Living with…James Brown…for a week

excerpt from The Bull’s Hit Almanac of Rock and Pop Culture (2011 edition)


Cape has existed from the very beginning of music – in fact, it’s less of a musical genre than a fashion collective, bound together by the wearing of…a cape.  When asked the perennial question “What did the Romans ever do for us?”, capes can be added to the long list alongside roads, aqueducts and education.

The earliest link to music comes in the chronicles of Goscinny and the infamous bard Cacofonix who developed the tradition of Early Gallic Cape.  Less a musical term and more a lack of music, the tradition was sustained as the bard spent most of his time with his fully body and mouth bound by the intrepid adventurers Asterix and Obelix.  Predominantly carried out in the name of health and safety.

Capes continued to be essential garb through the centuries as an essential aid to hiding a minstrel’s lute so that he could pull the instrument out swiftly and begin performing with little warning to an unsuspecting audience.

Move in to the twentieth century and with a few exceptions (the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who) capes are no longer the prevailing fashion of the day.  Cape, however, continues to play an important role in the fabric of popular music, and it as at this stage that the genre explodes in to a plethora of sub-genres

Metal/Gothic Cape: in an attempt to compensate for the music, metal has often taken to fancy dress and cape has featured alongside spandex, face paint and perms as an essential distraction from the sound. King of the Metal Capes was Ozzy Ozbourne – he would choose red so that the bat blood stains wouldn’t show too much (see also Rock diets).

Progressive Cape: before embarking on a 12 minute keyboard solo in 5/4 time it was always important to garner a sense of the occasion, and progressive cape bands were/are never afraid to create OCCASION.  King of the Progressive Capes was/is Rick Wakeman, of Yes and his own fame.  Not be outdone by anyone, Mr Wakeman went for a nice line in shimmering gold.  Wouldn’t want anyone to miss him on the stage next to Jon Anderson after all.

Camp Cape: However, nothing could beat Freddie Mercury for showboating.  Forget being King of anything, he was the ultimate Queen of the Cape.  At a certain point in a live show he would disappear exit left for a minute or two and return resplendent in a sumptuous red fake irmine-trimmed cape complete with crown, in case you were unsure of who he was trying to be.  This wasn’t so much a statement of fashion as a statement of Freddie, nicely offset by the suitably regal bare chest and white trainers…

Mini Cape: Not everyone in music has carried off a cape well.  The sixties may have heralded some fashion triumphs, but the mini cape wasn’t one of them.  For a period of time this seemed to be an essential part of Elvis Presley’s show.  It’s probably better to remember him in the black leather of ’68 or one of those Hawaiian shirts.  Move on, there’s nothing to see here if you wish to honour Elvis’s memory.

The Godfather of Cape: a final and honourable mention should be made for the Godfather of Cape, James Brown.  At a certain point in his stage show, he would be off his feet with exhaustion and one of the band members would come forward and drape a cape over his shoulder.  He would then be led staggering from the stage, as if there were no more left in him.  The band and audience would bay for him to return, and sure enough the cape was flung away and the Godfather would return to perform with as great a gusto as ever. And then again and again…


See also Living with…The Streets…for a week

Live at the Apollo (1963) – James Brown

Choosing to spend a week with James Brown’s classic live album, I also opted to catch a collection of his greatest hits at the same time to remind me of his better known songs.  As it turns out I soon left the hits behind, in favour of the live experience.

The sound is raw – there’s nothing delicate about James Brown’s voice as he Huhs and Ows through his soul classics of the time.  The band behind him is excellent – the Famous Flames drive a fair rhythm and toot a good horn.  The albums opens with  I’ll Go Crazy, and the mood is set – sweaty and loud.  My other favourite uptempo song is Night Train, you just need to get up and dance like…James Brown.

But the highlight of the album is undeniably the 11 minute version of Lost Someone.  Much slower in tempo, this is James Brown and the audience working through something – to much screaming and howling.  This is a drawn out teasing gospel number and the central point of a trip down memory lane to 60’s soul.

Below is a three minute extract of Lost Someone, try and catch the full live version if you can.

Twotes of the week

@DalaiLama: Wonderful spiritual qualities, such as unbounded love and compassion, are present as potentials in all our minds.

@HeardinLondon: Walking in sunshine. Lady in burqa passes. Mates 4yo grabs his hand “That lady is a ninja”. Cue chat re cultural norms. And not pointing.

@MayorOfLondon: Many thanks to the one & only @MrPeterAndre for helping me launch my new literacy project

@jacques_aih: I used to frequent a pub called “The Prog Rock”. When the barman called time the drinkers replied “3 bars of 5/4 followed by a bar of 11/8”.

@jacques_aih: I laughed at my wife because she’s always getting the names of towns mixed up. So now she’s sending me to Daventry.

Last Gleewatch of Season Two: It’s all wrapped up with a vista of New York and very much a showtune episode.  Rachel and Kurt live out their dream and perform on the Wicked stage and there is a crucial kiss at a crucial moment.  A long wait now for some new Glee…