NewMusicMondays – 31 August 2020

Two more tracks for you this week – though the second choice is not exactly ‘new’ – it’s a bit of a Bank Holiday (if you’re in England and Wales) treat… Read on!

First up is Kronos Quartet (and friends), whose Long Time Passing pays tribute to the music, political philosophy and social impact of Pete Seeger, who would have been 100 in 2019. The Quartet’s typical line-up, with two violins, viola and cello, is supplemented here with a range of other vocalists. The album, due out in October, features 13 songs written or popularised by Seeger, either independently or as part of The Weavers, and includes ‘If I Had A Hammer’, a riotous performance of which I have somewhere on an old cassette tape when Seeger, otherwise shut down by Senator McCarthy’s ‘Unamerican Activities’ Committee, was taking the message around university campuses (to no little acclaim). [late September EDIT: an aural recording of that performance can be found on YouTube – and, actually, it seems, from 1964, long after McCarthy had been legally discredited. I was correct on all other details, though.]

Here, however, is ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, Seeger’s lament of the cycles of violence and brought brilliantly to life by having a different vocalist for each verse. This was the first single off the album, although released just last Thursday was the union battle anthem ‘Which Side Are You On?’ turned here into a jig with the aid of Seeger-style banjos.

The second track up, and courtesy of information from Marc Riley’s 6Music programme on Wednesday last week, is T. Rex’s ’20th Century Boy’, famous for Mickey Finn’s handclaps, a misheard lyric and a top-of-the-class straight A guitar riff which somewhat blinds us to the fact that it’s nearly fifty years old.

But also – catch the ‘backing’ vocalists stridently pile-driving the tune on over the top of Marc’s own lusty vocal line. Gloria Jones, perhaps, Marc’s girlfriend at the time, and a noted Northern Soul singer (‘Tainted Love’) and producer? Nah – no less than Sue and Sunny. Who you might ask? Well, backing vocalists with a quite astonishing list of hits and acts in their credits, but also for three years members of Brotherhood of Man. (No, not quite this one, though; the earlier incarnation up to 1971 and whose big hit was ‘United We Stand’ – once again driven along by the powerful vocals of Sue and Sunny).

Little known fact about me: I once won a Brotherhood of Man LP in a local radio comp.

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