*I notice - admittedly only as an aside - an attempt by Reynolds in Word magazine to partially rehabilitate the early '60s trad jazz revival as part of a continuum of "white people getting the funk" long before Tony Wilson said they did, seemingly because the Daily Mail dissed it in 1962. To invoke such ancient cuttings today is unhealthily reminiscent of the way those for whom "Pirate Johnnie Walker" is the highlight of their weekend continue to regard themselves as somehow inherently rebellious - whatever the Mail may or may not have said very nearly half a century ago, it doesn't change the fact that trad jazz was as much part of the post-Suez stasis as the Mail itself. The paper's outrage back then was partially because the music's fans (as Reynolds himself concedes, and c.f. also Raymond Durgnat's remarks in Standing Up for Jesus - itself a fine example of an astoundingly strong piece of rhetoric which nevertheless would make no sense at all if translated to the present) were largely middle-class (and therefore the Mail cared more about keeping them within its own confines than it did about the largely working-class tribes who would create much more inventive youth cultures throughout the '60s, who were prole scum beyond salvation as far as they were concerned), and partially because - I suspect - it stll employed many of the same writers who had been around when trad jazz wasn't trad, when the Mail had said hurrah for the Blackshirts, when indeed a fear of this new, intimidating sound was a crucial factor in their Nazi sympathies. These writers are long since dead, and for all those of their ilk today, trad jazz has been completely neutralised through the passing of time. As it was Reynolds himself who rightly likened Britpop to the trad revival (and thus, by implication, to the era of the Last Aristocratic Government, before Harold Wilson's emergence) back in the mid-1990s, when such a comparison genuinely seemed blasphemous to Britain's dominant pop-cultural arbiters, it is depressing to see him attempting to reclaim it as part of a continuum with the genuinely inventive white British reinventions of black American music that have followed, rather than see it for what it actually was, the antecedent of both Britpop and Heritage Soul.
Sunday, 15 February 2009
A cringe we should all be ashamed of
The forelock-tugging response to the supposed "British victory" at the Grammy awards - yes, Carmody, only a week late - is dispiriting not so much for what it is itself (all too familiar and, I fear, unavoidable) but for the way the apologists for Heritage Soul genuinely appear to believe that "our" winners are in the tradition of the canonical British "greats" of the '60s, i.e. they have sold a freshened reinvention of the best of black American music back to the US. The truth of the matter is that these pallid, tedious, NuTory-friendly weaklings stand a better comparison with the likes of Chris Barber and Kenny Ball, who in the late '50s / early '60s sold a similarly irrelevant and timewarped pastiche of the black American music of several decades earlier back to the US* ("Petite Fleur" and "Midnight in Moscow" were among the few major pre-Beatles British hits there - "Stranger on the Shore" was even bigger, but it has little to do with jazz of any kind). The arbiters of the American "mainstream" in the early '60s would have been far more comfortable with those records than they were with, say, the Miracles' "Shop Around", even though that had reached number 2 on the pop charts. Whoever is in the White House and whatever advances may be made in other fields, the pop-cultural part of the American elite's obsession with British Heritage Soul shows that their mindset today is essentially the same. Luckily, the US audiences who really count - i.e. those unconfined by Heritage, the equivalent audiences of those who put "Shop Around" where it was all that time ago - far prefer T.I. and Lil Wayne. Other than as indicators of a desperate heritagised elite searching for something they feel happy with, the Grammys don't matter. But Britain should feel ashamed of its cringe on every possible level.