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Herbie Flowers - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 6 / 11 / 2019

Herbie Flowers - Interview


Veteran bassist and multi-instrumentalist Herbie Flowers talks to Nick Dent-Robinson about his formmer band Blue MInk's controversial 1969 hit 'Melting Pot', which, despite promoting global harmony, has long been banned for being racially offensive.

Herbie Flowers, veteran rock and jazz multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and occasional raconteur recalls vividly the summer's day back in 1969 when, along with fellow members of the then newly-formed pop group Blue Mink, he first heard the song, ‘Melting Pot’. “We were at the end of an afternoon's recording session when one of Blue Mink's vocalists, the singer-songwriter Roger Cook, turned up, sat down at the piano and knocked out this song he had just written with his writing partner Roger Greenaway. The tune was ok but the words - all about racial harmony - were a bit naff even if we liked the theme of racial harmony solving the world's problems! Anyway, the studio bosses loved it and thought it could be a big hit for us as a new band. After all, we had our own African-American vocalist in the band, Madeline Bell who had been one of Dusty Springfield's backing singers. As musicians, we were all a bit naïve about the bigger issues in the world and racism and sexism weren't things we focused on much back in the 1960s!” “Well, the song - silly and light-hearted as its lyrics were intended to be - was hugely popular. It quickly reached number three and remained in the charts for fifteen weeks, becoming one of 1969's ten best-selling records! People were congratulating us on our contribution to world harmony – whatever that was supposed to mean!” There is an irony in all of this. For, fifty years later, the now seldom heard Blue Mink hit extolling the virtues of the world becoming a “great big melting pot” has been banned from broadcasts by regulators Ofcom as being racially offensive. This followed a rare play of the record on 'golden oldies' radio station, Gold - which elicited a single complaint to Ofcom from a listener. “I am a little bewildered by this,” Herbie Flowers, now 81, admitted. “Though I can see that in modern times some of Roger's jokey lyrics might not be too acceptable - like references to 'Latin kinkies' or 'coffee-coloured people' or a 'Red Indian boy'. Even back then these were things written in jest, of course, but I can see why Ofcom might not be very keen on them in 2019! Though far worse things are played regularly on BBC Radio One these days - songs full of obscenities and violence.” “It reminds me of the upset some years back over Lou Reed's ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ on which I composed and played the bass lead-in. There was a reference to 'coloured girls' in the lyric - which many decades ago was actually regarded as more acceptable in America than saying 'black girls'....though of course the opposite is true today. Anyway, for a while that song was banned on some radio stations – maybe it still is? I do accept, though, that as a mere musician you have to be aware of people's sensitivities and these do change over time - especially over half a century of time!” As Herbie recounted to me, Blue Mink's members enjoyed success in their individual careers well after the 1969 ‘Melting Pot’ hit. Madeline continued to be hugely in demand and sang on the soundtracks of several Hollywood films. She also did many jingles for top TV commercials as well as touring extensively. Today, aged 77, she lives in luxury in a villa in Spain. Founder and keyboardist Roger Coulam and drummer Barry Morgan - in whose studios ‘Melting Pot’ was recorded - had long and successful careers before they died and classically trained lead guitarist Alan Parker, now 75 and the youngest of the band, is still in high demand as a performer. Roger Cook, a former plasterer from Bristol, who sang on several Blue Mink hits, wrote a string of successful songs for the Fortunes, Cliff Richard, Cilla Black, Gene Pitney and Andy Williams. He is now based in Nashville where he is a highly regarded songwriter and producer, often collaborating with fellow Brit and cockney rock veteran Joe Brown as well as with many of Nashville's biggest names. Meanwhile Herbie Flowers himself - who, for his sins, co-wrote ‘Dad's Army’ star Clive Dunn's smash hit ‘Grandad’ - continues his illustrious musical career, working with many big names including in the past Jools Holland, Jimmy Page, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Sam Brown, Tom Jones and more. He also teaches music and from his Sussex home he mentors a range of talented up-and-coming musicians. Reflecting again on the latest fuss over Blue Mink's suddenly infamous ‘Melting Po’t single Herbie says, “I might once have been a bit of a mischief-maker in my own quiet way. But we'd never have put out any record that would at the time have been considered offensive to particular groups of people. Times do change, though - and I accept that. Though a little bit of me does just wonder if the world hasn't rather bigger fish to fry than this! Like protecting the environment, for example!”

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Herbie Flowers - Interview

Herbie Flowers - Interview

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