By Harry Shapiro
After the break-up of Blues Incorporated, Alexis Korner spent much of 1968 and into 1969 continuing with various media projects, radio shows and a mix'n'match live/recording career, working with various combinations of different musicians. Having moved through Blues and Jazz, Alexis had decided he wanted to try out some ideas using Gospel/Soul as the base music. Although he never had any time for formal religion, he was captivated by the sound and passion of Gospel, the way it galvanised and motivated people. But to do this, he needed a congregation - not a formal band (he'd had enough of that), but a loose amalgam of musicians he called, naturally enough, NEW CHURCH.
Perhaps not too coincidentally, considering they knew each other, Jimi Hendrix had a similar idea to Alexis at the same time. He, too, was fed up with the business pressures of running an established band, and broke up The Experience in 1969 to form a more informal band playing what he called 'Electric Church Music' and featuring, like Alexis, largely unknown musicians.
In keeping with his previous musical ventures, Alexis wanted to give new players a chance for some exposure under the Alexis Korner 'brand' - although he would have hated the concept if it had ever been presented to him like that. An early recruit to the calling was a young bass player, Nick South, who began by performing with Alexis as a duo. Continuing a trend which had started back in the early Sixties with Brian Jones, Nick became the latest of a string of young musicians drifting towards a career who found their way to Alexis, slept on his floor, were fed by Alexis' wife Bobbie, and got a taste of the business under Alexis' watchful eye. This was no accident; Alexis himself had a troubled childhood and ended up at a residential school for 'difficult children' called Finchden Manor. He always made his business to help young musicians, often battling against unsupportive parents, trying to find their way.
Nick travelled with Alexis into Europe, to
Germany and Denmark, where Alexis had discovered a band called The Beefeaters,
led by singer and guitarist Peter Thorup, an extraordinary talent who duly left
the band and became Alexis' main musical collaborator over the next few years.
Alexis' 'move' into
To South and Thorup, Alexis added the ubiquitous Ray Warleigh - and another singer, his own daughter Sappho. She had been a very wild child and, like her father, had spent time at Finchden Manor, Sappho desperately wanted to be a singer, and Alexis thought it would be good experience to be out on the road with him.
They say what goes around, comes around -
and just as
Alexis was devastated by Brian's death and cancelled
Both Sides was eventually completed
after a frustrating period of indecision. Alexis and Phil asked Alexis' BBC
producer Jeff Griffin to produce the album; Jeff recalls that "Alexis wanted to do some big band
arrangements using John Surman while the rest would
be made up of stuff that Alexis was doing at the time". All-night
sessions were booked at Olympic for the 23rd-25th September, but when Alexis
arrived, he immediately informed Jeff that Nick South had been sacked and that
instead, he was going to call in Andy Fraser, of Free. Here was another bunch
of young Blues players given a leg up by Alexis. They had supported him on a
tour of the
Andy came down for the sessions; Victor Brox's wife Annette replaced Sappho, with Paul Rogers as backing vocalist; a top brass section comprised Chris Pyne, Ray Warleigh, John Surman, Malcom Griffiths, Henry Lowther, Barry Beckett and Lol Coxhill; drummer John Marshall - plus, of course, Alexis and Peter Thorup - completed a powerful ensemble.
Album recorded, mixed, job done. Everybody happy?
The picture is unclear, but either Alexis or Bobbie Korner (or both)
were unhappy with the brass arrangements. So at the very last minute four of
the sides were replaced by a pair of live tracks from a concert at the Audiotorium Maximum in
But such praise notwithstanding, the reality was that no British record company wanted Both Sides (not the least of which, one presumes, because without Peter Thorup there would be no band to promote it) and it was eventually released in Germany, in May 1970, after Phil Roberge struck a deal with Intercord (it also secured a release in Holland, on the Philips label). There was a resounding silence at the cash registers, but as a live act the band were accruing some gushing reviews in the German press: "Blues at its best", said one paper.
This special expanded edition contains the Both Sides album, plus additional live recordings from New Church's German tours in 1969 (four of which originally appeared on the infamous Alexis Korner Meets Jack Daniels bootleg) and a couple of contemporaneous BBC sessions. All except the very last of these bonus tracks features the 'original' New Church line-up, including both Nick South and Sappho Korner - which, following poor Sappho's sad death earlier this year, makes this compilation all the more poignant.
Alexis' attitudes to recording and rehearsals could best be
described as 'chilled' and this did not necessarily make for cohesive recorded
output, especially with the number of musicians involved here. So that while
songs like 'Mighty, Mighty Spade And Whitey', 'You
Don't Miss Your Water' and 'Jesus Is
Just Alright' are well realised, 'Polly
Put The Kettle On' and 'The Clapping
Song' (both recorded live, at
New Church finally toured the
An article (in Melody Maker??)
From the sleeve notes of “Both Sides” CD
Alexis warns 'There's a lot more to blues'
"I think that what is going to kill the blues scene is the dreadful restriction of material."
That is the opinion of Alexis Korner who has probably been working longer in the blues field than anyone else on the current scene.
He went on "They seem to reject so much of what goes up to make the blues - the jazz things, the worksongs and just about anything that doesn't have a 12 or 8-bar chorus, in fact about 90 percent of what makes up the blues form. But you can't just say all that never happened and ignore it.”
"And if they are going to insist that blues is a 12-bar form with a specific harmonic sequence, with only about three variations, and that the basic lyrics are 'My baby done left me' or 'This is the name of the bird I made last night,' then they can't expect the interest to last very long.”
"If they are going to stick so violently to the form, then the standard of content must get a lot higher. In blues, anyway, it is the content that is the most important, not the form.”