I could have sworn I’d posted this track before but it appears I haven’t so here it is, one of the best singles of the 1980s. A lot of you will know this well but lots won’t as it wasn’t a chart hit.
Working Week were part of a whole wave of early 80s bands influenced by Jazz and Bossa like the Style Council, Sade, and Everything But The Girl — a trend they helped start as former members of Weekend. For a time Jazz was the trendy thing among London scenesters, centered on the Jazz Room at the Electric Ballroom in Camden whose dancers are featured in the video of this track. I remember clubs back then playing Art Blakey and Astrud Gilberto while girls were dressing like they just stepped out of a French New Wave film, but I don’t know how much of a big deal it was outside of London.
Usually the “Jazz” influence on these bands went no deeper than a smoky saxophone and shuffling beat, but Working Week were more serious about the genre than the rest as shown on their 1984 debut single “Venceremos (We Will Win)” which was made to raise money for the Chile Solidarity campaign protesting the regime of Pinochet in that country.
There was a lovely 7″ “Bossa” version of the song but the real action was in this 10-minute “Jazz Dance” edition. Starting with melancholy vocals by Robert Wyatt and Tracey Thorn it segues into a passionate turn in Spanish by Claudia Figueroa (who doesn’t appear to have done anything else), then it’s off to the races with fiery solos by Larry Stabbings and Harry Beckett. It still sounds dazzling today.
The Drifters 1963 version of “On Broadway” is a classic as any fule kno, but I also love George Benson’s live version from 1978, probably more so.
The Drifters’ rendition has a melancholy feel as if they didn’t really believe they could make it there, which was probably the case for a black man in early 1960s. Benson, on the other hand, sounds completely convinced that he will be successful, especially the way he shouts “Cause I can play THIS HERE GUITAR!” — which, given that he made his name as a Jazz guitarist, wasn’t just bragging.
While I tend to side more with the world-view of The Drifters version, it’s hard not to get caught up in George Benson’s peppy positivity. Plus, it’s funky as hell.
One of the best things about the pop charts in the 1970s is that records like this which owe more to Jazz and Edith Piaf could become hits, as this did in 1977 when it got to #1. Most of the “novelty” hits that decade were terrible but this was classier than most and I still have a soft spot for it. Surprised to see them on Whistle Test though.
I had a little crush on their lead singer at the time and she does look rather sexy here.
Trad Jazz clarinetist Acker Bilk died on Sunday. He was one of those faces that always seemed to crop up as the musical guest on Light Entertainment television shows in the 1970s, always with his distinctive bowler hat, waistcoat, and goateee. Put on Morecambe & Wise or Mike Yarwood on a Saturday night and there he’d be. If it wasn’t him it would be fellow Trad-Jazzer Kenny Ball (who died last year), it was like a refuge for all the pre-Beatles acts who’d had their pop careers wiped out by the Fabs.
So while I knew bugger all about him — I only just found out where his nickname “Acker” came from — and couldn’t tell you how good his Jazz chops were, he was ubiquitous in my youth so his death makes me rather sad. It’s like another little piece of my childhood as gone, if a very esoteric one. Acker Bilk was a household name back then but I doubt if anyone under 30 has ever heard of him.
This is the tune he’s most famous for and no apologies for that because I think it’s a gorgeous melody, even if it does sound like a proto-Kenny G record now. A huge hit in 1962, this became only the second record by an English artist to top the American chart (Vera Lynn was the first, trivia fans).
He plays it slightly jazzier on this version, but I’m including this clip mostly because it’s such a perfect example of the shabby tackiness of 1970s Light Entertainment television. The rubbish you had to sit through on a Saturday night while lying on your brown living room carpet in front of the television waiting for Match of The Day to come on.
Browsing Carnaby Street! God, before there was Tiles, that was what Sunshine used to do everyday at lunch. Sunshine, whose real name is Tony Newman, of Stamford Hill, Tottenham, and who used to be called Blossom (well, Sunshine tops Blossom anyway) Sunshine would cut out of the stationer’s store with the straight lunch mask on and then head straight for Carnaby Street and then just walk up and down Carnaby Street’s weird two blocks for an hour, past the Lord John, West One, the Tom Cat, men’s boutiques with strange enormous blow-up photographs in the windows, of young men flying through the air with some kind of Batman jockstraps on and rock music pouring out the doors, and kids just like him, Sunshine, promenading up and down, and tourists, christ, hundreds of tourists coming in there to photograph each other in front of Male West One instead of Big Ben, and busloads of schoolgirls with their green blazers on and embroidered crests on the breast pocket, all come to see the incredible Carnaby Street, which turns out to be a very small street with shops and awnings and people standing around with cameras in their hands, and Sunshines, all the Sunshines of this world trundling up and down for their whole lunch hour, not eating a goddamned thing, just immersing themselves in The Life.