The Bottom End: Full Story
"In Search Of The Holy Grail."
The Electric Ballroom, Camden Town, London
My Quest for The Holy Grail began at the tender age of 14, after hearing about "The Tune" in my school playground. Some of my friends had gone to the "Jazzifunk Club" at The Electric Ballroom the previous Friday night, and were extremely excited as they spoke about a jazz track featuring a female vocalist singing the lyrics "GET OFF THE GROUND!" at the end.
In 1981 DJ Chris Bangs found an obscure looking record in a second hand vinyl shop in Notting Hill Gate, London, and bought it for 10 pence. A logo with the words "THE BOTTOM END" was written upon it, as well as "A Product of M&K Sound Inc., Beverly Hills, California".
There was no additional information in regards to its musical content or artists, for this was (as we were later to discover), a Hi-Fi Demonstration Record. A small amount of these Audiophile Discs were pressed, which were given away when purchasing an M&K Sound product. They were also used within the company to demonstrate their state of the art equipment.
Shortly after its discovery, Chris Bangs sold The Bottom End to DJ Paul Murphy, who played it at the renowned "Devils Club" in Earl's Court, during the early period of 1982.
It would find its true home shortly afterwards at the Electric Ballroom's legendary Jazzifunk Club. When Murphy left the Ballroom in 1984, he sold the record to his successor Gilles Peterson, who continued its legacy there. It was at this club that "The Bottom End" would become the most significant track in English jazz-dance club history.
For over 20 years jazz enthusiasts were asking DJs who the artists were, but it was a complete mystery to all of them. The Jazz Room at the Electric Ballroom was unlike any other, for it was an arena where many perished upon its battlefield. The dancing was extraordinary, with a strong humiliation factor that was complimented by the hardest and most Latin/Jazz/Fusion sounds.
I can remember the very first time I heard "The Bottom End" at the Ballroom, as I was in the jazz room with my friend Julian Symes when it came on. We were both going crazy over this track, and I remember Julian asking me whom it was by. I had no idea what it was, but I can distinctively recall how amazing the sound was as well as the music, as it was extremely rare to hear tracks produced with such high quality. We were both standing in the jazz room nodding our heads frantically as we watched the dancers, and then unexpectedly the vocals came in.
I had never heard anything like it, for the last thing I expected were vocals at that point. The female vocalist started to sing, "Get off the ground, go fly high as a kite", and then I began to realise that there was something very familiar about the track. When she sang, "Get off the Ground!" at the end, I skipped a couple of heartbeats, because only then I realized that this was "The Tune" that people everybody was talking about.
You really had to experience The Bottom End at the Electric Ballroom in the early 80's, where it was totally in its element. The way people danced back then complimented the tune in such a special way. Even though it was played in clubs later, it did not have the same significance. Due to its length and character, The Bottom End was THE ultimate battle tune, but what made it so special were the vocals at its climax.
During a duel whoever had the upper hand at the end of the track would humiliate their opponent by pointing to the exit sign, as the vocalist sang "Get off the ground!" The lyrics were interpreted on the dance floor as an indication for the defeated opponent to leave the room.
A 16 year old Gary Nurse (IDJ Dancers) and a 19 year old Gilles Peterson (behind the turntables) in the Jazz Room at the Electric Ballroom 1984. © TheBottomEnd.co.uk
The legendary jazz fusion dancer Milton "The Ballroom King" McAlpine was renowned for destroying his victims to this track. Another reason why I was so passionate in my quest was because "The Bottom End" always reminded me of my twin brother Gary "The Genius" Nurse, who claimed it during a famous battle he won at the Electric Ballroom in 1984. This was one of my main motivations for finding out whom the mystery artists were. Also, it was just simply my favourite tune.
The jazz dancer Michael Knott went to Gilles Peterson's house to record it. I can remember him calling me up and saying, "I've got it! I've got The Bottom End on tape!" You only heard this track at the Ballroom, or possibly on the radio on rare occasions, so it was a major feat to have it recorded properly on a tape. Michael and I arranged for him to come around my house so that I could record it too.
He rode a motorbike back then, and I remember him pulling up outside my place like a courier delivering a very important package. He came into my house, and pulled out a silver Maxell tape, which was a compilation of Electric Ballroom tunes. When I played the tape, the first track was The Bottom End, and I just could not believe that I was hearing it in my home.
I drove my parents crazy because I played it so loud, and the bass would penetrate through the walls, and ceilings. There were so many occasions when my father would knock on my bedroom door, and politely ask me to turn it down. I played it so much that even my mother Jeanette learnt it after a while, and would be in the kitchen cooking singing it out of tune at the top of her voice. She said recently that out of all the jazz tunes we played as kids, The Bottom End was the one she remembered the most.
For around 20 years only 1 copy was ever found. Due to the lack of information and the fact that it was a Hi-fi demonstration record, this made it extremely difficult to find out the identity of the musicians. It was believed that Janet Lawson was the vocalist, and there were many other contenders too, including the singer/ pianist Judy Roberts, but most people were convinced that it was Janet.
A friend once told me that he knew somebody that had the album, and the vocalist was Carmen Lundy. He was certain that his source was telling the truth, but I believe that he was confusing The Bottom End with the album Jasmine. This record featured Carmen Lundy on vocals with the amazing Bill O' Connell and Roger Rosenberg, who were part of Janet Lawson's incredible Quintet, so I believe that this was the connection.
There was also a strong belief that the band was British. I accidentally had it confirmed that the artists were definitely American. I was listening to The Tune on a new pair of headphones, when I heard a voice in the background of the track. I took the music back to the drummer's first solo, and heard a cool voice with a deep American accent say, "Oh Yeah!", acknowledging what the drummer's playing. At this point I knew for sure that these musicians were from the U.S.
Where there is a search for a "Holy Grail", you will always find those who attempt to throw people off the treasure's trail. To gain credibility one record dealer invented a group that did not exist, and claimed that he had sold the original album, revealing his band as the mystery musicians on the track. He said that the group was a Japanese Trio featuring Janet Lawson, and that the album was called Live at the Bottom End, which was on a Japanese label.
It was said that this 9-minute track was put on a white label 12 inch, which was taken from the original pressing. Apparently it was a sealed copy and the rest of the album was supposed to be very laid back, that did not feature any more dance floor tracks. He continued to say that it was made in 1982, and he sold the copy for £250. People were so excited about this groundbreaking news that word soon circulated that The Bottom End mystery was solved.
For me this made quite a bit of sense because I was not fully convinced that the voice was Janet Lawson's. I had studied the vocalist carefully and there was a difference, even though the voices were similar. When this dealer said that "The Bottom End" was a live 'concert', this confirmed for me why Janet sounded different. I put it down to the recording, but I was still not convinced. I recorded a copy of "The Bottom End" on a tape, and sent it to Janet. You can imagine my reaction when she told me that she was not the vocalist. Janet herself vowed to help me solve the mystery.
The Acid Jazz Label released a rather dubious bootleg of The Bottom End (p) 1974 ACID MUSIC; in 1988 under the band name "Brother Davies Miles",crediting (Janet) Lawson/ Everett as the composers. This was on the B Side of a 12-inch featuring Byron Morris and Unity's "Kitty Bey."
The famous anthem went completely unnoticed by most of the jazz heads that were unaware of its historical significance. I remember being in a jazz club when a DJ played the "Kitty Bey". He went on the microphone and said, "Memories of the Electric Ballroom!" This track was not even played at the Electric Ballroom, but ironically on the B side of the record was the Ballroom's anthem, and the DJ was totally unaware of this.
A lot of people had this 12-inch, but some had never even listened to the B-side. Many were shocked to know that this legendary track I spoke about was actually in their record collection. A couple of DJs told me that they did not pay much attention to it, or take it seriously because of the group name "Brother Davies Miles" (obviously a play on the name Miles Davis). It was also rumoured that some Acid Jazz session musicians had cut the track.
The Bootleg showed that "The Bottom End" was made in 1974. On the original 12 inch, there was no indication at all of the year that it was produced. Jonas Miller and Ken Kreisel on Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California formed M&K SOUND INC in 1974, so I believe that the date was taken from this information. The Bottom End was actually recorded in 1975.
One Monday night in 1988, I went to the The Wag Club where Gilles Peterson was playing jazz. I hadn't seen him for a while, and asked him if he could play The Bottom End. He looked at me with a very strange expression, and I asked him what was wrong. He told me that he had swapped it for another record. I was in a state of shock shaking my head, for I could not believe that he could have relinquished the Electric Ballroom anthem. Even though the original jazz movement had ended, this was still "The Tune, The Holy Grail."
I tuned into Gilles's radio show a week or two later, and was even more shocked to hear him playing it. He was telling the story about how Chris Bangs found it for 10 pence, and gave a short version of its history. It was quite bizarre listening to it because he was mixing Chuck D's Public Enemy vocals on top of it. At the end of the track he said, "The Bottom End, featuring Janet Lawson and Public Enemy," which was quite amusing.
Gilles also stated that he only had the record for a few days, as he had borrowed it. I still have this radio show on tape. It was during this time that The Bottom End was pressed as a bootleg for Acid Jazz Records. Gilles got the original copy back at a later date.
The band "Working Week" cut a version on Paul Murphy and Dean Hulme's independent label "Paladin Records" in 1984. This was a good rendition that was called "Bottom End," removing "The" from the title. Strangely enough the composition was credited to their own musicians, Simon Booth and Larry Stabbins.
Some people were quite content for "The Bottom End" to remain a mystery. I would hear things like, "It's a demonstration record, so that's the end of that!" or "It probably comes under the name of jazz- fusion in a catalogue of demonstration, or library music, so you'll never find out who the musicians are, because they could have got anybody in to do that!"
Even though there was some truth in what was said, I still refused to be deterred from finding out who the artists were. If anything this gave me more encouragement to search for them. One thing that I did know was that this was not just a demonstration record for Hi- Fi equipment. This was a 'real' tune that had been performed many times. I always believed that it was the keyboard player's composition, because of his authority on the track. The musicianship and the standard of playing were very high. The track (even in the form of a jam session) was evident that this was a genuine composition.
There were parts of the tune where the band members were finishing each other's musical sentences. This in itself showed that they were real players, not just some amateurs that walked into a studio. I came to the conclusion that if they were professionals, I would eventually find them no matter how long it took.
When I first saw the record many years ago, all I could remember were the words "The Bottom End written on a white label." Gilles Peterson was the only person that had a copy, so I did not see this disc for a very long time, and there was never much information to go on.
The B-side did not hold any clues either. The music featured a person playing a 12-minute Pipe Organ solo. Pipe organs incidentally, are a superb way of testing heavy bass transients, and other high level peaks within the allowable dynamic range of disc recording and playback. This did not have anything at all to do with the jazz track on the A side. Remarkably, there were some patterns played by the pipe organist that resembled the jazz keyboard player on the A side.
Recently Gilles Peterson managed to find another copy. This was the second one discovered in 23 years within our scene. It only became common knowledge amongst record dealers, dancers', and music enthusiasts that M&K Sound had produced "The Tune", in 2004. I had told DJ/Musician Snowboy about the history of the track.
He was doing an interview with Gilles and inquired about the tune. Peterson revealed that he had 2 copies, and Snowboy wanted to do a trade. Gilles was going to exchange the older Bottom End, due to its wear and tear, but could not find it, so he allowed Snowboy to hold his mint copy until he did. I asked Snowboy to bring Gilles's copy to a club where he was DJ'ing, so that I could have a look at it. I had not seen a copy of this record for about 19 years.
I got the chance to examine this disc and took down the details, then continued my search. M&K Sound's telephone number and address on the sleeve no longer existed, so there was still hardly anything to go on. After all these years it was going to take a lot more than simply checking out the details on the record itself, for if it were that simple; there would have been no mystery, or obscurity about the track in the first place.
I later discovered that M&K Sound had been contacted about the tune several times over the years. Only a few of these records were ever made, which were used for testing purposes within the company.
Small amounts were given away with the purchase of M&K Sound equipment, but these particular Audiophile records were not for sale.
I would spend hours on the Internet searching for information. I spoke to my friend Monika Scheel, who was such a fantastic help. She was working for a record label at the time, and pulled out her resources. Phone calls were made and emails were sent to M&K SOUND explaining this bizarre story.
Ken Kreisel was not available at first, but this soon led to direct negotiations with the Audiophile prodigy (the K in M&K Sound). Monika Scheel's help throughout this period of the quest was invaluable.
It was an achievement within itself to be dealing directly with Ken Kreisel the Audiophile Legend. At first it was quite difficult trying to explain to a legendary audiophile genius in 2004, how one of his Hi- Fi demonstration records that he made in 1975 was the anthem of an obscure London jazz dance movement.
So much time and energy was invested over a period of several weeks, digging deep into Kreisel's memory bank, and 30-years of M&K Sound history. Ken had recorded countless amounts of source material for testing purposes and audiophile records over 3 decades, so this was not going to be an easy task for him either. He was amazed at the story of my quest, and wanted to find out who the mystery artists were too.
I sent Ken Kreisel a concise version of the tunes club history, and as much information as I could about the record. I also sent him a 2-minute sample of The Bottom End on an MP3 at a later date. I got extremely excited when he said that it did "jog his memory". M&K Sound had in fact made other records under the name of The Bottom End. Ken Kreisel was absolutely fantastic in responding to emails, and taking the time out to assist in my quest. Even he had caught "The Bottom End Fever".
It was just one of those stories that you couldn't help getting hooked on. I would spend hours with my friend Sean P in his record shop talking about it, and going through so many musicians trying to work out who the artists were. I would walk into his shop, and as soon as we saw each other, we knew exactly what we would be talking about for the next hour or two.
Phil Levene and I also spent a great amount of time going through various musicians, in the hope of making a connection that would lead to "The Holy Grail" (the name of the artists). The methods we used for our search became almost comical at one point.
Michael "Rocky" Laroque was a dancer at the Electric Ballroom when it was originally played. He was also very passionate about the track, and desperately wanted to know who these artists were that inspired him so much. Whenever we met up, we would talk about The Bottom End for hours, and never got tired of the subject. Anybody I told the story to could not resist being part of the treasure hunt.
Only heaven knows what a gruelling, painstaking quest this was for me. Words cannot express the phenomenal amount of hours spent in record shops, and on the Internet, let alone the meticulous study of countless musicians over such a long period of time. Finally, after 23 years I found The Holy Grail in the names of Valli Scavelli and Don Baaska, solving the mystery of The Bottom End.
After so much corresponding with Ken Kreisel, he suddenly remembered Valli. After this Ken did a search on the Internet for confirmation of her name, and broke the news. He then sent a picture of her and information about Baaska and Scavelli on the Internet. I'll never forget the moment I saw Valli's picture, for I knew instantly that she was the voice. A bottle of champagne was opened, and I did not sleep that night.
Even though Ken always referred to the tune as "Get off the Ground", it was a relief to finally have this confirmed, and be given the knowledge that it was an original composition by Baaska and Scavelli too.
THE "HOLY GRAIL" WAS THE NAME OF THE ARTISTS, "VALLI SCAVELLI AND DON BAASKA", NOT THE RECORD ITSELF (EVEN
THOUGH IT IS SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS "THE HOLY GRAIL"), AND THE 23 YEAR SEARCH WAS FOR "THEM".
Remarkably, another version of Get off the Ground from Valli's first album Floating was unearthed during my discovery of them. Don Baaska produced this debut album with the jazz trombonist Jim Morris. To unearth another version at the same time as finding Baaska and Scavelli was like having all your numbers and the bonus ball come up in the Lottery.
I had expected to hear the Get off the Ground that I had been familiar with for so many years. When the start of the tune came in, I skipped a couple heartbeats because I then realized that I had struck gold again. This is such a great version that is perfect to play back to back with the original. Valli's vocals are featured more on this one, which is performed in the conventional arrangement.
It has a real kick to it and Valli is totally in her element with her dynamic voice. Even though Don does not play a solo on this version, he is still in total control of the band and his baby.
I managed to get hold of Don and Valli's telephone number, and then decided to give them a call in Puerto Rico a few days later. I remember that my hand was shaking as I dialled their number. After a few rings that seemed to last an eternity, an answer machine came on with Valli's voice, asking to "leave a message for Baaska and Scavelli."
I could not believe how much her normal voice sounded like the vocals on the record. This showed exactly how natural Valli's singing voice was. I was so fazed by hearing her voice that I hung up. I just froze and couldn't leave a message. I called Baaska and Scavelli again a few days later. This time a man picked up the phone and said, "Hi! Baaska speaking!"
Admittedly, I was overcome with emotion, for it was as though I had found a lost relative after a 23-year search.
I excitedly told Don the story and significance of "The Bottom End/ Get off the Ground", and I have to admit that he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I found him to be a very warm, and cool character (if its possible to be both at the same time). I asked Don some questions, and he told me how he had written the lyrics to "Get off the ground" after an out of body experience. I thought that this was fantastic. I really admired his openness, and was quite touched at the fact that he was comfortable enough to share this story with me.
I can remember Don being puzzled at this version of Get off the Ground, so I decided to play it to him down the telephone. This was a very surreal moment for me. There I was playing The Bottom End/ Get off the Ground down the phone to its composer in Puerto Rico as he was hearing it for the very first time. I remember covering my mouth with my other hand to prevent myself from laughing, because I thought that this was so bizarre. His reaction after hearing it was, "Wow, that's great!" but I knew that he was quite baffled over my phone call. We exchanged details at the end of our conversation, and I remember feeling "punch drunk" afterwards.
The next day I received an email from Don who thanked me for calling him, and asked me if I could send him a copy of "The Bottom End." Through this another quest had started, for Don could not remember when he recorded this version, and who the other musicians were? We sent each other several emails, trying to work out this new mystery. He asked me if the track had Fender Rhodes or an acoustic piano on it. I sent him a sample on an MP3 that featured the last two minutes with Valli's vocals.
Don replied to me after he had received it, and said that he found it "very interesting." He confirmed that he definitely was on the piano, and that Valli was the vocalist, but he couldn't quite place the date. He added that it could have been a warm up or "test," as the arrangement was not the ultimate one. After I explained to him that it was a 9-minute tune that featured the trio throughout the whole track, and Valli's short contribution at the end, his memory of the event came back to him. He remembered the recording session and revealed the identities of the other musicians to me.
I sent Baaska and Scavelli the 9-minute version of Get off the Ground on a CD, and this was the first time that they heard it in all its glory, since they had never received a copy. Don and Valli thought that it was great. Valli was completely gob smacked over the whole story. I remember having so much fun with her when we first spoke on the phone. I even got her to sing "Get off the Ground to me", which sounds quite sad I know, but some things you've just got to do.
During my search for Baaska and Scavelli, there was one point where I was looking through nursery rhymes on the Internet. I had been to every single avenue, so I had absolutely nothing to lose by doing this. There was something about the melody of Get off the Ground that reminded me of a children's song. When Don told me that he had originally written the composition for his baby girl Hilda after she was born, this confirmed why I believed that it could have been a nursery rhyme. It actually made sense that the track was called "The Bottom End" due to its lyrics.
There is a term called "The Bottom End," which refers to "feeling low" or "down." On the song Valli sings, "Out of your cap is a nice place to be, out of that trap and get up where its free, don't get stuck in that mud man and earthworm on the ground, get out of that trap where you're at, GET OFF THE GROUND!"
So these lyrics are talking about being at "THE BOTTOM END." Valli also revealed to me that the "Get off the Ground" was once used for an Airline advert, "Get off the ground, go fly high as a kite..."
Jim Morris contacted me soon after I established the connection with Baaska and Scavelli, and he gave me some kind references about them. Jim told me that he appreciated what I was doing for them, and that Don was such a wise free spirit as well as a good friend. He also said that Valli was very dear to him too, and that she was the best cook in the world. I remember thinking to myself that if her cooking is anything like her singing I want to taste some of that. I found this very admirable of Jim, and knew that these people were very close and looked out for one another.
There was always something very Chick Corea about the Get off the Ground, so when Don told me that Jamie Faunt was the bass player; this made a lot of sense. Jamie was featured on several Chick Corea tracks, and was actually playing with him during the period The Bottom End was recorded. Don's solos always reminded me a little bit of Herbie Hancock and Chick, yet his playing was still very unique. I was shocked to learn that the awesome drummer Ken Park went on to tour with Donna Summer soon after the session
I have the Donna Summers records that Ken was featured on, and this revelation made me realise that I was listening and dancing to the drummer of "The Bottom End/Get off the Ground" at 10 years old, which I found very ironic. Ken Park's dynamic drumming was the main driving force behind the track. I got in contact with him through Baaska and Scavelli, and we sent each other emails, and have kept in contact ever since. After hearing The Bottom End for the first time Park said, It was so great to hear how I played back then!
In 1975, Ken Kreisel heard Baaska and Scavelli playing live in Los Angeles and was very impressed by their sound. Kreisel wanted to use Baaska and Scavelli to cut a demonstration record to display the sound quality of his revolutionary Hi-Fi equipment. This Bottom End Test Record (Volume One: M+K 112/ M+K113REI) was the first of these particular series of demonstration discs. This famous recording took place at M&K Sound's studio, on Wilshire Boulevard, California, and was recorded Direct to a 2 track analog tape.
Ken Park and Jamie Faunt had never played "The Tune" before, as this take was literally the first time the group had played the composition together. If the track was performed and arranged in the conventional way, I do not think that it would have had the same impact on our scene, even though it would still have been a hit. What made it so distinctive was the fact that it went against the rules of that which is considered "correct". The Fender Rhodes combined with a strong electric bass player; a power drummer, dynamic vocals, and the mastermind of Ken Kreisel created a very special sound.
The implied 2-3 Latin Clave on the first 8 bars, and the straight ahead on the 2nd 8 added to its uniqueness. The main characteristic was of course Valli's vocals at the end. This was so special because it took you completely by surprise. I can clearly remember the times when it was played at the Electric Ballroom.
Whenever Valli's voice came in, people would always look towards the DJ, as if to say, "Where did those vocals come from?" I still get that reaction when I play it in clubs today, for it always catches people out if they are not familiar with "The Tune." Under normal circumstances, this kind of arrangement would not have made the final cut, and this is why it was so exceptional.
For a trio to be jamming in this free manner for over 8 minutes, and then have the vocalist come in for the last minute (improvising) goes against all the rules of a conventional recording. This is what made The Bottom End absolutely perfect for our battle scene. The words "Get off the Ground" were heaven sent, as an indication for a dancer to leave the jazz room when he was "burnt" on the dance floor.
It was like having a boxing match for 8 minutes without any bells (or rounds).
The referee would then come in at the end; grab the microphone and say, "Get out of the Ring!" while pointing to the exit sign. The defeated fighter would then have to leave the boxing ring, doing a walk of shame.
Get off the Ground (The Bottom End) was simply, "The Ultimate Battle Tune!" At 9 minutes, the length was perfect because a dancer could not get away from you that easily, so one could take their time to devour the opponent. The track had such a raw energy about it that created an intensity that was ideal for battling.
It had pace, but more importantly it was just the right speed that left space for style and character, and musical interpretation. The track was also long enough to test the stamina of a dancer, as it had no time for 20-second solos.
It had all the elements that suited the way kids danced the London jazz fusion style in the early to mid 1980's.
The break on each 2nd 8 meant that you had to start again, and produce something different each time. Also, there were many rhythmic elements to the drumming. There was the implied 2-3 Latin clave, with a subtle fusion funkiness that went into a straight-ahead rhythm. The "Get off the Ground" was challenging and so much fun to dance to, because you had to change your style constantly to interpret the music.
The musicians were basically having a jam session to get used to the changes, and then after 8 minutes Valli came in and sang the melody, which she improvised. She said to me, "We were just having fun!" I believe that this is why the "Get off the Ground" had such a great effect on the dance floor within a club environment. The vibe of the track was so raw and free, which reflected the energy, and expression that the kids themselves had in the Jazz room. Don told me that he was amazed when Ken Kreisel said at the end of the jam, "That's a take!"
The occasions when the musicians read each other's solos, and finished off another player's musical sentence, always struck me as being quite amazing. It was because of this that I had assumed that they must have played the track together so many times. I was shocked when I found out that this was the first time they played the track as a group. I asked Baaska about this, and he said That's the zone! Once in a while musicians go into a zone, and that's what I call the magic".
The person that was the closest to identifying the mystery vocalist was Tanya "Nia" Saw, who sings with the band Zap Mama. For years she had to put up with my police work at home, like the partner of a detective who had been trying to solve a life long case. When I played The Bottom End to Tanya, she did not think that it was Janet Lawson's voice, even though she thought there was a similarity. She said the music sounded like it came out of California, and that the vocalist was a spiritual hippy sort of character. Tanya was even close on describing Valli's appearance.
At that time I did not have the information that "The Bottom End" was made in California. Neither did I know that Valli and the band were scientologists when the record was made, though Don and Valli are no longer part of this movement. Tanya was not even going by the lyrics, just the sound of Valli's voice. I think that Tanya was probably relieved more than anybody else that I found Baaska and Scavelli, because she had to put up with my obsession for so long.
Ironically, the name of the mystery vocalist was always there in the music without anybody realizing. There was a sound in the track just before Valli came in with the first lyrics. I always thought that it was one of the musicians letting out some emotion, since the band was really flying. When I listened to it again after the conversations I had with Don, I realized that it was actually his voice. On a good pair of headphones you can clearly hear Don say, "Valli!" as he cues her in to sing the vocals, after the trio's 8-minute jam.
I had spoken a lot about the original jazz movement to Don and Valli. They found it fascinating, and were very moved by the fact that their song had such a great impact half way across the world in a scene that they had no idea about. Don said to me, "I've had many tunes come back to me before, but nothing like this." I compiled a package to send to Puerto Rico that consisted of an old "Face magazine" from the early 80's talking about the jazz scene, CD compilations of the music that was played at the Electric Ballroom, as well as videos featuring the IDJ Dancers, and short clips from the original jazz session at the Ballroom.
I put the contents in an unsealed package, as I prepared to send it to them the next day. Suddenly, I remembered an interview I did with my twin brother Gary Nurse from IDJ Dancers. This was done with the DJ/Musician Snowboy, for his column in the music magazine "Big Daddy". I thought that this would be great for Don and Valli to have, because Gary and I were interviewed about the "Electric Ballroom." The magazine also had an original flyer from the Ballroom's Jazzifunk Club in the feature, but more importantly, there was a music chart from the Groove weekly magazine in 1982.
DJ Paul Murphy had a chart in there that was titled "FUSIONS JAZZ CHART BY PAUL MURPHY- the Electric' Cockroach Crusher Chart (August 21st 1982)". Cockroach crushing (or stomping) was the name of a significant jazz step that the London dancers did at the Electric Ballroom. Originally this chart consisted of only 10 tracks, and Snowboy added a further 10 on the original list for his Big Daddy column. The Bottom End was one of the additional tunes featured on the list. I thought that it would have been nice for Don and Valli to see their song in this compilation, as well as other tunes that were played at the time with it.
I knew all the tracks, as I had collected them over the years, but there was one tune that had always puzzled me. I only had one copy of this magazine, so I thought I'd read it once more before I sent it to them the next day. I had not looked at it for quite some time, and as I read the music chart, my body froze, for I had the shock of my life. On the chart was the song that had been puzzling me for quite some time, for it was the only tune that I did not know on the list. There before my very eyes, staring me in the face was the name "VALI SCOBELLI - THE TUNE." I remember my whole body feeling incredibly numb, as I sat back in my chair in total shock at this revelation.
Paul Murphy's Jazz Chart from "Groove Weekly" August 21st 1982.
"Big Daddy" magazine's Groove Weekly Chart (2002) with 10 additions to the list.
When I came back to my senses, I tried to tell myself that I was mistaken; I even sent Don and Valli an email asking them if they had ever made a track called "The Tune", which obviously they had not. I went on the Internet and typed in the name "Vali Scobelli" to see if another artist would come up, but I knew that it was merely a spelling mistake.
The fact that "The Bottom End" was added to the original chart in the "Groove Weekly magazine," unintentionally dismissed any connection with "The Tune," unless you were fortunate enough to have come across the magazine from 1982.
These publications are very rare, because very few people have kept them over the years. On the original chart Jerry Gonzalez is spelt incorrectly too (Jerry Gonzales). If somebody wrote Valli Scavelli's name by hand (in a letter for example), the a could easily be mistaken for an o, as the v could be quite easily mistaken for a b, depending on the handwriting. Also, a strong American accent pronouncing a name like that over a telephone might not be so clear either.
Valli's name is not very common, so it is easy to understand it being misspelled. Recently on a Gilles Peterson Radio One track listing of his show, Valli's name was misspelled as Valli Scarneni, which is further off from Vali Scobelli as a pronunciation. I do not believe that this spelling of Valli's name on the Radio One track list was intentional, because well-known artists such as Judy Roberts (Judy Roberst), Joanne Grauer (Joanne Graver) as well as others have been misspelled on these lists too. Also, on other Peterson track lists featuring "The Bottom End/ Get off the Ground," Valli Scavelli's name has been spelt correctly.
At first I did not have the heart to tell Don and Valli, but since I had been completely honest with them about the story and what was happening in London, I had to tell them the whole truth. When I sent the magazine to them, Valli said, "Yes, that's definitely my name. It's spelt incorrectly, but it's my name!" Could this have been an astronomical coincidence, at incomprehensible odds? I then remembered the very first email Ken Kreisel sent in response to my request, for he said,
I seem to remember a similar request years ago from Europe about one of our very old test discs being played in discos. Could this be the same disc?
Can you let me know what the vocalist sings at the end of the track? This may give me some clue.
What information are you looking for on this album? I hope I can remember that far back. Good Sound To You,
Ken recently told me that he vaguely remembered replying to someone from the UK many years ago about "The Bottom End". He said that it was either by letter, or a phone conversation, but he definitely corresponded with someone in regards to the mystery artists. The fact remains that somebody was aware of the name "Valli Scavelli," and its association with "The Bottom End". Many people could not have forseen the creation of the Internet all those years ago, and the realisation that it would make the world a much smaller place.
Through this, so much more information and connections have been established, in comparison to what we had access to 20 years ago. It could have been possible that this mystery would have been concealed for many more years, had the Internet not been invented. It still has to be said that the real work started "after" the connection with Ken Kreisel was made. The Internet was very beneficial for communicating, and relaying information, but the quest itself relied on a lot more than that.
Since I discovered Baaska and Scavelli, people's behaviour in relation to "The Tune" has continued to surprise me, if anything it has got worse. There are other things connected to this story that I cannot print. "Trust no one! For the power of The Tune reveals the darkness of man, for this is The Curse Of The Bottom End!".
Don and Valli found the whole episode quite amusing, and we have actually had some great laughs about it all. They hold no grudges, but I do admit that I have sensed a touch of sadness and disappointment from them over the whole story, which is totally understandable. As Valli said herself, "It's not just the music, its life!"
They have been extremely noble, which reveals the kind of people they are. One cannot help but wonder what would have occurred if Valli Scavelli's name had been revealed, or if they had been contacted all those years ago, and what direction this would have taken their music careers? Over the years, many jazz artists were invited to the UK and have become more established within the scene.
Their careers have been enhanced due to the contribution of just one or two tracks, which were less significant than the "Get off the Ground". Don Baaska sent me this short tale recently that was written by his friend, the jazz musician Bob Bowers. I feel that this tells the whole story.
It simply said, "This is the story of my life!"
Two attractive young ladies walking down a country lane are startled by a frog jumping out of the bushes onto a road. They are even more surprised when the frog assumes a theatrical pose and begins to speak.
Frog (in Shakespearean tones): O ye fair damsels, what ye see before ye is not really an ugly frog, but a jazz musician that was transformed into a frog by the evil spell of a wicked witch. But, if one of ye beautiful maidens is brave enough to kiss me, the evil spell will be broken, and I will be transformed back into a great jazz musician. For, before the witch's spell turned me into a slimy frog, I was the greatest jazz musician that ever lived!
For a moment the two young ladies are dumbfounded and stand staring at the frog in amazement. Suddenly, one of the girls quickly snatches up the frog and put it in her pocket.
Well, aren't you going to kiss it? asks her friend. Are you kidding? says the first, A talking frog is worth a helluva lot more than a jazz musician!
What makes the chronicles of "Get off the Ground/The Bottom End" so special, is the fact that all the individual parts of the story, whether they are regarded as good or bad, honest or dishonest, have contributed to an amazing accumulation of events over a period of 23 years. They facilitated in the growth of the records incredible adventure, and have ALL played their part in it.
Even as a writer, I do not believe that I could have made this story up. It developed from four musicians being asked to play a bit of music for the demonstration of a Direct-To-Disc Record, and Hi- Fi equipment. The Disc then found its way from California to a second hand record shop in London, just a few minutes walk from where I now live; this in itself is very ironic.
It then became the anthem of an obscure urban jazz movement in London that the musicians themselves knew nothing about. I have to acknowledge how grateful, and lucky I have been with the way Don, Valli and Ken Kreisel responded to my story. It was possible that they could not have been interested at all, and just dismissed it as some weird story, never taking it any further than that.
I will always appreciate the fact that a man as established and successful as Ken Kreisel took the time out to reply to every email, and dug so deep into his memory bank to finally reveal Valli's name to me.
As for Baaska and Scavelli, what can I say? From my first ever conversation with Don, I got a remarkable account of the history behind the inspiration of The Bottom End/ Get off the Ground. They have given me every possible detail of the tracks history; even down to the way they looked around the time of the recording. It is a dream come true for any music enthusiast to have so much background about their favourite tune, from the people that were directly involved in its creation.
Don Baaska and Valli Scavelli have been such amazing inspirations to me. It is quite bizarre when I realize the fact that I have been on this Earth for 38 years, and 23 of them have been spent in search of these two people. I have also found Neptune's Treasure of music, in the countless other great compositions that Baaska and Scavelli have recorded.
Incidentally, Valli had her first hit at the age of only four years old under the name of "Baby Elvira," with a track called "Bell Bottom Trousers." For me though, the real treasure was discovering and befriending two amazing people that have inspired me in such a special way, and who gave many kids so much joy (and pain) on the dance floor. Don and Valli, thank you so much, for your gift to us is truly beyond words.
The Bottom End
(Photograph by Donna McKeown)
Seymour Nurse 2006
Recently, I managed to find an original M&K Sound 12 inch of The Bottom End. I was already in possession of one, which I picked up a couple of months earlier, and a contact of mine put me on to a record dealer that had another copy. A couple days passed over the time I was expecting it, and I started to become slightly anxious. This was a special occasion for me, as I was going to have "The Bottom End" delivered to my doorstep for the first time.
It was a Tuesday morning, and normally I did not receive any post on that particular day. I was writing at the time, making some additions to my Ken Kreisel profile. As I wrote the words "The Bottom End Audiophile Record," somebody knocked on my door. Surprisingly it was the postman with my record. I explained to him that I had just literally typed in the name of " The Bottom End" album when he knocked on my door, and we had a joke about it. The date was Tuesday April 25th 2006.
There was something about this date that intrigued me. I was thinking about family and friends birthdays, but I was still puzzled. The next day Ken Kreisel sent me an email, and then it hit me. A few months ago I was trying to find out exactly when "The Bottom End" was recorded.
During that time, Ken Kreisel was digging through some old M&K Sound material when he found a mostly empty 15 reel-to-reel tape box. This was incredibly exciting for us, because it was not going to be easy finding original tapes, relative to the great amount of material Ken and M&K Sound had accumulated over 30 years.
The box was marked "Jim Morris' Band and Valli and Baaska and Get off the Ground."
The date written on the tape box was April 25th 1976; 30 years to the day.
...well, not quite!
I was talking to Valli Scavelli a few days ago, and we were discussing names. I was explaining to her that if I had another daughter, I would name her "Vera", after my favourite Brazilian composition "Vera Cruz", by Milton Nascimento.
Ironically (or perhaps not), the Jayme Marques version of "Vera Cruz" (my favourite rendition) was played by Gilles Peterson straight after the famous "Get off the Ground (The Bottom End)" battle, "The Clash Of The Titans!" between Gary Nurse and Marshall Smith, at the Electric Ballroom in 1984. I was amazed when Valli then revealed to me that she was called "Vera" as a child.
Her real name is Elvera, after her grandmother. The Italian version is Elvira, but Valli said she preferred to spell it with an e instead of an i, like her grandmother's spelling. Valli then explained to me that Elvera meant "truth", and that when she was younger, her schoolteacher told her that the name Scavelli meant to "excavate" (dig up). So the translation of Elvera "Valli" Scavelli is, "To dig up the Truth".
2006 © Seymour Nurse / TheBottomEnd.co.uk