Terry Callier – An Extra-Ordinary Joe

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Located at the corner of Swan and Oak Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, a Bat-signesque, white neon Dizzy Gillespie cuts through the dank, early October predictably Manchester weather.
Calling out to the chib crease sharp dressed, label conscious Mancunians and those floundering in between. Shaking off the rain we head for the bar and await the man, Paul Weller was quoted as saying had ‘A beautiful, crystalline voice’.

Originally a market pub encased by the nearby Smithfield market and Manchester’s plethora of textile mills. The musical heritage of ‘Band on the Wall’ stretches back to the 1890’s, when buskers and musicians frequented made merry whilst singing for their suppers. Fitting, a venue steeped in rich musical heritage, that swung to the sound of Glenn Miller, jitterbugged with American servicemen and pogoed with post punk icons Buzzcocks, should choose the eclectic sounds of Terry Callier to blow out the candles on the first anniversary of its rebirth.

Growing up, the sound of doo-wop reverberated throughout Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood, and with childhood friend Curtis Mayfield, contemporaries Major Lance and Ramsey Lewis amongst others, could Terence Orlando Callier have followed any other path? His Mother certainly thought so when at 16 she forbade him to join Etta James & Muddy Waters on a Chess records tour.

Undeterred, he recorded what would become a Northern Soul classic, ‘Look at Me Now’ at just 17. His debut album ‘The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier’ endured an enforced sabbatical at the hands of Prestige label head Samuel Charters, (Charters undertaking a three years spiritual voyage to the deserts of North America & Mexico). The album of eight tracks, six covers, was finally released in 1968, three years after being recorded in a single afternoon. On it Callier wears his Coltrane and Chicago coffeehouse influences proudly, while yearning emotively for authenticity and acceptance.

That need to plead for authenticity and acceptance, is now a mere footnote. Callier has earned his chops as they say, the hard way, and tonight stood awaiting his appearance are those like myself, who would gladly lay their coat over any puddle he should choose to walk across. In fact it may be said that many of us suspect the man could actually walk on water.

A crescendo builds as the band enters and takes their positions. A fraction behind them and coming to rest under the hereditary gaze of a radiating red neon Dizzy Gillespie, acknowledging the clamor and love, stands Mr Terry Callier. Sporting wooden beads, a beanie hat, and with his greying beard, subtly he enquires if you’d prefer to ‘boogie, bop or boogaloo?’ It’s was a moment I had patiently waited for and it was, electrifying.

Rapturously received, heartily adored, and warmly respected it seemed incredulous to believe Callier, who had been presented with the ‘Time for Peace’ award by the United Nations in 1998, once programmed computers for the Chicago University whilst studying a Sociology degree at night school. Despite a run of three critically acclaimed albums for the Cadet label in the early 70’s ‘Occasional Rain, What Colour is Love and I Just Can’t Help Myself’ respectively, along with songwriting credits for The Dells, and sharing the bill with Gill Scott-Heron amongst others, commercial success remained elusive.

His decision to retire from music in order to provide a stable, constant and nurturing environment certainly isn’t incredulous. It is the mark of a man who had drunk from the cup but refused to become drunk. A man who didn’t become blinded or so seduced by desire, to lose sight of what was most important to him, his daughter. Music so long a constant had now become at best a hobby, instead of strumming chords he was tapping keys, that was until the late 80’s.

There’s a history of crate digging amongst British DJ’s those select few who in the modernist spirit of one-upmanship, spend their days searching, seeking, and scouting out their next floor filler. Whether rummaging through well-thumbed racks, solitarily browsing the web for a nugget, or back in the day taking a stateside trip, to cocoon themselves in vast, musical mausoleums that housed the forgotten dreams of wanna-bees, gonna-bees and didn’t-bees.

These are the people who resurrect and re-introduce this glorious music to us mortals who inhabit the real world of work and crave to be let loose at weekends. One of those musical knights of the spinning decks is Eddie Piller, who after hearing the soaring soul of ‘I don’t want to see myself without you’ had his very own ‘Jake Elwood’ epiphany moment and set about finding the owner of this spiritually uplifting voice, Terry Callier.

Growing out of the London Rare Groove, Acid Jazz became more than a scene under head honcho Eddie Piller. The label has been instrumental in launching, re-launching and releasing the songs and careers of many artists who painted pictures the mainstream could not, or did not want to appreciate; Galliano, Corduroy, The Brand New Heavies, and my favorite Mother Earth being just a few.

A long and frustrating search, concluded when Eddie Piller finally, via Chicago;s telephone directory enquires snared his prey. Initially unresponsive despite being told his music was being played to huge underground acclaim Callier was finally persuaded that if he did just one show at the 100 Club and enjoyed it he would allow Acid Jazz to release ‘I don’t want to see myself without you’. The rest as they say is history.

The seal broken, the stone rolled away, Terry Callier’s emotive, expressive and magnificent voice would soar, swoop, and thrill audiences once again. Unfortunately, his computer said ‘No’ and the Chicago University sacked him for ‘moonlighting’. Consolation wasn’t long in coming though, collaborations with Beth Orton, Massive Attack, samples by UNKLE and Urban Species cumulated with his first major release in nearly 20 years ‘Timepeace’ Whilst the new sound retained subtles of his early Chess output and the loving soulfulness of the early 70’s trilogy, spirituality sprung out and embraced within its wings.

This calling for peace, understanding and brotherly love, dovetailed with thunderous questioning of socio-political themes ranging from LA gang violence, NYPD police brutality to Sierra Leones blood diamonds. Time spent in the real world away from the insular music business, being the parent his daughter needed and studying sociology had resulted in a more contemplative and reflective palette of colours with which Terry Callier had chosen to paint.

As with numerous artists, a passing of time is often required before the earth is removed and their buried treasures exhumed, appreciated and valued. Unfortunately, for some this only occurs after they’ve passed away. Fortunately for us, Terry Calliers talent was rescued from the relentless tapping of keyboards prior to his passing in 2012. From the Chicago’s sweet street sounds to the African plains via the clubs of working class northern England, this ‘Extra-Ordinary Joe’ believed that no matter what happens, or for that matter what doesn’t happen, with compassion, humanity and endeavor we’re all ‘gonna make it one day’

Read 3617 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 September 2015 18:55
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