Pop: Peaceful easy feeling

Terry Callier may not change the world. But he'll soothe it.

THERE'S A foolproof method of getting the best out of Terry Callier's new album. Press "Play" on the CD player and if any track starts with a drumbeat, move on to the next. Although everything by the 54-year-old singer-songwriter is worth hearing at least once, Callier excels on slow to medium tempos, with the languid pulse allowing his warm voice and unabashedly sentimental lyrics to come through naturally. When they do, there is nothing like it. Callier offers a time-machine ride back to a more innocent era of popular song when things were still, well, good.

A survivor of the 1960s folk boom, with a preference for jazzy chord- structures and soulful vocals shared by better-known folkies such as Richie Havens and the late Tim Hardin and Tim Buckley, Callier tasted success only briefly first time round. He recorded his debut album, The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier, for jazz label Prestige in 1965, then three more sets for the Chess subsidiary Cadet in the early 1970s, when he also wrote a hit single for soul group the Dells. In the 1980s, he gave up music to work as a computer programmer and study for a degree in sociology while bringing up his daughter in his home city, Chicago. Encouraged to start performing again by the cult acclaim for his earlier recordings on the British Northern Soul and jazz-dance scenes, Callier was signed by Gilles Peterson to Talkin' Loud Records. His comeback album, last year's Time Peace, was a big success. The new follow-up is unlikely to disappoint his faithful followers.

"I know what you mean about the gentle thing," he says. "It's probably a function of growing up in Chicago when I did. Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler lived in the neighbourhood and when I started singing in doo-wop groups as a kid we were mainly ballad singers. Then, as you grow older, the things you prefer are the things you return to and they become the things you do best. I'm still listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, but my daughter's in her twenties so I get to hear the Cranberries and Alanis Morissette, too." Callier's unique fusion of folk, jazz and soul was also a function of his early career, when he accompanied himself on guitar for folk music gigs on the coffee-house circuit ("doing Harry Belafonte songs and stuff like that") and then go to jazz clubs on his nights off.

"The first time I saw Miles was in 1962 and that was very impressive, but then in 1964 I saw the John Coltrane in a small club in Chicago," he says. "I remember sitting at the bar, which was the best place to see the stage, and the musicians just walking on without any introductions and starting to play. I was in no way prepared for the emotion and the physical force of what I heard. I made myself stay until I started to get into it and then I went every night of the engagement, hearing every set and every note until they left. Immediately after that I stopped playing and started looking for a day job until I could get some of the same dignity, commitment and intensity into my music that they had. I didn't play clubs for nine months and when I got back I was doing things differently and playing my own material." Soon after, Callier made his debut for Prestige. As the budget allowed for two other musicians, he followed Coltrane's example by choosing double-bassists, ensuring the album's distinctive sound. For Time Peace, Callier was able to play with Coltrane's musical disciple Pharaoh Sanders, who guested on tenor sax.

Why Callier stopped playing for so long was due more to his daughter's welfare than any real sense of failure. "She was the reason. I was only discouraged with the business aspects of my career and I wasn't fond of the way record companies handled things, but I had no control over that. When she was 12 my daughter decided she didn't want to return to her mother in San Diego and preferred to go to school here in Chicago. My mother let us both move in with her and I started training as a computer programmer at the University. Giving up wasn't difficult and the only time I put the guitar away was when I was finishing my studies and also working full- time. In September 1988 I received my degree and the first thing I did was go to the closet and get my guitar out."

Maybe the hardship of life as a single parent, plus his studies, made Callier less than content with the gentle side of things. "LifeTime has as much spiritual content as TimePeace, but the subject is more down to earth, with songs that take a concentrated look at relationships with people," he says. "A lot of times we have too many expectations, because a relationship is not going to change the world. Things have changed too much to ever revert to a pastoral, restful kind of thing, and we found out in the Sixties and Seventies that music wasn't going to change the world. Back then, we thought that if we could just get the right chord structure and the right words we really could change it. Now we've seen that there's only so much that artistic endeavours can do. My assignment, as it were, is to deliver my part of the message. The rest is up to you." The irony is that what we probably want is more of that gentle Terry Callier stuff, and the more pastoral and restful it is the better.

`LifeTime' is released on Monday on Talkin' Loud. Terry Callier begins a British tour on 2 Oct

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea