Savoy Records
The Savoy Sessions

PJ Proby


Savoy Records



The Savoy Sessions

  1 Love Will Tear Us Apart (radio)
3.24 (Curtis/Hook/Sumner/Morris)

2 In The Air Tonight
5.59 (Collins)

3 Pools Of Thought
1.54 (Smith)

4 I'm On Fire
5.25 (Springsteen)

5 Heroes
6.12 (Bowie/Eno)

6 Bobby Sands
5.22 (Moore)

7 The Mugwump Dance
7.16 (Smith)

8 The Passenger
4.59 (Pop)

9 Anarchy In The UK
9.21 (Pyat/Makhno/Arshinov)

10 Sign O The Times
6.51 (Prince)

11 Love Will Tear Us Apart (live)
5.21 (Curtis/Hook/Sumner/Morris)

Total time: 62.03

Recorded and mixed in the UK.

Mastered at Porky's, London.

With full colour 10-page gatefold insert.

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Savoy Sessions disc

Forget Legend, EMI's Proby bomb from '97: they spent hundreds of thousands in London's best studios, drafted in Marc Almond and St. Etienne and couldn't capture the smallest fraction of the true Rock'n'Roll energy burned onto this disc. Packed tight as the Gumbo Stomp and tough as rhino cum, by all that's natural these recordings shouldn't exist, never mind sound as great as they do. The living embodiment of mind at the end of its tether, the quintessence of contemporary Rock'n'Roll!



"Depending on your taste, these songs are either deconstructed classics or pathetic junk. But to dismiss them as junk is to miss the beauty, and the joke, of the exercise. They have been fed through a blender, stuck together again and then had Proby's ferociously drunken vocals layed over the top. They are seismic masterpieces of bad taste, beserk sorcery, little tainted epics."



"For the best part of the '80s, PJ Proby raged like a cornered leopard, lashing out with his claws in a frenzy of self-loathing and usually tearing his own flesh. Fuelled by alcohol and an anger so intense that it no longer recognised its target, the self-appointed 'biggest 1960s rock star in the world' stumbled from catastrophe to farce. Forget Janis, Kurt and Sid: no rocker has ever embraced self-destruction so systematically as James Marcus Smith—alias Proby, the Anti-Elvis, the man of a thousand voices and just as many moods.

One day, someone will chronicle his endless cycle of genius and despair in print, though anyone who saw Channel 4's pre-Christmas Without Walls feature about ghostwriters will understand the potential hazards. But Savoy Records achieved something even more miraculous: dragging meaningful music out of Proby at his lowest ebb.

Savoy's manifesto involves the shedding of taboos, liberal or conservative, which is why every shade of political opinion is guaranteed to be offended by their output. Like Hogarth's cartoons, they hold a distorted mirror up to late 20th Century Britain, and force us to confront our most diseased and desperate impulses. Their comics, the, target of regular raids from Manchester's unschooled-in-satire boys in blue, confront every secret desire and concealed horror of our century. Nothing, from racism to fascism to the threat of a police state, is off-limits; no cosy philosophy is left unchallenged.

Into this nightmare landscape without frontiers tumbled the man who made Elvis sound like a one-trick pony. PJ Proby could outsing everyone, from James Brown to the Beach Boys, mastering every conceivable genre and trashing it at the same time. Not so much a loose cannon as a perpetually exploding bomb, Proby careered through the '60s pop scene, satirising every song he touched, and yet exposing its emotional core more precisely than any 'soul' singer of the era.

The public likes its entertainers, even the self-styled mavericks, to be predictable, and Proby—who leapt irrationally from Broadway ballads to R&B—didn't like to be pinned down to anyone's expectation. From mid-'60s star, he began the long descent into obscurity and chaos.

By the mid-'80s, when the showbiz establishment had abandoned him as dead, he arrived at Savoy, where David Britton and Mike Butterworth applied the electrodes of resurrection. They've been accused of 'using' Proby, and to the extent that they determined his course, that's probably true. Their achievement, though, was to make records that satisfied his desires as well as their own.

'I didn't enjoy making them,' Proby told Record Collector correspondent Spencer Leigh in 1994, 'but I didn't care either.' It shows: while the music roars like a post-apocalypse disco, Proby croons, wails and offers spoken asides that cut to the core of his own heart, not so much crossing lines of Political Correctness as erasing them.

Savoy's stroke of genius was to apply Proby's unaltered musical gift to the treasured icons of the '70s and '80s—Joy Division, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, the Pistols, Iggy Pop. Monstrous hardcore dance tracks stripped away the self-importance of songs like Heroes and Anarchy in the UK, while Proby soared and whispered over the ruins. He reduced Iggy's The Passenger to a hysterical monologue, and Phil Collins' In The Air Tonight to a lascivious leer. Most subversive of all was his James Brown-style lashing of Manchester's most hallowed gospel: Ian Curtis's Love Will Tear Us Apart.

None of this is easy listening, especially if you hold Springsteen, Collins or Curtis in high esteem. Sadly, you'll have to turn to an earlier Savoy collection, Savoy Wars, to hear the most extreme product of these sessions—the 15-minute Hardcore: M97002, which comes as close to the sound of civilisation collapsing as any music I've ever heard. But even without it, The Savoy Sessions is a wild, ridiculous, compelling, over-blown, hilarious collection of songs, rants and bad dreams. Don't expect to find it filed alongside Blur or Oasis in your local megastore."

PETER DOGGETT, Record Collector



Savoy Sessions booklet notes by Ron Ellis

Is James Marcus Smith the Devil incarnate? Sentenced to military school when a barely-teenage rebel, he ran away to Hollywood in the fifties and ran with the film city's brat pack. He spent his days cruising the streets on his Harley Davidson and his nights in the Sunset Boulevard cells, drunk and disorderly, practicing to be the next Errol Flynn.In between he went pearl diving, smoked hash, and sang rockabilly in the bars and clubs of downtown Los Angeles under the name Jett Powers. He did demos for Elvis who was dating his sister.

In 1963 he came to Britain where he jumped off the plane and recorded Hold Me in his nightshirt for the promise of a bottle of Scotch.

It was a hit and Jett, renamed PJ Proby, became the top male attraction in the country, an outrageous symbol of untamed male sexuality. Young girls (and the younger the better for a good ol' Southern boy) screamed with untamed lust as he ponced around the stage wearing red velvet pyjamas and a lascivious leer.

But he was trouble, and by the end of the year he was banished from the shores by an establishment that cringed at the sight of his firm suntanned thighs peeking through sudden and unexpected gaps in the skintight velvet.

He returned to America to marry Dean Martin's daughter but caught her in bed with another. Never one to be cuckolded lying down, he took a shotgun to his rival on a Beverly Hills boulevard. The Mafia was called in but they took her side and PJ went to prison and, when released, fled back to England to hide out on the moors overlooking the Bronte's Howarth.

In the seventies, he tried theatre but was sacked from his role as Cassio in Catch My Soul, sacked from Elvis, where he played a bloated, drug-crazed ageing pop star, and sacked from Joseph's Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat where he played PJ Proby instead of Pharoah.

He sank to cabaret and became the darling of the chicken-in-the-basket circuit of Northern nightclubs where middle-aged crimplened matrons fawned at his feet as he regurgitated his erstwhile hits backed by ever sparser accompaniment. It all became too much for him. Suffocated by the carnal attentions of sychophantic wrinkled crones, he turned to alcohol in a big way.

During the next decade, ignored by show business and fuelled by a mixture of Carlsberg Specials and undiluted Southern bourbon, he shot his wife, battered his secretary, ran off with a 14 year old farmer's daughter and worked as a part time muck spreader.

On Saturday nights, instead of topping the bill at Caeser's Palace, he was to be found wandering round the working class pubs of Huddersfield, beating the shit out of any underfed Yorkshire miner who dared to argue with him.

By the late Eighties, he lay wasted in a derelict Bury bedsit, wild, unclean, incoherent and forgotten until...enter Dave Britton and Mike Butterworth, proprietors of Savoy, Britain's most iconoclastic record company.

These Messiahs of Pop recognised the vacuum in the British scene, the need of a genuine anti-hero for fans reared on the wild excesses of the punk movement which had broken through all boundaries of public decency a decade before.

Where more likely to find one than in Manchester where an alternative youth culture of drugs, sex and Rock'n'Roll had spawned bands like Happy Mondays and New Order, who put the declining industrial city in the vanguard of world popular music?

This album is pure theatre, every track a mini opera in its own right. It bears comparison with the work of George 'Shadow' Morton, creator of those sixties epics by The Shangri Las, who went on to produce The New York Dolls, American prototypes for the Sex Pistols.

Savoy's achievement has been to marry the raw anarchism of the music with the amazing operatic range of Proby's voice that made every song he sang a grotesque parody of its type.

Just as surely as he caricatured Sondheim and Bernstein with his chart-topping, legendary version of Somewhere, which made every other version of the song sound banal, so he now destroys the reputation of later legends with savagely over the top treatments of the pop classics of the past twenty years.

Love Will Tear Us Apart, a number that has inspired more suicides than the Thatcher government, becomes an anthem to the Samaritans with Proby raging impotently and sounding blacker than Wilson Pickett.

In the Air Tonight gets the full lush Arabian Nights treatment with African drums, French horns, cascading strings and wailing females creating the atmosphere of a harem with Proby, as the Sultan, making Phil Collins the ultimate eunuch.

From this we go straight into Mills and Boon country as a melodramatic backdrop sweeps into Tara's Theme from Gone With the Wind and Proby as John Betjeman intones some philosophical meanderings called Pools of Thought in exaggerated BBC English.

For I'm On Fire he adopts the famous vocal style that Elvis tried so hard to copy but in vain. There is only one Jim Proby and here he produces the definitive Rock'n'Roll performance of Springsteen's hit.

Not since Garnett Mimms's Cry Baby has there been singing of such exquisite torture as on this impassioned version of David Bowie's Heroes that assails your senses like a Gregorian chant from The Inquisition recorded in a Gothic cathedral.

Bobby Sands by contrast, is bizarre. The marching drums and penny whistles move from speaker to speaker like a drunken procession lurching down the streets of Bolton during Wakes Week and Proby half narrates the one time eulogy to the IRA hero in a drunken accent that lapses occasionally into cod Irish ('toity t'ousand...') when he remembers.

The Mugwump Dance, with its echoes of primeval Louisiana swamps, sounds like the final moments of a wild Cajun party after the alligators have moved in; Niki Hoeky in Crazyland.

With a bleak synthesiser backing, Proby recites Iggy Pop's The Passenger with a doom-laden intensity. Against this, Lou Reed sounds about as grave as Nicholas Parson's on Listen With Mother.

Anarchy in the UK is a completely off-the-wall extension of the Sex Pistols's favourite theme against a rat-a-tat machine gun synthesiser backing and drop-ins of unmentionable vulgarity, blasphemy and lunacy.

On Sign O the Times, Proby simpers and minces over an overtly sexual backing group of tormented harlots as the drums get more frantic and the singing gets more maniacal. Burlesque at its best.

The LIVE version of Love Will Tear Us Apart is a rousing finale, full of energy and of little asides to the audience. He never sounded like this on Batley Variety Club.


And that is where PJ Proby's career has gone wrong. Instead of crooning his life away to geriatrics in obscure social clubs or setting himself up as chat show fodder for the Barrymores of this world, he should be topping the bill at Wembley and the NEC and playing to the youth of today, for the rebel always belongs to the young.

After all, where are his contemporaries now, those few that are not dead? They are stuck in a time warp. Think about it, could you imagine any other stars of the fifties or sixties singing the material on this CD? Engelbert Humperdinck? Gene Pitney? Point made!

Now, in 1995, PJ Proby is being resurrected again. Sober and fit (how quickly the liver rejuvenates itself), he has topped the bill at major theatres of Britain in the musical, Good Rockin' Tonite, singing his old hits all over again. A major recording contract and TV series are said to be in the offing.

How more appropriate it would be though, to see him back in Manchester, headlining at the G-Mex, backed by the descendents of New Order and storming through his Savoy repertoire to an audience of several thousand applauding teenagers. Now that would be a comeback to end all comebacks.

The Devil rides out again.


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