My Pop Life #81 : The Virginian Theme – Percy Faith Orchestra

Featured image

The Virginian Theme   –   Percy Faith Orchestra

Featured image

He was a cowboy in a black hat and a black shirt.   He didn’t have a name.  Played by James Drury for nine years between 1962 and 1971 he was The Virginian.  Blond blue-eyed Doug McClure playing Trampas became the star of the show with more back-story and affection than the mysterious Virginian.  We tuned in like clockwork.  This was the imprinting of young minds with propaganda – how the west was won, with hard work and punch-ups, no black people or chinese, a few dodgy characters here and there, but The Virginian always won the day, tidied them away and restored calm and peace on the ranch.  How we longed for the world to be like that.  A key show in my village youth, both in black and white and later in colour.

Featured image

And of course the show became the fertiliser for my cowboy games with Steven Criddle in the village fields and barns, using bits of wood as rifles and shotguns, running behind bales of straw and hay to avoid those pesky arrows being fired from the Comanche  or Sioux raiders.  Peeeow !  went the imaginary bullets.  We ducked, scrambled, shimmied along on our bellies, made frantic hand signals from behind tractors and hedges.  Steven Criddle’s house was full of dogs.  He lived nearest to the railway at the bottom end of the village.  It was a busy house, full of people, his mum, his dad, other kids, and pugs,  loads of pugs and puppies.  We would cycle from his house over the railway line and into the far-flung territory of Chalvington and Ripe, finding streams to fish in, learning the network of country roads.  The more complex army games would be in Selmeston itself, and probably took over from cowboy games when we were about 9 years old.

Featured image

Now I’m a grown up cowboy I can see what a one-sided view we were all given.  In 1971 Soldier Blue came out but I’ve never seen it.  Buffy Saint Marie did the haunting song.  We all became aware of the story of the United States being drenched in blood.  And it was a story that we had started back in 1504, in Virginia, a story re-told in Terrence Malick’s outstanding film The New World.   Growing up, we had Bonanza, Rawhide and The Virginian.  Films like The Big Country, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, Rio Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, Cat Ballou.  All had these sweeping soundtracks which seem to my untrained ear to be linked in some vague musical way.  Stephen Wrigley would know the answer to this – maybe they’re all major chords with 6ths or something, anyway, by the late 60s and 1970s the spaghetti western took over, darker stories with darker characters, with outstanding soundtracks by Ennio Morricone.   The Wild Bunch directed by the great Sam Peckinpah, McCabe and Mrs Miller directed by Robert Altman, The Outlaw Josey Wales directed by Clint Eastwood are all among my favourite films.  The western always had a basic appeal to me, the scenery, the scenario.

Featured imagePercy Faith wrote the music for The Virginian.   A Canadian bandleader and orchestrator he became known as the king of easy-listening, softening the big-band arrangements of the swing era and heralding a new era of pipe-and-slippers lounge music, “The Light Programme” as the BBC would have it – the kind of music you simply have to hate when you’re a teenager – gentle light arrangements of famous tunes, elevator music, stuff that Brian Eno would be getting into by the late 1970s, but which Percy Faith was exploring in the 1950s.  Theme From A Summer Place was his big hit in 1960, but there are many many great tunes including this evergreen theme song from the hit TV show The Virginian.  I could write at least a doxzen different pages for TV theme songs for some of them are simply outstanding, but this one I believe is head and shoulders above the rest.

Featured image

Advertisements

My Pop Life #61 : Fight The Power – Public Enemy

Featured image

Fight The Power   –   Public Enemy

…Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne
‘Cause I’m Black and I’m proud
I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps…

After another election night betrayal, another public display of democracy that makes you want to vomit, all we have left is “each other” people.  We have to fight the powers that be.  England will kick off this summer, once again, the familiar ritual of burning and brick throwing.  Once again Labour has failed to appeal to its core constituency and some of them have voted Green, others UKIP, still others Conservative. Many others didn’t vote at all.

Featured image

…What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless, you say what is this ?   My beloved lets get down to business, Mental self defence and fitness…

The greatest band to come out of the 1980s was Public Enemy.  PE burn with righteous fire against injustice, racism, the media, corruption, laziness, selfishness, privilege, ignorance.   They were one of the reasons that I became a writer in 1987.

Featured image

 When I heard their  first LP “Yo Bum Rush The Show” I was excited by power and truth combining with beats and rhyme, it was exciting and inspiring – but could not prepare me for the monster work of their 2nd LP “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” in 1988.  It was a tidal wave of sound and righteous fury and I couldn’t get enough of it.  I saw them twice live in London that year – or maybe two years running.  Brixton Academy ’87 – ’88.

Featured image

I went with Miss P who was directing my first as-yet-unwritten play and the cast of same as-yet-untitled play:  Rita Wolf (my girlfriend), David Keyes, Kwabena Manso, Gaylie Runciman, Pamela Nomvete and Carl Procter.  We were all researching a play about homelessness, to be expressed at least partly through hip hop.  That’s how it was pitched to the Joint Stock Steering Committee “led by” Caryl Churchill and Max Stafford-Clark.   The resultant play was called “Sanctuary“, directed by Paulette Randall and designed by Jenny Tiramani, and it won me the Samuel Beckett Award 1987 for best first play.

Featured image

Leader, writer and inspiration behind Public Enemy Chuck D is now an elder in the rap world.  In 1987 he was a revelation.  His lyrics, his delivery, his fury, his tone are all second to none.  I don’t think technically he is the best rapper – that honour goes to Rakim for me – but Rakim pretty much sticks to one subject ie: what a great rapper Rakim is.  Chuck D and PE cover the waterfront.   DJ Terminator X was also scratching records in ways unheard of at that point, not just samples, but noise pure and simple, and the production team of Hank & Keith Shocklee and Eric Sadler “The Bomb Squad” invented a whole new vocabulary of sound : screeching, chopped up quotes from many sources, layered, punchy, visceral and powerful.  The genius addition of Flavor Flav, the joker in the pack, wearing a huge clock “so you know what time it is” and chirruping support from the sidelines (“yeeeah boyeee“) made the package complete – a black gang to take on the white establishment and kick it in its holy nuts.

Featured image

Hence the Elvis/John Wayne quote above.   Deliberately provocative, it comes from a lifetime of being a second-class citizen in a first-world nation.   The pure anger in their work becomes a creative force in itself, and the potency of Fight The Power, (taken from album number three Fear Of A Black Planet which should have been released in 1989 but eventually appeared in 1990) has not been matched by any protest song or rallying cry ever recorded.  It is a seriously pumped-up rhythm, sampling James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Syl Johnson and 16 other tracks in a huge sound which was ubiquitous that summer of 1989 when it soundtracked Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing, and the hot summer in Brooklyn kicking off.

Featured image

*

In 1989 I was still in full B-Boy mode.  I’d adopted the hip-hop look in 1987 when the sounds and culture of rap bowled me over.   I had written an American version of Sanctuary that summer called Sanctuary D.C., researched and set in Washington DC.   And I had the genesis of a new piece forming, all in verse, commissioned by the BBC.   George Faber it was who asked me in early 1990 to write something in rap from that culture, I was the white emissary from the front line.   I came up with a rhyme play called The House That Crack Built, set in Washington DC and based on the street life I had experienced there in the summer of 1989, the summer of Do The Right Thing.  I nearly got stabbed in D.C. outside a downtown men’s shelter when my bicycle was surrounded by homeless guys who wanted to know what I was doing.  “you’re a european” one of them accused.  “How did you know?” I answered with naive foolishness “I’m English“.  He meant I was white.  There were 20 of them around me, one guy circling the outside giving me glimpses of a large knife inside his coat.  He looked insane.  I spoke sincerely about my desire for a colour-blind future and they probably pitied my twattishness and let me cycle off.  My general foolhardy youthful naivitée probably saved me a few times that summer, researching the American version of my English hit play.  Chatting to crack dealers on the wrong corner.  At night.  But somehow I got away with it.

Back in London 1990, George Faber didn’t get the play I’d delivered at all.  He asked me to produce a week’s workshop and show him a handful of scenes.  I’d anticipated this, and hired a handful of actors who had to prove they could rap in a brief audition.  My lead was the amazing Roger Griffith, one of my favourite actors.  His buddy was played by Michael Buffong, now a first-rate prize-winning director at The National theater, Royal Exchange and Talawa.  Mum was ‘Dame’ Dona Croll of course, whose five-year old daughter had just arrived from Jamaica – so cute – with best friend Jo Martin, the bad guy was Calvin Simpson, who tragically died shortly after the workshop, a lorry knocking him off his bicycle on Waterloo roundabout.  That was a terribly sad funeral.   We filed past the open casket in church, and he was so dead.    I remember him as a great actor and a man who insisted on wearing odd socks.  Years ahead of his time.   Chris Tummings and Jenny Jules completed the cast, but Jenny got a bad asthma attack and was hospitalised and had to be recast at the last minute.  Did Pamela Nomvete fill the breach?  Ashamed to say I can’t remember….but I think so….anyway we worked hard all week, bringing a few scenes to life, learning how to rap in dialogue.   It worked really well, rap is naturally really dramatic and perfect for stage or dramatic work – it’s not unlike Shakespeare or Greek drama.  But Faber and his small BBC gang who came to watch on the Friday afternoon (including his secretary – his barometer) didn’t get it.  He had a meeting with me the week after and said “why is it set in America?“,  I said “Because there’s no crack scene in the UK“.   He said “well change the drug then“.  The casual lazy sweeping generalisation.  Crack was different to every drug I’d ever come across.   Totally.  His well-meaning liberal racism was shocking in the end.  “We brush past these people in the street every day – what do they feel?“.    So depressing.   The piece wasn’t taken forward, and has never been produced anywhere.   If it was mounted now it would be proper old skool rap history, all about Bush and Amerikkka.

*

Years later in 2003 I was on the set of another aborted project which I’d written – a film called Red Light Runners.  Bits of it are online somewhere.  Long bitter story – for another post.  That was the experience that stopped me writing.  Bookend contribution.  I was talking to Tricky, who was in our cast, about Fight The Power since he had covered the Public Enemy track Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos on his first album rather brilliantly with Martina Topley-Bird sing-songing the rap lyrics.   We were sitting on the top deck of a bus waiting for something or other to happen.  Probably filming at Centrepoint ?  Anyway, I asked him about the exact quote at the top of the page about Elvis Presley, and we went on to talk about how brilliant Elvis was, especially in the early days.  Elvis was a hero to me, but so were Public Enemy.  I didn’t have a problem with that but I couldn’t quite articulate why.   But I trust Chuck D.  We agreed he was a provocateur and stirring the shitpot.  There’s always been debate about the good ole boy Elvis and how he treated black people, but you’ll need to listen to the ’68 comeback tapes to get the rest of that story.  Racist – in the sense that any kid from Memphis was racist in 1954 – probably.  But Racist with a capital R – no, don’t believe it.  He melded black and white music together.  He listened to gospel music on the radio and loved it, mixed it with hillbilly music.  Elvis = no racist.  But the racial divisions of America are so deep and so scarred that you can see them from the moon, and Chuck D and PE needed to hold up white icons in order to shoot them down.   It’s a polemic.   It’s a position.

Featured image

Chuck has since blurred the quote : on the LP it’s scarcely audible.   You can hear it on the original single, and the film soundtrack clear as a bell however.  Its impact was huge.   They always flirted with controversy, particularly in the shape of Minister of Information Professor Griff, who left PE after an unfortunate quote about Jewish people, but at their heart they are fundamentally about telling the truth to power.

We all have to carry on, despite defeats, setback and disappointments.  What choice do we have?  In the late 80s, Public Enemy were the soundtrack to change.  They still are.  Live – I’ve seen them five times – they are astonishing, nowadays using a live band and covering songs like Edwin Starr’s “War”.   The retain all their power and urgency.  For what, if anything, has changed ?

clip from Do The Right Thing :

My Pop Life #60 : Theme From “Shaft” – Isaac Hayes

Featured image

Theme From ‘Shaft’   –   Isaac Hayes

“…who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks ?  Shaft !  Damn right

Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?  Shaft !  Can you dig it?

Who’s the cat that walk about when there’s danger all about ?  Shaft !  Right on…”

Featured image

I first met Paulette Randall in the spring of 1984, at some rehearsal rooms in north London – I think – where she was Assistant Director to Danny Boyle, directing a play by Alan Brown for the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court called PANIC!    The first read-through took us around five hours, and it had been even longer than that.  The rehearsal period was short, and concentrated on making the play shorter.  The play was mental.  There were scenes between pets that spoke (they had mini-speakers inside them).  David Fielder played Pan, with hairy legs and a giant cock and balls, and he was castrated on Polaroid halfway through the second half.  The set was a house on a clifftop about to fall into the sea.  the family were from all over Britain – Dad was Welsh (Alan David), Mum was Geordie (Val McClane), oldest son was scouse (Ken Sharrock RIP), his wife was home counties (Marion Bailey), second son was cockney (me) and daughter was west country (Harriet Bagnall).   I believe we ate the brains of the indian newsagent for dinner, listened to Parsifal and Beethoven and waited for the apocalypse.   Danny marshalled all of this joy with charm and humour assisted by Paulette.  I liked Paulette very much and we started to hang out together.   I met her sister Beverley shortly afterwards, perhaps once the play had opened in a wine bar on Sloane Square.   Little did I know at the time that I had entered a very special world.

Featured image

Beverley and Paulette were brought up in Brixton and Clapham by their Jamaican parents during the 60s/70s.  They were the first black people I’d actually made friends with.  Or who had made friends with me.  I’d studied with, worked with, but never really hung out.   At some point that summer of 84, waiting for the apocalypse, I ended up on Clapham Common near to where P lived, and still does, on William Bonney Estate.  She introduced me to her friend David Lawrence, a postman with an absurd streak and a wry sense of humour.  I can’t remember what we were drinking but it could have been a bottle of whisky.  We sat on a bench in the wee small hours laughing.  Laughing hard.  I remember little about what made us laugh so much.    In fact was Beverley there too ?  I wonder – she worked at Coutts the bank at the time on the Strand.   Lost to drink now – except for two distinct moments.  At one point around 3am we stopped talking and just sang.  One of the highlights of the night was “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers, a performance that David can actually conjure up on command like a performing seal, and so, to be fair , can I.    This never fails to bring the house down when David does it, unless he does it twice…or three times…then he will be cussed.   Of course, we all knew all the words.  The other song was Shaft by Isaac Hayes, in particular the lines quoted above which I knew off by heart, and performed as if in an Isaac Hayes cover band..

“…they say this cat Shaft is a bad mother – ‘shut your mouth!’

but I’m talking ’bout Shaft  –  ‘then we can dig it’

He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman

John Shaft !”

… almost made Paulette wet herself.  I guess you had to be there.

Featured image

For many years we would gather at Paulette’s flat, usually on a Saturday night, call it Club 61 and drink and smoke until we fell over, playing loud music and shouting at each other.  A clan of regulars would congregate – and I’m cutting forward now to the 90s when I was with Jenny – including Eugene McCaffrey, Nicky, Randall cousins Janet & Donna, Pat, cousins Jackie & Debbie, Sharon Henry, Elaine McKenzie, Michael Whiting, cousin Atlee, many others, whoever Paulette was working with at the time, people would arrive at all hours, drink would be drunk, people would dance, Paulette would DJ, people would shout more.   It was funny.  It was great.  It was release.  It was family.  With the exception of Simon Korner, soul brother from school, Paulette has remained my best friend.   She would go on to direct Sanctuary, the play I wrote for Joint Stock, she would witness my wedding, I was one of the first people she called when Danny Boyle asked her to help him to direct the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games.   She and Beverley are chalk and cheese but inseparable and equal.  They were living together when we met, peas in a pod.  It’s a long story.  Theme From Shaft was one of our early bonding moments.  How powerful a song can be.

Featured image

Isaac Hayes joined Stax Records in 1963 as a session musician, started filling in for Booker T on keys when he was away at Indiana University and in1965 wrote Sam & Dave’s first hit : I Take What I Want with partner David Porter.  Porter/Hayes would write and produce a string of brilliant soul singles for Sam and Dave almost unmatched in the 1960s for the consistent level of genius.  His 1969 solo LP Hot Buttered Soul was Stax Records bestseller of that year, and was followed up by 2 more in the same vein before he was asked to write the music for Gordon Park’s black detective movie hero Shaft, played by actor Richard Roundtree in 1971.   The resulting single was a new level of symphonic soul which was very much of its time – the Temptations and Stylistics were on similar ground as was the whole Philadelphia Sound.  The wah-wah guitar shape is simply iconic, the piano dark and dramatic, the arrangement tight and superb, it changes shape adds instruments, textures before the break and those words “who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?”  I mean, by then – 2.30 into the song (a record length intro) we actually want to know, this is the genius of the song.  Shaft !   It’s got a bit of Pearl and Dean, funked out of its tiny mind and forced to groove.  It’s a Theme, more than a song.  It’s a moment in musical culture.  It’s an extra-ordinary tune.

Bev and Miss P – I love you x

Theme From Shaft :

the actual film credits – slightly faster music and re-recorded, or mixed differently :