The late 1960s in Britain witnessed musical and fashion fragmentation into two opposite camps: mods and rockers. The former worshipped the soul-jazz sounds coming out of America, notably the hammond organ of artists such as Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff that would invariably be heard on jukeboxes in condensed 45 format. Added to this influence was the gritty southern soul of independent labels like Stax in Memphis and the newly emerging sound of reggae from Jamaica. British studio arranger and keyboardist Alan Hawkshaw was soaking up all these influences and offered his own take on the new sound in 1968 with the project contained herein. The resulting album ‘The Champ’ and especially its title track would compare most favourably with music recorded across the Atlantic and in turn would be sampled two decades later by US hip-hop artists. Hawkshaw is best known for his arrangements of music for Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, and later for his jingles and theme tunes on British television.
As leader, however, his finest moment came with ‘The Champ’, a series of tightly arranged and perfectly executed slices of jazz-inflected organ. Alongside the devastating title track, the Mohawks take on Wilson Pickett’s ‘Funky Broadway’ impresses. Little wonder, then, that another hammond organist, Reuben Wilson, should record the number for Blue Note around the same period. Otis Redding was arguably the most respected soul singer at the time and his ‘Sweet soul music’ is interpreted in fine soul-jazz fashion. Heavy bass and organ combine wonderfully on ‘Dr. Jekyl and Hyde Park’ while Hawkshaw stretches out on hammond on ‘Beat me til’ I’m blue’ which in many ways is a precursor to the sound he created for Serge Gainsbourg. Six bonus cuts are added of which the percussion heavy ‘Pepsi’ and New Orleans-inspired ‘Ride your pony’ stand out. Impressive gatefold sleeve and notes on Hawkshaw’s career round out a timeless classic that is finally available in both CD and vinyl formats. Tim Stenhouse