240. Long John Baldry – Let the Heartaches Begin (1967)

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November 1967 was a particularly cold, yet sunny month. On the 27th, President Charles de Gaulle of France once again vetoed British entry into the European Economic Community. Cheers! The foot-and-mouth outbreak resulted in a number of horse-racing events being cancelled the next day. 1 December saw further inroads into a bright new ethnically diverse future when Tony O’Connor became the first non-white headteacher of a British school, at a primary in Smethwick, near Birmingham.

There may be some sarcasm in my last sentence, as the UK still had a long way to go in becoming progressive. The law had only just changed to decriminalise homosexuality, yet many stars of the time felt they needed to keep their sexuality private. Although Long John Baldry was openly gay in showbiz circles, he didn’t announce it to the public until the 1970s. This giant of the blues scene was highly influential, yet his one chart-topper is disliked by many purists, and is considered unrepresentative of the singer.

John Baldry was born around Brixworth, Northamptonshire in January 1941 after his parents had fled London during the Blitz. His schooldays were spent in Edgware, Middlesex. When he began singing in the 50s he stood out from the crowd as one of the first known blues and folk singers in the country, listening to Muddy Waters and learning the 12-string at the age of 12. He also stood out because he had grown to six feet and seven inches, earning him the nickname ‘Long John’.

By the early-60s he was performing in coffee houses and R’nB clubs in London. A small scene began to formulate, and Baldry joined the fledgling Blues Incorporated, led by the pioneering Alexis Korner. They released the first British blues album, R&B from the Marquee, in 1962. Future members of Blues Incorporated included Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones and Cream’s Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce. From this point onwards, Baldry’s career features cameos from an impressive number of future rock stars of the next decade or so.

In 1963 he joined the Cyril Davies R&B All Stars, featuring future ace session pianist Nicky Hopkins, and when Davies died the following year, he renamed them Long John Baldry and his Hoochie Coochie Men. While looking for a singer for his new outfit, Baldry chanced upon a busker and Baldry gig-goer called Rod Stewart, performing a Muddy Waters song at Twickenham Station. With Stewart on board, they changed their name to Steampacket in 1965. The group now featured Julie Driscoll as a singer and Brian Auger on organ, later known for their cover of Bob Dylan’s This Wheel’s on Fire. When Steampacket broke up in 1966, Baldry formed Bluesology. His new band had Reg Dwight on keyboards and future Soft Machine guitarist Elton Dean. When Dwight went solo, he took Dean and Baldry’s forenames and became Elton John.

So, it’s clear that Baldry was moving in the right circles (he also appeared on a TV special by the Beatles in 1964, had a fling with Dave Davies of the Kinks and introduced the Rolling Stones on the US live album Got Live if You Want It!), and yet fame still eluded him. And so he wound up on the cabaret circuit with a harmony group called Chimera backing him, and started working with pop producer Tony Macauley, who had produced Baby Now That I’ve Found You by the Foundations, and co-wrote it with John MacLeod. Together, they also wrote Let the Heartaches Begin, and gave it to Baldry to record.

I have to confess to knowing next to nothing about Baldry, other than him being a fascinating and important figure in R’n’B, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t expecting Let the Heartaches Begin to sound anything like it does. It’s a big let down, and it seems Macauley thought he could turn Baldry into an Engelbert Humperdinck, or a Tom Jones-style figure. You could draw similarities to Johnnie Ray too, with the over-the-top, mock histrionics on show here, set to syrupy backing, but with less impact than Ray’s recordings. But the singer is clearly revelling in the fact he has a broken heart, much like Ray in the 50s. Apparently Baldry had to knock back a fair bit of booze to record it, so it’s likely he wasn’t entirely comfortable with this new direction either.

In spite of this, it was well-timed, with 1967 being the year of Humperdinck, and it earned Baldry his place in chart history, so who am I to argue with Macauley? In fact, this single earned he and MacLeod two consecutive number 1s in a row… no mean feat at all.

Baldry stuck to this new balladeer style for the next few years. In 1968 he and Bernie Taupin came to the aid of Elton John, who was struggling with his sexuality. The duo talked him out of marrying Linda Woodrow to cover up being gay, and John was so grateful he wrote Someone Saved My Life Tonight to thank them.

Baldry returned to his beloved blues in 1971 with his most well-known album It Ain’t Easy with Elton John and Rod Stewart producing a side each. They did the same again on 1972 follow-up Everything Stops for Tea. He claimed to have been the last person to see Marc Bolan alive on 16 September 1977, having interviewed him for US TV just before he got into his car for the final time.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles, Baldry moved to Vancouver, British Colombia in 1978. Bar a brief spell in psychiatric hospital (he recorded the album Baldry’s Out shortly after release), he seemed happy and remained there the rest of his life. He released several albums in the 90s (including It Still Ain’t Easy) but his main source of income was in voiceover work for adverts and animated children’s TV series Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (he was Dr Robtonik) and Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. Plagued with ill health in his later years, he died of a severe chest infection in 2005, aged 64. Only a one-hit wonder in the singles chart, Baldry nevertheless left an impact on music to match his considerable stature.

Written by: Tony Macauley & John MacLeod

Producer: Tony Macauley

Weeks at number 1: 2 (22 November-5 December) 

Births:

Politician Shahid Malik – 24 November

Deaths:

Phonetician Daniel Jones – 4 December 

239. The Foundations – Baby Now That I’ve Found You (1967)

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Following on from BBC Radio’s restructuring into four new national stations, their first regional one, BBC Radio Leicester, began on 8 November. Ten days later, the movement of animals in England and Wales was restricted due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. But the big news of that fortnight came a day later when Prime Minister Harold Wilson devalued the pound. His claim that doing so would not affect ‘the pound in your pocket’ was ridiculed and did Wilson’s standing lasting damage.

During this fortnight in mid-November, multi-racial soul group the Foundations had a surprise number 1 with Motown-style debut single Baby Now That I’ve Found You.

Stories of the groups origins are conflicted, but the most well-known one is that the Foundations had formed in January through advertisements in Melody Maker. This ethnically rich eight-piece originally consisted of singer Clem Curtis, lead guitarist Alan Warner, flautist/saxophonist Pat Burke, tenor saxophonist Mike Elliott, trombonist Eric Allan Dale, keyboardist Tony Gomez, bassist Peter Macbeth and drummer Tim Harris.

The Foundations ran, rehearsed and performed in the Butterfly Club in Bayswater, London. Their practice sessions would take place in the basement, which is how they got their name. Times were hard and they could barely afford to eat, let alone pay the rent. Fortune smiled on them when record dealer Barry Class attended one night and was so impressed he became their manager. He arranged a meeting with Tony Macauley, who was working for Pye Records as a producer.

Macauley had written Baby Now That I’ve Found You with John MacLeod, and was looking for a British soul act he could take under his wing to become the UK’s answer to the Four Tops. High expectations indeed, but the record was released that summer, and flopped.

However, their luck was in that autumn, thanks to Radio 1. The BBC, now back to dominating the airwaves thanks to the demise of pirate radio, were keen to play songs that stations like Radio London had ignored in an effort to differentiate themselves. Baby Now That I’ve Found You – a sunny, harmless slice of uptempo pop, fitted the bill perfectly, and became a runaway success. From just another group struggling to get by, the Foundations were now at number 1.

I love a bit of soul music, and this made for an interesting diversion after lots of ballads and flower power anthems, but it doesn’t compare with Motown at its best. The lyrics don’t really match the uplifting mood – not that they necessarily should, but they’re also bog-standard ‘I love you, please don’t leave me’-type words, which rather give the impression of a quickly tossed-off single. So, not a lot of depth, but it’s a nice enough way to pass a few minutes, and not every song needs to be clever, does it?

Not only did Baby Now That I’ve Found You prove that the Brits could do soul, and that multi-ethnic groups could exist, they nearly beat the Americans at their own game, with the single reaching 11 in the US. Debut album From the Foundations was rushed together, but there were problems ahead. Follow-up single Back On My Feet Again only reached number 18 in the UK, an tensions were rising between the group and Macauley, who only wanted them recording songs he had written, including their B-sides. The Foundations understandably weren’t best pleased, and felt he was trying too hard to soften their sound.

Matters came to a head when Curtis quit, as he felt some of the members were happy to take the easier road and rest on their laurels. Having befriended Sammy Davis Jnr, he was encouraged to go solo in the US, He was replaced by Colin Young, and Elliott quit too, so the group were now a seven-piece.

Soon after, they had their most famous hit with Build Me Up Buttercup, written by Macauley and Manfred Mann singer Mike d’Abo. Although it stalled at number two here, it reached number 1 in the US, and is a better track then Baby Now That I’ve Found You. Back in the public eye, they entered talks to star in their own Monkees-style TV series but things started to go wrong once more. Macbeth left and was replaced by Steve Bingham, and then the band split from their management in 1969 to join the Temptations on a tour that proved disastrous. After yet more bass player changes, Macauley left Pye Records, depriving the group of their hitmaker. With soul being replaced by funk in popularity, the Foundations split in late 1970.

Curtis returned to the Uk in the mid-70s and revived the band, but Young had the same idea, leading to two versions on the road playing the same material. Following a lawsuit, Curtis got the name and Young’s band became the New Foundations.

Fast forward to 1998 and Build Me Up Buttercup became popular once more thanks to its appearance at the end of the comedy There’s Something About Mary, which led to Young reviving yet another version of the band. He left soon after and was replaced by Hue Montgomery. Curtis died in 2017 from lung cancer, aged 76.

Macauley went on to write many hits along the lines of Baby Now That I’ve Found You, high in catchiness but light in substance. In fact, he and MacLeod feature in the next blog…

Written by: Tony Macauley & John MacLeod

Producer: Tony Macauley

Weeks at number 1: 2 (8-21 November) 

Births:

Actress Letitia Dean – 14 November 
Footballer Wayne Harrison – 15 November
Comedian Dom Joly – 15 November

Deaths:

Pianist Harriet Cohen – 13 November