Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Celtic soul bother

When I was about 19, a highlight of my week was a club called Creation, organised by a couple of my university friends, where the music policy was an intriguing blend of punk, indie, soul and funk, with a smattering of the house and hip-hop tracks that were still considered pretty left-field at the time. Part of the fun was identifying the unexpected meeting points: the yearning melancholy in so many soul tracks; the fact that it didn’t feel wrong to dance to white-boy jangle.

It was the first time I’d properly encountered the genre known as Northern Soul – essentially obscure American soul records, mostly from Detroit and Chicago, that had been rediscovered in the late 1960s by club DJs in Northern England (and, if we are to believe the so-so Gervais/Merchant flick Cemetery Junction, had made it to Reading by 1973). One of my favourite tracks was ‘Nine Times Out Of Ten’ by Muriel Day, a track that managed to sound like both ‘The Boy From New York City’ by Darts and the theme from Sesame Street, but still maintain a certain cool. I knew nothing about Ms Day, but then I knew nothing about Frank Wilson, Tobi Legend, Judy Street or most of the other performers.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was rooting around a few sites about the music scene in Ireland in the 60s and 70s, and noted that in 1969 a singer named Muriel Day was the first performer from Northern Ireland to represent the Republic at the Eurovision Song Contest. I chuckled at the coincidence, but then realised that this was in fact the same woman. The singer I’d assumed had been plucked from the canteen at the Ford factory in Detroit was in fact a native of Newtownards, County Down. A tiny fragment of my youth crumbled to dust. But it’s still a great tune. I think.

Actually, I only came upon the stuff about Muriel because of a passing reference in a radio programme to the Miami Showband massacre. This took place in 1975, and I have very hazy memories of news reports about the atrocity. Essentially, UVF members disguised as soldiers stopped the band’s minibus, intending to plant a bomb on it and frame them as terrorists. The bomb exploded prematurely, killing two of the UVF men, and their colleagues opened fire, killing three of the musicians.

What I didn’t really know was what the Miami Showband sounded like. I found a few audio clips of them from the 60s and 70s, but all the footage seemed to be from their later, post-tragedy incarnations. Like, er, this...

There’s so much to love: the lyrics; the glasses; the vocoder; the scat singing; the syndrum solos. But above all, it’s the choreography that’s so adorable: the shrugging; the twirls; the moment at about 1:10 when the girls respond to the line about getting down with a decorous squat.

Maybe, somewhere in a parallel musical universe, a pair of DJs are introducing this undiscovered gem to a bunch of innocent 19-year-olds. Or maybe not.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is The "Amazing" Darts & the peerless Sesame Street combined.

But hey, Muriel Day, Anita O'Day, Daniel Day Lewis, er, er, Daley Thompson - are we not exotic enough for you?

It was, and to some extent is, the curse of Ireland that bands were and are still pretending to be American. Some would say it's a blessing I suppose.

The Miami Showband were hugely popular at the time. The killings had a chilling effect on touring for a while.

The UVF guys who were dressed as soldiers included some who were in fact British soldiers too - members of the UDR - the locally raised and based Ulster Defence Regiment (since scrapped).

There's a tenuous link to Breakfast on Pluto, the lovely film based on the Patrick McCabe book.

The lead singer in the real life Miami Showband, Fran O'Toole (who was killed in the massacre) wrote a couple of songs for another Irish band The Indians. In the film a glam rock band called the Mohawks who perform in American Indian outfits and play stuff like Running Bear are stopped, but not massacred at all, by a British army checkpoint. Unlike the real life Miami Showband, the lead singer (Gavin Friday) is storing guns for the IRA.

That's enough trivia for now. Off you go now and watch Breakfast on Pluto, it may even rehabilitate Sugar baby Love by the Rubettes for you. It did it for me.

garfer said...

There were loads of show bands in Ireland during the 70's moatly, but not exclusively, from the Republic.

The North had its own 60's blues boom producing the likes of Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher.

Led Zeppelin first aired Stairway to Heaven at the Ulster Hall in 1971 while the streets were exploding in bloody mayhem.

That's enough triv.

Tim F said...

Did enjoy Breakfast on Pluto, BWT. But one thing that intrigues me about the Miami is the way the brand outlives the individual membership, and that they plough on with the aura of tragedy about them, but are still very much 'alive'. (Cf Thin Lizzy still going on without Lynott, etc.) That said, if the incarnation in the YouTube clip is anything to go by, I'm not sure how they came by their reputation.

Didn't Gallagher come from Cork, Garfer?

Anonymous said...

Yeah - bit weird that video. And by weird I mean unspeakably awful. Can it really be the same bunch, in whatever incarnation?

Rory might have been literally from the South, but in some other way - nominally, in spirit, seemingly, in my imagination - he was of the North. Donegal in particular.

And he was great - if, like Pele, a little tubbier in the flesh than I expected.

Unknown said...

Hey everyone i am pleased to be a very good friend of Muriels and her manager, she has just released a brand new orginal christmas song "merry christmas", shes a fantastci lady and if anyone would like to get in contact to book her etc, she would be delighted.Malcolm 07747083906