Senior Programme Producer Phil Johnson gets excited about the visit of Georgie Fame and curates a selective mini-guide to his repertoire of recordings over 50 years.
There’s been some legends in my time at St George’s, including Philip Glass, Mariza, Gregory Porter, Ute Lemper, Michel Legrand, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Cleo Laine, Brad Mehldau, Oumou Sangare, Joe Lovano, Baba Maal and more, but Georgie Fame, who appears on Friday 27 October, is for me a particularly satisfying booking. It’s his first time here I think – at least while I’ve been programming – and I’ve been a fan ever since I bought the single of his chart-topper ‘Yeh Yeh’ when I was a kid of ten or so.
It helps too, that he is absolutely great, and a total original within English jazz, R&B, soul or however you choose to categorise his particular personal style, which hasn’t really changed since ‘Yeh Yeh’ – actually arranged, Fame told Jools Holland, by jazz genius Tubby Hayes – which still sounds almost impossibly cool. He also introduced through his early work a whole host of hip performers, composers and lyricists that I would only come to discover myself years later, covering songs by Mose Allison, King Pleasure, Marvin Gaye, Joe Liggins and more on the same debut studio LP, Fame At Last!, that contained ‘Yeh Yeh’, itself a John Hendricks lyric to a Mongo Santamaria instrumental written by Rodgers Grant and Pat Patrick. As Georgie said when I reviewed him at Ronnie Scott’s years ago:”I bought the record and 22 years later Matt Bianco bought mine” (read the full review here).
Shortly afterwards, when he began to move more consciously from pop into jazz, his Sound Ventures album with the Harry South Big Band became a big cult hit with mods, a constituency Fame had been popular with ever since his residency at Soho’s Flamingo club all-nighter, an era you can hear him discussing with Jamie Cullum here.
Georgie Fame was also the first musician I did a big arts feature on when I began working as the Independent newspaper’s jazz critic in 1990, interviewing him at his home in Somerset and hearing the fantastic story of his progress from Lancashire cotton mill to Butlins talent show to Billy Fury’s pianist (the Blue Flames were originally Fury’s backing band, and when Georgie was sacked for liking Ray Charles more than rock ’n’ roll, he took both name and band with him). The Independent piece is so old I can’t find it online but Georgie (who of course wasn’t really Georgie at all, but plain Clive Powell until pop svengali Larry Parnes changed his name) told some terrific tales, as well as plugging a very good new album, Cool Cat Blues, produced by Ben Sidran and featuring a Who’s Who of the best session players in New York City. As Sidran reports on his website, everyone said yes when told the session was for Georgie Fame. The album also features a lovely reggae-fied reworking of ‘Yeh Yeh’, which you can hear here, followed by the original recording, and a live version from Jools Holland from 2000…
At a precociously early age Georgie was also memorialised for jazz history by having a song written about him by the incomparable singer/pianist Blossom Dearie. ‘Sweet Georgie Fame’ by Blossom herself can be heard here, followed by a version of the song by Tony Bennett. And not many male vocalists get Tony Bennett singing about them.
But if I had to choose four songs – other than ‘Yeh Yeh’ – to demonstrate the essence of Fame, or perhaps to convince unbelievers, these would probably do the job: ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’ is a fairly straight cover of the King Pleasure bop-vocalese classic, which puts lyrics to a James Moody sax solo. The version here, from that first studio album referred to earlier, is notable for Georgie’s soulful vocal delivery and subtle Hammond organ vamps. ‘Everything Happens to Me’, which I’ve just discovered on Youtube, is an oddity from ‘Georgie Does His Thing With Strings’ (whose cover attempts a coy kitsch riposte to ‘Electric Ladyland’), with a very cool and Chet Baker-ish vocal on a tune familiar from Charlie Parker’s recordings with strings. Georgie’s version of the Neil Hefti tune ‘Lil Darlin’, recorded most famously by Count Basie with the vocal team of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, is from the aforementioned Sound Venture and is close to perfect (listen here). And finally, here’s Georgie from 2010 with Van Morrison, on ‘Vanlose Stairway’, a stunning performance that you can’t really follow.
This will have to do, although I could go on, and on. But the final point, and one I should have made much earlier, is that his St George’s date will be a specially requested intimate trio performance featuring his sons Tristram and James Powell on guitar and drums, with Georgie on Hammond organ, and maybe – who knows? – piano. It should therefore suit the venue perfectly, so tell all your friends. I for one can’t wait.
Friday 27 October, 8pm
£28 Front Stalls, £25, £22, £5 Students/U18s (limited availability) (plus fees)
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