Mojo, October 1999

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Attack of the killer organ

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello was a scrawny 12-year-old, until Georgie Fame opened the door to hipness.

There were always a lot of records in the house when I was growing up, including stuff like Charlie Parker. My friends were always surprised my parents were so hip to different music. After they separated my dad gave me a stack of records, stuff like Mingus, Marvin and Tammi, Grateful Dead, David Ackles and Joni Mitchell. When you are brought up like that you don't have any musical prejudices.

In 1966 I was 12 and already a big Georgie Fame fan. I'd got "Yeh Yeh" and "Getaway" and "In The Meantime" and I loved the Fame At Last EP. I saved up for a few weeks to buy Sound Venture. I went to this store in Richmond to buy it — the same place I bought my first guitar. It was such a hip record. Apart from anything else it had such a great title! And Georgie plays killer organ. I'd been used to the sound of the big band but this was different. There was no strict dance tempo and it wasn't smooth like Joe Loss — this was a swinging band and the line-up was a who's who of the jazz scene.

It had a huge impact on me because the songs were all over the place from James Brown to Willie Nelson. He was one of the first British R&B artists to discover James Brown, which was a big deal then because the only pop we heard was Brian Matthew four hours a week on the radio — the rest of the time it was tea-dance music, the Palm Court orchestra and Geraldo. There was no way we could have any personal knowledge of those original artists — and if we did the records were too expensive and I was too young to go to clubs to see them. Every record changes you a little, but Sound Venture knocked a wall down for me. "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" is my least favourite track because it sounds really clunky, like they're reading it off a chart, not like James Brown's horn players at all.

Georgie wrote some great stuff himself. "Many Happy Returns" has a beautiful melody, "Dawn Yawn" is about coming out of all nighters at the Flamingo, "Lil' Darlin'" is a real sweet ballad and "Three Blind Mice" has this Lambert, Hendricks & Ross treatment. And he sings so well. His voice is very smooth with no vibrato, like a tenor sax, a lovely sound. Apart from Zoot Money, nobody else in this country was doing what Georgie was doing. I saw him on TV recently at the Montreux Jazz Festival and a lot of those songs were still in his set.

I know every note on that record and every detail about it. Dave Redfern took the photos, Chris Welch wrote the sleevenotes and I could even tell you where the sleeve was printed! Georgie was the first person to commission me to write a song for him. I had one knocking about called "That's What Friends Are For," which was a little bit too swingy for me so I adapted it for him. I'm glad he cut it but I'm sorry I didn't write him a better song. He'd do a great version of "Almost Blue."

When they write the history of the '60s Georgie Fame is always left out, maybe because he only ever used guitars as rhythm instruments; he was always so underrated. I've met him once or twice. He and the Blue Flames did a show with Joe Loss once, so he knew my old fellow and we had a drink after a show in Dublin, but I never mentioned what Sound Venture meant to me. He probably doesn't remember it too clearly because you tend to forget about great records that don't sell — somebody came up and asked me to sign Goodbye Cruel World once and I was tempted to say, Congratulations, you've bought the worst record I ever made.

I've still got my original copy of Sound Venture. When I was a young man short of money I sold most of my records, including my Small Faces singles, but I kept Sgt Pepper, Revolver — and Sound Venture. I couldn't sell it and I still play it. I have jags of playing vinyl and it still sounds good. I'm on a crusade to get it reissued...

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Mojo, No. 71, October 1999

EC writes about Georgie Fame and his 1966 album Sound Venture for Mojo's "Last Night A Record Changed My Life" feature.


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Page scan.

Photographer unknown.
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Cover and contents page.


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