Perhaps you won’t actually know his name, but if you’ve any interest in the jazz, soul, pop, folk, blues or Brazilian music of the 1960s and 70s, then you will almost certainly have heard either the songs or the piano playing of Bobby Scott. Take ‘A taste of honey’, recorded by the Beatles for their first LP – that’s one of Bobby’s. ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother’, another.
Following on from his previous book, A moment worth waiting for, which focussed on the early 1980s and took the equally adventurous Vic Godard as its touchstone, here Kevin Pearce traces an insightful and alternative path through the music of the two previous decades – alternative in the sense that Bobby Scott and many of the singers and musicians with whom he worked have not been anything like as celebrated as they deserve to be.
Bobby Scott’s approach was genre-blind if not genre-busting, illustrative of the plurality, interconnectedness, and cross-pollinating tendencies of a certain type of musical adventurer. He was, in the best sense of the word, a mastermind, but one who never lost sight of the gifts which individual singers possessed.
This was a man who packed a lot of living into too short a life. From precocious and energetic youth to grey-bearded patrician, Bobby composed, arranged, conducted, produced, sang, and played on countless sets of music, working with an amazing cast of fellow musicians and singers, including Bobby Darin, Jackie Paris, Chet Baker, Roland Kirk, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Timi Yuro, Nana Mouskouri, Esther Ofarim, Catherine Howe, Luiz Bonfá, Eumir Deodato, Marvin Gaye, and Dionne Warwick – and just as many less well-known performers, each treated by the writer on the merits of the work they left behind rather than plaudits gathered along the way.
It’s a journey which You know my name maps in meticulous detail and with great affection, building a portrait of a gifted, fascinating, and generous man, as well as a rich and enlightening history of the music of the times. Among others, Astrud Gilberto, Stan Getz, Gary McFarland and Lalo Schifrin all also feature prominently in the story as it diverges from its central character to record the influential effect that Brazilian bossa nova had on music in the United States from the early 1960s onwards.
The book becomes an evocation of the depth, breadth and staying power of the great American and Brazilian songbooks, and in so doing, an extended treatise on the art of singing. Bobby Scott – himself a vocalist of raw emotional power – is rightfully rescued from the cracks in history down which he has fallen, and along with him, dozens of fine singers and musicians worthy of far greater attention than they received at the time.
My friend Kevin Pearce has just published A moment worth waiting for as an e-book. It has no subtitle, very possibly because there is no way you could even begin to sum up the book’s contents in half a dozen or so words. But perhaps if you did try, it might read: a young man’s peregrinations through the music of the early 1980s. Except that the young man in question doesn’t confine himself to the 1980s, instead time-travelling here, there and everywhere as he traces lineages back as far as Music Hall and anticipates futures yet to happen. Beginning with Vic Godard, ending with easy listening pianist Peter Skellern (whom Vic used to put ‘on his battered bone-armed record player’), and taking in along the way the ZE, Postcard, Rough Trade, Y and On-U Sound record labels, as well as any number of characters on, around and beyond those labels, it’s as much the mapping of the fruits of an individual voyage of discovery as a detailed account of how that individual made those discoveries – at times through a process of gradual absorption, more often by instinctively and gleefully seizing upon leads from music journalists, as well as the kind of chance encounters or intuitive leaps of faith which result from having a curious mind and a relentlessly hungry pair of ears. In this respect it reminds me of Rachel Cohen’s wonderful book A chance meeting: intertwined lives of American writers and artists, which espoused a similar interest in unearthing what you might call cultural interconnectedness in the pre-internet age.
It’s also very much the journey and work of a lifetime. The depth of the research – and / or recall – is amazing; key to the book is the contemporary music criticism upon which Kevin draws, so obviously influential in terms of his developing taste. But those well-remembered moments of discovery are merely the beginning, and it’s the lifetime of subsequent listening and exploration which adds lightly disguised layers of retrospective understanding to each instance of musical epiphany.
With a cast of thousands and a no limits approach to the genres of music covered, even knowledgeable readers are likely to feel somewhat bewildered from time to time – perhaps there are too many leads, too many clues for any one reader to follow up on – but the tone of the writing remains engaging, generous and sure-footed. The transitions backwards and forwards in time are likewise handled with ease, and the effect of the whole is to do what any great writing about music should – indeed, what those music journalists of the early 1980s did for Kevin himself – which is to make the reader wish to listen again with freshly syringed ears to the records they know, and make haste to track down those that have so far eluded them. I came away with a long, long list of those.
Anyone with an interest in not just independent music of the 1980s, but the entire history of popular music, will learn something from – and find fascination in – every chapter of Kevin’s book. Moments and words worth waiting for, indeed.