The death announced today of Fontella Bass takes me back 46 years to London’s 100 Club in Oxford and the pirate ship Radio London’s disco nights. I had recently moved to London to start work with HM Customs & Excise – a fatal mistake; started on the Monday, handed in my notice on the Friday but as I’d signed the Official Secrets Act I had to stay three months (no, I don’t know why). However, having been a devotee of the pirates since Caroline opened, and a particular admirer of Keith Skues – at the time largely because he replied to my letters – the disco nights had an allure, not least because he gave away free records! I still have, and treasure “Don’t forget about me baby” by Barbara Lewis which impressed my companions in the Ladbroke Grove hostel where I stayed for those 13 weeks. It would have been either late 1965 or early 1966 when Fontella Bass and Len Barry made the charts – Len getting nto No.3 but Fontella only to No.11. But to me, these were both landmark records and maybe the signal that before long, the obsession with pop music was going to take me away from calculating the commonwealth content, and as a result the import duty on nodding dogs from Hong Kong and aspirins from Rhodesia!!
So for that alone, Fontella, I give thanks!