Carmel: The Falling UK CD 
- I’m Not Afraid Of You
- Let Me Know
- The Falling
- Mama Told Me Not To Come
- Easy For You
- Sticks & Stones
I had first heard Carmel when there was a clip of their single “More, More, More” on MTV’s London Calling back in 1984. I made a mental note to investigate, but I never came across the debut album. It was released domestically, but I never saw a copy until years into my Carmel addiction. The band was at the top of my NWOBJP pyramid, with much of their music being infused with actual jazz DNA. I was perusing the racks in 1986 at a [Longwood] Central Florida store called Digital Sounds, so-called because it was the first store I ever saw to sell only the shiny silver discs of preference with no cassettes or black platters mucking up the store. Now that I think of it, it may have been the only such store that I ever encountered! Anyway, I saw the CD of Carmel’s “The Falling.”
I remembered the pull of “More, More, More” and picked it up. It was an import but the store sold it in a clear plastic clamshell, so I could see the label side of the disc. Hmmmmm. Brian Eno produced two of the cuts, so that sealed the deal right there for me. I took it home and when I played it, a love affair ensued. The album began with the foreboding “I’m Not Afraid Of You.” What sounded like a single looped drum faded up to Jim Paris’ eloquent double bass weaving a lyrical line that hooked me, but good. This was dark music with singer Carmel McCourt skirting the edge between jazz and blues with suitable verve.
As it was late in the evening when I first listened to it, the after midnight vibe of the tunes felt right at home with me, and to be sure, that’s how it sounds best to this day. But the album wasn’t all sturm und drang. Right up front, the next song in the program is the ebullient “Let Me Know” with its downright sunny horn section giving its rosy sentiments life. Carmel’s multi-tracked vocals create a passionate, life-affirming chorus to the bold song; so antithetical to the track that preceded it.
The pure jazz with scat vocals of “Tok” followed. I loved how drummer Gerry Darby was not hide-bound to tradition. Acoustic and electronic drums figured in his kit for maximum impact, and the rhythmic impact of this track, in particular, was potent. The delicate title track offered more contrast to the fire of “Tok.” It proffered a serenity underscored by spare, shimmering synth chords drifting up through the dusky atmosphere. The stillness and clarity of the vibe maximize the impact of very subtle changes in the arrangement as the song played out.
The radical cover of Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not To Come” had to be heard to be believed. It was nothing if not a Arabic Jazz cover of the song made popular by Three Dog Night. Paul Baylis’ alto sax and the tablas conjured up nights in Morocco far more exotic and dangerous than any Hollywood party that Newman may have found himself in.
Next came the pair of sings Eno produced. These are like nothing in his production canon. “Mercy” is a heartbreaking blues number with gospel undertones and is one of two songs on the album with backing vocals by Helen Watson and Shirley Ladley, giving the songs breadth that all of the multi-tracking of Carmel herself can’t quite attain otherwise. In retrospect, the one question I should have asked Eno in 2011, was “how did you come to record Carmel” since the resulting music is completely unlike the art rock or ambient music he’s most commonly associated with.
Eno also produced the next track, the percolating ditty “Easy For You.” I especially enjoy Ugo Delmirani’s percussive use of the Hammond on this number. It has a jaunty flair that represents the more upbeat side of this album’s emotional continuum. With “Sticks And Stones,” Carmel returns to the dark defiance that kicked the album off on “I’m Not Afraid Of You.” Interestingly enough, both of these tracks were produced by David Motion, who we last encountered the other day behind the boards on Strawberry Switchblade’s perky “Since Yesterday.” His work on this album is a complete volte-face of cosmic proportions. Guest percussionist Issac Osapanin adds conga grit to this tune. Carmel were never a band to shy away from some heavy percussion.
Finally, the album concluded with the third single, “Sally,” an upbeat lament with a heavy gospel sound and grooving brass courtesy of The Kick Horns that saw the group feted in France with a hit and established a French fan base that persists to this day. Carmel’s 2011 album “Strictly Piaf” might never have happened had this track not handed them a French hit single. I managed to get this single in the 2×7″ poster sleeve, 12″ and CD single variant. The CD single was produced years later for the Canadian market and snagged on a Toronto trip.
Nine tracks were offered here with admirable diversity of style and pacing, while the band’s strong identity even with four different producers [Eno, Motion, Hugh Jones, Chris Porter] at the helm managed to create a reasonably unified package. Each one of these songs ran the gamut of good to fantastic with no duds along the way, so the taste for Carmel was imprinted heavily with this album. I mentioned to a friend who had also had his head turned by Carmel’s “More, More, More” a few years earlier how I’d finally gotten a Carmel album and was loving it… then he appeared with a CD of the debut album and said “good, then you’ll want this.” Sweet. More for me, and immediate gratification on the first album didn’t hurt.
I started getting serious about all of the singles about 15 years ago and once I had all of them in house and was awaiting the 20-60 hours to remaster them, along came the Carmel DLX RMs full of remixes and B-sides… which I still need to purchase if I can ever stop buying festival passes costing hundreds of dollars!
– 30 –
I swung big time for the new/neo jazz scene in London in the early 80’s. It seemed like a perfect move on from the new romantic scene to me. Mags like Blitz and The Face picked up on it VERY early and Carmel and Sade made the covers of those mags way before they broke through. The first two Carmel albums are just brilliant. Her vocals are very singluar. The band’s musicality is a great counterpoint to her as well. I’m Not Afraid Of You is my fave Carmel track followed by Bad Day.
Echorich – I can’t say I disagree with your favorite Carmel track! Not at all. It’s so dark and atmospheric. The minimalism speaks volumes.
I also enjoyed that whole New Wave Meets Jazz thing, from Carmel to Weekend to Swing Out Sister (mark 1) to Blue Rondo a la Turk. If you have to have some “soft rock” in one’s arsenal, at least let it be soft rock with some class and production values!!
Chas – Blue Rondo were steps ahead of the game as they took the new romantic scene and upended it by being a Latin jazz pop band.
Echorich – Not to mention heavily influencing their pals Spandau Ballet for the most awesome album!
I meant to go there Monk, but hit ‘post comment’ prematurely. Blue Rondo saved Spandau from making Journeys To Glory 2. Instead they loosened their collars and rolled up their frilly shirts and got funky, angularly funky, but funky all the same. Heaven’s Are Crying and the instrumental b-side Cities Are Crying are tough funky jazz workouts with a guitar sound that Diamond used to great effect.
Echorich – One thing I’ll give Gary Kemp; the man was never content to sit in the same guitar style from album to album. The first five albums are as distinctly individual as possible. The thin, angular funk of “Diamond” is the big winner for me, but two thumbs up for his stylistic wanderlust.
Great review and wonderful to find folks with a similar bent to jazz pop. Swing Out Sister remains my favorite band, and love Weekend, early Simply Red, and the whole Absolute Beginners soundtrack. I just had the good luck to pick up 7 of the Carmel 12″ in one find at a store in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The same store where I stumbled into the largest collection of Working Week recordings I’d ever seen in one place. Thanks for the thoughtful review.
John Dark – Welcome to the comments. You will always find love for the New Wave Of British Jazz Pop [or NWOBJP, as we refer to it], and SOS in particular here at PPM! I was just noticing my copy of “Swing 3” yesterday and being delighted as I had forgotten that I owned it! You were lucky! I had to mail order almost all of my Carmel rarities. I believe Larry’s was the store I visited in Ft. Lauderdale in 1998 when I saw Bowie at the Chili Pepper. They had lots of wonderful rare goodness there, but it appears they are no longer for this world. Did you perchance buy the Carmel stash at Radio Active Records?