Sunday, December 14, 2008

Living In The Material World

And so… we sat down, switched on and watched; the all-knowing, ever-wise voters waited ever-so patiently before eventually getting to mark their telephone ballot cards… with the inevitable result being that the elaborately coiffed poodle beat the boy band’s predictable crew-cuts.

But… was she really the best of the three remaining contenders on last night’s trial by the Factor of X?

The public seemed to think so… but, I beg to differ.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that none of the last three standing were much cop at all – and, I’d not be in the least bit surprised if all of their names were no longer lit by the headlights of the parade in a year or less.

It’s just an opinion of course (my Voltaire) but, I’d like to offer this morsel up for contemplation.

Could it be argued that any one of the three acts on trial-by-tv last night – a gruesome Saturday night viewing segment that was about as entertaining as a public hanging – actually sang from the standpoint of soul?

I’m not coming at this by way of Detroit – the (possibly) more conventional overview of a so-entitled soul singer… Black / white / green / orange / in fact, any colour you like as well as from any genre of music you can think of... my definition is more along the lines of a soul singer being one who reveals their inner-being when they sing.

Someone who’s in possession of something truly special. One whose vocal delivery really touches the heart; who reaches deep into their soul to project the lyrics being sung.

It’s not just about the voice – its timbre, passion or depth… though, of necessity that adds momentum. It’s that something else; something almost indefinable that you know… just know… when you hear it.

Because it catches you totally unawares. That, I’d say, is the real X Factor – and isn’t anything that can be manufactured.

A little like when Chris Blackwell walked into a Birmingham night-club way back in the mid-Sixties. By his own acknowledgement, being taken some place he didn’t much want to go to see a band he’d not much interest in. Until… the singer opened his mouth and sang. That night, CB signed Steve Winwood – aged just 16 – on the spot. Winwood had and – forty-something years later – still has… that X Factor.

And that’s a far away cry from listening to the limited ability of a young girl who’d been persuaded to model her hairstyle on one of Louis XIV’s wigs warble her way through a song that everyone knows yet which her inadequate talent did absolutely nothing to garland.

Not so long ago, I hooked up with a former work-colleague whilst sojourning far from home; this goatee-beard on legs was, in a former life, one of the shakers and movers behind what became something of an Eighties legend, they sold a hat full of records all around the world, were a magnet for global audiences and, for my money, one of the finest live acts I’ve ever seen. In their heyday, a band of misfits who were about as hot as it gets. Ladies and Gentlemen – Kid Creole & The Coconuts.

Rynski – the man who precision-shaves each morning – and I got to talking one late afternoon in a mid-town bar; we were casting our minds back to an off-shoot of August Darnell’s much travelled musical-mind, a spin-off outfit that made just the one record entitled New York At Dawn. The group were called Elbow Bones & The Racketeers.

Their album ranges from being so-so in places to absolutely outstanding in others. It also possesses a lead off cut that doesn’t just stand the test of time but – again just my viewpoint – pretty much benchmark’s early Eighties NYC late-night life.

The album cut is magnificent in its own right but the 12” mix is something else again – from the moment the stereophonic needle drops, it’s a headlong rush into an astonishing melodious blend that effortlessly manages a seamless mix of big band and disco via a sublime horn arrangement underpinned by drum patterns to die for.

I’ve ever only owned all of the above on vinyl; and in this digital age that’s not the easiest of transfers across to an i-Pod. I tried doing that down in the dungeon at Merle HQ quite some time back via a combination of record decks and erratically-functioning software with wires and cables randomly connecting my computer to a pre-amp.

It worked but it didn’t – the levels were haphazard and, all in all, a bit too Heath Robinson to add in to a large (for the time) i-Pod selection I was assembling then as accompaniment for someone about to back-pack their fresh fruit in foreign places.

Rynski, however, comes up trumps. A few evenings later and we’re in a late night Brooklyn dive to see Charlie Lagond’s new outfit – The Element – trot out their formidable jazz-rap infusion. Charlie and his saxophone prowess is a link between all three; one of the long-term inmates of the Creole live show, part of the vast horn section that informed Elbow Bones and band-master of The Element. Whenever or wherever he leans back into that Tenor or Alto Sax, you just know it is going to be good; very good indeed.

Later that night, Rynski drops a couple of home-fashioned CDs into my pocket. The pocket that would later (or earlier, I know not) disgorge itself of my cell-phone. The CDs contain the entire Elbow Bones record as well as a live recording from the Ritz in New York of the Creoles when they were in full flight, when Darnell was nearing his zenith and just before they took Europe by storm.

As luck had it way back then, I was at that late-May 1981 Ritz show which closed with a truly awe-inspiring and utterly heart-wrenching version of Dear Addy – Darnell’s paean of love to his about to be ex-wife, Mama Coconut herself. Darnell’s vocal exit stage right has been treasured for nearly thirty years in my mind as a sublime musical moment. And, now Rynski’s digitally popped it in my pocket.

The next again morning and both are stored on the oversized Mac that I’ve been fashioning Project X upon and already i-Pod friendly. At which point I look to see what might be on the world-wide-wait for Elbow Bones. Virtually nothing – other than a You-Tube link. Click and…

Up pops the full-length Take Me For (A Night In New York) 12" mix video clip… all 7 minutes of it and yes, there’s a young Charlie brandishing his saxophone in the middle rank. Fabulous... I didn’t even know it existed… and, in this age of hugely tedious videos peopled by grunting rappers with their trousers only part-covering their arses ogling under-dressed bimbos shaking their booty, this has something going for it – it is beautifully shot and actually tells a bit of a story.

In full on You-Tube mode, I start to click on other links… stumbling across random pianists playing hit and miss selections before coming across a hirsute acoustic guitar player who’s fret-board wizardry put the fizz into whizz-bang, being possessed of a style and technique that would lead more jaws to hit pavements than there are sidewalks. Quite why hairy-guitar-bloke isn’t a global mega-star mystifies me.

However, watching him astonish the live audience to whom he was playing, led to another link-click on the basis that the bloke who’d posted the hairy-guitarist video might just have someone else interesting to put up. He had.

Nicholas Barron.


Never heard of him either – but… it’s a name well worth searching for. Why? Because he possesses that indefinable special something.

Don’t believe me..? Then, call up Saviour which is taken from his Live In Transient Sound record and… marvel.

Its like watching a man sing while undergoing some kind of out-of-body experience; it appears so effortless, like he’s not trying, as if he doesn’t even need to try… he opens his mouth and… there is this utterly remarkable sound – the sound of a man singing from deep within the well of his soul. Absolutely astonishing.

Would that man from the backstreets of Michigan have made the final last night – I doubt it. It’s not what that bit of prime-time tv is all about and besides, not as viewing-public friendly as the embarrassing poodle, the crew-cut four-piece and the awkwardly-blow-dried Irish lad clearly were.

The poodle will get her few minutes of fame as they all do – its what they crave, what they dream of; it’s why she cried on tv last night – her bedroom wet-dream of being a star had materialised.

I’d imagine that Nicholas Barron wells up for other, more meaningful reasons – like when his children do something out of the ordinary or, perhaps when his partner walks past and unexpectedly tousles his hair, whispering a soft I Love You in his ear.

And – while he really should be the one caught in the spotlight – he probably never will be and… I’d imagine he isn’t much bothered by that either.

Saviour and others of Barron’s songs are embedded under lock and key on my i-Pod alongside Winwood and many others who nature has blessed with that special something which comes from deeper within.

They’re the ones who really do have… the X Factor.


Fifi Dessein said...

I remember hearing Nicholas Barron for the first time too. My jaw dropped in wonderment, so much so I secretly overdosed on him on iTunes.

I played "Welcome to my whirld" to the culinary boyfriend who was deep into his cooking zone, impervious to any distraction but Barron stopped him dead in his tamarind yoghurt dip making session with shrieks of "who's this?"

Meanwhile "Saviour" is a hell of a cooking stopper too. PHWOAR!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I've been following this blog for a while now... this man writes amazingly... clearly someone who has been there, seen it and done it too... i rather expected something to be written on the X-Factor... but, i never expected anything as clever, witty or downright thought-through as this... nicholas barron - yes, i'll investigate now.