shed their relgions, forced on their ancestors by slave owners, and return to religions that they might have had before slavery. People wanted to move even further away from Western approaches to music and adopt musical styles from Africa.
Blakey himself went to Nigeria as a merchant seaman in 1948 and is supposed to have converted to Islam and taken the name of Abdullah Ibn Buhaina. He later denied that he had gone to Nigeria to study drums and indeed said that jazz was emphatically American and owed nothing to Africa.
How then is one to take this record?
Blakey surrounded himself with some of the best musician's from Africa he could find in New York in 1962. Solomon Ilori and James Ola. Folami from Nigeria and Chief Bey from Senegal. From Jamaica came Montego Joe( read about his solo records here). From the US came Yusef Lateef (Read some Yusef Lateef stuff here) and Ahmed Abdul-Malik (Read about him here) both converts to Islam and both already investigating music from Africa,Garvin Maseaux who was studying the Yoruba in Nigeria and finally Robert Crowder and Curtis Fuller.
For me the stand-out track is Love, The Mystery of by Guy Warren (have I mentioned I'm kind of obsessed by him?). (You can read about Warren's original recording here) What a shame he doesn't play on the record itself. The track opens with a snaking sax line by Lateef that is followed by chanting. Underpinning the sax and the chanting are Blakey on the drums and others on various percussion. Lateef moves on to oboe and then Blakey is given the space he needs for a thundering drum attack. Abdul-Malik keeps the whole proceedings together with a rock steady bass-line and Blakey drops one drum bombshell after the other with Lateef adding scrapper in the background. Then Lateef comes back in on oboe with a long sustained note that rises above Blakey's furious drums until the entire track gains an unstainable intensity and the chanting begins again until it is faded out at the end. Altogether beautiful stuff.


I am always amazed at how many wonderfully talented people Brazil has produced.
One of thos is Sergio Ricardo. Not a name I was at all familiar with until I read about this record in Increadibly Strange Music Vol 2. Jello Biaffra calls it psych-sploitation Brazilian style. That alone was enought to pique my interest.
However, it is much more than an exploitation record and Sergio Ricardo is much more than a Brazlian Davie Allan.
Ricardo was one of the earliest members of the bossa nova movement in the mid 50s, taking one of Jobim's nightclub gigs and letting Joao Gilberto sleep on his floor. He was a classically trained pianist but had also been an actor in TV shows. He toured in the US and Europe but by the mid 60s, as the momentum was going out of bossa nova, he started to make films. He proved to be just as adept a film-maker as he was a musician and his films began to recieve international recognition, particularly in France.
For A Noite do Espantalho, Ricardo not only directed, he produced, co-wrote the script and the soundtrack. The film tells the story of a peasant uprising in northeast Brazil and is increadibly stylised and dramatic - as you might guess from the cover shot of two bikers wearing spiked helmets and riding bikes with fairy wings!
I am not sure why Ricardo asked singer Alceu Valenca to sing on the soundtrack. It may well be that as the film is set in the northeast of Brazil, Ricardo wanted someone from that region. Valenca is well known for using the traditional music of the region but giving it a modern twist.
It is, I think, an inspired pairing. The music, as one might expect, has a dramatic, cinematic quality and Valenca's strong voice brings this out.
There are also very strong folk elements to many of the songs, perhaps not surprising in a film about a peasent uprising. These songs have a, largely, acoustic backing using flutes, accordians and the inevitable guitar. However, there is a constant unsettling, dream-like quality to the music. Something is bubbling underneath that is not pleasent and sometime it comes to the surface. A track such as Briga De Faca is quite scary in its way.
The two tracks which feature the beautiful voice of Ana Lucia de Castro are also worth mentioning.  
A quick word about the cover. My copy of this is from the early 80s and for some reason it reverses the front and the back covers. On my copy the back cover is a painting by Sami Mattar, a well known Brazilian artist and illustrator. If I get the time I'll post a pic of the back cover.