Third Light Home – April 2012

Older listeners may remember the sitcom ’The Partridge Family’, and the episode called Soul Club, where the eponymous mid-American singing family troupe are misdirected to inner-city Detroit after a mix-up with a booking agent (The Temptations, scheduled to play in Motor City, have gone the other way, to a venue in Tucson, Arizona . . .).   Without wishing to go into the whole episode, David Cassidy (aka Keith Partridge) ends up penning an ‘afro-styled’ pop tune, and young Danny Partridge, having talked a local chapter of the ‘Afro-American Cultural Society’ (ie the Black Panthers) into becoming the band’s horn section, is awarded with honorary membership of the Society. He threatens to open up a chapter ‘back home’

Joking aside, it’s a great anecdote, reproduced by Pat Thomas in his new book, Listen, Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power, 1965-1975, to illustrate just how weird things were getting in mainstream America in 1971. Much of the rest of the book is an extensive trawl through the various labels, artists and records that provided a fiery but soulful soundtrack to the time in America when the civil rights era became the age of Black Power, when you could pick up sides of incendiary speeches, press conferences on double vinyl, albums made by local politicians (the first black mayor of Cleveland, Carl B Stokes), and the likes of Dylan, Lennon, Yoko Ono and Roy Harper all recorded sympathetic protest songs . . .  The book is terrifically illustrated, with fantastic album covers and advertising and marketing literature from a time that is long gone. If I’ve one complaint it’s that Pat Thomas has avoided weaving an over-reaching narrative flow, and focuses on the individual labels and artists — it’s a more thematic, fragmented approach, which is occasionally repetitive. More to the point, though, he has a good style, punchy but also wry, which you sense is forever trying to break through the historical info, and I’m sure plenty of great anecdotes picked up over the years of putting the book together — he should have inserted himself into the text a bit more: the passing reference to a meal in a Jamaican restaurant with the Watts Prophets, which comes right at the end of the book, leaves you desperately wanting more of his encounters with the key players in the Black Panthers. Still, while it’s a gallop through the records — you get a sense this is the tip of the iceberg — there is fantastic musical fare in here. Pat Thomas has a nice quiet authority, allied to impeccable taste. I’ve included my favourites from the accompanying Listen, Whitey cd, as well as using it a starting point to weave a few other tracks in from those featured in the book: Langston Hughes, Eddie Gale, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone and John Coltrane. As ever, I could have gone on for several hours, and Archie Shepp, The Last Poets, Stokely Carmichael and one or two others all ended up on the cutting room floor, sadly. Ah, well, another time. But for now, pick up Mr Thomas’s fine book (and cd), turn it up loud, and stick it to the man . . .

here’s a cool version of Langston Hughes found on Youtube

Pat Thomas is also over here in May:

EVENT: Listen, Whitey! The Sights & Sounds of Black Power – Reading/ Q&A/ Music

ARTIST: Author Pat Thomas reads and plays music from his acclaimed new book and accompanying CD

DATE & TIME:

Thursday 10th May – 8pm – Cafe Oto – £4
18 – 22 Ashwin street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL
Tel: 020 7923 1231
Event web-site:
http://www.cafeoto.co.uk/wire-salon-listen-whitey.shtm

Friday 11th May – 6.30pm – Rough Trade East – Free
Rough Trade East, Dray Walk, Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL
Tel: 020 7392 7788
Event web-site:
http://www.roughtrade.com/site/instore.lasso

Saturday 12th May – 5.00pm – Upstairs at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton – Free
Ritzy Picturehouse, Coldharbour Lane, London, SW2 1JG
Tel: 0871 902 5739
Event web-site:
http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Ritzy_Picturehouse/film/Listen_Whitey_The_Sights_Sounds_Of_Black_Power_W_Pat_Thomas/

 

 

and here are some scans from the book