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“Songs for a Tailor”: Another Woman Sidelined

I’ve been listening to Jack Bruce’s first solo album, the 1969 Songs for a Tailor, a recording which features songs that were directly in the lineage of the best Cream studio songs off Disraeli Gears, Wheels of Fire and Goodbye. with lyrics by Pete Brown. I’d been aware of the album since the early 70s, but it was very much in the Division Two of the recordings of the time, for a cash-strapped teenager, so I only got to properly listen to it a few years back.

It’s a rich and rewarding album, featuring among the best of that period’s UK jazz musicians, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Chris Spedding, Harry Beckett, Henry Lowther, Art Theman, Jon Hiseman, John Marshall and, of course, Jack Bruce himself. Bruce was probably the first musician, along with The Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, who demonstrated to me the improvisational possibilities of the electric bass guitar in rock music, and his melodic prowess is on full display here. ‘Theme for an Imaginary Western’ and ‘Weird of Hermiston’ are especially recommended, with Bruce’s distinctive vocals at their best. His following solo album Harmony Row is also high recommended, but the reason for this blog is not that these are excellent and overlooked classics from the early ‘progressive rock’ period. (The 1970 instrumental jazz album Things We Like is also well worth tracking down, recorded at the same time as John McLaughlin’s timeless Extrapolation, and featuring both the guitarist and Heckstall-Smith.)

I only recently discovered that the ‘Tailor’ of the title was, in fact, the clothes designer Jeannie Franklin, who was responsible for many of the preening- peacock regalia of psychedelic bands such as Cream, as well as, slightly earlier, the suits of many Motown bands, such as The Four Tops and The Temptations. She was also the girlfriend (of only a few weeks) of Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson, who she was accompanying at the time of her death, when the band’s van was involved in a road accident in 1969, which also resulted in the death of Martin Lamble, their drummer. And that is how she has been remembered, as the late  partner of a famous guitarist, not as a considerable influence on the ‘look’ of a myriad bands in the mid- late 60s. (‘Astrid Kirchherr syndrome’, perhaps? i.e. A talented woman, whose achievements have been largely expunged by her more celebrated male significant other.) Now, I’m not especially a fan of ‘high psychedelic’ couture (Franklin ran a shop in Santa Monica Boulevard, which sounds very much like a correlative to Chelsea’s Grannie Takes a Trip on these shores), but there is no doubting the influence these clothes had on memorialising the ‘scene’ of 1967/8.

The point that I am making is just how much women’s contributions to musical movements can be sidelined, especially if they are not actually musicians. In free improvisation, for example, I have previously highlighted the unacknowledged influence of Janice Christianson, a former long-term partner of Derek Bailey, and a significant promoter of the music through her Albion Music events, and yet who received not one reference in Ben Watson’s Bailey hagiography, an unforgivable memory ellipse (or a Freudian ‘parapraxis, perhaps?) by both the guitarist and his biographer.  Kirchherr’s influence on the Pre-Fab Four’s sartorial style cannot be underestimated (or can it?). Jack Bruce couldn’t find it in himself to call his album ‘Songs for Jeannie’, an omission that probably helped to consign her to 40 years of  relative oblivion, before the 2003 CD release of Songs for a Tailor put the record straight. Let’s start giving credit where credit’s due, shall we, rather than cloaking it in indirect allusion? #MeToo has many tentacles, and will hopefully reveal other previously opaque contributions from women, across all creative fields.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.