James Campbell, singer and songwriter: born Liverpool 4 January 1944; married (one daughter); died Liverpool 12 February 2007.
Everybody who heard the Liverpool singer and songwriter Jimmy Campbell recognised his talent. Why did he receive so little acclaim? Much of the reason lies in his own personality, but he has left behind some fine songs that he recorded as part of the Kirkbys, 23rd Turnoff and Rockin' Horse as well as on his own. Campbell mocked his own lack of success in "Tremendous Commercial Potential" (1971) and he once told me, "A lot of my songs are cries for help and I suppose that's why they didn't make the grade."
Like many young Liverpool lads, Campbell formed a beat group, the Panthers, and on 13 January 1962 they supported the Beatles at Hambleton Hall in Huyton. As in a western showdown, John Lennon stood at the front of the stage checking out the new boy in town. Campbell was to regard Lennon and McCartney as the best songwriters in the world, adding, "McCartney had that magic, that self-confidence, and I never had that."
In March 1964, the Panthers were recording for the Radio Luxembourg programme Sunday Night at the Cavern and the compere, Bob Wooler, confused their name with the suburb where they lived, calling them the Kirkbys. As the Kirkbys, they recorded for RCA and their single "It's a Crime" was released in 1966. After a tour with Herman's Hermits in Finland, they acquired a cult following and two of Campbell's best songs, "Don't You Want Me No More" and "Bless You", were only released there.
In line with the psychedelic times, they changed their name to 23rd Turnoff (actually the exit from the M6 to the East Lancs Road) and recorded "Michaelangelo" (1967) for Decca's progressive label Deram. The intended follow-up, "Another Vincent Van Gogh", was cancelled as sales were disappointing. It is now viewed as a prime example of UK psychedelia and the collection of the Kirkbys/23rd Turnoff work, The Dream of Michaelangelo (2004), had superb reviews. "I wish we had done something on Van Gogh," said Campbell:
I was sick when Don McLean wrote his "starry, starry night" rubbish. Van Gogh was a hard man and a hard drinker and I put myself in his shoes.
Some of Campbell's songs were recorded by Liverpool acts: "She'll Get No Lovin' That Way" (Escorts), "Dreamin'" (Merseys), "Penny in My Pocket" (Merseys) and "Keep Me Warm Til the Sun Shines" (Swinging Blue Jeans). The Blue Jeans recorded Campbell's song independently and, when they took it to EMI, the record company supported their regular producer, Wally Ridley, and refused to release it. When it finally appeared in 2003, it could be seen as another psychedelic classic.
In 1969, Campbell signed to Fontana as a solo performer and he released Son of Anastasia (1969), Half-Baked (1970) and The Jimmy Campbell Album (1972). He worked with Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats as Rockin' Horse and they made the album Yes It Is (1971). Rolf Harris recorded "Salvation Army Citadel" but it was the Sixties Liverpool star Billy Fury who appreciated what Campbell was doing.
Fury recorded his wry comments on gambling, "That's Right That's Me", a story about a half-hearted affair, "Green Eyed American Actress", and another about his possessions, "In My Room". "In My Room" is so personal that one wonders how Fury viewed it: "In the posters on my wall, / Of Hitler, John and Paul, / I see myself" - and by the end of the song that same self decides to destroy everything in a bonfire.
Campbell tried to settle to a day job but he drank heavily and became unreliable. His later years are a sorry story. He stopped drinking a few years ago but heavy smoking had already wrecked his health. He returned to songwriting and tracks for a new album had been recorded, including one about Iraq, "When I Cross Your Path".
Jimmy Campbell's story is one of lost potential, someone who had the talent but couldn't pursue it. "I wish I got my act together," he once said, "and opened a songwriting school in Liverpool."
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