5 January 2011

Black Velvet - African Velvet & What Am I To Do (b/w "Coal Mine")

Black Velvet - African Velvet

Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1969

Sometimes when discovering new entries for this blog, I have to resist the temptation to take the gung-ho approach of "This is brilliant!  I must upload it now, and damn the research!  They can stay shadowy, anonymous figures for all I care!"  If I did this, the blog would become one long ream of entries with no detail or information about the men and women behind the tunes, and wouldn't be half as enlightening.

Still, a line has to be drawn somewhere, and where Black Velvet are concerned, I'm going to give up for now.  There surely must be some information about them somewhere, but their name calls up all manner of other unrelated nonsense when Googled, and the only definite fact I've managed to glean is that they had ten singles out on various labels between 1969-1975, plus one album (although I'm willing to concede that there may have been a private pressing effort released besides an official effort).  Given their productivity, they must have had a fanbase and can't be anything like as 'under the radar' as the pathetic tally of information I have on them would suggest.

If I were in any doubt about that, the debut single "African Velvet" proves that they must have been an absolutely storming proposition live - there's no way a band of this quality would have been entirely ignored.  From the foot-bothering bassline intro right through to the red-raw, screeching organ riff and the irrepressible vocals, this sounds like some kind of garage-funk, a heady cocktail of the best bits of American sixties dance music combined with the rough and ready aspects of the British  mod movement.  The central riff dominates the entire track, but the hypnotic, nagging insistence of the thing mean it never once becomes tedious.  At the last couple of grooves before the record completely fades out, you can hear the band starting all over again, oblivious to any red or green lights in the studio, in love with their own mindless jam.  It's one of the most gleeful records I've stumbled across in a long while.

The B-side "Watcha Gonna Do About It" is a rather more simplistic soul ballad, but with the same sandpaper-rough production treatment which makes it seem harder, more jagged and ultimately more lovable than many flipsides of this ilk.



Given my enthusiastic response to this record, I can probably be forgiven for going on e-bay and buying another single by them...

Black Velvet What Am I To Do

Label: Beacon
Year of Release: 1970

Sadly, "What Am I To Do" is good, but nothing like as good as their first shot.  It sees the band back into ballad territory, and handling it competently - but it's the flip "Coal Mine" which will thrill fans of "African Velvet" the most, cooking up as it does a nagging little groove which is pretty hard to resist.  The pounding piano riff undercuts another brilliant vocal performance, and the whole thing is so energetic it could probably resurrect the dead.

Moving into the area of rumour, I've managed to dig up the following possible facts about Black Velvet from unreliable sources:
- Despite essentially being a British funk band, they apparently played a few of the sixties underground nights
- "African Velvet" may or may not have been produced by Eddy Grant (the label offers no credit or guidance on this, and from the point of view of salesmanship one would have thought it would)
- Different mixes of some of the earlier tracks are apparently also in circulation ("African Velvet" was reissued in 1971, and this may well have been a remix rather than a straightforward re-release).

I will not pretend for one moment that this genre of music is my area of expertise, so please feel free to fill in any blanks you can.

11 comments:

piratewoody said...

Nothing to add about the band I'm afraid... Beacon Records however, (not to be confused with the similarly named USA label) was a rather interesting label...its London address became the secret headquarters for Radio Northsea International, the pirate station in 1970. Disc jockey Robb Eden and RNI programme director Larry Tremaine both worked for a period there - possibly accounting for much plugging of Beacon releases such as Black Velvet, Root and Jenny Jackson, Bobby Bridger etc in 1970 on the station.

23 Daves said...

Thanks for that information, piratewoody - I was unaware of the fact that Beacon actually had any connections to the pirate radio scene.

Anonymous said...

I actually saw them play live at Ipswich YMCA in around 1969-70. They were a 3 piece, and the keyboard player had a Hammond with a rotating horn cabinet. I was a dj then, but it was my cousin Pete Piggy Johns who had the monthly Sunday night residency there. They were great and lively. I still have the single African Velvet and used to play it on my disco at the time.
Pete Jennings

23 Daves said...

Thanks for the information, Pete - by pure coincidence I was just looking back on this entry as you posted! I'm going to upload another Black Velvet single in the next week or so.

Incidentally, I DJ with "African Velvet" myself, although I have no doubt my efforts are on a far smaller scale to yours...

John said...

I have (somewhere)a copy of a Beacon Records sampler with the African Velvet track, 2 tracks by UFO, and a track by Root and Jenny Jackson which featured on Kenny Everett's World's Worst Records (which I also have a copy of, on snot green vinyl as I recall).
Happy days.

John said...

I'm reminded that "Black London Blues" by Ram John Holder is also on Beacon. (Yes I have a copy of that one as well).
Definitely worth a listen if you get a chance, especially if you know London.

mr holmes said...

Previously called The Raisins, they left the UK after this hit and went to Tel Aviv for 6 months and played clubs over there

sourced from comments on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JopNQsp8k0w

Denise mc said...

Google Lyndon Steele's Channel

Anonymous said...

Black Velvet were:

Peter Nelson - organ
Lindon Steel - drums
Clinton Cleary - Bass
Brian clarke - vocal

Album on Beacon produced by Don Lawson as were the singles. Great album worth tracking down.

I used to dj Black Velvet to confused mods and no reaction in early 90's.

Anonymous said...

I've known two of the members of Black Velvet, Clinton Cleary who I dated about 10 years ago and the other member I only knew as 'Nose', It was all rather sad, Clinton told me when I met him he used to be part of a pretty famous group but I didnt believe him-he was living in a rented room in south east London and working as a painter/decorator and 'Nose' who showed me pics of their time as a group was a bus driver, Clinton still had his guitar, it used to sit in its case in the corner of the room but he swore he would never play it again and in the three years I knew him he didn't--I still see his brother around and last I heard Clinton had moved to Jamica

Anonymous said...

Just arriving today was an ACETATE of an "Unknown" singer/group. The dealer didn't have a music clip and just listed ""MASTER ROOM 1 SIDED ACETATE ON FRONT IS SSUN 17A
WHAT AM I TO DO SOUNDS LIKE BARRY WHITE TRIED SHAZAAM NOTHING CAME OUT". (I'm not sure what that last part was supposed to mean) On a lark I bid on it and won it, figuring from the dealers reference to Barry White that it was from the '70's.

Listening to it, then searching YouTube and RYM (Rate Your Music) for "Don't Tell Me We're Through" and "What Am I To Do", I found the Acetate to be BLACK VELVET - "What Am I To Do".

It has the right music, vocals, soul/funk female background singers popping in at times, HOWEVER it IS A DIFFERENT VERSION from the 45 (if the 45 sounds like the one on YouTube) in that in the middle section THERE IS A BARRY WHITE-type spoken/sung voice that's not on the 45. I is extremely well done and I think it is a much better version than the 45 that was put out. And yes it does sound exactly like Barry White.

(The price was just 3.78 Pounds ($5.76 U.S.; can't be beat), but the shipping was 12.39 Pounds ($18.77 U.S.) from the U.K. Still a great price for probably near a one-of-a-kind item !!!

ENJOY - David Lee Smith