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Alan Price

+ {Alan Price Set}

The organist behind the transatlantic chart-topping re-interpretation of trad folk dirge, `The House Of The Rising Sun’ (as an integral member of The ANIMALS), singer-songwriter ALAN PRICE set his own stall out in the mid-60s. A topsy-turvy solo career ensued where he’d several spasmodic hits (including `I Put A Spell On You’, `Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear’ and `The House That Jack Built’), though initial album success came only in ’74, after signature tune, `Jarrow Song’, also entered the Top 10.
Born 19th April 1942, Fatfield, Washington, County Durham, England, in 1962 Alan helped form the aforementioned ANIMALS, a British blues band spearheaded by fellow Geordie, ERIC BURDON. The aptly-titled `We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ marked Alan’s exit from the group in May ’65, citing a fear of flying, though many documented that it was his increasing wrangles with main singer Eric and the band over the allocation of royalties that caused the split; he talked of the rift to BOB DYLAN, as seen in the 1967 rockumentary flick, “Don’t Look Back”.
Now on keyboards and vocals, Alan and the ALAN PRICE SET initially comprised Steve Gregory (tenor sax), John Walters (trumpet), Clive Burrows (baritone sax/flute/drums), Boots Slade (bass) and “Little” Roy Mills (sax/flute, drums), however plain sailing would not best describe the combo’s Decca Records debut effort, a version of BURT BACHARACH and Bob Hilliard’s `Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)’, which flopped in August ’65.
If at first you don’t succeed, then wait several months to try (and try) again was the motto for a Top 10 re-working of SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS’ `I Put A Spell On You’; AP’s only ever US Hot 100 hit as a soloist. Proving the chart smash was no fluke, the six-piece nigh-on consolidated the feat with third UK single, `Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo’, a show tune from the 1953 film, Lili. The group’s subsequent flop version of `Willow Weep For Me’ (author: Ann Ronell), probably accounted for the poor showing of THE PRICE TO PLAY (1966) {*6}, a rather run-of-the-mill R&B covers record that absorbed tracks by his American idols from ROBERT PARKER, VAN McCOY and DON COVAY, to STEVIE WONDER, The MIRACLES and OTIS REDDING.
The first of Alan’s many interpretations of RANDY NEWMAN songs: `Simon Smith And His Amazing Dancing Bear’, earned him and his combo their biggest hit to date, and things looked on the ascendancy when `The House That Jack Built’ (authored by Bobby Lance & Fran Robbins) also hit the Top 5. However, once again, the latter smash didn’t equate to parent album sales, as the partly AP-penned A PRICE ON HIS HEAD (1967) {*6} fell short of its target. With no less than seven then-unknown NEWMAN numbers that did not include “Simon Smith”, rather DYLAN’s `To Ramona’ and GOFFIN & KING’s `On This Side Of Goodbye’, the “set” was abandoned in more ways than one when PRICE went solo on the back of calypso swan song Top 20 hit, `Don’t Stop The Carnival’.
For the next few years or so, ALAN PRICE couldn’t buy a hit as his star faded into a post-psychedelic haze; even a one-off blast-from-the-past, `The Trimdon Grange Explosion’ – a sort of poor man’s PROCOL HARUM – failed to hack it for the normally hip and astute Deram Records. The late 60s was a time best left in the annuls of time, as his musical, Price To Play (featuring guest spots for FLEETWOOD MAC, JIMI HENDRIX, among others), floundered unceremoniously.
A change of tact and a dramatic change of style led the artist to find “fame”, so to speak, when the (Georgie) FAME AND PRICE, PRICE AND FAME TOGETHER alliance hit pay-dirt in April ’71 with the quirky and catchy near-Top 10 smash hit, `Rosetta’. However, the pair’s US-styled R&B pop antics on their eponymous LP couldn’t compete with the burgeoning prog album and glam-rock singles scenes that ensnared a new youth of the day, a youth that was not so enamoured whilst their parents tapped their blue-sueded slippers on F&P’s passed-sell-by-date spots on The Two Ronnies TV show. Life-long Sunderland F.C. supporter Alan had now wed Maureen Elizabeth Donneky, and they went on to have daughter Elizabeth; they divorced prior to Alan marrying again; this time in 1990 to Alison Thomas, who bore him a second daughter.
A second wave of PRICE’s career began in earnest by 1973, when filmmaker Lindsay Anderson took a unique approach for O LUCKY MAN! {*7}, the sophomore part of his Mick Travis trilogy, in which he commissioned the ex-ANIMALS icon to write songs in tandem with the development of the script, effectively using him and his solo band as a greek chorus. PRICE appeared in the film itself, punctuating the action with live performances before joining the narrative himself.
Essentially a modern retelling of Voltaire’s “Candide”, Anderson’s film was many things, but at heart it was a sprawling critique of capitalism, and PRICE’s score was an excellent piece of detournment; performing a set of songs that wouldn’t necessarily sound out of place on later BEATLES albums; it would be easy enough on first listen to miss the tang of medicine in AP’s spoonfuls of sugar. The nonchalant groove of the man’s meat and potato pop-rock belied the underlying satire and perfectly complemented the tone of the film, which used the innocence, optimism and naivety of main character, Travis, to explore its somewhat darker themes.
The mock triteness of some of the lyrics was an ironic counterpoint to some of the more vicious or blackly comic plot developments, as PRICE took the role of conscience, questionable mentor or sage observer. The wry knowingness of the title track gave way to the deadpan delivery of lyrics such as “Poor people are poor people/They don’t understand”, before going on to presciently essay the capitalist “winner takes us all” mentality that was then in the ascendant with “Someone’s got to win in the human race/If it isn’t you it has to be me” (`Poor People’).
PRICE delivered lines like “Sell, sell, sell/Everything you stand for” (`Sell Sell’) set to a vampish boogie, with such lack of care that one could almost forget that this was an immoral thing.
Similarly, on `Justice’ when he crooned “Only wealth will buy you justice” the overriding effect was not of an indictment, but more a statement of natural fact; the insidious evolution of capitalist society once more ironically naturalised by PRICE’s winning charm. `Changes’ put new lyrics to the hymn, `What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ and then transformed it into a music hall boogie (in the film, the audience are invited with title cards in a selection of languages to sing along). A more spirited reprise of the title track closed the set, and the film itself, leaving the listener to draw their own conclusions – a risky gamble that didn’t seem to pay off for either Anderson or PRICE, who failed to gain an Oscar nomination for this set, much to star Malcolm McDowell’s chagrin. Overall, an excellent soundtrack that sadly shared the fate of the film itself: rarely aired, often misunderstood and highly underrated.
The mysterious shelving of Alan’s bona fide spring ‘74 follow-up, “Savaloy Dip” (later unfettered in 2015), went unnoticed when counterpart concept set, BETWEEN TODAY AND YESTERDAY (1974) {*8} raced into the Top 10 on the strength of Northern working-class self-scribed signature hit, `Jarrow Song’. Although encased in RANDY NEWMAN-styled aplomb and embellished by Geordie-land personality, the literate 30-something uncle Alan appealled to fans ELTON JOHN, GILBERT O’SULLIVAN and LEO SAYER for the all-encompassing title track, plus `Dream Of Delight’, `You’re Telling Me’ and opening salvo, `Left Over People’.
A switch from Warner Brothers to Polydor Records for 1975’s METROPOLITAN MAN {*6} divided opinions as the set screamed out for another hit; the uptempo `Papers’ was surely one that got away despite decent day-time radio airplay. The piano man’s transition into proper acting in sequel “Alfie Darling” (deputising for Michael Caine), was a task and a half to fulfil, and alongside Jill Townsend, Joan Collins and a raft of established thespians, he took a bit of a pasting. Alan’s all-round MOR music appeal was again under the critical firing line for the out-of-sync, but nevertheless effective double-LP concert, PERFORMING PRICE (1975) {*6}, whilst SHOUTS ACROSS THE STREET (1976) {*6} – featuring sleeve artwork by Gerald Scarfe (pre-PINK FLOYD’s `The Wall’ – fell on deaf ears.
Without fame or fortune, Alan teamed up with boogie-woogie performer Rob Hoeke on 1977’s Dutch-only LP, TWO OF A KIND {*3}, though this rather ill-advised endeavour was thankfully overshadowed by an eponymous ALAN PRICE (1977) {*6} set for Jet Records. And sounding as if he’d taken inspiration from labelmates ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA (e.g. `Rainbow’s End’ etc.), there was little hope that the new wave movement would pay heed. 1979’s ENGLAND MY ENGLAND {*5} and 1980’s RISING SUN {*5} also hit the buffers, whilst the once-revered star was jettisoned from the label.
With the fledgling Key Records taking AP under their wing, A ROCK’N’ROLL NIGHT AT THE ROYAL COURT THEATRE (1981) {*5} and the original West End cast recording of “Andy Capp” – starring Tom Courtney and co-scoresmith himself, PRICE – preceded the belatedly-dispatched (Mike) Travis trilogy, Britannia Hospital. The pianist’s soundtrack didn’t meriting a vinyl release, although his theme song `Time And Tide’ to the animated film, “The Plague Dogs”, did emerge in 1982.
In 1983, GEORDIE ROOTS & BRANCHES {*5} maintained Alan’s profile, if not his street cred, and marked time before his return for Trojan Records on TRAVELLIN’ MAN (1986) {*4}. The soundtrack to Lindsay Anderson’s 1987’s twilight-years movie, THE WHALES OF AUGUST {*5}, was sanctioned by Varese Sarabande.
1989’s first and only for Ariola Records, LIBERTY {*7}, was something of a critical comeback for PRICE, although the “Jarrow Song” artist would never again find the fame he’d gleaned in previous decades. Content now to drift in and out of nostalgic times via his “The Electric Blues Company” sets: COVERS (1994) {*5} and A GIGSTER’S LIFE FOR ME (1996) {*5}, 2002’s solo excursion, BASED ON A TRUE STORY {*5}, brought to a close Alan’s career as he settled for domesticity and supporting his beloved Sunderland F.C.
© MC Strong/MCS 2008/LCS/SW // rev-up MCS Oct2019

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