Monday, 10 December 2007


In common with most British female pop albums, then and now, Dana Gillespie’s 1968 debut Foolish Seasons is something of a jumble rather than a coherent statement; a trying on of differing pop hats. Its dozen songs were largely produced by the young Wayne Bickerton and arranged by Mike Vickers and run the expected gamut of slop (Les Reed’s execrable MoR dribble of “Souvenirs Of Stefan”) via energetic but unfocused pop (“Tears In My Eyes,” “Can’t You See I’m Dreaming”) and through to the credibility Customs gate – two Billy Nicholls songs, “Life Is Short” and “London Social Degree” (alliteration alert ahem), both of which the teenage Gillespie handles with just the right balance of frailty and nascent venom. Jimmy Page produced and played lead guitar on the lead single, a reading of Donovan’s “You Just Gotta Know My Name” which bounces around with equal expectant buoyancy to Vashti’s “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind.” Despite the recent rave review as part of the Guardian Music thousand – which, not for the first time, raises the question of whether the reviewer was listening to the same record as me – nothing cuts the pop mustard as extravagantly as “Nothin’ But A Heartache” or “Sugar Baby Love” (to name Bickerton’s two most famous productions). Indeed, in her notes to the CD edition Gillespie is markedly reluctant to endorse several of the tracks (she refers to her own “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” as “pretentious twaddle” and terms “Can’t You See I’m Dreaming” as “pretty pedestrian”).

But she is better known now as a blues singer, and “Dead” is easily the album’s most startling track as well as the most accurate pointer to where she was heading (though her knowing reading of Richard Farina’s “Hard Lovin’ Loser” which closes the record runs it a not too distant second). With a breakbeat so tough that you could walk the Brontë Way and back thrice on it – all minimalist organ, scratchy guitar from Page and some mournfully sprightly trumpet improvising from what sounds like a young Mark Charig – Gillespie proclaims her boredom with life in a Cadogan Square vowelly manner somewhere between the Viv Stanshall of “I’m Bored” and the Deborah Strickland-Evans of the Flying Lizards per se: “Leave me alone,” she sighs, “I don’t care no more” in perfect finishing school Estuary English. “I ain’t got nothing to live for,” she yawns, and yet this air of detachment works in the record’s favour as she launches into unsteady but heartfelt pleas to let herself end it all with the razor in her hand because her man is not coming back; partly Julie Driscoll in its yearning and with definite ambitions beyond the fan mags. As she herself admits in the sleevenote, however, you have to live and learn before you can truly sing the blues; her next album dropped the orchestra and went back to basics, cut as it was with Brit blues stalwarts Savoy Brown; although in the dripping semi-despair of “Dead” we also hear predications of her brief early seventies adventures under Bowie’s wing, even if Annette Peacock took it out further. It is to be hoped that the likes of Duffy and Adele can be allowed to do similar; why do I already suspect that they are doomed?