The Cult Movie Club: Lenny Henry Live And Unleashed (1989)

In her book ‘Hooked’, legendary movie critic Pauline Kael said that the only fresh element in American films of the 1980s may have been what comedians (Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Bill Murray et al) brought to them.

Could we say the same about British films of the 1980s? Looking at ‘Supergrass’, ‘Eat The Rich’, ‘Morons From Outer Space’ and, er, Cannon & Ball’s ‘The Boys In Blue’, it would seem not. A shame, and strange in a way that the ‘Comic Strip’ generation couldn’t quite make the transition to the big screen.

But Lenny Henry – best known as a British TV star in the 1980s – made a damn good fist at the stand-up concert movie with ‘Lenny: Live And Unleashed’, mostly shot at London’s Hackney Empire, taking on the Americans (Eddie Murphy’s ‘Raw’, Richard Pryor’s ‘Live On The Sunset Strip’ etc.) at their own game, complete with a posh credit sequence featuring brilliant impressions of Martin, Murphy and Pryor plus a not-very-funny skit with Robbie Coltrane as the most annoying taxi driver in the world (Why didn’t Lenny fit in another impression there? Couldn’t he have dusted off a De Niro?).

His flashes of surrealism evoke Alexei Sayle and Martin and also it’s clear that by 1989 Lenny had developed into a superb physical actor. He addresses political and racial topics head-on, beginning one skit with the simple statement: ‘We need to see more Black faces on British TV.’

There’s a great celebration of Black music (evidenced also in his appearance on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs just before this was filmed) with homages to Prince and Bobby McFerrin, a good bit on Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ tour, and the striking ‘Fred Dread’ section featuring Dennis Bovell’s natty dub soundtrack.

Other character favourites Delbert Wilkins, Deakus and the Teddy Pendergrass-lampooning Theophilus P Wildebeeste (you couldn’t do that sketch these days…) get a lot of stage time – superb portraits, with heart and soul. A new character, ageing blues singer Hound Dog Smith, gets a workout too, featuring an amusing guest spot from Jeff Beck (who also turned up in a few Comic Strip films around this time).

The box-office performance of ‘Lenny: Live And Unleashed’ is hard to uncover but does it have enough appeal to a non-British audience? Judge for yourself (and I must check out Henry’s next foray into the movie world, 1991’s ‘True Identity’, at some point…)…

McCoy Tyner/Freddie Hubbard Quartet: Live At Fabrik

These two giants of their instruments – Tyner on piano, Hubbard on trumpet/flugelhorn – crossed paths many times in the 1960s, particularly on three of the latter’s most famous Blue Note albums. (Tyner of course is probably best known for his work with the fabled John Coltrane Quartet.)

So it was only natural that they should co-headline a powerful touring quartet in the mid-1980s. And now we can hear it in all its glory courtesy of this 2-CD/streaming package, a complete radio broadcast from an 18 June 1986 gig in Hamburg, Germany.

And it’s a classic – full of cogent lines, attractive melodies, power and poise, here’s an album to play to people who say they hate jazz. And tell ‘em we sent you.

It may even be the most impactful live ‘jazz’ album this correspondent has heard since 1977’s epochal VSOP The Quintet (which also featured Hubbard, alongside Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter).

It’s a very ‘hot’ concert recording, with a lot of presence and ‘room’. You can hear everything, including members of the band frequently urging each other on. It helps that the crowd is so respectful – silent when the band take things down, loud when things get intense.

The quartet were apparently unaccountably late onto the stage that night, Hubbard apologising after the first tune – irritatingly not explained in the liner notes. But the tardiness might help explain the players’ agitated impatience which definitely serves the music. ‘Inner Glimpse’ features a remarkable Hubbard tour de force of rhythmic intensity and characteristically wide intervals. The audience, appropriately, go mad.

On Tyner’s majestic ‘Latino Suite’, Avery Sharpe treats his acoustic bass like an electric, slapping it, popping it and even playing power chords, Stanley Clarke-style. ‘Body And Soul’ kicks off with a striking, unaccompanied, two-minute Hubbard flugelhorn statement. Then, after what sounds like an edit, there’s a further eight-minute solo – it’s edge-of-the-seat stuff. He was really cutting loose from the mostly pretty staid studio albums made for Blue Note during this period. Drummer Louis Hayes accompanies with a lot of fire, channelling both Billy Cobham and Tony Williams but with an original soloing style.

Only one minor gripe: a few tracks are too long, an obvious/excusable liability when an entire gig is documented. But what a specimen. And what a shame that these two giants of the music are gone, and also that such intense live jazz albums are so few and far between.

Conspiracy Theories Of 1980s Music

Bob Carolgees and friend

‘Conspiracy theories’: you can’t move for ’em these days, and things aren’t much different here at movingtheriver.com.

The 1980s: a decade when uncredited ‘guest’ performances were many, producers demanded rip-offs of other musicians (a popular drummer joke* of the 1980s, with many variations: how many drummers does it take to change a lightbulb? Ten. One to change the bulb, nine to talk about how Steve Gadd would have done it…), hits came with writs and things were never quite what they seemed.

So it’s not surprising that conspiracy theories flourished during the 1980s. Here are some good ones (swearing alert). Bullsh*t or not? YOU decide. (Maybe none are as famous as the ‘Paul Is Dead’ saga, but wtf…):

8. Kirsty MacColl sings backup vocals on Dire Straits’ ‘Walk Of Life’
Uncredited of course, but these pre-chorus stacks, first heard at 1:19, sound very much like the much-missed vocalist.

7. Donna Summer performed all of Irene Cara’s vocals
Come on, they are interchangeable. Apologies to anyone in Cara’s family or Cara herself but she sounds freakily like Summer on ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance (What A Feeling)’.

6. George Michael wrote ‘Round And Round’ for Jaki Graham
In exchange for what? The classic single is just so in George’s ballpark, of course helped by Derek Bramble’s sparkly state-of-1985 production (he gets the songwriting credit too).

5. Adrian Edmondson of ‘The Young Ones’/The Comic Strip/’Bottom’ fame made the spoof 1984 jazz/funk classic ‘F*cking C*unt/Awkward Bastard’
Rumours abound that it’s Ade, or a few members of The Damned. No one is quite sure and no one has ever owned up, but it’s still brilliant.

4. The Dukes Of Stratosphear’s ‘Brainiac’s Daughter’ is actually a Paul McCartney joint
No one has done ‘Happy Macca’ circa 1968 as well as the Dukes, AKA XTC. But was this ACTUALLY a lost Beatles track?

3. John Bonham stuck around long enough to drum on Survivor’s 1982 hit ‘Eye Of The Tiger’
It’s just sounds so much like the Led Zep sticksman, who died in 1980. It’s the feel, and the sound of his kick and snare drums.

2. Level 42’s Mark King played bass on David Bowie’s ‘Tumble And Twirl’
Actually this one is probably ‘true’. He doesn’t get a credit on the album liners but King himself mentioned (in this podcast) doing a few sessions at the Townhouse Studios in Shepherds Bush around spring 1984 with producer/engineer Hugh Padgham so it’s quite probable. In any case it’s certainly right in his ‘Lopsy Lu’/’Heathrow’ comfort zone, and brilliant slap playing.

1. Bob Carolgees played the famous sax melody on George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’(That’s enough ‘conspiracy theories’, Ed…)

*Here’s a bonus drummer joke, because I’ve just read and loved it: What does a drummer use for contraception? His/her personality.