Cover Up

I had a private message from a user on Instagram this week, he said what disco song are you listing to at the moment. Now this may seem a random question to ask a stranger, but he’s obviously ready my mini bio on my account which says, “Englishman in Abruzzo working in Italian real estate who likes the occasional Aperol spritz and classic disco tunes.” So I responded saying I was listening to How Much, How Much I Love You by Love and Kisses, a group put together by European music producer Alec Costandinos and it was only after I’d responded that I looked at the album cover for this 3 track album which features the famous nude on a horse.

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Back in the 1970’s at the hieght of the disco movement the album covers were deliberately sexy with some almost bordering on soft porn, take the first Love and Kisses album with the ripped T-shirt and men’s hands.

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Looking at these album covers I think it’d be fair to say that they were more than likely designed by men. Back in the 1970’s these covers were seen as fun and saucy but would that be the case today? I doubt it, women’s groups would be shouting about exploitation and the negative messages these images promote.

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Whether you approve or not they’re a great piece of social history, they say much more about this period in our musical history than words can. They tell us that disco went hand in hand with sex. Dancing in itself is primal and all that bumping and grinding down the disco could easily put you in the mood for a horizontal bed sheet boogie.

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The flashing of flesh wasn’t solely reserved for the female of the species and back in 1977 Bobby Farrell was happy to get his chest hair out and don a golden thong for the cover of the second Boney M album. However it was deemed to be too raunchy for the U.S. and Canadian market and they opted for an alternative cover. It didn’t have the same impact somehow.

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However disco wasn’t the sole domain of the dodgy cover, back in 1965 Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass released their Whipped Cream album with its blatantly sensual if not rather naff cover.image

Disco was loved in the gay clubs and so there was bound to be a plethora of covers sporting homoerotic images. Men in leather, hairy chests and handlebar moustaches. One of the best was for the Italian/American band, Macho and their Roll album cover and I remember seeing it sat on the shelves of some record stores inside brown paper bags.

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There are examples out there of covers with hairy chested guys that make you just think,  ‘for goodness sake man, put a shirt on.’ Not to mention, ‘Where are you going to ‘Push Push’ that flute?’

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The disco backlash came and by the early 1980’s it was starting to fade, dance music became formulaic and homogenised and flesh was replaced by rah rah skirts and neon coloured clothing. Nudity became more about art than sex.

But I quite like the old covers and am happy to see them pop up on my iPod display as songs shuffle. But I can’t leave you without showing you one of the howlers out there. A cover that in my opinion should never have been released, but I’m guessing none of the band especially the guy top right saw this one before it was printed and dispatched.

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Disco Driva and Wine Workers

This weekend I switched the iPod from general shuffle to a playlist shuffle, the sun was shining and I had a desire for some 1970’s disco music. People often find it odd that I like disco considering the amount of punk, indie and rock in my music collection. But I’ll hold my hands up and state honestly that I am and have always been a bit of a disco bunny.

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Photo from Freepics.com

Growing up in the 1970’s most of the music around was (what I call) dull-rock like ELP, Barclay James Harvest and (cringe) Smokie and bands that I hated with a vengeance like Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd, in-fact the only rock band I did like back then was Black Sabbath.

I was always a Northern Soul lover; I loved the dancing, intricate moves and backflips, I can’t tell you how many pairs of trousers I split the crotch in doing the splits at the youth club discos. So when disco burst onto the scene with more dance music I grabbed it by the throat and danced the ass of it at every opportunity.

So I’ve been driving along the Italian roads with my windows open and the likes of Donna Summer, Karen Young and Chic playing loud, on my way from Fossacesia my all time favourite song and disco diva, Sylvester shuffled to the fore, and as I bounced along the lane I sang along to You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real): it never fails to make me happy.

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Image: Screenshot

In fact every song by the late, great Sylvester James makes me happy, so when I’m back home I set the iPod to Sylvester and spend the afternoon in a self-induced euphoric disco  haze.

Later that evening we went with friends to a local bar, that’s a bit rough around the edges but serves excellent porchetta and arosticini and as we sat enjoying the fragrant pork and the mutton skewers three men walked in still dressed in work overalls. As they ordered their drinks and sat down, it struck me much the Italians are like the British, but at the same time how very different. The men had dropped by for a quick drink and sat with newspapers open at the sports pages and chatted about football, no different than English blokes just off work. The difference was they didn’t have a pint of beer, they sat drinking a glass of red wine each. Just the beverage sat them apart from their English cousins, I would lay bets had this been Germany then a stein of beer would have been the drink of choice.

The evening came to a close and I drove back home with Sylvester singing, Rock the Box, and as we pulled up outside the house, this disco driva, pressed the centre of the iPod and then set it back to, ‘shuffle songs’ in readiness for the following day.

Girls

I’m driving back from the bank when the iPod shuffles, playing a song from 1974, the song is by Moments and Whatnauts, two vocal groups that combined to release the song, Girls. Now it’s a nifty little song and I remember dancing along to it at the school disco, but I doubt they’d get away with some of the lyrics today. Take the first verse:

Hey Whatnauts, what’s happenin’?
The Moment’s, what it is brother
Hey, lets talk about what we recorded and talk about this.
What is that?
Girls

Nowadays there’s bound to be some moaning Minnie that would object to the term ‘brother’ citing it as a term used to alienate non-black people; then there’s the, let’s not have men taking about girls for fear that it could just objectify them brigade. The second part of the verse would have radio listeners calling in their droves to complain if  this song was released to todays music buying public.

Girls, I like ’em fat, I like ’em tall
Some skinny, some small

Oh dear, we can’t call them fat for fear of being accused of bullying and then driving them into a life of eating disorders. We are not allowed to say skinny either as this alludes to aforementioned eating disorders. Later the lyric goes:

I’d like to be on an island with five or six of them fine ones
Even one that ain’t good lookin’
They’re the ones that do the best cookin’

Oops, are we allowed to assume that ugly girls make better cooks, is it because they don’t get any dates so spend their time learning how to make pastry and ice a cake. As the song progresses the narrator tells us what sort of girls he wants on his island:

Give me three that do them freaky things
Give me four fat mama’s that like to swing

So there’s three girls that do freaky things, is the singer telling us the sexual proclivities of said  three girls is far from the norm, and we’re back again to the issue of size.

Girls: Moments and Whatnauts

I don’t really think that there are many girls out there that would take offence at what is basically a jolly song that celebrates their sexuality, but the fact that I’ve thought about this maybe says more about the time we’re living in now and the fascination with political correctness. I for one drove home, singing along, without a care in the world. Oh, those heady days of disco.

Bevans and the Full English

We had two burly men turn up yesterday to paint the window frames so instead of cooking breakfast with them peering through the windows I popped into town for something to eat. It was as I was tucking into my bacon and eggs that it occurred to me that what was once a traditional Sunday morning breakfast had now become an everyday breakfast. Parisian cafés are famous for their coffee and patisserie and the Italian bars for their slices of pizza, this led me to ponder, what if in years to come when foreigners are asked what a traditional English meal is, rather than replying ‘roast beef and Yorkshire pudding’, will they say the ‘all day breakfast’.

I left the café and looked into the window of Bevans, a local independent music shop that has proudly stood its ground for fifty-two years. Originally opened by Mr Ellis Bevan, who traded from a small shop in Uttoxeter road in 1960, before moving to the newly constructed Bennett Precinct in Longton in 1965, it’s a store that hold many memories for Longtonians. The city had several independent music shops and as a teenager I frequented most of them to purchase the latest singles on vinyl.

Oh the days of 45’s seems so long ago now, I remember buying singles and travelling home on a bus with eager anticipation. It’s hard to convey the joy of hearing the crackle as the stylus finds the first groove before the opening bars play. With ‘Disco’ at its heyday, I remember going into Longton as a teenager to buy a 12” extended version of, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), by the late and legendary Sylvester (James). I recall bursting through the front door and rushing into the living-room like a dervish, placing the black disc onto the turntable, altering the speed from forty-five rpm to thirty-three and a third and gingerly applying the stylus to the first groove. The crackle came and then the explosive beat filled the room and I was in heaven for nine-minutes and thirty-seven seconds. It’s a song that is still among the most selected on my iPod, on the days I choose not to shuffle, and it still evokes a memory of buying it from Bevans many years later.

In 2012 at the age of eighty-six Ellis Bevan decided it was time to put his feet up and the store was sold to an old customer, Tom Mitchell, who has kept the independent heart of the store alive. In these times of downloads, CD’s and MP3’s Tom has brought back some nostalgia and stocks a large selection of those black vinyl discs of joy that we used to call, records.

With HMV in trouble and a quirky, topical message in his window that reads,  All our records are guaranteed horse meat-free, here’s hoping Bevans remains on the high street for another fifty-one years.

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I then switched on my iPod and selected the aforementioned disco classic and strode away with more heel-toe crossovers than usual.

For more information about the store go to Bevans Website

Unusual Names and the Snow

Last week, the snow that was promised arrived. As the streets began to cover with a blanket of white, Louise Minchin was sat on the sofa at BBC centre in Salford, asking the viewers to be careful and only take the car if it is absolutely necessary. Wise words, Ms Minchin. However I had to go out, staying in was not an option as I had an important appointment. Luckily, I thought, as my appointment is for 09.30, I can do what I have to do and be back home before the streets are under the predicted 5 cm’s of snow.100_5417

Anyway, I won’t bore you with my reason for going out, but I will tell you that while I was out I heard two instances of people having unusual names. The first was in the bank. A young, painfully skinny male was at the counter and the woman behind looked at her screen, then at him and back at her screen, before saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to pronounce your name. Is it really spelt ZZZ?”

“Yes said the boy, it’s pronounced, Zeds.”

I’m thinking that he’s changed it by deed poll. The next was I was waiting for my appointment, when the lady on reception paged a colleague, asking for Adventure Stokes to come to reception. Adventure turned out to be a girl. Shame that she has a name that sounds like a brochure for what to do on Bank holidays.

So my appointment fulfilled I popped on my headphones, switched on the iPod and was happily strolling along with Wanderlust by David Sylvian playing. On my way to the car-park I spotted this number plate and thought it’d sit nicely with today’s unusual names, so out came the camera and the snap below was taken.

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I now had to drive back from town. My journey in had been relatively quick as the roads were quiet, however after a couple of hours continuous snow, the three mile journey back was a crawl at ten MPH as we all snaked our way through snow laden streets. Every traffic light stopped us, and the car at the front of the queue had the task of spinning its wheels before leading us all again slowly through the churned up snow. I was almost home, when at a mini roundabout a car to my left suddenly pulled out, meaning I had the dubious task of braking quickly, I slid forward, then to the right, I then steered into the slide and regained control as the offending driver pootled away. No harm done, I rounded the corner, parked up and went inside to enjoy the snow – through the window, as it should be enjoyed.

Note to self: Next time there’s snow predicted, phone and rearrange any appointments.

Later whilst walking in the snow, Michael Bublé featuring the Puppini Sisters, shuffled forward with Jingle Bells, from his Christmas album. It seemed appropriate in such a snowy setting that I let it play.