Category Archives: soul music

2020 ➤ Beyond: Learning how to be black and gay and blaze a trail to the future

Shapersofthe80s, black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Beyond director Claire Lawrie, centre: with some of her garrulous cast answering questions after a screening at Central Saint Martins college. (Photo by Shapersofthe80s)

AFTER A STREAM OF EXCLUSIVE SCREENINGS for a poignant and edgy short documentary about growing up black and queer in Seventies Britain, everyone can now view it online. Titled Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, the 34-minute film explores black LGBT identities and the ways in which they have influenced the collective history of London’s alternative club, fashion, fine art, dance and music scenes. The cast of ten are long-standing friends of director/photographer Claire Lawrie who helps tell their personal stories when these fans of soul and disco, punks and Blitz Kids found each other’s company in underground clubs.

Over the past year Claire has won a fistful of film-festival awards and, prompted by the coronavirus lockdown, she has posted the full version online, and repeat viewings reward with deeper appreciation. Onetime Blitz Kid Andy Polaris is part of the project and he recalls its origins in this extract from his own website Apolarisview. . .

Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie,

Photo that inspired the movie Beyond – Click pic to view the film in another window

“To me it’s important now that people
realise that black people were there,
because a lot of the time they
tried to paint us out”
– Andy Polaris

❏ A 2013 exhibition at the V&A museum in London titled Club to Catwalk was instrumental in bringing the collective creative talent of Eighties fashion stalwarts and club luminaries together for a preview party that summer. It was a splendid event, one of the last memorable social events with such a vibrant successful crowd. Among the assembled were Judy Blame, Princess Julia, Andrew Logan, Zandra Rhodes, Body Map, Antony Price, Chris Sullivan and it was the last time I saw Steve Strange (who along with Rusty Egan) had brought us all together at the Blitz Club in 1979.

The visual artist Claire Lawrie was at the V&A and pondered on the omission from the exhibition of gay black talent whose influence had permeated Eighties club culture. Although Jeffrey Hinton’s brilliant cave of projected nightlife photography did feature some of us, Lawrie echoed some of her friends’ frustration that their experience was not reflected in the exhibition. She set about organising an open-call photograph to celebrate a contingent of black talent and arranged for the gathering to be filmed by her friends, Emile Kelly and Kim Mnguni. This was the genesis of something deeper and her award-winning documentary, Beyond “There is always a black issue Dear”, emerged from that event with her as director.

Click any pic of the interviewees to enlarge all in a slideshow

Over the next year Claire arranged interviews with ten of the candidates who were filmed on a shoestring. Contributions of archive footage were given by a long list of talented artists, people who, over the years had collaborated with and who wanted to show their respect and love for the cast. These included Pam Hogg, Dick Jewell, Dave Swindells and Nicola Tyson as well as John Maybury, Derek Ridgers, BodyMap, Devon Buchanon and Rankin.

The film adjusts the colour settings of the standard view of black creative lives when telling the story about club culture and its impact in the UK. Featuring ten black queer voices from the diaspora, born in the late Fifties and Sixties in the UK, Guyana and New York, the documentary delves into personal stories of discovery and eventual self-acceptance, looking back at struggles with identity and family and the wider world. The cast features stylist Frank Akinsete, transgender model Winn Austin, international model Roy Brown, make-up artist Kenny Campbell, choreographer Les Child, clubland pioneer Kenrick Davis and his mother Velma “Vee” Davis, nightclub host Nicky Green, gender-fluid performer Lanah Pellay, composer Robb Scott and myself as an original Blitz Kid turned pop singer.

Roy Brown, Black issues, gay issues, film, Beyond, Claire Lawrie

Roy Brown in 1985: poster boy for the Barbican’s recent exhibition on Masculinities. (Photo: Rotimi Fani-Kayode)

In the mid-Seventies and Eighties the UK’s attitudes to both race and gay issues were particularly brutal, endorsed by the anti-gay policies of Thatcher’s government and tabloid sensationalism regarding anything queer, especially later with the arrival of the Aids epidemic. The Seventies were marred by stereotypes of both marginalised groups, joining the sexist and misogynistic tropes in light entertainment and films which set the tone for how the world viewed us and how we viewed ourselves.

This lack of representation and role models forced us to create our own image during our teens, which in some cases was defiantly camp. Instead of allowing bullies to mock us, we accentuated certain behaviour, not just as a direct challenge to the heteronormative majority but against the conservative oppression in society.

Music and fashion were an escape from small-mindedness and even as early teens we were exploring alternatives and the fashionable disco and punk clubs were our laboratories of choice. . . / Continued at Apolarisview

➢ All about the making of Beyond “There is always
a black issue Dear”

➢ Interview with director Claire Lawrie: “These were
people that I looked up to and admired”

➢ On video – Beyond Q&A by RankinFilm after
the July 2019 screening at his studio

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➤ Andy Polaris loads up his own fantabulous Yuletide jukebox

festive songs, Eartha Kitt, Santa Baby, underrated gems , Andy Polaris,

Remember Eartha Kitt? – the sauciest thing on Fifties TV

CHRISTMAS BRINGS OUT a lot of musical schmaltz over the festive period, most of which is consumed in earnest like mince pies and mulled wine. So Andy Polaris – frontman in Eighties popsters Animal Nightlife – decided to dig around Santa’s vintage vinyl to find some more discerning winter jukebox favourites to present his Dozen Festive Songs that Slay. Among his underrated gems we hear from Bob Dylan, Darlene Love, Eartha Kitt, George Michael, k.d.lang, Kurtis Blow, Marvin Gaye, Poly Styrene, Santa Baby, Sounds of Blackness, The Emotions and The Waitresses. Here’s a delicious novelty number from Stevie Wonder – One Little Christmas Tree. Andy says on his blog: “Perfectly synced with a Charlie Brown cartoon episode, this sweet narrative below is new to my ears and deserves a wider audience especially with Stevie’s storytelling clarity.”


➢ Visit APolarisView for videos of all of his
Dozen Festive Songs that Slay

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➤ How Nile Rodgers “rearranged” Bowie’s Let’s Dance into a stonking hit single

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, Meltdown, South Bank Centre, soul music,

Twin geniuses: Bowie and Rodgers photographed by Ebet Roberts

AMONG MANY SENSATIONS during three foot-tapping hours in the company of Nile Rodgers on Saturday night was a rare audio track possibly being played out in public for the first time. Rodgers is not only curating this year’s prestigious South Bank Meltdown festival in London but his own band Chic headlined the opening night with a mighty seamless stream of dance-floor hits. Rodgers preceded the concert with a lengthy talk about his unrivalled career as one of the most influential record producers ever, an icon of black excellence along with Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder.

He described how he had met David Bowie in the early 80s and as they bonded over their love of jazz, Rodgers says he “realised that David Bowie was the Picasso of rock’n’roll”, meaning his gift for thinking in the abstract. They were soon collaborating over Bowie’s album Let’s Dance, released in April 1983, almost three years after his previous album, Scary Monsters.

More specifically, once Bowie had joked “Is there such a thing as too funky?” Rodgers set about doing what any jazzman does – he was “rearranging” Bowie’s music in their studio sessions. And on Saturday Rodgers told this electrifying yarn by playing us Take One of the slightly protracted Let’s Dance session that started with Bowie in dirge-like mode. Eighties singer Andy Polaris tells it like this in his review of the Meltdown show:

In one extraordinary sequence Rodgers revealed the genesis of his collaboration with David Bowie on Let’s Dance. It was thrilling to listen to a rare recording few people have ever heard as the track was transformed from an almost twee throwaway song into the rhythmic funky stomper that it became. During the first take in the studio, we heard Nile introducing David to his arrangement and Bowie experimenting with melodies and phrasing while Nile carefully coaxed him by explaining the number’s metamorphosis. We listened as David gradually grew more excited, climaxing in obvious satisfaction when he finally “got it” – this, the single that would become his biggest hit! The whole episode provided a revealing insight into how Nile works as both a guitarist and a producer and was a rare treat for Bowie fans in the audience…

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, albums, 1983, soul music,

Let’s Dance: Bowie’s biggest selling album

MORE ON THE BOWIE-RODGERS PARTNERSHIP

➢ “I thought I was going to get fired over my riff to China Girl because it’s so corny. But he heard it and went, That’s amazing!” – Pitchfork 2016:
As a black man in America, there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of being black. It has nothing to do with me. Some people are just uncomfortable with my presence. It’s never gone away. With Bowie, though, I never felt that at all. He made Let’s Dance with me and guys that he never even met, but he had enough faith to allow me to completely take over. He was like, ‘Nile, take my vision and make it real. You be the impresario.’

The whole album was completed and mixed in 17 days. There’s no four different versions of Let’s Dance, no five versions of Modern Love. That’s just it. Done. End of story. A huge amount of the time he spent sitting in the lounge watching TV and then he would just come in and check and go ‘Wow!’ and then he would leave. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is the highest form of respect that anyone has ever given to me’. . .

David Bowie, Nile Rodgers, Let’s Dance, Meltdown, South Bank Centre, soul music,

Evergreen: Bowie and Rodgers photographed by Peter Gabriel

➢ The producer of Let’s Dance, Bowie’s biggest-selling album, asked the singer if he’d made it too funky. ‘Is there such a thing?’ he replied – from the Guardian 2016:
Before we wrote a single piece of music for [Let’s Dance], we did a research project where we played lots of records and talked about what the album wanted to say, how it should sound as a whole. Then one day David said: ‘Nile, this is what I want my album to sound like’ and he showed me a picture of Little Richard in a red suit getting into a red Cadillac convertible. How do you translate that?! But in actual fact I knew exactly what he meant, and that was the point I realised that David Bowie was the Picasso of rock’n’roll. He got uncomfortable with me calling him that but I did it anyway. Because I realised he saw the world in an abstract way, as well as in the way we all see it. And what that picture meant was not that he wanted a retro record, or something based on Little Richard’s music, but that he wanted something that would always look modern. He showed me the future and the past and it was evergreen. The highly designed Cadillac and the red monochromatic suit – that picture was taken in the 1960s but it would still look modern to someone in the year 3000! . . .”

➢ Meltdown 2019, curated by Nile Rodgers, runs at London’s South Bank Centre 3–11 August

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➤ New from Prince: Holly Rock single and video, plus album of demos

Prince, Holly Rock, Originals, Electric Light Studios, releases, video, vinyl

Many faces of Prince… from his new animated video for Holly Rock

THE PRINCE ESTATE HAS RELEASED HOLLY ROCK, an electrifying song from 1985 produced for Sheila E but here rendered by Prince himself in a 3m47s edit and promoted this week with a spicey new animated video created by London-based Electric Light Studios. Holly Rock was recorded for inclusion on the original soundtrack for the 1985 movie Krush Groove.

The new single is the second taken from the album Originals, published last month and featuring 14 previously unreleased demo versions of Prince’s songs from 1981-85 written for his side projects, protégées and other artists. The Guardian said of the album: “(Originals) shows the breadth and brilliance of his compositional talents.”

Prince, Originals, releases, CD, album, vinyl

Prince’s Originals on CD and vinyl

His original versions of tracks include The Glamorous Life, Sex Shooter, Manic Monday, The Time’s Jungle Love and Love…Thy Will Be Done, as well as deep cuts like Vanity 6’s Make-Up and Jill Jones’s Baby, You’re A Trip. The album also features Prince’s original 1984 version of Nothing Compares 2 U, released last year as a standalone single.

Originals is available now from Warner Records via download and streaming partners and physically on CD, 180 gram 2LP, and limited edition Deluxe CD+2LP Purple Vinyl set.

➢ Click to hear the full album of Prince’s Originals

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2019 ➤ Sounds of the 70s still cool in the heart of Soho

70s soul, jazz-funk, Soho, Old Compton Brasserie, Andy Polaris,
Eighties singer Andy Polaris was knocked back this month
to hear one cool track after another play out in a Soho eaterie
and he quickly synthesised a playlist from the dozen best
– here’s a taste from his website Apolarisview. . .

What’s unique about my dozen best tracks? Obviously they all formed the backbone of the funk and soul soundtrack to my teen years in the 1970s when I would hear them on the dancefloors of the Lacy Lady, Croc’s, Racquel’s, Gold Mine, and on Radio London’s Robbie Vincent show and on Capital Radio’s Greg Edwards session. What’s amazing is that only this month I heard some of them playing out at the newish if retro-styled Old Compton Brasserie as the most credible playlist in Soho that night. It reminded me of the pre-disco cocktail bars in Covent Garden which became our favourite haunts at the time.

Seventies jazz-funk in a millennial eaterie for an audience of all ages? You wonder how many ears present during this evening knew that every tune was a gem from the golden age of club music. The Brasserie’s funky dozen kicked off with Rufus feat. Chaka Khan Once You Get Started (1974) – The track that brought Chaka Khan to my attention in the UK. I was sent the vinyl import album Rufusized before its UK release. . . / Discover the whole playlist at Apolarisview>

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