Busker’s bottler sings the blues

HERALD SCOTLAND, 19TH AUGUST 2015

Herald Scotland

Carol Grimes might not include I Could Write a Book in her Edinburgh Fringe show, The Singer’s Tale. The London-born survivor of fifty years in the music business would, however, have every right to sing this Rodgers and Hart standard. Indeed, she is currently writing her autobiography after being given encouragement by a literary agent who subsequently disappeared.

“Typical,” says Grimes with a throaty laugh. “My timing has always been abysmal when it comes to business matters, and I know I’m not alone in this regard among musicians. I just like to sing. And write – I’ve been really enjoying getting the story down.”

Grimes’ problem as far as the publishing world’s concerned is that she’s not about to deliver a celebrity kiss and tell because, as she says, she’s not a celebrity. She’s known a few – Joe Cocker was reduced to sleeping on her couch when at a particularly low ebb – and she might have become a bigger name had the albums she made in Nashville and Memphis during the 1970s been promoted properly and had she not been silenced, as a recording artist at least, due to some dodgy deals shortly afterwards.

The story, which includes Grimes pinching herself as she listens to tapes of Otis Redding rehearsals in Stax Records legend Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s Memphis home, begins with Grimes not singing but being the ‘bottler’ for a character called ‘Paris Nat’ Schaffer on the streets of London. He would sing and entertain passers-by and Grimes would collect the takings and look out for the old bill as busking was illegal back in the early 1960s. Schaffer also saw the merit of having an attractive teenage accomplice and encouraged Grimes to pursue her dream as they moved from making quick escapes down dark alleys to playing in London’s folk clubs.

From the moment, as a fourteen-year-old who spent most of her childhood in care, she heard Ella Fitzgerald singing Every Time We Say Goodbye, Grimes had wanted to be a singer. Later, hearing the great British blues singer-guitarist Jo Ann Kelly and Julie Driscoll, who was in the frontline of Steampacket with Rod Stewart and John Baldry at the time, inspired Grimes further. And before too long she got to follow their example by selling out London venues including the Marquee, Klook’s Kleek and the 100 Club.

By this time she had signed with the B&C wing of Charisma Records, then home to Van der Graaf Generator and Genesis. The resultant album, Fools Meeting, would become a collectors’ item and featured Grimes with a band called Delivery, whose members went on to work with Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt’s Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North and other Canterbury scene notables.

The album’s jazzier, more progressive side took Grimes away from the rhythm and blues she’d previously favoured. But not for long as she was invited to sing some demos with the London Boogie Band, which included her then partner, guitarist Neil Hubbard from Joe Cocker’s Grease band, and while that band morphed into the still active Kokomo, Grimes was propelled towards a solo career that promised much but delivered, as she says, “a nightmare.”

“It did get me to Memphis and recording with the Stax crew and the Memphis Horns, which was a fantastic experience, and much, much later that association led to me being invited onto Soul Britannia on BBC 4 and the subsequent tour, which was great,” she says. “But the album came out and stiffed due to lack of promotion and the guy who had me under contract wouldn’t let me out of the deal and stopped me from recording anything else.”

Grimes moved to Poland with her Polish husband and when she returned to London in the 1980s she became involved in The Shout, a choir organised by composer Orlando Gough that toured across Europe and America and visited Japan. She also took up teaching at the City Literary Institute and working with Parkinsons sufferers through Sing For Joy, a choir that she conducts and finds hugely rewarding.

She’s never stopped gigging as a singer, however, and her Fringe show features the pianist in her current band, Dorian Ford, as her sole accompanist.

“I wish I could bring the whole band because my drummer, Winston Clifford has a great voice and he normally sings behind me as I tell the stories. But I’ll just have to do it with one mouth,” she says. “It’s one of the advantages of never having had a massive hit and having kept working my vocal muscles that I don’t have to go on these 1970s revival tours singing three keys down from the original. And never having been a Super Star, I can be the fly on the wall who played at the first Glastonbury Festival and who can share memories of people who have been written out of history.”

Carol Grimes with Dorian Ford: The Singer’s Tale

23RD AUGUST 2015

Herald Scotland

****

Carol Grimes needs longer than a Fringe slot to tell her life story. Heavens, she needs more words than a Fringe review has to accommodate the names she’s gone under, being as she candidly puts it “a bastard” London war baby who was put up for adoption, brought up in Lowestoft, wound up sleeping in Hastings’ caves, busked in Soho, joined a band, married, divorced, married again, and tied the pension authorities in knots trying to decipher who she really was.

To those whose lives Grimes’ singing has touched, she’s one of the UK’s great underappreciated talents and at seventy-one, she hasn’t lost the power to enthral with a blues or a jazz standard or with the song that ended this lunchtime gem so aptly, her friend, the late Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes.

The Singer’s Tale is by turns charming, funny and a little sad without looking for pity. Grimes is a trouper, a survivor and with Dorian Ford’s splendid piano accompaniment and occasional added harmonica, she variously defies and takes encouragement from a sizable cast of alliteratively named alter egos – Betty Bluesbelter, Procrastinating Patsy et al – to follow her dreams and get through some nightmares. The triumphs are underplayed – she’s happy being a non-celebrity – the laughs are genuine, and the voice really should have become better known.

 

 

Friars Interviews
CAROL GRIMES
London Boogie Band
Friars appearances :  07/08/76
 

Carol Grimes is one of the music business’ true survivors. A variety of styles over the years stretching back to the early 1970s Delivery (which also featured Aylesbury legend Lol Coxhill) and Uncle Dog and right through to 2012 where she still gigs. Carol played Friars in August 1976 with the London Boogie Band and as you will see has quite a story to her life.

Carol, Friars Aylesbury, 07/08/76.  photo – Geoff Tyrell

Hello Carol and thank you for agreeing to chat to the Friars Aylesbury website. You may have seen we have some photographs of you on the site which was when you played Friars in 1976 supporting Curved Air as the Carol Grimes London Boogie Band.http://www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk/geofftyrellcurvedair.html

I have a vague memory of it (laughs)

It was a long time ago!  The London Boogie Band period. It’s a great band name and reading up on that period you were getting great reviews and you were being compared to Janis Joplin.

I didn’t name that band. I got a call from a guy called Stuart Lyons who was working for Nigel Thomas saying that a bunch of guys in various bands including Boz Burrell and Tim Hinkley (Jody Grind) had got together as the London Boogie Band and had cut some tracks.

I went to Olympic Studios in Barnes and put on a vocal and they released it. I got signed to a five-year contract to Nigel Thomas,. He had been managing Joe Cocker and The Grease Band amongst other artists.  I went to America and recorded an album in Memphis (1975’s ‘Memphis Album’) with various luminaries including most of what had been Otis Redding’s band.  Certainly, at the end of his time with Thomas, Joe Cocker had to buy himself out of his contract. I was tied up to this and dreadful things went on which I won’t go into. I couldn’t record for the next five years.

So in terms of the Boogie Band who played Friars, who was in that lineup, apart from yourself?

There was Henry McCulloch,  the Boogie Band became mainly me and Henry – a shifting band of musicians in and out ..sometimes on the road and often just London gigs.

Almost like a collective?

It was a collective, yes – there were the likes of Boz Burrell, Tim Hinkley, Terry Stannard. Neil Hubbard. I can’t remember who else may have been in the band at that time. They were crazy times and I was a single parent raising a son.

The contractual issues explain the large gap in your discography from 1975-1980.

Yes. Everybody in the band got on rather well and they evolved sometimes into ‘Dick and The Firemen,’ which was a large version of the London Boogie Band, fronted by Mike Patto and included the Tim Hinkley, Mel Collins (Camel, Kokomo ) and Bobby Tench. So for five years, I worked with ‘THE BOOGIE BAND’ Henry and Neil Hubbard, Paul Carrack for a while.. The Fireman even had its own drink ‘A Hosepipe‘  couldn’t drink it now! Lethal.

That really is awful.

In that game, once you get past 30, no 25, with no hit record, you’re fucked as far as a commercial career is concerned. But some people would say “what a disaster, poor you” but in fact, although it was not financially good for me, I was able to experiment and do other things and as a result, I have had a very interesting career and I am still singing. But I may not have had that had I gone down the commercial route, because prior to Nigel Thomas, I was managed by Robert Stigwood and that was also a disaster.

I know from talking to others, the 1960s and 1970s in terms of the music business, it could be a very shitty business to be in.

It’s a very tricky business and I found myself in some very nasty situations.

To not be able to record for five years which was your living must have been horrendous.

It was everything and there wasn’t the wherewithal that the current generation has with home studios and technology shrinking in size where it’s all very compact.

A very different time then and especially for a woman. I’ve often found myself being written out of history. For example, I have seen sites that focus on the Ladbroke Grove Scene and Dingwalls. I was managed for a while by Roger Bannister who ran Dingwalls and during the time of the London Boogie Band and just after.

We played Dingwalls regularly and if you look at the Dingwalls Facebook page, there are very few women on it. When you look at the Ladbroke Grove scene of the late 1960s, it’s all about the likes of Pink Floyd and Quintessence. I was there.  I played the very first Glastonbury in 1970. It’s very rarely mentioned that I played there.

You are part of Friars’ history and as far as I am concerned you are not written out of our history.

It does happen unless you had good management and good PR. The only thing they couldn’t write me out of was Rock Against Racism which I was a part of right from the beginning in 1976/1977. They couldn’t write me out of that as it was too well documented! If you were around the late 1960s/early 1970s often you weren’t well cared for, it was a dangerous business.

I believe you discovered your singing talent through busking?

Yes (laughs)

I think that’s brilliant and a wonderful notion. I mean that with the greatest of respect because it’s a wonderful story.

I started off as a bottler to a busker. A bottler is the one who goes around with the hat collecting the money. The strange thing is that I have been writing and scribbling things down for years and in the late seventies, a playwright, Sarah Daniels approached me about writing a play loosely based on my life. I read the first draft and thought I didn’t want this. Also, a rock journalist around that time started to write (about me) and I didn’t want to be written about, but I am now doing it myself.

Another strange coincidence…I was doing a gig with The Shout and in the bar afterwards, chatting to a woman, friend of a friend .. who had seen me perform a few times and was interested in my lyrics.  She asked me if I did anything else apart from song lyrics. I said I had wanted to write a book for years but it was still under the bed!  She gave me her card and she was a literary agent.  She got in touch and I gave her two chapters and I’ve tried to finish it but life got in the way for a  while…one thing and another..  I am now cracking on with it!  As I write, I realise you are being an observer when you write about your own life..looking at it and trying to remember it all.

But given all the troubles you have had in the music business, did you find it cathartic?

Everyone says that! And yes, it can be ..

I know that’s not original, but I know people who have written books and have had to revisit bad times and express it, I guess it’s how honest you want to be with it.

Exactly. But I have been very very lucky in that I have had singing to express myself and writing has been difficult especially about my childhood, but it’s exciting and it’s moving along and I have lots of ideas.  The book deals with my childhood – I was born in 1944 into a world of London bomb sites and spent time living in children’s homes which wasn’t good in 1950s Britain, then onto finding by chance I could sing, well, sort of … and realising I didn’t have to get a proper job! (laughs)

In terms of Sarah Daniels approach to you, which you ultimately declined, was it because it was too painful or you weren’t interested at that time?

In the 80’s I did two loosely autobiographical shows at the Drill Hall in London which focused on the funny bits, all of life isn’t a tragedy! (laughs)  One show was called ‘Lipstick and Lights’ and the other was ‘Daydreams and Danger.’  So I had a crack at the idea back then and it got left behind and I lost confidence but I am on it again.

What I think is great is that it is many years since you played Friars and you are still in the business singing, still doing what you enjoy. That means a lot to me as many dropped by the wayside and gave up when hit with huge problems.

Once I found it, it was something I had to do. I love it.

As we discussed, you were shafted in terms of recording so we didn’t see anything till the Sweet FA album…

Yes, then I did two albums in the mid-eighties/early 90’s  ‘Eyes Wide Open’ and ‘Why don’t they Dance?’  In the 2000’s I  had an album called Mother out…  and am in the middle of recording tracks for a new one. with my loverly Band with Doran Ford.  Fingers crossed. But it’s been sporadic.

There was a guy looking after me who was also looking after Joe Strummer, a bit of an odd pair to manage some would say! We’d been on the same bill a few times,  politics, Rock against Racism, Poll Tax so not as strange as it sounds.

He, the manager chap, rang me up and said I’ve bad news/good news. What he had done was to submit, without asking, a song I had written it with my former partner Maciek Hrybowicz, to The Eurovision Song Contest!  It was a political feminist song, Heart to Heart, and then it was in the 10 songs to be televised for Public voting on the Wogan Show.  By then I was in my late thirties and gigging a lot in London and being part of mixed music and comedy bills. The GLC days…

Someone in the Eurovision camp said ‘bloody hell, Carol Grimes, is she still around?’ I wasn’t even 40! They auditioned various singers, pretty young Blondes,  and they ended up with a woman from Bristol who I later found another strange connection with. Viv Stanshall’s  Moll The Cat Show .. She was a Lesbian with a fabulous singing voice, but less media-friendly back then, than I would have been!

We were invited to the transmission and met George Martin who was on the judging panel.  He had managed to swing my song in, but admitted afterwards we didn’t stand a chance in hell! It was a good song but certainly not  Eurovision. That was a big sign to me that if my name did come up it was with derision at my great age! I was gigging 4-5 nights a week! They can stop you from being promoted but they can’t stop you singing!

So, ageist then!

Oh yes, and over the top.  I started with a Blues band called The Race, managed by Hilton Valentine of ‘The Animals’…. then had a baby and went back into singing, I found myself drifting towards jazz. Without blues, there would be no jazz anyway.

Looking at some of your current material, it seems jazzy blues to me?

Yeeessss, that would have been a gig at The Map Cafe in London, a trio gig. But I still dip into R & B and Soul material now and then. And still write my own songs, currently with Dorian .. Check out BBC4’s Soul Britannia at the Barbican on YouTube.

I haven’t seen it yet (he said shamefully!) – what did you perform on that?

I did ‘Uphill Peace of Mind’ from The Memphis Album, which was put out on a funk compilation. Again, no-one asked me, they just put it on. I went on the road touring with Madeleine Bell, Linda Lewis, Root Jackson – it was great, really good fun, that was about 200 ….? forget .. all on my website http://www.carolgrimes.com

Tell me a bit more about Sing For Joy. That’s working with people suffering from Parkinson’s isn’t it?

And MS and other neurological diseases. Last week, Barbara Thompson and Jon Hiseman had a documentary on BBC (about Barbara’s battle with Parkinson’s) and one of my choirs is featured in that. If you go to the Jazz UK site, the Feb/March issues which you can download, and that covers much more of what I have been up to now.

It’s great you’re still out there and still working!

Although my career has taken a different path…I’d have been trotting out what I did in the 70s and in fact, I have had a very interesting a varied life because I didn’t cut it commercially. Although I have very little money coming in… and I will be a poor old lady…but hey, we can all hope and dream! (laughs)

Please do let us know when the book is finished because I will feature it.

Brilliant!

I’m interested in your story and never cease to be taken aback at how management types behaved and got away with it.

I am told that people still suffer from bad management today, but it’s not as easy to behave as badly as people did then. With the media being what it is, so instant and global, and the young so much savvier….

I’ve done a lot of work with youth and they ask if I did this or that when I started out. I thought that a workshop was a place where you banged nails into a piece of wood. There was nothing back then such as Residential courses….Arts Centres with Music sessions, you can do a bloody degree in rock and roll!

The internet has changed everything I guess.

It’s not just the internet, it’s education and adult education, they can learn the tricks of the trade, go to Westminster University, or other courses out there, and do three years and come out with a BA in commercial music and lots of good experience and contacts.

My local theatre does monthly workshops, be it for sound engineering, lighting etc and they all sell out.

It’s all out there – back then it wasn’t and the recording equipment wasn’t as available.

But you are a true survivor in this business and you have a refreshingly positive take on your life, still gigging and still enjoying it. I’m looking forward to the book!

You must forgive me if this sounds odd. You talked about marrying art forms in the sense of music and story, but did you ever consider or were you offered anything in the theatre? I ask this because having recently listened to your Daydreams and Danger album again (from 1988), there’s stuff on there that would, in my opinion, sit well in musical theatre.

No, never have. I’ve always been on the fringe of everything I have ever done. Never auditioned for anything like that. But with The Shout,  (contemporary opera)  I toured internationally for ten years. I also did a contemporary opera in Japan (not with The Shout) a great experience for me.

That gave you opportunities you may otherwise not have had.

Some of it I liked, some was a load of old tosh (laughs), but you’re working for somebody else and doing their work and you won’t always be enamoured with it! With The Shout, half the group were Opera singers, the remainder were jazz, gospel or musical theatre. They had all been to music college, whereas I literally came up from the street. A very different background which sometimes caused paranoia on my part, that I wasn’t good enough and didn’t know as much, but I got through it and lived to tell the tale! (laughs)

Carol, thank you so much for talking to us.

Thank you very much.

 This interview and its content are © 2012 Mike O’Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used in whole or in part without permission

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