5 January 2011
Black Velvet - African Velvet & What Am I To Do (b/w "Coal Mine")
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...
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.
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