Sunday, 29 October 2017

WHITE MAN'S SOUL: Part I. ROXY MUSIC's AVALON

Soul music is said to be the preserve of the Negro, yet the later soul music of the Negro was not the preserve of the Negro, for it very often relied on Jewish production under the likes of Syd Nathan, Ralph Bass, Jerry Wexler, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and on White classical tradition and instrumentation for its orchestral arrangements. All music can be said to be interconnected, but there is a reason the MOBOs are called the MOBOs, and soul music was created for a Black American market. The American Blue-Eyed Soul crossover genre very much links into this, but the White British soul tradition is quite different and distinct in the same way as that deemed to be Black American.




It is perhaps not uncoincidental that what I will call from now on White British Soul emerged in the late 1970s with the rise of the synthesiser, just as Black American Soul would degenerate into soulless pop by the likes of Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan and Colonel Abrahams in the early '80s using those very same synthesisers. Nor is it a coincidence that White British Soul came out of Britain's industrial heartlands, where synthesis between man and machine had been ongoing for the past two hundred years. It was inevitable and but a matter of time before the organic was making music with the mechanistic.




The post-Industrial Revolution working men of a Northern England characterised by coal, steel and manufacruring had been searching for a soul music of their own for some time. Folk music had failed to adapt to new experiences and had largely forgotten its symbiosis with dance. From the 1960s until its demise at the beginning of the 1980s, some working men had adopted Black American Soul by obscure artists that were not particularly popular with the mainstream Black American audience. They were, however, popular with White Northerners and the term Northern Soul was coined by journalist and record shop owner Dave Godin to describe the phenomenon that resulted in the opening of specialised dancehalls in places like Wigan, Stoke and Manchester.



Perhaps one of the reasons for Northern Soul's lifecycle coming to an end was that Northern Whites had found their own voice and way of expressing their emotions that related to their own racial consciousness and group experience in music. During the 1970s, one of their number, Bryan Ferry, a working class man with an artistic sensibility hailing from the coalfields of County Durham, charted a musical trajectory with his band Roxy Music from glam, experimental and art rock to creating this new White British Soul. One can hear it already in the album Manifesto in such tracks as 'Stronger through the Years', 'Dance Away' and 'Spin Me Round', the keyboards becoming more pronounced with a lead bass on the first two tracks.




It is worth mentioning the title of the album both eponymously and stylistically comes from Wyndham Lewis' Blast, and Bryan Ferry would later come under fire for his flirtations with what some would call Fascist and National Socialist aesthetics, Ferry stating in 2007:


But the way the Nazis staged themselves and presented themselves, my Lord! I'm talking about the films of Leni Riefenstahl and the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags—just fantastic. Really beautiful.

The L├╝genpresse who created a hysteria over the comments of course neglected to mention that he had also expressed admiration for Negro musicians like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker during the interview. It is, however, also to be noted that Ferry has always sung in a firmly British accent, as opposed to imitating Black American singing like so many British pop stars of his era. This is by no means reactionary, but merely an expression of his own cultural milieu. Indeed, the US market version of Roxy Music's following album Flesh and Blood features a cover of Wilson Pickett's 'In the Midnight Hour' in the new Roxy Music style, which could be considered a White British Soul take on a Black American Soul song, although the song itself was cowritten by White American guitarist Steve Cropper.



Flesh and Blood, with its nouveau Kraft durch Freude artwork by Peter Saville, sees further transition to White British Soul, the music Roxy Music would shape in their own image - more specifically in Ferry's. Just as Saville would work with many of the synth bands of the 1980s, Flesh and Blood would have a profound musical influence on them. As Andy Mackay said in interview:


One never knows where decades begin and end, but then I think that you could argue that the '80s actually started early with Manifesto and Flesh and Blood.



Flesh and Blood is a foreshadowing of Roxy Music's magnum opus Avalon. Avalon can be seen as a concept album, for it has a thematic and stylistic unity that binds the album into a whole. The title and eponymous song on the album is of course one of the islands of European myth; the album thus confirms its Eurocentrism in its very title and cover image: an aristocratic European woman (Lucy Helmore, the future Mrs Ferry) wearing a romanticised Viking helmet, practicing falconry - again a design by Peter Saville. The album's lyrics take in Ferry's typical themes of love in the postmodern West: of trying to find romance at parties, of the ephemeralness of relationships, of cold male pick-up artists and colder female socialites. Take these lines from 'True to Life':


It's amazing
Times have changed
In days of old
Imagination'd leave you standing
Out in the cold
Dancing city
Now you're talking
But where's your soul
You've a thousand faces
I'll never know
There are complications
And compensations
If you know the game
Agitated in Xenon nightly
I'll take you home again


As with many of Ferry's lyrics, they are ambiguous. Ferry is like an early expressionist painter, creating moods, emotions and vague impressions of the world that contains them. Yet we see here there is a comparison between the old world of tradition and the new one of emancipation and the effect that has had upon the relationship between men and women. There is a sense that the new is less honest, but the narrator does not wallow in melancholy, but also looks at the positive of easy sex that partly compensates for the loss of authenticity. The narrator is thus 'true to life' in that he has adapted to the new situation.





The standout tracks are undoubtedly two of the three singles released: 'More Than This' and 'Avalon'. 'More Than This' displays both a fatalistism and determinism as it juxtaposes a relationship in absentia with the external forces of Nature, while 'Avalon', rather like imagist poetry, places the dream-like image of a woman dancing up to the narrator after a hard party next to the idea of the Celtic myth of Avalon, the mystical isle where wounds are healed - or is what is meant here that the wounds of old relationships are assuaged? As imagist poet, one might see Ferry as successor to the likes of Ezra Pound and T E Hulme. One might also point to the Negro input into the song, the soaring voice of Yanick Etienne, Roxy Music's manager's girlfriend, who happened to be in the right place at the right time; but this would be to obsess over cultural purity. Just as Black American Soul has its White participants like Steve Cropper, so here we have a Black participant in White British Soul.


It is worth wondering, though, how Black American Soul might have fared without Jewish production. I suspect there would have been less crossover and less of a politicisation of the lyrics, for one thing militant Jews in America have been doing for decades is to politicise the Black against the White through culture, just as they have made it suitable enough to the bourgeois White ear to absorb it. It would be nice if just for once the Jew allowed the Negro to shape his culture in his own image, free from the militant Jew's agendas. Perhaps this is why Northern working-class Whites had gravitated to less commercial, independent Black American Soul during the '60s and perhaps one of the most refreshing things about Avalon in this day and age is its apolitical lyrics.





The accompanying music video is a triumph of Eurocentrism directed by Howard Guard and Ridley Scott (yes, the Ridley Scott) that features neo-classical architecture, ballroom dancing, falconry, formal dress and traditional art and artisanry. Guard makes sure of long lingering shots of Ferry and Sophie Ward's faces, lighting up their blue eyes. Ferry's falconry atop the balustrade of a Jacobethan stately home overlooking the English countryside is an iconic aristocratic image, and one remembers that Ferry and Helmore's son Otis is Master of the South Shropshire Hunt. Bryan too has always identified himself as a conservative and supported the countryside way of life. Yet there is room for the modern too, with the band seen playing contemporary instruments, and the video to 'More Than This' features a cinema and Ferry wearing part of a dinner suit with a leather jacket! Yet it shows Ferry's constant interplay between the old and modern, between high and low culture. 'Avalon' though is more towards the old and high and I have known blood to start pouring from SJWs' eyes while watching this!



What is also interesting during the video is that the music goes perfectly with the dancing featured. The British television programme Strictly Come Dancing often features classical ballroom dancing to contemporary music. While much of contemporary music itself is aural garbage, I have nothing against the principle, for old artforms must reinvent themselves in new ways to keep a culture alive. It is in my opinion no coincidence that Western Man lost his virility around the same time that he stopped dancing to his own music. Bryan Ferry shows us that White British Soul affords us a chance to dance to contemporary music that is ours....and look cool doing it.

5 comments:

  1. And before anyone chimes in with ridiculous conspiracy theories about the video being filmed at Mentmore Towers, which the Rothschild family had built, the building had been sold off and has been a typical location for film makers due to its availability and aesthetic qualities - the latter of which is what we are concerned with here.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The only song I ever really liked featuring Bryan Ferry (along with David Gilmour) was "Is Your Love Strong Enough", from the 1986 Legend movie soundtrack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jVclWz_eXU

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great analysis. There is also the idea of dynamic energy versus immobility and the passing of a cultural guard in the contrast between the stillness of the majority of the cast, who are elderly, and the movement of Ferry and Ward, and the rest of the band, symbolising how the younger generation operating within tradition can reinvigorate a culture that has become, or is at risk of becoming, decrepit.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Julian Lee wrote two very interesting (to me) essays about White "soul" and singing:

    One lists his favourite rock singers and analyses their vocal styles : "the strained screamer" etc( I cant find it right now but it should be easy to find)

    "Getting To Beyonce Overload : In Praise Of The White Singing Voice"

    https://www.counter-currents.com/2011/11/in-praise-of-the-white-singing-voice-getting-to-beyonce-overload/

    "Michelle" says: "It’s disturbing to me that you would think things like this. Any of you. I’m disgusted to share a race with you for all of your thinking. Yes, classical musical music is beautiful and it’s a part of our history, but we don’t live in a homogenous country and our music shouldn’t be homogenous. You praise white people, and white musicians, but you don’t think about the ones most talented who aren’t, in fact, white. Where is your mention of YoYo Ma, if you’re going to praise classical music so much. A lot of Rock and Roll music is derived from blues pieces created by the black community. And clearly none of you sing. You should check out the Chicago Children’s Choir to better your minds about things. You’re opinions are grotesque and I’m embarrassed to share my race and complexion with all of you." LOL

    ReplyDelete
  5. From John;
    I agree with -some- of your analysis but not your dating or your observations of British folk music, of which John Martyn and Nick Drake were good examples. I have all the Roxy musical albums and Roxy music for us really started big time with Virginia Plain (for us children and and an older generation of teens).From then on we tended to stick with him with punk or no. The difference between RM and the later hairspray bands of the 1980s was the bands evocative link to tradition and landscape particularly. Of course they werent a folk band, but that 'folk' element was there, (and I think that is underestimated in your article) -but in a different and subtle way from the anachronistic folk singers of the 70's. They melded old instrumentation (eg; the medieval sounding rock oboe(?) on Virginia Plain and Ladytron for example with with Enos electronics and Manzaneras guitar>and as for the latter... where do you begin?
    The sea and images of the sea is a recurring theme in their music. Before there was the internet there was vinyl and my older sister had this album on repeat thumping the wall of through the house
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFeqtXMKZ4U
    Roxy? Yes

    ReplyDelete