Shop Around Ö part 10
One of the few sane conversations I have had at
work recently has been one about The Poets. And thatís odd in itself. You just donít have conversations about The Poets where I work. You donít have conversations about poets, but to have one about the great, lost Scottish Ď60s
beat/soul group is astonishing, especially when someone trumps you and
offers to put a compilation together of their (frustratingly few) recordings.
Coincidentally The Poets have a couple of tracks included on the new Immediate Mod Box Set, which is a three-CD collection of recordings from Andrew Loog Oldhamís great independent imprint. And great value too at the price of an ordinary CD.
The sleevenotes come from the ever-great Lois Wilson, and she naturally refers to Nik Cohnís words on Loog Oldham in his immortal Awopbopetc. Itís worth mentioning too that Cohn refers to Immediate as the first ďindie in EnglandĒ. I think we should make clear thatís the only use of that word ďindieĒ we should ever tolerate. We should never tolerate it as in the mid-80s it became associated with the likes of the Wedding Present and some of the worst shoes and haircuts we have ever been subjected to. I doubt if Loog Oldham would ever have tolerated such shoes.
There is a real case, listening to the joyous clash of colour and sounds on this Immediate set, to be made for it being a precursor to Rough Tradeís adventuresomeness, which was always partly about being in the right place at the right time. For some reason, just now, I was thinking about when Seb Shelton was heavily involved with Rough Trade in the mid-80s, which is something I never quite got my head round.
Seb Sheltonís journey to being part of the inner circle at Rough Trade is a strange one. He was latterly drummer in the second incarnation of Dexys, and had previously been part of the Secret Affair and the Young Bucks. There is a recurring theme here.
As wonderful as the ďearlyĒ Scritti Politti recordings are, there remains that sense of neo-hippy/white rasta messy aesthetics which jarred with my own mod sensibilities. I still argue that the mixing of dub and punk experimentation that the Scrits so successfully achieved is more than matched by those groups that fused punk passion with soul power.
From an early obsession with old soul hits like Robert Knightís 'Everlasting Love' and 'Love On A Mountain Top' it seemed a natural jump forward a few years later when the Saints came out with Know Your Product, the fierce condemnation of consumer culture and marketing so ferociously fuelled by the groupís new brass section. And then there was X Ray Spex with their horns and dilemmas (and itís worth noting this was another group with links to the Young Bucks), and Paul Wellerís championing of the Ď60s soul/ríníb thing. Seeds were being sown.
Then as the Ď60s mod thing started firing imaginations again in early 1979, there was the Secret Affair momentarily cool as Ian Page traded tirades with trumpet licks. Now we know how daft he was, but then holding his horn high seemed so smart and sophisticated. Even better were the Small Hours (who we have explained elsewhere had connections to the Saints and The Jolt) with their punk soul sleepers and leapers, now joyfully preserved on CD.
Then came Dexys, with the definitive soul sound and stance. Nothing will probably ever sound as good as the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels set in 1980. Everything about it was perfect. Yet by the end of that year things had turned sour within that group. Somewhere there must be surviving footage of the group performing its final single 'Keep It (Part Two)' in all its paranoid splendour. It was an astonishing spectacle, but things clearly could not go on.
As we know the instrumental core of that Dexys line up went off to do their own thing, recruiting a new singer in Archie Brown, who had been in the ríníb outfit the Young Bucks. His old drummer Seb Shelton ironically joined the new incarnation of Dexys which produced the astonishing 'Plan B' and the striking image that was part-boxer and part-monk.
The breakaway Dexys faction called itself The Bureau, and produced an awesomely inspiring single in 'Only For Sheep', which carried on that core Dexys brass-led soulful roar, and indeed matched even 'There There My Dear' for belligerent rebel-rousing. What I didnít realise was that The Bureau also recorded a Pete Wingfield-produced set which is only now released in this blighted island nearly quarter of a century on. Itís completely wonderful too, and in the absence of new Dexys recordings itís a soulstirring treat. It ainít the real thing, but itís close. And of course co-conspirators Pete Williams and Mick Talbot would be so spectacularly reunited with Kevin Rowland in 2003.
The soul/ríníb bedrock forms the foundations of the Immediate Mod Box Set too. The mod thing is a bit of a red herring in some ways, but it depends how literal you want to be. Have you ever come across the paper Dick Hebdige wrote for the University of Birmingham in 1974? I think it should be learnt by rote in all schools, but thatís an argument for another day. Anyway in his paper Hebdige argues that: ďLike most primitive vocabularies, each word of the universal pop newspeak is a prime symbol and serves a dozen or a hundred functions of communication. Thus Ďmodí came to refer to several distinct styles, being used to cover everything which contributed to the recently lauded myth of Ďswinging Londoní ÖĒ.
So, yes, the Immediate box set is very mod. Itís mod as social/artistic chameleon and appropriator. Taking the Small Faces and PP Arnold as the base, the Immediate kaleidoscope can be twisted in all sorts of directions, through ríníb, jazz, blues, baroque pop, soul, rocksteady and mod noise. Among the magical moments are the soul inflected femme pop of Twinkle and Goldie. Thereís nothing from Mark Murphyís Immediate set, but lifeís not perfect and thatís readily available still. Best of all are the contributions from the Poets and Fleur de Lys. Two groups that are among the best of the pop outsiders of the mid to late Ď60s, along side say the Sorrows, Attack, Koobas, Riot Squad, Artwoods, Wimple Winch and so on. In other words not quite up there with The Action and The Creation, but right up there nevertheless.
The Fleur de Lys are represented here by the infamous cover of The Whoís 'Circles' and the better still 'So Come On', which is almost a definitive blast of mod noise. There is an excellent career-spanning compilation out there if you shop around. Sadly there doesnít seem to be an official Poets one, which is a tragedy. So at the very least I urge you to buy this mod box set for the track 'Some Things I Canít Forget'. Itís thee most gorgeous slice of soul beat. I canít stop playing it. And maybe just maybe if I behave this week and hold my tongue as my stars seem to suggest Iíll get that Poets compilation tape.
© 2005 John Carney