Local Hero

I’m getting really fed up of writing obituary posts. The latest sad addition to the death toll of 2016 is former Faith Brothers lead singer Billy Franks.

The Faith Brothers made soulful and political pop-rock that owed something to late-period Jam with a pinch of Springsteen. But despite releasing some excellent records between 1985-87 they weren’t successful and the band broke up after two albums.

They meant more to me because they came from my manor of Fulham and Billy was something of a local hero because of his commitment to the area, playing benefits to raise money for people and causes, and generally being a top bloke. He was also loved for writing a song about the council estate Fulham Court which he lived on as did people that I knew. It was the b-side of their second single and is a beautiful song about a place that had a bad reputation but was the sort of working-class community that has been destroyed in London by the Tories. If Bruce Springsteen ever wrote a song about a council estate it would sound like this.

Download: Fulham Court – The Faith Brothers (mp3)

Sadly the news of his death has only been noted so far by the local West London press which is a real shame.

Something for the Weekend

Another great Rod Temperton song and the title track of Heatwave’s excellent debut album which is well worth a few bob of anyone’s money. Those boys got some moves.

And, from the same album, here’s one for the ladies…

Always and Forever

Music can come from the most unlikely places. Take that gawky-looking white guy on the far left who looks like he should be selling dodgy used cars. That’s the great Rod Temperton who died of cancer last week and wrote some of the best dance records ever made.

Temperton grew up in the northern English seaside resort of Cleethorpes which is hardly ranked with Memphis or Detroit as a breeding ground of great black music, but as a member of the Anglo-American band Heatwave he was responsible for such classics as “Boogie Nights”, “Always and Forever”, “The Groove Line”, and “Gangsters Of The Groove” which would be almost enough for anyone to earn a place in the songwriters Hall of Fame. But he also wrote songs for other artists which included Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and “Off The Wall”, The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, and George Benson’s “Give Me The Night” among many, many, many others. The list is quite ridiculous.

I imagine nearly everyone reading this blog knows who Temperton is, but he always kept a low profile and the average punter wouldn’t know his name from Adam. But you can bet if you’re a certain age you know all the words to several of his songs and he provided the soundtrack to your Saturday nights. For that he will always be remembered and loved.

Download: The Groove Line (12″ version) – Heatwave (mp3)

Bigger Than Life

If you weren’t around when the late, and very great Muhammad Ali was in his pomp in the 60s and 70s you probably can’t imagine how famous and iconic he was, especially for a boxer. I mean, who the fuck even knows who the heavyweight champion is these days?

But everyone knew who Ali was, for a while he was the most famous man in the world and probably deserved to be. Not just for his incredible float-like-a-butterfly boxing talent, it was also his outsize personality, his gift of the gab (he turned trash talking into poetry), his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War (which cost him several of his prime fighting years), and as a symbol of black pride as potent as Martin Luther King or James Brown. He was as dazzling outside the ring as he was in it.

Us kids knew nothing about Vietnam, Islam, or Black Power, we just thought of him like he was a superhero. When he fought Joe Frazier in 1971 everyone in my school wanted Ali to win and I got into a playground fight with another kid because I said I wanted Frazier. Not that I was some huge Joe Frazier fan or even knew anything about boxing, I was just being a contrarian prick by going against popular choice. I still do that.

Even though I was right — Frazier won — being against Ali now feels like being anti-life, and joy, and even history — because of course he came back and beat Frazier in their next two fights.

Download: The Greatest – Cat Power (mp3)

Designer With A Cause

I was very sad to hear about the death of designer David King last week. He was one of the greats of British graphic design and if you don’t know his name you certainly know his work, and may even have some of it in your house.

King was art editor at The Sunday Times Magazine from 1965-75 when it published serious, hard-hitting photojournalism by great photographers like Don McCullin (instead of the celeb/lifestyle fluff it goes in for now). King was always more interested in telling a story and getting a message across than he was in pretty design frippery so his layouts have a directness that still packs a punch today.

While working at the magazine King also designed album sleeves for Track Records. Just a little earner on the side that happened to produce at least two iconic classics. 

The Electric Ladyland cover only took 36 hours from concept to completion, and King’s intention was to produce an anti-Playboy image showing women as they really are in all their unpolished beauty. For his efforts, Jimi Hendrix said he had no idea what it was all about and the sleeve was banned in the USA.

When he left The Times, King channeled his political beliefs into work for the Anti-Apartheid movement and Anti-Nazi League. It was his work for the latter that had the most impact and is probably the best remembered today, especially if you were around in the late 70s when the ANL teamed up with Rock Against Racism to help fight the influence of the NF on young people.

King attempted to create a visual language for the Left in England that was bolder and more memorable than the usual hand-made, photocopied flyer. Like his magazine work, these posters didn’t fuck around with niceties and instantly grabbed your attention. There’s no doubt that his posters helped the visibility of the ANL and RAR and you can still see their influence in the typography on placards at demos in London.

He brought the same bold style to his covers for London listings magazine City Limits which he designed for a year in 1982. Heavily influenced by Russian Constructivists like Rodchenko, he made the most of the limited budget the magazine had to produce eye-popping covers that leapt off the newsagent shelves.

King quit the design business in the 80s — not surprising, given his politics and the superficial, glossy turn graphics took that decade — to concentrate on building his collection of Revolutionary Soviet design and photography which he published several acclaimed books of.

The collection grew to be the biggest of its kind in the world and David licensed images to other publications. Because of this I had the pleasure of speaking with him on the phone about 10 years ago when I needed an image for a magazine article I was designing about an obscure Russian writer. His collection wasn’t online and you had to call David and ask him for the image which he’d mail you a slide of — that was old school even then. He couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and it did give me a chance to tell him how much I’d loved his work over the years.

The first band that comes to mind when I think of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism is this lot.

Download: Ain’t Gonna Take It – Tom Robinson Band (mp3)

His Royal Genius

Fuck it. I can’t even.

Download: Money Don’t Matter 2 Night – Prince & The New Power Generation (mp3)

Funny Girl

This year is really taking the piss. I swear the death of Victoria Wood has upset me almost as much as Bowie did. She was one of the greatest comedy talents Britain has ever produced, but on a personal level she means a lot to me because my mother loved her and I have many happy memories of watching her TV shows with her. My mother could quote Victoria Wood lines the way I could with Monty Python in my teens, so I’m sad for more than just the loss of a great comedy writer and performer.

Though Wood made her name in the 1980s she existed outside of the London-centric, politically-edgy “Alternative” comedy crowd and created her own brilliant comedy universe. She was never as fashionable as them and, even though her humour could be cruelly accurate and cutting, she had a Northern working class warmth that made her less hip, but she was funnier and for longer.

She was also an influence on Morrissey, especially this song she wrote in 1978 which inspired parts of Rusholme Ruffians, and her “they didn’t know what drugs were” line in the intro may also sound familiar.

Download: Fourteen Again – Victoria Wood (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Stop it 2016, just stop it.

What a fantastic band EW&F were, if you’ve never gone beyond the singles and tried any of their 70s albums I recommend you do so.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com





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