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Georgie Fame

+ {Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames}

Delivering trad jazz and rhythm & blues to the masses, swinging mid-60s singer/keyboardist GEORGIE FAME (and his Blue Flames) was the toast of towns across the length and breadth of Britain… and beyond. Not as popular, as say, another Manchester-connected Georgie (the “Best”), who also entertained crowds of adoring fans, clean-cut FAME gleaned a fortune from several smash hits, including a triumvirate of chart-toppers, namely `Yeh, Yeh’, `Get Away’ and `The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde’ (the latter his only Stateside Top 10 success).
Born Clive Powell, 26 September 1943, Leigh, Gtr. Manchester, Lancashire, England, the teenager went from working at a cotton weaving mill to performing at a talent contest at Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Pwllheli in Wales. It was here that Clive was spotted by jaded rock’n’roll bandleader, Rory Blackwell, who offered him a job as pianist with his Blackjacks. At the turn of the 60s, on the recommendation of stage musicals exponent Lionel Bart, the 16-year-old signed a deal under the wing of Larry Parnes (manager of TOMMY STEELE), who strongly insisted he take a stage name; much like his other protégés BILLY FURY, JOE BROWN, MARTY WILDE, VINCE EAGER et al. Georgie’s claim to fame back then, was that he played piano to back US stars GENE VINCENT and the ill-fated EDDIE COCHRAN.
When singer/tenor sax player Alan “Earl” Watson bailed out, GEORGIE FAME & THE BLUE FLAMES were formed in December 1961. By the following February to May, when said jazz band – then augmenting BILLY FURY – were sacked by Parnes, the original line-up gelled with guitarist Colin Green (who soon gave way to Joe Moretti; then JOHN McLAUGHLIN), drummer Red Reece, bassist Tex Makins (superseded by Rod “Boots” Slade), saxophonist Michael Eve, and Neeomi “Speedy” Acquaye (replaced by Tommy Thomas); session man Big Jim Sullivan featured on the band’s blue-beat debut platter, `Do The Dog’; released by Columbia Records in January 1964. One of the tracks from the live in London set, RHYTHM AND BLUES AT THE FLAMINGO {*8}, most of the year was almost a wash-out until sophomore set, FAME AT LAST {*7}, entered the charts. Marshall’s had now passed to Peter Coe, whilst there were additions in Glenn Hughes (baritone sax) and Eddie “Tan-Tan” Thornton (trumpet). On the LP’s completion, the Blue Flames added the returning Colin Green, and when Reece fell in (deputised briefly by Tommy Frost), sticksman Bill Eyden was readily available.
An exclusive, outsourced single, `Yeh, Yeh’ (once an instrumental but re-vamped by Lambert, Hendricks & Annie Ross), started its steady climb that December, and by January ’65, it was atop the charts. The said set was duly re-named “Yeh Yeh” for American audiences after said song; issued on Imperial Records it made #21. There were of course variations to the track listings (as with mostly every band’s US LPs), but in essence, featuring `Get On The Right Track, Baby’, `Let The Sunshine In’ and others authored by CURTIS MAYFIELD, GOFFIN-KING, MARVIN GAYE et al, its UK original title proved to be profoundly prophetic.
Subsequent singles, `In The Meantime’, `Like We Used To’ and `Something’, beat a path to the Top 30, or thereabouts, before Slade and Eyden were respectively substituted by Cliff Barton and John “Mitch” Mitchell; the latter soon-to-be sticksman for The JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE. On the back of a second No.1, `Get Away’, a solo-credited but Blue Flames linked SWEET THINGS {*7} – US title as with hit single – sold well enough to reach the Top 10. Even without the main hit, the record’s carefree cheer came by way of LORD KITCHENER’s calypso cue, `Dr. Kitch’, and other amiable R&B staples from `See Saw’ and `My Girl’ to `The “In” Crowd’ and belated hit, `Sitting In The Park’.
Only a matter of months apart and sadly putting out the fire of The Blue Flames, a solo and sedated GEORGIE FAME (& The Harry South Big Band) – featuring Jimmy Deuchar, Dick Morrissey, Tubby Hayes etc. – pandered to the pianist’s inner, easy-on-the-ear jazz Top 10 LP, SOUND VENTURE (1966) {*6}. If there cries of sell-out from some quarters as the 23-year-old went from nursery rhyme `Three Blind Mice’ to a rousing reading of JAMES BROWN’s `Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’, there was indeed further consternation by way of follow-on candy-coated Top 20 single, `Because I Love You’. No surprise then that GF toured with jazz giant Count Basie the following year.
CBS Records were also behind the half-live – at the Royal Festival Hall – half-studio set: THE TWO FACES OF FAME (1967) {*5}. Somehow, Georgie managed to pull off a near Top 20 entry, despite the flower-power scene being somewhat usurped by his blue-eyed soul under the big-band umbrella. Then again, there was something endearing with the suave and sophisticated pose of a cool and calculated artist in touch with his inner being; a man who could perform Mercer Ellington’s `Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’ and Milt Jackson’s `Bluesology’ as easily as witty standards, `Keep Your Big Mouth Shut’ and the organ-ic `El Pussy Cat’.
When the single `Try My World’ petered out at No.37, FAME’s gamble to regenerate a jazz agenda to seasoned Brits looked doomed. Then in December ’67, up popped his third No.1, `The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde’, a glorified gangster track that couldn’t give his THE THIRD FACE OF FAME (1968) {*5} LP the necessary boost to chart. Ropey renditions of The BEATLES’ `When I’m Sixty Four’, DONOVAN’s `Mellow Yellow’, Gershwin’s `Someone To Watch Over Me’ and blues staple `St. James Infirmary’, did not float everyone’s boat, and when an exclusive cover of JIMMY WEBB’s `By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ flopped (ditto 1969’s casual and elegant GEORGIE DOES HIS THING WITH STRINGS {*5}), the FAME formula had worn thin. And despite securing two further moderate hits by way of `Peaceful’ and the WILLIE DIXON-penned title track to SEVENTH SON (1969) {*6}, the “Yeh Yeh” man was on a sticky wicket.
Almost desperate to kick-start the new decade with some street cred, the almost perplexing SHORTY: Featuring Georgie Fame (1970) {*6} set – recorded live in New York – fell short of a UK release. The record saw our Georgie sit in next to Colin Green (guitar), Alan Skidmore (tenor sax/flute), Brian Odgers (bass) and Harvey Burns (drums) in an attempt to stir up a heavier jazz-rock melting pot in his sunshine-y interpretations of the blues (i.e. `Oliver’s Gone’, `Somebody Stole My Thunder’ etc.).
A long-time friend of the fellow keyboard kingpin, Geordie ALAN PRICE, the equally famous Georgie joined forces to secure a big hit in spring ’71 – as FAME AND PRICE, PRICE AND FAME TOGETHER – with the infectiously catchy Mike Snow number, `Rosetta’. But instead of issuing a parent collaboration set to accompany the disc, FAME instead bolstered his own solo CV by way of the UK-only GOING HOME {*6}. When this LP bombed unceremoniously, a few months grace saw the pair’s GEORGIE FAME AND ALAN PRICE {*5} LP let out of the bag. Alan offered up four self-penned contributions to Clive Powell’s one (`Time I Moved On’), and even a cover of RANDY NEWMAN’s `Yellow Man’, paid its due to acolyte PRICE.
In the year ahead, Georgie was embroiled in a little controversy when it was revealed he’d had an affair with Nicolette Vane-Tempest Stewart, the Marchioness of Londonderry, about to be divorced from the Marquess. In fact, after paternity tests, it was also revealed the Leigh man was indeed the father of Tristan Alexander (born in 1969). The publicity died down, however, when the Georgie married Nicolette, and she soon gave birth to their second son, James Michael; Nico, as she was nicknamed, committed suicide in 1993 after jumping off Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge.
Whilst FAME’s subsequent solo album, ALL ME OWN WORK {*5}m hit the buffers when released in summer ’72 by Reprise Records, and another single with Alan (`Don’t Hit Me When I’m Down’) also went south, there was indeed hope when the “Get Away” man inked deal with the evergreen Island label. His eponymous GEORGIE FAME (1974) {*6} album was indeed a masterstroke for producer/engineer Glyn Johns, who properly transformed the former R&B/bluebeat artist (with The Blue Flames’ Colin Green in tow) into a yacht-rock singer; best in show, a cover of J.J. CALE’s `Everlovin’ Woman’. Much to Georgie’s chagrin, topical singles – among them `Ali Shuffle’ – boxed him into a corner, whilst his “Daylight” set was shelved in 1977 as Island Records passed him over.
PYE and then Piccadilly Records picked up the pieces for FAME’s next three rapid-fire LPs: RIGHT NOW! (1979) {*4}, THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR (1979) {*5} and CLOSING THE GAP (1980) {*3}.
Closer to jazz than ever, the 80s produced a trio of organic collaborations, the first of which (IN HOAGLAND 1981 (1981) {*5}) teamed him up with twilight stars Hoagy Carmichael and Annie Ross. After a snooker-loopy single, `The Hurricane’, in honour of 1982 world champion Alex Higgins, FAME’s joint effort with Sylvia Vrethammar, IN GOODMANSLAND (1983) {*5}, played to the nostalgia crowd. Now taking up residence in Sweden, 1986’s GEORGIE FAME, LENA ERICSSON, LARS SAMUELSON {*5} preceded a couple of bona fide sets for Four Leaf Clover Records: NO WORRIES (1988) {*5} and A PORTRAIT OF CHET (1989) {*6}; the latter a tribute to the passing in May ’88 of cool jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, whom he met way back in 1959.
The 90s were as much of a re-branding of GEORGIE FAME, than simply just a faded twilight years star playing the circuit. Building up to his time as credited cohort of VAN MORRISON on the album, `How Long Has This Been Going On’ (the same pair – plus MOSE ALLISON and BEN SIDRAN – released another jazz set, `Tell Me Something – The Songs Of Mose Allison’), the keyboard kingpin released COOL CAT BLUES (1991) {*6}.
A year on, The Go Jazz All Stars (consisting of Sidran, FAME, Bob Malach & Ricky Peterson) issued the collaborative “Live In Japan” (recorded in Tokyo, 20 April, 1991), whilst the organist hero, among other collaborative duties – was quite prolific by way of THE BLUES AND ME (1992) {*4} and THREE LINE WHIP (1993) {*5} – the latter featuring his sons Tristan (guitar) and James (drums). It was indeed inevitable that Georgie would go full circle by returning to an old jazz haunt; NAME DROPPIN’: LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (1997) {*7} and WALKING WOUNDED: LIVE AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (1998) {*7} proving beyond doubt his prowess and dexterity, something he’d kept running whilst being a concurrent member of the all-star BILL WYMAN & The Rhythm Kings.
Post-millennium, FAME was back on the right track again with the collaborative POET IN NEW YORK (2000) {*5} – featuring David Hazeltine, Peter Washington, Malach and Louis Hayes. Duly founding his own Three Line Whip imprint, the themed RELATIONSHIPS (2001) {*6} and CHARLESTONS (2003) {*6} kept the wolf from the door, so to speak. However it would be his resurrection of The Last Blue Flames for 2009’s TONE-WHEELS `A’ TURNIN’ {*6} that created a stir among the lounge jazz fraternity.
Not one to settle for pipe and slippers, the still buoyant keyboardist returned in 2012 for his umpteenth solo set, LOST IN A LOVER’S DREAM {*6}. Two years down the line, he resumed a professional partnership with the gracious Madeline Bell (ex-BLUE MINK) – whom he’d collaborated in 1992 on BBC’s “City Life” project – on the belated dispatch of SINGER – THE MUSICAL (2014) {*6}; recorded live in Tilburg, Holland, back in 2004.
Much more up to date, summer 2015 to be exact, Georgie, Uschi Bruning and Alan Skidmore Quartet, unfettered the enterprising A DECLARATION OF LOVE {*6}. And now finally succumbing to the end of his all-encompassing career, GEORGIE FAME AND THE LAST BLUE FLAMES signed off that November with the delightful SWAN SONGS {*7}. The nigh-on totally FAME-scribed set – all but two tracks – was supported by his aforementioned sons, plus saxophonist Skidmore, bassist Alec Dankworth, vibraphonist Anthony Kerr, trumpeter Guy Barker, percussionist Ralph Salmins, and guest Madeline Bell (on two: `Gray’s March’ and `My Ship’). A fitting end to a wonderful career, Georgie excelled on the calypso cut, `De Caribbean Way’, and the Count Basie-inspired `Diary Blues’.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2019

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