Single of the week

Brimful Of Asha (Cornershop)

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Singer and guitarist Tjinder Singh was born to Indian parents and grew up in Preston, Lancashire. It was in 1992 whilst studying at Preston University he formed Cornershop, a name he chose as an observation to the supermarket take-over and demise of the local shop

He recruited guitarist and keyboard player Ben Ayres, another keyboardist Anthony Saffrey, percussionist Peter Bengry and drummer Nick Simms. Tjinder never told his father what he did. “An Asian on stage was unusual especially when I was playing guitar. It would have upset my father, so I told him I worked for a record company. My brother eventually told him.”

By 1997 they had slimmed down to a duo consisting of Tjinder and Ben. Tjinder wrote the song as a tribute to Bollywood actress Asha Bhosle. On its initial release in August 1997, it faltered at number 60 on the chart. The word ‘asha’ while referring to Asha Bhosle, has another meaning; Hope. Many of Asha Bhosle’s movie songs were filled with messages of hope that the younger generation took to heart and dreamed of better lives. The line ‘Well, it’s a brimful of Asha on the 45’refers to the speed the vinyl spins round at. In the bridge there are a number of non-Indian music references including the song Bancs Publics, the French singer/songwriter Jacques Dutronc, Marc Bolan and Trojan Records.

Soon after, Fatboy Slim who liked the track, sped it up and began dropping it into his DJ set. It was well received by the crowd so Fatboy worked out a definitive remix and offered it to Cornershop’s label, Wiiija, free of charge. They accepted it and issued it as a strictly limited white label 12″ single. A couple of copies found their way into the hands of Radio 1 DJs Mary Anne Hobbs and Anne Nightingale who began playing it on every show. Then Steve Lamacq began playing it and within a week there was an on-air campaign to have it officially released. Part of the song was a celebration of the 45rpm single. Fatboy said, “All I did was speed it up, put a drum beat, a heavy breakbeat and a bassline on it and left the rest of the song as it was. It was brilliant.”

The single was re-issued on seven inch and CD single, but Norman’s remix was confined to the B-side or track two on the CD. The A-side was a straight re-issue from the previous year. However, hardly any radio station played the A-side so everyone thinks it was the Norman Cook remix that topped the chart.

Tjinder publicly expressed that he wasn’t happy with the single’s success. He felt disappointed that after releasing songs for over six years without success that his glory had been stolen by a remix. Subsequently, the follow-up, Sleep on the Left Side, which only reached number 23, was compared with the remix. The second album, Handcream for A Generation, despite featuring Noel Gallagher on guitar, performed so badly that they were dropped from the label.

Norman said, “I thought I should apologise to Tjinder for fucking up the band’s career. Tjinder said he wasn’t bothered, but it doesn’t feel good, making people sound jolly when it wasn’t them.”

Cornershop were out of the limelight for four years, but began recording again in 2002 on their own Meccico record label and returned to the chart in 2004 with Topknot. In 2008 their song Candyman was featured in the TV advert for Nike’s Lebron James VI shoe. The following year they released the album Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast and also formed their own Ample Play record label. In 2011 they were awarded a prize for Commitment to Scene in the UK Asian Music Awards and in May 2012 their eighth album Urban Turban was released and has yet to appear on the UK album chart.

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Reason To Believe (Tim Hardin)

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Tim Hardin is one of those mysterious people who had a violent temper and terrible drug habit yet a mesmerising voice. He died at the age of 39, but his beautiful music lives on mainly through people who have covered his songs.

Tim, who was born James Timothy Hardin in Oregon just before Christmas 1941, was a complex character equalled by people like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake. He often exaggerated stories of himself thus leading to controversy about the enigmatic figure. His closest friends were people like Elvis Costello, Janis Ian, Donovan and John Sebastian, yet none of them could help him kick the drug addiction that eventually killed him in 1980.

His only UK hit as an artist was the beautiful Hang On To a Dream which peaked at a pathetic number 50 in 1967, but thankfully just three months earlier Bobby Darin had brought his name to the fore with a cover of If I Were A Carpenter. This song was inspired by John Judnich, the man who built a small recording studio at Lenny Bruce’s house. Such was the power of the song that exactly 18 months later the song became a top ten hit again when covered by the Four Tops.  In 1971, Rod Stewart opened his chart account with another Hardin song, Reason To Believe. The song entered the chart at number 31 then climbed to number 19. At this point radio DJs across the world, all of a sudden, were flipping the record over and playing the B side, which was Maggie May. The following week the song climbed to  number 11 and Reason To Believe was no longer listed and so Maggie May went on to become an international best seller and Reason To Believe was soon forgotten about.

Hardin’s 1965 comparatively subdued original has an air of tragedy with the elements of a hurt and wounded person blaming an unfaithful lover. It appears on the album Tim Hardin 1 which mainly contained demo tracks. The lyrics are sad and heartfelt. The line ‘Someone like you, makes it hard to live without somebody else, Someone like you, make it easy to give never think of myself.’  When Tim’s voice cracks while singing, ‘If I gave you time to change my mind, I’d find a way just to leave the past behind, Knowing that you lied straight-faced while I cried’ is heartbreaking. You really believe his life was tragic.

As much as his studio work is amazing, his live appearances were often not well received. There was a time in San Francisco when he turned up late because he’d been out drinking and sang so poorly that he was booed off stage. This seemingly regular occurrence could well have aided his reliance on drugs and ultimately his downfall.

He released a total of 10 albums in his lifetime and two posthumously but it was his first and third albums, Tim Hardin 1 and Tim Hardin 2 (there was This Is Tim Hardin in between) that reportedly earned him $423m although he didn’t see much of it. Even at the time of his death he had sold his precious catalogue of songs and still owed the taxman hundreds of thousands of dollars. This fourth album, confusingly title Tim Hardin 3, was billed as a live album but it turned out that his managers and record label at the time were so fed up with his lack of new material because of his addiction, that they were actually a set of early demos with added canned applause which explains his well documented surprising change in direction at that time!

Reason To Believe has been covered by a multitude of artists ranging from The Carpenters, Wilson Phillips, Lovin’ Spoonful, Vonda Shepherd, Denny Laine and Ron Sexsmith each one of them managing to keep its sentiment.

The song gained a new audience when it was featured in the 2000 film Wonder Boys which starred Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. The film also featured other classic songs from John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Clarence Carter, Junior Walker & The All-Stars, Van Morrison and Neil Young.

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For A Friend (Communards)

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Many songs have been written as a tribute to famous people in all walks of life, some famous, some infamous and some not known at all. When the Communards released their eighth hit, for a friend in 1988, it had an impact on all people who know someone who they’ve lost to the dreaded AIDS virus.

The Communards came into being after lead singer Jimmy Somerville walked out of Bronski Beat in the spring of 1985. He teamed up with an old friend, Richard Coles who he worked with in 1982 when Richard played saxophone on Jimmy’s track Screaming and they began rehearsing as The Committee. After realising there was another group with that name, they changed it to the Communards, a name taken from a group of members and supporters of the short-lived 1871 Paris Commune formed in the wake of France’s defeat of the Franco-Prussian War.

Their peak came in 1986 when their cover of Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes’ Don’t Leave Me This Way, which was dedicated to the GLC (Greater London Council) spent four weeks at the top of the UK chart and featured former Happy End vocalist Sarah-Jane Morris. They followed it up with So Cold The Night which reached number eight and their next and final top 10 hit came the following year, a cover of The Jackson Five’s Never Can Say Goodbye.

The Communards’ penultimate hit was the self-penned For A Friend. Jimmy Somerville said to Record Collector magazine that pop music doesn’t come out of thin air it comes out of real life. For A Friend was written about Mark Ashton who died on February 11th 1987, Jimmy explained the story. “Mark was a close friend of both of us and my best friend. He was the first friend of ours to die from AIDS and it really thumped us, really brought it all home and I suppose this is a way of getting it off our chests.”

Richard recalled, “He was a mental queen. He was a barman, well a barmaid actually…” Jimmy continued, “He used to work behind the bar in the British Legion and he was really into 50s drag. He was flamboyant, had a massive blonde beehive hairdo and used to wear polka-dot skirts. The two of us were the two most notorious queens in London! We used to get into so much trouble and get duffed up in demonstrations. We were just so mouthy back then!” Richard quipped, “You minced everything except your words!”

Mark decided he wanted a change and went off to Bangladesh where his life changed completely. “He came back and turned up on my doorstep,” remembered Jimmy, “He was wearing one of those orange things that that Buddhists wear and his head completely shaved, and I thought ‘what a shambles’. He’d got involved in politics and became a general secretary of the Young Communists.” Richard added, “He was totally devoted to women’s politics and gay politics. He was still a mad queen, but brilliant.”

All proceeds from For A Friend went to the Mark Ashton Trust which, as Jimmy said, was a sort of memorial because he was such an influential person. Richard concluded, the hardest thing was dealing with people’s attitudes afterwards. AIDS is still seen as the ‘gay plague’ as if it has nothing to do with anyone else. The whole AIDS campaign missed the point, really.”

The Communards had one further top 20 hit with There’s More to Love before going their separate ways. Caroline Buckley & Sally Herbert, their backing singers, formed Banderas and had one top 20 hit with This Is your Life. Richard studied for a BA in theology at King’s College London and was selected for training for priesthood in the Church of England. After ordination he worked as a curate at St Botolph’s Church in Boston in Lincolnshire, and subsequently at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge. Additionally he provided the narration for The Style Council’s film JerUSAlem in 1994. Jimmy embarked on a successful solo career including two top ten hits with cover versions of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and The Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody. He is still recording and in 2011 released an EP called Bright Thing.

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Kites (Simon Dupree & The Big Sound)

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Although they are best-known for their oriental pop-psychedelic classic Kites, Simon Dupree & the Big Sound actually began as a soul and blues band, similar to the Pretty Things or the Spencer Davis Group.

Like Danny Wilson and Billy Talent, to name two, there is no one in the band with that name. Simon Dupree was made up of brothers Ray (bass), Phil (saxophone) and Derek Shulman (vocals) and included Pete O’Flaherty (guitar), Eric Hine (keyboard) and Tony Ransley (drums). They formed in 1964 in Portsmouth and originally called the Howling Wolves but within a few months that name changed to the Road Runners and their live shows usually consisted of covers of Don Covay, Otis Redding, Bo Diddley and Wilson Pickett songs.

Although well received on the club scene, their record sales weren’t massive and so decided that they needed a more flashier and dynamic name, and in early 1966 Simon Dupree was settled upon after an agent they knew called John Bedford decided they needed a new name. Phil explained, “John said let’s do something Pompy and suggested Brentwood’s Brewery. Well the Dupree family had been directors of the brewery and that stuck. Things became a little awkward because people expected there to be someone by that name and in the end Derek became known as Simon Dupree.

They recorded around 50 tracks, but as Pete O’Flaherty remembered, “We favoured rock and roll and Motown numbers, which was a bit ironic as our one and only major UK hit was a ballad which also acquired the label psychedelic. A lot of people think Kites is the only thing that we did. Sixteen of the tracks were on our second LP which was never released in the sixties because of our failure to get another hit after Kites.”

Pete continued to explain how it all started, “We started doing gigs in Portsmouth with very little gear and a dodgy Bedford van for transport. We soon gained a good following and had queues of people waiting to get into such places as the Indigo Vat and Birdcage in Portsmouth. The Shulman’s brother-in-law was a guy called John King, who was a television producer for BBC Bristol and he came to see us one evening and agreed to be our manager. He didn’t know too much about the pop music scene, but he did have some good contacts and knew some of the right people. John took a demo disk of a track we’d made called I See The Light, a cover of a Five Americans track, to EMI, who gave us an audition. This resulted in a five year recording contract and in October 1966 we went into studio two at Abbey Road and re-recorded I See the Light.” That track and the follow-ups, the Albert Hammond penned Reservations and the Mike Hugg composed Day Time Night Time, never sold enough to trouble the chart, but it was their fourth single Kites that made an impact.

It was penned by Lee Pockriss and Hal Hackaday both of whom had written hits earlier in the 50s and 60s. Hackaday had written Shake Me I Rattle for the Kaye Sisters and Pockriss had co-written songs like Catch A Falling Star, Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and Johnny Angel.

Kites, which was originally recorded by the Rooftop Singers as their last single earlier the same year, featured some unusual instruments including a mellotron, xylophone, gong and a wind machine. It also incorporated a spoken passage in Chinese by someone who wasn’t Chinese. They asked the actress Jacqui Chan (not the actor Jackie Chan) who had been in the films East OF Java, Cleopatra and The World of Suzie Wong to recite the Chinese words. Peter explained, “Jacqui couldn’t speak Chinese as she was born and raised in Trinidad. The owner of the local Fu King Chinese Restaurant was called upon to write a few lines that Jacqui then recited phonetically, it was all a bit of a farce really. They sound erotic words, but nobody seems to know what they mean. Please don’t email me to ask what Jacqui is saying because I don’t know and she didn’t know what she was saying either!”

They recorded their debut album, Without Reservation, at Abbey Road and at the same time the Beatles were recording Sgt Pepper. The Beatles used studio two at night and Simon Dupree used it during the day. Peter added, “The Beatles never had their equipment taken out of the studio, it was packed away neatly into the corner by their roadies. What was the point of our roadies unloading gear, when perfectly good equipment was in the same studio? So apart from their guitars, we used The Beatles’ equipment. Immediately after they had vacated the studio the atmosphere was really pleasant. We could float around the studio without the use of our legs. The doorman would complain to us that they were going to get busted, and he would loose (sic) his job. The poor guy was immediately given the name jobs-worth.” Incidentally, this is how the mellotron sound appeared on Simon Dupree tracks, they’d ‘borrowed’ it from the Beatles. They followed up Kites with For Whom The Bell Tolls the following year, but it missed the top 40. During 1968 Eric Hine became ill and they brought in a temporary keyboard player called Reg Dwight. They were impressed with him and asked him to join as a permanent member but he decline. Derek remembers laughing at him when a couple of years later he announced he was going to adopt the stage name Elton John. Four more singles followed without success and by the end of 1969 they’d split.

In 1970 the brothers together with Kerry Minnear, Gary Green and Martin Smith formed the prog rock band Gentle Giant and over the next ten years they released a dozen albums and half a dozen albums. They built up a cult following but nothing made the UK chart and they split in 1980.

Ray moved into music production, Derek now runs his own 2 Plus music and entertainment agency in New York and Peter O’Flaherty lives in New Zealand.

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Dat (Pluto Shervington)

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Reggae music first developed in Jamaica in the mid-60s and only a smattering of songs in that genre made their way successfully to the UK at the time. By the mid 70s there was at least one reggae song in the chart almost every week.

The first reggae song to hit the UK chart was in March 1964 when King Of Kings, a cover of a Jimmy Cliff song by Ezz Reco And The Launchers featuring Boysie Grant just missed the top 40. Ezz was born Emmanuel Rodriguez in Jamaica and through various contacts managed to get his song released on the non-reggae related label Columbia. A week later this was follow by the more familiar Jamaican artist Millie who reached number two with My Boy Lollipop and featured Pete Hogman on harmonica, not the more popularly believed, but wrongly assumed Rod Stewart.

Until the famous reggae labels, Island and Trojan were formed in the late 60s, the reggae related songs came out of various different labels. There were even covers by white artists, the most famous being by English comedian Lance Percival with his spoof, but extremely funny cover of Sir Lancelot & his Carribean Serenaders song Shame and Scandal in the Family.

The reggae acts brought a new language with them too. The Jamaican patois is unique and when you see lyrics like ‘Rasta Ozzy from up de hill, Decide fi check ‘pon ‘im grocery bill, An’ when him add up de t’ings him need, De dunny done wha’ him save fi buy likkle weed, Him han ‘pon him jaw, lord. Red him eye an’ just meditate, the time is so hard lord, I man now t’ink ’bout emigrate’ you think, what the hell is that.

That lyric is from Pluto Shervington’s 1976 hit Dat. Pluto was born Leighton Shervington in Kingston, Jamaica in 1950. When he was 21 he joined a showband called Tomorrow’s Children. His fellow performers Ernie Smith and Tinga Stewart had enjoyed local commercial success with Duppy or A Gunman and Play De Music, respectively. Both songs were sung in a heavy patois.

I interviewed Pluto in 2006 and he told me how the name Pluto came about, “That name came straight out of High School and I’ve had it since 1962. We were studying Latin and it was another name for the God of the Underworld.” He learned many instruments as a kid and I asked him if it was his ambition to be a guitarist, “Well not just a guitarist” he replied, “I wanted to do anything I could in music, whether it is playing an instrument, singing or even writing songs.”

Dat reached number six in the UK chart, but what is it all about? Pluto: “Dat is a satire song and the joke was on the Rastas at the time who claimed that they didn’t eat pork. But the truth is they did eat it, but they couldn’t tell anyone. So when they went to order it from the meat store, that didn’t say ‘pork’, they used to say ‘I want some of dat thing there!” A bit like a Rabbi eating a bacon sandwich I suggested? “Absolutely! But some Rastas took it seriously and didn’t like it, but most took it in the humorous way it was meant.”

Did the word Dat make its way into the Jamaican dictionary after that? “It was already in there, I just used it. It was an existing expression that had probably only been in there about a year or so. I think I just popularised it.” Pluto remembered.

When the song first entered the chart, Pluto was unaware that it existed in the UK. “I remember the day I first found out about Dat being a hit in the UK. I was on tour in Barbados and I was doing shows all over the island and one night I got a call in my hotel room from a UK radio station who wanted to interview me and I didn’t know why. When I asked why, he said ‘Your song Dat is moving up the chart.’ Later on in 1976 I went to the UK for the first time and was on Top Of The Pops.”

His next hit was the bizarrely titled Ram Goat Liver which entered the chart the same week that Dat dropped out. “Back home we have a lot of goats, cows and horses running around the streets” recalled Pluto, “and one day a taxi accidentally ran over this goat and killed it. Now one of the delicacies is curried goat and this guy on the street who saw what happened said, ‘Now that he’s dead and there’s nothing else we can do, let’s get some rice and we have dinner for tonight.’

When the Rolling Stones recorded their album Goats Head Soup at Ken Khouri’s Federal Studios in Jamaica in 1973, there must have been a good supply of the broth, as the band are rumoured to have benefited from a little help in that department. Local legend has it that Jagger and the boys were inspired by this concoction and gave them a new-found vigour through an alternate name for mannish water in the album’s title. Locally, the soup is also known as power water and is generally made from goat’s heads, goat’s liver, garlic, scallions, cho-cho (which is a green Jamaican vegetable), green bananas, scotch bonnet peppers and spinners (a Jamaican dumpling).

In 1977, Bob Marley sang about an Exodus – a true story of thousands of Jamaicans leaving, Pluto was one of those and so after the success of Dat he moved to Miami, Florida, where he began recording and in 1982 returned to the international market for the release of Your Honour, which entered the UK Top 20. His follow-up, I Man Bitter, and an album were not commercial successes.

Pluto still lives in Miami but periodically returns to his homeland for performances. In 2007 & 2008 he played solo at Bahama Breeze in Kendall, Florida; and every other Sunday you can catch him at Black Point Marina in Cutler Bay with a five piece band. He often appears at the St. Kitts Music Festival and recently shared the bill with Steel Pulse and Sean Paul, among others.

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