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Rocksteady your soul: When the Old Grey Whistle Test went reggae

Nicky Thomas
Nicky Thomas delivers…
The Old Grey Whistle Test was only in its second year on BBC2 when producer Rowan Ayers presented this reggae showcase in Edinburgh in 1973.

The lineup is almost completely comprised of Jamaican artists who had settled in London after touring Europe off of hits they scored in the British charts. The notable exception is the specially flown-in MC Dennis Alcapone, who delivers two of the three original tunes in this collection of excerpts (the other is Winston Groovy’s “I’m a Believer”—the one written by Mulby Thompson of Trojan Records, not Neil Diamond). It’s pretty rare to see footage from this early on of a reggae MC like Alcapone in front of a live band—until the late ‘70s, they were pretty much relegated to chatting over instrumentals at sound system dances.

After the agile Cimarons cover Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” they back nearly all the other artists, until an all-white band pops up to back the Pioneers. The late Nicky Thomas offers up a compelling highlight with his paroxysmal covers of Syl Johnson’s “Is It Because I’m Black” and The Four Preps’ “Love of the Common People.”

The program was hosted by Alex Hughes, who as Judge Dread had just scored three charting British reggae singles of his own—the lewd nursery rhymes “Big Six,” “Big Seven,” and “Big Eight”—and was the first white artist to have a reggae hit in Jamaica.

One can imagine how many mods, skinheads, soul boys and other riff-raff this broadcast kept off the street at the time.
Part 1
The Cimarons - “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Winston Groovy - “I’m A Believer”
Dennis Alcapone - “Cassius Clay” & “Wake Up Jamaica”

Part 2
The Marvels - “Jimmy Browne” & “One Monkey”
Nicky Thomas - “Is It Because I’m Black” & beginning of “Love of the Common People”

Part 3
Nicky Thomas - end of “Love of the Common People”
The Pioneers - “Higher & Higher” & “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
All Star Finale - “Freedom Train”

Pt. 1

Keep yr skank up: check out parts 2 and 3 after the jump…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Happy Birthday Beth Gibbons of Portishead

Beth Gibbons, vocalist of both Portishead and Rustin Man, turns 46 today. Here’s to one of the best, most soulful, female voices English music has ever produced. After the jump a selection of her best clips, but let’s start with this haunting cover of the Velvet Underground:

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man “Candy Says”

Thanks to Grizz Gom Jabbar Robinson.
After the Jump, videos for “L’Annulaire”, “The Rip” and “Glory Box” (live)...

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The Boss: Nick Ashford tribute mix by Kirk Degiorio

Soul and pop music lost one of its greatest songwriters on Monday, with the passing of Nicholas Ashford, one half of the duo Ashford and Simpson. Have a quick flick through Ashford and Simpson’s songwriting resumé  and you’ll be pretty gobsmacked at some of the tunes they’ve had a hand in - they’re without a doubt one of the best songwriting duos of the modern age, writing huge hits for Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terell, Sylvester, Ray Charles, Marlena Shaw/The 5th Dimension and lots more.

London-based producer and dj Kirk Degiorgio has put together a special Nick Ashford tribute mix, featuring some of the man, and the couple’s greatest work. This is a fitting tribute indeed, and if you were in any doubt as to how good these guys were, wrap your ears around the following. Damn you cancer, but at least we know the man’s legacy will live on for a long time. 

Full tracklist after the jump…

Thanks to Kelvin Brown.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Soul man Bilal takes it to the next “Levels” with a freaked-out Flying Lotus-directed video

Innovative L.A.-based electronic music label Plug Research scored big-time when they signed Philly-raised soul singer Bilal Sayeed Oliver in the middle of 2009 to release his revelatory sophomore album Airtight’s Revenge. Bilal left his former label Interscope soon after they shelved his proposed second album, Love For Sale, based on their skepticism of its commercial potential and the fact that it was leaked before official release. Seems like an aphorism for the steady decline of the music industry to me.

Directed by stoned prodigal son Flying Lotus (damn, does that mean he did all that animation?), the recently released video for Bilal’s track “Levels” seems to evince how eagerly the singer has swallowed the red pill. This is some high high Afromythofuturistic material right here.

The Sounds of VTech / Bilal Levels   

Get: Bilal - Airtight’s Revenge [CD]


Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Another funk master gone too soon: R.I.P. Phelps “Catfish” Collins

Sad news from Cincy is that Bootsy’s older brother Phelps Collins has lost his battle with cancer. This comes shortly after the equally bumming news of fellow Funkadelic guitarist Gary Shider’s passing.

The always-smiling rhythm guitarist started a band called the Pacemakers in 1968 and were soon scouted and picked up by James Brown to back him up. The brothers would record such classics as “Super Bad,” “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” “Soul Power,” and “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” before it became too much to deal with the Godfather. Then it was on to a wonderful decade with Parliament-Funkadelic and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, lacing masterpieces like “Flashlight” with his brightly sparking chikka-chikka. Phelps spent most of the past 20 years away from music, surfacing occasionally to play with groups like Deeee-lite and on soundtracks like Superbad.

He got some here at the famous L’Olympia with the JB’s in 1971, just before he and Bootsy said bye-bye to the Hardest Working Man…

After the jump: the bad-ass sounds of Phelps and Bootsy in ‘71 in between their tenures with the JBs and Parliament-Funkadelic!!

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Cleveland’s Black Rock Legacy: Purple Image

Today’s resurgence in black rock and Afro-punk has been accompanied by a boosted interest in obscure post-Hendrix black rock from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, as shown by the rediscovery of Detroit bands like Death and Black Merda.

Elsewhere in the heartland, Cleveland’s late-‘60s soul and R&B scene (a role-call of which can be found in this bio for the Imperial Wonders) also boasted a clutch of guitar-centered rock bands, including the excellently named Purple Image. Rising from the 105th St. & Superior area (which took a big hit during the unrest resulting from the 1968 Granville Shootout), PI traded on a thumping, harder-than-Parliament psychedelic sound fortified by powerful group vocals and the two-guitar attack of Ken Roberts and Frank Smith. Unfortunately Purple Image’s excellent self-titled 1970 debut would be their one and only, becoming a rare black-rock nugget before it was re-released by the UK’s Radioactive label in 2007.

It would take another Midwestern black rocker to pick up the


but that’s another story…

Get: Purple Image - Purple Image [CD]


Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
The King Meets the President in Africa: Michael Jackson vs. Fela Kuti

The wonderful Tracii Macgregor at Gargamel Music hepped me to this latest project put together by New York hip-hop DJ/producer/scene-vet Rich Medina. Like any device, the mash-up/remix can yield a good amount of garbage (Gaga vs. Bieber, etc.), unless the sources are well-chosen and assembled.

It hardly gets better than pop king Michael vs. Nigeria’s Afrofunk prez Fela Kuti—much has been made of how Fela and James Brown mutually influenced each other, so the R&B/Afrofunk connection is hardly a surprise. Medina’s put together 10 rounds of it for The King Meets the President in Africa, which is downloadable for free. Unfortunately, the videos below are uncredited—if Rich did these as well, I’d consider him even more of a badman talent than I already do.

Thriller vs. Zombie from MJ Fela on Vimeo.


Billie Jean is Shakara from MJ Fela on Vimeo.


Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
The Equals: British Multiracial Soul

Before he went off to make a mint singing about the main market street in Brixton, Guyanese-born London resident Eddy Grant put together the Equals, one of England’s most stomping multi-racial soul-rock bands.

Before the Equals scored their first hit in the UK with “Baby Come Back,” it went #1 in Germany, from which the first clip below originates, featuring a rather bossy 19-year-old Grant. It would take Top of the Pops a full year until they booked the Equals to perform the same tune. Oh yeah, they tossed over the song in clip #2 to a bunch of punks a few years after they recorded it in ’69.

Original North London skinhead psychedelia!



Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment