Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Mike COTTON SOUND: Soul Serenade

On Saturday I found this compilation The Mood Swings: An EMI Music Sampler in the charity shop, buried amidst a pile of what largely looked like the usual collection of music magazine freebies. Actually I had been looking for it for some years and it was one of those quietly electrifying moments which makes the whole used music junkie endeavour worthwhile. As usual, these things always surface when you're NOT specifically looking for them. It was part of a 3 CDs for 99p deal and when I tell you that the other two I picked to make up the numbers were Shut It!: Music From The Sweeney and the superb Hed Kandi Back To Love 3 2CD compilation of vintage 12-inch mixes (how often do you see the 12-inch mix of Shannon's "Let The Music Play" on CD, rather than the inapt and inept 3:32 edit which gets lumped onto every compilation ever? Plus Dan Hartman's "Vertigo/Relight My Fire" in its entire nine-and-a-half minute glory plus half-forgotten glories like KC Flight's "Planet E"?) then you'll recognise that it was one of those magical days. Amazed that no one wanted any of these but there you go.

I knew of The Mood Swings because a friend of mine in The Music Industry has had a copy for some time and I quietly grrrr'ed every time he played it. It came out in 2000 and is so obscure that this is probably the first mention it'll get on Google. Unbelievable because it's a fantastic compilation; all (or largely) instrumental and clearly intended only for industry use and circulation - it was a limited edition and several tracks, including the one under consideration today, bear a dubious question mark about copyright ownership on the sleeve credits. It starts off with the Yellow Magic Orchestra's "Firecracker" (what an opener in this Bonfire season!) and then goes all over the place, checking in at familiar stops ("Nut Rocker," "Hit And Miss") before diverting into less expected sideroads (fairly unknown tracks by Les Paul and Sandy Nelson, things like Helmut Zacharias' '64 Olympics theme "Tokyo Melody") and finally, and beautifully, moving into Warpland with tracks from Plone, Boards of Canada, Jimi Tenor and others, settling perfectly with Nightmares on Wax's "Les Nuits" as a closer.

It's a brilliant anthology and this track in particular - track 2 - is totally unavailable on CD. One of those meat-and-spuds R&B tunes that seemingly everyone and their dog covered - King Curtis recorded the original version - this reading has an extra, rather frightening spark to its strut. These days Mike Cotton is better known as a stalwart of the UK trad jazz scene but for a period in the sixties his band went into R&B mode and became reliable backers of many visiting American soul stars. This version of "Soul Serenade" - in its King Curtis manifestation, already a huge floorfiller on the nascent Northern Soul scene - was recorded specifically for use as the theme tune to Mike Raven's pioneering Radio 1 R&B show which ran throughout the late sixties and very early seventies. Mike Raven - now there was a life, or several lives compressed into one. Tall, saturnine and lightly bearded, he came across as a slightly unsettling missing link between Peter Wyngarde and Charlie Gillett. But he lived; wartime Army officer, ballet dancer, photographer, explorer, actor and then - well into his mid-forties - a DJ, and a hugely influential one at that. And after that he went back to acting (in Hammer and Amicus horror films) before spending the last quarter-century or so of his life as a farmer and acclaimed sculptor. I very much doubt whether today's call centre probot drones with their Better Music Mixes could even begin to match that. His was an absolutely fascinating life and I draw your attention to this very fine tribute website. Really it ought to be an example to all of us. The whole process of life is about change and if you don't change your life regularly it's not worth having.

But "Soul Serenade." That lovely, winking come-into-the-parlour five-note carillon of organ and bass guitar before erupting into a lusty, high-pitched brass shuffle. Superb guitar solo - from, I believe, Micky Moody, later of Whitesnake - and a fevered Hammand solo where you can actually hear the keys rattling like St Peter's impatient bouncer - and then a hysterical, volcanic and totally unexpected (if extremely abrupt) coda. Simultaneously brutalist and welcoming, and worth grabbing whenever and wherever you see it.
(UPDATE: No sooner had I posted this yesterday than I saw in the paper that Luther Dixon, co-writer of "Soul Serenade," had died. RIP big man indeed.)