NICOLE RECOMMENDS GOOD!
I’m really happy with the perspective my young music correspondent has brought to this column, since the beginning of this year. I probably never would have found the gems she digs up, but every one I‘ve explored has been really worth it.
Last week I got an “alert! alert!” heads-up text about a previous NICOLE RECOMMENDS — “Check this out! On now! All night, repeated tomorrow morning!
“Cathode Cinema strikes again.. ‘Tonight… Roots Radical! We are gearing up for a 2 day study of Jamaican ska, reggae, rock-steady, Rude Boys and their influence on punk culture viewed through the cinematic lens.’ ”
I didn’t move from my big comfy chair with my phone in front of me for 2-½ hours and had a skanking good time. The last time she alerted me about Cathode Cinema, I also had a blast, with a mix of shorts, music videos and full length films. Their curation of vintage black media is expert, inspired and compelling.
First off I ate up a string of old B&W music videos they proffered, starting with Millie Small’s iconic “My Boy Lollipop,” then a Johnny Nash and a John Holt, two of my big Jamaican faves, a couple more and then the complete showing of “Babylon,” a 1981 Danish film I had never seen.
Much of it is silly shenanigans set in a resort in South London staffed by Jamaican-Brits. We follow Blue, a young man living in Brixton in 1980, as he hangs out with his friends, fronts a dub sound system, loses his job, struggles with family problems and has his friendships tested by racism. And there’s the unexpected value I found, how timely: racism is rampant and we see how every turn Blue and his buddies might want to take has its severe limits. Humiliation and violence lurk everywhere, a fact of everyday life if you are black in Britain in 1980. No wonder they are BLM marching in the UK too.
The sad news hit two months ago that we lost Millie Small to a stroke, at 73. What an amazing song and story she had. “My Boy Lollipop” came out of nowhere (we thought) to be a huge hit in both the US and the UK, selling five million copies in 1964. It turned out to be her only hit, but elevated her to Olympian heights in music history. “It opened the door for Jamaican music to the world,” said Island Records founder Chris Blackwell.
I remember absolutely loving that silly, galloping tune when I was her same age, 16. Everyone loved it. It seemed so different, but stateside it was just one more British Invasion cool hit, we had no clue it was this thing from Jamaica called ska, which most of us wouldn’t hear again until we got into reggae or were seduced anew by 2 Tone, the second ska invasion from Britain in the late ‘70s, featuring bands like the Specials, the Beat, Selecter, Madness. I was in that skanking crowd but never put 2 and 2 together, that it came from Jamaican ska of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Millicent Dolly May Small, one of 13 children, was already a four-year veteran of the Jamaican music biz with a string of modest hits. British music mogul Blackwell, putting together his roster of Jamaican artists for his fledgling Island Records label, heard a surefire hit in “Lollipop,” whose publishing rights were lost by songwriter Robert Spencer (of the doo-wop group the Cadillacs) in a card game. Of all his talent, Blackwell believed Small had the best chance of becoming a huge international hit, and he even became her legal guardian for her trip to the UK.
She rose to her sudden brief superstardom with graceful aplomb, he said. “It was just incredible how she handled it. She was such a sweet person: very funny, great sense of humour. She was really special.
“But we just couldn’t find another song of that calibre for her,” he lamented. After a bad relationship much of her income disappeared; Blackwell then stepped in and bought her a home in Britain and nurtured her finances. Every year she would earn performers’ fees from “My Boy Lollipop,” the sales of which eventually topped 7,000,000.
Bolstered considerably by the birth of her child, Jaelee, in 1984, Millie thereafter devoted much of her life to her daughter, who survives her.
INDEPENDENT VENUES NEED YOUR HELP — I made a NOTEWORTHY recommendation once before about saving independent music venues, sharing information on how to support an especially historic spot, The Troubadour.
If I had all the time and space to highlight every independent venue that needs support, I would. Luckily, the newly formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) is taking up that cause.
According to a member survey, 90% of independent venues report they will close permanently in the next few months if they don’t receive federal funding. This would be a cultural tragedy in itself, but also a hit to the local communities that benefit from the revenue generated by these venues.
With a growing member base (Southern California alone has 116 participants and counting), NIVA seeks to raise awareness and implore Congress to provide federal assistance to independent venues and promoters. Independent venues were the first to close and will be the last to fully open, but most of them won’t last long enough to see that day unless the government steps up.
Share this information with your friends! Write to your representatives! NIVA’s ancillary “#SaveOurStages” website has more information on how to help: https://www.saveourstages.com/
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,500 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.