Friday 31 January 2020



lint-white face

sat in La Rambla
street theatre

he fingers her
into slow whiteness
descending her arms
gloving each finger
in turn

the silence
is vast, this
time in Barcelona
we don’t even see
Sagrada Familia
but sit in the
Placa Catalunya
feeding pigeons
where even shadows
hide in shadow,
echoes to life

sat in La Rambla,
her legs smudging
to clay whiteness,
she becomes a statue
as we also turn
to gradual stone

even love,
it seems,
has gravity

Monday 27 January 2020

BELLY: Interview and Gig Review


 Tanya Donelly, ‘STAR’ of the upwardly flying BELLY
 wouldn’t sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars 
 and she wouldn’t throw her knickers at Tom Jones. 
 But she is engaged and believes in the concept of marriage… 

 ‘Her hmmm goes to your heart, 
her hmmm sticks in your head, 
hmmm, hmmm, hmmm…’ 

‘If anyone offered ANY amount of money to sleep with me, I wouldn’t do it’ protests Tanya Donelly with a grin like John F Kennedy left her his teeth. ‘It’s FREE, or it’s NOTHING!’

A good answer, I concede. ‘A good question’ she enthuses graciously. The question being the movie-question – would you sleep with Robert Redford for a million dollars.

We are discussing the nature of sexual attraction. Tanya and I. She’s the motivating force behind Belly, a band with its hands in all the right pockets. It’s Tanya who writes all those superficially dippy lyrics and sings the often deceptively fey vocal lines that get buried in Belly’s jostling guitars. But there are veins of darkest distortion in there. Grimm and grimmer fairy tales of confused and confusing emotional debris. An Angela Carter gothic psychosexual ‘Company Of Wolves’ (1984), transfigured by the narcotic of dream.

Belly – tested for the Unexpected. And they do a stylish T-shirt too.

‘CAN YOU CLOSE THAT DOOR’ she yells over her shoulder, as the soundcheck cranks up through the wall.

But Tom Jones! Belly cover his lumberingly inept “It’s Not Unusual” (on the “Gepetto” remix EP). Is his blunt unsubtle sexuality really a turn-on, Tanya?

‘No. Not really. He is totally unsubtle. He’s not sexy in my terms, but he represents sex to a lot of people.’ You wouldn’t throw your underwear at him, in that case? ‘No. No – not at all.’ She laughs that kind of intoxicating laugh you last heard in a Swinging London movie, ‘Up The Junction’ (1968) or ‘Blow Up’ (1966). ‘I’ve never really been a big ‘fan’ person anyway. I’ve never really been a super-‘FAN’ or anybody. I admire and respect loads of people, but I don’t wanna meet them, I mean – I’m not a ‘fan’ in the normal sense of the word. I don’t mean to sound snotty when I say that. I suppose I’m a fan of certain people, but it’s not in a ‘wanting-to-meet-them’ kind of way.’

Whose picture did you pin to your bedroom wall when you were a kid?

‘Hmmm. Let me see. I used to have a Jim Morrison poster, yeah. And I like Iggy, and I liked Paul McCartney actually… this is when I was very young. And – erm, Michael Stipe.’

It used to be said you could psychoanalyse a teenage hippie-chick by finding out which Beatle she preferred. Lennon was for the cool intellectual. George for the weirdly mystic. Paul for the dippy romantic.

‘Well, I am really dippy and romantic.’ Then a moment’s thought. ‘No, I’m not dippy. But I AM romantic.’

There’s a line in Tanya’s Throwing Muses song “Angel”, which runs ‘spastically romantic…’

‘Yep, that’s me’ she grins. ‘It really fucks your life up!’

--- 0 --- 
‘Do you have a sister? 
Would you lay your body down 
On the tracks for her?’ (“Someone To Die For”) 

Tanya, and step-sister Kristin Hersh were raised in Newport, Rhode Island, home of the famous ‘Folk Festival’, host to Bob Dylan’s finest hours, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger. ‘When I was a little kid my parents used to work at the Folk Festival’ she explains. ‘So I was there when I was, like – in my mother’s belly one year, and then when I was two or three the next time. They were there, but after that I’ve never been. It’s the kind of thing I would love to go to, but it’s just such a mess. It’s such a fucking madhouse in Newport around that time, that if you’ve been raised with it, it’s more an irritant than an excitement.’

Kristin and Tanya were the children of a hippie couple who divorced when Tanya was just seven years old. ‘To this day drugs make me intensely nervous’ Tanya confided to ‘Melody Maker’, ‘because my parents did so many.’

Was Kristin more of a hippie victim than you?

‘Victim of our parents you mean?’

No, not necessarily. A victim of the hippie ethos – after all, she has a child called Dylan. ‘

Hmm. Oh yeah, but he’s not really named after Bob Dylan. No. Both of our parents were hippies. But none of us are victims. In some ways – yeah, we’re totally influenced by that culture. In so many ways. We were raised IN IT.’

It was in 1982 that Kristin heard the voice of the muse, and it sayeth Yea, heavy on the bass, get on the good foot and the bad foot too. And the result was Throwing Muses. In “Devil’s Roof” Kristin wrote ‘I have two heads…’, perhaps a reference to her own fractured bipolarity, but for the sake of this article it could also refer to the band. The Muses’ other head belonging to sixteen-year-old anthropology student and part-time short story writer Tanya Donelly. Tanya wrote one song – “Green”, for the debut ‘Throwing Muses’ (September 1986) album, extending her ambitions to grab two prime slots on the acclaimed January 1989 ‘Hunkpapa’. “Dragonhead” is a complex mosaic of guitar changes riddled with spaced dream-state ‘I swallow creepy things’ lyrics. It’s only marginally less odd than the already mentioned “Angel”.

Two more Tanya songs made it onto their final collaboration, ‘The Real Ramona’ in February 1991, “Honeychain” and the ‘breathtaking Surf Pop’ “Not Too Soon” with its solo driving like it’s alive. But by then the creative pressures of playing second guitar-string to Kristin were becoming so restrictive that Tanya was moonlighting with the Breeders. At first she played part-time with Kim Deal (of the Pixies) and Jo Wiggs (of Perfect Disaster) overlapping her time with the Muses. But following the split, the Breeders went full time, breeding one Steve Albini produced LP called ‘Pod’ in May 1990, but Tanya again found her compositional contributions overshadowed, this time by Kim’s songs. ‘The Breeders were heavier than Throwing Muses. Melodically, Kim is one of the strongest Pop songwriters I can think of. Like, it’s very chorus and melody orientated. But she does have really strong guitar sensibilities as far as sounds go. So there is a heaviness there too. Which I learned from. I learned a lot from her.’

For Tanya, looking forward to a bright shiny new career in sonic insurgency, there’s no Norman Lamont-style retroactive savaging of former colleagues. The process from Breeders to Tree Feeders was part of a natural evolution.

--- 0 --- 
‘I was friendly with this girl who insisted on 
touching my face, she told outrageous stories, 
 I believed them till the endings were changed 
from endings before, she’s not touched me anymore’ 

The name of “Feed The Tree”, Belly’s first Top Thirty hit of 1993, is a death euphemism similar to ‘pushing up the daisies’.

“Star”, the title-track of the hit album that closely followed is allegedly about a TV-documentary on the bizarre sex-appeal of the macabre serial killer Ted Bundy. All that, mixed into a roaring riff-led hook-laden Pop fired by Tanya’s Belly cohorts – guitarist and drummer brothers Chris and Ted Gorman, with manic bassist Gail Greenwood. Thank your gods for CD mere mortals – ‘Star’ (January 1993) is an album with a stylus-blunting tendency to demand repeat plays. So it’s maybe best not to buy it in its vinyl format.

Tanya’s favourite album track is “Low Red Moon”, the song she wrote for her fiancé Chick Graning – former singer with Anastasia Screamed, who dubs slide guitar onto it, and who provides his ‘strong arms for a skinny girl’. But fiancé – that’s an odd word seldom used these days outside of Barbara Cartland novels. Surely the only people who get engaged now are members of the Royal Family – and look how they wind up.

‘We’re engaged… technically. But we don’t have a wedding date set, and we probably aren’t going to settle for a while. It’s just – hmmm, yeah, it IS a weird word. But I know a lot of married people. And the concept of marriage is important to me…’

‘CAN I HAVE ANOTHER SECOND’ she yells over her shoulder as the soundcheck lurches closer.

Does her ‘concept of marriage’ indicate traditional values towards Sexual Politics (adopting a psychoanalytical approach), perhaps like her nervousness with drugs it’s a reaction to observed excesses?

‘I’m in a kind of privileged situation’ she admits, ‘because I’ve really honestly never come across any problems being female and working in bands. I mean, no-one’s even ever really yelled at me to take my shirt or anything like that. So I don’t think I’ve really been exposed to a lot of bullshit that women still have to put up with. I’m aware of it, but I’ve never seen it. I live my life well. And I’m a Feminist in the way that I live my life. But singing about it, and taking a very direct political approach in my lyrics does not come naturally to me at all. So I can’t make it that way.’

So you prefer to work by example, in much the same way that Patti Smith might do it?

‘Right. Yes, I think that’s the strongest way. The strongest message is to do it by example.’

We are discussing the nature of sexual attraction. Tanya and I. But is it possible for men and women to work together without an element of sexual frisson?

‘Oh yes’ – then a considered pause. And more emphatically, ‘yes, I do. I mean most of my male relationships are free of that. And I have a lot of extremely close male friends. And there’s no tension, and there’s no problem. Sometimes it can be nice if that buzz is there. But I have that buzz with women too. I mean – there are women that I have this relationship with, and with female friends there can be more physical tension than there is with some male friendships. So – alrightee, Sex Makes The World Go Round!’

A fitting punchline?

‘Good Timing’ she grins. ‘You said that just as I was being called to go back into the other room.’ The soundcheck is accelerating towards critical mass. ‘So – Okeedokee, thank you so much. And… take care.’

Tanya confides that Belly’s next cover version for their next B-side, will be their version of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon”.


Following the success of ‘Star’, Belly issued second album ‘King’ (February 1995) produced by Glyn Johns. It’s commercial failure led to the band splitting, after Tanya concentrated on a solo career. Tanya married former-Juliana Hatfield bassist Dead Fisher in September 1996, with whom she had daughter Grace Bee Fisher in April 1999. Belly reformed in 2016 with the original line-up, and issued a third studio album, ‘Dove’ in May 2018. To the best of my knowledge, their version of “Fly Me To The Moon” never emerged!

After splitting from Tanya, Chick Graning formed a band called Scarce, but after supporting Hole on a 1994 tour he suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, from which he recovered after extensive rehabilitation


BELLY live at ‘The Irish Centre’, Leeds 

Tanya Donelly was a Throwing Muse
Then she was part of Breeders with the mighty Kim Deal
In December 1991 she formed the first 
line-up of her own band – Belly… 

‘Are you in REAL PAIN, or just FUN PAIN?’ asks the Last American Virgin with touchingly sincere concern, to the crush-packed slam-danced stage-dived huddled masses compressed to rupture density beneath her. Despite the press feeding the Family Tree and the winsome pastoral video, despite the ‘Fast Food’ smile (‘HELLO – MY NAME’S TANYA, HOW CAN I HELP YOU?’) this ain’t no Throwing Muesli audience. This is a reverbstorm roaring like it’s French-kissing a rusty car-exhaust, with Tanya Donelly as the heart of the noise – yet still finding time to bob a cutesy curtsey at each number’s end. I know all this, and more... ‘I feel a moron in this dress’ she confides. An abbreviated high-necked swirl of near-paisley, worn with suede boots. ‘Tell her she looks red hot’ jeers the bass-player from hell to the huddled masses.

Originally slated for the more low-rent ‘Duchess’ on Vicar Lane, a charting LP and a Top 30 single lever Belly up-market to this bigger venue – but they’re still turning kids away at the door. Belly go through their ‘Star’ album (Sire, January 1993) and beyond on maximum warp and minimum delicacy, opening with the highs and lows of “Don’t You Have Someone You’d Die For”, into the white powder “Dusted” at their most darkly electric, through the zip-gun power-pop of “Gepetto”, and finally the acoustic “Untogether” – an apres encore solo treat, Tanya’s most lightly shaded yet movingly intense piece.

Belly have guts, if you can stomach the pun. Bass-player Fred Abong – also formerly a-Muse-ing, quit Belly shortly after recording the album, so instead we get Gail Greenwood who shares a talent to a-muse. She’s the extrovert ‘Bass-Player From Hell’, a visual shock like a refugee from L7, with tartan kilt and backwards baseball cap pegging in torrents of head-shaking blonde hair. She apes the Rock ‘n’ Roll animal with two-fingers in the air, lurid squats and grimaces with much cock-rock phallic guitar waving, the macho bombast that only a female – in the spirit of affectionate piss-take – can get away with in the caring sharing Nineties. She forms the ideal female double act with (what we’ve been misled to believe is) Tanya’s more twee affectations. Lead guitarist Tom Gorman, by contrast, is the straightman, a still-life sketch of smudged blackness, studiously ignoring it all and concentrating on his fret. I know all this, and more...

Gail pruriently investigates some scuffed boxer shorts hurled from the masses, holds them up gingerly. ‘Fred Flintstone’. ‘Are ‘Fred Flintstone’ underpants still cool?’ Tanya sticks out an acre of tongue. You wonder how the playful radio-friendly sensibility of “Feed The Tree” can be melded into such attack. When it comes chromium-plated, tough and kicking, it sounds better than you ever imagined it could. On stage Belly are lyrical and inventive Trad-Rock, gender-shifting into new energies, parodying definitions and reinvigorating the toothless old whore of Rock. Belly hit all the right G-(for guitar)-spots. Fun Pain, until the Last American Virgin admits she’s ‘hot, tired, and tipsy’. ‘Not bad for a damned Yankee bitch, eh?’ two-fingers the bass-player from hell to the huddled masses.

Thursday 23 January 2020




Book Review of: 
(Blandford Press, Cassell PLC, Wellington House, 
125 Strand, London WC2R 0BB 
 £14.99, ISBN 0-7137-2651-2)

Michael Heatley

It’s bound to be subjective. You got your ‘classic’. I got mine. “Jailhouse Rock”. “Sweet Little Sixteen”. “Common People”. “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Yes. Yes. Yes – and yes. But “Do They Know It’s Christmas”? Wet Wet bloody-Wet’s “Love Is All Around”? Simple Minds! And Bryan for-CRIZEACHE Adams!! But no Hendrix!!! Do me a favour. This is a large-format profusely illustrated volume, which means you get commentary a smidgen longer than this review for each song, in blocks of text surrounded by lots of tasteful white space, and some splash photos. You turn to – say, “Mr Tambourine Man”, to discover that ‘Bob Dylan was regarded as the King of the Protest Singers’. Then – say, “God Save The Queen”, to the revelation that Malcolm McLaren was not only ‘the Sex Pistols manager and provocateur’ but that ‘he knew the value of publicity’. And ‘to call Britain ‘a fascist regime’ means that Johnny Rotten hadn’t a clue what he was writing about’. It seems Mr Heatley is not exactly attuned to Punk-Rock anarchy. He’s more at home with the sanitised mainstream post-New Wave Pop of Sting, who gets two entries, alongside Presley, Lennon and Paul Simon. While, to me, Mr Lydon’s playfully confrontational metaphor about the symbolic apex of Britain’s corrupt and shamefully elitist Class system seems... pretty apt. 

On firmer ground, the oldest song analysed here is John Lee Hooker’s “Crawlin’ Kingsnake” from 1949. Before the inauguration of Rock ‘n’ Roll. But with all the hard Blues ingredients there, already intact. The most recent is “Under The Bridge” – albeit through the stark Red Hot Chilli Peppers heroin-fuelled original rather than the smoothly Dance-remixed cleavage and pierced belly-button All Saints no.1. While I already know the story about Paul Simon writing “Homeward Bound” on the platform of Widnes Rail Station, or thereabouts. And that ‘Terry and Julie’ in the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” are widely assumed to be Terence Stamp and Julie Christie. Perhaps I’m being harsh. I’m too Rock-literate for my own good. This book is intended for the more general reader. And I guess they’ll love thumbing through it in Waterstones to see what Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh have to say about their (strictly subjective) faves. Before shoving it back on the shelf.

Published in:
‘ROCK ‘N’ REEL no.31’ 
(UK – October 1998)

Spencer Leigh

Tuesday 21 January 2020

1960s Movie: 'GEORGY GIRL'


 Review of: 
With Lynn Redgrave, James Mason, 
Alan Bates, Charlotte Rampling 
(Columbia Pictures 1966, DVD UCA 2005)

Tempted by the luring mannequin images in the salon window, Georgy goes into the hair-dressers and emerges with an elaborate beehive hair-style, but promptly disappears into a subway ‘Ladies’ where she rinses all traces of it away. Later, she finds herself stranded on a crossing-island by hurtling traffic, until two attractive girls appear and the cars immediately stop to let them pass. On the threshold of the Swinging Sixties, twenty-two-year-old Georgy-Porgy is the frumpy dowdy girl, self-conscious of her own figure and unsure of her own attraction. ‘The absolute story of my life’ she protests, ‘no matter what I try, god’s always got a custard pie up his sleeve.’ If it’s a fable of mistrusting superficial impressions over the true value of inner worth, it’s one that’s missed by her father, who chides ‘You walk about looking like a bloody tramp.’

‘Georgy Girl’ is filmed in moody and sharply atmospheric black-and-white, caught exactly between the old Kitchen Sink dramas and the new more playful youth spirit. ‘Have you got any aspirins, or dope or anything?’ enquires Alan Bates. He’d already appeared in the bleakly Northern ‘A Kind Of Loving’ (1962), now he wears a Mod-style cap and cavorts solo in a children’s playground, stopped only by the accusing stares of some watching kids. He breezes into Georgy’s flat singing ‘you’ll look a little lovelier each day’ from the Camay Soap TV-ad, with bantering dialogue. ‘Are you naked underneath that coat?’ he asks. ‘Stark!’ she answers flirtily. ‘Let’s have a look then’ he asks. ‘Three pence’ she counters. He shies away ‘too dear, Dear.’

The film’s central ménage orbits a dressed-down Lynn Redgrave, who is a graduate of the Redgrave theatrical-dynasty. She had been ‘Susan’ in ‘Tom Jones’ (1963) and done a BBC-TV ‘Comedy Playhouse’ with George Cole (21 June 1966), but it was her role as Georgina ‘Georgy’ Parkin that brings her to critical attention. ‘It celebrates the kookiness of Lynn Redgrave, child of the working class but reared in the rich household of her parents’ employer’ according to critic Alexander Walker. She runs a playgroup where children do expressive-dance to music from an open-top reel-to-reel tape recorder, and she tries to learn conversational Italian from a 45rpm record. Charlotte Rampling is cast as her swish friend Meredith who plays violin with an orchestra. First glimpsed preening before the mirror in her underwear, she’s as contrastingly chilly and stylishly cool as Georgy is plain and warm. Yet she’s a hedonistic friend who thoughtlessly sidelines Georgy in order to go out partying. A future icon of arthouse movies, Charlotte is perfectly cast in her first major role, following modelling assignments and a Cadbury’s TV-ad. Although she can be fleetingly glimpsed as an uncredited dolly-bird in the Beatles ‘A Hard Days Night’ (1964).

Likeable but feckless Jos Jones (Alan Bates), who works at a bank, is supposedly Meredith’s boyfriend, but as she dances out to meet another guy in a sports car, he’s left to entertain Georgy until she returns. She furtively watches him as he takes a bath while smoking a cigar, although he knowingly angles the door open to enable her a better view. They play-act an audition role in a typically kooky period way. But when Meredith returns and they start cavorting on the sofa, then on the floor all over a scrabble-board, Georgy first looks away… then is drawn to watch in wistful envy.

The back-up line is supplied by her parents – mother, and father Ted Parkin, played by Bill Owen showing the fine comic talent he’d bring to ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’. ‘What a way in which to speak’ he attempts to talk ‘posh’. Then ‘that’s the height of chick’ he says about a dress – meaning ‘chic’. They are live-in employees of wealthy forty-nine-year-old married James Leamington (a suitably creepy veteran James Mason), the self-made tycoon with obligatory north-country accent who has become Georgy’s proxy father and prospective Sugar Daddy. He’s drawn up the draught-copy of a legal contract effectively making Georgy his mistress. She sidesteps and refuses to answer. He kisses her awkwardly. At first she responds with increasing passion, before pushing him away, ‘you’re old enough to be my… managing director!’ The two men commiserate with each other. ‘If I were you, Ted, I’d take her over my knee, pull down her knickers and give her a bloody good tanning.’ Ted simply nods in resigned agreement.

The balance tips when a bored Meredith has rough-play sex with Jos in her basement flat, then teases him about being pregnant – again! The unplanned pregnancy and abortion are a staple of such movies – termination being still illegal until 1967, adding a touch of contemporary gritty realism. ‘I don’t care if it’s old hat’ Georgy protests, ‘I know it’s just a middle-class taboo and the law needs changing.’ On a seeming whim, despite resenting her condition, Meredith agrees to marry Jos. ‘You can be best man’ she tells Georgy. In contrast to an exuberant black wedding at the registry office before them, there are just the three of them, Georgy throws a single handful of confetti before it starts to rain, as if an omen of what is to come. The mismatched trio – soon to be four, share the flat, while Mason foots the bill for an expensive splurge of baby ‘things’. Meredith is still in denial over the impending child, as Jos and Georgy watch a TV birth-programme, read ‘Baby And Child Care’ and sit together more like the old married couple ‘by the light of a silvery telly’. ‘Isn’t it marvellous without her?’ he chortles. Until, in the middle of a violent argument – ‘You’re a bitch’ he says, ‘you’re a bastard’ says Meredith, he almost-accidentally kisses Georgy. ‘Thunderous chords on the piano’ mocks a jaded Meredith, ‘scream of train going into tunnel. Don’t pass out, dear.’ He’s realised that he loves Georgy – not Meredith, and he pursues her out into the street, chases her onto a Routemaster bus, and threatens to strip right there on the street until she accept him, with all the wacky irreverence of Swinging movies to come. Back in the flat they have sex. ‘We’ll live happily ever after’ he tells her. We suspect that this might not necessarily be true, as he flirts with the Maternity Ward nurses.

Sara is born – without an ‘h’, ‘Society For The Advancement Of Risky Anecdotes’ he jokily capitalises. The ward is filled with happy smiling family units, as Meredith files her nails. Jos takes a chocolate from the box he’s brought her, and he eats it himself. She hates the baby – ‘it’s hideous’, she intends to get it adopted. Until Georgy intervenes. ‘You have a free, gratis and for-nothing instant family’ Meredith tells Georgy, before going off with a new man. Jos reads ‘Woman’s Own’. James Mason watches them from his Jaguar.

As is the nature of these tales, James Mason is ‘overcome with grief and shock’ when his wife conveniently dies, Ellen Leamington (played by Rachel Kempson, Lynn’s real-life Mother!). ‘She was a beautiful woman, beautiful’ he confides to Ted, ‘tolerant, civilised, and about as exciting as a half-brick!’ While Georgy loves motherhood, Jos chafes at the enforced domesticity and lack of intimacy. She tries to explain their unorthodox live-in arrangements to the Health Officer. No, they’re not married. Well yes – he’s married, but not to her. And no, the child is not theirs.

The film uses evocative locations around the W2 Little Venice canal-side area, including Maida Avenue. To critic Alexander Walker ‘there was a great deal of physical running around town à la Godard, dancing in the rain like the bemused people in the telly commercials’ but it ‘did not even pretend to the recognizable social reality’ (in ‘Hollywood, England’, Harrap, 1974). There’s a touching final sequence where Jos and Georgy take a Thames boat-trip against the iconic Big Ben London skyline. Jos dances on the jetty as the boat draws away with her on it. Then he’s gone from her life. James offers to amend the terms of his contract. And she marries him. Two weddings, and a funeral.

There’s jazzy harpsichord on the soundtrack. Georgy’s piano ‘William Tell’ accompanies Ted’s rapid-run down the stairs as in a madcap silent movie comedy. And the Seekers are perfectly cast to incarnate the title-song, a frumpy awkward group, decided outsiders to the trendy Pop scene. After the demise of the Springfields – with Dusty quitting for her solo career, the Seekers were adopted by Tom Springfield who supplied a series of blandly catchy hits for the neat and cleanly turned-out Australian foursome, fronted by Judith Durham. For the film-song he collaborates with ‘Carry On’ star and one-time Pop Singer Jim Dale, with a different set of lyrics used on the soundtrack to the hit single. And just as Lulu topped the American chart propelled by the success of the ‘To Sir With Love’ (1967) movie, the huge popularity of the film served to provide the Seekers with their only major American hit. The only remaining question, to me, is why Paul Simon – who rarely collaborates with anyone on his compositions, chose to write at least three songs with Seeker Bruce Woodley, including the Cyrkle hits “Red Rubber Ball” and “Wish You Could Be Here” as well as “Cloudy”. While the seventh of the Seekers nine chart hits, “Georgy Girl” peaks at no.3, 23 March 1967 as the Beatles “Penny Lane” c/w “Strawberry Fields Forever” drops from no.2 to no.5, just as the Summer Of Love is about to open its techni-colourama kaleidoscope.

The song-lyric advise her to ‘shed those dowdy feathers and fly.’ Yet if ‘Georgy Girl’ is deemed an Ugly Duckling story, it fails to deliver on the fairy-tale swan coming-out dénouement. That blossoming never happens. This is not a Feminist fable. She finds fulfillment in motherhood, albeit with another woman’s child. She marries out of convenience rather than love to a man old enough to be her father. It’s a downbeat compromise, or a bleak acceptance rather than a happy ending. It’s that kind of movie.


(13 October 1966, Columbia Pictures) Producer: Robert A Goldston, Otto Plaschkes, George Pitcher Director: Silvio Narizzano. Based on the novel by Margaret Forster. With Lynn Redgrave (as Georgina ‘Georgy’ Parkin), James Mason (as James Leamington), Alan Bates (as Jos Jones), Charlotte Rampling (as Meredith), Bill Owen (as Ted Parkin), Clare Kelly (as Doris Parkin), Rachel Kempson (as Ellen Leamington), Denise Coffey (as Peg), Peggy Thorpe-Bates (as Hospital Sister), Dandy Nichols (Hospital Nurse), Dorothy Alison (Health Visitor), Terence Soall (Salesman). Music: “Georgy Girl” by the Seekers written by Tom Springfield with Jim Dale. Incidental music by Alexander Faris. (DVD, UCA 2005) 99-minutes

Monday 20 January 2020



15 October 1938-16 May 1993 
Early Rocker and Motown pioneer Marv Johnson
Hit recorder of “You Got What It Takes” and 
“I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose” – his career and legacy…

Marv Johnson had got what it takes to satisfy…

He was a bridge leading from authentic early Rock to sweet Soul, the raucous giving way to the smooth. An active ingredient in the evolution of Motown, he died of a stroke following yet another concert, in Columbia, South Carolina, on the sixteenth of May 1993.

His “You Got What It Takes” with fat honking horn and ‘yeh-yeh-yeh’ backing voices, is a ‘personality’ record with a wicked sense of humour – ‘you don’t drive a big fast car, you don’t look like a Movie Star, and on your money we won’t get far.’ Johnson’s abrasive Rock vocals are dirty with energy and sly suggestion, its raunchy R&B assault is sweetened by an infectious Pop sheen, a jive danceability and the ‘you send me’ teen-code. Some say the ‘nature didn’t give you such a beautiful face’ line is insulting. I don’t see it that way. There’s a kind of reality behind the humour. All women aren’t beautiful, it’s a fact. But they’re all equally worthy of love. That’s surely a sentiment worth celebrating? It hit the US no.10 in March 1960, and – issued on the distinctive black-and-silver London American label, despite strong opposition from a powerful Johnny Kidd And The Pirates cover version, Marv’s original soared to a UK no.5 beneath hits by Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and Anthony Newley. To me, at the time, it was just wonderfully catchy Rock ‘n’ Roll, in the way that Lloyd Price, Jimmy Jones or Jackie Wilson were Rock ‘n’ Roll. I knew nothing about how, with this 45rpm single, Motown was on its way! (Flip the record over, ‘B’-side “Don’t Leave Me” carries Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy and Brian Holland writer-credits).

With “You Got What It Takes” Marv Johnson had created at least one minor classic. The song would return with a vengeance in 1967 for the Dave Clark Five, and yet again for Showaddywaddy who take it to no.2 in July 1977. But there were a number of impressive also-rans…

Born in Detroit at a time when the American economy worked for god and General Motors, Marvin Earl Johnson began singing aged just thirteen when he formed and sang as part of the Gospel Doo-Wop Serenaders. After being spotted performing on a flatbed truck during the Detroit Carnival Parade, he went solo and soon achieved an American no.6 with “Come To Me” in April 1959, falsetto-highs and girls chanting ‘yeh-yeh-comma-comma-comma’ in a back-up groove that’s recognisably in a “Handy Man” style. Marv had a fine Soul voice, sharp good looks, and was an efficient piano-player, but the secret ingredient in the subsequent run of hits was frequently provided by Berry Gordy Jrn. Working part-time and afterhours Gordy was experimenting, defining and refining what was to become the world-conquering Motown ‘Sound Of Young America’ by writing and producing for Jackie Wilson and Etta James, as well as Marv Johnson – then leasing the resulting Tamla masters to United Artists, drawing raw R&B towards the crossover market with Pop-friendly hooks run over sharp handclap rhythms.

More Marv-elous hits followed, the piano-led “I Love The Way You Love” was no.9 USA and no.35 UK, while both the Sam Cooke swing of “(You’ve Got To) Move Two Mountains” and “Ain’t Gonna Be That Way” – with the Rayber Voices, charted as 1960 closed. Recorded at what would be the Hitsville USA studio, with Funk Brothers’ James Jamerson’s bass, these tracks form a valuable trove of vinyl history, written either by Berry Gordy, or by Marv himself in partnership with Gordy, creating a crisp and frothy R&B sound, as backing girl-vocals coo reedy ‘bop-shoo-bops’ and the Mr Bassman’s Bom-Bom-Bom delineates the jukebox bottom line. But with the acceleration of his own Motown label Gordy concentrated on the more crafted successes of the Miracles and Mary Wells, while Johnson declined into a lengthy eight-year hitless period, relegated to the Rock Revival Package tours. Touring Australia with great success. He continued to record for UA working on material written by – among others, Bert Berns who also penned “Here Comes The Night”, and who later relaunched Van Morrison into his solo career through his Bang label.

But it was to be a reconnection with Gordy that reignited Marv Johnson’s chart run. By August 1965 he’d issued a fine and now-collectible “Why Do You Want To Let Me Go” c/w “I’m Not A Plaything” on Tamla Motown proper (TMG 525). He eventually returned to the UK Top Ten with “I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose”. Although it failed in the US, the single was picked up by Northern Soul DJs for allnighters, which led to airplay, prompting re-promotion and boosting sales. Not quite prime Motown Chartbuster material, it’s a sweet and plaintive story-song with a gotcha sing-along hook, which remained a staple of MOR radio programming. It was followed into the Top Thirty nine months later by “I Miss You Baby (How I Miss You)” (no.25 in October 1969), Marv’s final American R&B hit.

He remained on the Motown staff, writing songs for Johnnie Taylor, the Dells and Tyrone Davis, while holding down a nine-to-five in the sales and promotion division. He also recorded new sides slanted at the Northern Soul market through subsequent hook-ups. An album of material drawn from this later period, yet named after his first chart hit ‘Come To Me’, including Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her”, as well as “It’s Magic Between Us”, and “Look, It’s Raining Sunshine” was issued by DJ Ian Levine’s Motorcity Records (CD distributed by Charly MOTCLP 37), and it shows that, at moments, Marv Johnson has still got what it takes to satisfy…