Off-Ramp

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Peter Stenshoel reviews Black London Blues by Ram John Holder

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47714 full

John Peel, much missed BBC deejay and music progenitor, played "Black London Blues" on his program one day. I was so moved I made sure to write the name of the singer in my notebook for future reference. I'm pretty sure I bought this record to send to my brother in the States; I have nevertheless reclaimed it for myself.

Holder conveys feeling like an accomplished actor. It's no wonder he became a well-loved thespian to this day, starring in British movies, stage plays, and TV series. He was on the program Desmond, playing Porkpie. Later, Porkpie was a show all its own.

"Black London Blues" is a gem of brevity. In its scant two minutes plus, it conjures up many of the neighborhoods of that city, albeit through the lens of racial prejudice and the striving spirit of a poor immigrant. Don't miss the plot twist at the end! The rest of the album continues the London theme, documenting such English institutions as the Wimpy Bar and Picadilly Circus.

Ram John Holder was, indeed, an immigrant. He was born in British Guiana, and started his career as a folk singer in New York City, soon moving to London. However, I stumbled across a record that makes me wonder if his career as a singer actually started sooner. In Songs of the Guiana Jungle, a certain "RamJohn Holda" leads his Potaro Porknockers with a good bit of West Indies verve. Ram John Holder would have been 24 years old when Songs of Guiana was released. The photo on the record's back shows a group of young men, one who could well be our London blues singer.

I include a song ("Cumah Fish") from that album so you can do your own comparison. His vocal range is similar, though the later delivery has the appropriate grit for blues music and the subject matter.  I've been wondering about this for three decades.  Perhaps one of our readers can clear up this mystery for us.

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