Peter Straker – A Man Of Many Parts

Peter Straker is someone many bosses of the recording industry just can’t make out. “They think I should be a soul singer or do reggae, just because of my ethnic background. They’re not prepared to accept that I’m into totally different music,” he said, when Gay News interviewed him.

He’s tall and languid. He’d been to a party the night before then gone straight on to the BBC radio programme Open House with Pete Murray as part of the promotion for his new album, Private Parts.

Dressed in black, he curls himself elegantly into an armchair in the darkest corner of the room. Until he switches the lamp on there are times in the failing November light off Holland Park when it seems we were talking into empty space – and that empty space is talking back to us.

He’s just woken up. He’s been sleeping most of the day, after that party and the radio show.

He says: “I came from Jamaica 17 years ago, but that’s history now. Before I went into Hair I was on the road with a band but it was nothing.

“I think I did nine auditions for Hair, it was just nerve-racking and farcical. I didn’t know anything about the musical, I was touring at the time and my manager phoned me and asked me to come back to London for the auditions. I’d done auditions for shows before, so I refused. In the end he came down and dragged me back to London and then the nine auditions started.

“I was in Hair for about 21 months, and I really liked it but I got fed up with it after about a year or so. I got fed up and I had to leave and find something fresh to do.”

Peter Straker is half-actor and half-singer. Hair used both those talents, and it made Peter Straker. Now he has released an amazingly honest album called Private Parts, baring his soul in a way that could never have been done in terms of pop music before Hair.

He says: “Hair, as a musical, has broken so many barriers entertainment-wise and in so many ways. It’s a very ingenuous musical.

“But it touched on every major topic of today – and that was three years ago. We were due to open in July, but that was held up until the Lord Chamberlain’s office (which censored the stage shows) was abolished.

“Apart from the flower-power aspect, it dealt with all the important subjects, like pollution, disarmament and so on. I reckon that’s why Hair has lasted so well, even after the flower-child culture has more or less died.

“Because the critics are so blank in their imaginations they always go back to Hair every time a new musical with rock music opens, like Godspell or Jesus Christ. They always say something like “It’s very nice, but it lacks the zest of Hair.’

“But they don’t go back to Rogers and Hart every time an ordinary musical opens. Critics can only talk about the forms they know, so they classify everything into one of those forms.

“A criticism is just the personal view of one man or one woman, and it forgets the thirty or so actors, umpteen technicians involved and all the money that has been put into a show, and even if it’s a bad show it’s still had a lot of money poured into it.

“In two hours a man is going to come in, and make up a lot of people’s minds about a show – and some of them don’t even sit all the way through a show. I think critics are very over-rated, and, generally, superficial.

“I was the victim of bad reviews with Girl Stroke Boy (Straker’s first movie, and certainly not his last. For G/B he dropped his first name) which wasn’t all bad, although it had many faults.”

Straker played a boy whose boyfriend takes him home. The boyfriend’s parents don’t seem to realise that their son’s girlfriend is a boy. What they object to is her/his being black.

By this time Peter Straker was warming up/waking up. He said: “The reviewers were just trying to make it into a vast racial transvestite mountain. It would have been alright if they had just stuck to the movie’s failings as a comedy. And there were many, which I think were the fault of the director.

“When I read the script it was just hysterical but it didn’t turn out as well as it should have. But it was the chance of a lifetime. A first movie with just three principles, and the others were Joan Greenwood and Michael Hordern.

“We were talking about the movie and they said that I was going to be labeled as one thing or the other because of the part, if I took it. So I said I didn’t mind. The moment I knew I was making the movie I was conscious of what was going to be said about it and me. We have been offered some things to do already, but they have been very strange and I haven’t wanted to do them.

“Girl Stroke Boy opened at the Prince Charles, which didn’t give it much of a chance but it had quite a good run for that cinema, then it turned up again this year as part of a double bill with something called School For Virgins. I thought that was ridiculous, the movies were so different.”

Girl Stroke Boy may have had a rough time with the critics but it has opened new avenues in Peter Straker’s career. “I’ve had quite a lot of other scripts to read, but they all seem to be the same part, and I don’t want to do the same thing twice. It gets boring. Most of the things I have done so far have been seen to be controversial, and I don’t expect anything to happen without a hassle.” Some time ago he released a single of Jacques Brel’s Carousel – which got precisely nowhere commercially. So he went on acting. And Private Parts is his first return to the recording studios since Carousel. It, too, is a spin-off from Girl Stroke Boy.

He says: “Ned Sherrin, who produced Girl Stroke Boy, has a wonderful talent for getting people together, and he introduced me to Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who were going to write a theme song for the movie for me to sing. But that fell through at the last moment, and we started to talk about the idea that became Private Parts.

“Almost every time I have been auditioned for any part the producers have said: ‘What bag do you see yourself in?’ I don’t. It’s the same with record producers in this country they think I’ve got to sing reggae or soul just because of my ethnic background.

“Private Parts happened this way really. When one is faced with making an album, one is faced with problems of what one is going to record. You can write all your own songs, like Leonard Cohen upwards or downwards, depending on how you see him. Or you can sing a selection of all the old songs everyone else does.

“The third option is to record an album of entirely new material. Ken and Alan said they wanted to do a ‘concept’ album and we started to talk about our ideas – it has taken nearly a year to talk about — about a ‘concept’ (their ideas and my ideas). They had to work very hard because they had to come up with all the material for the album.

“RCA were absolutely marvellous. They let an unknown singer get on with a work like this. And they put a lot of money into the project. And Ken and Alan just gave me the songs and let us get on with recording them. The sound was left up to us.

“Everything on the album has happened to me, but not necessarily in the order the events come up in on the album. We talked about so many things we didn’t have space to put on the album. We have tried to go through a whole pattern from childhood through the first sexual experiences and so on, through bum trips and the death of my father. It’s very personal to me.”

We asked him to expand on this, but all he’d say was that Denis Lemon had found the right word when he called the album ‘explicit’ in Gay News. “That’s the best word I can think of to describe the record.” he said, as the lady from the costumiers arrived to measure him up for the clothes he’s wear at his Queen Elizabeth Hall Concert.

He wanted it in black, he said, handing round the Harrods chocolates. He’d been thinking of having medieval trumpet-style sleeves. Velvet would be nice they agreed, for the coat he’d wear over the black shirt and trousers – trumpet sleeves on the shirt of course. He’d been thinking of having studs on the inside of the coat so that, if it ever came open, it would flash silver. The costumes lady thought this would make the coat too heavy. Why not have a nice beige lining and maybe a row of studs along the inside edge. All was agreed over another Harrods’chocolate.

Peter Straker was getting excited about the concert by now. They’d been having a little trouble with the sets. He’d wanted a big sweeping set, but the orchestra took up so much space,that idea had to go. They were still working on it. Whatever it was going to be, it was going to be dramatic.

He remembered a Dusty Springfield single he wanted to play. He said: “I’m sure it’s here somewhere – I play it almost every day” as he went through a pile of records, looked under the ornaments and moved the cushions.

He said: “Private Parts is just an expression of sexuality. It’s a personal expression of what has happened, although I couldn’t look at a specific thing andsay that it is something that happened at some particular time in some particular place.

“I don’t know whether we will ever come to terms with sex, because it is the most important part of our lives, no matter what form the sex takes.

“The normal thing is for people to grow up and for men and women to go out together and then procreate. Fortunately Hair broke down an awful lot of barriers for me. I tried not to get uptight about anything. The only thing I got all uptight about on the album was when we did the song about my first sexual experience.

“I think it’s on the third track, in the song about best friends in childhood. You know, the best friend you always have, but you can accept your sex with him or her, and don’t see it as anything odd.

“Children have a very different way of seeing things, It’s not innocent, they are aware. If you put a lot of children together they’ll notice that one’s black and another’s yellow and so on, but they don’t care.

“We moved through that and we moved through the first time one is conscious of the opposite sex – and that’s important, because we all go through that, whatever happens afterwards. I’m aware of gay people, but I’m not very aware of the gay organisations.

“The album is very personal because I discussed everything with Ken and Alan. We tried to be explicit – as explicit as Jacques Brel.

“They probably know more about me than anyone else. I welcomed their involvement, because I didn’t want the responsibility of sitting down and writing something for myself to do. Nothing that was written was presented to me as a fait accompli. We’d talk about what they’d written. For instance the track called While You Were Dying is an account of my feelings when my father was dying, and that was possibly the most personal thing to do on record.”

He can’t find that Dusty Springfield single but it was “divine. We’re booking a table for Dusty’s show at the Talk of the Town. Come along.”

Peter Straker is a Scorpio in this Age of Aquarius, and he says: “That’s important, very important.”

Public Parts

LONDON: It wasn’t exactly her cup of Earl Grey, but the old lady in the front of the orchestra played her harp happily and smiled at Peter Straker as he performed his Private Parts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Staging a concert starring a largely-unknown singer, such as Peter, is something of a risk. Staging it as a public performance of the singer’s latest album is probably more of a risk, especially when Private Parts is a work that’s adult enough to make radio producers’ rising eyebrows make up for their receding hairlines.

But taking risks is the job of a pop promotor, so we shall have no more of the commercial considerations of this concert.

Suffice it to say that An Evening With Peter Straker was a remarkable success. The success was remarkable not because we had any doubt about Peter’s ability as a singer – he’d shown his talents in Hair and on several records. The success was remarkable because he managed to put over to an auditorium of people one of the most personal pop works I’ve heard for a few years.

For the first half of the concert – the first side of the record really – he was coming down from the high of tension that he’d been building up for the last two months, worrying about the concert. It ended with the most surprising piece of the whole evening. Peter put over his feelings about the death of his father, in the song As You Were Dying, as powerfully in public as on record. Perhaps the feeling of personal involvement by the audience was greater at the concert. For Peter, an actor as well as a singer, turned the empty laughter at the end of the song into a macabre, mocking laughter echoing down its emptiness.

It had never struck me until then just how horrifying and bizarre that song is, telling of his father’s suicide by hanging.

By this point he’d gained confidence and the rest of the concert reflected this. Peter seemed to be enjoying it as much as the audience by then.

He was confident, but not over-confident, which, I feel is the general feeling behind the second half of the work, apart from a Bad Night — the song which attempts to convey his fear during a bad trip.

By the time we got to What More Is There To Say? the last song in the cycle, Peter Straker had arrived, and was irradiating the sort of feeling you get when you watch the established solo performer.

Considering that Peter’s only made three records as well as being in the London cast of Hair, and of the disastrous Mother Earth musical you can’t really classify him as a big-name singer. I’ll rephrase that: you couldn’t – until the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert on December 1.

He’d got up early in the morning and walked around Holland Park singing every number in the Private Parts cycle.

His next singing engagements will probably be on the continent. “People in this country just aren’t into this sort of music,” he told me after the concert was over.

He may be wrong, for the crowd at the QEH demanded an encore. And by the time he’d finished Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley’s work (Private Parts is written by them) there was nothing left for him to sing. So he had to go back to Who Killed Cock Robin. Then he had to come back again, and again, and again.

Even though the horns in the orchestra didn’t seem as interested in Richard Hartley’s directions as the lady harpist, who carried on regardless when one of her strings broke, it might just be that people in this country are willing to accept Private Parts as an important pop work, which owes much to the French chanson style, and also the Great British Public might just accept Peter Straker as an important figure on the pop scene and not just a left-over from Hair.

Peter may not sing reggae or soul but it wouldn’t hurt the GBP to give Peter’s Private Parts two listens – it’s even better the second time round.

Between The Grooves

ROCK AND ROLL QUEEN – Mott The Hoople – Island ILPS 9215

Following the success of Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes hit single and the critical acclaim they received for their first CBS album, Island Records have issued a record made up of tracks from the four albums they recorded whilst on that label. Now who said anything about recording companies cashing in?

It is understandable why Island have released this album though. Firstly, the Motts never sold that well in the past, and this is the way that the company can try to recoup some of its losses. Secondly, now that a lot more interest is being shown in the group, many people who have only recently turned on to them may want to hear their previous efforts.

Some of the tracks included on this album are Rock and Roll Queen, the old Kinks hit You Really Got Me and Keep a Knockin’, all of which were very popular at the Mott’s live gigs over the last few years. In fact some of the tracks here are from tapes made of live performances.

In comparison to the Mott’s CBS album, this record doesn’t come off that well. No David Bowie for one thing. But many of the tracks radiate an energetic raviness that makes it fun to listen to if you play it loud enough. Basically though, Rock and Roll Queen is for newly acquired fanatical converts and the group’s new legion of groupies.

SECOND TAKE – The Searchers – RCA SF 8298

Pye Records have in their catalogue a record titled A Golden Hour With The Searchers, which contains all the tracks they were well known for, including all their hit singles from the group’s mass popularity days.

This RCA album also contains their hits, such as Sugar and Spice, Needles and Pins, and Sweets for my Sweet. But the songs have been re-recorded. Unfortunately the lead singer of the days when the group first released these big sellers, Tony Jackson, left them many years ago, and his voice is at times sadly lacking from these new recordings.

The present Searchers do their best though. Some cuts don’t equal the originals, despite better recording facilities, whilst others gain considerably from being re-recorded.

Generally a pleasant enough album. But it is only likely to attract those who remember the Searchers from their golden past.

ALL TIME GREATEST HITS – Tony Bennett – CBS 68200 (2 record set)

If you are an admirer of the silky, romantic voice of Tony Bennett and you don’t possess many of these tracks on other albums, this double set is very good value.

Reasonably priced at £2.99, you get twenty of the numbers Tony is best known and loved for. Included are I Left My Heart In San Fransisco, I Wanna Be Around, The Shadow Of Your Smile, Stranger In Paradise, Who Can I Turn To and For Once In My Life. Also there is his version of (Where Do I Begin) Love Story.

The tracks cover the twenty odd years Tony has been recording, and are an interesting way of hearing an artist’s development.

As I said before, this is great value for the lover of well-sung and arranged sentimental music, from a singer who has proved his worth over the years.

THERE IS SOME FUN GOING FORWARD – Various Artists – Dandelion 2485021

John Peel’s Dandelion label is alive and well and is still producing sounds from the outer limits of rock/pop/folk/weird music. This 99p sampler displays some of the talents currently recording for Dandelion and is a delightful collection of oddities and goodies.

If you want to hear examples of the work of Tractor, Medicine Head, Coxhill-Bedford Duo and Bridget St John then this record is for you. Even if you think you can live without knowing the wonders performed by these artists, give them a listen. You may be pleasantly surprised/amazed.

ALREADY HERE – Redbone – Epic EPC 65072

After having a couple of albums released in this country, Redbone finally broke through with their smash hit single Witch Queen of New Orleans.

Since then though, they haven’t managed to produce anything as popular, and this album isn’t going to help matters. It contains all the time worn musical cliches, with very little else. The songs are weak and the music is much the same as what they have produced before. Even the Red Indian rhythms they incorporate into their sound do hot help the album out of the depths of mediocrity. Their version of the Coasters classic Poison Ivy makes one yearns to hear the original, whilst the extended track that follows it is just long and boring.

Production is good, but with uninspired arrangements, light weight material and poorly delivered vocals, the album stands no chance of attracting anyone’s attention except their staunchest fans.

THE BEST OF OTIS REDDING – Atlantic K60016 (2 record set)

This double set of Otis Redding’s finest recording; is a must for any collector of soul music. And if, like me, you have only battered singles, and worn-out mono albums of Otis, this collection of twenty-five tracks is essential.

Otis’s untimely death robbed soul music of one of its greatest performers. Not only did he lay down some of the best music in this field, but also through his work, with brass sections, changed the whole concept of soul music. His influence also did much for rock, for as a direct result of his pioneering with the use of horns, many of the ideas he developed in his music, helped expand the range of rock and roll generally.

Otis died in 1967, so ooviously these recordings date back well into the 60’s, but despite their age they still sound as exciting, moving and original as they did when first released. You will see by looking at the album’s sleeve that this set really does contain the Best Of Otis Redding.

BEDTIME STORY — Tammy Wynette — Epic EPC 66186

Although extremely popular in the States, Tammy Wynette has only recently gained a wider audience here. The inclusion of some of her biggest US hits, such as Divorce and Stand By Your Man, on the soundtrack of the film ‘Five Easy Pieces’, helped considerably in bringing her to the attention of the public.

Tammy Wynette is the archetypal white female country and western singer, and this new album of hers. Bedtime Story, very much shows why. Most of the songs are of the sad, tearful variety, with a few numbers in a happier vein included for a little light relief.

This type of music is very much a matter of personal taste. So to those who are part of the growing number of devotees to C & W, Tammy’s singing is as good is ever, and there are some very fine snatches of steel guitar throughout the album.

PRIVATE PARTS – Peter Straker – RCA 8319

What may well prove to be one of the most important releases of 1972 is Private Parts by Peter Straker.

The term ‘concept album’ is an apt title to describe the record as a whole, for although the songs can be played separately they are all inter-related. The content of the album deals with, as the title suggests, the personal and intimate sides of life, and the awareness of someone coming to terms with their sexuality. Explicit references to bisexuality and impotence will add further to the controversy Private Parts is likely to cause. But the sincerity and openness with which the lyrics deal with these subjects can be seen as an example of the seriousness of the work.

Private Parts is not the sort of project you can classify or categorise. Musically the album draws from many styles, rock being the underlying factor, but the use of full scale orchestration takes it above the limits or classification of that genre.

The music and lyrics were written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley especially for Peter Straker, who they saw as the ideal choice for conveying the important relevance they feel the album will have. Ken and Alan who are highly professional and experienced writers in the pop world, have been responsible for a large number of hits. Recently Elvis Presley had considerable success with one of their songs. For them, Private Parts is a very personal statement and has been a venture they have been planning for some time.

Jamaican born Peter Straker had a much acclaimed starring part in the original London production of ‘Hair’. Since then he played one of the leading roles in the film ‘Boy Stroke Girl’, and earlier this year had a minor hit single. Peter incidentally will be performing the whole of the album live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday 1st December. He will be accompanied by a forty piece orchestra and a choir.

Private Parts is much more than just another pop album. In a society where standards are continually changing and an individual’s morality depends more on that person’s insight, rather than accepted norms, the word content of this album becomes highly pertinent to those aware of the altering structures within their own lives. Peter Straker’s talents communicate the worth of the lyrics and in a world which often fears explicitness, it should not be difficult for many to realise the importance of this recording.

JOHN DAVID SOUTHER – Asylum SYL 9003

The newly formed American Asylum label has so far produced some of the best recordings of singer/songwriters and groups around at the moment. The most successful artists to date being Jackson Browne and The Eagles, John David Souther is the latest addition to this growing roster of extremely professional and developed performers.

Souther sings all his own material and plays guitar on most tracks. The songs and singing could be described as country/blues, with a fair amount of rock thrown in for good measure. That’s not really a classification, for attempted categorisation of the work of solo musician/composers is an injustice to the individuality of such artists.

Like the Jackson Browne album, this first album of Souther needs to be heard a number of times before its worth is apparent. That can be a disadvantage to an artist nowadays, particularly in an industry where new talents are having their records released fast and furiously by disc companies.

But if the initial attraction of Souther’s voice and gentle, thoughtful backing inspires you to buy the album, you will find that continued listenings will bring out the rewards.

TAKIN’ YOU THERE – Various Artists – Stax 2369008

Without a doubt the Stax Takin’ You There sampler is the best soul compilation album to come out this year. And priced as it is at 99p, it is also the best value.

Amongst the hit soul cuts included are Isaac Hayes Shaft, Frederick Knight’s I’ve Been Lonely For So Long, Jean Knight’s biggie from earlier this year, Mr Big Stuff, and the recent chart-buster In The Rain by The Dramatics. Other standouts are Rufus Thomas’s Funky Penguin. The Sould Children’s chart success Hearsay, the most underrated soul track of the year, I’ll Take You There by the Staple Singers and a funky reggae cut from William Bell titled Lonely For Your Love.

Of the other tracks Booker T & The MG’s Melting Pot, which opens side one, is guaranteed to get your feet tapping, if not dancing. Love Means by Carla Thomas is another great song, that should have received more attention than it did.

In all there are twelve excellent slices of contemporary soul. And at such a low selling price it is a must for collectors of good pop music and for the parties that’ll be happening in December and the New Year.

SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING — Mike Harrison — Island ILPS 9209

Smokestack Lightning is the second solo album of Mike Harrison, and is a vast improvement on his first.

Originally a founder member of Spooky Tooth — a sadly unerrated and missed, by some, rock group – Harrison should at long last get the recognition for the excellent rock and roll singer he is.

This album was recorded at the famous American Music Shoals Studios, and the use of that studio’s session musicians adds the sort of backing that is completely in sympathy with Harrison’s voice.

Side one contains four fairly lengthy tracks. The highlights being the old Fats Domino song What A Price and Joe Tex’s Wanna Be Free. But the outstanding cut of the album is the extended version of the classic blues number Smokestack Lightning.

Island Records (and Chris Blackwell’s) faith in Harrison has been instrumental in allowing him the chance of showing us what modern rocking and rolling is all about. They have been well repaid for their continued support of this fine, expanding talent.

RIVER DEEP MOUNTAIN HIGH – Ike & Tina Turner – A&M AMS 7039 (maxi-single)

Although I do not usually review singles, I think it is necessary to let you know that one of the all time classic pop cuts is available again. It is River Deep Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner. On the flip side are A Love Like Yours and Save The Last Dance For Me. No serious collector or lover of pop music should be without these tracks, especially the former. All three were produced by Phil Spector and all demonstrate the incredible ‘wall of sound’ that was so distinctive about the recordings he was involved in.

Ike and Tina Turner are still one of the most exciting acts around, but I doubt if they will ever equal the magnificence of River Deep and the other tracs recorded from their period of involvement with Phil Spector. It’s about time that the other Spector masterpieces of modern music were re-issued too.