The fourth in this wonderful and enlightening series returns from an album centred around Nigeria’s Ambrose Campbell to concentrate once again on the multitude of cultures at work in the London of the 1950s and 1960s.
While much of this music is bright and optimistic there remains an undertone of nagging melancholia behind the lyrics, proof that London wasn’t quite the promised land it appeared to be. This is sharply observed in African Dream, a song by George Brown’s alter ego Young Tiger, who emerges by his cat’s whiskers to be the star of the show.
In African Dream a shuffling beat and bittersweet trumpet solo set the scene for the subject to recount a heady reverie back in Africa, where he is welcomed back with great festivity, until suddenly he wakes to find his irate landlord hammering at the door for his week’s rent.
His second contribution is the uproariously funny Chicken And Rice, where main character Bubsin enjoys an unpaid hearty lunch at a Chinese takeaway before making a bolt for the door, chased by a hatchet-wielding restaurateur.
It’s these vivid stories and tales of London life that make the lyrical content so absorbing, before you even come to the music – Trinidadian calypso, jazz, South African kwela and Latin to name but a few, lifting the spirits effortlessly.
Lord Kitchener, one of the first arrivals from the Caribbean in 1948, makes memorable contributions in his recounting of a wedding dance gone horribly wrong (Rock N Roll Calypso) before a stark warning of the Piccadilly Folk and their victimising ways. “Make sure they don’t take you for a ride!” he warns. Nothing’s changed fifty years on…
Young Growler, meanwhile, takes great delight in another crushing victory for the West Indies cricket team, where “Lance Gibbs bowled them out” and “no England player made a century”. Eric Hayden, on the other hand, seems to be spending a lot of money on an increasingly amorous woman, as Give Her The Number 1 turns quickly into number 7 before the song is done.
Book ending the collection are instrumental band numbers from Ginger Folorunso Johnson, the endearing Egyptian Bint Al Cha Cha easing us in gently and the cheery African Jazz Cha Cha finishing with a flourish, breaking out into a hectic middle section with percussionists seemingly hitting everything in sight.
The compilation, lovingly selected, operates on two levels. One is of pure entertainment in the lyrical invention and wit, the uplifting and delightfully scored music. The second, rather more seriously, concerns the cultural and political significance of these songs, a document of the hardships and pleasures experienced by London’s new arrivals. As with the first three in this series, the content is indispensable.