Archives for posts with tag: Chris Barber

StepAfter all those years of prime time telly, Cilla Black is a somewhat unfashionable figure today – but look back at her music catalogue of the 1960s and 1970s and a lot of it is still remarkably fresh and interesting. The best of all for me is the stripped back demo version of “Step Inside Love” with composer Paul McCartney accompanying on guitar (and contributing the occasional vocal during the guitar break).  It was recorded in Chappell Studios (by then located at 52 Maddox Street, London) on November 21 1967, the same venue where the Beatles had recorded “Your Mother Should Know” three months before, and also where McCartney joined Chris Barber and his Band for the recording of “Cat Call” in July – another of the songs he “gave away”.

The take shows that Cilla doesn’t need big orchestral backing to support her, and nor does she need the power of her upper register to get across the emotion of the song – in fact when the single version came out it had been transposed up a full fourth (from D to G) for that reason. The deeper register of the demo – it’s really as deep as her voice will go – makes for a much mellower atmosphere.  All the elements used in the single are also in the demo.  McCartney told Barry Miles later on: “I quite like the song, it’s very cabaret. It was just a welcoming song for Cilla”.  And that’s the point – it was written specifically to open her 1968 TV series, Cilla, though in this demo version it retains a more personal intimacy.

That cabaret feel comes from the use of bossa nova rhythm, something that’s more evident in the Beatles’ own demo, made a year later using exaggerated percussion (not one of their finest moments). The most distinct harmonic aspect of the song is the chromatic slide down to the next full tone after “let me find you a place” (G, Gb to F in the example above, which has been transposed to C major), repeated after the following phrase down another tone (F, E, Eb), and echoed in the descending motto of the chorus:  ”Step-In-Side-Love”. Hard to notate in guitar chord symbols but entirely natural to play.

joemeekLonnie Donnegan’s skiffle cover of Rock Island Line, recorded with the Chris Barber Jazz Band in July 1954, is often credited as the cornerstone of the boom in UK blues and rock that emerged in the 1960s. That interest was also marked by Bill Haley’s Rock around the Clock reaching the UK charts in January 1955, four months before it made the charts in the US. But a year later came a third landmark, which like Rock Island Line came from the jazz world. Humphrey Lyttleton’s Bad Penny Blues was recorded in London on April 20, 1956 at Lansdowne Studios in Holland Park. After the recording, Lyttleton promptly went on holiday and left the mixing of the record to producer Denis Preston – who in turn left the work to his engineer, Joe Meek (shown above at the Lansdowne Studio mixing desk).

Meek – who went on to become a seminal producer of pop records in the 1960s – boosted up the bottom end of the distinctive piano riff played by Johnny Parker, and also pushed Stan Greig’s brushes right up in the mix. Lyttleton says he would have stopped the recording going out if he’d heard a test pressing, but by the time he got back from his holiday it was number 19 in the charts, and stayed there for six weeks – the first British jazz record to reach the Top Twenty – so he kept his mouth shut.

The immediate thing that strikes you on listening to the piece today is the resemblance of the piano riff to Paul McCartney’s playing on Lady Madonna. McCartney always cited Fats Domino as his main influence for the song. But Bad Penny Blues came out on the Beatles’ Parlophone label, where George Martin was the A&R man at the time. And British jazzers Ronnie Scott and Harry Klein were also brought in to play saxophone on Lady Madonna.