Sunday, April 30, 2006

Millie Small

A rather distressed LP from Brick Lane I bought many years ago. I went through a phase of collecting old Ska and Reggae singles and albums from the 60's and 70's. This has Millie Small of "My Boy Lollipop" fame and several male stars of the Jamaican reggae scene back then. Owen Gray, Jackie Mitto, and Roland Alphonso amongst others.

"Born Millicent Small in Clarendon, she was the daughter of an overseer on a sugar plantation and she was one of the very few female singers in the early Ska era in Clarendon. She was already recording in her teens for Sir Coxone Dodd's Studio One label with Roy Panton (as the duo Roy & Millie), together they produced the hit "We'll Meet." She was brought her to England in late 1963 by Chris Blackwell who would later discover Bob Marley. Her fourth recording, "My Boy Lollipop," cut in London by a group of session musicians including guitarist Ernest Ranglin and featured Smalls childlike, extremely high-pitched vocals became of the few international ska hits reaching number two in the U.S. and number one in the U.K. in 1964. It remains one of the biggest-selling reggae or ska discs of all time with more than seven million sales.

She was perceived as a one-hit wonder novelty artist and she only made the Top 40 one more time, with the "My Boy Lollipop" sound-alike "Sweet William." She released an entire album with these two hits. In a trivial piece of information legend has it that popular British singer Rod Stewart played the Harmonica on "lollipop", more significantly the earnings from the sales of "lollipop", Chris Blackwell's first hit helped him to secure a strong firm hold in the music industry to later cultivate the likes of Reggae legend Bob Marley and Rock groups such as U2."

For more about the history of ska music go HERE

Roy and Millie - We'll Meet

Owen and Millie - Sugar Plum

Roland Alphonso - Backbeat

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Frankie Howerd

"Frankie Howerd was born Francis Alex Howard in York. He grew up in the Woolwich and Eltham area of South East London, where his father was a sergeant major in the Army. Howerd's father died when he was three, and his mother was forced to take cleaning jobs to pay for her three children's upkeep.
Howerd's trademark stammering and hesitation was, at that age, natural; in later years he exploited these afflictions to great comic effect; they became the comedian's trademark and, far from natural by this time, each and every one was included in his scripts.

He joined a church dramatic society at the age of 13 and made his stage debut in Tilly of Bloomsbury. Five years later, he auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, but was turned down; his next ambition was comedy. Nevertheless, he performed badly at talent contests and ended up as a junior insurance clerk in London. He pursued his dreams of comedy, but continued unsuccessfully. When in the Army during the Second World War, he failed the auditions for both ENSA and Stars in Battledress. Undaunted, he practiced his routines in the canteen and the barracks, overcoming his stammer and perfecting the bumbling humility for which he later became so famous.

After the war, Howerd was spotted at the Stage Door Canteen in London, and signed to appear in the For the Fun of It roadshow. It was during his time here (at the bottom of the bill) that he changed the spelling of his surname from Howard to Howerd. The logic behind this minor change; there were so many funny Howards around and he wanted to distinguish himself.
Many minor stage roles followed, but as with so many of today's great comedians, it was the advent of radio variety that launched him to fame. He became a regular in the hugely popular Variety Bandbox, with Eric Sykes acting as his scriptwriter. He remained with the show for 5 years, during which time he topped the bills at theatres around the UK, culminating in his first Royal Variety Performance in 1950.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, music hall waned in popularity and Howerd's own career followed suit. Following an acclaimed performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and several not so well received shows, he began appearing at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in London; a showcase for the most topical and up-and-coming comedians. His performance, scripted by Till Death Us do Part's Johnny Speight, led to an appearance on That was the Week that Was and a starring role in the stage version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His fortunes were on the up.

This string of success was followed by the comedy with which Howerd has become synonymous; the classic Up Pompeii, in which he played the downtrodden slave Lurcio. Three spin-off films followed (Up Pompeii, Up the Chastity Belt and Up the Front).
Howerd was awarded an OBE in 1977 and was the winner of two Variety Club of Great Britain awards. Howerd was a much celebrated comedian, who enjoyed perhaps his greatest success in his later years; it was while riding on the crest of this wave when he was asked to appear in Carry On Columbus. Sadly, he suffered a heart attack and died shortly before filming."

Discover more about Frankie Howerd HERE

Frankie Howard - Song and Dance Man

Frankie Howard - It's Alright With Me

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Norman Wisdom

"Norman Wisdom was born in the London district of Marylebone to Frederick and Maude Wisdom. His father was a chauffeur and his mother a dressmaker. After a difficult and poverty-stricken childhood he joined the 10th Hussars and began to develop his talents as a musician and stage entertainer

After he left the army he went into show-business, gradually becoming one of Britain's most successful stars. In 1954 he released the best-selling single that is still closely associated with his name, "Don't Laugh At Me (Cause I'm A Fool)".
Moving into film in the 1960s, he created an accident-prone, clownish character called Norman Pitkin, a lovable fool who appeared in several successful films, most notably The Early Bird (1965). His famous and widely imitated cry as Pitkin was "Mr Grimsdale! Mr Grimsdale!

In 1967, he was widely praised for his performance as a serious actor in The Night They Raided Minsky's, but his career began to decline in the 1970s and he was out of favour with British tastes in comedy for many years. On 11 February 1987 Norman Wisdom was the subject of Thames Television's This Is Your Life.
He became widely popular again in the 1990s, helped by the young comedian Lee Evans, whose act was heavily influenced by Wisdom's work. The highpoint of this new popularity was the knighthood he received in 1999 from Queen Elizabeth II.
After he was knighted, true to his accident-prone persona, he couldn't resist pretending to trip on his way out off the platform."

Discover more about Norman Wisdom HERE

Norman Wisdom & Joyce Grenfell - Narcissus

Norman Wisdom - The Joker

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Eddie Cantor

"Eddie Cantor was born in New York City in 1892. After becoming a smash hit in vaudeville, Ziegfeld signed him for his Midnight Frolics and then the Follies of 1917, 1918, 1919 and 1923.

From there he went to films in the 1920s, starring in Whoopee, Kid from Spain and Kid Millions. After an appearance on Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann Hour in 1931, Cantor's radio career began to soar.

By the early 30s, Eddie Cantor had become the highest-rated star on radio. For seven years, his Chase & Sanborn Hour on NBC garnered immense ratings. Cantor was the second most recognizable person in America—second only to President Roosevelt, for whom he created the March of Dimes to help in the fight against polio.

Cantor’s sign-off line—“I love to spend each Sunday with you”—was followed frequently by a pitch for a charitable or patriotic cause. He received a Presidential Citation for his dedication to charity. A union activist, Cantor was the first national president of AFRA and SAG.

Cantor also made the successful transition to television on the Colgate Comedy Hour, making him one of the few performers to reach star status on stage, screen, radio and television.

Eddie Cantor died on October 10, 1964."

Discover more about Eddie Cantor HERE.

Eddie Cantor - Josephine Please No Lean On The Bell

Eddie Cantor - Yes Sir, That's My Baby

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George Melly

A record on the Decca label from 1973 but featuring Melly in the 50's playing with the Mick Mulligan Magnolia Jazz Band. His outrageous stories about these early days, travelling with the band are told in the very entertaining and funny book "Owning Up". On the sleeve notes it says-
"From being something of a hell-raiser, George became a critic for the Observer, TV personality and took over from Humphry Littelton writing the script for the FLOOK comic strip in the Daily Mail......"

Here's a recent article about George in the Guardian.

George Melly - I'm A Ding Dong Daddy

George Melly - Send Me To The 'electric Chair

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Les Paul & Mary Ford

Found this today at a charity shop for a couple of quid. I think I have a Les Paul & Mary Ford cassette somewhere but hopefully some different tracks here. It always sounded like the records of Les were being played at the wrong speed until I learned he speeded up the tracks in his studio. Surely this is cheating? But a fascinating sound nonetheless. Heres what the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame has to say about him-

"The name Les Paul is synonymous with the electric guitar. As a player, inventor and recording artist, Paul has been an innovator from the early years of his life. Born Lester William Polfus in 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Paul built his first crystal radio at age nine - which was about the time he first picked up a guitar. By age 13 he was performing semi-professionally as a country-music guitarist and working diligently on sound-related inventions. In 1941, Paul built his first solid-body electric guitar, and he continued to make refinements to his prototype throughout the decade. He also worked on refining the technology of sound, developing revolutionary engineering techniques such as close miking, echo delay and multitracking. All the while he busied himself as a bandleader who could play both jazz and country music.
His career as a musician nearly came to an end in 1948, when a near-fatal car accident shattered his right arm and elbow. However, he instructed the surgeons to set his arm at an angle that would allow him to cradle and pick the guitar. Paul subsequently made his mark as a jazz-pop musician extraordinaire, recording as a duo with his wife, singer Colleen Summers (a.k.a. Mary Ford). Their biggest hits included "How High the Moon" (1951) and "Vaya Con Dios" (1953), both reaching #1. The recordings of Les Paul and Mary Ford are noteworthy for Paul's pioneering use of overdubbing - i.e., layering guitar parts one atop another, a technique also referred to as multitracking or "sound on sound" recording. The results were bright, bubbly and a little otherworldly - just the sort of music you might expect from an inventor with an ear for the future.

In 1952, Les Paul introduced the first eight-track tape recorder (designed by Paul and marketed by Ampex) and, more significantly for the future of rock and roll, launched the solid-body electric guitar that bears his name. Built and marketed by Gibson, with continuous advances and refinements from Paul in such areas as low-impedance pickup technology, the Les Paul guitar became a staple instrument among discerning rock guitarists. This list of musicians associated with the Gibson Les Paul include Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Duane Allman and Mike Bloomfield. Over the ensuing decades, Paul himself has remained active, cutting a Grammy-winning album of instrumental duets with Chet Atkins, Chester and Lester in 1977, performing at New York jazz clubs, and continuing to indulge his inventor's curiosity in a basement workshop at his home in Mahwah, New Jersey."

Les Paul - Little Rock Getaway

Les Paul - Goofus

Les Paul & Mary Ford - The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise

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Saturday, April 01, 2006


"Hoagart Smith was born in 1924 in Plainsville, New York in 1923 and spent his early life going from town to town in a travelling vaudeville and medicine show his parents ran until 1938. His father, Haggio Smith was a contortionist and trombone player and his mother played the accordion whilst juggling small animals, mostly rats or any small rodents they could lay their hands on. This was the height of the depression and sometimes they had to make do with dead rats and sometimes even cockroaches. Hoagart grew up in this atmostphere of freewheeling lunacy and this he shaped into an act of his own by the time he was 9. Having taught himself to yodel and play the tuba he was billed as the Infant Prodigy - Hoagart.
When he was 23 he dropped the Infant Prodigy and became just Hoagart. He made several obscure and rare recordings for the defunct Prattle label in the 50's and these rare acetates came to light just recently in the basement of a dried fish stall being demolished in Brooklyn."

Hoagart - Oh Suzanna

Hoagart - Accordion Tune

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