Soul Circus
Songs To Make You Drop Your Drink Ö pt 3
Isnít Soul Circus the new book by George Pelecanos? I havenít had a chance to catch up with it yet, but I will. I have, however, caught up with James Sallisí Cypress Grove, and itís soul warming. I have also caught up with Douglas Couplandís Hey Nostradamus! Itís billed as his most surprising and soulful novel yet, and it is. Funny word soul isnít it?

Soul fans this week have been spoiled with the release of the Candi Staton compilation on Honest Jons. This collects together songs she recorded for Rick Hallís FAME Records in Muscle Shoals between 1969 and 1973. For people that like their soul music with a bit of grit and touch of country these songs constitute some sort of spiritual soul holy grail. There truly are songs on this set to make you drop your drink in awe. Myself, I never thought anyone could cover 'In The Ghetto' and outdo Elvis. Candi can!

And as much as we may despise Damon Allbran, we ought to acknowledge his role in bankrolling Honest Jons. Honestly every six months the label unleashes a collection to make life worth the living. Remember the Watch How The People Dancing selection of Unity Sounds From The London Dancehall, 1986-1989? And then the Cedric Im Brooks & The Light Of Saba set? Amen! Candiís selection is packaged slightly less lavishly but slightly more practically, and credit is due to the great Will Bankhead for waving his magic dust over the package to make the whole thing that bit more special. But wow! That version of 'In The Ghetto'!! I bet the Pelecan man and the Caveman are feeling that one. That voice!

Ironically another record I have been playing this week is Syleena Johnsonís The Voice as part of our exploration of underground soul. Syleena too has an incredible voice, and her recordings do what we hope new soul should by leaving the lackeys of ríníb way behind. Her soul credentials are spot on too, being the daughter of Hi legend Syl Johnson who produced some very special records back around the time of those Candi Staton songs we were just drooling over.

Yet again, unless I have been missing something, I donít remember reading column after column on Syleena. Síway it goes. I stumbled across her records regardless, eventually. As you do. As you have to. Like all those lists of year end accounts? Did you see any mention of the Scene Creamersí I Suck On That Emotion? Nah! I didnít even know it was out until I got my copy of BB Gun a few weeks back. And any record featuring the great Ian Svenonius and the even greater Michelle Mae ought to command column inch after inch after inch after inch irrespective of how good it is.

The Scene Creamersí set is actually wonderful, and as strange and stroppy as you could hope. It takes some working out where itís coming from, but then again thatís part of the fun of it. Svenonius and Michelle Mae must take their place now as outsider greats, alongside the likes of Kevin Rowland, Kim Gordon, Lawrence, Lydia Lunch, Mark E Smith and Nick Cave. Theyíve earned it. Their persistence and their passion for detail sets them apart, and this is exactly the way you want your mad revolutionary bandits to carry on.

I was just digging in the crates for the old Nation Of Ulysses records Svenonius was involved with at the start of the Ď90s. They are not really my cup of tea but as artefacts they remain exceptional. Those sleevenotes and manifestos still stir the soul. It was when Svenonius and team mates met up with Michelle Mae (formerly a Frumpie ≠ oh the irony! Could anyone ever be less Frumpish?) to become the Make Up that I sat up. The punk soul explosion of the Make Up has yet to be matched in terms of purpose, precision, vision and venom.

If the Make Up moved from raw punk soul power to a funkier feel like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators or Love at their most savage, then the Scene Creamers carry it on, with some suggestions of Jimiís guitar or Eddie Hazel funkadelic fuzztones, and achingly gorgeous pop moments that are so exquisitely cool . And it seems the Scene Creamers will return again as Weird War soon. The revolution continues. Just hope someone bothers to tell us this time!

© 2004 John Carney