Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Nina: "I want more and more and then some ..."

BBC4 just showed a tantalisingly brief programme, just half an hour, featuring marvellous Laura Mvula discussing Nina Simone and visiting people who knew her in New York. These kind of music programmes frustrate us by playing a snatch of a great music track, and then the talking heads come on, talking over it - but at least it whets our appetite to get back to the originals.

Nina (1933-2003) of course was one of the biggest divas and legends around, a fascinating, complex woman, with that incredible voice, who left a wonderful legacy of recordings. I particularly liked her 1959 album "Nina At Town Hall" where she plays piano a lot - her playing is as distinctive as her vocals. She was classically trained of course but had to play in the clubs and cabaret rooms to get noticed. Some of my favourite Nina songs include "Dont Let Me Be Misunderstood", "I Put A Spell On You", "Seeline Woman", "Be My Husband", "Four Women", "Trouble In Mind", "The Other Woman", "More and more and then some"  and that "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and "Feeling Good" which were everywhere, and used in adverts, which was annoying as Nina herself never sold her music to commercial interests. She covered some Billie Holiday songs too like "Strange Fruit" and "Fine and Mellow". I love her "Wild is the Wind", and course there's "Mississippi Goddam". Nina could do it all: classical, jazz, blues, pop, R&B, gospel. Nina was a 'fierce' diva long before Grace Jones; and I don't imagine she will be portrayed by Beyonce in a biopic, like Etta James was. 
I saw her live in concert once, it must have been late Seventies or early Eighties, the most odd concert I have ever been to. Maybe she was in a bad mood that day, but she was uncommunicative, didn't want to play or sing much, and had a bag of shopping with her. Like Eartha Kitt from the same era, she had a troubled life, and was a civil rights activist in the Sixties, causing more problems for her. But she was popular in the late Sixties with songs from HAIR like "I ain't got no - I got life" and "Young, Gifted and Black". For a while there she was as popular as fellow piano players Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack. She had moved to France, where she died in her sleep. Thankfully, Nina goes on gaining new admirers and there are lots of compilations out there. Viva Nina - and thanks, Laura. 

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