Hello, how’s your July going? Records worth buying seem a bit thin on the ground this summer. But life could be a lot worse: at least I didn’t go to Glasto. I know I’m a moany old git, but the very idea of standing in a field with the sun beating down while Dolly Parton is playing the Benny Hill theme on a weeny saxophone to a rapturous reception gives me the creeps. Is this any better than what passes for music on Britain’s Got Talent? No doubt I’ve missed something here. I am sure Ms Parton was marvellous, and that Metallica’s triumph was well deserved, blah blah, but if I want to go to a festival, I’ll go to a harvest festival. Or even a Harvest festival, if such a thing exists, but not Glastonbury. I used to work at NME and from springtime onwards you were plagued by new best friends, because they thought you could get them tickets for Glastonbury. Believe me, if I’d had any, they could have had them. It’s just too big, too epic, too obvious, too ritualistic. Surely it’s like spending a weekend with a radio which is playing rubbish most of the time, yet you can’t turn it off.
I was sorry to hear that Bobby Womack passed away last Friday. Womack was a touchstone to generations, and not just those who got into him in the early 70s, when he was in his prime. Before I was given licence to write down any old cobblers that happened to ping into my head, I used to work in engineering. At lunchtimes I’d wander the streets of Islington looking for vinyl; junk shops on Upper Street, and Exmouth Market before the poshos moved in; the record shop on Chapel Street where a friendly Rasta called Cornelius dispensed lovers rock and disdained pickpockets; Vintage Record Centre on Roman Way if I had my bike with me, which I often did; later on, Reckless near Screen On The Green. A pile of unplayed Blue Beat 45s, a few Northern singles, In Memory Of Don Drummond, and no doubt a fair amount of trash that my selective memory has chosen to ignore; all came into the office to brighten up an afternoon (old habits die hard). One lunchtime I bought a copy of Bobby Womack’s Communication and left it on the desk. A colleague made a beeline for it. “I didn’t know you liked this sort of music,” she said. “Are you a soul boy?” Yes, I said, a lie at that point, though I was freewheeling downhill in that direction with no brakes. “This is a great album,” she said. “I love his version of Close To You.” Well, there are better tracks on the album, although I didn’t know this at the time, having not taken this copy home yet. And I never would. “Can I have it?” my chum asked, batting lengthy eyelashes eagerly. “I really love it.” I told her I wanted it, but she persisted. “Oh, go on Ian. I haven’t heard it for years.” What the hell. It was only a quid, so I let her have it. A month or so later I found another, and was surprised to find her at my desk again: “Can I have that for my mate?” No eyelashes are long enough to get hold of two copies of that LP.
A few short years later, Bobby Womack was making one of his periodic comebacks. While the music press had barely noticed, his The Poet album was a runaway success on the indie Beverly Glen label in 1981 and copies were being snapped up in the UK as fast as they could be imported – this was before Motown belatedly picked it up here. I took my future wife to see him at the Hammersmith Odeon for the Poet II tour in 1984; she came up on the train from Devon to see it. The underrated Alltrinna Grayson was singing Patti Labelle’s duet parts. Stevie Wonder was in the audience and Womack called him up on stage to deliver an impromptu duet of Donny Hathaway’s Someday We’ll All Be Free. The band played a gentle vamp while Stevie was led to the mic to tumultuous cheers, and he started to speak. “When you are an artist it’s really wonderful…” purred Stevie, opening a monologue, apparently of no specific content. After maybe five minutes of this, a bemused Bobby grabbed the mic and said “Hey Stevie, I thought this was my show,” and gestured for the band to start playing the song proper. Stevie opened his mouth to sing, then cracked up with laughter: “I don’t know the words!”
At the time I was making my overconfident break into music journalism and pretty much took it for granted when two years later I was interviewing Mr Womack for Melody Maker. He’d signed to MCA and for reasons I can barely imagine, was shooting a lousy promo video in a recreation ground about 500 yards from the squat I was living in at Leyton, East London. I had about 30 minutes with him while the crew was setting up. Womack was a decent interviewee, better than his inexperienced interrogator, but had a butterfly mind. More than once, a disbelieving female fan would realise that here was a soul legend in the grim little park she cut through every day, and the second she walked up to him and asked, “Are you Bobby Womack?”, the singer would say “Why, yes, baby,” and shift into full love man mode. He’d then stroll across the park with her, having genuinely forgotten what he was doing, while his exasperated PR and I were trying to keep his mind on the job rather than, er, on the job. I guess it goes with the territory. Anyway, goodbye Bobby Womack, you lit up lots of lives while living your own chaotic one. You will be missed.
We’re currently wrestling with the next issue. Three falls or a submission will bring you Kate Bush, Dutch prog, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Strummer on telly, The Vibrators, the great Chip Taylor, CSNY and Morrissey reviews and the chance to pick up an album which returns to the roots of this entire record collecting schmozzle. But like I say, the fight goes on. I’d better knuckle down to it. Thank you for reading this newsletter and the mag. Keep Your Soul Together, as someone once said…
Ian McCann (Editor)