Thursday, 23 February 2017


“It’s taken a long time, a real long time, but we made it.” When Betty Harris retired from performing in 1970 she could have had no inkling nearly 50 years later she’d be headlining a sell-out London show.

Buoyed by the upturn in interest since last year’s Soul Jazz Records’ The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul, which gathered 17 tracks issued between 1965 and 1969 for Sansu under the direction of the legendary Allen Toussaint, Betty was afforded one of those hero receptions UK soul audiences are renown for.

As that collection showed, Betty was equally adept at R&B dancers, soul ballads and the lolloping New Orleans rhythms intrinsic to music from Louisiana’s Crescent City. Although despite Soul Jazz’s crown, Betty was not from nor ever lived in New Orleans, she was flown in from Florida to record. But that's splitting a beignet.

Shaky opening numbers ‘Mean Man’ and ’12 Red Roses’ indicated this might be a gig where fans were simply glad to be in the rare presence of someone whose records they’ve enjoyed over the years. As Betty told us, these were songs she recorded when she was 19-20 (born in 1939 she was older but you didn't hear that from me) and hasn’t sung some since, but come the third song, a rollicking ‘I Don’t Wanna Hear It’, Betty loosened up, that soulful rasp was to the fore, and we were cooking from there on in.

Backed by the Disposable Breaks, doing their best attempt at hitting the funk of the Meters, ‘Trouble With My Lover’, ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Close To Me’ caught a groove and Betty’s slower take on Solomon Burke’s ‘Cry To Me’ – the closest she came to a real hit in 1963 – carried real emotion and experience.

Whilst fans were there to give something back, Betty, resplendent in glamourous gown and wearing her best hair, also had her own giving to do. Of her three backing singers, two were young teenage girls who’d not had the best start in life but had been offered a chance to come to the UK and sing. Betty acknowledged they found her intimidating but countered nobody was there to help guide her early in her career. Apologies for not catching the girls’ names but they should be proud of the job they did especially when handed the entire lead for ‘Can’t Last Much Longer’. The baton was passed.

Few people recorded a better version of ‘Ride Your Pony’ and after that irresistible mover Betty was brought back for a well-earned encore with the heavy funk bomb ‘There’s A Break In The Road’.

A cackling, engaging presence throughout, it was a joy to spend an hour in Betty’s company and this gig was everything, if not more, anyone could’ve hoped for. Betty was correct, it did take a long time but she made it.

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.