Saturday, 18 February 2017


Contenders for coolest band on the planet, Spain’s The Limboos, have a new album, Limbootica! out on 31 March. Here’s the super stylish video for ‘I Don’t Buy It’. Album to be released on Penniman Records. They might not buy it but I will.

And for good measure here’s ‘Big Chef’ from their 2014 album Space Mambo.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Wilson Pickett was one the biggest soul stars of the 60s yet is often overlooked and taken for granted. I’ve a bunch of his singles, from early sides on Double L (‘Baby Call On Me’) and Verve (‘Let Me Be Your Boy’) to the humongous hits for Atlantic (you know the ones) but rarely pay him much mind. There’s probably an element of unconscious soul snobbery at work here; Wilson wasn’t an obscure and underappreciated talent and he didn’t die with early promise unfulfilled; instead, he worked his way up, hit it big then floundered through the decades with decreasing artistic reward. Pickett also inadvertently provided fodder for karaoke nights and wedding bands everywhere and while ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ still packs an almighty punch I never want to hear ‘Mustang Sally’ again.

Tony Fletcher’s new biography, In The Midnight Hour, succeeds in turning the spotlight back to Wilson Pickett y’all. Although the first Pickett biography his story reads a familiar one as with unerring predictability his life plays out as the archetypal 60s soul star. If reads like a work of unoriginal fiction and a cliché, it was Pickett, more than most, who established it as he walked toe-to-toe with the progression of black American music during a sizable chunk of the second half of the 20th century.

From growing up poor in Prattville, Alabama, to Pickett’s father moving to work in the motor trade in Detroit, to young Wilson singing gospel, joining the more R&B-focussed Falcons in Detroit, recording in New York, sessions at Stax in Memphis and Muscle Shoals back in Alabama, huge success with the trappings that bought, to helping switch attention to the soul of Philadelphia, to performing in Africa, Pickett carried the flame. Then came the downward spiral. Pickett struggled to find a place in the music business when soul shifted from hitting hard in the guts and deep in the heart to the disco era, skittering across emotions and dancefloors.

As Pickett’s star waned his descent into drink, drugs and increased violence escalated alarmingly and stays in prison beckoned. “It’s very difficult to get somebody who’s been to the top of mountain to accept that they’ve living on the hillside,” offers Jon Tiven who attempted to help get Pickett back on track in the 90s. 

As always with Tony Fletcher, he put the miles in to interview as many associates as possible to compile a thorough account of his subject. There are plenty of anecdotes telling of Pickett’s greatness: his dynamic stage presence, the way he commanded the studio, his artistry, charisma and humour. And, of course, that voice and that scream. Jerry Wexler said James Brown screamed but Wilson Pickett screamed in tune.

On the other side of the coin was The Wicked Pickett, a nickname earned from pinching the mini-skirted behinds of secretaries in the Atlantic Records offices. If we recoil at such practices nowadays it was small fry compared to what was to come. Fletcher asserts “for most southern blacks of the era, harsh physical discipline was accepted as a rite of passage” and harsh physical discipline was something Pickett took from his childhood and delivered in adult life. It makes grim reading and when added to beating women and his children, pulling a gun on his brother, serving up a saucer of cocaine to his 14-year-old son and a bunch of other assholery it’s hard not to feel when his bass player rips a towel rail off a wall to smash Pickett in the head, breaking the bone behind his left eye, that he didn’t have it coming. If this was a movie a little cheer may've gone up in the cinema.

If such passages make uncomfortable reading, Fletcher’s analysis and descriptions of Pickett’s music are enthralling and redress the balance. Such is Fletcher’s enthusiasm he does what any good music biographer should, and sends the reader back to the records. For my part I bought the first five Wilson Pickett albums (check out the Original Album Series, five CDs for little more than a tenner) and have listened with fresh, excited ears. I like him more now and although still not the biggest fan of that sock-it-to-me chuggy-chugging brand of soul, gems aplenty have surfaced. ‘Jealous Love’ and ‘I’ve Come A Long Way’ alone from 1967’s excellent I’m In Love are new favourites and have, at last, given me a fuller and fairer assessment of the Wicked (sometimes very wicked) Pickett. Oh yeah, he also turned 'Hey Jude' into a decent record so he definitely wasn't all bad.

In The Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett by Tony Fletcher is out now, published by Oxford University Press.

Saturday, 11 February 2017


Apologies for lack of posts recently, should have a couple to go this week. In the meantime, as a thank you for popping by, here's Diana Rigg walking in the park (looks like Embankment Gardens to me). See ya soon.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017


Hold tight comrades, Monkey’s Wandering Wireless Show returns for an hour this Sunday on Fusion.

If you’ve not listened before it’s simply me playing records and intermittently interrupting them to provide information and half-truths. If you’ve never listening before, give it a go – Fusion only broadcasts for one hour a week and whoever is in the chair makes it an unmissable part of the weekend – and if you have, don’t let that put you off, I’m hopefully slowly getting the hang of this broadcasting lark. The music will cover a few bases but if you’re a reader of Monkey Picks you’ll dig it.

You can join up to to chat and comment throughout the show, or just sit back and tune in. Either way, hope to catch you there, it'll be fun. Honest. The station crackles into life at 8.30pm prompt.

Now available to catch-up on the Fusion Showreel: Monkey's Wandering Wireless Show.

Sunday, 29 January 2017


1.  The Byrds – ‘My Back Pages (alternative version)’ (1967)
Oh wow, how have I only now heard this version with spooky, spacey organ? Was already a brilliant track, now even better.

2.  Helene Smith – ‘You Got To Be A Man’ (1969)
Liberally stealing from JB’s ‘Out of Sight’, ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ and ‘It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World’, Helene’s 45 is almost a cheeky medley. Produced by Little Beaver, which isn’t especially relevant but I just wanted to write it.

3.  Dee Clark – ’24 Hours of Loneliness’ (1970)
A far superior and more atmospheric version of the Dennis Yost & The Classics' hit and a 45 which almost makes me forgive Clark for subjecting me to countless hearings of the abomination that is ‘That’s My Girl’. One slight quibble is it fades out too quickly; not something I usually complain about.

4.  Geraldo Pino – ‘Heavy, Heavy, Heavy’ (1970)
Sierra Leone’s afro-funk legend Geraldo Pino’s woman is heavy, heavy, heavy. Think that’s a compliment.

5.  O. V. Wright – ‘Ace of Spades’ (1970)
Super southern soul man Wright didn’t – for some unfathomable reason – trouble the charts much despite a long career (although imprisonment for drug offences didn’t help). ‘Ace of Spades’, a mean funky stew, hit number 54 on the US Pop Chart and was his most successful 45.

6.  Colin Blunstone – ‘Misty Roses’ (1971)
After a shaky start to his 100 Club gig last week Colin Blunstone put on an enjoyable show for the best part of two hours with only three Zombies songs and the rest taken from his solo records. When the band dropped back to allow Colin’s voice air to breathe, such as on Tim Hardin’s ‘Misty Roses’, the results were spellbinding; you could’ve heard a pin drop.

7.  Oscar Brown Jr – ‘A Dime Away From A Hot Dog’ (1972)
Laid-back deep funk from the ever-poetic Oscar on this opening cut from his Movin’ On LP. A killer band featuring David ‘Fathead’ Newman offer breaks a-plenty.

8.  Georgie Fame – ‘Thanking Heaven’ (1976)
Don’t let the year and that this was a B-side put you off, this is Georgie in swinging soul mood complete with Memphis-style horns.

9.  Otis Clay – ‘Wild Horses’ (1997)
The arrangement sticks close to the Stones and the Burritos but Clay’s vocal is all him.

10.  Conor Oberst – ‘A Little Uncanny’ (2017)
The first great track of 2017 goes to Conor Oberst for this Jane Fonda and Sylvia Path referencing woozy, bluesy, barroom rocker. The video is worth a look too.  

Thursday, 26 January 2017


This rather wonderful Georgie Fame single, performed here in Offenbach, Germany, reached a respectable number 15 in the UK singles chart in March 1967. Written by Georgie and John Shakespeare, I’m unable to ascertain with any certainty who penned the immortal line, “You look so good, I’m touching wood”. Whoever it was, take a bow.

Sunday, 22 January 2017


Curtis Mayfield sits at the top table of my musical heroes, next to Bob Dylan, basked in heavenly light. Curtis’s carefully considered, softly spoken voice, gentle soul and vast catalogue of cajoling civil rights’ anthems, tender love songs, stirring soundtracks and state of the nation addresses have granted him saintly status.

But what do we really know about Curtis, the man? Written by Todd Mayfield, Curtis’s second-eldest son, with Travis Atria, this new and long overdue biography paints the fullest picture to date: detailing both his genius and sides of his personality hitherto unknown to fans such as I.

The first thing to note is this biography hasn’t been authorized – nor endorsed - by the estate of Curtis Mayfield. Mayfield had ten children and following his death one can only imagine the bunfight over control of his estate. It’s a shame this book isn’t officially recognised – there’s no mention of it on the Curtis Mayfield website – as it’s a respectful, considered, articulate and loving portrait. It’s abundantly apparent how proud Todd is of his father, particularly how his music is indelibly entwined with the civil rights movement. It does however reveal elements of Curtis’s character that smudge his clean reputation. While nothing too extreme, when compared to many other soul superstars, among his considerable strengths he – like anyone – had weaknesses.

Growing up in Chicago, poor, a quiet and solitary child, insecure of his looks, beaten at school, shackled him with the classroom nickname Smut – a dark stain or blot – music offered a chance to be somebody and control his destiny. In music and business, Curtis was a quick learner. In 1958, and at the tender age of 15 he was in the Impressions, with a hit record under his belt, and on stage at the Apollo; by 18, he’d already formed his own publishing company, something relatively unheard of for young black performers bar Sam Cooke, and soon settled on a mantra of “own yourself”. Curtis Mayfield possessed an intense need for control in all areas. He was also shrewd, determined, talented and blessed with both a distinctive voice and unique guitar tuning. Some combination.

Mayfield’s prolific work rate was superhuman. Not only writing and performing for the Impressions throughout the entire 1960s (and to an unfaltering standard, there is no bad Impressions period during that decade, if you can find me any other group to do that, I'm all ears) he was racking up hits for Major Lance, Billy Butler, Gene Chandler and other artists for Okeh Records; for Jerry Butler at Vee-Jay; and providing material for acts such as the Five Stairsteps and the Fascinations on his own Windy C and Mayfield labels. Come the 1970s, he’d left the Impressions yet continued to work with them and in the first seven years of going solo wrote fifteen studio albums for himself and others. That he sustained such high quality-control for so long is nothing short of miraculous.

Beyond the music, Todd Mayfield reveals a man of surprising contradictions. Curtis made a phenomenal amount of records yet scarcely listened to others’ music; he helped soundtrack the civil rights movement and was ‘socially conscious’ yet never voted; wrote songs containing deep spirituality yet wasn’t particularly religious. He was relaxed and easy going with musicians yet a borderline recluse at home, more comfortable locked in his room than socialising with friends and family.

Then there are those weaknesses, and it’s likely the exposure of these have rattled the cage of Mayfield’s estate. Curtis, possibly understandably considering his formative years, never learnt to keep it in his trousers once opportunities presented themselves. There are some drug issues; I wouldn’t expect otherwise. Harder and sadder to read are the temperamental outbursts of violence towards his partners. Todd doesn’t shy away from these issues and credit to him for that although he frequently appears to excuse his father’s less savoury and divided side on him being a Gemini, which is handy to know if you’re born within that star sign.

The final chapter in Curtis’s story is, of course, one of utter tragedy. I had to brace myself simply to read it, so goodness knows what it took to write. At an open-air show in Brooklyn on 13 August 1990, Curtis Mayfield was introduced to the audience. He walked across the stage, guitar strapped across his body, and then “Hell paid him a visit”. It was the last time he walked or felt his guitar. Gusts of wind sent lighting rigs crashing into the back of Curtis’s neck. He was 48 and spent the rest of his life a quadriplegic. The longest living quadriplegic on record survived ten years. Curtis lasted, often in sheer agony, for nine, never succumbing to self-pity or asking – aloud at least – ‘Why me?’

Traveling Soul is essential reading, packed with revelations and puts Mayfield's music in context of the times. Todd’s assessments of his father’s albums are even-handed and his insight into his character illuminating. It contains a mix of thorough research and personal experience. He tells it like it was, sugar coating nothing. It’s real, it feels like the truth, from the heart. Perhaps Todd occasionally overplays Curtis’s influence and legacy but that’s understandable, it’s his dad after all. For me, after reading this, Curtis Mayfield might not have been a saint but his heavenly light shines brighter than ever.

Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield by Todd Mayfield with Travis Atria is published by Chicago Review Press, out now.
Todd and Curtis Mayfield