Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Great Georgie Fame....

Georgie Fame is a national treasure, one of the best musicians to come out of the 1960s and one who continues to play great music and to love what he does. He’s been a stalwart of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings since they started ten years ago and tours constantly with his own band, the latest reincarnation of the Blue Flames.

Georgie was born Clive Powell in Leigh, Lancashire in 1943 and acquired the name Fame from the legendary Larry Parnes. He joined a local group The Dominoes in 1957, while he was still at school, and continued playing piano with them after left school to begin working at a cotton mill. It was the following year that he was discovered by drummer and bandleader, Rory Blackwell, at a talent contest at Butlin's, PwIlheli. He moved to London with the group where he caught the eye of composer, Lionel Bart, who introduced him to impresario, Larry Parnes. He was looking for musicians to back his established stable of stars including Billy Fury and Marty Wilde, as well as visiting American artists, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Parnes gave him his own spot on tour, which is when they became Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames they then exclusively backed Billy Fury until they were replaced by the Tornados. Fame and the group decided to remain as the Blue Flames, securing bookings and a residency at London's Flamingo Club.

The group at that time comprised Fame on piano; Colin Green, guitar; Tex Makins, bass and Red Reece, drums, but between then and the demise of the Blue Flames in the autumn of ‘66, many musicians spent varying amounts of time in the line up. Among the more notable were John McLaughlin and Jim Sullivan, guitars, two of the best guitarists to emerge in the 60's; John "Mitch" Mitchell who went on to drum with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and congas player, Speedy Aquaye

Influenced by Jimmy Smith, and especially Mose Allison, Georgie Fame switched to Hammond organ at the end on ‘62 calling his fusion of soul, jazz, ska and R & B, ‘Rockhouse’. One advantage of Fame’s move from piano to organ was the fact that now he was always in tune at live gigs, some of the pianos that he had been provided with had probably never had a relationship with a tuner. In ‘63 Fame released two limited edition singles Do The Dog and Stop Right Here, he then signed with Columbia who released Do The Dog/Shop Around; both tracks were recorded at the Flamingo as part of the live album ‘Rhythm & Blues at the Flamingo'.

Two ‘64 singles Do Re Mi and Bend A Little served only to enhance his reputation and pave the way for Yeh Yeh to bring him chart success and a wider audience. The song reached the top thirty in the States and went to No.1 in Britain, although the ‘65 follow up In The Meantime (No.22) and the following two tracks that year Like We Used To Be (No.33) and John Mayall's Something (No.23) could only make the lower reaches of the chart. Fame released five fine EP's and a couple of excellent albums during the period ’64 to ‘65.

In the summer of ‘66, he once again topped the British Chart with Get Away a song he had written as a petrol commercial. It was a couple of months after this that Fame split from the Blue Flames, he began working increasingly with Harry South's Big Band, with whom he recorded and released the album ‘Sound Venture’; a record that Elvis Costello admitted changed his life when he was 12 years old. In November ‘66 Blue Flame baritone sax player Glen Hughes died from burns following an accident. His final two singles on Columbia Sunny and Sitting In the Park both made the top twenty before he signed to CBS, scoring with Because I Love You and, to a lesser extent, with Try My World. He then achieved his third UK chart topper with Mitch Murray and Peter Callender’s Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde. Fame was only to have two further successful solo singles, both released in ‘69, Peaceful (No.16) and Seventh Son (No.25).

Early in ‘71 he teamed up with ex Animal, Alan Price, to record a TV series, an album and one hit single Rosetta. Once Again solo, ‘74 saw a label change for Fame, this time to Island and an attempt to re capture his old ‘Rockhouse’ sound, recording an album and three singles Everlovin' Woman, Ozone and Yes Honestly before leaving the label.

Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames were always the epitome of cool, their and particularly Fame’s hipness is one reason why he has managed to continue to perform and attract lovers of great music. By the mid 80's he was once again performing in small clubs and by the 90’s he had reformed the Blue Flames; this time including his two sons Tristan and James playing guitar and drums, the great British sax player Alan Skidmore regularly performs with him. In addition Fame has played with Van Morrison’s stage band and recorded and played live with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings; his live solo performance of Georgia on My Mind is something to behold.

This is one of my favourite Fame albums of recent years. Recorded in 2000 in New York it was produced by Ben Sidran who also duets on a couple of tracks (including the great, Girl Talk). Many of the songs on the album are standards, including Lush Life and But Not For Me. The album highlights Georgie’s great vocal phrasing and focuses less on his virtuosity on the Hammond


r morris said...

I really like Georgie Fame on the Rhythm Kings. I'll have to check his other stuff out.

Anonymous said...


Oblige me by recalling his single that started with a huge piano(I know!) rendition or was that Alan Price?

Sometime around '67-'72 if memory is good


Richard Evans said...

Richard, you've highlighted one of my favourite albums of the past twenty years with 'Poet In New York'. I never tire of hearing this album. And strangely Georgie doesn't play a note on the whole album - just vocals.

I agree. Georgie Fame was the epitome of 60s cool. We saw him play the Jazz Café in London a couple of years ago. Instead of playing his regular set he invited the audience to close their eyes and imagine they were in the Flamingo Club in Soho in 1962. He then played his original set from those days. No 'Bonnie & Clyde', no 'Yeah Yeah' - just real rhythm and blues. All that was missing was the tartan jacket!