Ray Charles Live In England (1964)
AFN* Stars Of Jazz
Come in, come in, come in, Ray Charles
Come in, the high priest
In the days before rock ‘n’ roll
|From Ballad in Blue.|
Some of Van Morrison’s song lyrics remind us that rhythm & blues music first reached the ears of audiences in Europe over the radio. Voice of America’s programs for the American forces in Germany (with lots of jazz, but towards the end of the 1950s also including blues and ‘soul jazz’) probably were the first to let Europeans listen in to the new wave of contemporary American ‘black’ music, and the first ‘white’ rock ‘n’ roll, but not much later the English language programming of Radio Luxembourg became the #1 source for all these exciting new sounds from the U.S. for the Brits (and for music lovers in much of the rest of Europe!).
Every pop music historian since the late 1960s has explained that the British Invasion, the UK bands which conquered the American charts in the mid 1960s, were in fact just returning the favor – combining R&B, R&R and a few British music traditions into a new blend of ‘beat’ music.
In this light I’ve always found it remarkable that Ray Charles in the early 1960s seemed to have been so much better – and so much sooner – received in France than in the UK. But since the English are aeons behind in making their media archives accessible over the Web, it’s almost impossible for me, as a non-Brit, to even begin assessing if this impression was correct, or – if so – to start analyzing why this has been the case.
Until late last week, that is, when a friend of this blog provided me with a delicious set of contemporary clippings of Ray Charles-articles from the New Musical Express (NME, 1959 – 1974) and the Record Mirror (RM, 1962 – 1978).
The picture that arises from these articles is, as expected, that the American chart success of What’d I Say (1959) sparked the first interest in the UK, but that the mass appeal and local #1 success of I Can’t Stop Loving You was necessary to create something of an English hype around the Genius. The same happened all over Europe.
*In some parts of Europe AFN‘s radio stations scored high as well (read these interesting memories of a UK listener). Van Morrison’s lyrics for In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll are always quoted erroneously, with the line “AFM stars of jazz”. After writing this post, I found this excellent contemporary article from The Jazz Review, shedding a lot more light on the UK ‘jazz radio’ situation around 1960. For a good story about ‘Northern Soul’ and the early appreciation of soul music in the UK, read this.
1961, 1962 cancellations
What appears to be special, is that an awkwardly big number of NME articles in 1961, 1962 and 1963 were announcements of planned British concert tours by Brother Ray, and… of their rescheduling, and – ultimately – of their cancellations.
For one reason or the other local promoters simply didn’t succeed in signing Ray on before the chaotic string of British concerts in May and June 1963 (and even in that year Ray toured Germany, Belgium and Holland first).
All over the world, Ray’s fame, and all excitement surrounding him, had climaxed in 1961. Can it be that UK audiences were simply a bit too late in witnessing the novelty of Ray’s thrilling live concerts?
1963, 1964 Raelettes problems
|One of the last photos of The Raelettes with
(clockwise from top:) Darlene McCrea, Pat Lyles,
Gwen Berry, Margie Hendricks.
Or were Ray’s concerts in 1963 and 1964 simply not good enough to maintain or even further fuel the hype in Britain? On May 14, 1963, Margie Hendricks missed the concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in London “through illness but was able to rejoin the show the following night”. “That wasn’t the real Ray Charles,” said Ray Charles. “With Maggie ill, no one could sing her part. So I had to leave out a lot of the wilder things…” (source: NME from May 10, 17 and 24, 1963).
In 1964 the “Raelettes situation” was even worse. “Owing to the indisposition of two of the Raelets, the first night did not, unfortunately, produce anything like a classic Ray Charles concert”, and “Margie [Hendricks], and Darlene [McCrea] (the two remaining original Raelets) were ill in London, victims of the English climate”, the NME reported.
The girls didn’t return on stage during this tour: in the concert on July 18 (and probably also on some of the other shows) “There was a big surprise halfway through when the two fit Raelets came on stage bringing two ‘understudies’ with them and joined in.” The two fit girls probably were Gwen Berry and Pat Lyles, the two understudies* were Lillie Fort and Bobbie Pierce. The story about the “indisposition” probably was a PR cover-up of Ray’s conflict with Margie. It looks as if this was the occasion where Margie left Ray for good, and as if Darlene went with her.
|More from ’63 here.|
For the 1963 Britain tour I’ve found proof of concerts in London (Finsbury Park, May 12), London (Hammersmith Odeon, May 13 a/o 14), London (New Victoria, May 15), Birmingham (May 16), Leeds (May 17), Manchester (May 18), London (Hammersmith Odeon, May 19), London (unidentified venue, May 21), and finally – after a tour in France – again London (Hammersmith Odeon, June 1 and 2).
Britsh Isles 1964
In 1964 Ray’s British tour calendar even looked messier, but this time that also had to do with the fact that much of June and July was dedicated to sound recordings and film shoots for Ballad In Blue, in Dublin, London and Paris. Looking at the schedule, it seems as if Ray’s management simply asked local promoters in Europe to fill the dots between the shootings.
|Ticket for Astoria, Jun. 18.|
After finishing the U.S. spring tour on May 3 at Carnegie Hall, the Ray Charles Group took off for Europe. I’ve found traces of two possible concerts in London, on May 5 (Hammersmith Odeon) and 14 (Carling Apollo Hammersmith), but haven’t been able to confirm these in trustworthy sources.
|Driving a dodgem car.|
On June 1 Ray was seen driving dodgem cars at the Battersea Fun Fair, one of the key scenes in Ballad In Blue. On June 18 Ray gave a concert at the Astoria Theater in London. According to film promotion materials, the Dublin shootings of Ballad In Blue took place at the end of June and in early July.
From July 7 (i.e. after finishing the shooting of Ballad In Blue) to mid September the band was on a tour that not only covered the British Isles, but also Copenhagen, Stockholm, Holland, Paris, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Algeria, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Hawaii.
(It almost looks as if Ray did everything to avoid performing in the U.S. in that period – and this may in effect have been his intention, thus avoiding some pending paternity cases, and a certain eagerness of American law enforcers to check Ray and his band on the possession of illegal substances).
The July 1964 Britain tour brought Ray to Liverpool (Odeon, 8 or 9), Leeds (Odeon, 10), Manchester (Free Trade Hall, 11), London (Hammersmith Odeon, 12*), Bristol (Colston, 14), Croydon (20) and Southend (22). There may have been more concerts in between and after these dates; also see below.
|Ticket for Leeds concert, Jul. 10.|
The Croydon concert was Ray Charles’ debut on British TV, “telerecorded by Rediffusion for transmission in October. The entire second house of Charles’ public performance with the orchestra [was to be] filmed, and subsequently edited to a 45-minute TV showcase” (source: Record Mirror, August 1, 1964). Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, and Brian Wilson were in the audience. The TV program eventually aired in August, not in October, and unfortunately the footage – as far as I know – has not survived.
*Helen Bryant was one of the Raelettes here (witnessed by her autograph on the program brochure that was sold that night),
The 1964 UK Concert
The same friend who send me the NME and RM clippings provided me with a further surprise by sending me a copy of a thus far unknown 53-minute audio recording of a concert that was taped during the 1964 Britain tour. The concert was sliced up in 15 separate tracks of reasonable sound quality:
Ticket for Manchester concert, Jul. 11.
Swing A Little Taste (with Ray Charles Orchestra)
Doodlin’ (with Ray Charles Orchestra)
You Don’t Know Me
Just A Little Lovin’
Georgia On My Mind
Baby Don’t You Cry
Hide Nor Hair
Hallelujah I Love Her So
In The Evening (solos by Sonny Forriest – g; Phil Guilbeau – tp)
That Lucky Old Sun (Edgar Willis – b)
Born To Lose
|Ed ‘Lemon’ Willis (still from Ballad In Blue).|
Six of the tracks (#1, 3, 7, 9, 14 and 15) are first known live recordings. Two of the tunes (#8, 12) were only preceded by their album recordings, and by the pseudo-live renditions in Ballad In Blue.
It’s a pity that the audience was very quiet (or that their response was suppressed at the mixing board) at this concert. The rendition of Makin’ Whoopee (#3) was less bawdy, but a bit jazzier, than the famous one at the Shrine Auditorium in September ’64. The Swingova arrangement of Baby Don’t You Cry (#7) in my ears sounded as if injected with some more Bossa Nova than the version we know from the Shrine live album. In The Evening (#11) got another fantastic rendition here, with great solos by Sonny Forriest and Phil Guilbeau. The biggest musical surprise was in That Lucky Old Sun, where Ed “Lemon” Willis beautifully played his bass with a bow to produce the sonorous tones required for this piece.
The original set order was probably different. It seems more than feasible that What’d I Say was omitted from this audio copy.
The most remarkable aspect, though, of the whole recording is that there isn’t a trace of The Raelettes in any of the songs.
When I saw this recording land in my inbox, my first thought was that this must be an audio copy of the Rediffusion/ARTV telecast of The Man They Call Genius, i.e. the Croydon concert of July 20 (which, as it looks now, hasn’t survived on film or video). An American Ray Charles discographer, however, informed my friend that it was taped at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 25 or 26, 1964…
Not only haven’t I found any documented proof of concerts on these dates, this information also seems to be conflicting with a statement by Lillie Fort, who remembered that she first joined the Ray Charles Troupe in London*. To me it seems more probable that it was taped, for a radio broadcast, during any of the concerts in Liverpool (July 8th or 9th), Leeds (10), or Manchester (11). London on July 12 must probably be excluded since a review in the Record Mirror (dated July 18) specified that I’ve Got A Woman was part of this show (but… if there was a double concert in London on July 12, the Hammersmith Odeon is still a candidate).
The line-up at this concert almost certainly was identical to the one for Ballad in Blue.
Musicians: Oliver Beener, Roy Burrows, Floyd Jones, Phil Guilbeau – trumpets; Fred Murrell, Jim Harbert, ?Curtis Miller?, Keg Johnson – trombones; David Newman, James Clay – tenor saxophones; Dan Turner, Harold Minerve – alto saxophones; Leroy Cooper – baritone saxophone; Wilbert Hogan – drums; Sonny Forriest – guitar; Edgar Willis – bass. The Raelettes: Pat Moseley Lyles, Margie Hendricks, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea.
Update June 14, 2018:
To add to the confusion, this 1964 Tour Brochure popped up Ebay. The program was signed by Helen Bryant…
More from the UK?
The “live recording” history of Ray Charles in the UK must be richer than the few samples that have emerged so far. Who knows more?!
* Information i.c. Lillie Fort kindly provided to me by Joël Dufour.