I know this may seem to be stretching things a little, but bear with me. I’ve always had a soft spot for the seductive, understated delivery of Blossom Dearie, the late night jazz singer and pianist, who died recently on February 9th. Reminiscing about her and the one time I saw her live in the late 1960′s brought to mind the song she recorded in the mid-70′s, ‘Sweet Georgie Fame’. Now Georgie, in real life Robert Powell, lived only a few streets away from me, close to the Brick Works in Leigh, Lancashire. So he was something of a hero – the local working-class lad, who could sing the ‘blues’. In the mid-60′s I journeyed to the cellars of the ‘Twisted Wheel’, Brazennose Street in Manchester to hear him and ‘the Blue Flames’ support John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins. No drugs, just the first iced drink I’d ever imbibed and what to me remained the most moving, cussed songs of love and rebellion.
A decade later I took up post as a full-time youth worker with responsibility for the Firs Lane Youth Centre, just down the road from where Georgie and myself had lived. At my first management committee I was taken aback and amused to find the strait-laced mix of businessmen, local councillors, the Girls Guides Commissioner, the headteacher and the vicar taking Georgie to their bosom, claiming he had been a steadfast member of the club. George had pulled off a number of top ten hits, but his conviction for possessing drugs seemed to have passed them by. Now we stopped short of putting up a plaque in his honour, which was probably just as well. Was he quite the role model they desired? Whatever, in my mind, he remains as Blossom says, ‘ a sweet lovin’ real good musician’.
Listen to Blossom sing