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George Melly

Farewell Blues

LAKE LACD 250 [56:02]




Salty Dog
Empty Bed Blues
George reminisces about his schooldays
Take Me For A Buggy Ride!
If You’se A Viper
Send Me To The ‘lectric Chair
George recalls a favourite landlord, Bill Meadmore
Down In The Dumps
Young Woman’s Blues
George remembers the day he joined Mick Mulligan
I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl
Sweet Lorraine
George remembers turning professional with the Feetwarmers
Lulu’s Back In Town!
Cemetery Blues
My Very Good Friend The Milkman
Brother’s Blues And Requiem
George Melly with Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen
rec. Merfangle Studios, Waltham Cross, March and June 2007

This is George Melly’s last go-round, recorded on his specific instructions ("I definitely want to make one last record") when he knew he was dying. It captures the man Digby Fairweather calls the Dean of Decadence in sometimes tired voice – understandably so – but also demonstrating the verve and joie de vivre that were so much a part of his huge presence. Interspersed between tracks are passages read from his autobiographical writings, read by himself. They lend a brief but lucid narrative thread and oddly put me in mind of Louis Armstrong’s Musical Autobiography LPs in which he read Leonard Feather’s texts between musical tracks.

He revisits old friends and family here. Bessie Smith is here of course, and other Classic Blues, but Harlem narcotics (If you’se a viper) and Fats Waller also rightly feature. Sweet Lorraine is sung by Julian Marc Stringle because Melly was unable to manage it – the only such occasion on an album in which the singer, enfeebled and suffering from the onset of dementia, nevertheless shows all his accustomed familiarity with his material.

Salty Dog is enlivened by a reference to his wife Diana’s "best seller" – much of it was about him – and duly re-energized, shorn of its "God made a woman/Made her mighty funny" lines. It’s peppered with such Melly-isms and sounds very likeable. Fairweather takes a fine solo on the classic Empty Bed Blues sliding lazily over bar lines with the rapier stealth of a Buck Clayton. Melly incidentally was probably the only singer of his type not to replace personal pronouns in these songs; if Bessie sang "he" then so did Melly. Stringle’s alto is also vaunting here – what a splendidly eclectic and rhythmically tumultuous player he is. If Melly sounds a touch tired in the stop choruses of Take Me For A Buggy Ride! and especially in Send Me To The ‘lectric Chair then we can only wonder at the toll taken on him and the effort made by him – to do it at all was remarkable enough.

Stringle’s agile playing is a feature of If You’se A Viper and I assume that it’s Fairweather doing some mugging in the intro. Throughout the disc the front line of Fairweather, Stringle and trombonist Chris Gower – first class solo on Down In The Dumps – play the good arrangements with individuality of tone and cohesive intelligence in their support of Melly. So too the rhythm section though they have less chance to shine. And the envoi, when it comes, brings with it Melly’s wolfish amusement at any kind of solemnity in Brother’s Blues And Requiem – with a ghostly fade-in of the first side ever recorded under his own name back in 1951, a lusty, unvarnished Rock Island Line.

In our end is our beginning. Melly ends entirely on his own terms returning to the songs he loved the longest and the best. Let’s hope that wherever he is, like Bessie’s young woman, he ain’t done runnin’ around.

Jonathan Woolf

In our end is our beginning. Melly ends entirely on his own terms returning to the songs he loved the longest and the best ... see Full Review


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